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Friday, October 26, 2012

(“she put de lime in de coconut, called de doctor, woke him up”)…Nilsson

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Ten

Ahmanson Bio Research Center, USC…Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009…6pm

Judy Looney pulled off her specs and tossed them wearily onto the desk in front of her. Glancing quickly at her wristwatch she groaned audibly. It was 2am and she couldn’t believe that she had been working non-stop since lunch, again! It was the third time this week and she was beginning to feel every one of her forty something years. Thank God for Maxwell House and Folgers she thought; the lab’s java choices. Choices based entirely on cost versus taste of course. Lab rats are predominately poorer than the average rodent, a sad fact of life. But who cares, after the eighth or ninth cup nobody really tastes anything anyway. Hot, black and strong are the only criteria for double and triple shifts.

Sure, the teaching gig paid the rent, but that only accounted for 6 of the 18 hours she put in most days. It was her passion for research that kept her in the lab until the wee hours. Students would come and go but finding a cure for the big “C” was what she was all about. Being a Fellow at this school was a big deal. An even bigger deal was being a part of the Regenerative Medicine/Stem Cell Research team at USC; now that was a huge honor! It was what put the spring in her step and the shit eating grin on old Edward’s face, her traditionalist Scots/Irish old man (father). He was a "tough as nails" retired longshoreman who emigrated from Glasgow to the United States during the cold war, 1962 to be exact. He brought his blushing new bride straight from the Chapel in Edinburgh proper to the Port of Los Angeles where he put in thirty five years loading and unloading containers from all around the world.

The young couple called San Pedro home, settling into a small five room cottage within spitting distance of Ports of Call. Sure, it was a little dicey fitting into their Cabrillo St. neighborhood with its thick Yugoslavian population but they managed to weather the ticklish transition by respecting their new home as much as the one that they left behind. In May of 1968 Edward's wife Trina bore him a daughter, the apple of his eye, his pride and joy. They named her Judith Theresa Looney, after his great Aunt who'd raised him. His own parents had been killed in 1943 during the Nazi blitz of London, a tragic way to begin one's life. Tragedy seemed to follow Edward to the new world as well when two years after Judith, Trina died giving birth to their second child, a wee girl he called Cassie (short for Cassandra). She too would pass at the tender age eight, after a short and fierce battle with consumption, an old world term more commonly known as cancer.

That was the defining moment in big sister Judy’s life. It changed her forever. It's what drove her to medicine and inspired her Looney Tunes nickname. I should probably explain that. You see, prior to Cassie’s death Judy could have been best described as a wallflower, shy and reserved to the point of appearing autistic. For whatever reasons, reasons only she could know, "wallflower Judy" was buried along with her sister. The pre-teen reborn at the gravesite became a hellion of legendary proportions. The shy little girl whom Edward sometimes worried about became a fearless woman-child who filled him with pride one minute and something between terror and anger the next. Fast forward a few decades and here she sat, thirty miles from where she grew up, still Daddy’s little girl, when she allowed it, and working non-stop on the cure that would fulfill a secret promise she'd made to her kid sister.

Judy punched off her desktop computer and watched as it powered down, then swiveled her chair 180 degrees to make her getaway for home. Standing slowly she yawned and did a big girl stretch, both of her arms reaching high for the ceiling as her lungs filled with air. In mid-exhale the phone rang loudly, startling her into a freakish leap, like a garden gnome on crack.

“SHIT,” she shrieked, spinning around quickly and lunging at the offending piece of office equipment! She picked up the handset and screamed into the receiver.

“PISS OFF!" she hollered, slamming the handset back into the cradle as she sat back down to catch her breath. She waited for the phone to ring again. She knew it was me; nobody else would be calling at this hour expecting to get an answer. Judy also knew that I wouldn’t sleep until she told me what I needed to know. She watched the phone with an unblinking stare, drumming her fingers on the desk impatiently. I didn’t disappoint her, and she picked up a millisecond after the first ring.

“What Whitey, WHAT?

“Take it easy doll, don’t get your panties in a bunch,” I replied defensively.

“Hey, leave my underwear out of this DICK! Why are you bugging me at this hour anyway? Didn't I tell you to call me in a day or two? ”

Hey, hey, just because you coaxed that family secret outta me in a weak moment doesn’t mean you can throw it back in my face whenever you please. Besides, you promised never to call me that Judy. A promise is a promise!”

That felt a little pathetic and I could tell by the silence on the other end of the line that Judy picked up on my self loathing. I heard her stifle a giggle and waited for her sarcastic come-back line. I didn’t have to wait long.

Awww, sorry bout that Nancy, maybe we can chat more about that when you’re done with your period,” she said with a grin that I could feel through the phone.

“Come on Whitey, I just want to go home, feed my cats and crash for a couple of hours before the freaking alarm screams at me to get up and do this all over again!”

