EDITOR'S NOTE: Wimpole Street Gazette is proud to introduce our first serialized novel, the mysteryDESERT HOUSE by ROMEY KEYS. Every two weeks we will be adding a chapter, so stay tuned.
CHAPTER 8: SURVEILLANCE
The silver Cadillac DTS pulled up to the valet parking station for a Montana Avenue restaurant. Paul was driving. The valets quickly ran around opening the rear doors. Gina and Mrs. Marshall got out on opposite sides. The valet caught the keys Paul tossed in midair, handed him a ticket, swung in behind the wheel, adjusted the seat and mirror, and took the car away in one smooth movement. Paul stopped to talk to the head of the valets. Gina and Mrs. Marshall entered the restaurant. Mrs. Marshall looked over her shoulder at Paul, to make sure he was safely out of hearing. She turned to Gina. “What do you think of Paul?”
Gina gave her a quick look before replying, “What do I think of him?”
The question surprised Gina. She started to consider the things that could have caused Mrs. Marshall to ask it. “How do you mean think of him? He could use a personality transplant. He seems to handle things okay. We haven’t had any trouble. He took care of the thing with Diana. Nobody is trying to move in on us, are they? We aren’t in trouble are we?”
“I don’t know . . . I’ve heard some things. We may have to make a change.”
The Maitre d’ was walking back to them with an armful of menus. She returned some of them to the counter, keep the rest.
“Good evening Mrs. Marshall, Miss Velasquez. Two?”
“Three. Paul’s taking care of the car. Can we get that table near the window?” said Mrs. Marshall.
“I think.” She checked the list on her stand. “Yes, we can do that.” She drew a heavy line through a name. “Right this way.”
An unmarked police car was parked in a red zone down from the restaurant. It stood out because it was a big Ford sedan in a neighborhood where everyone drove upscale imports, and it had a chrome spotlight above each side mirror. Two men were sitting in the front seat. Another man sat in the back. They had settled in to wait.
Lieutenant Clark relaxed, his arm stretched along the top of the back seat. He liked Hannigan, the Detective Sergeant in the front seat. He glanced over at the other Sergeant Ross behind the wheel. He could just see the side of his face.
“She’s always here or Beverly Hills for dinner,” said Hannigan.
“Who’s the young one?” said Clark.
“Another up and comer. Gina Velasquez,” said Hannigan. “Youth Authority for possession and burglary. Nevada on armed robbery. Bunch of them tried jumping the teller’s cages at a Vegas bank. Got out, came back here and left the small time for the big time. Gang girl makes good. We want Marshall and Waugh. Waugh is mainly muscle. We think he’s good for that thing in the hotel on the strip.
“They’ll settle in soon. Then I’ll show you the Mulholland house. See if there are any cars up there,” said Hannigan.
“Another surveillance, just with better coffee and chocolate biscotti,” said Clark. He bit a piece of the biscotti, careful not to get chocolate on his suit.
“We like to show Robbery Homicide a nice time when you come out to Santa Monica.”
The driver cleared his throat and then spoke. “Mrs. Marshall’s been pretty valuable to us.”
“She somebody’s informant?” asked Clark, already knowing the answer.
“When she wants to be,” said Hannigan.
“You ever pull her in?” said Clark.
“Before, when we had the time, we pulled her in a few times. She’s smart, has good lawyers. We never were able to make anything stick to her. So she runs her girls. Has a major list. Studio execs, actors, Century City people, you know the kind. Gives us things from time to time. Seldom makes any trouble, except for the thing with Waugh. A few years back one of her girls freaked and sliced up a guy. It was kept pretty quiet. Nobody likes that kind of thing on the front page unless there’s something to gain from it.”
“She’s a good source,” said Ross. “A very good source.” He half-turned in his seat to look at the man in the back. “Exactly what are you guys interested in? It would help us if we had a better idea.”
“She’s been hanging around some people we have long-term surveillance on.”
The waiter was showing Mrs. Marshall a bottle of wine. Mrs. Marshall was holding her glasses up to read the label. Paul arrived at the table. He pulled out a chair and sat down. A busboy put a basket of bread on the table and a plate. On the plate he poured some olive oil and then added a dark circle of balsamic vinegar.
“Yes. That will be fine,” said Mrs. Marshall. Then, to Gina, “You’ll like the white.” And to Paul: “Portobello mushroom for the appetizer?”
