They had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant not far from the library. Eagerly sucking down large bowls of pho outside next to Bentley, Neither of them had very much to say. The slurping of noodles and broth served as the only means of communication until both bowls were empty and they relaxed with a pot of Jasmine tea. For his part, Brian adored the comfort food, not to mention the tea was doing wonders for his frayed nerves. By the time lunch had been finished he'd even come up with an idea.
“So I was thinking about the coroner reports.” He said casually.
“And?” Sharice countered over her tea cup.
“Both the coroner and Mr. Baker had a really weird way of describing the teeth marks on the bodies.” He stopped for dramatic effect, but all it really earned him was a raised eyebrow from Sharice. “They both said that they didn't match the dental records of any living person.”
“So?” Sharice said impatient.
“So why make a distinction like that? Why not just say something like: 'Matches no existing records' or something along those lines?”
He thought he saw sudden comprehension leap into Sharice's eyes.
“Because they did find a match!” She whispered excitedly. “But from their perspective the match wasn't possible!”
“Precisely!” Brian said smirking and taking a sip of tea. “We need to get into that coroner's office and see if we can't find out who those teeth match.”
Brian had expected the job to be something of a lengthy one. Casing the office alone would have probably taken him a week normally. And then there was the security to worry about. A big government building like that was bound to be full of sensors and alarms, not to mention cameras and possibly guards. Sharice had other plans however.
“We're getting this done!” She had proclaimed as if she was the one who would be breaking into the County Coroner's office. They had worked out a possible assault on the building all afternoon, going over and over plans, trying to find a plan whose conclusion was not Brian in handcuffs. Sharice's brow grew closer and closer as the day wore on and no real solution presented itself. Finally she sighed and pulled something out of her jacket pocket. It was a large bronze coin on a chain. Runes were etched into the outside rim of the coin. Brian had seen these runes before connected with vikings and the Norse gods but he had no idea what they meant. Sharice placed it in his hand with an air of regret, as if she were singularly unwilling to give this token up.
“What's this,” Brian asked holding up the coin and examining the spiky, linear runes.
“That's my last resort. Mama had to call in a major favor to get that for me.”
Brian still had no idea what she was talking about so he fixed her with an annoyed look until she continued.
“This is something I was really looking to hang on to until I was in a tight spot. Its an amulet.” She sighed once, looking at the coin as if it were a precious family heirloom. “Certified ten minutes of complete intangibility.”
“Intangibility?” Brain asked
“You can't be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched for ten minutes when this thing gets activated.”
“Hot Damn!” Brian cried looking with renewed respect at the trinket he held. “Why didn't you bring this up before, This will definitely get me in there, no problems.”
“Yes,” Sharice said, all signs pointing to a caveat to this happy news. “But It's not really a solution. In the unlikely event you find your way through this place and to the records in under ten minutes, you still have to dig up the one's you're looking for. This could be multiple hours worth of work and all I can give you is ten minutes.”
The happiness in Brian's heart withered and died. He hadn't considered how long the actual searching might take. Still the coin would provide a way in, he just needed to stay unseen while there and find a way out. Still an aggressively tall order but he was a little heartened by the brass coin. He closed his eyes, entering something akin to a meditative state. In his head he saw the outside of the building. He saw the window on the first floor he could slip into, he saw front door large and imposing, he saw the small bits of the inside he'd managed to glimpse when he'd peered through the windows. His mind played a numbers game with him that was very difficult for someone who hasn't done much breaking and entering or robbery could comprehend. Finally his eyes snapped open.
“Whens the only time I won't trip the alarm?” He said in a curiously flat tone.
“When?” Sharice asked intrigue by this change in him.
“When they're already going off.” Brain announced triumphantly wondering why it had taken him so long to come to this conclusion. Sharice's look of utter confusion began to fade as Brian relayed his plan. Then it shifted to a look of worry, a look of outright skepticism and then finally a look of defeated resignation.
When night had truly fallen Brian and Sharice stood across the street from the building. Traffic what little there had been was almost completely dead in this part of town, so far from the residential districts and everything that wasn't corporate or government. The two of them stood balanced on the curb like divers on a spring board. They exchanged one last cursory look that said both “Are you sure you want to do this?” and “I'm ready if you are”. Brian zipped up his jacket, slipped on his gloves and pulled the ski-mask down over his face. He nodded at Sharice, who had also pulled down her mask, and they made their way towards the building. Brian went first skirting around the side of the building, making for the window he'd seen earlier. He had wedged an empty cigarette box in between the pane and sill and to his delight it had not been moved. There was the little red package holding the window just slightly open. All he needed now was the signal.
