For those of you who are curious, the FBI did apprehend their suspect from the bank robbery. During my second stakeout, I spied the subject described to me by the homeless subway rider. He carried four Macy’s shopping bags into his house before returning to his brand new BMW coupe to fetch his expensive-looking leather coat. No more slumming on the subways for him. I passed the tip on to the federal agents, and once they made an arrest, I closed my file and moved on to other work.
When I left my office on Thursday evening, Kyle was using Search Systems to check the most-wanted and outstanding warrants in Bay Area cities and counties. When we take on a new case, we make our due diligence inquiries to see if the subject (or the client) is wanted by the law. On the Fremont Police site we spotted a mug shot of our new client, Emerson Barnes, a fugitive wanted for questioning in the murder of his girlfriend, Yolanda Munoz. Under the “aliases” column, Fremont PD listed “M” for Mr. Barnes. They had it partially correct. Emerson preferred to be called “Em” for short.
“You should set up your next meeting on an Alcatraz tour,” joked Kyle. “And then call the cops on him.”
“No, Em is hiding because he’s innocent,” I replied. “He was framed.”
In truth, I wasn’t sure whether to believe this, but as I’d deposited a $500 retainer from Emerson, he had my momentary benefit of the doubt. If it turned out he was guilty of murdering Yolanda, I would gladly refund his money. Or so I told myself.
That night I spent a few hours walking the neighborhood where the crime took place a week prior. I watched as teenagers purchased drugs from a man in a painter’s utility van. The van was a fixture there on the street, judging by the flat tires and the accumulation of leaves and debris around the wheels. Once the kids had gone, I strolled up to the van’s window.
“Hey there. I noticed you’ve been parked here a while.”
The painter studied me from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. His broken nose looked like a relief map of the Colorado Rockies. While he wore the color-splotched overalls of a housepainter, the white flecks in his moustache did not appear to be paint-related at all.
“You a cop?”
“I hope not.” I was going for the disarming approach. It was working.
“You in the market for something then?”
“I’m not sure. What’s on special this week?”
The painter held up a baggie of white pills.
“These are for relaxation. They remove all feelings of greed and hostility.”
“You should send some to Wall Street,” I suggested. “Or better yet, sell them for a million dollars to one CEO and he can poison all his competitors. They’ll become relaxed and non-greedy, and he can take over.”
“That’s devious,” the painter grinned. “Sounds like you need one of these.”
“Actually, I just wanted to know if you were here last Wednesday night, around eight-thirty.”
As the painter squinted and checked his mental date-planner, I pointed to the alleyway across the street from the van.
“That alleyway runs behind the homes on the next block. You see anyone coming in or out of there around eight-thirty?”
“Anyone that looked like George Clooney?” he asked.
“Anyone at all.”
“If I did, I won’t have to go to court, will I?”
“I’m not a cop, remember? Just a concerned citizen.”
The painter thought it over as he lit another smoke. Then he swallowed one of his pills and told me about a man in a tan suit who (you guessed it) resembled George Clooney. According to the painter, this man walked out of the alley and drove away in a Range Rover. A black one, the painter said, with a bike on top.
“A bicycle? Like a mountain bike?”
“Yeah, where they take the front wheel off? It had reflectors and everything.”
I gave the painter a 20-spot and promised him he wouldn’t have to testify in court. Then I rang Em. He was hiding in a flophouse motel called the Bayside, down at the southeastern edge of the city by the sports venue that used to be called Candlestick Park. The Bayside felt like a downscaled San Quentin prison, right down to the barbed wire fence. I was certain it was for keeping people in, not out.
An interesting place for an innocent man to hide.
I asked Em if he had any friends who drove black Range Rovers and liked to bicycle to keep in shape. His face darkened.
“Tom Rogan? It couldn’t be.”
“Does he look like George Clooney?”
“From a distance?” I prompted.
“Maybe if you had glaucoma.”
I waved it off and took out a pen and paper. Emerson wrote down Tom’s phone number and business address. Downtown Oakland.
“Guess I’m heading to O-Town. You wanna come with?”
“No. Just find out if he did it.” Em sneered at me and went back to picking at his TV dinner.