“The Morgue is Murder” by Jennifer Morrow
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, a body must be identified for Jennifer Morrow in Phoenix.
Roberts stood silently until the man nodded, said, “That’s my brother.” A confirmation by one person who knew the deceased was all that was needed. The attendant replaced the sheet, covering the face, the sutured torso, and left the room. Roberts thought it amazing that this Kinney could recognize his older brother at all. The body had spent a few days in the canal before being spotted, bloating up gruesomely in water heated by the blazing summer sun. Luckily the wallet with his license was still in the pocket, which made finding the family simple. Now Roberts had the unenviable task, punishment really, of writing up reports on corpses that someone else would investigate.
He’d been discovered too often in the female cells, on top of being accused of getting trade from the cleaner Indian School Road hookers. The chief had finally called Roberts in and let him have the joyous news.
“You’re trash, Roberts, and I ain’t keeping trash in my division. I’m sending you to morgue duty and hopefully you’ll keep your hands off the dead broads. You’ll retain the title of “Detective” until the paperwork for your demotion goes through, then you’re back to beat. And if you can’t handle that, you’re out on your ass.”
Roberts had always known that one way or another his downfall would be the floozies, but he still felt the sting to his pride. He’d joined the force on the beat back in ’63, made Detective in ’70, and now, five years later, he’d have nothing to show for it but a string of clap treatments and the paperwork. Just as worrying was the significant drop in pay that went with the demotion. Going from his current $1100 a month down to somewhere south of $800 would be a bitter pill, and would definitely force a move from his clean Washington St. apartment complex. He actually didn’t think he had the stamina to do the beat anymore, yet sitting at a desk would make him suicidal. For three nights he’d tried to construct the type of letter that’d make the chief change his mind. Roberts was no writer.
He’d been showing up all week at the Third Street City Morgue, standing by, waiting for the grieving mother, father, sibling, fellow junkie, to reply in the affirmative. The lost were returned to the fold. This man, Kinney, stood looking down at the draped bloat of his brother. His face was knotted, like he wanted to cry but tears wouldn’t come.
“Mr. Kinney, I’m sorry for your loss.” He had memorized lines from the procedure handbook, having had little use for gentleness in his life until now. Sorrow was embarrassing.
“Did your brother know how to swim at all?”
“No,” Kinney gave a sad shake. “He worked. With such a successful restaurant, he didn’t do much else. The fishing was new. I bought him the equipment, trying to get him to relax.”
“Uh-huh, we did find a rod in there with him.” Even though fish don’t hang around the canal in 115 degree heat.
“We told him to relax, but too little, too late. This was inevitable”
“Who is “we”?”
“Me . . . oh, and Renee, Walt’s wife,” Kinney smiled.
“She the one you arrived with?” Roberts had seen her. Bottle blonde, flashy clothes, and platforms. Kinney had come to eyeball the stiff to save her from it. “Let’s join her.”
As they crossed to the doors, Coroner Milt passed Roberts his exam notes with an arched brow. Freak, thought Roberts.
In the corridor he glanced as she stood up, both at the papers and her short skirt.
“It’s him,” Kinney told her. She wailed and clutched her hands to her face. Roberts hated seeing women fall apart, hated it. He looked down while Kinney held her, trying to tune them out. Funny how certain strange phrases jump out in reports. The clean pages and dull professional lingo, until you get to something like “syringe puncture,” which links with the word “massive coronary event.” Add in “drowning ruled out as cause of death,” and you have something riveting. His head still down, Roberts looked sideways at the two and saw the quick little smile she directed up at him.
JENNIFER MORROW grew up just minutes from Disneyland and has lived in Phoenix since 1999. She has over 3000 books, is a member of a Sherlock Holmes group and carves tikis. Author James Ellroy once judged her a winner in a writing contest of noir shorts.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jan 9, 2017