The physician removed his glasses and sat down.
You must login to vote
"And there's more. Apparently, he was planning to become engaged to some young lady that very same weekend. There's a beaut of a ring within the inside pocket of his coat. At least that sparkler will help defray a portion of the county's burial expenses if no one comes forth to claim it, though I doubt anyone will."
"Ah, with talkin' money matters, there's somethin' I forgot to mention. The father of the two kids this man rescued offered to pay some funeral or burial expenses. An insurance guy. He was very grateful, doc. His name that I wrote down here is...gimme a second or two to be findin' it...here. Here it is - a Mr. Gilliland. Casey Gilliland, Sr."
The doctor struck a match and lit his own Chesterfield. "Do we know how to reach this man?"
"Oh, yeah. The family lives in a small apartment over a store right here in Ridgewood. On Fresh Pond Road, in fact. An' the outfit he works for is downtown. He gave me his card."
"Good. But there's one last thing I still can't figure out."
The officer closed his memo book. "What's that?"
"As a rule, corpses generally don't begin to... ah, acquire a not-too-pleasant fragrance until they are exposed to the elements for a period of time, especially during the heat of the summer."
"Like why they keep fish on ice at the market. To keep 'em fresh an' not stinkin' so bad."
"Precisely, but not so with Mr. Palomino. During my examination, I was struck by the distinct and overpowering smell - and I may be way off-base with this - the smell of sea water, as if his body had been dredged from a river bottom or from beneath the Dead Sea itself, not from under a trolley or the snow. I'm at a complete loss to explain it because there is no physical trace of salt water that I've been able to ascertain at this time. Perhaps, if an autopsy can be authorized before burial -"
"Doc, you sure was right before when you said this dead guy's appearance and finish is a weird one. It may be wrong to do this, but I think I'm gonna be withholdin' a lot o' these facts from my report - an' definitely if any news reporters come nosin' around askin' too damn many questions."
"A most wise decision, Patrolman Ryan. I believe I shall be forced to do much the same. And don't forget to have someone from the precinct come here and take his fingerprints later when he's back downstairs in the icebox. Running them locally, and then sending copies off to the state troopers, to Hoover's boys down in Washington, and even to the military, if necessary, will, I think, prove that he's clean as a policeman's whistle by 1947 standards. He'll have no record because he's never been printed. I'm certain of that from what we do know already."
"I'll call it in from the box on the corner."
Both prepared to go their separate ways when the doctor was hit with an odd thought.
"Funny. There may yet be a silver lining surrounding this unfortunate incident."
"How do you figure that?"
"If those documents on his person were truly legitimate, and I believe they are, then I suspect we can look for a reappearance of one John Palomino a little over a month from now - but as a punchy newborn babe. Round two, so to speak. I want you to be keeping those sharp peepers of yours peeled on any and all future birth announcements in the February newspapers. Just as I will."
They were walking toward the front staircase exit when the doctor turned and said, "I was raised Lutheran and have never believed in any of that reincarnation claptrap, but today's encounter with this late gentleman - and hero - seems to have put a brand new wrinkle on those theories and beliefs. It flies in the face of them and gives one pause, doesn't it?"
Ryan smiled as he shrugged. "I guess it does. Or should."
"I also wonder if things will pan out differently for that young man the next time around. With a better finale? Hopefully. And if he does get that gal, perhaps a much happier ending?"
Their laughter, however forced and uneasy it may have felt or sounded at the moment, seemed to echo long but softly through the still hospital corridor as the two men shook hands, wished each other future New Year's greetings for 1948, and resumed their respective official duties on that late December afternoon.
Copyright © 2010 James D. Young