Estimated reading time — 21 minutes
I started working as a morgue attendant the same September that most of my friends entered college. I’d applied to a few public schools, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and the thought of sitting in a classroom made my knees bounce with nervous energy. I had to get a job, though. I wouldn’t let my mom support me anymore. We’d been on food stamps for a good chunk of my childhood, so I knew the value of a dollar on a deep level. My mom started making a comfortable income when she landed a job as Mayor Keller’s assistant, but we never took real vacations, and we were on the cheapest cell phone plan we could buy. We were grateful for Mayor Keller – my mom had worked for him since his days on City Council – but there wasn’t a lot of money in public service.
My mom’s the one who showed me the listing that the Blueash County Morgue posted because that kind of stuff crosses her desk a lot. I got the posting from her as a printout, tri-folded so it would fit in her purse. As I straightened out the paper’s creases, my mom said, “I thought you might like this. Remember the worms?”
The worms. When I was a kid, I used to seek out the dead earthworms that washed up in the street. I would dissect them with a twig, enchanted by their little innards, shocked that they weren’t made of squirming jelly. I hardly thought my boredom-fueled curiosity made me a good candidate for a mortician, but I didn’t hate the idea of this job. Filling out the application sounded like the most painful part.
I thought the opportunity was a bust when I didn’t hear back for two weeks, but then our phone rang. They wanted me to start on Monday. At the time, I didn’t think it was weird that they didn’t interview me. I just thought I wrote one heck of a cover letter.
I didn’t know how much I wanted the job until I found myself grinning on the couch, staring at the rainclouds that crept in over our suburb. I was dying to tell my mom, but I wanted to see her reaction in person, and she wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours. I turned on the television, but I wound up watching for lightning until I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the news was on. My mom sat on the arm of the couch with a ladle in one hand and a dishcloth in the other. A wad of baked beans fell from the ladle onto her knee, but she didn’t look at it.
“Hi,” I croaked. “Guess what?”
I wanted her full attention, but she didn’t take her eyes off of the screen, so I looked at the news, too. A fuzzy camera panned above a cloudy grey river.
SEARCH FOR “KNOB-NOSE” NOHILL NO SUCCESS
“Check the Caverns!” I shouted at the TV.
I heard a quick exhale on my left; Mom was smiling.
She swiveled off of the couch arm. “Yeah, you’re right, he’s gotta be there again. Hiding out. These things just get hot now and then, huh?”
I continued watching the news while my mom made dinner, all the way through their puff piece on the disabled-dogs puppy parade and a smattering of slow-pan campaign ads. I didn’t know why my mom had been so entranced by the image of Blueash River. Knob-Nose Nohill was “presumed dead” every few years, and he always turned out to be quietly operating from somewhere in the countryside. A rural mobster, Knob-Nose ran a tri-county drug game with all the even-keeled confidence of a CEO playing Monopoly with children. When the public got riled up about his presence, Mayor Keller would shake his fists at the sky and swear he was on Nohill’s tail, but nothing would come of that. Mom said it’s ‘cause the money Nohill brings into the county would be missed too much, on top of all the money it would cost to catch him. She said that Blueash’s Mountain Pass didn’t produce as many rare earth metals as it claimed to, and the battery factories were being suffocated by environmental regulations. She said everyone knew this, so of course the Nohills’ mob was funding Blueash’s roads and bridges and schools. As long as no one said that out loud, everyone could keep doing the same song and dance. Mayor Keller was great at not saying that out loud. The Nohills must secretly love Mayor Keller, and Mayor Keller – who I always think is a good guy, really— well, he can’t mind the Nohills bettering his city too much, especially when they drum up funds and voters for his reelection campaigns.
I shouldn’t know that stuff, much less talk about it, but it doesn’t matter much anymore.
Anyway, when I told my mom about the job, she was so excited that she let me drive to the Redbox and pick out a movie to watch with dinner. The next morning, though, her mood had flipped again. I had my hand on the doorknob, ready to go, but my mom stayed at the breakfast table with her hands around her cup of coffee.
“Mom? You’re still driving me, right?”
She sighed and wouldn’t look at me. “You sure you want to do this?”
