Skeet had turned away for only a moment when Rogers popped his head back between the doors.
"You ready?" Rogers asked.
Actually, no, Skeet thought. "Yeah, ready."
They entered the lab, not speaking because the coroner had started the tape. He nodded at Skeet as he spoke. "Skeet Cullum is entering the room, properly robed, gloved, masked and netted, in the company of Rogers. He has positioned himself against the wall, five to six feet from the body, next to the accompanying detective."
Skeet heard a solemn undertone in the coroner's voice. He noticed the young detective's protective stance. He didn't slouch. He held his body at regulation ease, one hand gripping the other, his eyes fixed in what Skeet saw was despair, on this death of a woman he didn't know. Skeet gathered courage before he looked at the table. On it lay a middle aged white woman, a graying brunette dressed in bloody clothes, dark soil on her shoes and gardening gloves on her hands. Sucker must have caught her while she was working, thinking of nothing, probably happy as an earthworm snuggled in the dirt because a trace of surprise was still on her face. The rest wouldn't be in the coroner's report -- not her serenity, the almost palpable glow. It had caused the quiet in the room. Skeet had seen it before, as if a great soul departing left its mark of beauty on the face. There'd be no crude jokes when this body was disrobed. This woman had been kind, might even have forgiven her killer before she died. Skeet felt pity she'd had to endure such a death. Then he looked away from the body that wasn't Gloria Hampton anymore.
"Know any history?" he whispered to the detective.
"You mean domestic abuse?" he said, his eyes narrowing as if to make out the killer in his mind. "No, nothing obvious. I looked. And there's nothing in the file from upstairs. They just got over from England a year ago, so who knows? Maybe the husband ran here with her and the kids to get out of trouble with the courts."
Skeet looked at the faint smile lines around her mouth, the crinkles around her eyes and in his mind could almost hear her laughter.
"Where's the murder weapon," he whispered.
The detective pointed to a table and Skeet recognized the fine gardening tool, bloody and wrapped in clear plastic, its tines forged of British carbon steel, the rest of solid ashwood, guaranteed for life. The mother of a friend owned similar ones. He patted the detective on the shoulder. "Thanks. That's all I need to see. Appreciate it."
"Yes, sir," the young detective said, and resumed his quiet vigil before the gentle-looking woman he didn't know.
Skeet returned to the outer room and started to remove the plastic gloves.
"Hey, Doc, I forgot," someone whispered.
He turned to see Rogers' head stuck back between the half-open doors and for a moment couldn't help thinking Rogers looked kind of ghoulish with his slightly too-long neck and too-long hair, like he could assist a mad scientist in a movie. But he was a totally unscary guy, so why, Skeet wondered, did he suddenly feel fearful of Rogers?
"You know the kid -- the one that helped you out a while back on that case?"
"No. The one right before that addict broke into that corporate guy's house and did him in with a kitchen knife?"
Skeet stared at Rogers. "What about him?"
Rogers craned his long neck toward the morgue. "Well, the kid's here, too."
Skeet dropped both gloves to the floor as a wave of nausea swept over him. For a moment, he gazed at the fallen gloves. When he raised his eyes, Rogers looked defensive, which meant he was going to say something else ridiculous.
Copyright © J. R. Lankford February 2, 2001, Xlibris Corporation used by permission. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt, please visit www.NovelDoc.com/Lankford.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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