The Coroner

Submitted by N.a. Gilmer to Contest #15 in response to: Write about one character’s fundamental misunderstanding of another character’s job.... view prompt

Katja realized very quickly that she was overdressed for the party. The low cut on both the front and back of her black flowing jumpsuit was at odds with the brocade jackets, tweed skirts, and high silk collars that other women were wearing. “This is very boring party” she said under her breath. 

The voice in the hidden speaker behind her ear told her “you’re not here to have fun, you’re here to do a job. Just do it and get out.” 

She sighed loudly into her hidden mic, knowing it would create a loud sound on his end.

“Ouch! Damnit Katja!” 

She winked over her shoulder at the van parked outside. She didn’t understand why Levi was always so uptight. All he had to do was drive and watch the entrance. 

“And don’t talk to anyone if you can help it, your English is atrocious.” 

She did not know what atrocious meant, but she understood the implication from his tone. She checked to make sure no one was close enough to hear, then blew a raspberry into the microphone. 

“...asshole.” 

She knew what that meant, but it was time to get to work. Levi had shown her a picture of the target -- an old man named Glenn Pritchard. This was his party and his house. He would be easy to spot by his hair. He had the kind of distinguished grey hair that came in large streaks of grey and black, almost like he had gotten highlights.

She scanned the room. There was a pianist in the corner playing smug jazz, and groups of people standing around tall cocktail tables as expressionless waiters in white coats floated through the crowd with hors d'oeuvres and champagne. A huge ugly painting hung behind the man on the piano. Low, sultry lighting exposed the bottom of a marble staircase, and tall glass doors opened to the back yard, where a pool and garden were lit up with bistro lights. As she moved closer to the back of the room, the crowd became denser so she had to squeeze in between people to move. 

“Heh-lo there,” said jolly voice near her neck. She looked down to see that the short, jowly man she was currently pressed up against was talking to her. “My name’s Rodney,” he said, holding out a hand in the limited space between them. 

She shook it reluctantly. “Kat -- um...Katherine,” said Katja.  

Good,” said Levi in her ear, “always use lies closest to the truth. They’re harder to spot that way.” 

“Crowded in here,” said Rodney making a wiggling gesture to mime being stuck in a crowd. His rimless glasses slid down his nose from the movement, and he pushed them firmly up with a small laugh. 

“Yes,” she said, hoping he was just chatting to her in passing. 

“So what do you do?” he asked, tipping his glass of champagne at her. 

Levi was in her ear again. “Alright something boring, but close to the truth.” 

“I uh, decide how people, um...die?” she said, as a waiter offered her a glass of champagne. She took it.

Levi screamed, “NOT THAT CLOSE TO THE TRUTH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!” Katja put a finger in her ear to drown out his yelling. 

“Sorry,” said Rodney, laughing to himself. “It’s a bit loud in here. So you investigate the cause of death?”

Katja shrugged and took a sip of champagne. It was very good. Rich people chose awful paintings, but spectacular Champagne. “Um, yes? Yes, that’s what I do.” 

“So you’re like a... coroner? Is that the official title?”

“Yes, I am corner.” 

Fascinating.” His eyes lit up. “I’m sure you get this all the time, but do you watch Law and Order?” 

“Um, not really.” She said scanning the crowd over Rodney’s head. Still no sight of Glenn.

“True Blood?”

“No.”

“Broadchurch?”

“No.”

“Shetland?”

“No.”

“Grey’s Anatomy?” 

“No.” 

“Dexter?”

“No.”

“Sherlock?”

She could hear Levi groan in her ear. “You need to get out of this conversation without causing a scene.” 

“No shit” said Katja. 

“I knew it! You’re a Sherlock fan! I could just tell.” Rodney tapped his head with his pointer finger. “Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing in it, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, big fan. Have you seen Glenn?”

Rodney craned his neck and looked around. “I saw him earlier, but I can’t see him at the moment. The host is always having to run around attending to something.” He rolled his eyes. “How do you know each other? Or are you Margie’s guest?”

“I um...” She could hear Levi’s sharp intake of breath. He was preparing to yell at her, she knew it. “I know him from work?”

“Thought you might.” 

Katja and Levi exhaled with relief. 

“Oh, there he is!” Rodney pointed at a salt-and-pepper-haired head slipping out into the garden area. 

“Perfect, thanks.” She finished her champagne in one glug, set her glass on a nearby plate, and started weaving her way through the crowd again.  

Rodney watched her slip away, shaking his head. “I cannot believe she hasn’t seen Law and Oder.” Just then, he realized he was standing back to back with Glenn’s wife. 

“Margie!” he called.

The woman closed her eyes for a moment, praying for patience. “It’s Margaret.” The circle of people she was talking to quickly backed away and re-formed without her, leaving her alone with Rodney. 


***


Now on the other side of the room, Katja looked back to make sure she wasn’t being watched and switched directions. Instead of going to the garden, she ascended the shadowy marble staircase as quietly as she could. 

She checked several rooms until she found one with a balcony overlooking the garden. She looked down to make sure Glenn was the only one in the garden. He paced back and forth near the pool, talking loudly. He held a cellphone up to his ear with his right hand and swung a glass of whiskey around with his left. The whiskey sloshed out a bit when he was making a particularly passionate point. He seemed to notice this, and set it down on a nearby table. 

Finally, thought Katja. She pulled a little bottle out of her purse and aimed a few drops at his whiskey glass. 