There was aching resistance in her voice, and something like disappointment. Like I had convinced her to let me get a tattoo of a flaming skull and only now was she letting her real feelings come out.
I stood there in my black slacks and blouse, which I’d hung in the bathroom with me while I took a hot shower so the wrinkles would fall out. I suddenly felt ridiculous, pathetic, like I had been playing dress-up and forgotten I was just a kid.
“Yeah,” I said, but my voice was weak and my jaw fell slack. “Why… wouldn’t I?”
She sighed again. “You just… don’t know what you might see.”
If she had said right then that I shouldn’t take the job, I wouldn’t have, even though I had no idea where this was coming from. So before she had the chance to tell me no, I went into the garage and waited in the car.
I was sure at any second we were going to turn around, but she did take me there. She parked the car, wished me luck sincerely, and drove off to work.
After mumbling an introduction to the receptionist, I was allowed down a sterile hall towards a large room. The chrome drawers lining the wall told me I was in the right place, but the beige paint of the walls and subtle, recessed lighting made the room feel very different than any of the pathology labs I’d seen in TV shows. The strong chemical smell was a positive sign, though; and if I had any remaining doubt about the room, it was put to rest when I saw a broad-shouldered man washing off a human torso in a basin.
I couldn’t tell it was a torso at first. The sallow skin, completely drained of blood, looked like cheap, puffy rubber. As I watched the man deftly rotate it under the stainless steel faucet, I noticed the three clean slices where the neck and arms had been severed from the body. The cut beneath the belly button, just above the pelvis, was messier, and I could see a stretch of spine poking out of the torso like a thin tail. The man propped the torso against the side of the sink, turned off the water, and dried his hands.
“Yeah, right on the sternum.” He threw the paper towel aside. “It’s unmistakable.”
I stepped out of the doorway and saw that he was speaking to a woman in the room. She wore a lab coat over a smart taupe suit, and her black curly hair was pulled back by a wide band. She kept a thumb hooked through her belt loop as she shook her head at the torso.
“Everyone knows how slippery he is. We’re doing due diligence anyway,” the woman said. “Let’s test the ink. We’ll want to know the makeup of the tattoo in case anyone contests its veracity during the inquest.”
I was walking back her words in my mind, trying to make sense of them, when the two adults finally noticed me.
“Oh! Quinn! You must be Quinn!” the man exclaimed. When he grinned, I could see a gap between two teeth on one side. I nodded, and he explained to the woman, “This is Quinn Breun. Her mother works for Mayor Keller.”
The woman smiled politely, but the frown on her brow didn’t fade. I shook both of their hands as the man introduced himself as Dr. Lodden, Forensic Pathologist, and the woman as Dr. Merl, Coroner. Dr. Merl, stiffer in my presence, wrapped up her conversation with Dr. Lodden in a few tight words, turned on her heel, and left the lab.
Dr. Lodden looked at his watch. “Thought it was later than it was. Sorry about that. Would you like a tour?”
I started to mumble some complicated version of “yes” when we heard shouting outside. The door swung back open: a red-haired woman stormed in, followed by Dr. Merl. The door swung back and forth, warping the receptionist’s wailing apologies.
“Not ready— it’s inaccurate— You can’t see him like this!” Dr. Merl tried desperately.
The red-haired woman stared at all of the steel cabinets on the wall, her eyes skimming each drawer as though one would jump out at her. She was probably in her forties, but the distress on her face pulled lines away from her flat mouth, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup. Her grey roots, several inches long, were sharp against the rest of her poppy-colored hair. I saw a long stain trail from her blouse to her pencil skirt where she must have recently spilled coffee.
The woman lunged for the drawers and started yanking them open. Dr. Lodden and Dr. Merl were at each shoulder in an instant, pulling her away.
“Mrs. Nohill! Please! Stop!”
I froze. Nohill? As in, the Blueash Nohills? I looked at the drawers, then at the torso. Did they actually find Knob-Nose? Did someone finally take down our unkillable mobster?
Mrs. Nohill kept fighting them, but she was shaking too hard to win.
“I need to see him,” she sobbed.
