Marked Man by Archer Mayor: New Excerpt
By Crime HQAugust 23, 2021
PLUS: comment on this post after you read for a chance to win 1 of 3 Advance Reader Copies!
Warren Kitzmiller looked around the large, almost empty morgue, tugging at the sleeve of his starched white lab coat and painfully aware he should be presenting a more detached demeanor. He was standing alone beside a flayed, cold, gray corpse, spread out in a grotesque parody of a post-Thanksgiving feast. It was supine on a waist-high steel table, tempting the young medical student with an unacceptable choice of either dissecting more of its anatomy as assigned, or upending the table and consigning the gristle to the nearest hazmat receptacle.
Unacceptable, given that this was medical school, where people took note of your visceral reactions to such scenarios.
Fortunately, the only other live person in the room right now was a female fellow student, far off and too absorbed with her own cadaver to notice him. They were coincidentally there at night, after dinner, each logging extra solo time with their so-called patients—although Warren hoped any future patients of his would look a lot livelier than this one. Right now, his ambitions lay in family medicine, not forensic pathology.
It was late in his two-month anatomy block, and he was having trouble processing the avalanche of details. Every day began with a lecture concerning a certain body section, followed by his group of six repairing to this room and “their” specimen—or what was left of it—to slice and prod and fiddle and talk about the inner workings of that section, guided by various illustrated anatomy atlases and the roving instructor. Thankfully, they’d all started with the body’s back. That was pretty easy, with the big muscles, minimal nerves and vessels. Also, the cadaver had to be prone, thereby eliminating surreptitious glances at the man’s face or penis. It lessened the impression of settling down to a meal on a fellow human being. As it was, the smell of preservative in the room was cloying, memorable, and stuck in one’s nostrils, ironically including during meals later at the cafeteria.
Kitzmiller’s study group had been forging ahead dutifully. By now, the body was faceup. More personal, no doubt, but also more complex. More daunting. Overriding most initial squeamishness. Almost.
The initial assignments had been straightforward: lower extremities, upper extremities. Warren had managed those well enough, even with the inherent jostling of six aspiring doctors, equipped with scalpels and trying to get in on the action while juggling those anatomy atlases.
Things had ramped up afterward, moving from the axilla to the thorax, abdomen, and pelvis. That’s when Warren had started coming in after hours—the lab was open 24-7—revisiting the ground they’d been fumbling with earlier.
He bent at the waist and peered at “his” corpse’s neck area. Given what flesh they’d whittled away so far, even considering the growing familiarity, the entire process had entered into another realm of weird.
* * *
“Goddamn traffic,” Eddie growled, even now—so many months after regaining his freedom—haunted by the absence of gray walls, steel bars, an endless orchestra of lock buzzers, and the jarring clash of slamming metal doors. He wondered if this is what aquarium fish felt like when they were finally released back into the ocean—part free; part bait.
“Oh, Dad. This is nothing. You just refuse to get used to it.”
“Can’t get used to a lot of things.”
The older man craned his neck to see more of the skyscrapers they were passing, many completely unknown to him. His daughter, Marie, was driving by three of the taller buildings in Providence—One Financial Plaza, Fifty Kennedy Plaza, and his favorite, the Industrial National Bank, universally called the Superman Building for its resemblance to Clark Kent’s Daily Planet jobsite. Eddie Moscone didn’t comment about having also seen the building housing the FBI office down a side street. Those kinds of references, she didn’t need. Marie had a new and gentler image of him, and he didn’t want to disabuse her of it.
“It’s a new world, Dad,” she continued, easily negotiating the traffic on her way toward the Federal Hill district, where he was headed for lunch. It had snowed earlier, but minimally, and typical of a seaport town’s warmer air, none of it had stuck except in a few well-shaded crannies. “Not like it used to be. I mean, things’ve changed like nobody’s business. You ask Fredo about it when you meet up. He’ll tell you, if he hasn’t already.”
Fredo Sindaco was Eddie’s lunch date, and his second cousin, not to mention a fellow soldier from back in the day. Back in the life. Their conversation wasn’t going to be about the onslaught of modernity. Eddie had better things to discuss. He’d been out of the joint for ten months. He was getting restless.
But again, need to know, need to know. And Marie just needed to know her old man was back home and minding his manners.
