The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound
Golden Gate Disappearing Greyhound Bus Caper
Master of the Impossible Crime
“I fingered the dials on the homing detector. “It’s been a while since I’ve used one of these,” She indicated a handful of homing devices, each about the size of a flashlight battery.
“How do we do that?” Noonan asked.
“Watch.” Smith fiddled with the equipment while Noonan loitered about on the sidewalk in front of the electronics store. It was still a drizzly day but it appeared the sun was beginning to have its way with the fog bank. It certainly wasn’t clearing in the sense Noonan could look up and see patches of blue sky, but the ground cover was growing wispy and its color was changing from nimbus and black to cumulus and white.
“Is it complicated?”
“Yes, when it has to be hexed, that is, set up. Once we lock in the code for the devices, it’s just a matter of following the directional beam. Why did you buy a dozen homing devices? Wasn’t one enough?”
“Maybe not,” Noonan muttered.
Smith looked up from the homing equipment. “OK. I’ve identified all of the bugs with the same frequency. Now you understand if we use two of them at the same time we won’t be able to tell which one is which.”
“Not a problem.”
“Before we go, can you adjust this piece of machinery to be used as a bug detector, as if checking to see if there are any bugs in a room?”
“Y-y-y-e-e-e-s-s-s but it would be easier to use a detector specifically designed for the specific bug. We can buy one inside for about $300. Do you want one?”
Noonan shook his head. “Maybe not. Can you tell me if this is a bug?” Noonan handed Smith a small, round metal disk that looked like a camera battery.
“It looks like a camera battery.”
“Ah, but is it?”
Smith played with some of the dials on the homing device detector. “I think it’s a bug. Where did you get it?”
“Let’s just say a friend gave it to me.”
Ten minutes later, Smith pulled into traffic and began picking a route through the streets heading south. Crossing Market Street the dynamic duo in the unmarked car ducked under Highway 101 and headed south dodging the buses and trucks. The traffic was light but the streets were still slick. Noonan watched the traffic and settled into the comfort of the car seat. But it didn’t last long. When they began the long run under Highway 101, he looked back.
“I know what you mean,” Smith said. “I feel it too. I think it’s the green Chevrolet. The one in front of the yellow cab.”
“How long has it been there?”
“Don’t know. I just started feeling like I was being watched. The Chev’s been there ever since.”
“I’ve always gone with my sixth sense, cut off to the right and let’s do a wide circle. Then we’ll see what happens. Just don’t be too obvious about it.”
Smith hit the right-hand turn signal and, at the next intersection, turned into the side street. Half a block later, the green Chevrolet followed. Noonan hummed a soft tune and waited for Smith to make the next turn, to the right again, and head back uptown. The Chevrolet made the same turn. But then again so did a yellow cab, a smoking Volkswagen and a motorcycle without a muffler eliciting a staccato of exhaust blasts.
“If he follows us through this next turn, he’s definitely following us.” Smith was watching the Chevrolet as it kept a safe distance behind them.
“What do you want me to do, call for back-up?”
“No. Not yet.”
“OK, let’s see what he does now.” Smith signaled for another right turn and eased the car around the corner. Noonan watched a hand drifting to a pistol in a waistband.
“Don’t shoot anyone yet, Detective.”
Smith looked him sideways and smiled. As she did the green Chevrolet shot on by the corner. Though it was half a block back both Smith and Noonan agreed they saw two figures in the front seat. Age, race, and sex were undetermined. If the two figures were looking at them, there was no way to tell. They just whipped by the corner and disappeared into the crush of yellow cabs, buses and a menagerie of clunkers none of which should have still been on the road.
“I almost thought we had something there,” sighed Smith. “At least it would have been a lead.”
“Don’t be too sure it isn’t. Let’s pretend we were being followed. Take the long way to Hunter’s Point. Weave around a bit. Do some double backing. Let’s see if the Chevrolet shows up again.”
Smith nodded and took the first left, drove two blocks and then pulled into a parking lot. The car was backed into a space which had a clear view of the street. Then the two waited patiently, watching the street.
“Tell me,” Noonan said as he pulled gently on his beard. “Have you ever been to the storage yard?”
“A few times.”
“Describe it to me.”
“It’s big and has all kinds of things all over the place, like bulldozers, burned out patrol cars, derelict vehicles. What do you want to know?”
“Are there any large structures?”
“Four or five warehouses. Large? I’d say they’re about a ten feet long and 50 feet wide. Yeah. I guess you could call them large.”
“I assume the whole area’s fenced in. How about the approach to the storage area? Is it relatively open? Or do you have to drive down an alley to get to the front gate?”
“There’s a long, sweeping approach but the last time I was there it was open, as in vacant lots on both sides of the road. I doubt it’s been built up since then. After all, it is Hunter’s Point.”
“It’s an inner city area, low income. An ethnic neighborhood.”
“Ah,” said Noonan sarcastically, “a black community where prosperity isn’t just around the corner.”
“If you were going to intercept someone on the way into the storage yard, where would you do it?”
Smith gave Noonan a long look and said, “What do you know I should know?”
Noonan responded verbally. “Nothing I can tell you. It’s just a hunch to be played out. If I’m correct, our friends in the green Chevrolet are going to be back. And they are not going to be very nice. Our lives may very well depend on just how well you remember the approach to the storage area.”
