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Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Faithless love will find you and the misery entwine you. Faithless love, where did I go wrong..."

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc

Father Hollyweird
Chapter Thirteen

Los Angeles Mission, East 5th Street…Dec 4, 1:30pm

             Patricia Cromwell, Sister Pat, dried her soapy hands with a gingham dishtowel in the kitchen. She had just finished the dishes from the lunch rush and it was time to take her own meal with the other volunteers in the dining hall. There were only a handful of people sharing the large room as only the faithful dared chow down on leftovers here. Most of the crew and that included members of the clergy preferred to venture out into the city rather than take their chances on these table scraps. She couldn’t blame them, the vow of poverty didn’t mean that one had to risk their lives for goodness sake. The nun pieced together a modest and healthy lunch consisting largely of salad greens and veggies and piled it onto a clean white Corel dish. She placed the dish and a cup of hot tea onto a heavy plastic tray and walked out into the hall to find an empty table. She was feeling a tad pensive today and preferred to eat alone in silence with her thoughts.
            Sister Pat liked coming here, it gave her a chance to get out of her routines at the Church as well as at the mother’s shelter and still serve God. She had been volunteering at the mission since the early 80’s, back when the LA Mission was over on Los Angeles Street. She enjoyed working with the wide variety of volunteers from all walks of life, especially the young people. They helped to keep her young at heart and she liked hearing their unique and individual perspectives about the world and their neighborhoods. Truth be told she enjoyed seeing the secular world through their eyes and unbeknownst to them existed vicariously alongside them through their stories and experiences. She had no regrets about her choice to serve God and the Holy Church, but once in a while she enjoyed stepping outside of herself and indulge her imagination. Even Nuns and Priests were susceptible to playing the ‘what if’ game sometimes, after all they were humans as well.
            Sister Pat sat in silence and picked at her food. Her stomach was still tied in knots and her mind spinning from the letter she received yesterday. It was waiting for her in the office and she had retrieved it after evening prayers. She remembered how strange it felt to receive an actual letter in the era of emails and texts. It was rare to receive anything but bills and junk mail. Yes, nuns have lives too, nobody is safe from spam and the government. Curious though, she had no family and her small circle of friends lived with her at the convent. So outside of an occasional Christmas or Easter card the only mail she received were a few bills, notices from the government at tax time and communiques from the Diocese Personnel Office. So this letter intrigued her and she was hesitant to open it straight away. She knew it was silly, she had nothing to be nervous or afraid of, her mundane life revolved around her devotion to her faith. Still there was something foreboding about the mysterious letter. Perhaps the absence of a return address had something to do with it, curious. So summoning her courage and calming herself she finally opened envelope and removed the one page letter.
            Sitting on the edge of the twin bed in her small room she opened the letter finally. It was from a young man whom she had counseled not so very long ago. The letter was handwritten in a pleasant cursive style which she thought unusual for a man. His name was Alex, a parishioner she recognized as the only son of a wealthy family from Bel Air. Sister Pat tried to visualize the parents but they were shadows in her memory, only the boy stood out. She had seen so many children over the years at the Church but this one had one of those faces that you never forget. He was cute as a button as a toddler with a head full of white blonde hair fashioned in a Dutch Boy style, with eyes of a crystal blue. She had watched him grow up over the years as the family regularly attended Sunday Mass. He had come to her suffering from a broken heart.
