Brinkley stood beside the stainless steel table with Kovich and Dwight Davis as the autopsy began. Brinkley kept a lid on his testiness at Davis and his distaste at the procedure by listening to the piano music coming from the CD player on the shelf. Hamburg always played Chopin's Nocturnes, and though Brinkley didn't listen to classical music, he appreciated it. The sweet notes of the piano made incongruous background music for the coroner's dictation, into a black orb of a microphone that hung from a wire like a spider on a web.
This is the case of Honor Buxton Newlin, a forty-five-year-old female,' Hamburg began. He was wearing blue pressed scrubs under an immaculate white jacket.
The body of Honor Newlin lay naked on the steel table, her eyes closed and her chest sliced cruelly with the wounds that had killed her. Brinkley tried not to look, in some sense protecting her modesty, and Hamburg evinced a similar respect for the body. His tone was almost rabbinical as he recited her height, weight, sex, age, and eye and hair color into the microphone.
'On January twelfth, the subject was brought to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's office…'
They were only at the beginning of the autopsy; Hamburg had just cut away the woman's clothes, the first step of the external examination. The inspection of her blouse had taken a while, since Hamburg had been so systematic, matching each stab wound to each tear in the white silk and squaring up the bloodstains. The D.A., the detectives, and the medical examiner had pored over the clothes and pink shoe with the torn strap, but Brinkley could draw no
new conclusions about the shoe and Davis thought it didn't mean anything.
'Head: The head is normal. There is no evidence of trauma to the head. The scalp hair is…'
Brinkley was bumped slightly by Davis, edging him into the green steel cabinets lining the morgue. The area reserved for autopsies was cramped, dominated by a lineup of steel tables with drains in the middle and a deep sink under the head. No other autopsies were being performed, which Brinkley counted as a godsend. He found himself looking away while Hamburg swabbed the dried blood from Honor Newlin's wounds, to the achingly beautiful strains of the solitary piano.
'Chest: The chest shows evidence of significant trauma. There are five wounds in the chest area. Left to right, the first wound is postmortem
Brinkley made himself look. The woman's skin was as pure and unmarked as porcelain, now that it had been drained of blood. He looked away again, confused. He had seen a zillion bodies, all nastier than this one. What was bothering him? Maybe because Honor Newlin made him think of better things. Or maybe because he wasn't sure they had her killer yet.
'Abdomen: The abdomen is flat. There is no evidence of trauma…'
Brinkley glanced at her waist, which was small. Her stomach looked toned and supple, her belly button a tiny, refined knob. How had this happened? Could her husband really do this to her? Could her kid? That kid, with the big blue eyes and the long hair? Brinkley needed answers fast. He knew the news stories about no deals were trial balloons, and the public was responding. The man-on-the-street interviews were all hang 'em high.
'Now, the back.' Hamburg motioned to an assistant and they turned the body over together, in one smooth, practiced motion. The woman's arms remained rigid at her sides, owing to rigor mortis. 'The back is normal in contour,' Hamburg continued. 'There is no evidence of trauma to the back. Upper extremities: The upper extremities show evidence of defensive wounds
Brinkley looked at the slashes to the woman's fingertips. The notion of somebody putting up their hands to protect against a knife always made him sad. The worst were defensive gunshot wounds. How many times had he seen Hamburg raise a body's hand to match where a bullet had passed through it? Brinkley knew it was reflex, but he couldn't help believing it was something else. Hope.
'Lower extremities: The lower extremities show evidence… hmmmm…'
Brinkley came out of his reverie. The body was lying on its back again, and Hamburg was bent over, his head down and his black yarmulke a punctuation mark. He squinted through his bifocals at the woman's feet and kneaded the large toe of her right foot. Without being asked, Brinkley turned and picked up the pink shoe with the torn strap, still bagged, and handed it to Hamburg, who reached up and turned off his microphone.
'I think our friend has a broken toe,' Hamburg said, preoccupied. Brinkley couldn't tell if he was thinking about the toe or listening to the music, which was particularly dramatic, the notes gaining speed as they descended the octaves. Hamburg took the shoe and held it against the foot. 'This is the right shoe, with the broken strap. Broken toe, broken shoe. Any theories, boys?'
Brinkley moved closer, intrigued. 'You think she broke her toe the same time she broke the strap?' he asked, and Kovich listened quietly.
Hamburg nodded. 'Seems reasonable.'
Davis, joining them, shook his head. 'Couldn't she have broken her toe another time? It's not like they treat broken toes. You just wait for it to heal.'
Hamburg nodded again. 'True, but there's a fair amount of swelling in the toe. I'd say it's a recent injury.'
'How recent?' Davis asked, hugging his pad to a pinstriped suit.
'Yesterday or the day before.'