Dr. Merl looked at Dr. Lodden, then nodded.
I jumped at the sound of my name, somehow surprised that I was present in the room. Dr. Lodden waved me over to him.
“Let’s pretend you filled out the paperwork and signed your NDA,” he said quietly. “I need your help sooner than I thought.”
He directed me to a sterilized coat and gloves. While Dr. Merl kept Mrs. Nohill away, Dr. Lodden and I set the torso, a pelvis with legs, and an arm on a silver slab.
“You’re alright?” Dr. Lodden asked me quietly, the bottom of his eyebrows touching the thick rim of his glasses.
I rotated the corpse’s hand so the thumb faced the ceiling. “Yeah. It doesn’t seem like a person. Just a puzzle.”
There was still a knot in my stomach, though; Mrs. Nohill’s grief swelled in the room until it took up every corner. Finally, Dr. Merl led her over to the table.
“To your knowledge,” Dr. Merl said, “is this your husband?”
Mrs. Nohill clenched her jaw. Her eyes fell to the tattoo on the torso’s chest: two bones surrounding a crescent moon. She sniffed, but she wasn’t crying anymore.
“It’s him.” Her eyes scanned the clean cuts between limbs. She murmured, “Oh, I knew it was him.” She looked up. “And his head?”
“I was just on my way to the caverns,” Dr. Merl said. “They think they found something.”
Mrs. Nohill nodded. Her eyes didn’t leave the body as she said, “I knew it. I knew all of this before anyone else did. Not him, or…” Her eyes glazed over. “Tanner didn’t believe me. Now he’s gone, too.”
The pathologist and coroner exchanged glances.
“Let’s continue this conversation with my colleagues,” Dr. Merl said.
She led Mrs. Nohill out of the room. She shot one more glance to Dr. Lodden; and in that look, I saw a glimpse of suspicion. But I had no idea why.
Dr. Lodden tapped the edge of his jaw. “Well. This is an exciting first day, isn’t it? But don’t get used to it! Paperwork calls.”
The rest of my shift, Dr. Lodden had me fill out forms, clean tools, and follow him around the lab as he explained the equipment. Even though my mind kept wandering off to the events of that morning, I enjoyed the mundane activities. Everything about the lab felt real in a way nothing had before. It felt important.
When I told my mom about work that day between bites of spaghetti, I left out everything that happened before noon. I didn’t think I was allowed to tell her, and I kind of liked knowing something big and important. By that evening, everyone knew Knob-Nose Nohill was dead, his body found in the caverns at the crack of dawn. But no one was talking about his dismemberment, which meant no one knew.
The news was all over a sticky rumor, though, like they were sure of it: Tanner Nohill was the next to go. No one had seen the twenty-year-old man in days, and his mother (who was dressed slightly better than I’d seen her that morning) refused to comment. A reporter interviewed Mayor Keller, who stood outside the Blueash County Sheriff’s Office, sweat running from his white hair into his collar.
“And how do you think these recent developments will affect the upcoming Mayoral elections?” the reporter asked.
“Look, I’ve wanted to get rid of the Nohill’s grip on our home for a long time, everyone knows that,” Mayor Keller said. “But not like this. I’m about the legal route. The just course of action. This smells… well, it doesn’t smell right. And that means we have a bigger problem on our hands. So, look: my duty is always to my citizens. My concern will always be their safety. No matter who that dead man in the caverns was, it’s now my duty to find out what’s behind that atrocious act. My platform remains the same. Elections or not.”
“Crazy,” I muttered, gnawing on the wrong end of my fork. I looked away from the news to my mom, who was scooping out vanilla ice cream into bowls. “Did he say anything about this at work?”
There was something in her voice, something strained. I wondered if that’s what it sounds like when my mom lies to me.
Over the next week, I learned what the “day to day” in Blueash’s morgue was supposed to feel like. Bodies came in whole and properly expired, paperwork was filed, tools were cleaned. I liked working for Dr. Lodden. He didn’t let anything bother him, but he frequently made sure nothing bothered me. He probably knew more information about anatomy and chemistry than I could ever learn, but he didn’t make me feel dumb. In fact, I was useful.
