Much of his life story Eileen told me when I returned to our family home from Vancouver, where I now lived with my wife and children. Eileen had inherited the house on the deaths of our parents and, like Mr. Steg himself, she had never married. She was a university librarian at Laval, and had phoned to let me know of Mr. Steg’s sudden death. She had been taking him to the doctor now that he had contracted cancer, and shopped and cooked for him in his crowded book-lined apartment in St- Henri, but he had refused substantive offers of advice and help from her, ruling out life in a retirement home in his declining years, insisting on maintaining a semblance of the independence that had marked the course of his life, until she found him barely conscious on the floor of his bedroom one Saturday morning a short time before she called me with the news. He died in hospital that night aged 91.
“The reason I need your advice, Evan,” Eileen told me, “is that he has died without a will. As a lawyer, you will be able to sort out the muddled state of his affairs faster than I can. He led me to believe that he had all his affairs in order, but when I phoned the funeral home where he said he had made all his end-of-life arrangements, they told me they have no legal authority to take his body from the hospital morgue, even though they agree he paid for his cremation in advance. Only a relative or an executor can release the body. But he has neither, nor am I aware that he has any friends still living, except for me. Can you help?”
“Of course, Ellie. Of course.”
The process of unravelling Mr. Steg’s tangled personal affairs took much longer than either of us expected, but in the end his body was cremated, and his possessions left for the most part to the landlord, no friends or relatives having appeared to show any interest in claiming them. The pastor at his church conducted a brief and somewhat lacklustre service, in English, not German, and without music, to which one or two elderly parishioners came in addition to Eileen and me. It was disheartening to discover that the church to which he had been so devoted during his life provided so little in the way of mourning for him when he left, but as Eileen reminded me, he had always been a very private person. Perhaps no-one had known him well…