IT WAS NEARLY EIGHT by the time Ryan got downtown.
The Wayne County Morgue-the exterior of the building as well as the lobby with its long polished-wood counter-reminded him of a bank. A uniformed police officer was waiting and seemed to know who he was. He said, “Dick’s inside there, in the autopsy room.”
Ryan was thinking he wasn’t ready for this. It was too sudden, with no time to prepare. Unless he’d be looking through a window. They probably wouldn’t let him in the room. Or it would be like an operation and he wouldn’t be able to see what was going on anyway.
They passed through a door into an anteroom. An attendant with a clipboard moved aside. A middleaged man and woman, facing the door as Ryan entered, were staring up at the wall. Neither moved. Ryan looked around as he edged past them.
There was a television monitor mounted high on the wall, angled down. On the screen was a black-and-white picture of a young woman’s face, her eyes closed.
Going through a fire door into a narrow hallway, Ryan said, “What was going on there?”
The uniformed cop said over his shoulder, “Identifying a body. It’s not as much of a shock that way.”
“She seemed young,” Ryan said. “The girl.”
He was aware of an odor now. It seemed familiar. It wasn’t antiseptic, which he expected, but the opposite. He thought of it as a wet smell, something old and damp. But a human smell. It was awful and it was getting heavier.
There should have been a sign that said Warning, here it comes, or something.
He wasn’t at all ready for the first body he saw, turning a corner, walking close past a metal table, and realizing, Jesus, it was a woman. There was her thing. An old black woman with white hair. Purple-brown skin that didn’t look like skin, peeling, decomposing to tan marble. Attached to her big toe, facing up, was a tag that bore a case number, a name and address, written in blue ink. She was right there, her body, but she didn’t seem real.
None of the bodies did, and he wasn’t aware of them immediately as human bodies. They were in the open, exposed, in the examining room and the connecting halls and alcoves. They weren’t pulled solemnly out of a wall, covered with a sheet. They lay naked on metal tray tables waiting, as though with a purpose, waiting to be put to use. Waiting to dress a theatrical scene or a store window. Coming on them suddenly, they were props. Plastic figures fashioned in detail with fingernails and pubic hair, pale breasts made of rubber, tags on their toes and brown paper bags between lower legs, stuffed with clothing. Some were composed, at rest, with arms extended; the hands of a young black man at his penis, as if about to relieve himself. And some were contorted in shapes of anguish, limbs bent awkwardly, hands raised, clutching something that was no longer there, with pink traces of blood smeared on plastic skin. Ryan, at first, tried not to look closely at the wounds, at the slashes and punctures, and moved his gaze quickly from the sudden shocking wounds, the stump of a leg, a face torn away. But he would look again, gradually, taking it a little at a time and deciding he felt all right and wasn’t going to be sick. He could look, because what had been a person inside, making the body human, was no longer there.
A television camera on a raised platform aimed its lens on the sleeping girl Ryan had seen on the monitor. There were no traces of blood that had been wiped away, no marks or blemishes on her body, except for a small tattoo above her left breast, a heart and a name that Ryan couldn’t read. As he stared at her, the uniformed cop said, “Suicide. Apparent. She took forty-five Darvon.” Ryan nodded, aware of the odor, not wanting to breathe it in. It was familiar, but he couldn’t think of what it was. Something he remembered from when he was a kid.
“You ready?” the uniformed cop said.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. Where we going?”
“Down the autopsy room.”
Ryan followed him to the basement and along a hallway past a deep-freeze room where, the cop said, they stored bodies that weren’t claimed right away. Also the badly decomposed ones: firm ’em up before they were autopsied. Ryan felt like he was getting the tour. He was interested, but he was more anxious to know why he was here. “Come on down the morgue and see your friend,” Dick Speed had said over the phone. Playing games. It didn’t matter. Ryan knew who it was going to be.
Dick Speed was in the doorway of the autopsy room smoking a cigarette. When he saw Ryan, he waved for him and led the way to one side of the room where the cement floor was raised a few feet and set apart by a low metal railing. Following him, Ryan looked around.
He counted four autopsy tables equipped with sinks and hoses. Two men in white coats were working at a body tray pushed up to the second table. Ryan could see thin yellowish legs and the brown paper bag and the identifying tag, but he couldn’t see the rest of the body or the face. The two white coats were in the way, on this side of the table with their backs to him. One of them was hunched in close to the table and Ryan could hear the high-pitched whine of a power tool.
“You can see better up here,” Dick Speed said.
“Who is it?”
“Unless you want to get down close. How you feel?”
“I’m fine,” Ryan said. He was-no queasy feeling or saliva in his mouth-and felt pretty good about it. Then he wasn’t so sure.
One of the white coats moved around to the other side of the autopsy table and Ryan was looking at the whole body, cut open from breastbone to groin and seeing the man’s insides, his vital organs and a slab of ribs, lying in a pile on the table.
