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By Donn Cortez
Pocket StarCopyright © 2006 Donn Cortez
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Biscayne Bay gleamed aquamarine in the late afternoon light, the sky above as clear and blue as a musical note. From his seat in the stern of the police boat, Horatio Caine could look one way and see the shining, skyscraping outline of downtown Miami; if he turned his head a few degrees, he was treated to an ocean view dotted with the low, dark-green bulk of mangrove islands, occasionally crested by a barrel-sized seabird nest. It struck him just how often he was treated to gorgeous vistas like this one on his way to viewing something unspeakably ugly.
Payment, of sorts, he thought, then corrected himself. Not payment -- compensation. A consolation prize, at best.
Detective Frank Tripp killed the engine as the boat glided up to the shore, crunching its way onto a narrow white-sand beach. "There you go, Horatio," Tripp said. "Go do your thing. I'm gonna stay in the boat for now -- not a lot of room in your crime scene."
"Thank you, Frank," Horatio said.
The hummock wasn't large, maybe a few hundred square feet of dense foliage, fifteen or so feet high, with a narrow strip of beach. Horatio stepped out carefully, then gave Doctor Alexx Woods a helping hand as she joined him.
"You all right?" he asked.
"Damn mosquitoes," shegrumbled, swatting at one on her arm. "I don't know why they never seem to bother you."
"After the first hundred thousand bites or so, you develop an immunity," he said absently, but his attention was already focused on the reason they'd come out to this tiny mangrove island just south of Miami: the corpse of a young woman.
It wasn't a pretty sight. She lay on her back, wearing only a snorkeling mask. One of her arms was outstretched, tangled in the spiderlike roots of the red mangroves that covered the small island. The mask was completely filled with a white foam that obscured her face, and a mass of raw pink and red flesh protruded from her mouth.
Alexx stepped carefully over the body. They both crouched down, one on either side.
"Fisherman found her," Horatio said. "Looks like the tide washed her up."
"She should be on the bottom," Alexx said. She reached out with a gloved hand and gently moved the jaw back and forth. "Temporomandibular muscles aren't in rigor, but -- " She took hold of the body's right wrist and lifted it slightly. The entire body rocked, the arm obviously stiff. " -- major muscle groups are. Skin is bluish and rigor is starting to break, meaning she's probably been dead around fourteen hours or so. Belly isn't distended and she wasn't obese, so refloatation shouldn't have occurred."
Carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane; Horatio knew that the gastrointestinal tract of a decomposing body produced all of these gases, and that when enough of them had been produced the body would rise to the surface like an inflated balloon. But it was a process that generally took at least twenty-four hours and produced a bloated corpse.
"That's not the only odd thing," Horatio said. "She's wearing a mask, but no flippers or snorkel. Not even a swimsuit."
Alexx was examining the mass of flesh protruding from the mouth. "What's really strange is this..." She grabbed the body by the hips and gently rolled it to one side, exposing the back. Another mass of raw flesh extended from between the buttocks. "There's been some anthropophagy, probably by crabs and sea lice," she said, "but I can still identify these as parts of her alimentary canal. Horatio, something tore her insides...out."
"And whatever it was also placed the body here," Horatio said. "Any ideas?"
"Well, I can tell you that the parts of her esophagus and colon I can see are inside-out. That suggests that she literally blew up."
"To this extent? If somebody shoved her out an airlock on a space shuttle, maybe."
"I was thinking more along the lines of deep-sea diving. Fish from extreme depths sometimes explode if they're pulled rapidly to the surface..." Horatio shook his head. "But this whole area is shallow water, no more than ten feet." He picked up one of the corpse's hands and examined it. "Fingernails are torn, indicating a struggle. And there's something stuck beneath one of them..."
He extracted a dark blue sliver with a pair of tweezers and slipped it into an evidence bag. "And what about these marks on her legs?"
There were several deep wounds on the lower calf of one leg. Alexx studied them, then frowned. "Look like bite marks," she said. "Not sure from what, though. The pattern's the wrong shape to be human, and not jagged enough for a shark or barracuda. Deep bite, too -- whatever it was, it was strong."
