Despite what Kenny would have you believe, the newly incorporated City of Watts is probably the safest place in Southern California to live. After many generations of abject poverty and despair, the city has undergone a renaissance that is the envy of the rest of the city: new high-rises and streets of neat, single family homes dominate a landscape once dotted by burned out and vacant buildings and publicly assisted housing.
In this last quarter of the twenty-first century, information is the commodity of choice. From cradle to grave you’re filed and indexed about every like and dislike, what you buy, and how you spend your leisure time. The people who do this filing and indexing can make a huge amount of money by selling this information to big business and that’s where Fez comes in.
Fez is street smart and figured out long ago that the person who can broker the most information about John and Jane Q. Public could position himself as a political force to be reckoned with. Using those street smarts and the talents of many others discounted by ‘the man’, Fez and members of two of the oldest street gangs in the city, formed a partnership and went into business. For a number of years they were ignored and ridiculed but ultimately, he would have the last laugh. Using a talent pool second to none, Fez was not above using little ‘tid-bits’ of information to get what he wanted or needed for his people.
In the years succeeding the Southeast Food Riots he’d gone from laughing stock to the second most powerful man in California and he made no bones about it that he wanted to be the most powerful. There was little doubt on my part that he would one day end up as the Governor of Los Angeles, maybe even President of California itself
After stopping by my apartment to take a quick shower I made my way down to the Watts Information Technology Centrex, located at the corners of Florence and Normandie Avenues in South Central Los Angeles. As I drove south, I could see the gleaming spires of the twin towers housing the Centrex and I thought back to how I’d first met Fez.
I’d only been in business for a short time when I was summoned to a meeting at his office. I’d heard he was a straightforward man (something refreshing in a city where everyone was scared to death to say what they really thought) and I immediately found myself liking him. His young son had been kidnapped by a group of white radicals and he was practically beside himself with rage and anxiety. He’d been willing to pay whatever ransom they’d demanded but knew, ultimately, that he was in a losing game: the kidnappers would get their money and kill the boy.
After asking why he hadn’t gone to the local police, he’d explained that he didn’t trust them. His son had been in a secure facility with one way in and out, a facility that only he and a select group of close advisers had entry to. Fez hired me to find the kidnappers, get his son back safely and find those responsible for the kidnapping, within his own organization.
It’d taken me four long days, but I did eventually locate the inside man (his chief of security) and with a little ‘persuasion’ on my part, he gave up his colleagues. The boy was still alive and being kept in a hillside house along the Mulholland Expressway. To make a long story short, I killed three of the four remaining kidnappers in a running gun battle outside the house, safely rescued Fez’s son and offered to find the fourth remaining kidnapper. Fez had declined the offer, saying he would take care of that part of the job himself. I turned over what information I had on number four and felt no pity for what Fez’s people would surely do to him, once he was found.
I came back to reality as bright lights flashed ahead of me. I slowed, drove up to the checkpoint.
“Business?” the Watts Centrex Police Officer demanded.
“Chandler Harrison to see Fez,” I answered, handing him my identification.
He examined it briefly, then ran the magnetic strip on the back of the card through a handheld device. “One moment, Mr. Harrison.”
Thirty seconds later the device beeped and the officer nodded approvingly. “Very good. Do you require an escort?”
“No thank you, I know the way.”
“Park in the red area and leave any sidearm you may be carrying with the guard at the front desk. He will see you in his private quarters on the thirty-third floor.”
“Thank you.” I took my identification and drove the remaining mile and a half to the Twin Towers Complex..
I parked my old Caprice in an empty red space, dropped my Smith-Wesson off at the front desk and caught the elevator to the thirty-third floor. I exited the stainless-steel car and found myself in a long corridor of highly polished black marble with a set of very tall maple doors at the other end. I walked slowly to those doors, stood back away from them as they swung open.
“Mr. Harrison, come in.” The woman who spoke to me was spectacular the way they grow them here in Southern California. “I’m Jennifer Day, Fez’s administrative assistant.”
“Miss Day,” I shook her extended hand.
“Fez extends courtesy to you and has advised me to tell you to make yourself at home.”
“Would you like something to drink?” Jennifer Day asked.
“Actually a scotch on the rocks would be great right now.”
I followed her into the apartment, amazed how so much marble, steel and glass could feel so warm.
“I’m afraid we are currently out of the expensive stuff, but we do have a one hundred year old Glen Livet on hand.”
Jennifer made the drink for me, smiled as she came out from behind the bar. “Here you are. Might I take your coat?”
I nodded, then removed it. “The last time I was here his assistant wasn’t nearly as efficient.”
She smiled again. “I’ve heard that about her.”
“Have you been with him for long?”
“A few months. This is probably the most challenging job I’ve ever had.”
“I can imagine.”
Nearby a phone buzzed and Jennifer went to answer it. She spoke softly for a moment, then put the receiver down. “He will see you now. If you will follow me please.”
I trailed her down a corridor just off the greeting room, paused as she stopped to open the door at the end of it.
“Mr. Harrison to see you.”
“Thank you, Jennifer.” Fez stood up from behind his desk and offered me his right hand. “Chandler.”
I shook hands with him. “I see you’ve redecorated. New curtains?”
His booming laughter filled the room. “Shirley said my office is too cold and impersonal, so she brightened it up a bit.”
“Good for her!”
“Will there be anything else Fez?” Jennifer asked.
“That will be all for this evening, Jennifer. Go home and I will see you bright and early Monday morning.”
“Good night sir.”
Jennifer left, closing the door behind her.
“You’re looking well, Chandler.”
“Looks to me like Shirley’s taking pretty good care of you too.”
He laughed again, indicated a comfortable leather and chrome chair in front of his desk. “Far, far better than I deserve, I assure you!”
I took a seat. “There’s something to be said for love.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve married yet?”
“I’d have to meet somebody first,” I offered.
“I thought private detectives had plenty of opportunities for meeting beautiful women,” he offered.
“Only in those trashy detective novels by Spillane. Besides, I never get involved with clients. It’s bad for business.”
He nodded. “Velma well?”
“She’s doing fine.”
“How’s Theo?” I asked.
“He just turned twelve and is brighter than I can ever hope to be.”
“Must be mom’s influence!”
He laughed once more. “This is certainly a pleasant surprise. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten I count you as a friend.”
“I appreciate your sending some work my way,” I said.
“I’m glad to do it.”
Silence stretched between us for a long moment.
“I gather this isn’t strictly a social call,” Fez sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers before him.
“No, it’s not. I need your help.”
He seemed to think it over for a time, then nodded. “What do you need?”
“For starters, I need you to run a back trace on a telephone number.”
