Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Disposing of Bodies

Mystery writers know how to dispose of bodies -- you either bury them deep in a forest, or you dump them in a place where your sleuth can conveniently stumble over them.

But what happens when your victim dies in the ER? How does the ER staff move the body without sending other patients into hysterics or causing visitors to faint dead away? 

Years ago I worked in a very crowded ER -- one that desperately needed enlarging -- where patients often ended up on carts in the hallways or on chairs under a large hanging clock in the central room. Occasionally someone would die in the ER, generally someone already close to death on arrival or someone the paramedics had been trying to revive as they raced to the hospital. On a slow day, curtains would be drawn around our other patients and the dead person would be whisked away to the morgue unseen by patients or visitors. But when we were overcrowded, and patients and visitors were stacked everywhere in the room, we  were forced to resort to more creative methods of body removal.

When I wrote TO KILL A KING, I included a scene where a dead body needed to be removed from an overcrowded ER in a quiet but creative way. I based the scene on something that had actually occurred in the ER I mentioned above, the one where I worked many years ago. I added a character to the scene who hadn't existed at the actual event, but whose fictional presence added a humorous twist to the story. I'm posting that scene here, and I leave it to you to decide which part is based on fact and which part I included just for the fun of it. Enjoy! :)

From TO KILL A KING, the third 'Rhodes to Murder' mystery:

The charge nurse slid a chart into its slot on the desk. "Now tell me, Cari. What we gonna do with that old gentleman on cart five? I need that cubicle for a live one, but Mr. Gone-To-His-Just-Reward is smack dab in the middle of the room, and I hate to move dead folks past sick ones. Tends to shake their confidence in the ability of the doctors, if you know what I mean."
Caroline laughed. "Leave it to me. I'll move him to the morgue without anyone noticing." She waved to Michelle and Wendy. "Can I tear one of you away from that computer for a minute?"
Michelle looked reluctant, but Wendy was more than ready to abandon her job. After listening carefully to Caroline's instructions, the girl broke into a broad grin.                      
"I took some acting classes back in England," she said in a confident voice. "I'm sure I can pull this off."
"Then follow me." Caroline headed towards the back of the east wing. Passing Susan Kane midway through the room, Caroline called out, "Hey, Sue! We're taking your patient on cart five upstairs."
Susan was starting an IV on a woman on cart two. She looked up in alarm and stuttered, "But…but…he's…"
"I know," sang out Caroline. "No need to worry. We'll take good care of Mr. Gone."
Three minutes later Wendy pulled back the curtain encircling cart five.
"There now, sir. Are you warm enough under that blanket?"
The elderly dead man sat semi-upright on the cart, staring blindly at the ceiling. Propped up by pillows, an oxygen mask hid most of his lower face; a towel draped over the top of his head shielded his forehead and ears. A thick blue blanket covered the rest of his body.
"Let me pull it up a bit. Can't have your chin getting cold now, can we." Wendy tugged on the blanket, tucking it under the edge of the oxygen mask. Ten toes suddenly appeared at the end of the cart.
"Forget the feet, Wendy. Let's go," whispered Caroline as she nudged the gurney out of the cubicle and into the walkway between the other patients' carts.
Caught up in the act, Wendy wasn't listening.
"Oh, dear," the girl exclaimed. She yanked on the blanket, forcing Caroline to pull up. "Mustn't have our piggies sticking out."
"Let's go!" hissed Caroline as several patients sat up to stare in their direction. She smiled at them reassuringly while motioning to Wendy to back off. The girl never moved.
"You'll like your room," Wendy went on in a booming voice, reaching over to pat the dead man's arm. It promptly slid from beneath the covers and fell to his side.
"Enough!" Caroline muttered through clenched teeth as Wendy grabbed for the offending extremity. Ignoring the unit receptionist, she leaned against the cart, gave a mighty shove, and ran right over Wendy's foot.
A male medical student raced up, eager to assist the pretty young woman staggering about the room on one foot. Stumbling in his haste, he slammed into Wendy, ricocheted sideways into the cart, and fell headlong across the dead man's legs.
"Son of a…!"
Caroline threw her weight against the cart as it rocked backwards, slamming into her knees. Her action had an opposite effect from the one she'd desired. The pillow propping the dead man's chin toppled to the left and slid to the floor. Unsupported, the heavy skull pitched forward.
"He's not alive!" The medical student gazed up in horror. The oxygen mask had fallen away exposing the waxy features of the corpse. Hovering only inches above the boy's head, the dead man stared down through sightless eyes, his wrinkled face frozen in a toothless grin.
"Oh my gawd!"
His legs spinning uselessly off the end of the cart, the medical student tore at the blanket, struggling to right himself. The thick blue material slithered through his fingers and wadded up against his face, throwing him even further off balance and causing the corpse to bounce up and down in a silent jig.
The hairless head bobbed ever closer to the boy. He scrambled blindly to find purchase on something solid, and after what seemed like an eternity but was only a second, his hand brushed against a knobby object. In desperation, he closed his fingers over it and pulled. As he did so, the last bit of blanket fell away.
Caroline leaped to the side of the cart, but she was too late to avert disaster. The body tumbled over, bent at the waist, the torso flattening the medical student.
Fortunately, the young man never felt the blow. He'd fainted dead away after seeing his fist wrapped around the most private part of Mr. Gone's anatomy.
As for the corpse, he seemed no worse for the wear. His face turned to the side, the old man's head rested squarely on the medical student's soft buttocks.

TO KILL A KING is available as a Kindle e-book at 
 TO KILL A KING will be available in trade paperback at Amazon and B&N later this month.


  1. Hysterical. I've always thought that "rest in peace" stuff was a crock :)

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed that piece from TO KILL A KING. Resting in peace isn't always so easy to do! :)

  2. Very funny! I'm sharing this with another writer friend (Fran Rizer) whose setting is a mortuary.

    1. Do share it, please! I've read Fran's books and loved them. I've never met her in person, but please tell her hello from me.

  3. Did the hospital you worked at ever lose a body?

    1. Nope, never lost a body. I suppose it's possible for a funeral director to pick up the wrong body, though.