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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

("I swear, a woman's breast is the hardest rock the Almighty ever made, and I can find no sign on it…")…Bear Claw to Jeremiah Johnson

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twenty-six


Anthony’s Bella Terra, 6th and Broadway…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…12:30pm

When my whistle needs wetting I go to Casey's Pub, but when my stomach growls I hit the Bella Terra and order Whitey's Special. Yeah, that's right, I have dish named for me, local celebrity that I am in certain circles. Check it out sometime, it's really on the menu, half a meatball sub, a mega slice of Mama Manzano's pizza with pepperoni of course; and a great big bowl of pasta Bolognese, heavy on the Bolognese! It's a carbohydrate Tsunami baby! Sure, I always say that I do my best thinking when I'm drinking, but .when the ol' belly gauge is on "E" this joint is choice numero uno Besides, the meal comes with a bottomless glass of Chianti so technically I'm staying true to my claim. I never was very good at quietly pondering an issue, if I sit still for longer than ten minutes I fall asleep. As I recall that was reason number 23 why Ronnie left me and changed teams?

Be that as it may, I was only two bites into the meatball sub when the Manzano brothers spilled out of the kitchen and into the crowded dining room, fists and expletives flying. Angelo and Johnny were famous around town for settling all disputes with a shout, a pout or a punch in the snout. Apparently this was one of the latter. All the first time patrons scattered and ran for the exit, while the rest of us regulars kept right on eating, enjoying the floor show. I lifted my sub and my wine as Angelo's backside brushed up against my table courtesy the left hook delivered by his younger and bigger brother John. Fat Johnny always won the arguments if it came down to a punch in the snout.

"Okay, okay, I've-a-had-a enough," Angelo said, catching his breath as he sat down on the second course of my meal, the mega slice of Mama's pepperoni pizza. If she were alive to see this I'd bet she'd box both his ears!

"I'll second that, he looks like he's had it Johnny," I said, chiming in as the self appointed referee.

"Hey Whitey, I didn't see you, when did you get here my friend," Johnny asked as if this were just an every day event? Actually, it was, what was I thinking?

"Got here about a half hour ago, didn't Mike Tyson over there tell you," I answered, teasing Angelo.

"Shut up Whitey, I have my hands full with tiny here, I don't have the energy to mix it up with both of you," Angelo replied as he held his head back and bled into my napkin.

"Sorry Paley, I was just cracking wise, you okay?" I said, apologizing and getting up to check on him, emptying my wine glass first of course.

"He'll live. Hey Marco, get Whitey another slice and some more vino, chop- chop," shouted Johnny, answering for his brother and walking over to check on him.

The boys were like ten year-olds making up on the playground. The physical stuff was over, and like as not, neither one of them remembered what exactly caused the beef in the first place. You can bet it was something trivial, most beefs between guys are. Women however are very different! Every beef involving the fairer sex is a drama that is NEVER forgotten, just glossed over until it needs to be resurrected for future beefs. Don't believe me? Wait until you've cohabitated with one for a while, you'll see. Johnny had put some ice in a cloth napkin and held it to his brother's forehead, swatting his hand away intermittently as Angelo protested.

"Stop fighting me stupido and this will be over in a minute," Johnny said gruffly.

"Don't call me stupid!"

"I'll stop when you stop."

"Are you fellas about finished? I need to dine and dash today boys, I've got a long drive ahead of me," I said, pleading with my two friends.

"Long drive, where to?" asked Angelo, standing at last, taking a deep breath through his healed nose.

"See, good as new," Johnny said smiling.

"It was already beautiful before you socked me briccone (bully)," protested Angelo.

"Don't flatter yourself mi amico," Fat Johnny replied, chiding his older brother.

"So where you gotta drive so far to today?" Johnny asked, turning his attention back to me as Marco arrived with my slice and half a liter of wine.

"Vegas, I gotta res…" I started to answer when the joint suddenly got crowded with cops.

