I cleared the LA docks and hit the freeway with a few hours to burn before there would be anything worth seeing downtown. Being in no rush for once I took the slow way to the office so I could think, stopping the car in an old parking lot and making my way on foot through a small doorway decorated in red and orange lanterns. Inside was one of the smallest restaurants you have ever seen, including a bar with a pair of balding Asian men drinking their sorrows away. I grabbed the first open chair and yelled into the back. “Chula! Have a special back there for me?”
Chula walked out from the back dressed in a stained apron and hat. He started waving his fists erratically as he limped in my direction. “Sloan, you go now. You eat too much, drive poor old man out of business. Look you getting so fat the chair bends!”
I set my hat on the bar, rolling my eyes at the old man as he gesticulated about.“No one is here to watch Chula, save the act for the tourists. You are about as decrepit as I am. Also I am still waiting for my noodles.”
Chula stopped, his eyes flicked left to right, then he slipped into a perfect English accent and lost two thirds of his limp. “The customers expect a certain, ethnicity. You can’t blame an old man for trying to drum a few more people in.”
“Yeah, and I normally don’t mind playing the fool for you, but there is no one to watch.” I hung my jacket on the back of the chair before folding my hands in front of me on the bar.
“You’re a good sport Sam. Let me throw together a bowl for you.” Chula stepped in back while he sent his daughter out to give me a small bowl of soup. After a few minutes Chula came back with a giant bowl of Thai noodles and unceremoniously dropped them off in front of me. “There I gave you a little extra, just don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to maintain.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” I dove into the noodles as Chula wandered back into his kitchen. I had helped the man with a few outstanding legal problems a few years back. The old man came up short on his expense account and offered me a few free meals at his restaurant as recompense. Normally I would have said no but I was feeling sympathetic. That was before I found out he made the best Thai noodles in LA. I may owe him a refund truth be told. There was not enough information yet to make heads or tails of the case as of yet, so I employed the old Zen technique of ‘Clear your mind and eat noodles’. After the meal I left a nice tip for the waitress and made my way back to the office.
Sarah was already waiting for me when I entered the office. I held up a single finger. “Unless someone is going to die, not yet. I coaxed the ancient coffee maker to life, getting a fresh cup out of it before returning my revolver to my desk and sitting down. Sarah tilted her head at me, tapping her foot soundlessly on the tile floor.I took a long slow slip of my coffee then spun in my chair towards Sarah. “I am ready now, what is it?”
“I have been monitoring your communications on the case thus far and prepared information for on on the Midnighters Cycle Gang. They seem to occupy an area slightly north of downtown.”
“And make a living with extortion rackets, smuggling, and the occasional public beating if someone pays their fee. They usually stop short of outright murder though. Also police surveillance equipment has a tendency to either go missing or turn up broken very shortly after being placed. The only upside is with the dark blue on black bikes they cruise around on, they can be spotted a mile away.
“You have dealt with them before.”
“An old case before your time ended in a fight. Couple of the bikers tried to rough up a client of mine. The brawl ended with a few broken bones, one cracked skull, and far too close to me being on the receiving end of several bullets. They were looking to even the score for a while, but after the guy with the cracked skull ended up getting dead in a shootout with the police they calmed down.”
“I am sometimes amazed you survived as long as you have.” Sarah sat on the side of my desk glancing at the files. “I prioritized their recent activity and the information the police have chosen to make public.”
“That will make a good place to start. Get a tracking device ready as well. I want eyes on this Burke, preferably sooner than later.” I opened up the files to see what the Midnighters had been up to since last I crossed their path. Aggravated assaults, extortion, plus whatever the law didn’t care to share with John Public. Just as charming as I recalled.
After picking up a simple tracking device, I went for a slow afternoon drive bringing me to the firm of Pratt and Hawlire. Even at a glance I could see the lawyers were doing well for themselves. The skyscraper gleamed casting a bright reflection from on high to us lower beings at ground level. I flipped on the cameras and began scanning the building while I stopped for coffee and a hot dog from a street vendor with the wild hair of some crazed scientist out of a bad movie. He has clearly been in the sun too long, but who am I to judge a man with food and coffee. I left crazy to his work and slid back into the Fairlane, yelling at the dash between bites of hot dog. “What do you see Sarah?”
The dash answered back. “Unhealthy food and bad table manners.”
I finished the hot dog and made a perfect toss of the wrapper into a nearby garbage can. “First, there is no table so it does not count. Secondly, you perfectly well know I was asking about the building security.”
