Sunday, August 3, 2014

In the Morgue, #SampleSunday from Sacrifice (A Madison Knight Novel)

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Excerpt from Sacrifice, Chapter 1


The pungent odor hit Madison instantly upon opening the morgue doors.  She pinched the tip of her nose, but it did little to save her from the smell of decomp becoming embedded in her lungs and sinus cavities.
“Whoa, he’s a ripe one.”  Terry, her partner, stepped through the doorway behind her.  He grabbed for a cloth mask from the dispenser mounted on the wall, and handed her one.
Cole Richards, the ME, stood by the body as a tall, dark guardian.  He kept his eyes on the body as he spoke.  “It’s the exposure to the air accelerating the putrefaction process.  This is why the autopsy must be done tonight.”
Madison noted Richards spoke with his eyes on the dead, an unusual thing for him.  Maybe something about this death touched him on a personal level?  She looked from Richards to the body.
The male victim, estimated in his early twenties, lay on the metal slab, a white sheet draped over his extended abdomen to his shoulders.  His skin was almost black, and appeared separated from the bone as if one could peel it off like the rind of an orange.  His face, as the rest of him, was distorted and bloated beyond recognition.  His eyes were open and vacant, clouded by death.  His arms lay above the sheet to his sides.  Some of his fingers were missing nails.  The skin of one fingertip had been removed.  Madison deduced Richards had taken it for identification purposes and forwarded it to the lab.
There was no wallet found on the body, nor any identifying marks to flag him in the missing persons database. The only things on him were a napkin with a woman’s name and number, a wad of cash, and a prepaid, untraceable cell phone.  He wore a gold chain with a pendant that had the letters CC engraved.
The body had washed up on the shore of the Bradshaw River, which ran through the city of Stiles and fed from a lake an hour away.  The property belonged to a middle-aged couple, without children, by the last name of Walker.  The wife had found the body when she went to get wood for their woodstove.  She said he hadn’t been there the day before.  They had interviewed the couple at length and obtained their backgrounds, which came up with nothing noteworthy.
“How long do you estimate he was in the water?”  Madison asked.
“As simply a deduction from what is before me, at least two to three weeks.”  Richards pulled his eyes from the body to look at Madison.
Was there pain buried there?  It was as if he read her silent inquiry.  He returned his attention to the body.
Richards continued, “I’m basing this on when he surfaced.  In cooler water, bacteria causing decomp multiplies more sluggishly.  If this was a warmer season, and it was three weeks later, we’d have a skeleton.  Stomach contents will pinpoint the time period of his last meal.  I’ll also be consulting with a friend of mine, Wayne McDermott.  He’s a forensic climatologist.  He can provide us with recent temperatures so we can get a closer estimate for TOD.”
“So what are your thoughts?  Dead when he went in, or did he drown?”
“This is still to be determined.  He is young and appears to have been in excellent shape.”
Madison’s eyes diverted to the body.  The currents of the Bradshaw River had swept anyway any trace of a fit male adult.  His bloated features made him appear more like a character from a sci-fi movie than a once living human being.
“It is unlikely he had a heart attack on entry into the water—assuming he was alive at the time.  Quick results would show frothy liquid in the lungs, but because he was submerged for a considerable time, any trace of this would be gone.  Tissue samples from his lungs, however, will be taken and sent to the lab for further analysis.  We’ll also extract bone marrow in search of diatoms.”  He must have noticed the expression on their faces.  “These are microscopic organisms which are specific to a region.  If it made it to his bone marrow, he was alive when he went in the water.  We could also find evidence of this in his kidneys, should this be the case.  This will prove whether he drowned in the Bradshaw or was dumped in the river.”  His eyes went to the body.  “We’re not going to get these answers just by looking at him.”  Richards’ words impressed the urgency he felt to commence with the full autopsy and open the body.
“Anything else you can tell us?”  Terry asked.
“His neck is broken but, it might simply be the trauma the body experienced as it went down the Bradshaw.  I will require a full tox panel be run on him.  We’ll find out if he had any drugs or alcohol in his system.  As you know, that will take at least a week.”
Madison latched eyes with the ME.  “Well, let’s assume he did drown.  How would we know it was homicide?”
A faint smile touched Richards’ lips, exposing a slit of white teeth.  “It is dubbed the perfect murder.  But until we can establish his identity, concrete his background, and get the tox results back, I will not be finalizing COD on paper.”
“He could have jumped in.  Suicide?”  Terry rubbed at the back of his neck.
“Possibly, but unlikely.  The reason for this is the natural tendency to surface.  Suicides involving drowning normally involve the use of a heavy object to counteract that instinct.”
“Maybe he didn’t think things through and acted on impulse.  Most suicides are executed in the moment.  He could have got caught in the current and pulled under the ice.  His restraint could have broken free from the body.”
“I prefer not to speculate.”  Richards’ eye contact scolded Terry.  “But at this point, I would treat this case as suspicious leaning toward homicide.  Look at this.”  Richards lifted the left hand of the victim.
Madison noticed the circular impression on the backside of the hand.  “Cigarette burn, or possibly something larger.”  She studied it more closely, and a few seconds later looked at Richards.  “It’s almost large enough to be a car lighter or a cigar.”
Richards’ eyes narrowed, pinching the dark skin around his eyes.
“So our vic was definitely in some sort of struggle before ending up in the river.  But intention is going to be hard to prove.” 
Madison glanced at her skeptical partner.  “Hard, but not impossible.”  She went back to Richards.  “So, you don’t have an ID and only a speculative conclusion as to cause of death. Why did you call us down here?”
Richards pulled back the sheet and pointed to the victim’s shoulders.  “This.” 
There were darkened lines, a subtle contrast, two widths, mirror image to each other, and one on each shoulder close to the neck.
“Bruising.”
“Yes, contusions.”
“From what?  What would cause something like that?”

“That I’ll leave for you to figure out.”  Richards placed the sheet back over the body.  “But if our guy did drown due to forcible action, these marks could have come from our murder weapon.”

Want to read more? Sacrifice is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo.