A body belonged to God. He had to go to the autopsy anyway.
October 9, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
A barren stretch of land lay along Willow Road. Behind it loomed a five-story hill, which was once a landfill. During its active life, the landfill was a flashpoint for residents who didn’t like working, shopping, or living next to a dump. Its owners, RDM, claimed the facility posed no threat to man or property, and tried to prove it by building a nine-hole golf course on top of the hill. The controversy subsided over time and, like a defect or deformity one learns to live with, the golf course even turned a profit.
Matt and Brewster drove through the open gate and up a hill to two small buildings. A sign on the wall of one of the buildings identified it as the RDM Landfill Office. Matt opened the door to a room the size of a trailer. A woman, a phone glued to her ear, chattered breathlessly. He flashed his badge. She covered the phone with one hand, waved him back out with the other, and replaced the phone in her ear, all without skipping a word.
Rounding the building, he glimpsed two men in blue RDM shirts and a uniformed officer huddled next to what appeared to be two pits. One of the pits was covered with a white Fiberglas lid, but the other was open. Matt walked over. “What have we got?”
“Something that gives new meaning to a watery grave,” the officer said.
Matt peered down. Curled up in a tight ball and partly submerged in water was the body of a man.
Matt called the ME, Jenny Lee, and Doyle. While he waited for them to arrive, he canvassed the RDM employees. He learned that the valve for the pipes that sucked methane from the western part of the landfill was inside the pit. Though it wasn’t a good idea to tamper with the crime scene before the techs had at it, free-flowing methane was dangerous. Matt told them to shut it off. One of the men grabbed a long silver pole and maneuvered the valve from one side to the other.
Most of the victim’s torso was submerged, but the head and neck weren’t. Matt saw a full head of hair, matted and wet, and the collar of a black jacket. He got his camera from the squad car and took as many shots as he could. Then he called the Fire Department. The pit was too narrow to get the body out with a gurney, but Fire had wire baskets and rescue harnesses.
“Who found the body?” Brewster asked one of the men.
“I did,” a red-faced man said. “I was working on a new shut-off mechanism for the valve.”
“About an hour ago. Noon, a little after.”
“Who was the first man on site today?” Pete looked around.
“I was,” a burly man with a gray windbreaker said. “I get in at six.”
“You notice anything different when you got here?”
“Yeah. The gate was open. That was weird.”
“It’s supposed to be locked at night. We have keys. So do the guys at the golf course. But they don’t come in until nine-thirty or ten. Sometimes not at all, now that it’s getting cold.”
Matt packed up his camera, leaving several sticky shots to dry on his evidence bag. Some of the forensic teams were using digital now, but Glenbrook hadn’t made the switch yet. He made a note to talk to the manager of the golf course.
The ME pulled up, followed by two fire trucks, a black and white, and a red Cherokee. As Jenny Lee jumped out of the Jeep, Matt’s cell phone rang. Doyle was on his way.
Matt went over to Jenny, who was making a quick tour of the scene.
“Two bodies in two weeks. Both on RDM property.” She grimaced. “A serial who leaves his victims in garbage. All sorts of symbolism in that.”
“That’s why I called you. Trash tech of the month.”
She stared him down, then cracked a smile. She turned to one of the officers who’d arrived. “Start checking the perimeter.”
“I’ll start at the gate.”
She shook her head. “Too many vehicles in and out. You won’t find anything.” She pointed. “Try the fence.”
She and Matt headed back to the pit where the firemen were discussing how to get the body out.
“We can try to lower the stoke on a rope,” a firemen said.
“Someone still has to be down there to roll him up and strap him in,” said another.
“I can get in there without too much trouble,” the first one said. He looked well over six feet.
“I’ll do it,” Matt said. “I have to examine the body.”
“Hold on, guys. No one touches anything until we drain the water and I check it out.” Jenny’s eyes flashed. “You got something we can drain it with?” she asked a fireman.
“There’s a portable pump in the truck.”
“Any chance of filtering the water?”
They couldn’t filter the water, but twenty minutes later, the pit was dry. Jenny pulled on plastic gloves and boots. With a fireman holding one end of a rope and the other tied around her waist, she slowly lowered herself into the pit. Matt watched as she collected samples of sludge and scrapings from the sides and put each in a separate bag, all the while trying to avoid touching the body. At her command the techs lowered a bucket, in which she carefully placed the samples. She motioned, and the fireman started reeling her in. She climbed out, looking grim.
“What’s wrong?” Matt asked.
She stripped off the gloves. “There’s not much down there. No prints on the Fiberglas. Or the rim of the pit. Probably nothing on the walls either.”
“What about trace?” Matt asked.
She gathered her hair at the back of her neck. “We’ll find something. We always do. But what it means is anybody’s guess.”
She slipped off the rope. Matt looped it around his waist. The pit was only about three feet in diameter, and the fire department’s stoke wouldn’t fit. But they had also brought a rescue harness, and the lieutenant gave Matt quick instructions on how to use it.
Matt lowered himself down. Cramped and dank, it smelled of effluent. He braced himself against the walls and draped a white cloth over the corpse.
“Throw me the harness.” He called up. A rescue harness was lowered. Again anchoring himself against the walls, he managed to clumsily roll the corpse into the harness and strap it in. He checked the D-ring to make sure it was securely attached then pulled on it. The body slowly rose, like a miniature gondola that had broken off the ski lift. Matt pulled on the rope again, and the men hauled him up. The lieutenant disengaged the harness; the body slumped.
Matt squatted down to examine the corpse. The skin around the victim’s wrists and ankles was pasty, and there was a blue tinge to his hands and feet. The ME joined him as the fire department packed up.
“Thanks, guys,” Matt said.
The lieutenant saluted. “We had the easy part.” He glanced at the corpse.
The ME bent over the victim and took his temperature. “Looks like the water slowed down decomp. I’m guessing our friend’s been in there overnight.” He studied the body, slowly running his eyes from head to toe. Straightening up, he shook his head. “I’m not seeing much. No wounds, contusions, or visible blows. No blood either. But there are signs of cyanosis.”
“Blue skin. Respiratory failure.”
Matt went through the dead man’s pockets. Inside a leather billfold were a few wet hundred-dollar bills, credit cards, and a driver’s license. The name on the license was Louis Simon. With a Deerfield address. Deerfield was the next village over.
They bagged the body, and Brewster made arrangements to go to the autopsy, which the ME said he’d try to squeeze in tomorrow. Matt didn’t mind. He avoided them whenever he could. A body belonged to God; it was supposed to be beyond the reach of human hands—literally. He picked up his photos and left.
Doyle activated the Task Force two hours later.
Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.