There was a slight drizzle of rain, and typical for Los Angeles, people drove as if it was a blizzard. I was a few miles away from Dominique’s hotel when my phone rang.
It was Devin Doss.
“Oh, Mitch,” Devin exclaimed. “Thank the Lord I reached you. Someone has been in our apartment and ravaged it.”
“What happened, Devin? Did you call the police?”
“No, I wanted to talk with you first. Especially, since I ain’t talked with Cody. I can’t find her.”
“Is she…uh, he at work?”
“She’s supposed to be, but she ain’t there. Won’t answer her phone or texts either.”
“I’ll see if I can get ahold of him and head your way.”
“Thank you, Mr. Detective. I’m scared being here all by myself.”
I sent a text to Cody to see if he was working but got no response. It was likely he didn’t hear his phone buzzing in the crowded club. I tried calling several times, but he didn’t answer.
I was able to reach his boss, Luna Salcedo.
“I have no idea where he is,” she said. “I’ve called and have had no answer. It’s not like him to be irresponsible. I hope he didn’t have an accident or…”
“What time was he scheduled to work?”
“6:00 p.m., and he’s usually here ten minutes early.”
“Over an hour late for his shift is a pretty good sign that he doesn’t plan to come in.”
“I would agree,” Luna said.
“I’ll swing by his place and let you know if I find him.”
“Please do. I’m worried.”
Because of the rain, the neighborhood in Koreatown was dark and empty. I was surprised and excited when I found a parking space in front of Devin and Cody’s apartment building. It’s those little things that made us Angelenos happy.
The light on the second landing of the stairwell was out. That with the tapping of the sprinkles on the window gave me chills I hadn’t felt when I had been there during the day. My steps quickened up to Devin’s door at apartment 302.
I asked, “Any word from Cody?”
“Not a thing,” Devin huffed. “Come on, I’ll show you the damage.”
“I talked to Cody’s boss. She hasn’t heard from him.”
“Oh Lord! I hope nothing happened to her. She best not lose his job whoring around. I can’t afford this place on my own, and Cody’s already late with rent. She better hope she’s in trouble.” Devin put his hand to his lips. “There goes my mouth again. What a terrible thing for me to say.”
“Do you want to show me the damage? Everything out here looks okay.”
“Come with me.”
I followed Devin as he sashayed to Austin’s room. It was empty except for four open boxes sitting on the floor.
I said, “How can this room be ravaged?”
Devin opened the closet door. Two more boxes sat with their flaps open, and the rack was full of hanging clothes.
“All the things in these boxes were neatly stacked and flaps were closed. Look at them now?”
“Hardly looks like they were ravaged.”
“Ms. Cody hasn’t been in this room since the last day you were here. It upsets her too much. Austin’s death finally sunk in. Everything here Dominique left for us to take to Goodwill, but I ain’t done it by myself. I came in to grab Austin’s old rain jacket, and this is how I found the place. Boxes open and clothes moved around.”
“It’s probably a good thing you didn’t call the police over a messy closet.”
“I don’t leave things messy, Mr. Detective,” he hissed.
I asked, “Do you know where Cody parked his car?”
“In this neighborhood there ain’t no telling. If you don’t have a driveway, which we don’t, you park in the first place you can find. Sometimes that means a block or two away. Sometimes more.”
I went out the building and walked two blocks down the street in each direction. Cody’s car was nowhere to be seen. I stepped back inside to see Devin.
I said, “Cody’s car isn’t out front. Where else would he park?”
“Sometimes she goes and parks on James Wood Drive. I keep telling her she’s crazy to do that. Cody goes out the back to get there. Totally cray cray.”
“Show me where.”
I followed Devin down the hall on the first floor. In the rear of the building was a door that opened into a courtyard between the buildings.
“Where does he go?” I asked.
“Straight down that alley, but you’re on your own. It’s getting dark, and I won’t go out that way.”
The courtyard was barely visible from a small yellow light hung on the side of the building next door. There was a basketball hoop, but judging by the board hanging sideways it looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. In one corner was a homeless camp with blankets rolled out and several piles of garbage bags. No one was there to stake their claim. From the courtyard, I took a slow walk up the alley leading to where Cody’s car was parked. The entire alley was free and clear except for a pile of debris midway to the street. There were several garbage bags opened and with trash spewing out. Some broken furniture and an old box spring on its side leaning against a gray stucco building.
Finding bodies is not a habit I enjoy, and I was worried I’d find Cody’s body there. Could also be rats, or some crazy man with a knife or a broken bottle. When I got close my heart sank. Sticking out from behind the box spring was a pair of bare feet. As I got closer there was heavy breathing and grunting sounds. Goddamn in hell, they were still alive.
When I tilted the box spring forward, I found a haggard, grungy woman lying silently while holding a shopping bag from Target. I carefully let go of the box spring and backed away so as not to wake her.
I cased James Wood Drive for five minutes before I spotted Cody’s dark green 2012 Ford Focus parked in front of Ultra-Fast Check Cashing. Cash in Minutes with Low Fees the sign promised.
A car is just a car, and I should have had no qualms approaching it, but experience had taught me that sometimes there are dead bodies inside. It was a day I wasn’t feeling up to reliving.
After growing up in Michigan and North Carolina, I crisscrossed the country while working in the hotel industry. In addition to working in hotels as a bellman, front desk clerk, and reservation call center director, I managed coffee houses, waited tables, sold potato chips off a truck, and even hawked pre-burial funeral plans.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak developed my first interests in art and storytelling. I’d spend hours on the floor sketching and painting and writing stories.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George gave me my first inklings that I’d like to be a novelist someday. Authors Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Gregory Mcdonald and Robet B. Parker, influenced my love of mystery.
I was delighted when I discovered the gay mystery subgenre and the list of writers who inspired me to follow this more comfortable direction are too numerous to mention.
Though my interest in writing began at an early age, entering the hotel business soon after graduation steered me in a different direction. The secretary, the big office and a prestigious title were great for the ego but weren’t all that fulfilling.
As a grownup I was thinking of what I wanted to do when I became a bigger grownup and the answer was obvious. My fingertips have been on the keyboard ever since.
I’m a proud dad, beach bum, and coffee house squatter.
I currently live in the Los Angeles South Bay with my husband, Maurice.
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