The Lawyer

“Domestic Disturbance at 1153 Montrose Avenue, any nearby patrols please respond.” came the crackling voice over the radio.

“Sounds like somebody’s wife stepped out of line huh?” observed Rourke with a laugh.

“Montrose Avenue, that’s close by. It’s a really swank neighborhood too, not your typical wife-beater territory. Let’s check it out.” I said.

“What? Forget it man, that’s a uni’s job, why are we responding to a ten sixteen? We’re murder police.”

“It’ll take us a second Harry, we might be saving somebody’s life.” I said as I turned the car around.

“Fuck that, in that rich neighborhood we’d probably end up crashing an orgy or somethin’. Shit Tom.”

“Dispatch, Detective Harding here, badge number 1066, we’re close to the location, we’re responding.”

“Uh… Roger that Detective Harding, over.”

Truth was I just couldn’t stand wife-beaters and was hoping it would give me a chance to beat them back. They hadn’t said anything about wife-beating over the radio, but 99% of the time Domestic Disturbance meant that.

Rourke didn’t complain any more. I guess he figured, What the hell, if I wanted to play knight in shining armor, I could, besides, he probably thought it would give us a chance to see how these rich fucks lived, maybe even take a souvenir. And if we were really lucky, the damsel in distress would turn out to be a surgically-enhanced hottie in some state of undress. That’s usually how his thought process went.

“You’re always so righteous Tom. Step on it or our girl is gonna need another round of plastic surgery.”

We arrived at the address, 1153 was located at the end of a leafy cul-de-sac with long driveways and lots of hanging vines. Straight out of a Nouveau Riche fairy tale, there was a golden Mercedes-Benz SL in the driveway. Convertible of course, and next to it a silver Lexus SC 430. Both were 2-door vehicles, which probably meant no children. That was good. Things got uglier in domestic squabbles when children were involved, harder to rein the parents in and Rourke was right, this was not really our job. We investigated murders, not routine beatings.

“Alright, let’s see what we got here.” I said, stepping out of the car.

“You first my Prince.” Rourke didn’t hide the sarcasm in his voice, asshole.

Our footsteps crunched in the pebbled driveway. What was it with rich people and pebbles? Was their use compulsory when your bank account reached a certain milestone? The house was Grand Colonial style, lots of columns and white stucco on the façade, the inevitable animal statues guarding the entrance. In this case it was the venerable lions, indicating to the whole street where the king of the jungle resided. The owner seemed to take this title seriously, we heard some roaring as we approached.

“Better get in there quick before he hurts himself.” Observed Rourke.

I rang the bell, it made a nice ‘ding-dong’ sound, just what you would expect in a stately mansion. I kept pressing the button so that the sound now became and annoying staccato. “What the fuck?” I heard a male voice shout from inside. Footsteps, and then seconds later, the door was yanked opened by a middle aged man in a very expensive charcoal gray suit.

“What the fuck?!” he screamed at us. I held my badge out at the guy so he had to take a step back to see it and said “police, keep your voice down.” I shoved the badge in his face again, placed my free hand on his chest and, not so gently, pushed him as I made my way inside the house. Rourke followed.

“What the hell are you doing? You can’t come in here without a warrant!” The man kept on screaming.

“We got a domestic dispute call sir, we don’t need a warrant to come in. Now, I’ve asked you nicely to keep your voice down twice. I won’t ask again.” I told him, looking around for sings of violence. Nothing seemed to be disturbed, no overturned furniture or smashed ornaments. Maybe we’d arrived just in time, or maybe the breaking would start after we left, that was also quite typical. The delicate male psyche of wife beaters always feels betrayed when confronted with the police, as if they can’t believe their “defenceless” partners would stoop so low to try to protect themselves.

“Are you alone sir?” Rourke asked in a much friendlier tone than mine. All the money he was seeing in the furnishings and marble floors made him a little nervous. Rich pricks always had high-ranking friends at the country club that could make trouble.

“No, I’m not alone, my wife is here” answered the man in a little more subdued tone.

“Where is she sir? We would like to speak with her.” I said.

The man let out an exasperated sigh and yelled “Silvia, it’s the police, get out here!”

I turned a stony glance at the man, but he just looked at me with undisguised disdain. The guy was a born and bred country club cocksucker, I had met lots of guys like this. They thought that simply because they had a lot of money, the world belonged to them and everyone who wasn’t their equal was an inferior species and an indentured servant or a fucking slave. These people didn’t ask, they demanded, and most of the time they got it. I couldn’t stomach the likes of him and was having a really hard time keeping my cool. I heard the soft rustle of silk behind me and turned to see a beautiful young woman, presumably Silvia, standing at the threshold to the living room. She had long black hair, smooth coffee-colored skin, and a voluptuous body. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying and the left side of her face was starting to swell, no doubt from her husband’s attention. She’d be thirty at the most, I gauged. She was just standing there with her arms crossed across her chest as if hugging herself, dressed in a long white silk robe, a combination nightgown / pyjamas that only the very rich or very beautiful seemed able to wear successfully. She was stunning in it.

My face flushed with anger and I gritted my teeth. I detested bullies. They made my blood boil. People who got off hurting anyone weaker and needed to prove their superiority using violence or humiliation almost pushed me over the edge. The fact that this girl was so beautiful seemed to compound the murderous rage I felt. It was adding insult to injury that on top of bullying someone weaker than you, you were too ignorant to realize you were also destroying a work of art in the process. Or maybe you just didn’t care, which was even worse.

I spun on my heels and rounded on the man whose attitude hadn’t improved at all. I clenched my fists and took a step towards the man in the expensive suit. Rourke could see what was about to happen and grabbed me by the elbow, restraining me.

“Easy there tiger, take it easy.” Normally, Rourke would have let me put the fear of god into anyone I chose to, but this guy had a lot of money and that always spelled trouble. No telling how connected the prick was.

“Yes, officer, do be careful in my house.” the man said, offering me a chilling and sardonic smile.

I couldn’t speak for a while, I was consumed with rage. The only thought in my mind was how to hurt this asshole, and how much to hurt him without killing him. I let out a long sigh and said through clenched teeth “Actually, it’s detective.”

“Ooh, a detective. Should I be impressed? Do you people know who I am?”

“Oh, for God’s sakes Larry, give it a rest.” said the woman in a low voice.

“You shut your mouth.” the man yelled at her.

I turned my back on ‘Larry’ and went towards the woman. If I didn’t stay away from this bastard there was no telling what I would do.

“Ma’am, are you OK?” I asked her.

“I’m fine.” She said in a low voice.

“Would you like to come down to the station with us? We can help you.” I gently touched her arm, she flinched a little from the contact.

“I’m fine.” She repeated, a little louder this time.

“He’s asking you if you want to press charges, Silvia” the man told her. “Are you going to press charges, Silvia?” he asked, his voice dripping with fake sweetness.

The woman looked down at the floor, “No.” she mouthed, it was barely audible.

“Of course not.” Larry added.

“Ma’am, I’m guessing this is not the first time this has happened. Please come to the station with us.” I persisted.

“Detective, I am a lawyer. Now, you heard my wife say she will not press charges. And that everything is alright. That means you two need to get the hell off my property, right now!” the man didn’t raise his voice, just commanded.

I didn’t move. I felt I needed to do something. I couldn’t let this cocksucker get away with this, but I didn’t really have a choice. The fucking lawyer was right. I pulled out a card with my name and the precinct’s number on it, and offered it to the woman. “If you need anything, please call us.”

She didn’t move to take it, didn’t even raise her eyes. I put the card on the mantlepiece next to her.

“Now, *gentlemen*!” the lawyer said. The last word was pronounced as an insult.

Rourke patted me on the shoulder and said “Let’s go Tom.”

At the door, I turned and looked at the woman. She hadn’t moved. She was looking straight at me. I thought I saw loneliness and resignation in those dark eyes, but also something else. Perhaps defiance? Not at her husband but at their situation. She had the look of the martyr about her, someone who is determined to play the cards fate dealt her. Then all I saw was the door being slammed in my face by the asshole lawyer.

Rourke and I walked to the car and got in. I just sat there for a minute, staring ahead.

“C’mon Tom, let’s get the fuck out of here.” Rourke said.

“Fat lot of help you were in there.” I was still staring ahead.

“What the fuck was I supposed to do, Tom? You heard the girl, she didn’t want to press charges, end of story.”

“It’s definitely not the end of the story. Not for her, I can tell you that much.”

“Listen Tom,” Rourke began softly “I’ve been around the block a bit. I’ve seen these things lots of times. You just have to let them take their own course, sort themselves out. You get too involved and it all goes to hell and suddenly it’s your fault. You’re a bright kid, but you get too involved in things man, you take shit much too personally. This is just another job like any other. You don’t owe anybody anything and nobody owes you nothin’. Trust your uncle Harry, he knows. Now, can we please get the fuck out of here before we get sued by Mr. Hotshot ‘you know who I am?’ lawyer?”

“Fuck.” I muttered under my breath as I started the engine and peeled out of the driveway in a hail of fancy pebbles. I knew it was childish, but it gave me a little satisfaction to think that maybe a couple of those pebbles would ding fuckwit’s Mercedes.

Back at the precinct, I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl and the asshole lawyer. I slumped in the chair by my desk, looking moody while Rourke chatted with some of the boys. No doubt telling them about Silvia’s tits. I needed something to take my mind off it. How about working on an actual case? I thought. That should take my mind off this girl for a while and, oh, I don’t know, maybe do something useful in the process. Well, let’s start with the evidence… damn, that means going down to see Wasik, just what I needed.

“Hey Harry, you wanna take a look at the evidence from the Asian boy?” I called out a lot more cheerfully than I was feeling.

“Yeah, OK. Got nothin’ better to do anyway” Rourke answered.

We took the stairs to the basement where evidence was located. It wasn’t very big, but had enough room to hold evidence from hundreds of cases. The place was a maze; and like every good labyrinth, this one had a dangerous Minotaur. His name was Roland Waskowitz – Wasik to the boys in the station – a big old Pollack whose main pleasure in life seemed to be berating me. There was no avoiding Wasik. Every case had evidence and it all had to be filed in the same place: Wasik’s dungeon. The old bastard knew this and acted the part. Depending on his mood and who you were, he could be very expedient and get you what you needed quickly or drag his feet and make your life miserable while he made you jump through hoops and forms just to get a simple piece of evidence you needed. He seemed to be in top shape today.

“Well if it ain’t my favorite ‘Biscuit eater’.” said Wasik in greeting, “what brings you down here with the regular folk?”

“The pleasure of your company, naturally, Wasik” I answered with a honeyed smile.

“And we need some evidence.” contributed Rourke who seemed to have a high regard for the old Pollack, for some unfathomable reason.

“Young Dirtbag off to solve another case by himself again, is he Harry?” Wasik turned his attention to Rourke.

“Oh, you know he can’t tie his own shoelaces without me, Wasik. That’s why I’m here, to protect and serve our young prince.”

“When you two are done with the pleasantries, can we have the evidence for case number 99-16215.” I interjected, I didn’t want to get these two on a roll.

“Keep your panties on! I’m talking here. So, Harry, got any more of those special magazines you brung me the other day?” The special magazines were some titty mags that Harry collected. After he was done with them, he brought them to the precinct and distributed them around the office. He always saved a choice one for Wasik. It helped to keep the old bastard on good terms with Harry, but I was sure he really did it because, for some reason that I could not understand, Harry was actually fond of the Pollack. You’d think the old fucker was paralyzed and couldn’t get his own porn at the local kiosk. Maybe he was just too chickenshit to admit he was a pervert and had to wait for Harry to give him used porn scraps, yuck.

“Not yet Wasik. But I’ve got my eye on a new one. One of them ‘barely legal’ ones, you’ll love it. Guaranteed to give you a heart attack.”

“Very good, very good Harry. That last one you gave me was a doozy, wonderful quality all around… Now,” turning to me “what was that case number?”

“Here, let me write it down for you, I know your memory is blown to shit from all the booze and porn, not to mention you’re advanced decomposing.” I took a slip of paper and the pen chained to the counter by the evidence window. I had memorized the case number before coming downstairs.

“Memorized the number did you?” observed Rourke with something like disgust.

“I figured it was easier than carrying it around on a piece of paper. Besides, I gotta keep my mind sharp or I’ll end up like reptilian Wasik here.”

