Saturday, May 31, 2008


After Vinda put the corpse away and washed up, she wheeled her easy chair across the cement floor and sat back, looking out her little window at clouds passing before the face of the moon. She ate her peanut butter malt crackers and drank a Diet Coke, then opened her cell phone and called Arun.

When he answered, she said, “Can you see the moon?”

He paused and said, suspiciously, “Who is this?”

“You nabob,” she said, “It is seven in the morning for you. Is the moon visible?”

He laughed. “The moon is beautiful here. Half beautiful at the very least.”

“Like me!” she said.

“Only half like you; you are, quite naturally, all beautiful.” He continued without a pause, “Contracts should be signed next week, so I may see you next weekend. I cannot make reservations yet, but soon. It will be soon. How is your moon?”

She let her frustration show in her voice. “I could see it through my window now, if tonight were clear, as it was supposed to be. I would not even have to go up to the roof.”

“Scientific predictions gone awry? How could this be, oh Queen of Science? Oh! I forgot; you do not care for that name.”

“Queen of Science? No, you can call me that. I only object to ‘Queen of Death,’ Nabob lawyer.”

They chattered for five minutes, as usual. When she hung up, she sighed in frustration. She had hoped for their supernatural connection tonight—both gazing at the moon as they talked. It was so rare that they could both see the moon. She finished her snack and pulled her chair back to her battleship grey desk, issued by the city of Charleston.

The buzzer sounded. When she opened the security door, a hairy young guy in a black windbreaker and jeans showed her his badge. “I’m Mark Patton. I need to talk about Chaney—shot last night.”

She led him in. The door banged and clicked shut behind him. “I am Vinda Sharma. I performed the autopsy on Ms. Chaney. Detective Darbone was assigned to this case. What has happened?”

She motioned for him to sit in the metal chair across from her as she sank into her chair. He said, “Darbone’s got the flu. We can’t wait for him.”

“I imagine not,” she replied. “What information have you received thus far?”

He opened his cell phone, pushed a button, and read from the screen, “Celedon Chaney, twenty year old black female. Looked like a single shot to the right forehead with a large caliber bullet. Found at The Battery by a retired couple taking a walk at 9:00 P. M.. Her roommate said she was supposed to meet her boyfriend there. We’re working on him.”

Vinda tapped at her keyboard and her printer came to life. “I have completed my report. You do not have a murder, Mark. She was struck by a meteorite.” She waited for the papers to print out.

“You’re kidding. That can’t be right.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Would you like to see the body?”

“Well . . .,” he said.

She picked up the papers from the printer, handed them to him, pulled on a pair of gloves from her pocket, and wheeled a cart to the tagged locker. She had not heard of Mark before, so he must be new to his job. He had to learn like they all did that medical examiners did not argue the facts of a case with the police—though Vinda understood that he was not really arguing. Autopsy evidence usually instilled respect in the new guys even though they had seen plenty of bodies when they were patrolmen.

She adjusted the cart’s height and slid the drawer out onto the cart. She wheeled the cart to the spot before the high window, hoping it would add atmosphere for Mark. She crooked a finger at him and he walked over. She went to join him on the other side, so as not to obscure his view of the half moon—if the clouds should deign to thin! The lighting was poor, but the ambiance was perfect. In a similar situation, she had goosed a young detective last year, who had literally wet himself. She had instantly regretted that, since she had not meant to so terribly humiliate the man. The thought of that incident bothered her so that she decided to take it easy on Mark.

As the scent of the body began to waft up, she pulled back the sheet. Just as Vinda had left the woman, the right side of the head was caved in from the force of the object. Mark mused, incredulously, “A meteorite.”

Vinda said, “The force crushed the skull.” She rotated her finger around the area. “The projectile proceeded through the brain and lodged in the top of the spinal column. A slightly different angle and it would have made an exit wound.”

“He spoke softly. “I thought it looked like an execution by her boyfriend. No one heard a shot there in the park, so I expected to find a silencer on a gun. You’re sure that wasn’t a big piece of lead in her backbone?”

“The rock was quite aerodynamic. The lab is analyzing it. Perhaps they have filed a report, but it should not contain anything remarkable—more remarkable than what is already before us, I should say. Let me check.”

She removed her gloves and dropped them on the sheet that covered the body. She went to her desk, pulled up the lab’s information files, and read from the report. “. . . the composition of the interior of the rock . . . igneous . . . complete lack of water . . . trace of basalt lava . . ..” She straightened and saw him looking up through the window, probably to avoid looking at Celedon Chaney. She knew he would not believe her when she told him the rest. She could not disguise the tentative note in her voice. “They suspect that it is a piece of the moon.”

Mark turned around and looked at her. “The moon?”

She nodded, pondering the progressively eerie character of the death. “It is certainly the oddest case that I have been presented with.”

Mark looked around the room, then looked down at his fingers, which he had stretched out as if examining them. He said, “Last year. Something pretty big hit the moon. Remember the news about it?”

Why had that not occurred to her? “I do! Many were frightened by that, but the object was not large enough to harm the moon and from the best estimates, it was not at all powerful enough to cause any material to escape from the pull of the moon. This is fascinating. The earth must have just passed through debris . . ..” She realized she was chattering. She stopped.

Mark said, “Yeah, my girlfriend—ex-girlfriend—said that it was a UFO crash.”

“Oh, I did not pay attention to any of those people. Someone will always say such things.”

As if in response, the clouds lifted. She pointed past him at the glowing whitegold face of the half moon, which now bathed the three of them in its light.

He turned and said, “Cool. Spooky.”

Vinda giggled.

From the cart, Celedon Chaney’s hand shot up and locked on the lapel of Mark’s windbreaker, tugging him down to her.

Vinda screamed and backed up against the wall, trying to make her legs take her toward the door. She shakily said, in Hindi, “Na. Na. Na!”

Vinda woke to the sound of a cell phone’s buzz. The policemen in her hospital room told her that she had been found wandering in Battery Park. Mark Patton was dead. No forensic evidence pointed to her guilt.

She told them everything, but they didn’t believe her. They thought she saw something—a savage attack on Mark Patton—and hallucinated her story, based on that attack and on the fragment of the moon that struck Celedon Chaney. The police concluded that whoever had killed Mark Patton had stolen Celedon Chaney’s body. By the time she woke again, the police had told Arun about the attack and he was on his way from India.

Her doctor sedated her and ordered psychological counseling. They regularly woke her to take her vitals. The psychologist recommended that she remain in the hospital until the end of the week.

She woke to the sound of Arun saying, “Vinda? Love? Can you hear me?”

She lurched up and locked her arms around him. She sobbed and began to tell him everything.

He interrupted her, “Vinda, I cannot understand you. Let me pour you some water. Speak more slowly.”

“Yes,” she sobbed, and reluctantly let go of him.

He walked to the wheeled tray and poured some water from the grey pitcher into the grey glass. She watched his every move, so thankful that he was here. He paused at the end of the tray and opened the drapes, exposing the dazzling light of the three-quarters moon.

Throughout the hospital, orderlies’ trays clattered to the tiled floor, patients gasped awake in their beds, and nurses rushed to examine their monitors, as Vinda’s shrieks filled the halls.

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