Mina Davis, private investigator, looked over the corpse. She didn’t know him, personally, but there was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that his death meant she might never solve another case. Damn sure meant she couldn’t solve her current one.
“Cause of death?” she asked.
Dr. Smoke took off her glasses, an oddity famously discussed among the various cops, PIs, and lawyers who dealt with her. Tiny circular black lenses, almost an inch thick, held together with the tiniest of wires. Anybody’s guess how she could see out of them. Nobody ever questioned Dr. Smoke, though. Couldn’t risk it; being on her good side was too valuable.
“I don’t know where to start,” she said, rubbing her eyes.
“What? I just asked for cause of death.”
“Yeah. That’s just it. I don’t know where to start. For example, his spine is basically a pretzel, only not as sturdy. His neck is knotted up like last year’s Christmas lights.”
“That what killed him?”
“Could be. Or it could be the heart. He’s had four heart attacks, and some drug related damage beyond that. Also some pretty serious poison effects.”
“So he was poisoned?” Mina just wanted an answer. She hated coming down to Dr. Smoke’s creepy, poorly lit basement lab, but there was nobody better, and Smoke was off the books. No red tape.
“Well, yeah, but that’s understating it a bit. He tested positive for cyanide, carbon monoxide, xylene, acetone, ethylbenzene and about a dozen others, plus trace amounts of a wide variety of narcotics, amphetamines, and hallucinogens. Nevermind the heart, it’s a miracle his brain isn’t just jelly.”
“Jesus. Safe to assume that’s what killed him, then?”
“Could be,” Dr. Smoke admitted, “or it could be the smoke damage in his lungs; looks like he was in a fire; serious heat damage and a thick coating of ash. Don’t know how the guy was breathing if that’s not what killed him.”
“Ok, so was it that?”
“I’m telling you, Davis, I don’t know. Could be the poison, could be the spine, could be the lungs or the heart. He’s got a load of other maladies, too. Knee cartilage is basically imaginary, could have been a skier, but if he was he wasn’t very good; lot of torn and partially repaired tendons and ligaments, and the left hip’s permanently bent inward. Both his shoulders are basically mush, with the rotator cuffs pulled inches away from where they’re supposed to be; guy’s lucky his arms didn’t literally fall off the last time he went to the gym. Plus fractures in the feet, scar tissue buildup in the hands. I’ve never seen a corpse come in with more wrong with it. Anything I should know that might help me figure it out?”
Mina shrugged. She hated describing dead people, but if it helped her figure out what happened to the poor bastard, she might as well.
“Nick Feldman. Age 27. Failed novelist, deep in debt. Contract writer for a variety of big companies, but never stays at them long. Former skier, so good guess there. Never married, and as near as I can tell never came particularly close, either. Medical records tell me he’s been accused of having just about every psychological disorder in the books by a variety of quacks, but none of them seem to agree on what kind of crazy he was beyond stubborn, though they all agree on that. Digging through his web history, looks like he mostly liked basketball, Bogart movies, whiskey, and sarcastic, unavailable women.”
“Oh, he woulda loved you,” Dr. Smoke said, lighting a cigarette. “But, sadly, I don’t know what to tell you, Mina. This guy should have been dead a dozen times before whatever finally killed him did the job.”
Mina sighed, and she was about to thank Doc for her time when the corpse coughed.
“What the-“ Mina jumped back, but Doc Smoke just looked at the corpse sternly, like it was a kindergartner acting out in class.
“Don’t worry, Davis. Sometimes a little gas builds up inside as organs die off, escapes as sound- sometimes even sounds like words - through the mouth or anus.”
“Well, to be fair, I’ve been known to talk out of both,” said the corpse, and he sat up on the table. Mina, not for the first time, wondered why she didn’t just buy a damn gun. Dr. Smoke stepped back, and grabbed a scalpel. Both women found their eyes drawn to the scars and stitches across the corpse’s chest where Dr. Smoke had opened him up for the autopsy. Both women were smart, but neither could conjure an adequate rationale for the fact that the stitched-up chest was moving, drawing breath into blackened lungs that funneled the oxygen into poisoned blood that coursed through a busted heart and engorged the muscles around a mangled spine, leading into that twisted up neck holding up that head full of Bogart quotes and serious mental health concerns.