“Always the clever one. I hate clever” said Wasik.

“Oh, you don’t have to tell me. I know you stay as far away as possible from cleverness.”

“Fuck you!” said Wasik.

I made a reverence at the old bastard.

Wasik shuffled away with the piece of paper. I rolled my eyes at Rourke who just smiled. It was obvious that Harry enjoyed the ribbing that Wasik gave me. A couple of minutes passed, Rourke filled the silence with idle chatter, football scores, gossip about Sherry the receptionist, usual office banter. I wasn’t really paying attention, my thoughts kept going back to the lawyer and his wife. The whole thing had really bothered me. Hell, it was getting late. I just wanted to get out and take my mind off of everything related to work. Where was the old Pollack with the fucking evidence? He had probably already found what we needed, but was sitting in a corner just to piss me off.

“Take your time Wasik,” I shouted, “it’s not like we’re trying to catch killers or anything here!”

“Shut your fucking trap!” Came the answer from deep within the dungeon. Rourke just chuckled, he kept on blathering about Sherry, seems he had some bone to pick with her but I wasn’t paying attention. Finally, Wasik appeared with a large manila envelope, all the evidence gathered at the scene for case number 99-16215.

“That’s it?” I said. I had somehow expected there to be more. This didn’t look promising.

“Yeah, that’s it.” answered Wasik sourly, “Now sign the fucking thing.”

Rourke reached for the pen to sign, but Wasik put a hand on his arm.

“No, not you. I want shitbird here to sign for it. That way, if it gets lost, they won’t blame you Harry.” he said, patting Rourke’s arm while he smiled.

“Sheesh, let me see that.” I said. I signed the evidence slip and tossed the pen on the countertop. “As usual, a real pleasure, Wasik.”

“The pleasure is all yours, shitbird.” Wasik said. “Harry, don’t forget me now.”

“You’re next on my list Wasik, count on it.” Harry said with a wink.

“I will.”

The Job

I was late. Shouldn’t have stayed up all night playing fucking video games only to get killed again and again. As soon as I got to my desk, after one and a half cups of life-sustaining coffee, the other half still in my hand, there was a note on the phone, it was from Rourke, my partner, who didn’t seem to believe in cell phones. There was a murder scene, we were up and Rourke was already there, dispatch would give me the address. Cursing under my breath, I picked up the phone, dialed Dispatch’s extension, wrote down the address, sat there for a second or two pissed off about not being able to enjoy my second coffee in peace and quite and went out again.

As I neared the crime scene, I could tell this was just another routine killing in a city that saw its fair share. You could always tell if there was something different or special about a crime scene by the attitude of the attendees. Routine killings always had cops laughing, telling stories and talking loudly, coffee was being passed around and everyone was making an extra effort to ignore the body, lest they get saddled with some actual work, you know, just another day at any office. To the rubber-neckers, killings were always a morbidly fascinating scene, something to relish and fear and be disgusted yet hypnotised by. For homicide cops, it was just routine, more paperwork, more filing, more clearance rates to worry about. Nothing special. It’s not like in the movies where the dashing hero (that would be me, by the way) gets obsessed with the case and gives up his career because this one got under his skin or some other shit. You work it, you follow leads, you clear the case, or not, you do your job.

I spotted Rourke by the body and approached him.

“Just another day at the office, Harry? How ya doin’?” I asked in greeting.

“Hey, look who decided to show up. I can’t complain Tom. At least I’m in much better shape than this one” replied Rourke gesturing at the body with his chin.

“What you got here, any ID?”

“Nothing on him, Asian male, early twenties, shot to death.” said Rourke. “So, you have a hot date last night or forgot to set the clock?” He asked.

“Actually, I stayed up late playing Rainbow Six Vegas 2 till the wee hours of the morning. It might be kinda old but it’s still a hell of a game.” I answered.

Rourke shook his head, “There’s something very wrong about a grown man playing video games, man.”

“U-hu, what about him?.” I said, not bothering to get into this old argument again. You either got video games or you didn’t. Rourke was one of the miserable unfortunates who didn’t.

“What you see is what you get, my friend. Asian boy, shot. Wearing some nice colors too. I’m thinking some gang shit.” he said.

“Could be.” I said, looking at the surroundings, “Looks a little clean though.”

“What, you were expecting gang graffiti? Maybe the perps sign their name too while they’re at it?”

“No, I mean, I think the crime scene is a little too clean for a gang drive-by, or even an execution. Usually we see a lot of bullets sprayed all over the place. You know these guys favor Micro Uzis and Mac 10‘s, shit like that, small automatics. The old spray and pray trick: just close your eyes and pull the trigger, 1700 rounds per minute go out in all directions and you hope some of them hit your intended target.”

“Hmm.” Rourke wasn’t ready to concede his gang theory, he was more of the “the butler did it” camp than anything else.

I squatted and inspected the body without touching it.

This was definitely no drive-by, the guy was shot three times very cleanly. “Seems like he was shot just three times. That sound right?” I said.

“Sound about right from where I’m standing.” replied Rourke.

“Just three shots Harry, that’s all he has, and they seem pretty clean. I mean they’re almost in a perfect line, two to the center mass, one to the head. Body wasn’t moved either. He fell right here, look at all the blood stains. I’d almost say it looks professional.” Rourke had more time than me in the force, I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know, but sometimes Harry just wasn’t up to solving crimes, he had to be prodded a little, I guess the more time you spent around dead people the more tired and lazy you got.

“Maybe the gangbangers are getting some outside help, or learning new tricks.” he said.

“Maybe…” I said, thinking bullshit. “When’s the M.E. due?”

“10 minutes ago.” replied Rourke. “Should be here soon I reckon”.

I pu ton a pair of latex gloves and inspected the body some more, then got up and searched the immediate surrounding area, not sure what I was looking for. Rourke was used to all this so didn’t bother to say anything. To him, I was always looking for something extra, always wanted more, never happy with the most obvious conclusions as I should be, and he was probably right… But I couldn’t help it, I was a prick like that, always digging around, looking for the hidden messages, prodding the wound, no, pricking the wound, ha. Tom Harding, irrepressible pricker. Or just irrepressible prick.

The M.E. appeared and Rourke said, “Ah, here comes our creepy friend, just in time, twenty minutes late. Hey chow-chow, how’s tricks?”

“You know, that one never gets old Rourke.” replied the M.E. making a face.

Medical Examiner John Ming Chao was second generation Chinese. His parents had moved from China long before he was even born, but to the boys at the station he was still a chink. His English was flawless, better than a lot of the born and bred guys at the precinct but his Asian features and short stature singled him out in a room full of cops. Chao didn’t mind, he was proud of his heritage and even insisted on learning Mandarin, even though his parents had wanted him to speak only English so he could “fit in better”, as his mother put it. The little fucker was tenacious too, like a terrier with a bone. I liked him, though his sense of humor was a bit weird.

“Hey Ming, what kept you?” I asked.

“How does the old cliché go: ‘Traffic, officer’. Truth is Tom, I was in the middle of a difficult level of Halo when the call came in and couldn’t leave the game halfway unfinished.” replied Chao with a smile.

“Very wise, Ming. Very wise.” I said, I knew exactly what he was talking about, a man’s gotta have priorities in life, you know.

Rourke disagreed, “Another one with the video games? Man, you two should get a room. I thought you Asian types where supposed to be good with numbers and shit and you’d be working on some algebra or somethin’.” He said.

“And I thought you Irish types where supposed to be ugly drunks… Oh, wait, in your case, Rourke, it’s completely true.” replied Chao.

“Hey, Maybe chow-chow here can help us identify the victim.” said Rourke.

Chao was surprised, “Why would that be?” he asked.

“He’s Chinese, like you.” said Rourke.

Chao stared at Rourke for a second or two then said, “He’s Korean.”

“So? Maybe he’s your cousin or something.” Rourke was laughing now.

“Ok girls, enough with the tea-party, let’s get to down to business.” I didn’t want to stand there all morning while these two tried one-up each other, Ming wasn’t Rourke’s favorite person and vice-versa. “Ming take a look at these wounds and tell me what you think.” I said.

“With pleasure” said Chao as he bent down ignoring Harry, placed his satchel on the ground away from the body and put on a pair of latex gloves.

He proceeded to inspect the body thoroughly, taking its temperature, looking at the lividity marks and bruising, inspecting pupils, digging around the mouth, and probing around the wounds. Chao got out a notebook and wrote some information down. Though this was unusual for an M.E. since their only job at a crime scene was to make sure the body was actually, dead which wasn’t too hard, really, pronounce it, then take custody of it until it was delivered to the coroner’s office where the actual full examination and autopsy took place. Chao liked to diagnose and speculate at crime scenes, it was a kind of game to him. He would write down his hunches then compare them to the findings from the autopsy to see how accurate they had been, kept him sharp, I guess, or maybe it was just a way to deal with all that death, who knows. Of course, he never shared them with anyone, it was unprofessional and in some places could get you fired. Except with me. I was one of the very few cops, if not the only one, at the station who was also into video games and openly admitted it, an out of the closet videogame-phile, this had generated an instant bond between us, we’d often debated endlessly about the virtue of one system over another, game design, who was doing it right, who was just wasting our time, the best developers, all the important issues in life. Chao took his video games very seriously. I had also earned his respect and admiration for being accurate, thorough and dependable when it came to murder investigations, or so he told me, so Chao would often share his hunches with me and we’d compare notes, we’d turned the whole thing into yet another game. I never spoke about this, of course, not even to Rourke, especially not to Rourke, he may be my partner but had no patience for ‘all that ass-grabbing’ as he eloquently called it, for him, a lot of the stuff he wasn’t involved in or interested in was ‘ass-grabbing’.

Chao really enjoyed our discussions. He loved video games, the more violent the better and played shooters exclusively, it was amazing the amount of facts you could pick up by playing video games, especially shooters where they treated guns like gods. Any discussion involving real guns and their impact on the human anatomy was a delight for him and the bastard knew a lot about it, not only was he a very good M.E. but if he ever got tired of all those corpses, I’m sure he’d make an excellent ballistics guy. Paradoxically, Chao had never owned a gun and never wanted to. His interest in them extended only to the professional and virtual worlds.

He got up, put his notebook away and looked at the wounds again from different angles. Then looked at me, turned and walked a few paces away. I took it as my cue and said to Rourke “Be right back Harry” walking to where Chao was standing away from the corpse.

“Oh, going to have one of your private chats again, huh? Maybe compare game scores and dick size. I got ya. I’ll mind the corpse, don’t worry.”

Rourke was used to these quick private talks between Chao and me and didn’t seem to mind. The less involved he was in things, the happier a camper he was most of the time.

“Alright Ming, let’s hear it.” I said.

“Ok, he died of massive blood loss caused by the gunshot wounds, that much is obvious. The shot to the head would have probably done it by itself, since it incurred brain death but someone wanted to make damn sure he didn’t get up again. The shots to the body were very well-placed, one to the stomach area, one to the chest area, looking for maximum damage in the torso. We have two exit wounds, one for each entry in the torso, none for the headshot. Id say he was shot right here on this spot, you can tell by the pools of blood. You’re the detective Tom, but this looks like it was done by someone who knows their way around a gun.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. This looks like a military-style execution. Spec Ops or something like that. Or someone trying to make it look that way, but it’s actually harder than it looks to get right.”

“No shit?” said Chao raising an eyebrow.

“No shit.”

“Did you find any casings?”

“None so far” I replied “and I really doubt that we will. That’s another professional signature, retrieving the cartridges. Still, because of the way he was murdered, my guess is it was a big caliber, .45 probably, military types tend to favor the big calibers, I guess it makes them feel more macho or something. Let’s see if ballistics can retrieve any of the slugs.”

“Hmm… I think you might be right. I’ll know once I get him down to the office and do my thing.”

“How long you figure he’s been dead? I’d say at least 4 hours from the pooling and congealed blood and the lividity of the tissue.” I said, feeling proud of myself.

“You’re using words like ‘lividity’ now? You’re not gunning for my job are you?” said Chao with a smile.

“Hey, you taught them to me. The pupil seeks to surpass the master, remember?” I answered.

“Ha, ha. That’s true. I’d say more like 6 hours. I’ll know for sure later, but 6 hours is a pretty good guess.”

“Alright Ming, you da man. Let me know once you have something ok?”

