Nick watched the doctor and his assistants make the big Y incision with the scalpel. Cut the ribs with loppers and pull apart the cage. Tijuana Brass was playing quiet on a radio, a perky little number Nick would detest for the rest of his life. The crack of bones loud above the music.
Watched them cut out her organs. Cut out her heart. Examine and weigh and record.
He noted Janelle Vonn's head, partially wrapped in a white towel and placed face up in a plastic cooler of dry ice. Skin blue-white. Vapor wafting over the top then down to the floor like horror movie fog.
They got scrapings from under three fingernails and the right thumbnail.
When Gershon was done with that Nick asked them to amputate the thumbs and three fingers that had had flesh and blood under the nails. Bag and label them separately. Freeze them for evidence.
"That's very unusual," said the doctor.
Nick left the room without excusing himself and drove to Angel's Lawn cemetery to be near his brother, Clay. Shivered and heard the traffic blasting by on I-5 while he thought about his brother.
Then to Sharon's place in Orange.
She let him in and they talked a while in the near dark. His eyes burned as he felt the awful collapse of his will. His will to ignore. His will to put aside. His will to call it a job and leave it at the office. He just couldn't make himself do it. Maybe homicide wasn't his thing, he said.
It would pass, she said.
Nick said he'd be all right. Don't worry. Said this is what homicide detail was about.
Sharon understood all of this. Her dad a cop and her ex a cop and she took Nick into her room and talked to him and held him and did the things that made him forget and feel better.
When he was finished, he left for Millie's bar.
Two doubles and two bowls of pretzels later he was ready to go home.
"Dad's home! Dad's home!"
"Be quiet, kids. QUIET!"
Nick could hear their voices on the other side of the door. Katy unlocked the deadbolt from inside and Nick fell into the deafening family he loved in such frustration.
"WILLIE SLUGGED ME IN THE STOMACH!" screamed Katherine.
"SHE BIT MY LEG!" Willie screamed back.
Steven racked his plastic Thompson submachine gun with spring-loaded noisemaker, then lowered the barrel into his family with a gleeful smile. Pure Clay, thought Nick.
Katy hugged Nick and smiled hugely. She was large and beautiful and Nick felt the crack in his heart get bigger. Sometimes pictured it going across his whole heart at once, breaking it in two. Did his own heart even count after what Janelle had gone through?
"My hero," she said.
"I love you guys," Nick said quietly. He touched them one at a time. Katy on the arm and Willie on the head and Katherine on the cheek. Perfect precious parts. All in place.
Except for Steven, who saw his father's hand coming toward him. Stevie let the old man eat some hot lead from the Thompson and ran yelling down the hall.
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