Ivory arrived at headquarters to assess the plastic toy gun and to determine whether it had any prints on it. She went to the forensic lab to meet Roderick Anser, a massively built Nordic individual who had a tendency to leer at women. Ivory, for one, was creeped out by him, although he did not mean any harm. He was like a huge teddy bear who looked ghoulish, but for those who knew him, it was quite funny. Ivory had left with the second-most important piece of evidence in the crime after the bird. Yonit could have dusted for prints, but if there was a print, the database was here. Finding clues about the gun itself was not something that could be done out in the field.
She found Roderick leaning over a table, peering at tiny specks of dust and using tweezers to carefully place them on glass microscope slides. “Roderick, can you tell me if there are any prints on this?” Ivory asked.
“Can it wait? I am busy.” Roderick answered, stopping and turning toward her.
“I have a Code One, issued directly by Detective Sergeant Argus.”
“Hand it over.” Roderick put on a fresh pair of latex gloves.
Ivory gave him the large zipped plastic bag containing the toy gun. She kept quiet about what Elliot had said. There was always a possibility of finding a print that the perp had made before he used the gloves. Roderick handled the gun carefully, placing it under a large loupe on a swivel base and moving it under the glass. He gazed at it, then whistled.
“What is it?” Ivory asked.
“Clean as a whistle!” he replied.
“You are not funny.”
“No, I mean it. There is nothing here. I don’t even have to dust it. There is no grease of any kind,” Roderick said as he changed the light to a blue light.
“It is cleaner than Mr. Clean himself.”
“Thanks. Can I get it back?”
Roderick put it back inside the bag.
“You know anything about that type of toy? Or the paint used to make it black?” Ivory asked.
“Hmm, let me see…It is an airsoft gun, very popular with teens. It used to have a red front, you see?” Roderick said as he scratched the black paint from the plastic tip of the toy, revealing the red beneath.
“So it was a red toy.”
“No, not all of it, just the tip. See here. But the perp covered the entire thing with matte-black paint.” Roderick scratched the gun on the shaft, revealing a shiny black beneath the matte-black layer.
“I see. Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“Not really. It is a common toy, spray-painted with a common paint. Hard to place.”
“Not a problem. Anytime.” Roderick went back to his other analysis.
“Really? You are not the least bit curious about this case?”
“Well, it is the most exciting case I have ever been on!”
“OK, what is the case about?”
“A guy stole millions of dollars in diamonds, and guess how he got them out of the jewelry store?”
“Hmm. At gunpoint?”
“No. Guess again.”
“In a toy car? He got away in a toy helicopter? On a toy boat?”
Ivory was growing irritated, so she just blurted it out. “He placed the diamonds on homing pigeons and released them!”
“What? But how did he get the pigeons into the store? I don’t believe you.”
“I saw the birds leaving! It was amazing! I think it was a perfect crime. Even if we catch the guy, he is clean, not even the gun in his hands, let alone the diamonds.”
“Smart. And where are the diamonds?”
“Back at their home, wherever that is.”
“It could be in another country.”
Ivory looked at him and immediately realized that what he said was probably true. “You are kind of a genius aren’t you?” she asked.
“Hmm.” Roderick flushed from an unexpected compliment.
Ivory left and called Brent on her cell. She walked the hallways of the precinct, ignoring everything except the ringing on the other end. While she waited for Brent to pick up, she stopped at a coffee machine and made herself a cup of coffee.
“Brent? Ivory here.”
“Yes, Ivory. Report,” Brent said.
“Elliot was right. The gun is clean as a whistle. No prints. It is also very common.”
“That totally sucks.”
“Yes, I know. Also, I was speaking with Roderick, and he mentioned that the pigeon idea was brilliant. But get this, he asked me what country the pigeons were flying to. Get it? In the old days, these pigeons sent messages between countries in Europe. So these pigeons could be halfway into Mexico by now.”
“I thought of that; it is the logical plan. But if this perp thinks for one second that we will be stopped by the border, he is sorely mistaken. Anything else?”
“No, sir. Dead end.”
“Go to Quayles and start scanning the footages for the past several weeks for any suspicious person casing the joint. Especially people moving near or into Elliot’s office. The IT guy there will be happy to help you.”
“Yes, sir. Understood.”
