"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."