And I didn’t.
Yeah, I sure showed them.
I stopped in the doorway of the morgue and clenched my jaw shut in preparation for the heave of nausea that I knew would hit me any second now. All I could think about was that frog and me throwing up all over the tile.
“You okay?” Nick asked, except I could tell he didn’t really want me to be okay. He wasn’t even bothering to hide his smirk, and it was obvious he wanted me to lose it because then he’d be able to feel even more superior. Like all the kids who pointed and laughed when I lost it in Biology.
Jerk. I took a cautious breath, surprised and relieved to discover that my stomach was apparently on my side and was going to behave, at least for the moment. I slowly unclenched my jaw and returned his smirk with one of my own. “I’m fine,” I replied as I stepped in and allowed the door to close behind me.
Disappointment flickered briefly in his eyes which only strengthened my desire to not wimp out in front of him.
The morgue was mostly what I’d expected—cold and vaguely creepy, like I’d seen in the movies. The walls and floor were off-white, but in a shade that made me wonder if it was the original color or if they’d somehow been stained by the strange and gross smells—kinda like the way the nicotine-yellow walls in my dad’s bedroom had once been beige.
The tour continued as Nick showed me the procedure for logging bodies in and out and took me into the cooler where the bodies were stored. I’d expected a wall full of little doors with the slide-out tables that held the bodies, but instead it was simply a giant walk-in cooler—like you’d find in a restaurant or liquor store—with some big shelves on the wall and about half a dozen stretchers lined up beside them. The shelves were empty, but three of the stretchers had black body bags on them.
Dead people. I backed out of the room as quickly as I could without looking like a total weenie. I was sweating from the stress of waiting for my stomach to wake up and realize what was going on. Any second now I was going to heave and puke all over the floor—or perhaps all over Nick. That would be fine with me.
The next room he took me to held hundreds of plastic containers full of tissue samples, floating in a sickly, brown soup—formalin, as he informed me rather pompously. But still not a whisper of nausea. I could hardly believe it. I even got queasy if I saw someone spit on the sidewalk, and don’t ever ask me to change a diaper.
Finally, Nick brought me into the room where the autopsies were performed—the cutting room, he called it. I tried to avoid looking directly at anything in there. Metal tables. Drains in the floor. Lots of really scary tools and equipment. Yeah, I had the basic gist of it. I didn’t need to see it up close and personal.
Nick started pointing things out in the cutting room, blathering on about the duties and the responsibilities and the procedures, with this cocky air about him as if he was the damn coroner. I’d almost tuned him out when I heard him say, “When you’re assisting the pathologist during autopsies, you’ll need to—”
“Whoa!” I jerked my hand up to stop him. “Wait, what?” I asked as sick horror shot through me. “You mean, like when the bodies get cut open?”
Delight lit his face. “Yes, you’ll be helping with the autopsies. You didn’t know that?”
I couldn’t speak for several seconds. There was no way I’d be able to do this. I couldn’t even handle the thought of a frog getting cut. How the hell was I supposed to be all right when it was people? What kind of vicious joke was it to put me in a job like this? Maybe that’s all this was—a big whopping practical joke. Take the loser girl with the weak stomach and no nerves and put her where she’s guaranteed to make an ass of herself. And threaten her with jail and death to make sure she plays along.
Except, why would anyone go through all that trouble just to play a trick on me?
“It’s cool. I’ll be fine,” I somehow managed to say. I wouldn’t be, but I wasn’t going to let him see it. He’d enjoy it far too much if I walked out right now. I didn’t have a whole lot of self-respect going for me, but this was as good a time as any to pretend that I did.
Besides, I wasn’t going to go to jail just because Nick was a prick.
“Good to know,” he said, smirk stretching to a grin. “Because we have one scheduled to begin in about twenty minutes. Might as well get you suited up so you can start learning the ropes!”
Three hours ago I was in bed, I thought miserably. I should have stayed there.
I was decked out in a blue plastic smock, a paper apron over that, latex gloves that made my hands sweat, and little paper bootie-things over my shoes.
Lying on the metal table in front of me was a middle-aged man decked out in absolutely nothing at all. A dead man. Buck-ass naked with his little shriveled junk right there for everyone to see.
Standing on the other side of the table was another middle-aged man, but thankfully he was quite alive and fully dressed. Dr. Leblanc was the parish’s forensic pathologist and performed all of the autopsies. I’d always assumed that the coroner was the one who did them, and was even dumb enough to tell Nick that it would be cool to meet the coroner. Of course he then took way too much pleasure in telling me that the coroner was an elected official who hired people to do the investigations and the autopsies and stuff like that. It made sense once it was explained to me—kinda like the way the sheriff hired deputies to do police work. Still, it annoyed me that I’d given Nick such an easy shot at showing how much smarter he was than me.
