Friday, December 29, 2006


LHM and I examine the woman's driver's license picture. She had a broad smile that reached all the way to her pretty gray eyes.

"It's hard to believe that they're the same person," LHM says.

"That person is gone," I say softly. "There's no way we're going to get a visual ID on her, though, that's for sure. Let's hope we can find a dentist with some good x-rays on file."

I return to the living room and mentally walk through just how we are going to remove the body. Fortunately, she's wearing jeans. That will give us some traction. Her upper body is bare but for a thin cotton tank top, though, and that poses a problem.

"I'm afraid that the joints in her shoulders won't hold if we put too much pressure on them," I say. "I don't think lifting her down to the floor is an option."

"You mean you're afraid she'll fall apart?" LHM asks.

"Yeah. Her body has been decomposing for a month and the connective tissues are likely to be very fragile."

"Great. On that note, I'm going to go get the cot."

"Can you grab a sheet or a couple of towels, too? It will provide more resistance when we grasp the upper torso."

While LHM is getting the cot, I examine the body more closely. She was about 130 lbs, though bloating makes it hard to accurately determine weight. No evidence of trauma, though it's virtually impossible to tell with the body in this state. I see no tattoos or scars. Clumps of dirty brown hair are beginning to slough off the scalp as the folicles deteriorate and soften. I use the corner of her shirt to push down her jaw so I can see inside her mouth. Her tongue is black and swollen and it obscures my view.

I sit back on my heals and huff in frustration as LHM returns with the cot. "There is no point in doing this right now," I say. "I'll finish when we get back to the morgue. There's hardly anything left to work with, anyway. She's so far along that I don't even know if tox will give us answers."

LHM has some bad news, too. "No towels and no sheets."

I roll my eyes. Of course not. "It's my own fault. I should have made sure the van was restocked before we left."

"Maybe we can use the shower curtain in the bathroom," LHM suggests.

I shake my head. "No. It's plastic. We'd be back to the same wet noodle scenario again."

I walk into the bedroom and find a wadded up old sheet on the floor. "This will do."

We place the body bag at the foot of the couch and I ask LHM to hold onto the feet and make sure they don't move as I guide the rest of the body down to the floor. I use the sheet to grasp the arms. I slowly lift them over the head and listen as the joints pop in the socket. "No," I say, shaking my head. "This isn't going to work. I'm afraid we're going to break her." I stand back and reassess the situation.

"What if we tip the couch and let her roll off?" LHM suggests.

I consider...imagining the poor woman spilling off the couch and landing in the body bag with a thud. So little dignity for what was once a human being. But at the same time, it would be worse to tear her arms off and I didn't have any better ideas.

"Okay. Let's do it." I take the cushion from off the floor and place it approximately where I think she will land. LHM goes to one end of the couch and tips it up on it's side. The body begins to slide forward slightly, making a slurping sound as it separates from the couch. I hear LHM gag and look up at him. He wretches again before setting the couch down and quickly walking to the open window for fresher air.

"Oh..." he says, as he turns back into the room and begins to pace. "Sorry," he gives me a quick glance and a smile. "I forgot to breath from my mouth. The smell was just so strong when we started to move her..."

I watch him as he regains control. "Are you okay?" I ask.

"Yeah. I just needed a second. I'm fine. Let's finish this." He sounds determined as he walks back to the end of the couch and tips it again.

This time he angles sharply enough that she falls forward and tumbles onto the cushion before rolling onto her back. She is half in the bag already and it doesn't take much more for me to slide her in position. We place the first body bag inside another one because the outside of the first is covered in decomp fluid. Then we load her into the van and are on the way back to the morgue 10 minutes later.

"So," I say as I drive away from the apartment complex, "what did you think?"

Having just finished spraying himself down with Fabreeze, LHM is now pumping half a bottle of hand sanitizer into his palm. "What do I think? I think I'd rather do the dead rats." he says.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


"Your transport guy said that you wanted something?" Jonas is standing in the doorway with his sleeve covering his nose and mouth.

"Yeah. I have some questions. First, who was the last person to see her alive?"

"The sister. She said she talked to her a couple of weeks ago, but she wasn't exactly sure of the date."

"We need to get the date of death down more precisely. Did you check the mailbox yet? Postmark dates on mail that wasn't picked up can narrow it down."

"No. We didn't find any keys."

Yeah. I bet you didn't look very hard, either. "Okay. Also, I noticed there are 59 messages on the answering machine. One of your guys need to check those and mark the date of the earliest call.

