Coma by Robin Cook. Part four

“Crawford! I thought that was an examiner’s case.” There was another pause.

The resident came back into the room as the timer went off again. The ringing noise made Susan jump once more. The resident squirted more distilled water onto the slides.

“The medical examiner released both cases to the department, as usual. Lazy son of a bitch. Anyway they’re doing Crawford right now.”

“Thanks,” said Susan. “All right if I go in and take a look?”

“By all means, our pleasure,” said the resident, shrugging his shoulders.

Susan paused momentarily at the doors, but she knew the resident was watching her, so she pushed open one of the doors and entered the room.

The room was probably forty feet square, old and dingy. Its walls were surfaced in white tile, which was ancient, cracked, and missing in places. The floor was a type of gray terrazzo. In the center of the room there were marble tables built with slanted tops. A stream of water constantly ran down each table toward a drain at the foot, which emitted a constant sucking noise. Over each table hung a hooded light, a scale, and a microphone. Susan found herself standing on a level three to four steps above the level of the main floor. Immediately to her right were several wooden benches on progressively lower tiers. These benches were a remnant from older days when groups would assemble to observe autopsies.

Only one of the hooded lights was on, that over the table nearest to Susan. It cast its relatively narrow beam down onto the naked corpse on the table immediately below. On each side of the table stood a pathology resident wearing an oilcloth apron and rubber gloves. The focal point of light caused the rest of the room to slide into graded burnt umber shadow like a sinister Rembrandt painting. The table in the center of the room was in shadow but it was possible for Susan to see that it also held a naked corpse, a manila tag tied around its right big toe. A large Y-shaped sutured incision crossed the thorax and abdomen. The third table was barely visible in the darkness, but it appeared to be empty.

Susan’s entrance stopped all progress in the room. Both residents were staring at her with their heads tilted down to avoid the glare of the overhead light. One of the residents with a large moustache and sideburns, was in the process of suturing the Y-shaped incision on the male corpse under the light. The other resident, taller by almost a foot, was standing before a basin containing the disemboweled organs.

Having sized up Susan, the taller resident went back to work. He reached into the tangle of organs with his left hand, grasping the liver. His right hand gripped a large, razor-sharp butcher knife. A few strokes freed the liver from the other organs. The liver made a sloshing sound as it oozed into the scale. The resident stepped on a foot pedal on the floor, speaking into the microphone. “The liver appears reddish brown with a lightly mottled surface, period. The gross weight is … a … two point four kilograms, period.” He then reached into the pan and lifted the liver out, dropping it back into the basin.

Susan descended several steps toward the group. The smell was slightly fishy; the air seemed greasy and heavy, like an uncleaned bus depot restroom.

“The liver consistency is more firm than usual but definitely pliant, period.” The knife flashed in the light and the liver surface separated. “The cut surface demonstrates an enhanced lobar pattern, period.” The knife sliced across the liver in four or five more places, then finally cut a piece out of the center. “The cut specimen demonstrates the usual friable character, period.”

Susan moved up to the foot of the table. The sucking drain was directly in front of her. The taller resident on the left reached into the basin for another organ but he stopped when the moustached resident spoke.

“Well, hello …”

“Greetings,” said Susan; “sorry to bother you.”

“No bother. Join the party, except we’ve almost finished.”

“Thanks, but I’m happy to just watch. Is this Crawford or Ferrer?”

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Categories: Cook, Robin