1½ oz. Vodka
4 oz. Tomato juice
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Several drops of Tabasco sauce
Shake well over ice and strain into an old fashioned glass.
Add several ice cubes and celery.
"It would be so easy to kill you while you sleep."
He rolls onto his side and faces his wife, tangling his fingers in her hair. Her face is shrouded in a dried blue mask; an anti-aging beauty product that has begun to peel. The moonlight peeking through the bedroom curtains makes her look already dead.
He wonders if other people look at their partners at night, peacefully dozing, and imagine killing them.
"I have a knife." He brushes his fingertips along her hairline. "I keep it under the bed."
Her lips part and she snores softly.
So ugly, especially for a model. All capped teeth and streaked hair.
He wedges his hand between the mattress and box spring and pulls out the knife. It has a large wooden handle, disproportionate to the thin, finelyhoned blade. A fillet knife.
He places it against his wife's neck, gently.
His vision blurs. The pain in his head ignites, a screw twisting into his temple. It tightens with every heartbeat.
Too many headaches in too many days. He should, will, tell the doctor. The six aspirin he took an hour ago haven't helped. Only one thing helps when the pain gets this bad.
He caresses her chin with the edge of the knife, shaving off some of the mask.
Sweat rolls down his forehead and stings his eyes.
"I can cut your throat, reach in and rip out your voice before you even have a chance to scream."
She twitches, her head titling away. Her neck is smooth, flawless. He clenches his jaw hard enough to crush granite, teeth grinding teeth.
"Or maybe I should go through the eye. Just a quick poke, right into the brain."
He raises the blade up, trying to control the trembling in his hand. The blade wavers over her lid, creeping closer.
"All you have to do is open your eyes, so you can see it coming."
"Come on, honey." He nudges her shoulder. "Open your eyes."
He bites down on his tongue, the inside of his mouth hot and salty. His brain is a tiny clawed demon trying to dig its way out.
"Open your goddamn eyes!" She shifts towards him, mumbling. Her arm falls over his bare chest.
"Another headache, honey?"
He places the knife behind her head, at the base of her skull. He imagines jabbing it in, the tip poking through the front of her throat.
Wouldn't she be surprised?
"Poor baby," she says into his armpit. She rubs his cheek, her fingers cool against his burning ear.
He gives her a little prod with the knife, just under her hairline. Her head jerks away.
"Ow! Honey, cut your nails."
"It's not my nails, dear. It's a knife."
She snores her response.
He nudges her again. "I said, it's a knife. You hear me?"
"Did you take some aspirin, baby?"
"They'll work soon. You should see a doctor."
She hooks a leg over his stomach. He feels himself become aroused, unsure if it's her touch that's causing it, or the thought of peeling off her face.
Or perhaps both.
He smiles in the darkness, knuckles white on the knife handle, ready to finally give in to the nightly temptation. But as he readies the blade, he notes that the pain in his head has begun to subside. Gradually, the sharp throbbing melts away into a dull ache.
"I'll kill you tomorrow." He kisses her on the scalp.
The knife goes back under the mattress. He holds her tight and she makes a happy sighing sound.
When he finally falls asleep, it's to the image of cutting her open and bathing his face with her blood.
My fan had died. It didn't surprise me. The fan had ten years on me, and I came into the world during the Eisenhower years. It belonged in a museum, not an office.
Today was the first day of July, and hot enough to cook burgers on the sidewalk, though you probably wouldn't want to eat them afterwards. My blouse clung to me, my nylons felt like sweat pants, and I'd developed a fatal case of the frizzies.
The 26th Police District of Chicago, where I slowly roasted, was temporarily without air conditioning due to a problem with the condensers, whatever the hell they were. We were promised it would be fixed by December.
I hit the base of the fan with my stapler. Though I was the highest ranking female cop in the Violent Crimes Unit, I tended to be useless mechanically. My handyperson skills maxed-out at changing a lightbulb. And even then, I had to read the instructions.
The fan seemed to sense this, slowly wagging its blades at me like dusty tongues.
My partner, Detective First Class Herb Benedict, walked into my office, sucking on a soda cup the size of a small garbage can. It didn’t seem to be helping him cool off. Herb weighed about two hundred and sixty pounds, and had more pores on his face than I had on my whole body. Benedict's suit looked like it had been soaked in Lake Michigan and put on wet.
