For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
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.”