For my family
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES
Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St 11:13pm
Current events are just that, current. It’s why a journalist’s job is pretty much 24/7. It’s not too much different time-wise from a cop’s life. Sure, you work a shift but the reality is you’re on call 24/7. Whether it’s a badge you wear or a “press card” that you carry, if either of these are your gig then you’re pretty much always on the job.
My media contact, a rotund smart-ass newsman named Bradley Tremaine, an old friend, was standing out in front of the LA Times corporate offices waiting for me. Ignoring the “No Parking” sign I drove my old Chevy Covair up to the curb beside him. Leaning over to the passenger side I cranked down the window (like I said, my car is old) so my chubby buddy could stick his big noggin inside.
“You’re late Whitey, I’ve got a cab coming to drive me to LAX,” he said in a monotone voice.
“Yeah well I prefer to see it as just in time. Toss your bag in the back and hop into the copilot seat butterball. I’ll drive you to the airport, you can fill me in on the way,” I replied nonplussed.
“What about the taxi?”
“Fuck him, it won’t be the first time he’s been stiffed, won’t be the last either. Perils of the job mate.”
“But nothing buddy boy! Look you didn‘t give the cabbie your ID right? So get in and let’s go Polly Anna, geez!”
“Alright, alright, quit your nagging, I already have a mother thank you!”
Brad opened the door, folded down the front passenger seat and tossed his duffle bag in back then climbed in beside me and slammed the door shut. He set a fat backpack on his lap and settled in looking for the seatbelt. He’d never driven with me before so he didn’t realize he was wasting his time. Like I said, my car was old and predated “big brother’s” safety mandate. I sped away from the curb chirping the tires and headed down 1st Street toward the Hollywood freeway in route to Los Angeles International Airport.
“What airline are you flying?” I asked.
“American,” replied Brad as he gave up the search for the nonexistent seatbelt without asking for an explanation. Smart kid.
“My condolences,” I said sarcastically.
“What? Problems in the friendly skies gumshoe?”
“Nah, just a personal preference. I’m a ‘United’ man myself, the stews are better looking.”
“Don’t you mean flight attendants?”
“Nope! I mean stewardesses. Flight attendants include the males and they don’t enhance my travel experience the way the stews do if you get my drift.”
“Yeah, I get ya Whitey, you’re a misogynist Neanderthal. I thought we’d evolved beyond you dinosaurs?”
“Fat chance butterball, boys will always be boys. So, what was it you had to show me that you couldn’t just tell me over the phone? You know you put me in the doghouse with my girl back there.”
“She’ll get over it Whitey, more to the point she’ll get over you sooner or later.”
“OUCH! Leave the head shrinking to the pros buddy and enlighten me already.”
Brad ignored me and reached into his backpack. He pulled out a mangled manila folder that had seen better days, much like the frazzled and faded sport coat he was wearing. I glanced over and could see that the folder contained a few official looking documents as well as several photographs. My spider sense was definitely tingling.
“What do you have there?” I asked, my anxious voice betraying my excited curiosity.
“Fruits of my labor my good man, fruits of my labor,” he answered with a grin as he tapped the folder and closed it shut. This was gonna cost me.
“You seem pretty proud of yourself Brad old buddy.”
“I am actually, some of my better work if I do say so myself.”
“Well? Clue me in chubs, I’m all ears.”
“Business first Whitey, you know the drill.”
“Riiiight. How much?”
“$500. The usual rate, $100 and hour to the tune of five fruitful hours.”
“Only if the info is useful.”
“Alright, spill it.”
“Little background first. I was pouring over all of the amateur You-Tube footage and reading broadcast copy when one aspect kept buzzing around my face like a gnat at a summer BBQ.”
“And what did you see pray tell?”
“It wasn’t what I saw so much as what I heard Miss Crispy say just before she lit the match.”
“Miss Crispy? Really Chubs? That’s low even for you.”
“I suppose you’re right, call it unprofessional sarcasm. What was her name anyways?
“Megan, her name was Megan Malloy.”
“Right, so I got hung up on Miss Malloy’s last words.”
“I love you father?”
“Exactly, those words.”
“What about them?”
“Well isn’t that your whole case for the Arch Diocese? The Holy men want you make sure that Megan wasn’t pointing a French fried finger at the priest she was friendly with, am I right?”
“Something like that,” I replied glancing over at him.
“Anyway, I did some digging for you and found a couple of nuggets I think will interest you.”
“We’ll see, go on.”
“SO, the $64,000 question is who was Megan Malloy referring to in her dying declaration? Care to guess?”
“I give up, who?”
“Actually I don’t know. But it could be this fella,” Brad said opening the folder and tapping on the contents inside. He pulled out a photograph of a twentysomething blue eyed blue blood young man. Not exactly what I was expecting.
I glanced down at the picture in his lap. “Who is it?”
