Detective finds more than just a murder mystery
Pulling up to a building labeled “Town Hall / Police Station”, Carl was just in time to see a middle aged man with a row of stars on his uniform collar locking up. Assuming that like many small town police Bloomington overinflated their rank, he figured this was the chief.
“Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”
“I’m investigator Carl Thomas from the State Police. You asked for our assistance.”
“Oh, yeah. Didn’t think I’d see anyone this soon. Or at all, to be honest.”
“My boss believes that small town police are key to detecting trends early.”
“I know I read that. But I thought it was just bull hockey. Nice to see he meant it. Well, I’m about to go to dinner and then I have a lodge meeting. Why don’t we get you settled tonight and we can start fresh tomorrow? We don’t have any big hotels, but the Campbell’s run a small bed and breakfast that’s nice. They’re good Christians. Bill passed a few years ago, so now it’s just Becky and her daughter. Come on, I’ll walk you over there.”
The Campbell’s had inherited one of the large houses built at the turn of the last century. They lived in the back and the upstairs was turned into bedrooms. Becky Campbell was very welcoming and rates were reasonable. Her daughter probably looked great if she put the effort in it. But dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, she looked like most college students home on break. She showed me up to my room while the Chief and Mrs. Campbell talked.
“So here’s your room. The bathroom is that door there. There’s a bath and a shower. You’re the only one here, so it’s all yours. There are towels over there. Just leave them in the bin in the bathroom. Breakfast is at 7 AM, but we could make it later if you want. It’s coffee, juice, toast, bagels and muffins. Mom makes the muffins. I could make you some eggs if you want. You must be here for the body.”
“The Hendersons found a body in their field. No one knew who it was or how it got there. Chief must have called the State police for assistance.”
“And how did you figure that out?”
“Your car has state fleet plates. You have a habit of checking your right hip which means you carry a weapon there. Your belt is worn on the front left side where you clip your badge, but you’ve been driving, so I guess you moved it. Only conclusion – your law enforcement.”
“How did you catch all that?”
“I’m studying to be a forensic pathologist. My profs are always on us to observe. By the way, the body is over at Maus’ funeral home, but you won’t be able to see it ‘til tomorrow. Anything else? Name’s Mary.”
Once Mary left, I unpacked my computer to check e-mails (just office spam). I spotted a place called the Chatterbox across the street, and figured it would be my best bet for a meal. Food was decent, but not great, portions were good sized and the service folksy, like you were a guest. I headed back to the Campbell’s and settled in for the night.
The next morning I went down for breakfast. Mary dressed in running shorts, shoes and a T-shirt was putting out coffee, muffins (still hot) and fruit. She poured some coffee and gave me a copy of the paper before sitting down.
“Mind if I join you?”
“You have time. Office won’t be open until 8:30, and then just the secretary.” I met this with some silence. “You mind if I trail along. It would be interesting to see how things work before they get to the lab.”
“Not my case. You’ll have to get the Chief to approve.”
“Trust me, it will be your case. You were called because nobody here knows how to investigate anything more than tagging.”
“Still his jurisdiction. I’m here to assist.”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Let me clean up and I’ll join you around 8:15.”
There were probably worst things then having a cute assistant. I spent the rest of breakfast jotting down my questions and agenda in my notebook. Given what Mary had said and the vibe I got from the Chief, I figured I had to start at the beginning. True to her word, Mary was there exactly at 8:15 in jeans, T-shirt and work boots. I gathered my computer and field investigation pack and we went over to the Police Station. We were greeted by a middle aged woman who was trying to hide it with too much hair dye and a too tight skirt.
“You must be the man from the State. Sherriff said you were coming. I’m was to give you his file and let you use his office. He’s running a little late.” Turning to Mary. “Mary, can I help you?”
“No thanks, I’m trailing the detective.”
I sat down at the Chief’s desk, plugged in my computer and made sure I had a secure connection. I didn’t want to open access to our databases on a questionable line. A detective had done that last year and had to explain why a hacker was publishing sealed case files. It was not pleasant for him or anyone else. Mary got me a coffee and started texting while I reviewed the file.
The ‘file’ was nothing more than some notes and papers stuffed in a folder. I would have to start like it was a fresh case. Except that evidence was probably corrupted or missing.
“Excuse me? I usually get dinner, at least.”
“Sorry. Tell me, what did the Chief do to get this job?”
