For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
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!