Flotsam and Jetsam
Calling on Helen’s London contacts wasn't going to be of any use that much was true. By the time they could've put in a good word for her, the body might already be six feet under, and the evidence obliterated. Time was of the essence. A little discussion over lunch, and a few well-placed phone calls, had identified that the body had been taken to Bellevue Hospital Morgue, precisely a mile away to the south. So they had decided to wait until evening, when hospital staff began to take their dinner, and lowered their guard.
Slipping past reception as though they belonged there, Magnus and Tesla soon found their way into the mortuary building. The state of the art facilities had been joined onto the main building by an indoor corridor. An innovation which Magnus was surprised, but immensely pleased to see adopted somewhere other than the Sanctuary. God knew how many morgues Watson had dragged them to where she'd been forced through the slurry of a soaking wet courtyard to reach the hapless victim!
The corridors in this part of the hospital were hushed, the slight buzz of new electric lighting the only sound to accompany their passage. Neither of them trusted it, both glancing about warily as they reached the door – almost expecting something invisible to show itself and catch them in the act. Reminding herself that Tesla was more than capable of playing look out with his enhanced hearing, Helen broke out a hair pin, working on the basic wafer lock, just like Watson had shown her all those years ago, until the mechanism clicked. Tesla had already reached for the handle, pushing it open as she stood up, and allowing her through first, in total silence.
Immediately she began to check the paper tags, tied to the feet of the three bodies laid out in the dimming light, pausing but briefly to set down the surgical bag they'd purchased that afternoon. Tesla, meanwhile, hung back by the frosted glass of the windowed door, listening out for intruders, whilst watching Magnus methodically search for her target. She had been conspicuously hushed on the details of her little mission, and he got the distinct impression she was improvising everything she hadn't actually mentioned in the hotel: a fact which only put him more on edge.
Finding the tag which spelled out 'John Doe, April 20th, 2pm, No. 256', Magnus swiftly removed an apron from the wall and rolled up her sleeves. There were folders stacked on the counter, and whilst trying up the protective fabric she leaned towards them, searching for the one which matched her former patient’s number. She was glad to see the report, ink still drying, lain out on top. Her luck appeared to be holding.
Bringing it closer to the door, and the second hand light, to read the contents, she noticed Tesla was surreptitiously scrutinising her. She pretended to ignore it, but positioned barely three feet away from him, it was clear he wasn't going to let that happen.
"So when somebody decides to check in on Mr Doe here, and finds you elbow deep in carcass, were you just going to smile and look innocent, or was there a plan?" he snarked with a raised eyebrow, causing her to lift her gaze from the page, for a second that she didn't want to spare, in order to reprimand him with nothing but a look. "Just so I know."
"That's what you're here for," she whispered winningly, most of her attention still fixed on the report, and one part in particular which intrigued her. Frowning at the unexpected assertion scrawled on the page, whatever else she'd been about to say died in the air. She set the paperwork beside her bag, washing her hands and approaching the corpse.
"What is it?" Tesla asked at her obvious sense of direction, his nit-picking suddenly overridden by a fierce curiosity.
The chill air made itself known, raising the skin on her forearms to Goosebumps, as she peeled back the pale covering. For a second she thought she could see ice encrusted on his face, embedded in the eyebrows and pale blue lips, like the bodies that had been floating on the lapping Atlantic waters. Her stomach fell like a stone at the memory, the same feeling you get when you fall in a dream, until it brought her back to reality with a jolt.
Helen recovered herself enough to find the location of the injury and respond in record time; barely raising Tesla's suspicions, "The surgeon identified a bite mark on the body…" she gently turned the lower leg so that she could see it better. Even so, it was too dark. "Can you turn the light on?"
"Are you sure?"
She knew what he meant. With the lights on it wouldn't be long before somebody noticed they were there, "Unless you'd care to power a light bulb for me?" She smiled sweetly.
With a half-sigh, he eyed her – a look which indicated he could see right through those womanly charms but would do it anyway, if only because he couldn't resist showing off. Reaching up to one of the bulbs protruding from the light fixtures, unscrewing it with the finesse of a magician with an audience, Nikola made sure to stand where he would obscure as much of the light as possible from the window. Only then did he fill the bulb with current, its steady glow illuminating the four puncture wounds that marked the cadaverous leg. The brief smile of thanks on her lips felt like something of a reward – though he failed to catch her looking his way, or uttering the praise he so loved to hear from her lips.
