You Know You’re a Medical Examiner When… ACT III

Sadly, I didn’t have time to stay with my eye-doctor and further explain the state of my pants because almost immediately after that awkward little conversation, I was dispatched to a baby-death.

 

Baby deaths are always horrible. It seems stupidly redundant to say so, but I cannot adequately describe the misery and pain experienced by everyone involved. Obviously, there’s the devastation, and guilt on the part of the family. But the fact that the death absolutely MUST be exhaustively investigated adds a whole extra layer of misery to perhaps the most horrific situation in the human experience.

 

The death was that of a little boy named Joseph. He was about 6 months old. The details aren’t important, it was just pure, undiluted anguish. As is always the case with baby-deaths, Joseph had to get an autopsy- no questions about it. I was just in the process of explaining that inevitability to Joseph’s mother when my pager went off, announcing that I had yet another scene holding where officers requested the medical examiner. Excusing myself from baby-Joseph’s family, I stepped out into the backyard and called the flashing number on my pager.

 

I was greeted by one of the county detective sergeants… and my heart sank. The fact that there was a detective involved at all meant that I was in for a serious fiasco… but here I had the detective sergeant calling me from the scene of a death. Something terrible was on the horizon.

 

“So… we’ve had a real mess going on up here…” he began. “This dude shot his wife, then barricaded himself into the house with her. We got here and got her out, she’s at the hospital. But the perp wouldn’t budge. We tried to gas him out with some smoke canisters, but he ended up lighting the house on fire and then shooting himself. The house is completely burned out and we have a charred corpse. When can you get here?

 

A fire death… GREAT! Fire deaths, like baby-deaths, are always, unconditionally autopsied. No question about it.

 

“Well… I’m tying things up with this baby-death here, but the thing is, I’m going to have this kid in the truck. I have to take him down to the office for an autopsy. If you’re ready for me to come and get this charred corpse right NOW, then I can be there in 30 minutes. But, just so you understand, I’ll be coming there straight from here so I’ll have a dead baby in the truck with me. If you guys are going to be fiddling around with your scene investigation I won’t come to you until later. I’ll take the baby to the office and then catch up with you afterward, but there is absolutely NO WAY that I am going to race up there and then end up sitting on-scene for 11 hours with a dead baby in the truck while you pick this guy’s house apart.”

 

I meant it. I knew what the likely story was here. Chances were, they had just confirmed that the guy was dead and before anyone put much thought into it, they said to themselves and each other, “Hey, there’s a dead body here! That means we need the medical examiner!” Then they called for me without stopping to consider that they had a TON of crime scene investigation work in front of them before anyone (including me) could so much as breathe on the body. In this scenario, I would end up dashing to the scene and then sitting there for an eternity, waiting for them to get all their fingerprints and trace evidence and photos and footprints and blah blah blah. One time I was stuck on the scene of a homicide for an entire day before the detectives and crime scene technicians realized how much work they really had in front of them. So they told me to come back the following morning. When I did, I sat on that scene for another 8 hours. No way in hell was I going to repeat THAT situation.

 

“Do you understand what I’m telling you,” I lowered my voice and spoke slowly, using what I affectionately refer to as, “The Dad Voice”

“If I come to your scene right now, I can only stay there for 30 minutes at most because I will have the slowly decomposing corpse of a 6 month old child in the truck with me. So gauge your answer very carefully.”

 

I think the whole “dead baby” thing finally hit home because the detective sergeant told me he’d ask the fire investigators what their time-line looked like and call me back.

 

A few minutes later, he confirmed that my instincts were right.

 

“The fire guys said they’ll be at it for a few hours before the body can go. So I guess go ahead and take the kid to the office and I’ll call you when this guy’s ready to move..”

