Meet Dick White, Right-Wing Detective. Armed with a worldview that prevents him from observing facts, using deductive reasoning, or empathizing with others, he is often dead wrong—and dead certain he’s right.
It was a hot morning in July when we found ourselves at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Twelve boxes of high-velocity explosives had gone missing the night before. The night watchman had seen a white Civic parked near the battery. When he approached the vehicle, the driver threw a grenade at him and drove off. Luckily, the grenade didn’t explode.
“I chase teenagers away from there almost every night,” explained the watchman, a middle-aged black guy who looked like Flavor Flav after 20 more hard years, “but this guy drove through the gate and parked near the battery door.”
“Did you get a look at him?”
“Didn’t see him. He was inside the car.”
“Think there was more than one man?”
“Couldn’t tell for sure. When the grenade fell at my feet, I dove for cover, and the Civic drove off. But I did get the license plate.”
He handed Dwight Knight, my junior partner and right-hand man, a slip of paper with the license number.
At that point, the demolitions expert entered the room, along with officer Krupke—one of Concord’s finest and a fellow Bircher who’d tipped us to the case.
“We’re missing twelve boxes altogether. High-velocity explosive.”
“What kind of damage could that do?” Dwight asked.
“In the right hands, level a city block.”
“Whoever walked off with that stuff intends to use it,” I surmised. “We’ve got just one big question. Where and when.”
Dwight’s face squinched in concentration. “That’s two questions, right?”
OUR CIVIC DUTY
Using the Civic’s license number, Dwight tapped the DMV for the address of the car’s owner. It was at King and Alcatraz in Berkeley, a run-down Victorian with bars on the windows—sure sign of a bad neighborhood. Judging from the cans of paint and canvas dropcloths out front, the resident was a house painter. And judging by the faded paint on the place, it was a case of “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes.”
A mustachioed Mexican in a dingy white T-shirt answered the door. Behind him was a passel of kids playing Monopoly. They were speaking Spanish so fast I couldn’t make anything out. Monopoly, huh? Maybe there was hope for these people.
Juan explained, in his charming broken English, that he’d recently sold the Civic, traded it in at the dealership for a Toyota.
“Next time, buy American.” Dwight told him.
“Yeah, José, show some loyalty to the country that took in your tired, poor, huddled asses.”
We drove to the Toyota dealership on Broadway, in Oakland. The manager was a heavyset black gal, the kind you see on daytime TV, no doubt a former welfare queen who took this job against her will when Uncle Sam cut her food stamps.
She called someone who knew how to use a computer.
“Bill? Marcia. That white Civic we took in trade last month, license JMI663. Yeah, what’s with it? Okay, let me write it down. Marshawn Smith, 440 Newton Avenue, Oakland. Thanks, Bill.” She hung up the phone. “We just mailed the new pink slip up to Sacramento.” She handed us a piece of paper with Marshawn’s info.
“Marshawn. Now that sounds promising,” I whispered to Dwight.
“Probably a Black Panther,” he whispered back. “Or maybe an ecoterrorist.”
“Or a Black Panther ecoterrorist. It is Oakland, after all. They take all kinds.”
WE CONFRONT THE BLACK PANTHER ECOTERRORIST
Marshawn had a pretty nice apartment for a terrorist, with views of that watery grave that Oakland calls a lake. From the street we could see down a short driveway to the garage. It was empty.
Dwight knocked. A man answered the door wearing sunglasses. He looked like a young Flavor Flav.
“Are you Marshawn Smith?”
“We’re private detectives. We’d like to talk to you.”
“I just woke up; I’m a little foggy. Come on in.”
We entered the living room. Everything was in the range of what I’d call normal, apart from the few examples of African art.
“Place is a bit of a mess,” said Marshawn. “My wife usually runs the vacuum before she goes off to work in the morning. Unless I’m asleep.”
“You work nights, do ya?”
“Yeah, I’m a bartender at the Kona Club on Piedmont.”
“What kinda work your wife do?”
“She’s a cashier at Trader Joe’s. Look, is this something about her? Did something happen to her?”
“No, not that we know of.”
“Well, let’s have it.”
“You own a white Civic, license number JMI663?” Dwight asked.
“Damn. What happened?”
“Do you own the car?” I said.
“That’s right, but I haven’t seen it since 10 last night.”
“Did you report it missing?”
“No. But I was mad enough to do it last night.”
“Why didn’t you report your car missing, Mr. Smith?”
“I figured the guy’d have it back this morning.”
“Guy who hangs out at the Kona Club. WTF.”
“He goes by the name of WTF.”
“What’s his real name?”
“Never heard it. Everybody just calls him WTF.”
“You know where he lives?”
“How ‘bout where he works?”
