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Friday, November 23, 2012

(“but when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine, he broke my little bottle of, love potion number 9”)…The Clover’s

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Fourteen

Bella Terra Restaurant, Los Angeles…Saturday, Feb 21, 2009…2pm

Ever notice that there never seems to be a quiet moment in a restaurant? It’s just an observation. I mean I’ve never actually owned one or worked in one, but I eat in them all the time, six days out of seven since returning to bachelor status. I don’t know, maybe early mornings, before the staff arrives, or late at night when its time to lock up? Those might be good times to grab a moment’s peace? I wonder about that whenever I think about the Manzano brothers, Johnny and Angelo or when I’m remembering Lu and Jai, my favorite swishy Asians. It’s hard to believe that they’re gone. It’s harder still to believe the murder suicide theory that Oscar and his minions were trying to sell to John Q. Public. I’ve been in this business long enough to know things are rarely exactly what they appear to be, especially at first glance.

You know, another saying my old mother was fond of sharing was, “the apple’s always sweeter near the core.” It was part of her whole “patience is a virtue” lecture series. The point is I knew those two guys pretty darn well. After all, I’ve been noshing on freebies at their deli for better than twenty years. This puzzle wouldn’t be that easy to solve. From the proper angle even 2 plus 2 isn’t a sure thing. Besides, there’s no way either one of them could have murdered the other. Even a card carrying homophobe like me could see they were in love, truly in love. Those guys (that’s right I said guys) had the kind of love every girl dreams of and every fella fears. The kind that merged two lives, blended them, and transformed them, from individual to couple. Seriously, until I met Lu and Jai I can honestly say that I never really understood what it meant to be a ‘couple.’ But I digress...

Fat Johnny stirred a huge pot of Mama Manzano’s famous Sicilian marinara sauce on the front burner. It must have been near ready because he was also dipping some crusty bread into the pot and giving it a taste.

“HEY, knucklehead, whatta ya doing, you’re going to get sauce all over your suit! Mama mia, we gotta go in fifteen minutes Johnny, we’ll be late for the memorial service!” scolded brother Angelo.

Johnny looked down at his white shirt and black silk tie, checking for splash stains. There weren’t any, luckily. He turned to face his nagging older brother and pointed at his clothes with half a loaf of bread. He would have fired off a snappy reply too if not for the fact that the other half of the loaf was sticking from out of his mouth as he chewed. Instead he grunted and gave the pot another lazy stir.

“Lovely,” replied Angelo as he stormed out of the kitchen and out into the restaurant.

Johnny chuckled, stepped away from the stove and removed the dish towel tucked into his waistband. He folded it quickly and draped it through the bar on the pizza oven door then followed his brother out of the kitchen. He didn’t want to be late to the little homo’s funeral either. I’d meet up with them there later, but first I had some unfinished business with Dr. Looney, strictly business, unfortunately.

UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building…Saturday, Feb 21, 2009…6pm

Just being on the enemy’s campus couldn’t be wrong, could it? I mean it’s not a venal sin or anything; Judy was pretty sure about that. But, just to be on the safe side, she made a mental note to keep this visit short and remember to light a candle before Mass on Sunday. Actually, she wouldn’t have had to come here at all if not for a piece of special equipment she needed to use. Why the Bruins could afford one and Tommy Trojan could not was beyond her? It wasn’t worth pondering though; those decisions were made way above her pay grade anyway. All she knew was that she needed time on the machine in order to answer a few nagging questions that involved the blue threads I had left with her a few days ago.

Apparently Doctor Looney had hastily drawn her conclusions and was feeling a little guilty. Or maybe she felt sorry for me after giving me the bum’s rush earlier today? Okay, that was probably wishful thinking on my part. Anyway, between bites of her cup-o-noodles supper she had an epiphany and presto the need for the XHR SEM at UCLA. Judy had access to a scanning electron microscope on her home turf, but the one on the Bruin campus was much sexier. It was an XHR model, an extra high resolution SEM. And Judy Looney wasn’t above using her physical attributes to worm her way into whatever lab housed that unit. Apparently I wasn’t the only fella trying to coax her back onto team hetero! So after wolfing down the last of her workaholic meal she changed into her very best pair of guy friendly jogging shorts and her favorite one size too small USC sweatshirt, minus the sports bra of course, fishing was always better when the twins swung free. Whichever lab tech was her admirer, he (or she, I shouldn’t assume) didn’t stand a chance!

“Sweet,” exclaimed Judy, spotting a space in front of Young Hall, right next to the Molecular Sciences Building!

