Detective Valdez ascended the outside stairs to the second-floor field office of Congresswoman Kang. The suite was located in a prosaic strip mall along Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park. There was a nail salon, a jewelry store, a boba tea and coffee emporium and a vacuum cleaner repair shop also located on the premises. Either the second-term Congresswoman wasn’t allotted much of an office budget or she really was of the people, Valdez noted sardonically. On the frosted window inset on the representative’s front door was her name and district in humble lettering. She entered.

“I have an appointment with the Congresswoman,” Valdez told a man with the thick hands and torso of a truck driver, albeit a better-dressed one. He regarded her as he stood in a corner looking through a file drawer. She showed him her LAPD identification.

“Hold on, I know she’s expecting you,” the man said as he walked toward a closed door on the other side of the modest office. The furniture was functional but minimal style-wise. Valdez concluded she was appreciative that Kang didn’t go in for unnecessary frills. The cop didn’t live in the district, but hey, the taxpayer’s money had to be safeguarded.

The man had stepped into the closed office and Valdez could overhear voices and some effusive sounds. After a few minutes out stepped an older Asian couple, the man putting one of those floppy hats like a stepped-on jellyfish back on his head. Valdez made a point on knowing ethnics and pegged them as Filipinos. She nodded as they went past and exited.

The door open, Valdez could see the man and the Congresswoman exchanging a few words, too low for her to hear. Kang retook her seat and the man came out to fetch the officer. “Come on in.”

Valdez stepped into the room as he left and reclosed the door. She quickly took in the space, noting several awards from national and local entities and photos of the Congresswoman with the likes of Bill Clinton and the late Grish Waller. On the desk was a folded copy of the Sing Tao, one of the Chinese-language dailies.

Kang stood again and shook hands with her visitor, who introduced herself. Valdez assessed the taller woman before her: the swimmer’s shoulders, the runner’s muscle evident even in the pant legs, and medium clipped and feathered hair framing an intelligent, but guarded, expression. She’d ease her way around to what she wanted with this chick.

As they both sat back down Kang blurted, “Is it your theory that Grish was the victim of, if not outright murder, then some sort of coercive presence?”

“I usually don’t hold much with rumors, Congresswoman. But do you have knowledge of such?”

Kang picked from her readied menu of responses. “You’re the homicide investigator.” She’d checked into the detective’s record. Valdez’s clear rate was above average and two years ago she been assigned to a task force tracking a serial killer targeting, of all things, women street vendors. They’d caught the suspect.

Valdez looked off for a moment then back at the other woman. “I want to make sure I’ve been thorough, Congresswoman.” She didn’t mention her conversation with Tanaka, the medical examiner. “So when was the last time you talked with Waller?”

“It must have been about two weeks before he died,” she answered, not sharing her conversation with Lillian McCord and Grish’s concerns with Mace Newsome. Let’s see if this looker do her own homework. Plus Kang wanted to do her own digging about Newsome and Grish’s son, Conrad.

“And was this in person or by phone?”

“By phone. I’d called Grish periodically to catch up.”

“I understand you two were close.”

Kang said a measured, “Yes. But when I talked to him I didn’t note anything out of the ordinary.”

“What about Lacy Mills, when was the last time you spoke to her?” Valdez studied the rep.

“It’s been a while. Frankly, I was wondering about that too. Not being at the funeral, I mean.”

“Yeah, she seems to have gone underground or taken a sudden vacation. What do you know about her? What I have is pretty sketchy.”

Kang shrugged. “She’s one of those efficient types we public servants couldn’t do without.”

“How so?”

Kang smiled broadly. “Solid staffers like Lacy carry over from elected official to elected official, no matter which side of the aisle they reside on. The reason is she knows the procedures and nuances of this or that committee, and more importantly, who it is you need to talk to over at that obscure branch of the Department of Transportation. That person who never gets their name on a report but knows more about biodiesel evaporation rates or that one key stat you need to make your light-rail bill sing.”

Valdez shook a finger at her, grinning as well. “You’ve caught flak from your lefty buddies for being behind light rail.”

“I’m about getting done what’s right for my constituents. Clean-burning buses clearly have their place, but with a landscape like we have here in Southern California, it doesn’t make sense not to incorporate other modes of public transit in the mix.” Kang paused then added, “Didn’t intend to get wound up.” Inwardly she was flattered that Valdez had done her checking too. Though she wasn’t carried away about it, the cop was being thorough, as she’d said.

“It’s all good, Congresswoman.

She fixed her with a look. “Please call me Cynthia.”

“I will. I’m Desdemona… or Des for short.”

“Pretty name, it suits you.” Careful, Kang, she admonished herself. Tread easily. It wouldn’t do to have a sexual harassment allegation slapped upside your head. But she was reading this vibe right, wasn’t she?

“That’s nice of you to say.” They kept their eyes on each other longer than was polite, until she said, “Was Lacy someone the Congressman would have confided in?”

“Not really. She was retired too but so damn useful, so she still fielded some matters for him on a part-time basis. For a fee of course. There was never a hint of anything else between them, though I know they had a fondness for each other born of professionalism.”

Valdez folded her arms. “Where do you think Ms. Mills might have gone? She has no children and no close relatives, correct?”

“Yes, that’s right. I’ve also been wondering where she could have gone.”

They discussed whom Lacy Mills might stay with to hide out and it was a short list of three names, which the detective jotted down. She looked up and asked, “What about Waller’s son, Connie they call him. I hear he’s been a handful.”

Through the walls several people could be heard talking, loudly, on the street outside. Kang frowned, distracted.

“He and your brother Cyrus got into a spot, didn’t they?”

“The two geniuses were busted with a couple of escapees from one of those coeds-gone-crazy videos with their tops off and X in the car.”

“Your frankness is disarming.”

Kang was unfazed. “I’ve had to deal with the shenanigans of my knucklehead brother since I first ran.” Hell, even before that. Way before that. The voices outside were now united in a chant, but she couldn’t discern what exactly was being said.

“Waller advising you how to handle his bullshit, I bet.”

Kang was about to come up with a sarcastic retort when the truck driver knocked softly and stuck his head back into the room. “Sorry to interrupt, CK, but you better check this out.”

“What is it, Brian?”

He motioned for the Congresswoman to follow him. She did, Valdez right behind her.

There was a large picture window on the side of the office overlooking the street. Down below on the sidewalk, a group of about thirty people had gathered with placards. Their chanting was easily heard now.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Kang has got to go.”

To Be Continued…