In the course of his investigation, Lipinski runs afoul of a rich and ruthless family scion and very nearly loses his life. Injured from his brush with death, Lipinski reconnects with a glamorous pornography queen who takes him in and cares for him. As he gets closer to the truth, more and more people want to keep him away from it. Murder at the Villa Museum offers glimpses of West Los Angeles, and the lives of heavy hitters in the City of Angels.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.64(d)|
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Murder at the Villa Museum
By Roberto de Haro
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Roberto de Haro
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Cop and the Bad Guy
The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket. Revolution, legality—countermoves in the same game; forms of idleness at bottom identical. Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent 
A solitary figure worked his way methodically along the physically demanding training course at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The uncomfortable humid summer weather had dissipated, but the sun still had a bite. The October sun's direct rays beat down on the heavily perspiring trainee running the obstacle course with agility and speed. A man and a woman in fatigues, wearing dark blue baseball caps with the bright gold letters FBI, were observing. The female watched the trainee move relentlessly over the challenging course while the other timed him.
There was a metallic click as the FBI instructor depressed the button on the stop watch and calculated the runner's performance on the course so far.
"Damn, he's fast," said the FBI instructor to the female agent. She lowered the binoculars and smiled. Special Agent Angie Carpenter was just over five feet six inches tall, trim, and muscular. She had been a physical and competitive basketball player in college. The Bureau recruited Angie because of her high grades, athleticism, and strong desire to be part of the FBI, and because she had a master's in psychology from the University of Virginia. At thirty-one, she was a very competent agent and known within the Bureau as a tough competitor with the intensity to excel.
She served successfully as a field agent in Denver before being assigned to work along the Texas border with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration personnel. A series of bank robberies in Texas and Oklahoma had convinced the regional Bureau head that the drug trafficking along the border and the bank heists were related. She and her partner were part of the operation that successfully broke up the ring of bank robbers, using stolen money to pay for illegal drugs crossing into the States from Mexico. An impromptu and unavoidable shootout with the robbers left her partner permanently disabled. She risked her life to save him and received a commendation. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Angie and other carefully selected field agents familiar with the behavior of violent gangs and organized criminal elements were recruited to expand the FBI's anti-terrorists programs.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI was charged by the president and his key staff to work closely with state and local police to bring selected personnel to a facility in Virginia for leadership training and up-to-date anti-terrorist methods. A part of the ten-week program involved demanding physical training and firearm skills. Angie joined the program shortly after its inception. Because of her graduate study in psychology, one of her duties as an anti-terrorist trainer was to assess the trainees. Her colleagues made snide remarks about her being a ball buster, pop psych, and wannabe shrink, but never to her face.
Angie expected the best from the trainees selected to participate in the demanding, comprehensive program. Not all of them, especially among the first few classes, were well selected or suited for the program. Favoritism and self-serving opportunists eager for visibility and promotion resulted in "sorry ass recruits," as Angie and her colleagues called them. But the man from California running through the course with speed and confidence was different.
"There are always exceptions," the program head told her and the other instructors, "and once in a while, a special cop comes along." This particular trainee seemed to fit the bill.
The California trainee had an intriguing file. He'd been part of Special Forces and was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant after six years of service. Part of his military service was sealed. While in the army, he'd earned a two-year college degree. He joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department after the army and was an exemplary deputy, promoted to sergeant and assigned to the detective division. His arrest record was outstanding. Several things about the trainee were impressive: the number of collars he had made over the last four years, and the number of cases he had solved. He was savvy, but also a shooter. While at the L. A. Sheriff's Department, he graduated from a four-year college and then enrolled in and completed an evening law school program.
Although selected for an earlier class by his department, the trainee opted out to prepare for the California Bar Examination in 2004. But here he was in October 2005, a law school graduate and recently licensed to practice law in California. The FBI program staff admired the guy's accomplishments and dedication to his job.
The two instructors moved up the hill quickly to the end of the course and waited for the trainee to complete his run. As he passed the finish line, Angie heard the familiar click on her partner's stop watch and asked, "How'd he do?"
"Damn, almost a full second under the course record," replied Bart Kroneberg, the other trainer.
Angie nodded. She knew the run was unofficial and that the trainee was not interested in setting records. He's just testing himself, she thought.
On the pistol-firing range, the trainee had earned perfect scores three times. The targets there were not concentric circles on paper or stationary silhouettes. Instead they were rapidly moving pop-up images of armed terrorists holding hostages interspersed with unarmed civilians. The shooter had to determine quickly whether the moving target was friend or foe. This trainee was not just a crack shot but had lightning reflexes and seemed prescient.
When Angie reviewed the trainee's file, some contradictions caught her attention. He was a shooter and could be heavy-handed. She recalled an incident that involved a trainee from Dallas, Texas. Buddy Hoffpower, a tall, lanky Texan, was a mean-spirited loudmouth. Favoritism had gotten Hoffpower into the program. What he lacked in intelligence, he compensated for by using abusive and bullying tactics as a police officer. Some cops wanted a guy like Hoffpower around to knock a few heads.