Down-shifting her little two seat sports car, a Mazda Miata (not her dream ride, but on her salary it would have to do), she whipped into the prized slot and screeched to a halt. The maneuver was totally unnecessary this hour of the day, but Judy loved her new toy and she took every opportunity to show off her sports car skills. If memory served she thought, Ernie Namura would be noshing on a NY style pizza right about now, and likely craving a cold one to help wash it down. She reached around and tapped her backpack with her key ring, listening for the reassuring clunk of metal to glass. Satisfied with the dull retort she locked the car with the beeper and headed toward the building entrance.

Ernie had been one of her less than stellar undergrad students a couple of years ago. But where he came up short scholastically made up for as a teacher’s pet, satisfying her Starbucks addiction every morning like clockwork, occasionally adding a cheese Danish for good measure! She wasn’t sure if it was a grade he was after or a shot at fulfilling his “hot for teacher” fantasy, but he was a guy so she felt confident in her chances of getting onto the SEM with a little harmless flirtation. She remembered him as a total frat boy, beer (Sapporo) and pizza (Dominos) were the essence of life as far as he was concerned, typical for a thirty something techie and perennial bachelor.

Judy took the steps two at a time up to the heavy security door and entered the code Ernie had sent via text before she had left her apartment. The light on the little black box changed from red to green as it released the magnetic lock, allowing her access to the building. Entering quickly she headed down the long hall toward the radiology department. He shouldn’t be too hard to find, all she had to do was follow the pepperoni vapors wafting down the long hallway. About halfway down she heard Led Zeppelin emanating from one of the labs behind a set of swinging double doors. She knew the tune, The 'Immigrant Song' she thought, recognizing the familiar melody. Suddenly the doors burst open and out popped Ernie Namura, his arms heavily laden with a stack of thick manila folders that he could barely see over. He was working on a half eaten slice stuffed in and out of his mouth, breathing heavily and chewing loudly as he rushed by her. Judy side stepped the fast moving techie, flattening herself up against the wall.

“Whoa, sorry ma'am, I didn’t see you,” apologized Ernie, the words nearly unintelligible through the mouthful of half chewed pizza.

“No worries Ernie-san, it’s me, Judy.”

Ernie stopped abruptly and turned back toward the voice. He leaned against the wall to free up his right hand and pulled the pizza out of his mouth. Swallowing hard, he choked down the wad of food clogging his airway and managed a reply.

Oh, man, sorry Prof, I totally forgot you were coming, it’s been wicked busy here tonight,” Ernie apologized, wiping the cheese and pepperoni grease off his mouth with the sleeve of his lab coat. Judy gingerly took the half eaten slice from his hand with her thumb and forefinger and put it back into his mouth.

“That’s okay, you go drop off that stack of files and I’ll just wait for you right here in your lab. I'll break out a couple of the cold ones that I brought to bribe you to look the other way while I log onto the SEM with your code. Does that work for you?” Judy asked, reaching around with both hands to tap her backpack, and giving Ernie a good look at her "C" size beauties as they stretched the fabric beneath the USC logo. It was like watching two bobcats fighting under a thin blanket, the poor guy was hypnotized.

Ahhhh, yeah, sure, I’ll just be a sec, make yourself at home,” he replied as he sprinted off to wherever he was headed.

“K,” she said sweet as pie.

Judy smiled coyly and went on into the lab, this was going to be fun she thought. The instant she entered the room and the heavy doors closed behind her she felt it. The thermostat read 72 degrees yet she was chilled? An air of foreboding surrounded her, why? And a familiar clinical smell hung in the air, just like the embalming room at the County morgue where she'd worked while pursuing her PhD. That was weird, all she should smell is pizza she thought staring at the extra large pie from Mario’s setting on an old metal desk. The old relic had probably been donated by Howard Hughes himself. Weird she muttered, as she set her backpack down, and walked over to Ernie’s boom box. She cranked up the music up to level six and plopped down into the swivel chair to wait for Ernie. The room exploded with noise as 'Whole Lotta Love' blared out of the speakers.

Leaning back in the chair she closed her eyes, just for a minute or two she told herself, but her body was screaming for a catnap. Burning the candle at both ends was catching up with her. Her head dipped and swayed, looking as if it would just fall off of her shoulders at any moment as she jerked herself back to consciousness fighting the compulsion to sleep. But after a minute, maybe less she began doze off. And with the unconsciousness the foreboding feeling returned, what was that? She felt her skin crawl, as if a bedbug was nibbling on her naked thigh under her covers. She didn’t trust what her mind was telling her, her eyes felt heavy and she couldn’t open them no matter how hard she tried.

Was she awake or dreaming? She felt awake, she felt as though she were looking around the room? She could describe in detail every stick of furniture, every piece of equipment, each tile in the ceiling. She was confused, losing track of time, time was irrelevant in a dream state anyway. How long had she been here? Where the hell was Ernie anyway, and what was taking him so long? A hinge squeaked. It was the doors in front of her. She thought she saw someone standing there, silhouetted, a shadowy figure. How could she know? She was asleep, right?

