Chapter One... The Weirdest Day of My Life
Phoenix, Arizona. One Year Ago.
The park was full; it was a bright sunny seventy something day and everyone was out enjoying it.
I found Steve, the photographer assigned to the story, under the food tent eyeing some kebabs on the barbeque.
"Hey Steve, are you all set up?" I asked.
He looked over at me and smiled. "Yeah Lakeland, I'm good to go. You look pretty excited. First field case?"
"Is it that obvious? I started at the Phoenix Post to be a reporter, and it took me two years to get out of 'Births, Deaths and Marriages'. I'm not going to screw this up on my first chance, even if it is just the 'About Town'."
"Well just relax, let the story come to you. I'm sure you'll do fine."
"Thanks. I better go and find our host."
I walked through the tent and out the other side. Directly next to the press tent at the Food Festival was a playground where there were at least 30 children playing. I noticed that a crowd had gathered around the see-saw, people seemed to be circling a woman stood alone. Normally I wouldn't have bothered to take much notice of this insignificant occurrence, but my over-zealous reporter instincts were locked onto any detail that had a chance of leading me away from the 'About Town' segment.
At first glance, I noticed nothing unusual about the woman. She was average height and build, had straight brown hair and hazel eyes. There was a small smudge across her cheek that looked like dirt, her shorts appeared to be cut off jeans and she wore a plain white singlet. It wasn't her physical features that caught my attention though. She seemed anxious, or nervous. I studied her closer and realized why the crowd had gathered; ever so slightly, near her arms and legs she seemed to be…smoking. There was no other way to describe it. As I stared at her bare legs I noticed small wisps of smoke emanating from her skin. She was mumbling to her self incoherently and the bystanders started to back away slightly as the smoke became more pronounced. Many people looked petrified, like they wanted to run and hide, but they remained where they were, glued to the ground, eyes stuck on this remarkable event, like a car crash you can't look away from.
I was just about to turn to Steve, and ask if he was getting shots of this when there was a loud dragging sound, like a bag full of garbage being pulled across a dirt path. I looked at her more closely and then, like someone had doused her in petrol, she burst into flames. A wall of orange and red shielded the woman from sight. I could hear Steve's camera shutter clicking fervently. I watched as people scattered in all directions, stumbling over tent ropes and each other in their haste to escape the tragedy. I was glued to the grass under my feet, a car crash witness, watching the flames. Although they were at least seven feet high, they never touched the grass around her, or even expanded. They seemed to completely hug her body like it was a warm blanket you put around a sick child. I also noticed that they were not a hot as you would expect, like the heat was also contained within her own little bubble of space. While I was transfixed, someone had called the fire department and found several blankets. A tall man with large arms and a professional looking face came running over and threw two blankets over the top of the woman and tackled her to ground. The back of his shirt read 'Fire Department Volunteer" and I was thinking to my self how lucky it was that he was here. Then I remembered that there were several heating elements and hot plates set up under the Food Festival tents. No matter the weather conditions, the council would ensure everyone was safe while open flames were being used under scorching sunlight in the middle of a dry Phoenix park.
The man had managed to put out most of the flames and now tried to get her breathing again. She was badly burned with most of the surface of her skin was blistered and raw. Her shirt was in tatters and he ripped the scraps aside to start chest compressions. Her hair was singed and there was an awful smell coming from the smoke off the blankets that now lay around her on the ground. I could hear the ambulance tearing through the park trying to find us through all the large white tents that blocked the view from the parking lot. I managed to tear my eyes away from the scene long enough to locate Steve and find out what he got. He'd only just put his camera down, saying that he got right up till the CPR.
"Do you think you got any clear shots?" I asked, thinking about the headlines this news would bring, possibly with my name on them.
"There were no people standing in front of me but you so there should be something useable."
He plugged his memory card into his laptop and uploaded the files. After quickly scanning through them I realized that if I contacted the office immediately I would have the chance to write the article, having the bonus of a first hand account. I watched Steve as he copied the files onto a USB thumb drive, then deleted the photos from his camera's memory and returned it to its slot. He placed the USB, which was on a chain, around his neck.
I ducked out the back of the tent and hit speed dial on my phone. It rang several times before I heard the gruff voice of my editor.
"Nicks? Is that you?"
