The innocent, p.9
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       The Innocent, p.9
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 8

  TELEVISION SHOWS, Loren knew, had convinced people that cops commonly meet with medical examiners in a morgue over a corpse. In reality that pretty much never happens. Loren was grateful for that. She was not squeamish or any of that, but she wanted death to be a constant shock to her. She didn't make jokes at the scene. She didn't try to block or use other defense mechanisms to look past it. For Loren a morgue was too matter-of-fact, too casual, too mundane about murder.

  Loren was about to open Eldon's office door when Trevor Wine, a fellow homicide investigator, stepped out. Trevor was overweight and old-school. He tolerated Loren as one might a cute pet that sometimes pees on the good carpet.

  "Hey, Squirt," he said to her.

  "You catch a homicide?"

  "Yup. " Trevor Wine pulled up his belt. He had that weird kind of fat where you can never get the waist to perch and stay. "Gunshot victim. Two to the head at close range. "

  "Robbery, gang, what?"

  "Maybe a robbery, definitely not a gang. The vic was a retired white guy. "

  "Where did you find the body?"

  "Near the Hebrew cemetery off Fourteenth Avenue. We think he's a tourist. "

  "A tourist in that neighborhood?" Loren made a face. "What's there to see?"

  Trevor faked a laugh and put a meaty hand on her shoulder. "I'll let you know when I know. " He didn't add "little lady" but he might as well have. "See you later, Squirt. "

  "Yeah, later. "

  He moved away. Loren opened the door.

  Eldon sat at his desk. He wore a pair of clean scrubs. Eldon always wore scrubs. His office had absolutely no personality or color. When Eldon first took the job he wanted to change that, but when people came into this room to hear the details of the death, they wanted nothing stimulating any of the senses. So Eldon shifted the decor into neutral.

  "Here," Eldon said, "catch. "

  He tossed her something. Instinctively Loren caught it. It was a plastic bag, filmy and yellow. There was some sort of gel inside it. Eldon held a matching bag in his hand.

  "Is this. . . ?"

  Eldon nodded. "A well-used and thus well-soiled breast implant. "

  "Can I just say for the record, 'Eeuw'?"

  "You may. "

  Loren held the bag up to the light and frowned. "I thought implants were clear. "

  "They start off that way- at least the saline ones. "

  "These aren't saline?"

  "Nope. Silicone. And they've been marinating in bosom for well over a decade. "

  Loren tried not to make a face. There was some sort of gel inside them. Eldon arched an eyebrow and started to knead the implant.

  "Cut that out. "

  He shrugged. "Anyway, these belong to your Sister of the Immaculate Hooters. "

  "And you're showing them to me because. . . ?"

  "Because they offer us clues. "

  "I'm listening. "

  "First off, they're silicone. "

  "So you said. "

  "Remember, what, five, ten years ago when they had the big cancer scare?"

  "The implants were leaking. "

  "Right. So the companies were forced to move to saline. "

  "Aren't some people moving back now to silicone?"

  "Yes, but the point remains: These are old. Very old. Well over a decade. "

  She nodded. "Okay, good, that's a start. "

  "There's more. " Eldon took out a magnifying glass. He flipped one of the implants over. "See this here?"

  Loren took the magnifying glass. "It's a tag. "

  "See that number over on the bottom?"

  "Yes. "

  "That's the serial number. This is true with pretty much any surgical implant- knees, hips, breasts, pacemaker, whatever. The device has to have a serial number. "

  Loren nodded. "And the manufacturer keeps records. "

  "Exactly. "

  "So if we call the manufacturer and give them the serial number. . . "

  "We learn the real name of Mother with the Superiors. "

  Loren looked up. "Thanks. "

  "There's a problem. "

  She sat back.

  "The company that made the implants was named SurgiCo. They went under eight years ago. "

  "And their records?"

  Eldon shrugged. "We're trying to look into it. Look, it's late. We won't get anything tonight. I'm hoping to find out what happened to the records in the morning. "

  "Okay. Anything else?"

