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10:30 A.M. Medical Examiner's Office

As I walked in out of the sun, a hippie college boy, skinny, about five-foot-six with long hair, a scraggly beard, John Lennon glasses and an army knapsack, strode up to me holding a scrap of paper and followed me in. "Is this the Medical Examiner's?"

"Yeah." He trailed me past reception into the back hallway.

"I got a message at home about my roommate. They were looking for his parents but they're in Houston. His name is Rick Schate. Was he in an accident?"

I stopped dead outside the autopsy room as a gurney rolled toward us.

"Are you a cop?" the kid asked. "Is he under arrest?"

I couldn't say anything before the gurney holding the mashed remains of Rick Schate, globs of flesh placed near what was left of each arm, crossed our path and slowed long enough to push the autopsy room doors open. The long-haired kid turned white.

- - -

An assistant in green scrubs let me through the doors of the cutting room, a spare operation with fluorescent lights, concrete floor, metal sink and a butcher's scale—Drop the organs in, see the dial spin, Joey used to say. The faucet had a hose for spraying and a clear hose for suction, so you could watch it swallow.

Hay in scrubs and a clear plastic face shield stood over Schate. She clamped two vice grips on a lone fist and broke the fingers open with a crunch, a dozen tiny bones snapping in succession, and her mouth twisted into something like a smile. "Sergeant Reles?"


She didn't look up. "What's the current fare on Capital Metro?"

"I don't know. Fifty cents?"

"For students?"

I shrugged. "Twenty-five maybe? Yeah, why?"

Hay exchanged a look with Number One. "I don't know what I can say about the suicide theory. But you can tell Capital Metro they have twenty-five cents coming to 'em."

She took a student ID and a quarter from Schate's palm with her bloody glove and tossed the quarter onto the metal gurney. The bloody coin fell with a dull clink and stuck.

Assistant Number Two wheeled in the second gurney, slamming it through the double doors feet first if she'd had feet. No limbs, pallid breasts and crotch, a fleshless abdomen. I kept shifting my gaze. If there's a right way to look at half a naked dead woman, I never learned it.

Hay's other assistant had to leave with Schate's body and if Sergeant Reles wanted to stay, would he help out as scribe?

Hay cut down vertically between the breasts, peeled back the flaps, took something like a chain cutter and snipped open the ribs one by one. Then she stood over the remains in fresh gloves, dictating: "liver somewhat enlarged…"

"Alcohol?" I asked.

"Just take this down." Number One tubed blood and bile. "Dead a few days. Refrigerated most of that time." I could have told her that but I kept my mouth shut. A three-day decomp leaves a stink you can't get out of your nostrils for days. Makes you want to smell some nice fresh shit for relief.

Hay cut a lung loose and weighed it. "Right lung three hundred eighty-five grams." Then, "Left lung three ninety grams. Petechial hemorrhages on surface of lungs." More cutting and weighing, liver, spleen and heart.

"What can you get from dissecting the heart?"

She glared daggers. "It's diss-ect, with a short 'i.' Not di-sect."


"You can bi-sect, you can dis-assemble. You can't di-sect." She watched me for some sign of assent, didn't get it, and looked back at the table. The kidneys got a "Hmm" out of her and she sliced one open. "See that?" she asked. White specs freckled the cross-section of kidney. "Talc. Or whatever they're using to cut heroin nowadays. Probably heroin."


"Disappointed?" She cut open what she told me was the uterus. "Papilloma. Probably HPV. And chlamydia. For a while, too. The fallopian tubes are clogged with scar tissue. I'd say late teens, early twenties at the oldest."


She prodded the tissue with her scalpel so I could see it bounce back. "The organs are full grown, but still plenty of elasticity, in spite of the damage. Ribs soft, not calcified. Iliac crest not fused yet. No more than twenty-two. Young adult, no question."

Hay cut open the stomach, flooded with a milky fluid. "Semen," she said. "More than one brand. Not much of an eater otherwise. Peptic ulcer, stomach cashing in on itself. And this." With tweezers, she lifted a small charm out of the stomach and held it up, a ghoulish little black skull, chipped white paint in the caverns of its cheek- bones and marking its irregular front teeth. A loop on top for a string. The teeth made me flash on Joey at the bottom of 2222, in the white Chevy drenched with water from the fire trucks, body burned beyond recognition, head flung back at an impossible angle, chipped front tooth sticking out of the black crepe of his face.

I blinked and pulled myself back into the room. Why this charm ? A cult killing? "Was it forced down her throat?"

"It'd be in her throat. I say she swallowed it."

I asked if I could have the charm. Hay raised an eyebrow.

"You want me to wash it off first?"

"Can you test her for other diseases?"

"What difference does it make? She's dead."

The fumes burned my eyes. "Would you just do it."

Hay to Number One: "Tell Serology to test her for everything—HIV, syphilis—Sergeant Reles is concerned about her health. While we're at it, see what you can find out about different drugs, opiates especially. Kidneys don't look so good. And do ABOs, genotypes, phenotypes, PGM, EAPs. Maybe we can match them to something."

I shoved my way out to the reception area to breathe, and think about this girl with the voodoo charm in her belly. The long-haired boy still sat in the chair where I'd parked him, pale and sweating in the cool room.

"I just talked to Rick this morning," he said when I dropped into the seat next to him. "He stayed at his girlfriend's. He was supposed to meet us."

"I'm sorry."

He looked at me, a lost kid. "What do I do?" I couldn't think of anything so I gave him my card and, like an idiot, wrote my home number on it. He read the card. "Homicide?"

"Rick was an accident. I'm here for something else." I was trying to think about how I could cross out my home number without it looking suspicious.
"You're the first decent cop I ever met."

"It takes all kinds."

- - -

Back in the autopsy room, Hay dropped the skull charm in a specimen cup of alcohol and handed it to me like a highball.

For a flash, Joey winked at me from the autopsy table and vanished. "Cause of death?" I asked.

"Undetermined," she said. "The hemorrhages on her lungs, maybe asphyxiation. If we had the neck I could tell you if she'd been strangled. Figure strangled, maybe suffocated, maybe bludgeoned. I'm making casts of the flesh cuts in case you find something to match them to."

"Neat work," I said. "Think he had a medical background?"

Or a butcher," she said.

"Can you test the semen?" I asked, glancing at the cavern where the girl's stomach had been.

Hay peeled off her mask and gloves as she walked to the sink. "Draw it," she told Number One. "See what Serology can figure out." She pumped red liquid soap into the palm of her hand, then turned to me. "And if nobody claims it in thirty days, it's yours."


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