The Secret Sign of the Lizard People
Beefy slowed the Crown Victoria to fifty as he made the wide, sweep-ing turn from I-210 onto Interstate 15, heading up into the foothills of the Sierras towards the town of Victorville. A few miles north of Victorville was their destination, the Adelanto Detention Facility, a USCIS administered prison complex run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Leafy and Beefy had visited Adelanto on a couple of prior occasions, and on a light traffic day such as today, the journey from downtown LA could be made in as little as ninety minutes.
It was nine in the morning on the third day of the N. Emma Johnson case, and things seemed to be shaping up quite nicely. The AK-47 had been recovered from the storm drain and was undergoing examination at the forensics lab. The same scrutiny was being applied to the Dodge Charger BADASS 39. Leafy, Beefy and a team of other officers had scoured Rosita's Long Beach home and surrounding property, but apart from finding an illegal handgun in each room of the sixteen-room house, the place had been spic and span and devoid of any other illegal items. Two laptop computers, an Android tablet and four cell phones had been seized and duly dispatched to the Digital Forensics Unit. Armand Hammer had just called Beefy to let him know that those items would receive priority treatment and an examination report would be ready by the end of the day. An interview with their only suspect, Jesús Malverde, had been booked for ten o'clock this morning and with about forty-five miles still left of their journey, that timeline was easily attainable. For once, both detectives were well rested and had a solid plan of attack in place, and the higher they climbed into the mountains the cooler and clearer the air became. Despite the grimness of their destination and the fact that they would soon be in close proximity to a truly evil human being, it felt good to escape the stiflingly hot streets of Los Angeles, if only for a few hours.
Beefy set the cruise control to fifty-four miles per hour and lifted his foot from the gas pedal. The two had been largely silent on this trip; a comfortable, contemplative silence that merely indicated that neither man had anything much to say. Eventually, Leafy chose to break that silence.
"I don't getdancing."
"Yeah, dancing. I just don't get it."
"What's not to get about dancing? You move your body to the rhythm of the music. That's all there is to it. What don't you get about that?"
"It's the whole concept. I mean, where did people ever come up with the idea of dancing? I would never have come up with the idea of dancing on my own. It serves no real purpose. It doesn't provide humans with any evolutionary advantage in the fight for survival. If anything, it's an impediment to survival. It's like, while you and your tribe are strutting your stuff outside the communal cave, the bad-guy tribe from across the mountain sneaks up and rapes the men and pillages the women. And have you ever really watched people when they're dancing? It's a ridiculous way to pass the time. People look silly when they dance. I look silly when I dance. Even top-notch professional dancers look silly when they dance. Am I the only one who sees it like this?"
"Well, first off, Leafy, you're a white boy . . . ."
"That's downright racist!"
". . . and nobody really expects white boys to do too much in the dancing department. Just like basketball. There are a few exceptions - like Shawn Spicey for instance - but by and large white boys are what we in the dancing world like to call choreographically challenged. It's just like being born blind or deaf or stupid. It's a handicap . . . and it's very, very sad. Just get on with your life, man, and concentrate on all the good things and try not to dwell on your disability."
"Do you know, Beefy? I think I'm feeling better about it already. I'm really glad we had this conversation."
They relapsed into a comfortable, contemplative silence. Eventually, Leafy chose to break that silence.
"What do you do with your arms when you're asleep?"
"I really wouldn't know. You wanna know why? Because I'm asleep."
"All right, I'll rephrase that. What do you do with your arms just before you go to sleep?"
Beefy gave the question some considerable consideration, picturing himself beside his wife in their king-sized bed in the moments before unconsciousness.
"I don't do anything with my arms before I go to sleep. They just hang in there, free to do whatever they want to do until I wake up the next morning."
"So you've got this kind of unwritten contract with your arms," observed Leafy. "That when you're asleep, they can goof off and flail around the bed all they want, as long as they're available for whatever you need them for when you wake up."
"You better believe it. I've got the same deal going with my head, my legs, my torso and my penis."
"So you're telling me that your penis has the full run of the house when you're asleep? And when you wake up, you have no idea where it's been or what it's been up to?"
