I was an average American woman in my mid-twenties with a waitressing job and the modest budget that comes with such occupations, struggling to avoid foreclosure on the tiny, dilapidated wooden box I call home. I had found the little house on a narrow street on the Eastside of the city. The sidewalks and alleyways were littered with broken glass, spent bullet cartridges, grocery bags, and other such things, which let on that this region's reputation was just as soiled as its streets. Though there were very few trees to block out what little sunlight filtered through the typical heavy fog and smoke, this section of the city was nearly always blanketed in eternal night. That perpetual gloom was part of what attracted me to the area. Not because I have a strange preference for it because of any "dark tendencies", you might think I have, but because I have the graveyard shift at the café where I am employed and I have not been able to adjust to sleeping in the brightness of the daytime. With the exception of my few eccentricities, my life had been normal, if even rather dull and eventless, until now.

As I head down the sidewalk to my car, I unconsciously wave to my neighbor, Nathanial. He is a cantankerous old war veteran and retired factory worker in his mid-forties. He was able to retire at such an early age because of his military pension. He has no family, few friends, and people no longer care about him. I occasionally speak with him and listen as he recounts his past. I have grown fond of him and have come to consider him a friend.

"Joe!" he yells. I pretend not to hear him. "Josephine! Don't you dare ignore me! I know you can hear me!" he complains. "I can't talk to you now, Nathanial; I'm going to be late for work." I sigh. "A mere 'goodbye' is not going to delay you any more than you have already delayed yourself by dawdling, silly girl." "I'm already behind schedule", I counter, "and you're making it even worse. Now be a good boy and let me go to work before I come up there and drag you along with me and make you give my boss an explanation!", I threaten. "Ooh, if I accompany you, do I get a friend-of-the-employee discount on my coffee?" he grins teasingly. "No." I huff. "Now goodbye, you old goat," I call over my shoulder as I hurry to my car. "Goodbye, little girl," he chuckles. I resolved that for my revenge, if he did decide to come purchase some coffee after all, I would give it to him cold and with that vile powdered creamer that tastes like laundry detergent.

I pull into the parking lot of the seedy "Eastside Café", which is open for business twenty-four hours a day. I reluctantly got out of the car and attempted to sneak through the door, hoping that my tardiness would go unnoticed. It was a failure and my boss, Hawthorne, immediately accosted me. "Josephine!" he bellowed, "You are twenty minutes late, twenty! Are you aware what this means for you?" he sneered. "Yeah, yeah, I know what it means; I get twenty percent docked off of my paycheck for the week." I rolled my eyes. "Such impudence!" Hawthorne always attempts to sound posh, but he rarely succeeds. "I should have never hired you! Now, off to work you go, or must I take further action to make you do as you are told?" he asked, a sadistic glint in his eye. He was infamous for having his employees beat, tortured, or even killed for any reason that struck his fancy. I nervously walked towards the counter to fetch my apron and notepad, keenly aware that he was silently observing.

The door creaked open and a tired-looking customer entered; I gave an unspoken prayer of thanks. He wearily plopped himself into an ancient, cracked, plastic yellow chair and expectantly gazed at me, impatiently waiting for his order to be taken. "Hallo, Sir," I mechanically stated, "how may I help you?" "Coffee," he croaked. I moved over to the counter and poured his coffee into a chipped, ceramic mug. I returned and he gratefully drained the hot coffee. As he did so, I couldn't help but notice the strange color of his eyes, a pale green with golden flecks, like the eyes of a cat; they were mesmerizing. He placed the cup on the table. "Would you like a refill, Mr.…?" I asked. "Dmitri. Yes, I would love one." "Alrighty then, I'll just bring you the whole pot, there isn't too much left" I placed the coffee pot on the table. "Thank you muchly, kind lady. How much do I owe you for this lovely caffeinated concoction?" he vaguely grinned as he finished the last of his coffee. "That would be $1.50, please." He handed me a ten-dollar bill. "I'll go get your change, Mr. Dmitri." "It's a tip." He smiled. "Oh!" I pause, stunned. That was way more than fifteen percent. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, so much." I said. "You have no idea how much I appreciate this." "You looked like you could use it." He said, standing up. He exited the sleazy establishment, appearing to be somewhat revived by his caffeine dose. I hope he comes back in the very near future to give me another tip.

