**** **** ****
A few days after Ralph met with the green guys,
back in Atlanta Bill and Kenny were in their third day of surveillance of a
suspected jewel thief. For the previous week, the two Feds had worked to track this
suspect down. They found him living in a run down apartment building on the
west side of
Bill sighed as he looked through his binoculars. “I wish this creep would make up his mind and do something. Been sitting on ‘em for two days…”
“Patience, Bill,” Kenny said with a chuckle. “We’ve sat
longer than two days on a suspect. You remember when we did that stake out of
that horse ranch back in
Bill chuckled. "Yeah, I remember. A hundred and ten degree heat and that dumpy old truck we were using had no AC."
"And we were down wind from the barn."
"I'm trying not to remember that part."
Bill smiled as he lowered the binoculars and looked down to the main entrance of the apartment building. The traffic on his and Kenny's side of the street started to slow down and a flat bed car hauler idled noisily below. He glanced down at the flat bed and the car it was carrying. A black nylon car cover covered the vehicle except for one front corner where part of the grey front fender and hood showed. A shiny silver wheel rim boasted a Firestone tire.
Bill almost didn't give it a second thought until he noticed the shape of the backside of the car had a distinct slope to it. The hauler started to move with traffic. Bill watched it, the slipshod cover still exposing the front left corner of the car as the hauler pulled away. As the truck moved with traffic, Bill saw the grey metal plate that covered the front left side headlight, leaving only a slit for light to shine through.
It was suddenly too familiar. No. It can't
be.... He flashed back to being chased through the
It can't be the same car! I mothballed that thing myself, it… can't be!
"Bill? You ok?"
"Huh?" Bill snapped out of his stare of the car and looked at Kenny. "Oh, I'm fine. Uhh...."
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Kenny said and approached the window to see. “What’s wrong?”
Bill looked out the window again, seeing where the truck was going. "Nothing. I mean nothing with Bardsley um… Kenny, here…” Bill handed him the binoculars. “I gotta check on something. I’ll explain when I get back.”
Bill darted out of the tenement room, leaving Kenny dumbfounded.
Downstairs and on the sidewalk Bill made his way down the street, trying not to look like he was hurrying. He turned the corner at the end of the block and spotted the hauler up the street, stopped to make a left hand turn into what looked like an auto garage. Bill moved up the sidewalk, keeping an eye on the hauler. The truck turned into the drive, pulled up and stopped.
Two men got out of the truck and a couple more came out of the garage building. Bill paused on the sidewalk, now directly across from the garage, and he looked around quickly not wanting to be seen staring openly. He realized he was in front of a little deli and he scooted inside.
The place was practically empty. He removed his aviators and walked to the counter, ordering a cup of coffee. He glanced back out the front windows as he tucked his sunglasses into the pocket of his brown plaid shirt. The men were taking their time removing the chains from underneath the car that held it secure to the flat bed. Once he got his coffee, Bill paid for it, shoved the change into the pocket of his khaki pants and took a seat at a table near the front windows.
He was just in time for the unveiling. The chains removed,
the two men who had driven the truck were now pulling the cover off the car,
revealing its grey armored and dark tinted window menacing glory. There was no
doubt now and Bill was stunned. Two thousand miles away from
He had to fight the urge to walk out of the deli, march over
to the garage and demand to know where the hell they
got that car. Instead, he knew he'd have to investigate more, find out if what
he was seeing was really true - has to be. There's
no other car like that anywhere - and find out how the thing wound up in
He sipped at his coffee and watched for a few more minutes as the men rolled the car off the flatbed and then pushed it into the garage. Once the car was inside the garage, Bill left the deli, leaving his half full coffee cup behind.
He forced himself to forget about the Hit Car for now. He was working this stake out with Kenny and he had to stay focused on the task at hand. He'd have time later to check up on things. He returned to the tenement room.
“What the hell was that all about?” Kenny asked with a mix of both concern and annoyance in his tone.
