John Bowman would have gladly handed over his life’s savings to avoid looking at the face under the white sheet. Already knowing who he would see there made it that much worse. He summoned every last iota of willpower and forced his legs to carry him across the cold, tiled floor. He took in the stainless steel storage units set into the green walls. It was strange that the Cook County Morgue followed the same color scheme as the rest of the hospital: green, the color of healing, with stainless steel trim. Ironic that there was no healing to be found in this room, only death. I don’t want to do this, he thought.
Bowman walked over to the far side of the room, where a physician stood next to two white-shrouded gurneys. The escorting policeman, who had brought Bowman from his office at Northwestern University, remained by the door. The doctor, already gloved, came to his side. “I’m Doctor Goetz,” he said, “Cook County ME. I am sorry to meet you under these circumstances, but we need you to identify these bodies as required by law.” He paused, and gave Bowman one of those tight little non-smiles people use when they have to conduct really unpleasant business with someone. “Are you ready, sir?” Bowman nodded. “Okay, can you verify that this is the body of Catherine Bowman, of 1526 Terra Cotta Avenue in Evanston, Illinois?” He gently removed the sheet from the face of the first corpse.
Bowman stared at his wife’s face, now pale in death. Bowman felt a vast emptiness grow inside him as he took in her features one last time. He saw thick, wavy blonde hair, strong chin, wide mouth and the still open blue eyes. The eyes in particular haunted him. Once they had twinkled in perpetual amusement as if at some private joke. Now, they were as lifeless as he felt inside. The face was frozen in permanent surprise; whatever happened, she hadn’t seen it coming. Bowman nodded. “Yes.” Bowman croaked, cleared his throat. “It is.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Can you close the eyes, please?” he asked.
Dr. Goetz covered the face. “The undertaker will take care of that, sir.” After the autopsy, he didn’t add. No sense in disturbing the man any more than necessary, he reasoned. The next one will probably push him over the edge as it was, he thought as he checked his lab coat for smelling salts. This guy was probably going to need them real soon. “You okay, sir?”
“Yeah,” Bowman said bitterly. “Just great.” He looked over at the small bundle over on the next gurney, eyes widening in dread. He looked over at the medical examiner.
“One more, sir.” He placed his hand on the sheet. “You had an infant, sir?”
Bowman nodded slowly. “Yeah. Baby girl, Abigail. Eleven months old.”
The coroner nodded. “Abigail was found with her mother.” He paused. “This will be a little gruesome, but I am required by law to ask you to identify her. Okay, sir?” Bowman nodded. The coroner lifted the sheet. Bowman sadly took in Abigail’s thin brown hair and button nose. He suddenly stiffened, went as white as the sheet covering Abigail, and pointed to his daughter’s head. “What the- look at her head!” His hand trembled. There was a hole in the side of the skull. “What happened?” he demanded.
The coroner remained steadfast. “Is this Abigail?” he asked.
An ice-cold calm worked its way through Bowman’s veins, fueled by an even icier rage that possessed his very soul. The look he sent the coroner would have melted titanium. “Yes, that is the body of my daughter,” he said. “Now will somebody please tell me what the hell happened?” he whispered in a rage that frightened the coroner. The shaky, ready to collapse college professor had morphed himself into a barely controlled animal in the blink of an eye.
A new voice spoke out from the corner. “We’re working on that.” A shadowy figure made its way over to the gurneys, coalescing into a trench coat clad man in his early forties. The new arrival flashed a badge. “I’m Detective Sergeant Kowalski, Chicago Police.” He gestured over to the coroner. “You got what you need, Bernie?”
Goetz nodded, watching Bowman with his peripheral vision. “Yeah, Stan.” He looked over to Bowman. “I’ve a job to do, sir. When I’m finished, where do you want the remains sent?”
Bowman jerked his head in surprise. He’d never had to bury anyone before, had no idea what to do. “Uh, we belong to Saint Athanasius Church, over on Lincoln. I guess send it to whoever they use.” Shit, I’ve never planned a funeral before.
Goetz relaxed, recognizing the look in Bowman’s eyes. “Father Murphy’s parish?” Bowman nodded. “Okay, they use Haliburton’s. My office will make the call for you, and Haliburton’s will contact your pastor. There’s a routine for this, and Father Murphy knows the drill.”
Bowman nodded, running a hand over his haggard face. “Thanks,” he said. Goetz watched in sympathy as Bowman’s hands began to tremble ever so slightly.
“Okay, Mr. Bowman, why don’t you let Stan and I do our jobs, okay? Stan’s the best there is, and I’m not too bad myself.” Goetz gazed deeply into Bowman’s eyes. “Justice will be served, sir. Count on it.”
Bowman took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said.
