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!