Updated September 5, 2021
“They were nice people. Generally.” Reportedly said by a witness to the dealings of Richard Nixon’s inner circle. That included henchmen like H.R.Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. Nice people. Generally.
Working Around Connected People in the mid to late 1980s.
A small puppy got on the grounds of a client. Tony had just pulled up in his Range Rover and everyone knew Tony didn’t like strays. I picked up the dog and cradled it in my arms.
As I walked past Tony toward the gate and then out to the road, I said I would get rid of it. Tony said, “I’ll show you how to get rid of it,” pulling out his .45 caliber automatic. One of the client’s assistants appeared at the head of the driveway to say, in a happy, sing song voice, “Oh, Tony, you don’t have to shoot it.”
Indeed. Please, Tony, don’t shoot this dog while I am holding it.
Later, half drunk, another employee said that Tony wanted to bring someone out from Chicago to take care of a problem. The problem?
Her violent ex-husband. But, as she explained, also in a happy voice, she couldn’t take the responsibility for that decision. “I just can’t do it,” she said, laughing into her white zin. Myself, also half drunk with her, agreed that that this was the right decision. As I wondered if I was now a party to a murder conspiracy.
Chicago. That would explain some things. Like how the developer would disappear in his rock star style bus in the middle of August to go vacation in Chicago. Who does that? He had property at Lake Tahoe as well as a place in Palm Springs. Here he was, though, going to Chicago. For the second time that I knew about.
I found out years later that there was a well known group called the Chicago Outfit. They had been around since prohibition and Al Capone. This is a grainy photo off the web of the group in 1985. I don’t recognize anyone. And yes, the developer was Italian-American.
We maintained the grounds of the developer’s personal residence in Sacramento because we wanted his commercial property accounts. That’s where the money was in landscape maintenance, not with private homes. His property was the exception, though, and it paid as much as a commercial account.
When I was put in charge of the house many questions arose. I thought at first that the developer worried about kidnapping. But that didn’t explain everything.
I was once in the basement where two sprinkler clocks were installed. An ADT repairman showed up at the same time to fix an alarm problem. He pointed out to Tony that all of the phone lines for the home ran to a central board.
Much better, the repairman explained, if several of those phone lines went to a separate board installed somewhere else. Better security, he explained, in case something happened to the telephone lines. Tony nodded in agreement.
Uh, pardon me, my inward voice said, but what might happen to the telephone lines? I never questioned things like that. I’d just smile and walk off. It seemed the best approach. Don’t ask questions. Just like in the mob movies.
The developer was the only one in that neighborhood who took his daily walks with a vehicle trailing behind. Usually Tony in that Range Rover, always on his vehicle mounted cell phone.
Tony once said that he followed the developer because his boss might get tired and then need a ride back home. Understandable since the man had Polio as a child and walked with a limp. Still, that didn’t explain why all their vehicles had a nitrous system. Not just that Range.
It included his and her Rolls Royces. Who does that to a Rolls Royce? Two of them? Eventually Paul confessed that the nitrous button on each dash was what he called a “get away quick switch.” Hmm. The developer was certainly ready for those kidnappers.
Tony could have been a movie character. He was ex-Marine, ex-Vietnam and ex-California Highway Patrol. Still in the reserves when I met him and occasionally a military helicopter would hover over the house with his buddies. Paul would communicate in hand signals to the helicopter. This nonsense in a rich residential neighborhood seemed almost normal compared to everything else happening there. And I was there only once or twice a week.
I never asked Tony why he quit the CHP since it was and is still so well respected. He did grumble once about his time with the agency during the shootout in Los Angeles with the Symbionese Liberation Army. “They made me account for all the rounds I fired. Every bullet.” Oh, dear, Tony, I understand. The pain! I remembered that shootout from television news, something like five or six SLA members dead and thousands of rounds shot off.
We did get along and eventually went out together to concerts and dinners where he was prone to paying with coupons and once saying that he had forgotten his wallet and could I loan him some money? I once flew with him in a light plane that he rented for the day to take photographs of the developer’s property in Roseville. That was interesting.
I met him in Elk Grove at a small airport. I can’t recall its name. We were to fly from Elk Grove to the Woodland airport where we would have breakfast at the Yolo Fliers Club. That sounded fine, I thought, expect I knew Yolo Fliers was a private club. I couldn’t imagine sauntering in there to have breakfast unannounced. But I was there to help to take those pictures so I followed along.