“I’ll need the particulars on the location and time of the incoming call.”
I passed a sheet of paper across the desk to him. “You’ll find everything you need there.”
“I’ll also be needing background checks on two BSS agents by the names of Thaddeus and Henry.”
“I’m not sure yet, but they have that smell about them.”
“You want complete dossiers?”
“Everything you can get,” I confirmed. “I want to know them better than their own mothers do.”
“Very well. What else?”
“Do you still have contacts back east?”
“See what they can find out about a woman by the name of Alicia Denniston. She works for Day Magazine out of New York.”
I studied him for a moment. When Fez goes ‘hmm’ that usually gets me interested. “You’ve heard of her?”
“Three days ago she was sitting in that very same chair. She was supposedly doing an interview of me for her magazine.”
“I’d run a preliminary check on her when she called and asked to meet. For someone who’s twice won the Mike Wallace Investigative Journalism Award, her questions were quite soft, almost cursory. I was not impressed.”
“When you spoke to her did she seem nervous?”
“I dropped a coffee cup while we were talking; the poor girl practically jumped out of her skin when it hit the floor!”
“What was she questioning you about?”
“Like I said, it was all information she could’ve picked up from the nearest public library,” he shrugged, glanced at his steepled fingers. “There was one thing though, something she pressed me on.”
“What was it?” I asked.
“The Angeles Crest Reservoir Project. I’ve been against it from the beginning because Governor Taylor’s people are so heavily involved with it. It also seems redundant to me when there are already three desalinization plants on the coast making more water than the city will ever need.”
“Why was she so interested in the ACRP?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps you should ask her.”
“I would, if I could find her. She’s disappeared.”
Fez sat forward slightly in his chair. “There was someone with her when she was here.”
“Man or woman?”
“A man, white, about six-four, maybe six-five. He stayed outside the building during my conversation with Miss Denniston.”
“You get him on vid?”
“Since Theo was abducted everybody who comes in here gets their picture taken,” Fez confessed.
“I’ll need a tri-d of him along with everything else.”
“Done. If you will excuse me for a moment I’ll get my people started.”
The back trace on the phone number took a bit longer than expected but as I sat waiting for it, I had a chance to look over the personnel files of my two friends from the Bureau of State Security. Both men were senior agents, Thaddeus with fifteen years on and Henry with twelve. As I scanned through their financial histories I suddenly sat forward in my chair.
“Something?” Fez questioned.
“I’ll say,” I transferred the image on the small screen in front of me to the wall sized unit opposite his desk. “A man with fifteen years seniority with the BSS makes what?”
“About seventy thousand nuyen, present currency.”
“That’s about what, fifty five thousand dollars?”
“Give or take a hundred.”
“Seventy thousand,” I paged down to the final balance column. “How is a civil servant, making seventy large, able to afford a brand new home in Brentwood and a second one on the beach in the Malibu Beach Colony?”
“A honest one wouldn’t be able to,” Fez answered.
“That’s what I thought,” I split screened the two men’s bank records and sat back in my chair. “According to this, both men, in the past eight months have nearly tripled their salaries.”
Fez studied the glowing screen with a raised eyebrow. “Yes. If you will also carefully notice, toward the middle of each month, there have been sudden, rather large cash deposits added to each man’s account.”
“Oh, I noticed all right,” I said. “What I want to know is how they’re doing it? The new financial disclosure laws passed last year were designed to put a stop to illegal cash operations. They figured it would cut down on thievery and runners who do all their work on a cash demand basis.”
“You and I both know there are ways around any law, Chandler,” Fez opined. “My best guess is they have someone inside the bank working for them.”
“They’d have to be pretty high up the food chain to sneak this much cash past those new super-comps.”
“Money laundering is the third oldest profession.”
“If you were looking to add a few bucks to your account without the bank knowing and ratting you out, how would you do it?”
Fez smiled. “I’d probably piggy-back it in on top of everyday, normal bank accounts.”
“How do you mean?”
“Let’s say an average citizen comes in to deposit his pay for an honest weeks work. Now you, being the devious young banker that you are, need a way to funnel money into these accounts without alarm bells ringing all over the place--”
“I’m with you so far.”
“Mister Honest Citizen takes home a few dollars cash to buy a gift for his wife or child and deposits, oh, eighteen hundred. You see this and say, ‘hmm, why don’t we just make his deposit eighteen hundred and twenty-five’. You red flag his account and sometime later on remove that additional twenty-five and put it into your employers account and no one will be the wiser because it’s all put down to an accounting error.”
“Happens every day,” Fez nodded. “Technology is a wonderful thing, but it’s only as good as the person entering the data. Crooked person, crooked data.”
“And if you do it in small enough increments, over a long period of time, no one’s the wiser.”
“So that means the inside man would have to have access to the bank mains and be beyond reproach.”
“My educated guess is he or she would be someone in middle management, maybe with financial difficulties. Thaddeus and Henry would have to have something to hold over this person to make them do it.”
The screen flashed and an image of a young man wearing full jack-in gear appeared in one corner of it.
“We have the back trace information for you now,” the young man said.
“Stream it to us here.”
The screen divided into four separate sections.
“His name is Joe Don Roberts. The address is as follows.”
I read it. The number was located in West Covina, a thirty minute drive from downtown.
“Do we have an identification tri-d of him?” Fez asked.
“Coming to you now.”
The image was that of a heavy set Caucasian male with long brown hair and an untrimmed, dark beard.
“Thank you Cyril,” Fez quickly canceled the young man’s image block. “Remember when I told you Alicia Denniston was not alone when she came to see me?”
“This is the gentleman who waited outside my office for her.”
I studied the image on the screen. “It says here Roberts is from San Antonio.”
“As was Danny Raines.”
I frowned. Roberts was with Alicia Denniston three days ago and this morning he’s on the phone talking all buddy-buddy to wire man Danny Raines. Things were really starting to get interesting.
“Who did you say your client was again?” Fez asked.
I looked up at him with a slightly puzzled look and shrugged. “I wish I really knew.”
After getting hard copies of everything, Fez surprised me by walking me out.
“You still driving that old piece of junk?” he asked, nodding toward my less than perfect Chevy.
“That ‘old piece of junk’ as you call it was only the fastest, American made four-door sedan built in the mid-1990's. It may not look like much on the outside but under the hood it has a 383 cubic inch, methanol powered small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine pumping out four hundred and eighty horsepower. It has titanium pistons, connecting rods and intake and exhaust valves. The engine breathes through aluminum four valve heads that cut over a hundred pounds of weight. That same engine drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission that’s one of the best ever built. The tires are Kevlar reinforced as are the inside door panels and floor pans. It will run all day at one hundred thirty miles per hour and the only thing that’ll catch it on the open road is one of those new Border Patrol Interceptors!”
