The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound – Chapter 2

The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound
Golden Gate Bridge Disappearing Greyhound Bus Caper
by Steven Levi
Master of the Impossible Crime
Chapter 2

Noonan was barely down the Alaska Airlines walkway from the plane in San Francisco, being hustled along in the river of passengers trying to get out of the aircraft, when he was approached by a tall man with gray hair waving a copy of Noonan’s book in the boarding area.

“This is getting to be a habit,” Noonan mumbled to himself. When his agent had told him he could expect to find people searching him out for an autograph, he had thought she was kidding. She had not been. The book had been out less than a month and there were already people stopping him on street corners and luncheonette counters asking for a signature. It made undercover work impossible.

“Captain Noonan!” The man enthusiastically waving the book had a pen in hand as well. Noonan pulled himself out of the swarm of passengers and stepped into the waiting area.

“I’m certainly glad I caught you here. I couldn’t afford to go to Sandersonville, North Carolina, to look for you!”

Noonan smiled and took the man’s pen and book. “It’s nice to know so many people care.”

“Oh, we do. You’re a living legend, Captain Noonan. Particularly to us in the law and order business. Will you be in town long?”

The bulk of the passengers were still flooding into the waiting area and bumping into the pair, so they moved a few steps closer to the check-in desk.

“No. Just a few days. Then I’m off on a vacation to Alaska. Seeing in-laws and fishing for king salmon.” Noonan emphasized the word king.

Noonan had the man hold his signature leather jacket while he autographed the book. Then he handed the book and pen back to the admirer. “Be sure to buy lots of copies and make me rich and famous.”

The man laughed pleasantly. “We can’t afford that. There are too many bad guys out there.” He waved his autographed book at Noonan. “Thank you, Captain Noonan. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

Noonan indicated he was going for his luggage, and the man wished Noonan the best and disappeared into the stream of passengers.

It was sweltering in San Francisco, or at least so it seemed to Noonan. Prepared for a cool July in Alaska, he found San Francisco stifling. Having been in the city by the bay many times, he noted with a mixture of delight and disdain it was a beautiful day. San Francisco was one of those doubly blessed cities. When it is wet and cold, as was usually the case, it is a pleasant city with a stable temperature. People dress for the weather and San Franciscans are thus some of the best-dressed people in the United States. Further, because San Francisco is notorious for its fog and rain, when they occur, no one feels as though they have been cheated out of a good day.

Then, on clear warm days, the city becomes one of the most beautiful in America. The little ticky-tacky houses, the term coined by Pete Seegar back when “San Francisco” and “hippies” were synonymous, explode into bright colors turning San Francisco’s fabled hills into a checkerboard of Sherwin-Williams paints. Even the roofing material was different shades of red, black and brown.

Today it was hot and stifling. Even the air conditioning in the terminal was not enough to keep the temperature inside from reaching into the 80s. Noonan rejoined the flow of passengers down the terminal corridor toward the luggage carousels, past the restrooms and cul-de-sacs where passengers-to-be were sleeping on suitcases or sprawled across adjacent chairs reading newspapers. He was about to go past one of the bookstores set into the terminal wall when he stopped.

Stepping inside, he wandered about in the boutique before picking up a copy of the Seattle Times. Then he walked over to the nonfiction section looking for his book. The little sign over the bookshelf read, “If You Don’t See It, Ask.”

So he did.

“Do you have any copies of Noonan’s Law?”

“No. The title doesn’t even ring a bell.”

“I see. Thanks.” He dropped a dollar bill on the counter for the paper. The clerk said he needed another 50 cents for the paper, so Noonan dug into his pocket for change. Then he rejoined the stampede of passengers to the luggage area. He only stopped once more, this time at the Arrivals/ Departure board where he stood for a moment before shaking his head sadly and moving on.

For someone who had been hustled aboard a San Francisco-bound airplane by the Commissioner himself, Noonan was surprised he had not been met in the terminal lounge. It wasn’t so much he expected royal treatment; it was just that he was flying blind. He had not been told why he was going to San Francisco or whom he was supposed to meet. All he knew was he was going to San Francisco and here he was.

As to the crime, all he knew for sure was a bank had been robbed and ten hostages had disappeared. This was certainly strange because hostages were usually used as bargaining chips. But if the perps already had the money and were gone, then the perps did not need the hostages. If this was actually the case, why hold the hostages at all? This could only mean there was something else on the table.

Noonan watched the river of oddly shaped suitcases, bags, boxes, duffels, igloos, and trunks as they disgorged from the basement of the terminal and followed each other one-after-the-next onto the rubber plates of the luggage carousel. When his bags finally made their appearance, he grabbed the handles while the bags were still in motion and shouldered his way out of the luggage area to the street.

Not knowing whom he was going to meet was not a pressing problem. He knew the Chief of the San Francisco Police well so it was just a matter of getting downtown. After that, well, San Francisco, “where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars,” was also the city of rude cabbies, smelly shuttle buses and car rental agencies overcharging for everything from clunkers to limos. The only question he had was whether he should be renting a car or waiting to see what developed at Chief Thayer’s office. He stepped out onto the sidewalk and began looking into traffic for a familiar face, uniform, or empty cab, whichever came first.

He had no trouble spotting Chief Thayer leaning against the curbside of his squad car with his bubble gum lights flashing. Alongside the curb where the Chief had parked was a bright red strip next to a sign proclaiming NO PARKING.

