Chapter 33 – Downtown L.A.

Savannah blends into the Local Environment – Los Angeles, CA

I had only been back in Washington, DC a few hours, catching up on general stuff, I wanted to be ready to move at very short notice when the director arrived without any warning.

Savannah was fully prepared and all set to travel from Tuscon and would be on the Flixbus to Los Angeles in the morning. The journey was anticipated to take at least 11 hrs she was expected to arrive in the late evening at the Patsaouras Transit Plaza bus station on the east side of Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. The surveillance team had been fully briefed on all aspects of the operation and the final preparations had been completed to almost guarantee all their anticipated and comprehensive logistical requirements over the coming days and possibly weeks.

I was also ready to go and was heading west within the hour, working on my own travel arrangements and would contact the team on arrival in Los Angeles. I was both excited and apprehensive at the same time, it was finally game-on, and in this particular game there was only ever going to be one winner, coming second was just not a viable option at all.

The targeted location had been chosen very carefully because of its’ suitability for criminal activities with special regard for prostitution and enslavement.

Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) is the main railway station in Los Angeles, California, and the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. Union Station is located on the original site of the Tongva village of Yaanga, which was believed to have been the largest of the Tongva villages. It was designed by architects Parkinson, John & Donald B. and built by Robert E. McKee Inc. It opened in May 1939 as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, replacing La Grande Station and Central Station and celebrated its 80th birthday in 2019.

Approved in a controversial ballot measure in 1926 and built in the 1930s, it served to consolidate rail services from the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific Railroads into one terminal station. Conceived on a grand scale, Union Station became known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations” built in the United States. The structure combines Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne style. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Today, the station is a major transportation hub for Southern California, serving almost 110,000 passengers a day. It is Amtrak’s fifth-busiest station, and by far the busiest in the Western United States and the tenth busiest in the entire country. Four of Amtrak’s long-distance trains originate and terminate here: The Coast Starlight to Seattle, the Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle to Chicago, and the Sunset Limited to New Orleans. The state-supported Amtrak California Pacific Surfliner regional trains run frequently to San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The station is the hub of the Metrolink commuter trains, and several Metro Rail subway and light rail lines serve it as well, with more in construction or planning.

The Patsaouras Transit Plaza, on the east side of the station, serves dozens of bus lines operated by Metro and several other municipal carriers.

Services:

  • Amtrak – Long-distance Routes & California Regional Routes
  • Metrolink
  • Metro Rail – Metro Red Line/Metro Purple Line/Metro Gold Line
  • Metro Busway – Metro Silver Line

Bus and coach services:

  • Long-distance Motorcoach – Amtrak Thruway / California Shuttle Bus / Flixbus / Megabus
  • Metro and municipal buses

Despite a growing population and a booming economy, the number of trips taken on Los Angeles County’s bus and rail network last year fell to the lowest level in more than a decade.

Passengers on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and trains took 397.5 million trips in 2017, a decline of 15% over five years. Metro’s workhorse bus system, which carries about three-quarters of the system’s passengers, has seen a drop of nearly 21%.

Migration numbers over the past five years have not been analysed but significant numbers of economic migrants arrive annually via both the train and long-distance bus networks. The local authorities cannot fully understand or explain why those same migrants do not use the local transportation networks and chose wherever possible the car option. Accessibility and personal safety on the city transport systems are two major factors in their decision making. California ranks at number 9 on the eco chart in USA but being the wealthiest state surely it could do a whole lot better on the environment, urbanisation, deforestation, public transportation, CO2 emissions and water supply

Savannah had to portray the image of a lost and desperate individual who did not have the necessary educational qualifications for well-paid skilled employment but conscientious enough to want to work her way up and out of the poverty trap. The next chapter in her life was going to be tough both mentally and physically and she had been well briefed on how to get back into the network and that journey started on the bus to Los Angeles.

The team would be ready for the arrival of Savannah and track her as soon as she arrived at the bus terminal. She needed to be visible and attract the attention of the serious players in the low life of the city and on disembarkation she would then walk through to the Union Station terminus and look suitably lost and confused for a while before asking station staff where to find an all-night diner or coffee shop.

Her briefings had instructed her where to Sleep, where to eat and which employment agencies to visit over the coming days and possibly weeks. Arrangements had been made for the accommodation and she would be instructed every couple of days to change location to maintain the impression of a desperate young woman.

The weather conditions over November and December were anticipated to be fairly normal for that time of year and the temperatures would range between 33°C Hi and 10°C Lo with hopefully very little precipitation. She would be provided with changes of clothing every few days to maintain personal hygiene and prevent illnesses and theft of items from laundry areas. Small items of soaps, deodorants and oral hygiene were also available as they always went missing in the environment she was now integrating. Small tins of rolling tobacco, papers and matches would enhance the lost look and indicate a person with some bad social habits that needed funding!