“That’s all well and good, but why not fix the bent sheet metal and give it a new paint job from time to time?”
I smiled. “Why make a sow’s ear into a silk purse?”
He laughed. “You ever change your mind, I can get you into something German.”
“Thanks for the offer, but this was my great uncle’s car, way back when.”
“Until next time,” he offered me his hand.
I shook it. “Thanks for the help.”
“I owe you. Also, when you see Kenny Baltimore again, tell him my offer of employment still stands,” Fez smiled.
“I’ll tell him, but don’t hold your breath.”
He laughed a second time. “No, I don’t suppose I should!”
I thought about making the drive to Joe Don Roberts’ West Covina home as I took Florence Avenue back to Main, but shook it off. I was tired and I really needed to sort through what I was going to say to ‘Sabina Denniston’ in the morning. In this business you get a lot of little truths, half truths and down right lies. The ones that really hurt are the ones where a client will sit right there in your office all weepy and everything and convincingly lie through their teeth to you. Someday I’m hoping to outgrow that ability to be suckered by a pretty face and a sad story, but until I do it just pisses me off that I’m so easy.
I hate being played and Sabina had played me like and inside straight in a Vegas card game.
“Who are you, Sabina? BSS? Internal Security? No, that doesn’t make any sense! I bought what you said and even though I’m a soft touch, there’s just--something--that makes me want to believe your story! ” I offered to my empty car.
I turned north onto Main, glanced up at my rearview mirror as I saw a flash of light follow me around the corner. A black sedan trailed me onto Main, staying several hundred yards behind.
I sped up, watched as the black car behind me sped up. At the next cross street I slowed to a crawl and watched the trailing car do the same. Ahead of me the signal changed to red and I took the opportunity to run my right index finger under my shoulder belt and pull it tighter.
“Let’s see how badly you want to stay behind me.”
I slowed as I neared the intersection, put my foot on the brake pedal like I was about to stop. Watching the rearview mirror I pulled the gear selector down to second and stabbed the accelerator. The Chevy’s rear end kicked sideways with a squeal of rubber as I pushed the pedal to the floor and roared through the still red-glowing signal light.
The black sedan hesitated for just a moment, then immediately accelerated to catch up. I smiled, shifted up to ‘drive’ and opened the distance between us. The next cross street was Slauson and I took the corner wide as I turned east, then north again onto San Pedro several blocks later. I was almost a half mile ahead of the black sedan, watching it fall even further behind.
‘This is too easy,’ I thought.
I turned out the brake lights, stepped on the emergency brake pedal and neatly spun the Chevy into an alley near the old L.A. Gas House Building, then put it into a second ‘J’ turn to face the way I’d just come. I killed the headlights and sat waiting. The black sedan roared past, it’s supercharged V-6 engine on the verge of grenading.
I drove the Chevy back onto San Pedro and sedately drove up behind the slow moving black sedan. I smiled and lit up the rear end of their car with my high-beam lights. It immediately slowed and went for the right lane. I couldn’t resist and pulled alongside.
I powered down my passenger side window. “Nice night for a drive, guys.”
The driver of the black sedan looked as though he were about to rip the steering wheel from his vehicle and throw it at me.
“In case you’re wondering, I’m going to stop for a coffee at Feingold’s, then head back to my office to catch up on some paper work!”
With that chippy comment still lingering in their ears I left them sitting alongside the city street, their black sedan pouring engine coolant onto the battered asphalt.
The vacuum cleaner was running in my office as I opened the door. Velma saw me come in and smiled.
“Don’t you ever go home?”
She switched the ancient Electro-Lux off. “Why is it guys can never keep house?”
I smiled. “Cave man mentality?”
She grinned good naturedly. “Kenny called while you were out.”
“What did he want this time?”
“I can tell you what he wants, but he ain’t gonna’ get it!”
“Kenny’s a great guy. I don’t know what you have against him!” I teased.
Velma Martinez stood her ground. “If he’s such a great guy, you go out with him!”
I chuckled. “Sorry, nothing to wear!”
“You know, speaking of dates, my cousin Shelley really likes you. If you want I could set you up with her.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t have the time.”
“Well, you ought to make time! It’s not right that such a good lookin’ man should work this hard.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.”
She shook her head. Velma’s been doing that a lot about me lately.
“So what did the ‘maestro of mayhem’ want?”
“He said to tell you ‘the bike is free and clear and you can keep it if you’d like’.”
I nodded, looked at the clock on the wall near the door. “Almost midnight. Get him on the phone for me.”
Velma sighed. “You’ve been going since nine this morning! I bet you haven’t even eaten yet.”
“I had coffee,” I offered.
“Okay, I’ll call him. Then I’m going to run down to that all night deli on the corner and pick you up a sandwich.”
I went into my office and took a seat behind my desk.
“Kenny, line two.”
I picked up. “Kenny, I need a favor.”
“Another one?” he asked.
“But the rewards are so great!”
He laughed. “What do you need boss?”
“I need you to sit on a house for me.”
I opened Joe Don Roberts’ hard-copy file and read the address to him.
“It’ll take me a little while to get there. He the man called Danny Raines’ room this afternoon?”
“Yep. According to Fez, Roberts is also the same man who was with Alicia Denniston three days ago when she went to interview him.”
“Is it just me or is this whole thing starting to get confusing as hell?”
“Oh, it gets even better babe. On the way back here tonight I picked up a tail. I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think they might’ve been ISP.”
Kenny made a panicked, strangling sound. “Oh shit, Chandler!! I swear to God in Heaven I covered our tracks at the train station tonight. There’s no fucking way they can know we’re the one’s responsible for lifting that key!!”
“If these guys are half as bad as you say they are and they believed for one second I had anything to do with what happened at Union Station this evening, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. I think they’re just sniffing around, trying to find out what I’m working on.”
“Don’t worry Kenny, ‘cause I’d never give you up. Willingly.”
“You’re a funny man!!” he whined. “So what do you want me to do with this Roberts character?”
“I’ll probably be here for another couple of hours yet. Just stake him out and let me know if anybody pays him a visit.”
“You don’t think Raines would be stupid enough to go see him do you?”
“If somebody set me up the way Roberts did, I’d damn sure want to sit down and have a little chat with him!”
“You think he ratted Raines out?”
“The conversation I had with him lasted just long enough for the guys in black to make their move. If they’d been a little quieter in their approach, my ass would’ve been crispy-fried!”
“Subtlety has never been an ISP strong suit.”
“I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
I hung the phone back in it’s cradle, sat back in my chair and rubbed my tired eyes. A moment later I was sound asleep.
