"An object can be visualized, silver and cylindrical, resembling a section of flashlight casing. . . ."
Wet metal gleamed through the slit in the intestine, black fabric wrapping one end. No, not fabric, friction tape. Caulfield's finger tentatively tapped the casing. Something about the object glimmered with threat, an intruder in the house.
He heard Dr. Peltier's chair push back and high heels start toward him. She'd been listening. His fingers slid into the passageway and grasped the object. He tugged gently. It slipped easily through the slit, then resisted. Caulfield tightened his fingers around the object and pulled harder.
Simultaneous: white flash, black thud. Caulfield's head whiplashed and the floor slammed his back. Red mist and smoke painted the air. A woman's scream spun through the roaring in his ears. Someone above him waved a blunt stick, a club.
No, not a club . . .
The light flickered twice and failed.
When the autopsy was transcribed to printed form, transcriptionist Marie Manolo was uncertain whether to include Dr. Caulfield's final six words. Trained by Dr. Peltier to be clinically detached and thorough, Marie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and continued typing:
My fingers. Where are my fingers?
"A guy's walking his dog late one night. . . ." I watched Harry Nautilus lean against the autopsy table and tell the World's Greatest Joke to a dozen listeners holding napkin-wrapped cups and plastic wineglasses. Most were bureaucrats from the city of Mobile and Mobile County. Two were lawyers; prosecution side, of course. Harry and I were the only cops. There were dignitaries around, mostly in the reception area where the main morgue rededication events were scheduled. The ribbon cutting had been an hour back, gold ribbon, not black, as several wags had suggested.
"What kind of dog?" Arthur Peterson asked. Peterson was a deputy prosecutor and his question sounded like an objection.
"A mutt," Harry grunted, narrowing an eye at the interruption. "A guy is walking his mutt named Fido down the street when he spots a guy on his hands and knees under a streetlight." Harry took a sip of beer, licked foam from his bulldozer-blade mustache, and set his cup on the table about where a head would be.
"The dog walker asks the man if he's lost something. Man says, Yeah, my contact lens popped out.' So the dog walker ties Fido to a phone pole and gets down on his hands and knees to help. They search up and down, back and forth, beneath that light. Fifteen minutes later the dog walker says, Buddy, I can't find it anywhere. Are you sure it popped out here?' The man says, No, I lost it over in the park.' The park?' the dog walker yells. Then why the hell are we looking in the street?'"
Harry gave it a two-beat build.
"The man points to the streetlamp and says, The light's better here.'"
Harry laughed, a musical warble at odds with a black man built like an industrial boiler. His audience tittered politely. An attractive redhead in a navy pantsuit frowned and said, "I don't get it. Why's that the world's greatest joke?"
"It has mythical content," Harry replied, the right half of his mustache twitching with interest, the left drooping in disdain. "Given the choice of groping after something in the dark, or hoping to find it easily in the light, people pick the light ninety-nine times out of a hundred."
Peterson lofted a prosecutorial eyebrow. "So who's the hundredth guy, the one always groping in the dark?"
Harry grinned and pointed my way.
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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