“Ernie, is that you,” she wondered in silence? No reply came.

“CUT IT OUT ERNIE,” she screamed without making any noise!

Her heart raced and if you were standing over her you would see her eyes moving rapidly under closed lids. She was asleep and awake at the same time. She was also scared. A wisp of the shadow passed by her and then silently exited the room. She imagined hearing a faint sound, a low and soft chuckle. It made her smirk involuntarily, yet chilled her to the point of shivering, as if she stepped over an open grave. She remembered an old saying from childhood, “step over an open grave today and someone you know will die tonight.” It wasn’t an exact quote but it was a clear memory nonetheless. Judy’s breathing slowed and slowly she settled into a peaceful state. She was startled awake by a loud crash at the double doors as Ernie Namura returned from his errand at a sprint.

“Am I boring you Dr. Looney,” he said sarcastically as he reached for the Sapporo she had left on the table?

“What, no, no, sorry, long day after a late night, you know me the workaholic poster girl,” she answered, getting up quickly to stretch. Ernie admired the view and took a long drink of his beer.

“Uh huh,” he replied.

Judy straightened her sweatshirt which she had twisted out of sorts while she was catnapping she guessed. She actually blushed when she caught her former student checking her out. He wasn’t shy, that was for sure, and she wondered if the beer was going to be enough of a bribe to get her onto the SEM? Raking her fingers through her hair she broke eye contact with him and wandered toward the equipment she needed.

“So, do you think I can get some time on this thing tonight? I won’t need much, maybe a couple of hours,” she asked, pretending to look over the machine but really watching Ernie for his reaction.

“Yeah, I think that can be arranged,” he replied smiling over his beer.

Nice! When can I get started?” she asked.

“As soon as I finish my dinner and this beer, but you have to join me, it’s rude to let someone eat alone ya know,” he answered. Judy sighed, putting herself on alert, wondering if she had miscalculated labeling this guy as tame.

“Uh, yeah, okay. Why don’t you open me up another beer while I put my stuff over here near the SEM. I really appreciate this Ernie-san,” she said, quickly walking over to fetch her backpack with her samples.

“Hey, you didn’t pass anyone on the way in here did you?” she asked matter-of-factly.

“Nope, it’s you and me till dawn Dr. Looney, just the two of us,” Ernie replied with a shit eating grin.

“Swell,” Judy replied, suddenly wishing she had packed the sports bra in her bag.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

(“all in all you’re just a nuther brick in the wall…”)…Pink Floyd

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Thirteen

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Thursday, Feb 19, 2009…9am

No doubt about it, I was being watched, my spider sense confirmed it. They had to be cops! The oinkers must have been tailing me from the get go, beginning at USC the other day, and then ratted me out to the boss-man, which meant that Lt. Celaya knew Judy Looney had been talking to me. It also meant that I should expect a personal invitation downtown for a 'come to Jesus' meeting with that fat headed beast and his flying monkeys, marvelous! You know, getting grilled is the pits, I know, I used to do it for a living. It’s not just a matter of being questioned; tactically there’s quite a difference. Typically, when someone is only being questioned it’s to rule them out as a suspect. A grilling however involves a ride on the 'big blue choo choo' courtesy the LAPD as they railroad you toward a confession. And make no mistake; they’ll get it, one way or the other, they’ll get it!

So, to recap, questioning, easy quick and painless, grilling, well, let’s just say that a good grilling will leave a mark or two! As a general rule I prefer to avoid either! However, given my naturally nosey nature and general 'don’t give a flip' attitude that didn’t seem likely seeing as I'm in Oscar’s crosshairs again! You know, for a smart guy I seem to be lacking common sense more often than not these days? Let’s face it; I enjoy winding that palooka up way too much. It’s a wicked little pleasure, I know, but I hope to outgrow it someday. Hell, I’m getting too old to be a full time smart ass anyway. Besides, the price of chuckles keeps getting higher and higher the older I get. Seriously, I should be more careful where he’s concerned because I’m pretty sure that under the right circumstances or given the slightest provocation the flatfoot would put one right between my eyes! And who could blame him? My lack of respect for him is legendary in this town. I’ll be the first to admit that our little feud is totally sour grapes over his involvement in my early “retirement!"

I quickly crossed the room to the small writing table resting cozily under the corner window of my shabby one room apartment, and debated whether or not to call Judy Looney again so soon. I don’t know why it was such an internal issue? It should've been a short debate at best; I mean professionally it was a no brainer. She was a source of critical information, right? I needed that brain of hers; she was a key element in solving this case. I decided face to face would be best. A grin spread across my face and made me feel a little high-schoolish. I’m not a child, really, I’m not, but I’ll admit that I can see where I might seem like one at times given my arrested adolescence, much more on that later! Look, there’s chemistry between us, I’m aware of that. Okay, it’s totally laced with sarcasm, but like my old mother used to say, “the girl who treats you worst, loves you most.”

