All that remains, p.9
All That Remains, p.9Patricia Cornwell
After leaving the office, I had just enough time to drive to the club, dash into the ladies' locker room, and change into tennis clothes. Retrieving my racket from my locker, I was out on the court with two minutes to spare, muscles, straining as I fell into leg stretches and bravely tried to touch my toes. My blood began to move sluggishly.
Ted, the pro, appeared from behind the green curtain shouldering two baskets of balls.
"After hearing the news, I didn't think I'd be seeing you-tonight," he said, setting the baskets on the court and slipping out of his warm-up jacket. Ted, perennially tan and a joy to look at, usually greeted me with a smile and a wisecrack. But he was subdued tonight.
"My younger brother knew Fred Cheney. I knew him, too, though not well."
Staring off at people playing several courts away, he said, "Fred was one of the nicest guys I've ever met. And I'm not just saying that because he's . . . Well. My brother's really shook up about it."
He bent over and picked up a handful of balls. "And it sort of bothers me, if you want to know the truth, that the newspapers can't get past who Fred was dating. It's like the only person who disappeared was Pat Harvey's daughter. And I'm not saying that the girl wasn't terrific and what happened to her isn't just as awful as what happened to him."
He paused. "Well. I think you know, what I mean."
"I do," I said. "But the other side of that is Deborah Harvey's family is being subjected to intense scrutiny, and they will never be permitted to grieve privately because of who Deborah's mother is. It's unfair and tragic any way you look at it."
Ted thought about this and met my eyes. "You know, I hadn't considered it that way. But you're right. I don't think being famous would be a whole lot of fun. And don't think you're paying me by the hour to stand out here and talk. What would you like to work on tonight? "Ground strokes. I want you to run me corner to corner so I can remind myself how much I hate smoking."
"No more lectures from me on that subject."
He moved to the center of the net.
I backed up to the baseline. My first forehand wouldn't have been half bad had I been playing doubles.
Physical pain is a good diversion, and the harsh realities of the day were pushed aside until the phone rang at home later as I was peeling off my wet clothes.
Pat Harvey was frantic. "The bodies they found today. I have to know."
"They have not been identified, and I have not examined them yet," I said, sitting on the edge of the bed and nudging off my tennis shoes.
"A male and a female. That's what I heard."
"So it appears at this point. Yes."
"Please tell me if there's arty possibility it isn't them," she said.
"Oh, God," she whispered.
"Mrs. Harvey, I can't confirm - " She cut me off in a voice that was getting hysterical."
The police told me they found Debbie's purse, her driver's license."
Morrell, I thought. The half-brained bastard.
I said to her, "We can't make identifications solely from personal effects."
"She's my daughter!"
Next would follow threats and profanity. I had been through this before with the other parents who under ordinary circumstances were as civilized as Sunday school. I decided to give Pat Harvey something constructive to do.
"The bodies have not been identified," I repeated.
"I want to see her."
Not in a million years, I thought. "The bodies aren't visually identifiable," I said. "They're almost skeletonized."
Her breath caught.
"And depending on you, we might establish identity with certainty tomorrow or it might take days."
"What do you want me to do?"
she asked shakily.
"I need X rays, dental charts, anything pertaining to Deborah's medical history that you can get your hands on."
"Do you think you could track these down for me?"
"Of course," she said. "I'll see to it immediately."
I suspected she would have her daughter's medical records before sunrise, even if she had to drag half of the doctors in Richmond out of bed.
The following afternoon, I was removing the plastic cover from the OCME's anatomical skeleton when I heard Marino in the hall.
"I'm in here," I said loudly.
He stepped inside the conference room, a blank expression on his face as he stared at the skeleton, whose bones were wired together, a hook in the vertex of his skull attached to the top of an L-shaped bar. He stood a little taller than I was, feet dangling over a wooden base with wheels.
Gathering paperwork from a table, I said, "How about rolling him out for me?"
"You taking Slim for a stroll?"
"He's going downstairs, and his name's Haresh," I replied.
Bones and small wheels clattered quietly as Marino and his grinning companion followed me to the elevator, attracting amused glances from several members of my staff. Haresh did not get out very often, and as a rule, when he was spirited away from his corner, his abductor was not motivated by serious intent. Last June I had walked into my office on the morning of my birthday to find Haresh sitting in my chair, glasses and lab coat on, a cigarette clamped between his teeth. One of the more preoccupied forensic scientists from upstairs - or so I had been told - had walked past my doorway and said good morning without noticing anything odd.
