Continued from Chapter 26
Officer Rusty “Porkchop” McGee worked the day shift out of Western Division. His primary beat assignment was Mission Valley west of Jack Murphy Stadium, which was where he was on patrol the morning following Tyrone Brown’s death.
Rusty was, to be kind, a portly officer. He knew the best restaurants in Western Division, especially when it came to the best bang for his buck. The days of the free meal had long since passed; in fact, even half priced meals were an endangered species. The small family-owned restaurant, however, always liked to have a cop in the dining room. The presence of an officer, like a modern necromancer, was thought to keep away thieves, robbers and other riff-raff. The officer who regularly patronized any of these family establishments was certain to find a double portion or a “mistake” in the kitchen making its way to the table. Rusty’s carrot-topped round cherubic freckled face was a familiar fixture in a number of restaurants. Anyone who needed to know where to get fed well in Western Division need only ask and tell Rusty what they were in the mood for and he would point them in the epicurean correct direction.
Oddly, Rusty’s nickname, “Porkchop,” had really little to do with his attraction for food although, ultimately, food was involved. During his rookie tenure while working the night shift, Rusty had been summoned to the report of a burglary in the Midway district. The burglary was of a smorgasbord known as “Olley Olsen’s.”
The burglar had forced entry by breaking a wire-reinforced window. Obviously not the brightest thief, he had missed the unlocked window next to his point of entry. He had also cut himself on the window crawling through, leaving blood on the glass and window frame. Once inside, the intruder had ransacked the cash register taking loose change from the drawer and candy bars and other sweets from the display window below. Apparently hungry, he had also entered the walk-in cooler and had helped himself to a free meal of cold chicken and potato salad, indicated by several bones and an open container left behind. Several other food items were found on the floor of the walk-in, which the owner had cleaned up and put back into stainless steel trays. Rusty and the other officers made a mental note to leave this restaurant off their Code Seven, or lunch-break, list.
The responsibility of taking the report and gathering evidence belonged to the first officer on the scene. Rusty was the third officer on the scene. He was, however, the junior officer by six years, and the report fell on his capable shoulders.
Rusty left the restaurant by the front door to retrieve his clipboard and report forms from his cruiser. As he walked out the entry way, he slipped and fell flat on his back. As he picked himself up, he noticed his right arm had landed on some kind of goo. The goo, it turned out, was potato salad. The cause of his slip had been a single pork chop. As he cleaned himself off, he noticed a piece of chicken lying next to the bushes which made up the landscape surrounding the immediate perimeter of the restaurant. Beyond the low bushes was a large parking lot. Rusty could see what appeared to be a trail of foodstuffs. He followed the trail of chicken, potato salad and meatloaf across the parking lot to a brick wall where the restaurant’s dumpster was located. Next to the dumpster he found a stainless steel food cart. On top of the cart was plastic bucket of potato salad, a stack of chicken and chops along with various other food items. On top of the wall, Rusty saw another small pile of potato salad. Rusty climbed up on the dumpster and saw that the food trail continued across the street and into a now-empty drive-in theater.
Rusty hopped the wall and followed the trail of food into the drive-in, across the lot and up to the projection shack. Every few feet he would find another piece of food leading him on. At the projection shack, he found a door on which a sign read “Storage.” Next to the closed door, he found another food cart with more potato salad, chicken, meatloaf and a few pieces of fruit. He also found keys stuck in the bloody doorknob lock. Rusty tried the door. It was unlocked. He slowly turned the knob and pulled the door open. Inside, the room was lit by one exposed light bulb suspended from the ceiling. Aside from the typical clutter found in a storage room, against the back wall was a small cot. On the cot was a young man, sleeping peacefully. His face and arms were scratched, as was his shirtless chest and belly. Next to the cot was a styrofoam ice chest containing a ham, another plastic bucket of potato salad, and a tray of chicken, chops and meatloaf. Instead of a teddy bear, wrapped in his bloody arms was a corned beef brisket.
Rusty called for backup and the young man, Caleb, was none too gently awakened and arrested.
Caleb was a parolee from Kentucky. The parole board, as a primary condition of his parole, had given him a one-way bus ticket to California and encouraged him to use it. Caleb was penniless when he arrived in San Diego.
