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Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Faithless love will find you and the misery entwine you. Faithless love, where did I go wrong..."

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc

THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
Father Hollyweird
Chapter Thirteen


Los Angeles Mission, East 5th Street…Dec 4, 1:30pm


             Patricia Cromwell, Sister Pat, dried her soapy hands with a gingham dishtowel in the kitchen. She had just finished the dishes from the lunch rush and it was time to take her own meal with the other volunteers in the dining hall. There were only a handful of people sharing the large room as only the faithful dared chow down on leftovers here. Most of the crew and that included members of the clergy preferred to venture out into the city rather than take their chances on these table scraps. She couldn’t blame them, the vow of poverty didn’t mean that one had to risk their lives for goodness sake. The nun pieced together a modest and healthy lunch consisting largely of salad greens and veggies and piled it onto a clean white Corel dish. She placed the dish and a cup of hot tea onto a heavy plastic tray and walked out into the hall to find an empty table. She was feeling a tad pensive today and preferred to eat alone in silence with her thoughts.
            Sister Pat liked coming here, it gave her a chance to get out of her routines at the Church as well as at the mother’s shelter and still serve God. She had been volunteering at the mission since the early 80’s, back when the LA Mission was over on Los Angeles Street. She enjoyed working with the wide variety of volunteers from all walks of life, especially the young people. They helped to keep her young at heart and she liked hearing their unique and individual perspectives about the world and their neighborhoods. Truth be told she enjoyed seeing the secular world through their eyes and unbeknownst to them existed vicariously alongside them through their stories and experiences. She had no regrets about her choice to serve God and the Holy Church, but once in a while she enjoyed stepping outside of herself and indulge her imagination. Even Nuns and Priests were susceptible to playing the ‘what if’ game sometimes, after all they were humans as well.
            Sister Pat sat in silence and picked at her food. Her stomach was still tied in knots and her mind spinning from the letter she received yesterday. It was waiting for her in the office and she had retrieved it after evening prayers. She remembered how strange it felt to receive an actual letter in the era of emails and texts. It was rare to receive anything but bills and junk mail. Yes, nuns have lives too, nobody is safe from spam and the government. Curious though, she had no family and her small circle of friends lived with her at the convent. So outside of an occasional Christmas or Easter card the only mail she received were a few bills, notices from the government at tax time and communiques from the Diocese Personnel Office. So this letter intrigued her and she was hesitant to open it straight away. She knew it was silly, she had nothing to be nervous or afraid of, her mundane life revolved around her devotion to her faith. Still there was something foreboding about the mysterious letter. Perhaps the absence of a return address had something to do with it, curious. So summoning her courage and calming herself she finally opened envelope and removed the one page letter.
            Sitting on the edge of the twin bed in her small room she opened the letter finally. It was from a young man whom she had counseled not so very long ago. The letter was handwritten in a pleasant cursive style which she thought unusual for a man. His name was Alex, a parishioner she recognized as the only son of a wealthy family from Bel Air. Sister Pat tried to visualize the parents but they were shadows in her memory, only the boy stood out. She had seen so many children over the years at the Church but this one had one of those faces that you never forget. He was cute as a button as a toddler with a head full of white blonde hair fashioned in a Dutch Boy style, with eyes of a crystal blue. She had watched him grow up over the years as the family regularly attended Sunday Mass. He had come to her suffering from a broken heart.
Apparently a girl had left him for reasons that she never gave. Sister Pat recalled that he had been nearly inconsolable and she felt frightened as well for some reason. It didn’t take long for Sister Pat to connect him to the subject of Father Quinn’s documentary film, Megan Mallory, a fact that she never shared with the priest. She had wanted to but Alex had begged her to keep it secret until he had time to think, time to get over her. When she eventually asked him if he were the father of Megan’s baby he went pale. Sullenly he had claimed that he didn’t even know that Megan was with child and then suddenly stormed out of the session without an explanation. That was their last session together, Sister Pat never saw him again, neither at the clinic nor at the Church. Now this letter so many months later. Sister Pat took the spectacles hanging from a chain around her neck and placed them onto the bridge of her sharp Roman nose. The letter was short:

