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Sunday, January 27, 2013

("Well I bet you wish you could cut me down with those angry eyes…")…Loggins & Messina

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration


Chapter Twenty-three


UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…9:30pm

When I left Judy's place she and Ronnie were packing for a well timed vacation. It was a no brainer that Hassan had tailed me to her apartment and I was equally certain that if we split up he would follow me instead of her. What I wasn't sure of was whether or not he worked alone? My gut said that he did and so far the old gas factory has kept out of more dicey jambs then I care to remember. I'd given Judy specific instructions as to who to look up once they got to Vegas. My old partner Wally Price was a Lieutenant now with the LVPD working homicide. I hope he's as good at preventing one as he is at solving one. Wally had agreed to put her in touch with someone at UNLV which believe it or not has an excellent computer sciences department for a smaller school. In any event they'd be in good hands with my old friend. I've trusted Chief Price with my life on more than one occasion, both on the job and in the Nam.

Me, Wally Price and Bob "Iggie" Ingram go way back, having served together in Southeast Asia from late 1967 to the winter of 1969. Iggie and I were originally drafted by the Army. However, through a series of snafus wound up brothers in the USMC. We first met at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, right after basic on Perris Island. Wally on the other hand had been in the service 5 years already by the time we met up with him, a corpsman in the Navy,. The three of us ended up on a US combat base in Khe Sanh near the Laotian border in the Quảng Trị Province, South Vietnam, Republic of, and became fast friends.

Unfortunately for us, we arrived in country at exactly the wrong time in history! Because not two months later the whole goddamn North Vietnamese Army and their rat bastard lackeys the Viet Cong, decided to take one big ass swing at Uncle Sam, striking simultaneously from the DMZ all the way down to Saigon. It was a pretty bold move but a costly one. Historians speculate the real objective was to shock the Yankee citizens back home and incite them to insist that we get the hell out there and bring home all of our troops. Darned if they weren't right about that as their plan sure seemed to work! What happened over the next several weeks during what became known as the TET offensive will stay forever buried deep inside the psyches of those who were there. Too many ghosts left on killing fields for any sane man to emotionally process. Such a beautiful country, culture, and people, what a shameful waste of lives in the end! That's all I want to say about that.

Anyway, I don't want to traipse down memory lane anymore so back to the business at hand. Whatever was on that nano nano chip that Judy was so excited about was likely to get us killed unless I could throw Hassan and his Russian bosses off the scent. I needed a diversion. Hopefully something will turn up after I nose around in this lab a while? Logically I should find something useful here, I have to! I needed to buy Judy time for her to pull off whatever there was to pull off on that micro chip. To do that I need to keep Hassan's focus on me. He has to think I'm onto something right here in California. If I fail, and Hassan heads to Vegas, Judy and Ronnie are goners. For that matter, so am I, but Hassan will kill me last and he'll kill me slow just for shits and giggles, I get the impression that he'll likely enjoy himself where I am concerned.

I parked my beat up jalopy of a car (Ronnie refers to it as the rat-mobile) around the corner, wedging it in between a Hummer on one side and one of those giant off-road pick-ups (probably never actually been off-road) on the other. Basically out of sight. I was about to get out and walk to the building when I spotted Iggie's new partner, Rebecca Tran. She strolled past my car without noticing me. Rookie mistake, she should have sensed my presence! Observe everything and be aware of your surroundings at all times, the good detective's mantra. I quickly got small and stretched out across the front seat half expecting Iggie to be right behind her. But if I know Iggie, and I do, his eyes would be on her shapely little ass instead of noticing my old heap! I held my breath for a ten count and sure enough here he came. I heard him huff and puff as he raced to catch up to Becca.

"Wait up rookie," he bellowed!

"Lieutenant's on the phone, and he wants to talk to you," he said, sailing right past me.

This was my lucky day! I must have stepped over every crack in the sidewalk this week because ninety-nine times out of a hundred Iggie would have spotted me. But I could tell he was distracted by more than just Rebecca's fine little backside, he was pissed about something. I could hear it in his voice and pictured the small blue vein at his right temple popping out like it always did when he blew a gasket. I had to stifle a laugh as I listened to the two of them talking faintly. Suddenly I heard two distinct door slams, one after another. Good, they were leaving. I waited a good fifteen minutes before sitting back up and looked around. The coast seemed clear so I got out of the car and slowly walked to the Science building. No need to rush, I was pretty sure that Hassan was convinced I was dumb as a mud fence, totally unaware of his surveillance. Although, if he's got a pair of binoculars he just might catch me sweating!

