The morgue was the same as any other . . . clean, white, and mostly sterile if one ignored the morgue microbes which congregate in those kinds of places, as well as the smell of organic compounds created by the recently-arrived and pre-processed corpses, such as 'cadaverine'.
The coroner, a young and wiry young man with an over-nervous personality, at first seemed shocked that two esteemed officers from Chicago would come all the way to his morgue, but then grew used to the idea and led them to the very spot.
"Neat and organized," observed Fraser. "I miss that."
"Thank you!" the coroner took it as an honest compliment, which it was.
"Are you accusing us Americans of being sloppy?!" demanded Ray.
"Well . . . " Fraser tried to be diplomatic about it.
"I'll take that as a yes!" Ray snapped.
The body-bin was opened up, and the plastic covering removed. What lay there was none other than Paul Johnson, minus a great deal of brain matter. His body was barely decomposed, since he had been quickly refrigerated. The skin had a very white look to it -- bone white.
"There you are!" exclaimed the coroner. "Paul Johnson, dead as a doornail!"
"Technically speaking," Fraser began, "he can't be as dead as a doornail, because a doornail was never alive to begin with, unless you subscribe to the belief that everything, including inanimate objects, has a soul --"
"Can it!" snapped Ray. "He doesn't want to hear it!"
"Actually," contradicted the coroner, his eyes lighting up, "I find the subject quite fascinating! I myself believe that the soul is both dependent of biochemical reactions -- which explains why our mind is affected when we feel pain, get drunk, and so on -- and independent of them. So, even though this is a dead corpse, he still has a spirit."
Ray snorted, "All very fascinating . . . "
Fraser nodded, but not cynically. He'd been out in the wilderness enough to feel that there was something to it, even if it couldn't be proven, just as many people believed in a higher power without requiring scientific proof.
He touched the body at the exit wound, and shuddered. He did feel something, not sure whether it was his own revulsion, or his sensing something that did remain in the body. He had such an open mind that he didn't discount everything his gut told him because it was 'impossible,' and he believed that deep down, Ray felt the same, but just couldn't admit it.
The eyes hadn't been shut by anyone. They were frozen in place, as was his whole face. It was an expression of . . . pain. Not hatred, which was the mask. It was pain.
Fraser closed his eyes. He knew that sensation very well. He knew physical pain, but had grown used to it. Grown callused to it. He also knew pain of the soul . . . and that you could never grow callused to that without becoming unfeeling and cynical, which was something he did his very best to avoid. His cure to pain was the Bible and God, even though he rarely mentioned this to Ray -- he was a secular American, and so didn't want to be bothered with it.
Religion was only a superficial part of Ray's life, a tradition passed down by his family that only served as an ornament and point of reference . . . just like a picture of long-gone ancestors or the hunting rifle that great-grandpa used to kill some soldiers during the war.
But this was a new sensation that he felt. Fraser had felt emotional pain in the past. Even spiritual pain when he'd had dire questions as a younger man. This sensation made him question in a different way whether there was a God. Whether there was salvation of the soul. Healing of the soul. Rejuvenation. Intellectual questions that shook him to the root of his soul. Questions that made his heart race, his fingers tremble, and his guts tie themselves in knots.
Fraser felt heartburn, and then the need to vomit.
He knew that something was wrong -- that he shouldn't feel this way. Nevertheless, he did, and there was nothing he could say or do about it. Yet.
"Fraser?" Ray shook his shoulder. "You can stop daydreaming now!"
He shook his head. "Sorry. I was just thinking."
"Well, you can think later!"
Fraser wasn't really the overly-talkative type, but his silence really made Ray take notice as they left the morgue. "You all right?"
"Yes, Ray," he said absently, his eyes off somewhere else.
Ray didn't mention it, but he wrote down on his mental list to see what the hell was bugging Fraser. He figured it had to be something about the corpse . . . and Fraser usually never had problems with the corpses. To make matters worse, he was mumbling something to himself while fingering some necklace Ray hadn't seen before.
They left the hospital, and nearly made it to their rental, but there was some biker sitting on the hood of the car, kicking his feet and whistling. His bike was a few feet away, the engine off. "Lookee who we have here," he sneered. "A Mountie and a cop. How nice." His voice was deep and raspy, and his beard down to his chest. He wore chains over leather, and had a gun at his side.
Fraser left his state of deep thought. "Can we help you?"
"Sure, red boy . . . you can help me to your wallets. I need a drink!"
"Screw this!" snapped Ray, pulling out his gun. "Hands on the hood."
"Ray?" asked Fraser slowly, "do you have a Canadian license for firearms?"
"No, and I don't care!"
"Ray . . . you're breaking the law. Don't force me to disarm you and put you under arrest."
"Fraser! This guy's ready to kill us -- HANDS ON THE HOOD!!!! -- and you're -- " he was interrupted by the biker, who chose this moment to whip a pretty heavy chain at his head. He fell like a brick, flopping on the ground.
"Ray!" yelled Fraser, as everything seemed to go by too fast to follow. When the biker looked at him with a growing smile, he felt those eyes as much as he saw them . . . and felt what lay behind them.
It was too much. He had to stop the pain. The biker swung the chain and Fraser didn't even think of drawing his own gun, which _was_ licensed in Canada. Instead, he let the chain wrap around his arm, ignoring the spikes that dug into it. A right punch to the face sent the biker reeling back, letting go of the chain, but he wasn't down.
"So the red boy thinks he can fight, uhhh?" The biker was smiling, making 'come 'ere!' gestures with both his hands. "Come on!"
Fraser was no stranger to melee, but he'd always treated it as part of the job, and rarely ever took it personally. Now, that was exactly how he took it; personally. Not that anyone could have told the difference just by looking at his face.
The biker pulled out another chain and swung at him -- a shorter one with a spiked ball on the end. He missed the first time, and when he swung the second time, it wrapped around the chain that Fraser had removed from his arm.
Another solid punch to the face sent the biker into the car.
Fraser said nothing as the biker recovered and laughed some more, "That's a love tap, red boy! Let me show you what a real punch feels like!" He came in, swinging so fast that Fraser found it hard to keep a step ahead. Some of those punches landed, and they felt like sledgehammers hitting him. He got knocked down.
It was then that he noticed Diefenbaker's frantic barking. He was locked in with the windows cracked slightly. There was no way he'd be able to help, and the wolf knew it.
The biker was waiting a few feet away, "Get up! I want you standing when I split your head open!" He had recovered both of his chains, and held them ready.
Fraser did just that, shaking his head a little as he faced off again.
The biker smiled, "You know, you're not as tough as they said you were. Think I'll end it right now!"
It ended right then, but not the way that the biker envisioned it. Two short gunshots cut through the night, and two messy holes ripped through the biker's chest, the blood spraying onto Fraser. Then the body fell a few inches short of him.
Ray was rubbing his head with his left hand, holding the gun in the other. "You still have a problem with unlicensed handguns??"
"You're still breaking the law, Ray. But I'm sure that since you were saving the life of a potential victim and a public servant, the judge will have some compassion for your case."
As Ray held his face in his hand, Fraser couldn't help but ask himself what he would have done if Ray hadn't killed the biker. Would he have killed the biker? Why would he have done it? That was the biggest question that concerned Fraser. He had killed before, but always as a last resort and with the intention of ensuring public safety.
But this . . . wasn't protection of public safety, he began to suspect.
His growing fear was that he would have killed the biker because he wanted to.
And why would he want to kill anyone? He believed he knew the answer too, and it frightened him more than anything else had in a long while.
* * * *
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