Saturday, February 24, 2018

Chapter 24. The Dick of Despair

23:00: Miguel had been in his kitchen when a few of his heavies from Oxnard and Santa Maria arrived. Besides Yuri and Dimitri, he had only four others with him since the kidnapping. He needed to establish a physical perimeter around the house as well as an exit strategy, so he called in support from East LA. His assumption was that Adrienne’s cohorts wouldn't let the police know what they knew, and he hadn’t counted on Ryan’s connection with long gone Harry Baker or Alesandro, hog-tied on a cot in his tower, to be anything of real concern. He hardly knew his opponents and that was a weakness that brought down so many of those who, because they held sway over so many, ignored admonitions that go back as far as the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu.
Miguel let Yuri direct his men to various posts around the property. This was a military action and only Yuri and Dimitri had any military experience, but Dimitri was a Regular Army street thug while Yuri was special forces Spetsnaz. The T.J. gangsters were murderous maniacs whose brains were located somewhere between their gonads and their trigger finger. Yuri called these kids his Boyos because he was picking up on English and it sounded good to him. He didn’t care that they might not like it and could care less too about their misguided machismo. That kind of shit got men killed, and because of this, he assessed Arellano-Felix’s Tee-Jay boys as tactical idiots.
Yuri also could see through Miguel. The guy was good with turning a profit, but he wasn’t a natural leader. Had he been born in the USSR, he would have been an apartment manager at best. Had he been born in the USA he might have been on his way to becoming the manager of a legitimate McDonalds. The streets of Tee Jay bred survival into him through natural selection. His instincts, though at time murderous, were smart enough. But he was best at counting the cash and delegating the rest to Yuri’s experience.
Adrienne heard the extra feet treading above and was aware that something was finally going to happen. She was resigned to whatever would come down the pike and still held out the hope she would be rescued if she survived long enough. Resignation and hope; the dichotomy of a prisoner’s despair. It was Yuri.
“So, what’s going on, Yuri?”
“Hold tight, we’re expecting company,” he assured her.
Adrienne’s calm switched to horrified. If it was Nick, and she was sure that’s who it would be, then she had only a few more breaths to take in what had become a miserable life. She prayed, “Fuck, God, please... I’ll do as you say. Help me please.”
“I’m sorry but I have to leave you with a new watch...” Yuri felt bad about leaving her with Dimitri. He knew that she was going to be killed no matter what was going to happen but he didn’t want a sadist like Dimitri to rape and torture her. She would certainly be, at the least, raped by now had that thug been in charge. There was something about her that made Yuri feel paternal and, if she was to be killed, he would have done the job as mercifully as possible. He left when his relief arrived.
“Dimitri, watch her like she's your sister,” Yuri warned by implication. Miguel needed him elsewhere to direct the new arrivals.
Another call on Miguel’s phone came through. He couldn’t resist the buzzing on his belt any longer. Heading down to the wine cellar, he answered, “Prick.”
Nick responded, “Where do you want me,”
 Miguel invited, “Come on in, old friend, where are you?”
“Let Adrienne out first.”
“By midnight.”
“Sure. How do I know she's still alive?”
“Here she is,” Miguel held the phone to Adrienne’s face.
“Yes, I’m coming for you. Hang on.”
“No Nicky, they will kill you...” she pled. In that one fraction of a second she’d resigned to her fate, “these bastards. Don’t...”

Miguel withdrew the phone from her face, “If you aren’t here by midnight you’ll find her head on the porch.”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chapter 22. At the Gates of Hell

20:00: Nick began his trek as dusk painted the horizon in the West with broad brushstrokes of golden orange to cadmium red against a backdrop of a cerulean blue sky. He’d come to a place where travelling up the creek wasn’t going to get him any further. From there on it was a damned near straight up-hill crawl to West Mountain Drive. He didn’t like the idea, but he was forced to hike on Sycamore Canyon Road where he would surely be noticed by anyone out for an evening stroll. Fortunately, only one dog barked on the way. He felt comfortable, once night set-in, knowing he would see headlights of cars and taxis approaching in time to ditch to the side of the road. Otherwise he hoped he would appear to be just one of the residents of the area taking his constitutional walk. The further along he got, the more growth on the side afforded him cover.
He knew Miguel’s house was still quite a hike and that he’d best take it easy. He also knew the single action revolver he’d packed in his belt was a toy compared to the arsenal that awaited him. Regardless, he was moved by something primal against all his better instincts to do something… anything. They would be watching for him but the words of his karate instructor from the Citadel became his direction. The Sensei quoted liberally from Miyamoto Musashi, The Five Rings, at every session and these words from the part called “Crossing the Ford” percolated from the center of his being, “In the midst of battle, it is essential to ‘cross the ford.’ Sensing the state of opponents, aware of your own mastery, you cross the ford by means of the appropriate principles.” Nick would find a place and wait for the appropriate principles and, when the time came, he would act. He would cross that ford.

Nick caught his breath after that hike. He had to find an occupied house after the lights were doused and the folks there were sleeping soundly in their McMansions high above the sparkling night lights of the riff-raff below. He needed a cell phone to contact Miguel and maybe locate where Adrienne was kept if she was still alive. It was going to take everything he knew and practiced as most of these homes had alarms. He had to find one that didn’t.
His first house on Barker Pass Road was a no-go. As soon as he approached the sliding glass door on the pool side of the house a damned lap-dog of some sort started yapping. Lights came on and Nick quietly sank back into the shadows through a bougainvillea hedge. The second house up the hill from there on Via Alicia fared better. He loved sliding glass windows and doors. It didn’t matter whether they were locked or not. He popped the screen off, lifted the window, and slipped it out and off its rail. He was in the living room. Now the tricky part... to made his way down the hall towards what would be the master bedroom. He knew better than to stand at the door once he entered. It is a peculiar phenomenon he would never fully understand, but, if you stand at the door too long.... no matter how quiet you are... presence will be known.
He went to his knees and fore-arms. His eyes adjusted to the dark. He thought, thank the gods for night lights. He could see clear enough the shape of a woman alone in the bed and on the night stand he spotted a purse. He watched her breathing... she lightly snored. The sounds of her breath suddenly stopped. Nick drew himself closer to the side of the bed. There was no way he could fit the bulk of his body under it. She rose up on an elbow, “Who’s there?”
Nick was relieved that she didn’t get out of bed. She must have decided that she was imagining things and rolled over turning her back to him. He would have had to snuff her if she caught him. At that thought, he got an erection as he lay there waiting for her breathing to go back to the familiar sounds of sleep. No, he said to himself, there is no time for fun... I’m here on business. He was already out of the house by the time he began regretting that he couldn’t have raped this woman properly... it was so very tempting. About a half hour later he checked the purse. It was packed with the usual woman’s cosmetic crap, a wallet, complete with about a hundred dollars in cash, a cell phone, and mace. He got safely to cover back at his spot above Coyote Road, far enough from her house and any alarm should she discover his break-in. Underneath all of those dark thoughts was an undercurrent of pride that he had been able to resist the temptation.