"So what we have," Horatio said, "is nonhuman teeth marks, explosive decompression and a body that shouldn't be where it is."
Alexx looked down at the body sadly. "None of them should be where they are, Horatio," she said.
He slipped on his sunglasses and looked toward the mainland. Another boat was approaching -- Delko and Wolfe, on their way to process the scene. "Then we'll have to make sure," he said, "that we find out where she's been."
"Water recovery, huh?" Wolfe said. The young CSI had to speak loudly over the sound of the boat's motor. "Guess you've done a lot of those."
Eric Delko nodded, his face serious. "Yeah, they can be pretty gruesome," he said. "Boat props hack them up, everything from shrimp to sharks chew on them, and decomp gets real bad real fast. And in Florida, the climate can work for you or against you."
"The more bacteria in the water, the quicker the body breaks down. In a warm, wet environment like a swamp, there's a lot of bacteria. I've seen bodies that have only been in the water for twenty-four hours turn black from putrefaction...but sometimes, the opposite happens."
"What, it turns white?"
"Kind of. It's called saponification -- only happens in warm, wet, anaerobic environments. Subcutaneous fat combines with calcium and ammonium ions to form adipocere, this waxy, white-gray stuff. Basically, it's -- "
"Soap," Wolfe finished. "Right, I read about that. You ever see it?"
"It's not common, but yeah, I've seen it," Delko said. "It slows down decomposition, kind of like mummification. Conditions have to be just right, though."
They approached the mangrove island. The beach was no more than a strip of sand maybe twenty feet long; Alexx had already climbed back in the first boat to make room as Wolfe and Delko's craft landed.
Horatio, wearing a dark blue linen suit without a tie, his shirt open at the collar, managed to look just as comfortable and in charge as he did on a Miami street. "Mister Wolfe, I want you behind the camera," he said as his CSIs splashed through the shallow water and on to shore. "Eric, get suited up. This key is looking less like the original crime scene and more like a dump site, but we still might find something of value underwater."
"On it," Delko said. In fact, he was already wearing his wet suit; as Wolfe grabbed the camera equipment, Delko started putting on scuba gear.
"We have an ID on the vic?" Wolfe asked. Horatio moved aside to let him start photographing.
"Not yet," Horatio said. "I've got Calleigh checking missing-persons reports for the last forty-eight hours."
"Any theories?" Wolfe asked. He zeroed in on the wounds and snapped several pictures.
"Nothing that makes sense," Horatio admitted. "It just doesn't add up...I think we might be looking at a staged scene. Look at the way her arm is wedged between two of those roots."
Wolfe leaned down and took a good look. "Yeah," he said. "Like someone didn't want her drifting away on the tide. And what's with the condition of the body? It's almost like..." He trailed off.
"Like something reached inside her, grabbed hold of her internal organs and pulled," Horatio said. "From both ends..."
Diving was a dangerous pasttime. Nobody was more aware of that than Eric Delko, the Miami-Dade crime lab's resident diver; he had pulled more corpses out of sunken cars or boats than he cared to count, and every body was a reminder of the hostile environment he now glided through. The ocean off the Florida shore was much like Miami itself: Warm and inviting, filled with sparkling beauty and flashes of brilliant color, it could still kill you in an instant.
Some parts were prettier than others, of course. In the shallow, brackish waters of Biscayne Bay, mangrove islands and human traffic meant water filled with sediment, plankton, and detritus, some of it natural, much of it man-made. Delko moved through the murk cautiously, hovering just above the bottom, scanning the swaying bed of seagrass for anything out of place. The problem was, there was too much; beer cans and rusting pipes and old plastic milk crates, sometimes so encrusted with barnacles or muck they were identifiable only by their shape.
He moved in a circular route around the island, dropping weighted flags to mark his progress. He had plenty of company; green and loggerhead turtles, bonefish, pompano, black and red grouper. Crabs and lobsters scuttled out of his way, and swarms of shrimp flurried past in rippling pink waves.
