Detective Smithson turned his face in her direction.
Annabelle knew he was about to say something smarmy, a cheesy line like men spouted in stodgy films from the 50s. Hot enough to land in her bed, the man offered endless complications. Life in the city was tough. Six months after leaving the sticks, intense new experiences continued to punctuate that point. Being trapped in the morgue halfway through the nightshift should qualify as a bizarre anomaly, but in truth, it was too much a part of her normalcy.
Oh God, she’d used the word normalcy.
Smithson grabbed her by the shoulders and shook until her head wobbled back and forth. “I’m baring my heart here and you’re not even listening.”
A shove sent her stumbling into the corner just as the heavy door burst wide. The smidgen of guilt she’d been suffering about whacking her boss over the skull with a fire extinguisher evaporated.
Ernie clung to the doorframe; his eyes bulged and mouth gaped. Blood and gore and various body fluids covered his front, his arms reddened and viscous to the elbow.
“Shouldn’t the feeding frenzy be over?” She scurried behind the last remaining gurney. The petite frame of the elderly woman beneath the plastic sheet didn’t offer much distraction to a hunger-crazed ghoul in the grip of a frenzied attack, but a snack was better than nothing.
She crouched down and peeked over Ms. Benson’s flat bosom.
Poised halfway along the wall, Smithson’s gaze remained on the room they’d recently vacated. Whatever he saw behind Ernie’s bulk made his mouth go slack and his eyes widen.
“What? What’s out there?” The pitch of her voice sounded like a canary chirping a repetitive vocalization.
Ernie swung his blocky head, expression still vacant, and made a vague motion toward the incinerator room.
She winced. He might be pissed about the fact they’d tried to burn him up a few minutes ago.
“Move!” Smithson barked out as he darted between the gurneys, scooped her up and scooted them through the old door. The metal latch clanked shut. Silence filled her ears. The fluorescent lights humming overhead seemed loud. The detective said nothing but gathered her close and sank to the floor. Nestling her into his frame, he braced his back against the door.
Fear plucked at Annabelle. She lived with death on a daily basis, consumed death at every meal, dreamed over and even fantasized about death. The general public might spurn death as something to be avoided, but for ghouls, well their existence revolved around death. She didn’t want to die and until now she’d never been frightened of the concept.
Her stomach growled.
Smithson’s forehead dropped to the back of her neck. A shiver of breath warmed her shoulder blade. “Only you could be hungry at a time like this.”
“It’s not midnight, I haven’t eaten yet.” She snuggled into his lean chest. “Who’s Ernie about to meet?”
“I requested the cavalry and they sent a cleaning crew.”
She twisted her head to catch the soft words. His cadence slowed as scuffling sounds filtered in from the neighboring room. A bellow made her jump.
Smithson’s arms tightened around her and his body stiffened as he put pressure on the door.
A grunt of sound was followed by a cacophonous howl of bleats and snarls.
Annabelle dug her rubber-soled shoes into the asbestos tile floor and pushed her weight against Smithson. She sputtered with the idea for five seconds but the words came flooding out. “Are you insane? You called in the fire brigade?”
Smithson laughed. “Annabelle you have no tact whatsoever. Fire-breathers make the perfect clean-up crew. They burn everything to ash. All we have to do is a little sweeping up.”
“Think they’ll fry Ernie?”
“Probably. Especially if he tries to eat one, which he might. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Coroner, but both our lives would be simpler if the guy didn’t leave a regular trail of crime scenes littered with half-eaten bodies. Eventually somebody’s going to catch on.”
Annabelle bounced forward an inch as the door lever rattled. She ground her hips back into Smithson, grinned at his grunt of discomfort, and pushed. A single exploratory slap on the steel surface echoed in the small space.
After a few seconds the silence resumed.
The moment stretched out. Minutes passed. Smithson nuzzled her neck until she squirmed on the cold floor. “Bad timing, Detective.”
“There’s never a good time when it comes to you, I’ll take what I can get.”
“You aren’t getting anything tonight –“ She broke off and sniffed experimentally. “Do you smell something?”
Smithson mimicked her action and nodded. “BBQ?” Reluctantly he untangled their arms.
Annabelle snorted. “I’ve been a bad influence on you.” She climbed to her feet.
They cracked the door an inch and peeked out. Ms. Benson still lay under her protective covering. The gurney closest to the entrance supported the body of Mr. Paulson. Annabelle improvised the barrier to slow down pursuers. Now the old man’s remains were reduced to black ash.
Smithson clasped her hand and they inched into the room.
Ernie slumped next to the wall. His grey hair stuck up on end. A vicious burn blackened the left side of his face. His breath whistled. Eyes focused on Annabelle, his lips twitched. “The night shift is hell.”
They scuffled closer.
Smoke curled from the hooker’s overdosed corpse. She lay partly incinerated, the right half of her body compressed to formless dust.
Annabelle coughed into her fist, an attempt to cover an inappropriate burst of amusement. Smithson grimaced but Ernie chuckled too. “Trilby would have liked going out in a fiery orgy, the last victim of a smoldering assassination.”
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