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Sunday, December 30, 2012

("For when I'm drinking I'm always thinking and wishing Peggy Gordon was here”)…traditional Irish song of Scottish origin

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Nineteen

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

Bringing Judy here was a good idea, at least that's what I kept telling myself as I watched her nibble at her meal. We got here just ahead of the lunch bunch and grabbed the catbird seat at Casey's, the one centered near the big bay window in front. Five minutes later and we'd have missed it and been standing at the bar shouting out our order with the rest of the crowd. We had burned most of the morning napping on my sofa after she shown up at my flat totally exhausted from fretting all night and dodging shadows. She was scared alright and who could blame her after what she told me about her evening and what she'd found when she returned to the lab on the UCLA campus.

A former student of hers was now deceased, very-very deceased, lying in a pool of blood in the hall just outside the room she had occupied with him only a few hours earlier. She wasn't worried about being a suspect, a fact that I pointed out emphatically, she was worried about being next, a fact that she pointed out even more emphatically. As far as Judy was concerned she had dodged a bullet courtesy her natural OCD tendencies. Being a chronic box checker she had rushed home to enter the results of the retest into her laptop, in real time of course. Come to think of it she must have come straight from UCLA when I stopped by her place around 10pm on Saturday. I remember now, she was reading from her notes with her portable office on her lap while we chatted and drank scotch. The next night she showed up at my place in a tizzy, totally out of sorts, which, if you knew Judy Looney, was totally out of character.

"I'm really scared Whitey," were the last words she spoke before whimpering herself to sleep on my tattered old sofa. I had covered her with a wool blanket that my Grandee knitted for me a hundred years ago and sat myself on the opposite end of my beat up piece of furniture just to be on the safe side. She tucked her cold feet behind me at the small of my back, a common habit with most women and small children whenever they curl up beside someone, just an observation. Curious though? In any event, I let her sleep a couple of hours while I sat there racking and stacking these new pieces of the puzzle that was Sally November. Somehow they were all related, that much I was certain of.

There are no such things as coincidences, I believe that. Raised Irish Catholic I was deeply rooted in faith of the omnipresence of the All Mighty. To my mind that means that all things happen for a reason. It means that every occurrence is part of a master plan, a plan beyond my mortal ability to understand. Some call that fate, some karma, kismet, I just call it life. I know that sounds weird coming from a battle hardened veteran / street wise detective, but there it is. It saves me a lot of time over analyzing stuff, like why my ex decided to change teams in the middle of our marriage, stuff like that.

Judy came to around eleven-thirty this morning, startling me awake (I'd dozed off minutes after she did…some watchdog Whitey…geez), and after an awkward moment we got up quickly and decided make tracks in case whoever she was frightened of had followed her to the Alexandria. I brought her to Casey's because the place is always crowded, plus it was below street level so I could get a good look at anyone coming down the stairs. There were only two entrances, both of which were up front. Bottom line, I was taking no chances! Judy seemed better, the familiar noises and the hot food calming her. She looked up from her bangers and mash and studied me studying her.

"I need to call Ronnie," she said quickly.

"I already did doll, she's on her way here right now."

"Did you tell her anything?" she asked meekly.

"No, that'll be up to you dear heart. But take it from someone who knows her, I mean him, tell it slow but tell it all, nés pas?"

"Okay, okay, don't lecture me gumshoe!"

"Listen, as much as I hate to admit this we should take you down to Hollenbeck to see Oscar and come clean with the cops before they start adding two and two and come up with the wrong answer, as usual. Besides, if you really are in someone's crosshairs the disappearing into the system could be helpful. At least you'll have 24/7 protection while I go into commando mode and try to figure this all out."

"You mean like witness protection? Don't those dopes always get bumped off?"

"Only on TV doll-face, only on TV," I replied reassuringly.

"Look, while we're waiting for your better half to get here, tell me again everything you remember about Saturday night, and I mean everything. Like what cars do you remember in the parking lot, what passersby do you remember, anyone within eyesight when you arrived and when you left? Anything and everything Judy; don't leave anything out. The most insignificant memory is usually the lynchpin that'll solve a case."

"Alright," she replied, pushing her plate away and leaning back in her seat.

"Where do you want me to start?" she asked folding her arms defensively.

"Relax Judy, I'm not interrogating you, I'm on your side."

"Sorry, let me think, when I got there I remember jetting into a parking spot in front of the building before some chick in a Hummer grabbed it. She was pissed and waited behind my car until I got out so she could flip me off properly."

"Interesting; but lets back up a little. When did you call Ernie and let him know you were coming over?"

"I don't know, four or five I guess, why?"

"And you got there around seven or so, right?"

"I got there at 6, again, why?"

"Well, if you were being watched, maybe you were being listened to as well? And if you were, maybe Mr. Mystery went ahead of you to UCLA to scope out the situation? Does that make sense?"

"It's possible I guess. But if I'm the one he's stalking why would he care about Ernie, why would he kill him?"

"I don't think Ernie interests him, but if he wanted to know what you were up to he might go ahead of you to find a perch to spy from while he decided whatever it is he needed to decide."

"You're not making any sense," Judy said, frustrated.

"You're a scientist doll, it's all trail and error isn't it," I said with a wink.

"Touché," she replied, smiling for the first time in a couple of days.

"That's better, now here comes something else to smile about," I said, pointing out the window as Ronnie came bouncing down the steps.

I remained seated as Judy jumped up and ran outside and into the arms of my ex wife, Rhonda. I smiled as I watched Ronnie comfort her and opted to leave them alone to their private moment. I knew that Ronnie would be in to grill me shortly and saw no need to rush that aggravation. A large group of patrons pushed past them while I waited for them to finish. I tensed up suddenly and grabbed a menu from the napkin holder on the table and quickly covered my face. The scary Arab from Carney's the other night, Hassan, was about to enter the building. SHIT!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

("Nobody told me there'd be days like these….”)…John Lennon

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Eighteen

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…8am

You didn't have to be a fly on the wall to pick up what Oscar Celaya was laying down. The volatile lieutenant was hopping mad and everyone within earshot was getting a crash course in "sailor-speak 101." It was bad enough that Dr. Looney had given these nimrods the slip, how hard could it be to keep an eye on a five foot nothing skirt anyway he wondered? But the fact that she had done it twice, once coming and once going. TWICE, what the hell? These two were supposed to be professionals, LA's finest for Christ's sake, incredible!

"You know what Iggie, I don't care. Let's not waste any more time playing the blame game, you're supposed to be a team, you're BOTH to blame," Oscar bellowed giving Detective 1st grade Bob (Iggie) Ingram and his trainee partner Rebecca Tran, a look that would put frost on a hot skillet.

Iggie was accustomed to the Lieutenant's short fuse but this was young Rebecca's first public ass-chewing and she didn't like it, although she was more mad than scared. Failure in her Vietnamese culture was unacceptable and she was pissed at Iggie for putting her in this situation with his laid back, what's your hurry attitude. She'd wanted to tail Dr. Looney closer, get out of the car and walk the neighborhood, maybe peek in some windows or something, anything besides staying cooped up in that musty old Ford with Iggie's constant reminiscing and flatulence, gross! Now wasn't the right time, but as soon as she made up for this setback, and she would, make no mistake about that, she was going to see if she could get reassigned to a less seasoned training officer. Apparently seasoned at this precinct meant lazy and that was 180 degrees from this Asian newbie. She worked hard to get her gold shield and she wasn't about to risk losing it by tying herself to a gold brick like Iggie Ingram. What kind of name is Iggie anyways? Sounds like a cartoon character. The man might just as well call himself Yogi or Boo Boo! Rebecca jumped suddenly, startled by a loud finger snap and disgruntled growl.

"Am I boring you Detective Tran?" asked Lt. Celaya sarcastically.

"Ah, no sir, I’m sorry, I was, um, just thinking about what you were saying," Becca replied too quickly.

"Really, I'm intrigued, what exactly did you get from everything I said here?"

Becca felt like a six year-old caught in a white lie. She shuffled uncomfortably and stared at her feet, racking her brain for something to wax philosophical on, she had nothing.

"Well, I know that we, um…"

"Spare me Tran; just get your tail on outta here. Why don't you and Iggie there hot foot it over to UCLA and check out the city's latest homicide. If my hunch is right you'll discover that your ineptitude cost the vic his life. Rumor has it Judy Looney was the last person to see him alive," scolded Lt. Celaya, dismissing the two detectives with a flippant waive of his hand. Rebecca started to say something but Iggie grabbed her by the arm and led her out of the boss's office.

