Excerpt from Body Brokers by Annie Cheney, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Body Brokers

Inside America's Underground Trade in Human Remains

by Annie Cheney

Body Brokers by Annie Cheney
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 240 pages

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Chapter 1
Wilderness

Joyce Zamazanuk knew that her son was dying. She knew it when the nurses quietly wheeled Jim to a private room on the seventh floor of the hospital in San Diego. His new room had a bed, a metal chair, and an oxygen tube, but little else. Outside, few visitors wandered the halls. A hush hung over the nursing station. Joyce thought, This must be where they bring the sick patients to die.

Six days in the hospital had done little to help Jim. AIDS had ravaged his body. The tumor that engulfed his lungs appeared larger in each new CAT scan. Always slender, Jim Farrelly, forty-five, was now reedlike beneath the cotton sheets and blankets. His thick brown hair had thinned to a soft, downy fur. He had trouble talking. Death by asphyxiation was certain.

Joyce wondered what awaited her beloved son: Would he feel pain in the moment of his passing? How much longer before he left her?

Joyce had been just seventeen years old when Jim, her third son, was born; the two had always been close. Even as a baby, Jim was gentle in his manners and feminine in his tastes. He wanted to do whatever his mother did. Unlike his macho brothers, Jim would learn to cook and to sew. Later, when his sister was born, he styled her hair and embroidered flowers on her clothing. At school, the other children called him all the usual names: sissy and mama's boy.

But Jim was a scrapper, tougher, his mother always said, than any of his tough brothers. When they lost Jim's father, it was Jim who stepped in and took care of Joyce. Jim planned his father's funeral. He bought the Christmas presents. He was a comfort to his mother. When he grew up and settled in San Diego, Joyce often came to stay. She and Jim shared their sorrows and secrets.

AIDS was one secret Jim had tried to keep. When he was diagnosed with HIV in 1994, he lied to his mother and said, "The doctor just found a polyp. Nothing for you to worry about." Joyce was relieved. But within a year, the virus had progressed to full-blown AIDS.

Jim tried to prepare his family for his death. He knew it was coming – he'd seen many of his friends die – and so he made sure everything was ready. With the little money that he had, he bought a cemetery plot in Arizona. He drew up a will and arranged to be cremated through a funeral home in San Diego. With his debts paid and his last wishes clear, Jim assured his mother there was nothing more to worry about.

The end came quickly. Jim had only been on the seventh floor for six or seven hours when he began making a guttural, gasping sound. By now, everyone had arrived: Jim's sister, Joy; his best friend, Billy, and countless others. Startled, they rushed to his bed.

"What is it, Jim?" his mother asked.

"Can I help you? You're not crying. Please don't cry."

Jim shook his head. He was laughing. "It's okay, Mom," he whispered. "I am less and less. There is more and more." Then he fell into a coma. Soon after, he was dead.

Everything went as planned. In the hospital room, Joyce said good-bye to her son. After she went home, the nurses came and took Jim's body down the long hall, into the freight elevator, and downstairs to the morgue. Several weeks later, someone from the mortuary called Joyce to say that Jim's ashes were ready. "Okay, send them along," Joyce replied. But when the urn arrived, she didn't open it. She clutched it and placed it on her shelf, where she gazed at it for weeks. Finally, she sent it on to Tucson, where it was buried beside the urn of Jim's father.

Excerpted from Body Brokers by Annie Cheney Copyright © 2006 by Annie Cheney. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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