1985 – 1991
Tucson, Arizona, March 1985
I’ve had good days, and I’ve had some, well, not-so-good days, but the last several months since I’ve received my credentials as a private investigator (PI), from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, were not what I called good days. Needless to say, I continued to hold on to my day job, waiting on prospective clients, notably lawyers, to call and employ me for my specific set of skills and talents – that of a detective!
Why the PI business, you may ask? Well, have you ever had a triple chocolate ice cream with fudge? Have you ever watched the ocean tides? Have you ever concentrated on the cracks in the sidewalk for an extended period of time? Have you ever walked a tightrope? I was thinking of things I haven’t done and came up with being a private detective.
As an army detective, or criminal investigator as we are called, CID agent for short, I ran the gamut of crime scene processing to interviews and interrogations – everything a civilian police detective encounters – with the distinct difference that we conducted criminal investigations during periods of military conflicts, a truly unique difference from your local civilian police detectives; and it was something perfectly suited for me. Right up my alley, if you would.
So I was languishing patiently on my lounge chair on the back porch of my house, enjoying some leisure time, wearing only a white T-shirt and a pair of shorts, after a boring week of work at the office and sipping on a glass of chilled Moscato Dezzani white wine, while lazily watching the early morning dawning on a new day, when the phone rang.
With my wife and three small children visiting her relatives who lived out in the exclusive and famous Tucson Foothills, I decided to stay home not because I was tired or lazy and certainly not because I didn’t want to be with my family. Oh no, not any of that, believe me. It was because of my wife’s father. You see he was a retired army warrant officer and he also retired as a civilian government employee, who didn’t approve of me as husband material for his only daughter. You see I was an NCO or non-commissioned officer in the army. He really wanted a commissioned officer to eventually marry his little girl. But my wife had other views and so she married me. Good choice on her part and of course on my part as well.
Picking up the phone’s receiver, I quickly said, “Hello.”
“Hello, Mr. Alvarez,” came back the reply from a male voice, slightly husky, though like maybe just getting over a case of a bad cold.
I said, “Hello. I’m at a disadvantage here. You seem to know who I am, but you haven’t mentioned who you are.”
“Yes, of course. Sorry. My name is Alexander J. Aronstien, a lawyer here in Tucson. I was recommended to you by a mutual friend in the police department,” he was probably referring to my buddy in the Fugitive Apprehension Division of the Tucson Police Department, “who said you were very discreet professional and a man who gets the job done at any cost. I would like to hire your services for a delicate situation I have.”
It wasn’t my first case but certainly one I’ll not soon forget.
So armed with my license and badge, I started working for one of my first lawyers. He needed a certain individual shadowed to find out if he was being faithful to his wife, who suspected her husband of having an affair, and get recordings and photos, you know, the works or as the lawyer put it: “enough to establish infidelity.”
Oh my! Sounded okay by me. With two hundred and fifty dollars retainer and a hundred and fifty per day plus expenses, I could milk this for a couple of days’ work say, collect my money and report back home to the wife with a paycheck to boot!
Piece of cake.
But it wasn’t to be.
It’s been my experience as a police officer that two of the most dangerous calls an officer can respond to are; first, a domestic disturbance where you just don’t know what was what and who was whom; who held the gun or who was going to shoot whom a most disturbing situation as any police officer can attest. Second, a traffic stop. You may hear news people refer to it as a routine traffic stop, but all cops military or civilian can tell you there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. Only the ones you come out unscratched from could be classified as such, maybe. You never know if you’re going to be shot the second you show yourself in front of the driver. You just don’t know!
Case in point.
Two days of following my target turned up nothing, a big blank, nada. Oh well. As it was I was getting paid by the day. And it didn’t help that he stayed pretty close to his home and business, nothing untoward, except that Friday evening. That Friday after leaving his work at his state engineers offices about eight o’clock, he climbed into his white Mercedes-Benz, swiveled slowly on the thick leather seat, and started it up driving slowly away from his assigned parking space. As I followed closely behind him he led me to a house on the opposite side of town, away from his home.
