Sinister Edit #1

Called in this late at night was not a problem, working last minute didn’t cramp Sam’s style. Her bosses might have wanted to think that one over before hiring her. Sam didn’t change clothes, just grabbed her keys and left. It was handy bringing work home with her when she was on call.

Sam pulled into a near empty parking lot under a blue moon, a black cat sat in the middle going through its cleansing ritual.  The cat didn’t acknowledge as she drove past to back into the darkest space far from the building. The cat continued grooming, the engine silenced without notice.

From the driver’s seat, reaching down for the button she popped the trunk from inside. The cat was still oblivious.  Opening the car door, her heels hit the pavement, “click, click” as she moved towards the open trunk. That the cat noticed.  Sam stopped and watched in mid movement, while the cat’s ears perked up, and its back began to rise in slow motion. Then it crouched low to the pavement ready to spring.  Sam walked around behind her car, hidden from the cat by the trunk lid.  A smile crept across her face, ‘The cat won’t move until it knows where I am going to walk.”

Sam removed the gear from the trunk as slowly as she could. From the cat’s vantage point a hand appeared on the edge of the lid, her fingers flickered and shone from the the artificial lights peeking through overgrown tree branches from glossy painted nails and rings as she drummed them on the metal lid making time. Bam! The lid slammed down. Looking over to the cat which hadn’t moved.

The cat and Sam stared at each other. Sam looked towards the employee entrance, and debated, ‘Should I go out of my way to walk into the cat’s path, or should I walk straight ahead to work?  A quick check of her watch, showed a couple of minutes to midnight. ‘Straight.

Walking past the empty spaces full of building supply pallets and nearest to the only open enhance sat a construction office trailer hogging four spaces near the building. At the last second she walking towards the cat in only two emergency visitors only parking spaces left open for ER patients she walked towards the cat.. The cat scooted backwards.  Then sat up. Brave. Sam walked straight to her destination, cutting across diagonally the two spaces and into the awning projected from the building for ambulance unloading. Sam stopped before ducking into the sheltered walk, turned her head to look directly back at the cat. The cat stood up on al fours, back arched ready to leap. Sam bent at the waist, leaned towards the minion, and hissed. The cat sprang, running towards the pallets, never looking back disappearing into the dark shadows. Laughter echoed in the night air off the building and mostly vacant lot. Sam checked her watch, midnight.

Sam was at the doors when a shiny black hearse pulled up. The driver easing slowly into one of ”No Parking- Loading“ zones by the entrance like it owned it. It does she thought, realizing that was the only vehicle she has ever seen parked there. Sam walked back towards the vehicle, as she approached click of the driver door latch could be heard. The door swung open revealing the driver. The man unfolded his tall frame and stood straight. It made her smile.

“Hello Sam!” came the rolling deep thunder disguised as a voice in greeting, and returned the smile. “Ready to work?”

“Ready as always.”

The man walked to the back and opened the door, then walked the door with his long strides to stand fully open. Sam stepped in slinging the bag straps over her shoulder and pulled the gurney out, rolling legs dropped to the ground. The man waited until she had the gurney rolled out of the way of the door, then walked the door forward and shut it securely. An action he has now completed for 17 years. He clicked the hearse key fob to lock the vehicle. Sam placed the bag on the gurney. The two glide the gurney in unison up the ramp and through the twist and turn maze of halls. They moved as if apart of the wheeled bed, smooth and near silent, to stop smoothly at the nurses station.

Sam hadn’t taken long to fit in, awkward though it had been at first. Now she worked or assisted in most all jobs at the home. The greatest compliment is for no one to notice them, or realize they are there doing their job. Quiet, smooth, it could be considered an elegant dance. As TJ had told her on the first shift she worked, this job was a privilege. They were taking care of a loved one, “Loss is heard enough on the soul, we don’t want to wear on the raw nerves of the loved ones left behind” he had said.

