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Friday, December 17, 2010

("For when I'm drinking I'm always thinking and wishing Peggy Gordon was here”)…traditional Irish song of Scottish origin

Chapter Nineteen

Casey's Irish Pub, Grand Ave., Monday, Feb 23, 2009…1pm

Bringing Judy here was a good idea, at least that's what I kept telling myself as I watched her nibble at her lunch. We got here just ahead of the lunch bunch and grabbed the catbird seat at Casey's, the one centered near the big bay window in front. Five minutes later and we'd have missed it and been standing at the bar shouting out our order with the rest of the tardy souls. We had burned most of the morning napping on my sofa. She'd shown up at my flat totally exhausted after fretting all night and dodging shadows. She was scared alright and who could blame her after what she told me about her evening and what she had found when she returned to the UCLA lab.
A former student was now deceased, very deceased, lying in a pool of blood in the hall just outside the room she had occupied with him only a few hours earlier. She was less worried about being a suspect, a fact that I pointed out emphatically, and more worried about being next, a fact that she pointed out even more emphatically. As far as Judy was concerned she had dodged a bullet courtesy her natural OCD tendencies. Being a chronic box checker she had rushed home to enter the results of the retest into her laptop, in real time of course. In fact she must have come straight from UCLA when I stopped by her place around 10pm on Saturday. I remember now, she was reading from her notes with her portable office on her lap while we chatted and drank scotch.
"I'm scared Whitey," were the last words she spoke before she whimpered herself to sleep, curled up on my tattered old sofa. I had covered her with a wool blanket that my Grandee had knitted for me a hundred years ago and sat on the opposite end of the beat up furniture just to be on the safe side. She tucked her feet behind me at the small of my back. It's a common habit with most women and small children whenever they curl up beside someone, curious? In any event, I let her sleep a couple of hours while I sat there racking and stacking these new facts into the puzzle that was Sally November. They were all related somehow, that much I was certain of.
There are no such things as coincidences in life, I believe that. Raised Irish Catholic I was deeply rooted in faith in the omnipresence of the All Mighty. To me that meant that all things happen for a reason. It means that every occurrence is part of a master plan, one beyond my mortal ability to understand. Some call that fate, some karma, I just call it life. I know that sounds weird coming from a battle hardened veteran and street wise detective, but there it is. It saves me a lot of time over analyzing hard stuff, like why my ex decided to change teams in the middle of our marriage, stuff like that.
She came to around eleven-thirty and startled me awake (I had dozed off minutes after she did) and after an awkward moment we got up quickly, and decided make tracks in case whoever she was frightened of had followed her to the Alexandria. I brought her to Casey's because the place was is crowded, plus it was below the street level where I could see everyone as they walked down the stairs. There were only two entrances, both of which were up front. Bottom line, I was taking no chances! Judy looked up from her bangers and mash and studied me studying her.
"I need to call Ronnie," she said quickly.
"I already did doll, she's on her way here right now."
"Did you tell her anything," she asked meekly?
"No, that'll be up to you my dear. But take it from someone who knows her, I mean him, tell it slow but tell it all, nés pas?"
"Okay, don't lecture me!"
"Listen, as much as I hate to admit this we should take you in and come clean with the cops before they start adding two and two and come up with the wrong answer. Besides, if you really are in someone's crosshairs; disappearing into the system could be helpful. At least you'll have 24/7 protection while I go into commando mode and figure this thing out."
"You mean like witness protection? Don't those dopes always get bumped off?"
"Only on TV doll-face, only on TV," I replied reassuringly.
"Look, while we're waiting for your better half to get here, tell me again everything you remember about Saturday night, and I mean everything. Like what cars do you remember in the parking lot, what passersby do you remember, anyone within eyesight when you arrived and when you left? Anything and everything Judy; don't leave anything out. The most insignificant memory is usually the lynchpin that'll solve a case."
"Alright," she replied, pushing her plate away and leaning back in her seat.
"Where do you want me to start," she asked folding her arms defensively.
"Relax Judy, I'm not interrogating you, I'm on your side, okay?"
"Sorry, let me think, when I got there I remember jetting into a parking spot in front of the building before some chick in a Hummer grabbed it. She was pissed and waited behind my car until I got out so she could flip me off properly."
"Interesting; but lets back up a little. When did you call Ernie and let him know you were coming over?"
"I don't know, four or five I guess, why?"
"And you got there around seven or so, right?"
"I got there at 6, again, why?"
"Well, if you were being watched, maybe you were being listened to as well? And if you were, maybe Mr. Mystery went ahead of you to UCLA to scope out the situation? Does that make sense?"
"It's possible I guess. But if I'm the one he's stalking why would he care about Ernie?"
"I don't think Ernie interests him, but if he wanted to know what you were up to he might go ahead of you to find a perch to spy from while he decided whatever it is he needed to decide?"
"You're not making any sense," Judy said, frustrated.
"You're a scientist doll, it's all trail and error isn't it," I said with a wink.
"Touché," she replied, smiling for the first time in a couple of days.
"That's better, here's something else to smile about," I said, pointing out the window as Ronnie came bouncing down the steps.
I remained seated as Judy jumped up and ran outside and into the arms of my ex wife, Rhonda. I smiled as I watched Ronnie comfort her and left them alone to enjoy the moment. I knew that Ronnie would be in to grill me shortly and saw no need to rush that aggravation. A large group of patrons pushed past them while I waited for them to finish. I tensed up suddenly and grabbed a menu from the napkin holder on the table and quickly covered my face. The scary Arab from Carney's the other night, Hassan, was about to enter the building. SHIT!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

("Nobody told me there'd be days like these….”)…John Lennon…1984

Chapter Eighteen

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles…8am

You didn't have to be a fly on the wall to pick up what Oscar Celaya was laying down. The volatile lieutenant was hopping mad and everyone within earshot was getting a crash course in "sailor-speak 101." It was bad enough that Dr. Looney had given these nimrods the slip, how hard could it be to keep an eye on a five foot nothing skirt anyway he wondered? But the fact that she had done it twice, once coming and once going. TWICE, what the hell? These two were supposed to be professionals, LA's finest, incredible!
"You know what Iggie, I don't care. Let's not waste any more time playing the blame game, you're supposed to be a team, you're BOTH to blame," Oscar bellowed giving Detective 1st grade Bob Ingram (Iggie) and his trainee partner Rebecca Tran a look that would put frost on a hot skillet.
Iggie was accustomed to the Lieutenant's short fuse but this was young Rebecca's first public ass-chewing and she didn't like it, although she was more mad than scared. Failure in her Vietnamese culture was unacceptable and she was pissed at Iggie for putting her in this situation with his laid back, what's your hurry attitude. She'd wanted to tail Dr. Looney closer, get out of the car and walk the neighborhood, maybe peek in some windows or something, anything besides staying cooped up in that musty old Ford with Iggie's constant reminiscing and flatulence, gross! Now wasn't the right time, but as soon as she made up for this setback, and she would, make no mistake about that, she was going to see if she could get reassigned to a less seasoned training officer. Apparently seasoned at this precinct meant lazy and that was 180 degrees from this Asian newbie. She worked hard to get her gold shield and she wasn't about to risk losing it by tying herself to a gold brick like Iggie Ingram. What kind of name is Iggie anyways? Sounds like a cartoon character. The man might just as well call himself Yogi or Boo Boo! Rebecca jumped suddenly, startled by a loud finger snap and disgruntled growl.
"Am I boring you Detective Tran," asked Lt. Celaya sarcastically?
"Ah, no sir, I’m sorry, I was, um, just thinking about what you were saying," Becca replied too quickly.
"Really, I'm intrigued, what exactly did you get from everything I said here?"
Becca felt like a six year-old caught in a white lie. She shuffled uncomfortably and stared at her feet, racking her brain for something to wax philosophical on, she had nothing.
"Well, I know that we, um…"
"Spare me Tran; just get your tail on outta here. Why don't you and Iggie there hot foot it over to UCLA and check out the city's latest homicide. If my hunch is right you'll discover that your ineptitude cost that guy his life. Rumor has it Judy Looney was the last person to see him alive," scolded Lt. Celaya, dismissing the two detectives with a flippant waive of his hand. Rebecca started to say something but Iggie grabbed her by the arm and led her out of the boss's office.
"Don't bother kid, he's not listening anyway," explained her partner as he led her out the door. They quickly waded past the eavesdroppers milling around the squad room amid jeers and catcalls. Becca felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment and jerked free of Iggie's grasp and strolled out of the room slowly trying to retain as much of her dignity as possible. She considered socking Iggie once they were out of sight but thought better of it. She still needed a positive evaluation from him in order to clear her probationary period.
"What homicide was the LT talking about," Becca asked as they walked down the stairs to the parking lot?
"It came in over the wire while we were taking flack from Celaya," Iggie answered.
"Somebody got waylaid on campus at UCLA late last night."
"What? What is waylaid," asked Becca, both puzzled and annoyed. She didn't like the way Iggie talked over her head using slang she was unfamiliar with. She thought it was rude and suspected that he was enjoying himself way too much at her expense. White people were like that, she didn't get it or appreciate it, but she accepted it, that's life.
"Waylaid is just another term for mugged, hard," Iggie replied slamming his left fist into his right palm.
"The poor bastard had his head stove in with a ball peen hammer," he added.
"I see, thanks. And do you have to curse so much?"
"Are you fucking kidding me? Get used to it kid, you're a homicide detective, start acting like one," Iggie scolded as he opened the door to the garage.
"Asshole," Becca muttered uncharacteristically under her breath as she followed him to their unmarked cruiser. Maybe there was a bright side to this assignment, it could happen she thought. Iggie tossed her the keys and jetted in front of her to the passenger side.
"SHOTGUN," he hollered as he climbed in and buckled up.
Becca rolled her eyes and got in on the driver's side. As she turned to buckle her seat belt she caught her partner stuffing a sizable piece of beef jerky into his mouth. Without hesitating she started the engine, rolled down all four windows and sped out of the lot.
"Good call kid," Iggie chuckled through a mouthful of jerky.
"No shit Sherlock," Becca retorted, surprised at how easily this cursing thing was coming to her. She pinched her nose closed and peeled out unintentionally.
"Now you're getting the hang of it girl," howled Iggie as Becca went slightly airborne onto 1st street, scraping both bumpers front and back!

