Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Excerpt No. 2 from "From the Depths"

Author's note: I'm thinking it might be entertaining for me to eschew telling you, dearest reader, anything about the context of these passages. Is that cool with you, or just annoying? Let a Doyle know.

Unnatural death can seem so peaceful. If the victim doesn’t have the strength or time to flop around, the life sort of ebbs from his body. I have seen beatific expressions on the blood-speckled faces of people killed by machete wounds and sniper victims slumped in their chairs as if they were napping after a big meal.

The man on the floor in front of me offered no signs of a violent end. His black hair was flecked with gray and white. Both legs lay unbent behind him, and his arms stretched over his head.

"Subject number two in forward torpedo room. No visible wounds on deceased’s back or head," I said into the recorder.

The fingers of his right hand were curled around the pistol’s grip. I kneeled and took close-up shots from several angles. I recognized the gun; it was a Chinese copy of a Russian Tokarev 9mm. The caliber markings were evident on the slide under the words "Made in China by Norinco." Everything was in English; the pistol was made for cheap, easy export.

I stood and pulled one of the cartridge casings from the compartment in my bag where I had stuffed them. Holding the plastic sheath up to the light, I could see the shell’s headstamp: The number "71" on one side of the primer hole and "93," oriented the opposite direction, on the other. A quick measurement told me the casing was nine millimeters in diameter.

Before I examined the gun, though, I wanted to see the rest of its owner. Again ignoring the years of training and experience tugging at my muscles, I rolled him over.

The man’s face was lined and leathery with a broad, flat nose. His mouth was open, but not gaping, and thin lips covered his teeth.

Brown eyes stared into nothingness from beneath bushy eyebrows. His forehead was knotted with clenched muscles.

I leaned in a bit closer and shined my flashlight into the man’s mouth. His tongue was thrust forward just behind the lower incisors. Moving the light up his face, I examined the scalp. A receding hairline simplified the task.

"Deceased’s lips exhibit cyanosis," I said. "No anterior cranial lacerations or contusions visible."
The floor where the man had lain seemed unmarked, but I took a picture anyway. A pair of black patent-leather oxfords were arranged side by side on the deck between the bottom torpedo tubes. I photographed them and shoved aside the urge to try to lift some fingerprints from their mirror-like surfaces.

His legs could wait, too. I saw no blood anyplace in the compartment. Not on his hands, not on the walls. Not on the spit-shined shoes. If he had a mortal wound below his waist, the suit’s thick material was concealing it.

I crabbed over until I was kneeling next to the gun. It was clutched in the man’s right hand, palm-up. His index finger was curled around the trigger guard. The other four digits enveloped the pistol’s chipped brown plastic grips. The nailbeds matched the color of his lips.

The weapon was boxy and black with just a hint of blue swimming across its worn exterior. Patches of milling marks were evident on the slide, which extended back past the grip and covered the hammer assembly.

Rigor mortis had turned the corpse’s hand into a gargoyle’s claw. I could feel the sinews creaking and tearing as I peeled the thumb back and wrestled the gun from the dead man’s grasp. I laid the weapon on a plastic evidence bag next to me and fitted another bag over the hand.

"Connective tissue damage in right thumb of subject due to removal of physical evidence."
The gun pulled my already tangled instincts in innumerable directions. But most of the important tests would be performed in the lab, and I’d have to remove the ammunition before I turned it over to them.

So the bullets would come first.

I pulled the magazine and laid it on the bag. Inverting the gun next to it, I ejected the chambered cartridge onto the plastic, then used tweezers to pick it up. Stamped on the bottom was "71 93"—it was from the same factory as the two empties and was made the same year. It went in a separate translucent envelope, as did each of the five bullets in the clip.

Six rounds. The mag for a 9mm Tokarev could hold eight. And I doubted a submariner would keep one loaded in the chamber of a pistol notorious for its fickle safety mechanism.
Using a magnifying glass, I measured one of the bullets and took a picture of it adjacent to the ruler. Another photograph captured the headstamp at the base of the cartridge. The casing of the live round was identical in length and diameter to the casings I had collected near the dead sailor.

I slipped a pencil through the trigger guard and rotated the gun in the air in front of me. No visible prints, no blood. My nostrils flared at the odor of cordite and oil. The acrid combination stood out even against the submarine’s weighty, pungent atmosphere.

Dragging my bag, I moved a few steps aft, away from the evidential detritus arrayed on the floor around me, and dug out a handful of fingerprint lift sheets. My first three attempts were throwaways that showed only a smeared confusion of whorls on the gun’s slide. But near the back, on the left side above the grip, was a pristine, oval print the size of a quarter. Right where a shooter’s thumb would rest.

After laying the gun down, I took a close-up of the print next to the ruler and sealed the sheet in an envelope.

I turned the pistol over. The serial number was stamped on the opposite side, a string of eleven letters and digits.

On the label of another evidence bag, I wrote "M21388123CE, Norinco ‘Tokarev’ 9mm. Mag enclosed separately. Ammo enclosed separately. Collected submarine ‘Dragon,’ forward torpedo room, 27 May 2007." I dropped the gun inside, then slipped the bullets and magazine into two other pouches.

Should I take a print of the man’s thumb? Did I have time?

The sudden, dull echo of voices and combat-booted footsteps answered my question. I grabbed an ink pad and print paper, stuffed the envelopes into my bag and pushed it to the side under a slumbering torpedo. The shoes, too. I’d want to get the shoes. I picked them up by the laces and laid them next to the duffel.

The man’s thumb, bent back at an impossible angle, was easy. I pressed the pad against it, then rolled it across the paper. The index finger was accessible, too.

The other three fingertips would be tougher to get to, though. I would have to brutalize each if I wanted a full set of prints.

A shout from the doorway interrupted me.

"Stay where you are!"

Links: McBooks Press
"From the Depths," by Gerry Doyle, available November 2007


Marva said...

Best of luck on your book release in November. McBooks sounded so weird I had to look. A lot of neat historical stuff there, both fiction and non-fiction.

I hope your book does very well.

Oh, yeah. I'm not big on Texas as a rule, myself. It just so happens my father's stories happened there. Thanks for stopping at my blog.

DWJ said...

Great excerpt, very riveting. It definitely makes me want to read the book, which is, of course, the idea. Good job!
Night of Flames