Headlights flashed through the basement window and alerted the
two attendants passing the time by playing a game of cards. One
stood and opened the double steel doors at the entrance, while
the other rolled a stainless steel gurney through the door and
positioned it sideways, locking the front wheels, waiting for
the coroner's van to pull alongside and unload another of its
morbid deliveries for the night.
It was an event that happened all too frequently as it was, but
these days, it was happening with far greater regularity than
the small staff at the county morgue almost could cope with.
The attendants watched as the van pulled to a stop beside the
gurney. With a great effort, the large black man pulled himself
from the front seat and slammed the door.
Whats the matter, Doc? one asked, suppressing
a grin and nudging his friend on his arm. Another all you
could eat night at Antonios Pizzeria?
Not funny, boy. Not funny at all, Doc replied with
a scowl. He walked to the rear of the van. Gimme a hand
with our latest guest, will ya? Its been a hell of a day.
The attendants moved the body bag to their gurney and pushed
it back through the steel doors inside the morgue. Doc trailed
behind them carrying his work kit and mentally checking off items
from the crime scene clipboard in his hand.
Where ya want him, Doc?
Lets see, put him in room two, I guess. Wait
never mind, Ive got two in there as it is. Doc glanced
at his watch. Johnson finish the post he was doing?
Yeah, he filed the paperwork with Millie and left over
an hour ago.
Go ahead and put him on ice until tomorrow, he said.
Im just too damn tired to post him tonight.
You got it, Doc. Reefer room it is.
As they wheeled the gurney away, Doc slipped a key into the lock
and opened the scarred metal door leading to his office. He took
off his jacket and tossed it on an empty chair. He looked around
the room and, noting its neatness, made another mental note to
compliment the cleaning staff tomorrow for their diligence.
He changed into street clothes and dropped his soiled scrubs
into the canvas cart by the window, grabbed his briefcase and
jacket and walked out.
You boys finish your shift and take off, he said
to the attendants returning down the hallway as his door snicked
shut behind him. Whitmans on call tonight, and if
anything else comes up, he can deal with it.
They waved and went back into the break room to continue the
card game until it was time to punch out and go over to Macs
Place for a few beers.
* * *
Reggie watched from his hiding place in the shrubbery as the
black man exited the morgue and walked to his car in the small
parking lot for employees. There were only two lights on to illuminate
the lot; the floodlights had been turned off after the last body
had been wheeled inside. Both were dim and afforded only enough
light to attempt to fight off the shadows.
Doc made another mental note in his ever-increasing list of Things
To Do: have higher-wattage bulbs installed as soon as possible.
Millie had complained several times to maintenance in the past,
but perhaps a word or two from him might do the trick.
The black mans car drove away from the lot and Reggie stepped
from the shrubbery and walked closer to the steel doors. His brain
had finally cleared the drug fog away, and for the first time
in a great while, he had a purpose.
He stood in front of the doors and looked around. There were
no video surveillance cameras in evidence. Putting his ear to
the door, he could hear nothing from inside.
With a trembling hand and a breath held deep in his lungs, he
took a last look around and reached for the doorknob. What
are the odds? he wondered, and pulled at the door.
* * *
Reggie opened the door a few inches. Seeing no one, he slipped
inside. He heard voices in the distance and looked for a place
to hide. He tried several doors until one opened to reveal a small
closet that obviously was used for storage. Slipping inside, he
closed the door behind him.
* * *
The phone rang and one of the attendants tossed his cards on
the table and answered it, listened a few moments, and then hung
up with a puzzled look on his face.
What was that all about? the other asked.
That was Doc, he replied. Seems that Whitman
cant cover for him tonight because his wife was involved
in a car accident and was taken to the hospital.
That sucks! Whats he want us to do?
He said that the city coroner offered to fill in for him,
and theyd handle any calls that came in until tomorrow afternoon,
he explained, and for us to go ahead and lock up and call
it a night.
So, in other words, last man out the front door buys the
first round at Macs?
Bingo, his friend replied, and they both lunged for
* * *
Reggie heard voices growing louder outside the door. Fearing
discovery, he squeezed himself deeper into the cubbyhole he had
found beside a set of metal shelves.
The voices passed his door and continued down the hall, growing
fainter. He pulled himself from his hole and listened at the door.
Muted conversation, laughter and the sound of the door closing
and a lock being firmly latched was all he heard.
He listened for several minutes. Hearing nothing further, he
opened the door and looked into the hallway. Seeing on one, he
ventured out and began to look for where Bishops body might
All of the doors he tried were either locked or empty, or full
of old, metal office furniture stacked against the wall. Disappointed,
he continued down the hall. The air began to take on the pungent
smell of too much disinfectant and death. He figured that he must
be close to finding Bishop.
A stainless steel door caught his attention and he tried the
handle and pulled the door open. Chilled air and the sharper odor
of decay brushed across his body. Surprised, he walked a few steps
inside and flipped on the lights. Seven black body bags on gurneys
greeted his eyes. He smiled to himself.
Steeling himself, he walked to the nearest bag and grabbed the
zipper. Giving it a quick tug downwards, the bag opened to display
its morbid contents.
It was a middle-aged woman who had probably been attractive in
life, but in death her skin had turned a dirty ash gray with a
marbled mottling of blacks and odd shades of blue mixed in between.
Her half-opened eyes looked like a candid photograph gone awry.
