A medical examiner was really a victim’s last great hope.
An M.E. cut into the dead and violated the body. That had to be done with the greatest respect.
And done with every effort to bring a killer to justice, or to put a terrible accident to rest.
This time Terry had nearly been fooled by what had appeared to be obvious.
Glass everywhere. Huge chunks of glass, shards of glass.
Cuts everywhere ... It was easy to see how going straight through the windshield might cause such tragic damage to a human being.
But since he had first examined the body, something had disturbed Terry. Something beyond the obvious.
So now, with skeptical cops encircling him, he nodded at Daniel, a motion that told his even younger assistant that they were ready for the sheet to be drawn back.
Daniel, looking very green, nodded in turn. The body seemed more horrible each time he viewed it.
The cops didn’t move. They didn’t joke. No one mentioned that it was Friday night, or that they were dying for their dinner, or cracked any kind of comment at all. They all stood still and stared.
Terry touched the gap at the corpse’s throat with a gloved finger.
“If you’ll observe my concern ... I don’t think that even the violence and force of the young man going through the windshield could cause these serrations,” Terry explained.
He looked up. They were all staring at him. Lieutenant Canady was one of them. His partner, Jack Delaney, was at his side. The huge black cop was there, too, the third guy on Canady’s team. His name was Mike Astin, and he was new to Homicide, though he had been with the force for some time. Across from them, on the other side of the gurney, were Gavin Newton and his partner, Al Harding— funny name for the man. The two cops were often referred to as Laurel and Harding—a play on words neither appreciated.
The sixth cop wasn’t from Homicide. Rick Beaudreaux worked kids, drugs, and public relations.
He worked with the families.
He was the one who would have to explain this death to the boy’s relatives—and to the press.
Rick Beaudreaux had a cold. He kept trying not to sneeze. He looked even greener than the other men.
He was probably going to vomit soon.
In fact, he looked almost as bad as the corpse.
“Serrations?” Canady said gravely.
Terry Broom pointed again. “You could have such a deep wound with that kind of force, but you see the flesh here....” He hesitated, trying to point out the ragged edges of the flesh. “This you get by the glass going back and forth.”
He felt frustrated, not sure whether they didn’t understand, or whether they were a bit green because they did.
He sighed. “You see how it’s like cut meat, like a steak? You get this kind of tearing by a knife—or sharp object— going back and forth, grating there, ripping the flesh—”
“We see.” Sean interrupted quietly.
Rick Beaudreaux turned around, staggering out. He was going to be sick.
The other cops made no comment.
“Sorry,” Terry said quietly.
“Rick has one hell of a fever going, but I’m pretty sure he understands what you’re showing us,” Canady said, then continued brusquely, “So, the kid was already dead when he went through the windshield?”
“Yes, that’s right. That’s what I believe.” He hesitated, hoping that they trusted his expertise. “I’ve shown all this to LePont as well. His opinion concurs with mine.”
“But how ... ?” Al Harding began.
“He was killed, put into the car, and the car was either driven by someone else into the tree, or sent crashing into the tree,” Sean Canady said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“But that doesn’t make any sense—” Gavin began.
“Actually,” Jack Delaney muttered, “it would make perfect sense if you were a murderer who wanted to get away with murder.”
“But he was already dead, then sent through a windshield—and nearly decapitated with the glass from the windshield?” Harding queried.
“By someone using the shattered glass as a knife—to serrate,” Canady said. “Is that it, Dr. Broom? Is that what you believe?”
Terry Broom looked at him, hoping that Canady was seeing past his freckles. “I know how it sounds, but ...” Canady was looking into his eyes. “Yes,” he said flatly. “If you doubt my abilities or my findings—”
“I don’t doubt them at all,” Canady said. He looked at the others surrounding the body. “Well, gentlemen, it’s definitely a homicide.”
“It’s going to be one hell of a homicide to solve,” Al Harding said, shaking his gaunt head. “The kid was scared, though.”
“I doubt if we can even begin to imagine right now just how scared,” Canady muttered.
Then he turned sharply and started out. At the door he paused, turning back. “I’ve heard the kid had a rap sheet, that he was kind of a rabble-rouser. Drinker, pusher, user. The newspaper articles used the name the kid had been going by. Did you get the court papers back yet so we can release his real name?” he inquired.
