Today's Blog and Some Others to Follow are short stories and excerpts by ACME Authors. Jerry Peterson Is a fellow Five Star author of Early's Fall. This is a Dr. Jessica Coran, FBI ME short story Scene One…to read the entire short story visit me at http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/ and thanks all --
R U L E S of F O G
by Robert W. Walker & Jerry Peterson
short story inspired by the fog and medical examiner Dr. Jessica Coran of the Instinct Series files
Dr. Jessica Coran lifted the lungs from the dead man’s chest cavity. As she did, she marveled at the shredded condition of the pair of sacks now like pizza dough without cohesion, threatening to slip through her gloved hands. The lungs, pockmarked with countless rents and tears where membrane walls had caved in, was the worst she’d seen in her twenty-five years of autopsying questionable deaths.
Jessica guessed that this one had chained smoked five, maybe six packs a day, the sort unfazed by the Camel Tax, undeterred by reason or facts or statistics. Jake Helspenny, the paperwork said, nickname’d “Smoke.” Coran guessed he’d lived in a perpetual fog of cigarette exhaust and carbon monoxide. He’d traded breath for addiction.
Her auburn hair tied back and tucked beneath a surgical cap, Jessica stowed away a fact that Smoke Helspenny’s lungs told her: he’d’ve been dead inside a year or two had nothing untoward happened. But what had happened?
The ex-marine had been found dead in Arlington National Cemetery, once General Robert E. Lee’s family homestead, confiscated by the US government as “payback” Lee’s having commanded the Southern armies in the War Between the States – Arlington, a cemetery consecrated to the dead of all wars, where heroes slumbered within sight of the tomb of the Unknowns.
Jessica examined Smoke’s liver. She concluded it had been in less peril than his lungs, but not by much. The man had been also been a heavy drinker. The organs never lie, she thought. The condition of a man’s organs at death stood testament to his life and frequently his character. Often the sum of the injuries a man did himself damn near outweighed the thing that killed him.
Jake Helspenny’s epitaph: He’d come out of the Marines a broken man, missing far more than his left leg, right hand, and a piece of his skull and brain from what his wife called “the incident” in Iraq.
Jessica had met the woman before she had begun the autopsy, had interviewed her – a buxom blonde, whose once pretty features sagged from forehead to jowls, telling the tale of a rough life alongside Smoke.
“All that Jake’d gone through in Iraq,” the woman – Katherine Helspenny – said, “tooth-to-nail fightin’, facing death every day, acceptin’ the death of buddies—brothers.”
An Arlington homicide detective – Kyle Jensen, in possession of his gold shield for less than a year – had been with the wife. He’d pushed Coran, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s medical examiner, to do the autopsy rather than assign it to one of her juniors. “Sounds like he was a good marine,” Jensen had said to Mrs. Helspenny.
“He was.” Katherine Helspenny dabbed at tears. “But Jake never got over being the only survivor in his squad. Had nightmares. . . . Now this.”
Jessica studied the woman. “Do you know anyone who’d want to harm your husband?”
“Not a soul, except Dooley.”
Jensen, a thin, wiry youngish George Carlin-type, swiveled. “Dooley, ma’am? You didn’t mention a Dooley before. Who’s he?”
“Went by the nickname Spider. It was always Smoke and Spider in their time in the Marines. . . . Dooley blamed Jake for walking out of ‘the incident’ that killed all the others.”
Jensen and Jessica exchanged looks of concern.
Katherine Helspenny pulled at a her wedding band, as if by habit, but it wouldn’t come off her pudgy finger. “Yes, Smoke’s so-called best friend, Dooley was.”
Jessica turned to Jensen. “Looks like you’ve got a lead. Find Mr. Dooley and you may well close your case.”
“Maybe?” the wife said. “What do you mean ‘maybe.’ Dooley hated Jake.”
“Enough to kill him, his old war buddy?” Jensen asked.
“That ‘buddy’ business was a long time ago. People change. Dooley sure did.”
“Devolve,” Jessica mumbled.
Jensen put up a hand. “Never mind that, Mrs. Helspenny. Do you know where I can find this Dooley.”
“I’m not sure. Somewhere out in the cemetery, in the fog.”
“He’s not likely still out there.”
“Dooley wanders among the graves – reads the headstones, searching for men from his old outfit, the outfit Jake was in before ‘the incident.’”
Jessica motioned for Jensen to step aside with her. “Were you in the military?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“I’d go out to Quantico, get someone to pull up Dooley’s service record. That might get you a lead on where this guy ended up.”
A fourth person bustled in, a stubby little man named Roth – Mrs. Helspenny’s lawyer. Moments before, on seeing the corpses on gurneys parked in the autopsy room, Roth had run for the men’s room and retched. “Theopolis,” he said, picking up on the end of Jessica’s and Jensen’s conversation. He mopped at his face with a lavender handkerchief. “Theopolis Alexander Dooley is the man’s full name.”