The Alexandria Hotel, Room 201, downtown LA…8am

I was in the middle of shaving when someone started frantically banging on the door to my room. Pressing a styptic pencil to your gob was not the most pleasant way to start the day. I didn't bother wiping the foam from my face and went out of the bath to answer the door.
"Keep your shirt on," I yelled while unlatched the front door.
"COME ON WHITEY, open up, I'm in big trouble," pleaded Judy Looney, bursting into my room out of breath as soon as the latch was disengaged.
"What's with the panic doll?"
Judy rushed over to the window and pulled the drapes, taking a quick second to peer up and down the street below. She wasn't just scared; she was terrified. It didn't take much detective training to figure that out. I watched her slowly back away from the window and sit gingerly on the small sofa across from my Murphy bed. She picked up a worn and torn throw pillow that I got from Yankee Stadium a few years back and clutched it tightly to her breast. I wasn't sure what to say next but I knew what I had to do first which was throw on some clothes on before the towel around my waist dropped and she got something else to be frightened about.
"Give me a minute to put on some clothes doll and you can tell me all about it."
"Okay, but hurry alright?"
"I'll be back before you can count to a hundred."
"Lot of things can happen in a minute and a half Whitey."
"My ex used to say that to me all the time but for a totally different reason," I said trying to raise a smile on my worried friend's face. She smiled weakly and sunk deeper into the sofa. I scurried off the bathroom and dressed.
"So what gives Judy? You're acting like the big bad wolf is out there getting ready to huff and puff," I yelled from the bath.
"Not funny Whitey, this is serious," she replied quickly.
"Sorry kitten, tell me what's wrong," I said, apologizing as I re-entered the room and sat beside her. She clung to me instantly and started sniveling; it was not like her at all to be this vulnerable. I could feel her tears soaking through my shirt sleeve, they were cold and unsettling. They felt like fear and suddenly I was uncomfortable as well.
"It's all my fault Whitey," she said in a low even tone.
"What's your fault Judy?"
"He's dead because of me, I just know it," she continued.
"Who's dead? What are you talking about? From the beginning Judy, start from the top."
"Ernie's dead."
"Who's he to you?"
"Just a horny grad student I was using to get access to a special piece of equipment I needed to analyze those threads you left with me."
"I thought you already finished your tests, you gave me those results the other day, remember?"
"I know, but you were a pest and I was lazy, and the bottom line is I didn't do a very good job."
"You mean those threads weren't from one of my uniforms?"
"No, they were definitely yours but you weren't the only one sweating in those clothes."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean a dead man's DNA was on those threads sweetie, a dead man near and dear to you."
The light started to flicker in my brain as things began to add up. She had to be talking about either Lu or Jai; they were the only corpses I had any recent tie to, which meant that now I could be placed at two murder scenes. Terrific, this just kept getting better and better. Still, it didn't explain what Judy was so scared of. She was jumping at shadows on the sidewalk. Something out there had her on edge and truth be told it was beginning to vex me as well.
"I was followed there last night, I'm sure of it," Judy said, breaking my train of thought for the moment.
"I've had a queer feeling for days, you know? Little things frighten me now. I can't go to sleep without looking under every bed and checking the locks on every door. I've even stopped closing the shower curtain when I bathe for fear of a "Psycho" moment, it's silly, I know."
"Do you feel that way now, here with me?"
"I see, and last night at the lab with your horny little friend?"
"Yes, coming and going. Someone's stalking me Whitey and I'm scared."
I ignored the fact that the object of my affection was sitting so close beside me, in need of my company and I allowed myself to hold her a few moments longer. It was an act of compassion, the action of a close friend. If she were right than whoever was stalking her was probably nearby. A woman's instincts are never to be trifled with. The prey usually senses when the hunter is near, she did, and now I did as well. If I have learned anything in fifty some years on the planet it's that your first impression is usually the clearest. I also subscribe to the notion that a strong offense is an effective defense. It was time to hunt the hunter. We'll give whoever he is a taste of their own medicine. In the mean time I better call Ronnie and tell her, I mean him, that this might be a good time to take Judy on the honeymoon they never had. I'll hunt better with her out of the way anyway. I'm a gorilla fighter by nature, a skill I acquired hunting Viet Cong in Southeast Asia courtesy the USMC.
I glanced down at Judy, sometime during my personal strategy session she had fallen asleep. Oh well, hunting the Shadow could wait another ten or fifteen minutes I guess. I forced myself to relax a little and put my feet up on the coffee table constructed with eight cinder blocks and a sheet of 3/4 inch plywood. Her head slid from my shoulder to my chest and I leaned forward and kissed her hair. Thirty seconds later we were both fast asleep. She was exhausted; I was just living out a fantasy.

The Alexandria Hotel, Room 301, downtown LA…8:30am

Two little love birds just a floor below me
First comes love then comes marriage
Then comes, I don't know, death maybe
I'm not a poet
Clever little rhymes are for saps…

This is too easy…

Thursday, November 18, 2010

(“One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do….”)…Three Dog Night…1971

Chapter Seventeen

UCLA, around midnight…

Ernie Namura was feeling pretty lucky tonight, so lucky in fact that he could hardly suppress the shit eating grin that wanted to spread across his face. This might be the end to a long dry spell he hoped. He wasn't exactly Don Juan, but the Prof seemed to be responding to his subtle advances. At least that was his story and he was sticking to it, and that was what he'd share around the poker table with his frat brothers later no matter how the night ended. Besides, you never know, maybe she really was warm for his form, it could happen. Glancing at his Timex he checked the time again. It was ten minutes later than the last time he had checked. Dr. Looney, Judy, was late. She had forgotten some notes she said and had run home to pick them up. She said she'd be right back, that was three hours ago? Maybe he'd come on too strong too quickly? That was probably an understatement, given the condition his condition was in (long dry spell). In any event he decided to give her another half hour before he gave up the ghost and resolved to take care of his own business later.
The horn dog lab tech stepped over to the SEM and removed the samples that Dr. Looney had been evaluating. They didn't look very sexy, just a few blue threads with various contaminants associated with wherever they had come from. You never know what sort of smegma, sap, or spooge clothing gets dragged over, under, or through in the course of a day. Ernie decided not to take any chances and transferred the glass slide to an airtight container then set it on the lab bench for Judy to collect when she returned, if she returned that is. That's when he remembered that she had taken the test results with her when she left, which meant she was likely in analysis mode by now, which also meant she wouldn't be back anytime soon. Ernie sighed audibly, realizing that he had been had. Typical he thought, women, can't live with em, can't shoot em!
"Why am I always getting played," he muttered, wondering aloud?
No use wasting time pondering that question, it was as old as the ages and unanswerable. Might as well ask why ducks quack, why, because they're ducks stupid! Ernie grabbed a cold slice from the pizza box and fished in his pocket for some change for the vending machine in the hall. He and Judy had finished the beer hours ago and he needed something to wash down the meat lover's special with anchovies. It was going to be a Mountain Dew night given all the time he wasted on zooming Dr. Feel-good, oh joy! Reaching the brightly colored soda dispenser he stuffed three quarters into the coin slot and punched the oversized back lit green, yellow, and red button. He listened as the aluminum can ran down the track to the bottom of the machine and landed with a loud thud. It was the last sound he ever heard as the business end of a 38 ounce framing hammer connected with soft fissure that separated his skull into left and right hemispheres. His head imploded like a smashed pumpkin and Ernie Namura was dead before he hit the ground. The death process began quickly, his bowels releasing, his blood cooling and coagulating, no longer running through his veins and arteries, while his eyes stared lifelessly at the baseboard behind the vending machine.

UCLA murder, postscript:

The lab doors shut softly behind me as I silently exited the building with the threads Judy Looney had carelessly left behind. The cops were already on the way, called from Ernie's own cell phone, a little stroke of genius that would send them down a few blind alleys. The CSI team wouldn't be far behind, but they would find nothing useful, they never do. Another work of art if you ask me. Satisfying this blood lust requires perfection; it is something that I deliver routinely. Too bad Dr. Looney was a no show; I had a something special in mind for her tonight. Pity that one cannot plan for every contingency, the world is rife with random elements. Not to worry though, her time was coming soon. I hope she isn't wasting her last moments with that rube of a private eye, but I suspect she is. Oh well, no accounting for taste. Whitey's time is coming as well.
Don't rush, savor every delicious moment. They are an amusing pair are they not? I think so. I am curious what they will do with what they know so far, or what they think they know. The threads will only lead them away from the truth they seek. Ah but Whitey is smarter than he looks; he'll figure that out, but will it be in time? I haven't decided yet. This is a new experience, the hunter being hunted, I like it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

(So she went down, down to Tangie town. People down there really like to get it on“”)…The Doors…1968

