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Friday, December 19, 2014

(”And I’m not sure I believe anything I feel.")…Goo Goo Dolls

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Seven

Bella Terra Restaurant…December 2, 2009…10:00pm


            Angelo and Johnny Manzano had a pretty sweet deal going with their glorified pizza joint. Actually Johnny (Fat Johnny to his close friends of which I am lucky to be one of) would swat me right in the kisser with his Frankenstein sized hand if he heard me say that out loud. The boys were pals of mine from way back when I walked a beat downtown and they were a proud pair when it came to the Bella Terra. To be fair the place was much more than a pizza joint, it was a full on restaurant that just happened to make the best damn pizza pie in all of Los Angeles. So forgive my crass reference to it as a joint and let’s call it a grotto instead, that sounds classier. Not accurate mind you as there is no outdoor seating whatsoever, but what the hell, I like the way grotto sounds it just has a certain je ne sais quoi. Be that as it may, suffice to say Bella Terra was one of my top five hang outs, actually number two just after Casey’s Pub. So it wasn’t unusual to find me here even at this time of night.

            I enjoy late night suppers when the crowds are gone and it’s just me, the boys and the staff, perfect right? Tonight would have been one of those perfect nights except for the fact that tonight was date night for me and Judy Looney, currently my significant other. Just to bring you up to speed, my “life of Riley” existence had been recently dismantled by a rat bastard named Jai Li who murdered my former wife (turned transsexual), who by the way just happened to be involved with said significant other. Confused? You’ll get used to it. In a nutshell, the former Rhonda Roode left me after several less than perfect years of marriage, changed teams and became Ronnie Roode, the “fella” who won the favor of my heart’s desire, the lovely and brainy Dr. Judith Looney. That’s right I said doctor, I told you she was brainy. But I digress. Like I said, Ronnie was whacked by a whacko thereby freeing up Dr. Looney and viola, I’m a couple again! Admittedly relationships have obvious advantages. Let’s face it nobody wants to be alone for long, am I right? I’m no exception, although I do on occasion frustrate people to the point of wishing they were alone again.
“You’re doing it again,” whined Judy Looney as she sipped at her Chianti.
I flinched and reached for the carafe to refill my own glass with the red stuff, “Sorry doll, I was thinking of you, honest!”
“Riiiight!” Judy replied sarcastically.
“So spill it Whitey, what are you working on now? And it better be good since you didn’t notice my new dress.” she asked trying to sound more interested than her expression indicated.
“Aww come on Judy give me a little credit, how could I miss that? I love you in basic black and slinky, you look good enough to eat sugar pie,” I said laying it on thick. I was trying to distract her with some titillating table chatter because the wheels in my head were just beginning to roll and I wasn’t ready to share details.
“Every girl looks good in black and slink Whitey, you’re gonna have to do better than that.”
“Naturally doll-face! Hey did you do something different with your hair? Are those new shoes? They’re so cute!”
“Knock it off Roode, you’re such a liar! Fine! If you don’t want to talk about your business just say so. I’ll tell you about mine instead.”
Decision time. I could either share what was rolling around in my noggin or settle in for a fun filled night of forensic science shop talk. Hmmm, not a hard choice.
“Alright sweetness, I surrender, you’ve trumped my ‘pensive silence card’ with your ‘let me tell about my day card’ well played.”
Judy smiled wily and sipped on her wine. Actually, it was more of a smirk but hell, I deserved it. “I really don’t know a lot yet, but I can share this much.”
“Fair enough, that’ll do for now,” she said.
“Did you read about that woman who set herself and her kid on fire at the Egyptian a while back?”
“Sure, I read it in the Times and it was all over the TV as well. It looked awful, the poor thing was not much more than a kid herself. And the rumor is the baby was the priest’s love child. Forbidden fruit from the forbidden tree so to speak.”
I rolled my eyes, now I know why the Church hired me. They need these gossip sparks to fizzle before they flare up into a full blown firestorm. The tabloids were already spinning stories in whatever direction that sold copies. The major publications like the Times and the Chronicle were playing it cool for the moment but that wouldn’t last long, business is business.
“Really? The Times actually printed that?” I asked.
“No, I read that part in the Star while I was waiting in line at the market,” confessed Judy.