"Don't bother kid, he's not listening anyway," explained her partner as he led her out the door. They quickly waded past the eavesdroppers milling around the squad room amid jeers and catcalls. Becca felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment and jerked free of Iggie's grasp and strolled out of the room slowly trying to retain as much of her dignity as possible. She considered socking Iggie once they were out of sight but thought better of it. She still needed a positive evaluation from him in order to clear her probationary period.

"What homicide was the LT talking about?" Becca asked as they walked down the stairs to the parking lot.

"It came in over the wire while we were taking flack from Celaya," Iggie answered.

"Somebody got waylaid on campus at UCLA late last night."

"What? What is waylaid anyways?" asked Becca, both puzzled and annoyed. She didn't like the way Iggie talked over her head using slang she was unfamiliar with. She thought it was rude and suspected that he was enjoying himself way too much at her expense. White people were like that, she didn't get it or appreciate it, but she accepted it, that's life.

"Waylaid is just another term for mugged, hard!" Iggie replied slamming his left fist into his right palm.

"The poor bastard had his head stove in with a ball peen hammer," he added.

"I see, thanks. And do you have to curse so much?"

"Are you fucking kidding me? Get used to it kid, you're a homicide detective, start acting like one," Iggie scolded as he opened the door to the garage.

"Asshole," Becca muttered uncharacteristically under her breath as she followed him to their unmarked cruiser. Maybe there was a bright side to this assignment, it could happen she thought. Iggie tossed her the keys and jetted in front of her to the passenger side.

"SHOTGUN," he hollered as he climbed in and buckled up.

Becca rolled her eyes and got in on the driver's side. As she turned to buckle her seat belt she caught her partner stuffing a sizable piece of beef jerky into his mouth. Without hesitating she started the engine, rolled down all four windows and sped out of the lot.

"Good call kid," Iggie chuckled through a mouthful of jerky.

"No shit Sherlock," Becca retorted, surprised at how easily this cursing thing was coming to her. She pinched her nose closed and peeled out unintentionally.

"Now you're getting the hang of it girl," howled Iggie as Becca went slightly airborne onto 1st street, scraping both bumpers front and back!

The Alexandria Hotel, Room 201, Monday, Feb 23, 2009…8am

I was in the middle of shaving when someone started frantically banging on the door to my room. Pressing a styptic pencil to your gob was not the most pleasant way to start the day. I didn't bother wiping the foam from my face and went out of the bath to answer the door.

"Keep your shirt on," I yelled while I unlatched the front door.

"COME ON WHITEY, open up, I'm in big trouble," pleaded Judy Looney, bursting into my room out of breath as soon as the latch was disengaged.

"What's with the panic doll?"

Judy rushed over to the window and pulled the drapes, taking a quick second to peer up and down the street below. She wasn't just scared; she was terrified. It didn't take much detective training to figure that out. I watched her slowly back away from the window and sit gingerly on the small sofa across from my Murphy bed. She picked up a worn and torn throw pillow that I got from Yankee Stadium a few years back and clutched it tightly to her breast. I wasn't sure what to say next but I knew what I had to go first which was throw on some clothes on before the towel around my waist dropped and she got something else to be frightened about.

"Give me a minute to put on some clothes doll and you can tell me all about it."

"Okay, but hurry alright?"

"I'll be back before you can count to a hundred."

"Lot of things can happen in a minute and a half Whitey."

"My ex used to say that to me all the time but for a totally different reason," I said trying to raise a smile on my worried friend's face. She smiled weakly and sunk deeper into the sofa. I scurried off the bathroom and dressed.

"So what gives Judy? You're acting like the big bad wolf is out there getting ready to huff and puff," I yelled from the bath.

"Not funny Whitey, this is serious," she replied quickly.

"Sorry kitten, tell me what's wrong," I said, apologizing as I re-entered the room and sat beside her. She clung to me instantly and started sniveling; it was not like her at all to be this vulnerable. I could feel her tears soaking through my shirt sleeve, they were cold and unsettling. They felt like fear and suddenly I was uncomfortable as well.

"It's all my fault Whitey," she said in a low even tone.

"What's your fault Judy?"

"He's dead because of me, I just know it," she continued.

"Who's dead? What are you talking about? From the beginning Judy, start from the top."

"Ernie's dead."

"Who's Ernie?"

"Just a horny grad student I was using to get access to a special piece of equipment I needed to analyze those threads you left with me."

"I thought you already finished your tests, you gave me those results the other day, remember?"

"I know, but you were a pest and I was lazy, and the bottom line is I didn't do a very good job."

"You mean those threads weren't from one of my uniforms?"

"No, they were definitely yours but you weren't the only one sweating in those clothes."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean a dead man's DNA was on those threads sweetie, a dead man near and dear to you."

The light started to flicker in my brain as things began to add up. She had to be talking about either Lu or Jai; they were the only corpses I had any recent tie to, which meant that now I could be placed at two murder scenes. Terrific, this just kept getting better and better. Still, it didn't explain what Judy was so scared of. She was jumping at shadows on the sidewalk. Something out there had her on edge and truth be told it was beginning to vex me as well.

"I was followed there Saturday night, I'm sure of it," Judy said, breaking my train of thought for the moment.

"I've had a queer feeling for days, you know? Little things frighten me now. I can't go to sleep without looking under every bed and checking the locks on every door. I haven't slept in two days. I've even stopped closing the shower curtain when I bathe for fear of a "Psycho" moment, it's silly, I know."

"Do you feel that way now, here with me," I asked, guiltily trying to force the picture of Judy in the shower out of my head?


"I see, and the other night at the lab with your horny little friend?"

"Yes, coming and going. Someone's stalking me Whitey and I'm scared."

I ignored the fact that the object of my affection was sitting so close beside me, and I resolved to concentrate on comforting a friend, acting out of compassion and not lust. If she were right than whoever was stalking her was probably nearby. A woman's instincts are never to be trifled with. The prey usually senses when the hunter is near, she did, and now I did as well. If I have learned anything in fifty some years on the planet it's that your first impression is usually the clearest. I also subscribe to the notion that a strong offense is an effective defense. It was time to hunt the hunter. We'll give whoever he is a taste of their own medicine. In the mean time I better call Ronnie and tell her, I mean him, that this might be a good time to take Judy on the honeymoon they never had. I'll hunt better with her out of the way anyway. I'm a gorilla fighter by nature, a skill I acquired hunting Viet Cong in Southeast Asia courtesy the USMC.

I glanced down at Judy, sometime during my personal strategy session she had fallen asleep. Oh well, hunting the Shadow could wait another ten or fifteen minutes I guess. I forced myself to relax a little and put my feet up on the coffee table constructed with eight cinder blocks and a sheet of 3/4 inch plywood. Her head slid from my shoulder to my chest and I leaned forward and kissed her hair. Thirty seconds later we were both fast asleep. She was exhausted; I was just living out a fantasy.

The Alexandria Hotel, Room 301, Monday, Feb 23, 2009…8:30am

Two little love birds just a floor below me
First comes love then comes marriage
Then comes, I don't know, death maybe

I'm not a poet, clever little rhymes are for saps…This is too easy…

Sunday, December 16, 2012

(“One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do….”)…Three Dog Night

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Seventeen

UCLA, Saturday, Feb 21, 2009…around midnight

Ernie Namura was feeling pretty lucky tonight, so lucky in fact that he could hardly suppress the shit eating grin that wanted to spread across his face. This might be the end to a long dry spell he hoped. He wasn't exactly Don Juan, but the Prof seemed to be responding to his subtle advances. At least that would be his story, the one that he planned to share around the poker table with his frat brothers, score or no score. Besides, you never know, maybe she really was warm for his form, it could happen. Glancing at his Timex he checked the time again. It was ten minutes later than the last time he'd checked. Dr. Looney, Judy, was officially late. She said that she'd forgotten some notes and had run back home to pick them up. She said she'd be right back, but that was three hours ago. Maybe he'd come on too strong? That was probably an understatement, given the condition of the condition he was in. In any event he decided to give her another half hour before giving up and taking care of his personal business personally.