 

Twenty minutes later Joseph and I were headed to the far southern edge of the county where the autopsy suite and morgue are found. I had the little guy wrapped in blankets and laying on the stretcher in the back of my truck, though putting babies in the back of the truck is a move with which I’ve never been comfortable. Children always look so small on the stretcher and it seems so harsh to put them there. Even though that body is the same as any other body- just a vacated flesh vehicle- still, I always feel weird doing it. Of course there’s no better option, really. Laying them across the passenger seat isn’t… appropriate. If I have to hit the brakes they could go flying. But I can’t put them on the floor of the truck because it’s… you know … the FLOOR OF A TRUCK. So babies go on the stretcher- the least of all evils.

 

I was about halfway to the office when my pager went off again. I let lose with a fountain of profanity as I pulled off to the side of the highway to see who else had a dead body for me. But to my surprise, it wasn’t a whole new death scene. The sergeant with the charred corpse was asking me to call him back right away. And he sounded downright sheepish when I did.

 

“Soooo… uh, yeah,” He mumbled when I called him back. “The fire investigators say the roof of the house is about to cave in and we need to get the dead guy out of there right now- I mean, like, RIGHT NOW. Where are you?”

 

“I’m on the side of the highway with this dead kid on my stretcher. Didn’t we already discuss this?”

 

Yeah, yeah,” I could hear the exhaustion in his voice.”I’m sorry. They just realized it. With the walls gone and all the support beams burned up, they’re afraid what’s left of the second floor is going to collapse on top of this guy. He has to move now.”

 

“Okay… it’s okay. Sorry for giving you a hard time, It’s just… I’ve been driving in the opposite direction from your scene so it’s going to take me at least 45 minutes to get there. But I’m turning around. I’ll haul ass and be there as soon as I can.”

 

“Thanks. Again, I’m really sorry. Um…” he stuttered for a moment. “Do you… uh… do you HAVE to bring the baby with you?”

 

On one hand, I couldn’t blame him. Dead infants make people very uncomfortable. The first time I sat in on a pediatric autopsy, I locked myself in my bathroom and cried for two hours. Even now, though I see deceased children of all ages all the time, the babies still spook me a bit. But the way this detective sergeant was talking, you’d think he expected me to show up with the kid strapped to the hood of the truck like a freshly slain deer.

 

“Dude, really?” I balked. “What do you want me to do, drop him off at a daycare?”

 

“No! No, I was just thinking a funeral home could hold on to him or something…”

 

“I’ll see you soon.” I said with deep finality.

 

I was at a fairly secluded spot there on the side of the road so I decided to go ahead and relocate Joseph from the stretcher in back to the passenger seat in the cab with me. As I did my best to tuck him into the seat, I told myself that I would just have to be really careful about my driving so as not to disturb him. And as I told myself this, I realized that I was telling him as well.

 

“Look, I know this isn’t ideal,” I said to the swaddled form as I secured the seat-belt around him and wedged a couple of blankets on to the seat for cushioning. ”But you’ll be okay up here and we’ll be back on our way to the morgue in no time.” I patted him on the back in a pointlessly reassuring manner and climbed back into the driver’s seat.

 

“Oh! I love this song!” I said to Joseph as we pulled back on the highway and the radio began pouring forth my new favorite tune. I went ahead and cranked the volume to sing along, figuring kids like singing. “Ugh,” I huffed as the song ended and I watched the sun slide closer to the horizon, signaling the fact that the day was long gone and I still hadn’t completed a single page of paperwork. “Can you believe the day I’ve had? What a freaking mess.” -careful to use the word “freaking” because I don’t cuss in front of children. “I mean, seriously… a fatal MVA, a baby-death and then a burned out corpse, I can’t even begin to comprehend the paperwork all of this is going to take.” I glanced over at Joseph and was immediately overcome with guilt for complaining to him like I was, since his day had clearly been much worse than mine.

 

“Look, I’m really sorry for your family,” I told him. “They seem like nice people, and I know they didn’t DO anything to hurt you, but we always have to do this… just to be on the safe side- you know?”

 

We drove a little further.

 

“Anyway, we’re going to go see the Sheriff’s deputies, you’ll like them. They’re good people. And I promise we won’t be there long. I’ve made THAT absolutely clear.”