Nick didn’t think of himself as a psychopathic serial killer... Psychopaths don’t do that. Nick excused himself saying it was a disease like alcoholism... it was in his hard-drive... it was just his way... he wasn’t sure why, but, it was just because his libido was triggered by his disease. Maybe, he thought, I am... maybe getting past that... Unlike the common assumption that psychopaths don’t feel empathy or guilt, Nick did. He knew he got a rush out of his murderous inclinations, and he couldn’t exactly call it guilt, but he did sometimes wish that he was like other people and feel what he’d mostly feigned his whole life. However, an undercurrent stronger than his frightfully macabre perversion ran deep down within a maze of his soul. He cared for Adrienne and he knew that caring for her would be his bane. These thoughts carried him to a place across from the gate and its two guards and he didn’t need a plan. Nick once read a story about Napoleon in which he said he never gets bogged down and committed to a strategy... tactics win battles, not games on a board. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chapter 21. The Three Samurai

17:15: Max walked over to the Ro-Co after taking a nap. All the way there he had been composing in his mind what he thought had happened. Unanswered phones and cryptic ones unleashed morbid thoughts. Call it AHD of PSTD, but, whatever the latest psychiatric label, Max found it hard to focus when overwhelmed. He waved at Jimbo and nodded as he entered the doors of the coffee shop and went straight to get a cup of coffee he didn’t need. Jimbo was sitting with his eyes shut but he waved back nonetheless.

Max pulled a chair over from the empty table next to his friend. The scraping of the metal legs on concrete opened Jimbo’s eyes. “What’s up? I gotta get back on the street in a few minutes. You know... had to have my Columbian mountain grown gold."
Max started, “Yeh, Juan Valdez not Pablo Escobar. I called Adrienne’s house... she didn’t answer.”
“One of her latest left the house right before I came here, she’s probably sleeping.”
“How do you know that?”
“How else, the poor guy called a cab. Blue balls bitching and moaning and all... Is that why you called me?”
“Something happened,” Max insisted, “Nick called me in a panic after he came storming through my place this morning.”
“Yeh, sorry, I forgot to tell you. He crashed a car in front of my place...”
“A car? Slow down, Max. Take a few deep breaths.”
“Yeh, a Mercedes wasn’t far behind.” Max fidgeted with his paper cozy on the cup, “I thought it was just some more of Nick’s bullshit and decided I ought to mind my own business.”
“Always a good policy.”
“We need to get to her house. I put the cab in the garage after my shift for its check-up. I need you to take me up there... just to check.”
“This better be important, Max,” perturbed, Jimbo knew that Max also knew the ebbs and flow of the business and certain times of the day were more lucrative than others. “Why don’t you take your bike?” He also knew that Max wouldn’t call him unless it was as important as it better be.
“Maybe I need backup. C’mon Jimbo. I’d do the same for you.”
“Ahhh, still hooked on Frenchie’s foo-foo-nette?” Jimbo leered.
“Enough with the salaciousness, my friend,” Max exhorted snidely.
“Ah, sir, yes sir!” Jimbo put on the military mannerisms of submission to rank even though he'd been an Army Lieutenant and Max had hardly any rank at all when each had served. However, Jimbo was curious about Alesandro and knew only a little of what Adrienne had told Max. “But, what about the Maquis?”
“Don’t know,” Max lifted his cap and scratched his head, “I don’t know, damn it.”

