Previously on Two Days Gone, check out: “Part I.”
Rich drives the 405 Freeway south toward San Pedro with half of his attention focused upon a stack of photographs from Mr. Rosenthal’s wallet. Traffic forms about the rusting Bel Air, pushing droplets of coolant up the doors. Flares and cones cut four lanes of coasting American Dream into two angry pathways of congested retreat. Cars escape down an off ramp in the rearview mirror and up the distant Carson Exit. Caught in the middle, the detective lowers his vision onto a disturbing piece of evidence.
He discovers a photograph featuring Gwen and tosses it into the glove box, “Igor will have to explain about this one someday soon,” forever severing it from the stack.
The long dial of a circular clock dug into the Chevy’s dash ticks slowly past 4:00 p.m., giving Rich less than an hour to catch his mysterious meeting.
“Who is that voice on the machine,” he replays the message on his smart phone over and over without discovering a single unique inflection, “sounds like a digital voice scrambler.”
Three bullet casings and a ball of receipts from Henry’s Whiskey Shack tumble onto the passenger’s seat as the glove box shuts with a hollow, “bam.” Rich’s attention is jolted toward traffic as it finally begins to advance. Steam rising from the engine block coats the air with a foul mist to the objection of the driver to his right. She receives no sympathy as Rich cuts her minivan off and accelerates free from congestion.
Reaching the amazing speed of 55 miles per hour is a rare feat for any vehicle caught in the Los Angeles Basin’s work commute. The detective summons his blessing and thunders toward the port with duck taped rubber hoses and yet another dented bumper from the swap meet scraping across the concrete. Rich knows an unpleasant tow truck ride is in his future, yet he is drawn toward the secret meeting with robust determination.
A large blue sign demands “Port of Los Angeles: Commercial Traffic use Exit 38-A, Trucks use Exit 38-B.”
Not a single car or truck dares to disobey, “Time to make sure I am not being followed.”
The Chevy darts onto Exit 38-B and Rich slams his foot down onto the gas. He matches the speed of two big rigs and carefully pulls between them. An unmarked Crown Victoria passes followed by a pair of patrol cars. None of the savvy highway patrol officers seem to notice a busted classic car coasting between twenty two tons of thundering steel. An accident investigation turnoff jolting out from the side of the slow lane provides just enough space to cut down onto city streets. Bald tires struggle to maintain traction as Rich steers through the turnoff. He quickly regains control with a jerk of the steering wheel and decelerates down the face of a dirt hill.
A tan pickup truck rumbles to a stop before an intersection at the base of the off ramp. Jade streaks of coolant across the driver’s side door reveals that it had indeed been following the Chevy. Tinted windows about the truck begin to lower as the driver refuses to enter street traffic.
Rich is unable to catch a glimpse of the driver as he descends into an empty alleyway at the base of the hill, “Well, at least I lost my tail.”
City streets blanket a bluff in the distance, overlooking the entire east side of a bustling port, “but there is no time to double back and see who it is.”
An arrow sign indicating, “Docks 11 -15” points towards an access road connecting the bluff to the outer docks. The Chevy coasts up to the base of the raised road and dies with a sickening “Thud.”
Daisy is reloaded with unnumbered hollow point rounds, turned flat against the back of a loose fitting thrift shop dress shirt and slid into her holster. F.B.I. field glasses are wound with electrical tape until the lenses no longer give off a reflection when elevated towards the sun. A nip of whiskey is pulled from a metallic flask before it is returned to a rack below the driver’s seat. Three seagulls are scattered from an oxidizing roof as a weary detective rises into the briny evening breeze.
Rich struggles to find his base yet the surroundings seem altogether foreign. He has been severed from the ordered vertical structures of downtown and cast into a horizontal maze of endless winding alleyways. Concrete passageways are blocked at diverging angles by truck size metal shipping containers, each filled thick with abandoned cargo or rusted out beyond repair. The top steps of a crumbling staircase lead to an intersection where the access road ends at the docks. A deep breath of cool salty air reminds the detective to be professional and prepare, yet a part of him doubts that he was ever so organized. He exhales hot building uncertainty and takes the climb.
The access road leads to a platform where national security is reduced to a deadbolt across the joint of two chain link fences. Rich defeats it with a slow clumsy climb, failing to attract the attention of nearly two dozen guards patrolling the docks below. A German Sheppard before each sentinel seems more interested in groups of swooping seagulls than a man scaling onto the far end of the port’s low security area.
