Last installment posted November 26
Chapter Thirteen, conclusion
The radio crackled. Mason snapped a response into it. He grinned as he heard the news. It was California Highway Patrol. They had McNair and she had fingered Edwards. As soon as the paramedics were done with her, they were shipping her to UCLA Med Center.
“She okay? Over.”
“She’ll be okay. Banged up. He sliced her cheek open, roughed her up. Lacerations. Contusions.
“Mad as hell.”
Mason signed off. He grinned over at Delgado. “She’s gonna be alright.”
“You want this, you better go after it, Mason.”
“Yeah, I know.” Mason took up the binoculars again. “I think I want it.”
A silent, gum-chewing Highway Patrol cop sat with Ginger in the ER cubicle at UCLA waiting for medical wheels to begin to roll. The real hurt trembled at the edge of the sweet hazy drugs, waiting to snatch her when they wore off. They had treated a big rip in the back of her thigh and scheduled her for plastic surgery to repair the knife wound on her face. She couldn’t stop her hand going to the big goose egg on the top of her head and hoped they wouldn’t shave her hair. Shudders of relief continued to shake her head to toe. She had to keep it together long enough to tell Mason what had happened and vowed she wouldn’t cry in front of him.
It was over. Get over it. Plan how she could use it in the campaign. Bad press for the casino side. Use it to win.
A long time later, the nurse handed her a phone. Mason.
“I’ll be over to see you,” he said. “And get a statement when you’re ready,” he said which sounded like an afterthought.
“They gave me something, “ she said thickly.
“You’re okay, aren’t you? Man, I was so worried about you. Tell me what happened?”
“A taser maybe. Watch out for him. He’s raving away about his brother and how he’s as bad ass as his brother. All sorts of wild, crazy stuff. He’s got my gun, Mason.” She trailed off into a mumble.
“I know, Ginger. We got it figured out. We got him. I can’t talk now.”
“A taser, I think.”
“Ginger, when all this is over… “ Mason said. He was conscious of Delgado listening.
“You want to go out, Mason? Is that it?”
“Not if you saw me right now, you wouldn’t.”
“Ginger, it wouldn’t matter.”
“He sliced open my face, Dave. That’s your first name, isn’t it?”
Mason laughed. “Yeah. I think you can call me by my first name.”
Ginger lay waiting for the surgery to begin, drifting slowly across the waves of a sun-lit sea provided by an IV drip feeding into her arm. Soft tropical combers broke pleasantly against her bed, which floated slowly about the room swathed in gauzy light. Over by the door, waves lapped against a white sandy beach. The sky overhead was blue and soft clouds had the consistency of some soft frothy pudding. It was all pain-free, drifting ease. Suddenly Mason loomed over her.
“You look terrible,” she said muzzily, squinting one eye to focus on him.
Mason grinned at her, ruefully. “You don’t look so hot yourself.” He sank down on the edge of the bed and reached out for her hand.
“Mason, I’ve started to like you.”
“Wow, no foreplay? Just like that?”
“It’s the drugs. I’ll hate myself in the morning.”
“It is morning,” he said, coming closer and leaning down.
“Don’t kiss me.”
He took her hand carefully to avoid the IV. “I can’t anyway. They gave me two minutes. I’ve gotta stay away from you pretty much, Ginger, to avoid messing up the case until it’s all over. But I’ll be there the minute I can.”
“Oh.” She pulled herself back from the soaring ease of the drug. “Did’ja get “im?”
Later that day, Mason went back to the hospital, eluding the press circus camped outside by taking an entrance off the loading dock. Art and Bert McNair sat alone in the surgical waiting room.
“How’d everything go?”
“Fine. Fine,” Art said. He cracked his knuckles and grinned. “It was a clean cut and the doc said there’ll only be a hairline scar, but she’ll be fine. Missed the big nerves in her face. That was really lucky.”
Mason sank down in a chair, legs stretched out in front of him. If he relaxed, he’d be asleep in an instant. He was at that point of staving off wakefulness when sparkles of dreams, jitters of neurological jerks twitched at him, figures leaping at him from the side if he closed his eyes.
“You got all the t’s crossed, the I’s dotted?” Bert McNair asked.