Time to go to work.
I learned quickly enough that being a private investigator required four things: a pound of luck, an ounce of talent, a sprinkle of common sense and a touch of fearlessness. Luck being the purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes and adds favorably or unfavorably to my cause toward most of my investigations, whether as an army criminal investigator, police officer, or now a PI.
We arrived thirty minutes later at a house way out in Wilmot and Speedway Avenues. My target parked his Mercedes on the drive way. I came to a stop four cars away and parked in back of a red Volkswagen bug under an old weeping willow tree, whose spotted bright yellow leaves were dropping at a good clip, and now dead leaves and twigs surrounded it everywhere. If I had to guess, I believe the tree was dying. I kind of felt sorry for it. This tree was over fifty feet tall and in its day, would have been beautiful. With all the rainfall, I imagine it still wasn’t enough to keep it alive.
I turned off the engine and took out my trusty Canon AE-1 35 mm SLR camera, loaded with an 800-ISO speed film for night time shooting, attached with a 50x telephoto lens. I just started taking in the action snapping away. . .first, the target climbing out of his car, him knocking at the door, a shadow of a woman answering his knock, the embrace, the kiss, and the door closing behind them.
Got it all on film!
That was easy enough. Now for the hard part!
The house was situated in a cul-de-sac with two other homes on either side but with plenty of real estate in between them, with enough cover for me to sneak around without disturbing the neighbors.
I waited for them to get comfortable maybe, with a drink or two, before making my move. After twenty minutes and deciding I had given them ample time, I grabbed my camera, my short stick parabolic microphone and my small tape recorder. Climbing out of my car and locking it, I glanced to the left and right of me, didn’t see anyone about or anyone looking out their windows and briskly walked toward the house.
Luckily for me, there were no lights on the front of the house; either the bulb was burned, or they hadn’t had time to turn them on. I found an unlocked gate on the left, which I slowly opened, and leaving it open, walked to where I thought the bedroom was.
Jackpot! I found her bedroom right off the bat!
There was a small back porch with steps leading to two large, rather elegant looking, French-style doors with a small roof overhang. To the right side was a central air-conditioner unit, and on the porch were two small white-colored Adirondack chairs, with blue-colored cushions. Again, there was a complete absence of lighting on the back as well, except for the light of the full moon shining brightly overhead.
I saw the window on the left side. It was a rather large window with twelve large glass panes. The window was slightly open and the curtains, partially drawn.
“So far so good.” I told myself.
As quietly as I could, without arousing suspicion from those inside, I set up my recorder, took out my camera, laid the parabolic on the window-sill, and quickly took in the bedroom scene.
It would appear I’d arrived just in time for the party.
The guy was lying on his back on the bed completely nude.
She was leaning on the edge of the bed, staring at his nude body and as he stared back at her gorgeous form, she said rather playfully, “I see you’re ready for me.”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” he said with a sense of urgency in his voice.
She climbed on the bed and slowly crawled over to him. I slowly brought out my camera and focused it on the action being played out on bed. Then I turned on my recorder and took in all the words of endearment between each other – all that my client requested and a little more. As my camera took it all in, their movements grew with the intensity of a slow fire gradually growing hotter with each passing second.
There was a small table lamp on the end table just to the right of the bed, which gave me sufficient lighting for taking my photos and getting a clear view of what was going on the bed. The only thing she wore was a red silk kerchief tied around her neck.
“Wow!” I murmured to myself as I gazed in on her again.
The bed faced the window, so I saw them from the front. She was young, not old. Probably in her early thirties, with two things going for her: beauty and a body to kill for. She was a very beautiful and very sensual woman! I was completely mesmerized by her beauty. She had a tiny waist line, wide hips and a thick short curly brown hair that came down to her shoulders. I stopped to lower my camera and stared at her for a few moments, just letting it play out, as I too enjoyed the brief moment.
I snapped out of it and got to work. Needless to say, I went through a whole roll of 35mm black and white film.
