It was cool. The dew lay thick over the matted grass of the manicured lawns. The sky was ablaze with the light of pre-dawn and, in the gloom cast by the rising sun, the raven soaring over head could see a singular, highly irate man padding over the lawns. The man was named Inspector Grouse and had been awoken barely 45 minutes before hand at 04:00 hours. Now, to fully understand the extent of the man’s ire, I will enlighten you to the fact that the man had gone to sleep at 03:00 hours due to him having to deal with a bunch of youths that were attempting to invert his kneecaps through the highly inventive application of two iron bars, some petrol and a spark plug. Now while he found this to be a most incredible irritation, he did enjoy the bit where he reversed the procedure by presenting their leader with a swift kick to the groinal region. This did cause them to attack in a fully-fledged assault, but the aftermath of such rash action provided high levels of amusement to the Inspector, just as it provided high levels of pain to the youths in question.
Anyway, the Inspector’s basic processing capabilities were ticking over on standby as he padded towards the large house in the middle of the lawns. He was attempting to understand what was decidedly wrong about the case. A man is found dead next to a family safe that was full of diamonds. What’s so strange about that? He thought. A man defends a safe full of diamonds against an intruder, and intruder kills him, nicks the diamonds and legs it. Simple. So why had the Chief Inspector hinted that something was strange about the case? Hopefully Gaffer, the leader of the forensics team would explain all.
As the Inspector thought this, a man in a white environment suit came out of the house and started to walk towards him.
‘Hello. So you’re the man working on this then?’ the man stated.
‘For once, I don’t envy you. This is one of the most bizarre crime scenes that I’ve seen.’
‘Gaffer, stop alluding to things that are incomprehensible and tell me what you are talking about.’
Gaffer hesitated, as if to gather his thoughts prior to a story telling and the launched in to an animated speech.
‘A man was found dead next to the safe that had been emptied of diamonds last night. This much I assume that you know. Now comes the strange and bizarre bit.
‘The man has been certified as being dead for weeks if not months, and the family has never met him before.’
‘What did he die of?’
‘We don’t know. The pathologist has already sent the body to the morgue just in case you’re worried. He’ll find out what the man died of.
‘But if that’s not weird enough for you, there’s more. There were no traces of the intruder what so ever, as if they wore an environment suit like the one I’m wearing now.’
‘Have there been any thefts of forensics environment suits recently?’
‘No, not unrecovered.’
‘Where do you get those suits from?’
‘They’re custom made for us by Enviroprotect Inc. And they cost one helluva lot. Several thousand each. Plus they keep a record of everyone who’s purchased one, and you have to have an official requisition form from the appropriate authority.’
‘So only cops can get hold of one legit right?’
‘Only forensics and the pathologists office can get hold of our ones.’
‘The Army has ones designed to repel biological weapons and offer some resistance against nuclear radiation, the National grid purchases ones for its technicians in nuclear power plants and so on and so forth.’
‘Would those ones leave traces?’
‘Low levels of lead might be present from some of them, fibres from others, petroleum based products from others, metals…’
‘Okay, I get the idea. So its going to be either an unreported theft or an inside job?’
‘Or a theft last night which has yet to be noticed.’
‘Yay.’ The sarcasm was plaintive in his tone. There was a pause as the Inspector gathered yet more ideas. And he had a few.
‘Are you sure about your team Gaffer?’
‘What sort of safeguards are there around the suits?’
‘They’re kept in a locker at the forensics team’s station. Each team has their own locker and the pathologists each have their own lockers.’
‘Was the safe forced?’
‘No, it wasn’t even picked or listened to.’
‘When you listen to the safe’s internal tumblers to hear when they click.’
‘So the person knew in advance what the combination was.’
‘And the only people who would have known were the family?’
‘As far as I know.’
‘Anything else you can think of?’
‘There was a break in several weeks ago. The man who had broken in was arrested less than a fortnight ago, but he may have found the combination by the time he had been found and chased off the property.’
‘Any chance that he had passed the information on?’
‘Since he has yet to be bailed then it’s doubtful.’
The Inspector was silent for a while, and then began walking towards the house again. Gaffer kept pace beside him. While they were walking, a man in a large overcoat walked over to them from the other side of the lawns.
‘Hello. I’ve just been sent from the station. I’m Inspector Mullen, I’ve been assigned to this case.’ He turned to Gaffer. ‘I assume that you’re the forensics expert?’
‘I am.’ Gaffer looked over to Grouse. Grouse shook his head then turned to Mullen.