"That's right," replied Beefy proudly. "But I know the old John Thomas can't roam too far because it's securely attached to that very large mass of flesh, bone, sinew and gristle called William Goodness, who in turn is guarded by his very light-sleeping wife. There was a time when my penis might have thought about gaining some sort of nocturnal freedom, but that was all just a crazy dream. So do you have some sort of problem with your arms when you're sleeping? What do you do with your arms before you go to sleep?"
"I don't do nothing with my arms. My arms are just fine when I'm sleeping."
Beefy momentarily took his eyes off the freeway and offered his partner a sideways glance.
"You truly are a facile person," he observed. "Do you ever give any thought to the serious issues of the day? To any of the burning political questions that are facing America at this very moment?"
"Sure I do."
"Well . . . if POTUS and FLOTUS went riding in a Lotus, would SCOTUS even notice?"
"Jesus H. Christ!" replied Beefy, amused and appalled but by no means surprised. "Leafy, you must have realized at this stage in your life that your elevator doesn't quite reach the top floor. And of course, you were never exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier, were you?"
"Hey, that's a serious political question."
"Okay. So what's the serious answer to your serious political question?"
"SCOTUS wouldn't notice, but the voters at General Motors would almost certainly notice POTUS and FLOTUS riding in a Lotus."
"Please don't take this the wrong way," said Beefy. "But you're a goddamned idiot."
"Right back at you, muchacho."
For the first time in several weeks, Beefy switched off the vehicle's air conditioner, and yet again, the two lapsed into a comfortable, contemplative silence. This time Beefy broke that silence.
"I was waiting in line at the bank the other day, and I saw that TV inventor guy behind me in the queue. I can't recall his name . . . but do you remember those commercials about relieving stiffness and sore backs while you're driving in your car?"
"Driva-Bubble, Driva-Bubble," sung Leafy, who never let the fact that he couldn't hold a tune to save his life deter him from singing with verve and conviction, "alleviates your spinal trouble."
"Precisely," affirmed Beefy. "He's the one who came up with the original idea of cutting a hole in your vehicle's roof and fitting a Plexiglas dome so you can stand up while you're driving. Apparently, the optional treadmill attachment was his wife's idea."
"You see, Beefy, ideas like that are what's going to Make America Great Again."
"Damn straight they are! It's just like that recumbent exercise couch with the built-in TV and soda pop dispenser that my wife got me for our anniversary."
Coincidentally, a blood-red Bugatti Vayron II overtook them at a high rate of speed with a Driva-Bubble fitted to both the driver and passenger sides of its roof.
"Wasn't that David McSavage driving that? The boss of that brain-washing, pseudo-scientific, anti-psychiatry, holy-roller cult over on Sunset Boulevard," queried Leafy.
"David Miscarriage," corrected Beefy. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I think it was."
"It looked like he was punching somebody out in the Driva-Bubble next to him."
"That's okay . . . as long as it was for purely religious reasons."
"First Amendment rights? Right?"
"You better believe it," asserted Beefy, knowledgably. "You're free to beat up whoever you want to beat up in this country, as long as it's in the name of the Judeo-Christian-God or some other authorized deity or force. And of course, the beating has to be connected with a legally-recognized, tax-exempt religion."
"The Founding Freemasons thought of just about everything. In-freaking-credible attention to detail! It makes me proud to be American, so help me God and hope to die."
"Leafy, do me a favour - please don't sing the national anthem again."
"Oh, say can you see . . . ."
Beefy knew that while Leafy's cacophonous rendition of Francis Scott Key's epic poem was super-hard on the ears, it was at least born out of true patriotism. He took his right hand from the steering wheel and, as he always did for the SSB, placed it with the utmost of solemnity over his heart.
