CHAPTER 18

Corpse on a gurney with toe tag.

Marley had barely punched into her phone Tuesday morning when Sergeant Garvey, phone to his ear, called out to her from his desk.

“Marley!” he yelled, motioning her over.

Expecting another barbecue invitation, Marley’s brain scrambled for a new excuse to decline as she approached him.

“Yes?” she asked.

Garvey lowered the phone from his ear. “Your ride-along is here.”

Marley had forgotten all about the ride-along Garvey had said he’d scheduled.

The sergeant then told her the officer’s name he’d scheduled her to ride with. A look of whimsical surprise came over Marley. To be sure she heard the officer’s name correctly over the clamor in the basement, she repeated the name to Garvey to confirm it.

Garvey, phone back to his ear, was only half-listening to her. “Yep, and he’s waiting for you upstairs in the lobby. You’ll be riding with him the entire shift, so there’s no need to come back here when you’re done. Have a good time!”

Marley collected her purse and headed up the ramp. On her way to the elevator, she passed by Pinkus’ office. Through the opened blinds she saw Dee, sitting opposite Pinkus, crying as the two talked. Her heart broke for her coworker, knowing how much Dee hated having to resign, and thinking to herself how glad she was to not have any kids to worry about. She said a silent prayer for Dee and continued on her way to the elevator.

~ ~

Up in the lobby, at the front desk—where all Communications Bureau employees’ records were kept on file—a portly patrolman stood chatting with Stony, the duty officer behind the desk. On the counter, between them, was an open personnel file…Marley’s.

“She’s nice enough to look at, but I’m guessing she’s not too bright. Says here she only has a G.E.D. so she never even finished high school,” said Stony.

“Great. So our lives have been entrusted to uneducated little girls who should be at home having babies and washing dishes. But because of the brainless skinflints over at City Hall, they’re here, taking away our jobs.”

“True. I mean, the City didn’t exactly set a very high bar, did they? To qualify for the Com Op One job, all they have to do is type twenty-five words a minute and know how to spell their name.”

“We’re all fucked…” said the other officer.

“Heads up. She’s coming off the elevator now. And be forewarned, I hear she’s very religious.”

“One of those, huh? Well, this should be fun,” the officer told Stony, laughing out loud. “I’ve set up a special treat for her: A tour of the county morgue…and an autopsy.”

Stony busted his gut. “Oh, man, that’s mean. Just make sure to stand clear when she starts hurling.”

~ ~

The elevator doors opened and Marley stepped out. Across the lobby, she spied her ride-along officer standing at the front desk—a fat, middle-aged cop with sandy blond hair (what little there was of it) and a bushy, unkempt mustache. He was chatting and laughing with Stony, the desk officer, as Marley approached him from behind.

Stony caught a glimpse of Marley and announced her arrival: “Here she is now!”

The ride-along officer, still laughing, turned and greeted her with a big, wide-eyed smile. Marley couldn’t help but notice how his huge gut, and the gun belt strapped around it, bounced up and down as he laughed. His face was ruddy red with no shortage of laugh lines and crow’s feet that deepened as he smiled. The broken capillaries on his bulbous nose and in the yellowed whites of his eyes suggested to Marley that this was a man who enjoyed his alcohol, perhaps a bit too much.

The officer shot out a meaty hand. “Marlette Fahlstrom?”

Marley took his hand. “Marley,” she said. “And you must be…” she hesitated, biting back the impulse to laugh, “Officer Monster?

The officer’s smile collapsed. He pointed a stubby finger at the nameplate over his right breast pocket. “Muenster,” he sternly said, “Like the cheese.”

Marley stared at the engraved name he pointed to, then at the number on his badge—1250—a very low number; this was a veteran officer with many years of seniority. Mortified by her faux pas, the heat of red-hot embarrassment rose instantly on her face. Marley stammered, apologizing profusely: “Oh, god. I am so sorry. I must have misheard Sergeant Garvey when he told me your name. You must think I’m an idiot.”

Stony and Officer Muenster exchanged knowing looks then burst out laughing, their beer guts bobbing up and down in synchrony. Seems Marley had made both their mornings by giving them something, or rather, someone, to laugh at.

