Coroner Story:Visqueen

This call came in the late fall. Darkness would come soon. So, I set out before finishing my dinner with the girls. Martha would care for them. Light will fade.

The sheriff’s dispatch lady said there was a dead body I needed to investigate out past Bovill. That’s a 45-minute drive to the east.

“Is there a detective there? Can I call him?”

“Just a patrolman sir. The sheriff didn’t assign a detective.”

He was a new Sheriff, and we weren’t getting along.

He did this to me for his four years in office. He even got a friend of his to run against me. We each have four-year terms, mine alternated two years before and after his. But he smiles and talks to me friendly now when we pass in town. He only got the four years, and I quit long after he was gone.

It couldn’t have been partisan animosity. I ran unaffiliated, no party attached to my name on the ballot. Maybe he just didn’t like me. Indeed, we hadn’t met until a few weeks ago.

The blowout down by Julietta might have fixed it.

That was another late evening call a few weeks back. I had gotten a call after dinner from the sheriff’s dispatch that I was needed down in the canyon. No details, just that I was to go to a scene. So, I took off in my rusty Toyota Hilux.

When I made the turnoff in Troy, there were barricades in the road. “Road Closed”.

I went around them like a kid sneaking candy. Then I drove on at 40 mph when I could have been doing 55, maybe feeling guilty.

When I got down to Kendrick and needed to turn right there was another barricade in the middle of the two-lane. “Road Closed”. Very serious, I guess. But I sidled around this one too and went on. The little Hilux fit around such obstructions.  Duty calls.

When I got to the scene it was in fact pretty impressive. Lots of lights, bulldozers, a mash of mud and big basalt boulders across the two-lane highway. I parked and got out. I walked forward, nodding to the deputies I knew until I saw our Sheriff. I went up to him.

I only knew him from his pictures in the local paper. He probably didn’t know me. They never ran the coroner’s headshot.

But then, maybe he did.

He had never introduced himself or called to talk to me. But I hadn’t done that either. I got paid $500 a month with no benefits to do my job, and he got a full-time salary, five figures with health insurance.

But here’s the kicker.

The coroner is the only one who can arrest the Sheriff.

If the sheriff is for some reason subject to arrest, the only person in the county who can do that is the coroner. And if the sheriff dies or absconds, the coroner becomes the sheriff. It’s some sort of chain of command thing. I didn’t know this at the time. I would later. Idaho laws are mind boggling.

I had found out about sheriff summons in my first years, before I had to deal with this guy. I wasn’t even sure what a summons was, but the previous sheriff had the decency to inform me.

Phone call came between patients: “Doc, you’ll get a summons for me tomorrow.”

“Huh?

“I’m being sued, and the summons server will bring the summons to you and then you are supposed to serve me with it.”

“Really? Serve?”

“Yeah, that’s how these things work. I’ll have a deputy down there so you can just give it to him, and he’ll give it to me. Save you the hassle of coming up the hill.”

“Is that legal?”

I heard him exhale and I imagined his girth in his chair. “It follows the spirit of the law, let’s say.” So that’s what I did. Seemed pretty civil.

Serve?

So maybe this sheriff’s animosity was out of fear. But then he would have to be doing something wrong, wouldn’t he?  I didn’t know, despite the summons thing, at the time that I outranked him. I don’t know if he knew this. But I did come to learn this clearly later on. Not then, not at that time in the Potlatch River canyon. I just walked up to him.

It was unbelievable that he was shorter than me. I have always dealt with taller teammates. Basketball, football, volleyball, me being 5’8” doesn’t make me substantial. We have to find other ways.

“Hello Sheriff. You needed the coroner?”

He turned to me, looking away from the bulldozers. He didn’t seem to recognize me but smiled and shook my hand. He looked absent and didn’t say anything. It was like we were at a wedding, and three drinks in, he was meeting a distant relative.

“Hello, my name is Sid Hawthorne, and I am the county coroner and you requested I come to this scene.”

He focused a bit. “Oh yes. Some people were killed in this landslide.” He waves off toward the mud and bulldozers.

“Should I look at them?”

“Uh, no, they’ve been taken off to the hospital in Lewiston.” His vague goes up a bit and he turns back toward the bulldozers.

The hillside and scene are illuminated by the mobile lights, and the multiple generators and heavy equipment are filling the deep valley with their noise. But I notice a tall deputy coming toward us behind our diminutive sheriff.

He’s got the swagger. He stands behind the small man with his hands on his hips, glowering down at us two small men below him. I am the object of this glower.

I too appraised the muddy scene. It looks like some significant uphill precip had washed a shit-ton of Palouse mud with some basalt rubble downhill. And I could believe a car on this road might be a casualty.

“Where’s the car?”

The sheriff still looks absently at the bulldozers, like he doesn’t hear me. I wait and take a breath to repeat with a louder voice and the tall deputy intervenes.  “It’s up here.” And he turns and strides toward the generators and noise and mud.

I follow.

Below the road is more mud and a very muddy vehicle on its side. I can’t even make out it’s color or type. In my memory it’s a 1938 Packard, but that’s got to be wrong.

“They got them out of there?” I’m incredulous.

The tall deputy looks down on me, imperious. “The bodies were recovered. They have been taken to Lewiston.”

I turn away from him and walk back to the sheriff. He’s still gazing at the heavy equipment. When I get to him, I speak loudly, so I can be sure he hears me. “You called me out here to come to a scene and these bodies are not even going to be in our county jurisdiction.”

He slowly pivots his absent gaze toward me, probably not remembering just who I am.

“You don’t need a coroner.” I yelled at him over the generators and bulldozers.

The sheriff says nothing. But the tall deputy asserts himself. “We don’t need your complaints while people are out here risking their lives,” and he waves back at the bulldozers.

I turned and walked back to the Hilux. This would not be the end of me and this sheriff. And his deputy.

Pissing contests between elected officials don’t end well. You will see.

So now I’m heading out to a dead body out of Bovill, with no detective. And Mr. Sheriff is probably finishing his dinner and starting into nightcaps. Or maybe, he’s well past the beginning. Can’t we get petty, us public servants?