17:30: Jimbo and Max approached the back of the house. The whole property was surrounded by squad cars and crime tape. Max was out of the car door before it stopped, “Fuck! Wait for me here, Jimbo. I’ve gotta see what this is about.”
An officer at the rear gate held out an arm to stop but Max brushed it aside, “Hey, this is a crime scene. Stop!” the cop protested, hand on his belt unclipping his Glock. Ryan saw Max coming and beckoned him through.
He followed Ryan inside where they stopped over the black lab-mix, quite-dead dog, at the foot of the stairs. Blood from the dog was puddled around it. A very young crime scene photographer was snapping-clicking-whirring-strobing her camera at several bloody shoe prints leading away towards the back door. Max knew better than to think that women had no stomach for this job as was the common assumption in the force. He wasn’t surprised to see Ryan at the scene either. He had expected Ryan to be there and it was of some comfort for him to know that at least one professional was on the job, “What happened? Where’s Adrienne... is she?”
Max had stepped into what seemed to be an argument between Richards and Ryan that had a bitter tone to it.
“This isn’t a homicide, Ryan. Ain’t kidnapping a job for the FBI?”
Ryan slammed a backhand retort at Richards, “Dead dogs... looks like homicide to me.”
Max was relieved to hear it wasn’t a homicide, but kidnapping didn’t sound so hot either.
“Now, allow me to talk with this witness,” Ryan glowered at Richards, addressing Max, he asked, “You any idea what happened?”
Richards was still nearby trying his best to not appear to be eaves dropping. Max was a civilian, but he seemed to have Ryan’s ear. It was clear that Richards didn’t like Max or what Max might know or suspect.
While giving Richards his best fuck you face, Max answered, “It looks like Nick is in deep shit… waders wouldn’t be of much use.”
“Look, Max, I know how close you are to Mrs. Baker. If you know anything at all let me know. Otherwise, stay out of this and let us handle it.”
“I believe it is Ms. Fournier now, but sure. You know I’m just a …”
Ryan led Max by the arm back out into the garden by the koi pond away from Richards and said, “We have some clues and a theory, if that’s what you want to know. One of Nick’s drug deals, no doubt, but it’s not my business to speculate. What do you know?”
“Not much more than you. I had no idea... didn’t expect this at all. Is Alesandro around?”
“No... Gone with her, I’m afraid.”
Ryan fed the koi some of the fish food kept next to the pond and went over the events of the day. One mottled koi, Max called Maxine, came to him whenever he sat at the pond where it availed itself to a pat on its snout. He listened without comment until Ryan finished. Investigations are slow because it is a process of compiling evidence for the DA. Max feared he didn’t have time for the kind of evidence gathering police investigations needed to stand up in court. There were more direct methods in which no one got off due to a technicality… a prosecutorial error… a piece of evidence gone missing... a jury intimidated or tampered with.... no Miranda rights read either. It wasn’t a matter of innocence or guilt. Still, Ryan was bound by the rules of evidence and had to conduct an investigation through the arduous accumulation of seemingly unrelated clues… a hair or rug sample… a finger print or blood sample… all of it stuffed in a file or zip-lock for further inspection in a lab that wouldn’t come back until long after the suspects left town and were sipping Tecates in Tecate. Max moved on hunches… hunches founded on the paradox of emotional/logical conclusions. The rules of his game required he gets the right target every time with no… absolutely no… collateral damage. But it wasn’t necessary for Max to prove guilt or innocence to a judge or jury. He had Nick’s PPK at home tucked away for a rainy day. Adrienne had found it in the garden shed a few months before and had given it to him for fear of what Nick would do with it. Adrienne did not like guns and especially didn’t want them on her premises. The PPK would be all he needed for a judge and jury should it come to that.
Jimbo got a call on his cell phone from Teresa while he waited. It was a brief and mysterious call and her tone explained the urgency of the situation, “Could you help us with something? It’ll probably be later tonight but you guys can be good to put eyes on a place on West Mountain Drive.”
“Depends on what something, and us, is,” impatiently Jimbo sniped. He was getting weary of all this intrigue.
West Mountain Drive... “I know that place. and hoped it’d be busted sooner than later,” he ended the call as he saw Max approaching, “I gotta go now.”
 Jimbo sensed it had bad mojo that he wanted nothing to do with. But, he liked Teresa. She was one honest person in the AA meetings he paid attention to even though she was a newcomer.
“She hesitated a minute before she added, “You know the cop, Irene Casey. She’s here... asleep now.”
Jimbo was intrigued then. He’d heard of the cop Irene Casey twice that day and loved the idea of those two together, “Shit. Should I congratulate you?”
“Yeah, I been trying for her awhile.”
Jimbo was authentically pleased. Gays were an important part of the late-night cab driving business and, what had originally been what could have been called tolerance, transcended into genuine affection. Though he was a married man, he still regretted that she was on the other team. Regardless, he was happy for her because he knew love is so hard to find and, when anyone finds love, it is cause to be glad.
Max entered the taxi just as Jimbo got off the phone, “I’m losing money Max. You know how it is.” Jimbo sighed audibly and asked, “Where to now, Boss.”
Max said cop-like, “Mountain Drive.”
Jimbo, stunned, “Wha...the fuck? West Mountain again?”
“Again? Right. You know where it is,” Max, softening his tone, realized he’d fallen into a cop’s terse cadence talking with Ryan.
Jimbo and Max, like any good hack, could figure out where the deals in town were going down.  At one time or another in the past six months, they’d both dropped off Nick a quarter mile down the road from the suspiciously isolated house on West Mountain Drive.
“Yeh, West Mountain. That fuckin’ place. I thought it was a satanic cult hangout ‘til I took Nick up there more than once.” Jimbo then decided to say something of a warning admonition. He’d been fearful of what had been evolving before his eyes and wanted no part in it, “My father was an Army officer and, my brother and I, spent most of our formative years in Japan.”
“Yeh, I know Jimbo,” Max was accustomed to Jimbo repeating things. Decades, of smoking pot had taken its toll on Jimbo’s mind even though he’d been sober a while by then. “I’ve heard it several times...”
Jimbo ignored him and continued, “In the dojo there is the story the sensei told of the three samurai watching a cuckoo to see it sing. The first samurai said, ‘If it doesn’t sing in few minutes, I will kill it with my sword.’ The second samurai said, ‘If it doesn’t sing, I will force it to.’ The third samurai said, ‘If it doesn’t sing, I will wait for it to sing.’ That samurai was Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun that united Japan and founded the dynasty of the Shogunate.”
“Nice story, Jimbo, but how do we apply it here?” Max wondered and then answered himself. “We ought to be careful and patient. We’re dealing with cuckoos. That’s what you’re saying?”
“But we’ve got to act,” Max said adding, “The cuckoos are not passive, and, in the case of the cartel, their song is one of slaughter.”
Jimbo’s retort was immediate, “We? Man, let the police handle it.”
Max’s mind was nowhere near rational by then as fear gripped and strangled all reasoning from his mind, “Dammit Jimbo, you can fuckin’ drop me off and I’ll go it on my own. Adrienne’s body will be dumped in the Manzanita off Camino Cielo by the time the cops and the FBI sift through the evidence.”
“That’s the problem when you sponsor an old friend... can’t tell him shit!”
“Is there one of the Twelve Steps for this mess, Jimbo?”
Jimbo was already driving towards Coyote Road, “Steps? You fuckin kill me, Max.”
“I hope not. I mean just drop me off and I’ll...”
“How about the Third?” Jimbo grinned that grin Max hadn’t seen since the old bar fights in their drinking days.
“Turn my will and my life over to the care of God as we understand him?” Max chortled, “We’re gonna need all the help we can get. But, Jimbo, I’m thinking we’ll observe first... like you said... let the cuckoos sing.”
Jimbo’s cab had turned left from Coyote on Mountain Drive and was cruising by the house by then. “That’s the house alright. It’s locked down tight as a drum. Don’t look but did you see those two by the gate?”
“Yeh, hopefully, we’re just another cab goin’ by. It’s not going to be easy. Just drop me off and take a few calls. I’ll call your cell phone after I figure out what the fuck I’m gonna do.”
“What, you gonna sneak and creep in broad daylight?” Jimbo asked, with a touch of sarcasm. Max knew what he was referring to. Sneak and creep was an old Long-Range-Recon-Patrol term from Vietnam.
“Nothing we didn't do in Nicaragua. So, maybe you’re right, my friend. I can take my bike up there after dark and check out the scene. They want Nick more than anything. I’m hoping they’ll do nothing to her ‘til they have him.”
“Nick. That fuckin’ prick. This is his problem, why should we...” Jimbo gave out a snort, “Oh yeh, sure. Nick... He nearly beat her to death once. Do you think he'd lift a finger to help her now? He’s probably on a plane with a bag of cash with his hand on some other fucker’s cock.”
 Max ceded, “Yeh, I get it. She was nothing more to him than an ATM.”
Jimbo nodded in agreement, “Get some rest. I’ll cover a few calls. Wait ‘til after dark. I’ll pick you up towards mid-night unless I get a call from you.”
Max relented, “Yeh, that’s the best time for a sneak and creep.”
 Jimbo paused, “Maybe we’ll have a plan by then. Call me if you find anything changes.” He realized he had no plan and knew that Max didn’t either, “But Max, check with me before you try anything stupid.”
Max laughed, “Jimbo, this whole gig is stupid. But I’ve gotta do something. Are you sure we won’t be too late by midnight?”
“I don’t know, hope not. But don’t get all John Wayne on us, Max.” Jimbo punched Max in the shoulder, “I’ve got your back. I know you’d have mine.”
“Brothers,” Max sighed. “You got it, Jimbo. I need to sleep. I’ve been up for almost 24 hours. I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Neither am I. But I gotta tell you,” Jimbo added as an aside, “Teresa called and that cop, Irene, is in on this too. We have help.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Chapter 20. The Massage Table

