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SCOTTSDALE AT NIGHT
It was ten o’clock on the evening of May 27, 1981, in Phoenix, and a storm was in the making. May was early for the monsoon season, which is what newscasters call those rare summer nights in the Sonoran desert of Arizona when rain sweeps up from the Baja peninsula. This night there were lightning flashes in the south sky and an ominous still feeling in the hot desert air.
At B. B. Singer’s restaurant on Central Avenue in the uptown business district a sparse group of people were drinking at the bar and at the restaurant’s maroon mohair booths. The dinner hour was over and the serious drinkers were in charge. In the bare parking lot in back of the restaurant, all was quiet. Papers blew in an occasional gust of wind around the garbage bins. There was a steel door marked “Deliveries Only” in the brick wall, with a buzzer to ring. Inside, there was an alcove at the back of the restaurant’s kitchen. It was noisy from the clashing of the dishwasher, but there was no one about. From the alcove, stairs led up to two dark and gloomy rooms on the second floor. One room was obviously a storeroom, stacked with folding chairs, paper chains, and forlorn banners printed “Happy New Year.” To the left, the second room was grubby and dark, with no windows. There was a battered desk, a telephone, and an old-fashioned safe. This was the office of the two B. B. Singer’s restaurants on North Central. Now it was deserted and still.
Bill Adamowitz, the night manager of the Brass Derby, having emptied the two cash registers, lumbered through the kitchen, all the way to the back stairs. It was the manager’s job to put the register receipts in the safe—both of the Singer restaurants on North Central kept their cash there and made bank deposits in the morning. On this night the door to the safe was swinging open. The money that had been there at six o’clock from the lunch and dinner trade was gone, as well as the customer’s wallet, flush with cash, that a waitress had found. Adamowitz swore.
“Jeez, I have to call Mitch.” The manager thought glumly about Mitch Singer and his temper. Mitch’s disposition had never been good, but he was now even more volatile with the increasing rumors that the three Singer’s restaurants were going under even with the New York investors Mitch had found. Adamowitz also thought about the scene with the dishwasher Miguel earlier that night. Miguel had wanted his paycheck early and had been belligerent when Adamowitz refused. “Shit, I couldn’t give it to him even if I’d wanted to,” mumbled the manager to himself, as he dialed Mitch Singer’s home. “This place is falling apart.” Miguel was unlikely as a serious suspect, Adamowitz thought. The dishwasher wasn’t sophisticated enough to work out the combination to the safe—he was sure of that.
In Scottsdale, Mitch Singer and his wife, Bonnie, were asleep in their new house. Mitch could always sleep, even when things looked bad, as they did with the B. B. Singer’s restaurants just then. Mitch was a pragmatist. If the restaurants couldn’t make it with the money from the New York group that David Goldfarb had found, something else would turn up. Mitch traveled light and didn’t worry about things like that. The phone rang—it was eleven-thirty.
“Goddammit, what are you guys doing down there—sleeping? Okay, I’ll take care of it in the morning. Close it up, call the police,” he told Adamowitz.
After all, burglaries at B. B. Singer’s were not exactly news. In the last two years, Phoenix burglary detectives had been called to the restaurants six times—all by Mitch’s brother-in-law, Steve Steinberg, who then managed the Singer’s restaurant called the Brass Derby. Mitch didn’t know it, but to the people who worked at Singer’s the burglaries were a joke. Some thought it was Mitch’s form of self-help, but many thought it was Steve Steinberg. Steve had all the employees take polygraph tests, and most of them resented it; none of the tests had ever turned up anything. Neither the police nor the insurance company found the burglaries unusual—no one had ever complained. The call from the restaurant that night was annoying to Mitchell Singer, but not something to worry about. He turned over and went back to sleep. It was almost midnight. Scottsdale and Paradise Valley were quiet, waiting for the storm to break.
On McCormick Ranch, Officers 23 and 82 of the Scottsdale Police Department were patrolling in separate cars. Violent crime was almost nonexistent in Scottsdale, and there was no need to have two-man teams on patrol. In 1981, the city was sparsely populated to the north. The ranches on Scottsdale Road and at the foot of Pinnacle Peak were home only to a few Arabian-horse breeders and numerous rattlesnakes; Paradise Valley was enjoying a last reprieve from the bulldozer and the Nicklaus-designed golf courses that were on the way. Developers had just begun to discover what could be done with the lush high desert north of Scottsdale. McCormick Ranch was the first to emerge from their drawing boards.
On these choice acres the heirs of International Harvester’s Cyrus McCormick had found a refuge from Chicago winters. There they had bred Arabian horses. When the family sold the property in 1976, they gave a park to the City of Scottsdale and kept an Arabian show ring for the All-Arabian every spring. The rest of the land became a planned community—the first in Scottsdale. The planners did their work well. The Ranch has two lakes which glisten in the desert, a resort hotel, two beautiful golf courses, a mix of condominiums, luxurious homes, and apartments. The streets were plotted as a maze of circles and cul-de-sacs. All of the streets back on fairways of the golf courses or on lakes and greenbelts. Every street has a Spanish name. McCormick Ranch bustles with croissant shops, stores for pool supplies, travel agencies, and investment counselors, because these are among the critical needs of Ranch residents. Ranch restaurants are trendy; they are the first to feature Cajun food or nouvelle cuisine. One restaurant is a replica of Rick’s Bar in Casablanca with waiters in bush jackets from the Banana Republic and a pianist playing “As Time Goes By.”
The Ranch is a potpourri of middle-class society. There are senior fugitives from the Midwest here, but the Ranch is not a senior-citizen enclave like so much of Phoenix; most residents are upwardly mobile professionals who have children. There is even a new elementary school, unusual in Scottsdale, where schools are closing, not being built. There is a mix of professions and religions, working women and stay-at homes. If there is a common theme among the residents it is a devotion to the good life. To preserve the pristine character of the Ranch the planner thoughtfully built a five-foot stuccoed wall for miles, to surround the enclave.
The Ranch is beautifully kept, full of oleander in bloom, Jacuzzis and hot tubs. Bougainvillea falls in showers of fuchsia over stucco walls, and the greenbelts are clipped and green. In Scottsdale the sun shines 340 days of the year, and with all of this everyone on the Ranch should be happy. But there is a subtle undercurrent of dissatisfaction, a hidden malaise of a community that is not in harmony with itself. There is a strange frequency of juvenile vandalism on the Ranch that cannot be explained. The ducks on the lakes are mysteriously killed; cars drive over the newly planted ryegrass in the night, ruining the turf with ruts; black paint is thrown on one garage and then another in a regular pattern. The local newspaper reports fierce battles in the Ranch homeowners’ associations, in which slates of antagonistic candidates for thankless non paying posts are usually engaged in life-or-death struggles for control. As in much of Phoenix, the newcomers on the Ranch are somewhat rootless and isolated. But even with these problems the typical resident, if asked to set a contentment grade, would say that he (or she) is happy with the choice. Anyone who bought property on McCormick Ranch in the early days when the first houses were being built could hardly be displeased. By 1981, property had doubled in value. The planners had done well; nothing was cheap or ill-favored. As Ranch residents slept that May evening in 1981 they were slowly but perceptibly growing richer.