I didn’t start life with a desire to become a burglar. There was no specialized training, apprenticeship, or even a tradition of the craft in my family. I cannot name one ancestor who worked even part-time as a burglar. Until I was sixteen years old, I did not realize burglary, larceny, and robbery were not synonymous.
I grew up in Concrete, Washington, a small town in the north Cascade Mountains situated at the confluence of the Skagit and Baker Rivers. The original name was “Cement City,” but that apparently was too dry for folks, and they changed it to Concrete, not to be confused with other towns such as Rockport, Castle Rock, Granite Falls, Black Diamond, and Gold Bar, having similar hard to forget names.
My parents each dropped out of college during the Hippie era and moved into a refurbished school bus to what they thought was the Woodstock of the West. They found like-minded dropouts, counter-culture earthlings, and draft dodgers living in semi-communal camps along the banks of the Skagit and Sauk Rivers. While “living off the land,” my father picked up odd jobs for the locals from Sedro-Woolley downriver to Marblemount upriver. They grew recreational cash crops in the surrounding forests, essentially taking the place of the earlier Prohibition-era Moonshiners.
I was born in the school bus, assisted by a midwife, and was named after Timothy Leary, the acid guru of the time. They named me Skagit Timothy Deming, which has inherent problems when reduced to my initials. Deming is not my parents’ last name; it is a little town north of Concrete that they considered to have “life energy.” You can call me Tim.
The first thing I recall stealing was attention. I learned that disruptive behavior gets attention from parents, teachers, and cops, establishing a pattern that continued into my teenage years. I started skipping school, hanging out with friends who shared my vision for non-conformity and rejection of controls. One of the challenges for a delinquent seeking affirmation and identification in a small town is the lack of gangs. We had to create our own.
That brings me to the topic of dirt bikes, which I discovered when I was sixteen on a Saturday evening in early July. I was walking along Main Street past Road Kill Pizza & Pub and happened to see through the store-front window a group of dirt bikers sitting at a table. I walked to the corner and saw a late model Chevy 4X4 pickup, British Columbia license plates, parked on the unlit side street. In the bed of the truck were dirt bikes nestled among helmets and other equipment with a locked cable wrapped through the frames of all but one of the unlicensed bikes.
Their carelessness inspired and at once infuriated me as I looked at the muddy dirt bikes. By the time the owners finished the last pitcher of beer and got into the pickup, they never noticed the missing dirt bike and helmet. That Suzuki 175 two-stroke bike changed my life and attracted the attention of the police department. The following year did not end well.
I’m an involuntary veteran. The Army is what happens when a Juvenile Court Judge proposes options at a sentencing hearing, usually at the suggestion of a probation officer who never served in the military herself. Since I had no record of violent crimes, and the dirt bike was beyond repair, the Judge offered enlistment after being assured by my parents that I looked forward to serving my country. Enlistment offered the double benefit of keeping the alleged crime off my juvenile record and moving me “away from the peer group” that influenced my delinquent behavior. I was sent to the local recruiter instead of a detention facility.
At Fort Sam Huston, where I trained as a combat medic, my new peer group included a few golfers. They took me to the Fort Sam Huston Golf Club and introduced me to a sport that soon became a passion. I started out renting clubs and borrowing a pair of spikes, unable to afford a set of golf clubs on my E-3 salary. Luckily, I’m a right-hander, so finding a set of clubs to steal was just a matter of time. During a golf outing at a public course in San Antonio, I found an unattended golf bag full of clubs at a bag drop. Ping clubs became my favorite brand.
Other than an occasional off-base entanglement, the Army was a dormant time in my professional development. There is a low tolerance for crimes in the military, forcing me to keep my roving eye and hands to myself. An honorable discharge was also a goal that motivated my temporary reformation.
After discharge, it was time to prove the Army can take the boy out of the country and take the country out of the boy. Seattle was calling my new name, S. Timothy Montgomery, which was my father’s surname and the name given to my younger siblings. Both my sister, Emilee, and brother, Aaron had moved to the Seattle Metro area and doing better than expected. Aaron was single and worked for Boeing, and Emilee was married to Brad, a police officer, and raising two children. Our parents were still in Concrete, holding respectable jobs and migrating to middle-class values and incomes. They still had cash crops tucked away behind annuals in a greenhouse.