Sure, Judy Looney was attractive in her own way, physically I mean. And it wasn’t just her features (nice cans), that attracted me either. Actually, brace yourself; it was her intelligence, and the comfortable smile that came with every shared moment. I could be myself around her, without compulsion to put on airs. I dunno, lately I just wanted to be around her more often. I’ve even caught myself looking for reasons to drop by the campus. I’ll be honest, her being easy on the eyes might have had a little more to do with it then I let on, but hey, I’m a man aren’t I? Listen, her head might be packed solid with gray matter, but the rest of her is firm where it should be, soft where I like it and she smells good. What can I say, that’s what’s important to me these days, go figure? Ah well it was moot anyway, she was Ronnie’s girl now, and they were madly in love, or so they kept telling me, whatever! I should quit pining over nothing. Sometimes I wish I could kick my own ass!

Something caught my eye suddenly, just outside the window? I studied the group of people crossing the street and counted noses. Nothing out of the ordinary, whatever I saw had merged with the crowd and disappeared. It was getting late and if I was going to catch Judy at home before Ronnie rolled in from the office I needed to get a move on. I grabbed my keys off the desk and turned to leave, and then abruptly whipped around to look out the window once more. Something was making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, like I had just shuffled across a shag carpet in my socks. I stared out the window for a few seconds not exactly sure what I was looking for?

“Ah, bag it,” I muttered and left the room.

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles…Friday, Feb 20, 2009...6:30pm

“Until I say you’re done, that’s when!” Lt. Oscar Celaya shouted into the handset as he slammed it back onto its cradle. The five o’clock shadow poking through his weathered face had grown thicker by a couple of hours, and the hot headed lieutenant was tired and pissy. It was Friday night and way passed supper time. Hell, these days bed time wasn’t far off either for a man his age whose work day started at 5am, five sometimes six days a week. Oscar had put a couple of gold shields onto both of our tails, meaning Judy Looney and yours truly. One of those shields was a newbie transfer from Parker Center. Apparently we were too boring to warrant a seasoned pair of flatfoots. Oscar's surveillance detail was probably what was giving me goose bumps back at my apartment the other day? I didn’t see them when I left, but I knew they were around, I could smell their bacon as soon as I hit the pavement. Odds are the jack-holes were around the corner at Clifton’s swilling coffee and stuffing their fat oinker faces!

Lt. Celaya leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He decided it was time to call it a day. Fishing out his car keys from his center desk drawer, he got up and put on his worn and torn sport coat, the one with the patched elbows. It was his town and country look. He watched the busy precinct going about their business through the glass that surrounded his office. Slipping his arm into the coat sleeve he shook his head slowly and rolled his eyes. The night shift was never dull, there was crazy shit happening from dusk to dawn, it’s when the animals roam the city. He rapped on the window signaling for a skinny sergeant to meet him at the door. The startled officer took a quick sip of her coffee and rushed around to see what he wanted.

“Yeah LT, what’s up,” asked Sergeant Ann Kowalski?

“Annie, do me a favor will ya? If my phone rings again, and it will, tell the chuckleheads on the other end of the line that they can go home,” Oscar said yawning.

“Sure LT, any reason we can’t just have dispatch call them now?”

Yeah, two reasons, BE – CAUSE!

Sergeant Kowalski knew that tone and decided to zip it before she wound up Corporal Kowalski. Oscar waived at the room as he headed toward the exit and home to his teeny bopper wife who would re-heat dinner and yammer on and on until he fell into blissful slumber. Actually, if I know Oscar Celaya he’ll hit Tito’s Tacos on the way home and choke down half a dozen beef taquitos with cheese and extra guacamole. Hmmm, actually that sounds pretty good right about now. Maybe I’ll grab a bag–o–tacos my own self and treat Dr. Judy to a little snack and chat? I tipped my hat at the precinct building as I drove by on the number 30 bus, then leaned back and closed my eyes for the rest of the twenty minute ride. I would have slept too except for this nagging moment of anxiety that I couldn’t explain?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

(“dead man lying by the side of the road with the daylight in his eyes…don’t let it bring you down ”)…Neil Young

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twelve

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009…4pm

I am bored, this man bores me. Everything about him just bores me to tears. He’s taking the fun out of this. Well, almost. I needn’t waste any more time here, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll shave, shower, eat and sleep until 7 or 8 this evening. It’s his pattern, his boring, boring pattern. I suppose I could wait around and listen to him quiz Dr. Looney with his usual flare, rife with a boring amount of sexual innuendo and vulgar banter, the gutter snipe. Is he really attracted to that egghead? I think that he is. Ah well, no accounting for taste I suppose. He’s worse than a schoolboy crushing on his cute homeroom teacher, pathetic! I could stay put and hear it all from where I am perched. He has no idea who, what, or where I am, he has no inkling that he is being watched. Ah but isn’t that the way with everyone? Nobody wants to think they are that exposed, but they are. Someone is always watching, always.

