I went home and did some Google-searching on "spy" stuff, and was amazed to find so much for sale, as long as the user promises to be nice and legal.
It was harder finding a place to buy a bug in person, and I cursed my ineptitude in the modern thingamabob, the computer. I seemed to be falling farther and farther behind regarding electronic devices.
Finally I found a place: Al's A-V and Pawn Shop, in Hollyweird.
I drove down Highway 101 and through the Hollywood Hills and into sleazy old Hollyweed. As actress Bette Davis would say, "What-a-dump!"
I could feel myself tensing up as I turned off on Vine Street, and then I felt a mild depression setting in when I turned on Pearblossom Avenue. Various dying shops squatted in the sun and waited for the end to come.
Driving ever deeper into the heart of darkness, I was experiencing the usual Santa Barbaran's aversion for Loose Angles. Lust Angels. Lost Angels. Whatever. Hollywood had been fun when I was youth at UCLA, when you could check out the big city, go to a movie at the wonderful old movie houses, shells of which were still there, and walk around afterward.
Now: Hollywouldn't looked to me like a land of deviates, druggies, misfits, illegal aliens and male and female hookers. A gone city. But there, on Pearblossom, was the pawnshop that also sold wiretapping stuff, "bugs," "wires" and assorted home security instruments.
I parked in front of Al's and fed quarters into a meter. Al (I guess it was he) was flipping through a magazine when I entered. He was behind a counter filled with trays of jewelry, watches . . . some cheap, some not. The wall opposite was covered with a variety of guitars, also ranging from shabby to impressive.
I disliked Al's appearance. He was grossly overweight, and his complexion was rat gray, like he'd never been in smog-free sunshine in his life, which had been about 55 years long. His short-sleeved shirt and pants were either rat gray or mouse brown; it was hard to tell in the dim light. The faded color of old sweat rings outlined his armpits.
He had basset hound eyes, probably a heavy drinker. He made his living bargaining over other people's losses. Pawnbrokers don't have to report what people bring in. They just keep it out of sight for a period of time. Whatta way to make a buck.
I waited a moment for him to say "May I help you?" and when he didn't, I said, "Good afternoon to you, too, and thanks for not smoking."
He frowned and closed his magazine. I said, "I read on the Internet that I can get a good window bug here. Could you show me one?"
"Uh-huh." He sighed and rummaged in a drawer behind the counter and came up with a small box, which he placed on the counter.
"Excuse me, I don't mean to be rude," I said with a slight edge of mock concern, "but you appear to be mute and I don't know sign language; can you write on a pad?"
That made him angry. Touchy! He almost shouted, "Hey dafuck's your problem? You don't wanna buy somethin', there's the door!" He jerked his head in that direction.
"OK," I shrugged. He won. Must be from Brooklyn, I guessed. I pointed at the carton. He opened it and showed me the parts: a little round, flat box with sticky stuff on the back, protected by something like wax paper; a recorder about the size of a deck of cards and a coil of wire for connecting to it; and an earphone on a wire also with a small RCA-type plug that fit into the recorder so you could listen while recording.
"You peel this tape off of the outside circle of the bug and keep it in your pocket," he said, and showed me the circular back side of the gadget. It looked something like the rubber suction cups on toy arrows.
"The gunk on there sticks to glass. Better to do it on glass, though, not the screen if the window's open. Double glass is OK. Glass vibrates and acts like a soundboard. When you're done, pop it off. Put the plastic tape back over the ring of gunk. Record and play buttons are here (he pointed). A 9-volt battery goes in here. It's an even thousand."
He placed the stuff in the box and waited with both hands on the counter edge.
"Well . . ." I looked at the box. A grand was a lot of money, even if it was going to be Mason's.
"Yeah, I guarantee it. You can trust me like I can trust you." Very funny. "You bring it back and it looks undamaged, we test it. If it don't work, I give you half your money back. But it'll work."
"Why only half?"
"That's MY guarantee you didn't bust it on purpose. Take it or leave it."
"You're a master salesman," I said. Silence.
"Okay, I'll take it."
I also bought a small tin box of used lock picks. He said they worked on most door locks, but of course not dead bolt locks. Warming to his task, he showed me how you hold the knob still and insert the gizmo a bit at a time, turning it back and forth quickly as you go. He was almost pleasant by now.
I plunked down 10 portraits of Franklin and a Jackson for the lock picks, and he put my new toys in a box. I left without looking back. Maybe he was just smart to be sullen. Not being civil saved you time.
Oh oh. I drove back to the Hwy. 101 intersection, where I noticed in the rear view a big black Cadillac Coupe de Ville, of uncertain year. It looked like the one I had seen parked near Loretta's Montecito playhouse. The driver wasn't a geezer; he appeared to be maybe a Latino, and he appeared to be following me. I got a fairly good look at his expressionless mug. I wondered if it was the mug of a hit man.
I stepped on it when I got on the onramp to 101, and plowed my way recklessly across several lanes, and then bobbed and weaved. I lost the Caddie a couple of times, but then there he was again.
Then I lost him again. I zigzagged dangerously fast until he was way back in the commuter crowd.
When I got to the edge of the Valley, I really stepped on it, figuring I'd lose the sonuvabitch altogether, and if I got pulled over by the CHP I would still lose him and it would be worth it.
But I didn't get caught and drove toward Santa Barbara as fast as possible without rolling the car. I didn't see the Caddie when the off ramp to Trancas came up, and I remembered that the road went all the way through the hills to Malibu, so I turned at the last moment and headed for the sea. Not many people driving on it, and no Caddie. I breathed easier and my hands stopped sweating, although I continued to speed. I wanted to be home, where my gun was. From now on, I thought, don't leave home without it.
I heard Pal's cautionary speech and tried to think. Which is hard to do when you're really scared.