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Sunday, September 30, 2012

( ”Breakin rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won…”)…Sonny Curtis & the Crickets…1959

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Six

LAPD, Hollenbeck Station slammer…Monday, Feb 16, 2009…11pm

In case you’re wondering, the really prime real estate at the city lock up, specifically, the holding tank where the drunk and disorderly sleep it off, is the corner spot near the cell door or topside if there are bunks available. Unfortunately, I had neither to choose from due to the late hour of my arrival courtesy my old pal and former boss, Lt. Dill-hole. Of course I knew he would renege on our little truce right after he shook me down for what he thought I’d found at Sally’s place. Fortunately for me, I managed to keep my cool and resisted cracking wise when his goon squad arrived to cuff me and scuff me. That wee bit of respect earned me a downtown sleepover instead of a long weekend on Terminal Island, high incentive for my cooperative attitude as most of the Sherriff Deputies assigned to the City facility were friends of mine from way back in the day. What that meant to me was that I wouldn’t be subjected to the standard shakedown from hell before checking into my semi-private room in the tank for the night. That little perk would allow my pocket full of stolen evidence to go safely unnoticed, at least until my release in the morning. I tapped my thigh lightly to make sure everything was where it belonged and then surveyed the cell for signs of curious eyes.

Actually, all things considered it was a pretty quiet night. I mean, I had seen this room filled to capacity more times than I cared to remember over the years. Of course that was from the outside looking in. You gain a far different perspective from this side of the bars. The sight of the unsightly was bad enough, but the smell, that was much harsher than I remembered. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d have to shower with industrial strength Mr. Clean to rid my body of the stench! As for my clothes, fuggedaboutit! I would have to burn them as soon as I got home!

From my vantage point at the farthest corner of the oversized communal cell, I surveyed the room killing time. Clearly there was no way I’d be falling asleep in here, not with this assortment of semi-coherent and incoherent roomies. The air was heavy with the powerful aromas of sweat, urine, flatulence, and vomit, making it difficult to breathe. Whoever was on the top bunk nearest me was talking in his sleep while two guys sharing the bottom bunk were busy feeling each other up. Like I said, there wouldn’t be any shut-eye for old Whitey tonight! And on that pleasant note I dozed off.

LAPD, Hollenbeck Station slammer…Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009…5am

“Rise and shine porcupines, chow time, get it while it’s hot gentlemen,” bellowed Deputy Bob Blackburn, a six foot six inch 20 year veteran who looked more like a gladiator than a cop! It was SOP to feed the drunks before sunrise so they could cut them loose before the city streets were filled with commuters, you know, normal folk.

I stayed put while the great unwashed slowly meandered toward the front to get their tray of powdered eggs, dry toast, and coffee. I was surprised at how good the coffee smelled, and I was actually pretty hungry having missed my Osso-Bucco at Fat Johnny’s. I was even more surprised that the French roast was able to cut through the stench in tank! I closed my eyes for a moment figuring I would be relatively safe for a few minutes while everyone ate in silence. A power catnap was just what the doctor ordered, and I was almost out when I felt the sharp sting of a baton across the soles of my shoes.

“WHAT THE…” I hollered as I scrambled to my feet!

“Snap out of it Roode, the LT said to cut you loose before he got into work. Said he saw enough of you’re ugly puss last night,” Deputy Blackburn said with a wicked grin. He leaned against the bars and watched me hop up and down holding my left foot which was still smarting from the baton tap.

“You enjoying yourself Bob,” I asked dryly?

“Ah, you know how it is Whitey, we aim to please hoss,” he answered with an even bigger grin.

“Natch,” I replied walking past him toward the open cell door.

He giggled like the dumb-ass hillbilly he was and followed me out of the cell and on up the stairs at the end of the short hallway. We paused at the heavy door at the top and waited to be buzzed into the mantrap. The door unlocked automatically when the green light came on and we walked inside together. It was pretty cramped quarters and I actually felt bad for Blackburn having to breathe my stink, I could barely stand my own self! He reached around me and pressed a button on the squawk box behind me.

“Come on man; shake a leg out there will ya! Whitey here is pretty ripe, I can actually smell my nose hairs burning,” Blackburn pleaded. The door buzzed and slid open before he could heap on any more humiliation onto what was left of my self-esteem.

“Let’s go stinky, I want you on the street and out of my airspace before I lose my breakfast,” Blackburn ordered.

He gave me a firm but friendly nudge with his night stick and I exited quickly, without bothering to look back or trade quips with the big lug. I just casually flipped him off as I walked over to the property cage to collect my personal items and bus fare. I could hear Blackburn howling with laughter as he went back into the mantrap to return to his duties. I listened to the clerk count out my small wad of cash (small in denomination that is) and then identify each item before I signed the receipt. I couldn’t wait to get the flock outta there! My first stop post lock up would be my flat for a long hot shower and then I planned to hit The Pantry over on Ninth for a proper breakfast and some quiet time to figure out my next move.

