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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…"

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