I opened my eyes to darkness, wondering where I was. Not a new experience. I’ve come to in plenty of strange places, under plenty of strange circumstances. And then I remembered that I had died. Or, at least, I thought I had.
Excuse me if I indulged in a moment of disappointment.
I’ve died before. In the Marines I took a hit, and they tell me my heart stopped during surgery. When I woke, though, I felt like shit. There were needles in my arm and the sound of machinery around me. I knew I was in a hospital. When I finally could make sense of the faces leaning over me and the words they spoke, I understood that I was a hero. What a fucking joke.
God, don’t let that happen again.
This time, though, I felt fine. Numb, maybe, but not in the lovely morphine drip way. The pain in my leg, which had been my constant companion since the service, was gone. A respite that only happened when I was stoned off my ass or dreaming. So, maybe there was some wishful thinking mixed in, but I figured there were still odds that I might be really, truly, dead.
So now my thoughts went something like this:
1) Fuck, there is an afterlife,
2) And it’s cold,
3) And dark.
4) This must be Hell.
Which is what I’d always expected, but still it was a sobering thought. I hadn’t paid much attention those maybe five times I sat in a church, so I needed a little reconnaissance.
I cracked my eyes open and tried to see around myself. Hell was pitch black. I could hear a drip, drip
of something and my imagination conjured bottomless pits full of icy cold water. The dark gradually yielded shapes, though, and I could make out a form next to me, looked like a sheet. No, wait, it was a body on a table under a sheet, proverbial toe with tag sticking out.
Crap, I wasn’t in Hell. I was in a morgue.
I almost fell from wherever I lay, trying to get away from that thought. And that’s when I realized that I was on some kind of table too. Stainless steel, by the feel of it. The sheet covering me fell to the floor and I looked down and there was my
toe with a tag on it.
I kid you not. They thought I was dead. Hey, so did I. I pinched myself to make sure. Ouch.
It occurred to me that this might be some kind of trick. Some kind of Hellish mind game trick. But my head hurt too much to do that Rubik’s Cube, and I just worked on getting the tag off my toe and my feet on the floor. Then, with my sheet wrapped around me, I walked around, trying to get my bearings.
I knew this place; it was the Los Angeles County Morgue. I’d been a cop for twenty years, and in Homicide for six of those, before the Vice Department decided I was more their type. Christ, did they hit that nail on the proverbial head. So, anyway, I knew this morgue.
I knew the sights and the sounds and the smells. The smell was what had usually gotten to me. The formaldehyde, mixed in with the smell of human flesh rotting, creates an odor the human body seems wired to reject. And then the ammonia they used to try to keep everything sterile just punched the other smells home and pretty soon big tough former marines were spewing into a trash can in the hallway.
So, I could smell that smell but it didn’t bother me as much. And the room was now kind of blueish, even though there was nothing but a couple of power strip lights glowing for illumination. So the whole lying alone in darkness thing, which had always given me the gibbering freak ever since I’d been buried under that house in Afghanistan, was lessened a little.
This particular room was empty and dark, but in my experience, the place was usually a zoo. They must be busily cutting up someone in another room.
I checked out the guy laid out on the table next to mine. He was a helluva lot cleaner than he had been the last time I saw him, but I was pretty sure it was that dude Starz. The one that I had gone to meet in the Marina. There were two good-sized bullet holes in his chest. One of them looked like it had gone right through the heart. So, he was dead too, I guessed. Careful not to assume here, seeing as I had thought I was dead also.
There was another guy lying over there, without a sheet, on the table with the molded-in gutters along the sides and the drains. He was whiter than white in the weird light, and utterly still. He looked almost pristine and holy lying there in his altogether. He had the skeletal build of an addict, practically hairless, though the few strands on top of his head had been allowed to grow long. I didn’t know him. Maybe he was one of the guys that jumped me. Or maybe he was another homicide that happened elsewhere. I couldn’t see any obvious sign of what had killed him, but the world is a dangerous place. I’d seen people dead for an awful lot of stupid reasons in my career. Not all of them were obvious at first sight.
A frickin’ pair of socks would have been good. Because the concrete floor was freezing and my feet were aching with the cold. Then, I remembered where they kept the clothes they took off the dead bodies and I pushed through a big swinging door into the room next door where I found the drawers that held all the plastic bags with the names on them.
My clothes were there, but they were covered with blood. I mean, the shirt was so soaked with blood it was stiff. Christ, I thought as I inspected it, how did I survive this? So, I went through the other boxes until I found a shirt and a pair of jeans that more or less fit. Of course, my wallet and keys and gun weren’t in there. They were probably in Evidence. Which I could not get to without setting off every alarm in the place.
Which I did not want to do. Because the last I remembered, my fellow LAPD officers had just surprised me in an extremely compromising position. In fact, I was willing to bet I would have been sitting in jail right at that moment if they hadn’t thought I was dead.
So I sat down and pondered this a bit.
While I was sitting there, I caught movement from the stiff on the dolly. I rubbed my eyes and blinked hard. My eyes had always played tricks with me in here. It was just one of those spooky places that made a guy imagine things.
But then, as I watched, the fucking thing, person, whatever, sat up
You know the ME was getting pretty sloppy. That’s two guys they thought were dead that were not.
I expected the former corpse to be as disoriented as I had been, so I was completely unprepared for him jumping up off that table and coming at me like a lion leaping on a zookeeper. Mouth open, making an otherworldly growling howling noise.
Hey, I’ve been trained in combat and I’ve worked the streets of Los Angeles for a decade. I’m not the kind of guy you generally get a drop on. But a scrawny, ghost-white naked man leaping across the floor while screaming can take even me aback.
