For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…9:45pm
The alarms screaming through the halls didn't bother me half as much as the constant crackling of squelched chatter emanating from all the two-way radios everyone was yammering into. A concert of voices relating facts, near facts, and changing facts was confusing the crap out of me as I eavesdropped on every transmission within earshot of where I was standing. My head whipped back and forth as if I was watching a tennis match, and I was getting a headache. Something very bad must have happened because the building was being locked down. That usually meant a manhunt was underway and judging by the commotion whoever they were looking for was probably armed and dangerous.
I gleaned from the chatter around me that there had been a shooting in the stationhouse, and that an Officer was down. Pretty gutsy move by the shooter given the firepower around here! I wanted to go to the Interrogation Room and make sure that Judy was alright but we weren't going anywhere for the moment. Wally was up ahead talking with a uniformed Officer, they were shouting over the noise. Wally nodded, patted the uniform on the shoulder and turned to make his way back to me and Iggie.
"Okay, here's the thing. Somebody popped a cop downstairs in the evidence room. It was professionally done, neat and quiet, no muss no fuss. You can't get to that level much less into that room without a badge," Wally explained, his eyes darting rapidly around the room like super balls in a concrete bunker.
He gave everyone the once over which meant we were dealing with a wolf in sheep's clothing. That worried me more than a little bit and now I was determined to check up one Judy and Becca right freaking now! If the shooter was disguised as a cop he or she could e anywhere in the building. It also meant that Iggie and I couldn't run around as if we owned the place either there were just too many nervous trigger fingers around. One wrong move could prove fatal.
"Look Wally, we gotta get back upstairs to where Judy is. I don't know about you but I'm thinking whoever plugged the Arab back at Cesar's is here to do likewise to Judy, and probably me too," I said, hoping he'd see things my way.
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing Roode, we're in a helluva a jam ain't we," he replied, rubbing his chin as he mentally chewed on next moves.
"Ya think! Come on, let's get the flock outta here!" I replied urgently, getting more agitated with every passing second.
"What do you know about the shooter?" Iggie asked attempting to relieve the tension.
"Well, well, well, look who's suddenly cop of the walk," Wally said turning his attention toward Iggie.
"That's a good question Detective Ingram. Actually we do know a couple of things. Number one is he is male and in an LVPD uniform. Number two is he's short, really short almost too short to qualify to wear the uniform. Number three, he's Asian, we have glimpses of him from several surveillance cameras. No full on face shots, he's too smart for that, but we captured enough features to peg him as Asian," Wally said filling us in.
"So that narrows the field, which way did he go?" I asked impatiently.
"Don't know, we lost him in the evidence room," Wally answered shrugging.
"Lost him, how can that happen there are cameras everywhere around here, did they malfunction or something? Who's minding the board in operations?"
"Look Whitey, I don't know, he just vanished into thin air!"
The three of us stared at one another for several seconds. We were in the early stages of a simultaneous epiphany as each of us flashed back to the same long ago memory. Slowly the three of us looked up at the ceiling and whispered a unanimous theory.
"Has to be, how many of those little rat bastards did we smoke outta their jungle holes," blurted Iggie.
"Too goddamn many," replied Wally bitterly, shushing us with his chubby index finger pressed tightly to his lips.
He motioned for us to follow him and led us into an empty room across the hall, closing and locking the door behind us. Wally looked up at the ceiling and then took a knee like a football coach at practice. Following his lead we knelt and huddled up with him. The scene churned up memories of an era I'd buried long ago in the darkest recesses of my mind. I didn't like those memories or the ghosts that came with them. Judging by the look on Iggie's face neither did he.
"Alright, here's the situation. The evidence room is on the ground floor so if we do have a rat in the vent system he has no place to go but up if Judy Looney was also a target. The Interrogation room was on the third floor and we were in between on the second. He had a head star and it'll be clear sailing if the rat was already past us. None of us could climb into the vent to chase after the rodent. We were all too fat and too goddamn old. We needed a volunteer, a tiny, extremely petite, pistol packing volunteer. Any suggestions?" asked Wally.
