This chapter begins a new storyline. If you were waiting for more between Elise and our mystery man then you will have to keep waiting. Sorry.
Jack Brown cussed himself when he hit the brakes of his service cruiser too hard, at the sound of his phone ringing, sending a fresh cup of coffee onto the in-dash computer.
“Damn it!” he yelled. “How am I going to explain that one to the Sheriff?”
He snatched the phone out of his rumpled blazer–that looked like he’d slept in it for a week—and hit ignore sending the annoyance to voicemail.
After a late night and an early morning, Jack was anything but in the mood to deal with Doug Swint, the always effervescent coroner.
The stubble on his face was more like a 10-o’clock-the-next-morning shadow, which is exactly what it was, but Jack was hardly vain. He swung open the door of his Ford Crown Victoria turning in his seat putting his feet on the concrete of the parking lot of the Gordon County Coroner’s office. He sat there for a minute staring at the yellowish-green dust that had blanketed everything overnight.
“You have to love these Georgia springs with their annual assault of pollen,” he thought.
He resigned himself to the inevitable and stood, shutting and locking the car behind him, striding towards the front door to get this visit over with.
Jack walked in the front door and made small talk with the receptionist and noticed the coffee pot near the door and asked if she minded if he helped himself. He recounted the story of losing his previous cup to the inside of his car earlier and she laughed as she told him to help himself while she went and got Mr. Swint.
The coffee was actually good to Jack’s surprise and he helped himself to a second cup while he waited for the coroner to take him to the morgue for whatever he’d been sent to check.
Swint came into the room with a sickening display of cheerfulness, which always creeped Jack out.
“How can someone working around dead people all the time always be so damn happy?”
Jack hid his disgust as he shook the coroner’s hand—even though it made his skin crawl.
“What can I do for you this morning, Doug?”
“Follow me, and I’ll show you,” the coroner bubbled.
“Lead the way,” Jack said with a wave of his hand.
Jack followed the gangly, wisp of a man down the long, claustrophobic hallway into the morgue. Jack didn’t like this building almost as much as he hated dealing with the coroner, but he was already skating on thin ice with the sheriff and didn’t think it would be a good idea to complain about getting assigned to this call.
“What’s this all about?” Jack asked as he stared at the wall of refrigerated drawers, a shiver ran up his spine.
“Didn’t they tell you anything before they sent you?” asked Swint with a puzzled look on his face.
“Tell me what?”
“About the body.”
“What about the body?” Jack asked, agitation filling his voice.
“Well, for starters, we can’t seem to find it now,” the coroner said with a slight panicked tone in his voice.
“What do you mean you can’t find it?” Jack asked scowling at the coroner.
Swint excused himself as he went for the drawer to the far right and wrapped his fingers around the cool steel handle and slid the drawer out to expose the slightly rumpled paper liner and nothing else.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Jack asked.
“What are you accusing me of exactly?”
“What should I accuse you of is the better question,” he snapped back.
“Look, I’ll show you my preliminary report and the pictures of the body if that’ll convince you that I’m not making this up,” he said with an air of disdain.
Swint didn’t wait for an answer; he strode over to his workspace and snatched the file for the recently abducted corpse he’d been working on and thrust it into Jack’s open hands.
Jack grabbed the file and flipped it open and saw the snapshots of a brown-haired adult male, about 30 years old with a lean, athletic build staring listlessly at him. The coroner had a sick fascination with keeping the eyes of the bodies he examined open and it creeped Jack out.
In the pictures, Jack could discern no noticeable wounds or indicators of homicide.
“What was the cause of death?” he asked.
“We’re still waiting for the lab work to come back, but it doesn’t appear to be foul play,” said the coroner. “He didn’t have any identification and appeared to have been living off the land; they found a small encampment near where the body was found.”
“Who found the body?” Jack asked not wanting to retrieve the report from the sheriff’s office.
“Some hunters coming back from a frustrating trip into the woods is all I know.”
Jack stood there for a moment letting it all sink in for a few minutes before he spoke again.
“How long has the body been ‘missing’?” he questioned.
“That’s the strange part,” Swint said clearly unnerved.
“Well, I came in this morning to give the body a second look with fresh eyes,” he started and then stopped.
“You’re not going to believe me,” Swint said looking down at the ground with his hands shoved in his pockets.
“Get on with it,” Jack snapped.
“Fine, I pulled open the drawer and went to grab the file you’re holding now and when I turned back the body had vanished.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Jack said staring at the coroner in disbelief.
“If you don’t believe me, then surely you’ll believe your own eyes when I play the video back for you.”
Jack looked up and saw three cameras along the ceiling in the room, one of which was aimed directly at the door.