Chapter 48

It was morning. The bright sunshine burning through my office windows registered as pain on the backs of my eyeballs. The place smelled of stale booze and burnt coffee. The coffee pot sat on the warmer, the on light indicating “Oops”. The empty Jack Daniels bottle said someone had too much to drink last night. The half-eaten go box of chili-cheese fries triggered my gag reflex as I swept it from my desk to the trash can. When I got up from my chair to adjust the blinds, the floor rolled from side to side, or so it seemed. The floor settled down enough for me to stagger to the window and shut out the sun. I switched off the coffee pot and wondered how Linda was going to get the burned up coffee out. I took pity on her and threw the pot in the trash with the empty wiskey bottle and the fries, then pulled the bag out of the pail and twisted it shut. I’d spare her that misery too.

I grabbed my emergency travel kit and towel from the closet and went to the bathroom down the hall. The mirror bore witness to my hangover and the cold water I splashed on was a slap in the face. I switched to hot and worked up a lather. A shaky hand combined with a used razor to further punish me for last night’s misdeeds. Bloodstained bits of toilet paper replaced the stubble on a face freshly cauterized with Old Spice. Toothbrush with paste was just what my stomach didn’t need. I think I pulled something retching.

It had seemed a good idea to spend the night in the office to await further developments. I had sent everyone home so I could better feel sorry for myself. No calls came, no developments developed, just me and Jack to wait it out The fries and a burger wrapper were evidense of a trip to Tommy Burgers, but I had no memory of getting there and back. Since I had no “hair of the dog”, I headed downstairs to the corner coffee shop. Sugar and caffeine would have to do the trick.

My old Foster Grants didn’t help much, so I was kind of reacting to the bright sun like a vampire when I stepped outside. But a familiar voice called for my attention.

“Rollo, get in the car,” Linda shouted above the din of morning traffic. I looked into the opened passenger door, trying to focus, obviously still under the influence. “You hear me? Get in the car or I’m done with all of this shit.” The edge to her voice said she was serious. Traffic backed up behind her to practice the L.A. tradition of horn blowing. I flipped off the hornblowers and got into the car, somewhat surprising myself. Not for the one finger salute.

Women and their ultimatums have played big parts in my life of some 40 years. Mom’s “My way or the highway”, was about college, the highway winning out. Ultimatums from wives resulted in child support, alimony and multiple house payments. My shrink told me The bad luck in my life could be the result of my habit of making bad choices. She would often ask, “And how did that work out for you?”

‘BUCKLE UP,” she commanded, obviously on a power rush.

“Oh, for crissakes,” I said, but going along with this new program. “You know I hate the damn things.”
But giving up control isn’t easy for a hardliner like me. “Head over to Farmer’s Market for bagels and coffee.”

“You’re an ass, Rollo Michaels, a real ass,” she said, driving right by, straight to the emergency entrance to Cedars. Give an inch…..

An hour later we left the hospital, minus the four stitches my ass had been carrying around for over a week. She drove straight to the Bagel Restaurant on south Fairfax, her preferred eatery for bagels. I had the eggs and lox scramble, an onion bagel with a smear, tomato juice with Tobasco and lemon, and lots of really good coffee. Linda nibbled half a blueberry muffin and sipped at her coffee while watching me devour my first real meal in a couple of days.

We didn’t talk much, but she did seem inordinately interested in how I spent the night. The who, what, where and why was asked a number of ways, only needing a bright light and rubber hose to be an enhanced interrogation. I finished my breakfast, avoiding copping out to being too drunk to remember and paid the bill. “Take me home so I can clean up and change clothes,” I said. And she did.

The litter box said El Gato’s plumbing was working. He ran past me to greet Linda with meows in Spanish and English, throwing in a few ankle rubs for good measure. She scooped him up and he was loving it, putting his purr motor in high gear. I headed toward the bathroom

“Me first,” she said, putting down the cat to his dismay. So I went to my kitchen, put some food in the cat’s bowl and sorted through three days of mail the cleaning girl had neatly stacked on the counter. I made seperate piles for “junk” and “bills”, trying to stay with her neat theme. The blinking light on my answer machine was flashing its danger signal, so I covered it with the “junk” mail. I opened the balcony door and let in the fresh eighty degree air. My herb garden looked a little limp and asked for a drink. Linda came out as I poured the second glass of water on the basil, rosemary and oregano.

