True Blue

Free True Blue by David Baldacci

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Authors: David Baldacci
office.”
    “I wasn’t going back to my office.”
    “Then I’ll pick you up at your house.”
    “Condo. And do you always work this fast?”
    “I have ever since I lost two years of my life.”



CHAPTER 16
    T HE D.C. Police Department finally had a first-rate facility to conduct forensic testing, the most important of which was the postmortem. Beth Perry, accompanied by two homicide detectives working the case, walked into the six-floor building located at the intersection of 4th and School streets in Ward Six. In addition to the OCME, or Office of Chief Medical Examiner, the building also housed offices for the Metropolitan Police Department and the Department of Health.
    A few minutes later Beth stood next to the chief medical examiner. Lowell Cassell was a small, thin man with a short graying beard and wire-rimmed glasses. Except for the tattoo of a fish on the back of his hand, from his days in the Navy as a submariner, and a small scar from a knife wound on his right cheek suffered when on liberty in Japan while drunk in the Navy, he would’ve looked like a typical member of a college faculty.
    The body of Diane Tolliver lay on a metal table in front of them. Beth and the detectives were here to get at least two answers: cause and time of death. The ME took off his glasses, wiped his eyes, and put the spectacles back on. “Fast-tracked the postmortem as you requested.”
    “Thanks, Doc. What do you have for me?”
    “When I saw the bruising on the neck base I felt sure I’d find ligature marks on the neck or evidence of smothering, with homicidal asphyxia being the cause of death.”
    “But it wasn’t?”
    “No, the lady basically had her neck broken.”
    “Basically? Without full ligature marks?”
    “Well, there’s more. A lot more, actually. Pretty severe injury.”
    “Atlanto-occipital disarticulation and not simply a dislocation?” Cassell smiled. “I forgot how well versed you are in forensic matters. Yes, a disarticulation clearly.”
    With one of the detectives’ assistance he turned Tolliver’s body on its side and pointed to the base of her neck. “Cranio-cervical junction injury.” Cassell pressed his fingers against points along the base of the skull and the upper spine. “Brain stem and upper to midcervical spinal cord, above C4.”
    “Full disruption of the cardio-respiratory regulation centers. Immediately fatal.”
    “Are you angling for my job, Beth?” he said jokingly.
    “No, Doc, do you want mine?”
    “Good God no!”
    “So someone crushed her neck. What else?”
    “Hemorrhages in the soft tissues of the back of the neck and injuries to basilar blood vessels. She also had considerable facial bruising and a cut on her right chin, all pre-death. All fairly straightforward until we get to this.”
    He opened a laptop and pulled up some images of the inside of Diane Tolliver’s head. “The X-rays showed separation of the atlas from the base of the skull. You can see the atlas in the foramen magnum—”
    “But the spinal canal isn’t visible. Okay, that’s classic disarticulation.”
    “Yes, but the brain stem was also transected .”
    She glanced up sharply from the laptop screen. “Brain stem transection?”
    “It’s most often seen in car crashes where you have massive deceleration. A basilar skull fracture is what killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. Or when there’s some sort of lengthy fall involved. The brain stem pops and death is instantaneous.”
    Beth pointed to Diane’s body. “This lady was found wedged inside a refrigerator at her law firm about two hours after she walked in the door of her office. She wasn’t driving in the Daytona 500 and she didn’t fall off a building.”
    The ME again pointed to the base of the neck where there was considerable discoloration. “A blow right here did the trick. Her being placed in a refrigerator certainly did me no favors, but there are definite signs of bruising before death at this location.”
    “A

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