He was hoping to find one of the vic's flippers or maybe her snorkel, since neither would float. What finally caught his attention, though, was a tiny scrap of white. He thought at first it was another plastic shopping bag, too many of which he'd seen drifting along the bottom like ghostly tumbleweeds, but it was too small and the wrong shape.
On closer inspection, it turned out to be the top of a bathing suit. The straps looked like they'd been cut.
Being a forensic investigator, Horatio found, eventually produced a kind of Zen philosophy toward life. Not a detached, nirvana-aimed approach, but an acute awareness of the fact that everything was connected -- again, not in a vague, metaphysical way but in a direct, pragmatic one. Locard's Principle stated that any two things that came into contact transferred bits of themselves to each other, and Horatio had discovered that the twin concepts of transfer and trace applied to almost every area of life. There was a network of connections between physical objects that remained invisible to most people, but Horatio had developed a heightened sensitivity to it, one that had subtly changed all his perceptions: He couldn't watch a woman take a sip of wine without noticing the lipstick she left on the glass, couldn't look at a piece of furniture without noticing fibers left behind on the upholstery. Privately, he thought of it as Sherlock Holmes syndrome, but didn't share that insight with anyone else. They'd probably assume he was talking about Holmes' cocaine habit, this being Miami...and considering what had happened to Horatio's brother Raymond, the last thing Horatio needed to do was start a rumor involving himself and drugs.
Transfer and trace. They applied to reputations, too.
Of course, sometimes that was a good thing. Horatio was surrounded by people who were very good at their jobs, and he tried to learn from them at the same time he passed on whatever expertise he had. Ideally, his whole team worked like smaller parts of a larger organism, with knowledge and skills being the commodity transferred from cell to cell.
Leaving traces of what? Horatio wondered as the elevator doors opened and he walked into the foyer of the Miami-Dade crime lab. Ourselves, I suppose. Shreds of dignity, stains of honor. Bits of moral fiber...
"You know, Horatio," Calleigh Duquesne said, falling in step beside him, "every time I see you with that little smile on your face, I try to figure out what's on your mind."
"Any results so far?"
"No, you remain inscrutable. But I've had better luck with that DB you found in Biscayne Bay."
"Oh?" Horatio stopped and turned. "You have a name?"
"I do," Calleigh said. She wore her straight blond hair long and loose at the moment, and pushed it back behind one ear as she flipped open a file folder and consulted the contents. "Gabrielle Maureen Cavanaugh. Reported missing yesterday -- according to her roommate, she sometimes goes on hikes alone, takes a picnic lunch."
"We know for sure it's her?"
"Roommate confirmed the ID a few minutes ago. She's pretty shook up, but willing to talk. I was just heading down to the interview room -- want to join me?"
"I believe I will," Horatio said.
The roommate's name was Stephanie Wheeler. She was a short, plump woman with a mass of spiky, purple-tinged dark hair and eyeglasses with thick black frames. She wore a pair of knee-length denim cutoffs, sandals and a loud Hawaiian shirt; despite the dichotomy of having to identify a body while dressed for the beach, Horatio could see by the pain on the woman's face that clothing was the last thing on her mind.
Horatio introduced himself and Calleigh, and took a seat on the other side of the table from where Stephanie sat. Calleigh sat down beside him.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Horatio said. "I'll try to make this brief."
"Thank you," Stephanie said. Her voice was calm, but every now and then a tear would bulge out from her lower eyelid and slide down one cheek.
"You say that Gabrielle liked to go hiking alone," Horatio said. "Did that include swimming as well?"
"Sometimes," Stephanie said. "She'd bring along a diving mask and snorkel so she could see underwater. No flippers -- she didn't like them." Stephanie blinked rapidly. "Too much trouble to carry on a hike, she said. And she just didn't like them."
"I see. She was a good swimmer?"
"Oh, yes. I told her she shouldn't go swimming by herself, but -- she was very independent. You couldn't make her do anything she didn't want to." Stephanie nodded, as if confirming something more to herself than Horatio. A tear dripped, unnoticed, from her chin.