“Nothing like attracting a bit of attention, eh?” Noonan looked over the crowd of cold stares of the stampede of passengers who had to lug their baggage across the street in the heat into the parking garage. Since Noonan wasn’t in cuffs, it was clear to the pedestrians this ride from the curbside was a courtesy.

“Heinz! Sorry, I’m late. It’s been absolute heck since this broke. I’ve been up for over 30 hours. Am I happy you decided to come south! We need you.”

“Always glad to help. Rough, eh?”

“Oh, yes.” Chief Thayer shook his head sadly. “Not getting any easier either.” The Chief grabbed both pieces of luggage and gently placed them in the trunk of his patrol car. “We still don’t know where the hostages are. Have you been filled in?”

“Not a word, George. My Commissioner just pulled me off a flight to Alaska and put me on the San Francisco shuttle. I couldn’t reach anyone from the plane so I’m flying blind. I’m going to have my staff send me some clothes. All I’ve got are these vacation duds.” Noonan tapped his lapels – or where his lapels should have been.

“Not a problem, Heinz. Why with your reputation you’ll probably have this solved and be out of town by midnight anyway. At least that’s what I’m hoping.”

“George, you have always been an optimist.”

Noonan draped his overcoat on top of the two suitcases in the trunk and then latched the back cover. The Chief got into the car and unlocked the passenger side door from the inside. Noonan let the heat vent out of the car before he settled inside.

“So much for a nice cool day,” Noonan mused as he strapped his seat belt on while the Chief peered into the oncoming traffic.

“I don’t have any time to offer you the niceties of the city, which I apologize for, Heinz. But I’m up to my ears in this one. We’re going right to the crime scene.”

“Fine with me. I’d hate to come all this way and not have a case to work on.”

The Chief looked sideways and laughed. “You haven’t changed a bit. We really need you on this one, Heinz. We’re not even halfway into this and stumped already.”

“Well, no one has told me anything beyond the report you’ve had a bank robbery in the range of $10 million and ten hostages have been taken.”

The Chief shook his head sadly. “That’s the good news. The bad news is the take might be as high as $20 million and we’ve lost the perps and the hostages.”

“Exactly what happened?”

“The people who pulled this off were slick. They not only knew what we were going to do, they’ve been a dozen steps ahead of us all the way. I’m stretched so thin I had to pick you up myself.”

“Who else knows I’m in on this? I mean, my coming here was a spur-of-the-moment command decision, right?”

“Yes it was. It was a routine robbery last night – perps inside with hostages. Nothing unusual.” The Chief smiled wryly. “I mean we do have our hostage negotiating team. We finally got a negotiated settlement, a Greyhound to San Francisco International. We followed the bus, at a discrete distance, and suddenly the perps changed their minds. They wanted to go to Sausalito. Across the Golden Gate Bridge. We allowed them to change their destination, of course.”

“Of course.”

“You and your wry humor, Heinz. Yeah, well, we followed them at a reasonable distance. About ten blocks from the Golden Gate, the bus started spewing smoke. I mean really smoking. We followed the bus onto the bridge. The smoke stops. We stop. The smoke clears. The bus is gone. It entered the bridge. It never left the bridge. Either side. That’s when we called you.”

“Has anything happened since you called me?”

“We found three bungee cords dangling from the bridge when the sun came up. We’re assuming they are associated with the robbery, but we don’t know for sure. We’ve got patrol boats in the water looking for swimmers and we’re dragging the channel bottom immediately under the bridge but the current’s pretty wicked down there.”

“I thought you guys had video cameras set up on the Golden Gate Bridge to stop jumpers.”

“We do. But they don’t show anything.”


“Not a thing. The tapes just showed an empty bridge.”

“How about the cameras closest to the entrance to the bridge on the San Francisco side. Didn’t it show anything?”

“Not a thing. It didn’t even show the smoke.”

“You checked the equipment?”

“It’s being checked again as we speak.”

“Did you have a chopper in the sky?”

“Sure did. It followed the bus right onto the bridge. There was also a homing device on the Greyhound. Standard procedure. The homing device indicated the bus went onto the bridge.”

“Have you heard anything about the hostages?”

“Not a word.”

The two men fell to silence for a long moment. The only sound in the Chief’s car was the blast of the air conditioner and the occasional crackle of voices on the police radio. Outside, the high-speed staccato of the wheels on the corrugated pavement drummed monotonously. As the men sat silent, San Francisco Bay ran along the right side of the automobile while on the left, the city began to rise out of Foster City. Cement walls separated the eight lanes of traffic from the houses on both sides of the freeway. Cars of all sizes and horsepower blasted by the Chief who kept a constant 55 miles per hour regardless of who passed.

The freeway changed its heading slightly and sunlight suddenly burned its way across the front windshield. Instantaneously both men adjusted their sun visors. The silence was so oppressive the Chief glanced sideways, almost expecting Noonan to be asleep.

He was not.

The Chief said nothing and the pregnant silence continued.

Finally Noonan broke into the conversation. “A few questions and then I want to recap everything I know.”


“At what time did you know there had been a break-in at the bank?”

The Chief scratched his head for a moment. “Actually, we don’t know what time the four perps entered the bank. They were able to circumvent the bank’s alarm and were waiting for the bank employees when they arrived on Monday morning. For all we know they could have been in the vault all weekend.” He coughed. “They went through the safety deposit boxes methodically so they may very well have been there all weekend. They nabbed the employees one at a time when they came to work, put them in the vault and waited until they had the whole crew. Then one of the perps called us.”