Apparently a girl had left him for reasons that she never gave. Sister Pat recalled that he had been nearly inconsolable and she felt frightened as well for some reason. It didn’t take long for Sister Pat to connect him to the subject of Father Quinn’s documentary film, Megan Mallory, a fact that she never shared with the priest. She had wanted to but Alex had begged her to keep it secret until he had time to think, time to get over her. When she eventually asked him if he were the father of Megan’s baby he went pale. Sullenly he had claimed that he didn’t even know that Megan was with child and then suddenly stormed out of the session without an explanation. That was their last session together, Sister Pat never saw him again, neither at the clinic nor at the Church. Now this letter so many months later. Sister Pat took the spectacles hanging from a chain around her neck and placed them onto the bridge of her sharp Roman nose. The letter was short:
“Sister please forgive my childish behavior at our last session and my absence since then. I had much to deal with and much to investigate. You should know that I loved Megan dearly and that I was under the impression that she felt likewise. Her rejection and the news of her pregnancy was a shock to say the least. Nothing she did coincided with everything that she said and her condition was a blow to me as well as we had never engaged in relations together, even though the likelihood of that was how we met, she being a come of age gift from my father. Megan’s senseless death and the horrific details compelled me to ferret out the circumstances the led her to her tragic decision. I went to my father and confronted him about what I had come to suspect. Naturally he was upset but more than that he was, I don’t know, cold is the best term for his reaction. It scared me. I need to talk to you about this, can we meet? I need help deciding what to do next. Call the cell number below as soon as you can. Thanks…Alex”
She had read the letter several times before falling asleep. In the morning after Mass she had gone to the office and called the number. At first there was no answer and a computer voice explained that the user’s voice mailbox was full. Frustrated she tried again only this time someone picked up on the other end only it wasn’t Alex, it was the police. Sister Pat had hung up without answering and started to worry. That was the inspiration for the pensive mood she’s been in all day, the mood she continued to be in now. Staring past her lunch she continued time traveling in a reflective state as she pondered Alex’s whereabouts. Suddenly her pensive trance was broken.
“Good day Sister,” spoke the soft familiar voice.
Startled Sister Pat involuntarily pushed her lunch tray away and sat up straight as if she were caught cheating on a quiz in school. It was a reflex action but she recovered her composure and slowly turned her head to confirm her recognition of the voice. She smiled when she saw Father Quinn’s face, things would be alright now she thought.
“Hello Father,” she replied as the priest joined her taking a seat across from her at the otherwise empty lunch table. Father Quinn folded his hands on the tabletop, glanced at the full tray of food and studied the nun’s face for a moment. Her expression was more than meek, she had the look of someone who had left the confessional with unfinished business.
“You’ve hardly touched your meal Sister, what’s troubling you my dear?”
Sister Pat fidgeted nervously and answered the priest in a small voice, “I’m frightened Father,” she replied.
“I can see that you’re troubled about something, how might I help you?”
“I’m not frightened for myself Father, you see I am afraid for someone else. It’s a little hard to explain.”
“I see. Well now, try taking a breath and give it a go. An act of contrition can heal most pensive moods.”
“Perhaps Father, but I must admit that there a matter of a small confession involved.”
“How fortunate you are that I happened by then,” Father Quinn replied with a reassuring smile.
