Authors: Susan Dunlap
There was one person who would know who was dealing drugs in Berkeley, and if there had been a twenty-five-thousand dollar deal five years ago. That was Leon Evans.
Without thinking, I glanced at Howard’s desk. If Howard had been here, I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask him to take another turn by Evans’s. I wouldn’t have minded suggesting I do it myself. But Howard wasn’t here. At this hour even the guys in Howard’s house were asleep. Professional courtesy required that one officer check in with he whose suspect was about to be grilled. A year ago, a month ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about overlooking that courtesy, knowing Howard would understand. But now … It was one thing for Howard to feel he was a step beneath me in our ultimate quest for Chiefdom; it was another for me to close a murder case by filching the information from his suspect.
Still, I needed to know about Lois Palmerston. And I was too keyed up to wait till morning.
I checked Howard’s desk for Evans’s address and left Howard a note, hoping he would understand.
I stopped by the dispatcher and gave him my destination. Dropping in on Leon Evans at three in the morning was definitely something to be done in a squad car. I didn’t want to be mistaken for part of one of his other businesses.
I pulled the car out of the lot and headed down University Avenue toward San Francisco Bay. As I drove along the empty street with even the fast-food places and gas stations dark, I wished that I had asked Howard more about Leon Evans. That reticence, too, was due to the awkwardness of our new statuses. When we were both patrol officers, we had discussed every case and each piece of evidence, each clever deduction, what stymied us, what irritated, and what schemes we had to work around those obstacles. We had helped each other think, and we’d helped set the schemes in operation. Sometimes we’d gotten so involved in the other’s case that it was hard to separate out who did what. But now, Howard seemed protective of his narcotics cases; he seemed to be saying “a poor thing, but mine own.” Hoping that feeling would pass with time, I had kept my distance. Maybe it would pass, but right now I would have felt a lot better knowing if Leon Evans were violent or crazy. If he was running his own show here in Berkeley, or if he was being watched not only by his own lackeys but by those of his bosses.
I pulled up in front of the address I had gotten from Howard’s file. It was a two-story fourplex painted a red so bright that it shone even under the subdued street lights. Raised in relief on the stucco above each window was what appeared to be an arch-shaped stucco rope with its apex celebrated in a bow. It had been a common type of decoration when these buildings were built in the twenties and thirties. Here, against the crimson stucco, the rope was blue, the bow gold.
As I opened the squad car door, lights went off in the lower-left-hand unit. Evans’s address listed both the lower and upper left apartments. I tried to remember what calls we had had from this street, but West Berkeley was a long way from Telegraph, my former beat, and unless the calls down here had been something particularly unusual, I wouldn’t have heard of them. I slipped my purse strap over my shoulder, checking to make sure the zipper across the top of the purse was open and my gun handy. I stepped out into the deserted street.
The doors to all four units were in the center of the building, with those leading to the stairs in the middle, and the ones to the first floor units besides them facing each other. The doors were bright green, the frames purple. The building looked as if Evans had gotten a starter’s painting kit and was determined to use every color. I knocked. Through the front window a dim light was visible, as if someone was watching television with the lights off.
The door to Evans’s lower flat opened. The man in front of me was almost as tall as Howard, very dark, and very muscular, and must have weighed close to three hundred pounds. He looked like a dictionary illustration of “ominous.”
“Police,” I said. “I’m here for Leon Evans.”
“Mr. Evans is asleep.”
“I’ll wait while he gets up.”
“I said I’ll wait.”
The door shut. The air was heavy. It would probably start to rain again soon.
In a minute the door opened again. Mr. Ominous jerked his head to the right. I walked around him and into the darkened front room. It was the next room, the dining room of the lower flat, that the television light had come from. The set was in the middle of the archway separating the two rooms. A sofa sat opposite it. From the one large indentation, it was clear that this was the guard’s post. To the right was a circular metal staircase that had been added. The guard nodded toward it. Keeping my head still, I took a final glance around the room, then climbed the stairs.