“Sure will Tom, take care.”

All the evidence was bagged and tagged by the time I’d arrived and we had already inspected the body and surroundings. In truth, there didn’t seem to be much else for us to do. I went back to Rourke, “Ok Harry, I’ve seen enough, let’s leave Mad Madame Ming to it. Who’s canvassing?”

“The blonde uni, what’s his face?”

“Jones, Kai Jones. He’s a good kid.”

“Yeah, for being from the Left Coast.”

Kai Jones was the quintessential California surfin’ dude. Blond, tanned, lean and handsome, with a permanent smile on his face. He was eager to please too, and that went very far with the rest of the guys on the force. This was a kid who one day would probably end up being spokesman for the department or a high-flying liaison or some shit like that. Some of the guys were jealous of him, his good looks and his easy personality made him popular with just about everyone. I was fond of him, he wouldn’t win any science fairs, but didn’t need to. He did his job well and was always courteous and helpful, never gave you any shit. The perfect uniformed cop as far as I was concerned.

Rourke and I made our way towards him.

“Hey Kai, how’s it hanging?”

“Long and to the left, dude.”

Kai also had a penchant for exploiting the stereotypical part of his surfin’ dude persona, he called everyone ‘dude’ if he could get away with it and used expressions like ‘whoa’ in a very good Keanu Reeves impersonation. It seemed to endear him further with the rest of the force.

“You got anything useful?” I asked.

“Nothing much, dude. Though some people say they saw a guy dressed in black hopping into a big black SUV, but it could be nothing right? I mean who doesn’t drive a big black SUV these days?” answered Jones.

“Where?”

“That corner right there, Lexington and Fifth” said Jones pointing at the corner at the south end of the street we were on.

“What time was this?”

“Let me see,” Jones consulted his notes, “dude who owns the Deli, ‘round the corner? says he was coming in to open at around 4:30 a.m. and the screeching of tires caught his attention. So he glances in the direction of the sound and sees this black-clad dude hopping into a black SUV. All around a very black morning.” He finished with a satisfied smile.

“That’s it? Nothing else?”

“Well, dude also says it’s pretty dead at that time of the morning, so it’s not surprising that no one else saw very much.” he sounded a little apologetic.

“And he didn’t see the victim at any point?”

“Naw, the couldn’t see this street from there.”

“Alright. Well, you know the drill, bring the Deli owner in to make his statement. And let me know if you get anything else.”

“Sure thing dude. Hang loose.” He said, giving me the thumb and little finger ‘hang-loose’ gesture.

“Always, dude. Later.”

We made our way back to the body, leaving Jones to continue his work. Rourke was uncharacteristically silent this morning, no pithy remarks for Kai, which was odd.

“So, big black SUV, guy dressed in black. Could be nothing, but it could be related. Doesn’t much sound like a gang thing does it Harry?”

“No. But, like you said, it could have no relation to our dead boy here.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll know more when Ballistics is done. Not much else for us to do at the moment, I think. You have breakfast already?” I asked.

“Yeah, some of us can actually tell time and get to work when we’re supposed to, ya know.” Said Rourke.

“Yeah, yeah. How about a bagel? I’m buying.”

Rourke was never one to pass up free food, he made a sweeping gesture with his arm, “Lead the way then.”

The Boy Sung

Back at the office, I was checking the crime scene photographs from the earlier murder of the Asian boy, now identified as Sung Myung Kang, 20 years old, Korean. Kang had a couple of priors for gang-related activities, nothing too serious, mostly drug distribution. He had been a suspect in a shooting, but was quickly exonerated.

“Hey Wonder Boy, ballistics didn’t find any casings, but they did say that the slug recovered from the body was a big caliber, maybe a 9mm, they say it could possibly be a variant. You happy now?” said Rourke as he took a seat at his desk.

“Happier than before.” I replied.

I looked at the evidence gathered. There wasn’t much there to see. That fact alone said a lot about the case. There were no bullet casings, which meant that the shooter took the time and trouble to pick them up. This lent some more credence to my theory of a professional hit, your average schmuck doesn’t even know to pick up bullet casings, they just spray and pray, only a real paranoid pro would take the time to pick up the casings. Your usual dumb gangbanger didn’t realize this, but you were leaving partial prints all over a murder scene with the casings. It was like this: you loaded the bullets into the magazine one by one with your bare hands, or you had someone do it for you, either way, you were pressing your fingers to the brass casings which held fingerprints amazingly well. Most of the time they were just partial prints, of no use for a match but once in a while we got lucky, maybe the shooter’s gun magazine had a tough spring and he had to press real hard to get the bullets on, more surface displacement on the casing resulted in a bigger, better print. The real pros would take the time to carefully load their weapons using gloves, surgical ones usually, which of course left no prints behind, picking up the casings was an added precaution if they’d been careful enough to use gloves when loading the weapon. Whatever the case was, it was certainly not the mark of your amateur ganbanger. I then started looking at the report Rourke had handed me. From the slugs recovered in the body, ballistics had determined that the bullet was most likely a 9 millimeter caliber. The M. E. concurred.

So, a 9 mil, possibly modified, what looked like a triple-tap, usually the mark of a professional hitman, very little evidence, and a guy dressed in black climbing into a big SUV. That’s what we had so far. We also had the victim’s ethnicity, Korean. Yes, there were a lot of fucking gangs in the city, but that didn’t mean that every single minority homicide was gang-related, hell, half our cases were minorities. In this day and age minorities were no longer a minority. It was all politically correct bullshit anyway.

Of course, it could just as well be a gang member with a modified weapon, although they tended to favor slightly smaller calibers that were easier to conceal and dispose of, 32s and what not.

“So, you still like gangs for this?” I asked Rourke.

“Don’t see why not?”

“Possibly modified caliber, big in any case, professional-looking hit, no bullet casings left on the scene. Not your typical gang hit.”

“Who’s to say them gangs aren’t getting more professional? Getting educated, like. Maybe even bringing in professionals from outside.”

I didn’t like to argue too much with Rourke about his theories, we each had very different styles and ideas plus Rourke was a senior detective and contradicting him too much wasn’t conducive to a good relationship.

“Who’s to say indeed?”

“Tell you what. Humor me. Humor old Harry. If it turns out it’s not gang-related, then we can pursue your mystery spy shooter thing? How’s that sound?”

“Yeah. Or, we could pursue both your gang thing and my mystery spy idea, see where things lead.”

“Yah, but you know the captain’s gonna wan’ us to ‘work as a team’ and give him one ‘focused front’ or whatever the fuck it is he calls it.”

“Hmm… let’s see if we can avoid the captain for now on this one.”

Rourke didn’t like that one too much. He had no love for the captain and wasn’t exactly a ‘yes’ man, but he didn’t like to rock the boat either. Rourke’s favorite situation was when he was invisible, he didn’t want to be the center of attention of any kind, it always led to something unpleasant in his book, like scrutiny or more work. He said to me,

“OK, you’re the charming one. Just don’t get me into any trouble.”

“Alright then. You do your gang thing and I’ll look into my mystery spy. I’m going to go down and talk to the ballistics guys, after that we can go talk to some of the gang people we know, how’s that?”

“Sounds good, just pick me up on your way back from ballistics.”

“OK.”

Ballistics was in the basement, close to the Medical Examiner’s office and the evidence room. They had 2 rooms to themselves, one lab and one small, soundproofed firing range to test weapons in. I headed there now.

The head of ballistics was Dan Kassabian, your quintessential nerd. The kind of guy who played paper and pencil Dungeons & Dragons growing up because it was the true D&D. He probably still played it but would never admit it to a room full of cops.

Uncharacteristically, he was actually quite articulate and sociable, for a nerd. He didn’t host any parties or anything, but he didn’t have trouble relating to people or communicating with them. He was a good guy, I liked him, he was efficient in his work and wasn’t above giving people a good-natured ribbing. Apparently, today was my turn.

“Well, well, as I live and breathe, if it isn’t Thomas Harding, Mr. Wonderboy himself come to grace us with his presence.” he said as I walked in. No doubt he’d be hanging with his neighbor Wasik too long, that was the second wonderboy I’d gotten today. Dan was sitting at his desk with a mess of papers in front of him, behind him, in a book case were all sorts of gun manuals, catalogues and magazines. On his desk, he had a bunch of gun parts lying around, some of them looked like they were even mounted on small plinths.

“What’s up Dan?”

“The national debt Tom, but you already knew that didn’t you?” His humor could be quite dry at times.

“Uh huh” was all I could muster, I just wasn’t in the mood. “So Dan, Harry tells me that the bullet fragments the M.E. found on the body could be a modified 9 millimeter?” I asked.

“Yep. Could be. I’m not ready to commit on that yet, but it seems too long for a regular 9 mil. I’d say it could be a 9x39mm which is usually only found in special assault rifles, mostly Russian, it’s not a very common caliber.”

“Well, that’s good, that’ll help us narrow things down wont’ it?”

“Yeah, could be, that’s your expertise not mine, I only report my findings.”

“Where would one get a gun for that type of caliber? I’m assuming they’re not available at the local Target.”

“No idea, I told you, that’s not my expertise.”

Jeez, “OK, Anything else you can tell me about the bullets?” I asked.

“Nope.” He went back to reading the papers he had in his hand. Like I said, good social skills for a nerd.

“So when will you know for sure if the bullet was modified or not?”

“When I run some more tests, like I told your partner. I’m not just sitting here twiddling my thumbs you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I turned to leave, “you’re too busy playing Dungeons & Dragons. See you later Dan.” I wasn’t above some ribbing myself.

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” he said, but his face blushing said otherwise. I left smiling.

I went back to my desk to pick up Rourke. So, a possibly modified 9mm bullet, Dan wasn’t sure, but he also wasn’t the kind of guy to just blurt out whatever came into his head, he was methodical and if he said something it was because there was a high degree of certainty that it was correct. Where did that leave me? Pretty much in the same place I started out in: fucked. I didn’t really know anything new, but what I knew didn’t point me away from my professional hit theory. I’d have to humor uncle Harry about his gang shit, though it just didn’t make any sense to me, but I’d be looking really hard at my professional hit angle.

Oh well, compromise was the cornerstone of any relationship, right?

The Tip

So I had a possibly modified bullet or a strange Russian caliber, I needed some more data on this whole thing, Dan said he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help me. I considered going to Chang, he was an expert in firearms but most of his knowledge came from the virtual world, I needed someone who knew about guns in the real world and I thought I had just the man for it.

Kai Jones was actually a pretty smart and knowledgeable guy, he just liked to play the surfer dude. We’d talked about a lot of stuff on some of our group outings, he’d told me about his folks back in California and his former life there. It was amazing what some beers and a sympathetic ear could uncover. The police, being modeled after the military, was very much like it in the sense that ranks didn’t usually mix; officers would seldom socialize with the regular soldiers, etc. So it was in the precinct, the detectives would almost never hang out with beat cops or unis, that’s just the way things were I guess. I didn’t give a fuck about all that rank bullshit, to me a good cop was a good cop, irrespective of rank, gender, social status or race. Kai was a good cop, he was good at his job and, more importantly, was a good guy, a good human being, and he had funny and interesting stories, icing on the cake. So I hang out with him when we got a chance, I didn’t make a habit of searching him out man-crush style, but if a bunch of us went drinking I’d often sit with the guy and listen to his stories. I’d learned quite a lot. For example, his dad was a Navy SEAL and had wanted Kai to follow in his footsteps, but Kai wanted to do his own thing and came over to start fresh here, away from his dad’s influence. Not that they didn’t get along, quite the contrary, they had a great relationship and his dad’s buddies treated Kai just like one of the guys since he was little. They’d taught him not only to shoot but all sorts of things about weapons and explosives and God knew what else. He’d left because he really wanted to see what he could do for himself, without dad’s favors, he figured if it didn’t work out he could always go back, you had to admire him for that.

On one occasion we’d all ended up at his house and he’d shown me his gun collection, it was alarming to say the least, he had enough firepower to start World War Three by himself but he was very professional about it, even with a couple of beers under his belt, he never kept them loaded, always under lock and key and wouldn’t let anyone touch them. I found that very reassuring. When everyone had left and it was just the two of us, he took a couple of rifles out of their cage and showed me how he could strip and reassemble them in what looked to me like a world record, it was incredible to see this kid handle that thing like an extension of himself.