“How did the perps get into the bank in the first place? Didn’t the bank have a time lock on its vault?”

“Well, there was no sign of a forced entry into the bank or the bank vault so we can only assume it was an inside job. We’re checking former employees and vault personnel. As far as we know the bank vault combination is only known by three people. One of them went on vacation last week in the Bahamas. The other two were at the bank on Friday and Monday so we’re going over their past, present and future with a fine-tooth comb. But for the moment we’re stumped. The guy in the Bahamas is on his way back to San Francisco, by the way, and the other two are hostages. For the moment, we’ve got nothing to work on. Any one of them could have been the inside man.”

“And the time lock?”

“Supposedly the bank has one on the vaults – there are two vaults, one for money and the other for the safety deposit boxes. Somehow the perps went around both of them. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. But my people are working on it. There’s a good chance the time lock wasn’t turned on, once again, probably courtesy of the inside man.”

“How about all the other security devices? I’m talking about the motion detectors, odor detectors and all those other newfangled devices. Video cameras? Wasn’t someone watching those cameras over the weekend? What about Monday morning when the employees were being picked off one at a time?” Noonan scratched his beard.

“All of the detectors inside the bank were turned off. As far as the video cameras were concerned, yes, there were security people watching the screens all weekend long. Why didn’t they see anything? Because the inside man had them watching last weekend’s videos which, of course, showed nothing.”

“Of course.”

“On Monday, while the employees were being rounded up, they were watching last Thursday’s video. When the perps made their call, the video cameras went dead.”

“What about last Friday’s videotape? I’ll bet that’s gone.”

“Right. That’s what we asked for too. We figured it would show the perps being let into the bank by the inside man.”

“That’s kind of the way I would have figured it.” Captain Noonan stretched and turned toward the window and watched the cement wall running along the freeway. They were driving in the far right lane now and Noonan couldn’t see over the retaining wall. The view was an ongoing sheet of gray-brown concrete broken only by the equally spaced joints where the blocks had been slid together. “So the perps were in place at 10 a.m. How many were there?”

“Four. That’s how many came out with the hostages. We talked with one who was a male. We don’t know about the others. When they came out of the bank they were moving with the hostages so we really don’t have a clue. But we guess at least one was female. But that’s a guess based on the way the individual walked. Other than that we don’t know.”

“What was the name of the male on the phone?”

“He didn’t give one. He just referred to himself as the man in the bank.”


“Worse than that, he was just wasting time. He knew he wasn’t going anywhere until at least midnight so he spent his time pretending to be nervous, uncertain, paranoid, all of the signs of a perp breaking down. Looking back on it, the guy was a real pro. He knew exactly what we would do and when. Almost as though he had read one of our manuals.”

“Maybe he had. What time did the perps actually leave the bank?”

“About midnight. Then they .”

Noonan held up his hand. “No. Not so fast. I’ve got to take this slowly. Now, back to inside of the bank. I gather you really don’t know anything about the events in the bank because the hostages are missing.”

“Right.” There was a pause for a moment. “That is an embarrassment.”

“I can understand that. But, personally, look at it this way. Those perps have been planning this robbery for months, maybe years. They waited for the right set of circumstances and the right instant of time. They figured you would react by the book, and you did. You fell into their trap because you were doing your job.”

“That still doesn’t get me much.”

“Not right now. But what is keeping those perps one step ahead of you is they know what they are doing and you don’t. We’re only 30 hours into this and we’ve got a long way to go before it’s over.”

This softball didn’t seem to impress the Chief at all. He slammed his hands on the steering wheel and cursed. He was silent for a moment and started to say something. Noonan stopped him.

“No need to say it. It’s easy to say we should of or we could have but these perps were well ahead of you at the starting gate. Now it’s a catchup game. See, the average cop, whether he’s a chief of police or a probationary patrolman can make mistakes, do stupid things. We’re not all bright all the time. But a cop is only stupid until the end of his shift. Then he’s got time to think, analyze what went wrong, think about the possibilities and then talk with other cops. It’s the think time and talking that makes the difference because 90 percent of being a good cop is from the shoulders up. Your problem is that you haven’t come to the end of your shift yet. You’ve put in 30 hard hours without a break. You’re too tired to think straight. When we get to the crime scene, you get some sleep. You’ll be amazed at what eight hours of shut eye can do for the thinking process.”

“But I don’t.”. . .

“I just need you to finish with the bank. We don’t know what went on inside because none of the hostages came out. But if they were in there all day the hostages must have eaten something, gone to the bathroom, stretched their legs.”

“The man in the bank told us the hostages were being fed and allowed to go to the bathroom – he called it the loo but he didn’t have an accent so I suspect he was using the English word for bathroom to throw us onto a false scent. I’m sure they were all allowed to go to the bathroom when they needed to because we didn’t find any evidence to the contrary.”


“Whether or not anything was eaten we don’t know yet. We assume everyone inside did eat something. When the perps left they took bags with them and in one, or several, of those bags was their garbage. They didn’t leave any trash behind. Probably afraid of leaving fingerprints.”

“Has the lab finished going over the vaults?”