* * *
Earlier, the anatomy study group had come up with Wilbur as a nickname—in violation of hospital policy to never name your bodies. It had felt innocent enough, but by now, Warren was grasping the thinking behind the anonymity policy.
Wilbur, whose neck and face only remained to be exposed, seemed downright discomfited by what he’d endured, as if someone had stripped him naked and pinned him down in his sleep. With his neck on a metal block, his head extended back to expose his throat, and his eyes partially open, Wilbur was looking betrayed by people he’d once trusted.
The school had tried to forestall this moment of truth. Whether because this was the University of Vermont, located in a city with socialist leanings, no less, or because a heightened sensitivity was trending across the profession, Warren didn’t know. But his first-day introduction to this anatomy block had rivaled the formalities preceding a debutante ball, minus the need for a corsage. In a formal ceremony at the semester’s dawn, the students had been introduced to their subjects, lectured about how these patients had given themselves to science, and otherwise been told that any comparisons between cadaveric volunteers and, say, an oversized Christmas goose—or any other juvenile allusion—would be considered grounds for reprimand.
Warren, heeding the company line, had nodded solemnly, keeping all world-weary cynicism to himself.
Now that no one was watching him, however, bent over his subject as if whispering into his ear, Warren could acknowledge Wilbur’s commitment, and Warren’s own embarrassment for being cavalier. Wilbur had been generous, uncomplaining, intriguing, and even surprising at times, more than fulfilling his end of trying to make Warren a better doctor. As with a stranger opening up in conversation, this older man had revealed things about himself that transcended the intimate.
It was therefore with genuine and newfound respect that Warren mouthed almost soundlessly into Wilbur’s alabaster ear, “Thank you, sir. You’ve been really great about this.”
It wasn’t over yet. They’d exposed the neck hours before, as a group. The face and brain were scheduled for last, the brain in its own teaching segment, for obvious reasons. But Warren had found the neck challenging enough, which explained his presence here now, to retrace what they’d done earlier.
The human anatomy has some inordinately well designed bells and whistles in the area of self-preservation. There are bones to protect vital organs, redundancies to ensure survival after amputation or destruction, and even regeneration to replace parts whose functions are irreplaceable. But in the neck, it all comes to naught. Yes, the spinal cord is tucked into the bony spine, and the esophagus is as tough as an elephant’s hide, and all those surrounding strap muscles do people like Arnold Schwarzenegger proud. But, as Warren could not resist thinking, scalpel in hand, none of it stood much chance against the single sweep of a well-handled sword.
He took a deep breath, his small blade not quite resting against Wilbur’s flesh, high up and under the old man’s slightly stubbly chin. It might have been in imitation only—Warren wasn’t actually cutting what had already been opened—but he wanted to act out the real incision as closely as possible.
The neck’s challenge was that it resembled a sausage stuffed with cables. Fine that everything ran top to bottom. Granted. But blood vessels, lymph nodes, glands, tubules, musculature, cartilage, ligaments? All of it packed into an area you could wrap in both hands.
If one needed a single, very compact example of the human body’s miraculous ability to combine form and function, this was a good place to start. The neck was a thick, bulging, hypercritical power cord, literally linking heart and mind, but lying perilously exposed between two armor-clad factory buildings.
No wonder the school put it off until late in the anatomy block.
Letting out a small puff of air, Warren gingerly applied the pad of his index finger to the back of the blade and pantomimed his first cut.
* * *
Fredo looked up as the restaurant door opened, his attention caught as much by the cold draft as by his cousin’s recognizable body shape, even bundled as it was in a bulky, calf-length, black leather coat.
Old-school, he thought, touching his coffee mug and looking down briefly. That was Eddie, through and through. For that matter, it spoke of Fredo himself, whose own black leather coat was draped over the back of his chair. Just a couple of swaybacked warhorses, almost ready for the glue factory.
That was okay with him. It was as much part of the tradition as the dead wiseguys on barbershop floors, or the dandy bosses being hustled off to jail, their cuff links sparkling in the flashbulbs as grim-faced cops held open the doors. People like Eddie and Fredo weren’t those. They were the underlings. Not made men, foot soldiers, or even cugines. They were connected, but no more than regular grunts working off the books—reliable, trustworthy, unambitious, always available, never curious.
People who knew their place, understood the natural order, and were disposable.