* * *
According to the late Jesús Malverde, the money-man behind the attempted assassinations of Dr. Hugo Fürst was Binder Dundat - the first syllable of his first name pronounced like the word 'sin' and the second syllable pronounced like the word 'care' - a man who might best be defined in the words Winston Churchill used to describe the country of Russia: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In spite of Dundat's well- documented public persona, nobody - except perhaps the intelligence community - knew exactly who he was or from whence he came. Because of the lavish Bollywood-style television commercials promoting his franchise of hot and spicy Asian fast-food restaurants, in which he himself occasionally played a starring role, Binder Dundat was a recognizable minor celebrity on the west coast of America. Handsome and debonair, talented and witty, he had charmed the pants off several Hollywood starlets, or so the west-coast tabloids had dutifully reported.
After leaving a few slightly dented, discount-priced cans of beef ravioli at the Last Chance Mission's food bank, Leafy and Beefy had spent the rest of the afternoon diligently researching what little was known about Binder Dundat, utilizing their private internet account and surreptitiously calling in favours from trusted law-enforcement sources across the state. As in all unsolved homicides - and they still classified the N. Emma Johnson case as such - the investigation would progress in ever-widening circles around the nucleus of the victim. From previous experience, they knew that extreme discretion was now a necessity because the higher up the food chain they climbed, the more influential the feathers that might be ruffled.
It was 9:45 AM on the fourth day of the case and it was Leafy's turn behind the wheel. Heading west along Ventura Freeway the rush-hour traffic was still heavy, but the radio reported no major snarl-ups and vehicles moved at a good pace towards the Pacific coast. The detectives were heading to the El Ricacho Country Club just outside the town of Calabasas where they had arranged to meet Dundat before he headed out for his daily foray onto the links. The small profile they had compiled on Binder Dundat was divided into two categories: the indisputable facts and the unproven allegations. And perhaps somewhere in between, amidst the layers of hype, myth and downright fiction, the inner truth of the man might be found.
The facts were as follows: He had legally entered the United States three years ago on an Indian passport with the stated intention of exploring business opportunities between North America and the sub-continent. His provable net worth was such that the USCIS had practically laid out a red carpet and a ticker-tape parade upon his arrival. He had quickly set up shop in the Los Angeles area and from there had taken the first steps in the forging of his curry-flavoured empire. His three-pronged marketing strategy had been simple and effective. Firstly, he had overcome the American aversion to anything that tasted even remotely weird by simply Americanizing the exotic flavours. Secondly, he had appealed to the innate macho-competitive spirit of the American people by daring them to climb ever higher on his numbered scale of spicy-hot delicacies. And lastly, he had flown in several big-name female Bollywood stars for his TV commercial extravaganzas, thus presenting to the American public the innate sexuality of the Indian culture. It was a win-win-win situation, and his franchise had taken off in a big way. On a more personal note, Dundat was a confirmed bachelor playboy, an avid and talented polo player and was possessed of a toffee-nosed English accent that he claimed was the result of his education in the hallowed halls of Eton and Cambridge, although no records appeared to exist of his alleged sojourn at either of those institutions.
On a darker note came the long list of unsubstantiated, quietly whispered allegations, some of the highlights of which were as follows. It was suspected that he had simply purchased his Indian citizenship in some untraceable bureaucratic transaction and that his real national roots lay closer to Pakistan or even Afghanistan. It was suspected that he had close ties to international terrorism, including organizations such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and especially the Taliban. It was suspected that he was the American point man for an Afghani/Pakistani cartel that was responsible for the new wave of cheap high-quality heroin that was now flooding the streets of several American cities and that he had been involved in the deaths of countless people, including several American citizens. The rumours and speculation went on and on, but the bottom line was that the authorities appeared powerless with regard to Dundat's alleged transgressions. It was also abundantly clear that he was not the sort of guy that any sensible person might want to unduly annoy. This last point was by no means lost on the detectives, but they were obliged to follow the leads wherever the leads chose to take them. While dealing with dangerous criminals was standard operating procedure for Leafy and Beefy, the terrorist element infused an added measure of caution to this particular facet of the investigation.
With time in hand, Leafy was content to cruise along in the trucker's lane at a steady 55 mph, deliberately allowing his mind to drift from the serious business of interviewing Binder Dundat.
"The LA Times says there's a ton of evidence that the President is secretly an orange supremacist."