I turned north in the hamlet as the dispatcher had indicated and looked for the mill, but the western light was fading. I saw no mill. But ahead of me was a long straight stretch of road going north so I slowed down. It should be close. There was a track to the right and some trailers. I turned in. There was a county patrolman’s rig parked toward the end of the track past the trailers. I had found it.

He was standing by his rig. I’d met this guy before. He was solid.

“So, what have we got?”

He stood with his thumbs on his belt and told me what he knew.

The guy was employed to tear down the mill. He ran a cutting torch all day to cut through the steel beams so they could be sent off for scrap. He had squatted here in his hooch at the end of this lane for the last couple weeks. He hadn’t showed up for work today. No one from work had come to look. But the lady in the last trailer here had noticed he hadn’t come or gone and called it in.

“So, she called you guys?”

“Yeah, a welfare check.”

“So, you were the first to find him?”

“Yeah.”

“When was that?”

“About five.”

“So, you’re getting overtime?”

He looked at the ground. “Naw, Doc. That’s not been approved. I just stayed because I found him, and I thought I should be the one to talk to you.”

I looked at him and shook my head. We shared a grimace. New sheriff.

“You got his ID?”

“Just his name from the mill contractor. I didn’t get his wallet. Waiting for you.” “Well, thank you for this. Is there anything you have seen you think I should know?”

“Not really. Just poverty.”

I look intently at the young patrolman in the fading light. I worry he might be a Democrat in law enforcement. I go elsewhere. “Have you talked to anyone else?”

He also looks to the western fading light and nods toward the closest trailer. “She came out and said she was who’d called it in. Said she was worried about him.”

I pause. “Anything else? Drugs? Guns, alcohol?”

He smiles a small smile. “Not really.”

“No foul play?”

He slightly gusts a laugh. I’m treating him like a detective, and he knows, and I know he isn’t. “Not that I could see.”

I look down again, though the darkness hides the dirt at our feet. “Thanks, I’ll go look.”

I head back into the trees toward the end of the lane.

His hooch is visqueen.

Black plastic sheeting formed into a tent between trees, strung with cord. There is a small fire pit outside his tent with some garbage around it. No booze or beer bottles, but I notice some cigarette butts. I don’t see any roaches.

I raise the plastic flap and the first thing that impresses me is his size. Lying on his side, his body almost fully occupies the weak plastic tent. His left arm is under his head, and his face is black. It’s not a black I had seen before.

If it weren’t for the black, I’d say he might have appeared peaceful. Death doesn’t turn the face black. Black comes in death, but not to the face first, not in this position. And not that color. It was like he had bent over a sooty fire. And indeed, he had, for days.

There were little votive candles in front of him, now burned out. He had a weak sleeping bag, but no real pad beneath him that I could see. There was no way I was going to be able to move him. From my perspective he was 350 pounds plus. I looked down at his arm under his head and protruding toward the little candles. His forearm was bigger around than my calf, his upper arm like my thigh.

It had been cool in the days, and pretty cold at night. The chill was coming on as I looked at him. He did not stink, and he wasn’t bloated, just huge. I bent down and tried to move his upper arm that laid along his mass. It was stiff, full rigor still, though the fingers were loosening.

I do the best I can to get his wallet from his pants pocket. The denims are so dirty they feel like oiled canvas. He has ID and three dollars.

I went back to the deputy. “I’ve done what I can. Here’s his wallet. Name fits. Could you call dispatch to have the funeral home come pick him up?”

“Sure thing.” He gets on his radio.

“Make sure you let them know his size. Might take a couple people to load him.”

He nods to me between the radio conversation.

I wait till he’s finished and say, “I want to go talk to this lady here.” I nod at the trailer. “You don’t have to wait for the funeral home. You can go.”

“I’ll be OK.” He says.

“I’ll be here. You can go.”

He shakes his head. Some guys are real solid. I hope they last.

I go toward the trailer. Single wide up on blocks with straw bales around it. Warm lights inside and the porch light on. I knock.

I can hear the steps inside, solid but slow. When she opens the door, I can hear a TV in the background. She’s big too. “Yeah?” she croaks out.

“Hello. I am Dr. Hawthorne the county coroner. You called in concerning the man in the hooch out here. Can I talk to you about that?”

“So, he’s dead, huh?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She exhales like she might have been saying “Sheeeiut” and follows with, “Come on in.” She moves away from the door, conveying my entrance.

I step up and in.

It’s cozy, but small, though, like I said, she’s big. She has moved to the room with the TV, though she politely shuts it off and then sits in her throne, the recliner. I stood. The small kitchen was behind me. It was neat, though the floor vinyl was pretty worn. Hell, it’s a trailer. The hall heading west would be the bathroom and bedroom. I wondered for a second about septic but let go of that.

“So, you knew the deceased?”

She lit a cigarette. The ashtrays were frequent and full. “Yeah, I knew him. He came in here a couple weeks back and set up his camp.” Her voice is like an idling McCullough.

“He was working at the mill?”

She took a drag. “Yeah, cutting steel for them. Ran a torch all day. Tearing the place down.” Another puff. “You see his black face? Cutting steel with that torch. He warn’t no nigger!” and she laughed loud and exhaled toward the ceiling.

“Had he seemed sick recently?”

Here she paused. Fiddled with the ash and looked down. “Yeah.”

She paused, so I did too. Leave space.

She looked both ways fast like something had passed, then, “He was just trying to get by. They didn’t pay him shit, but he thought if he could get this done, he’d get his own trailer down in Nevada.”

“That’s where he’s from?”

“Hell, I don’t know. But that’s what he said. Nevada.” And she did the looking both ways thing again.

Pause.

“How did he seem sick?”

Long draw and she stared at me with the inhale. “You know.” She glared. “You’re a doctor, ain’t you?”
I looked down to the worn vinyl and laughed a bit. “Ma’am, I am only getting to see this man after he is dead. I am asking you to tell me how he seemed before he died. Your observations will help me understand this.”

She exhaled toward the bathroom and continued her glare at me. We paused together there for a while.