 

Soon enough, Joseph and I arrived at the scene of the house-fire, and as described to me by the detective sergeant, the structure was barely a blackened, smoking scaffolding. I slowed my approach and skirted the multitudes of police cars and fire trucks that clogged the dirt road to the driveway. A couple of deputies waved as I pulled closer and one in particular, Deputy Getz (with whom I’m good friends) scampered up to my passenger side window to say hello.

 

“Hey Grace,” he grinned as I lowered the window and he leaned in. “I’ve been listening to all your death calls over the radio. HOLY SHIT you’ve had a busy day! You here to collect our guy?”

 

“Sure am” I grinned back. “What kind of trouble have you guys gotten into up here?”

 

“Hey man, it wasn’t our fault,” he shrugged. “This guy lit the fire himself- he kept the dog in there with him, too.”

 

“Oh my GOD! Seriously? He killed the dog in the fire? That is SO messed up!”

 

Getz nodded emphatically. “What a fuckin’ douche-bag, huh? I’d shoot him myself if he weren’t already dead.” Like most law enforcement and emergency personnel, both Getz and I are pretty much desensitized to the atrocities that human beings commit against one another, but there’s no forgiveness for someone who does that shit to a dog…. or a child… speaking of… “Ummm, what’s that?” Getz gestured to the ubiquitous, blanketed lump in the passenger seat.

 

“Oh, that? That’s Joseph. He’s had kind of a rough day too so we’re keeping each other company.”

 

Getz stared at me for a second, obviously expecting me to laugh and tell him that I was kidding, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

 

“Ummm, are you serious,” he backed away from the window. “That’s the baby from your last call?”

 

“Well… yeah” I said. Of course it was the baby, what else would it be? Just then, another officer approached to say hello and as she got closer, Getz grabbed her arm.

 

“Hey… don’t,” he warned the officer. “She’s got a dead baby in her front seat.”

 

-And suddenly, I realized that maybe it actually was a little bit west of normal to be discovered driving around with a deceased infant strapped into your passenger seat. I mean, wasn’t like I did it all the time or anything. Flustered, I groped for the briefest explanation possible as to why the baby was right there instead of on the stretcher, but just then I was spotted by the lead fire investigator and he waved me forward into the driveway to collect my decedent.

 

I smiled a half-hearted goodbye to Getz and the other officer, not liking the squeamish grimace they both wore as they attempted to smile and wave back. Oh well, I thought. It’s not like I’m running for prom queen of the county.

 

“Stay here, I’ll be right back.” I told Joseph as I hopped out of the truck and pulled the stretcher out of the back. The fire-fighters and I suited up in big plastic suits and booties that covered our shoes (in order to avoid contamination of the trace evidence) and we hoisted the our dead guy out of the smoldering muck of his ruined house, wrapped him in plastic and loaded him into my truck… or at least we did so with most of him. His feet were completely burned away and a couple of his fingers disintegrated as soon as we touched him. The detective sergeant asked me if I could determine whether or not our dead guy had shot himself in the head before the fire took him- An incredibly unrealistic request seeing as how the cranial structure was so ravaged by the flames you really couldn’t even tell where his face was supposed to be. I departed, telling the gathered company that an autopsy would take place the following day and the only thing that would confirm a gunshot wound to the head was an x-ray of the corpse. As I pulled out of the driveway and back on to the road. I patted Joseph again to reassure myself that he was still there, and noted Deputy Getz nearby, avoiding eye-contact with me as I turned back in the direction of the morgue and drove away.

 

“I swear, Joseph, Those guys can be such babies.” I muttered. “I mean, you’d think they’d be a little bit more… I don’t know… robust when it comes to death.”