“Yeah. They found quite a few fingerprints but we’re betting those are from the employees. But they found more hair and fiber evidence than we’ll ever be able to track.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, clearly the perps expected us to send in our hair and fiber people. So they flooded whatever incidental hair and fiber they might have left with false trails. They must have been collecting hair from barbershops and fiber from carpets for weeks. I mean, the minute we got inside it was obvious. By sheer volume they have defeated the hair and fiber people. There’s no way we could analyze every strand of hair we found on the floor and make any meaningful comparison.”

“How did the perps get into the safety deposit boxes?”

“The old fashion way, hammer and chisel. It took quite a bit of time but they had all the time they needed. Every box was hit and every box was looted carefully. It wasn’t like they opened a box and then spilled the contents to find the goodies. They were methodical – and precise – and took everything of value. Jewelry, knick-knacks, coins. Everything. We didn’t find anything on the floor of the safety deposit vault but empty boxes, steel chips and lots and lots of paper which has no value, like wills, deeds, stock certificates, stuff like that.”

“The money vault?”

“They had two hostages who had the key and the combination so there wasn’t any need to be clever about that.”

“You said the initial estimate was about $10 million was taken. Why so high? I know this is San Francisco but ten million in cash is still a good chunk of change.”

“You’re right. We wondered about the amount too. According to Butterfield-Fargo First, the money, cash in this case, was kept on hand at the request of a single client, English Petroleum.”

“English Petroleum? Matches with the word loo at the very least.”

The Chief gave a sick smile. “We made that connection too and logged it. We checked with English Petroleum and they confirmed they had made the request for the cash. But they wouldn’t tell us why.”

“Any ideas why they would keep so much money in cash and on hand?”

“The only one we could come up with was cash for bribes in foreign countries. English Petroleum can’t legally buy off any of the local constabulary in some Third World countries.” The Chief shook his head sadly. “But that’s just a guess.”

“So they jiggled their books and a million here and there drops out of the system. Cash makes no enemies, eh?”

The Chief looked sideways for an instant. “Not yet but I’ll bet the IRS is going to have a field day with English Petroleum.”

Noonan smiled sardonically. “It couldn’t happen to nicer people. But that’s still a big chunk of change to have in a vault of a Cracker Jack bank. How was English Petroleum going to move it?”

The Chief was about to respond but for the moment he was too busy with driving. They left the freeway and began to wind their way through streets of San Francisco. It was still stifling in the car. Noonan opened the window possibly under the illusion it was cooler outside. He was in error and he rolled the glass back up as soon as he realized it wasn’t any cooler outside. The Chief smiled and shook his head humorously.

As soon as the Chief felt comfortable with the traffic he responded to the query Noonan had given him on the freeway. “They said they needed to move it one million at a time. They had already made arrangements with an armored car security van. The first shipment was to be yesterday, the day of the robbery.”

“Was this the first time they had put so much money in this bank?”

“In this particular bank, yes. But they’ve deposited as much cash in other banks around San Francisco in the past.”

“That’s still a load even a million at a time. What were the denominations?”

“Hundreds. All sequentially numbered. That’s the only good news. At least we can trace the bills.”

“Maybe.” Noonan was clearly not impressed. “What size of a pile would $10 million in one hundred dollar bills make?”

Chief Thayer thought for a moment. “Well, a bundle of one hundred dollar bills is about the size of a brick and is worth $10,000. One million in 100 bills is 100 bricks and $10 million is 1,000 bricks.”

“All together it’d be pretty heavy.” Noonan whistled softly. “Then there are all the goodies from the safety deposit boxes. I guess they needed the hostages to carry the loot.”

“And the garbage,” the Chief said. “That’s a load for 14 people.”
“Maybe too much of a load.” Noonan patted his shirt pocket and then started to dig in his pants pocket clearly looking for a pen.

The Chief patted his shirt pockets and, when he found no pen, popped open the glove compartment. “See if you find one in there.”

While the Chief may have been slow on the freeway, he was in his element in the city. He handled the auto like a cowboy on a stallion chasing a stampede of thundering steer down into arroyos and through draws only to crest another arroyo. The car bounced in potholes, slid on cobblestones, jitterbugged through construction zones and then whined as it strove to climb the mighty hills of San Francisco. Bouncing across tram tracks and zipping through intersections, he drove into the Mission District and then into the Sunset District south of Golden Gate Park.

While the Chief was dodging fast dogs and slow pedestrians, Noonan plowed through the trash in the glove box, looking for a pen or pencil in the sea of plastic knives, soy sauce packages, paper salt-and-pepper packages, napkins and a flashlight. After he found the pencil he double-folded a napkin and began his calculations. “Let’s see, each brick weighs about 1.2 pounds and there are 1,000 bricks. That’s 1,200 pounds divided by 14
people makes about 85 pounds per person.”

The Chief shook his head sadly. “You’re right. I do need to sleep. We watched 14 people leave the bank, all with backpacks. But they couldn’t have been carrying 85 pounds per person. Some of the hostages were women. At the max we’re talking about an average of 30 pounds per person. Thirty times fourteen is three times 140 or 500 pounds.”

Noonan fiddled with the paper. “OK, Five hundred pounds. Now, let’s talk about food. They had to come in with enough food for four people for three days plus ten people for one day. Figuring three meals a day for the four perps is 12 meals a day times three days is 36 meals. Add 20 more meals for the 10 hostages. That’s 56 meals and say each meal yields a pound and a half of garbage. All together there’s about a hundred pounds. Which leaves another 400 to 450 pounds for the safety deposit box goodies. I’m assuming no one came out with a pushcart.”

