Friday, 22 February 2013

The overflow morgue

The mortician at the overflow morgue lets me have my own key because she got tired of trying to find how I’d broken in again.  She sighed as she threw it at me, and then laughed as I struggled to bend enough to pick it up.  I’d had a particularly difficult time with a particularly tricky case the night before, involving a sadistic acupuncturist, a loose goose and a bag of leaf tea and I really wasn’t set up for bending, stretching, or even moving faster than a stumble.
“Sweet beggared Moses, Mac,” she’d said, without any more malice in her tone than people who don’t know me use, “what have you done to yourself this time?  I don’t know, but you keep coming in here so you may as well call it home.  It’s people you know who keep this place in business, so perhaps I should show some gratitude, however indirectly.”
I hooked the key with a shoe and started to pull it up my leg to where my aching fingers could reach it.  “I like it in here,” I said.  “It’s quiet, no-one tries to bother me or interrupt my thoughts.”
“Who in their right mind would bother you, Mac?”
“People wanting me dead, mostly.”
“So you’re giving them a bit of a head start, eh?  Where better to hide a dead body than a morgue?”
“The graveyard, but it involves digging and a bit of heavy lifting.”  I got my fingertips to the key and tried to straight up again.  It proved painful, and from the sound of her laughter, humorous too.
“Don’t scare my assistant,” she said.  “And try not to let anyone official catch you.  If they come in while you’re thinking hard –,” her tone suggested that she thought I was sleeping, “– don’t sit up and greet them.  Not unless you’re trying to add to the population here yourself.”
I grunted, mostly with the effort of dragging my shoulder up so they were level with one another and she left it at that.  As she walked off I remember thinking that from the rear she was stunning, but when you saw her face she was breath-taking.  As in, she took your breath away so much that you couldn’t even beg for mercy.  She could have given Medusa tips on both make-up and hair-care.
I let myself in to the morgue and sniffed.  There was a strong blast of formaldehyde in the air, but there were the subtle, almost-citrussy notes of chloroform underneath.  I asked Miss Sapphire about it once, wondering if it’s supposed to smell like Japanese lime and she just wrinkled her delicate little nose at me.
“You sniff chloroform, Mac?”  She shook her head and exhaled very gently, a ladylike take on a very masculine gesture.  “How are you even still alive?”
I walked through the little entrance office without signing the visitors book; I figured that this was like a home away from home so I wasn’t really visiting.  And if I wasn’t here there was nothing to explain if someone noticed a trolley out of place, or a roll of bandages borrowed for a while.  In the next room the temperature dropped noticeably.  The overflow morgue is dug into the ground for insulation and they keep it cold enough that it doesn’t smell much except in summer.  The floor sloped steadily downwards as I headed towards the corpse bays where the bodies for autopsy are prepped.  There was pretty much always a free trolley there, and I have faith I’d wake up before they cut too deep; while if I slept in the fridges I might not wake up until I was in the chiller cabinet.  They lock those doors from the outside too.  I asked about it, and the mortician just shrugged her shoulders.
“Mad Frankie went to the city council and insisted,” she said.  “Sat there in the Mayor’s chair, banging his fist on the table and insisting that we put security in, saying that he wanted to know that when he died he wasn’t going to be some necrophiliac’s sex toy.  God only knows what kind of people he hangs out with, Mac.  Well, God and you, from what I hear.”  I had my own opinions about why Mad Frankie might want to be able to lock people into a morgue fridge, and I wasn’t going to speculate.
The corpse bays were unusually crowded, and when I started opening body bags and checking the contents I found that everyone seemed to be missing an arm or a leg, sometimes both.  Then I found the bag that contained all the arms and legs and realised that the mortuary staff would be doing jigsaw puzzles come the morning, and I permitted myself a grim little smile.  This wasn’t Mad Frankie’s style, he was much more direct.  This looked and felt like Natasha Monkeybutt to me, deploying some police weapon without due care and consideration.  I pushed the bag of limbs onto the floor, climbed on to the trolley and lay back.  I exhaled deeply, closed my eyes, and tried to think about all the things that had happened since I went looking for Little Boy Blue.  And I realised that I still hadn’t found out where he was and why someone had dragged a sheep up to his room to slaughter it there.

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