TJ shortened his stride and bent to accommodate his coworkers making the movements seem smooth and crisp. She couldn’t remember when she went from feeling awkward with the movements and when it had become polished habit. It had been taken time for Sam’s thoughts became unconscious about this job. She wondered why tonight she was so conscious of the actions. A question that would persist.

TJ stepped up to the counter at the nurse’s station, her back to them a nurse sat at a computer across from the counter.. She moved little scraps of paper around transferring the scribbles to the computer, talking to herself.

“Excuse me?” TJ spoke softly. Barely above a whisper but his deep voice rumbled across the air causing the nurse to visibly jump. From a doorway beside the shocked nurse came a male in scrubs.

“Hey, TJ. Your rider is in room 130. Hang on a minute and I’ll go down with you. I am not sure the patient is ready to go yet.”

Sam and TJ glanced at each other quick with no sign of reaction. It wasn’t unusual to wait for the nurses to complete the release details, especially when they were busy. It was odd, however, for this nurse. He was the supervisor here and known for his diligence and detail. He also didn’t work a night shift. Ever.

Leo returned with a chart and led them down a corridor they were both familiar with, offset from the nurse’s station and down a row of rooms that formerly had been apart of the emergency room in younger days of the hospital, they now served as hospice and long term care. Leo turned and put a hand up to halt them when they were out of ear shot of the station.

“There are only two families here this weekend. Both requested complete privacy. Pickup is in the last room on the right. The other patient is in the room before. Be as quiet as you can. It was difficult to get that family quieted down,” Leo’s hushed and stern tone was met with grim faces and short nods from both Sam and TJ. Nothing unusual about the request. Dying is hard business.

Their silent glide down the hall commenced, Sam’s breath was held as she passed the door of caution on her right walking backward down the hall. In the front of the door in the middle of the hall Sam stood when the door of dread popped open. A woman reached up and grabbed the doorframe blocking the doorway. “He’s not dead yet!” shrieked out from a pain filled tear streaked face.

Sam’s heart fell to her feet, confronted with the dread she knew so well. Leo stepped in-between blocked Sam’s view. Sam looked down at the empty gurney and felt rather than saw it push her backward, TJ moved her to leave the woman onto the their destination. Sam raised her head and nodded silently through tear-filled eyes as she stepped backward continuing down to the next door.

Inside the appointed room Alma sat quietly. Tears running down the old woman’s cheeks as they entered the room.  On either side of her chair, Alma’s two son’s knelt, each one holding a hand , rubbing her back with the other.  Trying their best, in their minds, to comfort their mother, neither ready to face the reality of the loss of their father.

Looking up to see the two enter solemnly, Alma smiled.  She took a sharp breath. Surely the boys would let go of her hands and stop rubbing her back. She just wanted to be alone.

“Well, Harlan will be in good hands I see.  I suppose you would like for us to leave?” Alma felt her voice was a little too bright, and looked down at her boys, men now, to check their reaction. They were looking up to Sam and TJ. The eldest rose to stand and shake hands with TJ.

“Well, now, Miss Alma, we are going to do this however you want,” TJ said to her over her son’s shoulder. TJ shut the door and nodded to Sam.  They weren’t in any hurry to rush this.  Harlan had been mayor for many years before he retired to just preaching.   His last term, when he announced he was not seeking re-election was a disappointment.  Harlan had explained the decision, “Saving souls is more important than running a town.” Though people still went to him for advice, politically and spiritually, as always even before he had held office or pastured a church, now that would no longer.

Alma and Harlan had decided when his first diagnosis of cancer was given to keep that to themselves.  His first term had just begun. The reaction created by his diagnosis would have stirred up an already tumultuous time for city government.  Harlan feared then that his time would be short in politics.  In his eyes, while the decision was a personal one, it was morally a lie of omission — one he made more than once. His biggest war had been with cancer, winning more than one battle before cancer beat him.