Like dressing a deer.
“That’s the medical examiner,” Dick Speed said. “The other guy with the power saw’s an assistant. Something like this, we know it’s a homicide, but we want a complete autopsy to be sure. Defendant’s lawyer gets in court, he says, ‘Yeah, it might’ve been gunshot, but who says it was fatal? Or how do you know he wasn’t already dead?’ That kind of shit.”
The opened body seemed less human than the ones upstairs. It was a carcass with no face, or a face without features, a store mannequin. Ryan stared at the man’s head and realized he was looking at the bare skull. The skin and hair had been peeled, pulled down, and lay inside-up over the man’s face. That’s why he seemed featureless. The attendant with the power saw had been cutting into the man’s skull. He removed a wedge-shaped section. The brain was exposed for a few moments before the attendant pulled it out of the skull and placed it on the autopsy table.
“Who is it?”
“See,” Dick Speed said, “the medical examiner, if he’s got any doubt at all what killed the guy, he takes samples from the stomach, the liver, drains out some pee-pee, takes a piece of the brain-where you going?”
Ryan went down the steps and over to the foot of the tray table, not looking at the man’s open body, keeping his gaze down and seeing only the yellowed, slightly bent legs and the bare feet pointing at him, like the man was stretching them out and in a moment the feet would relax to a normal position. Ryan didn’t want to touch him. He was careful reaching for the tag and turning it over to read the words written in blue ink.
Unknown Man No. 89.
Behind him, Dick Speed said, “Now positively identified by his prints as Robert Leary, Jr., age thirty-five. Also known as Bobby Lear.”
“You know who it is,” Ryan said. “How come the number?”
“Before we know who it is, we got to call him something.”
Ryan, staring at the tag, let his gaze move up the yellowed legs, past the man’s darker-shaded organ and thick pubic hair to the violent red opening. The assistant was doing something, scooping Robert Leary’s stomach and internal organs into a clear plastic bag. He dropped the bag into the open cavity, working it in to make it fit, and laid the slab of ribs on top.
Unknown Man No. 89.
He might as well keep that, Ryan was thinking. He wasn’t worth anything as Robert Leary, Jr. Not to anybody.
“Found dead at the Montcalm Hotel,” Ryan said.
“Room 312,” Dick Speed said. “You were getting close, weren’t you? How’d you find out?”
“His wife. Turns out she’s the wine drinker with the blond hair.”
“Where’s she live?” Ryan told him, and Dick Speed said, “We’ll have to get hold of her for the disposition. Not to mention asking a few questions.”
“She was in the bag last night,” Ryan said. “She didn’t want to see him, have anything to do with him.”
“That’s something in itself, isn’t it?” Speed said. “Married to the guy, but doesn’t want to see him. So maybe she gets somebody else to see him.”
Ryan watched the autopsy assistant lacing Robert Leary together, using a hook and what looked like heavy cord.
“How was he killed?”
“With a shotgun. Dead center, twice. Also, yesterday evening out in Pontiac,” Speed said, “you remember the faggy-looking guy was with Tunafish? At the methadone clinic. Lonnie, the drug snitch with the hair and the shoes. Same thing, with a shotgun. Twice.”
“So you think it’s the same guy.”
“I’d bet on it,” Speed said. “Get a match of the buckshot, the gauge, we’ll know.”
The autopsy assistant was at the opposite end of the tray table now. He replaced the skull section and-as Ryan watched-carefully pulled the hair and scalp up over the skull, revealing the face a little at a time, a man appearing, features forming, as though the assistant were fitting the lifeless skull with a Robert Leary mask.
Ryan stared at the face, the mustache, the closed eyes, the round cap of coarse black hair.
He said, “Jesus… look. The guy’s black.”
“He’s black all right,” Speed said. “That’s what colored guys are, they’re black.”
“Jesus,” Ryan said.
“You didn’t know that? You’re looking for a guy, you don’t know what color he is?”
“I don’t know why,” Ryan said. “I guess I should’ve, the people he hung around with, at least some of them. But the thing is-you see, his wife is white.”
Dick Speed waited. “Yeah?”
“I mean she’s white.”
“You mean very white, uh?” Dick Speed said. “Is that it?”
Ryan wasn’t sure what he meant.
It was nearly ten by the time he got to her apartment, with the vitamins and the milk and stuff. He’d see how she was, talk to her, and then give Dick a call.
The place was really bad. The hallway dingy with dirt and soot, the linoleum worn out, peeling. He knocked on her door twice and waited, listening in the silence. She was probably still asleep. He hoped so, as he turned the knob quietly and walked in.
The daybed was empty. The bathroom door was open. The light was still on in the kitchenette.
Denise Leann Leary was gone.