“Sister please forgive my childish behavior at our last session and my absence since then. I had much to deal with and much to investigate. You should know that I loved Megan dearly and that I was under the impression that she felt likewise. Her rejection and the news of her pregnancy was a shock to say the least. Nothing she did coincided with everything that she had said to me and her condition was a complete blow to me as well as we had never engaged in relations together, even though the likelihood of that was how we met, she being a come of age gift from my father. Megan’s senseless death and the horrific details compelled me to ferret out the circumstances that led her to her tragic decision. I went to my father and confronted him about what I had come to suspect was the cause of her depression and guilt. Naturally he was upset but more than that he was, I don’t know, cold is the best term for his reaction. It scared me. I need to talk to you about this, can we meet? I need help deciding what to do next. Call the cell number below as soon as you can. Thanks…Alex”
She had read the letter several times before falling asleep. In the morning after Mass she had gone to the office and called the number. At first there was no answer and a computer voice explained that the user’s voice mailbox was full. Frustrated she tried again only this time someone picked up on the other end only it wasn’t Alex, it was the police. Sister Pat had hung up without answering and started to worry. That was the inspiration for the pensive mood she’s been in all day, the mood she continued to be in now. Staring past her lunch she continued time traveling in a reflective state as she pondered Alex’s whereabouts. Suddenly her pensive trance was broken.
“Good day Sister,” spoke the soft familiar voice.
Startled Sister Pat involuntarily pushed her lunch tray away and sat up straight as if she were caught cheating on a quiz in school. It was a reflex action but she recovered her composure and slowly turned her head to confirm her recognition of the voice. She smiled when she saw Father Quinn’s face, things would be alright now she thought.
“Hello Father,” she replied as the priest joined her taking a seat across from her at the otherwise empty lunch table. Father Quinn folded his hands on the tabletop, glanced at the full tray of food and studied the nun’s face for a moment. Her expression was more than meek, she had the look of someone who had left the confessional with unfinished business.
“You’ve hardly touched your meal Sister, what’s troubling you my dear?”
Sister Pat fidgeted nervously and answered the priest in a small voice, “I’m frightened Father,” she replied.
“I can see that you’re troubled about something, how might I help you?”
“I’m not frightened for myself Father, you see I am afraid for someone else. It’s a little hard to explain.”
“I see. Well now, try taking a breath and give it a go. An act of contrition can heal most pensive moods.”
“Perhaps Father, but I must admit that there a matter of a small confession involved.”
“How fortunate you are that I happened by then,” Father Quinn replied with a reassuring smile.
“I suppose so Father, by the way why are you here anyway?”
“I was meeting with the Mission Director about increasing the donation from the Diocese next year.”
“Oh alright, anyway, what I have to confess involves the Mallory girl and her child you see,” said Sister Pat.
Father Quinn willed himself to remain calm and nonplussed by her comment, “I see, go on dear,” he said evenly.
The nun leaned forward slightly as if what she were about to say was not to be overheard by anyone, “Father there is something that I never shared with you about the girl. Something that I know now that I should have,” she said in a hushed voice.
The priest’s face revealed none of the inner turmoil he was experiencing at the moment. More surprises regarding Megan Mallory was the last thing he wanted to deal with, “Alright then, so what is it you have to share about that poor child?”
“As you recall Megan refused to reveal the identity of the father of her baby.”
“Yes, I am aware of that, why is that a concern to you now?”
“I may know who that person is, or rather I may know someone who can tell us who that person is.”
“And how did you come to know this mysterious someone?”
“That is my confession Father. You see while you were tending to Megan and making your film I was counseling a young man who may have been an intimate acquaintance of the girl.”
“You mean the father of her child?”
“No Father, not intimate in that way, at the time they were together they remained pure.”
Father Quinn chortled involuntarily, “So this child she carried was an immaculate conception? Is that what you’re insinuating?”
“No, of course not Father, I’m merely saying that the two of them were apparently an item up until the time that she abruptly left him and subsequently arrived at our doorstep in dire straits.”
Father Quinn pondered this a moment, this revelation would certainly eliminate him as a suspect in the girl’s demise, he should feel relieved but he did not and that concerned him. There must be more to this, he pressed the nun further, “Why are you only now coming forward with this information Sister?”
Sister Pat paused a second or two and bit at her lips like a nervous child before answering. “I received a disturbing letter from the young man yesterday, he wants to meet with me and talk. He left a phone number for me to contact him but when I called the police answered,” Sister Pat explained.
“The police?” replied Father Quinn.
“Yes father, the police. I don’t know how else to reach this boy without going to his family, and the letter left me with the impression that that may not be a good idea.”
“Do you know them personally?”
“Not exactly, I know who they are. They are not actually parishioners but they attend Mass from time to time.”
“Odd, what did the letter say that would leave you with that impression?”
“Nothing specific, it’s just that the young man stated that he confronted his father and that statement made me uncomfortable.”
“I see, what is the boy’s name?”
“Alex Father, Alex Whembly,” answered Sister Pat. Father Quinn flinched and it did not go unnoticed by the nun.
“I know that name, Detective Roode mentioned him the other day,” the priest said as he searched his memory of that conversation.
“Who is Detective Roode?” asked the nun.
“Nobody you need to concern yourself with Sister. Do you have that letter with you?”
“No Father, it is back at the convent.”
“May I have a look at it?
“Why? Do you think that it’s important?”
“I’m not sure but I’d like to share it with this detective, it may help him to close out this suspicion of me by the police and frankly the Church as well.”
“Of course Father. Do you think this detective can find out where young Alex has gone to? I’d feel so much better to know that he is safe and sound.”
“Quite possibly Sister, quite possibly. Let’s pop over to the convent and retrieve that letter and I’ll contact Mr. Roode.” The nun stood and grabbed her untouched lunch, “Roode, that’s an odd name don’t you think,” remarked Sister Pat.
“Not once you’ve the man Sister,” Father Quinn replied chuckling.
“Dear me,” said Sister Pat.
“Quite,” replied Father Quinn.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

"The more I know, the less I understand. All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again..."

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
Father Hollyweird
Chapter Twelve

The Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…Dec 4, 6:30am
                                                                                   
            I’ve been an early riser ever since I can remember. Must be in my genes because as soon as the sun rises so do I. My old man was like that so I guess he passed the trait down to me as well. Having just finished my morning routine in the can (shower, shave, and the other ‘s’) I walked over to what served as a kitchen in my tiny studio apartment nestled on the second floor of the infamous Alexandria Hotel to consider breakfast options. One can only do so much with a hot plate, a microwave, and a small fridge (all of which were technically tenant violations). The fridge though was usually well stocked with appropriate bachelor essentials (PBR or Budweiser or Coors, basically whatever was on sale and some eggs, butter and milk). The drawer below my socks and underwear substituted as a pantry where I stored my staples (bread, peanut butter, instant coffee, and Oreo’s). I settled on toast with butter and a cup of Irish coffee made with Nescafe for now, I’ll stop by Nick’s Café down the street or The Nickel Diner over on Main Street for a proper breakfast a little later.

            After I’d wolfed down my meager meal I went and sat down at the small desk under the only window in my flat. I was in the far corner of the room overlooking the intersection of 5th and Spring Street with the hotel’s neon sign just to the right, or at least the letters E & L anyway, the signage ran vertically up the corner of the building. I started sorting through the mail setting the bills aside, dumping the spam, and opened an envelope postmarked LA from the Diocese of Los Angeles with a very sharp K-Bar, an overkill I know but it was handy. Nobody writes letters anymore, opting to email or text. But as I have neither a computer at home, nor a cell phone I relied on snail mail and the newspaper to correspond and stay informed. I refuse to join the 21st century where these points are concerned. I realize that you can’t avoid progress forever, sooner or later I’ll have to confirm, but until that day I’ll be a dedicated hold out! Besides the electronic age is too impersonal and too imposing. It used to that someone had to do was wear a mask and tote a gun to rob you. Now all they need is your password and an internet café to steal you blind. That’s progress for you. YOU CAN HAVE IT! I’ll keep my freedom and peace of mind. I’m not a total caveman though, I do have a telephone AND an answering machine. Granted the phone is a rotary phone, for you youngsters that means I dial a number not punch digits, and the answering machine is big and bulky and has a cassette tape and not a microprocessor. Speaking of which the red light was flashing on the contraption. I hadn’t noticed it when I came home last night or rather early this morning having closed down my favorite Irish pub, The Cottage, and getting in around 3am. I had spent the evening and most of the night organizing notes and thoughts around this job the Bishop had given me. I had poured over all the stuff that Bradley, my butterball contact at the Times, gave to me the other night on the way to the airport along with every published word about Megan Malloy’s murder/suicide looking for a motive for her insanity.   

