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Saturday, August 2, 2014

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

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?”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

(”Hope is not found in a way out, but a way through.")…Robert Frost

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
"Father Hollyweird"
Chapter Four
Hollenbeck Station-LAPD…December 1, 2009…5:00pm
            Rebecca Tran got up from her chair to look out the window. If not for the five foot walls barricading her in the 6x6 cubicle she called an office she would have had a fine unobstructed view of 1st street below and Lani Vest Pocket Park. As it was, she had to settle for the occasional reminder that nature thrived just beyond her occupational confinement.  She yawned and did a big girl stretch, checking the time on her wristwatch as her arms crossed in front of her face. It was a little after five and dusk was sweeping across LA much earlier now that the seasons were about to change.
            Today had been an uneventful if not downright boring shift. She and her partner, Bob “Iggie” Ingram had spent the day putting the finishing touches on the final report of the homicide investigation they had just closed. The case really hadn’t been much of a challenge. The perpetrator was a homeless man in his late 50’s who had stabbed a fellow vagabond twenty-seven times in front a busload of eyewitnesses and in broad daylight no less. His story was that the victim had raided his shopping cart and helped herself to a couple of trash bags full of recyclables that he had spent all morning collecting. Dumpster diving was an acceptable vocation in hard times, legitimate at least. It wasn’t an easy job by any means and it smelled. But it beat begging or pan handling as far as the perp was concerned, those were dodges that he had too much pride to do.

