For my family
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
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.
"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.