Then suddenly I heard a dog barking close to me, real close like right-beside-me close; and I saw a large Doberman pinscher about sixty pounds worth of dog, snarling, glaring its big teeth at me from my left-side down at the end of the steps. I saw a chain around its neck and hoped it was grounded to a stake somewhere.
It was. Got lucky again. My pound of luck was slowly dwindling away.
Then two things happened and all hell broke loose.
One minute I’m standing there, next the dog barking, then the next someone fired a gun from inside the house. Oh Christ! Shit, shit, I heard myself yell! As I heard and felt the shattering of the window glass blow up next to my face. Glass shards cut into my cheek. And as I bolted the porch, I grabbed my gear and ran as fast as my two good legs would carry me, out to my car, with the Doberman close on my heels. But the dog must’ve ran out of chain, as I heard it come to a screeching stop while it continued his loud incessant barking.
I finally got to my car, unlocked it threw my gear on the passenger seat, got my keys fired the car up, and peeled out, leaving a trail of white smoke behind me!
And that was my first divorce case as private investigator!
Later, I learned that woman in the house, was a homicide detective! Go figure.
I then quit my day job.
The Bail Jumper and the Skinheads
When people talk about the Arizona weather, they usually say something like, “Sure it’s hot, but it’s a dry heat.” Well, I’ll tell you the heat is dry all right, enough to fry this bounty hunter’s bald head on this hot Tucson spring morning. I tell myself that’s why I wear a black wide-brimmed Stetson, but I really just like it. What kid growing up on cowboy movies wouldn’t? At five foot nine, I am stocky, but I like to think, all muscle. And I think the hat makes me more. . .colorful. My wife disagrees. She says. . . Well, never mind.
With over twenty years in the US army which includes airborne and ranger training, I have been given a set of skills that fits with the travails of the bounty hunting business, especially my years as an army CID investigator. Now my pension makes me a double-dipper and able to run my own business as a private investigator and bounty hunter.
My new hometown, Tucson, is on the Mexican border and is steeped in the Hispanic culture and is closer to my roots than the hellhole of Spanish Harlem that I grew up in. That’s where I collected my scars, one under my lower lip and one by my right eye, both acquired in the streets where macho is dictated by the blade, not the gun. Any damn fool can shoot someone, but the low stance and keen eye of the knife fighter separates the men from the boys. Oh yeah!
Today, I would be working for an old customer, Lupita Shestko-Montiel of Montiel Bail Bonds, who had two jumpers she needed back in jail. Her first client was John Taylor, a heroin user and car thief who skipped on a $150K bond. His mother had put up her house as collateral and 10 percent of the bond in cash up front. Now here I am, working for Lupita, a hard-nosed Latina who as a bail bondsman is no shrinking violet, and neither am I. Yet I have a special interest and a soft spot for a case where a punk like John Taylor is about to put his mother on the street to save his worthless ass!
After a week of tracking, I finally found him shacked up with his girlfriend in a gang-infested neighborhood of South Tucson. I found out she was Mary Jane Watson, a nice looking petite thirty-two year old natural blonde with a pretty good figure too, a real looker. And how a slob like Taylor can land her was beyond reasoning. Go figure. . .
It took me two nights to make a positive identification on him. I was going to earn my fee bringing him in. He was a six foot-two white guy, about two hundred pounds, and no not muscle, just fat. He wore his hair short but slicked back with grease and neat like he was auditioning for a movie part. Also he was slow and dumb. Even so, I didn’t look forward to the showdown.
It was a warm Arizona desert evening, around three in the morning as I was going into the second night of watch. A slight fog was rolling in. I was in my brown ‘82 Chrysler Lebaron and thinking, Ah the glamour of the shylock business: hours and hours of drinking cold coffee and eating fast food and waiting and peering at doorways and windows until your eyes feel like they are burning and seeing double and triple.
