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Monday, September 8, 2014

(”You don’t know how it feels, you don’t know how it feels, to be me.")…Tom Petty

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For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Six
St. Francis Rescue Mission…December 2, 2009…9:00am
            Becca Tran sighed and chewed on her lower lip while she waited impatiently for the stoplight to change. It never fails she thought, whenever you’re in a hurry you hit every red light, nice! If she factored in the fact that her partner, Detective Bob ‘Iggie’ Ingram had been yammering nonstop about his latest relationship failure, she had the perfect crappy day storm brewing. All she needed now was her monthly visitor to arrive early and she’d hit the trifecta. Iggie’s voice droned in a monotone in the background as he whined about little Miss so and so. Becca could care less but she was trapped for the moment. Honestly she thought, keeping this nimrod focused on the job was an impossible feat, Iggie was a true Wednesday’s child.
“So what should I do?” he asked finally.
Becca frowned and pretended not to hear him. She didn’t want to take sides and by doing so involve herself in Iggie’s woeful life. Besides she hadn’t really been paying attention. Iggie turned in his seat and pressed her for a reply, “come on Becca, you’re a woman, was I wrong or what?” he asked impatiently.
Alright he asked for it, she decided to invoke the universal female axiom, the triple whammy that ALL males were forced to accept, specifically, rule number one, the woman is always right, rule number two, the man is always wrong, and the tiebreaker, rule number three, in case of confusion refer to rule number one!
“Of course you were wrong, geez, get over it!” Becca barked, discouraging further discussion.
“Yeah but…”
“But nothing Iggie, we’ve got work to do man, put a sock in it for now!” Becca added quickly, cutting him off in mid-sentence as the light changed.
That seemed to do the trick as Iggie shifted gears mentally in sync with their unmarked Crown Victoria and focused his attention to the task at hand, bowing to the will of the young woman in the driver’s seat. He turned his attention to the road as they sped ahead and noticed the signpost announcing that they were entering the city of Reseda.
“What are we doing in the Valley?” he asked.
“While you were drowning your sorrows over getting dumped last night, I was doing a little advance work,” answered Becca.
“Well la-de-da Detective Brown Nose. You think you’re better than me newbie?”
“I know I’m better that you Iggie, everyone knows that.”
“Don’t worry Iggie, we’re partners, am I right?” Becca said apologetically. She didn’t mean to be mean but bluntness was her way. Speaking too soon was a rough edge that she was working on. 
“Right. So what’s in the Valley partner?” Iggie asked with only a trace of sarcasm.
“Looks like Mommy dearest was a runaway, and a recent one at that. I’m guessing her condition was the driver,” answered Becca.
“I see, so are we here to interview her family?
“Not exactly. Her mother is dead and her father is currently operating under the radar so to speak.”
“So who are you planning to quiz?”
“Social Services placed her in foster care at first.”
“But she was pregnant, they don’t place pregnant teens in foster care,” Iggie noted.
“Yeah well she lied about that at first but as soon as they found out she was routed back into the system.”
“How’d they find out?”
“Really Iggie?”
“Oh yeah, right.”
“Anyway Social Services found her a bed at this rescue mission we’re driving to, that’s where we'll start.”
“Okay, what about High School, did she go locally?”
“Yeah as a matter of fact, she graduated from Reseda High a couple of years ago.”
“We should go there too and talk with the staff, see what we can see.”
“Way ahead of you Iggie, we’ve got an 11:00am appointment with Principle Landry.”
“Great. Does he have a first name?”
“Yes, it’s Barbara.”
“How about the baby’s father, do we have a name for him?”
“That’s the $64,000.00 question. The birth certificate doesn’t list one.”
“I see, another immaculate conception. My sister Rose had one of those.”
“Don’t be a jerk Iggie,” scolded Becca.
“Sorry, so any leads at all on the fella?”
“Not yet but she may have told the priest. I mean he did make a film about her.”
“Oh yeah, Father Hollyweird, I’ve heard of him. He’s sort of a celebrity in this town.”
“You’re the second person today to call him that, what gives?”
“It’s a long short story. In a nutshell the padre is a bit of a trouble maker in the community. He likes to make expose films between Sunday Masses. Usually touching on subjects that the Hollywood A-listers would just as soon remained under the carpet where most dirt belongs.”
“What’s so weird about that?”
“Nothing, the truth is the press couldn’t find any mud to sling at the priest so they had to settle for good old fashioned name calling.”
“Awww, that’s so sad.”
“Nah, Father Quinn’s a good egg. Sticks and stones partner, sticks and stones.”
