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Friday, January 28, 2011

("After the moment passes and the impulse disappears. You can still hold back. Because you don't crack easily…")…Billy Joel…1986

Chapter Twenty-four

Hollenbeck Station…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…10:00pm

The look on Rebecca Tran's face was pure elation! She was so sure that her slick piece of police work would land her in tight with her CO, that she was actually scribbling Josh Stanford's name all over her note pad like a High School freshman crushing on her homeroom teacher. It was somewhere between cute and pathetic. Cute because, well, she was very cute! It was pathetic because her CO, Lt. Oscar Celaya is rarely impressed; and almost never enough to actually inspire action. I suspected young Rebecca's bubble was about to be burst.

Oscar's office door opened abruptly, swinging hard enough to bounce off the wall and rattle the windows. Startled, Becca jumped out of her chair and walked around her desk when she saw Iggie and the lieutenant heading her way. Her partner was grinning like he'd just run over a small child. But the LT looked as if he were about to eat one! This wasn't a good sign and Becca suddenly felt bile rising from her stomach, burning her esophagus.

"Is this what you call smart police work Detective Tran," roared Lt. Celaya angrily?

"Um, what do you mean sir," she answered meekly, retreating half a step and crossing her arms defensively. Truth be told she was she was fighting the urge to bolt. More bile reached her throat and burned uncomfortably, causing her voice to crack a bit. She tried to look cool, calm and collected but was obviously failing. Iggie smirked like a true tattletale and she could see that the lieutenant wasn't buying her little Miss innocent act.

"What do I mean? Are you serious Tran? Look sunshine, if you expect to still have that gold shield on your belt when you leave here tonight I suggest you drop the cute stuff. Don't you know cute is wasted on me? I'm ten years past my prime, hopelessly married, and a card carrying member of the 'he-man woman hater's club', you got it," Oscar ranted! He always was pretty entertaining when he ranted and raved. To be honest I kind of missed that.

"Yes sir, I didn't mean anything, I'm just confused about what's the issue here," Becca replied finding her voice? She scooted back around her desk to put a physical barrier between her and her psycho boss. She didn't know this guy but had heard some terrible stories about his temper.

"The issue Rebecca is that you removed a potentially critical piece of evidence from an active crime scene without contacting CSI. That is a clear violation of protocol detective, you should have known better," Officer Ingram offered condescendingly.

"Put a sock in it Iggie, I don't need any help scolding the rookie," quipped Lt. Celaya.

"And just so we're clear, you're walking on the same rice paper as your partner here, you got that!"

"Right, sorry LT, my bad," Iggie stammered apologetically. He stepped back a couple of feet, crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, waiting for Oscar's eyes to look Becca's way again.

"Anyway, like laughing boy here said, you blew it Tran. You contaminated a crime scene, a Cardinal sin in police work. Fortunately for you it's also a common sin among rookies like you, so the blame belongs to Iggie, he should have known better," Oscar said, transferring the heat from student to teacher.

"Wait just a min…" Iggie started.

"I told you to can it Detective Ingram, that means shut up and listen," Oscar said, cutting Iggie off in mid sentence.

"Sir, it's not all his fault, I'd already started to…" Becca began. Oscar raised his hand like a beat cop stopping traffic at a busy intersection.

"Spare me Tran. I appreciate your loyalty to a guy you barely know, but the fact is this is the second time in 24 hours that the BOTH of you have fouled up on this investigation," Oscar said, scolding his new detective as he took a seat on the corner of her desk. He removed his glasses and slowly rubbed his tired eyes. After a moment he sighed and put his glasses back on his face.

"Ah, I'm getting too old for this job'" he said looking down at Becca who had seated herself while he was massaging his temples. He studied her young face for a few seconds and waited for her to make eye contact. When she did they considered one another without words, sizing each other up so to speak. Finally Oscar broke the silence.

"You have a lot of potential Tran, I mean that, you wouldn't be here if I didn't think so," Oscar said sincerely. Becca remained silent, stunned by the sudden change in the lieutenant's demeanor? She allowed herself to relax enough to reply without squeaking.

"Thank you sir," she replied smiling weakly, secretly scolding herself for smiling!

"Look, I don't believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. This is your first case with us. And let's face it. Iggie isn't exactly teacher of the year, are you professor," Oscar said, turning to glare at her partner? Poor Iggie seemed to actually shrink about an inch under the heat of that stare.

"No excuses sir," Iggie replied without making eye contact. Every good Marine knows there is only one way to answer a question like that from a commanding officer. No excuses sir. Oscar let him off the hook, returning his attention to Becca.

"So heres your next move young Tran. I want you to take this flash drive upstairs to IT and have those nerds see what’s on it. I'll clue you in right now there's nothing except the vic's homework and personal shit," directed Lt. Celaya.

"What makes you think that," Becca asked?

"It's a hunch Tran, a hunch, you never heard that term before? Forget it! Look, because I'm a 35 year veteran in this town it's a goddamn good hunch," Oscar answered tiredly.