“I see. You know you should try shopping in Chinatown. The tabloids there are written in Chinese so you won’t be able to poison your mind. Shame on you for quoting that rag Dr. Looney,” I said, lightheartedly scolding her for giving credit to the yellow journalists from the Hollywood Star.
            Judy rolled her own eyes and glanced at the menu. She already knew it by heart but she liked making me wait while she made her choice. After a moment of silence she tapped her index finger on page two and grinned at me wickedly.
“Yeah, well that little quip will cost you gumshoe, I think I’ll have the Italian surf and turf with a bottle of Cristal. Think your wallet can handle that honey?”
            I’m still not used to being called that, makes me feel so domesticated. I nodded my head in the affirmative, poured myself a refill and signaled the waiter to bring another carafe of Chianti. “Knock yourself out doll face, sky’s the limit tonight, this meal is on the Vatican,” I answered with a grin of my own.
“What are you having?” she asked.
“I think I’m gonna drink my supper tonight babe. Cheers,” I answered with a wink.
“Suit yourself Whitey. Now fill me in, I’m all ears.”
“Right, okay well like I said I don’t know much yet. But here’s what I can say so far. FACT, a nineteen year-old mommy walked into the middle of Hollywood Boulevard right in front of Grauman’s Egyptian Theater and then before God and Country she doused herself and her newborn child with gasoline from a baby bottle and lit a match. FACT, her last words recorded by God knows how many smart phones were ‘I love you father.’ FACT, the young lady was the subject of a documentary film by a popular activist priest, the Reverend Nicholas Aloysius Quinn.”
“Oh, Father Hollyweird, right?”
“Whatever. The point is he’s Father Quinn, get it?”
“Are you implying that the girl’s last words were meant for the priest? Speculation Whitey.”
“I know, I’m just saying for now. Anyway, continuing, FACT the baby’s birth certificate does not identify a father.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve got friends all over town sugar, nuff said.”
“I see, continue.”
As I was saying, FACT, biological father unknown. FACT, mommy dearest was an orphan living at a Church sponsored halfway house for teenage mothers. FACT, Father Quinn is the Parish Priest of the sponsoring Church. FACT, the media is hot on Father Quinn’s trail digging for dirt to sling, real or imagined.”
“Have they found anything yet?”
“Not yet, but you know how it is, if you stir a pot long enough something odd always bubbles to the surface.”
“When did you become such a philosopher?”
“Just now, I have my moments.”
“So no shit has hit the proverbial fan yet. Lucky Father Quinn. Have you met him?” Judy said as her meal arrived.
 “Yeah, and my gut says he’s a good egg. A nice guy doing a nice thing. But you know what they say, no good deed goes unpunished,” I answered.
“I hate that saying,” quipped Judy.
“Me too, but truer words were never spoken. Anyway the last FACT is this, a good man is going to pay an unfair price very soon. I figure I’ve got 48 to 72 hours to crack this case before all the guns aimed at Father Quinn go off at once. It’ll be a virtual public execution.”
            Our server, a pretty young blond, arrived and delivered another carafe of Chianti to the table with a friendly wink. I returned the friendly gesture with one of my own and she moved onto the next table. My innocent flirtation had not gone unnoticed and Judy folded her arms and gave me the stink eye. “Honestly Whitey, you are such a hound!” she whined.
I winked at her as well, “now, now, you know that’s just part of my charm. You’re my girl Dr. Looney, I’ve only got eyes for you,” I said laying it on thick, again. I do that a lot.
“I am for the moment Mr. Flirty but you better watch your p’s and q’s buddy!” she replied pretending to be angry.
“So what’s your next move? What’s your plan Stan?”
“Naturally I want to rule Father Quinn out as a suspect. So that brings me to the favor part of this dinner. If I can talk Father Quinn into giving me a swab, when can you work you magic and test the girl’s remains for his DNA in shall we say sensitive areas?”
“You’re impossible Roode!”
“I love you?” I replied with puppy dog eyes.
“Spare me Whitey, I don’t have any clout with the Coroner’s office so I doubt if I will have access to her remains. And even if I can swing it, I really doubt the condition of her remains will support what you’re asking me to do.”
“You’re a Professor, just give it the old college try. I have faith in your talents.”