Like a whipped puppy, Marley followed Muenster out of the lobby and into the parking lot where his police cruiser, a black and white Chevy Impala, waited. At the car, Muenster rushed over to open the passenger door for Marley, giving a sweep of his hand to usher her inside. Marley slid onto the seat bench and set her purse on the floorboard. It was her first time in a patrol car and she felt a bit like how Alice must have felt upon climbing through the looking glass. The interior of the cruiser was a cross between a radio store and a detention cage. Acres of smooth heavy-duty vinyl covered the seats. A radio stand sprouted from the transmission tunnel, and a protective wire cage separated the front seat from the back.

Officer Muenster worked his bulk into the driver’s side, pushed his portable radio into its stand, and cranked the engine. He turned to Marley and grinned. “First stop, coffee!”

Minutes later, Muenster backed the cruiser behind a U-Totem convenience store at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Roosevelt. Thrusting the gear shift into ‘park’ he leaned toward Marley and laid out his plans for the morning:

“Time to catch some rush-hour desperados.” He lit up a cigar and relaxed back into his seat, blowing smoke rings out the window and filling the time with small talk as they sat in wait for some hapless motorist to break the law. How long have you lived in Phoenix? When did you start with the department? How do you like the job?

Marley, sipping her McDonald’s coffee, was her usual quiet self, except to politely answer his questions; her shyness prevailed as it always did until she got to know and trust someone.

“And how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” Muenster asked.

“I’m twent—”

Before she could finish, Muenster threw the gear shift into drive and floored the accelerator, sending the cruiser flying onto Seventh Avenue. He then hit the lights and siren and forced his car through the tangle of traffic until he cleared the crowded intersection and turned left onto Roosevelt where he stomped so hard on the gas pedal, the force slammed Marley against the back of her seat and sent hot coffee splashing out all over the front of her dress.

From the corner of his eye, an inwardly delighted Muenster could see how much his aggressive driving scared Marley, who was now holding her breath, eyes wide with terror and knuckles white from the death grip she had on her seat. He punched the accelerator again as he cut dangerously in and out of the morning traffic, startling drivers and narrowly missing one car after another. The fearful gasp Marley let out was sweet music to Muenster’s ears.

During the ride of terror, Marley looked over at Muenster, a man who just seconds ago was relaxed and docile, pleasant even; but she now saw a frighteningly different man behind the wheel. The peaceful Officer Jekyll had transformed before her eyes into mad Mr. Hyde, cursing at motorists in his path, hunched and tensed over the steering wheel with the fixed, lethal look of a maniac—a look, thought Marley, of the hunter hunting his prey. And the ‘prey’ was now just up ahead: a silver, late-model Cadillac Seville whose driver had made the fatal mistake of cutting through the corner gas station, private property, to avoid the logjam at the red light, a violation of Arizona Revised Statutes Section 28-651.

Muenster zoomed up on the Caddy’s bumper then grabbed the mounted hand mike and bellowed instructions over the car’s P.A. system:

“Pull over to the right and turn off your engine.”

The Caddy slowed but didn’t pull over, not right away, forcing an irritated Muenster to repeat himself.

“Pull over and turn off your engine!”

This time, the Caddy’s driver obliged. Muenster, wearing a look of supreme satisfaction, pulled up behind the car and radioed in its plate number. After he heaved his bulk from the vehicle, he took a moment to hitch up his gun belt and size up the driver, a forty-something Caucasian male in a business suit. His ticket book in one hand and the other poised on his holster, Muenster carefully approached the driver.

From inside the cruiser, Marley, still breathless from the car chase, watched as Muenster talked to the driver to procure his license and registration, then commenced to issue him a citation. Marley tried to take a deep breath to calm herself, but found she couldn’t. The stress of the chase, mixed with Muenster’s pungent cigar smoke, had triggered her asthma, a condition she suffered from since childhood, the result of living with parents who were both heavy smokers. Relief lay at her feet, tucked inside her purse.

Citation issued, Muenster returned to his patrol car to find Marley puffing on an inhaler. “Are you okay?”

