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Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrafice everything else for it."...J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

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For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
Father Hollyweird
Chapter Eight

Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St 11:13pm                                                                     

            Current events are just that, current. It’s why a journalist’s job is pretty much 24/7. It’s not too much different time-wise from a cop’s life. Sure, you work a shift but the reality is you’re on call 24/7. Whether it’s a badge you wear or a “press card” that you carry, if either of these are your gig then you’re pretty much always on the job.
            My media contact, a rotund smart-ass newsman named Bradley Tremaine, an old friend, was standing out in front of the LA Times corporate offices waiting for me. Ignoring the “No Parking” sign I drove my old Chevy Covair up to the curb beside him. Leaning over to the passenger side I cranked down the window (like I said, my car is old) so my chubby buddy could stick his big noggin inside.
“You’re late Whitey, I’ve got a cab coming to drive me to LAX,” he said in a monotone voice.
“Yeah well I prefer to see it as just in time. Toss your bag in the back and hop into the copilot seat butterball. I’ll drive you to the airport, you can fill me in on the way,” I replied nonplussed.
“What about the taxi?”
Fuck him, it won’t be the first time he’s been stiffed, won’t be the last either. Perils of the job mate.”
“Yeah but…”
“But nothing buddy boy! Look you didn‘t give the cabbie your ID right? So get in and let’s go Polly Anna, geez!”
“Alright, alright, quit your nagging, I already have a mother thank you!”
            Brad opened the door, folded down the front passenger seat and tossed his duffle bag in back then climbed in beside me and slammed the door shut. He set a fat backpack on his lap and settled in looking for the seatbelt. He’d never driven with me before so he didn’t realize he was wasting his time. Like I said, my car was old and predated “big brother’s” safety mandate. I sped away from the curb chirping the tires and headed down 1st Street toward the Hollywood freeway in route to Los Angeles International Airport.
“What airline are you flying?” I asked.
“American,” replied Brad as he gave up the search for the nonexistent seatbelt without asking for an explanation. Smart kid.
“My condolences,” I said sarcastically.
“What? Problems in the friendly skies gumshoe?”
“Nah, just a personal preference. I’m a ‘United’ man myself, the stews are better looking.”
“Don’t you mean flight attendants?”
“Nope! I mean stewardesses. Flight attendants include the males and they don’t enhance my travel experience the way the stews do if you get my drift.”
“Yeah, I get ya Whitey, you’re a misogynist Neanderthal. I thought we’d evolved beyond you dinosaurs?”
“Fat chance butterball, boys will always be boys. So, what was it you had to show me that you couldn’t just tell me over the phone? You know you put me in the doghouse with my girl back there.”
“She’ll get over it Whitey, more to the point she’ll get over you sooner or later.”
“OUCH! Leave the head shrinking to the pros buddy and enlighten me already.”
            Brad ignored me and reached into his backpack. He pulled out a mangled manila folder that had seen better days, much like the frazzled and faded sport coat he was wearing. I glanced over and could see that the folder contained a few official looking documents as well as several photographs. My spider sense was definitely tingling.
“What do have there?” I asked, my anxious voice betraying my excited curiosity.
“Fruits of my labor my good man, fruits of my labor,” he answered with a grin as he tapped the folder and closed it shut. This was gonna cost me.
“You seem pretty proud of yourself Brad old buddy.”
“I am actually, some of my better work if I do say so myself.”
“Well? Clue me in chubs, I’m all ears.”
“Business first Whitey, you know the drill.”
“Riiiight. How much?”
“$500. The usual rate, $100 and hour to the tune of five fruitful hours.”
“Only if the info is useful.”
“Alright, spill it.”
“Little background first. I was pouring over all of the amateur You-Tube footage and reading broadcast copy when one aspect kept buzzing around my face like a gnat at a summer BBQ.”
“And what did you see pray tell?”
“It wasn’t what I saw so much as what I heard Miss Crispy say just before she lit the match.”
“Miss Crispy? Really Chubs? That’s low even for you.”
“I suppose you’re right, call it unprofessional sarcasm. What was her name anyways?
“Megan, her name was Megan Malloy.”
“Right, so I got hung up on Miss Malloy’s last words.”
“I love you father?”
“Exactly, those words.”
“What about them?”
“Well isn’t that your whole case for the Arch Diocese? The Holy men want you make sure that Megan wasn’t pointing a French fried finger at the priest she was friendly with, am I right?”
“Something like that,” I replied glancing over at him.
“Anyway, I did some digging for you and found a couple of nuggets I think will interest you.”
“We’ll see, go on.”
“SO, the $64,000 question is who was Megan Malloy referring to in her dying declaration? Care to guess?”
“I give up, who?”
“Actually I don’t know. But it could be this fella,” Brad said opening the folder and tapping on the contents inside. He pulled out a photograph of a twentysomething blue eyed blue blood young man. Not exactly what I was expecting.
