Scott didn't know what he loved more: that big black & brown dog sitting in the front seat, or the red Vette he called Ruby. The Corvette was a lot like that old brown dog. When he started that high torque tricked out engine, it was like Ralph shaking off after a bath. But once it caught on, it ran smooth and quiet as Ralph on a hunt.
Scott was on the hunt now, and he doubted he’d be as smooth as his dog. Nope, he’d make too much noise, ask too many questions. Might tip off the target who would take off and make Scott chase him. Sometimes Scott caught them, and they paid for it when he did.
Not much of a job, he thought, working for Family Services catching delinquent dads. It’s what’s left for a guy who says fuck you too many times to his boss. Never mind all the bullshit from his last war, or the three citations from the mayor while he was a cop. You don’t tell a captain working on being chief of police he’s an asshole. At least you don’t do it in front of witnesses. And not three times! Now that asshole is the chief of police. And if it weren’t for Roselyn Washington, he wouldn't have this job. She appreciated his help while she was in the DA’s office. When she took over Family Services, she gave him a call. Otherwise, he’d be one more starving PI somewhere. Admittedly, this job wasn’t much more than being a bounty hunter for the county. But at least he got to stay in the county’s retirement program. And he had medical insurance if he ever needed it. Of course, Gunshot and knife wounds don’t count.
He pulled up to the nondescript house on West Fifth Street. “Here we are, Ralph,” he said to the big German Sheppard, “now watch Ruby while I try and sneak up on this jerk.” Ralph moaned, slunk down into the seat, put his head between his front paws, and looked at the floor. Shit, thought Scott, he’s given up on me already. Ralph looked up at him, sighed, and then looked back down at the floor.
Scott looked the place over. A pleasant single-detached house. Two cement tire-tracks down the left side of the house to a garage in the back. Bracketed by seven-foot-high wooden fences on each side and behind the garage. Looks like you’re boxed in, Mr. Snyder, Scott thought.
It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. Early afternoon: perfect lighting and shadows for seeing things with sharp shadows. Scott ran over the guy’s stats. Snyder was a 28-years old computer programmer or something. Has a respectable job. Dumped by his ex-wife and stopped paying child support three months later. Typical, thought Scott. I'll bet he has a girlfriend, Scott thought. Figures his life has been re-booted. What the sheet didn’t say was what kind of shape Mr. Snyder might be in. Would he knock Scott’s lights out with one quick karate kick, or would he run out the back and leap over the fence? Should’ve brought Ralph, he thought. Ralph has a way with folks, makes ‘em think twice.
If the doorbell worked, Scott sure as hell couldn’t hear it. He waited a moment and knocked hard. Then looked over his shoulder at the car to see if Ralph was watching. He wasn’t. Scott pressed the button once more and then went down the four steps to the walkway. He walked down the driveway, trying to see in the windows along the side of the house, but they were a tad too high. Nothing seemed to be moving in the place, all windows closed. Must have A/C thought Scott. It’s getting damn hot to have all the windows closed.
He walked up to the garage. It was one of those old ones with two wooden doors that swung out, with windows in the doors. Dirty windows, but Scott could see that Mr. Snyder’s Lexus was inside, or at least somebody’s Lexus was in there. Scott pulled on the left door, and it gave, but complained about it. He pulled it open enough to slip in, walked up beside the Lexus, and put his hand on the hood. He smiled; it was warm; somebody was home and had gotten there not too long ago.
He looked inside and saw the keys were in the car. Trusting people, he thought. He opened the door and took the keys as fast as possible so the warning beeper wouldn’t alert anyone. Back outside, he leaned his back against the garage door to push it close while keeping his eyes on the house.
The house had a back door with a little deck and a set of stairs to the side. Scott went up the steps and tiptoed toward the back door, hoping he’d see someone in the kitchen. He positioned himself between the door and the window and leaned to the left. He could see more of the kitchen as he moved. The table was clean, the chairs in place. In fact, the whole thing looked like the maid had just been there; or no one lived there. Scott squatted down and looked through the lower window of the door. It was an open layout, and he could see part of the living room and what could be a study or an office on the left. Scott tried the screen door. He tugged at it, waiting for the inevitable squeak or binding. Please don't snap, he whispered to himself. It didn't and opened nice, smooth, and quiet. Nonetheless, Scott’s forehead moistened. OK, he thought, let’s try it, and like a safecracker, he turned on the backdoor’s handle. Locked. He exhaled. No getting accused of breaking and entering, this time. If anyone were inside, the locked door would slow them down if they tried to escape out the back.