“I suppose so Father, by the way why are you here anyway?”
“I was meeting with the Mission Director about increasing the donation from the Diocese next year.”
“Oh alright, anyway, what I have to confess involves the Mallory girl and her child you see,” said Sister Pat.
Father Quinn willed himself to remain calm and nonplussed by her comment, “I see, go on dear,” he said evenly.
The nun leaned forward slightly as if what she were about to say was not to be overheard by anyone, “Father there is something that I never shared with you about the girl. Something that I know now that I should have,” she said in a hushed voice.
The priest’s face revealed none of the inner turmoil he was experiencing at the moment. More surprises regarding Megan Mallory was the last thing he wanted to deal with, “Alright then, so what is it you have to share about that poor child?”
“As you recall Megan refused to reveal the identity of the father of her baby.”
“Yes, I am aware of that, why is that a concern to now?”
“I may know who that person is, or rather I may know someone who can tell us who that person is.”
“And how did you come to know this mysterious someone?”
“That is my confession Father. You see while you were tending to Megan and making your film I was counseling a young man who may have been an intimate acquaintance of the girl.”
“You mean the father of her child?”
“No Father, not intimate in that way, at the time they were together they remained pure.”
Father Quinn chortled involuntarily, “So this child she carried was an immaculate conception? Ids that what you’re insinuating?”
“No, of course not Father, I’m merely saying that the two of them were apparently an item up until the time that she abruptly left him and subsequently arrived at our doorstep in dire straits.”
Father Quinn pondered this a moment, this revelation would certainly eliminate him as a suspect in the girl’s demise, he should feel relieved but he did not and that concerned him. There must be more to this, he pressed the nun further, “Why are you only now coming forward with this information Sister?”
Sister Pat paused a second or two and bit at her lips like a nervous child before answering. “I received a disturbing letter from the young man yesterday, he wants to meet with me and talk. He left a phone number for me to contact him but when I called the police answered,” Sister Pat explained.
“The police?” replied Father Quinn.
“Yes father, the police. I don’t know how else to reach this boy without going to his family, and the letter left me with the impression that that may not be a good idea.”
“Do you know them personally?”
“Not exactly, I know who they are. They are parishioners.”
“Odd, what did the letter say that would leave you with that impression?”
“Nothing specific, it’s just that the young man stated that he confronted his father and that statement made me uncomfortable.”
“I see, what is the boy’s name?”
“Alex Father, Alex Whembly,” answered Sister Pat. Father Quinn flinched and it did not go unnoticed by the nun.
“I know that name, Detective Roode mentioned him the other day,” the priest said as he searched his memory of that conversation.
“Who is Detective Roode?” asked the nun.
“Nobody you need to concern yourself with Sister. Do you have that letter with you?”
“No Father, it is back at the convent.”
“May I have a look at it?
“Why? Do you think that it’s important?”
“I’m not sure but I’d like to share it with this detective, it may help him to close out this suspicion of me by the police and frankly the Church as well.”
“Of course Father. Do you think this detective can find out where young Alex has gone to? I’d feel so much better to know that he is safe and sound.”
“Quite possibly Sister, quite possibly. Let’s pop over to the convent and retrieve that letter and I’ll contact Mr. Roode.” The nun stood and grabbed her untouched lunch, “Roode, that’s an odd name don’t you think,” remarked Sister Pat.
“Not once you’ve the man Sister,” Father Quinn replied chuckling.
“Dear me,” said Sister Pat.
“Quite,” replied Father Quinn.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"The more I know, the less I understand. All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again..."