Judy sighed heavily as she cut herself a piece of steak, “I’ll do what I can but don’t expect much. Bring me the swab early in the morning because I have a class to teach,” Judy replied with a mouthful of medium rare beef.
“Thanks doll, you’re aces!”
            Judy grunted an expletive while she sawed off another hunk of meat when the cute blond waitress reappeared, “Mr. Roode?” she asked.
“Yeah, something wrong?” I answered.
“You have a call at the bar sir,” she said.
“Okay, thanks," I replied with a smile.
"I'll be right back babe, I wonder who that could be?” I said, excusing myself.
“When are you going to get a cell phone like everyone else in the 21st century?” Judy asked a little perturbed.
Never. I actually prefer the peace and quiet of the last century, well the first half anyway,” I answered as I walked away to answer the call.
            The phone was sitting on the corner of the bar with the handset laying beside an old style rotary telephone. I picked it up, “Roode here, who’s this?”
“It’s me, Brad,” the voice answered.
“How’d you track me down butterball?”
“For a private eye you’re not very stealth Whitey, and you’re uber predictable as well. I just call around to all the bars and chow houses around town. It doesn’t take long, I know all of your favorite hang outs.”
Touche. So what’s on your mind?”
“I think I may have a line on the baby’s biological father. Can you meet me at the office?”
“I’m kinda sorta in the middle of date night Paley.”
“She’ll dump you sooner or later anyway, your women always do. Pay the tab and cut your losses. I’m leaving town in the morning so it’s now or never Whitey.”
“You can’t just tell me?”
“Nope, you need to see this. When can you be here?”
“Give me forty minutes.”
“Make it thirty and I’ll wait, otherwise sayonara.”
“Okay Bradley-san, see you in thirty,” I muttered hanging up.
            I watched Judy’s expression change from content to contempt as I returned to the table. I started to sit back down when she cut in abruptly, “Don’t bother Whitey. I can see you’re about to give me some lame excuse for leaving before dessert. You’re on the job, I get it. Leave me a c-note and beat it gumshoe,” she barked.
            I peeled a hundred dollar bill from the wad of mad money in my pocket and set it under the carafe on the table. “Thanks doll, I'll make it up to you,” I said. She didn’t look up from her plate or acknowledge me. I guess I’m back in the dog house, again. That's the story of my life, I ought to have my mail delivered there. On that note I turned and walked out of the restaurant. I saw Angelo on the way out. He was sitting at a corner table in front near the cash register shaking his head slowly as I passed by.
“What can I say, once a heel always a heel,” I said reaching the door.
“I will make sure that your lady friend gets home safely,” Angelo replied.
“Thanks,” I said, walking out into the LA night.


Monday, September 8, 2014

(”You don’t know how it feels, you don’t know how it feels, to be me.")…Tom Petty

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Six
St. Francis Rescue Mission…December 2, 2009…9:00am
            Becca Tran sighed and chewed on her lower lip while she waited impatiently for the stoplight to change. It never fails she thought, whenever you’re in a hurry you hit every red light, nice! If she factored in the fact that her partner, Detective Bob ‘Iggie’ Ingram had been yammering nonstop about his latest relationship failure, she had the perfect crappy day storm brewing. All she needed now was her monthly visitor to arrive early and she’d hit the trifecta. Iggie’s voice droned in a monotone in the background as he whined about little Miss so and so. Becca could care less but she was trapped for the moment. Honestly she thought, keeping this nimrod focused on the job was an impossible feat, Iggie was a true Wednesday’s child.
“So what should I do?” he asked finally.
Becca frowned and pretended not to hear him. She didn’t want to take sides and by doing so involve herself in Iggie’s woeful life. Besides she hadn’t really been paying attention. Iggie turned in his seat and pressed her for a reply, “come on Becca, you’re a woman, was I wrong or what?” he asked impatiently.
Alright he asked for it, she decided to invoke the universal female axiom, the triple whammy that ALL males were forced to accept, specifically, rule number one, the woman is always right, rule number two, the man is always wrong, and the tiebreaker, rule number three, in case of confusion refer to rule number one!
“Of course you were wrong, geez, get over it!” Becca barked, discouraging further discussion.
