Last section posted November 11
Chapter Thirteen, 2nd section
Spilliger touched Mason on the shoulder. Mason held the phone so intently, that he jumped. He was tight with worry for Ginger.
“Jesus, you scared me.”
“Sorry, sir. I just interviewed that guy Vittorio, Edwards’s alibi. The guy I been leaving messages for all over Europe. Some kind of buyer?”
“Yeah?” Mason looked at him intently. Spilliger flushed. He had shaved his head and now it was knobbly with old scars and cuts. Why did guys disfigure themselves like this?
“He’s been away since Dyson was killed. I went over there to get him to sign the statement. There was just something off about him, you know? I pushed. Turns out he just got back to town and heard about the murder and realized what Jimmy was asking him to do. The guy now says Jimmy’s not a good enough a friend to lie for. He actually doesn’t even like him. Jimmy asked him to say he’d given him his extra key the night of the murder. He told him that he stopped over at one of the massage places to get himself taken care of and he didn’t want anybody to know. Vittorio thinks nothing of it at the time, says sure. Then we’re leaving all these messages for him and he spooks. Especially when he had to sign a statement and I’m standing there asking him questions.”
“So that busts Jimmy’s righteous alibi,” Mason said.
A pale glow of light showed a tiny way out, but there was no way Ginger could slither through that small rip in the metal.
The knife. Jimmy’s knife. The incentive to keep moving, to keep trying.
She tested everything mentally, then flung her weight to the left. Balanced precariously, the shed plummeted again, racketing backwards with a shriek of metal sliding against rock. It didn’t go far this time. One corner ploughed into the soft sand of the hillside, tipping the box outward. It must be resting on a branch, tipped up against a rock.
Something was holding it at a forty-five degree angle outward. For now.
Her hands felt like balloons. She brought them to her face and sensed the continuing sticky seep of blood from a new gash on her forehead, down her nose, her cheek bleeding down her neck. She wouldn’t die from a knife wound on her face, or even broken bones.
She would die if Jimmy got hold of her again.
This time the shed had come to rest with her feet under her. But something was wrong with her right leg. This time the gash in the side of the shed was just over her head. She reached up to grasp at the edge of the torn metal.
She tugged and pulled on it. Nothing happened. Her hands were uselessly numb, bound together so tightly the blood had stopped circulating long ago. When did permanent nerve damage set in?
The blood roaring in her head with each heartbeat stilled long enough for her to hear a dog barking.
Oh, thank God, something was alive out there. A dog warning his master about an enemy at the gate. As often as she’d cursed her neighborhood’s barking dog, this creature might be her last and best friend in the world.
If there was a barking dog, sooner or later a human being might turn up. She wasn’t alone. The realization fueled a last gasp of strength.
The opening in the shed was too high to climb through. She would have to skid it further down the hill again. She crawled upward and leaned back. At first there was no movement at all and then the shed teetered for a moment.
Before she could catch her breath and figure out what to do next, it tumbled end over again, screeching until it came to rest. She was curled in a ball.
This time she’d really hurt something. Her right knee shrilled with pain but the barking dog was closer.
Mason and Delgado hit Tom Lawrence at his surprisingly modest stucco three-bedroom surrounded by monster mansions on the edge of the city that overlooked Rustic Canyon.
Lawrence answered the door in navy blue sweats and a USC Trojans sweat shirt. Narrow face, graying blonde hair, an aging frat boy, with hard angry eyes. He was geared up, coiled for action.
“Sorry to bother you so late, Mr. Lawrence,” Mason said easily. “You remember me, don’t you?” Delgado stood a little behind Mason.
Lawrence’s mouth tightened, then he snapped. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Looks like you were still up, sir.”
“What do you want now?”
“We’re hoping you might be able to tell us where Jimmy Edwards might be.”
Lawrence blinked several times. “Why ask me?”
“You spend a lot of time together, sir.”
“I have no idea. Call him tomorrow at work.”
“May we come in, sir?”
“This may be a longer conversation and we’d like to talk to you privately.”
Lawrence continued to blink, his jaw clenched. His face was thin-skinned, florid, and emotions showed on it. He would be a disaster as a litigator with that blink. Finally he stepped back. “You’ve got ten minutes. Strictly out of my policy of cooperating with the police…”
The living room off the foyer had a tall sloping ceiling, but not the cathedral ceilings and great room look of contemporary home design. A lot of money had gone into this Danish modern room with oiled teak and primary colors, but it was a Sunset magazine look of the mid-seventies. The corners of the room were dark. Looking around, Mason was surprised.
Lawrence twitched his way over to an Eames chair with a stack of newspapers and magazines beside it. He perched on the edge of the seat and motioned Mason and Delgado onto a leather couch loomed over by tall bookcases. A bottle of scotch sat on the coffee table. Lawrence smelled as though he’d been hitting it hard.
“What’s this about?”
“Ginger McNair was snatched this evening, looks to us abducted.”
Lawrence looked startled. “I don’t know anything about that.”
