A short story
by Chris Hibbard
“Hey there, you alright sir, can ya hear me talkin’ to ya there?” asked the senior Coroner’s Office attendant, of the two called to the scene.
“He may not respond” said the other, a youthful newbie with only four years experience – peanuts compared to his partner’s 32.
“Why’s ‘at then?”
“Because he appears to be dead.”
“Didja check ‘is pulse at least, to be sure of ‘dat??”
“Well ‘en, let’s toss ‘im in the back quick and pop in for a cold one at Eddie’s.”
“Sure thing Steve,” Rick said, replacing his cap back on his head and grabbing the legs of the corpse, before the pair flung the corpse onto a stretcher in the back of the white emergency bus.
Once seated back in the cab of the truck, Steve made some strange rumbling sounds and said, “I’m gonna have me a full pint of the dark stuff I think, and I’ll wash down some rings with it too – seems like hours since I had anything greasy.”
At this, Rick responded quietly, “that sounds great Steve, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather go back to the station. Maybe tomorrow night instead.”
“Eh? You backin’ out on me again? Why’s ‘at? You broke or somethin’?
Rick shrugged and looked out the window blankly. “I don’t know. I just don’t feel all that up to it tonight.”
“Well shit son, your feelins’ don’t matter ‘tall. This a job, Rick. Ya can’ jus’ go about sayin’ ‘I don’ feel like it’ any time ya want ya know.”
The conversation was interrupted by two beeps and static streaming over the shortband radio speaker.
“Code 46. Code 46. All nearby units please reply. One bus needed for immediate clean-up at scene of vehicular homicide at the corner of Lexington and Wilshire South. Repeat. One bus needed for immediate clean-up of vehicular homicide at the corner of Lexington and Wilshere South. All nearby units please reply and respond. Over.”
Steve pulled his radio out of his hip sheath and clicked the speak button. “Well I’ll be damned. Is that you Betty Blue on the mic, still dispatchin’ after all these years? Darlin’ your voice still sounds like sweet soul music to me. The kid and I here, we’ll whip over to that Wilshire site for ya and scoop that poop. I repeat, Unit 4 will respond, ETA ten to twenty minutes. As for you Betty, you don’t hesitate to call us anytime, for any emergency – even after hours ya hear, we make house calls, and we’ve always got beds in the back.”
Not waiting for a response and chuckling to himself as he switched off and re-sheathed his radio, Steve slapped the ambulance into Drive, flicked on the cherries, and scanned the radio. As on old Skynyrd tune filled the cab, Steve rocketed out of the convenience store parking lot, leaving rubber behind. Rick struggled to balance long enough to fasten his safety belt, and wondered briefly if he had remembered to strap the gurney to the rails in the back, or at least the stabbing victim to the gurney. Steve sang along and pounded his fist on the cab ceiling, out of sync with the southern rock rhythm, turning on the siren to gun it through the next red light. Rick stared out his side window, his reflection showing no emotion on his face and dark circles under his eyes.
Noticing the heavy silence, Steve shattered it by saying, “Bloody ‘ell mate. What’s gotten into your panties then Ricky. You look like someone rolled over your pet puppy in the garage. What’s wrong ‘wit ‘cha today for Chri’sake?”
After a moment Rick replied, “Ah, don’t worry about it, it’s nothing.”
“Ah yeah, nuthin’. And my dad wasn’t a piss-poor father figure. Nuthin’. ‘Dat’s just what ah thought. You been mopin’ around in ‘ere all night an’ ‘ya were mopin’ around back in the station earlier. What’s wrong wit’cha, you can tell me ya know – I’ve ‘arboured many a secret right ‘ere in ‘this here bus.”
”It’s nothing Steve really. Just some, uh, problems at home I guess you could say.”
”Oh yeah? Lemme guess, your daughter’s pregnant?”
“I don’t have a daughter.”
”Another man buggerin’ ’yer wife?”
”Credit card company after ya?”
“Ah, I know what it is ‘then. You been sleepin’ on the couch ‘cuz the old broad busted ya in the sack with fresher meat? I’ve been there myself once or twice.”
“Are you gonna keep guessing all the way downtown?”
“Well bugger me sensitive Shirley, spit it out then, what the fuck is eatin’ ya?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just, I just don’t really feel all that satisfied lately. Like something is missing. I mean is this how you pictured your life turning out, transporting corpses all over town? I have a degree in English Literature you know – why did I bother getting that?”
As they slowed to wait for traffic to pull aside, Steve rolled his window down and winked at the blonde passengers in a red Mustang convertible to his left. He mumbled, “Damn, what I wouldn’t do for a piece of… huh… I mean, life you asked, sure – yup, pretty much. It doesn’t get much better than this.”
“Right. Do me a favour Steve. Just keep your eyes on the road until we get back to the station all right?
The ambulance stopped and Rick and Steve hopped out, putting their black gloves on, “You’re honestly tellin’ me Steve that you’ve never thought about doing something else with your life?”
“Me? Nah. This is what life’s all ’bout, my friend.” Not everythin’ turns out the way you want it to, ya know? But ya can’t let that get ya down. Otherwise, you’re just stuck there, doin’ nothin’ but gettin’ yourself down. Ya gotta do what ya can with what ya got. I got a job, a bottle of Scotch at home, and some extra bucks to get a lap dance at Stu’s later. That’s the true measure of a man, ya know?”
“Scrap the sissy talk though now Oprah. We got us some stiffs to scoop. You sign the papers and I’ll black bag ‘em. We’ll meet at the stretcher in five. This time you get to take the top ‘halves of ‘em though, my back is freakin’ killin’ me.”