 

No one else called that night. All the same, by the time we finally made it to the morgue,  darkness had curled up and settled in around the county. I unloaded my charges as cool gusts of  night’s breeze washed away the day’s heat. I logged the two bodies into our database, first the fire-guy, followed by little Joseph. He looked so small on the huge metal gurney upon which we place our dead. I felt the twinge of a sour note ringing in my head as I wheeled Joseph into the cooler with the other bodies. It didn’t feel right to leave him in there, he was a baby. He didn’t belong in there with those grown adults, all fixed in their death pose by rigor-mortis and covered with white sheets. Under the flickering florescents, they looked as though they had all been writhing in distress and paused when they heard me walk in. I began to wheel Joseph’s gurney into the free-space next to Fire-guy when I stopped, overcome with the distastefulness of it all. I just couldn’t do it… after all, that guy had killed a dog.

 

No, I didn’t put Joseph back into my front seat and drive home.

 

Instead, I wheeled him back out of the cooler and took a look at the chalkboard where the names and locations of the bodies were listed. “Let’s see…” I murmured under my breath. “A 28 year-old female- suspected overdose… no. A 42 year-old GSW to the chest… no…”

 

Until I figured it out.

 

It took some rearranging and if anyone else had been in the morgue that night, they would have thought I was being ridiculous. All the same..

 

“Here you go Joseph,” I said to him as I wheeled him into his new spot in the cooler: up against the wall on one side, and a 60 year-old gentleman who had died of a suspected heart attack on the other. “Charles, this is Joseph. Joseph, this is Charles. He’s going to look out for you until tomorrow. Charles, you’ve got some bad-seeds in here tonight. But I trust you can handle it.”

 

And with that, I turned out the lights on the bodies… on my day… and closed the door.

 

You know you’re a medical examiner when… I’m not sure… when you think it’s weird that other people think you’re weird for having a dead baby in your front seat? When you talk to dead people more easily than you talk to living people? When you do things for the dead that don’t really matter… except that they matter?

 

I don’t know. I guess my brain has been re-wired in a way that doesn’t make much sense. The reasons that I do somethings doesn’t seem to have any connection to anyone else’s reality. A lot of people who know a lot about psychology and coping mechanisms and PTSD would probably have a lot to say about it. But I’m not interested.

I’m a medical examiner…

and the living are lousy conversationalists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fun With Law Enforcement

The other day, driving home from my latest nuclear melt-down at the radiation oncologist’s office, Husband and I happened to pass an Oswald County deputy on his motorcycle.

It hadn’t been a good day.  In fact, that day was just the latest torture-tipped taunt in a string of miseries that, had the experiences taken on a physical form, I have no doubt they would have uncannily resembled a length of barbed wire.

I was sporting a thick, papular rash all over my face which gave me the overall appearance of a medieval plague victim.  Additionally, I was sporting a fiendish, oozing radiation rash all across my neck and “decolletage”, which gave me the overall appearance of a medieval plague victim who fell through the space-time continuum and landed at Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.  (Of course I had opted to accentuate my old-testament-style suffering by wearing a long, black dress topped off by a hooded, black leather coat… and, naturally, I kept the hood up and my head down so I could just barely be glimpsed giving the world a shifty-eyed glare from deep within my torment… I could have taught a class to teenage goths.)

Anyway, I had just howled my latest “What-the-fuck-have-you-DONE-to-me” at my terrorized doctor, who responded by throwing his hands up in a defensive block and telling me that my complaints were actually NORMAL and EXPECTED side effects in a treatment regimen such as mine.  I had responded by wiping my nose, snapping at the nursing staff and stomping out of the office with Husband apologizing in hushed tones behind me. I flung myself into the passenger seat of our car and proceeded to wallow the whole way home with such flair as is only seen in Greek tragedies and swimsuit season.

It was then that I spied my cohort, the Oswald County Sheriff’s deputy cruising along on his county issued motorbike… just going about his business… just doing his thing.

I stared, wistfully, at him for a moment and felt my outrage and discomfort dissolve into a bitter longing.

“I miss the cops.”  I found myself bemoaning to Husband.

“I REALLY miss the county deputies.”

It’s true.  I miss the Oswald County Sheriff’s deputies.  I’ve often remarked on how much I like the deputies.  But in that moment, and since then, I have to admit that I really, really miss those guys.

