Stephanie, carefully reviewing her work, paid little attention as the door to the morgue opened. A little stressed, she was irritated at herself for placing the wrong date on the tissue sample she was preparing for shipment to the crime lab.
“Good morning Dr. Benoit.”
The familiar voice brought her from concentration and she felt relieved that things might become better once again.
“Good morning Dr. Carlson; and I wish you would call me Stephanie.”
Dr. Carlson just stared; as though waiting for an explanation.
“Truthfully, I’m more than honored by you addressing me as doctor, but it just doesn’t feel right.”
Dr. Carlson paused for a moment, smiled and replied: “Okay, but you have to let me introduce you as doctor. “
“How are you feeling?”
“Wonderful, considering how last night went.”
“You didn’t sleep well?”
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you more after I get a few things done.”
Intrigued, Stephanie would have like him to give the details, but she knew she’d have to wait.
“I need everything you have on the bodies that were transferred; our files and any information you received from the lab.”
Going to the files, Stephanie started pulling the reports. Within a few minutes, she had a stack of paper for the doctor, who was sitting at his desk sorting through what little was there. He seemed a little frustrated, but soon turned, smiled and spoke: “Thank you. Where’s my temporary replacement?”
“He won’t be in for at least another hour.”
Looking irritated, Dr. Carlson didn’t say anything, although Stephanie could see he wasn’t pleased. She wasn’t either, but was forced to put up with the erratic hours for over a week. It was bad enough helping with putting the morgue back in shape. The lackadaisical attitude of the temporary coroner only added to her frustration.
“Is everything back in working order?”
“As far as I know it is. I haven’t found anything that doesn’t work.”
“Good, I have some calls to make, but I need to go over these reports first. Did you get an inventory before they hauled the bodies away?”
“Only transfer slips with basic details and descriptions.”
“Did you review the slip and realize there was an extra body?”
A little ashamed, Stephanie answered: “I didn’t realize the error until after they left. I thought it was a clerical error.”
“Do you realize the ramifications of your actions?”
“Yes, doctor. I let the hectic atmosphere affect my judgment. I assumed they made a mistake”
“Dr. Carlson smiled and said: “You did very well but you’re better than that. You’ll never be able to run this department if you don’t keep your wits about you; even in the worst of circumstance. “
Startled by the comment, Stephanie was quiet while she digested what he said. Unsure of whether he was making a general comment, or was thinking of her as his replacement, she felt unsettled. If it was the later, there were ramifications she never considered – until now.
“I appreciate your confidence. It means a lot.”
“What’s on our list for today?”
“Very little, but we do have one autopsy scheduled. A “Jane Doe” found this morning.”
This caught the doctor’s attention. From what he learned last night, this might be something important.”
“I need some time to digest this information and make a call before we start. Get things ready and we can start when I’m through”
Over the next thirty minutes, Dr. Carlson studied the toxicology reports. Most only confirmed what he already suspected. The victim of the attack by rodents confirmed methamphetamines. The other’s confirmed his initial reports. The one that caught his attention was the tissue analysis of the young suspected prostitute. The liver and kidneys confirmed damage due to drugs, but the damage to the injection site that he found unusual was beyond the use of illegal drugs. The damage was too severe for a typical injection. A look at the blood chemistry was what started his anger. Picking up the phone, he made the call he needed to make.
A woman answered the phone: “Hello.’
“Is this Dr. Cho? “
“I’m Dr. Carlson.”
“Dr. Carlson. I’ve been waiting to hear from you.”
Over the next few minutes, they talked about their findings, which were the same. They concurred the death of the young woman was hastened by an injection of sodium hypochlorite.
“One thing that caught my attention, Dr. Carlson, was the level of synthetic opiates. This, in my opinion, indicates a purity not found on the street. A casual user would have more of the chemicals used for cutting the drugs. Either this “Jane Doe” had a very important contact, or they were kept in a condition of dependence that prevented them from venturing away from their source.”
The mention of “Jane Doe” caused the doctor to pause. “Could you excuse me for a moment, Dr. Cho? Stephanie, before you go any further, look under the arms of our new Jane Doe and tell me what you find.”
“You have a new Jane Doe?”
“She was brought in this morning.”
“Dr. Carlson, there’s a tattoo of the number 34 in the left armpit”
“Did you hear that?”
“I did; that’s the highest number so far.”
“Besides yours, we’ve examined five other unidentifiable female victims in the last seven months. I’d really like the opportunity to perform the autopsy on your new victim.”
“I think that’s a good idea, although I’d like to be there. Since I’m on a limited budget, can you arrange for the transportation?”
“I can. I’ll arrange for the pickup early this afternoon.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll have everything ready”
After they ended the call, Dr. Carlson called to Stephanie: “Stop whatever you’re doing and prepare the body for transfer. “
Dr. Carlson sat at his desk, stared at the wall for a few minutes and thought about what he just learned. The young prostitute was injected with household bleach, allowed to die, and then dumped into an alley. The thought infuriated the doctor. The cruelty and total lack of humanity was beyond anything he was ever exposed to. Suspecting a similar fate for the other victims, the doctor became infuriated.
“Damn!” was the doctor’s reaction as he slammed his fist on the desk.
