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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!”

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