Nobody guards the dead. Once that occurred to Cody, the plan had come together in no time. Drive to the cemetery, dig her up, sling the coffin into the back of the truck, and disappear into the night. Easy. Apart from one tiny hitch.
‘Man, this ground is like concrete.’
Cody glanced over at his companion, the moonlight splitting his face in two. ‘Quit bitching.’
Usually he liked to work alone. But moving a body was a twoman job. No way round it.
‘I ain’t bitching. I’m making an observation.’
‘Well, observations ain’t gonna get this done.’
‘Neither’s digging. We’re gonna need dynamite to get this old witch out of the ground.’
Don was right. They’d picked the worst time of the year. November on the Eastern Seaboard. A bitter winter with the wind coming off a slate grey Atlantic. Freezing the living, as well as the dead.
Spring would have been better. The nights would still have been long, but the ground would have been softer. Thing was, though, they didn’t have a choice. Not as far as Cody was concerned.
The way he saw it, the clock was ticking. Every day lives were being lost. Hundreds, maybe even thousands. No one really knew for sure. And these deaths weren’t peaceful. Not like the one this woman had experienced: slipping gradually away, the fiery edge of pain dulled by drugs, her loved ones around her to say goodbye.
No, these deaths were torturous and lonely. A final spit in the face to cap a miserable existence.
The anger he felt thinking about it rose up in him. He punched down hard on the lip of the blade with the heel of his right boot, and finally found some purchase. Frosted grass gave way to frozen top soil. He stamped down again. The blade dug in another inch. His breath clouded in the freezing night air as he sucked in oxygen and repeated the process.
A full hour later, Don was the first to hit something solid that wasn’t earth. The two men were exhausted, but the clatter of metal meeting wood spurred them on.
Thirty minutes after that they were loading the remains into the back of the truck. Cody made a show of dusting off his gloves as Don pulled down the rear door of the box truck they’d jacked a few hours earlier from a quiet street in Queens.
Don opened the cab door and started to climb in. Halfway up, he stopped and turned back to Cody. ‘Well, we did it,’ he said.
Cody smirked. ‘Are you for real, brother? That was the easy part.’
Ryan Lock peered through the floor-to-ceiling windows which fronted the reception area of the Meditech building. Outside, freezing rain was sweeping down Sixth Avenue in sheets, jamming the dozen or so animal rights protestors into a tight knot on the sidewalk opposite.
‘Who the hell stages a demonstration on Christmas Eve?’ the receptionist asked.
‘You mean apart from turkeys?’ Lock said, hunching his jacket up around his shoulders, pushing through the revolving doors and stepping out into the near-Arctic weather.
Three months as head of security for America’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology company had left Lock with little patience for the animal rights people, no matter how earnest their cause.
A fresh gust of wind stung his face. He pulled up the collar of his jacket and scanned the protestors. Front and centre was Gray Stokes, the protestors’ de facto leader. In his early fifties, with a vegan’s bony frame, Stokes stood with his customary smug expression, a loudhailer in one hand, his other hand resting on the handle of a wheelchair.
In the chair sat Stokes’ daughter Janice, a pretty brunette in