FACE UP IN THE BODY BAG
I hope I’ve aroused your interest with the title of this story, and I hope to not bore you with the truth.
I am a middle-age married female, mother of two, who is employed by the Government Sanctioned Medical Examiner’s Office as a Licensed Death Investigator, or, as some of you may be familiar with, a Deputy Coroner. My job is to go to the scene of an unexpected, or unexplained death and determine if it was a natural ending of a life, or something that fits inside the really big box of ‘Suspicious’.
The sections of the grid that I’m assigned to are located in what used to be called the State of Minnesota, when the United States of America still existed. Which section I’m scheduled to cover will determine what time in the morning I could start receiving calls. For instance, sections C-5, and I-1, the calls could start at six a.m., and for section M-6 I get one more hour of sleep as they don’t start until seven. I try to sleep in as long as possible as I have no idea what the day and night might bring.
Coffee – yes, that is the first thing on my agenda for the day. A nice cup of dark roast coffee with a little Half & Half is a great way to begin. Then I take the dogs out with breakfast and dishes soon to follow. I know, I’ve already provided you with so much excitement you’ve had to stop reading just to catch your breath.
Okay, back to the dogs, as this can get rather interesting at times. If all goes the way it should both dogs will do their business and neither one will scent or chase a feral cat. We’ve had the Repellent Transmitters installed to keep the cats away, but every once in a while there’ll be a cat that it has no affect on. Sometimes I think all the feral cats gather in the bush and take bets as to which cat can get the closest before the dogs notice it.
Anyway, we’re on the Gene-Canine list which permits us to have live dogs in our home, our limit is two. Most of those on the list are families that have a long history of owning and caring for live dogs. My great-grandparents, Jeff and Joan, were owners of Basenjis back in the early two-thousands through two-thousand-fifty-eight. They eventually became very involved with B.R.a.T., Basenji Rescue and Transport. Because of their involvement with that agency we are considered to be one of the families that are responsible for owning and caring for Basenjis that are not for human consumption. The list of permitted dogs isn’t very long as most of the common breeds are now raised by the Government and are strictly for consumption. One has to be very careful not to be taken off the list as it’s next to impossible to get back on. We do not breed the dogs, we just love and care for them. When one of current dogs completes his or her circle of life we have three weeks to replace him or her, otherwise we’ll be reduced to one dog. Basenjis always do better in pairs, so if they run off to chase a feral cat it becomes a family emergency. Everyone drops everything to find them, not just because of the list, but one never knows when there could be an acid rain shower, which if it’s bad it could kill them, or they could end up on someone’s table as the main course.
Then I check my cellular transmitter for any missed transmissions, and wake up the computer. I then check the schedule to see if any emergencies occurred last night that may require me to cover someone else’s shift for the day, or if there is something going on at the moment that may require another set of hands. Then, while online, I check the weather, air quality and traffic.
House hold chores are next on the list. My home is lived and it gets dirty. Even with combining three incomes we don’t make enough to be able to afford Domestic Assistance so we all try to help out with the regular cleaning in the areas we occupy the most. But the majority of the chores do fall on me because I want a cleaner home than the others so it’s up to me to keep it that way.
No missed transmissions, no emergencies and no acid rain expected today. The air quality is high green, not quite yellow, so I will do laundry today and hang it out on the line. I recall my grandmother, Vera, telling me how she would hang laundry out on several lines stretched between two pole set into the ground. She said the laundry would dry with a crisp clean smell embedded in the fabric. Then I’d ask her what it was like living back then. Her face would light up when she would recount how the sky was a light blue and the air was clean. Then she’d describe how the white clouds would dance across the blue sky while being held in the tender embrace of the wind. She would say that the wind would swoop down to kiss the earth and would leave behind its breath filled with love, that’s why the laundry smelled so good. I can only imagine what the air smelled like back then.