I think maybe it would be more interesting to watch him from the other end of his call. Dr. Looney and I have yet to meet, formally that is. Perhaps this would be an opportune time? Now that would be a keen distraction, wouldn’t you agree? Women in general possess a heightened sense of awareness; it’s instinctive. She’d feel my presence even if she could not see me. Her sensitivity served my purpose, a woman’s fear is always more intense. Men have a keen fight or flight instinct. Women are deer in the headlights. Yes, I should visit Judy. I really had no plans to do so, it would be so impulsive. Not like me, not like me at all. Still, I am strangely intrigued? Typically smart, driven females repulse me. They are overly assertive, out to prove themselves either equal to or superior to the males of the species. Pity, because in doing so the very essence of their femininity is sacrificed, and for what, to take on the worst characteristics of men? To intentionally change that what was designed by the creator Himself, from soft, kind, and beautiful into something hard, mean, and ugly. It’s a sad and unnatural transformation to my mind.

Christian Scripture reminds those who pay attention to such things that one cannot serve two masters. It’s true. Mankind has been missing that point ever since the garden in Eden. And the All Mighty has been punishing them throughout the ages ever since. They still don’t get it, fools. I suppose I could lend a hand in this instance, couldn’t I? Ah, but there’d be no sport in it. As females go Judy Looney is far from the worst of the lot. But Whitey is such a rube, and she is becoming a bit of a distraction. I need him to focus right about now and haven’t the patience for any unwanted detours. Judy has served our purpose, we don’t need her anymore. I'll consider this an opportunity to lend a hand to the man upstairs

SHO-M-U-LYKE-M, Los Angeles…Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009…4pm

It doesn’t rain very often in LA and when it does the populace goes positively bonkers. You’d think they had never seen water fall from the sky. Drivers can’t drive, buses are later than usual, traffic lights stop working, and everyone is dressed for a monsoon, ridiculous! That tended to make life miserable for Lu and Jai. As card carrying germ-a-phobes every time the door opened and a fresh batch of customers rushed in and shook off the cold, their little pointed heads would nearly explode. Today was one of those days.

“OH, OH, please stop that!” Lu shouted, running over to assist his newest arrivals. He threw a fresh bath towel onto the floor at their feet and quickly handed another to each of the patrons.

“May I,” he added, taking their coats while they toweled off. He pointed at their shoes and then at the racks next to the door. They picked up on his message without a word spoken and stooped to remove their shoes placing them with the others.

“Thank you for your indulgence, we’re Asian after all,” Lu said smiling meekly.

“Not a problem Lu, it’s not our first time here,” replied the taller of the two.

“Of course, I should have recognized you,” said Lu, slightly embarrassed.

YES you should have,” scolded Lu’s better half, as Jai joined him at the door.

“Thank you Mr. Mankowitz, forgive the mess, it’s the precipitation you see,” Jai explained.

“Yeah, well you think we can we get a seat and a nosh now fellas, or are we going stand here and gab through my dinner break?”

“Of course, of course, Armando, table seven,” Jai replied, summoning the nearest waiter to seat the two patrons. The small round employee arrived in nanoseconds and quickly ushered the pair to the empty table near the deli case. Mr. Mankowitz winked at Lu and Jai as he was seated and the owners waived in return as they made their way back to the kitchen.

“Well, that went well,” Jai said sarcastically.

“Can we just leave it alone?” Lu begged his tone tired and low.

“Oh Lu Lu, don’t be like that, I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just saying that I’m glad that went as smoothly as it did, all things considered.”

“I see, well, do you think we should pick up their tab?” Lu asked.

“No, these guys are shitty tippers, all the girls say so. Besides, they don’t earn a freebie by making puddles on our Italian marble, I mean honestly!”

“You’re to cute sweetness, now I remember why I keep you around,” said Lu, hugging his partner as they got back down to business. Just then Armando peeked in the kitchen door.

“Should I comp these guys a couple of cocktails?”

“NO!” Jai and Lu replied together, giggling at the absurdity of the question.

“I’m taking a break,” Jai said, bussing Lu and heading for the door.

“You mean you’re taking a nap,” Lu replied.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, I’ve earned it,” Jai whined as he exited the kitchen.

Jai walked quickly through the dining room and past the bar to take the private lift up to the apartment upstairs. He accepted the glass of Chardonnay from William the bartender as he past by and entered the small elevator. Smiling at nobody in particular he sipped on his wine as the doors closed. His cell phone rang as if on cue. Jai fancied Mozart’s 'fleur de le', it was his signature ringtone for the week, which he changed religiously every Sunday before bedtime. He waited a moment to answer, enjoying each note before the bridge.

