Home > Dark Water (DCI Erika Foster #3)(6)

Dark Water (DCI Erika Foster #3)(6)
Author: Robert Bryndza


‘Not really, I’m watching a film. Sarah Jessica-Parker and Bette Midler are on broomsticks, followed by another witch on a vacuum cleaner. ’

‘Ah, Hocus Pocus. I can’t believe it’s going to be Halloween again…’

‘This will be my first Halloween in Forest Hill. I’m thinking being on the ground floor might put me at a disadvantage for trick or treaters,’ said Erika pulling the towel off her head with her free hand and rubbing at her wet hair. Isaac paused,

‘This isn’t a social phone call. It’s about the human remains you recovered on Friday at Hayes Quarry.’

She froze with the towel in her hand.

‘I thought they went to the anthropology pathologist?’ she said.

‘They did.’

‘So why are you calling me about them?’

‘They were with Dr Brian Michaels, but he saw immediately that the clothes and effects are post 1970s. So I took over. The skeleton was sent over yesterday evening…’

‘And?’

’And I’m at the morgue in Penge. I need to talk to you. How soon can you get here?’ he asked.

‘I’m already on my way,’ she said dropping the towel and hurrying to get dressed.

 

 

6

 

 

Erika’s footsteps echoed on the stone floor in the long corridor of the morgue leading down to the autopsy room. She reached a door at the end, and a video camera high on the wall above the door whirred as it turned, almost greeting her. The thick metal door buzzed and clicked open and she went through.

The room was chill and devoid of natural light. The stainless steel refrigeration units lined one wall, and in the centre of the room were four autopsy tables glinting under the fluorescent light. The one closest to the door was laid with a blue sheet, and on it, the small skeleton had been pieced together, laying intact, the bones a shade of dark brown.

Dr Isaac Strong had his back to Erika, and when he heard her enter he straightened up, and turned. He was tall and thin and wore blue scrubs, a white face mask and a tight fitting blue cap. His assistant, a young girl worked quietly and respectfully, neatly snipping a small lock of the wiry brown hair, still attached to the skull. The latex of her gloved hand crackled as she placed the lock of hair in a small clear evidence bag.

‘Hello Erika.’

‘Thank you for calling me, Isaac,’ she said looking past him to the skeleton. There was an unpleasant smell, of stale water, decay, and a meaty aroma of bone marrow. She looked back to Isaac’s face. He pulled down the white mask, raised his immaculately shaped eyebrows, and smiled, breaking through the formality. She smiled back briefly. She hadn’t seen him for several weeks. Their friendship was strong, but faced with death, and in this formal setting they were professional. They nodded, reverting to their roles of Forensic Pathologist and Detective Chief Inspector.

‘Procedure dictates that I’ve had to put through a call to the SCIT at Scotland Yard. I presume on Sunday things move a little slowly, but I thought you would like to know my findings.’

‘You’ve contacted the Specialist Casework Investigation Team? That means you’ve identified who this is?’ asked Erika. He put up his hand.

‘Let me start from the beginning,’ he said. They moved closer to the autopsy table, the grime on the bones contrasted with the pristine sterile sheet where they were neatly arranged. ‘This is Lan, my new assistant,’ he said indicating the elegant young Chinese girl. She nodded, just her eyes showing over her mask.

‘Okay. You can see on the left side of the skull there’s a fracture,’ said Isaac, gently lifting a matted swirl of coarse brown hair and pulling it away, exposing a crack in the smooth bone of the skull. ‘It’s six centimetres in length, and I believe this was caused by a blunt object, you can see the impact point here, just above the left eye on the temple. I can only hypothesise at this time that it may have been the cause of death. It certainly would have caused considerable trauma. Two of the teeth are missing, at the top front, and one of the left incisors,’ he said moving his gloved hand down to the upper set of browny yellow teeth. ‘Six of the ribs are broken. So is the wrist of the right hand, and there are two fractures on the left femur,’ he said moving down the small skeleton to indicate the points. ‘The body had been wrapped tightly in plastic, which has kept much of the skeleton intact. Typically in waterways, lakes, or quarries there are pike, freshwater crayfish, eels, and all manner of bacteria and microbes, which will feast and break a corpse down. The plastic protected the skeleton from all but the smallest of microbes which would have consumed the body.’

Lan stepped away from the autopsy table and retrieved a small stainless steel trolley, which she pushed toward them. On it there were some personal effects removed from the skeleton, placed on another small square of material.

‘We found several scraps of woollen clothing, a line of buttons to indicate this may have been a cardigan,’ said Isaac showing where some brown threadbare pieces had been reassembled into a vague shape. ‘There is also a belt made from a mix of synthetic plastics, you can see the colour has gone but the buckle remains tied.’ Lan held up the belt, fastened in a small loop. Erika saw just how tiny the waist must have been that it encircled.

‘And there was a small piece of nylon material, still attached to and tied amongst the hair, I think this was a ribbon…’

Erika paused for a moment and swept her eyes across it all. The skeleton, small and vulnerable, stared back at her with empty eye sockets.

‘These are the belongings of a young girl?’ said Erika.

‘Yes. I believe so.’

‘Do you have any idea of age?’ Erika looked up at Isaac, expecting a blunt response, and for him to give his usual scalding reply, that that this was too early to know for sure.

‘I believe that the skeleton is of a seven year old girl called Jessica Collins.’

Erika looked between Isaac and Lan, momentarily stunned. ’What? How do you know?’

‘It can be very hard to determine the sex of skeletal remains, in particular if death occurred before the age of puberty. The small amount of clothing encouraged me to take a leap, and we looked into all the cases of missing girls between the ages of eight and sixteen reported in the past twenty-five years. We focused on the missing child reports in the South London area and Kent borders. When the names came back, I requested dental records. We’ve matched the teeth to the records of a girl called Jessica Collins.’

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