“Miss Malloy’s baby daddy, I think.”
“Impossible! I’ve seen the birth certificate, there was no father listed.”
“You saw a birth certificate. Did you happen to notice the clerk’s stamp?”
I started to answer ‘of course’ when I realized that I had not. “You have the actual birth certificate?”
“How did you manage that?”
Sources are confidential Whitey, stupid question.”
“Right, show me the document and picture again.”
I studied them both while we waited for the light to change. “This fella doesn’t fit the profile I’d conjured. I was expecting a junkie or otherwise ne’er do well of some sort. The young man in this photo is too clean cut and actually appears respectable.”
“Not all louses are dirty and diseased. The world is lousy with ‘clean cut’ vermin taking advantage of young impressionable women. Don’t make me dredge up Bill and Monica.”
“Touché,” I replied handing back the papers as the light changed.
“So what do you know about this Alex Wembley character?” I asked referring to the name on the birth certificate.
Brad pulled out a small spiral notebook from his coat pocket. He flipped back a few pages and read from his copious notes as I merged onto the 105 Freeway toward LAX. “Alexander Wembley, age 24, graduated from UCLA class of 2007 with a degree in Economics, minoring in Finance. He recently completed his MBA from Pepperdine University and is currently employed as an account executive with the firm Bates, Wembley, and Stein. That’s right, he works for dear old Dad. And, he comes from old money. A lot of it.”
”Interesting,” I said, rolling my eyes and making the hmmmm face with a droopy frown and nodding head.
“There’s more,” Brad added.
“Do tell, what do you mean?”
“Well it turns out that the apple doesn’t always fall next to the tree. In Alex Wembley’s case it couldn’t have fallen further.”
“Daddy Wembley is your classic country club, money grabbing womanizer. Junior on the other hand is 180 degrees from his father.”
“Spare me the diatribe Chubs and stick to the facts,” I pleaded.
“Alright, in a nutshell the old man drove Junior into the family business, and into manhood for that matter. Miss Malloy was a graduation present who tragically got knocked up during their ‘tryst’ of fate.”
“It gets better. Junior and Miss Malloy were both seeing Father Quinn but for different reasons and unbeknownst to one another.”
“Really? This is starting to sound like a Tele-Mundo script.”
“I KNOW IT!”
“Well we know Megan’s reason, what was Alex’s?”
“Hold onto your Fedora gumshoe, the lad is secretly attending seminary at St. John’s in Camarillo.”
“But Alex lives and works in LA?”
“It’s the 21st century Whitey, he attends on line and only goes onto campus once a week for sessions with his advisor and sponsor.”
“Let me guess, his sponsor is Father Quinn.”
“The one and only.”
“Does he know about the connection between them?”
“Unknown Whitey, that’s for you to figure out, you’re the detective. But if you ask me he had to. He’s a priest, I’m sure he’s seen it all in his profession and from what I’ve heard about him he doesn’t strike me as an ignorant man.”
“Well I’ve met him personally and he is definitely not ignorant, so he must have a good reason for keeping that under his hat. I’m gonna have to talk to him about that.”
“You mean his ‘biretta’,” Brad said matter-of-factly.
“His what?” I asked.
“Biretta, it’s a priest hat,” he answered.
“Whatever Chubs, we’re here,” I replied pulling up to the curb teaming with travelers in all shapes and sizes headed for God knows where.
“You better hop out quickly, you don’t want to miss your flight. Where are you headed anyway, I never asked?”
“Seattle, why, does it matter?”
“Not really, I’ve got your cell number. Can I keep the folder?”
“Sure, as soon as you fork over the dough Joe.”
“What was the damage again?”
“$500 Whitey, stop trying to cheat me.”
I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. I always carry cash, never trusted banks or the little plastic bandits they issue to fools willing to pay fees and risk identity theft by some unscrupulous teller or manager. I peeled off five crisp hundred dollar bills and slapped them into Brad’s open palm.
“You should be wearing a mask,” I quipped.
“Pleasure doing business with you Whitey,” Brad replied as he got out of the car. He reached in grabbed his duffle, shook my hand then slammed the door shut and walked away toward the terminal.
I leaned over cranked the window up sealing out the night air and traffic noise then pulled away from the curb before the airport cops got a chance to cite me. As I merged with the throng of comers and goers I replayed everything Brad had shared on the way here. The Alex angle was interesting on its own but the Father Quinn secrecy angle was the one I wanted to explore next. I may have made a bad assumption about the sanctity of the confessional the other night. I had a whole new set of questions to ask the good Father only this time it was going to be on my terms on my turf. After that I’d track down Master Alex Wembley and pick his squeaky clean brain. A good detective is only as good as his instincts and his instincts are only as good as the information he gathers. Brad was a good source and he really came through. Memo to self, I owe my round friend a couple dozen Krispy Kreme’s when he gets back from Seattle.