Steve McSwain pulls up to the stoplight at the I-80 East ramp from the Oakland Port. The light is red; he pulls his phone out of his jacket pocket and texts his progress to the Vanilla Shed’s dispatcher. Warehouse workers are suppose to meet him at the drop-ship in the El Cerrito hills. McSwain pulls the steering wheel hard left onto the ramp. The truck lumbers as he loads the accelerator. At the apex, it looks clear. It’s usually backed up at this junction; two other highways merge onto I-80 north bound almost at the same location. Urban planning is not always a priority in a boom economy. If the Bay Area, San Francisco and its surrounding municipalities (east, west, north, and south), are known for anything it’s a boom economy. From the gold rush of 1849 to the rebuild after the 1906 earthquake to liberty ships in WWII to dot com alpha and beta–growth is always a flood after a drought. Immigrants of all kinds, intellectual and economic, are drawn to San Francisco: the destitute come for the weather and services; the middle class come for the opportunity and quality of life; and the rich are drawn for the status of residence in a small, relatively safe, old-world city in the new-world, modern American west. And often times after establishing a foothold, they move out into the greater Bay Area. There is little room for growth in SF proper and the population averages out around 750k +(-) 100k.
Traffic slows to a crawl as he approaches the Berkeley exits and McSwain downshifts. It’s best to keep moving instead of stop and go, so he maintains a speed of around 5 mph. The surrounding commuters don’t always appreciate this fact, and on occasion will express their discontent, flashing the evil eye or the universal one digit salute as they pass quickly and cut in front of him. They always have to slow down. Steve barely notices; he’s always looking at the queue in the distance and he’s actually happy to have gotten so far so fast.
“Shit,” he says out loud. He keeps an eye on the traffic as he bends down to a shelf below the glove box on the opposite side of the cab. He predicts his progress and looks down at the shelf. He can’t see it and looks up over the dash. Steve sighs and while holding the steering wheel with one hand, his left foot on the accelerator in range of the brake, and eyes on the traffic, Steve reaches with his right hand like a parabolic spider, and feels along the shelf. Traffic slows and he has to stretch a little farther to tap the brake pedal. Under a 12″ manila envelop, he feels what he is looking for, a stand-alone GPS. I hope the power cable is attached to it, he thinks.
“Phew,” he sighs as pulls out a large, black, dented and cracked, 5-year-old GPS, and its power cable. He sits it in his lap and plugs the cord into and empty cigarette lighter. He takes out his phone again, opens its notepad, and balances it on his left thigh. Steve turns the GPS on, and after the satellite search, a destination screen opens in the foreground. He rests it on the dash at eye level, and looks down at the address on his notepad. Balancing the two devices and looking between them and the road, Steve enters the destination.
“Two miles on the right take exit Potrero Avenue.” The GPS is set to a soothing female voice. Steve relaxes; he’s nicknamed the voice “Smooth Operator” after the Sade song. He sets the GPS down flat on the dash; all he needs is the directions read to him. He could have used his
Smartphone, but it’s too difficult to enter anything onto its smaller screen while driving in traffic, and the GPS application drains the battery faster than his last date in San Francisco.
“This way Lieutenant,” Sergeant Ed Rice says. He is a special operations officer with the BART Police. “I’ve got the files queued up in our media lab.” He leads them from the concierge desk to the elevator around the corner from it. He pushes the up button. “It’s on the 17th floor.”
As they wait for the elevator, Lieutenant Inspector Emily Cochran introduces Seven, “this is Seven Bardo.” Seven holds up his hand and the officer shakes it, limply.
“He can wait in one of the interview rooms, if you would like, Lieutenant.” Rice offers. The elevator doors open and three step into the dull chrome box. He presses the button for the 17th floor.
“No. That won’t be necessary,” she says. Officer Simon is suppose to join us after he parks. Can you have the concierge direct him?”
“Sure. No problem, Lieutenant.” Rice answers. “As soon as I get you set up, I’ll go down and get him, myself.”
The herky-jerky smoothes out as McSwain’s speed approaches 50. Traffic is tight, but moving at speed.