“When he first came, he asked about squatting there. I told him about the landlord. Didn’t think he’d even know, lives in California. So, he set up.” Another puff. “We would have breakfast. Cooked another egg for him. I got to know him some. Damn, he worked hard.” She shook her head. “And now you want to know why he died?” The glare.

I smiled, as soft as I could. “It sounds like you knew him some.”

She waved the butt before her. The pastel housecoat covered her chest and breasts and belly and thighs. Her round, worn face, framed with oily stringy hair softened from her grating pronouncements. “Yeah, I knew him a bit.” She looked me in the face. “It was that work that killed him. Sure, he was fat, but then so am I.” And she laughed like a choked chain saw. “But running that torch all day, breathing in those gases, that’s what did him in.”

“So, he was having a hard time breathing?”

She laughed, and then coughed, then spit sputum into a Kleenex. “Hell, honey us fat people always have a hard time. I offered him my CPAP.” She laughed soft for a while.

“Did he have a fever these last few days?”

She seemed to jolt. “You know, he might have. Sweaty for dinner.”  The both-ways look again. Was this sincere or just her feeding me what she thought I wanted? Get me out of here.

“So, he seemed sick last night at dinner?”

She stubbed out the cigarette. It took a great effort to shift that body forward. She concentrated, then shifted back, coughed a bit, shallow and nodded. “It’s not like I knew he was sick or nothing, Doc. I just noticed he was weaker, slower, and he was sweaty at dinner last night. He didn’t eat much. He said he was feeling tired.” She stared at me with both her hands on the armrests.

“I guess I should have looked after him better.”

Here, I looked down to the worn and chipped floor. I shook my head. “Ma’am, I don’t come here to burden you. I am glad you could get to know him some. It sounds like he was a hardworking man living on the edge. Maybe we all should look after each other a bit better.”

Still standing, but done now, I looked down again at the vinyl squares. “Thank you,” I said to her, looking her in the eyes. And I let myself out.

The deputy stayed, I guess, until the funeral home came. I was gone by then.

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Manner of Death: Natural

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Deal

It seems Republicans everywhere want to have work requirements for people who receive Medicaid health insurance. Our governor has said he’s on board, as has the interim director of the Department of Health and Welfare. The legislature has long argued for this, and they are again. Idaho has a request pending. It has not been approved by the Trump administration or this Biden one.

I understand their concern. Why should us taxpayers give our tax money to folks loafing on the couch all day? If that’s the case.

I first ran into this sentiment when I was campaigning for office. The local laborer’s union gave me a chance to make my pitch to them. Democrat, Union, you’d think we were simpatico. Maybe not.

I introduced myself and then asked them what they wanted from the state government. The young guys were reluctant, but finally a guy spoke up. “Why don’t we drug test people who want welfare?”

I told him I would look into it. After I got elected, I did.

Some states had imposed this testing. It had become a meme. That is, there was widespread belief that druggies were taking our tax dollars.

The actual numbers showed that the cost of drug testing and the administration of this requirement had added significantly to the taxpayers cost of the program. Further, the number of folks using drugs on Welfare was well below the number of the general population. So just what is your point?

I believe most folks do not want to give something out through government-imposed taxes to another of their fellow citizens who might be undeserving of their generosity. I understand this sentiment. And I’m an Idaho Democrat.

But the laws we write are supposed to promote domestic tranquility and the common good. Anyone remember that?

So, let’s look at the work requirement proposed for Medicaid health insurance.  Idaho’s proposal has many exceptions for “work”. Caretakers, moms, folks recently unemployed are exempted. So, who might be abusing this government benefit? I would argue, it’s a very small fraction of the Medicaid population.

I guess you want to build a department of government to look for these scofflaws and make sure they don’t have health insurance that we are all paying for.

Given our current system assumption that health insurance is a work-related benefit, it makes sense that we should be pushing people to gain employment, and then their health insurance would be the employers problem, not us taxpayers.

So, here’s the deal I offer you “work requirement” afficionados. And I believe it is a plan that would be accepted by our federal partners. Neither Trump nor Biden have approved our current proposal.

Idaho should propose to the federal government, our Medicaid partner since they pay 70% of the bill, a study.

We get to impose Medicaid work requirements on half of the folks who apply for Medicaid. We study this half, and the half that don’t have the requirements. We watch them for their long term, let’s say five years, outcomes. How many become employed and off the dole? How many just stay uninsured and a burden on us all.

Do we really help anybody with this program?

I have my bias.

You probably do too.

Let’s study the question.

It comes down to the question of whether you believe people, our society, your neighbors, all of us, are better suited to serve the common good if we have health insurance.

Since the health insurance industry is a significant portion of many people’s retirement portfolios, I doubt any major disruption is in the cards.

But if you want to drain the swamp, this is a good place to start.

Let’s make a deal.

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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

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Dice

It had to come to this.

Abortion is just one facet of the procreation die (singular for dice).

Infertility is another. And for many, mostly women, procreation does become a dicey endeavor.

So now, with a righteous Alabama Supreme Court opinion, this discussion might actually come into the open.

Us medical professionals have found living in the gray area of personhood profitable. Some, though truthfully, it was just a few practitioners, made money performing abortions. Some might have found some moral duty therein, even though the Hippocratic oath forbids abortion.

The line for abortion used to be “quickening”. Read The Cider House Rules, and you’ll learn the meaning of the question asked of the young pregnant woman, “Are you quick?”

For when the growing fetus’ movement was felt, and that was the line called “quickening”, an abortion was not considered proper. Before becoming quick, it was her decision, mainly.

The law didn’t enter into it in colonial times. There was community shame and derision and family pressure, but the law stayed out of this realm.

But in the mid 1800’s the medical profession lobbied state legislatures to make abortion illegal. You see, midwives, lay health providers did this procedure, since medical professionals were forbidden by oath. And doctors got paid to deliver babies. Maybe I’m cynical, but “follow the money” is good advice when considering what laws get passed.

So, most states outlawed abortion. Then the US Supreme Court handed down the Roe Decision. The line drawn by those justices was “viability”. When the fetus can survive outside of the mother, it is no longer her choice. Before, it is.

Viability comes at about 24 weeks of gestation.

Quickening comes usually about 16-20 weeks. These lines when the control of the decision shifts was very similar.