When I returned home, I waved at Nathaniel. "Hallo, Nathanial, how's your bug-watching, or whatever it is that you do, been going?" I hollered. He remained silent. I warily went up the stairs and onto his porch to see if he was all right. I was shocked and horrified by the grisly scene that met my eyes. He was drenched in blood, his throat slit, with his ears, nose, and eyes removed. The floorboards surrounding him were painted with the gaudy crimson liquid, which was beginning to dry and turn rust colored in patches.

I rushed into my house and called the police. They arrived in less than five minutes, sirens wailing like mourners for his gruesome, untimely death, the mourners he would never have. I choked back a sob. The medical examiner appeared at my side and examined the scene, "Looks like he had a bit of a shaving accident, doesn't it?" he snickered. I stared blankly. "Sorry," he apologized, "a bit of humor usually makes people feel a little better in situations like these, but I've never been known for my comforting skills." He winked. I gaped at him. I had just seen the mutilated remains of my best friend, and this puerile idiot was flirting with me? I could kill him; he was profaning the dead, and being horribly rude with his morbid jokes and pathetic attempts at flirting. I ignored him. "Oh well," he mumbled, "I tried". He and the other forensic scientists zippered Nathanial into the body bag and hauled him away so that they cut him open and root around in his entrails to find information about who killed him and who he was.

Despite my unfavorable opinion of forensic scientists, especially medical examiners, the profession itself seems to be a rather noble pursuit. My newfound "respect" for the work itself, along with the most recent twist of fate, has inspired me to become a coroner. This awful bit of information has inspired me to become a coroner. It shall enable me find the identity of those who, like Nathanial, have no surviving relatives or acquaintances. I would have the ability to at least give each of them a name, to prove that they really had been born, had had lives, families, and histories. It was not justifiable to treat human beings as if they were insects, indistinguishable amongst the masses, even after they were deceased.

After two years of single-minded study and on-the-job training, I had finally done it. I was a coroner. I was already examining my first corpse...with a bit of assistance.

He, the corpse, had been found in an abandoned tire factory, crushed to death by one of the racks of tires. The toxicologist had found his blood alcohol level to be extremely high, nearly lethal. All of his ribs were broken, and his limbs all had multiple breaks and compound fractures. I did a CT scan and found that his skull had not received any damage whatsoever. He must have been conscious when the tires had fallen onto him. This is evident not only because his skull free from injury, but also, most of the damage was found in his hands, wrists, and forearms. He had cushioned his fall with his arms, thus preventing any damage.

I cut him open with a Y incision, removed the front of his rib cage, took out his internal organs, and examined them for abnormalities. The only thing I could find was stomach ulcers, which came from his having consumed nothing but alcohol for the past week. Then I was shocked to learn what I had least expected.

Nathanial's blood had been found in high-velocity spatters on his shirt, indicating an arterial spurt, which had come from Nathanial's slit throat. His shoe prints had been found in Nathanial's blood on the porch. This man had brutally tortured and killed Nathanial. DNA evidence proved that this beast is Dmitri; I had met him at the café. I recognized his eyes.

How was this possible? How could the same "kind gentleman" who had given me such a generous tip, who had shown me kindness, who had displayed sympathy and compassion for another human being, have murdered my best and only friend in cold blood?

I made an incision from the back of his skull to each of his ears, peeled back his scalp, and carefully removed the crown of his skull with a saw. I then proceeded to slowly remove his brain from his head and closely inspect it for damage. It was unscathed. He had been perfectly sane when I had met him. He was perfectly aware of what he was doing while tormenting and executing Nathanial. What could his motive possibly have been?

I questioned him for hours. He sat silently, grinning, staring at me with those terrible, glowing feline eyes. He was mocking me! I begged him to explain. I threatened him. I questioned repeatedly, tears streaming down my cheeks, my sobs slurring my words. Still he would not answer, but I would not cease, I was determined, desperate. I throttled him, trying t elicit a confession I cut out his eyes, those awful glaring orbs.

I howled in frustration and grief then kicked the filing cabinet. It wobbled precariously, and then fell; I tried to get out of its way and tripped. I hit my head on the cold concrete floor and fainted.