A Corpse of Interest


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Scene Title A Corpse of Interest
Synopsis An unusual corpse arrives on Zachery's table.
Date October 4, 2008

Morgue — Examination Room


It's been an absolute mess of a morning. The phone-call received just after 7am warned the morgue to expect an incoming "body of interest", a notice delivered by the police department when a cadaver was to be shipped in that would be having considerable police attention. Hours had come and gone since the notice was called in, and the Morgue staff worked in that time to clean up the autopsy room to get everything in order for the parcel they would be receiving.

It was a hell of a delivery. Standing around the examination table, two morgue staff workers look on at the corpse dropped off by the police with a mixture of confusion and revulsion, it was evident from the moment the body-bag was unzipped that it was going to be a long, busy day.

"Is…" One of the staff blurts out, covering his mouth again as he turns away from the body. It clearly is the remains of a woman, though judging from the body's condition she died sometime around when the mortar on the pyramids of Giza was still wet. The body is a desiccated husk, brittle and dry, shriveled like a sun-dried tomato. Her eyes were open when she died, and the withered little husks sunken deep into her blackened sockets show just how violent her death was. Her clothing hangs loose off of the near skeletal frame of her body, leathery skin pulled tight over bone like shrink-wrap, hair brittle and crisped, skin flaky and thin like parchment paper. Worse of all is the corpse's expression, her mouth wide open with a blackened hand-print over it, as if someone had been covering her mouth. Lips are receded, revealing the white of her teeth and her grayed gums.

A corpse of interest.

Judah has seen some strange things in his time, but this one is pretty close to the top of the list. Dressed in a leather jacket, dress shirt and slacks, he stands off to the side with his arms folded across his chest, stubble-heavy chin tilted at a curious angle. The expression on his face is surprisingly neutral, though this might have something to do with the fact that he was one of the first detectives on the scene when the corpse was first called in. He's had plenty of time to acclimate himself to the sight in front of him.

"What do you think, Miller?" he asks without taking his eyes of the husk of a woman laid out on the mortician's table. "Has someone been dicking around Calvary Cemetery, or is this the real thing?" As much as he'd like to pretend the body is someone's idea of a sick joke, he has a hard time justifying that particular line of thinking.

Even Zachery, considered one of the stronger stomached Morgue staff members, had a little trouble with this new arrival. It gave him a strange mix of feelings, and a nausea he didn't quite know the cause of. The corpse's appearance was striking enough, yes, but when the theory of the case being hoax was ruled out… well, a strong morbid interest was a very close second.

"If by 'the real thing' you mean a complete mystery." He waves a gloved hand toward the woman's abdomen, looming over it as though trying to figure out which part of her to poke at first. "Does this…" He squints for a moment, pulling back his hand to push back his glasses a little, "… 'woman' look as though she had a proper burial? Do you see the clothes having deteriorated, tissue disintegration?" Judging by the tone of his voice, it's likely he likely isn't expecting an actual response to this.

Exhaling a shuddering breath, one of Zachery's assistants circles around the table while the mortician speaks, unzipping the bodybag the rest of the way, peeling it away from the cadaver and spreading it open fully, bringing the zippered seams down beyond the shoulders to allow for a full examination of the remains. It's clear the body was damaged in movement, the right arm is completely unattached to the torso, the whole sleeve limp where the arm snapped off at the shoulder. The remaining limb is tucked at the corpse's side, a chalky gray color like the rest of the body, fingers curled as if trying to grasp at something, the elbow crooked just slightly. Where the arm would meet the shoulder, it's been broken free from the shoulder, not torn. The skin, muscle and tendon are all brittle and dry, crispy like they had been baking in a hot desert sun. The bone, likewise, is brittle and fragile.

Contrary to the rest of the body's condition, the clothing is immaculate and undamaged. It shows no sign of exposure to heat, the green cotton t-shirt and jeans looking like they were fresh out of the clean laundry. Notably, the corpse is barefoot, with no socks, yet according to the police report she was found in an alleyway.

The morgue attendant slides on his latex gloves and filter mask, picking up the detached arm, examining the stump where it should connect to the shoulder. He lays the arm down on a separate tray for Zachery to examine, and the light of the autopsy lamp shines glints off of the wristwatch on the arm, still ticking and reading the correct time.

As Zachery begins to inspect the corpse, the sound of muffled buzzing fills the air, along with the distorted chimes of a simplified version of Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. The sound emanates from Detective Demsky's jacket pocket. While muffled by its location in the detective's pocket, it is still an unsettling piece of music, given the circumstances.

One of these days, Judah really has to change that ringtone. It just isn't appropriate for his line of work. "Maybe somebody got tired of playing dress up with their kiddy dolls," he suggests as he fishes around his jacket pocket for his cell phone. This is what denial sounds like. "Just because the clothes are new doesn't mean the corpse is."

When Judah removes his hand from a pocket, he's cradling the cell in his palm. A moment later, it's right next to his ear. "This is Demsky," he says into the microphone. "Something had better be on fire."

Zachery draws away from the body, wasting little time in investigating the severed arm. It's hard to see at first, but there is definitely a smile on his face as he grabs the limb and delicately turns it to get a better view of where it was once attached to its owner. The smile is not caused by what he can see, however, but what he can feel as the information his own special little gift gives him starts making sense. Or rather, does not. Not once has it taken him so long to try and find even one in-tact organ. And that he hasn't so far… is inexplicably exciting.

When the phone rings, Zachery jumps slightly, dropping the arm to the tray with a dry sort of thud. He flinches, sending a befuddled glare to Judah before turning back down to the arm and tracing a finger toward the wrist. The watch is detached with the utmost care.

