CHAPTER 31

The man offering to sell the camera back to KSTV chose the Wednesday lunch hour and a granite bench alongside the water shower at the old Nordstrom’s terrace for the drop. It was a sunny day, the last week of August, that brought out joggers and tourists, panhandlers and skateboarders. Office workers sought out sun-worshipping perches for a peaceful sandwich and a twenty-minute tan. Women hiked their skirts up over their knees. Men loosened their ties and rolled up their sleeves. Summertime in the Emerald City. At the other end of town a group of three hundred Asians were gathered to march on City Hall. Fifty off-duty officers had been called up.

Mixed into the crowd by the water fountain, eleven undercover cops kept their eyes on Stevie McNeal, who carried a thousand dollars cash, a KSTV tote bag, and a severe expression that contradicted the TV personality. McNeal wore a lavaliere microphone clipped to her bra, its wire taped down her back. LaMoia, as the Command Officer- the CO-wore a headset in a refitted steam cleaning van, forfeited years earlier in a drug conviction, and currently used as Mobile Communications Dispatch-or MoCom for short. He had an unobstructed view of the water shower fountain and bench out a mirrored side window of one-way glass. The loud noise of the fountain’s falling water bothered the audio technician, a diminutive man with a silver stud in his left ear who by job definition could remain level and calm through the bloodiest of firestorms.

‘‘That fountain is loud. She’s wearing a condenser, which is a problem. We’re not going to hear her so good.’’

‘‘Well at least there’s some justice,’’ LaMoia said. ‘‘Maybe it won’t make such good TV.’’ The KSTV crew occupied an unmarked blue step van in front of GapKids. They too were monitoring Stevie’s wireless.

‘‘Stand by,’’ the tech said, addressing all the undercover officers. ‘‘It’s show time.’’

As Stevie sat down onto the stone bench she exhaled calmly in an attempt to settle herself. The water shower sculpture was a fifteen-foot L that a person could walk through without getting wet, curtains of water falling on both sides of its narrow aisle. Kids loved it, squealing with delight as they hurried through. Downwind of the sculpture, a cooling mist prevailed.

She missed the man’s approach. He sat down next to her, a Seattle Seahawks bag held by the straps. He said, ‘‘You look different on TV.’’

‘‘So they say.’’

He was mid-forties, balding, wearing clothes that had been popular a decade earlier and with a nose that begged for rhinoplasty. His oily hair shined wetly in the sunlight. He smoked a filter cigarette that attached itself to his lower lip wet with spit. He engaged in a perpetual squint to avoid the stinging spiral of smoke and the bright sunshine.

He did not look at her, his head up, eyes alert. A careful man. A planner. The cops had warned her that any man willing to take such a risk was either dumb, greedy, or both. Violent, maybe. Not to be trusted, for certain. She kept close tabs on him.

‘‘How do you want to do this?’’ she asked.

‘‘You hand me the envelope,’’ he said looking straight ahead, ‘‘and I leave the bag behind.’’

‘‘I have to see it first,’’ she corrected.

‘‘We can do that,’’ he agreed, shoving the bag toward her. ‘‘Go ahead.’’

Stevie dragged the bag over to her. She carefully unzipped it and peered inside. Brushed aluminum casing, the brand name, SONY. She felt choked. She had handed this camera to Melissa. She hated herself for it. Worse, the camera’s tape indicator was blank. No tape inside. Stung with disappointment, she reached inside. ‘‘I have to see that it’s our call letters on it.’’

‘‘They’re on there,’’ he said. ‘‘Have a look.’’

She turned the camera so that the call letters were visible. She said, ‘‘There’s no tape.’’

He said, ‘‘If there’s more you want, then we gotta talk.’’

‘‘You talk,’’ she offered. ‘‘I’ll listen.’’

‘‘You’re interested in what was inside,’’ he suggested.

Her heart beat frantically. ‘‘Am I?’’

‘‘You gotta come up with another five large.’’

‘‘You should have mentioned this.’’

He said, ‘‘I didn’t realize the thing was loaded until after we had us a deal.’’

The demand of five hundred dollars seemed so cheap to her.

‘‘What’s on the tape?’’ she asked.

‘‘No clue,’’ he answered.