"Yeah Boss, I've got some news"
"Lake, you're a reporter, if you haven't got news then you're out of a job"
"No I have big news, huge story. I just saw…In the park…I can't believe it…" I couldn't get complete sentences out to explain; even if I could find the words I didn't think I would be able to do this story justice.
"Spit it out Lakeland, I haven't got time, I've got a paper to run here"
"Well I just saw a girl, sir. It was unbelievable"
"Well congratulations son, it's about time you discovered the other sex, but is this really news?"
"No sir, you don't understand. I just saw her, I watched her…explode"
"Was there a bomb? This could mean great headlines, but why in the city?..." He trailed off talking to himself, already miles ahead of me on the wrong track.
"No sir, she herself actually exploded. It was like spontaneous combustion, she just caught fire, out of nowhere!"
There was dead silence on the phone and I wondered if he believed me or not.
"Just hold on now Lake, your trying to tell me that some woman spontaneously combusted in the middle of the park?"
"Yes, I saw it and so did about fifty other witnesses, not to mention a bunch of traumatized kids"
"Just hold on for a sec Lake, I gotta check this out"
I heard him hit the button on the phone for his assistant; her honey sweet voice came over the speaker;
"Yes Mr. Wilkinson, what can I get you?"
"Sandra, I need you to contact the fire Department and see if they have news on anything happening down at Freemont Park today"
"Yes sir, just one moment"
There was silence from Sandra's end and I knew she would be calling our contact down at the firehouse. Paul Wilkinson and the Fire Chief were old friends, and he was a good source on the inside for news.
"Ah yes Mr. Wilkinson, it appears that there was some commotion at the park, a terrible accident with a young woman. She didn't make it, but they're still investigating"
"Thanks Sandra, oh and could you get Phill on the phone please?"
As soon as I heard him ask for Phill I knew my chance of being lead reporter on this was slipping through the cracks. I had to think fast, I had to find a way of convincing my boss that I was the best person for the job, otherwise I would be stuck doing About Town till I retired. I could hear him shuffling papers on his desk, obviously preparing for the coverage of such a great story. When he spoke again he sounded flustered and distracted.
"Well Lake, thanks for the tip, I owe you one"
I seized my opportunity before he could hustle me off the phone.
"Well actually sir I was wondering if it would be possible for me to do the article, I'm already out here and I can talk to the witnesses and Steve has some good shots and I think having a first person account would be a great edge to the story."
It all came out in a nervous rush. I could feel my palms getting sweaty as he took his time to answer. Steve came out of the tent to see what was happening. He probably didn't actually care who would be reporting, just who he had to entrust his precious photographs to. Mr. Wilkinson's voice still sounded distracted but now there was a slight tone of annoyance.
"Now I've told you before Lake, you're not a field reporter, you're About Town, and you do it wonderfully!"
"I know sir but if I could just get the chance to write a real story then I think you'll see how I can be more than wonderful."
He was grinding his teeth on the other end of the phone and I heard his intercom beep, Sandra on the other side letting him know Phill was on the line.
"I just don't think it's a good idea, you've already got today's story to cover"
"No! I'll cover them both, I'll do my article and write the cover story, I can do both"
Silence filled the air and I knew he was contemplating it.
"Ok here's what I'm going to do. You and Phill can both have the story. You'll both write separately and then I'll decide whose is going to print. But I'm warning you Nicks, if you don't do this right, then I won't consider you again, this is a huge story"
"OK boss that's perfect and I swear it'll be a great piece!"
He harrumphed and hung up the phone. I turned to Steve and told him that there would be two reporters for this story; he seemed annoyed that one extra person was going to need access to his files, but at least I knew he was unlikely to leak them to another paper, he seemed fairly protective.
After I'd spoken to the people that had hung around, (some to see if anything had changed and to find out what the verdict on the lady was, and some to talk to the police officers that had shown up while I was on the phone) I went back to the office and started to go through the events in my head, writing down in point form all the details in chronological order, not wanting to miss anything. My About Town piece was so simple that I left it until afterwards. Besides, there was no real story at the moment; it had all ended when the human torch went off in the park.
