A Gathering of Secrets | Chapter 12 of 38 - Part: 1 of 4

Author: Linda Castillo | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 9133 Views | Add a Review

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Nothing happens quickly in the course of investigating a crime scene. Any evidence left behind must be painstakingly collected, preserved, and documented, especially if there’s a fatality involved. It takes a tremendous amount of time, expertise, and patience. Any cop will tell you: Waiting for results is the bane of their existence. Fingerprints. DNA. Footwear impressions. Tire tread imprints.

Doc Coblentz and I wait for more than four hours while Schoening collects samples, utilizes the hydrocarbon sniffer, photographs and videotapes the entire scene, both the interior and exterior. In the meantime, Doc’s technician unloads a gurney upon which a body bag and tarp have been unfolded. As soon as the scene is turned over to the coroner, the victim will be transported to the morgue at Pomerene Hospital, where the official identification process will begin.

While we’re waiting, Gideon Gingerich emerges from the house twice. The first time, he walks over to us, looks at the gurney, doubles over as if he’s going to be sick, then turns and goes back inside without saying a word. The second time, he stops next to me and asks, “Is it him?”

“We haven’t been able to get in there yet,” I tell him. “I’m sorry. I know the waiting is difficult.”

The Amish man can’t seem to stop staring at the wrecked barn or the two biohazard-gear-clad men tromping around inside it. He makes a sound, a whimper, and for the first time I see tears. He returns to the house without saying anything else.

At just before five P.M., Bob Schoening walks over to me, his expression grim. “We’re done here for now, Chief Burkholder. Everything’s been documented. Samples taken. We’ve bagged a few items. I’ve marked the location of the body with flags.” He motions toward several small white flags that are about a foot tall; the kind a utility company might use to demark underground electric or gas lines, the small squares of vinyl flapping in the breeze. “The coroner is free to take control of the scene and retrieve the body.”

“Are you still confident this was arson?” I ask.

He nods. “I believe the evidence will support that.” He passes me his card. “If you need anything else or have any questions, give me a call.”

After pulling on biohazard gear, Doc Coblentz and his technician wade into the ash and debris, toward the flags demarking the location of the victim.

Not for the first time I wonder how he does it. How a man committed to healing the sick can look death in the face so often and still remain such an upbeat and optimistic person. But when the dead are brought to him, he doesn’t see the victim as they’d been in life; he doesn’t mourn their passing or get caught up in the tragedy of their death. He sees a puzzle that must be solved—and sometimes an injustice that must be remedied. I once asked him if this part of his job ever bothered him. His answer was straightforward and far too easy to understand. When it’s a kid, he’d said.

I stand outside the caution tape and watch as the technician photographs the remains. When he’s finished, he and Doc Coblentz carry the stretcher to the flagged area and set it down among the debris. I don’t have biohazard gear, and I’m vastly relieved they don’t need my help. I’m not squeamish; I’ve seen my share of death from traffic fatalities, farming accidents, natural causes, even murder. While blood and decomposition are bad enough, there’s something particularly disturbing about the remains of a burned human being.

Extreme heat causes the skin to shrink, which can bring about splitting. The dehydrating effects of heat also cause the muscles to contract, producing the “pugilistic attitude” of many burn fatalities. Novice investigators have been known to attribute the pose to a defensive position, the splitting to blunt-force trauma. I’m reassured that Doc Coblentz is a veteran.

I watch from my place at the perimeter of the scene as the two men gently heft the body onto the stretcher and drape it with a blue sheet. Gideon Gingerich has been walking over to us every twenty minutes or so. The last thing any of us want to do is expose him to the charred body of what may be his son.

When the two men emerge from the ashes, I pull aside the caution tape. After they pass through, I replace the tape and follow them to the van. All the while I keep an eye on the back door of the house, but no one comes out. I wonder if Gideon is distracting his wife and children long enough for us to get the body into the van and out of sight.

“Are the clothes intact, Doc?” I ask.

Doc Coblentz shakes his head. “The only thing that’s recognizable is the shoes. Boots, actually, and only then because they’re leather and withstood the heat.”

Something quickens inside me at the mention of leather boots. Daniel’s sister had mentioned cowboy boots …

I glance at the technician. “May I take a look at the shoes?”

Since I’m not wearing gloves, he lifts the bottom corner of the sheet. I brace, my eyes quickly taking in the black, vaguely human form. Arms curled across the chest. Legs bent. The exterior is charred black and covered with gray-white ash. I hold my breath because I know the smell of burned flesh will follow me home and haunt me through the night.

For an instant, I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking at; then I see the shape of a foot. The pointed toe and slanted heel of a Western boot. The stitching has burned, the sole separating from the leather upper. But I can still make out the distinctive silhouette of a classic cowboy boot.

“Danny Gingerich’s sister told me her brother’s cowboy boots are missing from his room,” I say. “According to her, he wears them all the time.”

“Good to know, Kate, but at this point, I believe everyone suspects this is likely Daniel Gingerich,” Doc Coblentz responds in a low voice. “That said, shoes can be put on or taken off after someone is deceased. And so we must be certain and go about the identification process, starting with dental or medical records if there are any. Once we confirm the identity, we’ll move on to determine cause and manner of death.”

“I’ll check with the parents to see if Danny had any dental work or X-rays done,” I say.

“That would be helpful,” he tells me, and replaces the sheet.

The coroner’s van is pulling away as I take the sidewalk to the back porch. The door swings open before I can knock, and Gideon comes through it. His eyes are red, his mouth drawn into a grim, hard line. I see wet spots on the front of his shirt, and I realize he’s been crying.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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