The room was chilly at six O'clock in the morning and I, Dr. Sydney Jenning was switching on the main over head lights of the hospital mortuary, thinking about how much I hated this job. Having to be up at stupid-O'clock in the morning and god-knows-when in the evening. The lights flickered into life and filled the room with a sterile white light, illuminating everything in fine detail and causing me to squint; and the lights, I hated the stupid bright lights. The navy blue scrubs weren't nearly warm enough for the middle of winter and I went about the room rubbing at my bare arms in an attempt to rid them of the pestering goosebumps. The metal coffins that lined the farthest wall from the only entrance gleamed brilliantly, making it difficult to look at them without being blinded. I ran my fingers along the cold metal as I walked, whispering the name of the occupant as I strode past. Reaching my desk I picked up the batch of files I had left there the previous night and skimmed the top few in quick succession. Sighing, I placed them back on the table but keeping the top most file tucked under my arm. I spared the clock above my desk a short glance before walking back the way I had come until I was next to one of the three steel examining tables that filled most of the spare space. I rubbed at my eyes. I had received a call at one this morning. I hadn't got to the phone in time and had left the message, thinking I'd pick it up later when I would have been more coherent. I was just thinking about calling my own voice mail now when I was stopped in the process of my first step.
“THE MAN WASN'T EVEN DEAD BEFORE HE WAS PUT IN THE COLD CHAMBER! HOW THE HELL DID HE GET PAST THE WAITING MORTUARY!?” I looked, with some annoyance, at the commotion that was making it's rapid approach towards me. Placing the file in my hand upon the table I had been preparing, I walked towards the double swinging doors, when a tall angry looking man burst in followed by a more weedy, flustered man. “DR. JENNING! oh, there you are.” Said the taller man, glowering at me.
“Yes Richmond here I am, and what can I do for you at such an ...” I looked at my watch pointedly, “ ... early and quiet hour?”
The man named Richmond ignored my oh so obvious sarcasm and began to pace backwards and forwards in front of me. Something had his panties in a twist.
“A man of 23 was brought in here last night. You were told he died from prostrate cancer and it was confirmed in the reports handed to you from the waiting mortuary.” I nodded my head in recollection, remembering the pale young man that had been put onto my table the night before. I had flicked through the report and then looked at the clock; considering the time I had diagnosed that it could be left until the next day, considering the man was, in fact, dead. Though it apparently seemed he hadn't been.
“He should be in row D, under Donningway.” I called over my shoulder, already moving towards the farthest end of the long line. Without looking I snatched up a pair of latex gloves from my desk, always helps to have a pair at hand and with expert swiftness put them on. I walked a little further down and pulled open the lowest six by six metal door. I let it clang against its neighbour before pulling the table, body and white sheet out from its cooling box. Without hesitating I whipped back the plastic sheeting to the bodies lower waist and looked at the body, hands on my hips.
“Well he looks dead to me Richmond.” I said tiredly, closing my eyes and letting my head hang, “are you sure he was still alive when he came down here? the obvious sign of him breathing should have been enough to make it clear he wasn't dead.”
“That's what we don't know. Pike here got an anonymous call this morning on his way to work. Someone had some rather interesting information to offer. Apparently the man going by Michael Donningway who had died suddenly during the night shift at the hospital in which our dear Mr. Pike worked, was in fact alive.” Pike, the short man, hovering behind Richmond was ringing his black suit jacket with his stubbly fingers. I gave him a head to toe sweep before turning back to Richmond, unimpressed. “Now as you may understand as well as I do, it was hard to believe. The coroner? Making such an easy mistake? Unheard of. Well Mr. Pike decided he best call ahead and, to his shock, Michael Donningway had died at eight fifteen last night. The coroner on call was Samantha Pollington. At any rate, Pike called her up and didn't get an answer. He told me the moment he arrived and I found my way to you.” He pointed somewhat accusingly at me. “Now if you would be so kind as to check for a pulse I would be very much obliged.” He swept a hand over the body and fixed me with a stern look.
