the illuminated lump

26  

NEXT TO HER POTTING BENCH by the garden shed Pam rests on the old milking stool, her phone to her ear. She listens very closely to the legal advice she’s getting. Her attorney is telling her that Gray’s share in the practice at just over fifty percent should sell at an attractive price to his partners. Their savings, the sailboat, the condo at Squaw Valley, the Mexican property, the Caribbean home, the apartment in The City (news to Pam), the Mercedes, the Navigator, the whole shooting match should liquidate fairly quickly and easily resulting in a large sum that would be distributed through a trust in an attempt to make a difference in certain lives. She will make a phone call to Elaine after this call is finished to get started on that. The last part of this conversation, though, goes more sober. Pam should leave everything having to do with Gray’s abduction alone, no turning in Ian McDaniel, and no anonymous call to the detective about Gray’s whereabouts. Any link, any phone call, any contact that has the potential to implicate her in any way to Gray’s vanishing should be avoided at all costs. There’s already too much for a D.A. to work with. It’s best not to add.

Pam ends the call. On the potting bench next to her is iced tea. She lifts it to the sun just beginning to touch the hillsides. “To risk,” she says, a toast she makes this time with a more vested vulnerability, more on the line than ever before with more potential to do some good than she’s been able to do in years. She drinks, presses a button on her phone and speaks to it.

“Call Elaine Southwick.”

Elaine picks up. She is back at the Center managing the crisis of a missing OB and moves out of the fray and into Gray’s office to take the call. She listens carefully to Pam’s instructions, the first of which is to gather all the patient files with the red and yellow dots. That means she’ll have to go to the Center’s storage unit.

JUST PAST GOLDEN HOUR when the western sky’s ambers start to desaturate, HPD’s Crime Unit is into its protocols at Fort Knox, none of which are routine since Highland rarely sees a crime like this. Unit 435 is drenched in light from two mobile light towers with generators, enough to abate the flashing reds and blues inside the unit from response vehicles and cruisers parked along the entire alley. Gray Reagan has been transported to Highland Memorial Emergency, but Ian McDaniel’s body has yet to be extricated from the tub. The Medical Examiner was busy initially in assessing Gray’s condition before they cut him from the adirondack and prepped him for transport. With him gone he can assess what seems to be obvious about the McDaniel death, taking photographs framed with an ABFO scale, a corner square ruler used to maintain scale in photographing evidence. His body is semi-reclined in the tub, his feet at the base requiring his knees to be bent roughly forty-five degrees. His left hand holds a multi-tool from which is a bloody extended blade. His right hand is down and to the lower right side of his hip on the surface of the tub, partially hidden by the upper leg.

Out of his blood-soaked jacket and having been cleansed both hands and head, Alvarez looks on. He moves from the body in the tub to the back wall. It’s been photographed as a composite making a record of each item’s relationship to others, and then each artifact has been photographed separately while still in place on the cinderblock. Each piece is now being removed and placed into individual evidence sleeves to be dusted and printed at the lab – fetal monitoring strips, intake sheets, physician reports, x-rays. They will eventually remove the rolled up area rug. Another investigator is dismantling the suction machine and placing it in a hazardous materials container upon which she attaches an Evidence sticker. With the wall evidence contained, attention is turned to the box on the floor on top of which is a class photograph. The image is bagged and tagged and the box placed in a larger one also marked Evidence. Would that all crime scenes be contained in one hundred square feet.

Ian’s eyes are still open, his head turned to his right pointing their stare in the direction of where Gray was situated. The M.E. photographs the gash through Ian’s right pant leg with the Forensics scale in place. He’ll get more detailed images in the morgue where a bit more dignity can be be practiced. With the documentation complete he stashes his camera and evaluates how to remove the body from the tub. The location of the laceration on the inside of the right thigh has caused blood and other fluids to pool at the crotch and as the they evacuated the tub through its drain hole they seeped around the body’s buttocks and made confluence just above the small of the back laying on the enamel surface just ahead of the hole in the tub. It is somewhat like a valentine-shaped dam placed in the middle of a crimson river making its flow divert around it. The M.E. motions outside of the storage unit to two Forensic assistants clad in yellow Tyvek biohazard coveralls who have prepared a white heavy-duty polyethylene body bag, unzippered, at the lip of the cement pad.

