Seconds before one of the most long-awaited events of Alexander Caulfield's adult life, an event he'd spent years planning and pursuing, an event marking his ascension into professionalism, a decent salary, and the respect of his peers, his left eye started winking like a gigolo in a third-rate Italian film.
Caulfield cursed beneath his breath. A physician, he recognized a manifestation of transient hemifacial spasms: eye tics or flutters in response to events sparking anxiety or posing a threat.
Anxiety was ludicrous, he lectured himself, squeezing the offending eye shut; he'd performed or assisted with hundreds of autopsies during his internship. The only difference was this was his first professional autopsy. She was sitting twenty feet away.
Caulfield slowly opened his eye . . .
He angled a glance at Dr. Clair Peltier. She was opening a letter in the autopsy suite's utility office, apparently absorbed in correspondence. Caulfield felt blindsided, unprepared, fumble fingered: today had been scheduled for procedural reviews and meeting new colleagues at the Mobile office of the Alabama Forensics Bureau.
Then she'd casually suggested he take her place during a procedure.
Caulfield refocused the ceiling-mounted surgical lamp over the body of the middle-aged white male on the table. Water rinsed beneath the corpse, sounding like a small brook playing over metal. He glanced at Dr. Peltier again: still studying her mail. He mopped his sweating brow, adjusted his mask for the third time, and studied the body. Would his incision be perfectly midline? Would it be straight? Smooth? Would it meet her standards?
He drank in a deep breath, told his hands, Now. The blue-white belly opened like a curtain between pubis and sternum. Clean and straight, a textbook opening.
Caulfield slipped another glance at Dr. Peltier. She was watching him.
Dr. Peltier smiled and returned to her correspondence. Caulfield pushed his fear to a far corner of his mind and focused on inspecting and weighing organs. He spoke his findings aloud, the tape recorder capturing them for later transcription to print.
"On gross examination the myocardial tissue appears normal in size and wall thickness. Areas of myocardium in the left ventricle are suggestive of past myocardial infarction. . . ."
The familiar sights and words steered Caulfield onto a trusted path; he didn't notice when the spasms melted away.
". . . liver mottled, early indication of cirrhosis . . . kidneys unremarkable . . ."
The man had been found sprawled in his front yard after a 911 call. The EMTs followed aggressive resuscitation procedures for a heart attack, but the man entered University Hospital as a DOA. Caulfield's initial findings supported a massive cardiac event, though the nondamaged tissue appeared healthy and free of epicarditis or atherosclerosis. Caulfield moved lower in the cavity.
"An obstruction is noted in the descending colon. . . ."
Caulfield pinched the lump in the bowel. Hard and regular in shape, a man-made object. It wasn't uncommon, emergency-room physicians were forever sending patients to the ER to extract vibrators, candles, vegetables, and suchnot; people were inventive in their quest for erotic sensation.
"Using a number-ten blade, a ten-centimeter vertical incision was made through the anterior wall of the descending colon. . . ."
Caulfield retracted the bowel to reveal the source of the obstruction.
Reprinted from The Hundredth Man by Jack Kerley by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © Jack Kerley, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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