The Tampa cops have this body on their hands and it looks like suicide, but it could be murder. They need Dr. John Feegel. Their problem: find him.
Feegel is a rugged 42-year-old pathologist, and he gets around. He might be in the office of the medical examiner for Hillsborough County—because that’s what Feegel is. Or maybe he’s studying blood tests at the private pathology laboratory he co-owns, looking over the shoulder of one of the more shapely among his 40 employees. (He’s fond of asking pretty friends, with a leer: “How would you like a bruise you couldn’t explain to your mother?”) He might be out on his 28-foot sloop or at his townhouse, whipping up steak Diane for his current lady, or knocking out a few more pages of his next novel. It’s a follow-up to Autopsy, a medium hard-boiled mystery that’s sold more than 300,000 paperback copies and will be made into a movie. Later on, chances are the cops could find him at the Tigers Den, a local bar, singing My Funny Valentine and afterward rapping about his days as a pianist. “I sat in with Count Basie’s band three times.” The cops finally run him down, and Feegel is ready. He spent two years in the Jesuit order after graduating from Holy Cross in 1954, but then jumped back into the world with both feet. He got his M.D. from the University of Denver in 1960, worked for the Denver coroner’s office, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Miami coroner’s office before moving to Tampa. Because Feegel also picked up a law degree in 1964, he’s a hard man to fool and spends a lot of time giving evidence in court. In the morgue, he reaches for the Polaroid camera he keeps handy—for possible court appearances—and takes some snaps of the victim, who has a bullet wound in the head. “I sleep when there’s nothing else going on,” Feegel says. “Usually there is something going on.”
Feegel investigates about 2,000 deaths a year for the county. For this case, he studies X rays, examines the cadaver’s head and notes the amount of powder around the wound. He nods his head. He’s getting close. When he removes the smashed bullet, he frowns and says, “This is going to be lousy ballistics.” Feegel knows his business. “He’s a great teacher,” says one Tampa cop. “He’s taught us to look for indications in our cases we might not have thought of before.”
Now Feegel is finishing his report, and when he comes to the space for cause of death, he pauses. The case is a kind of real-life version of Autopsy, in which a supposed suicide turns out to have been murdered.
Feegel writes in the blank: “homicide.” For him, another case is closed; now it’s up to the cops. He quotes a favorite medical aphorism: “A surgeon knows nothing and does everything. An internist knows everything and does nothing. A psychiatrist knows nothing and does nothing. A pathologist knows everything and does everything—but one day too late.”