He lay dead on the damp black asphalt. The smell of burnt rubber and hot metal emanated from the bowels of the truck. The set of skid marks left by the metal behemoth were freshly pressed onto the asphalt canvas, like two strokes from death’s paint brush.
Two out-of-breath policemen approached the spot where the body lay. The paramedics would arrive soon. There was nothing they would be able to do. The impact of the Mantis Moving Company truck tossed the body like a rag doll, slamming it against a parked pickup truck filled with landscaping equipment. The front of the victim's scalp had been torn off. The left arm was dislocated and tucked behind his back. His eyes were still open.
Officers Hernandez and McNally had been chasing Monty McPride without any chance of catching him. The man seemed to have sprouted wings on his feet. He was running so fast that they had started to give up the chase. Then, they heard the painful screeching of brakes and a loud thud as the truck pummeled the body.
The ambulance arrived. Two paramedics made their way to where the victim lay. Carl, the lead paramedic, knelt beside the body and felt for a pulse. “Not much we can do here.”
His assistant, Jake, prepared the gurney. Carl looked up at Jake. “Poor bastard took quite a hit. All we can do is take him to the hospital and process him for storage in the morgue until someone comes to claim the body.” Carl then turned to Officer Hernandez. “Was this simply an accident or was something else going on?”
Carl listened as Officer Hernandez explained how Monty was wanted for the attempted murder of his father, Blake McPride. The murder attempt was foiled by the miraculous recovery of the old man who had summoned the police before his son could arrive to finish the job. Monty’s plan was to blow the old man’s brains out. After all, the ungrateful old buzzard had selected someone else to run McPride Industries. In Monty’s mind, the promotion should have gone to the handsome, brilliant son.
But, in a sting operation, the police staked out the nursing home where Blake McPride was living. Monty thought he had successfully snuck in the back entrance by threatening one of the facility's attendants, an undercover policewoman who pretended to be out on a smoke break. She surrendered a set of keys to him when he threatened to kill her. He locked her in the facility’s storage shed. Then he entered the nursing home, intent on finally getting rid of the old man. The police confronted him as he was about to put a hole in Blake McPride's head. Monty made a run for it and nearly made it.
With red lights flashing and a crowd looking on, Monty McPride was pronounced dead at 6:19 pm.
As Carl was about to close the corpse's eyes, Officer Hernandez yelled, “Wait!" He pointed at the man who was approaching. “That's the guy's father.”
The old man, now the picture of perfect health, approached Monty's body.
Carl closed Monty’s eyes. Then he turned to Blake McPride. “I'm sorry, sir. There was nothing we could do. He was already dead when we arrived.
Blake did not respond. He looked down at his son's mangled body and muttered in a low voice, “God help you Monty. May He have mercy on your soul, and may He have mercy on me for being such a lousy father.” Hot tears pooled in Blake’s eyes.
The ambulance began its six mile journey to Raleigh Central. The night was settling over the city. Their route took them through downtown. They approached the Moore Square Park area. As they passed the park, which was known to be a regular hangout for some homeless wine enthusiasts, one inebriated friend pointed at the ambulance and asked the other, “What's so special about that one?”
His buddy, reeling with booze, replied: “He has caused an ungodly amount of hurt and suffering. This one's a keeper.” They both smiled at each other revealing a few assorted rotten teeth. Their bottles clicked together in a congratulatory fashion, and they drank their wine as the ambulance passed.
Arriving at the hospital, Carl and Jake unloaded the gurney and rolled the body down the corridor to the elevator. Reaching the lower level, the doors opened, and they proceeded down the hall past the large silver double doors that led to the morgue.
“Geez, can you believe it, Carl? The guy tried to kill his father. Did you see him crying as he stood there looking at his dead son? Man, that was so sad.”
Carl had been on many “Dead On Arrival” calls, but on this one he felt worse for the old man than for the dead son. Carl shook his head. “Yeah, I know. It’s a crazy world.”
They entered the large room with shiny metal tables. Carl pulled the sheet off the body. “Here, give me a hand with this. Let’s get him onto the table.”
Jake scratched his head. “Hey Carl, didn’t you close his eyes?” They both looked at the corpse. The eyes were open.
Carl examined the eyes. “Yeah, I did. Sometimes they pop open on their own. It’s rigor mortis, nothing spooky about it. Come here and look at the retina. See how the whites of the eyes have yellowed?”
Jake stepped to the other side of the table and looked closely at the yellowish eyes. “Yeah, they look like the eyes of a drug user. Was this guy on drugs?”
“I don’t know,” replied Carl. “See the tiny vessels running along the edges of the cornea?”
As they leaned in to look at the tiny blood vessels, Monty’s eyes turned and looked at Carl.