The treatments had been hard on both of them, Alma looked at the lifeless body of the man she had been a partner with for sixty years. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t considered losing him; first the cancer, then the treatments that weakened him taunted her more than once. Leaving office had initially lifted his spirits and health. Six months ago the cancer came back. They had done this before, and truth be told, it was both easier and harder than the first, second or third time. The first time no one other than the doctors and themselves knew locally, same the second time. This time, being a charm, they had help which was good for Harlan, and bad for Alma.

The bad was the looks and the voices. They hadn’t had to listen to stories about how this or that had happened to this person or that. Those stories got on Alma’s nerves.  She knew it wasn’t how people expected her to be.  Alma, a sweet woman all her life, found that this time, she got mean, ugly even. How dare this cancer come threaten her again.  Torment her heart, make her watch as it destroyed the man she loved so much. It was not fair. It had won.  

“TJ, I think I want to go home. I know you and Sam will take good care of my Harlan. I want to go home, I would rather he was going home with me, but he’s not is he?”

TJ walked over, dropping down to kneel in front of Alma. Neither of her grown boys moved.  TJ took her hands into his, “Miss Alma, can we pray?”

Alma could only nod her head. One more prayer wasn’t going to hurt. She didn’t believe it would help anymore. She had prayed herself out, but the last person she had said that to was Harlan. He had been shocked and tried to convince her otherwise. She realized it didn’t matter what she thought, others really felt they needed it. So she had stop saying her own truth and just listened while others prayed.

“Lord, you have placed a mighty burden on a good woman. Not just today, but for the last four years. I do not believe that she done anything warranting such a punishment. You may not have your hand in this, as some say. I don’t know about that. I do know she is hurting. There are gonna be a lot of people hurting over this. These two men here have lost their Daddy. The man they went to for advice. This family now has a hole, a big hole. Lord, fill it. Fill that hole. Console them as only you can. Please somehow, ease them through this change. You know their need better than me, probably better than them. Help them with that. I trust in you God, Amen”

Alma watched the top of TJ’s head move, shake. His face expressing his will, eyes closed. He meant what he was saying. Almost with detached mind, and heart, Alma watched, yet still hearing and reacting to this heart felt prayer. This was going to be the first of many prayers she feared, like this. She couldn’t live up to them. She didn’t know if she could hold her tongue anymore. Harlan had kept her in check. HE let her rant privately, rant until she’d dried up. He knew how judgmental she was deep down. The only other person in the world that knew her heart was gone. She had no one to be herself with anymore. So many people expected the quiet, angelic Alma who was always by Harlan’s side. Little did they know the her deep down. Now, she had to be perfect all the time.

When TJ finished his prayer and rose, Alma stood up and began gathering belongings. She had been biding her time to go home. His body to her lay there like a shell. She wanted to be home. Where everything around her made her feel his presence. His clothes in the closet; his after shave on the bathroom counter. Even the dent in his pillow where he had laid his head. Since the ambulance had brought him here at his request a few days ago, Alma had refused to make the bed and disturb the impression of her beloved husband from his side of the bed.

#51

Harlan and Alma had had many a heated discussion over his final arrangements. Harlan being adamant about cremation and refused to change his mind.

Alma couldn’t budge her husband on the matter, even trying to change his mind hours before his death. Nor on the memorial service at the church or any of the other aspects of a funeral service.

Decisions Harlan made after the first diagnosis stood. Choices that Alma was sure would change at each remission and reoccurrence. Even this last time, this very evening, she had broached the subject. Was it only a few days ago she opened her mouth to bring it up. Harlan and raised on fine from the bed and said “Have I once wavered?”

Alma quickly shut her mouth and never asked again.

Thankful TJ hadn’t brought up the pre-arrangements in the room. Alma knew her reprieve from telling the body would be short lived. When she and Harlan had sat with TJ to make them seven years ago, TJ had suggested then that Alma wait to inform the boys at the office. They could come to ‘make arrangements’. Seeing a loved ones signature and notes made about what they wanted, didn’t make the facts any easier, but the direct would take any repercussions on the remaining family negative. It was out of everyone’s hands but the deceased. Some families, he had explained to Harlan went against the wishes of the deceased, but the boys would go along with Harlan’s wishes, he felt sure, even if they disagreed. That had made Harlan even more staunch in his plans.

