I settle in and fill out the paper work by hand. Pen down everything concise and accurate from memory. I piss off some Homicide cop when I mark down the cause of death: "Poisoning, compare to toxicology results." The work is tedious, but I fill out reports like this in my spare time. Though, when I do that, it's documenting the crimes I've committed and where the missing dead are resting.
I copy down the address and contact information for Esmeralda's family on a scrap piece of paper and pocket it. I can contact them later to offer closure and retribution. Thinking about her husband and sons kicks up an old sensation in my brainstem. I remember watching a cluster of civilian women and children blasted by a UAV in the Pakistani mountains. The blood-painted desert dust and blackened amputated limbs and the survivors choking and screaming through boiling blood as their maimed loved ones flood their last seconds of sight. I remember a draining cold October funeral suffering through the Chicago wind. I'm standing off under a marble monolith watching as a family clings together in mourning black and tear-rivers. Their bodies quaking as they fight the crippling grief. The priest crossing the air and reciting last rites as a lost love is lowered into the dark soil and clay. The departed's parents sprinkling sacred cemetery dust onto the rosewood casket and looking up at me with raw scorching hate in their eyes.
I clench my teeth and force those ghosts back down into a pit somewhere in my guts. Take a deep breath to shove this moment of haunting into an inescapable corner of what's left of my soul.
I finish and slide the forms into a manila folder and drop it into the outbox rack next to the morgue computer. I open one of the honeycomb freezer doors in the autopsy room. Cold spits out as the door widens. I move Esmeralda onto the sliding slab, gentle and patient. I close her eyes with two fingers and tuck her to her final sleep with the cotton cadaver sheet. I close the door shut and the rubber seal sucks deep, stopping the spill of refrigerated breeze.
I start toward the clipboard for my second patient when chaos breaks. I hear harsh breathing and see one of the regular homicide detectives, Detective Morrison, barrel through the double-doors at the stairs. He's a stocky balding black warhorse in a brown department store suit and green rayon tie. A gold telecaster-mold tie-clip holds the green snug to his white dress shirt. He moves with the grace of a former power athlete, a muscle-thug stance with broad shoulders and a boulder belly.
The elevator dings right after and the Chief Medical Examiner, Carol Denton, pulls out a corpse stretcher. Denton's a fit fifty-something, and the gray pepper in her auburn hair combined with the worry lines and frail veined skin makes it apparent. She's wearing a pair of casual jeans and a fashionable purple wool sweater. Her thin glasses glare bright in the ceiling lights.
Evita "Al" Alexandria Adderfield trails behind Denton, pushing the stretcher from the other end. She's a CSI, specializing in homicide photography and being damn near perfect at reading a scene. She's in her mid-twenties, with a lithe fighter's build and shoulder-length dark hair curling like wet-fire smoke. She's wearing a pair of fitted tactical cargo pants, cream and blood patterned silk scarf, and nylon CSI zip jacket. She has a natural beauty that could be easily raised to melt any sexually active person, but she mutes it down. Her tough skin glows out with her knuckle calluses like katana steel. I've only been working with her for about a year. She always tries to talk to me. The only person I see during this work that casually talks to me.
"Ben, take this and prep the body. Code red. We got two more rots coming down the tubes. This is bad." Denton says as she slides the stretcher to me and steps over to the locker room to scrub up.
The vic's in a heavy-plastic body bag. I wheel the stretcher over to the autopsy table. Al and Morrison follow in suit. I unzip the bag and it's a horror. A white male, mid-to-late-twenties, covered in cheap flash art tattoos and too many slash wounds to count. It's a mutilation. I can tell that the cuts are deep and meant to make the nerves scream, to make pain drown his brain. His face is smashed to ground beef. What should be his mouth is a mess of torn flesh and crumpled bone, gaping open in a terror howl. He's been scalped and his face lacerated to rags exposing bone and flayed muscle. His genitals have been torn out with a serrated blade of some sort, a wide gore tunnel where they should be. There's a steel mesh screwed into the skin over a wide hole where the heart should be. I see a glint of light in the chest wound as I lift the corpse up and position it on the table. The body probably weighs around two-hundred, and I handle it as easy as I did with Esmeralda.
"One of these days, Skinner, you're going to have to tell me how you can move these stiffs like children's rag dolls. I swear I didn't even see you strain." Al speaks into my ear as she stares over my shoulder.
"I can't get rid of what these ugly fucks were turned into. I don't want to meet someone who can do this kind of thing to another person." She says with awe. I can't tell if it's out of fear or amazement.
She's standing so close that I can feel her damp breath on my neck. She has no idea she's standing within fingertips of someone who has done worse. I've made people beg for death. Made them agonize for days. Fuck, for weeks. I've killed people through pain, sent them into such a powerful state of shock that they just dropped limp.
I reset the surgical instruments on the alloy stand as Dr. Denton enters the room. Her scrubs match mine, same type of spatter mask over her face. She looks me in the eyes for strength, I just nod. Her eyes are a dimmed blue, darkened by years of seeing the worst that humanity can create. She hired me three years ago, and since then I've watched the job beat her down and splinter her spirit. She used to wear a silver crucifix. I haven't seen it in a year and a half.
"It's all you, Dr. Denton. Let me know if you need any help." I say as I step aside. I squeeze her shoulder for support as I take my place across from her and a few feet from the victim.
