Managing Her Boyfriends

Mary had no trouble putting Juan down. Like a sick pet. A generous serving of water-hemlock salad, a brief period of unpleasantness, and Juan was gone. Or at least his soul was gone, to wherever souls go. He left his remains behind. Mary zipped these up in a cadaver pouch from her lab and bundled the pouch into the back of her van before Juan’s flesh had cooled.

Juan was not the first of Mary’s boyfriends to annoy her and not the first to be given a permanent brushoff. By midnight, she was carding herself into the university’s Taft Center for Computational Biology and Cancer Research, through the back door beside the loading dock. The building’s basement was dark. She rolled a gurney out to her van and loaded Juan onto it. Inside, she wheeled him down the hall to her department’s main laboratory and dragged him onto his own personal slab in the walk-in refrigerated holding unit. At the admin counter, she added him to the departmental cadaver database as a donated John Doe, using a fake bequest ID. Then she went home to enjoy some peace and quiet for a change. Juan. The guy just didn’t know when to shut up.

In the morning, she disposed of Juan’s belongings and went back to the university to teach an anatomy class. The beauty of parking Juan downstairs as a dissection specimen was that the students weren’t sophisticated enough to discover that he had been poisoned.

Two days later she dropped by the lab to see if Juan had been carved up yet.

“We sent four or five of the most recent arrivals over to State Pathology,” Grandansky told her. “They’re doing some intern testing and they were running short of stiffs.”

Mary knew that SP would immediately identify Juan as a murder victim. They’d come over to the university and check the database. They’d spot the time Juan was checked in, query Security, and discover that Mary had carded herself in at that hour. They’d be ransacking her home in no time, looking for any random speck of Juan’s DNA they could find. They might even ransack her. She drove over to the State criminal complex and looked up her friend Morse.

“I need a body back,” she told him. “Several of my students were working on him. He got sent over here by mistake.”

“No problem,” Morse said. “When are we going to have that dinner I asked you about?”

“Soon,” Mary said. This guy. One night in bed with him and she’d be ready to poison his oatmeal the next morning.

She left the complex with Juan in the back of her van. That was a first, she thought. Always something.

The day was beautiful. It made her forget the snow, the endless gray spring, the days when she couldn’t get out of bed until her anger grew so hot that she threw off the covers with a scream.

On impulse, she turned down Lincoln and swung by the crowd of laborers who hung out on the corner next to the Home Depot. She checked them out as they hustled over to her van. She pointed to a young, good-looking stud. He hopped in.

Habla Ingles?” Mary said.

No, Senora.

Esta bien.

This one could babble all he wanted. As long as she had no idea what he was saying, it wouldn’t bother her.

Como se llama?” she said.

Angel.

Buenas dias, Angel. Me llamo Maria.

She took him home and introduced him to her lawn, her plantings, and her garden. Juan would have done well under the roses, she thought, but with a new gardener and a neighborhood full of dogs, that was out of the question.

She negotiated a day and a price with Angel and drove him back to his corner. Good. Young. Strong.

She thought about taking Juan somewhere private and parting him out, but it was a lot harder to remove a body from the departmental database than it was to enter one. She couldn’t rule out an inventory between the university and State Pathology, which would expose Juan’s missing status. So, back he went to his slab in the basement.

She wasn’t happy with him down there, however, not after his little outing to SP. Two nights later she wheeled him over to the morgue at the teaching hospital. Taft and the hospital were connected on multiple levels. At two in the morning, as with her Taft lab, she had the hospital morgue to herself. She swapped Juan with a homeless John Doe, moving Doe’s toe tag over to Juan. The tag was red, signifying that Mr. Doe was bio-waste, to be burned. She brought Mr. Doe back to the biology fridge and left Juan in the hospital to be incinerated.

In the morning, when Mary answered the door expecting Angel, a pair of Hispanic types stood there, both older and more worn than Angel. She could make out hints of Juan in the face of the one with a mustache.

“Where is Juan?” he said to Mary. “I am his brother.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Lady, my brother liked to talk. He talked about you. When you brought Angel here, he knew this was the place. Where is my brother? You had a fight with him? You called Immigration?”

Mary did not reply.

“I called his wife in Michoacan,” the man said. “Juan is not there.”

