Coroner Story: The Scene

It’s not that I have anything against mobile homes. Folks gotta have a place to live. But I’ve had some bad experiences in mobile home parks as the county coroner. Is it the nearness to poverty? Is it the thin walls and lack of privacy? Is it the mud and detritus we pile up and our neighbors observe and resent? I can’t say I know. But I have seen some of it.

This call came to me on a rainy fall evening, after dinner, before the little girls were going to bed. The city dispatch lady told me I was needed south of town. It was in a mobile home park. She gave me a number.

My little rusty Hilux had new wiper blades, so I was doing great heading south. I had not asked any details, any name. Maybe that was because I was new to this and wanted to seem on solid ground. I knew my way in the rainy dark.

Or thought so. I turned into the entrance of the mobile home park and then started to wonder.

No numbers were visible, the cars half obstructed the graveled, muddy street between the single wides. Some had a light on, most just a slight glow from curtained windows. Some all dark here at 730 PM in the wet cool fall on the Palouse.

I kept going, expecting a city patrol car to be my clue. Down one line, around the dark turn at the bottom and back up another. Then the next loop. A lot of people lived here in this dense plot of sloping soil down by the creek. Over the coming years I would return here again. And again. I could tell all those stories now, but I need to find the scene.

On my third loop I saw the patrol car. The light shone from the newer single wide porch.

An officer stood there in the drizzle, probably wondering where the hell I was. Do all three loops to find the scene? Jezus.

I parked the Hilux behind a neighbor’s rig, since there really was no street parking. I shuffled to the slick steps and greeted the patrolman. “Detective Frye is inside.” He nodded to the door. I went through. The detective turned from some folks in the well-lit living room and ushered me back out into the drizzle.

Here, by the glaring 60-watt porch bulb he told me the story. We were on a slick 2×6 deck with a railing. This was a significant home improvement in this area.

“This is a bit long so you gotta stay with me on this.” He started.

The deceased is in the back bedroom, he went on. He gave me a name, and age, 26-year-old male. Maybe some trouble with drugs, no trafficking.  It seems there had been a confrontation this evening.

The deceased was recently married to a younger woman, maybe girl and they had just had their first child. This marriage had been forced by the father when the younger girl had become pregnant. It turns out our deceased’s wife was 17, probably 16 at the moment of conception. But she and the deceased seemed to be making a go of it.

I wondered if “the deceased” was going to be the litany of this story. But Detective Frye soon lapsed into calling him by his name. I appreciated he was trying to do the respectful thing.

But tonight, it seems another man had made a complaint to the father who had forced this marriage. It sounded like the dad was a real patriarch, though I never met him. Detective Frye told me I wouldn’t, since the old man was downtown at this moment giving his statement.

This evening the patriarch had received the complaint of another man, probably another patriarch, that his daughter, just 16 had been impregnated by “the deceased”. And there must be justice. The patriarch had agreed and had come to this single wide to confront his errant son to insist he make things right.

The young bride with the infant, and the patriarch’s wife, the mother of the deceased had witnessed the confrontation. The old man had insisted the son come with him to the police station to make a statement. Son had agreed, “I’ll do it Dad.” But he needed to go get his coat. He went into the back bedroom, and they all heard a shot. Dad checked, then called the cops. And so, we are here.

I’m getting drizzled on. Detective Frye has a hat. I ask, “So you think they are all telling the same story, old man and wife and mom?”

He nods.

“Let’s go look.”

I wipe my feet again on the welcome mat as the door is opened. I first go to the living room. An older woman is sitting by a young dark-haired woman with an infant in her arms. I introduce myself and tell them my purpose. The older woman looks at me with a glance of derision and the young woman doesn’t make eye contact. Coroners are rarely welcome.

We walk back down the narrow hall. The floor feels soft, like walking on a hay loft, or maybe a weak stage for some traveling troupe. It may hold up tons, but it gives with a good stomp.

The path to the bedroom goes past the bathroom. The door open and the light is on, white and clean. Detective Frye opens the bedroom door and moves to the side so I can go in.

All the floors are carpeted. But the springiness isn’t just the shag. It just feels soft. The strong odor of blood hits me. Warm blood is unmistakable. I had learned it early on in the operating room, but before, as a child I had toured our towns slaughterhouse. Seeing the rubber booted Mexicans handling the hanging carcasses, the pools of blood they waded in, had given me a strong reaction. And this smell is deep in my memory.

The red, pink splattering over all the white of the walls, the ceiling, the bedspread, the dresser almost came off as a design touch. But it was not consistent with the motif.

I turned from the wide dark red pool on the shag toward the crumpled body beyond. I didn’t want to go there just yet. I looked at some pictures on a dresser just inside the door.

Somebody had paid a photographer to enshrine the images. The dark-haired bride smiled but the skinny groom looked stiff, wan, strung out. There was another portrait with her holding the baby. He looked even more drawn, more quartered, more desperate, though grinning. And there were red splatters that masked the smiling family portrait.

That was all I would know of his face. For it was not present on his body. Few appreciate what a deer rifle does at close range to the human head.

He wore polyester pants and jacket, like he might have just gotten off work. He was lying on his front, back up at the foot of the bed. The red pool soaked the carpet from under him to the middle of the dresser. There was no way I could not step in it. I could see the butt of the rifle off to his left, the rest under him. I looked at Detective Frye. He winced; maybe like I was. I got closer, stepping into the red goo. There was going to be little room to turn him over between the foot of the white now splotched-pink fluffy queen bed and the dresser.

I bent over him. There was just the back of his scalp left. Two long shreds of skin hung from the back of his neck. The white ceiling above was stippled with red to a pink. In the center of the splotch was a dark hole where the jacketed round had left the single wide, through the acoustic ceiling tiles, then through the metal roof out into the wet night above.

“If you lift him up, I’ll clear the gun.”

I bent and grabbed his polyester jacket on the left and raised him as best I could. For some reason, maybe the blood made the floor feel more solid here. I pulled. The shreds of the back of his head drooped, and the movement made a sucking sound as the pool of blood beneath let him up. The detective pulled the bolt action rifle back and out.

It was then I looked ahead to a crib next to the bed. The flesh, the floppy mask of the skinny, scared young mans face laid there, looking up at me.

Somehow, the ballistics and trajectory brought the shards of the explosion here, to the crib. This shred had none of the worry, none of the sorrow in the portraits. It was just a flaccid, mobile mask, like someone might pull on for a masquerade party, with nothing behind it, just ready to fit the wearers face. It lay still in the white, small crib next to the big empty bed.

I said goodbye to the two women in the living room. Another derisive glare and another averted glance, and I was out onto the wet porch.

“Do we need an autopsy?” The detective asked. They always want an autopsy.

“No” I said. “I can call this.”

Cause of Death: Gunshot wound to the head.

Manner of Death: Suicide

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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