I slaved over my computer the whole day, checking and rechecking facts to make sure they were all correct. I had to leave the heading till last; I wanted something that would catch people's attention, not that the story wouldn't, but like the boss said, I only had one chance at this. I finished up all the details and sat with my finger hovering over the 'print' button. I know it was good, and everything was correct and in order, I even added condolences to the family of the young lady that died, but was it good enough to put on Mr. Wilkinson's desk as a final? I decided that it was the best it was going to get and hit the button. It was four thirty and I was generally here till about five thirty and the boss stayed till the cleaning crew kicked him out. I thought this was the best time to leave it; he could look at it this evening, make his decision over night and let us know tomorrow whose would be running.
That's why I was surprised when he called me into his office only and hour later. I was in the middle of saving my 'Food Festival' article and he said he needed to see me. I was a little nervous as I stepped into his cramped office. Considering he was Chief Editor, his office was not very large, but our building didn't really accommodate the large office spaces and egos like the lawyers across the street, we were just a small tri-weekly newspaper.
He motioned to the chair opposite his tiny desk and I took a seat. He had my article in front of him and one other, probably Phill's. I took a quick inventory of his appearance; sitting straight, slight smile, serious eyes, nothing to let me know which way he was going to sway. I imagined what I must look like to him; knees together, nervously tapping my toes, trying to smile, worried eyes. He waited till I looked a little more at ease before he spoke.
"You know Lakeland, when you started at this paper I thought to myself 'now there's a kid who can do great things'. I've seen your attempts at main features; you seem to have a new one for me every week. There was never anything in those to even hint at acceptable; no heart, no passion." He picked up my article from his desk and held it in front of me, "This, is great!"
I let out the big breath I hadn't realized I was holding in. He smiled a little friendlier and leant back in his seat.
"This is the one I'm running; I want you as the feature reporter on this."
I felt my eyes boggle as I took in what he was saying; it took me a minute to understand, and another minute to believe.
"Thank you so much Mr. Wilkinson, I can't tell you how much I appreciate it"
He let me revel in this for a second before turning serious and continuing.
"I have one condition though; I need a follow up piece"
"What should I cover?"
"The same story, I want to know what really happened to that woman. Find out how it affected her family, what they're going to do now, and most importantly, how it happened. Go down and see the M.E and find out as much as you can. I need your draft in four days. We want to ride this one out as much as we can but when people get sick of the story they'll need something new."
"I can absolutely do that sir, and thank you again."
I stood up to leave and headed for the door, but he stood as well. I looked at him, slightly confused.
"Is there something wrong boss?"
"I just want to let you know, if this is good, and does well, I want to trial you on some more feature stuff…so don't blow it!"
"Of course not boss, thanks again."
I walked to my car in a daze, unable to completely comprehend what was happening. I was getting everything I'd worked so hard for, and it only took me two years. I had known guys at the paper that had been there ten and still covered local sport. I guess my last article was a lot different to my others.
When the story ran the next day, I couldn't walk past a person on the street that wasn't reading it, or talking about having read it, and there wasn't a bin that didn't have a discarded copy lying on the top. So it was exactly as popular as Mr. Wilkinson had foreseen. So how was I going to get the best follow up story that guaranteed me for the feature reporter slot? I had an interview with the family today, the girl, who I found out was named Meagan Flowers, had lived in Phoenix her whole life. Her parents still lived only ten minutes drive from the park. I wondered how they would ever pass that park again without feeling the crushing grief that comes from losing someone you love.
I pulled up outside their house and stopped the car. They lived in an old Victorian that had been masterfully restored. The window frames and doors looked like they were replicas of the original and the outside was kept beautifully painted. No peeling paint or faded paneling. The house was white, with dark, stain treated finishing's. There were lace curtains hanging inside the windows and a big porch that wrapped around the whole front of the house and disappeared around the sides and out of sight. I walked up the large front steps and knocked on the fully restored oak door, complete with brass knocker. A few seconds passed and then I heard footsteps on the other side of the door. It was opened by a young looking woman with red hair. She looked puzzled at me and I noticed her speckled eyes, so unusual.
"Good afternoon Ma'am, I'm Lakeland Nicks with the Phoenix Post, I was looking for Mrs. Diane Flowers."
"Good afternoon Mr. Nicks, I'm Diane. Please, come in."