Horatio and Calleigh exchanged a glance. "Stephanie," Calleigh said, "did Gabrielle have anyone in her life who might have wanted to harm her? An ex-boyfriend, maybe?"
A slight frown crossed Stephanie's face. "Why? I mean -- my God, are you saying she was murdered? I -- I thought that the body looked that way because it had been underwater -- "
"We're just checking every possibility," Horatio said. "Is there anyone like that you can think of?"
"No," she said flatly. "Nobody like that. Everybody loved Gabrielle. She was stubborn, but you couldn't stay mad at her. I don't know of a single person who would dream of hurting her."
"Anyone she might have met recently who seemed to be paying a lot of attention to her? Maybe even someone online?" Horatio prodded.
"Not that I know of. She hardly ever used the computer, even for email. She doesn't have a boyfriend, not right now..." She trailed off. "I guess she won't, either," she added quietly.
They had a few more questions, but learned nothing that seemed significant. Gabrielle had been young, pretty, well liked; she didn't do drugs or hang around with dangerous people. She worked in one of Miami's many hotels, at the front desk. Horatio planned to ask Calleigh to run the vic's prints through AFIS once they were through with Stephanie, but he strongly suspected Gabrielle Cavanaugh's only crime was that she liked to spend time alone.
Unfortunately, Horatio thought, there are plenty of places where that's enough to get you killed. And Miami is one of them...
"Well, Alexx?" Horatio said, pulling on a pair of gloves. Gabrielle Cavanaugh's body lay on the stainless-steel autopsy table before them, looking somehow more alive with the diving mask removed and the protruding flesh removed from her mouth. "What can you tell me?"
"Cause of death was drowning," Alexx said. "When a drowning victim can't hold her breath any longer, the respiratory center of the brain takes over -- it makes her breathe in, whether there's any air to be had or not. The water irritates the trachea, triggering a cough reflex. This expels air from the lungs, which is replaced on the inhale by water. The cycle gets more and more forceful, sometimes producing vomiting. Lack of oxygen produces unconsciousness, but doesn't stop the cycle; it progresses to more vomiting, convulsions, and what's called agonal gasping. During this phase, the aspirated water irritates the tracheal and bronchial glands into producing mucus, which gets mixed with the water and any remaining air into a froth. Rupture of alveoli cells in the lungs also contributes and will keep on doing so for several hours after the body is out of the water -- that's why her mask was filled with white foam. But when I tested her blood, I got a surprise. Horatio, this girl didn't drown in salt water."
"You're sure? Even without the lungs present?"
"Absolutely. Fresh water is hypotonic compared to plasma -- osmosis transfers it into the bloodstream through the alveoli at an extremely rapid rate. It can add up to fifty percent to blood volume within a minute -- hers was just over forty-two. She drowned somewhere else."
"The area where she was found is brackish," Horatio said. "Fresh water does enter the bay from canals, though...what about the extrusion of her internal organs?"
"Condition of the thoracic cavity indicated they were pushed out -- and I think I know how."
She pointed to a tiny red mark on the abdomen. "This is a puncture wound -- so small I didn't notice it until I got her on the table. I think she was injected with something under a lot of pressure. The thoracic cavity is a sealed unit; you pump enough gas or liquid into it, something has to give."
"And something did," Horatio murmured. "But this had to have been done postmortem, right?"
"Definitely. Her lungs would have to have still been in place to produce the foam. I can't tell you much about the condition of the lungs themselves, though, because wildlife predation removed them -- and the stomach -- while they were exposed. But I did a blood gas test and found elevated levels of carbon dioxide -- even though she was already dead, some of the gas made its way into her bloodstream. Somebody pumped her full of CO2, Horatio -- blew her up like a balloon."
"And the gas escaped once the externalized organs were chewed through," Horatio said. "What about sexual assault?"
"Vaginal tearing and genital ecchymosis."
"Indicating she was raped...did you recover any semen?"
"No. Either he didn't finish or he wore a condom."
"What about the bite marks on her leg?"
Alexx shook her head. "Like I said, nonhuman. There's something strange about the wounding pattern, too."