“Can we clear the unit for just a moment, please?” the M.E. says to the other investigators as he steps out of the way. They grab the containers of evidence they’ve collected so far and clear them from the unit, relieved to finally have the body removed so they can get on to the adirondack and the tub. They step gingerly out of the unit avoiding the body bag on the ground now moved as close adjacent the tub as possible while still clearing the blood trail. Detective Alvarez steps out, too, countering the yellow men stepping in.

One yellow man positions himself at the head of the tub and the other the foot. They carefully find handholds on the body just under the arms and under the calves, and lift it up and clear of the tub, over and down onto the open body bag, trailing strings of crimson fluid along the way. The M.E. and the Detective lean back in to look into the tub. Alvarez produces a small flashlight and shines it inside illuminating the thickening fluid now moving to the drain hole, such a contrast against the polished white enamel.

“I need this contained!” barks the M.E. and a yellow man comes back in and plugs the hole will balled up visqueen. Alvarez’s light has landed on an organic object about an inch and a half wide and two inches long still in the tub, semi-immersed in the plasma. The illuminated lump has the full attention of the M.E. who crosses into the unit around to the opposite side of the tub and kneels down, spreading his latex-gloved hands on the edge of it to support himself as he leans deeper into the cavity for a closer look. “I need a stick in here!” he shouts into the tub and his request is quickly granted. A yellow man hands him an oversized tongue depressor with which the M.E. carefully turns the fleshy lump over on its other side, the irony of which is completely lost on him.

“There’s his tongue!” the M.E. announces. “We’ve been looking all over for that.”

Elaine has pulled into the lot of the Corby Car Wash and is sickened to see what is happening before her. She can see two large light standards hovering above the long storage building behind the car wash shining down into it, along with red and blue strobing light reflecting off every surface in circumference of the scene. A Highland PD cruiser blocks the gate to Fort Knox and parked just ahead of and perpendicular to her car is Ian’s white Ford Ranger. A light invades her sedan and jolts her out of digesting all that’s happening as a flashlight-wielding police officer knocks on her window. She rolls it down. “You’ll have to leave these premises, M’am. You can’t stay here,” he says.

“What’s going on?”

“This is a crime scene, Ma’am. What brings you here?” He’s doing his job.

“Does this have to do with Gray Reagan?” She can’t help herself. She immediately realizes she would have been better off just driving on.

“Are you an acquaintance of the Doctor. Ma’am?”

“I work for Doctor Reagan. I’m here to get-”

The officer looks just ahead of her car.

“Park your car there next to the white pickup and come with me, please, Ma’am.”

The officer escorts Elaine past the gate and under crime scene tape. As soon as they break the plane of light at the storage building’s corner they’re bathed in red and blue strobing lights with a constant glare of high wattage white light making them both squint and slow their pace until their eyes adjust. He continues the escort, bringing Elaine just outside the scene and calls out for Detective Alvarez.

Alvarez turns from the tub and looks in their direction seeing the uniform standing next to the office manager from South Highland Women’s Center. “Bring her here,” he says and the officer takes her by her elbow and escorts her in closer. Elaine resists with each step, horrified by what she’s fighting to comprehend – the bloody tub and the empty adirondack. Detective Alvarez steps in front of her eclipsing her view of the gruesome scene inside the storage unit.

“Elaine Southwick.” he says. “What brings you here tonight?”

Her shock is in full manifest. “Files. I came to get some files from our storage unit,” she says in stunned monotone.

“We’ve found Doctor Reagan. I don’t suppose you know anything about this.” She stares blankly at him.

“Do you know Ian McDaniel, Ms. Southwick?” Her eyes go past his shoulders and she steals a glance inside. He’s keen on her breaking her gaze away from him but can’t quite nail anything to it. He watches for more movement and notes it as Elaine’s eyes find the body bag that is being lifted by two men in yellow suits and hauled to the back of a van.

“He’s dead, Elaine.” Her eyes come back to his but they betray nothing of what this news might mean to her. “It appears he committed suicide.”

“And Doctor Reagan?” she quickly asks, an appropriate response given her relationship to him.

“He’s in pretty rough shape, but he’s still alive.” Her relief is evident in her eyes, but something cancels her display just as quickly. She’s caught in a dilemma, signaled by the movement of her eyes the meaning of which is lost on the detective.

“I’ll have some questions I’d like to see if you can answer tomorrow. I trust you’ll be around?”

“I’ll be at the office,” she responds, recovered and recollected.

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