Chapter Sixteen

Carney's, Sunset Blvd. LA, midnight…

The joint was packed tonight! There was even a line to get into the small set of converted rail cars painted mustard yellow and caboose red. The tall black and white Carney's sign glowed overhead in sharp contrast to the brilliant colors of the Sunset Strip. Nevertheless the dull sign beckoned a hodgepodge Saturday night crowd to come on in and eat up, drink up or sober up with a combo meal from the diner's infamous menu of chili dogs, chili burgers, chili tacos, and chili fries, basically all things chili. Sure, there were less radioactive items to choose from but to do so labeled you either a Beverly Hills silver spooner or an uber eclectic Nancy boy from WeHo (West Hollywood) or San Fran-swish-co. I was driving past this place heading north on Sunset when I spotted him, Ray Ray. The same cop I saw with Jai the other day at the Shabu Shabu joint. There he was sitting at a window seat in Carney's right now. He looked to be in a heated discussion with some thug who was busy stuffing a chili and sauerkraut hotdog into his bearded beak. How did I know what kind of dog he was devouring you ask? If you knew me you wouldn't have to ask that. Hot dogs are my kryptonite.
Turning my car around I whipped into The Standard hotel just up the street from Carney's. They offered valet parking at an obscene price, but since I had no time to cruise around for a bargain they had me over a barrel. Oh well that's what expense reports are for, right? I tossed my keys to the valet in the red jacket and hot footed it across the street. I had to make sure I entered the joint on the opposite end of the car from where Officer Abernathy and his heavyset dinner companion sat. I wasn't sure what Ray Ray's role was in all of this, but I knew he would remember me from the old days and I wasn't ready to tip my hand just yet. I caught a break as a rowdy group of semi drunk twenty-something's pushed past me on their way up the street to The Skybar. The timing couldn't have been better and I rolled with the rowdy group right up to the end of the yellow box car. When they turned left to cross the street, I turned right and walked up the steps at Carney's ass end. Since the business side of the diner was on the end there wasn't a line of people to deal with. Side stepping a young couple on their way out I strolled in and slowly walked the length of the car. Ray Ray had his back to me but his date was facing my way. He eyed me from over a chili dog, his eyes narrowing slightly as he studied me. I nonchalantly pulled up a chair at a table nearby and pretended to waive to someone near the counter.
The heavyset fella looked over his shoulder while he chewed in time to see a pretty young thing with a nose ring waive back to me. Luckily for me Holly-weird has no shortage of willing role players. Satisfied he turned his attention back his meal and shrugged just a nanosecond before nose ring girl flipped me off and picked up her order. I grabbed a menu from the top of the napkin holder and covered my face while I strained to listen to Ray Ray continue his rant. It was loud in the small boxcar but I had cop ears and was able to filter out enough of the noise to pick up a word or two.
"That's right jackass, you fucked up! Look, I get that English ain't your mother tongue but your orders weren't exactly rocket science, am I right?"
The burly guy across the table just kept chewing his food, but even from where I sat I could see there was murder in is eyes. He glared at Ray Ray without blinking, not even once. That's not normal, and it should have been a warning to Officer Dumbass but it wasn't and he kept right on with his rant.
"How did you get this gig anyway? Scare her, rough her up a little if you need to, but we never said to kill the little bitch did we?" Ray Ray waited impatiently for a reply, none came.
"HEY, ABDUL, I'm talking to you rag-head!"
I shifted in my seat and got ready to hit the deck if the big fella made a sudden move for the piece that I knew hung from a shoulder holster under his right arm. The busy room was oblivious to what was unfolding, and even though the noise level was high, there was an uncomfortable silence emanating from the table six feet in front of me. Ray Ray's shoulders squared and I knew he sensed what I did. I cursed myself silently for leaving my piece at home. All I had on me was a blackjack in my coat pocket and a Swiss Army knife in my pants pocket. If lead started flying the best I could do was dodge it or catch it. Abdul suddenly reached into his lap and retrieved a napkin to wipe his mouth clean. Ray Ray's chair squeaked as he shifted in his seat. He leaned forward on his elbows and moved his right foot to the chair's back legs, preparing to spring into action if provoked. Abdul set his napkin down on the table in front of him, leaned back in his chair and relaxed. He stared across the table for a moment before speaking.
"She was exquisite, was she not?"
"Yeah, so what if she was? Is that your explanation? You killed her because she was pretty?"
"No my friend, I killed her because she was a whore."
"Look Abdul, we aren't friends, and this is strictly business here, get it?"
"As you wish my friend, and my name is Hassan, not Abdul. Please stop calling me that, it offends me deeply."
"Whatever HA-san, listen because you went all Taliban on us the two little homos are dead and I've gotta deal with my brothers in blue as well as figure out how to tell our Russian friend that his girlfriend is stone dead!"
"I am afraid it was unavoidable. The whore would not cooperate and she was too ignorant to frighten. She insisted she knew nothing. She insisted that I was mistaken. She became angry when I pressed further. She ordered me to leave and threatened to call the authorities. She left me with few alternatives."
"Did you find the flash drive?"
"No, and as you know she did not survive the interrogation."
"I'm aware of that ass wipe. I just can't believe we got nothing outta her."
"That is not necessarily true."
"What do you mean?"
"Not here, we are not alone," Hassan said staring directly at me.
Ray Ray spun around in his chair in time to see my backside fast walk toward the exit. I waited until I heard the chairs fly across the room before I broke into a run and sprinted out the door. I leaped passed the steps and hit the pavement at a full gallop. I hadn't moved that quickly since high school football. By the time Ray Ray and Hassan made it out of Carney's I had disappeared into the craziness that was Hollywood on a Saturday night. I was pretty sure that he hadn't seen my face, but was also pretty sure Hassan could give a fairly detailed description. Great! Now I was dodging the cops and these guys. I walked past The Standard Hotel and ducked into The Body Shop, one of LA's better strip clubs. Better to lay low for an hour or so before I got my car and beat it on home to think. A couple of beers with some Jack back sounded good right now. Like I said, I think better with booze.

Monday, November 1, 2010

(“You’re my blue sky you’re my sunny day. Lord you know it makes me high when you turn your love my way”)…Allman Brothers Band…1972

Chapter Fifteen

Nanjing, China, 2001

Rainy days are the same around world, wet. I happen to like them, they inspire me. They compel me to turn inward and embrace the true me. It’s not that way of the masses however, I am aware. Weaklings merely tolerate a rainy day. Everything must be so perfect for them, so, what is the word, oh yes, comfortable (weak). To my mind a chill breeze, some mid-day darkness courtesy a sky full of dark foreboding cumuli nimbus clouds is bliss. To the others those attributes are a recipe for gloom that drains the joy from even the cheeriest of souls. Still, we do share a common thread, the weaklings and I. That is to say that we all enjoy the peace of a warm fire and the comfort some hot soup or cocoa brings to either accentuate or compensate for such a day, like today.

The steam from my bowl of soup envelopes my face with warmth and an aroma from Nirvana itself. Through the pleasant mist I watch the rain fall steadily, the fat drops bouncing so hard off the pavement that they seem to race back to the cloud they came from. The little café is crowded with workers eating a morning meal before they trudge onto work in the downpour. It is loud with the chatter of people in a hurry but I am oblivious to it all as I watch the steady stream of people exiting the apartment complex across the street. I am waiting as has become my practice lately, for my charge to come out of that building and bounce down the steps on her way to school. She has grown so much since when last I saw her, almost two years ago. Since then her family has moved up in station thanks to their benefactor, an unknown uncle of means. Young Mai Li is beginning to blossom and is on a course toward a more proper future now, one that will eventually suit my needs.
She appears at the top of the steps and then walks down with a group of her mates. As they reach the bottom and turn to continue onto school Mai Li stops abruptly. She pauses a moment and tilts her head slightly as if she is listening hard for something? She turns suddenly and looks back across the street in my general direction. Her eyes search the crowd eating their meals. She isn’t sure what she is looking for, how does one look for a queer feeling anyway? It doesn’t matter, I could stand and waive to her and she would not notice me. That is my strength, it is why I am what I am and do what I do. I am always unnoticed, unrecognizable. Still, I am pleased to see this strong instinct for survival. It will be a future pleasure I think. I smile and return to my soup as she turns and runs to catch up with her friends as they splash their way to school in the pouring rain…like I said…bliss…

Beverly Arms Apartment Homes, Westwood, Ca. 2009

I parked my old wreck up the street from Judy’s place for a couple of reasons. Number one, the car was a beat up old wreck and I didn’t want to embarrass her or me. Number two, I figured I had a better chance of her opening the door if I snuck up stealth-like rather than announcing my arrival with a backfire or two from my old jalopy. I was already pushing my luck with a drop in visit, no use tempting fate. I reached the walkway that led to her front door about the same time as Judy did, how’s that for luck, huh?
“Hey, who says prayers aren’t answered,” I said, laying it on a little thick.
“What, oh, Whitey, sorry, you startled me,” Judy replied fumbling with her keys.
“No problem doll, you didn’t take a swing at me.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I should have? Actually I’m glad you’re here.”
“Really,” I said trying not to look to happy.
“Yeah, come on in, I’ve got something to show you,” she said, leading me up the walk to her ground floor apartment.
“Okay,” I replied, grinning like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s wonderland.
I followed Judy into the apartment and quickly surveyed her digs. It was a studio apartment so everything but the bathroom was open to inspection by anyone who walked inside. I was surprised how small it was and amazed how clean it was. Hell, my dinky place at the Alexandria is bigger which makes this place tiny! In fact, if it were any smaller she’d need to be a midget to live here! Probably should’ve said “little person,” sorry Wally. He’s my vertically challenged poker buddy…more about him later. Be that as it may her flat was squeaky clean, I mean spotless! I had originally pegged the woman as an absent minded professor and half expected to see a group of roaches playing hearts at her kitchen table. This spoke volumes of the girl because I know that she spends very little time here. Clearly there was a side of Judy Looney that I was unaware of? Be still my heart!
“Make yourself at home Whitey, do you want a drink?”
“Okay, um, sure, what do you have,” I asked sitting on the sofa that likely doubled as her bed?
“I’ve got scotch and I’ve got scotch, what’ll it be?”
“Tough choice, I’ll have the scotch,” I replied sarcastically.
“Good choice wise guy, I like a man with a sense of humor,” she said grinning.
“What can I say, when you’ve got it, flaunt it, right,” I said leaning back, lacing my fingers behind my head.
Judy walked over to the sofa-bed, handed me my drink and sat down beside me. She took a quick sip of her scotch then fumbled around in her bag looking for something. Setting her drink down on the table in front of us she buried her hands and arms up to her elbows into a large canvass bag on her lap.
“Ah, here it is! Okay, before I show you this I need to ask a couple of questions,” she said, removing a thick manila envelope and placing into her lap. She turned to look at me and waited for my reply.
“Alright,” I answered taking another sip.
“Can you remember exactly what time it was that you collected these threads?”
“Not exactly, no, but it was after midnight and before 2am, I certain of that.”
“Interesting, what do you say that?”
“Because I waited exactly 4 hours after the last of the cops left the crime scene, and, I made it to Casey’s for last call on my way home, how’s that for certainty?”
Really? That’s the best you can do? I thought you gumshoes were always writing stuff down in your mini steno pads? Let me guess, if you whip yours out right now all I’m going to find is a short grocery list, a phone number or two, one of which is likely t be mine you dreamer, and some less that tasteful doodles of the fairer sex, right?”
“Who’s the detective now? Maybe you missed your calling Judy. Oh, and if I whip “mine” out right now you may be pleasantly surprised!”
“Not likely ace, I know all your dirty little secrets, I’m dating your ex remember?”
“Sour grapes Judy, its all hearsay. First day in detective school they teach you to never listen to angry women.”
“Well Rhonda is Ronnie now so there goes the angry female angle. And by the way, the first day in common sense school is never listen to a bragging male, especially when they are on the hunt.”
She got me with that one and my pregnant pause seemed as if it were going to go full term. A bragging male, was I really that obvious? Judy just grinned and took another sip of scotch. Chuckling she put on her reading glasses and stared at the pages in front of her. I braced myself for a second salvo but it didn’t come.
“I’m kidding Whitey, don’t get defensive,” she said with a cheerful smile. I didn’t reply.
“Alright, I guess I can work with that time frame. Question two; did you handle the fibers with your fingers at any time?”
“Give me some credit Dr. Looney, I know how to work a crime scene.”
“I am giving you some credit Whitey, I’m asking and not assuming.”
“Oh, ah okay, in that case, no, I used a pair of tweezers.”
“Were they yours?”
“No, I got em off of the sink in the master bath, why?”
“I guess you missed that day in cop school, you know the one where they teach you about preserving the crime scene, sheesh!”
“Alright, are your asking questions here or just roasting me?”
“I’m just trying to make a theory stick but I need to know all the random elements.”
“Random elements?”
“Yeah, basically I need to allow for errors by CSI, which in your case stands for criminally sloppy investigator!”
“Are you gonna keep busting my balls here, cause if you are I’m gonna need more scotch!”
“No, I’m through unless you can think of anything else that may have touched those fibers once they were in your pocket? Thank goodness you had enough focus to place them in a baggie to minimize the contamination.”
“Finally, a little praise, thank you!”
“Don’t let it go to your head Whitey, I haven’t told you the bad news yet.”
“What do you mean?
“You were right; those threads were off a cop’s uniform, an LAPD cop specifically.”
“Outstanding! Any chance you can narrow it down through DNA mumbo jumbo?”
“Actually, I already did that, twice, at a cost that I’ll take to my grave thank you,” she replied leaning back and draining the scotch from her glass.
“Alright, spill it doll, who’s our worm,” I asked impatiently?
“You are Einstein; those threads came from a uniform worn by you. Congratulations, you caught yourself,” Judy answered with a shit eating grin!
“WHAT? That’s impossible, I haven’t been in uniform in years, there has to be a mistake,” I exclaimed.
“I thought about that, even asked your ex about it. Want to know what Ronnie said?”
“Not particularly.”
“She laughed herself silly and said she was going to have to find another poker game because you were going to the big house,” Judy said, hardly containing her amusement.
“What part of not particularly didn’t you understand,” said sarcastically.
“I’m sorry slick; I couldn’t resist rubbing your nose in it a little bit. If it’s any consolation, I did find one other interesting fact NOT tied to you personally,” she added.
“Ha-ha-ha, don’t tell me, you found Jimmy Hoffa’s DNA as well. Now I’ll have to dodge the LAPD and the Mob, right?”
“Good one Whitey, no, it’s nothing that dramatic. I found trace elements of your sweet little Asian friend, Jai Lai as well. I would have missed it except for the fact that I had done some support work for the Coroner on the Rong/Lai murder suicide investigation.”
That surprised me, Jai and I weren’t that close? Lu and I were friends, Jai and I were acquaintances at best, well, to be fair that was from my perspective only. He was always friendly toward me and he was definitely the more gregarious of the two, and, he was a notorious hugger. Could his cooties have rubbed off onto my patrol duds on one of my regular stops at the deli? I ran our history through my mind trying to remember when I first started hanging out at their place? I’d been in plain clothes as a detective for more years than I had been in uniform. But if memory served I was still walking a beat when I started hitting the SHO-M-U-LYKE-M for free corned beef on rye twice a week. Whatever the circumstances were I had a problem here. It wasn’t going to take Lt. Dingle-berry long to connect the same dots that Judy did. I figured I had about a two day head start on either clearing my name of clearing out of LA, Whichever it were to be I needed to get busy. There wasn’t any time to waste being cute with Dr. Looney.
“Thanks form going the extra mile Judy, I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome gumshoe; it’s the least I can do for the guy who introduced me to my intended.”
“Intended, what, are you talking about you and Rhonda?”
“It’s Ronnie now, and yes, that’s exactly who I’m talking about.”
“Yes, intended, well, as soon as the great State of California gets their priorities straight, no pun intended.”
“Oh brother!”
“No, we wouldn’t be siblings Whitey. Actually we were considering adopting you. Ronnie’s has been talking about getting a pet anyway,” Judy said getting up.
“Swell,” I replied draining my scotch glass and handing it too her.
“Thanks for the news and the booze doll,” I said as I walked out of her apartment.
Note to self, when this is all over I need to seriously evaluate my circle of friends. Suddenly hermitage was sounding pretty inviting! Maybe stir wouldn’t be so bad?