“Funny Judy, you’re a real riot! Look, just tell me what you know about the threads I left you this morning and we can both call it a day!” I snapped.

“Alright, this is getting boring anyway. So, about the threads, well you were right. They’re off a LAPD uniform. Whoever was wearing it was a male with O positive blood. He is likely over forty and is graying slightly. I can’t tell you height, weight, or shoe size, but I can tell you that he smokes and that he likes his sandwiches with brown mustard. How’s that for a freebie? This is a freebie, right Whitey?”

“Ahhh, natch on the freebie doll, I’ll have to owe you for now, you know how it is.”

“Yeah, I know, gumshoes don’t make dick, no pun intended.”

“Okay, I deserved that. But I have to know, how did you glean all of that from three tiny threads?”

“It’s not rocket science Whitey. The threads must have been off a shirt sleeve, near the cuff I’m guessing. Since it's winter time the LAPD is dressing out in their winter gear, right? I figured near the cuff because the hands are next to almost every action we take. Like for instance, eating, smoking, drinking, washing up after taking a leak, or mixing it up on the job with a feisty perp. Am I right?”

“Sounds plausible, I guess that makes sense?”

“Trust me, it makes perfect sense.”

“Still, humor me,” I pleaded.

“Sheesh Whitey, you’re a piece of work,” replied Judy! I could hear her squirming in her chair looking for a more comfortable position. She yawned deeply and then began her dissertation.

“Alright gumshoe, by the numbers then. ONE, three blue cotton fibers, no great stretch, easily traced to the manufacturer, who by the way has an exclusive contract with the city for the fabric; which I identified by lot through the dye in the material. TWO, blood type recognition, also a no brainer. The fella may have got a paper cut issuing a citation or maybe cut himself shaving, I don’t know, but the samples tested as O positive and had traces of testosterone in the sweat also found on the fibers. THREE, the gray hair was a lucky find as one of the fibers had a small follicle on it, likely from his arm. That was another indicator that we are dealing with a male subject here, well that and the testosterone. FOUR, the age is an educated guess based on the follicle. FIVE, traces of nicotine were on the follicle as well as the threads. And finally SIX, the fella must have gone to the same charm school as you did because this little piggy likes his deli with spicy brown mustard. Just like you, right Whitey? There, is that enough detail for you?”

I offered up my praise with a long and low whistle over the telephone line and I could hear her snicker tiredly on the other end.

“Very impressive, you’re just too cool for school Miss Looney, why aren’t we sleeping together anyway?”

“You’re a class act Roode, unfortunately you’re also an asshole. Besides, I’d rather do the deed with your ex, you know that.”

“That’s right; you two are still thick as thieves aren’t you. Thanks for rubbing it in.”

“My pleasure, on both counts,” she replied softly.

“On that note I’m hanging up and going to bed,” I said, half hoping she felt like talking more. I always had a soft spot for Looney Tunes even if she was a rival of sorts.

“Okay, I’m doing the same. G’nite Whitey, hope that helps you earn a buck or two.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see. G‘nite…”

Friday, October 19, 2012

(“I would give everything I own, just to have you back again…”)…David Gates…1969

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Nine

Nanjing, China 1999

I’m told she was a precocious child, not a bad little girl really, but one could easily describe her as naughty. It amazes me how early females learn to use their sex to manipulate the male world. Men, they are so easy. It was here where I first laid eyes on Mei Li Teng. She was ten years old, soon to be eleven. It was here when I first decided to kill her. Not right away mind you, one likes to savor a meal before devouring it. I remember studying her as she laughed and giggled through her everyday. I remember her sweet voice, the voice of a child on the cusp of puberty, completely unaware of the changes she would soon experience. I watched her interact with family and friends, as they trod through life in their tenement neighborhood. Their apartment building was a very modern high rise structure, but it could not mask the adverse effects of a communist society. Not even the McDonalds and KFC franchises scattered around town, just like in the larger cities, like Shanghai and Beijing could mask the reality that 'The Party' was large and in charge.

Such a droll and dreary existence was her life. I could see straight away that there was little hope of her ever escaping the future planned for her by proxy as wife, mother, and shrew, a common fate in much of this sad world. Not to worry though, she had me to save her from that maudlin destiny. I would see to it that she never live a life like that. I am puppet master now, until the moment of her death, I will guide her on a path of my choosing. How many times have I played this role? How many souls have I sentenced to purgatory? I stopped counting long ago. It’s not important.

Japanese Village, San Pedro St, Los Angeles…Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009…2:30pm

Any cop will tell you that stake outs are the worst! Unless you are Lon freaking Chaney, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY knows you’re on the job, which more than likely includes the perp you're tailing! Seriously, unless you're totally mental, it ain't hard to spot someone who doesn't belong where they are, especially when that someone is sitting in an unmarked car swilling black coffee and noshing on Krispy Kremes. That sort of cover only works in Hollyweird sweetheart. If you really want to blend in you have to do your homework. You can’t just show up disguised in a handyman's onesie with a fake mustache and expect to be invisible. Good police work, specifically good detective work requires a balanced equation:

(i + p) + g / l

Essentially equal parts of instinct, planning, and guts divided by LUCK, that all important random element.

