Chapter one of LAUGH OUT DEAD can be found HERE
If you have missed INTELLIGENT DESIGN: GENESIS, chapter one can be found HERE
Dead as a Dolfin
Tuesday the 31st
I awoke on Monday morning in good spirits, having had a peaceful, Urban-Smithless weekend. He had been invited to be the keynote speaker at a scepticism conference at Utrecht University, and would not be darkening the doorstep again until the following evening.
I arrived at the mortuary a little after eight on Tuesday morning, and had barely finished switching on my computer, when my mobile phone rang. The call was from a PC Hubble, requesting my presence at the home of one Dr Fedya Dolfin, who had been discovered dead in his bed.
I grabbed my Gladstone bag and hurried to the main entrance of the hospital to hail a taxi. I motioned to the nearest vehicle, and the passenger door was pushed open by a swarthy, Eastern European gentleman with a shaved head and broad grin.
“Jest to prawdziwy groch-souper, Szef,*” he said, jutting his chin towards the limpid, cobalt London welkin.
(*It’s a real pea-souper, Chief.)
We arrived a mere fifty minutes later at number 45 Muppet Street, Putney, an easy address to identify due to the presence of two Police cars in the street outside, and several concerned neighbours lurking at the kerb. I ambled to the front door, where a sullen-looking constable greeted me and ushered me inside. As soon as I entered the hall, the aroma left me in no doubt that the occupant had been dead for at least two days. The hall was narrow and sparsely decorated, but the hall and stair carpets were plush and of good quality. I could see that the doctor was in the habit of removing his shoes at the door, and I observed his overcoat and hat hanging upon hooks just within the vestibule. From behind a closed door, there emanated the sound of muffled conversation. I paused to slip on overshoes and disposable gloves, before ascending the stairs to be greeted by PC Hubble, a tall, muscular officer who introduced himself and indicated the doctor’s room, which was at the front of the house with bow windows overlooking the street. The walls were painted pale green and the carpet was pale cream. There were photos of children in frames upon the dressing table and a painting of some yellow flowers above the bed. Opposite the bed, attached to the wall there was a flat-screen television, and a door which led through to an en-suite bathroom.
Dr. Dolfin was laid supine upon a double bed. The covers had been drawn back and he was clothed only in a pair of blue boxer shorts. He was a slim, Caucasian gentleman with a flat nose, full lips and wavy, brown hair, thinning on the top and shot through with grey. He was of average build, though a little flabby round the edges, although I need talk, being far more inclined to the G&T rather than the clean and jerk.
My first job was to verify death, which I was able to do at a glance and a sniff, though I went through the motions of feeling for a pulse. Dr. Dolfin was cold and flaccid, indicating that he had been dead for more than 36 hours. There was marbling of the skin extending from the abdomen onto the chest and neck, and his blue tongue was bloated and protruding.
PC Hubble hovered at the doorway. “When did he die, Doc?”
I checked my watch. “Between 48 and 96 hours ago I would estimate, so somewhere between Friday morning and Sunday morning. Judging by the stage of decomposition, probably nearer Friday than Sunday.”
“According to his work colleague, he was last seen on Friday evening. None of the neighbours have seen him since. His wife was staying with their son over the weekend. She found him when she arrived back this morning. ”
I nodded and turned my attention back to the doctor. His eyes were closed, though his mouth hung open in the classic “O” sign. I turned his head this way and that looking for signs of injury, but found none. There was no vomit or discolouration around his mouth to indicate poisoning, and there were no obvious injuries on either arm or leg, nor on the chest or abdomen. PC Hubble assisted me in turning Dr. Dolfin onto his side. There was marked lividity all the way down his back, and no obvious axe wounds or protruding knife handles.
I looked on the dressing table and in the bedside drawers, but found no medication, nor any under the bed.
“Any ideas, Doc?”
“Not really. I need to open him up and have a good look.”
At this juncture, we heard a car screech to a halt just outside, and the sound of angry profanity signalled the arrival of the duty officer, Detective Inspector Gadget.
DI Gadget (pronounced gad-jay) was a shade under six feet, and broad in both chest and belly. His shiny pate was circled by a perimeter of light brown hair, and a pencil moustache lurked beneath his flared nostrils. His lack of social skills, coupled with his refusal to concede to any contradictory opinion had ensured that he rose no higher in the ranks. It was his habit to bark at all and sundry like an enraged seal, and had little concept of personal space.
I had little patience for the man, having been less than amused by his antics on several previous occasions, and felt my hackles rise as he thundered up the stairs and stormed into the room. He glowered at PC Hubble, then me and then the deceased in a fashion that suggested each of us owed him a sincere apology.
“Well, Constable? What’s the story?”