But now that Roe is no longer the law, and we’re back to state legislatures arbitrating, not only ending a pregnancy, but the decision to try to start one might move into the hands of lawmakers, not mothers, or families.

Because there are some real issues with infertility care that might make one cringe. Might make one consider passing legislation.

Say a woman is young and not ovulating. She and her partner want to conceive. The medical and pharmaceutical industries have wonderful drugs that can stimulate ovulation. They are inexpensive and convenient, though often unpleasant.

And now she gets pregnant. But she has a multiple.

The best chance for having a viable, healthy pregnancy is to deliver just one baby. The odds go down a bit with twins and drop off rapidly thereafter.

If she has five growing embryos, the odds are against any surviving. And the risk to the mother, should she choose to continue the pregnancy also goes up.

Selective reduction is the term used for this medical procedure. Some of the multiples are “reduced” so that some might survive.

A family wanted a baby. The doctor’s advice about the best odds for getting one might come down to sacrificing others.

Before Roe was overturned, the medical profession, mainly infertility specialists, had the freedom to discuss these very painful decisions with their patients. Not now. Especially under Idaho law. I’ll bet a lot of those OB Gyns fleeing our state practiced infertility care.

Where will Idaho infertility be treated?

And we haven’t even started talking about in vitro fertilization (IVF). That’s what got the Alabama Supreme Court going.

I could try to explain IVF in twenty words or less here, but let it just be said that technology may be miraculous. But with such power comes the need for wisdom.

Every medical and pharmaceutical intervention has odds of risk and cost or benefit. Do you want to roll the dice? If it’s an infertility gamble, you might have to leave Idaho.

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Help

I always tried to help my patients. That didn’t mean always giving them what they wanted. I was trained to look to the goal of health.

And then there is the law. It seems the doctor patient relationship is in the Idaho legislature’s crosshairs. No wonder so many physicians are finding this state unwelcoming.

We must accept that there is evil amongst us. And we must be vigilant and loving.

Parents and relatives are not always kind. I have not always been kind. Please forgive me for this.

Parents and relatives can be evil. We must be vigilant.

If you don’t think the Idaho legislature accepts this, then you should watch the incredible Idaho Senate floor debate of February 27th, 2024.

The Senate session starts with the Majority leader asking his colleagues to support removing the statute of limitations for incest. It turns out, Idaho code had not included that crime when it specified which crimes were exempt from limitations from prosecution through time. His very moving testimony described a prosecutor that came to him, told him of a case of incest where revelations expanded the perpetrators, but prosecution could not proceed because of this flaw in the law. His colleagues agreed and this bill passed unanimously.

So, Idaho Senators can understand that incest occurs and should be prosecuted. They know there is evil and are doing their best to help our state laws deal with it.

But then, the tables turn.

On that same day, in those same Senate Chambers a couple hours later a different bill came up. The Senate Majority leader was the sponsor for this one also.

This bill would prohibit any treatment, counseling, procedure on a minor patient (under 18) without the parents’ consent. Further, all medical records of the minor child would be available to the parents for their review. The exceptions to this would require a court order, or a law enforcement request to deny the parents’ access.

Here he argued that parents are the best stewards of a child’s wellbeing. Just a couple hours earlier he was arguing for removing the limitations on prosecuting incest.

So, parents or relatives who sexually abuse a child should not escape prosecution. But a child cannot confide confidentially to a health care provider. They must first go to law enforcement or the courts.

It seems we need to be teaching the Idaho laws in middle school, maybe grade school. Police are your friends, not doctors.

Health care providers, counsellors, teachers, ministers are “required reporters”. Idaho law has that clearly defined. If there has been an allegation or a suspicion of abuse, these professionals are required to report such to law enforcement, under penalty of prosecution. So, we have these crosshairs on us already.

But just imagine.

I am in an exam room with a 15-year-old who seems distressed. I discuss their situation with them. Their mother is in the waiting room. The teen shares their worries with me. I ask them, “Have you talked with your parents about this?” They shake their head. “Is there anything more I need to know?”

They look at me, wondering just whose side I am on. Wondering, who will I be talking to.

My standard response was to always encourage communication with their parents. But I outlined the limits of just what could be kept confidential. I tried to help.

With this law, those limits of confidentiality will now significantly shift.

I guess it comes down to just what you see as the role of government. Do our laws protect the weak and powerless from abuse or enforce the authority of the powerful?

I think it’s pretty clear which side of this scale the Idaho legislature is placing their thumb.

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Coroner Story: Disability

Earl is trying to talk me into seeing this as an accident. “See, he could have pulled the shotgun this way by the muzzle across the seat. With the truck canted over on the slope like that it would be about right to hit him in the temple.”

I use all my patience not to laugh. I like Earl. He’s a good detective. He’s been out here on this back road in the dark for hours, taking pictures, setting up lights. He wants this to be an accident. It just isn’t. I have got to tell him so, one way or another. Kindly.

The call had come around 2AM. Dead asleep, not on call for my group, no lady in labor, so I was sound, dead asleep. But I still keep the skill of waking briskly whenever needed. The nice dispatch lady asks me to go to a scene in the far north of the county. For once, I know the location as she describes it. I used to hunt up past there. “Plus” she says, “You’ll see all the lights.” What? “They got all the night lights set up to investigate the scene.”

Sure enough, when I got there about 45 minutes later, in the chill of a dark late winter night, the whole valley glowed from the generator driven work lights. Their hum, roar, mutter kept a constant crowd noise in this isolated spot.

As I pull up, between the Sherriff’s Department rigs, I see a dirty four-wheel drive truck kind of on its side, down below the road. The passenger side is up against a tree. It doesn’t look like a wreck or a rollover, just like the little truck is tired and leaning on its right two wheels to take a break.

There’s a body back behind the truck, up on the road. I can’t really see it because they’ve thrown a red tarp over it. But there’s a blood trail in the gravel I can see leading from right outside the driver’s door to the tarp.

The road is gravel here. The pavement ran out a quarter mile back. The truck is off the outside of a turn. The drop off is steep, as is the uphill cut bank. If that little tree hadn’t held, she could have tumbled a few times before she landed in the river below. But instead, she’s on two wheels, the uphill ones up in the air. I can’t imagine rocking out of this stuck spot.