I awoke to find Velma gently shaking my right shoulder.
“Umm, hi!” I stretched, sat up and rubbed my eyes once more. “Something smells good.”
“Genuine, imitation-hot-pastrami on rye, with lots of spicy brown mustard.”
“You’re a life saver!” I sat up, took the bag from her and opened the sandwich. I took a large bite. “Umm, umm! Good stuff!”
She smiled and poured me a cup of black coffee. “Somebody has to look out for the person who looks out for everybody else!”
“You’ve put in a full day. Why don’t you go home?”
Velma shook her head. “Because you need me here.”
“I do huh?”
“Yeah. Sabina Denniston’s not who she says she is, is she?”
I paused in mid bite and frowned. “How’d you know?”
“Just a hunch. That and I talked to Thom a little earlier tonight.”
I scratched over my left eye. “I wanted to believe her, but the whole time she was here this morning I had this little–I don’t know–something, telling me that she wasn’t being entirely truthful with me. I’ve been running around the city all day, chasing my tail and I don’t know anything more now than I did when she first walked in the goddamned door!”
“So who is she?”
I snorted. “I don’t have the slightest idea!”
“You don’t think she’s with the BSS do you?”
I shook my head. “No. Thaddeus and Henry wouldn’t have been so overly eager to find Alicia Denniston if they’d a had someone working on it from the inside. Kenny thinks she’s ISP.”
“Kenny thinks everybody’s a spook,” Velma furnished.
“Maybe there’s a reason for all his paranoia. This whole thing’s a mess and I don’t even know who all the players are.”
I glanced at her. “I wish I had your confidence.”
“You remember a year or so ago, the Foley case?”
“We had this same conversation, deep into the night once, after you’d been on it for a couple of days.”
I thought back to it and nodded. “I was tired and things weren’t going well and I’d just watched Lisa Anne Foley kill herself.”
“You remember what I said to you then?”
“I was talking about getting out of the business and you demanded of me--”
“‘--who will fight for their rights, who will be there for them, when they need an honest man, most?’”
“Yeah, you make me sound like I’m some kind of superman or something. I wasn’t then and I’m not now.”
“No, but for a lot of people who don’t count for much in this city, you might as well be! You do so much good Chandler! I wish you could see the Chandler Harrison I and all those clients you’ve helped through the years, really see.”
“If I’m so good at this job, why am I barely making enough to pay you for what you do around here?!”
“There are more important things than money and you know that. If money was all I was interested in, I wouldn’t have stuck around this long!” Velma answered forcefully.
I met her eyes. “So why do you stay?”
She smiled. “Because I’m supposed to.”
I frowned. “O-kay?”
“You gave me a chance once, when no one else would and helped me get back on my feet. The least I owe you is a little loyalty.”
“So what do I do about Sabina? Or whatever her name is?”
“You do the same thing you always do: you try to do the best job you’re able to do,” Velma answered.
“Even though she lied to me?”
“Even so. One thing I don’t have to tell you is that she needs your help. I don’t know what she’s gotten herself into, but she plainly can’t get herself out of it alone. She’s in this every bit as deeply as Alicia Denniston and if you don’t help her, the wheels that have been set in motion are gonna’ grind her to dust!”
I had to agree with her. “Thanks.”
“So tell me what you’ve found out,” Velma said with a little wink.
I nodded and did exactly that.
“Anything going on?” I asked as I joined Kenny Baltimore in the rear of his red-lit van.
Kenny removed a pair of old Koss headphones and handed them to me. “Not a thing. He must be sleeping because I haven’t heard a peep out of him.”
I listened for a moment. The only sound from inside the house was the second movement from Beethoven’s Symphony Number Six.
“At least he has good taste in music,” I offered.
“If you say so. I’m more of a Paganini man myself,” Kenny dead-panned.
I smiled and handed him the headphones. “We have video of his house?’
Kenny flipped a switch in front of him to power up a nearby monitor. Joe Don Roberts’ house was located in a sparsely populated area of low rolling hills, northeast of downtown West Covina. The building itself was an older Craftsman style home built mid-last century, surrounded by scrubby bushes and a yard full of discarded beer cans.
“Good picture,” I said.
“Not bad,” Kenny smiled. “The hills around here make it difficult to get a really good down-link signal but this’ll get the job done.”
“Some more of your home built stuff?”
“Yeah. You have to go through too much shit to buy it off the open market so I just get the parts and build it all myself.”
“Fez told me to let you know that he’d still like you to come work for him.”
“Fez knows what he can do with his offer,” Kenny answered.
“That’s pretty much what I told him.”
I panned the camera along the front of Roberts’ house. I stopped it on a shiny, new pick-up truck sitting in front of a closed garage door. “Somebody’s got some jack.”
Kenny glanced over my shoulder. “It’s brand new. When I was setting up the camera I took a look at the mileage: just over three hundred.”
“Well, I can say one thing for the players in this thing: there’s no scarcity of money floating around.”
“Yeah, maybe we can get us some of it!”
I smiled. “Is that some kind of sticker on the rear window?”
Kenny sat forward and squinted to take a look. “I think it is. Push the joy-stick forward until you can read it.”
I did. “‘Don’t Mess With Texas’.”
“And a Confederate flag with “White Power’ to boot. Sounds like our boy might be running around in a white bed sheet for fun on the weekends!”
I frowned. “Let me have the headphones again.”
Kenny handed them to me and I slipped them on. “How long have you been here?”
“Almost two hours.”
“And it’s been the same music the whole time?” I asked.
He nodded. “Same old boring shit, over and over again.”
“And no one’s been in or out?”
“I’d a told you otherwise.”
“Shit!” I quickly pulled the headphones off and put them down.
“What is it?”
“A man with a pick-up truck in his driveway and a yard full of beer cans hardly seems the type who’d listen to Beethoven. Most of the real Texans I’ve met tend toward country-western, especially when they’re as much of a good old boy as our friend Joe Don here appears to be.”
Kenny followed me from the van and down the long dirt road to Roberts’ house.
“Maybe you ought to stay here,” I advised him at the front gate.
“Like hell,” Kenny said. He pulled a rather large, deadly looking revolver from under his jacket and motioned toward the house. “I’ll cover you, just in case.”
“Do you have a license for– forget it! I don’t even want to know!!”
He followed me through the gate and up the walk to the front door.
“You take high and I’ll take low,” he said very softly.
I nodded and slid in on the right side of the door as Kenny went left. He let out a breath as I reached across the door and grasped the knob. It turned easily in my hand.
I eased the safety off on my Smith-Wesson and turned the knob until the door opened. The hinges squealed and the noise seemed to fill the little arroyo where Roberts’ house was located.