I had stewed all night on the blue thread theme and couldn’t help wondering why Oscar and the blue crew were so protective of this particular case. Something didn’t smell right and given my current hygienically altered state that was saying a lot! I decided before I’d taken ten steps out of the building and sucked in my first few gulps of fresh air (a bit of an oxymoron considering that I lived in Los Angeles), that I would ping on my ace in the hole over at USC Medical Center and call in a couple of favors she owed me. Judy Looney (a.k.a. Looney Tunes) taught forensic science at the University and was also a regular

Consultant on most of the big-time murder cases in the area. No doubt there would be some conflict of interest here given the fact that she was probably already involved in Oscar’s investigation, but she was also a close (and I mean close) friend of my ex-wife Ronald, I mean Rhonda, no, I guess I do mean Ronald? Oh bag it, that gender bending concept just frustrates the crap outta me! Suffice to say that she was more than just a regular at my monthly poker games; she was a regular at my ex’s parlor games as well, nuff said.

Judy was the exception to the rule that “those who can’t…teach” she was in fact the guru of forensic science. Her classes weren’t filled freckle faced undergrads; her classes were filled with forensic scientists sent by cities from around the country and beyond to learn her approach to the craft if you will. To say she was brilliant would be an understatement. Luckily for me she was also still in the closet and I’m not above using my inside information as leverage when I need a favor. So after my shower, shave, and meal Looney Tunes and I would be having a wee chat about the little blue threads in my pocket and whatever tell-tale crud and DNA might be soaked into them. My gut has always been a good barometer when it came to hunches and right now it was growling audibly. It was more than hunger pains, it was fear. Of what I had no idea, but it felt very real nonetheless, why?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

( ”I hear you knocking at my cellar door, I love you baby can I have some more…”)…”Needle and the Damage Done”…Neil Young…1972

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Five

13131 West First Street (Little Tokyo), Monday, Feb 16, 2009…9pm

The front door may have had yellow barrier tape blocking entry but that wasn’t the case with the kitchen window, which conveniently overlooked the fire escape. So, after a short elevator ride and a thirty second delay while I expertly picked the lock on the door to the roof (when one busts criminals for a living, one learns a thing or two), I climbed down three flights to Sally’s apartment and peeked in the window. The place was dark, not even a night light was on. All I could see was my own reflection back lit by the street light below. If this were a Stephen King novel a rotting hand would have burst through the glass and ripped open my throat leaving me to drown in my own blood while staring into the cold dead eyes of a murdered call girl. But it’s not so I tried the window and just like I planned when I exited earlier, the latch was disengaged and I slid the casement open slowly.

Once inside I closed and latched the window, no use tempting fate should someone have seen me breaking and entering. I pulled out my trusty pocket flashlight, the one I got from the Home Depot dollar bin and swept the room. Not much to see in the kitchen. In fact it didn’t appear as though Sally spent much time in here at all. Even the fridge was empty except for an open box of Arm & Hammer baking soda. If she was worried about odors there must have been something in there at some time? I’m guessing that the CSI team must have bagged and tagged all of the contents. Technically they should have taken the box as well, but one whiff and I could see why they left it behind! I held my breath, dumped the nasty stuff out onto the counter and sifted through it. There wasn’t anything noteworthy so I walked slowly out of the kitchen and into the small dining room. Sally had good taste, a black marble table with four matching black teak side chairs. The centerpiece was a black swan made of what appeared to be ivory? The table was set for four with fine white bone china set upon on black ceramic chargers. The utensils were obviously silver and the wine glasses and water goblets were expensive crystal. My first observation, they had never been used. So she didn’t eat at home and she didn’t entertain in this room. Not surprising for someone in her profession.

Turning 180 degrees I walked toward the living room. Clearly she and Uncle Lu studied under the same interior decorator because it was an explosion of white, well, except for the yellow paint outlining where Sally had expired, and the faint stains left behind by a corpse. I scanned the room with the small beam of light from my little flashlight, and came to rest on the glass coffee table. The table top showed signs of being dusted for fingerprints but that’s not what caught my eye. I knelt beside the table and studied it closely. There, underneath the thick glass, stuck in the frame that held it up was a navy blue thread about two inches long. Curious, the first thought that passed through mind was cop? This was a tread from a uniformed officer from LAPD? Could be, I mean the place was lousy with LAPD officers and they’re not the tidiest bunch. But still, how did it get wedged in that way under the table? I dunno, perplexing isn’t it? I debated sharing this evidence right away but thought better of it. Instead I whipped out one of the sandwich baggies that I keep handy and slipped the follicle inside. As long as I was taking risks by just being here, might as well go for broke, right? Besides,'…in for a penny in for a pound…’ my oldmother always said.

