Accident Victim

It all happened so damn fast. One minute I was cruising along in my Lexus, listening to the Brandenberg Concertos being performed live from Vienna and then the next, BANG!!!

He was homeless from the look of him, dressed in rags and smelling like the hind end of a barnyard. His hair and beard was dirty and matted, his eyes steely blue and they glared up at me as if to tell me how pissed off he was at being dead. I hadn’t seen him coming because I was reading a text from the hospital informing me that my surgery scheduled for the morning had been canceled because the patient had suffered an embolism and passed away thirty minutes ago. Patients can be so inconsiderate.

Still, it left me with a free morning so I was pleased for a few moments that I could actually sleep in a bit and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before the impact jolted me into reality. I slammed on the brakes and the Lexus came to a shuddering stop at the side of the road.

Fortunately, the road I was on was deserted – it was almost midnight. Normally, I wouldn’t have been out so late the night before a surgery, but the board of surgical review was meeting the next day about a patient of mine that had died on the table while I was operating on him, so I had to review the file and make sure all the paperwork was there. Afterwards, I stopped for a drink at the Paradiso – just something to ward off the chill of the night, I’m not an alcoholic. Maybe there were two or three, I wasn’t really certain but no more than that. I had to operate the next morning, after all and I’m a responsible physician.

Not like my father. He’d left my mom when I was just eight. Okay, it would be more accurate to say she’d thrown him out but he would have left anyway. Now, there was an alcoholic. My dad had been a promising neurosurgeon at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Northeast until he made a very costly mistake in the operating room and killed a patient through his own negligence. The family had sued the crap out of him and the hospital; the hospital quietly settled and then just as quietly canned his ass. His medical license was yanked because, as it turned out, he had been impaired while he was operating.

Afterwards, he just drank and drank and drank while the bank account shrank and shrank and shrank. Mother, who had been an excellent trial lawyer before leaving her job to raise me and run the household went back to work, but dad just kept on wallowing in self-pity and drinking. Finally it came to the point where she couldn’t tolerate the sight of him and threw him out on his ass.

Mom worked hard to get me into med school (although it broke her heart I didn’t follow her into law school, but I had always wanted to be a surgeon ever since I’d first seen Marcus Welby, M.D. as a kid). I got myself into Johns Hopkins and got my medical degree, going into a surgical residence at Mercy Hospital in Manhattan (back when it was one of the finest hospitals in the City), finally becoming a thorassic surgeon and one of the best in the Northeast. I had it all; a great house, a trophy wife, a thriving practice and the respect and admiration of my peers.

I got out of the car and ran to the heap of rags huddled on the side of the road. Even if I hadn’t been a pre-eminent surgeon at one of the finest hospitals in America, I would have known the man was dead. His head was facing up but his body was facing down; it was a horrific sight. The eyes were open and lifeless, staring at his killer accusingly.

And make no mistake about it, I had killed him just as surely as if I’d taken a gun and shot him in the back of the head. I had been distracted and hadn’t seen him on the side of the road. Just what the hell was he doing out there at this hour anyway? Why wasn’t he in some shelter or mission, sleeping off whatever booze-inspired nightmare that kept him from an honest day’s work?

The ramifications of what had happened began to set in. Christ, I’d been drinking. How many had I had? I tried to think, but I knew there were at least two…no, three…no, there was at least one more…shit, I’d lost count. If the police arrived, I’d be arrested for vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, god knows what else. I’d lose my license just as my father had, even though I’d never operating on anyone drunk. Sure, I’d had a shot to steady my nerves once or twice – I was entitled to, wasn’t I? I’d saved hundreds of lives, maybe a thousand. I had twenty good years ahead of me if I took care of myself – how many more lives would I save? Lives that would be doomed if I weren’t there to save them, and for what? For a dirty, stinking, useless bum that nobody on this earth would miss?

My mind was racing. This was just goddamned unfair. One of the greatest surgeons in America unable to save lives because of a drunken bum who had probably wandered out into the street in a drug-induced haze. Yes, of course that had to be it. It was his fault. It couldn’t possibly be mine. I only glanced down at the phone for a second. And I wasn’t drunk. I’m not an alcoholic. Sure, I’d had a few but I have an iron constitution. I was fine. I felt fine. I didn’t feel drunk goddamn it. I’d know it if I were drunk – I’m a doctor. One of the best.

