“What do you mean the body’s gone?” I stared at Meagan, dumbfounded.
“I mean the body is gone. Missing. Disappeared. Maybe it used its legs and walked away.” She threw her hands up. “What do you think ‘gone’ means?”
“Calm down, Megs. Breathe,” Alex said, shooting me a glance. “He’s just a bit slow sometimes. Start from the beginning. What happened to Avery’s body?”
“Fuck, Alex, I am breathing.” She glowered but Alex just held her gaze until she looked away. “Well, something just seemed off about him, you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“He survived too long for most of his burns to have been from white phosphorous.”
“What?” I broke in. That was impossible. They’d had to contain and decontaminate the scene. Meagan just rolled her eyes at me.
“Ignore him,” Alex said, refocusing her attention on him. “Go on.”
“I talked with the doctors who treated him. Copper sulfate bonds with white phosphorous neutralizing it and forming cupric phosphate which makes the locations of the white phosphorous visible because cupric phosphate is black. They said about 5% of his burns had been from white phosphorous.”
She said that like it meant something. Maybe to her it did.
“And?” I asked.
“And,” she sighed, “he shouldn’t have died?”
They neutralized it. He was just in the ICU until he could get enough energy to shift. He’d have scars but he shouldn’t have died. So, I requested they hold the body in the morgue until we could get a forensic pathologist to look at it.”
“What did Jodi have to say about it?” Alex asked.
“She just got back today. She and Davy were on vacation until yesterday. She came in this morning to start and called me in saying the body was missing. I didn’t believe her and came myself, but, as you can see, no body.”
“Who was the last person to see it?”
“One of the orderlys, I think. The signature on the transfer paperwork doesn’t even have the customary capital first letters to at least give me a set of initials. But the person before them was Dr. Batista who called time of death.”
Dr. Batista was a short, balding middle-aged man who didn’t seem to have enough hours in a day to take a couple minutes for some questions. Turns out we didn’t need to walk beside him long to find out that the orderly who took Avery to the morgue was not someone he knew. The man just figured he was a new hire. There was a scar from hi left ear, along his jaw, to his chin that reminded him of a lousy plastic surgeon he worked near once. Therefore, the man must be human as any shifter who got plastic surgery would lose all the work when they shifted. Or they’d die when the new components settled where they shouldn’t. Either way.
“What would a human want with a badly burned shifter body?” I asked as we stepped in the elevator.
“The government wants to experiment with genetic integration.” Alex’s eyes sparkled in amusement.
“No,” I shook my head, “he was secretly a legendary shifter..”
“He was an alien come down to research the best test subjects.”
“He was a time traveler.”
“And his body is still moving through time and space.”
“So, no worries, then. We’ll find his body in the same spot in ten years.”
“You forgot about the space part. He’ll appear 40 miles above the earth and slam into the winshield of a passenger jet.”
I grin at Alex. “That’s one to tell the grandchildren.”
“You have kids?” I turn to face Keelan, framed by open elevator doors.
“Um, no. No, I don’t.”
“Well,” Keelan smirked, “you need them in order to have grandkids. Are you here to visit one of the kids?”
I looked past where Keelan held the door open as a couple and their toddler stepped into the elevator. The placard on the wall pointed toward the nurses station of the childrens ward. Clearly neither Alex nor I had remembered you had to push a button on the panel. That or we just assumed the other had done it since elevator had moved as soon as the doors had closed. Turns out our ride had simply been summoned. Worked out for me.
Once inside, Keelan stepped to my left, keeping as far away from the family as possible. I sniffed. Something smelled foul and it was coming from Keelan.
My nose wrinkled involuntarily. “You feeling alright?”
“You can smell that, huh?” He grimaced. “Yeah, several kids got the rotavirus at the New Years run a couple days ago.” The family got off at the next floor. “Highly contagious,” he explained. “Ryan and Liam have been staying Samson’s room until either the virus runs its course or Katy gets off duty. We thought is was just run-of-the-mill food poisoning but then Liam’s fever climbed to 104 degrees. Turns out the only thing we can do is keep them hydrated.”
“Why didn’t Rayen say anything to me?” I couldn’t believe my own sister didn’t feel comfortable asking for my help.
“She probably knows you’re unreliable,” Alex chimed in.
I grunted. I knew he was right but still…
By this time we’d made it to the lobby.
“Anyway, I just talked to Rayen. She’s going to take time off and stay at Aunt Peggy’s to help out. A couple of the neighbor kids came down with it and were invited to a kind of vomit-bowl sleepover so their siblings won’t catch it.”
I watched as he zipped his coat all the way to his chin, pulling up the hood and stuffing his hands in his pockets. I felt concerned when he slung an obviosly full backpack over his shoulder.
“Where are the kids?”
“They should be home now, or very soon anyway. Rayen came and picked them and Aunt Peggy up.” He checked his watch. I knew that watch. He gave a small wave, and turned to head out. “Well, I’ll see you later.”
“Do you need a ride?”
“You offering?” He smirked.
I just raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, get a room,” Alex mock-gagged.
“That’s what he said.” Alex winked at Keelan.
I smacked the back of his head. “Gimme the Keys.”
He patted his pockets. “Shit, I think I left them in the morgue. That’s just craptastic.” He turned and ducked down the hall before I could take another swing.
“So-” I started. I wanted to talk about New Years but I wasn’t sure where to start
“Think I have enough time to use the restroom?” He shifted a little away from me. I couldn’t tell if he really had to go or if he was uncomfortable around me. I’d sent him a couple text messages and even left a voicemail which had left me questioning my own sanity, but I’d felt hopeful when he said he’d been dealing with sick kids the last few days. But now it seemed as if my fears might not wholly be unfounded.
“Oh, you have plenty of time. Alex will no doubt feel the need to talk to nearly everyone he runs into between here and the basement.” “Great!” he beamed. I barely had time to return his smile before he disappeared in the direction of the restrooms.