Anyway, next came the queer part for me, nosing around in Sally’s drawers. Snooping through people’s private areas always makes me blush, especially women, and the fact that I knew Sally and her family just made the experience all the more exasperating. I left her chalk outline behind me and wandered down the short hall to her dark bedroom. It smelled like you’d expect a young ladies room to smell, fresh and clean, with a hint of whatever body lotion she was fond of; in Sally’s case it was definitely jasmine. However, I have to admit that I was surprised at the stark contrast between her bedroom and the rest of the apartment. Let’s put it this way, if this were an episode of “The Odd Couple” her bedroom could only belong to Oscar Madison. It was like ground zero, clothes strewn everywhere, mixed here and there with a couple dozen pairs of shoes, a colorful assortment of hair scrunchies, an impressive collection of lace, and satin undergarments, at least two brands of feminine hygiene products, some odd pairings of this and that accessories, and, what appeared to be the remains of a PB & J sandwich? Strange things went on in here but none of it had anything to do with her murder. Apparently the girl was just a textbook P-I-G pig!

Ignoring the mess I continued on with my careful and professional sweep of the premises. If this truly had been her actual residence and not just a place to meet her johns, it would have something to tell me. People are laziest at home when it comes to keeping secrets; at least that’s been my experience over 25 years as a detective, with and without a shield. Slowly I swept the room with my trusty two dollar flashlight from Home Depot, and looked for signs of Sally’s killer. Methodically I snooped through each drawer of the black lacquer dresser that rested against the wall opposite the foot of her king sized bed. Actually, I’d seen one exactly like it at IKEA a week or so ago on one of my rare shopping excursions. I had been looking for an armoire to supplement the lack of closet space in my small flat, but settled on a wicker hamper when I discovered there was assembly required on the trendy over priced furniture. Removing the drawers one at a time, I emptied contents and sifted through each of them carefully and then checked underneath for any surprises. I did the same with the night stands that flanked the bed and then the vanity table in the corner of the room near the master bath. Nothing! There was literally nothing obvious to question or to build a theory upon? I had to assume that the CSI team had already collected everything they thought relevant, so I was left with what was left behind and the pile of stuff on the bedroom floor, nice!

The bathroom was even emptier than the refrigerator, not even a toothbrush, so that meant this was likely just a place to conduct business, monkey business perhaps, but business nonetheless. Still, I studied every square inch of the small bathroom on the off chance that the crew before me had been rushed or sloppy and had left behind something helpful. As luck would have it, they might have as I pulled another blue thread from the bottom of the shower curtain. The corner of the curtain had bee folded over and apparently nobody took the time to peel it back and find the prize. That was a break for the good guys, namely yours truly. It didn’t mean much now, but it might. For now it just meant that someone wearing blue cotton material had been in both the living room and the master bathroom. The living room was no blaring siren but the master bathroom insinuated either a trusted or maybe an intimate relationship with Sally. In any event it was curious enough to study further. I placed the new thread into a new baggie and got up to exit the room. I took a step and paused for a ten count. The shower curtain had been wet, ergo; someone had either used the shower or utilized it? I walked over and slid open the curtain slowly, shining my light along the top and bottom just in case anything dropped down or popped up.

When nothing appeared I knelt down and cast the light onto the tub itself and swept it in quadrants with my peepers. There was wax residue on inside ledge of the tub which meant that someone was fond of bubble baths by candlelight. There was a damp washcloth with a faintly red circular stain indicating that whoever enjoyed the candlelight also enjoyed a little Merlot or Cab with the experience. Technically this was another oversight by CSI; apparently the LAPD had turned this investigation over to the “B” team. I wasn’t surprised though, Lt. Celaya like cases closed quickly. Even in police work it was quantity that brought promotions and accolades, quality was a pleasant surprise but not exactly necessary. If you produced headline numbers that benefited the suits at City Hall your career path was gold plated. So what if an unfortunate few went to the big house undeservedly, they were the exception to the rule as far as ladder climbers like Oscar were concerned. Oh well, that was ancient history for me now, I don’t know why I still let it bother me. Chalk it up to a raging case of social conscience I guess. In any event their sloppy detective work might help me piece together Sally’s puzzle sooner than later, and I had an uncomfortable hunch that it was going to be a necessity where Lu Rong was concerned. He and Jai were “tootsie rolls," hard on the outside and soft in the middle. I’d noted the look on his face as I left his apartment earlier. His face told me that he would take this hard, and I was determined to find him closure and keep him from anything rash or extreme!

