Dr. Jacobs had taken his own car separate from the coroner van so he took the scenic route to Pointe Coupee hospital to smell the powerful Mississippi river. He had grown up in the New Road’s area so the 16-mile trek had been second nature to him. He arrived at the back entrance of the Pointe Coupee hospital and his coroner office with time to spare. All seemed quiet when he turned off his engine, walked across the lot to the door and anxiously pushed the button for the employee entrance.
Dr. Jacobs pushed the elevator call button for the morgue. A “Bing” sounded and with a creak the doors stubbornly opened. Nurse Danielle Or’Léon just getting off of a grueling third hour shift looked up innocently, her green eyes wide. The site of Dr. Jacobs waiting for the elevator startled her.
“Oh…” Danielle responded, spilling her lunch onto the floor. She had paid for it with a check that would probably bounce better than the spilled food.
“I’m sorry.” Dr. Jacobs apologized, instinctively holding the elevator door with one hand and going on his knees to help her salvage what was left of her lunch with the other hand.
“No, no, it’s my fault.” Apologizing to Dr. Jacobs, red-faced and jittery, “I am just on edge from everything that happened here last night.”
Her salad was largely unsalvageable as most of it had spilled from the plastic container upon hitting the floor but Dr. Jacobs managed to save her carrot cake, still wrapped. Her juice had leaked from its broken container, handing her the cake he asked, “What happened last night?”
“Nurse Maggie, Dr. Lewis, and two policemen were murdered,” Danielle stepped out from the elevator to finish her conversation, “then to top it all off, several patients went missing and two or three glass doors were vandalized in the process, I’m not sure the number.” She informed him, pushing her brown hair out of her face nervously.
Dr. Jacobs still held the elevator doors and Danielle stood frozen. An awkward moment or two passed before Dr. Jacobs asked, “Who would do such a thing?”
“I don’t know.” Danielle leaned in conspiratorially, “there are rumors circulating around the hospital that with all the carnage a huge animal like a bear or boar ran loose through the halls last night.” Nurse Danielle stood silent for a moment contemplating the circumstances, “realistically, I think a crazed man on PCP just got away from the cops!”
Dr. Jacobs couldn’t help but recall the nude boy on the lawn shot to death by an officer, whom he knew and trusted, he said softly, almost absent mindedly, “I think you’re right, Danielle.”
Just thinking about the night’s events again made Danielle shiver uncontrollably. It did not help that the temperature in the hospital seemed to be set just above freezing. She loved the idea of a horror story but when it came down to it, she was easily frightened. With a gentle pat on her frigid arm Dr. Jacobs comforted the nurse, until the outdated intercom squawked, startling Danielle out of her skin again.
The wheels in his head were already turning; maybe it was a new designer drug instead of an infectious contagion. A nervous smile broke Dr. Jacobs’ stern façade. He continued his forced smile to encourage
Danielle. He felt bad for the nurse’s skittish demeanor, not unlike a Chihuahua in a thunderstorm, which was speaking truthfully, he had seen her cower during some of the more damaging storms. He had his reservations, although he had awoke to the strange encounter that led to the homicide of a young man who may or may not be racked with a horrible disease, only to hear a more gruesome scene.
“It’ll be all right, Danielle,” Dr. Jacobs lied; too preoccupied with what he was going to find when he entered his morgue. “Listen,” pulling out his Pointe Coupee Hospital employee card to pay for and replace the spilled salad and juice, “I will pay for the lunch I ruined, just come by the morgue to give me back my card when you’re finished eating.”
The display of chivalry made Danielle blush, but she politely accepted the card knowing she couldn’t afford to pay for lunch twice. Dr. Jacobs stepped into the elevator as the doors closed the elevator moving again. The coroner headed toward his office in the basement and the nurse headed back to the cafeteria.
Another moment of uncomfortable silence before the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened to the basement. Danielle Or’Léon nodded a thanks before heading off in the direction of the cafeteria. Dr. Jacobs hesitated for a moment, resting his forehead on the flapping door, bracing his arm onto the entrance wall and feeling the cold steel on his palm. It would be at least four bodies, he thought to himself, two close friends. Just imagining what horrible injuries befell his two friends made him sick with grief.
He managed to convince his legs to move dredging through the hallway. Eventually he stumbled upon his office and hesitantly opened the morgue doors shivering from the extreme cold, the morgue temperature set just above frostbite. A wave of professionalism coursed through him, even though the first site he saw was the corpse of Nurse Maggie as she rested on the icy steel, her dead eyes shaming him because of her nakedness the others still in their black nylon body bags. She was the first of four cadavers that had been moved to the examination table for Dr. Jacobs’s skillful findings.