            I reached over and pressed the play butter while I pulled out the letter inside the envelope for the church. Lo and behold it was one of God’s minions leaving me a message while I was reading a letter from His Eminence himself, talk about a co-winkie-dink! The voice message was less formal than the letter which essentially just asked me to call at my earliest convenience. The voice on the answering machine spoke as I read, “Mr. Roode, forgive me I mean Whitey, this is Father Quinn. When last we spoke in the confessional as I recall, by the way let’s not do that again, I told you that we could meet more formally soon. Would tomorrow at 12:30 be soon enough? You can reach me at the church anytime in the morning to confirm. I’ll be busy from 2pm until quite late so please call as soon as you can. Thank you…”

            The machine turned itself off and the blinking red light stopped blinking turning green in the process. It was my only message which was par for the course, I don’t have all that many friends one of which lets me use the phone in the bar downstairs as my business number. It works well for me and is a great dodge where bill collectors are concerned. Be that as it may I wondered if Father Quinn and His Eminence were aware that they were in competition for my time. I decided to keep them both in the dark on that point and see if there was anything worth wondering about. Opening one of the desk drawers I pulled out the Yellow Pages and looked up the number to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, then dialed the seven digits. I like the sound the rotary phones make when I call out, they have more character then the little beep tones in your ear that the more modern phones make. I left Father Quinn a message that I would be there around noon as I had a busy morning. That was a lie, my first sin of the day as I had nothing planned. I hung up and redialed the number and left a message for the Bishop telling him that I would stop by his office around 10am deciding to see him first as I expected that rank had its privileges even in the clergy.

            I chugged the rest of my coffee, stood up and walked over to my Murphy bed and returned it to its hiding place in the wall, unmade of course. I walked the four and a half steps to an armoire next to the bathroom which was my closet, fished out the day’s accoutrements and got dressed. If I hurried I could get over to the DMV and sweet talk Lois Butler, a sixty something clerk who had her eyes on yours truly to ferret out the address and phone number of Alexander Whembly, who according to Bradley’s intelligence was the father of Megan Malloy’s baby. I definitely wanted to interview that guy as soon as possible but I had to locate him first. I also wanted to stop by Hollingbeck Station and pick my old pal Iggie Ingram’s brain. A little bird had told me that he and Rebecca Tran had pulled the Malloy/Quinn case as it was known around the precinct. They might be able to save me some leg work, always a plus in my book. I grabbed my trusty trench coat, gave the room a quick survey which all of two seconds. I loved this coat, it made me feel like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. I turned out the lights as I reached the door, turned the knob and started to walk out into the hall.

“Hey, well look who we have here. LA’s favorite gumshoe,” exclaimed Iggie standing in my doorway close enough to smell the Beechnut chewing gum he was gnawing on. I grunted and gave him an icy stare.

“What are you doing here flatfoot?”

“We were hoping to catch you at home buddy.”

“We?”

Rebecca Tran leaned out from Iggie’s shadow and waived timidly at me. I waived back and gave her a wry smile. “Detective Tran, always a pleasure. I see that Wally Price still has you leashed to this dinosaur, my condolences,” I said, gesturing toward Iggie with my hitchhiking thumb.

“Yeah, well Iggie’s not so bad, I’m learning a few things from him, he’s just an acquired taste, sort of,” she replied.

Iggie interrupted, “I hate to bust up this little reunion but we came here for a specific reason partner.”

            I stepped out into the hall closing the door and locking it behind me. I didn’t want to have this conversation inside where Becca might catch a whiff and see how I really lived. Truth was she kind of looked up to me after working together a while back chasing a serial killer named Jai Li who had murdered a couple of my friends as well as my ex-wife, the once lovely and former female, Rhonda Roode. There’s a lot more to that story but you’ll have to catch me another day to hear it. “Alright, talk to me while we walk, I’m in a hurry right now, I want to get to the DMV before the lines get too long,” I said brushing by the two of them as I quick marched toward the staircase. The elevator at this place was chronically in a state of repair.

“What’s at the DMV?” Iggie asked catching up to me.

“What’s it to you?” I replied as I took the stairs two at a time.

“Slow down Whitey,” Iggie pleaded as we reached the lobby. Becca caught up to us and we walked together through the hotel lobby to the hotel bar, The Down & Out, located at the front of the building. A voice from behind the mahogany bar hollered out to us, “We ain’t open yet Mack!”

“It’s me Sal,” I replied.

A burly, barrel chested Polynesian man popped up from behind the bar, “Oh hi Whitey. Kia Ora brah, is that Iggie with you?” the thickly built man said, greeting me in Maori, his mother tongue. Iggie waived at Sal as the three of us settled into a corner booth near the window in the empty bar. Becca scooted in first while Iggie and I boxed her in climbing in after on either side.

            Salvatore Tonka (as in the toy trucks) was a fifty something Maori native from Auckland, New Zealand. He stood five feet seven inches tall and was solidly built, with shoulders nearly as wide as he was tall it seemed. He wasn’t shaped like a body builder, he was just rock solid like a permanently flexed bicep. Not someone you would want to tangle with. And if his physical stature weren’t intimidating enough his face was completely tattooed as was the custom of the Maori people. They came off as a pretty scary bunch until you got to know them. When they make friends it’s for life. Same goes for when they make enemies.

“How’s it?” Sal asked as he set three shot glasses on the bar and filled them with Jameson.

“It’s all good Sal, it’s all good. You cleaning the keg lines?” I said answering a question with a question.

“Every day pal, it’s why we have the coldest beer in LA,” Sal replied setting the shots on a small tray and walking over to us. He set the drinks on the table and grunted a hello to Iggie.

“Who’s the wahine?” he asked referring to Becca.

