A World the Color of Salt

BOOK: A World the Color of Salt
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


J. Gary Brazelton


Professor of Administration of Justice

Recipient of the Medal of Valor

Simi Valley Police Officer

Through Gary's personal commitment, integrity, humor, energy, and caring, we who were privileged to know him are vastly enriched. It is in this spirit and to his memory that I dedicate this book.


“And may you never be dispossessed, forced to wander a world the color of salt with no young music in it.”

, from “Places and Ways to Live,” in
What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40


About the Author



About the Publisher


First they shot him in the mouth. His tongue split down the middle like a barbecued hot dog. That was from the .22. Of course, we didn't know that until the autopsy. Usually with stop-and-robs it's a quick, “Hand me the money”—“No, I won't”—
And it's done. But there was something different here. Because first they shot Jerry Dwyer in the mouth, and
they went back for a bigger gun.

What was it Jerry did or said that made them so vicious? The boy was a cool head, would have laughed it off if he could. Would have thought, because he was trained to, Give them the frigging money, let them book; then call Dad, who knows all about that insurance stuff. Go on to the party and find some way to make the story funny. But Jerry Dwyer wasn't going to the party that night, or any other night.

They say about cops that there are cops' eyes, and your eyes. I could say the same about this work too. I'm a criminalist, job title Forensic Specialist, for the Orange County, California, sheriff-coroner's office. I work out of the crime lab in Santa Ana, about an hour's drive from L.A. What I do is collect, protect, analyze, and store evidence. A copper can have a guy cold—dead bang, as they say—and miss out sending the dirtbag to the gray-bar hotel if the evidence is not rightly collected, analyzed, and secured, and we at the lab help him and the DA do it.

I've been doing this work for more than five years, seven if you count cop work in Oakland. Friends call me Smokey. I'm female, five-five, bland blonde, the right weight. And I was pretty untouchable before this. I could do babies and not cry.

But this case got to me. The blasts of blood. The hopeless trail to the back of the store, where Jerry Dwyer ran to get away from his killers. The awful skid marks, like experiments in new paint.

Before the murder, I would stop at Dwyer's Kwik Stop on my way to work and grab a coffee and a doughnut, and with a couple of turns, be on the freeway heading for the lab.

He was a big kid, Jerry was. Twenty years old. Two-hundred-nineteen, six-one, blond/blue. He worked in his father's store two hours in the morning, then attended Saddleback College for computer classes till noon, and returned to the store afterward to work some more until his evening auto-shop class. How could you help but like a kid who worked like that? Here in Orange County it's real easy for kids to have a free ride, affluent even when they don't think so. Not Jerry. He knew, maybe from first eye on the world, that this wealth was an accident. While other people were counting on lottery tickets or their parents' various insurance policies, he'd say, You got to have a
, man. He'd say yuppie scum were everywhere building/buying/busting, and someday it was all going to come down, and they're going to be looking stupid at each other like they all wet their pants the same day. Now Jerry's stretched out on a steel tray in the coroner's cooler, and my eyes tear up about four times a day.

Joe London Sanders was investigative team leader this time, and in better hands we could not have been. Team leaders are rotated. I'd been off having one of those surgeries you don't like to talk about; but before that, I'd led most of the investigations for several months.

Things had already begun to change for me. At thirty-two the fire shouldn't have been out. But the number of crimes was increasing almost exponentially, it seemed, and I admit the work does it to you. You go in wanting to fight the good fight, wanting to make a tiny ripple of difference. Before long you think everything counts the same, all murders are equal, everyone has to die sometime. Then a Jerry Dwyer wakes you up.


Billy Katchaturian was standing around waiting for the blood to dry. By four-thirty the deputy coroner had come and gone and the techs were about ready to remove the body. Billy had taken preliminaries already, the panoramas and then the thorough pictures showing every relationship to every piece of evidence, but he always shot black-and-whites afterward. Forty-five minutes or so after being spilled, blood begins to coagulate, forming deeper contrasts. An hour later, it decoagulates again, gets pink and uninteresting, Billy says. Black-and-whites look sharper, though the coloreds are what the prosecutors depend on for jury influence. I never knew what he did with the black-and-whites.

He was standing, all six-three of him, at the east end of the store, over by the ice-cream machine, looking at I don't know what.

Jerry's father, Mr. Dwyer, had painted the outside of his store eggshell white and added a blue awning. The magazine rack was the first thing you'd see on entering, the girlie mags in blinder racks on the bottom, covering everything but the titles, the sports mags and gossip rags in the top row. In the back of the room by the ice-cream machine were the counter and cash register, and off to the side was a little alcove where Mr. Dwyer or Jerry had sat when there were no customers. The cold cases were on the right. Some of the food racks ran across the store, horizontal to the north-running aisle that led to the counter, the aisle the killers had taken.