Because we have the two dogs we are allotted an area just outside our containment space for them to run and play. My husband, Jaydee, fixed a co-workers kitchen sink in trade for a line and fasteners. He was able to put up a ten foot section of line in that area for me to use as a ‘Clothes Line’, as Grandma would call it. That spot gets twenty minutes of sunshine in the morning, when the atmo is clear enough for natural sunshine. I think the natural sunshine makes the whites whiter, but Jaydee says it’s all in my head. I had some vintage clips that were my grandmother’s that I clip to the line; I think I’m using them correctly. So far nothing has fallen off the line.
Well, my day is moving right along. I get the first load of laundry in the washer and start my trip on the tread mill. Today I will be jogging through a small Village in what used to be called Germany. I like the fact I have jogged on most of the world’s famous scenic trails and have not had to fly once to do so.
Jog completed so now it’s time for a shower. I’m sure you all have taken a shower at one time or another so no details are necessary for this event. Our double water filtration system is the best out there so we don’t have to worry about any acid in our water or the non-removable orange tint in one’s hair. As I’m drying off my transmitter chimes, it’s State Police Dispatch; I’ll have to call them back.
I’m dressed and return the call, “This is Larzine, what do you have for me?”
Dispatch replies, “We have single vehicle accident on State Highway 47 between Entrance/Exit 6 and E/E 7.”
“Okay,” I reply, as I find the location on my tablet and highlight it. “Entrance Hatch,” I ask.
“There’s a hatch located just north of E/E 7. We’ll pop it for you when you’re within range. Are you traveling in or our?”
I reply, “Out.”
“Your eta should be twenty minutes.”
The call has now shown up in the status bar on my tablet. I press ‘Accept’ on the event so it can engage the GPS, I then head to the garage. “Got it, thanks,” I say, then end the call. I’m old school and refuse to get a cell phone implant. A transmitter strapped to my left wrist works perfectly fine for me. As I open my vehicle door the garage door opens, and the engine starts. I slip my tablet into its docking station, and the GPS system engages. I buckle up and away I go.
Since I have a Government issued vehicle I can by-pass the transport system by hovering above the covered lanes to avoid getting stuck in traffic inside the Tunnels. That’s what I was referring to when I said I was traveling ‘out’ today. I leave the garage and then push the ‘Official Business’ button. I can now leave the official Lanes of Traffic and engage the hover engines. I’ll wait until I have past Dolores’ residence before doing so as the noise has scared her in the past. She is our community’s oldest living resident, and she deserves respect.
Hovering without guides can get a bit scary though. When my vehicle passes over a traffic jam inside a Tunnel the heat of the collected vehicles rising through the vents can cause an oxygen void, which in turn can cause my vehicle to ‘burp’. Only once did my vehicle burp and slip sideways off the lane cover slapping a few Evergreens in the process. The Evergreens that have evolved with the environmental changes are very delicate trees. If one were to get snapped off too low on the trunk it could cause it to die. Whoever causes a tree to die receives a huge fine. I was able to correct the decent and then line back up on top of the lane cover within a few seconds. All was well, except for my heart. It took a little while for my heart rate to reduce which then allowed my seat belt to relax. I never did tell my husband about that one, neither did Dispatch.
As I get close to the Entrance Hatch my vehicle starts to slow. GPS lets Dispatch know where I am, and they open the hatch remotely. I drop down and back up, stopping within feet of the dismantled Hovercraft. I grab my tablet, exit my vehicle and open the rear door to retrieve my kit. The first thing I do is put on my protective gear as I wasn’t told what caused the accident I’m responding to.
The Officer who is on scene is one I’ve worked with many times. He greets me in his usual manner, “Hey, Larzine.”
“Hi Tom,” I reply. “What have we got,” I ask, as I walked next to him toward the crash.
“We’re not really sure,” he replies.
“Oh,” I say, not knowing if it’s excitement, or hesitation, that has caused my heart to race a bit.
“It appears to be a single Hovercraft crash with one dead,” Tom said. He then stopped by the driver’s door and pointed inside the craft. “But,” he paused, slightly, “there is way too much blood for one body in there, and there is a really odd odor.”
