REQUIEM: The Vampire Javert
Gilles Previer sniffed the air and grimaced. There were few things that could entice him to enter the morgue, but today his superiors had enumerated most of them. Someone had to attend, provide identification, and order disposal of the remains. The deceased had been a police inspector, after all.
The damp, grey corridor, poorly lit, stretched before him, as inviting as a walk to the gallows. He paused briefly at the desk, where the attendant took his name and pointed him toward the third door. Typical! His destination was fated to be the room furthest away, deepest in the bowels of this wretched monument to death.
His pace was quick and steady; the sooner he could dispense with formalities, the sooner he would be back outside in the comparatively fresh air of dust and smoke. He paused only long enough to read the yellowed placard tacked on the wall. 'Examination Room'.
Rather a moot point, Previer quietly mused. What need did any of these poor devils have for an examination? Perhaps the administrators thought 'Necropsy' was too callous a word? The door was partly open, and so the sergeant pushed it further and stepped over the threshold, to find himself practically gagging from the stench.
Far to his right, another door stood open, and through it came the sound of water, sprayed from a hose. He could see a workman in black apron and boots, washing down a naked and elderly female corpse, hanging from the wall. Near to choking on his lunch, Previer turned his head and coughed behind a fist. The rest of his surroundings were just as grim.
Near the center of the room a tall man, fair-haired and wearing spectacles, stood beside a slate top table. The fellow was in his shirt sleeves, wearing a badly soiled apron, and brandishing a scalpel. There was a body on the table, heavyset and ruddy skinned. The sergeant mistook the corpse for a man, possibly a Moor. A second glance proved it had walked in life as female, and the settling of blood had given the skin its dark cast. As a police officer, he was familiar with such conditions, though his prior chance encounters with such situations were more than sufficient for him.
Two or three attendants were working around the room, oblivious to the visitor, filing charts, carrying buckets, or pushing a scrub broom near ta drain in the floor.
"I beg your pardon?" The gentleman beside the table finally spoke. "Is there something I can do for you, sergeant?"
The caller was only to happy to focus attention on the speaker, who smiled politely and wiped his blade on a gore smeared apron.
"Yes, I was sent by headquarters." Previer explained in brief. "You are the doctor?"
"Ah yes. We've been waiting for you. I am Dr. Bouvier. " He stepped around the table, idly cleaning his hands with a rag that seemed already covered to its limit in filth. He motioned to one of the assistants. "Number 47, please."
The officer was obliged to wait as the young workman went to fetch the mentioned 'Number 47'.
"You are alone?" The doctor seemed surprised.
"Yes, sir. And I apologize for the delay. They are rather busy in the ward today, and I was the first man available."
"And you have some knowledge of the deceased? There was a card in his pocket, but we can't say with any certainty it is the same man."
"Inspector Javert." Previer pursed his lips and nodded. "I will recognize him readily enough, I should think. That is, unless he suffered an injury to his face?" The sergeant felt himself wince unintentionally; how better to make an unpleasant duty worse, than to add a mutilation?
A metal cart had now been delivered, and a corpse, shielded by a greasy canvas shroud, lay stretched on it. Bouvier excused his man with a wave of hand, and rather abruptly, turned the canvas sheet down, revealing the body to midsection. Previer was shocked by the tactless motion, but this time did not flinch.
"Found wedged under a boat. Scared some poor fool half to death." The doctor related the essential facts in an indifferent tone, though he seemed to be admiring the wax-like figure, as if a sleeping loved one. "You'll note I have not as yet done an invasive exam." Here Bouvier ran the back of a finger along the lifeless chest, demonstrating the absence of incision. "Do you recognize him?"
The sergeant stared for a few silent moments. The corpse seemed smaller, somehow, then a man of Javert's height- but was that not always the way with reclining figures? The hair was full, thick and black, bordered by well kept side whiskers. The skin appeared a bit pale, somewhat moreso than blood had shown it in life. Shoulders broad, arms leanly muscled, chest well formed and as smooth as one would find on a youth. He would not have thought a man of Javert's years and habits could possess so ageless an appearance behind all that starch and regulation.