          To lose a life and ruin a life over five dollars’ worth of refuse just seemed tragically foolish to her. Rebecca didn’t understand that when you have nothing five dollars might as well be a million dollars. She never had to contemplate that sad fact growing up in the relative luxury of suburban America. And she’d never been exposed to homelessness in great numbers, at least not until she took this job in the big city. It was a reality that she acknowledged now. Life is life. It’s different for everyone. It’s what you make of it or what it makes of you.
            Her mother, a Vietnamese refugee, had raised her in the Catholic Church with all of its rules and traditions. And the most prevalent virtue that had seeded itself in Rebecca’s heart of hearts was forgiveness. God forgives, and so shall we. “Judge not lest you be judged yourself,” was a paraphrase from the book of Matthew (7:1) that she had heard many times growing up. Her mom was a strong and kind woman, the sort of mother who led you through life rather than push you through it. Whenever they came upon a homeless person or ‘beggar’ as her mom would say, she would always share some of whatever she had in her pocket or purse. And before a word of protest could escape Rebecca’s lips her mom would say, don’t judge trẻ em (child), remember, “for there but for the grace of God go I.”
“Penny for your thoughts,” said Lieutenant Wally Price.
OH GEEZ! Sorry LT, I didn’t hear you walk up,” replied the startled young detective.
“Sorry about that Becca, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
“That’s okay.”
“Did you and Iggie finish your report?”
“Yes sir, got it right here,” Rebecca answered pointing at the manila folder on her desk.
“So what were you thinking about so hard just now?”
“Nothing really. I was just wondering how people like this perp wind up in such pitiful situations. You know, alone and on the streets, what keeps them there? Stuff like that.”
“Tough questions kid. When you figure it all out let me know and I’ll send the Pope your application for sainthood.”
“Thanks a bunch,” Rebecca replied sarcastically.
“Shift is over rookie, why don’t you go on home now.”
“I will Lieutenant, I’m just waiting for my ride. My car’s in the shop and Iggie said he’d drive me over there to pick it up.”
“I see, well good luck with that, your partner isn’t exactly the most reliable choice you could have made.”
“I know, but he’s the only one who offered.”
“Ha ha ha, tough break kid. Okay Becca, good night,” Lt. Price said, picking up the folder on her desk and replacing it with another one that he was holding.
“What’s that?” asked Rebecca.
“That’s your next case young lady. You and Iggie drew the Egyptian Theater murder suicide,” answered Lieutenant Wally Price.
“The mother and child thing?
“Yep, that’s the one. It’s a hot potato too. The Mayor’s office is all over Chief Celaya already, fishing for details. This one will be a career maker or breaker kid, but I have confidence in you.”
“Gee, thanks, but…”
“No buts kid, let's meet in my office first thing in the morning, you, me, and Iggie. I want discuss this investigation and hear how you two plan to get er done,” Lt. Price said exuberantly as he turned and walked away.
Rebecca sighed audibly and turned back to look out the window again. Dusk had turned into darkness before her ride arrived, no surprise there. She sat back down and debated on whether or not to open the new case file now or when she got home. Iggie expected her do the homework and share the details with him the next day, one of many seniority perks that he took full advantage of, the man was so lười biếng (lazy)! She tapped the phone on her desk waiting for it to ring. When it did it would be Iggie with some lame excuse for being late. Oh well, don’t sweat the small stuff she chanted to herself. The garage was open until eight which meant she would be home by nine o’clock latest, that wasn’t too bad. 
Immaculate Heart of Mary Church - Rectory…December 1, 9:00pm
            Father Quinn sat at a small desk in the modest bedroom provided by the Church. Before him was an open book. Not the Bible as one might imagine, but a special library bound edition of “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott. It was a childhood favorite that he was rereading for the umpteenth time. Priests were people too and a wee detour from the day to day grind of the work a day world was fair distraction. He turned the page and glanced over to the old black rotary phone sitting heavily on the far corner of the desktop. His heart was into the story but his mind was elsewhere. He was waiting for Bishop De La Rosa to call. He had been told to expect it around 9pm. It was 9:05 now and his anxiety level was rising by the minute.
            Father Quinn knew why the Bishop was calling. He knew it would be about the Egyptian Theater incident. He could not escape the topic, not through work or prayer, the awful details haunted his every minute, conscious or unconscious. He felt persecuted, living proof that no good deed goes unpunished. Still, the poor girl and her newborn child, he grieved for them and did his best to avoid asking why. God’s will is mystical and not for us to debate or understand for that matter. It was a tenant of faith that he always struggled with. It was a struggle experienced by all at one time or another. He turned his attention back to the book in front of him. Isaac of York was offering a suit of armor and a war horse to repay his debt to the palmer. The story was just beginning to pull him in when the telephone rang, rudely interrupting his peace. He picked up the receiver and answered, “Hello?”
“Good evening Father Quinn,” replied Bishop De La Rosa.
“Good evening Eminence,” Father Quinn said returning the pleasantry.
“I trust you are well,” added the Bishop.
“Yes Eminence, I am Eminence,” acknowledged Father Quinn.
Bishop De La Rosa chuckled, “I love how the Irish tend to say everything twice, as if reassuring themselves that they have been heard if not understood.”
“We are a quaint people Eminence. Well read, well bred, well said,” replied Father Quinn, grinning at the subtle snub directed at his pretentious snob of a superior.
“Yes, well to the point Father, I wanted to inform you that the Church has employed a private investigator to clear your good name as well as its own. I trust that we can count on your complete cooperation,” De La Rosa said ignoring Father Quinn’s snide remark.
“Of course Eminence,” answered the priest.
“Thank you for that. Please do what you can to expedite this matter Father. The Vatican has contacted me directly. They want this resolved, favorably of course, as quickly as possible. Do you understand?”
“Yes Eminence, perfectly.”
“Very well then. You can expect this individual to call on you soon, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. By the way, apparently you have already met. His name is Roode, Whitey Roode. Do you recall the name?”
“I believe that I do. A gruff looking man approximately six feet tall and medium build. Bit of a smart-alec if I remember correctly.”
“Excellent description Father, spot on as it were. Is it any wonder you are such a talented director of cinema.”
“Thank you Eminence, you are too kind. Rest assured that I will make myself available as soon as Mr. Roode contacts me.”
“That is greatly appreciated Father Quinn, I am confident that we can count on your support as well as your discretion. Good night Father,” replied the Bishop hanging up quickly

           Father Quinn returned the receiver to the cradle and leaned back in his chair. He looked up to the ceiling and watched the fan blades turn slowly above him. He pondered the upcoming investigation and thought carefully about this man Roode. He concentrated on trying to remember as much about the man as he could before he came face to face with him tomorrow or the next day. He debated with his conscience. How much could he share with the man? There was the sanctity of the confessional to consider. But did it apply beyond the grave? How closely did the Church want him to cooperate with this private investigator? What exactly did Bishop De La Rosa mean by counting on his discretion as well? He considered Whitey Roode further as the memory of their encounter became clearer. First impressions being what they are, Father Quinn was certain of one thing. Whitey Roode was going to be trouble…



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