The horn dog lab tech stepped over to the SEM and removed the samples that Dr. Looney had been evaluating. They didn't look very sexy, just a few blue threads with various contaminants associated with wherever they had come from. You never know what sort of smegma, sap, or spooge that clothing gets dragged over, under, or through in the course of a day. Ernie decided not to take any chances and transferred the glass slide to an airtight container then set it on the lab bench for Judy to collect when she returned, if she returned that is. That's when he remembered that she had taken the test results with her when she left, which meant she was likely in analysis mode by now, which also meant she wouldn't be back anytime soon. Ernie sighed audibly, realizing that he'd been had. Typical he thought, women, can't live with em, can't shoot em!

"Why am I always getting played," he muttered, wondering aloud?

No use wasting time pondering that question, it was as old as the ages and completely unanswerable. Might as well ask why ducks quack, why, because they're ducks stupid! Ernie grabbed a cold slice from the pizza box and fished in his pocket for some change for the vending machine out in the hall. He and Judy had finished the beer hours ago and he needed something to wash down the meat lover's special with extra anchovies. Looked like it was going to be a Mountain Dew night now, given all the time he wasted zooming on Dr. Feel-Good, oh joy! Arriving at the brightly colored soda dispenser he stuffed three quarters into the coin slot and punched the familiar oversized back lit green, yellow, and red button of his beverage of choice, and listened to the aluminum can run down the track to the bottom of the bulky machine, landing with a loud thud.

It was the last sound he ever heard as the business end of a 38 ounce framing hammer connected with the soft fissure that separated his skull into left and right hemispheres. His head imploded like a smashed pumpkin and Ernie Namura was dead before he hit the ground. The death process began quickly, his bowels releasing, his blood cooling and coagulating, no longer running through his veins and arteries, while his eyes stared lifelessly at the baseboard that ran along the wall behind the vending machine.

UCLA murder, postscript by an artist…of sorts:

The lab doors shut softly behind me as I silently exited the building with the threads Dr. Looney had carelessly left behind. The cops were already on the way, called from Ernie's own cell phone, a little stroke of genius that would send them down a few blind alleys. The CSI team wouldn't be far behind, but they would find nothing useful, they never do. Another work of art if you ask me. Satisfying this blood lust requires perfection; it is something that I deliver routinely. Too bad Dr. Looney was a no show; I had something special in mind for her tonight. Pity that one cannot plan for every contingency, the world is rife with random elements. Not to worry though, her time was coming soon. I hope she isn't wasting her last moments with that rube of a private eye, but I suspect she is. Oh well, no accounting for taste. Whitey's time is coming as well.

Never rush, savor every delicious moment. They are an amusing pair though, are they not? I think so. I am curious what they will do with what they know so far, or what they think they know. The threads will only lead them away from the truth that they seek. Ah but Whitey is smarter than he looks; he'll figure that out, but will it be in time? Will I give him time? I haven't decided yet. This is a new experience, the hunter being hunted, I like it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

(So she went down, down to Tangie town. People down there really like to get it on…”)…The Doors

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Sixteen

Carney's, Sunset Blvd. LA, Sunday, Feb 22, 2009…midnight

The joint was packed tonight! There was even a line to get into the small converted rail car painted mustard yellow and caboose red. The tall black and white Carney's sign glowed overhead in sharp contrast to the brilliant colors of the Sunset Strip. Nevertheless the dull sign beckoned the hodgepodge Saturday night crowd to come on in and eat up, drink up or sober up with a combo meal from the diner's infamous menu of chili dogs, chili burgers, chili tacos, and chili fries, basically all things chili. Sure, there were less radioactive items on the menu to choose from but to do so labeled you as either a Beverly Hills silver spooner or an uber eclectic Nancy-boy from WeHo (West Hollywood) or San Fran-swish-co. I was driving past this joint, heading north on Sunset when I spotted him, Ray Ray Abernathy. The same cop I'd seen with Jai Lai the other day at the Shabu Shabu restaurant. And now here he was again, sitting at a window seat in Carney's. It looked like he was in a heated discussion with some thug who was busy stuffing a chili and sauerkraut hotdog into his bearded beak. How did I know what kind of dog he was devouring you ask? If you knew me you wouldn't have to ask that question, you'd know that hot dogs are my kryptonite.

Turning my car around I whipped into The Standard hotel just up the street from Carney's. They offered valet parking at an obscene price. That was a luxury that usually avoided like the plague, cheap bastard that I am, but since I had no time to cruise around looking for a bargain they had me over a barrel. Oh well that's what expense reports are for, right? I tossed my keys to the valet in the red jacket and hot footed it across the street. I entered the joint on the opposite end of the car from where Officer Abernathy and his heavyset dinner companion were seated. I wasn't sure what Ray Ray's role was in all of this, but I knew he would remember me from the old days and I wasn't ready to tip my hand just yet. I caught a break as a rowdy group of semi drunk twenty-something's pushed past me on their way up the street to The Skybar. The timing couldn't have been better and I rolled with the rowdy group right up to the end of the yellow box car. When they turned left to cross the street, I turned right and jogged up the steps at Carney's ass end. The business part of the diner was on the end so there wasn't a line of people to deal with. I side stepped a young couple on their way out and strolled in slowly. Ray Ray had his back to me but his man-date was facing my way. The bearded fella eyeballed me from over a chili dog, his eyes narrowing slightly as he studied me. Nonchalantly I pulled up a chair at the first empty table I came close to and pretended to waive to someone standing in line near the order counter.

The heavyset fella turned and looked over his shoulder while he chewed in time to see a pretty young thing with a nose ring waive back to me. Luckily for me Holly-weird has no shortage of willing role players. Satisfied the big guy turned his attention back to his meal and shrugged. A nanosecond later and he'd have seen nose-ring girl flip me off as she collected her bag-o chili-fun she'd and split. I sat down quickly and grabbed a menu from the top of the napkin holder and used it to cover my face while I strained to eavesdrop on Ray-Ray's rant. It was pretty loud in the small boxcar, but I had cop ears that enabled me to filter out enough background noise to pick up a strategic word or two.

"That's right jackass, you fucked up! Look, I get that English ain't your mother tongue but your orders weren't exactly rocket science, am I right?"

The burly guy across the table just kept chewing his food, but even from where I sat I could see there was murder in is eyes. He glared at Ray Ray without blinking, not even once. That's not normal, and it should have been a warning to Officer Dumbass, but it wasn't and he kept right on ranting and raving.

"So how'd you get this gig anyway? Scare her, rough her up a little if you need to, but we never said to kill the little bitch, now did we?"

Ray Ray waited impatiently for a reply, none came. "HEY, ABDUL, I'm talking to you rag-head!"

I shifted in my seat and got ready to hit the deck in case the big fella made a sudden move for the piece nestled benignly in the shoulder holster under his right arm. The busy room was oblivious to what was unfolding, and even though the decibel level was on the high side, an uncomfortable silence emanated from the table six feet in front of me. Ray Ray's shoulders squared and I knew he sensed the same thing that I did. I cursed myself silently for leaving my Glock at home. All I had on me was a blackjack in my coat pocket and a Swiss Army knife in my pants pocket. If lead started flying the best I could do was dodge it or catch it. The bearded guy slowly reached into lap and retrieved a napkin to wipe his mouth clean. Ray Ray's chair squeaked as he repositioned himself in his seat. He leaned forward onto his elbows and shifted his right foot back, preparing to spring into action if provoked. Abdul, as he called him, set his own napkin down on the table in front of him and leaned back in his chair, relaxing. He stared for a moment at the rude man across the table from him before speaking.

"She was exquisite, was she not?" he asked presently.

"Yeah, so what if she was? Is that your explanation? You killed her because she was pretty?"

"No my friend, I killed her because she was a whore."

"Look Abdul, we aren't friends, this is strictly business here, you got it?"

"As you wish my friend, and my name is Hassan, not Abdul. Please stop calling me that, it offends me deeply."

"Whatever HA-san, listen, because you went all Taliban on us the two little homos are dead, and now I've gotta deal with my brothers in blue as well as figure out how to tell our Russian friend that his girlfriend is dead!"

"I am afraid that was unavoidable. The whore would not cooperate, and she was too ignorant to be frightened. She said she knew nothing, and insisted that I was mistaken. She became angry when I pressed her further. She ordered me to leave, threatening to call the authorities. She left me with few alternatives."

"Did you find the flash drive?"

"No I did not, and as you know she did not survive the interrogation."

"I'm aware of that ass wipe. I just can't believe we got nothing outta her."

"That is not necessarily true."

"What do you mean?"

"Not here, we are not alone," Hassan said staring directly at me.

"What the…?"

