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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
"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.”

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