A Selection of Titles by Gar Anthony Haywood
The Aaron Gunner Mysteries
FEAR OF THE DARK
NOT LONG FOR THIS WORLD
YOU CAN DIE TRYING
IT’S NOT A PRETTY SIGHT
WHEN LAST SEEN ALIVE
ALL THE LUCKY ONES ARE DEAD
The Joe and Dottie Loudermilk Series
GOING NOWHERE FAST
BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST
writing as Ray Shannon
Gar Anthony Haywood
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This first world edition published 2009
in Great Britain and 2010 in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2009 by Gar Anthony Haywood.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Haywood, Gar Anthony.
1. Criminals – Crimes against – California – Los Angeles – Fiction.
2. Los Angeles (Calif.) – Fiction. 3. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-035-7 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6851-0 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-193-5 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
For the stubborn few who continued to believe, long after the lights went out. You know who you are. God bless you and keep you well.
Many people offered me invaluable assistance in the writing of this book, but the following individuals deserve specific mention:
Alexis Moreno, Los Angeles historian
Eddie Muller, writer and pal
Joe Rein, boxing journalist and historian
Lt Ken Thomas, Public Information Office, Pelican State Prison
Patricia Medina, Executive Director, Crescent City Chamber of Commerce
Ray Mooring, US Bureau of Engraving and Printing
hat I’ve always remembered most about my last day in Los Angeles is the smell of burning tar.
A neighbor across the alley from O’s mother’s garage was having his roof redone and the stench of molten tar hung in the air like a hot, black cloud.
‘Goddamn, that shit stinks!’ R.J. kept saying.
O’ was late as usual and all the waiting around had R.J. going through Kools like a chocolate junky through Kisses. By the time O’ finally showed up, over forty minutes after the agreed-upon hour, the floor of the garage was littered with butts, R.J. having crushed them underfoot with an animal-like ferocity to assuage his terror.
‘What the fuck kept you?’
It was a curious thing. R.J. was tighter with O’ than I had ever been, but it was he who seemed afraid our friend was gone forever, that O’ had changed the plan and decided not to come. I had entertained the idea myself, but only briefly. We were all going to be running soon enough; leaving without making this final, farewell gesture would have surely been too foolish an improvisation for O’ to even consider.
‘I thought somebody might be following me, so I had to drive around a while till I was sure nobody was.’
O’ tossed the big canvas bag he’d brought with him on to a workbench overrun with hand tools. It landed with the sound of a fat man jumping on a hardwood floor.
‘You don’t trust me enough to know I was still coming, you probably don’t trust me enough to believe it’s all here.’ He opened the mouth of the bag, kept his eyes on R.J. ‘You want to count it?’
‘Goddamn right we want to count it.’ R.J. flicked one last cigarette toward the floor and moved to the bag, never giving me so much as a backwards glance. He reached in, retrieved a pair of dog-eared bundles of green, and flipped them over to me. ‘Check it out, Handy,’ he said.
I ran a thumb across the bills as he rifled through the bag’s full contents, O’ watching us both with the detached demeanor of an innocent man in a police line-up. I wasn’t as concerned about O’s dishonesty as R.J. was, but I scrutinized the two stacks of tens and twenties closely enough to make a rough estimate: ‘Looks like fifteen hundred, give or take.’ I underhanded the money back to R.J., who returned it to the swollen belly of the canvas bag and proceeded to flip through two more bundles of his own.
‘It’s all there, R.J.,’ I said.
He looked up.
‘And we don’t have time to get in his ass even if it’s not. We’re on the clock here.’
‘Fuck the clock. A hundred and forty grand is a lotta bread, Handy. How do we know—’
‘Because we know the
,’ I said. ‘That’s how.’
R.J. thought about it, giving O’ the hard look his unabashed suspicion demanded, and closed up the bag.
‘Let’s do this, then,’ O’ said.
He had rolled an old black, steel-drum barbecue grill to the center of the garage earlier that day, hours before R.J. and I had arrived shortly before noon, and now he brought the canvas bag and a can of kerosene over to it, acting as high priest of the dark ceremony we had all come here to take part in. He poured the bag’s contents over the grill’s open maw, drenched the mountain of emerald paper liberally with kerosene, and produced a book of matches. He started to strike one, but I put a hand out at the last second and said, ‘I’ll do it.’
My two friends looked at me with equal surprise.
‘I’m the one who wanted this. I’m the one who should have to live with it.’
I took the matches from O’s hand and snapped one to life, tossing the yellow flame into the grill before regret had any chance to take over the room.
We watched the money burn in silence for a long while, our eyes thick with smoke and our hearts heavy. This was only part of the price we had to pay for absolution, and it wasn’t going to be anywhere near high enough.