“No one did. So the $10 million is still in the bank somewhere.”

“Maybe not.” Noonan scratched his beard with the pencil butt. “Or probably not. There’s our inside man again. That’s probably why the Friday night tape is gone. The bank closes, our inside man and the four perps roll out the $10 million in cash in a cart. They could have done it in an hour.”

The Chief shook his head as he gripped the wheel in anger. “Damn! We’ve been looking at this too hard. We’re missing the obvious.”

“That’s why you call in the outsiders, Chief. I’ll bet if you ever do find the Friday tape it’s going to show the four perps dressed as armored car employees. They might have even rented an armored car for their cover. The security people at the bank aren’t going to report anything unusual because there is nothing unusual to report. They’ve been told there’s going to be some money taken out of the bank and there was.”

“But there had to be some paperwork,” Chief Thayer said. “You can’t just take out $10 million in cash and not leave some kind of a trail.”

“True. True.” Noonan diddled on the paper. “But it’s a pretty good bet the perps took paperwork out the door with the garbage.”

The Chief snapped his fingers. “But if that were the case, why were the perps in the bank over the weekend? I don’t see a good reason.”

“Unless they wanted what was in the safety deposit boxes,” Noonan added. “They had the time so why not get as much as they could? They got greedy. They could have just left the paperwork where it was.”

Chief Thayer thought about it. “They could have been gone an hour before the bank opened on Monday. If they were clever enough to have maneuvered around the time locks, the front door would have been a Cracker Jack box. They could have moved all of the trash and the safety deposit box contents out in two trips, say 65 or 70 pounds per person.”

“If they had left their trash in the bank it would have been even less. There’s something we’re missing here, George. There is some reason they needed us to spin our wheels for a while.”

“We’ve been spinning our wheels since the hostages were taken and the camera lenses sprayed.”

“You didn’t tell me that. The cameras were sprayed with paint?”

“Right. We don’t have any video of what went on in the bank all day.”

The Chief was about to continue when he gave a great yawn and suddenly pulled up at a curb. “We’re here and I’m going to take your advice and get some sleep. I’m getting batty.”

Noonan turned sideways toward the Chief. Noonan loosened his seat belt and stopped the Chief from loosening his. “Sleep, Chief. That’s a great idea. Don’t come back until you’re rested,” Noonan put his hand on the Chief’s elbow. “Really rested. We need you at the top of your game.”

Noonan turned and reached toward the door handle on the passenger side of the patrol car. Before his hand could come in contact with the handle, the door was pulled open from the outside. A blast of wet heat engulfed him. “So much for air conditioning,” Noonan muttered. Noonan turned and looked through the opening door. There, in the expanding crack between the patrol car frame and the door was a man who was the spitting image of Baby Huey.

Baby Huey was extending a hand toward Noonan, “Captain Noonan. I’d recognize you anywhere. I’m Douglas Hopkins of Capital Assurance and Fidelity, Inc. We’re the people who have to pay if you don’t find the money.”

“You’ve got a lot of faith in a man you’ve never met,” Noonan said.

Douglas Hopkins was a pudgy six feet tall, about 30 years old, had the doughy face of a man who looked as though he had never missed a meal or a good night’s sleep and had yet to meet a gymnasium he would enter. In spite of the fact Noonan was sweating like a Sumo wrestler – and he, Noonan, was from North Carolina and used to humidity – Hopkins appeared cool. At least he was not sweating even though he was wearing a suit. Part of the reason could have been his short cropped, curly hair. His clothes were perfectly preserved as if he had just stepped out of a dry cleaners, and he had manicured nails. His shoes were leather, expensive and shined. This was odd, Noonan thought, because there are only six days a year when San Franciscans can wear shoes that are leather and shined.

Hopkins helped Noonan out of the patrol car. Noonan turned back to the Chief and caught him in a yawn. “Get some sleep,” Noonan said and the Chief nodded.

Noonan was still shaking Hopkins’ hand as he loosened his collar with his free hand. Stepping up onto the curb, the “Bearded Holmes” shrugged his shoulders to pull his shirt away from his back where it had become plastered. As he was standing on the curb becoming acclimated to the heat, the Chief leaned across the front seat of the car.

“I’ve got you booked at the St. Francis, Heinz. I’ll have your bags taken up to your room. I’ll catch up with you when I can. Hopkins will introduce you around.”

“Fine,” responded Noonan as he stepped back off the curb and put his hands on the roof of the car. The heat made him withdraw his hands quickly. Leaning into the car he extended his right hand to the Chief. “It’s always nice to be San Francisco, George, even when it’s hot.”

The Chief nodded ‘good-bye’ as Noonan slammed the passenger side door and hit the roof of the patrol car. The Chief waved inside the car as he careened down the street, made a sharp right and disappeared.

For a moment the street was silent.

Noonan stepped up onto the sidewalk and took a slow look around the intersection. Hopkins stood silently beside him, respectful as if here were at a funeral and the family of the deceased had just arrived.

Dominating one corner was Butterfield-Fargo First. The structure itself was short and squat, a dirty gray building dominating the approaches of both streets, Kalloch and De Young. There were windows on the facing walls, one for each street, and the entry way was in a setback at the apex of the streets. The second floor had no windows; it was just a cement box set on top of the bank.