“Cello,” he said coyly, pretending not to know who was on the other end.

“Don’t toy with me you beast! As much as I enjoy the heavy breathing I prefer it face to face lover,” Jai continued, scolding the mystery caller. The elevator stopped and the doors opened just as the expression on his face changed. The blood had suddenly drained from his face and he was even paler than normal, which was saying a lot because Jai Lai was famously nocturnal. Whatever had been said had brought on a serious mood change. Jai exited hurriedly, jogging across the all white carpet in his stocking feet and sat uncomfortably on a pristine white sofa. He sat down gingerly as if he were sitting on rice paper. His reflection in the large bay window stared back at him accusingly.

The city began the day to night transformation as the sun set quickly. Dusk became evening and the silence in the empty apartment seemed eerily familiar. Jai made no sound. He was clearly agitated. He listened for a long time, speechless, never uttering a response. He sat as if made of stone and stared down his own reflection, never blinking, not once, it was unnatural.

“You’re lying,” Jai said finally, tears dropping from his eyes. His voice began to quaver, reduced to a harsh whisper. Sniffling audibly he continued.

“Why are you doing this? I don’t believe you, I won’t,” he whimpered, licking at his lips, tasting the salt from his tears. The voice on the phone was gone, the line disconnected. Still Jai held the device to his ear as if whoever was speaking would start again at any moment. Several minutes passed, long enough for the tears to dry, leaving snail trails down both cheeks.

The sun set had gone unnoticed and the large apartment had become dark and silent. Jai set the cell down on the end table beside him without flipping the phone closed. He stared at if for a moment then pushed the number one on the keypad. It was Lu’s cell phone number on speed dial. Rising from the sofa Jai walked over to the window slowly, while Lu’s phone rang faintly in the background.

“Hello? Peaches, is that you,” squawked Lu’s voice over the speakerphone? No reply.

“Come on Jai, don’t play games it’s really busy down here!” Still, no reply?

“Oh for the love of Pete, I’m coming right up,” Lu said annoyed. He removed his apron and walked out of the kitchen toward the lift, his cell phone still pressed to his ear. Lu was pissed, he hated when Jai got moody like this, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with on a busy, rainy day! The elevator doors closed and Lu started the slow climb to their 21st floor apartment. Still no sounds on his phone save the eerie static of silence.

“Jai, Jai,” he called, not exactly shouting but darn close!

The doors opened as he arrived home and Lu exited in a huff. He passed through the foyer and then quickly crossed the living room to the sofa. He called out to Jai and heard himself over the speakerphone on Jai’s open cell resting on the end table table.

“Honestly,” he sighed.

He ended the call by closing both cell phones. He scanned the dark room, which was dimly lit by the glare from the city lights streaming through the large bay window. He couldn’t see well and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He didn’t hear anything either except for his own movements. The refrigerator motor switched on suddenly and startled him. Lu recoiled abruptly and fell back onto the sofa, seating himself unintentionally. He clutched at his chest for a second composing himself and took a deep cleansing breath. He closed his eyes as he exhaled and then opened them slowly.

“This is so silly,” he muttered tiredly, scooting forward on the sofa to stand up.

“I don’t have the time or patience for your nonsense tonight Jai Lai. I’m going back to work. You know where to find me when you’re through brooding,” he shouted as he stood.

Lu walked back to the elevator without looking for his partner any further. What was the point? Jai was just setting him up for yet another bickering session. Lu hated those tiffs. Truth be told so did Jai, as he admitted time and time again. “I can’t help myself, it’s the way I was raised,” he would say as soon as the storm passed and it was time to make up. Lu tried to understand, he really did, because at the end of the day he genuinely loved his partner with all of his heart. But it’s true what they say about expecting leopards to change their spots, it’s not fair to expect the impossible. But behavior isn’t rigid, it’s fluid, and while people are what they are, changes are possible if they come from within. However, they can’t be coaxed or demanded.

Unconditional love is a precious gift but it is hardly free. It always costs the giver as it's rarely recognized as such, and far more often than not it is unrequited. Lu had understood that at an early age. His love for Jai was his to give but he was human after all, as are we all, and was still learning to take the high road. He wanted to give the man whom he loved the freedom to be himself. I admired that, sort of, but I’ll never understand it. I’m too selfish to grasp the concept of unconditional love.

