Given that his operating theater was an open casket, Alvin Marks thought he was actually doing a damn good job. If Oretty Whiting hadn't been so determined to find fault with his technique that she ripped her late husband's arm off, no one would even have noticed the way the flesh gave beneath your fingers like squid sushi. And that could hardly be blamed on him.
Besides, Alvin wanted him whole.
"Is this the best you can do?" Paul S. Whiting, Esquire, asked from the casket. "I can pay more, if that's the concern here."
The concern wasn't Paul Whiting's payment schedule, though. It was the smell. Paul Whiting smelled like . . . well, he smelled like a dead man too long in the coffin, was what he smelled like. Alvin only hoped the body would hold together long enough to sew.
"Because," Paul Whiting continued, "Jerry Gravel came back four days later than I did, and I have to say he looked pretty damn good. Of course, he got Mitchell Stabenow, and I got -- "
You, he didn't say. He didn't have to. Everyone shifting beside the grave, trying not to look--they all heard it anyway.
The least comfortable of the mourners was an enormous man, half a head taller than the next tallest in attendance, and twice the weight of the two fattest. The light rain flattening his hair, his stomach grumbling audibly, Governor Lionel Briggs still managed to stand impassively, but Alvin could feel his impatience for this to be over.
The trial had been shameless, everyone in Column County knew it. But the defence had overreached with its theory that Paul Whiting had been framed for the murder of Lucille Mason, and the jury's response had been as vicious as a twelve-headed dog. Governor Briggs' election had come too late to save his college roommate, but by God and high water, now that he was in office he was going to do the next best thing.
"The thing is," Oretty Whiting was saying, "the thing is, if Lester Flamm hadn't asked for the death penalty, *none* of this would be necessary. And Paul would be coming back to a real doctor instead of this bonecutter. To a mansion instead of a sheriff's sale. I can't see how we can't go after him. When Paul is back, I mean."
Around her, the mourners nodded. Alvin tried to return his focus to his work. Gelis thread was thin as a wish and tricky to work with. And though Alvin was glad for the audience, even he had to admit that having everyone watching him work was not helping matters.
"Honestly, I thought the life insurance would pay for everything," Oretty continued. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm beyond thrilled to have Paul back, so . . .. But it was all so unsettling. And so unexpected."
She caught Alvin's eye, then, with something in her expression that Alvin could not make out. He looked back to his work instead.
"We're done soon, right?" Paul Whiting said. He tried to turn his silver-maned head toward Alvin, but only basting stitches held the head in place. Tendons popped and flopped. A thread snapped--only one, thank God. Someone squealed. Alvin didn't dare look. He grabbed the head, hissing at the patient to *stay the fuck still* but Paul Whiting had never listened when action would do. He lifted his left arm--thank *Christ* Alvin had finally gotten the stitches back in after Oretty Whiting had pulled the arm free--and straightened himself out. "You need a nurse, Doctor."
Alvin's eyes narrowed as he bit his lip. I had a nurse.
Instead of speaking, though, he simply nodded. "This is the tricky part, Mr. Whiting," he said. "The rest has been leading up to it. So I need a little patience, here, while I check my work. If I got everything right--"
"Then I'll be walking home for dinner," Paul Whiting said. "And if you don't, my revitals fall off a cliff. But you can bring me back again. You're good at this. I was just trying to motivate you. You know that, right?"
Alvin shook his head. "If another of the Gelis threads snaps--if your head comes loose again, even for a moment--you'll die for good, and there won't be anything that I or Dr. Stabenow or God himself can do for you. Do you understand that?"
Whiting's milky eyes shone wetly. With fear? Alvin devoutly hoped so.
"So, shut up and let me work, is that what you're trying to say?" If he was afraid, Whiting hid it well. Alvin almost admired that.
"You're very close to having everything back, Mr. Whiting," Alvin told him. "I just want you to appreciate that for the miracle that it is."
"The best that money can buy." Whiting smiled. Behind his white teeth--the best that money could buy--his tongue lolled in his mouth like a wet pink slug.
Alvin could not look at those teeth, that tongue, those horrible empty eyes. He paused a moment, swiped the sweat from his eyes.
Saw Oretty Whiting looking at him--beautiful Oretty Whiting, with her albino mink and her blonde hair beneath the gold-handled LeCault umbrella, with her expensive jewelry and he expensive friends. Saw her standing there, looking up through her expensive eyelashes at him with her lower lip between her expensive teeth. The best that money could buy.
He saw, in a moment, the terror in those eyes. And the promise.
It's not for you, Oretty Whiting, he thought. Whatever you promise, it will never be for you.
Instead of the needle, he raised the scalpel. It glittered wetly in the rain.
Whiting's white eyes widened.
Governor Briggs opened his mouth.
"It's for Lucille," he said aloud. "It's for Lucille."
Because sham trial or not, Paul S. Whiting, Esq., had murdered Lucille Mason. Alvin's nurse. His helpmate. His soulmate. And, despite her keeping her maiden name, his wife.
This one was in response to my own prompt on /r/fantasywriters:
Minimum 100 words; max 1000.
Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end (though not necessarily in that order) featuring three to five of the following elements:
- A compelling argument
- A character who wants to motivate someone
- A cliff
- Fatal imprudence
- A victimized, secretive young woman who would be in terrible danger if anyone ever learned that she'd never for a moment loved the person she married.
- A funeral
- A caregiver
- A character who wants to accomplish something
- An Enemy Returns
- A character who wants to pardon someone
I, uh. Used all of them.