The signal came in the sound of a shotgun blasting into the building's front door. The sound of buckshot splintering the wood of the front door was shortly followed by the high pitched blaring of all the alarms in the general area. That was Brian's cue; and he wasted no time, wrenching the window open and slipping inside, silent as the sunset. He found himself in a small office full of four five cubicles. He liked and lamented the cover all at once; while it protected him from being seen, it also kept him from seen threats. Never the less he proceeded through the room into the hall. The building functioned as record house and coroner's office all rolled into one so as he emerged into the hall, he saw several rooms lining the hallway he was sneaking through filled with filing cabinets. HE cursed the marble floors of the building which made him go slower than he wished lest the footsteps alert any nearby guards of a closer threat than the gun at the door. The plaques on the doors weren't particularly helpful either. They seemed to be pointing out death certificates for the past hundred and fifty years or more and none of them were pointing where he could find the record of a more recent examination. Then he came to the en of the marble hallway and he had two choices.
Going back the way he had come was always a viable if risky option, or he could take the steel door in front of him labeled “to examination rooms”. As keen as he was to go poking around a deserted morgue in the middle of the night. He felt he would be just as likely to find the documents he needed there as he had been in this hallway. This was the county coroner's office. They brought bodies here from three cities around to have autopsies done.
“Goddamn it!” A voice not to far down the hallway exclaimed. It was a man's voice, strained and angry. It sounded like it was coming from the direction of the front door. The sound of it caused Brian to freeze in place. The high ceilings in this place had a bad habit of making every little sound bounce everywhere. “They got away! What the hell did they want?!”
“Probably just some asshole kid.” Another voice responded, female this time. Then Brian heard the beeping of a walkie talkie turning on. “Tony? Its Brenda, is the alarm still going off?”
A beep sounded as she presumably lifted her finger off the talking button. As an aside she added:
“I really fucking hate these silent alarms! I never know if we set the damn thing off.”
A voice blared from the walkie all of a sudden. It crackled with static and was barely audible but Brian managed to make out a few words from his vantage point.
“....going off...can't...alarm...in here...” Then the beep of the communication ending
“Alright, probably another damn raccoon” Brenda said sighing. “You get back to the camera and we'll wait here for the cops. If you see anything that isn't a rodent let me know.”
Brian's blood turned to ice. He had anticipated mainly three or four night guards if the state had felt affluent enough to employ so many, but he had hoped a shotgun hole in their front door might have kept them busy for longer than ten minutes. Now he looked at the door before him. He had no choice. They would be looking at those cameras any minute now, and there he'd be, bold as brass. He needed to find that record, if he walked out of here empty handed they'd never get another chance. Worse came to worse, he might be able to find somewhere to hide down there.
It took supreme effort to stay quiet now, He pushed open the door to the pitch black stair case and closed it silently behind him. Flicking on the lights he looked for something he could use to bar the door. The stairwell landing was large. There was a janitors cart next to the railing and a small window set into the opposing wall. No where could he find anything to brace the wall. It wouldn't have mattered even if he could, the floors were a seamless linoleum nothing for the bracing material to catch on.
That's when his eyes fell upon the janitors cart again. A small bundle of rags sat in the cart, dirty and stained with countless cleanings, but they would do the trick. He tied three together, making sure his knots would hold. Then he tied the one end around the door handle and the other around the base of the light fixture a foot or two above the handle. He tried it a few times, attempting to open and close the door. To his joy, the door held.
Knowing this was but a temporary solution, Brian turned and raced down the stairs leaping two at a time more often than not. When he finally reached the base and pushed through a pair of swinging double doors, he was in another hallway. Flicking on the light he saw that it was the sterile white of most hospitals and twice as foreboding sans habitation. The steel gurneys along the right wall made him more than a little unnerved, and yet they also gave him a bit of an idea. He pushed one of the heavy things in front of the double doors and kicked it over, blocking them from moving inward. The flapping doors had no handles, it would be a bitch to pull them open from the other side. Never the less he knew it unlikely to hold them for more than a few minutes. Hurriedly he moved forward. The left seemed to be made of little more than three large and extensively equipped medical examination rooms. Brian didn't stay overlong in these, the large metal tables with their drains and hose perched above them gave him an awfully clear picture of what happened here on a daily basis. Not to mention the medical saws and drills and other devices, drying on stands beside sinks. After the examination room was a long room, whose walls were filled with small metal doors. He had seen enough television to know opening one of those would not reveal anything comforting. The right side of the hallway was far more inciting.