He backed his way out and down the steps. Then walked around the other side of the house, the side with the unidentified room. And then he got his first lucky break. He could see someone hunched over a computer. Scott flattened himself against the wall and inched up on the window. He tried to see as much as he could without revealing himself. Thank god for those high fences, or the neighbors would have had the cops here by now for sure, Scott thought. He could see the back of a man, short brown hair, and medium build with a light-colored plaid shirt. He was sitting in front of three computers, or at least three monitors. Numbers and charts filled the screens. The data was moving, and so were the guy’s hands. Scott looked around the rest of the room to see if anyone else might be there, but he was alone if that was Mr. Snyder. There were a couple of boxes of Chinese food and a quart bottle of Pepsi on the table. The place looked beat neat otherwise. Not the stereotypical mess one expects to see of a programmer’s lair.
Scott crouched down and duck walked toward the front of the house. When he got there, he straightened up, went up the steps, and leaned on the bell. Then with the butt of his hand, banged on the door loud enough for the neighbors to hear. He kept at it for at least a half minute until a very pissed off guy ripped it open the door. Snyder was in a light paid shirt and yelled, “What!” as he stood there, eyes in angry furrows and his fists clenched beside him.
“You Bill Snyder?” Scott asked in his nice cop sounding voice, which meant, be nice, and we won’t have any trouble.
“Yeah. What do you want?”
“I rang the bell a few times,” Scott said, “and when no one answered, I thought I’d give it one last try, sorry if I disturbed you.”
“I’m busy. What do you want?”
Scott reached out and grabbed Snyder’s arm. He pulled and turned him, twisted his arm up behind him, and slammed his face into the door. “Why, I want you, Mr. Snyder,” Scott said. Then he kicked Snyder’s feet apart, knocking him off balance. Scott grabbed his handcuffs, snapped one cuff on Snyder’s arm, and then pulled it up and cuffed Snyder’s other wrist. The whole thing took less than 10 seconds.
Scott exhaled, relieved he pulled that off so quick and smooth. He could feel Snyder was strong and could have put up more of a fight if Scott hadn’t caught him off guard. Break number two. Scott was getting worried.
“Sit down with your legs crossed under you,” Scott commanded.
“What the hell’s this all about?” He scowled at Scott, but he sat down as told.
“Take a guess, DAD,” Scott answered. He pulled out his phone and hit a couple of numbers. “Yeah, this is Mitchell, give me Roselyn.”
“Director Washington’s office, may I help you?”
“Yeah, Mei, tell the boss I got Snyder. What does she want me to with him—and no wisecracks.”
Scott listened to dentist office music for a while, and then Washington came on. “Mitchell, tell me he’s not hurt and that you’re not in some police station.”
“Naw, everything is fine. Snyder is standing here with me. OUTSIDE of his house, and he’s wearing bracelets.”
“No bruises, cuts, or torn clothes?”
“Not a bit.”
“OK, I’ll call the cops, you sit tight. And, Mitchell, shut up. Don’t talk to him. Don’t lecture him, don’t tell him any jokes, don’t say a goddamn word to him, clear?”
“Yes, ma’am, clear. What if he talks to me or asks me a question?”
“For Christ’s sake, Mitchell, you know the goddamn drill. Anything you say can and will be used against you and the department. Ignore him. I don’t care if he’s got to piss, is starving to death, or gets frostbite. The cops should be there in fifteen minutes.”
“OK, OK,” and he hung up.
“You mind telling me what the hell’s going on?” Snyder asked. Scott ignored him. Snyder tried a couple more times and then started to stand up. Scott put his hand on Snyder’s head, looked down at him, and shook his head. Snyder seemed to get the idea and slumped down.
And there in the front seat. Where Scott wouldn’t let his favorite cousin sit if he had an ice cream cone. There sat that big hairy black and tan, farting, shedding, panting, drooling German Sheppard. Sitting on Scott’s precious restored, saddle-soaped, black, and white leather seats. It must be love, he thought. Ralph sat up in the Vette and yawned, looked over at Scott and Snyder, gave a little howdy bark, and lay back down. Scott was glad he left the top down, Ralph liked to bask, and it was a beautiful day for it. And Ralph’s presence seemed to have a stiffening effect on Snyder. That’s good, thought Scott; you keep your eye on that doggie.
