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Sunday, March 31, 2013

("You're what I couldn’t find, a totally amazing mind, so understanding and so kind. You're everything to me…")…Cranberries

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Thirty

Hollenbeck Station…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…7:00pm

This wasn't at all what Oscar had expected to find on the whozie-whats-it, the what-do-ya-call-it, the flash drive, yeah that's it, the flash drive! It was the electronic thing that Rebecca Tran found on the UCLA campus where Ernie Namura bought the farm, the unlucky lab rat chasing after Dr. Judy Looney. That was a definite case of wrong place, wrong time. Looks like the gadget wasn't the load of crapola Oscar expected it to be, not by a long shot. What was stored on that insignificant looking piece of plastic was dangerous!

All Oscar had expected to find on that thing was the dead geek's homework and his list of 'sure things,' nothing really useful. However, spread out on the desk in front of him was a pretty impressive list of names, dates, times, and what were probably coded deeds. Oscar knew instantly what he was looking at. This was an accounting record, a book of receipts, a Pearl Harbor file if you will, compiled by someone either very cautious or very clever, an opportunist. Oscar suspected the latter and immediately thought of the investigation into the murder of an Asian call girl in Little Tokyo, the same investigation that Whitey Roode was sticking his big nose into. Apparently the numbskull wasn't on a snipe hunt after all. If Whitey knows what's on the flash drive then he knows Judy Looney is in BIG TROUBLE!

Oscar sighed heavily and leaned back, setting off a fanfare of creaking joints in both his old leather chair and his even older leather body. He suddenly realized that he played right into Whitey's hand by sending him with Iggie and Becca to fetch Dr. Looney in Vegas. Whoever killed the hooker in Little Tokyo also murdered the kid at UCLA, he knew that now. He'd sent his rag tag crew right into harms way, and all on the tax payer's nickel. Oscar was pissed at himself, he was smarter than this. Not exactly the "A" Team, they were more like "F Troop." Actually to be fair, at least for the moment, Oscar left Rebecca Tran off of that team's roster. He had a good feeling about her, she had real potential. The young lady was a lot smarter then her dumbass partner and that washout PI. He'd been in the law enforcement business a long time and he fancied himself a better than average judge of character, he could say without fear of contradiction that he'd heard it all and seen it all. If Rebecca Tran survived her current association with those two numbskulls Roode & Ingram, she was going places. Partnering her with Iggie was a mistake and Oscar would right that wrong as soon as she got back to LA.

Oscar picked up the pages and studied the data closely. He recognized several of the names on the list right away and frankly wasn't surprised to find them there. After few moments he stopped reading, convinced this document was legit. It was likely an accounting of services rendered by the Little Tokyo murder victim, Sally November. The question was why was it worth killing for? Leaking this list would be embarrassing for sure, but sex for sale was more immoral than illegal. How many times have powerful men been caught with their pants down and still remained powerful? A lot, that's how many, from corporate giants, to clergy, to leaders of State. Oscar could think of at least two American Presidents. No, there was something more to this particular list and these particular codes. The answer would be with whomever Sally November was working for or more the point, double crossing. What made this list worth killing for? It didn't make any sense to Oscar, unless? Wait a sec, that's it, the flash drive was bait, only the wrong fish bit. Interesting, why did Judy Looney run, why so abruptly, and why in the dead of night right after Ernie Namura was left face down in a puddle of his own blood? What was the link between her and that jack-hole Whitey Roode? What were they up to?

All of a sudden Lt. Celaya regretted sending the aforementioned nincompoops to Las Vegas all on their own. Oscar replaced the papers into the manila folder and pushed it away from him. He slapped his desktop with both palms, hard enough to draw a few sideways glances from the squad room on the other side of his office window. He ignored the curious looks and picked up the handset from the desk phone cradle. He punched the Vegas area code as he flipped through his rolodex for the rest of Wally Price's phone number. Wally's phone rang five times on the other end of the line before auto transferring to the desk sergeant.

"LVMPD, Sgt. Hernandez," the officer answered.

"Yeah, listen this Lieutenant Oscar Celaya, LAPD, I'm trying to reach Detective Sergeant Wally Price please. Can you locate him for me or give me his cell phone number?" Oscar asked in a nicer tone than his current mood dictated.

