Then again, she wasn’t sure how useful this whole trip would be without the expert view of the coroner to guide them.
There was a sound from the doorway which made both her and Nate turn. Nate’s hand was on the handle of drawer five, about to open it, so the timing could not have been better. The woman in the long white coat standing over there, with a takeout container in her hand, was clearly the coroner.
She was overweight and had frizzy hair that didn’t seem to want to sit still, and thick spectacles that made her eyes seem owlish as she blinked at them.
“Are you the coroner?” Nate prompted, seeming to realize that she wasn’t going to say anything herself.
“Yes,” she said, stepping forward and seeming to recover her faculties. “Who are you? Should you be in here?”
“Well, there was nothing to stop us from coming in,” Laura snapped, fed up already with the small-town mentality here. “We’re FBI. We’re the agents taking over the case.”
“Right,” the coroner said, sounding vaguely impressed. “Well, you’ll want to see the bodies then. Do you mind if I grab a spot of lunch first?”
Laura and Nate both stared at her.
“Right,” the coroner said again, clearly a little put out by their lack of flexibility. “Well, you might as well open the drawer, since you’re there.”
Nate pulled open drawer five, revealing the body of a man who Laura recognized from the case file photographs as Elias Makks. He looked almost as though he might be sleeping—except for the vivid red marks around his throat and his wrists.
“Was he restrained when he was killed?” Laura asked, noting this unusual sign immediately.
“No, I don’t believe he was,” the coroner said, tucking some of her frizzy hair behind her ears—and doing nothing at all in terms of neatening her appearance—as she dropped the takeout bag on her desk and ambled over. “I think he was strangled first, and then tied to the figurehead. It was the same rope used in both cases. One length for each of his wrists, one of which I have tested and linked to being the strangulation rope, and then another to lash his feet to the bottom of the spit. The lividity here comes as a result of the sheer weight of his whole body hanging from the wrists. They were over his head. The killer finished up with a rope around the waist to ensure that he would fit snugly to the figurehead instead of hanging loose.”
“That’s odd,” Laura said. “If it was me, I’d want to tie him around the waist first so I didn’t have to support his weight so much.”
“Maybe our killer wasn’t worried about the weight,” Nate frowned. “Maybe he’s strong enough not to mind it. Or maybe he has some other kind of technique. Are you sure the waist was the last one?”
“The marks are deepest around the wrists,” the coroner explained, pointing to them for comparison. “See the darker color? That means the wrists were tied not long after death, while the blood was still pooling. And then, see, the stomach has this dark patch with the white line across it.”
“What is that?” Laura asked.
“Blood pooled in the front of his body because he was hanging downwards slightly,” the coroner explained. “That’s how we know he was placed into position not long after death and then the rope was placed around his stomach last. He was most likely killed right next to or even on the ship. It’s the same story with the female victim.”
So much for my theory about the bodies being moved from elsewhere, Laura thought. This was why they needed the experts. She just wished the Jones Harbor experts seemed as trustworthy as she wanted them to.
Laura reached out to adjust the sheet that had been pushed down to the victim’s waist, picking it up and pulling it back over his head as if she wanted to preserve his dignity. As she did, her hand brushed just lightly against his dead flesh. It was cold and did nothing as far as triggering a vision. She was expecting that, these days. Still, something had made her want to try.
“And the other one?” Laura asked.
The coroner slid Elias Makks back inside his temporary home and reached for the other drawer, pulling it out to reveal the body of Dina Grey. She was so much younger than Elias that Laura actually found herself sucking in a breath. She looked pale and, yes, maybe grey under the light. Laura could imagine her looking even worse in the dim light of dawn.
Though part of her theory may not have held water, there was one part that did—Laura could see that much.
“They weren’t attacked by the birds,” she said out loud. “Neither of them has any other marks on them.”
“That’s correct,” the coroner nodded. “I would guess that they weren’t up there long enough. The seabirds would have gathered around them in the morning, but they were both strung up at night and found quite early on. The birds didn’t have time to get bold enough to try them.”
“Or maybe they didn’t want to approach before the bodies were found because there was still someone nearby,” Laura said thoughtfully.
The coroner shrugged. “I couldn’t say. Bodies are my expertise, not birds.”
“Well, thank you,” Laura said, even if grudgingly because she didn’t like the way things were being run around here. “Please make sure you lock the doors if you leave the morgue empty again. We need to keep these bodies protected. They’re evidence, after all.”
“They’re people,” the coroner said, blinking at her from behind those thick glasses as if she was offended.
“Even more reason to protect them from unauthorized access,” Nate said, turning to follow Laura as she led the way out of the morgue.