The doors were unlocked, and even though this part of the building was taped off there was still a fair amount of normal activity that you'd expect on a busy college campus. I dodged a student exiting the building with her nose stuck inside a textbook and a cell phone pressed into her ear. She never even saw me, kids! The door closed behind me slowly as I entered and I saw the crime scene down the hall. I looked stage left and right, checking the area for potential eye witnesses to the breaking and entering charge Oscar would stick me with if he caught me here. The coast was clear though and I headed down the hall to the SEM Lab. I stopped about five steps short and listened intently outside the doors. I thought I heard more than my penny loafers echoing off the high ceiling, but there were no sounds other than my own breathing and an occasional door slam somewhere in the corridor. I shook off an uncomfortable chill but still had the feeling of being watched, Hassan maybe? I didn't think so; he was more direct than that. If he were around he'd want me to know it. I continued on to the lab and stopped at the barrier tape, paused a moment to look at the outline of Ernie Namura's corpse, then went under it and into room 1116. Dead is dead, if you've seen one bloody outline you've seen them all.

The room was pretty dark so I pulled out my penlight to help me navigate. Sneaking around always charges me up, makes me feel like I'm getting away with something, like a six-year old shaking presents under the Christmas tree an hour before dawn. Frankly I had no idea what I was looking for, or for that matter what would be worth looking for. Everything in this room was over my head except the furniture and even some of that was sort of high tech, like the weird contraption at what must have been Ernie Namura's desk? I guess it could be a chair of some kind, but I had no idea how you were supposed to sit in it? I think it's probably Scandinavian because I'm sure that I saw one just like it in an IKEA circular. I get way too much junk mail. You'd think that Madison Avenue would have figured out by now that men only look at the two catalogs religiously, Sears and Roebuck for the Craftsmen tools and Victoria's Secret because we ARE tools!

Enough of that, I'm getting sidetracked. I spotted a regular chair on the other side of the room, walked over to it and sat down. I used my trusty Home Depot "dollar bin" penlight to peer around the room, mentally cataloging each piece of confusing equipment. The SEM unit was about twenty feet in front of me, located logically under the sign reading SEM, brilliant! I studied it in the dim light. It wasn't as big as I had imagined it to be. The way Judy described it I was sort of expecting something big as a dump truck with flashing lights and eerie vapors emanating from its hidden compartments. Nope, it was about the size of the dryer at my Laundromat and painted a dull battleship gray. It didn't look so special, but what did I know? I was about to continue scanning the rest of the room when something caught my eye. My penlight swept over the control console and something blinked at me, a super bright green light. What the hell was that anyway? I got up and walked over to have a look, keeping the penlight on the blinking green whatever it was every step of the way.

I stood in front of the machine and watched the green light blink at me for a minute or so. The penlight created a glare off the console glass making me squint a little. I moved my hand left and right, then up and down trying to compensate but no good. I knelt down in front of the console and pressed my penlight directly on top of the glass, and then I saw it. The blinking light was part of a small tubular device, set above a lens of some sort. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to be an actual part of the SEM, it wasn't attached to anything inside, not at all? Mutha Fatha! It was a camera, and I was being watched right this minute! Before I could even think "what the hell" the blinking green light changed to red.
Oh crap, now what!



Friday, January 18, 2013

("cause there's a man down there, might be your man, I don't know…")…Allman Brothers Band

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration


Chapter Twenty-two


UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…6:30pm

The familiar yellow barrier tape that identifies every crime scene still blocked most of the first floor hallway, as well as the entrance to room 1187 which housed the SEM Lab. Detective Rebecca Tran was squatting next to a chalk outline where the body of Ernie Namura had been found. She was staring intensely at something just under the soda pop machine adjacent to the outline. Her partner Bob "Iggie" Ingram suddenly burst through the double doors and out of the lab. Subtlety was not the man's long suit, a factoid that required little or no clairvoyance. Rebecca had been assigned to Iggie (what kind of a nickname is that anyways) for all of 48 hours and she already knew more about the lout than she cared to. Becca shuddered to think there were still 88 days left until the end of her 90 day probationary period and wondered if she'd survive, but decided to leave that in God's hands.

Like many second generation children of Vietnamese immigrants she'd been raised staunchly in the Catholic faith. And while she had her own views on faith and religion, she respectfully honored her family's traditions by following their wishes with regard to her spirituality. Besides, if prayer works like the Parish priests promised every Sunday at St. Finbar in Burbank Lieutenant Celaya would be taking pity on her when her probation was up and assign her to a real mentor, like Josh Stanford maybe, that would be sweet!