He waddled up and placed a moist palm on my desk, leaving a streak. I noticed droplets in his gray mustache; sweat or diet cola. His basset hound jowls glistened as if greased.
My birth name was Jacqueline, but when I married my ex-husband, Alan Daniels, no one could resist shortening it to Jack.
"Morning, Herb. Here to help me fix my fan?"
"Nope. I’m here to share my breakfast."
Herb set a brown paper sack on my desk.
"Donuts? Bagels? Cholesterol McMuffins?"
"Not even close."
Benedict removed a baggie containing, of all things, rice cakes.
"That’s it?" I asked. "Where’s the chocolate? Where’s the canned cheese?"
"I’m watching my weight. In fact, I joined a health club."
"You know the one that advertises on T.V. all the time?"
"The one where you get to work out with all of those Olympic body builders for only thirty bucks a month?"
"That’s the one. Except I’ve got the Premier Membership, not the normal one."
"What’s the difference?"
He named a monetary figure, and I whistled at the amount.
"But with it, I get full access to the racquetball and squash courts."
"You don’t play racquetball or squash."
"Plus, my membership card is colored gold instead of blue."
I leaned back in my chair, interlacing my fingers behind my head. "Well, that’s different. I’d pay extra for that. How is the place?"
"I haven’t worked out there, yet. Everyone that goes is in such good shape, I thought I should lose a few pounds before I start."
"I don’t think they’d care, Herb. And if they do, just impress them by flashing your gold card."
"You’re not being very supportive here, Jack."
"Sorry." I picked up a file to fan myself. "It’s the heat."
"You need to get in shape. I’ve got guest passes. They’ve got Pilates at the club.
I’m thinking of taking a class after work."
Herb smiled, biting into a rice cake. His smile faded as he chewed.
"Damn. These things taste like Styrofoam."
The phone rang.
"Jack? Phil Blasky. There’s, um, a bit of a situation here at County."
County meant the Cook County Morgue. Phil was the Chief Medical Examiner.
"I know this is going to sound like a paperwork problem--" He paused, sucking in some air through his teeth. " --- but I’ve checked and double-checked."
"What’s wrong, Phil?"
"We have an extra body. Well, actually, some extra body parts."
Phil explained. I told him we’d stop by, and then shared the information with Herb.
"Could be some kind of prank. County are a strange bunch."
"Maybe. Phil doesn’t think so."
"Did he say what the extra parts were?"
Benedict thought this over.
"Maybe someone is simply lending him a hand."
I stood up and pinched the center of my blouse, fanning in some air. "We'll take your car." Herb recently bought a sporty new Camaro Z28, an expensive reminder of his refusal to age gracefully. Silly as he looked behind the wheel, the car had great air conditioning, whereas my 1988 Nova did not.
We left my office and made our way downstairs and outside. It was like stepping into a toaster. Though it couldn't have been much hotter than the district building, the blistering sun amplified everything. A bank across the street flashed the current temp on its sidewalk sign. One hundred and one. And the sign was in the shade.
Herb pressed a gizmo on his key chain and his car beeped and started on its own. It was red, naturally, and so heavily waxed that the glare coming off it hurt my eyes. I climbed in the passenger side and angled both vents on my face while Herb babied the Camaro out of its parking space.
"Zero to sixty in five point two seconds."
"Have you taken it up to sixty yet?"
"I'm still breaking it in."
He put on a pair of Ray Bans and pulled onto Addison. I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the cool air. We were at County all too soon.
Cook County Morgue was located on Harrison in Chicago’s medical district, near Rush-Presbyterian Hospital. It rose two stories, all dirty white stone and tinted windows.
Herb pulled around back into a circular driveway, and parked next to the curb.
"I hate coming here." Herb frowned, his mustache drooping like a walrus. "I can never get the smell out of my clothes."
Years ago, when my mother walked a beat, cops would smear whiskey on their upper lip to combat the stench of the morgue.
Sanitation had improved since then; cooler temps, better ventilation, greater attention to hygiene. But the smell still stuck with you.
I made do with some cherry lip balm, a small dab under each nostril. I passed the tube to Herb.
"Cherry? Don’t you have menthol?"
"It’s a hundred degrees out. I wasn’t worried about wind burn."
He sniffed the balm, then handed it back without applying any.
"It smells too good. I’d eat it."
The heat hit me like a blow dryer when I got out of the car.
A cop walked over and eyed the Camaro --- there were always cops around County. He was young and tan and didn't give me a second glance, preferring to talk to Herb.
