Dr. Richat, the local medical examiner who doubled as a practitioner and occasional surgeon at Deerton General Hospital (people still called it that even though it’d been Infrared Health Systems for nearly 20 years) kept a tight ship. Everything was locked and labeled, signed and sealed.

His assistants were a different matter entirely. They didn’t last long, reeled in by the high pay but quickly reeled out by the long hours and Dr. Richat’s imperious nature. Tina Hedstrom was at the night desk when Caleb and Fay arrived.

“Twenty bucks,” Tina said in response to Caleb’s plea. It was a week’s salary for either of them, but they scraped it together even if a quarter of it was in change. Tina unlocked the door and returned to her magazine nestled snugly between the covers of Grey’s Anatomy.

Joshua’s body lay in a drawer, but Caleb did his best to put it out of his mind. The effects lockers were a room away; in a bigger town, the stuff might have been kept in the police station. Caleb had a hunch that since the Deerton PD shared a building with the library that they thought the stuff was safer in the hospital annex.

Clutching Fay both to support and be supported, he opened the “J. Kwaterski” locker. The torn jeans and filthy t-shirt were Joshua’s beyond a shadow; Caleb was sure he’d seen them dozens of times, but in here, like cast-off lizardskin…it was horrifying.

Joshua had a few coins and a driver’s license in his wallet, but it was mostly frayed duct tape. Some tobacco-stained lotto tickets that had been kept for use as rolling papers, a braided leather belt, and…

“That’s it,” said Fay. “That has to be it.”

Caleb hefted the item at the bottom of the locker. It was heavy for its small size and wrapped in newspaper. Through a few tears, he glimpsed a cool beige surface with what vaguely resembled crackle glaze. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” said Fay sadly. “He said it was going to make him a ton of money.”

Caleb stretched a hand out to unwrap the object. It looked like a small coffee cup with thicker walls than he’d ever seen. Moisture glistened on the inside, and there were three perfectly circular handles evenly spaced around the outside. Caleb balanced it on its newspaper rind with one hand. “It doesn’t look that valuable to me.”

Fay’s brow furrowed. “He said it had a covering, like rubber…I guess it must have come off. I think he might have put some water in it?”

Shrugging, Caleb spat into the cup. Fay recoiled, but a moment later she shrieked as a blue light flashed from within the object with an intense ozone smell. The liquid had crystalized into something that looked like an uncut gemstone, sparkling under the harsh florescents.

“Holy shit,” Caleb cried. “Holy shit! Did you see that, Fay? Did you-”

In his excitement, Caleb brushed one of the ceramic handles with his hand. He pulled it back violently as if burned, and then clutched at his chest with a piercing shriek. The cup clattered to the floor, and Fay joined the screaming as she saw red flowers of blood blossoming all over Caleb’s torso, soaked up by his shirt.

By the time Tina rushed in from the front desk, seconds later, Caleb was on the floor in a spreading puddle of his own fluids.

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