Through the looking glass…metaphorically speaking…

This is very much like watching mice in a maze. The silly rodents have no idea where they are going, only that they must get there. These two together are interesting if not amusing. Pity that they are not meant to be. I do so love being a fly on their wall so to speak, delicious…

Thursday, October 28, 2010

“It’s a hard knock life…”

Tonight I'll attend a special service in memory of those who have passed away, in particular my step-daughter KaSandra (KK to her friends, Truc Han to her family). I'll listen to my wife remember the kindness of others and acknowledge those groups that rally behind families in need a helping hand, a caring pair of ears to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a reason to smile. Inspired to reflection as I listened to her practice the words she had written, I was reminded of this post, written when there was still hope. I'm reposting tonight to reminded myself that there are still many relying on faith for hope through prayer. My prayers are with them as well.

I love baseball, always have, always will. Having a catch (whoops, curse you Field of Dreams), I mean playing catch with my Da, my brothers, and my friends are fond childhood memories. We still play catch off and on, only now we’ve included sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and a tomboy wife or two. I remember sandlot games between neighborhood pick-up teams. I remember choosing sides by tossing a bat into the air, catching it before it hit the ground, and the opposing captains racing fist over fist to the end to determine who chose first. Of course then there was the elation of being chose first, the agony of being chose last, and the relief of being anywhere in between! Good times…

I always go back to those times whenever I’m stressed, angry, scared or confused. Baseball’s slow familiar pace comforts me. And I find peace in knowing that it rarely if ever changes. Peace and comfort, yeppers, that’s what I get from my sandlot memories of days gone by. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone there to ease the pain or pressures that life brings intermittently to us all. They say that life ebbs and flows, that it oscillates if you will, and it’s true enough. So what?

So, here I am again at my sandlot altar, calling upon these memories like old friends to help me cope with another one of life’s curveballs (there is a baseball metaphor for EVERYTHING). In my last post I wrote a poem for a child, not my own flesh and blood, but a child whom I’ve grown to love as my own. I wrote about the challenge that life has fated her with. It is perhaps life’s greatest challenge, survival. It is a big challenge for such a little girl and in the face of seemingly untenable and definitely unfair odds. Only by the grace of God have you and I avoided a similar fate.

When I was told of her illness of her challenge, I was shocked, scared, and then angry. It’s not hard to understand the compulsion toward anger and bitterness. But these are shallow reactions of one who insists on understanding the reasons for God’s will (for those of the faith) or the natural order of things (for those who are not). Admittedly as one of the former, I succumbed to those base emotions, instantly demanding to know WHY! And shamefully I brought that bad attitude with me to hospital that first night, not sure if I would explode in a grief inspired tirade or if that rage would remain dormant inside me, and simmer into bitterness.

Imagine my surprise when in a nanosecond all of that was washed away as I sat by her bedside and looked at her face. It was the face of an angel. She lay there quietly breathing, doing her part to recover from surgery, mankind’s first pass at miracle working. Surrounded by doctors, nurses, social workers, machines, family, friends, and well wishers, she seemed to me to be the only person at
peace in the room. Oblivious to the chaos around her she lay in quiet repose, somewhere beyond REM, in a quiet place where only those on the brink are allowed to visit. In that short period of time my attitude changed. It was like erasing a blackboard. During the next few hours calmness washed over me and I felt my hard heart soften, the anger and bitterness turning to peaceful acceptance. I imagined that I heard voices and I wondered if someone were speaking to her. I strained to listen but the voices were faint and low. Whatever was being said was meant for her ears alone. I imagined that they were tender words, words of encouragement perhaps, but from where from who? Perhaps from loved ones passed, from her father perhaps or maybe it was God? Who’s to say, it mattered only to her.

The coming days brought good and not so good news. As she continued to recover, every new day brought a new challenge, a new hill to climb, each one a little steeper than the one before. ALL of them met with a strength that I had not seen in her before now. Terms that I would not have used to describe her, like stoic, determined, focused, and brave were now written all over her face, shielding her beyond her natural abilities. These were the characteristics of the baseball giants that I idolized in my youth, whom I still idolize to this day. These were the traits that defined my heroes. This child before me was walking along side them now, and I am in awe of her.

Today I am sweating over a hot BBQ, cooking up burgers and dogs for her tenth birthday party. I am watching her out of the corner of my eye holding court at a table surrounded by her friends and her family. She is happy and smiling as if she didn’t have a care in the world, as if none of what she is dealing with is worth tears or fears. She is living in the moment and she is an inspiration to me.

As I reminisce at the foot of my sandlot altar I am introducing my past to my new hero. Her name is Truc Han or KaSandra, and I ask you, all of you, to keep her in your prayers.


KaSandra’s battle may have been lost, at least from the perspective of those of us left behind. But from another perspective, in a way I cannot understand or accept just yet, she has been spared the years of struggle that is mortal life and has received her reward of everlasting life from a loving and merciful God. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, like I did every time she’d hug me and tell me that she loved me…more.

Nicholas Sheridan Stanton

June 2, 2009
October 28, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(“but when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine, he broke my little bottle of, love potion number 9”)…The Clover’s…1959

Chapter Fourteen

Bella Terra Restaurant, Los Angeles…2009

Ever notice that there never seems to be a quiet moment in a restaurant? It’s just an observation. I mean I’ve never actually owned one or worked in one, but I eat in them all the time, six days out of seven since returning to bachelor status. I don’t know, maybe early mornings, before the staff arrives, or late at night when its time to lock up? Those might be good times to grab a moment’s peace? I wonder about that whenever I think about the Manzano brothers, Johnny and Angelo or when I’m remembering Lu and Jai, my favorite swishy Asians. It’s hard to believe that they’re gone. It’s harder still to believe the murder suicide theory that Oscar and his minions were trying to sell to John Q. Public. I’ve been in this business long enough to know things are rarely exactly what they appear to be, especially at first glance.

You know, another saying my old mother was fond of sharing was, “the apple’s always sweeter near the core.” It was part of her whole “patience is a virtue” lecture series. The point is I knew those two guys pretty darn well. After all, I’ve been noshing on freebies at their deli for better than twenty years. This puzzle wouldn’t be that easy to solve. From the proper angle even 2 plus 2 isn’t a sure thing. Besides, there’s no way either one of them could have murdered the other. Even a card carrying homophobe like me could see they were in love, truly in love. Those guys (that’s right I said guys) had the kind of love every girl dreams of and every fella fears. The kind that merged two lives, blended them, and transformed them, from individual to couple. Seriously, until I met Lu and Jai I can honestly say that I never really understood what it meant to be a ‘couple.’ But I digress...

