pages of rambling, apologetic scrawl related how Evelyn couldn't live without a guy who
also worked at the store, how she loved him desperately, and finally, “Oh sweet Jesus,
please forgive me.” I gazed at her vacant eyes and remembered “Darrel” stitched on
the shirt of a tall fellow who wore a cowboy hat and said little beyond that required for
selling groceries. The old rancher read the note and pursed his lips, whereupon the law-
man pointed to a ring on the dead woman's left hand and said, “Let's keep this quiet . .
.” We nodded and went about the business of loading her up.
Williamson County didn't have a morgue, so with the sheriff watching, a visiting med-
ical examiner performed an autopsy in our funeral home. He deftly opened the woman
with long scalpel cuts, beginning with a shoulder-to-shoulder half moon across her chest
and an extension up to it from below the navel. After another incision in front of one
ear, down around the base of the head, and up over the other ear, he pulled her scalp
forward to just above the eyebrows, laid it over her face, and exposed the cranium. A
few seconds' work with a small power saw freed the skullcap, after which, using both
hands, the pathologist lifted her brain up for inspection. Next he carved out a shieldlike
chunk of ribs and chest muscles, exposing internal organs. With the nonchalance of a
store clerk sorting vegetables, he palpated heart, lungs, liver, stomach, ovaries, and so
forth for gross abnormalities, then cut of small samples of tissue for study.
The sheriff was sweating profusely but said little beyond an occasional “Oh my lord .
. .” and “Huh, well . . . would you look at that.” I'd told them I was majoring in biology,
and the medical examiner tersely answered my questions about anatomy. He noted a
pinkish cast throughout the body and told us that was typical of oxygen-starved tissues;
the two men seemed satisfied that the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.
No one mentioned the state of the woman's clothing or the note. As they left, the fu-
neral director asked me to sew her up. I was almost twenty-one years old, surprised
that human skin was so tough but even more incredulous that such things happened to
ordinary-looking people in small Texas towns. I had no idea how much worse life could