“In a quarter mile, take exit for San Pablo Avenue, Potrero Avenue, and keep right.” The Smooth Operator coos.
He switches on his indicator, but it’s flashing too fast. Something else is burnt out and McSwain hopes it isn’t his break lights again. He’ll have to get his mechanic to take look next week.
“Exit now onto San Pablo Avenue, Potrero Avenue and keep right.” The GPS squawks.
McSwain merges onto Potrero behind three cars ahead of him and pulls up to a traffic light stop at Lexington Avenue. The cars pass through the intersection ahead of him and McSwain’s foot slips off the clutch. The Harvester stutters violently and stalls. “Damn it,” he shouts, and looks in his side view mirrors. No one is behind him, so he turns the key and pumps the fuel. The Harvester’s starter whirls and the engine wheezes to life as the diesel lifters clack loud. Hum, it sounds a little rough, he thinks. A cloud of black smoke puffs out of the overhead exhaust, as he eases through the intersection on a yellow.
“Yet another task for the mechanic. This job is turning into a cash sump.” He moans to himself.
“In 1.2 miles, turn right onto Arlington Boulevard.” The Smooth directs.
The road narrows nearer Arlington as the Harvester struggles under a climb. Is the engine missing McSwain wonders, and listens more intently to the lifters? “Fuck,” all I need is a major engine repair on this. I’ll never take one of these quick jobs again.
“Turn right onto Arlington Boulevard.” The Smooth Operator dictates.
Steve slows and runs through the Stop sign, a stop enough for California.
“In half a mile, take the second right onto Brewster Drive.” After the turn, The Operator coos again, “In 394 feet turn left onto Devonshire Drive.”
Steve slows for the turn on to Devonshire, but over shoots the narrow road. He turns the wheel hard left, just under street width, and taps the accelerator. The Harvester chokes, stutters, and shakes under the load. A Prius is parked just past the apex of his turn radius, and it’s a guess to keep turning or reverse.
“Your destination, 1313 Devonshire is 1/10th of a mile, on left.” A checkered flag appears on the GPS.
He pauses, the way this day is going, he thinks to himself; he stops, throws the truck in reverse for a few feet, and then forward. A couple of day-workers are suppose to meet him at the address in El Cerrito to deliver a living room set; the four pieces are a couch, a love-seat, and two chairs. McSwain is already an hour and a half late for his appointment at the residence. I hope the dispatcher called them, he thinks to himself.
He pulls up to a 50’s/60’s, Eichler reproduction and parks across the street. He doesn’t think it is an original, because it is too modest in it’s modernism. It’s a two-level L-ranch in It is olive clapboard siding with white trim and windows. It has a flat, slight angle roof (front to back), and white lattice overhangs the front of the main house. A 50-foot driveway leads to a carport on the first level. A basketball goal is set two thirds to the carport and on the right. The room over the carport appears to be a large recreation room or maybe a granny apartment with windows facing the street. The only item visible in the carport is a red hose. A walkway with steps parallels the driveway, along the front of the house, which is 180 degrees from the street. Most of the house is hidden behind pink crape myrtles in bloom. Redwood trees flank the rear and both sides, with a dense hedge behind the hoop.
McSwain steps down out of his truck, but leaves it idling. He walks up the driveway to inspect the approach and knock on the door. It’s an old, oversized oak door with a brass crow knocker in the corner of the two wings of the house. Several hanging plants ring the overhang. Steve cannot tell if anyone is home. No one answers his knock. There is no movement, no car in the driveway, and all the blinds are drawn. His helpers are nowhere to be found either. He returns to the Harvester, pulls out his phone, and calls the Vanilla Shed. It’s busy.
He dials again and it rings. “Hello, this is Steve McSwain and I am making delivery to 1313 Devonshire Drive in El Cerrito.”
“One moment,” the dispatcher says and puts him on hold.
McSwain turns the Harvester off.
“Yes,” a different voice picks up the line.
“I am Steve McSwain and I am making a drop-ship delivery to 1313 Devonshire, in El Cerrito.”
“Yes. Mr. McSwain. I’m Selene. How can I help you?” She asks.
“I wanted to let you know that I am at the location, and Vanilla Shed is suppose to provide a crew to unload the delivery.”