From where he stood on the corner, Noonan could see the line of boutiques disappearing down both side streets. They were all set into what appeared to be one, long, cement wall running from street corner to street corner. From where he stood it was clear the entire block was a single cement building. Brightly colored, the small stores were set shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder with their display windows so close to each other it reminded him of a beach community, like Laguna or Seaside, where the businesses were small because they had to make maximum profit with minimum floor space. Most of the boutiques had settled for putting their names flush to the cement wall but there were a few signs erected on the roof.

Catty-corner from the bank and running halfway down Kalloch Avenue was an anonymous gray, three-story structure, the generic office building which rented offices by the week or month. Windows, most of them open, marked the walls like the tracks of a junkie. The building was stained all along the bottom, from the entryway all to the way to the end of the emergency exits on both sides, almost as if someone had sloshed paint gently into the vortex where building and sidewalk joined. There was some innocent graffiti near one of the emergency exits, “John 3:3” and “666.” On both facing streets boutiques dominated the balance of the block, all generic in appearance.

What was left of a command post was clearly visible on the roof of the three-story building opposite the bank. On both sides of the billboard, which dominated the street – reminding San Franciscans that “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” with an inane illustration that did not deliver the message – were two barricades. Three SWAT members, their rifles casually slung over their shoulders, lounged on the rooftop. One was smoking.

On street level, yellow police tape still marked off the Butterfield-Fargo First property. Noonan walked the length of the building in silence, Hopkins following at his heels like a puppy dog. When Noonan returned to the bank’s entrance, two of the dozen San Francisco policemen stepped forward to stop him when he tried to duck under the tape but Hopkins waved them back. One of the men handed Noonan a pair of latex gloves, which he slid on as he walked into the bank unhindered.

The interior of Butterfield-Fargo looked like the inside of a Cracker Jack box and was built that way. There were two vault doors at the deep end with a single counter of tellers’ cages which ran the length of the room. With the electricity turned off, a remnant of the siege, the only light in the building oozed in through the grit on the double windows on each side of the entryway. The only things lacking for an authentic 1930s movie set were cobwebs in the room corners and machine-gun bullet holes in a string along the back wall. A threadbare rug, brown of color or age, covered the floor like a shallow swamp. The branch manager’s desk wallowed at the back of the room between the vault doors like a toad up to its elbows in stagnant water. At the right rear was a single door, wide enough to admit a forklift. To Noonan’s right was a pair of restrooms, which looked as though they had been salvaged from a Greyhound bus station.

Noonan knelt for a moment and used a pencil to pick through what appeared to be a clump of dust. It was actually matted hair. Looking around he saw there was hair everywhere, mixed with odd-colored fibers. He rose and picked his way along the counter to the vaults. After he had inspected both vaults, he returned to the main room. It was at this point Hopkins made his second introduction of the day. He extended his Latex glove covered hand as he stepped forward.

“Douglas Hopkins, Chief. I’m with . . .”

Noonan took his hand again and gave it a sturdy shake. “Capital Assurance and Fidelity. Yes, I know. Just because I seem preoccupied don’t be distracted.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“Please. Call me Captain Noonan, or Noonan, or Heinz but don’t call me sir. Even my father won’t let me call him sir.”

“Sounds fair to me,” Hopkins said as he swept the room with his free hand. “This doesn’t look like much of a bank, does it?”

“Exactly what I was thinking, Douglas.”

“Call me Doug.” “OK.

“Oh, this is a bank all right. At least in name and insurance.”

Noonan pointed to the counter running along the wall. “It looks as though Butterfield-Fargo First found an abandoned bank and refurbished it. This is not exactly the section of town I would have expected to find a Butterfield-Fargo bank. These guys are known for class, style, culture and finesse. This neighborhood has all the sophistication of Velveeta nachos.”

Hopkins reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card he handed to Noonan. “You’re right about one thing. This bank was picked up on a foreclosure and refurbished by Butterfield-Fargo. About two years ago. We checked the vaults and the security system before they
made the purchase. We made some recommendations. The bank followed them to the letter and we gave the bank a clean bill of health.”

Noonan didn’t say anything. He glanced at Hopkins card and stuck it in his pants pocket. Then he continued his survey of the room, starting with the ceiling tiles and working his way down the walls to the floor. Hopkins gave a look indicating he understood Noonan was making the inventory but continued to speak.

“Yes, it’s old. Yes, the vaults are used. But the security system was upgraded.”

Noonan walked over to the security camera and looked up at a spray-painted lens.

Hopkins correctly guessed at what he was thinking. “That’s right. They hit all the lenses with spray paint. Poof. One quick blast per camera, psfaat, and there went our inside eye.”

Noonan scuffed his way over to the counter, Hopkins following him. Finally Noonan addressed Hopkins. “Chief Thayer took me as far as the bank. I take it the one perp who was on the phone diddled all day long, stretching out the negotiations.”

“Right. We couldn’t figure out what he was doing until the sun went down and he still didn’t have any demands.”

“How did you get the tip the bank was being taken down?”

“The security people reported the video lenses had been sprayed,” Hopkins pointed at the cameras. “It was at about 10 a.m. When the bank didn’t open, people called. Then the police got a call from one of the perps. Then the craziness started.”

“The perps called the cops? That’s a bit odd.” Noonan looked at Hopkins strangely.