That actually made Becca giggle, “hahaha, fair enough partner,” she said smiling as she pulled into the parking lot of the St. Francis Rescue Mission. Iggie adjusted his shades and unlatched his seat belt just before the engine died setting off the annoying beep. Becca frowned at him and he shrugged, “alright Detective Tran, let’s start peeling this onion.”  
Immaculate Heart of Mary…December 2nd…7:00pm
            Father Nicholas Aloysius Quinn sat quietly in the confessional and scribbled on a small spiral notepad while he waited for the next sinner to arrive. It was his custom to wrestle with himself on paper whenever he struggled spiritually. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church that was for sure. But he was a human being as well and a male one at that. Tonight he wrestled with his conscience. He stared at the small notepad. He’d written her name half a dozen times, Megan it was. Each pass of the pen impressed the letters in bolder and bolder script. Tapping on his last pass he doodled question marks in the margin muttering to himself, “Where did I fail you child?”
The weary priest removed his spectacles and rubbed at his tired eyes. The Church was empty and uncomfortably silent, he could almost hear the candles burning. Leaning back in the small chair he looked up to the short ceiling and sighed audibly.
“Penny for your thoughts padre,” I said through the wooden screen separating sinners from absolution.
Father Quinn choked out a startled reply, “Forgive me my son, I must have dozed off,” he said in an embarrassed tone.
“Slow night Father?”
“You could say that. But enough chit chat, what is your good confession my son?”
I had to laugh, “hahaha, that’s rich your holiness, how much time do you have?”
“The house of the Lord is no place for levity young man,” scolded the priest.
“You haven’t heard my confession yet!” I replied with a chuckle. He didn’t respond right away so I spoke quickly before the nickel lecture started.
“Seriously Father, do you remember me?”
Clearing his throat he replied, “I’m afraid that you have me at a disadvantage.”
“We met at one of your location shoots downtown, I was a nosey passerby. You indulged my curiosity and invited me to stop your church if I was ever in the neighborhood. Well, here I am.”
“Yes, yes I do remember you now. You are the private detective, Mr. Roode, correct?”
“Whitey, please.
“It may surprise you to know that I was actually expecting you.”
“So you’ve talked to the Bishop.”
“Yes, and I have been instructed to give you my full cooperation. However if you don’t mind may we finish this conversation in an hour or two? This is hardly the place to conduct your interview.”
“On the contrary, I think this the perfect place. Sort of gives me an edge what with your vows and all. Like you said this is the house of the Lord and we are in a confessional after all.”
            That brought a chuckle to the priest’s lips and he replied light heartedly, “I like you Mr. Roode, you have panache.”
“I do? Thanks. What’s panache anyways?”
“Style Whitey, a very charming sense of style.”
“If you say so padre. Look, why don’t you give your side of the story in a nutshell. I’ll drill into the minor details later.”
            I saw the priest lean forward to rest his elbows on his knees through the wooden screen of anonymity. He sighed before speaking and then set about to answer the mail. “Well, in a nutshell as you say, her name was Megan Malloy. She was orphaned at a young age or so she said. I assumed that she was since she was living at the St. Francis Rescue Mission. Megan came to Immaculate Heart sometime in her second trimester scared and confused.”
“She came to you directly?”
“No, Father Garcia spoke with her initially and introduced her to Sister Pat, Patricia Cromwell our resident psychologist. Sister Pat is a wonderful nun and a very talented counselor working with our teen ministry.”
“I see. So when did you enter the picture?”
“I’m the Parish priest at Immaculate Heart and so you might say that I am in charge here. Sister Pat asked me to speak to Megan when the counseling sessions failed to help and she sank deeper into a low state of mind.”
“Yes, depression is the right term. In any event Megan wanted to end her pregnancy and asked Sister Pat to help her find a clinic that would perform the abortion. Sister Pat explained to her that an abortion at this stage could be dangerous and offered to take her to a doctor who could explain exactly what the risks might be.”
“So the nun’s only motivation was Megan’s physical well being, is that what you’re saying?”
Sister Pat, please,” Father Quinn implored, scolding me slightly.
“Sorry, Sister Pat,” I replied apologetically.
“Yes I believe that to be true. Sister Pat is a devout Catholic but she is also a dedicated professional with many years of experience dealing with matters like this. Contrary to popular opinion the clergy is not unsympathetic to the complex emotions surrounding this sort of deeply personal experience and decision. It’s just that for those of our faith there is also a spiritual element that we believe should be considered.”
“Megan was a Catholic?”
“No, she was an agnostic.”
“What exactly does that mean, agnostic?