Boy, thought Scott. This was going to be a damn boring fifteen minutes. If the cops held true to form, delinquent dad pickups were low on the priority list. Way below doughnuts and Facebook scanning. This was also the best time to screw up, so Scott forced himself to be vigilant and look at Snyder. Snyder had moved around, so he leaned against the door jam, facing out toward Scott and the Vette. Snyder had his feet curled up under him. That should have been the tip-off for when Snyder propelled himself up and at Scott. Snyder did it with such ferocity it completely caught Scott off guard, knocked him down, and the wind out of him. Then to Scott’s amazement, he saw Snyder had gotten one of his hands out of the cuffs and was swinging his fist at Scott. It landed on his cheek below the eye and caused the lights to go out for a precious half-second. By the time Scott got up, shaking his head, Snyder was in the house with the door closed. Scott could already feel his eye puffing up.
“Ralph,” Scott yelled, “c’mon, earn your keep.” Ralph leaped out of the Vette and was next to him in two bounds with a bark. Scott ran up the steps and tried to open the door, which of course, Snyder had locked. Scott was about to kick it in when he heard the garage door scraping along the driveway. Scott ran around the side of the house with Ralph beside him and saw Snyder in the Lexus. Scott smiled. Break number three. I’ve got the keys, he thought. And then his mouth dropped open as he saw the taillights come on and the puff of smoke from the car starting. Ralph barked and ran toward the Lexus. Smoking tires and a charging silver-gray car’s back bumper greeted him. Ralph leaped to the right and avoided Snyder’s attempt to hit him. Scott dove to the right and avoided a similar attempt.
“C’mon, Ralph,” Scott yelled as he ran for the Vette. Snyder backed out into the street. He swung left, heading in the opposite direction Scott’s car was facing. Ralph was over and in the Vette by the time Scott had the ignition on. He jammed on the gas while cranking the wheel to the right and burnt a nice U into the otherwise clear blacktop. Scott could see Snyder’s taillights swing to the left up ahead. Scott was hot on him while trying to dig his phone out of his pocket. Snyder had a block or more lead on him and was driving straight and fast, damn fast, but straight. That’s odd, thought Scott, that’s not a shake off maneuver; he’s going somewhere. Scott got the phone out and managed to hit the right numbers with his thumb. He got through to Mei, who informed him Director Washington was in a meeting. “You better tell her Snyder’s running, and I’m chasing, and we’re going down San Anselmo at 60 miles an hour. You better call the cops, too. Oops, make that 75 miles an hour.” He tossed the phone on the seat under Ralph and looked for a way to catch Snyder. That damn Lexus was moving. Snyder was either a damn good driver or so scared he didn’t care, but he was not going to be an easy catch in either case.
Scott’s phone rang, and he tried to grab it but couldn’t. It kept ringing, and Ralph picked it up in his mouth. He looked at Scott, tail wagging. “Give me the phone, Ralph,” Scott said. Ralph tilted his head and looked at Scott as if to say, you gotta be kidding; and give up my dog citizenship?
“Goddamn it, Ralph, gimme the phone.” Ralph wagged his tail harder. “Ralph, gimme the phone, or you’re never getting in this car again.” Ralph looked at him, stopped wagging his tail, and dropped the phone on the center console.
“Jezz-us, goddamn dog slobber all over my phone.” Ralph wagged his tail. Scott got the thing to answer and yelled, “What?”
“Mitchell, where are you?” Washington yelled into the phone.
“We’re on Third Street, doing about 50, dodging cars and kids, and I can’t gain an inch on this guy. He’s not trying to ditch me; he’s making a run for it. Where are the cops?”
“They should be on you two any second. The moment, THE MOMENT, they show up, you disengage, you got that Mitchell. You back off when the cops show. You hear me?”
Scott handed the phone to Ralph, who grabbed it with his mouth. Scott could hear Washington yelling at him through Ralph’s mouth.
“We’ll see, Roselyn,” he said. “I want to know where this yo-yo’s going.”