“Get elected. Anyway, I texted Harry Maus, the owner’s son and he said that Doc Michaels will be over there at nine to do the autopsy. Doc’s the coroner and a no nonsense guy. You two will get along.”
I packed my gear and told the secretary where we were headed. I figured if the Chief was interested he could catch up.
The funeral home a brick Victorian with a ramp in the back to the basement. Mary went straight to the back and down the ramp, so I followed. In the basement, we were greeted by a grey haired gentleman yelling at a large, slightly overweight young man.
“Damn it Harry, I know I didn’t drop you on your head when I delivered you. Now who opened up this body?”
“No one Doc. I swear. We picked it up two days ago and put it in the freezer until you got back.”
“Well, someone opened this stiff up. The medic report says there was no signs of violence.” Noticing our presence, the old gentleman turned toward us. “Mary, what are you doing here? And who are you?”
“Doc, this is Inspector Carl Thomas from the State Police. He’s here to assist on the investigation.”
“You mean, lead. Well, someone has already opened up the body and Harry here has no idea. We need to make a note in case it comes up in a trial.”
The Chief may have been an amateur, but the coroner knew what he was doing. He surveyed the body, while I fingerprinted it and ran them against various data bases. Meanwhile, the Doc started his voice recorder.
“Okay, this is Doctor Victor Michaels conducting the autopsy of a John Doe found at the Henderson farm. In attendance are . . .” Looking at me, he mouthed ‘name’ “Inspector Carl Thomas of the State Police, Mary Campbell assisting and Harry Maus, who better stay out of the way. The victim is 6 foot, approximately 175 pounds and 30 years of age. An external exam of the body shows a recent longitudinal incision. This was not noted at the time of retrieval by the medics. No other indicators, so I am going to do a Y incision for an internal examination.”
Before making the incision, he stopped and started flipping through paperwork.
“Problem?” I’d attended a few autopsies and normally paperwork was reviewed before.
“Checking to see who declared him dead.”
Dr. Michaels jammed a thermometer in the body to check liver temp. This got a reaction. Our victim blinked.
“What the . . . ?”
I’m not sure who actually said it, but I know we all thought it. Then the body got up, grabbed a coat that was in the corner and left. None of us moved. Later we argued whether we were too dumbfounded or we couldn’t move. t that point, the Chief came in.
“Ruth told me you all were over here. So what do you know?” We all kind of looked at him. “Don’t tell me you’re done already. Where’s the body?”
“You almost ran into him. He just left.” Dr. Michaels was the only one with presence of mind to say anything
“What? You mean someone picked him up?”
“No, he just walked out.”
“But . . .”
“L let me show you.” We all saw it again. The autopsy starting. Doc checking for life signs. His jabbing the corpse. The corpse opening his eyes, removing the thermometer, getting up, taking the coat and then leaving.
“How does that happen?”
“Damned if I know. This thermometer has him at room temperature. That makes him dead in my book.”
“Well, Doc how did he just up and walk out of here?”
“That is a problem for you law men. I’m going to my office. Call me if the body shows up.”
Finally, the sheriff spoke up.
“Detective, what if we say there was no body? That is was a mistake? No body, no crime.”
“Then you have to explain why you asked for me and whose prints I sent for matching.”
“Didn’t think of that.”
To which Mary guffawed. I stepped up before the Sheriff could say anything.
“The only answer is to find the body. How many naked men wearing overcoats are there going to be?”
“Depends if Cousin Frank is back.”
“Mary Campbell, mind yourself. We might as well get started. And Harry, you say a thing and I’ll talk to your Dad about what happened to his hearse.”
Mary and I decided the best bet would be to go back to the field where the body was found and it turned out we were right. Stopping on the edge we could see the body standing there. Just standing there.
“Uh, Sir. I need to talk to you.”
He turned and cocked his head. As I walked toward him, he brought his hands up to the scar and pulled it apart.
“Please, Sir, stop.”
“I don’t think he’s paying attention.”
Mary was right. The body kept splitting like a Velcro’d wetsuit. As it got wider, it revealed . . . nothing. The skin suit was all there was. Eventually the rip went from his groin to his neck and then it collapsed. Mary and I looked at each other.
“What was, or is, that?”
“Don’t ask me, forensic classes doesn’t deal with empty skin suits.”
WORD COUNT -1915