I glanced down at the picture in his lap. “Who is it?”
“Miss Malloy’s baby daddy, I think.”
Impossible! I’ve seen the birth certificate, there was no father listed.”
“You saw a birth certificate. Did you happen to notice the clerk’s stamp?”
I started to answer ‘of course’ when I realized that I had not. “You have the actual birth certificate?”
“I do.”
“How did you manage that?”
Sources are confidential Whitey, stupid question.”
“Right, show me the document and picture again.”
I studied them both while we waited for the light to change. “This fella doesn’t fit the profile I’d conjured. I was expecting a junkie or otherwise ne’er do well of some sort. The young man in this photo is too clean cut and actually appears respectable.”
“Not all louses are dirty and diseased. The world is lousy with ‘clean cut’ vermin taking advantage of young impressionable women. Don’t make me dredge up Bill and Monica.”
“Touché,” I replied handing back the papers as the light changed.
“So what do you know about this Alex Wembley character?” I asked referring to the name on the birth certificate.
            Brad pulled out a small spiral notebook from his coat pocket. He flipped back a few pages and read from his copious notes as I merged onto the 105 Freeway toward LAX. “Alexander Wembley, age 24, graduated from UCLA class of 2007 with a degree in Economics, minoring in Finance. He recently completed his MBA from Pepperdine University and is currently employed as an account executive with the firm Bates, Wembley, and Stein. That’s right, he works for dear old Dad. And, he come from old money. A lot of it.”
”Interesting,” I said, rolling my eyes and making the hmmmm face with a droopy frown and nodding head.
“There’s more,” Brad added.
“Do tell, what do you mean?”
“Well it turns out that the apple doesn’t always fall next to the tree. In Alex Wembley’s case it couldn’t have fallen further.”
“How so?”
“Daddy Wembley is your classic country club, money grabbing womanizer. Junior on the other hand is 180 degrees from his father.”
“Spare me the diatribe Chubs and stick to the facts,” I pleaded.
“Alright, in a nutshell the old man drove Junior into the family business, and into manhood for that matter. Miss Malloy was a graduation present who tragically got knocked up during their ‘tryst’ of fate.”
“It gets better. Junior and Miss Malloy were both seeing Father Quinn but for different reasons and unbeknownst to one another.”
“Really? This is starting to sound like a Tele-Mundo script.”
“Well we know Megan’s reason, what was Alex’s?”
“Hold onto your Fedora gumshoe, the lad is secretly attending seminary at St. John’s in Camarillo.”
“But Alex lives and works in LA?”
“It’s the 21st century Whitey, he attends on line and only goes onto campus once a week for sessions with his advisor and sponsor.”
“Let me guess, his sponsor is Father Quinn.”
“The one and only.”
“Does he know about the connection between them?”
“Unknown Whitey, that’s for you to figure out, you’re the detective. But if you ask me he had to. He’s a priest, I’m sure he’s seen it all in his profession and from what I’ve heard about him he doesn’t strike me as an ignorant man.”
“Well I’ve met him personally and he is definitely not ignorant, so he must have a good reason for keeping that under his hat. I’m gonna have to talk to him about that.”
“You mean his ‘biretta’,” Brad said matter-of-factly.
“His what?” I asked.
“Biretta, it’s a priest hat,” he answered.
“Whatever Chubs, we’re here,” I replied pulling up to the curb teaming with travelers in all shapes and sizes headed for God knows where.
“You better hop out quickly, you don’t want to miss your flight. Where are you headed anyway, I never asked?”
“Seattle, why, does it matter?”
“Not really, I’ve got your cell number. Can I keep the folder?”
“Sure, as soon as you fork over the dough Joe.”
“What was the damage again?”
“$500 Whitey, stop trying to cheat me.”
            I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. I always carry cash, never trusted banks or the little plastic bandits they issue to fools willing to pay fees and risk identity theft by some unscrupulous teller or manager. I peeled off five crisp hundred dollar bills and slapped them into Brad’s open palm.
“You should be wearing a mask,” I quipped.
“Pleasure doing business with you Whitey,” Brad replied as he got out of the car. He reached in grabbed his duffle, shook my hand then slammed the door shut and walked away toward the terminal.
I leaned over cranked the window up sealing out the night air and traffic noise then pulled away from the curb before the airport cops got a chance to cite me. As I merged with the throng of comers and goers I reran everything Brad had shared on the way here. The Alex angle was interesting on its own but the Father Quinn secrecy angle was the one I wanted to explore next. I may have made a bad assumption about the sanctity of the confessional the other night. I had a whole new set of questions to ask the good Father only this time it was going to be on my terms on my turf. After that I’d track down Master Alex Wembley and pick his squeaky clean brain. A good detective is only as good as his instincts and his instincts are only as good as the information he gathers. Brad was a good source and he really came through. Memo to self, I owe my round friend a couple dozen Krispy Kreme’s when he gets back from Seattle.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

