The Inventory

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Ever since that awful incident at the Happy Jack's involving far more dead bodies than I felt was called for, the coroner liked to have a qualified necromancer around to be sure everything was in proper order. We told them it was bull. Every firm in the county told them it was foolish policy, but they did it anyway. The end result was to cram enough people in the morgue for a full religious ceremony during the initial phases of the autopsy.

"Recorder, take note." The recorder took note. I was the recorder, and the speaker was Briscoe.

If we were going to populate a damn mummification ceremony we were going to do it properly.

The coroner sighed at us being all solemn and in formal dress under our raincoats. "Heart, 285 grams."

Briscoe turned to me. "One (1) heart, worn, having ceased to function at approximately 2am."

I repeated it.

We'd talked to the other shops in town and all decided that the best way to convince the coroner this was a bad policy was to make it as ridiculous and time consuming as possible. Narrating the entire weighing of the organs seemed like a good start. The first time we'd come to observe Rollo had come with him because they'd been on their way to an actual job. Briscoe took one look at the guy, some poor kid he later described as young enough to be his grandson, should have worn a seatbelt, and pronounced him really most sincerely dead. That wasn't good enough for the coroner, who had Rollo sign on as a secondary witness that the kid wouldn't rise again.

That was when we started in on the conferences and the encouragement to get the guy to cut it the hell out.

"One (1) brain, powered down, appears to have all hardware intact. Partial functionality could be restored with power." Briscoe said it with a straight face but we both watched the coroner wince, quickly move to the next organ. He'd only done them out of order so we'd confirm the guy was done dead.

"Two (2) lungs, intact, full capacity loaded."

I marked that down and gave Briscoe the eyeball. The figurative eyeball, the literal ones were still in the man's skull. "No playing blow up the lung just to bug the guy."

"One..." He didn't know how to categorize the mess of tubing pulled out of the man's chest. "Heart monitor and pump. Functionality as yet untested."

The guy had been on ten kinds of medication and a heart monitor to keep his circulatory system doing what it was supposed to. The coroner's job as soon as we certified death and left was to make sure his body had failed because of old age rather than the monitor and pump failing because the technology was made by shitbirds. Excuse me, bad people. They were bad people. They'd made defective medical technology before.

"One (1) stomach, contents yet to be determined. Size, shape, and color all consistent with acceptable standards and levels." Briscoe looked curious as to the contents of the deceased's last meal. I hoped we got out of there before the coroner found that out. Blood I could handle, and did, in buckets. Stomach smells were beyond me.

"One (1) liver, in less than optimal condition, still 75% functional."

I squinted at him. "You guessed that. You don't know livers."

The coroner eyeballed it, turning it around in his hand. "He could be right, though."

I thought about asking how Briscoe knew that, while he smugged it up at me. A couple seconds of that old man's smirk decided me. "Okay, just assess the next damn organ."

"Moving on." He cleared his throat. "Two (2) kidneys. in good working condition, likely functional if placed in a living system." But they wouldn't be. Too late for organ donation.

"One (1) large intestine, intact, presumably functional before all processes were arrested."

"One (1) small intestine." That one took a while. "Intact, presumably functional."

"One (1) bladder, also intact, half-full." "You don't get to play with that either."

All we needed was a few canopic jars. Some decorated boxes. The poor man hollowed completely out, muscle and tissue and skin barely holding it all together on the table, reduced to an inventory in a coroner's office. And yes, he was very dead. Briscoe'd said so and I trusted his judgment. Best necromancer in the county.

And one of the best guys I knew. He said a prayer over the man's remains while I signed the witness report. "What's he doing?" the coroner wanted to know. Because popular movies and gory comic books had necromancy happening with all kinds of gibberish and ritual, as though it weren't just a matter of putting enough energy into a body to keep it moving. You could lose a lot of cell integrity and as long as the basic structures were intact and you had a powerful necromancer, a dead body could still walk and talk and think enough to do basic math and answer yes or no. Anything else and you had to have a few sparks still in the brain, and something we called spirit and the rest of the world called by fifty different names.

This guy's chest was open and his organs were on the table, which did not count as basic structural integrity. And he'd been dead long enough for the spark in his brain to fade. His spirit was wherever it went after we died. I saw he'd had a small cross in his personal effects. Hopefully he'd gone to heaven.

"Praying," I said, snapping the clipboard top down over the pen. "Giving respect to the dead. You could try it sometime. We done here?"

That was unfair. The coroner had respect, he hadn't wanted those dead folks to go walking out of his morgue. We hadn't found out what had gone screwy with the putting back down of the raised dead that day. Something about that restaurant, those deaths, it had gotten in their brains and kept them stubbornly alive far longer than they should have been. The place was a tourist trap now. Come see where the bloodbath happened. And then they called us ghouls.

"Yeah." He sounded tired. "Yeah, you guys are done. I'll talk to the boss."

I tucked my arm through Briscoe's as we left. He looked like he could use a friend. "All good?"

"I guess. You know that guy was younger than I am, right?" Briscoe was the oldest of us at the Body Shop, I never could figure why he was doing crime scene cleanup at his age. Unless it was the necromancy. Doing what he could for the poor bastards who'd died in violent or questionable circumstances.

I nodded. "I know." And left it at that because nothing I could say would make that pain any better. It would have been easier if he'd known the guy. We have social scripts for that. We don't have scripts for the non-joking conversation about feeling the end of your life creeping up on you. You're not out to pasture yet? Got plenty of years left in you? Could either of those phrases do anything to lift the cold reality that in the end we were all an inventory of working and non-working parts catalogued from a dead system?

Briscoe straightened, tugging my arm up an inch. "You feel like a coffee? I could use a coffee. I'm buying."

"Like hell you are. You can buy donuts for the rest of the office, though." Rollo, that was. Boss had thrown a pencil at me earlier that day, he didn't get donuts.

"All right," he laughed, catching my meaning exactly. We three of us worked well together. "Let's go put some toxins into our bodies."

"One (1) circulatory system, caffeine percentages less than optimal," I nodded.

"One (1) stomach, containing less sugar than desired."

We comedy-marched across the street to the donut shop and ordered the finest bean swill and sugared pastry to be found.