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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…

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