While performing the pre-flight inspection of the plane, Paul explained that he just learned to fly. Great. And that this plane was a rental. Great again. And that the best part of this tiny plane was that it ran on regular gas. Pump gas, not avgas. This was just getting better. I said I had some money in my pocket and would he like to spring for something better?
We took off into a strong wind that got much, much stronger as the day went on. We got warnings from somewhere over the radio before Woodland that updrafts and downdrafts of over 700 feet were possible and that pilots should be aware of wind shear before landing. We were a ping pong ball in space.
We landed so hard at Woodland that Paul checked the emergency beacon before tying the plane down to make sure it hadn’t accidentally been tripped. The winds were really coming up now but I was more worried about our breakfast.
Paul was around 6’2″ and maybe 210 pounds. Big guy. Intimidating. That morning he was wearing an old Vietnam era field jacket with a big Viet Cong Hunting Club patch sewed on. I followed a few steps behind as we walked into Yolo Fliers where people were having breakfast. A chorus went up, “Hi, Tony!”
The photographs didn’t come out well but we didn’t repeat the trip. Winds were way over the rating for the plane when we landed. Paul had to “crab it in” as they say. The only time I saw him a little nervous. Me? I was out of my mind with nervousness. Okay, let’s call it terror and total fear. That’s better.
Tony lusted over Lady B who was another employee of the developer. I’m sure his people got paychecks but I doubt any of them were employees in a conventional sense. I never saw any illegal activity and everything seemed above board and fully in the light. So, what was going on? Who knew? I didn’t ask questions. Back to Lady B.
Lady B was the most beautiful woman I have ever met in person. Prettier women in movies and magazines existed but I had never encountered any of those. She was also sharp, focused, and easy to talk to. She once wrote an unsolicited letter to my boss, commending me on my fine work and devotion to the property. Which was a 19 story building the developer owned, a small high rise in the style of what I’d call the new ornamentalism.
Tony was entranced by Lady B. Or more like obsessed over victory. A prize to be won. He had no interest in a relation.
I was talking with Tony and two of my workers at the house one day. Lady B came out after meeting with the boss. Always sleek and stylish, she walked past us and down the driveway. Paul whispered to us, “Let us observe a minute of silence,” as he watched her walk away. Good grief. I never told Tony how friendly Lady B and I were getting. And that he never had a chance. Lady B had class. Tony did not.
The building she managed was full of private practice lawyers. Guys with money. Yet I never saw flowers on her desk. I changed that. She loved getting freesias and I loved giving them to her. She always had time to talk and after about four months I asked her out. I was delighted that she said yes.
We went to the top of a nearby hotel which had a bar overlooking the city. She drank hard, even though it was only white Zinfandel. That surprised me because I thought at her age she would have a more developed taste. For things like Chenin blanc or Sauvignon blanc. Blanc something. Whatever. I just wanted to get drunk with her and enjoy the privilege of looking at something so beautiful and so engaging. As she would straightforwardly describe herself, “The beauty and the mystery.”
There didn’t seem to be a mystery at first. She worked for this developer so whatever shady things were going on with him, well, she wasn’t part of it. Right?
Not so fast. She needed to talk. I wanted to listen. She described how her ex had broken into her apartment amd how he had destroyed the hood of her Mercedes coupe. Great, I thought, no more relation. Dating a woman with a violent ex husband was a sure way to get killed.
Speaking of which, she then talked about how Tony wanted to bring someone out from Chicago to deal with things. Lady B laughingly dismissed the solution but not on the basis of killing someone, rather, she didn’t want to make the decision. As I said previously, that was a smart move as in the back of my mind I started to connect the dots to Chicago.
I moved the murder conspiracy talk off to something I thought safer: family.
“Is your dad still alive? What does he do?”
“No. He killed himself. He worked for the Mob. My grandparents still do in Carson City.”
Yikes! Here I was wondering if her employer was lightly connected when it turned out my date was born into the mob. Good grief. If talk of a violent ex didn’t end my chances with her, if talking about a killing didn’t, then being a mob princess or whatever you wanted to call her surely did. Wow.
Before we went out she’d often say that she wanted to “meet a rich man who would take me away from all of this.” Without saying what “this” was. I’m not sure, though, she could have left. Her grandparents were still in. Her dad got out only by killing himself. If his suicide was indeed natural. Can you voluntarily quit these people? I don’t know. I never asked questions.