Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Back in the Saddle [Warning: Disturbing] Part 2 of 2

We’re greeted at the door by two huge beat cops, both as big as linebackers in matching navy blue uniforms.  Behind them stands a thin, frail-looking woman.  Her eyes are red-rimmed and swollen from crying.  Her short salt-and-pepper hair is standing up on end as if she recently ran her fingers through it.  Our eyes meet and I nod my head to her in acknowledgement while Adroit busily exchanges names and badge numbers with the officers.  The three of them spend a moment writing information down on their notepads.  Then Adroit asks where the body is.  One of the linebackers hitches a thumb over his shoulder and says, “He’s in the basement.”


As we pass the woman on our way to the stairs, Adroit asks if she’s the wife.  She stutters a bit, her voice hitching on a sob and says, “Y-yes. I just can’t..can’t believe this is happening...”  She turns and paces toward the kitchen table, running a hand through her mop of hair.


The stairs are bare wood and they lead to an unfinished concrete slab basement that is longer than it is wide.  It is full of boxes and bags and the wide variety of items one would expect in a basement that is used primarily for storage.  There is a three foot wide path leading about halfway down the length of the room. As we continue walking toward the body on the floor, both officers stay by the stairs.


Up until now I have been a good girl, following Adroit’s lead and respecting his position as the lead investigator on this case.  But as I draw closer to the body my senses keen and I start to try and piece together the scene.  The man is lying on the ground.  The rope he’d hung from has been cut and the frayed ends are still looped over a three-inch pipe.  The ceiling is quite low and the pipe is even lower.  He didn't have enough room to create any space between his feet and the floor.  He must have just leaned back and allowed himself to lose consciousness.  

Adroit asks the officers who cut him down and they confirm that it was the wife.  I point to a pair of garden shears sitting on a table nearby.  “I bet she used those.”

Then, I focus my attention on the body.  As often happens in a hanging, his lips are blue and his tongue protrudes slightly from his mouth.  He appears to be in full rigor mortis, but I don’t have any gloves to check for sure.  The house is cool...on the verge of being cold.  I’d estimate it’s about 55 degrees.  


“Oh, look at the chin...lividity is set.”  I say.  “And the ligature marks...they’re consistent with post-mortem artifacts.”


Suddenly, a voice pipes up from behind me.  “What was that again? How can you tell?”  I turn to see a slim, short woman with straight blond hair peering at the body from around my right shoulder.  She’s holding a notepad and is vigorously writing things down.  She must be the detective assigned to this case.  


What are you, a cat? I think. I had thought Adroit and I were alone or I wouldn’t have spoken so freely.  “I..um..well, medical examiners that I’ve worked with in the past have shown me how to identify injuries that occur at the time of death or shortly thereafter.  Do you see the yellowish coloring?  Only postmortem injuries have that.”  Adroit is looking at me with a curious expression on his face.  I pretend to ignore him and continue.  “And do you see the purpling on his chin and fingers?  When the heart stops, the blood takes around four hours to pool at the lowest point of gravity.  In his case, his lividity indicates he was vertical...the blood is pooled in his chin and fingers.  And,” I add, “he must have been hanging for at least 6-8 hours because the blood had completely congealed and didn’t “reset” when he was laid horizontally by the wife.”


Adroit proceeds to take some photographs and examines the ligature, which matches the impression marks on the throat perfectly.  


After we finish with the body we walk back to the linebackers.  “Can we call in the evidence technicians?” One of them asks Adroit.  He nods toward the little detective and says, “Don’t ask me. It’s not my call.”  Everybody turns toward her and she tells them that, yes, they should call in the ET’s.  The three of us start filing up the stairs and the linebackers stop me.  “So, do you know who’s taking him in?  Should we call somebody?”  


“Well,” I say, “It’s only my second day on the job, but my understanding is that the law enforcement agencies of each jurisdiction are responsible for transporting the body to the ME’s office.  Do you know who your city has contracted with for body removal?”  We talk for a few more minutes until the two of them seem clear on what will be happening next and I make my way up the stairs to the living room.  


