"Well, this is definitely not a case of death by immersion," Sue Chasen said, handing Delaney a pair of latex gloves as she escorted the detective into the autopsy room.
"How can you tell?" Delaney said. He scanned the room before his eyes finally rested on the figure of Finley Sparks, laying unclothed on a metal gurney. This was one of the least favorite parts of his job, and Delaney was relieved that the lab wasn't full of other bodies in the process of disembowelment.
"Not enough water in the lungs. Of course, it could have been a 'dry drowning,'" she added. "A spasm in the airway."
Delaney nodded. "Anything else?"
"Well, there's a laceration on the back of the head, here," Chasen said, carefully repositioning Finley's head. Using a metal probe, she pointed to a thin red gash about 4 inches long, running along the back of his skull.
"Knife wound?" Delaney asked, looking first at Finley, then back at the Chasen. He'd met the chief medical examiner only once before, and he wasn't sure how casually to interact with her yet, even though they were about the same age.
"I thought so at first, but it isn't deep enough. There's no bruising either, which means it's likely that the wound was created after Mr. Sparks died and went into the river."
"So what is the cause of death?" Delaney asked.
It was the same question that Sheldon Sparks had demanded of him earlier that day, when Delaney had accomplished the absolute least favorite part of his job—notifying the next of kin. Sheldon and his wife Irene were due to arrive at the medical examiner's office that afternoon to officially ID their son, so Delaney wanted to have his story straight. Was it an accident, a suicide, or a homicide?
"We're still waiting for the toxicology report," Chasen explained. "Until then, I can only speculate..."
"Please do," Delany said.
"Well, the bloodshot eyes are usually a sure bet for asphyxiation. Plus, I did find some pulmonary granulosis," she said.
"Inflammation in the lungs, usually due to particle inhalation."
"What kind of particles?"
Chasen shrugged. "Too soon to say."
Finley's face had turned a shade of whitish-green, and combined with his halo of red hair, he looked like an unearthly goblin. Delaney found himself looking around the lab room again, seeking a distraction, but the sterile, stainless steel sinks and hanging scales only reminded him of everything that happened here. He didn't know how anyone could handle this job, day in and day out.
"Do you think that cut could have been made with an oar?" Delaney asked, trying to return his focus to the laceration.
Chasen shook her head, and then grasped the detective's train of thought. "Too blunt an instrument to leave this sort of mark. Then again, a fin on the bottom of a boat could've done the job..."
"How do you know about rowing?" Delaney asked.
"Saint Paul's," Chasen said, grinning. "I sat bow seat in the girl's first boat."
"Impressive," Delaney said, smiling back.
"Well, it was several years ago," Chasen chuckled. "Now the only exercise I get is lifting dead bodies around."
Delaney tried to suppress a laugh, and it came out sounding like a sigh of relief.
"You look like a former athlete," she added.
"I played football at Matignon High."
"How barbaric," Chasen teased, "speaking of head injuries and violence…"
"You mean, unlike rowing?" Delaney shot back, nodding toward Finley's corpse.
"You have a point there," Chasen said, looking down at the body and shaking her head. "I knew many oarsmen on the boy's team who suffered from some repressed feelings," she said, drawing a sheet over the body and lowering her voice, as if the corpse could hear.
"Oarsmen like pain."
"Well, this guy was a coxswain, so I'm not sure that theory holds water, if you'll pardon the pun."
"Au contraire. It actually fits perfectly. Many coxswains like to inflict pain, so they are often resented by the oarsmen in the crew and tolerated as a necessary evil. A coxswain can verbally abuse the oarsmen while they are in the boat and the big guys simply have to sit there and take it."
"Reminds me of the D.A.," Delaney muttered. That morning, he'd outlined the details of the case with him over the phone, and then discussed whether there was enough suspicion to warrant a preliminary autopsy. During the talk, the high-strung attorney had berated him for not knowing who Sheldon Sparks was, then told him to move forward, despite the fact that the state had been making cutbacks.
"What about when they throw the guy into the water at the end of the race?" Delaney asked, still thinking about the D.A.
"Oh, so you've heard about that?" Chasen said. "I'm impressed, detective. You've done your homework."
Delaney smiled, and then explained that he'd just spent the other part of his morning on the phone with Ted Harmsworth, the editor of www.gorow.com. In addition to a potential murder investigation, he'd also been tasked with the more trivial duty of locating some stolen oars from the Head of the Charles Regatta.
"Stolen oars?" Chasen said, frowning. "Now that's unusual."
"You mean, unlike finding a dead body floating in the river?" Delaney said.
"I'm sorry," Delaney said, finally expressing his frustration. "I mean, maybe I'm just a simple football player, but rowing seems like a weird sport, filled with privileged people with a lot of hang-ups."
Chasen clucked her tongue then glowered at him in a playful way.
"Well, now that we've both let our hair down, so to speak, there are two more things I need to show you which may lend some validity to that opinion," Chasen said, lifting up the sheet again.
"There's an interesting little owl tattoo on his forearm," she said, flipping it palm side up. "And you should be familiar with these marks," she added, pointing further down, at Finley's wrists.
The chief medical examiner raised her eyebrows, and gave the inspector a bemused look.
"But if there was no bruising around the head wound, how can there be bruising here?"
"Different time frame. These marks obviously happened prior to the cause of death, whatever that was."
Delaney shook his head, and then studied the owl tattoo. It was resting within an equilateral triangle, set with three small Greek letters emblazoned within the vertices. If the victim wasn't so well off, he would have considered it as a possible mark of gang membership.
"Bizarre. Can you tell me the time of death, at least?"
"It's difficult with cold water, but I'd guess around midnight to 2 am last night."
Delaney stood looking at Finley Sparks in silence for a long moment.
"Well, honestly, I don't know what to say," he said, finally.
Chasen nodded in agreement.
"Drownings can be tricky, but the toxicology report should help clear some things up."
Another few moments passed, as they both continued to look over the corpse.
"Pretty short life," Delaney mused, shaking his head.
"Yeah. But maybe an interesting one."
"Is that a professional opinion," Delaney said, giving his colleague a half-smile, "or are you speaking for the dead now?"
"Well, if we don't speak for them, who will?" Chasen concluded.