I hit the shower and let it run as hot as I could stand it. When I was sufficiently pink I switched to twenty seconds of cold. I was toweling off when Linda tapped on the door, stuck her head in and announced, “You got company”, returning to my company without leaving a clue.

I donned my robe and stepped into the living room Two LAPD detectives sat on my couch, sipping coffee. “Rollo, my man, long time no see,” the older one said.

“What brings Hollywood Homicide to my door?”

“The coffee,” he said.

The younger one rose, “You got a gun under that robe?” he asked stepping toward me.

“No, just glad to see you, I guess. What the fuck is going on?” I asked as he frisked me.

“Mind telling us where you were last night between ten and midnight?”

I opened my mouth and Linda’s voice came out. “He was with me,” she said.

“What’s up Hinkle?” I asked.

“You’re aquainted with the Russian cultural affairs attache, no?”

“Can’t say that we’ve met. Why?”

“Somebody put two in his brain bucket around eleven last night. He was in a liquor store buying some Stoli and a box of cigars. At first blush we thought it was a robbery gone bad, but security video shows the shooter bending over the vic to pump two more into his chest. Guy did everything but take his pulse to be sure the job was done. We found your business card in the victim’s pocket. Had this address on the back and get this, your ex-wife’s address was written there too. We’re thinking this is some kind of clue, know what I mean Rollo?” he said with a smile.

A forceful knock on my door saved me from having to comment. “Open up Michaels, FBI,” shouted the voice of my favorite female federal agent. The detectives gave me the look as I nodded to Linda to let her in.

“Sorry guys, but maybe I should get some clothes on,” I said, retreating into my bedroom. I was out of my robe and had one leg into my boxers when Agent Monroe and her partner burst into the room. I turned away and finished putting on my drawers.

“That scar on your ass courtesy of the Bureau?” she asked.

“You here to check on my injuries?” I said, continuing to dress.

“No, our boss wants to see you. Said to find you and bring you in, so here we are.”

“Go help yourselves to some coffee and let me finish up here. I need to comb my hair and put on some smell goods, want to be at my best for your boss.”

“We don’t have time for your crap Micheals. Get dressed, you’re coming with us now,” her partner barked.

“We’ll wait for you inside. Who are your friends?” she asked, countering Agent Hardass.

“Hollywood Homicide Dicks,” I said, and they left the room. I laced up my Nikes and grabbed my spare keys from the nightstand drawer. I stepped out on the balcony, made the two story drop to the flowerbed below and made a run for it. I got two blocks when two very big men grabbed me by the arms and threw me into the back seat of a limo.

“I didn’t know you were a jogger, Rollo,” Anatoli said, the two big men getting back into the front seat and we drove away. Broad daylight, nobody sees anything. Typical in La La Land. “We were coming by to see you, but first the police show up, and then the FBI. I hope they weren’t there to talk to you about my business.”

“I think they wanted to know if I had anything to do with the death of your grey haired friend,” I said.

“Why would they think that?” he asked.

“I guess I might have told a few people that I was going to shoot him in the head.”

“And I told you that would not be necessary, that things have a way of working out. I just wanted to say goodbye. You have been a big help to me and my daughter and I am grateful. I am trusting you to remain discreet about our dealings. Is there somewhere we can take you on our way to the airport?”

“Your daughter said you were going back to Jersey today. You can drop me at my office. How much did the airline charge to fly these two guys?”

Anatoli smiled as they pulled to the Wilshire side of my building. “They are staying in Los Angeles keeping an eye on my interests,” he said. He offered his hand and I took it. “Goodbye my friend,” he said.

I watched them turn south on La Brea to head for LAX, hopefully out of my life for good. I entered the lobby and got on the elevator. Jackson, the security guard said, “Hey Rollo, the FBI just went up to your office.”

I hit the “P” for the underground parking and when I got there, cautiously looked around before getting in my car. I came up the ramp so fast I almost took out two pedestrians. I made it to the safety of Linda’s apartment in record time. Thankfully she hadn’t changed the locks the last time she got mad at me My key got me in.