So in their honor, two small songs of heroism and humor that have, thus far remained unsung:

-I WAS HOPING FOR A HEAD-

I love to snoop.

I count myself extremely lucky to have landed a job in which I am paid to go through other people’s stuff.  There are some who feel as though snooping is an unforgivable offense and they will end a relationship if they find that snooping has taken place.  To those people I tend to say “snooping is only wrong if you DON’T find anything.” As evidence, I offer the fact that, by snooping, I discovered my one-time fiancee was cheating on me.  Did I feel guilty about it? Fuck no! Did he try to turn it around on me and make it seem like I was the one in the wrong for going behind his back and invading his privacy?  Of course he did.  Did I point out that he had been invading the “privacy” of his alleged EX-GIRLFRIEND roughly 3 times a week since we had gotten engaged? At the top of my lungs, I did.

Anyway, these days, I get to go through everyone’s stuff because it’s an integral part of understanding who they were, and therefore, why they’re dead.  It’s also lots of fun… except for when it’s dangerous… then it’s downright exciting.

I had been called to a scene in which the deceased was found flat on his back in his bedroom with a large supply of methamphetamine nearby.  The Sheriff’s deputies knew it was methamphetamine, in part, because they had one of those little drug-testing kits in their car.  They also knew it was methamphetamine because both our dead guy and his brother looked like they had just walked out of a concentration camp.  Meth tends to inflict a very specific array of symptoms on its users.  They tend to be extremely thin with dull, flaking, pock-marked skin.  The eyes are shrunken and recessed back in the orbits. The cheekbones are sharply pronounced with folds of soft tissue hanging limply from their crests.  Most notably, the teeth look like shriveled up crisped-rice cereal.  This dude and his sibling (who was standing on the front porch with a cigarette and forcefully disavowing ANY knowledge of his brother’s drug use) the two of them were like the freaking “Doublemeth” twins.  The only symptom they DIDN’T have in common was the fact that one of them wasn’t dead.

Anyway, the deputies and I were busy tossing the house for any other illicit substances when we noticed the dead guy had a small mini-fridge placed next to his dresser in the corner of his bedroom.

The mini-fridge had a pad-lock on it…

a BIG one.

Now, if there’s a heaven for law enforcement and investigative professionals, then that heaven is a magical place- full of rusty safes and suspicious lock-boxes.  Every corner of this paradise is crammed thick with file cabinets of questionable character and glove compartments of ill-repute.  When such an inquiring saint enters the into this happy hunting ground, they are greeted at the gates, not by Saint Peter, but by Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost items.  Saint Anthony hands each of these souls a bright shiny pair of golden bolt-cutters or a chrome crowbar and whispers into their ear: “Gooooo…. FIND IT!”

It makes my heart hurt a little, just thinking about it.

Anyway, when we spied the little fridge, squatting there with an impish little smirk on its face, both the deputy and I caught our breath a little. We glanced surreptitiously at each other for a moment.

“Do you think we should open it?” the officer asked, only partially joking.
“Oh, you bet your shiny black pistol we’re opening that thing.” I crowed.

None of the police at the scene had a pair of bolt-cutters and so we raised the fire department on dispatch and had them roll over in their truck with the required equipment. When the hose-haulers showed up, they were followed by no less than 3 other local police officers who had heard the call for bolt-cutters go out on the radio. It seemed our pad-locked mini-fridge was the hottest thing going that night… and everyone wanted to see what was inside.

Since the bolt cutters were the property of the fire department, it was generally assumed that they would be the ones doing the honors. And with much acclaim, the ranking lieutenant stepped into the bedroom brandishing the massive tool as though he was carrying a sacrificial knife up a Mayan pyramid or something. It was at that moment that suddenly, my survival instincts kicked in. Drug addicts tend to be… unpredictably unpredictable. On one hand, you can pretty much count on them to chase their particular fix with a mindless, dogged drive. But that’s really the only generalization that can be made. Some drug addicts can be woefully dull creatures of habit, or, sometimes they can do some really crazy shit- and there’s not really any way to predict what could be coming. In that moment, as the fireman knelt in front of the mini-fridge, a tiny little flare of alarm shot off in my head.