“If we’re starting a list of odd things about this case, the perp calling the police is down about Number 27.” Hopkins gave a nervous laugh.

Noonan cracked a smile and pointed at the video cameras. “Where are the actual video machines, the screens themselves?”

“A private security company. They monitor everything, keep the tapes.”

Noonan cut him off. “But the Friday tape is missing. How close do they monitor the tapes? Do they make back-ups?”

“Losing the Friday tape was a bummer. It was there on Saturday because it was logged in. When it disappeared we don’t know. Whoever took the tape understood the security system. I don’t know what the Chief told you but we did find a tape in the Friday slot. But it was the tape from two Fridays ago. The security company keeps all tapes for a week, just in case something like this happens. Then they use the oldest tape to make the newest one. The Friday tape we saw came from two Fridays ago. We speculate someone switched the old Friday tape in question with a blank tape. No one was going to be examining an old tape before it’s re-used so a blank one was as good as a used one. No one would know the difference. Then he replaced last Friday’s tape with the previous Friday’s.”

“You know it was a man?”

“She. It could have been a she.”

“How many bank people could have gotten into the office where the security tapes are located?”

“Three. Two of the possibilities are hostages and the third is, was, in the Bahamas. All three are male so I guess we don’t have to be P.C. about the inside man. Every one of them had motive, opportunity and means, MOM, the cornerstone of prosecution.”

“Was the Friday tape you have dusted?”

“We had all the tapes dusted. The Friday tape was clean. The other tapes had the fingerprints of the security guard personnel.”

Noonan tapped his pencil rhythmically on the end of his nose.

Hopkins broke the silence. “The perps had everything going for them as long as they keep moving. Every time they can do anything to confuse us, even for 15 minutes, that’s time they can use to their advantage. We ran through the tape twice before we realized we were watching the wrong Friday.”

Hopkins continued, “The bottom line for these guys is they need time to pull this off. That’s why they still have the hostages. We don’t know where they are or what they are going to do. Every second we spend spinning our wheels is a second to their advantage.”

Noonan turned and faced Hopkins. “These do not appear to be your normal perps. Why do you think they took hostages? They’ve got the money and the loot from the bank vault. They’ve got what they wanted; why take hostages?”

Hopkins shook his head. “Not a clue. Except to stall us. As long as we are looking for the hostages we are not looking for them.”

“True. True.” Noonan slipped the pencil into his pocket and peered down the counter and brushed it. He looked at the heel of his hand and then showed it to Hopkins. “We also have a problem on our end. Laziness. What do you see here?”

Hopkins looked at the Noonan’s hand and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what you’re getting at. I don’t see anything.”

“Precisely. What you should see is white powder, the dusting for fingerprints. That’s pretty sloppy police work. What we have here is a major crime, loss of about $10 million in cash and valuables, ten lives at risk and the lab people are getting lazy.”

“They probably felt . . .”

“Hopkins! Solving a crime is only half of the job. The second is getting a conviction. Now I can understand your point of view. You’re in the insurance business. If the $10 million in cash and all the goodies from the safety deposit boxes come back, you’re pleased as punch. But I,” Noonan tapped his chest, “and the Chief have to worry about getting a conviction. We’ve got some pretty careful customers here. Extra hair on the floor, all the trash taken out, tapes missing, escape vehicle vanishing. What this tells me is when we catch these guys we’re going to have a heck of a fight in court. Slipshod work like this,” he shook his open hand which should have been coated with the white powder it had picked up when he swept the counter, “won’t get us a conviction.”

Hopkins was silent for a moment. “It’s not true I’m not worried about . . .”

“Spare me, Hopkins. Let’s get to the root of the problem now. I’ve seen what I want to see, now let’s talk about the getaway.”

Hopkins started to speak and Noonan silenced him with a wave. “Just because I seem to be working a little slow here doesn’t mean I don’t know what kind of time pressure we’re under. I have to approach the problem methodically. But I’m well aware of the time element. I don’t know this city but I do know perps. My job is to figure out what happened and hope there’s a clue to where the hostages are. While I’d like to be polite and observe all the social graces, I don’t have the time. What happened here?”

If Hopkins was taken aback, he didn’t show it. So he answered Noonan’s question. “Well, we surrounded the bank with the usual. SWAT and squad cars, men at the front and back, sound detectors, gas masks, the whole nine yards. We even had Spanish and Chinese speaking detectives just in case. Here in San Francisco you never know who you’re going to be speaking to when you are called into a hot zone.”

“Hot zone?”

“That’s what we call it here. It’s what the insurance companies call it. I don’t know what the police call it.”

“Good enough. How about the press?”

“Those guys were all over us like white on rice. We’re talking about being on the scene at 10:25 in the a.m., Hey they were off-loading cameras as the cops were tumbling out of their vans.”

“How did they get the word?”

“They said they got an anonymous call. They were here all day, until they sent their footage in for the 11:00 news. Then they went home, left a cub reporter or two. That’s when the perps made their move.”

“Was there any shooting at any time?”

“No, thank God, because those yo-yos were doing newscasts exposed with the bank at their back to the plate glass windows of the bank. I mean, come on! Everyone in San Francisco with the IQ of a turnip knew which bank was going down. Everyone knew so everyone and his brother showed up. We had a packed sidewalk! One shot from inside the bank and the slug would have hit four, five people. Then we had the usual carloads of looky-loos driving around the police lines, snapping selfies and shooting home video footage. You just can’t keep those people away. The police lines don’t mean anything anymore.”