The morgue looked like a square, drab room forever smelling of decaying flesh. Immediately to the left of Dr. Jacobs a surgical table spanning wall-to-wall. Behind him a surgical glove dispenser and dual sinks. One side of the faucet attached to a hose that steadily climbed upwards until it attached to a showerhead and lightweight controllable floodlight in the ceiling center. The floor gradually sloped downward at the center to a large drain, easier to wash the blood and fluids away. On the right of him were two doors with frosted windows that read “Office” and “Storage” respectively. Flickering lights illuminated the office door where another employee shadowed around until the door opened to reveal Dr. Jacobs’ assistant, Doug.
“They’re all prepped for you, Doctor” His assistant of fifteen years said, rubbing his hands under the faucet, lathering, scrubbing then rinsing away before he managed to successfully turn the faucet off with his elbow. “I figured you wanted to get started on the nurse first, am I right?” An absurd amount of time passed before, with a shake of his head, Dr. Jacobs answered “yeah.” Inconceivably, Nurse Maggie lay dead before him when just days before he had heard her boisterous and obnoxious laugh echo through the hallways.
Immediately they set to work rolling the stretcher around and maneuvering the light until they had an optimal view of the body. First glance told him that her neck was obviously broken, the vertebrae visible and out of place under the bruised skin. In fact, the whole head had been twisted with such force that vertebrae number two had splintered, intertwining between muscles, and had been forced up under the skin, her head permanently twisted to the side.
Dark bruising appearing on her flesh suggesting human hands had twisted her neck. But if that was the case, he scrutinized, it had been outlandishly cartoonish human hands. He looked up at his hands, twirling his own fingers around in comparison, so puny. What had Danielle said? An animal? It would have had to be a very large animal.
“A bear?” Doug Gage offered, shrugging, he seemed to know Dr. Jacobs’ train of thought. “Maybe a bear that escaped from the circus?”
Dr. Jacobs chuckled as Doug proceeded to mimic a bear peddling a tricycle, but in his mind the evidence was far off. Offering an alternative Doug said, “Or a Gorilla.”
Their joking of circus bears aside, they went to work in silence. They continued in uneasy silence until Doug, who slept with the TV blaring night after night at home just for the background noise, had quite enough of the deafening silence and reached up to the shelf and turned on a dusty radio with a broken antenna. Doug twisted the knob left to right until the music of his liking, an industrial band, shrieked out.
The morgue doors clanged open suddenly and Doug’s well-worn shoes took flight towards the doors as Dr. Jacobs’ checked his watch then twisted his head looking for the expected delivery.
“Hey now, a phone call or something to know you’re headed this way!” Red-faced with embarrassment Doug scolded the technicians as he stepped out of the stretcher’s path.
“Your boss knew we were coming.” The tech rebuked in unison, wheeling the stretcher past Doug Gage and roughly transporting the delicate cargo into the far corner of the room.
Dr. Jacobs stared at the shiny black body bag; even he had forgotten or at least wanted to erase from his memory the potentially harmless or dangerous contagious pathogen that leeched onto the dead man being wheeled into his morgue. But now he had no choice but to think about the contagious body.
Dr. Jacobs stiffened up, the color draining from his already ashen face, “this patient may be harboring a disease. I hope you took extra precautions.”
Greg, the lead employee, avoided being caught up in any argument by quickly slipping away into the office. It was not official until Greg signed all the forms to release the cadaver to the care of Pointe Coupee. In an added bonus frosted windows gave him a barrier between his grumpy coworker, Quentin, and the Doctor.
A part-time employee, Quentin’s shift had just started after getting off of the end of a ten hour day at A-line, and he was in no mood to fight today evidenced by the rolling of his eyes, “we were careful! We did everything by the freaking book.”
Quentin tossed his latex gloves with revulsion over toward a nearby trash receptacle and glanced at the clock. Knocking on the frosted glass to the office door, He called for Greg, “Hey man, I’ll be up in the van don’t be long.” He didn’t wait for an answer before walking toward the exit.
Greg shook his head, and finished up his paperwork. He walked out of the office. While Dr. Jacobs and Doug were distracted still working on Nurse Maggie he silently walked over to the cadaver unzipping the body bag sneaking a peek at his face. Not counting the crime scene in the yard he could not shake the feeling that he had seen that face before.
However, the humanoid man lying in the stretcher looked just as foreign to him as well. Wide set eyes under their closed lids, protuberant and long forehead with the exception of a bullet hole, a flat nose smashed in the middle of his face and a prominent boxer’s chin convinced Greg he had probably seen him on Friday night fights. A quiver, a miniscule flutter instantly brought his attention back to the cadaver’s face. He could’ve sworn the flesh stirred before shaking his head and casting the thought off. The radio on Greg’s belt began to squawk with new orders for the white van, distracting him. Chalking it up to lack of sleep and his overactive imagination he looked away from the open bag and answered his radio.
“Are you done yet?” Squawked a grumpy and sleep deprived Quentin.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it Doc, I better get out there or else Quentin is going to go postal!” Greg said cheerily before pushing out the double doors.