The elevator doors had started to close when the shot rang out, the sound made louder by the complete absence of noise in the seemingly deserted apartment…BAM! Lu stuck out his hand to keep the doors from closing. The brushed aluminum panels hesitated and then reversed direction, allowing him the opportunity to squeeze past. He walked rather than ran toward the ringing sound of the explosion. Strangely, he felt calm even though his mind was racing through a litany of possible scenarios. He entered the hall and made his way to his bedroom. He could smell the cordite as it wafted toward him. The odor was caustic and made his nostrils flare. His skin became cold and he could feel the goose bumps forming on his bare arms. At the end of the long hallway, Lu entered the room that he and Jai had shared for so many years. It was where they loved, where they fought, and where they were a couple, in and out of like with one another but forever in love. He stopped at the foot of the bed and stared down at the lifeless form of his life partner.

Jai lay motionless, his open eyes staring up at the ceiling, a gaping hole where the muzzle blast had torn off most of his hairpiece (a little secret he had guarded closely in life). The weapon, still in his right hand, lay partially tucked beneath him at the small of his back. His legs were crossed the way they were when he worked the crossword on Sunday mornings. He didn’t look as dead as he was, well except for the blood maybe.

Lu fought the urge to be angry at Jai’s selfish action. Then, he fought off the urge to cry. He settled on being comfortably numb and lay down beside his companion. On his side he studied Jai’s lifeless eyes and reached over to close them. He tried this several times but they would not stay closed. He wondered why? It always worked in the movies? He traced his index finger over the length of Jai’s form, beginning at his forehead and ending at the wrist of his right hand. Lu touched the gun in his hand, it was still warm. A tear rolled down his face as he pulled the weapon from Jai’s hand. He held it and raised it high above the two of them, admiring the dullness of it. It was black and square like, with hard angles and it was lighter than he had imagined. It almost didn’t seem lethal at all, almost like a toy? He grasped it firmly and pointed it at the ceiling fan, counting the blades as they swung past the barrel. He gently laid it back down on Jai’s chest and wept softly. That was how I found them hours later when Marco called me from the restaurant. He was afraid to call the cops, and I could understand why. Romeo and Romeo were dead and for what? My job just became more than I bargained for.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

(“when it comes to being lucky she’s cursed, when it comes to loving me she’s worse…”)…Cat Stevens

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Eleven

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009…Noon

Staring out the corner window in my second floor flat above the bar at this flea bag hotel I recapped the last couple of days as I watched some of the work-a-day skirts make their way up 5th Street on their lunch beak. You know, the worst part of living in the city is you can rarely escape the noise. Short of a living in a tomb you just had to learn to live with it! I wish I could say that was the only hardship a city-dweller dealt with, but that would be wishful thinking. There were the rats, the roaches, the stench permeating from any alley courtesy the great unwashed, and a hundred other pick-em inconveniences. But you know what; despite of all that, one thing managed to make it all worthwhile. Don’t bother guessing, I’ll just tell you...OPPORTUNITY. I know what your thinking, WTF right?

It’s not rocket science; the city’s alive 24/7, no matter what time of day all year round. Now, granted, LA isn’t NYC by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want a cheeseburger, chili fries and a chocolate shake at 3am, not a problem, check out Pink’s. You want to catch a first run movie or off-off Broadway play at 7am on Sunday morning, just crack open your laptop and surf the web, you’ll find one, guaranteed. You say that you need a kidney transplant from an AB negative donor? Okay, that might be a stretch. But short of a kidney or heart transplant, you had an opportunity to do just about anything in this town. So, why the philosophical waxing you ask? I don’t know, I think I’m just getting old. Or it could be that I’m close enough to sixty to smell the tiger balm, or maybe because I’m still paying spousal support to my trans-sexual ex who just happens to be screwing around with the only woman I’ve thought twice about who wasn’t free lancing near the Inglewood Forum or table dancing at The Body Shoppe on Sunset. Whaaaaa, I’m actually nauseating myself! Okay back to the case.

I had decided I needed a good meal and took myself and the facts Judy Looney shared with me to The Pantry on 9th and Figueroa where I camped out at the counter to mull it all over. If it had been closer to 5 o'clock than noon I would be doing this at Casey’s with a proper pint of Guinness and a Jameson chaser, but it wasn’t so here I sat. I’ve been coming here three to four times a week since I started with the LAPD back in the 1970s. Actually my father had been a regular as well, occupying the corner booth every Sunday morning after church way back in 1950's. Before that I think my grandfather frequented the original diner which had been up the street from the current location. Granddad was a pancake junkie, God love him. You could always find him there, comfort food was his religion and The Pantry was his cathedral.

Okay, enough with the history lessons. Something Judy said was bothering me. It wasn’t any of the physical characteristics that she speculated on, let’s face it they could have fit at least a hundred profiles on the job in LA. There are what, nine or ten thousand sworn officers to choose from after all. Nope, it was the brown mustard comment that was rattling around my melon. Brown mustard, really, who eats brown mustard these days? You’d have to be a mustard consÅ“ur to willingly spread that stuff on your baloney sandwich. I hate that stuff and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that. So why was this bothering me? I had already connected the easy dots; clearly this cop had spent a fair amount of time at Jai and Lou’s popular deli. That was a no brainer. There should have been an obvious trail here.