Iggie picked up his shot and downed it quickly, “That’s my partner, Detective Tran,” he answered setting his glass back on the table upside down.

Um, Iggie, we’re kinda still on the job dude,” scolded Becca as she pushed her glass away from her.

“No we’re not, not officially anyway. We just stopped to see an old friend on the way home,” Iggie replied.

Sal picked up Becca’s glass and clinked against mine, “Cheers!” he said downing the shot quickly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and walking back to continue his work behind the bar. I reached for my own drink and watched Becca remove something from her coat pocket. It was a small white business card that I recognized straight away. I played dumb though and asked, “What’s this?”

“It’s your business card genius,” quipped Iggie.

“I know that numb-nuts. Why are you returning it to me?”

Becca jumped into the fray, “We found this at crime scene early this morning,” she said watching my face for a flinch.

“A homicide?”

“As a matter of fact yes, over at the Baxter steps, you know the place?” asked Becca probing further.

“Yeah I know the place. Anyone who’s lived in LA a year or more knows the place. It’s a scary place. What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”

There was a pregnant pause while Iggie and Becca studied my face. It made uncomfortable so I spoke up quickly. “So was my card on the stiff or what?”

“Not exactly, it was on the ground further up the staircase where the victim was likely popped,” answered Becca.

“So you found my card on the ground in a park, so what? A lot of my cards end up on the ground or worse. Outside of the Yellow Pages it’s my only form of advertising.”

“Really? You don’t have a website?” Becca replied.

“Whitey’s a dinosaur Tran, he doesn’t believe in modern technology,” Iggie said, answering for me.

Becca rolled her eyes at her partner then focused on me, “I see, well be that as it may what we want to know is if there is any connection to the victim and yourself.”

“Fine, so who’s the victim?”

“Alexander Whembly, does that name mean anything to you?” asked Becca.

            I gave her my best poker face trying not to tip my hand and the fact that I not only knew the name but knew of him. I gleaned from Becca’s expression that I had failed to do so, which explains why I’m such a lousy gambler. It was too early in the morning for me to think of a clever lie so I decided on the truth. I would have had to ask for their help sooner or later anyway to gain access to G2 from the LAPD and run down this angle on Megan’s case. So where was the harm in choosing sooner over later?

“I know the name, in fact he was the reason for my DMV trip. I was going there to track him down.”

“Why?” Becca asked pressing me.

I paused a moment and finished my drink while I quickly pondered how much to share. Too little and they would become pests surveilling me and too much they would likely get in my way. I knew who this guy was relative to Megan Malloy and clearly they did not. I considered the two of them in nanoseconds, Iggie was a loyal friend but a chatterbox when he was boozing. But I knew how to handle him and his flaws. Becca on the other hand was a wild card. I was going to have to go with my gut where she was concerned. I set my empty glass upside down on top of Iggie’s.

“A source of mine showed me evidence that identified Alexander Whembly as the father of Megan Malloy’s child.”

“You’re shitting me!” Iggie exclaimed.

Becca gave Iggie the stink eye and replied, “If that’s true then it means we have another suspect besides the priest.”

“Maybe, but why would someone murder Whembly? Did Father Quinn know this guy as well?” Becca asked.

“I don’t know, I don’t think the priest knew about him,” I lied.

“Could be just a coincidence,” Iggie said scratching his head.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Becca and I said in unison.

I grinned at her and she snorted a giggle involuntarily, a trait I’ve noticed in a lot of attractive women. “Maybe we can work together unofficially on this case,” I suggested.

“Not if His Honor has anything to say about it,” replied Iggie referring to our scene stealing/publicity hound Mayor, Anthony Valenzuela. My old nemesis, Oscar Celaya who had catapulted over Captain to Chief of Police owed his stellar rise to the Mayor and considering our hate-hate relationship Iggie and Becca would be risking their careers teaming up with me, even on the QT. I couldn’t let them take that risk.

“Listen you’re right about that, scratch my stupid idea. Just do me one small favor. Sit on this information for a couple of days and let me see where this leads. I promise to share whatever I find out with you.”

Iggie started to reply when Becca cut him off, “We’ll give you twenty-four hours, that’s the best we can do. You know Lt. Price is no dummy and patience is not a virtue of his. We can probably feign incompetence for that long but any more than that and Iggie and I will both be looking for a new job.”

“Noted, Wally and I go way back. Let’s meet here tomorrow night around last call and I’ll share what I know.”

“Deal, 2am tomorrow right here,” Becca said extending her small hand for me to shake.

“Make it 3am, I’ll ask Sal stay over and leave the lobby entrance open for us,” I replied shaking her hand before she could protest. I got up quickly to leave before Becca thought of any more questions.

“See ya later Sal,” I said over my shoulder as I passed him on my way to the street side exit.

Becca shouted at me as I reached the doorway, “Don’t break any laws!”

I replied as I disappeared out of the building and into the LA sunshine, “No promises!”

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Bought a ticket for a runaway train, like a madman laughing in the rain. Little outta touch, little insane. Just easier than dealing with the pain..." Soul Asylum