I had just winced at my sip of cold coffee when I saw something. I eased my cup of coffee down on the seat between my legs, and I leveled my night-vision binoculars and tracked my suspect. He was joined at the door by Mary Jane, and after a goodnight kiss, she went back inside, leaving Taylor out in the dark. He just stood there for a couple of seconds, staring at the door in front of him. Did he forget something? Does he suspect something? Could be; anything is possible. Or was he admiring the architecture of the door?
He kept turning his head left and right east and west, and along the street and then slowly moved his head to glance over his left shoulder at a point just at my car, as if he was expecting something to happen. He wasn’t that far away from me, so he could’ve seen me there. Just hope he didn’t. His red T-shirt made him easy to track. He turned around facing the street, and started walking around the side of the house.
I laid down the glasses and upholstered my Colt M1911 .45 Caliber handgun, a good old army sidearm. It hits like a damn cannon! It’s the why I prefer to use it over other weapons. Once I shot someone with it, I knew they weren’t going to get up any time soon, or never! I made sure I had a round in the chamber, clicked off the safety and slowly pushed opened the driver’s door. I swiveled in the old vinyl seat and got out of my car, while checking to see if I still had my handcuffs in the small of my back. As I climbed out of my car and closed the door behind me, I heard an engine starting up, lights lighting up the night. I winced and thought of an old MP maxim: “The suspect will escape, just before you set up a good perimeter.”
Hell! He was making a run for it. Apparently he made me. And here I thought I was being careful. I saw the car lights first as they flashed across the driveway. I had just gotten back in my car when Taylor, behind the wheel of an ’82 Chevy Caprice coupe, brown over white headed off, his engine roaring, tires screeching.
I peeled out in high speed pursuit. He was heading for the I–10 and even though traffic at this time of the morning was relatively light, I didn’t want to go on a high speed chase on the interstate and have him elude me in the traffic. No way. I had to stop him before he got to the turnoff to the interstate!
I took the turn too fast and almost lost control, but got out of the turn and into the straight away and floored it. I spotted tail lights about three car lengths ahead. My plan was to ram him and push him off the road. At the time it sounded like a good plan. Plan for the worst, hope for the best was my motto.
Two car lengths shrank to one car length. I was right up his rear-end when I rammed him hard, driving him off the road! The damn fool swerved across the oncoming lane of traffic nearly colliding with a car. He lost control and side swept a tree on the passenger side, side-slipping in a rooster tail of dust and sand and finally coming to rest. I nosed in to within two feet of his car, slowly opened my door and advanced with the Colt ahead of me. It was quiet except for his radiator hissing white clouds of steam, and Taylor wasn’t going anywhere.
Holstering my weapon, I opened the driver’s side door. He was slumped over the steering wheel unconscious, blood running down his lips. I tried reviving him and he slowly came around. There wasn’t much fight left in him. I hauled him out of the car and dragged him toward my car and propped him up by the door. As I was cleaning out the blood from his lower lip he gazed foolishly at me and asked, “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m your worst nightmare, son. I’m taking your ass to jail.”
“You a cop?”
“Used to. Now I work for the bail bondsman. Up we go.”
I turned him around once he got to this feet and, with his back to me slapped a pair of cuffs on and pushed him down by his shoulders, careful not to touch the grease on his hair, into the back seat of my car.
“These cuffs are too tight man.” Taylor said. “Loosen them up a little.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I said. “It’s tight because they’re new. Give it a little time once you’d worn them, and they’ll stretch out a little.”
“Up yours jerk.”
“Don’t piss me off any worse than I am already.”
“Hey, how about my car?”
“What about it?”
“You just gonna leave it there?”
“Not my problem.”
I got into my car and drove off, making a right turn onto Ajo Way, just as a patrol car, its blues flashing, siren wailing broke the quiet of the desert night. It was a close call. It was too early in the morning to tangle with the cops. The paperwork alone would take the rest of the night. I’d do all that crap in the morning. It wasn’t strictly kosher, but I had friends in the police department. I hoped.
Then I started on the second jumper.
Excerpted from “The Huntsman – Actual Tales of an Arizona Bounty Hunter: A Novel” by Victor Alvarez. Copyright © 2014 by Victor Alvarez. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.