Valley of Vice, page 1
Valley of Vice
By Steve Garcia
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016
Copyright © Working Partners Two 2013
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Diversion Books edition August 2013
Three months earlier
“A snafu, Duke. That’s what it is, and it’s up to you to un-fuck it.” Simons rapped his gold Cross pen on the edge of the desk. There were already ten years’ of tiny dents in the desk molding from his nervous tapping and he added a few more. The numbers on the digital desk clock glowed bright red—12:10. Muriel wasn’t scheduled to be back from lunch for about twenty minutes but Simons couldn’t take the chance of her overhearing the conversation. He got up and crossed the room, the ten-foot phone cord stretched behind him like a tether. He glanced out, saw no one, and closed the office door. He couldn’t trust Muriel to take a full lunch hour. She was too dedicated and too honest. “We need to move fast. Pearl is a Section Eight. He’s going to come undone being locked up.”
“He’s not a Rock of Gibraltar like you, Councilman?”
Simons bit his lip. He flinched and let out a small groan. “The fucker is crazy. You have to make sure he doesn’t talk.”
“Hey, dumbass, try to follow along. They nailed Pearl for shooting a cop. I can’t waltz in there like he got a speeding ticket and fix it.”
“I understand. But if he has kept his trap shut, so far at least, maybe you can make sure he keeps it shut. Can’t you smuggle something in to keep him happy?”
“Maybe. I need to let things cool off a bit before I go poking around in there.”
“No, he won’t. I may not be able to get to him this minute, but he knows if he flips on me that there would be no place on this good earth for him to hide.”
“Listen to me. Pearl is a whacked-out junkie. Unstable. When the need for a fix overwhelms him, he won’t be thinking straight. If it gets too hot in there, and it will, he’ll give us up for a cinnamon Tic Tacs. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Are you telling me how to do my job?”
“I’m not telling you how to do it. I’m simply telling you to do it now.”
“You should know that I don’t take well to being threatened, Theo.”
“No threat.” Simons grabbed his can of cold Mountain Dew and took a gulp. He had seen Duke’s work in Iraq and didn’t want to get into a pissing match with a cold-blooded psycho. The silence on the other end of the line stretched Simons’s nerves. Obviously the pills the doctor prescribed for his anxiety weren’t worth a damn. “Duke? Come on. Say something. We can meet if you want and figure out a plan.”
“I don’t think so.”
“All right then. Do something.”
“Goddamn it. Quit looking to pick a fight with me. Our problem is sitting down at the central jail.”
Silence filled the phone line again. Simons took his Fresh Air Ashtray out of the top drawer and clicked it on. The small motor whirred. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a pack of Kools, and lit up. The smoke he exhaled was sucked in by the tiny whirring fans.
“You’re a bastard.” Simons’s breathing was labored. “Iraq is in the past.”
“You’re the one who can’t get over it. I think I’m more worried about you cracking than Pearl. Take your pills or talk to your shrink or whatever it is you do to keep a grip on reality. Meanwhile, I’ll see if I can find out something about our boy.”
Simons’s hand shook slightly as he took a deep drag on the cigarette. “That’s what I’m talking about—team work. I have your back, you have mine. Right?”
A dial tone was the only response Simons got. He put the phone in its cradle, leaned back in his black leather chair, and crossed his arms. He rocked forward and back as his eyes wandered around the room, finally settling on a five-by-seven photograph of his wife and children.
God, don’t let this blow up in my face. It would kill Teri and the kids. And my folks. They won’t know what to do—what to say.
Simons unlocked the second drawer of his desk and pulled it open. Inside was a wooden box made from polished cedar that he took out and placed on the desk. He read the dedication inscribed on the small metal plate affixed to the top. Captain Theodore Simons. A Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry, DOU6, Desert Storm. Inside, nestled in red velvet, was an ivory handled Colt .45 Peacemaker revolver. It had been a gift from his men when the unit came home. He could still remember Duke’s stinging words when he delivered it to the hospital: It’s like General Patton’s. Everything considered, I should slap the shit out of you instead of giving you the gun.
Simons laid his cigarette in the ashtray and took a bottle of Vat 69 Scotch whisky and a small glass from his drawer. He blew into the glass to remove any dust, a habit he had since his desert days, and poured a shot. In an unbroken motion, he downed the amber liquid, slammed the glass on his desk, and poured another.
He removed the gun from the box. Slowly turning it in his hands, he admired the weapon and was proud of the fact that his men thought so highly of him—except Duke, of course.
He took a final drag on the cigarette and dropped it into the nearly empty can of soda.
With a lint-free rag he wiped the gun. He sighted down the barrel, aiming at a photograph of his old army unit that hung on the far wall.
“Bang,” he said quietly. Then he spun the chamber to make sure the gun was loaded.
Salvador Reyes had spent the last two hours shuffling papers, eating almonds, and watching the clock. Quiet days at the Hollywood Precinct were also boring days. Unfortunately, he and Phil had to pull the extra duty today and the OT pay didn’t seem worth it.