Fat Johnny stirred a huge pot of Mama Manzano’s famous Sicilian marinara sauce on the front burner. It must have been near ready because he was also dipping some crusty bread into the pot and giving it a taste.
“HEY, knucklehead, whatta ya doing, you’re going to get sauce all over your suit! Mama mia, we gotta go in fifteen minutes Johnny, we’ll be late for the service,” scolded brother Angelo! Johnny looked down at his white shirt and black silk tie, checking for splash stains. There weren’t any, luckily. He turned to face his nagging older brother and pointed at his clothes with half a loaf of bread. He would have fired off a snappy reply too if not for the fact that the other half of the loaf was sticking from out of his mouth as he chewed. Instead he grunted and gave the pot another lazy stir.

“Lovely,” replied Angelo as he stormed out of the kitchen and out into the restaurant.

Johnny chuckled, stepped away fro the stove and removed the dish towel tucked into his waistband. He folded it quickly and draped it through the bar on the pizza oven door then followed his brother out of the kitchen. He didn’t want to be late to the little homo’s funeral either. I’d meet up with them there later, but first I had some unfinished business with Dr. Looney, strictly business, unfortunately.

UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building

Just being on the enemy’s campus couldn’t be wrong, could it? I mean it’s not a venal sin or anything; Judy was pretty sure about that. But, just to be on the safe side, she made a mental note to keep this visit short and remember to light a candle before Mass on Sunday. Actually, she wouldn’t have had to come here at all if not for a piece of special equipment she needed to use. Why the Bruins could afford one and Tommy Trojan couldn’t was beyond her? It wasn’t worth pondering though; those decisions were made way above her pay grade anyway. All she knew was that she needed time on the machine in order to answer a few nagging questions that involved the blue threads I had left with her a few days ago.

Apparently Doctor Looney had hastily drawn her conclusions and was feeling a little guilty. Or maybe she felt sorry for me after giving me the bum’s rush earlier today? Okay, that was probably wishful thinking on my part. Anyway, between bites of her cup-o-noodles supper she had an epiphany and presto the need for the XHR SEM at UCLA. Judy had access to a scanning electron microscope on her home turf, but the one on the Bruin campus was much sexier. It was an XHR model, an extra high resolution SEM. And Judy Looney wasn’t above using her physical attributes to worm her way into whatever lab housed that unit. Apparently I wasn’t the only fella trying to coax her back onto team hetero! So after wolfing down the last of her workaholic meal she changed into her very best pair of guy friendly jogging shorts and her favorite one size too small USC sweatshirt, minus the sports bra of course, fishing was always better when the girls swung free. Whichever lab tech was her admirer, he (or she, I shouldn’t assume) didn’t stand a chance!
“Sweet,” exclaimed Judy, spotting a space right in front of Young Hall, right next to the Molecular Sciences Building!

Down-shifting her little two seat sports car, a Mazda Miata (not her dream ride, but on her salary it would have to do), she whipped into the prized slot and screeched to a halt. The maneuver was totally unnecessary this hour of the day, but Judy loved her new toy and she took every opportunity to show off her sports car skills. If memory served she thought, Ernie Namura would be noshing on a NY style pizza right about now, and likely craving a cold one to help wash it down. She reached around and tapped her backpack with her key ring and listened for the reassuring clunk of metal to glass. Satisfied with the dull retort she locked the car with the beeper and headed toward the building entrance.

Ernie had been one of her less than stellar undergrad students a couple of years ago. But where he came up short scholastically made up for as a teacher’s pet, satisfying her Starbucks addiction every morning like clockwork, occasionally adding a cheese Danish for good measure! She wasn’t sure if it was a grade he was after or a shot at fulfilling a “hot for teacher” fantasy, but, he was a guy so she felt confident in her chances of getting onto the SEM with a little harmless flirtation. She remembered him as a total frat boy, beer (Sapporo) and pizza (Dominos) were the essence of life as far as he was concerned, typical for a thirty something techie and perennial bachelor.

Judy took the steps two at a time up to the heavy security door and entered the code Ernie had sent via text before she had left her apartment. The light on the little black box changed from red to green as it released the magnetic lock, allowing her access to the building. Entering quickly she headed down the long hall toward the radiology department. He shouldn’t be too hard to find, all she had to do was follow the pepperoni vapors wafting down the long hallway. About halfway down she heard Led Zeppelin emanating from one of the labs behind a set of swinging double doors. She knew the tune, The Immigrant Song she thought, recognizing the familiar melody. Suddenly the doors burst open and out popped Ernie Namura, his arms heavily laden with a stack of thick manila folders that he could barely see over. He was working on a half eaten slice stuffed in his mouth, chewing loudly as he rushed by her. Judy side stepped the fast moving techie, flattening herself up against the wall.

“Whoa, sorry ma'am, I didn’t see you,” apologized Ernie, the words nearly unintelligible through the mouthful of half chewed pizza.

“No worries Ernie-san, it’s me, Judy.”

Ernie stopped abruptly and turned back toward the voice. He leaned against the wall to free up his right hand and pulled the pizza out of his mouth. Swallowing hard, he choked down the wad of food clogging his airway and managed a reply.
Oh, man, sorry Prof, I totally forgot you were coming, it’s been wicked busy here tonight,” Ernie apologized, wiping the cheese and pepperoni grease off his mouth with the sleeve of his lab coat. Judy gingerly took the half eaten slice from his hand with her thumb and forefinger and put it back into his mouth.

“That’s okay, you go drop off that stack of files and I’ll just wait for you right here in your lab. I'll break out a couple of the cold ones I brought to bribe you to look the other way while I log onto the SEM with your code. Does that work for you,” Judy asked, reaching around with both hands to tap her backpack, and giving Ernie a good look at her C size beauties as they stretched the fabric beneath the USC logo? It was like watching two bobcats fighting under a thin blanket, the poor guy was hypnotized.

Ahhhh, yeah, sure, I’ll just be a sec, make yourself at home,” he replied as he sprinted off to wherever he was headed.

“K,” she said sweet as pie.

Judy smiled coyly and went on into the lab, this was going to be fun she thought. The instant she entered the room and the heavy doors closed behind her she felt it. The thermostat read 72 degrees yet she was chilled? An air of foreboding surrounded her, why? And a familiar clinical smell hung in the air, just like the embalming room at the County morgue where she worked while pursuing her PhD. That was weird, all she should smell is pizza she thought looking at the extra large pie from Mario’s setting on an old metal desk. It had probably been donated by old man Hughes himself before he went nuts! Weird she muttered, as she set down her backpack and walked over to Ernie’s boom box. She cranked up the music up to level six and plopped down into the swivel chair to wait for Ernie. The room exploded with noise as “Whole Lotta Love” blared out of the speakers.

Leaning back in the chair she closed her eyes, just for a minute or two she told herself. But her body was screaming for a catnap. Burning the candle at both ends was catching up with her. Her head dipped and swayed, looking as if it would just fall off of her shoulders at any moment. Each time, she jerked herself back to consciousness and each time she fought the compulsion to sleep. But after a minute, maybe less she began doze off. And with unconsciousness the foreboding feeling returned, what was that? She felt her skin crawl, as if a bedbug was dining on her naked thigh under her covers. She didn’t trust what her mind was telling her, her eyes felt heavy and she couldn’t open them no matter how hard she tried. Was she awake or dreaming? She felt awake, she felt as though she were looking around the room? She could describe in detail every stick of furniture, every piece of equipment, even every tile in the ceiling. She was losing track of time, it was irrelevant in a dream state. How long had she been here? Where the hell was Ernie anyway, and what was taking him so long? A hinge squeaked. It was the doors in front of her. She thought she saw someone standing at the doors. How could she know? She was asleep right?

“Ernie, is that you,” she wondered in silence? No reply came.

“CUT IT OUT ERNIE,” she screamed without making any noise!

Her heart raced and if you were standing over her you would see her eyes moving rapidly under closed lids. She was asleep and awake at the same time. She was also scared. A wisp of a shadow passed over her and quietly exited the room. She imagined hearing a faint sound, a low and soft chuckle. It made her smirk involuntarily, yet chilled her to the point of shivering, as if she stepped over an open grave? She remembered an old saying from childhood, “step over an open grave today and someone you know will die tonight.” It wasn’t an exact quote but it was a clear memory nonetheless. Judy’s breathing slowed and slowly she settled into a peaceful state. She was startled awake by a loud crash at the double doors as Ernie Namura returned from his errand at a sprint.

“Am I boring you Dr. Looney,” he said sarcastically as he reached for the Sapporo she had left on the table?

“What, no, no, sorry, long day after a late night, you know me the workaholic poster girl,” she answered as she got up to stretch. Ernie admired the view and took a long drink of the beer.

“Uh huh,” he replied.

Judy straightened her sweatshirt which she had twisted out of sorts while she was catnapping she guessed. She actually blushed when she caught her former student checking her out. He wasn’t shy, that was for sure, and she wondered if the beer was going to be enough of a bribe to get her onto the SEM? Raking her fingers through her hair she broke eye contact with him and wandered toward the equipment she needed.
“So, do you think I can get some time on this thing tonight? I won’t need much, maybe a couple of hours,” she asked, pretending to look over the machine but really watching Ernie for his reaction.

“Yeah, I think that can be arranged,” he replied smiling over his beer.

Sweet! When can I get started,” she asked?

“As soon as I finish my dinner and this beer, but you have to join me, it’s rude to let someone eat alone ya know,” he answered. Judy sighed, putting herself on alert, wondering if she had miscalculated by labeling this guy tame.

“Uh, yeah, okay. Why don’t you open up my beer while I put my stuff over here near the SEM. I really appreciate this Ernie-san,” she said, quickly walking over to fetch her backpack with her samples.

“Hey, you didn’t pass anyone on the way in here did you,” she asked matter-of-factly?

“Nope, it’s you and me till dawn Dr. Looney, just the two of us,” Ernie replied with a shit eating grin.