17:30: Irene Casey drove up Rinconada Street, to Teresa Sokolovsky’s condo. She was desperate to find out whether the agencies on the scene were hiding leads. She knew that Ryan wouldn’t be secretive about this case if there wasn’t good reason to slip his investigation past prying eyes. Looking more and more like an assassination at the fig tree and now Mrs. Baker’s kidnapping, Ryan was following something he wasn’t telling her about. She strongly suspected that Teresa might have been able to give her a clue, like where to look and about the connection to the fig tree murder and Nick Baker’s crash and disappearance. Since her separation from Dan, Ryan had taken her under his wing, but she was left out of this case. Suspicions confirmed, she was astute enough to know that something was going on that suggested her husband’s corruption was involved.

Teresa answered the door and greeted Irene with a pat-pat hug. The two women knew each other from casual contact and had spent some time a year ago at Pasqual's Bar for a retired cop's funeral party. There were only a few women on the police force other than 911 operators, meter maids, and clerks in those days. Teresa bought a round for all the uniforms and they stayed a couple hours after the party broke-up. A handful of other young single, and not so young and not so single, officers hung on and began taking turns hitting on them, buying more rounds and trying too hard to pick-up. After all, Teresa, well, she began looking better to them through the lens of alcohol and, even though Irene was still married, it was well known she’d recently become available.
Irene remembered her mood had been light as the shots began taking effect, “Jeeze, girl, that dress and make-up, whew! you are looking so good, I’d fuck you.”
Teresa didn’t laugh but seemed to be embarrassed at what might’ve been a joke, a drunk come-on, or could have been something more fun. She didn’t exactly deflect the overtly suggestive compliment. Tightening the thin fabric of the skirt across her lap with her hand, she smiled, parted her lips near Irene’s ear,  “Really, do you think so?" and whispered, "I had this dress in my closet and just threw it on.”
The spot just under Irene’s solar plexus stirred. She answered, “Well, these studs seem to think so...”
Teresa was glib, “The Fuckers, they’re all married. I don’t have time for it. You go home with one and then you have to spend weeks, sometimes months trying to get rid of ‘em.”
After several hours of heavy drinking, and among all the seasoned drinkers there, Teresa seemed to be the most capable of standing. She poured Irene into her classic 1959 Triumph TR-3, and drove her home. A thrill-ride, top-down along Camino Cielo wasn’t enough to sober Irene up, and vague recollections of a long goodnight kiss haunted her for months afterwards.

Irene had dismissed that whole afternoon in the past as an alcohol fueled attraction at best and tried to forget about the whole scene until she found herself assessing the girlish Tom-Boy in a hooded sweatshirt with no make-up sitting next to her. Ryan had admitted to Irene, that Teresa’s allure (disheveled, and gawky), enhanced a subtle eroticism exuding a powerfully enticing combination of pheromones and admiration.
She had to get back down to business or… or what? And abruptly curtailed her thoughts, blurting out, “Say, I like that you’re damned good with this tech stuff. I want to get a computer, but I don’t know anything about them. Shit, I don’t have time for classes.”
Teresa put a hand on Irene’s shoulder, “No problem. I can give you a lesson or two... get you started. We’ve gotta stick together, you know, women.”
A tingling flush of blood surged to Irene’s upper chest and pulsed warmth up her neck to her ears, “Thanks, I’ll take you up on it after the divorce comes through. I can’t afford one now.” Irene deflected the offer but knew her excuse was weak and was based more on fear of arousal than financial considerations; her phrase, I’ll take you up on it after the divorce comes through, still echoed in her mind weeks later and caused her to snigger.
Teresa laughed, “What can't you afford, the divorce? Or, did you mean, the computer?
"Oh shit, I don't care how much the divorce will cost... that fucker. Naw, I'll get a, what-cha-call 'em, a table-top... er, you know, a desk-top as soon as..."
"No plobrem. I have an old one I can give you. I'll show you a thing or two," and another relaxed laugh rolled out from her slender throat and through her lips, "Oops, no plobrem, no problem... you have me slurring… repeating myself... no problem no problem... like a drunk.”
Irene was confused because she hadn’t any same-sex urges before she stepped in the door that afternoon, but a magnet in her belly drew her towards Teresa. At first it was respect for her skill and knowledge of computers. Computers were a mysterious device to Irene back then. Desk-tops, lap-tops, Macs and so on. She decided it was time to join the twentieth century. Computers be damned, she’d felt a feint stirring whenever she was around this woman, but it was stronger that day in the dim light glowing from the monitors in the room.
All the table-tops in Teresa’s place had several Santa Barbara Roasting Company empty paper coffee cups between the monitors. The only bare surface was a massage table at the side. “Come over here and have a seat. You’ll have to excuse the mess, the cleaning lady’s day off, eh.”
“I’m kinda here on business.” Irene suddenly had the desire to run but she cleared a pile of papers off a folding chair instead and waved a hand towards the massage table, “You do massage?”
Teresa smiled, showing a set of gleaming white teeth, “Yeah, internship at the PD doesn’t pay the bills,” and asked, “Business? Official? You want some coffee?”
“Not exactly official... going under the radar,” Irene answered hesitantly but was feeling pleasantly at ease.
Teresa said rather than asked, “So, you want to know what Ryan’s up to.”
With seething animosity, she added, “And fucking Dan.” But her mood mellowed while watching Teresa’s elongated porcelain fingers take out a styro-foam cup from a package of fresh ones and filled it from an old thrift-store Mr. Coffee. Damn, she thought, the girl looks like a saint on an icon… interrupting her reverie, she answered, “That’s good, black... no sugar.”
“I know,” Teresa pointed to a map with pins in it over the part of her desk facing the wall. “Something’s going on up there.”
Irene sipped from the cup and looked at the wall-map with red and black pins, “Sheeze, you’ve been busy. Not at the Baker house?”
“No, something’s happening around Coyote Road and West Mountain. I’m trying to get hold of Ryan... he isn’t in contact with anyone since he left here.”
“How about Dan?”
“Blacked out too,” she came up behind Irene and began massaging her shoulders. “You too. You have so much... chakra blockage... tension in your neck... relax.”
“Ummmm, that feels sooo good,” Irene said as she let herself feel that stirring. It was from the heart... not the groin. It didn’t disturb her this time. It was welcome physical contact but, she had business. “Say, you know that cab driver, Max?”
“Yes, Jimbo and Max have delivered a few orders from Jack in the Crack,” a broad smile graced Teresa’s face, “and, back in the day, a pint or two from the liquor store in the middle of the night.”
Irene acknowledged a truth junkies and cops know, “Cabbies are onto everything going on in town. Do you think...?”
“I could call Jimbo, he’s a bit saner than Max.”
“Tell him to keep this shit under his hat, if you do.” Irene submitted, “Maybe he could help us with recon.”
“I wouldn’t go anywhere without Ryan. It has to be dangerous,” Teresa purred.
Irene dismissed the thought, “Shit yes, it’s crazy and can be a career ender for me if anyone gets a whiff of this. I’m off-duty now, so, what the fuck. Give him a call.”
“Okay, let’s hear from Ryan first,” Teresa offered.
“If Dan wasn’t smack in the middle of this I wouldn’t get involved,” Irene sighed.
“Then don’t. Ryan's on it. He knows how to take these kinds of risks. That’s my amateur advice,” she whispered at the nape of Irene’s neck as she lifted from under Irene’s arm pits, “Come, and lay down over here. There's time for this... I do have a massage license, you know.”

