Previous section posted on July 22
Chapter Four, continued
Delgado took time off to stage a war council with Maria and her six brothers and sisters. Prudencio couldn’t take the old lady because his mother-in-law lived with them and helped out with their four kids. Eduardo was a druggie with no fixed address. Raul thought he was hot stuff because he had his AA degree and worked for the state. His wife didn’t do anything but sit on her fat ass and watch telenovelas and do her little crossing guard thing. Molly? She worked. Graciela? She hated her mother.
Mason walked the few blocks over to the six-story office building that fronted the ocean where the casino people had set up operations. The homies, drifters and crazies, pimps, muggers, and the rest of the low life Mason kept at an us vs. them distance. He watched the rookies develop attitude, a tough shell with its own brand of tasteless, thoughtless, racist, and sexist jokes that people on the front line used among themselves and didn’t mean anything–for the most part. It did and it didn’t.
He wanted to know why Barry Forsythe’s name was scrawled into Dyson’s day planner book on the last day of her life. The PR firm occupied the first floor, the gaming operations and legal side lay on the next floors up. A Victoria’s Secret model look-alike came to the front desk twirling her hair around a pencil and went off to look for Forsythe.
She sneaked looks at Mason from her office as Mason waited in a gallery reception area.
The art on the walls looked like real money. He and Diana took an art appreciation class at UCLA to keep the marriage together, and what classes Mason was able to make stirred a curiosity. The paintings and sculpture looked like good stuff, as far as he could tell. Casinos were big art for investment buyers.
A few minutes later a brash young guy breezed in looking fresh and fit, starched and crimped, with big white teeth like Chiclets. Introductions all around.
“Barry Forsythe, Community Relations,” he said, walking backwards to lead Mason past offices filled by pretty young people who looked like him. They must keep the ordinary looking people in the back offices, Mason thought.
“You have pretty interesting work, Detective.”
“Sometimes,” Mason allowed, taking a seat at the small conference table in Forsythe’s office. “You won’t believe this but I spend more time typing than chasing bad guys down alleys,” he smiled, looking around at the luxurious fittings.
The furniture looked too pricey to have been purchased with public money. The walnut desk filled an entire corner, and the chair itself was a high-end model that probably topped a few thousand dollars.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” Forsythe said. “Glass of wine? Perrier? Energy drink? We have a selection of vitamin waters?”
Mason shook his head and Forsythe hesitated, then sat opposite him at the small table. He wore a white golf shirt with the logo of the Riviera Country Club. No scratches on him as far as Mason could see. Probably wasn’t the knife artist.
He waited for some impression about the guy to gel for him.
“This is about what happened to Kathleen Dyson, I’m sure,” Forsythe prompted.
Mason took out his notebook and got comfortable. “Sure. Our procedure here is to fan out interviewing family and friends in the early stages of the investigation. Just to fill in the picture.”
“I suppose you want to know if I have an alibi,” Forsythe said confidentially. He leaned forward.
Mason caught it now. Watched CSI and cop shows, read murder mysteries.
“Do you have a suspect yet, Detective? How close are you to an arrest?”
“Why don’t you tell me how you knew Ms. Dyson to start off.”
“Well, I met with her a few years ago when Century Gaming began preliminary investigations. Our firm came in at the request of Century and the Gabrielino-Tongvas. Santa Monica is well within their ancestral lands, you know. Their people were settled here for over ten thousand years, all the way from the ocean out to San Bernardino, seventy miles away. Did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t. You don’t hear much about them.”
“They’re around, believe me. They applied for tribal recognition back in 1982. That’s a long time to be patient with a federal process that’s riddled with incompetence and politics, don’t you think?” Forsythe waved a hand in the air and smiled a big Boy Scout smile. “Oh, don’t get me started on that. We’ve been helping them move the process along. No secret.”
“How have you been helping them?”
“Lobbying in the right places. We have federal contacts. Conversations happen.”
He stood up and gestured to an architectural model set up on a table near the window.
“Take a look at this. I could play a presentation for you on my laptop. Takes four minutes.”
“And this will occupy the property the mall is on now and the old Sears store?” Mason asked, walking around the model trying to get a sense of its bulk, the changes made to the downtown.
“Roughly sixteen acres and huge, huge revenues for the City and law enforcement. Not as big a parcel as we would prefer but the location is very favorable. You like action, don’t you Detective.”
“I like Vegas. Show me then.” Mason sat down to watch the slick video presentation. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that a casino would create more problems than the new money would solve. When it was finished, he looked up at Forsythe.
“Very nice. Tell me about your involvement.”
“We work with a management company that would contract the gaming operation itself. It’s the right time for us to expand to Santa Monica and perhaps down the coast to other beach cities.” Forsythe’s gee whiz golly, puppyishness bothered Mason.
“You must have ties on city council to move this along?”
Forsythe hesitated. “Of course, and the state government as well. We’ve make small contributions here and there to favorite charities for each of the city council members. Things like that. It ensures we have access, get our calls returned. That’s about all you can expect, you know.”