“Doc, I think you’re slipping,” Mina said, wrapping her knuckles around an old pocketknife she’d found in her jeans.
“Not the Doc’s fault, Mina,” the corpse said, “I just needed to recharge. Takes more than that to kill me. Too busy to die just yet. Stuff to do. Sorry about the scare, though. And sorry about the timing; my fault that case of yours is taking so long. Should wrap up this week, though who knows when it’ll publish; your first one’s not even out yet.”
“What the Hell are you talking about?“ Crazy was nothing new for Mina, but all that really meant was that she knew how much damage it could do. She clutched the knife tighter.
“Don’t sweat it, Mina. This isn’t canon, anyways. And Doc Smoke, I owe you an apology, too. I haven’t even gotten around to introducing you, yet. Shit, I haven’t even given you a first name. Lazy work. Would it be too hacky to name you Antonia?”
The corpse smiled, and explained. “I’m no good at names, I usually just default to half clever references to stuff I like. Mina over there is named after Mina Murray Harker from Dracula, actually. Only Murray and Harker both would have been a bit too on the nose and maybe gotten me sued, so I just bugged a friend to make up her last name.”
Mina had heard just about enough of this crap, and she cut him off. “Quiet, you. I don’t know who you are, but I know enough to know you’re supposed to be two things: crazy and dead. I make it a habit of not worrying too much about what either of those demographics have to say, so how about you shut your wormhole, lie back down on that table, and let Doc and I figure out what exactly the fuck is going on?”
The corpse hopped off the table, and shook his head. He grabbed a convenient nearby labcoat, in his size, even though Dr. Smoke worked alone and was both taller than he was and the opposite gender. “No time, Mina. I’ve got lots to do. Gotta finish your case, for one. And I have to fix that other stuff so nobody- namely me- gets sued. To say nothing of that thing I owe Lysandra, or the contract thing with that secret society, or that stuff in New York… but first and foremost, I owe Doc a name. Where was I on that? Oh right, Antonia.”
“Why Antonia?” Doc Smoke asked, realizing for the first time that nobody had ever called her anything but “Doc Smoke.” She had to admit that was pretty weird.
He shrugged. “My favorite fictional doctor is Hannibal Lecter. Sadly, there’s not really a feminized version of ‘Hannibal,’ that I’m aware of. But I figure he was played by Anthony Hopkins, and Antonia is the feminized version of Anthony… plus a pretty sexy name besides.” He winked at the doctor, then blushed. Corpses don’t normally blush, but then they don’t normally creepily hit on their own fictional characters either, so he was breaking a lot of rules and just generally making everybody pretty uncomfortable.
Mina and Antonia exchanged glances. “Kill him?” Smoke asked, hopeful.
“Kill him.” Mina nodded. Doc moved quickly, injecting the corpse with a syringe full of something.
“Ow. What was that?” he asked, more annoyed then injured. Doc Smoke looked at the syringe, and found herself confused.
“It… it was supposed to be embalming fluid, but apparently it was caffeine.”
“Of course it was,” he said, sighing wearily, “otherwise I might get just a little more rest and we can’t fucking have that, now can we?!” It was not clear who, if anyone, he was supposed to be talking to.
“Why do you even have a syringe full of caffeine in your office, Doc?” Mina asked.
“Lazy writing,” the corpse answered before Doc could say anything, “serves me right. I hate needles. Oh well. If I wasn’t awake before, I damn sure am now. Guess I should get to work. Either of you girls have a laptop handy?”
“What?” they said in unison.
“If I’m going to be awake all night anyways, I may as well get started on that fucking blog post…” he pulled Doc Smoke’s laptop over to him, though neither of the women could remember noticing it there earlier.
“What does a corpse write about?” Mina asked, curiosity being all she really had left to work with. It was that or run screaming from the room, and Mina had a policy against screaming.
“You, mostly. But not in a creepy way, I promise. And I am trying to branch out… hence the blog.”
“What are you going to blog about?” Doc Smoke asked, because somebody needed to set up the ending.
The corpse’s eyes slowly widened as it dawned on him that he hadn’t really thought that far ahead. “I have no fucking idea. Hopefully not something too hacky or self-indulgent. I’m a little out of practice. Maybe I’ll just do a little Mina story to try and get myself going again… ”