Incessant knocking brought a disheveled Gunther limping to the front door. He flicked the porch light on, startling the white-clad messenger standing next door.
“Theodore’s dead. Go away.”
“But I have to deliver this liver!”
“Theodore won’t be needing that now, will he?” Gunther was irked by the young man’s foolish reply. “Just stop banging on that door and go back to your gruesome warehouse.”
“I can’t return this second-hand pickled organ! Teddy was the only one desperate enough to buy it.”
Gunther perked up. So, Theodore liked the drink, did he? He invited the messenger into his home.
“What happened to you?” Carl hustled past Gunther into a dingy vestibule. He was used to seeing mangled humans, but this old man looked like he had been extruded from a psychotic pasta machine. He’d obviously suffered serious burns and his limp was very pronounced. One eyelid was seared shut, with a permanent rime of crusted saline adding to his overall chewed up rag doll appearance.
Gunther locked the door. He directed his guest to proceed toward the kitchen.
“I guess you don’t wanna talk about it, hunh?” Carl sniffed at the kitchen’s disagreeable odors. “Damn. You cooking meth or something?”
“Sit down, young man. Tell me all about Theodore’s liver.”
Carl sat. “Well, um, that’s confidential, you know. But…” He licked his lips, “We could speak off the record.”
Gunther grabbed two jelly jars and a brown paper bag from the cupboard. As he sat across from Carl, he sighed with the measured patience of a chronic pain sufferer. He poured a splash into each glass. He pushed the dirtier one toward Carl, sighed again and muttered, “So start talking.”
Carl spun his glass around, looking for a clean spot from which to take a sip. From the least greasy area, he sampled the brown liquid. Satisfied with the spreading warmth in his belly, he began:
“Theodore came to us last week, begging for a liver. We knew his was shot. Problem is, he demanded everything be done under cover, all cash, no records. The director told him, ‘Teddy, I understand that privacy is paramount to a man of your status. But if you lost your life and we didn’t know where every piece of your body came from… I mean, how would you like it if we were to give you a diseased liver?'”
Gunther gave Carl an ironic look.
Carl, unaware, continued, “Theodore argued with the director, saying he knew people who didn’t get harvested. ‘Nobody has to know,’ is what Theodore said. Crazy, huh?”
Gunther grunted. This isn’t what he had wanted to hear. “What’s your name, boy?”
Carl jumped, spilling a bit of vile liquid on his uniform. “Carl, why?”
“Listen Carl Wye. I didn’t invite you in here to drink my good liquor so you can give me pointless gossip. I want to know why that fool needed a liver! You said it was ‘shot’. What did he have? Cirrhosis, Hep C? Speak up!”
“Haemochromatosis. Theodore had too much iron in his blood.” Carl squinted, wondering if Gunther understood.
“Well, I’ll be. That liar told me he was naturally dark, on account of his Mediterranean heritage. This changes things–I thought he was a drunk.”
“How could you know? Most liver buyers are alkies. But they don’t usually have Theodore’s money. They just wait until we harvest one.”
Gunther tossed back his drink and stood up, unfolding his crippled body one limb at a time. “Look at me! Theodore did this. Walked away, scratch-free. Left me in the middle of the road.”
Carl was shocked. “But Theodore never told us about any accident. We screen people for stuff like that–for the actuary tables, you know.”
“Oh, he wasn’t injured. We both got ejected from his Jaguar. The medics who scraped me up reported it as a hit and run. This,” Gunther pointed to his disfigurements, “is state-mandated minimum care to survive. Got a nice place on the waiting list, though.”
Carl felt bad for the old man. The list was just a deferred death sentence. “Damn, I’m sorry things turned out like that for you. Did you place an order for new body parts? I can get you a discount, if you act now.”
Gunther laughed and shuffled toward the front door. “Carl Wye, don’t ever change. You’re a breath of naïve, fresh air. Time to go.”
Carl smiled uncertainly, “What? Did I miss something?”
Gunther gently prodded Carl into the night. “What was the first thing I said to you?”