"Yes but…" Becca started.

"No buts Tran! This isn't rocket science. You have got to know your subjects. The principle character in this murder scene is Dr. Looney, work-a-holic egghead professor. Next is Whitey Roode, well known low-life. After that comes whoever killed the poor slob that Doctor Feel-good may or may not have been boinking. Last and definitely least is our victim, Ernie Namura. Forget him, he's insignificant, a statistic only," Oscar said, accentuating each point by raising a finger one at a time. Rebecca perked up scooting closer her chair closer to the desk. Even Iggie had looked up from his shoes and moved closer to the conversation.

"But I thought you liked Dr. Looney for this murder? Iggie thought so too?"

"Well you're both wrong. I like Dr. Looney for being the key to solving this puzzle. Actually, I was hoping that Whitey Roode would be the perp. But unfortunately it's not adding up that way. As big an asshole as Whitey is, he's no murderer. No sir, whoever did this thing does it for a living. It's too neat. And that's how I know that your flash drive is useless. The murderer left that for you to find. Well, it was left for you or Whitey, depending on who got there first," Oscar explained, standing up to stretch.

"Oh Lordy, I'm way too old for this," Oscar whined, arching his back.

"If Whitey and Dr. Looney are clear where does that leave us," asked Becca?

"It means that our unknown subject is playing with us. He planted that stick under the soda machine knowing we'd find it easy enough. Then, he left us to play grab ass with Whitey Roode while we deciphered a device containing bupkis. The real target is Judy Looney. She took whatever was worth finding with her when she left the lab," Iggie said joining the brainstorm.

"Give that man a prize," Oscar replied sarcastically.

"Now here's the sixty-four thousand dollar question, where is Dr. Looney now," Oscar asked looking down at Becca? Suddenly she was afraid, not for herself, she was afraid for Judy Looney!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

("Well I bet you wish you could cut me down with those angry eyes…")…Loggins & Messina…1972

Chapter Twenty-three

UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…9:30pm

When I left Judy's place she and Ronnie were packing for a well timed vacation. It was a no brainer that Hassan had tailed me to her apartment and I was equally certain that if we split up he would follow me over her. What I wasn't sure of was whether or not he worked alone? My gut said that he did and so far my old gas factory has kept out of more jambs then I cared to remember. I had given Judy specific instructions as to who to look up once they got to Vegas. My old partner Wally Price was a Lieutenant now with the LVPD working homicide. I hoped that he was as good at preventing one as he was at solving one. Wally would put her in touch with someone at UNLV which, believe it or not, has an excellent computer sciences department, who'd have thunk it? In any event the two of them would be in good hands with my old friend. I've trusted the Chief with my life on more than one occasion, both on the job and in the Nam.

Me, Wally Price and Bob Ingram go way back. We served together in Southeast Asia from late 1967 to the summer of 1969. Iggie and I were one of the lucky few to be drafted into the USMC. We first met each other at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, right after basic. Wally on the other hand had been in the service 5 years already, a Navy corpsman, by the time we met up with him. The three of us became fast friends while stationed at the US combat base in Khe Sanh near the Laotian border in the Quảng Trị Province, South Vietnam, Republic of. Unfortunately we arrived in country at exactly the wrong time in history! Because not two months later the whole goddamn North Vietnamese Army and their rat bastard lackeys, the Viet Cong decided to take one big ass swing at Uncle Sam, striking simultaneously from the DMZ all the way down to Saigon. It was a pretty bold move but a costly one. Historians speculate the real objective was to shock US citizens back home and incite them to insist we get the hell out there and bring the troops home. They were right I think; it worked! What happened over the next several weeks as we fought off the TET offensive will stay buried within ourselves forever, along with all those ghosts we left back there. Such a beautiful country and culture, what a waste! That's all I want to say about that.

Anyway, I don't want to traipse down memory lane anymore, so, back to the business at hand. Whatever was on that nano nano chip that Judy was so excited about was likely to get us killed unless I could throw Hassan and his Russian bosses off the scent for a while. I needed a diversion, possibly something from this lab? This is where I should logically find something useful. In any event I needed to buy Judy time to extract whatever was on that micro chip; I needed to keep Hassan's focus on me. He has to think that I'm onto something here in California. If I fail, Judy and Ronnie are goners. For that matter, so am I, but Hassan will kill me last and he'll kill me slow just for shits and giggles.

I parked my beat up jalopy of a car (Ronnie refers to it as the rat-mobile) around the corner, wedged between a Hummer on one side and one of those giant off-road pick-up trucks that have probably never actually been off-road on the other. Basically out of sight. I was about to get out and walk to the building when I spotted Iggie's new partner, Rebecca Tran. She strolled past my car without noticing me. Rookie mistake, she should have sensed my presence! Observe everything; be aware of your surroundings at all times, that's the detective's mantra. I quickly lay down across the front seats anticipating Iggie to be right behind her. If I was lucky his eyes would be on her shapely little ass and he wouldn't notice my old heap, which by the way he has ridden in at least a hundred times! I held my breath for a ten count and sure enough here he came. I heard him huff and puff as he raced to catch up to Becca.
"Wait up rookie," he bellowed!
"The Lieutenant's on the phone, he wants to talk to you," he said, sailing right past me.