The room I emerged in looked like an Indian sari showroom. Silk was everywhere: it curtained the windows; it covered the sofas. Silk paintings adorned the walls. Thin strips of silk hung like beads in the archway between this and the front room, creating only a symbolic division. Now I recalled what I’d heard about Leon Evans. He was not the stereotypical drug dealer. No childhood in the ghetto for him. No up by his bootstraps, or “his nose hairs” as Howard had put it. Leon Evans was the son of two lawyers. He had grown up in a house like Ralph Palmerston’s high in the hills. He’d gone through Berkeley High School, and two years at the University of California, when he decided to find himself in Thailand, India being somewhat passé as a spiritual mecca by then. What his spiritual experiences were in the Far East were anyone’s guess, but what he’d found was obvious. And he’d made a lot of money selling it in the three years that he’d been back in Berkeley. Three years was a long time for a flamboyant drug dealer to stay on the outside, but Evans not only had street smarts, but was the son of lawyers.
Once I got over the effect of the silk, I realized that to the riches of the East, Evans had added the state of the art of the West. He must have had every piece of electronic equipment on the market. Without turning my head I could see three televisions—a console, a mouse-sized model, and a television-alarm clock (in case he should forget to watch something on one of the others?). There were two cordless phones, a video cassette recorder, piles of stereo equipment, digital clocks, computer keyboards, and a vibrating chair with headphones. On the coffee table were three copies of
Evans himself was a small, dark man. He could have passed as an Indian, or a light-skinned black (and perhaps he did at times), but his record listed him as white. Looking at him, I remembered how tiny he had seemed next to Howard.
“Remember me?” I asked.
He stared a moment. At three-fifteen he looked wide awake. Howard had had him at the station yesterday morning. He’d been out to bug him in the afternoon. When did this man sleep? “The cop,” he said.
“Right, the one you hollered at outside the station. We don’t like that attitude.”
He shrugged, leaving unsaid, “So sue me!”
“You put Detective Howard in an awkward position.”
“Ah, so sorry.”
“We’ve got our code, Evans. Now Detective Howard owes me, you understand? You can make up for that.”
Again the shrug.
“I need some answers, some easy ones.”
He turned his attention back to the television screen.
“This doesn’t seem to be getting through to you,” I said. “Let me make it so you can understand. I’m offering you the easy way out. You have something I want. You can give it to me; I can tell Detective Howard, and he’s off the hook. And, Mr. Evans, you’re off the hook.”
“Are you suggesting that Howard would harass me?”
“I’m suggesting that you tell me what I want to know.”
He motioned me to the sofa cushion next to him. I couldn’t see his guards. There could have been two or half a dozen standing behind the drapes of silk throughout the room. Or perhaps they were in the next room, observing us on closed-circuit television. “I’ll stand.”
He looked back at the television screen. It showed a Charlie Chan movie.
“Sam Nguyen,” I said. “A drug deal five years ago.”
He continued to stare at the screen. “I was out of the country five years ago.”
I glanced around the room, hoping to discover something I could use as leverage—an artifact that might have been smuggled in, one that I could claim suspicion of, but there was nothing but electronic beeps and hanging silk. There wouldn’t be; if there had been, Howard would have made use of it this afternoon, and Evans would certainly have it out of sight by now. What tack could Howard not have tried?
Now I did sit on the sofa. “Mr. Evans, I’m going to be straight with you. You are a very intelligent man. You may have been out of the country five years ago, but I’m sure you know everything that’s gone on in the drug scene here for the last ten years or more. You’re too thorough not to know your background.”
“Why should I be interested in drugs?” His words were flat, as if just for the record.
“Let us say
you were to know about drugs
you perhaps had an academic interest in the Berkeley drug scene. Most people who went to school here do.”
The television switched to a commercial. I jerked my head toward it.
“What’s the matter, you never seen a sales pitch before?”
“It hadn’t occurred to me the movie wasn’t on tape.”
Now he stared at me, his thin lips stretched into a deliberate smile. “You, a police officer. It’s dangerous for you to make assumptions.”