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra and Luc
 
 
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Eleven
 
 
Greene Street Arms, Pasadena…Dec 3, 12:55am
                                                                                               
            Rebecca Tran slept soundly on her comfy trundle bed (still holding onto a bit of her childhood) in her studio apartment on Greene Street is old Pasadena. She lay curled up with her arms hugging one pillow and her legs doing likewise with another. When you sleep alone your subconscious has a way of compensating for the lack of a warm partner to snuggle up to. Becca wasn’t a snorer but she was a bit of a drooler (is that a word?) if she happened to drift into REM laying on her stomach. Mouth breathers, go figure. Whatever dream she was having was abruptly interrupted by the loud sonar pinging ring tone emanating from her cell phone on the night stand beside the bed. Groaning she reached over and fumbled with the blasted device until the pinging noise ceased. Rolling over onto her back she sleepily wiped the saliva from her mouth with her forearm and stared up at the ceiling fan until her eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Oh man, I just fell asleep,” she muttered, complaining to the empty room. She paused a couple of seconds as if waiting for a sympathetic reply, and then answered herself. “Duty calls Rebecca, get your skinny butt out of bed,” she said aloud, addressing her lazy alter ego.
She sat up and rubbed the sleep out of tired eyes then picked up her cell phone to see what was what. The call had gone to voice mail but she didn’t have to think hard to guess who had called. Her parents were in bed at 9pm every night and since she had no social life that meant that the caller could only be her annoying partner, detective 1st grade James “Iggie” Ingram, a.k.a. detective butthole! Actually that wasn’t kind, in truth Iggie wasn’t a bad guy really, he was just too old school for Becca, one of the ‘good ol boys,’ you know the type. She tolerated his misogyny and downright sexist remarks because she knew he was harmless and in his own annoying way he respected her as his partner and as a woman in the role. The guy was just from another era, and frankly it was less troublesome to just let those dinosaurs die out naturally rather than make mountains out of molehills and turn life at the ‘house’ into a ‘walking on eggshells’ situation. If he could just shut up during their shifts together she would be a happy camper. His repertoire of ‘back in the day’ anecdotes were wearing her down and frankly he had told them so many times that he was beginning to repeat them. Becca listened to the voice mail that he left, “Wakie, wakie Tran, we got a 187 near Echo Park. I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes or so, give or take, so shake those pretty legs of yours partner cause’ I’ll be there in a jiffy.” She sneered at the cell phone and tossed it back onto the nightstand. “Charming Iggie,” she snarled as she got out of bed and headed to the bathroom to take a quick shower and dress.
            It must be a pretty busy night she thought as she undressed leaving a neat pile of flannel PJs and cotton underpants on the bathmat next to the tub, and stepped into the hot shower. Becca paused a moment to study the pile clothing and made a mental note to visit the Victoria’s Secret in the Galleria over on Hawthorne soon. This pile of boring clothes was probably one of the reasons she was still single! Well, that and the fact that she lived three blocks from her parents who reinforced her strict Vietnamese/Catholic upbringing at every opportunity. Those may have been contributing factors as well. Becca quickly slid the shower curtain closed and changed her train of thought. There were 3 homicide teams working graveyard, so it was a little unusual to be called in relief so early into the witching hour shift, as it were. Well, this was LA after-all, and violent crime was up in the city of angels according to the LA Times.
            Exactly twenty minutes later, while she was blow drying her wet hair, the still of the night was interrupted by a blaring horn emanating from the Crown Victoria double parked below her condo on Greene Street. “Iggie!” Becca exclaimed, cursing him under her breath as she set down the hair dryer and swiftly ran a brush through her shoulder length black hair. She managed four or five strokes before sprinting out of the bathroom, down the hall and stopping at the small dining room table. She grabbed a small red gym bag containing her house keys, her shield and her service weapon, a 9mm Glock 26 tucked safely in a holster that she wore on her hip. Becca locked the front door from the inside as she exited, skipping the deadbolt, and let the door slam behind her as she raced for the stairway at the end of the hall. She took the stairs two at a time in a footrace to the curb hoping to avoid a second salvo from the unmarked police unit that Iggie was impatiently sitting in. Becca reached the passenger side and slapped the window with the palm of her hand just as her partner was about to lay on the horn again. She listened for the loud click as he electronically unlocked the door and then eased her way into the empty seat beside him tossing her gym bag into the backseat.
“What took you so long Officer Sleepy?” Iggie asked sarcastically.
Becca uncharacteristically flipped him the bird as she strapped herself in with the seatbelt. “You’re a real piece of work Iggie, you that!” Becca said folding her arms and giving him the stink eye.
“Yeah I know, I get that a lot, mostly from the wife and kids,” Iggie replied with a grin as he drove away from the curb.
“They must all be Saints,” Becca muttered.
“I wouldn’t know, we’re Baptists actually,” Iggie replied.
“Right, you go to church twice a year, Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve.”
“No, not true, I go to an occasional funeral, as long as it doesn’t fall on Super Bowl Sunday.”
“Alright already. So where’s the fire anyway?” Becca asked as she yawned and stretched.
“Couple of patrol cops found a stiff at the bottom of the Baxter Stairway near Echo Park. CSI is already on the scene and the coroner is on the way. Sounds pretty cut and dry, we should be done before daylight. Hey, you feel like pancakes afterward, my treat.”
“Sure, whatever, breakfast is always good if you’re buying. Any details?”
“Not many, white male mid to late twenties. The patrolmen think that he may have been shot near the top of the stairs.”
“Why do they think that?”
“Apparent GSW behind the left ear.”
“I see. What’s our ETA?”
“At this time of night I’d say about twenty minutes or less.”
“Alright, I’m gonna cat nap until we get there. Wake me when we’re close, and now clowning around.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Iggie said feigning innocence.
“I mean don’t slam on the brakes like last time,” scolded Becca as she crossed her arms and closed her eyes.
“Check,” Iggie replied with shit eating grin as he headed down Greene Street toward the 134 Freeway onramp toward Los Angeles.
 