Whew, I must have stepped over every crack in the sidewalk this week because this was my lucky day! Ninety-nine times out of a hundred Iggie would have spotted me. But I could tell he was distracted by more than Rebecca's fine little backside, he was pissed! I could hear it in his voice and could picture the small blue vein at his right temple popping out like it always did when he blew a gasket. I had to stifle a laugh. I could hear the two of them talking faintly and then I heard two distinct door slams. Good, they were leaving. I waited a good fifteen minutes before sitting up and looking around. When I felt the coast was clear I got out of the car and slowly walked to the building. No rushing, I wanted to make sure Hassan was convinced that I felt unobserved and safe. Secretly I hoped he was not using binoculars because I was nervously sweating like a pig!

The doors were unlocked, and even though part of the building was still taped off there was a fair amount of the normal activity that one would expect on a busy campus. I dodged a student exiting with her nose inside a textbook and a cell phone plugged into her ear, she never even saw me, kids! As the door closed behind me I saw the crime scene down the hall, stage right and turned to look in the opposite direction, stage left, checking for potential witnesses to my inevitable breaking and entering misdemeanor. The coast was clear and I headed down the hall to the SEM Lab. I stopped short after about five steps and listened intently. I thought I heard more than my penny loafers echoing off the high ceiling? There was no sound other than my breathing and an occasional door slam further down the hall behind me. I shook it off but still had the feeling of being watched, Hassan maybe? I didn't think so; he was more direct than that. If he were around he'd want me to know it. I continued on to the lab and stopped at the barrier tape, paused then went under it and into room 1187, bypassing the gory display on the floor. Dead is dead, if you've seen one bloody outline you've seen them all.

The room was dark and I pulled out my penlight to help me navigate. Sneaking around always charges me up, makes me feel like I'm getting away with something, like an eight-year old. Frankly I had no idea what I was looking for, or for that matter what would be worth looking for. Everything in this room was over my head except the furniture and even some of that was sort of high tech, like the weird contraption at what must have been Ernie Namura's desk? I guess could be a chair of some kind, but I had no idea how you were supposed to sit in it? Actually I think it's Scandinavian because I'm pretty sure I saw on in the IKEA circular that I receive monthly like clock work. So few trees, so much spam! You'd think they would have figured out by now that most men only look at the two catalogs religiously, Sears and Victoria's Secret!

Enough of that, I'm getting sidetracked. Spying a regular chair on the other side of the room I walked over and sat down. I used the penlight to peer around the room, mentally cataloging each piece of confusing equipment. I saw the SEM unit, conveniently under the sign that read SEM, and studied it in the dim light. It wasn't as big as I had imagined. The way Judy talked I was expecting something huge with flashing lights and eerie vapors emanating from its hidden recesses. Nope, it was the size of the dryer at my Laundromat and painted a dull battleship gray. It didn't look so special, but what did I know? I almost moved on to the rest of the room when something caught my eye. My penlight had run by the meter console and something blinked at me, a super bright green light. What the hell was that anyway? I got up and walked over to have a look, keeping the penlight on the blinking green whatever it was every step of the way.

Standing in front of the machine a moment I watched the light blink at me. I noticed that my penlight was creating a glare off the console glass from the angle at which I was shining it. I moved my hand left and right, then up and down trying to compensate but no good. Finally I knelt in front of the console and pressed my penlight right on top of the glass, and then I saw it. The blinking light was part of a small tubular device, set right above a lens of some sort, and whatever it was, was not attached to the SEM at all? Balls! It was a camera, and I was being watched right this minute! Before I could even think what the hell the green light changed to red. Oh crap, now what!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

("cause there's a man down there, might be your man, I don't know…")…Allman Brothers Band…1972

Chapter Twenty-two

UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…6:30pm

The familiar yellow barrier tape that identifies every crime scene still blocked most of the first floor hall as well as the entrance to room 1187 which housed the SEM Lab. Detective Rebecca Tran was squatting next to a chalk outline where the body of Ernie Namura had been found. She stared intensely at something just under the foot of the soda pop machine. Suddenly, her partner, Bob "Iggie" Ingram burst through the double doors and out of the lab. Subtlety was not the man's long suit, a factoid requiring little or no clairvoyance.

Rebecca had been assigned to Iggie (what kind of a nickname is that anyways) for all of 48 hours and she already knew more about the lout than she cared to. She shuddered to think that there were still 88 days left until the end of her 90day probationary period. She decided to leave that in God's hands. Like many second generation children of Vietnamese immigrants she had been raised staunchly in the Catholic faith. And while she had her own views of faith and religion, she respectfully honored her family by following their wishes with regard to her spirituality. Besides, if prayer works like the Parish Priests promise every Sunday at St. Finbar in Burbank, then the lieutenant would take pity on her when her time was up and assign her to a real mentor, like Josh Stanford maybe, that would be sweet!

