NO DICE, a Santa Monica Murder Mystery, by Mar Preston

Last section posted on 9/24

Chapter Nine, second two

The faces of the cop by her door and the old fellow with the measuring tape kept popping out at Ginger, jumping in her face, startling her, scalding her with what-might-have-beens. Stress clamped down all her muscles and she ached from head to toe like an abscessed tooth. She forced herself to get through the essential things at the top of the To Do list. Get to work. Check email, do press calls. Say hello to the volunteers and go and hide in her office.

She put her forehead down on her desk and gradually felt better. Ramon came in and stood looking at her. Just as she was about to bring up the subject of last night’s council meeting fiasco, Wally called. Ginger punched him onto speaker phone.

“How could you let that happen?” Wally bellowed.

“I had nothing to do with that. That was Martina acting on her own.”

“It’s your job to control your volunteers,” he said, slurring his words.

“Nobody controls her. Including you, Wally.”

“Did you see the paper? They’re laughing at you. Do something.”

“Like what, Wally? Like what? You tell me what. Precisely what.”

Wally hung up on her, leaving Ramon and Ginger looking at each other.

“He sounds like he’s drunk, doesn’t he?” Ginger reflected.

“He’s never made any secret that he goes to AA. Hasn’t it been something like, what, twenty years though since he’s had a drink?”

“Think so.”

“What does it matter what he thinks. He’s gone over to the Dark Side–even though he denies it. I’m trying my best to keep the press away from him.”

“He told one of the volunteers that the police were harassing him. Maybe that’s what tipped him over the edge,” Ramon added.

Ginger spent the morning on the phone soothing the other members of the coalition and the councilmembers who blamed her for the disruption in City Council chambers. Martina had staged battles in the city for years and everybody dreaded the prospect of going up against her. It was how she got away with being outrageous. Sometimes she fought the battles nobody else would take on. Ginger called her and found Martina serenely indifferent to any consequences.

When the on-line newspaper was posted, Ginger read it avidly. The police spokesman called them an unruly mob and made dark statements about not allowing permits to assemble in the future. The Executive Committee of the Board met and advised Ginger to pull together in unity with Martina. Just make the best of what happened.

Ginger felt like quitting and couldn’t. Nobody else was going to insure her with fibromyalgia. She had to keep the job until she found health insurance somewhere else.

When she couldn’t stand people berating her any longer, she drove over to Kathleen’s apartment. Sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of Kathleen’s empty bedroom, Ginger thought about finding another job after the election. She’d always known this one would come to an end.

Maybe she’d leave Santa Monica altogether and do something useful in a community where they had real problems. In the Pico Neighborhood, people worried about being able to buy shoes for the kids. Can I make the rent? My daughter’s dating a tattooed biker. Who am I going to leave my kids with when I go to work?

It would be the last she saw of Mason anyway.

Mason drove out the Palmdale highway by himself, and in the deep, dark star-lit night of the high desert, he pulled off the road, took a shovel and buried his old friend. He stood by the make-shift grave, dry-eyed and thought about his life. He felt so disconnected that if he lifted both feet off the ground he’d float away.

When he got to work the next day he heard about the demo at city hall and shook his head in disgust. What was the matter with McNair.

He put off telling Haley and Diana about Buddy’s death until he couldn’t stand it any longer. Diana cried. Mason offered to come over and she told him not to. Asshole would be home soon.

Haley took the news better than Mason had expected. Then she told him that she was going to have a new baby brother or sister anyway.

The excitement in her voice broke Mason’s heart.

In the midst of strategizing with Ramon about how to keep the coalition together, Ginger got a call from Ida Watkins.

“Oh, Miss McNair. It’s Ida Watkins, the docent from the Centinela Adobe. You know, we had that nice talk about Daniel?”

“I remember you very well, Mrs. Watkins. Did Detective Mason get in touch with you?”

“Oh my, yes. And Mrs. Wheelis from the Culver City Police too. They both seemed very interested in that fellow who was planning the memorial for him.”

I’ll bet, Ginger thought.

“I tried and I tried to remember what he looked like. Anyway, I’m calling you because he came back again. Just as we were closing up on Sunday. I saw him back in the staff area–where he had no business! But he was very nice and all. I’ve been so busy with my husband and the doctors I didn’t get a chance to think about it until now. But this time I asked him for his name. He left me his card.”

