Little Saigon Diary, Chapter 1: "Mr. Jumbles is missing!"

in seattle •  17 days ago

July 2nd, 2018 - detective notes

My name is Walter Morgan - most of my friends call me "Wally". This is the first entry of my diary, so I thought it might be good to introduce myself - beyond the basics, 48 years old, overweight, episodic physical fitness, beer, whiskey, other things a man of my age ought not to do - or what my physician says when I go to get a physical ... so I don't get physicals any longer. At this point? - whatever kills me, kills me.

This diary? - this is just some silly exercise, practice, a friend of mine recommended - he thought it would help to get the ideas, the demons, out of my head; demons, however, are best kept buried ...

I've been a private detective, in the Seattle area, for 15 years, in between bouts of drinking, whoring, failing, homelessness, and every other calamity that besets a man disconnected from the world.

And now I'm here, in this Vietnamese bar/restaurant ... looking for a goddamn cat ... a male calico cat.

"You can't do that here ...", Kerry Russel muttered, then he pressed the glass of cool, crisp, IPA beer to his lips.

"What do you mean?", I didn't know what to say.

"... that ...", Kerry motioned to my electronic cigarette, and he was right. In a non-smoking world, the vape pens are also forbidden, but it's harder to catch, to find, to isolate.

I'd been working this case for weeks, a strange woman from Portland, Oregon, looking for her cat - "Jumbles". Jumbles had gone missing 5 months earlier, during the height of winter. Of course, Jumbles was probably eaten by a coyote, or a homeless person, maybe hit by a car or taken by some female golden eagle to feed her young. Cats go missing, that's one of the things cats are best at ...

"Dude ... I'm trying to be stealthy about it ... but I'll stop if that makes you feel better."

"Well ... Madame Lo would really appreciate it ..."

Madame Lo owned "Lo's Pho" - one of the least reported above average Vietnamese restaurants in Little Saigon, buried behind some dirty streets, a few dumpsters, some homeless people, not far from my apartment. Madame Lo or "Minnie" as she liked to be called by her regulars was 87 years old, her frenetic pace, her quick wit, hid her age - she was a "boat person" and had fled Vietnam in 1975. If she were 40 years younger? - heck, I'd try to pick her up, if she were available. But the place? Her place? - always had a queer smell, something I suppose you get used to, but not something I'd ever want to identify.

"Did you get it?", I was getting frustrated with Kerry. Kerry was a fifty-something unemployed taxi driver that lived off of disability and some other scams. Sure, he probably needs the help, but it's not much of a life - just waiting for a check each month. I met him when he was still a taxi driver, and I was still a cop - he was my C.I. or confidential informant. I can't tell you how many busts on my record were really the result of Kerry's info. But Kerry, he's not what he used to be - some people age faster than others, sometimes the "aging" happens in bursts, almost like puberty (but in reverse). Kerry just sat there, slurped his phở, wiped his mouth, and moved an envelope on the counter my direction.

"... okay ... I spoke to my friend at Pike Place, and he says ... well ... he was telling me that Charlie 'Spots' is running the docks at TA-18 ... and he's no longer following the 'plan' or taking orders ... kind of a rogue ... like he's a 'boss' now ... his own crew and shit ... hey, my friend also gave me that ...", Kerry pointed at the envelope with one of his poorly controlled chopsticks. "You might not know this ... but the docks are getting more dangerous ... the cargo that comes through the Port of Seattle has never been sketchier ... that is a fake export license, destination China."

The woman from Portland paid me $3,000.00 to find her cat. I told her, I pleaded with her, to save her money - up to a point. I try to be moral, when I can - but if someone keeps shoving three grand in my face, I take it. Sure, there was no chance in hell I would find Jumbles, but at least there was something strange about this woman giving me the money. She was young, younger than me - perhaps 30. She was well dressed, professional, and we met at one of the nicer cafes downtown for our first consultation. She was, is, beautiful - red hair, ivory skin with blotches of red, here and there ... I always loved freckles. She gave me her name, Vera Townsend, but it seemed fake - the way she said her name had that tinge of the grift.

"I thought that shit was all digital now, RFID and shit?", I held the document in my hands, and it looked legitimate. The license was really a rectangular card, plastic covered, with watermarks and a bar scan. I had seen a lot of fake documents in my life, but if this were a fake I would be surprised - but I'm no expert.

"... the switch over to digital is years behind, and the dock worker's union is one of the reasons for this ... besides, there isn't the money for upgrades."

I sat there with Kerry for a few moments as he continued to eat, and I nursed my whiskey, and then spoke, "... is that it?"

"Yes ... nothing else ... I really don't have the connections I used to ... the streets are changing fast ... getting messier ... it's hard to know who or what is in charge any longer."

"The cops right?", I said this with my crooked smile - revealing the simple sarcasm of it.

"Yes ... the 'cops' are in charge ... which means no one is in charge."

I wanted to meet with Kerry because of his contacts at the port, and because I'd heard that the old "smuggling cats" story was alive and well on the waterfront. Back in the late 1990's there was a controversy about "lifelike stuffed animal cats" that were actually ... well ... made of cat, made in China. This story was quashed in the press, but it remained as "urban legend" and connected itself, as an underground "cat meme", to the world of cat owners ... at least the paranoid ones ... which is most of them. A few days after taking the money for this case, I got a tip that somebody might be stealing cats off the streets and selling them down on the docks - as f'd up and absurd as this all sounds, it was the closest thing to a "lead" in this case I had. At least there was some path to follow, even if crooked and implausible.

I paid Madame Lo for my whiskey, and paid for Kerry's bill as well. I handed Kerry twenty bucks for the information and he smiled, crumpled the dirty note up, and crammed it in his pocked.

"I'll see you Wally ...", Kerry said just before I left.

