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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.


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.

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