“Are you in the habit of loaning your car to somebody you don’t even know… someone named”—I coughed—“WTF?”
“Look, I know him—he’s a regular. There’s a whole crowd of them.”
“You ever been arrested?”
“There was a burglary last night. License number and description fits your Civic.”
“You figure WTF was one of ’em?”
“Well now it kinda looks that way, doesn’t it?” said Dwight.
“This WTF,” I said, “Usually come in your place every day?”
“As a rule, yeah.”
IN SEARCH OF WTF
Smith had described WTF as being Caucasian, blond hair, slender build, medium height, about 25, with a tattoo on his neck of the state of Idaho. It wasn’t much to go on. Dwight checked Marshawn’s criminal record. He was clean.
Around five, we drove up Grand to the Kona Club, then picked out a booth in the back of the room and sat down to wait for the suspect.
We’d been waiting for over three hours. Still no sign. We continued to wait. Marshawn Smith, still in sunglasses, relieved the day man. The suspect had failed to show. Marshawn approached our booth cautiously. “See the guy wearing a fanny pack, end of the bar?”
“Yeah, what about him?”
“Name’s Grover. Might be able to tell you where WTF is.”
“How do you figure?”
“I saw WTF loan him some money last night.”
Marshawn went back to his bartending duties. I approached Grover.
“Your name Grover?”
“Dick White, Right-Wing Detective. I’d like to talk to you.”
“Would you mind stepping over here for a minute?”
“I haven’t done anything.”
“Then you got nothing to worry about, have ya?”
He ambled over to our booth and sat down next to Dwight. I sat across from him.
“What’s your full name?”
“Randy Grover. But my friends call me Super Grover.”
“We’re looking for a friend of yours.”
“Oh yeah, who’s that?”
“WTF. C’mon mister, we’re not here to pass the time of day. You know who we mean. You hang around here all the time, so does he. Last night you got some money from him.”
“Oh, WTF! I tapped him for a buck, that’s how well I know the guy.”
“WTF, is that a nickname?” asked Dwight.
“Yeah. His real name is, um, Wayne Theodore Foote. WTF for short.”
“Where does he live?”
“Couldn’t say. I don’t know him that well. Seems like a decent enough guy,” Grover added. “Sure hope he ain’t done nothin’ bad.”
“Depends on how quick we get to him.”
Back in the car, Dwight got the dirt on WTF from Ann back at the office. “Dick, looks like we struck oil. Wayne Theodore Foote, age 27, 900 35th Avenue. Near Fruitvale BART. Fits the description. Out on bail.”
“Awaiting trial for ADW.”
I exhaled. “Yeah, go on.”
“Involved in a traffic accident, Broadway at MacArthur, locked bumpers with another car. Minor damage. Sounds a little psycho.”
“Yeah, really. Quite the surprise.”
“The other driver. Guy named Leroy Wilson.”
“What about him?”
“Foote jumped out of his car and shot Wilson in the arm, .22 caliber revolver.”
“Why? The accident?”
“Not according to the report. Foote gave another reason.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST
We had to move fast. We were reasonably sure that 500 pounds of dynamite were in the hands of a man who had already committed assault with a deadly weapon. If it was the same man, we figured he wouldn’t hesitate to use the dynamite.
William Theodore Foote’s address was a one-room in-law unit behind a house. The resident of the main house told us Foote was a bit peculiar, very quiet, but no trouble to her. She didn’t have a key. She didn’t know if he was in or not.
There was a car in the carport. The license number confirmed it was the Civic used in the burglary at the weapons station. The car was empty as far as we could tell.
Dwight and I drew our heaters. On a silent count of three I kicked in the door and we went in.
On the wall, a big red flag with a Nazi swastika. In the corner, half a dozen automatic assault rifles, one fixed with a bayonet. On the floor, a box of unspent grenades. WTF wasn’t there.
In the closet we found the twelve boxes of TNT, blasting caps lined up conveniently on top.
“Look at this.”
Dwight handed me a flyer he’d found on one of the boxes. “A high school MLK celebration. MLK?”
“Martin Luther King Day. That’s tomorrow.”
Someone was walking up the driveway. I quietly closed the front door. We got in position and waited. In walked WTF. We had him.
We sat him down—at gunpoint—at the card table in the middle of the room. It was time for questions.
“So, tomorrow’s MLK Day. Got any plans, WTF?”
“Gee, I dunno. So many celebrations to choose from.”
“How about the one at the high school?”
“Yeah,” said Dwight, “We hear it’s gonna be da bomb.” He snickered. I kicked him under the table.
“Maybe I was gonna go through with it, and maybe I wasn’t. Or maybe I just feel more comfortable knowing I can defend myself from all these darkies.”
“So you were gonna blow up an auditorium full of black kids?”