We said it together, "BECCA…"
LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:15pm
Slithering around like a 120 pound snake was child's play. My Father had taught me these skills as a boy. He'd send me on errands from camp to camp up and down the Ashau Valley delivering messages to our glorious soldiers fighting the invaders of our homeland. My father was a Colonel in the People's Army, a very important man, and he had been promised many things once the country was rid of the American devils and was united again. My father had been a fool to believe those bloated and pompous government lackeys. Each and every one of promise broken by Communist Leaders drunk with power after Saigon fell in April of 1975. I was ten years old when my family was forced to flee like cowards. I hated my father for making us run and exiling mother and I to a land where we would never fit in. With every taunt, with beating that I suffered at every school I attended and every neighborhood I lived in, my hatred of him increased. Until one day in the quiet south London suburb of Bromley when it was my pleasure to put a pillow over his face and suffocate him as he lay dying on his sick bed.
The trick to stealth is in how one moves one's body. It isn't necessary to crawl like a toddler, clumsily propelling yourself forward on hands and knees. No, trick was must make yourself small, like a snake transferring all of your strength and power to your fingertips, hands, and arms. Once you master that concept it is merely a matter of doing a flattened push up, only instead of pushing one's body up, one pulls one's body forward slowly but surely. It's a tedious process I grant you, and requires uncommon patience, but the results are proven and effective. The juncture leading to the second floor was just ahead. When I reached it I would roll myself onto my back and rest a minute then drag my body into the up shaft and continue onto the third floor where, by my calculations, the interrogation room housing Dr. Looney was located. Once I repeated this floor to floor maneuver at the next juncture it would be just a short distance to reach Dr. Looney, about 100 meters, one left turn and then 20 meters more. The fools below were making it too easy for me with all the commotion they were generating. With all of that noise below I could literally whistle while I worked and not risk drawing any attention to myself. I would reach her soon and just as soon she will be dead.
Pity that I will not have time to toy with her, but under the circumstances a quick silencing will suffice. Just as well, I was ready for this game to end and be on my way home to Nah Trang. Those Russian gangsters that Mei Li had involved in our arrangement had spoiled everything with their reactionary tactics. Bollocks! What can one expect from peasants such as those? I had personally taken years to groom my beautiful protégé for this life. We could have been royalty living in the midst of an endless supply of Yankee dollars courtesy an aging clientele obsessed with holding on to their youth by defiling the young talent that we brokered for them. So much perversion in the world, I will think of a new game focusing on that element while on hiatus back home. Perverts!
LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…10:30pm
I was relieved when Rebecca answered her cell phone on the first ring. A small part of me had prepared for another gory scene ala room 3023 at the Union Plaza earlier. Becca listened to us carefully as we explained what we thought was happening, and what we wanted her to do. The tricky thing about asking for volunteers is that they can always say no. Rebecca Tran was a brand new shield but from what I had seen so far she was no coward. She'd given her word to the people and wore the badge on her belt like a wedding ring on her finger. She was a big girl and knew the risks and accepted them, all of them.
She understood there are no guarantees in this line of work and that life itself doesn't offer any either, save for one. If you are born then you will die. Rebecca Tran took an oath, she made a promise and she intended to keep it too. One way or the other, sooner or later, her oath was more than a bunch words to recite. A promise is a promise. Loyalty is a rare quality these days, especially in the jaded, all or nothing, instant gratification society that we live in. Most girls her age believe that if the going gets tough, smart girls get the flock out! Becca wasn't like that; I admired the kid for that. I sorta envy her future husband, lucky fella.
"Okay, I think I understand what you want me to do, but how will I know which way to go," she asked.
"You ain't going anywhere doll. You just stretch out in the shaft and wait. I've got a building schematic right in front of me and I know what direction the perp is coming from," Wally explained. He paused expecting a flurry of questions but after 30 frustrating seconds of silence decided that he'd confused the girl and changed tactics to a more fatherly approach.
"Look kid, there's only one way to get to you from where he started, and if you hurry you can put yourself in his way before he gets to Dr. Looney, understand?"