“An agnostic is someone who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”
“A fence sitter then, right?”
“Your words, not mine but yes I suppose you could say that.”
“Okay so Sister Pat had hit the wall with Megan and came to you for help. That was the first time you had met her. Let me ask you, did Megan seem suicidal at that time?”
“No, not to me but Sister Pat’s intuition seemed to think so.”
“What did you see that Sister Pat didn’t?”
“The girl who came to see me that first day was 180 degrees from the person Sister Pat described. She was bright eyed and cheery and openly ready to chat.”
“That threw you for a loop?”
“You could say that, but it was short lived. It didn’t take long to realize that it was an act. She meant to charm a blessing out of me where the abortion was concerned.”
“Which you did not give her?”
“Of course not. But not for the reason you might think. As I said her health and well-being was our concern at this point, not Church doctrine.”
“What happened when you refused her request?”
“About what you’d expect, she was angry and hurt and even more confused.”
“What happened next?”
“She composed herself, stood in front of my desk and asked me directly, “what should I do Father, please, help me, what should I do?”
“And you said what?” I pressed.
Father Quinn paused for a moment to remove his glasses to wipe the lenses clean, and I saw him discretely wipe away a tear.
“And I replied that I could not answer that question. Megan was hurt by my reply and she asked me why not. I didn’t have a good answer to give her.”
“Let me ask you this Father. Is abortion a sin in your faith?”
“In our faith it is a sin to take a life my son.”
“So you’re saying that abortion is murder then?”
“No, I’m saying that to take a life is a sin in our faith.”
“Clear as mud, did you share that with Megan?”
“I didn’t have to, she was aware.”
“How do you know?”
“Because she also told me that she did not want to go to Hell. To which I replied that nobody did.”
“I bet that went over well,” I said to the priest.
“About as you would expect, but that wasn’t the end of it. She then confessed to me that she didn’t want to have the baby either. At that point I was silent for a few moments to give us both some time to think. As a priest it is my responsibility to share God’s word and to avoid the temptation to re-write scripture to suit my personal views.”
“It sounds like Megan really put you on the spot,” I said as I watched his face for a sign of some sort, one that would tell my gut if he was hiding something.
            Father Quinn leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He was studying me as closely as I was studying me and frankly it made me a little uncomfortable. “She did and she didn’t,” he replied after a moment, leaning back in his chair. “You know Megan isn’t the first girl to come to me with such a problem.”
“Do tell,” I replied.
“I have never been a parent, I’ve never had that pleasure. But I’ve witnessed the pure joy and vexing angst that is associated with being one. I believe that parenthood is both a gift and a chore on a grand scale. Many freely chose to accept the gift and challenge, often times more than once in their lifetime. And then there are those who have that choice thrust upon them. I suspected that Megan was one of the latter. She was at an incredibly lonely crossroad, and we feared that given her condition that the window had closed on the option of a safe cessation of life. Honestly, I could not and cannot imagine the pain and confusion the poor dear was suffering. Can you imagine how God must feel with all of mankind to call His own?”
Touching padre, so what did you tell the girl? How did you wind up filming her story? Why do you think she did this terrible thing? Who’s the father Father?
            The priest remained calm on the surface but I saw that I had touched a raw nerve or two, the eyes are the window to the soul they say. He stared me down for a moment before answering, studying me, my face my posture. He was mentally fishing for some insight to me as a person, and not wondering what I knew or what I suspected. My gut was telling me this fella was a good egg at heart, that he’d been blindsided by Megan’s actions. And I had a hunch that Megan knew that as well and that she used him for a purpose I had yet to figure out. She had her reasons for what she did, she was sending a message but what, who, why? I was wrestling with that when Father Quinn finally spoke.
“You ask what I told her. I told her that God has His plans for all His children. That perhaps He led her to Immaculate Heart, to me for a specific reason. Why here, why me I wondered with her? Then I proposed a theory. Perhaps she was here to inspire others. Perhaps my passion for film was a tool the Almighty could use to tell her story and chronicle her journey to a new life, for her and for her unborn child. Perhaps there was a purpose for her being at this juncture in her young life. Whatever circumstances led her here, she was here nonetheless, why not make a positive out of a negative? It was only a thought I explained. The church would be there with her no matter what she chose, I would be there with her no matter what she chose. We were not there to judge her, we were there to help her, to comfort her, to offer advice and explain her options. The choice was hers as God planned it. She had free will as do we all.”
“Nice speech Father, are you sure you’re not thinking of a career change and running for Mayor?”
