SERENDIPITY IN BERKELEY
THE BAY AREA BLUES: BOOK 4
This book is a work of fiction. All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. All incidents are pure invention.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
Berkeley Police Department Detective Bureau, Berkeley, CA
Early Saturday morning, mid-April
The Detective Bureau was rather quiet during weekends when there weren’t any major crimes in the city.
Although the detectives were typically on call on weekends, they often took turns to work at the office. This morning, Sgt. Sam Crawford and his partner on the force Detective Carter Halls were at their desks, finishing up paperwork.
Carter’s dark blond hair desperately needed combing, but he was a lot more awake than a couple of hours ago after a dose of coffee. His hazel eyes had finally enough power to decipher what exactly he was looking at in front of him.
It was only Carter’s duty day today, but Sam had decided to join his buddy so that he could keep him company and finish up his own paperwork too. The truth was he had nothing to do except either go to the gym or run. He played shortstop on one of the police/fire ball teams, but he’d injured his right shoulder last season. He wasn’t quite ready to even ‘play catch’ yet until his doctor would deem him good to go. At his age… although he’d be only thirty-three this year, he shouldn’t have slid into home colliding with a younger and bigger catcher.
The telephone on Carter’s desk rang. “Detective Halls…”
Sam sitting next to him looked up.
“Wait a sec,” he said to the receiver and asked him, “From the dispatcher. Wanna hear?”
He switched to speaker. “Go ahead, Susie.”
“Okay, we got a call from a few good Samaritans reporting kind of a traffic accident at the intersection of University Avenue and Fourth Street…”
Carter frowned. “Kind of?”
“Well, people said… it’s like um… a guy from the sky landed on a truck…”
“Er… what?” They looked at each other, grimacing.
“Yeah, that’s what I said too. Nobody seemed to know what exactly happened. Anyways we got a fatality. Either of you can go?”
“Sure, which side?” Sam asked.
“North. Thanks.” She hung up.
He got to his feet, picking up his jacket. “’K, laters.”
“Clear the scene ASAP, or people gonna kill us. It’s damn Saturday.”
Berkeley in Alameda County was the city on the east side of San Francisco Bay and a home to University of California (UC) Berkeley. It was an academic town, relatively quieter than neighboring cities, but Fourth Street was one long stretch of road with many stores. If the police cordoned off the area long, it would create a huge traffic jam. Very inconvenient for shoppers. They might not kill him but certainly curse at him. Dammit.
When he arrived at the scene, the yellow tapes were fluttering in the wind, and a few uniforms and CSI were already at work.
He parked his unmarked black Charger at the tail of the police cars.
The accident looked… weird: The vehicle involved was a Ford F-250 with a raised suspension in the middle of the intersection, just below the University Avenue overpass. It had some construction materials and equipment on the truck bed. The male victim was still on the partially smashed hood, face up. His age could be forties, but he had bald spots on his head. Could be older. His skin was sickly pale, unnatural just for his demise. And the victim was also thin. He might’ve been sick or a drug addict. His clothes were a tired cotton shirt and sweatpants. And no shoes… Wait, no shoes? Then where the hell had he come from? Sam took a mental note.
He then looked up at the University Avenue overpass and spotted a couple of their CSI were also working there, dusting the handrails that stood at the edge of the curb. He’d climbed over them? Suicide? But to commit suicide, the overpass around Fourth wasn’t high enough to kill. What exactly had happened?
“Hey Sarge, you working on Saturdays now?” one of the uniforms greeted, lifting a part of the yellow tape up for him.
“So are you, Jack, long time no see,” he replied.
“Since that friggin’ jewelry larceny case.”
“Ah, right, that damn fraud case.” The unfinished business still made his mouth bitter, the case that he’d had to stop investigating for the time being due to lack of evidence. He shook his head once as if it’d help him forget the acrid memory. “Thanks,” he went under the tape, approaching the truck.
One of the medical examiners was at work on the victim, using a medical thermometer probe to take the body temperature. Although he was tall, he had to stay on the step to reach the correct position of the liver since the truck sat high. Then, he deftly put a small paper bag on the victim’s hands assisted by a seasoned CSI Sgt. Oscar Silva, so that they could preserve his fingers and hands in case they’d have potential evidence. Sam recognized the doctor right away when he’d spotted him.
