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."
"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.