Detective Sergeant Joshua Job Stanford (how Old Testament was that) she swooned; now there was a rock solid cop for you! Names rarely define a man but Josh Stanford lived up to both his namesakes; possessing the strength of Joshua and the patience of Job. Twenty-five years on the force, half a dozen commendations and an arrest record that rivaled Elliot freaking Ness! The man was a station-house legend. And if that weren't enough, another perk was that she didn't have to worry about getting hit on as the legend was a well known choirboy as well. He and wifey had one of those Ward and June Cleaver marriages, string of pearls and all. The legend only had a couple of vices she'd have to deal with, both of the non-smelly variety, unlike Iggie, the stinker! One was a serious sweet tooth (addicted to Snickers bars…who isn't?) and the other was a minor addiction to gambling at a regular poker game with yours truly and my circle of ne'er-do-wells. In a nutshell, Detective Stanford was, dare I say it, perfect. Geez, I'd never measure up against that guy, I might as well table any fantasizing where young Miss Tran was concerned.

In my defense though, young Rebecca and I had only just met and I sensed that her first impression was sort of positive. Hopefully I convinced her that I wasn't the Troglodyte that Iggie was. Of course I was still an uncouth ex-cop and a haole one to boot! What the hell, the less she saw of either one of us the better off she'd be! Yeppers, as soon as Becca made her 90 days, bammo, she'd hit up Oscar for a new partner. Who knows, maybe she'd hit the jackpot and draw Detective Stanford, it could happen.

Iggie stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw her. The young lady was a looker that was for sure, and the sight of her beside the bloody outline reminded him of another time in his life, one that he kept deeply buried for his sanity's sake. Most of those memories weren't that healthy anyway, I know, I have some of the same. Seeing of her squatting like a peasant at a cooking fire brought a smile to his face. The memory she triggered was a pleasant one, and that would be all he have to say about that. Iggie cleared his throat loudly announcing himself, not meaning not to startle her. He didn't, Becca was entranced while she studied the crime scene.

"Detective Tran," he said in a tone louder than he intended, his voice echoing down the long empty hall. She didn't respond.

"BECCA!"

That got her attention and she stood without turning to face her partner. Iggie could almost hear the wheels turning around in her brain and he uncharacteristically waited patiently for a reply. She stood silent a moment longer then spun 180 degrees to answer her partner.

"Did I hear right, the boss thinks Dr. Looney may have done this?" Rebecca asked, tapping pursed lips with an index finger. She continued to tap while she waited for Iggie to answer her question.

"That's not what he said. What he said was that this guy is dead because we blew the surveillance and lost track of the Looney broad," Iggie answered, slightly agitated that she obviously wasn't listening to him. That was so rude!

"So, she was here, maybe working, maybe horsing around, whatever, and she left. Why would she come back here to kill him? Why didn't she do it before she left? Why would she risk being seen coming and going twice? That doesn't make sense to me," Becca wondered aloud.

"I dunno, maybe she didn't kill anyone? Maybe she witnessed it? By the way rookie, the lieutenant didn't imply anything more than we fouled up. You're reading too much into his nickel lecture sweetheart," replied Iggie.

Ignoring him, Becca turned and walked over to the soda machine, drumming her fingers against it for a second before kneeling down beside it. She looked back at Iggie and then got down on her hands and knees, putting her face flat on the floor and looked under the machine. Becca reached as far as she could for a shadow toward the back. She could feel his eyes on her ass and was more than a little uncomfortable.

"I better not catch you smiling Detective," she said.

"Don't flatter yourself Tran, I've seen better," quipped Iggie defensively.

"No you haven't Iggie, I've got a world class tush and you know it," she grunted as she strained to reach further back.

"Damn it! I pushed the darn thing out of reach," Becca exclaimed, standing abruptly and brushing off her slacks. She turned to Iggie and gestured for him to come and help her.

"Come on Iggie; help me scoot this thing away from the wall. There something under there that the CSI guys missed. It could be important."

"That thing must weigh a ton Becca, let me find something to stick under there and swat whatever it is out from under it," Iggie complained.

"Oh come on, we can move this together. It'll give you a chance to show off for me," Becca teased, forcing a smile.

Iggie sauntered over to help her begrudgingly. He walked past her and wedged as much of his skinny frame as possible between the soda machine and the wall. The darn thing was as heavy as he had feared and his first attempt to impress her failed miserably. Grunting he tried again unsuccessfully. He pried himself out from behind the big ice box and looked around for his helper. Becca appeared before he could bellow for her and handed him a wooden back-scratcher she'd found on a bookshelf in the lab.

"Here, try this," she said.