I had time to throw my arms up in a defensive posture before he landed on me and we both went backward. I heard a loud crack
, which was my head hitting the concrete floor. I should have been out knocked out cold. Except I wasn’t. On the contrary, I was experiencing a rush of something like adrenaline with a speed chaser. Strength surged into my arms and legs, my whole body felt euphoric, and I found myself -- gleefully, mind you -- thwapping the guy’s head against a wall.
This seemed not to faze him in the least. He had this wide, teeth-baring grin. He looked like a bear trap, with fangs. No kidding. Fangs. His fingers wrapped around my neck. And then he kneed me. It was like getting kicked by a Clydesdale. I fell, but I kept my grip and brought him with me. A tray of equipment came down with us and I heard the ping ping ping
of metal instruments raining around us.
We were rolling and clawing and choking each other. I could hear myself snarling too. His eyes, close up, were yellow and his fangs snapped. The fangs kept registering in some back room of my mind, but in the forefront of consciousness I was just getting off on the violence. I let go of his neck and started punching him repeatedly in the chest. I could feel his ribs breaking.
Then he screamed, grabbed my balls, and bit my neck.
And at this point I’d say that the squeamish among you should avert your gaze but, seeing as you’re reading this, not watching it on television, I guess I’ll just warn you that the next part gets a little ugly.
Nobody grabs my privates uninvited. I gripped his head with my hands and twisted. His mouth popped off my neck; I heard his vertebrae crack. For just an instant his grip on my nuts loosened and I snagged the offending hand and snapped its wrist like it was a twig. Then, for reasons I would not understand until later, I brought that broken wrist up to my mouth and bit down.
His pumped up, adrenalized blood flooded my mouth. It tasted good. Better than good. It tasted better than anything I’d ever tasted in my life. I could feel him yanking out my hair, fingers gouging and clawing, but I still had him while he struggled and screamed. And then I found myself just sort of lost in the moment, as his life pumped into my mouth. Until he stopped moving and I lifted my head from his arm. And realized what I had done.
I’d done a lot of fucked-up things in my life. This one took the proverbial cake.
There was blood all over me. I touched my face and found it wet with blood. You’d think this would make me sick. Nope. I licked my lips and fingers like it was Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was hungry for more. Starving. Buzzing like I’d just snorted speed and I needed to move move move.
Considering that I had just bit a corpse to death in the Los Angeles County Morgue, this urge to move seemed logical. I went to one of the sterile steel sinks and splashed water on my face. Peeled off my stolen shirt and used it to swab myself off. Then I had to go steal another shirt. This one was a worn flannel number with what looked like a couple bullet holes in it, but I’m a big guy and there weren’t a lot of choices.
I looked around the room and, of course, it was hopelessly trashed. My prints would be everywhere and the minute I walked out the door I’d be seen, or the security cameras would pick up my image. But I figured as soon as they saw it was my
body missing, they’d know what had happened anyway, so there was no sense in trying to cover anything up. Nope. My only chance was to come up with a plausible excuse for everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours. You can imagine in the past five years or so I’ve become something of an expert in the art of plausible excuses.
A digital clock in the morgue told me it was just after 7:00 p.m. There was always a crew opening up a stiff somewhere down here, so it was just a matter of moments before somebody came back into this room and found the mess. And started looking for me
I peeked out the door and there were lights coming from a couple labs down the way, but there seemed to be a clear, unpeopled path to the back stairway that led to the ivy-covered hillside and street. I was already coming up with my excuses as I shouldered open the door. Something along the lines of “disoriented upon finding himself in a morgue” or something.
Up the two flights of stairs, and of course somebody had left the door propped open. I saw the man probably responsible for this little security violation, standing outside having a smoke. He kind of turned his head as I passed, but my legs were made of lightning and before he could even open his mouth, I’d rounded the corner, leaped through the ivy, and was over the Hurricane fencing and halfway down the block.
I paused to look down in surprise at my bad knee. Near death experiences seemed to suit it because it was working like a kid’s knee. Like the seventeen-year-old tight end’s knee it had been long ago.
East Los Angeles is no place to be without cash or credit cards, wearing a dead man’s clothes, especially in the middle of the night, so the first thing I thought was I needed to call a friend and get out of there. Of course, the problem with that was having a friend to call. So then I thought of Peter. Peter who just never seemed able to say no.
We all have a Peter. Even mofobags like me have that friend who always gets the one phone call from jail. Yeah. For me, that’s Peter.
It took me three pay phones before I found one that still worked and placed a collect call “to Peter from Adam.”
As soon as the operator announced the caller, Peter cursed and hung up.
Oh, right, Peter thought I was dead. So I called again, except now, while the operator was telling him that this was a collect call for Peter from Adam, I spoke over her. “Hey Pete, it’s me. I know you think I’m dead but --”
He hung up.
This obviously was not going to work. I looked around. I was steps from the 101 freeway overpass, the feet of the thick concrete pylons used as makeshift beds for sleeping street persons. Looking more like trash and bundles of rags there in the shadows. It was not my proudest moment, okay, but I was desperate.
“Hey, gimme your cash.”
The poor guy looked up at me with one eye. The other eye didn’t seem able to open. His semitoothless mouth gaped as I just searched his pockets until I found a few bucks and some change.
Then I jogged back down to the UCLA medical center and waited at the bus stop with a couple teenagers in colors, a night shift nurse still wearing scrubs, and some goon who stank worse than the morgue, and took the bus headed toward Venice, where Peter lived.