"Sergeant Price is indisposed sir. Would you like to leave a message or your call back number?" That was the wrong answer.

"INDISPOSED!" hollered Lt. Celaya.

"You're goddamn right I want to leave a message. You tell Price to call me ASAP, he has the fucking number! And sergeant, if I don't her from that shit heel in five minutes or less it'll be YOUR ASS! If you value those stripes on your sleeve Hernandez don't waste time replying and find the man, you got it!" bellowed the frustrated police lieutenant from Los Angeles.

Oscar gently hung up the phone, setting the handset back in the cradle as if he were defusing a bomb. Leaning back in his chair he clasped his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling, mentally decompressing while he waited for Wally Price to call back. Blowing off steam like that was his methodology to ward off heart attacks. He learned early in his career that stress was the silent killer of cops. The guys that held everything inside sooner or later either stroked out naturally or ate their gun unnaturally. He closed his eyes and went to his happy place with his bossy young wife. He'd waited a long time for happiness to come into his rough and tumble life and a fiery ginger fifteen years his junior. Olivia Celaya was a widow with three kids when they met five years ago. It was the second marriage for both of them.

She and the children changed his life and made him whole. They brought out a sense of decency that the job had robbed him of long ago. They made him feel human again, and for the first time in his life he could honestly say that he was happy. Olivia was his rock, a hard shell with a soft center. She could be bitchy but you never doubted her love, it was deep and it was forever. Oscar was a lucky man and he knew it. Truth be told so was she. The phone rang loudly, snapping Oscar out of his daydream. He opened his eyes slowly and checked his wrist watch; it had been five minutes exactly since he spoke with the desk sergeant in Las Vegas. Leaning forward he slapped the phone handset and it flew up and into his outstretched hand.

"Price?" he asked.

"In the flesh Lieutenant, what can I do ya for?" replied Wally Price sarcastically.

"Cut the crap for starters and let me talk to Roode, I know he's there listening."

"Actually he's not LT. We had some trouble on this end."

"Where is he?"

"He's with Dr. Looney and Detective Ingram."

"Where's Detective Tran?"

"Right here," Wally said, handing Becca the phone.

"It's for you," he said. Becca took the telephone from him, "Hello?"

"Hello Rebecca. Very slowly and leaving nothing out, not one detail, tell me what the hell is going on out there," Oscar said gently but sternly, like he was talking to his fourteen year-old step daughter, Katrina. Becca swallowed hard and began recanting the afternoon's events, beginning with the grizzly murder of Whitey's ex-wife.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," whispered Oscar to the walls of his office.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

("Love me two times girl, one for tomorrow, one just for today. Love two times babe, I'm goin away…")…The Doors

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twenty-nine

Union Plaza Hotel…Room 3023...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…5:00pm

Wally had left Judy in the Hotel security holding cell with half a dozen uniformed officers, all of whom he knew personally. He wasn't taking any chances, this was some serious shit. He looked around the room which had been closed off with yellow barrier tape and shook his head slowly. What a fucking mess! The poor thing put up quite a fight he thought before whoever did this went to work on her, or him, whatever, that didn't matter much at this point. Suffice to say that whatever services the family plans will have to include a closed casket, that's for damn sure! A uniformed officer appeared in the doorway gesturing for him to join her. Wally figured she was here to tell him that Whitey and Iggie were downstairs. He glanced at his watch and noted that they were late. There must have been more traffic then he'd allowed for. Iggie was sure to mention that the little weasel.

"What is it Shaw," he asked the uniform.

"There's a couple of LAPD shields and a Joe citizen in the lobby asking for you," answered the tall blonde officer.

"Alright, go back and tell em I'll be down in a minute," Wally instructed using the handkerchief from his coat pocket to mop some perspiration from his brow.

The room was air-conditioned well enough but this much gore brought on the stress sweats. Wally had only met Rhonda once. It was at one of Whitey's poker games way before their divorce, back when 'he' was a 'she'. Under these grizzly circumstances he couldn't swear that what he was looking at was the former Mrs. Roode. He was pretty sure, but not positive. What was left of the poor soul was scattered around the bloody room in pieces. Breaking the news to Whitey would be rough but breaking the news to Dr. Looney would be rougher. Wally was relieved that that task would fall to his old pal. The big detective walked over to the nightstand nearest and took noted the time on the face of the digital clock. It was frozen at 1:15pm, busted by something very heavy.

