The morgue, a word that conjures visions of death and decay, a word that sends cold shivers throughout the body just as it did Detective Massey’s as he reached the massive steel doors leading to it. The hairs on his body stood at attention as he pushed his way into the world of the mortician. He’d been a detective for eleven years now, but this was still the hardest part. Their souls may be gone, but seeing the atrocities inflicted upon their bodies damaged his mind and his soul in a way that he could never completely over come. Massey had seen more corpses than he cared to count, in all conditions, from heart attack sufferers to the brutality of the demented serial killer who left his victims raped and dismembered to rot in the summer heat. Still nothing compared to or prepared him for what he was about to witness next.
He pushed through the door entering the sterile, alien, environment of metal furnishings and bright lights. The smell of formaldehyde and disinfectant invaded his nostrils, filling his sinus, yet still no amount of deodorizer could mask the smell of death … or arrogance.
“I put the Marcus report on your desk.”
“If you did then why didn’t I see it in my ‘in’ box?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Of course I did! I’m not deaf woman!”
It took all of the self-control within Dr. Karen Harmon not to plunge her scalpel deep into the gut into of the sexist pig in front of her, but she was better than that; much better. “I said, ‘I put the Marcus report on your desk,’ not in your ‘in’ box.”
“Well next time do it right and put the reports in my ‘in’ box. A child would know that.”
“Last time you told me to put it on your desk I put the report in your ‘in’ box and we had this same discussion, now make up your mind; on the desk or in the ‘in’ box!”
Callisson was steamed; his blood pressure was through the roof. How dare this woman talk to him like that, well she wouldn’t get away with it he just wouldn’t give her an answer. So he flung around and shoved his way past Massey bursting from the room with a huff.
“I see Callisson is being his usual self.”
“Yeah, he thinks women should be secretaries and maids and nothing else. ‘If they want to work they should stick to what they were meant for!’ Hard to believe men like that still exist in this country in this day in time.”
“That’s Callisson all right.” Massey enjoyed talking to Karen, she had a strong will and she wasn’t afraid to be herself. Sometimes he’d catch himself staring at her. Her shiny, soft, chestnut hair twisted behind her head and fastened with one of those clips that looked like a shark’s mouth, and those giant goggles covering her green eyes. They reminded him of four-leaf clovers, lucky clovers, and even though she was covered in her white and blue hospital smock streaked in blood, nothing could detract from her beauty. Not even the scalpel she clutched in her hand intimidated him. To him she was a five foot six fireball, full of mystery, heat, passion, and life. Yet through all that he could see about her he was blind to his own heart.
“So, you ready for this Sloan?”
Sloan Massey’s mood instantly shifted and truth be known he wasn’t. He didn’t have to do this, he didn’t have to be here, he could wait for Karen to finish the exam then review the report, but he was driven by a strong desire to rid the streets of the evils of the world and the responsibility that held for him and he didn’t want to miss a thing. It’s not that he doubted Karen’s abilities, she was the best forensic examiner he had ever worked with, there was just something about being there to see for yourself that had always been a part of his personality. “Let’s do this.”
Karen left the body she was examining to her assistant and led Sloan to the locker that contained his next nightmare. The cold steam erupted through the crack in the seal reaching its icy fingers up the metal cooler. The heavy drawer slid to a stop, offering the covered carcass to the awaiting detective. The shroud of death outlined the body perfectly like a vacuum seal, having absorbed the remaining separating blood and bodily fluids not yet solidified. Massey’s gut sank, this was going to be like nothing he had ever seen before and he prayed he would never see again. He raised his eyes to meet Karen’s, wanting the last thing etched in his mind before witnessing such carnage was the beauty of her emerald irises. They held each other’s gaze as she slowly peeled the sheet away from the corpse. “In all my years as a pathologist I’ve never even heard of anything like this. We were able to recover nearly all of the remains everything but…”
This scared Massey; he had never heard those words from Karen’s lips. He inhaled deeply, bracing himself for what lied before him, then allowed his gaze to break away and peer down into the missing eyes of a dead man, a dead man with no skin. The fluids covering the muscles had congealed and bonded with its shroud, leaving a mucusy trail of slime. What little blood there was left was crusted around the chewed holes that the rats, dogs, and stray cats had ate away from the pour rotting soul.
“You’ll notice that a large amount of blood loss came not from the skinning, but from the holes eaten away by animals. The hands took quite a hit from them, easy to chew off, but one of the officers managed to wrestle the missing finger from a cat and one of the eyeballs was recovered down the street.”