Irene laid on the massage table face down and let herself drift into deep relaxation as Teresa massaged her crown... her temples... her jaw... lifted, pulled on her neck muscles, ground the heel of a hand down her spine, worked her way from the neck to her shoulders saying, “I’m going down your chakras. I want you to breathe as I go; inhale, hold, exhale, at each stage. Fill your lungs from the belly... that’s it... breathe.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Chapter 19. Teresa's Place

17:00: Back at his desk, Ryan went to work. It was a simple matter for the service provider to grant the name of the phone’s owner if the DA could wrangle the approval of Judge West. However, this would take a couple of hours. Pinheads in Congress had only approved the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) a few years before but it had some areas within which teams of lawyers could forge loopholes and dodges in the interpretation. Getting warrants often took time, thus frustrating investigators already burdened with legal hurdles. In extreme cases Ryan used a simpler resource, Teresa Sokolovsky, who was a grad student at the UCSB (Computer Science & Creative Studies) lab, and worked as an intern at the PD helping to set up the new computer fraud division. She knew how to, though not necessarily violate the law, but to skirt it under the guise that it was all public airways regardless of the law. Besides, he didn’t want to tap the phone, but to simply get information on where and who the hell was using it.
Ryan had consulted Teresa about GPS on a case once before. She wasn’t at the desk she kept in a corner of the small dispatch room. The Station had been built in 1959 and was sorely in need of an update afforded the communications department. He knew that she would probably be home in her condo by the SBHS on Rinconada Road not far from the SBPD if she wasn’t at the media lab at UCSB. Ryan was struck by Teresa’s appearance, though her appearance was hardly striking at all. At twenty-two, she maintained the look of the Old Maid’s of the card game, complete with red hair tied back tight in a bun, a stern-freckled-face, and six-foot-tall gangling frame. When he looked beyond her unkempt exterior, he could see delicate features attractive enough to grace the covers of Vogue and a body that was skinny enough for the runways of Paris and New York. Teresa was a genius once she sat down at a desk with her long-thin-fingers flying across the keys; eyes fixed on the monitor screen, zipping through passwords as though they were her own. Ryan was not up to date on the technology and barely understood how to set the timer on his VCR that he never used. Even now, he kept the DVD player his daughter, Phoebe had given him his last birthday in its box. He held this new generation of nerds in high esteem because there was no telling how far into secured sites any one of them could plunder if so inclined.

Ryan arrived at Teresa’s door unannounced; she hadn’t answered his calls but that wasn’t out of character for her. The door was slightly ajar and as he tapped on it lightly, it opened enough for him to get a glimpse of her at her desk. The Spanish Colonial condo complex of clean architectural exterior lines contrasted sharply with what was inside for her interior decor was an incongruous semi-circle of three hollow-core doors on saw horses holding an array of monitors and keyboards connected by snaking bundles of tangles of wires to a row of towers on the floor under the tables.
“Knock-knock,” he announced.
“Not a knock-knock joke.” She didn’t look away from the screen, “The coffee is fresh in the kitchen.”
Ryan walked past her to the kitchen and rinsed out a used styro-foam cup and filled it to the brim. It slopped to the floor as he crossed the room and pulled up a chair behind her tossing the cell phone next to the notebook she used for a mouse pad. It slid across the table and would have fallen over the side had she not been so quick to reach over and stop its progress.
“What’s this… let me guess… you need to know who owns it, who is he calling…”
“Okay, she… a detail, who is calling him… easy enough, eh?”
“Location…maybe, where was she calling from? Can you do that?”
“Sure, take a seat and don’t hover over me. I’ll let you know.”
“These are disposable,” she opened the back of it and fiddled, “hard to say what can be gleaned from it... maybe hack into Verizon.”
 Ryan’s eyes scanned the room as detectives always do. They stopped at a short poem like string of words posted on the corkboard above Teresa’s desk:
“I believed in God.
I believed in justice.
Like a child, I trusted that the universe was kind but,
in spite of my faith, I found myself in a camp
where justice, mercy, and love were burned
in the incinerators of hatred.
There I stood at the fence, garbed in striped attire,
clothed in discarded childish beliefs. It was then,
standing on the dark side of the barbed wire fence of despair,
that the American army restored my faith in humanity with
the simple gesture of a chocolate bar...”
 – anonymous

Twenty minutes later Teresa shouted out to Ryan, “Got it. Nick Baker! Call from Adrienne Baker. From the cell-tower covering the area around West Mountain Drive.”
“I didn’t know you were Jewish.”
“I’m not. My Great Grandfather was in Auschwitz,” she answered, as though it was a tired subject. “Poles went there too... lots of them. My great-grandmother and grandmother were sent to Buchenwald.”
‘Really. I hadn’t thought of that.” Ryan saw so much depth in this young woman that he admired.
“So, West Mountain Drive,” she returned to the subject at hand.
“Great, I owe you.”

