Read Scalpel Online

Authors: Paul Carson

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Crime

Scalpel (9 page)





9.55 am

Morgue, Store Street



Dublin's city morgue was situated on the corner of Store Street and Amiens Street in the north inner city. The building itself was old, part of a complex housing the Garda station in Store Street, the Coroner's office and the morgue itself. The city planners could never have foreseen the dramatic increase in crime that would completely swamp these facilities in later years. The Garda station in Store Street was the busiest in the city, dealing with up to ten thousand arrests each year. The morgue, too, was busier than the planners had originally anticipated.

Much busier.

Jack McGrath hated the morgue even more than he hated hospitals. Whatever it was about hospital smells, the morgue had its own particular odour that clung to clothes and hair. He paced up and down the courtyard separating the Coroner's office from the entrance to the morgue, puffing furiously on the fifth cigarette of the morning. Outside the gates he could hear the morning rush hour traffic as it blared and honked its way across the quays. McGrath ground his butt under a heel and made his way inside.

The main autopsy room was sixty feet long, thirty-five feet wide and as white as could be kept. There were white tiles from floor to roof, white paint on all woodwork and three white marble autopsy tables, each about ten feet from the other, centred and anchored to the middle of the tiled floor. At the head of each table there was a water tap with
short hose attachment, while at the bottom a swivel tap, about nine inches tall, was fixed onto a deep sink unit. The room was well lit with natural light from a wire-strengthened opaque glass roof, heightening the overwhelming sense of white.

On the centre autopsy table lay the naked and dissected body of Mary Dwyer, now covered in a green surgical drape. Two white boiler suited forensics stood at an X-ray viewing box, inspecting a group of films. Noel Dunne was standing near the third autopsy table with Dan Harrison, the forensic photographer. Harrison had his Nikon in hand, at the ready. He squatted slightly, focused and suddenly a flash lit up the corner.

'Ah, Detective Inspector McGrath,' greeted Dunne, noticing McGrath out of the corner of his eye. 'You're just in time.' His booming voice echoed off the walls and the small group turned. McGrath nodded to each in turn and they nodded back.

'We've been working very hard here,' continued Dunne as he walked over to the viewing box, 'and we've more or less finished. Haven't we, gentlemen?'

A few grins were exchanged. Dunne was at his expansive best. Give him an audience and he'd perform. He stroked at his beard and moustache as he watched McGrath come closer. He was dressed in surgical greens, green protective gown that buttoned to neck and ankles and over this a long green, thick protective apron. He stood inside green, mid-calf heavy duty rubber boots.

Dunne picked up a wooden-backed clipboard on which lay an A4-sized piece of paper with a drawn outline of the human body. His scribbled handwriting and a number of pencilled arrows noted the observations he'd made as he conducted the postmortem. He slipped off the surgical gloves he was wearing and sat down on a stool beside the X-ray box, motioning McGrath to join him. The two made quite a contrast, McGrath lean and fit, Dunne slightly paunchy and stooped, his beard and moustache masking his facial features, making him look older than he really was.

The white boiler suited forensics shuffled to one side as McGrath moved in.

'Let's start from the top,' began Dunne, pushing a pair of half-moon glasses onto his nose. He frowned slightly and squinted at the clipboard. 'Can't even read my own handwriting this morning.' A few grins were exchanged again. 'Ah, here we are. Right, let's begin.'

Out of the corner of his eye, McGrath could see one of the X-rays. It showed clearly the scalpel handle and blade embedded in the greyish white outline of Mary Dwyer's neck, the tip of the blade almost coming out the far side of her neck tissue.

'Case number 1473, postmortem of Mary Dwyer.' Dunne flicked on
cassette recorder, speaking as much to it as to the audience.

'She is a young, well nourished female,' he continued, 'aged early twenties approximately. She has short reddish brown hair, blue eyes and weighs eight stones seven pounds. She is five feet nine inches tall.'

Dunne paused briefly to check on a squiggled entry, then continued. The audience listened attentively. Jack McGrath fiddled in his pocket for a peppermint.