“Joe Don? Buddy, you home?” I affected Danny Raines reedy little voice, but stayed flat against the wall.
There was no answer.
“Joe Don?” I called again.
“I don’t think he’s here,” Kenny offered.
“He’s here,” I said. Still holding my pistol in front of me I entered Joe Don’s house with Kenny close behind.
“What’s that smell?” Kenny asked.
“You don’t want to know.”
The living room was to the left of the front door and it was there that we found Joe Don Roberts.
“The smells stronger in here. He asleep or something?” Kenny nodded towards the sitting man.
The chair cushion behind the man’s head was neatly split in two and covered by a reddish-brown colored stain with large, gray-white pieces of tissue in it. “One he won’t wake up from.”
Kenny moved around me to take a look. I heard him gasp for breath and quickly run from the house. A moment later I could hear him retching outside as I put my Smith-Wesson back into it’s holster.
“Damn!” I squatted down to examine what was left of Joe Don Roberts and winced as I pushed his head back against the chair cushion. The large caliber bullet had entered his head just above his left eye. The entry wound was about the size of a golf ball, while the exit had taken out three quarters of the bone in the back of his head, turning the brain tissue inside, into a semi-gelatinous goo.
I left Joe Don inside, went to the front door. “Kenny, you okay?”
He’d finally gotten his breath back and nodded with watery eyes. “I will be in a minute. Soon as I get over the fact that I blew this for you.”
“You didn’t blow anything,” I shook my head. “His body’s cold and rigor is already starting to set in. I can’t be certain without a lab team but I’d say he’s been dead at least eight to ten hours.”
“That would make the time of death pretty close to when he called you at that motel this afternoon,” Kenny furnished.
“We ought to have a look around before we call the cops.”
“You sure you’re up to it?”
Kenny nodded after a moment. “Yeah, I can do it.”
Back inside we began a cursory search.
“What should I be looking for?”
“Anything out of the ordinary or anything that’ll tie him to Alicia Denniston.”
While Kenny was doing that, I went to the window across the room from Joe Don Roberts’ lifeless body. The third divided light plexi-glass window pane from the left had a perfect circle through it and was on a direct line to the large-overstuffed chair he was sitting in.
“Helluva shot,” I said aloud. The hill behind his house was covered by very tall trees and wild growing oleander. I looked around for a moment until I found a broom. I then threaded the handle end through the hole in the window and played with it until I had the angles right.
“What are you doing?” Kenny asked as he re-entered the room.
“That upper ridge: how far away would you say that is?”
He joined me by the window, raised an eyebrow. “That’s gotta’ be almost a mile.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“Nobody could make that shot,” Kenny said. “It’s at least a thousand foot elevation change and the wind would be swirling like a royal bitch up there!”
“But it’s the only place the shot could’ve been taken from. All the angles line up,” I furnished.
“How would they get up there? There’s no road.”
“Probably hiked in.”
“Man, the only thing with enough firepower to reach this far is a Barrett Sniper Rifle and those things weigh a good thirty pounds or so.”
“From the size of the wound in Joe Don’s head, it’d almost have to be a fifty caliber round.”
“Somebody wanted him dead in a major way.”
“The gun’s bigger than he is. The thing would’ve probably given the little bastard a heart attack carrying it that far!”
“So we’re looking for a pro.”
“A very good pro,” I agreed. “This wasn’t some spur of the moment hit. Our guy’s probably been scoping him out for a week or more, just waiting for the perfect shot.”
“Or that one phone call,” Kenny added.
I nodded in agreement. “We get done here, you up for a little hike?”
“This much of a pro, our hitter wouldn’t have left anything behind.”
“No, but maybe I can get inside his head a little bit. No pun intended,” I gestured towards the house.
“Whatever you say,” Kenny managed a brief smile. “I’ve just gotten some new night-vision equipment I’ve been wanting to try out and this’ll be the perfect opportunity.”
“Let’s get back to looking around.”
I went through the dining room and the two bedrooms at the back of the house and discovered Joe Don Roberts wasn’t very good as a housekeeper. Kenny rejoined me in the main hall by the front door.
“Find anything?” I asked him.
“I found plenty, just not anything that’ll be useful to you.”
I was curious. “Like what?”
“Old Harley-Davidson parts. Lot’s of them. There’s also a primo condition 1936 Indian motorcycle in the garage, along with a hideously yellow Pontiac GTO. Until now I’ve only seen pictures of either one.”
“What year GTO?”
“How the hell should I know? You’ve seen what I know about automobiles,” Kenny made a gesture up the street to where his van was parked.
“A guy, living like this with a hundred grand motorcycle and a quarter mill antique car in his garage.”
“You said it yourself: everybody involved with this thing has money but me and thee,” Kenny offered.
“Let’s check the kitchen.”
“This way I believe.”
I followed Kenny back and as we approached the doorway my eye picked up(for just a second) something shimmery stretching across the opening.
“You know something, life is never--” Kenny was walking right into it, his chest pushing tightly against the thin monofilament.
He looked back at me with a puzzled frown. “All I was gonna’ say is that life is never boring when I hang around with you!”
I caught him by the collar of his jacket. “Don’t move!!”
“Look down but don’t breathe very hard.”
He did and I saw his eyes widen in fear. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Stay still. If you move, the pressure on that line may snap it,” I advised him. “I’m gonna’ see if I can get a look at the device on the other end of this trip-wire.”
He nodded. “Just don’t bump me or anything.”
I agreed and slid to my knees. After making sure there wasn’t a second trip-wire at knee level I crawled across the threshold and peered up the kitchen wall. It didn’t look good.
“Wh–what do you see?”
“The trip-wire is stapled to the door opening on your immediate left. To your right it’s attached to a gold colored firing mechanism that is one third of the way out.”
“There are what appear to be four sheets of black colored explosive rolled into cylinders and wired to the firing mechanism. They’re in a box, screwed to the wall.”
“Black you said? Not dark gray or dark blue?” Kenny asked.
I looked a little more closely. “The lights so bad in here but I’d almost be willing to bet it’s black.”
“Not good at all. It’s a man made explosive called Xentex. One sheet of it’s equivalent to about ten sticks of dynamite.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”
“You’re gonna’ have to disarm it,” Kenny said.
“I don’t know anything about bombs!”
“I’ll talk you through it,” Kenny continued. “Being very careful, I need you to look and see what kind of detonator is attached to the firing mechanism.”
It took me almost a minute to find it. “There are two tubes of silvery colored liquid with wires running from an IC board to an enclosed black box.”
“Are they vertical or horizontal?”
