For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
THE GUMSHOE DIARIES:
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.”
“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?”