It’s a quicker drive back to the station than it was to get out to the river, and she closes her eyes at the only red light she hits, fixing the image of the body firmly in her mind. That picture is going to live behind her eyelids until she can solve this case and put him to rest.
The station is noisy, overcrowded at the moment because the shifts are overlapping, and she weaves her way to the desk that’s got her nameplate on it, a pocket of quiet next to her as she goes. They fall silent when she approaches, not out of malice or spite, just because they don’t know her well enough for casual conversation - talk of misspent weekends, the kids’ Halloween costumes, doctors’ appointments before the insurance slates wipe clean in January. They smile, though, and she takes what she’s given and smiles back.
She’s always had the knack of tuning out the rest of the world when she’s concentrating, and inside of ten minutes she’s typing up a preliminary report for the captain’s inbox, detailing the source of the case, the site, the body, and the course of action she’s decided upon. Ramirez has to nudge her to make her stop writing, look up, and realize that it’s her phone that’s been ringing for the last thirty seconds. “Hudak,” she says, smiling at Ramirez, who puts a cup of coffee on her desk carefully away from her notes.
“Kathleen?” she hears, and she frowns at the eager, breathy voice even before the greeting’s strangeness strikes her. There’s no one she’s given this number to who would call her by her first name. “Kathleen, it’s Georgia. Can you come down here? You’re going to want to see this.”
Even the name isn’t ringing any bells for her, and she hangs up the receiver, reaches for the cup of coffee, and catches Molinson’s eye over its rim. “Is there a Georgia who works in this building?” she asks.
“Down with the stiffs,” Molinson responds, smoothing back her ponytail. “The medical examiner.” Back in Hibbing, she’d never spoken to, let alone met, the ME; Dr. Riviera could have been a figment of the collective imagination for all she knew. She keeps forgetting that she’s in the big city now, a place with money to spend keeping its citizens safe and buying justice for them when it fails.
If there’s already news about the body in the alley, that can only be good. She grabs her notebook again and heads for the stairs.
She’d never known anyone funnier – or more likely to be just completely and totally wrong about things – than Riley. “Girls named after states, cities, scenic views,” he’d said once when they were both a little drunk and he’d been dumped by the girl he’d met at the dry cleaners, “really have no choice, Kath. They have to become strippers.” He’d nodded solemnly. “You can look it up. It’s a law.” She’d laughed and he’d grinned, pleased that he’d amused her, not knowing it was more the look on his face than his words; he always wore an air of cross-eyed concentration when he was expounding drunkenly on some ludicrous theory.
Georgia Peters could never in a million years have been a stripper. She’s plain and immersed in her work, and she’s got a voice like a girl half her age. But her enthusiasm is clearly real, so Kathleen smiles and introduces herself and waits for the news.
“This is your John Doe, right?” Georgia asks, gesturing to the body on the nearest autopsy table. She looks over and sees the body, unfamiliar without clothes and autopsy incisions; it is neatly laid out, a sheet covering it from the waist down. She nods, walking a little closer, and bends to look at the perfect circle in his left temple. She frowns slightly, wondering what that noise could be, looking at the recording equipment mounted above the table to see if the video camera is on. It is. The sound is halfway between a crinkling like aluminum foil and the whiny hiss of air escaping from a balloon through a pinprick. “You hearing that?” Georgia asks, standing very close, cocking her head and bringing her ear closer to the body. “John Doe’s making that sound.”
She knows that after death, gases leave the body, but she can’t ever remember learning that the movement could be heard. “What?” she asks, and Georgia smiles at her like she’s her star pupil.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” she says. “What was the time of death?”
Kathleen stares, unsure if this is a rhetorical question for the purposes of this lesson, or if Georgia honestly wants an answer. “I’m not sure yet. I was hoping you could help me out with that,” she says finally.
“If the body temperature wasn’t so anomalous, I could,” Georgia responds. “It’s over 100 right now, and it was probably several degrees above that when he died. He’s losing heat much more slowly than he should.” Her shoulders straighten as she gets to the heart of what she needed to tell Kathleen. “And he’s got sulfur everywhere – on his skin, in his blood, in his organ tissue. No one should be able to survive with these levels inside them.” Her face is flushed with excitement.
“And that sound?” Kathleen prompts, waiting for the big finish.
“The body is disintegrating, breaking itself down, like there’s an acid eating away at it. It might even be the sulfur that’s doing it. It’s hitting the extremities and the major organs first.” She peels back the lower edge of the sheet and Kathleen can see that the feet already look a little misshapen. Same goes for the hands, and Georgia anticipates her next question by saying, “I couldn’t get a complete set of fingerprints. I think I’ve got a usable print of the left thumb, though.”
“Hopefully that’ll be enough for IAFIS.”
“I am documenting everything as best I can,” Georgia reassures her, pointing to the video camera. “Everything the body tells me is getting recorded.”
“I don’t want to keep you,” she says; “looks like you’ve got a deadline.” Georgia nods and turns back to the body. “Thank you,” she says from the doorway, and then trudges back up the stairs.
She has no idea what she’s supposed to do now.
Still gen, still R-ish.
Word count (today): 1066
Word count (total): 5794 (19.31%)