Continued from Chapter 12.
As the couple walked away from the trolley, Colin and Joe were entering the autopsy room of the County Coroner’s Office.
The room had the appearance of an oversized examination room. It was long and brightly lit, painted the standard institutional green. The linoleum floors were spotless. Overhead hung movable spot lights enclosed in large silver reflectors to enhance the light. The walls were lined with cabinets, counters and sinks. Placed at intervals the length of the room were three stainless steel tables atop pedestals which allowed them to be moved in various positions to afford better accessibility to whatever subject upon them. At the far end of the room was a large steel door with a small window at head height. The door led to the “stinker room,” the chilled and ventilated room reserved for corpses in advanced stages of decomposition.
All three tables were occupied. At the far end of the room lay the body of Peter Ernesto Castillo. His large naked frame was the unnatural color of death. Post mortem lividity had occurred. His back and the bottom of his arms had the purplish color from the body fluids settling to the lowest point. The gaping wounds in leg and face had been cleaned and the damage from the shotgun blast was very evident. Cleaned, the autopsy had yet to be performed.
Colin and Joe walked first to Pete’s body, ignoring the bodies on the two other tables. They had both seen death in many forms.
Colin’s first experience was when he was rookie. On a clear September day just after his twenty-third birthday, a Pacific Southwest Airlines 727 jet airliner was on final approach to Lindbergh Field. It collided with a small private plane. The planes crashed into a North Park residential neighborhood just west of the I-805 freeway. The impact of the airliner destroyed several blocks, killing all on board and several people on the ground.
Colin had never seen anything like the crash site, and even now his mind would allow him to remember only small snatches of the eighteen hours he spent at the site. Bodies had been blown to bits and scattered over the terrain, which looked like a huge bomb had exploded. He had occasional nightmares of the crash in which he saw a man still strapped to his seat thrust through the wall of a house, his clothes completely torn off, except for one sock dangling from the dead man’s foot. The man’s eyes were still open, looking down at Colin as he looked up helplessly. Personnel from the police and fire departments that were there that day were offered counseling to cope with what they had witnessed. After the first few who accepted the kind offer ended up being transferred to the rubber gun squad, few others dared to seek help.
Consequently, the hundreds of police and fire personnel who worked the crash site that day, carried emotional scars alone, afraid to reach out. They found their own cures. For many, alcohol became an acceptable medication, and for many years, alcohol was Colin’s self- prescribed drug.
Joe had also been at the crash site that day, but his first demon of death remained locked away, long before that day in September.
Colin and Joe stood over Pete’s body in silence. The ragged wound which had torn away his lower face had left him almost unrecognizable. There was no peace in his face. There rarely was on the faces of homicide victims.
“I didn’t know Pete was in the Corps,” said Joe.
“What?” said Colin, his voice detached.
“He’s got a bull dog with a helmet and “Semper Fi” tattooed on his right arm here,” said Joe, pointing to Pete’s bicep.
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Colin rhetorically.
“Nothing. I just didn’t know Pete was a Marine,” said Joe as he shrugged his shoulders and walked away toward the girl’s body on the middle table.
Colin lingered by Pete for a moment and whispered, “I’ll get them, Pete. You rest now, buddy.”
“Got any identification on these two?” questioned Joe, motioning toward the bodies of the girl and man on the steel tables.
“No,” replied Kenji Osaka, the assistant coroner. “She’s clean, except for some old scars on her left calf. The male victim, on the other hand, has his life story written in tattoos. Your man Winslow got paged and had to leave, but he took these Polaroids,” said Kenji, as he handed Joe two envelopes, one marked “Jane Doe” and the other “John Doe,” and a case number.
“What do you make of the scratches on forehead of these two?” asked Colin, who had joined them between the two bodies.
“They were done on purpose and post mortem. They are too small for fingernails, but they are some kind of claw mark. Did you see any cats?”
“No. How about a chicken?” asked Colin.
