Cyrus Kang cranked the wheel on his sweet '69 Camaro Z28 and cut into the parking lot of Union Station on Alameda. Across the street, laughter and the clinking of glasses could be heard. A function of some sort was going on in the suddenly cool again Olvera Street area with its clutch of stalls stuffed with tourista tchotchkes and over-priced Mexican restaurants. It must be some City Hall thing, he reasoned, given the early morning hour. Though how the insiders could be partying with LA facing a $400 million-plus budget deficit was a mystery to him. Maybe that's why there were several LAPD uniforms around to keep the deprived masses away. There was even a cop zooming around on one of those T-3 Segway-like three-wheeled scooters.
Dialing down the R.E.M. CD playing on his speakers, he pulled in at the curb behind a pick-up truck with a partially caved-in lift gate and called out, "Hey, Conrad, over here." Conrad Waller was standing back from the knot of people waiting for their rides. He was on the side of the arched entrance, as if to make a dash back inside if necessary.
"Thanks, bruddah," he said as he into the passenger seat, slinging his soft bag into the back.
"The hell's going on man?" his buddy said as they knocked fists. Cynthia Kang's brother had received a panicked call from Waller telling him he was taking the Amtrak in from Vegas, that he had to stay away from the airport.
"It's a trip, Cirk," said Waller, a fellow surfer, using Kang's shredder nickname. He nervously bit at a cuticle.
Cyrus Kang frowned as he maneuvered around the pick-up. A big-bellied white man with a straw cowboy hefted luggage and boxes into its bed, while two pretty Latinas, one in conservative clothing and the other dressed like a refugee from a strip club, talked over each other instructing him on how to do the loading.
"I think that shit we did for Gilmore is biting me in the ass," Conrad Waller said as he stared out the windshield.
Cyrus Kang headed toward the exit. He held a couple of dollars out the window to the booth attendant. "How you mean?" he asked as the lift gate swung up. "This affects me too, don't it?" The conversation he had with his sister fresh in his mind. The Camaro drove out onto the street.
Concerned, Waller said, "Anybody been rushin' you?"
"Not that I've noticed."
Waller's knee bounced. "Good. But that might change."
"Enough of this cryptic Jack Bauer shit, man,"
Grish Waller's son, who resembled his father, studied his friend's profile for a few beats, then said, "I think Cenine wasn't just selling X, and coke too it turns out, through the Pasta Grotto chain to make some walking-around money."
"Yeah. I got the breakdown that she was setting up politicos and business types and whatnot for blackmailing purposes."
Cyrus Kang snorted, "That's what big-titty hookers are for, fool."
"What if you supplied drugs to the teenaged children of these senators, mayors, and developers? Some of these politicians big-mouthed law-and-order types, and all of them worried about keeping their job or having their eyes on the next higher office?"
"Diabolical," Kang said. You couldn't use that word enough, he reflected.
"This is serious, Cirk."
"Serious as Britney Spears is about raising her kids?"
The other man remained stone-faced.
"Okay, how'd you learn this?"
"What did your sister tell you about Sylvia Lacy?"
"Not a lot," he answered. "Though like I told you, she wanted to talk to you about her."
Waller pursed his lips and looked out the side window. "It's complicated," he finally said.
The Camaro tooled along, Kang lulled by the authoritative rumble of his V-8. Like he could drive straight through the night, no particular destination in mind other than the randomness of where the miles of asphalt took him. He snorted again. What a great invention that was... asphalt. Who came up with it and why did they call it that? Had there been other words they tried but didn't catch on?
"Cirk, where'd you go, bruddah?"
"One of my little excursions, you know. So this Lacy is, like, in her 50s, right?"
Waller gave him a sideways look, shit-eatin' grin on his face. "She knows what she's doing."
Kang held up a hand. "Fine. I'm sure it's on the way on some cable show, cougars and their cubs."
"I think it's been done already," Waller pointed out.
The other one shook his head. "But we digress. How does she figure in this?"
"You asking as a friend or for Cynthia?'
"Oh, it's like that?" He came to a stoplight. He'd turned off Alameda and was now heading west on 6th Street, cutting through Skid Row. A woman of indeterminable age and ethnicity, swathed in multiple layers of torn and greasy clothing, crossed the street in front of them. She pushed a shopping cart loaded down with flattened cardboard boxes and held in place by twine, and pulled a smaller wire-framed cart stuffed with translucent plastic bags full of cans. Both young men watched her silently until the light changed and they glided away.
"You gonna make me choose?" Cyrus Kang finally said. "Because this puts your older woman friend in trouble or the two of you, huh?"
Waller said, "Sylvia was spying on the Fallenbee Directive while the old man, Mace, had us running around chasing his wife."
Cyrus Kang was getting his head around that when out of the corner of his eye he caught a green Mustang speeding up beside them on the driver's side.
"Shit," Waller exclaimed, 'That's Countryman."
The other car kept pace, the grey eyes in the driver's planed face zeroed in on the other two. A thin cold smile on the slash of a mouth.
"What's he want?" Kang said, alternately glaring at the scary man and watching the road.
"Careful," Waller said, the Mustang's front fender veering toward but not touching the Camaro's. The cars went along, side by side.
"Motherfucker," Cyrus Kang muttered as a flatbed truck loaded down with produce swung out of a side street and rumbled along a half block in front of them. Kang tapped his breaks and in the Mustang, Dieter Countryman reached a hand inside his jacket.
To be Continued...