Over the years, I developed a niche market in Seattle. There are several ways people in my business get caught. Most failures are at the point of the actual act of breaking into a building to steal something. The next most likely failure is in selling or possessing the stolen object. Then there are the burglars who work in teams, and that exposes them to the crime of conspiracy to commit burglary, even if they never get to the actual burglary.
To avoid these risks, I work as a contractor. I get paid to do the burglary, and I turn the stolen property over to my client. I usually get a portion of the fee in advance. If the stolen item is worth a million dollars, for example, I only get paid what was promised, not based on the value of the item stolen. The exception, of course, is when the stolen item is cash, then I work on a percentage basis.
I have learned not to be greedy and not envy clients who risk selling what I deliver. I minimize the time I possess the stolen property, which reduces the risk of being caught.
I never carry a weapon, always carry cash to pay bribes, never use violence, never leave a trace, and never reveal a client’s identity.
Brother-in-law Brad suspected I was more than an investor in the import and export business, although he allowed family dynamics to limit the scope of inquiry. As a police officer, he knew my criminal record was only the tip of the iceberg. We were cordial around each other at family events, forming a détente relationship, avoiding difficult topics of conversation.
When Brad joined the Everett Golf and Country Club, I wondered if he would invite me to join him in a round of golf as a guest. A year later, I got the call.
“You want me to tell you what I do over the phone?” I asked with a plaintiff tone to my voice.
“I know what you do. I have a job for you that we cannot discuss over the phone. Meet me at the Club after church on Sunday,” he instructed.
“Should I bring my lawyer?”
“Bring your clubs,” Brad replied and hung up.
We teed off on number 1 on a warm afternoon in May. By the time we put the flag back in the cup on number 3, I was two strokes up. Brad suggested a three-dollar Nassau and I had to give him four strokes per side, so I was keeping score.
As we approached the tee box on number 4, Brad motioned for me to take honors, and said, “Tim, look at the green on this hole because the job involves what you are going to see.”
“Is there a dead body down there?” I asked as I put my tee in the ground on the elevated tee box of the par-4 that runs downhill to the green. The fairway is heavily treed on both sides. Because of the drop in elevation, a well-hit drive is rewarded with a short pitch to the green.
I could see some brown areas on the green as I set up for my second shot with a 58-degree wedge. The ball landed on the green and rolled back a few feet toward the flag, leaving me with a 12-foot putt. The damage to the green was significant, consisting of splashes and swaths of dead and dying grass. I marked my ball and asked, “What happened here?” For a golfer, it was a vicious thing to behold.
“The course superintendent thinks it might be some type of herbicide; happened two nights ago,” he replied. I started thinking about where I was two nights ago, when Brad added, “We think we know who did it and why.” Brad was about 20-yards off the green and chipped within two feet. After my missed putt, he said, “See those small holes?” pointing to locations where there were holes among the brown patches. “We took samples and sent them to a private lab for analysis.”
“You mean the police department took samples?” I asked.
“No, we don’t want to turn this into a criminal matter,” he said.
“It looks criminal to me,” I suggested as I tapped in for a par.
“It is, but we want to keep this in-house,” he said as he missed his par putt.
I put the flag back in the hole as he picked up his ball. “You want to keep it in- house because you know who did it?” I asked.
I teed my ball on number 5 and pulled a Ping driver from my bag. “You going to tell me the name of the suspect and why the soil samples?” I asked.
After we both teed off and as we walked up the fairway, he said, “Three days ago the Club expelled a member for misconduct, rude behavior, and non-payment of dues. The specifics are not important, but the fact is the Club did what it thought was in the best interest of the members. When the Club manager called the man at work, told him to clean out his locker, he swore at her and hung up. That was Wednesday. Thursday night somebody came over the fence and poisoned the green,” he said, pointing to a chain-link fence behind trees that separated the course from an adjacent parking lot.
“I don’t know much about crime, but it sounds like your former member got his revenge,” I offered as Brad started his backswing.
He stopped and glared at me. “Why don’t you go over and stand by your ball?” I acted hurt and walked to my ball.
After slicing his seven-iron, Brad came over to me and waited to see if I would start my backswing. When he saw that I waited patiently for him to continue our discussion, he said, “Do you really want to discuss what you know about crime?”
I said nothing in reply and pulled a Ping hybrid-3 from my bag and hit my Titleist pin high and just off the green. “So has anybody confronted your ex-member about the vandalism?” I asked as we continued walking to the green.
“That is why I’m talking to you,” he explained.