Nick had been swamping through the Sycamore creek-bed for fifteen minutes before he came to a good spot under the Mason Street Bridge at Sycamore; more to think than to rest. These bridges in town along the creek beds were good places for junkies to shoot-up or gang-bangers to hide out. The creeks were dry nine or ten months of the year and were excellent passageways, useful for getting from one end of the town to the other undetected. He slept, curled up under the bridge. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Chapter 17. The Gathering Storm

Mon. 09:15: Nick had gone to Billy’s trailer first. The door was open. It didn’t feel right. Fear had consumed him since he left Jerry’s place. It gripped him, and he couldn’t think at all. Options narrowed and, as he pushed the door, he felt resistance. There wasn’t much of a floor and what there was of a floor, was taken up with a lump of a form once called Billy. Shit. Nick had to think. Billy’s body was fresh… still warm… small entrance hole in the forehead… like a Hindu dot… a black burn-mark halo around it... not much blood at all… no exit wound at all… 22 caliber hollow-point, no doubt. Billy’s pager was beeping. Nick grabbed the bicycle leaning against the trailer and took off for the Rescue Mission.

Mon. 0920: Nick’s next move was to get out of the South side of the freeway’s no-man’s land. He had to call someone and not the police. He dared not go directly to Scolaries and he needed to rest. He rang the buzzer of the office next to the staff dining room at the Rescue Mission on Yananoli Street. His nerves calmed when he recognized one of Max’s friends coming to the door, the office manager, Beverly.
“Bev… I won’t bother you much, Bev. But can I use your phone?” adding, “My battery’s dead.”
She watched him reach in his pocket to pull out the phone that wasn’t there. Bev let out one of her trademark jowly laughs, “You don’t have one, do you?”
“I must have left it some….”
“Nevermind, just don’t use it for any deals, eh?”
He made the call... a payphone on a wall in the staff dining room. Nick was overly cryptic, so Bev went back to her office, shouting, “No drug deals, Nick... Can't call anyone but your sponsor, your boss, or your wife. Right?”
“Sure, Bev. I know the rules.”
Bev's job was to sniff-out uneasiness and tried to tease out the reason why, she hollered, “How is Adrienne anyway?”
“She’s fine,” He was already punching the buttons. The dial tone on the other end could be heard from Bev’s desk. The phone rang the usual four time before the message picked up, “Max, it’s about Adrienne.” He lowered his voice and cupped the phone as he realized Bev was hearing him from the office.
Bev could make out what he was saying. It was her responsibility to make sure none of the house members used the phone for drug deals, etc. and her ears were good at catching important clues.
“She’s been taken, Max... my fault…,” the phone went dead. Nick knew Max screened calls and had hung up on him. He hoped Max would pass it on if Alesandro was still alive.
Bev asked bewildered, “Shouldn’t you be calling 911?”
“No, Bev. I’m only kidding. I need to stay here a while, okay with you?”
“Nick, what have you gotten yourself into? Sure, take a nap. You can use a table. Staff won’t be in for an hour or so.”
Nick left the office and Bev dialed 911.
Nick passed through the dining hall and thought better of it as he heard Bev from the office on the phone. He left through the back and crossed over towards the Zoo.

Max got the call on his answering machine. Since Nick had careened into his cul de sac, Max was reminded of a water spout at sea. He had seen several. It was the way a water spout drops down from the heavens and bursts skyward from the sea simultaneously and dances across the waters that mesmerized him. Max saw the events rolling out as some kind of weird cosmic dance... or to continue the metaphor... a whirlpool sucking him in from below too. Homer’s ear tuned in on him from his perch on top of the consul as Max laughed, “Like Poe or Homer, Homer! Charybdis... or what was it? He’d read one of Poe’s ominous short stories about a maelström... about the Moskoe-ström of Norway, “A descent into the Maelström”. Sucked in by forces arising from the sea of his subconscious and the playgrounds of the gods tugging at him towards the heavens and the demons of a watery hell below, he was given no choice. In Max’s grandiose imagination he was in an epic drama... Odysseus trying to get home after a series of misadventures of his own making and, now of his destiny was getting in his way after he’d tried his best to “do the right thing” as advised by his AA spiritual Sherpa guide and sponsor, Jimbo. Jimbo wasn’t a Sherpa and had never been on this mountain but he was all Max had. He felt strongly that calling the police was a good way to get Adrienne killed. He tried calling Adrienne’s number hoping that Alesandro would be there. The phone rang several times on the other end but there was no answer.

Mon. 10:00: Hank had no reason to believe that he was going to live. He saw the leaves and the branches of the tree above him gently flickering in a light breeze. He thought about the sermons at the Sally and the Mish he’d heard a thousand times before… about sweet Jesus and salvation… salvation from what? He never quite figured.
“If I’m dying, who’s going to find my body?” he asked loud enough for hardly anyone to hear.
“Shit, that you, Hank?”
“Yeh, what the fuck was that about?” Bob-O peered over the root’s knee next to Hank.
“Forget that… can’t you see, I’m dying?”
“What’s this…?” Bob-O picked up the cell phone.
Hank was having a hard time breathing as blood was filling his lungs, “Quit lookin’ at that damned thing like a monkey lookin' at his turds,” he coughed, “Call 911!”