I started to dread the end of the day, but it was partly because my mom’s mood soured more and more. The closer we got to the November elections, the longer she worked, and the grumpier she became. She was usually pretty careful about swearing around me, but she let loose every time she saw Timothy Doyle’s face on a campaign ad or a yard sign.
Doyle was young, slim, and confident. He didn’t have much experience, and there was a long stretch of time when he lived outside of Blueash for medical school, studying to be a surgeon. When he came on the scene, though, he was like a tornado with one target: the mayor’s seat. My mom knew that Doyle wouldn’t keep her around. He came off as an out-with-the-old type. In fact, he stated plainly that he wanted a “clean slate office.”
I wasn’t worried for my mom because I thought there was no way Doyle would win. Sure, her friends thought he was cute (I didn’t; I thought his teeth were too small and the way he slicked his hair back made him look like a 1980s movie bully). But everyone loved Mayor Keller. He kept this town’s head well above water. We thrived. Why would that change?
The day the local paper published their preemptive mayoral poll was the same day Tanner started showing up in the morgue. We got his lower body in first, unevenly bloated from where it was lying partially submerged in the creek for several days. The left arm showed up around 3 pm. The torso came in as my shift ended.
According to the paper, Timothy Doyle led the polls.
I felt helpless when I saw the memo pad on the kitchen table. It was one of those free ones you pick up from a motel with the glue coming off the back. I don’t think I was supposed to see it, but it was out there next to a calculator, so I got curious. My mom had used several sheets of it to sort out our expenses. In a bubble that said “income,” she had the amount she expected to get from Unemployment. Next to that number was my salary, but she had crossed it out. My heart sank. She didn’t want me to have to shoulder this, but even she knew it might be a possibility.
I threw a rock at a Timothy Doyle yard sign and felt a little better.
Tanner’s head came in on a Thursday. It looked just like one of the masks I saw the Saturday before at a pop-up Halloween shop, but his hair was the same thick, wavy black as his father’s. I was silent as we laid Tanner’s body out for his mother to see (though we were still missing an arm). She didn’t want to come until we had the head.
Mrs. Nohill arrived in the afternoon. Her hair was freshly dyed, and she had makeup on. Her movements were stiff, and each one produced a wince of pain on her thin face. I wondered if she’d eaten at all since Tanner had gone missing. She carried a garment bag with her, which she set down before she moved to brush her son’s hair with her newly-manicured fingers.
Dr. Lodden cleared his throat and touched his jaw, a quirk that made it seem like he was always checking if he was still alive. He didn’t say anything while Mrs. Nohill covered her son with the sheet as though tucking him into bed, tears landing on the cloth. I was prepared for more hysterics, but her grief was reserved this time. Private.
“This is my boy,” she finally said.
Dr. Lodden and I already knew that— we’d seen the tattoo on his torso that marked him a Nohill— but Dr. Lodden thanked her. He slid Tanner back into the hole in the wall and shut the door.
Mrs. Nohill patted the garment bag. “When this happens to me, I’d like to be buried in this.”
“Mrs. Nohill, I—”
“I trust you,” Mrs. Nohill said. “That’s why I’m leaving it with you. I had my wedding dress dyed black for my husband’s funeral, and I would like to be buried in it.”
Dr. Lodden shifted his weight and touched his jaw. “You know who’s been doing this? And you think you’re going to be next?”
“I have no question about either of those things,” she said. “And I know you have your suspicions.”
Dr. Lodden nodded. “Alright, alright, it’s just… My colleague, he’s a surgeon, he said—“
“What did he tell you?”
“Well…” Dr. Lodden straightened his glasses. “It’s just odd for someone to have so many surgeries if they think they’re going to be murdered.”
“I told you I would figure this out,” Mrs. Nohill said, “and I have. The one thing we’ve all been good at is placing trust where it belongs. Don’t ruin that now. Please excuse me. I have one more appointment this afternoon.”
She patted my shoulder as she moved past me to the door.
When she was gone, I asked, “Shouldn’t she be in hiding if someone’s after her?”
Dr. Lodden shrugged. “I have a feeling she doesn’t like that option.”
