They had been felled like wheat, the men of the Eighth New York Heavy Artillery, in a swampy bit of open field short of Gaines Mill. Somehow Krapp had secured the contract for their Colonel and I a Brevet Lieutenant by the name of Leroy Williams. I had promised his widow the Sergeant's rate, probably because she was pretty. Krapp would earn fifty dollars and I, ten.
The weather broke, as Virginia weather is maliciously wont to do, and by the time I returned to my black-clad tent beside Beulah Church both Williams and I were soaked to the bone. Perforated with minie balls, Williams did not complain. Dave was waiting with a five gallon breaker of embalming solution, a trocar and gutta percha tubing. He nodded in sympathy as I struggled to heave my man onto the rude cot we had set up for the procedure.
I use arsphenamine in solution to embalm my corpses, which preserves them absolutely. I have never failed to deliver a life-like decedent, save those already consumed by decay. Arsphenamine, happily, is also very effective in treating Cupid's disease, and during the war years when I followed the army I had a profitable, if sub rosa, sideline. Krapp pumped his dead full of ethanol and hoped for the best, the grieving widow's cash already in his pocket.
Mrs. Williams had asked me to search her late husband's person and secure a calfskin-covered accounts book, and I had agreed. My client's often have specific demands and I am happy to oblige them. May Williams had been as insistent as she was charming. In her husband's' case, however, no ledger presented itself, only a crude diary made of sewn octavo pages. As Dave prepared him for exsanguination, I read the last entry.
Ive given the book over to the kernel, Leroy Williams had written, as I am not going to make it. Ive had a premonishion.
Poor fellow - his premonition had been terrifyingly correct. His only mis-step was assuming his Colonel, Porter, was immune to bullets himself. Sadly, Williams commanding officer was being pumped full of cheap ethanol somewhere on the Union side of Matadequin creek.
And thus was I drawn, inexorably, back into the orbit of Krapp.