I set my kit down and get my camera out. “Hum . . . Is HazMat sending a crew,” I ask. “And what does Dispatch have from the TunnelCam?”
“This is one of the placebo TunnelCams,” Tom whispered. We both look up trying not to be obvious. There, attached to the wall right below the ceiling was a nice shiny camera with the little flashing red light.
Tom looked back down at his note pad, and said, “HazMat said they did a scan and that there’s no toxin present.”
“Great,” I reply, as I shake my head. HazMat is known for scanning the wrong section in the Tunnels frequently, and then covering it up. So, I proceed with caution.
Now the TunnelCams, that’s a different story. In an attempt to pacify the Naturalists Party, and save some money in the process, the Ruling Government Cabinet replaced some of the failed closed circuit cameras throughout the entire Tunnel System with fake ones. It was supposed to be a double blind event where even the manufacturer, and the technicians who installed them, didn’t know which were real, and which were fake. But, history and case studies are showing that there are more accidents and crimes occurring in and around the fake cameras than the live ones. It seems like somebody leaked something from somewhere about which camera is which, and no one is surprised, not even the Government. I think that all the cameras do work and that all of the rats in this experiment are being watched everywhere, all the time. But I keep that opinion to myself, I haven’t even told my husband.
I adjust my camera to the auto setting and start snapping photos. More often than not the infrared and ultra violet exposes details we miss with the naked eye. I take several shots from all angles, and then cradle the camera in the mobile docking port in my kit. Within a minute the photos start popping up on my tablet. As Tom and I view them we realize that this scene just became very interesting.
“What is that,” Tom asks, as he points to a section directly behind the driver’s seat in one of the photos.
“I’m not really sure,” I reply. It looked a bit like a dog, but, then again, not. And there were several of them. I put my camera in my pocket and step closer to the craft. As I leaned inside slightly I could smell the odor Tom had mentioned. It was an odd odor that I had never smelled before. It was stale, pungent and sweet all at the same time.
I reach in carefully trying to feel for the driver’s seat emergency release button. The buttons are located on the lower back of every seat in a Hovercraft, and are mandatory equipment. I found it and pushed, but nothing happened. “Tom, see if you can get this seat forward for me. This is the area the infrared signature was the deepest.”
I step back so Tom can reach in. As he’s doing so I hear a loud pop. The driver’s seat pops forward and Tom stumbles backward gasping for breath. “Tom! You alright,” I ask, as I begin to panicked. I hope he’s not hurt as I don’t deal well with the living!
Tom’s face was turning a bright red as he stumbled over to his squad. I follow him hoping I don’t have to attempt CPR. When he gets to his squad he pulls out his oxygen tank, and fumbles with the mask. He turns the knob on the tank, and then starts to inhale deeply. I noticed his face starting to return to his normal pink, instead of the bright red I had just seen.
I start walking back over to the craft being ever thankful Tom’s okay. The closer I get the stronger the odor is. I have a mask in my kit I tell myself, and then I realize my kit is sitting about five feet away from the craft. The odor is getting too strong so I turn around and cover my mouth with my sleeve. I see Tom sitting in his squad with the oxygen tank between his knees.
“Hey,” Tom yells, half laughing. “If I can handle it, so can you,”.
“My masks are in my kit,” I reply, feeling a bit foolish for not having taken one out, just in case.
“Here!” he yells. “Take a hit off of this then run to get you kit. You’re a runner; I know you can do it.”
He’s got a good idea. I head back to his squad, take one really big inhale of pure oxygen, then run to the craft. I swoop my kit up, and dart back. I was back by Tom’s squad in not time, but, I seemed to have brought a cloud of the foul odor with me. “Sorry, Tom”, I said, slightly panting. “I didn’t consider the draft I’d make coming back at a run.”
“You’re fine,” Tom replied. “I just had Dispatch turn up the closest exhaust fans. It should be breathable over there pretty soon.”
“Thanks,” I reply.
