Graveyard Shift

by Charlie Kirby

There are some jobs that no one really wants to do. Some folks feel that hard work is beneath them; others cite a delicate constitution. The truth of the matter is that there has to be someone willing to do the dirty work, no matter where or when. That's what me and my brother do, stuff no one else wants to... We ain't proud and we know the store clerks don't care what we do for a living; our money spends just as good as the next guy's.

The folks above ground call us ghouls... Well, the uncharitable ones call us that. Our official title is Recovery and Reclamation. We go in and clean up after the gun battles, the kidnap attempts, anything that might require the removal of evidence. Sometimes we recover bodies and mop up the blood. Other times, we're hiding bullet holes or removing 'evidence' of a very different nature, if it was a blackmail scene. Our Enforcement Agents aren't proud; they do whatever it takes to get the job done. They lie, cheat, steal, screw, or even kill to achieve an end. We follow in behind them to make sure Joe Blow on the street has no clue. And we're proud of the job we do.

Me and Jerry, I'm Howie by the way, we're twins, but you wouldn't know it to look at us. Anyhow, we've done everything together our whole life, so it only made sense that if UNCLE hired one of us, they got a package deal. It's like having a built-in partner. We don't have to talk, we don't have to even plan, we just know what the other is thinking or going to say.

Most people think we hide in dark holes, wear capes and crawl out at night to scurry away with bodies. Usually, we wear suits and ties. We carry our coveralls with us, of course, and walk around in the daylight just like regular folks. I'm not going to lie and say our job is nice. Sopping up blood or scraping a man's brains off a carpet is not for everyone. Some of the sites we go into are pretty awful, especially if they've been sitting for a bit. There was this one time that an agent was killed and stuffed under the back seat of an old Chevy. The car has to be destroyed later; the smell just never came out. Some folks say we smell the same way, but they're full of it.

When we're not out, we keep pretty much to our own devices down in the lower section of UNCLE HQ. Normal UNCLE employees don't want to have much to do with us. We give them the creeps, I guess, so we usually just pack our own lunches, brew our own coffee and stay away from the others. And that suits folks just fine... until they need us.

Jimmy was working with some new cleaning formulas and I was typing up some paperwork—no matter how awful your job is, there's always paperwork to make it that much worse. The phone rang and our boss, Mr. Hinkles grabbed it. He doesn't talk much to outsiders... Well, he doesn't talk much to us either, but that's okay. Me and Jimmy, we don't need to talk to no one expect ourselves to be happy.

"We have a call, boys, it's a handful." That means five dead bodies. We have codes for everything, just like any job. A bird means two bodies, a crowd means three. Anything over a handful, we just lump together and call a mess. Those usually follow a gun battle and means the hardest of clean ups, retrieving bullets, making sure there's no evidence left behind that could tie UNCLE into any wrong doing. A dip and dash—a straight forward body recovery with no cleanup—usually means a strangulation or broken neck. A slow boat to China means that there's a lot of blood. I hate those the worst, but it also usually means overtime. And Christmas is coming up.

So, Mr. Hinkles hung up the phone and we leap into action. Well, maybe leaping ain't exactly the right word, but we get along and collect up our stuff. He handed Ralph a slip of paper and we all headed for the vans. None of us talk a lot going to a scene. It's not something that excites any of us. Not when you think men, good men, and maybe some not so good men, died and we're cleaning up their remains.

The address leads us down to the docks just off the Hudson. It's a cold, gray, and nasty day. The kind that was made for staying cuddled up by the fire with a warm blanket and a cup of cocoa. We pull up in front of a warehouse right beside a car. It would be described as nondescript and I knew immediately it was one of ours.

Jerrolds, the ME's assistant, is just standing there, getting some air or waiting for us, it's hard to tell. This job even gets to us sometimes and I've seen hundreds of corpses.

"Hey, Jerrolds, how's it going?" I asked, not really expecting much of a response. A grunt is the best you get from him most days.

"It's bad," he murmured, still staring at the ground.

"Yea, we heard, a handful." Jerry was right behind him, carry a sack full of cleaning material. We'd changed in the van once we knew where we were headed. Jerry doesn't like to waste time once we get some place. He's all business.

"That's not the worst of it. Solo's inside." That's the most I've ever heard Jerrolds say at once.

"Shit! How's his partner?" Hinkles asked. Likewise with our boss. It's like the pouring forth of a great flood. Now I don't know Solo from a hole in the ground, except for his reputation and standing within the organization. He was the CEA and on the fast track to take over the Big Man's job when Waverly stepped aside. Bet that was going to put a crimp in Waverly's retirement plans. For my boss to react like this is noteworthy because he usually doesn't show much either way.

"They took him away a little while ago." Dr. Mackey, Jerrolds' boss, comes out, obviously to see where his assistant had gotten to. "He was in pretty bad shape. Last I heard they were putting him on a suicide watch."