Detective Kowalski stepped over to Bowman. “Why don’t we go down to the cafeteria and grab some coffee? I can tell you what we know so far. Follow me, please.” He turned to Goetz. “Call me ASAP, okay, Bernie?”
“You got it, Stan.” Dr. Goetz watched them walk off and set his jaw. He’d presided over a lot of body IDs- way too many in his opinion- and no two were ever alike. He watched spouses, lovers and parents burst into tears, pass out or stand mutely in abject terror at the thought of living life without their loved ones. But this one was one of the worst ones in memory. Despair and rage were a bad mix, and Dr. Goetz wondered if this guy would be able to keep it together. He seemed like a good guy, too. He sighed. There are times that I really hate this goddamned job. “Marge!” He hollered for his top assistant. “I hope you can work late, because I want to make sure the bastard that did this doesn’t get away because we missed something.” He grabbed a fresh cassette for his recorder and a notepad for Marge and prepped for autopsies number 05-1118-2 and 05-1118-3.
In the cafeteria, Kowalski led Bowman over to a booth. “How do you take your coffee?” he asked.
“That’s easy enough.” Kowalski filled two cups over at the industrial coffee urn and returned to the booth. Bowman stared morosely into his cup while Kowalski pondered what to say to the man. Usually the police didn’t tell the surviving spouses anything when a person met death under suspicious circumstances, because there was always the chance that the survivor had a reason for wanting their alleged “loved one” out of the picture. This case was different. Real different.
Until her untimely demise, Catherine Bowman had been a rising star in the Cook County Prosecutor’s Office. She got her first high profile break when she successfully put away a serial rapist for life, facing off against an undefeated defense attorney who could have given lessons to F. Lee Bailey himself. Always composed and confident, yet never arrogant, Catherine Bowman had become very popular with the Chicago Police. Even when she had to decline prosecuting a case because of a procedural error on the part of the police, Kowalski’s fellow officers (mostly) took it in stride and learned from the mistake. Kowalski had never worked with her on a case, but knew of her reputation for toughness and fairness.
Within the last year, the Cook County DA had assigned Ms. Bowman to a series of really difficult cases: a murdering wife out for financial gain, a 15 year old unsolved murder that inspired a Cold Case TV episode, and a drug dealer who could give franchising lessons to McDonald’s. Kowalski had heard rumors that the dealer was connected to the Palmieri family, Chicago’s Royal Family of organized crime. Kowalski decided that after he got John Bowman safely home, he was going to start checking on those rumors.
Sipping coffee, Kowalski pondered the man sitting in front of him. According to his preliminary investigation, John Bowman, PhD., was well regarded in academic circles. An honors student in Racine, Wisconsin, John Bowman had begun his collegiate studies while still enrolled in high school. In addition to being pretty darn smart, Bowman had also distinguished himself athletically, earning varsity letters in football and baseball. Not quite fast enough for NCAA Division I ball, he turned down several scholarship offers from smaller schools to enroll at the University of Wisconsin. He’d completed his bachelor and doctoral degrees at UW by the time he was twenty three years old. A post-doc fellowship at Northwestern University had led to a permanent position there.
The future Mrs. Bowman was in her final year of law school at the University of Chicago when they’d met at the birthday party of a mutual friend at NU. According to the DA, it was a match made in heaven and there were no indicators of any marital problems. A genuine tragedy, he had said.
“How long were you married?” Kowalski asked Bowman.
Bowman looked up in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“How long were you married?”
Bowman looked down at his wedding ring. “Five years last month.”
“I never worked with your wife, but I knew of her rep with the force. I’m very sorry.”
Bowman focused on Kowalski’s face. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Normally it’s against policy, but..”
“What do you mean, ‘it’s against policy?’” Bowman’s eyes bulged as he realized the implications of why this might be so. He had learned more than a bit about criminal law being married to an assistant prosecutor. “You don’t think that I had anything to do with this?” he asked in alarm.
Kowalski held up a hand, palm out. “No, sir, I don’t. You were teaching class when it happened, and I saw the way you reacted to identifying the bodies. Not a chance.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “To hell with it. You deserve to know what happened. Just don’t repeat a word of this.”
Kowalski sipped coffee. “At one-fifteen this afternoon, while you were teaching your class, a dark green Chrysler 300 suddenly swerved and slammed into a light post on the 500-block of High Street. The accident was seen by one of the city-owned, closed circuit TV cameras that are all over the downtown area. The desk weenies that monitor the system dispatched patrol cars and ambulances. When the patrolmen arrived, they found two dead bodies in the car- your wife and your daughter- and more significantly, a bullet hole in what was left of the windshield. They ripped open the car in an attempted rescue. Turns out it was a waste of time. Your wife had a hole in her chest, blood all over the place, and you saw your daughter’s head in the medical examiner’s room. The crime scene people are still on site trying to piece together what exactly happened and why.”
