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Authors: Allen Wyler

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BOOK: Dead Ringer
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Yeah, sure. Maybe Andy can do something like that. But walking up to a girl he’s never seen before and asking her name? Christ! Especially now with everyone aware of what’s going on. He slouches further in the booth. Either the girls at the other table haven’t noticed or have more refined social skills than these turkeys because they continue to ignore his booth. But he thinks he hears one or two giggle.

Half an hour later the girls stand to collect coats and purses.

Theo says to the group, “Hey McRae, she’s getting ready to go. Last chance to meet the love of your life.”

Think I didn’t notice?
Disappointment hits. He’ll probably never see her again. His only chance to meet her is slip-sliding away. But he’s frozen in place.

So, of course, Andy has to turn and look again. Shit!

She starts for the door.

Andy says, “Excuse me,” pushing Angelovic out of the booth so he can slide.

Aw, Jesus …

Two excruciating minutes later Andy’s back, slaps a piece of paper on the table in front of Lucas. “Name’s Laura. Call her.”

Lucas gripped the phone harder. “I don’t want to get into another argument about Andy. Could you please just do it for me?”

the one who’s arguing,” she said.

He massaged his forehead and tried to think of a way to cajole her into calling him but couldn’t. She wasn’t going to call. Period.

The reason Laura despised Andy? Because he was a womanizer. That, and the fact that she and Trish, Andy’s ex-wife, were good friends.

Regardless, he and Andy had been friends since grade school, and right now he was worried about him. “Please just do it for me?”

“Oh, all right.”

From her tone he knew she wouldn’t do it. And if he asked her tomorrow, she’d claim he never answered his phone or give some other excuse. But what could he say?

“Thanks. I’ll check with you in the morning.”

“Good-bye.” She hung up without waiting for his good-bye.

Lucas returned to the window to stare out at the harbor.

“You did what?” Lucas asks, shocked.

Andy is obviously embarrassed. “I gave Trish a case of clap.”

“Aw, Jesus, Andy …”

“I know, I know … it’s just … it wasn’t a hooker, this time.”

“That makes it okay?”

The infection caused enough fallopian tube scarring to make Trish infertile. This, in turn, sparked bitter emotions between the couple. Laura instantly sided with Trish and condemned Lucas for not cutting off his friendship with his life-long buddy. Both Trish and Laura developed an openly hostile attitude that seemed to generalize to all men. Lucas tried to reason with her, but it only mired him deeper into quicksand.

The next huge test of the Baer marriage came three years later when David, their son, turned fourteen. Andy took him on a skiing vacation in the Bugaboos for some adrenaline pumping downhill. David lost control on a steep slope and ended up sailing over a cliff, while Andy could do nothing but watch in dumb horror. By the time rescuers reached the broken body, David was cold and dead.

Trish and Laura never forgave Andy. Trish filed for divorce two months later.

Staring out the window, he sipped scotch and wondered how his own marriage had become so entangled in a thickening bramble of constant little irritations for the past two years. This phone call, for example. What was the Chinese saying? Death from a thousand little cuts?

The really frustrating thing was being totally powerless to change the downward spiral. His personality—typical of a surgeon—was to diagnose the problem and fix it. Simple. This approach didn’t work for his marriage because Laura refused to talk about their problems or see a marriage counselor. To make matters worse, he believed, was her agitated depression. Angry explosions over seemingly nothing, leaving him mystified.

“Laura, maybe you’re depressed. Maybe a small dose of an antidepressant might help.”

“Oh, now I have mental illness? Perhaps you should look at yourself, Lucas. Have you ever thought of that? Who’s going to argue with the neurosurgeon?”

“Is this what you want? To always be on edge around each other?”

“What do you mean, ‘around each other’? You’re always at the hospital, always have more important things to do. Maybe you should’ve shared some of the responsibility of raising Josh?”

So, where did that leave them?