"What do you mean?"
"Look at this," she said. "The bite is almost down to the bone, and the flesh is torn -- but if it was that strong, it should have just ripped her calf muscle right off. It started the job, but for some reason didn't finish. I took a closer look and found a fleck of foreign material in the wound, might be a tooth fragment. I sent it to Trace."
"Good. I'll check our animal database, see if I can ID the marks. Maybe we'll even get lucky and get a DNA match."
"This is an odd one, Horatio. Whatever this poor girl went through, it wasn't pleasant."
Horatio took a step back from the table. He studied the still face of Gabrielle Cavanaugh, tried to imagine her on one of her solitary hikes. She probably brought a book along, a snack, maybe some sunscreen so she could lie in the hot Florida sun without burning. And if it got too hot, she could always cool off with a swim...
"Whatever she went through," Horatio said quietly, "we'll find out."
"What we're looking for," Horatio told his team, "is a weapon known as a Farallon shark dart."
They were assembled in the layout room. Delko stood with his arms crossed over a tight black T-shirt, looking serious and broody; Wolfe, in a grey suit jacket and light blue shirt, was studying the diver's mask and bathing suit top on the table, the only physical objects they'd recovered from the crime scene. Calleigh, in a loose-fitting white blouse and black slacks, sat with an open notebook in front of her and a pen in one hand.
"Uh -- I don't think I'm familiar with that one, H," Wolfe said.
"It's a shark-deterrent device," Delko said. "A canister of compressed CO2 with a long, sharp needle on one end. Sharks have up to thirty-six percent fewer nociceptors than a human does -- basically, they don't feel pain. In order to stop one, you have to do a massive amount of damage all at once. The shark dart injects gas into the body cavity of the shark, causing its internal organs to be forced out the mouth and rectum."
"And somebody used one on Gabrielle Cavanaugh," Calleigh said.
"Postmortem," Horatio said. "Before that, she was raped."
"The way the body was mutilated suggests rage," Wolfe said. "So does placing the body -- somebody wanted us to see his handiwork."
"I'm not sure the body was placed," Delko said. "Before the CO2 escaped, the body would have floated. It might have gotten entangled in the mangrove roots naturally."
"There's also the matter of the bite marks," Horatio said. "Calleigh, have you made any progress on that?"
"I have," Calleigh said. "The key was the spacing between the teeth -- point-four-five inches. Believe it or not, they came from a bottlenose dolphin."
"A dolphin?" Wolfe asked. "That's rare. They hardly ever attack humans."
"Actually, dolphins are a lot more dangerous than people believe," Delko said. "They are predators, after all -- a killer whale is really just an overgrown dolphin. Dolphins frequently attack sharks, and even porpoises."
"This is true," Horatio said. "And even though the use of a weapon indicates human involvement, dolphins can also be trained."
"Well, that would certainly be a first," Calleigh said. "Flipper as assassin."
"You know, it might not be as far-fetched as it sounds," Delko said. "There was a rumor going around the dive community a few years ago about dolphins being used by the Navy to kill enemy divers during the Vietnam War. And not to be indelicate, but dolphins are highly sexual creatures -- there've been a number of reports of them directing that kind of behavior at people, especially menstruating women."
"You're suggesting she was molested by a dolphin?" Calleigh said, raising her eyebrows.
"I suppose that's a possibility," Horatio conceded. "But let's concentrate on the human angle for now...Eric, I want you to check the shoreline along Biscayne Bay -- concentrate on outflow areas from canals. Calleigh, you follow up on the dart, get us a list of distributors. Mister Wolfe, I want you in the lab -- we found transfer under the vic's fingernails and in the wound, and I want to know what they are and where they came from."
"What about you, Horatio?" Calleigh asked. "Heading up to SeaWorld to interview a few suspects?"
"If that's what it takes," Horatio said mildly. "Because whoever or whatever did this to Gabrielle Cavanaugh, they're still out there..."
Copyright 2006 by CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Alliance
Excerpted from Riptide by Donn Cortez Copyright © 2006 by Donn Cortez. Excerpted by permission.
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