During the hand-to-hand combat training session, Hoffpower had picked on a shorter trainee and caught him unaware with a sucker punch, splitting his lip. It was not the first time Hoffpower had surprised an unsuspecting trainee. During the next to last week of the training cycle, Hoffpower was found out cold, stuffed into a dumpster. Someone had worked him over and been careful not to hit the loudmouth in the face. Instead, the Texan had three fractured ribs and severe groin pain. Angie suspected, with good cause, that the California trainee had beaten up Hoffpower. She interrogated a few of the trainees, and by swearing not to reveal her sources, pieced together all the evidence she needed to learn who had messed up Hoffpower.
Sergeant Dale Lipinski tried to appear nonchalant when Angie asked him about Hoffpower.
"I think you fucked up Hoffpower," she told him when they were alone. Lipinski was tall, a shade over six feet. He was handsome in a rugged way, and had a charming smile. Lipinski showed no emotion, his dark sunglasses preventing the FBI agent from reading his eyes.
"You want to tell me about it?" she asked.
"You gonna write me up?" he asked indifferently.
"No, I can't really prove who fucked up Hoffpower; and frankly, I don't give a shit. The prick had it coming."
"So?" asked Lipinski, curious about where the conversation was going.
"You're a good cop, Lipinski, and will be the top dog in this cycle, unless you do something dumb," she warned. Slowly, Lipinski took off his sunglasses, his hazel eyes making direct contact with the trainer's eyes, still shaded by her Ray Bans.
"Where's this going?" he asked.
She looked into his eyes and said, "You can't fix problems by kicking the shit out of somebody, Lipinski."
A thin smile momentarily crossed his face, revealing straight white teeth, but was gone in an instant, replaced by a nonchalant demeanor.
"I don't want to blow smoke up your ass, but on paper you're the best trainee I've seen in this program. Don't go Rambo on me," she told him firmly.
"That mean you're on my side?" he asked, trying to figure her out.
"No," she replied, "it means no more incidents. You're a good cop and can get better. But you're not Dirty Harry. Keep it that way."
"We done?" he asked, a barely visible smile on his face. She gave a snort and shook her head before saying, "You're something else."
"When this is over," he told her, referring to the cycle, "let me buy you a drink."
Angie turned away from Lipinski without answering. You arrogant son-of-a-bitch, she thought. "No way," she whispered as she walked away.
Well, well, thought Lipinski, maybe she's interested.
* * *
A few days before the training cycle ended, Angie and the other instructors met with the project director and his staff to critique the program and evaluate the trainees.
"All right, listen up," said Del Thiebeaudrux, the deputy project leader. "Let's do the easy ones first." This was a signal to perfunctorily comment on the trainees who were considered adequate. They quickly agreed on these trainees. Next they focused on those who were flawed or performing at less than what was expected. Often it involved cops with a limited education, lacking the kind of analytical thinking required to be a solid investigator and not suitable for management or leadership roles. They took a quick break for lunch and returned to deal with the problem children. Hoffpower was in this group.
"All right, Angie, what's your take on Hoffpower?" asked Del.
"He's marginal and has attitudinal problems."
No sooner had she said this than one of the instructors in the room said, "Not anymore," as an aside. Everyone in the room laughed. They knew someone had messed up the loudmouth. Angie snickered before continuing.
"Hoffpower's not very smart. He knows how to hurt people but doesn't have the smarts to do the kind of intelligence-gathering and analysis needed in the field."
"And?" said Del.
"He, Doughty, and Stanhower are throwaways."
"You sure about that?" asked Del. Angie nodded and made some notes in her files as two of the other instructors spoke up. Both of them sided with Angie.
"Okay," said Del, ready to move on. But Tom Gallatin, the project head, spoke up.
"Not so fast. Hoffpower is connected. His cousin's a legislator in Austin, and his daddy is the former Del Rio police chief. His boss in Dallas likes Hoffpower because he went to school with his son. He's not smart, but he can be useful."
"Why don't we just give him a pass and a pat on the back," said Del to move the process along.
"A kick in the balls would be better," whispered Angie.
"You say something, Agent Carpenter?" said Gallatin sharply.
"No, sir," she replied, jotting notes in the margins of the remaining files.
"Okay, let's do the assets," Del told them. Assets was a Bureau code word to identify personnel in local law enforcement agencies they believed could participate in Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country. JTTFs were single units of a large metropolitan police force, or groupings of local law enforcement agencies with personnel trained in anti-terrorism methods. JTTFs worked cooperatively with the FBI to identify, monitor, and apprehend suspected terrorists.