Wally looked down at a thick terrycloth bath towel sprawled on the floor beside the table. It was still damp and was one of the few items in the room that wasn't soiled with blood. The victim had been attacked here after showering, that seemed obvious. There was a struggle and the clock got busted in the process. Likely the perp tossed the victim into the center of the room and went to work on him/her. There were no other signs of struggle…why? Was the vic drugged or just terrified? Neither was a pleasant thought. Wally hated these kinds of slaughterhouse scenes. He'd seen similar scenes overseas back in the shit, entire villages exterminated by the evil men do. Helpless human beings preyed upon by other human beings, for what, a cause? "Thou shalt not kill" wasn't that a commandment in the Christian world he'd been raised in? It was, but he'd ignored it like a good soldier is conditioned to. Maybe this career path is his penance for forgetting that? Maybe…

Wally took out his cell phone and snapped a picture of an open wallet on the floor. There was a California driver's license halfway exposed showing him half of a photo. That would have to do for now, at least until the coroner could make a positive ID of John/Jane Doe. He returned the phone to his pocket and left the room, time to see what was what with Whitey and the LAPD.

LVMPD Motor Pool...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…5:30pm

Shift changes are always chaotic at police precincts, what with patrol cars coming and going, off duty officers rushing home to the family or out to the casinos for a chance to win the lottery Vegas-style and escape the law enforcement racket. It made for a good place to hide out in plain sight, not that I needed any such distraction, but chaos always makes it easier for one to blend in, especially when one is dressed for the part. Queer how humans think there is safety in numbers. There isn't you know, not if someone is committed and determined to make something bad happen. Hasn't that fact been proven time and time again in places like Columbine, Beirut, or the World Trade Center? Anyway, it has been my experience that human beings tend to mind their own business while going about their business, especially if one gives them no cause to do otherwise. On the few occasions where I have run into a Good Samaritan or Nosey-Nellie I just used them as a wet stone for my blade, the fools!

Enough pontificating, I am boring myself. What I seek should be in the evidence room or possibly within a computer lab of some sort, depending on the level of sophistication in this berg. Granted it's not Scotland Yard, that's for certain, but that would be an unfair expectation. No Constables here, just Cowboys. I expect there is an equal amount of chaos inside so I anticipate no problems maneuvering at will once I enter the building. Still, a good soldier is a prepared soldier, so my weapon will remain unstrapped in the bulky leather 'holster' part of my costume. Why are Americans so enamored with firepower? No wonder the world sees the USA as a warrior nation. Well you know what they say; "brains trump brawn 99 times out of 100." Curious thought but no concern of mine, I have work to do now.

Eliminating the Turk had cost me precious moments, but it had been necessary. I had arrived on that scene just in time to intervene; otherwise Dr. Looney would be as dead as her unholy mate right now. Fortunately I knew better than to trust the good doctor's safety to this rube friend of Roode's. The man may be a thirty year veteran but he's still an amateur! She would be safe for now, at least until I recover the flash drive that she deciphered. I must say I am quite embarrassed for assuming her incompetent. She surprised me. I think I gasped audibly when I overheard Roode explaining everything to his policeman friend. Thank goodness telephony has always been a hobby of mine. Those skills have come in handy on more than one occasion, like this one. Still I must be slipping. I should have expected technology to advance beyond my ability to keep up. No matter, I know what I am looking for and once I have it I will erase all links to it. There will be nothing to worry about. Once again, a good soldier is a prepared soldier and all that rubbish.

Ahhh, Mei Li, my little butterfly. You were more clever than I gave you credit for. That will be the last time I allow anyone close enough to do me real harm. I taught you well little flower, apparently too well. I allowed you to think yourself my equal as if that were possible, silly child. The Turk, Hassan, saved me the task of dealing with your foolish ambitions. That should have been my pleasure. Still, I wish you had not given him cause to do so. I do so miss your company my dear, in spite of your betrayal. You were the only thing that I ever loved more than my work and myself. I look forward to personally explaining that to Whitey Roode right after I answer his twenty questions, shortly before his inevitable demise. Satisfying his curiosity is an uncharacteristic gesture on my part to be sure, but strangely I feel that he's owed something after what Hassan's done to the abomination that was his ex-wife. Is that a sign of weakness? Yes, it is. Belay that gesture then, he will just die, but not right away…

