“I’ll get back to you on this, Cynthia,” LAPD Detective Desdemona Valdez said over the phone. “So Conrad Waller was arrested in his Vegas hotel room after a dust-up with a lady friend. Something about a disagreement over whose money was won at the craps table?”

“That’s what I got second-hand from a friend, Des,” the Congresswoman said. “Obviously, I’m not looking for you to interfere in another law enforcement jurisdiction. But there’s some kind of cop-to-cop brotherhood, sisterhood, whatever you all call it, you can invoke with Vegas PD to find out some details, yeah? Since it’s been my experience the thin blue line ranks politicians only slightly above reporters and child molesters.”

“I do you this solid, what’s in it for me?”

She smiled. “What exactly are you soliciting, detective?”

“I should probably be discrete. ‘Cause, you know, if you don’t want to nod…”

“Then wink, to paraphrase the former governor of New York.” They both chuckled softly and a comfortable silence dragged between them. Then Kang added, “Even if you don’t find out anything else, call me back, okay?”

“I will,” Valdez murmured as she hung up.

Kang put on her sweats and loose top, and sat up in bed beginning to reread Childhood’s End by the late Arthur C. Clarke. She’d last read the book more than twenty years ago in a college class on the iconography of pop culture. The way she remembered the story was, aliens show up on Earth who look like demons, but hide this from us knowing how we’d react to this imagery. They usher in a technological utopia on our planet, but their real goal is to facilitate the transformation of our children into beings of pure thought to merge with their A-Number-One being, who is also pure energy. Kinda like what the Borg attempted to do in a more funky way, Kang the closeted Trekkie observed.

As she got into the book, it occurred to her the working analogy was that the aliens in Clarke’s novel and the Borg were Republicans, since they seemed to be bent on assimilating any divergent, independent thought into one collective hive-mind that imperiously set the tone and tenor for humankind. This pleased her, and she got up to fetch some juice from the refrigerator–when the intercom buzzed. It was past one, and she foolishly hoped that Desdemona Valdez couldn’t fight it any longer and had to make that booty call.

“Yes,” she said depressing the button.

“It’s Chet. It’s important, Cynthia. Can I come up?”

How pitiful was her life, that he knew she would not only be up now but alone. She almost sighed as she said, “Come on,” and clicked him through the security gate downstairs.

She put on a kimono-style silk robe and let him in when he knocked on her door moments later. “What the hell happened to you, Chet?”

Kimbrough was slashed and cut about the face and arms and his pants were torn and muddy at the knees. He sat wearily on the couch and told her how he was ambushed in Big Bear following what proved to be a false lead on Lacy Mills.

Kang sat opposite, staring at him open-mouthed.

“Yeah, I know,” Kimbrough said as he finished, rubbing a hand over his tired face. “Crazy, huh? But if they wanted me dead, I would be, Cynthia. This was a warning.”

“This has to be Mace Newsome behind this, Chet,” Kang declared. “Did you report this to the authorities up there?”

He looked at her square. “No. Why make this public if we don’t have to?”

“That may be famous last words. The sudden appearance of the protesters outside my office seems less and less like it’s merely grassroots agitation.”

Kimbrough offered, “This all may be Newsome’s stick.”

“The carrot being he calls off the dogs if we leave Grish’s death alone,” Kang retorted. “But this is more than just Grish possibly being coerced to shoot himself.”

“It’s why he was coerced,” Kimbrough noted.

“Exactly.” She folded her arms. “At least I should be offered a bribe, a junket or a couple of studly boy toys to buy my cooperation. I mean what am I, chopped liver?”

“Funny.” He leaned back into the couch, seeking to get lost in a cocoon of cushions.

She touched his arm. “I’m just making jokes to keep from freaking out, Chet. I realize this shit is serious.”

“I know,” he said, his voice losing intensity. He’d closed his eyes and settled further into the plush couch.

“What about your Highlander?”

“The shooting had stopped and after waiting, I got up enough nerve to sneak back out on the road. I damn near peed my pants when I heard someone coming up behind me. Turned out to be this couple walking back to their cabin. They mentioned they’d heard something, but I convinced them I’d lost control of my car talking on my cellphone and had run it into the bush.

“These two said I could keep it at their place for a day or two. They’re some kind of video game entrepreneurs, so are… flexible in their lifestyle, I guess I’d say. They knew a guy in town, sort of an off-the-books tow truck driver. He does good business with the people who come out from LA and Orange County to ski and party. They get too blitzed on gin and juice or high and wind up in a ditch or plowed into something.”

Kang said, “Still that’s at least three who know about you and your shot-up car. One of these gamer types might be a blogger or is friends with one. Let alone gossip they might spread around town”

Kimbrough nodded and said, “I’ll go back tomorrow in the rental I got and arrange for the windshield and mirror to get put back on. The shooter knew his stuff, there’s very little evidence of the pellets blasting the body of the vehicle itself. Though of course the upholstery’s pockmarked with buckshot, but I figure not too many questions will be asked. Especially if I pay over the going rate in cash.”

“Then we need to go on the offense with Newsome.”

Kimbrough glared at her.

“Hey, Reverend Jeremiah Wright was right, rich white men do run America.”

“That’s not exactly what the senator’s former pastor said.”

Kang stood, hands on hips. “My point is we can’t let this arrogant prick get away with murder and assault and who knows what else.”

“You’ve got a career to worry about, Cynthia.”

“Fuck it,” she said, heading into the kitchen to put on some coffee. It was going to be a long night of planning and no sleep.

To Be Continued…