“Okay, that’s old technology. They’re mercury switches. If the device is moved or jarred in any fashion the mercury switches close the circuit and we’re Pluto bound.”
I felt a trickle of sweat start down my temples. “What about the smaller black box?”
“That’ll be the detonator. You’ll have to get inside that box to disarm the bomb.”
“I can’t. All the joints are soldered.”
“Shit!! Okay, move up to the explosive itself. Tell me what you see.”
“Just four rolls of black stuff about ten inches long.”
“Any wires attached to those rolls?”
“I don’t see–hang on a sec. Yeah, there are thin wires leading to the middle of each roll of explosive,” I answered.
“Pull a corner of one roll aside and tell me what you see.”
I did so, trying to keep my hand steady. “There’s another cylinder inside the roll with the wire leading into it.”
“Thank you, God!!” Kenny said. “Those are blasting caps. They make the bomb go boom after the detonator sets them off.”
“So what do I do?”
“Simple: remove the blasting caps, no boom-boom!”
I had to smile. Kenny was practically standing on enough explosives to level a good sized high-rise and he was still managing to make jokes about it. “What do I do, just slide them out?”
“With a modicum of care! Be very deliberate because if the mercury switches trip--”
I nodded. Removing all four seemed to take hours and I let out a long breath after the last one. “What now?”
“You need to remove the caps.”
“They are removed.”
“From the detonator wires. On my belt is a set of multi-pliers. Take them out.”
“You’ll need to find a roll of some kind of electrical or ducting tape. Open up the pliers and run the tape all the way down to the jaws.”
“To cut down on static electricity. You get a spark from the end of those pliers and it’s all over.”
“Why are we doing this if the bomb won’t go boom without the blasting caps?”
“Because the caps are what explode inside the Xentex, setting off a chain reaction that makes our big boom!” Kenny said.
“Just thought I’d ask.”
A few minutes searching netted me a half used roll of black electrical tape. “We get out of this alive I’m gonna’ go get me a bottle and see about getting drunk as hell.”
“I’ll join you,” he said as I finished wrapping the pliers. “What I need you to do now is clip each cap from it’s wire, one by one.”
I hesitated, my hand trembling.
“Go ahead. The worst part is over with.”
I cut the first one. “One down.”
I cut number two.
Kenny let out a long breath.
“Number three.” Snip.
“One more,” Kenny said.
I cut it and as soon as I did Kenny pulled the trip-wire from the door frame and tossed it aside. “Fucking amateur!!” he said, frostily. “Never send a shooter to do a bombers job!!”
“What do I do with these?” I asked.
“I’ll fill the sink with water and we’ll soak ‘em.”
As the sink filled Kenny went to the refrigerator. “Let’s see if he’s got any beer on ice.”
“That’s a little grim isn’t it, drinking a dead man’s beer?”
“We were very nearly dead men ourselves and he sure ain’t gonna’ miss it!!”
I put the blasting caps into the sink full of water.
“Why not?” He tossed the can to me and I heard a sound, a low, insistent beep. “Your watch alarm going off?”
“I’m not wearing a--” Kenny started. “Oh, crap!!”
He dropped his unopened beer. “Run!!”
“There’s another bomb in this house!!”
“Oh shit!!” I threw my beer aside and took off at full speed. He and I ran out the front door, down the walk and were out on the dirt road and headed for his van when the house went up. The blast wave caught me in mid stride and tossed me head over heels at least five times before crashing me heavily into a large oak tree fifty yards further on.
I lay stunned for at least a minute trying to get my breath.
“Chandler?! Chandler, you okay?!”
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Jesus, what was that?!” I demanded.
“A helluva lot more than four sheets of Xentex!!” Kenny called to me from the nearby darkness.
Trying to explain to a bunch of very unhappy cops why the house you’d just visited had gone up with enough explosive force to blow out windows in houses a half mile away, wasn’t easy. If it hadn’t been for Thom Pressler showing up at just the right moment I’m pretty sure my ass would’ve been cooling it in the city lock-up for the next few years.
Thom gave them some story about me survielling Joe Don Roberts’ house as part of an ongoing drug investigation and after a long discussion with the local cops, he waved to me and got me the hell out of there. Walking back to my car in a nearby lot he fell in beside me.
“That’s another one I owe you,” I said after a moment.
“I’ll say!” he nodded. “They were some very unhappy individuals in there.”
“That little song and dance you gave them: if they check on it, will it hold up?”
“He’s already done time for sales and manufacture of a controlled substance so, yeah, it should keep you out of prison.”
“That’s great news.
“Care to tell me what happened?”
“Thom, you know--”
“I don’t want to hear any of that client confidentiality shit, Chandler! West Covina was about to bury your sorry ass under the city jail and if it hadn’t been for me, they would’ve done just that! You have two choices: you either tell me what happened tonight or, we march back in there and you take your chances with the judges over here!”
After thinking it through I told him.
“So what was Joe Don Roberts’ relationship with Alicia Denniston?” Thom asked afterwards.
“I don’t have the slightest idea. Kenny and I were trying to find something to tie them together when we discovered the first bomb--”
“Kenny?! He was a part of this and you let him walk away?!”
“You know how Kenny is with authority figures. Between his run-ins with the law and that rolling electronics mart of his, if he got tied to this thing, he’d been looking at some serious time inside. Besides, the man kept us both from getting blown to bits!”
“Point taken,” Thom said. “It’s just that every time some horse shit like this goes down, Kenny’s not very far removed from it!”
“Spoken like a true cop!” I smiled. “Kenny’s harmless!”
He gave me his best ‘yeah, right!’ look as we arrived at my car. “You said Joe Don was already dead when you got there?”
I nodded. “He must’ve gotten hit right after he called Danny Raines room earlier today. Whoever did it, made sure he wouldn’t get the chance to tell what he was working on with Alicia Denniston.”
“Any idea what that was?”
“Fez said Alicia was very interested in the Angeles Crest Reservoir Project.”
Thom frowned. “It’s a boondoggle but Governor Taylor’s been involved with those before.”
“I know. On top of all that I now have two BSS guys, dirty BSS guys, who are looking for Alicia, the ISP probably trying to nail them for being dirty and a client who isn’t who she says she is. I’m starting to get a headache!”
Thom smiled. “You said the explosive was Xentex?”
I nodded. “According to Kenny.”
“One of the prime uses of Xentex is in major construction projects. It’s cheaper and more powerful than dynamite and it never misfires.”
I raised an eyebrow. “That is interesting. Do you think you can get me a list of construction companies locally who use the stuff?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he shook his head and smiled. “So why did the house explode if you disarmed the bomb?”