Angie disliked the use of code words like assets. For her, it was part of FBI chauvinism, and a dehumanizing proclivity. The Bureau always considered itself the best law enforcement agency in the States and the world. She was aware that some FBI leaders ranked other federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and U. S. Marshal Service as beneath them. The Homeland Security Department was new, but already some in the Bureau privately criticized it. There was, however, grudging respect for extreme operatives in the Central Intelligence Agency, and contract specialists hired for clandestine projects by Department of Defense groups. Even so, she was FBI and never mentioned her feelings about the stereotypes with anyone in the Bureau, or outside of it.
They discussed nine candidates and agreed on all but one of them for JTTF duty. One trainee's file had not been mentioned, and Angie knew it was Lipinski's.
"All right," said Del, "there's one name on the list that stands out."
"Sergeant Lipinski from LA.," said Kroneberg, and asked, "What's your take on him Angie?"
"He's good, but something about him bothers me."
"What?" asked Del.
"I don't know, just a feeling I have about him."
"Care to be explicit, Agent Carpenter?" asked Gallatin.
Angie frowned and looked at her notes for a moment before responding.
"He's tops in the class, but I have a gut feeling about him."
"Is it feminine intuition, Agent Carpenter, or something based on documentation?" pressed Gallatin.
She resisted the urge to be defensive. Anytime someone in the Bureau used the term intuition about one of her theories or hypotheses it was a derogatory implication. Latent forms of sexism still existed in the Bureau. She shrugged off the remark before saying,
"The sergeant doesn't always follow protocol and has a tendency to go off on his own."
"You're talking in generalities," pressed Gallatin. "Care to be specific."
"Well, he can be heavy-handed—" but she was unable to finish her sentence because Gallatin interrupted.
"If you're referring to his kicking the crap out of Hoffpower, I'd consider that a plus."
How the hell did he know? she asked herself, looking down at her notes to avoid making eye contact with her boss.
"Look, I know Lipinski can be a hard ass. But sometimes we need cops who can balance a situation. Hoffpower was out of line and someone needed to straighten him out."
"You mean knock him out," one of the instructors quipped.
"Yes," said Gallatin, his gaze focused on Angie. "We're in a war with fanatics hell bent on killing our people. Guys like Lipinski know how to handle terrorists and others who break the law and disrupt society. We need his kind."
Rather than debate the point, Angie nodded and sat back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest, a sign she had been overruled but was still convinced her hypothesis about Lipinski was valid. As far as she was concerned, Lipinski was dangerous. She thought he would not hesitate to take the law into his own hands.
When the meeting was over, Gallatin motioned for Angie to follow him. As they walked down the hall to his office, he asked if she wanted anything to drink. She muttered something about a diet soda. They walked into his office, and Gallatin asked Lydia, his secretary, to get them a couple of sodas, one light and one leaded.
"Sit down," Gallatin said as he motioned toward a chair across from where he sat down. "I want to go over Lipinski's file." Angie was expecting it but didn't say anything. Instead she waited for him to continue. He pulled a file from his desk and thumbed through it. A moment later, Lydia knocked on the door, entered the room, and handed Angie a Diet Coke and Gallatin a regular one.
Gallatin thanked her and asked that they not be disturbed before turning to the female FBI trainer and saying, "Angie, I want to hear your side of it regarding Lipinski." She took a sip of the diet soda and was about to refer to her notes when Gallatin stopped her.
"Never mind your notes. I want your gut reaction."
She thought for a moment before saying that Lipinski was a loose cannon, someone willing to sidestep the law to do what he thought was right. Gallatin nodded, raised an eyebrow, but remained silent, tipping his Coke as a motion for her to continue.
"There's something dangerous in him," she said.
"If you mean he's not afraid to beat up people and use his gun," said Gallatin, "that's right."
"It's not just that," she shot back. "There are questions about his background that bother me."
"You mean like the block in his army jacket?"
She stiffened a bit before saying, "Yeah, what's that all about? If he's such a stand-up guy, why hide what he did in the army?"
"You've heard the world classified," said Gallatin with a smirk.
"Of course," she shot back.
Excerpted from Murder at the Villa Museum by Roberto de Haro Copyright © 2010 by Roberto de Haro. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Charter 1. The Cop and the Bad Guy....................1
Charter 2. In League with the Devil....................18
Charter 3. Changes and Challenges....................30
Charter 4. Change and Reassessment....................48
Charter 5. Beauty Slain....................69
Charter 6. Dark Secrets....................89
Charter 7. Shattered Images....................111
Charter 8. Secrets Revealed....................129
Charter 9. Unpleasant Truths....................152
Charter 10. Memories and Danger....................173
Charter 11. Friendships Rekindled....................181
Charter 12. A Time for Reckoning....................197
Charter 13. Emend....................214
Charter 14. Finding a Killer....................230
Charter 15. Unraveling a Cipher....................247
Charter 16. Dangerous Moments....................258
Charter 17. The Final Straw....................268
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