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Monday, February 28, 2011

("But it's alright why don't you tell me again How you'll still be there when the heartache ends…")…Rob Thomas…2005

Chapter Thirty-three


LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…9:45pm

The clanging alarms blaring through the halls didn't bother me as much as all the squelching chatter from the two-way radio phones that everybody seemed to be yammering into. Something very bad had happened somewhere in the building and we were going on lock down. Since they weren't evacuating the place that meant there was a manhunt underway and likely whoever they were looking for was armed and dangerous. From what I could hear from the chatter as well the brief conversation Wally had with an unknown caller, there had been a shooting on site and an Officer was down. Pretty gutsy move by whomever the shooter was given the firepower around here! I wanted to get back to the Interrogation Room and make sure that Judy was alright but we weren't going anywhere for the moment. Wally was just ahead of me talking with a uniformed Officer. They were yelling into each other's ears trying to make themselves heard over the noise. Wally nodded, patted the uniform on the shoulder and turned to make his way back to where Iggie and I were waiting.

"Okay, here's the thing. Somebody popped a uniform down in the evidence room. It was professionally done, neat and quiet, no muss no fuss. You can't get to that room without credentials and a badge. It's not like the old days when all you had to do was turn the knob," Wally explained, his eyes darting around like a super ball in a concrete bunker.

He was giving everything and everyone one the once over. That could only mean we were dealing with a wolf in sheep's clothing. That worried me and I was determined now to get back to Judy and Becca sooner than later. If the perp was disguised as a cop he or she had the run of the place. It also meant that Iggie and I couldn't run around like we owned the place either, there were too many nervous triggers all around us, and a wrong move could prove fatal.

"Look Wally, we gotta get back up to where Judy is. I don't know about you but I'm thinking whoever plugged the Arab back at Cesar's is here to do likewise for Judy and maybe me and you as well," I said hurriedly, hoping he would see things my way.

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing Roode, we're in a helluva a jam ain't we," he replied, rubbing his chin while he chewed on what I had said.

"Yeah we are, so let's freaking move out," I said, getting more agitated with every passing second.

"What do we know about this guy," Iggie asked, breaking the tension?

"Look who's suddenly cop of the walk," Wally said turning his attention toward Iggie for the moment.

"Good question Detective Ingram. Actually we do know a couple of things. Number one is he is male and in an LVPD uniform. Number two is he's short, almost too short to qualify to wear said uniform. Number three, he's Asian, we have some glimpses of him from several surveillance cameras. No full on face shots, he's too smart for that, but we captured enough features to peg him as Asian," Wally said filling us in.

"So which way did he go," I asked impatiently?

"Don't know, we lost him in the evidence room," Wally answered shrugging.

"Lost him, how can that happen, did the cameras malfunction?"

"Look Whitey, I don't know, it's like he vanished into thin air!"

The three of us just stared at one another for what seemed like several minutes. We were having the same flashback and formulating the same theory from a long ago memory. Without saying a word we simultaneously looked above to the ceiling. We had a three way epiphany and whispered our theory out loud together.

"TUNNEL RAT!"

"Has to be, how many of those little bastards did we smoke outta their holes in the jungle," Iggie blurted.

"Too many," Wally said, shushing us with a chubby finger pressed to his lips.

He motioned for us to follow him and he led us into an empty room, closing and locking the door behind us. Wally looked at the ceiling and then took a knee like a football coach at practice. We followed his lead and huddled up with him. It felt like old times in an era I had mercifully left buried in the darkest recesses of my mind, I didn't like the memories and the ghosts that were being conjured and by the look on Iggie's face, neither did he.

"Alright girls; the evidence room is on the ground floor so if we do have a rat in the vent system he has no place to go but up. If Judy Looney is his target he'll have clear sailing and a head start. None of us can head him off; we're all too fat and too goddamn old. We need a volunteer, a tiny, petite, pistol packing volunteer, any suggestions?" We said it together, "BECCA…"

LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:15pm

Slithering like a 120 snake was child's play. Father had taught me these skills as a boy. He'd send me on errands from camp to camp up and down the Ashau Valley taking messages to our glorious soldiers fighting the invaders of our homeland. My father was a Colonel in the People's Army, a very important man, and he had been promised many things once the country was rid of the American devils, and united again. But every one of those promises was broken by Communist Leaders drunk with power after Saigon fell in April of 1975. I was ten years old when we were forced to flee like cowards. From that day forward I hated my father for making us run, exiling us to a land where we could never fit in. With every taunt or thrashing I took at every school I ever attended or neighborhood I ever lived in, my hatred of him increased. And one day I drew pleasure from the act of my first kill, suffocating him on his sick bed in the quiet south London suburb of Bromley.

The secret is in how one moves one's body. It isn't necessary to crawl like a toddler, propelling one's self forward on hands and knees clumsily. No, one must make one's self small, like a snake and transfer all of one's strength and power to one's hands and arms. Then it is merely a matter of doing a flattened push up, only instead of pushing one's body up, one pulls one's body forward a foot or two at a time. It is a slow process I grant you, but it is sure and effective. The elbow leading to the second floor was just ahead. When I reached it I would roll myself onto my back and rest a minute or two before dragging my body into the up shaft and onto the second floor where by my calculations the interrogation room housing Dr. Looney would be a straight run of about two hundred meters.

Pity that I will not have time to toy with her, but under the circumstances a quick silencing will suffice. It will just allow me to be on my way home to Nah Trang that much sooner. Those Russian fools Mei Li had involved us with had spoiled everything with their reactionary tactics. Bollocks then, what can one expect from peasants? I had taken years to groom my protégé for this life. We could have been royalty in the midst of an endless supply of Yankee dollars, all courtesy the aging dilatants obsessed with holding on to their youth by defiling the youth we brokered for them in their ridiculous attempt to cheat death. I will need to think of a new game while on hiatus.

LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:30pm

I was relieved when Rebecca answered her cell phone on the first ring. A small part of me had prepared myself for another gory scene ala room 3023 at the Union Plaza. She listened to us carefully explain what was happening and what we wanted her to do. The tricky thing about volunteers is that they can always say no. Rebecca Tran was a brand new shield but from what I had seen so far she was no coward. If she gave her word she kept it, she new the meaning of loyalty and she embraced it. That's a rare quality these days in a society pampered to believe that when the going gets tough, the smart girls get the hell out of Dodge. It was another reason I was learning to admire the young lady. I already envied her future husband, lucky fella.

"Okay, I think I get what you want me to do, but how will I know which way to go," she asked.

"I've got a building schematic right in front of me Becca," Wally explained.

"Look, there is only one way to get to you from where he started, and if we hurry we can put you in the way before he gets that far, you got it?"

"Yeah, what do I do first?"

"Strip down to your skivvies and dowse yourself with something slick, lotion or oil. What have you got in your purse," asked Wally?

"I don't know, let me look," Becca replied reaching for her handbag.

"All I have is some Oil of Olay, will that do?"

"Maybe, if there's enough of it. Get undressed and ask Dr. Looney to rub you down," Wally instructed.

"Don't talk; just listen while Judy gets you nice and shiny."

"Okay."

"I said DON'T talk! Once you get up into the air shaft I want you to make yourself as small as possible, flat as a sheet of paper. Have your weapon cocked and ready to fire. Take long slow breathes and make NO SOUND. Listen carefully for him, he'll be moving stealthily but he's not expecting you up there, he doesn't think we're that clever. Are you oiled and ready now?"

"Becca, you can answer that question," said Wally snickering. Humor in tense situations almost always breeds courage.

"Okay, yeah I'm ready but I'm feeling pretty exposed here," she giggled.

"Alright sweetheart, last instructions, and by the way, at the inquiry afterward I never spoke these words. Once you're in position and when you've waited as long as you can stand it, remember, the closer he is the better, the darkness is your friend, I want you to empty your weapon. He'll be as flat as you are so aim low. That's it, God's speed Rebecca Tran, call me when the dickhead is dead," Wally said snapping his cell phone shut.

"Now we wait," he said to Iggie and me.

"Like hell we do, let's beat it on over there and help Becca out," I said moving toward the locked door.

Wally blocked my path, putting up both hands. "Wait, okay just wait a second. We don't want to spook this guy. We have a real chance to end this. I don't know about you, but I don't want to continue chasing a phantom. He's in the trap, we know that. Let him go for the cheese and get a face full of lead from Detective Tran. Come on Whitey, you know I'm right."

"SHIT," I hissed, sliding down the wall and taking a seat beside Iggie.

"That's better, it'll be over in a couple of minutes," Wally said, holding his cell phone at the ready for Becca's call.

LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…11:00pm

Rebecca laid on her stomach in a prone ready position, legs spread, the heels of her bare feet touching the sides of the narrow shaft. Her arms were fully extended in front of her and her weapon was cocked and ready to fire. She was too tense to be scared. Her eyes had adjusted to the absence of light but she still couldn't see a thing. She felt her stomach cramping and she worried about a growl or worse. Her eyes began to tear from the strain of trying to see in the dark and she suddenly wondered what if this guy has infrared goggles? If he did she was dead meat. She could feel the cell phone tucked into the back f her panties and couldn't remember if she turned it off or not? Oh man, what if her Mom called to say goodnight or something. It was too late to worry about that anyway. Wait a second; did she hear something, maybe? She slightly opened her mouth taking short, shallow breaths. Her eyes were getting in her way and she closed them tightly to heighten her other senses. She couldn't remember where she read about that but it made perfect sense right now.

She listened hard but heard no sound. Suddenly alarms went off in her brain. There was no sound, but she felt a slight tremor beneath her as if the building was moving. She racked her brain processing possibilities and then realized the obvious. The shaft was responding to the presence of a greater weight, the intruder was near! Becca counted to five and then emptied her gun.

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM!

Her ears rang from the reverb off of the walls of the small space and the spent shell casings burned her flesh as they rolled around the shaft. She screamed and scooted backward too quickly breaking a pinkie toe in the process. She stifled a cry and bit the heel of her hand to transfer the pain. A bloody hand suddenly reached out and grabbed her by her hair. The grip was too strong for a dead man and she instantly recoiled in fear. Becca retreated back to the hole in the ceiling dragging whoever had hold of her along for the ride. A second later two strong hands grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her the rest of the way.
Wally pulled Rebecca down out of the air shaft and handed her to Iggie and me.

"Holy shit, look what we got here," he shouted as Judy helped us wrap a blanket around our brave little hero.

Detective Price pulled a bloody corpse from the shaft like after birth. He let the body drop to the floor and then climbed down from the table he was perched on while Iggie and me walked over to take a gander at the body. Wally strolled our way and turned the stiff onto its back with the heel of his boot.

"Good God," I gasped audibly when I saw his face, recognizing him instantly! It was Jai Lai, a dead man for the second time. What the hell was going on here I wondered? Wally saw my expression.

"You know him," he asked?

"Yeah, I went to his funeral actually."

"Nice trick, I wonder how Houdini here managed that," Wally said nonchalantly, completely nonplussed by the gore.

"Judy, you helped with the autopsy on this guy didn't you," I asked, looking back at her, puzzled? She walked over and took a look.

"That's not the Jai Lai I worked on," she said.

"At least not according to the dental and medical records we had," she added.

"Well its Jai alright, I've known him for years," I replied puzzled.

"Well one of you is wrong. Anyway, it doesn't matter much, their both dead now," observed Wally blandly.

"I guess not, at least not at the moment. We can sort all of that out when we get Judy and the microchip back to LA," I replied tiredly.

"You ready to go home Becca," I asked the rookie detective.

She was still shaking and I took that as a yes. Judy took my hand and we walked over to comfort Detective Tran together until the paramedics arrived. We definitely had a lot of explaining to do to Oscar when we got back. The pieces were already starting fall into place for me as the shock began to wear off. Jai and Sally November had been a team from the start. Somehow they got mixed up with Russian gangsters; they call themselves the New Russians. I'm guessing Sally was the key to that unholy marriage. I'm also guessing she got ambitious and started working a blackmail angle without telling Jai. I suppose if Hassan hadn't killed her Jai would have. The loneliest victim in all of this was poor Lu; he didn't deserve to be betrayed by either of the two people he loved most in the world. I suspect that at the end of the day a lot of people were going to regret our luck, Judy's and mine, if you can call it that. All I know is that Judy and I still weren't out of the woods, we had a date with some harsh reality and soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

("I hear a very gentle sound Very near yet very far Very soft yeah very clear Come today come today…")…The Doors…1967

Chapter Thirty-two


LVMPD…Evidence Room…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…9:00pm

The computer lab had been a colossal waste of my time. Apparently this precinct could not afford competent help? Rather shocking in a city of this size. However, Las Vegas was not exactly a metropolis, not by any standard. It was in fact an over grown amusement park for the adult sycophant population of the United States of America. Still, given the obscene amount of capital that is generated here, fleecing millions of easily entertained rubes out of their hard earned cash with false hope for their shallow dreams, one might have hoped for a better showing by the City Fathers and Civil Leadership, no? Perhaps not, after all why should one spend large sums preventing crimes when one is busy committing crimes? Par for the course I suppose for the New Age Empire, sadly headed for the same fate as the old Romans, extinction by proxy, courtesy their cancerous addiction to self absorption. America, I have no pity for her, not after what she did to my home, my beautiful country. Fuck them all, what do I care? They are what I feed upon now!

Ah, here we are; the fabled evidence room. I have often wondered what one of these looked like. I must admit, over the years, during my frequent stays in this hunting ground, I have fallen under the spell of the quaint television dramas depicting detectives working crime scenes or profiling serial killers. What rubbish these writers droll out with appalling regularity! They merely sensationalize the gore of so many murderous acts, concentrating mainly on who, what, and when, while they skim over the why, which is by far the most fascinating aspect. Then again, this is America after all, the Mecca for instant gratification. The attention span of the average viewer is limited by how much nonsense they can endure at the hand of network sponsors. There really isn't time enough in sixty minutes to challenge the mind with puzzle solving; cash is king in this country. Actually that's unfair, my apologies to the reader, this is true around the globe; the root of all evil and all that rot. Forgive my self centered pontificating, as I am as guilty of that addiction as any of you.

The door was unlocked and I walked in encountering a not so impressive room. It was what one might expect, a narrow three by twelve foot swatch of floor space separating the door and a chest high wooden counter topped by a caged barricade which looked like chicken wire on steroids. The officer behind the cage was equally unimpressive, a short dour looking gentleman (I'm being kind, he was no gentleman) with small thin lips topped with a wispy graying mustache. He wore a cheap pair of black horned rimmed spectacles and was busy writing on something when I walked in. It turned out to be a crossword he was concentrating on.

"What do ya need Mac," he asked without looking up at me.

How rude! It was all I could do to suppress my instant dislike for the man and keep myself from putting a small caliber round through one of the spectacle lenses. Instead, I gently placed my hands, palms down, on the top of the counter and smiled. I waited for him to look up and acknowledge me before I spoke; I required that much common courtesy from this beastly bloke. The blaggard finally looked up and pulled his reading specs down slightly, giving me the once over.

"You speakie English," he asked impatiently in a condescending monotone?

I felt the bile rise from my stomach to my esophagus and I swallowed the saliva my mouth produced in anticipation of the imminent irritation. There wasn't time to deal with this one right now and I took a deep breath through my nose before I replied, feeling my nostrils flare as I took in the soothing oxygen and held it in my lungs for a three count.

"Excuse me for interrupting your work Officer, but Detective Price sent me down here for a catalog item from the case he's working on," I said with a convincing smile masking the rage behind my eyes.

"Hey, you speak English just like a Limey," he replied sitting up all of a sudden and taking notice of me. He got up from the stool that he was seated on and removed his spectacles, giving me a closer look.

"I thought you was Chinese or something," he said with a big grin. I must have looked annoyed and I could see by his facial expression that he noticed it straight away.

"Hey, I didn't mean no disrespect or nothin, you just surprised me is all," the officer said with a believable amount of sincerity. He had no idea that he might have just saved his own life, and I smiled at him to put him at ease. I needed his help right now and didn't want to be delayed further.

"None taken, I'm sure," I said.

"I'm not Chinese by the way. Actually, I'm from Saigon originally, but was raised in Great Britain," I explained, not exactly sure why I had shared that bit of personal history with him, it was uncharacteristically impulsive of me? I would have to reconsider this bloke's fate now.

"No foolin? I was in Vietnam in 71', was you," he asked attempting to make small talk? It was a conversation I didn't want to have.

"I was a child in 1971, my family left after the fall of Saigon in 75' and we ended up in London with relatives," I answered. I felt more comfortable speaking with him about myself now, it was cathartic somehow. Not that it mattered what he heard anymore anyway, I was speaking to a dead man now.

"Is that right, that's terrific," he said in a jolly tone of voice. Apparently I had made a friend, how sad; I almost felt a twinge of regret.

"Yes, well if you don't mind I really must be getting back to Detective Price."

"Oh yeah, sorry, what was it he wanted again?"

"He said it would be in a small envelope with some kind of electronics inside."

"Was it from the Caesar's Palace shooting earlier today?"

"Yes, that's right."

The officer walked back to a desk behind him and sat down to access the computer system. He sat there mumbling for a couple of minutes then returned to the counter. He held up a finger and gestured for me to wait, reading the question that was on my face. He put on his specs back on and leafed through some sort of log book I reckoned. Ten seconds later he tapped his finger on a page and brought the book to where I stood waiting. He turned it so that I could read it through the cage wire.

