Read Grave Situation Online

Authors: Alex MacLean

Tags: #crime, #murder, #mystery, #addiction, #police procedural, #serial killer, #forensics, #detective, #csi, #twist ending, #traumatic stress

Grave Situation (10 page)

“There are impact abrasions to the
palmar surface of both hands. I attribute this to the pavement
after the victim had probably put out his hands to break his

With Sodero’s help, he turned the
body over to examine the wound in the back.

“The blade entered the body
vertically on the right side of the spinal column just missing the
medial border of the scapula. Both the top and bottom margins of
the wound are squared off.” Coulter leaned closer, eyes narrowing.
“There is also a guard mark at the top of the wound, but none at
the bottom. The thrust of the weapon came at a downward

Carefully, he measured the margins
of the wound and then the depth of the track. “I can approximate
the length of the blade to be about six inches. Not so sure about
the shape of the blade however. The elasticity of the skin can
actually distort the wound so that it doesn’t resemble the blade at

Sodero placed a scale beside the
wound and photographed it several times.

“The rest of the external
investigation is unremarkable,” Coulter said. “There are no
bruises, marks or other trauma anywhere else on the

He clipped the fingernails and
packaged them. Then he took fingerprints. As he filled out the
print cards, Sodero transferred the body to a metal gurney and
covered it with a sheet. Coulter then wheeled the body into an
adjacent room to be x-rayed.

Allan took out his notepad and
jotted down the details about the knife. Sodero brought him over a
plastic apron.

“You might want to wear this,
Lieutenant,” he told him.

“Thanks, Lawrence.”

“No problem.”

Allan put away his notepad and
slipped the apron on. “You enjoy this work?”

“Very much so.”

“It never bothers you? The sights
and smells?”

Sodero shook his head. “Not really,
Lieutenant. I find the human body very fascinating. I realized when
I dissected a fetal pig back in grade ten biology class I would
someday get into this type of work.”

“A fetal pig, huh?” Allan raised
his eyebrows. “In my biology class we only dissected a starfish and
a frog. And I found both to be rather disgusting.”

Sodero chuckled. “We used those for
dissections too, Lieutenant. I must say the fetal pig was my
favorite though. Call me weird, but during my years in university I
kept one preserved in a jar in my dorm room.”

“And I bet you had a name for him

“I did.” Sodero smiled. “I called
him Fred.”

Just then, Coulter came back with
the body and the developed x-rays. He pinned the images to a view
box mounted on the far wall. Allan walked over.

“No broken pieces of blade,”
Coulter said. “But the fourth posterior rib is broken and the fifth
is completely severed. Both in the nonarticular portion of the
tubercle.” He adjusted his glasses. “The ribs tend to deflect a
blade, directing it into the intercostal spaces between them. It
requires little pressure for a very sharp blade to enter the human
body.” He paused and extended a forefinger, pressing it into
Allan’s arm. “About that much pressure, Lieutenant. Once the tip
punctures the skin, the rest of the blade glides in with relative
ease. But when the blade runs into bone, we have a different story.
This wound here required some force.”

Allan scratched his chin, looking
past Coulter to the x-rays. “So we’re probably dealing with a male?
Perhaps one with considerable strength?”

Coulter removed his glasses.
“There’s really no way to quantitate the strength of the
individual. You’re correct, the subject is probably a male. I feel
the knife is of high quality. Sharp. Strong. Single-edged. But you
can rarely match a knife to a wound with any certainty. You’d be
better off checking a suspect knife for blood, either around the
guard or beneath the handle.”

Allan turned to him. “Do you think
the suspect is left or right-handed?”

“Based on the angle of the wound,
I’d say right.” Still looking over the images, Coulter concluded,
“There are no other signs of previous trauma here. No healed
fractures. No prior operations. All the organs are present. Mister
Hawkins was in good shape.”

Sodero helped him transfer the body
to the dissection table again. Coulter put a block under the
victim’s back, allowing the chest to rise up, the head and arms to
fall back.

That block could only mean one
thing; Allan braced himself for what was to come. He watched
Coulter take a scalpel from the steel tray. Starting at each
shoulder, the medical examiner made an incision down across the
chest to the sternum, then proceeded down the abdomen, around the
navel and ended at the pubic bone.

With the forceps, he pulled back on
the corners of skin. Keeping the tension throughout, he scraped
away the underlying tissue. He peeled off the top flap of skin and
brought it up over Brad’s chin to expose the vessels in front of
the neck. Coulter then cut the pectoral muscles from their
attachments to the sternum, intercostals and clavicles and
reflected them outward. When he finished, the rib cage lay

Standing close by, the faint smell
that drifted to Allan was of fresh meat.

Quick, shallow
, he told himself.
Quick, shallow breaths.

Pale, he watched a mound of coiled
intestinal track shift to one side and then spill onto the

The rib cutters Coulter took from
the tray resembled gardening loppers. One at a time, he clipped the
ribs from the lateral costal margins to the inner clavicles. Allan
flinched at each sharp little snip.

Coulter removed the breastplate.
Blood began to flow over the table now.

He leaned over the body, eyes
intent. “The pericardial sac has been damaged,” he said. “The
pleural cavity is full of blood. This is where things get messy.”
He turned on a faucet hooked up at the table. “We had little blood
at the scene, Lieutenant, because most of it stayed inside the body
as you can see.”

Allan swallowed as he watched waves
of bloody water roll down the raised sides of the table, swirling
around the drain between the feet of Brad Hawkins.

“There’s been a stabbing down on
Lower Water Street… Your son was involved.”

“Is he all right?”

