Bernadette sat there in an uneasy silence. She could hear the chief talking with the coroner. The coroner had a loud Scot’s Brogue. He’d been in Canada for 45 years and still sounded like he'd walked out of the Scottish Moors yesterday.
The chief dropped the phone in the cradle, his face looking a slightly whiter color. “The coroner says we’ve got to get to the morgue right away, there’s something he wants to show us.”
The morgue was quiet. At 6 p.m., most of the staff was gone. The security guard let them in. Their shoes squeaked on the linoleum tile as they walked down the long hallway. The smell of formaldehyde hung in the air. Someone once told Bernadette they thought it was the cologne of the dead. It was all always there. It would linger in your clothes after you left the place. It enveloped you like a glove when you walked in, assailing your nostrils first, then the back of your tongue, and then the stuff would slip down your throat until you were forced to swallow it. Gagging was optional.
They walked down the long hallway in silence, pushed through a set of double doors that sighed softly as air pressure was released, and found Dr. Keith Andrew. The Doctor was a mass of long grey hair, bushy eyebrows and four days of five o’clock shadow on his face.
Bernadette could never get over not seeing pants under his white smock. Dr. Andrew wore a kilt both summer and winter. If you asked, and if you knew him well, he would take you aside, and confide that it was, “So the boys could breathe.” Bernadette realized he meant his balls.
“You made good time,” Dr. Andrew yelled to them in his rich brogue. He drew the words out like a poem from Robert Burns. The cadence was there, it sounded the same to Bernadette. Dr. Andrew was an abnormality for a coroner who was actually a Doctor, and his fame for dropping his medical opinions into his reports was legendary in the small city.
“Doctor, what are you in such a hurry to show us?” Chief Durham asked.
“Oh, aye, the most recent body is quite the sight. I don’t believe in my many years I’ve had the opportunity to view something as amazing as this.” Dr. Andrew‘s eyebrows rose as if a conductor was motioning for the orchestra to begin.
Andrew motioned them towards the body, and drew back the sheet, “You’ll notice there are no contusions on the body that suggest bruising or blunt force trauma.”
Bernadette scanned the naked Nathan Taylor from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. She had to agree, there was not a mark on the kid. “So what killed him?
Andrew’s eyebrows rose in unison, “Ah, now that is the fascinating question. Here we have a corpse that we think is missing organs, but its not.”
“The CSI told me he felt no organs in the abdominal cavity,” Bernadette said, leaning closer to the body.
“Yes, it would appear that way, but look,” Andrew said as he removed a small cover that was covering the intestines in a tray beside the body. “You can see they are here, but flattened and perforated. It looks like something ate into them.”
Bernadette’s head shot back at the sight. “What does that?”
“Interesting question,” Andrew said. “Now, in my travels in South America, I came upon this in the Amazon. Corpses literally eaten alive from the inside, by something the Portuguese called the Candiru or vampire fish, which is a tiny parasitic fish. It had the locals so scared men would tie a string around their penises before they went swimming, they believed it protected them from the fish crawling up their . . . you know what I mean . . . ” Dr. Andrew examined the faces of both Bernadette and Chief Durham to see if they were getting his explanation.
Chief Durham touched his crotch, as if warding away the evil of the vampire fish. He looked up, realized where his hand was and quickly moved it, “Really, you think this kid was eaten inside by a vampire fish?”
“Absolutely not, just pulling your leg, telling you bit of lore. No, Canada is far too cold for these fish; the streams freeze in winter. The things would die. Now then . . . I reasoned that something must have entered our victim’s blood stream and this is where I found our culprit,” Andrew said, his smile widening at his captive audience, and loving the joke he’d played.
Chief Durham relaxed visibly. The vision of a tiny vampire fish swimming up a man’s penis was slowly vanishing from his brain, “So, what thing have you found?”
“Things, my good man. Things,” Andrew said. “I realized that something attacked this man through his blood stream from the tear in his arm, and I needed to examine his blood. There was very little in him. The human body should have about 5 liters of blood. This body had a tenth of that.”
“Now, what little blood he did have I had analyzed, and found something very significant.” Andrew paused. Only the sound of the air conditioning could be heard in the room. “Our victim had an extreme case of Hemochromatosis.”
“Hemo . . . what? Bernadette asked.
Dr. Andrew’s eyes widened. “This essentially is a buildup of iron in the body. I won’t bore you with the entire prognosis of this disease, but from my analysis, this victim had quite the advanced stages of the disease, which is exactly why he was attacked.”
“Attacked by what?” Bernadette asked with exasperation in her voice. The merry-go-round of vampire fish to an iron disease in the blood was getting tiring. She wanted answers.