“Yeah but…”
“But nothing Iggie, we’ve got work to do man, put a sock in it for now!” Becca added quickly, cutting him off in mid-sentence as the light changed.
That seemed to do the trick as Iggie shifted gears mentally in sync with their unmarked Crown Victoria and focused his attention to the task at hand, bowing to the will of the young woman in the driver’s seat. He turned his attention to the road as they sped ahead and noticed the signpost announcing that they were entering the city of Reseda.
“What are we doing in the Valley?” he asked.
“While you were drowning your sorrows over getting dumped last night, I was doing a little advance work,” answered Becca.
“Well la-de-da Detective Brown Nose. You think you’re better than me newbie?”
“I know I’m better that you Iggie, everyone knows that.”
“Don’t worry Iggie, we’re partners, am I right?” Becca said apologetically. She didn’t mean to be mean but bluntness was her way. Speaking too soon was a rough edge that she was working on. 
“Right. So what’s in the Valley partner?” Iggie asked with only a trace of sarcasm.
“Looks like Mommy dearest was a runaway, and a recent one at that. I’m guessing her condition was the driver,” answered Becca.
“I see, so are we here to interview her family?
“Not exactly. Her mother is dead and her father is currently operating under the radar so to speak.”
“So who are you planning to quiz?”
“Social Services placed her in foster care at first.”
“But she was pregnant, they don’t place pregnant teens in foster care,” Iggie noted.
“Yeah well she lied about that at first but as soon as they found out she was routed back into the system.”
“How’d they find out?”
“Really Iggie?”
“Oh yeah, right.”
“Anyway Social Services found her a bed at this rescue mission we’re driving to, that’s where we'll start.”
“Okay, what about High School, did she go locally?”
“Yeah as a matter of fact, she graduated from Reseda High a couple of years ago.”
“We should go there too and talk with the staff, see what we can see.”
“Way ahead of you Iggie, we’ve got an 11:00am appointment with Principle Landry.”
“Great. Does he have a first name?”
“Yes, it’s Barbara.”
“How about the baby’s father, do we have a name for him?”
“That’s the $64,000.00 question. The birth certificate doesn’t list one.”
“I see, another immaculate conception. My sister Rose had one of those.”
“Don’t be a jerk Iggie,” scolded Becca.
“Sorry, so any leads at all on the fella?”
“Not yet but she may have told the priest. I mean he did make a film about her.”
“Oh yeah, Father Hollyweird, I’ve heard of him. He’s sort of a celebrity in this town.”
“You’re the second person today to call him that, what gives?”
“It’s a long short story. In a nutshell the padre is a bit of a trouble maker in the community. He likes to make expose films between Sunday Masses. Usually touching on subjects that the Hollywood A-listers would just as soon remained under the carpet where most dirt belongs.”
“What’s so weird about that?”
“Nothing, the truth is the press couldn’t find any mud to sling at the priest so they had to settle for good old fashioned name calling.”
“Awww, that’s so sad.”
“Nah, Father Quinn’s a good egg. Sticks and stones partner, sticks and stones.”
That actually made Becca giggle, “hahaha, fair enough partner,” she said smiling as she pulled into the parking lot of the St. Francis Rescue Mission. Iggie adjusted his shades and unlatched his seat belt just before the engine died setting off the annoying beep. Becca frowned at him and he shrugged, “alright Detective Tran, let’s start peeling this onion.”  
Immaculate Heart of Mary…December 2nd…7:00pm
            Father Nicholas Aloysius Quinn sat quietly in the confessional and scribbled on a small spiral notepad while he waited for the next sinner to arrive. It was his custom to wrestle with himself on paper whenever he struggled spiritually. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church that was for sure. But he was a human being as well and a male one at that. Tonight he wrestled with his conscience. He stared at the small notepad. He’d written her name half a dozen times, Megan it was. Each pass of the pen impressed the letters in bolder and bolder script. Tapping on his last pass he doodled question marks in the margin muttering to himself, “Where did I fail you child?”
The weary priest removed his spectacles and rubbed at his tired eyes. The Church was empty and uncomfortably silent, he could almost hear the candles burning. Leaning back in the small chair he looked up to the short ceiling and sighed audibly.
“Penny for your thoughts padre,” I said through the wooden screen separating sinners from absolution.
Father Quinn choked out a startled reply, “Forgive me my son, I must have dozed off,” he said in an embarrassed tone.
“Slow night Father?”
“You could say that. But enough chit chat, what is your good confession my son?”
I had to laugh, “hahaha, that’s rich your holiness, how much time do you have?”
“The house of the Lord is no place for levity young man,” scolded the priest.
“You haven’t heard my confession yet!” I replied with a chuckle. He didn’t respond right away so I spoke quickly before the nickel lecture started.
“Seriously Father, do you remember me?”
Clearing his throat he replied, “I’m afraid that you have me at a disadvantage.”
“We met at one of your location shoots downtown, I was a nosey passerby. You indulged my curiosity and invited me to stop your church if I was ever in the neighborhood. Well, here I am.”
“Yes, yes I do remember you now. You are the private detective, Mr. Roode, correct?”
“Whitey, please.
“It may surprise you to know that I was actually expecting you.”
“So you’ve talked to the Bishop.”
“Yes, and I have been instructed to give you my full cooperation. However if you don’t mind may we finish this conversation in an hour or two? This is hardly the place to conduct your interview.”
“On the contrary, I think this the perfect place. Sort of gives me an edge what with your vows and all. Like you said this is the house of the Lord and we are in a confessional after all.”
            That brought a chuckle to the priest’s lips and he replied light heartedly, “I like you Mr. Roode, you have panache.”
“I do? Thanks. What’s panache anyways?”
“Style Whitey, a very charming sense of style.”
“If you say so padre. Look, why don’t you give your side of the story in a nutshell. I’ll drill into the minor details later.”
            I saw the priest lean forward to rest his elbows on his knees through the wooden screen of anonymity. He sighed before speaking and then set about to answer the mail. “Well, in a nutshell as you say, her name was Megan Malloy. She was orphaned at a young age or so she said. I assumed that she was since she was living at the St. Francis Rescue Mission. Megan came to Immaculate Heart sometime in her second trimester scared and confused.”
“She came to you directly?”
“No, Father Garcia spoke with her initially and introduced her to Sister Pat, Patricia Cromwell our resident psychologist. Sister Pat is a wonderful nun and a very talented counselor working with our teen ministry.”
“I see. So when did you enter the picture?”
“I’m the Parish priest at Immaculate Heart and so you might say that I am in charge here. Sister Pat asked me to speak to Megan when the counseling sessions failed to help and she sank deeper into a low state of mind.”
“Yes, depression is the right term. In any event Megan wanted to end her pregnancy and asked Sister Pat to help her find a clinic that would perform the abortion. Sister Pat explained to her that an abortion at this stage could be dangerous and offered to take her to a doctor who could explain exactly what the risks might be.”
“So the nun’s only motivation was Megan’s physical well being, is that what you’re saying?”
Sister Pat, please,” Father Quinn implored, scolding me slightly.
“Sorry, Sister Pat,” I replied apologetically.
“Yes I believe that to be true. Sister Pat is a devout Catholic but she is also a dedicated professional with many years of experience dealing with matters like this. Contrary to popular opinion the clergy is not unsympathetic to the complex emotions surrounding this sort of deeply personal experience and decision. It’s just that for those of our faith there is also a spiritual element that we believe should be considered.”
“Megan was a Catholic?”
“No, she was an agnostic.”
“What exactly does that mean, agnostic?
“An agnostic is someone who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”
“A fence sitter then, right?”
“Your words, not mine but yes I suppose you could say that.”
“Okay so Sister Pat had hit the wall with Megan and came to you for help. That was the first time you had met her. Let me ask you, did Megan seem suicidal at that time?”
“No, not to me but Sister Pat’s intuition seemed to think so.”
“What did you see that Sister Pat didn’t?”
“The girl who came to see me that first day was 180 degrees from the person Sister Pat described. She was bright eyed and cheery and openly ready to chat.”
“That threw you for a loop?”
“You could say that, but it was short lived. It didn’t take long to realize that it was an act. She meant to charm a blessing out of me where the abortion was concerned.”
“Which you did not give her?”
“Of course not. But not for the reason you might think. As I said her health and well-being was our concern at this point, not Church doctrine.”
“What happened when you refused her request?”
“About what you’d expect, she was angry and hurt and even more confused.”
“What happened next?”