Her small kitchen table was covered with today’s copy of the Los Angeles Times, confirming my suspicion about her being a Santa Monica liberal. Just above the fold of the Metro section the headline read:

RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SLAIN IN LIQUOR STORY ROBBERY

Seems even diplomats are not immune to the many dangers to be found in the City of Angels. I had no need to read the two column detailing the killing. I was sure the security footage would show a black man, presumed wearing a Manny Ramerez wig, walk in and double tap a grey haired man in the back of the head, then turn his victim over and shoot his victim twice more in the chest for good measure.

Instead, I turned on the TV. AMC was playing “Chinatown”. I got a bottle of Evian from the fridge, washed down a couple of Tylenol and watched Nicholson do noir in color. Maybe it IS the water.

* * *

Epilogue

A week had passed, three days of which I’d spent in a Federal lockup, ostensibly a material witnes to the murder of a Russian diplomat. Threats of prosecution for obstruction of justice and/or misprision of multiple felonies rang hollow when weighed against the embarrassment the Bureau would face. Word came down from on high and I was dusted off and sent on my way. Homeland Security thanked me for my patriotism, citing many of the sections in the Patriot Act designed to keep us “patriots” in line. I promised not to write a book

The day after my release from federal custody, Fontana came by the office to drop off another two grand from their Informant Fund. Money is money. He told me he was leaving the agency, returning back east to the comfort of home and family. He had applied to the NYPD and would be going to their academy in October. We said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch, really meaning it this time.

The next day the FBI showed up with an attorney from the Justice Department. He had a check for me for $ 23,049. The money to cover my ass’s pain and suffering was mine when I signed a stack of waivers and hold harless clauses. He told me the government’s generosity knew no bounds, proudly pointing out that they had also paid all my related medical expenses. God Bless America!

That night at a celebratory dinner I showed the check to Commander Grehek. He said he would have charged more for his ass because it is considerably larger. “The government told me that if it was my head it would have been a hell of a lot less,” I quipped back. None of us could come up with an expanation for the forty-nine dollars tacked on to the twenty three grand.

The next day I was getting ready to leave for my biweekly with the shrink when FedEx delivered a package to the office. It was from New Jersey. I opened it up and reached through the popcorn to retrieve a shoebox tied with string. The Hickey Freeman label made the box a collector’s item. I told Linda and Clancy to leave the room in case it went boom.

I untied the string and lifted the lid. Three thick stacks of Ben Franklins stared up at me. An envelope marked “Rollo” was in Darla’s distinctive script. I pulled out the card and read:

Dear Rollo,
Thank you so much for all you have
done for my father and me. He
wishes you to have this book from
his collection.
Darla

I picked up the leather bound edition of the third volume of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. I rememberd mentioning to him that I had never gotten around to reading parts five, six and seven. The book felt strangely heavy in my hand. I turned the first four pages, then the title page, to discover the book had been neatly hollowed out to accommodate the .38 revolver I had sold him for a thousand dollars. Evidently he thought it only a rental. I took the gun from the inside of the book. It had been recently fired. I opened the cylinder and found four spent casings and one live round in the five chambers. Only a Russian’s poetic sense of justice would provide me with the gun that did in Mister Grey Hair.

I dropped the fifteen thousand on Linda’s desk and headed for my appointment with the good Doctor of Psychiatry, the book and contents firmly secured under my arm. I was only a few minutes late for my appointment, again vexing the doctor. She gave me a strange look when I laughed in response to her question: “So, what’s new?” She wore a mask of skepticism when I told her of shootouts, personal injury and incarceration. I even offered to drop my pants as evidence of my veracity, but she pointed our conversation in another direction. Based on our hypnosis session two weeks ago, she professionally opined that there was some validity to my recurring dream. “A detective should be able to find the truth,” she said. “Do you wish to know the truth?” I thought I’d get more for my $150 a session.

That evening I asked Linda to dinner. We drove up the coast to Paradise Cove and enjoyed a nice meal of sea bass with a bottle of an excellent California Cabernet. After dinner I took the leather bound book from the rear of the car and we walked out to the end of the peir We watched the setting sun burn its way into the Pacific. I removed the gun from inside the book. I gave it my best throw and two gulls dove for it as it arced a hundred feet out. It is fitting the story should end here, back where it had started. I took Linda in my arms as the ocean extinguished the sun.

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