“Swell,” Judy replied, suddenly wishing she had packed the sports bra in her bag.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

(“all in all you’re just a nuther brick in the wall”)…Pink Floyd…1979

Chapter Thirteen

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…2009

No doubt about it, I was being watched, my spider sense confirmed it. They had to be cops! The oinkers must have tailed me from USC and then ratted me out to the boss-man, which means Lt. Celaya knows Judy Looney has been talking to me. It also means that I should expect a personal invitation downtown for a come to Jesus meeting with the fat headed beast and his flying monkeys, marvelous! You know, getting grilled is the pits, I know, I used to do it for a living. It’s not just a matter of being questioned; tactically there’s quite a difference. Typically, when someone is being questioned it’s to rule them out as a suspect. A grilling however involves a ride on the big blue choo choo courtesy the LAPD as they railroad you toward a confession. And make no mistake; they’ll get it, one way or the other, they’ll get it!
So, to recap, questioning, easy quick and painless, grilling, well, let’s just say that a good grilling will leave a mark or two! As a general rule I prefer to avoid either! However, given my naturally nosey nature and general don’t give a flip attitude, that didn’t seem likely because I am back in Oscar’s crosshairs, again! You know, for a smart guy I seem to be lacking common sense more often than not these days? Let’s face it; I enjoy winding up that palooka way too much. It’s a wicked little pleasure, I know, but I hope to outgrow it someday. Hell, I’m getting too old to be a full time smart ass anyway. Besides, the price of chuckles gets higher and higher the older I get. Seriously, I should be more careful where he’s concerned because I’m pretty sure that under the right circumstances or given the slightest provocation the flatfoot would put one right between my eyes! And who could blame him? My lack of respect for him is legendary in this town. I’ll be the first to admit that our little feud is totally sour grapes over his involvement in my early “retirement,” more on that later.
I quickly crossed the room to the small writing table resting cozily under the corner window of my shabby one room apartment, and debated whether or not to call Judy Looney. I don’t know why it was such an internal issue? It should be a short debate at best; I mean professionally it was a no brainer. She was a source of critical information, right? I needed that brain of hers; she was a key element in this case. I decided face to face would be best. A grin spread across my face and made me feel a little high-schoolish. I’m not a child, really, I’m not, but I’ll admit, I can see where I might seem like one at times given my arrested adolescence, much more on that later! Look, there’s chemistry between us, I’m aware of that. Okay, it’s based totally on sarcasm, but like my old mother used to say, “the girl who treats you worst, loves you most.”
Dr. Looney was attractive in her own way, physically I mean. And it wasn’t just her nice features (nice cans), that attracted me either. Actually, brace yourself; it was her intelligence, and the comfortable smile that came with every shared moment that seemed to get my motor running. I could be myself around her, without compulsion to put on airs. I dunno, lately I just wanted to be around her more often. I’ve even caught myself looking for reasons to drop by the campus. I’ll be honest, being easy on the eyes might have had a little more to do with it then I let on, but hey, I’m a man aren’t I? Listen, her head might be packed solid with gray matter, but the rest of her is firm where it should be, soft where I like it and she smells good. What can I say, that’s what’s important to me these days, go figure? Ah well it was moot anyway, she was Ronnie’s girl now, and they were madly in love, or so they kept telling me, whatever! I should quit pining over nothing. Sometimes I wish I could kick my own ass!
Something caught my eye suddenly just outside the window? I studied the group of people crossing the street and counted noses. Nothing out of the ordinary, whatever I saw had merged with the crowd and disappeared. It was getting late and if I was going to catch Judy at home before Ronnie rolled in from the office I needed to get a move on. I grabbed my keys off the desk and turned to leave, then suddenly whipped around to look out the window once more. Something was making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, like I had just shuffled across a shag carpet in my socks. I stared out the window for a few seconds not exactly sure what I was looking for?
“Ah, bag it,” I muttered and left the room.

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles

“Until I say you’re done, that’s when,” Oscar Celaya shouted into the handset as he slammed it back onto its cradle!
The five o’clock shadow poking through his weathered face had grown thicker by a couple of hours, and the hot headed lieutenant was tired and pissy. It was way passed supper time and bed time wasn’t far off either for a man whose work day started at 5am. He had put a couple of gold shield transfers from Parker Center on my tail earlier and apparently I was boring them to tears. Maybe those guys were the ones giving me goose bumps back at my apartment? Nah, I’d have spotted them sooner than later. I didn’t see them when I left, but I knew they were around, I could smell their bacon as soon as I hit the pavement. Odds are the jack-holes were around the corner at Clifton’s swilling coffee and stuffing their fat oinker faces!
Lt. Celaya leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He decided it was time to call it a day. Fishing out his car keys from his center desk drawer, he got up and put on his worn and torn sport coat, the one with the patched elbows. It was his town and country look. He watched the busy precinct staff go about their business through the glass surrounding his center office as he slipped his arm into the sleeve. The night shift was never dull, there was crazy shit happening from dusk to dawn, it’s when the animals roam the city. He rapped on the window signaling for a skinny sergeant to meet him at the door. The startled officer took a quick sip of her coffee and rushed around to see what he wanted.
“Yeah LT, what’s up,” asked Sergeant Ann Kowalski?
“Annie, do me a favor will ya? If my phone rings again, and it will, tell the chuckle head on the other end of the line that they can go home,” Oscar said yawning.
“Sure LT. Any reason we can’t just have dispatch call them now?”
Yeah, two reasons, BE – CAUSE!
Sergeant Kowalski knew that tone and decided to zip it before she wound up Corporal Kowalski. Oscar waived at the room as he headed toward the exit and home to his teeny bopper wife who would re-heat dinner and yammer on and on until he fell into blissful slumber. Actually, if I know Oscar Celaya he’ll be hit Tito’s Tacos on the way home and choke down half a dozen taquitos with cheese and extra guacamole. Hmmm, actually that sounds pretty good right about now. Maybe I’ll grab a bag–o–tacos my own self and treat Dr. Judy to a little snack and chat? I tipped my hat at the precinct building as I drove by on the number 30 bus then leaned back and closed my eyes for the rest of the twenty minute ride. I would have slept too except for this nagging moment of anxiety that I couldn’t explain?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

(“dead man lying by the side of the road with the daylight in his eyes...don’t let it bring you down ”)…Neil Young…1967

Chapter Twelve

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…2009

I am bored, this man bores me. Everything about him just bores me to tears. He’s taking the fun out of this. Well, almost. I needn’t waste any more time here, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll shave, shower, eat and sleep until 7 or 8 this evening. It’s his pattern, his boring, boring pattern. I suppose I could wait around and listen to him quiz Dr. Looney with his usual flare, rife with a boring amount of sexual innuendo and vulgar banter, the gutter snipe. Is he really attracted to that egghead? I think that he is. Ah well, no accounting for taste I suppose. He’s worse than a schoolboy crushing on his cute homeroom teacher, pathetic! I could stay put and hear it all from where I am perched. He has no idea who, what, or where I am, he has no inkling that he is being watched. Ah but isn’t that the way with everyone? Nobody wants to think they are that exposed, but they are. Someone is always watching, always.

I think maybe it would be more interesting to watch him from the other end of his call. Dr. Looney and I have yet to meet, formally that is. Perhaps this would be an opportune time? Now that would be a keen distraction, wouldn’t you agree? Women in general possess a heightened sense of awareness; it’s instinctive. She’d feel my presence even if she could not see me. Her sensitivity served my purpose, a woman’s fear is always more intense. Men have a keen fight or flight instinct. Women are deer in the headlights. Yes, I should visit Judy.

I really had no plans to do so, it would be so impulsive. Not like me, not like me at all. Still, I am strangely intrigued? Typically smart, driven females repulse me. They are overly assertive, out to prove themselves either equal to or superior to the males of the species. Pity, because in doing so the very essence of their femininity is sacrificed, and for what, to take on the worst characteristics of men? And intentionally change what was designed by the creator to be soft and beautiful into something hard and ugly. It’s a sad and unnatural transformation.

Christian Scripture reminds those that pay attention to such things that one cannot serve two masters. It’s true. Mankind has been missing that point ever since the garden in Eden. And the All Mighty has been punishing them throughout the ages ever since. They still don’t get it, fools. I suppose I could lend a hand in this instance, couldn’t I? Ah, but there’d be no sport in it. As females go Judy Looney is far from the worst of the lot. But Whitey is such a rube, and she is becoming a bit of a distraction. I need him to focus right about now and haven’t the patience for any detours. Judy’s served our purpose, we don’t need her anymore. It’s an opportunity to lend a hand to the man upstairs.

SHO-M-U-LYKE-M, Los Angeles…2009

It doesn’t rain very often in LA and when it does the populace goes positively bonkers. You’d think they had never seen water fall from the sky. Drivers can’t drive, buses are later than usual, traffic lights stop working, and everyone is dressed for a monsoon, ridiculous! That tended to make life miserable for Lu and Jai. As card carrying germ-a-phobes every time the door opened and a fresh batch of customers rushed in and shook off the cold their little pointed heads would nearly explode. Today was one of those days.

“OH, OH, please stop that,” Lu shouted, running over to assist his newest arrivals! He threw a fresh bath towel onto the floor at their feet and quickly handed another to each of the patrons.
“May I,” he added, taking their coats while they toweled off. He pointed at their shoes and then at the racks next to the door. They picked up on his message without a word spoken and stooped to remove their shoes placing them with the others.
“Thank you for your indulgence, we’re Asian after all,” Lu said smiling meekly.
“Not a problem Lu, it’s not our first time here,” replied the taller of the two.
“Of course, I should have recognized you,” said Lu, slightly embarrassed.
YES you should have,” scolded Lu’s better half, as Jai joined him at the door.
“Thank you Mr. Mankowitz, forgive the mess, it’s the precipitation you see,” Jai explained.
“Yeah, well you think we can we get a seat and a nosh now fellas, or are we going stand here and gab through my dinner break?”
“Of course, of course, Armando, table seven,” Jai replied, summoning the nearest waiter to seat the two patrons. The small round employee arrived in nanoseconds and quickly ushered the pair to the empty table near the deli case. Mr. Mankowitz winked at Lu and Jai as he was seated and the owners waived and made their way back to the kitchen.
“Well, that went well,” Jai said sarcastically.
“Can we just leave it alone,” Lu begged, his tone tired and low?
“Oh Lu Lu, don’t be like that, I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just saying that I’m glad that went as smoothly as it did, all things considered.”
“I see, well, do you think we should pick up their tab,” Lu asked?
“No, these guys are shitty tippers, all the girls say so. Besides, they don’t earn a freebie by making puddles on our Italian marble, I mean really!”
“You’re to cute sweetness, now I remember why I keep you around,” said Lu, hugging his partner as they got back down to business. Just then Armando peeked in the kitchen door.
“Should I comp these guys a couple of cocktails?”
“NO,” Jai and Lu replied together, giggling at the absurdity of the question!
“I’m taking a break,” Jai said, bussing Lu and heading for the door.
“You mean you’re taking a nap,” Lu replied.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, I’ve earned it,” Jai whined as he exited the kitchen.

