The car came straight at Chet Kimbrough and the other man, not fast but steady, and it was evident this was no early morning office worker getting a jump on their day.

“You set me up,” the would-be Deep Throat rasped.

“Like hell,” Congresswoman Kang’s chief of staff avowed. Both men looked toward the recessed stairwell as their escape route. The car halted, idled, and a door on either side opened. The driver was tall, the passenger short.

“Fuck this,” the other man said, producing a Baretta.

“Wait, hold on,” Kimbrough admonished. “Let’s be cool.” How would it look for a staffer of a progressive representative to be caught up in a crossfire in a underground parking lot? What was he doing pretending to play a buttoned-down Shaft? “They haven’t made any aggressive moves.”

“What do you want?” Kimbrough demanded of the mismatched intruders.

The short one said, “Mr. Mace Gilmore would like to discuss certain matters with you, Mr. Kimbrough.” Their car had stopped diagonally under the overheads, so Mutt and Jeff were backlit, their facial features indistinct.

“About what?” Kimbrough was very aware that his informant still had his gun out, but this didn’t seem to worry the two messengers. Did they just not give a damn–or, more likely, did they have their own firepower and were prepared to let off a volley if need be? Kimbrough didn’t want to die today, not with items left on his mental to-do list. Yeah, Beyoncé and Mariah Carey had both recently gotten hitched, but surely one of those bootylicious honeys sparking the cover of King–“The Illist Men’s Magazine Ever,” as it’s billed–were still within possibility for him to meet and woo. Lord, he hoped that was so.

“I believe you know about what, Mr. Kimbrough. Mr. Gilmore wants you to know he had nothing to do with the shotgun attack on you at Big Bear,” the tall one answered.

“If that’s so, then how did he know about it? I didn’t report the incident.”

The short one said, “Come on, Mr. Kimbrough, you know the answer to that.”

Kimbrough said, trying to break the tension, “Huh, he’s Dr. Strange, he sees all and knows all with the help of the Eye of Agamotto.”

“He’s a billionaire,” the tall one said matter-of-factly. The implication being that money, any slack-jawed yokel knew, always had the means. He had one of his feet on the open doorframe. As he took his foot off to place it on the ground, the man beside Kimbrough jerked his Baretta.

“Easy, Rambo,” the short one warned. “None of us want any drama.”

“As long as this shit don’t concern me,” the gunman said.

“It doesn’t,” the short man confirmed.

“Bet.” He put his gun away and turned and walked toward the stairwell.

“Can I call on you again?” Kimbrough asked, but looking ahead at the other two.

“I’m a ghost to you now, Kimbrough. Your friends make me anxious.” He exited via the stairs.

“Fuck,” Kimbrough muttered.

“About that meeting.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.”

The short one coughed and the taller one said, as if he were the recipient of the other’s thrown voice, “Mr. Gilmore is on his way to the airport at this moment, on his way out of town. He was thinking about when he’s back in Los Angeles in a few days.”

“How do I reach you?” Chet Kimbrough asked.

The other two were getting back in their car. “We’ll be in touch, Mr. Kimbrough. Have a good one.” The car, a silver-gray Chrysler 300, reversed, righted itself and drove away, leaving the chief of staff alone. He heard lyrical classical music playing inside the car when they started it up.

Kimbrough held out his hand and watched it tremble.

* * *

“What was that chickenshit stuff with Countryman?” Cyrus Kang tipped back some coffee.

He and Conrad Waller sat opposite each other at a table in the Pantry–the historic twenty-four-hour eatery at Ninth and Figueroa, now nestled in the shadow of the metal skeletons of the Staples/LA Live extravaganza. There was a constant need for affordable housing in the city and Southland, and shockwaves still reverberated from the subprime mortgage crisis fueled by speculator greed. The various marquee projects in the pipeline for downtown–from the plan to recreate part of Grand Avenue into the Champs-Élysées of the West, replete with a Frank Gehry-designed hotel, to the rapid conversion of former sweat shops into pricey lofts–suggested a city administration determined to high-step its way out of the problem. But as any student of social history could tell them, you’re like to drop into a hole at some point if you’re looking only out there and not at the ground.

“I guess he just wanted to fuck with us,” Waller said. He put more butter on his large pancakes and doused the stack with syrup.

“Glad it didn’t mess with your appetite,” Cyrus Kang kidded. He’d barely had any of his cheese omelet. Two tables down from them a drunk couple in evening wear snuggled side by side and fed each other runny eggs. Jeez.

Waller chomped on his food. “Sheee, bruddah,” he said over his mouthful, “better keep your energy up, son. You in this shit now too.” He began sawing more pancake loose with the side of his fork.

Kang shook his head. “I gottta tell sis what’s up, Conrad. She’s one big pain in the ass, and I take unnatural glee in buggin’ the shit out of her, but she’s on the ones and twos up there in DC. I can’t be screwing up her career.”

Waller regarded him, swallowing. “Yeah, I guess you do. I just don’t want this to get all, you know, funky.”

“Bit late for that,” Cyrus Kang said, dialing his sister’s cell phone, figuring to leave a message.

* * *

Desdemona Valdez had the last puff on her cigarette and flicked the butt away over the balcony’s railing. She let her eyes flick toward the car with its occupant again but gave nothing away in her body language. The cold air braced her as she redid the sash on Kang’s kimono-style robe. She re-entered the apartment’s bedroom through the sliding glass door.

She was surprised to see her new paramour on the phone. “Throwing me over already, you heartless tart.” She sat next to her on the bed and the Congresswoman put a hand around her waist as the cop kissed her neck.

“Okay, Cyrus, absolutely, I want to meet with you and Conrad as soon as possible.” Kang looked at Valdez as the detective reached for something in her purse.

To Be Continued…