John Strickland leaned back in his chair with a clipboard on his crossed leg. He lifted the pages one by one, as though he were reading them. Feathers probably would not have caught onto the ruse had he not been bouncing his own foot and counting the falls. “No way you read that last one, Jeffe.”
The sheriff peered over the top of his rimless bifocals without a word. Feathers huffed indignantly, and Strickland returned to his report. When he had stared at the last page a sufficient number of minutes, he returned them back to their original position and gently set the clipboard on the side of his desk. “So, what do you want me to do?”
Greg pulled latex gloves from the back pocket of his scrubs, crossed the cutting room and donned one of the disposable scrub robes from a shelf beside the cooler. Lorna kicked off her heels before popping her feet into sterile booties. She knew they would ache later from standing on the cold floor.
Dr. Chan took a gurney from against the wall and wheeled it toward the refrigerator door in the third column of the cooler. Lorna tied the tails of her gown around her as she approached, jingled her keys to find the right one and unlocked the stainless steel door.
It looked as Greg expected. The ashen body had been separated to fit into the elongated space. The skin which remained was blackened leather stretched across broken bone. Even in the cold, pieces had begun to fall away into the tray. “Let’s not move it yet,” he told Lorna without looking up.
He crouched to look beneath the extended arm. Pulling down his mask and closing his eyes, he slowly breathed in the blunted smell. “Kerosene.” When he opened his eyes, they met Lorna’s intent stare. “And turpentine.” She was always amazed how he defied some laws of the physical world. “I know the car was not a diesel, but it was not on the body.”
“Our gas chromatograph report says an aggregate 62% mix of kerosene and paint thinner was present on the body. The fire marshal reported on the interior of the car. The gasoline was attributed to the puncture of the gas tank. The hole was made before the impact. And the diesel was poured into the seats, console and floor boards. Approximately, 38 litres.” She neglected to add, But you already knew that.
She moved a tool tray within his reach and retrieved the recorder to place it within its hearing range as he spoke:
“Decendent is a black, Mongoloid male approximately 193 centimeters in his early to mid-thirties. Evidence of past fractures of the humerus, ulna, tibia and majority of the metatarsals and phalanges bitlaterally. All observed secondary to a lack of derma subsequent to intense fire of known origin. Fire is ruled out as cause of death at this time. Blunt force trauma to sternum indicates impact with steering wheel. Additional fractures of ribs and clavicles is consistent with this finding. Viscera missing, also secondary to prolonged fire.”
He paused the recorder. “Where is the hole?” Lorna did not answer. Instead, she handed him a tablet with an x-ray composite cued. He flipped through the images with an indifferent look. “You may complete the remaining dictation, as it is nothing a grad student could not complete. Do not pass it off. This one has to be watertight. Bring me the head.” He snapped off the gloves and headed for the far end of the cutting room.
He changed gloves and put on a face shield. Plucking from the cabinet beside the table, Greg assembled the tools he needed on the left side of the steel table so he could work between them and the drain. Lorna deftly severed the head from the spine and brought it to the examination table.
Greg wielded the cranial saw with ease. When he lifted away the skull cap, the projectile was not where it appeared on the x-ray. It had slid around to the opposite side of the head when Lorna brought it to him. He gently plucked it out with a long, slender pair of forceps.
With a frown, Chan simply stated, “Thirty-eight.” Already he knew this battered bullet would be a ballistic nightmare. With a glut of unregistered weapons in the area, a crooked sheriff whose deputies carried and dropped them, the hand filled ammunition and the unlikelihood the offending weapon had already been classified, they would be looking for a needle in a haystack.
Crystal pored over the GPS coordinates with a complete lack of enthusiasm. She knew they answered as many questions as they posed. She turned her BlackBerry over in her hand four more times. When its screen faced her again, she pressed the voice button. “Call Reaper.” The words were so breathless she thought her electronic companion would not recognize them.
“Reaper. Speak.” Crystal could hear nothing in the background. She sat up, instantly wondering how he could have arrived so quickly to be someplace so quiet.
“We have to talk about numbers. I know the path they took, and you are not going to like the detour.” Kalin felt the need to sigh, but refrained.
“I cannot be disturbed at the moment. Set up a feed and call me in eight minutes. I want to see your face when you tell me.” Reaper disconnected without anything further.
Crystal looked at the time on her cell. In just under two hours, the ugly truth was beginning to out. She knew her part would not be as powerful as what Greg and Jerry would bring to the table, but knew it would help.
She pushed away from her desk and set the screen and camera to the sat-com channel to wait for the eight minute mark. Punctuality was going to be an issue in this headlong rush to put all the pieces in the correct order. She just hoped the new tangle would not derail the time line.
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