“What do you mean ‘it’s just not there’? that isn’t how things work, Milo. ‘It’s just gone’ is not a thing you can say in this department. Firstly, it’s not like things can get up and walk off on their own. Secondly, there are pretty fucking dire ramifications if we’re missing anything. Do you recall why that might be? Do you? Because we work in the goddamned morgue, Milo. You and I? We’re the only two in here without mobility issues.”
“I’m not an idiot, Steve. Obviously I understand the general idea of where we work, and obviously I know it’s a giant problem if one of them goes missing. I think I’m pretty aptly freaked the fuck out here. But it stands that Mister Henderson is no longer with us, this time in the physical sense, and not merely the spiritual. I walked to the other room to get another box of gloves, came back, he was gone.” Milo shrugged. The movement felt too casual to him, so he followed it with an awkward cough. It helped nothing.
Steve wasn’t a bad guy. He wasn’t mean or unusually strict about their work environment or processes. Milo understood, as he’d said, that there were certain things about this job that were fact. Fact one that was probably the most relevant here? Corpses do not get up and wander off. Especially corpses that were halfway through autopsy. That was just past the point of no return. Can’t have somebody wake up from a mystery affliction when their brain is sitting on the scale.
To make this all more complicated, the current time was a little after 2 am. Nobody who wasn’t actively working even came near the morgue at this hour. You can staff the most scientifically minded folk in the entire world, they still weren’t going to visit the dead after midnight if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. This meant a few more facts were instantly solidified. Like how the doors to the outside would be locked. Neither Milo nor Steve had even gone outside tonight for dinner. Maybe it was creepy, but they’d both brought food. Those doors were always locked coming in, but after 8 pm, clearance was required to go out as well.
As if Steve caught Milo’s thought out of the air, he said “He’s gotta still be in here somewhere, right?”
The notion was a relief, and simultaneously horrifying. On the one hand, they could figure this out without worrying about the world at large butting in. On the other… well… mobile carcass.
“Right then.” Milo tugged his lab coat down, as if the motion would turn the cloth into armor, and make him feel more confident in what they needed to do. Steve didn’t look scared. Steve looked like he might find Mr Henderson propped up in a closet for a gag. Which is to say; Steve looked pretty pissed off. Milo wanted to be Steve right now. Firmly set in the logical. He couldn’t even say he minded the idea that Steve was harboring resentment toward him. It would be a nicer place to be than completely certain that Mr Henderson was gone.
Milo didn’t have a clue on where to begin this search. The current room was mostly open. The room to the left held cold storage. Maybe the corpse crawled in with somebody else. That thought did not comfort Milo in the least. He decided he would leave cold storage for last. Maybe make Steve look. To the right was the office, but that’s where Steve had been. Two doors on the back wall. The left was the supply closet, the right the bathroom. Milo knew the closet was empty of organic matter. Then behind him, there was the door to the hall.
At the end of which was the elevator.
Which went up to the rest of the hospital.
Steve had not stopped to contemplate the course of action like Milo had. He was moving quickly, throwing open doors to give cursory glances to what might be behind them. He left them open as he went, allowing Milo to see most of the way into the spaces as well. Steve even went to the cold storage without hesitation, surely no thoughts along the lines of what Milo had were playing in Steve’s head. He almost mentioned to Steve that there might be an extra corpse in one of the drawers, but didn’t want to sound stupid. Before any suggestions could be made, really – or before Milo could formulate words and make his body go through the process of expending them so that others might hear – Steve was grabbing him by the hand and tugging him toward the door to the hall.
Once out of the morgue proper, Milo spared a quick look back at the entrance. Just to be sure. The double doors were shut, the red light on the pad next to them showing the locks firmly engaged. Steve kept pulling him toward the elevator. Those doors locked both ways after 8. It was because there was a lot more traffic during the day, and nobody wanted to wait to leave for someone to stop what they were doing. Intake was less of an issue, Milo and Steve always knew somebody was arriving. Nobody showed up unannounced. Milo thought that the doors should be locked both directions at all times. Well, he did until he had his hands covered in viscous fluids.
“Shouldn’t we check…? Milo looked over his shoulder again.
“The alarm would sound if somebody tried to force it.” Steve sounded sure of himself. Milo wished he were sure of himself right now. “You and I are the only ones with key cards to that door. And my key card is right he…”
Their stop was so sudden that Milo ran into Steve’s back. He realized that Steve had been holding his hand the whole time because now the air was cold around his flesh. He missed the security of the touch. The moment fled his mind, though, and Milo worked on quickly finding his own card. He held it up when he located it. Steve’s movements were getting more and more frantic. Milo’s imagination went through a million scenarios all at once. Steve’s card was on his desk. Steve’s card was on the back of the toilet in the bathroom, where Steve had put it to make sure it didn’t drop in the toilet. Mr Henderson had pilfered Steve’s key card so that he could have a stroll. Steve had dropped his card, somebody untoward had found it, came in, pilfered Mr Henderson. Steve had voluntarily given the card to Mr Henderson so that the corpse could go have a last bit of tea.