On the slippery slope toward divorce. And he hated that. He wished he could find a way to change things back to the way they’d been five, ten years ago as a happy couple. He thought of the shared joy of buying their first house and the work spent together making it
house: Painting walls, cleaning out the basement, reworking the garden, buying their first furniture as a couple. The Christmas trees that they had decorated. That joy seemed so distant now.

He thought of Josh. Of how proud he made him. With their marriage disintegrating, his most important goal in life was to see Josh launched into adulthood as a well-adjusted, healthy young man.

The last drops of scotch went down as he watched another Star Ferry cross the harbor, the sight deepening his sense of isolation. If only he could put his arms around Josh and hold him close and know that wasn’t Andy’s head …

He dumped the bottle in the trash with the other and climbed into bed knowing sleep wouldn’t come without an Ambien. Even then, maybe not. Didn’t matter because tomorrow he’d catnap on the long flight home.

Soon as he landed in Seattle, he’d find Andy.

., S
, W

stool in his penthouse great room, Ditto savored his second cup of Starbucks Kenya roast when the phone chimed with the distinctive ring for his private line rather than the DFH after-hours line.

He set down the
Seattle Times
sports section and glanced at the glowing digits of the clock in the microwave. Damn early for a personal call. Then he remembered turning off the cell phone—the phone most of his friends called him on—and plugging it into the charger. The battery really needed to be replaced, but it pained him to think of it being dumped into a landfill. Good thing about RadioShack, they recycled batteries. Or so they said.

The phone rang again. Mostly likely either Gerhard again or the on-call person. Sometimes they called for advice.

This was a perfect example of how this job was killing him, what with the constant grind of always having to backstop employees. It had even become an issue with his girlfriend. He couldn’t get Cathy to understand there was no way to predict when Joe Blow might shuffle off to the great unknown and he’d be called to pick up the body. She thought he should delegate more responsibility to Gerhard so they could get away for a few days.

Gerhard was competent but didn’t have the flair for customer service Ditto had. Then again, the two state universities,
UW and WSU med schools, were DFH’s only regional competition for body donation, so that wasn’t really a big issue. Made him laugh because neither institution accepted bodies outside their local area unless the family agreed to pay the transportation costs. Was that idiotic or what! If all he had to worry about was the discount cremation part of the business, it’d be okay for Gerhard to manage for a few days on his own. But the body parts business required constant diligence. For obvious reasons, he’d never explained any of these details to Cathy, so he couldn’t expect her to understand.

The front door opens and a woman—a real looker—stands in the doorway. “Oh, you’re here already.”

For a moment he’s struck dumb by her beauty. Then recovers with, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, but I’m just a friend. The family’s in the living room. This way.”

Gerhard follows her, pushing the collapsible stretcher covered with a purple blanket into the next room. The couch has been made into a bed, medications and tissues on the nearby coffee table. A woman is on the couch with the unmistakable pale of death. Three other people are in the room.

Minutes later, after the body has been loaded into the hearse, Ditto stands at the door with the woman. He hands her his card. “Here. If there’s any time in the future I may be of service, just call.”

She exchanges the card with a slip of paper. “Thank you, Mr. Ditto.”

On the way back to the hearse, he unfolds the note. The name Cathy and a phone number are printed in neat block letters.

He laughed at the memory of meeting Cathy while at work in the funeral home—which preempted any need for the awkward, eventual question, “What do you do for a living?” With other women, when that topic inevitably came up, his answer was an immediate turn off. Not so with Cathy.

They sit in a booth in an Indian restaurant on their first date, eating tandoori chicken, naan, salad, and a bottle of wine. Cathy asks, “How’d you get stared in the mortuary business?”

“Simple: when I was a kid, I worked for my dad. So when I joined the Army they made me a mortician. I got out and wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, so went to work for one.” With a shrug, “Here I am.”

She seems to hang on every word. “No, I mean, how did you get the idea for the budget business. That’s really very canny.”

He smiles at the memory. “I went to Wal-Mart one day. As I got out of the car—it was raining hard as hell—I looked up, saw the sign, thought of their slogan,
Live Better, Save Money
. The rest just followed.”