My light ended its sweep of the tub at the drain. It was one of those designs that had a cheap metal screen covering the inch and three quarter opening over the drain. There weren’t any hairs tangled up in the screen so at least CSI was thorough enough to catch the obvious. But given their performance thus far I leaned over the side and pried the screen out of the drain opening. The screen was squeaky clean but when I fished around the opening with my finger I pulled out a long string of black hair and what appeared to be yet another dark blue thread. Scoreboard! In detective speak if a clue knocks three times open the goddamned door! I whipped out another baggie and placed the whole mucky stream inside. Thanking my lucky stars and the LAPD I got up to leave the apartment. I wiped down everything as I backtracked toward the kitchen. I had been wearing gloves the entire time, but one can never be too cautious. I turned off my flash light when I reached the kitchen and was about to exit through the window when phone on the wall began to ring off the hook.

“WHAT THE F…,” I exclaimed, startled more than I should have been. Before my heart stopped racing and my blood pressure stabilized I reached for the telephone. I knew instinctively who would be on the other line.

“Hello Lt. Kill-joy,” I said sarcastically.

“Hi-ya Roode, find anything interesting, replied an unpleasant but familiar voice?

"Nothing worth sharing Oscar," I answered smugly.

“I can always count on you to be you Whitey. You make it too easy for me,” he continued.

“What can I say, like the song says, I gotta be me,” I replied, trying to sound more bored than pissed.

“Why don’t you skip the fire escape and take the elevator down. No use all of us working up a sweat chasing you all over town. While you’re at it bring down whatever you’ve found in there and we can exchange theories while you’re being fingerprinted and processed.”

I cursed under my breath before answering. “Ah come on Oscar, can’t we work together on this one? I’m doing a little snooping around for Lu and Jai, you know, the mahu couple who own your favorite deli. The dead girl was Lu's niece,” I answered, hating myself for pleading with the rat bastard.

I hoped his silence meant that he was considering my plea. I didn’t have to wait long. “Come on down Whitey, we’ll talk about it.”

I smiled a relieved smile and headed for the front door. Maybe the years had softened his naturally nasty demeanor? That was a revolting thought; I might actually have to be nice to the big lug one day! Just the same, I don’t want to trust him too soon, leopard spots may fade but they don’t fall off. I pulled out the baggies and placed the contents into three different pockets and then scooped up dust and whatnot to replace the threads. Oscar wanted me to share what I found, but he didn’t need to know everything I found. As I walked into the elevator I had one thought running through my mind…”I wonder if they’re still serving for supper in the tank, I'm starving.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

(”The colors of my life are all different somehow. Little Boy Blue’s a big girl now…”)…”Killing Yourself to Live”…Black Sabbath

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Four

Los Angeles, California…Monday, Feb 16, 2009…7pm

It shouldn’t have taken an hour to hoof it back to Sally’s neighborhood but it did. Maybe I was a little too cautious, keeping to the shadows and trying to blend in with the scenery lest a nosey flatfoot recognized me from his or her squad car and tipped off the brass that old Whitey was planning to be his usual pain in the ass. But hey, sometimes a little paranoia can be a real life saver! Sally’s building looked pretty quiet; understandably, it was minus all of the black and whites and the Coroner’s wagon. The yellow crime scene tape had been removed from the entry but odds were that it would still be blocking her doorway.

I decided to wait in the lobby of the building across the street for 30 minutes or so anyway, just to be on the safe side. It was one of those unmanned operations where you dialed the number of whoever you might be visiting and waited for them to buzz you in, just like the old brownstones in New York City. It was perfect for what I had in mind which for the moment was winging it. The elevator announced its arrival with a loud clang and the doors opened revealing an old prune of a woman who had to be at least a hundred and ten. Remarkably she ambled out under her own steam without even so much as a walker or a cane, and actually rather sternly nudged me out of her way with a boney elbow and an authentic Brooklyn attitude. It was refreshing actually, sort of restored my faith in humanity. I made a mental note to shoot for a similar demeanor when I reached that age. The old woman got in one last shot with her elbow as I attempted to hold the door open for her, when I saw Sally’s nosey neighbor exit her building. He was on foot and I had to scoot abruptly past the old lady to keep him from getting him too much of a head start. Let’s face it; I’m not the agile rookie I once was. The old woman flipped me off as I passed and I fought the urge to stop and give her an atta-girl hug. Just as well, she was probably packing heat and it would be just my luck to be shot in the kneecap by a geriatric dwarf!