Dr. Barry Taylor. The legendary chief medical examiner/forensic pathologist at the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau. His iconic long silver hair was tied at his back with a purple scrunchie. Sam saw part of his clothes, Levi’s with fringed trimmings underneath his white lab coat and leather flip-flops. He might be wearing a pale pink T with a peace symbol. Sam grinned surreptitiously.
This doctor played the guitar in a veterans’ band EZ Poppas that performed rock’n’roll once a week at his café of the same name downtown.
When Sam had become a sworn police officer about ten years ago, the doctor had been working as a pathology specialist at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) General Hospital and Trauma Center where Sam had been airlifted for his burn trauma. He’d helped treat his burns as a former ER doctor and later he’d been hired by Alameda County Coroner’s.
“Hey, Doc Taylor.”
“Oh, hey Sam,” Barry turned around to face him, his distinctive blue eyes sparkling. “You’re on call too?”
“I was at the office. Need to finish friggin’ paperwork.”
“Damn,” he shook his head. “Wherever we go, why in hell is there always paperwork waiting for us?”
Sam snorted. “Tell me about it.”
“You’re too young to be buried under 6 feet of friggin’ papers. It’s pathetic. Where’s your date?”
“No kidding. Young, good-looking dapper like you?”
“Aw, thanks, Doc, please tell that to all the women in the world.”
“Huh…” He stood there with his hand on his hip, staring at him.
Sam was tall and handsome, light brown hair with splashes of blond and eyes of aged bourbon color; he’d played ball in school including college, still played shortstop so his body was toned but not heavy. A good cop, better man.
“Don’t look at me like you wanna date me, Doc.”
“Well hell, I wish I could. Unfortunately I like women. But why don’t you come to my café tomorrow when I play? Many girls will be there. You could hook up with one of them.”
“No time for a date but I like to listen to your music though.”
“Every Sunday evening 7. Come tomorrow evening.”
“Sure, thanks. Okay, Doc, about the vic. Can you give me your initial assessment? I heard he’d fallen from the sky.” He took out his notebook.
“Yup, that’s what I heard too; though he didn’t have vestiges of angel wings on his back.” And Barry pointed out one stocky guy standing outside the yellow cordon tape, who was talking to the uniform. “That’s the driver and owner of the truck. He repeated the story to me and to the cops too.”
“Ah okay. We’ll interview him later. So ETD is?” he asked him the victim’s estimated time of death.
“About forty minutes ago, so… around 8:20am, according to the liver temp.”
“He died from the fall, then,” taking notes, he muttered.
“Timewise, yeah, that’s logical understanding, right? But then there’re quite many inconsistencies.”
“Like?” His brow furrowed. Could be hard to find COD – the cause of death?
“Well, I need to cut him open to really know what happened, but if he died from the fall, the body condition is too good. I mean, look, all his bones are intact. Possibly a little cracked finger or two, but I don’t think he died from the fall. And where the hell did he come from? Did you notice he’s barefoot?”
“Yup, I’m puzzled too.”
“Feet were a bit dirty so he must’ve walked without shoes.”
“Okay… oh what about the skull? Maybe a skull fracture?”
“Negative. No severe blunt force trauma. Well, I need X-ray to give you an accurate evaluation, but it’s beautifully intact.”
“Huh…” He wrote the doctor’s words in his notebook.
“He might’ve suffered from hemorrhage like cerebral or any internal or might’ve had acute heart failure, but if you’d die or suffer from those friggin’ trauma, your body displays at least part of the symptoms. He has none of those, let alone a fall accident. Look, the truck’s windshield is also intact, just a little tiny crack and its front hood nicely crushed to cushion him.”
“Yeah… okay, anything else?”
“Instead, he might’ve been ill.”
His pen stopped. “Very pale, isn’t he?”
“Hmm, I’m suspecting our victim could’ve been poisoned.”
“Like I said, I need autopsy and check his blood and urine, but he has those curious bald spots, and his fingernails have leukonychia striata, a.k.a. Mees’ lines.”
“Mees’… oh you mean white lines across the nails?” Even he knew what it meant. “So, he was exposed to poison recently.”
