A big sigh was followed by a clipped statement of the obvious: "Son, it's the scene of a crime tonight."
Now I was feeling myself getting a bit impatient. "Right .. . Millie, I need to get up there."
There was another long pause, then another condescending, "Yes, I know."
I was quiet for a moment, then, almost pleading—in fact, begging—I said, "Millie, I need to know how to "get" there!"
Millie sighed again and—almost reluctantly, it seemed—gave me directions to the Watkins place.
A fifteen-minute drive from our home—smack-dab on the top of Hospital Hill—down winding mountain roads brought the on-call coroner to the scene of the crime. It wasn't hard to find, with police and sheriff cars—their red lights blazing in the cool mountain air—gathered around a small frame house, bathing it in the whitewash of headlights. The border of the lawn—a small picket fence—was already surrounded with yellow crime-scene tape.
I parked outside the ring of official vehicles and quickly walked up to the house. It looked so small, so innocent, and so all-American. Deputy Rogers met me at the tape to lift it up and issue a warning: "Doc, it's pretty gruesome in there."
"Obviously," I thought, "you don't understand that I am a trained professional." As would soon become painfully clear, I didn't have a clue what I was about to walk into.
The sheriff met me at the door and shook my hand. This was our first meeting. A tall, bulky man, he looked more like an NFL linebacker than my preconceived idea of a small-county sheriff.
"Pleased to meet you, son. This your first case?"
"Yes, sir. It sure is."
He motioned to the yard, and we walked out several feet to speak in confidence. He reached into his shirt pocket to pull out a pack of cigarettes. Partially shaking out a couple, he offered me one.
"No thanks, Sheriff."
He put one to his lips, lit it, and took a long drag.
"Son, it isn't pretty in there. There was a woman and her daughter a visitin' the man who owns the home. I'm not sure why. They was in the bedroom sittin' on the bed. Apparently there was another man that come up to visit. He wasn't expected or welcome. Apparently the entire crew had been drinkin' a bit."
I was to come to learn that "drinkin' a bit" meant they were soused.
He went on. "Anyways, an argument commenced and apparently the fella that lived here grabbed a loaded shotgun out of his closet. The two fellas began to tussle a bit. The gun went off. So did the head of one of the fellas."
He paused for a moment, for effect and for another long drag. For the first time he looked at me, eyeball-to-eyeball.
"Son, all I need you to certify is that this fella is dead and the cause of death. Then we'll ship the body over to the morgue in Sylva. The pathologist will do the autopsy tomorrow."
"No problem, Sheriff."
He crushed out the half-smoked cigarette and then turned to return to the house. I followed.
We entered a living room that couldn't have been more than ten by fourteen feet. There was barely room for a small TV, a small sofa and chair, and a small table. To the left, a doorway led to a small kitchen. To the right was a doorway to a small bedroom—maybe eight by ten feet in size. Most of the space was occupied by a twin bed. Just to the side of the bed was a body. The boot-clad feet were lying together, the toes pointing up. The blue jeans and the plaid shirt looked quietly peaceful. However, there was nothing above the shirt. In fact, the shirt ended at the wall—almost as though the head were stuck in a hole in the wall.
"The wall." It was then that I noticed that the walls were an unusual color and texture. The nausea and near-wretch overwhelmed me as the shock of what I was seeing registered in my mind. Plastered on the walls and the ceiling and the bed and the floor were thousands of globs of brain and skull and scalp and hair. Only a small section of the bed was clean.
The sheriff, as though reading my thoughts, commented, "The girls were sittin' on the bed. They was covered with brains and blood when we got here. The clean spot on the bed was where they was sittin'. One of my lady detectives has taken them over to the safe house in Sylva. They'll be seein' the victim's advocate right away."
A combination of shakes, cold sweats, and the sure feeling of an approaching faint now replaced the rush of nausea. I backed out of the bedroom and sat on the sofa in the living room.
The sheriff followed me into the living room. "Don't feel bad, son," he said, trying to comfort me. "I felt the same way the first time I seen a murder like this."
"Oh, I feel just fine," I moaned. "I'm just sitting here to reconstruct the events of the crime." The sheriff was experienced and kind enough to allow my delusion to remain intact. He patted me on the back as he turned to walk out of the house. "Deputy Rogers is here to help you with anything you need," he said.
After a few minutes the nausea and weakness passed. "Deputy, let's go to work."
(continued on the next page)