Bowman’s hands started to tremble again. “Who did this? Why?”
Kowalski scowled at his coffee. “We don’t know yet. No one on the scene at the time saw or heard any shots, just the crash itself. We’re going to have to wait for ballistics to get their tests done before we can sort this one out.” Kowalski sipped his coffee and scowled, this time aiming his scowl at the person who might have made the contents of his cup. He really hated hospital coffee; it always tasted like a mix of castor oil and burnt tea. “What was your wife doing downtown with your daughter?”
Bowman looked up. “Pediatrician. Abbey needed her next round of vaccinations and Cathy took her in, since I had to teach.”
Kowalski nodded. He would check it out, not out of suspicion, but because it was required. This case would be handled strictly by the book. (He conveniently ignored the fact that he had already broken several rules by telling Bowman as much has he had.) Even societal norms would be bent like a pretzel. Professor Bowman didn’t realize it yet, but he would end up waiting two weeks to schedule his wife’s funeral Mass, because the autopsy and resulting inquisition would take forever, simply because it had to be done right the first time. The DA would make everyone’s lives a living hell until he was satisfied he had an airtight case.
“What happens next?” Bowman asked.
“For me, I have to wait for the results of the post mortem, ballistics and the reports from the first guys that arrived on the scene. Then I get to go to work. A lot of overtime for a lot of people, sir.” He sipped coffee and tried not to gag. “You’re going to have a lot to do, too. Did the two of you have a plan in case of a disaster like this?” Bowman shook his head. “Don’t feel bad, a lot of people in your age bracket don’t really have one.” He held up a finger. “You probably already know the first item anyway: letting her family know what happened.”
Bowman frowned. That conversation was going to be ugly. Catherine’s father was going to ask him why the hell he hadn’t protected his daughter from something like this. Bowman was a man, after all, and that’s what men did- protected their wives from the bad guys. As absurd as that notion was in this case, Bowman actually agreed with his father in law on this issue, at least in principle. Catherine’s mother had died in a car crash two years after he and Catherine were married. No doubt she was with Catherine right now, offering “constructive” criticisms of how Bowman was handling things.
Kowalski added a finger. “Two, you should contact your family attorney and locate all the appropriate insurance policies. You still got bills to pay, that’s why we have life insurance. I should warn you: since she died under suspicious circumstances, there will be delays in collecting on any policies.”
Bowman shrugged. “Money’s not an issue. My only worries are the house and utilities.” In addition to his tenured professorship, Bowman had written a couple of medieval history books that, while not listed on the New York Times best seller list, did respectably well. He also was becoming a regular talking head on the History Channel, providing his expert views on medieval weapons. Even before the TV gigs, money had never been a worry, because he and Catherine had been reasonably frugal in their lifestyle. Their idea of a dream vacation was a week at their favorite bed-and-breakfast up in Michigan, with no cell phones or laptops, as opposed to some five-star resort in a tropical paradise.
“Lucky guy.” Kowalski would check that one out, too. By the book. “You’ll have to talk to your priest, Father Murphy, was it?”
“You’ll have to talk to him about all the funeral stuff, getting the obit in the paper and all that jazz. I remember burying Pops a few years back. All that funeral stuff is a pain in the ass. I don’t envy you a bit.” He slugged down the rest of his coffee. “The press is going to be all over you like stink on... manure.”
Bowman’s eyes widened. He’d forgotten all about the news media.
Kowalski nodded. “Yeah. Those guys make piranhas look like Mother Teresa on a nice pill. You want some free advice?” Bowman nodded. “Let your answering machine or service answer the phone for you. Get your lawyer or a close friend to issue a ‘no comment, please go away’ to the press. You don’t need to go through that right now. You’re going to have enough to do as it is. The press will be after our butts too, but we’re used to that. I can even keep the press away from your classes, for a while anyway.”
“Believe me, it’s our pleasure. As soon as we nail the mutt that did this, we’ll give the press all they can handle and then some. Until then, they don’t get near anyone associated with this case.” He looked at his watch. “Do you have any other questions for me?”
“No, just the same ones you do: who killed them, and why?”
Kowalski nodded. “We’ll find out, sir. That, I promise you. You look like you’re in pretty rough shape right now, so I don’t think you should drive yourself home. Is there anyone who can give you a ride home? Maybe someone from campus?”
Bowman nodded. “Yeah, Doctor Guillermo Hernandez. He teaches physics at the university. We belong to the same church. I can call him on my cell phone.”
“Why don’t you do that, sir? I think we’re done here.”