That said, I adjusted my JETS cap and walked across 1st street with a small crowd as the light changed. I know what you’re thinking, a New York JETS cap in LA, so much for blending in, right? Well you’d be wrong! It turns out Little Tokyo is lousy with transplanted New Yorkers, so a little Kelly green would likely go unnoticed. It was a minimal risk at the most. My only real concern was whether or not Lt. Wanker had any goons tailing me. Now that would be down right embarrassing, staked out while on a stakeout! Wouldn’t exactly be a glowing testament to my qualities as a gumshoe now would it. But I digress. My guy was sitting in a window seat at a popular shabu-shabu joint about thirty yards ahead of me. The place was always packed because a.) the food here is wicked good and b.) it's cheap! Of course the young girls working the hostess station in their Geisha outfits didn’t hurt either. You could count on waiting in line twenty to thirty minutes at this time of day, which worked out perfectly for me given my task at hand, which was watching and waiting. I was certain that I wouldn’t have to wait long as I was pretty sure that I was tailing the right fella.

Now, Marco may not have seen Lu's cop friend’s face earlier at Bella Terra, but he did manage to catch enough of the license plate for me to make a few calls to a buddy on the job. He didn’t take long to put a name with the squad car in question. LAPD dispatch is positively anal when it comes to accounting for city property. Raymond Abernathy, Ray–Ray to his friends, looked like he was really enjoying his meal, at least from my cat-bird seat out front as I waited my turn to enter and be seated. Clearly he wasn’t too worried about being seen since he was making an absolute spectacle of himself. He had the tablecloth tucked into his shirt beneath his chin (both of them), and I swear I think I heard him slurping his Miso soup from way out here! Ray-Ray was a fifteen year veteran, having spent most of that time in bunko. But the last two years he’d been assigned to Hollenbeck’s homicide task force. Now that’s not the usual path to the big time, most homicide shields come through the narcotics ranks. He must have been living right or maybe he caught a “higher up’ in a compromising position with one of the working girls? Who knows for sure? Regardless of how he got from there to here, he’d landed a plum spot with an elite group. Well, elite except for the leadership, he was working under Lt. Celaya after all. I shouldn’t pass judgment I guess, but I calls em like I sees em!

I blended in with the lunch crowd as best as I could. Most of them were Wall Street types in thousand dollar suits; and I couldn’t exactly stand around reading the Wall Street Journal in my blue collar get up, now could I? So I covered my bases with a copy of Sports Illustrated, the swim suit edition of course. Hey, no working man should leave home without one, am I right? At one point Ray-Ray looked up from his meal and made eye contact with me, just as I was about to finally enter the restaurant. He didn’t seem to recognize me and judging by his expression he was looking right through me anyway. I let the hostess seat me on the opposite end of the joint, far enough away to go un-noticed but close enough to listen in on any conversation that might occur. I knew that Jai would arrive any time as I had contacted Lu on the way over. He had mentioned that Jai had a pressing lunch date and armed with the G2 from my cop buddy I knew where and when that meeting would rake place. What I didn’t know was why? All I had was a gut feeling that Jai was more than Lu’s partner in love and life. Like I said earlier, when my gut talks I listen! I took my seat and thanked the kimono clad teenager who was grinning at my choice of reading material.

“Thanks sweetheart,” I said with a wink.

“Don’t mention it,” she replied, pointing at the Sports Illustrated.

“Is that this year’s swimsuit edition,” she asked?

“As a matter of fact it is, why? Are you in here somewhere kid?”

“Oh no, of course not; I was just wondering why guys get all worked up about that magazine is all. I mean it’s a sports periodical, right? What do half naked women have to do with sports? I guess I just don’t get it,” she replied in a huffy tone. I chalked it up to a hard day on her feet. Or, she was PMS'ing, either was a plausible guess I guess.

“Because we’re guys silly, duh,” I answered just as quick.

She giggled and walked away. What a bubblehead I thought as I watched her warm young form make its way back to the hostess station. I scolded myself for my wicked thoughts and turned my attention back to Ray-Ray. He was on his cell now and from the looks of things not particularly happy with whoever was on the other end? His pink face was turning red and he looked as if he was about to slam a fist through the table top when Jai Lai walked in. Jai walked up to the table, snapped his flip phone shut abruptly and sat down in a heap. No need to continue wondering who Ray-Ray was talking to, mystery solved! The two men, well, one man and one male, instantly fell into a heated but controlled conversation. Ray-Ray was clearly upset and Jai seemed to be doing his best to calm him.