TJ had warned her, you don’t have to tell everything you know. ‘Let me be the one to tell them. It will be easier for you.’ She sure hoped what he said back then, she had held onto those words all this time.

#50

Alma and son leave room.

Leo asks if the remaining son wants to remain or wait outside. “I just wanted to check with TJ about making arrangements, should I call or do we need to set an appointment?” he asked turning to TJ.

“Mr. ____, Why don’t you just call the office in the morning between 10 and noon. Your brother, mom and you can come in tomorrow afternoon. I don’t know what all is on the books for tomorrow, but that should give Miss B time to set things in order.”

“Alright, will do. Thank you Leo, we really appreciate all you did for Dad. TJ, Miss Sam, I will leave you to your business. Thank you all.” A chocking man with a lost look left the room.

“Looks like you have Mr. Harlan ready for us.”

“TJ, they were in the cafeteria eating dinner when he passed. His doctor was covering ER and being a slow night over there, he came up and pronounced him. He went down to the cafeteria to talk to the family and we were able to bath and prepare him for both you and them.”

“Well, that was a blessing. Some don’t see it as that though. “

“No, they don’t” Sam said flatly She wasn’t there when her father passed. But by the the time she arrived at the hospital her mother, was still in the ER and unfortunately conscious. On one hand Sam was able to tell her she loved her, and goodbye, but on the other, she also saw her mother’s last struggling breath, which haunted for a long time. If she could have breathed for her mother she would have. There was a frustration that couldn’t be resolved other than making in up her own mind to let it go.

Leo proceeds to assist the two move the body to the gurney and strip the bed of the linens. Sam’s first time had left her with mixed feelings. Some left over from the night she lost both her parents. Now after working a year, she was less disturbed about the whole process of death and burial. She still stayed away from the mortuary room (?), not having any inclination to work there. It wasn’t only the lack of education and certification, but because tit was when she first came to work with TJ was so close to her parents death. The loos was too soon and the grief was still to fresh and great. At the time she thought the trooper that suggested this job to her was crazy. Or mean. Or both.

Not knowing where else to start, her only tie to the area and her parents was the funeral card from the business suggested to her. Something the trooper hadn’t known at the time.

#49

THIS IS A ROUGH DRAFT. Keep that in mind, please.
( Set up incomplete- This is while Sam is showering and changing. Exchange in the kitchen between Leo * i have to change that name, TJ, and Margie)
”So we have no vehicle to transport?” Leo’s deep voice was low and as soft as he could make it as he pulled the chair out from the table indicating that T.J. should sit. He pulled the blood pressure cuff across the table and stood waiting for T.J. to take off his jacket.
“Really? We have to do this?”
“Look, you took a fall right? You look like hell. Yeah, I am doing this.”
“Fine. No, we have no vehicle to get him to the treatment center. It’s in the lake now.”
“Thank goodness you are both ok!”, Margie turned from the counter with unbroken eggs in either hand.
“We didn’t have any brakes. I felt them going out the last couple of hills. I tried to slow down. I couldn’t turn into any side road or drive. We had too much speed. I am just thankful Sam jumped when I told her.”
Margie broke the egg in her left hand. Turning quickly to save the yolk and pick the shell out of the batter she was mixing up.
“Margie, you ok?”
“FINE!” hissing and cursing under her breath. Her mind was racing of all the what if’s that could have happened. Not least of all, now the concern of getting her father to his next treatment.
“Margie, can you call Wayne? Tell him to hold up. I have a connection with a shuttle service. They run blood, meds, that kind of thing between facilities. Might be able to come up with a van that can hold a gurney. Let me check TJ out and then I will call.”
“I can call him, I am not doing anything but letting you poke and prod.”
“No, she can step outside, you need to sit right here.”
“Sure, I will be right back”, grabbing her phone off the counter, Margie stepped out onto the back porch. The awning that ran along the back not only gave her shelter from the rain pouring down, but a place to pace as she put the call into Wayne. Her hope was he had’t left the county to come this way. How much time did they have before her brother found their dad, she didn’t know.