‘It wasn’t our fault,’ O’ said, his gaze fixed on the fire.
‘Hell, no,’ R.J. agreed, speaking a lie he knew he would never truly be able to believe.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want the debate to begin anew.
‘I’m gonna miss you niggas,’ R.J. said.
O’ and I nodded our heads in silence, though I was already certain it wasn’t O’s and R.J.’s friendship I was going to miss most in the years to come.
It was the hope I used to have for my eternal soul.
t’s not a problem young people have to worry about, but right around the time he hits his middle forties, a man starts giving serious thought to dying well. In his sleep in his own bed, or in the course of a street fight meant to settle something meaningful. His end doesn’t have to be poignant, just devoid of indignity. You wouldn’t think that would be too much to ask.
But how a man leaves this world, much like the way he comes into it, is almost never his own call to make, so evil men die on satin sheets in 400-dollar-a-night hotel rooms, while good ones breathe their last lying face down in cold, dark alleyways, their bodies growing stiff and blue on beds of rain-soaked newspaper.
Robert James Burrow didn’t deserve to go out like royalty, perhaps, but he didn’t deserve the ignoble exit he made either, shot four times and left to rot in the trunk of a stolen Buick LeSabre, down by the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles where we both grew up.
Twenty-six years earlier, a more fitting death for the hard-nosed brother we all knew as ‘R.J.’ could hardly have been imagined. Back then, like me, R.J. and trouble went hand-in-hand, so relentless was his pursuit of it. But this was two-and-a-half decades later, and the weight of all that time should have slowed him down some. The man was closing in on fifty, just as I was myself, and four bullets was at least two more than his killing should have required.
I learned of my old friend’s murder via telephone. His widow had somehow tracked me down in Minnesota and invited me to the funeral, talking to me like someone who hadn’t last seen or spoken to her husband in over twenty years. I allowed her to say goodbye and hang up believing I intended to come, when in fact I had no such compulsion. It didn’t matter that R.J. and I had once been as close as two men not bound by blood could possibly become, nor that I literally owed him my life. He was a reminder of what I had always considered my darkest hour, and I wasn’t going to stop avoiding him now just to answer the quixotic call of loyalty and unpaid debt.
Or so I thought.
Squeezed into an overpriced coach seat on a flight from Minneapolis/St Paul to Los Angeles, two days after receiving the Widow Burrow’s call, I tried to tell myself I was making the trip simply to close the book on R.J. forever. I wasn’t going out there to see anybody, or to ask any questions. R.J.’s death had nothing to do with me, and I had nothing to gain by trying to behave otherwise.
Had I only found the strength to stay home, I might never have learned how wrong I was. I would not have gone rooting around the city of my birth for people I had no reason to make enemies of, and I would not have seen what a pitiful corpse my old friend made, gray and silent in his fancy burial clothes. A few words of bad news taken over the telephone, that’s all R.J.’s murder would have been to me. Something to be saddened and shaken by for a day or two, then slowly set aside like a faded letter I no longer cared to read.
There are times I almost wish things had gone down exactly that way. But then I remind myself of the remote possibility that R.J.’s soul rests a little easier because they didn’t, and I leave all my second-guessing for another day.
.J.’s service was mercifully brief.
It was a hushed and somber Catholic affair that somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty people attended in the chapel at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fox Hills. The young white priest who called my friend’s soul to rest did not know him, and everyone else only thought they did. I stood in the back of the chapel for the duration of the proceedings, cold marble walls on all sides, then followed the throng out to the treeless hill where the priest said a few last words over the body before it was dispatched to the earth. I intended to leave right then, my duty to a man I hadn’t seen in over twenty years done, but before I could peel away from the crowd, someone behind me dropped a hand on my shoulder to thwart my cowardly escape.
‘Need a ride to the repast, Handy?’
I’d been dreading the sight of O’Neal Holden all morning, and now that the fear of finding him had finally left me, here he was, grinning like the joke was on me. He’d added a few pounds around the waist and his clothes were befitting a man who gave more orders than he took, but other than that, he looked like the same old O’. Big, gregarious, and as prone to pounce upon the vulnerable as a cat in the high weeds.
Without thinking about it, I offered him my hand, too overcome by nostalgia to do anything else. ‘O’. What’s goin’ on?’
He gripped my hand with both of his and drew me into an embrace. ‘Not a thing. Damn, it’s good to see you.’
We were fast becoming the last ones standing at the gravesite. R.J’s widow Frances and their only child, a lovely and statuesque daughter named Toni who’d been at her mother’s side throughout the service, had long since been loaded into the lead car of the funeral procession and taken away, and with the sky overhead turning an appropriate shade of gray, everyone else was rushing to follow.