Taking the Fifth
The aid car was there, sitting next to the railroad track with its red light flashing. But for the guy on the ground, the guy lying on his stomach with his face in the cinders and dirt beside the iron rails, it was far too late for an aid car. He didn't need a medic.
What he needed was a medical examiner. And a homicide detective.
That's where I came in, Homicide Detective J.P. Beaumont, of Seattle P.D. I was there along with my pinch-hitting partner, Detective Allen (Big Al) Lindstrom. After working until midnight on our regular shift, we had been called back when the body was found. Now we were standing by, waiting for Dr. Howard Baker, King County's medical examiner, to arrive on the scene.
Doc Baker isn't a morning person, and this was very early morning. It was ten to five on a cool summer day, just after the longest day of the year. Although the horizon was hidden from view by the Alaskan Way Viaduct directly above us, a predawn glow was breaking up the darkness around us, and the waterfront odor, heavy with wet creosote, filled my nostrils.
We waited in a small, hushed group until Doc Baker's dark sedan came tearing through the parking lot and jerked to a stop less than two feet from where we stood. Nobody bothered to move out of the way.
"All right, all right," Baker grumbled, easing his more-than-ample frame out of the car and taking charge. "What have we got?"
"I'm betting on a drunk,"' Big Al told him. "Some wino, from up by the market who got himself clobbered by a passing freight train."
Al was referring to the Pike Place Market, which sat on the bluff directly behind us, a hundred orso steep stair steps above our heads.
The market is a popular Seattle tourist attraction during the day. At night, parts of it still maintain an upscale, touristy atmosphere. But there are other parts of it, dark underbelly parts, that do a Jekyll-and-Hyde routine as soon as the sun goes down. For instance, almost every night the blackberry-bordered parking lot beneath the market itself becomes a savage no-man's-land, a brutal setting for beatings, rapes, and muggings that is all too familiar to officers assigned to the David sector of Seattle P.D.
Doc Baker glowered at Al for a moment. The medical examiner's shock of white hair was uncombed and standing belligerently on end. "We'll see about that," he said, grunting, and rumbled away, dragging a train of technicians as well as a nervous young police photographer in his wake.
A squad car stopped nearby. Two uniformed officers got out and walked over to us. "Any luck finding out who reported it?" I asked.
They shook their heads in unison. "Not so far," one answered. "The call came in to 911 from a pay phone down by the ferry terminal about three-fifteen. Near as I can tell, that's the closest public phone at that hour of the night. The caller was a woman, but she didn't leave a name."
I nodded. "That figures."
Turning away, I looked back toward Doc Baker and his group of assistants. They were gathered in a small, closely knit clump around the body, which was sprawled within inches of the track itself. To one side yawned the entrance to the Burlington Northern Tunnel, a railroad tunnel that cuts through a rocky bluff and then burrows South and east under downtown Seattle, from Alaskan Way and Virginia to the King Street Station a mile away.
I felt the rumble of a train long before its warning whistle sounded or its bright headlight flashed from deep inside the tunnel. Doc Baker and his cohorts scurried out of the way.
The freight train emerged from the black tunnel like a slow-moving demon escaping the jaws of hell, with a heavy, evil-smelling cloud of smoke, laden with diesel fuel, boiling around it. Minutes after the caboose had disappeared from sight, the dense smoke still eddied around us like a thick gritty fog.
As the haze began to clear, Doc Baker charged back toward the body. The photographer, a young woman in her mid- to late-twenties, seemed to hang back, but Baker ordered her forward with an imperious wave of his hand.
Al Lindstrom favored the photographer with a bemused grin. "'She's a looker, all right," he commented, "but I bet this is the first time she's taken pictures of a real body. Understand she's a journalism major who just graduated from Evergreen."
Evergreen College is an exceedingly liberal liberal arts school in Olympia. "A journalism major!" I croaked. "What's she doing working for us?"
"I'm of the common law-enforcement opinion that anyone remotely connected with journalism can't be trusted. Even the good-looking ones. Especially the good-looking ones.
"Jobs must be pretty scarce in the newspaper racket these days," I added.
By then the young woman in question was squatted next to the body, pants pulled taut across the gentle curve of her backside, a detail that didn't escape any of her appreciative audience, except maybe Doc Baker. Attempting to follow the M.E.'s barked orders on angle and focus, she lost her balance and tipped to one side, scrambling to right herself in the railroad-track dirt and debris.
I didn't envy her. It's not so bad working with Dr. Howard Baker. He accords detectives a certain amount of grudging respect. But I think it would be hell on wheels working for him, especially as a lowly peon.
At last Baker got up off his hands and knees and strode over to us. Taking the Fifth
. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.