#48

Dripping wet from the rain, staring at the closed door, Sam heard muffled words on from the other side of the door.  The scent of perfume held her in a trance.
It was a familiar scent.  having been close to it before.  ‘Maybe I did hit my head hard.’
Sam came out of the trance when someone knocked on the door.
“You ok in there,Sam?”, T.J. was again showing fatherly concern.
“Fine.”
Sam ran through her memory of being around Margie while waiting for the hot water to flow in the shower and undressed.  She heard a quick knock,  the door open while in the shower, and Margie tell her some dry clothes were on top of the closed toilette seat.
Margie was in the kitchen making breakfast  when Sam came out of the bathroom.  Stepping into the kitchen to help and be near the scent which was brought memories of Sam’s grandmother. The comforting scent she had known all her life associated with love.
Backflash?
Sam’s grandmother wore the scent and only that perfume since Sam arrived. Upon Sam’s arrival as a baby she had been inconsolable, colicky baby.  Or so everyone but her grandmother thought.  She knew Sam’s mom had always worn __________ perfume.  On instinct, her grandmother bough some of it and wore it when she went to give Sam’s adopted mother a break.  Sam settled dow.  Her grandmother put a few drops in the corners of Sam’s crib.  Sam had the first sound sleep in the weeks she had come to her adopted family.

#47

The knock at the door startled Margie.  She jumped, in her seat looking to her Dad on her left and over to the couch where Leo was napping. It couldn’t be Wayne, he wouldn’t knock.   The knock came again.
Margie couldn’t remember hearing a vehicle, but the rain was coming down so hard, she may not have heard it.  She rose and went to the window over the sink to check the drive; no car.  The knock came again closer to the door she could hear voices.
“There may not be anyone there.”
“No? Well, there is a vehicle in that shed over there, see? There is somebody here.”
The first voice sounded like a woman’s, but the second was deeper, a man’s.  It sounded familiar.  The knocking became louder, stirring Leo and her Dad behind her.
“Who is that Margie?’, her dad’s raspy voice filtered by the rain barely reached her, but was apparently loud enough for those on the other side of the door to hear.
“Open up!  Let us in, our vehicle is in the lake.”
Margie moved to open the door, Leo now standing behind her, prepared to take down whoever came through the door.  The lock clicked.  The door didn’t budge. So, whoever it was, wasn’t cautious or not here to harm them.  Margie slowly pulled the door a crack open, just to peek. Then threw it open wide.
T. J. and Sam stood feet up to the threshold soaking wet.  Margie grabbed each by an arm and pulled them across.  She pushed them into the room.  Leo stood between the three and the room.
“Leo, get out of the way, they are cold and wet! We have to find them some dry clothes.  T.J. go sit by the heater, I will bring you a towel, you in the bathroom and take a hot shower.”  Margie pushed across the room to the bathroom under the stairs, grabbed towels from a shelf and turned on the hot water.  She shut the door on the way out with a quip, ” I will be back with some dry clothes.
Leo after fighting agains the crowd of three shut and locked the door.  He took the towels from Margie, taking them to T.J.  “Your car is in the lake?  Are you ok?”
“No, I am not ok.  I just landed in a ditch.”
“I can see that, are you hurt anywhere?”
“Man, I am hurt all over. If you are asking me do I need medical attention; no, I do not.”
“T.J. let me at least check you out.”
“Leo.”
“T. J. you know that your wife will have my hide.”
“Fine, then you check out Sam too.  I landed in a ditch of muddy water and some thorny bush.  So a few scrapes and scratches are all you are going to find. ”  T.J.’s voice lowered.  “Sam landed on the other side.  She may have blacked out, she didn’t answer my calls right away.”

