Thursday, May 11, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, "Black Widow" - Part 39

Chapter 49

When Luna woke up in her Pittsburgh hotel room the next morning, the curtains were bright with sunlight. She thought it was eight or nine o’clock, but when she looked at the alarm clock and saw that it was almost noon, she sat upright in the bed, panicking.
Had she missed a call from Elaine?
She reached over to the nightstand and grabbed her phone, frantically checking for new messages.
One had been received—she had been so knocked out she hadn’t even heard it come in. It was from Elaine, but sent to Nick. He had forwarded to her:

Hi Nick,
It’s so nice to hear from you! Thanks for giving me the glowing reference. I’ve actually already gotten the new governess job in Greece—the in-person check was just a routine follow up. I had no idea they would send anyone to your house—so sorry! I apologize for any inconvenience that might have caused
I hope Ryan and Amelia are well—I think of them warmly and often—they both must be so grown up now!
Thanks again,
P.S. Please tell Art and his family hello from me, too!

Luna read the last line twice, relief surging through her jet-lagged body. She was glad Elaine had understood the hidden information so easily. Luna didn’t know how Elaine had done it, but it sounded like everything had gone smoothly.
Luna quickly got dressed, went down to the restaurant and had brunch.
By one o’clock, she was in her rental car, heading towards the center of Pittsburgh, to the Allegheny Medical Examiner’s Office, to begin the investigation of Patrick Brogan’s death.

Chapter 50

Luna had never been to Pittsburgh before. As she drove her rental car along I-376 and neared the downtown area, she was surprised by how picturesque she found the city. A fresh layer of snow dusted the grass and the leafless trees that spilled over the hills and valleys. For some reason she had always envisioned Pittsburgh as little more than an ugly cluster of smoke-spewing steel mills. But with its three converging rivers, bridges, and modern skyscrapers, it was quite an attractive metropolis.
She also quickly discovered that its residents spoke with such a heavy accent and used such unfamiliar words and expressions that it might have been its own dialect of English. Elaine had mentioned the regional accent a couple of times and said that the private school she’d attended “beat it” out of her, figuratively speaking, but that she still slipped occasionally. Luna had noticed a few remnants in her casual speech. Elaine sometimes referred to soft drinks as “pop” and a vacuum cleaner as a “sweeper.” When Luna commented on this, Elaine shrugged and simply said “Pittsburghese.”
Luna encountered the dialect head on when she pulled off the Interstate and stopped at a mini-market to buy a city map. Luna was still old school—she liked paper maps that she could make notes on, if needed. She opened the map inside the store but had a little trouble finding the part of Penn Avenue where the medical examiner’s office was located. Penn Avenue seemed to run all the way across the city and into the suburbs.
She asked the middle-aged clerk for help, telling him the nearest cross street to where she wanted to go.
“Oh that part of Penn Ave would be in the Donton area,” he said.
“Where’s Donton?”
“You don’t know where Donton is?”
“You’re not from around here, I guess.”
“No I’m not.”
The clerk smiled and pointed out the window behind him. “See those skyscrapers there?”
“That’s Donton.”
Luna laughed. “Oh, you mean downtown.”
The clerk frowned at her. “That’s what I said.”