‘‘Five hundred dollars for a blank tape?’’

‘‘Not my problem. You want the tape or not?’’

‘‘Do you have it on you?’’

‘‘Five hundred dollars gets you the tape,’’ he said. He tossed the cigarette. Sparks flew and the butt wandered in a lazy arc on the pavers. ‘‘You want it or not? I haven’t got all day.’’

‘‘We had a deal,’’ she persisted. ‘‘I give you a thousand dollars and you give me the camera. The tape comes with the camera.’’

‘‘The tape does not come with the camera,’’ he said vehemently. ‘‘You got yourself an ATM card?’’ he asked.

‘‘I’m listening,’’ Stevie answered.

The man said, ‘‘You give me the thousand now and take the camera. Then you withdraw the five hun out of the ATM and meet me back here in ten minutes.’’

‘‘We go together,’’ she objected.

‘‘No way. Meet me back here, ten minutes.’’

‘‘You’ll have the tape on you,’’ she said, trying to sound definite.

‘‘Ten minutes,’’ he repeated.

Stevie stared off at the water fountain.

‘‘What are you doing?’’

‘‘I’m thinking,’’ she answered.

In the MoCom van LaMoia debated the offer made by the extortionist. The dispatcher awaited his decision, knowing better than to press. ‘‘Did you get all that?’’ he asked Boldt.

‘‘Copy,’’ Boldt replied. McNeal’s wire transmissions were carried over a set of Walkman headphones he wore. He had declined LaMoia’s offer to be in the MoCom van. As the day shift sergeant who had taken the complaint, the missing persons case was LaMoia’s lead. Despite his own desire to take over, Boldt understood the necessity of the lead officer having full authority. A surveillance could turn in a matter of seconds. ‘‘It’s your call,’’ he reminded.

Boldt’s Chevy Cavalier was parked only a few yards away in a tow-away zone. With his cellphone pressed to his ear, he was enjoying a cup of Earl Grey tea at a Seattle’s Best Coffee in a plastic lawn chair out front of the Westlake Center from where he owned a slightly elevated and somewhat distant view of the occupied bench alongside the water shower. The SONY Walkman was actually a police-band radio monitor, its yellow all-weather headphones still in his ears despite the use of the cellphone.

LaMoia asked, ‘‘What the hell’s he up to?’’

‘‘You have to make the call, John. She’s waiting.’’

‘‘It’s a go!’’ LaMoia confirmed to the dispatcher, who threw a switch on his console and gave the go-ahead.

LaMoia leaned back nervously and said, ‘‘I hate this shit.’’

Not twenty feet away from the granite bench where Stevie and her visitor sat, a street bum suddenly spilled an entire garbage bag of crushed aluminum cans out onto the pavers. Her visitor jumped, a fresh cigarette bobbing in his lips and spraying embers that he batted off his lap. With the man distracted, Stevie quickly looked over her left shoulder as coached. A woman not ten feet away-Detective Bobbie Gaynes, although she didn’t remember the name-signaled a thumbs-up, giving approval for the second ransom. Gaynes continued on, skirting her way past Andy Milner, the undercover cop in the role of the street bum who was busy collecting the spilled cans.

Stevie handed the man on the bench the envelope with the thousand dollars knowing that every serial number on every bill was accounted for. ‘‘Okay,’’ she said, ‘‘we’ve got a deal.’’

Stevie took her time walking to the ATM assuming that the police would need every minute to regroup and follow her. She recognized a few of the detectives-though the introductions had been fast and furious during her briefing and she didn’t remember a single name.

She strolled casually up the slight rise of Fourth Avenue, approaching the ATM where she thought she recognized one of the detectives. The man met eyes with her and quickly indicated his wristwatch. The signal was obvious: They wanted more time.

The detective stepped away from the ATM. She suddenly appreciated the police in a way she never had before. The surveillance team was keeping up with her despite the change in plans. Their presence lent her a feeling of safety. Nonetheless, she stepped up to the ATM with adrenaline charging her system.

She inserted her card and punched in her PIN. Twenty seconds later her money was delivered, followed by her card. She turned in time to see two punk kids coming directly at her, their intentions forecast in their determined eyes. She’d been set up. Tape or no tape, they were going to mug her for the five hundred in broad daylight. Stevie stepped back toward the ATM machine.

