The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound
Golden Gate Disappearing Greyhound Bus Caper
Master of the Impossible Crime
San Francisco, the tourist destination, was quite a bit different than the San Francisco Captain Noonan was seeing through the front window of the Mercedes 210. He made the comment to Hopkins, who was at the wheel.
“Things always look different through the windshield of a 210,” Hopkins said as he honked and cursed at the Sacramento drivers who were making the streets of San Francisco unsafe for the North Beach Yuppies.
Hopkins skirted the south side of Golden Gate Park and whipped through the late afternoon traffic with his tape deck blaring, “Jeremiah was a Bull Frog.” Noonan nodded absently to the incessant commentary by Hopkins and watched the pattern of neighborhoods change. They went through Golden Gate Park and then joined the ballet of trucks, buses, motorcycles and autos as they swept north along the Park Presidio Bypass.
“Do you want to drive across the bridge?” Hopkins yelled over the tape. “Once we’re on the bridge, we’re on it all the way to Sausalito.”
Noonan shook his head. “Can we park on the San Francisco side and just walk to the bridge entrance?”
“Yeah! You can walk all the way across if you want to. It’s a bit chilly though.”
“I only want to walk as far as the three bungees. The ones the Chief says the perps might have used.”
“Not a problem.” Hopkins looked over his right shoulder and let a bus blast by. Then he headed for the exit on Lincoln Boulevard. The moment they left the parkway, the traffic noise vaporized until it was quiet enough they did not have to yell to be heard in the Mercedes. As soon as he found a parking space, Hopkins pulled over to the curb. When the men stepped out onto the sidewalk, Hopkins chirped the anti-theft device on his car.
“I’ll never get used to those things,” Noonan said, jumping a bit as he looked over his shoulder. “We don’t need them in Sandersonville.”
“Welcome to living in a real city, Captain,” Hopkins stuck his cellular phone into the inside pocket of his suit. “Got to get used to the big time.”
The two men stepped over a shin-high hedge and walked across a vacant lot labeled a park that was pocked with muddy holes drying in the hot sun and stands of foxtails. Glass from broken bottles crunched under their shoes. Noonan pointed out some scattered syringes on the ground, but Hopkins just shrugged. “It’s the neighborhood,” he said offhandedly. Then he pointed to the rows of deteriorating houses. “Welfare queens. The city’s full of them.”
“Don’t worry,” replied Noonan snidely. “I doubt they’re insured.”
Once across the vacant lot, the men walked a block and a half, and then the sidewalk swept around a dense hedge and suddenly they were on the walkway to the southern entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge. If nothing else, the transition between city and bridge was spectacular. Within a matter of a few yards they had gone from grime and tenements to one of the most beautiful landmarks in America. The bridge, its full majesty beaming in the glory of a sunny day, rose like the rampart of a castle, the drawbridge down, welcoming all who cared to enter the fabled city by the bay. In most places it was a golden yellow but there were splotches of rust here and there on the spans and risers.
As soon as he started across the bridge, Noonan shivered and wished he had brought his jacket. Even though the sun was shining it was surprisingly chilly on the bridge; the up-welling air currents from off the waters of the Golden Gate Bridge tossed his hair as he stood with his back to the bay, the whine of trucks and cars once again making conversation almost impossible.
The walk was much longer than Noonan had anticipated. Hopkins just smiled when Noonan pointed out it felt like they were halfway across the bridge. “Not even,” Hopkins yelled above the din of the cars. Finally, 30 yards beyond the first massive girder on the San Francisco end, they came upon a small area marked off with crime scene tape. Hopkins stepped over the tape and pointed to three marks on the bridge railing.
“Here’s where the bungees were found,” Hopkins shouted above the traffic’s roar. “The bungees themselves are back at the lab. The cords themselves were attached under the bridge. The only way we actually spotted them was when the sun came up and we searched the bridge with binoculars from the bayside for a clue. Even then it took us a few hours to spot them. There were weights on the bottoms to keep them straight and taut.”
“So no one was watching the perps after they got on the bridge? What about these video cameras? We’ve passed a handful of them. Didn’t they show anything?”
“Not a thing. We’re assuming somehow the perps tapped into the cable wires. No one knew they were going to be on the bridge until the last minute so no one was prepared for them to be tampering with the equipment.”
Noonan looked back toward the San Francisco side of the bridge and then his eyes trailed over to the Sausalito end. “Too far to have used any kind of night scopes even if you had known.”
“That’s right,” Hopkins said. “Everything happened out here all of a sudden. In fact, we really don’t know anything about what happened here at all.” Hopkins yelled for a moment to have his voice heard above the roar of a semi loaded with live chickens lurching past them, the stench of manure swirling with white feathers being swept off the animals. “All we know for sure was the police helicopter followed a smoking vehicle onto the bridge. It couldn’t get too close because the guy on the bus was yelling about being followed and like I said before, it was pea soup. I’m surprised the chopper could even see the smoke, frankly. The smoking stopped somewhere around here,” Hopkins indicated the cords. “We’re assuming so. Seemed logical. The bungee cords were here.”
