Chris Butler wanted to be a media celebrity and a badass, until he made what turned out to be a big mistake. He asked Diablo to write about him.
(page 2 of 8)
[ chapter three ]
Taken for a Ride-Along
On Saturday, September 11, I returned to Butler’s office to tag along with Peters and Antoon. Butler, a puffed-up tough guy wearing a tight black T-shirt, jeans, and boots, was tinkering with a brightly painted Harley parked in a garage next to his office. The garage also housed a pristine vintage Volkswagen Beetle, which Butler told me he wanted to sell for at least $30,000—since he had restored it to look like the titular star of The Love Bug.
“Damn it,” Butler spat, showing me that a mirror had broken off his hog. “I loaned this to some law enforcement contacts to use for an undercover drug case. If they are going to break something, they need to fix it before they return it.”
An hour later, I was camped out in the back of a Honda minivan on duty with Peters, of Orinda, and Antoon, of Dublin. We parked in a quiet Pleasant Hill neighborhood and waited for a black Jaguar XJ (make of car changed to protect anonymity) to appear.
Antoon was explaining that infidelity cases were by far their most frequent assignments, when Peters’ cell phone rang. The Client was calling to say that her fiancé was on his way.
Seconds later, The Client’s Jaguar appeared, driven by The Subject. It roared down a hill, and Peters started her van to follow. The first light we hit turned red, but the Jag was already through and disappeared around a bend on Pleasant Hill Road.
“Shit,” said Peters, looking both ways on the empty street and then gunning the minivan through the red light. We followed The Subject to the 24 Hour Fitness club in Moraga.
As The Subject walked toward the gym, Antoon scrambled into the back of the van with a video camera and recorded his casual stroll. Dressed in sweats and carrying a duffel bag, he certainly appeared to be headed for a workout.
“Now, we wait,” said Antoon. “This might take awhile. Sometimes our day is spent sitting here, just staring at a door.”
Not this time. After about 10 minutes, The Subject came back outside, sporting a leisure-wear date outfit.
“Oh, don’t we look pretty,” said Peters, firing up the van and slipping into traffic behind the Jag. We followed The Subject south on I-680 to Blackhawk, where he picked up a brunette wearing big Jackie O sunglasses. Antoon made a call to Chris Butler with a status update so Butler could keep The Client informed of The Subject’s activities throughout the surveillance.
As we followed The Subject onto I-680 north, I asked the P.I. Moms where they thought he might be taking his Mystery Date: Would he have the nerve to take his side dish to downtown Walnut Creek, close to his fiancé’s house? “We aren’t supposed to assume anything,” said Antoon. “Our job is simply to observe and report those observations.”
The Jag stayed on the freeway, past Walnut Creek, and headed for the Benicia-Martinez Bridge.
“Looks like we’re going to Wine Country,” I offered.
“Never assume, just observe,” Antoon and Peters repeated, in unison.
The Subject drove to Napa Premium Outlets and got out of the Jag with his Mystery Date, a twentysomething wearing a green dress that exposed copious cleavage. The couple headed into a jewelry store advertising 80 percent discounts. After a few minutes, they came out, Mystery Date carrying a purple gift bag, and moved on to the Coach store.
Peters called Butler. We had already logged three hours of surveillance and prep time, and The Client had booked the minimum requirement of four hours. Butler said that The Client insisted that we continue following her fiancé, and she had approved a backup team of investigators as well. Peters told me the backup P.I.s were driving to Napa from their home in San Francisco.
As The Subject and Mystery Date came out of the Coach store, with another gift bag, the backup team arrived. Carl and Ilona Marino, an impossibly good-looking married couple, parked next to the van in a late-model black Mustang GT. It was the kind of muscle car you’d expect to see Steve McQueen driving, if the King of Cool were still alive. Apparently, on Wine Country investigations, anonymity means looking like you just fell off the pages of GQ.
The Subject and Mystery Date got back in The Client’s Jaguar and drove off. We followed them to the Rutherford Grill. I hoped they would have a long, leisurely lunch. I was starving.
As The Subject and Mystery Date walked toward the restaurant, they stopped right in front of the van to kiss. Antoon videotaped a close-up of the smooch. The couple entered the restaurant’s patio, and we followed. Rutherford Grill was packed, and The Subject and Mystery Date had taken a spot at a patio table for quick service. The only seats available for us were at the same table, a six-top right next to the bar.
