I called both Kelsey and Jane on the drive out of downtown and filled them in on the fantastic news. They were both very excited and wanted to hear more later. Neil was right. Good news is best shared in person, or at least the details in my case, but I couldn’t wait to tell them. I had tried calling Bruno but he didn’t answer, so I left him a voicemail.
It was still early enough in the day. I decided to head straight up to Sarah Jacob’s apartment complex hoping to catch her coming home from work. She lived in a location north of Montgomery in the land between distinct suburbs where you really weren’t confident what town you were actually in. It was a relatively newer complex I was familiar with. A number of years ago a tornado had moved through the area ripping the roofs off of various homes, businesses, and other structures. This one had been torn down and rebuilt from scratch.
I pulled into the complex a few minutes before five o’clock. Fortunately, the main entrance had an opened gate during the busiest times of the day. The buildings sat in a bowl-like depression so the apartments on the top floor were below the street level of the surrounding roads. Each building in the complex was made up of the same types of structures simply copied and pasted until the land was full. Eight apartments each having separate outside entrances. Four on the bottom floor, four on the top floor.
Sarah Jacob’s apartment was in the very back of the complex, so I drove the entire place slowly checking out the area. It was always beneficial to approach a stakeout and examine the surrounding region first to understand what may impact your ultimate goal. If there is a party going on nearby, a bunch of kids riding bikes, or signs for a neighborhood watch group, those may be helpful to know. They may impact how you approach watching a place. There was nothing I saw that concerned me. I went to find her exact apartment.
I found a few empty spaces in the guest parking area perfect for surveillance. I backed into the parking spot so I could look out my front window at the entrance of her place. Surveillance looking straight out or slightly to the side is much more natural looking than trying to observe from behind using your mirrors. The setup is also a lot easier on the neck as well. Everybody these days seems to be backing into parking spaces, even garages, as a result I wasn’t too worried about appearing out of place.
I had a pretty good view of her apartment and I settled in to surveil. She lived on the second floor. There was a staircase leading up to a small, private covered balcony containing a couple of lawn chairs and end table. Some well-kept plants were hanging from the ceiling. I had a view of a total of three windows but all of the shades were down. I guessed the windows were the living room and dining room on the front, with a bedroom window on the side.
It was hard to see if anyone was home at all as I couldn’t tell if any lights were on, but one of the first things I noticed was her Honda Civic was in a spot right out front of her place. Maybe an assigned parking spot. I got out of my car and looked around. I didn’t see anyone, so I walked towards her apartment. I carried the same empty envelope around this time with a post-it note on the front pretending like I was looking for an address. Nothing puts people’s mind at ease when seeing someone was out of place who appeared to be confused or needing help. You turn from a person who may be a potential threat to a weak forgettable individual who doesn’t know what they are doing. Human nature. Works every time.
I slowly walked past her car and looked in the windows. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just some papers on the passenger seat, an empty Diet Pepsi bottle in one of the cup holders and one of those air fresheners shaped like a tree hanging from one of the dashboard knobs. There were a couple of leaves on the hood of the car. The car must not have been driven for a few days. All of the surrounding cars were clean. I walked around the building as not to draw any suspicion and came back to my car settling in.
My first impression was she was at home. The fiancée said she only had the single car and it was parked in front of her apartment. Logic dictated she was there. I debated just going up to her front door and knocking to confirm my opinion. The client had said he wanted two things, a picture of her and to be discreet. A knock on the door went against both of those directions. Knocking and asking for her would be the complete opposite of inconspicuous, and there is no appropriate way of capturing a picture of someone when you are standing two feet in front of them without them knowing.
So I decided to just wait and settle in. I took my camera out and snapped a few pictures of her apartment. First some wide angle shots of the whole building and then a few close-ups of her front door and all of the windows I could see from my vantage point. I then took a few of her car including one as close as I could get of her license plate to prove it was indeed her car.