Thursday, March 14, 2013

("Understand what I've become, it wasn't my design. And people everywhere think I am something better than I am. But I miss you…") Cranberries

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twenty-eight

McCarran Airport…Las Vegas...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…3:30pm

If it hadn't have been for the fact that Rebecca Tran was seated between us I do believe that I would have grabbed Iggie by his Windsor knot and dragged him (still yammering no doubt) into the head and flushed him down the john and out into the sweet silence of 39,000 feet! The old fossil had whined and complained the entire trip and I could see by a few of Becca's facial expressions that she was as tired of all his noise as I was. We covered the 231 air miles between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in 48 minutes versus the quoted 55 thanks to a merciful tail wind, further proof that God isn't always out to mess with my life! I'll have to thank Him for that when and if I make to Heaven and it's my turn in the hot seat so to speak. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on poor Iggie? "What comes around goes around" was a favorite saying of the penguins in grammar school back at Our Lady of Grace.

"Turn your cell phone back on Whitey and give Wally a call while we wait for the crowd to thin," Iggie said, leaning back in his seat for the first time since we boarded the packed Southwest flight.

"Check," I replied, digging into my jacket pocket for my cheap Samsung. Becca excused herself after accidently nudging me while she stretched in the cramped space of the packed Boeing 737-NG. I smiled at her and gave her a wink that I hoped conveyed not to worry, it was my pleasure. She blushed and picked up the first distraction she could find, the airplane's emergency pamphlet in the seat pocket in front of her. Hmmm, interesting, maybe there was a coffee date in our future, providing I survived all this of course. I had to fish a little deeper in my pocket to retrieve the little spiral note pad with Wally's new number. As soon as I found the right page I punched in the nine digits including the area code and waited for an answer. Wally picked up on the second ring, jackpot!

"Price!" he barked, answering the phone. He sounded pre-occupied?

"Hey Wally, it's Whitey, I'm in town. Listen, have you met Judy yet?" I asked.

"Yeah I did. You're early? I wasn't expecting you until later."

"Change of plans, I flew instead and I'm not alone," I answered. Rebecca scolded me for offering too much information with a tight lipped huff. Iggie did likewise, but I didn't care.

"What? I thought we were a team here," I said covering the phone with my hand.

"Less is more Whitey, just tell him we're on our way to the precinct," Iggie said, sliding his finger along his throat, subtlety telling me to cut the conversation short.

"Ah, listen Wally; we need to deplane, so I'll fill you in at the station house. We'll be there in forty-five or so.

"Negative! Change of plans here too buddy, meet me at the Union Plaza Hotel, room 3023, I'll fill you in. By the way, it's a crime scene so make sure whatever cop you're with flashes a badge. It's not Iggie is it?"

"Yeah, you pegged it, I'm with detective numb-nuts and his partner. What do you mean it's a crime scene? Is Judy alright? What about Ronnie? Did she tell you about the chip?" I replied, rambling as my mind started conjuring all sorts of unpleasant scenarios.

"Can't talk now Whitey just get your ass over there as soon as you can. It'll take about an hour from McCarran, especially at this time of day with everybody driving home. Call me when you get here and I'll grease the skids for you guys."

Wally flipped his phone shut before I could protest and I did likewise. I felt Iggie and Becca's eyes on me waiting for an explanation. I thought about holding back but my gut said that I was going to need these two, and keeping facts from your team was a recipe for disaster. I turned to face them with a stupid grin on my face.

"Apparently we're skipping the station house and going downtown to the Union Plaza instead," I started.

"Why? This better not be a gag Whitey, Celaya will barbeque all of us if you and Wally are thinking about holding out on us," Iggie said wagging a boney finger in my general direction.

I don't take kindly to that sort of treatment, and Iggie knows better so I reminded him by bending said finger back to the first knuckle. He screeched inspiring Rebecca to come to his rescue. He's always been a drama queen!

"Are you two kids through? Honestly you're supposed to be setting an example for me. The only thing I'm learning from you guys is that senility is dangerous!" she scolded as she separated us.