Baxter Stairway, Echo Park…Dec 3, 2:00am
            Bix Kingman stood leaning on the passenger side his patrol car with his chin resting on his folded arms. He yawned deeply without covering his mouth as he stared at the nearly empty street in front of him. The CSI team had arrived an hour ago and they were busily collecting evidence and taking photos of what was now officially a crime scene. Bix and his partner Sgt. Ray Perez had taped off the area earlier and now there four other officers strategically placed on the perimeters keeping back any curious lookie-loos. Mercifully there was little traffic to deal with on this lonely stretch of Avon Street, south of the 5 freeway and Dodger Stadium. The Baxter Staircase spilled out onto Avon Street, 230 steps below Echo Park. Avon was a side street people used to get to Sunset Boulevard on their way to or from the craziness of West Hollywood or downtown LA. During the day it was just another artery with a potential for blockage. At night however it was an eerie, creepy part of town that most people avoided, leaving it to lost tourists, aggravated Siri victims, and to the occasional violent settlements between rival gangs over turf infringements. At the moment though it was where Bix waited for the detectives to arrive and rescue him from this boredom. Suddenly Bix’s partner and training officer, Sgt. Ray Perez slapped both his open palms sharply on the roof of the car snapping Bix out of his waning state of consciousness.
“WAKIE WAKIE!” shouted Sgt. Perez.
            Bix jolted awake, striking the light bar with his left hand as he stood up straight, “I’m up, I’m up!” he exclaimed, stumbling as he turned to face the man with the sergeant stripes. He stared at Ray Perez blankly not knowing what to expect next. He fought off the urge to rub his eyes not wanting to reveal how deeply he had dozed off.
“Comfortable Grace?” Ray asked sarcastically.
“Sorry Sarge, I just dozed off a second ago, I swear,” Bix answered sheepishly.
“Uh huh. Listen rook, CSI is about done and the detectives should be here any minute, fashionably late as usual.”
“Who got the call?” asked Bix.
“Iggie and your buddy Becca Tran,” answered Ray checking his watch. Bix tried unsuccessfully to stifle a smile. “What are you grinning about? You crushing on Detective Smalls rookie?” Ray asked with a wink, teasing his young partner. Becca Tran had been tagged with that nickname for obvious reasons. But what she lacked in stature young lady made up for in smarts and courage.
“What? Me? No way, we’re just friends,” lied Bix.
Riiight. Well that’s how most romances start young gun. Watch yourself, she’s an order of magnitude smarter than you.”
“Can we change the subject please?” Bix pleaded looking up at two sets of approaching headlights. Ray turned his head to see what had caught Bix’s eye.
“Looks like the coroner and your girlfriend are arriving,” Ray noted.
            The two uniforms secured their vehicle and walked to the rear of the car to wait for the new arrivals to pull up beside them. The Coroner’s station wagon pulled alongside the patrol car first while the unmarked Crown Victoria pulled up behind, killing its lights as it stopped ten feet from the patrol officers. Ray nudged Bix, “I’ll fill in the Coroner and you can bring Iggie and Smalls up to date,” he said as he walked away toward the station wagon. Bix followed his lead and walked up to the Crown Victoria as the two detectives climbed out of their vehicle.
“Detectives,” Bix said, politely greeting them.
‘Officer, Kingman is it?” Iggie asked reading the name tag on Bix’s uniform.
“Yes sir,” Bix answered.
“I’m Detective Ingram and this is my partner Detective Tran,” Iggie said pointing over to Becca who was walking up to the front of the car.
“We’ve met Iggie,” Becca said smiling at Bix.
“Oh, I see,” replied Iggie grinning. Stifling an urge to tease both the young people Iggie turned his attention back to Bix and the job at hand. He pointed toward the commotion around the body, now covered with a yellow blanket. The coroner was busy chatting with one of the CSI team and Bix’s partner Ray Perez with whom Iggie was well acquainted. “So what’s the story here officer?” he asked Bix.
“Well, CSI confirmed that we have a homicide, the victim received two gunshot wounds from a small caliber weapon, likely a .22, likely delivered at the first landing about 30 yards up the staircase,” Bix explained. Iggie and Becca glanced up the staircase in unison at the taped off area as the officer continued.
“CSI estimates the time of death somewhere between 10 and midnight, which seems right because when we got here the body seemed pretty fresh. The victim was twisted and mangled at the bottom of the stairs. CSI figures the gunshots killed him instantly and he bounced around like a ragdoll as he tumbled down the street,” Bix continued.
“How do they figure that?” asked Becca.
Iggie spit out his chewing gum and answered for Officer Kingman, “The hands were likely clean and unmarked meaning that the victim made no effort instinctively to break his fall.”
“That’s right detective, how’d you know that?” Bix asked impressed.
“Not my first Rodeo sonny boy. So 10 to midnight you say,” answered Iggie.
“Roger that Detective Ingram,” Ray Perez confirmed joining the meeting.
“Hey Ray, good to see you buddy. So I can assume that neither of you touched the stiff when you rolled up on the scene, am I right?” Iggie asked, greeting Sgt. Perez with a little professional sarcasm.
Ray Perez ignored Detective Ingram’s grandstanding and replied, “Not my first rodeo either Iggie.”
“I see, well what about you young blood?” Iggie asked gesturing toward Bix with his ball point pen. Ray Perez abruptly answered for his partner, staring down Detective Ingram.
“Officer Kingman remained in the patrol unit and called for backup. He wasn’t with me when I performed the initial survey of the area.”
Detective Tran sensed that Iggie was about to say something stupid and escalate the tension between he and Sgt. Perez. She quickly chimed in, “Alright fellas, keep your tools holstered and play nice. We’re on the same team, right?”
The two men grunted a sort pf capitulation and reluctantly accepted Becca’s gentle scolding.
“You’re right, it’s late and we’re all tired. Let me finish catching you up,” Ray said sheepishly.
“Noted Tran. Okay you may proceed Officer,” Iggie interjected, pulling rank on everyone as senior LAPD representative and getting in one last friendly jab at Officer Ray Perez. Becca glared at Iggie and shushed him with the expression on her face. Nothing stops a man quicker in his tracks ‘the look’ from an angry woman! 
“Thank you Sargent, yes, please fill us in,” she said with an apologetic smile.
Ray smiled back and continued, “Okay, so where did Bix leave off?”
“The vic was shot twice on the first landing and tumbled down to the street. CSI estimates a small caliber weapon, likely a .22, maybe a .32,” Becca answered.
“Alright well, not much more to tell, the CSI guys can give you the grizzly details. Given the GSWs you can assume that death was instantaneous. Other than that I can tell you that when I surveyed the area I found no tire marks or evidence that anyone had disturbed the body. Whoever shot the man must have went back up the stairs to a car waiting at the top somewhere on Park Drive.”
Iggie scribbled notes hurriedly onto his spiral notebook and asked, “Was there any identification on the body or on the stairway, a wallet or something?”
Ray answered quickly, “Yeah, I found the vic’s wallet, a trifold up on the landing. It was just off the concrete under a shrub. It was open with his driver’s license visible in center of the wallet. CSI has it bagged and tagged.”
“So who was this kid?” asked Iggie.
“The name on the DL was Alexander Whembly, age 28 with a Bel Air address,” answered Ray.
“What was a silver spoon kid like that was doing over in this part of town?” Becca wondered out loud.
“Filling his spoon I guess,” Iggie answered flippantly insinuating that the victim was here for a drug deal of some sort.
“Did you find any shell casings?” Iggie asked, careful not to look over at Becca.
“No, the perp was thorough, he or she must have picked up his brass before he or she left,” Ray answered.
“Why didn’t he or she take the vic’s wallet as well?” Becca asked.
“Not sure, that’s for you guys to figure out,” Ray said shrugging his shoulders.
“Alright, thanks fellas. We’re gonna go over and pick the CSI team’s brains now. See you guys back at the house,” Iggie said extending a hand for Ray to shake.
Ray gave his hand a firm shake and motioned to Bix for him to follow him back to the black and white. Bix reached out and shook Iggie’s hand as well and gave Becca a quick wave then trotted after Ray toward their patrol unit. Becca waived back and smiled then turned to catch up to Iggie who had already started walking toward the covered body. “Wait up Iggie,” she hollered.
Detective Ingram pulled up and waited for his partner. “You through socializing?” he asked sarcastically.
Becca ignored his comment, “Iggie, you go ahead and talk with CSI, I want to go up to the landing and look around.”
“Alright Tran, give me shout if you find anything interesting.”
“Sure,” she replied and walked over to the stairs, pausing a second to look up into the darkness.
She noticed blood splatter and stains on several steps going up and thought how merciful it was that the victim was already dead when he bounced down to Avon Street. She glanced back at the body, secretly glad that it was already covered, the sight must be pretty gruesome. Blood and gore may be a part of the job, but they were still yucky and she hoped that she never got so callous as to not be affected by the sight of them. Slowly she began to climb the 70 or so steps up to the first landing, glancing around not exactly sure what she was looking for. The pathway was filthy, littered with all sorts of refuse, most of it soggy due to a spritzing from an automatic sprinkler system. Becca carefully stepped over and around pieces of wet newspaper, ad inserts, empty Styrofoam cups, the occasional used condom (gross!) and whatnot. She pulled a pair of blue surgeon’s gloves from her pocket and put them on as she neared the landing. It was pretty much as Sgt. Perez had described it. The wallet was already collected and Ray had not seen any brass, but Becca knew that another pair of eyes usually found something that was missed. She shined her flashlight all around the landing and onto the terrain surrounding it looking for recent footprints or shell casings. No dice, aside from the blood stains and trash the area was pretty clean. She was about to turn and head back down to join Iggie and the CSI guys when she noticed something odd. Near a red flag that CSI had stuck in the dirt next to the landing, resting on top of a soggy collection of debris was a clean and noticeably dry business card. She bent down and flipped it over with the tip of her pencil. Embossed in plain black capital letters on the no frills business card was “ROODE INVESTIGATIONS.”
Becca recognized the card instantly and grinned, the name always sounded more like a statement than an advertisement. What was Whitey Roode’s business card doing at this crime scene, a homicide crime scene? Could it be just a coincidence she wondered? She quickly dismissed the thought, nothing that concerned Whitey Roode was ever coincidental. At least that had been her experience knowing the man as she did. Becca had been involved with him on a case a while back involving a murdered Chinese prostitute and her uncles. That case had been her baptism of fire, literally, ending with her shooting to death a serial killer while she was tucked into an airshaft in her underwear. To make matters even more interesting Whitey Roode, Detective James Ingram, and her boss, Lieutenant Wally Price were all pals from way back. Ignoring protocol Becca picked up the card and put it in her pocket. She headed back down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She was eager to share this with Iggie and see his reaction. Her gut was telling her that Whitey was in this up to his eyeballs. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew Whitey would have clues to share where this man’s murder was concerned. She reached the street and shouted over to Iggie waiving the small card, “Got something partner.”


