Monday, November 21, 2011
The Cast of COVERT REICH
Detective Tony Pazzini
Pazzini sat behind his desk, blinking eyes that had gone blurry. He attempted again to focus on the overload of paperwork. What a night. The murder at County was one he knew would be eating at him for a while. Bizarre cases always did. He suddenly felt much older than his forty-two years.
But being a cop was what he knew best. He lived for the job and his son, Luke. And the job took away from time with his kid. It wouldn’t be so hard if Anna were still here. But she wasn’t, and even with the help of his parents, he still felt he was in some way cheating Luke.
He took a large gulp of Coke and a sharp spear of burning acid shot through his stomach. Pazzini instantly regretted the decision to put jalapenos and onions on the hot dog he’d devoured earlier, after wrapping the hospital crime scene.
The stress of the job, plus the onions and hot peppers—which in all honesty, he could never get enough of—didn’t do much for the ulcer his doctor had warned him about. The burning sensation in his gut never left him alone these days. This morning it was much worse than usual.
“Jeez, Pazzini, what’d ya do? Hit Cotija’s Taco Shop last night?” Simmons taunted.
“Nah, wise ass. I had a dog with a heap of the good stuff on it.” He looked up from the paperwork and smoothed down his slightly wavy black hair, thinking he should probably comb it. He winced when his palms hit the back of his head. He could’ve sworn there had been more hair there a few months ago.
“Oh, man, that’ll do it every time. Wish I had some antacids for you. But I got a message instead.” Simmons winked at him, smacking on the tobacco chew Tony swore never left the side of his cheek. His stained teeth substantiated that theory.
“What’s that?” Tony asked, irritated by Simmons’ twang, which could only come from a cowboy wannabe. Simmons swore he was Texas born and raised. It was his story, but Tony knew the truth. He was really from Nebraska. Tony stared at the idiot for a few seconds, his annoyance growing at Simmons’ ridiculous overgrown goatee that was eons out of date. It wouldn’t hurt if he trimmed his shoulder length hair and took the earring out as well. Freaking Rhinestone Cowboy. Please.
“Boss man wants to see you, dude.”
“Dude? Seriously Simmons, you gonna catch some waves now?”
Simmons ignored him, “What d’ya do now, Paz?”
“Hey, dude, shut the hell up. Don’t call me Paz. It’s Pazzini. I can spell it for you if you like.”
Simmons held up his hands. “Hey, man, sorry. You know, no offense. Didn’t know it bugged you. Note to self.”
Tony nodded and slid out of his desk chair, heading toward his boss’s office.
“Dragging your feet a little, aren’t ya?” Simmons laughed.
That stopped the exhausted detective in his tracks. He faced Simmons. “Dude, this isn’t Texas, Nebraska, or Bum Fuck Egypt. This is L.A., and in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s you, not ya. And another thing, do you think you could lose the look? Your look? It went out with disco.”
Simmons abruptly stormed out of the room lined with desks and detectives. The place reminded Tony of a classroom, except it was far more cluttered, and instead of sweaty kids, it smelled of sweaty adults and stale air. At the moment, only a few actual detectives were sitting at their desks, mulling over reports, doing the tedious work. They had all stopped to watch the scene.
“Oh come on, Pazzini, sure the kid is an odd duck but do you have to be such a hard ass?” Barkley commented. He was an older detective who had been on the force for thirty years and was inching close to retirement.
“I just think people should be who they really are. FYI, Simmons isn’t even from Texas. He’s from fucking Nebraska!” Tony yelled back as he reached the chief’s office. Barkley was probably right. Maybe he was being too hard on Simmons, but he was exhausted and his nerves were on edge.
Standing outside Linden’s door, he couldn’t help the pang in his stomach, which he knew wasn’t entirely due to his earlier lunch. Pretty much every time he stepped into this office, his boss had a bone to pick with him. Usually, Tony had to admit, the chief was right. He had a hot button and had been known to rough up a few dope dealers and scumbags here and there. Linden always covered his ass, but not before he tore him a new one. But Pazzini couldn’t think of anything he’d done lately to warrant the usual warning…unless it had to do with Dr. Morales. He might have been a little rough on her, but he would have figured her too tough to call in a complaint about him. In any case, he’d just been doing his job. But had he pushed the doctor too hard? He didn’t think she was a killer, but those questions had to be asked. Then again, beauty could blind people from the truth. And Kelly Morales was definitely good looking.