“I overheard one of the West Covina detectives talking. From what he was saying it sounds like Joe Don was sitting on a half case of the stuff. Evidently when I moved him I triggered a pressure switch and it started a timer. Kenny and I were so busy trying to disarm the first one we damn near got killed by the second one,” I answered.
“It’s a good thing the guy who built the bomb forgot to turn off the ‘beeper’ or the both of you would’ve been toast!”
“Kenny and I fell right into it,” I nodded.
“I don’t have to tell you to be careful, do I?”
“No, but if I find out who tried to blow me to bits tonight, I’m gonna’ put a bullet right between their fucking eyes!”
My apartment isn’t much to look at, just a large outer room with a small galley style kitchen to one side and a medium sized bedroom with a closet sized bathroom beside it. I soaked in my shower for about thirty minutes, then examined myself in the wall mirror. Aside from a few minor abrasions and a one inch long cut over my right eye, I’d walked away from the explosion pretty much unscathed. The rescue personnel at the scene had wanted me to go to the hospital and get checked out but I’d refused and they’d stuck a butterfly bandage on the cut and let me go.
I winced as I slid into my robe. I needed to get some sleep but was too wound up to do so. I fetched my bottle of scotch from the kitchen and carried it and a shot glass to my sofa and sat down. The smooth liquid burned it’s way down as I wondered what to do next.
“There’s something I’m still missing here, but what is it?!” I wondered aloud.
I poured another shot, was about to drink it down when someone knocked on my door. My Smith-Wesson was lying on the coffee table in front of me and I pulled it from it’s holster. I went to my door.
“Who is it?” I asked.
I stood to one side of the door. “I said, who is it?!”
“Mr. Harrison?” The female voice was very soft, with a slight lilt to it.
I carefully opened the door. The elfen dancer with the violet eyes was standing there, tall and very beautiful.
“Am I disturbing you?”
“Uh, no, not at all,” I managed.
She glanced down at the gun in my hand. “I mean you no harm.”
I felt myself blush and clicked the hammer back down with my right thumb. “It’s been a long day.”
“May I enter?” There was something about her voice, a kind of dual octave tonal quality that made me want to hear more.
“Certainly,” I said, standing aside.
She glided past and my senses were suddenly filled by her presence. She turned to face me as I closed the door. “I know the hour is late and I thank you for seeing me.”
I put my pistol back in it’s holster. “Would you like something to drink?”
Those eyes met mine and I felt like I was falling for a moment. “We are not allowed alcohol.”
“Of course. The bureaucrats are afraid if you have a drink the psi drugs will be ineffective,” I apologized.
“Alcohol is also poisonous to my people,” she supplied.
“I–didn’t know that. I’m sorry.”
“Most humans do not,” she said. “There is no reason for you to apologize.”
“Would you like me to take your coat?”
She slipped effortlessly out of it. The short dress she wore emphasized her feminine attributes in a most appreciative way.
“Do I unnerve you Mr. Harrison?”
She smiled. “Perhaps there is another reason your respiration and heart rates have increased.”
I smiled in return. “Perhaps.”
“May I sit?”
I indicated the sofa. “Would you like a glass of water, juice maybe?”
“No thank you.”
“Well Miss–I don’t know what your name is--”
“Not ‘Miss Gail’. Just Gail,” she shook her head and her long blonde hair seemed to shimmer in the light.
“‘Gail’. What can I do for you?”
“I came to apologize for certain, cryptic statements I made in the club today.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I touched your thoughts for only a moment and–I feel as though I have intruded on your being.”
“You’re a level three?”
She nodded after a moment and looked away. “That is the reason I work in such a place. I have heard what happens to level three psi’s, after they’ve been on those drugs for awhile.”
“I’ve heard it’s not pretty.”
Gail shook her head. “There is a term your race once used for the process-‘lobotomizing’.”
“Have you always been a level three?”
“Yes. Most times my own self discipline keeps my ability under control. Occasionally not.”
“I accept your apology.”
“You are not angry?”
I shook my head.
“It wasn’t intentional was it?” I asked.
“Then I’m not angry.”
“And my secret?”
“We all have secrets, Gail.”
She smiled again. “You are an interesting man.”
“You work within violence and use it very well to get the results you require, but there is still a goodness about you. There is pain and loneliness inside you, yet also a love for making life better for others. I have not seen those qualities in very many humans,” Gail explained.
“That makes two of us,” I agreed.
“Sit. I do not bite,” she teased.
I took a seat on the opposite end of the sofa. “Are you always in the habit of visiting people’s apartments at four in the morning?”
“This is the first time.”
“In that case, I feel privileged.”
“That too is a first for me. Most human males normally see me as something to be desired, something to be conquered.”
I scratched my cheek. “Most human males have all the subtlety of a ten pound sledgehammer dropped on your big toe!”
Gail laughed and I had the feeling there hadn’t been a lot of laughter in her life.
“What you said in the club this afternoon about someone close to me not being who they seemed: how did you know?”
She looked slightly uncomfortable. “I’m not completely sure. Sometimes I have these flashes of people or objects around me and I can understand things about them. I saw this image of a young woman in your thoughts and I could feel she wasn’t being entirely truthful with you.”
“Boy, I could use that gift from time to time!” I said.
“You do have it! You felt right from the start that something was odd or out of place with her! That particular ability is what made me approach you this afternoon!”
“‘Approach’ me about what?”
“An evil, perpetrated long ago.”
“What kind of ‘evil’?”
Gail looked perplexed. “I am not sure. All I see is a young girl and a cold, wet darkness.”
“Do you know the girl?” I asked the obvious question.
“Do you recognize where this ‘cold wet darkness’ might be?”
“I don’t know how I can help unless you can come up with something more for me.”
“I don’t know why, but I feel this is related to what you’re working on for Sabina Denniston,” Gail offered.
“Does that hurt?” Gail pointed to the cut on my forehead.
She reached out and touched the bandage. Where her finger trailed, my skin tingled.
“Is that better?” she asked after a long moment of silence.
I touched the bandage, slightly puzzled. “Yeah, it does feel better.”
I started to thank her when someone knocked on my door again.
“This is starting to get ridiculous! Who is it?” I called as I went to the door.
I opened the door.
“You look like hell,” Velma said.
“I feel worse,” I answered. “I thought I told you to go home and get some sleep.”
“You did, but Kenny called and told me what happened tonight and I figured Thom had probably rescued you by now so I called him and he asked me to come by and--” Velma walked past me and stopped as she saw Gail, “--check up on you.”
Velma met my eyes. “Yeah, I can see that!”
“Uh, Velma, this is Gail. We met earlier today and she came by to offer a fresh insight into Sabina’s case,” I tried to explain.
