Stephen King says that if you’re going to write, then write! If you’re serious about writing then write everyday. Make a date with yourself, schedule a time and stick to the schedule. Be adamant about this time, about this obligation to you. If you can’t do this then you can’t write. It’s that simple. Good advice, I think I’ll take it!
Here is chapter one in a project I left half done while I was grousing about never having time to write. It’s the first in my private eye series that I’m calling The Gumshoe Diaries.
“Fortune Cookies Always Lie”
( ”tell me why, why, why, why you cried, and why you lied, lied, lied to me”…Lennon & McCartney)
Little Tokyo, Los Angeles California, 12:30pm
Her name was Sally November. At least that’s what the mailbox said. Truth be told her given name was Mai Li Tang, that’s what the INS downtown said when I checked her out on the way over here this morning. Such a beautiful name I thought, almost lyrical. You know, I’ve lived around the Asian community in this city for better than twenty years, and the practice of choosing English names for their children has always perplexed me, I don’t get it. I suppose it’s one way to fit into the neighborhood, who knows? It was a shame though; Mai Li probably fit this girl much better. Actually, this whole thing was going to be a double shame, because now I had to go back and tell her Uncle Lu that I had found his missing niece. It was going to crush him, I knew that for a fact; as I have listened to him go on and on about her for years, ever since she was a tyke.
Lu Rong, his life partner Jay Lai, and I go way back. All the way back, to when I carried a gold shield as one of LA’s finest. They were more friends than associates, I mean really, how useful are snitches named Rong and Lai anyway (pronounced ‘wrong’ and ‘lie’)? Think about it, it’ll come to you. They are a pleasant little homo couple though. They run a Jewish Delicatessen, yes, I said Jewish, in the financial district on Wilshire, you know the white collar side of town. It had a catchy little name too, ‘Sho-M-U-Lyke-M’ I know what you’re thinking, cops and queers, strange bedfellows, right? Well don’t be too quick to judge. Go shake your own family tree first, you may be surprised!
Anyway, Lou had asked me to see what I could see after his niece was a no-show at LAX a while back. She was supposed to be a passenger on an inbound Boeing 747 from Taiwan, and in fact the manifest confirmed that she had boarded the plane in Taipei. But when Uncles Lu and Jay arrived to pick her up, guess what, no Mai Li? Lu and Jay had bankrolled her trip to the States where she was supposed to attend USC majoring in business administration with a minor in finance. That was six months ago and now here she was, at the Biltmore Hotel, a run down bastion of yesteryear, quite literally across the street and down the block from my own digs at the Hotel Alexandria. That doesn’t put my skills as an investigator in a very good light, but in my defense all I had was an old photograph and unconfirmed starting place to work with. For all I knew she never actually got on that plane in Taiwan. Nevertheless, here she was, and she was dead.
From the looks of things she had traded USC for the school of hard knocks, and decided to go into business for herself using her tuition money as venture capital, courtesy good old Uncle Lu. As businesses go, her choice proved to be an ominous one that included some pretty serious risks, and I’m not talking about the fiscal kind. Sally was young, twenty-five years old, or so her dossier read, and she had big dreams according to Uncle Lu. He said that she had come to the US from Taipei to pursue a career in advertising. Well, she was advertising all right, and her clientele was apparently on the dangerous side.
Her skin was olive colored, smooth and flawless, a veritable walking billboard for the cosmetics industry. She was runway model perfect, a classic beauty. I shook my head with a tsk tsk tsk look on my face as I stared at her corpse. She was dressed in pair of pink silk jammies, well, the bottom part anyway. Her shoulder length hair was pulled back stylishly into a ponytail that started high on her scalp and arched downward, just skimming the nape of her neck. She was drop dead gorgeous, no pun intended, a real China doll, with a look of childlike innocence that immediately squelched any impure thoughts I might have associated with her chosen ‘profession.’ I could feel tears welling up as I studied her with the eyes of a father, an uncle, or a brother. Except for the long silk tie wrapped tightly around her neck, she appeared to be only napping, as if she’d wake up startled by my presence at any moment. But of course, she wasn’t sleeping, she was dead, and that turned my heart to mush, like it would anyone witnessing a mess like this.
“What are you doing here Whitey?” asked the uniformed officer entering the living room from the kitchen.
I knelt down beside the body, ignoring him, and fussed with the pink silk tie, careful not to touch anything, using my fountain pen as a sterile probe.
“Hey! Roode! I’m talking to you jack!” the officer hissed in a low anxious tone.
I put the pen back into coat my pocket, blew the Sally a kiss and stood up.
“No need to get testy Copper, I hear you loud and clear.” I replied.
“Come on man, Lt. Celaya will be here any second!” the agitated officer pleaded.
I looked at him knowingly and gave him wink, tipping the old and weathered Fedora I always wore high up onto my forehead. I folded my arms and added, “I guess that explains the whispering,” I whispered back. I ran my tongue over my teeth to remove some remnants of my breakfast, my usual Pantry special, ham and eggs with an English muffin and coffee.
“It would probably be bad if he caught me here, might look like I’m one upping him.” I said with a grin.
“You’re not on the job anymore Whitey, you can’t just barge into a crime scene like you own the place! Besides, as we all know, Pena hates your guts! So save me a lot of paperwork and beat it before he finds you here and makes me arrest your ass…again!”
I nodded, fitting my hat back into its proper place on my skull, and started to leave. Officer Cooper interjected quickly, “Not that way Whitey, go out the back, why take chances, right?”
“Natch, thanks paley,” I replied, tapping my temple with my pointing finger.
I did an about face and passed my friend in the blue uniform on the way to the kitchen, where I would make my Batman like exit via an open window out onto the fire escape. Copper’s partner, Patrolman Lewis tapped me on the arm as I went by. “Wait a sec, what do you know about this?” he asked, knowing that I always did my homework.
“What do you know?” I replied, stopping to face him. Lewis looked at me suspiciously and then answered, “The neighbor says she’s a working girl.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” I replied sarcastically.
“Well, the skinny is that she had some interesting playmates.”
“Do tell.” I said smugly
“Yep, more than interesting, if this fella isn’t bullshitting us that is.”
“The neighbor huh, the one next door?”
“Yeah, that’s the one, right next door. Stay clear of him, if you know what’s good for you Whitey,” advised young Officer Lewis.
“Probably good advice, thanks,” I said, turning to walk away.
“Hey man, it’s your turn, tit for tat ass-wipe, what about you, what’ve you got?” shouted the irritated patrolman.
I stopped in the doorway and answered without looking back, “Oh yeah, her name’s not Sally.” I said, walking through the kitchen quickly and out the window, onto the sunlit fire escape.
I paused there for a second or two just to get a lay of the land. I glanced over at the empty fire escape next door, and made a mental note. Sooner or later I would be worming my way into the nosey neighbor’s life, just as soon as the LAPD was finished with him of course. That would have to wait until I finished telling my old pal the sad news. That part of the job is the worst. Bringing a mean dose of reality to someone, especially a friend, always sucks. I hopped down from the fire escape ladder and hit the pavement at a trot. I decided to stop by one of my watering holes for a short one before walking the six blocks to Lu and Jay’s deli. Delivering bad news was always easier when sauced.