So first I will tell you about the Russian couple, just so you know where I’m coming from. People ask to hear this stuff. Then when I tell them, they look at me like I’m a cannibal. Nobody should do what I do, but it has to be done. You have your job; I have mine.
The Russian couple were mobsters, or had mob connections, or he was a mobster and she wasn’t. I never got that part of the story, that’s for the coroner to worry about. Our company’s job was to sell the families some beautiful boxes, a piece of dirt, and a laser-etched monument. Russians paid big money for their funerals; it was Russian money that built the third mausoleum.
They had been dismembered and dropped to the bottom of a lake in northern California. When the coroner was through with them, he unceremoniously dumped both bodies into the same bag. This was particularly shoddy work on his part; what’s the use of examining them, if you’re just going to scramble the pieces together again in the end? However, I had a job to do.
A guy had driven it down to Southern California, and we almost had to bury him too when he arrived. However, the joke was on me, because I had to go into the bag and remove all the dismembered parts, and put them in separate caskets. A gold leafed cushy casket for him, and a turquoise extravaganza for her. The Bentley and Cadillac of caskets.
The bag contained what I can only call a black, human soup. It was a broth of water and liquefied remains, with chunks of assorted body parts in it. I had to remove each one and examine it closely, to determine which parts were his and which were hers. The deep, cold lake had kept them relatively well-preserved at first. However, their subsequent thawing, long limbo at the coroner’s office, and the hot drive down the coast with the windows wide open had left them in a particularly unpleasant state of decomposition. To make matters worse, two sheriff’s deputies were watching the whole time, so I couldn’t gag or barf or lose my cool in front of them.
So, I’d hold up a foot, or a hand, or a piece of a leg or something. This wasn’t easy if it had slipskin, which almost every part that still had skin did. The skin just slips right off, making it hard to grip the part. So I had to kind of squeeze into the flesh with the tips of my fingers to get a grip on the thing. I’d then examine the piece, and look at the bone, the width, any trace of nail polish that might remain. I’d guess male or female, and respectfully place it in the right casket, where it would immediately stain the satin cushions a brownish-purple-black. The heads were easy; she still had much of her hair still attached. Their faces were more skeletal than fleshy, so I didn’t have to see that frozen-in-eternity look of horror so many of our murder victims have. The limbs weren’t so bad either, size helped more than anything; women’s bones really are noticeably more delicate than those of men. The torsos were tricky; they were mostly just rib cages and spines, with very little left on them but fetid morsels. However, placing them side by side under the fluorescent lighting left no doubt. The larger one with the caved-in chest was the male decedent.
I zipped up the bag to keep the rest of the black soup from spilling out. The deputies, whose presence was strange because the police work was done, left with a satisfied smirk while I cleaned up the joint.
At the funeral, on their lovely laser-etched black granite his and her monuments, they looked quite the happy couple. About 60 or so mourners were there, wailing and screaming and fainting, the whole bit. Nobody can be emotional, as deliriously emotional, as a Russian at a funeral. I scanned the crowd, figuring whoever iced them might be right there; they are a close-knit group. I couldn’t stay for the burial, which is where things really get emotional, with people flinging themselves on the casket and practically diving into the grave with it. Had a pickup in Koreatown, a residence. I hate residence calls, I’d rather have another bag of soup.
Joe Cherry is an insider in body delivery, in which drivers retrieve bodies from hospitals, morgues, medical examiners, and private residences to deliver to funeral homes.