Jai walked quickly through the dining room and past the bar to take the private lift up to the apartment upstairs. He accepted the glass of Chardonnay from William the bartender as he past by and entered the small elevator. Smiling at nobody in particular he sipped on his wine as the doors closed. His cell phone rang as if on cue. Jai fancied Mozart’s fleur de le it was his signature ringtone for the week, which he religiously changed every Sunday before bedtime. He waited a moment to answer, enjoying each note before the bridge.
“Cello,” he said coyly, pretending not to know who was on the other end.
“Don’t toy with me you beast! As much as I enjoy the heavy breathing I prefer it face to face lover,” Jai continued, scolding the mystery caller. The elevator stopped and the doors opened just as the expression on his face changed. The blood had suddenly drained from his face and he was even paler than normal, which was saying a lot because Jai Lai was famously nocturnal. Whatever had been said had brought on a serious mood change. Jai exited hurriedly, jogging across the all white carpet in his stocking feet and sat uncomfortably on a pristine white sofa. He sat down gingerly as if he were sitting on rice paper. His reflection in the large bay window stared back at him accusingly.

The city began the day to night transformation as the sun set quickly. Dusk became evening and the silence in the empty apartment seemed eerily familiar. Jai made no sound. He was clearly agitated. He listened for a long time, speechless, never uttering a response. He sat as if made of stone and stared down his own reflection, never blinking, not once, it was unnatural.
“You’re lying,” Jai said finally, tears dropping from his eyes. His voice began to quaver and was reduced to a harsh whisper. Sniffling audibly he continued.
“Why are you doing this? I don’t believe you, I won’t,” he whimpered, licking at his lips, tasting the salt from his tears. The voice on the phone was gone, the line disconnected. Still Jai held the device to his ear as if whoever was speaking would start again at any moment. Several minutes passed, long enough for the tears to dry, leaving snail trails down both cheeks.

The sun set had gone unnoticed and the large apartment had become dark and silent. Jai set the cell down on the end table beside him without flipping the phone closed. He stared at if for a moment then pushed the number one on the keypad. It was Lu’s cell phone number on speed dial. Rising from the sofa Jai walked over to the window slowly, while Lu’s phone rang faintly in the background.
“Hello? Peaches, is that you,” squawked Lu’s voice over the speakerphone? No reply.
“Come on Jai, don’t play games it’s really busy down here!” Still, no reply?
“Oh for the love of Pete, I’m coming right up,” Lu said annoyed. He removed his apron and walked out of the kitchen toward the lift, his cell phone still pressed to his ear. Lu was pissed, he hated when Jai got moody like this, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with on a busy, rainy day! The elevator doors closed and Lu started the slow climb to their 21st floor apartment. Still no sounds on his phone save the eerie static of silence.
Jai, Jai,” he called, not exactly shouting but darn close!
The doors opened as he arrived home and Lu exited in a huff. He passed through the foyer and then quickly crossed the living room to the sofa. He called out to Jai and heard himself over the speakerphone on Jai’s open cell resting on the end table table.
“Honestly,” he sighed. He ended the call by closing both cell phones. He scanned the dark room, which was dimly lit by the glare from the city lights streaming through the large bay window. He couldn’t see well and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He didn’t hear anything either except for his own movements. The refrigerator motor switched on suddenly and startled him. Lu recoiled abruptly and fell back onto the sofa, seating himself unintentionally. He clutched at his chest for a second composing himself and took a deep cleansing breath. He closed his eyes as he exhaled and then opened them slowly.
“This is so silly,” he muttered tiredly, scooting forward on the sofa to stand up.
“I don’t have the time or patience for your nonsense tonight Jai Lai. I’m going back to work. You know where to find me when you’re through brooding,” he shouted as he stood.
Lu walked back to the elevator without looking for his partner any further. What was the point? Jai was just setting him up for yet another bickering session. Lu hated those tiffs. Truth be told so did Jai, as he admitted time and time again. “I can’t help myself, it’s the way I was raised,” he would say as soon as the storm passed and it was time to make up. Lu tried to understand, he really did, because at the end of the day he genuinely loved his partner with all of his heart. But it’s true what they say about expecting leopards to change their spots, it’s not fair to expect the impossible. But behavior isn’t rigid, it’s fluid, and while people are what they are, changes are possible if they come from within. However, they can’t be coaxed or demanded.
Unconditional love is a rare and precious gift but always comes at a cost, and always to the one who gives. Lu had realized all of that some time ago yet was still learning to take the high road. He wanted to give the man he loved the freedom to be himself. I admired that, sort of, but I’ll never understand it. I’m too selfish to grasp the concept of unconditional love.

The elevator doors had started to close when the shot rang out, made louder by the complete absence of noise in the seemingly deserted apartment…BAM! Lu stuck out his hand to keep the doors from closing. The brushed aluminum panels hesitated and then reversed direction, allowing him the opportunity to squeeze past. He walked rather than ran toward the ringing sound of the explosion. Strangely, he felt calm even though his mind was racing through a litany of possible scenarios. He entered the hall and made his way to his bedroom. He could smell the cordite as it wafted toward him. The odor was caustic and made his nostrils flare. His skin became cold and he could feel the goose bumps forming on his bare arms. At the end of the long hallway, Lu entered the room that he and Jai had shared for so many years. It was where they loved, where they fought, and where they were a couple, in and out of like with one another but forever in love. He stopped at the foot of the bed and stared down at the lifeless form of his life partner.

Jai lay motionless, his open eyes staring up at the ceiling, a gaping hole where the muzzle blast had torn off most of his hairpiece (a little secret he had guarded closely in life). The weapon, still in his right hand, lay partially tucked beneath him at the small of his back. His legs were crossed the way they were when he worked the crossword on Sunday mornings. He didn’t look as dead as he was, well except for the blood maybe. Lu fought the urge to be angry at Jai’s selfish action. Then, he fought off the urge to cry. He settled on being comfortably numb and lay down beside his companion. On his side he studied Jai’s lifeless eyes and reached over to close them. He tried this several times but they would not stay closed. He wondered why? It always worked in the movies? He traced his index finger over the length of Jai’s form, beginning at his forehead and ending at the wrist of his right hand.

Lu touched the gun in his hand, it was still warm. A tear rolled down his face as he pulled the weapon from Jai’s hand. He held it and raised it high above the two of them, admiring the dullness of it. It was black and square like, with hard angles and it was lighter than he had imagined. It almost didn’t seem lethal at all, almost like a toy? He grasped it firmly and pointed it at the ceiling fan, counting the blades as they swung past the barrel. He gently laid it back down on Jai’s chest and wept softly. That was how I found them hours later when Marco called me from the restaurant. He was afraid to call the cops, and I could understand why. Romeo and Juliet were dead and for what? My job just became more than I bargained for.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

(“when it comes to being lucky she’s cursed, when it comes to loving me she’s worse”)…Cat Stevens…1967

Chapter Eleven

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…2009

Staring out the corner window in my second floor flat above the bar at this flea bag hotel I recapped my morning as I watched some of the work-a-day skirts make their way up 5th Street on their lunch beak. You know, the worst part of living in the city is you can rarely escape the noise. Short of a living in a tomb you just had to learn to live with it! I wish I could say that was the only hardship a city-dweller dealt with, but that would be wishful thinking. There were the rats, the roaches, the stench permeating from any alley courtesy the great unwashed, and a hundred other pick-em inconveniences. But you know what; despite of all that, one thing managed to make it all worthwhile. Don’t bother guessing, I’ll just tell you, OPPORTUNITY. I know what your thinking, WTF right? It’s not rocket science; the city’s alive 24/7, no matter what time of day all year round. Now, granted, LA isn’t NYC by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want a cheeseburger, chili fries and a chocolate shake at 3am, not a problem, check out Pink’s. You want to catch a first run movie or off-off Broadway play at 7am on Sunday morning, just crack open your laptop and surf the web, you’ll find one, guaranteed. You say that you need a kidney transplant from an AB negative donor? Okay, that might be a stretch. But short of a kidney or heart transplant, you had an opportunity to do just about anything in this town. So, why the philosophical waxing you ask? I don’t know, I think I’m just getting old. Or it could be that I’m close enough to sixty to smell the tiger balm, or that I’m still paying spousal support to my trans-sexual ex who’s screwing around with the only woman I’ve thought twice about who wasn’t free lancing or table dancing. Whaaaaa, I’m actually nauseating myself! Okay back to the case.
I had taken the facts Judy Looney had shared to The Pantry on 9th and Figueroa and camped out at the counter to mull it over. If it had been closer to noon than 9am I would be doing this at Casey’s with a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. But it wasn’t and I’d been coming here three to four times a week since I started with the LAPD back in the 1970s. Actually my father had been a regular as well, ever since they moved into the corner slot in 1950. Before that I think my grandpa frequented the original diner which had been up the street from the current location. That old man was a pancake junkie, God love him. You could always find him there on any Sunday morning. Comfort food was his religion and The Pantry was his cathedral.
Okay, enough with the history lessons. Something Judy said was bothering me. It wasn’t any of the physical characteristics that she speculated on, let’s face it they could have fit at least a hundred profiles on the job in LA. There are what, nine or ten thousand sworn officers to choose from after all. Nope, it was the brown mustard comment that was rattling around my melon. Brown mustard, really, who eats brown mustard these days? You’d have to be a mustard consœur to willingly spread that stuff on your baloney sandwich. I hate that stuff and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that. So why was this bothering me? I had already connected the easy dots; clearly this cop had spent a fair amount of time at Jai and Lou’s popular deli. That was a no brainer. There should have been an obvious trail here. Sure Jai was acting strangely and what was he doing meeting clandestinely with a uniformed officer in this town anyway? It couldn’t be sexual, that much I was more than sure of. I’d know the two little homos for better than twenty years and their relationship was rock solid, no doubt whatsoever! Whatever his reasons were I was fairly certain that I would have to ferret it out of the unknown cop, whoever it was. Confronting Jai while Lou was so deeply depressed would be unfair, at least for right now. Jai and I were heading toward a “come to Jesus meeting” but it could wait a while. It was time to update my KKK notes, what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what I wanted to know.

What do I know?
1. Sally November was still dead
2. Jai Lai, the little flamer knows way more than he is letting on
3. Somebody in the LAPD was closer to this than they probably should be
4. I’ll need details from Sally’s autopsy sooner than later
5. I’m going to owe Judy Looney big time

What do I think I know?