Ray Ray spun around in his chair in time to see my backside fast walking toward the exit. I waited until I heard the chairs fly across the room before I broke into a run and sprinted out the back door. I leaped passed the steps and hit the pavement running at a full gallop. I hadn't moved that quickly since high school football. By the time Ray Ray and Hassan made it out of Carney's I had disappeared into the craziness that was every Hollywood night during the witching hour. I was pretty sure that he hadn't seen my face, but was also pretty sure Hassan could give a fairly detailed description. Great! Now I'd be dodging the cops and these guys. I walked past The Standard Hotel and then ducked into The Body Shop, one of LA's higher end strip clubs. Better to lay low for an hour or so before returning to my car and beating it on home to think. A couple of beers with a Jameson chaser sounded pretty good right about now. Like I said, I think better with booze. Doesn't everyone?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

(“You’re my blue sky you’re my sunny day. Lord you know it makes me high when you turn me on this way…”)…Allman Brothers Band

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Fifteen

A glimpse back in time…Nanjing, China, 2001

Rainy days are the same the world over, wet. I happen to like them, they inspire me. They compel me to turn inward and embrace the true me. That’s not that way of the masses however, I am aware. Weaklings merely tolerate a rainy day. Everything must be so perfect for them, so, what is the word, oh yes, comfortable (weak). To my mind a chill breeze, some mid-day darkness courtesy a sky full of gray-black and foreboding cumuli nimbus clouds is bliss. To the others those attributes are a recipe for gloom that drains the joy from even the cheeriest of souls. Still, we do share a common thread, the weaklings and I. That is to say that we all enjoy the peace of a warm fire and the comfort that some hot soup or cocoa brings on to either accentuate or compensate for a gloomy day, like today for instance.

The steam from my bowl of soup envelopes my face with warmth and an aroma from Nirvana itself. Through the pleasant mist I watch the rain fall steadily, big fat drops bouncing so hard off the pavement that they seem to race back to the clouds from whence they came. The little café is crowded today with workers eating a morning meal before trudging onto work in the downpour. It is loud with the chatter of people in a hurry but I am oblivious to it all as I watch the steady stream of people exiting the apartment complex across the street. I am waiting as has become my practice of late, for my charge to come out of that building and bounce down the steps on her way to school. She has grown so much since when last I saw her, almost two years ago. Since then her family has moved up in station thanks to their benefactor, an unknown uncle of means. Young Mai Li is beginning to blossom and is on a course toward a more proper future now, one that will eventually suit my needs.

She appears at the top of the steps, walking down with a group of her mates. As they reach the bottom and turn to continue onto school Mai Li stops abruptly. She pauses a moment and tilts her head slightly as if she is listening hard for something? She turns suddenly and looks back across the street in my general direction. Her eyes search the crowd around me, busy eating their meals. She isn’t sure what she is looking for, how does one look for a queer feeling anyway? It doesn’t matter, I could stand and waive to her and she would not notice me. That is my strength, my power, it is why I am what I am and do what I do. I am always unnoticed, unrecognizable. Still, I am pleased to see this strong instinct for survival. It will be a future pleasure I think. I smile and return to my soup as she runs to catch up with her friends as they splash their way to school in the pouring rain…like I said…bliss…

Beverly Arms Apartment Homes, Westwood…Saturday, Feb 21…10pm

I parked my old wreck up the street from Judy’s place for a couple of reasons. Number one, the car was a beat up old wreck and I didn’t want to embarrass her or me. Number two, I figured I had a better chance of her opening the door if I snuck up stealth-like rather than announcing my arrival with a backfire or two from my old jalopy. I was already pushing my luck with a drop in visit, no use tempting fate. I reached the walkway that led to her front door about the same time as Judy did, how’s that for luck, huh?

“Hey, who says prayers aren’t answered,” I said, laying it on a little thick.

“What, oh, Whitey, sorry, you startled me,” Judy replied fumbling with her keys.

“No problem doll, you didn’t take a swing at me.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I should have? Actually I’m glad you’re here.”

“Really,” I said trying not to look too happy.

“Yeah, come on in, I’ve got something to show you,” she said, leading me up the walk to her ground floor apartment.

“Okay,” I replied, grinning like the Cheshire cat in Alice’s wonderland.

I followed Judy into the apartment and quickly surveyed her digs. It was a studio apartment so everything but the bathroom was open to inspection by anyone who walked inside. I was surprised how small it was and amazed how clean it was. Hell, my dinky place at the Alexandria is bigger which makes this place tiny! In fact, if it were any smaller she’d need to be a midget to live here. I know, I know, probably should’ve said “little person,” sorry Wally (my vertically challenged poker buddy…more about him some other time). Be that as it may her flat was squeaky clean, and I mean spotless! I had originally pegged the woman as an absent minded professor and half expected to see a group of roaches playing hearts at her kitchen table. This speaks volumes of the girl because I know that she spends very little time here. Clearly there was a side of Judy Looney that I was completely unaware of? Be still my heart!

“Make yourself at home Whitey, do you want a drink?”

“Okay, um, sure, what do you have?” I asked sitting on the sofa that likely doubled as her bed.

“I’ve got scotch and I’ve got scotch, what’ll it be?”

“Tough choice, I’ll have the scotch,” I replied sarcastically.

“Good choice wise guy, I like a man with a sense of humor,” she said grinning.

“What can I say, when you’ve got it, flaunt it, right,” I said leaning back, lacing my fingers behind my head.

Judy walked over to the sofa-bed, handed me my drink and sat down beside me. She took a quick sip of her scotch then fumbled around in her bag looking for something. Setting her drink down on the table in front of us she buried her hands and arms up to her elbows into a large canvass bag she'd set in her lap.

“Ah, here it is! Okay, before I show you this I need to ask a couple of questions,” she said, removing a thick manila envelope and placing into her lap. She turned to look at me and waited for my reply.

“Alright,” I answered taking another sip.

“Shoot,” I added.

“Can you remember exactly what time it was that you collected these threads?”

“Not exactly, no, but it was after midnight and before 2am, I'm certain of that.”

“Interesting, why do you say that?”

“Because I waited exactly 4 hours after the cops left the crime scene, and, I made it to Casey’s for last call on my way home, how’s that for certainty?”

Really? That’s the best you can do? I thought you gumshoes were always writing stuff down in your little notebooks? Let me guess, if you whip yours out right now all I’m going to find is a short grocery list, a phone number or two, one of which is likely to be mine you dreamer, and some less that tasteful doodles of the fairer sex, am I right?”

“Who’s the detective now? Maybe you missed your calling Judy. Oh, and if I whip “mine” out right now you might be pleasantly surprised!”

“Not likely ace, I know all your dirty little secrets, I’m dating your ex remember?”

“Sour grapes Judy, it's all hearsay anyway. First day in detective school they teach you to never listen to crazy women.”

“Well Rhonda is Ronnie now so there goes the angry female angle. And by the way, the first day in common sense school is never listen to a bragging male, especially when they are on the hunt.”

She got me with that one, causing a pregnant pause that felt as if it may go to go full term. A "bragging male," was I really that obvious? Judy just grinned and took another sip of scotch. Chuckling she put on her reading glasses and stared at the pages in front of her. I braced myself for a second salvo of sarcasm but it didn’t come.

“I’m kidding Whitey, don’t get defensive,” she said with a cheerful smile. I didn’t reply.

“Alright, I guess I can work with that time frame. Question two; did you handle the fibers with your fingers at any time?”

“Give me some credit Dr. Looney, I know how to work a crime scene.”

“I am giving you some credit Whitey, I’m asking and not assuming.”

“Oh, ah okay, in that case, no, I used a pair of tweezers.”

“Were they yours?”

“No, I got em off of the sink in the master bath, why?”

“I guess you missed that day in cop school, you know the one where they teach you about preserving the crime scene, sheesh!”

“Alright, are you asking questions here or just roasting me?”

“I’m just trying to make a theory stick but I need to know all the random elements.”

“Random elements?”

“Yeah, basically I need to allow for errors by CSI, which in your case stands for criminally-sloppy-investigator!”

“Are you gonna keep busting my balls here, cause if you are I’m gonna need more scotch!”

“No, I’m through unless you can think of anything or anyone else that may have come in contact with those fibers? Thank goodness you had enough focus to place them in a baggie to minimize the contamination.”

“THANK YOU, finally a little praise!”

“Don’t let it go to your head Whitey, I haven’t told you the bad news yet.”

“What do you mean?

