So there I was looking like a game show host in my velvet jacket and feeling as uncomfortable as Dolly Parton’s chest in a size “A” bra. I just wanted to hide somewhere, but a Police Station is not the best place for that. It is full of people whose job it is to find you. I don’t think anybody had the first idea what to do with me so I got pushed through the first opening they could find. On the door was a sign, “Warrants and Coroners Officer”. I knew what warrants were as I had seen the American cops on TV shooting people who had warrants outstanding against them. This sounded pretty good to me. Who needed a little wooden stick when you could have a big bad Magnum and a bad attitude. Now that would make my day. I was going out with a team to shoot the “bad guys” and jump across a few car bonnets. This Police thing was starting to look up.
As I entered the office my heart stopped and I broke out into a cold sweat. I was introduced to its three occupants who, for the sake of the story, I will call John, Phil and Bob. Starsky and Hutch they certainly weren’t. John, I soon learnt was the coroners officer and was a bit of a laughing assassin. Phil was a very big guy and softly spoken. I doubt he had bounded down many fire escapes after a suspect and if he rolled over a car bonnet the car would lose every time. Bob was the one who caused me to sweat. I recognised him instantly from his smart, straight backed army appearance and polished shoes. He was the “twat in the white hat”, sorry, I forgot where I was, I meant traffic officer who had “stuck me on” for my motorcycle offences that very nearly kept me out the job. I think my velvet jacket and the weekly shave of my three chin hairs had thrown him unless he was just good at hiding things. I certainly was not going to ask him if he remembered me.
That first morning John, the coroners officer, got strait down to business and took me under his wing. Well actually he took me out the door, across the courtyard and to a nondescript outbuilding. As soon as he opened the door there was a distinct, sweet, sickly smell I would learn to dread. It was an odour that clings to the clothes and memory of every Police Officer throughout their career. It was a smell you never, ever get used to.
The room to the right of me was white, clinical and lifeless. It was like a big cold, windowless, bathroom. In the middle of the room were two cold, grey trolleys with motionless, dead, naked bodies on them. A man and a woman. I looked because I just couldn’t help it but I did not take much in. It was the first time I had seen “dead people” but it certainly would not be the last, not by a long, long way.
To the left were several big stainless steel fridge doors, a bit like a huge white filing cabinet for bodies. John opened one of the draws and slid the metal tray out. On it was a man who I can still see in my minds eye to this day. He was the first close up dead body I had met, if met is the right word. I measured him with John and still remember he was 6’2”. The one thing I never, ever got used to in “the job” was death and dealing with dead bodies. I hated it. It scared me stiff (probably the wrong word again). Sometimes you just need a coping mechanism in the twilight world Police inhabit. That is often a very strange dark humour that keeps you sane. Sometimes even the humour fails and then you are in real trouble, as I found out years later.
John was pretty good and did talk and joke throughout to make me feel a little more comfortable, but to him it was just another day walking amongst the dead. To him it was normal. To me, I preferred walking amongst the living and it was anything but normal.
John walked into the main room. I followed but kept my distance and stood near the exit. He was getting details of others that had been brought into deaths hotel over the weekend. It was then that my mouth fell open and my eyes froze onto the girl on the grey trolley. She was no longer a Jane Doe but someone I knew. She had been in my class for two years at school and we had been very good friends. I felt a lump growing in my throat and a shiver down my spine. As much as I did not want to I had to go see her just to make sure. John confirmed her name and told me she had died in a car crash where the driver was drunk but had survived. There was not a mark on her body and I wanted to shake her and tell her to get up. John asked me if I wanted to stay and watch the post mortems. I looked at him and just shook my head, turned and walked out of the mortuary into the courtyard.
When he came out he was reticent and tried to explain that he did not think I would be that upset. I know he was trying to help by preparing me for what I would have to deal with for the next 30 years. Then I would have no choice and couldn’t walk away from death. No one else was going to deal with it. It was then I told him I knew her well. Now it was time for his mouth to drop and I could see the guilt carved into his face. I know it was not his fault, he could never have guessed how well I knew her.
Later that afternoon I did go back into the mortuary to watch a couple of post mortems. I felt I needed to get used to what I may see in future. There was also something I really needed to do. I stood well back from the pathologist to let him get on with his job.
He was one of the most enthusiastic people I had met and told me to come closer telling me I would learn nothing from where I was stood. He was like the teacher you always wanted to have at school. He explained everything he was doing, why he was doing it and what he was looking for. He had told me from his observations what he thought the cause of death was but still went through everything in meticulous detail. Having someone like that made what could be an horrendous experience into something that left me fascinated.
I had been in the “Job” for just one day but I had met the officer who had “done me” and sent me to court, seen my first dead body and what goes inside them. I had learnt more about biology than I ever had at school. I had gone through more emotions than I knew existed but I had one last thing to do before I went home. I found where my friend was and opened the fridge. I had my last, one sided conversation with her and with tears in my eyes said my own goodbye…