Detective First Grade, Joshua Job Stanford (how Old Testament), now there was a rock solid cop for you! While names rarely define a man, Josh lived up to his namesakes, with the strength of Joshua and the patience of Job. Twenty-five years on the force with half a dozen commendations and an arrest record that rivaled Elliot freaking Ness! The man was a station-house legend. Another perk was she needn't worry about getting hit on as the legend was well known as a choirboy as well. He and wifey had a Ward and June Cleaver marriage, string of pearls and all. There were only a couple of personal vices of the non-smelly kind to deal with, unlike Iggie, the stinker! Other than his severe sweet tooth (a dyed in the wool Snickers-a-holic) and a peculiar addiction to a regular poker game with yours truly, Richard "Whitey" Roode and my circle of ne'er-do-wells, Detective Stanford was, dare I say it, perfect. In my defense though, young Rebecca and I had only just met, and I sensed that her first impression was sort of positive. I think that I convinced her that I was less of a Neanderthal than ole Iggie. Of course I was still an uncouth ex-cop and a haole to boot! What the hell, the less she saw of either of us the better off she'd be! Yeppers, as soon as Becca made her 90 days, bammo, she'd hit up Celaya for a new partner. Who knows, maybe hit the jackpot and draw Detective Stanford, it could happen.

Iggie stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw her. The young lady was a looker that was for sure, and seeing her in that position beside the bloody chalk outline reminded him of another time in his life, one that he kept deeply buried for sanity sake. Most of those memories weren't that healthy anyway. But the sight of her squatting like a peasant at a cooking fire brought a smile to his face. The memory she triggered was a pleasant one, and that would be all he had to say about that. He cleared his throat to announce himself, trying not to startle her. He didn't, Becca she was entranced as she studied the crime scene and wrestled with her probationary purgatory.

"Detective Tran," he said in a tone louder than he intended, his voice echoing down the long empty hall. She didn't respond.

That got her attention and she stood but did not turn to face her partner. Iggie sensed the wheels turning in her brain and he waited patiently, uncharacteristically, for a reply. She stood silent a moment longer then spun 180 degrees to answer her partner.

"Did I hear right, the boss thinks Dr. Looney may have this," Rebecca asked, tapping pursed lips with an index finger? She continued to tap while she waited for Iggie to answer her rhetorical question.

"That's not what he said. What he said was that this guy is dead because we blew the surveillance and lost track of the Looney broad," Iggie answered, slightly agitated that she wasn't really listening. That was so rude he thought.

"So, she was here, maybe working, maybe horsing around, whatever, and she left. Why would she come back here to kill him? Why didn't she do it before she left? Why would she risk being seen coming and going twice? That doesn't make sense to me," Becca wondered aloud.

"I dunno, maybe she didn't kill anyone? Maybe she witnessed it? By the way rookie, the lieutenant didn't imply anything more than we fouled up. You're reading too much into his nickel lecture sweetheart," replied Iggie.

Ignoring him, Becca turned and walked over to the soda machine, drumming her fingers against it for a second before squatting down beside it. She looked back at Iggie and then got down on her hands and knees, putting her face flat on the floor and looked under the machine. Becca reached as far as she could for a shadow toward the back. She could feel his eyes on her ass and was more than a little uncomfortable.

"I better not catch you smiling Detective Ingram," she said.

"Don't flatter yourself Tran, I've seen better," quipped Iggie defensively!

"No you haven't Iggie, I've got a world class tush and you know it," she grunted as she strained to reach further back.

"Damn it! I pushed the darn thing out of reach," Becca exclaimed, standing abruptly and brushing off her slacks. She turned to Iggie and gestured for him to come and help her.

"Come on Iggie; help me scoot this thing away from the wall. There something under there that the CSI guys missed. It could be important," she asked.

"That thing must weigh a ton Becca, let me find something to stick under there and swat whatever it is out from under it," Iggie complained.

"Oh come on, we can move this together. It'll give you a chance to show off for me," Becca teased, forcing a smile.

Iggie sauntered over to help her begrudgingly. He walked past her and wedged as much of his skinny frame as possible between the soda machine and the wall. The darn thing was as heavy as he had feared and his first attempt to impress her failed miserably. Grunting he tried again unsuccessfully. He pried himself out from behind the big ice box and looked around for his helper. Becca appeared before he could bellow for her, handing him a back-scratcher she had found on a bookshelf in the lab.

"Here, try this," she said.

Iggie swiped it from her hand with a jerk and gave her the universal "are you kidding me" look that every father dishes out in exasperation at least thousand times or better in life!

"You could have told me to wait before I ruined this sport coat," he whined as he squat down to swipe at whatever was under the soda box.