She couldn't help noticing his extraordinary physique as he sat quietly waiting to get his hair cut. He was muscular but not overbuilt. His biceps were well sculpted. He reminded her of a modern day Viking. She did not remember ever seeing him come into the salon before. She definitely would have remembered. When it was finally his turn, she gestured to him to come and have a seat in her chair. All of the five other hair stylists were working with customers. He gave her a quick smile and took seat number three. Regina was no spring chicken, but she still looked great at 40. He must be in his mid-forties, maybe early fifties, she thought as she smiled at him.
“What's your name, handsome?”
“Oliver.” He smiled at her question. “And what's yours?” His voice had a rough quality to it.
“Regina.” She didn't see a wedding ring, but wondered whether or not he was married. No wedding ring? But that meant nothing. Maybe he was a regular Don Juan able to juggle a wife and several mistresses. He looked like he had the stamina for it. “You new here? I don't remember seeing you come in before.”
“Yeah, this is my first visit.” He looked at her with piercing blue eyes. “A friend recommended I come here. My last hair cut was a disaster, so I decided to try out the place.”
Regina smiled. "Well, I'm glad you did" She looked at his hair. “How do you want me to do you?” She caught herself. “I mean, how would you like me to cut your hair?”
“Just a trim.”
A few moments later she paused to wipe some of the hair clippings from his eyebrows. “So, Oliver, you got a girlfriend, wife, space alien DNA, or vampire marks that would make you a poor choice for a girl to hit on?”
He smiled and looked at her reflection in the large mirror as she continued trimming his hair. “No, I don't have a girlfriend, wife, space born bacteria or vampire marks." Then he chuckled. "Say, Regina, are you coming on to me?”
“Don't tell me you're gay.” She said half-jokingly. “No, I'm not gay.” She continued to work on his hair.
“Well, that's good. It would be a waste if you were.” She was feeling better about her prospects with her interesting new customer.
Bonnie and Carla, two of the other hairdressers, were following Regina's conversation with Oliver. In fact, all of the female hairdressers were carrying on with their little bit of chatter while keeping an ear on what was going on at Regina's station. The one male hairdresser just rolled his eyes and lost interest when Oliver told Regina he wasn't gay.
Regina took her time trimming his hair. “So, where you from, Oliver?”
“Upstate New York. I lived in the city for a while then moved to Raleigh about five years ago.”
“And what brought you down here? What do you do?” He glanced at her as she snipped away. “I’m a priest.”
She stopped cutting his hair and stepped back for a moment to look at him as though to say, “Are you kidding?” She continued to stare at him. He remained silent. Everyone in the salon stopped talking. You could hear a pin drop. After a moment of silence, Regina stepped forward and continued trimming his hair. The shop was still quiet. All you could hear was the sound of her scissors.. The chatter was absent. “What kind of priest are you?”
“I’m a Catholic priest.”
After several minutes, her handiwork was complete. She handed him a mirror. He took it, gave a look. “Nice work. Thanks.” He handed the mirror back to her.
She dusted the remaining hair clippings off his shirt. “What are you doing tonight, Oliver? We could get together later if you're not too busy?”
“Thank you, Regina, that sure sounds tempting, but I'm the presider at tonight's Mass.”
“Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
Oliver smiled. “Thanks for the haircut.” He walked to the front, paid his bill, and a generous tip. As Oliver was about to exit the salon, another customer entered. He looked at the woman and knew immediately something was wrong.
She brushed by him and marched to the receptionist at the counter. “I need to be out of here in half an hour. Don’t tell me I have to wait.”
The young attendant kept her cool. “Bonnie is finishing up. She’ll be with you shortly.”
The woman rolled her eyes and slammed her hand on the desk. “Damn it, if I’m not in that chair in two minutes I’ll find another place that actually keeps to their schedule!” She crossed her arms and huffed.
Oliver turned to the woman. “Is there a special event you’re getting ready to attend?”
She looked him over from top to bottom. “It’s just a stupid baptism. Why do you ask?”
“Stupid baptism you say? Did you know, when someone receives the sacrament of baptism they are also anointed priest, prophet, and king?”
She laughed. “You’re kidding me, right? Besides, it’s a girl. What are you, some kind of religious freak?”
“Religious, yeah. Freak? I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a freak. Overzealous, maybe just a little.” He smiled. She did not. He continued. “Have you been to a baptism before?”
“Not since grade school. Idiotic ritual. Give the kid a few bucks and be done with it.”
Oliver nodded as though in agreement. “Yes, but you would miss the best part of the baptism. Do you know what it is?”
“What?” Her tone was full of anger and sarcasm. Oliver grabbed her by the arm and stepped in close.