Mr. Nosey Neighbor rounded the corner onto Figueroa and I had to scoot to catch up, while keeping a respectable distance of course so as to go unnoticed. I figured I would tail him for a block or two before I made contact and picked his brain. He didn’t seem like the nervous type, walking at a slow and easy pace, not rushing by anyone in his path. He was content on taking his sweet time and strolling along to wherever it was he was headed. I used the time to size him up. Basically he was Joe average. He was average height, average weight, with no distinguishing physical characteristics to speak of. His hair wasn’t too long but it wasn’t high and tight either. You couldn’t actually call him tall but neither could you call him short. He wasn’t fat or skinny. He wasn’t old or young. He was pretty much a vanilla bean male Caucasian between thirty and forty years-old. He would have just blended in with the scenery if we hadn’t passed 5th street and headed into Mexican town. Now we both stood out and that wasn’t good, especially when you’re trying to hide in the crowd. And as fate would have it that was the moment he turned and looked over his shoulder. He must have been reading my mind because I could tell instantly that he was shifting into escape mode. Before I could holler hey you a city bus pulled up to the corner where he was standing at and opened its doors.

“OH CRAP,” I exclaimed, and started to sprint toward him before the bus closed the doors and pulled away. I had taken all of about two long strides when an unmarked cop car screeched to halt just ahead of me. I didn’t need to see inside to know who was driving. It was LA’s most anal flatfoot, and, my personal nemesis, Lt. Oscar Celaya from Hollenbeck Station. This wasn’t going to be pleasant. If LA was under the sea and we all had gills, Lt. Celaya would be a prehistoric Great White swimming with blood in the water, and this evening the blood was mine!

“ROODE,” he bellowed getting out of his vehicle quickly!

“Oh, hello Oscar, what an unpleasant surprise,” I replied sarcastically.

“Spare me loser, what are you doing around here,” he barked, accusing me more than asking me.

“Just out taking a little walk officer numb-nuts,” I answered in a voice sweet enough to inflict cavities.

“Keep it up Whitey and you’ll spend the night in the drunk tank.”

“That’s what I like about you Oscar, you’re a giver.”

“I don’t want you poking your nose into this girl’s murder Whitey.”

“You don’t want me showing you up Oscar, that’s your beef,” I snarled.

Whatever Whitey, just remember what I said. The first time you stick your big Irish nose where it shouldn’t be you’ll be mucking out the drunk tank with a toothbrush in your Joe Boxers!” he shot back.

Holding down my forefinger with my thumb I shot him my patented “whatever” sign starting with three fingers up (W) then twisting my wrist, three fingers sideways (E). It was a gesture I learned from Rhonda, I mean Ronald, during the married years. She, I mean he, had shown me that gesture, among others, at least a million times during our brief and rocky union, undoubtedly deserved on each occasion. Let’s face it I wasn’t the most attentive of husbands due in large part to the perils of marrying a cop, but also because I could be a real insensitive prick at times. In any event, the gesture was met with the reaction one would expect, an icy stare and the bird. Lt. Celaya climbed back in his unmarked cruiser and sped off, leaving a wee bit of rubber behind as he peeled out. I fended off the urge to return the bird, taking the high road instead with a quick smart salute that I know he watched from the rear view mirror. Sometimes I crack myself up.

I waited a couple of minutes until Lt. Jack-hole was out of sight then sprinted around the corner to see if I could pick up Mr. Nosey Neighbor’s trial. If I was lucky he would have only taken a short bus ride and I would spot him strolling up ahead. As for being lucky, I wasn’t, and as for taking a stroll, he wasn’t, so, it looked like I was going to have to risk a night in jail. I turned up the collar of my coat against a brisk wind and headed back in the opposite direction toward Sally November’s apartment. It was time to gather all the what’s and where’s to figure out all the who’s. None of which would help Lu and Jai, the only revelation that would ease their pain would be why. Who, what and where are only symptoms, bits of factual data, while why ties it all together and gives you an opportunity to understand.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

( ”…people are strange when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone…”…The Doors…1967)

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Three

Casey’s Irish Pub, South Grand Ave, Los Angeles…Monday, Feb16, 2009…4pm

Some people go to the beach or the park or the library or go home and sit in the dark in a favorite easy chair to do their thinking and figuring. Me, I go to the pub, the noisier the better. Nothing clears the head like a couple pints of Guinness with a Jameson chaser. At least that’s how Whitey Roode does his important brainstorming. That makes Casey’s over on Grand the perfect establishment. The place was old timey enough to have the ornately sculpted mahogany bar, as well as being close to the USC campus, so you were guaranteed a lively crowd, especially when there’s a game on the box, and there’s always a game on in this town. Today the small crowd of coeds I passed on the way to the bar was cheering on the Red Sox (note to self, wash mouth with soap) as they beat up on my beloved Yankees 9 to 0 at Fenway. Why does everyone in this town hate the Yanks anyway? Whatever, I stopped pouting over that years ago. I ordered the usual from Timmy behind the bar and then plopped myself down in a corner booth to mull things over.

“Is that you Roode,” shouted a familiar voice over the ball game chatter?

