Red Mist, Stage 2, Chapter 1
Updated: May 15
The lobby of the Sheraton Grand Los Angeles was spacious and opulent, with a shiny marble floor and high ceilings. The wood panels on the walls exuded old-world charm, while the ornate decorations of the floor space gave it an art-deco ambience. Max Koga studied every person in the lobby as he checked in with the receptionist. Once in his room, he promptly swept it for listening devices, of which he found none, then headed back outside. With most of the day to kill before the Song Motors dinner, he decided to take a brief walk around the city and treat himself to a long lunch at one of the trendy restaurants in the area. Gazing out the window while enjoying a cup of Americano coffee, Koga’s eyes stopped on a man wearing a black golf cap, a light blue shirt and dark brown slacks, seated in the patio of a café across the street. He had seen this wardrobe an hour earlier in the hotel lobby, on a husky Asian man with a scar on his lip, seated in one of the sofas. This same man was now dining alone at a café across the street. Coincidence?
After paying his bill, Max walked out of the restaurant and strolled past the café’s open-air dining area, where he observed from the corner of his eye, the man in the black golf hat picking at a piece of pie.
Without facing his way, Koga continued straight on Grand Avenue, scanning the reflections in the windows of the surrounding buildings. The coast seemed clear until, three blocks later, he noticed the man in the black golf hat on the other side of the street.
And there he is, just as expected.
Koga had chosen a familiar route in case he had to ditch a tail. He made a sudden right turn at the next intersection and took off in a full sprint toward a narrow brick office building at the far end of the block. After entering through the open double doors, he ran past the elevator and up the stairs to the third floor, where he calmly walked through a doorway marked “Malena’s Art Gallery.” After stepping inside the vast showroom, he positioned himself next to a large window that overlooked Olympic Boulevard, when a tall Latina woman with brown hair approached.
“May I help you?” she asked.
Koga shook his head. "I'm just looking," he answered.
"We only take appointments. Do you have an appointment today?"
"Um, no, but I know the owner here, and she wouldn't mind if I looked around a little."
"I'm Malena, the owner," she said in a slightly perturbed tone, pointing at the sign on the door.
Koga smiled. “Okay, you got me. I don't have an appointment, but I’ve been asked by my uncle, who lives in Beverly Hills, to pick out a painting for his new penthouse apartment. May I look around a little?”
When hearing the words “Beverly Hills,” her demeanor changed. “Of course, dear, take your time. This week we’re featuring the latest collection from an up-and-coming Venezuelan artist named Sasha.”
“That’s great. I will call you when I see something I like,” Koga said.
As she walked back into her office, Koga looked out the window and studied the scene below. As expected, the man in the black hat appeared, walking slowly down the sidewalk. Then, two other men joined him, both Asians, but younger. Koga took out his smart phone, opened the camera app and zoomed in on their faces, snapping away as the three men exchanged words and then going off in different directions.
Koga immediately sent the photos to Raja Singh, and remained by the window for another five minutes. When the Asian men didn’t return, he called for a Lyft ride and pretended to look at the works of Sasha until the car was a minute away.
After sneaking past Malena's office, Koga jumped into the back of the waiting Honda Accord and studied the photos he had just taken. Not one of the three men looked familiar, making him wonder if they were thugs sent by Song Motors.
But one thing that was undeniable was someone from inside the U.S. government was leaking information, for no one outside of his small circle of associates knew that he would be at the Sheraton Grand that day. Whoever the unsub was, he or she always seemed to be at least one step ahead of him. It was a situation Koga was unaccustomed to, and one that made him extremely uneasy.