Excerpts from the new Inspector Dan Rather mystery
Secrets are funny things. The harder you try to keep them under wraps, the harder they spring up in the most embarrassing places. And in my line of business, you learn that no matter how you try thinking about baseball those secrets can jump right out of their soft cotton comfort and put you on ice permanently.
My name is Rather. And I'm a dick.
It was 1:35 PM on a grey Spring Tuesday. I was just getting back to the office after a long lunch uptown with some of my old investigative pals at the CBS Commissary Automat. I wheeled my black Hudson sedanette off Lafayette and down Delancy Street, only to discover a stretch Cadillac with official U.S. government plates parked in my reserved spot. I griped and laid a staccato on the horn, half-wondering... what was a bigshot's limo doing in this part of the Bowery? This neighborhood was known for clip joints and Shanghai parlors and Bohemian art school jazzcats, not respectable public servants. It was also home to my HQ - ever since the Bush boys forced the brass at CBS to give me the bum's rush after the Lucy Ramirez typewriter caper (Dan Rather #8, "My Teleprompter Is Deadly").
My absent minded honking was soon interrupted by a bearded kid in a stocking hat and ironic t-shirt.
"Hey mister, you want I should park your car for you?"
"Sure kid. Fill it up with ethel and check the oil while you're at it. Here's a sawbuck, keep the change."
"Gee thanks, mister!" he enthused as I tossed him the keys.
When I climbed the stairs and entered the office, Mary - my girl friday - jumped from her seat with a concerned look on her puss.
"Dan - there are some men in your office waiting to see you," she said, handing me the final file on the Johnny Edwards case (Dan Rather #36, "And Baby Makes Three").
"Whadda they want?"
"They wouldn't say," she stammered apologetically. "I told them you had other appointments, but they insisted on speaking with you directly... oh, Dan, I hope this isn't any sort of trouble!"
Her head drooped dejectedly, but I put a finger under her chin and lifted it back up.
"Shh, Mary... you know I know how to handle rough customers. Don't forget how I took care of Knuckles Nixon (Dan Rather #2, "The 18 Minute Gap").
She looked back at me with those pouty bee-stung lips, and the fear evaporating from her face. I gave her a gentle tap on her chin that sent her sprawling into a steelcase file cabinet, and walked into my office.
"Hands up, peepers," came a gruff voice from behind the open door. I felt the cold steel barrel of a Mont Blanc pen jab into the back my ribcage, followed by a patdown by two pairs of hands.
The chair in front of my desk spun around, containing a nervous wirey guy in a $100 suit with a face like Jerry Lewis having a seizure.
"Hey pal, what gives with the TSA treatment?" I glowered, my hands raised skyward.
"I'm sorry Mister Rather, my legal associates here insist that anyone speaking to me first be frisked for microphones. Laaa-yay-deee!!"
The smaller of the two goons reached inside my lapel and confiscated my heater, a Shure 11X-db that I keep holstered in case of a nasty interview situation.
"Okay Boss, he's clean," said the goon, tossing the mic to his partner.
"I'm apologize for the brusque treatment, Mr. Rather. Your microphone will be returned. But one can never be too careful these days with media detectives - even ones that are supposed to be on your side," said the man. "Glayyvin!!!"
"Let's cut with the smalltalk, pal," I sneered, interrupting his seizure. "State your name and business."
"U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner. Please, take my card."
"A picture of a pair of BVDs? Is this some sort of joke?"
"Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry... wrong card," he said, slowly, methodically, fumbling through his pockets. "Oh yes, here it is."
I gazed over the elegant engraved card embossed with the Congressional Seal, listing his official telephone numbers and official Turn-Ons and Turn-Offs. It seem to check out.
"Okay, Tony. So humor me. What brings a hot shot DC big wig like you down to the Bowery?"
"I am afraid I'm here on a matter requiring the utmost in discretion, Mr. Rather," he panted, patting his brow with a pair of pink lace panties. "GlaVOINK-snik!! Oivins, in the place with the tweets and the emails, NOICE LAY-DEE!!"
"The Internet mob, eh?" I said, sliding into my chair and removing the notepad from my fedora. "I'm all ears."
"It seems I am the subject of some sort of elaborate extortion ring," he explained, sliding a manila envelope across the desk. Inside was a 8x10 glossy of a pair of grey pair of drawers, apparently packing a snubnosed Derringer.
"This photo is being circulated by some nefarious party who wishes to sabotage my selfless work for the people of New York," he said, now toweling his brow sweat with a peek-a-boo negligee. "Please, Mr. Rather - you must help me! HOYVING!!"
"Why me? Why not let your two lawyer meatslabs handle this?"
"Because you know the media waterfront!" he barked, slamming his fist on the desk. "And we share the same enemies, do we not, Mr. Rather?"
I peered at Weiner as the shadows of the Venetian blinds carved a contour map across his contorted sweaty face. He was right.
"All right Weiner, I'll take the case. And we better get moving because I've got a pretty good idea who's behind this frame up."
"The same outfit that framed me for a crime I didn't do... the Blog Syndicate."
