All Rights Reserved.
Dedicated to my best friend.
Journey Teller Lamoureux.
“Riker’s Calling exceeded my expectations in ways I didn’t think possible. The plot’s twists and turns made it truly impossible to put down. It had me guessing what was going to happen next, and then left me speechless.”
-Common Book Sense
“A Fantastic Crime Thriller!”
“Mr. Rico Lamoureux is a master at capturing this reader and
keeping me glued to the end!”
“Riker is the type of character I would enjoy reading again and again!”
-The Scary Reviews
A Stranger’s Tears
I WANTED TO BE LEFT ALONE but surrounded by others. To wander amongst a sea of people yet not be bothered by a single one. This hustle and bustle of the masses helped distract my mind from drowning in the torment of the individual thought of having just lost all that I have ever hoped for. Balancing on the razor’s edge between grief, anger and a numbness that can end all will this self-medicated delusion of trying to avoid the pain kept me from taking my steps out onto one of the many intersecting tracks of Los Angeles Union Station.
This central nervous system of the West Coast has always been a place of wonder for me, countless strangers coming from who knows where and going to places I would often imagine. Sometimes I’d look up at the arrivals and departures, the footfalls shuffling random conversations as the boards would reveal one locale after another.
San Francisco, Seattle, Portland. Landmarks and cityscapes pictured in my mind’s eye. Standing in a dozen different places at once while never leaving this train hub.
How one minute a platform would be flooded with travellers, the next, dead, as if every living soul had been wiped off the face of the Earth.
And so there I was, returning to this mysterious place as a source of solace after walking the downtown streets of Los Angeles most of the night, trying to make sense of the ludicrous, unable to understand the injustice I had been dealt. From one platform to another, the terminal, the garden. How many hours I roamed, how many rounds I made I didn’t know, and didn’t care. But then she caught my eye.
Another lost soul she sat out on platform six, maybe a decade to fifteen years beyond my twenty-one. At first glance she appeared as someone who just might be having a bad day. Perhaps she had been fired from her job or had her heart broken by a boyfriend. Just another face to pass, another story to remain untold. And so I continued on to the end of the line before stopping at its edge, looking out to the tracks that would take all those I had just passed to places far and away.
Perched in stillness I listened as their train came gliding in at my back, its doors giving off the sound of compressed air as they opened to receive passengers, high heels and sneakers scurrying about as if they only had seconds to board.
A few minutes later and last call was announced, followed by doors being sealed and engines being readied. The iron horse was then released from its gate, its awesome power creating a gust of wind that surged over me as it passed. Picking up steam, the more it roared to life the farther it got, the collage of faces departing platform six on their way to the rest of their lives. Goodbye businessman who was
afraid of flying, grandmother taking her last interstate trip, lonely woman who was having a sad day.
The tracks were once again bare, as would be the platform behind me. Too quiet for my current state of mind, and so I turned to head back into the belly of the bustle. To my surprise one person had remained, and as I got closer to the figure the image of the lonely woman reappeared. Had she been too upset to board her train? Or was she like me? Simply here to haunt those who were more alive?
Not wanting to invade her private melancholy I just kept walking, catching another glimpse of her sorrow-stricken face as I did so. It seemed rounder this time, as if swollen with hurt, tears now falling from eyes so red in their raw emotion. I had to fight my first instinct, which was to rush over and offer my assistance, whatever that could have been. A shoulder to cry on? A reassurance that he wasn’t worth it? He who?
The farther I got the more guilty I felt. Someone in that much pain was suffering far greater than having an issue with work or a relationship. And with this realization I had to stop, the single soul of a woman in need back on platform six silently calling out to me far louder than the foot traffic in the terminal.
With cautious steps I approached, then just stood there, nervously searching for the right words. Her line of sight never moved, my shoes now there for her to stare down upon. Then again, maybe she couldn’t see them through her saturation of tears, holding her shoulder bag close to her stomach.
“Ma’am? Are you alright? I…”
She looked up, wiped at her eyes to get a better look at me. She tried to speak, but in the attempt to do so began to hyperventilate.