Caleb’s uncle, the owner of the drive-in, had given Caleb a job cleaning up the drive-in and in exchange, allowed him to sleep in the storage room. He did not, however, feel obligated to feed Caleb. Caleb had broken into the smorgasbord because he had not eaten in almost a week. Caleb was eventually returned to Kentucky.
Rusty’s report, typical of many overly thorough rookies, contained every detail of the arrest, including his initial slip on the pork chop. Copies of the report were posted around the station and Rusty soon answered to his new moniker “Porkchop.” Twelve years later his name tag, bearing two stars, also had the name “Rusty ‘Porkchop’ McGee.”
Below Rusty’s name tag was another pin which was a token of his abilities. The royal blue pin was shaped like a small California license plate with the yellow numbers “10851.” These numbers were the California Vehicle Code section for car theft. They were also the radio code for the same. Rusty belonged to an elite number of officers who had recovered over two hundred stolen vehicles each over an eighteen month period. Rusty had an uncanny sense for spotting stolen vehicles. It did not hurt that he was assigned to Mission Valley where the large number of hotels, motels and auto dealerships offered a never-ending supply of vehicles for the taking. Many of the stolen vehicles he recovered were found in the lots of the budget rate motels. Rusty was now cruising the lot of the motel at the far west end of the valley.
At the rear of the lot, away from the entrance to the motel lobby and against the river bank, sat a silver Volvo. It was also backed into its space, the trunk partially covered by an overhanging eucalyptus tree. The position of the car and its location drew Rusty’s attention.
Rusty picked up the microphone and depressed the receiver.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN,” he said.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, go ahead,” responded the cheerful voice of the dispatcher.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, wants and warrants on California Three King Tom David Four Eight Eight.”
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, ten four,” acknowledged the dispatcher.
Rusty settled back in the driver seat. Mexican or Chinese today. Maybe both. Yeah, Mexican for breakfast and Chinese for lunch. It was only six thirty in the morning, but already he was planning his meals for the day.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, confirming California Three King Tom David Four Eight Eight?” came the dispatcher, her voice contained a note of seriousness.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, that’s affirmative,” said Rusty, suddenly becoming alert.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN. Eleven fifty one,” came the now very serious voice of the dispatcher.
Rusty had to think for a moment. It was a radio code he had not heard often. Then he remembered. That was the “secret” code dispatch used when they wanted to let an officer know they might be in danger without alerting anyone in the nearby vicinity. Any answer other than “Affirmative” brought the troops to the rescue. Rusty hesitated and looked around. There was no one near the Volvo, in fact the lot was quite empty.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, Affirmative. Repeat Affirmative.”
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, is that vehicle occupied?” asked a different voice. The male voice belonged to the police sergeant who supervised communications.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, Negative,” replied Rusty, a little nervous, and still surveying the lot.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, What’s your ten twenty?” asked the sergeant, requesting Rusty’s location.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, I’m in the parking lot of the Motel Seventeen, west end of Hotel Circle North.”
“Unit 62-3 JOHN, move out of the area, but keep the vehicle under surveillance. Any unit in the area of Unit 6-23 JOHN, respond to his location.”
“Unit 6-21 CHARLIE, I’m close, I’ll respond,” answered up an officer’s voice.
“Unit 6-21 CHARLIE, ten four. All other units, stay out of the area,” ordered the dispatch sergeant. “Unit 6-23 JOHN, when Unit 6-21 CHARLIE is ten ninety-seven, ten twenty-one Communications.” Ordering Rusty to telephone dispatch when the other officer arrived.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, ten four,” responded Rusty.
“All units, stay off the air unless you have emergency traffic,” ordered the sergeant.
Rusty pulled out of the lot and drove to the golf pro shop next door. He pulled his car to the far side of the building, out of view of the motel. He waited, fiddling with the plastic pork chop hanging from his equipment bag, which some anonymous prankster had slipped into his station mail box many years ago.
A minute and a half later, Rusty watched as Officer Penney Travers, Unit 6-21 CHARLIE, pulled off the I-8 freeway and stopped, obviously trying to locate Rusty’s position.
“Unit 6-23 JOHN, have unit 6-21 CHARLIE respond to the west side of the pro shop at the golf course,” said Rusty into his handi-talkie, guiding her to his location.