* * *
To reach “Donton,” Luna had to cross the Monongahela River once and the Allegheny River twice, driving into the north side of the city and then south again. She had no idea how to pronounce Monongahela and hoped she wouldn’t have to.
She soon arrived in the Strip District, which was where the medical examiner’s office was located. As she crossed the final bridge and entered the area, she expected to encounter a series of sleazy bars and nightclubs, perhaps with scantily-clad hookers shivering in doorways along litter-strewn streets. But there were only fancy specialty stores, upscale restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques scattered around. And except for some slush, the streets and sidewalks were remarkably clean.
She finally found a parking place in a gigantic outdoor lot that ran along the bank of the Allegheny River. In a matter of minutes she was on the second floor of the medical examiner’s office, entering the Records Department.
Behind the counter was a man with glasses and a huge pot belly who looked bored out of his mind. He was slouched in his chair, staring at a computer screen that Luna guessed showed some kind of game—it wasn’t visible from the counter.
He glanced at her and straightened up, but only slightly.
“Can I help you?”
“U.S. Secret Service,” Luna said, flashing her badge.
The man suddenly rose from the chair, looking a bit guilty.
“You from Worshington?”
“Yes I am,” Luna lied. It was better for everyone to think she was from “Worshington”—if they knew she was from the European office and Spyro somehow found out she was here investigating Patrick Brogan’s suicide, it might make him more likely to be suspicious of the replacement governess he had recently hired in London.
The clerk said, “What’s going on—is there a threat against the President?”
Luna sighed. It annoyed her that so few Americans knew that the Secret Service did far more than that. She said, “Look, I can’t talk about it—it’s classified, okay?”
“Oh. Okay.” He looked duly impressed.
She handed him the autopsy summary that she and Elaine had printed out. He scratched his belly as he skimmed it.
Luna said, “I need a copy of everything you have on this—the complete autopsy. Photographs, coroner’s notes, videos, the whole shebang.”
“We don’t call ’em coroners here anymore. They’re ‘medical examiners.’ They’re kind of picky about it, too.”
“Whatever.” Luna pulled out a high capacity flash drive and set it on the counter. “You can scan everything and put it on there if you want. I would prefer that, actually.”
“No problem.” He plucked a couple of request forms from under the counter and slid them across to her. “You need to fill these out first and have them signed—”
“There’s no time for all that. You know I have the right to access this data—let’s just cut through the red tape and keep people safe.”
He inferred her meaning, but still hesitated.
“You want me to call my boss and have him give you an earful over the phone?”
He looked at her for a moment but said, “Okay, okay, just sign off at the bottom and let me make a copy of your ID.”
After she signed the document, he disappeared into the file room for a while and then returned carrying a yellowed folder. He opened it and started running the papers through a scanner. From where Luna stood, she could see that there was also a sealed, clear plastic bag marked EVIDENCE. It had been pressed flat from so many years in storage, but she thought she could make out a white trash bag liner inside.
It hadn’t even occurred to Luna that any physical evidence would have been kept from an autopsy performed so long ago.
The clerk finally handed her back the flash drive. “It’s all there—pictures, text, everything.” He turned and started to put the stack back into the folder.
“Wait a minute, what’s that?”
He glanced at her and saw that she was pointing to the evidence bag.
“Evidence,” he said.
“Yeah, I can read, buddy. I need that, too.”
He frowned. “Sorry, evidence can’t be removed from this office without a court order. That’s a strict rule.”
“I’m sure it is, but what’s your rule on keeping evidence in storage? How many years?”
“Well, six.”
She pointed at the file. “It’s been fifteen years. That evidence bag should have been disposed of a long time ago.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t.”
“And why is that?”
He shrugged, looking at the bag. “Nobody noticed it, I guess. There’s hardly anything in it, looks like trash.”
“So follow your own rules.” Luna pointed to the garbage can next to his desk. “Get rid of it—all it’s doing is taking up file space.”
He saw what she was getting at. He scratched his chin, thinking, then picked up the bag and dropped it in the can, which was otherwise empty. “I suppose it’s fair game now.”
Luna stepped over and fished it out. “Thanks a lot.”

