Today's Reading

I turn. The doc, Abigail, is narrating the woman's story:

"The cranium is intact, no sign of fracture. There is a right lateral shift of the occiput on C1, which is compatible with
significant upper-cervical-spine displacement from hanging. Lateral C spine radiological examination shows bilateral pars interarticularis fracture, or hangman's fracture, which suggests a sudden drop of the body onto the rope."

"Seems to be the death of choice these days," Clancy says from over my shoulder.

I'm aware that at some point during Abigail's postmortem, my hand has moved to my neck. Mouth tight, dry, my breath still and small in my chest.

I swallow, and the walls of my throat stick together. "You know, it's still an unusual choice for a woman. More of a man's death."

Clancy is tense. I can feel it rippling from him in waves.

I cough, try to sound like I've got my game face on: "Historically, when women kill themselves, they tend to use less immediate methods such as pills or blades. Hanging, although not uncommon, is not usually their first mode of exit." I throw in a smile for good measure.

Clancy steps up to the window, looks down on the victim in the room below.

"Maybe this wasn't her first choice," he says.

"Maybe." I lean on the intercom. "Dr. James? What's on the left arm there?"

Abigail glares up at the window.

I let out a brief whistle of air. "Someone doesn't like breaking out of her routine."

Clancy nods permission at the doctor, and with stiff shoulders she moves down the body and continues to narrate her findings.

"On the left forearm, just distal to the cubital fossa, there is a linear cut through the skin, appears to have been created with a very sharp instrument like a razor blade. There is dark coloring along the edges of the skin. Maybe an old tattoo mark or paint residue from the blade or cutting device used."

She stops briefly, takes up a specimen tube, and swabs the area. Dates and labels the contents, then continues: "The opening of the wound is two centimeters in length. However, no major blood vessels are disrupted."

"Bingo," I murmur, half to myself, half to the victim. "An attempt at slitting her wrists didn't work, so she hanged herself."

It's enough. Enough to hope it's as far as it goes. Small steps. Taking up the case file, I move toward the door. "See you back at the office?"

"Sheehan..." He sighs. "You should—"

I have to drag the lightness into my voice, into my frame. I turn, drop my hip, my hand slipping from the door. "Come on, Jack. You and I know I got this. I'll clean it up good. Trust me. No loose ends."

He studies my face for what seems like a full minute, tongue pushed against his cheek, chest high with tension. I know he sees beyond the high-collared white shirt, the fresh cut of hair sharp along the jaw and newly lightened. I know he's seeing the hollows. In my face. Below my eyes. The dark crease of the case file against clenched fingers. The pink scar running from hairline to left temple.

Finally, his shoulders fall, he lets out a long breath, and a dimple in his right cheek deepens. He looks like he's aged an entire year in that moment.

"All right. But if it gets too much."

I'm already moving out the door. "I know, I know. I'll call you in or something."


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