“We’ve heard something about a suit before the City Attorney that may throw a monkey wrench in your plans.” Mason was fishing, seeing what he could spin out from McNair’s mention of Wally’s big hush hush tip.
“Oh? Well, that could be, I suppose. Who told you this?’
Mason didn’t answer. Instead he drew out his notebook, paging through blank pages as though he was looking for something.
“So take me through how a project like this gets started?”
“Okay. We’re taking advantage of our new business-friendly Republican administration.”
He gave a big grin. “Think of it this way. We offer family entertainment, good union jobs, a draw for tourists, celebrity entertainment. All that.”
“What’s the down side?”
“We feel that everything we’ll bring to Santa Monica will outweigh the negative.” He got up and retrieved a press packet from the credenza. “This will explain traffic mitigation measures, environmental protections. We’ve met every objection this little community group hits us with. The profits to Santa Monica are fantastic.”
“Is it worth killing for?” Mason said. “That’s what I gotta ask myself.”
“Ask all you like, Detective Mason,” he said spreading his arms outward, showing off his gym rat physique. He added a thick sheaf of glossy handouts to what had already come in as a result of the financial subpoenas, the kind of stuff that made Wozinski cream his jeans.
“Your name was written in Kathleen Dyson’s day planner on the day she died. Can you tell me why that was?”
“I’m surprised.” Forsythe sat back. “I didn’t have an appointment with her. Of course, I saw her that night at the Council meeting. But so did nearly five hundred other people.”
“Just routine. Tell me where you were following the council meeting?”
Forsythe fingered his square jaw. “Let’s see. I talked to Tom Lawrence and Jimmy Edwards for say, ten, fifteen minutes. People kept coming up, congratulating us. Then my wife called me to stop off at Albertson’s to get diapers on the way home. I probably paid with a credit card. Will that help?”
Yeah, that would help, Mason thought, if it all checked out.
Much as she loved her Dad, Bert McNair’s presence in Ginger’s small apartment made her long for solitude. Cooking aromas, a drift of aftershave in the bathroom, sports on TV, country music on the radio took over her home. Her brother Art who was single insisted on spending the next few nights. She got home just in time to see her Dad take a heavy casserole out of the oven. Sergeant McNair had one eye on the TV, one eye on the salad he was making. He chuckled to himself about some stupid joke Emeril made.
“I hate that guy,” Ginger said, tossing her purse and briefcase on the table.
Lester stalked off when her father pushed him out of the blue wing chair. Jake gave Bert McNair a slow, unforgiving blink.
“I like him. I want you to go out to the range with me this week.”
“Dad, knock it off, will’ya? I can shoot. How could I live in the same house as you and Art and not be a good shot?”
“Okay, missy. When did you last qualify?”
Ginger couldn’t remember. She turned to the window, her eye caught by the unfamiliar gleam of metal. “What’s this?”
“I want to make this place secure for you.”
“You’ve already put in police locks and now the windows are clamped down so tight I can hardly get them open.”
“I’d like it a whole lot better if you’d move in with me or your brother until they get this guy. You being on the first floor at the back here isn’t good.”
“I’m just not going to, Dad. It’s too far to commute.”
“How’s your fibro these days?” he said, watching her, drying his hands on a dishtowel.
“I’m all right,” she said grumpily. She took the bowl of silk flowers off the dining table and set them on the bookcase. She had once taken her body casually, hardly thinking about it. She assumed that her arms and legs and every part of her would continue to do exactly what she wanted, as though she were the puppet master in control of it all.
“You get used to it, Dad. It’s just background roar.” She turned to face him. “I’m okay.”
“Honey, you don’t get through an assault like the other night and be exactly the way you were before.”
“What happened is going to change you in some way. That’s the way violence is. I’ve seen victims all my working life. Even if you’re screamed at by some crazy in the street, it has an impact and an attack like what happened to you is much, much worse.”
He ran water fast in the sink and looked up at her. “I know you stand up to things. I watched that debate you did on TV with that Forsythe guy, but what you went through the other night is nothing like that.”
“Dad, you’re just giving me an excuse to act like a wimp.”
“You’re no wimp. But you don’t need to start proving you’re a tough guy either.”
Ginger hit send on an email blast to all the Coalitions’ supporters and looked around the community hall. What protection Betty Maxwell, a retired nurse in her seventies, would provide if any threat arose during the day was questionable. Or Fran Boyarsky, a scrawny grandmother who barely topped five feet. But they were cheerful, played the radio, brought snacks, and worked like demons. Fran’s son was a compulsive gambler. No task that Ginger set for her was enough to soothe the wound she felt gambling had inflicted on her family.
Kathleen had been murdered long enough. Ginger decided to go over to her building in Ocean Park and ask nosy questions. The murder dropped from the daily newspapers. It was daylight and a busy neighborhood–too early for the criminal classes to be out of bed–late enough for law-abiding citizens to have already gone to work.
