There you have Chapter 3 of The Imagined Ones – The World Upside Down ! It introduces a new character. I change points of view every chapter, and all the different narrators come back every few chapters.
I lost faith in humanity at forty-six.
I was used to it. Eight years of med school spent in the confines of the morgue had given me an iron stomach, and after almost twenty years as a coroner my heart was made of steel. When I was asked to come and help with the bridge catastrophe, about two hundred deaths, I didn’t even blink. I sent a text to my husband and daughter warning them I most likely wouldn’t be back that night.
The succession of explosions, still unexplained, had begun around six that evening and stopped about twenty minutes later. I’d arrived at 7:30 p.m under a pouring rain and frightening lightning strikes that took us all by surprise, and was directed to the makeshift camp set up to deal with the wounded and the dead. Cops, firefighters and paramedics were trying to contain the growing panic of worried families and the invasive curiosity of the media. I left the living to them and went to take care of the dead.
The large tent put at our disposal, for a morgue, even a makeshift one, was strangely bubbling with activity. Twenty-three other coroners had been dispatched to the scene, and most of them were already at work. I knew a few, hated others, and got to work ignoring them all.
At one o’clock in the morning, I’d taken care of seventeen bodies, and they just kept coming. Only a few journalists were left now that there was next to no chance of finding survivors. Most families had found their wounded or their dead, which we were trying to return to them as soon as possible.
Some were still at the edge of the police barriers, anxiously awaiting for news under the apocalyptic sky rocking the tent around us: a mother in tears for her college student eldest, a couple petrified for their missing children, an old man trembling for his nephew, the only family he had left, a young man in his twenties hysterical for his girlfriend. All of it was just background noise to me. I focused on the bodies without emotion, not even trying to understand the human stupidity that put them on my autopsy table. Then they brought me my eighteenth body.
The kid was fucking gorgeous. Barely older than my daughter, she hadn’t even reached her twenties. All in length, tall and magnificent, she had curves like a mountain road. Loose raven curls, stained red with blood, cascaded around a diamond-shaped face whose exotic pallor that had nothing to do with her death, her beauty barely tarnished by the multiple scratches cutting into her skin. Long dark lashes gently came to rest on cheeks now devoid of color, a small nose surmounted plump lips, mutinous, so deliciously kissable. Black skinny jeans did not hide the discreet build of her miles long legs. An ankle was sprained.
The rolled-up sleeves of a large cobalt shirt revealed, tattooed elegantly on her arms and collarbones, hypnotic bluish dreams down to her wrists. Only one tattoo was drawn in a different style. What looked like a bee in clean black lines, on her right hand, between her thumb and forefinger. A forearm was broken.
And then, there was the bullet lodged in the back of her neck.
“What the fuck…?!”
My colleagues barely glanced at me before turning back to their own bodies. I caught a young paramedic who had the misfortune of passing too close to my grip.
“You, go find the cops. An officer, a detective, I don’t care, but bring me back someone. We have a problem.”
He gave me a frightened look before looking in the kid’s direction, aghast.
“It’s… body 226. We were told to leave it. Don’t worry about the autopsy.”
“Beg you pardon?” I demanded, voice raspy from years of whiskey neat.
He seemed to shrink before my eyes.
“The kid caught a bullet in the back of the neck in the middle of a bridge explosion and I have to leave it?”
“Uh… um… I…”
“You what ?!”
“I’m going to get someone.”
He backed away from me, not daring to look away, like I might jump him and rip his throat out. Knowing me, it was a smart move. I waited for him to get out of the tent and shifted my attention back to the body.
I took pictures, then quickly searched the pockets only to find them empty. There was no wallet, no cell phone, not even a piece of paper. Clearly the sprained ankle and broken arm had come from the explosion. There she was one of the lucky ones, only having a few scratches. If it hadn’t been for some fucker killing her at close range, the kid could have just walked out of this mess.
I removed the obscene number of rings, bracelets, necklaces and other piercings. I was about to cut off her clothes and start the autopsy when that bastard, the evil son of a bitch that would become the ban of my existence, entered the tent.
He was too cocky, and from the start, I hated that. Tall like a human didn’t have the right to be, his shoulders as wide as a stable door, the black suit he wore seemed two sizes too small. I gave him an age between twenty and forty and just couldn’t narrow it down. I quickly spotted the black shiny revolver at his belt and grabbed my scalpel. His blond hair, almost white under the tent’s neon lights, were slicked back by the excess of rain, exposing a high and arrogant forehead, and his sunglasses in the early hours of the morning did nothing to hide his malevolence. He had in his grip the collar of the paramedic I had attacked, dragging the poor lad behind him in a disrespectful manner very similar to the one I’d used myself.
