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Authors: Joseph Wambaugh

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

The Delta Star (30 page)

BOOK: The Delta Star
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***

Later that evening Lupe Luna opened the door and gasped in shock when she saw the detective’s battered and swollen face.

“Don’t make me explain it,” he said. “Just a little police problem.”

“Maybe you should go into some other line of work,” Lupe Luna said, admitting the detective into a feminine and cozy three-bedroom house in South Pasadena.

“I can’t. I don’t know anything else and I don’t know any better.”

“When you called it was like you were reading my thoughts,” she said. “When my daughter went to spend the weekend with her dad, I started thinking about calling you.”

“Got a record player?” Mario Villalobos asked.

“Sure. Why?”

Mario Villalobos opened the paper bag he was carrying. In it was a bouquet of white carnations, a bottle of good California Zinfandel, and a record album he’d brought from home.

“Moldy oldies,” he said, putting the record on the turntable.

Lupe Luna picked up the album and said, “Oh, Mario! ‘Stardust’? Is this what you listen to?”

“I just came from a bunch of confessors,” he said. “I may as well confess too. That’s what I listen to. I’m from another time and I’m going to hell in a hurry. I love your new sporty haircut. You’re a knockout, kid.”

“You look like you’ve been knocked out enough lately,” she said, as the Hoagy Carmichael classic melted out of the dual speakers.

“Wanna dance?” Mario Villalobos asked.

“Oh, Mario,” she said, shaking her head incredulously.

But she moved into his arms and put her head on his chest and they danced in the living room of the little house. She said, “You’re the most peculiar guy I’ve met in quite a while.”

“If only I could find some stardust. Just once. Maybe I could go for it,” he said.

“For what?” she asked.

“If only I could be like an electron gone mad. Just for a moment.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe the excited state of delta to delta-star.”

They were barely moving, only swaying when she kissed him, slant-eyed, heavy-lashed, smoldering, her glistening overbite white in the glow from the lamp.

“Come on,” she said, taking his hand and leading him through a hallway to her bedroom.

“I didn’t come here for this, believe it or not,” he said, feeling a sudden drumming in his blood. “I only wanted to dance to ‘Stardust.’ “

“I don’t care why you came here,” she said, pulling his jacket off his shoulders. “Since meeting you I’ve been in my own excited state.” Then she said, “Get in that bed, Mexican.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter F
ifteen
THE DELTA STAR

The detective didn’t get back to his apartment until 4:00
a.m.
Lupe Luna couldn’t persuade him to stay the night. He didn’t know why he had to spend the rest of the dark hours alone, but he had to. A feeling was coming over him. It thrilled and frightened him. He was light-headed, unsure of whether he might faint, vomit or have a coronary.

Something was generating a kind of energy. His neurons were being bombarded with sensations. He lay in the dark, neither awake nor asleep. He watched sparkling images on his eyelids: Lupe Luna. Black matted lashes. Nipples like berries in buttercup. Then in whiter light like pale cherries in alabaster.

He opened his eyes to watch the black sky through his bedroom window. A dark star showed faintly through the smog. He closed his eyes for seconds or days. When he opened them the star had flared to life! It was spinning in the blackness like an electron gone mad. The star as huge as the sun powered upward in stellar fire. An instant of cosmic excitement!

Then, rising silence. Silver starlight and rain. Cumulus as white as lace. Moonset.

At 5:30
a.m.
in a river of sweat he came up out of bed like Ludwig off the pool table. If he could have managed the Rottweiler’s roar, he might have. At 5:35
a.m.
Ignacio Mendoza was cursing into his telephone in Spanish.

Mario Villalobos, his eyes bulging and pulsating, said, “Please, Professor, try to understand that I wouldn’t wake you if it wasn’t urgent! Now let me repeat the question: Who’s the Soviet chemist most likely to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize?”


Estupido
!
” Ignacio Mendoza thundered, causing the detective to hold the phone a foot from his ear. “I told you that the best work
ee
s done
ee
n America! With some
ee
n West Germany and Britain! Not Russia! You wake me for a
Meec
key Mouse cop question?”

“Please don’t hang up, Professor!” Mario Villalobos pleaded. “I think I’ve been into the excited state of delta to delta-star.”

Ignacio Mendoza quieted down and after a few seconds said, “Anatoly Rozlov. He works
ee
n Dubna, the Soviet version of Los Alamos. He would be the only possibility, but
ee
t
ee
s so remote that …”

“In what area has he done the most notable work?” Mario Villalobos asked.

“Organometallic diradical chemistry, to be sure,” the Peruvian answered. “Specifically,
ee
n studying diradical species as catalytic intermediates. The importance
ee
s
ee
n the development of cheap synthetic fuels.”

“Okay, now give me the name of the Caltech scientist who has done the most notable work in exactly the same area of diradical chemistry. I’m referring to a man who’s made similar discoveries, if not identical discoveries.”

“Noah Fisher,” Ignacio Mendoza said immediately.

“Is he a candidate for the prize?”

“You don’t understand, Sergeant!” the chemist cried in exasperation. “Chemistry
ee
s not the kind of science where a piece of work has instantly recognizable and far-reaching implications! We don’t make fundamental discoveries as
ee
n physics or biology.
Ee
t’s the body of a man’s work, a package of science. I believe that the work of Noah Fisher needs at least five more years to …”

“But his achievements pretty well mirror the best work of Anatoly Rozlov?”

“They have done a lot of separate but identical work.”

“Thanks, Dr. Mendoza,” Mario Villalobos said. “I’ll stay in touch.”

The detective’s hands were shaking when he whipped the eggs into the orange juice. He almost gagged it back up when it splashed into his empty fluttering stomach, but he concentrated on holding it down.

He showered, shaved, and dressed just as he would for duty, except that he wore his best suit and a new necktie. He dropped the keys trying to unlock the door to his BMW and had to pause for a moment to get his nerves quieted. He drove straight to the Hollywood Freeway and fairly raced around the ramp to the Pasadena Freeway north.

It was 8:00
a.m.
before the detective was able to locate the home of Noah Fisher in northwest Pasadena. It was a very nice house on a very nice street lined with flowering trees which shed white and purple blossoms from curb to curb. The woman who answered the door was about the detective’s age.

Mario Villalobos decided not to identify himself. He said, “May I speak to Dr. Fisher?”

“He’s not here. I’m Mrs. Fisher. Can I help you?”

“I’m a friend of Lester Beemer’s,” the detective said. “And I was told that he left some property of mine with Dr. Fisher.”

“Lester Beemer? I don’t think I know him,” she said.

“He passed away,” Mario Villalobos said. “Lester? Did your husband know a man named Lester?”

“Lester?” she said. “Is that the Lester he played golf with at Altadena Country Club?”

“Might’ve been,” Mario Villalobos said. “A few months ago?”

“He called for golf dates. He died”

BOOK: The Delta Star
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