A large grizzly bear of a man staggered my way and leaned heavily onto the table on two anvil-like fists. He stared me down for a moment with coal black eyes and shook his head. I’d have been nervous if this wasn’t an everyday occurrence. It didn’t even bother the patrons who had seen it all too often as well. These little exchanges had become part of the ambiance.

“Hello Johnny, how’s tricks,” I asked with a wink?

The giant threw back his twelve pound bowling ball of a head and laughed heartily. He plopped down in the seat opposite me and made himself comfortable, or at least as comfortable as a man of his girth could be in such a cramped space. His face was round and covered with a five day beard which was his personal look. Exhaling deeply he motioned with his hand for me to lean in closer as if he had a secret to tell. Knowing better I did not.

“Whitey my friend, why are you here alone drinking poison and not at “Bella Terra” drinking Chianti with your pals,” he slurred?

“I could ask you the same question Paley,” I answered.

“Ahh, you are right of course. Do not mix words with a detective, when will I ever learn,” he sighed, leaning back in the booth as much as he could.

“So, you will be by later as usual? It is Monday and there will be Osso Buco on the menu,” he asked, tempting me with my favorite Italian dish.

“Probably Johnny, but later, I’m sort of working a case right now. I’ve got some snooping around to do first.”

The big man slapped the table top and stood, spilling a wee bit of my Guinness as he did so.

Good! Then I will set aside a plate and tell Angelo to expect you.”

“Fair enough, why don’t you let me buy you one for the road, what are you drinking,” I asked?

“No my friend, I’ve had enough wine for the afternoon. I need to get back to my kitchen before Manuel and his progeny ruin Mama’s sauce and steal us blind,” he answered, sighing heavily. I got a good whiff of whatever he was drinking as he exhaled, and let me tell you, there was way more than a little Chianti at work in that halitosis factory he called a kisser. Johnny left as abruptly as he had arrived and I was finally alone again with the noise, my libations, and my thoughts. I quickly emptied my pint glass of half the Guinness and sipped a wee bit of the whiskey, enough to cleanse my palate and then pulled out my trusty short sized spiral notebook and flipped to a blank page. As was my practice I jotted down what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what I wanted to know. I wrote one sentence on each page as I worked through my detective routine. It’s a slow process, but it’s tried and true and has served me well since grammar school.

So, in a nutshell; what do I know?

1. Sally November was stone dead, or as the Scots say, tits up

2. Sally November wasn’t even Sally November, she was Mei Li Teng

3. Sally November kept bad company, or at least last night she did

4. Sally November died without a struggle, there were no defensive wounds

5. It will be my ass if Lt. Celaya catches me snooping around this case

What do I think know?

1. SN was too smart to be murdered by a stranger, ergo, she knew the killer?

2. SN was too good to be bad all the time, ergo, she lived in the light and the dark simultaneously. The two worlds may have overlapped?

3. SN was fresh off the boat; too new to do so well so fast, ergo, she had a partner or partners?

4. SN did not expect to die last night, ergo, crime of opportunity, passion, or premeditation?

5. SN and her killer weren’t the only witnesses to murder; somebody saw or heard something last night. I’m betting that somebody lives next door?

What do I want to know?

1. Why did she choose to hide in plain sight, literally around the corner from her family, why?

2. Why wasn’t there a cell phone or any phone for that matter at the apartment, why?

3. Why wasn’t there a computer, I mean its 2010, even an old fart like me has a computer these days, why?

4. Why was her apartment so neat, nobody is that neat, not even her Uncle Lu and his mate, why?

5. Why did that apartment full of expensive furniture seem so empty, why?

I set the pen and pad down and removed my specs to rub my tired eyes. It was almost six o’clock by my wristwatch and I had killed better than an hour picking my own brain. But that’s how every investigation starts for me. Who, what, when, and where are always first, with why being the cherry on the cake of each case. It was time to start chasing dub-ya’s beginning with Sally’s nosey neighbor. The Guinness had warmed to room temperature but then that was the beauty of my favorite stout; it was good warm or cold. I finished my whiskey then guzzled the rest of my pint. Timmy arrived at my booth the instant the glass touched the table and handed me the tab, which I accepted with a raised brow.

“Seems a little pricey Tim?”

“What can I say, Fat Johnny said you were buying,” he replied chuckling as he waited for me to pull out my wallet.

“Of course he did,” I sighed, and fished the billfold out of my coat pocket. I handed him a couple of twenties and got up to leave.

“Keep the change sport,” I said, patting his shoulder as I walked passed him.

“Thanks Whitey, you’re alright mate,” he replied in his thick Aussie brogue.