“Are you after entry to the building itself, or just trying to get to Mister Burke’s car?”
“Let’s start with the car for now. Do an analysis of building security and save it for later use though. Hopefully this won’t turn into petty larceny of the rich and famous, but I like to keep my options open.” I started the car and circled the rest of the building to get an infrared scan of the back side of the skyscraper. Interesting thing about security, unless they go back to using absurd mechanical booby traps everything uses power that can be detected by the right equipment. It isn’t as good as say, bribing a employee for the building plans. Is a lot cheaper however and will give you a fair idea how tightly locked down a building is.
“Confirmed Detective. I have security information on the building stored. Breaking in would be a significant undertaking. The parking garage is much less secure. Only a keypad controlling entry and and cameras at the entrances.”
“Any chance you got the code during my drive-by?” I pulled the car over to the side of the street a safe distance away from the firm.
“One person used the keypad during your drive by. Attempting to reconstruct code from images…Seven…Seven…Five…Three…Six. Ninety two percent chance of accuracy.”
“It’ll have to do.” I slid out of the car, pulling my hat low. “Send the car for me if anything goes wrong.”
“Beginning monitoring of communications in the area.”
I made kept my head sightly low as I made my way quickly down the side of the road. People trying to be polite and unobtrusive often try to place their surveillance out of the way on the ceiling. This makes it fairly easy to slip underneath without leaving enough of you to identify. A proper camera should be right in someone’s face. AS soon as I made it to the door, I punched in the numbers Sarah gave me hearing a satisfying ‘click’. My footsteps echoed as I made my way up the empty stairwell. I was afraid electronic scanning might be picked up so I was left with searching the old fashioned way. Luckily for me the lot was almost abandoned as I made my way through like an idiot who had forgotten where he parked. Eventually I found the black BMW belonging to one James Burke and after a quick check to insure I was not being observed, I affixed a tracker right next to his gas tank. I made it out of the building without a hitch and the car caught up with me a couple blocks away.
“One job down.” I turned the car back towards the office. “Let’s give this one some time and see where he goes tonight.”
“I’ll keep track of his location and let you know if he goes anywhere interesting.”
This left me a couple dull hours of paperwork while I waited for my mark to get out of work. Dusk finally came and I slipped into the fairlane taking a long circle around the Midnighter’s territory. I only made out a couple of their bikes from a distance, must be a slow night. On the second pass around the outskirts I heard Sarah’s voice break up the monotony of watching a few bikes do nothing.
“Detective, I am picking up Mister Burke’s tracking device in your area.”
“Give me his location.” Sarah lit up a small dot on my local GPS map and I spun the car around, following Burke into gang territory at a reasonably safe distance. He certainly was not worried about being followed as he pulled up right next to a pair of Midnighters idling at a street corner and passed a small package out the window. I pulled a fast right as my only other option was to stop the car right behind the idiot. As I rolled up to a stop sign a pair of blue on black bikes pulled up on either side of my car. They didn’t look primed for a fight, so I rolled down my window and turned to face a tall, gaunt girl staring down at me. Not hard on the eyes even if gang tattoos and bleach blond mohawks aren’t quite my thing. I will say this for the Midnighters, they do not discriminate. All violent antisocial criminals are welcome.
“You don’t look like you belong here mister.” The blond spoke as I caught the rider of the other bike out of the corner of my eye. A well muscled guy sat testing the swing on a heavy chain. I can generally spot a follower and was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to make a move without his partner’s say so.
I lifted my hands up off the wheel and waved them around. “Hey I am not looking for any trouble. I was supposed to met a guy name Jose at his bar and I think I am in the wrong neighborhood.”
Blondie nodded at her friend as he brought the chain over the hood of my car with a loud metallic bang. “Idiot ,get out of here before I have Hugo drag you out of the car.”
“Yes ma’am. I stepped on the gas speeding out into the night. I find that people always like to think that others are either stupid or cowards and am not above playing to expectations when it gets me out of a fight I do not want. I wonder if I can charge a paint touch up to Fellow’s expense account.
I picked up Burke on his way out of gangland and got back on his tail. He was driving slow and casually making me certain I had not been made. I turned out of his path as he pulled into the valet parking area of the Century Club.
As I considered my next move, Sarah’s voice lit up. “Detective, I have a message for you from Miss Cherry Azure. I think you will want to hear this.”
“Miss Azure would like you to come around back and explain to her why you are tailing her clients.”
This was the last thing I needed. “Tell her I am on my way.” I was stuck by the feeling I was about to get scolded as I spun the car around.