"I'll send in a uniform. Anything else?"

"Yeah. Do you have a social security number?"

"No. We didn't find a wallet, either."

I sigh. "Okay, thanks."

Jonas is gone before I finish my sentence.

LHM walks through the doorway a few seconds later with flood light and camera in hand.

"We need to find this woman's wallet and keys." I take the light and walk into the kitchen before flipping the switch. The details of the room reveal themselves in technicolor splendor. The sworm of flies blanketing the liquified bananas on top of the refrigerator. The pot of mystery soup on the stove layered with a crusty pinkish brown film. The dirty dishes in the sink. The mop propped in a bucket full of filthy sludge water.

"Ugh." I say as I pull on some gloves. I open cupboards and find at least 50 or 60 bottles of herbal supplements. I checked the dates on them. Most were new. A few in the back were expired. "We need to take all this in. Maybe a few of these pills she was taking reacted with one another and gave her a heart attack or a stroke or something."

LHM give me a look. "Yeah, it can't be good for a person to take a handful of supplements every day."

LHM is referencing the 13 pills I take every morning. I roll my eyes. "I don't take herbs, I take a few phytonutrients, fish oil, a multivitamin, Vit D, and potassium. All this stuff is weirdo powdered mushroom cap and hogwart root extract and bark of willow..." I make a show of dismissing him, but can't help feeling uneasy. I make a silent vow to revisit this later when I'm not in the middle of investigating a death scene.

I try to pull open the refigerator door and the flies lift off the rotten fruit and decent on me like a cloud. I wave my hand above my head to shoo them away. "The door is stuck. Hold on." I hand LHM the light and try again. I prop my foot against the counter top and pull. There is a loud tearing sound as the seal finally breaks.

I wipe my forearm over my brow and then peer inside. An unopened bottle of milk. Desicated fruit and veggies. Mustard. I pick up the milk and look at the sell by date. Three weeks prior. "About how many days before the sell by date do stores usually stock milk?"

"I dunno. About a week?" LHM guesses.

"Yeah. That sounds about right. I think she's been here for more than two weeks. Let's go take a look at the body."

We walk back into the living room. The decedent's flesh is almost black in color. Her lips are swollen and her tongue is protruding from her mouth. Her eyes bulge from their sockets. Purge from her nose and mouth ooze down the side of her face and neck and into her hairline. It looks like clotted black jelly. Bubbles of putrid liquid are under the flesh of her legs and back where her body is touching the fabric of the couch. "Her skin is slipping," I point out to LHM.

"Charming." He replies. "It's all slimy underneath." He directs the light to the puddles of fatty fluid that are soaked into the cushions.

"Yeah. That, my friend, is adipocere. Basically, when a person dies the fat in their body liquifies." I grab his hand and switch the focus of the light back to the head. "Look there." I point. "Maggots." Two kinds of tiny white worms crawl in and out of an opening in the flesh behind the decedent's ear.

"The little thin ones are the same as on the bananas in the kitchen." LHM observes. "And look," he shines the light on a tiny black tubular structure attached to the couch cushion. "It's a pupal case. That means that we're talking at least two generations of flies. At least three weeks."

I look up at him and smile. "I almost forgot you were an entomology geek. You could really come in handy, you know." I reach out and touch the exposed flesh on the torso. Leathery. Dry. The hands are fisted. I look closer. Hard. Mummified. "It's going to be tough pulling prints off of her."

I get up and lead LHM into the bedroom. A bible lay on the bed along with an empty dinner plate with a fork and steak knife. The UV lights are off. No plants are under them. Packets of vegetable and fruit seeds are on a nightstand along with a carbon copy of a lease renewal dated and signed November 20. I rummage through a pile of dirty clothes behind the door and find a jacket with...tah-dah!...keys and a wallet. And a receipt dated November 22.

A uniform cop walks in and tells me that he just finished listening to the answering machine and the first message was from November 24.

"Okay," I say. "I'm going to estimate the date of death to be the evening of November 22nd or 23rd, then. A month."

More later...


We pull into the apartment complex and park. Cops are loitering on the sidewalk outside the building.

"Okay," I say. "Grab a couple of pairs of gloves. Those heavy duty ones. You seriously DON'T want gloves to break when you're moving a decomp. We'll bring the body bag in after I do the investigation, so don't bother with that yet."

"Don't you have HAZMAT suits or something for this?" LHM asks.