I bent down to comfort her, to let her know it wasn’t that bad, but upon doing so I saw that it was, a zip tie tightly secured around her neck.
My eyes frantically followed the lethal line of plastic around to her back, where I lifted her hair to discover the tie was fastened to one of the metal bars of this mounted bench she sat on.
I immediately went for my Spyderco, a razor-sharp pocket knife that I would constantly have clipped to my pants pocket, the hollow circle at the base of the blade making it accessible in a fraction of a second with a simple flick of the thumb.
As soon as I cut the line the sound of shattering glass like bottles popping went off on both tracks, my head snapping up just in time to catch the sight of six figures, three on each side, jumping up out of the track well and onto our platform.
With the exception of their height and weight they were identical in appearance, all wearing pure white masquerade masks, all covered in black from their hoodies to their sneakers as they came at us with jagged-edged beer bottles.
Without thinking twice I yanked the stranger I had just cut loose up off the bench. “You got to get underneath it, now!” then positioned myself to guard her the best I could.
Three came at me at once, lunging forward with their broken bottles right before I sank to the ground, their shard glass stabbing nothing but air as the blade of my Spyderco sliced through an ankle of one, the femoral artery of another and then pierced straight up into the crotch of the third.
On my way back up I slid behind the back of the first to take control of him, his ankle wound being the least serious and therefore making him the most likely to continue on. His hand was still wrapped around the neck of the broken bottle so I sliced it loose by way of severing his index finger, holding him as a shield against the other three as he joined his fellow thug in screaming out in pain, both muffled by the masks they hid behind.
“I’ll fuckin‟ kill her!” threatened one of the last three, rushing over to try and pull the woman out from under the bench but only getting off a step or two before tumbling over when I threw the guy I held into him.
I used this second moment of opportunity to take out another one of them, stepping forward long enough to lance his windpipe then turning my attention back to the most aggressive as he tried to make his way back up to his feet.
With a heel stump I crushed one of his knee caps, following it up with a thrust of my blade to one of his lungs, the bottom portion of his white masquerade mask turning blood red as it poured from his mouth.
One left, who was now trying to grab hold of the woman beneath the bench so as to use as leverage, but she was curled up like a fetus, kicking and screaming with the same level of passion as a mama bear, and that’s when I noticed that her hands were protecting her overly-large stomach.
The woman was pregnant.
No longer needing my Spyderco I let it go, sending it off with the whip of my hand to bullet through the air and embed itself into the attacker’s spine just below his neck line. He instantly fell over like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
In less than a minute my life had changed and I knew it couldn’t be random. Although he was bleeding out pretty fast, the only thug who could still talk was the one whose femoral artery I had sliced. I ripped off his mask, revealing a black kid that couldn’t have been that much younger than myself, teetering on the edge of losing consciousness.
I pulled off his hoodie, tied the sweatshirt around the wound and demanded to know what was going on.
“This can’t be random. This isn’t random.
“Who sent you?”
His mouth was moving, but no words were forming.
I slapped him. “Who sent you?!”
Willing his hand to the side of his head, which he had to concentrate to do, his trembling fingertips attempted to dig at his ear but within a few seconds he passed out.
I turned his head to the side.
It was an earpiece.
Just as I popped it out two incoming trains pulled up to the platform, the passengers that came pouring out stunned at the scene before them.
I helped the stranger whose tears had drawn me in back up to her feet, having her take a seat back on that bench she had been zip tied to.
I then inserted the earpiece into my ear, a whisper loud enough to be heard personally directed towards me.
“You continue to inspire, Riker.”
Five words and nothing more, It could have come from any of the hundreds of people now gathered on platform six, or, more likely, someone watching from afar.
And so I would be left wondering, far longer than I could have ever anticipated.
AFTER A DOZEN INTERVIEWS, most with cops I already knew I met up with Max, a detective who had been my mentor for the past seven years.
“You know, Jeremy, we were all worried about you when we heard on the state’s ruling. All the guys were paging you, and I, well, I didn’t really know how to react. From all the work you put into everything I knew you were hurting, but I didn’t expect you to go out and literary prove them wrong!”
