Here are the first few pages of “Homicide: The View from Inside the Yellow Tape.”
My job’s been murder lately.
I mean that literally; the blood, and the gore. And don’t even get me started about the smell; the metallic scent of blood, usually mixed with alcohol, the putrid odor of decaying human flesh, the maggots, and blood spatter. It’s not the clean, tidy murder like you see on CSI or several other television dramas that think they got it right.
My work life is about depravity; about asshole gang-bangers to whom life is some gangsta rap song advocating pulling out your gat at the slightest provocation, about sexual psychopath serial killers, domestic terrorists, the criminally insane, and a whole bunch of just stupid people who kill other people for no damned good reason.
At home, my life is PG-13, but my work life is definitely MA-17.
It’s not a job for people who don’t want to get their hands dirty.
This morning was no exception.
I drove the downtown Seattle streets, usually bustling with pedestrian and vehicle traffic, abandoned at that hour, except an occasional street sweeper or transient sifting through ashtrays, seeking out cigarette butts discarded with tobacco enough to roll their own.
The red and blue lights at the top of my windshield pierced the streetlight-lit night, I paused only briefly at each red light before driving through, eventually pulling my unmarked Chevy Impala detective car up to the scene, a gas station off Denny Way in the shadow of the Space Needle. Well, it would have been in the shadow if it wasn’t four in the morning.
Yellow crime scene tape encircled the lot, a dead black male lying near a gas pump, his head surrounded by a large pool of blood, his eyes in the fixed cloudy stare of death I’d seen hundreds, if not thousands of times in my career.
A young patrol officer stood at the edge of the tape, a clipboard in his hands logging everyone entering the crime scene, his uniform immaculately clean and pressed; obviously a rookie.
“Can I get your name, sir?”
“Steiger,” I told him, “from Homicide.”
I saw the look in his eyes; he was looking at a dinosaur. His serial number was probably in the mid-eight thousands.
Two of my sons are patrol officers. He’d consider them old guys with seven and a half and eight years on respectively.
Johney Stevens was the Patrol Sergeant at the scene. I knew him well. I was a patrol officer with several years on when he was the rookie holding the clipboard.
“What’s going on here, Johney?”
“The clerk inside heard a bunch of shots. He ducked and called 911. My guys got here and found this dude obviously dead,” he said, gesturing to the body. “We found four guns; two in the car, and two outside. The thing is, all the shell casings are in the car, none outside. It looks like these guys were all sitting in the car when the shooting went down.”
“Wow,” I smiled. “The shootout at the OK Corolla.”
I walked up to the car and looked in, the scent of cordite and blood in the air. A semiautomatic pistol lay just outside the front passenger door. Another was in the backseat. The magazine was inserted backward. It couldn’t have fired in that condition.
Sucks to be that guy.
Another gun lay on the ground near the dead guy.
This wasn’t my case. I was there to help the primary detectives, in this case Tom Mooney and Jeff Mudd.
Bob Merner, the Chief of Investigations pulled up in his car.
Chief’s rarely show up at “routine” murder scenes. Bob isn’t like a normal Chief. He’d recently come to Seattle from Boston PD, where he’d spent most his career as a Homicide detective or supervisor. He shot up the ranks late in his career to Superintendent of Investigations, Boston’s equivalent of Assistant Chief.
I met Bob a couple years ago. He was a lieutenant with Boston Homicide when I attended a Homicide conference in New York.
I was glad to have him in Seattle.
“How is it I live in the suburbs, twenty-five miles from here, and you live just a few blocks away, but I beat you to the scene?”
“My phone only rang twenty minutes ago!”
I explained the scene to him.
“It looks as though these mopes shot it out in the car,” I said. “It’s amazing only one of them was killed. Most likely, it’s a drug rip. A thinning of the gene pool.”
It’s what we sometimes referred to as a Misdemeanor Murder.
Later that Saturday morning, my contribution to this case was complete. Because of this case, the next murder would be mine. My partner, Jason Kasner, was out of town on vacation, so I’d be on my own. I went home at eleven AM.
By eight o’clock that night, my ass was dragging. I’m too old for this shit, and my years in Homicide has taught me, always assume you’ll get called right back in. Get sleep when you can.
I went to bed.
My instincts were correct.
I woke to my cellphone ringing. I looked at the clock on my nightstand. Three-thirty in the morning again; two nights in a row.
Within a few minutes, I was in my car, red and blue lights flashing, heading up I-5 on my way to another murder. I’m definitely too old for this shit. This case is mine. I’ll be at work for fifteen or sixteen hours.
At least it’s my day off.
I’d been thinking of retiring. I’d been a cop thirty-six years. That’s a long time. Twenty-two in Homicide.
I’d seen a lot during that time that someone not in this business wouldn’t believe.
It’s been a long road.