“Unit 6-21 CHARLIE, I’ve got him,” replied Penney, covering the few yards in seconds.
Penney “don’t-even-think-of-calling-me-Penelope” Travers pulled alongside Rusty’s car, got out and walked over to him.
“Hey, Porkchop, what’ve you got yourself into so early this morning?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Rusty, “It had better be awful important to take away from my breakfast-time though. Seems that Volvo over there is more radioactive than just plain hot,” he said, pointing to the barely visible car one hundred and fifty yards away.
“Think you could have gotten further away?” she quipped sarcastically. Rusty did not particularly care for Penney. She could escalate a situation with her bravado and then it was up to the “guys” take care of business. To his knowledge, she was the only officer completely exonerated for shooting an unarmed man in the foot during a domestic squabble call. Of course, in her favor, the recipient was 6-foot-5 and she, at 5-foot-2, was in genuine fear for her life. Even with less than a year and a half on the Department, however, there was very little anyone could tell her.
“Listen, sport,” said Rusty disdainfully, “You might notice the motel over there is six stories high and the black and white ride I have stands out a little bit. This is the closest cover I could find. Now, do you think you could manage to watch the Volvo while I call dispatch?”
“Uh…sure, Porkchop,” replied Penny.
“Oh, by the way, Rookie, only my friends call me Porkchop. You can call me Officer McGee,” snapped Rusty with a parting shot as he entered the pro shop.
Behind the pro shop counter, stood the course pro. Tanned and thin, the middle aged man wore a white V-necked sweater over his pale green golf shirt and matching slacks. His hair had obviously been permed and died a reddish brown.
“Golf,” Rusty thought to himself, appraising the pro, “The only sport where white men dress like singers from Soul Train.” Rusty smiled at the pro.
“What can I do for you today, officer?” asked the pro. Thinking he might have an early sale, he continued, “Are you looking for clubs, balls or clothing this morning.”
“Actually,” replied Rusty, “I need to use your telephone. Police business,” he added.
“Oh,” said the pro, obviously disappointed, “At the end of the counter,” he said pointing. “Just dial nine.”
Rusty picked up the receiver and dialed communications. It was answered on the second ring.
“San Diego Police Department,” said the voice on the other end.
“This is 6-23 JOHN, is the Sergeant there?”
“Standby, Porkchop,” said the voice.
He waited and looked over at the pro who pretended not to watch. Rusty smiled politely and turned his back to him.
“Porkchop, this Sergeant Peernot. I’m surprised at you. That’s a 187 vehicle in the Pete Castillo murder.”
Rusty blushed at the good natured chastisement from his old beat partner.
“Well jeez, Willy. I work out of Western. You know I won’t get that info until next year.”
Willy Peernot laughed at the other end. He knew all too well that, with the exception of Southern Division, Western was treated like a last outpost and the delay getting daily information sheets was usually two or three days.
“What’s the exact location on this Volvo?” his tone all business.
“It’s in the Motel Seventeen parking lot at the north side. Right against the river bank,” replied Rusty.
“Are you sure it’s not occupied?” questioned Sergeant Peernot.
“Well, it didn’t look occupied, but I didn’t get a chance to check and see if anybody was sleeping in it,” said Rusty, trying to give as much information as he had.
“OK, Porkchop, you and Travers keep an eye on it while a get some plainclothes officers down there. If it moves, jump on it, otherwise stay out of sight,” ordered the sergeant.
“Will do, Willy. Hey, I heard we smoked somebody involved in Castillo’s murder last night. What’s up with that?” asked Rusty.
“Homicide thinks one of the suspects from Pete’s murder got shot last night. We were there, but we didn’t do it. They’re still trying to piece everything together. They think someone was trying to kill Joe Amadiana and missed and killed one of their own. There are at least two still out there; this Volvo belongs to one of them.”
“No shit,” exclaimed Rusty. “How’s Amadiana?”
“They’re not sure, but they think he may have been winged. He’s home now…on indefinite leave,” said Sergeant Peernot. “Listen, I’ve got to cut this short, I’ve got to get things moving from this end. Watch your back, Porkchop.”
“I always do,” said Rusty.
A 187 pinch, thought Rusty, after he hung up the telephone. “That will look good on the monthly stat sheets.”