“So early in the morning.” I sighed and placed my three fingers of my right hand just below the wrist creases at the base of the man's thumb. I stood for a good five minutes, my fingers pressed to the man's wrist while looking at my watch. Finally I put the man's hand back to his side and looked disapprovingly at the two men in front of me. “Dead.” I said matter-of-factly, pulling off my gloves and moving to lean against my desk, arms crossed.
“Dead.” Repeated Richmond , rubbing a hand across his eyes.
“That's what I said Richmond. Dead.” I watched both men carefully. When neither moved, I prompted, “If what you say is correct then shouldn't the police be called in on this one, I don't have the right to touch the body any more.” I gave a casual wave of my hand at the dead body. The simple gesture seemed to snap the men out of their stupor. With a curse and a childish stamp of his foot, Richmond marched out the doors, pulling his mobile phone from his pocket as he went. Mr. Pike began hopping from one foot to the other, making incoherent noises.
“This hospital needs better staff.” I complained, rifling through the files on my desk until I found Michael Donningway's file, he was near the top. Always the same with the freshly dead. Finding it, I flicked through the contents, muttering random bits of information to myself as I read. “Blood type O, rare, nice ... Kidney organ donor ... history of thyroid problems in the family ... yada yada yada ... single, shame that, he's rather good looking.” I pondered, turning a woman's eyes to the body, still lying in the open.
“They're on their way.” Announced Richmond. He left it at that and stood just on the inside of the door, seemingly afraid of being 'done-in' for freezing a man to death in a morgue. Yes, because that happens everyday of the week. It was either that or he was just thinking very, very deeply. With a sudden brainstorm, Richmond clicked his fingers aggressively in my direction. “Go meet them at reception.”
“I'm a coroner, not a secretary, send Mr. Pike here, he looks about ready to make a dash for it.” I implied, jerking a thumb at Pike. Petty I know, but I didn't much feel like talking to the police.
“He'd be useless.” A flash of indignation crossed Pike's face but he kept quiet and Richmond continued. “ You're the one with connections and most of them know you.” I stared at him, trying to think of a reasonable argument for me not to leave the room. I hadn't spoken to the police for a good year or two, not since they'd kicked me off retainer as a coroner and extra muscle. Defeated, I let my chin fall to my chest. I could feel Richmond grinning in his celebration of victory and it took all I had not to throw the file in my hand at him. What'd I tell you, self-control.
“Alright, but that body better still be here when I get back.” I warned before I walked past Richmond and out of the morgue.
I arrived at the busy reception area fifteen, maybe twenty minutes later, after being harassed every corner by nurses, doctor's or lost visitor's. When I stumbled round the corner offering a nurse a hurried apology, I saw a group of people crowding the reception desk. One in particular who appeared to be speaking angrily to the receptionist, who was looking more like she was being yelled at by a Martian. Seriously, wide eyes and everything.
“They don't pay you to be useless darling, now tell us, for the last and final time, where the hell is Dr. Sydney Jennings?” The middle aged man was receiving a variety of disgusted looks from waiting patients. I drew closer and the moment I saw his face I wished I'd argued my point to Richmond more forcefully. After all, the man in front of me was the one that got me the boot from the force.
“Maguire.” I hissed and the man looked round at me in surprise. He was about five”eleven, just a little taller than me, and he had a smug looking face that you wanted to smack against the nearest solid object.
“Sydney, do you have any idea how long we've been waiting? Do you have any consideration of time?” Demanded Maguire. Ignoring him I gave a professional smile and a nod to the four others behind him, one woman and three men. It was a male dominated profession and I couldn't say otherwise. It was true. “Hey Sydney!” Snapped Maguire, getting my attention back by clicking his fingers in my face. I scowled.
“It is Dr. Jenning, Sergeant Maguire. Respect me and I will respect you. Follow me Lady and gentlemen.” And I turned my back on them. Suck on that Maguire!