Mary started to close the door. Juan, always yapping, had never mentioned a brother. Or a wife, of course.

“If I don’t find my brother, I will make big trouble for you,” Juan’s brother said.

Mary stopped moving.

“Maybe I talk to your neighbors. Tell them how you like to do. You got a university sticker on your car,” the brother said. “You got a nice home. Maybe you are important. Maybe you don’t want trouble.”

“Come inside,” Mary said.

She sat them down at the table in the kitchen and served them whiskey in water tumblers.

“To get my brother back from Immigration, this will cost money,” the man with the mustache said.

“Listen,” Mary said. “Lo siento mucho. Juan got sick one night. It was in bed. He had a pain in his chest. I took him to the university hospital. It was his heart. He died. Juan is there now. He had no papers.”

If the brother were alone, Mary thought, I’d kill him right now. But two men, that was too risky. She still had Juan on her hands, after all.

“I don’t believe you,” the brother said.

“I’m not lying.”

“Where is he buried? Or did they burn him?”

Mary opened her mouth to say that he was cremated, but that wouldn’t get rid of the brother.

“He has not been buried or cremated,” she said. “His body is still at the hospital.”

The brother considered this.

“It is a good way to die,” his brother said. “Making love. Even to you. We will go get Juan now.”

His partner, who didn’t speak, watched Mary with interest.

She did not want anyone near Juan, not with someone else’s tag on his toe and a belly full of hemlock.

“Wait,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

In her bedroom, she called her friend Allison at the hospital.

“I’m short a couple of cadavers,” she said. “State borrowed some of mine for testing. Have you got any John Does I can have?”

“I’ve only got one and he’s infectious, so no. This one will get burnt tomorrow.”

“Thanks anyway.”

Great. Now she had family trying to reclaim a bogus, poisoned corpse, and an infected cadaver for the students in her lab. The sooner Juan went up in smoke, the better. She returned to the kitchen.

“They will ask you to identify him,” she said. “They will want to see your papers. If you aren’t legal, they won’t give him to you.”

The brother frowned.

“I don’t trust you,” he said. “I want to see him. Tal vez my brother is not there. Tal vez el Immigration has him in that prison they keep.”

“No, no. I’ll take you to see him,” Mary said, “I’ll take you when everyone is gone tonight. I have friends in the hospital. I will arrange for you to take your brother. I will pay las morditas for this. Come back tonight and we’ll go together.”

The men left. Mary broke all the plates in her kitchen before her anger cooled enough for her to stop.

When the men returned after dark, she drove them to the Taft building and they trailed her through it and a connecting hallway into the hospital’s lower level.

On the way, they passed a janitor, who exchanged quiet words in Spanish with the two men.

The morgue desk was unattended, as on her previous visit, and Mary carded them in. She slid out Juan’s drawer and pulled back the plastic sheet. The brother stared down at the body, and crossed himself.

“OK,” he said. “We take him.”

“Not yet. I am showing him to you so you know he’s here. We take him tomorrow night. I must arrange it.”

“No, we take him now.”

“No. It is not possible. We would be stopped. Tomorrow we take him.”

The brother stood staring at the plastic-covered body. The red toe tag was partially visible, peeking out under the plastic. The brother turned to Mary and studied her. She kept her face blank. Finally, followed by his friend, the man walked out of the morgue. Mary exhaled and slid the drawer shut. Thank God Juan was still around to satisfy his brother. Thank God his brother had kept his hands off that tag. Now, please Lord, get Juan into that oven for me.

“We’ll come back tomorrow night,” she said to the brother, out in the hall.

He didn’t reply. Mary felt the suspicion radiating from him.

What have I learned, she asked herself. No more undocumented Hispanic workers for a while, that’s what. Who knew they kept track of family like this? Once the body was well and truly gone, up in smoke, the brother could mourn his loss without blaming her or Immigration for his bereavement.

In the morning, her doorbell rang. She hopped out of bed and pulled on a robe. Two men in suits stood on her porch. One held up a badge.

“Sorry to bother you, Professor,” he said. “We’ve got two undocumented Mexicans down at the station. They bribed a janitor to help them steal a dead relative from the hospital last night, and got caught. The body doesn’t match the hospital’s records for it. State Pathology is examining the remains now but the Mexicans claim that you can explain everything.”