Rebecca answered quickly, "Yeah, what do I do first?"
"Strip down to your skivvies and dowse yourself with something slick, some hand lotion or oil, whatever you got in your purse," explained Wally.
"Skivvies, I'm not following? As for what in my purse, I don't carry one, just an oversized wallet," Becca replied.
"You're making me feel old Rebecca. I mean strip down to your underwear dear, skivvies is Navy talk for underwear. I can't believe you didn't know that?" whined Wally.
"Not everyone was in the Navy detective," answered Becca defensively.
"Whatever, look, ask Dr. Looney what she's got in her purse."
Judy Looney interjected abruptly having been listening in all this time, "All I have is some Oil of Olay, will that do?"
"It will if there's enough of it. Get her undressed Doc and rub her down good," Wally instructed.
"Uhhh, okay, but..." stammered Becca uncomfortably.
"Don't talk Becca; just listen while Judy gets you all nice and shiny."
"What part of DON'T talk didn't you understand? Look, once you get up into the air shaft I want you to make yourself as small as possible, as flat as a sheet of paper. The lubrication will keep you from making any noise as you slide into position. When you're all set put a round in the chamber and make sure your weapon is cocked and ready to fire. Be as still as you can, take long, slow breaths and make NO SOUND. Listen carefully for any movement in front of your. Whoever's in that shaft is on the way but is not expecting to find you up there waiting, I doubt the perp thinks we're that clever. Alright then, are you ready?" There was another long pregnant pause.
"You can answer the question, Simon says speak," Wally said with little a chuckle. In tense situations a sense of humor tends to foster courageous behavior.
"Yeah I'm ready, but I'm feeling pretty exposed here," she replied giggling.
"Alright kid, couple more things, oh, by the way, if there happens to be an inquiry afterwards, we never had this conversation, you got it?
"Alright remember, the closer the shooter is the better, darkness is your friend in this case. You probably won't hear anything but you will feel something. It'll be like fishing in a stream except you won't see a line jerk, but you will feel the shaft move beneath you. The depressions will get stronger the closer your target gets. When you've waited as long as you can possibly stand it I want you to empty your weapon, all 10 rounds. He'll be as flat as you are so aim low. That's about it. God's speed Detective Tran, call me when the dickhead is dead," Wally said snapping his cell phone shut.
"Now we wait," he said to me and Iggie.
"Like hell we do, let's beat it on over there and make ourselves useful," I said moving toward the locked door. Wally blocked my path, throwing up both of his beefy hands.
"Okay, hold on, wait just a second. We don't want to spook this guy. We have a real chance of ending this right here, right now. All we need is patience. The trap has been set, the cheese is in place. As soon as the rat shows up it'll get a face full of lead from young Detective Tran. Come on man, you know I'm right."
"SHIT," I hissed as I capitulated and grabbed a seat beside Iggie on the floor.
"That's better, it'll all be over in a couple of minutes," Wally said, holding his cell phone at the ready waiting for Becca's alls clear call.
LVMPD…Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009…11:00pm
Rebecca lay on her stomach in a prone ready position, legs spread, the heels of her bare feet pressed firmly against the sides of the narrow shaft. Her arms were fully extended in front of her as she aimed her 9mm at the darkness. Her small breasts flattened out against the cool metal beneath her reminding her it was time for her annual mammogram. Her weapon was cocked and ready to fire, she was good to go. Becca was too focused to be scared, her eyes adjusted to the absence of light but she still couldn't see a thing. She felt a cramp in her abdomen and she worried about her stomach growling or worse. Her eyes were tearing from straining of to see in the dark. She thought what if this guy has on a pair of infrared goggles? If he did then she was dead meat.