Earl tells me the story. “Well Doc, it looks like he got off the road here and couldn’t get back up on. See the spin marks under the tires? Hell, that little tree is starting to bend a bit since we got here. These uphill tires are six inches higher than they were. See, we think he reached across the seat to get his shotgun after he got stuck and it went off right in his hand.”

Rushing the story, a bit. I’m groggy. It’s cold. The lights make your breath a cloud at their angle. My nose is dripping. Back up a bit. Keep getting the story.

“Earl, who called it in?”

“Well, we got his name. Seems he came by and saw this guy dead on the road and the shotgun by him. He was worried someone shot him and might still be around, so he drove on. Called it in from Potlatch.”

“What time?”

“That was around ten.” And I’m here at 3AM. And these guys much longer. I appreciate that.

“Did he know him? Did the guy who called it in know the guy?” I gesture toward the tarp.

“No.”

“Anybody else see him today?”

“Well,” Earl shifts, “Somebody said they saw him with a passenger go through Potlatch this afternoon.”

“Jesus, Earl, you think somebody was with him when this happened?” I’m not being real kind here. I should have done better. But Earl plugs on.

“Not really, no sign of it. Course, the ground is frozen, and we wouldn’t see any tracks.”

“Who is this guy?”

He gives me the name, struggling with the pronunciation.

“You guys know him?”

“Well, yeah. He’s been taken in a time or two, mostly for drunkenness. Last time he was wacko, doc. He had to go to the State Mental Hospital for a time. Seems he’s got some mental problems, plus he drinks.”

“Where does he live?”

Earl smiles. “Up here somewhere. No one knows, really. When we took him in before he wouldn’t tell us where he was staying. Some of the guys are pretty sure it’s up one of these logging roads. I figure he’s built himself a hooch out here in the woods and just comes to town now and again. He’s a real looney, doc.”

Earl smiles at that, knowing I love medical terminology.

“But get this, doc. Look at all these papers we found on his front seat.” He goes over to the back of one of the rigs and pulls out a plastic Ziplock with the papers. “These describe his diagnosis, what the VA is treating him for and all his disability forms. Seems he was working with this lawyer in town to get the disability he wanted. And right here on top is the notice that he got it. Dated just last week. So, the guy should have been as happy as a pig in shit.”

I look down at the frozen gravel, almost white in the glare.

 I know this story.

The disability dance so many do for so long, and then what does it mean? I have watched patients fight, so sure they were right to get “their disability”, like it was a possession kept from them. Then, when granted, this long sought determination, it gives so little. But the fight, at least was over. And their touchdown dance was as pitiful as their chronic pain. This long-sought determination of permanent disability granted that they would receive a measly $759 a month was not a real victory. It was a sentence. But that’s maybe another story. Why is this guy dead?

I keep asking Earl questions. I’m putting off going straight to the body.  “Any family? Is he from here?”

“No, family back east somewhere. We don’t got no next of kin. But we’re going to call his lawyer in the morning, see if he knows anybody to contact.”

I’m feeling tired. And it’s cold. But I’m trying to respect the work my colleagues have done. They have put a lot of information together. “Can I look at those papers?” I take the Ziplock, but then ask, “Any booze in the truck, any medications?”

“Look for yourself, doc. Brandon, open up the door for him, would you?”

The deputy who has been standing by us goes to the driver’s door and opens it upwards.

The tilted cab is strewn with empty beer cans, Copenhagen tins, pop cans, candy bar wrappers, booze bottles and old papers. And mud; mud on the floor, mud on the pedals. It was like he couldn’t help but track it in. He lived in it when it wasn’t frozen. Or dust.

“Jesus.” I say again.

“Hate to find his hooch.” Brandon grins.

“Hell, it’s probably booby trapped, as crazy as this guy is.”

I look at the papers. Lots of government forms from VA hospitals with lots of diagnoses: Post traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, alcoholism, depression, personality disorder, chronic low back pain. There were the lists of drugs prescribed, but it looked like more miss than hit. I doubted any drug was going to cure what this guy suffered with.

“Where’s the gun?” I ask Earl.

He goes and gets it from his rig. Evidence. Pump action 12 gauge.

“Loaded?”

“We cleared it.”

“How many shells?”

“Four left.”

“Prints?”

Earl winces. “No.”

None? I look up startled.

“No but he was wearing gloves, doc. You’ll see.”

There’s still blood on the barrel and the pump handle. I’m standing in the road facing the driver’s side of the truck as it tips upward. At my feet is a bit of the blood and the trail leading back toward the tarp. I look up. There is a canopy of fir and spruce and cedar above, glaringly illuminated by the yammering lights. The cedar boughs hold bits of fat and blood smears that shine different in the tangent light. I scan. Bits of skull are across the cab and hood, as well as blood.

Not much of his head left, I guess.

No.

“Why did you move the body?”

“Had to get the lights in here, doc. Plus, he was kinda blocking the road.”

“Show me where he was lying.”

Earl and Brandon shuffle about, showing me with gestures where the body lay, where the gun was, what they had found.

“Let’s see him.”

We go back to the tarp. The light isn’t too good here. It’s crossways. I try to imagine their description of how he laid, and the gun.

“We gotta get him back into the light. I need to see what’s left of his head.”

Earl and Brandon and I drag him back toward where he was on the gravel by his rig. I put the vinyl gloves on in the cold so I can mess with his shredded head. I turn the shoulders so I can see his right temple. The skin left there is torn and ragged.

“Now show me how you think this happened.” I say to Earl.

He gets a hold of his eagerness and backs the story up to the beginning as he sees it.

“Well, we think he was actually headed out to town, see. There’s tracks up there on the cut bank where we think he turned around.” We all walk up beyond the glare about 40 yards to where there are fresh tire tracks in the uphill dirt. “So, as he’s headed out to town about nine or ten or so, he decides he’s forgot something, maybe and he turns around.”

“Any money on him?” I ask.

“Nine dollars.” Earl pauses. No robbery.