(”And I’m not sure I believe anything I feel.")…Goo Goo Dolls

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For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Seven

Bella Terra Restaurant…December 2, 2009…10:00pm


            Angelo and Johnny Manzano had a pretty sweet deal going with their glorified pizza joint. Actually Johnny (Fat Johnny to his close friends of which I am lucky to be one of) would swat me right in the kisser with his Frankenstein sized hand if he heard me say that out loud. The boys were pals of mine from way back when I walked a beat downtown and they were a proud pair when it came to the Bella Terra. To be fair the place was much more than a pizza joint, it was a full on restaurant that just happened to make the best damn pizza pie in all of Los Angeles. So forgive my crass reference to it as a joint and let’s call it a grotto instead, that sounds classier. Not accurate mind you as there is no outdoor seating whatsoever, but what the hell, I like the way grotto sounds it just has a certain je ne sais quoi. Be that as it may, suffice to say Bella Terra was one of my top five hang outs, actually number two just after Casey’s Pub. So it wasn’t unusual to find me here even at this time of night.

            I enjoy late night suppers when the crowds are gone and it’s just me, the boys and the staff, perfect right? Tonight would have been one of those perfect nights except for the fact that tonight was date night for me and Judy Looney, currently my significant other. Just to bring you up to speed, my “life of Riley” existence had been recently dismantled by a rat bastard named Jai Li who murdered my former wife (turned transsexual), who by the way just happened to be involved with said significant other. Confused? You’ll get used to it. In a nutshell, the former Rhonda Roode left me after several less than perfect years of marriage, changed teams and became Ronnie Roode, the “fella” who won the favor of my heart’s desire, the lovely and brainy Dr. Judith Looney. That’s right I said doctor, I told you she was brainy. But I digress. Like I said, Ronnie was whacked by a whacko thereby freeing up Dr. Looney and viola, I’m a couple again! Admittedly relationships have obvious advantages. Let’s face it nobody wants to be alone for long, am I right? I’m no exception, although I do on occasion frustrate people to the point of wishing they were alone again.
“You’re doing it again,” whined Judy Looney as she sipped at her Chianti.
I flinched and reached for the carafe to refill my own glass with the red stuff, “Sorry doll, I was thinking of you, honest!”
“Riiiight!” Judy replied sarcastically.
“So spill it Whitey, what are you working on now? And it better be good since you didn’t notice my new dress.” she asked trying to sound more interested than her expression indicated.
“Aww come on Judy give me a little credit, how could I miss that? I love you in basic black and slinky, you look good enough to eat sugar pie,” I said laying it on thick. I was trying to distract her with some titillating table chatter because the wheels in my head were just beginning to roll and I wasn’t ready to share details.
“Every girl looks good in black and slink Whitey, you’re gonna have to do better than that.”
“Naturally doll-face! Hey did you do something different with your hair? Are those new shoes? They’re so cute!”
“Knock it off Roode, you’re such a liar! Fine! If you don’t want to talk about your business just say so. I’ll tell you about mine instead.”
Decision time. I could either share what was rolling around in my noggin or settle in for a fun filled night of forensic science shop talk. Hmmm, not a hard choice.
“Alright sweetness, I surrender, you’ve trumped my ‘pensive silence card’ with your ‘let me tell about my day card’ well played.”
Judy smiled wily and sipped on her wine. Actually, it was more of a smirk but hell, I deserved it. “I really don’t know a lot yet, but I can share this much.”
“Fair enough, that’ll do for now,” she said.
“Did you read about that woman who set herself and her kid on fire at the Egyptian a while back?”