I forget what we spoke about till the wee hours of the morning, but I’ll never forget how he handled those weapons, I suspected he’d had an M4 instead of a Teddy Bear in his crib. So Kai was just the man to ask about weird ammunition and where to get a rifle that used it.

I phoned Dispatch to find out where he was, as luck would have it, he and his partner had just come back after picking up some guy for disturbing the peace and where in booking so I headed there. Kai and his partner were processing a guy who was handcuffed and a bit rowdy, screaming obscenities at them.

“Hey Kai, you got a second?” I asked him.

“Sure dude,” he said, then turning to his partner, “Mike, would you mind processing this guy while I talk to Harding?”

“Yeah, no problem.” Mike said.

Kai came over and said, “What’s up, dude?”

“You ever heard of a 9×39 mm bullet?” I asked him.

“Sure, the 9×39, based on the 7.62×39 mm round, almost exclusively used in Russian weapons.”

I loved this kid, he was a walking gun encyclopaedia. “Where can one get a gun like that in the city?”

“I’m not really sure, dude, that’s a pretty specific caliber, I’d have to ask around.”

“Can you do that and get back to me? It’s for a case I’m working on.”

“Sure thing, dude. Later.”

He gave me the hang loose sign and went back to his partner and the guy they were booking.

The Interview

The guy I had in the interrogation room was stringy and hyper, probably on something. We’d picked him up for dealing near the scene of the young kid’s shooting on a tip of some dude Rourke knew from vice. According to Rourke’s dude, whose name I forget, the area was the guy’s regular hangout so he might have seen or heard something. We’d left the guy to stew in his own juices for a while and had told TV, real name Steve Austin, to have a chat with him. We called him TV because he was full of shit, he was the fakest real cop I’d ever met, probably changed his name to Steve Austin like the Six Million Dollar Man in the 70s TV show thinking he’d be cooler. The guy seemed eager to talk.

“I’m gonna come clean so you can give me immunity” he said.

“Who told you that?”

“That other cop was just here.”

“Who? TV? Don’t listen to him he doesn’t know shit.”

“But he said if I confessed about the dope I got immunity.”

“Naw, he’s just watched too many episodes of The Shield you know? There ain’t no immunity for you.”

“Then I ain’t saying shit!”

“OK, your call, but you don’t give me something I want, it’s your ass in the overnight tank with the rapers and child molesters. You give me something I can use I might put you in a holding cell all to yourself or even let you walk.”

“You’re playing me man.”

“Sure ain’t, but TV? He was playing you like a fucking banjo at a Monster Truck Jam. Why you think we call him TV? He thinks what he sees on the cop shows is actual police work. Real dumb muther fucker.”

The kid’s face screwed in concentration, weighing his options now, it looked like it hurt. Finally saying

“For real?”

“For real.”

“Shit!”

I was smiling, “Yeah, you just can’t trust cops these days you know. So what’s it gonna be? Get your ass raped or cozy cell all to yourself?”

“C’mon man, why you gotta do me like that?”

“I ain’t doin’ you nothing. It’s all on you, friend. But you know, I don’t got all day so start talking.”

“I don’t know shit!”

“You gotta know something. I seen you around, I know you know people. Give me what I want, that’s all I’m asking. What were you gonna confess anyway?”

The kid’s silent now, staring at the metal table.

I counted twenty seconds then pushed my chair back loudly, got up and said, “OK kid, hope you got some vaseline on you, you’re gonna need it where you’re going.” Turning to the door, “Hey Charlie, I got one more for the rapers cell, make sure those guys put their dicks away, wouldn’t want the kid to get too frightened before we throw him in.”

The kid almost jumped out of his skin, “OK, OK, hold on man, hold on, I got somebody.”

“Too late kid, you had your chance, you blew it. Now you’re full of shit and are gonna give me anything to stay out of the ass-fucking. Let’s go.”

“No man, no. I swear, I know someone.”

“Bullshit.”

“Is true man, is true, please, you gotta believe me!”

I paused at the door, making like I was thinking about it. Then turned and said “I tell you what. I’m gonna give you one last chance to save your ass, literally.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m giving you one last chance to give me what I want or you’re fucked. Literally.”

“Stop saying that ‘literly’ shit man, you’re freaking me out!”

“Here’s the deal kid, give me someone that matters or you’re fucked… Literally.”

“Shit man.” Close to tears now. “Lee man, the boy Lee.”

“Lee? What the fuck? Lee what? What are you talking about?”

“That his name. Lee. He Chinese and shit.”

“Maybe you mean Korean?” I wasn’t an expert in etymology or anything like that, but I had read somewhere that Lee and Li were the same last name, one the Korean spelling the other the Chinese spelling; which was very surprising to ignorant fucks like me, all I knew what that Bruce Lee had been Chinese and that was supposed to be the Korean spelling. But the boy we found dead was Korean so it didn’t take a genius to guess who his friends might be.

“I don’t know, Chinese, Korean, some shit like that, with the eyes, you know.”

“OK, what about him? Why would I want this ‘Boy Lee’?”

“He in with the Russians man. He move product for ’em.”

“What do I care about Russians? And you’re sure about this? You’re not just handing me a load of bullshit to keep your pucker virginal are you?”

“What?”

“Are you full of shit?!”

“No man, no. I swear, he move product, everyone know him. He’d know your boy that got shot, fo’ sure.”

“You better not be fucking with me.”

“I’m not man!”

“We’re can I find this Boy Lee then?”

“He hang out at this arcade, on 42nd Street? You know?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Yeah, There’s some theater there, in front of some big paper building.”

“Paper building? The Times?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“What’s this kid look like?”

“I already tole you, Chinese and shit, and he into Kung fu and shit, I seen him mixing it up with his buddies on the street sometimes.”

I realized I wasn’t going to get too much of a description out of this genius.

“OK. I’m gonna check this boy Lee out. If he don’t pan out, I’m coming back and personally seeing to it that you get cornholed by those psycho muther fuckers in there, you hear me?”

“Yeah man, I hear ya.” All resignation now.

“OK.”

I left the room. The kid started panicking and shouted after me, “Hey, what about me? Do I walk?”

I came back and stuck my head in with an ‘are you shitting me?’ look on my face and said

“Didn’t I say I was gonna check this guy out first?”

“What am I suppose to do?”

“You wait in the holding cell.” The kid’s eyes grew wide and he was about to start bawling when I added “Not the one with the rapers… For now. ”

“We’re we going again?” Rourke asked.

We were in the car driving to the arcade on 42nd Street. “To find our tie to the Russians. According to our stellar witness in there.”

“Yeah, that guy is stellar all right.”

“You got something better to do?”

“Hell yeah, I could be drinking right now.”

“I’ll buy you a drink afterwards, how’s that?”

“Yeah, whatever. What makes you think this guy’s even real. And if he is, why would he talk to you?”

“Because of my winning personality. The fuck is wrong with you today? You’re all sour, well, more sour than usual. What’s going in?”

“Nothin’.”

“C’mon.” It usually didn’t take much prompting for Rourke to vent.

“Ok, it’s the missus, alright, she’s been up my ass about the kid, the older one.”

“He in trouble again,?”

“Yeah. Fucker can’t say out of trouble. I swear he does it just to annoy the hell out of me.”

“Your probably not wrong there.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? What did I ever do to the little shit to treat me like this?”

“You’re his father Harry, that’s what you did to him. And what I mean is that he’s probably acting out against authority, you know, being a rebel and all that shit.”

“Fuck that new-age bullshit.”

“It ain’t new-age Harry, it’s old as dirt. You probably did it to your old man as well, didn’t you?”

“Are you kidding? My old man would have cut my nuts off if I’d got in trouble like that. No way. That’s the problem with kids these days, they don’t got no respect. When I was growing up…”

“Or parents are just different these days.” I had heard it all before and didn’t feel like sitting through one of Rourke’s rants about the good ol’ days. Anything that started off with ‘when I was growing up’ or ‘when I was young’ was bound to be an unproductive one-way ticket down memory lane with lots of bitching and sermoning of use to no one except the sermoner himself.

“Different is right, we’re a bunch of pussies, is what we are. Discipline is what these kids need, but you can’t touch them or they’ll take them away and ship you off to some mental hospital. Hell, my own wife would probably drop a dime on me if I so much as touched the little fucker. It’s the fucking new-age hippies, I’m telling you…”

“Again with the new-age shit? Give it a rest Harry, kids are kids man, they’ll always be kids, they’ll always be a pain in the ass. You gotta be patient, help them out, wait until they grow up and make you proud, show them the way and all that.”

Rourke was silent for a while. “Thank you Mr. child whisperer. How many kids you got? Oh that’s right, none!”

“That doesn’t mean I lack common sense. Like some people.”

“Fuck you.”

“Why did you think I was talking about you just then?” I was smiling now.

“Fuck you twice!” Rourke’s mood lifting also.

We arrived at the place the genius had told me about. It was a typical arcade, full of coin-op machines, noise and teenagers. I went up to the bar, bartenders tended to know people, and asked for Lee, I figured the guy at the bar had no ties to any of these kids, no reason to not tell me and if this Lee kid was as well-known as Genius had said, the bartender was sure to know him. The guy behind the bar, older than any of the clientele, face full of piercings looked at me then said “over there”, pointing, “by the Centipede machine.”

“Thanks.” I turned to Rourke, “Hang back here a second Harry, get yourself a drink on me.”

“You say so.” Said Rourke.

I went over and stood beside Lee, watching his prowess at the game. The kid was good.

Without turning around, Lee said, “What can I do for you officer.”

Damn, this kid was sharp, didn’t even have to look at me and already made me, maybe he smelled me or something. Still, Rourke and I were probably the most overdressed adults in this place, and you had to be sharp if you wanted to sling for the Russians and stay alive. This kid seemed to be at the top of the food chain if everyone knew about him but he was still on the streets and alive so he must be pretty smart.

“So what’s your high score on this game?”

“This one? About five million.” He said dismissively.

I whistled. “That’s impressive.” and it was, the world record was seven million.

“So,” the kid said, “you looking for a date? Cause I don’t swing that way.” He smiled lopsidedly.

“Kinda. I’m looking for information on a Korean boy who got shot and I was told you were the man to talk to about that.”

“Boys? Naw, don’t know any boys. I can get you some nice Korean girls though.”

“Naw, Korean boys is my thing.”

“Sorry dude, don’t know no boys got shot.”

Of course it wouldn’t be as easy as asking, and threatening would get me nowhere with a kid like this, I needed a different tactic. I noticed some bruises on his forearms but there were no signs of needle marks so it wasn’t drugs. The kid was wearing shorts, I looked at his shins and saw a couple more bruises. I remembered that the genius who’d given us his name had mentioned that the kid practiced Kung Fu and shit I decided to take a stab at it.

“Where do you train?”

“What? For this?” he asked unbelievingly, “here man, where else?”

“Not this, Martial Arts, where do you train for Martial Arts?”

This time the kid did look at me. “How did you know?, who told you?” frowning.

“Nobody. I saw your bruises, didn’t see any needle marks so I just assumed it was some kind of martial arts. Either that or you get into fights a lot, but you sling for the Russians and they don’t abide that kind a shit, so I guessed right.”

“Not bad.” The game, abandoned now, had ended and the machine was asking for more quarters.

“It’s what I do. I’m a detective” I gave him my best smile.

He liked that one, you had to be cheeky with these cheeky bastards. He thought about it for a bit, then shrugged, couldn’t see what damage it would do to tell a cop where he trained. I would find out anyway if I really wanted to.

“Do Yang Riu, 34th and Beverly, in Brooklyn.”

“I don’t think I know that place. Let’s see, you’re Korean, you probably don’t do Chinese or Japanese stuff, so it’ll be Tae Kwan Do or Hapkido for you. Judging by the position of your bruises I’m guessing Hapkido. Am I right?”

“Guilty as charged officer.”

“What belt you got.”

“Right now? Red, man.”

“Nice, that’s a fun exam, you gotta do a lot of techniques against punches and kicks, different positions, though the ones sitting down can be a bitch.”

“You train?” the kid asked disbelieving.

“Sure do, every week. More if I can get the time.”

“Oh yeah?” the kid smiling like he was picturing me falling on my ass trying to do a basic kick.

“What belt you got?” he asked with a smirk.

“Second degree black.”

