April Smith. North of Montana
Ana Grey Series, Book 1
PART ONE. PURE SEX
IT WAS PURE SEX.
Opening day at Dodger Stadium and all I had to do was stop at California First Bank on Pico to pick up some surveillance film, then off to the cool breezes of Chavez Ravine, a pitching battle between Martinez and Drabek, a Dodger Dog, and definitely one of those malted ice milks in the giant cup that make you feel all bloated and content like a fat stupid balloon.
I am having the obligatory chat with the manager of the bank that was robbed the day before. We have already been there of course and done our initial investigation, but the manager is still in shock and needs to talk. He is about fifty, a marathon runner with pale hair, stoop-shouldered, wearing a blue madras jacket with nice deep purples in it and gray slacks. He keeps a laminated plaque of The Objectives of Kiwanis International on the wall above his desk.
In fact he runs a spotless organization. It is a brand-new branch with shiny oak floors and large watercolors of fields of flowers in brass frames. The girl tellers wear pretty dresses and costume pearls, the boys have slick haircuts and wide-shouldered suits, although I can’t figure out how they can afford to look that way on their dog- meat salaries. Along with brochures for savings plans and loans there is even a pot of coffee and a plate of mini chocolate chip cookies on a table near the back door where the robber exited with $734 in cash.
The manager is touching my arm with bony, trembling fingertips. It is the sixth robbery of his banking career and after each one he gets an incapacitating migraine headache. It’s seeing that gun, he tells me, starting to flush pink, so I give what support I can muster (while arguing with myself whether Juan Samuel or Brett Butler should be the lead-off batter), reminding him that we are living in the bank robbery capital of the United States, that at the Los Angeles field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation we work maybe ten robberies a day, so especially if your branch happens to be situated near two freeway off-ramps the odds are good that it will happen to you — but the odds are also that nobody will get hurt, that’s why the bad guys take up this line of work, it is so astonishingly low risk.
I am wasting time and not making a dent in his anxiety; his spick-and-span little Swiss clock of a world has been skewed so dreadfully out of shape by the violent invasion of the barrel of a gun that it can no longer be trusted to tick along reliably. The FBI comes along after the fact, and now here is this five-foot, four-inch female agent, who on opening day is not even wearing the authoritative gray suit that falls to the knee but a T-shirt and jeans, and, I am sorry to say, a pair of pink high-top Keds. She is a long way from being a solid brother of the Kiwanis Club, and her petite frame and impatient attitude present not the slightest assurance that the whole damn thing won’t happen to him all over again.
I have to get up on a ladder to remove the surveillance film. Half the time there isn’t any film because the bozos have forgotten to reload the camera, but today is my lucky day. Also I am usually being harassed by my partner, Mike Donnato, who loves to make me go up on the ladder so he can allegedly look at my rear end, but it is just a joke because he is married and we have been together three years and once when I changed my hair from black to red it took him a week to notice. Today Donnato is on vacation and I am alone.
I have noticed that nothing good happens to you when you are alone.
I get the film, put a new roll in the camera, leave the manager at his desk unhappily pouring herbal tea from a thermos into a mug that says Captain, and go out and sit in my car, which I have parked in the shade. I am listening to the AM radio for a report on the traffic going to Dodger Stadium when I see a man get out of a car, put on sunglasses, and tug a baseball cap way down over his eyes, acting real hinky. He buttons a short-sleeved shirt over the one he’s already wearing. And there is a bulge under the shirt.
I am trying to rationalize that he is probably an undercover cop assigned to the bank after the robbery when he looks dead at me. I stay neutral, not smiling. We hold eye contact until finally he looks down, shakes his head once, and gets back in his car.
All I know at this point is that the man is about six feet tall and white. I don’t know if he got back into the car because he took me for some kind of a cop or if he just forgot his passbook — if that’s a Walkman under his shirt or a Browning pistol. I decide to get his license number.
So I roll the Ford behind his car just as he’s backing out and we almost crash. I get the number, put on my turn signal, and move slowly out of the parking lot like I’m going to go left and be gone, watching all the while in the rearview mirror without moving my head, just the eyes.
As soon as he sees me turn, he zips back into the parking space, cuts the engine, gets out of the car, and heads for the bank on the run.
This is when I get seriously annoyed with Donnato for being in Catalina with his wife while I am confronting a robbery suspect alone. In seven years as a street agent I have had to draw my weapon maybe a dozen times, always with a partner or heavy-duty backup. We are not local cops. We cannot arrest someone on suspicion. We have to present evidence to the Assistant U. S. Attorney before we then make the bust unless it is a felony in progress. Our operations are carefully controlled. I have never been in a free-floating situation like this in my life. As if words of wisdom from Mom and Dad, two principles from training school flash repeatedly in my mind: Keep a clear head … and go by the rules.
If I call in a “211 in progress request assistance,” LAPD will pick it up and send in six screaming cruisers while the radio room at the Bureau contacts the bank to verify that a robbery is happening. If I am right and it is a robbery, springing all that firepower on the man inside could precipitate a bloody disaster. If I’m wrong and he’s just another slob in a baseball cap, the rest of my squad will be royally pissed for having been called back from a relaxing afternoon at Dodger Stadium.
I wheel back into the lot, park the G-ride behind a dumpster, and try for that clear head: my job at this moment is to make sure nothing goes wrong inside the bank. I am going to let him rob it and let him come out. That way everyone will be happy, except the bank manager, who is probably dead of a heart attack by now despite his undoubtedly low cholesterol. The bank will be insured, the customers safe, and when I do call it in, I’ll know I have probable cause.
I am listening to the police scanner in my car, waiting to hear the LAPD dispatcher say, “211 silent, California First, 11712 Pico,” which would mean one of those well-groomed, well-trained young tellers had tripped the silent alarm, but all I am hearing is the sharp squawk of routine police business over the roar of two nearby freeways and meanwhile my anxiety level is going sky-high. What do I do when the dirtbag comes out? He’s probably on dope and can run faster than I can — then a new flush of dread as it dawns on me that my bulletproof vest and shotgun are in the trunk.
Incidentally, real time elapsed since the guy went into the bank is probably less than ninety seconds, but by now I am frankly scared, convinced that something went horribly wrong inside, that the nice new oak flooring is splattered with civilian blood — and just as I am finally reaching for the radio here he comes, running with a fistful of cash, looking around, throwing away his baseball hat and tearing off the second shirt.
I still haven’t actually seen a gun, nor have I been alerted to any crime, but a reasonable and prudent person