"Oh yeah, I've heard of them," replied Beefy, absently. "They occupy the very top tier on the bigotry scale, spend a lot of time lounging around on tanning beds and they want to bring back those old-school lightbulbs. Right?"
"Amongst other things. What do they call those lightbulbs? Incan . . . incandescent."
"Incan descent? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure they're more like Aztec descent. Or they could be Mayan descent. But they're definitely not of Incan lineage."
"Sure. Mayandescent lightbulbs. Why not? That's what Thomas Edison invented and that's what the orange supremacists are all about. And talking of the President . . . I watched an interesting interview with a bunch of people who voted for him in the last election. The interviewer asked them: "What if the President stood on Fifth Avenue and swung a new-born puppy around by its tail while taking a leak on an old, handicapped, homeless woman and screaming at the top of his lungs that Jesus Christ was nothing more than a dilettante, socialist asshole." So this one lady answers from the group: "Well, puppies at that age can be very wilful and sometimes they need some strong discipline. It's just like they say: spare the tail and spoil the puppy." Then this guy from the group pipes up: "Homeless people should make more of an effort to better themselves. And besides, most of them just pretend to be handicapped to get money from us decent folk. The President is just trying to help her understand how much of a loser she is and how truly worthless she has become to both herself and the American people." Then the same lady cuts back in: 'I'm an evangelist and you've got to realize that on rare occasions, the Messiah did show a bit of an . . . ugly side, considering he was the son of God. Remember when he kicked all those merchants out of the temple? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for capitalism and the American dream.""
Leafy lapsed into silence.
"So what's your point?" asked Beefy, on the cusp of irritation.
"No real point. Just shooting the breeze. Trying to lighten the load a little."
"So are we finished with the President-bashing?"
"Well . . . not quite. I see that yet another woman has come forward and accused him of sexual assault," he stated, continuing - just for the sheer hell of it - to pick away at the scab of this particular unhealed wound. "How many women is that now? At least thirty. Right?"
"Stick of gum?" replied Beefy, proffering his brightly coloured pack of Jewcy Fwuit in what he knew deep down was a futile effort to distract his left-leaning partner.
Leafy took a piece of the chewing gum, braced the steering wheel momentarily with his left knee, unwrapped the gum, put the gum in his mouth, crumpled and discarded the wrapper onto the back seat, replaced his hands on the steering wheel and began to chew. Beefy remained silent, soaking in the parched highlights of the scenery through the passenger-side window. But as always, Leafy wouldn't - or perhaps couldn't - let it go that easily and he rubbed a little salt into the same wound.
"Actually, this lady is a pretty famous writer and she accused him of out-and-out rape. It's not often you hear that about one of our sitting presidents. I mean, messing around behind the first lady's back, well that's just standard operating procedure, par for the course and no big deal. But not rape. That's a Class A felony, for heaven's sake! Oh, and by the way, whatever happened to your MAGA ball cap? I haven't seen you wearing it lately."
Beefy had actually caught the aforementioned ball cap in mid-air as the then presidential candidate had flung a bunch of the red hats into the audience at a primary campaign rally aboard the USS Iowa, a decom-missioned battleship permanently moored at the Port of Los Angeles. The republican detective had told everybody who would listen about the fortuitous event on the WWII warship and had occasionally proudly worn the hat with its bold, meaningless slogan around the homicide office. But as the ever-worsening scandals had continued to plague the billionaire's presidency and the evidence had inexorably mounted about his racist tendencies, Beefy had stopped wearing the hat and generally began to favour sports over politics as a subject of polite conversation.
"It's total fake news," Beefy finally supplied, forced yet again - like so many others who had voted for the Grand Old Party in the last presidential election - to either turn a blind eye or attempt to defend the allegations. "The crooked liberal media's out to get him. Besides, the President said she's not even his type."
"So what does that mean? He only rapes women that arehis type?"
"You're twisting his words. That's not what he meant."
"Okay. So what you're saying is that the media somehow persuaded some thirty women to lie about the President," said Leafy, pushing the saline seasoning envelope just a little bit further. "For some reason or other, Beefy, I find that kinda hard to swallow. I mean, that would take quite a bit of organizing, don't you think? A whole bunch of different media outlets bribing or even coercing all those ladies - who apparently don't even know each other - to diss the President like that."