He continues. “Well, he’s drunk and can’t make this turn and drives off the downhill side here. He tries to drive out, but she won’t grab. So, he gets out to go get help. He thinks to grab his shotgun out a the front seat and it goes off as he’s pulling it toward himself.”

“And hit’s him right in the temple?” I ask, skeptical.

“Well, yeah.”

I exhale and shake my head. “Sorry Earl, that is a contact wound on his temple. He, or somebody, was holding that gun against his head when it went off. No powder burns, no distance from the muzzle to the skin. So, Earl, if no one else was here, and you don’t think this is a homicide….do you think it is?”

“No.”

“Then I’ve got a hard time seeing this as an accident. If he’s pulling the loaded shotgun toward him the shot would have gotten his arm, neck, the whole side of his face, and he’d have powder marks. But the blast hit him square in the right temple. Contact wound, or very near. The muzzle was less than an inch from his skin, maybe even up against it. Plus, look at all that spray.” I gesture toward the cedar branches with blood and brains above.

“I think he pulled the gun out, racked a slug in the chamber, put the butt on the ground, bent his head over the muzzle and pressed the trigger with his right finger.”

Earl and Brandon were quiet. “But why would he do that? When he just got all that money from disability and all? And his truck ain’t totaled. We could pull it up outa there easy enough. What’s the reason for suicide?”

I looked down at the frozen gravel. I thought of all the stories, the reasons, all the patients I have worked with as they struggled with their disabilities and whether they could get “Their Disability”. I had some idea, but I really didn’t know just how the brain, now gone from this dead man might have worked. And I kick frozen gravel.

“Earl, I’m not sure I know. I’ll talk to his lawyer in the morning. I know him. Maybe he’ll have an idea. But the scene says this was a suicide.”

I turn and walk back toward the Hilux, then turn back to them in the glaring, raging lights. “I’m gonna go. I’ll ask the funeral home to run his blood. I’ll talk to you guys in the morning.”

His lawyer was little help. “No way he’d kill himself now. We worked on this for two years getting him his disability. He should have been as happy as a pig in shit.”

“When did you last see him?”

“Thursday, four days ago. I gave him the final determination papers.”

“He seem okay then to you?”

“Yeah, he was fine. He was happy the judge had decided for him, and he would be getting regular money.”

“Thanks.”

Blood alcohol 280

Cause of Death: Shotgun Wound to the Head.

Manner of Death: Suicide

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Immigrants

The Idaho Republican Party is doing its best to keep all immigrants out. And I don’t mean the Border Wall, Shelby Park border fight. I mean you and me.

Well, maybe not me.

You see, I am a registered Idaho Democrat. And I can’t defect. Well, I could, but it would have consequences.

Let me explain.

I have been appointed to serve on a Board that requires partisan balance. The Redistricting Commission I served on back in 2021 required I be a Democrat. We had equal, bipartisan representation. Bring your gerrymandering gripes to me.

And the Health and Welfare Board where I currently serve, requires that there be three members from the minority party, four from the majority. I’m in the minority.

So, you see, I can’t just switch party affiliation, willy nilly. I can’t try to immigrate to the party where my next idiotic legislative representatives will be chosen. No, I have to stay in this measly mess of insignificance. As an Idaho Democrat, I know my place.

But most Idaho Democrats can. And most Idaho Democrats in districts where it might make a difference just got the mailing I did.

The nondescript mass mailing came to my wife and me, both of us registered Idaho Democrats. My daughter got one too. The mailing told us how to register in the Republican Party so we might have some say in the upcoming primary election. They didn’t want to spell it out, but I will for you.

Do you insignificant Idaho Democrats want any say in who represents you in the Idaho legislature? Because, if you do, the Republican primary this May is where you will have a choice. You can support a moderate Republican, or a crazy Republican. Because your Democratic candidate ain’t got a chance come November.

That was how this county was represented for many years. I got my introduction to Idaho politics in the 1980’s and 90’s. Back then, before the Treasure Valley boomed, my county was a legislative district. When I first got elected to the legislature in 2010, I represented Latah County. But Boise boomed and we needed to combine with Benewah in 2012. Redistricting.

But Latah County had mostly Republican legislators back in the 80’s and 90’s. It was wise to vote for Republicans because they could get seniority, maybe become a committee chair, maybe get into majority leadership. You need to know that

Latah County voters have been playing this partisan game for years.

Back then, voters could go to the primary election and choose a Republican ballot. Heck, I really liked some of those Republicans. And I’d vote for them. In the general. I didn’t do the primary switch.

But now that option isn’t informal. Now, if you want to vote in the Republican primary you will need to be a registered Republican. Some idiot Federal Judge decided the Idaho Republican Party’s right of free association trumped the Idaho Constitution.

Yeah. If you want to vote in the Republican primary, you have to register. That’s a public record.

Wait a minute.

The Idaho Constitution says, Article 6, Section 1:

SECRET BALLOT GUARANTEED. 

All elections by the people must be by ballot. An absolutely secret ballot is hereby guaranteed, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to enact such laws as shall carry this section into effect.

How is it an absolutely secret ballot when my registering as a Republican is public record?

Oh, well. I won’t be registering Republican for this May’s primary.

Maybe I should. Then I would get kicked off the H&W Board and I’d have standing to sue the state for not following their own constitution.

Aw heck, I like where I am. I don’t want to be no immigrant.

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Numbers

Nobody roused a crowd talking about numbers. Images stir us. Just look at TikTok. But the numbers tell the truth. Maybe we just don’t want to know the truth.

The brouhaha about how Idaho’s budget committee (Joint Finance and Appropriations =JFAC) is deciding to spend taxpayers’ dollars needs a specific example for you to understand the folly.

It’s about numbers, not dead fetuses, or freedom, so you might not care. But that’s how this country has become the swamp it is. Us common folk don’t often pay attention to the numbers. Rich folk do. And so, they are rich. We all should do better.

Let’s drill down on the Medicaid “maintenance budget” that JFAC has just passed. I encourage you all to read the bill. You’ll have to get to page six to read the Medicaid budget. This bill has passed both the Idaho House and the Idaho Senate. All Republicans voted for it. All Democrats voted against. It awaits the governor’s signature.