“Poor old lady went to let her pet in and found it lying on her welcome mat. Weston was able to convince her it was from the butcher shop down the block, thankfully she hadn’t got close enough to tell the difference between a human eye and a pigs.”
“Oh yeah, the district attorney was here when they brought him in, he took one look and ran. I received a call from his office assistant right before tropical storm Callisson rolled in saying something had come up, he would have to miss the autopsy, and that he would just review the report. I know you two usually do this together, but I guess this time you’re on your own.”
“I don’t blame him.”
Karen pretended not to notice Sloan’s little slip, but this was the first time she had ever seen him show his true feelings. She knew that each autopsy he oversaw and each homicide he investigated disturbed him how could it not the atrocities of mankind, but he always managed to put the distress aside and do his job. She admired him for that and felt a deep connection with him as well. They both knew the only way left to help the victim and family was to put everything they had into solving each puzzle handed to them, and just as important stopping anyone else from meeting the same fate. She’d come to terms with the fact that she was in no way physically strong enough to be a cop, but she was smart. At one point she had considered law it was certainly an important cog in the wheel of justice, but her heart or maybe it was her head couldn’t take it. The thought of putting someone innocent behind bars or setting the guilty free even accidentally disturbed her conscience greatly. Within the world of forensic pathology she was secure that any evidence she found or puzzles she solved was fact. Her findings had set innocent people free and put the guilty away. No matter how “good” the lawyers were or what their intentions, facts were facts and that she was proud of and she could sleep at night.
But this … this putrefying cadaver that once resembled a human life now laid as an offering before her, sent a feeling of terror throughout her body and for the first time in her adult life she would undoubtedly be haunted by nightmares. With her assistant, the diener, beside her and Sloan across from her she began the autopsy.
First they looked over the body, the muscles had grown grey and brown from the lack of blood, something you don’t get to see very often; not that you’d want to. They carefully scanned the man’s cold remains top to bottom collecting debris and other evidence for further examination and testing to be done elsewhere. Then came the internal exam. The scalpel slid effortlessly deep into the shoulder of the mystery man, slicing the gnawed flesh in two. Karen carefully guided the razor sharp blade beneath where the man’s nipples should have been, then back up to his right shoulder, forming a morbid U shape. She removed her gloved hands from the corpse, wiping the slightly bloody slime onto her smock then continued her carving. Once more the razors edge plunged into his cold flesh at the base of the U turning it into the Y so easily recognized around the world, opening a path to the dead organs beneath. The trail stretched from the sternum, down the stomach to the left of the navel, and down to his not so private parts.
To the left of the belly button, always to the left, never to the right, never cutting the tendon that was once attached to the umbilical cord. She may dice up and dissect the bodily shell, but she; like so many other pathologists, respected the symbol of life too much to sever the tendon that once held our very lives within it.
His muscular flesh peeled away, offering up the mystery of the organs to her as she methodically continued with the next step of the examination. First was to remove the heart, the battery of life, tightly guarded within the ribcage. Karen picked up the rib cutter which consisted of nothing more than a good pair of hedge trimmers from the local hardware store. The bones snapped and cracked one by one as she cut away the hearts protective cover lifting it off easily. So much violence and hate, so many people hurting each other out of jealousy and anger, it can scar ones soul if not for divine forgiveness and peace. Especially when the rage manifests itself in a mutilation like this.
One by one the valves were sliced through while the heart was carefully removed and handed off to the assistant. The blood had long since ceased to flow and only a tiny amount remained, finally spilling into the examination tray when dissected. Immediately Karen noticed scarring, a sure sign of a heart attack; a severe one, probably what ultimately killed him. There were also signs of heart murmurs severe enough to cause a lifetime of true heartache. Each organ, having lost its healthy red color and now appearing more of a pink and gray, was closely examined one at a time while a mini-recorder captured every word, all the legacy that this life could leave behind. Each decaying organ was weighed and laid open to be robbed of its contents and the tiny samples collected for further testing.
“Granules found in both the left and right kidneys, subject victim of uncontrolled diabetes. Condition of liver suggests signs of extreme malnutrition.”
“What no yellow, fatty, enlargement?”
Sloan’s anger flared. He may not know much about the science of pathology, but from experience he knew what the assistant was implying. “Just because a man is homeless doesn’t mean that he’s an alcoholic or a drug addict or anything else! Things happen to good people too, they lose their jobs, their identities get stolen, they lose their way, you name it. Everyday people have nowhere to turn and nowhere to go but the streets.”