“Why don’t we just call for backup?”
“Because we can’t get on the airwaves. The minute we get on the radio, those guys are gone. This may be our only chance to get a look at them.”
“What makes you so sure anyone is going to take a shot at us? The green Chevy could have been some civilian on his way home.”
“Could have been but I doubt it. And so do you. OK, let’s take a chance. I think the hostages are being held in the storage area, probably in one of those warehouses you were talking about. I wasn’t sure and then the green Chevy showed up. Now I’m certain.”
“That’s quite a stretch, Captain. If true, it also means someone in the Depart . . .”
“Correct, Detective. We’ve got some bad cops here. Think about it. Why is it one of the best police departments in the United States covering a city, which has water on three sides, can’t find ten hostages? Every vehicle large enough to carry ten people has been stopped and searched for the past 48 hours and there hasn’t been a clue. Why? The answer is obvious. What is the one vehicle large enough to carry ten hostages which wouldn’t be searched?”
“A police vehicle!”
“Right. And what is the one place large enough to hold ten hostages the police wouldn’t search?”
“A police storage yard.” Smith snapped angrily. “It’s so obvious now.”
“Correct again. Let’s suppose the hostages were taken out of the Greyhound bus at some location and put into a truck, maybe an old police transport vehicle. No one stops the truck because no one is thinking the hostages would be in a police vehicle. They drive to the police storage yard where the hostages are put in a converted warehouse. They only have to be held for a day or two so it doesn’t matter who eventually finds out. It’s like the person who’s the inside man on the bank job. There are only three possibilities and two of them are hostages. When the hostages are released, the inside man is going to disappear. Ten hostages are taken, only nine are released. Nine, if the inside man is a hostage. Who cares
if the police put two and two together next week? The man and money are gone. Figuring up to ten perps with $10 million tax-free – $1 million apiece. That’s a lot of pina coladas.”
“But if the hostages are at the storage yard and we get hit before we get in, we’ll lose them. If we do call in, someone is going to pick it up on the radio. We’re in a heck of a fix!”
“Ah, but not in the age of cyberspace,” Noonan said sharply as he pulled his cellular phone from his pocket. “There is a way we can send a message without the perps knowing we are on to them.”
“Very good. Just one question, though. How do you know I’m not with the bad guys?”
“It crossed my mind, Smith. Remember when I went back into the Property room after we left?”
“Yeah. When I thought you were looking for the men’s room.”
“I slipped back to see if anyone was getting on the phone. The property clerk was. If you were in with the bad guys, so to speak, you would have made a call.”
“The call to the bad guys?”
“Right. One of the bad guys works in Property or used to work there.”
“You mean the clerk?”
“Unlikely. She just wanted to let her superiors know a Captain Noonan from the Sandersonville Police Department was sniffing around the homing devices. Someone else put two and two together. If you were with them, there’d be no reason to tail us.”
“I could still be one of the bad guys.”
“No, Chief Thayer pulled you out of a lineup at random. So it’s as good a chance as I’ve got at getting an honest cop. Right now the perp’s job is to stop me before I get to the Hunter’s Point Storage Yard. They know we’re on the way there. By following us they were probably trying to figure a way to head us off before we were in the vicinity of the yard. They didn’t want to make a hit near the storage yard because it would be like jumping up and down and yelling ‘THE HOSTAGES ARE HERE!!’ They wanted to do it somewhere else. They don’t want to kill us, just stall us.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Smith, don’t think like a cop. Think like a perp. These guys want to get out of town with the cash. They are going to keep those hostages until the last minute because they know we’re going to put finding the hostages in front of finding the cash. The police aren’t looking for the money; they’re looking for hostages. After they’ve slipped the money out of town, those hostages are going to be released. The perps are just playing for time. If we solve this in three days, fine. So what? It will be too late to catch them in town. Sooner or later the clues are going to give us the names of the perps and the inside men or women. But by then those people are going to be in Brazil or Tierra del Fuego.”
“What does that have to do with not killing us if we get too close?”
“They can’t kill us. In most cases, perps will be extradited if they have left the United States to avoid a murder charge. But if the perps are sitting in Rio de Janeiro and pumping millions into the local economy, well, the local police are going to have a very hard time finding them – at least until their money runs out. But if murders are involved, well, then the Rio police are going to have a whole other attitude.”
“A lot of millions can buy a lot of lawyers.”
“Right.” Noonan smiled. “Sad but true.”
“Fine. Now, clue me in. How did the perps know where we were going? If the clerk in Property isn’t in on the caper then all she could have reported was you and I were looking at homing devices. No one even knew you were going back to the Police Department after the Greyhound Depot visit.”
Noonan was silent for a moment. “You’ll have to take it on trust. Let’s just say I have every reason to believe I’m accurate.”
Now it was Smith’s turn to be silent. “Captain, I’m happy I’m not standing in your 12 1/2 Ds because the only thing I’ve seen is a green Chev which could have been following us.”
“Faith, my child, faith. You’ve got to have faith.” Noonan punched the Chief’s number into the cellular phone. “But right now, get ready for the ride of your life!”