The air was clear and we were back at the craft in less than five minutes. I look inside behind the driver’s seat again, and there, underneath a plastic shield that had been stuck to the back of the driver’s seat, was a little pile of blood covers critters. They looked a bit like a dogs, but then they also looked like the pictures of what domestic cats looked like. The odor was still foul but the ventilation was keeping it to a minimum.
I lay out a body bag and started pulling the critters out one by one. I look carefully at each one trying to figure out what they are, but the only thing I know for positive is that they didn’t die in the crash. Someone had slit each tiny throat and then stacked them in there, one by one. There definitely didn’t seem to be enough meat to eat, even if you filet all ten of them, so why were they killed?
Soon I had them all laid out in a row, ten little black critters and all of them had a white stripe from the top of their heads to the tips of their tails that separated over their backs. I took some photos, and then contacted Dispatch. “Connie, this is Larzine,” I say, into my transmitter.
“Go ahead, Larzine,” Connie replies.
“I’m going to upload some photos. Would you please do a match search in the system and let me know exactly what I was dealing with?”
I place my camera into the mobile docking port and away the photos go. I zipped up the body bag and then start investigating the craft further while I wait to hear from Dispatch. I take more photos then get Tom to help me pull the driver from the craft. He was still in one piece, with no rigor yet, so it was like tugging on sandbags all tied together with jelly in the joints. We get him out and onto the second body bag just as Transport pulls up.
The Transport driver comes over and helps me lift clothing here and there to examine the body for any signs of trauma and anything suspicious. Nothing stands out as suspicious so I take photos of all the obvious signs of trauma. I was just about to say I was done when I noticed a very small hole behind the left ear. Had the decedent’s head been tilted back just a fraction more the blood trail from the wound on his forehead would have traveled down directly over that hole and I would have missed it. I took a couple of photos of the hole then we loaded the driver, and the ten odd critters, up to go to the morgue. Transport signed off on the paperwork and left. I look over at Tom, he was interviewing possible witnesses now.
“So, what you really meant to say,” Tom said, as he scratched out all the notes he had just written down, “is that you didn’t really see it happen.” Tom pointed to a female who was leaning on a very old Hovercraft sporting purple hair wearing a pink vest over an orange shirtdress and tall green boots. “You were just repeating what that gal over there said that she saw.” He then looked the very short slightly overweight man directly in the eyes, “Right?”
The little man looked down at his feet, and stammered, “Well, yeah. I guess so.”
Tom stood up tall, and said, “Thank you very much, sir. I hope you at least get a free date with her for repeating her story.” Tom then looked past the little man to the line of people stacked up behind him, and yelled, “Next!”
Since Tom seems to have his hands full right now I’ll just ask him for a copy of his report later, and then I can compare what was seen by the witnesses with what the crash photos tell me. I lean back inside the craft and carefully search through the debris on the front floor boards and behind the seats. From the trash on the front passenger floorboard I can tell this guy liked to eat at fast food places, and that he never seemed finish a meal. Yuck. I carefully move things around and take more photos. The stench was particularly bad in the back seat area so I know I didn’t look as long, or as hard back there as I probably should have. I swab the blood around where the critters had been, and then swab the blood embedded in the cracks in the windshield. My Transmitter beeps. “Go ahead,” I reply.
“The closest match we have found to your photos is of something that was called a Skoonk,” Connie said. I then I hear Carol yell in the background, “Skunk!”
“Oh,” Connie says, sheepishly. “Correction, Skunk.”
“Okay,” I reply, totally stumped by their information. “Thank you, Connie and Carol. But, what is a Skunk?”
“Well,” Connie continues, “This says that it was a mammal that lived one-hundred-fifty years ago. They had the ability to secrete a foul, strong smelling odor from their rear ends when they felt threatened. Its life span was five to eight years, and the females gave birth once a year. They were solitary mammals with excellent smell and hearing but poor eyesight.” There was a slight pause, and then she continued sounding more like a young girl than a seasoned Dispatcher. “Is that what you have, Larzine?”