Marley nodded as she took another puff from her inhaler. “It’s just allergies,” she assured him, slipping the inhaler back into her purse.

“Oh, allergies. My girlfriend’s got ‘em really bad but she’s found an allergy specialist who’s helped her a lot.”

“She’s lucky to have found someone,” said Marley. “I haven’t found anyone yet in the HMO who’s taking on new patients.”

“My girlfriend works for the City, too, so she’s with Arizona Health, as well. I can ask her who she’s seeing. Maybe they’ll have an opening.”

“Could you? I’d really appreciate that,” replied Marley, with genuine gratitude.

“Sure, no prob—” and then they were off again, wheels screeching and laying rubber, in hot pursuit of a Volkswagen bug that had just blown through a red light.

~ ~

By the end of rush-hour, Muenster had issued seven moving violations and one non-moving for an expired registration—a productive morning for the officer. A low priority, report-only call for a 459F—burglary from vehicle— finished out the morning. Marley noted Muenster’s polite and professional demeanor in dealing with the agitated owner of the car with a smashed window, and his thoroughness in processing the vehicle for evidence and fingerprints. She was especially impressed with his patience as he talked her through every step of the latent fingerprinting process, from dusting to lifting to what happens afterward—how the prints are sent to the lab in the basement for analysis and then upstairs to the Information Bureau for classification and filing.

Their next stop was the Sunnyside Café, a little downtown hole-in-the-wall on Second Street.

 “Five adam thirteen, code seven at 138 South Second Street,” radioed Muenster.

“Ten-four, adam thirteen” replied the dispatcher. “Enjoy your lunch.”

Inside, the café’s cook and owner, a giant of a man sporting a soiled white apron and toothless smile, emerged from the kitchen and greeted Muenster with open arms.

“Phoenix’s finest has arrived! Take a seat and Trudi will be right with you!” he exclaimed with a Slavic accent, before dashing back into the kitchen.

Settling into a chair, Muenster said of the owner, “Jan’s a great guy. He and his wife, Maria, came to the States ten years ago from Czechoslovakia, after the Russians invaded their country. They opened this place up on a wing and prayer and have been running it ever since. They’ve got to be the hardest working people I know. He comes in at three every morning to prep the day’s food; she’s here until midnight, cleaning the place. Seven days a week. And I’ve never known either of them to take a day off.”

A pair of luncheon menus slapped down on the table between them. A middle-aged waitress with teased hair, giant hoop earrings, and a pencil tucked behind her ear stared down at Muenster.

“Long time no see, stranger,” she said with a coy smile.

“I was here just last week, Trudi,” replied Muenster, chuckling.

“That’s not what I mean,” she said, reaching out to ruffle his hair.

Muenster turned red and tried to wave her off. “Oh, that.”

The waitress gave him an exaggerated wink before turning to leave. “I’ll be back in a jiffy to get your orders.”

While they waited for her return, two other waitresses called out on their sprints to and from the kitchen, each greeting Muenster by his first name—“Dick!”—and each smiling in the same flirty manner as did Trudi. It was obvious to Marley that Muenster was very popular here, and not just with Jan, the owner. Seems he was quite the favorite of every waitress on the floor.

“Who’s your gorgeous lunch date and what the hell is she doing with a fat, old bastard like you?”

Marley turned to the boisterous voice behind her to see two officers approaching their table. Muenster groaned and cursed under his breath as they seated themselves at their table.

“Have a seat,” grumbled Muenster.

The boisterous officer exuded an arrogance born of and bolstered by his roguish good looks; his partner was the polar opposite: sullen, slump-shouldered, and devoid of personality.

“And who is this lovely young thing?” asked the good-looking officer.

“Marley,” replied Marley.

“She’s my ride-along today. One of the new Com Ops,” said Muenster.

The brash officer held out a hand to Marley who reciprocated. “Officer Evan Davis, at your service,” he said in a suggestive tone while he lightly squeezed Marley’s hand, a hand which he held onto for an uncomfortably long while. When he finally released it, Marley yanked it back and slid it under the table to the safety of her lap.

Trudi, their waitress, returned with two more menus. “Anyone ready to order?”

“The steak and eggs, rare and over easy,” said Muenster.