Here were more rooms filled to bursting with filing cabinets. Unlike the ones above, these held mostly autopsy reports of ongoing police investigations. They were locked, Brian found when he went to pull the drawer of one open. However he put faith in the idea that people who worked in clerical positions everywhere were two tired and angry at their job to be overly careful about where they kept the keys, and sure enough he found them in atop one of the cabinets. Mentally combing the list of victims he found the first manilla folder without too much difficulty. Doing his best not to outwardly blanch at the autopsy photos within. Some he had seen before. Mr. Baker had somehow secured them for his dossiers, but some of the more graphic images were new and distastefully unique. Behind those were lists of measurements and medical jargon he didn't quite comprehend. It was all stuff about “fixed lividity” and “anterior abdominal abrasions”, things his pitiful grasp on the Latin and Greek languages couldn't really decipher. He knew enough however to look for anything relating to teeth. It took him about ten minutes to find anything, by then he could hear a distant crashing sound, signaling that someone was attempting to get past the first of his barriers. That in mind, Brian's eyes sped over the note on the page.
“Tooth impression's confirm, attacker was an adult human.” Was what he could make out before he could before the notes devolved into gibberish about bicuspids and canines. He saw at the bottom of the page was a handwritten note which appeared to have been scribbled out.
Much nearer at hand, Brian heard the raucous clangor of metal meeting metal in a none to friendly way. Now Brian could hear voices from the doorway.
“Damn it Frank!” The unrestrained voice of Brenda sounded as she screamed into her walkie talkie. “He pushed a gurney in front of the doors! Fuck!”
“We can take the elevator.” Frank answered, also gruff and sounding annoyed.
“I don't have the fucking key do you?!” Brenda shrieked unhelpfully.
“There's one in the office come on.” The crashes ceased and Brian could hear the sound of retreating feat.
Brian poked his head out of the room with a nervous look to the end of the hall he had not been yet. A large set of steel gray elevator doors sat at the hallways end like the gates of hell, and Brian felt panic flood him. There was nothing he could do to keep those bad boys from opening. He suddenly realized he'd been incredibly stupid. How else did they get these corpses down here, they certainly didn't wheel them down the stairs.
Knowing he had only minutes, Brian squinted at the note, attempting to determine the writing beneath the scribbling. He finally could see the words “possible match” and an arrow to the next page. Paper clipped to the page he was reading was a photocopy of an I.D. and what looked like a death certificate.
“Zhou, Timothy” the I.D. read. He was an Asian man, unsmiling in the photo on the I.D. According to the death certificate he had died in 1998. No wonder the coroner had dismissed the match out of hand. Smiling and content with the idea that he had found his ghost, he smiled down at the folder until he heard the elevator whir into life. Fear and panic flooded him like gasoline in an engine and he ripped the paper out of the folder and jammed it in his pocket. He slammed the folder back into the cabinet with maniac strength and slammed the drawer shut. He threw the keys in the general direction of cabinet and fled the room. Reaching inside the pocket on the inner lining of his jacket, he grabbed the small coin whipped the string around his neck. He fumbled with the words Sharice had tought him, and they came out in a heady mumbled rush.
“Freya, you who sit the seat of sorcerery,
Odin Allfather, you who walk the dark branches of Yggdrasil
Grant me your power,
Shield me from my foes
and let me be but a wisp of wind.”
To his absolute terror, nothing happened. The coin sat unresponsive in his palm, and he remained seemingly as solid as ever. The elevator doors opened before his body had gained back enough of his wits to run, and Two figures in black and blue uniforms rushed in. There was an older woman with copper colored hair, and an old gray haired man, flashlight's raised and guns at the ready. Brian held his breath not knowing whether to bolt and risk being shot. But their eyes went right over him without consequence. They looked from side to side and said not a word about him standing stock still, in ski mask and gloves. They began to move cautiously about the hallway peering into rooms, all the while ignoring Brian.
“Dammit! Where the hell did he go?!” Brenda said. Before Brian could do much of anything, she charged toward him, then miraculously, she charged right through him. She ran to the end of the hall peering in room after room. “There's nobody here Frank! He must have gone back up the steps!”
Frank ran through Brian as well and they both made their way through the double doors, leaping over the gurney as they went. Galvanized by relief and joy, Brian's body began to respond again. He ran after the guards, passing through the gurney like mist and through the doors as if they were made of fog. For some reason he could still climb the stairs and he made a run for it, so as to save as much of his intangibility as humanly possible. He made his way back to the top of the stairs, back to the offices and then, without even disturbing the air, through the solid wall out into the freedom of the night. He could see the distant flashes of light as the two guards searched for him, aided by their friend on the camera's who had to have been watching for his escape. He would see nothing however. Brian allowed himself a sly, foxy grin before running off into the night.
A couple of miles and fifteen minutes later, Sharice pulled up to spot of curb outside the O'Hare library. Brian stood and opened the passenger door and slid gratefully in.
“How'd you make out.” Sharice asked looking favorably on the smiling man.
“Like a very literal thief in the night.” With a bit of pride, he slapped the crumpled photocopy into her hand and reclined. “There's your ghost.”
Sharice smiled and slid the paper into her pocket. With a sense of accomplishment like he had never known before, Brian smiled as he was carried off back to the casino.