If this guy was careful and industrious enough to keep something in a locked refrigerator, who’s to say he WASNT paranoid enough to also booby-trap that refrigerator?

I’ll admit it, this was kind of a silly thought. But all the same, I’ve seen some pretty wacky shit as both a paramedic and a medical examiner…. so in the split second as the fireman positioned the clips around that pad-lock, I vaulted over the futon that was in the middle of the guy’s room, leapt over the dead body and dove behind the fireman who appeared to have the most body mass and would therefore make the best human shield.

(What was even stranger than my sudden outburst, was the fact that no one in the room seemed at all surprised or taken aback. I figure either they all had the same nagging fear and I was the only one who acted on it…. or nothing I do or say shocks these people anymore.)

There was no explosion, obviously, and the lock gave way with a loud “SNAP”.

The fireman looked around at the gathered company with a grin and swung open the little door to reveal….

… a six-pack of Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

In less than 5 minutes, I was once again alone in the apartment with the dead guy and the original deputy who had discovered the existence of the offending mini-fridge with me.

I was finishing up my photos and already had a funeral home on the way to transport the body, while the officer was investigating each soda can to make sure that none of them was one of those novelty decoy cans with the un-screwable bottom so you could further conceal your loot.

“Man, what a disappointment…”he grumbled as he scowled repeatedly at the dead guy on the floor, who was probably having a really good laugh at us… wherever he was.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I totally thought there was gonna be a head in there or something.”

“Me too,” the deputy pouted, “or at least…. a chemistry set… or a cat… or something.”

“Well, they can’t all be Freezer-Frank.” I said, in reference to a gentleman who had been found, dismembered, in a freezer chest in his garage last year.

The deputy sighed again and glanced at the ginger ale in the ‘fridge, then he looked at the floor. Undoubtedly, he was mulling over the rest of his night, and how nothing fun or interesting had happened and, now, probably wouldn’t. He glanced back at the dead guy, gazed back into the ‘fridge and then I heard him mumble, “Man…. fuck this guy.”

Then he proceeded to remove every can of soda from the fridge, shake each of them up as hard as he could, then put them back.

-Strike A Pose-

I was going to die,

I was pretty sure.

I don’t even mean in a sudden, crazy “what-if-the-mini-fridge-is-booby-trapped” kind of way, or “Oh-my-God-I-have-cancer” kind of way.

I had put some serious, rational thought into it and came to the conclusion that I could actually be driving to the scene of my own death.

I had gotten a call from the local city police force (NOT the county deputies) and they had asked me to do a death notification for them. Now, this might not seem like an unusual request, seeing as how I’m the Oswald county medical examiner, except for the fact that Lincolnville police officers always did death notifications themselves. What’s more… the death notification that had to be done was IN Lincolnville so it’s not like they had to go out of their way to get it taken care of.

Confused? So was I. The call I received went something like this:

“Hey this is the medical examiner returning a page.”

“Um… yeah, this is the Lincolnville P. D. staff sergeant. I was wondering if you could do a favor for us.”

“Sure, man, what do you need?”

“Well… did you know about that officer-involved shooting we had last night?”

Although I had not been working, I had heard about it during shift change. A car-full of guys had been pulled over and when the Licolnville P.D. started making moves towards searching the vehicle and running the identities of the occupants for warrants, some dude in the backseat burst out into the street with guns blazing.  The Lincolnville officers put him down in a matter of moments and that had been that.  Except for the fact that, apparently, the dead guy’s family had not, yet been officially notified of his death.  It was entirely possible and even likely that they already knew…. but that didn’t change the fact that someone official had to look them in the eye and deliver the news.

Apparently that “someone official” was going to be me.