'She has a four inch jagged laceration to the left temporal scalp with blood matting of the hair in that area. There was a pool of blood beside her at the incident scene consistent with bleeding from that scalp wound.' Dunne placed the clipboard down and looked up at one of the X-rays lit up by the glow of the viewing box lights. It showed front to back and side to side views of Mary Dwyer's head and upper neck. He stretched a finger out and pointed to a faint silver grey line on one side. 'There's a hairline fracture of the skull underneath that scalp wound. You can just about see it on the X-ray but I found it when I inspected the open skull. She must have been bounced off that bench with some force.'

For the briefest of seconds Dunne's eyes locked on McGrath's. 'I don't always X-ray my patients, Detective Inspector,' explained Dunne. 'Usually only when I'm looking
for bullets or shrapnel or such like. I thought this one would make good teaching material though.' He turned back to his notes and continued.

'There are conjunctival haemorrhages in both eyes with multiple petechiae on the face. Three amalgam fillings in the teeth, otherwise the mouth was normal. I've swabbed it as usual,' he added this for McGrath's benefit. 'There is bruising to the left and right of the neck midline with linear scratch markings along the same area. The bruising has two patterns: some are disc shaped, one quarter of an inch wide, the rest are larger and irregular, suggesting movement of the fingers. There are petechiae on the epiglottis and visceral pleura; haemorrhages under the skin of the neck and into the strap muscles.'

Dunne paused, pressed the
button on his cassette and shouted, 'Dan, would you get me a shot of this, please? Take one of that X-ray, would you?' He pointed to the X-ray with the scalpel
in situ.
'Then try and get me a close up of the neck. This
very good teaching material,' he added to no one in particular. McGrath took the opportunity to pop another peppermint.

Dunne looked back at his notes. 'There is a half-inch clean stab wound to the right mid-neck area. No bleeding from this wound was found at the crime scene. There is a surgical scalpel embedded in the neck through this stab wound.' All eyes followed Dunne's as he looked up again at the X-ray with the scalpel. He stroked his beard. 'The scalpel handle has Swann hyphen Norton, capital BS 2982 engraved on its side. There are circular, concentric etchings on the lower third of the handle. The scalpel handle shows heavy brown staining.'

Dunne flicked the
button again. 'I'll come back to that in a minute. That staining could be significant though.' McGrath looked over sharply but Dunne was off again.

button was flicked. 'There is bruising to the left outer shoulder and mid chest. The right index finger nail is broken and bent back. The rest of the body is unremarkable apart from a few bruises on the back of the upper left
shoulder and an old appendectomy scar. There is no sign of sexual interference whatsoever. The girl is virgo intacta.' He stopped recording, still looking at the viewing boxes.

'What does all this add up to?' asked McGrath finally. He noticed that a small group had gathered around behind and to the side of Dunne. They included two uniformed Gardai, and Pat Relihan, the tall, dark, fingerprint expert from Kerry. They were waiting for the final verdict.

Dunne sighed deeply, as if he was taking everything personally. McGrath hadn't seen him so involved in a long time. Dunne had a very simple philosophy. He was a doctor first and foremost who just happened to be a forensic pathologist. Even though his patients were always dead his duty was to protect them and discover their cause of death. He rarely speculated on motive or intent. He left that to the likes of Jack McGrath.

'What it all adds up to is this: the first injury she sustained I believe was the head injury. Her head was cracked off the side of that bench with enough force to fracture the skull and probably dull her reactions. Apart from the broken nail and a few scratch marks on her neck there isn't much sign of a struggle. Next she was strangled. There are deep bruises to the neck and fractures to the superior horns of the thyroid cartilage on both sides. This all fits in with strangulation.' He paused. The audience shuffled slightly. 'Now we come to the gory bit.' All eyes fixed on Dunne. 'The scalpel was stuck into her neck after she was dead.'

'After?' McGrath couldn't hold back.

'Yes, Detective Inspector, after.' Dunne turned to his notes again. 'The blade severed her common carotid artery, among other things,' he added laconically and then explained. 'The common carotid is a major artery carrying blood to the brain. If the blade had severed it while she was alive, in other words while her heart was still technically beating, there would have been a lot of blood in the neck space. Apart from a small amount of seepage there was no blood in the neck space.'

