For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
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.