Saturday, June 18, 2:04 a.m.
“Did he have a heart attack?” I ask Rosie.
“No,” she whispers. “He was beaten to death. Bobby found the body when he got home. It may have been a botched robbery.”
Dear God. “What else did Bobby tell you?”
“I didn’t talk to him. He called Grace on her cell. I tried to call him back, but he didn’t answer.”
“Does this have anything to do with the Savage case?”
“I don’t know.”
Judge Fairchild recently presided over the highly charged racketeering trial of the owner of San Francisco’s most notorious towing company. George Savage is a warm and fuzzy guy who cut a sweetheart deal with the City to rid our overcrowded streets of illegally parked cars. In performing this valuable public service, his highly trained professionals developed a propensity for cruising upscale neighborhoods and towing vehicles seemingly at random, with a particular affinity for high-end sports cars. When Savage’s people took your car hostage, you had to find a cabbie who was willing to risk his life to drive you down to the massive impound lot in the most dangerous corner of the Bayview, where you had to pony up three big bills plus a highly recommended gratuity in cold, hard cash to liberate your vehicle. If you were lucky, your car was missing only its side mirrors and hubcaps. If you were unlucky, it was stripped clean. If you were really unlucky, you never saw it again.
A zealous investigative reporter at the Chronicle (with the assistance of a couple of our City’s erstwhile auditors) determined that Big George had also developed a proclivity for lining his pockets with millions of dollars that rightfully belonged to the hardworking taxpayers of the City and County of San Francisco. Our media-savvy DA filed charges and our well-trained prosecutors spent six months going toe-to-toe in a bloody war of attrition against Savage’s well-paid army of defense lawyers. During the trial, Savage made no secret of his contempt for the prosecutors, the jury, and especially Judge Fairchild. Rumors of intimidation and jury tampering were rampant. After three long weeks of deliberations, the jury convicted Savage of a single count of failing to pay his local business taxes and levied a million dollar fine. Most people considered it a slap on the wrist. His well-oiled operation never missed a beat.
“Is Bobby still at his father’s house?” I ask.
“As far as I know.”
Bobby’s mother and father separated acrimoniously about six months ago. Their respective barracudas have been trying to divvy up the spoils and work out support and custody arrangements ever since. At Bobby’s graduation last week, his parents sat in separate corners and didn’t say a word to each other. His mother, Julie, still lives in what used to be the family home in Cole Valley, a quiet neighborhood wedged between the UCSF Medical Center, Golden Gate Park, and the Haight. His father rented a remodeled Victorian a few blocks away. Bobby and his younger brother, Sean, have been shuttling between the two houses.
“Were you able to reach Julie?” I ask.
“Not yet. I paged her and left a message. The hospital said she was in surgery.”
Damn it. “What about Sean?”
Bobby’s brother just finished his freshman year at the exclusive Urban High School in the Haight. He’s a shy, sensitive kid who has borne the brunt of his parents’ separation.
“He didn’t answer his cell,” Rosie says. “Grace said he was spending the night at a friend’s house. I would assume the cops—and Julie—are looking for him.”
No doubt. “Where did Grace and Bobby go last night?”
“To dinner and a movie.” She waits a beat before she adds, “In the City.”
“I thought we agreed that they would stay closer to home.”
“Yesterday was Bobby’s eighteenth birthday. Grace politely asked for permission.”
“Which you granted?”
“You don’t get to second-guess my parental decisions if you aren’t available for a consultation.”
That’s never stopped me. “What time did they get home?”
“That’s way too late, Rosie. She’s only sixteen.”
“I’m well aware of that, Mike. I made my feelings known to them.”
So will I. “The cops are going to want to talk to him,” I say. “And to Grace.”
“Am I the only person who sees a potential problem here?”
Rosie invokes the sanctimonious tone I’ve always found infuriating. “Bobby graduated third in his class at University High. He was an all-conference baseball player and the editor of the school newspaper. He got early admission to Columbia.”
“To the cops, he’s also a person of interest.”
“It doesn’t make him a suspect.”
“I didn’t say he was. It’s also no secret that he and his father weren’t getting along.”
“It isn’t uncommon for teenagers to have strained relationships with their parents—especially during a divorce.”
Tell me about it. “How strained was theirs?”
“Bobby wouldn’t hurt anyone, Mike. Besides, he has a perfect alibi.”
