Kenny dug at a fingernail with his thumb for a few seconds, then he spoke up. “We found a body.” He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “We think it’s Gord.”

A wave of fear crashed into Gus all at once. “What do you mean you ‘think’ it’s Gord?” He shot up from his chair so fast that it caused Kenny to jump back. “Who the fuck else would it be?”

Kenny began to stutter. “Well, uh… He… He. I mean Gord got… Got into the heating duct somehow.” He paused to collect his thoughts, but the look on Gus’ face made him more nervous. “At least we, uh, think it’s Gord.”

“How the hell can you not be sure?”

Kenny’s face turned as white as chalk. “The body… It’s all… It’s all,” he stopped and searched for the right word, “disfigured.”

A million thoughts rushed through Gus’ head: Gord, paint, blue goo, a body in his factory. It was his turn to take a deep breath and collect himself. He wanted to say something but he didn’t know what.

Then, as if he read Gus’ mind, Kenny said, “No one touched it, though. Figured this type of shit is way outta our pay grade. You better come on down and take a gander for yourself.”

“Did anyone call the police yet?”

“Nah. Charlie and Marvin said this might be above the cops’ pay grade, too, on account of… Well, you’ll see.”

The next few hours flew by in a whirlwind of confusion, sadness, and fear. When Gus had gone down to the factory floor all the guys were staring at the open hole in the wall. Charlie Zgorsk handed him a flashlight and told him to watch out for the blue goo slopped all over the floor.

When Gus peered inside the heating duct the flashlight uncovered a grizzly sight. A trail of lumpy, purplish goo led a few feet inward where it reached the face of a man. The word face can only be used as an indirect description of what Gus was looking at, though, because what he saw barely resembled anything that was once human.

The face was a giant lumpy mass of purplish flesh. What started off as blue had mixed with the victim’s blood inside the grotesquely swollen tissue and took on a sick violet hue. The bloated face looked like that of a burn victim who had been beaten with hammers and then tossed into a river to drown.

Even though the victim’s face was unrecognizable, Gus knew immediately that it was Gord Stimpson. But the question on everyone’s mind was, who or what killed him? And how did his body end up sealed inside the heating duct facing backward? Unless he purposely crawled in feet first and somehow pulled the metal vent cover back on. But that would be nearly impossible to do from the inside.

The group barely had time to discuss the matter before a blood-curdling scream bellowed from the kitchen. All the guys rushed to the breakroom and were horrified to see Ol’ Butch Donahue writhing on the floor in pain.

“Butchy, what’s a matter?” Charlie rushed to his side but Gus pulled him back by the arm.

“No, look,” Gus said, pointing to Butch’s left arm.

A series of tiny blue bubbles were pulsating on his forearm and bicep. But that wasn’t what was causing the man’s distress. Laying next to him on the floor in a pool of nearly black goopy liquid was a blue hunk of flesh about the size of a good filet mignon. The hunk of meat was covered in the same blue pustules as Butch’s arm, but this piece didn’t come from his arm. No, in his right hand was a pocket knife, sticky with red blood that shone under the bright fluorescent lights. It was only when Butch flopped to his side that they all understood what had taken place.

Laying next to Butch in a pool of blood—the same blood that oozed from his raw gaping mouth—was his tongue. Just like poor Gord Stimpson, Butch had gotten the blue stuff on his face. But unlike Gord, when he went to the locker room to wash it off, the vicious substance began to spread faster. It all happened so fast poor Butch didn’t think to get help. In a panic, he had lopped his tongue off in an attempt to keep the bumps from spreading down his throat and closing off his windpipe. Only, now he was suffocating on his own blood.

“Denny, call 911 now!” Gus ordered the youngest of the factory workers.

He didn’t want to get the police involved right away, but now he didn’t have a choice. Butch’s life was on the line and he was fading fast.

Gus put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “We gotta flip him over on his belly before he drowns in his own blood.” He tightened his grip on Charlie’s shoulder. “But no matter what, we can’t touch him. You understand?”

Charlie nodded and both men went to work. Gus had sent the rest of the guys outside to the parking lot where they were told to stay off to the side until help came. He was adamant about none of them touching their vehicles or each other, and to stay a short distance away from the police and firefighters when they arrived. He didn’t want to cause a panic but he had no choice in telling the guys they might have been contaminated. Everyone was worried but followed the rules Gus had put in place. Gus had never steered them wrong before.

Charlie and Gus found an old tarp in the maintenance closet and managed to roll Butch up in it—flipping him onto his stomach without physically touching him. By this time the bloodied man was unconscious but still breathing.

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