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By STEVEN JAMES
RevellCopyright © 2010 Steven James
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Chapter OneTwo weeks later
Saturday, May 31 St. Ambrose Church Chicago, Illinois 6:36 p.m.
Dr. Calvin Werjonic's body lay grim and still in a lonely casket at the front of the church. I stood in line, nine people away from him, waiting for my chance to pay my last respects to my friend.
The air in the church tasted of dust and dead hymns.
Having spent six years as a homicide detective and the last nine as an FBI criminologist, I've investigated hundreds of homicides, but I've never been able to look at corpses with clinical objectivity. Every time I see one, I think of the fragility of life. The thin line that separates the living from the dead-the flux of a moment, the breadth of eternity contained in the single delicate beat of a heart.
And I remember the times I've had to tell family members that we'd found their loved ones, but that "their condition had proved to be fatal," that "we'd arrived too late to save them," or that "we'd done all we could but they didn't make it." Carefully worded platitudes to dull the blow.
Platitudes that don't work.
On all too many prime-time crime shows when investigators arrive at a scene and observe the body, they crack jokes about it, prod at it like a piece of meat. Cut to commercial.
But that's not the way it is in real life.
The line eased forward.
Death isn't trite because life isn't, and the day I stop believing that is the day I'll no longer be any good at my job.
Another person stepped away from the casket, and I realized I could see part of Calvin's face, wrinkled and drawn and tired with the years. His skin was colored artificial-Caucasian-white with makeup that was meant to help him look alive again but only served to make him look like a mannequin, a pale replica of the man I'd known.
At seventy-two he'd been twice my age, but that hadn't gotten in the way of our friendship. When we first met, he was my criminology professor; eventually he became my advisor, and by the time I graduated with my doctorate in geospatial investigation, he was one of my closest friends.
He died two days ago after spending ten days in a coma.
A coma he shouldn't have been in.
Though not officially consulting on the case, Calvin had independently started tracking a brutal killer I was looking for in Denver. The man, who called himself Giovanni, had gotten to Calvin, attacked him, drugged him. And after Giovanni was caught-managing to kill two SWAT officers during his apprehension-he refused to tell us what drug he'd used.
Despite the best efforts of the Denver Police and the FBI, we weren't able to extract the information or identify the drug, and since Calvin was already weak from a losing battle with congestive heart failure, he'd passed away.
His condition had proved to be fatal.
We'd arrived too late to save him.
We'd done all we could but he didn't make it.
That don't work.
Three people in front of me.
The line was moving slower than I'd expected, and I glanced at my watch. My seventeen-year-old stepdaughter Tessa was waiting for me in the car. Ever since her mother's funeral last year, death has troubled her deeply, overwhelmed her. So even though she knew Calvin and had wanted to come in, she told me she couldn't. I understood.
We had less than an hour to get to our 7:34 p.m. flight from O'Hare. It would be tight.
Just one person in line.
Before slipping into the coma, Calvin had uncovered a clue that was apparently related to the Giovanni case but also touched on the most famous case of my career-the murder and cannibalism of sixteen women more than a decade ago in the Midwest. The clue: H814b Patricia E.
A psychopath named Richard Devin Basque had originally been convicted of the crimes but had recently been retried right here in Chicago in the light of new DNA analysis, and found not guilty. And now he was free.
I arrived at the casket.
It's a cliché to say that the dead look like they're asleep. It's a way to romanticize death, an attempt to take some of the sting away. If you talk to any law enforcement officer, medical examiner, or forensic scientist they won't talk like that because they know the truth.
The dead don't look like they're sleeping; they look dead. Their bodies stiffening in twisted, blood-soaked ways. Their skin pasty and gray, sloughing off the corpse, or clinging to it in rotting, reeking patches. Sometimes their skin is twitching and moving because of a thick undercurrent of squirming insects inside the body.
There's no mistaking death for sleep.
So now, I saw Calvin's forever-closed lips. His quiet eyes. The makeup that's meant to hide the wrinkles and the evidence of his deterioration.
The truth of life is so harsh, so brutal, that we do everything we can to ignore it: we are born, we struggle, we endure, we die, and there's nothing left to show we were ever here but a few ripples, a few possessions that the people left behind squabble over, and then everyone moves on.
Dust to dust.
Ashes to ashes.
The grim poetry of existence.
I placed a hand on the cool, smooth wood of the casket.
Earlier, I'd promised myself that I wouldn't cry, but as I thought of Calvin's life and all that it had meant to so many people, I felt my eyes burning.
I stepped away.
Aiming for the lobby, I eased past the other mourners, nodding to some of them, laying a gentle hand on an elbow or shoulder to comfort family members or friends as I headed toward the door.
As I passed through the door I found that the lights in the lobby had been dimmed and it appeared vacant, but as I neared the exit I heard a man call my name.
He was standing half hidden in the shadows, lingering near the roped-off steps to the balcony. His face was shrouded, but I recognized the voice and felt a surge of anger as I realized who he was-the man I'd found thirteen years ago with the scalpel in his hand, bent over his final victim, the man a Chicago jury had acquitted last month.
Richard Devin Basque.
Excerpted from THE BISHOP by STEVEN JAMES Copyright © 2010 by Steven James. Excerpted by permission.
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