Monday, September 7, 2015

"If you have it (love), you don't need to have anything else, and if you don't have it, it doesn't matter much what else you have..." J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
 
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
"Father Hollyweird"
 
Chapter Ten
 
 
Immaculate Heart of Mary-Rectory…Dec 2, 10:30pm
                                                                                        
            Father Quinn sat in a modest easy chair in the center of his room reading a script that a parishioner had given him after Mass on Sunday. It wasn’t very good but it was a welcome distraction from the queries that he’d been peppered with ever since the puzzling demise of young Megan Malloy and her bundle of joy. The beleaguered priest had answered hundreds of questions from an equal number of sources, each curious query a variation of the same theme. Father Quinn was interviewed by the Police, interrogated by the Bishop, badgered by the media, and soul searched by himself. At the end of the day none of his replies provided any real answers. The fact was he had been as shocked and surprised by Megan’s actions as anyone else. More so really, as he had considered himself a close confident during the last four or five months of her young life. Apparently they were not as close as he had thought.
            He set the script onto his lap and rubbed at his tired eyes. None of this made any sense, at least not to him. It must have made perfect sense to Megan however. It takes a great deal of resolve to conjure and execute a plan like the one she had orchestrated that fateful evening. Her choice of suicidal methods was not an impulsive one, unlike a gunshot or a leap off a tall building her choice was deliberate and offered many opportunities for a change of heart. Her choice was most certainly deliberate and it was meant as a message. But what was the message and to whom was it directed? Was it him? It couldn’t be. He had only known her a short while but he thought that they had bonded during those months while she struggled with her decision regarding her pregnancy. He felt as though he had reasonably helped her off of an emotional ledge without influencing her with his personal beliefs or tenants of the Church. He had encouraged her to be strong and to make her own decision without prejudice. Although to be honest he prayed nightly that Megan would choose unselfishly, whatever that meant.
            Father Quinn sighed audibly and set the script beside a cup of cold coffee on the small table next to his easy chair, a reminder of how long he’d been sitting there. The weary priest slapped his knees and rose to his full six foot height. “Why?” he muttered. Why was what everyone wanted to know, why was what he needed to know. Removing his reading spectacles he set them on the table on top of the half read script and ambled toward the door and the hall leading to the lavatory for his before bed shower and dental hygiene regiment. Growing up back in the old country his sainted Mother would remind he and is seven brothers that “A clean body and a clean mind pleases the Lord.” To which his Father the cynic would reply “fat chance luv, not with this brood dearie.” He smiled at the memory as he entered the lavatory grabbed a towel from the rack and set out his shaving gear. With the hot water running and beginning to fog the mirror with steam he starred at his reflection and looked into his own eyes. Why kept nagging at him.  What had he missed, could he have prevented this from happening? Why did she call out to him? Was it even he that she called out to? What was running through the girl’s mind, what message was in her tragic action? Did he cause this? Was it something he said? Not knowing was driving him daft.
            Perhaps this Roode character, the private detective that the Bishop had hired can find the answers that so many were searching for. Father Quinn made up his mind to research the man more thoroughly. Mr. Roode was crude and disrespectful of the Church, of any authority the priest expected. But there was a sincerity about the man that he could not explain or put his finger on. He sensed this from the moment that they met. Father Quinn turned off the hot water and swished his razor in the half full basin. As he lathered shaving soap onto his face with the soft bristled brush he chuckled at the detective’s unusual methods of gathering information remembering the interview he conducted in the confession box the other night. Unorthodox at best, sacra religious at the worst. Still you had to admire the man for his ingenuity, his ability to think outside or inside the box as it were. The priest chuckled once more and began to shave away his five o’clock shadow at 11pm. He resolved to look up Whitey Roode in the morning.
 