That got a chuckle out of him, “I’ll take that as a compliment and not an insult. Actually I don’t think I’d make a very good politician, I’m not a very good liar,” he answered with a wry smile.
“So you do lie once in a while?”
“Doesn’t everyone? I’m as human as anyone else. If Sister Pat were to ask me if she looked fat in her habit I’d assure her that she looked just fine,” he answered with a little snicker. That made me chuckle out loud, I hadn’t expected a witty response.
Touche Father. I tell you what, I’m gonna wait outside for you to finish your shift in this little truth chamber. Thanks a lot for indulging me and I apologize for any offense you may have taken with my pushiness, it sort of comes with the territory in my line of work.”
“No offense taken my son.”
“Come on Father, it's Whitey, please. You’re making me feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar!”
“Alright, your penance is ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Father’s, now go in peace my…I mean Whitey.”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

(”There’s something good comin just over the hill. There’s something good comin I know it will.")…Tom Petty

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For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird" 
Chapter Five
Alexandria Hotel – Room 1124…December 1, 2009…11:30pm
            I’ve never really had what you’d call a poker face, ask anyone, not ever. But I was doing my best to manufacture one right now. This was the best hand I’ve been dealt all year, four Kings staring back at me in all their regal splendor. I silently swallowed a ‘woot woot’ and carefully kept my eyes on the five cards in front of me and the huge pot at the center of the table. I know better than to make eye contact with the other players, that’s always a dead giveaway, shows way too much confidence. But damn it’s hard to suppress a shit eating grin when you’re sure you’ve got the winning hand. Only two other scenarios could best me, four aces or a straight flush. Four aces was out because my fifth card was the Ace of Diamonds. That left a straight flush and the odds of that happening was pretty low with six players at the table. That meant I was in the catbird seat and it felt pretty damn good.
            So it was down to me and the Manzano brothers, Angelo and Fat Johnny. Johnny had been the aggressor on this hand betting heavy and raising often. Aggression was his tell, it meant that he was bluffing. Angelo on the other hand was a harder read. He wasn’t as brash as his brother and had a good poker face, you never knew what was up his sleeve. If he stayed in it was because he was holding some pretty good cards, four of something or maybe a full house. But the odds were in my favor, I was sure that I had him beat. For a nanosecond I felt a little pang of guilt for all of the free food and drink that I consumed regularly at the boys downtown restaurant, Bella Terra, and actually considered folding my hand and giving him the pot. Nah, that kind of generosity would only confuse them, they were used to me taking advantage of our friendship, it was part of my charm.
“Come on Whitey, we ain’t got all night! Are you in or out?” whined Iggie.
Bob ‘Iggie’ Ingram was a regular at these games and a long time buddy from back in the day in Southeast Asia. Currently he was a Detective First Grade with the LAPD, my former employer, which was his tough break I guess.
“Stifle yourself Iggie, you’re not even in this hand. Besides, twenty bucks is pretty rich for my blood. I don’t nap for a living on the City’s time, I actually have to work for what I earn!” I answered sarcastically.
“Up yours gumshoe,” he replied as he flipped me the bird and stuffed some smokehouse almonds into his gob.
Johnny tapped a heavy class ring on the table and joined Iggie’s camp, “Well, are you gonna call me or what?” he asked, raising a thick eyebrow. I had them right where I wanted them now.
“OK fat boy, I see your twenty and raise you twenty. What do you say to that Manzano #2?” I answered with a winner’s flair. Johnny looked at his cards then across the table to his older brother.
“Don’t look at me big shot, they’re your cards and we ALL know you’re bluffing,” Angelo said with a wicked grin. Johnny tossed his cards into the pot at the center of the table in a huff. “Fuck you Angelo!” he said disgustedly as he emptied his bottle of Miller Lite and grabbed another from the cooler beside him.
Angelo smiled, “Just you and me now Whitey. I’ll call your twenty. What’s ya got Paley?”
Proudly I laid out my four cowboys with the ace kicker. “Read em and weep suckers,” I said, reaching across the table to reel in my winnings.
“Not so fast slick,” replied Angelo, blocking me with his left hand as he laid down his own cards with his right hand. He had a baby straight, two, three, four, five, and six. All of them from the ‘heart’ family.
I stared at the cards ignoring the groans and laughter around the room. “Of course,” I mumbled as Angelo raked the biggest pot of the night to his side of the table. My record was safely in tack, I was still the unluckiest sap on the planet!
            Johnny got up and walked over to console me. He put his giant hands onto my shoulders and squeezed nearly busting my clavicle. “Tough break Whitey, but you shoulda seen the look on your face,” he said not even trying to hide his bellowing laughter.