# # #
“Come in, Michael,” my ex-mother-in-law whispers.
Sylvia Fernandez is standing inside the front doorway to Rosie’s house. Except for her gray hair and crow’s feet, she could pass for Rosie’s older sister. She celebrated her seventy-ninth birthday last month by having her left hip replaced so she could keep up with Grace and Tommy. At times, I think she can outrun them. She recently instructed her doctors to accelerate her rehabilitation program. If they’re smart, they’ll do exactly as she says.
“Is Tommy asleep?” I ask.
She gives me the knowing smile of a grandmother. “Not anymore.”
I see my four-year-old son’s wide brown eyes peeking out from behind his grandmother. Tommy’s round, cherub-like face breaks into an enthusiastic smile. Sporting his trademark San Francisco Giants pajamas, he gives my right leg a tight bear hug. “Hi, Daddy,” he shrieks with glee.
It’s been a while since I got a similarly warm welcome from his sister. “Hi, Tom. What are you doing up so late?”
“I heard Mommy talking to Grace.”
He’s a happy kid, but he’s also a worrier—a trait he inherited from me. “It’s no big deal,” I say. “Everything is going to be fine.”
“No worries?” he asks. I’m not sure if he picked up the line from me or Barney the Dinosaur.
“No worries,” I reply.
I take off my jacket and look around at the cluttered space serving as Rosie’s living room, home office, and playroom. Rosie, Grace, and Tommy live in a post-earthquake era cottage in Larkspur, a quiet burg about ten miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge where the neighborhood is safe and the schools are good. Their house is three blocks from my apartment behind the fire station. From time to time, we talk about trying to cohabitate under one roof. Invariably, we find the buffer zone allows us to diffuse our occasional differences of opinion. It also means Rosie takes the brunt of living with a teenage daughter. When Grace directs her angst my way, I try to remind myself she’s an honor student and the starting shortstop on the Redwood High School varsity softball team. She’s also a mercurial soul who inherited my propensity for stubbornness and Rosie’s independent streak—traits that are not always becoming in a teenager.
“Why are you here so late?” Tommy asks.
“Lawyer stuff,” I say. It’s my standard answer. Tommy has no real comprehension of what Rosie and I do. He understands our work frequently requires us to go downtown in the middle of the night to help people who get into trouble.
“Do you have to go to work?” he asks.
“Maybe for a while. We’ll be home soon.”
“Can we go to the park tomorrow?”
This elicits a smile. If it were only so easy with Grace. “Is Grandma going to stay with me?” he asks.
“Of course.” I take his small hand and squeeze it. “You go back to bed, Tommy. I’ll come in and say goodbye before we leave.”
“Okay, Daddy.” He squeezes my leg again before he sprints down the narrow hallway toward his bedroom. Four-year-olds move at only one speed—fast.
I turn to Sylvia. “Where’s Rosie?”
“Talking to your daughter.”
Translation: they’re arguing. I can hear the muffled sounds of a heated debate through the thin walls. I’ll get a blow-by-blow from Rosie later. “What are they fighting about?” I ask.
“Whether Grace is going to go with you to see Bobby.”
“Is there any doubt?”
“No. Your daughter is as stubborn as my daughter.”
# # #
“Talk to us, Grace,” I say.
Rosie is behind the wheel of her Toyota Prius—a recent upgrade over her ancient Honda Civic. We’re barreling down the 101 Freeway toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m riding shotgun. Grace is in the back seat. Her lips form a pronounced scowl as she stares out the window.
“Grace?” I say.
Until last year, I was still Daddy. When Bobby arrived on the scene, I became Dad. “What did Bobby tell you?” I ask.
“This isn’t a cross-exam.”
Every question is a personal affront. “We’re just trying to help, honey.”
“You’re going about it the wrong way.”
Nowadays, we go about everything the wrong way. “What did Bobby tell you?”
“That his father’s dead.”
“Was he able to reach his mother?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about Sean?”
“I don’t know that, either.”
“Did Bobby call the police?”
“Of course. They were on their way to his house.”
They’re undoubtedly already there. “They’re going to want to know what he was doing tonight.”
“He was with me.”
“They’ll want details.” So do I.
“Can you stop talking like a lawyer?”
“I’m talking like a parent.”