Rich finds a rusty ladder dropping down into the ocean and descends half way towards the waterline. He slides his body between a meshwork of thick beams below the platform where an unusually bright sunset is blocked by the bluffs. Several of the outer docks are visible from his vantage point, yet none of them have any ships in port. A zoom his field glasses reveals a flat concrete cargo area below the platform flanked by a sign indicating, “Dock 12-B.”
A zoom towards the base of the sign reveals a clear view of two women standing between two pallets of collapsed cardboard boxes. Their arms and lips flail about admits heated discussion. Rich zooms in to view their faces and is shocked to discover their identities. Sasha Rosenthal extends an open hand towards a woman draped in a long flowing brunette wig. The woman accepts a pair of memory cards with a wicked smile that could only be harnessed by Angelina.
“What the hell? Mrs. Johnson is supposed to be in lockup awaiting trial and Hillenbrand promised me that she would not be eligible for bail,” Rich is overwhelmed with a riptide of confusion, “How could she be here summoning Angelina?”
A red light at the top corner of his smart phone indicates a lack of service, “Great, now I cannot call out the liar.”
Women part ways just as Rich spots a distant guard slowly making his way towards the raised platform. Confusion and a rising waterline force the detective back up the access ladder. A brisk jog to the fence at the platform’s edge and a climb onto the access road make for an easy escape. Loafers slam down onto a pile of asphalt crumbs as the approaching guard disappears behind an adjacent port. Rich reaches down to readjust his argyle socks and rises to find the tan pickup from Exit 38-B blocking the road. As usual, raised tinted windows conceal the driver’s identity.
“What do you want,” the truck’s engine revs hard with pluming clouds of black exhaust, begging the detective to act.
The concrete stairwell Rich used to reach the access road is sealed shut with a freshly locked razor wire fence, blocking all access to his car and the alleyway below.
A ten foot drop from each side of the road leads to either the roof of his Chevy or the top of a thick storage container, both far more appealing than the alleyway’s jagged asphalt surface.
“Screw this,” Rich defies the driver’s intent by dashing straight forward.
The idea seems like sound plan until the driver’s side door suddenly swings open, knocking Rich off the side of the access road. He closes his eyes and braces for a harsh slam. Thankfully, his side finds the unyielding top of a thick storage container rather than the Chevy’s rusted out roof. A mild “thud” and the ruffling of loose pants echoes down from the access road above, motivating the detective to retreat.
Rich ignores an aching side and swollen shoulder, finds a ladder cut into the side of the container and makes his way down onto the asphalt. He circles around to the front of the container where an open door greats him with ominous intent. The mouth of a steel wolf forces Rich backwards against a warm object. Hot heaving breaths meet the back of his neck and two meaty palms press against an aching back.
Rich is shoved forward into foul darkness, sending Daisy crashing onto the ground outside the container. The cool ocean breeze instantly turns hot and dirty about a sticky floor. The detective swivels his body around just as the container’s door is slammed shut with a thick “Blam.”
“If you wanted me gone you could have sent me on a week’s vacation to the Bahamas,” panic resurfaces in the form of sarcasm.
It takes only a few seconds before the reality of solitude sets in. Pitch blackness and ten years worth of residue from transporting moldy fruit builds into a nasty monster. It chases Rich to a huddle against the rear of the storage container. He holds his side and attempts to temper a raging headache with long deep breaths. Bellowing horns of ships floating into port and the isolation of the outer docks makes yelling for help a ridiculously pointless option.
“Both Mrs. Johnson and Sasha Rosenthal could have done this to me, but they were just too far away. No way, there was no time for them to get back here,” bewilderment surfaces, “one of them must have contracted this job out to… wait, what about that voice on the phone? Could this be the work of a new enemy? I have made so many in such a short amount of time.”
A faint red light emanating from the top corner of Rich’s smart phone is the only visible sign of life inside the shipping container. Objects clank against his loafers and roll about the ridged metal floor, yet he has no interest in anything other than full freedom. The squelching calls of a seagull passing over the roof are a wicked tease. He comes to know what a terrible thing it is to envy the pitiful pigeons soiling the windowsill outside his downtown office. Even they enjoy an occasional peek inside at the life that the detective had only recently reacquired.
Occasional wafts of misty brine quickly become the only remaining gifts from the outside world, “I should have joined the Navy.”
Echoes of each word fire back from the metallic interior walls in twisted pitches, ricochets of desperation each one.
“And poor Gwen, can she and Igor really take care of each other,” thoughts tumble about a weakened mind, “Do I even want that?”
The squeaking joy of two rats frolicking in the far corner greets the detective’s ears with shrill torture, “I know that I have been shoved in the back like that before. But when was it and why? Well that is it then, this must be about revenge.”
Darkness is where paranoia comes out to play.