‘If you would excuse me for a minute,’ Grouse asked then turned round and walked away, taking his phone out of his pocket. He found the number for the Chief Inspector on his speed dial and pressed the call button.
When the call had connected, and the statuary rings had passed, a deep, gruff voice spoke from the other end, expressing greeting to Grouse with a tone of weariness in the voice.
‘What now, Grouse?’
‘Sir, do you know anything of an Inspector Mullen?’
‘Yes I do. He handled the previous break in to that house. He’s fairly competent, but he has been known to get the wrong man or even woman occasionally. Yeah, over half his female convictions have been rotten bitches to be perfectly candid and the whole lot of them have been false convictions. Why you asking?’
‘He’s just turned up and claimed that he’s been assigned to this case.’
‘The hell he has. What have you told him?’
‘Nothing yet, Gaffer’s handling him.’
‘Yeah, he seemed to enjoy telling the story.’
‘Do I leave this to you then sir or tell him myself?’
‘Leave it to me. Go over to him, shut Gaffer up and tell that Mullen that I’m about to phone him.’
The connection died and Grouse slipped the phone back into his pocket. He then turned and walked over to the two figures standing on the path barely five metres away.
‘The man has been certified as being dead for weeks if not months and the body has already-’
‘Can it Gaffer,’ commanded Grouse and Gaffer dutifully shut up. Then, turning to Mullen, he informed him that a call was about to appear for his phone. Dutifully the phone rang about a second later when Mullen was attempting to launch into a tirade about people barging into other people’s conversations and how dare Grouse do so, etc., etc., etc.
‘Yes sir but how…’
‘Sir, I received a call earlier, telling me to report to this crime scene and that I had been assigned to it…’
‘I assure you sir, I received the phone call.’
‘So what should I do?’
‘Ok, I’ll come to the station.’ The phone call ended at that moment, and Mullen turned to Grouse who was explaining what was happening to Gaffer. At this juncture, Mullen did something that can be equated to a verbal explosion of nucleonic proportions. Mullen explained to Grouse precisely what he thought of Inspectors (and of people in general) who ‘got in the way of people in the middle of works of greater intelligence than could be imagined by peasants such as Grouse’.
Grouse stood there absorbing the verbal assault like some sort of reinforced bunker, and after Mullen had finished Grouse leant forward to Mullen and let out a condescending chuckle into his ear, before whispering:
‘Don’t you have somewhere you should be and someone you should be seeing?’
‘Yes I do, but you shall never know who.’
At this point, Mullen stormed off, his long coat flapping behind him. Cogs started ticking in Grouse’s mind, cogs which brought him to an uneasy feeling.
Now I have to pray that I don’t have to tell the Chief that his rising star is a rotten apple, the Inspector thought.
‘Gaffer, do you think that the pathologist will have found out how that man died by now?’
‘Probably not. Give it a few hours. Get some sleep, you obviously need it.’
‘Yeah. Yeah I do.’
Inspector Grouse walked into the pathologist’s office almost 8 hours later to find a smiling receptionist there who stood up and told him that the Pathologist was busy examining a body for evidence at the moment, would you care to come back later?
Grouse can not be said to have a very large tolerance for ‘red tape’ and Political Correctness or as the Inspector would prefer to put it, bull****. (This can be seen in his filing system that has three trays, In, Out and Let the Buggers Wait. This is a rather interesting aside that I felt that I would have to include somewhere to allow you to gain an insight into this otherwise rather boringly stereotypical cynic.)
This meant that Grouse decided to ask a simple question. A question of simple parameters and guaranteed not to get an answer but give it to him anyway.
‘Which way is the examination room?’
‘May I ask why sir?’
‘Just tell me.’
‘I’ve told you sir that the pathologist is currently undertaking an examination and should not be disturbed.’
‘Thank you for being so helpful to me.’ Grouse smiled at the woman and walked off towards a plain unmarked door. Inwardly, Grouse chuckled to himself at how stupid the receptionist was. Thick-witted nitwit of a paid mindless bimbo, she didn’t even realise that I saw her eyes move, hahaha, the Inspector thought to himself as he strode towards the door. He opened the door and walked through, down a set of stairs, along a low corridor, opened the door at the end and walked straight into a rather large 1000V circuit breaker. After the surprise, shock and electroshock had passed, Inspector Grouse found that his mind was exceedingly clear. He surmised that the current had reset his entire mind and that the whole thing was a set up to humiliate the people who attempted the old trick of watching the eyes. Thankfully the current was simply induced by the high current flowing through the breaker rather than the current taking a side trip through his skull to the ground. If it had then he would be in the real morgue so fast that he wouldn’t have time to blink. Although that being said, since his consciousness would be elsewhere by that time, his eyes would require outside help to blink.