“I’m sorry…”

Allan drew a breath and turned
away. The other two men didn’t seem to notice.

Coulter cut open the pericardial
sac to expose the heart. With a needle and syringe, he withdrew two
vials of blood from the organ. One would be used for toxicology,
the other for typing.

“Can you take an additional blood
sample, Doctor?” Allan asked.

“I can, Lieutenant.” Coulter
removed another needle and syringe from a package. “Is there a
special need for it?”

“We found a blood trail at the
crime scene and at this point we don’t know who it belongs to. I’d
like to have an ample supply of Mister Hawkins’ blood so we can
rule out whether or not it belongs to him.”

After Coulter withdrew another vial
of blood, he proceeded to take out the heart. He weighed it, and
then carried it to the sink where he rinsed it under the water. For
some time, he stood there, quiet. Diligently, he examined the wound
track. Then, with the bread knife, he began to dissect the

“The blade entered the posterior
of the heart at a slight downward angle,” he said. “Went straight
through the anterior wall and punctured the pericardial sac.
There’s lethal damage to the right atrium and right ventricle. The
right coronary artery had been cut. As well the superior vena cava
and inferior vena cava were both damaged. Death ensued after
massive hemorrhage.”

He came back and picked up the
breastplate. He turned it over and looked at the

“The tip of the blade actually
nicked the posterior surface of the gladiolus.” Coulter’s normal
didactic tone of voice changed, Allan noticed. For a brief spurt, a
trace of guarded amazement replaced it. The doctor’s eyes became
reflective, as though trying to remember if he had seen this
before. “Good thing the blade wasn’t longer. It could’ve come out
the front of the chest.”

He went back to work on the body,
removing the pericardial sac. Next came the lungs. Another odor,
acrid and metallic, began to overpower the smell of meat. Allan
found himself staring into the thoracic cavity at a pool of blood
that looked inches deep. He put a hand to his nose and stepped back
a few feet.

“You okay, Lieutenant?” Sodero
asked, looking at him from the other side of the dissection

“It’s just the smell. Nothing

Coulter glanced
over from the sink. “We have some
Might help you.”

Allan put up a hand. “No, I’m fine.

“Suit yourself, Lieutenant,”
Coulter said. “I found the root of the right lung damaged, but it
wasn’t life threatening.”

He came back over and inspected the
neck for trauma. With the scalpel slicing away, he took out the
larynx, trachea, carotids, and tongue. These were explored at an
adjacent table.

He systematically emptied the
abdominal cavity and checked the stomach for undigested food. Once
more, he didn’t find anything noteworthy. He finished up by
collecting tissue samples of all the major organs for later
microscopic analysis and one vial of urine through the fundus in
the bladder.

Sodero took the block from beneath
the victim’s back and placed it under the head. Scalpel in hand, he
started an incision behind the right ear across the crown of the
head to the back of the left ear. Face straining, he pulled the
front section of scalp up and over the top of the head, rolling it
down over the victim’s face. The back section was pulled down to
the nape of the neck. All semblance of Brad Hawkins had now
disappeared, buried under a contortion of skin.

Allan winced.

Flesh and
, he thought.
We’re all just flesh and bone.

Coulter took over at this point.
Using the Stryker saw, he cut around the perimeter of the cranium.
Before he could lift away the skullcap, he had had to remove the
dura mater that adhered to the inside. He took a chisel and slid it
under the edge of the cranium, gingerly prying away the thick
membrane. As the top of the skull was worked free, there was a wet
sucking sound.

“No signs of epidural hematoma,”
Coulter said. “Meninges are clear.”

Next, he stripped away the white
dura to reveal the convoluted surface of the brain. It glistened
under the powerful overhead lights.

“The cerebrum looks good. No
subdural hematoma or signs of other hemorrhaging.”

Gently working his fingers down the
sides of the brain, he lifted on the frontal lobes. He skillfully
cut through nerves, arteries and the intersection between the
spinal column and brain stem. In his hands, the brain quivered like
a gelatinous mass as he carried it to the scale and weighed it.
Coulter then suspended the organ in a jar of formalin.

With the autopsy over, Sodero
poured the hodgepodge of organs into the body cavity and set the
breastplate onto the chest. Threading heavy twine through the eye
of a hagedorn needle, he began stitching up the abdomen.

The brain would not go back with
the body. Coulter positioned the cranium in place and then rolled
the scalp back over the top of it. As if by magic, the face of Brad
Hawkins reappeared.

“I can have my full report to you
in the morning, Lieutenant,” said Coulter, writing on his
clipboard. “The lab work will be later in the week. DNA profiling
will be a few weeks.”

“If we’re lucky,” replied Allan.
“The lab is backlogged with samples.”

“Concerning the time of death. I
can say it happened within two hours of the body being discovered.
I can neither approve nor disprove the timeline you gave me
earlier. Probably not what you wanted to hear.”

“I understand how hard it is,
Doctor. Thank you very much.” Allan removed the plastic apron and

He stopped in the hallway, took out
his notepad again and began to write:

1. Right-handed male.

2. Special skill with

3. Pickup.

4. Cash and credit cards left in

5. Notebook missing.

6. No defense wounds.

Allan put the notepad away. He
checked his watch: 2:05 pm. Already eight hours into the murder and
there was still much work to do.


Acresville, May 9

2:25 p.m.


The slamming of a door intrudes
upon a dream.

The little boy’s eyes snapped open.
He was alone in his bed, rigid and frightened, scarcely able to
breathe. He lifted his head off the pillow, waited, and listened.
Though he heard nothing but the rapid thump of his heart, he still
had the instinctive awareness of the presence of

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