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Behind The Tape
Sunday, 19 October 2014


 

When I was a kid my absolute favorite television show, apart from Lassie, was Wild Wild West. I was thrilled by the adventures of our heroes - the dashing James West and the wiley Artemis Gordon. Set in the late 1800's, they were Secret Service Agents who traveled the country in a custom train, righting wrongs, and fighting all manner of villains. It was 007 meets the Western.

Looking back, the show was campy, a bit silly, and pretty sexist, but then so were many of the television shows of that day. It was just the era.  As a young girl, it certainly never stifled my imagination. At no point did I ever say, "Wow, as a woman, the only thing I can ever become is a flirtatious Bond-girl, or an evil villainess." (Is that a word? Oh well, it is now.)

Truthfully, one would expect that given my later development, I must have been fed a steady diet of Wonder Woman, That Girl, and Mary Tyler Moore. No, sorry to disappoint. Like a zombie, every afternoon I staggered to the glow of the television for a steady diet of Wild Wild West. That was my kind of adventure -riding horses, righting wrongs, standing up for truth, justice, and the Amerian Waaaaay! (Wait, that might have been Roy Rogers and Lone Ranger too.)

James and Artie were the original Survivor Men.  Plop them into any town along the rail line in American and watch adventure bloom.  They had every gadget and disguise that Hollywood in the 1970's could imagine. And I ate it up. Goof that I am, I thought about that silly show as I was packing my desk on Friday night. A CSI has a lot of gadgets. Like James and Artie, we haul our trainload of gear along with us on each mission. And over my career, I had accumulated a lot of stuff, certainly more than the average crime fighter can haul along on horseback.

I packed box after box, taking a lot of stuff with me, but other things needed to be passed along to my heirs - guys I had trained to be crime scene investigators. After they've picked out what they want, the rest of the CSIs will go through the gear like coyotes on a carcass. It is the order of things.

I was deep in thought about this when one of our young CSIs came to my desk wearing the oddest expression. She reported,

"There's a snake in the hall."

This was a far more stimulating statement than,

"There's a stabbing on North Main" or "There's a shooting on Westheimer."

I was intrigued.

"A snake?"

She nodded.

"A real snake?"

She admitted that she wasn't sure whether or not it was real. And if it was real, she wasn't sure if it was dead or alive. I was positively aglow with interest. What would a real snake be doing on the 10th floor of a 26 floor building smack in the middle of a major metropolitan city? We were literally surrounded by a sea of concrete.

So I followed as she led to the hallway near the freight elevator. And sure enough, it was a real snake. He looked like a juvenile Texas Rat Snake. I touched him with my foot and he moved a bit. He was a very cold, probably very hungry, juvenile Texas Rat Snake. Hmmmmm . . .

So I went back to my office and dumped Breyer horses out of a clear plastic Laffy Taffy container. Yes, at one time I had tiny Breyer model horses on my desk. When you are surrounded by concrete and death, you can always ride out on the back of a Breyer horse. So I returned to the snake, (I named him Frank.) and placed the clear plastic candy container on the floor beside him.

With a bit of prodding, Frank slittered into the Laffy Taffy jug. I popped the lid on and a minute later, Frank was sitting on my desk amid the boxes.

Frank was less than amused. Clearly he did not get the memo that this was a rescue operation. Concerned that he would suffocate in his plastic prison, I cut airholes in the lid with a pocket knife. (Because James West always had a pocket knife!) The mystery of how Frank appeared on the 10th floor of an office building in downtown was kind of moot. Unlike finding a kitten or a puppy, one doesn't need to post flyers for a lost snake. Since the mere sight of foot-long Frank sent most CSIs reeling backwards in fright, it was a good bet they didn't bring Frank inside the building. I did find this fact morbidly fascinating.

People who think absolutely nothing of dealing with all manner of Halloween nightmare-inducing images, were repulsed by the idea of getting up close and personal with Frank in a candy box.

I will share this little tidbit with you. If you want to get a CSI to help you haul your crap, all you have to do is announce that you need help getting your packed dolly through the double doors, otherwise you might drop your candy box full of snake. The reaction is immediate. People leap to your assistance. Artemis Gordon would be proud.

Once at my truck, I seatbelted Frank in beside me. Because I needed to drop off dog kennels at my mother's house, I called to give her a heads up. Her first response to hearing my voice was,

"You are not bringing that snake over here to turn it loose."

Clearly my mother had already seen Frank on my Facebook page. In her defense, since my mother is currently babysitting one of my dogs, four of my cats and four of my horses, the idea that I would also dump a snake on her is not outside the realm of her thought processes, thus I was quick to point out that Frank was destined to live under my front porch. Besides, her chickens would eat him. This pacified her, and I was then welcomed.

On the journey over there, I had to repeatedly shake Frank back down to the bottom of his candy container, as he was on a quest for freedom and the airholes were his best shot at it. This concerned me mightily as the idea of a loose snake at sixty miles an hour wasn't my idea of fun. Thus, by the time we arrived at my mother's, I fear Frank was a bit carsick from me shaking his box.

It says something about our family that my mother didn't argue when advised that she needed to hold Frank's box and shake him down from time to time while I unloaded dog crates onto her porch. She has lived with me for 51 years, and this is par for the course in our family. I think many years ago she gave up on the idea of having a normal daughter. She got a normal son, that should be enough. I am not normal. I am . . . for lack of a better word - unique. Yes, let's use THAT word. It sound good!

Unique!

Unique people find snakes on the 10th floor of office buildings and bring them home!