“Sure, I read it in the Times and it was all over the TV as well. It looked awful, the poor thing was not much more than a kid herself. And the rumor is the baby was the priest’s love child. Forbidden fruit from the forbidden tree so to speak.”
I rolled my eyes, now I know why the Church hired me. They need these gossip sparks to fizzle before they flare up into a full blown firestorm. The tabloids were already spinning stories in whatever direction that sold copies. The major publications like the Times and the Chronicle were playing it cool for the moment but that wouldn’t last long, business is business.
“Really? The Times actually printed that?” I asked.
“No, I read that part in the Star while I was waiting in line at the market,” confessed Judy.
“I see. You know you should try shopping in Chinatown. The tabloids there are written in Chinese so you won’t be able to poison your mind. Shame on you for quoting that rag Dr. Looney,” I said, lightheartedly scolding her for giving credit to the yellow journalists from the Hollywood Star.
            Judy rolled her own eyes and glanced at the menu. She already knew it by heart but she liked making me wait while she made her choice. After a moment of silence she tapped her index finger on page two and grinned at me wickedly.
“Yeah, well that little quip will cost you gumshoe, I think I’ll have the Italian surf and turf with a bottle of Cristal. Think your wallet can handle that honey?”
            I’m still not used to being called that, makes me feel so domesticated. I nodded my head in the affirmative, poured myself a refill and signaled the waiter to bring another carafe of Chianti. “Knock yourself out doll face, sky’s the limit tonight, this meal is on the Vatican,” I answered with a grin of my own.
“What are you having?” she asked.
“I think I’m gonna drink my supper tonight babe. Cheers,” I answered with a wink.
“Suit yourself Whitey. Now fill me in, I’m all ears.”
“Right, okay well like I said I don’t know much yet. But here’s what I can say so far. FACT, a nineteen year-old mommy walked into the middle of Hollywood Boulevard right in front of Grauman’s Egyptian Theater and then before God and Country she doused herself and her newborn child with gasoline from a baby bottle and lit a match. FACT, her last words recorded by God knows how many smart phones were ‘I love you father.’ FACT, the young lady was the subject of a documentary film by a popular activist priest, the Reverend Nicholas Aloysius Quinn.”
“Oh, Father Hollyweird, right?”
“Whatever. The point is he’s Father Quinn, get it?”
“Are you implying that the girl’s last words were meant for the priest? Speculation Whitey.”
“I know, I’m just saying for now. Anyway, continuing, FACT the baby’s birth certificate does not identify a father.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve got friends all over town sugar, nuff said.”
“I see, continue.”
As I was saying, FACT, biological father unknown. FACT, mommy dearest was an orphan living at a Church sponsored halfway house for teenage mothers. FACT, Father Quinn is the Parish Priest of the sponsoring Church. FACT, the media is hot on Father Quinn’s trail digging for dirt to sling, real or imagined.”
“Have they found anything yet?”
“Not yet, but you know how it is, if you stir a pot long enough something odd always bubbles to the surface.”
“When did you become such a philosopher?”
“Just now, I have my moments.”
“So no shit has hit the proverbial fan yet. Lucky Father Quinn. Have you met him?” Judy said as her meal arrived.
 “Yeah, and my gut says he’s a good egg. A nice guy doing a nice thing. But you know what they say, no good deed goes unpunished,” I answered.
“I hate that saying,” quipped Judy.
“Me too, but truer words were never spoken. Anyway the last FACT is this, a good man is going to pay an unfair price very soon. I figure I’ve got 48 to 72 hours to crack this case before all the guns aimed at Father Quinn go off at once. It’ll be a virtual public execution.”