"Kuryakin? No way would he kill himself!" Hinkles snapped. "Not even over his partner."

"But there are some that say they were much closer than just partners." Ralph had joined us and while I like the guy, he does love to dish dirt.

"Don't you dare!" Hinkles is all over him like a bear is on honey. "Don't you even think that!"

"But it was right there, boss." Ralph just doesn't know when to shut it and I swear Hinkles is about to pop, he gets so red.

"This ain't the time or the place, boss," I said, real quiet like. "Let's go in and do our job. I'll talk with him later and straighten him out. Let's get Mr. Solo back to HQ where he belongs."

Hinkles' Adam's apple bobs for a few seconds and he nods. Jerrolds leads the way into the warehouse and we start to do what we do best.

There are five sheets spread out over bodies, but only one looked like it was placed with any kind of foresight or reverence. I guessed that was Solo and went straight for him. Even the dead have priorities and I figured, as was in life, he was still top dog.

I pulled the sheet back, just to take a look and shook my head. God, I didn't know he was so young. Too young to die in my opinion, but God doesn't make it a habit of asking for my opinion, so I just keep it to myself.

The first thing I like to do is remove any jewelry or other valuables and place them in a pouch. That way things don't disappear between here and the morgue. I'm not casting aspersion, I'm just saying. Plus, it's safer if we disarm these guys before trying to move them. You only have to have one body blow up on you to learn that lesson toot sweet.

I worked a pinkie ring off him and I couldn't help but wonder at how warm his hand still was. I know rigor usually sets in about three hours after death, but the warehouse is really cold. You'd have thought he'd have cooled down by now.

I started to work his watch off and I felt something under my fingers, wild and thready, like a hummingbird's heart. Suddenly I was on my feet and waving my hands like crazy.

"Hey, Doc," I yelled. "You got a live one here."

"What?" Dr. Mackey was there in an instant. How anyone could mistake live for dead is beyond me.

"Get your hands off him, you ghoul!" some nameless guy snapped at me. I start to say something, but Jerry grabbed my arm and shook his head.

"Don't bother, Howie, we're just dirt to them now. Other folks need our help now."

It just made me mad. They'd left Solo for dead, not us, and they call us ghouls. But Jerry was right and so we got on with it.

About a month later, Jerry and me, we're cleaning out some property lockers and just joshing with each other. After stuff is left unclaimed for so long, it's ours to do with as we want. Mostly, we just cart it down to the Goodwill Store, but we have to go through it all first. We don't want another vibrator incident.

The door slides open and I could hear the conversation long before I could see the speakers. There was some mumbled question and then I heard,

"I'm fine, Illya. I need to do this."

Mr. Solo came in, moving real slow behind a walker. There's another guy with him, I'm guessing his partner from the way he hovered around Solo. Gotta say, Solo looked better dead than he does now. I don't know what Medical did to him, but the man didn't look well. He'd lost a ton of weight and had an ashen look about him. Of course, I couldn't say anything. Obviously, his partner was worried as well. He never took his eyes off Solo.

"Mr. Duran?" Solo looked from Jerry to me and back.

"That would be us," Jerry said as he pushed the crap he was sorting through aside and stood. He offered his hand. "I'm Jerry and this is my brother, Howie. He's the one who saved you." Solo shook Jerry's hand and then took mine. His hand was still warm and I smiled as I noted he was wearing that pinkie ring I took off. Meant he was out of the hospital and on his way to recovery. I also noticed he never took his left hand off the walker. I can only guess what an effort of will this trip had taken to make.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Solo?" I shook his hand firmly, but gently. The man looked like one good wind would knock him over and I suspected his partner was there to keep him upright long enough to take care of business.

"I've been better, but considering the alternative, I'm fine, and I understand I have you to thank for that."

"Anytime, Mr. Solo, we're just doing my job." I grinned over at my brother. "This is why they pay us the big bucks."

"Well, if there's anything you need or anything either of us can do for you, you've just to say the word." Kuryakin's voice surprised me. I wasn't expecting him to have an accent, much less a British one. I could tell he was sincere in his offer and I could tell how folks might get the wrong impression about these two. They really were more than partners. From the exchanged looks, the touches, they weren't just partners, they were brothers, as close as me and Jerry are, maybe more so, cause Jerry and me, we didn't have any choice, but they did.

Maybe Kipling said it best in his poem The Thousandth Man, 0ne man in a thousand, Solomon says./Will stick more close than a brother./And it's worth while seeking him half your days/If you find him before the other. And watching Kuryakin help Solo shuffle along to wherever they were headed next made me realize something important.

So, yea, we're ghouls, we clean up other folks' messes, but every once in awhile, something happens to make it all okay and I know, that in spite of the stink, the sheer horror and gore of what we do, we fulfill a necessary role in UNCLE. We're just as important as field agents, Section ones and all the others. I'd like to see them carry on without us.

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