"Seymour, waddya up to this weekend?"
"I’m busy with a patient right now, Mike." Seymour hunched over the body on the examination table. A cold, gray, metal table separated the two men.
"They're not patients, and you're not the kind of doctor anyone wants to see."
"Yeah, well, pathologists go to med school just like every other doctor."
Mike revved his bone saw to maximum as he worked on the cadaver. "Say again? I can't hear you," Mike shouted over the machine. He did his best to spray tissue and blood Seymour's way, like the spitballs he used to fling in middle school.
"What I want to say..." Seymour yelled back. Mike abruptly stopped the bone saw, letting Seymour shout into silence. Seymour stopped his foot. “...is that Mr. Gold definitely died of the common cold. Lungs and air passages stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. That’s rare for a guy in his thirties, but on a planet of billions, we should be prepared for these rare events.” Seymour wiped the sticky body bits off his goggles but ended up smudging the lens with a sheen of mucus.
“You're a poet,” Mike said.
“I'm not sure why they bothered to have Gold’s body autopsied. There was no foul play, no drugs, no impalement or bullet holes, no exotic diseases, nothing that required calling me in and missing a Friends rerun. It was just a cold. Poor guy. I bet when he went to CVS for Nyquil, he never expected it would be his last drink."
The morgue’s pale blue and white tiles covered all four walls, except for where there hung a faded poster with the words “Keep Your Chin Up” above a photograph of a cat on a pull-up bar. A bank of numbered, steel-clad lockers spread from floor to ceiling along the side opposite the doors. On the adjacent wall was a cluster of sinks and basins for washing hands and tools. The room held twelve tables. There used to be thirteen, but a former chief medical examiner ordered one of the tables removed. “We need more walking space for cops and such,” he had said. Nobody believed that was the reason.
“Who ordered Gold’s body autopsied?” Mike asked.
Seymour shrugged. “Dunno, like I said.” He bent and peered into Gold’s eyes, the light from his LED headlamp absorbed by the gray orbs.
“'You said you didn’t know why. I asked, who?”
“The autopsy sheet doesn’t say. The requesting name was blank. It wouldn’t be the first time somebody left a form incomplete. But we have a job to do, even when our bosses don’t do theirs,” Seymour said.
The overhead fluorescent light flickered and crackled, reminding Seymour of when he was little, and the wind rustled the Venetian blinds in his bedroom, a certain sign that ghosts were in those blinds, waiting for the right moment to shout “boo.”
Mike dropped his instruments into the metal bin with a clang and sallied over to Seymour's table. He scanned Gold’s corpse twice, from head to toe and then toe to head, pausing both times at Gold’s wrist.
“They should tell us what the deceased did for a living because that would give us more insight into what killed them. Like if it’s a lawyer, we can look for signs of a heart attack, and if it’s a race car driver and the body’s in pieces, we can save ourselves a lot of time by not looking at his heart—or for it. Maybe your guy was a professional ice diver and caught a really bad cold that way.” He surveyed the corpse and then asked, "Gold’s been dead about two weeks, right?"
Seymour lifted the clipboard at the foot of the autopsy table and flipped to the second page. "Yeah, that's what it says."
Mike lifted the dead man's stiff arm, tapped around the elbow and forearm, squeezed the upper arm, and said, “He feels like two weeks dead, but something puzzles me. Something’s wrong.” He turned back to Seymour. "Answer me this: How can it be two weeks if his watch is ticking?" Mike ran his fingertips along the watch’s crystal and licked his lips.
“You’re not going to steal a dead man’s watch, are you?” Seymour held the clipboard and pen as if he were about to give Mike a demerit.
“So what if I am? He’s not going to need it.”
“Maybe he does. Like you said, it’s ticking.”
“That’s exactly why I want it.” Mike offered Seymour a wide, toothy smile. “I’ve never seen a watch that’s still going strong after a body’s been immobile for two weeks.”
“You’ve been sniffing too much formaldehyde, Mike.”
Mike sneered. “Tell me you’ve never stolen anything off a corpse.”
“I saw you slip that diamond ring off a dead lady and pop it into your pocket the week before last.”
“You thought I didn’t notice? You’re so clumsy, so obvious. You may be an okay pathologist—and I’m not saying you are—but you’re a lousy thief. Make a note of that on your clipboard: Seymour Hass will never be a competent thief. So I’m keeping this watch, and you’re not going to tell a living soul.”
Seymour stared at his feet. “Okay.” His voice was barely audible. He looked back at Mike, almost making eye contact, but his gaze didn’t rise higher than Mike’s lips. “But it’s a quartz watch, a cheap watch. That’s why it’s still ticking. Why bother to take it? It probably cost fifty dollars, if that. Don’t you know anything, Mike?”
Mike shook his head three times. “It’s not a quartz watch. You’re always assuming things without investigating them.” He picked up Gold’s wrist. “Look here: Breitling. Do you know Breitling? They make high-end watches. This watch probably costs as much as you and I make in a month. And listen.” Mike jerked the corpse’s arm up, popping the shoulder bone out of its socket. He cupped his other hand around Seymour’s head and shoved it to the cadaver’s wrist. “Hear that? It ticks. Quartz watches don’t tick. They make a tack sound, not a tick. Don’t you know anything, Seymour?”
Seymour’s jaw slacked as he assimilated that information. He lowered the binocular magnifying lens over his goggles and examined the deceased's watch. “So it’s a manual Breitling. The corpse probably twitched after death, winding the watch. They do that sometimes. Nothing to see here.”
“Wrong again, Dr. Seymour. It’s a manual watch that must be wound. Do you think a corpse did that? Or somebody sneaked into the morgue with the express purpose of winding Mr. Gold’s watch? People are weird when it comes to the dead, but not that weird.”
Seymour harrumphed and shuffled his feet. “Steal this watch if you want. I’m not going to say anything. This makes us even though.”
Mike unfastened the watch from Gold’s wrist, unscratched and perfectly polished with a deep, blue dial. The diamond ring Seymour had snagged probably wasn’t worth a tenth of what this watch was worth. Mike wiped the watch’s crystal against his pant’s leg and then fastened it to his wrist. A slight shock jerked his arm and he yelped. “Ow. Static electricity.”
Mike raised his arm, shoved it into Seymour’s face, and said, “It looks great, like the deceased meant to gift it to me.”
Seymour sprung two steps backward. The clipboard fell out of his hands, smacking into the floor with a thunderous bang. “Eww.”
“Eww’s not a word you hear from pathologists often,” Mike said. A rapturous laugh rose from his belly.
Seymour sighed. “I’m going to sew Gold up and go home. Maybe I can catch a Friends rerun after all. I’m done with Mr. Gold who died of a cold.”
“You do that,” Mike said before failing to suppress a sneeze. He wiped the back of his hand against his nose. “Me and my watch are out of here.” Mike expelled a cascade of sneezes as he exited the pathology room.