The bones felt brittle in his hands, brittle and cold and thin. Dennis Tank had never been thin in his life. He’d fought the battle of the bulge and never won. He’d had to suck in his gut a notch or two just to bend over the bones in the dirt so he could examine them. Perhaps even his bones were fat. He chuckled to himself. That was absurd. He had two PhD’s and new it was absurd. How could bones be fat?
A hiker had found the bones on a stretch of path just off the highway in a remote part of the county. You’d have to park ten miles up the road and follow this unmarked trail to find these bones. Dennis set the time of death at somewhere around six months ago, wintertime. The decay of the bones and other similar scientific discoveries about the brittleness of them helped him make a guess. Forensics was more of an art than a science when examining bones in the field, without a lab to analyze them. Later, he could have his assistant do a real job on them. He wrote down six months on the form without a second thought. He could always change the number at a later date.
The deceased was probably over sixty. Healthy. Liked to exercise. This particular John Doe might have even been out for a jog at the time of death, indicated by the sweat suit and jogging shoes the bones were wearing. John Doe might have slipped on the trail and come to a sudden end due to a lack of agility and the odd shaped rocks protruding from the earth in this region. Blame it on God. The deceased might or might not have died that way. Dennis saw no signs of a struggle, but it was not that easy to write a conclusive report just by looking at the bones in the dirt.
The bones were still lying mostly on the top of the soil. Perhaps it rained a lot here and the runoff kept them exposed. They were so brittle. And cold. And thin. He envied their thinness.
The left wrist was thicker than the right one, but not by much, a slight abnormality there, nothing to write home about. The jogging clothes were mostly tattered from exposure to the elements. The pockets were all empty. He found no jewelry, except a ring on a chain around the neck of the departed, one very thin Mr. John Doe. The ring looked valuable. If this had been a murder, the presence of the ring indicated it hadn’t been committed by someone intent on robbing the man.
Dennis found no identification of any kind. Who went jogging without at least bringing a wallet along? Or a phone? Murders weren’t rational members of society in the mind of the jury. They think they are, though. They think there is some kind of logic to justify what they’re doing. And it was Dennis’s job to get into the mind of the murderer. This criminal, if it had been a crime, had stripped the body of everything but the jogging suit and shoes and the ring on the chain.
The jogging suit wasn’t something cheap either. The deceased had been loaded. Dennis had never been either rich or thin. Perhaps that was why he was single. He tried to focus on the job but failed. His mind wandered, his thought roaming over his life. He should have called in sick today. Something didn’t feel right about bending over a pile of bones when he could have been at home reading about them in a book.
He thought for a moment about a girl in the office who might have liked him if he’d been either rich or thin. Why had he gotten two PhD’s? Couldn’t he have just been like everyone else and learned about these bones in the news? A fly landed on the back of his sweaty neck and he slapped at it but missed.
He picked up the skull and turned it a quarter to examine the ear hole. The neck separated and the chain fell off. He looked around. None of the patrol officers smoking just up the trail noticed. Later he could claim the neck had already been separated due to natural causes, filling in the report with a litany of terminology most people wouldn’t understand.
He put the skull down as carefully as he could in his rubber gloves, leaving no sign he’d just screwed up a crime scene. He should have known better. He should have looked more closely at the bones in the neck first to see if there had been any sign of force applied to them. He should have taken measurements and photos. It wasn’t a only rookie move, it was a royal mistake. Something like that could cost him his job.
Overall, the bones were just like any other bones he’d come across on the daily grind, except that they were so thin. Dennis still couldn’t be sure how John Doe had died. It certainly wasn’t from a lack of exercise. He looked closer at the ring. That’s when he noticed it belonged to his father who had been missing for some time now.
Dennis looked at the name John Doe on the paper. He sighed. He looked at the sky and wished again he’d called in sick today. He would never be thin. But he felt a little lighter now. He now knew what had become of his father. He also knew he never would get into the mind of the deceased — he never could understand the monster his father had become.
He began breaking the bones one by one. They were thin and brittle and broke easily in his fat hands. When the police handcuffed him and put him in a patrol car, he closed his eyes tight. He never wanted to look at the bones of his father again.