"Sorry, he brings out the devil in me," I replied with a wicked little grin.

"Whatever!" Becca said as she stood, pushing past me and out into the aisle.

Oh well, so much for that future coffee date. I got up and followed after her with Iggie hot on my six. I'd make nice in the rental car on the way downtown. Secretly I was pretty worried about the two girls or at least the girl and a half. Whatever was up it was serious; Wally never called me buddy before, preferring shit-for-brains instead. Why was he being uncharacteristically kind?

"Hey Roode, whip out your plastic, the rental's on you, Oscar's orders," Iggie said as the escalator let us off at baggage claim. He was flashing one of those punk ass grins that a child does when they're tattling to mommy or daddy, what a prick!

"Natch," I replied pulling out my billfold and walking up to the Hertz counter.

"You have anything with a sidecar," I asked half-jokingly pointing in Iggie's direction. The young lady behind the counter stared back at me with a blank expression, the poor kid had no idea what I was talking about and I let her off the hook with a smile, handing her my Visa and driver's license. What the hell was happening at the Union Plaza anyway?

Hollenbeck Station…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…3:00pm

Oscar Celaya looked at the clock above his office door, and checked his wristwatch subconsciously synchronizing the two timepieces. Whitey and the dynamic duo should be half way to the LVMP station house by now. He decided to give them until five o'clock to call in with an update. If they knew what was good for them it would be a short conversation consisting of the return flight number and confirmation that Dr. Judith Looney was in protective custody and on her way back to answer a shitload of questions. At flank speed the lot of them should be back in LA before the 11 o'clock news. That was an hour past his bedtime but Oscar was pretty sure it would be worth the inconvenience. He opened the center desk drawer and retrieved a small set of keys. Grunting he got up with the extra effort his age and weight required and walked over to a block of five drawer filing cabinets.

He unlocked the one labeled MAC, opened it and fished out a half empty bottle of McCallan's single malt scotch and a dirty tumbler stolen from the old Ambassador Hotel, circa 1968, the year RFK was assassinated. He had been a patrolman downtown back then and was moonlighting working security for the hotel that night. You could say that it had happened on his watch but you'd be wrong. Oscar was working the crowd in the ballroom and wasn't in the kitchen where the shooting occurred. Still, to this day he felt a twinge of responsibility. He often wondered what the world would have been like had someone saved the day and Bob Kennedy had gone on to become President? It was an interesting thought that he had whenever he felt melancholy enough to tap into the MAC drawer.

Oscar sat back down to pour himself two fingers when the phone on his desk rang, interrupting his moment of reflection. He recapped the bottle and took a slow sip before answering, whoever it was could wait five or six rings. Setting the heavy tumbler down onto a manila folder he picked up the receiver.

"LAPD, Lieutenant Celaya here," he said into the handset.

"Oscar, its Ralph Pederson over at the Mayor's office, are you busy," asked the voice on the other end of the line?

"Little busy here Ralphie, can this wait until tomorrow, I'm expecting a package soon if you get my drift," Oscar replied stirring his drink with his finger.

"Actually it can't lieutenant, hold for His Honor," Ralph said in a tone that Oscar had heard before, whenever the little shit was brown-nosing his boss. Ralph Pederson was the Mayor's Press Secretary and chief minion. Lord knows this Mayor liked a close relationship with the Press. Before Oscar could hang up and claim faulty equipment Mayor Popular came on the line.

"Oscar, good to hear your voice," he said without even hearing it.

"Listen, huge favor my man, a little bird told me that you may have a line on this murder at UCLA. I'm very interested in hearing what you have on that," His Honor added. It didn't sound like a request; it sounded more like an order. Oscar didn't like taking orders from people he didn't respect; that was why he hadn't made a career of the Army.

"Well, you see Mr. Mayor I'm not sure what we have just yet. I'll know more after we have a chance to question a key witness. Said witness is currently in route from out of State and won't be in until late. Why don't I call you back first thing tomorrow morning after we find out what's what," he answered, not exactly lying but not exactly telling the truth either.

"I see, well, make sure that you call my office first thing Oscar, and I mean first thing! There may be ramifications concerning this murder which I am not at liberty to discuss," replied the Mayor, clearly miffed at what he correctly suspected to be a stall tactic.