He reached in from the side and swept the back-scratcher toward the wall. The object slid out and rested against the wall, easily within reach. But before he could straighten up to grab the thing Becca leap-frogged over him and intercepted it. She stood quickly and held the thing to the fluorescent light above, examining it closely.

"Jesus Becca, you almost broke my back jamming your knee into me like that, what the hell?"

She ignored him and studied the object. Picking away at some lint and crud she placed the small thing into the palm of her hand. It looked to her like a USB flash drive, but it was much smaller than anything she had ever seen, smaller even than the SIM chip for her cell phone? It wouldn't fit into any computer she that knew of? Nevertheless it was electronic, she was certain of that much. After all, her father was a Boeing EE and her mother was an IT programmer at the same company, so Becca had been around devices like this from an early age. In addition, her older brother Brandon was a computer geek of epic proportions, and she meant that in a good way, because the guy was brilliant!

"So, what've we got there," Iggie pressed?

"I'm not sure? But judging from the Ernie's outline down there it's possible that he either dropped or tossed whatever this is? I have a hunch that whoever killed Ernie may have been looking for this," answered Becca.

"You're way too green to have hunches rookie. Let me see that thing," Iggie said condescendingly. Becca rolled her eyes and glared at him slightly.

"Really? Tell you what, I'll hand this over if you can tell me what a USB is," she replied, closing her fist around the tiny devise.

"USB, right, how about U SURE BETTER hand that over detective, and I mean right now!"

Becca frowned realizing that he could pull rank. Reluctantly she gave the evidence to her superior. Half pouting and half pleading she gingerly placed the devise in the boney hand he held out to her just like an old schoolmarm would. Iggie retrieved a small envelope from his coat pocket and dropped the devise into, never breaking eye contact with his young charge. Rebecca held his gaze but if looks could kill there would be second outline on the floor right where Becca was standing. Lowering her eyes she shuffled past Iggie toward the exit. At least the ride back to the station house would be quiet for a change. Rebecca Tran decided that thinking militant thoughts might be cathartic; but acting on them is often suicidal, career-wise.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

("every move you make, every step you take I'll be watching you…")…Synchronicity…1983

Chapter Twenty-one

Casey's Pub, Grand Ave., Monday, Feb 23, 2009…6pm

Camouflage is an art form, and I am a master. At times I even amaze myself. Today is one of those rare days where the stars align in the heavens and dark forces are at their zenith. There are no angles to consider or steer around. Smooth and easy, that's the sort of day I am having. Contrary to the way the vast majority of mortals live, life is not linear but circular. How foolish they are, racing to certain death, nesting along the way as if they might take any of their treasures with them. One starts with nothing and one ends with nothing, it is a universal axiom. There is light and the absence of light. There is color and the absence of color, black and white, the alpha and the omega. Everything that appears in between is an illusion, vivid, bright and beautiful, but a short lived illusion.
Encountering Dr. Looney on the steps above this establishment was a treat. How apropos, the luck of the Irish at a pub called Casey's, I love it! She accepted my steadying hand when she stumbled with her mate as they hurriedly exited this place. She even smiled and thanked me. I hope she remembers that when her time comes, that will be delicious. As for this lot, well, watching Whitey entertain via the safety of the beveled over sized mirror above the mahogany bar had been a bit of a chore. I sat quietly, enjoying my pint of Guinness (when in Rome I always say) and watched them unnoticed. There was no need to eavesdrop; I already knew the nature of their chatter. I just wanted to be there when they left so I that could tag them. It is a practice I adopted eons ago from the Plains Indians of North America who referred to it as 'counting coup'. Admittedly, Whitey and his party remained in the bar much longer than I had expected and I grew weary of their antics. But patience is a virtue I have the luxury to embrace as there is always time to do what it is I do.
I let the two constables walk past me on their way out and waited for the prize to come my way. The large Turk who Whitey mistook for an Arab passed by me next. He is an interesting sort, someone worth exploring sometime. Finally Whitey approached. Timing was everything and I waited until he was about to pass before I swiveled off my barstool and into his path.
"Whoa, excuse me, coming through Mac," Whitey said with a smile as he gently pushed me aside and passed on by. He looked back over his shoulder without slowing down. His expression was delightful. It was somewhere between recognition and confusion. I hope he remembers this when his time comes.