“Possible. Either arsenic or any heavy metal for a time. But there’s also another possibility. He could be a chemotherapy patient. Pale, thin, Mees’ lines, bald spots and all. We must check his internal condition.”
“I see,” he nodded. “I’ll get his fingerprints and check the database. But like you said, I can also imagine the case that he could’ve been a cancer patient at a hospital and came here directly from there.”
“Right,” Barry agreed, “his brain was confused from his chemo and he wandered out of the hospital without shoes, took a taxi, walked or something and fell off the rail of the overpass… Still, bizarre, though.”
“Yeah, we gotta search for witnesses, but so far, I like the chemo scenario best,” Sam said, “but your initial assessment won’t tell us COD, right?”
“Need an autopsy and all sorts of lab tests. Anyway, do fingerprints, okay?” And he started to walk to his van, pulling the latex gloves off of his hands, throwing them in the transport personnel’s trash bag.
“Doc, can you perform an autopsy on him now if you go back to the Coroner’s Bureau?”
“No can do, Sam. Remember I’m on call today? I’m going to San Leandro and Hayward after this.”
“But I need to know COD. This is too bizarre.”
“Hell, if I could stay at the autopsy room, I’d love to do that for you, and actually I really want to know COD too. But I possess only one head and one body and four extremities, although some people believe I have more than two sets of them. Anyway, must go now. But you’re welcome to escort the transport vehicle to the Bureau and get his fingerprints if you want to do it yourself. No assistants there today.”
“Any medical examiners available?”
“It’s Saturday, Sam. Only I’m on call and…” then Barry remembered something. “Oh wait, there could be another medical examiner there.”
“Yeah, should be working to catch up on goddamn paperwork today, like you…”
Sam rolled his eyes. “No one can get away from friggin’ paperwork, huh?”
“Precisely. Nothing is certain but death and taxes and paperwork.”
He grinned at the doc’s tweaked quote. Yeah, he liked Dr. Barry very much.
“Hope papers can wait. I just gotta know COD, ASAP.”
“I got you, just sec.” Barry took out his phone and swiftly made a call. “Hey,” he greeted someone on the other side casually. “Do me a favor. I’ll be sending you one male body right now. It’s a case for the Berkeley Police and they’re in a hurry to know COD. I’ll send my initial assessment electronically after this phone call. And the BPD detective is escorting the transporter. Um… Sgt. Sam Crawford. Yeah… I know. Okay, thanks, I owe you one.” And he laughed lightly at the phone, “Yeah, tell that to the detective coming along with the body. He thinks paperwork could wait. Anyway, appreciate it. See you on Monday.” He hung up.
“So, another doc will help me then,” Sam said with relief.
“Yeah, this doctor’s very new there.”
He remembered now. A few months ago, the Coroner’s Bureau had hired a new female medical examiner/forensic pathologist. He hadn’t paid any attention to the bulletin, as he knew they were all excellent. So, he had no idea who she was.
“Sorry, Doc, I don’t know her yet.”
“Oh no worries. She’s several years younger than you are, but she’s very good, more than good, meticulous and exceptional, to be precise.”
“Whoa, my expectation is rising, Dr. Taylor.”
“She won’t disappoint you. In fact, she graduated and got degrees early and awards for excellent performance in the industry in Europe. Don’t underestimate her. Treat her right or you’d get burned.”
He didn’t get what he meant, but he replied snickering, “I don’t wanna get burned ever again. Been there, done that.” That drew a light laugh from Barry.
“What’s her name again?” He really should’ve read the internal news.
“Alexandra Wallace, M.D., but all of us call her Dr. Alex. She used to work with live patients but changed.”
“Huh, just like you, then, Doc.” Now he vaguely recalled he’d heard the name several times and seen it on the autopsy reports. “So, she’s a European.”
“I don’t know if you can call her a European when she was born and raised in Berkeley and a US citizen.”
“It’s obvious you don’t read any internal newspaper, Sam,” Barry laughed.
“I’ll try to read more from now on.” He smirked wryly. “Thanks, Doc.”
“Hey, Sam, drive safe, so you won’t add yourself to my work.” He waved and walked toward his van.
Sam shook his head again, chuckling. He first gave Carter a ring to take a statement from the truck driver coming with a uniform. Then, he slid into his car.