They followed the bartender down a wide dimly lit hallway before stopping in front of a large door at the far end. Unfortunately, the smell seemed no better back here than it had been up front. Roger glanced around nervously. The combined stench and enclosed quarters was enough to make anyone claustrophobic and seeing that there were no other exits, he was beginning to feel like a trapped rat. Stealing a quick look over at his partner, he saw that the younger detective's expression seemed completely unconcerned. Roger tried to relax a bit, remembering that Martin used to have dealings with this man back when he was in Narcotics. Obviously, he felt Michael Gadson wasn't a threat to them and he had learned to trust Riggs and his intuition. After all, what choice did he have? The bartender quickly opened the door. "Go on in." He stared down at the floor as the three men filed into the room, then shut the door behind them.
As they entered the room, Greg somehow managed not to gasp. Looking at the sight before him, his startled brain remembered what Riggs had called the drug dealer. And as Riggs had also stated, the nickname Fat Daddy didn't even come close. Greg had never seen anything quite like this man, at least not outside of a circus. He was sitting behind a desk, resting on a sofa because there was no office chair wide enough to contain all that bulk. Even the sofa looked squashed and out of proportion. A smile broke out over the man's broad face as he looked at them. "I'll be damned…It really is you, Riggs. After my bartender told me what happened, I figured it couldn't be anyone else."
"It has been a long time," Martin replied with a grin. "I see you're looking healthy as ever."
Michael Gadson pouted. "I've just lost twenty pounds."
Riggs tilted his head to one side, eyes squinting in concentration. "Oh yeah…It DOES look like you've lost one of your chins. Congratulations."
Gadson's pout turned doleful, the bottom lip sticking out even further. "Well, I guess it's nice to see some things never change." He sighed, a frown crossing his face." I didn't realize you were still with the force. You haven't been around in a long time and then I heard something about you leaving Narcotics." He paused briefly. "What happened?"
A thin smile came over Martin's face as he casually rested a butt cheek on the edge of Gadson's desk. "Oh," he said, his expression hardening ever so slightly, "… Shit happened." He shrugged his shoulders. "But I always come back around"—Riggs' smile widened into a big grin—"You know how much I miss seeing you."
Gadson suddenly burst into laughter, a phenomenon that was fascinating in a grotesque sort of way. Even after he quit laughing, the rolls of fat covering his body continued to shake, like the aftershocks following an earthquake. Hmmm, thought Greg to himself, now he really understood that description of Santa as a bowl full of jelly. Somehow, he had never pictured it as so disgusting. Settling down to a slight chuckle, Gadson looked up at Riggs. "Y' know, I always did feel the love when you were around. It is nice to see you in these parts again. You always helped to keep my life interesting."
"That's what I'm here for."
A puzzled expression took over Gadson's smile. "So, what exactly are you here for?" He looked at the two men flanking Riggs. "And who are your friends?"
"Please excuse my bad manners. This is my partner, Detective Murtaugh and this is Officer Greg Anderson. We're here on a murder investigation."
Gadson's eyes widened. "Murder?"
"That's right." Riggs pulled out a small photo from his shirt pocket, holding it in front of Gadson. "Christopher Duncan."
Reaching out, Gadson took the picture, holding it a moment between two sausage-like fingers before handing it back to Riggs. With a shake of his head, he said, "Don't know him."
"Well, this is from his driver's license photo and you know how shitty they can be. I'd show you the morgue pictures, but trust me; they wouldn't be of much help." Riggs put the photo back into his shirt pocket.
"You're sure you've never seen him before?" asked Roger.
"Well, that's odd," injected Riggs," 'cause he made a hell of a lot of calls to this place."
"Maybe he liked to eat here."
Riggs rolled his eyes. "Please…the last time this 'restaurant' actually served something that wasn't purchased in grams, Southern California was nothing but fucking orange groves." Martin's voice turned serious. "What happened? Duncan owe you money? "
"I believe all that long hair must be interfering with your hearing, Riggs... I SAID I don't know the man."
