The phone rings, waking me, but mercifully not the baby. Jeremy is working at the computer.
“It’s 1am!” he begins.
“Oh,” he says. “Are you sure she’s the right person?”
“Oh,” he says. “Okay then.”
He appears in the doorway of the darkened bedroom.
“It’s okay, I’m awake,” I say.
“It’s the security company for your work. They say they’ve tried to get hold of John but they can’t, and the alarm’s going off, and they want to know if they should call the police.”
I take the phone and tell them to, yes, by all means, call the police.
“Now don’t worry,” says Jeremy. “Go back to sleep.”
I lie awake in the dark, waiting for the phone to ring again, which of course it does.
“There has been a break-in,” says Jeremy. “They need you to go down there and talk to the police.”
I park Hedwig the wonder car behind the four patrol cars flashing in our alley, and wonder uneasily whether I’m here to learn that John has been bonked on the head and Oscar is going to grow up fatherless.
“Are you Rachel?” asks the friendly Irish sergeant with the grey handlebar moustache. When I nod, he calls to the others: “The responsible is here.”
You know you’re scraping the barrel, hierarchy-wise, when I am deemed the responsible.
Everyone is straight out of central casting: the Irish sergeant, his beautiful black-Irish woman sidekick, the go-getting twenty-something red-headed jock with the Italian name, the heartbreakingly pretty Japanese boy at the bottom of the pecking order. There’s an eyewitness, who I will call Comic Book Guy. He’s our neighbor, moved in to the apartment opposite our office on July 1st, immediately formed the Crime-Ridden Alley Improvement Society and talked to Captain Corrales at Mission Station about cleaning the place up.
Comic Book Guy was watching our office at 1am, as you do, when he saw a black man in a red shirt and white pants climb the door, kick in the window and enter the office. He called the dispatcher and the police arrived in time to find the black man cowering under our conference table in the mezzanine upstairs. The suspect is in custody. He doesn’t seem to have purloined any company property, but the police have confiscated his crack pipe.
Comic Book Guy wants him locked up, preferably for ever. Comic Book Guy watches all the cop shows and has the jargon down.
“If he does get charged, please make sure I get called as a witness. I’m your eyeball, right? I want to tell the judge how bad the alley is. I want to ask the judge to put him away. Did you say he’s on parole? Is this his third strike? Is he going down?”
Friendly Irish sergeant is wise to city politics. San Francisco’s district attorney Terence Hallinan has a background as a public defender, a poor relationship with the police department and a reputation for being very soft on crime.
“In an ideal world, yes, he would be locked up,” says the sergeant. “But this is Hallinan’s world. He’s not on parole, he’s on county probation. That’s a Hallinan thing… You will get a subpoena, don’t worry.”
There’s a lot of standing around, waiting for the inspector to turn up. While we wait, the sergeant explains How These Things Work. He has the knack. He’s a business analyst of the underworld.
“Stolen property typically sells on the street for five to ten percent of its book value,” he says. “So say he’d stolen a three hundred dollar computer, he could expect to fence it for fifteen to thirty dollars.”
“It’s hard, isn’t it?” says Comic Book Guy to me, “When you’ve worked so hard to start a business?”
“Yeah, we should have just set ourselves up as fences,” I reply. “Ninety to ninety-five percent? That’s a terrific markup.”
Everyone looks at me very blankly, and I am reminded of the signs in American airports: “Jokes Will Be Taken Seriously.”
“When you see street vendors selling things on the sidewalk, that typically comes from one of three places,” says the sergeant. “Home burglaries, car burglaries or stealing out of the donations to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The biggest scam in the city, though, is stealing recyclables. I don’t have any issue with street bums digging through unsorted garbage. At least they’re doing a little bit of work to improve their situation. But there are people who drive around with vans on garbage nights and pick up the recyclables before Sunset Scavenger can get to them. That sort of thing just raises everyone’s property taxes.”
I like friendly Irish sergeant very much. He notices the picture of Boston as a puppy and says: “Your office manager has a golden retriever? He’s good people.”
“Yes she is,” I say.
He shows me pictures of his own golden retrievers, in a swimming pool.
“I can’t keep them out of the water,” he says.
“I guess they’re checking the pool for ducks,” I say.
“I guess they are,” he says, and chuckles.
As we are locking up, I thank Comic Book Guy for keeping an eye on the office.
“I’m helping you as well as myself,” he says truculently.
When I get home there is thunder rumbling in the distance. Cat and baby are fast asleep. As Jeremy and I lie awake and I tell him all about it, one of San Francisco’s rare summer storms forges its way overhead, spattering warm rain on our bedroom windows. I think about the black man in the red shirt, dragged from under our conference table, locked up at Mission Station, waiting to be charged.
Next on Yatima: she’s a wicked-tempered working mom. He’s a bearded Linux guy. They fight crime!