Savannah would move around the Downtown area, changing her accommodation regularly unless there was the possibility of developing friendships and acquaintances that may evolve in the right direction. She had been briefed on many aspects of how to blend in and survive in her new environment.

The agency had a wide range of locations suitable for overnight stays and included some of the following:

  • Podshare DTLA 1 Star – Hostel in Arts District
  • Best Western Plus Dragon Gate Inn 2.5 Stars
  • Metro Plaza Hotel 2.5 Stars
  • American Hotel Los Angeles 2.5 Stars
  • 8th & Ardmore Dorm Beds from $26 and Standard twin room from $90
  • Overnight journeys on the local transport system would enhance her street credibility

Savannah needed to eat and drink in certain types of establishments that would draw attention to her personal predicament, and they included:

  • Nick’s Café in Chinatown on N Spring St has been an LA institution since 1948 offers a classic diner menu for breakfast in a bare-bones locale and great for people watching.
  • Wendy’s on Sunset Blvd fast food chain serving burgers, hot dogs, chili and baked potatoes. Basic survival food and affordable prices and recommended on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and that’s good enough for me. Open long hours and closes at 4AM.
  • McDonald’s on Alameda St classic long-running fast-food chain known for burgers, fries and shakes and now makes decent coffee at fair price, Service is fast and friendly and food usually very good with professional service. This location is ok for hanging out and the staff do not make big issues about any homeless folks and others down on their luck and they always keep the restaurant and bathrooms areas clean and tidy.

Savannah would also be registering for work in many of the agencies that specialized in unskilled labor, and would be applying for roles in the catering, domestic services, hospitality and tourism industries. These are where the most vulnerable tended to be channelled because of the low pay, and they were also more likely to be subjected to poor working conditions, together with both verbal and physical abuse from employers and other staff members.

Savannah had been extensively briefed on maintaining her own personal safety because the streets of Downtown Los Angeles were becoming more dangerous every year. The locals who used the sidewalks for errands, transit and daily routines were finding that just living a normal life in the area was becoming more precarious than ever. Crimes committed on the streets by the homeless who were suffering from mental illnesses or substance abuse were spiralling out of control. Just walking the streets of Los Angeles was becoming a major personal risk with 6,538 reported crimes in 2017, 9,846 reported crimes in 2018 and the crime figures were on track to be even higher in 2019.

The team was tracking every movement as Savannah moved around the district. We all hoped that she would soon attract the necessary bad people for a multitude of both personal and professional reasons. Those bad people have networks and just like the rest of so-called modern society they too have their codes with rules and hierarchies in which they need to both operate and survive. The agency was going to have to depend very much on those codes for the success of the operation.

I needed to remain focussed so that I could record everything that was going on right down to the smallest details. The information was then broken down into concise and specific formats that would be presented to the necessary specialists and senior operatives on the appropriate PowerPoint slides.

The first three nights were spent at a cheap local hostel in which she shared a large dormitory with other female guests. She spent little time associating with them as most were tourists or travellers who had no connectivity with the local environment. Savannah dressed casually but mixed it up with a little blend of her Hispanic sexuality which gave the casual onlookers an indication that she took pride in her appearances and made every effort to look good with only limited resources.

“For the purposes of the readership Hispanic refers to people who speak Spanish and/or who are descended from Spanish speaking lineage.”

The days were spent just walking around, sitting on benches with a rolled-up cigarette and a regular black coffee giving the appearance of someone who could do with a bit of luck or a helping hand. The coffee was now always in a refillable thermos mug that kept it hot and bought from one of the coffee shops which were now giving discount on using the greener option. Savannah was careful not to attract the homeless losers who would attach themselves to obtain a dime or a cigarette.

On the fourth day Savannah started to go into the employment agencies and eat in the cheaper fast food restaurants Wendy’s on Sunset Blvd and McDonald’s on Alameda St. She enjoyed Nick’s Café in Chinatown as they gave her free refills, but as always happens in life there was a downside, and she needed to know where all the clean restrooms were, so not to get caught out and embarrassed by unfortunate leaks.

The first employment agency wanted her to book an appointment and return with copies of her CV together with supporting letters of reference. The consultant knew that getting references could be very difficult from employers and hinted that Savannah should use her initiative if at all possible.

The second agency was struggling to function properly due to staff illnesses and other commitments and told her to come back in a few weeks and apply with all her details on their website. While waiting she took the opportunity to grab a handful of magazines that had been left on a chair in the candidate waiting area and stuffed them inside her shoulder bag.