“You were right; those threads were off a cop’s uniform, an LAPD cop specifically.”

“Outstanding! Any chance you can narrow it down through DNA mumbo jumbo?”

“Actually, I already did that, twice, at a cost that I’ll take to my grave thank you,” she replied leaning back and draining the scotch from her glass.

“Alright, spill it doll face, who’s our worm?” I asked impatiently.

“You are Einstein; those threads came from a uniform worn by you. Congratulations, you caught yourself!” Judy answered with a shit eating grin.

“WHAT? That’s impossible, I haven’t been in uniform in years, there has to be a mistake!” I exclaimed.

“I thought about that, even asked your ex about it. Want to know what Ronnie said?”

“Not particularly.”

“She laughed herself silly and said she was going to have to find another poker game because you were going to the big house,” Judy said, hardly containing her amusement.

“What part of not particularly didn’t you understand?” I asked sarcastically.

“I’m sorry slick; I couldn’t resist rubbing your nose in it. Look, if it’s any consolation I did find one other interesting fact NOT tied to you personally,” she added.

“Ha-ha-ha, don’t tell me, you found Jimmy Hoffa’s DNA as well. Now I’ll have to dodge the LAPD and the Mob, right?”

“Good one Whitey, no, it’s nothing that dramatic. I found trace elements of your sweet little Asian friend, Jai Lai on the threads as well. I would have missed it too except for the fact that I had done some support work for the Coroner on the Rong/Lai murder suicide investigation.”

That surprised me, Jai and I weren’t that close? Lu and I were friends, Jai and I were acquaintances at best, well, to be fair that was from my perspective only. He was always friendly toward me and he was definitely the more gregarious of the two, and, he was a notorious hugger. Could his cooties have rubbed off onto my patrol duds during one of my regular stops at their deli? I ran through our history in my mind, trying to remember when I first started hanging out at their place? I’d been in plain clothes as a detective for more years than I had been in uniform. But if memory served I was still walking a beat when I first started hitting SHO-M-U-LYKE-M for free corned beef on rye twice a week. Whatever the circumstances I had a problem here. It wasn’t going to take Lt. Dingle-berry long to connect the same dots that Judy did. I figured I had about a two day head start to either clear my name of clear out of LA, Whichever it was going to be I needed to get busy. There wasn’t any time to waste being cute with Dr. Looney.

“Thanks for going the extra mile Judy, I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome gumshoe; it’s the least I can do for the guy who introduced me to my intended.”

“Intended, are you talking about you and Rhonda?”

“It’s Ronnie now, and yes, that’s exactly who I’m talking about.”

Intended? Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Yes indeed it does, intended," Judy answered with a wry smile.


"As soon as the State of California gets their priorities straight, no pun intended.”

“Oh brother!”

“We aren't siblings Whitey. But Ronnie and I might consider adopting you. He’s has been talking about getting a pet lately,” teased Judy as she got up off of the sofa.

“Swell,” I replied draining my scotch glass and handing it too her. "He," I don't think I'll ever get used to hearing that, "Ronnie" will always be "Rhonda" to me.

“Thanks for the news and the booze doll,” I said as I got up and walked out of her apartment.

Note to self, when this is all over I need to seriously evaluate my circle of friends. Suddenly hermitage was sounding pretty inviting! Maybe a short stretch in stir wouldn’t be so bad, I could use a vacation.

Through the looking glass…metaphorically speaking…

This is very much like watching mice in a maze. The silly rodents have no idea where they are going, only that they must get there. These two together are interesting if not amusing. Pity that they are not meant to be. I do so love being a fly on their wall so to speak, positively delicious…

Friday, November 23, 2012

(“but when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine, he broke my little bottle of, love potion number 9”)…The Clover’s

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Fourteen

Bella Terra Restaurant, Los Angeles…Saturday, Feb 21, 2009…2pm

Ever notice that there never seems to be a quiet moment in a restaurant? It’s just an observation. I mean I’ve never actually owned one or worked in one, but I eat in them all the time, six days out of seven since returning to bachelor status. I don’t know, maybe early mornings, before the staff arrives, or late at night when its time to lock up? Those might be good times to grab a moment’s peace? I wonder about that whenever I think about the Manzano brothers, Johnny and Angelo or when I’m remembering Lu and Jai, my favorite swishy Asians. It’s hard to believe that they’re gone. It’s harder still to believe the murder suicide theory that Oscar and his minions were trying to sell to John Q. Public. I’ve been in this business long enough to know things are rarely exactly what they appear to be, especially at first glance.

You know, another saying my old mother was fond of sharing was, “the apple’s always sweeter near the core.” It was part of her whole “patience is a virtue” lecture series. The point is I knew those two guys pretty darn well. After all, I’ve been noshing on freebies at their deli for better than twenty years. This puzzle wouldn’t be that easy to solve. From the proper angle even 2 plus 2 isn’t a sure thing. Besides, there’s no way either one of them could have murdered the other. Even a card carrying homophobe like me could see they were in love, truly in love. Those guys (that’s right I said guys) had the kind of love every girl dreams of and every fella fears. The kind that merged two lives, blended them, and transformed them, from individual to couple. Seriously, until I met Lu and Jai I can honestly say that I never really understood what it meant to be a ‘couple.’ But I digress...

Fat Johnny stirred a huge pot of Mama Manzano’s famous Sicilian marinara sauce on the front burner. It must have been near ready because he was also dipping some crusty bread into the pot and giving it a taste.

“HEY, knucklehead, whatta ya doing, you’re going to get sauce all over your suit! Mama mia, we gotta go in fifteen minutes Johnny, we’ll be late for the memorial service!” scolded brother Angelo.

Johnny looked down at his white shirt and black silk tie, checking for splash stains. There weren’t any, luckily. He turned to face his nagging older brother and pointed at his clothes with half a loaf of bread. He would have fired off a snappy reply too if not for the fact that the other half of the loaf was sticking from out of his mouth as he chewed. Instead he grunted and gave the pot another lazy stir.

“Lovely,” replied Angelo as he stormed out of the kitchen and out into the restaurant.

Johnny chuckled, stepped away from the stove and removed the dish towel tucked into his waistband. He folded it quickly and draped it through the bar on the pizza oven door then followed his brother out of the kitchen. He didn’t want to be late to the little homo’s funeral either. I’d meet up with them there later, but first I had some unfinished business with Dr. Looney, strictly business, unfortunately.

UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building…Saturday, Feb 21, 2009…6pm

Just being on the enemy’s campus couldn’t be wrong, could it? I mean it’s not a venal sin or anything; Judy was pretty sure about that. But, just to be on the safe side, she made a mental note to keep this visit short and remember to light a candle before Mass on Sunday. Actually, she wouldn’t have had to come here at all if not for a piece of special equipment she needed to use. Why the Bruins could afford one and Tommy Trojan could not was beyond her? It wasn’t worth pondering though; those decisions were made way above her pay grade anyway. All she knew was that she needed time on the machine in order to answer a few nagging questions that involved the blue threads I had left with her a few days ago.

Apparently Doctor Looney had hastily drawn her conclusions and was feeling a little guilty. Or maybe she felt sorry for me after giving me the bum’s rush earlier today? Okay, that was probably wishful thinking on my part. Anyway, between bites of her cup-o-noodles supper she had an epiphany and presto the need for the XHR SEM at UCLA. Judy had access to a scanning electron microscope on her home turf, but the one on the Bruin campus was much sexier. It was an XHR model, an extra high resolution SEM. And Judy Looney wasn’t above using her physical attributes to worm her way into whatever lab housed that unit. Apparently I wasn’t the only fella trying to coax her back onto team hetero! So after wolfing down the last of her workaholic meal she changed into her very best pair of guy friendly jogging shorts and her favorite one size too small USC sweatshirt, minus the sports bra of course, fishing was always better when the twins swung free. Whichever lab tech was her admirer, he (or she, I shouldn’t assume) didn’t stand a chance!

“Sweet,” exclaimed Judy, spotting a space in front of Young Hall, right next to the Molecular Sciences Building!

Down-shifting her little two seat sports car, a Mazda Miata (not her dream ride, but on her salary it would have to do), she whipped into the prized slot and screeched to a halt. The maneuver was totally unnecessary this hour of the day, but Judy loved her new toy and she took every opportunity to show off her sports car skills. If memory served she thought, Ernie Namura would be noshing on a NY style pizza right about now, and likely craving a cold one to help wash it down. She reached around and tapped her backpack with her key ring, listening for the reassuring clunk of metal to glass. Satisfied with the dull retort she locked the car with the beeper and headed toward the building entrance.

