Edge of Apocalypse: pages 177-181 (Chapter Thirty-Two)
A note: this chapter ends the “Part Two” arc of the book and we’ll move into Part Three soon.
This chapter is your pretty standard boilerplate CSI deal with an investigation of a dead body. Let’s follow FBI agent John Gallagher as he does the job he’s paid to do – be a detective. Again, note the contrast here between Jerry Jenkins’s portrayal of Cameron “Buck” Williams and Craig Parshall’s portrayal of John Gallagher.
Whereas Jenkins mostly falls flat in showing how Buck is a GIRAT* (Fred Clark’s complaints notwithstanding, I’d be happy with Buck even just interviewing anyone he comes across in the LB novels instead of… y’know, not even doing that), Parshall does a reasonable job fleshing out Gallagher the Gumshoe.
Now, before I continue I should issue a squick warning to anyone who’s not comfortable reading about murder investigations as I will be quoting from portions of the chapter.
“Even with the organic vapor-filtering mask he was wearing, Gallagher cringed as the county medical examiner from Northern New York State used a heavy duty pair of scissors to cut away the soggy bag that contained the corpse. But the body wasn’t in one of those plastic contractor bags like an amateur criminal might use.”
What this chapter will do is show what Atta Zimler did, which will establish his typical M.O. (though we’ve seen so far in the omniscient perspective we have that Zimler typically gets the victim’s trust, then distracts him or her and kills them soon afterward.
So while it may be tiresome to go through this chapter, it’s good from the perspective of establishing that no the characters haven’t read ahead in the book.
Gallagher quickly summarizes what they’ve found out:
‘The killer knew what he was doing,’ Gallagher said, standing next to the body on the stainless-steel table in the coroner’s office. ‘Wrapped this poor guy in burlap, so the elements could start the decaying process sooner rather than later. Then added lime to the mix.’”
If I remember correctly from something I read about 20 years ago, slaked lime helps organic matter decay faster. I think the carbonates help promote the growth of bacteria (not a biologist, however, so don’t quote me on that).
But even with these tricks Zimler used, it looks like he didn’t do the research (italics in the original text):
‘Bogs like the one where they found this victim are high in tannic acid. Acts like a preservative. Sort of like a natural form of formaldehyde.’
Gallagher thought about that. So the killer wasn’t local and didn’t know much about peat bogs or swamps. Otherwise he would have known that.”
Makes sense. If most of your “subcontract” killings have been shootings or strangulations without ready access to materials to do a good job of hiding the body (and sometimes the people who hire you want the body to be found as a message), it’s likely that you might make a mistake or three later on. Most times, though, it doesn’t do the law enforcement types any good.
But if there’s enough left over they might be able to get a DNA match and see who this dead person is.
Gallagher has a final word from the coroner.
“‘I think he was strangled. I’ll be able to give you a definite by tomorrow after I do the full deal, lungs and all. But I will bet my bottom dollar that the ligature marks here on the neck were from a thin metal cable.’
Gallagher was trying to keep himself calm. Zimler particularly liked to polish off his victims close up, and usually with a garrote. And he was known to be in the States.”
Now we move to the local cop, whose name is Red Yankley. Sounds like a pretty all-American fella to me.
“Gallagher excused himself and stepped out into the lobby. He stripped off his mask and then hunted down the deputy who was standing next to the coffee machine with a Styrofoam cup in his hand. ‘Deputy Yankley, I’m Special Agent Gallagher from the FBI.’
‘What can I do for you? Is this some kind of federal matter?’
‘Possibly. Wondering how the body was discovered.’
‘A hunter. Had his bird dog out there in the bog. No rain for a couple days and things dried up. Dog found it right off.’”
Nothing unusual so far, though I wonder how shallow the bogs usually are around there.
‘Well, we found tire tracks leading to and from the site. We think they were from the victim’s car. So right there you’ve got car theft.’
But Gallagher had the feeling in the center of his gut this was no simple stolen-auto case. He was trying not to get ahead of himself. Take it easy, John. Don’t jump to conclusions.
‘So, Deputy, anything else of interest?’
‘Let’s see…oh yeah. All of the victim’s ID was taken from his body. He was picked clean. I mean really. If you know what I mean. Maybe the killer was a dentist or something…’”
You’d think that if all the guy’s clothes plus his wallet were removed and all the teeth were yanked that’d be the first damn thing the coroner would have told Gallagher.
And the first damn thing the Deputy would have remarked upon. Sloppy, Parshall, sloppy.
But no dental work to check is the bottom line. How about fingerprints?
“‘Yeah, but not that smart. The killer left the victim with his fingers still on…finger prints.’
‘We just got lucky,’ said Gallagher. ‘If that dog hadn’t come across the body when he did, the prints would have pretty well dissolved with all the lime that he’d been packed in.’”
Gallagher head back to get an estimated time of death from the coroner, and does his detective woo-woo:
“‘You have an ETD?’ Gallagher asked.
‘I think so…,’ the medical examiner began.
But Gallagher raised a finger to stop him before he answered.
‘No, let me guess. Six to ten hours.’
The coroner’s eyes widened and he wagged his head a little.
‘Other than being maybe an hour or two off, you’re right on the money, Agent Gallagher. How’d you do that?’
‘It’s a theory I’m working on,’ Gallagher said with a sly smile. He turned and exited the autopsy room, cut through the lobby, and threw a quick wave to Deputy Yankley as he headed to the parking lot and toward the exquisite pleasure of fresh air.”
Aside from that weird head-wagging thing the scene has been rounded out nicely. The rest of the chapter summarizes Gallagher’s reasoning to this point:
“John Gallagher had more than a theory. His instincts told him that the same man who killed the Yergi Banica in Bucharest was the same one who used the dead man’s passport to gain entrance into the United States at the Canada-New York State border. Also, it followed that the killer would need to exchange cars quickly once he entered the United States. The FBI special agent was betting that this assassin was a consummate professional. So he picked the car owner at random, killed him, and dumped the body in a way that was designed to leave almost no trace. All because the killer needed to use the car for a day or two without being tracked, and then he would soon rid himself of that vehicle and steal another.
So Gallagher used the date and time that the man with the passport entered New York as the starting point, figured it was the same guy who killed this poor car owner. Presto. Time of death all figured out.
Now that the coroner agreed with his estimate, that meant that the odds were increasing that the killer of Dr. Banica was the user of the Romanian professor’s passport, and he was also the murderer of the owner of the car.
Now all he had to do was to determine whether his suspect, Atta Zimler, was the guy who strangled the professor in Romania. Back there is where the dominoes had started falling. Down deep, Gallagher just knew that Zimler was the man behind all of it, even though he couldn’t explain it in any terms that you could find inside an FBI investigation handbook.
Which led him to the much more frantic question. What was Zimler doing inside the United States?”
Very good question.
I’ll take up the quotes on the Part Three page in the next review of Edge of Apocalypse.
* GIRAT = Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time, courtesy Fred Clark of Slacktivist.