Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?
A millions of years old cold case.
Braeburn had worked many odd cases as a crime scene investigator. The clown that was set on fire and thrown off a building (eventually ruled self-defense). The time it was determined that the real killer was society (which got away with it because of its connections to powerful people). And the case of the health-conscious cannibal who only ate vegans (caught because he mentioned how he only ate vegans in pretty much every conversation). But this case had the potential to be something he'd never worked before -- something no one had ever worked before.
He stood before a place of death. Old death. The university's Department of Paleontology. Its exterior was cracked, and the whole building draped in shadows. Everything about it was ominous and foreboding, except for the poster of a cartoon stegosaurus welcoming visitors
Devereux stood beside him, looking blonde and confused (that was sort of her thing). "If we're here to investigate a killing, it's probably from a really, really long time ago."
"There is no statute of limitations on murder," Braeburn said firmly.
"So... any idea why your dino friend wants a CSI?"
"No, but I owe him a favor." Technically, Braeburn was off duty, so he wore his casual clothes -- the exact same suit as his work clothes. He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, which he cut every two weeks to keep from looking like a hippie. "You didn't have to come."
"I’m curious what this is about. It would be kind of neat to solve a dino-murder... though I'm going to guess a tyrannosaurus did it. Motive: hungry." She giggled but then turned serious. "But if he has, like, an actual human body here, we should probably call that in."
"Of course. I always do things by the book," Braeburn said. "Except where the book says you have some discretion on following the book. Then sometimes I don't do things by the book. But I usually do."
Devereux furrowed her brow. "What book are you talking about?"
Braeburn didn't respond and headed into the building.
"Does the book say anything about being courteous to your partner?" Devereux griped as she followed him in.
The building was as still and quiet as the bones of the creatures inside. They walked down a hallway until they found the office of Dr. Graham Smith. Braeburn knocked.
A bearded, nervous-looking man answered the door. The bags under his eyes indicated he had missed a few nights’ sleep. "Good, it's you."
He let the two investigators in and quickly closed the door. The cramped office was filled with boxes of files, and the desk was covered with photos and scribbled-on notepaper.
"This is my partner, Devereux," Braeburn said, pointing at his partner, who was playing with a small, petrified skull, trying to get the jaw to move.
"That's not a puppet," Graham told her.
Devereux put the skull down. "Anything can be a puppet if you attach a stick to it."
Graham just nodded and turned to Braeburn. "I didn't know you were bringing anyone else," Graham said, walking over to his desk. Braeburn followed. Graham leaned over and whispered, "She's kind of attractive."
Braeburn glanced at Devereux, who was making faces at the skull as if trying to provoke a reaction. She was dressed in a neat pantsuit and wearing just enough makeup and showing just enough cleavage to keep anyone from taking her too seriously. Braeburn shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so. What do you want us to look at?"
Graham gathered some files, set them on his desk and pulled out some photos, which he laid before Braeburn and Devereux. "We found a dig site about the same age as the meteor that is theorized to have killed the non-avian dinosaurs."
Braeburn looked over the photos of bones embedded in rock. Typical paleontology stuff. "They look long dead."
"Well... yeah," Graham said. "Anyway, this find was remarkable, actually. We're talking hundreds of dinosaur fossils -- most directly killed by the meteor that made their kind extinct -- triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex. These should be the ones that starved to death because of the meteor."
"Sounds like quite a find. Perhaps one that someone..." Braeburn paused dramatically, "...would commit murder over."
Graham looked taken aback. "Huh? No, not really. That's not where this is going. Everyone in paleontology is friends. We don't murder each other."
"CSIs are supposed to be friends, too," Devereux said. "But then one of them secretly replaces the bullet from a murder scene I'm investigating with a bullet from my gun. I’m running to my car to drive to the lake to dump the evidence when I see them all laughing at me."
Graham raised an eyebrow. "Huh?"
"The point is," Braeburn said, "friends murder each other all the time."
"I didn't murder them," Devereux added. "I thought about it -- but I didn't do it. Still, it's pretty easy to see how 'friends' could kill each other." Her eyes narrowed. "Really easy."
Graham stared at her for a few moments. "So, once again, no one in paleontology is dead. That's not why I asked you here." He chuckled nervously. "In fact, the simple murder of a colleague would be much less disturbing." He set down another picture, this one of colorful rock strata.
"As I said, the evidence we found was consistent with these dinosaurs dying at the same time as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. In fact, the rocks encasing the bones contain dust from the meteor throughout. Too much dust. I ran the scenario over and over trying to figure out how you'd end up with this kind of pattern and could come to one conclusion: it could only happen if the bones of already dead dinosaurs were buried in the dust of the meteor impact."
Braeburn stroked his chin. He could tell the twist was coming. The twist was always his favorite part of each case. "So these dinosaurs didn't die out due to the meteor; they died beforehand."
"Exactly. We always assumed the non-avian dinosaurs died out in the extinction event, but because of the margin of error in radiometric dating, all we really knew was that they died out around the same time as the meteor. This evidence is telling us that their dying-off is unrelated to the mass extinction. This could blow away our current understanding of the extinction of dinosaurs."
"And what was our current understanding?" Devereux asked. "They went off the gold standard?"
Graham stared at her. "No. A meteor."
"So you're sure these dinosaurs aren't just an isolated few who died from other natural causes?" Braeburn asked.
"It's hard to be sure," Graham said, "but there are a lot of bodies in the dig... and there were other oddities as well. For instance, we have fossils of triceratops and tyrannosaurus rexes that look like they died at the same time -- yet there are no marks on the bones to indicate they died fighting each other. It's like something else came along and quickly killed them."
"That's quite a finding," Braeburn said. "What do your colleagues think?"
"Well, this would be an extraordinary claim, so I wanted to make sure I had some extraordinary evidence before I made it. Which leads me to this." Graham opened a desk drawer. His hands were shaking as he pulled out a piece of petrified amber. In the center of the amber -- known among paleontologists as "yellow gold" -- was a dark object.
Braeburn took a closer look. It was hard to see the details, but it looked almost like a bullet. "This is from the dig?"
"Yes. And it doesn't look natural, does it."
Devereux squinted at the amber. "You think someone shot the dinosaurs?"
"Here's what I think." Graham shifted in his chair. "I think maybe the dinosaurs didn't go extinct from natural causes. Maybe they were... murdered."