Anyone arriving in Los Angeles (City of Angels) would soon realize that most of the population is ethnically Mexican and may be informed that Los Angeles County is also home to the largest Central American population in the USA, including the largest Guatemalan, Costa Rican and Salvadoran ethnic populations in the USA. The magazines that Savannah had manged to pick up for free at the employment office gave a flavor of Hispanic life across America. She was thinking of a coffee and a smoke as a fresh breeze whipped up her skirt as it blew across the street and she turned around in embarrassment and found herself outside The Last Bookstore on S Spring St. She entered the store and quickly thought about checking out the latest hard and softback releases for the Hispanic/Latino communities.

She was thinking that it was quite an exciting store and heard an assistant at the checkout by the door telling a customer that the store is an old bank building which had been turned into a two-storey bookstore with an enormous collection of books by popular and less popular and some very obscure authors of every literary gendre. She wanted to simply browse and enjoy the ambience of the store. So, taking her time she wrapped herself in the world of books which had been denied to her as a young child. Now she was thrilled to walk through the book tunnel and visit the old bank vault which now houses a wide selection of crime novels.

She was finding it to be a fun to be in such an inspiring bookshop and for her as for any book lover it was not too crowded to just wander, embrace the ambiance and enjoy. Then, as if by more than chance a sudden swell of people had prevented her moving one way or another and she glanced at the array of Spanish authors on the overloaded and bursting shelves and just happened to be staring at a hardback copy of Sexographies by Peruvian sex writer Gabriela Wiener which had been translated by Lucy Greaves. It is a book of her collected essays and she doesn’t just stay on the carnal, and uses her explorations of egg donation, swinger parties, cruising, and squirting as channels into meditations on motherhood, death, and immigration, all while staying sharp and funny and wild.

Savannah thought it was a piece of good luck, an omen and that the book would do just nicely under the circumstances, however she opened the book and found the pages had been stained by possibly a hot drink being spilt or another accident and was about to put it back when an assistant who was replacing other books told her that she would get a serious discount on it, for not only being extensively damaged but as part of the Black Friday promotions.

Sure enough, the mature, rather plump but very friendly assistant at the checkout desk gave the book serious consideration on the stained pages and overall condition while joking casually woman to woman about the title and possible contents before offering for sale for only a few bucks. Savannah jumped at the opportunity and thanked her for the excellent customer service and left the store before the assistant could change her mind. Savannah had been very well aware of the fact she only had a few bucks left and would not have been able to afford the book if the awesome deal had not been offered. She was both very relieved and excited at the same time, there had been no need to try and steal the book but somehow she knew that it may just be very beneficial for her if she could somehow possess it, she had felt a little karma and made the most of her lady luck!

Outside the store she headed towards the Starbucks opposite Pershing Square where she used the restroom to re-focus on the here and now before ordering an Americano with extra hot skinny milk, and waited by the counter with the book grasped tightly in her hands for a few minutes for the preparation of her drink before sitting sat down by the window. She relaxed and spread the book and the magazines on the table. The magazines were the most up to date prints of the popular and well-read Vanidades, Siempre Mujer and Americas and should be good reading for a while. There was a potential additional bonus that the reading material would offer possible reasons for connecting with other Hispanics/Latinos on a personal level. The coffee was hot, not by European standards but unfortunately too much of North American Starbucks sweetness that she and many Hispanics/Latinos were not particularly fond of, in fact, she had grown to seriously detest the taste immensely. Savannah would have preferred coffee from other blenders but under the circumstances had to make do and be focussed on her goals.

A young woman sat down diagonally opposite placing her green handbag, iPhone and coffee on the table before sitting down in an exhausted manner. She was very attractive with long black hair curled at the side and then removed her sunglasses which had made her more sensual to reveal brown eyes which was not a shock as 70 to 90 percent of the world’s population have brown eyes but she also had beautiful manicured brows and lashes and Savannah hated her instantly as only women can!

She smiled in a delicate sensual way, showing off her sparkling white teeth and introduced herself as Socorro but friends called her Coco, Savannah replied, Savannah and being friendly said call me Savvy!

Coco said that she had watched Savannah take the magazines from the employment office and congratulated her, because she had eyed them up for herself and would have done the same had she been given the opportunity which had been taken away from her and they both laughed and started some small talk which appeared friendly but at the same time was a little nervous for both women.