“She composed herself, stood in front of my desk and asked me directly, “what should I do Father, please, help me, what should I do?”
“And you said what?” I pressed.
Father Quinn paused for a moment to remove his glasses to wipe the lenses clean, and I saw him discretely wipe away a tear.
“And I replied that I could not answer that question. Megan was hurt by my reply and she asked me why not. I didn’t have a good answer to give her.”
“Let me ask you this Father. Is abortion a sin in your faith?”
“In our faith it is a sin to take a life my son.”
“So you’re saying that abortion is murder then?”
“No, I’m saying that to take a life is a sin in our faith.”
“Clear as mud, did you share that with Megan?”
“I didn’t have to, she was aware.”
“How do you know?”
“Because she also told me that she did not want to go to Hell. To which I replied that nobody did.”
“I bet that went over well,” I said to the priest.
“About as you would expect, but that wasn’t the end of it. She then confessed to me that she didn’t want to have the baby either. At that point I was silent for a few moments to give us both some time to think. As a priest it is my responsibility to share God’s word and to avoid the temptation to re-write scripture to suit my personal views.”
“It sounds like Megan really put you on the spot,” I said as I watched his face for a sign of some sort, one that would tell my gut if he was hiding something.
            Father Quinn leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He was studying me as closely as I was studying me and frankly it made me a little uncomfortable. “She did and she didn’t,” he replied after a moment, leaning back in his chair. “You know Megan isn’t the first girl to come to me with such a problem.”
“Do tell,” I replied.
“I have never been a parent, I’ve never had that pleasure. But I’ve witnessed the pure joy and vexing angst that is associated with being one. I believe that parenthood is both a gift and a chore on a grand scale. Many freely chose to accept the gift and challenge, often times more than once in their lifetime. And then there are those who have that choice thrust upon them. I suspected that Megan was one of the latter. She was at an incredibly lonely crossroad, and we feared that given her condition that the window had closed on the option of a safe cessation of life. Honestly, I could not and cannot imagine the pain and confusion the poor dear was suffering. Can you imagine how God must feel with all of mankind to call His own?”
Touching padre, so what did you tell the girl? How did you wind up filming her story? Why do you think she did this terrible thing? Who’s the father Father?
            The priest remained calm on the surface but I saw that I had touched a raw nerve or two, the eyes are the window to the soul they say. He stared me down for a moment before answering, studying me, my face my posture. He was mentally fishing for some insight to me as a person, and not wondering what I knew or what I suspected. My gut was telling me this fella was a good egg at heart, that he’d been blindsided by Megan’s actions. And I had a hunch that Megan knew that as well and that she used him for a purpose I had yet to figure out. She had her reasons for what she did, she was sending a message but what, who, why? I was wrestling with that when Father Quinn finally spoke.
“You ask what I told her. I told her that God has His plans for all His children. That perhaps He led her to Immaculate Heart, to me for a specific reason. Why here, why me I wondered with her? Then I proposed a theory. Perhaps she was here to inspire others. Perhaps my passion for film was a tool the Almighty could use to tell her story and chronicle her journey to a new life, for her and for her unborn child. Perhaps there was a purpose for her being at this juncture in her young life. Whatever circumstances led her here, she was here nonetheless, why not make a positive out of a negative? It was only a thought I explained. The church would be there with her no matter what she chose, I would be there with her no matter what she chose. We were not there to judge her, we were there to help her, to comfort her, to offer advice and explain her options. The choice was hers as God planned it. She had free will as do we all.”
“Nice speech Father, are you sure you’re not thinking of a career change and running for Mayor?”
That got a chuckle out of him, “I’ll take that as a compliment and not an insult. Actually I don’t think I’d make a very good politician, I’m not a very good liar,” he answered with a wry smile.
“So you do lie once in a while?”
“Doesn’t everyone? I’m as human as anyone else. If Sister Pat were to ask me if she looked fat in her habit I’d assure her that she looked just fine,” he answered with a little snicker. That made me chuckle out loud, I hadn’t expected a witty response.
Touche Father. I tell you what, I’m gonna wait outside for you to finish your shift in this little truth chamber. Thanks a lot for indulging me and I apologize for any offense you may have taken with my pushiness, it sort of comes with the territory in my line of work.”