Turning back to their work once more after muttering “thank you”, both men thought long and hard about the likelihood of an animal, both coming to the same conclusions, not likely. Down the line they made their notes observing the absence of scratch or claw marks on the body, no fur anywhere in sight.
Dr. Jacobs and Doug painstakingly evaluated the lifeless cadavers. The doc made a Y incision; surgically removed each and every organ and weighed it while Doug recorded it with his digital recorder. One by one they sliced and then stitched up the bodies till they were down to one. Dr. Jacobs glanced at the clock… All the stalling and hesitation had worked, almost lunchtime.
“Doug, you can stop for lunch.” Dr. Jacobs smiled, but in his mind he accomplished two things, one was with Doug gone nobody could see the anxiety building up in him while he worked, and two if it was an infectious disease, Doug’s exposure to it would be minimal.
“You’re the boss.” Doug said as he and Dr. Jacobs unzipped and lifted the cadaver onto the cold steel rack before he left for lunch.
First things first, the doctor drew a lot of blood for testing. By the time he finished he had enough, six vials drawn. Then a peculiar sight caught his eye. The face seemed to flatten somehow, like a balloon losing air because of a minuscule pinhole. Shaking off his unpleasant thoughts the doc tried to finish jotting down several silent notes before throwing his clipboard on the stainless steel table.
“I need coffee, strong coffee.” Dr. Jacobs blinked three times as if blinking any number of times could stave off his hallucinations. “And I have to get some fresh air.” He thought aloud.
Several minutes later a weary Dr. Jacobs struggled through the double doors, trying not to spill two coffees filled to the brim, for Jacobs and his assistant who would be in shortly. Twirling around and setting down the coffee he was surprised to find Danielle standing there splotchy and crying hysterically, mucus streaming out from her red nose as she backed away from his last corpse to be worked on.
“That’s, that’s,” in-between sobs, Danielle proclaimed, “That’s
Dr. Jacobs questioned, whipping around to get a better view and as he did spilling the coffee, earmarked for his assistant because of the extreme amount of cream and sugar, onto the floor. The steaming brew slid considerately towards the drain in the floor and out of sight.
His mouth fell open when he beheld Cody’s body. If he had any doubts he had been tricked or it was a goof and somewhere hidden cameras were rolling, when he saw the one bullet hole in the middle of the head all doubts were erased. That’s impossible; well it’s improbable, the old rusty gears were already turning, Dr. Jacobs in complete disavowal now. Could this corpse really be Cody? How had he not realized that?
Wide-eyed still staring at the paramedic, Dr. Jacobs remarked quietly, “He was horribly bruised or he had a bad allergic reaction.”
He was not responding to Danielle but already in full denial mode. He could not shake the lingering doubts that plagued him. It wasn’t an allergic reaction at all, was it? Before, the bizarre revelation that the body would become Cody, Dr. Jacobs had been close to him, he could almost see the exaggerated cheekbones. He saw the protracted eyes that could not be explained by bruising or expansion of the skin. Don’t forget the jawbone; Dr. Jacobs saw the fighter’s chin, almost a Cro-Magnon chin that convinced Dr. Jacobs, Cody, a colleague and friend of his for years had morphed into another person.
“How did this happen?” Danielle meekly asked Dr. Jacobs her tearful eyes looking up at him for answers.
When Cody’s ambulance had returned to the hospital and there were no more emergencies to be seen for a while she had joked around with him, confessed her secrets and fears with him. Dare she say she had a developed a crush on him? Now she found Cody’s lifeless body resting on the gurney. Her shaking hands involuntarily moving toward Dr. Jacobs’ shoulders in finding them her knees began to tremble then collapse. Dr. Jacobs’s arms instantly held up her limp body.
He carefully carried the passed out body of Danielle to the office and laid her down on a comfortable couch. The brilliant lights from the hallway crept in to the grayish artificial light from the room like the sea approaching the beach at high tide. Dr. Jacobs turned around to see the doors opening and the figure of Doug Gage emerging. In his fist a bunch of crumpled papers.
“After lunch, some of the labs and the toxicology results were ready from your gunshot victim,” Doug Gage carefully rolled and flattened out the crumpled papers he had in his hands setting them down on the desk. He gestured to the half smoothed out papers, “you better have a look at this.”
“Is it contagious?” Dr. Jacobs asked without looking up at Doug.
“Most of the labs are not in yet, but I think you should look at this.” Doug sat down in a nearby chair breathing labored just like he had run a marathon.
“After the results came back we ran it again with a control patient just to see if the machine was not broken,” said Doug forcing the report into Dr. Jacobs’s hands, “it was working perfectly.”
Scanning the report quickly Dr. Jacobs said, “What drugs did Cody turn up positive for?”
“All of them. He tested positive for all of them.” Doug responded, but could tell he was reading the reports for himself.