"Flavin OINGY! Then there's not a moment to lose. Quickly, we must get uptown to work on damage control. Meet us Uptown at the MSNBC Tattler, Mr. Rather. I have an interview with Hedda Maddow. I'll need you to provide her with appropriate questions."
"Good plan, she's a friendly. Could I get a ride? That kid hasn't returned with my Hudson yet."
"Certainly. My limousine is parked outside."
"Then we'll have to walk. I had the cops tow it away."
"Tony, darling, how are you?" said Hedda Maddow, air-kissing Weiner as they sat down on her studio divan. As gossip queen of the reality-based Tinseltown tabloids, Hedda could help keep this photo caper off the front pages, and it was critical that Weiner nail this interview. Hedda put on her jeweled cat-eyes and began reading off the cue cards I had prepared.
"Tony, I simply must ask you the question burning in the minds of all the little people out there in television land - how is glamorous progressive matinee idol Tony Weiner keeping the Republicans from killing our beloved senior citizens?"
"Well, Hedda, let me first say that it's always a treat to be here with you and all my fans. Also, I'd like to say OIGEN GLOIEEBY with the wiener pictures and the GOIL with the big bazongas FLAAVIN!!"
"Well uh, that is, uh..."
"And the tweetfaces and the in placebooks JAYPEGS!!!"
"Well, uh, of course Tony, I'm sure you meant to uh, mention how these rumored so-called pictures weren't even of you. Isn't that right, Tony?"
"Pictures, schmictures. I mean, are they of me? I mean, who would even know such a thing. Am I supposed to keep tabs on every single picture that people have taken of my boner? Ha-ha, weener weener weener. I don't even think it looks like me. Do you want to see it? Is that what you want to see, Hedda?"
"Uh... well, umm, I'm sure you have a perfectly reasonable explanation."
"No. Now stop torturing me and my family and girlfriends. I have said all I have to say about this."
"Uhh... Thank you Tony. We will be back after these..."
"Now I am talking again on the TEEVEE with the NICE LADEEE!!!"
Hedda's director ordered "CUT" as Weiner's lawyers drug him from the set in the midst of a vigorous epileptic jitterbug. I sprinted to him and patted him on the back.
"Great job, Weiner! It went off just as we planned. That should keep the media quiet for a while. Now it's time to find out who's underneath that elastic waistband. Pack your bags - we're going to get to the bottom of this frame up."
"Where are we going?"
Right from the beginning of this Weiner caper, I smelled a rat. And that rat was stinking like a rotten fish. And the brand name of that rat-scented blogfish cologne? Eau de Breitbart #5. Before I could act on that suspicion, I knew I had to talk to the one man who knew the filthy underside of L.A.'s blog row better than any man alive - Charlie Johnson.
Johnson was my old nemesis from too many previous mysteries - and was even responsible for me getting unfairly booted from the force. Once a hepcat stringplucking jazzbo pedal-pusher, word on the street was he had cleaned up his act and turned his back against demon blogs. I looked his name up in the L.A. phonebook, and the only listing read:
THE REV. CHARLES JOHNSON
CHURCH OF THE DIVINE PROGRESSIVE REVELATION
"Do you think it's him?" asked Weiner.
"God works in mysterious ways," I said, looking west down Santa Monica Boulevard.
When we arrived at the church, a friar in sackcloth met us at the gate and led us down a curving path to a rectory chapel. When we entered the alcove, a lonely figure knelt at the altar beside a familiar Schwinn Black Phantom, his ponytail bathed a halo of light eminating from the stained glass windows. Sudden he arose and pointed an angry quivering finger at us.
"Begone from this place, heathen! This is a house of GOD!"
"Charlie?" I asked incredulously.
"It's Father Johnson now, and... Dan?" he asked, tilting his head in confusion. He slumped to his knees and began sobbing uncontrollably and clutching at my cuffs..
"Forgive me Dan, I... I didn't know what I was doing then. Maybe it was the reefer pills, or the blogdust. You were right, the whole Bush memo was a frame up from the start. But I'm better now! I've sworn off everything and made myself right with God. I even had a profile in the Times! Please let me make it up to you... what can I do for a penance?"
"Get up Padre. For a start, you can tell us what you know about a character that goes by the name of... Breitbart."
His face froze and slowly twisted in indignance.
"You mean the news peepshow promoter? The man who exploits underage stories, lures them to his studio and films them without a single stitch of context? I remember when Los Angeles was a town where respectable reporters could raise their stories in safety. Without worrying about them getting abducted by strangers. Now it seems the entire place is overrun by 25 cent Tweet parlors and unregulated hyperlink dives, all thanks to that.. that... monster."
"Calm down Padre, we're here to bring him down. This is Congressman Weiner. And these 8 men are his legal counsel."
"Bless you, Congressman. I listened to your plight on the Hedda Maddow program. What can I do to ease your suffering?"
"What the Congressman is trying to say, Padre, is that we need you to spread the word to your parisioners of his innocence. The simple explanation is in this 80-slide PowerPoint. And tell us what you know about secret entrances to the Breitbart mansion."
"Gladly. And Dan?"
