The old man staggered forward, the hot 4th of July sun drumming down upon him, fixing itself onto him like some kind of stellar parasite intent on his demise. He lurched, first one way, then another as the crowd looked on.
The old man was Uncle Sam, a figure about town who was a fixture often spotted by regular commuters. His tall gaunt frame was easily spotted, and the clothing was even more of a hallmark. The stovepipe hat, white with a deep blue band upon which a large white star was emblazoned, was the first thing one noticed. The stiff collared white shirt with the ever present red bow tie was covered by his dark blue long tailed jacket. His pants were striped in wide white and red vertical stripes, making his already imposing figure an exaggerated one.
The clothing was his calling card, but it quickly became secondary to the man within. His hair and goatee were pure white. His eyes were blue, piercing, blazingly demanding. His nose was straight, lending itself to his vaguely hawk like appearance. His mouth was spare, not at all fleshy, usually held tightly in control.
Uncle Sam was a fixture alright. No one knew from whence he had come. Some people said, though never to his face, that he was a homeless guy. Some went as far as to say he was crazy. Somebody ought to do something about him. I mean, you can't have men dressed up like that just free on the streets, can you? He might harm himself, or harm someone else. His free ranging habits had been the subject of discussion by the city counsel, by various citizen's groups, by the media in the form of features in both print and broadcast media. Everyone agreed it just wouldn't do to have him continue his life on the streets. No one did anything, though, because Uncle Sam never harmed anyone. He was always just present, and every 4th of July he made himself part of the town parade.
The first parade was a challenge. Someone asked if he had a permit to be in the parade, and of course he didn't have a permit, fill out an application, file any paperwork. Others took up his cause, asked what could be more patriotic than having Uncle Sam in the 4th of July parade. The critics subsided, and Uncle Sam had been in every parade for as far back as anyone cared to remember.
Uncle Sam tacked to the left, heading toward a pair of twin girls, maybe 4 years old. He strode forcefully for a couple steps, stopped, clenched his fists and gurgled something no one understood as words, and dropped to the ground. He didn't fall so much as simply fold up, collapse upon himself. Someone said later "That old man, he looked like the World Trade Center on 9/11, he just went from standing upright to falling in on himself in a heartbeat."
The 4th of July parade came to a halt. Like most such affairs there was an abundance of rescue personnel, EMT units, fire departments from the area. Rescue squad members rushed to the fallen figure, checked for a pulse, any sign of life. Uncle Sam had punched the clock, left the building, was as dead as last year's garden.
The forensic pathology assistant looked up as the phone chirped. She picked it up, identified herself, and listened to the voice on the other end for a short span of seconds. She gave an aknowledgement which she appended with a request.
"How about stopping by the donut shop and bring us a dozen assorted? Be a love and do that for me, okay? Yeah, right, see you in a bit then." She swiveled the chair and told her superior "We've got one coming in. The crew said we'd enjoy this one."
Her boss, Dr. Morgan Berenson, grunted by way of acquiescence, and went back to working on the report he was doing on the word processor.
Dr. Berenson was old school, not as comfortable with the word processor as he had once been with the IBM Selectric typewriter which he had worked on in his younger years. He, like most people, wasn't very fond of change, at least in areas which he considered peripheral to his main work. He was the city medical examiner, charged with labeling the cause of death for those who came to his stainless steel tables. Though it was July 4th, he and Susan were on the job, she more from the lure of double time pay for working the holiday, he from a sense of duty supplemented by a slight backlog of paperwork which inexorably demanded attention.
The EMT van backed into the covered bay at the city morgue. The crew got out, swung open the double doors on the rear, and took the still figure on the gurney out. The gurney legs swung down, locked into place, and they pushed the grim cargo to the entry portal. They rang the buzzer, waited for the security lock to buzz them into the building. It responded to their signal and they proceeded into the cool interior of the building. They came to the correct portal and pushed past the double swinging doors. Susan Radamacher, the pathology assistant, rose and went to greet them. Brad Summers, one of the crewmen, greeted her with a grin.
"Brad, love, do you have something for me?"
"Suze, you know I do."
"Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say. That's not what I mean, silly. Who do we have here?"
Still smiling, Brad flipped back the starched white sheet exposing the box of donuts.
What we have here are a dozen fresh, delicious donuts and the earthly remains of Uncle Sam. Here you go, love. I wouldn't stop and get these for just anyone, you know. What's in this for old Brad, hmm?"
Susan raised the lid on the box, surveyed the contents, winked at Brad.
"Call me after work and we'll talk about it, alright?"
"Talk about it. Talk, talk, that's all I ever get, Suze." His good natured smile took the sting from his comment, and Susan gave him her own smile. His statement wouldn't have held up under oath in a court of law, at least not for the last month. He and Susan had become an item around the water cooler for other department staff members. It could shape up to be an interesting evening.