“It looks as though Councilmember Dyson’s murder and another one over in Culver City were connected by a need to cover up something. We’re untangling just what that was, little by little. We’ll get it, you know. Thought you might know something.”
Lawrence stared at them, a flush darkening his face. Mason knew he had Lawrence in a dead end. He knew it when Lawrence went silent, trying to fashion an answer. Dumb suspects found it plausible to say, “I don’t know how it got there. Somebody must have left it. It’s my mother’s dope.” Smart ones tried to come up with something better and it took them time to think. Even the really smart ones.
And people want to confess. Mason had seen it so many times. He bluffed with nothing, but suspects didn’t know that. Once they got started, they couldn’t stop talking. It was such a relief to share it.
“Something that was worth killing two people to hide. You have any idea what that might have been?”
Lawrence sat in silence for a long moment. Then with visible effort he drew a long breath and said, “Things got out of hand so fast.”
Then he went quiet. Delgado shot Mason a quick look. They read each other. Wait for it.
Wait. Lawrence sat thinking, almost as if they weren’t there. Nothing for several stubborn minutes. And then the answers came.
“I don’t know how I ever got myself in such a mess. I just don’t have the temperament for all this hiding and covering up. I’m an honest guy.”
As if realizing how hollow that sounded, Lawrence sank back into the chair. “You’d never understand. I only did it because I love this city.”
“What don’t we understand?”
“Jimmy,” he said, wiping his hand across his face as if to erase something. “It’s got so out of hand. I realized a while ago I wasn’t seeing a lot of stuff. My partners were always on me about him. He hid things from me, but by then he’d got hold of everything. The Scientology people are no comfort at all.”
He fell silent. Wait.
“Last Thursday night, I went back and stood outside St. Augustine’s and watched all my old friends go in for choir practice. I wanted to go in with them, just have my old life back. There’s no way I could tell them. I don’t want them to know. It’s all gone.”
Delgado frowned and looked over at Mason.
Lawrence stood up and started pacing, his thumbs in the waistband of his sweats.
“He’s just got so wild. I mean, he doesn’t sleep, talking a mile a minute. Crazy stuff. And to think my wife and I once thought of him as the son we never had. I found all these charges where he just had a blonde sent up and paid for it out of an office account. Tacky stuff. He fired Nancy Flemming who’d been with us since my father’s day7. And I let him do it because he was just too much. Too much for me.” He shook his head.
“He’s in the office no matter when I go in. I tried to look at his files one day and he’s got everything locked down with passwords. It’s just about over, isn’t it?”
“The fat lady’s about to sing, Mr. Lawrence.” Mason had no idea what Lawrence was talking about.
Lawrence sat down, his head in his hands. He reached under the seat cushions and to Mason and Delgado’s horrified astonishment, he pulled out a handgun, stuck it in his mouth and blew his head off.
“Hey, Dave, I’ve got those coconut chocolate chip brownies you like?” It was Jen, that new girl from Records. Her voice always tilted up at the end of a sentence, as though every statement was a question. Right now Mason could rip the head off anyone who got in his way. He forced himself to slow down. He walked past her, his cell phone to his ear, impatient.
“Not now, Jen. Sorry.”
“I’ve got more than brownies for you.”
“Oh.” Please, no. Not that. Not now. He looked at her more closely. She wasn’t coming on to him as he’d first thought.
“I’ve got something to tell you about Jimmy. You wanna hear?” The turquoise eye shadow was caked, mascara thickly clumped on her eye lashes.
Mason stopped in his tracks and turned slowly. He reached out for a brownie off the plate and bit off a crumbly chunk. “Jimmy Edwards?”
“How do you know him?”
“I’m his girlfriend,” she said and then looked away. A lie.
He grabbed Jen and called Delgado. “I’m in Interview Room 2. Need you.” Delgado appeared and sat down, exhausted.
“Jen’s got something to tell us about Jimmy. What’s up, Jen?”
“I got caught running a name through the system with a made up case number. Isn’t that the worst? I’m in big trouble with my supervisor. She’s being really mean. You think I’ll lose my job?”
Mason forced himself to assume a friendly demeanor while he faced Jen. He turned on whatever charm he had left after the shock of seeing Lawrence blow his head off. It would take hours to do the paperwork on that mess.
And now Jen was telling him she was going to give him the stuff on Jimmy. He hoped to God it would tie into McNair’s disappearance. Every time he thought about her, he went sick.
“So what do you know about Jimmy?” he said, sitting down opposite her, the plate of brownies between them.
“I know his brother’s a big honcho in the Mongols. You know who they are, don’t you.”
“Yeah. So why are you telling us this, Jen. Not that I don’t appreciate it.”
“Here, Detective Delgado. Have some of my brownies. I made them just for you guys.”
She turned to him with the over-friendliness and ingratiating smiles that made Mason so uneasy around her.
Delgado put his feet up on the chair next to him and took a brownie. “What do you know about Jimmy?”
“He’s an asshole,” she said bitterly. “I’m sick of doing stuff for him, y’know.”
“Like what kind of stuff?” Delgado said.