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
Father Hollyweird
Chapter Twelve

The Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Dec 4, 6:30am
            I’ve been an early riser ever since I can remember. Must be in my genes because as soon as the sun rises so do I. My old man was like that so I guess he passed the trait down to me as well. Having just finished my morning routine in the can (shower, shave, and the other ‘s’) I walked over to what served as a kitchen in my tiny studio apartment nestled on the second floor of the infamous Alexandria Hotel to consider breakfast options. One can only do so much with a hot plate, a microwave, and a small fridge (all of which were technically tenant violations). The fridge though was usually well stocked with appropriate bachelor essentials (PBR or Budweiser or Coors, basically whatever was on sale and some eggs, butter and milk). The drawer below my socks and underwear substituted as a pantry where I stored my staples (bread, peanut butter, instant coffee, and Oreo’s). I settled on toast with butter and a cup of Irish coffee made with Nescafe for now, I’ll stop by Nick’s Café down the street or The Nickel Diner over on Main Street for a proper breakfast a little later.

            After I’d wolfed down my meager meal I went and sat down at the small desk under the only window in my flat. I was in the far corner of the room overlooking the intersection of 5th and Spring Street with the hotel’s neon sign just to the right, or at least the letters E & L anyway, the signage ran vertically up the corner of the building. I started sorting through the mail setting the bills aside, dumping the spam, and opened an envelope postmarked LA from the Diocese of Los Angeles with a very sharp K-Bar, an overkill I know but it was handy. Nobody writes letters anymore, opting to email or text. But as I have neither a computer at home, nor a cell phone I relied on snail mail and the newspaper to correspond and stay informed. I refuse to join the 21st century where these points are concerned. I realize that you can’t avoid progress forever, sooner or later I’ll have to confirm, but until that day I’ll be a dedicated hold out! Besides the electronic age is too impersonal and too imposing. It used to that someone had to do was wear a mask and tote a gun to rob you. Now all they need is your password and an internet café to steal you blind. That’s progress for you. YOU CAN HAVE IT! I’ll keep my freedom and peace of mind. I’m not a total caveman though, I do have a telephone AND an answering machine. Granted the phone is a rotary phone, for you youngsters that means I dial a number not punch digits, and the answering machine is big and bulky and has a cassette tape and not a microprocessor. Speaking of which the red light was flashing on the contraption. I hadn’t noticed it when I came home last night or rather early this morning having closed down my favorite Irish pub, The Cottage, and getting in around 3am. I had spent the evening and most of the night organizing notes and thoughts around this job the Bishop had given me. I had poured over all the stuff that Bradley, my butterball contact at the Times, gave to me the other night on the way to the airport along with every published word about Megan Malloy’s murder/suicide looking for a motive for her insanity.   

            I reached over and pressed the play butter while I pulled out the letter inside the envelope for the church. Lo and behold it was one of God’s minions leaving me a message while I was reading a letter from His Eminence himself, talk about a co-winkie-dink! The voice message was less formal than the letter which essentially just asked me to call at my earliest convenience. The voice on the answering machine spoke as I read, “Mr. Roode, forgive me I mean Whitey, this is Father Quinn. When last we spoke in the confessional as I recall, by the way let’s not do that again, I told you that we could meet more formally soon. Would tomorrow at 12:30 be soon enough? You can reach me at the church anytime in the morning to confirm. I’ll be busy from 2pm until quite late so please call as soon as you can. Thank you…”

            The machine turned itself off and the blinking red light stopped blinking turning green in the process. It was my only message which was par for the course, I don’t have all that many friends one of which lets me use the phone in the bar downstairs as my business number. It works well for me and is a great dodge where bill collectors are concerned. Be that as it may I wondered if Father Quinn and His Eminence were aware that they were in competition for my time. I decided to keep them both in the dark on that point and see if there was anything worth wondering about. Opening one of the desk drawers I pulled out the Yellow Pages and looked up the number to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, then dialed the seven digits. I like the sound the rotary phones make when I call out, they have more character then the little beep tones in your ear that the more modern phones make. I left Father Quinn a message that I would be there around noon as I had a busy morning. That was a lie, my first sin of the day as I had nothing planned. I hung up and redialed the number and left a message for the Bishop telling him that I would stop by his office around 10am deciding to see him first as I expected that rank had its privileges even in the clergy.

            I chugged the rest of my coffee, stood up and walked over to my Murphy bed and returned it to its hiding place in the wall, unmade of course. I walked the four and a half steps to an armoire next to the bathroom which was my closet, fished out the day’s accoutrements and got dressed. If I hurried I could get over to the DMV and sweet talk Lois Butler, a sixty something clerk who had her eyes on yours truly to ferret out the address and phone number of Alexander Whembly, who according to Bradley’s intelligence was the father of Megan Malloy’s baby. I definitely wanted to interview that guy as soon as possible but I had to locate him first. I also wanted to stop by Hollingbeck Station and pick my old pal Iggie Ingram’s brain. A little bird had told me that he and Rebecca Tran had pulled the Malloy/Quinn case as it was known around the precinct. They might be able to save me some leg work, always a plus in my book. I grabbed my trusty trench coat, gave the room a quick survey which all of two seconds. I loved this coat, it made me feel like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. I turned out the lights as I reached the door, turned the knob and started to walk out into the hall.

“Hey, well look who we have here. LA’s favorite gumshoe,” exclaimed Iggie standing in my doorway close enough to smell the Beechnut chewing gum he was gnawing on. I grunted and gave him an icy stare.