“Of course,” said Trudi. “Mr. Predictable.” She looked to Marley.

“The Cobb salad and an ice tea.”

“And you two?” the waitress asked, looking at Davis and his disengaged partner, who seemed a million miles away.

Davis’ partner shook his head. “Nothing for me.”

Davis handed her back the menus, “Just coffee,” then joshed, “Hey, Trudi. When can I get my haircut?”

Without missing a beat, Trudi shot back, “When hell freezes over, or when you lose that wedding ring, whichever comes first.”

Trudi turned on her heel and left the table of four, most all of whom were laughing at Davis, including Davis, who was laughing the hardest. The only one not laughing was his partner, who abruptly excused himself from the table.

“What’s up with Parker?” asked Muenster.

Davis watched as his partner made a beeline for a payphone in the front of the café. “He’s a lovesick little puppy. He’s got it bad—really bad—for Ling, Sergeant White’s hot little Asian girlfriend—have you seen her?” he asked Muenster, who shook his head. “Well, she and White got in a big fight, so she went out looking for a revenge fuck, and Parker happened to be in her line of fire. Lucky sonofabitch. But then she and White kissed and made up and now Ling won’t give Parker the time of day. She must have been a really good fuck ‘cause Parker’s obsessed as all hell. Calls her like fifty times a day and drives by White’s house every goddamn chance he gets. If the little prick keeps harassing her like that, it’s just a matter of time before the Department terminates him, just like Pie Face.”

“Pie Face got fired?” asked Muenster, incredulous.

“Resigned in lieu of firing,” Davis said.

Marley would have rather sat out this conversation, but curiosity got the better of her. “Who’s Pie Face?”

Muenster explained, “Officer Grant Hughes. We all call him ‘Pie Face’ because he’s got a freakishly round head and seriously bad acne scars.”

Davis continued: “Internal Affairs got a tip that a patrol car was visiting a suspected house of prostitution over on East Fillmore Street, every day around lunchtime, so they staked the place out. Turned out to be Pie Face, taking his code seven. Caught him in the act with his cock in some whore’s mouth. And get this, he actually tried to defend himself, claiming his visits were medically therapeutic. Went on and on about how the only way he could come was from a blow job, but that his wife refused to give him any head.”

Muenster smiled and slowly shook his head, as if Pie Face’s story was one he’d heard a hundred times before. “I had a feeling when I was training him that he wasn’t going to last.”

“Say, Marley,” Officer Davis said, putting his hand on her arm. “Did Muenster here tell you about the haircut our waitress gave him?”

Muenster erupted—“No!” –but Davis pushed on.

“Trudi used to cut hair for a living, so she tells Muenster she’d cut his hair for free.”

“Shut up, Davis!”

“So he shows up at her place one night for his free haircut—”

“Dammit, Davis!”

“—which she gives him…while wearing a see-through blouse. Tells him, next time, the blouse comes off.”

Muenster’s eyes were now fixed on the ceiling, too embarrassed to look at Marley, but the smile peeking out from under his mustache hinted at the pleasure he had clearly derived from the R-rated trim. With perfect timing, Trudi appeared before them and laid down their orders, a relief to Marley because Davis finally removed his hand from Marley’s arm. All the while Trudi served them, Muenster and Davis averted their eyes from the waitress, mouths clamped tight to suppress their snickers, like a couple of adolescent schoolboys.

The food had no sooner been served when Davis’ portable radio squawked and he and Parker were assigned a call. After they left, Muenster offered Marley a mumbled apology for Davis’ off-color manners. “He can be awfully crude at times, but deep down, he’s a good guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.”

Marley filed the apology in the back of her mind, knowing that, should she ever need the shirt off someone’s back, it sure as hell wouldn’t be Officer Evan Davis’.

Trudi came by a final time, flicking the tab onto the table before ruffling Muenster’s hair again. “You have my number,” she said, then hustled off to another table.

Marley pulled her wallet from her purse to pay her share of the bill.

“It’s on me,” said Muenster.

“Thanks,” she said, “but I can pay for myself.”

“No, really. Put your wallet away,” He rose from the table and whispered in her ear. “They never charge me here. One of the perks of the uniform.”

