Charlie Hood looked at the brightly lit office lobby that was never lit at three A.M. Then he climbed the steps to the front door and looked in at the stillness. He saw the overturned chair at the threshold of the office then looked down the hallway leading to the bay.
He tried the door and felt the bolt knock against the lock plate and the housing. He looked out to where the 710 crossed over Interstate 10 and listened to the steady toneless roar of the cars.
Hood took the catwalk around one side of the building and looked through the first window he came to, at the cars and the whirring fans and the lilting curtains sprayed in various colors and the dead people strewn across the floor. It looked like an Anbar alleyway in ’04.
From the next window down he saw five more dead. He waited a long time for something to move other than the curtains and fan blades, but nothing did.
He went back to the unit and called in backup and ten bodies’ worth of coroners, paramedics, the homicide and gang units.
He sat on the metal office steps with his arms on his knees looking at the parked cars and wondering what kind of hell the Wilton Street Asian Boyz had stirred up.
After a minute he lit three ground flares at the entrance of the parking area to keep the county vehicles from driving in and wrecking evidence.
Within an hour there were thirteen men and women on scene and an entry/exit log taped to a front window next to the door that a deputy had forced open with a four-foot pry bar.
The homicide sergeant was Bill Marlon. He was pale-complected and black-haired and not young. When the door fell open he motioned Hood in ahead of him, a courtesy to the first responder that surprised and pleased Hood.
“Sign in, everybody,” said Marlon. “The usual-look, don’t touch.”
Hood scribbled his name on the log and stepped in. He glanced at the office and the overturned chair. With his hand on the butt of his service weapon and his ears and eyes on alert, Hood moved through the open counter door then slowly down the hall toward the bay.
Hood recognized three of the dead as Wilton Street Crazy Boyz. Another, no more than a boy, the one with the painter’s mask still half-on, looked familiar, but Hood couldn’t place him. The other Asian was new to him. Maybe another Boyz click, he thought. The four Latins were Mara Salvatrucha by the tattoos, but hard to say where they came from because MS-13 wasn’t about turf but about money and violence.
Hood scrolled back through his almost four years with the Sheriffs trying to remember Mara Salvatrucha and the Crazy Boyz mixing it up, but couldn’t think of one incident.
“Haven’t seen much of this,” he said to Marlon. “Different gangs fighting it out.”
“I wonder if anyone walked away,” said Marlon.
“Funny they’d leave the guns.”
Marlon nodded. “If there was a winner, I’d put my money on the Salvadorans. I wish this guy could talk.”
They were standing next to a dead man dressed in a black suit and a white open-collared shirt and a pair of dull black dress shoes splayed out at the end of his thick legs. To Hood, shoes had come to seem irrelevant on dead men, of whom he had seen more than several in his twenty-eight years. The Racks in al Anbar wore sandals or nothing, so to him death was a shoeless thing.
He looked at the four holes in a diagonal line across the front of the white shirt, automatic fire from the Salvadorans almost for sure. The guy had no gun, apparently. He looked wrong here, like he’d wandered in from another place or time.
Without turning him over, Marlon worried out the man’s wallet and stood. “Barry Cohen,” he said. “ Hollywood. Cohen and Cohen Gemstones in the diamond district, says this business card. What’s a nice Jewish boy doing at this party?”
Hood had been thinking the same thing. “Maybe it was his party,” he said. “Him and the Asians. This is their turf. Maybe the Salvadorans crashed it.”
Marlon nodded but didn’t look away from the bodies. “Him and the Asians doing what?”
“Diamonds come to mind.”
“I wonder. The Asian Boyz wouldn’t pay him a tenth of what they’re worth retail. Barry’s got a fat markup for engagements and anniversaries.”
Hood considered. “How much cash did he have?”
“Eighty… three bucks.”
“Maybe Barry was paying for something with gems instead of money. To a broker, gems are cheaper than cash.”
“Maybe he was. And if tonight was the night he brought payment to the Boyz, then the diamonds are either here in this mess or went out with the winners. Good you sealed off the parking lot, Charlie. There might be some blood out there if one of these guys got away.”
“If he was shot, that would explain leaving the guns.”
Marlon put his hands on his hips and looked down at the bloody heap of dead men. “Looks like Cu Chi.”
“Ten men. Jesus.”
Marlon had invited Hood one evening after work to a bar where they drank and agreed that war is worse than hell, because hell punishes sinners but war punishes everyone.
Marlon led the walk-through, and Hood gave way to photographers and videographers, crime scene specialists, coroner’s investigators, more detectives, an assistant district attorney and an LASD commander.
Hood followed Marlon at an increasing distance but listened and watched carefully. He knew that the proper deployment of personnel at a crime scene was something he’d need to learn. Here it was orderly and systematic, and people knew their jobs. But in Anbar province there had been sullen crowds and sudden lethal chaos, and Hood was hated not only by the people but by the soldiers whose actions he was sometimes called on to investigate. Sometimes it seemed like everybody wanted to kill him.
Two tours was enough. He had left a good job with the Sheriffs to go over there because his father was navy and his grandfather was navy. They put him in NCIS-Navy Criminal Investigative Service-because of his law enforcement background, though most of his time as a deputy he’d worked the jail. His last tour had ended almost three years ago, when he was twenty-five years old, but Hood still woke up in the dark sometimes with the echoes of IEDs and gunfire in his ears and the taste of Iraqi dust in his mouth.
He shadowed the Miracle Auto Body crime scene investigation for two more hours. Nobody found any evidence that the diamond broker had brought any of his wares. There might be dozens of other explanations for Barry Cohen getting together with the Asian Boyz, but Hood couldn’t think of one. It looked to him like MS-13 had ambushed the Asians and Cohen, like they knew something valuable was in the mix. But they’d been a little short on manpower.
He went outside to watch the physical evidence team search the parking area in the bright white of the searchlights. A generator hummed against the distant roar of the freeways. The coroner’s team wheeled the bodies out one at a time, the dead wrapped and strapped and jiggling as the gurneys came down the steps.
Half an hour later a faint pink haze appeared in the east, and the power towers stood in diminishing perspective against the growing sunlight, arms stretched and the wires drooping. Marlon and the commander came from the building. The commander was on a cell phone, and he stepped among the damaged cars for privacy.
Marlon waved Hood over.
“I’m bringing you on with us,” Marlon said.
“Great, sir. I didn’t know if it would happen.”
“Admin’s been slow but I’ll push it the rest of the way through. Wyte will okay it if I ask him to. We’ll have you out of patrol by the end of the week, so for now, you’ve got two jobs-patrol and homicide.”
“You asked for it. The dogs will be glad to have you.”
Hood nodded. LASD homicide called themselves the Bulldogs because they never gave up. Even in law enforcement circles they were known to be indefatigable.
Marlon ran a comb back over his head, the black hair parting into neat, close rows, an old man’s ritual, thought Hood. Marlon blew through the comb teeth and slipped it into a back pocket.
“I stopped a woman tonight just before I came here,” Hood said. “She drove right by, kind of middle of nowhere. Came up clean but she could have seen something. I wasn’t sure what to make of her. A little eager to be on her way.”
“No, San Diego County.”
“Talk to her. You know these dead Asians?”
“I’ve seen three of them around. Wilton Street click.”
“Notify their families and find out what they know. The coroner will help with addresses. That part of it is lousy work, but welcome to the dogs.”