“Hey, folks, I’m just going out for an hour or so,” she called out.
Betty frowned but didn’t protest. Ginger turned to KJZZ on her car radio. An old Duke Ellington tune was up. Santa Monica was still a great place to live, despite the legendary city council meetings that stretched to 3:00 a.m., the silly attempt to ban ATM fees and circumcisions, to ban declawing cats, to declare Santa Monica a nuclear free zone. She loved it.
Sunny days, one right after the other, till sunny days and balmy weather were ho-hum. So what? Another beautiful day. The marine layer in summer that gave rise to foggy cool mornings was welcome.
Heaven for the homeless, those who had stopped taking their meds, and for the recently released. Ginger was used to people with purple hair, day laborers on corners, ninety degree Christmases, and those glossy head shots of show biz unknowns mounted on the wall of every small business.
Kathleen’s neighbor, Mrs. Zabrowitz, told Ginger without any prompting that she saw a man who said he was looking for Kathleen the day before the murder.
“I was just waiting for somebody to ask me,” she said, twisting her Elvis ring on arthritic fingers. “See here, my windows look out over the street, and I was watching for the mailman. Waiting for a new Elvis clock. An old station wagon drove up.”
Ginger could see over her shoulder to the apartment stuffed to the rafters with Elvis memorabilia. Wow, she said to her herself, taking it all in. Wow. A home Elvis museum.
“Don’t you think for a minute I’m just one of those dizzy old dames that’s got nothing to do but watch the neighbors all day. I’m a collector and Elvis keeps me busy. I’m marketing some new Elvis handbags on the Internet now. What do you think of that? Every day I get letters from my Elvis pen pals. You love The King?”
“That I do, Mrs. Z.”
“I’ve got my Current Events class at the Emeritus College and my painting and I keep rotating my Elvis art stuff around on the walls. Place has just got too small,” she said, looking over her shoulder, considering. “I have to pack away some of my best stuff.”
“So what happened? You’ve got me all curious.”
“This guy sat in his car for awhile and that got me curious. Just sitting there, you know? So I noticed him. Then the mailman came and we got to chatting. Sold him one of my Blue Hawaii movie posters once. I walked him back out to the sidewalk. I could see into this old station wagon where the guy was still sitting and it was all filled with boxes of papers.”
“Did you recognize him?” Ginger had a hard time taking her eyes off the fake Christmas tree that was still hung with Elvis ornaments, red and blue and green lights shimmering. An Elvis angel was tilted askew at the top.
“Never saw him before in my life. But I knew him again when I saw him later sitting right over there on the wall outside Kathleen’s apartment. Bold as you please. I just opened my door and asked him who he was looking for.”
“What did he look like?”
Mrs. Zabrowitz thought, fingering the guitar pendant hanging around her neck. “He was tall, on the skinny side, about your age. He didn’t have nice manners,” she confided. “He was eating a Subway sandwich and he picked his teeth with his fingernail while I was talking to him.” She made a face. “Then Kathleen came in from her parking place in back and let him in her apartment. She usually passed the time of day with me but this time she was all business. But—she invited him in! Isn’t that something? She didn’t very often have visitors, you know. I know I’ve seen you here before, haven’t I, honey?”
It was odd. Kathleen only met people in restaurants and offices and at public meetings. Except for her.
“When was this?”
Mrs. Zabrowitz gazed up at the staircase, collecting her thoughts. “Well, let’s see. The garbage truck went by in the alley and they make such a racket, don’t they?” She consulted the Kid Galahad calendar by the door. “Musta been a Monday. So it was the day before she got killed. So awful, I still can’t get over it.”
“Did you tell the police about this?”
“I meant to, but we were both in a hurry, this young officer in a uniform. He treated me like some boring old lady.” She snorted. “I was catching up on the posts to the Elvis collectors list. I get a lot over the weekend.”
Ginger immediately went back to the office and called Mason’s cell phone. He picked up on the second ring.
“McNair.” She laughed, straightening the collar of her blouse as though he could see her and patted her hair. “It might turn out to be nothing, but you did ask me if anybody new had shown up in Kathleen’s life lately, anything unusual. You know Mrs. Zabrowski who lived next door to her, the neighbor.”
“The Elvis lady.” He continued walking towards his unmarked unit in the police parking lot, his cell phone pressed to his ear.
“Mrs. Zabrowitz remembers a visitor Kathleen had the night before the murder. She let him into her apartment, which was very unusual. Kathleen wasn’t much of a housekeeper and she never wanted people to see her place.”
“And she just called you up and told you this?”
“Well, actually, not really. I went over there. I asked her.”
“You stay out of this,” he exploded. “I don’t want you interfering in a police investigation. You’ll do more harm than good.”
He clapped the phone shut while she was still protesting and instantly regretted it. But he didn’t call her back. He kicked himself he’d missed that lead and an amateur had to bring it to his attention.
(to be continued next week)