Ernie had been one of her less than stellar undergrad students a couple of years ago. But where he came up short scholastically made up for as a teacher’s pet, satisfying her Starbucks addiction every morning like clockwork, occasionally adding a cheese Danish for good measure! She wasn’t sure if it was a grade he was after or a shot at fulfilling his “hot for teacher” fantasy, but he was a guy so she felt confident in her chances of getting onto the SEM with a little harmless flirtation. She remembered him as a total frat boy, beer (Sapporo) and pizza (Dominos) were the essence of life as far as he was concerned, typical for a thirty something techie and perennial bachelor.

Judy took the steps two at a time up to the heavy security door and entered the code Ernie had sent via text before she had left her apartment. The light on the little black box changed from red to green as it released the magnetic lock, allowing her access to the building. Entering quickly she headed down the long hall toward the radiology department. He shouldn’t be too hard to find, all she had to do was follow the pepperoni vapors wafting down the long hallway. About halfway down she heard Led Zeppelin emanating from one of the labs behind a set of swinging double doors. She knew the tune, The 'Immigrant Song' she thought, recognizing the familiar melody. Suddenly the doors burst open and out popped Ernie Namura, his arms heavily laden with a stack of thick manila folders that he could barely see over. He was working on a half eaten slice stuffed in and out of his mouth, breathing heavily and chewing loudly as he rushed by her. Judy side stepped the fast moving techie, flattening herself up against the wall.

“Whoa, sorry ma'am, I didn’t see you,” apologized Ernie, the words nearly unintelligible through the mouthful of half chewed pizza.

“No worries Ernie-san, it’s me, Judy.”

Ernie stopped abruptly and turned back toward the voice. He leaned against the wall to free up his right hand and pulled the pizza out of his mouth. Swallowing hard, he choked down the wad of food clogging his airway and managed a reply.

Oh, man, sorry Prof, I totally forgot you were coming, it’s been wicked busy here tonight,” Ernie apologized, wiping the cheese and pepperoni grease off his mouth with the sleeve of his lab coat. Judy gingerly took the half eaten slice from his hand with her thumb and forefinger and put it back into his mouth.

“That’s okay, you go drop off that stack of files and I’ll just wait for you right here in your lab. I'll break out a couple of the cold ones that I brought to bribe you to look the other way while I log onto the SEM with your code. Does that work for you?” Judy asked, reaching around with both hands to tap her backpack, and giving Ernie a good look at her "C" size beauties as they stretched the fabric beneath the USC logo. It was like watching two bobcats fighting under a thin blanket, the poor guy was hypnotized.

Ahhhh, yeah, sure, I’ll just be a sec, make yourself at home,” he replied as he sprinted off to wherever he was headed.

“K,” she said sweet as pie.

Judy smiled coyly and went on into the lab, this was going to be fun she thought. The instant she entered the room and the heavy doors closed behind her she felt it. The thermostat read 72 degrees yet she was chilled? An air of foreboding surrounded her, why? And a familiar clinical smell hung in the air, just like the embalming room at the County morgue where she'd worked while pursuing her PhD. That was weird, all she should smell is pizza she thought staring at the extra large pie from Mario’s setting on an old metal desk. The old relic had probably been donated by Howard Hughes himself. Weird she muttered, as she set her backpack down, and walked over to Ernie’s boom box. She cranked up the music up to level six and plopped down into the swivel chair to wait for Ernie. The room exploded with noise as 'Whole Lotta Love' blared out of the speakers.

Leaning back in the chair she closed her eyes, just for a minute or two she told herself, but her body was screaming for a catnap. Burning the candle at both ends was catching up with her. Her head dipped and swayed, looking as if it would just fall off of her shoulders at any moment as she jerked herself back to consciousness fighting the compulsion to sleep. But after a minute, maybe less she began doze off. And with the unconsciousness the foreboding feeling returned, what was that? She felt her skin crawl, as if a bedbug was nibbling on her naked thigh under her covers. She didn’t trust what her mind was telling her, her eyes felt heavy and she couldn’t open them no matter how hard she tried.

Was she awake or dreaming? She felt awake, she felt as though she were looking around the room? She could describe in detail every stick of furniture, every piece of equipment, each tile in the ceiling. She was confused, losing track of time, time was irrelevant in a dream state anyway. How long had she been here? Where the hell was Ernie anyway, and what was taking him so long? A hinge squeaked. It was the doors in front of her. She thought she saw someone standing there, silhouetted, a shadowy figure. How could she know? She was asleep, right?

“Ernie, is that you,” she wondered in silence? No reply came.

“CUT IT OUT ERNIE,” she screamed without making any noise!

Her heart raced and if you were standing over her you would see her eyes moving rapidly under closed lids. She was asleep and awake at the same time. She was also scared. A wisp of the shadow passed by her and then silently exited the room. She imagined hearing a faint sound, a low and soft chuckle. It made her smirk involuntarily, yet chilled her to the point of shivering, as if she stepped over an open grave. She remembered an old saying from childhood, “step over an open grave today and someone you know will die tonight.” It wasn’t an exact quote but it was a clear memory nonetheless. Judy’s breathing slowed and slowly she settled into a peaceful state. She was startled awake by a loud crash at the double doors as Ernie Namura returned from his errand at a sprint.

“Am I boring you Dr. Looney,” he said sarcastically as he reached for the Sapporo she had left on the table?

“What, no, no, sorry, long day after a late night, you know me the workaholic poster girl,” she answered, getting up quickly to stretch. Ernie admired the view and took a long drink of his beer.

“Uh huh,” he replied.

Judy straightened her sweatshirt which she had twisted out of sorts while she was catnapping she guessed. She actually blushed when she caught her former student checking her out. He wasn’t shy, that was for sure, and she wondered if the beer was going to be enough of a bribe to get her onto the SEM? Raking her fingers through her hair she broke eye contact with him and wandered toward the equipment she needed.

“So, do you think I can get some time on this thing tonight? I won’t need much, maybe a couple of hours,” she asked, pretending to look over the machine but really watching Ernie for his reaction.

“Yeah, I think that can be arranged,” he replied smiling over his beer.

Nice! When can I get started?” she asked.

“As soon as I finish my dinner and this beer, but you have to join me, it’s rude to let someone eat alone ya know,” he answered. Judy sighed, putting herself on alert, wondering if she had miscalculated labeling this guy as tame.

“Uh, yeah, okay. Why don’t you open me up another beer while I put my stuff over here near the SEM. I really appreciate this Ernie-san,” she said, quickly walking over to fetch her backpack with her samples.

“Hey, you didn’t pass anyone on the way in here did you?” she asked matter-of-factly.

“Nope, it’s you and me till dawn Dr. Looney, just the two of us,” Ernie replied with a shit eating grin.

“Swell,” Judy replied, suddenly wishing she had packed the sports bra in her bag.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

(“all in all you’re just a nuther brick in the wall…”)…Pink Floyd

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Thirteen

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Thursday, Feb 19, 2009…9am

No doubt about it, I was being watched, my spider sense confirmed it. They had to be cops! The oinkers must have been tailing me from the get go, beginning at USC the other day, and then ratted me out to the boss-man, which meant that Lt. Celaya knew Judy Looney had been talking to me. It also meant that I should expect a personal invitation downtown for a 'come to Jesus' meeting with that fat headed beast and his flying monkeys, marvelous! You know, getting grilled is the pits, I know, I used to do it for a living. It’s not just a matter of being questioned; tactically there’s quite a difference. Typically, when someone is only being questioned it’s to rule them out as a suspect. A grilling however involves a ride on the 'big blue choo choo' courtesy the LAPD as they railroad you toward a confession. And make no mistake; they’ll get it, one way or the other, they’ll get it!

So, to recap, questioning, easy quick and painless, grilling, well, let’s just say that a good grilling will leave a mark or two! As a general rule I prefer to avoid either! However, given my naturally nosey nature and general 'don’t give a flip' attitude that didn’t seem likely seeing as I'm in Oscar’s crosshairs again! You know, for a smart guy I seem to be lacking common sense more often than not these days? Let’s face it; I enjoy winding that palooka up way too much. It’s a wicked little pleasure, I know, but I hope to outgrow it someday. Hell, I’m getting too old to be a full time smart ass anyway. Besides, the price of chuckles keeps getting higher and higher the older I get. Seriously, I should be more careful where he’s concerned because I’m pretty sure that under the right circumstances or given the slightest provocation the flatfoot would put one right between my eyes! And who could blame him? My lack of respect for him is legendary in this town. I’ll be the first to admit that our little feud is totally sour grapes over his involvement in my early “retirement!"

