While I was waiting, I walked down the dark hall and decided to risk ptomaine poisoning by getting a cup of coffee. That dilapidated old machine had been in the hospitals’ basement since the dawn of time and after my first sip, I thought the coffee must have too.
Finally the coroner came out and told me to come on in. I walked into the cold, sterile room where bodies lay in their temporary steel coffins. Each one that held a visitor, had a tag on the handle of the door. All together, seventeen people were in the room but only two of us were still breathing.
I started making notes as he gave me his findings. “This is an eighty-six year old female, in the final stages of rigor mortis. Internal organs are unremarkable, with the exception of the myocardium. A tattoo is present on her left lateral lumbar region.”
I interrupted him and said “what does the tattoo say?” He pulled back the sheet and pointed to the words “forever J.” I don’t know why but for an instant, I was wondering if it stood for “Jesus.”
I asked if any next of kin had come forward. “Not yet,” he said. “Right now, she’s Jane Doe #3.”
He looked at me and said “you know how sometimes you can look at a woman, even if she’s old or sick or dead and you can tell that in her younger days she was a great beauty?” I fumbled my words when I said “I guess.” He said “well, she’s one of them.”
Not really being ready to give her a closer look, I said “okay, what was the cause of death?”
“Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy,” he said. With an annoyed look, I said “could you give it to me in English, Doc?”
He said, “in laymen terms, it’s broken heart syndrome.” I looked at him and said “seriously, Doc? Are you telling me that she died from a broken heart and that’s what you expect me to put in my report?”
He said “it’s a very real diagnosis and although it is usually temporary, it can and does kill people. It can be a life-long struggle brought on by stress or the loss of something so devastating, the person can’t recover and their heart actually ‘breaks’.”
“In her case, she suffered for years. I’d say she suffered most of her life.”
I was mentally visualizing the ribbing I was going to take when I turned in my report…the report for my first solo case. “Right.” I thought. “I’m sure I’ll get all the good cases now since I’ve successfully investigated a ‘death by broken heart’.”
He showed me the key they found in her hand. It was a small gold key, about an inch and a half long. It was worn almost smooth but what looked like the numbers 358 were still slightly visible. “Got any ideas?” I asked.
He said “it could be a post office key or a safe deposit key or it could be the key to a padlock. I don’t know and with no other identifying marks on it, I’d say the chances of finding out what it goes to will be damn near impossible.”
“But it must have been significant to her because she was holding it when she died,” I said. “Must have,” he echoed. “Can I take it with me?” I asked.
He said “yeah, you can take it but if we find any next of kin, it will need to be returned to them. I’ll just need you to sign this form, transferring custody.”
I took the key and put it in my pocket.
“What’s going to happen to the body?” I asked. He said “well, if nobody claims her, the usual route. She’ll be cremated and her ashes will be buried in the public cemetery.”
I supposed out loud that something might be found in her house that could lead to somebody who at least knew her. If nothing could be found in three days, she would just become another nameless number.
I thought that kind of departure was sad but not because I really cared about her. I didn’t even know her. I only cared about her long enough to close my case.
To be continued______________________