She could feel her cell phone tucked into the back of her panties and suddenly couldn't remember if she had turned it off or not? Oh man, what if her Mom called to say goodnight or something. It was too late to worry about that. Becca gripped her weapon tighter, wait a second; did she hear something, maybe? She opened her mouth slightly and took short shallow breaths. Her aching eyes were tearing badly and getting in her way. She closed them tightly in order to heighten her other five senses. She couldn't remember where she'd read about that but it made perfect sense right now. She concentrated on listening but heard no sound. Suddenly silent alarms went off in her brain. There was still no sound, but she felt a slight tremor beneath her as if the building was moving. Her head ached as her brain processed dozens of possibilities and then in an instant she realized the obvious, Detective Price had warned her. The ventilation shaft was responding to the presence of a greater weight, signaling that the intruder was near! Rebecca Tran counted to five and then emptied her gun.
BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM!
Her ears rang from the explosive reverb bouncing off of the walls of the small space and the spent shell casings burned her flesh as they rolled around the shaft. She screamed and scooted backward quickly trying to escape the noise and the acrid smell of cordite, breaking a pinkie toe in the process. She stifled a cry, biting the heel of her hand to transfer the pain. Suddenly a bloody hand reached out and grabbed her by her hair. The grip was much too strong for a dead man and she recoiled in an adrenalin rush. Becca retreated quickly back to the hole in the ceiling, dragging whoever had a fist full of her hair along for the ride. A nanosecond later two strong hands grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her the rest of the way.
Wally Price yanked Rebecca Tran out of the air shaft and handed her down to me and Iggie below. Judy immediately took charge of our scared and shaking heroine, wrapping an old wool blanket around her and leading to a chair in the corner of the room.
"Hello! Look what we got here," Wally shouted.
Detective Price jumped down from the table he was standing on, pulling a bloody corpse from the shaft above like after birth, letting the body drop to the table in a heap. Iggie and I walked over to take a look as Wally turned the stiff onto its back, careful not to disturb the scene too much.
"Holy Crap," I gasped when I saw the face. I recognized him instantly! It was Jai Lai, a dead man for the second time. What in the hell was going on I wondered? Wally saw my expression. "You know him?" he asked.
"Yeah, I went to his funeral actually," I answered bewildered.
"Nice trick, I wonder how Houdini here managed that," Wally said nonchalantly, completely nonplussed by the gore in front of him. I looked over at Dr. Looney.
"Judy, didn't the coroner do an autopsy this guy?" I asked, puzzled.
She walked over and took a look. "How would I know, I don't do those kind of procedures, I've got nothing to do with the County, I'm a school teacher, remember," she said.
"Maybe this guy just resembles the other guy," she added.
"No, its Jai Lai alright, I've known him for several years," I replied scratching my head.
"Well then somebody really fucked up. Anyway, it doesn't matter much, he's dead now," observed Wally blandly.
"The little shit must have faked his own death, lured his partner Lu Rong upstairs to find him sprawled out on their bed and then let the poor bastard blow his own brains out. That's pretty goddamn cold blooded if you ask me," I hypothesized in awe at the cunningness of the man that I thought I knew.
“You know what, I can’t think anymore. We’ll sort this out when we get back to LA,” I added, frustrated and exhausted.
"You ready to go home Becca," I asked the rookie detective.
She was still shaking but I took that as a yes. Judy took my hand as I walked over to help comfort Rebecca and wait with her for the paramedics arrive. We had a lot of explaining to do when we got back, and if I knew Oscar Celaya he would be waiting at the airport for our plane to land. I sat beside Judy as she spoke softly to Becca and reviewed what had transpired from then day I found Sally November murdered in her apartment to today when I discovered her Uncle Jai dead again.
The pieces started to fall into place now. Jai Lai and Sally November had been a team from the very start. Somehow they got mixed up with Russian gangsters; New Russians they call themselves. I'm guessing Sally was the key to that unholy union. I suspect she got greedy and ambitious and tried working a blackmail angle without telling Jai. I suppose if Hassan hadn't killed her Jai would have. The loneliest victim in all of this was her poor uncle, Lu Rong. He didn't deserve to be betrayed by either one of the two people that he loved most in the world. At the end of the day it all comes down to luck. You either have it or you don't. I suspect Judy Looney's and mine was about to at best be tested and at worst run out. She and I weren't out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. We had a date with reality as soon as we got home. Story of my life I guess, out of the frying pan and into the fire…geez!