“Nah. We’ll be days writing this one up. Maybe weeks preparing the case. Edwards is already lawyered up. His brother sent in the gang lawyer firm. Not even a yes, no, fuck off out of him yet. Just those lizard eyes so far. I don’t figure it will last all that long.”
“He’ll have to brag sooner or later,” Bert McNair said, standing up. “That kind of guy.”
“Shit,” Art said. He pounded his fist on the chair arm, then got to his feet to stare out the window.
“We’ll get him. Everybody’s talking now he’s gone. His secretary at the office, the person who knew him the best says that with Jimmy it was just like watching De Niro or Brando. He could turn on the personality, run the show, keep it running, until some other personality mode was needed—the brain, the heart, they were reptilian. He could do sweet, innocent, bastard, charming. Whatever was needed. Nothing about anybody else’s needs or feelings affected him. He was always in a good mood, never got very worried, very upset about anything. Completely ruthless.”
“Sociopath. Seen them,” Bert McNair said.
Mason stood up to stay awake. “We got his girlfriend. We tossed his condo, the Mongol house on Tenth Street. Place was set up like a fort with all the best surveillance gizmos you can buy. Once we got in, we found enough records and stuff to make links to the big shipments coming in and going out all across the country. Even Europe. Stuff like that is enough to put him away.”
“Safe house, right?” Art asked.
“Yeah, there’s probably lots of them around for gang members to crash in and store guns and drugs they’re shipping in and out.”
“Wouldn’t somebody notice stuff like that?”
Mason shook his head. “There’s an old lady we just wrote off as a nut. She kept calling. But she was only worried about them taking her parking space.”
Bert McNair snorted and looked away.
“We’ve got the shoe to match the print we took at the scene.”
“You’d figure a smart guy like Edwards would toss the shoe, everything he was wearing just in case.”
“He grew up poor. He had a real stingy side to him.”
“Never know it to look at him now.”
“Baker was pushing him over the edge. Money was one thing he cared about. He wasn’t ever going to go back to being poor.”
“The Feebs must be slavering,” Art said, looking at Mason.
“Big flap over the casino deal. It’s all over TV,” Bert McNair said gesturing to the overhead screen. “They’re taking it in the neck. Hey, there’s Ramon. Turn it up.”
“We are confident that the arrest of Mr. Edwards will convince voters that major crime interests have already targeted Santa Monica. This arrest is just the tip of the iceberg …”
The report cut to the Chief of Police doing his stand up in front of the Public Safety Building. They switched stations and saw the clip again.
“Pretty hopeful, isn’t he? I’ll bet the gaming operation is just gonna line up somebody else, locate down the coast a city or two.” Bert McNair said. “They may still win at the polls.”
“Turn it off, will’ya.” Mason pleaded. “We’re gonna have this stuff every which way by Sunday. We’ll be sick to death of it before it’s over.”
“Looks like Ginger’s going to be looking for another job,” Bert observed.
Just then Mason’s cell phone rang. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, it’s me.”
“Hi, baby. What’s up?” Art and Bert gave him a sideways look but said nothing.
“You ‘member when you told me about how Chelsea and me could get Becky and Kimmy to chase us into our yard and then spray them with the hose? We did that and um, um, then Becky got all mad and said that her mother was gonna um sue us…um for ruining her clothes …” She paused to giggle. “So then we said like we had pizza and they could have some and it was by our pool and um, so then Chelsea and me showed them the pizza box and then they opened it up and it was full of worms we got from Chelsea’s brother. Oh, Daddy, you should have been there. They were so grossed out. They were screaming and everything. Me and Chelsea ran through the crack in the fence and they couldn’t get through because they’re so big and fat.”
“That’s great, babe. That’s great. You’ve got a new friend then.”
“When some of the other girls heard, they started laughing at Becky. We told everybody.” Fits of giggles.
“I wish I’d been there, babe. Neat that Chelsea goes to your school too.”
“Well, where else would she go, Daddy?”
“Right. Right. Silly old Daddy. See you Saturday, right?”
“Can I bring Chelsea? Like we thought up another trick. Sorta what you said, only lots better.”
He listened to her tell the story all over again with pleasure, then snapped the phone shut and closed his eyes. Immediately flashes of dreams danced before his eyes. He commanded himself to stay awake a little longer.
