Monday, April 25, 2011

Chapter Four

I didn't really like dealing with the police much past "here's your guy," but now I'd had to deal with them twice in one day. I was out of Eric's precinct, but he called the right people and sent them my way. I hung out with the dead guy for a few minutes until two uniformed cops and one guy in plainclothes showed up.

The guy in plainclothes took my name and address and statement. I told him why I had broken into the place, and he nodded his head.

"Yeah, same warrant came up on her when I ran this place. Strange. Failure to appear doesn't usually connect so quick to murder," he said.

"You think it's murder, then?"

"Hey, that's a question for the crime scene guys. But first impressions? Yeah, looks like."

I'd had the same thought, but I had no training or experience to back it up. In fact, I realized as the plainclothes cop handed back my ID, this was the first time I'd actually seen a dead body. I expected to react differently, to feel something... anything, really. Disgust, fear, sadness, something. But it was just a dead guy on the floor. I didn't end up feeling one way or another about it. That should probably bother me.

"Um, you need anything else from me, officer?" I asked.

"Nah. Just make yourself available if I have any more questions, yeah?"


"Good. Here's my card. This your cell number on yours?"

"Home number. Just got a new cell," I told him, grabbing my card back and quickly writing my cell number on the back.

"Right. Probably won't need anything, but never hurts to be able to get a hold of you, right?"

"Fair enough, Detective," I looked at his card, "O'Neill."

I put the card in my jacket pocket and headed back outside.

I knew the next step, as this isn't the first time I've turned a simple trace-and-retrieve into a police situation. My part was over -- time to walk away and hope another one came up before I had to buy groceries or pay the power bill.

And that would have been the smart move. I mean, trying to track down Laura Mills now, while the police were looking for her as a person of interest in a murder? That would be dumb. I make a wrong move there, and I get in trouble. If I'm lucky, some of my police sources just stop talking to me. If I'm unlucky, I get arrested for obstructing a police investigation, get my licenses pulled, and have to go find yet another new job -- and I think I've exploited all of the good "big scary dude" jobs out there.

I'm also a guy who's now gladly taken on two careers that put him in situations that could easily kill him, so it's probably not hard for you to figure out that I'm not great at making the smart move.

Most times I go looking for someone, they're either at their home or work address, even those people who are actively running from me. Stick around a felon's house long enough, and he's bound to turn up. A lot of people will tell you it's because criminals are stupid, but that's not it. I mean, some of them are, obviously. But not all of them. It's just that most people have lives they have to get on with.

Even a lot of the criminals I track have to hold down day jobs, and if they know I'm looking for them, sometimes they'll drop in at work to pick up some money owed or let the boss know they need to be out for a while. But staking out their homes is so much better, because most people don't have much of a support system in place -- they always end up needing something from the house, or simply somewhere to sleep at night. They try to sneak in, of course, but it's usually pretty easy to spot them. After all, if they were good at sneaking around, they probably wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place.

But there are some people who don't show back up at their own houses, and thanks to the dead body on the floor, it looked like Laura Mills was going to be one of those people. It didn't happen as often, but I had ways of finding those people, too. Mike was thorough in getting information out of his clients, which helped a lot. The next step was about as mundane as you think it was -- check with the two references Mike made Laura fill in on his paperwork. One was a local, a guy who lived in Long Beach. He was first on the list.

On the way, I gave Mike a quick call to let him know what was up. He didn't have a problem with me trying to find Laura Mills before the cops did. It was my job, after all. Besides, something was starting to look a little off for both of us. The combination of the ridiculously high bail, the dead guy in the apartment, and the girl at the office claiming not to know her co-worker... all of it added up to something, but neither of us could figure out what.

I don't get over to Long Beach often, partially because it annoys me. All of these new, thin, million-dollar houses going up on streets named "Boathouse Lane" and "Smuggler's Cove." Guh. Long Beach used to be cool, but it's getting... I don't know, hip? Doesn't sound like there should be a difference there, but there sure is.

The address was in one of those new developments, a place called Spinnaker Bay. Saying that the Beast looked out of place rolling through that neighborhood was an understatement and a half, and I was sure someone would call the cops the second I got out of the car. I'd have to make this quick.