“The perps got here before ten in the morning and stayed until about midnight. There isn’t much to report about those hours. We never saw them and we only talked to one man. At first the perp hemmed and hawed about how he was holding hostages. Then he apologized. Then he wouldn’t speak to us for a few hours. He wouldn’t answer the phone when we called in so we had to wait until he called us.”

“Was it always the same perp?”

“Same guy.”

“This went on all day?”

“Right. Until about midnight.”

“Exactly what happened when the perps finally cut a deal?”

“After hours of negotiations we finally cut a deal with them. The one guy we were talking to said he wanted a Greyhound bus out in front of the bank. He said he was going to take the hostages with him and he didn’t want to see any cops on any rooftops and he didn’t want to see any cops following him.”

“The Chief agreed to that?”

“Sure. Why not? SWAT just pulled back from the roof,” Hopkins said. He pointed up through the ceiling of the bank as if it were not there to the command post Noonan had seen on the three-story building across the street from the bank. “There was no reason to be seen if the perps were on the move so SWAT pulled back. Then it was up to the motorized units. The bus left and everybody kind of hung back about a block and a half. It’s not hard to follow a Greyhound bus in San Francisco!”

“The perps never complained?”

“Oh, they complained right away. They were on a cellular phone. Called right to the Chief on his iPhone. Surprised him right out of his socks. One minute he’s ordering the motorized units to move out and the next he’s taking guff from the perp on a cellular phone – private, direct number no less. These guys were prepared.”

“Clearly. Did the perps say where they were going?”

“They wanted free access to San Francisco International and then they changed their minds. They drove around town for about half an hour like they were lost and then said they wanted to go to Sausalito.”


“Yeah, isn’t that a hoot?”

“There isn’t much of anything in Sausalito, is there?” Noonan looked surprised.

“Nice town, but it doesn’t have an airport worth talking about if that’s what you mean. There are a lot of boats but it’s a town that can be bottled up. But that’s where they said they wanted to go. Chief said fine. He figured he could cut them off on the Golden Gate Bridge. He closed off the north entrance, waited for them to get on the bridge and then closed off the south side. Poof, they’re bottled up on the bridge. Better to have them there than at the International Airport.”

“What went wrong?”

“Good question. The Greyhound got here at the bank about 12:30 and the perps got on board. The Chief gets a call to back off with his men and he does. Besides, he’s got a chopper in the air, and a directional bug on the Greyhound. He’s got a SWAT team at the International Airport because that’s where the perps said they wanted to go. What’s he got to worry about? Where are the perps going to go? When they get to the airport they’re going to be bottled up.”

“So off the bus went, the cops hanging way back and the chopper following the bus?” Noonan asked.

“Right. The bus headed south and suddenly the perps changed their minds. They cut back across town and began zigzagging through the city. They snapped their headlights off and ran in the dark, up and down hills with the perp yelling he could still see the cops behind him and the bear in the air.”

“Did the perp use the term bear in the air?”

“No. I think he used the word chopper or helicopter. Bear in the air is my term.”

“So far so good. Now for Houdini.”

“Right. Suddenly the perps say they don’t trust the arrangements and were going to Sausalito. Chief says fine and orders the Golden Gate closed on the north side. He figures he’s going to bottle them up on the bridge. About ten blocks back from the south entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge, the bus starts smoking. Then it really started smoking. The perp on the cellular is now hysterical, yelling the chief double-crossed him, gave him a two-bit bus which was going to break down, screaming about doing horrible things to the hostages, so the Chief says he won’t have his patrol cars enter the bridge from the south.”

“Let me guess. The bus, still smoking, blasted onto the bridge. The chopper was still following it and the homing device indicated the bus was on the bridge. Why couldn’t the helicopter see the bus? The bridge is all lighted up.”

“There was very heavy fog that night. You know how San Francisco can get. When the fog is that thick the lights on the bridge don’t even work that well for cars. It was pea soup. Those guys really knew what they were doing. Chose the right night to disappear on the Golden Gate Bridge.”

“Right, right, right. So when the cops fought their way through the heavy fog there was no bus on the bridge, the perp dropped off the line and that’s the end of the story.”

“The bus had just vanished.”

“Right. Poof. Gone.”

“I’ll bet there’s no sign of a directional bug or a smoke machine.”

“You’re batting 1,000 today, Captain.”

“Yeah, for what good it does. First things first, I want to go to the last contact spot, where the bus started smoking.”

“Not a problem.”

“Can you pick your way through the city streets to the spot the way the bus went?”

“Sorry. No can do. The bus was running up one-way streets the wrong way and even went through a tram tunnel. I couldn’t risk it.”

“But people were following him the whole way.” Noonan was intent on this answer.

“The whole way?”

“The chopper had the bus in view the whole way, right, except when it went through those tram tunnels?”

“As far as I know.” Hopkins scratched his head and thought for a moment. “Well, sort of, the patrol cars lost track of the bus every now and again when they were ordered to fall back but they were steered back on course by the chopper.”

Noonan grunted, brushed his hand against his pants and moved for the front door of the bank with amazing agility for a 60-something-year-old man.

Steven C. Levi is a sixty-something freelance historian and commercial writer who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, his home for past 40 years. He has a BA in European History and MA in American history from the University of California Davis and San Jose State. He has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle.