It's a widespread fear that motivates late-night phone calls, female protagonist monologues, and manic Tinder sprees: dying alone in New York, and having your body sit unmissed and unnoticed until neighbors complain about the smell. The New York Times took this idea and ran with it to the tune of 8,000 words, following all the processes that played out after a 72-year-old named George Bell was found dead in his Jackson Heights, Queens one-bedroom last July with no obvious next of kin. It took until last month to settle his affairs.

In the meantime, a lot happened. Bell, the Times notes, was one of about 50,000 people who die each year in New York. Of those who the police deal with, the NYPD estimates it reaches family members 85 percent of the time, and of those bodies that end up at a city morgue, relatives eventually positively identify 90 percent, meaning that Bell was one of the rare people who, after dying alone, turned out to be so disconnected that city officials had to handle his end-of-life business, from cremation to emptying out his apartment to executing his will.

The list of entities involved is long, starting with the FDNY and the NYPD, who found him, and centering around the Medical Examiner's Office, which kept Bell's body on ice for nearly four months while cold-calling doctors hoping to find X-rays to positively identify him, and the Queens County Public Administrator's Office, the obscure agency tasked with finding his next of kin and seeing his estate through to the end. Bell, we learn, was an office mover who enjoyed drinking and fishing with his buds, and retired in 1996 after an on-the job injury. He exchanged cards and phone calls with a flame from his youth to whom he was once engaged, but in the last decade and a half, stopped responding to calls and letters from most everybody.

Somewhere in there, Bell became a hoarder, and started eating takeout exclusively, though he continued to buy food and junk he didn't need, such as six ironing boards that he never used. Investigators for the public administrator, which handles the estates of people with no will or known heirs, were tasked with combing through the mess to try to find some clues about who might be Bell's next of kin, how he should be buried, and what all belonged to him. The office processes 1,500 deaths a year, and the investigators, who make around $40,000 a year, described once finding a woman who died standing up, so crowded by belongings that she couldn't collapse to the ground.

The investigators the Times talked to, both divorced and in their 50s, said the job has heightened their need to feel connected to others. "When I die, someone will find out the same day or the next day," investigator Juan Plaza said. "Since I've worked here, my list of friends has gotten longer and longer. I don't want to die alone."

Plaza and his colleague found a will dated 1982 that split Bell's belongings among three mover friends and his former fiancee, though it would take the administrator's office months to figure out who the people were. Bell's Toyota and watch went to an auction house. The rest of his stuff was left to be sent to the landfill by a cleaning crew, with the exception of items that struck the workers' fancy, including an unworn pair of Bell's boots.

Bell was a onetime Army reservist, and the public administrator requested to have him buried in a military cemetery, but was denied. It reached out to one of its go-to funeral homes to get Bell cremated, as his will indicated, and an undertaker had a shoebox-shaped urn containing his ashes placed in the cheap seats at a Middle Village cemetery, a basement storage area near the bathrooms.

Politically connected lawyer Gerard Sweeney was tapped for the lucrative task of seeking the next of kin, and having identified cousins but been unable to contact one, placed a legal death notice in a Rockaways community paper. Sweeney said he has never received a response from thousands of such notices.

Bell's one-bedroom sold in May to a middle-aged couple who lived nearby for $215,000. The former romance in his will, it turns out, also died alone, in a trailer upstate, having been predeceased by her husband. Friend Thomas Higginbothoam, recipient of $215,000, had stopped hearing from Bell and was upset to hear he was getting money from him after all these years.

"I argued with him time and again to get out of that apartment and spend his money and enjoy life," he said. "I sent him so many brochures on places to go. I thought I understood George. Now I realize I didn't understand him at all."

Another friend named in the will, Martin Westbrook, saw himself in Bell's situation. "Yeah, that'll happen to me, said Westbrook, who is divorced and lives alone in the upstate hamlet of Sprakes. "I'm a loner, too. There's maybe four or five people up here I talk to."

Bell's one friend of recent standing was a retired Con Edison inspector who he met regularly at a Long Island City bar and went fishing with. He refused invitations to the man's house, and never had him over to his apartment.

Say, the Mets game is on tonight. What a perfect opportunity to call your old buddy who's been too busy to hang out for the past month and meet up to watch the game or something, amirite?