Brent was surrounded by three tech guys all looking and arguing about the bird and the GPS. One of them kept referring to the batteries in the GPS.
“I thought the GPS was solar powered?” Brent asked all three techies.
“That was a prototype—impossible to get hold of,” one of them answered.
The conversation moved to the biggest hurdle, following it at pigeon speed. A helicopter was selected as the best possible mode of following the GPS. The logistics were awful, and it would need approval from higher up the chain of command. Before Brent called the police chief, he finished the task at hand. “Excuse me! Guys, what happens if the batteries die in the GPS?”
Some of the guys were about to start laughing when a brave techie looked at them, then explained. “Captain. The batteries will send the GPS signal every minute. It is like a short burst of information detected by cellular towers and then relayed to the base. We get the information and see a blue dot like this.” The tech guy showed an iPad with a map and a blinking GPS.
“Just like my phone,” Brent said.
“Exactly. Now what happens if you run out of batteries in your cell phone?”
“I see, that is not exactly what my question was. I know it sounded stupid. What I meant was, is the GPS fully charged, and how long will the batteries last?”
“That is more like it. It is fully charged, and 24 to 48 hours.”
“Why so little?”
“Because it is so light.”
“When can the pigeon be released?”
“When you tell us. We are ready.”
“Good. I will get the helicopter here, and we can start the mission.”
As much as he hated having to ask her for anything, Brent called the police chief.
“Police Chief Sadana’s Office.” Gaby, the police chief’s secretary said.
“May I speak to her, Gaby?” Brent asked.
“Captain Argus, right?” Gaby asked.
“Yes, it’s me. Again.”
“What is it this time?”
“I need the helicopter.”
“I’ll put her on.”
Brent waited, listening to pleasant music while on hold. It was an old Natalie Merchant song, but he barely paid attention to the lyrics.
“Brent. What is this about the helicopter? Are you nuts?” Police Chief Jarita Sadana said.
“No. I really need it this time.”
“It already left your area,” she shot from the hip.
“I can hear it—it’s still hovering nearby!”
“It is needed elsewhere. You guys lost the perp, even though he supposedly left when you arrived. So you passed him in the hallway, and he winked at you and disappeared. Sounds like one of your girlfriends.”
“Very funny. Ha, ha. I am laughing, really. Now how about a helicopter ride to TJ? Coming with me?”
“You know we can’t just fly into Mexico unannounced. What are you talking about? Is it this bird story? Explain.”
Brent and Jarita had been partners until she decided to play politics and moved up the food chain. Brent held her in high regard, and vice versa. He quickly explained the entire crime to the chief and detailed the logistics of following the pigeon to the thief’s lair. Also the timeliness of the issue. She immediately changed her tune.
“Brent, call it in. Hop on the helicopter and pursue. I will alert the mayor so he can speak to the authorities in Tijuana. That is where you think the birds went? Right?”
“It is a guess. I mean, it is the nearest point across the border, but the bird could be flying back to Guadalajara for all we know!”
“So if the bird goes farther than the helicopter’s tank of gas we are done?”
“Yes and no. We can still send people on to the arrival location. But we would lose the element of surprise. There is also…”
“The bird could go to a place where we can’t land.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what if the bird goes into a forest? We will know it is there, but that is it.”
“The element of surprise is already lost by what, four hours?”
“Well, we needed to assess the situation, then find a GPS that a bird could fly with. We weren’t twiddling our thumbs!”
“Is that a yes?”
“Just do it.”
“Thanks, Jarita, I’ll need it.”
Brent hung up and called the chopper to land on the lawn in front of Quayles Jewels. He then proceeded to choose which techie to take on the ride. The nice techie that showed the iPad to him was the obvious choice.
“What is your name?” Brent asked.
“Are you ready?”
“You and your tracker are coming with me on the chopper. We will follow the bird to the thief’s lair.”
“I don’t even have my passport. You said we are going to Mexico,” Dick asked, looking concerned.
“Relax. First, we don’t know if we are going to Mexico. Second, you are a police officer—you are under the purview of this operation, and if we do go into Mexico, you will be on a list of known officers. OK?”
“Grow a pair,” a second techie muttered.
“Yeah, R, don’t be a wuss,” the third techie interjected and chuckled.
“OK, I’ll go. But I hate flying,” Dick said.
“Have you flown in a helicopter before?” Brent asked.