Marley returned her wallet to her purse and wondered if free haircuts from half-naked waitresses were also a perk of the uniform. Trailing after him, she followed him to the cash register where Maria, Jan’s wife, was checking out customers. When it was Muenster’s turn, he handed her the tab along with a twenty-dollar bill.

“Pffft! Keep your money,” she scolded Muenster.

“Now, Maria, I told you Chief Wetzel won’t let us accept gratuities anymore.”

Maria tore up his tab and pushed the twenty back at him. “This is my café and in here, I’m the chief!”

~ ~

The last half of the shift, Muenster and Marley cruised around the downtown district while waiting for radio to assign them a call. Muenster stopped to do an I.D. check on a vagrant on East Van Buren. Later, he was dispatched to take a stolen bicycle report. Nearing the end of the shift, Muenster told Marley he had one last stop for the day: The M.E.’s office.

“What’s the emmy’s office?” she asked.

“M-E…Medical Examiner,” he answered

“Oh,” laughed Marley, feeling incredibly stupid and completely clueless. She had no idea what a medical examiner was.

Muenster was laughing, too—not with her, but at her, and for what was soon to come once he got her inside the morgue: A morbidly hilarious scene with lots of gagging, puking, and maybe even some fainting.

Muenster parked the cruiser at the curb on the backside of an unassuming stucco building at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Madison.

“This is where they drop off the corpses that need to be autopsied,” said Muenster of the bay door they stood at while waiting for a morgue attendant to let them in.

“Corpses?” asked Marley, still not getting it.

“You know, dead bodies…this is the county morgue.”

Marley’s face lit up with understanding. “Oh, okay.”

“All dead bodies end up here if the death involves foul play or is suspicious, or if there isn’t a doctor who’s willing to sign a death certificate,” he explained, then studied her face for a reaction. 

She offered him nothing, just a nod of her head.

There was a rumble of steel as the bay door rolled up and an elderly man in scrubs, the morgue attendant, invited them in. Immediately inside the door, on the left, were two silver vaults where the bodies were stored. The first vault, explained the attendant, was for ‘stinkers’—bodies that were in an advanced state of decomposition.

“We can skip that one; it smells too bad,” he said as he passed by the first vault and swung open the door to the second: The stench of death wafted out and hit Marley and Muenster in the face—both reflexively cupped hands over their noses to block the foul odor, but the odor only grew stronger as they entered into the vault. The vault was a walk-in refrigerator about the size of a restaurant’s meat locker; inside were six corpses covered with white sheets, their tagged and waxy feet protruding from beneath.

“Between the two vaults, we can store up to thirty bodies, but they can fill up pretty quickly over the course of just one bad weekend.”

The attendant led them out and closed the door, then continued their tour of the building. Wending through the halls, the attendant pointed out the administrative area—a collection of office cubicles—the breakroom, a viewing room where relatives identify their deceased love ones, a toxicology lab full of scientific equipment and men in white lab coats and, finally, the autopsy suite.

“Go on in,” said the attendant. “Dr. K will be right with you.”

This was the moment Muenster was waiting for. For years he had worked the Hit and Run detail, the unit that investigates not just hit-and-runs but all fatal vehicular accidents, the victims of which always ended up here, in the autopsy suite. So Muenster knew full well there would be plenty of horror just inside that room…and poor, unsuspecting Marley was about to get the shock of her young life.

And horror, there was: Four steel gurneys, wheeled in and parked helter-skelter, cluttered the suite. On them lay the bodies scheduled to be examined. A fifth body, that of a man, was already lying, faceup, on the dissection table, an aluminum table with raised edges and drains used to wash away collecting blood. Unlike the neatly covered bodies in the vault, these bodies were either uncovered or poorly draped. One of the two uncovered bodies was an older, bloated woman, also stretched out and lying faceup, whose skin was bright yellow with a purple stripe visible all along the bottom side of her body where it met the gurney’s surface; the other of the two was a Hispanic man who looked to be in his twenties. The limbs of his body were severely contracted and contorted, and his mouth frozen in a taut, frightening grimace. There was a small, bloody hole just over his left breast, surrounded by a circular burn pattern.