I hadn't seen so that much blue since the Dodger/Giants game last summer! The place was crawling with uniformed officers and I suddenly lost my appetite. I prepped myself for an ass whipping and nickel lecture from my old boss and was about to turn and greet the fat bastard with my usual sarcasm when young Becca Tran appeared. I have to admit, she was the last person I expected to see, and I further admit that I was pleasantly surprised. It would have been nicer if Iggie wasn't tagging along, but this wasn't a social call so I let it slide.

"I told you we'd find him here Tran, it's feeding time Rebecca and Whitey's a notorious pizza-a-holic," Iggie quipped, shooting me a wink as he chewed noisily on a huge wad of gum.

"Why all the hardware Iggie, you expecting trouble?" I asked nonchalantly, taking a sip of my wine.

"We're not but you should be," he replied.

"Actually we're hoping you can help us Mr. Roode," Becca said, interrupting Iggie before he could crack wise again.

"With what?" I asked.

"And why should I be worried Iggie?" I added, curious all of a sudden.

"What Detective Ingram means Whitey is that you and Judy Looney really stepped in it," answered the voice that I'd been dreading I'd hear.

"Oh, hello Lieutenant," I said as pleasantly as I could, trying to avoid the aforementioned ass whipping and nickel lecture.

"Can it Roode, don't pretend to be nice to me, I'll only whip your sorry butt harder when the time comes," he replied agitated.

So much for diplomacy I guess? They taught us in church that forgiveness is righteous and that absence makes the heart grow fonder? But where Oscar and I were concerned, forgiveness is for suckers and absence just makes the heart grow harder. Oh well, I was running out of time. I needed to get on the road and fast. I was expecting Wally to call anytime and I didn't want to take that call around Oscar and his Keystone cops. I was going to have to hold my tongue and make nice with old fart until he got out whatever was on his mind. Maybe concentrating on young Becca would take the edge off of my bad attitude. Fat Johnny broke my concentration nudging me in the ribs, a love tap that came with no small amount of pain.

"Chi รจ la bella donna?" he asked nodding at Detective Tran, asking who the pretty woman was.

"Shhhh, not now John," I whispered from the side of my mouth.

"As I was saying Whitey, the dynamic duo here found something you were probably looking for," Oscar said, pointing at Becca and Iggie.

"Yeah, and what might that be?" I asked too nicely.

"Detective Tran recovered a whatcha-ma-call-it, a flash drive at the crime scene on the UCLA camp. I was a little surprised, no, make that disappointed, that you hadn't found it first. If you had found it first I'd be busting you for obstruction of justice. As it is I'm going to have to let you walk, for now. But not before you tell me where Dr. Looney and your ex-male/ex-wife fled to," Lt. Celaya said, pulling his sport coat open to show me his shield as well as his holstered .38 caliber snub nosed revolver.

That old piece was battle worn and it showed. The pistol grip was chipped and faded, and I knew for a fact that Oscar had no problem slapping leather and pumping several rounds into anyone who asked for it. And let's just say that where I was concerned, he was itching for me to give him a reason. He already knew where I was headed, that was a given. If he didn't hear me outright telling the Manzano boys, he'd hear it later from Iggie and Becca, who'd heard enough. Oscar would put two and two together sooner than later and he'd know why Judy and Ronnie had run off to Vegas in the middle of the night. Even Iggie who was no mathematician would figure that out, only he might add in the Wally factor which was something I wanted to keep under wraps, at least until I had a chance to see what was what on that end. So if there was any chance of cutting this little reunion short I was going to need to tell the truth; or at least a reasonable portion of it anyway. Besides, I was more than a little curious what the hubbub was regarding this flash drive? I was pretty sure that Judy found the microchip with all the real dirt on it; so whatever was on this thing could get us any deader, could it? No matter, it was time to dance so I put on my tap shoes.

"Alright Lt., you got me. Judy and my former ball and chain went to Vegas. It was sort of a last minute thing you might say," I said trying to sound sincere.

"I know where they went Whitey, I want to know why. And you're not leaving here until I do, you got it?"

"I got it Oscar, I got it. Look, Judy was plenty scared after that kid got dead over at the lab at the college. She was afraid you guys would think she was involved," I explained.

"She was involved," Oscar shouted, that blue vein appearing at his temple!

"Alright, I meant responsible," I said, rephrasing.