“So… do you know who’s killing the Nohills?”
“Uh….” Dr. Lodden smiled. “I can sleep at night because I don’t have to answer those questions. Let’s be lucky we don’t have to think about it. Do you mind checking the mail? I think my new scalpels came in.”
On the drive home, I wondered if Dr. Merl and Dr. Lodden were in danger of losing their jobs. How close were they with the Blueash government and police force? The Nohills seemed unnaturally close to the pathologist by the coded things Mrs. Nohill was saying, but why did I feel like Mayor Keller was in the middle of this? And was this a weird dynamic, or was I just ignorant? I tried to learn a little more about local government from the internet, as well as information on the Nohills and Blueash, but I didn’t learn much. I still spent the night staring at my ceiling, wishing I had paid more attention in Civics class.
They found Mrs. Nohill in the Blueash Mountain Pass. The previous murders had police more vigilant, so they found her faster, but still not fast enough. She showed up at the morgue in the same pieces, cut the exact same way, as her husband and son.
It was hard to believe that I was looking into her real face. Her head, waxy and still, just didn’t look like her without any trace of vibrant emotion.
“Word got out, did you hear?” Dr. Lodden pointed to the spaces between Mrs. Nohill’s limbs. “People are saying it’s a serial killer. The Blueash Slicer. But no one is that afraid. Why do you think that is?”
I tugged idly at the edge of my lab coat. “Um, well, they’re not random. Someone is going after the Nohills. I think they’re just coming up with a name like ‘The Blueash Slicer’ because it’s catchy. And because no one wants to name names.”
Dr. Lodden tipped his chin up. I could tell he was looking at me through his glasses, even though the reflection of the bright lights hid his pupils.
“Who do you think is doing this?”
I shrugged. “Anyone could be.”
“But who do you think?”
I stammered for a moment, uncomfortable under Dr. Lodden’s fixed, quizzical gaze. Before I could answer, he relaxed and gave an easy laugh.
“Well,” he said, “someone must hate the Nohills a whole lot. Or, maybe they don’t hate the Nohills. They hate the people who love them.”
Dr. Lodden leaned forward and looked at me. I felt like I was supposed to be solving a riddle. But then he looked back at Mrs. Nohill’s body, probing at the ball and socket joints in her shoulders.
“That’s unusual,” he said. “She was a bit young to have had that kind of trouble.”
The riddle-me-this tone was gone; he seemed genuinely confused. I looked at the spongey flesh circling the top of her humerus and noticed a slab of metal the size of a large button.
“Did she have, like, a shoulder replacement?” I ventured.
Dr. Lodden shrugged. “Well, look here—.” He used a shiny metal tool that I did not know the name of to poke at some of the flesh around the metal. “There’s swelling. This…whatever this is, it’s new. But how did it get there? And what is it?”
I had no answers, but I could tell he wasn’t really asking me. He gently flipped her arm over on the table, then ran a gloved finger along the edge of the limb where it had been severed from her torso. His eyes widened. He tipped the limb towards me as though offering me a sip of a drink.
“Notice anything?” When I kept staring at the metal disc, he nudged, “The skin.”
“Um… Yeah! There. Little holes. Only an inch of them. Like she had stitches?”
“Yes!” Dr. Lodden beamed with a smile that felt like Christmas. “Whoever dismembered her did so along the same line as this incision.”
“That’s a weird coincidence,” I said.
“It might not be a coincidence. If she had this disc placed at the top of her humerus by a surgeon, then it follows that the Blueash Slicer would hit that same line.” Dr. Lodden touched his jaw. “I’ve suspected for a while that the Nohills were murdered by someone with surgical training. Their dismemberment is too clean.”
And then I said, without thinking, and without really knowing why, “Timothy Doyle is a surgeon.”
I was embarrassed, so I barely looked at Dr. Lodden. But when I glanced up, he was staring at me, still, the reflection on his glasses hiding his eyes.
I mumbled, “S-sorry, I— sorry—”
“It’s okay,” Dr. Lodden said. “Timothy Doyle is indeed a surgeon.” He handed me a clipboard gently. “Take notes for me?”
