By the time Jack arrived at the medical examiner's office on the corner of First Avenue and Thirtieth Street, he'd had two protracted arguments with taxi drivers and a minor run-in with a city bus. Undaunted and not at all out of breath, Jack parked his bike on the ground floor next to the Hart Island coffins and made his way up to the ID room. Most people would have felt on edge after such a harrowing trip. But not Jack. The confrontations and physical exertion calmed him, preparing him for the day's invariable bureaucratic hurdles.
Jack flicked the edge of Vinnie Amendola's newspaper as he walked by the mortuary tech, who was sitting at his preferred location at the desk just inside the door. Jack also said hello, but Vinnie ignored him. As usual, Vinnie was committing to memory the previous day's sports stats.
Vinnie had been employed at the ME's office longer than Jack had. He was a good worker, although he'd come close to being fired a couple of years back for leaking information that had embarrassed the office and had put both Jack and Laurie in harm's way. The reason Vinnie was censured and put on probation rather than terminated was the extenuating circumstances of his behavior. An investigation had determined he'd been the victim of extortion by some unsavory underworld figures. Vinnie's father had had a loose association with the mob.
Jack said hello to Dr. George Fontworth, a corpulent medical examiner colleague who was Jack's senior in the office hierarchy by seven years. George was just starting his weekly stint as the person who reviewed the previous night's reported deaths, deciding which would be autopsied and by whom. That was why he was at the office early. Normally, he was the last to arrive.
"A fine welcome," Jack mumbled when George ignored him as Vinnie had. Jack filled his mug with some of the coffee that Vinnie had made on his arrival. Vinnie came in before the other techs to assist the duty doctor if need arose. One of his jobs was to brew the coffee in the communal pot.
With his coffee in hand Jack wandered over to George and looked over his shoulder.
"Do you mind?" George said petulantly. He shielded the papers in front of him. One of his pet peeves was people reading over his shoulder.
Jack and George had never gotten along. Jack had little tolerance for mediocrity and refused on principle to hide his feelings. George might possess stellar credentials---he had trained with one of the giants in the field of forensic pathology---but to Jack, his efforts on the job were merely perfunctory. Jack had no respect for the man.
Jack smiled at George's reaction. He got perverse pleasure out of goading him. "Anything particularly interesting?" Jack asked. He walked around to the front of the desk. With his index finger he began to shuffle through the folders so he could read the presumed diagnoses.
"I have these in order!" George snapped. He pushed Jack's hand away and restored the physical integrity of his stacks. He was sorting them according to the cause and manner of death.
"What do you have for me?" Jack asked. One of the things that Jack loved about being a medical examiner was that he never knew what each day would bring. Every day there was something new. That had not been the case when he was an ophthalmologist.
Reprinted from Vector by Robin Cook by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 1999 by Robin Cook
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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