"She may have been responsible Roode, that's why I want to talk to her, without you," Oscar roared, chasing away even the die hard Bella Terra patrons.

"Okay, okay, don't bust a nut flatfoot, I'll find her and get her to call you," I replied quickly.

"Nah, that doesn't work for me Whitey, you're too slippery. Here's what going to happen. You're going with us to LAX. You, and the dynamic duo over there are taking the next flight to Vegas where you will take them directly to Dr. Looney, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and then bring her back here to la-la land where we are going to get to the bottom of this. Are we clear?" explained Oscar as he calmly buttoned his sport coat and waived me toward the front door.

"Crystal," I replied looking over at Becca and Iggie.

Marco tapped me on the shoulder and attempted to hand me a to-go bag with my Whitey Special inside. I turned to take it; still starving actually, but Oscar intercepted it.

"He's not hungry any more Marco, I'll take that," he said, swiping my meal and giving me the finger. Not the best way to start a road trip, especially a dangerous one. I wasn't sure how much they knew or whether they were hip to Hassan or the Russians, but I suspected that they were, why else would they have landed here like the Marines? Whatever, I'd think of some way to ditch these two by the time we landed at McCarran.

"By the way, you can thank me later for saving your ass from the Turk," Oscar mumbled through a mouthful of Mama Manzano's pepperoni pizza.

"You mean the Arab," I said correcting him, hoping the greasy pepperoni gave him the trots.

"No, I mean the Turk. You never were very good at pegging suspect's Roode. If they aren't Anglo-Saxon you're flummoxed," Oscar said sarcastically.

"Turkish, huh? Hell, I thought Hassan was an Arab name," I replied.

"It is Whitey, the Arabs and the Euros have battled over that land for ages, Islam versus Christianity. You never heard of Wikipedia? Welcome to the 21st Century gumshoe. By the way, thanks for the tip, I was wondering what to call that guy in the surveillance photos, now I know," Oscar added, laughing as he finished the last of my lunch. Shit! When am I gonna learn less is more and keep my big trap shut? Too late now, cat's outta the bag now, oh well, I hope the jack-hole chokes on the pasta!

"Let's go Whitey," Iggie said taking my arm.

"I'm coming, I'm coming…"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

("I'm not broke but you can see the cracks, you can make me perfect again…")…U2…"All because of you"

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twentyfive

Union Plaza, Las Vegas, Nevada…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…9:00am

This should have been easy; all of my plans are easy. But this time, this one single time, there was a wrinkle, a blemish, a monkey in the wrench of my day. I expected that gnat Whitey Roode, to follow me as I followed her. He was obvious; he loves the queer professor after all, in spite of her unfortunate affection for his former mate. But the Turk, I must admit, he was a surprise, I was not expecting him. I so seldom have surprises, but I do enjoy them, delicious. But since Hassan is here that means Roode is dead. And if Roode is dead, why is the Turk here? His Russian masters should care less about the woman. She is no threat to their precious lies. The little present I left for the so called detectives from the LAPD to find contained what they feared. Although, it's possible that Roode got there first and found it. But if he did then he would be the hunted one now, not the woman. Not likely though, Whitey must have pulled some strings inside the department and discovered what was on the flash drive, the list that Hassan had explicitly warned him to ignore.

His insatiable curiosity must've been his death sentence. Pity, I was hoping to have had the pleasure of administering that myself, bollocks! I suppose the Turk can take his place then, he must to pay for Mei Li's death anyway. All the years I invested grooming her for greatness, wasted, damn his eyes! He'll answer for that, and soon, as I sense he is much too close to my frightened entertainment. It's decided then; Hassan will be first on today's menu of mayhem. I'll dispense of him before I visit the good doctor and her mate, Whitey's former spouse, the transgender abomination.

Union Plaza Room 3023…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:00am

Judy Looney pulled the heavy drapes closed as soon as they got into the room. She hadn't felt safe since discovering the chip. Goddamn Whitey, why did he get her into this mess? Actually that wasn't fair; he was just the enabler, she made her own choices, everyone does. She pondered that thought a moment, why do people blame the circumstances for the choices they make? Everyone wants to be the victim she supposed, and for an instant she remembered her victim moment. The relationship she walked away from that propelled her into the life she now led. She left behind the love of her life because she lacked the capacity to forgive. She let her anger hardened her heart and rob her of the life she had dreamed of as a little girl. For a fleeting moment she secretly wished for a do over chance, but those are only dreams as well.