I stared at her for several seconds, the Diane I had spoken to had said she was Meagan's mother. This woman couldn't be over thirty.
"I'm sorry; I was under the impression that Diane was Meagan's mother."
"Yes that's right, I am her mother, won't you come in Mr. Nicks?"
"Oh yes, of course, thank you."
I stepped over the threshold and was instantly transported back to the 1800's. Everything inside looked like it had been replicated perfectly, the paintings on the walls all looked like originals and the fire place was huge thick mahogany, underneath it, a large fire was happily crackling away, emitting a pleasant scent that floated around the room, giving it a nice, homely feel. Mrs. Flowers motioned to a chair by the fire so I took a seat. The table next to me had a pile of paperwork, some photos of several gorgeous young women, and a statue. I couldn't quite tell what it was; it looked like a sculpture of a fire, but in the center there was some sort of animal, it looked like the fire was coming from it, rather than consuming it.
Mrs. Flowers was stood in the door way with her hands in front of her, finger tips touching, she looked rather uncomfortable.
"Is there any I can get you to drink Mr. Nicks?"
"No I'm fine thank you Mrs. Flowers, and please, call me Lake."
"Very well Lake, how can I help you today?"
Her question came across as abrupt, but I could tell she was just troubled by the topic.
"I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your
daughter, if you don't mind."
"Well I don't know how helpful I will be, you see, I haven't been in touch with Meagan for some time, My daughter and I never…saw eye to eye."
"So where was she staying?"
"I'm not quite sure. Meagan ran away just after her twenty first birthday. 'Ran away', it sounds so childish. I know she was an adult and she had every right to leave, but I guess she'll always be my little girl, and we didn't exactly part on the best of terms."
"Did you have an argument before she left?"
"Yes, that was why she left. We had some things happening in the family at the time and Meagan didn't think she had to be apart of it, she told me that just because the rest of the family was involved, it didn't mean she had to be. I just wished I'd had a chance to tell her I loved her."
"I'm sure she knew, children always seem to know these things, even if you don't have the chance to say it."
"Do you have children Lake?"
"No I don't actually."
"Well they're a blessing, children should never be taken for granted because you never know when…"
She couldn't continue but I knew what she was going to say. I always wished I'd had the chance to say good bye to my mother, but I wasn't here to share stories, I had work to do.
"Can I ask you a favor Lake?"
"Of course, how can I help?"
"Well when the police called, they said there was still an ongoing investigation so they couldn't tell me the specifics until they knew for sure, but I don't even know how she died."
She took a tissue out of the arm of her shirt and wiped her eyes. Then she looked up at me hopefully.
"Well I'm not sure if it's really my place Mrs. Flowers, I'm sure the police will tell you everything as soon as this is all sorted out."
"No I need to know, my family has the right to know, how can we move on if were still in the dark?"
I debated for a second but then agreed, there were still answers I was after with my mothers death, and if someone had known the truth and kept it from me, I wouldn't have been able to handle it.
"Well, no official cause of death has been established yet, we haven't heard from the coroner yet. But she was in the park, I was actually there when it happened, that's why I'm covering the story. She was standing in group of people and then, well, she caught fire. The fire official did everything he could, but the burns to her body were too extensive, he just couldn't get her breathing again."
She looked at me like I had spoken another language. Did she understand what I'd said?
"What do you mean she caught fire? Are you sure?"
"Yes I'm sure, I was there, the fire department believes she lit herself, there was no one else involved, and no catalyst they could find. What's wrong Mrs. Flowers?"
"Nothing, just when they said she was in the park, I thought maybe she had been held at knife point while being mugged, or maybe drowned. That fountain is dangerous you know, anyone could get into trouble in that thing." She rambled on for a second, and some how I felt like she was filling space rather than telling me what she was really thinking. "I'm sorry Mr. Nicks but I have some things to take care of, family, and arrangements to be made, you understand."
"Yes certainly, are you sure you're ok?"
"I'm fine, thank you for coming by."
I stood up to leave and walked towards the front door, instead of following me out, Mrs. Flowers walked out of the room and didn't return. I let my self out and closed the front door quietly. That was definitely the weirdest interview I had ever done. I couldn't understand why Meagan's cause of death was so shocking. She had known that the fire department had been involved. And why would she have been stabbed or drowned? I got into my car with a million questions in my head, but I had to push them aside. I would worry about them later. Now I had another appointment to get to, the important one.