            Our server, a pretty young blond, arrived and delivered another carafe of Chianti to the table with a friendly wink. I returned the friendly gesture with one of my own and she moved onto the next table. My innocent flirtation had not gone unnoticed and Judy folded her arms and gave me the stink eye. “Honestly Whitey, you are such a hound!” she whined.
I winked at her as well, “now, now, you know that’s just part of my charm. You’re my girl Dr. Looney, I’ve only got eyes for you,” I said laying it on thick, again. I do that a lot.
“I am for the moment Mr. Flirty but you better watch your p’s and q’s buddy!” she replied pretending to be angry.
“So what’s your next move? What’s your plan Stan?”
“Naturally I want to rule Father Quinn out as a suspect. So that brings me to the favor part of this dinner. If I can talk Father Quinn into giving me a swab, when can you work you magic and test the girl’s remains for his DNA in shall we say sensitive areas?”
“You’re impossible Roode!”
“I love you?” I replied with puppy dog eyes.
“Spare me Whitey, I don’t have any clout with the Coroner’s office so I doubt if I will have access to her remains. And even if I can swing it, I really doubt the condition of her remains will support what you’re asking me to do.”
“You’re a Professor, just give it the old college try. I have faith in your talents.”
Judy sighed heavily as she cut herself a piece of steak, “I’ll do what I can but don’t expect much. Bring me the swab early in the morning because I have a class to teach,” Judy replied with a mouthful of medium rare beef.
“Thanks doll, you’re aces!”
            Judy grunted an expletive while she sawed off another hunk of meat when the cute blond waitress reappeared, “Mr. Roode?” she asked.
“Yeah, something wrong?” I answered.
“You have a call at the bar sir,” she said.
“Okay, thanks," I replied with a smile.
"I'll be right back babe, I wonder who that could be?” I said, excusing myself.
“When are you going to get a cell phone like everyone else in the 21st century?” Judy asked a little perturbed.
Never. I actually prefer the peace and quiet of the last century, well the first half anyway,” I answered as I walked away to answer the call.
            The phone was sitting on the corner of the bar with the handset laying beside an old style rotary telephone. I picked it up, “Roode here, who’s this?”
“It’s me, Brad,” the voice answered.
“How’d you track me down butterball?”
“For a private eye you’re not very stealth Whitey, and you’re uber predictable as well. I just call around to all the bars and chow houses around town. It doesn’t take long, I know all of your favorite hang outs.”
Touche. So what’s on your mind?”
“I think I may have a line on the baby’s biological father. Can you meet me at the office?”
“I’m kinda sorta in the middle of date night Paley.”
“She’ll dump you sooner or later anyway, your women always do. Pay the tab and cut your losses. I’m leaving town in the morning so it’s now or never Whitey.”
“You can’t just tell me?”
“Nope, you need to see this. When can you be here?”
“Give me forty minutes.”
“Make it thirty and I’ll wait, otherwise sayonara.”
“Okay Bradley-san, see you in thirty,” I muttered hanging up.
            I watched Judy’s expression change from content to contempt as I returned to the table. I started to sit back down when she cut in abruptly, “Don’t bother Whitey. I can see you’re about to give me some lame excuse for leaving before dessert. You’re on the job, I get it. Leave me a c-note and beat it gumshoe,” she barked.
            I peeled a hundred dollar bill from the wad of mad money in my pocket and set it under the carafe on the table. “Thanks doll, I'll make it up to you,” I said. She didn’t look up from her plate or acknowledge me. I guess I’m back in the dog house, again. That's the story of my life, I ought to have my mail delivered there. On that note I turned and walked out of the restaurant. I saw Angelo on the way out. He was sitting at a corner table in front near the cash register shaking his head slowly as I passed by.
“What can I say, once a heel always a heel,” I said reaching the door.
“I will make sure that your lady friend gets home safely,” Angelo replied.
“Thanks,” I said, walking out into the LA night.


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