“It’s only on the little things.”
He stared directly at me. His eyes were very dark, sunk deep. “There are no little things.”
At three-fifteen I didn’t need philosophical aphorisms. I also didn’t want a veiled condemnation of my work. “What I am asking you for, Mr. Evans, is information that is of no importance to you.”
“And what are you offering for that?”
I took a long breath, forcing back the anger of the last few hours, making myself concentrate on this interchange alone. “Good faith may not seem like much, but then again, I’m not asking you for much.”
“What exactly is your good faith worth? Are you going to good faith Howard off my tail? Are you going to good faith him out of here at the crack of dawn?”
I hesitated. I could ask Howard to lay off awhile. But Evans would use the time to move drugs and to dangle them in Howard’s face. “I am a Homicide officer. No amount of good faith is going to keep you out of jail if you kill someone, but, Mr. Evans, you are engaged in a dangerous line of work. There have been a lot of drug-connected murders lately. The odds are that even someone as smart as you is likely to come to our attention sooner or later. Perhaps your employees will make a mistake, perhaps one of your customers may get himself killed right after he leaves here. Or maybe you’ll just have bad luck. Whatever, a pleasant memory of you would encourage me to listen to your story just a smidgeon more sympathetically than I might if I could only recall you forcing me to spend days hunting for information that you can give me in three minutes.”
He sat unmoving. No silk hangings shifted in the room. Somehow the absence of any appearance of violence was more ominous than guards with automatics in their hands.
“There are legal implications—”
“This has nothing to do with legalities.”
The movie came back on the set. Evans looked toward it, then seemed to jerk his attention back to me. I wondered if he was on something or a combination of drugs. I wondered how long before the balance shifted, before his mellow, bantering mood slid into anger, or to sleep.
“Tell me what you’re after,” he said.
“There was a drug deal five years ago. Twenty-five thousand dollars down, more or less.”
“It’d have to be a lot more to stand out. Twenty-five thousand is peanuts.”
“Maybe the names of the people involved will bring it into focus.” When he didn’t reply, I said, “Sam Nguyen?”
“No,” he said quickly. “There’s no Asian ring in Berkeley. You should know that.”
“Nguyen’s in it with whites. Lois Palmerston, or as she was known then, Lois Burk?”
“No.” His answers were coming quicker.
“Nina Munson? Jeffrey Munson?”
I took a breath. “Cap Danziger?”
“Cadillac salesman,” I prompted.
“Oh yeah. I bought a couple of cars from him.”
“I don’t care about the cars, just the drugs.”
He smiled that thin, stretched smile again. “Then, baby, you don’t care. With Danziger I’ve only dealt in steel.”
I sat for a moment trying to decide whether Evans was being honest with me. Could he not know any of them? Could they not be involved in drugs? If they had even the slightest connection with the Berkeley drug scene or the San Francisco or Oakland scenes, Evans would have made it his business to know. “Look,” I said, “these people put up the twenty-five thousand dollars. Lois Palmerston handled it. Then her husband, who she married later, started going after them.”
Evans’s eyebrows narrowed. “Why would he do that?”
“You tell me.”
“You’re saying the group of them pulled the deal before this Palmer woman married the guy, then, all of a sudden, he’s all hot about it and starts gunning for her partners?”
“Don’t make sense. You get your shipment; you sell your shipment; you get your money and you split. It’s not like a marriage. It’s a one-night stand.”
I got up. “I hope you’re being straight with me.”
“Baby, you don’t even know what you’re talking about. If you were anyone but a cop, I’d have you tossed out of here for wasting my time.”
“Yeah, but I am a cop.”
HE STREETS WERE EMPTY
as I drove back to the station. Even the radio had only one squeal. At three-thirty on a rainy October morning, Berkeley’s criminals were lying low. As I had earlier, I considered going home. But it was too late to bother now. I wouldn’t get there till four. As wired as I was, it would take me an hour to get to sleep. And then I’d spend the rest of the day trying to wake up. I parked the squad car in the lot and headed upstairs.