She did enjoy the little detours that Whitey's schemes brought into her boring life. As much as she loved her work and teaching, a little part of her yearned for the excitement his recklessness brought. She wasn't in love with Whitey, but she was in like with him. She knew that he was smitten and she felt guilty about leading him on, but she couldn't help herself. In a way Whitey reminded her of what she had let slip away. However, no man could ever replace her lost love, she would never allow that. Hence her relationship with Ronnie, let's face it, loneliness kills. She paused a moment to survey the street below, not exactly sure what to look for. Judy hoped that whatever survival instincts she possessed would surface if she anything caught her eye.

"You didn't say a word the entire trip. Five and a half hours without traffic, what gives," Ronnie asked?

"I know, I'm sorry honey, I just didn't want to wind you up with a lot of speculating about what your ex is up to back in LA, that's all," Judy replied, walking away from the window and crossing the room.

She collapsed into Ronnie's arms and wept, allowing herself to be vulnerable for the moment. Judy sensed that sooner or later she was going to have to suck it up if they were going to survive and she was betting on sooner. She regretted that her addiction to Whitey's nonsense was going to cost more than she was prepared to admit to. They had really stepped in it this time. What she read of that list, and she had read most of it, convinced her that she ought to be scared to death. The names on that chip were powerful people and the notes associated with each of them were undoubtedly worth killing for. She knew for a fact that the chip had cost Ernie his life, the poor sweet kid, as it had Whitey's pals at the deli, and the girl that had set all of this in motion. How was she supposed to tell Ronnie all of that? She wasn't, that's how. What Ronnie didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right? It wasn't like they could stop this runaway train. Their best bet, according to Whitey was to get this freaking thing to his contact in Vegas and then disappear for a while, maybe take that Parisian honeymoon they talked about before Proposition 8 ruined everything?

"Penny for your thoughts," Ronnie whispered as she stroked Judy's hair?

"A penny's about all their worth right now love. Just hold me a while, okay," Judy replied, drying her tears on her lover's shoulder.

LVMPD…Metro…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:30am

Wally Price replaced the telephone handset back onto its cradle and leaned back a rickety old wooden captain's chair. The WWII Army issue desk and chair he sat at was out of place in the ultra modern facility that was LVPD Metro. But I suppose a 30 year career that would make Rebecca Tran's wet dream, Josh Stanford jealous, afforded you a few perks. Wally laced his fingers behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He was doing the usual gut testing, due diligence that he did whenever he heard from me about a tiny favor. The last time I called in a marker from him he nearly got dead helping me retrieve a skip for Sweet Baby's Bail Bonds in San Pedro (Sweet Baby was another Nam acquaintance of ours). Turned out the skip just happened to be a hot prospect with a local outlaw biker outfit which shall remain nameless to preserve our mutual survival. Nothing to be gained opening that can of worms! Suffice to say Wally got his man and then some. How was I supposed to know the skip was really an undercover DEA operative? Freaking Feds, it ain't bad enough that the IRS is always getting in your kitchen, but when the good guys get other good guys shot, that just ain't right! But I digress.

As soon as Wally finished ciphering over the merits of my latest favor request he picked up his phone and dialed Judy's cell phone. He rubbed at the five o'clock shadow even though it was only ten o'clock in the morning, and waited for her to answer. She picked up on the fifth ring, just before he hung up, secretly hoping that she wouldn't and he could dodge a bullet.

"Hello," Judy said softly?

"Dr. Looney," asked Wally?

"Yes, who is this," she replied?

"Wally Price lady, Whitey says I should call you," Wally answered gruffly.

"Oh thank God! Where are you right now," Judy exclaimed, relieved?

"I'm right here, where are you," Wally replied annoyed?

"Oh, sorry we're at... Wait, I probably shouldn't say where we are over the phone, right?"