Denton goes to work picking out samples of soot and dirt. Pulling debris from under the finger nails and checking the external injuries. She takes a close look at the destroyed face and pauses for a second, grabs a pair of forceps, and pokes them into the corpse's mouth. She delicately removes a set of amputated male genitals and drops them in a steel pan on the instrument tray.
"Well that's where those went." Al side whispers to me, a smirk on her face. "Though, I really want to know what's with the mesh over his heart."
"There won't be a heart behind that cage." I whisper back.
"How do you know? And did you just call it a cage?"
"I saw under it, for a second. The heart's been replaced. As for the cage comment, it just fits in the symbolism."
"I won't really know until the good doctor looks under it. But I got an idea."
"Ahhh..." She says in fake understanding.
Next thing I know she grabs me by the shoulders and makes us face each other. Eye to eye. Her eyes have this deep spark along the tar-mud brown. Something I've always seen.
"You realize this is a serial case." She says to me, fighting a smile.
"I guessed. There are two more dead on the way."
"Yeah, and they've all been done the same way. It's a little exciting."
"You were terrified a second ago..."
"I know, but how often does a person really deal with a serial killer? They are plastered across TV and the news and the net, but have you ever really been involved with this kind of shit?"
"No." I lie, remembering the killers I put down. The serial cases I managed to stop before the devils got more vicious and hungrier.
I turn back and watch as Denton does her work. Efficient and meticulous and patient. She takes a blood sample with a large hypodermic. The elevator dings down the hall and two EMTS cart down another body-bag on a stretcher. A few moments later the third is brought down. The medics all leave, skin greened and eyes wide in fear. One of them still had smears of vomit on his jacket and mouth.
"Does anyone have a multi-tool on them?" Denton asks as she moves her focus to the mesh on the corpse's chest.
Al produces a heavy duty Leatherman and levers out a Phillips head screwdriver bit. Denton takes it and starts removing the six screws holding the mesh in place. She moves slow and careful and drops each screw in another steel evidence pan. It takes her a few minutes, the whole room keeps quiet in interest and study. Denton lifts up the mesh and drops it in the pan with the screws. There're grid indents in the dead skin.
I notice Denton's eyes widen as she looks into the chest wound. She grabs the forceps again and plunges it into the hole. She removes a mirror shard first. The glimmer and shine I saw in the darkness. She drops that in another pan and goes back into the hole. The next thing she removes is piece of a charred-black brick. It's covered with fat and blood and viscera, but it's definitely a burnt clay brick. She sets it aside and stops, and turns to Detective Morrison.
"Well, this is just fucked, Jacob." She says with a sigh.
"What do you mean? I understand the size of this hellish mess, but you're damn good Carol." Morrison replies.
"Well, it'll be a bit before I can get you a COD. To add, with the way things look, and the fact that all these rots look the same, we're going to have to call in the feds. We need a profiler. This is some heavy symbolism. Our killer is sending a pretty clear message, as long as we can read the language. This is for SCU. I haven't seen anything close to this really..." Denton's voice trails quiet.
"G'damn it. I hate having to turn these things over to the Feds. I mean, yes, it strikes off an open from my load, but this is on our turf. I really want to see this bastard burn. Want to see him thrown in to a deep cell and forced to gurgle some giant banger's cock." Morrison growls.
"I know. This is unholy. There's so much damage that it could be anything from the castration to one of the lacerations to the damn removing of the heart to the wrecking ball job done on the face. This guy's sick, and he wanted his victims to scream. He wanted them to feel nothing but what he wanted them to. We're dealing with the devil or something close."
"And he's made Memphis his home. We won't know too much more until the prints come back, but these vics weren't from around where they were found. Hell, these fucker's are South trash, yet they were posed in a vacant lot off Germantown Parkway. Rested down right on the gravel. I know this killer's talking. Actually, motherfucker's roaring at us."
"Well, I'll make the calls. I need the Jenny and Arthur down here to help me. I need a gallon of strong coffee too. We'll have what we need by noon. I suggest you drop the info on your boys, and make the FBI call." She turns to look at me. "Ben, you can head out, we're going to be taking over this place tonight, and you're not on the level for it. I know you're good at what you do, but I need all the MEs in. Alright?"
"Whatever you need." I say with a nod and head for the locker room to change.
I hear more cursing and stress sighs from across the hall. Al's waiting by the stairs as I leave.
"What're you doing with the rest of your night? It's only bordering nine." She asks, her eyes scanning my face.
"Probably going to clear my head with a run. Maybe push around a cue ball a bit. Those bodies got me a bit trembled." I say, trying to sound as believable as I can.
"Funny, you didn't seem so 'trembled'. You looked like you understood it."
"I'm just good at keeping myself cool and collected. No one can see that and walk away unaffected."
"Except for the thing that did it."
"Yeah, I guess you're right on that."
"Well, if you go for a game of pool. Maybe I'll see you out. We could drown our nerves in a classic way, with an unhealthy amount of alcohol."
"Maybe." I shrug and head for the door. I don't understand Al. I don't get what she sees in me, or I do get it and don't want to think about it. But she is right on a lot of things. I understand pain and killing. I understand a million things about it. I'm one of the best in that field. The problem is that if I'm to survive, then no one can ever know that. Those skills are only for monsters.