"See right here, Detective Sgt. Price checked that item out at 7 o'clock this evening. We was still changing shifts when he came down so I wasn't here. Looks like an Officer Ngyuen signed it out for him. Hey, he's one of you guys ain't he," related the ill fated evidence room Officer, grinning for the last time in his miserable life.

"So it seems, thank you for your kindness," I replied, firing twice with the silenced Glock 19 that I had extracted from the uncomfortable holster around my waist while he spoke.

Two subsonic rounds entered the cheeky bloke's brain through his left eye. He slumped to the floor with a queer expression on his face, one of disbelief. I felt the twinge again, I was tiring of this adventure, and it was time for closure, perhaps a little vacation. Nha Trang would be nice this time of year. I do so enjoy the beaches and the mud baths. Yes, it is time for a short rest; I grow weary of the hunt. If fortune shines on me tonight, I will find all of my ducks swimming in the same barrel, inside this very building.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

("So brick by brick I'm breaking through these walls Oh between you and me I'm not giving up I'm not giving up…")…Katy Perry…2009

Chapter Thirty-one


LVMPD…Interrogation…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…9:00pm

There have been few times in my life where I have been reduced to tears, and not the whimper and a whine kind, but the full on crocodile tears variety, the kind that only flow when your heart is truly broken. Iggie was watching me uncomfortably from the other side of the small anti-room that cops use to watch suspects sweat out questioning from behind the relative safety of thick one way glass. On the other side of that glass was Judy Looney, my friend. She was resting her head on the shoulder of Detective Tran. Rebecca was surprising me, I had a new respect for that young lady and put all my previous carnal thoughts back into the vault and locked it tight. There was real compassion in the way she held my friend, stroking her hair gently, as she helped her regain her composure.

Judy was physically spent after wailing over the news about her Ronnie, my Rhonda. The poor kid sobbed for an over an hour, half out of grief and half in anger at not being allowed to go to her mate. Wally had left the details out for her but unfortunately hadn't done the same for me because on top of the responsibility to help to break the news to Judy, I was tasked with identifying the body, such as it was. The door behind me opened suddenly, startling me out of my blue funk. Wally walked in with his usual casual flair and handed me a cup of coffee. I turned to take it after tucking my face into the crook of my arm and wiped my face dry with the sleeve of my jacket.

"Thanks," I said through a sniffle.

"Still take it black, right," he asked graciously ignoring my weakened demeanor.

"Yep, hot, black, and steaming, just like back in the day," I replied feeling normal again after a big gulp of the sludge he brought me.

"You're feeling better I see, good because we got work to do! That piece of work that you used to work for, Celaya, he's been bending ears all the way up the chain of command. He's even got the Mayor's office running point for him," Wally said filling us in on what happened behind the scenes over the last sixty minutes.

"Who's Mayor? Yours or ours," Iggie asked?

"Both, you know politicians, they run in packs," Wally answered.

"Anyway, we've linked the scene at The Plaza with a stiff over at Cesar's. The guy's prints are all over Dr. Looney's room. Funny thing is we ran them through AFIS and got nothing. The lab boys are running dental records as well but I'm betting we'll find bupkis there as well. You know what that means," Wally said, loading a fresh stick of gum into his gob.

"Yeah I do, it means either a Fed or someone with diplomatic immunity," Iggie replied walking over to join our coffee clutch.

"Probably, or, this guy's a merc, and a clever one at that," Wally suggested pointing a fat finger at Iggie.

"Merc," Iggie asked puzzled?

"Mercenaries dumbass, how long you been in this business? You were in the Nam with us, don't you remember those sneaky rat bastards, the one's who didn't have to follow the rules of engagement," explained Wally, frustrated with Iggie's absent mindedness.

"Oh yeah, the CIA dicks, I do remember," he replied, the imaginary light bulb over his head almost visible to the naked eye.

"You're a cartoon Ingram, stop talking to me, just listen to the real cops kick this around," Wally said tuning Iggie out and turning to face me directly.

"So, this guy tossed Judy's room and killed Rhonda…," Wally began.

"Ronnie," I said interrupting, impulsively correcting him out of respect I guess.

"Whatever! So this rag-head slices and dices Ronnie and then goes after Judy at Cesar's Palace. Funny thing is only she and I knew that she would be there. He couldn't have followed her because he was busy in room 3023 while she was in route. Which reminds me, we still don't know who popped the Arab, because it sure wasn't me?"

"Arab? Why did you say Arab," I asked, my brain suddenly firing on all cylinders?

"I dunno, he looked like an Arab to me, you now, Saudi or Persian, whatever, he wasn't white, Mexican, or Chinese, why do you want to know?"

"Is the stiff in the morgue right now?"

"Yeah, I guess so. What's your angle Roode?"

"Give me a minute, I'm working on it. Where is the microchip that Judy brought you," I asked? He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small envelope along with half a dozen receipts and some wadded up gum wrappers.

"Right here, she gave it to me on the ride back from Cesar's," he answered waiving it at me.

"Let me have it," I said reaching for the envelope.

"Not so fast Whitey, first tell me what the hell is on this thing. Must be pretty important shit because there are bodies strewn from LA to LV because of it," Wally said crumpling the envelope in his enormous fist?

I cringed at the thought of him damaging the freaking thing, and wondered how much I should tell him. My mind was racing trying to figure out this latest development. I was positive that the stiff from Cesar's would turn out to be my Arab buddy Hassan, but I was flummoxed at who would be after this microchip if not him? The Russians he worked for were paying him to protect that thing and what was on it, so why would they murder their own hired gun? All this time I thought that Hassan was the shadow stalking Judy and me at work, and at home, if not him then who? It was time to mentally revise my KKK notes because things had changed dramatically:

What do I know?

1. Sally November was still dead, murdered by Hassan
2. Jai Lai and Lu Rong were dead, not murdered by Hassan
3. Ray Ray Abernathy was dead, murdered by Hassan
4. My ex Rhonda was dead, murdered by Hassan
5. And now Hassan the Arab assassin was dead too, but by who

What do I think I know?

1. SN and Jai Lai were partners supplying escorts for the high and mighty
2. SN’s death really was a surprise for Jai
3. SN had a silent partner that Jai didn't know about
4. SN and Jai's death were related but it wasn't business related
5. SN wasn’t meant to die, that fact cost Jai and Lu their lives

What do I want to know?

1. Why did Rhonda have to die
2. Why did Hassan follow Judy instead of me
3. Why did the shooter let Judy and Wally walk
4. Why did Jai kill himself or did he
5. Why did I have the heebie-jeebies surrounded by a sea of cops


"Earth to Whitey, you in there sweet pea" Wally said snapping his finger in my face?

"Sorry, how long was I out," I asked?

"Long enough, it's a little scary when you trance out like that Roode, you really outta see a shrink about that," Wally replied opening his fist and showing me the crumpled envelope.

"Yeah, I'll think about that. So, right, the chip. Well, it's like this…" I started and I proceeded to fill him in on the chip contents.

It had only been 24 hours or so since Judy had shared that information with me back at her apartment in LA, and I gave it all to Wally, all the names, the dates, and the special notes beside each that I could remember. To be fair I only had a glance at the list the other day, but what I saw was plenty and Judy had read it all, I know she had. That must be why she was still breathing. Whoever's stalking her wants to know what she knows, and just who she shared it with. When one exterminates pests one wants to make sure one doesn't miss any lest they are fruitful and multiply. I watched Wally chew on this and glanced back at Judy and Becca, suddenly wishing I was the meat in that huggie sandwich.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

("You're what I couldn’t find A totally amazing mind So understanding and so kind You're everything to me…")…Cranberries…2002

Chapter Thirty


Hollenbeck Station…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…7:00pm

This wasn't at all what Oscar had expected to find on the whozie-whats-it, the, the, the flash drive that's it; that Tran found at the University where that poor lab rat, Ernie Namura, had bought the farm. Now, to be fair it wasn't in fact the complete load of crap he expected. It was a clever load of crap! Oscar had thought for sure that all they would find would be the geek's homework and "sure thing" list, nothing useful. But what was in front of him was a pretty impressive list of names and dates. At least at first glance. It would have fooled numbskulls like Whitey Roode and Iggie and led them on a wild goose chase at the taxpayer's expense. For the moment he left Rebecca Tran off of team airhead, although he could see that she was definitely riding the pine and itching to get in the game! But Oscar had been at this too long and had heard and seen it all.

This was a clever ruse, an obvious misdirection. The question was why? If that thing was left to be found what made it worth killing for? This stuff he was reading was all just noise, no substance, information anyone could acquire especially given the whole internet angle. Hell, half the info on that medium was bogus anyway. Anyone could store anything in cyberspace, fact or fiction. This didn't make any sense, unless? Wait, that's it, the flash drive was bait only the wrong fish bit. That was an interesting thought and it made Oscar think immediately of Dr. Judith Looney. Why did she run, and why so fast, and why in the dead of night right after finding her boyfriend or whatever he was to her, face down in a puddle of his own mud? And why was she hooked up with that jack-hole Roode, what were they up to?