“Fine with me.” Paul took a piece of bread out of the basket, ripped it apart, dragged it through the vinegar and oil, and shoved it into his mouth.
When the waiter had taken their orders and left the table, they began to talk.
The police car pulled out, heading east on Montana past the restaurant. Mrs. Marshall nodded toward the car as it passed.
“Isn’t that Ross?”
“They were parked down the street,” said Paul.
“They wouldn’t be watching us would they, Paul?”
“Not unless our Sergeant isn’t doing his job.”
“He was driving that car, Paul.”
“I know,” said Paul. “Don’t worry. Ross isn’t going to do anything stupid.”
“They were watching us,” said Gina. “So what’s going on?”
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” said Paul.
“No,” Mrs. Marshall snapped. “I’ll talk to him.”
“All right, Pearl. You’ll talk to him.”
Their salads came and the conversation halted while they were served.
“We have to be very smart. I can’t afford a big loss at my age. Did you set up that annuity, Gina?”
"Yes. I’m talking to Link about it.”
“Do it. You’ll have something put aside when you get to be my age. I wish I had learned about financial planning earlier in my life. I should have been more serious. Well, maybe not serious. But it’s difficult when you get old. There’s less time. You have to take more.” As if in demonstration, she reached out both hands with their red nails and clawed a piece of bread loose.
“I don’t think about that,” said Paul. “I live large now. Anything could be waiting around the corner.” He took another piece of the warm bread dipped it in the vinegar and then the oil and bit into it.
“You can’t live that way Paul. We all get old. Do you want to end up in some single-occupancy hotel downtown?”
“Never happen, Pearl.”
Ross was Mrs. Marshall’s handler. Clark knew that he was on Mrs. Marshall’s payroll. His investigations had turned up the apartment Ross had in Silverlake. He knew the sticker price and the option package on the Porsche parked in the underground garage of that apartment building. And, he knew the balances of Ross’s bank accounts, the ones under his name and the others.
Clark wanted to put this whole thing together and hand it to the DA. Clark wanted to take down Ross and his group, pull in Paul Waugh, and maybe grab Mrs. Marshall and the girl. But he didn’t really care about the whores. Arrest one, another one takes her place. The girls would just scatter to other outcall services. There was no point in it. You could even order your women over the internet now.
“What’s Mrs. Marshall like, Ross?” Clark really didn’t care about Mrs. Marshall; he just wanted to see what Ross would tell him.
“She’s been in the business since she was a kid. So she knows everyone in L.A. Lots of contacts. She’s been through everything so you can’t surprise her.”
“My father said he arrested her on a vice charge back in the Sixties,” Hannigan added, “She’s almost a celebrity. She should be on the historical sites registry.”
“What I do,” said Ross, “I watch out for her. Try to keep her out of the way of the DA. She knows the routine. She reports in weekly. Gives us an idea of what’s going. Helped us with a home invasion crew last year.”
“Was that the thing out in the Valley?”
“Yeah, these Armenians came into town and were knocking over a house a week. They had an entry team with a ram and everything. Very violent. Hurt a lot of people. She heard some stuff. We looked into it. Took the Armenians down. Before that she gave us some info that helped catch a crew taking down warehouses. She’s earned her keep.”
And I bet you earn your keep too, Ross, thought Clark. Were you crooked when you met her or did she help push you over the line? How long will it take you to tell her about this?
“Tough?” Asked Clark.
“Yeah, but getting old. I’d say that’s her weakness.”
“That’s everybody’s weakness,” said Hannigan.
“When you’re her age, it’s hard to look at a long sentence.”
“Jail is not somewhere I’d want to grow old,” said Hannigan. “Threaten her with that. She might open up.”
“I’d like to just talk to her,” said Ross. “She’s always been good about seeing what was inevitable.”
Clark didn’t care whether she opened up or not. If he got her, it would be for something big: her girls buying drugs for their tricks or for something to do with Ross. If she and Ross had been tight for ten years she must have offered him something or he would’ve used her in one of his deals. Put two criminals together and they start thinking of ways to make money.
ROMEY KEYS was born at home in Lanham, Maryland in 1947. The doctor delivered him between breaks to catch a boxing match on the radio. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature. He taught at UCLA for eight years. Now he's a Documentation Specialist for hire.