“You’re sure?” Jessica asked, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
“Jensen,” she said, “there can’t be two with that name in the record dump. Your job just keeps getting easier.”
Roth wound himself up, to earn his fee. “This woman’s suffered long enough.” The lawyer waved a hand in the direction of Mrs. Helspenny. “Dr. Coran, I expect you to get on this autopsy right away, and I expect you to give it your top priority. Anything less and you can expect to see Mrs. H and me on the Today Show with Katie and Matt.”
Now it was Jensen who raised a hand. “Back off,” he said. “I’ve been told Dr. Coran doesn’t respond well to threats.”
“There are rules – protocol,” Jessica said, her hands braced on her ample hips.
“Rules?” Katherine Helspenny asked.
“This office’s policy book says we don’t autopsy a body unless there’s clear evidence of an unnatural death. The detective told me on the phone, before the three of you came here, that when he examined the deceased at the cemetery, there were no gunshots, no knife wounds, no signs of a struggle, nothing but a body slumped over a grave stone.”
Roth pushed into Jessica’s personal space, his face inches from her. “Mrs. H found her husband dead in Arlington cemetery. She’s convinced this Dooley character lured Jake there to kill him. That’s premeditation!”
“All right, the body’s here somewhere. I’m willing to do a preliminary, but if I don’t see any obvious indications of murder . . .” Jessica turned palms up, as if to say ‘that’s it.’
Roth’s face hardened. “We don’t want a preliminary, we want a complete autopsy, down to examining the man’s last whisker.” Roth tried a mock softening of his voice, adding, “Look, we were told you’re the best, and that you deal in unusual cases. This is an unusual case, doctor. The man was killed in the most famous cemetery on the planet.”
Which explains your interest in the case—potentially high profile, she thought but said, “Be that as it may, counselor, the Commonwealth doesn’t just start cutting on a corpse without some probable cause, some indication of foul play.”
Roth, angry, took to pacing like an Irish setter in heat, his long, flowing gray mane whipping about.
Jessica thought she’d won the argument, but then Mrs. Helspenny shouted, “You government types’re all alike! Took us forever to get the VA to deal with Jake’s depression, his panic attacks, the living pain in his stump, all of it. Maybe if you’d stepped in earlier – maybe he’d never’ve felt compelled to…to go out there to find Dooley.”
Roth placed an arm about the distressed wife and helped her into a seat. Jensen offered her a stack of napkins, and she began blowing her nose. The wife looked up at Jessica. “Took us even longer to get my Jake’s pension, and they give it out like it was some kinda fund he had no right to, like he didn’t have it comin’.”
Jessica held up both hands as if under attack. “Please, Mr. Roth, Mrs. Helspenny, let me put this as simply as I can. Until I’m satisfied that Mr. Helspenny died a questionable death, he stays on ice. I did take a quick look at him, and I’ didn’t find a mark on him to suggest murder.”
“But you have my word,” Mrs. Helspenny said.
“Alone that’s not enough, ma’am.”
“Rules is rules, huh?” The woman’s glare cut wounds in Jessica.
“To you, the rules may seem a bit absurd, but they are in place for a reason.”
“It’s protocol first,” Roth offered up, “before the wishes of the surviving spouse?”
“So what you really need to do a full autopsy is a go-ahead.”
Jessica didn’t respond, and her silence only fueled Roth’s ego and tongue. “Well, by damn,” he said, his nostrils flaring wide, “I’ll get you your go-ahead. I know your superior.”
“Bully for you, counselor, so why don’t you just do that?”
“Good Lord, hasn’t anyone ever been murdered in a National Park before?” Mrs. Helspenny asked.
Jessica shrugged. “Many times. The most egregious are the young women and girls who go missing, their bodies are found in shallow graves.”
“Never happened in Arlington – ever,” Jensen said. “Hey, I looked it up on Google. No one in the history of the cemetery has ever mugged, raped, or murdered within its confines.”
“If Google says so, it must be true,” Jessica said. Google. She didn’t know whether to laugh at that one or cry.
Jensen went on, an enthusiasm building in the detective. “You see, I belong to a Confederate reenactment group. Relieves tension.”
“Playing soldier, no real consequences.”
“If by that you mean no one gets hurt – ”
“That’s what I mean,” Jessica said. “All the battlefield dead get up after it’s over and walk off to the nearest bar for lite Bud.”
“Well, it’s fun. How about you join me some weekend? You’d look great in the uniform.”
Ooo, was that a pass? A bit obvious. She frowned rather than smiled. “My interest is in the genuinely sincere dead, detective.”
“Ahhh…the authentic murder.”
“Besides, if I went to one of those things, I’d stand with the North.”
“You’d look just as good in a blue uniform.”
“OK, I’ll make myself clearer. I’m not interested in those who feign death. I’m too busy with the real thing, detective.”
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