once and retired it to a junk drawer.

As he waited for the light at Hill Street, he thought of the bright stained glass, agents and cops standing in line, the sound of Rico's sisters sobbing.

The light turned green and he continued on, crossing the street among a group of middle-aged women. Hell, he was close to their age. Behind him were twenty years of 'street time.'

Staying on the street, with his sleeves rolled up, had been his own choice. Asking questions and getting answers was what he was good at, climbing the ladder to the printing press, beating the bad guys. Leave the pencil-pushing to those who took their transfers to the ivory tower of Washington, D.C.

Now, things had changed, Because of Rico's murder he knew he was headed for the barn. The first rule of bureaucracy is that somebody always has to take the blame. They would say that his security precautions at the motel had not been adequate. They would transfer him to the Washington, D.C., scrap heap. Had he done the right thing by refusing the promotions that had been offered him through the years?

He passed a penny-stained goldfish pond known as the Chinatown Wishing Well and turned down an alley.


A man's voice behind him. Higgins, a muscular man with short blond hair, walked toward him down the alley with a paper napkin tucked over his belt buckle. His pants were baggy and he wore a plaid sports coat with a revolver bulge on the right side. Approaching Carr, he pulled the napkin from his belt and wiped his mouth.

'Just chowing down,' he said. 'Saw you pass by the window. I need to run one by ya.'

'Shoot,' Carr said.

'I'm looking for a guy who slit an old lady's throat. Snitch says the guy who did it has a nickname-'Trash- Truck Jimmy.' S'posed to have done time years ago for passing queer twenties and tens. Ring a bell?'

'Jimmy Tortamasi,' Carr said. 'He did time in Terminal Island about five years ago for passing. Escaped once by hiding inside a trash truck. He walks with a limp now. The truck had a hydraulic compacter, and he figured there was enough room for a body between the pusher and the back wall of the truck.'

'I take it he figured wrong.'

'Right,' Carr said. 'It crushed him like a grape. After a year in the prison hospital he was good as new … except for the leg. Jimmy should be about forty-five now. When he's out of the joint, he usually lives in one of the fleabags around McArthur Park.'

Higgins was writing the name down on the napkin. 'T-o-r-t-a-m-a-s-i?' he said.

Carr nodded.

'I told my partner, if the dude was into bad paper, you'd know who he was.' He put the napkin in his shirt pocket and stepped a little closer to Carr. Suddenly he looked embarrassed 'I'm sorry about Rico. I didn't get a chance to make it to the funeral…”

'I want to know everything you hear about capers with sawed-off shotguns. Call me night or day.'

'That's a promise,' said the detective.

Carr swung open the door at Ling's, and glass chimes rattled. Sunlight splashed along the bar, revealing rows of brandy snifters with tiny parasols. On the wall hung a swan-scene tapestry and a photograph of the spectacled Ling and his brother wearing bow ties.

A dusty jukebox in the comer (known to the badge-carrying regulars as Ling's Hit Parade) waited to blend outdated tunes into the usual field office and precinct house chatter. Because of the early hour, the four worn Naugahyde booths nestled against the opposite wall were empty.

Delgado sat at the bar alone. He stood up and greeted Carr with a strong handshake. He had been the agent-in-charge in Los Angeles years ago, before his leadership abilities had vaulted him to Washington, D.C.

It was no secret that Delgado and Carr were old friends. Without a friend in Washington, Carr could never have managed to avoid the bureaucrats' obsessive love of transfers and remain in Los Angeles. Of course, wanting to stay in Los Angeles was a desire few other agents could understand. While most other T-men couldn't wait to buy a set of golf clubs and ship out for three years of 'eight-a-day-Monday-through-Friday' in Phoenix or Portland, Carr preferred LA's big-city action. Undercover buys, search warrants, and conspiracy cases were his cup of tea. Besides, Los Angeles, from sandy-floored beach bars to the shady edges of the tract-house valleys, felt like home by now.

'Greetings, amigo,' said the tall, slim Chicano. 'It's been a long time.' With his full head of gray hair and pin-striped suit, Alex Delgado could pass for a Latin-American diplomat.

'I guess you knew where to find me,' Carr said.

'Right.' Delgado laughed curtly. 'I came here from the airport…Took the noon flight out of Dulles.' He looked ill-at-ease. His complexion had a saddle-soap tinge.

Carr sat down. He looked at the other man's suit. 'You dress a little better now that you're a big-shot headquarters inspector,' he said with a smile.

'I'm such a big shot that I'm bored to death. My job is nothing but political bullshit, staff reports, and phony statistics…Doctor tells me I have an ulcer.' Delgado pointed to his glass. 'Look at me. I have to drink Scotch and milk. I had an operation, but it didn't help, so I've been thinking about pulling the pin. I've got my twenty-five years in, and I'm tired of fighting the ass kissers and pencil heads…' He tore pieces from the wet napkin under his drink. 'How about you?'

Ling set a Scotch-and-water in front of Carr, who sipped, then said, 'Haven't really thought about it.'

'Are you still seeing Sally?'

Carr nodded.

'Nice gal. A really classy lady. The wife and I always sort of hoped you two would get married. You go back a long ways with Sally, don't you?'

'I guess so.'

'Typical Charlie Carr remark,' Delgado said. 'Noncommittal when it comes to anything personal. No, sir, you haven't changed a bit.'

'You have. You used to get to the point a little quicker.'

Delgado ignored the statement without so much as a wince. A survival technique, Carr figured, that he had picked up at the School of Beating Around the Bush on the banks of the Potomac; smile, agree, ignore, achieve.

The gray-haired man dug a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped milk from the corners of his mouth. 'I look at retirement as just a change of scenery,' he said. 'Nothing more. It'll do me good. I don't need the pressure any more. I've done my part. It'll be a welcome change for me. Changes are something we all have to face.' He gulped the chalky mixture and continued. 'It's just a matter of accepting the stages of life. I mean you and I are of another generation. The new guys don't know how it was years ago, before court decisions: Miranda, Escobedo, outlawing the wiretaps… Things are one hundred percent different from when you and I went to Special Agent School. I'm sure you agree.'

Carr didn't answer.

'Seriously. I'm asking your opinion,' Delgado said. He patted Carr's arm.

Carr looked at Ling and made the 'another round' gesture with his index finger. Ling dug into a sink full of ice with a scoop.

'Nothing has changed,' Carr said. 'It's the same street, the same bad guys. The same rules. Only difference is that they don't stay in prison as long-and they all carry guns. That's because they watch TV and they think they are supposed to carry guns. Other than that, nothing has changed. Everything is exactly the same.'

Delgado curtly laughed away from the subject and steered the conversation to small talk. The next two hours were spent talking of ancient cases, almost forgotten girlfriends, and snapping fingers trying to remember bartenders' names at some of the old downtown hangouts.

Though it was one drink after another, neither man became drunk. It was as if it was necessary to pour in the drinks to continue. Carr knew it was Delgado's way.

Then finally came the trunk story. It was almost a ritual between them by now and seemed to grow with every retelling. Undercover Agent Carr, acting the part of a buyer and convincing the seller to accompany him to Big Bear to pick up a package of twenties, Delgado hiding in the trunk of the automobile as protection. Delgado's motion sickness on the mountain roads, the retching sounds coming from the trunk, Carr turning up the radio to

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