Iggie swiped it from her hand with a jerk and gave her an 'are you kidding me' look in exasperation.

"You could have given me that before I ruined this sport coat," he whined as he squat down to swipe at whatever was under the soda box. He reached in from the side and swept the back-scratcher toward the wall. The object slid out and rested against the wall, easily within reach. Before he could reach in and grab the thing Becca leap-frogged over him and intercepted it. She stood quickly and held the small device up to the fluorescent light above, examining it closely.

"Jesus Becca, you almost broke my back jamming your bony little knee into me like that, what the hell?"

She ignored him and studied the object. Picking away at the lint and crud caked around the object and placed the small thing into the palm of her hand. It was a USB flash drive, but it was much smaller than anything she had ever seen, it looked more like the SIM chip in her cell phone. Curious, there was no way that this thing would fit into any computer that she could think of. Nevertheless it was electronic and she was certain it was cutting edge technology, beyond state of the art. How did she know? She was smart for one thing, and besides, her father Hai was an electrical engineer (EE) at Boeing, and her mother Mei was an IT programmer at the same company, so young Rebecca had been around devices like this from an early age. In addition, her older brother Brandon was a computer geek of epic proportions, and she meant that in a good way because the guy was brilliant!

"So, what've we got there?" pressed Iggie.

"I'm not sure? But judging from Ernie's outline it's possible that he either dropped or tossed whatever this is? I'm pretty sure whoever killed Ernie was looking for this," answered Becca.

"You're too green to have hunches rookie. Let me see that thing," Iggie said condescendingly. Becca rolled her eyes and glared at him.

"Really? Tell you what, I'll hand this over if you can tell me what a USB is," she replied, closing her fist around the tiny device.

"USB huh? Aright smart ass, how about yoU Sure Better hand that over Detective, and I mean right now!"

Becca frowned realizing that he could pull rank. Reluctantly she gave the evidence to her superior. Half pouting and half pleading she gingerly placed the device in the thin calloused hand that he held out to her. Iggie pulled a small envelope from his coat pocket and dropped the USB into it without breaking eye contact with his young trainee. Rebecca held his gaze and if looks could kill there would be second outline on the floor where Iggie stood. Lowering her eyes she shuffled past him toward the exit. Thinking militant thoughts was one thing but acting on them was another. No use committing career stupidcide. At least the ride back to the station house would be quiet for a change.



Sunday, January 13, 2013

("every move you make, every step you take I'll be watching you…")…Synchronicity

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration


Chapter Twenty-one



Casey's Pub, Grand Ave., Monday, Feb 23, 2009…6pm

Camouflage is an art form, and I am a master. At times I even amaze myself. Today is one of those rare days where the stars align in the heavens and dark forces are at their zenith. There are no angles to consider or steer around. Smooth and easy, that's the sort of day I am having. Contrary to the way the vast majority of mortals live, life is not linear but circular. How foolish they are, racing to certain death, nesting along the way as if they might take any of their treasures with them. Alas, one starts with nothing and one ends with nothing. That is a universal axiom. There is light and there is the absence of light. There is color and there is the absence of color, black and white, the alpha and the omega. Everything that appears in between is an illusion, vivid, bright, and beautiful, but in essence merely a short lived illusion.

Encountering Dr. Looney on the steps above this establishment was a treat. How apropos, the luck of the Irish if you will at a pub called Casey's, I love it! She accepted my steadying hand after stumbling on her way up the stairway with her mate as they hurriedly exited this place. She even smiled and thanked me. I hope she remembers that when her time comes, that would be so delicious. As for the rest of this lot, well, watching Whitey dance uncomfortably during his encounter with his unexpected visitor was entertaining. I have been observing them in the over sized mirror above the bar. I sat quietly, enjoying a pint of Guinness, when in Rome I always say, and watched them unnoticed. There was no need to eavesdrop; I knew the nature of their business, and frankly did not care, it was of no consequence to me. My resolve remained clear as did their fate. This little encounter was for sport, I came only to tag them as they exited, running into Dr. Looney was unexpected and bit of luck as well, if there is such a thing. This tagging game is a practice that I adopted ages ago from the Plains Indians of North America who referred to it as 'counting coup'. Whitey had remained in the bar much longer than I had expected and I grew weary of his annoying antics. However, patience is a virtue I have adopted as I have the luxury of time. There is always time to do what it is that I do.