#46

Paul met Fred in the hospital security.
“Paul, I’ll walk you down, we can talk on the way,”  they left taking the elevator down to the the basement.
“Fred, tell me,” after the elevator doors closed.
“I pulled the tapes from the corridor to the morgue.   We had only initially pulled exits.  I thought better and pulled all cameras.  You probably won’t need them, but, well, you got ’em.”
“Thank you.”
The ‘team’ was really a part timer and the deputy that stood guard duty at the courthouse Monday through Friday except for holidays. The part timer was the town photographer.  They had taken pictures, dusted the foo and waited on the coroner to arrive. Once there the coroner looked the room over, nothing was out of place and checked the body to verify it was indeed Harlan’s body.
Paul and Fred passed him in the hall.
“Looks like they just broke in to the leave the body.”
“Did you check?”
“Yes, and it’s Harlan.”
“And?”
“It’s Harlan, what more? . . . OH! No, there was nothing done to the body.  If you ask me, they thought they were taking another body, realized it wasn’t the person they came for and ditched what they took.”
Fred nodded his head, “They though they were taking Danny. My money’s on it.”
“Danny died?”
“No, Paul, but he was here last night. Left shortly after T.J. and Sam left.  Hospice.”
“You don’t say.”

#45

Alma sat up until Paul left the kitchen and disappeared into the garage. Her hands pushed back on the chair arms and the foot rest popped up. Leaning back into the chair she sighed. Harlan’s body missing or not; dead or not, she was tired. Too little sleep, too many people, Alma felt like she just need a few minutes rest before she had to face the next bit of news.
Alma’s mouth dropped open and a light snore filtered out just as Paul walked into the room. His mouth was open to speak as he came near and realized she had fallen asleep. It’d been a hard week on her. Probably a hard few months to be honest. Walking over to the couch where he had been sitting, he checked his watch as he sat down again.
Fifteen minutes. He could spare fifteen minutes. They both needed it. Her more so than him. He set his watch alarm, leaned his head against the back of the couch. For the next fifteen minutes they both took much needed power naps.

#44

“Alma, do you want me to call the boys for you?”
“No.”
“I really need to ask you some questions, the boys too. Are you sure you don’t want me to call them?”
“No, I really don’t.  I needed to be alone before you told me that, I need to be alone for a bit more after this.  Even knowing Harlan was dying, it is still taking a bit to adjust to it.”
“Alma, I really need to ask you a couple of questions and then I will let you go, ok?”
“That would be nice considering,”  Alma’s mouth formed a straight stiff line. Her patience level of being kind, considerate, had already reached it’s limit many times over the last days.  She had felt her nerves start to unbind and she had just begun dealing mentally with all the ways her life would change now with Harlan gone.  Now this. ” Go on, ask your questions.”
“Do you know anyone who might pull this kind of stunt, taking Harlan’s body?”
“Not off hand, no.  There were some citizens unhappy with the proposed zoning changes that were coming up before the last election. Those stopped once Harlan announced he wasn’t running for re-election.  Same thing with the church, but once he revealed why he was leaving the pulpit, their sentiments changed.”
Paul jerked.  He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the phone, checking the incoming call.  Looking up at Alma as he rose, “I need to take this.”
Paul walked thru the kitchen out a door on the opposite side of the room and into the garage shutting the connecting door as he went. “Give me something good, Fred.”
“I think we found Harlan’s body.”
“Well, damn! Where?”
“In the morgue.”
“Hospital morgue?”
“Yes, the crew I sent to check the building found evidence someone broke into the morgue.  No one has touched anything, but they could look through the window and there is a body in there with a Johnson Funeral blanket over it.  We haven’t had any one else die tonight.  The last dead body I can recall in that morgue was over a month ago that I can recall.”
“Ok, just keep that secured and I will get someone out there to start processing. Fred, thank you for the call.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

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