Sergeant Ray Brooks entered the detective’s cubicle area. “How’s life in the Pit?”
He received a couple of grunts.
“So, is everybody going to Jerry Cresner’s welcome-back party at the Wilcox? It starts at eight o’clock, which, by my watch, is right about now.”
“Kahn and I are,” Wagner said. “Willy T. makes some of the best Buffalo wings in the city. That alone is a good enough reason to go.”
“I’m in. How about you, Joanne?” Albanese said. “I’ll buy you a drink.”
Joanne Coombs nodded. “I don’t know Cresner, but a drink sounds good.”
Reyes laughed. “So basically, except for our good sergeant, you’re all going for the food and drinks.”
“The reason doesn’t matter,” Brooks said. “We need a crowd there to make him feel good. He was my partner back in the day. I transferred over here—oh, hell—a long time ago now. Jerry stayed in robbery.”
“He’s been on medical leave, right?” Coombs asked.
“Yeah. He was busting up a mugging. The mugger shot him in the hip, severed some artery in his pelvis. First of all, they didn’t know if he’d make it. Then they said he probably wouldn’t walk again. But here it is, three months later and he’s returning to limited duty.”
Reyes and his partner, Philippa Wall
“Want to take an early dinner?” she said. “We could grab a sandwich at the Wilcox. That way we could be there for at least part of Cresner’s party.”
“Anything is better than sitting here.”
Reyes and Wallace moved their car from the rear parking lot of the station to a spot a few feet down from the front door of the Wilcox just in case. As they entered the bar they were immediately greeted by the owner, Willy Truss.
“Hey. Hello, hello. Two of my favorite people. Check out my sign.” He pointed at a sign hanging on the back wall. Welcome Back Jerry.
Reyes gave him a thumbs-up. “Nice, Willy. You the man.”
“Ain’t nobody else,” he said. “Hey, Phil, how long is a good-looking sister like you going to hang with that chulo?”
“He’s my daytime boy toy,” Wallace said.
“Hey now,” Reyes said. They all laughed.
The Wilcox Avenue Canteen was down the street from the station. It had been there since before Prohibition and had long been considered a cops’ bar. The walls were filled with pictures of officers and criminals. Framed newspaper front pages of famous cases surrounded a small glass case where novels about the LAPD were on display. On a polished wood plaque were one-by-three-inch brass plates inscribed with the names of officers who had fallen in the line of duty. Next to it was another similar plaque but the list was of officers who had been patrons of the bar and had retired from the force. The third and fourth plaques contained the names of officers who had been on, or currently were on, The Wilcox Avenue Canteen Bowling Team.
Wallace and Reyes made their way through the groups of officers from all across LA to a table where Joanne Coombs and Albanese sat. Reyes could hear snippets of conversations as he passed by.
“It’s too soon. He was still in a wheelchair a few days ago.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t show.”
“You never know what a bullet can do to your insides—or to your psyche.”
“Have a seat,” Albanese said.
“Where are the rest of the guys?” asked Reyes.
Albanese pushed a plate of bones toward the center of the table.
“That’s Wagner’s. He scarfed those down, and then he and Kahn went to shoot some pool. Is Wagner any good? He made it sound like he was a hustler.”
“He thinks he’s a lot of things,” Reyes said.
More officers wandered in; the noise in the room increased. “There’s my old buddy Olivia Hughes,” Wallace said. “I’m going to go say hi to her. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“I’m going get something to drink,” Reyes said. “Anybody else need anything?”
“I’ll pass,” Coombs said. She lifted her glass slightly. “Still nursing this one.”
Albanese shook his head. “No thanks.”
Reyes scooted his chair back and walked to the bar. “Hey, Willy, can I have a Coke?”
As the barman turned to the cooler, Reyes noticed the slight limp from his prosthetic leg. Willy had stepped in the wrong spot while on patrol in Vietnam and a mine took his left leg below the knee. He always joked that he’d been drafted and shipped to Vietnam as a nigger and came back labeled a baby killer. That should have been enough to piss off any man. But Willy was somehow above all of that stuff. He went right to work as a bartender and eventually bought into the Wilcox when one of the partners decided to retire. Willy’s first official act as a co-owner was to put up a sign that read Stop the Hate. It still hung behind the bar. A few days later he put up a POW-MIA sign. That was still there, too.
“Here ya go, my friend, one ice cold Coca-Cola.”
“Jesus H. Cheesecake,” Joe Donawald said as he sidled up to Reyes and slapped him on the back. “Coke? You on the wagon, Sal?”
“Hey, Joe. No, still on duty though.”
“Ah. You had me worried there for a minute. How’s your boy?”
“Still in the clutches of his mother and grandfather but there’s nothing I can do about that.”
“Good luck with that mess. Say, I’m looking for someone to shoot pool with. Wagner and Kahn are back there taking on all comers. Want to help me whip their asses?”
“Nah. Not today.”
