When morning came I was blowing smoke in front of the Rue Morgue. So was the Volks’.
It was cold out. I took a final drag from the heater in my hand. Flicked it aside. Pulled out my flask. Threw one back. Then another to warm myself up. Then another for the hell of it . . . I wasn’t about to face the dead sober.
The morgue was a grey building with no windows like a concrete coffin. I figured I’d see if Bertram was ready for the troff come feeding time while waiting to see what Hal could dig up . . . Why not . . . I’d snoop around. Pull back the sheets. Dust for fingerprints. That whole bit. I had nothing going on, anyway. Plus, Mary-Lou was flipping the bill.
I killed the engine and got out.
There was a buzzing coming from the bright white incandescent lights that shined down on the white walls and white linoleum flooring. Not a soul could be found anywhere, like something was off about a holy place.
I looked around.
A door read “EMPLOYEES ONLY”. I opened it. A small corridor led to a large room with large metal drawers lining the back wall. In the center was a fresh one laid out on a metal table. A woman. Her belly swollen from all the gases bubbling up inside of her. She looked just about ready to blow like Krakatoa. I moved around to the far side of the room by the metal drawers just in case she erupted. On the drawers were tags with names written on them. I read the names of the departed as I passed them . . . Ritchie Billane . . . Damon Shandler . . . Ed Poe.
Just then a figure moved in the corner of my eye. I turned to face it.
It was a living corpse. Long pale face with yellow rings around hollow eyes. Long, boney fingers. The smell of formaldehyde seeping from his pores. Why anyone would want to preserve him I hadn’t the slightest clue. Just watching him glide around the white room in white scrubs like a floating head sent shivers down my spine.
“So the dead really do bury the dead!”
The apparition spoke.
“Please, sir. Will you keep your voice down. This is a sacred place.”
“Sacred my ass!”
I sized him up. It looked like the little creep was wearing lipstick.
“Excuse me, sir, but you are not allowed to be back here.”
“The name’s Berringer . . . Frank Berringer. I’m looking for a stiff. A meat popsicle. An empty vessel . . . You know, a dead guy.”
“I’m sorry, sir. But this is a restricted area for employees and personnel with proper paperwork. You need to leave.”
“I’ll leave when she gets up and starts reciting Invictus.” I nodded toward the woman on the table.
The little creep looked towards her. Then back at me.
“I’m sorry, sir. I cannot permit you to be back here without proper paperwork.”
I flashed my credentials.
“I don’t know what that is, sir.”
“It means if you don’t tell me what I want to know you’re going to end up like Sleeping Beauty here.”
He looked at me coldly.
“Oh ok . . . What is the name of the deceased, sir?”
“That’s a good boy . . . His name is Bertram Welles.”
“Hmmm.” He said with his pale hand on his skeleton chin, acting pensive. “I don’t think I have anyone here by that name . . . However, I do have a few unclaimed gentleman on ice in the back, sir. I’ll have to go and double check.”
He made to cut loose.
“Not so fast, pal. You’re not going anywhere without me. So let’s both go and have a little look-see.”
“Fine . . . But don’t touch them!” he said in a serious whisper. “I mean it. Don’t! . . . They don’t like it, sir.”
The guy gave me the creeps. Maybe he wasn’t held enough as a child. Couldn’t make friends with the other kids. I’d bet my money he got his kicks from rigor mortis . . . I would’ve left this asshole behind in a heartbeat. Not like Bertram.
I followed the guy to a back room with a big refrigerator-type door. He opened it and a cold breeze crept out.
“You first, popsicle stick.”
He went in. I followed.
A few more bodies were laid out on tables, some still dressed in the clothes they died in. There shoes still on their cold dead feet. I looked them over. See if they were the genuine article. They seemed to check out, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When the creep wasn’t looking I tied one of their shoelaces together just in case he got the idea to get up and start walking around. You can never tell when an Exo might reboot and come back from an error in their system.
“Looks like he’s not here,” I said with disappointment.
“Oh. That’s too bad . . . I mean, maybe he’s still alive, sir?”
“Yea . . . Maybe.”
As we were walking out I realized one of the bodies had lipstick smudged on his face . . . It was a real hairy one, too, red chest hair bulging like an orangutan. I turned to look at the ghoul. He smiled meekly.
“Fuckin’ Smerdyakov,” I said and worked up a thick one. Spit it towards the floor. The green mess hit my shoe.
The creep giggled under his breath.
“It won’t be funny when I ram this foot up your ass.”
I made to grab the little prick but before I could he vanished. I swung around and his claws were already in my face, scratching like a damn tomcat.
I fell back and stumbled over one of the tables, bringing the large ape down on top of me. His chest against my face. The thick hair working its way between my lips. I gagged.
“My baby!” The creep screeched. “Don’t hurt him!”
Dead weight weighs a ton, and the red-haired ape was no exception. It took all of my strength and the little creep to roll him off of me. There was puke everywhere. When I finally got up, the ghoul was caressing the ape’s head and beard with the loving tenderness of a mother whose child has taken ill . . . Yea, everybody’s got a type, from Bundy to Huckle. It’s only a matter of time before man makes it with machine . . . It’s pure bedlam here, and nothing is sacred . . . Not even death.
I’d seen enough. I got the hell out of there.
“He loves this world and the people in it.” That’s what Mary-Lou said of the man. What Bertram Welles saw in someone like that I couldn’t understand. What do you gain by giving to these people? What do they give in return?
I didn’t know who those flatliners were, and I didn’t care. What did they have to do with solving the case? . . . Nothing . . . Absolutely nothing . . . They couldn’t point me in the direction of Bertram. They were just more names to be mould over by the swift tumult of Time . . . No one makes it out alive, we all know that. Everybody knows that. We only busy ourselves to forget it . . . And it makes you wonder, maybe if we gave a damn about our mortality we’d give more meaning to our lives. Our relationships. Our work. Our futures . . . Those names meant something to someone, somewhere, once . . . Only it’s over for them now. Their time has come and gone. But there’s still a chance for the rest of us see past the blurred lines . . . Whatever that means . . . I needed a drink.