PC Hubble produced his notebook and flipped through it. “Dr Fedya Dolfin, age 51, teaches telecommunications and electronics at the London Metrosexual University. Lives with his wife, Tanya Dolfin. Last seen alive on Friday evening. His wife was away over the weekend, staying with their son in Manchester. She arrived back this morning, found him dead in bed and made the call.” He closed his notepad.
“Did she I.D the body?”
“Any signs of forced entry or burglary?”
“Where is she now?”
“Have you collected a statement yet?”
“Give it here, then.” Detective Inspector Gadget waved his arm around impatiently, then snatched the proffered paper out of PC Hubble’s hand. “I’ll get to her next.”
DI Gadget looked me up and down. “Well, Dr Shortarse. What killed him, then?”
“Too soon to say, Inspector Gadget.”
His face darkened, and his upper lip curled. “Not Gad-JIT; Gad-JAY! It’s French, comprendez?”
“Ah oui, bien sûr. Ta mere est tellement petite, que sa tête pue des pieds, n’est-ce pas?*”
(*Your mother is so short, her head smells like feet.)
He snarled at me. “Do you have anything useful to offer?”
“He’s been dead for two to three days. There are no signs of violence and no medications strewn about the room. That’s all I have until I perform the post-mortem.”
D.I. Gad-jay took a step towards me and leaned over to look me in the eye.
“Then I suggest you **** off back to your mortuary, and get busy.”
I picked up my things and headed out the door and down the stairs.
“Au revoir, Inspector Gad-jay,” I shouted over my shoulder. “Ta moustache ressemble à un écureuil mort.☻”
(☻Your moustache looks like a dead squirrel.)
Doctor Dolfin arrived at the mortuary just after lunch. It is difficult to perform a thorough examination of a body in situ, even though one may glean useful information from doing so. In the mortuary, under the fluorescent strip lights, every blemish, blotch, blister and bruise is illuminated for all to see, and it is no place for the vain or diffident, living or dead. Danny, the mortuary attendant and I descended like pale grotesques upon the good doctor, rolling him this way and that, looking for external injuries or abnormalities. We opened the doctor up using the traditional Y-shaped incision, and checked that all his components had been assembled in the standard format. Once satisfied, I retired to make coffee while Danny prepared the doctor for detailed examination.
I returned a few minutes later to find the doctor sporting the open top look which is quite de rigueur amongst the London cadaverous. I noticed immediately that his brain had lost some of its usual folded texture, and was swollen inside the skull, pressed firmly against the sides like a size sixteen lady in a size fourteen frock.
I sipped my coffee while Danny emptied the stomach of its contents, spooning a little into a plastic specimen pot, then attaching a hollow needle to a syringe, ready to collect a vitreous sample. With the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, he pulled apart the doctor’s left eyelid and advanced the needle tip. There was a soft scraping noise, and Danny cursed.
“Glass eye?” I enquired.
“Hmmm,” assented Danny.
Fortunately, Dr. Dolfin’s other eye was more co-operative and the autopsy proceeded in the traditional sequence with no complications. Danny had tied off the great blood vessels to the neck and removed the heart and lungs, which lay together on one metal workbench. The abdominal contents had been similarly extracted and laid out for my perusal.
I weighed and examined each organ in turn, cutting each one open to check for gross internal derangement. I sectioned the arteries of the heart, but found no arterial blockage and no damage to the heart muscle. There was no evidence of blood clots in the lungs, or ruptured aneurysms, or internal bleeding. Danny gently removed the doctor’s brain, and I dissected it carefully, looking for evidence of tumour, bleeding or stroke.
Doctor Dolfin’s brain was swollen, heavy and congested, and there were multiple small haemorrhages concentrated around the thalamus and hypothalamus, with extension through the midbrain and into the pons. Indisputably, this was the mechanism of Dr. Dolfin’s demise.
Examination of the other organs was unremarkable. I collected samples of blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid, and prepared cassettes of tissue from the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and the brain, taking several samples from the affected areas.
Danny was kind enough to reassemble the doctor while I dictated my report, but I was troubled, and sat pondering for several minutes until Danny reminded me that we had another two autopsies to perform, and politely suggested that I, “stop gurning like a loon and get a shufty on.”
I rang Detective Inspector Gadget to inform him that my preliminary findings were that Dr. Dolfin had succumbed to an unusual pattern of multiple acute strokes, and that the toxicology and histology results would be available in a few days. He accepted the news with his trademark blend of good grace and charm, and terminated the conversation by advising me to **** off.
I arrived back at number sixteen Chuffnell Mews just after six, and was showered and changed, ready to eat by half past. Urban-Smith and I sat at the kitchen table while Mrs Denford fussed about us preparing supper.
“How was Utrecht?” I asked.