10:15: Hank was loaded onto the Emergency Vehicle on a gurney. There were several Japanese tourists already off the tour bus taking pictures as though they were circled around a fire pit at a Luau only this was more exciting... American gun violence like they’d all read about from their Tokyo homes. They were now in the Wild West and here was a gangster shooting.... crime scene tape and all. Hank wondered what was in their photo albums at home. Bob-O imagined those bored guests watching in near comas the videos of their trip to Hawaii and America. Bob-O was standing nearby but, when the cops showed up, he had begun inching away. It didn’t help his progress, hoping to meld into the tourists with Hank’s shopping cart, that one cop blocked his exit.
Ryan commanded, “Don’t anyone leave, you there.”
Bob-O stopped… “Shit.”
“Haven’t seen you for a while, Bob-O.”
“I was at the gray-bar Bed and Breakfast the last three months.” He’d hoped that Ryan hadn’t noticed him slipping the phone in one of his several pockets. Even though the temperature was in the nineties, Bob-O and Hank wore several layers of shirts and always greasy jackets with plenty pockets in and out.
Ryan had an old cop’s affection for some of these dumpster-divers. As far as he knew, these two didn’t use drugs and, though they did hit the Tokay and smoked some pot to fend off the chill of the night, they weren’t usually a problem. They kept it to themselves and in the bushes out of sight. Bob-O and Hank were the kind of homeless men... mostly men and a few women... that wouldn’t spend a night or sing for their supper at the Mission. He knew they might have once had families that cared. All of them at least had mothers. Some had sisters and brothers that wondered where their brothers went. Fewer still had children looking for them too. Something had gone wrong with the wiring between their ears. It could have been Nam... or some other fulcrum of trauma that levered them off the treadmill of civilized lives... of career and family. Ryan was one of the lucky ones that did come home from Viet Nam to a career he loved... to a home given up to divorce and child-support... to a one bedroom apartment he used just to sleep. Yes, sleep fitfully like in a hotel room... to high cholesterol and blood pressure controlled by meds... meds to shut off the dreams of Marine’s dying around the embassy, shrapnel... a bike bomb that nearly killed him during the Tet... and the VA that had just begun to recognize PTSD as a recognizable diagnosis that was shuffled off to a desk where a clerk moved the flood of compensation claims to the bottom of the stack.
Most Santa Barbara cops let the homeless make their rounds, filling shopping carts in the early morning up State Street and behind the bars for anything that could be recycled. They weren't bothered by most local patrols, except by rookies and out-of-town badges during Fiesta: a time when the streets were cleared of eyesores for the sake of the Chamber of Commerce. Hank and Bob-O knew enough to stay out of sight towards the end of July to the second week of August.
“Did you see anything, Bob-O?”
“Naw… I was asleep between the knees…” he pointed to the spot he’d been laying and looked down at where Hank had landed between the roots next to him, “I woke up when I heard Hank hit the ground there.”
“You didn’t hear gunshots?”
“Naw, nothin’ like that… it was weird,” he puzzled, scratching his dreds as though it was the first time Bob-O thought about what had happened.
Ryan went over to the knees of the roots that had been taped off and Bob-O followed.
Bob-O put the Dodgers baseball cap back on his matted hair… recalling, “There was this big Hawaiian shirt getting in a black Mercedes.”
“And what did you stuff in your pocket?” Ryan didn’t want to take away Bob-O’s prize, but he felt that whatever it was might help with the investigation.
"Shit, busted… Maybe you’ll ‘member me the next time,” he fished the phone out of one of his deeper pockets inside his layers.
Ryan pointed to the black garbage bag bulging with crushed cans in the cart, “You can have Hank’s cart anyway.”

Ryan’s belt buzzed… it was his phone and not the one in evidence. He hated these interruptions while he was thinking. His thoughts were weaving their way through a maze of who, what, when and where. He had a good idea about the black Mercedes. This Miguel character had come to his attention but a punk like this was the business of the Narcotics Enforcement folks until now. An attempted murder, however, was Ryan’s business. The repeated buzzing of his phone was getting annoying. His complete attention was focused on the phone he’d taken from Hank. The setting for the contact list was nearly empty and the few numbers there were listed under initials… no names. However, the call log had a number that was repeated a few times in the last hour… from… what… Adrienne Fournier.
He reluctantly answered his own phone hoping he could get back to thinking, “Yeh, Richards, what do you want?”
“Was it a hit? I just heard… I got a call to the Rescue Mission. A kidnapping at the Bakers.”
Ryan wasn’t quite able to connect the dots, but he could figure out that Richards knew about this mess at the Fig Tree and it wasn’t through regular channels. He hadn’t heard this call go out over the air yet and wished he could play poker with this creep that so easily showed his hand. But he asked anyway, “What about the Bakers?”
“I don’t know... Nick’s gone. No one saw him go. But I’m headed to their house.”
Ryan’s brain was sifting the information like an archeologist looking for a shard... thinking, how would Richards know about this and a kidnapping? A uniform doesn’t get these calls before a call from dispatch. Irene already told him Richards had a hard on for Frenchy. Ryan’s next move, after he’d seen that there was nothing more at this crime scene, would be to get up the hill to the Baker house.
On the way up the hill Ryan’s radio broadcast the emergency code 2 on a PC-207 kidnapping.
Unlike Ryan’s methodically digging and sifting, Richards was plundering clumsily through the evidence like a grave robber. He needed to be able to pass on to Miguel whatever Ryan was finding.

His next thought was to get over to Teresa's place next chance he got to see what she could come up with.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Chapter 16. The Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Planted by an anonymous girl in 1876, and moved to its corner
on Chapala and Montecito Streets by friend Adeline Crabb,
where the Moreton Bay Fig Tree has been an attraction
for tourists and vagrants alike for the past century.