Rosie cuts in using her best maternal tone—though she would readily admit it isn’t nearly as effective as it used to be. “Where did you and Bobby go last night?” she asks Grace.
“I already told you.”
“Tell me again. Please, Grace.”
Our daughter responds with a sigh that would make Putty Chandler proud. “We went out for dinner at Zazie.”
It’s a homey neighborhood bistro on Cole Street, around the corner from Judge Fairchild’s house. “Where did you park?” I ask.
“On Grattan Street next to Bobby’s father’s house.”
“Was the judge at home?”
“Did you go inside?”
“No. There wasn’t enough time.”
“Where did you go after dinner?”
“To see Waiting for Guffman at the Red Vic.”
The Red Vic Movie House is San Francisco’s Anti-Multiplex. It was opened by a group of film buffs in 1980 in a funky red Victorian at the corner of Belvedere and Haight. A few years later, it moved down the street to its current location between Cole and Shrader. The new auditorium is larger and equipped with Dolby sound. It’s still furnished with comfy old couches. Instead of serving stale popcorn with fake butter, they offer organic treats.
“What time did the movie start?” Rosie asks.
“Nine o’clock. It ended at eleven. We went for a walk down Haight Street.”
The Haight has gentrified substantially since the days when my high school buddies and I used to go there to see real live hippies during the Summer of Love—much to the chagrin of my parents and my teachers at St. Ignatius. There are still a few head shops and incense stores interspersed among the upscale boutiques, but the neighborhood is largely unrecognizable from the flower-child days. The corner of Haight and Ashbury is now home to the Gap and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream store. There is still a modest drug and counter-culture presence as well as a significant homeless population that spills over from nearby Golden Gate Park. It’s perfectly safe in the daylight, but things get dicier after dark. It isn’t a place where an eighteen-year-old boy should be hanging out with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend late at night—especially when she’s my daughter.
“Did you stop anywhere?” I ask.
“We looked at CDs at Amoeba Music.”
I’m tempted to ask her if she knows a clerk named Requiem who plays with a band called Death March, but I let it go. “Did you buy anything?”
“What time did you go back and pick up the car?” Rosie asks.
“Was Judge Fairchild at home?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you go inside the house?”
Rosie pushes a little harder. “Not even for a minute?”
“No, Mother. Bobby and his father weren’t getting along. Things get tense when people are getting divorced.”
Grace’s pronounced sigh indicates that this discussion is coming to an end. At the moment, Rosie and I are more interested in our daughter’s welfare than in recriminations. After things calm down, I will have a fatherly chat with Grace and Bobby about the advisability of hanging out in the Haight after the sun goes down.
# # #
The fresh-faced young cop looks like he’s fourteen years old. “I’m sorry, sir,” he says to me. “You’ll have to remain outside the restricted area.”
“We’re friends of the Fairchild family,” I tell him.
“This is a crime scene, sir.”
No kidding. “I’m aware of that, Officer.”
Police lights flash off the trees in front of Judge Fairchild’s remodeled blue Victorian on the southwest corner of Belvedere and Grattan. It’s three a.m. The neighbors are huddled in small groups outside the yellow tape. Despite its proximity to the Haight, Cole Valley has a low-key character of its own. The closely knit community of refurbished houses and low-rise apartment buildings is bisected by the N-Judah street car line. The businesses along the three-block shopping district on Cole Street are of the mom-and-pop variety. The neighborhood’s southern boundary is Tank Hill, named for a 500,000-gallon water tower that survived the 1906 earthquake. A ring of eucalyptus trees was planted around it after Pearl Harbor in an ill-conceived effort to camouflage it from enemy bombers. The tank was removed in the fifties, but the trees and the cement base remain. The rarely used public space has some of the best views in the City.
“Officer,” I say, “Bobby Fairchild has asked to see us.”
“I’m not authorized to let anybody in, sir. It isn’t my decision.”
“It is now.” I pull out my trump card. “My name is Michael Daley. This is my law partner, Ms. Fernandez. We’re Bobby Fairchild’s attorneys.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, sir.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to. We need to see our client immediately.”
“I’m not authorized.”
“Then I need to talk to your sergeant.”
“He can’t help you, either. Mr. Fairchild isn’t here.”
“Where is he?”
“At the Hall of Justice.”
What? “They didn’t need to take him downtown to get his statement.”
“They took him downtown because he’s been arrested for murdering his father.”