Anyway, the Inspector then decided that he would resort to the good old run around banging on doors and shouting technique of finding the man (or woman) he was after. He proceeded to do this running around, banging on every door, and bawling out the pathologist’s name. The receptionist trailed after him, indignantly ordering him to ‘Please be quiet and would you please vacate the premises or I will call the police’, and so on and so on. This was answered by a display of the Inspector’s ID, at which the order turned to ‘Please quiet down and I will show you to the pathologist’. Hearing this the Inspector’s breath and consequently his voice seemed to evaporate (this is of course a completely ridiculous phrase since the air is already boiled or it wouldn’t be air/gas. However, it seems to be appropriate to the way this story is going so there you go). The receptionist steered him towards an out-of-the-ordinary looking door, forged out of steel and very, very cold, like a blizzard in deep space. (Well maybe not quite that cold but what does Grouse know about such matters, eh?) The door opened at his touch and beyond it he could see a steel table with a wonderfully dead and rigid corpse on it. The corpse was male and yet another man wearing an environment suit was standing over the dead man. The receptionist was forgotten immediately as Grouse approached the table.
‘What did he die of Fitzgerald?’
‘He probably died of negative treatment outcome.’
‘Cut the bull, and explain in ordinary non-euphemistic terms.’
‘He died because he didn’t stay in hospital for the post-surgery check-up after his appendix was removed just over three months ago. The blood vessels didn’t get sealed up properly and he died of blood loss as the blood seeped out of the cut, which didn’t heal at all.’
‘So medical malpractice.’
‘Not quite, that would be a professional misadventure rather than a negative treatment outcome.’
‘And what do you mean, his incision failed to begin the repair process?’
‘See for yourself.’ The pathologist folded over the towel around the corpse’s midsection just enough for Grouse to see the scar. It was badly stitched, as if done in a hurry, and heavily bloodstained. The lips of the wound were parted slightly, and the slight clotting in it was torn.
‘The man’s blood clotted very badly due to a natural deficiency of the hormone required to coagulate the blood. The tearing of the slight clotting in the wound is from when I parted it to investigate the insides with a fibre optic scope.’
‘So he died of failing to see the doctor after the operation.’
‘Who was he exactly?’
‘He was an itinerant farm worker, helping with the harvest and then moving on. His name was Grant Latham and he was 32 years and 7 months old when he died.’
‘Was he with a group of others?’
‘Yes he was. Records show that he was originally placed in the morgue by a man who was part of that group.’
‘So the man might of left early to join his fellows on their way to the next job.’ Grouse stated this rather than asking it. He stood there, doing and saying nothing for a moment, then turned on his heel and walked out, without a word. As he emerged from the office into the open air, a single thread of thought unwound itself among the looms and spindles of Grouse’s mind. Why didn’t he suggest an extra idea?
Grouse strode through into his office and checked the filing system. There were two pieces of paper in the LBW tray, miles and miles of nothingness in the Out tray and three letters and one form in the In tray. (Okay so I didn’t need to slip in the aside about the filing system earlier on, but I didn’t know that things would turn out like this. You think that I actually come up with these stories? I just put it all on paper. There’s a gremlin in the back of my head to come up with the stupid things, honest!) Grouse sat down, picked up the phone, hit the speed-dial selection One twice and told Gaffer to ‘remove your personal physicality from your office and to my own within the following few minutes and grab us a ham sandwich from the canteen on your way please.’ Then he reached into the deep dark recesses of his mind (it was so dark something down there attempted to bite his psychic hand off!) for the price of a ham-sandwich and proceeded to reach down into the deep dark recesses of his pocket to discover the exact change required for the afore mentioned sandwich knocking around in there.
Then he turned to his filing system and read the form and decided that it was very important, so he filled it out and put it in the Out tray. The first letter was the typical demand for money known to one and all as a bill or in this case a petrol bill for his car. This he put to one side. The second was a notification that the forms pertaining to the arrest of the youths of the previous night would be following in the morning and that he would have to attend their trials. This he placed in a bright red bin beneath his desk. The third was the notification that stated the same thing but about the man who got arrested the previous evening. This disappeared into the same red bin as the previous letter.
Now he turned to the LBW tray. The first piece of paper was a form confirming the statement made by a witness concerning yet another run in with a group of youths. This he filled out and signed then stapled to the second piece of paper, which was the statement itself. Then he placed the bill for petrol in the LBW tray, the statement forms in the Out and leant back.