Riggs leaned over the desk, eyes narrowing. "Who are you trying to fool here? We've looked thru the DOA'S financial records. He was in debt up to his eyeballs, he had enough coke in his system to keep half of Hollywood buzzing and he called this lovely place of establishment on a regular basis."
Gadson shrugged. "Could just be coincidence."
"Coincidence?" Riggs shook his head. "No such thing in a cop's world." He glanced at his watch. "I guess we'll be on our way. It's almost your feeding time and although I'd love to stay and watch the show, unfortunately, we do have other places to go."
"What a shame. Do come back, Riggs, when you have more time to stay and chat."
Riggs lifted himself off the desk, smiling as he headed for the door. "Don't worry. I have a feeling you'll be seeing more of me."
"Ahh…just like the good ole days."
"So do you think Gadson was lying?" The three men were just pulling back into the police parking lot when Greg posed the question. Riggs and Murtaugh both glanced back at him.
"Of course he was," muttered Riggs.
"How do you know that?"
Martin stared at the rookie for a long moment before finally shrugging his shoulders. "Everybody lies to the cops, whether they're guilty or not."
Roger nodded in agreement. "I think it must be a national past time."
Martin laughed as they got out of the car. "Yeah…if you want to be loved and respected, join the Fire Department, 'cause it ain't gonna happen with the LAPD."
Looking at Greg's crestfallen expression, Roger felt a sharp pang of sympathy hit deep inside him. Despite all his years on the force, he could still remember how it was when he had first put on his uniform; the pride he had felt on his first day of riding patrol. Even though he found out soon enough what a cop's world was really like, he didn't want to take the anticipation and excitement away from Greg just as he was getting started.
Roger gave a smile. "Look, being a cop isn't easy, but despite all the bullshit, it's an important position. You don't always get the appreciation, but you can't let that stop you from doing the job." He gave the young man a pat on the back. "See you tomorrow morning."
Riggs stood silently, hip cocked to one side, arms crossed over his chest, watching as Greg left. After a minute he turned to face his partner, eyebrows angled down in bewilderment. "What was THAT all about?"
"Oh, nothing… See you tomorrow."
Roger was smiling widely as he hung up the phone. "Hey, Riggs—good news."
"What? Trish's mother not coming in for her bi-annual visit?"
"Oh, shit…" Roger's enthusiastic grin crumbled away as he glanced at his desk calendar. "That's still almost a month away. Why the fuck did you have to remind me?"
Martin snickered. "Cause I just love to see that look on your face. Man, you'd think you were taking that final walk to the electric chair."
"Ha, ha," Roger growled. "So glad I can keep you amused."
"Oh come on, Rog. She's not that bad."
"Hmph… She doesn't mind you. You're not married to her daughter." Roger shuddered. "Please let's change the subject. I'd rather discuss the murder investigation."
"So, you'd rather talk about the rapidly decaying state of our fine city than your mother-in-law?" Martin threw his hands up into the air as he took in Roger's glare. "Okay, you win. Besides, we don't need to let Greg know all about your personal problems, do we?" He pointed to the phone. "What was the call about?"
"Forensics. They pulled a print off of the victim's eye glasses."
Riggs straightened up in his chair. "No shit?"
"Damn, I love modern technology."
"And it gets better. It was a near perfect print. They were able to get a hit off of it." Roger looked down at his scribbled notes. "Matched up to one Bernard Simmons."
"BERNARD?" Martin's face curled up as if he had just bit into a lemon. "Ewww…sounds scary." His voice was heavy with sarcasm.
"Well, apparently Mr. Simmons has a rap sheet even longer than your list of reprimands. Sounds like a lead to me. They're sending everything over to us right away."
As if on cue, the fax suddenly whirled into life, spitting out paper from its nearby resting spot. Martin looked over his shoulder at the regurgitating machine. "Hey, Greg, that's probably our stuff. How about get it…and while you're up, grab that bag of chips off of MacCaskey's desk. I'm starving and he needs to watch his cholesterol level anyway."