“What are you doing here flatfoot?”

“We were hoping to catch you at home buddy.”


Rebecca Tran leaned out from Iggie’s shadow and waived timidly at me. I waived back and gave her a wry smile. “Detective Tran, always a pleasure. I see that Wally Price still has you leashed to this dinosaur, my condolences,” I said, gesturing toward Iggie with my hitchhiking thumb.

“Yeah, well Iggie’s not so bad, I’m learning a few things from him, he’s just an acquired taste, sort of,” she replied.

Iggie interrupted, “I hate to bust up this little reunion but we came here for a specific reason partner.”

            I stepped out into the hall closing the door and locking it behind me. I didn’t want to have this conversation inside where Becca might catch a whiff and see how I really lived. Truth was she kind of looked up to me after working together a while back chasing a serial killer named Jai Li who had murdered a couple of my friends as well as my ex-wife, the once lovely and former female, Rhonda Roode. There’s a lot more to that story but you’ll have to catch me another day to hear it. “Alright, talk to me while we walk, I’m in a hurry right now, I want to get to the DMV before the lines get too long,” I said brushing by the two of them as I quick marched toward the staircase. The elevator at this place was chronically in a state of repair.

“What’s at the DMV?” Iggie asked catching up to me.

“What’s it to you?” I replied as I took the stairs two at a time.

“Slow down Whitey,” Iggie pleaded as we reached the lobby. Becca caught up to us and we walked together through the hotel lobby to the hotel bar, The Down & Out, located at the front of the building. A voice from behind the mahogany bar hollered out to us, “We ain’t open yet Mack!”

“It’s me Sal,” I replied.

A burly, barrel chested Polynesian man popped up from behind the bar, “Oh hi Whitey. Kia Ora brah, is that Iggie with you?” the thickly built man said, greeting me in Maori, his mother tongue. Iggie waived at Sal as the three of us settled into a corner booth near the window in the empty bar. Becca scooted in first while Iggie and I boxed her in climbing in after on either side.

            Salvatore Tonka (as in the toy trucks) was a fifty something Maori native from Auckland, New Zealand. He stood five feet seven inches tall and was solidly built, with shoulders nearly as wide as he was tall it seemed. He wasn’t shaped like a body builder, he was just rock solid like a permanently flexed bicep. Not someone you would want to tangle with. And if his physical stature weren’t intimidating enough his face was completely tattooed as was the custom of the Maori people. They came off as a pretty scary bunch until you got to know them. When they make friends it’s for life. Same goes for when they make enemies.

“How’s it?” Sal asked as he set three shot glasses on the bar and filled them with Jameson.

“It’s all good Sal, it’s all good. You cleaning the keg lines?” I said answering a question with a question.

“Every day pal, it’s why we have the coldest beer in LA,” Sal replied setting the shots on a small tray and walking over to us. He set the drinks on the table and grunted a hello to Iggie.

“Who’s the wahine?” he asked referring to Becca.

Iggie picked up his shot and downed it quickly, “That’s my partner, Detective Tran,” he answered setting his glass back on the table upside down.

Um, Iggie, we’re kinda still on the job dude,” scolded Becca as she pushed her glass away from her.

“No we’re not, not officially anyway. We just stopped to see an old friend on the way home,” Iggie replied.

Sal picked up Becca’s glass and clinked against mine, “Cheers!” he said downing the shot quickly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and walking back to continue his work behind the bar. I reached for my own drink and watched Becca remove something from her coat pocket. It was a small white business card that I recognized straight away. I played dumb though and asked, “What’s this?”

“It’s your business card genius,” quipped Iggie.

“I know that numb-nuts. Why are you returning it to me?”

Becca jumped into the fray, “We found this at crime scene early this morning,” she said watching my face for a flinch.

“A homicide?”

“As a matter of fact yes, over at the Baxter steps, you know the place?” asked Becca probing further.