I thought about it quickly. Wait a minute. Who was this bum? Who would miss him? If I just drove him somewhere, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere I could dump the body. Then there would be nothing tying the accident to me. Except the car. Shit, how bad was it banged up? I got up and ran to the front of the car. Jesus wept! The bumper was pretty much stoved in, but the Lexus was one of the best built cars there was. Had I been driving one of those crappy foreign cars, I would have been killed. Thank God I know something about cars and safety. I was lucky to be alive, that goddamned bum had nearly killed me. Well, he deserved what he got then, the bastard.

But I could explain the damage. A hit and run driver. Slammed into me while I was stopped at an intersection. Did I get a description? No officer, I have to admit I went into a bit of shock. It was an SUV, I think. No, I couldn’t tell what make or model. It was dark…blue, or maybe black. I couldn’t really tell, it was dark. He just drove off. I would have driven off after him but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I didn’t really see the license plate either, it just all happened so goddamned fast.

I knew what I had to do. I could get out of it. This didn’t have to be the end of my career. I could still practice medicine, still save lives. I went back to the bum and grabbed him by the shoulders. Good lord, he was heavy. I seized him by the shoulders and began to drag him towards the Lexus but quickly realized that would be a mistake. I had wondered why I didn’t see any blood – it had been pooling underneath the body. When I started to drag him towards the Lexus, it left a mark. I couldn’t have that. Summoning all of my strength, I lifted the corpse like a sack of potatoes and staggered towards the Lexus.

Fortunately, I wasn’t far. Time was of the essence; there could be no witnesses or everything would be for nothing. My luck held, though. Nobody drove by, no police cars cruised past waiting to unjustly accuse a man like me who should get a statue to his name in the center of town – they should have a goddamned parade for me. I save lives. So I ended this one, so what? He wasn’t really doing anything with his.

I got him into the Lexus and drove off, tires squealing. The engine was knocking ominously, but the car was otherwise drivable. I knew that if I drove it too far and too hard the damage would catch up to it and I would be stuck with a dead car and a dead body. I giggled to myself at my own wit. Goddamn I have a great sense of humor.

I had to hope there were no police cars who would pull me over immediately if they saw the damage to the car and of course once they did that they would see the body. I had to take side streets and less-traveled roads instead of the interstate, but I had to get out of downtown. I knew that just outside of town there was a parcel of land that at one time was going to be an outlet mall before the economic downturn had killed the financing for the project. Now it was just a vacant field. Noody ever went there, and this was a perfect place to leave the body. It could lay there for days, even weeks and nobody would ever find it.

I saw headlights behind me and my breath seized up. As the vehicle behind me passed underneath a streetlight I realized to my horror that it was a police cruiser. I tried to keep my cool. Just drive carefully. Don’t exceed the speed limit but don’t go too slowly either. Don’t give him a reason to be suspicious. My heart pounded as I drove one block then another and then another. Still the cruiser followed in the darkness, silent and accusing me. In the back seat, I could see the crumpled body of the dead man. His eyes were looking directly at me. Shit! Why hadn’t I turned his head down? He was going to be staring at me the entire way. How dare you judge me you insignificant piece of crap? I’ve made something of my life while you are a nothing. Useless. Your life has no meaning, no point. Want proof? You died in the street, alone, unloved. What does that tell you about your life?

I have plenty of people who love me. My mother, my stepfather, my children, even my ex-wife has some feeling for me. The divorce was painful but she couldn’t take the life of a surgeon who was on call 24-7. She needed far more attention than I could ever have given her, the bitch. Wait, that was unfair. She could have soaked me in the divorce but took a generous alimony and child support. I was living well on what I made so what did I care? I’m a generous man, ask any charity in town. I’m always the first to sign up for charitable functions, and I give generously. I sit on the board of several charities in fact, although I can’t always attend the meeting. Too busy saving lives, after all.

The lights of the cruiser went on and my heart stopped. I heard the siren and knew everything was over in an instant. I felt tears coarsing down my cheek as I pulled over. It just wasn’t fair! I had always done the right thing, always put others first, always gave my patients my unwavering best and now it was all fllushed down the toilet because of a crazy, stinking piece of human garbage.