I looked away as the two constables walked past me, avoiding eye contact as they made their way out of the bar. My prize would follow shortly. The large Turkish gentleman was next to pass by me, the same man that Whitey mistook for an Arab. He is an interesting sort, someone who may be worth exploring sometime, we'll see. Finally Whitey approached, making his way through the spirits swilling crowd. Timing was everything in this little game of mine and I waited until he was about to pass before swiveling off my barstool and into his path.

"Whoa, excuse me, coming through Mac," Whitey said with a smile as he gently pushed me aside and passed on by. He looked back over his shoulder at me without slowing down. His expression was delightful. It was somewhere between recognition and confusion. I hope he remembers this when his time comes too.


Beverly Arms Apartment Homes, Westwood…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…7:00pm

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed cop talk at the local boozer. Back in the day we would meet up after shifts at a dive called Nate's over on Pico and Figueroa, close to the Convention Center and not too far from my current flat on Spring St. Of course I didn't live there back then; Rhonda (Judy's Ronnie) and I had a little one bedroom bungalow in the burbs, close enough to walk to UCLA. Me and the boys (it was pretty much a boys club in those days) used to deal with whatever had rattled us during the day, self medicating with booze and bravado. We'd decompress, compare busts and grouse about dickhead supervisors, crooked politicos, and broads. You know; guy stuff. Hahaha…one of many reasons I still live alone in the bowels of Los Angeles. But I digress.

This afternoon's meet and greet turned out to be a stroll down memory lane. Reminiscing with Iggie, Detective First Grade Bob Ingram, reminded me of what I wasn't missing since leaving the force. However, meeting his rookie gold shield, Becca, was a pleasant bonus. She appeared to be as smart as she was attractive. I made a mental note of that in case I ever got over Judy Looney. I watched her watch us while we traded stories and noticed how she kept a wary and subtle eye on Hassan whenever she thought he wasn't looking her way. That was a rookie mistake as he knew exactly what she was doing and I knew that he knew. I hope she doesn't make his 'to do' list, that would be a crying shame!

The highlight though was watching Hassan listen to Iggie go on and on about their investigation right in front of the very guy they were looking for, classic! To be fair I should mention that he did at least ask who Hassan was, even if he did accept Hassan's explanation about us being old friends and how he was on the job as well from out of State. Poor Iggie didn't have a clue. He didn't even ask where it was that Hassan was on the job for Christ's sake, what a maroon. The party broke up when I told Iggie I had reached my tab paying limit. He gulped down his Budweiser then reached over and finished Becca's as well. Sure it was rude, but in his defense she was just sipping at it anyway. Gentleman that he apparently was, Hassan stood as soon as Becca got up to follow Iggie out, shaming me into awkwardly doing likewise. She seemed surprised and pleased at the same time. That was another mental note for yours truly. Chalk one up for Miss Manners I guess. After the coppers had cleared the area Hassan and I traded head nods and went our separate ways as well. Strange, even as I watched him disappear into the crowd I felt like I was being watched. The old eyes in the back of the head trick, again, classic!

It took longer than usual to beat it over to Judy's place because of all the 'expletive-expletive' Monday traffic. I should have sprung for one more round and avoided this mess. So, a twenty minute trip turned into an hour. I saw Ronnie's car parked out front at the curb and mentally prepped myself for a nickel lecture. My ex was gonna be wicked pissed when I walked in. It was one thing me having a schoolboy crush on her significant other; it was a whole other thing me risking her life in support of one of my so called cases as she snidely referred to them, totally disrespecting how I made my living. I knocked on the door with medium gusto and waited for the hammer to fall, it didn't take long.

"What the hell were you thinking Whitey!" Ronnie screamed as she opened the front door.

"Rhonda, calm down, I can explain everything," I stammered as I looked over her shoulder for Judy.

"RONNIE! It's RONNIE now knucklehead!"

"Sorry, you're right, you're right, you're absolutely right, I don't know why I keep messing that up," I apologized, still scanning the room for Judy.

"Jesus Whitey, you're a piece of work," Judy said, coming to my rescue.

"Let him in sweetie, he and I need to talk things over," she continued gently pushing Ronnie aside and opening the door for me to enter.

"Thanks doll," I muttered as I passed by the both of them and walked on into the apartment and took a seat in one of the Lazy-boy recliners near the fireplace. Judy sat in the chair opposite me and Ronnie perched herself on the arm of the chair (poor chair).

"So who was the gorilla you were talking to at the bar? And where have you been anyway? We've been waiting here for you for an hour!" asked Judy in rapid succession.

"He was boozing with his mates honey, it's an old story, isn't it Whitey?" Ronnie asked sarcastically.

"Spare me Rhonda," I quipped, enjoying her annoyance with my intentional name game. I grinned when Judy stifled her response by raising her hand.

