"I Offer Strange Comfort"Mature

I did not then make a habit of walking battlefields - I had a man for that. His name was Dave and he had an affinity for the work.  Dave's blue-black skin made his employment on the field following a Confederate victory problematic, which accounted for my grim sojourn to Cold Harbor.  Happily, although the butcher's bill was never wanting, the Confederates rarely won.

I believe Dave has no sense of taste or smell.  I have witnessed him efficiently handling the most over-ripe corpses with aplomb; gently rolling gas-swollen monuments to decay onto blankets without bursting them.  I am made of stern stuff but Dave bests me entirely in this arena. He is my valuable right hand, and had Grant carried the day it would have been he who encountered Krapp rather than myself.

I appraised Krapp with a practiced eye.  He was no doctor.  His hands were hard.  He wore a cavalryman's tall boots that, while practical, stood in undignified contrast to his dirty black coat and moth-eaten beaver hat.  Krapp became aware of my scrutiny and frankly returned my gaze.

"You are an agent?" I asked, stupidly.

The old man smiled again.  He seemed full of good humor.  "No," he said, "I'm a physician.  I have established a practice specializing in returning the dead to their ancestral homes.  The work is quite various."

I told him I should think so, and then Krapp took it upon himself to explain my job to me - how one embalms, the merits of a zinc casket for travel, the very desperate need of a widow to lay her fallen hero to rest at any cost.

"In truth," Krapp said, "I offer a strange comfort."  And as if on cue, he stepped on some lost soul's wrist, the bones snapping like twin gunshots.

"A singular pursuit," I said, "and are you alone in this field?"

He laughed.  "There is another, but his lunch is as good as eaten.  My rates are more reasonable and my powers of persuasion more acute."

A range of feelings came over me then, and I suspect I grew quite red.  It is fortunate, then, that before I could say something intemperate, Krapp found his man.

"Porter!" he cried, as if greeting an old friend, "now you are mine!"



The End

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