"You're not going to tell me he talks to you when you're working down here," Marino said as the elevator doors shut.
"In his own way he does," I said. "I've found having him on hand is a lot more useful than referring to diagrams in Gray's."
"What's the story on his name?"
"Apparently, when he was purchased years ago, there was an Indian pathologist here named Haresh. The skeleton is also Indian. Male, fortyish, maybe older."
"As in Little Bighorn Indian or the other kind that paint dots on their foreheads?"
"As in the Ganges River in India," I said as we got out on the first floor. "The Hindus cast their dead upon the river, believing they will go straight to heaven."
"I sure as hell hope this joint ain't heaven."
Bones and wheels clattered again as Marino rolled Haresh into the autopsy suite.
On top of a white sheet covering the first stainless steel table were Deborah Harvey's remains, gray dirty bones, clumps of muddy hair, and ligaments as tan and tough as shoe leather. The stench was relentless but not as overpowering, since I had removed her clothes. Her condition was made all the more pitiful by the presence of Haresh, who bore not so much as a scratch on his bleached white bones.
"I have several things to tell you," I said to Marino. "But first I want your promise that nothing leaves this room."
Lighting a cigarette, he looked curiously at me. "Okay."
"There's no question about their identities," I began, arranging clavicles on either side of the skull. "Pat Harvey brought in dental X rays and charts this morning - " "In person?"
he interrupted, surprised.
"Unfortunately," I said, for I had not expected Pat Harvey to deliver the records herself - a miscalculation on my part, and one I wasn't likely to forget.
"That must've created quite a stir," he said.
When she pulled up in her Jaguar, she had left it illegally parked by the curb and appeared full of demands and on the verge of tears. Intimidated by the presence of the famous public official, the receptionist let her in, and Mrs. Harvey promptly set off down the hall in search of me. I think she would have come down to the morgue had my administrator not intercepted her at the elevator and ushered her into my office, where I found her moments later. She was sitting rigidly in a chair, her face as white as chalk. On top of my desk were death certificates, case files, autopsy photographs, and an excised stab wound suspended in a small bottle of formalin tinted pink by blood. Hanging on the back of the door were bloodstained clothes I was intending to take up
Pat Harvey had gotten more than she had bargained for. She had run head-on into the hard realities of this place.
"Morrell also brought me Fred Cheney's dental records," I said to Marino.
"Then it's definitely Fred Cheney and Deborah Harvey?"
"Yes," I said, and then I directed his attention to X rays clipped to a view box on the wall.
"That ain't what I think it is."
A look of amazement passed over his face as he fixed on a radiopaque spot within the shadowy outline of lumbar vertebrae.
"Deborah Harvey was shot."
I picked up the lumbar in question. "Caught right in the middle of the back. The bullet fractured the spinous process and the pedicles and lodged in the vertebral body. Right here."
I showed him.
"I don't see it."
He leaned closer.
"No, you can't see it. But you see the hole?"
"Yeah? I see a lot of holes."
"This is the bullet hole. The others are vascular foramina, holes for the vascular vessels that supply blood to bone and marrow."
"Where are the fractured pedestals you mentioned?"
"Pedicles," I said patiently. "I didn't find them. They would be in pieces and are probably still out there in the woods. An entrance and no exit. She was shot in the back versus the abdomen."
"You find a bullet hole in her clothes?"
On a nearby table was a white plastic tray in which I had placed Deborah's personal effects, including her clothing, jewelry, and red nylon purse. I carefully lifted up the sweatshirt, tattered, black, and putrid.
"As you can see," I pointed out, "the back of it, in particular, is in terrible shape. Most of the fabric's completely rotted away, torn by predators. The same goes for the waistband of her jeans in back, and that makes sense, since these areas of her clothing would have been bloody. In other words, the area of fabric where I would expect to have found a bullet hole is gone."
"What about distance? You got any idea about that?"
"As I've said, the bullet didn't exit. This would make me suspect we're not dealing with a contact gunshot wound. But it's hard to say. As for caliber, and again I'm conjecturing, I'm thinking a thirty-eight or better, based on the size of this hole. We won't know with certainty until I crack open the vertebra and take the bullet upstairs to the firearms lab."
"Weird," Marino said. "You haven't looked at Cheney yet?"
"He's been rayed. No bullets. But no, I haven't examined him yet."
"Weird," he said again. "It don't fit. Her being shot in the back don't fit with the other cases."
"No," I agreed. "It doesn't."
"So that's what killed her?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
He looked at me.