Mon. 08:30: Nick didn’t have much time, but he wanted to try once more to alert Adrienne to the possibilities. He knew that if Miguel’s boys couldn’t find him they’d certainly find her. Adrienne wasn’t aware of the danger his warning was about. He regretted it but hoped she got it. He had no time to explain. He had to disappear before they strung him up by his cajones.
Think, think, think… He had to figure out how to get this deal taken care of. He crossed under the freeway on Chapala Street through the new culverts (before they’d been screened to keep vagrants out) leading to the Fig Tree. He lay there thinking... thinking... maybe a half hour he thought. As soon as he crawled out on the street he got the call from Adrienne’s number.
He was reluctant, but he answered, “Yes.”
The familiar Hispanic voice came from the phone, “Prick, listen to this…. Now say something to your Neecky. Go ahead, say something, anything.”
It was Adrienne, “Neeck, I have been treated badly... they have me in a basement…” Her voice was weak… not at all like her.
Miguel came back on, “Is it clear what you have to do?”
His first thought wasn’t about what he had to do, it was, Shit, I’d better take out the battery from my cell phone… he was sure Miguel has an LBS locator. Better yet, I’ll leave the phone under the tree where maybe a bum, one of the homeless, will pick it up and lead whoever tracks it away…” Then he made his way to a place down to Mason and Chapala to where one of his customers lived. He knocked on the door softly several times…. no one home. He slipped an old plastic library card between the latch and the jamb he kept for these occasions, easily opening it. Thanks to Jerry’s casual attitude, the dead-bolt wasn’t locked.
Jerry was a music industry lawyer who’d fallen onto hard times from using coke and graduating to tar. He once had some high-profile clients but the past two years he’d been representing, barely managing, garage-band local groups, and dealing grams of coke to pay his rent. He had been accustomed to living the high life but was now reduced to scraping by. These apartments by the beach were priced beyond his means but, to Jerry, this was as low as he wished to go. The bedroom door was closed… Nick opened it a crack… Jerry and one of his boys were tangled up in the sheets. Nick picked up Jerry’s phone off a stand next to the couch… held it for a few minutes thinking about who he could call. It was a reflex. He picked up a phone and started calling people… that’s what he does… been doing all his adult life. Under-breath he said, "I'm a salesman, for-crying-out-loud."
He was in survival mode, “Alesandro, Shit, Adrienne’s number...”
Just as Nick started to dial on Jerry’s decorative antique phone, the bedroom door burst open. Jerry was holding an old .357 Ruger Blackhawk single-action revolver, in one hand sideways gangsta-style, directly at Nick’s chest from a foot away. The hammer wasn’t even cocked, and the cylinder was empty. Nick’s first reflex was to flip his arm up and over, slapping it to the side. It spun on the floor like a perverse spin the bottle game.
“Jerry, dammit! You see a punk hold a gun like that in a movie?”
“I don’t care,” Jerry whimpered.
“What’s goin’ on…” the boy from the bed stood naked at the door.
Nick had taken the revolver from the floor by then and tucked it in his belt.
“What are you doing with a toy like this, Jerry?”
“Fucker, get out!”
“Never hold a gun that close to your target and, by the way, it’s a single action, cock it first,” Nick advised, “Lucky it was me.” He tapped out Adrienne’s number.
Voice mail recording started, “Leave a message and number...”
“Shit, this is Nick. Where are you Alesandro? Adrienne has been taken by... shit, I’ll call back after I get to another phone.”
“It wasn’t loaded anyway.” Jerry whined.
“Luckier yet then,” he shrugged, “What good is that? Look, I knocked on your fuckin’ door for…”
“So, I’m busy.”
“Yeah, we’re busy!” bitchily said Snide Boy.
“How old are you boy? Does your mommy know where you are?”
Nick faced Jerry and demanded, “You owe me.”
“I know, I know… I have a client that owes me… I’ll get you back when… I already told you.”
“This will do. You got any ammo for it?”
“Yeh, it’s in that drawer, I promise I will pay,” Jerry pointed to the stand where the phone was kept.
“Good,” he grunted, taking a box labeled Hornady out of the drawer. “I’m not here for money. I just needed your phone and this.”
Nick gestured for them to return to the bedroom… they complied. He loaded the cylinder and dropped the ammo box in one of his front pockets. It was heavy in his parachute style pants with zippers and pockets on each leg. He missed his Walther PPK he’d kept for such emergencies in Adrienne’s garden shed.
Nick stood for a minute staring at the door… “Shit I like ‘em young but that kid can’t be twelve.”

Mon. 09:00: The Moreton Bay Fig Tree was a fixture, a tourist attraction, in Santa Barbara for more than a century. It was mentioned with pride in all the tourist guides: planted by an anonymous little girl at 201 State Street in eighteen-seventy-six. The same brochures would say that two years later her family moved away that her friend, Adeline Crabb, transplanted it to where it stands today at the corner of Montecito and Chapala. A hundred years later; winos, drug dealers and homeless drifters; from the likes of Joe Hill to Jack Kerouac, have rested between its knees in the shade of boughs that now spread wider than any on this continent. Its knees are roots that stand out at least two to three feet from the ground… in the old days before the park was cleaned up, before the freeway went through, one could crawl between its knees, put a piece of cardboard up on the ridges of them, and snuggle down with a blanket to disappear from sight a few hours. By the time Nick’s cell-phone had been dropped and wedged itself in there, those days were over. The area around the tree had been gussied up and patrolled for the tourists. The 101-freeway cut off Chapala Street, making it harder for drug dealers to sell their wares there as traffic was no longer able to pass by as easily as before. Winos, the homeless, and addicts still paused to nap on the lawn but they didn’t stay long… they didn’t hang too close to the tree without getting a vagrancy ticket. The knees of the tree are reserved for tourists to climb on and around during the day.
One of the regulars, Dumpsta-Divin’ Hank, came rolling down the street with his shopping-cart full of bottles and black trash bags jam-packed with crushed cans. The fog had burned off and it had turned into a hot day, he rested on the knees in the shade. A cell phone buzz arose from the crotch of the roots near him. He picked it up, flipped it open, heard a voice come from it, and promptly slammed it shut.
Hank was there for about twenty minutes thinking about where he might be able to get a few bucks for the phone. “Bzzzzzzp… the sound of a bee zipped by his left ear… he didn’t hear the second… his body dropped between the knees of the tree. A hole… mid chest, side-by-side in his jacket … an old tattered sports coat from the Rescue Mission… oozed blood. The cell phone still gripped in his hand. The rear door of the black Mercedes with tinted windows opened. An orange-skinned man in a Hawaiian shirt, a Glock (silencer attached) in his left hand, stepped out towards the tree’s roots where Hank … eyes staring skyward, held his breath.
Hank wasn’t dead but he sure as hell looked dead to the man with the Glock. Otherwise he might have put one in Hank’s head to make sure. He picked up the cell phone… checked the call log… last calls were to Adrienne… received calls were from Adrienne’s phone… nothing went out. He wiped it for prints with a kerchief he always kept handy and dropped the phone next to Hank.
Back at the car, Dmitri slid into the back seat and said with a thick Slavic accent, “It wasn’t Nick.”
“It wasn’t… Who had the phone?”
“A bum.”
“Why didn’t you bring it to me?”
“No reason… there were no calls on it we don’t know about.”
Miguel’s glowering eyes looked past Dmitri seeing a shadow of a man rise-up from the roots next to where Hank had dropped, “You sure there were no other calls?”
“I’m sure.” He turned to see what Miguel was seeing. “I’ll go back and take care of that other bum.”
A tour bus pulled up from through the train station on the Chapala side.
Miguel said, “Which bum is dead?”
“The one with the phone, he’s dead.”
“Then, forget about it.”
The car eased out and turned around away from the scene westward on Montecito Street.

Chapter 24. The Dick of Despair

23:00: Miguel had been in his kitchen when a few of his heavies from Oxnard and Santa Maria arrived. Besides Yuri and Dimitri, he had only ...