"It is Javert." Previer confirmed. "You've determined the cause?"
"Without an internal study, I can give rudimentary conclusion that he drowned. When stripped and prepared, quite a quantity of river water was expelled from his mouth. He was obviously alive when he entered the water." Almost affectionately, Bouvier rifled through the dark thatch of hair that crowned the dead man's head, to further explain. "There is no evidence of a blow, no swelling, or fracture demonstrated on palpation. No entry nor exit wound of projectile or blade anywhere- the body is in remarkable health- apart from being dead, of course. The only mar seems to be a redness at the side of his throat, in one area, here."
"Could he have been throttled, or strangled?" Previer offered, as he might on any investigation. He diverted his gaze from the doctor's face, to the area mentioned.
"Well, I can tell you that the wound was not postmortem, some damage to the body as it floated along with the current. Notice the darker region? Indicating an effusion of blood to the vicinity? It appears to be a slight irritation, in response to an eruption of the skin, possibly a boil, or other pustule. Hmmm. Or the infected bites of a flea. Almost as if he attempted to puncture and drain the infection himself. In any event, your man suffered this injury sometime prior to his death, but not specifically at the time of death. There's the absence of further marks and discolored bruising as one would find from a ligature, or manual strangulation. And no defensive bruising, which leads me to believe it is not related to cause."
"Very well. Death by drowning." The officer had seen, and smelled, quite enough. "If you feel confident enough without…cutting him?"
Bouvier shrugged. He was happy to forego this routine procedure, having a backlog of corpses already prepared and awaiting his attention, all cases of questionable death. If the police felt no need to pursue the matter, neither would he.
"I understand suicide is suspected?" The doctor remarked casually and tossed the cover back in place with little show of humanity or respect. Previer seemed disturbed by the notion that Javert would take his own life. "You needn't act surprised, sergeant. There were plenty of rumors concerning a missing Inspector, long before he surfaced. There was no note found in his belongings, and I detect no smell of gin or any alcohol that might indicate he fell into the water as a result of being drunk. No matter. Will the family be expected to collect him?"
"He has no family." Previer had surprised himself with such an abrupt reply, and almost sheepishly attempted to soften it. "At least, I don't believe so."
"Hm. I suggest you have someone at your office make a thorough search of his personal records. I would hate to see him tossed into a pauper's lot, prematurely. Especially as an outraged relation or two could prove most aggravating to your office as well as mine after the fact. Unless your department or some friends would care to see to his arrangements?"
Previer already knew that was unlikely, unless someone from Javert's past, perhaps with a odd sense of loyalty, were to appear. But all this would take time to discover or disregard.
"Where will you keep him?"
"Not here, despite what you may assume about our facilities." The doctor waved a man forward, took a ledger from him and then had the mortal remains of Inspector Javert taken away. "He has been identified, there is not inquest requested and we are under no obligation to retain him further. For the duration, I can see he is removed to the holding vault at St. Vincent's yard, if that is convenient for you?"
Previer thought a moment; as the only representative of the department, he was responsible for this decision. He could easily sign the release that would place the remains in an unmarked public plot, provided by the auspices and expense of the State. Still, it would perhaps be better to err on the side of caution.
"Very well. You will have him redressed and placed in a plain box, removed to St. Vincent's holding vault. I am sure any possible family would appreciate that we afford him some semblance of dignity."
"As you wish, sergeant. I will just need you to sign the papers for disposal." Bouvier made his notes regarding disposition to the vault, and handed his visitor the ledger.
As simple as that; a few strokes of a pen and Previer would be free to escape the miserable sights and stench of the morgue, for sunlight and more breathable air. It was ironic, that in time those same few strokes may be the only witness or acknowledgment given the Inspector's life- or death.