“Yeah, she’s kind of a clairvoyant and right now--”
“I thought you didn’t believe in all that hocus-pocus stuff?”
I managed a sheepish smile and I bet a pretty good blush.
Velma went to the sofa. “I’m Velma Martinez, Mr. Harrison’s assistant.”
“Yes I know. He thinks very highly of you.”
“He does huh?”
“Yes. He values your insights when he’s working and the intuitiveness you show when he bounces ideas off of you,” Gail said.
Gail smiled. “Without you, he would be incomplete.”
That stopped Velma. For a moment. “Oh brother, where did you meet this one?!”
“We met earlier today at his friend Alf’s club. I am a dancer there.”
“A clairvoyant stripper?!”
“You have no reason to worry, Velma. Mr. Harrison feels a certain amount of desire for me but will not allow himself to take it any further,” Gail explained.
“And what about you? Do you feel ‘desire’ for him?”
“Velma!” I shook my head.
“I have never been with a human male.”
That stopped conversation again. Completely.
“Would anybody like anything to drink?” I asked to break the silence.
“No thank you,” Gail replied.
She shook her head. “Chandler, could I speak to you for a moment, please? In private?”
I nodded and followed her into my bedroom. “Okay Velma, what’s going on with you?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“Well, for one thing, I’ve never seen you act like that towards anyone before.”
“Act like what?” she seemed genuinely confused.
“I don’t–I feel strange.”
“My entire body feels–funny. Like I’ve just had an electrical shock of some kind.”
“You don’t look pale or anything,” I said after a moment.
“I don’t feel sick.” Velma smiled. “In fact, I feel kinda’ good!”
I thought for a moment. “Come to think of it, so do I!”
“She’s a psi?”
“My mother told me about this group of psi’s once, when I was a little girl. She called them empaths, because they had the ability to effect their surroundings. What you and I are experiencing at the moment is very similar to the feelings my mother told me some empathic psi’s had on human beings,” Velma explained.
“They’re dead now. Mom said there was some kind of human borne contagion that wiped them all out, back when she was a teenager.”
“You know, that makes sense. When I first saw her today, I felt kind of nervous, even excited. Afterwards, it felt almost--”
Velma smiled. “Right off hand, I’d say your elfen friend is an empath!”
“So what happened out there?” I indicated the living room.
“I’m not completely sure, but do you want to go back?” Velma asked with a teasing smile.
Feingold’s is a small mom-and-pop coffee shop-eatery located five blocks northwest of my office. I’ve known John and Elizabeth Feingold since I was three years old, when my father used to take me there every Sunday morning for breakfast. Mom would always gripe at him because we’d usually make a day out of it and I’d miss Sunday morning worship services. John was behind the counter as I entered.
“What’s shakin’ Chandler?” he asked.
“Hopefully not downtown,” I offered.
His battered old face crinkled up in a good natured smile. “I’ll agree with ya’ there!”
I took a seat at the long, dark wooden counter.
“What’ll you have?”
“A tall, black coffee.”
“No breakfast this morning?”
“Nope. I’m meeting a client at her hotel room at eight for breakfast,” I explained.
“Ahh, the life you must have!”
I smiled. “You know I never get personally involved with my clients.”
“Don’t you ever want to though?” he asked, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“There have been a couple of times the thought’s crossed my mind.”
“What about Velma?”
“Velma is my best friend.”
“Seems to me that’s a pretty good place to start from. Elizabeth and I were friends for ten years before we got married.”
“How many times have we had this conversation the last few years, John?”
“Well, I’m hoping that one day some of what I say will get through that thick head of yours and you’ll go on and give the poor girl a chance!”
I smiled. “How’s business?”
“Oh sure, change the subject on me!” John shook his head. “Business is okay and I’m gonna’ keep after you about Velma until you both get together. You’re not getting any younger you know and I think you need somebody like her to take care of you!”
I’d lost this argument with John untold times before.
“Whatsa’ matter with you anyway, she not pretty enough for you?”
“She’s like a sister to me, John,” I answered.
“Well I’m pretty sure she doesn’t think of you as her brother! I mean, look at her: tall, slender, and with more curves than a five mile stretch of the Mulholland Expressway! And you know what they say about fiery Latin lovers!”
“Latina,” I corrected him.
“Whatever! I think you’re discounting how good she could be for you!”
“Uh, could I get my cup of coffee now? Please?”
John Feingold smiled. “Coming right up.”
He brought it to me and I was halfway through it when another man, dressed in jeans and a flannel work shirt entered and started toward me.
“Hey buddy, you own a green Chevy, license number 93 B 71 parked across the street?” he asked as he approached.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“There are a couple of hoodlums hanging out around it. One of ‘em keeps messing with the driver’s side door.”
“They still there?” I asked.
He turned, stood on tip-toes for a moment. “Yeah. The one who’s been messing with the door has something in his hand.”
“Shit!” I dropped the payment for the cup of coffee on the counter and hurried from my seat. “John , get on the phone and see if LAPD has a unit in the area. Tell them somebody’s breaking into cars parked out on Wilshire.”
“Will do. Be careful, Chandler!”
I went out the door and started across the street just as the young thug raised a brick in his right hand.
He looked my way and launched the brick through the very hard to get drivers side window of my car.
“Son-of-a-bitch!!” I swore hotly.
He laughed and took off with his three friends.
“Come back here you little bastard!!” I yelled, taking off after them. Being at least twenty years my junior, I knew there was no way I could catch them, so I kept up the best I could and hoped a black and white was nearby.
I heard a car roar up the street behind me and the sound of tires screeching to a halt. I looked around and saw a black sedan slewed across Wilshire Boulevard. Three men were getting out, guns drawn.
I went for mine.
Something cold and hard was placed against the back of my head. I heard the sound of a hammer being clicked back.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a voice said into my ear.
I dropped my hand away from my pistol.
“Good boy,” the voice said. He reached under my jacket and pulled my Smith-Wesson out of it’s holster. “Nice piece.”
Two of the men from the black sedan joined him while the third drove the car.
“Get the thirty-eight from his ankle holster,” the one holding the gun to my head ordered.
Not even Velma knew I carried a back-up gun filled with devastator rounds in a holster on my right ankle.
One of the other men yanked the ankle holster off.
“The cops are on their way,” I said.
“No units available,” the third man offered.
“We’d like you come with us and answer a few questions,” the man behind me said.
“I’ve already got an appointment this morning, but if you give me the address I’ll slip by this afternoon sometime.”
“Now’s better,” the man behind me said.
“You guys aren’t pissed about last night are you?”
“Not at all!” He shoved me towards the black sedan. “We like playing cat-and-mouse games with assholes!!”
Copyright 1999 - M.S. Costello