"Sure thing." A minute later, Greg deposited both items onto Riggs's cluttered desktop. Snatching the bag, Riggs ripped it open, shoving a handful into his mouth while flipping through the faxes, Greg still standing beside him. He stopped suddenly, eyes widening.
"Omhh schhmidd," he mumbled loudly, trying to talk around the mouthful of junk food as he pointed emphatically to the papers.
"What is it, Riggs?" Roger asked, eyes rolling to one side. "You're spitting out chips everywhere. It's disgusting, man."
Greg looked over Martin's shoulder. "Oh, wow," he murmured, looking back up at Roger. "It's the bartender."
Grabbing his mug, Riggs managed to wash down the remaining chips with a swig of cold coffee. "I am LOVING life today!" he yelled out, holding up the mug shot for Roger to see. It was indeed the bartender from yesterday. He had been wearing a beard at the time, and his hair was longer, but there was no mistaking those beady little eyes shining out as he glowered into the camera. "We got him, Rog!" His voice rose in triumph. "We got him!" Jumping to his feet, Martin grabbed his Beretta from the desktop. He was practically bouncing in pure glee as he tucked the gun into the waistband of his jeans. "Ahh, yes…" he murmured, his grin widening. "I do believe I detect the sweet smell of victory in the air."
"Really? I just thought that was the lingering odor from your damn burritos," grumped Roger, putting on his shoulder holster.
Riggs just gave a sad shake of his head. "Y' know, Rog, you gotta quit hanging around me. You're really turning into a smart-ass."
Roger clutched the armrest of the passenger car door in a death grip, narrowed eyes watching the landscape race by. How in God's name had Riggs managed to talk him into driving over to the suspect's residence? He tried to remember how the conversation had gone but all he could concentrate on was the traffic that Riggs was whipping in and out of like some crazed video game. Roger turned his head just enough to catch a glimpse of Greg, who as usual, seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. A wide grin was plastered across his face as if nothing were wrong.
Sighing, Roger faced front. Oh, the folly of youth… or maybe he'd watched so many damn TV shows, he believed this WAS the way cops were suppose to drive. Roger's thoughts were suddenly interrupted as he found himself thrown forward, head nearly cracking on the dashboard. "SHIT!" He scrambled back up as the car fishtailed, tires squealing.
Martin gripped the steering wheel as he buzzed around another vehicle. "Damn Sunday drivers," he muttered, glancing into the rearview mirror at the sound of a large thump from behind his seat. "Greg, Greg," he tsked, "Remember… You should always wear your seatbelt."
Roger scowled, looking over his shoulder. "You alright back there?"
A muffled affirmative drifted up from the floorboard. Roger turned around again, pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes closing. "Martin, please try not to kill the rookie."
"Right-O, boss man." Riggs chuckled to himself. "Don't worry, we're almost there."
Roger stared out the car window, his own expression turning even more troubled. "Somehow that really doesn't put me at ease."
Ten minutes later, they pulled into a parking space on a small side street. Facing Bernard Simmons' building, Roger took in the decrepit apartment complex with its faded chipped paint and rusted ironwork. Thick clumps of weeds grew in the broken front pavement.
"Guess he doesn't make much tip money."
Riggs pulled out the Beretta, rechecked the clip, keeping it held in one hand. "Well, he didn't exactly have the best social skills for someone in the food and beverage industry."
Twisting in his seat, Roger faced Greg, his expression hard. "Now, you are to observe from a distance, alright? Do as I say every single step of the way, understand?"
Greg nodded solemnly. "Yes sir."
"Are you wearing your vest?"
Greg nodded yet again. "Yes sir."
Finally satisfied, Roger nodded back and they stepped out of the car.
Once inside, they went over to the elevator, Roger pushing in the button for the fifth floor. After five minutes and no elevator, Riggs gave an impatient shake of his head.
"Rog, I don't think this thing is working."
"Great… just great," Roger muttered. "Now I have to drag my ass up five flights of stairs?"