Of the two haphazardly covered bodies, one was adult in size and encased in heavy clear plastic, the inner surface of which was streaked with blood, obscuring most of the body and revealing only fragments of mangled arms and legs. A white sheet completely covered the body on the last gurney and it was apparent by the small rise beneath the sheet, this was a child.

Motioning to the last gurney, Muenster remarked, “In my career, none of this stuff has ever bothered me—the dead bodies, the blood and guts—except when it’s a kid. I could never handle that…still can’t,” he said somberly, then turned away.

Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig—a.k.a. Dr. K—a bearded man of fifty wearing rimless glasses, soon joined them in the autopsy suite. Despite his cowboy boots, he was short, but the combination of ego and authority more than compensated for his lack of physical stature. He greeted Muenster as one does an old friend.

“Officer Muenster, I had heard you’d gone back to Patrol but I didn’t believe it. Yet here you are, back in uniform. Do you miss Hit and Run?” His words had a vaguely Germanic roll to them.

“Not really,” replied Muenster. “I got tired of—” he waved his hand around the room, “—all this. I needed a break from it.”

Dr. K nodded with complete understanding. “And who’s this?” he asked, eyeing Marley.

“She’s new with the department, one of our civilian Crime Stop operators. I thought it might be educational for her to see the morgue…and an autopsy.”

Marley’s eyes widened. She looked at Muenster in shock.

Karnitschnig gave Muenster a look of disapproval, then addressed Marley with some brusque instructions. “I have two rules. One, don’t get sick in my suite. Two, if you do get sick, you will clean up your own mess. I don’t have the time to clean up after you.”

Marley gulped and nodded. Muenster chuckled.

As he slipped into his lab coat and grabbed a pair of latex gloves, Dr. K began Marley’s education by introducing her to the corpses on the gurneys.

“This one,” he said, motioning to the older woman. “Most likely died of liver failure. You see how yellow her skin is? That’s from jaundice. She had a history of alcoholism which destroys the liver. Once the liver is shot, a waste product called bilirubin builds up in the blood, turning the skin and whites of the eyes yellow.”

“And what causes the purple coloration?” asked Marley.

“That’s due to lividity. When the heart stops pumping the blood, it ceases to flow, and gravity causes it to pool along the bottom of the body.”

The pathologist moved on to the bloody, mangled corpse wrapped in plastic. “This one worked at a meat processing plant and was pulled into an industrial meat grinder. Very messy, but an easy determination of death: Exsanguination. He bled out.” Pointing to the young Hispanic male, “And this one…this is a suicide. Shot himself, point-blank, in the heart, as is evidenced by the powder burns surrounding the entry wound. He knew what he was doing, going for the heart. You can sometimes survive a bullet to the brain, but never one to the heart.” The doctor went on to explain that the rigid state of the corpse and unnatural grimace were due to a process called rigor mortis, a process he detailed in scientific terms that sailed over Marley’s head.

Dr. K worked his fingers into the latex gloves. “And that one…” he said with a slow shake of his head, “Was beaten to death by her stepfather. She was three. Man is a very brutal animal.”

Walking to the dissection table, Karnitschnig motioned Marley and Muenster to join him and handed them both a pair of safety glasses which they promptly put on.

Stretched out on the table was a large, hairy man with a hard rubber block under his back, causing his chest to protrude and his arms and neck to fall back. His unusually large penis must have given Muenster some envy because he whispered in a teasing tone to Marley, “You don’t need to look at that.” Before Marley could even process the gist of Muenster’s remark, Dr. K introduced the well-hung corpse:

“Here we have a Caucasian male, forty-eight years of age, with a history of asthma and chronic bronchitis—”

Muenster laughed out loud, interrupting Dr. K.

“What’s so funny?” Karnitschnig asked, mildly perturbed.

“Sorry,” said Muenster, “It’s just that Marley here has asthma; in fact, she had an asthma attack this morning. I think my driving scared the breath out of her.”

“It’s just allergies. I wasn’t scared,” said Marley, fibbing.