“Yeah, I got them back.” Terry Broom looked at the kid’s chart and answered him.
Canady suddenly looked worse than Beaudreax as he lowered his head and exited the room.
October meant party time in New Orleans.
Not as much as February. Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras were the real celebrations. But New Orleans loved a good excuse for a costume party anytime. There were haunted houses open in various parts of the city, some run by charitable organizations and offering the talents of local drama students and teachers, and some open for the sheer pleasure of the profit to be made, and featuring fabulous costumes and world-class entertainment.
Then there were the usual attractions.
bathe a beauty for a buck, one window advertised.
PURE MALE AGILITY—MALE POLE DANCERS, advertised another.
A strip joint sat next to a toy store. A cappuccino/bookstore was next to a historical and respectable hotel on one side, and a sex-toy shop on the other. Jazz played on two corners. A handsome black man and a coffee-colored woman played spoons and sang on the street. A young drunk bumped Jade’s shoulder and apologized profusely. She escaped him as quickly as she could—she was in danger of being entirely doused with his beer as he begged her pardon.
She slipped into Drake’s, a neighborhood sports bar a bit off the beaten track. Derrick Clayton, the owner and Friday-night bartender, was an old friend from high school. He’d married one of her best friends, Sally Eaton, and every time she went in he had new pictures of their three-year-old daughter and infant son. Jade admired his kids, and he told her how proud of her all her old hometown buddies were, what with making a go not just of her journalism, but her own publishing company.
“Hey, Derrick!” she called, taking a stool at the end of the bar.
There was no big game tonight, and though televisions were playing around the bar, no sound could be heard from them. There was a great—if strange—Irish jazz band playing.
Derrick waved at her, finished with the beer he was pouring, delivered it, and came to the end of the bar. “Hey, gorgeous.” He was a big man with curling brown hair, a red hint to his beard, and a curve to his belly. He looked as if he belonged climbing a mountain, fighting off bears.
“Hey, yourself.” She leaned forward, kissing the cheek he offered her. “Got any new pictures?”
“Always. You know I’ll make you see them. What are you drinking?”
“Black and tan,” she told him. “In honor of the band.”
“They’re something, huh?”
“They’re great. I’ve never heard bagpipe jazz before.”
Derrick grinned, then delivered her beer and an envelope of photos. She accepted the photos, sipped the beer, and started through the pictures. She felt a small sense of loss, a maternal surge—and a chill.
She’d found the right guy—decent, cute, employed, all the right things. Her business was a success. She could settle down and get married.
If she could just quit having erotic dreams about a stranger who had come and gone from her life in a night of pure terror.
Derrick finished refilling drinks along the bar and returned to her, grinning.
“What do you think of the baby’s Halloween costume?”
“An infant werewolf. Perfect.”
“He’s so adorable. Great eyes. The folks are always calling him Wolfy, so we thought a werewolf costume would be just the thing.”
“Didn’t catch any of the new Disney flicks this year, huh?” she inquired politely.
He grinned. “I did, but what boy wants to be a little do-gooder?” She shrugged. “I guess the evil do have more fun.”
“Did you see Addie? She wanted to be a princess. Sally made that costume.”
“Addie is the perfect little princess. Tell Sally I said the costume is beautiful. And your kids are beautiful, too.”
He grinned. “Thanks. Thanks, a lot, Jade. Hey, how about you? Where is that copy you’re dating? The two of you are like the A-plus gene bank. When are you going to start procreating, huh?”
“We’re not married, Derrick. Not even engaged.”
“Don’t have to be, Jade. Don’t you remember Human Sexuality? I think it was tenth grade.”
“Funny, funny. Don’t you remember Sister Ann Marie? She was the nun who wasn’t supposed to teach us all about birth control—but did.”
“Yeah. Cool lady.”
“Okay, so you’re going to get married. Great. I love a good wedding.”
“And I promise, when I’m going to have one, you’ll be among the first to know!” He grinned. “Cool—whoops, excuse me, Jade. Got a tour group coming in here.”
“A tour group? I didn’t know you were on that circuit!”
“I’m not, except that there are a lot of small companies out there right now—Halloween season, you know? Extra people working—cashing in on extra bucks.”