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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Obvious conclusions are only obvious after you've tripped over them"...Nicholas Sheridan Stanton - author...

For my family

Father Hollyweird
Chapter Fifteen

McArthur Park, Los Angeles…December 5, 8:00am 

            December in Los Angeles means warm sunshine and cool crisp air courtesy the Pacific Ocean which loomed large just a few miles to the west. Father Quinn enjoyed early morning walks like this, which he did daily except for when a film project forced a change in his routine. He walked down the stairs leading into McArthur Park, LA’s version of NYC’s Central Park. The air was cold enough this morning to leave a vapor trail as he walked along the pathway. Each exhale revealed by a tiny cloud of carbon dioxide. Still it was a far cry from the constant rainfall this time of year back in Ireland where the man spent the first half of his life as a footballer prior to entering the priesthood. Word is he was a pretty good midfielder back in the day actually. I watched him as he entered the park and strolled the path near the small man-made lake. Perhaps he was reminiscing, it was possible. He definitely looked like he was mulling something over by the look on his face.

            Even though early morning constitutionals like this were part of his daily routine, today Father Quinn had an ulterior motive for being in the park. He was here to meet with me to compare notes on the Alex Whembley angle. If he was right this young man could be the alibi that exonerates him, and the Church for that matter where Megan Malloy and her baby were concerned. The priest had mentioned a letter sent to a nun at The Immaculate Heart of Mary by the young man. Sister Patricia Cromwell, Sister Pat to anyone who knew her longer than fifteen minutes. She was very popular among the congregation. The Sister was soft hearted with a warm and pleasant demeanor. And apparently this nun had been a confidant of Alex and, by that association, with Megan Mallory as well. An interesting revelation that motivated me to skip my breakfast and get here early. 

I watched the Priest make his way along the footpath to where we agreed to meet. I kept out of sight for the moment and studied him as he got closer. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see, maybe nothing, but after 25 years on the job I’d learned that it really was better to be safe than sorry. He stopped about 50 yards from where I was standing and exhaled deeply. The man appeared a little winded from the long walk from the Church and I sympathized immediately as age was creeping up on me as well. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a timepiece. By my Timex he was a little early which explained why he started looking all around trying to spot me. That was when I stepped out into the open and strolled over to a bench on the pathway. I waived at the Priest as I reached the bench and waited for him. He nodded in acknowledgement picked up the pace. I think it surprised him that I arrived before he did. Pretty sure he expected me to be a slacker. Well, like they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Top of the morning you’re Grace,” I said with only a hint of sarcasm.

“Father Quinn will do detective,” the Priest replied extending his hand.

I reached out and we shook hands gently, then I reached into the paper sack I was holding and offered him coffee in a paper cup. “It’s black, I assumed you took your coffee like a man,” I said.

“I do, what gave me away?” he replied.

“I have to be honest, you were drinking coffee when we first met at one of your shoots downtown and I have a eidetic memory, sort of.”

“Really? Well I rather doubt that but I’m impressed nonetheless.” He said accepting the coffee and removing the lid to blow across the top. We sat beside each other and sipped at our coffee quietly for a couple of minutes. Of course, not having the patience God gave a tse tse fly I broke the silence straight away. 
“Looks like it’ll be a warm one today.” I said clumsily, never being one for small talk.

“I suppose,” replied the Priest.

I got right to the point, “So did you bring the letter Father?”

“I did.”

I waited a nanosecond, “Okay well you know something about football Padre, pass it!” 
       Father Quinn grinned, apparently amused by my street humor. He opened the folder under his arm, removed an envelope and handed it to me. I grabbed it quickly and removed the one page handwritten letter, unfolded it and began to scan it. Uncomfortably I reached into my jacket for my reading glasses. “Huh, must be the glare.” I said sheepishly as I put them onto my face and started to read.

“Positively blinding I must agree,” Father Quinn replied sarcastically as he mockingly shielded his eyes from the sun. We sat together in silence while I read through the letter from Alex Whembley to Sister Pat. I took my time, read it twice pausing a couple of times to chew on bits and pieces of what Alex shared with the elderly nun. Without commenting I removed my glasses and returned them to my jacket pocket and then refolded the letter. put it back into the envelope and handed it back to the priest. He waited a moment before speaking. “Your thoughts detective?”