The bastard, thought McGrath.

'Now, the scalpel handle is heavily stained.' Dunne reached into a side pocket and produced a short thin foil which he peeled open. 'This is a standard issue scalpel handle. You can see it's a sort of silver-grey colour. The one we removed from this girl's neck was almost totally brown, a sort of streaked dark brown. I have seen this before - that scalpel handle came out of an old sterilising unit. Most modern sterilising units leave no staining on instruments. But that handle looks like it's been in and out of the same, possibly old, steriliser for some time. Find that steriliser and you'll possibly find where the scalpel handle came from.'

McGrath took out a pocket notebook and scribbled something down.

'Now, Detective Inspector,' continued Dunne. He had a smug grin on his face. 'I've been doing a little detective work myself here this morning. Ably assisted by Garda Phelan here.' He reached round and placed a hand on the dark blue uniformed arm of a young Garda standing behind. McGrath noticed he was almost blushing. 'Garda Phelan did a bit of ringing around earlier. Tell Detective Inspector McGrath what you learned.'

Garda Phelan cleared his throat nervously. 'Well Dr Dunne wanted to find out where the scalpel handle might have come from. So I rang the Central Maternity Hospital surgical stores' department and they told me all their small equipment comes from an agent in Kells. So I rang them and they told me they have the agency for all the main Dublin hospitals and general outlets in the city. Swann-Norton scalpel handles and scalpel blades are fairly easily come by.'

'So what you're telling me,' interrupted McGrath, 'is that scalpels are as common as muck in Dublin.'

Dunne cut across. 'As common as muck, Detective Inspector, if you're a doctor. Make a note of that. As common as muck if you're a doctor. I wouldn't have thought the scalpel was much help apart from the staining. I still believe that narrows down its point of origin, for want of a better phrase.'

'There's no prints on the blade or handle either,' a soft Kerry accent interrupted. Pat Relihan was putting in his tuppenceworth.

'And forensics discovered something interesting at the crime scene.' Dunne turned to one of the white boiler suits and then looked back at McGrath. 'Forensics do a marvellous job, Detective Inspector, they really do.' He was enjoying himself no end.

McGrath grinned ruefully.

'There was a small piece of latex,' said the white boiler suited forensic, 'no more than a quarter of an inch wide and long, lying on the ground just to the side of her right hand. The hand with the broken nail.'

'And?' asked McGrath.

'Dr Dunne thinks it's from a surgical glove.'

The room went suddenly quiet, the only noise coming from one of the water taps as it sluiced along Mary Dwyer's body.

'Yes, it looks very like a piece of latex from a surgical glove. It all adds up. No nail indents on the neck, no fingerprints on the handle. Whoever murdered this girl may well have been wearing surgical gloves. I had a close look at her neck and noticed traces of some fine powder. Most surgical gloves are powdered inside. We've sent that off for forensic examination to see if I'm right but I can tell you, this all fits in.'

For the first time Noel Dunne locked onto and held McGrath's piercing gaze.

'What are you suggesting?'

'I'm not suggesting anything, Detective Inspector, not a thing. That's not my job, that's your job. But I'm going to run a few ideas by you.' Dunne rested his hands on his lap, fingers interlocked. He stared at them for a moment, then began. 'Let's look at what we've got so far: Mary Dwyer was strangled to death. Within minutes the scalpel was stuck into her neck. Now I can't help feeling that action was some sort of statement, a personal mark.' He paused for a moment. 'The scalpel handle and blade are standard hospital
and general practice issue. My feeling is that they are not going to be that helpful. Apart from the staining.'

McGrath's eyebrows arched.

'Look at it: a man turns up in the laboratory with a fresh blade attached to an old scalpel handle. From the position on that workbench where her head was bounced I'd say she saw and heard him before he came close enough to grab her. The fact that he attacked her
her bench, not at the door, suggests she may have known her attacker and let him into the lab not realising he had her in his sights. I believe that this man actually knew Mary Dwyer and she knew him and was not surprised to find him in the lab so late at night.' Dunne looked up at McGrath to see how he was taking all this in.

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