Dr. Berenson rose, stretched his body to remove the stiffness, and walked to the gurney. He pulled the sheet back and saw the chalky face. Pulling the sheet lower he saw the stiff shirt collar, the red bow tie. At the foot was a bag which he opened, revealing the stove pipe hat.
"What is this, we have Uncle Sam here?"
"Seems so, Dr., that's what Brad said, anyway. Old guy was walking in the town parade and went down right in the middle of the street."
"Alright then, let's have a look at him. There's nothing else too pressing except more paperwork, and that'll still be here when we're done, right? Please prepare him and I'll get our tools ready to go."
"Sure, right away, Doctor Berenson."
Susan gave the correct response but inside she wasn't thrilled. She had hoped to spend the day looking at histology slides, deducing cause of death,preparing her reports for Dr. Berenson to sign off on. Doing an autopsy wasn't how she had hoped to spend her day, but she resigned herself to the task. She and Dr. Berenson worked well together, had for 3 years now.
"That's why they pay me the big bucks, Suze," she consoled herself.
She wheeled the gurney tp park it alongside a stainless steel table. It was about 7' long with a width half that dimension, slightly elevated with a drain and shallow trough at the lower end. The top had a pair of sprinkler heads which allowed a steady flow of water to rinse away accumulating fluids and bits of matter.
Susan unstrapped the gurney, freeing the passenger. She removed the sheet, and got a clipboard with a fresh inventory sheet. On top she wrote her name and title, dated the form and filled out the identity section. "John Doe, aka Uncle Sam. Clothing consists of (1) top hat, stove pipe style, no apparent damage. (1) frock coat, dark blue, no apparent damage. (1) shirt, white button up, high collar, no apparent damage. (1) bow tie, red, no apparent damage. (1) pair pants, white and red vertical stripe, no apparent damage. (1)Pair black leather shoes, lace up style, no apparent damage. Contents of pockets-no contents. No identification papers, no currency, either paper or coin. Subject has no possessions other than the clothes on his back."
She set about removing the clothing, being careful to not damage anything as well as look for any evidence which could help fix cause of death. There were no stains, rips or tears, smears or stains which could point toward a resolution of this mystery. As she removed the items, she bagged each one in a sterile clear zip lock bag, a small pile which she then collected into a larger bag which she labeled with her name, date, and the John Doe/ Uncle Sam identifier. When the body was bare she slipped it from the gurney onto the dissection table. The body was showing signs of rigor mortis, had a marked loss of fluid motion to the limbs, a syndrome which would become more pronounced as time passed.
She weighed the body, recorded the weight of 195 pounds. She measured it also, found it to be 77.5 inches. Another fact to put in a blank spot on her form.
Stepping into the doorway between the examination room and Dr. Berenson's office, she announced "Dr. Berenson, we're ready for you."
He looked up, saw her smile to accompany her gallows humor, and returned one of his own.
Dr. Berenson came to the exam table, pushing a cart of instruments which he parked at the head of the table. He asked Susan "Ready to go?, to which she nodded. He reached to the microphone which depended from the overhead light array, switched it on, pressed the foot switch which started the recording function, cleared his throat and started talking.
"Date is July 4, 2009, time 2:48 PM. Post mortem examination of subject John Doe also known as Uncle Sam. Subject is Caucasian male, age unknown, apparently in later years of life. Subject is well formed and in good physical condition, well muscled, particularly for a subject of this age. Body shows no sign of struggle, there are no gross wounds or traumas. Forearms exhibit tattoos, left arm tattoo a sailing ship, name beneath 'Constellation', right arm tattoo also sailing ship, name beneath 'Constitution', forearms heavily muscled, hands rough and calloused."
Releasing the foot switch he told Susan "Let's roll him over and get a look at the flip side." They did so, and it was much the same as the front had been, just an old white guy who had simply stopped breathing, started the voyage toward ambient temperature. The tissue was tinged a little toward the red, a sign of post mortem lividity. Water runs down hill, and so does blood. It tends to gather at the lowest point, fill the tissues closest toward the center of gravity (the ground), and consequently there develops a redness of the skin which resembles a sunburn.
He pressed the foot switch and started dictating again.
"Anterior examination reveals nothing insofar as injury or trauma. Post mortem lividity in early visible stage."
He took a magnifying glass and carefully examined the skin for small marks such as needle punctures or lesions. He motioned to Susan and they returned the body to its former position lying on its back on the cold steel table. He continued his minute exam, looking within the oral cavity, under the tongue. He checked between the toes also. In long experience he had learned that IV drug users injected themselves anywhere they could find a spot, one preferably out of sight of any casual observer.