"There are paper jumpsuits in the back and booties to slip over your shoes, if you like. We've also got face shields and respirators if you think you'll need them."

"Are you using one?" LHM asks.

I smile at him. "Booties, yes, but I have yet to wear one of the jumpsuits or use a respirator in the years I've been doing this. That would have to be a hell of a messy scene. Also, I need to smell it."

"Smell the scene?" he raises an eyebrow at me.

"Yeah. Smells can provide clues, too. For example, what if the dead guy in question actually killed somebody and stuffed them in the storage unit outside the apartment before taking their own life? Being able to smell two sources of decomp would be rather important. And certain odors like 'nutty' or 'sweet' can point to a poisoning. That sort of thing."

"Yeah, well I don't think we're going to encounter anything as pleasant as 'nutty' or 'sweet' tonight." LHM mutters as he slips out the passenger side of the van.

I walk to the front door of the apartment building with LHM behind me. After a few introductions, I turn to Detective Jonas and get the jist of what they have so far. The decedent is a 40-year-old white female. She lived alone in the apartment and was a factory worker at a local mill. Nobody at work seemed to miss her when she didn't show up for a month. Her boss said that she was pretty unreliable and he figured she just quit without bothering to tell anybody. Her sister said that she'd tried calling several times but it was normal for the decedent to ignore phone calls, so she wasn't worried. "This chick was a serious health and fitness nut, too." Detective Jonas said. "The cupboards are full of herbal supplement shit and she's got huge drums of protein powder on the cabinets."

"Where did she workout?" I was hoping maybe I could interview people at her gym, but also wondered if she went to mine and I might know her.

"I don't think she had a gym. There's workout equipment in the dinette where a kitchen table should be, so I'm pretty sure she worked out at home. Also, there were UV lights in her bedroom where she grew her own organic vegetables. And this is the weirdest thing of all...she's got three or four huge fish tanks full of water but without fish in them."

"Huh," I say. "The UV lights make me think she was growing weed. Any history of drug arrests?"

"Nah. I thought that too at first but I couldn't find anything that would point to her growing pot. She was too concerned with eating clean."

"Hmm. If that's true then maybe the tanks of water were because she was planning on buying baby fish and raising them for her own consumption," I say half to myself.

"Crazy." Jonas said simply. He ran a hand over his bald head and pulled his scarf more tightly around his neck. "It's damn cold tonight."

I give him a sideways glance as I open the front door of the building. A strong smell of decomp wafts out along with warm, moist air. "You're welcome to come in here with us if you like."

LHM and I step into the hallway and walk a few paces. I look behind us at the closing door. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

I walk to the open apartment door and am hit by wave after wave of putrid air. My eyes begin to water. "Breath through your mouth," I say over my shoulder.

"Already on that," LHM mutters.

I see the blue glow of a television casting ghostly shadows over the rest of the room. A dark figure is sprawled on the couch. I flip the light switch but nothing happens. I walk in a bit further and try to turn on a floor lamp by the wall. Again. Nothing. "No lights. But there's electricity because the TV is on."

"Maybe the bulbs burned out." LHM suggested. "The lights were probably on when she died."

"Yeah. Probably." I look around as my eyes try to adjust to the light. One of the couch cushions and the television remote are on the floor. She was struggling for breath, maybe. Or thrashing with pain. I look over at LHM. His face is neutral as his eyes scan the room and light ever so briefly on the body before skimming back to the other details of the scene. It's going to take me a while to learn to read this man that I married. I decide that the best thing to do is to keep him busy.

"Honey, can you please go out to the van and get the flood light? It's in the box between the two front seats. I also need the digital camera. And can you ask Jonas to get in here? I need to ask him some questions."

"I'm sure he'll love that," LHM chuckles. "Anything else?"

I give him kiss on the cheek. "I'll let you know."

LHM walks out of the apartment and I turn back to the scene.

More later...


I call dispatch and they give me the address of the decedent.

"So, Clara, can you tell me anything?" I ask.

"Oh..." Clara chuckles. "You're gonna love this one. Been there for at least two weeks."

I groan. I'm the queen of decomps.

"Two weeks? Didn't she have anybody who cared enough to check on her?"

I get the phone number of the lead detective and hang up. While I'm dialing Detective Jonas, I look over my shoulder at LHM and he gives me an encouraging smile.

Detective Jonas answers on the first ring. "Hey!" Jonas sounds chipper. "I haven't seen you in a while! Where've you been, Sunshine?"

"I was on my honeymoon in paradise. You know...far far from here." I smile as I sit back in my chair.