"Of course, you have my word Mr. Mayor, will there be anything else sir?" Oscar answered nonchalantly giving his drink another stir.

"FIRST THING IN THE MORNING LIEUTENANT, ARE WE CLEAR?" the Mayor snapped with more than just a little venom in his voice.

"CRYSTAL," Oscar replied with a fair amount of venom of his own. He hung up and reached for the scotch. Oh well, guess nobody likes being dissed, he thought. Oscar picked up the tumble clinked the bottle of McCallan's and toasted the room, ain't life a bitch!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

("Cause blue eyes you are all that I need. Cause blue eyes you're the sweet to my mean…")…Cary Brothers

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twenty-seven

Cesar's Palace…Las Vegas...Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…12:30pm

Judy Looney checked her wristwatch for the umpteenth time; it was two minutes later than the last time she checked. Apparently Whitey Roode's friends were all assholes! At least this Wally character was turning out to be, especially where promptness was concerned. Oh, and he had a pretty fucked up attitude as well. You know, for a so called crime fighter he had absolutely zero tack with the whole damsel in distress concept! She'd been hiding in plain sight for over an hour now, knee deep in wannabe players pissing away little "Johnny or Jane's" college tuition on the chance that the next spin of the wheel would bring home the jackpot.

Wally told her to lay low in the Keno parlor because traffic was heavy there as people had to pass through it to get to either the gaming tables on one side or the slots on the other. He said that he'd meet her there in a few, in a few what? She'd taken that to mean a few minutes, but apparently that hours or God forbid, days! Judy felt so conspicuous, positively naked. She was convinced that whoever was after her was close by, really close. Her poor neck ached from jerking it this way and that with every sudden movement or new face. She was exhausted from trying to cover the circumference of the room with all six of her senses, and was about to leave when the Wally showed up abruptly, the prick!

"Dr. Looney I presume," he said in a monotone that came off as condescending, befitting his personality. Not a good first impression.

"Jesus Christ! You startled me," she blurted, holding a hand to her face trying to push the screech that escaped her lips right back into her mouth.

"You're Detective Price?" Judy asked composing herself.

"In the flesh, may I sit down?" Wally asked in a gracious tone that Judy didn't expect.

"Ahh, sure be my guest," she answered, unconsciously scooting to the far edge of her own seat.

Wally Price sat beside her and quickly surveyed the room from this new perspective. Actually he had been there the whole time having arrived shortly before Judy had. Like any detective worth his salt he knew that the Boy Scouts had the right idea, be prepared. He had positioned himself at a "Wheel of Fortune" slot machine facing the Keno Room to keep a look out for her. While he waited he memorized every face in the general area. He was looking for anyone who gave Judy more than a casual glance when she showed up. Everyone notices at a beautiful woman, and Judy Looney was a dish, but a trained observer like Wally Price, one with thirty years experience hunting bad guys could spot someone with murder in their eyes. The eyes are the mirrors to the soul, or so they say.

He had followed her at a safe distance when she walked into the casino and headed for the Keno Parlor. She found a seat with her back to the wall. Smart girl he thought, Whitey knows his dolls. He studied her nervously watching everyone else. It was probably a little unfair to let her sweat like that, but if anything was going to happen it would happen when the perp felt safe enough to try. That was an axiom in the murder game. Wally waited until his instincts told him it was all clear before approaching her. Sure, he could have been up front with her about all of this preparation but it was safer this way. It was better she that she wasn't wise to his tactics lest she shout out a big HELLO at exactly the wrong moment! Wally let her study him a moment before opening his yap again.

"Alright Dr. Looney…" he began.

"Call me Judy, please," she said interrupting him.

"Alright Judy, let's get down to it. Whitey says you have some kind of micro thingamajig containing some pretty interesting shit, I mean stuff, sorry. Some stuff that the Russian mob in LA might be willing to kill for. Is that about it?" he asked, leaning in close so that her reply couldn't be overheard easily. Judy flinched, answering without hesitating.

"Yeah, that's it in a nutshell I guess. I mean I don't know anything about the Russian mob, I didn't even know such a thing existed. Anyway, the only mobsters that I know are Brando and Pacino from those Godfather movies," she said managing a weak smile. Wally cleared his throat and leaned in close enough to whisper in her ear.