For a second there I thought that the big cop was going to pull his piece and shoot the little homo right there in front of God and Country. And then, just as suddenly, Ray-Ray leaned back and burst into an attention grabbing belly laugh. Jai looked stunned and relieved at the same time. He must have been thinking the same thing I was. Whatever he said seemed to have done the trick, and the two of them eased back into a more normal, much calmer conversational posture. To quote George Thoroughgood, “Lord, they were lovey dovey.”

The waitress came and took my order and I settled on the Kobe beef and Kurobuta pork combo with the usual sides of veggies. Shabu Shabu isn’t my favorite Asian bill of fare but it fills an empty hole and right now my stomach was pushing the red zone on the old tummy scale! The food came quickly and I busied myself dipping the veggies first and then the meats into the pot of boiling water. I watched the two men continue their conversation with one eye and my lunch with the other. I had just dipped my first mouthful in the sauce when the two of them got up and walked out of the restaurant. So much for lunch! I pulled a twenty out of my shirt pocket and stuffed as big a bite as I could into my mouth before I hurried after the odd couple.

As soon as I stepped outside I saw them get into Ray-Ray’s unmarked police cruiser. I was screwed! Wherever they were headed it was going to be without my shadow on their tails. Whatever they were up to was yet to be discovered. Time for plan B, back to USC to see what my favorite nut-bar, Looney Tunes, had come up with, although I was pretty sure the blue fibers would lead me back to Ray-Ray somehow? Anyway, there was no use wasting a perfectly good meal. I went back into the Shabu Shabu joint and finished my lunch!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

(“Be on my side I’ll be on your side, baby. There is no reason for you to hide”)…Neil Young...1969

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Eight

Anthony’s Bella Terra, 6th & Broadway…Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009…12:30pm

Angelo Manzano happily greeted two guests as they entered his restaurant. He recognized them both, they were a couple of the regulars from one of the insurance firms across the street, Fidelity something or other he thought? It wasn’t important, as long as they came hungry and carried paper or plastic they were welcome at the Bella Terra. He grabbed two menus from the small host station and ushered them into the dark ambiance of cozy little booths with blood red upholstery and lighting so dim you almost needed sonar to find your way to the restroom.

“Hey, look who’s here, welcome, welcome, buono giorno my friends,” he said shaking hands with a tall man in a Brooks Brothers suit and smiling broadly at his female companion.

“Please, come in, come in,” he continued in his deep and rich baritone voice.

Angelo wasn’t tall but he was thick, with a barrel chest and a neck that you’d need a chainsaw to cut through, should the need ever arise. He and his not so little brother Johnny, affectionately known around town as Fat Johnny, owned and operated the Bella Terra. They were a likeable pair of true blood Sicilian immigrants who had been serving up their momma’s recipes for better than twenty years in the city of angels. Their place has been my regular Friday night meal ticket since the early days when I was with the LAPD. Fat Johnny even created a dish just for me that he called Veal Sinatra because I am such a fan of old blue eyes. I was actually flattered but I’m pretty sure Frank probably wasn’t!

“So what’s good today Angelo,” the tall man asked taking a seat.

“Everything of course,” Angelo replied as he helped to seat the lady.

“Maybe you want I should ask Johnny to prepare the usual for you, huh?”

“Actually I’m feeling adventurous, what’s the special today?”

“Ah, you picked a good day for adventure my friend, today it is Veal Sinatra,” Angelo announced beaming!

Oooo, what’s that,” his companion asked excitedly?

“Medallions of tender and moist veal covered in fresh spinach, pecorino and parmagano-regiano cheese, with a white wine Marcela sauce. It is molta bella, you will like, I promise you,” Angelo answered proudly.

“Sounds like a winner Angelo, bring us two specials and a couple glasses of the house Chianti,” the tall man ordered. He handed back the unopened menus and winked at his lunch date. Angelo smiled as he took the menus from his patron, amused by the couple’s little affare.

“Excellent choice my friend, excellent, I will send Marco with the vino right away,” Angelo replied enthusiastically. He turned and headed for the kitchen, rolling his eyes as he approached his head waiter Marco.

“Table 4 Marco, two glasses of the cheap red for Senor Smooth and his tramp,” he instructed sarcastically as he passed through the swinging doors into the busy kitchen. He spotted his brother Johnny tasting a fresh batch of marinara with a slice of focaccia bread. Mama mia, such an immigrant, you’d think he’d have learned a thing or two in the twenty some years they had been here. Angelo considered himself the sophisticate in the Manzano family even though he still drank his wine from a jelly jar.

Il mio dio! What if I was the health inspector stupido,” roared Angelo.

“HEY! My kitchen, my rules! Rule number one, English only in my kitchen,” Fat Johnny answered nonplussed, completely unaffected by his brother’s tirade. Let’s face it; he heard one every stinkin day!

“This is OUR restaurant, not yours,” Angelo replied more than a little miffed by his brother’s remark.

