Coroner Ron, or County Coroner and Forensic Specialist Ron Goltry, was a man possessed of severe smarts and limited humor. He was good at his job and he knew it and though he was keen to particular decorum in his lab, he wasn’t above bending his own rules. On a busy day it was not uncommon to find him standing over an open body cavity, microphone in one hand and a peanut butter and cheese sandwich in the other. He could also be intentionally obtuse. When an intern made a comment concerning pathogens and Coroner Ron’s eating habits, if not standard OSHA procedures, Coroner Ron snorted, “They’re dead, son. They don’t care what I’m eating.”
Coroner Ron was also a bit of a pedant and considered himself learned on a vast number of subjects. Make a serious inquiry requiring anything beyond a “yes,” or “no,” response anywhere near the end of your shift and you’d better not bank on getting home before the six o’clock news.
Because the Little Gray Town was a dry town with no local watering hole, Coroner Ron would spend Fridays after work taking in a cold one or two in a neighboring town. The TV was always on at the Hitching Post, and pool tables were free. He knew most of the regulars and they mostly tolerated him.
On an evening preceding the mad slashing that would soak the carpets of Carrie and Dawn’s front room, Coroner Bob sat at the Hitching Post bar and craned his head at the Dukes of Hazzard rerun flickering from the wall-mounted tube and took in the hum of people around him.
“No, it’s true. I just read about it. When a person dies they lose exactly 21 grams. It’s for certain…” said a young man in a denim vest and shitkickers.
“You’re saying they weighed somebody right before they died?” said his friend in the John Deere baseball cap.
“Totally—and they say that’s the weight of the soul; 21 grams. That’s how they know we all got a soul, dude, they can actually weigh it!” said Shitkickers.
“No. Way.” said John Deere.
“‘No way’ is right,” said Coroner Ron, not taking his eyes off the General Lee as the car went airborne for the sixth time in the 46-minute episode. “Your friend is referencing an experiment conducted by Dr. Duncan McDougal in Massachusetts in 1907. The good doctor, like many of his day, believed the soul a thing of actual substance. The truth of the matter is, after studying six subjects in succession, none were consistent in their weight loss or gain upon death. Only his initial subject lost four ounces or approximately 21.3 grams…”
Someone behind Coroner Ron snorted and Coroner Ron took a sip of his beer.
“But that’s not to say weight loss upon death is erroneous. You have to figure all your muscles keep their tone, in part, thanks to a current of electrical impulses. In some ways, we’re just batteries of meat and bone. When the current goes dead, muscles go slack and gravity does its thing. The contents of your gastrointestinal tract, bowels and lungs, can expel their contents. You don’t need to be a genius to figure whatever fills your drawers at the time of death isn’t going to weigh in at 21 grams straight across the board.”
The pool players exchanged a look and though there were an even number of solids and stripes on the table, determined their game was done. John Deere moved to replace his cue on the rack and Shitkicker pulled some crumpled bills from his pocket. Coroner Ron continued in his diatribe without pause…
“Following the invention of the X Ray Generator in 1886, McDougal speculated he would finally be able to view the soul in its habitat. He was convinced the stuff of souls would give off a light visible under the X Ray resembling that of ‘Interstellar Ether.’ Again, his findings were inconsistent.”
Shitkicker and John Deere tossed several bills on their side table and shuffled into their down hunting jackets.
“We’re just clay, gentlemen. We come from clay, we go back to clay. When you’re done, you’re done,” said Coroner Ron.
Coroner Ron didn’t notice the two men exit the bar and when Coroner Ron got up to use the Men’s Room, the gal tending bar turned up the volume on the TV set.
A World of Hurt
Oblivious to his fellow pub patron’s lack of appreciation for his intellectual acumen, Coroner Ron made for the parking lot and his bone-white International Harvester Travelall. Sliding his Gibraltar-sized keister across the broad bench seat he stabbed the key into the ignition. The big engine coughed to life with a grateful roar and Goltry tugged the column-mounted clutch into reverse, depressed the gas pedal and slid the huge vehicle from its parking place.
The road home would be dark and the roads unlit, but Goltry knew it well and could drive it drunk as a skunk or sober as a judge, not that he was either at this stage of the evening. No, Goltry was in that habitual beer drinker’s twilight between tipsy and hammered, functional yet…flowing. It was at these times even the stoic Coroner Ron found himself experiencing the most minor touches of melancholy.
By the average thinking-man’s standards Goltry didn’t have a great deal to be melancholy over. He had a well paying job, status, a mortgage and a classic car that ran like a dream.
Love and marriage had never found a place in his life and that was usually just fine…but there were days when he wondered at the hand fate had played him; the women who never returned his phone calls or acquiesced for a second date or stepped away for a moment at parties, never to return. He knew he was a sharper knife than found in most drawers, he knew that gave way to a certain level of overconfidence a great many people found unappealing but he was who he was and he wasn’t going to change that. Why should he?
