Paper filter mask on, LAPD Detective Second Grade Desdemona Valdez breathed out of her mouth as she walked through the coroner’s department located on the grounds of the general hospital. No matter how many times she’d been here, the rotting peach smell of decomposing bodies mixed with the overwhelming tang of disinfectant was not an aroma she got used to. She had on rubber booties over her shoes to prevent her from slipping on the primordial ooze, the ghastly mix of dispelled body fluids and protean goo that permeated the concrete floor. She passed by the body of a nude old woman wrapped in clear plastic, a serene look on her gray, withered face. Valdez paused to stare at her, questioning would she live this long, winding up alone and probably unclaimed.
At the small window of a closed door, she looked in and tapped on the observation glass. Inside the examination room, Deputy Assistant Medical Examiner Leland “Sonny” Tanaka, respirator on, was removing the brain from a body and placing it on a scale with the practiced care of the craftsman. He nodded at Valdez and pointed toward his left. She headed that way.
“Des, got them tix for Friday’s game,” one of the assistants said as he wheeled a body around her. He had a friend who worked the overnight set-up crew at the Staples Center and got discount good-seat tickets to Lakers and Clippers games.
“Can’t make it, but thanks, Cory. I’m down for when the Sonics get to town next month though.”
“Bet,” he said. The corpse on his gurney was a bloated individual with signs of adipocere, the body fat turning soapy.
Valdez willingly looked away as part of the deceased dripped off, and was glad to reach the relative blandness of Tanaka’s so-called office. Space in the facility was at a premium even with a lower homicide rate this year in the city. Tanaka didn’t have an office in the sense of an enclosed room with its own door but a sectioned-off area in the storage section.
Valdez sat across from Tanaka’s tattered banker’s chair at his industrial desk. Upon its surface were several neat piles of files and paperwork. The screensaver on his computer was a well-endowed warrior woman from some damn video game Tanaka was always playing online. Valdez had brought her copy of the report on the death of Grish Waller and she reread some of it before Tanaka arrived.
“What’s up, player?” she kidded him. She kept the file open on her lap. There was an up-close photo of the dead Congressman lying, face to the side, on the carpet of his home. A ragged hole in his temple and red soaking the carpet below him.
“You scoff, but one day I will be king of the geeks.” He sat down.
Tanaka had removed his respirator and rubber gloves. He was a trim man in his 50s with a thick mustache, who shot a decent game of golf and had a 20-year-old tatted, anarchist daughter in college. He’d been a widower now going on eight years. It was after the unexpected death of his wife that Tanaka had taken up video gaming, an obsession usually pursued by much younger enthusiasts. But it provided him with a sense of community and beat playing bingo or going on endless Vegas turnarounds, he’d said.
“You’re still bothered by that?” He indicated the file.
Valdez gave a measured response. “The gunpowder stippling on Waller’s hand, the exit wound, the position of the revolver on the floor near his body—-”
“Consistent with where it would have fallen from a reflexive release as one expires,” Tanaka finished in an observational tone. He was neither defensive nor indifferent to the conclusions his office had reached concerning Waller’s death.