“No, on this side of the doors it is my kitchen, and on the other side it is your restaurant, capisce,” Johnny explained, dramatically tearing another piece of bread to dip in the pot just to piss off his snooty older brother.

The boys were about to declare a bicker war as was their routine at least 2 to 3 times a day, when I walked in through the rear kitchen entrance. Fat Johnny saw me first and acknowledged my presence with a roll of his eyes. They were the color of black Spanish olives, buried deep in his huge round head. I studied him for a second. His eyes reminded me of a sharks eyes, unchanged by mood or expression, virtually unreadable. And it occurred to me that this was quite an advantage, and it explained why he always seemed to do well whenever he sat in at one of my monthly poker games. Note to self, when Johnny’s in I am out! Angelo was busy attacking his brother’s kitchen etiquette and general slovenly appearance and Johnny was doing his best to ignore him. But he snapped when Angelo brought their mother into the fracas.

“ENOUGH Angelo you skinny stuffed shirt! Leave Momma out of this or the next thing I dip into this pot will be your pointed little head,” Johnny said icily, his cool dark eyes focused intently on his older and much smaller brother. The air in the room actually felt colder and if Angelo wasn’t scared, I was suddenly scared for him! This seemed like the right time to announce myself and save Angelo from himself.

“Hey there fellas, how about showing a little love for your old pal Whitey,” I said as cheerfully as possible. The room was silent for a long minute, all activity on hold waiting to see which way the wind was going to blow. Suddenly Johnny burst out laughing in his contagious jolly way and everyone in the room started breathing again. He slapped his brother on the back and brushed past him to get to me. Johnny put me into one of his famous bear hugs, lifting me easily off of the ground, all 190 pounds of me.

“Johnny…Johnny…Johnny, turn me loose before I pass out ya big ape,” I gasped, pleading in a horsed whisper as I was nearly out of breath. Angelo came over to join in the fun and made me a thin slice of meat in a Manzano sandwich. They let me go after a couple of uncomfortable minutes and I staggered backward while my lungs filled with air.

“Hey, where were you last night,” Angelo asked with an accusing tone?

“Yeah, where were you Whitey,” echoed Fat Johnny?

“Just a sec, let me catch my breath,” I replied as I gulped in a couple of deep breaths.

“You know what, forget the restaurant biz, we can make a killing in the WWF!”

“You two wear the tights and fight and I’ll manage the team and the cash, what do ya say,” I joked as my head cleared. They both ignored me and waited for a real answer to their question. Note to self, never keep two Italian brothers waiting for long, it’ll turn dangerous sooner than later.

“Check, well the truth is I was in the pokey last night,” I confessed.

“Celaya,” they asked in unison?

“Natch…Celaya,” I replied. They nodded and moved to hug me again.

“Whoa, hold on there team Manzano, this old body can’t take any more tag team love today, I think you guys may have cracked a rib or two!”

That brought more laughter and scattered smiles from the kitchen help as my two friends gently led me out into the restaurant and seated me at their family table by the cash register. We wedged our way into the corner booth, Whitey in the middle again. Angelo gestured for Marco to bring some wine and gave him the ‘and pronto’ look. We spent a few minutes catching up, the brothers filling me in on their on again off again love affair with the Mayor’s Office. Translation, they loved the attention he brought the place by eating there 3 or 4 times a week, but were tired of picking up the check, especially the bar tab! They brought me up to date on their feud with a wannabe Hispanic gang from the east side who called themselves Los Solomente Dudes. I chuckled at that. They sounded more like a gaggle of homos from WeHo (that’s West Hollywood in Angelino speak) than a bad ass gang from the barrio. Nevertheless, they were making nuisances of themselves trying to shake down the Mexicans working at Bella Terra sans a green card.

The Manzano brothers knew it was against the law to hire illegal aliens but they were both softhearted and could not bring themselves to turn away anyone willing to work hard. Neither one of them had any political savvy nor were they aware of the hoopla surrounding the hot topic being argued in print and on the little screens across California and the rest of the Country. As far as they were concerned it was live and let live, that was their approach to life. And that was the message those solomente dudes would receive Italiano style if they continued to mess with the help. The boys never mentioned it and they never would, but I knew for a fact that the brothers were connected, and let’s just leave it at that. So, rest in peace Solomente Dudes. Eventually the table talk circulated around to me and my current events.

“So why’d Celaya pop you this time Whitey, you messing with his teenybopper wife,” asked Fat Johnny? He was referring to the latest Mrs. Celaya, number five if my count is accurate. Not exactly a May – December relationship, more than a January – December one. Translation, Lt. Ass-wipe was a cradle robber.

“It doesn’t matter, suffice to say I violated Los Angeles Penal Code 123, unfortunate contact with inept official in the poor performance of his duty,” I replied sarcastically.

“What,” they asked together?

“I pissed him off,” I explained.

