Read April at the Antique Alley Online
Authors: Bill McGrath
“Xara Smith” I said.
I had left Jill alone at my house so I dialed her cell number. Thankfully she was safe and alone when she answered. Keeping my voice as calm as I could I instructed her to lock all the doors and not open them until I personally arrived. I also told her to take out my Colt, and make sure it was locked and loaded. Being in the business we are in Jill quietly and confidently assured me she would be safe until I arrived.
In caravan we arrived at my house/office and collected Jill without incident.
I was in the lead driving my Taurus with Detective Samuels and two uniforms riding in his car behind me. Following them was an SUV holding two lab techs and a ton of equipment. Last in our parade was an empty van driven by another tech that would be used to haul my desk back to police storage. We drove the three blocks from my home to the storage rental place.
It was 4:30 Tuesday afternoon so the place was still open but it was virtually deserted. We parked in front of door # 1708 which is the space Jill and I had rented less than a week ago. It took me only a matter of seconds to open the lock but it was nearly half an hour before I was permitted to touch the desk. The techs all crowded into the small storage locker and there simply was no room in there for Samuels, Jill, or myself.
First came the photography. The flash of light sparked time after time.
Following that was the dusting powder and tape lifting finger prints by the dozens.
Rather than allowing we three into the cramped space the techs simply lifted the desk and brought it out to the spacious driveway where they set it down near our caravan of vehicles.
They started pulling out each drawer and looking through the many little nooks and crannies. The process took quite a while because as each drawer was removed they would dust the entire drawer for prints as well as the cavity in the desk that the vacated drawer left. They thought they were finished and had not yet found a thing. I asked Samuels if I could try and he allowed me access to the desk so much like the one my grandfather had owned so many years ago.
It probably would have been easier had there been a chair, because the secrete compartments were designed to be accessed as you were sitting at the desk, but by kneeling on one knee in front of the desk I was able to get in the right position. I reached forward and placed my hand on the shelf that, at least for my Grand Father, would hold a small lamp. I felt along the bottom of the shelf until I found the small rigged surface. I slid that small rigged surface slightly to the left.
Magically a tiny side panel from the next shelf to the left opened up like a door. I reached in and found nothing in the tiny space but an old fountain pen. It had been a nice top-of-the-line state-of-the-art pen when it had snuck into the space half a century ago, but its value had diminished over time. Now, I suppose it would be hard to find a bottle of ink to dip it in.
I continued my search. The desk was about twenty-four inches deep but the drawers were only a foot deep leaving a full foot of space behind each drawer.
Along the edge of the desk surface there was a nicely carved row of tiny wooden flowers. The desk was built back when people expected carpenters to be craftsmen.
I reached to the front left corner of the desk surface and then counted back to the fourth flower on the side. I depressed this flower and the entire left side panel
popped open. It exposed the workings of the two side drawers and it also exposed the space behind them. The techs carefully photographed and removed five quart-sized clear plastic bags filled with a white powder from the space.
The right side panel also produced five powder-filled baggies. The techs carefully placed the goodies in evidence bags and went to work trying to gather finger prints from the desk cavities I had exposed. I mentioned to Samuels that the desk likely had more secret compartments but that I did not know how to open them. Each and every member of our search team took a turn trying to guess the location of some other hidden vault. None found any surprises.
I had briefly owned a time machine that allowed for some wonderful memories of my childhood. Technically I still owned the desk but it was now being loaded into a police vehicle and it would be taken to a police lab where it would be carefully disassembled one sliver at a time. Eric Samuels would in fact hand me a voucher for one-hundred and fifty dollars to cover what I had paid for the ugly old desk, but I surely would never see it again.
Jill and I rode in my car but we caravanned back to the Dallas Police Department sub-station where Samuels had his office. We were there only a little while. Samuels knew me, but technically I was just as much a suspect as anyone else in the matter. I mean, should they arrest someone and then should the case go to trial, the defense attorney would surely question the fact that the desk was in my possession for four days and hidden in a storage locker that entire time.
Additionally I had known just how to open the hidden storage sections of the desk.
Surely I could have placed the drugs there myself sometime after I had purchased the desk. So they took fresh finger prints of both Jill and I even though we were both on file at the local PD already from our past involvement with other cases.
They also separated Jill and I and told us to each write out a detailed list of everything we had done since the purchase of the desk. I am pretty sure our stories would match.
Jill and I got back to the house around three in the afternoon. We had promised Jana that we would try to get by her shop during the day but it started looking like we were not going to make it there. I was tempted to call her and let her know we would not make it but she had been in my bed the previous night and although I had very much appreciated it, and although I was ready for another session with her, I found myself thinking about moving too fast and wondering what all I really knew about Jana Little. At this time I could not even really rule her out as a suspect. Clearly she had not participated in the crimes the previous
night because I could account for all of her time, but that did not clear her from the earlier crimes which we were currently investigating.
Additionally, of course, I was always cautious when it came to new relationships and this one would be no different. We tend to be pretty selfish when it comes to forming new relationships. I was sitting at my desk wondering whether or not miss Jana Little would be good for me right now, but I was not thinking at all about whether I might be good for her. Her baggage might weigh me down, but what would my baggage do to her?
I wasn’t sure how to define the baggage I carried around with me. I mean I had been shot at several times since the first of the year, and was now involving myself in what appeared another dangerous case. Would a potential mate consider my line of work an asset or a liability? I think it was Groucho Marx who said “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would admit me as a member.” My profession is sort of like that. I have not heard any statistics about private investigators but for comparison sake I look at the stats for law enforcement.