"Just ignore him sweetie," she said letting her hand rest on Ronnie's.

"Look, that big fella with the Egyptian tan is probably the one who's been tailing you lately. Oh yeah, he's probably the guy who crushed the lab rat that was crushing on you the other night," I explained.

"How do you know that," Ronnie asked while Judy sat and pondered the data.

"Because I'm good at what I do Ronnie, that's why!"

"Really? You really think it was him?" asked Judy meekly.

"I'm afraid so doll, he's the real deal."

"Fine, let's just call the cops and be done with him then," blurted Ronnie quickly.

I rolled my eyes at my ex and stifled a snappy come back to her blathering remark. There wasn't time to go over every detail with Judy right now, especially with Ronnie in the room. I decided to cut to the chase and see if we couldn't sound this out together. My instincts were screaming that there was little time before Celaya cold-cased Sally's murder. Once a case chills it takes an act of God to resurrect it from the slush pile.

"The thread test, what did you call it, a SEM? What exactly were the results? Who else's DNA did you find on those blue threads besides mine?"

"Her Uncle," she answered.

"Honey, Jai was not her Uncle, I told you that," I said correcting her.

"I know he wasn't. The DNA belongs to Lu," she replied.

"What?"

"The DNA is Lu's, no doubt about it," Judy replied.

My head was beginning to pound like it always does when I am frustrated. I leaned back in the recliner and I tried to think. Unfortunately since I drank my lunch all I could think about right now was food. My stomach growled to reprimand me. Maybe I could think of something to get Ronnie to 'am-scra' (I just love pig Latin)? Then I caught her stare and felt tiny daggers pepper my face. Nope, probably not, so ignoring my stomach I went back to brainstorming with Judy.

"I don't get it? Lu wasn't at the murder scene? He didn't even know Mei Lai was in town? And he didn't know me as a patrol officer so I'm pretty sure that he ever saw me in uniform either?"

"Cool your jets Whitey. Lu's DNA isn't important as far as I know. There's something else. What do you know about nano technology," she asked?"

"Absolutely nothing, is it a Pokémon game or something," I replied rubbing my eye?

"No, but actually, I'm slightly impressed that you even know what Pokémon is," she replied.

"Yeah, so what about this nano nano stuff?"

"There was something I missed the first time I examined those threads."

"What? Someone else's DNA?"

"It was something much larger than molecules, something I mistook for debris."

"Okay, what then," I asked, studying Judy's expression of acute fascination.

"I mean, finding something like this is like picking fly poop out of pepper!"

"Judy! What the hell?"

"Sorry, I still can't believe I overlooked it. So, what I found was a super-super tiny microprocessor, about 20 times smaller than the head of a pin."

"You mean like a computer chip?"

"Sort of, actually it's a memory chip with God knows what recorded on it."

BINGO! Finally she strummed a chord I could hear. I literally heard the wheels turning in my brain. The implications were obvious as were the consequences if I followed them to their inevitable end. The answers would likely prove damaging to the wrong people and fatal to yours truly and Judy Looney. Theories started forming in my head as my brain processed all the bits of data that I'd crammed into it over the past week. The theories began to set like freshly poured cement and my instincts were coiled like a spring ready to bust loose. Thank God common sense intervened. All of this had to be thought through carefully. The stakes were too high, literally life or death. Suddenly I remembered that Judy and Ronnie were waiting for a response.

"Really? I think I know exactly what is on that chip. And if I'm right we have a problem, a really big problem," I said thoughtfully. Judy stared at me suddenly frightened. Ronnie sprang to her feet and stood over me.

"What did you do Whitey?" she demanded.

"I did my job Ronnie, that's all. But you remember what usually happens to curious cats don't you?" She sat back down, uncharacteristically silent at last.



Saturday, January 5, 2013

("The future's uncertain and the end is always near…")...The Doors

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration


Chapter Twenty



Casey's Pub, Grand Ave., Monday, Feb 23, 2009…1pm

The big Arab was faster than he looked and was beside my table hovering over me before I could ferret out an escape route. I glanced out the bay window to make sure Judy and Ronnie were okay then mentally prepared myself to be murdered in front of twenty or thirty eye witnesses. Holding my breath for a five count I leaned back in my chair and gave the grizzly faced thug my best tough guy sneer, pushing the chair across from me toward him with my foot. The rickity old chair made loud scraping and squeaking noises, like fingernails on a chalkboard as the narrow legs skid along the wood planked floor. Then, lazily I waived my hand toward the empty seat and silently invited my would-be assassin to sit and be my guest. He smiled wryly and took me up on the offer. We eyeballed one another for a second or two before I took the high road and initiated contact.