As I pulled to the side of the road the cruiser raced by me, sirens screaming and it made a right about a block farther up, tires squealing. I pounded the dashboard, screaming. My heart was racing and I drew in deep breaths and tried to calm myself down. “YOU BASTARD!!!” I shrieked at the corpse in the back of my car and I turned around and reached back to slap it, but it was just a little too far out of my reach. I settled for slamming my fist into the upholstery of the passenger seat instead. “YOU BASTARD!!! YOU DID THIS TO ME ON PURPOSE DIDN’T YOU? YOU’RE TRYING TO RUIN ME!!!” I screamed at the lifeless body as if my angry cries could do it some good. Damn, I needed a drink but that would have to wait. I needed a clear head for the business at hand.

I put the Lexus back into drive and pulled back into the now-deserted street. I licked my suddenly dry lips and tried not to shake as I drove through a maze of streets, staying off of main roads that were likely to be patrolled by the police. It took me nearly an hour but I finally got to the mall site.

They had begun to lay the foundations before work stopped. There were a couple of streetlights for illumination and a traffic signal on the corner. There would have been plenty of traffic coming by during the day – the cross street led to a freeway on-ramp and the road I was on led to a new housing development that was to have had over 8,000 new homes in it (I knew that because I was one of the investors) before work had stalled because of the housing crisis. Now, I was all alone.

I pulled the body of the bum out of the car, looking up from time to time to make sure nobody was coming. I was as nervous as the first time I’d performed open-heart surgery on my own. I decided to drag the body; at this point, speed was more important than the blood trail. Here, it didn’t matter quite so much – once the body was found it would be obvious that the nameless loser hadn’t died of any natural causes anyway.

There was a pile of debris near one of the laid foundations and it was there I dragged the body. I covered it with the debris – discarded plywood, half-empty sacks of concrete and so on. I gave the body a kick which brought an oddly satisfying sensation, then proceded to hide the body. By the time I was done, it was effectively concealed. I kicked the impressions the body had made while I dragged it through the dirt until there was no sign that anybody had been there. Columbo couldn’t have found that body.

Feeling quite proud of myself – obviously I could have made a superb master criminal, the police could never possibly outwit me – I got in the car and drove it home. It wasn’t too far and while I hoped that the police wouldn’t pull me over – there was a substantial amount of blood on the back seat – I felt confident that I could have explained it satisfactorily to any ignorant beat cop.

No such opportunity presented itself however and I arrived home without further incident. I pulled the car into the garage and went about concealing the evidence. I scrubbed down the back seat until most of the obvious blood was gone. If anyone found traces using that…whatever it is they use on CSI to tell that there was blood spatter…I could explain it away as the leakings from my surgical scrubs which I had brought home to launder. In fact, many colleagues had seen me carelessly toss my scrubs into the back seat on many occasion. I didn’t trust the hospital launderers to get them properly clean, after all – most of them were just a step above cavemen on the evolutionary ladder.

The next morning after a restful sleep, I got up feeling cheerful. Only one last task to perform. I called my insurance company to report a hit and run accident, an egregious crime that had been perpetrated on the heroic surgeon on his way home after a late night of saving lives. The employee was sympathetic but informed me that I needed to file a police report in order for the insurance company to pay for the repair of the Lexus, or to compensate me for the cost of a new one if it were too costly to repair.

I called the police and was told I had to file the report in person down at the station. I called my service and had my day rescheduled; I told them I had been in a car accident and while I was all right I was in no shape to perform surgery. I had a few drinks – just a few, I’m no alcoholic – and I drove down to the police precinct late in the afternoon.

I got the paperwork from the desk sergeant and sat down to fill it out. I handed the filled out form back to the desk sergeant and he looked it over and I noticed his eyebrow raised. “Dr. Thomas Garrity?” he said with a touch of awe in his voice, as was proper. I nodded and he said “The heart surgeon?” I smiled. “The correct term is thorassic surgeon but yes, that is I.” He smiled at me. “I stand corrected. There’s someone who wants to talk to you – one of the patients whose life you saved is a detective here in the precinct. He talks about you all the time – I’m sure he’d want to come out and say hello. Would you mind if I let him know you were here? He’d have me walking a beat if I didn’t.”