“Yes. I’ve been working with the customer on this shipment, and your crew should be there in a few minutes.” Selene says.
“Good, good. I was suppose to be here at least an hour ago; do you know if the client is home?”
“Uh, no problem. I called them earlier to inform them of the delay. They said they needed to run an errand, but wouldn’t take long. After, someone would be there all afternoon.” Selene answers.
“Great. I’ll get the order ready, and when the lifters arrive, I’ll contact the client to finalize the delivery.” McSwain says.
”Yes. However you want to handle it, Mr. McSwain. Just let me know when you are finished and headed to Concord for the remaining delivery.”
“Will do, thanks.” McSwain hangs up the phone.
The elevator doors open to calm white, white panel walls, white tile ceiling, LED overhead lighting, and mottled grey carpet. The 17th floor corridor is empty, It’s quiet, and the walls are bare. Solid birch office doors punctuate the hallway at regular intervals. None of the offices appear to have windows and are only denoted with a number at eye level to the right of the door. We stop in front of number 1707. It has a keypad above the door handle. Sergeant Rice taps a number into the pad. Seven watches, but not too closely.
“Are you sure you don’t want Mr. Bardo to wait in one of the interview rooms downstairs?” Rice says over his shoulder as he opens the door.
“No, Sergeant we’ll need all the eyes we can muster.” Lieutenant Cochran smiles for the first time of the day.
“Then, he’s not on the short list.” Rice pauses with a question.
“No.” She smiles again and shakes the Sergeant’s hand. She looks to Seven, “Thank you Sergeant Rice.”
He enters the office which is divided into several sub-rooms, each with it’s own door. He enters the open room, “I’ve set you up with the three screen.”
The 8 x 10, foot room has a table against the far wall with three 30-inch monitors on it, facing three executive desk chairs. On either side of the table at desk height is an empty, steel bookcase. In the corner behind the monitors are two racks of computer servers and hard drives. In front of each monitor is a control pad, which contains a small keyboard, several lit up keys, and several knobs. All are labeled as to their function.
“I’ve assigned at least 4 cameras or angles to each monitor: the center monitor is the platform views, the right one is for the ingress and egress, and the left is for the entry into the stairways.” Officer Rice describes the viewing stations. “The switches are for start, stop, and switch camera. This knob dims the lights. If you look on the screen, each camera has an abbreviated name with station, view location, and a number. You can switch between cameras with the switch button; it operates in a round robin.”
“How much tape are we talking about?” Lieutenant Cochran inquires.
“Well, it’s quite a bit, but I’ve cued up each recorded feed to an hour before and after the window of opportunity.” He answers, this dial forwards and reverses through each…”
“Opportunity is what they call it in Oakland, now?” Seven attempts a lame giggle.
“STOW IT.” Cochran turns to Seven and glares. “Let him finish.”
Seven shrinks into his chair and looks away.
“As I was saying, this dial will fast forward or reverse slowly per frame or faster the farther you turn it.” He demonstrates the function. “If you need to make a note, each frame has a timestamp; stop and make the note at the bottom with the keyboard.”
“Will I be able to get a hard copy?” Cochran asks.
“Yes. When you are done, I can print out a copy of your notes as well as the frame of the video from my terminal in my office, the first door as you enter on the right. I’ll be sitting in there, monitoring your progress and can answer any questions.”
“I am sorry. Do you have a bathroom?” Seven asks slowly.
Officer Rice sighs loudly, “yes. It is down the corridor along with a small break room with coffee and vending machines.”
“If the door is closed, how do we get back in?” Seven asks.
“There’s a buzz button on the keypad. I’ll let you back in.”
“Good. Thank you Sergeant Rice.” Cochran says.
“I’ll go down and get the other officer now. I’ll be back in a moment, so if you need to leave, I’ll let you back in when I return.” Rice turns to the entry door to leave, and after opening the door, he turns around and looks at Seven. “We try to keep as quiet as possible on this floor, so please be courteous.”
“Don’t worry, Sergeant, we wont disturb anyone.” She turns to Seven.
“No. I mean, yes, we’ll keep it low profile.” Seven adds.