"Fancy meeting you here. Hassan isn't it?" I said. He did not answer.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"Thank you, no," he replied finally in perfect English, the accent of whatever his native tongue may have been was barely noticeable.

"My compliments Mr. Roode, you have a much better memory than our mutual acquaintance, Detective Abernathy. And thank you also for confirming you over heard our very private conversation the other night," he added.

Hassan folded his hands on the table in front of him, lacing his fingers together slowly, as if preparing to pray. His hands were large, his fingers thick and covered with a generous amount of black hair that matched the wavy mop on top of his head. The man's eyes were black as coal and he studied me intensely with them, amused by the look on my face as I realized I'd revealed way too much, damn it! The fact that he never blinked under those bushy eyebrows, not even once, made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Actually, between you, me, and the fencepost, it made my sphincter pucker as well. This was one scary fella!

"Yeah, well let's not fall in love just yet slick? Fact is Ray Ray ain't exactly a Rhodes Scholar now is he," I said as calmly as I could, trying not to look scared as I was. I doubted he was buying any of it but what the heck, I continued to play the tough guy role.

"But I guess I don't need to tell you that. I mean you're here and he's not, right?" "So much for LA's finest," I added with a grin, hoping my sarcasm masked my fear.

"Detective Abernathy is not important. As for his absence, he is not here because he was a parasite, and, unfortunately for him, had become a liability."

"Was?"

"Yes, was. As have you and your friend outside," Hassan answered pointing through the window in Judy's general direction.

She looked up and caught us staring at her and waived, her eyes asking who'd taken her seat. I waived back and gestured for her and Ronnie to make tracks. She didn't waste any time and spun Ronnie around, pulling her quickly up the stairs to the street above. I turned my attention back to Hassan, making sure that he wasn't planning to pursue them.

"You needn't panic Mr. Roode, I am not here for that," Hassan said without stirring in his seat.

"By that I assume you mean murder. What? Ain't we on your 'to-do' list?" I asked sarcastically, anger replacing fear for the moment.

"Not yet. That will be up to you and Dr. Looney I expect. All my employers ask is that you abandon your investigation into Miss November's unfortunate demise."

Now he went and done it! That was as good as a double dog dare for me. Consequently my addiction to curiosity trumped my basic survival instincts and I pressed him further. Solving Mei Li's murder had become a blood oath after Lu and Jai deaths and I couldn't let that go. Hassan's expression told me that he suspected as much. I really don't have a very good poker face which probably explains most the bad breaks in my life and why I still live alone in a run down apartment in seedier part of Los Angeles. Well, that coupled with the great state of California's version of blackmail, spousal support, what a gyp!

"So what was Sally to you guys anyway? What is it that your employer is afraid we might find?" I demanded more than asked.

"She was nothing to me, merely a task. However, I suspect that she was about to become somewhat of an embarrassment to others, as do all whores eventually."

"That's deep Hassan. Why do I get the feeling that there is more to it than that?"

"Why indeed. In any event you needn't look any further. I will confess that it was I who killed your friend's niece," Hassan said coolly.

"That's it? You tracked me down to confess? How do you know Judy hasn't already called the cops? What if I cuff you right now to that chair you're planted in and wait for them to get here to haul you in? What about that?"

"Please Mr. Roode, do not insult my intelligence or waste my time. Surely you and the good doctor have collected enough evidence now to link the girl with my Russian friends?" Hassan asked tiredly.

"Actually, we haven't, you give us too much credit. What's this about the Russians anyways?" I replied, suddenly embarrassed by how little I really knew.

"Perhaps Detective Abernathy gave you too much praise. I was led to believe you were quite intelligent? Let me spell it out for you in an effort to save time."

His eyes shifted slightly to his right and then to his left before continuing, checking both entrances to the bar. He had my complete attention; I was all ears and pumped full of adrenalin. Russians he said, really? This was getting pretty interesting.

"Miss November was more than an acquaintance of my employer; she was shall we say an employee as well."

"I see; an employee of your Russian friends?" I asked interrupting.

"Yes. As I was saying, Miss November was far too close an acquaintance if you ask me, but alas that was not my business. In her capacity as a hostess shall we say; she was privy to certain habits of powerful and influential individuals, a position of trust, a trust which she chose to violate, a deadly choice in the end. Her ambition was equal to her beauty, which as you know was considerable. Apparently her ambitions led her to keep a journal of these potentially valuable facts to use as the foundation for her dangerously unwise demands. And, she had a partner. A friend of yours I understand. Their mistake was choosing the wrong broker."