Dr. Leblanc was probably in his early fifties or so—average height and weight with a bit of flab at his waist, hair a thinning mix of blond and grey, and eyes a light blue. My first impression was that he looked more like a high school history teacher than someone who cut open dead bodies. Not that I had a lot of experience to draw on since, as far as I knew, I’d never met a pathologist before. For that matter I’d only ever known two high school history teachers. My freshman year I’d had Mrs. Pruitt, a nasty old hag who gave tests full of essay questions and who’d marked off points for misspelled words. I’d failed her class since I couldn’t spell for crap—even though I knew the answers. I had to repeat it the next year and got Mr. Landry who looked a little bit like Dr. Leblanc in that they were both middle-aged white males. Mr. Landry was a whole lot cooler than Mrs. Pruitt, and I actually did really well in his class, getting A’s and B’s on the tests.
But then the whole thing with the frog in Biology happened, and I dropped out before finishing the semester. Yet another shining moment in the life of Angel Crawford.
“This your first time seeing an autopsy?” Dr. Leblanc asked, jerking me out of my brief pity party as he peered down at the body and made notes on a clipboard.
“First time seeing a dead body at all,” I admitted sheepishly. I heard Nick give a low snort of derision, and I could feel my face beginning to heat.
“Really?” Dr. Leblanc said, and to my surprise his expression was one of approval. “I’m impressed that you’re handling all of this so calmly.” His eyes crinkled in a smile. “Nick here lost his breakfast his first day in the morgue.”
I had to resist the urge to grin as Nick went white then sullen. “I had a stomach virus,” he muttered. Dr. Leblanc gave me a little wink that Nick couldn’t see, then quickly returned to his examination of the body.
My tension faded to a more reasonable level. At least if I did end up puking, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“So, uh, how do most people get jobs doing this?” I asked, trying to make it sound oh-so-casual and not full of my maddening curiosity as to how the hell I’d landed this bizarre gig.
Dr. Leblanc shrugged. “Usually people simply come in and apply. It’s a good start for someone interested in forensics or pathology.” He gave a nod toward Nick who gave a proud smile. “But sometimes, the coroner tells me, he’s hired someone—usually as a favor for one of his political cronies or supporters.” His eyes flicked back to me briefly before dropping back to his clipboard. “You came pretty highly recommended.”
I struggled to control the are-you-kidding-me? look I knew was on my face. Highly recommended? Me? How the hell would any of the coroner’s political buddies even know who I was?
I could feel Nick’s eyes on me, no doubt trying to figure out what special connections I had.
Dude, if you figure it out, let me know, I thought. I’m as baffled as you are.
Dr. Leblanc finally put his clipboard aside and picked up a scalpel. He gave me an encouraging smile. “It helps if you try to look at this as ‘interesting’ instead of ‘disgusting.’ And if you do have to pass out, please do so out of the way. Also, all puke goes in the garbage can, please.” His eyes flashed with humor, and I found myself grinning.
“Deal,” I said.
I did my best to keep Dr. Leblanc’s advice of “interesting versus disgusting” in mind as I watched the procedure, but there were some parts that were disgusting, no matter how much I attempted to convince myself otherwise. In particular, the search through the stomach contents was unspeakably nasty, but I was a bit encouraged to see that Dr. Leblanc’s face was twisted in a grimace as well. Apparently some things were always gross.
Yet, shockingly, I still hadn’t barfed. Not even the slightest desire to gag. It was almost surreal. I was the chick with the weakest stomach in the whole damn world, but here I was looking inside a damn body with the organs and guts and blood, and I was . . . hungry? I blinked in surprise as my stomach gave a little nudge that clearly wasn’t nausea. What the hell? Okay, so I hadn’t eaten any breakfast other than that coffee-drink thingy, but this was still a bizarre time to have a healthy appetite.
“Angel, come look at this,” Dr. Leblanc abruptly said, holding the dead guy’s heart in one hand and gesturing me over with the scalpel in his other. I obediently moved to his side, absurdly reminded of a movie where an evil priest ripped people’s hearts out with his bare hands. “That’s how he died,” he continued, using the tip of the scalpel to point to a slice he’d made in a small blood vessel on the outside of the heart. “See the blockage?”