Coco had travelled from San Antonio, TX and had been in LA for only a couple of weeks, visiting all the employment agencies and leaving her CV everywhere she could, but there was a lot of competition and with Christmas coming the students had first call as they were so much cheaper and desperate for the extra bucks. She had a lighter skin tone very similar to Savannah’s which meant that they were less likely to face discrimination than their darker skinned sisters.

Coco wanted to hear Savannah’s story and must have the given the impression of a being good friend or doting sister to the other customers. Savannah needed a cigarette and indicated as much to Coco who asked if she had a spare. With that they finished their coffees and left to have a smoke outside. The area on the street was a little too crowded, so they followed other pedestrians and used the crosswalk to Pershing Square.

Coco must have been only 5ft tall a few inches shorter than Savannah, a good figure with tight fitting jeans, a plain white top with a deep v shape that purposely emphasised a couple of assets and lose fitting black jacket. The petite black boots were high heeled and meant she was even smaller than Savannah had realized but she had a good aura around her and appeared a very happy person. Savannah had checked out what to wear in L.A. in November and it was not very exciting, but she intended to be the norm and stick to the agency text.

The general advice for the casual wear essentials was black, white and grey, but don’t be afraid to wear brighter colors like pink and yellow to stand out. Women in L.A. wear t-shirts with everything from skinny jeans and leggings to miniskirts or over dresses. If you want to dress up your look, wear a t-shirt made out of silk, brocade, cotton or lace or another upscale fabric. Savannah was wearing grey leggings with a black miniskirt, a pink t-shirt and simple grey zipped hoodie that was a light shade of pink on the inside.

Pershing Square was preparing for Christmas and an Ice rink had been erected and curling was being advertised and a Queen tribute band was on until 06 Dec for $15. They found a free seating bench and sat down to people watch and smoke. Coco did not expect a roll-up but took it all the same and enquired as to why I smoked them and asked if she could make one up herself and where she could buy all the accessories. They smoked and watched the crowds and avoided the requests from the street people for money and cigarettes.

They chatted and people watched for an hour or so and discussed some of the fashion shocks that walked past and the possibilities of hanging out with some of the cute looking guys. It was relaxed and friendly, Coco was not too pushy or demanding. They both wanted to look around the area and agreed that it was safer with a friend, there are some great places and sights Downtown and they would start tomorrow at the Broad Museum on S. Grand Ave and agreed to meet outside at 11AM.

They said the goodbyes and parted, Savannah wanted some fresh groceries for dinner and was planning to use the communal kitchen area at the hostel. There was plenty of time to check out the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market and the Smart & Final Extra! Savannah fancied one of her favorites which was cheap and easy to prepare and could often spark controversial culinary conversations with other Spaniards. Tortilla Española or “tortilla de patatas”, a traditional Spanish tapas dish of pre-fried potatoes, eggs and chopped onions. Savannah wanted something a bit different and bought some fresh Chorizo to give it a bit of oomph and a little fruit and cheese for dessert.

The next few days was a roller coaster ride of sightseeing, coffeeshops employment agencies, smoking and people watching. The ride started at the Broad Museum which is a contemporary art museum named after philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, who financed the $140 million building which houses the Broad art collections. The museum offers free general admission to its permanent collection galleries and is one of the most popular new museums in Los Angeles. This gallery became popular because of its “instagramable” attractions like the mirror rooms, the big tulips, the America sign. It even has a larger than life-size table you can walk right underneath which was perfect for another selfie moment.

A short walk across the street is the Walt Disney Concert Hall which is an awesome architectural feat with supposedly the best acoustics in all of Los Angeles. Next stop Union Station which is very different during the day and it’s been featured in movies like Blade Runner. It’s many decades old and is an excellent place to walk around and explore the unique architecture.

From Union Station, they headed over to Olvera Street which is right across the street from the train station and is a fun cultural heritage site in the middle of Los Angeles. They visited the center pavilion, avoided the museums, raced past one of the oldest houses in Los Angeles and splashed out on Chicken Taquitos at Cielito Lindo.

They were getting on well and laughing a lot and Coco had two more possible sites to see before calling it a day. As they finished the Taquitos Coco suggested that there was still time to visit either the MOCA which is a contemporary art museum or the Bradbury Building which had been described in the guide as a super cool piece of architecture that had also been featured in Blade Runner. Both decided that they had seen enough museums and buildings for one day and it would be wise to save them for bad weather days. Savannah wanted a smoke and to rest a while and suggested they continue the tour in the morning unless anything else turned up.

Coco received a text a few minutes later to confirm an appointment for 10AM the next day and said it was from two guys she had met while window shopping in Chinatown. They both needed copies of their CVs and decided to make a quick visit to the L.A. Library the last call of the day as it was close by and near Pershing Square. The assistant had been ready to leave but was gently persuaded to help them out as they convinced her of their situation.