"Well, I wouldn't say on fire, but things are about to get hotter. I've got that information you wanted." Judah recognizes the voice of Stevens, one of the desk-jockeys down at the precinct, "Victim's name is Elizabeth Abagail Marshall, twenty-seven years old, local resident. She worked at Enlightenment Books up in the East Village." The voice on the phone pauses for a moment, the distant sound of keys clicking heard over the phone. "Mother and Father live in Queens, no other family in the city. No priors, pretty spotless record… aside from one bit." Stevens clicks his tongue, the muffled double-click of a mouse heard in the background.

"She's registered with Homeland Security on the Registry of Evolved as a Tier Zero." Another few muffled clicks and clacks of a keyboard. "According to this she was — get this — photo-synthetic. Says here she could feed off of sunlight like a plant, completely harmless. The area where she was killed, that was right outside of where she lived. The tenement building was checked out, it's a like a low-income refugee establishment. Most of the people there are transplants from the red-zone. Her neighbors were questioned, the usual 'she was such a quiet girl' routine, nothing of note. One woman who lives on the other side of the building, Ellen Williams, says she saw a blonde girl running out from the alley behind the building some time around six-thirty this morning. They're bringing her in to get a composite done. Is there anything else you wanted?"

When the watch is detached from the corpse's dismembered arm, there is no sign of discoloration beneath it, another sign that heat was not involved in this death. The watch is in perfect working order, a black-faced silver-plated time-piece, clearly petite in design as most women's watches are. It is somewhat unusual given her casual clothing, the watch likely costing a few hundred dollars. Notably, however, is the brand listed on the faceplate — Sylar.

This is exactly what Judah didn't want to hear. While Zachery might be able to discern snippets of his conversation with Stevens, the frown tugging at the corners of the detective's mouth is probably more telling than the tinny voice on the other end of the line. "Great," he grunts, "just what we need. The press is going to be all over this like freshmen at a sorority party. Keep it quiet for as long as you can and let the Commissioner know she should start prepping a conference just in case. I'll take care of things on my end."

Without waiting for Stevens to articulate a response, he snaps the phone closed and drops it back into his pocket. "Elizabeth Marshall," he tells Zachery, "Evolved. You were right. She’s fresh." It's a very poor choice of words. Nobody ever said tact was one of Judah’s strong points.

Zachery straightens when he manages to get the watch off of the arm, squinting at the straps before his eyes widen at the brand name. Brow creasing, his smile fades away completely. He shoots a quick look in Judah's direction, before hastily putting the watch down back on the tray next to the arm— face down. "… Completely intact, no signs of aging, damage, wear or… being anything but a new watch. Still ticking."

He turns back to the body, seeming at once even more intrigued. "She is fresh." He narrows his eyes again as he inspects the head of the corpse, leaning closer to get a better look at the skin. "There aren't many ways to get a person to look like this, and she's in this state right down to the bones. Uh, I-I assume." He swallows, then glances up to Judah again and continues, "Could it have been an accident? Could she have done this to herself somehow?"

Judah answers Zachery with a short shake of his head. "Marshall was a Tier 0, so it isn't probable." Possible, but not probable. "We don't see the Evolved go after each other very often, but when it happens — it's messy. Like this. Still no motive, though. The woman was in her late twenties and she lived in refugee housing over in the Lower East Side where her body was found. This could just be a crime of opportunity. Too soon to say for sure."

"Marshall?" Zachery's assistant looks up from notes about Zachery's examination he's jotting down on a clip-board, "Liz Marshall?" The tone of his voice and the adjustment to her name indicates familiarity, "Oh…" His eyes divert down to the body on the slab, "Oh Christ." Blinking his eyes and staring slack-jawed at the corpse, the assistant fumbles with his clip-board and pen, looking up to Judah. "I… S-She works over at this new-age bookstore in the east village. I ah," He swallows, audibly, "We went to school together." The tone of the assistant's voice lowers as he looks back down to the body, his expression hard to discern behind the filter mask.

"She… She said she was having problems with a stalker. Some ex-boyfriend of hers…" Looking from the body back to Judah, the assistant circles around the table, setting down the clipboard. "I heard her talking about it to the owner, uh…" His eyes drift to the side, searching for the name, "I forget her name. Nice old woman, though…" Perhaps it's just now hitting him that he recognizes the corpse, but the assistant's slow turn around to survey the body Zachery examines draws from him a whimpering breath. "She…" He swallows, dryly and awkwardly, "Oh, God."

The look Zachery shoots his fumbling assistant is only vaguely one of pity. Most of all, it's one of surprise. "Well, there's your motive. Romance rejected, it is one of the classics." this is mumbled half jokingly, despite the lack of amusement on the coroner's face.

"Let's hope. With the classics, we at least know what to expect." Judah begins moving toward the door, though he glances over his shoulder to make eye contact with Zachery as he speaks. "I'm going to look into the beau and see if I can't get a better description of a witness who was caught fleeing the scene. If you find anything, give me a call."

Zachery nods, both hands on the morgue table as he watches Judah leave. "As always, a pleasure." And as always, that was anything but sincere. Then, moving to wheel a cart with the appropriate sharp bits and tools closer, he mutters to another assistant, "Miss Polesky, if you'd be so kind as to accompany our broken heart to the restroom before he loses his lunch as we further examine his late and crispy friend? Thank you."

Enlightenment Books is an homage to HeroesMUSH. You can check it out at: heroesmush.wikidot.com

October 4th: Death and the Maiden

Previously in this storyline…
Death and the Maiden

Next in this storyline…
Dangerous Waters

October 4th: I Know What I Saw
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