Amongst the cops the highest incidence of spouses is family members of other cops. In other words when a cop gets married it is often to a girl whose father or brother is a cop. That makes it a pretty tight knit family. Unfortunately the profession also has one of the highest divorce rates, and one of the highest domestic violence rates. Could someone who is basically a clerk in a store she does not want to own possibly be a good match for one in the law enforcement career?
In addition my last several girlfriends had all been younger than I was. None of them were still around so I must admit that they had not worked out. Jana Little was my age. She would not be easy to boss around. She would likely push back.
She would already be set in many of her own ways and it may be up to me to bend to fit her rather than my expecting her to bend to fit me and my habits.
And then there was Jill. She was my friend and partner, but would never be my lover. Still, I cared for her and would not wish to take on any thing that would infringe on our friendship. From all indications though little Jill seemed to approve of Jana Little. Oh well. I had Jill call Jana to let her know we would not be by today, but set up a meeting with her at her store for ten the next morning.
Relationship wise I tend to over think things and this one wouldn’t be any different. I probably could have comfortably wasted the rest of the day simply thinking about whether I should think more about Janna and I.
I had collected a lot of things I needed to organize for this case so I got right to work on my computer. I downloaded the pictures from my digital camera, and copied the diskette Detective Samuels had given me so that all the pictures were in the same folder on my hard drive. The next thing I did was gather up my steno
pads and type all the notes into the hard drive as well. I had tons of data but very little to really look at.
Briefly looking at the photos I had taken I found one of the answers I had been looking for. We knew where all the security cameras were out in front of the stores and also inside the stores but I was hoping there would also be some cameras pointing at the back of the stores. Lola and Jana had each bought a truck load of furniture from a stranger the day of their breakins. I was hoping to get some video footage that identified the truck or trucks that had been used to deliver the furniture to them. Unfortunately, by looking through the pictures I had snapped of the back alley of the stores I found only one thing that looked like a security camera and that was on the back of Texas Treasuretrove owned by Steven and Wanda Crowley. That camera might have caught sight of the truck if it entered the back alley from that direction, but there was no way it showed the truck actually parked and being unloaded at either Jana’s shop or Lola’s shop. Still, if we could spot a given truck rolling down the alley on both days we might be able to use it as a lead. Who knows, perhaps we could even see the face of the man driving the truck. Lola would not be able to identify the truck or the driver, but Jana might be able to.
The diskette Samuels had given me contained pictures of the finger prints they had lifted from four different crime scenes now including my house, but I am not an expert at comparing prints, and I certainly did not have access to the databases the cops would use for matching them up, so they were pretty useless.
Another thing I found on the disk though was the pictures of the tire tracks. They had found a single tire track at my house and another single tire track at the house of BJ O’Riley. The two tracks had matched and they had gotten a really good cast from the O’Riley crime scene. I looked at the photograph of the tire track for a good long time. Something about it just seemed familiar. Basically the tread was made up of five rows of tiny diamonds. Each diamond was about an inch wide and half an inch tall. The first and fifth diamond in each row, in other words the two rows closest to the outside edge of the tire, were sitting horizontally. The middle row had the diamonds placed vertically, and the second and fourth rows were offset half way in between horizontal and vertical.
What one looks for when looking at tire tracks is blemishes. The reason for that is that a tire manufacturer will produce thousands of tires with an identical tread pattern on them so that the tread pattern alone will not narrow it down to a specific vehicle. However, after the tire is installed on a car and driven around a lot the tread will get bumps and dinks in it and will wear away so that eventually the tread will have a lot of differences from the tread pattern when it was brand new.
The photo I was looking at though showed no distinctive blemishes, and it did not show much wear either which meant that it was probably a new tire
indicating that it could be either a new car, or an older car which has just gotten a new set of rubber.
I thought a bit about why there was just one tire mark. Of course it could have been a motorcycle. I printed off the picture and took it out to my own driveway. I compared the print to the tires on my car as well as those on Jill’s car and was quite satisfied that neither of our cars had left such a print. Detective Samuels had told me that it did not match either of our cars but some things you just need to see for yourself.
I looked in the area of the front yard where the actual tire track had been found and unfortunately I had to admit that it very easily could have been a car instead of a motorcycle because if the passenger side wheels of my own car had made the track the drivers side tires would have been on the concrete and not left a track. Oh well. Since they were trying to find the old desk I had just bought I expected they had driven either a small truck or even an SUV. Of course, if they had rented the vehicle the tire track would likely do us no good at all.
Somewhere in the country I knew there was a database that had sample tire tracks from known tire manufacturers, but the Dallas police department did not have access to that database. So I could do one of two things; I could search the internet for sample tire tracks and hope I get lucky, or I could simply keep the tire print in the back of my mind and then compare it only to tires of vehicles I came in contact with throughout this investigation. I was not yet ready to give up but an hour of surfing the net yielded nothing at all. Until the police had gone through all the fingerprints they had collected at Lola’s there was precious little in the way of forensic evidence to follow.
We had found ten kilos of a white powder that was now in the hands of the Dallas P.D. and it was hoped that we could get some leads from them. I expected that it was either cocaine or heroin but I really did not know which, and it really wouldn’t make much difference. The police would thoroughly check every single bag for finger prints, and they would do an extensive chemical analysis of the powder, but it was expected that these investigations would yield little.