Boyer’s and Bailey’s bodies lay quiet in the sun; time hadn’t passed for muscles to stiffen, and limbs were still limp. Bailey — six or seven holes in his neck and torso — had gurgled “Dad” from his knees before he’d dropped. Boyer had uttered nothing.

Heat was sticky and reeked of raw death, so ponchos were brought and wrapped ’round each to smother the mess; to beams robbed from splintered trees the lumpy cocoons were roped and hoisted dangling between reluctant shoulders. Evacuation began.

Four carriers manned each beam — two in front, two in back — and had to negotiate a descending trail. Their loads swayed back and forth awkwardly like deer carcasses. The carriers at the front of the beams had it toughest — dead weight’s always heavy — but downhill put it all on them. They stumbled over dips and bumps, tripped on rocks and roots, smacked their faces on branches, and sweated in the vaporous heat.

At one point a carrier slipped and his partner behind tripped backward; the beam fell hard against the partner’s shoulder, pinning something soft between — Boyer’s head. Pushing in revulsion, he thought of hamburger until he felt the ooze squeezing through his fingers drip on his face.

“...lasagna?”

“What?”

“Chicken or lasagna?”

“Neither.”

She brings another drink and I look west over the wing at the remains of day; then scribble...

‘You’re back with the bodies,’ friend said; and he’s right. Perhaps it’s time to address the issue — if all goes as planned, there are people alive at this moment who I will soon encounter dead...

Finishing my drink and chewing the cubes and wondering at the approaching glow of San Diego, I think of the transience of life and its most unsettled wonder — when?


In a run-down house on Josselyn Avenue near East Oneida Street in Chula Vista, the bodies of Armando and Luis lay stinking in their own blood like day-old roadkill.

Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. John Eisele (forensic pathologist) and one M.E. investigator work behind homicide detectives and complete reports. No signs of struggle, but cause of death is pretty apparent: stucco of blood and gray matter is spattered across a wall.

One body lies on top of the other, both on backs, both faces up — if “faces” they can be called: 9mm slugs at close range pulverize facial bones and turn brain to pulp. Eisele and investigator — wearing rubber gloves and distant expressions — inspect and utter in primitive aphorism:

...entrance wounds in the face...at least two in immediate range...covered with blood, can’t tell...three exit wounds in the back of the head — Um...there’s three holes immediately behind his head...down on the baseboard, essentially — Um...’nother hole about five feet up...above and to the right...has some hair on it...so...that’s one gone through a head...

Many hours after any regrets, a contracted crew of two arrives for pickup and delivery. Uniformed like carpet cleaners, they busy themselves tying plastic bags over the hands now stiff as claws, the feet still shod, the heads turned fat as puffers. Then the fully dressed bodies themselves — cold inside their own crusted fluids — are picked up and moved like full canoes wobbling across some old river and passing into darkness...zipped... locked...sealed.


Office of the Medical Examiner — 5555 Overland Avenue, Building 14 — sits near a Taco Bell, just outside the barbed chain-link fence surrounding the rest of S.D. County Operations. Presenting a prefab and pebbled façade in the shape of an L, its appearance implies no crossing of the Styx. Neither does a step through the front door.

It is eight a.m. (half a day after Chula Vista). Assembled at a table in the Conference Room are four forensic pathologists (plus one in training) and three technical specialists (toxicologist, investigator, autopsy assistant). On the walls hang certificates and plaques and photo-recognitions, including the fiery image of PSA Flight 182 “screaming” in blue sky. Investigator Calvin (“Cal”) Vine slides me a piece of paper and whispers, “Here’s the morning menu.”

“Um...there’s a bullet beneath the shoulder —” Dr. Eisele explains “— so we thought we had it figured out with one of the bullets hitting the wall and bouncing out. And maybe two came out one hole, you know...the exits were grouped.”

Dr. Blackbourne (head of the table and opposite Cal) nods. Somebody else clicks a pen. Dr. Davis (who looks like John-Boy Walton) speaks in a Tennessee accent: “Whether it’s related or not, but...that case from Chula Vista that I did a week or so ago...um...the police said they thought that there would be retribution for that —” pen clicks “— so I don’t know if this has any bearing on that whatsoever.”

Dr. Blackbourne looks to Dr. Swalwell (who looks like Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago) and reads the next name on the “menu.” Swalwell paraphrases from a report:

“...is a 35-year-old German man —”

“— wouldn’t you know he’d use cyanide —”

“—working on some kind of...says here ‘Exchange Visitor’s Facilitative Staff.’ Anyway, he came over here apparently with his girlfriend, recently broke up with his girlfriend, was unhappy with his girlfriend’s daughter, was also unhappy with a previous girlfriend —”

“— basically was unhappy — ”

“— parks the van in front of her residence, which she didn’t check on till the next morning — in fact she asked a friend to check — and found him dead inside. Next to him is a test tube that contains another test tube that contains a white substance. And there’s an apparent suicide note...”

(Someone yawns.)

“...if anybody speaks German.”

As a Polaroid makes its way around the table — decedent appearing simply curled in sleep — Dr. Davis volunteers he has friends from Germany studying at UCSD.

“— more spies.”

Blackbourne redirects conversation: “Dr. Davis, tell us about Tony.”

“Tony is a single white male in his 30s visiting San Diego from New York found dead in a hotel room. On the 19th he was running around the lobby with his shirt off and seemingly hallucinating. That was all right, of course, because he’d paid through the 21st. It wasn’t all right when the 21st came and went and he hadn’t checked out. Decedent was found decomposing on the floor beside a bottle of [a prescription narcotic] with a friend’s name on it. Brenda called this friend, and he said that the decedent is known to have used heroin. Um...there’s possible track marks.”

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