Dr. Lodden spoke aloud and I jotted things down, then took some samples that I helped label. We were business-as-usual, except something changed in the room, like someone turned down the dial on his energy just a notch or two.
As I was labeling a slide of blood, Dr. Lodden pressed his phone to his ear.
“Excuse me,” he said to me quietly.
Something felt off about that because he had a habit of keeping his ringer up and I hadn’t heard a thing. The idea of him taking a fake call seemed crazy, though, so I shrugged it off as he left the room. Then it was just me, Mrs. Nohill, and drawers full of bodies.
Without any instructions, I idly investigated the strange metallic disc on Mrs. Nohill’s body. It took several seconds before I realized I was looking at the wrong arm— because both arms had the disc. Not only that, but there were discs on each side of the torso where the arm should meet the shoulder. Her head was the same way: a disc at the base of her neck and the top of her torso. I checked the stomach. It would be harder to place discs there because her stomach and intestines had fallen out of her body. But I found what I was looking for on the inside of her torso and lining the pelvis: thin strips of metal.
Like she was a puzzle. Like I was supposed to put her back together.
I glanced behind me. Dr. Lodden was about to come back. I needed to do some research on the strange discs. I pulled out my little flip phone and quickly pulled up the camera function. I was definitely not supposed to be taking pictures of a corpse, but I wasn’t going to remember everything about the metal pieces otherwise.
My phone went berserk when it got near the body. First it vibrated, then the screen got glitchy … I felt the battery get hot through the back. I threw the phone in my bag, but I knew it was busted for good.
My mom was gonna kill me.
But also… what was that about?
I paced the room, slowly making my way towards the door. I peeked outside…. Dr. Lodden wasn’t around anywhere I could see. This crazy idea kept popping into my head…
What could it hurt?
Well, I could lose my job, and I couldn’t face my mom if I did. I thought of the memo pad covered in numbers….
I’d just have to be fast.
I lined up the left arm with the torso and pushed the discs towards each other. They did most of the work. They weren’t just pieces of metal, they were magnets. Incredibly powerful magnets. In fact, judging by how my phone reacted (and the strange buzzing I heard from the corpse arm), I was willing to bet they had some kind of battery power in them.
I clicked Mrs. Nohill’s right arm in place. I misaligned it a little, just enough to bother me. As I stood there adjusting it, I felt something soft brush against my left arm, slowly, so slowly I didn’t register it until the light touch had made its way to my wrist.
Fingers— a hand— an arm, Mrs. Nohill’s arm— it was touching my wrist.
“No, no, no, no,” I insisted to myself.
I didn’t have a chance to convince myself that I’d only imagined it. The fingers were on the move again. They weren’t doing anything in particular, just feeling around. They seemed so aimless that I wondered if they were just muscle spasms.
Just muscle spasms. From a corpse. A pentasected corpse.
Not so pentasected anymore.
The other fingers from the misaligned arms started to twitch. I had never, ever been bothered by any of the Nohill bodies. I was too good at compartmentalizing everything. But seeing those twitching arms attached to a torso that still had intestines leaking out of it… that nauseated me. I gripped the edge of the table as the room started to spin. Maybe it was because I was so delirious and just wanted to stop seeing those intestines from that… that twitching body… but I moved Mrs. Nohill’s legs towards her stomach. I stuffed her organs into her torso and aligned the metal strips.
Now the feet wiggled.
I think I attached her head because I thought it would end it, like the purpose of the moving limbs was to make the body whole again or something.
It would have been better if she opened her eyes or sat straight up like the Bride of Frankenstein, but Mrs. Nohill’s face spasmed into grotesque expressions and her eyes, already gelatinous, sloshed around in her head.
She was still more Mrs. Nohill now than when she’s arrived in black trash bags, so I felt a sense of discomfort and invasion on top of the terror. I grabbed the garment bag from Dr. Lodden’s closet. I pulled the black gown out of the bag and started to stuff the corpse into it. Just as she intended. Right? I was doing everything she intended.