"No you shouldn't. I guess you're as smart as Whitey says you are. Wherever you are, find a payphone and call me back at this number. Do it in the next five minutes or we won't me meeting, you got it," Wally instructed, giving her the number and hanging up without waiting for her to reply.

Judy looked at the phone before hanging up. Were all of Whitey's friends' assholes or what she wondered? No matter, she didn't have time to contemplate that. She had less than five minutes to find a payphone and return this call and she was pretty sure that Wally started the clock the instant he hung up on her.

"Where are you going," Ronnie hollered as she came out of the bathroom with a towel around her just washed hair?

"Out, I'll be right back. Are you hungry," Judy asked as she went through the door.

She didn't wait for Ronnie's answer and sprinted down the hall, nearly knocking over the maid's cart outside of the room across from theirs. She skipped the elevator and took the stairs, the clock was ticking. She had no idea how right she was…

Monday, February 4, 2013

("After the moment passes and the impulse disappears. You can still hold back. Because you don't crack easily…")…Code of Silence…Billy Joel

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twenty-four

Hollenbeck Station…Monday, Feb 23, 2009…10:00pm

The look on Rebecca Tran's face was pure elation! She was so sure that her slick piece of police work would put her in tight with her CO that she was actually scribbling Detective Josh Stanford's name all over her note pad like a High School freshman crushing on her homeroom teacher. It was somewhere between cute and pathetic. It was cute because, well, because she was very cute, and pathetic because her commanding officer, Lt. Oscar Celaya is rarely impressed; almost never actually. I suspect young Rebecca's bubble was about to be burst.

Oscar's office door opened abruptly, swinging hard enough to bounce off the wall and rattle the windows. The sudden noise startled Becca who was sitting in her cube just outside the Lieutenant's office reviewing some notes. She jumped out of her seat and instinctively scurried around behind the chair when she noticed that Iggie and the Lieutenant were heading her way. Her pain in the ass partner had a disturbing grin on his face, like he'd just run over small child or something. But the Lt. looked as if he were about to eat one! This wasn't a good sign and Becca felt some bile rise from her stomach, burning her esophagus.

"Is this what you call smart police work Detective Tran," roared Lt. Celaya angrily?

"Um, what do you mean sir," she answered meekly, retreating half a step, crossing her arms defensively. Truth be told she was fighting the urge to bolt. More bile reached her throat and burned uncomfortably, causing her voice to crack a bit. She tried to look cool, calm and collected but was obviously failing. Iggie smirked like a true tattletale and she could see that the lieutenant wasn't buying her little Miss innocent act.

"What do I mean? Are you serious Tran? Look sunshine, if you expect to still have that gold shield on your belt when you leave here tonight I suggest you drop the cutie-pie shit. Don't you know cute is wasted on a guy like me? I'm ten years past my prime, hopelessly married to a woman who constantly reminds me she could do better, and on top of that I'm a card carrying member of the 'he-man woman hater's club', you got it!" ranted Oscar. He always was pretty entertaining when he ranted and raved. To be honest I kind of miss that.

"Yes sir, I didn't mean anything, I'm just confused, what's the issue here?" Becca replied finding her voice. She scooted further back in her cube to put a little more distance between her and her psycho boss. She didn't know this guy but had heard some terrible stories about his temper.

"The issue Rebecca is that you removed a potentially critical piece of evidence from an active crime scene without contacting CSI. That is a clear violation of protocol detective, you should have known better," Officer Ingram offered condescendingly.

"Put a sock in it Iggie! I don't need any help scolding the rookie," quipped Lt. Celaya.

"And just so we're clear, you're walking on the same rice paper as your partner here, you got that!"

"Right, sorry Lt., my bad," Iggie stammered apologetically. He stepped back a couple of feet, crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, waiting for Oscar's eyes to look Becca's way again.

"Anyway, like laughing boy here said, you blew it Tran. You contaminated a crime scene, a Cardinal sin in police work. Fortunately for you it's also a common sin among rookies, like you, so the blame belongs to Iggie, he should have known better," Oscar said, transferring the heat from student to teacher.

"Wait just a min…" Iggie started.