"Yeah ... I'll try to grab lunch with you in a few weeks ..."

The door creaked as it swung close behind me. The horrid smell of something dead and decaying nearby filled the air. The streets, covered in garbage and other unidentifiable substances, were "changing" as Kerry said. He was right, except they've been "changing" forever. The streets were always an extension of the city, and the city has always been hard, nasty, unforgiving. Sure, there are nice neighborhoods and bad - but "nice" and "bad" don't mean much in Seattle these days, not when the latest "housing developments" are opening up under the overpass.

I decided to go for a walk ... to ponder my next move.

I told "Vera" that the three grand would cover 100 hours of investigation time, and this was an estimate. I hadn't had a case in months, and my last case was only slightly less demeaning. It was a case involving "adultery", though in 2018 I had no idea what that really meant. Some fat, middle aged, software engineer was afraid his 22 year old Korean wife was cheating on him - and, she was. I told him about it, he wrote out my final check, tears streaming down his pudgy cheeks, and he just tossed it at me. I don't know what happened to him, I don't know if I have the space in my soul to care.

The missing cat was intriguing, for indirect reasons ...

I know "cat people", and yes, they love their cats - but they're mostly like me, and barely have the money for next month's rent, let alone the cash to hunt for their lost feline. It was weird, and the "weirdness" is what made this superficially lame, silly, case ... interesting. The case was interesting because it was anomalous, it didn't fit. I don't know if I was a good cop or a bad cop, given the way I look at the world today ... I would say, "bad cop". I don't believe in cops any longer, I don't believe in much the government has to offer. I was fired from the Seattle Police Department for trying to stop a man from killing his lover - his lover was also a man, and long story short ... well ... I was charged with a "hate crime". The man attacking his lover was holding a gun, a gun that was never recovered. I knew it was there, and later, a few years after I was kicked off the force, a friend of mine told me that it was "possible" a gay-rights activist, in the department, took the gun ... hid the gun ... to stir up controversy ... I was simply the unlucky gent to have his career destroyed in the process.

No, I don't miss being a cop - but I used to think I was a good one. Before I was kicked out I had attained the position of investigator, major crimes. Crimes involving high value loss - ranging from cars, to yachts, to money, not so much banks. Sure, one can imagine "bank robberies" as core to the narrative of city life - but the 21st Century has made this kind of crime fairly ridiculous. It's easier to rent some store front, set up a fake MRI facility, and fake medicare claims, than it is to make any real money robbing a bank.

My thing? - the "weird".

"Weird" is what set me off, got me curious ...

Sure, other investigators had names for what they believed was the same thing - "something is out of place." But something, everything, is always out of place and in a chaotic world expecting "normality" is an error of judgment.

"Weird" isn't a "dirty home" or "the smell of solvents". "Weird" isn't poverty or homelessness - these things are dreadfully normal to those who walk the streets.

"Weird" or weird is really just that general intuition that something is "too symmetric", too perfect.

The case of "Mr. Jumbles" is weird because it is a case at all - nobody in the bottom 90% would do this. Sure, their kids might go to the print shop and print up 100 flyers to staple on telephone poles, but if they're paying for health insurance? - no, anything above $5 for flyers is deeply suspect.

"Vera" seemed "rich", but I learned a long time ago that "seeming" anything was just a good disguise, a good story, and the confidence to sell it. She might have been a nobody - she could be a proxy or courier and have zero connection to the person or persons seeking Jumbles. Whatever she might be, I was certain of this: she didn't really give a crap whether Jumbles was alive or dead, but she definitely wanted to know what happened ...

As I walked, I periodically stopped to tug on my e-cig and look at the document Kerry gave me ...

I was not an expert on forgery, I had a "guy", when I was still a cop, that I would go to - like Kerry, he wasn't exactly "legit", but he did know a forgery. I hadn't seen him in a long while, Mitch Grunk, and I sure didn't know if he was still alive; I did know Mitch's old haunts, hangouts, and I could start there ...

The afternoon was growing late, and I needed to stop at the liquor store and buy my dinner ...

I had a "next move", and given my general lack of initiative or work ethic, I considered that something ...

I would wake up tomorrow ... or the next day ... from a drunken stupor and look for this silly little cat, and perhaps something more ...

On my way back from the liquor store, my friends "Chit and Chat" were sitting on the sidewalk near the entrance ...

"Chit" and "Chat" were homeless men, in their 40's or 50's, and they seemed to carry on the same conversation, every day, when they weren't passed out ...

Chit: "Fuck me?!? FUCK YOU!"

Chat: "Fuck you ... fuck you for stealing my last cold 45 ..." (he meant Colt-45 malt liquor)

Chit: "Fuck you ... you DRUNK ... YOU STINKING DRUNK ... you drank it ... and then you drank mine ..."

Chat: "You're a fucking liar! Fuck YOU!"

Chit: "FUCK ME?!?"

This summer evening, the two were more sedate - almost repeating this as a monastic chant, but with much less anger and vigor than usual.

Chit: "Hey ... Wally? You got any money?"

I have been, most of my life, a soft touch; I took ten bucks out of my pocket and gave it to him.

Chit: "Thanks buddy ..."

"Chit" and "Chat" are better than a triple shot of espresso, they are, in fact, a compass for me. Every time I accidentally slip into the make believe universe that is "Seattle, the AMAZING!", "Chit and Chat" pull me back on course towards reality. Whatever they might be, they are reminders, post-it notes, exclaiming: "dude: this is what normal looks like".

I open the door to my tiny micro-studio, relax on the big leather chair, log on to my computer, and crack open the whiskey, and I forget about "weird missing cat cases" and "homeless men as existential reminders".

... for now I will ponder the meaning of cheap distilled spirits.

More chapters, coming soon ...

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