“Easy come easy go Paley, easy come easy go!”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

( ”…goodbye Ruby Tuesday, who could hang a name on you, when you change with every new day, still I’m gonna miss you…”…The Rolling Stones…1967)

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Two


NY Style Deli, Wilshire District, Monday, Feb 16, 2009…2:00pm

The walk over to Lu and Jai’s deli was short but comfortable courtesy a cool brisk breeze brought on by a thick marine layer blowing in from Redondo Beach. It was a little after 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the lunch rush was over so there was a good chance that I would catch the two partners with time to chat. Jai caught sight of me first as I crossed the street and walked uptown toward their place. He waived at me excitedly from the big bay window in front and gestured for me to meet him at the door, wiping his hands with the dish towel draped over his shoulder. A collection of bells tinkled overhead as I entered through the heavy metal door, and I was met by Mr. Enthusiasm himself, Jai B. Lai, the softer side of this unusual pairing.

Whitey! Oh my goodness, come in, come in,” he said greeting me cheerfully.

“Hi Paley, it’s been a long time,” I replied with equal good cheer.

He pumped my hand with both of his as if he were jacking up his car to change a flat tire, and then hollered over his shoulder to his life-partner Lu Rong, presumably still in the kitchen, “Lu Lu, get out here, our personal private dick is here,” he shouted, momentarily silencing the table chatter in the half filled room with his provocatively unusual announcement. I just rolled my eyes. I guess the 'Dick' days were just going to follow me throughout my life one way or the other. Lu burst through the kitchen doors and hurried over to where Jai and I were standing. Now, mind you, the man is well known as an insatiable hugger so I braced myself for a mauling, and he didn’t disappoint.

“Whitey Roode you son-of-a-gun, where the hell have you been keeping yourself,” he gushed as he hugged me into the next dimension. I barely managed to wheeze out a reply, “Actually I’ve been pretty busy, that’s why I stopped by.”

“Oh sure, sure,” he said releasing me finally.

“We’re just happy to see you my man,” Jai added with a wink, patting me on the rump to show his sincerity. He linked his arm through mine and guided me through the restaurant toward the small private elevator in back that led up to their penthouse on the 36th floor of the building. I did my best to avoid eye contact with the other patrons as we passed by. I mean I knew I wasn’t gay, but they didn’t. I gave the room my best Dirty Harry scowl and set the pace; leading more than following to the tiny lift in back. You know, considering the circumstances surrounding me and Rhonda, I mean Ronald, my ex whatever, this little stroll shouldn’t be such a big deal. But, let’s be honest, once a homophobe always a homophobe. Am I right?

We reached the tiny 2 man lift and squeezed in together.

“Better suck in that gut Whitey, it’s pretty cozy in here,” teased Lu.

Terrific, just what I needed, trapped in a 4 by nothing vertical casket with two of the Marx Brothers,” I groused as the doors slowly slid shut.

Two minutes later we arrived at the boy’s spacious and stylish digs. The doors opened and we spilled out of the little lift and into the foyer like Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe. Their apartment was immaculately decorated all in white, and I mean everything! The furniture, the picture frames, the lamps, the pillows, the rugs, you name it, all white. The only place you could find traces of the rest of the spectrum was in the actual photographs stuffed inside the white frames on the walls, or in the huge gourmet kitchen among the state of the art stainless steel appliances. Of course if you happened to open the fridge or the pantry you'd be visually assaulted by rows of colorful, neatly organized name brand Madison Avenue marketing. Being an Asian household we immediately removed our shoes and traded them for a pair of comfy slippers, white of course.

These guys might sling hash during the workday, but by night they transformed themselves into their alter egos, Phat Lu and Jai-man, the queen bees of LA’s night life. The two party-time superheroes divided their time evenly between Downtown and WE-HO (that’s West Hollywood for those of you scratching your heads right now). I’m sure that you’ve heard the term “A List,” well, when you think of the crowd they run with think “A+ List!”

“Make yourself at home on the sofa Whitey,” Jai said ushering me into the living room. I sat down on the overstuffed couch and crossed my legs, ankle to knee just in case anyone was spying through the large floor to ceiling windows (homophobe, remember). I carefully scanned the building across the street for voyeurs.

“You know where the bar is Whitey, get yourself a drink and pour one for us too,” Lu said on his way down the hall to their bedroom, presumably to change.

“Alright, don’t mind if I do,” I replied, trying to hide my anxiousness, Lord knows I could use a belt before spilling the beans about his niece.

“You and Jai still take your scotch on the rocks?”

“Of course, we’re not Philistines,” Lu answered, his voice trailing off as he reached his bedroom.

“Nothing for me Whitey! OMG Lu Lu, I can’t believe you said that? You know that I’m wearing my skinny jeans to Spago’s tonight,” Jai hollered, scolding his mate in the same breath. Lu glided back into the living-room and whispered, “You’ll have to excuse him; he’s always a little bit crazy this time of the month.”

“I see,” I replied, trying not to roll my eyes. Nice guys these two, but all this gender bending was a little much for me. Oh well, who am I to judge anyone, I have a hard enough time keeping track of myself.