“Oh, why didn’t you just say so? You’re always tossing around ten dollar syllables Whitey. Talk like a person, will ya,” Johnny said scolding me.

“Noted, thanks Johnny,” I replied with a crooked smile.

“Hey, your gaio friend was in here for espresso this morning,” mentioned Angelo.

“What friend?”

“Your gaio friend, you know the omosessuale.”

“Give me a break Angelo, my Italian is pretty limited.”

Scusarsi, I mean excuse me. You know; the little Asian homo friend of yours. The one that owns the Jew deli up town with the other gaio,” Angelo explained.

“Nice Angelo, so what about him?”

“Well, he just wasn’t himself, ya know? I mean he was out there, like sleep walking or something, does that make sense?”

“Actually it does. Lu’s niece was murdered the other night. Actually that’s the case I’ve been working on, the one that Celaya popped me for yesterday,” I explained.

“I knew you were pushing his buttons,” Fat Johnny chimed in.

“No, not Lu, the other one, the squirrely one, you know, the bella donna,” corrected Angelo.

“That’s right, the chatty one with all the fancy jewelry,” Johnny added.

“You mean Jai,” I asked puzzled?

“Yeah, Jai, that’s him,” confirmed Angelo.

“Really? What was he doing on this side of town, I mean Jai Lai wouldn’t venture this far into the city if his hair was ablaze and the streets were lined with naked firefighters,” I asked, wondering out loud.

“How should I know, I don’t speak Jew and I don’t keep kosher. Whatever the reason he pretty much kept it to himself. Now that I think about it, I don’t think he said a word to anyone, at least not in English,” continued Angelo, rubbing his five o’clock shadow as he spoke.

“What do you mean not in English?” I asked.

“He made a couple of calls and talked Jew to someone,” Angelo replied.

“How do you know he was speaking Jewish, you just said that you weren’t Kosher? Jai is Chinese ace, maybe he was speaking Chinese,” I said, pressing him just a little, hoping to jog his memory and get a clearer picture.

“I KNOW JEW WHEN I HEAR IT!" Angelo barked.

"Besides, Chinatown is the next block over, and Johnny and me hear Chinese all the time,” he added as a matter of fact in a much calmer tone.

“Alright, alright, don’t bust a vein. Do you remember anything that he said?”

“How many times I gotta tell you, I don’t understand Jew talk!”

“Come on Angelo, you don’t remember anything? It’s your old pal Whitey you’re talking to. Everyone knows that you’re the unofficial gatekeeper for gossip and secrets in this town,” I said, laying it on thick as I stroked his ego.

“Why the Bella Terra is where all the A-listers come to let their hair down and eat in the dark while they ping on one another over bottles of vino.”

A smile spread across Angelo’s giantic cranium, apparently that line stroked his ego hard enough to jog a memory.

Una minuto, there is something else. He said the same Chinese word many times on both calls,” Angelo added.

“I thought you said he was speaking Jew, your words?”

“Yes, yes he was, but he used this one Chinese word over and over?”

“Well, what was it?”

Femmina, you know, bitch,” he said a little louder than he meant to, drawing a little attention from the next booth.

“Really, and the Chinese have a word for bitch?” I asked stifling a grin.

“Yes, yes, bitch, that’s what he said.”

“How do you know that word in Chinese?”

“It’s no mystery. We get our tiramisu from a Chinese bakery down the street. The delivery boy is always yelling at his girlfriend on his cell phone. Bitch comes up a lot in their conversations,” Angelo explained. Actually, I don’t think there is a word for bitch in Chinese, but I decided not to make a big deal about it lest this conversation linger longer than need be.

“Maybe bitch is a term of endearment, did you think of that? You know how kids are today, homes are cribs, bad is good, up is down, and sometimes bitch just means honey or sweetie,” I explained.

Angelo thought about that for a minute and then shook his head as he finished his second glass of wine. He made a face like he had just bit into a lemon and then replied, “Madre di Dio, these children, this world!” He waived at Marco who was standing at the host station sipping a club soda. The lean head waiter took a big sip of his drink and then fast walked over to our table.

“Si Senori,” he said.

“More wine Marco,” Angelo ordered.

“Si Senori,” Marco replied. He turned to leave but Angelo stopped him before he got too far.

“Wait, Marco wait!” bellowed Angelo.

“Si Senori?”

“You were here this morning, yes?”

“Si Senori.”

“Do you remember the little Jew, the one from the deli uptown, he was arguing with his telephone, you remember that?”

“Si Senori.”

“What do you remember exactly,” I asked butting in.

“The little man was angry with someone on his cell,” Marco answered.

“I see, what else?” I replied, giving him more time to remember.

“Um, he mentioned the polizia a couple of times, that’s about it” he answered.

“What about em?”

