𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗕𝗼𝗱𝘆 𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘀
𝘣𝘺 𝘒𝘦𝘷𝘪𝘯 𝘏𝘰𝘱𝘴𝘰𝘯
“Bring out your dead,” Dylan shouted from the passenger seat of my pickup truck.
I’d always wanted to say that, but I was stuck driving instead. I looked in the rearview mirror, glimpsing the pile of bodies in the truck bed. Despite being several bodies deep, we had room for more.
Dylan glanced at me. He was a lanky guy but surprisingly strong, which helped in our line of work.
“Lewis,” he said.
Dylan peered out the open window. “I think we’ve got one.”
I craned my neck to see. A thirty-something woman was waving us down from her second-story window, so I brought the truck to a halt.
“I have a body,” the woman said.
I got out and circled around the front of the truck, making my way to the woman’s yard. Dylan followed on my heels.
“Where’s the body, ma’am?” I asked, staring up at her.
“In the backyard. I buried him.”
My brow furrowed. “If that’s the case, maybe it’s better to leave him be.”
The woman shook her head. “I don’t want that piece of shit on my property. I only did it because I couldn’t stand the sight of him.”
“What’s his relation?” I inquired.
“He was my husband,” she answered.
I’m sure she had a good reason for disliking him, but it wasn’t my place to ask. Regardless, moving the body would require more work on our part.
“We’ll have to charge you,” Dylan said, beating me to it.
The government paid us to collect bodies, and we weren’t supposed to request payment from people, but it didn’t stop us from making demands every now and then.
The woman squinted at us. “Charge me? For what?”
“A buried body,” I pointed out. “Especially one in the backyard.”
She pondered for a moment. “How much?”
“Two hundred dollars,” Dylan replied.
“What! I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Then what do you have?”
She deliberated again. “How about a jar of homemade pickles?”
“I don’t care for pickles,” Dylan murmured to me.
“I love them,” I said. I met the woman’s gaze. “Okay. Is the body in plain sight?”
“Yeah,” the woman replied. “I buried him where he died. Along the tree line,” she elaborated.
“The spot will be obvious enough.”
I nodded and headed in the direction of the back yard, Dylan sidling up to me. It was a small neighborhood in a rural area, so trees were plentiful here.
I spotted a small rise in the distance. We were already wearing latex gloves and filtered masks, but that was the extent of it. The disease originated in deer and only infected people through the ingestion of tainted meat, but it didn’t hurt to take precautions.
Hunters who ate their kill had the highest risk of catching the disease. It was an isolated outbreak at first, until it started to spread to farm animals. Before long, a sizable portion of the population had been exposed, and there was no cure for the disease, which had a ninety-percent fatality rate.
I kneeled next to the mound of dirt, Dylan doing the same across from me. I brushed away a bunch of loose soil, soon noticing the body. It was an extremely shallow grave, and the soil barely covered the man.
“He looks huge,” Dylan said.
Dylan was right. The guy, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, was tall and had some serious girth. He easily weighed in excess of two hundred pounds. It would take all of our strength to move him.
I was positioned near the man’s feet, while Dylan was hunched over the guy’s head. He swiped some dirt from the man’s face and neck.
“This is strange,” Dylan said.
“This gash on his neck. It looks like a stab wound.”
I leaned in to get a better look and noticed dried blood on the man’s neck.
“What if she killed him?” Dylan asked.
I mulled it over. If the woman did murder her husband, using the disease to hide the real cause of death wasn’t the worst idea.
“A bullet to the head would be more obvious,” I said. “That wound could be self-inflicted for all we know.”
“So, the guy accidentally stabbed himself?”
I shrugged. “We don’t know if it’s a stab wound.”
“You’re a doctor now?”
“No more than you are.”
Dylan huffed. Then something caught his attention. He stared over my shoulder, his eyes going wide. I spun around to look. The woman stood a few yards from me with a gun in hand, the pistol resting at her side. I was grateful she wasn’t aiming it at me. Not yet, at least.
I choked down my anxiety, somehow finding the courage to speak. “Was he even infected?”
The woman hesitated. “No.”
“I’m sure you had a good reason for it.”
“I did,” she said.
I was reluctant to question her, but my gut told me she wanted to say more.
“Did he hurt you?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “Not me. My daughter.”
There was no need for her to elaborate. To be honest, I didn’t want to know the details.
“We have to tag all of the bodies we collect,” Dylan finally said. “Name. Date of birth. Last place of residence. And so forth.”
“Which will tie back to you,” I commented. “And the coroner will realize that your husband didn’t die from disease.” I paused. “But I know a place where we can dispose of the body.”
I glanced at Dylan, and he nodded in return. I turned my attention back to the woman. She let out a breath and secured the gun in the waistband of her jeans.
“You’d really do that for me?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “As long as you make good on those pickles.” I grinned.
The woman forced a smile. “You can have all of the pickles you want.” ✦