Jan/Feb 2001  •   Fiction

The Lost Liver

by Christopher Orlet

I was feeling bad. Then I found a liver on the MetroLink train. It was bagged in clear plastic and lay on ice in a Playmate cooler. I thought I'd lucked into some free beer, but on closer inspection I found the words Human Organs printed on the side of the cooler. Naturally I thought it was a joke, but when I opened the cooler, it was no joke. A big, sick looking brown thing, like a giant arctic sea slug. I kept it anyway. It's not everyday you get a free human liver.

I studied the laminated card attached to the handle containing the name of the hospital, donor name, (Leroy Allen, Brooklyn, Illinois), age and blood type and the recipient's information. I removed the card and put it in my pocket and stepped off the train and walked through the afternoon streets till I arrived at my destination, the little corner dive I frequent.

I didn't tell Sue the barmaid or any of the regulars about the liver. It was none of their damn business. I just ordered a glass of Jim Beam and listened to the regulars gab about the election, a subject they knew nothing about. I bit my tongue and shook my head and went to the back by the restrooms where they kept the pay phone. Dialed the number on the card.

A voice said: St. Mary's Hospital.

I got your liver, I said. Let me talk to the liver transplant doctor.

It wasn't easy getting through. The first three people I talked to thought I was a nut. But persistence paid off and I finally got a live doctor on the line. He'd apparently just discovered the liver had been misplaced.

You should be more careful, I said.

This doctor seemed all right, at first. It's very important that we get that organ returned to the hospital as soon as possible, he said. Is the cooler at all damaged?

The cooler? I said. Yeah, it's ruined. It's going to stink like liver from now on.

Look, sir. Please. What is your name?

My name? Putentaine.

Okay. I get it, the doc said. You're going to be difficult.

I hung up. I don't know why I wasted my time calling in the first place.

I had Sue refill my glass and I listened to the chowderheads talk sports, a topic they know even less about than elections. Sue said, What you got in the cooler? Nothing to drink, I hope.

My dinner.

One of the regulars, a workers' comp case, leaned over and read, Hu-man Or-gans. That's funny.

I smiled thinly and went back to the pay phone and dialed the last number on the card.

A man answered.

I got your liver, I said. Pretty gross.

Who is this? he said. Marvin?

Marvin who? I said.

Thanks to the Jim Beam I was beginning to feel better. Although I knew it wouldn't last. I said, How much are you willing to pay to get your liver back?

The guy was convinced I was Marvin, playing some kind of sick joke.

This ain't no joke, I said. You want this liver or not? I'm tired of lugging it around.

The guy simply would not believe me. Who can blame him? So I had to run through the whole story with him. How I came into possession of the cooler, the whole ordeal.

He said, Are you telling me you kidnapped my liver?

Found, I said. Found it fair and square in a public place. Finders keepers.

Look, the guy said in a mock-calm voice, I need that liver. I've been waiting a year for one to, to become available. Do you have any idea how hard it is-

I said, In that case, the price just went up. How does fifty-thousand strike you?

Fifty-thousand? he cried. Fifty-thousand!

All right, forty thousand.

I really didn't care. I'd still be forty thousand ahead. I could live for two years on forty thousand. Two years without worrying about money. Two years without lifting a finger.

He said, Look, whatever your name is. This is against the law. If you found that liver like you say you did, then you should turn it over to the police, or an ambulance service-

I interrupted him. Here, Spot! Here, boy. Want some nice liver, boy?

Wait! the man cried hysterically. Just wait a second!

There was a pause. Go on, I said.

Look, we can work something out.

I threw back the last of the bourbon. To be honest, I was getting a little tired of this. All I wanted was a few thousand bucks, not a negotiations summit. Look, I said. Bring what you can to the tavern, corner of Olive and Tenth. Give it to the barmaid and she'll tell you where to find your package. Got it?

Olive and Tenth. The guy was scribbling fiercely my instructions. When? he said. How soon?

Soon as you want your sea slug. What do I care? Oh, and I don't have to tell you no cops.

I hung up the phone and went back to the bar and ordered another double shot of Beam. Straight. I never dilute it with anything, not even ice. That would be a crime. The knuckleheads at the bar were discussing the Greenhouse Effect. I wondered how the hell they got on that topic? And as usual they were getting it all wrong. I said, Why don't you guys just shut the hell up?

They paused and looked at me for a second then went right back to their half truths and misinformation. I called the barmaid over and filled her in.

I said, He'll want a description. So make me out to be an Indian or something, okay? There's a hundred bucks in it for you.

And all I got to do is take this guy's envelope and send him across the street?

That's right.

And I ain't going to get in no trouble?

No trouble at all.

She looked at me suspiciously. This don't involve drugs, does it? I don't need to get mixed up in no drug deal.

No drugs involved at all.

Stolen goods?

Nothing was stolen. I swear.

Then why can't you do it?

Look, if you don't want the hundred, one of these other guys—

Two hundred, she said.

She had me. All right, I said. Two hundred.

Up front.

I don't have two hundred now. You know that. Oh, and I'll need some paper and some duct tape.

I finished my drink and went across the street to a newspaper box, put in fifty-cents and after making certain no one was watching, slipped the cooler inside. Then I taped my Out of Order sign over the Plexiglass window and went back to the bar and waited.

I waited a long time, filling the time with bourbon. I moved to a back booth and sometime around nine I must have dozed off—or passed out. At midnight Sue woke me.

I did like you told me, she said. He left this. She tossed an envelope at me. I opened it under the table, counted out two hundreds and put them in her waiting palm. Then I quickly counted the rest. The envelope contained a lousy two thousand bucks.

So what was in the cooler anyway? she said, slipping the bills into her cleavage. Or don't I want to know?

You don't want to know, I said. I slid out of the booth and started unsteadily toward the door. The night was bitter and so were the stars, but I was feeling a little better. I had nearly two thousand bucks. That would last me a couple months anyway. Two thousand bucks would buy a lot of Jim Beam and a couple of months where I wouldn't have to worry about money or a job. Without realizing it I started to sing old Sinatra songs and kept it up till a carload of cops drove by and one leaned out the window and said, Hey, you, keep it down. I went on the rest of the way in deep silence, thinking how someday, very likely, I'd need a new liver too. And when that day came would I have the money to buy a new one, or the luck to find a lost one? With a wave of my hand I dismissed those disagreeable thoughts and concentrated instead on the two thousand bucks, warm and snug in my pocket.

And then I went to find an open bar.