* * *
A few minutes later Luna was sitting in a café just down the street, her laptop open in front of her, slowly reading through the autopsy report and occasionally stopping to look at the photos and the evidence in the bag. She was at a corner table, her back to the wall, the screen positioned so no one else could see it.
The pictures of Patrick Brogan were a little grisly, but compared to what she had witnessed during her years at the FBI, this was G-rated Disney material. There was a photo of Patrick hanging from a beam in his cell, his eyes closed, his cheeks droopy, his tongue sticking out a little between his lips, as if he were making a razzing sound. Also included were photographs of the cell, made crime-scene fashion, though technically it was not a crime scene. There were close-up shots of Patrick’s limbs, wrists and ankles.
According to the autopsy, the only evidence of injury was hanging. No bruises, cuts, scratches, were found on the outside of the body, no skin under the fingernails, no internal injuries that might have been the result of a blow, no signs of binding or struggle whatsoever on his part. The toxicology report was completely clean as well. No drugs or poisons were found in Patrick’s blood, urine, body fluids, or tissue samples.
The instrument that Patrick Brogan had supposedly used to take his own life was described in detail. A ligature received in the labeled plastic bag (“EVIDENCE”) consists of a translucent white trash liner which is tied into a slipknot that forms a circle at one end and a knotted area at the opposite end, with two cut ends extending from the knot opposite the circular area...
The report went on to describe the furrow that the ligature made as it dug into Patrick’s neck.
Time of death was estimated at 4:00-4:30 a.m. based on body temperature.
Luna then read the investigating police officer’s report, which was embedded in the same file. Patrick Brogan had been confined in a solitary cell and, according to the guard on duty, appeared alert and in good health at lights-out time the night before, at nine p.m. His body was not discovered until six a.m. during roll call, when he did not emerge from the cell. The guard who discovered the body, a Thomas J. Tutter, had been on duty since six p.m. the previous evening, and was just finishing his twelve hour shift. Evidently, prison had been short-staffed during that period, and Tutter had been working overtime.
She then turned her attention to the evidence bag. She didn’t want to break the seal—it was signed by the medical examiner herself and would still be valid in court. But she could see through the bag clearly enough without opening it by shifting the contents around with her fingers. According to the police report, it contained all the loose material that had been found in Brogan’s cell, which was almost nothing, since all of his personal belongings had been confiscated, and he had only been in jail a few days. A pile of trash, which had been dumped out of the garbage can, so the liner could be used, was in one corner of the room. This consisted of some candy bar wrappers, crushed paper cups that contained traces of ordinary tap water, and various other bits of garbage. And of course the trash can liner that had been around his neck was in the evidence bag, too.
But there was one item in the bag that bothered her. It was a small thing, a tiny thing, but for some reason she had noticed it right off, even when she’d first seen the bag in the file folder on the clerk’s desk. This was because the item seemed a little out of place to her. It was an empty toilet paper roller. The cardboard cylinder was completely flattened, of course, from being pressed in the file folder all these years. According to the police report, it had been found under Patrick’s bed, up against the wall.
She wondered: could the flimsy little cardboard cylinder somehow have been used to kill Patrick Brogan?
She pushed the flattened roller around inside the evidence bag, pinching the plastic to expand the cardboard and peer into the interior. It just looked like any ordinary toilet paper roller to her.
Still, could it have somehow been used as a weapon?
Luna considered this, but the only thing she could think of would be for the killer to shove it down Patrick’s throat and put his hand over the end, which was a silly idea, it being so flimsy.
The medical examiner must have decided that the toilet paper roller was just a random piece of trash that had rolled under the bed sometime earlier, perhaps days or even weeks earlier, so far back that it had never been noticed.
If that was true, then it sure did look like an open-and-shut case of suicide to her, too.
Putting her thoughts about the cardboard roller on hold for the time being, Luna sat there in a café for a long time trying to imagine the bigger picture. Namely, how anyone could have 1) gotten inside the cell, 2) killed Patrick, who, according to the autopsy, was perfectly healthy, stood six foot three and weighed two hundred and sixty-three pounds, without the slightest sign of a struggle, and then 3) raised the dead body up to the height necessary to hang it from the beam, which was eight feet above the cell floor.
Now she wondered, and not for the first time, if Kathy Brogan was lying, or perhaps had simply misunderstood what she had overheard her husband saying, or had jumped to conclusions.
Of course, there was always a chance that the medical examiner had been bought off, but in this particular case, it was extremely unlikely. Luna had already checked the woman out and she had an excellent reputation, a squeaky clean career with numerous commendations. She was now retired, living in Ohio. Plus, it turned out that only a year prior to Patrick’s death, there had been a big scandal involving a paid-off coroner in Philadelphia, and every pathologist in that profession had been under tight scrutiny.
Luna scrolled back to the name of the cellblock guard who had been on duty that night and had found Patrick Brogan’s body.
Thomas Tutter.
If Elaine’s father really had been murdered somehow, Thomas Tutter was the most likely suspect. Only the guard on duty for the block would be able to get into his cell in the middle of the night.
She had to talk to Tutter.

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