Suddenly Lt. Celaya regretted sending the aforementioned nincompoops to Las Vegas all on their own. Oscar pushed the folder and report away from him and slapped desktop hard enough to draw a few sideways glances from the squad room on the other side of his office window. He ignored the curious looks and picked up the handset from the desk phone cradle. He punched the Vegas are code while he flipped through his rolodex for the rest of Wally Price's phone number. Wally's phone rang five times on the other end of the line before auto transferring to the desk sergeant.

"LVMPD, Sgt. Hernandez," the officer answered.

"Yeah, this Lieutenant Oscar Celaya, LAPD, I'm trying to find to reach Detective Sergeant Price please. Can you locate him for me or give me his cell phone number," Oscar asked in a nicer tone than his current mood dictated?

"Sergeant Price is indisposed sir. Can I leave a message or call back number?"

That was the wrong answer. "INDISPOSED! You're goddamn right you can leave him a message. You tell Price to call me ASAP, he has the fucking number! And sergeant, if I don't her from the shit heel in five minutes it's YOUR ASS! If you value those stripes on your sleeve Hernandez, don't bother replying, you got it," bellowed the frustrated police lieutenant from Los Angeles!

Oscar gently hung up the phone, setting the handset back in the cradle as if he were defusing a bomb. Leaning back in his chair he clasped his hands behind head and stared at the ceiling, mentally decompressing while he waited for Wally Price to call back. Blowing off steam like that was his secret weapon against heart disease. He learned early in his career that stress was the silent killer of cops. The guys that held everything in either stroked out or ate their gun sooner or later. He closed his eyes and went to his happy place, which believe it or not was with that young wife of his. Oscar had waited a long time for happiness to come into his rough and tumble life. Olivia Celaya was fifteen years his junior, a widow with three kids when they met five years ago. It was the second marriage for both of them.

She changed him, brought the decency in him that the job and life had robbed him of over time. Oscar's first wife was a casualty of the law enforcement profession; she couldn't hang with it, and she pushed him away enough times to drive him to look for compassion elsewhere. He wasn't proud of that and although it was a short detour the damage was irreversible. Fifteen years later someone up there in the heavens, call him what you like, introduced him to the love of his life. It wasn't love at first sight, it was a slow burn, but isn't that how the tastiest sauces are made?

Olivia was the polar opposite of his ex. She was a hard shell with a soft center, meaning she could be bitchy but you never doubted her love, it was deep and forever. The former Mrs. Celaya was soft on the outside and hard on the inside, where the heart was supposed to be. He was a lucky man and he knew it. Truth be told, and I'll deny I ever uttered these words, so was she. The man she molded with her genuine love for him was turning out to be a pretty good egg. That's all I want to say about that!

The phone rang and Oscar opened his eyes slowly. He check his watch, it had been five minutes exactly. He leaned forward and slapped the phone up and it flew into his hand.

"Price," he asked?

"In the flesh Lieutenant, what can I do ya for," Wally Price asked sarcastically?

"Cut the crap, let me talk to Roode, I know he's there listening."

"Actually he's not LT. We had some trouble on this end."

"Where is he?"

"He's with Dr. Looney and Iggie."

"Where's Detective Tran?"

"Right here," Wally said, handing Becca the phone. "It's for you," he said.

Becca took the telephone from him, "Hello?"

"Very slowly and leaving nothing out, not one detail, tell me what the hell is going on out there," Oscar said gently but sternly, like he was talking to his fourteen year-old step daughter, Katrina. Becca swallowed and began to recant the events of the afternoon.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Oscar said, whispering to the four walls of his off

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

("Love me two times girl One for tomorrow One just for today Love two times I'm goin away…")…The Doors…1967

Chapter Twenty-nine

Union Plaza Hotel…Room 3023...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…5:00pm

Wally had left Judy in the Hotel's security holding cell with half a dozen uniforms, all of whom he knew personally, and for a minimum of ten years each. He wasn't taking any chances here, this was some serious shit. He looked around the room tied off with yellow barrier tape and shook his head slowly. What a fucking mess! The poor thing put up quite a fight he thought before whoever did this went to work on her, or him, whatever, its not that it mattered much at this point. Whatever services the family planned would have to be closed casket, that's for sure. A female uniform appeared at in the doorway and gestured for him to join her. Whitey and that weasel Iggie were probably here now. He glanced at his watch, they were late, there must have been more traffic then he had allowed for in his original estimate. Iggie was sure to mention that as soon as he went down to fetch them.

"What is it Shaw," he asked the uniform.

"There are a couple of shields and a citizen from LA in the lobby asking for you," the tall blonde officer said.

"Yeah, I was expecting them. Tell the command post that I'll be down in a minute," Wally instructed taking a handkerchief from is jacket pocket and mopping his brow.

The room was air-conditioned but this much gore had caused him to break a stress sweat. He couldn't swear to it as he had only met Rhonda once or twice at a poker game when she was married to Whitey, before the change. But under the circumstances he was pretty sure what was left of her was scattered around the bloody room. He wasn't looking forward to breaking the news to Whitey but as unpleasant as that would be he was sorry that the task of telling Dr. Looney would fall to his old buddy. The thought of it turned his stomach, partly out of compassion for his friend and partly because of the guilty relief that he didn't have to do it. He walked over to the nightstand nearest the bathroom and made a note of the time on the digital clock.

It read 1:15 which is where it froze after being struck with something heavy. Wally looked down at a thick terrycloth bath towel on the floor beside the table. It was still damp and it was one of the few items in the room that wasn't soiled with blood or some other form of bodily fluid or matter. This must have been where she was first attacked. He looked back at the clock and decided that she had likely been knocked back onto the nightstand, cracking the clock with her weight and the force at which she had been propelled backward. Wally took his cell phone and snapped a quick digital picture of an open wallet with a half exposed California driver's license. You could make out half of the photo ID hoping that would be all they would need for a positive ID on John/Jane Doe, and left the room to see what was what with Whitey and the LAPD.

LVMPD Motor Pool...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…5:30pm

Shift changes were always chaotic at the precinct, patrol cars coming and going, off duty officers rushing home to the family or out to the casinos for a chance at winning the lottery Vegas-style, before winding down for the day. It was a good place to hide in plain sight, not that I needed the distraction, but chaos always makes it easier to blend in without question, especially when one is dressed for the part. Queer how humans think there is safety in numbers, there isn't you know, not when one is determined. Hadn't that fact been proven time and again in places like Columbine, Beirut, or The World Trade Center? Anyway, it has been my experience for the length of my career, if you can call what I do for sport a career that human beings tend to mind their own business as they go about their business, especially if one gives them no cause to do otherwise. On the few occasions where I have run into a nosey-Nellie I used them as wet stones for my blade, pissant man-jacks!

What I seek should be in the evidence room or possibly within a computer lab of some sort, depending on the level of sophistication this berg has. It's no Scotland Yard for certain, but then that would be an unfair expectation. Given the number of Constables at this location there was likely to be equal chaos inside so I am not expecting any issue with maneuvering at will upon my entrance. Still, a good soldier is a prepared soldier, so I'll un-strap my weapon from the uncomfortable holster portion of my costume. Yanks are so enamored with firepower, so many choices on this belt, no wonder there are so many accidental shootings in the States! Fiddlesticks, it's no concern of mine, to the task at hand now.

Taking care of the Turk had cost me precious moments but was necessary as I had arrived on the scene none too soon! I knew better than to trust the good doctor's safety to this rube friend of Roode's, he was a thirty year amateur! She would be safe for now while I recovered the little jewel she found, and right under my own nose! I must say, I am quite embarassed. That little revelation was quite a surprise. I almost gasped audibly from my listening post when I heard Roode explain everything to his wartime buddy. Telephony has always been a hobby of mine and those skills have paid dividends over the years. I must be slipping not to have expected technology to have advanced beyond even my ability to keep track of the innovations. No matter, I knew what I was looking for and once in my hand I will assure myself that no trail exists beyond what I intend to exist. Likely there was nothing to worry about, but again, a good soldier and all that rubbish.