“Ahem…as I was saying,” Dr. K continued, “Caucasian male, forty-eight years old, with a history of asthma and chronic bronchitis. The deceased was also a heavy smoker and was on supplemental oxygen to aid in his breathing. He was found dead in his bedroom by his landlord, collapsed on the floor next to his bed. Because he died at home and there wasn’t a physician to sign the death certificate, the law requires an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death. My speculation is that he woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe, but died before he could get to his oxygen tank, which was just across the room. The two most likely causes of death are cardiac arrest or respiratory failure, so the first organs I want to examine are his heart and his lungs. My money’s on the heart—sudden cardiac arrest is the most common cause in cases like this.”

 Dr, K picked up a scalpel. Before making the first cut, he reminded Marley: “Remember, if you vomit in my suite, you have to clean it up yourself.”

Marley nodded and watched as the scalpel sliced deeply into the corpse’s chest, cutting a Y-shape through the skin from both shoulders to the sternum and all the way down the center of the torso to the pubic bone. In a few short minutes, the skin was peeled back and the chest flap pulled up over the dead man’s face, exposing his ribcage and neck muscles. Next, Karnitschnig cracked the ribs open using what looked to Marley like a pair of gigantic pruning shears. The heart was the first organ he dissected. Marley leaned in, listening intently, as Dr. K pointed out the various parts of the heart—the aorta, the atria, the ventricles—and explained the types of damage or disease state he would expect to find if death were due to cardiac arrest.

“Nothing here. This is a relatively healthy heart,” he declared, then plopped the heart into a stainless steel bowl held by a stealthy morgue attendant who had suddenly appeared at his side.

“Let’s take a look at his lungs, shall we? Visual inspection of both lungs tells us he was a smoker. Healthy lungs should be a bright, shiny pink. These…” he said, poking and prodding the matte grey organs with his gloved fingers, “Are not healthy. They should be soft and pliable, like bread dough—see how resistant this tissue is when I press on it?” A quick swipe of the scalpel splayed open the left lung. Dr. K teased the tissue with his scalpel to reveal a large bronchial tube. “Aha! Look here!” he told Marley who, in response, leaned in for closer inspection.

 “This bronchus should be completely opened but you see how inflamed and thick the inner walls are?” He dug out a hard, yellow plug of mucus from the opening of the tube, then from another tube, and still another. After repeating the process on the right lung, Dr. K declared: “His major airways are all blocked. Poor sod suffocated to death, just feet away from his oxygen tank.” He looked at Marley: “Do you smoke?”

Marley admitted with a modicum of shame that she used to smoke, but had quit in the past year.

“Good girl. Don’t ever start up again. I don’t want to see you on my table twenty years from now.”

Marley glanced over to Muenster. “Did you hear that?” she said, alluding to his cigar habit.

“You don’t inhale the smoke from cigars; it’s not the same as with cigarettes,” he said, defensively.

Dr. K scoffed. “Don’t kid yourself. You’re still inhaling second-hand smoke and that’s just as bad for you.”

Muenster dismissed Dr. K’s lecture with a wave of his hand.

Karnitschnig moved on: “There’s no need to do a full post-mortem since we have our cause of death. We can forego opening the skull.”

Muenster let out an audible sigh of relief, eliciting looks from both Marley and Dr. K.

“Let’s finish him up then,” said Dr. K. as he deftly removed the lungs and handed them off to the attendant for measuring and weighing. He pointed out to an attentive Marley all the major organs—liver, kidneys, spleen, large and small intestines—before again lifting his scalpel over the stomach. “Now we need to examine the stomach contents. This is going to smell a bit.” The scalpel swiped again and Marley and Muenster were immediately assaulted with a stench so foul they gagged in reflex.

“Nineteen years I’ve been doing this and even I still gag at that smell,” the doctor said, as he reached a gloved hand into the stomach, scooped out the half-digested contents and put them into a bowl. He sifted through the chunky goo with his index finger. “Looks like his last meal had corn in it.”

Muenster now held a hand over his mouth and nose to filter out the smell. He took a couple steps back from the autopsy table, color draining from his face.