“Brad, I don’t break legs, and I don’t have a list of friends who break legs,” I protested as I waited for him to mishit his wedge shot to the green. His ball landed short. “Chip and a putt for bogie,” I offered as encouragement.
I walked to my ball, which was just off the green, and Brad said, “We need evidence to prove our ex-member vandalized the green. We have members who will pay for your time.”
“My time doing what?” I asked as I chipped my ball within inches of the flagstick.
“Nice chip. We want you to go to his house, find the chemicals he used and bring them to our lab for analysis,” Brad said and then looked at my ball next to the cup. “Pick it up, good par,” he said.
“If I said this is outside my normal line of work, would you let me take a pass?”
“Don’t get me started,” Brad said with a grin.
“And what are your friends offering to pay if I take this assignment?”
“I was hoping for the friends and family discount,” he said. In ten years, this is the only indication Brad had a sense of humor.
“If anything goes wrong,” he started to say, and I interrupted him.
“Brad, my policy is to never carry, never use force and never talk about my employer,” I replied. “So, this conversation never happened.”
On the 18th green, Brad handed me nine dollars and invited me to the men’s grill for a drink. On the back of a napkin, he wrote down the name, Max Abbott, and address of the former Club member. Brad explained that the suspect had been a member for less than two years, was a high-handicap golfer, worked in sales for a manufacturing company, divorced, no children, and living with a girlfriend.
“Why do you want to get yourself involved in this?” I asked. “You know better than anyone how this could affect your career.”
Brad thought for a minute and said, “Your sister and I came here last Christmas for dinner with friends. Max Abbott was at the next table with his girlfriend and her son. He was drunk and verbally abusing his girlfriend. Somebody at our table quietly asked Max to stop using abusive language, and Max made a scene. He insulted people, including your sister, and when I started to get out of my chair, she pulled me back. I let it go. I’m not letting it go this time.”
I looked my brother-in-law in the eye, nodded in agreement, and shook his hand. Our relationship changed at that moment.
I started my surveillance of Max Abbott the next day. He lived in a residential development north of the Golf Club in a single level, two-car garage house with a fenced back yard. Max worked in Marysville and spent most evenings at the Tulalip Casino before he went home. He was a heavy drinker and behaved badly when the cards did not go his way at the poker table. I sat in on a few hands when he was playing poker and saw a floor-manager quietly caution Max about his language and behavior toward dealers and cocktail waitresses.
While doing one last surveillance of Max’s house on a Saturday morning, I saw the garage doors were open, revealing the cars were gone, and a teenage boy was tinkering with a dirt bike in the driveway. He looked to be 17 years old, wearing dirt biker clothing. He paid no attention when I parked my Mercedes with tinted windows across the street, a few yards past the house. I figured the teenager was probably the girlfriend’s son.
I watched as the kid used a screwdriver to adjust something on the bike, then into the garage and returned with a 5-gallon gas can. Since he had a two-stroke engine on the bike, I knew the fuel had to be a pre-mix of oil and gas. He poured the mixture into the fuel tank, spilling some of the fuel. The boy went back into the garage to a workbench and picked up a white microfiber cloth, which he used to wipe spilled fuel from around the gas cap on the bike and then his hands. He put the cloth on top of the gas can, walked back to the garage and went into the house.
I put my car in reverse and backed up into the driveway, making it appear the Mercedes was just turning around. I looked in the rearview mirror for anybody coming out of the garage as I lowered the driver’s side window, grabbed the cloth from the top of the gas can, shifted to drive, and pulled away. As I looked back over my shoulder, I could see the kid coming out of the garage with a helmet in his hand, seemingly unaware the cloth was missing.
I headed to the private lab in Seattle, not sure if they would be open on a Saturday. I called Brad on my cell phone and told him I had a sample of what I expected was used to vandalize the 4th green. Brad made a brief noncommittal response and said he looked forward to golfing with me next week. It was his way of being careful about communication by phone.
“It’s a match,” Brad reported when I saw him two days later at the Club. He invited me to join him for a round of golf on his day off from the police department. “The soil samples contained the same gas and oil additives as the fuel in the microfiber cloth. One of our Club members is a retired SPD detective, stands about 6 foot 5, and he confronted Max with the lab report and asked to talk to the boy you saw working on the dirt bike.”
“How did that go?” I asked.
“Max wrote a check to the Club for the repair to the green. Case closed,” Brad said as he gave me a fist bump. “Do you take cash, Bro?”