He waited, and as good things come to people who wait, a good ham sandwich comes to Inspectors who wait. Admittedly, this was accompanied by a cup of tea that came out of the pot outside his door but, what the hell.
The picturesque scene was spoiled a bit however by the man who came in the door at the same time, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and black trousers with patterned blue tie.
‘Thanks for the sandwich Gaffer. Here’s the money for it.’ Grouse handed Gaffer the money. This managed an instantaneous disappearance act of which the only outward sign was a tinkling noise from the direction of Gaffer's trouser pocket. ‘Okay, onto why you’re here. You have full access to the Government records on deaths and such, yes?’
‘Yes, I do. Why?’
‘I need you to look up the records on a man named Grant Latham. I want to know who examined the body, what happened to him, and anything else you can think of.’
‘Secondly, did you find anything else at the crime scene?’
‘We did find small amounts of water mixed in with a coagulant. And several insanely fine fibres.’
‘Any ideas to what those two were.’
‘The fibres were most probably medical threads, possibly off the man’s stitches. The coagulating water we don’t have the first clue as to what that was for.’
Grouse absorbed this information like some sort of spongy sedentary sea-dwelling creature called a sponge! (This is a stupid statement but it takes up space so…) And an idea formed in Grouses mind, as nebulous as…well a nebula really, but it was there all the same. And it just so happened that this idea possessed that irritating property of being a niggling little son-of-a-bitch. And Grouse decided to see if it could be verified.
‘Is there another pathologist’s office nearby?’
‘Who’s the pathologist?’
‘A Mr. Harwitz.’
‘Where is his office?’
‘The town centre, three doors down from Fitzgerald.’
‘Okay. Thanks Gaffer. Go get that search done for me.’
‘Right.’ And with that, Gaffer stood up and left, leaving Grouse to calmly ponder what to do next. And so he came to the conclusion that the first thing to do would be to get someone to visit the victims of the break-in for him, and ask them if anyone else could possibly have the code. Then he would take a little walk down to Mr. Harwitz and ask a few questions of him about pathologists’ practice and coagulating waters. Yes, that might solve the problem for him.
To further this end, he decided that one of the sergeants sitting at their desks could make themselves useful. To further this end, Grouse elected to politely ask one of them.
But first things first, i.e. Lunch.
About half an hour later, after the ham sandwich had been safely put away in Grouse’s stomach somewhere, and one of the sergeants had been tempted off of his fat arse with the promise of doughnuts, Grouse wandered into a pathologist’s office much like Fitzgerald’s. A receptionist was smiling at him over her desk. She inquired as to whether she could aid him in any way. He replied that he would like to speak to Mr. Harwitz. She replied that he was dealing with the paperwork pertaining to an examination two days ago, could he come back later? Grouse decided to skip pain, noise and lots of effort, by just show her his identity card. She saw it, nodded and showed Grouse to an office containing a rather thick-set man who was presumably the pathologist.
‘Good afternoon, can I help you?’
‘Yes, I am Inspector Grouse from the Thames Valley police and I need you to answer a few questions for me.’
‘I’m not under investigation am I?’
‘Only if you do not give me reason to believe that you are implicated in the case that I am investigating.’
‘Good. Please, sit down Inspector.’ Grouse did so. ‘What are these question that you have for me?
‘Well first of all, could hydrated coagulant fluid be used to reseal a scab even if the body has been frozen for several months?’
‘It depends upon the fluid, but yes.’
‘And if you had a dead man on your table who had a poorly scabbed cut, how would you investigate the incision.’
‘I would put a needle through the skin just next to the cut and then use the opening to insert a fibre-optic probe.’
‘You wouldn’t split the cut at all?’
‘Not in the slightest.’
‘Could you think of a reason that a pathologist would elect to open the cut a long way?’
‘No reason at all that I can think of. The only circumstance where a pathologist would remove an object or make a sizeable difference to the corpse would be to remove a bullet or to examine inside the skull.’
‘Thank you Mr.Harwitz. You may have a body to inspect within an hour or so, so watch out.’ With this, Grouse got up and left. And decided to speak to the Chief Inspector while he was waiting for that sergeant to get back.
The Chief Inspector can only be described as a bit of a bull. Podgy, yet well muscled. And as mentioned before, owner of a voice that can be described as deep and gruff. He sat behind his desk as Grouse walked in and sat down, and engaged the Chief in a full and hearty discussion of the case, resulting in the voicing of Grouse’s suspicion that the Pathologist Mr. Fitzgerald was the thief.