Adroit and the detective are both sitting in chairs facing the wife, who is on the couch.  She’s in tears again.  “I came home last night and he was already drinking.  He’s been depressed for so long.  I should have stayed up with him.  I was just so tired and I didn’t know…”  She trails off and starts rocking back and forth, obviously blaming herself for her husband’s suicide.  "I came down this morning and he wasn't on the couch where he usually passes out. I checked the guest room and he wasn't there, either. Then I started to panic and that's when I went downstairs." She pauses. "I thought he was just standing there at first but it was all wrong." She rubs her eyes. "So I went to him and tried to hold him, but he was so stiff and cold. That's when I cut him down." I keep my mouth shut while the other two ask questions. I forgot how much this part sucks. I think. 

So, I look around. I turn toward the kitchen and see a young man on the back porch talking on a cell phone.  He must be freezing, I think.  There are several plants in the corner of the room that have been knocked over, their soil spilling out onto the hardwood floor.  Mail is on the kitchen table.  An iPhone is on the countertop.  I wonder if that’s his phone?


I go back to standing behind Adroit’s chair and listen as the wife mentions her husband saw a psychiatrist was on medication for depression.  Adroit asks for the names of the meds but she doesn’t know.  He asks if there are pill bottles around the house and, again, she doesn’t know.  I ask, “Do you have the names and contact information for his family doctor and his psychiatrist?”  I wait a beat.  “Also, who is that young man out on the deck?”  


“That’s our son.”  She says.  


Adroit says, “Well, he doesn’t have to stand out there...he must be freezing!”  He stands up and waves the man into the house.  Instead of just one, two men in their early twenties walk through the sliding glass door.  “And the other one?”  


“He’s our son, too.  But only Jack lives with us.”


Neither of the young men looked surprised or terribly shocked.  Perhaps a little subdued, but far less of an emotional reaction than I’d have expected seeing as their father just killed himself. I turn to the wife and ask, “How much do you think he drank last night?”  


“I don’t know.” She says. “A lot.”  She runs her hand through her hair again. “He always drank a lot. He was probably an alcoholic.”  


I wonder how that must have affected the boys growing up.  An unstable, alcoholic father that had threatened suicide on numerous occasions.  Maybe that’s why they weren't reacting “normally”. Maybe they had been preparing for it for years.


I ask again about contact information for his attending physician and psychiatrist and one of the men pick up the phone on the counter top and brings up names and phone numbers for both.  “And here’s his cell number.” he adds.  


Adroit asks a few more questions and then says, “You know, he used a lasso to hang himself and I noticed there were a couple saddles down there…Did he ride?  Did that have any special significance to him?”  

The wife nods.  “He loves riding.”  She pauses and smiles a little as if she’s looking at a scene on the wall behind us.  “Now that I think about it, over the past few years...the only times I really saw him smile… not forced but the kind that really reached his eyes...was when he was on a horse.”

As we drive back to the office, Adroit and I talk about suicide.  I tell him I used to feel sorry for people that killed themselves, imagining how awful it must be to feel that hopeless. But not anymore.  Suicide is an earthquake that damages the lives anybody connected to that person.  It only took one conversation with a mother who found her son’s body when she couldn't rouse him for school for me to realize what a selfish choice it can be.  His girlfriend had broken up with him the day before and his note said that he was killing himself as a type of revenge.  

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to bring a child into this world, love him, teach him, invest everything in him...and then to know that he chose to end it all over something as stupid and transient as a high school break up.  

Adroit feels differently, though.  He tells me he believes people in that state aren't sane anymore. They can’t be responsible for their actions and it is obvious that their pain is more than they can bear.  I tell him that we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one...

4 comments:

DeskDiva said...

Polly, you write really, really well. You need to hang onto this stuff for a memoir. Seriously. Well done.

PollyME said...

Thanks, DeskDiva!

Ondrea Bryans said...

Polly I think you are both right when it comes to suicide. Often times it depends on the circumstances.

PollyME said...

Yeah, Ond...I know there's a bit of both in there. I just feel more sorry for those left behind that have to live with the aftermath of suicide. It's not an easy thing...