  "You asked why there were no fibers under her fingernails. "

  "Yes. "

  "We're still running a full tox report. It could be that she was drugged, but I don't think that was it. "

  "You have another theory. "

  "I do. "

  "What's that?"

  Eldon leaned back and crossed his legs. He turned to the side and stared at the wall. "There was slight bruising along both inner biceps. "

  Loren's eyes narrowed. "I'm not following. "

  "If a man were very strong and, uh, knowledgeable, he could sneak up on a sleeping woman," he began, his voice almost singsong, as if he were talking to a child. "He might flip the woman onto her back- or maybe she slept that way. He'd straddle her chest, pin her arms down with his knees- that, if he was careful and professional, could be done so as to leave very little bruising- and then he'd smother her with a pillow. "

  The room dropped ten degrees. Loren's voice was barely a whisper. "You think that's what happened here?"

  "We have to wait for the full tox," Eldon said, turning away from the wall and looking directly at her. "But yeah. Yeah, I think that's what happened here. "

  She said nothing.

  "There's one more thing that backs my theory up. It could help us. " Eldon put a photograph on the desk. A headshot of the nun. Her eyes were closed as if she were expecting a facial. She'd been in her early sixties, but the lines had all been smoothed away in death. "You know anything about fingerprints on the skin?"

  "Just that they're hard to pick up. "

  "Nearly impossible, if you don't catch the corpse right away. Most of the major studies are telling us to try to pick up the fingerprints at the crime scene if possible. At a minimum the lab guys should make sure the body is glue fumed right away to preserve the prints before the vic is packed away. "

  Forensic detail was not Loren's forte. "Uh huh. "

  "Well, it was too late for that with our Dying Nun here. " He looked up. "Get it? Dying Nun instead of Flying Nun?"

  "It's like I'm hanging with Chris Rock here. Go on. "

  "Right, so I'm trying something experimental. We got lucky that the corpse wasn't refrigerated. The condensation that builds up on the skin throws the whole thing out of whack. Anyway, I thought about going with the polyethylene terephthalate semirigid sheet. That's the one we use based on the fact that static electricity attracts dust particles-"

  "Whoa. " Loren held up her palm in the classic stop gesture. "Let's skip the CSI casting call. Did you get prints off the body?"

  "Yes and no. I found smudges on both temples, one looks like a thumb, the other might be a ring finger. "

  "On her temples?"

  Eldon nodded. He took off his glasses, gave them a wipe down, put them back on the end of his nose, pushed up. "I think the perp grabbed her face with one hand. Palmed it like a basketball player- with the heel of his hand on her nose. "

  "Jesus. "

  "Yeah. Then I think he pushed her head down as he climbed on top. "

  "But the fingerprints. Can you get any kind of ID off them?"

  "Doubtful. We have partials at best. It'll never be enough for court, but there's this new software that helps you, I don't know, fill in the blanks, if you will. If you find somebody, I might get enough to confirm or eliminate. "

  "That might help. "

  He stood. "I'll get on it now. Probably take a day, maybe two. I'll let you know when I have more. "

  "Okay," Loren said. "Anything else?"

  I
t was like a shadow fell over his face.

  "Eldon?"

  "Yeah," he said. "There's something else. "

  "I don't like the way you said that. "

  "I don't like saying it, believe me. But I think whoever did this did more than just smother her. "

  "What do you mean?"

  "You know anything about stun guns?"

  "Some. "

  "I think they used one. " He swallowed. "In her. "

  "When you say 'in her,' do you mean-"

  "I mean exactly what you think," he said, interrupting her. "Hey, I'm a product of Catholic school too, okay?"

  "Are there burn marks?"

  "Faint. But if you know what you're doing- and especially in an area that sensitive- you really shouldn't leave them. It was also a one-prong stunner, if that helps. Most, like the police-issue stun guns, have two prongs. I'm still running tests, but my guess is, she died in a lot of pain. "

  Loren closed her eyes.

  "Hey, Squirt?"

  "What?"

  "Do me a favor," Eldon said. "Nail this son of a bitch, will ya?"

 
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