a short story by Bill Adler
"Seymour, waddya up to next weekend?"
"What what? Can't you see I'm busy with a patient." Seymour hunched over the immobile body on the table.
"They're not patients, Dr. Seymour Haas, and you're not really the kind of doctor anyone wants to see."
|There's a reason why the Rolex Deepsea is expensive.|
Never forget that. Photo by Slices of Light.
Mike Angelo revved his bone saw to maximum. He did his best to spray bits of tissue and blood Seymour's way like the spitballs he used to toss in class in middle school. "Say again! I can't hear you," Mike shouted over the machinery.
"What I was trying to say..." Seymour yelled back. He paused to wipe something sticky off his goggles, but ended up smudging his left lens with a mucus sheen. “...is that this one definitely died of the common cold. Lungs and air passages stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. Rare for a thirty’s guy, but given the enormous number of people on the planet, even the unexpected and rare will happen. The younger the patient, the more their immune system’s counter attack doesn’t just kill the invading virus, but mortally wounds the victim, too.”
“You're a poet,” Mike said.
“I'm not sure why they bothered to have his body exhumed. There's no foul play, no drugs, no impalement or bullet holes, no exotic diseases, nothing that required calling me in and my missing a rerun of Friends. God, that Jennifer Aniston is hot. It was just a cold. Poor guy. I bet when he went to CVS for Nyquil he never expected it would be his last drink."
“Who wanted Gold’s body exhumed?”
“Dunno, like I said.” Seymour bent down and peered into Gold’s clouded eyes, the light from his halogen headlamp absorbed by the dead orbs.
“'You said you didn’t know why. I asked, ‘who?’”.
“The sheet says nothing. The requesting name was blank. Somebody’s lazy. But we have a job to do, even when our bosses don’t do theirs,” Seymour said.
The overhead fluorescent light cracked, sounding like small children walking over wrapping paper after opening their Christmas presents. The crackling reminded Seymour of when he was little and the wind rustled the venetian blinds in his bedroom, amplifying the ghosts that he already knew lived in those blinds, and propelling him deep under his blanket. The autopsy room’s pale blue and white tiles were interrupted by a single, faded poster of a cat doing a chin up with“Keep Your Chin Up” printed on it. None of the city’s seven pathologists liked that poster, and nobody knew who hung it. But after a time it became invisible to everyone who worked in this basement room, so there it stayed. A bank of numbered, steel-clad lockers spread from floor to ceiling along the side opposite the doors. On the adjacent wall were a cluster of sinks and basins for washing hands and tools. The room held twelve tables. It used to have thirteen, but a former Chief Medical Examiner had ordered one of the tables removed. “We need more walking around space for cops and such,” he had said.
Mike dropped his instruments next to his patient, and sallied over to Seymour's table. “They should tell us what the deceased did for a living because that would give us more insight into what killed them. Like if it’s a lawyer, it’s going to be a heart attack, or if it’s a race car driver and the body’s all smashed we can surmise he wasn’t pushed off a building. Maybe your guy was a professional ice diver and caught a really bad cold because of his profession.” He surveyed Mike’s patient and asked, "Gold’s been dead about two weeks, right?"
Seymour took the clipboard at the foot of the autopsy table and flipped to the second page. "Yeah, that's what it says."
Mike lifted the dead man's arm, a stiff, rotten branch, tapped around the elbow and forearm, squeezed the upper arm, and said to himself, “Does feel like two weeks.” He turned back to Seymour and said, "Answer me this. How can it be two weeks if his watch is ticking and showing today’s date?" Mike ran his fingertips along the watch’s crystal like he was polishing it.
“You’re not going to steal a dead man’s watch, are you?” Seymour held the clipboard in his left hand and the pencil that was attached to it by string in his right, as if he were about to give Mike a demerit.
|Buy the seller, not the watch. Photo by Tony Shih.|
“Maybe he does. Like you said, it’s ticking.”
“That’s exactly why I want it.” Mike offered Seymour a wide, toothy smile. “I’ve never seen a watch that’s still going strong after a body’s been in the ground for two weeks.”
“You’ve been sniffing too much formaldehyde, Dr. Angelo.”
Mike sneered. “Tell me you’ve never stolen anything off a corpse.”
Before Seymour could complete a sentence, stuttering his way through a seemingly random set of consonants and vowels, Mike interrupted, “I saw you slip that diamond ring off a dead lady and pop it into your pocket the week before last.”
“You thought I didn’t notice? You’re so clumsy, so obvious. You may be an okay pathologist — and I’m not saying you are — but you’re a lousy thief. Make a note of that on your clipboard: Seymour Hass will never be a competent thief. So I’m keeping this watch and you’re not going to tell a living soul.”
Seymour stared at his feet. “Okay.” His voice was barely audible. He looked back at Mike, almost making eye contact, but his gaze didn’t rise higher than Mike’s lips “But it’s a quartz watch. Why bother to take it? The battery’s going to last well after the worms and beetles have found the deceased. That’s why it’s still ticking. It’s a quartz. A cell phone battery’s going to run down quickly, and it’s so weird that some people want to be buried with their phones, but a quartz watch will last years whether it's in a grave or not. Quartz equals cheap watch. Probably cost $50, if that. That's why it's ticking, Mike. Because it's a cheapo quartz. Don’t you know anything, Mike?”
“If it’s a quartz watch, why does it say ‘Automatic” on the dial? And why does it tick? Quartz watches don’t tick; they’ve got a soulless tack sound, not a tick. Don’t you know anything, Seymour?”
Seymour’s mouth locked open as he assimilated that information. After ten seconds, he lowered the binocular magnifying lens over his goggles and bent toward the deceased’s wrist. “Automatic.” He blinked and looked again.
“So it’s an automatic. The corpse probably twitched in the coffin, winding the watch. They do that sometimes. And the exhumation process movement also wound the watch. Nothing to see here. But steal this watch if you want. I’m not going to say anything.” Seymour shuffled his feet and paused before continuing. “This makes us even, though.”
Mike unfastened the watch from Gold’s wrist, an unscratched, perfectly polished Rolex DeepSea. Somewhere he remembered reading that this model of Rolex sells for over $15,000. The diamond ring Seymour snagged probably wasn’t even worth $500. He wiped the front and back sides against his pant’s leg, and wedged the watch’s crystal against his chin as he adjusted the leather strap on his wrist. After the watch fit just right, Mike raised his arm and shoved the watch into Seymour’s face, and said, “It looks great on me, like the deceased meant to gift it to me.”
Seymour sprung two steps backward. The clipboard fell out of his hands, swung, and smacked into the table’s legs with a thunderous bang. “Ewww.”
“That’s not a word you hear from pathologists often,” Mike said as a rapturous laugh rose from his belly.
Seymour sighed. “I’m going to sew Gold up and go home. Maybe I can catch a Friends rerun after all. I’m done with Mr. Gold who died of a cold.”
“You do that,” Mike said before failing to suppress a sneeze.
There’s a saying among those who acquire second-hand watches: Buy the seller, not the watch. Many second-hand watches, especially luxury brands such as Rolex, Omega and Panerai, have had their insides or exteriors redone with counterfeit parts. When you know and trust a seller, you’re likely to acquire a watch that’s 100 percent genuine; when the seller’s an unknown, avoid the watch, no matter how tempting the price. Mike Angelo wishes he had heeded those words.