Snyder turned hard right and sent one of his wheel-covers flying off to the left. Scott could see the Lexus’ tires compress and thought, Jezz-us, I hope my radials can take this. He pulled the Corvette to the right as hard as possible and heard the tires screaming in protest. Ralph came skidding over toward him, phone in his mouth, and a look that said this is no way to treat a classic Vette.
Snyder went screaming up Cyprus Street. His car, bouncing on the broken cement slabs pushed up by roots by the street's namesake trees. The Vette was right behind him. Scott was afraid to look at Ralph. If anything would make that dog start to talk, this was going to be it. And Scott didn’t want to hear what he might have to say about it all.
Snyder turned right again. "Unless he’s got a helicopter up here somewhere, this sure as hell is one crazy ass escape route, "Scott said to Ralph. This part of San Rafael was old and established with narrow streets and amazing hills. Cars parked on the side of the streets, sometimes both sides. And kids lived in these neighborhoods. You couldn’t pick a worse place for a high-speed chase. Scott thought he should call in his location. But if it was hard using the phone on a straightaway, it would be almost impossible to do it here. Besides, he didn’t want another earful of dog slobber or Washington’s yelling.
They topped a hill, and now it was the downhill racer movie. It was twisty old narrow roads half in the shade of Monterey pines and half out. It made his punched eye ache even more from the squinting. Snyder wasn’t letting up and once again made a 30 mile an hour right onto another street. Scott still didn’t think these were evasive moves. The road, one Scott had never been on before, was straight. He'd never seen such a straight street in this hilly part of Northern California. Their speed jumped up to 70 again, and Scott prayed that Snyder knew this road. This chase-race had all the makings a great tragedy if one little thing went wrong. Even Ralph didn’t like it. He was now scootching down into the seat, holding the phone, which began to ring again. The road was still straight, and Scott took a chance on answering the phone. “Gimme the phone, Ralph.” This time Ralph gave it up and seemed glad to be rid of it. Scott wiped it on his shirt and clicked it on. “Yeah,” he yelled into it, now wishing he didn’t have the top down.
“Where the hell are you?” Washington yelled back.
“Damned if I know, Roz, somewhere in the hills on a very straight street. I haven’t seen any street signs, and Snyder hasn’t slowed below 50 since we left. I’m surprised we’re still in Marin County.”
“Do you think Snyder knows you’re following him?” Washington asked.
“Jeez, Roz, it never occurred to me, he may not. I’m not exactly right on his tail. But still, if he looked behind him, he’d see me. I’m in the Vette, and a red convertible isn’t that hard to spot.”
“Well, see if you can get a street name, and where the hell did you put that phone?”
Scott couldn’t hold back the laugh and looked at Ralph, who still wasn’t smiling. He’d had enough of this ride.
Then Snyder slammed on the breaks and turned to the left.
When Scott got to the place Snyder turned, there wasn’t anything there—he was looking at a ledge that overlooked the valley. Scott put both feet on the breaks and prayed the car would stop. Then he threw it in reverse and backed up to the place where he saw Snyder turn. There was no road, no driveway, only grass. Scott got out and walked into the open field. He had taken about five steps when he saw the edge, looked over it, and saw the Lexus barreling down the side of the hill.
“Jezz-us!” Scott yelled. He ran back to the car and got the phone and called Washington.
“Snyder lost me. He’s driving down a hill in his Lexus as if it was a goddamn jeep. As far as I can tell, he’s heading for the coast, I guess he’s trying to get to Sir Francis Drake road. I can’t chase him in my car.”
Scott stood in the men’s room of the Marin County Civic Center, trying to make himself look presentable. He usually liked the place, but this wasn’t going to be one of those times. He peered into the mirror and examined his eye. This morning they were brown; this time, one was brown, and one red, and it hurt like hell. He tried to stand up straight and reach his full six-foot-two height. He looked himself over. Still trim and 180 pounds. No need to fix his hair; he kept it as short as he did in the Army. He said a silent thanks that it was still all there and no gray yet.
Scott wasn’t looking forward to the next half hour. For 45 minutes, he sat in Washington’s outer office. And that officious snot Mei hadn’t so much as offered him a kind word, let alone a cup of coffee or anything. Roselyn Washington was the Director of Family Services. They reported to the Board of Supervisors of Marin County. Washington had lobbied for the job while she was in the DA’s office, and the DA hadn’t liked losing her. She didn't mind losing him. The DA put out the word Roselyn was now an outsider.
