Sweet Dreams Thriller

He plants roses ... in dead women. A witness says: He doesn't look human.

"We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow."

What makes a man? What makes a monster?
- Life

There are Seasons and There are Reasons . . . and then there is, The Inevitable,
Troy Norton


put your lips on mine
sigh to my soul
send me your pain
breathe all the love you know

When Leo left the coroner's office, his eyes stung with gathering tears sharper than the shafts of afternoon sun bouncing off the sidewalk. Squinting, he popped on a pair of Ray-Bans and crossed the four-lane street, dodging heavy traffic. He'd catch a cab, make it to the airport by five, and be back in Baltimore in time to watch a game before collapsing into bed. He needed something to take his mind off what he'd just seen.

It was autumn. Lazy clouds dotted a bright blue sky, and within an hour dusk would creep across the horizon. The city was a picture postcard, but a beautiful woman wasn't enjoying the day, or the scenery. She was stretched out on a slab in the building behind him, stiffer than the knot inside his chest.

When the file crossed his desk back in the Baltimore Prosecutor's office, Leo couldn't believe his eyes. Rather, Leo didn't want to believe the girl in the photo was Gina. So he had flown to Atlanta to convince himself the familiar name on the manila folder was actually the Gina he knew — had lusted for — but had never made love to.

The coroner who led him into the morgue was a middle-aged schlep, bushy-haired, prematurely gray with overworked eyes and matching green scrubs.

"She's in the cooler. And we have a full house right now. Hope you're not squeamish," he apologized. "The city keeps promising to hire help. But that's been going on for years now." The coroner shrugged. "Still not enough of us. For the traffic going in and outta this place, we need a dozen more." He stuck out a hand streaked with veins, "I'm Andy, by the way. Forensic Pathologist."

With a firm shake, Leo nodded. "Hell of a job. I'm Leo."

"Yeah. I know who you are. We don't usually get visits from district attorneys. Especially from outta state."

"Hmm." Leo grunted, shrugged his brows and bobbed his head once.

Leo felt for the man. He was obviously under a lot of stress. Leo also felt for Gina, and braced himself for the viewing of her body. However, nothing could have prepared him for what he would encounter during his twenty minute visit. The most gruesome twenty minutes of his life — so far. . .

After passing through two sets of swinging doors, Andy ushered Leo down a long, hospital-like corridor to the threshold of the autopsy suite where Andy nudged a floor pedal with his gray running shoe and a brutish door automatically slid to the right, baring the chilling interior.

They entered the spacious cooler, or as Andy proclaimed, "This is the crypt."

The morgue was one big refrigerator. Bodies littered the room, resting on gurneys shoved flush against two side walls. A narrow pathway in the center offered just enough space for an average sized adult to shimmy through without colliding with the gurneys, or their wrapped contents.

Leo wasn't expecting a grand tour of the place, but he got one. "See those wall shelves?" Andy stopped walking and pointed with a steady hand, exposing a slice of bulging gut when his scrub shirt strained. "Extra storage." He motioned to steel-braced metal racks suspended five feet above the floor, ascending almost as high as the ceiling.

"The ones piled with plastic bundles." Leo's comment sounded droll. His hands were planted in his trouser pockets, and as he pivoted, his eyes narrowed. "Christ. It's like an industrial warehouse."

"Wall to wall," Andy said. "When we run out of room — well that's what happens when funds aren't allocated." His thin mouth drew into a scowl, tugging at the corners of his already drooping eyes. "Politics. Money for everything except where it's really needed."

"Tell me about it." Leo shook his head. "We go through the same shit. Not with morgues, per se, but the city in general. Too much skimming and waste. Nothing left for community." Thinking of local politics, Leo soured. The citizens he worked hard for always seemed to get the shaft.

Leo swore the stale air inside the crypt was tainted, and found it difficult to inhale rhythmic breaths. "Full house." He couldn't seem to clear his mind of sarcasm. "Damn. Doesn't seem to be much respect in packing them like bundles onto storage shelves." His mouth felt dry. He thought of the glass of scotch he'd grab as soon as he left.

"Not usually referred to that way, but yeah, I guess you could call them bundles. Those are the postmortems. They're waiting for a funeral director to pick them up," Andy explained as he once again began to make his way down the path. "The ones on the gurneys are scheduled for autopsies." As he walked, Andy's fingers fidgeted almost constantly, either rubbing his nose, scratching an ear, smoothing his hair, or pointing out the dead.

It was then that Leo's gaze, and mind, absorbed the morgue's layout, and silent occupants. From beneath form-fitting sheets, a variety of feet in an assortment of colors ranging from white, brown, purple, to gray, protruded deliberately; toe tags their only identifiable labels of death.

Leo focused on the mounded gurneys. Like a crowded airport, he mocked the morbid scene. The feet didn't point to the ceiling, but in death eased east and west, and a taunting juxtaposition crossed his mind. Idling jets, stuck on a runway, waiting their turn to take off for the friendly skies . . . more like the unknown.

"Feel the cold?" Andy asked. "Goes right through you. We keep the refrigeration set at thirty-five degrees."

Beads of perspiration formed along Leo's hairline. "You okay?" Andy asked.

With a rapid heart rate, and expanding lump in his throat, Leo nodded. Although the epitome of macho, he was human, and certain things still had the ability to penetrate his tough outer layer. "I have to admit. This place is creepy. Makes my job look a hell of a lot better."

Andy chuckled. "Eh. You get used to it. This place is like a conveyor belt. They come in. They go out. There's no focus on who they are, who they were. They're just part of a job that somebody has to do. We try for a twenty-four hour turnaround time. But it doesn't always happen," Andy explained while pulling on the lobe of his ear. "If they're here too long, or arrive too decomposed, we need to store them in the freezers." He motioned to a freestanding unit in the corner. "Even at this temp, decomposition's quick, you know?"

"Rich. Poor. Doesn't matter. I guess in here, all men are equal, huh?"  Leo's stomach began to unwind as the initial shock wore off.


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