"Isn't that a song? Honeymoon in Paradise?" Jonas asks.

"No. I think it's a low-budget 80's porn flick, actually, but thanks for asking. So, what's up with the decomp?"

Jonas proceeds to tell me about a 40-year-old woman that hasn't been seen for at least two weeks. The apartment complex manager, Zed, called the decedent's sister and the cops that morning because fellow residents were complaining of the smell. After forcing entry, they found her slumped on the couch in an advanced stage of decomposition.

"Any suspicion of foul play?" I ask?

"No. The apartment manager said he propped some mail up on the door two weeks ago and it hasn't moved. All the doors and windows were locked from the inside. I haven't taken a good look at the body, mind you. The smell is just so bad. Do you have anybody to help you move her when you get here? I can't go back in there."

I pull the phone from my ear and look at the reciever in disgust. Big baby. "Don't worry about it," I say and hang up.

I look over at LHM again as he happily continues to work on the desk...completely oblivious to what I'm about to ask of him. Poor, man. He had no idea what he was getting into when he married me.

"Hey, uh, honey?" He looks over at me. So innocent, I think to myself. Like a lamb before the slaughter. "Whatcha doin'?" I cock my head to the side and flutter my eyelashes at him in what I hope is an irrisistably provocative way.

"I'm doing exactly what I've been doing for the past hour." He puts the screw driver down on the floor next to him. "And you can stop flapping your eyes at me. I don't know why you think pretending your going into a grand mal seizure will make me want to help you more. I'll do it, but you seriously owe me."

I jump up from the chair and give him a huge hug. What a guy. I can't believe I was seriously considering demasculinizing him not 10 minutes ago. "Thank you, honey! It's just that the stupid cops are being big babies and refuse to go into the apartment."

"Yeah. I gathered that. Let me go put my crappiest clothes on. I hope this doesn't wreck my sneakers."

While we drive to the scene I coach LHM on how to avoid barfing from the smell. I also tell him to stand back and let me do the talking. "You're the brawn, darlin'. Strong and silent. Like a bouncer only you have to get your hands a little dirty. And don't tell anybody you're my husband."

"Whatever you say." LHM sits back and looks out the window for a moment before turning back to me. "I've had to clean dead rats out of an attic once before and that was pretty horrible. I can't imagine this is any worse than that."

You have no idea. I smile at him encouragingly. "I've never done dead rat before, so you'll have to let me know if it's different."

More later.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


1:06 p.m.

I can't believe I double posted. I AM rusty...

It's Wednesday night and I am on call for the first time since getting back from my honeymoon. You would think I'd be refreshed and excited to be back to work, but instead I'm crabby and irritated. It's raining outside and only a few days before Christmas. It could at least snow if I have to live in the Arctic tundra, I think as I read a magazine and pout in my office chair.

I look over at LHM. He is sitting on the floor trying to put a computer desk together...or I should say re-put it together.

It was originally my project and after 3 hours of nailing, drilling, and screwing, I tightened the last screw and stood back. I called LHM over to join me in admiring my work when he pointed out that one of the bottom shelf panels had somehow allegedly been screwed on backwards so that the lovely particle board side was showing.

"Oh, for hell's sake!" I threw my arms up in frustration. "I'll have to take the whole top and three sides apart to fix that!"

Pause. I looked at the desk again.

"It's fine the way it is," I said finally. "I'll just stack some books on it and nobody will be the wiser."

LHM, somehow not sensing my level of hostility and the danger he was placing himself in, chose that moment to grasp my shoulder conspiratorially, crack a wide (stupid) grin, and offer to fix the desk himself since..."Honey, everyone knows that men are better at this sort of thing, anyway."

I was debating the pros and cons of ruining his chance at fathering offspring when my pager went off.

More later...

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Merry Christmas, my dear friends!

I'm sorry I haven't been around for a while. I just got back from a very, very long honeymoon with LHM and was incommunicado for the entire trip. It was lovely, but I'm glad to be home with my internet and cell phone again.

I missed you all! And I have a very interesting ME story to tell from last week, but first I have to fix a leak under the sink.

More later today!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Merry Christmas, my dear friends!

I'm sorry I haven't been around for a while. I just got back from a very, very long honeymoon with LHM and was incommunicado for the entire trip. It was lovely, but I'm glad to be home with my internet and cell phone again.

I missed you all! And I have a very interesting ME story to tell from last week, but first I have to fix a leak under the sink.

More later today!