Her eyes opened wide as she tried to break free of his grip. “Let me go, you jerk!”
Everyone in the salon looked to the front to see why all the commotion, Regina turned to look and thought, “Oh no, my hunk of a client is a crazy person.”
Oliver continued. “The best part of baptism is when the priest traces the sign of the cross on your forehead and says, I claim you for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” As he said these words, he traced the sign of the cross on her forehead.
Her frightened eyes changed. They went from hateful to grateful. Her body became less tense as she stopped resisting his grip. She immediately became quiet and stopped trying to get away. He released his grip on her arm slowly, making sure she would be able to stand on her own. She looked up at him, covered her face with her hands, and began sobbing.
“Call 911, the guy’s a loon!” yelled one of the hair dressers.
Regina grabbed her purse and reached for the pepper spray.
She carried it for protection against crazies like Oliver.
The woman sat down in one of the waiting chairs. She was still sobbing. Oliver sat next to her and put his arm around her. “Are you all right, Miss? Is there anything I can do? Is there anything you want to say?”
By now, several of the staff were closing in on Oliver. One had a gun. Regina held out her pepper spray. She pointed it toward him. “Get away from her you pervert. We’ve called 911, and they’ll be here any minute.”
The woman stopped sobbing then looked at Oliver. “Thank you,” she said in a low voice.
Everyone in the room paused and looked at each other, not sure what was going on.
Oliver got down on one knee and looked into her eyes. “I knew something was troubling you. I just wanted to help.”
“How did you know? What did you do? I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.”
Regina lowered her pepper spray. The other hairdresser lowered her gun.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman continued. “But somehow, I know it’s going to be all right.” She continued to cry. “This is weird. I don’t usually cry like this.”
Oliver looked at Regina. “Is there someplace she can be alone quietly for a few moments? I think it might help.”
“Sure.” Regina helped the woman get up. “Come on, honey. You can rest for a few moments in the staff lounge.” The hairdressers and customers headed back to their stations. Oliver slipped out the front door.
Both men jumped in terror as the eyes of the corpse focused on Carl.
“Oh crap!” Jake backed away in a panic. He shot backward and bumped into a cart full of surgical tools causing them to crash to the floor. He tripped again, fell backward and scrambled to get as far away as possible from the not-quite-so-dead corpse.
The instant the dead man's eyes looked at Carl, the left hand reached out, grabbed him by the neck and pulled him in close. Now nose to nose with the corpse, Carl struggled to pull away, but the dead man’s grip was too strong. Carl tried to stiff arm himself with his right arm so he would not be pulled any closer. With his left hand he beat the corpse frantically to get free. The corpse pulled him in. The wretched disfigured jaw and twisted lips connected with Carl in what seemed to be a long farewell kiss. The next instant the corpse was limp, its arms fell away, then dangled off both sides of the table. The eyes were closed again.
Jake stood in horror as he watched Carl struggle against the romantic overtures of the dead man. Now that it seemed to be dead again, both men stood quietly in shock. Neither dared move. It’s as though they expected someone to open a hidden door and say, “Gotcha, you’re on Scared-to-Death!” But no one stepped forward to lighten the mood or provide relief from this reality.
Finally, Jake slowly approached Carl, keeping his distance from the corpse. “Hey man, are you OK? Is that thing dead? What the hell just happened?”
Carl was silent for a moment. He looked at the corpse, then at Jake. He reached down, picked up one of the tools from the floor, the one with the long handle, and hit the corpse with it. After several whacks, he approached it maintaining a high alert, just in case it should try to kiss him again. He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, as he approached to examine the body. It was limp. The eyes were closed.
“I don’t know what the hell that was. I’ve been doing this job for ten years, Jake, and never saw rigor mortis like that. Its grip was a vise. I couldn’t break free. It wanted to pull me down. Geez, I’m going to need therapy after this!” He threw a blanket over the body. “Let’s finish putting this guy in the icebox, but first I got to pee.”
“Me too. I haven't pissed in my pants since I was five, but I sure came close.”
“OK, then we’ll finish up and get out of here.”
Both men went down the hall to the restroom. The trip made them feel a little better. Jake joked about the romantic rigor mortis. “Maybe the dead guy thought he would reach out and touch someone before moving to the great beyond. You probably were just his type.”
“I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for all of this,” Carl replied.
As both men entered the morgue to finish storing the body, they were surprised to see Paul Herodias standing over the corpse, examining it.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Jake warned. “He’s liable to take a liking to you the way he took to Carl.” Paul squinted at them through his thick glasses causing wrinkles on his forehead to form a series of parallel lines. His hair was receding. His expression resembled someone experiencing stomach discomfort, the spokesman in a laxative commercial. He looked down and continued his examination.