“Hmmm,” mused Kenji, “maybe, did you find a chicken at the scene?”
“Not exactly,” interjected Joe, rolling his eyes.
“If it’s important, I can go over to one of the Vietnamese markets in Linda Vista and see if I can scrounge up a chicken foot and do some tests,” said Kenji, eager to help.
“May I take your order please?” said Joe, poorly imitating a Vietnamese accent. “Why yes, I’ll have one chicken foot, with claws. Will that be for here or to go? Regular or extra crispy? How about a side of dog tongue? Anything to drink with that?”
Colin and Kenji smiled at Joe’s gallows humor.
Colin was looking through the photos the Flash had taken of the two victims. There was a full set, front and back of the male victim. If he was on parole, he should be readily identifiable.
Colin’s and Joe’s pagers went off within seconds of each other. Both indicated they needed to call the office immediately.
“Use the phone on the wall,” said Kenji, anticipating the request.
Colin dialed the number on the wall phone.
“Homicide, Team Four,” answered Nancy Kilgore on the other end of the line.
“This is Fahey,” responded Colin, “we just got paged.”
“Oh, Detective Fahey, hold on. I’ll get Sergeant Raines.”
Nancy managed to disconnect Colin as she put him on hold. Colin laughed quietly through his nose as he redialed. “This is Fahey…again…”
Flustered, Nancy Kilgore apologized and successfully put him on hold.
“Colin?” said the next voice. “This is Scott. I just got a call from the D.L. at County Jail. It seems they may have someone in custody who may know something about last night. A couple just tried to bail him out. When they tried to detain them, they split double time. Somebody got hurt, but I am not clear what happened.”
“Another shooting?” asked Colin.
“No, somebody got knocked down. Anyway, where are you?”
“We’re still at the Coroner’s Office. Do you want us to head down to the Jail?” offered Colin.
“Yes. E is already on her way, and I paged Carl. I will send him down as soon as he calls in. I just got confused by the D.L.’s story. I will let you all sort it out when you get there. Any luck with I.D. on the other two victims? “
“Good photos, no I.D. though,” answered Colin.
“Have someone over there fax the photos here, I will pull someone from Team One and have them run the photos down to State Parole. I need you to get moving on this, OK?” said Raines finishing.
“Got it Sarge, I’ll call you as soon as we’ve got something, one way or the other,” said Colin, hanging up the wall phone.
“What’s up?” asked Joe, noting the rise in urgency of Colin’s voice.
“Scott says they have someone in custody at County Jail who might know something about the murders,” said Colin
Joe raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t know,” continued Colin, “Scott said someone tried to bail the guy out and split, some kind of fight.”
Then turning to Osaka, “Kenji, could you make some photocopies of these real quick and fax them downtown? Here’s the number,” said Colin, handing him a business card.
“I’m a step ahead of you,” replied Kenji, pulling color copies of the victims from his file folder. “I’ll fax them right now.” He turned and walked from the examination room.
“Well, let’s roll,” said Joe, pulling his Camels from his coat, preparing to light up as soon as they left.
“Hey, this is no smoking building,” said a technician who had been cleaning instruments in one of the sinks.
“It’s not lit,” replied Joe, pulling the cigarette from his mouth, attempting civility.
“Well, it was in your mouth.” snapped the technician.
“Yeah, I’ve got an ass in my pants too. But I’m not taking a shit,” snarled Joe.
Colin winced as he hurriedly ushered Joe from the room.
“Nice. Very diplomatic, Joe.”
“I tried, but the little fuck just had to push it,” shrugged Joe, as he defiantly lit the cigarette well before they reached the building exit.
“Have you ever thought of ignoring some people?” queried Colin as they reached their car.
“Nope,” replied Joe, settling into the passenger seat.
It was almost 12:30 p.m. as they started downtown once again. Another chance encounter was about to lead Colin and Joe closer to the person who murdered Pete.
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