But at moments like these he could not help but wonder at the world and his place in it and why certain things just didn’t fall into place for him the way they did for his coworkers and neighbors. He attributed much of it to being a rigid guy, to be sure, but all his theories pertaining to his solitude always seemed to butt up against the simple fact that he and everyone he knew lived in a World of Hurt.
“A World of Hurt,” Coroner Ron muttered to himself and cranked down the Travelall window to let the cool evening air slap his face and keep him just a little bit more alert as he pondered.
A World of Hurt. It was a phrase heard often in his youth.
“You forget to close that barn door again, son, and you’re going to be in a World of Hurt.”
“You don’t get the oil changed on the tractor by tomorrow, you’re going to be in a World of Hurt.”
“I don’t see straight A’s on that report card come Christmas vacation, you’re going to be in a World of Hurt.”
Granted, it was a phrase uttered and executed by the men in Coroner Ron’s family—his father, uncles and grandfathers but for Coroner Ron it went beyond threat of corporeal punishment for chores left undone, it came to represent a change in continuum—a change of reality–a reality Coroner Ron concluded all human beings shared the first day he found himself elbow deep in the chest cavity of his first medical cadaver.
We all are born into a World of Hurt. It’s a static continuum with only one way out.
Far from being a religious man, Goltry thought the notions of a heaven and a hell pure fantasy, but had to admit the teeming legions of deluded religiosity might have their fingers on something when it came to the power inherent in faith. If faith was an opiate there had to be some genuine pocket of humanity out there stoned out of their gourds. Someone out there had to be successful at being happy, otherwise why would the notion even exist?
But we all lived in a World of Hurt Coroner Ron Goltry concluded while glancing at the withered yellow countenance masked by the fogged visqueen. We all live in a World of Hurt, but for some strange reason we are led to believe it should be otherwise.
It was this half-hint of a notion that kept Coroner Ron awake on occasion and drove him to deep pondering when he saw his slabs were filled with bodies all under the age of 35–and while on his solitary drives home from the pub on a Friday night.
After nearly 20 years as County Coroner Forensic Specialist, Ron Goltry had yet to be rattled by what he found on his slab. He’d pull on the gloves, aim the overhead lamp, flip the microphone’s power switch, make the incision, crack the chest, spread the ribcage and dig in.
The County Sheriff’s Department was buzzing like a hornet’s nest over the mother-daughter double homicide and the commissioner wanted Coroner Ron’s report on his blotter bright and early the following morning. Knowing he worked best alone when the hammer was coming down, Coroner Ron dismissed his staff’s offers to stay late with a wave of his hand. After spreading Carrie’s ribs and giving her organs a brief probe, Coroner Ron walked to the nearby counter and took out a peanut butter and cheese sandwich.
“Adult Caucasian female, approximately 25 years of age roughly 155 pounds,” Coroner Ron muttered into the recorder mic. He paused, flipped off the mic switch and took a bite of his sandwich.
On a gurney behind Coroner Ron the tiny clay form that had once been ‘Lita’s best friend tented the shiny black body bag.
Coroner Ron swallowed his mouthful of bread, cheese and peanut butter and flipped the mic on again. “Death is apparent result of acute blood loss. Victim presents with lateral wounds at both left and right femoral artery and clean left-right slash across the throat, slicing clean through the tracheal tissue and jugular. I’m not seeing any bruising or defensive wounds. Slashes are clean and precise. There was no hesitation on the killer’s part. The assault was quick and concise. The victim bled out in a matter of minutes.”
Corner Ron returned the portion of his half eaten sandwich to its cellophane nest on the counter and reached for the liver thermometer on the side-tray. Save for the lamp above his slab, Coroner Ron had turned down all other light sources in the lab so when the beads of blue light coalesced like a swarm of angry honey bees in the air above Carrie’s tattered form, Coroner Ron was nearly blinded. A half-second later when the air before him imploded he went instantly deaf and spat the contents of his mouth across the lab in a chunky torrent.
The sudden appearance of a cataract of interstellar ether also did something to Coroner Ron’s battery of meat and bone; it temporarily interrupted the current. As a result Coroner Ron dropped to the floor and experienced a full-blown, grand mal seizure. As is common with even first time seizure sufferers, Coroner Ron filled his drawers, the mass of which by far exceeded 21.3 grams.
Wriggling on the floor in tribute to St. Vitus, Coroner Ron was oblivious to how the hot blue orb roiled upon the air. Stretching its outline into something lithe and birdlike, it rose to the lab’s ceiling, passing through the concrete and metal of the floors above, streaking into the cold night sky and disappearing into the black clouds like a half-forgotten hope.