"I told you to can it Detective, that means shut your trap and listen," Oscar said, cutting Iggie off in mid sentence.

"Sir, it's not all his fault, I'd already started to…" Becca began. Oscar raised his hand like a beat cop stopping traffic at a busy intersection.

"Spare me Tran. I appreciate your loyalty to a guy you barely know, but the fact is this is the second time in 24 hours that the BOTH of you have fouled up on this investigation," Oscar said, scolding his new detective as he took a seat on the corner of her desk. He removed his glasses and slowly rubbed his tired eyes. After a moment he sighed and put his glasses back on his face.

"Ah, I'm getting too old for this job," he said looking down at Becca who had seated herself while he rubbed at his temples, trying to massage away his anxiety. Oscar studied her young face for a few seconds, waiting for her to look up and make eye contact. When she did the two of them considered one another without words, sizing each other up so to speak. After an uncomfortable minute or two Oscar took the lead and broke the silence.

"You have a lot of potential Tran, I mean that, you wouldn't be here if I didn't think so," Oscar said sincerely. He always ended an ass chewing with a pat on the back. With the exception of yours truly, Oscar was a pretty fair guy, gruff and rough around the edges, but generally a pretty fair fella. Everyone makes mistakes, right? Becca remained silent, stunned by the sudden change in the lieutenant's demeanor, and allowed herself to relax enough to reply without her voice cracking.

"Thank you sir," she replied with a weak little smile, secretly scolding herself for doing so.

"Look, I don't believe in tossing the baby out with the bath water. This is your first case with us. And let's face it. Iggie isn't exactly teacher of the year, are you professor?" Oscar said, turning to glare at her partner. Poor Iggie, he actually seemed to shrink about an inch under the heat of that stare.

"No excuses sir," Iggie replied without making eye contact. Every good Marine knows there is only one way to answer a question like that from a commanding officer. Oscar let him off the hook, returning his attention to Becca.

"So here's your next move young Tran. I want you to take this flash drive upstairs to IT and have them see what’s on it. I'll clue you in right now, it's nothing except the victim's homework and his personal shit," instructed Lt. Celaya.

"What makes you think that?" Becca asked.

"It's a hunch Tran, an educated guess. What, you never heard that term before?" "Forget it! Suffice to say that because I'm a 35 year veteran in this town it's a pretty goddamn good hunch too!" Oscar answered tiredly.

"Yes but…" Becca started.

"No buts Tran! This isn't rocket science. You have got to know your subjects! The principle character in this murder case is Dr. Judy Looney. Next is Whitey Roode, low-life such as he is. After that comes whoever killed the poor slob that the good doctor was boinking. Last and definitely least is the victim, Ernie Namura. Forget him, he's insignificant, a statistic only," Oscar said, accentuating each point by raising a finger one at a time. Rebecca perked up scooting closer her chair closer to the desk. Even Iggie had looked up from his shoes and moved closer to the conversation.

"But I thought you liked Dr. Looney for this murder?" said Becca cautiously.

"Iggie thought so too?" she added.

"Well you're both wrong. I like Dr. Looney for being the key to solving this puzzle. Actually, I was hoping that Whitey Roode would be the perp. But unfortunately it's not adding up that way. As big an asshole as he is, Whitey's no murderer. Nope, whoever did this thing does it for a living. It's too neat. And that's how I know that your flash drive is useless. The murderer left that for you to find. Well, it was left for you or Whitey, depending on who got there first," Oscar explained, standing up to stretch.

"Oh Lord, I'm getting way too old for this," Oscar whined, arching his back.

"If Whitey and Dr. Looney are clear where does that leave us," asked Becca?

"It means that our unknown subject is playing with us. He planted that stick under the soda machine knowing we'd find it easy enough. Then, he left us to play grab ass with Whitey Roode deciphering a device containing bupkis. The real target is Judy Looney. She took whatever was worth finding with her when she left the lab," explained Iggie as he joined in on the brainstorming.

"Give the man a prize!" replied Oscar sarcastically.

"Now here's the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Where exactly is Dr. Looney now?" Oscar asked looking down at Becca. Suddenly Rebecca Tran was frightened, not for herself though, she was afraid for Judy Looney.

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