A heavily tattooed Latino teen lays on the stainless-steel table. Naked. Aside from a few old scars, there’s nothing to indicate how he died.
“Where’d you say you found him?” I ask.
“I didn’t, Doc.” The detective steps forward. “We got a call from the cemetery. Caretaker found the kid next to an open grave he was about to fill.”
“Trying to save someone a trip?”
“Maybe. Who can tell with these kids?” The detective shakes his head and returns to his position holding up the wall.
My power saw splits the tattoos on the teen’s neck and chest, grinding louder as the breastbone severs to create the Y-incision that allows access to his internal organs. I use a smaller saw to cut open his cranium, peeling his scalp backward over his face to expose the brain. An autopsy assistant records my observations as heart, lungs, liver, bladder, stomach, intestines, spleen, kidneys, and brain are weighed, measured, and examined. A portion of each organ is placed into a plastic screw-top jar for further testing: toxicology to determine any drugs or poisons in the decedent’s system and histology to prepare slides of each organ for disease detection at the cellular level.
All in a day’s work.
I speak my thoughts aloud for the detective’s sake. “No blunt trauma. No puncture wounds. No obvious signs of disease.” Nothing to indicate why this boy lays dead in my morgue. “We’ll have to wait on the results of the tox screen to rule on cause of death.”
The detective grimaces. “I hope these gangbangers haven’t found an untraceable way to kill each other.”
“You’re thinking this is gang related?”
He points to my next case, patiently waiting as only the dead can, on the stainless table at the other side of the autopsy suite. “She was found next to him. Rival gang.”
I leave the autopsy assistant to stitch the young man back together while I change into a fresh gown, mask, and gloves.
The girl is younger than the boy but still a teenager. Unlike him, she’s clothed. The reason is obvious: a dagger impales her chest.
I retrieve the list of the boy’s clothing to prod my memory. Sure enough, he was wearing a sheath on his belt. Empty and around the same size as the dagger in the girl’s chest.
“Some kind of murder/suicide?” I muse aloud.
Next to me, the detective nods. “That’s what we were thinking.”
I wave him off and begin the external exam on the girl. First things first, I cut away the lunch-sized paper bags taped around her hands to preserve any evidence that might be under her fingernails. There are no defensive wounds on her knuckles or the tops of her hands. Instead, deep slices score both her palms. Clean cuts, the kind made with a sharp, non-serrated blade. The kind of damage consistent with using a knife with no guard to stab something. Only, there shouldn’t be slices on both palms. Not unless she was either ambidextrous or stabbing herself.
After the external exam is complete and the knife is photographed, I carefully remove it from her chest. As I suspected, the weapon is both sharp and non-serrated.
“She had great aim. The knife went straight through her heart.” I tell the detective. “What kind of girl stabs herself in the chest?”
He ricochets off the wall toward me. “What did you say?”
I show him her hands and repeat the question.
“A dead one” is his reply.
It’s my turn to be surprised. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The open grave? It was hers. She was buried earlier that day but without the knife.”
“Who buries a living girl?”
“She wasn’t alive. She committed suicide. Left a note and everything. Family doc pronounced her dead at their house.” He must notice my skepticism because he continues, “We figured this was some gang-related desecration of her remains.”
“She wasn’t dead.” I gesture to her wounds. “These are perimortem, not postmortem. If she wasn’t buried with that dagger, then she was alive when she went in the ground.”
“All right.” The detective nods thoughtfully. “I’ll do some more checking around.”
“And I’ll call you after I’ve established cause of death.”
“Hello, Detective. The toxicology results on those two teens are in.”
“Afternoon, Doc. I was just about to call you. What have you got for me?”
“Tox showed that the boy was poisoned.”
“That’s consistent with what I’ve found out. Seems like the kid stole the poison once he’d heard the girl committed suicide.”
“About that. There were opiates in her system. She took enough to get her close to death but not quite there.”
“That was the family doctor. He confessed.”
“To helping her commit suicide?”
“No. Turns out they were trying to trick her parents. She was going to run off with the boy.”
“Why’d he take the poison then?”
“They didn’t let him in on the plan ahead of time.”
“So he goes to her grave, thinks she dead, and poisons himself?”
“Right. Then she wakes up, finds him dead, and stabs herself with his knife.”
“Sounds like some kind of Shakespearean tragedy. I’ll get the death certificates drawn up. I just need their names.”
“Sure thing. The boy is Romero Montague, and the girl is Julia Capulet.”
Having worked in a crime lab for a number of years, people wonder why I never write crime stories. Well here's one with a literary leaning. I wrote this story under a pseudonym for the Whodunnit issue of Splickety Magazine (September 2017).
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