I went down to the Morgue to get the particular how's and why's of Meagan's death. When I arrived, I was greeted by a surly looking young woman at the reception desk. She had platinum blonde tight curls that came to her earlobes, and vibrant pink acrylic nails. Her lips were painted the same shade of purple as that comic book hero; 'The Phantom', and her thick rimmed glasses were perched on the end of her nose. She looked up at me and plastered a sickly smile across her purple lips with what looked like a fair amount of effort. I guess working around death all the time wasn't 'the life.'
"How can I help you today sir?"
"Hi, my name's Lakeland Nicks, I'm from the Phoenix Post. I have an appointment to see the Chief M.E."
She tapped the keys on her keyboard and searched for my name in the system. There must have been an important note with the booking, because she kept looking at me above the rim of her glasses with a look like something bad was coming; bad news, a bad event, a bad dye job, I didn't know but it creeped me out.
"Ok Mr. Nicks, just go through the double doors and follow the corridor down the end to the elevator and take it to the basement, Dr. Rossi is expecting you."
I walked through the large double doors, why were morgues's always painted that horrible olive green color? The corridor was long and lined with cabinets that held all manor of medical supplies, but not the good stuff, they kept the drugs locked out the back. No these shelves had linen and doctors gowns and box after box of rubber gloves. It had me thinking how many pairs of rubber gloves they actually went through in just one day, probably an enormous amount, but nothing compared to the hospital, that would be astronomical. When I reach the elevator I hit the button marked 'B' and it starts to descend. Once the doors open I'm greeted by more green walls and cabinets. But this floor has a different feel. The smell of formaldehyde hangs in the air mixed with lavender and lemon. It does a poor job of hiding the smell, but even under all that I can smell the worst thing of all, flesh. Human's that have expired, all lying around either waiting to be examined or moved out. It doesn't matter how many times I come across it, or how bad it is, no amount of exposure ever gets you used to that smell. Although I don't make a habit out it, this isn't the first time I've had to visit the morgue, and it hasn't always been business.
My morbid thoughts are interrupted by the sound of someone shuffling along the corridor. I turn to see who it is, just a little bit on edge (Who hasn't seen their share of scary movies?) and see an old yet tall and solid built man coming around the corner. He has his doctors' coat on, full length, covering a periwinkle blue business shirt and matching bow tie, just a few shades darker. His trousers are slightly too short, an indicator of either his height or that he came from times when your pants only needed to reach your shoes. He removed his glasses as he came closer and extended a significantly younger looking hand for me to shake.
"You must be Lakeland Nicks, I'm Dr. Rossi" He said, smiling.
"Just Lake is fine Dr. Rossi. How are you today?"
"Well it's definitely one of my most interesting days at work. I can tell this is going to become one of those days that becomes a story. Told over and over again within the halls till no one believes it anymore, like some old folklore. I didn't think I'd ever see anything like this in all my years of work."
"Surely this isn't your first burn victim Dr. Rossi?"
"No, not by any means, but it most certainly is interesting. Come, I'll show you what I mean."
I followed him through a set of double doors to his right. I was instantly hit with a more potent concentration of formaldehyde. This made me wonder if they had recently finished and I felt slightly queasy. There was no masking the smell in here, I'm not sure they even tried to. The room was large and rectangular. The walls were painted a lighter shade then the corridors but still green, in here it was more of a mint. There was a small office space setup in the corner; a small desk with a phone, an old office chair that was faded and had padding oozing out the side of the patched up cushion, and a computer that looked like it had been around long enough to make friends with a Brachiosaurus. In the middle of the room were three large silver tables, there was a dormant light on wheels standing next to the first table and a tray of clean, ready to use utensils. At the head of each table was a small block of wood used to prop the head up, and there was also a small drain in the far corner. Light boards were mounted on the wall behind the tables next to a large white board that was blank. After Dr. Rossi came in he headed to the opposite wall to the light boards and waited for me to join him.
"Welcome to the crypt, well actually this is crypt number one. Sounds morbid I know, but that's just what the staff calls them. Now I want you to be warned Lake, this is not a typical case, I don't even think I can explain everything satisfactorily."