At that same moment, a blur of activity erupted to her right. A homeless man collided with a woman and stole her two shopping bags, violently shoving her to the sidewalk. He sprinted away from her heading directly toward the two youths approaching Stevie.

The downed woman shouted for help. Two uniformed police charged around the corner of the building shouting at the homeless man, and finally tackling him. At the sight of cops, the two punks scattered, one heading down Fourth Avenue, the other east on Olive.

Stevie stepped away from the ATM and collected herself. They were all cops, she realized-the street person, the assaulted woman- the event staged to scare off the punks. Guardian angels took on the strangest forms.

Halfway back down the street a hand gripped her elbow firmly. ‘‘Walk’’. . the man said.

‘‘Let go of my arm,’’ Stevie demanded.

Still holding her, the man placed a claim check in her hand. ‘‘The art museum,’’ he said. She glanced down at the claim check.

‘‘A woman was mugged,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s a dangerous city.’’

‘‘You think I’ll give you five hundred dollars for a worthless claim check?’’

He answered, ‘‘If you don’t, you’ll never know what was on that tape.’’

‘‘You’re not getting the money until I have the tape in hand.’’

‘‘That’s not how this works.’’

‘‘That’s exactly how it works,’’ Stevie said.

‘‘If you don’t want to play,’’ the man declared, ‘‘then we got nothing to discuss.’’ He pulled her to the side out of the flow of pedestrians.

‘‘Just to remind you: I have five hundred dollars here that has your name on it.’’

‘‘Gimme the five,’’ the man said anxiously.

‘‘Let’s take a walk,’’ she suggested. ‘‘Ten minutes and you’re five hundred dollars richer.’’

‘‘That ain’t the way it’s gonna work,’’ he said.

‘‘Then it’s not going to work,’’ she declared. She reached into the bag and offered the claim check, wondering if he noticed her trembling fingers.

‘‘Keep it. Just give me the money,’’ he pleaded.

‘‘Let’s take a walk,’’ she said cheerily. Retaining the claim check, she walked away from him, realizing he had no choice but to follow. She counted to herself-one thousand one, one thousand two-her anticipation mounting as she reached the pedestrian crossing where the light changed instantly. She crossed with the light.

‘‘I ain’t got no time for this,’’ the man’s voice complained over her left shoulder.

‘‘Sure you do,’’ she replied, looking straight ahead. ‘‘This is the easiest five hundred you’ve ever made.’’ She kept walking, not knowing if he was following or not, but never so much as checking her stride.

‘‘The woman has got nerve,’’ LaMoia remarked in back of the van, his cellphone clutched to his ear. ‘‘What-do-ya say we pop the lid on this thing? You farting in here or what?’’ he asked the dispatcher.

‘‘No sir.’’ The dispatcher got up and slowly cranked open the van’s skylight.

‘‘Smells like a dog let loose in here,’’ LaMoia commented, fanning the air.

‘‘I’m going on foot,’’ Boldt announced into the phone.

‘‘We got her covered,’’ LaMoia said somewhat arrogantly.

‘‘Just the same, I’m going on foot.’’

LaMoia said, ‘‘We’ll relocate the team to the museum. We got four on foot. They’re your back-up.’’

Boldt said, ‘‘If he puts another hand on her, John, if he gets an idea to liberate that five hundred, we’re all over him.’’

‘‘Understood.’’ He added, ‘‘We screw this up, hell, it’ll make Brokaw.’’

Outside the art museum there stood on enormously tall steel plate sculpture of a man pounding an equally huge hammer. To Stevie, it looked Russian, a holdover of Stalinism, a dedication to the might of the worker. Her escort grew increasingly nervous with their approach, perhaps sensing the trap that was laid for him. Her own anxiety increased with each step, and she worried that the police didn’t have anyone in place yet.

A group of Japanese tourists had collected in the courtyard awaiting their tour guide. She felt several of the men staring. Others shot pictures of the Russian worker.

‘‘You don’t need me for this,’’ the man complained to her.

‘‘I don’t trust you,’’ she said, spinning and confronting.

‘‘You take picture us?’’ a Japanese man asked Stevie, extending his camera toward her and indicating his smiling friends. Stevie hesitantly accepted the camera.