“Superb. My presentation on lignotelepathy went down an absolute storm and produced intense debate.”
“The ability to communicate with trees. The difficulty of course is verifying the phenomenon. And Utrecht is a marvellous city; you should come with me when I return for next year’s conference.”
“Indeed I should.”
He regarded me curiously. “Something is troubling you, Rupert. Do you wish to expunge your conscience?”
I sighed. “I am concerned that in the matter of the late Professor Gorshkov, I may have overlooked some detail.”
He leaned forward eagerly. “Why so?”
He sat in rapt attention, nodding and murmuring at appropriate intervals as I briefly outlined the day’s events and the findings of Dr. Dolfin’s autopsy.
We were briefly but welcomely interrupted by Mrs Denford, who brought each of us a plate of meat pie with peas and potatoes.
“Well, Fairfax,” I asked, poking at my supper with my knife, “what say you?”
I waited as he shovelled a large mouthful into his receptacle, and chewed thoughtfully. “Do you object if I probe you further?”
He pointed his knife at me. “The parallels between this death and that of Professor Gorshkov are remarkable, but do we have any justification to suppose a connection? Are you aware of any link between the two men, other than their shared Russian origins betrayed by Dolfin’s lineage?”
“Oh yes, Rupert. The Dolfins have a proud and noble history in Russia, spanning several centuries, which may or may not have some bearing on the case. However, that is a conversation for another time.” He looked at me expectantly. “Were you made aware of any other interpersonal connections between the two academics?”
“To be honest, I was given very little information, and Inspector Gadget did not encourage me to linger.”
“Then we may need to resort to speculation in order to string the sparse facts together. Let us start with the victim himself. What do we know of him? We know that he is a married man of 51 years of age, that he has at least one adult child, he works as an academic in the field of telecommunications, and both he and his wife own their own motor cars. We know that he sleeps only in boxer shorts, that he appears not to exercise, takes no medication, and sports a glass eye. He lives within easy striking distance of the City, comes from noble Russian lineage, and that he died from multiple strokes at some time between Friday night and Sunday morning. Is this the sum total of our knowledge?”
“I think so,” I replied.
“Think carefully, Rupert. Even the slightest of detail may yet prove crucial. What car does he drive? Is he a tidy man?”
“The house is well furnished, the carpets are plush and clean. The Dolfins are in the habit of removing their shoes at the door, and their hats and coats in the downstairs hall. They own a blue, four-door BMW with 53 plates, and a red Fiesta with last year’s plates. They do not keep any pets, and they like to watch the television in bed.” I rolled my eyes upwards and tried to visualise what little of the house I had seen in greater detail, but I do not share Urban-Smith’s clarity of vision and recall, and had nothing further to offer.
Urban-Smith nodded. “Excellent, Rupert. Did you notice any shoe prints upon the carpet?”
“I did not notice any. It seems that the attending officers had the courtesy to wipe their feet.”
“Did you speak to the widow?”
“Do we know anything of Dr. Dolfin’s current research?”
Urban-Smith held up one finger and excused himself from the table, returning a few moments later with a pen and notepad.
“In order to establish whether there are any connections between the two deaths, we need to construct an arachnotabula of the available facts.”
He scribbled for a minute and produced the following figure:
“As you can see,” he explained, “this chart is too sparse to forge any conclusions. We need data.”
“Russia seems to be a connection,” I ventured.
“There are similarities, but no connections.”
“What do you suggest, Fairfax?”
“Tomorrow, I shall contact Dr. Grove to find out whether he has any knowledge of Dr. Dolfin, I shall remind him to e-mail me a copy of Professor Gorshkov’s Curriculum Vitae, and I shall contact the London Metrosexual and see if I can obtain that of the departed Dolfin. On your part, I need you to contact Mrs Dolfin and obtain some further information.”
He turned to a fresh page in his notepad and began to scribble again. Presently he tore out the page and handed it to me.
“These are the facts that we require please, Rupert.”
The list read as follows:
Did Dolfin know or mention Trofim Gorshkov?
Had there been any recent stress or upset, e.g. burglary?
How did the Dolfins meet?
How did he come by the glass eye?
Was there a telephone near the body?
“I’ll speak to PC Hubble tomorrow, and ask for Mrs Dolfin’s telephone number. I’ll tell him that I need more information about Dolfin’s past medical history to complete my report.”
Urban-Smith chewed thoughtfully on a piece of pie crust. “Be circumspect, Rupert. With Gadget in charge, we will have to tread lightly.”
“Ha!” I snorted. “The man is just a big bully.”
“Indeed he is,” Urban-Smith concurred, “yet he has something that other bullies have not.”
I nodded sagely. “The full force of English law at his back.”
“More than that,” said he, indicating his crooked nose. “He has an exemplary right cross.”