The house was on Parson's Landing. See? Told you it was that kind of place. It looked like something I wouldn't pay to live in, a couple of huge cardboard boxes stacked together and stuccoed over. There were two cars out front, a BMW 7-series and an Infiniti Q45. The guy I was looking for was named Roger Mills. Same last name usually meant brother or father -- women didn't usually list their ex-husbands as references on our paperwork.

Brother was good. People went to their siblings for help on the run, but usually not their parents. I'm guessing that, by the car choices, I was dealing with a sibling rather than a parent -- they were both what young, rich guys considered "cool." Also, both cars in the driveway was a good sign, as it meant someone was most likely home. I parked the Beast along the curb and looked around. No one was out on the street, so I hopped out of the car, walked quickly up to the front door, and rang the bell. A young woman, tall, red-haired, and attractive, answered.

"Um. . . yes?"

"Hi. I'm looking for Roger Mills. Is he around?" I said, flashing a smile and keeping my hands at my side. It wasn't easy to look nonthreatening at my size, but I was going to make every attempt.

"Yeah. . . he's at the office late tonight," she said, looking me over while backing away from the door slightly. "Can I tell him who stopped by?"

Two cars in the drive, closed garage. The guy was home, and I knew it, but pushing it -- especially in this neighborhood -- would land me in jail for the night and effectively kill my investigation before it really started.

"Sure. My name's Jake Harris. Would you give him this and have him call me as soon as he can? It's in regards to Laura Mills."

I quickly scrawled my cell number on my card and handed it to her. She looked it over, then looked back up at me with a raised eyebrow.

"His sister? What kind of trouble is she in?"

"I'm sorry, I can only discuss that with Mr. Mills. Would you give him that and have him call me?"

"I'll tell him."

"Thanks much," I said, flashing the smile again and backing down the front steps.

He wasn't going to call anytime soon, and I knew it. My best bet was to hang outside the house until he went for his car, let him lead me to wherever Laura was hiding. That was the best plan, but hanging out in this neighborhood. . . wasn't going to happen. I stuck out like a stripper in a Pentacostal Church.

Mike could sit on him without attracting too much attention. His two-pack-a-day habit aside, he looked pretty clean-cut, and he drove a personality-free Lexus that would blend in in this neighborhood. Unfortunately, he was in Downtown L.A. -- half an hour in good traffic -- and that left this guy unwatched for way too long. He could slip out and vanish, and while tracking him wasn't the only trick I had up my sleeve, it was my best bet right now.

In a movie, this is where the hero guy (me, I guess, by default) would place some high-tech tracking device on this dude's cars and hang back, follow him to where Laura Mills was hiding out, and solve the whole damn thing. There was a simplicity to action movies that I envied all the time in my current career. All it took was some hack writer being too lazy to write what would really happen, and in comes the awesome deus ex machina that resolves everything. But here, now, in the real world, I'd just have to get on the cell to Mike, try to get him out here as quick as possible, and hope the guy didn't vanish in between now and then.

* * *

I was at In-N-Out Burger -- pretty much the only place close by I didn't look too out of place. Actually, I was in the parking lot, shoveling a Double-Double into my face, when my phone rang. I set the remains of the burger on the dashboard, wiped my hands off on a napkin, and opened the flip on my phone.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Hey. I just got to the address you gave me. One car out front, a BMW," Mike said.

Shit. I should have stuck around in plain sight, a big, stupid spectacle making sure the guy didn't move, until Mike got there. Honestly, though, I hadn't thought of that until just this minute.

"All right, Mike. Thanks. Guy probably took off," I said, sighing.

"Hang on a minute. Someone's getting into the BMW. Male, dark hair. Could be your guy," Mike told me.

I tossed the remainder of my burger out the window and into the nearby trash can and started the engine.

"Keep on him," I said, "and let me know which way you're headed. I'll pick up the tail from you as soon as I can."

Mike handed him off to me just before the guy in the BMW got on the 405, and I tailed him after that. We took the 405 to 710, and just as the sun was going down, he pulled off the freeway into Compton.

My hopes of not getting shot at today were rapidly dwindling.

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