Massey refused to take his gaze off the young diener and he watched the boy’s eyes lower to the floor with shame. Finally after a moment of silence the vivisection commenced. The small pink sack of the stomach was next; Karen instantly noticed its size was less than half what it should have been. The poor man probably hadn’t eaten in weeks. Her hypothesis was confirmed the second she touched the bloody blade of her scalpel to the shrunken sack. The stomach burst open to reveal its ulcerated lining, the result of months of starvation. No further clues could be found, but none were really needed. Of course she knew she couldn’t stop there, the brain was calling for its turn under the knife. The scalpel sank easily into what little covering was left over the skull, slicing effortlessly around it. Her fingers slid underneath the squishy flesh and pulled it up, laying it like a thin tight flap over where his eyes once resided, exposing the white of the skull. The oscillating saw buzzed to life, ecstatic at the chance to chew through the mother of all bones. Chunks of marrow and dust danced through the air bouncing off their protective gear as Dr. Karen Harmon circumnavigated the orb, preparing it for removal. With the saw finally lain to rest, it was time to awaken the “chisel”, the nickname it received from its appearance, and its use to “pop” loose the cap of the skull. With the lid fully open she used both hands to carefully pull it free and reveal to light the CPU that is the human brain. She knew for certain what had robbed this man of his life, but the scientific curiosity drew her deeper into the brain’s examination. Besides, she had to be completely thorough. Almost sub-consciously her long, lanky, fingers grazed the surface of the skullcap, exploring the smooth bone of the brain’s protector and immediately she noticed evidence of a stroke severe enough to cause partial paralysis on his left side. This poor man had it rough.
It still amazed her that this delicate, mushy, grayish mass could be capable of so much. Many pathologists lost their faith at seeing the savageness we humans were capable of, but every time she sliced open a body, especially the brain; she knew without a doubt that life could not have been an accident. Only God could create something so perfect, yet so delicate, and make it work with such precision and mystery. She yearned intently to know the secrets of the brain, yet she also knew that no matter how far science progressed the gray matter would, to some extent, always keep its secrets locked away safely. That’s how God intended it; why else design the brain to be so fragile yet so resilient and intricate at the same time. In some a bullet having little effect while in others a single ruptured blood vessel causing irreparable debilitating damage. If He wanted us to figure it all out it wouldn’t ruin so easily, that she understood and accepted without question.
Karen peeled the sticky, fluid ridden gloves from her hands and left the close up work for the newly humbled assistant and motioned for Massey to follow her to her office. He couldn’t help but watch the diener replacing the organs with those strange forceps out of the corner of his eye. To him the morbid scene belonged in a sci-fi movie.
Office, that was a laugh, it was more like a corner with a glass partition as a wall and no door. Of course that’s what you get in a small town where the forensic pathologist also works at the community and the private hospital. All that just to handle the few cases of suspicious deaths. Most of what she handled was either natural causes or accident victims, but she would also be called in on most of the local missing person and assault cases, if not all of them. On occasion her expertise was called on for unique cases throughout the mid-west.
She tightly slid behind her desk to grab her notes from the corpse’s earlier arrival. “After examining what fingernail contents we could there were no traces of any possible useable evidence. Basically it was consistent of dirt, grease, and traces of biological waste. Further testing may reveal more.”
“Garbage; that’s not surprising, the personal effects gathered at the site were those of Old Debs.”
“Eugene Debman, owned the machine shop once upon a time. Everyone just called him Deb.”
“As you know I’m not a forensic entomologist, but I spent enough time at the ‘Body Farm’ in Tennessee to know that the unhatched maggot eggs lain at the time of death were those of the secondary screwworm leaving the time of death only a few hours before the body was discovered. I’m sending a sample off to Tennessee to be certain though. I’m also sending blood and fluid samples for DNA fingerprinting, but I doubt anything will turn up. My upfront analysis would be that he ultimately died of a heart attack undoubtedly resulting from the skinning. The strange thing about the skinning is that there was no trace of any lesions of any kind. ”
“How is that possible?”
The deputy hated hearing of maggots and dead bodies, and he hated even more being the “delivery boy” of “it”. The sooner he delivered the “package” and Ms. Harmon signed off on it he was out of there! “Ms. Harmon?”
She looked up to see the face of a very uneasy, very queasy, young deputy holding a small black, heavy-duty, body bag tagged “evidence.” She had once read a book where the body of the town sheriff was brought into the morgue in a green trash bag since there was so little left of it, but even she knew no officer would ever place a body of any kind in anything but a body bag or body sheet. They all had too much respect for the dead and to treat a fellow officer like that was bordering on blasphemous, but she had to admit it did make a good moment in the story.
“Uh Ma’am, we located the man’s…”
“What Deputy? Spit it out.”
“The man’s skin.”