Three body bags were laid out on three separate wheeled tables. Two of the bags were shapeless, clearly containing just a skeleton. Steele nodded at the fuller bag.
“That's the fresh one, we're going to take a look at it and see if we can't find something useful. We might get something to go on from the skeletons, but it'll be from records, not examination.” Anderson noted that the doctor had an odd way of saying skeleton, pronouncing it instead like the comic actor, Red Skelton. “Marty!” Steele called, and a technician in a face mask entered from a side room. “Take measurements, dentals and whatever else you can get off of these two.” Marty nodded and wheeled one of the bodies out of the room.
“Hopefully some of the dentals match up to missing persons. It'll take a while to match all the records, but narrowing it by gender and age will help a lot. But you know that, don't you.”
“Mm-hmm,” Anderson responded.
“Before we start, though,” Steele led Anderson over to a table. She pulled a small brown bottle out of her lab coat, removed the cap, and placed a drop in a surgical mask before putting it on.
“Lavender essential oil,” she said, repeating the process and handing the mask to Anderson.
“Smell is a bit overwhelming at first, but it beats the hell out of the way it's gonna smell in here in a minute.” She reached up and threw a switch in the wall and there was a low hum as an exhaust fan began to turn.
The smell in the mask was obnoxious, but Anderson was sure it would be better than the alternative.
“Since Marty is working in there,” Steele said, moving back toward the fuller body bag, “I may ask you for some help. Alright?”
“This isn't really my area.”
“Can you follow simple directions?” Steele asked sharply as she examined her tray of tools.
“Then you'll do fine. And enough of this ma'am shit. I know what people call me behind my back, but you can call me Steele or Milly. Sisterly solidarity and all that, okay?”
“Now, stand on the other side of the body.”
Anderson moved into place. She had not attended many autopsies, she was usually assigned to a case long after this step had been reached, but the few autopsies she had attended had been clean, sterile affairs. The smell of this body indicated that this autopsy would be otherwise.
Steele reached for the zipper on the body bag. “Here comes the fun stuff,” she said. The zipper came open and tears sprang to Anderson's eyes. She would never have guessed that any smell would be able to penetrate the cloying lavender scent that had practically been shoved up her nose, but this did. The scent of rotten, decayed flesh crawled into the back of her throat and stayed there.
“Ugh,” Steele said, shaking her head. “This is a bad one. Now, the boys in the field packed up all the dirt from around this body and they'll sift it and run the results through the lab for fibers and what not. This, on the other hand,” she said, finishing with the zipper, “Is just for us. Aren't we lucky?”
Anderson's head was swimming.
“So what have you heard about me, Anderson?”
“What have you heard. I know there are all sorts of stories about me, you must have heard some of them.”
“Any good ones?”
“They said you did an autopsy on a gorilla once.”
Steele peeled back the body bag, revealing the reeking corpse. It appeared to be a male, the hair still largely intact, but dark and matted and coming away from the scalp in places. The nose was almost gone and the lips had receded, giving the appearance of a hideous grin.
“Sort of true,” Steele said, “I sat in on a post-mortem of a lowlands gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo once. They have a local obstetrician do all their deliveries, too, you know. The biology is very similar. Don't do much else with animals though. What else?”
Steele peeled back the rest of the body bag and Anderson saw that the body was lying on a back board inside the bag. The hands had freezer bags over them, held in place with rubber bands. Steele grunted as she grabbed the handles on the board and lifted the body up. She nodded at Anderson and the detective began to slide the body bag out from under the board.
“I heard you threatened one of your ex-husbands with a scalpel.”
The body's right hand fell off of the board and landed with a crinkle of plastic and a softer, fatter slap on the table before Anderson. She ignored it and continued to pull at the body bag.
“Just a second.” Steele returned the board to the table and moved to the feet of the corpse. Shoes were still in place, Anderson noted, which struck her as odd somehow. “Again,” Steele said, lifting the feet of the body up as T.K. struggled to pull the body bag away. “Good,” the older woman said, as the bag was finally tugged away. “Over there,” she said, nodding to a waste container, “They won't want it back. The board either, I imagine.”
Wincing at the smell, T.K. balled the bag up, swallowing and swallowing to keep from gagging, taking shallow breaths through her mouth. Cramming the empty body bag in the trash made her feel better, but she couldn't tell if the smell was actually reduced any or not. She suspected it was not. When she returned to the table, Steele continued talking.
“The scalpel story always interested me, considering it was one of my husbands who pulled it on me. I won't tell you which though. Hell,” she said, carefully pulling one of the body's sneakers away from its food, “You aren't old enough to remember any of those bastards anyway.”
“So shall I tell you some of the stories I've heard about you?”
Anderson swallowed again as the second sneaker came away. The feet were discolored and the nails were blue.
“Well there are the obvious ones that men make up of women they're afraid of, like that you used to be a man, or that you're a lesbian. I can tell that you're neither, by the way, and any smart person would be able to do the same, but men can't help themselves sometimes. Just like the scalpel story, I suppose. For some reason it's easier if we're threatening rather than just intimidating.”
She used scissors to cut away a sweatshirt, t-shirt, and jeans from the body. These she bagged up to be gone over by an evidence specialist.
“You'd get it a bit less if you grew your hair out, I imagine. I like it short though.”
“Me, too. You only have one asshole grab your hair through the cage in a patrol car once, believe me.”
“Smart girl. Not enough police officers learn from mistakes like that one. Not that I ever learned from my mistakes, mind you. I have some crazy bastard who thinks he'll make a good husband, three exes to the contrary.”
“You don't smoke, do you?”
“Uh, nope, Milly.”
“Atta girl. Never start. I've seen cancerous lungs much closer than anyone should and I still can't bring my self to quit. Pathetic.”
Steele pulled on a magnifying lamp that was attached to the edge of the table and flipped it on. She began to examine the body closer, inch by inch. Here, her chatty manner stopped altogether and Anderson watched and waited as the doctor spent the better part of a half an hour examining every detail of the body. Three times she stopped and removed something from the body with a pair of tweezers, placing it in a small plastic cup and sealing the lid. When she finished she stood up and stretched placing her hands in the small of her back. “Probably from the clothes,” she said, “But you can never be too careful.”
Anderson helped the doctor roll the body over and she repeated the process on the back side of the corpse. She took swabs from the body's mouth, nose, eyes, rectum and urethra. Anderson winced at the violations, but she was the only one who seemed to mind. Then Steele hosed the body down thoroughly. When she was finished, she pulled a filter from the table's drain, placing it in a special container.
“All sorts of fascinating things turn up in those, you know.”
T.K. nodded. Steele turned away and bent over her table of instruments. T.K. was examining the body when she heard a high-pitched whining. She looked up and saw the doctor wielding a tiny power saw.
“Alright, Anderson,” she said, her eyes gleaming above her surgical mask, “What do you say we cut this fucker open?”