“No offense taken my son.”
“Come on Father, it's Whitey, please. You’re making me feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar!”
“Alright, your penance is ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father’s, now go in peace my…I mean Whitey.”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

(”There’s something good comin just over the hill. There’s something good comin I know it will.")…Tom Petty

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird" 
Chapter Five
Alexandria Hotel – Room 1124…December 1, 2009…11:30pm
            I’ve never really had what you’d call a poker face, ask anyone, not ever. But I was doing my best to manufacture one right now. This was the best hand I’ve been dealt all year, four Kings staring back at me in all their regal splendor. I silently swallowed a ‘woot woot’ and carefully kept my eyes on the five cards in front of me and the huge pot at the center of the table. I know better than to make eye contact with the other players, that’s always a dead giveaway, shows way too much confidence. But damn it’s hard to suppress a shit eating grin when you’re sure you’ve got the winning hand. Only two other scenarios could best me, four aces or a straight flush. Four aces was out because my fifth card was the Ace of Diamonds. That left a straight flush and the odds of that happening was pretty low with six players at the table. That meant I was in the catbird seat and it felt pretty damn good.
            So it was down to me and the Manzano brothers, Angelo and Fat Johnny. Johnny had been the aggressor on this hand betting heavy and raising often. Aggression was his tell, it meant that he was bluffing. Angelo on the other hand was a harder read. He wasn’t as brash as his brother and had a good poker face, you never knew what was up his sleeve. If he stayed in it was because he was holding some pretty good cards, four of something or maybe a full house. But the odds were in my favor, I was sure that I had him beat. For a nanosecond I felt a little pang of guilt for all of the free food and drink that I consumed regularly at the boys downtown restaurant, Bella Terra, and actually considered folding my hand and giving him the pot. Nah, that kind of generosity would only confuse them, they were used to me taking advantage of our friendship, it was part of my charm.
“Come on Whitey, we ain’t got all night! Are you in or out?” whined Iggie.
Bob ‘Iggie’ Ingram was a regular at these games and a long time buddy from back in the day in Southeast Asia. Currently he was a Detective First Grade with the LAPD, my former employer, which was his tough break I guess.
“Stifle yourself Iggie, you’re not even in this hand. Besides, twenty bucks is pretty rich for my blood. I don’t nap for a living on the City’s time, I actually have to work for what I earn!” I answered sarcastically.
“Up yours gumshoe,” he replied as he flipped me the bird and stuffed some smokehouse almonds into his gob.
Johnny tapped a heavy class ring on the table and joined Iggie’s camp, “Well, are you gonna call me or what?” he asked, raising a thick eyebrow. I had them right where I wanted them now.
“OK fat boy, I see your twenty and raise you twenty. What do you say to that Manzano #2?” I answered with a winner’s flair. Johnny looked at his cards then across the table to his older brother.
“Don’t look at me big shot, they’re your cards and we ALL know you’re bluffing,” Angelo said with a wicked grin. Johnny tossed his cards into the pot at the center of the table in a huff. “Fuck you Angelo!” he said disgustedly as he emptied his bottle of Miller Lite and grabbed another from the cooler beside him.
Angelo smiled, “Just you and me now Whitey. I’ll call your twenty. What’s ya got Paley?”
Proudly I laid out my four cowboys with the ace kicker. “Read em and weep suckers,” I said, reaching across the table to reel in my winnings.
“Not so fast slick,” replied Angelo, blocking me with his left hand as he laid down his own cards with his right hand. He had a baby straight, two, three, four, five, and six. All of them from the ‘heart’ family.
I stared at the cards ignoring the groans and laughter around the room. “Of course,” I mumbled as Angelo raked the biggest pot of the night to his side of the table. My record was safely in tack, I was still the unluckiest sap on the planet!
            Johnny got up and walked over to console me. He put his giant hands onto my shoulders and squeezed nearly busting my clavicle. “Tough break Whitey, but you shoulda seen the look on your face,” he said not even trying to hide his bellowing laughter.
“Hardee-har-har,” I replied as I twisted free from his Frankenstein like grip.
“Okay fellas that hand cleaned me out, let’s call it a night. I’m gonna need a month of paydays to cover next month’s game.”