“No shit?”

“No shit. Really tough exam.”

“Why don’t you come the dojo one day. I know a lot of brothers would love to kick some cop’s ass and not get in trouble.” he said smiling.

“And how ’bout you? Would you like to kick a cop’s ass without getting in trouble?”

“Are you kidding me? I’d love to! Who wouldn’t?”

“Alright, it’s a deal. When are you there?”

The kid laughing out loud like he couldn’t believe it. “Tuesday’s and Thursday nights seven thirty.”

“Alright, you’re on. I’ll see you there.” I started walking back to the bar to get Rourke.

“Sure thing officer, don’t forget your Dobok.”

“I won’t.” I said without turning, I guess the kid was testing my Korean, but Dobok was what we called the jacket you wore to train, I mean, pretty basic stuff, but if you didn’t know that then you sure didn’t train in Hapkido, so OK, as insulting as it was, I’ll give him that one.

Rourke was sitting on a stool, back against the bar watching the whole thing with an almost empty glass of beer in his hand. When I came over he asked “So what happened, he give up any Russians?”

“Nope, but I got a date for some ass-kicking.”

“Huh?”

“I’ll explain on the way, let’s go.”

“Hey, I thought the drink was on you.”

“Right, I forgot.” I took out a five dollar bill and laid it on the bar.

The Dojo

I entered the dojo and sought out the master teacher or Sabonim to ask his permission to train here today. Usually that wasn’t a problem, if you were from another school, you could show up and the master would not have a problem if you wanted to try a class or train there for a while. As long as you were in the federation and they could look you up just to see if you actually wore the belt you claimed, it wouldn’t be a problem. But each dojo was its own microcosm and the Sabonim was God. If he didn’t like you or wasn’t in the mood, there was no way in hell you were getting in. I found the master, bowed and explained that one of his students had invited me to train here tonight and would it be OK with him. He asked me where I trained and, to my surprise, knew the place and said it was a fine dojo. I’m not sure if the last was him merely being polite but it felt good nonetheless. Lee saw us talking and came by to speak to the master.

They were speaking in Korean, Lee was probably telling him about the tournament he wanted to hold with me as the Guinea pig. The master was frowning, then he shook his head and said something to Lee, Lee’s shoulders slumped, but he didn’t give up, he kept insisting on something. All this was in Korean so I couldn’t tell what was being said, but the mere fact that he was insisting with his master said a lot about Lee’s situation here. Maybe the master was a pushover, but he didn’t strike me as one, the more likely scenario was that Lee was the star pupil here, sort of the team captain, the only one who could even insist with the master without serious repercussions. In traditional martial arts, you simply never contradicted the master or questioned him or went against his wishes. The master was God in the dojo, whatever he said went, no hesitation, no doubts, no nothing. It wasn’t a question of being afraid of him, it was a question of respect, OK and maybe a little fear as well. Not that he’d single you out and ridicule or humiliate you, the good masters never did that, but he might use you as a sparring partner for all the techniques he demonstrated and really lay into you for your lack of respect. Or he might make you do more pushups or clean the toilets or whatever. Respect was a very important part of martial arts, once you started disrespecting your master, you disrespected the whole dojo and, consequently, your peers and that was dangerous, then accidents happened.

So, it seemed like the Clash of the Titans wasn’t going to happen, I was off the hook, I felt relieved. I didn’t really want to fight these guys, it was just a means to an end, but most of them were a lot younger than me and would probably give me a run for my money. But then the master spoke again, Lee perked up, listened, smiled and bowed. Shit, apparently it was on again. He came over to me and said,

“Sabonim says Hapkido has no place for bouts or tournaments, it’s a self-defense martial art, not to be used for show.”

Good for him I thought,

“We are to have a normal class and you’re more than welcome to join. But that whatever happens after the class ends and he’s gone he can’t control and he can’t be responsible for, we just need to make sure we close when we leave and don’t leave anything behind.” Like broken bodies.

The old man was shrewd, whatever happened in his dojo was his responsibility, even if he wasn’t there, but Lee was an adult, if nothing else in age, so he could be held accountable for any accidents that befell him or his companions while in the dojo. The old man probably also figured that whatever bout Lee had in mind was going to happen no matter what, so it was better to let them have it here in a ‘controlled environment’ of sorts. Something told me that this wasn’t the first time Lee had been left in charge of the dojo either. So, Clash of the Titans was back on.

We had the class, pretty much your standard fare but a little more forceful than I was used to. Hapkido has lots of styles, but the main curriculum is pretty much the same everywhere, about 35 kicks (25 basic ones plus special kicks and combinations) and then about 200 joint locks, grappling and throws. There were variants of all this and your style could be softer or harder, depending on your school and your teacher. The Korean schools tended to be a harder style, more brutal throws and falls. It was an interesting class, but what really got me worried was Jae Sang Lee. This guy was good. I could see how he could surely be the teacher’s pet, he not only had youth, speed and strength on his side, he also had technique and precision. I was starting to get really worried about our upcoming showdown.

During the class we exchanged partners quite a bit, this is always done so that you get the benefit of trying techniques against people with different flexibility, size and strength, etc. If you always train with the same person you’ll get really good at handling one individual, which is useless really, it’s incredible how much things can change when you try the same technique against someone new. The students seemed to take a lot of pleasure into making me tap out of each technique, no doubt Lee had told them to lay it thick on me.

The class ended, we all bowed, the Sabonim left, Lee told our audience that we had a little special something for them and revealed that there would be an exhibition bout between him and the white devil, me.

The students took their places on the mat around us, sitting zazen on their knees, we took the center of the mat, bowed to each other and then Lee said,

“OK, this is a straight up bout, you can use any techniques and styles you like, no breaking or permanent injury, it’s a friendly bout” I didn’t like the way he said friendly, “first to tap out loses.”

I should explain that Hapkido doesn’t usually have a sports variant like many other Martial Arts such as Karate or Judo do, this is because although there are more than thirty kicks in Hapkido (more than in Tae Kwon Do, ironically) the meat of Hapkido are joint locks which are very dangerous to perform in an actual combat. In class, your partner will allow a certain amount of leeway for you to be able to perform the technique, otherwise someone will get really hurt. Imagine trying to do a simple joint lock on a person who not only is resisting, but is also trying to put you out of commission, it’s not a recipe for a good time. The few styles that do have some sort of tournament have very strict rules about which techniques you can and cannot use and once one of the fighters hits the ground, the bout is stopped and they take their positions again. This was not going to be anything like that. We would go all out against each other, trying to be careful, if one hit the ground, the other one would pounce on him like a lion and try to make him submit in any way possible. The first one to tap the mat would be the loser. You tapped out when the pain was too much to let your partner know that you didn’t want them to break your joint.

I was in trouble, but the outcome wasn’t such a sure thing, I might be slightly stronger than Lee, but he was younger, faster and had way more stamina than me. The one thing that I had in my favor was the same thing that put me at a great disadvantage: age. Being older usually meant I was in worse shape than him and couldn’t last as long, but it also meant I had more experience, I’d been around the block once or twice while he was young and needed to prove himself and might also be more rash and easier to goad. Small consolation but it was about all I had.

We stood facing each other in combat pose, there were four students, one in each corner of the mat who would act as judges, the one I assumed to be Lee’s number two yelled “Sipchak“, go, and the combat began.

Like in most opening seconds of any combat, we danced around each other, out of range, trying the get the other’s measure, I’d seen him train, but training and fighting are two very different things and your style in one doesn’t necessarily carry to the other, you might be an aggressive trainer but a wary fighter, or maybe the other way around, you get careless when in a stressful situation. In any case, you use the first seconds to try to gauge you opponent’s intention and his next move. This guy was younger and faster than me, there was no way I was going to make the first move, he’d put me down like a rabid dog if I did and I think he knew that, he was biding his time.

Predictably, he started off with a couple of kicks, in Hapkido, kicks are not only and offensive weapon, but they are also a way to get in close to your opponent so you can grab him and apply a joint lock or a throw and try to control him. Trying to go straight in to grab an opponent as you do in Judo for example, would earn you a sure kick in the stomach or knees and the bout would be over very quickly. Lee’s kicks were the long-range type, he was feeling me out, checking my reaction and eagerness to get in close to him, all I had to do was step back out of range. Then he started taunting me with a couple of punches and some closer kicks as well as some attempts at grabbing my shoulders. Whenever he got close I tried to land a kick but he was too quick for me and stepped back out of range. I soon realized this guy could go on like this all night and I would soon get tired and he’d have me, my best bet was to get in close and try to take him down by surprise.

On his next kick, a circular kick to my stomach, I stepped inside his guard, this did take him by surprise, he was expecting me to step back from it, I took about half the kick in the side, it still hurt like hell but there was no time to stop now, I needed to do something quickly or he’d have me. I grabbed his shoulder and swept the leg he was standing on so he would fall and I could pounce on him, but, like I said, this guy was fast, he grabbed on to me and brought me down with him, in the air, he got me in a choke hold by putting his arm and forearm around my neck and grabbing his wrist with the other hand all the better to strangle me. We went down face to face like two lovers embracing. I let all my weight hit him when we landed on the mat hoping that would make him release me, but no dice, he held on like a tick. He wrapped his legs around my waist and locked them behind me, now I was truly fucked, this was a very tough position to get out of. I hit him in the ribs with my knuckles, about a hand’s width below the armpit, he loosened his grip on my neck but only a little, more by shear reaction than anything else, he was probably expecting it, this was a standard Hapkido grappling technique after all. But it did give me a little breathing room, I drove my left thumb into his jawline about halfway between the ear and the chin, this is also a stander Hapkido Hyoldo or pressure point but it hurts like a bitch, I pushed really hard arching his head back and allowing me to slip out of his vice-like grip, it felt like I left half my hair and skin behind. Without removing my thumb and before he could react I punched him, hard, in the stomach, right below the solar plexus, this had the desired effect and he loosened his legs around my waist enough for me to jam my elbows into his thighs and get free. This last one was not a Hapkido technique so I’m sure he wasn’t expecting it, it was in fact Brazilian Jujitsu which is all about ground grappling. He started to get up, I was still on the ground trying to regain my balance and lunged for him just as he was getting to one knee, I grabbed his shoulder with one hand and the other went to his neck in a very similar chokehold like the one he used on me, the big difference here was that I was slightly behind him so I threw myself backwards on the mat and used my weight to bring hind down on top of me, but this time he was facing up, this was much better for me because there was very little he could to do get me. I choked him and wrapped my legs around his waist just as he had done to me. Doesn’t feel too good, does it fucker? But Lee was strong and savvy, he grabbed the arm that was choking him and I couldn’t exert any more pressure. This was pretty much an impasse, we could have staid like that until the cows came home, there wasn’t a lot more either of use could do without exposing ourselves, except one thing.

I sat up, Lee sat up with me because this was a better position for him anyway, I had my left hand around his neck and grabbed the collar of his jacket, my right hand was on the other side of the jacket, using it as purchase. He had his own left hand on mine, stopping the choke and his right hand on my right leg stopping me from crushing him. I let go my right hand from his jacket, lifted my right leg from the lock I had on his waist and hooked it round his right leg, just below the knee, then with my right hand I grabbed the clothing on his right knee, slid sideways to my left, lay back down again and pulled with both hands, my left on his collar, my right on his knee. This was a really weird position and nothing remotely similar to it existed in Hapkido, but I was choking the shit out of him with his own clothes.

Did I mention that Brazilian Jujitsu is all about ground grappling? There are very few techniques standing up, let me repeat that, very few techniques standing up and they are all designed to take your opponent to the ground, it’s all about ground grappling and how to get in and out of it. You spend years doing this ground shit and learn some pretty nifty tricks. I didn’t train in Brazilian Jujitsu, but I did take a course with a Hapkido pal who took it very seriously, and it just paid for itself right here.

Lee was completely fucked, even if he didn’t know it yet. He was younger, faster, had better stamina than me but unless you were twice as strong as the other guy, once he got you in that position there was absolutely nothing you could do. I briefly thought about letting go and letting him win. If I did let him go, he would win the bout one way or another, I didn’t have much more in me, and maybe letting him win would somehow make him more cooperative, he might feel he owed me. I didn’t know him enough to really gauge this. On the other hand, if I won he might feel embarrassed and cooperate more, who could tell. In the end, those same things I was accusing Lee of being vulnerable to was what decide me. Call it pride or hubris or whatever you want, but I had the little fucker, a guy who was younger and faster and probably a better martial artist than me and there was no way in hell I was going to let him go until he tapped out.

