As she’d done almost every working day for the past year, Dr. Aparajita Chatterjee, medical examiner for Polk County, Iowa, closed her file on the geologist Clyde Renner but let it sit on her desk for a full ten minutes, simply thinking about what the autopsy results implied, wondering who she should ask for an independent interpretation of the results, and sometimes shaking her head. She’d never seen a case like this one—so simple and obvious yet so complex, with so many people involved and such an unsatisfying set of conclusions, especially with those traces of veterinary pharmaceuticals in his blood. The unusual mix of attorneys, donors, and hackers who showed up at the college immediately after Renner’s death, and the apparent reasons for their interest in Renner’s work, only added to Dr. Chatterjee’s feeling that there was more to the scientist’s demise than just a routine heart attack and stroke.
The deceased had been delusional, that much was clear from the interviews and the conditions under which he was found, but there was nothing in the results that actually showed, at least convincingly, that his mental state was a significant contributor, or even an immediate one, to his death. Dr. Chatterjee struggled with that last conclusion, based only on statistics from similar cases over the previous decade. There had been times, in the past year, when she’d let her imagination run wild, and in the process found herself thinking not like the cool, analytical, pathologist she was, but almost like a writer working on her fantasy novel about a perfect murder. According to the interviewees, the man had no friends or close colleagues in his department at the small college where he reigned over a geology department filled with typical scientists and a couple of subdued staff members, women paid a pittance and expected to perform daily miracles, especially in the case of that accountant. Dr. Chatterjee had detected no outright hostility in any of these people, only a silent anger and an unspoken sense of relief that Clyde Renner was dead.
Renner’s mental condition, inferred from what his colleagues had said about him and what she’d found in his house, was no worse than others she knew about. Although infested with fleas and bedbugs, and cluttered with empty vodka bottles that should have been in the trash, or recycled, the house at 409 Cherry Lane, where he’d been found in the kitchen lying next to his starving and dehydrated Irish setter, was not the worst she’d ever been in to deal with a body. Her files contained cases of true psychotics—including serial killer victims, suicides, women who’d been beaten to death by their husbands, and kids who’d overdosed on whatever combination of drugs happened to be in vogue among the young and stupid. Yet there was something about the Renner case that just refused to disappear from her thoughts and resisted the closure that a medical examiner needs in order to proceed with a clear mind to the next unexpected death under suspicious circumstances.
She opened the file again, for maybe the two-hundredth time, and read through all the interview transcripts, her own assessment of Renner’s blood chemistry and histological specimens, and the descriptions of his home provided by those who’d had early access, including that guy from Homeland Security, the FBI agents, Renner’s son, and the nice but decidedly small-town policemen. Dr. Chatterjee’s education included an undergraduate degree, with honors, from Harvard, medical school also at Harvard, a residency in pathology at Johns Hopkins, and a doctorate in molecular biology from Case Western Reserve. None of this education, or her subsequent experience, seemed to help her forget about Clyde Renner, put the file away, and get on to the next challenge.
Dr. Chatterjee looked out her office window at the sleet and snow moving sideways, blanking out the familiar scene that told her she was at work: industrial buildings, a warehouse, and run-down frame houses. She needed to go home before she was locked in by the blizzard. She looked at her watch; 10:23 AM. She would never forget the time when her smart phone played its familiar tune, or the number that was now displayed on the small screen in her hand.
This excerpt is the prologue from THE STITCHER FILE, which is the second of the Gideon Marshall Mystery Series. It's available as an e-book from all the regular online sources.