Ah Mei Li, my little butterfly, you were more clever than I gave you credit for. That will be the last time I allow myself to let anyone close enough to do me any real harm, no matter how slight. I taught you well little flower, too well, and allowed you to think yourself my equal, silly child. Hassan saved me the task of dealing with your ambition. Still, I would have rather you had not given him cause to. Even in death, I miss your company, in spite of your betrayal. You were the only thing I ever loved more than myself. I will explain that to Roode when he asks his twenty questions before his demise. I owe him that much after what the Turk did to his first love…

Monday, February 21, 2011

("Understand what I've become It wasn't my design And people everywhere think I am something better than I am But I miss you") Cranberries

Chapter Twenty-eight


McCarran Airport…Las Vegas...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…3:30pm

If it hadn't have been for the fact that Rebecca Tran was seated between us I do believe that I would have grabbed Iggie by his Windsor knot and dragged him (still yammering no doubt) to the head and flushed him down the john on out into the sweet silence of 39,000 feet! The old fossil whined and complained the entire trip and I could see by a few of Becca's facial expressions that she was as tired as I was of all his noise. We covered the 231 air miles between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 48 minutes versus the quoted 55 thanks to a merciful tail wind, further proof that God isn't always out to mess with my life! I'm pretty sure that I'll have a lot of explaining to do when it's my turn at the Captain's Mast way up in the great beyond. I guess I won't need any tap shoes then, you can't deceive the fella who invented truth. Where that concept is concerned all of Humanity will have turn in the hot seat. There's no hiding from the alpha and the omega or so the penguins hammered into our wee brains every time they called for us to turn in our homework. I'm sorry, I get preachy when I'm irritated (Iggie), thank goodness we're here.

"Turn you cell phone back on Whitey and give Wally a call while we wait for the crowd to thin," Iggie said, leaning back in his seat for the first time since we boarded the packed Southwest flight.

"Okie-dokie," I replied, digging into my jacket pocket for my trusty Samsung.

Becca excused herself when accidently nudged me while she stretched in the cramped space that was the fuselage of a Boeing 737-NG. I smiled at her and gave her a wink that I hoped conveyed that it was my pleasure to be sure. She blushed and picked up the first distraction she could find, the airplane's emergency pamphlet in the seat pocket in front of her. Hmmm, interesting, maybe there was a coffee date in our future, providing I survived all this of course? I had to fish a little deeper in my pocket to retrieve the little spiral note pad I had jotted Wally's new number on. As soon as I flipped far enough back (should have started from the back…never fails) I punched in the nine digits including the area code and waited for an answer. Wally picked up on the second ring, jackpot!

"Price," he barked! He sounded pre-occupied?

"Wally, it's Whitey, I'm in town. Have you met up with Judy yet," I asked?

"Yeah, I did, and you're early, I wasn't expecting you till tonight?"

"Change of plans, I flew and I'm not alone," I answered. Rebecca scolded me for saying so with a tight lipped huff. Iggie did likewise, but I didn't care.

"I thought we were a tea here," I said covering the phone with my hand.

"Less is more Whitey, just tell him we're on our way to his precinct," Iggie said, sliding his finger along his throat subtlety telling me to cut the conversation short.

"Ah, listen Wally; we need to deplane, so I'll fill you in at the station house. We'll be there in forty-five or so.

"Change of plans here too old buddy. Meet me at the Union Plaza Hotel, room 3023, I'll fill you in. By the way, it's a crime scene so make sure your escort flashes his badge. It's not Iggie is it?"

"Oh yeah, you pegged it. And what do you mean it's a crime scene? Is Judy alright? What about Ronnie? Did she tell you about the chip," I replied, rambling as my mind started conjuring all sorts of unpleasant scenarios?

"Can't talk now Whitey, just get you ass over there as soon as you can. It'll take about an hour from McCarran, especially at this time, end of the work day and everybody's driving home. Call me when you roll on the address, I'll grease the skids for you guys, later."

Wally flipped his phone shut before I could protest and I did the same. I could feel Iggie and Becca's eyes on me waiting for an explanation. I thought about holding back but my gut said that I was going to need these two and keeping facts from your team was a recipe for disaster. I turned to face them with a stupid grin on my face.

"Apparently we're skipping the station house and going to the Union Plaza downtown," I started.

"Why? This better not be a gag Whitey, Celaya will barbeque all of us if you and Wally are thinking about holding out on us," Iggie said wagging a boney finger in my general direction.

I don't kindly to that sort of treatment, Iggie knows better and I reminded him by bending said finger back to the first knuckle. He screeched inspiring Rebecca to come to his rescue. he's always been a drama queen!

"Are you two kids through? Honestly you're supposed to be setting an example for me. The only thing I'm learning from you two is that apparently senility is dangerous," she scolded as she separated us.

"Sorry, he brings out the devil in me," I replied with a wicked little grin.

"Whatever," Becca said as she stood and pushed past me on into the aisle.

Oh well, so much for that future coffee date. I got up and followed after her with Iggie hot on my six. I'd make nice in the rental car on the way downtown. Secretly I was pretty worried about my two girls or at least my one and a half girls. Whatever was up it was serious; Wally never called me buddy before, he's always referred to me as shit-for-brains? Why was he being uncharacteristically kind?

"Hey Roode, whip out your plastic, the rental's on you, Oscar's orders," Iggie said as the escalator let us off at baggage claim. He was flashing one of those punk ass grins that a child does when they're tattling on you to mommy or daddy, what a prick!

"Natch," I replied pulling out my billfold and walking up to the Hertz counter.

"You have anything with a sidecar," I asked half-jokingly pointing in Iggie's direction. The young lady behind the counter stared back at me with a blank expression, the poor kid had no idea what I was talking about, and I let her off the hook with a smile and handed her my Visa and driver's license. What the hell was happening at the Union Plaza anyway?

Hollenbeck Station…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…3:00pm

Oscar Celaya looked at the clock above his office door and checked his wristwatch, subconsciously synchronizing the two timepieces. Whitey and the dynamic duo should be half way to the LVMPD station house by now. He decided to give them until five o'clock to call in with an update. If they knew what was good for them it would be a short conversation consisting of the return flight number and confirmation that Dr. Judith Looney was in protective custody and on her way back to answer a shitload of questions. At flank speed the lot of them should be back in LA before the 11 o'clock news. It was an hour past his bedtime but Oscar was pretty sure it would be worth the inconvenience. He opened the center desk drawer and retrieved a small set of keys. Grunting he got up with the extra effort that his age and weight required these days and walked over to a block of five drawer filing cabinets.

He unlocked the one labeled MAC, opened it and fished out a half empty bottle of Mccallan's single malt scotch whiskey and a dirty crystal tumbler from the old Ambassador Hotel, circa 1968, the year that RFK was assassinated. He had been a patrolman downtown back then and was moonlighting working security for the hotel that night. You could say that it had happened on his watch but you'd be wrong. Oscar was working the crowd in the ballroom and wasn't in the kitchen where the shooting occurred. Still, to this day he felt a twinge of responsibility. He often wondered what the world would have been like had someone saved the day and Bob Kennedy had gone on to become President? It was an interesting thought and one he had whenever he felt melancholy enough to open the MAC drawer.

Oscar sat back down and had poured himself two fingers worth when the phone on his desk rang interrupting his moment of reflection. He capped the bottle and took a slow sip before answering, whoever it was could wait five or six rings. Het set the heavy tumbler down on a manila folder and picked up the receiver.

"LAPD, Lieutenant Celaya here," he said into the handset.

"Oscar, its Ralph Pederson over at the Mayor's office, are you busy," asked the voice on the other end of the line?

"Little busy here Ralphie, can this wait until tomorrow, I'm expecting a package soon if you get my drift," Oscar replied stirring his drink with his finger.

"Actually it can't lieutenant, can you hold for His Honor," Ralph said in a tone that Oscar had heard before, whenever the little shit was brown-nosing for the boss. Ralph Pederson was the Mayor's chief minion as Press Secretary and Lord knows this Mayor liked a close relationship with the Press. Before Oscar could hang up and claim faulty equipment Mayor Popular came on the line.

"Oscar, good to hear your voice," he said without even hearing it.

"Listen, huge favor my man, a little bird told me that you may have a line on this murder at UCLA. I'm very interested in hearing what you have on that," His Honor added. It didn't sound like a request; it sounded more like an order. Oscar didn't like taking orders from people he didn't respect; that was why he hadn't made a career of the U.S. Army.

"Well, you see Mr. Mayor, sir, I'm not sure what we have yet. I'll know more after we have a chance to question a key witness later tonight. I'm afraid said witness is currently in route from out of State and won't be in until late. Why don't I call you back first thing tomorrow morning after we find out what's what," he answered, not exactly lying but not exactly telling the truth either.

"I see, well, make sure that you call my office first thing Lieutenant, and I mean first thing, there may be ramifications concerning this murder that I am not at liberty to discuss," replied the Mayor, clearly miffed at what he correctly determined to be a stall tactic.

"Of course, you have my word Mr. Mayor, will there be anything else," Oscar answered nonchalantly giving his drink another stir?

"FIRST THING IN THE MORNING LIEUTENANT, ARE WE CLEAR," the Mayor said with more than a little venom in his voice.