I walked over to the bar and filled a couple of heavy crystal tumblers with two fingers of McCallen's, the house scotch of choice. I made sure to add ice in Lu’s glass, just the way he liked. Me, I prefer my booze neat, why dilute the experience, right? Carefully making my way back to the sofa I set Lu’s glass on the coffee table and strolled over to the window to take in the view from the top. Somehow the city didn’t appear as dirty as it did from the street. I guessed that was an advantage of living closer to the heavens. Taking a sip of my scotch I turned back to survey the room, my eyes settling on the bank of photos neatly displayed on the closed baby grand piano. They formed a spiral around an ornate candelabra ala Liberace like a circle of dominos waiting to be knocked over.

I walked over to the instrument and picked up a picture of Lu and Jai in what appeared to be Hawaii. It looked like it could be a photo of the happy couple on their unofficial wedding day. They were dressed in matching tunics, white of course, with several white leis around their necks. They looked happy, way happier than the pictures from my wedding day. Our wedding was in mid-January in Buffalo, New York. If you’ve ever been there I don’t need to describe the scene. We had a white wedding as well; just all of our white was outside covering the area with four foot snow drifts. Rhonda was stunning as usual, and I was anything but. She was ten years my junior and looked like a kid. Me, I looked like a cop. I still do, when I cut my hair short. As I returned the photo to its resting place I noticed another picture at the far end of the piano. It was a little girl. She appeared to be around ten years-old. She was beautiful. She was Sally November. I recognized her right away; you just can’t hide from a smile like that, it commands your attention.

“So, what brings you to this part of town today my friend?” Lu bellowed from his bedroom.

I set Sally’s picture down quickly, all of a sudden feeling like the snoop that I was. I hot-footed it back to the sofa and sat down, taking a long pull on my drink before answering.

“Um, well the truth is I have information about Mei Li.”

Lu appeared in the room instantly and stood in front of me, studying my face and putting two and two together. He raised his hand to his lips and gasped, “What’s happened? It’s awful isn’t it? Don’t lie to me; I can see it written all over your face!”

There was an awkward silence as his words echoed off the walls. Before I could answer Jai came strolling into the room, oblivious to the tension at first. “Lu R. Rong, what is the matter with you, why did you run off and leave me hanging back there,” he whined? There was an awkward pause, as Jai took a couple of seconds to catch on.

“What’s wrong you two,” he whispered?

“Whitey’s about to tell us,” Lu answered softly, still staring through me.

Bad news is never easy to deliver and this was going to be particularly difficult. My stomach growled and I immediately wished I had poured a larger glass of scotch. I picked up my glass and swirled what was left a couple of times before draining it and setting it down, a little harder than I meant to. I stood up abruptly and walked past Lu and Jai to the baby grand. I picked up Mei Li’s photo and stared at it a second before speaking. With my back to them I said, “she was a beautiful Lu, really, she was.” I heard the two of them settle onto the sofa behind me. Turning I looked at them both. They were sitting side by side holding hands.

“I found your niece today Lu,” I said. He was staring me down with glassy eyes.

“She’s dead, I’m sorry.”

Lu lowered his head and stared at the floor. Jai rubbed his shoulders and said nothing but I could hear him start to whimper. I waited for the shock to fade and watched Lu fight the urge to weep. His shoulders heaved a couple of times and at least one tear dropped onto the coffee table in front of him.

“You are quite sure it is Mei that you found?” he asked softly.

“I’m sure,” I answered.

“How did it happen?” he pressed half heartedly.

“Do you really want details?” I asked.

“No, I suppose not, at least not right this minute anyway,” he replied bitterly.

“Why don’t you wait for the police report Lu, it would better if you get the official story,” I said folding my arms and huffing out a sigh.

“Where is she now?”

“Not far from here, she’s been nearby all this time,” I answered.

“How near?”

“Pretty near Lu, pretty near.”

He began to weep, softly at first. “What kind of uncle am I, she was my responsibility? What will I tell her mother and father, my brother?”

There just wasn’t anything else to say. You can tell when a conversation is over; you can feel it in your bones. I walked over to my grieving friends and placed a hand softly onto each of their shoulders, then turned to let myself out. I paused by the bar and contemplated seriously about pouring myself one for the road then thought better of it. So I walked to the elevator without looking back and pressed the button on the wall. It was 3:30pm according to the Timex on my wrist. I had about three hours to kill before I went back to Sally’s apartment building and looked up her neighbor. I was anxious to start peeling this onion. Lu had a right to know the truth and I felt an obligation to get it for him. Me, well I’m just a curious cat with a predilection toward using up all of my nine lives, which is exactly what's going to happen if Lt. Oscar Celaya catches me snooping around his crime scene!

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