Here’s the catch. That’s last years budget. They have not made any allowances for how Idaho or our relationship with the federal government has changed in the last twelve months. Theoretically, that bill with all the changes is to follow. That’s where our majority Republicans want to nitpick.

Then, the rubber will meet the road.

Last year’s regular Medicaid budget had a federal matching rate (FMAP) for regular Medicaid at 69.72%. This year’s will be at 67.59%.

I warned you about the numbers. They are going to get big.

That small change came about because Idaho became less poor. Idaho led the nation in median household income growth.

Medicaid is a partnership with the federal government to get people health insurance who don’t get it through their workplace. If the state is poor, the federal government forks up. If our incomes improve, the state is expected to pay more. Many states are at a 50/50 rate. We have been as high as 80/20. But our household incomes have risen in the last few years. So, we will need to fork over more if we want to keep this health insurance for our citizens.

Maybe we do, maybe we don’t.

Because when the next JFAC Medicaid bill comes to both houses it will include this FMAP change.

I’m sorry, but you must pay attention to the numbers, and the definitions.

I am NOT talking about the Medicaid Expansion population. That small group of Medicaid expense will never be more than a 10% match for the state. That’s why it was such a good deal.

But the regular Medicaid folks, the severely disabled and the children, and the pregnant women are the ones under regular Medicaid. They are the ones who will become more expensive. $68M more expensive.

Legislators are still butt hurt about Medicaid expansion. They throw numbers around with brazen ignorance and it can alarm you. I have seen my elected representative do this at town halls. But he is doing this to build an image. His numbers aren’t real. They aren’t the truth.

But when the real budget bill comes up for a vote on the floor of the Idaho House and Senate, will they know the numbers? Will they know the truth? I deeply regret to say, they will not. They do not understand the details of the budget. And few of us do.

But here’s the punchline in this numbers game. If the Idaho Republican legislative majority doesn’t approve the next Medicaid budget, with it’s $68M dollar bump for the regular Medicaid folks, Idaho will not be following our agreed upon partnership with the federal government. We will be in default.

Every year I was in the Idaho Senate, and on JFAC, and crafted the Health and Welfare budgets, I would watch the votes for the appropriations bills as they worked through. Medicaid might pass the House with a couple votes to spare. In the Senate it wasn’t as close.

This year, the “maintenance” budget has passed. The next budget bill with its bump will stick in their craw. And they will be voting us out of Medicaid.

And they can lie to you that they voted for it.

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Coroner Story: Another Gun

This call came right after dinner. Martha would wrangle the little girls to bed, I could go do the coroner business and keep being a doctor in the morning. I was chipper.

I didn’t have to go far. It was dark, still late winter but not snowy or icy. We were in a thaw that teases the trees and bushes about spring.

This is a small town, and this scene was just about two miles from my house. The roads were wet but no ice. It was just off the two-lane highway heading to the eastern county and four blocks or so off the north south highway. These are two lane roads, no interstates in this country. But they were highways, nonetheless.

Martha and I used to live over here when I was trying to get into medical school. This is some thirty years back. I didn’t know much about this house where I was going, though. We had known some neighbors, but not here.

This area was called “Swede Town” by the old timers. Frame houses 80 years old, some without foundations. Great for renting to students, back when such housing was affordable.

I wasn’t looking for the shiny thing when I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I truthfully, had no idea of the incredible income of physicians. A high school girl friend had a doctor as a dad, and they were sure better off than we were, but not lavish. Then I learned more in medical school, and still. Maybe shiny things draw us. Even when we don’t look to the shine.

I must have looked away from it. I chose the lowest paid specialty in the medical field, though I had all the credentials, scores, recommendations for the top paid ones. Sometimes that shiny thing repulses us. Sometimes it draws us to it.

Our old Swede Town house had wool carpets that got moths in them, and in the winter the walls dripped condensation behind the posters we put up. When it got real cold the electric wall heaters ran nonstop. We loved that place. Our first little baby was born into that hovel.

We liked the little home, and the rent was what we could afford. It was a happy time in our young married life.

This house looked like a rental too as I parked. I found a spot in the alley behind a patrol car. There were two, both city cops here in town. A patrolman was by the door. The house had a board porch, soft and rotting I could feel, and the paint was peeling. But with some work it could have been nice. It seemed to have a foundation.

“Detective Frye is inside.” I went in past the uniform at the door.

All the lights were on, and the unkempt home gritted under foot. The linoleum crackled, though the floor didn’t seem springy. I saw two uniforms in the main room and Detective Frye talking with them. He turned as I came in.

“Sorry to get you out this evening.” He smiled. He and I went way back.

“I wasn’t doing anything. What have we got?” We become four men, listening to one tell the tale.

“The deceased is in the basement.” He gives me the name and age. “Seventeen-year-old male.” I don’t know him, at least by his name. But neither could I remember the names of most the patients I had seen today in the clinic.

I think I decided to forget names early in this small-town practice so that uncontrollable reaction of recognition wouldn’t betray me in idle or stupid conversation. Maybe that’s just my excuse for bad memory.

My medical school board scores refute that. I can remember long lists of nerves, muscles, bones and body parts and I can tell you just how they are connected. But I can’t, or don’t remember the names of the patients I see. I need analysis.

“It seems there was some partying here tonight. There were four, maybe five people here. They have all corroborated the story. We’ve gotten their statements.”

“Four or five?”

“Yeah, it seems one person left before this went down. We have her name. We’re tracking her down.”

“You know these folks?”

His thin-lipped smile again. “Yeah.” And nods.

“So, this is a party house.”

He shifts. “Kinda. We haven’t gotten anybody out of here for selling, but we know these folks use. And we know the deceased from prior interactions.”

“What are they using?”

The smile again. “Lots, doc. Mainly meth, but marijuana and some heroin. Pills. You name it.”

My old neighborhood.

“What happened?”

He pauses. I appreciate when someone is trying to develop a narrative. It can’t always be done.

“Well, they were partying here. There were the three folks who live here, maybe about 6 o’clock. The deceased came in and they all described him as kind of jittery, anxious, high strung. They smoked some dope to try to mellow him out and he seemed to relax they said. Then the girl came in.” He gave me her name, but I didn’t know it, or remeber it either.