Beverly Arms Apartment Homes, Westwood…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…7:00pm

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed cop talk at the local boozer. Back in the day we would meet up after shifts at a dive called Nate's over on Pico and Figueroa, close to the Convention Center and not too far from my current flat on Grand. Of course I didn't live there then; Rhonda (Judy's Ronnie) and I had a little one bedroom bungalow in the burbs, close enough to walk to UCLA. Me and the boys (it was pretty much a boys club in those days) used to deal with whatever rattled us with booze and bravado. We'd decompress by comparing busts, grousing about dickhead supervisors, crooked politicos, and broads. You know; guy stuff. Hmmm, maybe that is another reason I currently live alone in the bowels of Los Angeles? But I digress.
This afternoon's meet and greet turned out to be a stroll down memory lane. Reminiscing up with Iggie reminded me of what I wasn't missing since leaving the force. However, meeting his rookie gold shield, Becca, was a pleasant bonus. She appeared to be as smart as she was attractive. I made a mental note of that in case I ever got over Judy Looney. I watched her watch us while we traded stories and noticed how she kept a wary and subtle eye on Hassan whenever she thought he wasn't looking her way. That was a rookie mistake as he knew exactly what she was doing and I knew that he knew. Silently I hoped that she didn't make his 'to do' list.
The highlight though was watching Hassan as he listened to Iggie go on and on about their investigation right in front of the very guy they were looking for, classic! To be fair I should mention that he did at least ask who Hassan was, but accepted too quickly Hassan's explanation about us being old friends and how he was on the job as well, from out of State of course. Iggie didn't even ask which State for Christ's sake, what a maroon. The party broke up when I told Iggie that I had reached my tab paying limit. He gulped down his Budweiser and reached over and finished Becca's as well. Sure it was rude, but in his defense she was just sipping at it anyway. Hassan stood as she got up to follow Iggie out, shaming me into awkwardly doing the same. She seemed surprised and pleased at the same time. That was another mental note for yours truly. Chalk one up for Miss Manners I guess. After the coppers had cleared the building Hassan and I traded head nods ourselves and went our separate ways as well. Strange, even as I watched him disappear up the street I felt like I was being watched. The old eyes in the back of the head trick, again, classic!
It took longer than usual to beat it over to Judy's place because of all the blah-blah Monday traffic. I should have sprung for one more round and avoided this headache. So, a twenty minute trip turned into an hour. I prepped myself for a nickel lecture when I saw Ronnie's car at the curb. My ex was gonna be wicked pissed when I walked in. It was one thing having a crush on her significant other; it was a whole other thing risking her life in support of one of my so called cases as she referred to how I made my living. I knocked on the door with a medium gusto and waited for the hammer to fall, it didn't take long.
"What the hell were you thinking Whitey," Ronnie screamed as she opened the front door!
"Rhonda, I can explain everything," I stammered as I looked over her shoulder for Judy.
"RONNIE! It's RONNIE now knucklehead!"
"Sorry, you're right, you're right, you're absolutely right, I don't know why I keep messing that up," I apologized quickly still scanning the room for Judy.
"Jesus Whitey, you're a piece of work," Judy said as she came to my rescue.
"Let him in sweetie, he and I need to talk things over," she continued gently pushing Ronnie aside and opening the door for me to enter.
"Thanks doll," I muttered as I past the both of them into the apartment and took a seat in one of the Lazy-boy recliners near the fireplace. Judy sat in the chair opposite me and Ronnie perched herself on the arm of the chair (poor chair).
"So who was the gorilla you were talking to at the bar? And where have you been anyway? We've been waiting here for you for hours," asked Judy in rapid succession.
"He was boozing with his mates honey, it's an old story, isn't it Whitey," Ronnie asked sarcastically?
"Spare me Rhonda," I quipped, enjoying her annoyance with the intentional name game. I grinned when Judy stifled her response by raising her hand.
"Just ignore him sweetie," she said letting her hand rest on Ronnie's.
"Look, that big fella with the Egyptian tan is probably the one who's been tailing you lately. Oh yeah, he's also the guy who crushed the lab rat that was crushing on you," I explained.
"How do you know that," Ronnie asked while Judy sat and pondered the data.
"Because he told me so Ronnie, because he told me so."
"Really," asked Judy?
"I'm afraid so doll, he's the real deal."
"Fine, let's just call the cops and be done with him then," blurted Ronnie quickly.
I rolled my eyes at my ex and stifled a snappy come back to her blathering. There wasn't time to go over every detail with Judy right now, especially with Ronnie in the room. I decided to cut to the chase and see if we couldn't sound this out together. My instincts were screaming that there was little time before Celaya cold-cased Sally's murder. Once a case chills it takes an immoveable force of nature to resurrect it from the slush pile.
"The thread test, what did you call it, a SEM? What exactly were the results? Who else's DNA did you find on those blue threads besides mine?"
"Her Uncle," she answered.
"Honey, Jai was not her Uncle, I told you that," I said correcting her.
"I know he wasn't. The DNA belongs to Lu," she replied.
"The DNA is Lu's, no doubt about it," Judy replied.
My head was beginning to pound like it always does when I am frustrated. I leaned back in the recliner and I tried to think. Unfortunately since I drank my lunch all I could think about right now was food. My stomach growled to remind me or reprimand me, probably both. Maybe I could get Ronnie to mscra (I just love pig Latin)and make me a sandwich? I caught her stare and felt tiny daggers pepper my face. No, probably not. Ignoring my stomach I went back to brainstorming with Judy.
"I don't get it? Lu wasn't at the murder scene? He didn't even know Mei Lai was in town? And he didn't know me as a patrol officer so I don't think he ever saw me in uniform either?"
"Cool your jets Whitey. Lu's DNA isn't important as far as I know. There's something else. What do you know about nano technology," she asked?"
"Absolutely nothing, is it a Pokémon game or something," I replied rubbing my eye?
"No, but actually, I'm slightly impressed that you even know what Pokémon is," she replied.
"Yeah, so what about this nano nano stuff?"
"There was something I missed the first time I examined those threads."
"What? Someone else's DNA?"
"It was something much larger than molecules, something I mistook for debris."
"Okay, what then," I asked, studying Judy's expression of acute fascination.
"I mean, finding something like this is like picking fly poop out of pepper!"
"Judy! What the hell?"
"Sorry, I still can't believe I overlooked it. So, what I found was a super-super tiny microprocessor, about 20 times smaller than the head of a pin."
"You mean like a computer chip?"
"Sort of, actually it's a memory chip with God knows what recorded on it."
BINGO! Finally she strummed a chord I could hear. I literally heard the wheels turning in my brain. The implications were obvious as were the consequences if I followed them to their inevitable end. The answers would likely prove damaging to the wrong people and fatal to yours truly and friends. Theories started forming I my head as my brain processed all the bits of data I had crammed into it over the past week. The theories began to set like a freshly poured cement and my instincts were coiled like a spring ready to bust loose. Thank God common sense intervened. All of this had to be thought through carefully. The stakes were too high, literally life or death. Suddenly I remembered that Judy and Ronnie were waiting for a response.
"Really? I think I know exactly what is on that chip. And if I'm right we have a problem, a really big problem." Judy stared at me suddenly frightened. Ronnie sprang to her feet and stood over me.
"What did you do Whitey," she demanded?
"I did my job Ronnie, that's all. But you remember what usually happens to curious cats don't you?" She sat back down uncharacteristically silent.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

