As Nine ended the call with Diego, she heard the beeping alert from his ambulance in reverse. She pulled her smock open and slipped her phone into her jeans pocket. While removing her latex gloves, she looked over her work. The bruises increased challenge painting the face to return the appearance of life. A little more effort on the cheeks and the middle-aged man would be ready for his sharp suit his wife had brought in. Lifting the paper sheet, Nine snuck another peek of the toned abdomen—wrecked by her suture—nearly hairless all the way down. Just enough fuzz to give it some character, she thought.
Nine removed her smock and exited the mortuary. Heading down the hall she heard muffled voices from the other side of the receiving doors. Diego normally arrived alone with his special deliveries, and she had never thought to ask about a partner.
Opening the doors, she found the EMT waiting with the stretcher. She looked at her father in bewilderment.
“What took you so long?” said Sebastian, frowning.
Grabbing hold of the stretcher, her father pushed. Nine leaped out of the way as he wheeled the corpse into the hall.
“Hey,” said Diego, “I didn’t realize you had a tattoo.”
Holding out her arm with her palm up, Nine showed him the Chinese characters. “I usually wear long sleeves for work. Cold in the mortuary, you know.”
Sebastian opened the mortuary door. Walking backward, he pulled the corpse inside.
“Looks cool,” said Diego. “What’s it say?”
“Chiang-shih. Like a vampire, but created after a violent death and the only way to ensure its demise is through cremation.”
He made a sour face and shook his head. “I guess it suits you.”
Nine thumbed over her shoulder. “Did he meet you outside?”
“A ride-along,” said the EMT.
Rolling into the hallway, the stretcher banged against the wall. The mortuary door slammed shut.
Nine rolled her eyes, and strolled over to the door. The knob refused her.
“Open the door,” she said. Locking the door wasn’t like him, and she became worried.
“Listen,” said Diego, “I’ll forfeit my share this round.”
“No Diego, I’ll get yours to you. You’ve been more than fair. Just tell me what my father was doing riding with you.”
“Since you’re the boss here now, I wouldn’t want to keep secrets. However, I’d rather not say anything that might come back to bite me in the ass.”
“Oh God,” said Nine. She shook her head. Whatever it was, she could deal with it. “Don’t tell me then. I’ll call you later, Diego.”
Arms folded, Nine waited quietly as Diego pulled his stretcher outside. Once the receiving doors were closed, she returned to the mortuary door and pounded her fist on it.
She listened to her father rummaging about.
“I’ll go fetch the key then,” said Nine.
Footsteps approached. Lock clicked, and the door swung open.
“You’re the head cheese,” said Sebastian. Holding the door open, he stood looking glum. “I guess it’s time you learned.”
After donning her smock and latex gloves, Nine approached the stainless steel mortuary table holding the special delivery. Blood soaked the purple dress shirt, and the usual dark spot marked the crotch and partway down one leg of the black slacks. The body didn’t smell bad, though. Persons often shit themselves at death. Spotting the fangs within the open mouth, Nine realized this corpse was an Itoril person.
For a better look, Nine pushed the upper lip with her finger. The fangs were impressive—in appearance and length. By comparison, Lamia’s fangs were harmless nubbins. Pretty blue eyes, too. This handsome devil could have passed among the elite of Itoril people.
By her count, fourteen gunshot wounds dotted the torso. The shooter had reloaded and continued blasting away at the poor guy. The more powerful Itoril could handle a few wounds, but damn, she thought, someone had wanted this sucker dead.
Sebastian held out a plastic face shield. Nine took it and placed the halo cap over her head, clear mask raised.
“Shouldn’t that one be prepared by now?” said Sebastian, thumbing at the other table.
She took a long look at the muscular corpse scheduled for a showing in the morning. It was a cruel world to let handsome men die in their prime.
“Oh, I see,” said Sebastian.
Scowling, Nine said, “As if! You always take your time with the pretty ladies.”
Before the glare hit her, Nine regretted speaking her thought. Prettying up a corpse for showing meant getting intimate with cold flesh, hiding scars and stitches, fixing misshapen appendages, and dressing the dead like a doll. Mortuary work was an art, and Sebastian Thyme transformed the dead into angels.
“One thing to keep in mind,” said Sebastian. He set an empty syringe prepared with a long needle on a tray beside the table. In his other hand he held an amputation saw. ”The fresher, the better. Don’t forget that.”
Blood pooled underneath the body, oozing into the drain track at the edge of the table. This Itoril appeared so fresh Diego had to have been near the crime scene when the shooting had happened.
“A ride-a-long my butt,” said Nine. “Did you shoot this person?”
Sebastian held the saw handle-side out over the table.
“Well, did you kill him?”
“Damn it, Nine!” Sebastian slammed the amputation saw on the corpse’s abdomen. “If you and Lamia hadn’t screwed up that last one. Whenever those uptight leaders of their half-secret society deliver a venomous prick, we harvest the juice and send it back to them.”
Venomous Itoril with their impressive fangs were rare. According to her grandfather’s research, venom could pacify a victim or induce hallucinations. Interest in the potent juice fueled greed and fed crime. As far as Nine was concerned, the body and all its fluids should be disposed of, but business arrangements dictated otherwise.
“So, we missed one,” said Nine. “They’ll understand.”
Leaning his hands on the edge of the table, her father hunched over and lowered his head.
“No, Nine,” said Sebastian. He grimaced and shook his head slowly. “They don’t concern me. His quota does.”
Nine didn’t understand. If not with the organization they had the disposal arrangement with, then what quota? Her father was hiding something from her, and she didn’t like that one bit. After this extraction, she intended to pull rank to obtain this crucial business information.
“Let’s hurry before it sours,” said her father. Lifting the saw, he held it out.
Taking the amputation saw, she raised it away from the table as she was taught. The amputation saw worked much like a hacksaw including replaceable blade, but made entirely of stainless steel for simple cleaning. She didn’t want the sharp teeth snatching at any living arms in the work area. She lowered her face shield.
Sebastian placed his hand under the corpse’s neck, the other on the chin, and lifted tilting head back exposing the neck. He positioned a block vice around the head and secured it to the table. Turning the crank squeezed cups against the skull holding it firm. He flipped his face shield down and placed his hands at his sides.
“Close under the chin, if you will,” he said.
Nine had only operated the bone saw once before, and she was uncertain how to go about cutting a throat. Decapitating a corpse was frowned upon with most funeral services. Such ruthless disrespect went against everything she had learned. Things were so much easier when Diego delivered them decapitated.
Blood filled the drain track and seeped into the opening at the low end.
She still couldn’t believe her father had shot an Itoril man out there on the street somewhere, and had enough nerves to reload and finish the job. She felt as though she didn’t truly know the man.
“Nine, don’t puss out on me now,“ said Sebastian.
All hands free of the work area, she lowered the blade over the neck lining up the teeth above the laryngeal prominence for the cut.
The torso rose and fell.
Nine watched the blood-stained shirt. No movement. Imagining things, she thought, an excuse to puss out. She took a deep breath and held it.
Orbs rotating, blue eyes gazed at her.
Like a chiang-shih, the corpse reawakened.