I’ll give him this, he did struggle for a long while spitting curses, too much longer and he would have passed out as the choke was cutting off the blood to his brain. In the end he tapped out just before passing out. I let him go and we lay there for a second or two panting, unable to move. He got up very quickly and looked at me with murderous rage, I was still on my back in a very vulnerable position and thought he was going to stomp on my balls by the look in his eyes. Surprisingly, he bowed to me and turned and started walking away, the dojo was deathly silent, I doubted his colleagues dared even breathe. I got up, a lot more slowly than him. He stopped. Uh oh, I thought, he’s changed his mind about the ball stomping. He came back and stood in front of me, I was huddled down with my hands on my knees trying to get some air back into my lungs but when I saw him waiting I straightened up and we both bowed to each other properly this time. Then, to my increasing surprise, he stuck out his hand and we shook.

“You beat me fair and square.” He said

“Actually, Jae Sang, I didn’t. That wasn’t Hapkido in the end, it was Jujitsu, had I stuck with Hapkido you would have beat me no doubt, I apologize if you think I cheated but you said to use any style we wanted… in any case, you’re the better martial artist for sure.”

He thought about this, the ‘better martial artist’ bit pleased him no end, I could tell.

“No. I did say to use any style you wanted, I just didn’t think you would know anything else!” He laughed.

I had to give this kid credit, at his age I would have been enraged and humiliated, all the more because Hapkido is a Korean martial art and to be beat by a foreigner just adds insult to injury. Now I could really see the reason why he was the number one student here, he had a lot of potential, not only as a martial artist but as a good human being and a future teacher. The Sabonim was probably grooming him to take over some day. If he lived long enough that is, since he seemed to be involved in some shady shit which didn’t make sense considering what I’d seen in him today.

“Please, Jae Sang, let me take you and your friends out to dinner, it would be an honor for me.”

He looked over to his cronies, they looked at him expectantly, then he nodded to them and said.

“OK. We’ll shower and go.”

We went out for dinner in an all you can eat asian buffet close to the dojo which was good because these kids had worked out quite an appetite after the class. It was Jae Sang, three other friends and me, the white devil. Once the sake started flowing the kids relaxed visibly and we started talking about martial arts and movies and  shit like that. Two of them were going at it.

“Dude, there is no way in hell that Jackie Chan could beat Tony Ja.”

“That’s just because Jackie is like a hundred years old, if they were the same age I’m sure he’d make Tony his bitch.”

“Jae Sang, will you tell this fool he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Lee just kept silent, it was obvious this wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation. Talking about which actor could beat who was a bit like talking about which comic book character could beat another, Superman Vs. Batman for example, but with martial arts actors it was slightly different because, in this case, both guys were the real deal. Ina nay case, my money would be on Batsy. It was all pointless chatter but enjoyable.

“What about Bruce Lee?” I said. The kids turned towards me.

“Who?” of them actually asked.

“C’mon, you’re shitting me, you really don’t know who Bruce Lee is?”

The kid must have been around eighteen, probably one of the newer recruits, “No, I sure don’t.” He said.

“Bruce Lee’s dead, dude.” Another one said.

“Yes, I know. But in a fight against one of these guys, pick one, do you think Bruce Lee would kick their ass? I think he would.”

“Man, you trippin’.” These kids were raised on TV, calling each other fool and using expressions like you trippin’, it almost made you worried about their identities. At some point some ancestor had come over from Korea and I bet they never, in a million years, would have thought their kid or grandkid would end up talking like ghetto children.

“I ain’t trippin’, fool.” I said, which elicited laughs all around, “My man Bruce would kick any of your asses if he were around today.”

And so it went for a while. I was really tempted to ask them about Sung and what they knew about his dealings, etc. But I felt that if I did I’d break the mood and these guys would probably not be very cooperative. This was a courtship, you couldn’t hurry the process or it would backfire, we had to build a relationship here and it had to be based on trust and mutual benefit, if they simply felt I was using them as informers it would never work, they had to see that I was trying to help. So I didn’t touch the issue all night and Jae Sang kept looking at me expectantly, wondering when I was going to get around to it. Eventually we left, I paid, they all thanked me profusely, we said our goodbyes and in the parking lot Jae Sang approached me.

“I thought you wanted to ask me some questions about Sung.” He said.

“Ah, so you do know him?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well, in your own time, Lee. I’m not looking to get any of you in trouble, I honestly wanna help. Sung got shot, it looks professional to me,” I shouldn’t be telling him this, but the more honest I was, the more honest I hoped he’d be, “and I think some of you guys might be in danger too. Plus, it’s my job to find the fuckers that did it and put them away. Now, you knew Sung and maybe he was your friend, I promise I can help. But take your time, think it over, do some digging, I need intel, good info, not his address and shit like that, I have all that, I need something that will get me close to whoever killed him. When you’re ready to talk, give me a call.” I handed him my card. He took it, looked at me, nodded and turned to go with a wave,

“Thanks again for dinner, and the show.” He said.

“Sure thing,” I said, “any time.” Not really meaning it about another showdown, but the dinner, yes.

It was a real gamble to let him go without asking him more questions, he might figure he didn’t owe me anything any more and never talk to me again, but his friends were waiting by the car and he wouldn’t have given me very much right now anyway. I really needed to grill this kid if I was going to get to the bottom of this case and right now was definitely not grilling time.

They stood around their cars loitering for a while, I got into mine and left with a final wave to them.

The Meetup

A couple of days later, my cell phone rings, I don’t recognise the number but take the call anyway.

“Hey, It’s Jae Sang” I hear.

“Hey Jae Sang, how’s it going?” I asked.

“OK”. Then silence.

I’m guessing he called me for a reason but is maybe trying to muster up the courage to say something or having second thoughts, he sure as hell didn’t call to ask me out on a date. So I prod him a little.

“So, what can I do for you?”

“Well, I wanted to talk…” more silence.

“OK. You want to do it over the phone or want me to meet you somewhere?” I asked.

“Not sure.”

C’mon kid, don’t be shy. “Tell you what, why don’t we meet at the pier for lunch? They’ve got great kebabs at a shop I know. Say 1:30?”. No one can resist a good kebab.

“Yeah, OK.” He said.

“Alright, cool. See you there, then.”

“OK”.

I hung up before he could change his mind.

The peer was not as full of people as usual, no doubt the foul grey weather helped. The kebab shop was still open, of course, and they were really good kebabs. I arrived a bit earlier and got myself a lamb surprise, you never knew what was in that mystery meat but there was no way it was lamb. Still it tasted fantastic. I didn’t wait for Jae Sang to arrive before ordering, I didn’t want him to get used to me being his meal ticket, it wasn’t that kind of relationship.

I took my kebab and sat on one of the benches overlooking the ocean. There’s something calming about water, especially endless ocean. I guess it makes you feel so insignificant that it makes you realise you’re not the centre of the universe. Of course, that only lasts a little bit and then life catches up with you and you go back to your own selfish delusions. Mine, at the moment, were around Sung’s murder. Why a professional hit? This kid couldn’t have been too hard to get to, surely you didn’t need a professional to take him out. No, a professional hit was sending a message to someone. Maybe a turf war among organised crime? Not gangbangers, but the big guys, Russian or Italian or Armenian mob. The Genius had said that Jae Sang slung dope for the Russians, there could be some truth to that. But then again, that guy was a less than reliable witness. Although he’d been scared enough of the ass-raping to be telling the truth.

The bench I sat in was in full view of the kebab shop so Jae Sang was sure to see me when he arrived. I toyed with the idea that it might be a setup or a trap, it pays to be paranoid in my line of business, but I quickly discarded that, it was just too Hollywood. Why would Jae Sang want to set me up and with whom?

The Stakeout

“So the backward circular kick, yeah? It was invented by Ji Hang Jae, who taught it to Bruce Lee…”

“Uh-hu” grunted Rourke.

“Bruce Lee made it famous in his movies, it was one of his signature kicks.”

“Hmmm”.

“But it’s ironic that the guy who invented it was never famous outside of Hapkido circles.”

Grunt.

I loved teasing Rourke about Martial Arts shit because I knew he hated it. He didn’t understand it or care for any of it. Martial Arts was a bit like video games, you either got it or you didn’t, and if you did, just like video games, it could become a real obsession. Rourke, again like with video games, was one of the pitiful souls who didn’t get it. Rourke had seen me put a choke-hold on a couple of scumbags and appreciated its effectiveness, but that’s as far as his appreciation went, anything else was just a circus act to him. ‘Chink-wrestling’ he called it. Or something like that.

We were in the car in Little Odessa, a mostly Russian neighborhood, waiting for the guy Kai had told us about and I felt like rambling to wile away the time, and what better way to do it than with a subject that would annoy Rourke. A lot of people thought Martial Arts was just a bunch of Peter Pans figuratively comparing cock sizes, and to be fair, I’d seen a lot of that, but it all depended on where and with whom you trained. It all depended on your teacher and the atmosphere of the Dojo, as well as the Martial Art itself of course. The fuckwit bruisers tended to gravitate towards the more dangerous and rough Martial Arts, the ones that were more Martial than Art, that taught you only to hurt people, Krav Maga, the one invented by the Israeli Special Forces to kill someone with anything at your disposal, and things like that. Not that Krav Maga was bad or evil, yes it was designed to kill and maim just like a weapon is but for a reason, to be used in actual combat. It was a very pragmatic Martial Art but if you trained in it you usually had a good reason for doing so, you were a soldier or a bodyguard, etc. Few people trained in it for the pleasure or the philosophy, which didn’t really exist except put your opponent down. Of course, once again, it all depended on the teacher and the style, some people took the essence of Krav Maga and dumbed it down until it was something like aerobics but then you weren’t practicing Krav Maga anymore.

What is interesting about most Martial Arts is that they have a very strong ‘live and let live’ philosophy, all the Asian ones at least, and most of that comes from Taoism and Zen. A big part of training martial arts was training both the body and the mind and only using force as a last resort, but of course, that’s not the sexy bit. The sexy bit is how can you break an opponent’s arm quickly and without too much effort and that’s also the fun part, to be honest. Not to actually do it but to train to do it, it makes you feel good about yourself, not because you’re hurting someone but because you can take care of yourself, it builds confidence and, amazingly, makes you a much less aggressive individual. Not only because knowing you can do it replaces any need you might have to demonstrate it but also because the regular training drains a lot of the aggressiveness out of you. It’s all a bit paradoxical really but it works, must be all that Zen.

Rourke asked, “are you sure this is the place?”

I consulted my notebook, “Kai said this should be the place.”

“Kai? We’re going on the assumptions of a surfing retard here?”

“I keep telling you he’s not a retard.”

“Whatever, there’s something wrong with that kid. I don’t know what it is, but he’s off somehow… I think he’s pretending to be something he’s not. I don’t know.”

“Hmm…”

“Hmm what?”

“Well, you might be on to something there. Maybe what’s bothering you about Kai is that he’s actually pretending to be a lot dumber than he really is.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so, genius.”

“Remember I told you he wasn’t dumb?”

“Yeah, so you said.”

“Well, he’s got a degree in Criminology from UCLA.”

Rourke was silent, his mouth open. “No shit?”

“I shit you not.”

“Criminology?”

“Yep.”

Rourke pondered this a while, but wouldn’t give up. “Still, those Left Coast universities are all completely liberal, he probably just showed up after surfing and signed his name or something.”

“This is UCLA Harry, not some fucking unknown Community College offering correspondence night courses, I’m sure it’s a little harder than just showing up, don’t be an asshole.”

Rourke kept quiet for a minute. Then said “Criminology”.

“Yep. You know what else?”

“What?”

“His dad’s a SEAL.”

“What???”

“Now you wanna adopt him, don’t you!” I was almost laughing.

“A SEAL? Those are some serious fuckers.” Rourke sounded very impressed.

“I know.”

“Those guys were like ghosts when I was in the Navy. You heard rumors and stories and shit, but they were tight-lipped. Kept to themselves too. I worked with a couple once, just backup and support, they had their shit together. Now with all the movies and books and all that, you don’t know what to believe. Still, they were impressive operators.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Dad’s still active?”

