N Is For Noose Page 64

’’What's the estimated time of death for Ritter?’’

’’Oh, he'd been there five years from Kirchner's estimate. A gasoline receipt among his effects was dated April 1981. Gas station attendant remembers the two of them.’’

’’Quite a gap between deaths,’’ I said. ’’Have you ever run across a methodology like this?’’

’’Only in a textbook. That's what makes it curious. Take a look at this.’’ He reached backward and pulled a thin oversized volume from the bottom shelf. ’’Tornio Watanabe's Atlas o f Legal Medicine. This was first published in 'sixty-eight, printed in Japan, so it's hard to find these days.’’ He flipped the pages open to a section on hangings and turned the book so I could see. The photographs were of Japanese suicide victims, apparently supplied by various police headquarters and medical examiners'offices in Japan. One young woman had wedged her neck in the V of a tree, which effectively compressed her carotid and vertebral arteries. Another woman had made a double loop of long rope, which she wound around her neck and then put her feet through, achieving strangulation by ligature. In the method Dr. Yee'd referred to, a man tied a rope around a stone, which he placed on a chair. He'd wrapped the same rope around his neck, sat with his back to the chair back, and then tilted the chair forward so the stone rolled off the seat and strangled him. I studied the photographs on adjoining pages, which depicted in graphic detail the ingenuity employed by human beings in extinguishing their lives. In every case, I was looking at the face of despair. I stared at the floor for a moment, running the scenario through my head like a piece of film. ’’There's no way two men on opposite sides of California would have independently devised the same method.’’

’’Probably not,’’ he said. ’’Though, given the fact they were friends, it's possible they overheard someone describe the technique. If you're intent on suicide, the beauty of it is once you topple the boulder through the fork in the tree, there's no way back. Also, death is reasonably quick;not instantaneous, but you'd lose consciousness within a minute or less.’’

’’And these are the only two deaths of this kind that you know of?’’

’’That's right. I don't think this is serial, but the two have to be connected.’’

’’How'd you hear about Ritter's death?’’

’’Through Newquist. He'd known about Ritter since his body was discovered back in March of this past year. When a backpacker came across Toth, he reported it to the local sheriff's department and they contacted Nota Lake because of the similar MO.’’

’’Isn't there a chance Toth killed his friend Ritter, hoping to make it look like suicide instead of murder, and then ended up killing himself the same way? There'd be a certain irony in that.’’

’’It's possible,’’ he said dubiously, ’’but what's your picture? Toth commits a murder and five years pass before he finds himself overwhelmed with guilt?’’

’’Doesn't make much sense, does it?’’ I said, in response to his tone. ’’I talked to his ex-wife and from what she said, he wasn't behaving like a man who was terminally depressed.’’ I checked my watch. It was close to 4:45. ’’Anyway, I better let you go. I appreciate the information. This has been a big help.’’

’’My pleasure.’’

When I got home at five o'clock, Henry's kitchen lights were on and I found him sitting at his kitchen table with a file box in front of him. I tapped on the glass and he motioned me in. ’’Help yourself to a cup of tea. I just made a pot.’’

’’Thanks.’’ I took a clean mug from the dish rack and poured myself a cup of tea, then sat at the kitchen table watching Henry work.

’’These are rebate coupons. A new passion of mine in case you're wondering,’’ he said. Henry had always been enthusiastic about saving money, sitting down daily with the local paper to clip and sort coupons in preparation for his shopping trips.

’’Can I help?’’

’’You can file while I cut,’’ he said. He passed me a pile of proof of purchase seals, which I could see were separated according to the company offering to refund a portion of the price. He was saying, ’’Short's Drugs has started a Receipt Savers Rebate. Club, which allows you to collect your rebates and send them in all at once. There's no point in trying to get fifty cents back when it costs you nearly thirty-five cents for stamps.’’

’’I can't believe the time you put in on this,’’ I remarked as I filed. Over-the-counter diet remedies, detergent, soap, mouthwash.

’’Some are products I use anyway so who can resist? Look at this one. Free toothpaste. Makes your smile extra white it says.’’

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