***

Rodney had been telling Marget at length about an episode of Law and Order for what seemed to Margret like half an hour when they heard an ear-splitting shriek coming from the garden. The party guests went silent, and the pianist stopped playing abruptly. “Please excuse me, I should see what that was all about,” said Margret, and hurried off, her heels clicking loudly in the dead quiet of the room. 

The second she was out of sight everyone began to murmur loudly to each other. A second shriek sent them outside towards the sound. Even the waiters followed the crowd outside. 

“What’s all the fuss about?” said Rodney, pushing his way to the front of the crowd. “Oh God.” He clapped his hand to his mouth.

Glenn’s body lay on the ground -- his limbs skewed out at odd angles. Margaret was alternately shaking him, and pushing on his chest. The maid that had found him stood petrified with her hands over her mouth. 

“Somebody do something!” Margaret wailed. 

“Don’t worry Margie, there’s someone here who can help,” said Rodney. “Katherine!” he yelled towards the crowd. “Where are you?” 

Katja, who was at the back of the crowd, with her back to the scene and one foot inside the house, swiveled around. “What do I do?” she said under her breath. 

“Well you can’t run now, they’ll know it was you,” said Levi exasperated. 

“Shit,” she whispered, then called out loudly “Yes?” Everyone turned to face her. 

“We need your expertise!” said Rodney.  

Katja moved forward reluctantly, as the crowd parted to let her pass. 

“Don’t worry, she’s a coroner,” said Roney pompously. 

“Shouldn’t we call a doctor?” asked one of the guests. 

“Or the police?” said someone else, but Rodney ignored them. 

“Is he dead?” he asked eagerly, gesturing at the body. Everyone was silent now, waiting to hear what Katja said. Margret sobbed quietly in the background. “Well?” said Rodney. 

Katja moved closer to the body and glanced at it. “Definitely.” 

The crowd of onlookers gasped collectively. Margaret screamed and backed away. “How?” asked Rodney. 

“Poison.”

The crowd gasped again. “Amazing,” whispered Rodney. 

Levi swore in Katja’s ear. “What...the...FUCK...are...you...DOING? Shut up and get out of there ASAP!” But Katja found that she rather enjoyed the impressed looks on everyone’s faces. It was nice to be appreciated for once. In her line of work, she didn’t get a lot of chances to impress people. 

“Yes, probably in his whiskey.” She bent down and pretended to smell Glenn’s body. “Arsenic.”

One of the waiters scoffed defensively. “How did the arsenic get in his drink? We’re serving champagne.”

Katja pointed up. “Someone dropped some from balcony into his glass.” 

“Wow,” said someone in the crowd. Katja gave a shrug of feigned humility. 

“You barely even had to look at the body,” said Rodney. “Just like Sherlock.” 

Katja shrugged again, “is my job.”

“I still think we should call the police!” shouted a man in the crowd. A murmur of approval rose up. 

“I’ll do it!” offered Rodney, and pulled his phone out.  “Hello? Yes, I’m afraid there’s been a murder.” Margaret wailed again. Katja backed slowly into the crowd and disappeared out the front door. 


***

She had barely closed the passenger’s side door of the van when Levi took off, driving as quickly as he could without calling too much attention to himself. “What’s a ‘cumberbatch’?” she asked, kicking her stilettos off and rubbing her feet. 

“You IDIOT. You were supposed to go in there unseen, kill the guy, and get out, not explain every detail of the job to them.”

“Relax, they think I’m a coronet.” 

“CORONER.” 

“Whatever that is.” 


***


When the police arrived on the scene, Rodney led them to the back garden. The officer in charge looked over the body, sighed, and looked at the other two officers with him. “Secure the front door, and search the house. Make sure no one leaves until I tell them too.” They jogged away immediately. 

“I’m officer Kruger,” he said looked at the awestruck crowd. No one made a sound, so he turned his attention to Margaret, sobbing on Rodney’s shoulder. “Are you the wife of the deceased ma’am?” She just sobbed harder. 

“Yes she is,” said Rodney. 

“Who are you then?” 

“I’m a friend of Glenn’s, or I was a friend of Glenn’s I mean.” Margaret sobbed even harder. 

“Can you tell me what happened?”

Rodney explained what he had witnessed as the officer wrote his story down on a pad of paper. 

“Can I speak to this coroner person?” 

“Sure thing!” Rodney called into the crowd for Katherine. When she did not come, the guests turned their heads to see if she was among them.

“She’s not here!” a few people yelled out. 

The officer sighed heavily. “What did this Katherine person look like?”

Rodney answered, “pretty, tall, slim, dark brown hair, low-cut but tasteful jumpsuit. She had some sort of accent.” 

Officer Kruger stuffed his pad into his shirt pocket and pulled out his phone. He scrolled through it for a while then showed Rodney and Margaret a photograph of a wanted poster. “Is this her?”

“Well I’ll be, that’s her!” said Rodney. 

The officer sighed again and radioed his colleagues. “Damnit boys, it’s her again. Look over the house, but I’m sure she’s gone by now.” He reattached the radio to his belt and looked at Rodney and Margaret’s expectant faces. “She’s an assassin by the name of Katja Chernovska. We’ve been looking for for months.” 


***


Several miles away, Levi tossed Katja a bag of clothes without taking his eyes off the road. “Change into these. Because of your idiotic little stunt, the whole police force is going to be out there looking for someone in a revealing dress.” 

“Jumpsuit,” she corrected. “And what was I supposed to do? That guy keep asking me stuff. I pulled it off.” 

“Barely” 

Katja huffed and muttered, “at least someone thinks I’m good at my job.” 

“For the love of God! You are NOT a coroner!” 

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