Che Bella Donna
Suzanne Ferry Chesson
Hayward Fault Line Winning Story

S he pondered the clinical manifestations. When you hear the clip-clop of hooves in Central Park, don't suspect zebras.

The light in the lab was dim and bright at the same time, from cheap flourescent tubes. Why are these places always painted green, she wondered. To make it feel lifelike, vernal? Ah, sweet lovers love the spring. A bit late for that crap here.

Poisoning. Last meal two nights ago. No locally-harvested wild mushrooms. Feces-borne bacteremia ruled out. Had dry mouth, headache, was febrile then convulsive.

Footsteps coming down the metal stairwell. The hairs on her neck tingled at the clang of the fire doors as they closed on the stairs; the deceased's doctor would soon peek into her lab for results. Rarely do they walk all the way into this room, she mentally noted, because they are chickenshit assholes. They linger halfway-in, halfway-out. This place rubs their failures in their faces and they can't stand it. Upstairs they are Big Men On Campus. Here they are nothing. Especially the good Dr. Lane.

"Hi Darlene," he piped breezily, "got any results? I know I'm pushing you but the family would like to know."

Treats me with deference, now, she observed, with detached amusement. These doctors usually just grab the case file and leave without much of a chat.

"Are you referring to the late bella ragazza Francesca Marini, Doctor?" she inquired sweetly.

"Knock it off, Dar," he said, in a voice suddenly ugly. "What killed her? What can you find?"

"La Donna Marini ingested enough atropine to kill a horse. Where'd you suppose she got that?"

"She came in for acute inflammation of the sacroileus. Scopalomine was to relax her, let her sleep. What are you suggesting?" he asked angrily, stepping all the way into the room.

"Hmmm. Relax her. Put her in the mood. Back pain kills romance, doesn't it? You used to write me out whatever prescription I needed, back when we were . . . well. By the way, how was the pie at your cozy little diner a deux?" Darlene asked. "Bet you thought it was from your doting mother, who still does your goddamn laundry. No. It was a peace offering. I picked the berries myself. We still have to work together and I want to be adult about it. The berries are atropa belladonna, of the nightshade family: perfect dessert for a lovely italian whore. Lucky you lack a sweet tooth or your results might be here, too. How coincidental that plant-derived atropine is so chemically similar to scopalomine. Cause of death: scopalomine poisoning, Doctor dear."

A uniformed officer tapped on the lab door window, reluctant to step all the way in.

First published: August 1998