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Sunday, May 11, 2014

(”It's written in the surface of her skin there's been a baby then, given away in love.")…James Taylor

 
For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
 
 
"THE GUMSHOE DIARIES:
Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Two
 
Los Angeles, California…December 1, 2009
 
 
            Driving around LA is a frustrating experience. Actually it's down right dangerous depending on which part of town you're passing through. And my sub-par navigational skills only compound the frustration and the risk factors. If you happen to be heading uptown toward the Bonaventure Hotel and the Theater district well then you're reasonably safe. But if you're passing through the 'hoods' (east or south) especially in or around Echo Park or anywhere near Hollenbeck Station, my old stomping grounds by the way, then your insurance policies had better be paid up. I mean both medical AND life because the odds are that you’ll need one or the other are better than average!  It all depends on Lady Luck. Even an ex-cop like yours truly is taking chances in certain parts of town. Let's face it nobody's bulletproof, am I right? Anyway, today I was headed uptown today to meet with the chief holy man of Los Angeles, Bishop Armando Delarosa. His office was over on Wilshire so I was reasonably certain I'd live to drink another day, halleluiah brother!
            You know I rarely drive anymore. I prefer hoofing it around town or taking the bus, so I schedule most appointments near my home base of operations which is the bar in the lobby of my flat at the Alexandria Hotel. Its downtown over on Spring St., however occasionally a case forces outside my comfort zone. When that happens I rely on old faithful, my gloss white 'plain Jane' 1961 Corvair convertible, it's a classic! You don't see many of those babies on the road anymore for two reasons. Number one, they haven't made one of these jewels since 1969, and number two, nobody really liked the odd little wrench-a-day smog factories anyway. The Corvair dropped off the scene before the conversion to unleaded fuel burning engines that the automobile industry rolled out as mandated by a killjoy environmental groups who whoop-assed the State and the Federal governments in Detroit, Sacramento, and Washington D.C., what bunch of pussies! Be that as it may, it’s still America, land of the free and I still drive my bucket of bolts. It's got style Paley.
            So, after I finished an artery hardening breakfast of extra crisp bacon, two eggs over easy (runny as a freight train thank you), hash brown potatoes (with butter), toast with jam and half a gallon of black coffee I hoped into the snoop-mobile and drove the twenty or so blocks to the administration building housing the LA Archdiocese of the Catholic Church to chat with Bishop Delarosa about the letter in my pocket. This was gonna be interesting. Two Holy men in one day, if I run over a nun on the way I'll detour to Santa Anita and bet a Trifecta! Nah, that kind of luck doesn't come my way. Whitey Roode only has two kinds of luck, dumb and bad.
Archdiocese of Los Angeles,…December 1, 2009…11am
 
