Scott turned and wove through the throng of police and firemen and made his way into the motel. I slid into the driver’s seat and tried not to think about the “passengers” that’d ridden around in the cargo space behind me.
A few more clouds of smoke drifted out as firefighters began to emerge from the building. One of them was rolling up the hose as he walked. They’d been here only a few minutes; if they were already wrapping up, this couldn’t have been much of a fire.
I watched the hunky firefighters at work and was pondering the truth of the old saying—that God made all paramedics and firemen good-looking so you’d see something pretty before you died—when a deep, authoritative voice broke my concentration.
“Miss, are you with the coroner’s office?”
I’d been sitting sidesaddle in the van, facing the motel. I turned to my left and saw that the owner of the voice was somewhere around six feet tall, on the lean side but tastefully muscled under his blue uniform, his dark-blond hair just long enough to comb. His eyes were a gold-flecked hazel, and he had wide, pronounced cheekbones, a strong nose, and a generous mouth. The bars on his uniform told me he was brass, not rank and file. His nameplate confirmed it:
LIEUTENANT GRADEN HALES.
His skeptical look annoyed me, but his presence made an already weird scene even more so. What the hell was a lieutenant doing here? I mustered up my best “I belong here” voice and replied, “I’m a DA, but I’m waiting for Scott.”
I expected that my status as a prosecutor would end the discussion. Wrong.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave,” he said with a steely firmness. “Only crime scene personnel are allowed right now.”
High brass chasing me off a low-life bust? Something was really off here, and now I wasn’t just curious—I had to find out what was going on. “Well, I have to wait for Scott. He’s my ride.” It was a lie, but I figured that would push Lieutenant Officious out to greener pastures. Wrong again.
“I’ll arrange for one of the patrol units to take you home. Where do you live?”
Now I was pissed off. Since when does a DA get tossed out of a crime scene? Special case or no, this was bullshit.
I stepped down from the van. I was just about to open my mouth and get myself in trouble when the coroner’s assistants came out single file, rolling two gurneys carrying body bags. Suddenly Scott came running out of the motel and yelled to one of the assistants, “Get his glasses! Give me the glasses!”
The team rolling the first gurney came to an abrupt halt. They had been moving at a rapid pace, and when the assistant at the head of the line came to a sudden stop, the gurney kept moving and banged into his hip, causing him to yelp and curse. The other assistant, who’d been at the side of the gurney, quickly reached out and tugged down the zipper of the body bag.
Illuminated by the harsh streetlight, the face glowed a ghastly bluish white as the assistant lifted the wire-rim glasses from behind the ears and handed them to Scott. I’d been around more than my share of dead bodies, but the searing shock of what met my eyes made me reel and stumble backward into the side of the van. Then a firm hand gripped my arm, steadied me, and led me away from the scene. I looked up and saw that the hand belonged to Lieutenant Hales. I dimly realized that he was saying something, but I couldn’t make the sounds turn into words. I shook my head slowly, as if trying to wake up from a nightmare. This couldn’t be real, I thought, feeling as though I were watching a movie in slow motion with the sound turned too low. The coroner’s assistants loaded the gurney into the cargo area, and I stopped, transfixed, still unable to believe what I’d seen. The lieutenant pulled me by the elbow with one hand and pushed me on the back with the other, leaving me no choice. I moved in stiff, jerky steps, like a windup toy whose key was on its last few turns. He steered me toward his unmarked car, and I numbly let him stuff me into the passenger seat and buckle the seat belt.
I must’ve told him where I lived, but I don’t actually remember saying anything. I just remember staring blankly as the streets rolled by, telling myself it couldn’t be, that I had to be wrong.
Jake Pahlmeyer, my office soul mate—dead. In a rat hole like this. I closed my eyes and told myself I’d been wrong. Irrationally, I refused to ask the lieutenant. If no one confirmed it, it wouldn’t be true.
© 2011 Marcia Clark