53 Floating Some Ideas

“The trouble with drowning,” Martinelli said to Martin, “is that even though it happens quite often, it’s hard to figure out.” Chapter 53Floating Some Ideas

“That sounds like an excuse.”

“We have to follow the evidence. An autopsy isn’t conclusive, can only rule out other causes of death.”

“So what does the evidence at the scene or what people have told us, tell us?”

“You want textbook?”

“Let’s do it.”

“Right then. In cases of apparent drowning, ask the following questions.” Martinelli began to list them. “One, the big one, did the victim drown or was he killed and then put in the water? Two, was he conscious when he went in?” Three, could he swim? Four, was he under the influence of anything? Five, did he have bodily injuries? Six, were there witnesses?”

“So if we answer these questions after examining the circumstances and excluding other causes, bingo, there’s your answer?”

“In theory, anyway, Sherlock. Here’s what this victim’s body told us. If a body is face down in warmish water in a pool, any air left in the lungs can’t escape. The body tends to float but our corpse was weighted down. After a long time in the water, a body that’s sunk will pop back up to the surface as this air eventually diminishes.”

“Unless it’s way down, or tangled up in an object below?”

“That would slow it down, yes. Also, if the victim was alive and struggling there might be foam or vomit in the water but that could be diluted in our likely time frame. If he was drunk he might have vomited, anyway.”

“I didn’t see any, did you?”

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Anyway, the eyes were wet, with no dry lines, another indication of drowning. The skin was wrinkled…”

“No matter how old a prune may be…” Martin couldn’t resist the doggerel.

“…but that occurs in either case. Rigor had set in. More fully in the arms, a sign of struggle. On the other hand, if intoxicated there’d be less struggling.”

“More sinking, then?”

“Normally. His head was down, not turned, another factor in the drowning column. There was no major bruising. If he was injured before death, blood would have still been delivered to those injuries.”

“So it looks more as though he just got in, or fell in?”

“To me. Blood alcohol level isn’t strictly determinative. It can measure much lower after drowning than it might have been before. The lungs were large and the heart dilated, also more indicative of drowning. That’s what we’ve got.”

“So, let’s go back and answer the questions.” Martin quipped.

“Now that we have the answers, we have to remember the questions.” Martinelli grimaced, sincerely hoping his partner could remember them all but repeated the litany.

“One, did he drown?” Martinelli began.

“He drowned, according to the evidence of his body. Excluding the clutter in the pool that might lead us to another conclusion.”

“Two, was he conscious?

“He was conscious, and struggled. Though maybe not for as long as he might have if he hadn’t been drinking.”

“Three, could he swim?

“We still don’t know if he was a swimmer or not.”

“Four, was he UI?”

“Appears he drank at least two beers, and more elsewhere, so whether he was a swimmer or not, matters less.”

“Five, do you remember number five, Watson?”

“Bodily injuries. And before you ask me, any witnesses is number six.”

Indoor, underground condo pool with posted 'No Lifeguard' sign.

Indoor, underground condo pool with prominently posted ‘No Lifeguard’ sign.

“No keeping up with you, is there? Five, there were no apparent injuries before death. There was an attempt to weight him down presumably after he was already dead, and there were no bruises from that.”

“Weird but likely not the cause of death, whether or not there was any intent to murder.”

“We’ll get back to that. Six, we can’t identify any witnesses.”

“And our obvious conclusion?”

“Not so easy. Here’s one way to look at it that fits, so far. Somebody let him into the building more likely than not in street clothes, though we can’t find them, where he changed for swimming. He went to the pool voluntarily, possibly watched TV and got in the water, likely on his own, after he apparently continued to drink and toss in the empties. He went under, struggled briefly, and drowned. Somebody tried to fish him out with the rescue pole but gave up. Then somebody who really didn’t like him weighted him down using those empty bottles, and then threw money at him. And the witness, or witnesses, after death left the victim in the pool rather than report it because they didn’t want to be associated with the victim, because they knew who he was. Same for any witness who was with him before he died. Unless our victim looked first or somebody told him, he wouldn’t have even known about the existence of the TV, or the flotation jugs.”

“And what are we getting back to?”

“Tracking down what club he went to. Asking if he could swim. His car and the apartment he rented from his uncle haven’t told us much, if anything.”

“Other than he was a clothes horse.”

“With no clothes. One sure thing. That uncle isn’t co-operative. Supposed enemies?”

“Duh. We even know who they are, well at least some of them. We simply aren’t making any headway with them.”

“Maybe we should just try and ask if he had any friends. Maybe they might know why he was here.”

“Sounds crazy but you may be right about that.”

“But bottom line is, if this is an accidental drowning then it doesn’t matter about the rest.”

“Not necessarily. At the very least, it’s an offense to leave a death unreported.”

“What’s that old expression? ‘More honored in the breach than in the observance.'”

*   *   *   *   *

Earnest Arbuthnot’s initial interview with the police on Monday had been cursory at best, as he’d been pre-occupied with the bluff collapse. He wasn’t a swimmer, had only socially met the victim’s uncle but not the victim. Late on Tuesday, he phoned Martinelli to say that he intended to call a special association meeting Wednesday evening for residents who were expressing a variety of concerns.

“You must see the necessity for this.” Earnest explained. “We certainly want to squelch the rumor mill and if you would come along to answer questions, that would be appreciated. I hesitate to say it but the general impression is that you are baffled, not completely perhaps, but somewhat. Many residents are mystified and I fear are making up versions of events as they go along. Plus the press are hounding us for stories, and I want to nip this in the bud for the sake of our reputation, not to mention our perceived property values for continued sales in the building.”

“Sure, we’ll be there. When?”

The arrangements confirmed, Martinelli repeated to Martin. “‘Baffled’? He said they all think we’re ‘baffled.'”

“Hey, who cares! We’ve been insulted before, by experts. What say we turn up to the meeting with our pipes and magnifying glasses, eh wot?”