Sure Jai was acting strangely and what was he doing meeting clandestinely with a uniformed officer in this town anyway? It couldn’t be sexual, that much I was more than sure of. I’ve known the two little homos for better than twenty years and their relationship was rock solid, no doubt whatsoever! Whatever his reasons were I was fairly certain that I would have to ferret it out of the unknown cop, whoever it was. Confronting Jai while Lou was so deeply depressed would be unfair, at least for right now. Jai and I were heading toward a “come to Jesus meeting” but it could wait a while. I was getting a headache and ordered a meatloaf sandwich to go. I would finish this session back at my flat.

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Wednesday, Feb 18, 2009…3pm

It was time to update my KKK notes, what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what I wanted to know. I poured the Guinness from the fridge into my official English pint glass and sat down at my window desk to eat my meal while I racked my brain. Opening up my tattered spiral stenographers note pad I flipped back several pages to where I had stored my original KKK thoughts. Ignoring the doodle artwork in the margins I started updating my notes:

What do I know?

1. Sally November was still dead

2. Jai Lai, the little flamer knows way more than he is letting on

3. Somebody in the LAPD was closer to this than they probably should be

4. I’ll need details from Sally’s autopsy sooner than later

5. I’m going to owe Judy Looney big time

What do I think I know?
1. SN and Jai Lai had been in touch from day one of her arrival

2. SN’s death was no surprise for Jai

3. SN may have been more than an alias (still working on that angle)

4. SN had been murdered elsewhere and brought back to her apartment

5. SN was in the wrong place at the wrong time, she wasn’t meant to die

What do I want to know?

1. What was the exact time of death

2. What was the actual cause of death

3. What was in the toxicology report

4. What was Jai’s relationship to Mei Li Teng

5. What was Oscar Celaya keeping under his hat (that hump is always in the know)

My head was pounding and I gobbled a couple of extra strength Tylenol and washed them down with another Guinness, draining half the pint in two long gulps. A police cruiser screamed by past the window and screeched around the corner on Grand onto 5th street in the general direction of the 110 freeway. It was enough of a distraction to jolt me out of my brainstorming trance. Unfortunately it also startled the crap out of me and now there was a river of Guinness rushing across my small desk.

“Son of a bitch!” I shouted, jumping out of my chair.

Fortunately for me the only damage was to the steno-pad I'd been decorating with doodle art the last hour or so. Sure, sometimes those doodles proved useful, essentially Warhol like caricatures framing my illegible notes like a newsreel. But since my talent amounted to that of a five year-old child with ADD, all the Guinness did was save me a couple of hours trying to decipher my own handwriting. I’m pretty old school you see. I guess you could politely say that I was electronically challenged. Look, there wasn’t much chance of me wrecking a laptop computer or a what-cha-ma-call-it, oh yeah, an iTouch.

When my brain gets full I empty it, meaning I break out a new stenographer’s notebook and fill it up, every page, front and back. I have boxes of them, labeled, dated, and cataloged. I keep them stacked neatly against the wall across from my bed. A couple of them pulled double duty keeping my coffee table level. Lay a thick piece of glass or sheet of plywood (depending on your budget) across four tightly packed banker’s boxes and viola, coffee table. Made the small room pretty cozy but since my divorce from both Rhonda and the LAPD, this small room had to multi-task. Rhonda took my present (our savings, our home, ect…) and the LAPD took my future (my pension, my self respect, etc…). I’m over it though, there’s nothing to be gained in bitterness. All that noise brings is an early grave. In hindsight Rhonda earned every penny putting with the mistress that was my job. I wasn’t there for her when she was searching for herself. The cash helped with that journey, even if where it took her was confusing as hell, but I won’t waste any words on that nightmare. As for the LAPD, fuck em!

Yanking the quilt off of my unmade bed I mopped up the puddle of Guinness, pitiful waste of a good pint. I guess now is as good a time as any to get the laundry done. I could make a couple of calls while I waited at the Laundromat. The first call should be to Judy to see if she had any pull with the Coroner’s Office. I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear from me again so soon. I needed to see the toxicology report, preferably before Oscar’s team did. The next call would be to Jai Lai, it was time. That was going to be a little tricky as I’d have to think of a good reason to call him out of the blue. Jai and I weren’t nearly as close as Lu and I were. I’ll think of something though, I’ve hung around enough lawyers in my life to be able to fabricate something useful. It’s time to start answering the questions I’d been collecting. Sally would be buried in a few days and I wanted to send her spirit to wherever it is that spirits go with her killer’s name scribbled on the box that they lay her to rest in. I wanted her family have closure. I wanted Lu to sleep again, to find peace, like Mei Li.

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