The Black Knight Squash Fiction League Match


by Jeanne Woods


Shay Samuels was bone tired at 6:15 PM on Thursday when he pushed open the heavy glass door to the reception counter of the Medical Examiner’s office. The rescue crews had started at dawn and he’d be back at it again with them in the morning. The chief of police had cancelled all non-medical leaves and days off until further notice. On-going homicide investigations were in the back seat for the moment, so Shay was now on his own time.
The harried clerk had told him they’d be working on his John Doe this afternoon and as soon as the doc signed the report she’d shoot him a copy. But the way things were going that could be days out. The ME’s office normally closed at five, but then normal hadn’t been seen around the City/County offices since the first growl of the quake on Tuesday morning.
“Well, Mr. Shay. You here tryin’ to wheedle a peek at an unsigned report, Darlin’? Doc’s not here, but if he was he’d run you out on the end of his shoe.” Niki’s chortle of mock reproach animated three-inch gold hoop earrings and a more than ample midriff of dark flesh that seemed to have escaped the tight confines of red stretch jeans and chartreuse knit top.
“Yeah, that, and to take a little abuse from your lovin’ self, Miss Niki.” Shay smiled, removed his A’s cap, revealing a band of forehead with less plaster dust than the rest of his face. He raked a hand through straight, brown hat-hair and replaced the cap. Leaning his elbows on the counter, he sank into them with a long sigh and interlaced his fingers.
“They just brought in four more from that parking garage and..., oh honey,” she inhaled deeply, “what a mess.” Bangles on her thick wrists chimed softly as she placed her large hands over his. Shay welcomed the gesture. He hadn’t touched another living human in a long time.
“ 'A mess' pretty well sums it up. You and your kids doin’ OK, Niki?”

Niki nodded. “Yeah, my sister’s with them and school should be open Monday. Right now we’re wingin’ it like everybody else,” she said. “You may be in luck, Shay. A couple pathology assistants showed up here to help with all the extra folks they bringin’ in. You might do better with one of them anyway.” A door opened as a slender thirty-something woman wearing a lab coat, shoulder-length dark brown hair tucked behind her ears and a frown of concentration briskly exited the lab, heading down the hall.
“Hey, Michele,” Niki called. “This here’s Detective Samuels from homicide, about the guy with the cuffs. Could you run it down for him? Shay, this is Michele Ko….”
“We’re under strict orders to hold all reports for the doctor’s signature,” she snapped, crossing her arms around a folder.
Niki flashed her mile-wide smile, “Aw, Shay’s a good guy. Couldn’t you just tell him about it? Unofficial like, so he can drag his sorry ass out of here?”
Michele regarded Shay’s not-quite-handsome face. Irregular features; begrimed, stubbled, a little sad maybe. Not unkind. “OK, but this is completely off-record.”
“Right, I didn’t get it here.” Shay grinned, adding, “I’d say ‘pleased to meet you,’ but of course we’ve never met.”
“OK,” she began. “White male, mid forties, about 6’2”, 236 pounds. Cause of death, strangulation. Alive when he entered the water. Small amount of aspirated water in the airways and some water in the stomach, but there’d have been more if he’d drowned. Also, bruising and blood-staining below the sternum midline and to the face. Diagonal bruising and tearing at the left wrist.” She was warming to the subject. “…Fractured hyoid bone, something we rarely see.” Shay looked at her, puzzled. She explained, “The hyoid sits high up in the neck, above the larynx and below the jawbone.” She indicated the area on her own lovely neck and continued. “It takes significant force to crack it, usually associated with ligature strangulation, so you’d only see this if the guy’s head were pulled back and major force applied high up on the neck.”
Shay processed this for a few seconds. After the dust and rubble and suffering of the day he needed something to make sense. The whole business at the pier hadn’t smelled right to him, even given the havoc of the earthquake. “Any trauma to the hands or the other wrist?” Michele shook her head, “Nothing fresh. They’re not the hands of a workman.”
“Hey, thanks a lot, Michele. That gives me something to ponder falling asleep.”
“There’s one more thing. Your guy sat around here just long enough for delayed signs of blanching to develop, where the blood was forced out of the vessels in the compressed area of the neck. The surrounding area of petechial hemorrhage can sometimes show the outlines of shapes. In this case have the imprint of a double-stitched seam. My guess? It’s the inseam of pants worn by someone with a very impressive grip. Probably not cotton, some kind of synthetic fabric, judging from the crisp outline.”
Shay stared at her, as the details filtered through his exhaustion. He shook his head, smiled and surprised himself by saying, “There’s a decent taqueria down the street that seems to be up and running again, if you’d like to get a burrito...” Michele looked down at the guarded folder as a slight flush bloomed on her neck. “Uh, no… but thanks. I uh…”  “Sure,” he said. “Another time. And thanks again, it was nice not meeting you.” She smiled, “Nice not meeting you too.” He waved his thanks to Niki on the way out, asking himself, “What the fuck were you thinking?”
Shay entered his flat with the remains of the foil-wrapped grande burrito from Arturo’s that he’d torn into on the way home. He went straight to the fridge, hoping Kim and company had left him a Pabst or two. Or three.  He found a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and several full take-out containers from Whole Foods, along with a dozen eggs, a wedge of cambazola and a bag of Peet’s dark French roast. A bowl of perfect fruit sat on the counter with a note:

“Thanks. Enjoy. Rest.
See you soon,
PS – Christian shopped. I cleaned.”
Shay smiled. The place was spotless.
He indulged a wistful thought of the now-cancelled three-day weekend scheduled to start tomorrow. He’d moved the squash rackets aside to retrieve his bike from the storage locker, checked it over and aired the tires. It had been nearly a year since he’d been out on it. Sarah’s bike was still in there. He needed to do something with that.
Shay placed the remains of the burrito on a plate, opened a beer and took a chug, then another. “This’ll do,” he thought, and opened a second bottle. He carried the beers, burrito and a couple of paper towels to his spot on the old rose couch. He took off his shoes and clicked to the on-going TV coverage of the quake’s aftermath.
The burrito and the first beer went down fast. Shay settled into the couch, feet up, head down and never got to the second beer.

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