1. SN and Jai Lai had been in touch from day one of her arrival
2. SN’s death was no surprise for Jai
3. SN may have been more than an alias (still working on that angle)
4. SN had been murdered elsewhere and brought back to her apartment
5. SN was in the wrong place at the wrong time, she wasn’t meant to die

What do I want to know?

1. What was the exact time of death
2. What was the actual cause of death
3. What was in the toxicology report
4. What was Jai’s relationship to Mei Li Teng
5. What was Oscar Celaya keeping under his hat (that hump is always in the know)

All this thinking was starting to give me a headache. A police cruiser screamed by under the window suddenly and screeched around the corner onto Grand It was enough of a distraction to jolt me out of my brainstorming trance. Unfortunately it also startled the crap out of me and now there was a river of Guinness rushing across the small writing table at which I was sitting.
“Son of a bitch,” I shouted, jumping out of my chair!
Fortunately for me the only damage was to the steno-pad that I had covered with snappy little doodles over the last hour or so. Sure, sometimes those doodles proved useful, rife with clues mixed in with the art. But seeing as I had the talent of a five year-old with ADD, all the Guinness did was save me a couple of hours trying to read my own handwriting. Yeah, I’m pretty old school, and you could politely say that I was electronically challenged. So, there wasn’t any chance I’d wrecked a laptop or a what-cha-ma-call-it, an iTouch.
Look, when my brain gets full I empty it, meaning I break out a new stenographer’s notebook and fill it, every page, front and back. I had boxes of them, labeled, dated, and cataloged. I kept them stacked neatly against the wall across from my bed. A couple of them were pulling double duty as the base for my coffee table. Lay a thick piece of glass or sheet of plywood (depending on your budget) across four tightly packed banker’s boxes and viola, coffee table. Made the small room pretty cozy but since my divorce from both Rhonda and the LAPD, this small room had to multi-task. Rhonda took my present (our savings, our home, ect…) and the LAPD took my future (my pension, my self respect, etc…). I’m over it though, there’s nothing to be gained in bitterness. All that noise brings is an early grave. In hindsight Rhonda earned every penny putting with the mistress that my job had become. I wasn’t there for her when she was searching for herself. The cash helped with that journey even if where it took her was confusing as hell, but I won’t waste any words on that nightmare. As for the LAPD, fuck em!
Yanking the quilt off of my unmade bed I mopped up the puddle of Guinness, pitiful waste of a good pint. I guess now is as good a time as any to get the laundry done. I could make a couple of calls while I waited at the Laundromat. The first call should be to Judy to see if she had any pull with the Coroner’s Office. I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear from me again so soon. I needed to see that tox report, preferably before Oscar’s team did. The next call would be to Jai Lai, it was time. That was going to be a little tricky as I’d have to think of a good reason to call him out of the blue. Jai and I weren’t near as close as Lu and I were. I’ll think of something though, I’d hung around enough lawyers in my life to be able to fabricate something useful. It’s time to start answering the questions I’d been collecting. Sally would be buried in a few days and I wanted to send her spirit to wherever it is that spirits go with her killer’s name scribbled on the box they lay her to rest in. I wanted her family have closure. I wanted Lu to sleep again, to have peace of mind.

Monday, September 13, 2010

(“she put de lime in de coconut, called de doctor, woke him up”)…Nilsson…1973

Chapter Ten

Ahmanson Bio Research Center, USC, Los Angeles…2009

Judy Looney pulled off her specs and tossed them wearily onto the desk in front of her. Glancing quickly at her wristwatch she groaned audibly. It was 2am and she couldn’t believe that she had been working non-stop since lunch, again! It was the third time this week and she was beginning to feel every one of her forty something years. Thank God for Maxwell House and Folgers she thought; the lab’s java choices. Choices based entirely on cost versus taste of course. Lab rats are predominately poorer than the average rodent, a sad fact of life. But who cares, after the eighth or ninth cup nobody really tastes anything anyway. Hot, black and strong are the only criteria for double and triple shifts.
Sure, the teaching gig paid the rent, but that only accounted for 6 of the 18 hours she put in most days. It was her passion for research that kept her in the lab until the wee hours. Students would come and go but finding a cure for the big “C” was what she was all about. Being a Fellow at this school was a big deal. A bigger deal was being a part of the Regenerative Medicine / Stem Cell Research team at USC; now that was a huge honor! It was what put the spring in her step and the shit eating grin Edward’s face, her traditionalist Scots/Irish old man (father). He was a tough as nails retired longshoreman who emigrated from Glasgow to the United States during the cold war, 1962 to be exact. He brought his new bride straight from the Chapel to the Port of Los Angeles where he put in thirty five years loading and unloading containers from around the world. The young couple called San Pedro their home and settled in a small five room cottage within spitting distance of Ports of Call. It was a little dicey fitting into their Cabrillo St. neighborhood with its thick Yugoslavian population. In May of 1968 his wife Trudy bore him a daughter, the apple of his eye, and his pride and joy. They named her Judith Theresa Looney, after his great Aunt who had raised him. His own parents had been killed during the London blitz in 1943. Tragic really, and tragedy had followed him to the new world as well. Trudy would later die in child birth, two years after Judith’s arrival. While that child, also a wee girl whom they called Cassie (short for Cassandra) would pass at the tender age of eight after a short and fierce battle with cancer.
That was the defining moment in Judy’s life. It changed her forever. It drove her to medicine. It was also responsible for her Looney Tunes nickname the one we all love to tease her about. I should explain that. You see, prior to Cassie’s death Judy could have been best described as a wallflower, shy and reserved to the point of appearing autistic. For whatever reasons, reasons only she could know, the old Judy was buried with her sister on that day as well. The pre-teen that emerged became a hellion of legendary proportions. The shy little girl whom Edward sometimes worried about became a fearless woman child that filled him with pride one minute and something between terror and anger the next. Fast forward a few decades and here she sat, thirty miles from where she grew up, still Daddy’s little girl, when she allowed it, and working non-stop on the cure that would fulfill a promise she made to a ten year-old one cold and stormy night in 1978.
Judy punched off her desktop, watched as it powered down then swiveled around 180 degrees to make her getaway for home. Standing slowly she yawned and did a big girl stretch, her arms reaching high for the ceiling as her lungs filled with air. In mid-exhale the phone rang loudly, startling her into a freakish leap, like a garden gnome on crack.
“SHIT,” she shrieked, spinning around quickly to lunge for the offending piece of office equipment! She picked up the handset and screamed into the receiver.
Slamming the handset back into the cradle she sat back down to catch her breath and waited for the phone to ring again. She knew it was me; nobody else would be calling at this hour expecting to get an answer. She also knew that I wouldn’t sleep until she told me what I needed to know. She watched the phone with an unblinking stare and drummed her fingers on the desk impatiently. I didn’t disappoint her, and she picked up a millisecond after the first ring.
“What Whitey, WHAT?”
“Take it easy doll, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” I replied defensively.
“Hey, leave my underwear out of this DICK, and why are you bugging me at this hour anyway?”
“I just want to go home, feed my cats and crash for a couple of hours before the freaking alarm screams at me to get up and do this all over again!”
“Hey, hey, just because you coaxed that family secret outta me in a weak moment doesn’t mean you can throw it back at me whenever you please. Besides, you promised never to call me that Judy. A promise is a promise!”
That felt a little pathetic and I could tell by the silence on the other end of the line that Judy picked up on my self loathing. I heard her stifle a giggle and waited for a sarcastic come-back line. I didn’t have to wait long.
Awww, sorry bout that Nancy, maybe we can chat about that when you’re done with your period,” she said with a grin that I could feel through the phone line.
“Funny Judy, you’re a real riot! Look, just tell me what you know about those threads I left you this morning and we can both call it a day,” I snapped.
“Alright Whitey, this is getting boring anyway. So, about the threads, well, you were right. They’re off a LAPD uniform. Whoever was wearing it was a male with O positive blood. He is likely over forty and is graying slightly. I can’t tell you height, weight, or shoe size, but I can tell you that he smokes and that he likes his sandwiches with brown mustard. How’s that for a freebie? This is a freebie, right Whitey?”
“Ah, natch on the freebie doll, I’ll have to owe you for now, you know how it is.”
“Yeah, I know, gumshoes don’t make dick, no pun intended.”
“Okay, I deserved that. But I have to know, how did you glean all of that from three tiny threads?”
“It’s not rocket science Whitey. The threads must have been off a shirt sleeve, near the cuff I’m guessing. Since its December the LAPD is dressing out in their winter gear, right? I figured near the cuff because the hands are next to almost every action we take. Like for instance, eating, smoking, drinking, washing up after you take a leak, or mixing it up on the job with a feisty perp. Am I right?”
“Sounds plausible, I guess that makes sense?”
“Trust me, it makes perfect sense.”
“Still, humor me,” I pleaded.
“Sheesh Whitey, you’re a piece of work,” replied Judy! I could hear her reacquiring a comfortable position in her chair. She yawned deeply and then began her dissertation.
“Alright gumshoe, by the numbers then. ONE, three blue cotton fibers, no great stretch, easily traced to the manufacturer, who by the way has an exclusive contract with the city for the fabric; which I identified by lot through the dye in the material. TWO, blood type recognition, also a no brainer. The fella may have got a paper cut issuing a citation or maybe cut himself shaving, I don’t know, but the samples tested as O positive and had traces of testosterone in the sweat also found on the fibers. THREE, the gray hair was a lucky find as one of the fibers had a small follicle on it, likely from his arm. That was another indicator that we are dealing with a male subject here, well that and the testosterone. FOUR, the age is an educated guess based on the follicle. FIVE, traces of nicotine were on the follicle as well as the threads. And finally SIX, the fella must have gone to the same charm school as you did because this little piggy likes his deli with spicy brown mustard. Just like you, right Whitey? There, is that enough detail for you?”
I offered up my praise with a long and low whistle over the telephone line and I could hear her snicker tiredly on the other end.
“Very impressive, you’re just too cool for school Miss Looney, why aren’t we sleeping together anyway?”
“You’re a class act Roode, unfortunately you’re also an asshole. Besides, I’d rather do the deed with your ex, you know that.”
“That’s right; you two are still thick as thieves aren’t you. Thanks for rubbing it in.”
“My pleasure, on both counts,” she replied softly.
“On that note I’m hanging up and going to bed,” I said, half hoping she felt like talking more. I always had a soft spot for Looney Tunes even if she was a rival of sorts.
“Okay, I’m doing the same. G’nite Whitey, hope that helps you earn a buck or two.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see. G‘nite…”
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