“I’m sorry, Kenny, I can explain. Did you see that flatbed truck that was on the street just before I left?”
“The car that was on it belonged to Johnny Diamante.”
“Johnny the Dancer?”
“Him. He tried to kill me with it a couple
years back. I busted him and impounded that car myself in LA. Imagine my
surprise when I see it gallivanting down the road here in
“Holy smokes, what the hell’s the thing doing here? Did you tail it? Where is it now?”
“It’s at a body shop around the block from here. I can’t jump to any conclusions yet about it, Kenny. I mean, maybe it was stolen. Maybe the Bureau sold it for scrap or something, although if they did I’m going to be having a very long chat with whoever authorized that sale.” Bill turned to the window and settled back to watching the apartment across the street. “I’ll have to look into it when we’re done here today.”
Kenny nodded. “Okay, Bill. I gotta tell you, though, you really looked like you’d seen a ghost.”
“Heh, well, in a sense I did, Kenny.” Bill raised the binoculars to look across the street again. My own…
*** *** ***
Later that day, after two other agents took their shift in the surveillance of the jewel thief, Bill returned to the Federal building and placed a call to the LA field office. He learned that five cars were stolen from the impound just outside of LA nearly three weeks earlier, one of which was Johnny Diamante's hit car.
"We've recovered all the cars but that one," the
agent on the phone explained. "All the others were found here in
"Hmm, interesting," Bill
said. "Which would lead me to believe that only one car was supposed
to make it out of
"That's the way I'd figure it too. The other cars were junk. Not worth anything, just some old beat up sedans and stuff. But that Diamante car...God knows what anyone would want that thing for."
"That's what I'm hoping to find out on this end."
"Good luck. I'll note here that it's been found, so we can all stop looking for the damn thing and get back to more important stuff."
As far as Bill was concerned, the hit car was important stuff. After leaving the Federal building for the day, Bill headed for his apartment but took the long way home. He drove past the auto body shop. The chain link gate was closed and a few cars were parked in the lot. Lights were on inside the building. One man was standing outside the building near a door and underneath an overhead light smoking a cigarette.
Bill didn't slow down too much and
he continued on his way. He went through the drive thru of
After taking a bite of the hamburger, he flipped through the phone directory until he found what he was looking for. The auto body shop's phone listing. He opened his little black notebook and wrote the number down next to where he had noted the name of the shop earlier in the day.
He put the phone book aside and worked at his hamburger a little more, thinking. He then got up, grabbed the telephone off the kitchen counter, and brought it over to the table. He sat down, lifted the receiver and dialed the number for the body shop.
It rang. Even more surprising, somebody answered.
Not the typical customer friendly way to answer a business phone, Bill thought. He cleared his throat and put a slight drawl in his voice. "Oh, uh, howdy...um, is this Blakefield's Autobody?"
"No, you got the wrong number."
"I do? Uh, this isn't 555-3412?"
"Oh, well, okay. Sorry about that. Thank ya."
The phone clicked.
Bill hung up for a beat and then lifted the receiver again. He dialed the same number.
"Oh man, I was sure I dialed it right this time! 555-3412. You mean I still got the wrong number?"
"You got the wrong number."
"Well what number am I hittin'?"
The phone clicked.
Hmm, interesting. Bill hung up again and grabbed his pouch of french fries. He chewed on a couple of fries thoughtfully and then picked up the phone and dialed the same number again.
The man sounded exasperated this time. "What the hell man?"
"I was careful this time! I was! Look, I'm tryin' to find Blakefield's Autobody and this is the number my buddy gave me--"
"Well your buddy got it wrong. This ain't Blakefield's Autobody."
"But I checked the number in the phone directory and it's the same!"
"Well that's wrong too. You're buddy's wrong and the phone book is wrong. Stop calling here!" The phone clicked.
Bill hung up and grinned. If the phone book was "wrong" it seemed certain that Bill was right and something was definitely going on that was suspicious.
