For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
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!