‘‘I don’t have time for this,’’ her escort objected again.

‘‘Settle down,’’ she whispered. Focusing the camera she spun the zoom by mistake. Behind the group of grinning tourists, she saw the steam-cleaning van turn left, cross traffic and pull to the side of the street. She clicked the shutter, capturing only the tourists’ heads. The Cavalry had arrived.

Boldt approached the museum’s sunken courtyard wishing McNeal would lower the camera and get a look at him. He slowed but did not stop, passing within a yard or two of the man at her side. Detective Mulgrave appeared to his left and entered the museum ahead of him. It would all move quickly now even if it felt like slow motion.

He paused at the museum’s glass doors and studied the reflection as McNeal handed the camera back to the Japanese tourist. As she turned toward the entrance, he wondered if she would recognize him from the back, deciding that she probably would.

Stevie McNeal didn’t seem like she missed much.

In the back of the van, LaMoia spoke into the radio handset, ‘‘If this goes south, if our boy makes tracks, Mulgrave stays on him. MoCom will follow. Lynch, you put your body in front of McNeal if needed.’’

‘‘Roger that,’’ Lynch confirmed.

‘‘If we have to move on him, I want it down and dirty,’’ he ordered. ‘‘We got civilians in there. Copy?’’

The radio sparked with several distinct pops as undercover detectives tripped their radios. This told LaMoia plenty. His operatives were in place. No one could speak. It was going down.

Stevie stepped up to the coat check and handed the colored tag to the Asian behind the counter. She wondered if this woman had once been an illegal, and realized she had a stereotype to overcome. Her escort had stopped ten feet back in the midst of museum foot traffic coming and going, reminding her of a dog poised on a street curb considering crossing traffic. His face florid and feverish, he had broken into a sweat out in the courtyard.

She too was sweating. It seemed her chance to save Melissa-if there still was a chance-came down to these next few minutes and the tape promised. Boldt stepped up to the counter alongside of her and spoke clearly to one of the coat check attendants.

‘‘What if I lost my claim check?’’ he asked. He was buying time.

The girl had turned to face the array of cubbyholes, looking for the match to Stevie’s claim check. ‘‘You gotta have your tag,’’ the other man informed Boldt.

Boldt patted his pockets. ‘‘But if I don’t?’’ he asked. Stevie’s confidence gained with his being so close.

The girl plunked down the camera bag in front of Stevie. Her heart fluttered; she had handed this bag to Melissa the last time she’d seen her.

Stevie turned. The man said, ‘‘Okay, we’re outta here.’’

‘‘Not yet.’’

‘‘Bullshit,’’ he hissed, leaning in close with his tobacco breath. ‘‘This sucker’s done. Gimme the five.’’

She wanted to confirm the existence of the tape before surrendering the cash.

A fist tightened around her upper arm.

‘‘Outside,’’ the man ordered. ‘‘We’re done here.’’ His sideburns leaked pearls of sweat.

Stevie hesitated briefly, her fingers hovering on the camera bag’s zipper. She moved toward the wall, a water fountain, forcing him to release her. He let go and pursued her to the wall; her arm tingled with relief.

She pulled the zipper, realizing that despite her intentions to stay calm, her anticipation had won the moment. Her heart felt ready to explode. She opened the bag and peered inside: a pair of black slippers with red roses embroidered on the toes. Her throat tightened- they were Melissa’s. She moved them aside. The small tape was there as well. She didn’t understand the next few seconds when blood chemistry and emotions overcame all rational thought, when memories of Melissa and those slippers were all that mattered. Tears erupting from her eyes, she took the man by his sport coat, pulled her face to his and shook him, crying, ‘‘Where is she? What have you done to her?’’

The stunned man plunged his hand into the shopping bag and came out with her wallet. ‘‘The money!’’ he said, his head lifting, his dark eyes flashing as he saw one of the detectives reaching for a weapon.

The man pocketed the wallet, turned Stevie, and shoved her into Boldt. He dodged across the entrance lobby, weaving through tourists, using them as protection. Stevie stumbled into Boldt’s arms. He stood her up and took off at a run.