“Nothing really, He said they were stupid, and that they deserved whatever happened next,”

That got my attention. Lu didn’t strike me as the violent or threatening type, and I was pretty sure he didn’t socialize with any of the boys in blue? Blue boys maybe, but not any of he blue crew. I pressed a little harder.

“Come on Marco, what the hell? I know you fella, you speak four languages, including Hebrew, and you’re the eyes and ears for the tabloids around town. There isn’t a paparazzi worth his salt that doesn’t grease your palm weekly for what you see and overhear, so what gives?”

Marco smiled thinly and considered my blatant kowtowing. He would have blown me off if it weren’t for the lethal stare he was receiving from Johnny.

“Well, he didn’t name names, but he was angry at a cop I think, referring to him as sarge or something like that,” Marco added.

Sarge huh? You’re certain it wasn’t lieutenant?” I asked, suspecting Celaya.

“I’m positive, and he was nearby too because Lu said he saw him and looked out the window. I looked when he did and saw one of those unmarked cars across the street. You know the kind that are even more obvious then the black and whites.”

“Did you see what the driver looked like?”

“No. Lu left abruptly and trotted across the street and spoke through the window for a couple of seconds then went around and got in the car with whoever was driving. And that’s about it. So if you’ll excuse me I’ll go fetch the wine,” replied Marco. He turned on his heel and left, this time uninterrupted by the boss.

I sat there and stared out the same window Lu had looked through and

tried to replay what I had just heard. It didn’t make sense at the moment. What was Lu doing at the Bella Terra? What was he doing with an LAPD sergeant? What about the blue threads that Looney Tunes was analyzing over at USC, would they somehow lead back to this mystery cop, and why? What was Lu doing at the Bella Terra, he hated this place, it was so downtown! I was getting a headache thinking about it and decided I needed a drink. The wine was a good start but after supper I'll head over to Casey’s and do some real thinking with my Old Grandad! I smiled at Angelo who was studying my face.

“Okay Angelo, bring me Johnny’s special, it’ll help me think,” I said with a wink.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

(”five to one baby, one in five, no one here gets out alive…”)…The Doors

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Seven

Time is relative…nowhere in particular, Los Angeles

"Are you enjoying following around this pissant Whitey Roode? Yes, I’m talking to you silly goose! You’re the one turning the pages aren’t you? Don’t be shy, my words won’t hurt you. They may make you feel a little queer, but they can’t harm you, well, the words that is. Quite a character don’t you think? He amuses me, and for that reason alone I think I’ll let him live a while longer. Sometimes it’s more fun to be the mouse instead of the cat, am I right? I mean it’s certainly more exciting, fearing the unexpected. For me, that happens so rarely. I rather enjoy the change of pace. Still; when the time is right, when he’s close to solving the puzzle that is me, it will be my blade that he discovers in the end. Pity, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. They also say (whoever they are) that no good deed goes unpunished. Sad, but true in Whitey’s case, I’ll miss him, poor thing."

Ahmanson Center for Biological Research, USC, Feb 17, 2009…8am

Mornings are always hectic on campus, especially Tuesday mornings. You would think Mondays would be the one, but not USC, the University of Spoiled Children. Most of the kids around here needed an extra day to recover from the weekend. That didn't matter to Judy Looney; her routine was the same day in and day out. Jump out of bed right after the second snooze alarm, pee, hop in and out of the cold shower, pee again, brush your teeth with one hand and swirl a q-tip in your ear with the other. Then gargle with a healthy dose of Listerine, cool mint of course, and throw together an outfit from the pile of clothes on the floor, whatever passes the sniff test that is. And viola, Showtime! At least that was Judy Looney’s routine, just as it had been since leaving boring and dreary Nebraska for exciting and sunny California, some twenty years ago. This Monday would not be any different as the snooze alarm screamed for the second time.

“SHIT,” Judy exclaimed, suddenly wide awake.

Leaping out of her toasty warm trundle bed Judy scurried down the hall to the bathroom. I know what you’re thinking, what’s a forty something college professor doing sleeping on a bed designed for a teenybopper? Well, the short answer is that emotionally she was perpetually sixteen at best. The long complicated answer was that college professors made squat, and the brilliant ones tended to make even less than that due to the fact that they were usually too wrapped up in their projects to worry about trivial little things like say, oh I don’t know, like making a living maybe? Incredible, I know, but that was her lifestyle, God bless her. To be honest, I sort of envied her, a dyed in the wool, womb to tomb egghead without a care in the world!