“You see, the thing is….”  the staff sergeant stuttered uncomfortably as he revealed the situation, “we don’t think Lincolnville P.D. should be the ones to notify since… well… even BEFORE this happened, we kind of have a bad history with this family…  We think they would react with a lot of hostility if a Lincolnville officer came to the door….”

I couldn’t believe it.  “So wait…” I stopped him, mid-sentence. “YOU guys killed this dude in a shootout…”

“Well… yeah…”

“But even before that, Lincolnville P.D. had history with this guy and his family.”

“Yeah.”

“But you want ME to walk up to their front door and tell them that their boy was killed in a fire-fight with Lincolnville P.D. …”

“Yeah…”

“… because you guys are afraid of what they’ll do TO YOU…”

“You should take a chaplain along,” the sergeant continued as though there was nothing at all unreasonable about this request.  “And maybe a county deputy or two.”

So THAT’S how I found myself on my way to my own death.  I had arranged for a sheriff’s chaplain and the recommended “couple of deputies” to meet me in a parking lot near the family’s house so we could all touch base and figure out how best to minimize casualties.  And a few minutes after everyone’s arrival, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only one without a bullet-proof vest. Admittedly, I had driven by the house in question on my way to the rendezvous point just to check and see if there was an active wake taking place at the locale- complete with drunken mourners shooting guns in the air and everything.  Our decedent’s family home had been dark and quiet…. but that could have been because they were in the basement, plotting t blow up city hall.

“Ummm… so….” I announced as I approached the deputies.  “As I understand it, we’re all about to die.”

“Yeah!” shouted deputy Scheller.  “Talk about getting thrown under the bus!”  -and THAT’S how I knew it wasn’t just my own suspicion and it actually WAS total and complete bullshit that Lincolnville had chickened out like that.

“I don’t suppose you guys have another vest in your trunk or anything, do you? I’m feeling a little…” I shrugged, “… left out.”

The other deputy, Dobber, shrugged.

“I have one, but it’s a tactical vest… it’s for SWAT.  I doubt it’ll fit you, but maybe you can cover it with your coat.”

The tactical-grade vest was marched out and the deputy strapped it on me.  I went from “business casual” to “storming the gates” in about 15 seconds.  The vest itself was massive, easily doubling the circumference of my torso.  Furthermore, I had wrist restraints, flares, tear-gas cannisters and extra ammo all hanging off the front of my chest.  I definitely looked less, “I’m-here-to-convey-the-county’s-regrets” and more, “I’m-here-to-escort-your-convoy-to-Falluja.”

“Uh…” I grunted as I tried in vain to look downward at my whole…. situation, I realized I strongly resembled the character of “Randy” from the movie “A Christmas Story” in that I was so packed into my armor that I couldn’t quite put my arms down.  “I think this might send the wrong message…”

I glanced up at the deputies and the chaplain, all of whom were valiantly trying not to laugh out loud.

“Would you mind taking a picture for my mom?” I asked them.

And the next thing I knew, all four of us were doubled over, laughing our assess off.  Dobber pulled out his cell-phone and , obligingly, took about a dozen photos of me doing my best “America’s Next Top Shooting Victim” as I used Scheller and the chaplain as props.

In the end, I doffed the vest and opted to stand behind everyone else as we knocked on the dead guy’s door to deliver our unfortunate news.  It turned out okay.  The house was, in fact, the residence of our dead guy’s ex-wife and she was able to give us the location of the decedent’s actual blood relations…. all of whom lived out of state, so we got to pass the buck on to another law enforcement agency.  Therefore, we all got to live to see another day…

… more importantly, I got to live to see the email appear in my inbox- the email which opened to reveal the fruits of my very first, on-the-job photo shoot.  And when I look at those photos, I can still hear the hoots of laughter and the shouted coaching from my “artistic director”, Deputy Dobber:

“Okay… now show me ANGRY!  YES! That’s it… You’re ANGRY that you have to do this notification… okay now cheat your face to the left a little…. PERFECT!”