“And the body parts business?” she asks.

“I figured it shouldn’t have to cost a family an arm and a leg to pay for a cremation.”

They both laugh, but she has no way of knowing that’s his and Gerhard’s private joke.

She seems to enjoy hearing about his business … so Ditto piles it on, “Med schools use bodies mostly to teach normal anatomy, so they’re very picky about what they accept.”

She flashes him a get-serious look.

“I’m serious. Check out the UW’s website. It’s all there. We won’t take your body if you have diseases like hepatitis, HIV, or
obesity. Damn ridiculous, if you ask me. Obesity? Hell, bring it on! A fatty has more skin than a skinny macrobiotic. And there was nothing wrong with a fatty’s ligaments, bones, or hair either. Why waste any of it? What we do is recycling at its best.

By the time he and Cathy finished the wine he was explaining how conscientious recycling was a mind-set he valued so much he’d made it the cornerstone of DFH’s corporate culture. Throughout the building he’d placed color-coded bins for paper, plastic, glass, metal. He believed every attempt to recycle, no matter how seemingly insignificant, helped Mother Earth survive the heavy footprints of our wasteful society. She nodded agreement, then blew his brains out with a smile. Damn! A looker
a believer.

He still couldn’t believe his luck.

He answered the phone, not bothering to check caller ID. “Ditto here.”

“It’s Leo. Okay to discuss business?”

“Yeah. I’m alone. Shoot.”

“The news I got isn’t what you’re gonna want to hear. Apparently McRae does know him.” Gerhard’s voice sounded strained.

. High as the odds were against this happening, apparently it had. Ditto started pacing.

Last night Ditto had spent hours tossing and turning, staring at the shadowy ceiling, considering the consequences of this possibility. If it had happened at any other time, he’d shrug it off, and say “So what?” What was McRae going to do about it? Long as that specimen got back here and into the oven, McRae wouldn’t have diddly-squat to back up his claim. It’d be his word against the DFH Inc. records. But there was that fucking
detective too. That changed the equation. Because in spite of what the records showed, it really had been Baer in the back of the vehicle. Who knew what might be found if the cops went over the Suburban looking for evidence.

“This McRae, what’s your take on him?”

“You asking if he’s going to be a problem? Fuck, yes. He threatened as much.”

“He can threaten all he wants. We just need to make sure no one believes him. Get the specimens back here tomorrow.”

“Got it. Thought you’d want to know is all.”

“I do. Thanks for the head’s up. But what
need to know is a detective dropped by asking about the Suburban. Apparently someone noticed the other night when you made a pickup.”


“Yeah, shit is right. But nothing’s going to come of it if we take care of things correctly.”

“You can count on me.”

“I do. And thanks. Have a safe trip.” Ditto clicked off and replaced the phone in its charger. He returned to the counter to finish his coffee. But now it seemed too strong and bitter, and the mug felt heavy in his hand. Should’ve gotten rid of the damn mug at the same time he got the divorce from Linda Lee. That unfaithful bitch. Jesus, what a clusterfuck this thing was turning into. First the detective, then the doctor …

He took a deep breath and started to go through it again.

So a Seattle doctor in Hong Kong claimed to know the person whose head was used for the dissection. Big deal. That could be handled by simply claiming a case of mistaken
identity. After all, DFH had clean papers on the donor. Who the hell was going to prove it differently? No one.

But then there was the Suburban. Even if someone had seen it near a motel the hooker used, so what? He was no lawyer, but common sense said if that was all the detective knew, he was okay. Still …

Ditto took another sip of coffee, decided it hadn’t improved with age, and went back to the newspaper.

As long as nothing unexpected happened, he’d be all right.

, U

number to the right of the doorjamb against the one she’d scribbled on a Post-it. A door identical to every other door along both sides of a long echoing hall painted institutional beige. No nameplate, just the alphanumeric TT425 engraved in an eye-level plastic plaque. She knocked.

BOOK: Dead Ringer
2.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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