“That, I must show you,” Dr. Andrew motioned for them to come over to his counter where a microscope was set up. “Look in here and tell me what you see.”
Bernadette adjusted the powerful microscope to her eyes. The viewer came into focus and a mass of small moving shapes came into view. They were white in color and looked like little sausages. “What am I looking at?”
“From my tests, we are looking at a microbe that consumes iron. Industry has been working on this technology for years. I recently read a study from a company that wanted to engineer a process called bioheap leaching with microbes that would live on sulphur and iron the way we live on protein and carbohydrates,” Dr. Andrew said. He swayed side to side as he spoke. His kilt made a gentle swishing sound.
Chief Durham looked into the microscope. “You think this is what killed our victim then?”
“Aye, I do, and from what I heard of your pipeline spill out west of here, I believe this young man, now a victim of his own means, tried to inject these microbes into the Pipeline, and they attacked him as well when he cut his arm. Let me show you my other experiment.” Dr. Andrew motioned for them to follow him to another counter. The counter had a glass case with a small pipe inside.
“Now watch this,” Dr. Andrew said as he drew a small eyedropper from the microscope glass, and dropped a bit of liquid on the metal pipe. He snapped the case shut, smiled and looked down in anticipation.
At first, there was nothing, just the pipe as Bernadette watched, her eyes staring hard, waiting for a change, something, or anything to prove the Doctor’s hypothesis. Then, there it was, parts of the pipe became lighter. Then holes appeared. “That is exactly what happened to the pipeline west of here.” Bernadette turned to Chief Durham. “Now do you believe me when I tell you we need to be worried about the video on the laptop?”
Chief Durham’s face changed color. His normal off-beige had morphed into a pasty white. “I think we need to get Canadian Security and Intelligence Service involved in this. This reaches beyond Red Deer.”
Bernadette pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. “Chief, I know an agent with CSIS in Edmonton, whom I worked with on something like this before. He’ll want to be in on this, and he knows just the people to call.” Bernadette had Anton De Luca on speed dial. He picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, Detective Callahan, long time since I’ve heard from you, what is up in your little city,” Anton asked.
Bernadette loved Anton like a younger brother. He was 26, a well-educated, good-looking Italian Canadian. They had worked hard together to try and capture Professor Alistair McAllen a year earlier when he’d invented a threat called polywater that made water too heavy to force oil to the surface in oil fields. His invention had threatened both Alaskan and Canadian oilfields. They stopped the threat of polywater, but never captured McAllen.
“Anton, great to talk to you, and I need to get to the point. We found a microbe that attacks pipelines; we think Professor McAllen is behind it. I’m going back to the detachment and send you a video of some University of Victoria students we think are involved.”
“Bernadette . . . you said McAllen?” Anton asked after a pause.
“Yes I did, if what I just saw in this lab is real on a large scale, then someone has developed a microbe that can attack pipelines.” Bernadette looked over at Dr. Andrew, who was nodding in agreement.
“Send me the file. I’ll talk to you soon,” Anton said.
Soon did not come until just before midnight. Bernadette returned to the detachment, sent the file, completed her reports and returned home. She rounded up Sprocket. Harvey’s door was open. Both Harvey and the dog were snoring on the couch while the Allies stormed Normandy yet again, but this time in color on Harvey’s big screen TV.
Bernadette walked the dog back to her place, and he lay on his dog bed and was back to sleep in seconds. She rummaged for food, found some recognizable leftovers in the fridge and some red wine, and curled up on the sofa for her usual Friday night . . . alone.
The cell phone rang. It was Anton, “Hi, Bernadette, sorry it took so long, but the guys in Ottawa can move slowly.”
“How unusual,” Bernadette said in her sarcastic tone.
“So, here it is . . . once they understood the threat, all kinds of higher ups and government officials got excited by this case. The defense of oil is one of their main agendas. We’ve already called CSIS in British Columbia. They contacted City of Victoria Police and three of the young men on the video tape have already been taken into custody.”
“My god, that was quick,” Bernadette said as she took a gulp of her red wine.
“Well, here’s the other part. I need you in on this case. And we need to be in Victoria tomorrow morning for the interrogation.”
“You want me in on this?” Bernadette almost inhaled her wine.
“Yes, I’ll fly down to Calgary, and we’ll catch the 11:25 direct to Victoria. I can brief you on what we have in the morning. Sleep fast, Detective. I’ll buy breakfast tomorrow.”
Bernadette looked at her watch; it was midnight. She needed to send an email to her chief telling him she was going to Victoria, pack a quick bag for who knew how long, and get up early for the hour and a half hour drive to Calgary to be there by 10:25 a.m. She drained the last bit of wine in her glass, washed it in the sink, and started on her preparation.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish