The three jacketed 9mm bullets caught Hernandez in the stomach, right lung and right collarbone, spinning him backwards and sideways onto the sloping wet hood of the Mustang.
SPILLANE? FOLLETT? Ludlum? No, the author is Kenneth Goddard, 36, a mild-eyed bureaucrat from the Fish and Wildlife Service. And the book is a carnage-sodden thriller called "Balefire"--50,000 hardcover copies of which will slam into stores next week, trailing clouds of gory.
That's a bumper printing even for a veteran chillmeister, astronomical for a first novel. But don't expect a bonkers brio from Goddard. Even here, at ease in the gladed complacency of his Oakton home, he favors the syncopated deadpan of a veteran memo-jockey. As for success, well, "my whole life is a series of accidents."
One of them, a magazine ad he saw by a fluke, brought him to Washington two years ago--after 13 years in California police labs--to head the forensics branch at Fish and Wildlife.
By day he analyzes evidence of crimes involving animals--a macabre detritus of fur and feathers that looks like somebody had ordered carry-out from "Wild Kingdom." "Say you get a chunk of meat," says Goddard. "What animal did it come from? Grizzly bear or brown bear?"
Arcane, perhaps. But felonious fauna is a growth industry, especially rare or threatened types: Your contraband South American parrot brings $1,000, a wetback macaw from $5,000 to $10,000. Not to mention products of endangered species, from alligator bags to turtle-oil suntan lotion, walrus ivory in Alaska and reptile leather in New York and murky flagons of Oriental aphrodisiacs containing "powdered rhino horn" and "tincture of tiger bone."
By night he returns to his Japanese-American wife, Gena, and their 11-year-old daughter, Michelle, and in this power-mower pastorale he dreams atrocity and mayhem.
"Balefire" is the code-name of a plot, funded by a mysterious Arab cabal known as The Committee, to disrupt the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles with a bloody maelstrom of horror. To deflect attention from the target and score a propaganda coup, the group looses a professional European assassin on the nearby Huntington Beach police force. His mission: To show that a single terrorist can paralyze even a large, modern law enforcement outfit with lightning sorties of random butchery. Our boy likes his work, and soon the sewers are gurgling with constabulary gore, the cops in a berserker fury.
A detective finally recruits a secret team--including a forensic scientist and his Oriental girlfriend--who break the law to kill the killer. Several vertiginous plot warps later, the book comes to what Publishers Weekly calls "a real heart attack of a climax." No wonder Bantam, which is publishing "Balefire," has signed a $50,000 contract for Goddard's next two novels.
A real heart attack of an offer, considering that "I didn't know any more about writing than I did about wildlife." And despite his avid consumption of John D. MacDonald, Ross Thomas, Joseph Wambaugh and Robert Ludlum ("fun to read because it's complex, although I have to think more when I read his stuff"), he had no model in mind.
"I just tried to write it so that I'd want to read it myself," with advice from Gena, who only recently has become "my resident critic," Goddard says, an undertone of irritation beneath the badinage.
"He always argued his way out of it before," says Gena, a lively, petite woman with ready smile.
"Yeah," says Goddard. "One day she told me that there wasn't much sex in there, and what there was wasn't very good! Well, I took that about as well as you might imagine. I told her to get out of the room."
But when Goddard's editor at Bantam had the same reaction--and then discovered that Gena agreed with the rest of his opinions--"he asked her to read everything before it's sent up."
"Now," says Gena, grinning smugly, "he's got to listen."
They met as students at the University of California at Riverside. Goddard, a native of San Diego, was majoring in biochemistry ("but I found I didn't like it"), paying his way by working as a dorm monitor, cleaning up the morgue tables ("good experience, as it turned out") and scrubbing the pathology lab glassware. He was overseeing a swimming class and jokingly harrassing the students when Gena, one of the swimmers, retaliated: "She pushed me in the pool and tried to drown me."
They were married after graduation, whereupon "I had no idea in the world what I wanted to do. What I was good at was washing glassware." His first lucky break was nearly literal. "I was injured in a judo match, dislocated my shoulder." The local police sergeant who took him to the hospital mentioned that there was an opening in the crime lab. Freshly taped up, Goddard went to see the sheriff.
It was late 1968, America was twitching in the tremors of culture-quake, and "kids just wouldn't go to work for the police department. And of those who would, they couldn't find any who hadn't used dope." Except Goddard: Not out of principle, but simply because "I didn't have the money and the opportunity never came up."
Suddenly he was a cop and a forensic scientist, hunched over a microscope squinting at splayed bullets and shards of glass, blood spots, tooth marks and bits of splintered bone. "You're a garbage collector, basically," says Goddard. "You take everything from the scene, since you don't know what's evidence."
He moved to San Bernardino, picked up a master's degree in criminalistics (a glottis-buster meaning the science of solving crime by analyzing evidence) and became excited by patrol work.
He had been raised by strict parents, his father a vocational-education teacher and ex-Marine who drilled him on the need to "make it on your own." Now, he says, "if I hadn't had a wife and a daughter, I would have been a police officer. It's addictive, the fear and excitement, the adrenalin rush. It really feels good to be scared, if that makes any sense."
He grew to admire the cops, "especially the family people, the ones who could handle a bar fight or pull a homicide suspect out of a room and then turn around and take their daughter out for a bike ride." But he tired of San Bernardino ("the big thing out there is dead bodies buried two feet down in the desert"), and when Huntington Beach decided to open a lab in the mid-'70s, he left to head it. Soon "I was going under" with the growing load of dope cases, and got the department to hire Gena as his assistant; when both were working, they brought their daughter, leaving her in the care of a behemoth narc known as "The Gorilla." To this day, Goddard says, "she has a strange impression of police."
Meanwhile, he began writing in earnest. As a boy, he had composed "nonsense short stories" and "I'd always been addicted to reading"--particularly Robert Heinlein, who showed him a way of living in which "you don't have to be corrupt or vicious or take advantage of people." Nonfiction proved painless, and he wrote two textbooks on police technique.
But the novel form defeated him. His first, a "cop and dope book," was "really wretched--it's buried in the closet somewhere"; the second, about a network of clandestine drug labs, was shelved before completion. Things looked hopeless.
But one day Goddard was talking to the Huntington Beach sheriff, who was musing that even a star-quality police department could be ruined by a professional terrorist, because cops are used to dealing with sloppy, emotional and often inept criminals.
"That really threw me," Goddard recalls. "I had the feeling these officers could handle anything. I got to thinking about what cops do in real life--how the guys are targets."
"Balefire" was lit: He would write a pro-police story "for the citizen to read and understand why cops get so heavy some times, how basically good people can be driven beyond their normal limits."
Quiche-eating thug-coddlers beware: Goddard is a capital punishment advocate who feels we often pamper criminals and is disgusted by the "climate of fear" they cause.
The impending Olympics gave him an angle, and his work provided ample gruesome material. "Actually, it wasn't all that grisly compared to real life. Out in the desert one time we ran across a body that'd been there for two or three weeks." When he got home, "I showered three times, practically scrubbed my skin raw. I could still smell the body."
He tried to sell the book himself, and after several rejections was reworking it only "half-heartedly" when he met a book salesman moonlighting as an agent. Goddard gave him the novel and turned to work on an article attacking large crime labs for "assembly line" procedures and poor contact with field officers. Police Chief magazine took it, and when the advance copies arrived, he saw the notice that Fish and Wildlife was looking for a chief for their new forensic science branch. He knew "absolutely nothing" about animals, but "finally I was too blessed curious," and he came to Washington three months ahead of his family.
"Once I realized what I'd done, what the federal bureaucracy was all about, I wanted to turn around and go back. And I finally tried to read the Federal Register--God!"
But in those months he finished "Balefire," which by then had attracted a publisher who wanted it rewritten. Goddard's methodical spirit was not crushed; he bought a $6,000 Commodore word processor to revise the 600 pages. Then the publisher lost interest, and the book went to two other houses. Three months passed without word, while Goddard, nagged by the sizable Oakton mortgage but told by his agent to "play it cool," simmered. And finally boiled over: He called one house and was told that they had never heard of his book.
"I was becoming homicidal," Goddard said, when a call to Bantam netted executive editor Fred Klein. "He said, 'Oh, we want to talk to you. We like it.' " How did it feel? Goddard's response is typical: "It was like getting the job at Fish and Wildlife, except more of an ecstatic type thing."
It's Bantam that should be ecstatic. It got the hardcover and paperback rights for under five figures in advance money; obliged Goddard to trim 100 pages, mostly scientific descriptions of his beloved forensics ("the hardest thing I've ever done in my life"); and then ordered up a lavish first printing and a nine-city promo tour (Goddard calls it an "author show") starting this week.
More mercenary writers would regard the payment as the literary equivalent of a mugging. Goddard, the believer in institutional authority, is grateful. After all, he got to keep his ending ("they wanted me to change it," making the prognosis for urban security even more grim), he's well into the next novel, and he ditched his agent.
"I have to trust somebody--either an agent or the publisher, and I'd rather trust Bantam." CAPTION: Picture, Kenneth Goddard: "I first tried to write it so that I'd want to read it myself." Copyright (c) Jim Kalett, 1983; Illustration Balefire, by Hiram Richardson, Copyright (c) 1983 by Bantam Books