"CRYSTAL," Oscar replied with a fair amount of venom in his own voice! He hung up and reached for his scotch. Oh well, guess nobody likes to be dissed, he thought. Oscar picked up the tumble and clinked the bottle of Mccallan's, toasting the room, ain't life a bitch.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

("Cause blue eyes you are all that I need. Cause blue eyes you're the sweet to my mean…")…Cary Brothers…2004

Chapter Twenty-seven


Cesar's Palace…Las Vegas...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…12:30pm

Judy Looney checked her wristwatch for the umpteenth time; it was two minutes later than the last time she checked. Apparently Whitey Roode's friends were all assholes! At least this Wally character was especially where promptness was concerned. Oh, and he had a bad attitude too. For a crime fighter he sure had no tack with a damsel in distress! She'd been hiding in plain sight for over an hour, knee deep in wannabe gamblers busily pissing away little "Johnny's" college tuition on a chance at the next jackpot. Wally told her to lay low in the Keno parlor because traffic was heavy there since people had to pass through it to get to either the gaming tables on one side or the slots on the other. He said he'd meet her there in a few, in a few what? She'd taken that to mean a few minutes, but she realized now that he could have meant hours or days! Judy felt so overly conspicuous, positively naked. She was convinced that whoever was after her was close; really close, she could feel it in her bones. Her neck ached from jerking it this way and that with every sudden movement or new face. She was mentally and physically exhausted from trying to cover the circumference of the room with all six of her senses, and was about to leave when Wally the prick showed up abruptly.

"Dr. Looney I presume," he said in a monotone that came off as condescending?

"Jesus! You startled me, Detective Price," she asked, holding a hand to her face trying to push the squeal that escaped her lips back into her mouth?

"In the flesh, may I sit down," Wally asked in a gracious tone Judy wasn't expecting?

"Sure be my guest," she answered, scooting to the far side of her own seat unconsciously.

Wally Price sat beside her and quickly surveyed the room from this new perspective. Actually he had been there the whole time having arrived shortly before Judy had. Like any detective worth his salt he knew that the Boy Scouts motto had it down right, be prepared. He had positioned himself at a "Wheel of Fortune" slot machine and watched for her arrival. While he waited he memorized every face in the general area, on the look out for anyone more interested in Judy than he deemed reasonable. Anyone might gawk at a beautiful woman, and Judy Looney was a dish, but a trained observer like Wally Price with thirty years experience hunting bad guys would notice someone with murder in their eye. The eyes are the mirrors to the soul, or so they say.

He had followed her at a safe distance when she walked into the casino and headed for the Keno Parlor. She found a seat with her back to the wall. Smart girl he thought, Whitey knows his dolls. He watched her nervously watching everyone else. It was probably a little unfair to let her sweat like this, but if anything was going to happen it would happen when the perp felt safe enough to try. That was an axiom in the murder game. Wally waited until his instincts told him it was all clear before approaching her. Sure, he could have told her about all of this but it was safer this way. It was better she thought of him as a badge carrying prick then to have her wise to his tactics and next time shout out his name in recognition at exactly the wrong moment! Wally let her eyeball him a moment before opening his yap.

"Alright Dr.Looney…" he began.

"Call me Judy, please," she said interrupting him.

"Alright Judy, let's get down to it. Whitey says you have some kind of micro thing that contains some interesting stuff. Some stuff that the Russian mob in LA might be willing to kill for. Is that about it," he asked, leaning in close so that her reply couldn't be overheard easily? Judy flinched but answered without hesitating.

"Yeah, that's it in a nutshell I guess. I mean I don't know anything about a Russian mob, I didn't even know such a thing existed. The only mobsters I know are Brando, and Pacino and all the others in those Godfather movies," she said managing a weak smile. Wally cleared his throat and leaned in close enough to whisper in her ear.

"Tell me the truth, did you read everything on that chip," he whispered. Judy nodded in the affirmative pursing her lips as she felt his warm breath on her neck. He had a gyro for lunch she noticed, she liked Greek food.

"Tell me the truth, did Whitey read it also," he asked, his tone remaining hushed?

This time she shook her head in the negative, she was lying, but her instincts told her to do so, she didn't know why? She waited for Wally to move away, but he didn't. He whispered in her ear once more.

"Are you quite sure that you are telling me the truth Judy? Think it over carefully, your life may depend on it," he said a little louder this time.

That was it; Judy was officially more pissed than scared now and she was about to tell him where to get off when she heard a soft "pffft" sound and Wally suddenly slumped onto her shoulder. She tried to push him off of her but he was heavy, like dead weight. She discovered why instantly when she saw a tiny trail of blood trickle down his forehead and into two very cold very dead eyes. Judy swallowed a scream and pulled him back to her like a long lost lover and surveyed the crowed room. Nobody seemed to notice anything was out of the ordinary even though she could actually hear her own heartbeat booming like the cannonade in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony! She started thinking about what to do next but she didn't get to think very long. A split second later a gruff older man in a tattered gray suit walked up to her. He sat down confidently and quietly as you please; on the opposite side of the dead weight resting on her shoulder. Mr. Gruff held a chubby forefinger up to his lips and told her to shut up with his eyes, which looked as cold as the ones on the stiff, only his were blue instead of shit brown like Wally's.

The ragtag man, in his late fifties she guessed, reached over and felt for a pulse with one hand and flashed his LVMP credentials with the other. Judy gasped, she'd been had. The stiff on her shoulder wasn't Detective Wally Price, the man in the rumpled suit was. Judy started to swoon as if she would faint, realizing just how close to her own death she had come. The real Wally Price grabbed her and stood her up in one swift movement and they were halfway to the nearest exit before she caught enough breath to say anything.

"WAIT, WAIT," she hissed shaking loose from the hold Wally had on her elbow!

"What the hell was that man? Who the hell was that man?"

"Not here Dr. Looney, let's take it outside before someone figures out that fella on your shoulder isn't just sleeping it off," Wally said quietly but forcefully.

Judy sized him up quickly, how did she know that this was the real Wally Price? She never saw the guy before and Whitey never actually described him, other than to say that he was an old friend willing to help us? She was scared and this guy was standing on her last raw nerve. She felt a panic attack coming on when he suddenly said the magic word.

"Stifle doll face, Uncle Wally has everything under control," he said nonchalantly.

Only Whitey Roode's friends talked that way, like they walked straight out of a Humphrey Boart movie, minus the cigarette though, none of Whitey's friends smoked, that was weird? It was weirder that she even thought of that given the jam she was in, but that's how the human psyche works, it distracts you from painful experiences with laughter or trivia, strange.

"Okay, okay, just tell me you're the real Wally Price, Detective Wally Price," she said calming down. She allowed him to gently take her by the arm again and lead her out of the casino.

"That's right sweetness, Detective Wallace Jordan Price, at your service. Now, let's get the fuck out of here, I've got some more bad news for you. I guess this must be your unlucky day doll, sorry," Wally said as they passed through the glass door from the air conditioned room into an unseasonably hot February afternoon.

Judy flinched at the blast of hot air and Wally put on a pair of cheap shades. He steered her toward the parking lot and his waiting car as his eyes covered the 180 degrees in front of them. He knew that he hadn't dropped whoever that Arab bastard was back there, and he was certain that whoever did was watching them both right now; and possibly taking aim as well.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

("I swear, a woman's breast is the hardest rock the Almighty ever made, and I can find no sign on it…")…Bear Claw to Jeremiah Johnson…1972

Chapter Twenty-six


Anthony’s Bella Terra, 6th and Broadway…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…12:30pm

When my whistle needs wetting I go to Casey's Pub, but when my stomach growls I hit the Bella Terra and order Whitey's Special. Yeah, that's right, I have dish named for me, local celebrity that I am in certain circles. Check it out sometime, it's really on the menu, half a meatball sub, a mega slice of Mama Manzano's pizza with pepperoni of course; and a great big bowl of pasta Bolognese, heavy on the Bolognese! It's a carbohydrate Tsunami baby! Sure, I always say that I do my best thinking drinking, but .when the ol' belly gauge is on "E" this joint is choice numero uno Besides, the meal comes with a bottomless glass of Chianti so technically I'm staying true to my claim. I never was very good at quietly pondering an issue, if I sit still for longer than ten minutes I fall asleep. As I recall that was reason number 23 why Ronnie left me and changed teams?

Be that as it may, I was only two bites into the meatball sub when the Manzano brothers spilled out of the kitchen and into the crowded dining room, fists and expletives flying. Angelo and Johnny were famous around town for settling all disputes with a shout, a pout or a punch in the snout. Apparently this was one of the latter. All the first time patrons scattered and ran for the exit, while the rest of us regulars kept right on eating, enjoying the floor show. I lifted my sub and my wine as Angelo's backside brushed up against my table courtesy the left hook delivered by his bigger, younger brother Johnny. Fat Johnny always won the arguments when it came round to a punch in the snout.

