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Barge Right In
by Riette Gallienne
Copyright (c) 2009, Riette Gallienne, All Rights Reserved.
“We’ll finish off the Welldun Construction items here with Mom and Pop’s Donuts,” Chairman Goldman was saying. “Mr. Holt, any luck on finding the documentation on those outdoor tables?”
The architect shook his head sadly. “No, Mr. Chairman, City Staff was right. Mr. Bayer never got approvals to put tables in Bayer’s Bakery, or to serve coffee, or any of the other things he added to the menu over the years. There was nothing in his files.”
“Someone was asleep at the wheel,” the chairman said. Jeff ignored him. Past sins from back before his time.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Holt reported. “We just need a couple of variances where city ordnances contradict the neighborhood plan.”
‘We just got the package this afternoon.” Jeff shuffled through some papers. “We should be able to put it on the agenda for the next meeting.”
The Chairman tapped the handle of his gavel loudly on the table. “Mr. Holt, Mr. Dunbar, you’ve done business here for years, but tonight you set new records for inefficiency.”
The architect and contractor both hung their heads deferentially.
“Three of our items on tonight’s agenda, the lion’s share of the work, came from your projects. One should never have been submitted, and on the other two you’re missing routine documents.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman,” Holt murmured.
“So,” Goldman went on, “I had to ask a neighbor to pick up my daughter at the airport so I could come here tonight, and this was a complete waste of time.”
I felt Bob stand up next to me and couldn’t keep from grinning.
“Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, I believe that the Planning Commission has done us a great service tonight.” The barrel-chested police captain’s deep voice filled the room without a microphone.
Goldman looked at him, confused. Joshua Johnson, the best-dressed politician in town, stopped looking at the tops of his shoes and shot to attention. He smelled votes.
Bob walked up to the podium. “Roberto Padraig Gonzalez, Captain, Sausalito Police,” he announced.
Bette Barnes leaned forward, a “What are you up to?” look on her face.
“Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I’m happy to report that tonight we made two arrests at a construction site on Bridgeway,” Bob told them. “The old Bayer’s Bakery site, the same one from tonight’s agenda.”
“My crew has thousands of dollars worth of tools in there!” Dunbar proclaimed. He looked concerned.
Bob smiled. “Don’t worry, Mr. Dunbar. Your welding equipment is safe.”
“That’s a relief,” Dunbar murmured. But he didn’t look very relieved.
“You also have some tools stored in Mrs. Gaffigan’s garage, am I correct?”
“I can’t get my damn car in there,” Alma chimed in. “All that stuff. Big tanks of gas that could explode!”
Dunbar gave her a look of exasperation. “They’re empty, Mrs. Gaffigan. We told you that.”
Victor Goldman looked down at Bob and raised his eyebrows. “What’s the Commission’s part in this?”
Bob smiled. “Your agenda.”
It’s what I’d noticed two meetings ago. The pier repairs in the prime-view stretch of downtown Sausalito. The little garage job on the hill. The small bakery remodel near quiet Caledonia Street. All with the same contractor and the same architect.
And then the pier repairs had stalled. Sloppy permits meant the garage work couldn’t even start. More lost forms and they couldn’t build the bakery’s patio. I’d called Bob and explained what I thought was going on. He’d put all three locations under surveillance just hours before the barge began its voyage, setting the stage for tonight’s raid.
“In addition to the two arrests,” Bob told the commissioners, “we’ve also recovered an extensive collection of jewelry, with tags from Hanson’s Jewels in San Francisco. You may remember the big robbery there three years ago, where a safe weighing several tons was stolen, along with its contents.”
The commissioners looked at each other excitedly. The story of the huge safe packed with millions of dollars in jewels in had been all over the news. The Chronicle had called the heist a comic book super-villain crime.
“We’ve also recovered another item from Hanson’s Jewelers,” Bob announced. “Their safe.”
The small crowd gasped, then someone started to clap and they all applauded, even the commissioners. Bob grinned from ear to ear.
Dunbar looked stunned. Holt was rolling up his drawings, ready to make a hasty retreat. Bob turned to face them, his tone now serious. “Mr. Dunbar, Mr. Holt, I am placing you under arrest for possession of stolen property. You have the right to remain silent…”
* * *
Once the plea bargains were done and the guilty were behind bars, Bob took me to lunch to acknowledge (reluctantly) that I’d solved a major crime by sitting in some meetings and taking a stroll with my dog.
I was still walking gingerly as we managed the steps in the middle of the Horizons dining room en route to our table, but the ankle was definitely getting better. For the first time in a month I could wear my black Ferragamo pumps, and I’d paired them with my crème linen slacks, a black knit top and black blazer.
Bob was off duty, which meant he wore a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and work boots. His other uniform.