“Instructor in Coronado.”

“Yeah, that’s the smart thing to do. Do your time then get out of the line of fire, but still get the benefits of staying in the teams. So what’s the story with junior, why isn’t he in the military? Too chicken shit?” Rourke smiled.

“Don’t be an dickhead. He wanted to do his own thing, be his own man as it were, so he moved here and became a cop. A good thing for us too, this kid has been trained in all manner of weapons and tactics by his dad and his pals. He’s a walking encyclopaedia of ballistics and military stuff. That’s why I’m always talking to him about this stuff and you get all pissy at me.”

“Well hell son, why didn’t you tell me all this before? Now I’m seeing the kid through new eyes.”

“He doesn’t really want people to know, wants to be his own guy, like I said.”

“Damn… hey, this is us, I think.” Rourke gestured with his chin at a caucasian male who was closing a shop door and heading our way carrying something large inside a brown paper bag.

“He seems to be walking, let’s wait to see if he gets in a car, if not we’ll follow on foot.” Said Rourke.

“Aye, aye, captain.” I replied with a salute.

“Fuck off.”

We were parked on the opposite sidewalk and waited for the man to pass us. Rourke adjusted the rearview mirror to look at him without turning, I used the outside wing mirror to do the same.

“Doesn’t seem to be getting in a car.” I said.

“Ok, let’s go.” Said Rourke.

We got out of the car, “You take his sidewalk and I’ll use this one, try not to be too obvious.” Rourke told me.

“Jeez, all this talk of Navy SEALs really got you hot and bothered huh?”

“Just shut up and follow my lead.”

I rolled my eyes, but Rourke had been on many more stakeouts than me and he was the senior officer so I did as I was told. I crossed to the opposite sidewalk as instructed, while Rourke started down his. We kept at least forty feet behind the man, there was little foot traffic in the street at this time and we didn’t want to be too conspicuous.

The suspect kept walking, completely oblivious to the tail he had on him. I realized that if the guy chanced to see us we were probably very fucked, in this part of town people knew each other and Rourke and I stood out like sore thumbs.

I had recently bought a pocket Russian-English dictionary which I had in my coat, I pulled it out and pretended to consult some of the shop signs which were in Russian and then look up words in the dictionary. To passerbys I would be just another dumb tourist lost in Little Odessa.

The suspect turned right onto Coney Island Avenue, right below the elevated subway platform. Rourke and I stayed on our sides of the sidewalk and turned right at the corner as well. There were more people on this big avenue, which was good news for us. Up ahead the suspect went into a restaurant, the Glechick Café said the green sign, there was a huge USPS truck parked in front of it, obscuring half the glass window, and a Post Office next to the restaurant. I went past the café then stopped at the Post Office next door looking in the window, trying to catch a glimpse of what the suspect was doing inside the restaurant. I buried my nose in the dictionary pretending to translate the words on the restaurant’s sign. There was a laundromat on the other side of the café and, incredibly, a pay phone in front of it. Who still used pay phones? Rourke crossed the street and went straight to the pay phone while he looked into the restaurant, he picked up the receiver to see if the thing even worked, he’d look really suspicious talking on a phone that all locals knew was out of service. He punched some random numbers while looking at the suspect inside the restaurant.

The guy went straight to the booth of a man eating alone about four tables in by the right wall, sat down with great familiarity and kissed the man three times, alternating cheeks. It was obvious they knew each other very well. The suspect lay the package between them and signaled for a waiter. As he was ordering something, the man at the booth laid down his knife and fork and opened the top of the package. We caught a glimpse of gun metal and a barrel inside the paper bag. I looked over at Rourke who caught my eye, shook his head minutely and went back to looking at the men in the booth. The newcomer had ordered some type of liqueur, it arrived in a shot glass, he downed it in one gulp, slapped the dining man twice in the shoulder, got up without another word and left the restaurant without the package.

I eyed Rourke again and motioned with my head with a questioning look towards the suspect exiting the restaurant. Again Rourke shook his head almost imperceptibly and looked back to the dining individual at the restaurant. He waited until the suspect passed by his phone booth, back the way he had come, then hung up the phone and walked towards me, passed me by and kept on walking without looking back. I closed my pocket dictionary and followed him. About half a block away Rourke stopped, turned, made sure the suspect was nowhere in sight and said to me,

“So, what did you see in there?”

“Looked like the barrel of a rifle to me.”

“Yeah, same here. I think we should go in for a nice meal, and ,hey, if we happen to see something suspicious it’s our duty as police officers to ask for the weapon’s registration.”

“Let’s do it. That was pretty good by the way, with the pay phone.”

“Yeah, this ain’t my first rodeo.”

“No, I guess not. Was it even working?”

“Amazingly, it had a dial tone if you can believe it?”

“Must be the last working pay phone in the whole state!”

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

We walked into the restaurant and waited for the Maître’D to appear. As we did so we casually glanced at the man in the booth with the package next to him, the man looked up at us unperturbed, eyed us up and down and calmly went back to his meal, he didn’t even try to conceal the tip of the barrel that was showing inside the paper bag. As the Maître’D appeared, Rourke and I were walking over to the man sitting at the booth with the package.

“Sir, please can I help you?” said the Maître’D in a thick slavic accent.

I showed him my identification while Rourke showed his to the dining man and said, “Excuse me sir, we’re police and couldn’t help but notice that you have a package beside you which looks like a weapon, would you mind telling us what it is?”

The man stared at Rourke calmly, put down his knife and fork and said, “is family heirloom”.

“Uh-huh, and what type of family heirloom is it?” asked Rourke.

“Do you have warrant, officer?”

“I don’t need a warrant when you have what looks like a rifle sitting right next to you in a public restaurant.”

There was a pause and then the man said “Is rifle belong to my father.”

“Do you have a permit for it sir?”

“I need permit for family heirloom?”

“You do if it’s a firearm and you also need a permit for a concealed weapon if you’re hiding it in a paper bag.”

“I’m not hiding, just… transporting.”

“Do you have that permit on you?”

The man paused again, “no, not on me. Permit is in house.”

“Do you have any ID on you?” asked Rourke.

The man paused, then said “No ID, is in house.”

“No doubt along with that permit huh?”

The man didn’t respond.

“What is your name, sir?”

Another pause. Then, “Dimitri.”

“Dimitri what?”

“Dimitri Vasilikov.”

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do Dimitri, we’ll take the rifle with us to the station for holding. When you find that permit you just come on down and claim the rifle. And don’t worry, your family heirloom will be kept very safe down in our police station, OK?”

The man looked at Rourke but didn’t say anything.

“I’m just going to take the rifle and give it to my partner, sir.” Rourke said while he reached slowly and grabbed the rifle by the paper bag so as not to put his fingerprints on it without taking his eyes off the man, I was standing next to Rourke with my hand on my service weapon, ready for any eventuality, the Maitre D next to me was a little agitated and I kept an eye on him out of the corner of my eye but was more worried about the man sitting in the booth. Rourke grabbed the rifle in the paper bag, handed it over to me, then pulled out a card and scribbled something on it before passing it to the man in the booth. When the man made no move to take it Rourke left the card on the table saying

“this is the address of the police station, you just come on down with your registration papers and you can have your rifle back, ask for me, my name is on that card, OK?”

Still the man did not respond, he just sat there giving Rourke the hairy eyeball so Rourke just shrugged, said “have a good evening, sir.” and walked out the restaurant while I followed.

“That went well.” Said Rourke once we were outside the restaurant.

“I think so, we didn’t have to shoot anybody.” I answered.

“Let’s not hang around, these guys might get a hard-on for that ‘family heirloom’ and decide to shoot it out cowboy style in the middle of the street.”

“Alright, let’s take this baby to ballistics to see if we hit the jackpot. You know, we never got the guy’s identity, that name could’ve been bullshit, how will we know whom to associate with this rifle if anything turns up?”

“Tom, Did he seem like he was the cooperative type to you?”

“No, not really, but what if ballistics finds anything, how are we going to tie it to this guy? We don’t even know who he is.”

“It’s OK, we got a name, and this guy looks like a regular here and we know where to find the other douchebag, plus I think if we’d stayed there one more second we woulda had to kill somebody.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right about that. I’ll just log it in with the Sung case in order to get ballistics to process it.”

We walked back to the car and Rourke said, “you know what gets me? These fuckers have no respect for authority anymore. I mean there was a time not long ago when one of these goombas wouldn’t have dared to walk with a rifle in a paper bag in the middle of the street, never mind having it sitting next to him while having dinner. It’s like we don’t exist anymore, like police are a joke, you know?”

To Rourke any gangster was a goomba, irrespective of their ethnicity. “Well, I don’t think this part of town was ever very heavily policed, I think the locals here were pretty much left to themselves, for better or worse, so they got used to doing things their way.”

“It’s still no excuse. This isn’t even their country and they disrespected it like that. I mean go the fuck back to Transylvania if you want to behave like that.”

“They’re not Romanian, Harry.”

“What?”

“Transylvania is in Romania, these guys are Russian.”

“Don’t start with the history lessons, professor, Romanian, Russians, they’re all fucking Soviets anyway.”

“Actually, they’re not.”

“Whatever, you know what I mean. They’re fucking immigrants who come here and think they own this country. You gotta have some respect!”

“Oh-kay.”

We got to the car and headed for the station in silence. Once there we stopped by our desks so I could get the paperwork for the Sung case and log the rifle as part of evidence. I took it down to ballistics in the basement. Kasabian was there as usual, when he saw me he said,

“I confirmed it, turns out your guy was shot with a 9×39 mm round, a very Russian round.”

“9 mm? What’s so Russian about it? I thought the nine mil was the most popular caliber in the world.”

“9 millimeter is, but not 9×39. Your regular nine mil round is a 9×19 millimeter round, much shorter than this 9×39. You see, the 9×39 is based on the 7.62×39 mm round, also Russian, but with an enlarged neck to accommodate a 9 mm bullet.”

“Ok, so what you’re saying is that it’s not a regular nine mil, but some kind of special Russian version?”

“Not a special Russian version, but rather one developed by the Russians and used nowadays almost exclusively in Russian-made weapons. Of course, there are a lot of places in the Eastern Bloc that could make these weapons, doesn’t necessarily mean they were made in Mother Russia.”

“Great, that’s actually helpful. Hey, will you take a look at this rifle and let me know if it’s the same caliber as the round that killed Jae Sung Lee?”

“Sure, like I got nothing better to do. Just put it through the system and I’ll get to it when I get to it.”

“C’mon man, just take a look, I’m not asking you to run a full ballistics on it, just look at the fucking thing for a second and tell me if it could be the same caliber.”

“Look Harding, if I do this for you, I gotta do it for every other swinging dick that comes in here. You know the rules, no favorites.”

“I’m trying to solve a crime here!”

“So is everybody else.”

I took the rifle out of the paper bag, careful to hold it using the bag and not my bare fingers, and showed it to him.

“Just one fucking 3 second look, that’s all, here take it.”

“I don’t have to.”

“Fuck me Dan, you can be such a real prick!”

“I don’t have to, asshole, cause I can tell you right away that it is the same caliber.”

“What? How the fuck can you tell?”

“Unless it’s been modified, then it’s a 9x39mm SVP Russian rifle and they only make them in that caliber.”

I had a shit-eating grin. “Dan, you’re a prince among frogs, I owe you buddy.”

“What happened to being a prick?”

“You’re still a prick, but a princely prick. Here, keep it.”

“Fuck you, put it through the system so it’s catalogued properly, I’m not touching it until you do.”

“See what I mean, a prickly prince among frogs. No problem I’ll run ’er through, just for you.”

“Fuck off Harding.” With that he turned around and left me to fill out the paperwork.

I took the steps two at a time in my excitement, I had to tell Rourke the good news.

The Kwikee Mart

Kai Jones had interviewed the manager of the Kwikee Mart the day of the shooting but not that I knew the caliber of the bullets used in the murder was a little unusual, I wanted to ask him some more questions. We had a Russian rifle with an unusual caliber but it was almost impossible for me to believe that it would have been used for a murder in the middle of the street. A rifle is not easy to carry and conceal, or even use for an execution such as Sung had gotten. A pistol was much more likely. So if the manager, a Mr. Pranash, had seen a man getting into a black SUV and he was carrying a rifle, there was no way he would have missed that.