Ginger leaned forward and pulled the telephone closer to her. “Really? What does it say?”

“Let me see now.”

Ginger waited, her fingers itching.

“I just had it. Where is it? Oh, here it is. It says his name is David Evan Mowbry, Ph.D., the California Teacher’s Assembly. He has an office in Garden Grove, 1517 Placentia Avenue.”

Ginger turned to her computer and Googled the California Teacher’s Assembly while Watkins talked.

“Call Detective Mason. Okay? Tell him I told you, won’t you?”

“I should have called you sooner, but there’s so much to do getting my husband to the doctor and then the pharmacies and there’s all the bills. My sons help but they work, you know.”

“We all do the best we can, Mrs. Watkins. If we could do better, we would. Right?”

“Well, that’s a nice way to look at it, dear.”

They hung up with Ginger’s promise to visit the adobe again which she firmly intended to as soon as this was over. She looked at the Google results on her computer.

No such thing as the California Teachers’ Assembly. Nothing for Evan Mowbry.

Mason got the news about McNair and the shot gun. He grimaced and set it aside to talk to her later. This was the first big case Wozinski had worked and he was taking it so seriously Mason was afraid he’d pop a vein. He had a habit of letting out eerie groans while he concentrated, completely unaware of what he was doing. They had started calling him Woz and the nickname and its sign of acceptance made him grin shyly every time he heard it.

He was going in two directions as once, trying to track down Baker’s interest in the Sears property and the building of the Santa Monica Freeway. Sears had opened in 1946, and was in its day touted as a prime example of Late Moderne Architecture.

“What have you got, Woz?” Mason said, pausing at his desk. He helped himself to a handful of chips from the bag Wozinski kept at his desk.

“Look.” He showed Mason a list of addresses on the 400 block of Colorado. Next to each name was an occupation. “Baker went to a lot of trouble to get this.”

“Occupation?”

“Yeah, they listed your occupation in the phone book here in Santa Monica—maybe everywheres back then, Except for women.” He pointed to women’s names and the tag “Widow.”

“Geez, don’t tell that to some of the feminazi’s around here.” Mason got a little ugly thrill of forbidden sexism and immediately hoped nobody heard him. He got like that around other cops.

Wozinski flipped up a page on the notepad and pointed. “See.” Here again was Baker’s list of titles on the 400 block from the Land Recording office in Norwalk.

He shrugged. “Why?”


Mason decided to walk over to Lawrence’s offices on the Third Street Promenade and ask him about the Sears property on the 400 block of Colorado Avenue. He saw with a cop’s eye the homeless vets and runaway teenagers occupying the benches set out for tourists exhausted from spending money at the chain retail stores. The cops in West LA and Venice swept the gangs and the homeless westward toward the ocean and Santa Monica formed the edge of the continent.

Pitiful creatures, some of them, old and broken and sick. They waited around for the free lunches the do-gooders served up. Drifters came because the weather was good, because they were out of work and hungry. Mason had sat through enough hearings on how to serve the homeless until he was weary of the whole thing. Like so many other issues, it didn’t look so black and white to him anymore. He could debate the police line one way and then turn around and with equal conviction, turn all the arguments upside down and sound like a goddamn liberal. Splitting up with Diana eroded the certainty out of him about a lot of things.

Mason came in just as Jimmy Edwards was signing for a Fed Ex box. Lawrence was in court. Edwards had a kind of sizzle, charisma, whatever it was called, a kind of scorched energy about him. Mason gave him that. He watched how his co-worker’s eyes followed him. He walked Mason back to his office. Edwards came across as willing to help but puzzled about Mason’s interest in the Sears property put together in 1946.

“Why your interest in this?” He ripped the tape off the Sharper Image box and sat down, glancing up at Mason.

“Just curiosity.”

“Oh?”

“Answer the question, Mr. Edwards.”

“Call me Jimmy.”

“Answer the question, Jimmy.”

“You want me to explain exactly what about the Sears property from 1946?”

“The store was built in 1946. Tell me about how that land deal was put together.”