"Hey, look at the bright side. You won't have to go to the gym this week."
They made their way up the stairs, Roger grumbling under his breath the whole way. Reaching the top, Martin opened the stair well door, easing his head out slowly. "It's all clear," he whispered. They moved quickly down the corridor, heading for Bernard Simmons' apartment which was located in the middle of the hall. Riggs slid quietly into place on one side of the front door, Roger in position on the other. He drew his own gun, motioning for Greg to step back even further. After a quick nod to his partner, Roger rapped on the door with the gun barrel.
"Bernard Simmons, open up! LAPD!" No response. Roger knocked again, louder. "Open up! LAPD!" He glanced to Riggs, eyes narrowing at the faint shuffling they heard coming from somewhere in the apartment.
Riggs gave a sigh. "Look, BERNARD, let's do this the easy way, alright? Unless you actually enjoy getting your head cracked open, you'll get out here. We need to have a talk."
"Brother…why do they always make us break the door down?" muttered Roger in aggravation.
Martin gave a shake of his head, one hand reaching for the doorknob, when his eyes widened. The clicking noise was so soft, so barely perceivable; it would be easy to think one had imagined it. But Martin knew that he had not and pressed himself back against the wall just as the door blew outward. Greg jumped in surprise, placing both hands over his ringing ears as the deafening noise rippled down the hallway in waves. He stared at the large opening that had inexplicably appeared in the center of the door.
"SHIT!" Roger exclaimed, then turned, grabbing Greg by the arm. "You all right?"
Martin threw a hand out, a frown appearing on his face. "Hey, what about me? I was the one closest to the door!"
"Riggs, don't be such a crybaby. You can take care of yourself."
"Oh, nice to know how much you care." He pointed to the ragged hole. "Damn double-barrel shotgun. Woulda cut me right in ha—"
Roger rolled his eyes, lips pursed together tightly. "Are we gonna stand out here and argue or are we gonna go in and get this asshole?"
"Don't worry," replied Martin, "I'm all for getting the asshole." He gestured with the Beretta. "Greg, you stay put."
Greg nodded earnestly, his expression tense. "Should I go to the car and call for backup?"
Martin stopped suddenly, head swiveling around to latch his steely gaze onto the young man. "Backup?" His excited tone of voice had turned icy. He gave a shake of his head, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I think we've got it covered." Then without another word, he threw a shoulder against the door, knocking it open.
He barreled into the apartment, Roger a step behind, and the two flatten themselves against the wall, eyes going over everything in a quick glance. The place looked as bad as the outside of the building did with holes punched into the filthy walls and debris littering the floor. And it was empty. Glancing at his partner, Roger pointed towards the back. Riggs nodded and they proceeded down the hall. Working quickly, both men swept through each room but came up empty handed each time. After a minute, the two of them reached the last room at the end of the hallway, its door shut tight. "End of the line," Riggs muttered under his breath. Gave a quick glance to Roger. "You ready?"
Roger nodded and Riggs took a step back, one leg flying upward, kicking in the door. The small room was empty. "Goddamn it!" shouted Riggs. He jerked around quickly as Roger grabbed his forearm and pointed to a small opening in the far corner knocked through the wall into the adjoining apartment.
"He's more slippery than I expected," Roger said with a shake of his head.
"Well, he's either already out of the building or he's holed up in the apartment next door. I'm going this way," Riggs pointed to the hole. "You head back to the front. Maybe we can sandwich him in."
"Riggs, y' sure about that?"
"Yeah, yeah, of course I am. See ya in a minute." Martin crouched down as Roger raced back through the apartment. Reaching the front door, he hesitated for a brief second, and then stuck his head out.
"Well, hello, Mr. Detective," a voice snarled out. "I've been waiting for you."
Roger froze; his heart sinking as he looked into the hallway. The bartender had already come through the other apartment and was now holding Greg in front of him, pressing the barrel of the shotgun under the young man's chin. Greg stared at Roger, his terrified eyes the size of saucers. He swallowed hard but didn't say a word.