I quickly crossed the room to the small writing table resting cozily under the corner window of my shabby one room apartment, and debated whether or not to call Judy Looney again so soon. I don’t know why it was such an internal issue? It should've been a short debate at best; I mean professionally it was a no brainer. She was a source of critical information, right? I needed that brain of hers; she was a key element in solving this case. I decided face to face would be best. A grin spread across my face and made me feel a little high-schoolish. I’m not a child, really, I’m not, but I’ll admit that I can see where I might seem like one at times given my arrested adolescence, much more on that later! Look, there’s chemistry between us, I’m aware of that. Okay, it’s totally laced with sarcasm, but like my old mother used to say, “the girl who treats you worst, loves you most.”

Sure, Judy Looney was attractive in her own way, physically I mean. And it wasn’t just her features (nice cans), that attracted me either. Actually, brace yourself; it was her intelligence, and the comfortable smile that came with every shared moment. I could be myself around her, without compulsion to put on airs. I dunno, lately I just wanted to be around her more often. I’ve even caught myself looking for reasons to drop by the campus. I’ll be honest, her being easy on the eyes might have had a little more to do with it then I let on, but hey, I’m a man aren’t I? Listen, her head might be packed solid with gray matter, but the rest of her is firm where it should be, soft where I like it and she smells good. What can I say, that’s what’s important to me these days, go figure? Ah well it was moot anyway, she was Ronnie’s girl now, and they were madly in love, or so they kept telling me, whatever! I should quit pining over nothing. Sometimes I wish I could kick my own ass!

Something caught my eye suddenly, just outside the window? I studied the group of people crossing the street and counted noses. Nothing out of the ordinary, whatever I saw had merged with the crowd and disappeared. It was getting late and if I was going to catch Judy at home before Ronnie rolled in from the office I needed to get a move on. I grabbed my keys off the desk and turned to leave, and then abruptly whipped around to look out the window once more. Something was making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, like I had just shuffled across a shag carpet in my socks. I stared out the window for a few seconds not exactly sure what I was looking for?

“Ah, bag it,” I muttered and left the room.

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles…Friday, Feb 20, 2009...6:30pm

“Until I say you’re done, that’s when!” Lt. Oscar Celaya shouted into the handset as he slammed it back onto its cradle. The five o’clock shadow poking through his weathered face had grown thicker by a couple of hours, and the hot headed lieutenant was tired and pissy. It was Friday night and way passed supper time. Hell, these days bed time wasn’t far off either for a man his age whose work day started at 5am, five sometimes six days a week. Oscar had put a couple of gold shields onto both of our tails, meaning Judy Looney and yours truly. One of those shields was a newbie transfer from Parker Center. Apparently we were too boring to warrant a seasoned pair of flatfoots. Oscar's surveillance detail was probably what was giving me goose bumps back at my apartment the other day? I didn’t see them when I left, but I knew they were around, I could smell their bacon as soon as I hit the pavement. Odds are the jack-holes were around the corner at Clifton’s swilling coffee and stuffing their fat oinker faces!

Lt. Celaya leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He decided it was time to call it a day. Fishing out his car keys from his center desk drawer, he got up and put on his worn and torn sport coat, the one with the patched elbows. It was his town and country look. He watched the busy precinct going about their business through the glass that surrounded his office. Slipping his arm into the coat sleeve he shook his head slowly and rolled his eyes. The night shift was never dull, there was crazy shit happening from dusk to dawn, it’s when the animals roam the city. He rapped on the window signaling for a skinny sergeant to meet him at the door. The startled officer took a quick sip of her coffee and rushed around to see what he wanted.

“Yeah LT, what’s up,” asked Sergeant Ann Kowalski?

“Annie, do me a favor will ya? If my phone rings again, and it will, tell the chuckleheads on the other end of the line that they can go home,” Oscar said yawning.

“Sure LT, any reason we can’t just have dispatch call them now?”

Yeah, two reasons, BE – CAUSE!

Sergeant Kowalski knew that tone and decided to zip it before she wound up Corporal Kowalski. Oscar waived at the room as he headed toward the exit and home to his teeny bopper wife who would re-heat dinner and yammer on and on until he fell into blissful slumber. Actually, if I know Oscar Celaya he’ll hit Tito’s Tacos on the way home and choke down half a dozen beef taquitos with cheese and extra guacamole. Hmmm, actually that sounds pretty good right about now. Maybe I’ll grab a bag–o–tacos my own self and treat Dr. Judy to a little snack and chat? I tipped my hat at the precinct building as I drove by on the number 30 bus, then leaned back and closed my eyes for the rest of the twenty minute ride. I would have slept too except for this nagging moment of anxiety that I couldn’t explain?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

(“dead man lying by the side of the road with the daylight in his eyes…don’t let it bring you down ”)…Neil Young

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twelve

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009…4pm

I am bored, this man bores me. Everything about him just bores me to tears. He’s taking the fun out of this. Well, almost. I needn’t waste any more time here, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll shave, shower, eat and sleep until 7 or 8 this evening. It’s his pattern, his boring, boring pattern. I suppose I could wait around and listen to him quiz Dr. Looney with his usual flare, rife with a boring amount of sexual innuendo and vulgar banter, the gutter snipe. Is he really attracted to that egghead? I think that he is. Ah well, no accounting for taste I suppose. He’s worse than a schoolboy crushing on his cute homeroom teacher, pathetic! I could stay put and hear it all from where I am perched. He has no idea who, what, or where I am, he has no inkling that he is being watched. Ah but isn’t that the way with everyone? Nobody wants to think they are that exposed, but they are. Someone is always watching, always.

I think maybe it would be more interesting to watch him from the other end of his call. Dr. Looney and I have yet to meet, formally that is. Perhaps this would be an opportune time? Now that would be a keen distraction, wouldn’t you agree? Women in general possess a heightened sense of awareness; it’s instinctive. She’d feel my presence even if she could not see me. Her sensitivity served my purpose, a woman’s fear is always more intense. Men have a keen fight or flight instinct. Women are deer in the headlights. Yes, I should visit Judy. I really had no plans to do so, it would be so impulsive. Not like me, not like me at all. Still, I am strangely intrigued? Typically smart, driven females repulse me. They are overly assertive, out to prove themselves either equal to or superior to the males of the species. Pity, because in doing so the very essence of their femininity is sacrificed, and for what, to take on the worst characteristics of men? To intentionally change that what was designed by the creator Himself, from soft, kind, and beautiful into something hard, mean, and ugly. It’s a sad and unnatural transformation to my mind.

Christian Scripture reminds those who pay attention to such things that one cannot serve two masters. It’s true. Mankind has been missing that point ever since the garden in Eden. And the All Mighty has been punishing them throughout the ages ever since. They still don’t get it, fools. I suppose I could lend a hand in this instance, couldn’t I? Ah, but there’d be no sport in it. As females go Judy Looney is far from the worst of the lot. But Whitey is such a rube, and she is becoming a bit of a distraction. I need him to focus right about now and haven’t the patience for any unwanted detours. Judy has served our purpose, we don’t need her anymore. I'll consider this an opportunity to lend a hand to the man upstairs

SHO-M-U-LYKE-M, Los Angeles…Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009…4pm

It doesn’t rain very often in LA and when it does the populace goes positively bonkers. You’d think they had never seen water fall from the sky. Drivers can’t drive, buses are later than usual, traffic lights stop working, and everyone is dressed for a monsoon, ridiculous! That tended to make life miserable for Lu and Jai. As card carrying germ-a-phobes every time the door opened and a fresh batch of customers rushed in and shook off the cold, their little pointed heads would nearly explode. Today was one of those days.

“OH, OH, please stop that!” Lu shouted, running over to assist his newest arrivals. He threw a fresh bath towel onto the floor at their feet and quickly handed another to each of the patrons.

“May I,” he added, taking their coats while they toweled off. He pointed at their shoes and then at the racks next to the door. They picked up on his message without a word spoken and stooped to remove their shoes placing them with the others.

“Thank you for your indulgence, we’re Asian after all,” Lu said smiling meekly.

“Not a problem Lu, it’s not our first time here,” replied the taller of the two.