"Ray Ray?"

"Yes, this is where Detective Abernathy enters the picture. By the way, he was also an occasional employee of Russian friends. Shall I continue? You look puzzled?" Hassan asked.

To be honest I was flummoxed as to why he was telling me all of this, when it would be much easier just to put a bullet between my eyes and give Judy the same treatment? I'd suspected that Mei Li was in over her head from the get go, but blackmail? That hadn't occurred to me. I had a pretty good idea who her partner was and Ray Ray wasn't him. He may have been involved but he wasn't smart enough to be a player, at best he was probably shaking down Mei for freebies to look the other way. I didn't need Hassan to tell me that Ray Ray's association with Sally had cost him his life. That was obvious. But now I was pretty sure that Hassan knew what I knew, that he all about Jai as well, which meant it Hassan who'd killed my friends, the rat bastard! Strange as that sounds it was a relief to know that they hadn't killed each other. I had figured out that Sally was working with Jai, which meant that he knew all along she was nearby and that he kept that information from Lu. What I hadn't figured was why and for how long. Neither of them was around to grill. Jai didn't need money, he and Lu were loaded. And soft touch that he was, Mei Li would want for nothing in life with good old Uncle Lu nearby. It just didn't add up for me, it just didn't make sense until now. God damn it, now I was pissed!

I wondered why Hassan was putting so many cards on the table. That bothered me. I sensed that he wanted more than he asked for. Was he setting me up somehow, and for what? Or was he warning me? As bad a dude as this guy was, there was something odd about him approaching me that struck me as genuine concern? Why would I get that sort of vibe from a hired gun? I needed time to think, I needed to talk to Judy again. I needed to know what the retest on those threads may have uncovered. Was Hassan the one who'd been tailing her, it seemed likely now, or was it me he was stalking through her? If Judy was his mark then it was Hassan who murdered Ernie, the lab rat at UCLA. Maybe, but for some strange reason I didn't think so. There was a huge piece of the puzzle missing and what or more precisely who was on those threads might prove to be the key. Hassan cleared his throat and I could see that he was getting impatient. I decided to lay a couple of cards of my own on the table and watch how he played them. For now I needed to convince him that I would take his advice and back off.

"Yeah, I gottcha Hassan. You killed Sally November to silence her. Then you did likewise for her partner Jai Lei. And then you added in Ray Abernathy for good measure. Does that sound about right?"

"The consequence of their actions, do you understand Mr. Roode?"

"Wait minute! Her journal, you never found her journal, am I right? Oh brother, three murders and nothing to show for them. The Russians must be pissed!"

"Yes, they are concerned. So you see why I am here now, yes?"

"You're warning us that solving this case would be fatal. But why warn me, why not just kill us?"

"I kill when there is a need to kill, when I am hired to do so, not for sport," Hassan explained.

"Leave it be Mr. Roode, and live," he added leaning toward me for effect.

"What about the journal? What about your employers? Won't they wonder why you let us go?"

"You misunderstand. They do not know that you or Dr. Looney exist. I know, but they do not. As long as that remains true you're both safe. Let it be Mr. Roode, let it be and live."

"Call me Whitey."

"Very well, let it be Whitey, your life depends on it."

"I see, well just one more question then."

"Yes?"

"What do you plan to do about the law? You murdered a freakin police detective for Christ sake! Look, I'm no super sleuth, but if I got close enough to earn myself a personal visit from you, then so will the coppers sooner or later. Have you thought about that Einstein?"

Hassan shrugged and relaxed for the first time since he arrived. Straightening his collar he gave the lapels of his sport coat a quick tug and signaled for a server to come over to the table. For a moment there I thought I saw a grin forming slowly on his big face.

"I believe I will accept your drink offer now," he said, catching me by surprise.

"Really? Okay."

"As for the police, perhaps we extend the offer to them as well," he added pointing at a couple of Lt. Celaya's detectives about to enter the bar. I recognized Iggie Ingram right away but I had no clue about the Asian doll with him? If she was typical of Oscar's crew back at Hollenbeck, my old stomping grounds, then I needed to consider begging for another chance! Seriously though, this wasn't a good coincidence. I had to choose between getting pinched for breaking into Sally's apartment and obstructing justice or risk becoming a corpse my own self by ignoring Hassan's warning. No brainer Whitey, just wait for Oscar's minions to come over, invite them to join the party, run a tab and play host to the circus for a while and pray that Hassan doesn't whip out an Mac-10 and kill the lot of us! I'll just meet up with Judy later and we can decide our fate together.


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