"Okay, okay, I've-a-had-a enough," Angelo said, catching his breath while he sat on the second course of my meal, the mega slice of Mama's pepperoni pizza. If she were alive to see this I'd bet she'd box both of their ears!

"I'll second that, he looks like he's had it Johnny," I said, chiming in as the self appointed referee.

"Hey Whitey, I didn't see you, when did you get here," Johnny asked as if this were just an every day event? Actually, it was, what was I thinking?

"Got here about a half hour ago, didn't Mike Tyson over there tell you," I answered, teasing Angelo a wee bit.

"Shut up Whitey, I have my hands full with tiny, I don't have the energy to mix it up with both of you," Angelo replied as he held his head back and bled into my napkin.

"Sorry Paley, I was just cracking wise, you okay," I said, apologizing and getting up to check on him, emptying my wine glass first of course?

"He'll live. Hey Marco, get Whitey another slice and some more vino, chop-chop," Johnny said, answering for his brother and walking over to check on him.

The boys were like ten year-olds making up on the playground. The physical stuff was over, and like as not, neither one of them remembered what exactly caused the beef in the first place. You can bet it was something trivial, most beefs between guys are. Women however are very different! Every beef involving the fairer sex is a drama that is NEVER forgotten, just glossed over until it needs to be resurrected for future beefs. Don't believe me? Wait until you've cohabitated with one a while, you'll see. Johnny had put some ice in a cloth napkin and was holding it to his brother's forehead, swatting his hand away intermittently as Angelo protested.

"Stop fighting me stupido and this will be over in a minute," Johnny said gruffly.

"Don't call me stupid Johnny!"

"I'll stop when you stop."

"Are you fellas about finished? I need to dine and dash, I've got a long drive ahead of me," I said, pleading with my two friends?

"Long drive, where to," asked Angelo, standing finally and taking a deep breath through his healed nose?

"See, good as new," Johnny said smiling.

"It was already beautiful before you socked me briccone (bully)," protested Angelo.

"Don't flatter yourself mi amico," Fat Johnny replied, chiding his older brother.

"So where you gotta drive so far to today," Johnny asked, turning his attention back to me as Marco arrived with my slice and half a liter of wine?

"Vegas, I gotta res…" I started to answer when the joint suddenly got crowded with cops.

I hadn't seen this much blue since the Dodger/Giants game last summer! The place was crawling with uniformed officers and I suddenly lost my appetite. I prepped myself for an ass whipping and nickel lecture from my old boss and was about to turn and greet the fat bastard with my usual sarcasm when young Becca Tran appeared. I have to admit, she was the last person I expected to see, and I further admit that I was pleasantly surprised. It would have been nicer if Iggie wasn't tagging along, but this wasn't a social call so I let it slide.

"I told you we'd find him here Tran, it's feeding time Rebecca and Whitey's a notorious pizza-a-holic," Iggie quipped, shooting me a wink, chewing noisily on a huge wad of gum.

"Why all the hardware Iggie, you expecting trouble," I asked nonchalantly, taking a sip of my wine?

"We're not but you should be," he replied.

"Actually we're hoping you can help us Mr. Roode," Becca said, interrupting Iggie before he could crack wise again.

"With what," I asked?

"And why should I be worried Iggie?"

"What Detective Ingram means Whitey is that you and Judy Looney really stepped in it," answered the voice I'd been dreading.

"Oh, hello Lieutenant," I said as pleasantly as I could, trying avoid the aforementioned ass whipping and nickel lecture.

"Can it Roode, don't pretend to be nice to me, I'll only whip your sorry ass harder when the time comes," he replied agitated.

So much for diplomacy I guess? They taught us in church that forgiveness is righteous and that absence makes the heart grow fonder? Where Oscar and I are concerned, forgiveness is for suckers and absence just makes the heart grow harder. Oh well, I was running out of time. I needed to get on the road and fast. I was expecting Wally to call anytime and I didn't want to take that call around Oscar and his Keystone cops. I was going to have to hold my tongue and make nice with the old fart until he got out whatever was on his mind. Maybe concentrating on young Becca would take the edge off of my bad attitude. Fat Johnny broke my concentration nudging me in the ribs, a love tap that came with a wee bit of pain.

"Chi è la bella donna," he asked nodding at Detective Tran, asking who the pretty woman was?

"Shhhh, not now John," I whispered from the side of my mouth.

"As I was saying Whitey, the dynamic duo here found something you were probably looking for," Oscar said, pointing at Becca and Iggie.

"Yeah, and what might that be," I asked nicely?

"Detective Tran recovered a whatcha-ma-call-it, a flash drive at the UCLA crime scene. I was a little surprised, no, disappointed, that you hadn't found it first. If you had I could have busted you for obstruction of justice. As it is I'm going to have to let you walk for now. But not before you tell me where Dr. Looney and your ex fled to," Lt. Celaya said, pulling his sport coat open to show me his shield as well as his holstered .38 caliber snub nosed revolver.

The old piece was battle worn and it showed. The pistol grip was chipped and faded, and I knew for a fact that Oscar had no problem slapping leather and pumping rounds into anyone who asked for it. And let's just say that where I was concerned, he was itching for me to give him a reason. He already knew where I was headed, that was a given. If he didn't hear me outright telling the Manzano boys, he'd hear it from Iggie and Becca, who did. He'd put two and two together sooner than later and he'd know why Judy and Ronnie had run off to Vegas in the middle of the night. Even Iggie who was no mathematician would figure that out, only he'd add in the Wally factor which was something I wanted to keep under wraps at least until I had a chance to see what was what on that end. So, if there was any chance of cutting this little reunion short I was going to need to tell the truth; or a reasonable portion of it anyway. Besides, I was more than a little curious what the hubbub was regarding this flash drive? Hadn't Judy found the microchip with all the real dirt on it; so I doubted that whatever was on this thing could get us any deader, could it? No matter, it was time to dance so I put on my tap shoes.

"Alright LT, you got me. Judy and the old ball and chain went to Vegas, sort of a last minute thing you might say," I said trying to sound sincere.

"I know where they went Whitey, I want to know why. And you're not leaving here until I do, you got it?"

"I got it Oscar, I got it. Look, Judy was plenty scared after that kid got dead at the lab. She was afraid you guys would think she was involved," I explained.

"She was involved," Oscar shouted, that blue vein appearing at his temple!

"Alright, I meant she was worried you'd think she was responsible," I said, rephrasing.

"She may have been Roode, that's why I want to talk to her, without you," Oscar roared, chasing away even the die hard Bella Terra patrons.

"Okay, okay, don't bust a nut flatfoot, I'll find her and get her to call you," I replied quickly, wearing the taps off of my shoes.

"Nah, that doesn't work for me Whitey, you're too slippery for color TV. Here's what going to happen. You're going with us to LAX. You, and the dynamic duo over there are taking the next flight to Vegas where you will take them directly to Dr. Looney, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and then bring her back here to la-la land where we are going to get to the bottom of this. Are we clear," Oscar ordered calmly as he buttoned his sport coat and waived me toward the front door?

"Crystal. Shall we," I replied looking over at Becca and Iggie.

Marco tapped me on the shoulder and attempted to hand me a to-go bag with my Whitey's Special inside. I turned to take it; still starving actually, but Oscar quickly intercepted it.

"He's not hungry any more Marco, I'll take that," said Lt. Dill-hole as he swiped my meal and gave me the finger. This was not the best way to start a road trip, especially a potentially dangerous one. I wasn't exactly sure how much they knew, whether they were hip to Hassan or the Russians or what, but I suspected that they were, why else would they have landed here like the Marines? Whatever, I would think of some way to ditch these two by the time we landed at McCarran.

"You can thank me later for saving your ass from the Turk," Oscar mumbled through a mouthful of Mama Manzano's pepperoni pizza.

"You mean the Arab," I said correcting him, hoping the greasy pepperoni gave him the trots.

"No, I mean the Turk. You never were very good at pegging suspect's origins Roode. If they weren't white Anglo-Saxons you were flummoxed," Oscar said sarcastically.

"Turkish, huh? Hell, I thought Hassan was an Arab name," I replied.

"It is Whitey, the Arabs and the Euros have battled over that land for ages, Islam versus Christianity. You never heard of Wikipedia? Welcome to the 21st Century gumshoe. By the way, thanks for the tip, I was wondering what to call that guy in the surveillance photos, now I know," Oscar said, laughing as he finished the last of my slice. Shit! When am I gonna learn that less is more and keep my trap shut! Too late now, cat's outta the bag, I hope the jack-hole chokes on the pasta!

"Let's go Whitey," Iggie said taking my arm.