I couldn’t help but laugh at Max’s warped sense of humor.
“So what did you find out so far?” I asked.
“Not that much,” he replied. “This one’s turning out to be quite the pickle. With the exception of one adult, the other five who attacked you two were nothing but hoodlums looking for a quick buck. In and out of juvie like it’s their second home, they’ve been known to hang with a few gangs but are only really loyal to cash. This is how they found their way to you.
“This time yesterday, Lamar, the eldest of the crew received a page from an unknown number, some black chick who left a message on his voicemail claiming the two had briefly met at the Dragonfly nightclub out in Hollywood a few nights before. She went on to say she was looking for five hundred dollars worth of rock and ended the message with a meeting place and some flirty line from some rap song or something.”
Max went into his shirt pocket to fetch the little notebook he always had on him, along with the small magnifying glass that he insisted on using instead of reading glasses. He was six months away from retiring but still the most competent cop I knew.
“Do ya really wanna touch it? Do ya really wanna mess with me tonight? And if ya know how I like it, would ya call my name and give it to me right?”
He put his two little old school detective tools back into his pocket and continued with the brief.
“This is what really hooked the perp. Not the potential to make an easy five hundred clams but the prospect of the pussy offering it.”
Again I had to laugh.
“Only twenty years old and already has four bastardized kids. Thinking with his dick more than anything else.
“Ironic thing is, he’ll never use it again.”
All I had to do was shift my look for Max to confirm.
“Yes, he’s the one you skewed into a vegetable.”
I couldn’t chuckle at that one, for even though I knew he never would have provided for his kids anyway he was still a father, something I’ve never had, and now something they wouldn’t really have a chance of having either.
As if reading my mind Max corrected my perspective.
“Don’t even think about it. If anything, you’ve brought them closer together. Remember what I’ve always taught you. Truth is rarely blossoming with flowers. More often than not it’s cold, it’s hard, and if you’re not in alignment with it it’ll smash you to pieces.
“You know damn good and well that he wasn’t going to be anything but a career criminal, with his kids being odds-on-favorites to follow suit. Probably won’t happen, but maybe one day they’ll look at the rotting vegetable and want to set a different path for themselves. Or at least think twice when playing with fire.”
“You and your way with words, Max. How ‘bout the others?”
“Believe it or not, the one you actually stabbed in the dick is going to be fine. The others too. Only one who didn’t make it was the guy you got in the windpipe.”
The first life I had ever taken.
“Did he have any kids?” I asked.
“None that we know of. Are you ok?”
Oddly I was, feeling more bad about the vegetable since he was directly tied to innocent lives. My training up to this point had pretty much prepared me for the likelihood that the line of work I had been aiming for would involve taking out at least a couple of bad guys. What I hadn’t really anticipated was the effect it might have on others.
“I’m fine. So Lamar gets his boys and meets up with the girl, right? What happens then?”
“Actually,” Max went on to explain, “they think they’ll be meeting the girl, but when they arrive at the abandoned warehouse as instructed, at midnight, they’re greeted by a long shiny barrel instead, the banana clip of an AK also sticking out from the shadows, knowing they wouldn’t have a chance in hell if they pulled their pistols.
“Lucky for them, well, that is until they met you, this turned out to be a business offer, not an ambush, or so they thought. The voice with the finger on the trigger didn’t come from some sex pot but rather a male, who they all agree sounded white and young.
“The clown opened with, “Nobody move, nobody get hurt,‟ then he told them that they could keep their drugs, keep their guns, that he was only there to offer them a lot more money than they had come for, if they were interested.
“Directing them over to an empty paint can he had them take out its contents, a picture of the woman you met yesterday with her address on the back, a picture of you, six earpieces and a wad of cash totaling three grand, five hundred for each.
Telling them they’d each get two thousand more if they did what he said he went on to explain the plan. Basically they were to kidnap the woman, have her zip tied on platform six before the morning rush and then once you got there and he gave the go via their earpieces, attack.
“How much of it, it any, is true? We don’t know yet, but their stories collaborate. And as for the woman, anything past a few questions and she starts losing it, so the hospital staff are keeping us at bay, worried that it might jeopardize her pregnancy.”
“But she’s ok? The baby’s ok?”
“Yeah, they’re just keeping her for a few days for observation.”
“But she can’t go back to where they got her from,” I pointed out. “At least not until we get this guy.”
“Hence the pickle. We don’t know what he wants with her, with you. She’ll be staying with a friend when she’s released from the hospital, and we’ll keep close tabs on her and hope we have something to go on soon.”
“Is it ok if I try talking to her?”
“Just what I was going to suggest. She may feel a sense of connection with you, given what you two have just been through together.”
“Who the hell is this guy?” I thought out loud. “And why would he go through so much trouble to try to get rid of me?!”
“I don’t think that was his intention. He knows you and what you’re capable of. He sent those thugs in after you just to start a sick game, whatever that may be.”
“But who? I don’t think I’ve made any enemies, yet. I mean, I’m pretty low key…
“Unless… Do you think it could be Alan Blashaw?” I asked.
Alan Blashaw was a perp from our past, whose stray bullet was ultimately responsible for me wandering Union Station when I did.
“No. That scum has at least a decade left on his sentence.”
There’s only one other name that came to mind.
“You don’t think Williams?”
“I doubt it,” Max said. “He’s an asshole, but not even he would go this far.”
“And what about the mystery girl on the voicemail? Any idea who she is? Were you able to listen to it?”
“Yeah, it’s just as Lamar describes. Probably came from the Dragonfly. You could hear the pounding bass in the background, and in the middle of the call some black guy saying, “You ok?”
“Security? Maybe she’s a waitress, making a call for someone in exchange for a fat tip?”
“Damn the state for being so ignorant,” Max said. “This is why we need you. I know guys who’ve been on the force their whole adult lives who couldn’t figure something like this out.”
Leaving Max with a laugh, I gave my best impression of someone from the streets. “Looks like I’m gonna be doin’ some clubbin’ tonight, yo!”
But before I got to the door he had his own parting words. “There’s still the appeals process, Jeremy. There’s still a chance.”
“I don’t think I can go through the letdown again, Max.”
“Then let’s get busy on the back-up and get you your P.I. license.
“You just let me know when to start placing the calls, and I‟m on it.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I’VE NEVER BEEN INTO THE CLUB SCENE. The loud music, the crowds. I’ve just always seen it as making one’s self unnecessarily vulnerable. But for this particular night such chaos could possibly work in my favor, if something were to go down and I needed to blend in.
I arrived at Dragonfly around midnight, staking a small side table when it became available and flagging down one of the waitresses soon thereafter. From what I could spot there were six working the floor, two of which were black, making the odds fifty-fifty that I’d find the mystery girl right off the bat and soon be on my way.
“What can I get you?”
“An orange juice.”
“With…? Vodka? Tequila?”
“Just the o.j.”
She started to walk away.
“Can I ask you something though?”
Now she looked at me as if I were one of the many guys trying to hit on her. “What?”
“I’m looking for someone.”
“I bet you are.”
“No, I mean a guy who came in here last night. White. Maybe giving a waitress a big tip for helping him make a phone call?”
“What are you, a cop?”
I turned to the side to show her my curved back.
“The police don’t let a Quasimodo like myself work with ‘em.”
She didn’t know how to respond.
“Look,” I said, the expression on her face telling me she was now listening, even if just for a minute.
“My friend Lamar got fucked up earlier today. I’m just trying to find the guy who’s responsible for it. I know none of you girls didn’t really know what was goin’ on, but-”
I then watched as she went to the bar for my orange juice before making her way over to her colleague. The two looked my way, then the one who had taken my order handed off my drink to the other and headed for another table.
So much for the fifty-fifty odds. This is why I’m not a gambling man. Mystery girl looked real nervous as she approached.
“Hey man, I don’t know anything about nothin’.
“The guy offered me a Benjamin to leave one stupid little message and that was it!”
She put down my orange juice.
“I know,” I assured her, “you had no idea what was really goin’ on. The cops aren’t here asking you questions, right? It’s just me. I just need to know what you remember about the guy, that’s all.”
“He said he was just lookin’ to punk his friend. Wrote what he wanted me to say on a napkin and told me to sing a little somethin’ sexy at the end. A c-note for just a few seconds of bullshit. It takes a helluva busy night to earn that much, you know?”
“I completely understand. If I were in your position I would have done the same thing.”
Giving her a sense of relatability helped calm her down.
“So he wanted me to go outside with him to make the call, ‘cause he had one of those new portable whatchamacallits… cellular phones, you know? But I was like, “hell no! I don’t know you! We’re makin’ the call up in here!”
Anyway, he couldn’t get the damn thing to work, the phone I mean. Somethin’ about a signal, so we used the pay phone over by the bathrooms.”
“What did he look like? Anything stand out?”
“He moved like some uppity white boy, no offense.”
I smiled. “It’s cool.”
“And kinda weird lookin’. Like he was clean cut, but at the same time had this 70’s porn star look goin’ on. You know, with a mustache and curly hair, like it didn’t really go with the rest of him.”
“How old do you think he might have been?”
“He gave me the hundred, and a extra fifty, with this.”
She pulled a white envelope out form her half apron and handed it to me.
“Told me another white boy would be comin’ by in a day or two, and to make sure he got it. Then he just left.”
I opened the envelope. The only thing inside was a picture of three people. A polaroid of an older black woman I’d never seen before standing next to Officer Williams, a campus cop who had harassed me back in high school, the number 187 scratched onto the photo over his chest. The last face was of the woman who was standing before me right now.
My thought process was clashing like never before, trying to comprehend, trying to…
“WHAT THE FUCK?!” the waitress suddenly screamed.
“WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU GET THAT?! “
She grabbed it out of my hand.
Realizing the absurdity of the question, that she had just given it to me, she struggled with what to say next. People were now beginning to stare. A security guard was making his way over. I stood up, my free hand now on the metal napkin dispenser at my table.
“Who the fuck are you?!” the waitress demanded.
“What the hell did you guys do to my brotha’?!”
She started to cry.
“What‟s goin’ on here, Tesha?” asked the towering bouncer who had positioned himself to where he thought he was boxing me in.
“My brotha’. He’s been missin’ for a week. You know how the fuckin’ cops are, they ain’t doin’ shit. Last night some white boy come in here and give me this. Gave me a fifty to give it to this other white boy here. He just opened it up, It’s a picture of me and my brotha! With my Moms!”
The thought of her mom being in danger sent her collapsing into the bouncer’s arms. This is when it hit me. Not only was 187 the police code for a murder, but it was also the room number to the science lab at the high school I had graduated from.
“Tesha, I’m just learning about this right now, you gotta believe me.”
“Then how do you know my name?!”
I gestured to the bouncer. “Because he just said it! Look, I think I know where your brother might be. I gotta go.”
Just as I anticipated, big boy opposed. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere. Not until we sort this out.”
“Call the Inglewood police station, ask for Detective Scofield. Tell them it’s about Riker, and they have to get to Inglewood High School.”
Testing his reaction, I stepped forward as if I were going to leave. Sure enough he hardened his stance.
“Nuh-uh. I told you, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
I knew the type all too well. Thinking they were kings of the world just because of their size. With him having no interest in reason and me having no time to waste given that Williams could still be alive I kicked the small table that stood between us into the overgrown imbecile while simultaneously leaping up so I could come down hard on the bridge of his nose with the metal napkin dispenser, now that his hands were busy catching the table.
His nose exploded like a big ripe tomato, his eyes momentarily blinded with blood and tears as I slipped past him and into the stunned crowd of onlookers. Seeing their man down the rest of security fought through the dozens of bodies to get to him, leaving the back exit clear for me to head out and into my awaiting car.
It was the weekend, so even with summer classes the science lab would have been locked up for at least thirty hours.
Plenty of time for someone to do something I could only imagine was horrific.
2nd half of Part 1 posted shortly.