Uncomfortable about being so close to the people we were spying on, I sat down across from Mystery Date, smiled, and said hello. She reminded me of the actress Megan Fox, if Megan Fox’s right arm were covered shoulder to wrist with tattoos.
Peters sat down and put a large leather purse on the table. The purse had a cell phone case attached to the outside, disguising a small video camera. Antoon had mentioned that since The Subject and Mystery Date were in a public place, it was legal to record video of them, but recording their conversation without permission was a no-no. I was sitting so close that I could hear every word they said. For lovers on a secret rendezvous, their erotic chitchat seemed noticeably flaccid.
The Subject: “You look beautiful today. Did I tell you that already?”
Mystery Date: “You did. Ugh, I’m sweating.”
The Subject: “I’d like to lick all that sweat off of you.”
Mystery Date: “I’d like that too. I want to go horseback riding tomorrow, at my friend’s stables out past Tassajara.”
The Subject: “Is that near where we got that hotel room that time? That was a wild night.”
As Mystery Date snacked on an appetizer of artichoke dip and a grilled artichoke entrée, Antoon, Peters, and I devoured hamburgers and a Flintstones-sized plate of ribs. We paid our check, then hustled back to the van to get into position with the video camera. The Subject and Mystery Date left the restaurant, again stopping right in front of the van to suck face, then drove to the nearby Peju Winery off Highway 29.
Peters called the Marinos with the location. When they arrived, they went into the winery while we stayed in the van. The Subject and Mystery Date were inside the tasting room for about an hour, and Peters received text messages from the Marinos, which she read aloud.
TEXT 1: Made contact with subject
TEXT 2: We r talking to them and taking pics 2gether
TEXT 3: They r drunk
TEXT 4: Just invited us back to their hotel!!
Peters again called Butler, who told her that The Client was seriously pissed, and wanted to see her fiancé and Mystery Date with her own eyes. Butler was already en route with The Client so she could witness the train wreck in person.
This struck me as an extraordinarily strange decision, and a direct contradiction to everything Butler and the moms had told me about their modus operandi. The point of any suspected infidelity surveillance was not to confront the cheater but to provide The Client with information that she could use to her advantage.
I told Peters that she should advise Butler to keep The Client in the East Bay and wait to see the plentiful video evidence. Peters told me it was too late: They were on their way. Weird.
Antoon turned on the video camera as The Subject, Mystery Date, and the Marinos came out of the winery. The foursome exchanged hugs and kisses before heading to their cars. The Subject and Mystery Date seemed sloppy drunk—that must have been some tasting. The Subject groped and kissed his date before opening the passenger door of the Jag.
“Get a room, you two!” yelled Carl, across the parking lot.
“You know we have one!” The Subject yelled back, cackling.
We followed right behind The Subject and Mystery Date, who took advantage of every red light to make out. In American Canyon, they pulled off the highway and parked at the Holiday Inn Express. Peters parked across the street, and Antoon videotaped the couple moving their shopping bags into the trunk. The Subject and Mystery Date walked into the hotel, arm in arm.
Within minutes, Butler, The Client, and an intern from Butler and Associates arrived in a Chrysler sedan. Butler approached Peters’ van and got an update about the gifts. The Client was fuming and demanded to examine the trunk of the Jag.
“I want to see what he bought her,” screamed The Client. “I want to look in the trunk of my own fucking car!”
Antoon suggested that Butler check the trunk of the Jag, and after a quick discussion, a plan was hatched to take The Client’s Jaguar. The Client gave Butler her spare key, and Butler hastily drove off in the Jag, with the intern and The Client following in the Chrysler, and Antoon, Peters, and me behind them in the minivan. I was absolutely astonished by what I had just witnessed.
The P.I. caravan pulled into a Safeway parking lot about a mile down Highway 29. The Client jumped out of the Chrysler, opened the trunk of her Jag, and found an empty jewelry box and a Coach bag. She collapsed in tears into the spacious trunk.
Butler instructed the intern to return his Chrysler to his office in Concord, then told Peters and Antoon to wait there for a debriefing after he drove The Client to her home in Pleasant Hill.
It had been a 10-hour day, and my head was spinning with questions. What was The Subject going to do when he realized the Jaguar was no longer parked at the Holiday Inn Express in American Canyon? Would he report it stolen? If so, would he say it was stolen from American Canyon or from the East Bay, where he was supposed to be shooting hoops with his homies?
“It’s too bad you didn’t get video of him coming out and seeing that the car was gone,” I said to Peters and Antoon. “That would have been the money shot.”