It took me a minute to realize what he had just said, but I wanted to see the whole picture before I started to run the story through my head, so I composed myself and waited. He stared at me for a second, taking in my expression. Probably judging weather I was going to throw up or not, and then he turned around. The wall he faced was the length of the room but there was no furniture here. There were three rows of large metal squares, built into the wall. Each one had a ticket on the front with a name and what looked like a case number. I steadied myself as I realized that Meagan Flowers was in one of these draws. I waited for the Doc to open the draw before I started breathing again.
He pulled the draw out but she was covered in a sheet. I waited for the sight that would greet me. I had previous experience with burn victims and I knew it was horrible to see, although nothing compared to being the one that burned. He looked at me one more time but I just slightly inclined my head, as though encouraging him, and he lifted the sheet. I was prepared, I knew what to expect; charred skin, blisters, maybe large chunks of flesh missing, all hair burnt off the body, almost unrecognizable. That's why I was surprised when I looked down and found the perfect snowy white face of Meagan Flowers. I could tell it was her from the pictures her mum had around her house. She looked nothing like the woman I remembered from the park, she had been worried, and nervous, and looked like a wreck. But now she looked different; peaceful some how. All the frustration or anxiousness she had been feeling before she'd died had melted away, leaving this attractive young woman lying in front of me. Motionless, lifeless, empty. I couldn't understand how I could see it. The soft expressionless plane of her smooth forehead, her eyes gently closed, dark lashes resting against white pale cheeks. I looked to Dr. Rossi, completely stunned.
He was staring back at me like he was waiting for me to come to some big realization. Maybe this was a joke, it was the wrong body, or she hadn't really died at all. I waited for him to shout "Got you" with a big grin on his face, but he just stood there, waiting for me to react.
"I don't understand." This was all I could manage.
"Neither do I Mr. Nicks. She came in, straight from the park, she was still even slightly smoking. Her hair was intact, limbs full and unscathed. There was a small scabbish blister on her torso, just above her heart, but after we washed her it disappeared. We gathered it was a previously healed wound and wasn't caused by the fire. She even smelled like she'd been burned. Singed hair and burnt flesh. I can't understand it. None of it makes sense."
"So how did she die?"
"Well that's the interesting part. The cause of death appears to be, well, burning. She has all the classic signs of being burned alive; smoke build up in her lungs, carbon monoxide poisoning showed up in her test results and any person that came near her, couldn't stand the smell. I ran some tests and when they came back they confirmed it. You see, your blood is made up fifty-five percent of a yellow substance called plasma. This is the liquid that suspends your blood cells. Now it's composed of ninety-two percent water, so when somebody burns to death, all this plasma is burnt away with the same heat that melts the flesh. The two signs of death by burning are carbon monoxide poisoning and plasma depletion. There's no doubt that that's how she died."
"But that doesn't make sense, I saw her after they put the fire out. She had blisters all over her body, there was barely any skin left on her arms or legs. People don't just grow back skin after they die."
"Well medically I can explain how she died and she is, in fact, dead. But the evidence just isn't there, I don't know if your going to have much of a story Mr. Nicks."
"Actually, this may prove to be even better than the first. Is there anything else I should know, I think all the details need to be covered."
He hesitated for a second, as if debating whether to let me in on something. Then he leaned over her head.
"There was one other thing; but this can't be explained. There's nothing medically linking this to burning to death, and I'm not even sure how it happened, But it scared the life out of me first time I looked."
I subconsciously took a step closer to the body and waited. Dr. Rossi pulled up her eye lids and I let out a gasp. My heart raced and caught in my throat. After I'd composed myself I looked more carefully. Her eye's were pure white. No iris's, no pupils, no discoloration at all. Just pure, stark white.
"There's nothing that can explain this?"
"Nothing I've ever seen, sometimes a victim can have a milky film over there eyes, or burst blood vessels, but nothing like this, it's as if her iris's were never there. Not developed."
"Well thank you Dr. Rossi, please contact me if you hear anything else."
"Of course Lake, I only wish we could get to the bottom of this. And good luck with the lead reporter job, I know I shouldn't really say anything, I'm just a contact, but Phill's not the best person to work with."
"Thanks again Dr. Rossi, I'll send you a copy of the article once it's done."