Now she could see more clearly Helen brought a surgical tool to gently pry at the entry wounds, "Hmm, it's not unlike a cat bite… though it would be an incredibly small one."
"They call them kittens."
She stared at him with that flat, unimpressed look he so often received for his witticisms, "Thank you Nikola."
He was smirking insufferably at her, so she merely sighed, bringing her attention back and deciding to root through her bag.
"If a kitten could bite with this strength we'd see a lot more children in the emergency rooms." She retrieved a swab and started trying to take samples from one of the holes, "It's a bit too large for a bat, though."
Wry disbelief accompanied Nikola's hesitant smile, "If New York was swarming in bats I wouldn't be able to stomach the cliché of living here."
She gave an amused hum at that, eying the sticky substance emerging from the bite. She nearly said something about letting him off the hook; seen as though she knew well enough what his messy bites looked like, but checked herself. It wasn't a topic Nikola particularly cared for, and would inevitably cause some kind of argument – salt in the wound and all that. Last thing she needed was a moody vampire on her hands.
"Well... this bite, curious though it may be, could well be incidental," she sounded more like she was reminding herself of this fact. Clearly her interest had been piqued, her mind already searching through all the creatures she could think of on God's green earth that might've caused a wound like this. After bottling up the samples she took another look, "It's already started to heal, so it was probably made within the last twenty-four hours before death… which could prove important. And it didn't puncture any major vessels, though it probably looked bad immediately after – you can see the skin had started to swell around it. Strikes me as a defensive attack, rather than offensive, meant to ward him off…" she took in its position, "it's in entirely the wrong place-"
"To feed," Tesla contributed quietly, sombrely, which drew Helen's worried gaze almost instantly. He shrugged the introspection off quickly, though his former brevity had quite evaporated. The knowledge of how an animal might go about a quick and speedy kill – though useful – still sat uneasily with him, conjuring, as it did, memories of being completely out of control. Quarter of a century already – you'd have thought it would get a little easier, but abject failure and humility were two sensations Nikola entirely abhorred.
Helen threw him a sympathetic look across the body, one he purposefully avoided, when suddenly the light in his hands went out.
"Shh," he insisted before she'd even said anything.
Holding her breath she could hear the echo of heels clicking across tiles and stone, growing closer and closer. She began to untie the apron, just in case they should barge in, as their shadow passed the window. Her heart sped up anxiously, her eyes growing more and more accustomed to the darkness, glancing between the threat and Tesla, to confirm that the danger was past. Gradually, seconds after the steps had disappeared from her ears, Nikola nodded, and rekindled the illumination in his hand.
Talking was probably a bad idea Magnus decided. In the wake of such a close call they couldn't be too careful. So she didn't voice her concerns that this seemingly negligible bite could indeed provide the source of their probable cause. If it had been a method of transmission for a pathogen, like rabies, they could well find themselves at patient zero of a new epidemic. She tried to rein in her imagination before it got away with her. What she needed were facts. Not possibilities.
She brought the report into the cone of light, reading in greater detail, now that she knew what she was looking for. The effect of any contaminant from the bite on the internal organs appeared to be minimal. There was absolutely nothing unusual or sinister in the assessment of the lungs, heart, gut, liver, kidneys… The tests were yet to return on the alcohol, however, and substances or stimulants in the blood. Damn. She'd have to take her own for analysis. Another visit to the hospital might not go as smoothly, and after earlier she doubted the coroner or surgeon would be greatly cooperative.
What blood was left in the body had already begun to settle at the bottom of the corpse, like sediment in a river, and as she pierced the cold flesh with the needle she couldn't help glancing pensively towards the head. She really needed to crack open that skull.
"Oh no, you're not..."
She turned towards his hushed voice with the absent look of someone being dragged out of their own little world. Then her eyes focused, "We need to make sure there's no tumour or growth, before we can be certain that the bite has any relevancy. I need to see in there."
"Right, so, an X-Ray?"
She looked doubtful at the prospect of transporting the body, but before either of them could debate the obviousness of the alternative, the sound of approaching steps emanated rather loudly, from a disturbingly close distance. Flashing a wide-eyed glance at each other the bulb shut off, and Magnus instantly scrambled to remove the apron, letting it slip carelessly towards the floor, as a lab-coated doctor entered the door.
