I stood close by and watched the suited man check the pockets of the body. Effortlessly he removed car keys, a mobile phone, a notepad. He handed them to me. I wondered what type of car the dead man drove and resisted opening the cover of the notepad to discover the scribbles that would bring the poor soul back to life for a moment.
Was it a shopping list beyond the cover? Appointments?
I glanced at the police officers standing back- maybe they could open the notebook looking for answers?
Yes, the cops would reveal this strapping old man’s plans for the day.
A date perhaps?
He was elderly, but looked younger than the age printed on the Life Extinct form I had sighted moments ago. Handing the contents of the dead man’s pockets to the officers, a lump formed in my throat when I saw them place the keys and notepad on a nearby bench.
I’d never know.
The suited man who emptied the pockets and was now preparing a body bag on a stretcher is my new work partner. He has been in the business for almost twelve years and he’s four years younger than I am. His movements fluid, professional, I’m momentarily intimated until it’s time for me to help lift the man from the hallway floor onto the funeral cot; a collapsible stretcher we lowered right to the ground.
It’s my very first police call.
“Ready?” he peers up at me.
“One, two, three!” he counts and in one movement, strangers become a team as we remove the dead gentleman from the floor where he lost his life.
Coming from a big city where we handle up to twenty bodies a day, I was not used to being in the presence of somebody who had died only an hour earlier. I had conducted copious body removals from homes and aged care facilities, but in a city with traffic jams and winding motorways, the decedent had usually been dead a couple of hours by the time we arrived- rigor mortis well and truly set in and skin cooling. I was in a smaller town now, where it takes thirty minutes at most to get from one end of town to the next, and the hospital morgue only a five minute drive from our facility.
I’m also blessed to be employed by a funeral home with the police contract- which means we are the team who remove the body from an accident, suicide or any other case requiring further investigation by the coroner.
Today was my first police call and less than an hour earlier, shoes polished and tie fastened, I dived into the van excitedly. I couldn’t wait to discover the case that awaited, my eyes wide as my partner told me stories of some of the cases he has worked on. From aeroplane disasters to murder cases, the wannabe forensic journalist inside me somersaulted! My heart always aches for the family involved in any loss, but it’s a well known fact in the funeral biz that Emma Jane loves the coroner cases.
Back in the city, whenever a removal from the forensic science unit was required, the funeral directors loosened their ties and flicked off their polished shoes. “Emma can do it!” they’d sing, reaching for their microwave lunch meals. It was break time for them while I leapt into the van and headed off towards the giant building of secrets. Black body bags, detectives – I felt like I was apart of a crime scene investigation TV programme!
I always dreamt of working for a company granted the police contract- and now my dream had come true.
We arrived at our scene today with little information and I admired my partner’s ability to predict the scene we were about to walk into, simply by the appearance of the dwellings around us. “A lot of older people live around here,” he studied the houses through the windscreen as we turned down our designated street. “I betcha it will be a case where a doctor will sign off on his death. Nothing too exciting,” he winked my way.
Although no decomposition kit was needed (a go-to pack containing heavy duty gloves and goggles) I was deeply moved by today’s police case. It wasn’t because the poor soul’s body defeated him only moments before paramedics arrived. It wasn’t even the tiny frown line between his brows, indicating a little pain when he took his final breath.
It was his perfectly ironed trousers, his shiny leather belt, the notepad and car keys in his pockets. Not a hair out of place, he smelt of Classic Brut. Only a short while ago, he rang the ambulance service reporting chest pain. His heart failed him before they arrived. Had he dressed well out of courtesy for the hospital staff? He sure did look lovely. His skin still warm, limbs floppy as we moved him from the floor, I experienced a little chest pain of my own.
Once we strapped him in and lifted the stretcher in the back of the body removal van, my partner and I climbed back into our seats and headed off towards the hospital morgue where further tests would be carried out. We chatted about our favourite TV shows and the sunset casting brilliant pinks and oranges across the sky but, inside all I was thinking to myself was “Mr. Wilson had no idea a few hours ago, that tonight he would be dead.”
I had anticipated a gruesome discovery with the call from the police.
Instead- I was moved by pleated trousers and a notepad.