“Looking a little green behind the gills, there, Officer Muenster. Perhaps you should step outside for some fresh air,” suggested Dr. K as he lifted the stomach from the body cavity and dropped it into a new bowl.

Muenster quickly took his leave.

Dr. K winked at Marley: “Sitting around in a patrol car has made him soft, I guess. We’re almost done here, anyway.”

One by one, he removed the remaining organs, until the body cavity was empty. The attendant, after weighing and measuring all the organs, brought them back and dumped the shiny red heap of entrails back into the empty cavity. Dr. K instructed the attendant to close and clean up the body as he stripped the gloves from his hands.

“You have a natural aptitude and keen curiosity for this type of work. You should consider studying medicine,” Dr. K told Marley as he ushered her out of the suite and to the exit. Marley thanked him for the tour and shook his hand in gratitude while he pressed the button to lift the bay door.

Outside, Muenster, still pallid, pulled on a cigar as he sat waiting in his cruiser. On her way to the car, Marley thought she smelled something rank, not quite so rank as the cadaver’s stomach contents, but similar and decidedly more familiar. She opened the cruiser’s passenger door to let herself in and took a last look at the stucco building. Beyond the curb, not far from the morgue’s bay door, she spied the source of the smell:

A pile of fresh vomit. Regurgitated steak and eggs. Muenster’s lunch.

~ ~

The day and the ride-along nearly over, Muenster took Marley back to police headquarters where he took her into the holding room, a room located just inside the building’s rear entrance where prisoners or persons of interest were held temporarily, pending charge, trial or sentencing. In addition to the handful of holding cells, the room had a small collection of wooden tables for officers needing to fill out paperwork. Muenster seated himself at one of the tables and put his portable radio and clipboard down in front of him.

“Pull up a chair,” he told Marley. “I just have to fill out my activity sheet, then we can call it a day.”

Marley did as instructed and watched silently as the officer filled out his daily activity sheet.

“You did pretty well at the morgue. I think Dr. K was impressed with you,” Muenster said, without looking up from his clipboard. “I was impressed, too…very impressed.”

Marley noticed a change of tone in his words; it was softer, gentler, almost intimate. “Thanks,” she replied, keeping her voice friendly but professional. “I really liked Dr. K. It was nice of him to take the time to show me around today.”

Muenster laughed. “People either love him or hate him. He’s been known to bite off more than a few heads, but he sure seemed to like you. And how could he not, what with your being so nice…” he looked up from his clipboard and gave her a shy little smile, “And so pretty.”

Marley could feel her face turning red at the unexpected compliment, and she silently cursed herself for revealing to him her reaction. He was too old for her tastes and she found nothing even remotely physically attractive in him, yet here she was, blushing like a doting schoolgirl succumbing to his charms. But there was a humble boyishness in the shy way he’d just looked at her that both disarmed and appealed to her, rendering her coquettish and speechless. All she could do in this terribly perplexing moment was sit there with her hands fidgeting on the table, and smile stupidly back at him.

Emboldened by her reaction, Muenster reached a hand across the table and tapped his index finger atop her grandmother’s diamond ring.

“Is that an engagement ring?” he asked, ever so carefully.

This was her opportunity to nip in the bud whatever it was that was happening between them at this moment. All she had to do was say ‘yes, it’s an engagement ring,’ and this whole awkward exchange would end.

“No,” she said. “It was my grandmother’s ring. I wear it on my wedding finger because it’s the only finger it fits on.” Marley was now kicking herself. Why the hell didn’t I lie to him?

Muenster threw up his arms in exasperation and fell back into his chair, laughing. “And, here, all this time I thought you were engaged. This whole day, I could’ve been flirting with you.”

“Wait—didn’t you mention this morning that you have a girlfriend?” Marley asked, more than a little confused.

Muenster stopped in mid-laugh. He pulled himself up in his chair to compose himself. “Yes, yes I do, and her name is Totie.” Reaching his hand across the table, he patted Marley’s still fidgeting hands and said, in a paternal voice meant to let her down gently, “I was just teasing you.”

And so her Tuesday ended just as it had begun, with Marley feeling stupid, foolish, and embarrassed. And, inexplicably…

Horny.

CHAPTER 17
CHAPTER 19

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