He sat back in his chair, still munching on the french fries and contemplating his next move. He would have to let Commander Mayson know what he'd learned and get the okay to pursue things further. Thing was, he was still obligated to Kenny on working that stake out. Maybe he could do both, after all, the body shop wasn't far from the apartment building they were watching and if the hit car was having work done to it, it could be there for a couple of days. It wasn't like Bill could do much else. The only thing these guys were guilty of was receiving stolen property. It was possible they were just a bunch of unsuspecting lead foots who thought they got themselves a good deal on an old Dodge Charger. But Bill didn't think so. Diamante's car was too unique and had come from too far away to be anything that innocent.
**** **** ****
The next morning, Bill took the long way to work and drove past the body shop. The chain link gate was open and one of the cars that had been there the night before was gone. Probably on a coffee run... He debated pulling over to try to snoop, but the three men gathered outside the garage squashed that idea. The garage doors were closed so Bill couldn't see inside. But he was sure the Charger was still in there.
Before catching the attention of the three men and looking too suspicious, Bill continued down the road.
When he arrived at the Federal building, he headed for Commander Mayson's office.
Frank Mayson literally had an open door policy. With the exception of meetings, delicate phone calls, or just needing a few minutes to himself, the Commander's door was pretty much always open. This morning, Bill found it open. He stood at the threshold with a folder in hand and knocked on the doorframe. "Good morning, sir," he said.
Mayson looked up. "Good morning, Bill. Come in. I thought you were working the Bardsley stake out with Kenny?"
"I am,” Bill replied, entering the office. “I had to stop and see you first this morning. It's important."
Mayson gestured to one of the chairs in front his desk. "What's on your mind?"
Bill took a seat. "Well sir, a couple of weeks ago some
vehicles were stolen out of a Federal impound in
"No sir. It's a 1966 Dodge Charger, specially modified. I know it because I'm the agent that impounded that car originally."
Mayson couldn't help but blink at
the coincidence. A new agent all the way from
"It belonged to Johnny Diamante...and he tried to kill me with it." Bill handed over the thin file folder. "I went into the computer this morning and pulled up what there is on that case. My file back in LA has more stuff, but that's got the basic overview."
Mayson accepted the folder. "Did you nail this guy?" he asked, opening the folder.
"I did," Bill said proudly. "Fifteen years I had been trying to nail 'em and I finally got him."
Mayson smiled and nodded. "Only now his car's been busted out of impound and brought some two thousand miles east for...what?"
"I don't know but with your permission I'd like to investigate it."
"You don't think maybe this car's been sent here because of you, do you?"
Bill thought about this and then shook his head. "Nah,
too much trouble to bother with if somebody's looking to do me in. Besides, I
haven't been in
"But what about in
"Still too much trouble to go through stealing that car and shipping it here after me. If somebody in LA wanted me offed they'd just put a hit man on plane or find somebody local."
"Still too much trouble."
"But one hell of a coincidence. There's a
personal connection between you and that car. Nobody else in
"I saw it while on the stakeout with Kenny yesterday. It was on a flatbed hauler, partially covered up. I took a break from the surveillance and tracked the car to an auto body shop about a block away."
"There was a car cover on it?"
"Yeah. One of those thin nylon ones. Part of the front fender was exposed enough that I recognized the car. Then at the body shop when they took the car cover off before unloading it there was no doubt what I was looking at."
"What's the name of the shop?"
"Never heard of it but that doesn't mean anything. The car still there, far as you know?"
"It's still there."
Mayson paused thoughtfully.
"Something's going on," Bill said. "I'm sure
of it. This can't just be a bunch of hillbillies--er lead foots thinking they're going to put together some hot
little number with this old Charger. Diamante's hit car was a specially
modified car and out of all those cars stolen from the impound in
"Oh I'm not arguing with you that there's something going on beyond just a stolen car. But you currently have an assignment."