Fredo saw that more clearly than his second cousin and best friend, Eddie. That had always been a difference between them, as they’d worked the jobs they’d been assigned through the decades—watching, driving, moving things around without question. Fredo alone had known it would eventually peter out, that the loyalty demanded ran in one direction only and would result in no benefits. Not for men like him and Eddie.
As the ironfisted influence of organized crime atrophied from corruption, competition, and better federal laws, its structural integrity began flying apart like a spinning sphere’s through centrifugal force. The smallest, lightest, most peripheral parts of that, like Fredo and Eddie, had been the first to be cast away.
Nevertheless, despite the hard-hearted logic of such inevitability, Eddie had stubbornly expected something, to use his word, especially after getting out of the can. Maybe the Outfit wasn’t what it used to be, he’d argued, but he’d given it his entire life.
Fredo looked up as Eddie shrugged off his coat and got ready to sit. Maybe the higher-ups could still call in markers, he thought. But not nobodies like them. They were cosmic dust, floating in space. Fredo had planned ahead and now lived in a small apartment on the edge of Pawtucket, north of Providence. Eddie lived with his daughter and her family, in a crowded high-rise.
“Hey, cuz,” he addressed the newcomer. “How ya doin’?”
“Doin’,” Eddie answered shortly, looking around for a waiter so he could order coffee.
Eddie eyed him briefly before responding sarcastically, “Really?”
Fredo let him sort himself out in silence, balancing his frustration against attracting a waiter’s attention, and finally placing an order—none too graciously. Fortunately, they were not merely in Providence, but Federal Hill, a neighborhood the Mob had once utterly controlled. Here, abruptness was taken as a regional norm, even if those days were but a memory today.
He and Eddie may have been related, known each other all their lives, and pursued the same line of work—if what they’d done could be called a profession. But they had distinctly different karmic DNAs.
Eddie adhered to ancient codes of loyalty, trust, righteousness, and caste. Fredo was more of a practical fatalist. As a result, where life’s surprises usually caused him to only raise a weary eyebrow, they brought outrage and fury to his cousin.
“Been burning up Marie’s computer?” Fredo asked, aiming Eddie toward the only topic he’d be discussing anyhow—what Fredo had come to see as his life-support obsession.
“Damn thing’s too slow. I keep askin’ her to increase its download speed.”
Fredo laughed. “Listen to you. You’re gonna have to pierce your nose, you keep talkin’ like that. Cool dude.”
Eddie’s coffee arrived. He took a swig and cupped his hands around the mug. “Whatever.”
“It’s gotta be better than schlepping to the library every day,” Fredo suggested, hoping to lighten his mood. “Or the senior center to check out the babes.”
Eddie was barely listening. “I guess.”
“How ’bout your pet project?” Fredo asked. “Ya getting anywhere, or is he still a mystery?”
“He” was Vittorio “Vito” Alfano, the man Eddie had been convicted of dumping into the Providence River, despite barely knowing him. Fredo had never voiced his opinion on the subject, but Alfano was nevertheless dead, Eddie had copped to the crime, and the rest of the world had happily closed the books. Except that Eddie’s current version was that he hadn’t killed anyone, but had been requested to lie down by the bosses in exchange for a handsome life pension upon his release.
Sadly, the bosses who mattered had since died of drink and fatty foods, while everybody else had been afflicted with amnesia.
According to Eddie.
“Nah,” was the response.
Eddie was staring into his mug, as if wishing a solution to miraculously surface from its inky depths. Fredo glanced around at the lively clusters at other tables, the activity at the bar, the comings and goings. This was life in one of New England’s biggest cities, a place renowned for crime and corruption in its past, and more recently for the schools, food, urban renovation, and cultural diversity that had always been there in the background, overshadowed by a few decades of misdeeds and mobsters. It made him sad to see his cousin—a good man, if stuck in his ways—so fixated on events and people that were becoming increasingly difficult to remember.
“Maybe you been barking up the wrong tree,” Fredo suggested, wanting to tell him to drop the whole thing and get on with his life. “Instead of worrying about who really iced him, ask yourself who ordered him dead in the first place. Vito musta pissed off somebody.”
Eddie hitched a shoulder, not looking up. “He was an asshole. That’s probably a small army.”
But not only was Fredo probably right, Eddie had already made it his life’s work to find and confront whoever had orchestrated his downfall.