“Ginger was asking for you.” Art smiled. “Never figured she’d go for a cop. Never. Not once. Ever.”
“News to me,” Mason said. He grinned so wide he felt as though his face would split.
Bert McNair slapped his hands on his knees and stood up. “Edwards knew about the cloud on the title and kept it from Lawrence. At one point though, Lawrence must’ve found out. Oh, he must have known.”
“Probably,” Mason said. “And he couldn’t stop Jimmy. Jimmy got too strong for him. Lawrence couldn’t count on bringing him down. And he couldn’t let it all go either. He saw everything going up in smoke. Still, I never figured him for a suicide.” He shook his head, trying to dispel the memory.
“Greed does terrible things to people. They all thought they were so smart.”
“Smarter than a bunch of Keystone cops.”
“Isn’t that what gets them nine times outa ten,” Bert McNair laughed.
“You get anything in writing? Stuff Jimmy was looking for?”
“We could have people on all the crap Baker had from now till the end of time. There’s a dozen hidey-holes we haven’t got through yet.”
Ginger and her Dad sat on the back deck of the cabin in the Angeles National Forest in the dazzle of the sunlight. A flock of Stellar’s jays fought over sunflower seeds with a family of squirrels. The day was crisp with a hint of fall, the scent of pine fresh. They heard the crunch of gravel on the road that led to the cabin. A car door slammed and then another.
“You expecting anybody?” Ginger said, standing up and pulling at her khaki shorts, hitching up her black tube top.
Ginger heard Mason’s voice.
“Told Dave we might be up here this weekend,” her Dad said, smiling.
“You should have told me.” Ginger and her Dad walked through the house onto the upstairs front deck to see Mason unloading bags of groceries from his Jeep. With him was a little girl who wore a LA Dodgers baseball cap, pink sweats, and purple nail polish. She came up the front stairs looking like one of those serious children with a very composed manner who is nine going on forty.
“Hi, there. You must be Haley,” Ginger said. Someone had taught the little girl how to shake hands and look at someone in the eye. Ah, a kid with manners. Ginger decided to like her. She admitted to herself and few other people that she didn’t automatically like all children. It was heresy nowadays.
Mason’s eyes went to Ginger. “Can’t exactly say I was in the neighborhood, but your Dad invited me.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Dave,” Ginger said simply. “I didn’t expect you back till next week.”
“Saw your name in the paper,” Bert McNair said, reaching for the groceries.
“The LA Times thing? Yeah, well, I couldn’t get out of that. Congratulations to you, Ginger. You won.”
“Thanks. There wasn’t much of a campaign at the end. General contractor, the architects, the design consultants, they all just disappeared like smoke.”
It was the biggest story in Santa Monica since the Living Wage wars. Mason leaned back, crossed his arms behind his head and let the sun warm his face. They kicked it around awhile longer. Haley was sitting cross-legged in a big Adirondack chair with a book on her lap pretending to read while she made up her mind about the tall woman with the blonde hair.
Mason had brought some barbecue and Ginger went inside to get drinks. Mason followed her.
“It’s all over now, the court, everything,” he said to her, watching her set the table.
“Wish you’d been there when we closed the office. The Coalition spent every last cent we had in the budget on a party. We closed the office with a bang.”
“You knew I had to keep my distance until it was over.”
“Yes, I knew that.”
She reached up to run a hand through his hair. It was soft and she’d always thought it would be wiry. It was the closest they had ever been to each other.
“I had that training course, otherwise I would have come sooner.”
“Mason, you called me from Quantico. You get points for that.”
“Besides, you had your new job the whole time. You went to that Pain Management clinic. I’m glad you finally told me about that.”
“No point in hiding it any longer. There’s things I can do, and things I can’t do, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s the way it is.”
She stood staring at him, the smile warming, waiting. She shook her head and laughed, an open, cheerful chuckle. Just then the screen door opened and Mason’s daughter Haley appeared.
“And your Dad says you’re feeling great…” he said, beckoning Haley over.
“I am that, Dave. I’m feeling great.”
NO DICE, A Santa Monica Murder Mystery, featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department is available in Paperbook and Kindle at Amazon.com, Smashwords and other ebook sellers