"Like I said, it's all fake news. How do you know what's true? If you and me believed everything we heard, we'd never solve a single crime. The important thing is that the economy is peaking out right now. Lowest unemployment rate in years. Our pension funds are safe and secure. What's not to like about that?"
"C&N says the tariffs might trigger a recession."
"Pinko-liberal, far-left horse-poo-poo," huffed Beefy.
"How about the Access Hollywood video?"
"Nothing more than 'boy talk'. Total fake news."
"The Steele Dossier?"
"English fake news."
"Russian election interference?"
"It's possible, but it was more likely Ukrainian or Chinese interference."
"That's not what the US intelligence community says."
"Yeah well . . . the spymasters get things wrong now and again."
"Collusion with Putin?"
"Affinity for tyrants like KJU and MBS?"
"With Kim in the nuclear club and a fifty-billion-dollar Arab arms deal at stake, what choice has he got but to love those guys and do a little international ass-licking?"
"The DPRK called the President a dotard."
"I still don't know what that means."
"Penile dimensions proportionate to hand size?"
"Who knows?" answered Beefy, giving serious consideration to the question. "That could well be true. It just so happens that I've got really big hands."
"Fake news. He's a self-made man. Everybody knows that. It's just an amazing coincidence that his father happened to be a filthy rich real-estate tycoon."
"Deutsche Bank money laundering?"
"Anybody up for another witch-hunt nothing-burger?" enquired Beefy, holding up two fingers on either side of his head in an eloquent air quote gesture.
"That's just a hyper-partisan baloney sandwich," Beefy responded, sticking to the food-themed defence, "courtesy of the Democrats and their buddies in the crooked fake media."
"Income-tax evasion and charity fraud?"
"All right, Leafy," proclaimed Beefy, with an air of finality and a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Now you're starting to get under my skin."
Leafy had taken it to the limit yet again, and having pushed all the wrong buttons, this was the mission-abort signal for which he had been waiting. He promptly changed the subject.
"Did you see that?" asked Leafy, drawing his partner's attention to a mid-sized RV that had momentarily drawn level with the Crown Victoria before slowly overtaking them on the inside lane.
"See what?" asked Beefy, glad to talk about anything else, no matter how inane or preposterous that subject may turn out to be.
"It's the freakingHardassians!"
Well accustomed to his partner's weird obsession with the lives of local celebrities, Beefy paid little credence to the remark.
"Sure it is," he commented, in a voice heavily laden with irony. "The Hardassians always roll around the freeways of LA in a mid-nineties Winnebago with a rusty propane tank and Arizona plates on the back."
"I'm telling you, it was them. That old hippie-mobile is the perfect camouflage for those guys," Leafy declared, as he swung the big sedan out into the passing lane. "I mean, what better way to keep a low profile?"
"Oh yeah . . . that's what the Hardassians are best known for: keeping a low profile. It's not even 10:00 AM yet, Leafy. Everybody knows they don't get out of bed 'til way past noon."
"Sometimes they have to get up early if they've got a morning pedicure appointment . . . or a photo shoot in San Francisco."
Leafy gunned the big V8 in hot pursuit of the Winnebago and finally settled in some fifteen feet behind the ageing camper's corroded rear bumper.
"Leafy, what the heck are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm keeping up with the Hardassians."
"Did I ever tell you that you're a complete dingle-berry?"
"Let me just check the data-bank . . . huckle-berry, chuckle-berry, google-berry, wiggle-berry, snaggle-berry . . . but no, I don't ever remember you calling me a dingle-berry, never mind a completeone. But you know what? It has a nice ring to it, kind of festive sounding in a cutesy-wutesy sort of way. I'll tell you what: I'll accept my new dingle-berry status if you take back that mean old snaggle-berry dig. You know, man, it's kind of hurtful making fun of a person's overbite like that."
"It's a deal."
"All right, cool. Now let's go and have a chat with this spicy-hot terrorist guy."
* * *