By now a gale was blowing and behind the Venetian Blinds in the morgue the rain was forced against the windows hard enough for Clive Ward to look up from his work and curse under his breath.
"It's only the rain." said his assistant, Joe; a good looking lad of twenty-two who was still learning the ropes.
"It's alright for you; you've got Daddy's car to get around in. I'm using my push bike and I have a two and a half mile journey home to look forward to." Joe smirked. It was meant to be silent but a rasp and a trickle of snot from his nose gave the game away. "Laugh it up, fuzz-ball!" said Clive, quoting as always from the original Star Wars trilogy.
Ward wiped the back of his hand across one side of his protective glasses to clear a smear from in front of his left eye and refocussed on what he was doing. He hadn't yet made the "Y" incision to expose the innards of the chest cavity of this latest victim of a bloody murder as he was still doing his preliminary examination of the outside of the body, and recording his findings verbally into an MP3 recorder, clipped to the waist band of his surgical 'Greens.'
"What a bloody mess. The cheese-wire through the wind-pipe would have been quite enough to do the job, but someone was determined to make as much of a meal of this bloke as possible." he said to no-one in particular. Formally he continued to record his findings.
"Both arms pulled out of their sockets at the shoulders, both hips dislocated; the cranium has been forcibly twisted round to the right breaking vertebrae in the neck..." a sudden sneeze from Joe made Ward look up again.
"Don't start going down with anything or there will be big trouble. You're needed here, young man, and I'm not going to accept any phone calls that contain excuses as to why you are unable to work!"
"There's something going round, I can't help it."
"Then isolate yourself from other people until it passes."
"Easier said than done. My girl friend has the snuffles.'
"Well, stop sucking her face off every night and you won't catch anything, will you?"
Joe pulled a face at his boss as soon as his attention had been returned to the cadaver on the stainless steel slab.
"I saw that!" Clive said.
"How could you?"
"I didn't really, but you've just confirmed it! Make yourself useful, go and make a cup of tea."
Joe wandered off into the adjoining room mocking Clive with "Nah, nah nah" noises.
"Both the left and the right eye have been punctured with a thin sharp object..." Ward continued "Mouth...hello." he lowered his head to see into the cavity more closely.
"The tongue has been cut out and a metallic foreign object has been inserted. I am about to remove the object for examination."
Without looking away from the mouth, Clive groped at the instruments in a stainless steel kidney bowl until he found some long tweezers. Delicately he manoeuvred the tweezers into place and managed to extract the object without any fuss. He held it up, still gripped between the two sides of the tweezers to examine it more closely.
"The foreign object appears to be a silver charm of the sort you would see on a charm bracelet." he dipped the object into a small pot of water and swilled it about then held it up again.
"It appears to be a snake...no, strike that. It's a Ceremonial Chinese Dragon." He reached for a small evidence bag and slipped the charm into it, zipping the top and placing it on the top of the instrument trolly beside him. He then continued towards the feet of the body.
"Three bruised areas on the chest and one on the stomach indicating blows from a blunt instrument, possibly a fist, before death had occurred, bruising on the inner thighs, one area with indication of finger marks suggesting that the legs had been forced apart before death. The genitals are missing, having been cut away with a sharp instrument with indication of excessive bleeding, again suggesting this occurred before death. Joe, get in here. I need to turn him over."
Joe appeared at the doorway with two steaming mugs of tea. He approached the slab and put both mugs on the instrument trolly. Their joint efforts resulted in the overweight body successfully being turned over so that it lay face-down. Clive continued narrating his findings.
"The rectum has been torn open..." Joe handed him a tape measure. "...The skin is ripped to at least...two inches above the sphincter and one point five inches below. The missing genitals have been forced into the wound."
"Jesus!" exclaimed Joe.
"I don't think he had much to do with it!" replied Clive. "Where's that tea?" Clive picked up his mug and noisily slurped a mouth full of it's contents.
"What's this?" asked Joe, picking up the small Zippy Bag.
"If you were here instead of mucking about in the kitchen you would have heard me mention that!"
Joe looked at his boss incredulously.
"It was in his mouth. Looks like one of those Chinese dragons."
Joe dropped it back onto the trolly as if he had received an electric shock from it.
"Oh god." he said, stepping back.
"What's the matter with you?" Clive asked, standing up straight and flexing the base of his back.
"I've read about this sort of thing. That's a Triad warning to lay-off."
"Lay off what?"
"Investigating any further."
"You've been reading too many of those ruddy detective journals my lad. This is a good business if you stick with it. These desires of yours to become a detective are getting out of hand. Just keep your eyes open and your trap shut and you may make a good mortician."
"No, listen. This is one of the things the Triad gangs are noted for. This guy was involved in something that got right up their noses. His death was a warning to anybody else that may be involved in the same thing. The dragon is a message to us!"
Clive Ward stared at the boy for a moment.
"Are you being serious?"
"On my Mother's life."
"I've been in this game for a long time. I've found objects up noses, in mouths, even in places that bring tears to eyes, but very rarely have they had any significance other than occasionally being the actual cause of death." He checked himself over this; perhaps he really had been in this game for too long if being the cause of a death wasn't significant enough!
He ripped off his rubber gloves and strode over to the telephone, picked up the receiver and dialed. He waited until the phone at the other end had been picked up, then in a louder, more urgent voice,
"Mallard? Ward. I've got something that may be of interest to you."