“Hardee-har-har,” I replied as I twisted free from his Frankenstein like grip.
“Okay fellas that hand cleaned me out, let’s call it a night. I’m gonna need a month of paydays to cover next month’s game.”
            The group begrudgingly complied and went about finishing their beers and packing up their stuff. Iggie nudged Carmine Epstein who had fallen asleep before the big showdown between the Manzano boys and yours truly. Carmine was the super in my building. He was easily the oldest player at the game by a good twenty plus years or so. And that was saying a lot since the rest of us were closer to retirement age than draft age. Carmine snorted himself back to consciousness and looked around the room rubbing his tired eyes.
“What did I miss?” he asked through a yawn.
“Not much, Whitey lost all his dough is all,” answered Iggie with a smirk.
“Oh, the usual,” replied Carmine as he drained the last couple of tepid swallows from a can of Budweiser.
            The fellas meandered towards the door with their assorted coolers and totes. They waived and nodded as they filed through the door and out into the hall one by one. “Close the door behind will ya,” I hollered while I busied myself with a little clean up. I was packing the poker chips back into the case when I heard the door slam. I didn’t look up when I heard him flop into my recliner. I didn’t need to look up to know who it was as my place suddenly reeked of Aqua Velva. That could only mean one person.
“Lose again Whitey,” asked my visitor.
“Would you believe me if I said I won big?”
“I didn’t think so. What’s on your mind Oscar? It’s a little late for you to be busting my balls. I thought you were a big shot now Chief Celaya, why didn’t you send one of your goons to work me over?”
            Oscar Celaya was the new Chief of Police in Los Angeles, but back in the day he was my commanding officer at the Hollenbeck station. He was also the a-hole who encouraged my early retirement and ended my career. He’s been a pain in my ass ever since.
“Yeah I guess I could have, but I’m here to deliver a personal message from His Honor the Mayor,” he answered.
“Do tell. What does that slimy headline hound want from me?”
“He says, and I quote, tell that no good mick to keep his blarney nose out of the Egyptian Theater investigation, end quote.”
“I see. What’s he worried about? He afraid that I’ll solve this caper before you do and steal his front page photo op?”
“Something like that,” chuckled Oscar.
“Look Whitey, I don’t like that peacock any more than you do. But, he still signs my checks. I’m too close to retirement to risk my pension by crossing that little prick. I don’t have to tell you how vindictive he can be.”
“Alright Chief, what’s on your mind?”
            Oscar settled deeper into my comfy chair and crossed his legs. “I know that you’re working for the Church on this case,” he said.
“How exactly do you know that?”
“Doesn’t matter, I don’t care who you’re working for. But this case could blow the lid off of this town if we let our kibitzing mayor manipulate the newshounds into throwing gasoline onto a fire. I’m proposing that we work together on this. I’ll be Mr. Inside and you’ll be Mr. Outside. In other words I’ll stay out front and feed the mayor tidbits that will allow him to grandstand without interfering with the investigation. Meanwhile you can do the real work outside of the spotlight, I’ll give you access to whatever we uncover as well as assign Iggie Ingram and Becca Tran to work with you under the radar. You were a good detective Whitey, I’m sorry for the way you lost your shield, but like I told you, His Honor is a vindictive man. I'm hoping that we can team up and close this case quietly from the shadows.”
“Why are you reaching out to me Oscar? That’s not like you.”
“Yeah, honestly.”
“This may surprise you but I happen to be a pretty good Catholic, devout in my own way.”
“You’re right, that does surprise me.”
“Look, I’m tired of my Church and my Faith being dragged through the mud by the print vultures. I’m not saying that we haven’t earned those black eyes, I’m just saying that I’m tired of it. I need your help to keep this investigation from becoming a media circus. The Mayor would like nothing more than a big scandal on his turf that he could use as a springboard for a credible run at Governor.”
“What if this is scandalous? What if the Church is at the center of that young lady’s twisted actions?”
“The truth is the truth. I just want to make sure that the truth is discovered with good police work and not manufactured by not so good journalism. You get my drift?”
            I stared at Oscar for a full ten count before answering. I sat back down at the poker table and pulled two bottles of beer from a cooler on the floor. I set the cold brews on the table in front of me and twisted off the caps. “Alright Oscar, let’s talk it over,” I said, inviting him to join me. He got up and walked over to the poker table and took a seat across from mine. He reached across the table and grabbed one of the beers. I picked up the other and we clinked the long glass necks together.
“Cheers. So, how do you want to play this Chief?”

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