“Yeah I know the place. Anyone who’s lived in LA a year or more knows the place. It’s a scary place. What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”

There was a pregnant pause while Iggie and Becca studied my face. It made uncomfortable so I spoke up quickly. “So was my card on the stiff or what?”

“Not exactly, it was on the ground further up the staircase where the victim was likely popped,” answered Becca.

“So you found my card on the ground in a park, so what? A lot of my cards end up on the ground or worse. Outside of the Yellow Pages it’s my only form of advertising.”

“Really? You don’t have a website?” Becca replied.

“Whitey’s a dinosaur Tran, he doesn’t believe in modern technology,” Iggie said, answering for me.

Becca rolled her eyes at her partner then focused on me, “I see, well be that as it may what we want to know is if there is any connection to the victim and yourself.”

“Fine, so who’s the victim?”

“Alexander Whembly, does that name mean anything to you?” asked Becca.

            I gave her my best poker face trying not to tip my hand and the fact that I not only knew the name but knew of him. I gleaned from Becca’s expression that I had failed to do so, which explains why I’m such a lousy gambler. It was too early in the morning for me to think of a clever lie so I decided on the truth. I would have had to ask for their help sooner or later anyway to gain access to G2 from the LAPD and run down this angle on Megan’s case. So where was the harm in choosing sooner over later?

“I know the name, in fact he was the reason for my DMV trip. I was going there to track him down.”

“Why?” Becca asked pressing me.

I paused a moment and finished my drink while I quickly pondered how much to share. Too little and they would become pests surveilling me and too much they would likely get in my way. I knew who this guy was relative to Megan Malloy and clearly they did not. I considered the two of them in nanoseconds, Iggie was a loyal friend but a chatterbox when he was boozing. But I knew how to handle him and his flaws. Becca on the other hand was a wild card. I was going to have to go with my gut where she was concerned. I set my empty glass upside down on top of Iggie’s.

“A source of mine showed me evidence that identified Alexander Whembly as the father of Megan Malloy’s child.”

“You’re shitting me!” Iggie exclaimed.

Becca gave Iggie the stink eye and replied, “If that’s true then it means we have another suspect besides the priest.”

“Maybe, but why would someone murder Whembly? Did Father Quinn know this guy as well?” Becca asked.

“I don’t know, I don’t think the priest knew about him,” I lied.

“Could be just a coincidence,” Iggie said scratching his head.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Becca and I said in unison.

I grinned at her and she snorted a giggle involuntarily, a trait I’ve noticed in a lot of attractive women. “Maybe we can work together unofficially on this case,” I suggested.

“Not if His Honor has anything to say about it,” replied Iggie referring to our scene stealing/publicity hound Mayor, Anthony Valenzuela. My old nemesis, Oscar Celaya who had catapulted over Captain to Chief of Police owed his stellar rise to the Mayor and considering our hate-hate relationship Iggie and Becca would be risking their careers teaming up with me, even on the QT. I couldn’t let them take that risk.

“Listen you’re right about that, scratch my stupid idea. Just do me one small favor. Sit on this information for a couple of days and let me see where this leads. I promise to share whatever I find out with you.”

Iggie started to reply when Becca cut him off, “We’ll give you twenty-four hours, that’s the best we can do. You know Lt. Price is no dummy and patience is not a virtue of his. We can probably feign incompetence for that long but any more than that and Iggie and I will both be looking for a new job.”

“Noted, Wally and I go way back. Let’s meet here tomorrow night around last call and I’ll share what I know.”

“Deal, 2am tomorrow right here,” Becca said extending her small hand for me to shake.

“Make it 3am, I’ll ask Sal stay over and leave the lobby entrance open for us,” I replied shaking her hand before she could protest. I got up quickly to leave before Becca thought of any more questions.

“See ya later Sal,” I said over my shoulder as I passed him on my way to the street side exit.

Becca shouted at me as I reached the doorway, “Don’t break any laws!”

I replied as I disappeared out of the building and into the LA sunshine, “No promises!”
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