Gemma Sutcliffe hated the pathology lab. but had, as the result of her broad job specification, become a frequent visitor, though never closer to the action than an anti-sceptic-scented reception office where the pathologists teased her with gory details of their investigations.
The arrival of the Cathedral Close corpse the previous evening had excited them with its different challenges but when Gemma came, note book in hand, they were reticent to report their initial findings.
'We need to run a few more tests before we can make a completely accurate report,' Charles Crane said.
'I need something to print in this evenings edition. Can't you give me anything?' Gemma begged.
The Pathologist smiled; 'For you Gemma, let's see. We have a male of about 35 to 40 years of age, height five feet eight inches, weight approximately one hundred and forty pounds - we think he was probably a bit bony in life as well as death - a considerable contusion of the cranium and a badly healed fracture of the lower femur, suggesting a nasty accident at some time in the deceased's life, possibly in childhood.
'And what about the time of the death?' Gemma asked.
'Ah! That's where the extra tests are needed. From our examination we can say it was at least one hundred and fifty years ago, but the incredible state of preservation has us all rather puzzled and we cannot commit ourselves officially without further analyses. You see, the body lay in an airless cavity next to achimney breast. By all the rules it should have started to decomposeimmediately, but instead we have a virtual mummy, like you would find in a desert climate.'
'The man who found it thought that the victim was alive for a while inside the cavity,' Gemma ventured.
'That's interesting. It could account for damage to the tips of the fingers on both hands and I suppose there is a possibility that if there was no fire in that particular grate for some months after the actual death it might slow up the decomposition.'
'You mean, if he was killed in spring and no fires were lit before the winter it could be a factor?'
'Possibly. What's beneath the room he was found in?'
Gemma was uncertain.
'Some old houses had the kitchens below the main rooms. There could have been a dry draught coming up through the floor boards which affected the state. We must look into that to help find an answer.'
Gemma asked, 'What about clothing?'
'Not a lot left of that. Some kind of cottonover-garment, like a night shirt or long smock, with a leather belt and pouch at the waist and leather sandals. The leather is in remarkable condition and could help us date it,' Dr Crane replied.
'Nothing in the pouch to help identify the body?'
'Empty. One would expect a few coins and personal effects, but it was completely empty.
Probably robbed before being assaulted and stuffed behind the wall.'
Gemma had been making notes as the doctor spoke and now closed her pad. 'That's all?' she asked.
'If we assume he was alive for a while behind the wall, I would suggest that death was caused by a combination of starvation, asphyxiation and, perhaps, terror, but he was probably knocked unconscious before being bricked up.'
She thanked him and left, breathing the polluted air of the traffic filled street with unusual pleasure.
Back in her office she wrote up her story of the discovery and the pathologists' findings and chose a flattering photograph of David Thomas and Bert, and passed it all over for editing. That done, she rang the architect's office and secured the phone number of the antiques dealer handling the purchase of the fireplace and rang him.
Max Hurst (Architectural Antiques) was at first gushing, thinking he was talking to a prospective customer, then suspicious and finally pompous, anxious to impress the young lady from the press with his knowledge of the history of the buildings in the city and the artifacts of his trade. She explained her interest in dating the fireplace, enquiring if it could have been installed at the time the house was built, and he sailed lyrically into his subject.
'Oh no, My Dear. That house was built around about 1710, all that part of the Close was rebuilt about then, at the same time as the cathedral tower was added by Bishop Mowland. The fireplace is much later, about 1820. The delightful moulded scrollwork of the marble surround - you've seen it, of course -' he gave her no time to respond, 'is in the style of Robert Adam, but the iron grate is much later, definitely early nineteenth century. I've placed it as an early Grimley. He produced some exceptional decorative cast-iron work between 1816 and 1834. I'd say it was installed in the early 1820's.'
'That's very helpful, Mr Hurst,' she said, smiling at the manner of his mini-lecture as much as her pleasure in securing the information. 'You wont mind if I quote you and mention your firm in my article?' He was only too pleased to assure her of his full agreement.
Later, when the first of the afternoon editions came off the presses, she took a copy and walked around to Cathedral Close. She found David Thomas working with the foreman in the hallway and showed them their photograph and her article.
'Fame at last,' Bert said and, after glancing at the picture, passed the newspaper to Taff.
He read the article while Gemma waited impatiently for his comments.
'The pathologists haven't pinned the date down, then,' he said.
'No,they have more work to do on it,' she replied testily. 'Don't you like the article I've written?'
He looked at her in surprise at the resentment in her voice. 'I'm sorry, Gemma. I think it's excellent, but didn't anticipate you would seek the opinion of a bricky.'
Bert grinned. 'If you two are going to have a row, I'm off,' he said and returned to his work.
Taff took Gemma's arm and led her out into the afternoon sunshine.
She faced him in the Close. 'Why should I value your opinion less than anyone else's? ‘You must stop underestimating yourself, David Thomas. In any case, it isn't just my story, it's a joint venture, so you should pander to my pride and show a little more interest.'
'I'm flattered,' he said and grinned.
'Did you manage to find anything out about those bricks you found last night?' she asked.
'Yes. I was right, there was a brick tax. It was introduced in 1794 and increased in 1803. After that builders started turning to other materials like tiles and weather boarding, but it also resulted in an increase in the size of bricks on the principal that a lot lesswere needed to construct a building.
The bricks in the wall measured exactly the dimensions of the new bricks, 10"x5"x3" against the old dimensions of 9"x4"x3". The only problem is the tax was not repealed until 1850 so the wall could have been built any time from 1803 to 1850.'
Gemma grinned. 'Ah, but I managed to speak to the antiques dealer who dated the fireplace as early 1820, so between the two ofyouwe can narrow the search to around that date.'
'That's great,' Taff said enthusiastically. 'Where do we go from here?'
'My Editor has agreed to let me work on this story, so this afternoon I'm going to the County Records Office to trace the owners of the house.'
'Do you reckon you can trace back as far as that?'
'I'm not sure, David, but if it's possible, that's the place to do it.'
'I'd love to know how you get on,' he said. 'Could we meet this evening, just for a few minutes, perhaps; you're probably busy....'
She smiled and tweaked the end of his nose. 'If you'll buy me a steak, I'll tell you everything.'
'It's a deal,' he said. 'See you in The Glebe at eight.'