Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Players - 10

The morgue was in an annexe behind the medical centre, connected to the main building by a short corridor with wide double doors at each end. In Portland, relatives and friends identified bodies at one remove, via a TV screen. In Cedar Falls they did it the old-fashioned way, in a small white-tiled room with the body lying on a gurney and covered from head to feet in a stiff blue sheet. When the attendant folded back the top portion of the sheet from the dead face, Randy Farrell said at once, ‘That’s her.’

Summer recognized Edie Collier too, remembered driving past Meier and Frank in her cruiser and spotting the department store’s detective, an ex-cop by the name of Tom McMahon, chasing the girl through crowds of Christmas shoppers. Summer had cut in front of her at an intersection, had been handcuffing her when Tom McMahon had come puffing up. In a drab little office in the basement of the store, Edie Collier had watched with calm indifference as Summer went through her shoulder bag; Summer remembered finding a paperback of Billy Collins’s Nine Horses among the usual debris, the pages much underlined and annotated, remembered asking Edie Collier if she was a poetry fan, trying to make some contact. But the girl had barely shrugged, her gaze as luminously untroubled as a Madonna’s when Tom McMahon had told her that the store would be pressing charges. In court, she’d pled guilty with the same serenity, lost in some private world while the judge told her that her priors and the fact that she’d been arrested for shoplifting while on probation for the same offence suggested to him that she should spend Christmas in jail -- it would be her chance to think about the course her life was taking and get straightened out.

Randy Farrell, sitting right behind his stepdaughter in the courtroom, had leaned forward to whisper something to her before she was led away; she’d smiled and touched his hand as if to reassure him that she would be all right. Now he brushed back stray strands of hair from her dead face, and with the tender gesture of a parent tucking in a sleeping child adjusted the sheet to hide the beginnings of the crudely stitched Y-shaped autopsy incision. There was a rose tattooed on the ball of her right shoulder, a banner lettered Billy in Gothic script curled around its stem.

After five years of policing the streets of Portland, Summer had developed calluses on her soul; most of the time, she did her work with the tough-minded pragmatism of a doctor triaging battlefield casualties. She had good days, she had bad days, and while she hoped the good outweighed the bad, she’d learned that keeping a tally brought nothing but grief, and she tried her best not to bring home what she saw on the streets. But she’d also learned that some cases hooked the heart. Edie Collier, raised in a chaotic household with a violent drunk for a mother and a stepfather in and out of jail, was exactly the type who would end up as a victim on a mortuary gurney; Summer had encountered dozens like her down and out on the streets of Portland. But now, looking at the girl’s dead face, turned a delicate shade of green by the fluorescent light of the viewing room, Summer felt a hook dig deep, and knew that this was one of the cases she would never forget.

‘You have to see this.’ Jerry Hill lifted up the other end of the sheet, exposing the dead girl’s legs to mid-thigh, and pointed to the two parallel welts above the knuckle of her right ankle. ‘This is how we figured out she’d been chained up someplace.’


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