'You don't put shoes like that on a hurt toe,' Brinkley said, but Davis snorted.
'You don't know that. You can't assume that. She seems like a vain woman to me.'
'How you get that from a body?' Brinkley asked, defensively. It seemed disrespectful.
'From the clothes. They're expensive. And she's thin, she stays in shape.'
Brinkley paused. Davis was smart but he was still an asshole. 'Look, it's a lot more likely that she kicked something hard enough to break her toe and her shoe. What do you say, Aaron?'
'Not my bailiwick, but it seems likely. You think she was kicking whoever was attacking her?'
'No.' Brinkley was puzzled. 'A defensive wound, to the foot? How often you see that?'
'From time to time,' Hamburg answered thoughtfully. 'In women, you see it. They do it out of desperation.'
'Sure,' Kovich agreed. 'We've seen it in the rape cases. Remember Ottavio, Mick?'
Brinkley remembered. 'But this isn't a rape case. In a rape case, the victim's on the ground and she kicks up. Tries to catch the guy in the groin or whatever. Here the lady is standing up, getting stabbed. If she kicks to defend herself, she destabilizes herself.' He demonstrated and almost toppled over. 'See?'
'She could have kicked up, being stabbed on the ground,' Kovich offered, but Hamburg looked dubious.
'I can't say no, but I can't say yes. With this wound pattern, I can't make an exact determination about which is the fatal wound. But remember, she had been drinking heavily. Her blood alcohol was high, so any fighting she did wasn't that vigorous. If she was kicking from the ground, she didn't hit much. Not enough to break a toe.'
Kovich said, 'Unless she kicked Newlin before he started stabbing.'
'If it's Newlin,' Brinkley corrected, then caught Kovich's annoyance. Davis, standing beside them both, said nothing and looked at the corpse. 'Newlin didn't say anything to us about her kicking him.'
'We didn't ask him, Mick.'
'But it doesn't jive with his story. The way Newlin tells it, all she did was yell. She provoked him verbally and he got aggressive. Yelled back. Threw the glass at her.'
'The toe's not that big a deal,' Kovich shot back. 'He overpowered her and she struggled. Anytime there's a struggle, things get broke.'
'I'm with Stan on this,' Davis said, speaking finally. His tone suggested a judge's ruling at the end of a case. 'The broken toe is not significant. She was drunk, she flailed out at Newlin, it's some sort of defensive wound.'
Brinkley eyed Davis. 'You're acting like you got your mind made up.'
'I do.' Davis nodded, almost cheerfully. 'I saw the tape, over and over, and I know how this went down.'
'You know?' Brinkley frowned. 'From a video?'
Hamburg waved them all into silence. 'Separate, you two,' he said, flicking on the overhead microphone.
After the autopsy, which ended routinely, Brinkley caught up with Davis outside the building. A squat edifice of tan brick with only a few slitted windows, the Joseph W. Spelman Medical Examiner's Building was situated on a busy corner, bordered by the Schuylkill Expressway and a complex of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Children's Hospital, and the Veteran's Hospitals. Wind swirled in unpredictable currents around the buildings and the traffic made a constant whooshing. ' Davis,' Brinkley shouted, knowing the D.A. was avoiding him. 'Got a minute?'
'For you, sure.' Davis turned, pad in hand, though he didn't break stride as he hurried across the parking lot to his car, a new white pool Ford. 'What can I do for you, champ?'
'You said you saw the tape of the confession.' Brinkley buttoned his jacket quickly in the cold air. Cars were parked willy-nilly in the lot, which was being repainted, and Davis was parked in a space with a sign that read PARKING FOR BEREAVED FAMILIES ONLY. 'Did you see what I meant about -'
'Yeah, matter of fact I did. I think Newlin's lying, too. But I think he's the doer.'
Brinkley didn't get it. 'What do you think he's lying about?'
The story he didn't plan it is bullshit. He's gonna plead out.' Davis 's determined chin cut the chill air. 'Or so he thinks.'
'Big mistake, Davis. I'm not sure he's the doer.'
'You got anything to back that up?'
'Not yet. I'm just starting -'
'Lemme know you find anything, okay, my man? Keep me up to speed. I gotta roll.' Davis opened the door of his car, but Brinkley held the door so it couldn't be closed.
'Listen, we talked to the daughter this morning, and I'm working on the theory that the father didn't do it. That he was protecting her, or somebody else.'
There's nothing to support that. Not a thing.'
'I'll find it.'
'You do that.' Davis gave him a dismissive wave, closed the Ford's door, and disappeared inside. The car's engine started quickly, and Davis took off, leaving Brinkley standing there.
When he turned back, he spotted Kovich waiting at the front of the coroner's building, a distant silhouette.