Detective Mulgrave shouted loudly, ‘‘Police! Everyone stay where you are!’’ The English-speaking visitors dove to the carpet. The Japanese smiled and took a moment longer to react. Shouts and cries followed. A uniformed museum guard stepped forward to block one of the exit doors.

Boldt and Mulgrave ran toward the entrance as the suspect dropped his shoulder into the guard driving him through the glass door. The guard went down hard. The suspect fled outside, Boldt and Mulgrave immediately behind.

Boldt shouted at the suspect. Mulgrave called into his handheld for backup. The man crossed through traffic stopped at the light and ran hard, heading south on First Avenue.

Boldt caught a glimpse of LaMoia and a uniform out of the corner of his eye and, at the same time, a cameraman trailing black wires as he leaped out of KSTV’s large blue panel truck which was stopped in traffic. The cameraman hit the sidewalk running. LaMoia and the uniform hit the cameraman’s wires and all three went down.

Boldt dodged through the traffic and took off after the suspect, Mulgrave still shouting orders into his radio.

The suspect ran left at the next corner and disappeared from view.

His lungs burning, his right knee tightening, Boldt lost ground to Mulgrave and called out, ‘‘Backup?’’

‘‘On route!’’ the detective answered.

They needed this man in custody. To lose the suspect was not an option. Both cops turned left at the corner, Mulgrave already breaking across the street, the suspect nowhere in sight.

Sirens approached. The street rose up a hill. No suspect. Mulgrave headed across the street and down an alley.

Boldt stopped and spun in a circle. Their boy had either entered one of the buildings or had gone down that alley. Faced with a tough decision-await the radio cars and the uniforms so that they sealed off any chance of the suspect sneaking past, or pick one of the buildings to search before the suspect had time to escape-Boldt studied the wall of brick buildings that lined the northern side of the street, his eyes darting window to window, one building to the next.

It appeared first as a shadow, then an image: a woman in a third-floor window, one hand spread open on the glass. Descending a stairway, she had clearly stepped aside for someone. It was that spread hand that convinced him-the fear it implied. Boldt took the chance.

His police shield displayed in his coat’s breast pocket, Boldt took two stairs at a time, passing the middle-aged woman on the second floor’s landing. She pointed up. Boldt kept moving, never breaking stride. He had the advantage of surprise now. He had to move fast before he lost it.

By the fourth floor he was severely winded but still climbing. The movement came from his right as he turned left toward the final flight of stairs. It came as a change of color, of lighting, as if someone had dropped a curtain or waved a flag. It came as a flash of heat up his spine, his right arm climbing instinctively but opening him to the blow to his ribs. His momentum moved him away from the blow rather than into it; he was thrown off balance, careening into a chair that sat alongside a standing ashtray. He grabbed hold of a leg of that chair and hurled it in the general direction of his assailant, simultaneously reaching for his gun. The chair’s four metal feet screeched like fingers on a blackboard, then traveled toward the stairs and, as if planned, as if calculated, flew off the top edge, rebounded off the far wall and headed end over end as if aimed at the unfortunate soul in its path.

The suspect, after shoving Boldt and then starting back down the stairs, never saw that chair. It came after him as if it were tethered to him, jumping and springing into the air and crashing only to lift again, gaining velocity. Boldt was back to his feet by the time the chair impacted, not only tripping up the man but sending him down the subsequent flight of stairs following the same route the chair had traveled. A tumbler, a circus act gone awry, the dull snapping of bone on stone.

Despite the fall, the man clamored to his feet but then sagged under the pain and Boldt was upon him. A handcuff snapped around the wrist in a ritual all too familiar to both men. Boldt patted him down for weapons while reciting the Miranda like a man talking in his sleep. He arrested the suspect on charges of trafficking in stolen goods and assaulting a police officer.

‘‘I didn’t steal nothing!’’ he complained as he was led down the stairs.

‘‘You’ve got some thinking to do between here and downtown,’’ Boldt cautioned the man. ‘‘If you’ve got half a brain in there, you’ll

trade a walk for the talk.’’

‘‘Yeah, yeah. . but I’m telling you, I didn’t steal nothing!’’

‘‘If you’re smart, you’ll lose the broken record,’’ Boldt advised. ‘‘Then again,’’ he reconsidered, ‘‘if you were smart, we wouldn’t be here, would we?’’

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