THE FERGUSON AFFAIR – Part Two
MEET BILL GUNNARSON
The story opens at the county jail where Gunnarson is interviewing, or at least attempting to interview, his newest client, Ella Barker. She is a nurse at a local hospital and is being held because she sold a stolen diamond ring to Hector Broadman at his jewelry store.
The action takes place in the days before Public Defenders, when each lawyer was assigned at random to represent defendants who couldn’t afford to pay for experienced criminal defense lawyers. I was a trial lawyer for forty years and I can tell you that the system worked just as badly as you would expect.
Barker is suspicious and un-cooperative, and her story is an obvious lie even though she insists—wait for it—that she’s innocent.
Gunnarson next meets with Detective Wills, who informs him that a rash of burglaries of wealthy homes have been going on, the common thread being that the homeowners have been hospitalized and the houses are empty. The diamond ring was taken in one of the burglaries. And his client works at the hospital used by all the victims.
It gets worse. A search of Barker’s room yielded a platinum watch that also disappeared after one of the burglaries.
Their conversation is interrupted by news from Sergeant Granada that Broadman has been found, beaten, in his jewelry store.
A TRIP TO THE BAD SIDE OF TOWN
Broadman’s jewelry store (actually more of a secondhand junk shop and pawnshop of last resort) is located between a seedy hotel and a tamale shop. It’s the anchor store of the neighborhood.
Note that in the first few posts, I am going to move through the early chapters quickly. They deal with minor characters who are killed as quickly as they appear and don’t figure into the larger story anyway.
- Broadman is injured but alive and is loaded into an ambulance by Sgt. Granada and two ambulance attendants; he is dead by the time he reaches the hospital.
- He was apparently a loanshark in addition to being a fence.
- Broadman fenced at least one item from the hospital-related burglaries.
- About five months ago, Broadman was a patient in the hospital where Barker, Gunnarson’s client, worked. He was the one who reported Barker for selling him the diamond ring two days before.
- Gunnarson learns the identity of the man who beat up Broadman, a local boy named Gus Donato who had worked for Broadman until he was fired a few days ago.
- Barker admits knowing Broadman. She admits that the platinum watch was given to her by her then-boyfriend, Larry Gaines, who worked as a lifeguard at a high-end resort, the Foothill Club. (It’s the same resort as in The Barbarous Coast, but without the ocean.)
- Barker admits that Gaines wanted her to be part of a burglary ring preying on hospital patients; she refused, but she didn’t report him, either.
- Barker and Larry Gaines broke up when she came to his apartment and found him with a blonde who bore a striking resemblance to a movie actress, Holly May.
- The police are suspicious of Barker’s story even apart from the Holly May description.
- Gunnarson calls his wife, who not only knows who Holly May is—she said she met her at her obstetrician’s office several days ago. Although May is still quite young, she decided to settle down and has been married for a few months; Gunnarson’s wife, Sally, was at the office because she is in her ninth month with their first child. She tells him to be sure to get home on time for dinner.
Dinner is going to have to wait a long time. Gunnarson is off to the Hilltop Club