“Well if the letter is legit you and the Church can breathe easy because this gets you both off of the hot seat. No pun intended.”

“None taken. How exactly would this exonerate us?” asked the Priest.

I turned in my seat to face him and replied, “Well for one thing it adds two new suspects to the line-up, Mr. Ipso and Mr. Facto, i.e. Alex and his obliging Dad. Which sort of overshadows your working relationship with Megan.”

“You’re implying that Alex was the father of Megan’s child? You think that he somehow provoked Megan’s suicide?”

“Possibly, actually it’s highly likely. But my gumshoe intuition is telling me to be careful not to jump at the first theory. I want to dive a little deeper into this and see what’s lurking beneath the obvious.” 

“I believe that Alex was the father of the child alright, but I’m less sure that it was Alex that drove Megan to suicide.”

Father Quinn rubbed at his chin and thought a moment. “I see, but why on Earth would you suspect the boy’s father?” asked the Priest.

“It was Alex who put that pebble in my shoe when he revealed that he told his Dad about Megan’s situation. And I got the impression that he didn’t like Daddy-O’s reaction to the news. It wasn’t what he wrote so much but what he didn’t write. I’m reading between the lines here and I need to use my gumshoes instincts now.”

“So you plan to interview Mr. Whembley now?”

“Nope. I’d like to talk to Sister Pat first. If that’s jake with you of course Father.”

“If you’re asking my permission you needn’t. That’ll be up to Sister Pat but I see no reason for her to object. What exactly does ‘jake’ mean anyway?”

“It’s just a bygone slang term we used back in the old neighborhood, same as okay.”

“Oh, well then it’s jake with me if you speak with Sister Patricia. I assume you’ll want to talk with her as soon as possible.”

“Natch, that’s short for naturally. Can you arrange that Padre?”

Natch, I’ll see if she can make time for you later this afternoon.”

          Tossing what was left of my coffee onto the grass behind me I looked around for the nearest rubbish bin to deposit the Styrofoam cup into. I spotted one a few yards away and excused myself. “Just a sec Padre, let me toss this empty cup and I’ll be right back. I have one more question for ya.” 
The priest nodded an acknowledgement as he stood up to stretch his legs. I tossed the empty cup in the bin and walked back slowly, giving the priest a once over. You never know about people, they can surprise you if you let your guard down. This letter would get him and the Church out of a jam, if it’s legit that is. First thing they teach you in detective school is the five “whys,” who, what, when, where, and why. The tricky one is always “why.” I needed to talk with Sister Pat and drill into why this letter surfaced now. Why hadn’t she showed this to Father Quinn sooner? Why indeed.

“One last question Father, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, what is it my son?”

I grinned at the ‘my son’ reference. I haven’t been called that since my mother died, God rest her soul. “Has anyone else seen this letter? I mean besides you and Sister Pat.”

The priest rubbed at his chin, “to my knowledge no, but you’d best ask Sister Patricia that question, she would know best I expect.”

“Why do you ask?” added Father Quinn.

       It was my turn to rub at my chin, “Well to be honest I’m not exactly on good terms with the LAPD and as you may know they are investigating Alex Whembly’s murder. Looking into this letter will likely find me crossing paths with them. They take a dim view of outsiders interfering with their business. They call it obstruction of justice, and I don’t want to wind up in the pokey if you get my drift. That won’t do either of us any good, you or me.”

“Indeed. I had not considered that, but surely they would welcome any help that you could provide, wouldn’t they?” asked the priest naively.

“You’d think so wouldn’t you! But no, those guys are territorial and I need to stay out of the way or at least out of sight. My job is to quietly clear you. I’ll figure out how to leave an easy trail for the cops to follow once I figure out what’s what. This letter puts me a step ahead of them, that’s why it’s important to know who else may have seen it.”

“Understood. How can I assist you?”

“Just keep your trap shut about this Padre, and make sure Sister Pat does likewise. Remember, loose lips sink ships. Go about your business as you normally would and as far as anyone, and I mean anyone, is concerned this meeting never happened. Understand?”

