It's Saturday night, almost midnight. The next shift will be starting in 45 minutes. I sigh. You've put it off long enough, Polly. I kick my work boots off the table and sit up. I dog-ear the page in my book and set it aside as I stand. Stretch. Take a sip of warm Diet Coke.
The fluorescent lights in the investigative section, with their all-encompassing brightness, salve my growing discomfort. I walk to a drawer and pull out a gunshot residue kit (GSR). As I do so, I peer out the threshold of the office into the shadows of the outer corridor. Dark. Blind. Alone. The tenuous comfort the light offered just a moment ago shatters like a lie.
I take a deep breath and look around. The room is suddenly too bright and too sterile and the falseness of my little cocoon is further revealed in the inky blackness beyond the windows. I pick up my keys and head down the dark hallway. The rubber soles of my shoes squeak on the chalk white tiles as I move. I wonder to myself why all the décor is white. The answer comes to me almost immediately. Everything in this place is designed to look clean and innocuous. Another lie.
This building, or more accurately this complex of three buildings, is a state-of-the-art facility. Carefully planned for its unsavory purpose of processing bodies. The first building houses the office's reception area, and conference rooms. That is where I am now. I exit Building One and walk across an outdoor breezeway. A floodlight mounted on the wall teams with flying insects attracted to the brilliantly glowing globe. I stop at a heavy steel door, unlock it and pull. It is pitch dark inside and I grope for the light. As soon as I flick the switch I hear a stuttering electric buzz and a cascade of light works its way down the corridor before me.
The second building has two floors, the entire top level being a high-tech forensic toxicology lab and the bottom level housing the body receiving area, cooler, autopsy suite, and the offices of the autopsy technicians.
There is a third building. Smaller. It has a separate ventilation system, an autopsy station, a boiler for removing flesh from bone, and a cooler. This building is for decomp cases. I don't go in there much. It is infested with blowflies that constantly swarm visitors. When I do go in it is to gather bloody, wet clothing that has been laid out to dry on a specially ventilated rack. Dried blood and liquefied fat leave these clothes stiff, as if they've been starched. They are carefully folded over a white sheet so that no trace is lost in transferring them to an evidence bag.
I walk down the hallway in Building Two and take a left into the autopsy suite. Banks of stainless steel sinks and bleached white cutting boards line the north and south walls. To the east there is a series of cabinets and to the west there is a large set of metal double doors leading to the cooler. I walk to the doors, pulling on latex gloves as I go. I turn the latch and there is a loud click. The door resists for a moment and then swings open. I wait as a fine mist rolls out and then dissipates before I walk in.
One of my greatest fears is being trapped in the cooler. And even though I know that it cannot lock from the inside, fear boils up from the very core of me when I hear the latch click softly at my back. The room fairly vibrates as the cooling system hisses along the low ceiling. I hate being in here. I hate it more tonight than ever.
Metal trays with bodies wrapped in heavy clear plastic fill the space. I wade through the macabre scene, looking for a particular body. A young woman, we still don't know her name, stabbed, beaten and repeatedly run over by a car. So mutilated is she that it's hard to tell that she's been shot. A routine x-ray revealed the bullet lodged in the thick bone of her jaw. I am just about to pull the tray out from its place against the wall when my cell phone rings. I yelp despite myself and put my hand to breast. My heart trips a staccato beat. I let it ring a few more times so I can compose myself. Then I pull off a glove and hit talk. “Hello?” My voice sounds weirdly muted in the cooler. You would expect it to echo with all the metal and concrete.
It's dispatch. There's been a homicide at the Greenville Motel near the beach. The detectives have requested the ME.
Sorry guys. I hate to leave you hanging, but my battery is about to die.