 “They were all talking and being friendly, but the kid started bugging the girl and she ran out.”

“Was she his girlfriend?”

“Not according to the three guys. We haven’t talked to her yet.”

The weak couch is behind us, dirty and saggy. The corner has a lamp and there is a low cheap coffee table strewn with life and death and garbage. There’s a dirty soft chair in the corner, and another chair, not very comfortable against a wall. I can kind of see the scene.

“So, what happened?”

Detective Frye winces. Like his narrative might be weakening. We all wait. “The guys say he seemed to snap. He grabs the gun…”

“What gun?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot to say. They all described that they, one of the guys, had a gun he kept on the coffee table there.” He gestures toward the strewn low table.

“So, he grabs the gun?”
“Yeah, he grabs the gun and runs down the hall.” He gestures again, to our right. “They all thought he was pulling his usual drama and kind of laughed about it. Then they heard the shot in the basement. And called us.”

“They didn’t go down there?”

Detective Frye nods, acknowledging he has pushed the narrative. “Yeah, one guy went down and looked at him and that’s when we got the call.”

“Let’s go look.”

He leads me down the hall and down the stairs. Few houses in Swede Town have basements. This one was small and dank, as might be expected. It’s wet outside, and the ground is not fully frozen. But there was no water to walk in down here, no pools, just the damp smell of wet concrete below grade.

There was a bathroom down here. The original builder must have seen some value in excavating so far down. For the deceased young man was sitting on a toilet seat, lid down, in a dank well-lit bathroom, now splattered with his brains and blood.

A large caliber shiny revolver laid on the concrete floor.

He was reclining back toward the toilet tank, his arms relaxed by his sides, like he might be at peace, except the top of his head was gone.

I looked closely at what was left. It looked like he might have had curly blond hair, since the front of his scalp remained. The eyes might have been blue, though the lids were half down. Around his mouth there were short, linear lacerations radiating outward.

I turned to Detective Frye. “How do you read this?”

He shrugs. “He came down here and shot himself.”

“Can you see that he put the gun in his mouth?”

He leans in and looks closely. “Yeah, I can see it. There’s that hole back there in the back.”

“Can you see the stippling around the entrance wound? That’s from the powder from a near contact wound.”

He looks at me and looks onto the open mouth again.

“See the splits on his lips? That means he closed his mouth around the barrel and when it fired, they were blown outwards.”

He looks again and nods.

Might as well share what I have learned. It’s not shiny or bright, this business of investigating death. The revolver sure was, there on the cement.

“You can clear that.”

The detective has his vinyl gloves but looks up. “I’ll have to go get an evidence bag.”

I shrug.

A patrol officer had followed us down. He moves behind and points to a defect in the lousy tile above the toilet. “I think I can get the slug out of here. See, I think it’s imbedded.”

Detective Frye tells him to do his best, then heads up to do his business. I stand upright.

“I’m not sure what that slug will tell you. I can call it. We’ll get blood for tox, but I don’t see the need for an autopsy. I’m going to go now.”

The shiny revolver lays on the damp floor, splattered with just a bit of blood.

“Yeah, doc, you can go.”

Cause of Death: Gunshot wound to the head.

Manner of Death: Suicide

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Borders

Dale found this service both meaningful and convenient.

The militia had discussed the southern border problem for weeks but had finally come to this compromise. The whole militia could have loaded up and gone down to Texas where they would be welcome. But they all had jobs.

Except Fred, the Captain, who was on social security.

And Donnie, with his disability. They were both gung-ho to take the trip south.

Both Justis and Junior seemed to be living off of some settlement, and they didn’t seem eager.

But Dale had to work. So, he’d said he couldn’t go to Texas.

So, they set up this outpost on the southern Idaho border to protect our country from the invasion.

They had their tactical gear and rations. Though Dale’s wife, Betty had pointed out to him the cost of all that gear equaled a car monthly payment, maybe more.

The wind was cold. The sun slanted west. Again, he wasn’t at the barricade, but up on look out. He thought back to when they had been protecting the unborn. That had gotten dramatic. He wasn’t sure of any unborn children saved, but at least they’d made a stand.

But this border thing was a bit harder for him to understand. He really didn’t want foreigners moving into his neighborhood. But Paco and his wife sure seemed to be reasonable folks. Paco did concrete work and she made tamales. They were good neighbors, though their kids were wild. Dale smiled as he thought of their antics.

But he had seen on the videos how there were tens of thousands coming across bringing fentanyl to poison his neighbors. And they were bringing in sex slaves, children to be defiled. He felt a righteous purpose. This righteousness brought him peace. Lord, he needed peace.

He scanned the southern horizon. They had been warned to look for vans, since the unlawful immigrants are often piled together. It was chilly, but he was warm. The low sun and the peace left him time to think.

He thought of his next job. A dairy south of him needed another water line. He could rent the trencher and knew how to make the connections, but working down in that trench was beyond his girth. His last employee was violated and now serving a rider.

The dairy seemed to have lots of Spanish speaking workers. He wondered if any of them were part of this invading horde. He also wondered if any of them knew how to glue PVC.

He shook his head to clear it. Too many thoughts can distract you. But he saw nothing in the distance.

He thought again about the pipes and the trencher and some young skinny guy he could teach down in the ditch.

His radio crackled. “Red Leader to Blue outpost.”

He toggled. “Copy”

“You see the white van from the south?”

Dale looked as far as he could, but the wind brought tears to his eyes. He held his hand up to block it and sure enough, a white van was coming north across Idaho’s border. “Roger. I see it.”

There was a long pause from Red Leader. Then, “We will intercept. Must protect the border.”

Dale dropped below the ridge and got out his binoculars. He could see the militiamen move the barricades out onto the road and shoulder their arms, like in the drills.

The van slowed and stopped. They were interrogated. The road militia stood with arms ready, but after the questioning, the barricades were removed, and the van passed.

Dale asked. “No illegals?”

Red Leader was chipper. “No, just some Mormon fundamentalists coming back from Mexico. They’re OK.”

Dale felt good about his duty.

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