("The future's uncertain and the end is always near…")...The Doors…1970

Chapter Twenty

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

The big Arab was faster than he looked and was hovering over me before I could ferret out an escape route. I glanced out the big bay window to make sure Judy and Ronnie were okay, then mentally prepared myself to be either shot or garroted in front of twenty or thirty eye witnesses. Still breathing five seconds later I leaned back in my chair and gave the thug my best tough guy sneer and pushed the chair across from me toward him with my foot. It made a loud scratching sound, like nails on a chalkboard as the narrow legs scraped along the old wooden floor. Lazily I waived my hand toward the empty seat, silently inviting my would-be assassin to sit and be my guest. He smiled wryly, taking me up on the offer. We eyeballed one another for a second or two before I took the high road and initiated contact.
"Fancy meeting you here; Hassan isn't it? Can I buy you a drink?"
"Thank you, no. My compliments, you have a better memory than my former colleague Mr. Roode. Thank you for confirming how much you over heard the other night," the big man replied.
He folded his hands on the table in front of him and laced his fingers together slowly. They were thick and the knuckles were covered with hair. His eyes were black as coal and he studied me intensely, amused by the look on my face when I realized that I'd said too much, damn it! The fact that he never blinked once under those bushy eyebrows made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Actually, just between you, me, and the fencepost it made my sphincter pucker as well. This was one scary guy.
"Yeah, well let's not fall in love just yet slick? The fact is Ray Ray isn't exactly a Rhodes Scholar now is he," I said calmly, trying not to look scared. I kind of doubted he was buying any of it so I continued to play the tough guy role.
"But then I guess I don't need to tell you that. I mean you're here and he's not, right? So much for LA's finest," I added with a grin, hoping my sarcasm was masking my fear.
"Detective Abernathy was not important, and to be clear I did not work for him. As for his absence, he is not here because he was a parasite, and, unfortunately for him, had become a liability."
"Yes, he was. As are you and your friend outside," Hassan answered pointing through the window in Judy's direction. She looked up and caught us staring and waived to me, asking with her eyes who had taken her seat. I waived back and gestured for her and Ronnie to make tracks. She didn't waste any time and spun Ronnie around, pulling her quickly up the stairs to the street above. I turned my attention back to Hassan and made sure he wasn't planning to pursue them.
"You needn't panic Mr. Roode, I am not here for that," Hassan said without stirring in his seat.
"By that I assume you mean murder. What, we're not on your 'to-do' list yet," I asked sarcastically, anger replacing fear for the moment.
"Not yet, possibly not ever. That will be up to you and Dr. Looney. All we ask is that you abandon your investigation into Miss November's unfortunate demise."
Now he went and done it, that was as good as a double dog dare. Consequently my addiction to curiosity trumped my basic survival instincts and I pressed him further. Solving Mei Li's murder had become a blood oath after Lu and Jai had passed and I couldn't let that go. Hassan's expression told me that he suspected as much. I really don't have a very good poker face which probably explains why I live alone in the bowels of Los Angeles. Well, that and paying the great state of California's version of the King's ransom, spousal support, what a gyp!
"So what was she to you anyway? What's your employer afraid of," I demanded more than asked?
"She was nothing to me, a task, however I suspect that she was about to become somewhat of an embarrassment, as do all whores eventually."
"That's deep Hassan. Why do I get the feeling that there is more to it than that?"
"Why indeed? In any event you needn't look any further. I confess it was I who killed your friend's niece," Hassan said coolly.
"That's it? You tracked me down to confess? How do you know Judy hasn't already called the cops? What if I cuff you right now to that chair and wait for them to get here and haul you in? What about that?"
"Please Mr. Roode, do not insult my intelligence or waste my time. Surely you and the good doctor have collected enough evidence to link the girl with my Russian friends," Hassan asked tiredly?
"Actually, we hadn't. What about the Russians," I replied, suddenly embarrassed.