“Then you don’t know the meaning of the word hate. Let’s go!”
Brent called Cliff at that moment. “Cliff. Report.”
“Sir, the video on the adjoining buildings followed him down Mission Center Road until he just walks off. From that point there is an underpass and he went in that direction. When we got under there, we found a steel drum smoldering, really stinky. He probably burned his hairpiece there, because it smelled like burned hair. We had no water to stop it, so we turned it over and kicked at the flames to try and salvage some evidence. I called Yonit to come and see if she can get anything from there. It is all carbon-looking to me. No sign of the perp. On the other side of the underpass, there are no video cameras until way up a hill. I will go there next and see if there is a shot that of him exiting from the underpass.”
“It sounds like a dead end. He could have had a car parked there. Look for evidence of a car that was parked recently, maybe a fresh oil leak. Listen, who is there with you? Is he good? Does he understand what we need next?”
“I think so…” Cliff said, looking at Adler across the street swatting a bee as if it were an invisible monster.
“Send him on to the next cameras; I need you back here immediately. We are going on the chase.”
“Yes, sir, right away!” Cliff sounded excited.
It was like a ceremony. The parked helicopter, the police cars running, and all eyes on a small birdcage being carried by Brent and placed on the roof of a police car. Cliff arrived at a run and was ready to pilot his car on the chase.
“I will get in the chopper and hover on the other side of Friars Road. The chopper is on channel 123.050, so tune your radio to that frequency, so that you can hear me.” Brent instructed. “I will give you the command to release the bird, and you follow behind. Don’t worry if we go faster, because we will be calling ahead to police in that direction. Hopefully, when the bird lands we will be right behind it. OK? Capisce? Like you say?”
“Yes, I’ll wait till you hover on that side of Friars Road. Got it. And it’s pronounced capisce!” Cliff said, using the Italian pronunciation of the American slang.
The commotion drew Ivory out of the tedious and impossible job she was undertaking. Finding the thief as he cased the jewelry store without any idea of his looks was impossible. Almost two-thirds of all the visitors to the store were single men looking at rings, deciding, and pricing for an engagement. Many never bought a thing. It could be any one of thousands. So when she saw Brent leaving with the bird she followed.
The helicopter took off as soon as Brent got in. Dick sat next to him, looking a bit pale and immediately changing to very pale. The movement of the chopper was not what Dick expected—it was not a forward movement like a plane but arbitrarily up, down, right, and left, and he held on to whatever he could grasp. Including Brent’s hand, which he clutched like a child in desperate need of his father.
Brent smiled as he put on his headphones. “Can you hear me, Dick?” Brent said.
“Yes! I hear you!” Dick blasted the speakers.
“No need to scream, son. We can hear you. Now, didn’t I tell you that you would hate it?”
“You can let go of my hand, now. Can you see the bird on your screen?”
Dick let go and clicked the iPad on. The blue dot was right on the map where Cliff was parked, and there was a red arrow indicating the iPad’s location. The red arrow and the blue dot almost touched each other.
“Cliff, are you there?”
“Yes, sir, copy loud and clear,” Cliff spoke through his radio on the same frequency.
“All systems go.”
“Copy that. Bird on the loose. Fly away, feathered friend!” Cliff opened the cage door.
“Save your snappy comments, Cliff,” Brent said.
“No, sir, it’s not a snappy comment. The bird is not leaving the cage.”
“Well don’t talk to it, man! Make him leave the cage. That is an order.”
Cliff clumsily shook the cage, and that was enough to make the bird flap madly, giving Cliff a scare, whereby he clumsily dropped the empty cage and shook around in disgust at the bird feathers on him. Officers nearby laughed but pretended to be serious as he turned, looking to see who had laughed.
“Very funny,” he uttered under his breath, looking defiant.
The bird flew out and away, in the direction of Tijuana just like his feathered friends had about four hours earlier. From the chopper, it was a tiny grayish dot shimmering in the sky. Ivory jumped into the shotgun seat of Cliff’s car.
“I don’t think you are supposed to be here,” Cliff said.
“You have no idea what I was doing. Pointless and impossible,” Ivory said.
“Are you authorized to stop it?”
“Let me put it this way. The creepy monitor guy gets on my nerves, and there is no way anyone on this planet could find the perp from the footage. I am best used here with you.”