Fredo continued studying him as he began his usual muttering about combing over old newspaper files. The point of it all eluded Fredo. The two cousins had roughed up a few mopes back when. But nothing beyond that. What was Eddie hoping to do, if and when he finally located a target of his bitterness? Talk him to death?
Fredo therefore waited for Eddie to take another swig of coffee before asking, “You never told me what you were planning for these guys if you ever got one.”
Eddie stopped in mid-sentence. “What d’ya think, Fredo? I’m gonna give ’em a kiss?”
“I don’t know.”
“They’ll get what they deserve.”
Fredo spoke kindly. “Eddie, we’re old men. You’re gonna have to shoot ’em. That’s messy. Noisy. You even got a piece?”
An odd smile creased Eddie’s worn features. “There’re other ways. I been boning up. That internet can be a wonderful thing, if you know the right questions,” he answered enigmatically, adding, as if echoing an overheard advertisement, “There’s a whole world of people who know your pain.”
* * *
Warren Kitzmiller had gotten into the swing of it by now. It was like any other set of misgivings, usually worse from afar than closer up. Fortunately for him, he’d begun with several advantages. Wilbur had not been fat, nor had he suffered from any last-minute medical interventions, like a direct line into his jugular or an ET tube down his throat, which might have complicated Warren’s so-called field. Instead, old Wilbur had just died of a recipe now common among the elderly: dementia, arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, general deconditioning. Pretty standard stuff.
And, as Warren proceeded, straightforward.
Indeed, this mimed dissection had followed the book, and Warren had become increasingly self-confident, one layer after another. Additionally, since he was now without his fellow students, he could take his time and even gingerly progress beyond simply mimicking, making original incisions of his own, exposing more of Wilbur’s inner workings than required by the class.
Which explained his bafflement upon reaching the hyoid bone.
The hyoid, thanks mostly to TV and a few modern, scientifically geeky murder mysteries, had recently emerged into prominence.. Small, fragile, unconnected to any other proximate bone, making it unique in the human body, it lives tucked up in the neck’s anterior between the larynx and the tongue. It’s U-shaped, made of a short straight piece across the front, and two flimsy wings projecting back, called the greater cornua, which are attached by fibrous joints that calcify through the years, eventually making of the U a single rigid whole.
The purpose of this seemingly random piece of the neck’s otherwise logically laid-out armor is a little vague, but its popularity in forensics has grown because it breaks easily when brutalized. Wrap your hands or a rope around another person’s neck, and you are quite likely to fracture the unoffending hyoid in the process.
A broken hyoid is therefore often cited as evidence of strangulation.
It ain’t always so, of course. Hyoids, like karaoke singers, can be of unreliable quality. Some are undeveloped, others asymmetrical, a few become damaged earlier for unrelated reasons.
And, not surprisingly, they don’t always break under pressure.
If you do find a fractured hyoid, however, you better explain its cause, which is exactly what Warren suddenly needed to do, because one end of Wilbur’s right greater cornua, just where it hovered over the man’s deep-lying carotid artery, was clearly broken.
Warren stood back and surveyed the room, discovering that his fellow late-night student had been fortuitously joined by a member of the teaching staff. He caught this woman’s attention with a raised hand and beckoned her over, revealing what he’d found.
“What did you observe before making your incision?” she asked, a little more severely than he thought necessary, as if he’d been the one to strangle his patient.
“Nothing.” He quickly thought to add, “No contusions, discolorations, lacerations, or other abnormalities. It was just a neck.”
She didn’t berate him, leaning forward to expose the guilty hyoid more expertly than he had.
“Nevertheless, you see the hemorrhaging here, don’t you? Along the underlying strap muscles?”
“That finding is equally relevant. A fractured cornua may not be telling in and of itself. Accompanied by hemorrhaging like this, however, whether external or internal—or both—you’re looking at a different creature entirely.”
Warren was momentarily stumped. “Like what?”
“A homicide. You’ve just lost your patient to the medical examiner.”
Copyright © 2021 by Archer Mayor 2021.
Enter the Sweepstakes!
Sign in and comment on this post for a chance to win 3 advance reader copies of Marked Man by Archer Mayor!
To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.
Marked Man Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry. To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/marked-man-by-archer-mayor-new-excerpt/ beginning at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) August 23, 2021. Sweepstakes ends at 5:29 p.m. ET September 6, 2021. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.