“I don’t know just of the top of my head. Why would you want to know that?”

“Things come up.”

Edwards sent the bubble wrap flying, grinning at Mason, white teeth flashing.

“Breathalyzer. Ninety-nine bucks.

“You like to drink and drive?”

“Oh, come on. Don’t be a downer. I like my toys.”

Okay, asshole, Mason thought, here it comes. “We found something interesting in your background check. You were born Diego Eduardo Hernandez, County of Los Angeles, 1970. Let’s see, where is it? 1974?”

Edwards went hard-faced and stopped reading the instruction booklet. “So what?”

“Tell me. Do all your colleagues here know that the bio posted on the company’s website is bullshit? No sister living in Paris. Come on. Your parents teaching at Ivy League Schools? Your mother is Rosa Maria Marta Hernandez. Father Miguel Julio Contreras, deceased. Your mother is a housekeeper at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. An illegal.”

“So?”

“You were born and raised around Vermont and Exposition near USC.”

“Won a Neighborhood Scholarship to USC because I was smart and worked my ass off.”

“And kept your nose clean. No criminal record.”

“You got a point here, Mason?”

Mason made himself perfectly still, eyes fixed on Edwards-Hernandez, expression neutral. They waged the battle in tense silence. He became aware of the guy’s breathing.

Mason continued reading from the report prepared for him. “The good brother.”

“..And the Bad Boy. I wondered when you’d get around to him. I’ve got nothing to do with my brother. Haven’t seen him in years.” Edwards sat down in his high-tech chair, flipping a switch and sinking back with a motorized hum. He found his fingers of great interest. Lacing them together, he formed a church and steeple.

Mason continued reading: “String of arrests for assault, larceny, extortion, armed robbery, drugs. He beat rape, pleaded out to some, did county time, then he got put down for ten years on a strong-arm robbery beef. Pelican Bay, then he gets off for good behavior, even though there’s a couple of shank killings with his name on it. But soon enough he’s sent back. Bad luck, huh? Everybody knows he runs the local gang with the homies outside and pretty much leaves him alone there. But somebody’s going to take him down in the showers one of these days.”

Edwards was silent.

“You keep up with your mother?”

“My mother is a saint. Leave her out of this.” Edwards pressed a button and the chair ejected him. He sprang to his feet.

“You speak Spanish?”

“No.”

“How come?” He thought about the guy the dishwasher had seen coming down the alley about the right time for the Dyson killing.

“You think anybody with a Latino name is a wetback greaser. Is that it?”

“I don’t think that at all.”

”Some of your best friends are wetback greasers, right?”

The silence between them burned.

“If that’s all?”

“I just want you to know something, Jimmy. Sooner or later, we find what we’re looking for. Police work isn’t rocket science. It’s basic arithmetic. Who did what to somebody else. It adds up. Sometimes long after you think you should just give up. Lotta times we just get a tip.” Mason stood up.

“Right now it’s my personal mission in life to get you.”

“Whoa! Am I scared or what?”

Mason took his leave slowly. His demeanor changed as he left the elegant offices. A sudden triumphant smile broke out before being smothered in an expression of grim satisfaction.

Ginger got a call from an old woman who lived in a bungalow loomed over by monster mansions in the ritzy part of town. Dora Skylor had been friendly to the canvassers when they’d covered the north of Montana section earlier in the year. She’d called up Ginger a few times to ask hard-edged questions to be able to inform her group as Chair of the Neighborhood Association.

“There’s somebody you should meet,” Mrs. Skylor said without preamble. “He doesn’t go out so we have to visit him.”

“I’m pretty busy these days, Mrs. Skylor. Can you tell me what it’s about?” Ginger said, shuffling invoices on her desk. Which one to pay?

“I think he just might give you a big check.”

“Oh?” She set the pile of invoices down. “In that case. What’s his name?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t know him. He’s quite old so it will have to be when he says. Okay with you?”

“Come on, Mrs. Skylor. Who is it?”

“Oh, call me Dora. His name wouldn’t mean anything to you. But let me tell you, this is going to be worth your while.”


(to be continued)

NO DICE is available at Amazon


Comments

NO DICE, a Santa Monica Murder Mystery, by Mar Preston — 1 Comment

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