Flicking on the light to reveal two rather circumspect individuals in the morgue, the confusion and anger in the doctor's face was waylaid by the extraordinary sight of the woman, already practically touching the body, breaking into tears. So unexpected was this, that he entirely missed the wide-eyed shock of her companion at the unexpected sound. Tesla span instantly from the intruder, concern etched on his face for the barest second, before realising her ploy. He could barely contain his amusement once he had; his wry eyebrows rising coolly at her teary-eyed antics, and accompanying his usual slanted grin. One might've never realised the sudden horror he'd felt at the sound of her sobs echoing against the white ceramics.
"What are you doing in here?" The doctor finally asked, though the accusation in it was overcome with concern for Magnus' now shuddering form.
She looked him in the eye, sad eyes welling with tears, lips trembling as her steady right hand gripped around the needle still stuck in the corpse, and carefully withdrew it.
"I do apologise doctor," Nikola covered quickly, with the thickest Serbian accent Magnus had heard in a decade. He drew scant appraisal from the doctor, who had yet to notice one of the lighting fixtures in the hands behind Tesla’s back, fixated as the younger man was on the hesitant downcast of Helen's eyes. "I appreciate this is highly irregular," he continued, "but…"
"I saw him die," She rasped, loud enough that the doctor would hear every word, but quiet enough that he might think she'd said it to herself. It wasn't hard to bring devastation into her performance. Magnus found her more recent memories bubbling up at her own words; the shot fired into the head of the steward, the man slipping down the deck of the tilting ship towards his death, the bodies of children she had been unable to save floating in the arms of their frozen mothers.
Tesla didn't turn to her this time, but his eyes slipped to his side at the sound in her voice, noticing the creeping edge of something that wasn't fake protruding from an otherwise marvellously constructed façade. It was a point to pursue later, he filed it away, fixing on the more present problem, and awaiting the effects of her emotional outburst.
"You shouldn't be in here, not without the surgeon, or coroner."
"Yes, yes, but neither of whom are here," He waved off the assessment with his usual dismissiveness, rounding the table to collect Magnus' bag as though it were his own, "And as I am soon taking up a post in your fine college, I thought it might be within my power to assist a friend in great need... I am truly sorry if I have caused any inconvenience."
Magnus could see the cogs whirring in the young doctor's mind: who is he? Which post? Clutching the needle, wrapped up in the handkerchief in her hands, she retracted from the body and moved closer to the poor man, with the most demure feminine look of despair she could muster. "I, I am so sorry doctor, I pressed upon him until he could only relent. Such was my distress. He died so violently, right before my eyes I, I had rather thought he might come back and haunt me in my dreams should I fail to… pay my respects, show him some kindness… I couldn't abandon him to the grave without…"
It was working; Tesla noted as he approached her from behind, and laid a reassuring hand against her shoulder. The doctor eyed her with a startled kind of sympathy, but didn't seem to question the shock or desperation she was expressing. Not that she really gave him time to consider how particularly gothic her description was. Honestly, it sounded like something Bram Stoker cooked up after too many pints of Guinness.
"Now, now, breathe," Nikola quickly patronised, giving the doctor a meaningful look but no time to think, "as you have verified with your own two eyes madam the poor gentleman has passed completely from this world. There is no need to work yourself into a hysteria."
She turned toward him as though seeking the protective shelter of a trained professional, the hand loose by her side finding the entry at the top of the bag he carried, "Indeed," she gasped, her stare going beyond him even as she looked his way, the needle in her hand dropping quietly inside the bag, "thank you doctor." Both her hands reached out to the startled intruder, her eyes earnestly bearing into him, "And you… doctor." She smiled charmingly at the oddness of addressing both of them by their profession. As if all she could think about wasn't the likelihood of that blood sample breaking in such unsuitable transport conditions.
"Come now," Tesla interrupted whatever the man had been about to say, directing Magnus towards the door, "again, my apologies to you and your colleagues doctor…"
"Fleisch, yes, it's very kind of you to forgive our intrusion."
"I'm sure there's no need to mention this, is there? I would hate for the lady to be drawn into the mire of a scandal when her intentions were so pure."
He let him consider it, even as Helen obediently passed out of the door as she'd been directed, into the relative safety of the corridor.
The Doctor sighed, scrunching up his brow. He would be mulling over this odd incident for days before realising he should've been more assertive; "I don't suppose that would do any of us any good," he agreed.
Tesla grinned winningly, like a shark toying with its prey. "That's my boy," came out of his mouth before common sense could dissuade him from something so incongruent to his cover. Closing the door sharply before the doctor had time to process it, he led Helen away at a pace. Leaving the man, stood dumbly in the centre of the morgue, still struggling to make sense of what had just happened.