"Yes, sir, I know, and I intend to still honor that assignment. The body shop isn't far from the apartment building Kenny and I are watching. Those boys are probably working around the clock on that car, as they were there still last night when I went home, and depending what they're doing they might be there another day or two. I can work both cases, sir, no problem."
"Besides that this is personal," Mayson concluded.
"Yes, sir, it is."
Mayson nodded. "Awright, Maxwell. You can investigate it. But make sure you let Agent Hygate know. He may want you to swap off with another agent if any of this starts to interfere with the Bardsley stakeout."
Bill nodded. "I will."
Kenny had no issue with the situation when Bill explained it to him later at the tenement room but did offer Bill an out from the Bardsley case if he wanted it. Bill declined, explaining he was committed to the stakeout and that he didn’t think the car was going to be going anywhere any time soon. He and Kenny resumed their surveillance through another day where nothing changed and at the end of their shift, Kenny asked Bill to show him where this garage was. Bill drove Kenny down around the block and past the garage where the scene was the same as it had been the night before. A few cars were parked in the lot, there were outside lights on and lights on inside the garage.
“Interesting,” Kenny said after they drove by. “I could’ve sworn that place was closed up just last week.”
“Really? Had it been closed for awhile…?”
“I dunno. But since we’ve been tracking Bardsley and I’ve driven by here myself, that place was empty until now.”
“You try snooping around the place?”
“Nah, there’s always somebody hanging around outside the garage.”
“Then you just gotta find another way to sneak in…” Kenny glanced over his shoulder back to the garage. He then faced forward. “Take a left up here…”
Bill did and Kenny directed him around the block. Another left put them on the street that ran behind the body shop. Several old run down homes were on this street, a couple appearing empty and abandoned. Kenny had Bill pull into the grass and debris strewn driveway of one and then had Bill follow him to the back yard of the house.
The body shop’s lot backed up to the yard and the outside lights from the side of the garage provided enough light for Bill and Kenny to see where they were. The chain link fence separated the two properties along with wild grown grass and shrub and a pile of old auto parts, fenders and door panels.
There was no outside light at the back of the garage but the fluorescent lights from a commercial property next to the garage shown just enough light for Bill and Kenny to see that the yard they were in wasn’t much better. An old washing machine was tipped on its side and there were various other junk materials and garbage strewn about. Kenny, however, found a clear path at the southwest corner of the garage lot and enough of a space for the two agents to jump the fence.
They managed to do so without jingling the fence too much and once inside the lot they hid behind an old VW Bug with no wheels on it. Bill and Kenny looked through the broken windows of the car to the backside of the garage.
It was a straight shot to the garage and there was very little light. “I’m going to take a quick a look,” Bill said. “Wait here and cover me if I get spotted.”
“You got it.”
Bill slipped around the Beetle, stayed low and stayed in the shadows as he hurried to the backside of the garage. There were more old car parts, fenders and the like against the wall of the garage and he stepped carefully around these as he moved to the southeast corner of the building. He peered around and saw the reverse of the same scene he had seen the previous few nights. Outside a doorway near the garage bay doors, a man stood smoking a cigarette, the outside light above him washing over the east side of the lot.
Inside the building, Bill could hear the sounds of power tools and grinding metal. He turned from the corner of the building back to one of the windows, which was just a little higher than his over six foot frame would let him see.
The assorted junk under the window provided just enough of a step for him and Bill balanced himself on an old door that was atop some old tires. The window was dirty but he could see through the grit just enough to make out three men working on the car. The Charger was partially dismantled, the front end and hood removed. One man was working on the engine while the other two men were working on different body panels. Bill watched them for a couple of minutes, but he couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing. One of the men was welding on one part, while the other was working a grinding tool over something else. Bill looked around the inside of the garage but didn’t see anything that looked outwardly suspicious. The gray hood of the hit car was resting against the wall and the gray plate that had covered the front end originally was lying across a workbench.
