Since the in-house snake incident, Mabel has found teaching medical students in the morgue tedious and – at times – infuriating. And lonely. But as state forensic pathologist and newbie in the department, it is not a duty that she can circumvent.
‘Okay guys…guys?’ Mabel was standing next to a corpse, with Themba by her side. And the struggle for the fifth-year medical students’ attention began…
‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’
The simmer of chattering subsided a bit and Mabel thought it safe to proceed.
‘White male, 1,76 meters, 79 kilograms, no visible signs of trauma.’
‘Was he hospitalised?’ asked a young male student, Greg. He was standing nearest to the table and Mabel felt a stab of excitement.
A question! Mabel thought. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you this year’s recipient of the Nobel prize for excellence in teaching…Dr Mabel Ackerman!
‘No, he was incarcerated in C-Max. According to the docket he had no previous history of health issues. No blood pressure problems, no known history of genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease.’
‘Vasovagal stimulation?’ Same student.
‘Might be, good thinking! But we’ll know nothing until we proceed with the autopsy…but it could also be that his life term just ran out…’ And with that Mabel exploded in an Ackermanian fit of laughter, with her big hair being thrown to and fro… (The Ackermanian laughter is a term coined by the morgue assistants to describe a fit of uncontrollable, loud hilarity with absolutely no justification whatsoever.)
‘I’m looking for Dr. Ackerman. I was told he’d be doing my autopsy?’ A very tall, skinny man of around 35 years was standing near the group of students.
Where the hell did he come from?
The skinny man with bad skin, worse pale blond hair and a cynical disposition was looking around the room, seemingly hoping that ‘Dr. Ackerman the dude’ would jump out from behind a table.
‘I’m Dr. Ackerman. Can I help you, sir?’
Silence as the cynical eyes measured her for fitness.
‘I’m Warrant Officer Paul Hoffmann. I’m here about Mr. Faber.’
‘Oh! Well, fantastic, welcome!’
Warrant Officer Paul Hoffmann frowned.
‘Uhm…I mean it’s great to have an investigating officer present here!’ Mabel smiled her broad, white smile…to no avail.
‘Call me Paul.’
‘Great, I’m Mabel.’
‘Mmmkay…our client here, we know what happened?’
Subtle sounds of sniggering stirred through the group of students and Mabel felt the stirrings of humiliation approaching. She looked up at Paul Hoffmann and noticed his eyes fixed on her…and a cheeky smile playing around the corners of his mouth. Otherwise, Mr. Hoffmann remained deadpan, something that Mabel learnt was Paul’s default setting.
So, you have a mischievous sense of humour, you little sly fox. Your next move determines everything…
‘He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The term ran out.’
Mabel had no idea whether he had heard her joke or if it was mere coincidence that two people in the same building had thought of the same lame joke. She didn’t care. She packed out a laugh anyway and decided that Warrant Officer Hoffmann was on her side. A decision she would later regret…
‘Paul, what is the history here?’
‘Shane Faber was incarcerated for life after inexplicably disliking his wife having an affair with her female boss. He expressed his dislike by shooting them both like he was going for a teddy bear.’
Some more sniggering from the student corps.
‘After his sentencing he behaved himself pretty well in C-Max. Guards describe him as pleasant. Peaceful. Not a fan of same-sex relationships…’
‘The day of he was playing poker or something with four other inmates. They had an old deck of cards. They did this pretty regularly as I understand it.’
‘Did a fight broke out?’ Mabel asked, now wanting to get to cause of death.
‘No. Not at all. Guards say all was fun and games. Next thing they know, Mr. Faber here collapses and fits. Then nothing. Then here.’
‘Okay…well I’ll know more after the autopsy. In the meantime, I’d be grateful if you could confirm his family health history…’
‘Dr. Ackerman, there is no time. I have 48 murder dockets on my desk. The best I can do is try.’
‘That is all I ask, thank you.’
As Paul Hoffmann turned to leave and Mabel refocused her attention on the body, something occurred to her.
‘What did they use for money?’
‘In the poker game. They’re not allowed money and I know smokes are a rare delicacy, what did they use instead of money?’
‘What?’ Gregg, the student asked.
‘Water. Inmates always just drink water instead of putting down money. It’s the currency of the incarcerated.’ Paul seemed impressed with his last sentence.
‘And I suspect Mr. Faber was really good at his game.’ Mabel said. ‘Warrant Officer Hoffmann, I’ll confirm with autopsy but I can tell you preliminary cause of death is hyponatremia.’
‘Too much natural life?’
‘No man. Hypo-natremia. He drank too much water in too short a period of time and his salt, his potassium, washed right out of his body. Very, very dangerous. And poor Mr. Faber discovered this first hand.’
‘Death by water?’
‘Yes. Death by water.’
Paul looked at Mabel in disbelief. He turned around and started heading for the door, no doubt on his way to solve his 48 murder cases. ‘I always said beer is better than water…’