From the book
He never even knew her name. Not her age, nor her favorite color, nor what she looked like when she smiled. All he knew for certain was that she had been a prostitute, and she had ingested too much black drop opium.
As though searching for some rationale for the tragedy, he made a final study of her gaunt, bony face, her frizzy hair the color of a brass spittoon. One arm was permanently disfigured from a poorly-healed break; it must have ached for years. Yet in spite of all that, she was oddly beautiful, almost defiantly so in the face of the grotesque indignities heaped upon her by life, and now by death.
Strange that he would be the last to look upon her.
In a ritual he'd performed far too many times, he tucked her into a bleached canvas shroud. The garment had been hand sewn and donated by the Ladies Aid Guild, whose members gossiped and drank imported tea as they performed good works for the betterment of society.
He pulled the drawstring tight. Then he rolled the creaking wheeled cot out through the back of the building and stepped into the thick, cool air. San Francisco was a different place at the hollow hour between dark and dawn.
Night still haunted the city, darkness clinging in corners and crevices of the waterfront district, lingering under the bows of ships in the harbor and trailing down crooked stairways that led to dank-smelling basements. He checked his pocket watch. The colorless limbo would linger for another hour before first light smeared the foggy sky over the bay.
Travelers often remarked that San Francisco had grown into one of the world's great places, but he wouldn't know about that. These days he rarely left the city, anyway.
A rescue wagon, serving double duty as a morgue transport, backed up to the raised bay jutting out into the alley. "Let me give you a hand with that, Dr. Calhoun." Willie Bean, his orderly, jumped down from the driver's bench.
Together, with as much reverence as they could manage, they loaded the nameless woman into the wicker morgue casket on the flatbed cart.
Blue Calhoun tucked a stray corner of the shroud down into the casket, lowered the lid, then buckled the fastener to hold it shut. The ancient leather strap, cracked from frequent use, practically crumbled in his hand as he cinched it tight. The lid sprang upward several inches.
He stared at the broken curl of leather. "This is useless," he said.
"She won't notice," Willie pointed out.
"I will." The idea of the woman being driven through the city streets, her casket lid flapping open at every bump in the road, made him want to growl with frustration. He unbuckled the belt at his waist and yanked it through the trouser loops. Then he passed the supple Italian leather through the lid closure and fastened it securely. Feeling Willie's stare, Blue became conscious of the jerky, repressed violence of his movements.
He took a deep breath and stepped away from the wagon. Working half the night to save a woman beyond saving had left him exhausted and emptied out. "Ready," he said, signaling for Willie to go.
"You can't save them all, Doc." Willie took the reins. He clicked his tongue and drove off, the wagon disappearing into the weightless veil of fog until only the hollow clop of the horse's hooves could be heard. By this time tomorrow, the dead woman would be loaded into a contract box and buried among the sagebrush and sand dunes of Lime Kiln Point at a cost of $2.60 to the City and County of San Francisco.
Blue heard a few muffled pops--fireworks, or more likely, gunshot, coming from the waterfront district. He...