"Perhaps Detective Abernathy gave you too much credit. I was led to believe that you were quite intelligent? Let me spell it out for you in an effort to save time."
His eyes shifted slightly to his right and then to his left before continuing, checking both entrances to the bar. He had my complete attention; I was all ears and pumped full of adrenalin. Russians he said, this was getting interesting.
"Miss November was more than an acquaintance of my employer; she was an employee as well…"
"Your Russian employer," I asked interrupting.
"Yes. As I was saying, she was far too close an acquaintance if you ask me, but alas that was not my business. In her capacity as a hostess shall we say; she was privy to certain habits of powerful and influential individuals? It was a position of trust which she chose to violate, a lethal choice in the end. Her ambition was equal to her beauty, which as you know was considerable. Apparently she kept a journal, and, she had a partner. A friend of yours I understand. Their mistake was choosing the wrong broker."
"Ray Ray?"
"Yes, this is where Detective Abernathy enters the picture. By the way, he was also in our employ on occasion. Shall I continue? You look puzzled," Hassan asked.
To be honest I was flummoxed as to why he was telling me all of this, when it would be much easier to put a bullet between my eyes and give Judy the same? I had suspected that Mei Li was in over her head from the get go, but blackmail? That hadn't occurred to me. I had a pretty good idea who her partner was and I didn't need Hassan tell me that it cost him his life as well. Unfortunately it also cost Lu his. Sally was working with Jai, which meant he knew all along that she was nearby and kept it from Lu. What I couldn't figure was why. Jai didn't need money, he and Lu were loaded. And soft touch that he was, Mei Li would want for nothing with Uncle Lu nearby. It didn't add up, it didn't make sense. God damn it, I was getting pissed!
I had no clue why Hassan was putting so many cards on the table? He wanted something from me; that was obvious. He was setting me up, but how and for what? I needed time to think, I needed to talk to Judy. I needed to know what her retest uncovered. Was Hassan the one shadowing her? If so he must have killed the lab rat at UCLA? But I didn't think so, but why, there was a huge piece of the puzzle missing and those threads were the key. Hassan was getting impatient. I needed to convince him that I was taking his advice.
"Yeah, I'm with you so far. You killed Sally to silence her. You did likewise for Jai Lei, and, reading between the lines you added in Ray Ray for good measure. Does that sound about right?"
"Those were consequences, do you understand?"
"Wait! The journal, you never found the journal, right? Oh brother, three murders and nothing to show for them. The Russians must be pissed!"
"Yes, they are concerned. So you see why I am here now, yes?"
"You're warning us that solving this case would be fatal. But why warn me, why not just kill us?"
"I kill when there is a need to Mr. Roode, not for sport," Hassan explained.
"Leave it be Mr. Roode, and live," he added leaning toward me for effect.
"What about the journal? What about your Russian bosses? Won't they wonder why you let us go?"
"You misunderstand. They do not know you or Dr. Looney exist. I do. As long as that remains true you are safe. Let it be Mr. Roode, let it be and live."
"Call me Whitey."
"Very well, let it be and live, Whitey."
"Okay, just one more question though."
"What are you gonna do about the law? I mean you murdered a police detective for Christ sake! Look, I'm no super sleuth. But if I can get close enough to earn a personal visit from you, so can the coppers. What will you do then?"
Hassan shrugged and relaxed for the first time since he arrived. Straightening his collar he gave the lapels of his sport coat a quick tug and signaled for the waitress to come over. For a moment I thought I noticed a grin forming on his big square head.
"I believe I will accept your drink offer now," he said.
"As for the police, perhaps we can offer them one as well," he added pointing at two of Lt. Celaya's crew in plain clothes entering the bar. I recognized Iggie right away but I had no clue who the Asian doll with him was? If she was on the job I might seriously consider begging Oscar to give me another chance! Seriously though, this wasn't good. I had to choose between being pinched for obstruction of justice and being a corpse. No brainer Whitey, run a tab and host the circus a while. I'd meet with Judy later and we'd decide our fate together.

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