Mabel’s government Toyota came to a stop next to the busy N1 highway where the police cars had accumulated. When she started her training in forensic pathology she relished the opportunity to learn from the best of the best. What she relished less…and certainly didn’t anticipate…was that she would do so much learning on her own. ‘Everyone else is busy with important matters, Mizz Ackerman…,’ has become her boss’s go to phrase when he gave her instructions without the benefit of a senior’s guidance.
And then there’s Michelle, the stiff and formal forensic biology student had been accepted for postgraduate study in the Department but then ceremoniously ‘dropped’ on Mabel…because…wait for it…the other members of staff are busy with more important things…
Michelle was sitting in the passenger seat, delightfully decked out in a soft, light blue blouse and narrow, ankle length jean pencil skirt. The ensemble was elegantly rounded off by dainty silver sandals, complete with rhinestones and faux diamonds.
Well, I guess it’s an improvement from the designer pant suits, you cute little Nazi. God help us all if you ever need to run in that outfit.
Mabel looked out ahead at the chaos in front of her.
‘What is?’ Michelle asked.
‘Firefighting truck. Over there. Professor Mokoena said the scene was a gunshot death next to the N1. What would a fire truck do here?’
‘Maybe it happened in a car? And the car burned out?’
‘From what? A gunshot? No, unlike what Hollywood tell us, cars don’t explode when a gunshot is discharged near a petrol tank. No…I have a sinking feeling that truck is here for more sinister reasons.’
At that moment Mabel saw Warrant Officer Paul Hoffmann standing a way off, speaking to an older man wearing a Crime Scene Manager vest.
‘And that sinking feeling just went from pothole to giant crater.’
‘Paul Hoffmann. He’s probably the investigating officer here. He’s great at what he does but a bit tough…and I think he’s still getting used to the idea of women in the field. Or maybe he’s just not fond of me…’
The two women exited the car, put on their white coats and readied their respective satchels and tools. They started their journey through the maze of police cars to where Paul Hoffmann was standing. The large-haired, freckled faced Mabel and her elegant-looking, ballerina-positioning accomplice attracted more than their fair share of stares. Mabel was not unused to it by now…
When they were within earshot of Paul, Mabel’s voice echoed through the cool Pretoria air.
‘Paul Hoffmann! Howzit man?!’ Mabel’s smile, wider than God’s grace, diminished just a bit. She was sure Paul sighed at the sound of her voice.
‘No man, please. It’s Mabel.’
‘This is Michelle Kruger. She’s our resident biology master’s student.’
Michelle stuck out her hand to formally greet Paul. ‘Delighted to make your acquaintance.’
Paul looked slightly amused but reciprocated the gesture nonetheless. ‘Hi,’ was all Michelle got. He returned his focus to Mabel.
‘Right Doc, we just need you to go down and give us a time of death estimate and advise on transfer to the morgue. Cause of death is clearly GSW, so…’
‘Uh okay! What do we know about the deceased?’
‘Young black female, identity still unknown. GSW to the right temple. Looks like suicide.’
‘Yes. That’s usually what we think when we find a gun in the close vicinity of someone who has died from a gunshot wound.’
‘Strange location though.’
‘They come in all shapes and sizes, ma’am.’
I’m prescribing you a chill pill, buddy. You’re one crime scene away from turning into a mattress coil.
‘Okie dokes! I just have one more question, Paul.’
‘What did you mean “go down”?’
‘You gotta be shittin’ me,’ Mabel said. She felt nauseated.
‘No ma’am,’ said the tall, ridiculously handsome firefighter. A smile danced on his face while his eyes laughed out loud.
‘Listen here neh, let’s leave the “ma’am” for someone who’s not gonna die today.’
‘Yes ma’am,’ said the firefighter and laughed openly.
Two firehoses were pulled from the fire truck and one end thrown down a very steep ravine running along that part of the N1 highway. The top of the ravine was lined with old, thinnish trees that grew thick all along the highway and ran down the ravine, creating a forest-like appearance.