Noonan didn’t say anything for a moment. “Then the reason you’re searching boats along the waterfront is in the hopes they did take a boat?”
“They had to. The water down there is pretty cold and very rough. If they were in the water long, well, they wouldn’t be spending any money ever again. We had to wait until the sun came up to start looking. But even if someone had gone down those cords, we still don’t know what happened to whatever went onto the bridge. We now know it wasn’t the Greyhound. But it was something traveling at 45 miles an hour and it did have a homing device on it and some kind of a smoke machine smoking to beat the band. What do you think happened to the vehicle?”
“Now that is a very good question. Have you started a search of the water down there?” Noonan pointed over the rail at the water 200 feet below.
Hopkins nodded. “Yes, but we won’t find anything. It’s a couple of hundred feet deep right here and the current along the bottom is vicious. Anything that went down has probably been rolled out to sea – if it’s still in one piece. We’re looking but we don’t expect to have much luck.”
“What?!” yelled Hopkins incredulously. “Why?”
“I want a different perspective for our walk back.”
“It’s your funeral.” Hopkins shook his head sadly. While Noonan surveyed the bridge, Hopkins pulled his cellular phone from his suit coat and punched in a number. “I don’t want anyone thinking we’re jumpers,” he yelled to Noonan. “And I don’t want a squad car checking up on us when the cameras show us sprinting across the bridge.”
“Do your job,” Noonan muttered as he looked over the edge of the bridge and straight down to the water.
When Hopkins finished the call the two men scaled the newly-constructed ten-foot retaining fence and perched on top like a pair of monkeys in a zoo. The road was almost bumper-to-bumper with cars headed out of San Francisco but on the incoming lanes, the vehicles were scattered. If they could make it across the first three lanes of traffic they wouldn’t have any trouble making it to the other side.
The cars were whizzing by at 45 and 50 miles an hour, which did not sit well with Hopkins. He was about to call the scamper off when there was suddenly a momentary lull in the traffic. In an instant Noonan was off the fence and dashing across the traffic lanes of the bridge. Hopkins was caught by surprise and couldn’t move as fast as Noonan. While Noonan made it all the way across the six lanes with no difficulty, Hopkins was not so lucky. A split-second behind Noonan, his opening in the traffic was significantly tighter. When he hit the first lane and the serpentine of cars had to slow, their drivers honking horns in anger as Hopkins did a jackrabbit across the three lanes of outgoing traffic. Once across the centerline, Hopkins could walk leisurely to the retaining fence on the other side of the bridge. He put his hands on the cyclone fence to catch his breath. Noonan, already on the far side of the fence, shook his head sadly.
“You’re out of shape, Hopkins. Gotta work out every day, cut down on fatty foods, quite smoking, watch salt and sugar and stay away from the hard liquor.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Hopkins said as he bit the air for breath. “Just what I need is a health lecture.” Then he slowly clawed his way up and over the cyclone fence. “You’d figure I was in shape from scuba diving. Apparently that’s not the case.”
“Where do you skin dive around here? I thought you said the currents were pretty treacherous.”
“Here they are. But not up north. Bodega Bay. I’ve even got a boat up there, the Cagliostro.”
“The 18th Century alchemist, eh? Very good. I didn’t think you insurance guys had a classical education.”
“I don’t. I got a degree in real estate. But you’re the first person I’ve ever met who knew who Cagliostro was. Where’d you learn that?”
“I have a degree in European history. You never know what tidbits you pick up in life. Bodega Bay’s quite a bit north, isn’t it? Why not San Francisco Bay or someplace south, like Monterey?”
“It’s got abs, that’s abalone, and some of the best halibut fishing on the coast. I like to take my tanks and go after but. That’s halibut to you people from Sandersonville.”
“Oh, we have halibut in Sandersonville. Very big ones. Bigger than those around here. Almost as big as the ones in Alaska. We just fish for them out of a boat.”
“Not the same as fishing with a speargun.” Hopkins watched as Noonan looked over the rail at the water below.
The trip back to the car was a bit slower. Noonan led the way, stopping occasionally as he peered down over the rail or ran his fingers along the railing and fence top. Once he stopped and looked straight out to sea for a few minutes, long enough for Hopkins to break into the silence.
“What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know. All I’ve got now are a lot of unanswered questions. What time is it?”
“In more ways than one.” Noonan was silent for a moment. He looked back down the bridge from the way they had come. Then he turned and looked the other way. When he had completed his visual tour on the street level, he stepped back and stared straight up at the beams vanishing into the ether above. Then he walked over and looked down into the waters 200 feet below.
Hopkins was about to break the silence when Noonan broke it for him. “What time does it get dark around here?”
“Well, it’s two o’clock now. You’ve got another three hours of good light. Maybe even four, depending on what you call dark.”
Noonan thought for a moment. “There’s no reason for you to hang around with me anymore . . .” Hopkins was about to speak but Noonan waved him off. “I think I’m going to stay here on the bridge for a while. But if you would, use your cellular and have a motorcycle unit meet me somewhere along this side of the walkway. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be but initially, I’ll be on this side. I’ll also need a camera and a couple of rolls of film.”
“Why not just use a cell phone?” Hopkins asked.
