Shoppers ambling past a station wagon parked at Springfield Mall in Fairfax County yesterday afternoon were horrified. There, stretched out in the rear of the station wagon, covered by what appeared to be a loose sheet, was a body--a dead woman.

A crowd gathered. Police arrived. And the hunt began for the car's driver.

A startled driver showed up minutes later, astonished at all the commotion.

Sure there was a body in the car, he acknowledged to Fairfax County police. He worked for a funeral home, had just picked up the body at Fairfax Hospital, and was on his way to the Bradley Funeral Home in Luray, Va., when he stopped at the mall to purchase a few items.

"He didn't think anything of it," said police spokeswoman Marsha Webb. "He said it was common practice out where he lives."

That is true, said a spokesman for the Bradley Funeral Home, noting that the body was covered with a "drape" and adding: "On a long trip, we have to stop and eat. We just lock the station wagon."

He added, "If those people hadn't been so damn nosey, it wouldn't have been anything."

Webb said that the woman had died of natural causes.

The driver of the station wagon "had all the paperwork," said Webb, explaining that police quickly bowed out. "What law had he violated? Somebody just happened to see a body in a car parked at the mall."