"Tell me the truth, did you read everything on that chip," he whispered. Judy nodded in the affirmative pursing her lips as she felt his breath on her neck. It made her uncomfortable. The man was big, like Whitey said, but she didn't remember Whitey saying he wore a beard? Didn't cops have to be clean shaven or wear a cheesy moustache? OH well, what did she know. She was happy to have a little muscle around to look after her and Ronnie. His breath wasn't overpowering but it was enveloping her at the moment. He must have had lamb and saffron rice for lunch she thought, picking up on those distinct aromas. Persian food was a favorite of hers.

"Tell me the truth again, did Whitey read it also," he asked, his tone remaining hushed?

This time she shook her head in the negative, she was lying, but her instincts told her to do so, she didn't know why? She waited for Wally to move away, but he didn't. He whispered in her ear once more.

"Are you quite sure that you're telling me the truth Judy? Think it over carefully, your life may depend on it," he said a little louder this time.

That was it! Judy was officially more pissed than scared now and she was about to tell him where to get off when she heard a soft "pffft" sound and Detective Price suddenly slumped onto her shoulder. She tried to push him off of her but he was heavy, like dead weight. She discovered why instantly when she saw a tiny trail of blood trickle down his forehead and into two very open very cold and very dead eyes. Judy swallowed a scream and pulled him back to her like a long lost lover and surveyed the crowed room. Nobody seemed to notice anything was out of the ordinary even though she could actually hear her own heartbeat booming like the cannonade from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony! She started thinking about what to do next but she didn't get to think very long. A split second later a gruff older man in a tattered gray suit walked up to her. He sat down confidently and quietly as you please; on the opposite side of the dead weight resting on her shoulder. Mr. McGruff held a chubby forefinger up to his lips and told her to shut up with his eyes, which looked as cold as the ones on the stiff on her shoulder, only his were blue instead of shit brown like Wally's.

The ragtag man, in his late fifties she guessed, reached over and felt for a pulse with one hand, flashing his LVMP credentials with the other. Judy gasped, she'd been had. The stiff on her shoulder wasn't Detective Wally Price, the man in the rumpled suit was. Judy started to swoon as if she would faint, realizing just how close she come to her own death. The real Wally Price grabbed her and stood her up in one swift movement and they were halfway to the nearest exit before she caught enough breath to say anything.

"WAIT, WAIT!" she hissed shaking loose from the hold Wally had on her.

"What the hell was that? Who the hell was that?"

"Not here Dr. Looney, let's take it outside before someone figures out that fella we left back there isn't just sleeping it off," Wally said quietly but forcefully.

Judy sized him up quickly, how did she know that this was the real Wally Price? She never saw the guy before and Whitey never actually described him other than to say he was big and that he was an old friend willing to help us. She was scared and this guy was standing on her last raw nerve. She felt a panic attack coming on when he suddenly said the magic word.

"Stifle yourself doll face, Uncle Wally has everything under control," he said nonchalantly.

Only Whitey Roode's friends talked that way, like they walked straight out of a Humphrey Boart movie, minus the cigarette though, none of Whitey's friends smoked, that was weird that she remembered that all of the sudden? It was weirder given the jam she was in, but that's how the human psyche works, it distracts you from painful experiences in the oddest ways.

"Okay, okay, just tell me you're the real Wally Price, Detective Wally Price," she said calming down, allowing him to gently take her by the arm again and lead her out of the casino.

"That's right sweetness, Detective Wallace Jordan Price, at your service. Now, let's get the fuck out of here, I've got some more bad news for you. Guess this is your unlucky day sweetheart, sorry bout that," Wally said as they passed through the glass door into an unseasonably hot February afternoon.

Judy flinched as they exited the air-conditioned casino and walked out into the daylight. A blast of hot air hit her square in the face as she quickly put on her pair of cheap carwash shades. Wally steered her toward the parking lot and his waiting car. In spite of the danger all Judy could think of at this very moment was that his car better have AC! Detective Price squinted in the glare of the noonday sun and studied the area in front of them, doing a full 180 degrees sweep. His senses were peaking and he was on full combat alert. He knew he didn't drop the Arab back there. And sure as shit, whoever did shoot the poor bastard was watching them both right this very minute, taking aim and just waiting for the right moment to squeeze off a couple of kill shots!

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