Immediately, a light fixture shorted and showered the desk with sparks. Ducking, the doctor spent a few moments waiting to see if something more would happen.
Stephanie ran into the room and asked: “Are you okay?”
The doctor didn’t say anything for a few seconds. When he spoke, it was in a low voice full of disappointment: “I wonder if I’ll ever be okay again. This is beyond anything I’ve ever encountered”
Before he could explain, the door of the morgue opened and an older man walked in. Dressed in a lab coat, Dr. Carlson recognized the doctor immediately.
“Good morning doctors.”
“Stephanie replied: “Good morning Dr. Cook.”
Dr. Carlson waited a moment before responding: “Good morning Doctor. I see you’re early, as usual.”
Not missing the sarcasm, Dr. Cook responded: “I see you’re continuing your crime fighting. Any windmills to slay today?”
“Plenty, and I don’t think it will take a single ounce of vodka to complete the task.”
Stephanie could only stare in shocked disbelief. She had no idea the doctors knew each other, until now.
“I think we can do find without your services Dr. Cook. We have everything under control.”
A smile appeared on Dr. Cook’s face as he replied: “I don’t think so. The mayor’s office gave me instructions to stay on board until they were one hundred percent sure you could handle your responsibilities.”
“And, who makes this determination?”
“I do, of course.”
Before Dr. Carlson could reply, the door to the morgue opened and Eric stepped in. A look of disgust appeared for a moment as Eric glanced at Dr. Cook.”
“Good morning Eric. Do you know Dr. Cook?”
“We’ve met. Good morning Dr. Cook.”
“Good morning Detective George. You look rested after your early morning activities.”
“It’s part of my job, Doctor.”
“Of course it is. Now if everyone will excuse me, I have some important calls to make.”
After he left, Eric was first to speak: “I figured he’d be gone by now.”
“Not until he decides to leave, or the mayor finds the liability of paying an alcoholic coroner as a consultant has unwanted political liabilities.”
“From what he just said, I’d say he’s staying and there’s little I can do about it.”
“I haven’t liked him since he arrived and he only made my dislike worse after dealing with him this morning.”
“He just arrived.”
“I called him after we found the Jane Doe this morning. His response was: “It’s only another whore and society has another unwanted citizen off the streets.” He wouldn’t even come out to the site. We transported the body after the Justice of the Peace left the scene.”
“He was bad news when he worked in our next door county. After years of abusing his position, he was asked to retire early, which he did, with a full pension. I’m guessing it was cheaper to pay him to stay at home than it was to fire him.”
Stephanie, who was silent for the last few minutes, felt she should say what was on her mind: “Doctor, considering all that’s happened up to now, the fact the mayor’s office is involved doesn’t make sense.”
“I can see the reasoning Stephanie, but the “expert” they’ve solicited is far from such. The mayor’s office is not full of dummies and this doesn’t feel right.”
Stephanie replied “So, what are you going to do?”
“First, I need to get some paperwork in order and then I need to help with Dr. Cho’s autopsy this afternoon.
“Who’s Dr. Cho?”
“F.B.I., who has some information we need.”
Stephanie looked at Eric, who quickly spoke: “There’s much more and it’s important stay quiet about what you just heard; including discussing any of this with Dr. Cook. We’ve become involved with a larger investigation and your discretion is required. “
Dr. Carlson, noticing Stephanie’s confusion and concern, immediately started telling her of last night’s events. After he finished, both he, and Eric, stared at Stephanie as she digested the information.
“Am I in danger?” was her first comment.
Eric quickly responded: “We don’t know, but precautions are being put in place. With your permission, I’d like an agent to stay with you. They’ll be discreet and stay out of your way. “
“I guess that’s best.”
“I know it’s intrusive, but considering what’s happened to this point, we can’t be too careful, or discreet. I can’t tell you all the details, but we suspect involvement by politically connected people, who have proven they can be ruthless.”
“So how can I help.”
Dr. Carlson replied: “By doing your job. There’s plenty to do and I’m afraid I’ll have a few distractions that will prevent my being in the morgue as much as I should. Otherwise, I need you to cover for me. I know this is asking too much, but it’s necessary.”
“I can handle it, Doctor. If I can handle the last week, I think I can handle almost anything.”
Dr. Carlson smiled, although he felt terrible about the imposition. He didn’t know what else he could do at this time, but knew placing such a burden on Stephanie for any length of time wasn’t good. He needed to figure out what to do.
“Right now, I could use a cup of coffee. Stephanie, would you do us the honors of a Starbuck’s? I’m buying.”
Before she could reply, Eric spoke: “It’s my treat” and handed Stephanie a twenty dollar bill. “And, don’t worry. An agent is watching and you’ll be safe.”
With a surprised look, Stephanie took the money and left.
“Dr. Carlson. You need to go see Nick after you’re through this afternoon. He’s only a few blocks away from where you’ll be working.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing Nick. If you’ll excuse me, I need to start on some paperwork”
Returning to his desk, he started sorting and examining the papers that required his immediate attention. Today would be busy and he wanted his efforts to be productive, so maybe Dr. Cook would go away. He didn’t have much confidence in that happening. He felt that higher powers were in the process of something he would eventually not like. What this was would eventually come to light. Until then, he had much to do and little time to do it.