Anna’s green Honda was in the middle of the lot, passenger door wide open, contents of a purse dumped on the seat. Marquez shined the flashlight beam into the wheel well at a soft leather purse turned inside out, lying like a rag in the corner. He went back to his truck and talked to the Sacramento County watch commander again. Far away, out across the delta, he heard the first siren. He read off the license plates and told the watch commander he recognized her car.
“I’m going to take a look out along the water.”
But he swept his flashlight over her car again first. In the backseat was a nightstand, a desk lamp in an IKEA bag, sandals, running shoes, clothes folded and stacked on a seat as though she planned to carry them from the car to a drawer. He knew she was moving back to Sacramento, the company she worked for no longer willing to contribute rent toward a San Francisco apartment.
He’d called her name when he’d gotten here and called for her every twenty yards as he moved away from her car now. He stepped into the reeds, the flashlight beam fracturing as it shined through them. He walked the path out to the river, checked between driftwood logs, picnic tables, the reeds and brush and swept the light across the dark water of the river. Across the river the lights of Rio Vista shone hazily through fog. Seals barked out on a buoy. She was a strong swimmer, but the man’s voice had been right there. The phone had hit something hard, clattered. The voice had been so close he didn’t see her running away.
A CHP unit, its light bar milky, siren loud, dropped down from the levee road, and Marquez lifted his badge as the officer put a light on him. County units began to arrive. They gathered near her car, and one CHP officer recognized it. He turned to Marquez.
“Dark-haired woman, right? I pulled her over a week ago. She was close to a DUI. How’d you end up working with her?”
“She’s helping us on a sturgeon poaching case.”
He left it at that and organized a search. Through the incident command system, until someone with higher rank and more experience arrived, Marquez was in charge. They covered the reeds and brush, the embankment up to the road and into the field on the other side. A Sacramento County deputy found a crushed cell phone in reeds not far from the picnic table.
Forty minutes later a Sacramento County detective named Brian Selke took over, and a K-9 unit from Contra Costa crossed the Antioch Bridge and dropped into the delta. Marquez related the phone conversation to Selke and gave him what he had for addresses and phone numbers on Anna Burdovsky and Don August. He gave Selke license plates and a description of August’s Porsche.
“Are you going out with an All Points Bulletin?” he asked.
Selke was a solid-looking guy, balding, broad nose, thick wrists, shoulders rolled forward. He stood close to Marquez as he asked his questions, then left him when a dog found a wallet in the brush. Selke bagged the wallet, waved Marquez over.
“Let’s look at this together.” He opened the evidence bag so Marquez could see the wallet and asked, “Why was she meeting you tonight?”
“It just worked out that she was coming through the delta. I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks, so it was really just to touch base.”
“Are you married?”
It took Marquez a moment to register what he was being asked. He nodded and said, “Yeah, I’ve got a wife and stepdaughter. There’s nothing between Anna and me.”
“If she was going to stay in your room tonight, now would be the time to tell me.”
“Nothing like that.”
Selke showed him the contents of the wallet. An REI card, Macy’s, membership in the Wilderness Society, a couple of folded Visa receipts, both from gas stations, three photos, one that was probably her mother, one of a much younger Anna standing in snow with a building behind her and a young boy, a toddler in a coat that came down to his shoes standing next to her. A man was alongside her. The third photo was of a landscape, a lake and green-blue forested mountains climbing behind it. Marquez lingered on that photo a moment.
“You said she speaks Russian and that’s important in this investigation of yours.”
“Some of the people we’re looking at are Russian immigrants.”
“Was this photo taken in Russia?”
“I’ve never seen the photo before, but I know Anna left Russia and came here with her mother when she was a kid.”
Marquez studied the photo again. In it Anna looked nineteen or twenty. If it was Russia she must have gone back when she was older.
“Do you recognize the man?”
“What about the boy?”
He watched Selke walk back over and talk to the dog handlers. Earlier, when Selke had refused to do anything about August yet, Marquez had called Shauf at the safehouse and she’d driven to San Francisco. A few minutes ago she’d called to say she was down the street from August’s apartment. He’d told Selke that, and Selke had asked for Shauf’s phone number.
Now Selke walked back to where Marquez waited. He picked up the photo again, held it steady, studying the black-haired man with a mustache, wearing a shirt open at the collar, older than Anna in the photo by at least a decade, black leather coat down to his thighs, smiling down at the kid who looked a little like Anna. No other photos but more receipts, and an old W-2 from Adventure USA and another plastic card in Cyrillic that Marquez guessed was a Russian ID of some sort.
“Let’s go talk in my car,” Selke said.
After they got in his car Marquez listened to Selke go back and forth on the radio, and he was still having a hard time understanding Selke not going out with an APB on August’s car, or getting the warrant application going, getting in touch with the on-call judge in San Francisco. He watched Selke type into a Blackberry, his thumbs thick on the small pad. He couldn’t watch this much longer.
“What business is this Don August in?”
“He owns three specialty-food stores, one in Seattle, one in LA, one in SF, all named August Foods.”
“So what’s he going to tell me when I ask why he was in the delta today?”
“He buys product from small producers, artisanal food products. We’re pretty sure he also buys sturgeon roe that’s been processed to caviar out here and gets that repackaged as Caspian beluga. The eggs are similar in size and color, gray and about like a little glass bead. All his labels have the proper stamp, but we think they’re either forged or bought.”
“What do Customs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife think?”
“Everything appears legit.”
Selke surprised him. “But you’ve checked DNA and it’s not?”
“What we’ve checked is legit, all from the Caspian.”
Selke’s cell rang. The radio crackled at the same time. He answered the radio call, which was to tell him a vehicle stop was in progress-two white males in a black Lincoln sedan just north of Patterson, about fifty miles from here. They waited, talking about August until more information came in. The officer who’d made the stop had run the driver’s license and then called for backup. The individual was wanted on a felony drug charge. Marquez listened to the names spit out of the radio and shook his head. He didn’t know them. Then his cell rang.
“August is home,” Shauf said. “The lights just came on; I can see him through the window. There’s a woman with him. Where are you?”
“Still at the fishing access but about to leave here.” He saw Selke react to that. “Hang on a minute.”
He turned to Selke. “August is home.”
Selke was quiet, looking through the windshield, watching the dog getting loaded back into the K-9 car. Half the officers standing around were gossiping. There was nothing left to do here.
“All right, Lieutenant, we’ll go knock on his door.”