“Hey Doc,” Jerry called down the hall. “Are you headed back to the morgue?”
“Can you take this one down with you? They found her wedged under the foundation of a house. Can’t quite figure it. She don’t look mashed or anything.”
I glanced at the body bag with its central mounding. “Is she pregnant?” Autopsies on pregnant women are always a special brand of depressing.
The aid looked at me and grinned. “Nope. Be sure to open the bag before you pop her in the fridge.”
“Ten four. Are the cops finished with her?”
“Yup. See ya Doc.”
A ruby red slipper poked out the end of the body bag, a toe tag draped over the shoe. Jane Doe. We began the slow procession down to the morgue. Neither of us said much.
I wheeled the cart into the center of the frigid room, trading my lab coat for a polar fleece.
“All right,” I muttered. “Open the bag before you put her away.” I had two other autopsies ahead of the anonymous woman.
I cautiously started to unzip the bag. Two red shoes, sparkly, the kind any three-year-old would covet. Wear pattern consistent with a pronator. Small feet for an adult, maybe size six. I could see minimal definition of the gastrocnemius muscles through her sheer nylons. Jeez, who wears nylons these days?
I pulled the zipper open to the belly and found myself face to face with a scruffy gray-black dog. “Ack!” I took a half step back. “Uh. Hi. This is unexpected. Are you nice?”
The dog cocked its head, pointy ears canted at a forty-five degree angle. It lay like a sphinx atop the woman’s blue gingham belly.
I warily held out my hand. The dog licked my index finger with a dry tongue.
“How long have you been in there? You must be thirsty.” Darn thing kept cocking its head every time I spoke. Irritatingly adorable.
I opened my desk drawer and sifted through the debris for an ancient drug rep mug. Zyprexa.
“What’s your name?” I set the water on the floor next to the cart. The dog declined to leave its mistress and I wound up holding the mug at muzzle level. “You need water, dude. No sense in you dying, too.”
He stood and I confirmed the accuracy of the pronoun. His paws wavered a bit on the petite abdomen. “You’re okay. Have a drink.” He sniffed the water and then chugged it down.
“Where are your tags?” I scratched his wiry head, feeling along the neck for a collar. My friends in the security office were getting an interesting show from my three cameras. Only a matter of time until one of them turned up with a leash.
“Well. You’re gonna hafta choose. Albert, Christian, or George.” I repeated each name. George got the biggest response.
“So George, I need to slide your mom into the wall over there, that little cubby thing kinda like a human safe deposit box. You might be more comfortable with me. You know that whole need-for-oxygen thing?”
George hopped off the gurney, sat down at my feet, and gazed up at me with his two dark chocolate truffle eyes. My heart warmed a little, like a vintage fondue pot, tucked away in a high cupboard, just waiting for the right ingredients.
With Jane Doe safely resting in her hidey-hole, I contemplated the options. We contemplated the options.
“I dunno, George. It’s fish Friday and the whole cafeteria smells like a bad case of bacterial vaginosis. I’m voting for Jimmy John’s.”
Half an hour later, Jerry poked his head in the door. We looked up – I with an egg salad mustache and George with a snoutful of genoa salami. Jerry laughed. “Guess you guys are doing fine. Want me to call animal control?”
“Don’t you dare.” George finished his meal and leapt onto my lap.
“You gonna keep him here all day?”
I stroked the furry head. “Think security will notice?”
Jerry grinned. “I’ll take care of it. You’re experimenting with cadaver sniffing canines, right?”
Jerry took off and I found myself daydreaming of rawhide, liver-flavored toothpaste, and lint-brushes.
I pictured a lazy Saturday afternoon, George and I curled up on the couch, the first snowflakes dancing at the window. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
* Prompt from Peter Blau.