Under any other circumstances, it would have all looked benign. Just a group of guys working on an old car. However, Bill was sure none of this could have been that innocent. He stepped carefully off the door and headed back to where Kenny was waiting behind the Beetle.
“They’ve got it all torn apart,” Bill said. “One guy’s working on the engine and they’re doing something to the front end. Other than that, I don’t know what they’re doing. C’mon, let’s get out of here…”
The two agents retraced their steps back to the chain link fence, climbed back over it and returned to their car.
**** **** ****
The next morning Bill stifled a yawn as he drove past the
auto body shop. He hadn’t slept much the night before,
bothered by the seemingly innocuous appearance of the car being worked on in the
garage when he knew there was no way it could have been such. The very vivid
memories of being chased by that car continued to
drive Bill to the belief that the vehicle was in
The gate was open, as it had been the morning before, with one of the cars gone from inside the yard. Three men were mulling around outside. Bill waited until he was about a hundred feet past the garage before pulling his Crown Vic over. He exited the car, crossed the street and walked to the deli that was across from the garage.
He ordered two coffees to go and then casually asked about the garage, how long had it been open and was the quality of work any good. The girl behind the counter didn’t know if the work was any good but said that the place had been closed for awhile before apparently reopening within the last week and a half or so. She assumed the place might have come under new ownership.
Bill thanked her for the information and the coffee and exited the deli. He returned to his car and drove on to the tenement room.
The morning surveillance was uneventful. To pass the time,
Bill talked to Kenny some more about the hit car. He told of the set up that
Diamante had tried to pull back in LA with sending a girlfriend in as bait under
the ruse that she wanted to testify against him. Every turn he took from
After all, had he agreed, he would have missed out on the afternoon surveillance, when the creep, Bardsley, finally decided to do something.
Or rather, the creep got a visitor.
It was Kenny’s turn at the window when a black man pulled up near Bardsley’s apartment building in a dark green Lincoln Town Car. The tall man stepped out of the car, dressed fashionably in a light brown suit with a tan leather duster. He lingered near the car, long enough for Kenny to get suspicious and subsequently recognize him.
His name was Ajamu Condeh, and despite his African sounding name he was a New
York City born and bred street hustler who had graduated to being a buyer and
international liaison for “Diamond” Dave Ferguson. Diamond Dave ran one of the
biggest fencing operations in the South and was rumored
to have connections to the illegitimate diamond mines of
As such, if Bardsley needed to move over half a million dollars in jewels, Diamond Dave was the man to deal with.
Bill and Kenny both watched as Bardsley himself came out of the apartment building, looking like a slob in his jeans and t-shirt and greeted the fancy dressed Ajamu on the sidewalk. They exchanged an urban-esque handshake and talked for a few minutes as if they were old friends. At one point Ajamu made a motion to his car, smiling broadly. Bardsley nodded and the two men walked toward it. The two Feds figured a deal was imminent.
Bill and Kenny hustled downstairs to the alley and to Bill’s Crown Vic. Bill let Kenny take the wheel while he rode shotgun and they followed Ajamu’s green Lincoln with Bardsley driving.
Bardsley drove to an abandoned industrial building about a
mile away. The
Kenny and Bill only waited a moment before driving into the lot themselves. Kenny pulled next to the Lincoln and he and Bill got out.
They entered the building cautiously and quietly, their weapons held low and ready. The first floor of the building was empty office space. The two agents moved down the hall until they heard voices coming from one of the offices.
As it was, a deal was in progress when Bill and Kenny burst into the room and announced themselves with guns drawn. Gemstones and cash spilled to the floor as Bardsley tried to escape through a window, but was hauled bodily back in by Bill. The point of Kenny’s .45 forced Ajamu to abandon any thoughts of escape himself.