Baxter Street stairway, Echo Park…Dec 3, 12:35am
 
            Officer Bix Kingman was riding shotgun in the black and white patrol car with his partner Sgt. Ray Perez at the wheel. They had just stopped for coffee and were driving north on Park Road alongside Elysian Park when the radio squawked out a message.
“All units in the vicinity of 1421 Avon Street, a 187 at the Baxter steps, please respond, over.”
Sgt. Perez looked over at his partner, “we’re nearby, go ahead and respond to the call rookie,” he said nonplussed by the 187 homicide code. Bix reached for the mic and removed it from its cradle, “X-ray two-niner responding, we’re less than a mile away. What’s the situation, over?”
“Unknown two-niner, call came in a couple minutes ago anonymously, over.”
“Roger that, ten-four.”
Bix returned the mic to its cradle and looked over at his training Officer, “So what do ya think Sarge?”
“Never speculate, just anticipate young gun. The Baxter stairway is dark and eerie, a made to order murder scene, and trust me, its seen its fair share. Just go slow and follow my lead,” answered Ray Perez without looking Bix’s way.
“Noted,” replied Bix.
 “Call for back up just in case,” added Sgt. Perez.
“Roger that.”
            The patrol officers arrived on the scene quickly. It wasn’t exactly what Bix expected to see. There was a body lying in plain sight at the foot of the long stairway, illuminated dimly by a shadowy yellowish light emanating from the street lamp on the cracked sidewalk beside the steps. Other than the stiff there was not a soul around. That didn’t seem right to Sgt. Perez and Bix read that instantly in the expression on his face. “Huh? That’s weird?” muttered Ray Perez.
“What’s weird?” Bix asked.
“This is LA man, there are always people around, especially at a scene like this. The lookie-loos come out of the woodwork to sneak a peek at something freaky.”
Huh? Weird,” replied Bix.
“Radio dispatch and let them know we’re on the scene. I’m gonna look around. You wait by the unit for the cavalry to arrive,” instructed Sgt. Perez.
“Copy that. Shouldn’t you wait for the backup Sarge?”
Ray Perez shot a look Bix’s way that caused him to wish he could take back his rookie question. “Just call us in and wait by the nice patrol vehicle like a good little rookie,” replied Sgt. Perez as he walked over to the dead man while Officer Kingman walked back to the squad car and shrank back into the passenger seat to do what he was told. Meanwhile Ray Perez approached the body at the foot of the steps cautiously. The stiff was a white male and appeared to be in his mid to late twenties. A little unusual for this area which was primarily Hispanic. His limbs were all akimbo from the fall and he could see bones protruding from the left arm and right leg due to obvious compound fractures. The neck was also broken and the head lay unnaturally in a pool of blood, the eyes wide open staring at nothing. Ray knew better than to disturb a crime scene and resisted the temptation to turn the body over with his baton so instead he turned his attention away from the victim. He glanced up the steep stairway that led up to Park Drive. It appeared darker the higher up he looked due to several shot out street lamps that were supposed to light the way. That made walking up the stairway a little dicey as whoever may have killed this fella could still be lurking in the area. Keeping his hand on the butt end of his service weapon, a 9mm Glock 26 he started up the stairway to have a look around.
Sgt. Perez walked slowly up the stairway to the first landing and shined his powerful mag light in all four directions of the compass covering 360 degrees in less than a minute. He had seen signs of the victim’s trajectory on the way up by way of the blood trail leading to where the body lay. But on the landing he saw something different. On the cement and the surrounding shrubs and turf there was clearly a splatter pattern which meant this was definitely a homicide. Whoever it was lying at the bottom of the stairs below had been shot before he took the plunge, probably in the head and likely from a large caliber round, possibly a .45 hallow point given the expanse of the splatter pattern. He shined his mag light further up the stairway but did not leave the landing. This was going to a full on crime scene investigation and standard procedure is for patrol officers to NOT fuck up a crime scene by playing detective. He didn’t need a nickel lecture from one of the gold shields tonight. Ray turned to leave when the beam of light from his mag flashed over something in the weeds. He crouched and looked closer. It was an open wallet, likely the victim’s. He got as close as ne could without stepping onto the soft surface of the bed of dirt and grass that the wallet sat upon. The driver’s license was in middle part of a tri-fold wallet in a see-through section. He read it aloud, “Alexander Whembly,” he muttered. Alright, now they had a name to go with the face.
Ray Perez rose and trotted back down the steps and called over to Bix, “Cancel the bus rookie, call the coroner and CSI instead, this is a definitely homicide,” he shouted. He looked once more at the body and then shined his powerful light across the street. A couple of onlookers had pulled over to watch the proceedings. Ray waived them on their way and went back to the patrol car. He popped the trunk and retrieved to large rolls of yellow barrier tape, tossing one to Bix as he passed by on his way to the crime scene. As he did so two more black and white units rolled onto the scene. Together they sealed off the area and divided it into quadrants for CSI and the detectives. It was going to be a long night and he was hungry, he and Bix still hadn’t had their dinner break. There wasn’t a fast food joint or donut shop for miles. Worse than that there wasn’t a head either. Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first call of nature that he had to answer in natural surroundings. The graveyard shift always sucks!

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