The team had not expected an almost full tourist guide introduction tour of Downtown L.A., but it had been worthwhile as they were all learning different aspects of the neighbourhood, and tracking Savannah with all the sophisticated and latest surveillance equipment. They were beginning to get a little concerned over the tactics and they had started to question Savannah’s approach to the task. On the next group call she told everyone that she was doing fine, but somehow felt that Coco was not quite all that she appeared to be, and that she just had a sixth sense that something was wrong in their relationship.

Savannah gave a quick summary of the itinerary for the following day, on completion of which she told them that they should all apply for tour guide status with City Hall. She wanted to have an early night but needed to connect with a team member at the agreed exchange point so that she could sort her belongings and be ready to move to the next hostel. The exchange points were proving to be a masterstroke not only for Savannah who had access to clean clothes, accessories and cash every few days but also to the recon team who were able to maintain all the specialist equipment that was scattered throughout all her possessions.

The first stop the following morning was the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels known locally as COLA on W Temple St and it opened regularly at 0630AM. Savannah needed some quiet time to reflect and say a few prayers for her sister and herself. The church is a beautiful building designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo with a very contemporary structure and a large open floor plan. She walked around the building and sat on a pew near the large altar, before kneeling and praying for help. Savannah was no longer a practicing Catholic and she could no longer believe any of the religious sentiments of the priests and nuns, however she still prayed for her sister and for any help possible in getting her back. After no more than ten minutes she stood up from the pew and walked around beside the wall, but very slowly, stopping at each Station of the Cross. After the last one she went down to the Crypt mausoleum in the basement which contains relics of third century Roman Martyr Saint Vibiana. A few more minutes of contemplation and she lit a candle before doing the sign of the cross and left the Cathedral.

It was still early but she needed a coffee and a cigarette and headed for the nearest Starbuck’s where she would plan the rest of the day. She was hoping that there would be positive messages from some of the employment agencies very soon.

I had followed Savannah and entered the coffeeshop a few minutes later, ordered a large strong tea, waited a couple of minutes beside the counter as it was prepared, then sat down at the back so that I could see everyone in the shop. As usual I had a book out on the table which I was now well on the way to finishing, The Thirst by Jo Nesbo. I had left a marker on page 533 and re-read a couple of paragraphs that offered some very enlightening but quite disturbing information and I will quote from it as it may or may not be the totally accurate, but I think young girls and women should take note just in-case it is more accurate than I give it credit.

“Eight out of ten women leave their bag at the table when they go to the toilet/rest room, and that most of them keep their keys in the little zipped compartment inside the bag. And that it takes on average 15 seconds to make a wax impression of three keys, both sides, and that it’s easier to photograph the keys, but that for some types of keys a photograph isn’t enough to make a sufficiently accurate 3D file from which to produce copies using a 3D printer.”

Savannah was head down in local tour guides and considering where to go first and make the most of the morning, because she would not be meeting Coco until 11AM. There would be just enough time to get to L.A. City Hall and be first in the daily queue for a visitor’s pass and take the elevator all the way to the top where there is an open-air observation deck which completely free. There are impressive views of downtown LA and all the surrounding areas including Grand Park which is about three blocks long. She looked at the clock on the wall made the decision and was up and moving. I contacted the team and followed her discreetly to City Hall.

Coco did not make the rendezvous, Savannah waited for nearly twenty minutes and after a second cigarette decided to move on and it was then almost nonstop fast walking mode.

First stop Chinatown a few blocks up from Olvera Street, a small area with food, shopping and lots of unique architecture and traditional Chinese lanterns that go across many of the streets. Then Grand Central Market which is Downtown LA’s food court. A short walk to the Art’s District which has been described as the next up and coming downtown neighborhood that everybody wants to live in and where everyone else comes to eat. Savannah enjoyed the artistic murals on many of the buildings and happened to stop by chance outside the Wurstkuche restaurant which had rattlesnake and rabbit sausages on the menu, she loved it and wished she had a partner to share the experience with. The last stop on the tour was Little Tokyo in the heart of downtown L.A. this area has a unique mall full of all sorts of Japanese related items, and so many different restaurants to try.

The team was exhausted and thought that Savannah must be as well as she headed for her new hostel that would be home for only a few days. She told the team that she would have an early night and they could get some rest or have some fun and would catch them up again in the morning. She had been texted a few times and had two appointments booked and confirmed for the following day.

It was nearly 10:00PM and I was contacted, there was something happening, surveillance had picked up a strange pattern and we needed to talk asp!