*(If you missed post #1 about "Stories Overheard in The Office," please first read the opening paragraphs of this)
The man in the passenger seat woke with a start. “Why are we in the carpool lane?” he asked groggily.
“Weeell,” the driver responded slowly, “The sign didn’t say anything about how many people in the car have to be alive…”
Vladic started laughing a slow, rusty laugh from his spot on the rickety antique deacon’s bench by my office window. Its aging wood creaked, hand-turned stretchers flexing as if to keep time with the man’s building guffaws. And that’s when I knew Franz the morgue worker was winding up for another wild story…
STORY #2: When The Dead Fight Back
“Let’s just say this one was of above average weight,” Franz offered, licking his lips nervously as he referenced the cadaver at the center of this particular tale.
“The body was a large one” I clarified.
“Yess,” Franz hissed impatiently, “Yes, large.”
“Go on,” I prompted.
It seems that after picking up and transporting the body of this particularly large woman, Franz was left alone at the morgue to deal with the personal effects and place her remains into cold storage. Apparently however, “placing” her remains anywhere was turning out to be quite the challenge.
The design of the room was simple and open, with the door to the walk-in freezer located on a far wall. “But the threshold of the freezer door wasn’t flush to the concrete floor,” explained Franz; “Not even close.” It seems the walk-in freezer door was, in point of fact, about six inches higher than the floor. But there was more. Running along the front length of the freezer face was a shallow ‘ditch,’ handy when the job required defrosting or cleaning the freezer instead of filling it. What was not so handy was that it doubled as an accomplice to the threshold elevation discrepancy in what could have been construed as a conspiracy to fend off would-be intruders. The ditch was doubling as a moat. So naturally, a drawbridge had been devised.
The drawbridge constructed to span the height difference over the moat that protected this miniature ice-Hoth kingdom turned out to be a half-inch thick piece of plywood.
“It was flexy,” remembered Franz. I asked him to elaborate.
“When there was weight on it—“ Franz said with exaggerated slowness, pausing sarcastically for effect—“it sagged like the back of an old horse.” As the story progressed, this turned out to be an unfortunate design flaw.
“So I pushed the [body-bearing] gurney over to the ramp leading into the freezer and maneuvered up onto it,” Franz continued. Due to the exceptional weight of the corpse, however, the flimsy ramp began sagging deeply in the middle, just as he had previously described. “It was flexing bad,” Franz repeated, twice, perhaps thinking this Biblical literary device might better impress on me the seriousness of the situation. I nodded both times, fascinated with the way his hands had suddenly begun circling each other as he talked, like two vultures bent on mutual annihilation.
“And then something got stuck,” Franz said, vultures pausing—“the front wheels of the gurney were getting hung up on the lip of the freezer door, and the more I sat there trying to heave the gurney up and over and into the freezer, the more the piece of plywood continued to sag. I was slowly drifting down and backwards, and I was pretty sure the ramp was going to break if I stayed on it. But then I had an idea.” I shuddered involuntarily.
The ‘idea,’ it turned out, was to get a running start from the far side of the open room so that momentum might triumph over gravity, as well as the nagging lip of that freezer threshold. Which is how it came to be that Franz, the gurney and the innocent, overweight cadaver all picked up speed one fine Autumn morning in a quiet morgue and hurtled faster and faster towards a walk-in freezer guarded by a moat of death. Into my head, unbidden, came the picture of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, first senior officer of the U.S. Navy at the time of the American Civil War, pointing to the line of tethered mines in the water blocking the progress of his battleship fleet in August of 1864 and shouting-- with stoic courage-- “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
The vultures had revived and were now circling faster than ever, faster, even, than the whirling wheels of one ill-fated gurney.
“So I charged,” Franz said.
“And something bad happened?” I asked, leading the witness.
“You could say that,” he admitted reluctantly. When the stainless steel gurney hit the plywood ramp, he told me, weighed down by one exceptional body and drunk with speed, the ‘back of an old horse’ suddenly acted more like a trampoline, flipping up into the base of the gurney as the front wheels hit the lip of the freezer and rebounded backwards. The basic result was that the flying plywood ramp somehow caused the gurney to collapse.
“And that’s when she gave me the black eye” Franz confessed quietly.
"Wait, who?" I asked, suddenly confused.
"The dead lady" he mumbled, a haunted look on his face as he said it. I asked if he would kindly repeat what he had just said, slower and louder.
“Well, I had gained some momentum too, see,” he continued, ignoring me, “but what I didn’t have was the benefit of a freezer lip to stop my forward motion.” As the gurney collapsed, the body of the large woman had fallen as well. So had Franz—directly on top of the cadaver. But in some bizarre way, the woman’s left leg had bent during the fall, so that as Franz's horrified face hurtled towards the tangled jumble of ditch, ramp, steel and corpse, its descent was stopped short by the knee of the dead woman. Abruptly.
At the sound of the commotion, a door opened at the far end of the room to reveal Franz’s manager, standing stone-dead still as he slowly took in the grim scene.
“This is one for the books,” he supposedly muttered in bewilderment. Then he shook his head, walked back the way he had come and closed the door.
Later that night, Franz left the morgue and headed to the bar for his shift behind the counter.
“Woah, nice shiner” haggled a customer.
“You should see the other guy” Franz quipped weakly.
“Yeah, whatever,” needled the man, taking a sudden swig of his drink while scrutinizing him suspiciously— “it was probably a girl.”
Franz did not smile.