As she scrubbed her face in the shower, Judy recited the day’s agenda. She shivered under the steady stream of icy cold water, while her perky set of 34 Cs bounced like gelatin on a plate, and warbled a long brrrrrrr. Thermal shock showers were just one of many routines she had brought with her from the farm, like starting the day early, like when it was still night. I guess there’s nothing like a little hypothermia to clear the cobwebs from your brain. Turning away from the showerhead she leaned back and put her head under the falling ice pellets to rinse the conditioner out of her hair. Then, wrapping her hair in that turban-like manner, the one that all girls know how to do from birth, she stepped out of the tub and got herself powdered and dressed in nanoseconds. I bet that would have been something to see, but I digress. If only I had had the foresight to come to her place instead of her office on campus, I might have had an opportunity to tickle that bisexual funny bone of hers? In any event, she arrived to work with wet hair and a mouth full of a half chewed Assiago bagel which had been smothered in cream cheese. You know, on second thought maybe it was a good thing meeting on campus after all, because this broad was no Miss Manners!

Dr. Judith Looney opened the door and fell into her small office more than walking into it. It was sort of like an aircraft carrier landing, a controlled crash! She dropped an arm full of books and papers onto her already cluttered desk and flopped into an old leather chair that had seen better days. You know, I’ve always heard that an unorganized workspace usually means a hyper organized mind, and darned if she proved that as soon as she spoke.

"Practicing breaking an entering this morning are you?" she asked, noticing me sitting on a beat up sofa across from her desk.

"You know how impatient I am," I replied.

“Look Whitey, I've got a class in 14 minutes, but because you’re Ronnie’s former fella I’ll give you 5 minutes to speak your mind while I look around for my lecture notes,” she explained, her eyes never acknowledging me.

“Oh yeah, nice to see you again, sorry,” Judy added finally looking up.

“Ditto, sweetheart, and I’ll make this quick,” I replied getting up from my seat.

“Promises, promises!” she answered sarcastically.

“Clock’s ticking gumshoe, talk fast,” she added as she stuffed her lecture notes into an old tattered briefcase that she’d inherited from her father (the original Dr. Looney) after graduating from Stanford’s Medical School, and collapsed into her chair.

“Since you put it that way, here’s the sitch. I’m working a murder case for mutual friends. You know them, from poker night, the Mahu couple, Jai and Lu.”

“Yeah, so, what about them?”

“The stiff is Jai’s niece, an FOB from Shanghai. She was supposed to be here to attend school but apparently changed her plans once she got here, taking Jai and Lu’s tuition money and starting her own business,” I explained.

“What kind of business?” asked Judy.

“The kind that gets you dead,” I answered.

“Tick tock Whitey, I haven’t got time for 20 questions?”

“Right, well she wasn’t a spy, and she didn’t sell drugs,” I continued.

“Ergo she was in the flesh business, I get it. Let’s see, was she a stripper, a hooker, an escort, or what?”

“I suspect all of the above. At any rate, suffice to say she obviously stepped on somebody’s toes,” I replied, slightly annoyed with her attitude.

“So what do you want from me?"

“I need you to run these fibers through your wiz-bang watch-ya-ma-call-it machines and tell me all there is to tell,” I answered, tossing her the sandwich bag containing the blue threads I took from Sally’s apartment last night. She took the bag and gave me an 'is that all' look, rolling her eyes and shrugging her shoulders.

“Ah, you realize that my wiz-bang equipment, as you call it, belongs to the State of California, and that I could lose my tenure doing g-jobs for the likes of you?”

“Come on Judy, after all I’ve done for you? I mean, didn’t I look the other way when you started screwing my ex, or whatever you call what the two of you were doing in my own bed while I was out risking life and limb on the mean streets of Los Angeles? That has to be worth something, right?” I pleaded.

Judy giggled at that remark and tucked the sandwich bag into her briefcase with her lecture notes and her sack lunch. She got up, walked around the table and took my arm. Then together we walked out of the office.

“You really were clueless back then weren’t you Whitey,” she said, smiling finally.

“I guess you could say that. I mean I always knew that Rhonda suffered from penis envy, but I never thought that meant literally. I thought she was just mean and bossy!”

“Ha-ha, you’re funny, that’s what I like that about you. And I have to admit, I never would have thought in a million years that you would come to terms with Ronnie leaving you for me? And the fact that we’re all still friends amazes me. Most guys, especially cops, would have shot both of us the day they found out,” Judy explained, giving my arm a gentle squeeze in the process.

We stopped at the entrance to the Ahmanson building and she kissed me full on the mouth, holding my face in her hands. “What’s that for,” I asked, nearly swooning?

“That’s for being such a good sport,” she answered. Then she curled her boney little fist and punched me hard in the arm.

“And that’s for slipping me your tongue just now,” she added, breaking free of me and jogging ahead before I could react.

“HEY, you can’t blame a guy for trying,” I shouted rubbing my arm where hit me!

“Yes I can,” she shouted back, opening the door to enter.

“WHAT ABOUT MY FIBERS!” I hollered after her.

“I’ll have something in a day or two, call me then,” she answered, as she disappeared into the building.

I smacked my lips together, still tasting her bubblegum flavored mouthwash and fanaticized for a couple of seconds about stealing her away from my ex. Now that would be a hoot I thought to myself, actually considering it?


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