‘How long before we hit ground?’ Mabel asked.
‘About thirty meters. It’s not bad down there, not so many trees and flat ground. You’ll move easily down there. The body is approximately 10 meters North from where you’ll land. So you want to slowly move down using the hoses, keeping your body at a slight angle so you won’t slip. Easy. Like abseiling.’
More laughing eyes.
‘Look how funny you are! Falling off a building is also easy.’
Mabel turned around to give Michelle instructions, but in her place was a pale little girl about to cry.
Ah…she knows…poor thing. Today we make ‘jean skirt’ a verb.
‘Come Michellie. We can do this. I’ll go first then you come above me. Slowly. You fall, I catch you, babe!’ Mabel steadied the firehose around her body, clutching the loose end with her left hand and took aim at the ravine, bum first. ‘Okay boys! Grab a sandwich coz this is gonna be dinner and a show!’
If I’m going to fall my brown ass down a ravine, let’s keep it light.
As Mabel reversed down the ravine, she felt her body pulled down by the violent drop of ground into the abyss. But the earth’s steep angle was not the only problem. The ground was also covered in a very thick blanket of autumn leaves. Dried and moist…and slippery.
Thank you, Jesus, for tennis shoes.
Mabel looked up to find Michelle still violently not in the mood for the trip down humiliation lane.
‘Ma’am, with respect, but you won’t even be able to catch a running pig wearing that skirt,’ the handsome firefighter said.
It was as though layers of ice cracked. Michelle stared at him, seemingly livid. ‘Why don’t you run down the highway so we can test your hypothesis.’
You go girl.
And with that, Michelle reversed herself down the ravine. She was one or two meters down when the slippery bed of fallen leaves overcame the little resistance her dainty sandals offered. Her feet slipped from underneath her and she plopped forward, elbows crashing into the ground first. With a loud ‘thump’ a cloud of leaves ascended into the air and came down on her head. Muffled cracks of laughter rang down from above, and Michelle moved quickly, trying to get up. But the restrictive nature of her jean skirt prevented any tiger-like movement. Instead, Michelle gripped the firehose tightly, swung her legs to the front, then proceeded to try lift herself off the ground by pulling on the hose.
But her arms were not quite strong enough. She just managed to lift herself off the ground, then plopped down again, securing another leaf crown.
Mabel, just a few steps behind her, decided to lend a helping foot. As soon as Michelle had lifted herself off the ground again, Mabel lifted her right leg, put her foot against Michelle’s bum, and pushed. It worked! Michelle was erect again, and despite raucous laughter from an audience of police and firefighters, the two women moved down the ravine, one careful step at a time.
When the earth smoothed out into a horizontal surface once more, Mabel and Michelle were ushered to where Paul was standing next to the body of the young woman.
‘What the hell, Edward Cullen, how did you get here so fast?’
‘Trees.’ Paul looked over at Michelle, who was mostly covered in tree.
Mabel squatted next to the corpse. The woman seemed to have been on her knees at time of death, as she merely stooped forward after incapacitation. Her face was buried into the ground.
After putting on surgical gloves Mabel moved the stiff head enough to study the gunshot wound to the woman’s right temple.
‘Gunshot wound indeed. Soot ring, muzzle imprint…close contact wound.’
‘Typical suicide,’ Paul said.
‘Data, data, data! I can’t build bricks without clay!’
‘It’s something Sherlock Holmes always said when people expected him to make deductions without enough data. Early conclusion is the hobgoblin of false findings, my friend…’
Good grief, I think I just felt him roll his eyes at me.
‘No exit wound,’ Mabel continued. ‘I’ll only be able to tell trajectory with autopsy. Then there’s only…wait a minute…’
Michelle was making notes of Mabel’s findings. She stopped and looked down at the gunshot wound Mabel was staring at. ‘What is it, Doc?’
‘Paul, where is the gun’? Mabel asked.
‘Up there. 37 Magnum revolver. Why?’
‘Because this just became the weirdest suicide I’ve ever seen…’
[To be continued…]