We’d asked for the corner table out on the deck, where we could look over at the spot on Scoma’s pier where the thieves had “hidden the safe in plain sight” for three years.
“This wasn’t the first time that Holt and Dunbar pulled off a major crime,” Bob started, after ordering his Corona and my Honig sauvignon blanc. “But this was the first time they got caught. In fact, they probably started their criminal careers when they served in Kuwait together during the first Gulf War.”
“But that was almost twenty years ago,” I said. “How could they go that long without tripping up?”
“They weren’t greedy,” Bob said. “They’d use their access as architect and contractor to pull a job every three to five years, so the pattern wouldn’t be too obvious. They’d wait two years to sell or spend what they brought in, so the trail was cold. They were successful businessmen, so they could hide their wealth in plain sight.”
“Are thieves usually that patient?”
Bob laughed and shook his head. “No. That’s why they become thieves.”
Over his left shoulder, a Blue and Gold ferry roared its engines and accelerated away from shore. I leaned forward so he could hear me without shouting. “How did they steal the big safe in San Francisco?”
“They’d always arrange routine activities nearby, so they could pull off a big robbery while looking like innocent bystanders. In this case Dunbar underbid a remodeling project three doors down from the jewelry shop, so their trucks and crane had access to the alleyway behind the building. The shop owner was careless, so they had an easy time spotting the four-digit combination for the shop’s alarm system.”
It made sense, I thought. “With all the valuables in the immovable safe, why pay for fancy lasers and fingerprint readers?”
Bob nodded. “Exactly. One night the door in the back of the shop was jimmied, the alarm turned off, the safe wedged off the floor, and a hydraulic pallet cart tucked beneath it, all within three minutes. Two minutes later the pallet and safe were encased in plastic sheets with big signs saying it was an air conditioner. Five minutes later Dunbar’s crane had lifted the safe from the cart onto an unmarked truck and they’d left the area.”
“Why didn’t they just drive the truck to a warehouse and take it from there?”
“They wanted to leave it wiped clean and unopened for two years to let the trail go cold,” Bob answered. “But San Francisco has 700,000 pairs of prying eyes, and Sausalito only has 7,000 inquisitive people.”
“So they brought it over the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“Again, not that simple, because of all the inspections after nine-eleven. The truck with the safe went straight to a waterfront construction site in San Francisco. An hour later the safe was on a barge in San Francisco Bay and being towed to Sausalito.”
“Where Dunbar was repairing the Scoma’s pier. He wastes $25,000 on bad bids to get the jobs, then makes millions on stolen jewelry.”
The server brought our meals. Bob took a big bite of his smoked salmon omelet and breathed a deep sigh of joy. “Oh, that’s good.”
I delicately took a single shrimp from the top of my salad, determined to make it last. I told myself I wouldn’t still be hungry when we stood up, but I knew it was a lie.
“So, what else can I guess,” I ventured. “They stash the ‘air conditioner’ under the pier and wall it off from curious eyes.”
“Yes. In fact, we think the job was done before the robbery was discovered the next morning.”
“And since they knew the old piers always need repair, they wouldn’t have to wait too long for a legitimate reason to go back for the stolen goods.”
Bob took another bite of his omelet and wiped his mouth carefully. “When Scoma’s had to replace timbers in their floors this summer, the timing was perfect. But Holt and Dunbar still needed a place to break into the safe to get the jewels. If they moved the safe by barge for any distance, they might be stopped by the Coast Guard anti-terrorist patrols. They needed to get it back on land and out of sight as soon as possible.”
I pictured the area near Bayer’s Bakery. “Why that little shop?”
Bob ticked off the reasons on his fingers. “It’s only a few blocks from the pier. There’s a boat ramp a block away. It was perfect timing when the job came up. And the plans called for the contractor to use jackhammers and saw concrete.”
I took another bite of shrimp. “Because they had to cover up the noise from breaking into the safe in the back room.”
“And Alma Gaffigan’s garage was their lookout spot,” I continued. “It was in that perfect location where someone – I’m guessing it was Holt, the architect – could watch both buildings and alert them if the cops or Coast Guard got too close. They brought in all that junk so Alma couldn’t park inside, where she might catch them in the act.”
Bob nodded. “They had the keys to all three buildings, and could keep them until the jobs were finished. They could watch the area from above at the garage, move the big safe from the pier to the bakery, and then open it and take the jewels. And if it weren’t for you, their plan would have worked.” He lifted his almost-empty beer glass in a toast, looking directly into my eyes. “Riette, you were the only one who noticed how their paperwork mistakes lined up all three projects. That was great thinking.”
“It’s something I learned as a young lawyer doing cross-examinations,” I told him, smiling happily.
“Whenever somebody smart is trying to act dumb, it means they’re up to something.”
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