Chet Kimbrough wanted to stop for fresh coffee but fought the urge. Instead he swirled what remained in his travel cup and downed the cold, bitter concoction. The brew was bracing and gurgled in his empty stomach as he replaced the container in his hybrid SUV’s cup holder. He should have also taken the time for lunch by now, but how sad was it that this wasn’t unusual, given his so-called lifestyle. Politics was worse than meth or crack. Once you were hooked on the excitement and unpredictability, there was no getting clean and sober. You had to have the next fix, and he had two shot-to-hell marriages behind him to attest to his obsession.
Officially, he was the chief of staff for Congresswoman Cynthia Kang and certainly he functioned in that capacity as he provided strategy and served as the representative’s sounding board on policy and perspectives. Also, like any pol’s right hand, his job was to meet with certain constituents and other electeds and to be the movable firewall blocking persistent lobbyists and favor-seekers. But there were other tasks that a practiced and deft hand like Kimbrough had to perform–his current destination being an example of a mission not particularly spelled out in his job description but essential nonetheless.
He checked his MapQuest printout and confirmed the address. Getting out of his Highlander, he noted fondly that the car he’d parked behind was the Bullitt limited edition of the Mustang, its sweet lines and styling inspired by the fastback that Steve McQueen roared over the hills of San Francisco in the movie of the same name. Kimbrough went up the cracked walkway of the modest Craftsman in Lincoln Heights. In the near distance behind the house, the old and new spires of downtown Los Angeles were visible. Old in LA terms meant a building erected about a decade ago.
He opened the unlatched, worn wooden screen door and knocked on the inner door. There was a shuffling of feet on the other side.
“Yes?” said a woman’s voice. Kimbrough answered giving her his name.
“You’re alone, correct?” The unseen woman asked.
“Like I promised.” Who the hell would he bring with him on this anyway? He was hoping to keep this shit on the down-low.
The door opened onto a gloomy interior. The woman, small-boned and thin in creased white jeans and loose top, stepped back to allow him to enter.
“Thanks for meeting with me.”
“What choice did I have?” Nervously, she touched her hair, a curly set of blond-brown piled curls going to gray. She was in her late 50s but few lines mapped her wary face. “You hacks have a way of getting underfoot,” she said sourly.
“I’m not trying to jam you up, Ms. Collier. But I’d very much like to talk with your sister-in-law.” Kimbrough had called around to several contacts and friends to get a line on the recently seldom seen Lacy Mills, his onetime counterpart with the deceased Grish Waller.
“Ex,” she corrected. The living room was sparse as a desert landscape and she didn’t invite him to sit anyway. She picked up a pack of cigarettes, shook one out and lit up with a disposable lighter. Collier stepped back from Kimbrough toward the mantle and put the lighter on it as she blew smoke into the dark room. “She killed Roy, you know.”
That got a reaction.
Collier snorted smoke through her nose, the cigarette dangling from her mouth. “My brother and her met in traffic school, can you beat that?”
Kimbrough shifted on his feet, hearing something. To his left was a doorway leading to a short hall and what he presumed was a bedroom. “He was a publicist, right?”