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TUESDAY, JANUARY 10
“DBF at Scenic and Eighth,” announced the warm-toned voice of Virginia Fraizer, who acted as both receptionist and radio dispatcher. Dead body found. Down by the beach. They used telephones where dead bodies were concerned. Too many blood-and-guts freaks monitoring police bands to use the radios for something like this. Thank God for Ginny. She seemed to hold the department together.
“I’m on my way,” Detective Sergeant James Dewitt replied, returning the receiver to the cradle of the bedside phone. DBF! Not a one-eighty-seven, thank God. That would be a homicide. Not after just two months on the force. Had to hurry. Outdoor crime scenes deteriorated quickly, and to make matters worse, it had been raining when he had awakened at 5:30. He knew the location: a turnout in the blacktop in the otherwise impossibly narrow scenic road that fronted Carmel’s beach. Enough room for three parked cars. A hit-and-run, maybe.
Dead body found. One thing was certain: He was wide awake now.
He was in his boxer underwear. He was waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, waiting to wake up Emmy and get her ready for school. He looked in the mirror. He was anything but on his way.
The body lay spread out on the pavement, posed inhumanly like a malfunctioning mannequin discarded on the showroom floor. Suicide, by the look of the car. A hose taped from the exhaust to the passenger window. Dewitt approached the body and stopped. Given the remarkable gift of life, he wondered how someone could choose death. Sight of the suicide made him angry and a thought flashed through his mind: If only this man’s unwanted life could be traded for Julia’s.
It was a chilly January morning. Dewitt wore his brown wool sport coat—his only wool sport coat—a garment that begged for replacement. Its two black buttons drooped like the sad eyes of a basset hound. His identifying trademark remained his bow ties, a holdover from his fifteen years in forensics: In the lab, a bow tie stays out of your way. He wore green paisley today, a gift from Emmy. He removed his glasses, exhaled onto their lenses, and afforded them a long methodical polish. He returned them to the bridge of his nose, seating them in a permanently pink dent there. He stepped over the body and squatted by the man’s feet, taking one general all-encompassing look first, then focusing detail by detail, head to toe. James Dewitt still existed in the world of the microscopic particle. His eyes missed very little.
He was unaccustomed to victims—especially dead ones. Having served as a man of evidence for so many years, he tended toward the material evidence first, which justified, at least in his mind, disregarding the body at present, turning away and focusing his attention on the vehicle. Technically, he was Detective Dewitt now. Detective Sergeant. But at a crime scene such as this, he instinctively reverted to his former self, a forensic investigator, a specialist dealing in the invisible world of trace evidence. His colleagues derisively referred to forensic criminalists as “nitpickers.” What did they know? Would your standard off-the-shelf detective have already noticed that there was no sand on the bottom of the decedent’s shoes, this despite a sugarlike coating covering the entire parking lot? And if no sand on the bottom of the shoes, then how had the decedent placed that hose in the passenger window?
That was the beauty of hard evidence: It could either be explained or it couldn’t. Witnesses might offer a dozen different accounts of the same incident, but the hard evidence eventually told one, and only one, story.
The car and the dead body would have to tell this story. Unlikely to have witnesses at this early hour. Dewitt carried surgical gloves and a Swiss Army knife in the right pocket of his sports coat; forceps, Baggies, small magnifying glass, and a Mag-Lite in his other. He snapped the pair of gloves on and called out to Patrolman Anderson, who was stringing the bright plastic POLICE LINE tape around the perimeter of the parking area. DO NOT CROSS, it warned. The wind changed and Dewitt could hear the comforting concussion of nearby surf more clearly, could smell the salt and the sap. The struggling Monterey pines with their wind-torn limbs and awkward weather-sculpted shapes leaned painfully toward shore.
Anderson ashamedly confirmed that he had dragged the body from the car. Dewitt was going to have to call a meeting of Carmel’s twenty patrolmen and remind them of the responsibilities of the first officer, the first cop to arrive at a crime scene. The problem was not stupidity as much as unfamiliarity. Carmel saw few dead bodies in any given year. However, procedures were what kept investigations consistent, and the courts required consistency.
Dewitt fished out the dead man’s wallet. California driver’s license. Name: John Galbraith Osbourne. Sacramento. The detective experienced a short flutter in his heart, like sudden indigestion. Third card down was the organ-donor card. Another flutter, this time more painful. The card contained an entry for the next of kin to be notified upon death: Jessica Joyce Osbourne. Everyone knew Jessie Osbourne, the fiercely outspoken Republican state representative. “Jammin’ Jessie” they had called her last year because she had played basketball with the statehouse boys for a charity function and had come out of the game at halftime with two points, two assists, and a bloody nose. At fifty-five, Osbourne still had the spunk of a young woman.
Dewitt slipped the wallet into a Baggie and then removed his glasses again, polishing them slowly and then hooking them back around his ears, establishing them on his nose.
He circled the Tercel once, eyes alert. Osbourne had done a neat job of it—but why here? The location of the crime scene itself was as much a piece of evidence as anything. Did he want to die with a nice view? Had there been any view an hour earlier, or had it been too dark? Why here?
Rusty, his shepherd collie mutt, barked from the back of Dewitt’s unmarked police car, a Mercury Zephyr. Dewitt shouted a reprimand and the dog went silent.
Dewitt knelt by the body again. Decent-looking guy except for his bluish gray skin. The headlights of the arriving coroner’s wagon swept the pavement as it descended the hill of Eighth. Three jewels sparkled in the light, drawing Dewitt’s attention. He duck-walked the short distance. Fresh motor oil by the look of it. It had been raining heavily when Dewitt had awakened at 5:30, yet this oil had not washed away. Was that possible in that strong a rain? Using his Swiss Army knife, he took a sample of some of the oil, sealed it in a Baggie, and then labeled it.
“Was your radio car parked over here at any time?” he shouted over to Anderson.
“No, sir,” Anderson replied as he finished with the crime-scene ribbon by tying it off to the bumper of his radio car.
Dewitt carried what amounted to a portable crime lab in the trunk of the Zephyr. Besides the spare tire, the bulletproof police vest, and the first-aid kit, he kept two large black salesman bags back there. Between them, they carried every conceivable investigator’s tool. He retrieved his camera and photographed the oil and its relationship to the crime scene. Rusty protested from the backseat and had to be silenced again.
“What’s up?” Anderson asked, joining him a moment later.
Looking the young patrolman in the eye, Dewitt pointed his gloved finger at the dead man, John Osbourne. “He had a visitor,” he said.