A Minor Incident

By on September 20, 2016, in Short Fiction

I turned on the hazards and the yellow strobe light and pulled onto the shoulder of the highway. Ahead of me, I could already see the flashing of red and blue mixed in with the orange—the whole continuum of nighttime warnings ricocheting off the concrete, the steel and the asphalt.

I braked gently, slid between the temporary barriers into the median of the highway and pulled up behind Zack’s car, which sat almost guiltily hidden beside a pile of demolished rebar. Not a strange place for it, actually. I stepped down from the pickup, pulling on my coat and toque and the white hard-hat, walked up through the dusting of dry snow and rapped on his window. Inside he was bundled up, breathing steam. He stepped out and nodded to me.

“Hey, man.”

“What the hell happened?”

“Dunno exactly.”

“You don’t know? How can you not know? Your only job is to know what happens.”

Zack took that in stride and gestured over his shoulder to the westbound lane of the highway. “Well, they closed off the whole highway back there. I wasn’t sure if I could get in considering they’re the police.”

I looked down the road for a moment and considered. “If the highway’s closed, we can just walk it.”

Zack yawned. “I was hoping to get a nap in tonight.”

I just scowled at him. I tied my scarf tighter against the wind and we strolled through the construction site, stepping over debris. At the north side we skirted the inner edge of the barrier wall towards the accident. Far away in the median, I could see the crane that had been working tonight, slowly pulling a high mast light pole upright.

In the lane were two cop cars and a city bus. The bus was empty and the cops were in their vehicles. Zack and I vaulted over the low wall, crossed three lanes of the highway and neared the cop car next to which Allan, the lead hand for the roadwork, stood wearing an orange parka and a white helmet. He looked up at us as we approached, said hello and pointed at the cop in the car, whose window was down.

The cop nodded at me. “You the foreman?”

“Inspector. What exactly happened?”

“A guy tried to cut across the highway. Most likely drunk. A car clipped him. And then the bus.” The cop grimaced.

“Shit,” I said.

“Cut him right in half,” Allan said emphatically, smacking his hands together.

“Jesus. Was any of our stuff involved?”

Allan was shaking his head. “No. It’s our site, but there’s nothing happening here.”

The cop looked back down the highway. “You guys are just doing roadwork here?”

“Yeah. Well. Light poles tonight.” I shivered. “Should have got my coffee first. Christ.”

“Yeah, well. Nobody was here and we got statements from the bus occupants and the driver. So unless you guys need any information…”

I was surprised by that. “You don’t need us to do anything?”

He shrugged. “Your crew was nowhere near it.”

I stammered, “I guess. I mean…it’s our site, though. Well, yeah. I guess I’ll take down the incident report number at least. We definitely have to make a report of this. The guy died.”

“Alright.” The cop was writing in his lap, came up with a little piece of paper with the report number on it and extended it to me out the window. When I took it, he also passed me a brown paper cup, steaming. “Want my coffee?”

I glanced at Zack and Allan, confused. “Me?”

“Yeah, you said you wanted some. I haven’t touched it.”

“Uh.” I hesitated. But the novelty of the situation pleased me, so I took it. “Thanks.”

“Take this doughnut too,” the cop said and handed me a honey cruller in a paper bag.

“Am I being punked right now?” I said.

“Nah. I’m not hungry.”

Allan, Zack and I retreated a ways from the scene of the accident and sat on the barrier wall while I drank the coffee. I tore the doughnut in half, and Allan and I shared it.

“It’s not just me, right?” I said, chewing thoughtfully. “That is peculiar?”

“What cop gives somebody a doughnut?” Allan laughed. “Is this opposite day?”

“Might be,” I said.

“I guess the ones who do paid-duty at night go a little crazy.”

I looked at the silent scene and the bus and squinted, wondering if the body had been removed or not. The snow had started to come down again, small icy flakes. “I always thought it would suck to have a bad accident in the winter. You gotta lie there waiting to die in the freezing cold. Uncomfortable.”

I turned to Allan. “Did you see the guy? The body?”

He shook his head and put the last of the doughnut in his mouth. “Naw. I came later. That would’ve been crazy though.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I go on LiveLeak sometimes. Watch videos of people getting shot and shit.”

I laughed. “What the fuck? That’s a thing? How?”

Zack was nodding along. He mumbled, “Yeah, it’s like an uncensored YouTube…”

Allan went on, “You can see, like, police dashcams and stuff. But real stuff. Terrorist bombs and car accidents. But graphic.”

“I didn’t know those videos existed.”

“They do. You never wondered why on YouTube when you watch a car crash or something, nobody ever gets hurt? Or they cut away? They don’t do that on LiveLeak.”

“Jesus, man.” I shook my head. “Why do you watch that?”

“Dunno,” Allan shrugged. “I wanna see what it’s like. Makes me feel lucky, maybe. I’m fascinated by that shit. Can’t look away.”

“You’re a sick man.” I laughed.

“Can’t argue with that. One day I’m hoping for just an insane fucking pile up on the highway.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Just wanna see it.”

“You’d have to do a lot of paperwork.”

“Fuck.” He hung his head. “Good point. I’ll do the paperwork, though. To see that shit.”

“Alright.” I stood up and sipped the coffee. “Well I’m gonna tour the site, and then I guess go home and sleep.”

“Lucky bastard.” Allan waved and headed back to his truck.

I balled the paper from the doughnut and threw it over my shoulder into the median. Zack and I walked back to our vehicles together.

“That is a weird dude,” I said.

“Yeah.”

At Zack’s car, I turned to face him. I handed him the slip of paper the cop had given me. I glanced back at the accident in the distance. “So you’re good for tonight’s report?”

“Should be.”

“Mark down the traffic closures as well.” I pointed at the underpass just next to us. “Don’t forget to mention the off-ramp. And then the number I gave you, of course. Since our crew wasn’t involved at all, I wouldn’t worry too much about detail, but…”

I trailed off.

“What?”

After a pause, “Maybe write down that somebody died.”

In my truck driving home, I thought about it. It wasn’t our job to mark the passing of the unnamed man. But it felt like it should have been. When I first got the call, I was ready to answer an emergency, but there had been none. This loss of life was routine. This death was discussed over coffee and small talk in the cold and snow, by men who hadn’t known him. The police handled the situation, we handled our small area of concern, and there was nothing to be done.

In the morning, I read the report Zack had made. He mentioned a serious accident causing traffic closures, ramp closures. The incident report number. Nothing about death.

I hovered over the report with my pen, wondering how I should phrase it. Someone died. No, far too melodramatic. This accident resulted in one fatality. No. I sighed and sat back, shaking my head. I sat for a long while. Then I left it blank.

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