The cameras shutter might have caught her midway during
a blink, eyes opaque, and with foamy mucus around the bottom of
the lids. The mouth was slack and partially open, almost as if
she were surprised and horrified to be found in the company of
the rooms other occupants.
A coarse baseball stitch of black, roughly sewn catgut, ran from
the top of her pubic hair, straight up her stomach, to just below
her breasts, where it bifurcated at that juncture and stopped
two inches from each armpit, the ends of the twine tied off in
a neat figure eight knot.
At the end of the bag, a tag hung from a handle that noted the
autopsy had been completed and the body was awaiting release and
transportation to either the mortuary or next of kin.
He checked several of the other bags and discovered that all
of them had already been autopsied and that perhaps he was not
in the right room. What did they do with the fresh stiffs when
they came in and everyone went home? And even more importantly
Where the fuck was Bishop and his stash of drugs?
He turned off the light and left the room, glad to be out of
the cold air and the stink. He looked further down the hallway.
Another steel doorway gleamed in the distance and he walked towards
it. Emboldened by his past success, he pushed down on the handle
and pulled it towards him. It opened with a whoosh, the cold air
again washing across him. The squalid smell accosted his nostrils
and almost made him gag, but with a flourish, he barely managed.
He turned on the lights and entered.
Payday was near and he could feel it. He could taste the sweetness
of the Rush waiting, and dear God, he was so ready. His want had
overcome his desire. He was beside himself to obtain the drugs
he craved, that he had to have, that he needed now. Any way he
could get them. There was no limit to what he would do to have
* * *
Four gurneys were lined side by side across the back wall of
the room, all of them draped with white sheets that showed shapeless
lumps beneath the expanse of white cotton covering them. Bare
feet stuck out from the bottom of the sheets, with baggage tags
secured to their great toes. The only information was their names
and dates of death printed in indelible ink, and they hung like
sad reminders of the better days theyd spent before now.
He was beyond caring about respect for the dead. As he stood
there in the cold room, staring at someones recently departed
loved ones, the Need hit him hard. His stomach cramped and his
breath came in short, shallow gasps. Cold, clammy sweat broke
out across his forehead and dripped down past his eyes.
He was in pain. His addiction had begun to squeeze his insides
tighter and tighter. The fist of Need was cruel and unforgiving,
and with that thought, he realized that his salvation lay inside
one of the bodies in front of him.
He pushed two of the gurneys aside and stepped up to the third
one. The white sheet was dotted with large blood smears that were
still damp to the touch. He took a deep breath, pulled the edge
of the sheet down and found himself staring at the dead face of
Mixed emotions confused him momentarily, with the friend that
he had and now mourned on the one hand, and the answer to all
his problems on the other. With the Need taking control of his
body, his choice was clear.
Having little knowledge of anatomy, he decided to copy what he
had seen on the other bodies and imitate the incisions. Surely
he could find the drugs that way.
He knew that the condoms were in Bishops stomach, but just
exactly where that was, he hadnt a clue. He put his hand
on his own stomach and poked and prodded, trying to remember the
last time hed had a full belly and where it had felt the
fullest. Thats where the drugs would be.
He pulled the bloody sheet off of Bishop and tossed it in a heap
on the floor. This was not his friend anymore. This was his friend's
body and he sure as shit didnt need it any longer. If the
situation were reversed, hed bet Bishop wouldnt have
any trouble digging into his body to retrieve something as precious
After a moments hesitation, he started to unbutton Bishops
shirt and pulled the garment to either side of the body and tucked
the material beside the arms. The belt was unbuckled next, followed
by undoing the zipper. After a few seconds of effort, he pulled
the pants down below his waist.
There was a stainless steel cabinet in the room and he searched
each drawer for a knife of some sort. Finding nothing but clean
sheets, several boxes of toe tags, and two boxes of disposable
rubber gloves, he abandoned the effort to think what to do next.
This is where they did those things to the bodies, so there had
to be special tools in one of the rooms somewhere; he just had
to get to them.
Not wanting to risk being caught in the hallway pushing a half
undressed corpse, he thought it might be better to search the
rooms until he found what he needed and then return here.
Opening the door, he checked to see that he was still alone.
He left Bishop and the three other stiffs lying on the slabs,
and began to look for something he could use to get what he needed.
The first doors he tried were locked, but with the next one,
he hit the jackpot. There were three large steel tables spaced
around the room with small cabinets at the head of each. Large
steel sinks lined the walls and each had a reel with a rubber
Scales like old man Hopkins had hanging in his butcher shop were
above the tables and a microphone suspended from the ceiling hung
next to them.
He went to the first cabinet, pulled the top drawer open and
discovered a treasure trove of shining steel tools lying inside.
There were knives of all shapes and sizes, along with wicked looking
saws, hammers, pliers and other tools so odd looking that he had
no idea of their use.
He picked up several of the knives and looked them over. Sleek,
shiny and extremely sharp, he selected what he thought he might
need and tossed the rest back into the drawer. Taking a last look
around the room with a grim smile etched on his face, he returned
to Bishop and the task at hand.
He placed the tools beside Bishops body and selected a
long, sharp, very flexible, thin bladed knife about a foot long.
He hefted it in his hand. The handle felt as if it had been made
for his hand, and he waved the blade back and forth as he looked
for a likely spot to start cutting into Bishop.
The feeling that Bishop might be watching him didnt bother
him any longer. The Need overrode any fears that he had left and
he placed the tip of the blade just under the breastbone and plunged
it into the body.