            Bishop Delarosa sat alone in darkness inside his large mahogany office. He sipped lukewarm tea from a bone china cup hand made from County Waterford, Ireland, a little memento from a conference in Dublin last spring. Outside it was a beautiful southern California day, seventy eight degrees and not a cloud in the clear blue sky. How's that for winter America? But days like these weren't the Bishop's cup of tea, pun intended. He preferred darkness to light which explained the absence of a sunny disposition. The man was a well known crab apple personality wise. Around the water cooler at the Archdiocese he was affectionately (NOT) referred to as the 'Count' as in Bram Stoker's legendary character. Not exactly a term of endearment but from what I've head accurate and earned. The man wasn't your typical type 'A' table pounder of a boss, he was more subtle than that. And in some ways that made him even more intimidating. It's all in the delivery I guess, anyway I was late as usual he was silently pissed. Okay, not exactly an appropriate term for these Holy halls but accurate nonetheless.
"FERRIS!" bellowed the Delarosa.
            A thin young man dressed in black with the reverent white collar sat at the desk outside of the Bishop's office. He didn't flinch at Delarosa's shout and calmly rose from his station to answer the mail. He walked with folded hands to the Bishop's doorway and stopped short of entering. He rapped on the door jamb and responded to his summons. "Yes Your Eminence?"
"Has that so called detective arrived yet?" asked an annoyed Delarosa.
"Not yet Eminence, I have instructed reception to ring me straight away when he does," replied the young man. Bishop Delarosa grunted a reply.
"Well, call me as soon as he gets here. And Father, I apologize for shouting, it's been a trying morning as you know," Delarosa said meekly.
"Of course Eminence, I took no offense."
"Thank you Father Donahue," said Bishop Delarosa dismissing his aid with a half smile. The young priest turned to return t his desk as Bishop Delarosa resumed whatever it was he was doing,
            Meanwhile, back at Reception I was entering the building completely at ease with my usual tardiness. Truth be told I don't think I've ever been on time to any meeting? Hell, as I recall my old mother used to complain that I even kept her waiting at birth arriving a week beyond the scheduled due date. What can I say, better late than never, am I right? I walked up to tall reception counter manned by a stoic looking woman who appeared to be in her early forties, but she was Asian so she could be ten years past that. Not to stereotype but Asian women always look younger than they are, at least until they reach 55 or so when the bubble bursts and then hello Lady Clairol. As soon as my market research indicates a population boom of Asian senior citizens I am buying a ton lot of stock in Revlon! Miss Forty-something was on the phone, she smiled at me as she listened to someone on the other end of the line. She must have been getting an earful as she winced at whatever was being said. She hung up a nanosecond later and removed the headset she was wearing.
"May I help you she?" she asked sweetly.
"As a matter of fact you can. Whitey Roode for Bishop Delarosa," I replied.
"Down the hall and left first chance you get," she said, pointing the way with a #2 pencil.
"Thanks," I said, turning to find my way. I'd taken only a couple of steps when she called out to me. "You're late Mr. Roode. Better hurry, His Eminence isn't known for his patience.
"Thanks again," I replied without looking back. Maybe it was my super hearing or maybe it was my imagination but I sear I heard her mutter something like "don't mention it asshole?" Wouldn’t be the first time I earned such a retort with my smart ass demeanor.
            Anyway it was a short walk to in inner sanctum of LA's chief Holy man. Seated out front was a trim young fella wearing what you'd expect in this place, black slacks, black shirt, and white collar. He even had black hair. If his eyes were black when I got close enough to notice I'm gonna hot foot it to the nearest exit! I passed by several portraits of Holy men as I neared the Bishop's office. They were on both sides of the aisle and their acrylic eyes followed me like the Mona Lisa's do when you move around the Louvre in Paris. Each face wore a frown and it made me feel slightly uncomfortable, as if I were being judged. The young man or priest watched me as I approached. He sat still with folded hands. A single lamp on his desk illuminated his work space and hid his face. It was a little disconcerting but didn't faze me. I reached the desk and swallowed my gum before speaking.
"Whitey Roode for Bishop Delarosa," I said politely.
"Of course Mr. Roode we were expecting you, just a moment," said the boy priest.
"You're late by the way," he added, picking up the telephone handset. I made a face like I just bit into a lemon and frowned.