Three of these were by far more logical. Yet Milo couldn’t get himself to stop picturing Mr Henderson walking around the hospital grounds sipping a cup of chai.
“Oh, no, here it is.” Steve smiled, relief apparent. He showed Milo the card, then continued toward the elevator. The mood was a little lighter. It’s nice to discover the problem at hand didn’t happen due to some colossal fuck-up such as losing one of the only two key cards needed to get into a place.
Their place slowed again as the hall became a corner before it became more hall. The turn was meant to be both added security – corners slow people down, and a privacy measure – easy to keep unwitting folk from accidentally seeing a dead body if they happen to take the elevator too far down. It was occasionally an annoyance. Hard to holler down after somebody once they’ve turned that corner. If you forgot to say something, you hoped they hadn’t reached it yet.
The first thing Milo noticed was that the primary security, a guard, today it would be Tim, was missing. Tim gone? Mr Henderson gone? Too blatant to ignore. Coincidences such as these were far too large to be actual coincidences. Steve liked to say he didn’t believe in coincidences anyway. He claimed he’d never seen a coincidence happen in real life. Most of what occurred that seemed like it might be one could be explained in another way. He especially didn’t like them applied to the science of death.
Milo proceeded toward the end of the hall while Steve rummaged on the desk to see if there was any indication of Tim. Maybe he’d gone off for a break. Or a short wee. The guards didn’t always let anyone know if they were going to be away for just a couple of minutes. Shift change was the only time Milo could be sure that he or Steve would see security. There were logs and reports. Bathroom breaks did not require reports.
He pressed the elevator button, expecting to wait a long moment for the box to make its way down. But the doors opened immediately. Milo was lost enough in thought that they almost started to close again. He stopped them with one hand, considering what it might mean for the elevator to be right here. It almost never was. They didn’t have their own, it was shared by every floor. Everybody used it. Most people did not push the B button, which had morgue etched next to it. Milo couldn’t think of a time when he hadn’t had to wait.
At first it seemed nobody was inside. Milo looked down to mind the gap and jumped at the sight of Timon on the floor. Mr Henderson sprawled out with him. Time sat, cradling the corpse. Like one might a child. Or a loved one. It was a strange sight that took Milo time to decipher. It took more time for his voice to function again.
“Steve?” He called, though quietly.
“Hold on, I’m…”
“No. Steve. Come here.”
“Unless you’ve found Mr Henderson,” Steve said, his voice getting steadily closer “there’s no call for using that tone of voice with oh.”
It occurred to Milo that Tim was crying. Not guilty tears of being found out. Not panicked tears of being caught and taken to jail. Not the tears of somebody who is mad, either, though Milo would have hedged a bet on that one and maybe not lost much. They were the ugly, honest tears of abject despair. Tim was sobbing, with Mr Henderson in his arms. If the current state of the corpse hadn’t been so gruesome, it might have been a touching scene. As it was, Milo was having difficulty not focusing on the bit of skull stuck to Tim’s collar.
Steve’s hand automatically lifted to stop the doors as they began to close again. He was staring rather blankly at the display before him. Milo didn’t know what to do, either. Or say, for that matter. But he did like the fact that he’d apparently processed what he was seeing faster than Steve had. For all of Steve’s togetherness since the start of this ride, it was Milo that had made the discovery, and Milo that had called Steve’s attention to it, and Milo who had not utterly lost his shit. Okay, that was a bit cruel. Steve was still together. Just … not entirely there at the moment.
It didn’t appear to Milo that anything obscene had been going on between the pair on the elevator floor. In fact, Mr Henderson was wrapped in a sheet, though hastily. Milo didn’t think that Tim had even planned what to do after this initial step. Actually, it seemed like Tim hadn’t made a plan at all. He’d just acted. Some strange instinct had taken the wheel, driven him to steal Mr Henderson, and got him as far as the elevator. For all appearances, Tim seemed content where he was. Aside from the tears and snot, of course.
Tim looked at them finally. Maybe it had only been a few seconds. Milo couldn’t be sure.
“He was my dad.” Time said without any prompting, voice choked with grief. “I didn’t know he’d died. He never wanted an autopsy.”