“Of course, you’ll keep me informed of your progress I expect?”

“I’ll let you know what you need to know when you need to know it Father.”

Father Quinn studied me pensively for a moment and then nodded an acknowledgement. I could see the wheels turning in his expression, he wasn’t accustomed to being talked to in such a manner but he held his tongue and swallowed his pride. That was a good sign, the last thing I needed was any amateur kibitzing that might tip off the cops to the trail I was on. I gave the priest a pat on the shoulder and we walked out of the part in opposite directions.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

You only live once...but if you do it right, once is enough!.... Mae West

For my family

Father Hollyweird
Chapter Fourteen

Baxter Stairway, Los Angeles…December 4
        Officers Perez and Kingman climbed back into their black and white. It was 7:15am and their shift would end on the drive back to the stationhouse. Neither was looking forward to the hour or so of paperwork required before clocking out, a part of the job that was a universal drag among the rank and file. Officer Bix Kingman yawned as he strapped himself into the passenger seat. Rubbing his eyes with one hand he reached over and grabbed the radio mic with the other and informed dispatch that they were on the move.
“Man, I’m beat!” exclaimed Sgt. Perez through a yawn of his own.
        Ray Perez put the Crown Royal into gear and sped off down Avon toward Ward and Hollenbeck Station. He covered his face to mask another deep yawn. It had been a long night of mostly just standing around while the detectives and the CSI techs did their thing at the murder scene. Ray was looking forward to a hot cup of bad coffee back at the house. He glanced over at Bix who had returned the mic to the radio and slumped back into his seat. The big rookie leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
“Did you ever think about going for a gold shield and becoming a detective?” he asked Ray out of the blue.
Ray thought about that and rubbed and at his five o’clock shadow before answering. “Once or twice I guess. I’m pretty sure that most patrol officers wonder about it off and on,” he replied. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m just curious, that’s all.”
“Yeah well you know what usually happens to curious cats don’t you,” Ray replied making a slashing motion across his throat.
Bix chuckled, “Okay, ‘nuff’ said I guess,” he replied.
        They drove in silence until they hopped on the 10 Freeway for the last leg home. Bix was resting his eyes but still alert, he hadn’t dozed off yet. Keeping his eyes closed he broke the silence, “I think I’d like to be a detective one day,” he announced nonchalantly.
“You’ve put a lot of thought into that have you rookie?” Ray asked sarcastically.
“Actually I have,” Bix answered opening his eyes and sitting up straight. “My whole family is in law enforcement in one way or another. Mom and Pop want me to follow my older brother’s lead and go to law school and work for the District Attorney’s Office. ‘It’s safer baby my Mom says,’ she’s always worrying about me being out here in the shit.”
“Yep, Moms are like that,” Ray replied as he changed lanes to come alongside a young lady talking on her cell phone. He gave her a warning stare and she tossed her phone into the back seat and gave Ray a guilt ridden smile.
“Why haven’t you gone for a Detective shield? I mean what keeps you on the streets anyway?” Bix asked.
Ray didn’t hesitate to answer, “The action rookie, I’m an adrenalin junkie. Detectives do way too much paperwork to suit me, and from what I’ve seen sit on their asses too long yacking on the phone,” he answered with a big grin.
Bix snorted a reply with a not so subtle warning, “Yeah well most junkies OD eventually, I’m just saying.”
“I already have a mother thank you very much!” snapped Ray Perez, his mood changing quickly.
Bix held up his hands as if to surrender, “Sorry, not my business,” he replied, turning in his seat to look out his window and avoid exacerbating whatever had set off his training officer.
“You’re goddamn right it’s not! So let’s just drop it and relax the rest of the way back to the house. That okay with you?” Ray said through clenched teeth.
“Roger that boss, this is me zipping my lip,” replied Bix quickly.
        The two officers drove the rest of the way in dead silence, each of them secretly wishing they could take back that last few minutes. Partners are like that, especially police officers. No relationship is ‘spat free’, people are people eventually they say or do the wrong thing. Cops see each other at their best and at their worst, often times in extremely tense situations. And because they place their very lives in the hands of the person riding next to them there has to be a bond of trust that goes beyond that of even a marriage. Any less than that could prove fatal.