“First, I left mine in North Carolina. Second, photos from a cell phone are very poor quality.”
“OK. An old fashioned camera and film.”
“Add a roll of crime scene tape and a ruler. And I’ll need a cell phone.”
Hopkins started to hand Noonan his phone but Noonan shook his head. “No. Not yours. I need you to keep yours in case I want to get in touch with you.”
“What are you planning on doing?” Hopkins asked as he wrote down what Noonan needed on the back of one of his business cards.
“Like I said before, I don’t know.”
Hopkins scribbled on the back of one of his business cards. “My home phone, cellular and fax numbers are listed here. I’ll be available 24 hours for you.”
“That won’t be necessary. I work alone, or at least as alone as you can on any kind of an investigation. I don’t want to sound rude but that’s the way I work.”
“Oh, that’s all right, Captain. I’m at your disposal. Anything you need I’ll be happy to provide.”
“Good. Now, while I’m on the bridge, I’d like some documents. Do you have a few more business cards?”
“I’ve even got a piece of paper,” Hopkins replied as he dug out a napkin for the Railroad Bar and Grill from his jacket pocket. “I never thought I’d be using this for a laundry list.”
“You never know what you need until you need it.”
Hopkins looked at him strangely. “That sounds like some kind of an old Polish proverb.”
“You’ve been watching too much Banacek. Now, I need a rundown on the three people who had access to the vault. Second, I want a copy of the insurance report on the security for the bank. I also want all the documentation on the $10 million in cash. If the bank is less than two years old . . .”
“. . .then I need a list of the original staff and, if there are any holdovers, people who are still employed there, I want those names. If any of those people have moved up and are now managers, vice presidents, or in upper management elsewhere in the Butterfield-Fargo system, I want those names too. Are you getting all of this?”
“I’m writing as fast as this napkin will let me.”
“Good. Now I also want to know where the Greyhound bus was actually located before it was given to the perps and what kind of a homing device was put on the bus. Who put the device on the bus? Who was responsible for choosing the homing device and how well was he, or she, trained in the use of the device? Where was it placed on the structure of the bus? There’s more so you’ll have to turn the napkin over. Or re-fold it.”
Hopkins maneuvered the napkin around and found a still-white area.
Noonan continued. “I’ll also need a security check on everyone who had access to the video equipment on this bridge from today backward. For some reason those cameras didn’t work. I’ll bet if you search the cables you’ll find splice or clamp marks. There was so much happening so fast I’ll bet no one noticed before.”
“I’ll have them check whatever records they have.”
“Good. Now I know this is quite a bit of work but this case is going to come to a head very quickly.”
“What makes you think so?”
“There are still ten people missing and the bus hasn’t turned up. Right now everyone who can put on a uniform is looking under every rock in San Francisco. We know the bus didn’t cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Right now every Greyhound into and out of the city is being stopped and searched and after the press starts talking about the missing Greyhound . . .”
“They already have. They’re calling it The Matter of the Vanishing Greyhound.”
“Good. Good. This time the press is doing us a favor. We’re going to find the missing bus fairly quickly. The hostages won’t be on it but we’ll find the bus. Then it’s up to the lab people to find a clue. Right now we’ve got precious few.”
“This is quite a list. Is that all?”
“For the moment, yeah. By the way, did anyone think to triangulate the cellular phone when the perp jumped online?”
“Yes we did think about it but no, we didn’t think it would do any good. The perp was only on the line for about 15 minutes and we didn’t even know he had a cell phone until the Greyhound took off. Most of the time he was on the phone he was moving. Worse, from our point of view, there are about a dozen cellular phone companies in San Francisco so we’d have to contact all of them – at midnight – to open their office and turn on their equipment.”
“I see. I think that’s enough for the moment.”
“I hope so. I’ll have as much of this documentation delivered to your hotel as soon as I can get it. St. Francis, right? I thought I heard the Chief say your luggage would be sent there.”
Noonan nodded his head.
Hopkins put the napkin in his wallet and slid the wallet into the inside pocket of his jacket. “The information you want may come in a piece at a time but you should have all of it by midnight.”
“By the way, when the perp called the chief, did the message go to his private phone or through the main switchboard?”
“I don’t know but I’ll find out.”
“How about the press? How did they get the story?”
“I don’t know either but I’ll try to find out. The press isn’t too keen on revealing their sources.”
“Who told you about the robbery?”
“I got the call from the Chief himself. Probably about 10:30 in the a.m. Right after he found out who the insurance agent was.”
“Was the press there when you got to the bank?”
“Like ticks on a hound dog. I got there about 11:15.”
Noonan grunted and stuck his hand forward. “It’s been a pleasure. I’m sure we’ll see each other again very soon. But, as I told you before, I work alone.”
“I consider it an honor to be working with you at all, Captain. Anything I can do for you let me know.”
“Well, as long as you can get me that information,” Noonan pointed to the spot on Hopkins’ jacket where he had stuffed the napkin into his pocket, “we’ll be friends forever.”
Hopkins was still laughing as he pulled his cellular phone out of his jacket pocket. He waved as Noonan walked away from him, down the sidewalk of the bridge, heading for Sausalito.