Page 75 of Overload

"You're not kidding," the architect had said when informed of Nancy's estimate. "Birdsong has a profitable racket." He added ruefully, "Maybe I'm in the wrong one."

Something else Nancy discovered was that collection of money by p & lfp was continuing.

Davey Birdsong was still hiring university students-there was always a new generation which needed part-time work and money-and the objective was to get more p & lfp annual memberships, as well as have existing ones renewed. Apparently Birdsong was no longer cheating the students; probably he realized he couldn't get away with it indefinitely. But, for sure, a pot full of cash was flowing into p & lfp.

What did Birdsong do with it? There seemed no simple answer. True, he did provide an active, vocal opposition to Golden State Power & Light on several fronts-at times successfully-and many who belonged to p & lfp believed they were getting their money's worth. But Nancy questioned that.

With help from an accountant she had done the arithmetic and, even allowing for the most generous expenses and a personal salary for Birdsong, there was no way he could have spent more than half of what was coming in. So how about the remainder? the best guess was that Birdsong, who controlled p & lfp totally, was siphoning it off. Nancy couldn't prove it, though. Not yet.

Her accountant adviser said that eventually the Internal Revenue Service might demand an accounting from p & lfp and Birdsong. But the IRS, he pointed out, was notoriously understaffed. Therefore lots of so-called non-profit organizations were never audited and got away with financial skulduggery.

The accountant asked: Did Nancy want him to tip off the IRS confidentially?

Her emphatic answer: No. She wasn't ready to tip off anybody.

The accountant's services were available to Nancy because her father was an important client of his firm. The same applied to a lawyer often retained by Milo Molineaux, Inc., and Nancy took the ex-university students to him and had them swear out affidavits. They co-operated willingly.

She was building her dossier carefully.

Nancy Molineaux knew about Birdsong's other income from university lecturing and writing. There was nothing wrong with that, or even unusual, but it reinforced her curiosity about what Davey Birdsong did with all that money.

Then there was a vague rumor-she overheard it at a cocktail partythat Birdsong and p & lfp had appealed to the Sequoia Club for financial support. Nancy considered that unlikely and, even if true, was certain the wealthy and prestigious Sequoia Club would have no truck with the likes of Davey Birdsong. Just the same, because she made a habit of covering all bases, Nancy had put out feelers. So far, no results.

The most intriguing question of all came up one day in January when Nancy was driving her Mercedes 450SL and happened to see Davey Birdsong walking on a downtown street. Without stopping to reason why, she decided to follow him. She whisked her car into a handy self-serve parking lot and went after him on foot, keeping a discreet distance behind. What came next was like something out of an espionage novel.

Although Nancy was positive Birdsong had not seen her, be behaved as if be expected to be followed and was determined to shake off pursuit.

First, he walked into the busy main lobby of a hotel. After glancing around, he ducked into a men's room and a few minutes later came out wearing dark glasses and a soft felt hat, whereas before he had been bareheaded. The change did not fool Nancy. However, his appearance was different and she realized that, if Birdsong had been dressed that way to begin with, she probably would not have noticed him. He left the hotel by a side door. Giving him a comfortable start, Nancy followed. She almost lost him then because, further along the street from the hotel, be was boarding a bus which promptly closed its doors and moved away.

There was no time to return to her car, but luckily a taxi was approaching. Nancy bailed it. She flashed a twenty-dollar bill and told the driver, a young black, "Keep that bus in sight but don't make it obvious we're following it. Every time it stops, though, I want to see who gets off."

The driver was instantly with it. "Will do, lady! Just sit back. Leave the action to me."

He was smart and resourceful. He passed the bus twice, then each time eased into right lane traffic so the bus, in an outside lane, would pass him. While both vehicles were close, Nancy kept her bead averted. But whenever the bus stopped to take on or disembark passengers, the taxi was positioned so she could see clearly. For what seemed a long time, Birdsong did not appear and Nancy wondered if she had missed him after all. Then, about four miles from his point of boarding, he got off.

She could see him looking around.

"That's the one-with the beard," she told her driver.

"I see him!" the cabby accelerated past, without glancing in Birdsong's direction, then eased into the curb. "Don't turn around, lady. I got him in the mirror. Now be's crossing the street." After a minute or two: "Be damned if he ain't getting on another bus."

They followed the second bus too. It was going in an opposite direction from the first and retraced some of the original route. This time Birdsong got off after a few blocks, again looking around him. Close by were several parked taxis. Birdsong took the first and, as it pulled away, Nancy could see his face peering through the rear window.

She made another decision and instructed, "Let him go. Take me back downtown."

Nancy reasoned: there was no sense in pushing her luck. She hoped Birdsong had not detected her taxi trailing him, but if she persisted he undoubtedly would. Solving the mystery of where he went, and why, would have to be done some other way.

"Geez, lady, kinda bard to figure you out," the cabby complained when they had changed direction. "First you wanna tail the guy, so we do okay. Then you quit." He went on grumbling, "Didn't even get close enough to see the other hack's number."

Because he had done his best, she decided to explain why she didn't want to be that close, and possibly be seen. He listened, then nodded. "Gotcha!"

A few minutes later the young driver turned his bead. "You still wanna find out where the beard goes?"

"Yes," Nancy said. The more she thought about Birdsong's elaborate precautions, the more convinced she became that something important was happening. Something she had to know.

The driver asked, "Know where the guy hangs out mostly?"

"His home address? No, but it wouldn't be hard to find."

"Maybe we could work a deal," the driver said. "Me and two buddies. They ain't working, and they got cars with CB radios. I got a CB too. Three of us could take turns following the beard, pulling a switcheroo so he don't keep seeing the same heap. We'd use the radios. That way, when one guy eased off, he'd call another in."

"But to do that," Nancy pointed out, "you'd have to keep watch on him all the time."

"Can do. Like I said, my friends ain't working."

The idea had possibilities. She asked, "How much would it cost?"

"Have to figure that out, lady. But not as much as you'd think."

"When you've done your figuring," Nancy said, "call me." She scribbled her apartment phone number on the back of a business card.

He called late that night. By then she had looked up Birdsong's home address which was in the phone book.

"Two hundred and fifty a week," the cabby said. "That's for me and the other two."

She hesitated. Was it important enough to go to all that trouble and expense? Again her instincts told her yes.

So should she ask the Examiner for the money? Nancy was doubtful. If she did, she would have to disclose everything she had uncovered so far, and she was certain the paper would want to publish immediately the material on Davey Birdsong and his p&lfp. In Nancy's opinion that would be premature; she believed strongly there was more to come and it was worth waiting for. Another thing: the newspaper's penny pinching management bated to spend money unless it had to.

She decided to go ahead on her own. She would pay the money herself and hope to get it back later. If she didn't it would be no great disaster, though it would violate one of the rules she lived by. By most standards, Nancy Molineaux was wealthy. Several years ago her father established a trust fund which provided her with a regular, comfortable income. But, as a matter of pride, she kept her private finances and professional earnings separate. For once, pride would have to be humbled. The cabby said he would like something in advance, which was reasonable, and Nancy told him to drop by and pick it up.