He thanked the golf pro and went back outside to resume his surveillance of the Volvo.
Less than two hundred yards away, Leonard Jefferson slept peacefully in room 314, unaware of what the day held for him as the gathering began to form.
Joaquin Torres carefully sipped the hot menudo from the plastic spoon he held in his shaky hand. A minor inconvenience had turned into a nightmare. He read the morning newspaper, expecting to find a sensational article on the jet crash the night before. Finding none, he assumed the crash had occurred after the paper had been printed.
After shooting Tyrone, missing that old man and barely escaping the jet crash, Joaquin had run back to his Ford Bronco and driven out of the area. He got lost three times trying to find his way back to the freeway; at one point he barely missed a police car flying down the street with the lights out. He was still worried about having lost the revolver, but he figured the police would not be worried about something like that at the crash site.
When he returned home, he had spent the remainder of the night pacing back and forth in the living room. His mood shifted from worry to fear to anger. The anger being directed at Leonard Jefferson for putting him a situation where he almost got killed by a crashing plane.
Joaquin left the house early and made his way to a small outdoor Mexican restaurant on the boulevard. He used the restaurant to consummate business deals and was good friends with the owner. The strong Mexican coffee, fortified with Ibarra chocolate, helped to clear his head while the menudo eased his nervous stomach.
The restaurant was also a place of congregation for Mexican day workers, some legal residents, some not. A number of workers were already at the restaurant having their morning coffee and machaca burritos for breakfast. They sat at the tables and along the curb a few feet away, waiting for general contractors to come by looking for day help. It was also a place where the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service made periodic sweeps, detaining and then deporting the hapless illegal immigrants who waited for work.
“La Migra!” someone yelled, and a number of workers left the restaurant. Some walked casually away, others ran, some just stood in place, awaiting the inevitable.
Joaquin watched with annoyance as two green and white vans pulled in front of the restaurant and stopped. The van disgorged agents in their dark green uniforms and they began herding the workers to curbside to check for green cards.
“Hey, Pablo, you waiting for an invitation or what?” asked the harsh voice with the southern twang from behind Joaquin. He ignored the voice; he had been rousted innumerable times, but was always released after he produced his green card.
“Hey…I’m talking to you,” said the voice, this time accompanied with the prod of a billy club in Joaquin’s back. Joaquin took a deep breath, checking his anger. He then stood and turned to face the agent.
“Lo siento, no hablo,” said Joaquin with a smirk. The young officer had a flat top haircut and far too many freckles to be taken seriously. His name tag read “Robert Pritchard.”
“That’s okay,” replied the cocky agent. “Yo hablo. Papeles, ahora.”
“Bueno, un momento,” smiled Joaquin as he reached for his wallet in his back pocket. The smile left his face when he suddenly realized he had left the wallet in his Bronco. The Bronco he had carefully parked four blocks away. This was not good.
“Chingada,” spat Joaquin. Looking the agent in the eye, he smiled weakly, not as self- confident as he was a minute before. “My green card is in my car.”
“Oh, so you do habla English,” remarked Agent Pritchard. “Well then, Pablo, you know the rules, no green and your new name is deportee.”
“Hey, wait a minute. I’ve lived here almost all my life. I’m a businessman. Check it out,” pleaded Joaquin, angry and desperate.
“Turn around, Pablo,” said Agent Pritchard, taking his handcuffs from his gun belt.
“My name is not, Pablo,” he said indignantly. “It is Joaquin Torres. If you will just let me go to my car, I’ll prove it.”
“Whatever. I don’t have time for this, Pablo,” said Agent Pritchard, physically spinning Joaquin around and putting his handcuffs on Joaquin’s wrists. Once secured and patted down for weapons, he herded Joaquin to the waiting van. There he was placed on a bench seat next to several other men, who all protested their detention. The door slammed shut, and just as abruptly as it had appeared, the van sped off to the freeway and south to downtown San Diego, to process its occupants for deportation at the Metropolitan Correction Center.
The trip was rather unremarkable until they passed Lindbergh International Airport. Try as he might, Joaquin saw no evidence of the crash which he thought had occurred the night before. Confused, he sat back in his seat trying to figure out how to get out of this further inconvenience.
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