The Kwickee Mart was open as usual, but the manager was’t behind the counter. I tilted my head in the direction of the attendant and Rourke got the hint, it was his turn to do the tedious questioning.

Rourke pulled out his badge, “where’s the manager,” he asked. The attendant, lanky, surly, just out of his teens, a stereotypical 7-11 minion said “Back office” with a vacant stare. Apparently, that was the extent of the cooperation we were getting from him.

Rourke shook his head and headed for the back office. Rourke was more surly than usual today, otherwise I would have gotten a an earful of how the youth in this country was going to shit, and no manners, no ambition, back in his day, the whole shpiel. I was spared this once. Rourke knocked on the door labelled ‘office’ and went in without waiting for a reply, I followed.

“Good day Mr. Pranash, we’d like to ask you a few followup questions.” Rourke said.

Pranash looked up from the ledger he was working on, sighed and said “of course gentlemen, even though I’m very busy, I always have time for the police.”

At least it was something that we’d gotten the only polite manager of a convenience store left in the city.

I didn’t want to lead a witness by asking him outright if he’d seen something that looked like a rifle on that morning, so I had to be careful how I phrased my questions. I dances around the subject, asking him if he remembered anything else, maybe something the man was carrying, etc, etc.

We spent an unfruitful twenty minutes with Pranash and left. Once outside I said, “Harry, since we’re here, let’s go take another look at the crime scene.”

“Again? You’ve seen it about a dozen times already, and it ain’t a crime scenes no more, it’s been trampled and contaminated to death.”

“Still…” I kept walking towards where Sung had been found dead. I walked around looking at the ground, then up at the storefronts, moving around, looking from different angles. Rourke hung back with his hands in his pockets, leaning against a parked car.

“You let me know when you find the murder weapon genius.” He called out.

I just gave him the finger without looking in his direction.

[ There used to be some text here about Rourke being suspicious of Harding but doesn’t fit anymore with the chronology. It is pates into the notes section of this chapter.]I couldn’t see anything I hadn’t seen a dozen times before, no epiphanies. I was thinking about the weird caliber used on Sung, 9x39mm, a very Russian caliber, Dan had said. If that was true, why even use it? Why use a caliber that pointed a finger at you? To send a message would be the only thing I could think about. But to whom? And what message?

I walked back to where Rourke was, by now, lounging on the car, he asked “Had enough, young Sherlock?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Once back in the car, I told Rourke my thoughts about the unusual caliber, he grunted and said, “yeah, so what? Who cares if it was a handgun, machine gun, or fucking rocket launcher, the kid is no less dead. What the fuck difference does it make?”

“It makes a difference because that particular weapon we picked up is a lot harder to obtain than a hand gun and we know a guy who has one.”

“Yeah, but this fucker wouldn’t have gotten it at a Wall-Mart or any other place where he would have had to leave I.D. and all that. He got it in the black market and we can only tie him to the gun, not the murder even if we could tie the murder to the gun.”

“Probably, but still… there’s only a couple places in town where he could have gotten one. We might get a lead if we do some digging around.”

“Or they brought it over themselves on the boat, ever thought about that, genius?”

“Yes I did and you’re probably right,” a little buttering would do him good, “that’s a hard gun to come by over here I would guess. Let’s go ask your new favorite person, Kai.”

Rourke just grunted.

The Car

I stepped into my car. As soon as I sat down something dark flashed before my eyes and I felt it tightening horribly around my neck, it was a noose. It felt like wire digging into my flesh. I couldn’t breathe and started to panic but I quickly realized panicking would be a sure way to die. The old noose trick behind the driver’s seat, I thought. It was a pretty incongruous thought to have at a moment like this, but its levity actually helped me calm down a little. My left hand sought and found the lever to lower the seat’s back rest. I pulled it and leaned my full weight back. As I slammed back into my assailant, the noose slid over my head bruising my chin, this guy had obviously been using the backrest for support and hadn’t expected my little trick. As the seat’s back came to rest on my attacker’s legs, I instinctively extended my right arm into a powerful punch to where the face should be. I missed his face. But got really lucky and hit the neck instead. The guy let out a sort of “gahh” choking sound and started gasping for breath. I seized my chance, arched my head and back to get a bearing on the attacker, then shot out my left arm, grabbing him by the neck, right above the Adam’s apple, and using the thumb and first three fingers applied all the pressure I could muster without crushing his windpipe. This way, I could strangle the flow of blood to the brain and the guy would pass out in less than ten seconds, but it would be a very long ten seconds.

I realized this put me in a very vulnerable position, belly up like a landed fish. If the attacker had a knife, it would be game over, I’d be gutted like said fish. But I was counting on the lucky hit to the throat having left the him dazed. The bastard, fighting for breath, grabbed my left arm with both his hands, trying to shake me loose. This was gonna hurt later on, he had a grip like a pit bull, but at least the assailant’s hands were busy there and not trying to claw my eyes out or something. Seeing as he couldn’t shake me loose, he started frantically searching for the door handle with his left hand. He didn’t find it, so he grabbed my arm again and then started hitting me on the chest with his right, big pounding blows like a jackhammer, this fucker was big and strong, there would be bruises. I braced my feet on the steering wheel, putting all my weight into that backrest to make sure this bastard didn’t get away. Once again, my luck held. Within seconds, which seemed like eons, the guy’s eyes rolled up into his eyelids and he passed out. I kept the pressure on his neck for a couple more seconds to make sure he was really out. Before letting go of the fucker’s throat, I opened the door with my right hand, never taking my eyes off the bastard, then quickly stepped out, pulling out my gun and aiming it at the unknown man in the back seat.

Passing out from arterial strangling wouldn’t last very long, seven to ten seconds probably. I holstered my gun so I could use both hands, quickly opened the back door, grabbed the man by the hair and coat lapel, yanked him out of the car, and threw him to the ground. Once on the ground, I rolled him over onto his back and quickly handcuffed him before he had a chance to wake up. With the suspect handcuffed, I pulled out my gun again and watched over him, wondering what the fuck this could be all about. He was a pretty big guy, I’d been very lucky this time. If my reaction had been slower, it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d lowered the seat or not, once the garrote went around my neck and crisscrossed behind my head, there was no shaking it loose, the fact that the backrest was very high had also saved my life. No doubt the assailant was counting on getting a good grip quickly because garroting was quite an old-fashioned and not so easy way to kill. The high backrest had prevented him from crisscrossing the wire behind my head in which case I’d been fucked. Yes, I’d been extremely lucky, I laughed, feeling my bruised neck and not feeling lucky at all.

The garrote, a piece of piano wire with wooden handles at each end was a very peculiar choice as a murder weapon, I could think of some more direct, easier ways to kill, like a bullet to the back of the head for example. But few of them were as personal, and potentially enjoyable if you were a sociopath, as the garrote. I’d heard it once compared to fishing, you could feel as if you were landing your prey and enjoy every second of it, someone had said. But maybe this fucker hand’t wanted to kill me, maybe he just wanted to scare me or take me somewhere. Who knew? I’d have to have a nice little chat with him.

The guy was very big and I didn’t want to take any chances. I reckoned I could try to put him in the trunk of my car and then take him to the station, but how would that look to the kiddies on Sesame Street? I was a public defender, to protect and serve and all that shit. Actually, getting the guy in and out of the trunk was just going to be a nightmare, this guy must weigh as much as a refrigerator, and there was no way in hell I was going to put the bastard in the back seat where he could cause all sorts of trouble. I would call a patrol car with two burly wops to come and pick him up. Much better.

I took one of the tie-wraps I always carried around (just in case) and bound the fucker’s legs together. I didn’t want to go a second round with this guy. I then radioed dispatch and asked for a patrol car to pick up a large individual who had just attacked me. Location? In front of my very own house, the bastard. Yes, send someone big and angry. Bye.

The guy was coming to and started thrashing around as soon as he felt he was bound hand and feet.

“Ah, ah, ah” I said waving my gun, “we’ll have none of that. Just sit tight while your ride gets here and we can kill the time by chatting. Now, who are you and why did you attack me?”

The man said nothing, he just looked at me with a steely gaze.

“OK, not the talkative type. I can relate. How about, who do you work for?”

Nothing. Just cold staring. I looked around, there didn’t seem to be many people about, and we were secluded from anyone on the street by my car. I made sure there wasn’t a round chambered in my Glock 17, most of the pistol was made of a plastic-like polymer material that was very light, yet sturdy. This was good in a gun fight, but not so good if you wanted to use it as a club, you had to swing harder in order to make a dent. I reversed my grip and swung the gun at the man’s head. It connected with a solid klunk. The man had been sitting resting his back against the rear tyre and now he went down sideways into the asphalt. As he did so, he let out a guttural cry in a language that sounded Eastern European, perhaps Russian. Some choice expletive, no doubt, judging by his tone, that wasn’t really helpful at all.

“You feeling more talkative now?” I asked.

Another string of nasty-sounding foreign dribble came from the guy as he got up to a sitting position again. I didn’t really think another whack to the head would help things, but what the hell, the bastard had tried to kill me. So fuck him. I hit him again, this time on the other side, just to even things out.

“Fuck you!” snarled the man in heavily accented English.

“Oh, so you can speak English. Well that’s a step in the right direction! Now, how about we get to know each other? Hi, my name is Detective-with-a-gun, what is your name?”

More angry-sounding gobbledygook, but nothing intelligible in my language. I was tempted to give him another whack, just for the garrote thing. But I figured that was bordering on animal cruelty and there might be some asshole filming everything with his iPhone, these days you just had no privacy to operate.

“Alright Tovarish, we wait.”

I stepped back a few paces away from the man and this time I did cock the gun, chambering a round. I didn’t want to get caught unawares by this guy, tied up as he was, he could still be trouble, I waved the gun in his face so he could see it was cocked and ready to fire if he became nasty. Chambering a round on an unarmed and bound suspect was definitely not proper police procedure (hell, battering the suspect with the butt of your service weapon wasn’t either), but it was safe enough. Keeping my finger on the trigger guard, I looked at the suspect.

“You know Tovarish, I have half a mind to call off the patrol car and take you to a nice, secluded spot where I’m sure you can be persuaded to be more friendly. But, somehow, I have a feeling that no matter what I do to you, you just won’t say shit will you?”

The man didn’t say shit.

“That’s what I mean.”

I thought about frisking the suspect for any ID he might have on him, but it was highly unlikely that a guy trying to kill a cop would carry his driver’s license and social security with him. Plus, I didn’t want to risk getting close to the bastard. He might be bound hand and foot, but the guy was obviously a professional, and these fuckers were dangerous, he might literally bite my head off. So we waited.

Eventually the patrol car showed up. Out stepped two big patrolmen whose uniforms seemed to be bursting at the seams. They smiled when they saw me and my ward who was now bleeding a little from one of the kisses I’d given him upside the head.

“Ah, Mick and Steve, my two favorite bruisers.” I said. I knew the unis from the precinct. These boys were into the whole weight training and measuring body fat bullshit, they would do perfectly.

“Harding, you got into a little scuffle here, did you?” said Mick, eyeing the bleeding and handcuffed suspect on the ground.

“Just a school-ground bully who needed a lesson Mick.” I said.

“So I see. Big fella, ain’t he? What you want us to do with him?”

“Take him. Book him for attempted murder of a servant of the people, that would be me, and throw him in a fucking cage until I can figure out what to do with him. Be careful boys, this here is a crafty fucker.”

“You want us to take him bound like that?” Mick asked, a little dubiously.

“Yes. Otherwise he will try to run, or something worse, and you’ll have to shoot him and there’ll be more paperwork, an investigation, etc. You know how it is.” I said.

“OK, Boss.” Mick wasn’t too convinced, but these were good lads, he turned to the man on the ground, “Come on fuck face, get up.”

Each officer grabbed one arm and hauled the suspect on his feet. He had to hop to the patrol car since his feet were tied with the tie-wrap. The officers looked uncomfortable with the hopping man between them, that was definitely a violation of the bastard’s right.

“Don’t take that off until you’re at the station, this fucker is dangerous.” I told them. “Oh, and be sure to read him his rights, he understands enough English for that.”

“Yeah, OK.” said Mick, he was usually the more talkative of the pair. They put him in the back of the cruiser and took off. I just stood there for a while, not really thinking about anything. Just surprised and glad to be alive.