“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.”
“But it’s ironic that the guy who invented it was never famous outside of Hapkido circles.”
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.”
“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.”
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?”
“His dad’s a SEAL.”
“Now you wanna adopt him, don’t you!” I was almost laughing.
“A SEAL? Those are some serious fuckers.” Rourke sounded very impressed.
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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!”
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.