He lifted his chin defiantly. “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”
“Ah, Wayne, I understand your pain. You have my sympathies, really. But don’t be stupid. There’s a much simpler way to achieve the same ends without going to prison.”
“Yeah. It’s called white flight.”
“That a drug?”
It was time for us to take our friend Wayne for a little drive. We shoved him in the backseat of the Buick. “Wayne, in the words of Chris Rock: Have you ever driven around this motherfucker?”
We drove out of Oakland into Piedmont. Well, technically not out of Oakland—Piedmont is the only city in America that is completely surrounded by another city, that city being Oakland.
After a few minutes of driving, I looked over my shoulder. Our friend WTF was biting his cuticles in the backseat. “See any black folks, Wayne?”
“No,” WTF said. “Where’d they all go?”
We drove a little further on to a town called Orinda.
“How about here? Any darkies?”
Moraga. “Black folks?”
“Not a one,” said WTF, face glued to the window. “I’ll be damned.”
“Oh, this is only the beginning, WTF. We’re taking you on a little tour of every premium city and neighborhood in the Bay Area.”
We circled the bay and headed up the peninsula. Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto…
“Wait, I think I saw one! Oh, no it’s an Indian dude. Never mind.”
We continued north through Burlingame, Hillsborough…
WTF smacked his forehead. “I can’t believe it! All these towns, no jigaboos anywhere!”
“Bingo. The San Francisco Bay Area, for all its big liberal talk, is as segregated as a TV dinner.”
We even drove through all the premium San Francisco neighborhoods: Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, the Marina.
“I just saw a black bus driver!” WTF shouted.
“They don’t count.”
“Just wait ‘til you see Marin!” chirped Dwight.
We drove across the Golden Gate, up through Mill Valley, Ross, San Anselmo, Belvedere, Tiburon. We stopped at Sam’s Anchor Café for some crab. “Boy, if the Fuhrer could see this place…” Wayne said as he cracked a crab claw and dunked it in cocktail sauce. It was plain we were getting through to him.
“See how easy, Wayne? You don’t have to kill black kids. You do what everyone else does—let them kill each other.”
I shooed away the seagulls and nursed my Bloody Mary.
We drove back across the Richmond Bridge to Wayne’s apartment in Oakland.
“Wayne, did I mention that every suburb we drove through boasts top-rated schools? Something to keep in mind if you ever start a family.”
“I can’t believe it. An entire day driving, and not a single spearchucker in sight.”
I told him, “As soon as you beat that ADW charge, Wayne, move yourself out of this burg. I’m sure you’ll find lots of friends.”
EXERCISING MORAL DISCRETION
We packed up the TNT and the blasting caps, laying them very carefully in the Buick’s trunk.
“So, we’re gonna let Wayne go?”
“Dwight, we’re Right-Wing Detectives, and in this line of work you have to exercise moral discretion. At the end of the day, we want justice, yes, but we also want the best outcomes for people, especially a basically nice guy like Wayne who’s… just a little mixed up.” I put my arm around Dwight’s shoulder. “You see, Dwight, we did more here today than just recover TNT. We recovered a soul.”
“What about all those automatic weapons?”
“Second Amendment. Gotcha.”
BULLET POINTS: FACE FACTS
Piedmont is the only city in America completely surrounded by another city—Oakland. Percentage of Oakland’s population that is African American: 28%. Percentage of Piedmont’s population that is: 1.3%. Clint Eastwood grew up in Piedmont.
Prior to 1978, school districts in California were funded by local property taxes. This was ruled unconstitutional, so the state pooled property taxes to fund every school district equitably. In reaction to this, the state constitution was rewritten via Proposition 13 to permanently cap property taxes (wiping out funding for all schools). Wealthier cities then offset the loss through parcel taxes and multi-million-dollar annual fundraising drives.
Average SAT score (out of 2400) of students from households with an income below $20,000: 1322. From households with an income above $200,000: 1722.
There are 765 school districts in California. Below are cities in the Bay Area with school districts ranked in the state’s top 25, followed by the percentage of their population that is African American.
- Palo Alto 1.9%
- Piedmont 1.3%
- Burlingame 1.2%
- Los Gatos 0.9%
- Danville 0.9%
- San Anselmo 0.9%
- Orinda 0.8%
- Mill Valley 0.8%
- Tiburon 0.8%
- Lafayette 0.7%
- Cupertino 0.6%
- Los Altos 0.5%
- Alamo 0.5%
- Hillsborough 0.4%
- Saratoga 0.3%
- Moraga 0.2%
- Ross 0.2%
- Belvedere 0.1%
- Concord* 3.6%
* Not a top-ranked school district, but home of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, a Superfund Site, from which the TNT in this story was stolen.