I shook his hand and headed for the elevator. All the things I'd just witnessed were running around in my head. Had I been wrong the other day in the park? If I had mistaken her blisters then, no I know what I saw. I didn't make a mistake. But then how do you explain it all? I'd experienced nothing like this, yet it was so familiar. I'd had endured one other mysterious death, the M.E couldn't explain the death and the case was closed, but that that wasn't a memory I wanted to dredge up; I had work to do.
That night was long, I was at the office well after even Mr. Wilkinson had gone home. I was writing out the story on my computer, trying to fit in all the facts and make it sound realistic. The last thing we needed was for people to think we were making up stories to sell papers. We'd had that problem before. The lead reporter, before Phill, was fired because he made up a story about insider trading in one of the most successful marketing agencies in Phoenix. That was the last time I'd tried out for lead. But then Phill came in and Mr. Wilkinson hired him straight away.
I was just wrapping up what I thought was one of the strangest pieces I would ever write, when my phone rang. I checked the caller I.D to see who it was and it read 'Morgue'. I answered it warily;
"Hey Lake, its Dr. Rossi, Do you have a minute?"
"Yeah Doc, of course, what can I do for you?"
"Well I think this story's just taken a twist that you might want to investigate. But I don't want it leaked, it's kind of serious, I know it's late but can you come down tonight?"
I thought about it for a second. If the Doc was calling at midnight then it must be serious, Cassie'll be worried as it is. I'll just have to call her.
"Yeah, I'll be there in twenty minutes."
I hung up and then dialed home, Cassie might be sleeping but I should let her know anyway.
"Hello?" The voice on the other end was groggy, she had been asleep.
"Sorry babe, I didn't mean to wake you, I've got a lead I have to follow up on, and I'm not sure how long it could take, but I'll be home later ok?"
"Lake it's the middle of the night, can't you do it tomorrow?"
"I don't think so baby, I made huge progress today and I don't want this to end up with another reporters name on it. I'll explain everything when I get home. I love you."
"I love you too sweetie, be safe."
"I will, good night."
After I hung up I raced around trying to finish up my work. I saved everything and powered off my computer, then turned off the lights to the office and left. I'd never been the last one out of the office before. I guess being lead reporter had it's downsides. Maybe this was the life I was trying to get so badly. But if I got the position, it would be worth it. And Cassie would understand, she's just as involved in her work.
When I got to the Morgue I parked right in front of the doors. There was no one else here and the ambulance bay was still empty in case there was a late night 'drop off'. I realized then that if I got the promotion, I would more than likely be spending a lot of time here, how depressing.
Dr. Rossi was waiting at the front desk for me. The bored young receptionist was gone and now the desk was unmanned. I guess they weren't too busy at night. As I approached, Dr. Rossi put out his hand for me to shake. This time when I shook his hand I noticed that he himself was shaking, it wasn't exactly cold inside, and I know he wasn't frightened. But his eyes were slightly wider than before and there seemed to be some light in them, excitement or concern, I couldn't tell. He led the way back down to the room we'd been in before. It had changed slightly. The portable lights had all been moved across against the lime green walls and most of the lights were off. I don't think I could ever work here at night, it seriously creeped me out already and I'd only been here five minutes.
I followed Dr Rossi Over to the draw where Meagan Flowers was being held until they released her body tomorrow. The family would come and have the funeral home move it to wherever their office was, and then they could finally bury her and have some closure. I felt a pang of sympathy for her family. They had to wait days before they could take her. That's the hardest part about high profile cases, if the police say there needs to be an investigation, then the family has no choice, they just have to sit by and wait patiently. I don't know how patient I could have been if it was me.
Dr. Rossi turned around to me before he opened her draw. Had something else happened that they couldn't explain?
"Now Lake, I want you to know the details first. No one has been down here since you left, there have been no more drop off's and all our work on open cases is being conducted in our other crypt. We also checked the surveillance feed and there's been no action in the corridors."
"Ok, what's this about Doc?"
He didn't say anything; instead he pulled the handle on the large silver door and rolled out the table. I stared at him, and then back at the table. How could this have happened? And how could they not know how this had happened? I had to find an explanation, to figure out what was going on, but the only clue I had to start with was the conundrum in front of me…
An empty draw.