I watched a variety of people getting home from work for just about an hour. A few individuals were in dress clothes coming back from an office while others were in uniforms from a random blue-collar job. Some had groceries for their dinner or food from local takeout restaurants while others were empty-handed. The only thing in common was everyone looked tired, slaving away a whatever job they had just come from.
There were a couple of people who went to different apartments in her same building but none to Sarah’s place. I debated a few more active steps to take but decided against them. Calling her cell phone more than once a day made me look like a stalker and I had done that already this morning. Besides, who in this day and age answers a call from someone where they don’t recognize the number. It just doesn’t happen anymore. Too many unsolicited calls from marketers and unscrupulous spammers wanting your hard earned money. Talking to the neighbors was out as I was doing my best to honor my clients wish and it was doubtful they knew anything anyway.
Just then, another car pulled up. A newer Ford Mustang that was designed to look like the original ones from back in the sixties. Cherry red. It parked in an empty spot in front of her building. A man, who appeared to be in his late thirties, got out of the car and reached in the back to get a few bags from a local health food grocery store. He set them on the curb next to the car so he could lock the car up. It looked like each bag contained some already prepared meals. Sensing this may be an opportunity, I pulled my camera up and got ready.
Sure enough, he dropped his set of keys from the car in his front pocket, picked up the bags and headed to the set of stairs leading up to her apartment. I started taking picture after picture, documenting him and hoping to get a picture of her opening the door. My heart sank a little bit. Hopeful this wasn’t another man whom she was involved with or the meeting with the client could get awkward quickly. Revenge sex is real and pays quite a few of my bills these days.
The man walked up the stairs to Sarah Jacob’s apartment and put one of the bags down on a chair and reached in his pocket pulling out the same set of keys. He unlocked to the door and opened it slightly while reaching back for the bag he set down. Through the sliver of the open door, I could tell some lights were on but lowly lit. He walked in and closed the door right away. I took pictures of the whole thing. Thirty pictures over maybe ten-seconds of action, but I doubt it did me much good. None of them contained Sarah.
Thinking about what I just witnessed, I continued to monitor the front door, ready to take more pictures if the man left again. Only two real options popped into my head on why a man who entered the apartment was delivering food and, more importantly, had a key. One was good for my client and the other bad. The first being the man was a relative. A brother. A close cousin maybe. The second option is a very close friend you lean on in bad times like breaking up with your fiancée. The friend would have to be very close indeed to have a key. The key was also the same ring with the car keys. You don’t keep a key with your main set if someone gives you one on a temporary basis. This looked permanent. Maybe not a good sign. The client didn’t tell me about a brother but I also didn’t specifically ask. I made a mental note to ask him when we talked next.
A little less than five minutes later the door opened up. A quick stop. I started taking pictures immediately. The same man stepped out this time empty-handed. He closed the door and locked up. No Sarah. He walked down to his car and drove off, thankfully never glancing in my direction.
Hopefully, Sarah was in the apartment grieving, not wanting to go to work or out after breaking off the engagement. I knew the unique feeling of wanting to escape from the world for a while. It would just make my job a bit more difficult and take a considerably longer. Then again, nothing was ever as easy as originally thought.
After about another twenty minutes of waiting with nothing going on my phone rang. It was Bruno returning my call. Or so I thought.
“Hey,” I answered. “Thanks for calling me back. I have some great news I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Your message is not why I called,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said a bit deflated. I had forgotten I had asked him to run a check on the person who I was searching for at that moment in time. “So you got me the information on Sarah Jacobs I requested?”
“Wrong again. I need help at a crime scene with some pictures. Your normal handiwork. The other resources who can do this are a few hours out and I want to get some of this done right away.” He gave me the location of where to meet him. “How soon can you be here?”
There hadn’t been a bit movement in the apartment for at least a half an hour so it was doubtful there would be any. Besides, a job for Bruno was more important as it was regular work and he was a friend.
“Give me fifteen minutes. I am relatively close to you and I have all my gear with me already.”