Ah, Sweet Mystery of Death

These men know a secret: Dead men DO tell tales.

An early morning squall line, steel-gray and intimidating, moved north from Galveston at about the same speed the car traveled south from Houston. They met just as the car exited the free­way. “This Choate Road is a favorite dumping ground for some damn rea­son,” said Thomason. “There’s a lot of bodies picked up down here.” The rain began falling in dense, melancholy sheets.

After two miles of overgrown grass fields, Thomason turned into a narrow private road posted: Exxon Co. USA, Do Not Enter. Four cars were already there—three Plymouths painted in hard, spare colors, and a patrol unit from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. A half-dozen men were gathered at the road’s edge, clad in bright yellow raincoats with “Sheriffs Dept” stenciled across the back. Thomason parked his car, muttered hollow blasphemies at the weather gods and stepped into the down­pour. “What’s the matter, J.C.?” greeted a yellow figure. “Can’t they afford to buy raincoats for you folks?”

Thomason swore back and joined the group at roadside, staring toward the body discovered that dawn by an Exxon employee on his way to work. It lay six feet away, curled to one side as if rolled from a waiting car, a notion further supported by the bent, broken grass between it and the pavement. The sheriff’s men had not yet disturbed it. They are instructed not to touch anything until Thomason, or some other investigator from the Harris County Medical Ex­aminer, is on the scene.

Determinedly trying to ignore the rain, the men now set about their business. Thomason fetched his Instamatic and photographed the body from each of the four compass points. He was joined by a sheriffs photographer who took many more pictures with a much better camera.

The body was that of a man past middle age, white hair cut short and stubbly, dressed in a beige nylon shirt, cheap brown cotton pants, and plain black shoes. “Those look like army shoes,” suggested an officer. “Nope,” said another, “army shoes just got four holes for the laces.” “Shit, you can’t tell anymore,” responded the first, “they keep changing uniforms so fast you can’t keep up with ’em.”

There was blood on the man’s face, a scarcely discernible hole in his left cheek and another, more obvious hole in the top of his head, from which small pieces of brain tissue were slowly seeping. “Looks like he got shot in the face and it came out there,” said Klevenhagen, the senior homicide detective from the sheriffs office. Everyone seemed to agree but Thomason, who wiped his glasses and said nothing.

By now the rain, having accomplished its morbid visitation, had passed over, and three more Plymouths had ap­peared. A dozen sheriff’s investigators fanned out along the roadway searching for shell casings, bloodstains, random artifacts of unknown specification. Ten feet from the body, an empty fifth of Windsor Canadian merited a small con­ference, much speculation and a roll of film. It was picked up gingerly, finger in neck and carried to one of the Plymouths before anyone realized the grass beneath it was dry and far too withered for it to have been deposited as recently as the body. The bottle was thrown away. Nothing else of any sig­nificance was found.

The body car arrived from the funer­al home notified by the dispatcher, and the mortician and his assistant emerged. The mortician wore a white shirt, wide muted tie, double-knit slacks, and matched patent leather shoes and belt. He had a razor-cut hair style and looked very effete. He and his assistant donned surgical gloves and withdrew a stretcher from the body car. They were the only people who would actually handle the body. Klevenhagen turned to Thomason. “We ready to turn him over, my man?” Thomason nodded yes.

The body was rolled onto its back. The legs kept their awkwardly angular pose, one arm poked stiffly up at the wet sky. The flesh was discolored to a grayish purple except for a clay white portion of the face that had pressed against the ground. Ants paraded in and out of the ears and nostrils. “How long, my man?” asked Klevenhagen. Five or six hours, guessed Thomason.

“That looks like another wound there,” said an investigator, pointing to the oddly upthrust left arm. They knelt to examine a little black hole in the bicep, carefully measured its location, noted it down, photographed it. “Must’ve been shot a couple times,” observed the investigator. “What do you think?” he asked Thomason, who responded with an ambiguous shrug. “Can’t really tell till we get him in and clean him up a

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