He sent the young man stumbling against my autopsy table. I briskly stopped the table, grinding my teeth, before gesturing to the paramedic to beat it. He didn’t need to be told twice.
“You asked to see someone about body 226, » he said, and his condescending tone confirmed my first impression.
“I asked to see someone qualified,” I replied dryly. “And you are?”
I doubted that very much. He continued:
“I’m afraid there’s been a slight mistake.” Affability did not suit him. “This body isn’t supposed to be treated here, it’s under another jurisdiction…”
« Whose jurisdiction? » I asked, slowly bringing the table closer to me.
There was something fishy going on here. But if this jerk thought I was going to let go that easily, he had another thing coming.
“In fact, I’ll take it back and be on my way…”
He grabbed the table at the girl’s feet and I grabbed the head.
“That kid has a bullet in the back of her neck, she’s not leaving my sight ‘til I have conducted the autopsy.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate.”
We stared at each other, not saying a word, both refusing to let go of the table, him completely placid, and me completely homicidal. He finally spoke, his tone disgustingly smug:
“Is there anything I can do to change your mind?”
« You can start by letting me test your revolver, » I said, raising an eyebrow.
« This is a very serious accusation, if I can read between the lines, » he replied, his voice subtly more threatening than the minute before.
“You’re not stupid, good for you. This exchange would have been all the more unpleasant.”
I was scathing, and I didn’t give a shit about what was going on, or what kind of corrupt organization he’d sold his soul to, but if he made one wrong move, I was going to bite. His expression darkened for a second, but I didn’t even flinch.
We continued our staring contest for a few more seconds that seemed to last an eternity, before I had to give up.
“She’s still alive!!!”
The body one of my colleagues (one I didn’t like), on the table next to mine, was about to open, turned out not to be a body at all. The girl, not even fifteen yet, sat up at once, gasping like she couldn’t get the oxygen to go in. She grabbed the doctor’s hand before checking her surroundings and bursting into tears, while another ran to get the paramedics. Being the closest, I quickly administered first aid, my colleagues leaving their own work to help. The commotion lasted a grand total of five minutes. And when I turned around, the son of a bitch was gone, and the kid with him.
Screaming after the cops proved to be useless. Word had gotten out, and the body was not their problem. Whose problem? They had no idea. These morons barely raised an eyebrow when I mentioned the disappearance of the body or the bullet in her neck:
“Someone else took the case, we’ve been warned. Go deal with the bodies still here instead of worrying about the ones missing. We’ll pass your message along.”
I’d just thrown his own coffee in the face of another sergeant when I saw the black car with tinted windows at the edge of the barriers, a hundred meters away. In the darkest hours, under a moonless sky and a violent storm raging over our heads, I couldn’t make out the license plate, but the rear window was open and I could glimpse the vague form of a man. He was looking at me. I took a determined step towards the vehicle but couldn’t reach it before the window came up and the car revved up and left. I couldn’t do anything about it. But I could tell by the official looking car and the blatant disregard of the police forces that all of this was way above my pay grade, in spheres that I couldn’t even dream of reaching.
I went back to the tent, not giving two shits about being soaked to the bone, and threw my autopsy table on the ground where it crashed loudly. My colleagues barely moved, most of them used to my terrifying mood swings. It was when I noticed the many jewels I had taken from the girl were still here. I went to examine them up close.
Most of them were finely crafted in metal, often in copper, a trend that was quietly spreading. But the jewel which really caught my attention was a bronze sphere swinging at the end of a long enough chain that the jewel probably rested between her breasts. There was some sort of a flapper, like a second skin moving around the sphere, covering half of it. I moved it and a picture appeared.
The kid couldn’t be more than thirteen. Her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, she wasn’t sporting any of the tattoos I’d seen yet, her skin still a divine milky white. Half lying on a dark blue dormeuse, she was openly laughing, tenderly embraced by an older girl, the two sharing an uncanny resemblance, her chin resting on the youngest’s head, a beautiful smile illuminating her delicate features.
This girl had been loved, she had loved. She’d had people to care about her, and all of that had been destroyed in a matter of hours. A life extinguished, a stolen memory, and no one to mourn her loss. I stayed a long time staring at the few objects, the pictures, I had of the kid, knowing that I would be the only one to mourn. I came out of my torpor hours later, when the commotion outside stopped being about the accident.
The rain had finally stopped, and in the first light of day, I followed the movement of people still present, leading to an nearby street, where we’d just discovered on a wall until now blank the perfectly executed drawing of the same bee I’d found tattooed on the kid’s hand, above a simple inscription:
« That was one bridge too many. »
Here are the links to the other chapters :
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