He turned the handle on the door and peered inside Linden’s cramped quarters. The office reminded him of his grandfather’s fishing cabin up in the Sierras. At least in the way it smelled—musty, old.
Linden lifted his head up off his desk. His blue eyes were bloodshot.
“Hey, boss. Simmons said you wanted to see me.”
“Yeah. Sorry. I’m getting some shut-eye. Tired these days.” He rubbed his bleary eyes. “Think I’m fighting a flu bug. Carol is home with it.”
“That’s too bad.” Tony didn’t buy the flu thing at all.
“Anyhow, I wanted you in here because I need to know what happened at the hospital last night. I’m getting some heat from upstairs and from the mayor’s office. That sort of thing. Hospital people are upset, and the CEO over there is going nutso. I got some broad calling me every hour asking if there’s any news. I told her as soon as I know something, I’d give her a ring. And I don’t even want to talk about the media. That pain in the ass Gem Michaels from The Times has been calling about a statement and information.”
Tony tried not to smile. Gem was a tough as nails reporter, and she could be a pain but Tony liked her. She was honest. No hype. Just the facts.
“Not good, Chief.”
Tony sat down in the cracked vinyl chair across from his boss. Kind of a joke, really. The only reason the guy still had any real power was because his dad was good buddies with the commissioner. It wasn’t a secret Linden was burnt out. However, he still did merit some respect. At one time, he’d been one of the finest. He’d solved more homicides than anyone else on the force. But then he was shot while on duty and now could walk only with the help of a cane. That explained the ever-present alcohol—self-medication. He’d been put behind a desk and Tony knew it had nearly killed him.
“Any suspects?” Linden asked, the faint smell of whiskey wafting off of him.
Tony took note of the coffee cup resting on Linden’s desk and wondered what was really in it. “Nothing out of the ordinary. I’m checking into the usual things. The ex-wife, colleagues, friends, anyone associated with him who might hold a grudge. Nothing stands out at the moment.”
“No one saw anything?”
“No one coming forward, anyway. We’re still questioning people, obviously. This is going to take some time, sir.”
“We don’t have time, Pazzini. You’re telling me no one in that entire hospital spotted anything out of the ordinary? Some doc gets rubbed out in the middle of a busy hospital like County, and no one sees a thing?”
“He wasn’t in the middle of the hospital, sir. He was in the morgue, and I don’t think it’s quite as bustling as the rest of the building. I’m working on it. If anyone did see anything, they aren’t talking yet. Forensics is still over there this morning. I just received a roster of everyone who was working during those hours. But like I said, this is going to take time. We are questioning everyone. Then there were visitors in the building until eight o’ clock. We need to look at the sign-in sheets. At this point, the killer could be anyone. Oh, and we’re also checking all security cam footage.”
Linden rubbed his eyes again. He looked wiped out…or very hung over.
“What we know, or can surmise at this point, is the suspect was alone and locking up for the evening. The morgue is on the bottom floor of the hospital. The perp came from behind and zapped him with a silencer. Then slit his throat. Our big problem is how many people are in and out of that place daily—dead or alive. DNA is everywhere. It’s a hospital. The crime scene was contaminated before we even walked in the door.”
Linden nodded and leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands together and placed them under his chin. “You spoke with a woman doctor.” He looked down at some notes. “Dr. Morales? I understand she had a dinner date with the vic.”
“Tell me about her.”
“Her story checks out. She was at the restaurant waiting for him. Busboy confirms seeing her. She claims they had some patients to discuss.”
Linden made a face. “What? This guy is the morgue man and she’s in the NICU. What patients could they have in common?”
“I would assume an infant...or mom. It happens. Maybe she needed to talk pathology with him. I don’t know. It seemed plausible to me.”
“Guy is taking her to Tuscany’s to talk business? He’s gonna fork over that kind of cash on a business meeting? I don’t buy it. He was looking to get a piece of ass.”
“I think he might have been looking in the wrong place,” Tony replied.
“No. I think she’s respectable, is all. I think they were friends. Seems like there was a mutual attraction between them and if the poor guy hadn’t been killed, they may have wound up in a relationship. But at the stage they were at, it wasn’t happening yet.”
Linden studied him and clucked his tongue. “She must be a looker.” Tony didn’t respond.
“Why do you say that?” Linden He picked up his mug and took a swig.