Mr. Geung had a form of Down syndrome that made him very efficient at repetitive tasks and very thorough in those duties hed been taught. Anything out of the ordinary, however, caused him to become flustered. He didnt trust strange people or equipment that disturbed the norm in his domain. The auditors had been such an intrusion and he continued to mutter his displeasure to himself. But there had been one other annoyance that week. The morgues perfectly good French refrigeration unit had been replaced with a Soviet behemoth twice its size. Neither the hospital engineer who installed it nor Mr. Geung, who was responsible for turning it off and on, had any idea how it worked. Dtui could read Russian but none of the dials seemed to perform the functions they promised. So Mr. Geung had been particularly distraught to discover that after only two hours in the unit the army captain was deep frozen.
Madame Daeng, the coroners fiancée, had arrived just then to discover Dtui comforting a teary Geung, and a large ice pole of a corpse on the tray. It was made all the worse by the fact that an unknown surgeon would be coming to conduct the autopsy that afternoon in the company of Mr. Suk, the hospital director. The body had to be thawed out somehow before their arrival. They agreed that wrapping him in blankets would only have the effect of preserving the frozen state. It was a comparatively cool early December day and there was no heater.
Madame Daeng, always calm in a crisis, suggested they wheel the soldier into the sunlight that filtered through the louvered window and sit close to the body so their own body heat might warm him up. The only other heat producer they could find was the Romanian water-boiling element. They plugged it in, placed the water pot at the end of the stainless-steel dolly, and watched it bubble. As there was water on the boil and margarine peanut biscuits in the tin, why not, they thought, have a cup of tea or two? For modestys sake, and to catch the crumbs, a white cloth was draped over the captains nether regions. And there they sat, discussing the latest items to have disappeared from the shops.
"Hows he doing?" Daeng asked.
Dtui poked the skin with her spoon. "Another hour and he should be ready."
"And whos performing the autopsy? I thought Siri was the only one in the country qualified."
"Well" - Dtui leaned back in her chair - "technically, Dr. Siri isnt all that qualified either. I mean, hes good, but he doesnt have any formal training as a coroner. Our politburo didnt seem to think that fact was terribly important; surgeon - coroner, same difference. Luckily for them, Siris a bit of a genius in a number of ways." As Dtui wasnt sure how much Daeng knew about the doctors spirit connections, she kept her praise vague.
"So, today . . . ?"
"Is some young hotshot surgeon who just got back from East Germany. He went over there as a medic six years ago. Amazing what they can achieve in the Eastern Bloc. Must be some type of fast track. But the new boy isnt qualified to perform autopsies either. If our friend here hadnt been a soldier theyd probably have kept him on ice till Siri got back. But the military are really curious to find out what killed their officer. The boys who brought him in said he hasnt even been identified yet.
Excerpted from The Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill Copyright © 2008 by Colin Cotterill . Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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