Severed: A Novel

By VL Towler

Crime & mystery

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Chapter 2: Breaking Up (excerpted)

The body will be presented in a black body bag. Severe burns will cover the full front part of the body, sides and back. The fire will appear to have terminated on the dorsal areas, possibly through extinguishment.

At the time of the official examination, conducted at the medical examiner’s site, the body will be inspected first fully clothed as the remains suggest a shirt, pants, socks and shoes. From what will be visibly discerned, it appears that the body will not be wearing cotton khaki pants (of the JCPenney Dockers variety), a forest-green rugby shirt, and rubber-soled Cole Haan shoes.

The body will be that of a normally developed, well-nourished Caucasian male, conceivably measuring approximately 67 inches in length, with shrinkage, weighing an indiscernible amount, but not of any large or obese size. It will be difficult to discern his age, except that the hairs on the back of his head will appear to be brown, kept so with the aid of some coloring product. He will likely be between the ages of 37 and 50 years old. The body will be cold and unembalmed, with
pronounced rigor and posterior fixed lividity.

The body might or might not be burned over three-fourths of
its circumference. There will be no evidence of any external
blows to the body, except that certain fingers are missing
from the corpse.
All remaining organs are within normal limits, although the
existence of a brain was always in doubt. No underlying
pathological disease conditions for congenital anomalies can
be observed due to extensive fragmentation, manipulation
and dissection.
Blood Ethanol: No heart. No blood
Urine Drugs: Maybe
Clinicopathologic Correlation: pathological liar
1. Samples of Blood (type V), Tissue (no evidence of heart
tissue, brain, kidney, liver, spleen).
2. Twenty-five autopsy photographs: you ought to be in
3. Six postmortem x-rays
4. Five golden rings
5. Four calling birds
Clothing transferred to private crime lab for more appropriate
1. Burn, shock, surprise, arrogance, sour disposition.
Manner of death: Trial by Fire, Sweet Revenge.

“Is this a joke?” Lula Logan asked after she finished reading
the report. It was carefully and pristinely encased in wax paper,
presumably to avoid leaving behind any trace evidence.
“Okay. So we see the same thing, then.” Aggie touched her auburn shoulder-length hair and heaved a sigh. “Good. I thought I might be off my rocker.”
The women laughed as Aggie sat in a rocking chair with her feet planted on the ground. The two women were in her living room. Aggie was dressed like an ad for Laura Ashley clothing: a flowered collarless blouse with short sleeves under a thin, sleeveless, denim-like cotton dress with oversized front pockets. She was on the tail end of her sick leave, recovering from fibroid surgery.
“Why do you think you received this?” Lula asked.
“No idea.” She shook her head slowly. ”Maybe because I’m the only forensic pathologist in this parish. Hell, I dunno. You know this town has no secrets and any one of us can be found, whether we like it or not.”
Dr. Lula Logan and Dr. Aggie Sheaf had first met in Dallas at a course Lula taught for medical doctors called The Bare Bones of Forensic Anthropology. The always-popular lecture allowed Lula to travel to different cities every three months for a three-day stay in a luxury hotel and the opportunity to interact with other professionals.
After reading Lula’s credentials during one of her lectures in Dallas, Aggie approached her during a break and the women exchanged business cards. They promised to meet in Nakadee for lunch one day, but never did. Instead, their paths would cross occasionally at one of the larger supermarket chains fifteen miles outside of town, where, again, they would make promises to get together soon, and, true to custom, never follow through.
Louisiana had only one crime lab, and Nakadee had no other forensic pathologist, so occasionally their lull in communication would be breached by Aggie, who needed Lula’s help with periodic police inquiries about body parts that surfaced in the Kissadee forest.
The area’s large scenic byways and trails were spacious enough for hikers, and the alligators living in the nearby marshes. Aggie had asked Lula, as a favor, with specific instructions to defer to the police, and to take their earnestness seriously so as not to make them feel stupid. She mentioned one occasion when the police had mistaken a wild boar’s ribcage for that of an infant.
From what Lula could tell, Aggie led a typical Southern life of comfort and status in her white social circles. She belonged to a prominent Southern family of rice-growers (cotton had proven to be less cost-effective, post Emancipation). The family now owned only a small percentage of the company that was still known by the
family name but its trust kept Aggie very comfortable, so much so that she had not asked for alimony when she divorced her husband of ten years.
Lula had to admit to a nagging feeling that tended to find refuge in attributing a white person’s material success to having the right combination of “social circumstances,” usually identified by the mere color of one’s skin. However, in the South, the barometers of class were determined by your pedigree, the family to which
you belonged, and the company you kept. No one talked race in Nakadee. You just knew where you fit.
So Lula was a fish out of water when it came to finding friends with her background and educational achievements in the town. Only now, after two years, was she beginning to call it home.
She lived alone, in a black neighborhood, and didn’t belong to any of the organizations of the black bourgeoisie, such as Jack and Jill or the Links. Nor had she ever been a member of a black sorority. To make her feel even more lonesome, there weren’t enough black forensic anthropologists nationwide to form a clique, let alone an
Lula and Aggie were equals in nobody else’s mind but Lula’s. She was certain Aggie never even thought about Lula’s circumstances, and if she did, they would be too mundane and desultory to mention: Lula was a single black woman, without prospects of finding an equal partner or professional of her own race. Her closest chance at
a hint of a social life, with Devon, was about to end, also. She would have to get used to being truly alone again.
Lula was as much to blame as Aggie for not initiating a friendship. It was the environment, she justified to herself. Nakadee was different from Shreveport, Baton Rouge, or New Orleans, where the multitudes of cars, trucks, large buildings, civic centers and gala events spawned a more culturally diverse social lifestyle.
In Nakadee, there were no buildings more prodigious than the downtown courthouse and the Portuguese colonial edifices that had stood along the riverfront for more than a hundred years, later refurbished as university apartments.
Strolling in downtown Nakadee was no leisure walk, either. Where Nakadee denizens took walks downtown in the early evenings, Blacks stuck to their ghetto, separated by the train tracks, a constant reminder of the inequality of their environment.
The town of Nakadee had been very conscious of protecting its antebellum traditions until political expediency dictated otherwise. The biggest local uproar, secondary only to the polarizing War Between the States, as some Southerners still referred to the Civil War more than a century later, had been the decision to remove the statue of a smiling “darkie” tipping his hat, a once-enforceable requirement of any black male when meeting a white person.
Apparently, there was a sense of nostalgic delight in the white community that some old black men still upheld part of the tradition, but at least today they no longer had to get off the sidewalk completely to let Whites pass. The statue was an integral part of Nakadee’s history, not only as part of an historical district, but in keeping with its status as a town trapped in a time gone by.
Blacks, however, except for one local Republican councilman, would just as soon have burned the statue in effigy.
Nakadee had been the intended capital of Louisiana until its neighbor, Natchitoches, twenty-five miles to the North, beat it out. Both places had been French settlements, river ports for trade between the settlers and the Spanish Texans. The town stood as a lesser bulwark against invasion by the Spanish-speaking dueños of the new and ripe Americas. Its sleepy hollow of small cobblestone streets and plantation-style buildings stretched the full length of downtown, facing a portion of the sinewy 32-mile Cane River.
Wooden benches lined one side of the main street. Facing inward instead of outward, their wrought-iron backs lined the river waters that flowed past, their seats facing the town sidewalks. Even the design of the streets reflected the townspeople, who faced inward, only, and did not go too far outside of their town’s comfortable confines.



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