"Eminence, the gentleman you're expecting has arrived. Yes Eminence, he is standing right in front of me," he said staring me down. I could hear the Bishop muttering something on the other end of the line.
"Yes Eminence," the priest said as he hung up.
"I am Father Donahue, please follow me Mr. Roode," the boy priest said rising from his perch to lead the way.
"Thanks Father, I'll be right behind you," I replied. We stopped at the door and Father Donahue announced me, standing aside to let me pass. I gave him a polite Cub Scout salute as I passed by to enter the Bishop's office. He ignored it and returned to his station, closing the door behind me.
"Nice fella," I said as I walked up to meet the Bishop.
"I'm sure Father Donahue would appreciate your praise," replied Bishop Delarosa. He gestured toward the two Queen Anne chairs in front of his desk. I took his cue and sat in the one on my left. I always go left, I'm left handed.
"Mr. Roode I presume?"
"In the flesh your Lordship."
"The term is Eminence but Father will suffice," Delarosa said correcting me.
"Alright Father, whatever you say."
"Would you like some tea Detective Roode?"
"Nah, I'm a coffee man myself and I've never turned down a cup of Joe."
            Delarosa picked up the telephone and rang his aide. "Ferris would you please have some coffee sent from the Rectory for Detective Roode and myself."
He hung up the phone and returned some papers in front of him to an open folder, closed it and then moved it to the side to clear a space in front of him. It gave me a clue as to how this bird flies. He was a control freak and I would need to be on my guard during our conversation. Talking to upper echelon execs even in the clergy meant that you could count on every word being recorded. No different than big business or big government, so much for the sanctity of the confessional.
"Don't go to any trouble on my account," I pleaded, sort of.
"It's no trouble I assure you," he replied.
"Okay, thanks."
            We stared at one another for an uncomfortable minute causing me to fidget in my seat. I involuntarily reached into my jacket pocket with one hand and retrieved the Delarosa's letter and reached into a side pocket for my reading specs with the other.
"I see you came prepared, you brought along my letter," said Delarosa.
"That's why I'm here Father."
"Shall we cut to the chase?" I added.
"You're direct, I appreciate that Detective Roode. It saves time and mine is quite valuable I assure you."
"Ditto Father, I'm a busy man my own self."
"Very well, first things first, are you a Catholic detective?"
"Rumor has it I was at one time. I mean my old mother claims I was baptized a Catholic as a baby, went through the Catechism and First Communion as a child, and confirmed as a teen. But frankly since then I can't claim to anything other than the sinner I was born as. I think this is the closest to a church I've been in forty some odd years," I answered.
"I see. Well do you at least believe in God detective?"
"I do, but in my own way."
"That is not exactly a real answer my son but it will do for now."
"Why do you ask?"
"To gain the upper hand in this relationship of course."
"Honesty, well played Padre."
"Thank you. Now the letter, I can see by its condition that you have read it more than once."
"I did."
"Tell me what you know of the Egyptian Theater incident," Delarosa ordered more than asked. I could see he was a man accustomed to giving orders. I hate that.
"You first," I replied defiantly.
"Blunt and direct, I like that Detective Roode," said Bishop Delarosa with a wicked little grin that made my skin crawl.
"Call me Whitey," I said trying to lighten the mood of the room.
"I'd rather not. I wouldn't call you that even if it were your real name…Richard," he said, his grin turning to a smile. That made my skin crawl faster.
"Been doing a little detective work of your own I see Eminence."
"I like to know who I'm dealing with, it keeps things even."
"Alright, if you say so, as for the Egyptian Theater, all I know is what I read in the LA Times, which means I don't know much."
"Noted, well allow me to shed a little more light on the subject for you."
"Please do."
"Do I have your word that this conversation stays in this room? May I count on your professionalism?"
"I will if you will."
"Clever detective,"
"Thanks, so turn off the recording devises and let's talk turkey Eminence."
            Bishop Delarosa picked up the pone again. He muttered something in Italian to Father Donahue in the other room. A couple of seconds later the boy priest entered the room with a tray of coffee and a set of church keys. He set the refreshments on the Bishop's desk and went around behind him. I sat mesmerized as Father Donahue pulled a beautiful painting of St. Paul's Basilica down from the wall and used one of the church keys to unlock a panel behind the painting. He reached inside and fiddled with some knobs and buttons then closed and locked the panel. He re-hung the painting and exited the room. Delarosa had poured the coffee while his aide had supposedly deactivated the recording equipment. I got a whiff of the hot coffee and was instantly back in the game.