It was a clean bust and Bill and Kenny were feeling pretty good that their several days of surveillance had paid off. Bardsley and Ajamu were placed in custody and the jewels and cash were picked up off the floor, collected together and added up.
That’s when things came up short.
“Fifty thousand,” Commander Mayson explained later during a debriefing with Bill and Kenny. “That’s all Bardsley had in jewels and that’s all Mr. Condeh had in cash.”
“Fifty thousand dollars?” Bill repeated, incredulous.
“That’s it. Which means there’s still about $750,000 in jewels out there somewhere and Bardsley’s not talking.”
“But wait a minute,” Kenny said. “That was Ajamu Condeh. He works for Diamond Dave.”
“Yep,” Mayson said, “and half a million in ice is Diamond Dave’s kind of trade. But did both of you honestly think that Bardsley would have had all $800,000 in jewels in one place and that Diamond Dave would attempt to buy the whole kit and caboodle in one deal? This isn’t Bardsley’s first time at bat.”
“Aw man…” Kenny felt stupid now. “I don’t believe this…”
“Well, cut ‘em lose,” Bill suggested. “He’s bound to try to finish making a deal with either Diamond Dave or somebody. Let me and Kenny keep an eye on him---“
“Eventually, I’ll have to cut both of them loose,” Mayson said. “But I’m afraid I can’t send you two back into surveillance of Bardsley. You’ve exposed yourselves with the bust and Bardsley’s going to be looking over his shoulder at every turn. With that hit car being in the same neighborhood, I’m sure enough people have seen your face, Maxwell. Depending on the friends and alliances Bardsley has, they’re going to see you coming.”
Bill suddenly felt guilty. Had the hit car distracted him and Kenny? Sure, it made sense that Bardsley wouldn’t have had the whole stash of jewels in one place and probably wouldn’t try to deal the whole thing at once. Bill knew that he and Kenny should have known this. They should’ve let the deal go down and then just tailed Ajamu in addition to keeping an eye on Bardsley.
But they jumped the gun. Bill had figured that if such a high roller was making a personal visit, a big deal was going to go down. One eventually it would have. The fifty thousand was probably a good faith deposit, a chance for Diamond Dave to examine the goods and decide if it was worth the risk to purchase the remaining merchandise.
Now it was Bill’s turn to feel stupid. He had cost Kenny a good bust. He simply nodded to Commander Mayson, getting the sense he was about to be removed from the case.
Kenny thought he himself was about to be removed too. “So, Bill and I are both off this case?”
“No. The case is still yours, Kenny, but I want you to find new agents to do the surveillance when it comes time that Bardsley is back out on the street. Maxwell is getting another assignment.”
Bill looked up and figured he was about to lose the hit car assignment too and be given some rookie kind of task, something he couldn’t screw up.
“You’re dismissed, Kenny. Keep me posted.”
Bill looked at Kenny with apology. Kenny’s expression was forgiving but the agent didn’t linger in the office. He turned and left.
Bill turned back to Commander Mayson.
“I want you to keep track of that hit car. Either find out what those boys are up to with it or just bust in there, nab them for having stolen property and haul it back here. I don’t care which. Understood?”
Bill nodded, determined not to fail this. “Yes, sir.”
**** **** ****
“Kenny!” Bill called out in the hallway leading to the bullpen a little later.
Kenny turned. “Hey, Bill.”
“Listen, Kenny..ah, I’m sorry for what happened—“
“Oh hell, Bill, it’s not your fault.”
“Well, I think it was with Diamante’s car and all that. I should’ve swapped off with someone else. I blew your case, Kenny, and that’s not right.”
“Bill, it’s not your fault. If it had been anyone else besides you, the result would’ve been the same. I still would’ve gone and made the bust.”
“If it had been anyone else besides me they wouldn’t have been distracted by some damn car. I owe you, Kenny. Big time.”
Kenny looked at his old friend. “Bill, you don’t owe me anything. But if you insist you can buy me a beer later, how’s that?”
“That’s a start.”