Introduction: Delta-P

“A delta-P (ΔP) incident describes a critical situation where a significant pressure difference exists between two confined spaces, threatening to trigger a sudden and violent movement of matter from the high-pressure area to the low-pressure one, should the barrier separating them fail or be opened. This abrupt transition can unleash devastating forces, capable of causing irreversible damage or even instant death to anyone in proximity.”

“I'm going to lose my shit...” Alain thought as he listened to the pounding rain hitting the roof of the ambulance. His head was buried in his hand with thick fingers, massaging his temples in vain, which threatened to burst if the hammering of the drops on that damn metal didn't stop soon.

“Come on, for fuck's sake, let me take care of it, goddamn it!” his colleague, at the wheel of the stopped vehicle, cursed.

Alain lifted his head, about to ask him to repeat his phrase—it was hard to hear under the racket of the rain on their truck, and besides, those blasted BEEPS from the heart monitor were giving him a migraine—but his brain managed to decode it just as he was opening his mouth. He looked for a few seconds towards the windshield, observing the dancing shapes through the water jets that the windshield wipers struggled to clear: they were facing an old half-demolished brick wall, almost encircling the old deserted lot where they had stopped.

He thought he heard the guy lying in front of him grunt, which snapped him out of his daze. He hesitated to unplug the heart monitor, but decided to raise his voice:

“I've already told you, we give them twenty minutes! You know that, for God’s sake!”

“You and your rules...” Jovian lamented, eyeing him from the rearview mirror.

“Rules are what differentiate us from murderers!” he claimed in response. “If this poor guy can't last twenty minutes in the ambulance, it means they couldn't have done anything at the hospital!”

“Seriously! Your good conscience...” the driver retorted, turning towards him. “Look at his age! We're lifting a weight off society if we do this! And if he survives the twenty minutes, then what? We rush to the hospital? And our money, gone? I need that cash, as much as you do, you know that, right?”

Alain shook his head in disapproval: it was already extremely risky to hide with a dying man in the middle of nowhere, so if they started to smother him with a pillow, or give him a shot of nice round air bubbles, or even if they were heavy-handed with the morphine, how long before they got caught?

“And then,” said a voice in his head, perhaps his conscience, if he had any left: “you're not really killing them, right. It's just natural selection, sorting. Yes, like the nurse on arrival, who does triage, 'him, put him in intensive care!', 'him, a bed in the hallway', 'her, straight to the floor, in radiography!'. If the sick couldn't fight off twenty miserable minutes, then they wouldn't have survived on the operating table. You're saving taxpayers money. And making a little on the side, of course, but nothing's free in life.”

“He still has five minutes left,” he stated firmly over the gunfire that had been bombarding them from the grey sky.

“You're screwed up, man...” the other muttered.

But they didn't have to wait that long: just moments later, the dying man let out a final agonized groan, muffled by the noise of the storm, and the line on the heart monitor flatlined.

“About fucking time!” Jovian exclaimed.

He wanted to insult him, hit him, but he restrained himself: he had thought the exact same thing.

“Are you going to notify the family?” he added.

The corpse in front of him was that of an old man who had apparently suffered a heart attack less than an hour ago. It was his wife who had called the emergency services, and it was Bianca who had answered: as agreed in such situations, she had called them, giving them a half-hour head start before logging the call in the system. When they would arrive at the hospital with a cadaver, no one would ask questions. Anyway, they were already overwhelmed, the beds were already full to bursting: Alain was sure that in these cases, they were rather relieved. They would each get their share, as agreed, but it was always the one who called the deceased's family who got the higher round-off of the loot. Him and his fucking rules again...

He took his phone out of his pocket without bothering to answer her and dialed the number Bianca had given them, as agreed. The old woman picked up at the first ring, which made his heart tighten:

“Mrs. Aubri?” he asked.

“Hello? Yes? Who is this?”

Her trembling voice squeezed his stomach.

“I'm a doctor at the hospital, Mrs.-”

“You say?” she interrupted. “I can hardly hear you!”

He looked up: the downpour was still going strong with no sign of stopping, resonating throughout the cabin.

“Sorry,” he resumed, his eyes returning to the corpse, “the reception isn't great in this wing of the hospital. It's about your husband, I regret to-”

“Oh my God!” the wrenching voice exclaimed. “That can't be! Oh my God...”

“I regret to inform you that despite all our efforts, your husband did not survive a massive myocardial infarction. There was nothing we could do given his condition...”

He stopped mid-sentence: it was useless, she wasn't listening anymore. He couldn't even hear himself speak between her hysterical crying and what those fucking clouds were pissing down on them. He let her catch her breath, trying to ignore the heavy gaze of his partner, remaining stoic as he heard her blow her nose, cry again, then sniff loudly before finding another tissue. He waited for her to start controlling her sobs before beginning the important part:

“Mrs., once again, my deepest condolences, please know your husband did not suffer, his passing was peaceful. Now, I know this moment is not opportune, but we must proceed with the funeral arrangements immediately. We need to repatriate the body to the funeral home as soon as possible for hygienic reasons, do you understand? Had you and your husband discussed end-of-life arrangements?”

“What?” she croaked, incredulous. “I don't understand...”

“Great,” he thought, “I'll be able to sell them the whole package...”

“If I may,” he continued, “I know a very meticulous and respectful funeral home, we can take care of the details for you, Mrs.”

“I... no, listen, I can't afford it... Can I see him first? I need to think... Lord, I hadn't imagined having to think about all this so soon!”

Alain clenched his teeth: when they had arrived at their home, he had quickly inspected the old house and had doubts about the depth of their wallet, but he had hoped they had some cash hidden under their pillow. Usually, they offered to pay up from the first phone call, already talking about selling the car, or even the house, but this case seemed to be off to a bad start.

“Do you have any family we could contact?” he tried. “Children, perhaps?”

“No,” she sobbed, “it's just us... Even the house is rented, what am I going to do?”

He held back a sigh: what could they possibly get out of them? Their commission was already miserable, considering the risks they took, so when families opted for the minimum service at the funeral home, it barely covered the gas for having gone off route. Couldn't Bianca come up with some sort of filtering system, too? Spot numbers coming from wealthy neighborhoods?

'You, you live', 'You, you live', 'You, you die'...

He saw out of the corner of his eye his partner making big gestures asking why it was screwing up. He tried to ignore him and looked at the body just in front of him. He stared at his oxygen mask with a vacant look, before interrupting the widow's crying:

“Listen, if you're short on money, and you hadn't prepared for this tragedy, I can offer you an alternative that won't cost you a cent.”