"How about dropping a fin into the collection box for old time's sake? The parish has fallen on hard times."
The sun had already set on the Pacific as I wrestled the Prius silently up Topanga Canyon to Breitbart Manor, home of LA's notorious news pornographer. To keep him from accidentally blurting out another "glavin," Weiner insisted I fit him with a tight fitting ball gag. We parked the car and trudged up a secluded path that led to the swimming pool of the glassy modern hilltop estate, just as Johnson had mapped.
"AYIHN!!" mumbled Weiner.
As we crept toward the house we heard maniacal laughing and blaring disco music, punctuated by the wafting sickly aroma of unconfirmed innuendo. It seemed Breitbart had company - and we were about to witness one of his infamous Teabagger conspiracy orgies. I slid a glass partition door open, holding my blackjack tightly in case we were jumped by one of Breitbart's thugs. We sidled our way to the noise and the smell, and peered around a Lucite pillar into a big open fern-lined room.
In a sunken conversation pit sat a rogue's gallery of the Internet's sleaziest out-of-context adult information celebrities: the criminally insane Ace. Malkin the Dragon Lady. The Powerline goons. The fez-adorned weasel Allahpundit. The smoothly villanous Professor Reynolds. And sprawled regally on a cushion, Breitbart. All appear half addled on Tweet and wiener jokes. Sensing the element of surprise was on our side, I jumped from behind the pillar.
"Freeze scumbags! Looks like you'll all be enrolling remedial Journalism at State Pen."
Instead of hitting the deck as I expected, they all began giggling uncontrollably.
"Dan, baby! Tony, sweetheart! Come on in, we've been expecting you. Wanna a line of Tweet?" said Breitbart with a vile grin, a pair of mirrored sunglasses concealing his dilated pupils.
"No thanks, I've seen what that stuff does to people."
"Suit yourself," said Breitbart, chopping out another 140-character line.
"Get your things together, all of you. I'm calling the cops. You're all getting busted for conspiracy to impersonate a congressman."
"On the contrary, Mr. Rather," said Reynolds, sniffing a glass of cognac in his smoking jacket. "The police were telephoned by me 10 minutes ago. They are on their way to arrest you for trespassing."
"Oh, did your deductive skills fail you again Dan?" purred the Dragon Lady, slowly circling me in that menacing silk shift. "The whole thing was was quite deliciously simple."
"Come on baby, do I really have to spell it out for you?" said Breitbart, lazily shuddering off another tweet rush. "Everyone knows Anthony Weiner is the most popular, telegenic and effective liberal member of Congress - but also the one with the funniest name. So I hired Allahpundit to kept a 24-hour watch on all of his internet activity. That was Phase One. Phase Two? We waited for his wife to be out and for there to be a gap in his internet activity. Phase Three: we simultaneously hacked all of his social media accounts by guessing his password, and carefully not changing it."
"DedicatedPublicServant9375, isn't it Tony?" sneered Dragon Lady.
"Then it was on to Phase 4," continued Brietbart. "While Weiner was engrossed in a TV hockey game, Ace scaled the wall of his apartment and ambushed him with blunt force trauma to a precise point 2 centimeters to the left of the center base of the skull. This rendered Weiner not only unconscious, but induced amnesia. From there, it was a simple matter of uploading the photoshopped picture and sending it to a random large-breasted coed in Seattle that Weiner was accidentally following."
"And when he came to, he was completely unaware that any of it had happened," I said, slowly grasping what should have been obvious all along. "You monsters knew that Weiner was also the most honest member of Congress - and with his amnesia wouldn't be able to say with 100% certitude that the Weiner pictures weren't his. And as the most frugal member of Congress, you knew he would never want to waste a cent of public money on an FBI investigation."
"Phase Fiverino, Danny baby," grinned Breitbart. "You catch on pretty quick. Call me if you ever want a job."
"I'd rather rot on basic cable," I snapped. "If you don't mind, I'll just wait here for the bunco detectives and explain the whole thing."
"HNO! HNO!" mumbled Weiner.
"I'd listen to your client, Mr. Rather," said Reynolds, pouring another snifter of cognac. "I'm afraid even the most credulous policeman would have difficulty believing Mr. Weiner's, er, tale."
I realized he was right. I turned to Weiner and put my hand on his shoulder.
"You need to get out of here Tony. Get on the bus back to Washington, where people are like you - fair and honest, and forthright, and always looking out for the little guy. Get out of this stinking, Tweet infested dump and forget you ever were ever here. If anybody asks about it again, just say nothing."
I removed his ball gag.
"GLAAAYYYVIN HOY FLOIVING GLAZOYMBEE... LAYAYAYADEEE!!"
And with that, he ran out the back of the house and tumbled out of sight over the briar cliff down to Mulholland Drive.
"Would you like to stay for a drink, Mr. Rather?" asked Reynolds. "I'll tell the police it was a false alarm."
"Make it a rye and vermouth on the rocks," I said, dejectedly. "Someday I'll have to write a book on this caper."
"Forget it Dan," said Breitbart, gripping my shoulder. "It's Weinertown."