"Six. Three hundred ten horses."
The uniform whistled, running his finger along some pin striping.
"What's under the hood, five point seven?"
Herb nodded. "Want to see?"
I left the boys with their toy and walked into the entrance, to the right of the automatic double doors.
The lobby, if you could call it that, consisted of a counter, a door, and a glass partition. Behind the counter was a solitary black man in hospital scrubs.
He shot his thumb at the door. "In the fridge."
I signed in, received a plastic badge, and entered the main room.
Death overpowered the cherry, so strong I could taste it in the back of my mouth.
It had a sickly-sour smell, like rotting carnations.
To the right, a mortician in an ill-fitting suit hefted a body off a table and onto a rolling cot. When he finished, he pulled off his latex gloves and shot them, rubber band style, into a garbage can.
Next to him, resting on a stainless steel scale built into the floor, was a naked male corpse, grossly obese, with burns covering most of his torso. The LCD screen on the wall blinked 450 lbs. He smelled like bacon.
I held my breath and pulled open the heavy aluminum door, which lead into the cooler.
The stench worsened in here. Bleach and blood and urine and meat gone bad.
Cook County Morgue was the largest in the Midwest. Indigents, unclaimed bodies, accident victims, suicides, and cases of foul play all came through these doors.
It held about three hundred bodies.
Just my luck, they were running at capacity.
To my left, corpses lay stacked on wire shelves warehouse-style, five high and thirty wide. Stretching across the main floor was a traffic jam of tables and carts, all occupied. Some of the dead were covered with black plastic bags. Some weren’t.
Unlike movie depictions of morgues, these bodies didn’t lie down in peaceful, supine positions. Many of them had kept the poses they died in; arms and legs jutting out, curled-up on their sides, necks at funny angles. They also didn’t look like a Hollywood conception of a corpse. A real dead person had very little color. Regardless of race, the skin always seemed to fade into a light blue, and the eyes were dull and cloudy, like dusty snow globes.
The temperature hovered at fifty degrees, fans blowing around the frigid, foul air.
It chilled my sweat in a most unpleasant way.
To the right, in an adjacent room, an autopsy was being performed. I focused on the figure holding the bone saw, didn’t recognize him, and continued to look around.
I found Phil Blasky near the back of the room, and walked up to him carefully; the floors were sticky with various fluids, and all of them clashed with my Gucci pumps.
Phil was leaning over a steel table, squinting at something. I stood next to him, trying not to gape at the nude body of a toddler, half wrapped in a black plastic bag, laying next to him. The child was so rigid and pale, he appeared to be made out of wax.
"I went through every stiff in the place a second time. No one is missing arms."
I glanced down at the table. The arms were severed at the shoulder, laid out with their fingertips touching, the elbows bending in a big M. They belonged to a female, Caucasian, with fake pink nails. A pair of black handcuffs connected them at the wrists.
There was very little blood, but the jagged edges to the wounds suggested they didn’t come off easily.
"I suspect an axe." Phil poked at the wound with a gloved finger. "See the mark along the humerus, here? It took two swings to sever the appendage."
"It doesn’t look humorous to me." Benedict had snuck up behind us.
"Funny," Phil said. "Never heard that one before, working with dead bodies for twenty years. Next will you make some kind of gimme a hand joke?"
"I did that one already," Herb said. "How about; it appears the suspect has been disarmed?"
"She was always such a cut-up?"
"Would you like a shoulder to cry on?"
"Can I go out on a limb here?"
"At least she’ll get severance pay?"
Phil cocked an eyebrow at Herb.
"Severance?" Herb said. "Sever?"
I tuned out their act and got a closer look at the arms. Snapping on a latex glove, I pushed back the cold, hard fingers and peered at the handcuffs. They were Smith and Wesson model number 100.
"Those are police issue." Benedict poked at them with a pencil. "I've got a set just like them."
So did every other cop in our district, and probably in Chicago. They were also sold at sporting goods stores, sex shops, and Army/Navy surplus outlets, plus a zillion places over the internet. Impossible to trace. But maybe we'd get lucky and the owner etched his name and address on the...
I inhaled sharply.
This couldn’t be right.
On the cuffs, next to the keyhole, were two small initials painted in red nail polish.
I tugged out my .38, holstered under my blazer, and looked at the butt. It had the same two red letters.
"Herb." I kept my voice steady. "Those handcuffs are mine."