(My advice for those of you who are also "unique" is this: Find your tribe of other unique people. Surround yourself with uniqueness, and you will appear normal - and you will live a fun and happy life outside the realm of what society deems is 'normal.')

So I dropped off the kennels, and grabbed a frappuccino out of my mom's refrigerator because even though she doesn't drink them, she keeps it stocked in case her weird unique child brings over a snake in the middle of the night. She handed me a pack of frappuccinos and my snake, and I headed home.

I released a carsick Frank under the porch light.

The question as to how he ended up on the forensics floor of the police station will probably forever remain a mystery. I don't ponder this stuff much any more. I figure that somehow that snake ended up in a really bad situation and God smiled on little Frank and sent probably the only person in that giant building who was able to help him.

And I guess God probably sent Frank to help me out too. Like Frank, it was time for me to move to someplace else. Starting Monday I will be working in the Command Center doing computer work on Super-Secret-Squirrel-Stuff.  My old buddy, Fergus, will be my new supervisor, so I trust him when he says that this is a happy place where unique people can still make a difference in this world, and be entertained by their job at the same time.

So Frank made my last night as a crime scene investigator a most memorable experience. Rather than running one more murder that would simply slide into the recesses of my memory, Frank made it a night to remember. It was not my last night as a CSI, it was

 
The Night Of The Serpent!

    

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:31 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 17 October 2014


I knew I had the job the moment my chair broke and I almost fell to the floor. I've had that chair my entire career as a crime scene investigator. In fact, I bought the chair at an office supply store and had it mailed to my office. My mentors put the chair together for me. Time was marked in that chair. Years of peeling juicy oranges left discolored patches on the seat cushion. Bits of chocolate were ground into the fabric. In hindsight, perhaps a black loose weave wasn't the best choice but I was fond of the chair, and in some lopsided way, it had come to represent my time as a CSU, thus I wasn't surprised when I leaned over, reached for the phone, and the chair broke. I don't mean a little break that you can fix with some screws. I mean a break so irreparable that it's a wonder I didn't hit the floor. The weld holding the chair to the swivel base just gave up. Perhaps like me, the chair had just had enough. Ironic.

I scan my files and marvel at the death I've walked with through the years. Boxes of manila folders. Each file a life. A story.  I used to try to organize the march of the dead. The first year it was easy. Each case was unique in my mind. Each death had a voice, but by the second year the cases began to run together. The same apartment complex. The same furniture. The same dead baby. The same blood on the sidewalk.

Instead of being able to glance at the photographs to remember the case, I was forced to delve deep into the file for details that made this death different. And now, beginning my ninth year, I no longer feel guilty when I cannot remember their faces and their story.

I was in a sandwich shop yesterday when a prosecutor called to discuss an old case. I stood there, a bag of potato chips in hand, with no access to my files and tried to remember the case we're going to trial on next week. It is not enough to hear the suspect's name. Most of the time I never knew the killer's name anyway. Tell me who he killed. Nope. The victim's name no longer rings any bells either. This time I was lucky. The events of his case were dramatic enough that even in my stacks of manila folders, he stood out. Yes, I remembered that case. But it is the exception now.

The new investigators come to us, eager to wade into death investigation and make a difference. It's a hard job. The hours are long. The responsibility is great. The job does bring with it a delayed sense of satisfication though. It takes years to bring justice to the victim. Nothing can wash away all the blood, but a life sentence goes a long way. I see our young investigators come into the office, happy to begin their journey on this road of discovery. With just a few files in their box, they are still excited about each case. And I'm excited for them, but I have a hard and fast rule I've learned over the years,

"Never arm wrestle anybody over a dead man."

If someone else wants to go out on that case, let 'em. Your case file boxes will grow in time. You don't have to go out every time the phone rings. But then again, we were all that eager at one time. At least the good ones were. Crime Scene Investigation is not a job for someone just looking to do the minimum and then go home. Young, eager faces want to absorb every kind of death investigation detail they can. They want to learn it all, right now.

Looking back, I remember that Fergus, Seamus, and I were the same way so many years ago. We bounced from dead man to dead man, absorbed in the details of death, eager to ferret out the facts that would bring us closer to justice. But just as our chisels carved bullets from sheetrock, other chisels were at work on us. Time in this job chisels away at your core, for you cannot wade through this amount of death without being changed. Rose-colored glasses are not part of the uniform.

And if you're wise, you realize when it's time to stop carving. Put down the chisel. Set it down before you give in to the urge to hurl your truck keys onto the bloody pavement and walk away from your responsibilities.

Fergus left first. He waded through the waters and came to the bank on the other side. Fergus was the first of us to discover there is a life after Homicide. Still floating along in the rapids, I saw Fergus on the shore, happy, and for the first time, I gave serious thought to wading out too. It would be nice to come home at the end of my shift instead of staring at another six hours on my feet. It would be nice to have a reliable schedule. It would be nice to go into retirement free of five more years of murder trials. It would be nice to not play Twister over dead men. To not hear their mothers' cry.

And so, I took the plunge. After years of dancing with the dead, I put in a transfer, and I put it in God's hands. What will be, will be. The interview went well, but it wasn't until days later when my chair broke that I knew I had the job. After all, that chair had been with me for my entire career. If it broke, it was because I didn't need it anymore. Three days later I got the call. The job was mine if I wanted it.

Tonight will be my last night as a crime scene investigator. When the sun goes down, we shall see what the darkness brings, but tomorrow morning, the sun will rise, and I will walk toward it.


 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:10 am   |  Permalink   |  10 Comments  |  Email

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