“Stuff I’m not supposed to do. I know that, but I don’t care any more. I hate this job. I mean you guys are nice and everything, but it’s not me. I hate computers! I’m not good at it! I keep making mistakes and they’re nice and everything, but I just can’t do everything the way they want. Jimmy wanted me to work here so that I could run license plates and names and everything.”
Mason and Delgado exchanged a look. It was all Mason could do not to leap the table and shake her.
“He wanted me to find stuff on gang members and stuff. I know that’s against the law. If I tell you stuff, you won’t hassle me, will you?”
“Depends on what it is…” Delgado said easily.
“Well, the Humvee’s the one he drives around, but he’s got other cars and he’s got this creepy place over on Tenth Street where he keeps stuff. There’s other people use that place, too but I’m not supposed to know about it.”
“Gimme the address, Jen. We got a situation going here. You probably know that.”
She gave him a look gradually taking on substance, one of obstinacy. Thoughts, plain to be seen scrolled down her face. “You won’t hassle me?”
“Jen, you’ve been around here long enough to know that cops can’t make deals like that with you.”
“I didn’t know that.” She was thinking about it now. It looked easy on TV.
“Did he make you do stuff for him?” Delgado asked.
“But you still knew that what you were doing was against department policy.”
“Well, yeah, sure.” As if that was no big deal. “But I didn’t do anything really bad.”
Mason pushed for more. “You know anything about his background.”
“It was bad for him growing up, like I mean, even worse than me. I mean they had nothin’. His Dad used to get drunk and drag his mom around the house by her hair. His brother, well, you probably know about him. Somehow his dad got dead and Jimmy thinks his brother did it and got away with it. And a lot of other stuff he told me about, too. Anyway his mom thinks the one that’s in prison is some kind of saint and she hates Jimmy, the fancy lawyer.”
“Don’t know,” she said promptly, then “maybe she knows what a mean fuck he is. Don’t know. I never met her. Never met any of his friends, his fancy friends either. But he had money and..” Again the slyness. “Anything I wanted. We did stuff.” She picked at her fingernails, looked up from under her bangs and burst out, “I hate him. I really hate him. There’s something really wrong with him.”
Self-interest appeared on her face again. “What’s gonna happen to me?”
“You ever been arrested before, Jen?” Delgado said.
“Then it’s not going to go so bad for you.”
“You sure?” She was so transparent you could see through her like a jellyfish.
“Nobody can promise, but if you’re clean otherwise …”
She wrote a number down on a napkin and pushed it over the table. “Here’s where the place is. I never told you. Right? I’m scared of him.”
“Why’s that, Jen?” Delgado said, his Nice Guy hat on.
“Like what, Jen?”
A silence. “He ever hurt you?”
She said nothing but rolled back a sleeve to show them deep bruises on her arms where she’d been grabbed and yanked.
“I never told you,” she said, her eyes big. “There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know.”
Edwards was gone when they went back to grab him at his condo.
“Shit. Shit. Goddammit!” Mason cursed, finally giving up when Edwards didn’t answer the door. They put out a BOLO. Mason carefully worked up an affidavit for a search warrant on the condo and the place on Tenth Street. No way was Edwards going to weasel on a technicality.
Wozinski had the FBI Task Force guy on the phone again. They looked for cars registered to any Mongol associate ever picked up on the Westside. Didn’t matter for what. They were flagging every report of a traffic stop, every expired car registration tag, every drunk and disorderly for every Known Associate. Get something. Find out what Edwards/Hernandez was driving.
Mason called a briefing in the third floor Task Force Room of the Special Entry Team to plan the take down of the Tenth Street address.
Wozinski dashed in, eyes dancing, to report they’d found four vehicles registered there to other gang associates identified by the FBI Task Force liaison. The FBI bucked to be in on the take down, but there was no jurisdictional way for them to get their noses in.
Mason got a tweak of pleasure at cutting them off.
But now it was all on him to bring it in. They could count on Jimmy having a gun, any kind of firepower he wanted from the Mongol arsenal. Mason’s stomach coiled up near his throat when he thought of going after him, knowing he had weapons. The Special Entry Team were already suiting up.
A ripple went through the station, knowing something big was going to happen. It wasn’t that often in Santa Monica there was major street action.
Jimmy helped himself to a little something for his nose, one part of his crackling brain suggesting he cut back. He was invincible, no loser user, never slammed the stuff—only the occasional snort to get him by. Well, maybe a little more lately. He was driving a crappy old Toyota red Corolla that he’d picked up from the dump on Tenth Street, his body pumping, watching his road rage from a vantage point of far away, doing his best to ratchet down and concentrate, his mind flying. He itched all over which told him he’d had too much. The itching and the sweating, the shaking.
“FuckFuckFuck!’ He screamed into the face of a homeless guy he almost ran down at the cross walk on Wilshire.
He ripped off the blond wig and clawed at his head, scratching. He thought of the McNair bitch and relished going back to have a little visit with her. But first he was going to allow himself other pleasures. He cranked the stereo louder, insensible to the punishing volume.
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