“No? Do you know anybody who can play?”
“Albanese shoots a pretty mean stick. Come on, he’s sitting with me.” They walked over to the table. “You guys know Joe Donawald?”
“Sure, I’ve seen you guys around.” Donawald nodded.
“Joe wants to take on our pool hustlers. You interested, Emilio?”
Albanese grinned. “Why not?” He stood up but Donawald held him in place. “Do you guys know how you can tell if you’re in a lesbian bar?” No one answered. “Even the pool table doesn’t have balls.”
“I hope you shoot pool better than you tell jokes,” said Albanese. The two made their way across the room, squeezing between small groups of cops. Every stool at the bar as well as every table and booth were now occupied.
Coombs and Reyes suddenly found themselves alone at the table. “I’ve signed up for a night class in Spanish offered by UCLA continuing ed,” she said. “Are you still willing to tutor me?”
“You know I will.”
“How about tonight? My class starts next week. I haven’t looked at a Spanish textbook since high school.”
“I should be free. You doing it for the incentive pay or so you can be a translator?”
“A little of both I guess.”
“Did you know that if I wanted to be an interpreter, I have to take the class first?”
“It does seem odd that a native Mexican needs a class,” she said, “but it’s not only about the translating. It’s about proper procedure when dealing with a non-English-speaking Latino.”
“It’s still bullshit.” Reyes took a drink of his Coke. “Did I tell you my ex is marrying
the son of a bitch she was seeing behind my back? One of her daddy’s corporate toadies—David Nowitzski.”
“Yeah, you mentioned it. That sucks, Sal.”
Reyes wished he had kept his mouth shut. It seemed that every time he and Joanne had five minutes together, his ex-wife’s life somehow managed to work its way into the conversation, blowing out any spark like an ill wind.
“Can I join you?” Without waiting for a response, Captain Siley took the seat that Albanese had vacated. “What’s everybody drinking?” He threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table. “Next round is on me.”
“I’m persuaded,” Coombs said. “What are you having, Captain?”
“I’ll take a rum and Coke with lime.” He looked around the room full of police. “Where’s Cresner?”
“Haven’t seen him,” Reyes said.
Coombs took the twenty and excused herself. “Did anyone check on him to make sure that he was okay?”
“I didn’t, but then I don’t really know him.”
“That stupid ass shouldn’t be coming back on duty yet. Where’s Brooks? Brooks should call him. They’re old friends.”
“I know he’s here. Why don’t I go see if I can find him?” Reyes stood and passed Coombs at the bar. She was in her civvies now, and looked damn good. “I’ll be right back,” he said to her. “I’m going to find Brooks and have him call our missing guest of honor.”
Coombs frowned. Reyes knew what that look meant. She wasn’t happy, but when it came to being the one who got stuck with Captain “Dry” Siley, it was everyone for themselves. Siley was a bit of a pain, but worse than that, he was boring—dust-in-the-mouth boring.
Reyes crossed the room, high-fived a couple of officers, and stopped to talk for a few seconds with Kahn, who was enjoying Wilcox’s signature double pepper jack cheeseburger with creamy jalapeno sauce and caramelized onions.
“I thought you were shooting pool.”
“Wagner needed a break.” Kahn held up the greasy burger as though it were the Holy Grail. “I’m going
Reyes stepped around Kahn and walked into the men’s room. Less than an hour and Joanne and I will be practicing a little Spanish, and maybe, if I get lucky…
Wagner was at the urinal and was mumbling out loud. Reyes hesitated. Wagner was breaking all the rules of etiquette in a men’s room—taking the middle urinal, talking, looking around, and, if Reyes stepped up, Wagner would engage him in a conversation, sure as shit.
Wagner turned slightly. “Come on. There’s always room for one more.”
Reyes stepped up and zipped down. He stared straight ahead but Wagner became animated and started bitching about Albanese being a hustler.
“Damn wops. You can’t trust them.”
“Uh-huh,” Reyes said.
“So who is that blonde bitch hanging with Blaylock? Ya know her?”
“Blonde bitch? You mean Tripucka?”
“Could be. She’s hot. I think I’m going to go for some of that.”
They finished at almost the same moment. “Better proceed with caution. Beer and blondes with badges don’t mix. At least not for you.”
“Oh, man. You hurt my feelings. Have I ever offended a fellow officer?”
“You’re kidding, right? I’m telling you, if they put your brain in a pickle jar in some side show at the circus, I’d pay to see it.”
“I got your pickle right here,” Wagner said as he grabbed his crotch.
Wallace pushed open the men’s room door. “Hey, Sal, let’s go. We’ve got a call.”
“Okay, I’m coming.”
“Hey!” Wagner yelled as the door closed. “You didn’t wash your hands.”
Wallace was moving through the bar and heading for the exit. “What do we have?” Reyes asked.
“Fire at an indie studio a few blocks from Paramount. Melrose and St. Andrew’s. Some place called Green Cheese Entertainment. They’ve found a body in the debris.”