Finally, there was a buzz, and the snotty Mei informed him that the Director would see him now. “The Director?” Scott said. “She’s a GS10 in Marin County; this isn’t the FBI, Mei.”
Scott walked in and left the door open in case he had to leave in a hurry.
“Close the door.”
Well, there went that fast escape.
“Walk into a door, or did somebody’s girlfriend pop you?” Washington asked.
“Snyder,” Scott said. “Somehow, he wiggled a hand out of the cuffs and socked me.”
“Does it hurt?” No need to answer that one, he thought.
“Look, Roz, I filled out all the paperwork. Why am I here?”
“Because, cowboy, this one’s different.”
“Roz, I swear, I didn’t touch him. I was never in his house; this one went by the book. Ask Ralph.”
“If Ralph could talk, and assuming he’d rat you out, you’d be in Leavenworth.” She leaned back. “Snyder’s got some mojo working, Scott. He’s become too important for us to follow up on. Somebody else wants his cheesy ass, and we’re getting told to walk away.”
“Walk away? By whom?”
“That’s just it, I can’t find out. My boss said let it go, and she won’t tell me shit. Says, ‘let it go - that’s an order from the DA.’ When the DA says it’s an order and comes down through Patterson, I gotta listen.” Roselyn scowled. Scott smiled.
“Uh-huh, and you said?”
“Nothing. This time. Here’s a lady I see once a quarter if that. And now she’s taking an interest in one of our cases. Paterson only does things that lead up the political ladder. So now I’m wondering, what’s she doing in on this one? I guess someone on the Board of Supes is talking to her.”
“Roz, you remember about a year ago when I suggested you and I open up a Kinko’s and get out of this place? Now might be a good time to do that.”
“I hear you. I don’t need any more fights or enemies. I worked hard enough to get here, and burnt bridges to be the Director of Child Support Services. There ain’t going to be any going back to the DA’s office for me. Still, there’s something bad about this. And chances are when the shit hits the fan, we’re going to be standing under it. I’d like to get a little insurance if I can.”
“How much time do I have?” Scott asked.
“I’ll give you a week. I’m putting you on suspension. I'll only announce it, nothing in your records, give you a little cover to get you out of here for a while.”
“What about Mei? Can you give her a boatload of work, so she won’t have time to get nosey?”
Washington nodded. “I’m not sure who she works for. It sure as hell ain’t me. Could be Paterson or even Domingo on the Board of Supes. They all knew each other before I got here.”
“OK, Roz. Are you taking my calls, or do I have to leave notes in the cracks of bricks near the library?”
“Call me at home. No, wait a minute. Jesus, am I getting paranoid? Call me on my cell phone. Try to do it from a payphone. It doesn’t hurt to be careful. If I don’t hear from you in three days, I’ll call your cell. This ought to be fun for you if you’re not too old for the game.”
“Kinko’s. Roz. That’s where we should be.” He opened the door so Mei could hear them.
“Kinko’s,” Washington yelled. “That’s where you should be.” And she winked at him. She flashed a brilliant smile behind those dark ruby lips, and he took a breath.
Scott went back to Snyder’s house. He parked a block away, put up the top, and left Ralph in the car. Scott checked the front door, still locked. That meant no one had come here since Snyder left, at least Scott hoped that was the case. He went around to the back door and leaned on it. He leaned harder on it and could hear the jam splinter. Should’ve replaced that old redwood jam, Snyder thought. Inside he went to the office and looked at the computers. Snyder was neat. The Chinese takeout and Pepsi were still there, but nothing else. The machines were still on, and Scott sat down in front of them. He looked around and pulled open drawers. The only thing in the top drawer was a thumb drive; all the other drawers were full, neat, but full. Pretty careful guy this Snyder, thought Scott; wonder why?
He looked through all the drawers and cabinets. Everything was neat, organized, and mind-numbing uninteresting. He looked through the few papers he could find. They confirmed his hope no one had been here yet. He learned Snyder wrote systems analysis software for a database company in the East Bay. Clever stuff as far as Scott could tell. But he was far from a computer expert. His computer skills ended with doing a backup. He couldn't recognize good or bad database analysis code, but he did have a cousin. He reached in the top drawer and took the single thumb drive.