He keyed the mike again and said "Close visual examination reveals no breaks to skin as a result of injection."
Releasing the mike foot switch he stepped to the table and chose a scalpel. He raised the head, put a hard rubber block under the neck, a move which allowed him to move the head about and eliminate a broken neck as cause of death. He started at the front a couple inches above the eyebrow line and started an incision, a long one which ran to the base of the skull on the rear. On the side he started just behind the left ear and came across the top, finishing just behind the right ear. The result was somewhat similar to a quartered orange. He started peeling the skin down from the top, revealing the skull cap beneath. He was mindful not to damage the flaps of skin he peeled down ward, knowing the mortician would have to repair any damage if the body were it to be viewed. That was if a relative could be found who would claim the body for burial. He selected a bone saw and started working his way around the skull, cutting through just deeply enough to separate the skullcap and reveal the brain beneath. Connecting the starting point with the finishing point, he lay the instrument down. Taking a small instrument which had a small claw, he inserted it and pulled the bony carapace free. Instead of being greeted with a mass of healthy pinkish/grey brain tissue in its convoluted folds, he was confronted by what resembled a mass of wet yarn, large thread like tendrils which resembled nothing he had ever encountered. He took a scoop shaped instrument and worked it under the mass from the front, lifting it up. It came free suprising easily, with no apparent connection to the spinal column. He placed the mass (one he didn't quite resolve to refer to as tissue) within a stainless steel pan which he then weighed.
"Intercranial examination reveals unspecified mass which is not brain tissue. Mass does not exhibit signs of being a cancerous growth. The mass is at this point unspecified as to structure, purpose, and function. There is no evident brain tissue present. There is a small nub at the top of the spinal column, this nub seemingly composed of normal nerve tissue. Sections will be prepared for examination. Photographs are being taken to document examination findings."
While looking at the nub of nerve tissue Dr. Berenson noted a lack of a bony enclosure consistent with the top of the vertebral column. He took his scalpel and made an incision along the spinal column. Instead of finding a series of bony enclosures with disks, he instead found a containment of cartilage. Dissecting further he surmised that this cartilaginous system fulfilled the same function as a spine without actual bone being present. Sections and photographs were taken, joining the growing accumulation of forensic wierdness.
Dr. Berenson and Susan continued, progressing toward the torso. A large 'Y' incision was made from just below the breastbone upward to the outward terminus of each collarbone. From the breastbone downward the incision continued to the pubic area. Cutting away the skin, muscle and cartilage from the breastbone area upward, the breastbone was exposed. He folded the large triangle of tissue upward, covering the face. Using the bone saw Dr. Berenson cut away the breastplate, exposing the heart within the pericardial sac as well as the lungs. The removed breastplate, looking for all intents and purposes like a large spare rib, was placed in the drain at the foot of the table.
The heart was removed, weighed, sectioned, and examined for signs of heart disease, valve function, other sign of damage or abuse. No obvious sign of damage was noted. The lungs were removed, weighed, examined and sectioned. No sign of tumor or inflammation were present, the lungs exhibiting a healthy pinkish coloration. Uncle Sam seemed to have been a non smoker.
The liver, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys similarly seemed quite healthy and functional, no signs of gross abnormality displayed. Sections of each organ were prepared for later examination. The abdominal cavity revealed a healthy digestive system, nothing of note being found.
Returning to the exterior of the body, Dr. Berenson examined the external reproductive organs. The penis was normal, and was uncircumcised. The scrotal sac, when palpated, was found to contain nothing. Close examination of the sac showed no sign of scar tissue from any previous surgery. He opened the sac and within found no contents which remotely resembled testicles. No circulatory structure existed for their support. Another remarkable discovery, the 3rd today. He reminded himself that he would need careful documentation of everything, that this case would make him famous, a man of note, at least within the limited circle of his profession.
Dr. Berenson decided that, the day becoming far along, the examination would continue tomorrow. He intended on calling in a colleague as a backstop, verifying and validating his procedures and conclusions. He asked Susan to put Uncle Sam in the cooler, preserving his secrets for another day. He shambled into his office, a list of phone calls forming in his mind.
Susan did her job quickly and efficiently, alternately thinking of this most bizarre case, and her evening with Brad.
The evening went by as evenings do, fulfilling the fondest hopes of both Susan and Brad. Pillow talk ensued.
The scandal sheets, those blaring examples of reportorial excess which perch at store check out counters like vultures seeking to fly into the shopping carts of the unwary, had banner headlines the next week. In large bold black letters the proclamation was made: UNCLE SAM DEAD! Cause of Death: NO BRAINS, NO BACKBONE, NO BALLS!