I’m Angela Marie Richman, death investigator in Chouteau County, Missouri, home of the one-percent. At a death, the DI is in charge of the body. Police handle the crime scene. I work for the medical examiner. I was at the home of Ben Weymuller, ninety-two. He’d died at the bottom of his basement stairs. Ben’s daughter, Lucille, found him an hour ago. Now she was a murder suspect.
Ben lived in Toonerville, the snobs’ name for the community where the workers lived. Ben made carvings for chichi shops.
I hauled out my DI kit. I was shocked to see sixty-seven-year-old Lucille caged in a patrol car. A uniform wouldn’t let me comfort her.
To examine Ben’s body, I snapped on latex gloves, then fired up my iPad. The stomach-twisting odors of death overpowered the scent of fresh wood.
Ray Foster Greiman, my least favorite homicide detective, said, “Goddamn basement’s been trampled by a herd of buffalo. The daughter called EMS, and those assholes tried to revive him, even though he was DRT.”
Dead Right There.
I let him rant. EMS had to try to save Ben. The fine-boned old man lay on his back in a dark-red pool crisscrossed with footprints and dotted with medical debris. I photographed the scene, then moved in for closer shots.
Ben wore khakis and beige socks. His chest was burned by the efforts to restart his heart. IV lines trailed from his hands. I documented them and left them in place. His plaid shirt had been ripped off and tossed on the floor.
Ben’s snowy hair was matted with blood. The left side of his face and chest were purple-red. After Ben died, the blood pooled in his body: livor mortis. He must have died on that side.
I sketched the basement, diagramming the stairs splitting it between the storage and the workshop. Ben kept a neat basement.
“The daughter did him,” Greiman said. “She said, ‘It’s my fault.’”
I wasn’t sure that was a confession. Family members often blamed themselves for a loved one’s death.
“Why did Lucille say that?”
“She carried on, but I finally figured out she’d stopped by yesterday to bring her father lunch. She was in a hurry to go to the church volunteers’ lunch to get some two-bit award, and forgot to go downstairs to get him more canned soup. She says the geezer probably went downstairs himself about six. She thinks he fell because he wore those slippery socks.”
The stairs were made of reddish wood streaked with honey. “Why don’t the steps have treads?” I asked.
“He made the stairs himself. Thought treads would ruin them. Stubborn old coot. Ben had a bad heart, and she checked him daily. I figure she got tired of the demanding old guy and pushed him downstairs before she left for lunch. Those stairs are a death trap.”
“No!” I wanted to shout. But adult children did help demanding parents pass prematurely.
“They do look slippery,” I said. I counted the steps—twenty-four— and noted their slick surface and the forty-watt bulb that lit them.
I jiggled the handrail. It was sturdy. I photographed the blood streaked and spattered on the stairs, and measured the blood, including the clots painting the corner of the fourth step from the bottom.
Then I started the examination. Through the thick, crusted blood, I saw many bruises and scrapes on Ben’s scalp and face, and a “triangular-shaped indented defect” on his left temple.
“Did you see this blood on the fourth step, Ray? It looks like it matches the indentation in his head.”
“Not sure it’s a match,” he said. “If the daughter didn’t shove him, she clobbered him with a piece of wood. The tech is checking every stick.”
I photographed the bottoms of Ben’s socks. They were slightly gray, as if he’d walked around his house without shoes. I described the plain wedding ring on his liver-spotted left hand.
I took the room’s temperature, then made a slit below his ribs and recorded his body-core temperature, circled and initialed the cut in his skin.
A grumpy Greiman helped me turn Ben’s body, and I photographed more contusions and blood on his back, as well as the expected livor mortis on his left side.
“You done?” Detective Greiman asked. “Time to call the meat wagon.”
As the morgue attendants rolled Ben’s body to the van, I heard fresh sobs from Lucille.
Ben’s long, useful life had come to a violent end. But unlike Detective Greiman, I was sure Ben was killed by his own creation, not his only daughter.
Brain Storm is the first book in the NEW Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery series, published by Thomas and Mercer, August 2016.
The ultrawealthy families of Chouteau Forest may look down on a woman like death investigator Angela Richman, but they also rely on her. When a horrific car crash kills a Forest teenager, Angela is among the first on the scene. Her investigation is hardly underway, however, when she suffers a series of crippling strokes. Misdiagnosed by the resident neurologist, Dr. Gravois, and mended by gauche yet brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt, Angela faces a harrowing recovery.
It’s a drug-addled, hallucinating Angela who learns that Dr. Gravois has been murdered. . .and the chief suspect is the surgeon who saved her life. Angela doesn’t believe it, but can she trust her instincts? Her brain trauma brings doubts that she’ll ever recover her investigative skills. But she’s determined to save Dr. Tritt from a death-row sentence—even if her progress is thwarted at every turn by a powerful and insular community poised to protect its own.
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About the author
Bestselling mystery writer Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series. In Brain Storm, the first Angela Richman Death Investigator mystery, she returns to her hardboiled roots. Elaine passed the Medicolegal Death Investigators Course for forensic professionals to research the series.
She’s written short stories for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Lawrence Block. The Art of Murder, featuring South Florida PIs Helen Hawthorne and her husband, Phil Sagemont, is Elaine’s 15th Dead-End Job mystery. She’s won the Anthony, Agatha, and Lefty Awards. Elaine is director at large of the Mystery Writers of America. Connect with Elaine at www.elaineviets.com.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win an advanced reader copy (ARC) of Brain Storm. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end August 5, 2016 at 12 AM (midnight) EST. Good luck everyone!