Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 485 - Kate Thornton


I think I must have interviewed at least a dozen people for Old Dave’s job before I found young Josh.

Old Dave had been with the department almost as long as me, and there wasn’t a major holiday or a major crime when I didn’t thank the powers that be for Old Dave and his little bag of tricks.

See, in this part of the country, we don’t have a regular crime lab or a real coroner, it’s just an appointed position up in the township and you don’t even have to be a real doctor to get it. But Old Dave had a medical degree and a few friends who would run a DNA test or say what fibers we’d found on a body.

Of course, being a small backwoods place, we didn’t have much call for Old Dave’s services, except for holidays when the drunk drivers and their victims ended up in our little cooler.

Dave himself had been a godsend, if you know what I mean. He came along at just the right time, a poor country doctor with no money and needing every extra cent. And he was a likeable guy, popular with the other folks on our small police force. I remember the day he showed up, I was the newly-minted Chief of Police, a big title for a young guy. Heck, I hadn't even been a cop in our little burg for more'n a few years. I guess I grew into this job the way Dave grew into his. Back then, everybody did everything in a small department.

I shut my eyes and tried not to think about replacing him. Oh, I knew it was coming – he said for years he would work until he was 60, then he was going to start fishing. And I knew he was serious about it. He bought himself a boat and some fancy fishing clothes from a mail order catalog. He politely gave his notice two weeks before his 60th birthday and we threw him a big surprise party over at Wanda’s Café. He put on his gold watch, waved to everyone, and left.

Next day, I put an ad in the Picayune and posted the opening through the municipal system. I didn’t think many people would be interested, but I was wrong. They crawled out of the woodwork, morgue weirdos, thrill seekers, sickos, those pale guys who spend too much time alone with themselves. I got the creeps interviewing them. Dave had spoiled us, that's for sure.

But Josh was different. The minute I saw him, I knew we had us a winner. He reminded me of Dave and me, back when we were young. Josh'd had a couple of years of medical school before the money ran out, but like I said, you didn't have to be a real doctor for the job. He was a tall, serious kid who knew his way around a lab and didn’t faint at the sight of blood, so I sent his application forward with my approval and it was a done deal. He showed up that Monday and went right to work.

He fit right in, toting Old Dave’s bag around like it had always been his. I held my breath when he got his first really bad fatality up at the Interstate, but I needn’t have bothered. He did everything that needed doing and then some.

We never had any complaints about Josh. He was very careful, bagging everything up and labeling it. If your John Doe had ten cents or ten thousand on him, it was in the bag for you with his name and case number on it. Josh did everything, just like Old Dave. Bagged 'em and tagged 'em and ran 'em through the process. Practically did the embalming. Jake Foster over at the funeral home was grateful for the help, especially with the bad ones, the traffic fatalities. Closed caskets, those were, just pieces, you know.

It was a big surprise when Josh up and quit. He’d only been with us going on three years. He said he had saved up enough money to go back to medical school, so we threw him a little going away lunch over at Wanda's, everybody signed the card and that was that.

I dreaded the interviewing process. I was wondering even if we couldn't contract for coroner services, the way some of the other small municipalities did, and I made up my mind to suggest this at the next town council meeting. But I didn't have the time.

I was surprised when Josh quit, but even more surprised when I got a call from the State Police. They had young Josh in custody. Seems he’d been moonlighting for the past few years, killing young co-eds out on the Interstate. Some smart detective figured it out when they got the new computers up at the Capitol and cross-checked the dates and locations of disappearances with those of major accidents. Sure enough, in the past three years, each time there was a fatality out on the Interstate, some poor girl went missing.

It took a while, but after a couple of exhumation orders, they found some extra pieces in with our car crash victims and matched up the DNA. Some pieces were pretty small, and some they never did find, but those guys who get on to those serial murders, they never let go. That detective will probably find out sooner or later where everything is.

I get a chill just thinking about it. You see, before Old Dave, I had that job for a little while. And I had seen the value of at least one of those Interstate crashes in a way Old Dave never did.

I keep waiting for that detective to go back further, to connect my young wife’s disappearance with one of those fatal crashes. But so far he hasn’t.

BIO: Kate Thornton writes mysteries and science fiction in Southern Califiornia and has over 100 stories in print. An actively nosy busybody, she finds ideas through everyday eavesdropping.

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