It’s bad enough that Buzz always made comments about the aliens wanting to fatten us up for meals. It was worse that the morgue reminded me of a commercial kitchen with the stainless steel door on the cooler and all the stainless shelving and equipment.
“Won’t take long,” the sheriff said as he walked me down the corridor and through the swinging door to the place where they housed the recently departed for processing. “This is the tough part.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Poor Buzz. He didn’t deserve to die early.”
I didn’t mean for that to come out as an accusation, and I hoped it didn’t sound that way because it might signal that I knew more about what happened a few hours earlier than I was letting on. No such luck, as usual.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maynard said, and I cussed myself good.
“Nothing. He just didn’t seem that ready to die yet.”
“Who is?” Belloc mused.
“You’re sure you don’t more than you’re saying about why Buzz was down by the train station this morning?” Maynard pressed.
“If I knew, I’d tell you,” I lied. Maybe they knew I was lying. I was starting not to care, but I knew enough not to show that particular attitude. I was feeling tired and scared and sad and angry. I figured tired and sad were the only of those emotions that were safe to show.
The sheriff and his man directed my attention to a stainless steel table with a man-sized something under a sheet.
“You reckon you’re ready for this, Hank?” Belloc asked more gently than I’d ever heard him.
“I’m too confused to do much reckoning,” I said. “But as they say in the movies, let’s get this over with.”
He lifted the sheet and there was Buzz. I almost didn’t recognize him with his eyes closed and not smiling. It was just then I realized how much of Buzz was what he did with his eyes, how they winked and lit up and cast a sly glance or a worried warning. He was a good guy and a good friend, and it didn’t make sense to see him so still. I stared a long time waiting for him to breathe.
A thought occurred to me.
“Buzz has a vertical scar down the middle of his chest, from the surgery six or seven years ago,” I said. “If you need a more positive ID, we could check for that. It’s kind of distinctive because there’s a red spot at the bottom where it didn’t quite heal right.”
Why I would say that, I wasn’t sure. Something in me made me want to tell them I knew Buzz didn’t have any damn heart attack. I knew they’d never open his shirt in front of me to reveal the gaping hole where the scar used to be.
“Couldn’t hurt to look,” Maynard said, pulling the shirt farther down.
“No, that’s fine,” I said, suddenly more scared. “This is Buzz, no question.”
“A surgical scar would sure eliminate any doubts,” Belloc said.
Maynard dropped the sheet down to Buzz’s navel.
“Yep,” the sheriff said. “There’s the scar.”
The white scar followed Buzz’s sternum down the middle same as always, complete with the little red bulb at the bottom. I don’t know what was more insane, seeing him blasted in the dark of night with a ray gun or seeing him put back together like nothing happened except that he died. I focused as hard as I could on being sad and tired so they couldn’t see that I was shocked and scared and starting to ease toward hysterical terror.
“Oh man, Buzz,” I said, realizing suddenly that I could parlay all the crazy feelings into looking like grief.
“You gonna be OK, Hank?” Francis Belloc asked kindly.
As OK as a guy could be after you put a hole through my buddy’s chest big enough to drive a train through it, then patched him up and erased all the evidence of violence, as if that’s even possible, I wanted to shout and scream and get the hell away from him.
“Yeah,” I said instead.
“We still have some questions, but they can wait,” the sheriff said. “You go home and get some rest. But don’t leave the area until we shake this out, if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah,” I said again. “Wait. What? Don’t leave town?”
“Standard procedure,” Maynard said. “No worries.”
“Yeah,” I said. “No worries.”