The inside of the dress had a heavy leotard— no, it was more of a harness— sewn to the bodice. Not what I would have guessed based on her description of the gown as a “modified wedding dress.” I wrestled with the limbs until I had dressed her like an overgrown doll. When the dress was on well enough, her limbs calmed down. I swear I even saw her face relax into a sleepy, content expression. I adjusted the dress one more time, but I quickly pulled my hand away; the harness in the gown felt warm. Whatever its purpose, it was working.
“Shoes,” I said out loud, my head still spinning. I started to laugh a light, bubbling, hysterical laugh. “She didn’t give us shoes!”
Dr. Lodden was still out of the room, but I started to panic. I ran over to the sink and splashed water on my face. What did I just do? What would he say when he saw Mrs. Nohill in her dress on the table?
Not on the table.
Where… did … she… go?
Mrs. Nohill stood at my shoulder. I screamed and shuffled away from her until I backed into the corner of the counter, which made me howl louder. Mrs. Nohill quietly rotated to face me again. Her eyes oozed along the bottom of her eyelids, but her pupils somehow stayed fixed on me. She did not open her mouth. She stumbled like a toddler towards me. Then, she stumbled towards the door.
My heart felt like a tiny hummingbird in my chest trying to peck its way out. I was sure I was choking on my own tongue. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but I also knew what very-real-thing would happen if I let her go. She planned for this, she had to have. She had trusted that someone would connect the pieces again so she could return, for a brief time, to carry out what needed to be done.
As I watched her go, hazy images crossed in front of my eyes. I saw my mom at the kitchen table with a calculator. I saw Mayor Keller’s nervous smile on the television. I saw Dr. Lodden, adjusting his glasses, and Dr. Merl with her thumb in her belt loop.
The receptionist found me an hour later still staring at the door. She told me Dr. Lodden had a family emergency and had to leave. I knew that was a lie. I knew he left me to do what he didn’t want to be accountable for. Or maybe he didn’t think he could carry it out. That’s okay. I did it. She was gone.
Timothy Doyle was all over the television. No one thought to stop his smarmy campaign ads, which felt paper-thin and uncanny pressed between coverage of his announcement that evening. He was clammy and nervous, and his hair spiked out at ragged angles where the gel hadn’t crumbled out yet. He said he was conceding. He didn’t want to be the mayor. This campaign was a wake-up call. He still had a lot to learn. I almost felt bad for him. I knew what he’d seen— who he’d seen— and that was going to stick with him his whole life. But then my mom came home humming. We went to the Redbox to pick out a movie. Long live Mayor Keller.
I thought that was the end of it. Then Timothy Doyle’s limbs showed up in the morgue, piece by piece.
My stomach turned. Maybe he wasn’t the Blueash Slicer. Maybe we were all wrong.
Of course, Dr. Lodden was the expert for a reason. Dr. Lodden pointed out that Doyle was pentasected like the others, but the cuts weren’t as clean, and they weren’t in the exact same spots. A rougher saw had cut his flesh than the clean blade used on the Nohills. He was also missing most of his tiny teeth.
“Copycat,” Dr. Merl muttered.
I was shocked when, after that long explanation, Dr. Lodden removed his glasses and asked, “Are we sure? I don’t think we’re sure.”
Dr. Lodden peered over Doyle’s limbs, one finger on his jaw. Dr. Merl stood behind him, uncharacteristically still. She kept her arms folded against her stomach. I had never seen the coroner blanch at a body before, but something about him put a look of disgust on her face.
“We’re sure!” Dr. Merl said. “You can’t be serious.”
“I don’t think we’re sure,” Dr. Lodden said again.
Dr. Merl swore under her breath, tossed her hands up, paced behind Dr. Lodden— but Dr. Lodden told me to write “inconclusive” on the form in my hands. Dr. Merl left the lab in a huff, but she didn’t say anything to anyone. Dr. Lodden looked at me, smiled, and looked away.
Mrs. Nohill was buried the same day Doyle came to us. And hey, maybe Doyle didn’t kill the Nohills. But maybe I didn’t assist in killing Doyle. How much did it matter? Whatever was done, was done. Doyle didn’t have any hidden features in his ball and socket joints. He didn’t think that far ahead. He didn’t know our town well enough to. There would be no putting him back together again.
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