Trudy Kunitz stood ahead of me midway into the store facing the counter, glancing down at her sketches, back up to the
points of reference, checking to see if she got them right. When her glasses slipped down on her nose, she pushed them up with the top of her tablet but kept her eyes locked on the wall behind the counter anyway, and didn't see me.

I moved out of Billy's line of sight. Billy didn't like me at all. Or hardly at all. It gets complicated. Our history goes back to when I was an FNG—fucking new guy—and he thought he could run me down the alley. I knew when I walked in that day five years ago that Billy Katchaturian, with his hunched shoulders and soulful eyes, took one look at me and said, Unh-hnn, fresh meat.

But I was older than I looked. I'd already spent two years on the Oakland force and a hell-length of time with a husband who was dying and didn't have a right to, didn't have the right to get zapped in the liver by a hepatitis B bug and leave me when we hadn't even worn out our deep welcomes yet.

So from day one, Billy K. was over me like a shark on a minnow, leaning over, leaning close, leaning on, and I'd look at him and say, “Whatcha doin', Billy?” and then, “I'm old enough to be your mama,” even though I wasn't. One time he said, “It's ‘cause I've got dark skin, isn't it?” Well, Billy's looking better to me as he ages, but not that good and never will, and let's say it's got nothin' to do with skin color.

Avoiding him, I followed the inside perimeter tape on the floor down an aisle away from the avenue of escape. Someone would already have done a grid search, mentally dividing the room into squares or, better, cubes, and then searching for evidence top to bottom in a methodical fashion. Still, as I moved down the aisle, I surveyed left and right searching for something different from the way the store looked every morning at a quarter to seven, when I normally came in.

I heard Billy's voice. “Welcome back, Smokes,” he said. He'd moved to the ratty black office chair in the tiny alcove near the start of the cold-drink case. That was where Jerry Dwyer's dad sat to do the bills. I'd be stirring sugar in the coffee and glancing at magazine headlines along the rack, and Jerry's dad would give me a wink or a tight nod-and-smile and then bore back down on the checkbook. Now the chair was pitched back against the wall, Billy's legs grasshoppered up, one hand resting on the eight-hundred-dollar camera lens
that protruded nose-up in his lap. It didn't seem right for Billy to be in that chair. Now Billy, grinning at me, saying, “Smokey, lovely as ever,” in his ain't-I-a-dude voice.

I'm polite. He knows I'll close my eyes and sigh, and I do; even smile as if to say, I'm glad you're still Billy, Billy. What I said was, “Joe S. still here?”

It took him a second to answer because he had to get done shaking his head, telling me how rude. “He's here. In the fridge,” he said, nodding behind him.

There was no going through the doorway to the back—too much blood. Let the coroner's guys mess it up. I wondered where Mr. Dwyer was, if he'd seen the blood. Not good.

At the southwest end, I could see the floor behind the counter without stepping over the tape. Two very big blasts of blood hit the beige tile between the middle of the counter and the door to the back room. They formed an odd pattern. What went on here?

The smell of nitrocellulose, gunpowder, was still in the air. Mix that with spilled body fluids, and if you could
a smell, it was like a tooth you sucked on telling you you better see a dentist. It wasn't decomp yet and it wasn't that strong, but I still felt queasy. I told myself it was because I'd been away too long.

Trying for a better vantage point, I leaned against the stacked rolls of paper towels to see the white door that led to the storage area in the back where the cooler would be. Heavy spatter marked the door near the hinge side. The spatter had lots of spines, almost like somebody tossed shakers of paint. The bold blasts on the floor and the wall were not arterial spurt. The elegant theory of arterial spurts—elegant, that's what Joe Sanders calls it—is linked to the rhythm of the heart, the spurt forming patterns in weaker and weaker parallel arcs across a wall, say, if it were coming from a victim's neck. But this spatter was not so linear, and it was higher than neck-high, even Jerry's, who was football-player-sized. I'd seen this kind of spatter pattern before—where? Lots of force. To the right of the middle of the door were smeary handprints where Jerry had jammed on the door as he fled.

I leaned in. Close up, the discrete drops looked like Pac-Man ghosts—Winkies, Inkies, Blinkies, and Clydes—tipped on
their sides. That is, wavy on the east, showing they planed in westward, from the direction Jerry would've come. Then some dripping down, red exclamation points like tadpoles heading north. I remembered then: esophageal varices. Our Physical Fluid prof had shown us the slides, told us how alcoholics sometimes burst the arteries in their throats, leaving so much blood it looks as if a crime's been committed. And in a way, it has.

BOOK: A World the Color of Salt
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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