Ten minutes earlier…
Juan was in Elliot Quayle’s office, staring down the barrel of the airsoft plastic gun that resembled a Glock 9 only because he had spray-painted it. Elliot looked genuinely scared, but that had not prevented him from calling the silent alarm. Juan was unaware that he would have only ten minutes before the police arrived, but moved fast.
“Close your eyes and don’t say a word, or it will be your last. Keep your hands where I can see them,” Juan said coolly, not raising his voice.
Elliot did so and Juan moved around his back and pulled a previously curled black zip tie from his jacket pocket.
“Now slowly move your hands behind your seat.”
Juan placed the plastic gun on the rear counter without making any noise, and then swiftly tied Elliot’s hands. He swiveled the chair so Elliot would face the rear wall of the office. From his other jacket pocket, he pulled a white silk scarf not unlike a magician’s scarf and gently pushed it into Elliot’s mouth. Then he pushed him toward the wall on the rolling chair to clear the area of the desk. Elliot was silent and Juan turned immediately to his new task.
He began by quickly taking the first pigeon out of his jacket and held its leg tightly with his left hand. He grabbed the first stone Elliot had shown him and placed it in the pouch of this bird. He pulled another folded paper square with a diamond from the pile of folded papers on top of the tray Elliot had placed on the desk. He grabbed the diamond with two fingers and dropped it carefully into the same pouch and repeated the procedure a third time. He wanted the load to be light and manageable for the bird. He knew they could handle even more weight, but it was better to err on the low side. Then he clicked the clasp to close the pouch using both hands and released the animal. It flew immediately to a nearby couch. Elliot was startled by this. He turned his head and stared at the pigeon. Juan did not care about Elliot anymore. He had limited time and needed to move fast. He took another pigeon out and pulled a folded paper square with another stone from the pile on top of the tray. He opened it with a single hand and placed the stone into the pouch. Twice more, then clicked it. Again.
Sometimes there were two smaller stones in an envelope, and he would place the two into the pouch. He was averaging fifteen seconds per bird. He was fast. Ten, then twenty, then thirty, and finally, the last five birds. He heard a distant police siren, and there was knocking on the door.
“One moment!” Juan said amicably.
By this time, Elliot was aware that most of his two-and-a-half- to three-and-a-half-carat diamond inventory was in pouches on the birds. He had seen the small artifacts close up, because he was sitting with a bird on his shoulder, one on his head, and the one in front of him on the bookcase, that was staring at him. By now the purring and fluttering of the birds was becoming loud, and hence the knocking. Obviously Savanna was wondering what the noise coming from the office was.
The instant Juan filled the last pouch he walked to the door, removed the latex glove on his left hand and then his right, and opened the door with the plastic gloves as if they were a towel. He placed them in his pocket and walked out. The birds started to shoot out on their mission to reach their home and Juan walked normally, surrounded by shooting birds that flew straight through the main floor toward the front door circling the showroom. Cuco the guard stood there as birds flew all over and customers screamed. A couple was walking to the door and wanted to exit as birds passed near the guard and, in desperation for the pigeons’ predicament, he opened the left door as a customer pushed the right door open. Juan walked directly out without rushing, heading straight for the hedge not thirty feet from the front doors. Another customer who was ready to leave did so at that time as well. In total four people left the building at the same time as the birds. The birds provided a perfect distraction. He walked calmly through the parking lot of the adjacent building fully aware that the video cameras in all building parking lots would be evaluated. He knew this heavyset white male was visible going to and from the store on foot. The property behind Quayles Jewels was a simple office building with no exit onto Friars Road. It, too, had cameras on the parking lot. This property led to a cul-de-sac that exited onto Mission Center Road.