I looked closer at the photos Connie has sent to my tablet. “Aside from all the blood that they were lying in, yep, it sure does look like that’s what we had here,” I answer. “I sent them to the Morgue with the decedent.”
Carol came over the transmitter in a more serious tone. “Noted. Also, I just pulled up a flagged report from the Main Command stating that a pair of mating Skunks was stolen from a private Zoo in Vista City two years ago. The owner had put a huge reward out but no one ever tried to claim it.”
“I wonder if the reward is still good,” I asked, jokingly, hoping Carol will laugh with me and not ‘make a note’ of my off –color remark. “Thanks for the info, Ladies,” I say, as nice and as quickly as I can without giving Carol a chance to reprimand me. “I best get my work done and get this Highway opened back up.”
“Ten-four, at twelve-forty-two,” Connie replies.
I open the back hatch of the craft and pulled out a folded up dog kennel. Underneath the kennel is an opened bag of dry dog food, and a travel bag. I set the travel bag on the floor of the Tunnel and carefully opened it. Inside are a couple of T-shirts, one pair of socks, one pair of underwear and a pair of shorts. No personal items. I look in the back of the craft again and in the passenger compartment. No personal items to be found anywhere, not even a Government Issued I.D. card anywhere. It’s mandatory to have your I.D. card with you at all times so not finding one, anywhere, struck me odd.
I start looking on the Tunnel floor around the craft; maybe it was tossed out when he crashed, as that is a common occurrence of a Hovercraft crash. But, I find nothing. No card, no leftover food, and no food wrappers anywhere around the craft. Then I begin to wonder who this guy is, and why he had ten dead stinky skunks in his craft and no I.D.
I photo document everything that looks important, and the stuff that doesn’t just so I didn’t miss anything, then give the ‘Okay’ for the Tow Craft crew to gather up all the puzzle pieces and haul them off to the Impound Lot. The Detectives will rummage through everything with an X-ray camera there and then research the VIN and registration information. They may even take parts of the craft apart in an effort to find anything that may tell us who the driver is.
I clear the scene and head home. I now have some research to do, and a report to write, but not until I take another shower.
After a shower, and a bite to eat, I sit at my computer and start entering the simple data I collected into the appropriate field on the investigation form. My email chimes, there’s a new message from the Pathologist’s office. In real big letters the subject line reads, ‘No Identification on File’. Apparently no one found any form of identification for the driver of the craft, not even a debit receipt for all those half eaten sandwiches. That’s odd, everyone has an identification, everyone. It’s the law. I decide to review the photos of the decedent again looking for anything that may not fit, but nothing stands out. I fill in the rest of the fields then complete my narratives. Maybe when I upload the photos one of them will trigger an I.D. match on its way to the office.
Photos transferred, report and narratives completed, I upload everything via a secured system. Now I wait for confirmation.
My transmitter chimes, it’s the Pathologist’s Office. “Yes,” I answer.
“Hi, Larzine,” the bubbly voice on the other end said.
“Good afternoon, Doctor Renko.”
“Well, we have a real puzzler sitting on my table.”
“Oh,” I reply, not really surprised at what she told me, but, at the same time not really wanting to have this conversation with her.
“This guy has no finger prints, or toe prints.”
“Huh,” I say, as that’s all my brain could connect with.
“And,” she continues, “No implant, no tattoos on his body or teeth, and no cornea recognition markings.”
“So,” I say, in an asking tone. “Do you think we have a Mole?” I was really hoping to hear her answer my dreaded question with ‘No, I was just joking with you’.
“Yep, that’s what I’m going to classify him as,” is her matter-of-fact reply. “I’ll be sending him down to the crypt for Doc Fitschen to do the complete I.D. exam as soon as I get your report. Have you uploaded all your photos yet?”
“Yes, and my report, I just sent them both.”
“Thanks. Remember to shred that Micro SD card as soon as your receive confirmation that your photos are here.”
“Will do,” I reply.
“Thanks,” she says, then terminates the transmission.