I have done this so many times, I’m almost positive I could do it with my eyes closed. If I weren’t such a literal person, I’d say I could do it in my sleep.
There are six stages to an autopsy. The stages allow a medical examiner to gather and record all attainable data, then organize and present it in such a way that it provides answers and evidence to be utilized in the midst of a, more often than not, criminal investigation. The steps are meticulous, from initial exam to the final punctuation in the conclusive report.
However, where the body is concerned, an autopsy starts and ends with the Y-incision.
I finish stitching the skin of my current patient back together and then take a step away to survey my work.
This is something that I have done too many times. Far too many times.
This female child is too you, too small, and just too innocent to be on this sterile table, in this cold examination room, being subjected to such a gruesome process.
Her name is Lacy. She is just a child, and I hate that she is here. I hate that I’ve had to further mar her porcelain skin with my procedures and I hate that the life was beat out of her by her own father. The signs of his violent rage and her subsequent suffering are evident on every inch of her body.
This should not have happened.
Lac had been in this very building only a few days ago; alive, hopeful, and so much stronger that any six-year-old should ever have to be. She should have been placed in state custody back then. If she had, this wouldn’t have happened.
Tragically, and for some ungodly reason, she was given back to her father. He was a grieving husband, after all. His spouse had been found, viciously murdered, only the week before. He played the part of a victim very well…too well. It blinded people to his underlying aggression. He said he “just needed to be with his daughter”. It was all he wanted, and it was exactly what he was granted.
Then he killed his child, just like he had killed his wife.
As the social services reports states, there was “insufficient evidence of abuse, mistreatment, or inherent danger” to be able to keep Lacy out of her father’s custody.
But there was someone who knew the dangers facing her. Someone who knew that “sufficient evidence” was out there, if people would care to look.
That someone was Jane.
Jane had first become aware of Lacy while investigating the death of her mother. The mother’s body had been found in a river, and after Jane did some digging into the woman’s personal affairs, the detective immediately suspected the husband of the apparent murder.
I had watched as the detective kept little Lacy company for hours in the bullpen. The two talked and giggled and consumed far too many sugary substances while the murderous man and his attorney were questioned by Cavanaugh, Korsak, and a social worker.
Jane had been relaxed, believing that he had presented enough evidence for people to reasonably suspect that the man had been involved in his wife’s death. She didn’t believe there was any possible way that they would relinquish the child back to his care. She was even trying to formulate a way to apply for temporary custody of Lacy, to make absolutely certain that she was safe and not just thrown into the first available spot in the social care system.
However, the father eventually appeared at Jane’s desk with his expensive lawyer at his side and a solemn looking Cavanaugh and Korsak in tow. He called his child to him.
I thought the detective was going to draw her weapon and shoot him where he stood. The level of composure she outwardly demonstrated surprised me, for I could see the fury in her eyes. However, as she began to come to terms with the inevitability of the situation, anger quickly gave way to desperation.
Jane begged. I’m not sure I have ever seen my best friend, the strongest woman I have ever known, beg for anything. Ever. But, she begged and pleaded for someone to do something about the fact that a murderer was walking out of the Boston precinct with a six-year-old in his arms.
Her eyes were shining with frustration and she was shaking like a leaf when she turned to her lieutenant and asked “why”.
He had stared at the floor like he was trying to burn a hole in it and answered through clenched teeth.
Just not enough evidence to know for sure.
Jane had almost cried, I could see it. I’m sure she did cry later that evening, in thr privacy and solitude of her home.
I hardly spoke to Jane the days following that incident, and only caught a few glimpses of her rushing through the halls of the precinct as she raced against a ticking clock to solve the homicide.
The wife’s body had been virtually wiped clean of forensic evidence. I was, in fact, surprised by how thorough a job the killer had done. Unfortunately, this rendered me and my scarce limited findings fairly useless. So, Jane busied herself in other avenues of investigation.
She had worked constantly to try and find the proof that would allow her to lead the cavalry into action and save a child whose life was in such obvious peril. I doubt that the determined detective slept at all. On several occasions I had left food and water on her desk, only to return several hours later to find the items still there, untouched. I was waiting for the call that would alert me to the fact that Jane had collapsed from exhaustion, dehydration, and hunger, but it never came.
Lacy’s father was very well educated, very charming, and very good at covering his actions. He was also extremely wealthy and had hired one of the most successful defense attorneys in the State of Massachusetts the moment Jane first questioned him on his whereabouts on the night his wife was killed. It made the process of procuring information tedious and time consuming. His lawyer buried the detectives in as much paperwork as he could.
Despite the odds against her, Jane almost had him. In two days, she had done the work of six detectives and it nearly paid off.
But it didn’t.
I was not with Jane when the news about lacy reached the homicide bullpen this morning. I had received a call that alerted me to the body’s impending arrival. I rushed up to Jane’s desk in a futile attempt to find and console her, but as I expected, she was not there.
There was nothing left for Jane in the case; no justice left to be served. After killing his daughter the perpetrator shot himself in the head. He had awarded himself a quick and painless death. Something he did not deserve…something he did not give his child.
I returned to my office in time to receive Lacy’s body and I immediately prepped for the autopsy.
As I stood beside her small, prone figure, dressed in my scrubs, I took a moment to look at her. Angry red and purple marks covered her skin. That disgusting man had used her as a canvas to paint his terror.
I allowed my icy façade to fall into place, effectively hiding my own heartache. Then, I picked up my scalpel and readied myself for the most thorough and respectful examination that I had ever performed.
Just as I bent over to start the procedure, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye; a figure standing in the observation window. I turned to my head to investigate.
Jane was standing there, looking through the glass. I had no idea how long she had been present. I watched her stare at the little girl on my exam table and something inside of me broke. My façade melted into a puddle and I was left open and raw to an onslaught of harrowing emotions. I placed me scalpel back on the instrument stand and turned my body toward her. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep from breaking down.
I had never, and I prayed that I never again would, see someone look so haunted and defeated.
Jane tore her eyes from my patient and met my gaze. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling in my eyes at her obvious anguish.
Jane looked so completely finished. She is the most important person in my life, but in that moment, it looked like she had lost her soul. Her deep brown eyes, which are always so wonderfully expressive and full of emotion, held no emotion at all. They were empty.
I took a step forward, but I lost my balance and had to catch myself on the edge of a table. I couldn’t feel my legs; my entire body had gone completely numb.
When I regained my composure, I looked back to the window.
Jane had left.
I hazily walked into my office and called Korsak from my work phone. He told me that Frost, Frankie, and he would be taking turns keeping a twenty-four hour watch on the detective for the next few days. They had seen the way Jane was acting, and were just as disturbed as I was.
Lacy is in cold storage now.
I am redressed in my civilian clothes and putting the finishing touches on her report. It is the truth of what happened, the details of the sickening way in which she died. It is the last thing that I will ever be able to provide for this beautiful, but extinguished, life.
Tonight, I will go home, eat something, drink plenty of water, and meditate. I will begin the process of sifting through everything that I have had to compartmentalize over the course of this investigation. When I am satisfied with my state of mind, I will do my best to go to sleep.
I will do these things for myself tonight, because tomorrow, I need to help Jane.