"Get your ass out here right now or he's dead!"
Roger slowly stepped out.
"Throw the gun down now!"
Roger hesitated, eyes glancing around, trying to think of something—anything—to end the hostage situation quickly. "I said NOW!" Damn…. Nothing came to his mind. Sighing, Roger dropped his Smith & Wesson onto the stained carpet.
Bernard pulled Greg even closer against him, eyes skittering around wildly. "Where's your partner?"
"Ah… well…" Roger's own head swiveled around as he glanced over each shoulder. "I'm not exactly sure…"
"What do you mean you're not sure?" The bartender's voice raised another pitch, a hysterical note underlining his words. Roger's mouth set into a thin line. Bernard was about to fall apart. He was so jumpy, Roger was afraid the slightest provocation would set off his trigger finger. And Riggs's conspicuous absence was only serving to make him more edgy.
Roger spread his hands out, his expression calm. "Look, just take it easy, okay? No one's trying to do anything here. My partner just tends to wander sometimes. He's kinda odd that way."
Bernard took a couple steps back, pulling Greg with him. His face twisted as he pushed the barrel deeper into his hostage's throat. "You better hope he doesn't try nothing or your little friend's head won't be attached to his body any longer."
Roger nodded sincerely. "I understand—don't worry." He watched helplessly as the man began to slowly drag Greg down the hall. Roger took a step forward, following the pair, looking for an opening to try something and hoping—praying—Riggs wouldn't suddenly pop into the hall, which would surely send Bernard right over the edge. Somehow they had to bring this nutso down before he was able to get into the elevator. Once he was outside, they'd have a REAL problem on their hands. Where in the HELL was his partner? What was he up to?
The three of them continued to creep along when suddenly Roger caught a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye. Before he could register what was happening, a single gunshot exploded near his head and he watched as the bartender fell to the floor, Greg landing on top of him. Looking over his shoulder, Roger stared briefly at his partner standing behind him in the hall, Beretta still drawn, and then jumped over to the figures lying on the floor. He disentangled Greg, pulling him free from Bernard.
"Are you okay? Oh for the love of God, tell me you're okay." His hands patted the young man down. "Any bullet holes?"
"No," Greg answered, his voice shaking. "I'm…I'm not hurt…"
Riggs stepped over them, kneeling down by the still bartender. No point in checking for a pulse. His bullet had hit the man square in the throat. "I TOLD you to open the door," Riggs muttered under his breath, then glanced over at Roger, shaking his head as he stood back up. Roger helped the shaken Greg to his feet.
"Damn it, Riggs! That was a big fucking risk! You could'a shot Greg."
Riggs's eyes narrowed slightly. "I always hit what I'm aiming for," he replied matter-of-factly, then turned to face Greg. "You're sure that you're okay?"
The young man nodded, smiling weakly. "I'll be all right."
Riggs nodded back, his serious expression lighting up some. "You're not going to sue me for emotional trauma are you?"
Greg gave a small laugh. "No."
"Good, cause all I got is a pickup truck, dog and ratty ole trailer."
Roger sighed as he glanced around. "Guess we better get on the radio and call the cleanup crew."
"Yeah... I'll do it." Riggs answered. "You two can stay with the body." Turning around, Martin started to head down the hall, but stopped suddenly, turning back around to face Greg. "Quite a finale to your week wasn't it?" he questioned.
Roger looked over at the officer, his expression growing worried. "So, have we made you regret your decision to become a cop?"
Greg stared silently at both of them for a long time, an unreadable expression in his eyes.
"Geez," muttered Martin, "don't keep us in suspense like this." He turned to Roger. "You just HAD to ask him that question, didn't ya?"
"Maybe ignorance is bliss for you, but I want to know the answer."
Greg grinned. "Don't worry. I still want to be a cop."
A relieved look spread over Roger's face. "Glad to hear it."
"As long," Greg added, his voice serious, "as I'm in another division."