I sighed. Such was the price of being the best. “I suppose that would be all right, but I can’t stay long. A surgeon’s time is never strictly his own.” The flatfoot nodded and eagerly dialed the phone. “Detective Grimes? Dr. Garrity is here. Yes, he’s here. Right in front of me. I knew you’d want to see him. I’ll let him know you’ll be right out.” He hung up the phone and said “Please have a seat over there. Detective Grimes will be out momentarily.”

I sat down in the waiting room with the flotsam that collected there. I felt my skin crawl at the proximity to people who were criminals, prostitutes, losers. I would need to scrub myself as thoroughly as I had scrubbed down the Lexus the previous evening. Damn, I’m funny, I thought, stifling a laugh.

A man in a rumpled suit came out. “Dr. Garrity?” I raised my hand. I didn’t recognize the man but then, I’d had so many patients I couldn’t be expected to remember all of them. “Come with me please.” he said, indicating the open door he’d just emerged through. I stood up, holding my hands out protesting “I really don’t have time…”

He interrupted “This will just take a moment. I know you’re a busy man but it’s important. I’m working a homicide case right now where your expertise might prove invaluable.” My curiosity was piqued. Here was another example of how selfless I am – helping the police solve a crime that might put a heartless criminal behind bars. “I’d be happy to help” I said and followed him through the door.

He led me into an interrogation room and sat me down at a table. “Sorry that I had to bring you in here but it really is the only place to have a private conversation right now. Let me just run to my office and get the files so that you can look at them. Hopefully you’ll be able to answer a few questions that the medical examiner couldn’t, then you can be on your way.” I nodded. “Only too happy to help,” I said in a cheerful voice. I even admire myself sometimes. He left and shut the door behind him.

It was almost dinner time and I was debating in my head which restaurant I would have dinner in – I didn’t have any reservations but a surgeon of my stature doesn’t need them – when the detective walked back in. He had a file folder and what looked like a DVD. He put the file folder down and said “We found a body last night that had been moved from the murder site to an abandoned construction site. The body was in an unusual condition and I was wondering if you might shed some light on it.”

He opened the file folder and there was a picture of the cadaver. To my shock, I recognized it. It was the bum that had caused me all those problems. Still, I thought it could be a horrible coincidence. I looked up and said “I’m…not sure what you want me to tell you. My specialty is thorassic surgery, this appears to have been the work of some kind of gross trauma.”

The detectives eyes grew hard. “Why don’t you just cut the crap Doctor? You’re a very bright man – we might not have ever found the body except for one thing.” He got up and slipped the disc into a DVD player and pressed play. A small television screen in the corner came on. There was a grainy picture of a Lexus pulling up to a curb. A man got out and opened the door to the back seat and began pulling out a body. The man looked up nervously to see if there was any traffic and the detective hit freeze frame. It was clearly my face.

The detective continued, “You probably don’t realize this but at every new traffic signal the city has installed over the past three years a traffic cam has been standard. It so happened that we had someone monitoring this one because of illegal dumping that has been going on at that corner. Of course, nobody has dumped anything quite like this yet.”

I sat back, smiling sardonically. Everything I’d worked for, gone. My life was over. I would be going to jail for the rest of my life, and for what? “That damned useless piece of crap. My brilliant career is over because of a bum, someone who would have been forgotten and should have been. Nobody will ever miss him, and now I won’t be able to save dozens, maybe hundreds of lives.” I looked at the detective sternly. “Do you think that’s a fair trade-off? Hundreds of lives I could save for one stupid, drunken, lice-ridden, diseased piece of SHIT?”

The detective’s face was full of rage. “That’s not a very nice thing to say about your father, now is it?” I sat back, thunderstruck, my jaw dropping. The detective misunderstood my surprise. “You didn’t think we’d be able to identify him? He had DNA on file from all the times he gave blood at the Red Cross. It didn’t even take 24 hours for us to figure out who he was.”

I began to laugh. Things had come full circle. My father had wrecked my life by leaving it, now he had finished the job by coming back in. The irony was simply too much to ignore. Damn, I’m a funny guy!

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