“Of course, I should have recognized you,” said Lu, slightly embarrassed.

YES you should have,” scolded Lu’s better half, as Jai joined him at the door.

“Thank you Mr. Mankowitz, forgive the mess, it’s the precipitation you see,” Jai explained.

“Yeah, well you think we can we get a seat and a nosh now fellas, or are we going stand here and gab through my dinner break?”

“Of course, of course, Armando, table seven,” Jai replied, summoning the nearest waiter to seat the two patrons. The small round employee arrived in nanoseconds and quickly ushered the pair to the empty table near the deli case. Mr. Mankowitz winked at Lu and Jai as he was seated and the owners waived in return as they made their way back to the kitchen.

“Well, that went well,” Jai said sarcastically.

“Can we just leave it alone?” Lu begged his tone tired and low.

“Oh Lu Lu, don’t be like that, I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just saying that I’m glad that went as smoothly as it did, all things considered.”

“I see, well, do you think we should pick up their tab?” Lu asked.

“No, these guys are shitty tippers, all the girls say so. Besides, they don’t earn a freebie by making puddles on our Italian marble, I mean honestly!”

“You’re to cute sweetness, now I remember why I keep you around,” said Lu, hugging his partner as they got back down to business. Just then Armando peeked in the kitchen door.

“Should I comp these guys a couple of cocktails?”

“NO!” Jai and Lu replied together, giggling at the absurdity of the question.

“I’m taking a break,” Jai said, bussing Lu and heading for the door.

“You mean you’re taking a nap,” Lu replied.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, I’ve earned it,” Jai whined as he exited the kitchen.

Jai walked quickly through the dining room and past the bar to take the private lift up to the apartment upstairs. He accepted the glass of Chardonnay from William the bartender as he past by and entered the small elevator. Smiling at nobody in particular he sipped on his wine as the doors closed. His cell phone rang as if on cue. Jai fancied Mozart’s 'fleur de le', it was his signature ringtone for the week, which he changed religiously every Sunday before bedtime. He waited a moment to answer, enjoying each note before the bridge.

“Cello,” he said coyly, pretending not to know who was on the other end.

“Don’t toy with me you beast! As much as I enjoy the heavy breathing I prefer it face to face lover,” Jai continued, scolding the mystery caller. The elevator stopped and the doors opened just as the expression on his face changed. The blood had suddenly drained from his face and he was even paler than normal, which was saying a lot because Jai Lai was famously nocturnal. Whatever had been said had brought on a serious mood change. Jai exited hurriedly, jogging across the all white carpet in his stocking feet and sat uncomfortably on a pristine white sofa. He sat down gingerly as if he were sitting on rice paper. His reflection in the large bay window stared back at him accusingly.

The city began the day to night transformation as the sun set quickly. Dusk became evening and the silence in the empty apartment seemed eerily familiar. Jai made no sound. He was clearly agitated. He listened for a long time, speechless, never uttering a response. He sat as if made of stone and stared down his own reflection, never blinking, not once, it was unnatural.

“You’re lying,” Jai said finally, tears dropping from his eyes. His voice began to quaver, reduced to a harsh whisper. Sniffling audibly he continued.

“Why are you doing this? I don’t believe you, I won’t,” he whimpered, licking at his lips, tasting the salt from his tears. The voice on the phone was gone, the line disconnected. Still Jai held the device to his ear as if whoever was speaking would start again at any moment. Several minutes passed, long enough for the tears to dry, leaving snail trails down both cheeks.

The sun set had gone unnoticed and the large apartment had become dark and silent. Jai set the cell down on the end table beside him without flipping the phone closed. He stared at if for a moment then pushed the number one on the keypad. It was Lu’s cell phone number on speed dial. Rising from the sofa Jai walked over to the window slowly, while Lu’s phone rang faintly in the background.

“Hello? Peaches, is that you,” squawked Lu’s voice over the speakerphone? No reply.

“Come on Jai, don’t play games it’s really busy down here!” Still, no reply?

“Oh for the love of Pete, I’m coming right up,” Lu said annoyed. He removed his apron and walked out of the kitchen toward the lift, his cell phone still pressed to his ear. Lu was pissed, he hated when Jai got moody like this, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with on a busy, rainy day! The elevator doors closed and Lu started the slow climb to their 21st floor apartment. Still no sounds on his phone save the eerie static of silence.

“Jai, Jai,” he called, not exactly shouting but darn close!

The doors opened as he arrived home and Lu exited in a huff. He passed through the foyer and then quickly crossed the living room to the sofa. He called out to Jai and heard himself over the speakerphone on Jai’s open cell resting on the end table table.

“Honestly,” he sighed.

He ended the call by closing both cell phones. He scanned the dark room, which was dimly lit by the glare from the city lights streaming through the large bay window. He couldn’t see well and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He didn’t hear anything either except for his own movements. The refrigerator motor switched on suddenly and startled him. Lu recoiled abruptly and fell back onto the sofa, seating himself unintentionally. He clutched at his chest for a second composing himself and took a deep cleansing breath. He closed his eyes as he exhaled and then opened them slowly.

“This is so silly,” he muttered tiredly, scooting forward on the sofa to stand up.

“I don’t have the time or patience for your nonsense tonight Jai Lai. I’m going back to work. You know where to find me when you’re through brooding,” he shouted as he stood.

Lu walked back to the elevator without looking for his partner any further. What was the point? Jai was just setting him up for yet another bickering session. Lu hated those tiffs. Truth be told so did Jai, as he admitted time and time again. “I can’t help myself, it’s the way I was raised,” he would say as soon as the storm passed and it was time to make up. Lu tried to understand, he really did, because at the end of the day he genuinely loved his partner with all of his heart. But it’s true what they say about expecting leopards to change their spots, it’s not fair to expect the impossible. But behavior isn’t rigid, it’s fluid, and while people are what they are, changes are possible if they come from within. However, they can’t be coaxed or demanded.

Unconditional love is a precious gift but it is hardly free. It always costs the giver as it's rarely recognized as such, and far more often than not it is unrequited. Lu had understood that at an early age. His love for Jai was his to give but he was human after all, as are we all, and was still learning to take the high road. He wanted to give the man whom he loved the freedom to be himself. I admired that, sort of, but I’ll never understand it. I’m too selfish to grasp the concept of unconditional love.

The elevator doors had started to close when the shot rang out, the sound made louder by the complete absence of noise in the seemingly deserted apartment…BAM! Lu stuck out his hand to keep the doors from closing. The brushed aluminum panels hesitated and then reversed direction, allowing him the opportunity to squeeze past. He walked rather than ran toward the ringing sound of the explosion. Strangely, he felt calm even though his mind was racing through a litany of possible scenarios. He entered the hall and made his way to his bedroom. He could smell the cordite as it wafted toward him. The odor was caustic and made his nostrils flare. His skin became cold and he could feel the goose bumps forming on his bare arms. At the end of the long hallway, Lu entered the room that he and Jai had shared for so many years. It was where they loved, where they fought, and where they were a couple, in and out of like with one another but forever in love. He stopped at the foot of the bed and stared down at the lifeless form of his life partner.

Jai lay motionless, his open eyes staring up at the ceiling, a gaping hole where the muzzle blast had torn off most of his hairpiece (a little secret he had guarded closely in life). The weapon, still in his right hand, lay partially tucked beneath him at the small of his back. His legs were crossed the way they were when he worked the crossword on Sunday mornings. He didn’t look as dead as he was, well except for the blood maybe.

Lu fought the urge to be angry at Jai’s selfish action. Then, he fought off the urge to cry. He settled on being comfortably numb and lay down beside his companion. On his side he studied Jai’s lifeless eyes and reached over to close them. He tried this several times but they would not stay closed. He wondered why? It always worked in the movies? He traced his index finger over the length of Jai’s form, beginning at his forehead and ending at the wrist of his right hand. Lu touched the gun in his hand, it was still warm. A tear rolled down his face as he pulled the weapon from Jai’s hand. He held it and raised it high above the two of them, admiring the dullness of it. It was black and square like, with hard angles and it was lighter than he had imagined. It almost didn’t seem lethal at all, almost like a toy? He grasped it firmly and pointed it at the ceiling fan, counting the blades as they swung past the barrel. He gently laid it back down on Jai’s chest and wept softly. That was how I found them hours later when Marco called me from the restaurant. He was afraid to call the cops, and I could understand why. Romeo and Romeo were dead and for what? My job just became more than I bargained for.

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