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.