Right, that’s it, I’ve said it, thought Grouse as he steeled himself for a royal righteous hiding. The Chief simply nodded and responded with an inquiry as to what Grouse recommended should be done.
‘I recommend getting that, body transferred to Mr. Harwitz and the scab tissue examined for the coagulant, then the cavity where the appendix is missing from needs to be examined. And we need to search the business premises and the house of Mr. Fitzgerald.’
‘If he is responsible, won’t he just run?’
‘That’s the idea Chief. If he has nothing to fear, then he’ll stay put. If he does have something to fear then he’ll leg it and then we just have to collar him.’
‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do. But it’ll take a while for the findings to materialise so that we can get a warrant.’
‘Fair enough. But you can get the body transferred today can’t you?’
‘Yes, I can, and I’ll do that now. But there is one very big hole in a conviction. How the hell would the pathologist get the code?’
‘I might have an answer to that soon.’
Grouse tapped the side of his nose in a knowing way, and then responded with a question of his own.
‘Do you happen to know who worked with Mullen on the last break in? It’s just that I want to know if anyone was messing around with the safe after forensics had gone.’
The Chief simply nodded and directed Grouse to the forensics expert who had headed that investigation. Grouse thanked the Chief and walked out of the office straight into an ambush. A polite and friendly ambush made up of one sergeant armed with an answer to his question and a demand for doughnuts.
It turned out that the victims had seen Inspector Mullen messing about with a stethoscope and the safe. He might have gotten the code but they trusted him with it, after all he was a highly respected member of the police force. He couldn’t possibly use the code to break in, could he?
Could he? thought Grouse as he walked down to his office to collect a packet of doughnts, quietly chuckling to himself.
In his office, he was ambushed yet again by a certain forensics expert.
‘Enh. Hello Gaffer. Did you get the info I wanted?’
‘Yes, I did. Grant Latham, seasonal farm worker, died from negative treatment outcome of an appendix removal surgery, examined by Mr. Fitzgerald, and the corpse has not yet been claimed for burial.’
‘No, I need a chemo analysis of that coagulant. And when it’s done, send it to Mr. Harwitz, and tell him what it is. He needs to know.’ Grouse sighed deeply. ‘And then we just need to wait.’
‘A search warrant, and Mr. Harwitz’s findings…’
Mr. Harwitz’s findings took three days to obtain. And when they had been obtained, things moved very, very quickly. Harwitz had found the coagulant in the scab tissue, and indications that the cut had been re-sewn, at least twice on the day of the robbery, and traces of polythene in the cavity. This meant that Grouse’s suspicions were confirmed, at least to him, and all he needed was evidence.
To this end, Grouse despatched a group of police armed with search warrants to search the business premises and the house of Mr. Fitzgerald. A polythene bag containing some of the diamonds was found in the attic of the pathologist’s house, along with a bag full of cash. This was enough for a conviction. Well, this plus the fact that when Fitzgerald got the chance to get out, he ran like a fox escaping the hunt. Unfortunately, even a fox can’t run faster than the lightening bolt of electromagnetic communications. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s arrest.
At which point, like in all good stories, he proved the worth of the old adage, ‘misery loves company’ by waxing lyrical about the involvement of Inspector Mullen in the theft. (Well, maybe not lyrical but certainly waxing! Ok so he wasn’t screaming but… You get the idea). The whole mess goes something like this:
In the previous robbery investigation, Mullen had found out the code. He sold this to the pathologist for half of the diamonds. The pathologist had access to a body that had a cavity within which the diamonds could be secreted, and he had access to a forensics environment suit. This would mean that there would be no traces of a second person. The diamonds would be removed when the body was taken to his office since Fitzgerald was the district pathologist. Mullen would take the case, make all the right moves and then proclaim that he was stumped, meaning that the two of them would be scot-free with the diamonds and more importantly, the money.
But unfortunately, the whole plan foundered somewhat when Grouse took the case. Since Mullen wasn’t there, there was suddenly a chance that the plan could come undone. But if the pathologist could manage to close down all ordinary possibilities of the theft being carried out, then there would simply be an investigation into all the forensics teams and pathologists nearby. By which time there would be no trace of the diamonds in either Mullen’s or Fitzgerald’s possession. Unfortunately, in his desire to have all bases covered, Fitzgerald pointed out the tearing of the scab tissue, which led Grouse down the road to the conclusion that Fitzgerald was guilty.
Which left Grouse with one enormous great pile of paper-work…