Juan continued to follow Mission Center Road, turning left away from the jewelry emporium and toward a highway overpass. As he entered the overpass he looked to make sure no cars were coming, then took off his jacket and felt the cool San Diego air dry his sweat. He arrived at a large tin barrel used by homeless people to generate heat. He pushed the jacket into the barrel and then removed his elegant black pants with a tug. They were taped together by Velcro at the side seams and revealed his jeans beneath. Then he peeled off the jaws of latex that gave him his heavyset look and removed the wig. His shirt also came off, as well as his sweaty T-shirt underneath, exposing him further to the cold. Before chucking the shirt into the bin, he used it to remove the whitish makeup from his face as best as possible, while all the time making sure the area under the overpass was empty.
A soda bottle filled a third of the way with a clear liquid sat beside the metal drum, and he picked it up and emptied the container over the clothing and wig. He took a book of matches from his jeans pocket and threw a lighted match into the barrel, then immediately crossed the street to his parked Camry, which was facing north on Mission Center Road. Inside the car he looked in the mirror and finished cleaning the makeup from his face. He started the car and drove one block north to Westside Drive, made a right, then parked in the first empty spot on the street he could find. Then he walked back into the strip mall, to begin his regular job at the Savory Yolk restaurant. He entered from the rear and sat on a stool in front of the employee lockers and all the delivery boxes. He put on his employee shirt and removed all the sweat on his body, washed his face in a sink, then was ready to start work. He was late by a half hour for his work and knew that any minute someone would walk in and see him back there. He sat on the stool and leaned on the lockers, pretending to be asleep. His mind reeled and his heart finally began to calm down. His blood pressure was pumping madly, and now that the theft had worked, his body switched from fear to happiness! He had no evidence on him and his loot was flying across the border to his Tijuana home roof. He couldn’t wait to see it. For now, he just sat there, pretending he was sleeping and giving the impression that he had arrived there earlier.
“Juan!” Finch, the manager, yelled.
“Oh, what? Hi?” Juan answered.
“How long have you been there sleeping?”
“Don’t lie. Did you clock in?”
“Oh, shit, I forgot.” Juan said as he approached the point-of-sale computer to clock in.
“Good! At least we are not paying you to sleep.”
“Sorry, it’s just that I had a crazy Friday and slept little.”
“Do you want to go home? You tired?” Finch was being cynical.
“No man, I really need the money.”
“Then get to work and stop slacking.”
Across the street, patrol cars converged and a helicopter hovered over the Quayles building. Juan began his routine of setting tables and only occasionally looked over. His manager and the other employees were talking about the action across the highway and began to channel-surf on the TV, looking for the local news.
“A breaking news story is happening at the famous Quayles engagement-ring store on Friars Road. We have Tori Taka reporting from the scene. Tori, what do we know right now?” The anchor on the Channel 7 News asked a pretty Asian-American woman in her late twenties who stood on the grass a good fifty yards away from the store. The whole storefront of Quayles could be appreciated in the shot. Behind her the police had closed the area, and various police trucks were at the scene. Finch called everyone to come and see. There were no customers yet.
“Thank you, Chip. I am standing here at the Quayles Jewels store and we have exclusive information that a gang of thieves is inside the store, holding it up at gunpoint. Customers were taken hostage, and the SWAT team has arrived. It is a developing story and one that could turn ugly at any moment,” Tori said.
“Tori? How many thieves? How many hostages?” Chip asked after hearing the questions in his earpiece, something reporters from smaller cities don’t know how to fake.
“Chip, I am told that the majority of the customers and employees have been evacuated to safety. I have been informed that only one hostage is inside in the manager’s office. We have reason to believe that it is a member of the Quayles family but have no confirmation. It is up to SWAT now. These are very tense and critical moments.”
Juan looked at the screen, listening, but continued to work. He was delighted by the lack of information on the news. The fact that they still thought the thieves were in the building was perfect.
“Finch! Finch!” Juan called.
“What?” Finch asked.
“Look at the helicopter, man! Can you believe the thieves are still in there? There is a hostage and all.”
“Yeah, I heard, man. What do you care? Go back to work.”
“Just saying. I mean, nothing ever happens here.” Juan spoke to Finch as Finch walked away, dismissing him.
Juan had established that the thieves were across the street, so if Finch were ever asked about him, it would provide a perfect alibi.