"Now let's skip what the papers have reported so far, it's all superficial and frankly conjecture."
"Okay, if you say so," I replied taking a sip from my cup. Good coffee, note to self, find out where they get this stuff. Second note to self, forget it, probably can't afford it.
"I believe it's reasonable to assume that the young lady was clearly disturbed, do you agree?"
            I nodded as if I did but I didn't really. The act was disturbing but that doesn't mean she was disturbed. She may have been drugged or brainwashed or whatever. There are always many layers to an onion like this. I've played enough poker in my life to sense a bluff. What do I know about this girl? Answer, nothing yet. More importantly what did Delarosa know, that was where I was going to start if I take this case.
"What makes you say that?" I asked.
"My God man, did you not see the news footage of the emulation?"
"I saw it, awful."
"Suicide, murder, promiscuity, these aren't enough clues for a smart detective to draw a similar conclusion?"
"I get it Eminence, looney tunes."
"What the newspaper temporarily suppressed under pressure from the Vatican were rumors about an alleged inappropriate relationship between young lady and our Father Quinn."
            Now he had my full attention. This may not be a wasted trip after all. Father Quinn? I knew that name. I reached into my jacket pocket and fished out the business card I got from the film making priest I ran into earlier. Reverend Nicholas Aloysius Quinn it read. I inadvertently repeated the name out loud, that got the Bishop's attention.
"You know Father Quinn detective?"
"Sort of, we met earlier on my way over here. He was shooting a movie in my neighborhood. He gave me his card and invited me to church sometime."
            Delarosa paused a moment to think about that and to study my face. He was trying to get a read on what I may already know. I could see by the expression on his face that he was choosing his next words wisely. I doubt he had planned to reveal too much in this meeting. Now he was gonna have to. For the moment I had the upper hand and I need to milk it for as much as I could.
"That was kind of him. You should go I hear that his homilies are quite inspiring. He is a popular priest in the Archdiocese, especially among the young people. And his films are quite good, inspiring, a feather in the Church's bonnet."
"So I've heard."
"May I ask, what was your first impression of the man?"
"I seemed like a good egg to me. I hear he's quite a film maker as well."
"I'm glad that you liked him, he is a good man. I'm hoping you can help to prove that before the Vatican's influence over the newspaper erodes and the 'you-know -what' hits the fan."
            Delarosa caught me off guard with that remark and I choked on my coffee. It was my turn to pause and study him. The Bishop was an interesting piece of work. I already didn't like him and I could see plainly that the feeling was mutual. This was gonna be a powder keg of a case and the fuse was already lit. The Father Quinn angle was gonna be the first big bang t deal with, and that would be exploding sooner than later. I was being recruited to make this all go away and sweep whatever dirt I discovered under the proverbial carpet before another church steeple was toppled.
"We need someone with your unique skills, someone who can swim in polluted water and come out smelling like a rose. We need to start with Father Quinn and the girl. We need to understand the level of exposure we're dealing with. We need to know the truth no matter how damaging it may be, We fear the ramifications of a protracted investigation by the LAPD and it's kibitzing Mayoral bureaucracy, I'm sure that you know what I mean. So, will you help us Detective Roode?"
            We sat there in silence while I considered the options and finished my coffee. There were only two, forget about it, walk away and let the chips fall where they may for Father Quinn and the Catholic Church or take it on and risk personal jail time for yours truly at the hands of Chief Oscar Celaya who'll undoubtedly make my efforts as difficult as possible. It came down to the coffee. Oscar serves up rot gut java and the stuff Delarosa just served me was sooooo good! 
"Okay Eminence, I'll see what I can do but it won't be cheap. My rates are $500 a day plus expenses. And you know what, throw in a couple of pounds of this here coffee because it's terrific!" Bishop Delarosa chuckled and smiled a genuine smile while he poured me another cup.
"Alright Detective Roode, let's agree that we have a deal. I'll have Father Donahue draw up a contract and we'll send it over later for your signature. I will personally pray for your efforts this Sunday at Mass. Stop by and receive Communion at the Holy Eucharist with us. It's never too late to come back to the Church my son."

It was my turn to chuckle, "Alright Eminence, we'll see, no promises," I replied accepting the coffee and the invitation.


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