"I'm coming, I'm coming…"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

("I'm not broke but you can see the cracks, you can make me perfect again…")…U2…All because of You…2004

Chapter Twenty-five


Union Plaza, Las Vegas, Nevada…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…9:00am

This should have been easy; all of my plans are easy. But this time, this one single time there was a wrinkle, a blemish, a monkey in the wrench of my day. I had expected that gnat, Whitey Roode to follow me as I followed her. He was the obvious one; he loves her after all, in spite of her unfortunate affliction. But the Turk, I must admit, he was a surprise. I seldom have surprises, delicious. But if Hassan is here that means Roode is dead. And if Roode is dead, why is the Turk here? His Russian masters could care less about this woman. She is no threat to their precious lies. It was the little present that I left for the so called detective to find that contained what they feared. If he found it, and how could he not, even an imbecile like him should've found it, then he would be the hunted one. Surely he had pulled some strings as they say inside his brotherhood of blue and discovered the list that Hassan had explicitly warned him to ignore.

That insatiable curiosity must've been his death sentence. Pity, I was hoping to have had that pleasure myself. Bollocks then, the Turk will take his place, he must to pay for Mei Li's death anyway. All the years grooming her for greatness, wasted, damn his eyes! He'll answer for that, and soon, as I sense he is much too close to my frightened entertainment. It's decided then; Hassan will be first on today's menu of mayhem. I'll dispense of him before I visit the good doctor and her mate, Whitey's former wife, the transgender abomination.

Union Plaza Room 3023…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:00am

Judy Looney pulled the heavy drapes closed as soon as they got into the room. She hadn't felt safe since discovering the chip. Goddamn Whitey, why did he get her into this mess? Actually that wasn't fair; he was just the enabler, she made her own choices, everyone does. She pondered that thought a moment, why do people blame the circumstances for the choices they make? Everyone wants to be the victim she supposed, and for an instant she remembered her victim moment. The relationship she walked away from that propelled her into the life she now led. She left behind the love of her life because she lacked the capacity to forgive. She let her anger harden her heart and rob her of the life she had dreamed of as a little girl. For a fleeting moment she secretly wished for a do over chance, but those are only dreams as well.

She did enjoy the little detours that Whitey's schemes brought into her boring life. As much as she loved her work and teaching, a little part of her yearned for the excitement his recklessness brought. She wasn't in love with Whitey, but she was in like with him. She knew that he was smitten and she felt guilty about leading him on, but she couldn't help herself. In a way Whitey reminded her of what she had let slip away. However, no man could ever replace her lost love, she would never allow that. Hence her relationship with Ronnie, let's face it, loneliness kills. She paused a moment to survey the street below, not exactly sure what to look for. Judy hoped that whatever survival instincts she possessed would surface if anything caught her eye.

"You didn't say a word the entire trip. Five and a half hours without traffic, what gives," Ronnie asked?

"I know, I'm sorry honey, I just didn't want to wind you up with a lot of speculating about what your ex is up to back in LA, that's all," Judy replied, walking away from the window and crossing the room.

She collapsed into Ronnie's arms and wept, allowing herself to be vulnerable for the moment. Judy sensed that sooner or later she was going to have to suck it up if they were going to survive and she was betting on sooner. She regretted that her addiction to Whitey's nonsense was going to cost more than she was prepared to admit to. They had really stepped in it this time. What she read of that list, and she had read most of it, convinced her that she ought to be scared to death. The names on that chip were powerful people and the notes associated with each of them were undoubtedly worth killing for. She knew for a fact that the chip had cost Ernie his life, the poor sweet kid, as it had Whitey's pals at the deli, and the girl that had set all of this in motion. How was she supposed to tell Ronnie all of that? She wasn't, that's how. What Ronnie didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right? It wasn't like they could stop this runaway train. Their best bet, according to Whitey was to get this freaking thing to his contact in Vegas and then disappear for a while, maybe take that Parisian honeymoon they talked about before Proposition 8 ruined everything?

"Penny for your thoughts," Ronnie whispered as she stroked Judy's hair?

"A penny's about all their worth right now love. Just hold me a while, okay," Judy replied, drying her tears on her lover's shoulder.

LVMPD…Metro…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:30am

Wally Price replaced the telephone handset back onto its cradle and leaned back in a rickety old wooden captain's chair. The WWII Army issue desk and chair he sat at was out of place in the ultra modern facility that was LVPD Metro. But I suppose a 30 year career that would make Rebecca Tran's wet dream, Josh Stanford jealous, afforded you a few perks. Wally laced his fingers behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He was doing the usual gut testing, due diligence that he did whenever he heard from me about a tiny favor. The last time I called in a marker from him he nearly got dead helping me retrieve a skip for Sweet Baby's Bail Bonds in San Pedro (Sweet Baby was another Nam acquaintance of ours). Turned out the skip just happened to be a hot prospect with a local outlaw biker outfit which shall remain nameless to preserve our mutual survival. Nothing to be gained opening that can of worms! Suffice to say Wally got his man and then some. How was I supposed to know the skip was really an undercover DEA operative? Freaking Feds, it ain't bad enough that the IRS is always getting in your kitchen, but when the good guys get other good guys shot, that just ain't right! But I digress.

As soon as Wally finished ciphering over the merits of my latest favor request he picked up his phone and dialed Judy's cell phone. He rubbed at the five o'clock shadow even though it was only ten o'clock in the morning, and waited for her to answer. She picked up on the fifth ring, just before he hung up, secretly hoping that she wouldn't and he could dodge a bullet.

"Hello," Judy said softly?

"Dr. Looney," asked Wally?

"Yes, who is this," she replied?

"Wally Price lady, Whitey says I should call you," Wally answered gruffly.

"Oh thank God! Where are you right now," Judy exclaimed, relieved?

"I'm right here, where are you," Wally replied annoyed?

"Oh, sorry we're at... Wait, I probably shouldn't say where we are over the phone, right?"

"No you shouldn't. I guess you're as smart as Whitey says you are. Wherever you are, find a payphone and call me back at this number. Do it in the next five minutes or we won't be meeting, you got it," Wally instructed, giving her the number and hanging up without waiting for her to reply.

Judy looked at the phone before hanging up. Were all of Whitey's friends' assholes or what she wondered? No matter, she didn't have time to contemplate that. She had less than five minutes to find a payphone and return this call and she was pretty sure that Wally started the clock the instant he hung up on her.
"Where are you going," Ronnie hollered as she came out of the bathroom with a towel around her just washed hair?

"Out, I'll be right back. Are you hungry," Judy asked as she went through the door.

She didn't wait for Ronnie's answer and sprinted down the hall, nearly knocking over the maid's cart outside the room across from theirs. She skipped the elevator and took the stairs, the clock was ticking. She had no idea how right she was…

Sunday, February 13, 2011

”When the morning light comes streaming in. You'll get up and do it again, Amen...” Jackson Browne…The Pretender...1976

(Sorry, my mind is elsewhere today...)

Solitude is way over rated…Palm Springs California, Feb 13, 2011…4:00am

It's nearly impossible to fall asleep with a heavy heart. A restless spirit is only shushed by exhaustion. I'm learning that you cannot run or hide from yourself. That must be what Christian scripture means when it says that there is no hiding from God. I tried distracting myself by taking my journal on the road but found myself alone with my thoughts in a crowded Starbucks. I tried swimming until I was weak enough to drown in the shallow end of the pool. That didn't work. I tried walking around a busy mall but every face I saw was my own. I'm learning that when God is working on changing you he's about as subtle as a freight train, once he starts the process there's no stopping it. The little bear I was allowed me take with me reminds me love is unconditional and unbreakable no matter how hard we test it. Love never fails us, we fail to love.

As I write this, the little rainbow bear and I are sitting outside and waiting for the sun to come up. I wonder why people, me included, are so enamored with the sunset; a time that signals the end of each day, a time for reflection. I wonder why it is we rush into every new day, and miss the beauty of the dawn and the promise of hope that comes with it. Am I wondering too much? Probably, but that's the mood I put myself in. It matches the situation I put myself in, myself, as well as the people that I love most in the world. If God is the engine on this train of change then they are the caboose. They encourage me to keep going forward, to get us where we need to be, and remind me that they are always behind me, even if I can't see that far back.

These are hard lessons I'm learning and God is a tough master. But like any great artist will tell you when creating a masterpiece, it isn't what you place on the canvas but what you take away that defines the work and gives it meaning. As a genuine work in progress I can tell you without fear of contradiction that the process is a bitch! And I will admit I have had many opportunities in my life to do this right. Ashamedly, I ran away from each one of them, actually, I ran away from myself. Until now only selfishness ruled my actions. Nothing in life was more important than me. Until now nothing that I lost from my actions couldn't be replaced or forgotten. That changed with the love of my life.

Sadly, I didn't recognize it soon enough, but gratefully the loss of that love began the chain reaction my salvation required. And so the evolution begins, and I transition from sunset to sunrise, letting God work in my life at last. I suppose I should thank you honey, I should thank each one of you...T-K-K-L
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