"This injury isn't immediately fatal, Marino. Since the bullet didn't go right on through, it didn't transect the aorta. Had it done so at this lumbar level, she would have hemorrhaged to death within minutes. What's significant is that the bullet had to have transected her cord, instantly paralyzing her from the waist down. And of course, blood vessels were hit. She was bleeding."
"How long could she have survived?"
"What about the possibility of sexual assault?"
"Her panties and brassiere were in place," I answered. "This doesn't mean that she wasn't sexually assaulted. She could have been allowed to put her clothes back on afterward, assuming she was assaulted before she was shot."
"If you're raped," I said, "and your assailant tells you to put your clothes back on, you assume you're going to live. A sense of hope serves to control you, make you do as you're told because if you struggle with him, he might change his mind."
"It don't feel right."
Marino frowned. "I just don't think that's what happened, Doc."
"It's a scenario. I don't know what happened. All I can tell you with certainty is that I didn't find any articles of her clothing torn, cut, inside out, or unfastened. And as for seminal fluid, after so many months in the woods, forget it."
Handing him a clipboard and a pencil, I added, "If you're going to hang around, you might as well scribe for me."
"You plan to tell Benton about this?" he asked.
"Not at the moment."
"What about Morrell?"
"Certainly, I'll tell him she was shot," I said. "If we're talking about an automatic or semiautomatic, the cartridge case may still be at the scene. If the cops want to run their mouths, that's up to them. But nothing's coming from me."
"What about Mrs. Harvey?"
"She and her husband know their daughter and Fred have been positively identified. I called the Harvey's and Mr. Cheney as soon as I was sure. I will be releasing nothing further until I've concluded the examinations."
Ribs sounded like Tinker Toys quietly clacking together as I separated left from right.
"Twelve on each side," I began to dictate. "Contrary to legend, women don't have one more rib than men."
Marino looked up from the clipboard.
"Have you never read Genesis?"
He stared blankly at the ribs I had arranged on either side of the thoracic vertebrae.
"Never mind," I said.
Next I began looking for carpals, the small bones of the wrist that look very much like stones you might find in a creek bed or dig up in your garden. It is hard to sort left from right, and this is where the anatomical skeleton was helpful. Moving him closer, 1 propped his bony hands on the edge of the table and began comparing. I went through the same process with the distal and proximal phalanges, or bones of the fingers.
"Looks like she's missing eleven bones in her right hand and seventeen in her left," I reported.
Marino scribbled this down. "Out of how many?"
"There are twenty-seven bones in the hand," I replied as I worked. "Giving the hand its tremendous flexibility. It's what makes it possible for us to paint, play the violin, love each other through touch."
It is also what makes it possible for us to defend ourselves.
It was not until the following afternoon that I realized Deborah Harvey had attempted to ward off an assailant who had been armed with more than a gun. It had gotten considerably warmer out, the weather had cleared, and the police had been sifting through soil all day. At not quite four P.M., Morrell stopped by my office to deliver a number of small bones recovered from the scene. Five of them belonged to Deborah, and on the dorsal surface of her left proximal phalange - or the top of the shaft, the longest of the index finger bones I found a half-inch cut.
The first question when I find injury to bone or tissue is whether it is pre- or postmortem. If one is not aware of the artifacts that can occur after death, he can make serious mistakes.
People who burn up in fires come in with fractured bones and epidural hemorrhages, looking for all practical purposes as if someone worked them over and then torched the house to disguise a homicide, when the injuries are actually postmortem and caused by extreme heat. Bodies washed up on the beach or recovered from rivers and lakes often look as if a deranged killer mutilated faces, genitals, hands, and feet, when fish, crabs, and turtles are to blame. Skeletal remains get gnawed, chewed on, and torn from limb to limb by rats, buzzards, dogs, and raccoons.
Predators of the four-legged, winged, or finned variety inflict a lot of damage, but blessedly, not until the poor soul is already dead. Then nature simply begins recycling. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
The cut on Deborah Harvey's proximal phalange was too neat and linear to have been caused by tooth or claw, it was my opinion. But this still left much open to speculation and suspicion, including the inevitable suggestion that I might have nicked the bone myself with a scalpel a
By Wednesday evening the police had released Deborah's and Fred's identities to the press, and within the next forty-eight hours there were so many calls that the clerks in the front office could not manage their regular duties because all they did was answer the phone. Rose was informing everyone, including Benton Wesley and Pat Harvey, that the cases were pending while I stayed in the morgue.
All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes