Osborne, Waite, and v eteran homicide detective S ergeant Harvey—in his fifties, with thinning hair, but still as sharp as a tack—were in L ieutenant Manley’s office about to go over the case. They looked up to see Larry come through the door.
Osborne grinned and was the first to comment. “So Vanessa finally had enough, huh?”
“She begged me to stay home, but I told her you needed me, so here I am.”
Osborne chuckled, but the lieutenant was all concern. “She’s about due to have the baby, isn’t she?”
“Still a few weeks, but you never know.”
“Well, it’s good to have you back.” The lieutenant gave Larry a brief nod, then focused again on his laptop. “Your reports are always thorough, Osborne, but I like to hear it spoken. Start from the top.”
Larry pulled up a chair and took out his pen and notebook. He had a bit of catching up to do, and he liked to keep his own informal notes.
Osborne opened his file folder and glanced down. “Victim: Maria Ramirez, street name: Lorelei Star, fifteen years old, no contact information available regarding her parents, one misdemeanor charge, dismissed with a warning, assigned to live at the Lifeline House, stayed for two weeks, and then disappeared. The Island Hotel cameras show her at the bar.”
The lieutenant looked down at his laptop and clicked on the video. Osborne continued, saying, “She walks into the lobby, attempts a couple of times to connect, can’t find any takers, sits at the bar for a few minutes, takes out a pack of cigarettes, and glances around the lobby, probably looking for an exit so she can go outside to smoke. She walks down the hallway to the back exit, and that’s the last we see of her alive. There were no cameras where she must have been standing.”
The lieutenant studied the video. “Several men went down the same hallway shortly after Ms. Ramirez. Is there a restroom there?”
“Yes, the men’s room. The women’s is down the other alcove a few feet away. No exit on that side.”
“I’m counting eight men going in that direction just while I’m watching.”
“Most of them, as you can see, do nothing to hide their identity. We can partially see their faces.” Osborne moved to stand behind Manley and waited. “If you’ll allow me . . .” He reached in to stop the video. “These three keep their heads down and, as best we can determine from what they’re wearing, never come back in. Two of them are walking inordinately close to the man in the middle, maybe in an intimidating way. As you can see, a Hispanic busboy briefly bumps into them, but they brush him off and keep going.”
“Did he remember what the men looked like?”
“No. Too many people, and everybody pretty much looked alike to him.”
“So, they were determined to have a conversation in private outside,” Waite said.
Osborne agreed, saying, “And Ms. Ramirez must have been smoking near the exit and overheard something she wasn’t meant to hear.”
“That must’ve been one hell of a conversation to have to kill her to keep it quiet,” Larry said.
The lieutenant was still looking at the video as Osborne went back to his seat in front of Manley’s desk. “There’s hundreds of people milling in and out of the lobby. There’s no way to tell if those three ever came back and no way to know who they were,” Manley said.
“The cameras over the loading dock show one man walking alone down the alley, then two men following him a few feet behind five minutes after Maria Ramirez walked down the hallway. Could be the same men, but we can’t be sure,” Osborne responded. “They kept their heads down.”
“These guys all seem to dress the same,” Larry added. “L ots of blue suits, white shirts, red ties, and a flag on the lapel. They want to look patriotic and conservative in case of a photo op. It’s difficult to tell these guys apart.”
“I’ll have to call in extra help for the interviews. We can’t do them all. I’ll ask Hollywood and Van Nuys for as many people as they can spare,” Manley said.
Harvey looked down at his notes. “Most of the attendees have left town already. We’ll be doing a lot of phone and Skype interviews.”
The lieutenant nodded in agreement. “Tell me about Maryanne.”
Osborne read from his file. “Real name: Maryanne Compton, street name: Melody Lane. She came here from Albuquerque, parents long gone, was raised by an aunt who seems like a nice lady but strict. Came to Hollywood at age fifteen, on the streets for two years before Sergeant Baker helped her get back to Albuquerque.” He turned to Larry. “You want to take it from there?”
“Well, unfortunately, she made the decision to come back to LA. Somehow, she connected with a girl named Tiffany, who convinced her to come to a fake movie audition at the Harland, where she overheard a man talking about a dead hooker and then barely escaped being dragged into a Lincoln Town Car with government plates. She contacted Rosemaria and now is staying at my condo at the beach. We promised her that no one outside this room can know that. I have a strong feeling they want her dead, and considering those plates, it’s somebody who has a long reach.”
The lieutenant didn’t disagree. “Her whereabouts will stay in this room. But she can’t stay there forever. This investigation could end up taking weeks or even months. Hopefully, we’ll nail these guys before that, but that’s not a sure thing.”
“She can stay at our place until we can move her somewhere out of town. Maybe witness protection can help.”
“I really don’t want the feds getting involved with this case.” Manley was adamant. “Find another way. They’ll horn in on this as soon as they get wind of the way this investigation is heading. Protecting politicians is second nature with people in DC. We can’t have that. Keep everything on the DL. Agreed?”
Everyone in the room assented, but Harvey was skeptical. “If we have all those people from other departments doing the questioning, how are we going to keep this on the down low? Somebody’s bound to talk.”
Manley breathed out heavily. “You’re right. I’ll handpick a few men I used to work with. I’m afraid most of the burden will be on us.”
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