            The group begrudgingly complied and went about finishing their beers and packing up their stuff. Iggie nudged Carmine Epstein who had fallen asleep before the big showdown between the Manzano boys and yours truly. Carmine was the super in my building. He was easily the oldest player at the game by a good twenty plus years or so. And that was saying a lot since the rest of us were closer to retirement age than draft age. Carmine snorted himself back to consciousness and looked around the room rubbing his tired eyes.
“What did I miss?” he asked through a yawn.
“Not much, Whitey lost all his dough is all,” answered Iggie with a smirk.
“Oh, the usual,” replied Carmine as he drained the last couple of tepid swallows from a can of Budweiser.
            The fellas meandered towards the door with their assorted coolers and totes. They waived and nodded as they filed through the door and out into the hall one by one. “Close the door behind will ya,” I hollered while I busied myself with a little clean up. I was packing the poker chips back into the case when I heard the door slam. I didn’t look up when I heard him flop into my recliner. I didn’t need to look up to know who it was as my place suddenly reeked of Aqua Velva. That could only mean one person.
“Lose again Whitey,” asked my visitor.
“Would you believe me if I said I won big?”
“I didn’t think so. What’s on your mind Oscar? It’s a little late for you to be busting my balls. I thought you were a big shot now Chief Celaya, why didn’t you send one of your goons to work me over?”
            Oscar Celaya was the new Chief of Police in Los Angeles, but back in the day he was my commanding officer at the Hollenbeck station. He was also the a-hole who encouraged my early retirement and ended my career. He’s been a pain in my ass ever since.
“Yeah I guess I could have, but I’m here to deliver a personal message from His Honor the Mayor,” he answered.
“Do tell. What does that slimy headline hound want from me?”
“He says, and I quote, tell that no good mick to keep his blarney nose out of the Egyptian Theater investigation, end quote.”
“I see. What’s he worried about? He afraid that I’ll solve this caper before you do and steal his front page photo op?”
“Something like that,” chuckled Oscar.
“Look Whitey, I don’t like that peacock any more than you do. But, he still signs my checks. I’m too close to retirement to risk my pension by crossing that little prick. I don’t have to tell you how vindictive he can be.”
“Alright Chief, what’s on your mind?”
            Oscar settled deeper into my comfy chair and crossed his legs. “I know that you’re working for the Church on this case,” he said.
“How exactly do you know that?”
“Doesn’t matter, I don’t care who you’re working for. But this case could blow the lid off of this town if we let our kibitzing mayor manipulate the newshounds into throwing gasoline onto a fire. I’m proposing that we work together on this. I’ll be Mr. Inside and you’ll be Mr. Outside. In other words I’ll stay out front and feed the mayor tidbits that will allow him to grandstand without interfering with the investigation. Meanwhile you can do the real work outside of the spotlight, I’ll give you access to whatever we uncover as well as assign Iggie Ingram and Becca Tran to work with you under the radar. You were a good detective Whitey, I’m sorry for the way you lost your shield, but like I told you, His Honor is a vindictive man. I'm hoping that we can team up and close this case quietly from the shadows.”
“Why are you reaching out to me Oscar? That’s not like you.”
“Yeah, honestly.”
“This may surprise you but I happen to be a pretty good Catholic, devout in my own way.”
“You’re right, that does surprise me.”
“Look, I’m tired of my Church and my Faith being dragged through the mud by the print vultures. I’m not saying that we haven’t earned those black eyes, I’m just saying that I’m tired of it. I need your help to keep this investigation from becoming a media circus. The Mayor would like nothing more than a big scandal on his turf that he could use as a springboard for a credible run at Governor.”
“What if this is scandalous? What if the Church is at the center of that young lady’s twisted actions?”
“The truth is the truth. I just want to make sure that the truth is discovered with good police work and not manufactured by not so good journalism. You get my drift?”
            I stared at Oscar for a full ten count before answering. I sat back down at the poker table and pulled two bottles of beer from a cooler on the floor. I set the cold brews on the table in front of me and twisted off the caps. “Alright Oscar, let’s talk it over,” I said, inviting him to join me. He got up and walked over to the poker table and took a seat across from mine. He reached across the table and grabbed one of the beers. I picked up the other and we clinked the long glass necks together.
“Cheers. So, how do you want to play this Chief?”

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