Friday, October 17, 2014

Chapter Sixteen

Pickup and delivery



          Hildy tried to look at the man seriously and make great eye contact.

When working in the field, Dr. Alejandro Juan Gutierrez, the medical examiner for Tillamook County, kept a perpetually-recording GoPro video camera strapped to the top of his head. He said it made notes and documentation easier. Which Hildy appreciated. But the one he was using now was brand new, shiny and silver, and it reminded her of the burnished metal discs that doctors stereotypically wore a hundred years ago. That, in turn, reminded her of Young Frankenstein. And paying attention was highly difficult when the man before you had a camera fixed to his head, that wobbled as he talked, and you couldn’t stop thinking the, “It’s pronounced Fronkensteen,” line over and over in your head. Hildy was, in fact, just doing her very best not to smile or laugh directly into the lens.

Not that Dr. Gutierrez was an intrinsically serious man, or would have minded a laugh at all. If anything, he was the opposite, bordering on outright inappropriate. Like a gynecologist who continues to talk and chuckle at his own jokes throughout an appointment. What she really wanted to do was avoid there being an awkward recording of her at a crime scene where she looked like she was having a really great time.   

          Mr. Birch Riley’s death had just been declared a possible homicide—Dr. Gutierrez citing suspected antemortem bruising and broken ribs beneath—and he had just committed to an autopsy.

          The camera wobbled.

          “What did you say?” she asked.

          “I said I need your permission to move the body?”

Hildy nodded, “Do it.”

“You three!” he shouted to a group of firemen behind her. “Grab a board! We’re moving it. No gurneys on the sand!”

          Hildy liked that he had asked her, instead of the chief or the sheriff, and that others were already looking to her for instruction. It meant she didn’t have to make a formal announcement, and that saved time. No announcement meant no speech, and no push back. No questions or tiny rebellions. Sometimes you got that from men when they felt deballed. But, right now, they were skipping the moment and space for that to exist in, and that saved time.

Nothing could go slowly right now.

          Fingerprints, which they very likely wouldn’t find on the beach or the body, could take four weeks or more to process and match, if a match came back at all. Autopsies took six to eight weeks. DNA tests could take anywhere from one to six months, depending on how busy the lab was. And the odds of identifying and apprehending a murder suspect with that kind of evidence, after that long, was all but astronomical. It would be, however, imperative to collect for later proving any suspect guilty in court. But that was in the future. Right now, as fast as possible, before memories, witnesses, or suspects could vanish, they needed to identify the victim’s inner circle and find any and all possible motives. She had to find the reason. And the reason would lead her to the truth.

          “Good. Now, one of you, grab that end. Yes. And, you, grab that end. Now lift with your legs. Good. Okay, now you, last guy, you have to hold the body to the board while they carry it. Yes. Right in the middle. Okay. Almost perfect. Now move your top hand just a little lower. A little lower. Just a little bit lower.”

          Hildy cleared her throat.

          “Sorry, Ms. Wilder. Okay. Yeah. I guess that’s fine. Gentlemen, to the van!”

K-9 units came in after that, but nothing more than a few articles of clothing was ever found along the beach or the bluff. Eventually, after a phone call to the Oregon State Police superintendent to keep them apprised, and another to the local district attorney, and then another to her boss, everyone on the bluff began gradually dispersing. And, before long, Hildegard Wilder was once again sitting in her car alone on Vida Seca Lane.

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