The political silly season was in full bloom and the folks in Stephenson county for in for a treat. The Illinois state legislature had decided that they would avoid elitism in their elected officials; an MD was no longer necessary for a coroner; a clean record no longer necessary for city councils and damn near anyone could be on a school board. The election several weeks before had produced an amazing amount of "letters to the editors" about some even more amazing elected officials.
An undertaker had been elected coroner in Stephenson County for example.
It looked like politics in Illinois would be interesting again!
John Bob McHenry heard the door to his office open, took a sip of early morning coffee and turned to see who wanted to have their taxes done up. He took a second sip of coffee and sprayed it across the office when he saw who had entered his office.
It was a neighbor whom he knew was having trouble with her abusive husband. He had taken her to the battered woman's shelter a couple of times but she had never pressed charges against her a$$hole husband. Her face was a disaster and she was favoring her left side. "OH, SHIT!", John Bob thought, "that schmuck goes to jail this time!" Then out loud, "I'm pressing charges myself, this time, if you don't, Maureen!"
"That's not necessary, John, I took care of that!"
"Good! Lets go see your 'Stevie' get arraigned."
"I said I took care of him," Maureen corrected him, "I didn't say I had him arrested."
There was a pause.
"I killed him."
Neither remembered the next several minutes as Maureen and JohnBob went to her house. The late and unlamented Steven Grant was lying on the floor, face florid and had soiled himself. There was the smell of booze on his breath and little other sign of death. The TV droned on in the background with news of the new politicians.
"What are we going to do?" Maureen was becoming scared.
"Damn! I don't know! You can call the cops and tell them he just had a heart attack?"
"Not believable. He had a physical last week and the doctor said his heart was in perfect shape."
"Well, maybe he drunk himself to death?"
"I guess he could have? He was unconscious when I held the pillow over is face. The bastard didn't even squirm much."
"Good! Let's call your cousin, Rich; he's a cop and can help us."
The call to the barracks got the cousin there in about twenty minutes.
The state police officer, a SGT, looked silently at the damage to Maureen's face then examined the body.
"He was drinking and had too much."
"Before or after he whaled in on you, Maureen?"
"After. Before. I don't know I just know he hurt me for the last time!"
"Did you kill him, Maureen?"
She wasn't believable.
"Sure you didn't, say, put a pillow or towel on his face?"
She seemed even less believable.
"Maureen, I can't help you unless you let me. Maybe I should call an ambulance or another officer. Is that what you want?"
"Yes", Maureen asserted.
"NO!" John Bob countered.
"Want to tell me about it?"
"He beat me up. Said he was going to leave me and get custody of our daughter. Said he would 'get her in line'. Said he wouldn't 'let our daughter be as insolent as you', me that is, am. I put the pillow over his face after he passed out."
"I could tell that from the feathers I can see in his nose."
"Can you pull them out before the coroner gets here?"
"You know I can't do that. The coroner will know the truth as soon as he starts the workup; will see it confirmed as soon as the toxicology results are back; will charge you with murder as soon as he checks out your ex's heart. Your ex bragged about his 'perfect heart' at the family barbque three days ago."
"Will she go to jail," John Bob asked.
"Not likely, I think I can get her probation but the Child Stealing Division will take her daughter for damn sure. They think that parents who kill are bad parents and Maureen will lose custody."
"It's not fair! Damn it, it's not fair! I did it to protect my daughter, damn it!"
"There's no way around it. We have to report this death and the coroner will be involved. We just can't cut the coroner out of the loop."
"I got it!" John Bob shouted. "Rich, you report that he dropped over when you were here. You tried artificial respiration. It didn't work. It was an obvious heart attack and you knew that you 'late friend Steve' didn't like to have doctors involved. Maureen, you tell them that 'your dear late husband Steve' wanted to be cremated within twenty-four hours. No problems there."
Rich, the state bull, just sighed.
"He still has to be seen by the coroner. I'm not going to ruin myself by seeming so damn stupid. Besides, everyone will wonder why no one called nine wun wun. There just ain't no way we can avoid the coroner.
From the TV, the answer came to John Bob; he thought about it for a delighted eternity of about five seconds. Then, he spoke:
"No way we can or need to avoid the coroner. We'll take him to the coroner but it'll be the right coroner. Take a look at the new politicians who are just starting their terms."
The TV was showing the smiling reelectees or the naive, virgin, office holders. The Coroner race in the next county over, Stephenson County, had unseated the incumbent. The old Coroner, an MD, was congratulating his successor, an undertaker. In a magnanimous gesture, the old Coroner gave the new Coroner the keys to the office and said:
"There aren't any cases active so you might as well start now. I had the books audited. Enjoy yourself and don't hesitate to call."
"Thank you. I'll be sure to keep in touch!"
It was obvious that the "new guy" wouldn't; at least not for a while.
"There's our solution," John Bob shouted, "we just need to get him over to Stephenson county and let the new coroner do the workup!"
They put the body in the passenger side of Maureen's family car and John Bob drove it the fifteen miles to Freeport, Illinois, in Stephenson County. Rich, the state bull, drove in front of them. They parked in a small strip mall parking lot and Rich wrote out a drunk driver ticket on Steve. The ticket was time stamped an hour before. Then Rich called 9 1 1 and informed them of a death and asked for both an ambulance and the new coroner. The new coroner arrived shortly after the ambulance crew, which had been told that they weren't going to have to get their uniforms messy.
Maureen, who had driven there with Rich, was properly grief stricken and buried her face in her hands. John Bob had discretely faded into the background.
"He was driving when this officer pulled us over. He had been drinking and wouldn't let me drive. After he got the ticket, he started breathing funny and then he gasped and slumped over."
"Did he have a history of heart trouble?"
"Yes. Yes, he did. He didn't want to take his medicine...and..."
Maureen turned and hid her face against Rich's shoulder.
"Well," said the new coroner, "I can make out the death certificate now as heart attack or we could have an autopsy done?"
"He didn't want his body cut up."
"I am an undertaker. I could handle the details or you could call someone else?"
"Please take care of it. He wanted to be cremated and that done within twenty-four hours. It was a religious matter to him."
And so it was. The body was cremated after the signing of the paperwork by the undertaker/coroner, the insurance came through, the three principals had a problem they couldn't tell a priest or therapist about but worked through anyway. The coroner was eventually un-elected by his predecessor. He was un-elected for too many events like Steven Grant's death.
Somehow, by accident, the ashes were lost. Some folks thought they saw Maureen and her daughter emptying a container over the crap at the local sewage treatment plant but they didn't know either the mother or daughter; the matter was rapidly forgotten.
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