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles…December 4…8:00am
        Wally Price stood near the rear entrance of the squad room sipping on a mug of coffee that had already began to cool. He had been waiting impatiently for Ray and Bix to return from their shift. He checked his Timex, it was after eight o’clock and they should have been back by now. He was about to get dispatch to contact them when he spotted the two officers appeared through the wired glass of the heavy door.  They barged into the room and were met with an icy stare that neither of them was expecting this early in the morning.
“Long night fellas?” Lt. Price asked sarcastically.
”Something wrong LT?” Ray Perez answered, visibly startled by Lieutenant’s presence.
Lt. Wally Price glared at them without responding, it was making Bix sweat nervously. Ray just sighed and waited, he was used to the new Lieutenant’s mannerisms. Actually he was a pretty good leader, his bark worse than his bite. Ray was just tired and he hated it when a boss dragged out an ass chewing. After an uncomfortable minute Lt. Price moved away from the counter and stood toe to toe with Sgt. Ray Perez, towering over him with his six foot four inch frame.
“What I want to know officers is which one of you two is feeding Whitey Roode information about the crispy kiddies’ case,” he asked, his gaze alternating between the two officers.
“What are you talking about? Neither one of us is talking to that PI. Hell, Bix here hasn’t been here long enough even know who Whitey is anyway,” Ray answered, his tone slightly defiant.
“Look LT, if you think there’s a leak you should hit up Detective Ingram, I hear he and Roode go way back,” Ray added, not bothering to hide his irritation.
        Price relaxed a bit and considered Ray’s response. That did make more sense and nobody at this precinct knew of his own connection to Whitey Roode and Iggie Ingram for that matter. For now he’d play it cool as he stepped back to give Sgt. Price his personal space back. He held out his thick paw and offered to shake Ray Perez’ hand, he accepted.
“Sorry Sargent, chalk it up to an especially shitty morning. As soon as I walked in the door at 7am I started taking crap, first from the Mayor’s office and then from the Arch Diocese. Both of them up demanding status reports on our investigation of that murder suicide of the young mother and child burned alive outside the Egyptian Theater,” Price explained apologetically.
“So what’s the PI have to do with all of this?” Bix asked, relaxing.
Lt. Price answered with a frown, “His Honor the Mayor hates that guy! He’s been the butt of many a joke around town about being made a fool of by an ex-cop turned gumshoe who seems to be one step ahead of the LAPD on several high profile cases since he was kicked off the force. He called Chief Celeya who also loathes the rat bastard and wanted to know why Roode was poking his big nose in LAPD business, who he was talking to him from inside, and what we were going to do about it short of shooting him.”
Ray grinned and spoke up quickly, “Say the word LT and we’ll haul him in directly. You can quiz him yourself.”
Price snickered as he conjured up an image of Whitey getting grilled in the interrogation room by the Chief and the Mayor. Now that would be a hoot, he’d even buy a ticket for that show. Why not he thought. “Good idea Perez, consider yourself approved for a little OT. Take your partner there and bring me a gumshoe for breakfast.”
Ray rolled his eyes, he was tired and just wanted to go home to his wife and kids. “Seriously LT, can’t you send another unit, Bix and I have already pulled a double shift,” he whined.
“This won’t take long men, Whitey is a creature of habit. It’s Friday, that means he’s at the Nickel Diner downtown on 5th Street. He’ll be pigging out on bacon donuts and coffee until 9 or 10, so you’ll have no trouble picking him up. Tell him I sent you,” Lt Price said reassuringly.
“What makes you so sure about that LT?” Ray asked.
“Just bring him in and I’ll tell you all about it later,” Price snapped as he brushed past Sgt. Perez and headed back to his office.
“Weird,” Bix said, watching the lieutenant turn the corner and disappear.
“I’ll say,” replied Ray Perez. He pulled out the car keys and tossed them to his partner. “Let’s go rookie, you drive.”
“First time for everything son. Try not to kill us on the way,” Ray answered, walking past Bix and out the door to the motor pool.