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Authors: Michael Krikorian

Southside (9781608090563)

BOOK: Southside (9781608090563)
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SOUTHSIDE

SOUTHSIDE

A Novel

Michael Krikorian

Copyright © 2013 by Michael Krikorian

FIRST EDITION

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-60809-055-6

Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing,
Longboat Key, Florida
www.oceanviewpub.com

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

To Jeanine, the lovely daughter of Tony and Rose,
and to Nancy, the curly-haired chef of my dreams.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First, I want to thank my cousin Greg Krikorian who got me into journalism and paved the way for my writing.

Two of my other cousins, Dave and Jeff Arzouman, helped build my writing foundation by providing adventures that bordered on the legal.

If it hadn't been for Miles Corwin, this book wouldn't have been professionally published. Miles told me about Pat and Bob Gussin and the crew at Oceanview Publishing.

So many writers to thank, but a couple stand out. In the mid-1990s, Michael Connelly got me back into reading after a decade-long lapse. More recently, Michael Koryta became a grand champion of
Southside
.

Thanks also to Jim Murray, the great
L.A. Times
sports columnist.

In different ways, so many people helped along the way. To name a few: Suzanne Tracht, Ralph Waxman, Chris Feldmeier, Phil Rosenthal, Bonnie and Alan Engle, Jason Asch, Alex Glass, Conrad Hurtt, Ellen Nadel, and the living legend Caryl “Carly” Kim.

Thanks to my uncle Harry for pushing me to not give up the fight and to Larry Silverton for his stories and daughters, Gail and Nancy.

Here's to Sal LaBarbera, the best homicide detective in America, and to his storied opponent on the opposing corner, Cleamon “Big Evil” Johnson, the most charming gang leader I've ever known.

August 2004

Payton and Marcus walked toward the car wash on Central Avenue and 89th Street in the lethal neighborhood of Green Meadows. To meet some girls? No. Both were in old-fashioned romances with their one and only loves. To buy drugs? No. Neither used nor sold drugs. Just out for a stroll to gaze at one of those meadows this ‘hood was named after? Hell, there hasn't been a green meadow ‘round here for three-quarters of a century.

Even years later, no one, not even the detectives, had been able to figure out why they—or anybody, for that matter—would walk to a car wash.

The two were not gang members. Still, they must have known the inherent danger of two guys from the Eastside of Central crossing over to the Westside.

The simple act of crossing that avenue on foot was risky, if not straight-out reckless, here on the Southside of Los Angeles.

The shot caller was sitting on a porch fifty yards away when he saw the prey and haphazardly sentenced them to death.

“Poison Rat, you wanna earn some respect ‘round here and live up to your name? See if you really got some poison in you or you just a rat?”

“I'm ready. Ready for a promotion, blood.”

“There, them,” said the shot caller, nodding, not even pointing, to the two guys crossing Central. “The two fools from the Kitchen. Crabs heading for the car wash.” “Crabs” was a derogatory term for Crips.

“Man, I know them guys. They ain't Kitchens,” said the young
thug, referring to the Crip set that ran the “Kitchen” neighborhood of Central Avenue.

“Rat, where they live?”

“Other side of Central.”

“What 'hood is that?”

“Kitchen.”

“Then where they from?”

“Ah'ight. Ah'ight.”

The shot caller motioned toward a teenage homeboy in the alley adjacent to the house where the shot caller sat on his throne. The kid ducked down the alley and, twenty seconds later, reappeared and approached the porch, casually carrying a Food4Less paper shopping bag by its flimsy handles like it was half full of groceries.

He handed it to the shot caller who pulled out its contents: an Uzi and a clip. He checked the clip and shoved it into the gun. He held it up for observation as nonchalantly as someone holding the sports section on a lazy Sunday morning. He then handed the weapon to Poison Rat.

“This here ain't full auto,” the leader said. “So just squeeze and squeeze away. Thirty times. You feel me? Take about three seconds, maybe five with your fat-ass fingers. And I don't want or hear 'bout one bullet left in this motherfucker. You feel me?”

“I feel you.”

“Get up close, don't say a word, pull, then jam to the alley. Li'l Gun'll be there in the truck, and you guys hit it. Get outta here for a couple days. Go to Vegas or sumpthin'. I don't wanna see you for a while.

“Understand?”

“I got it, man. Be bool.”

“‘Be bool'? Nigga, you the one better be bool. Now go do it.” Bloods, whenever they could, or remembered, avoided the dreaded letter “c.”

The shot caller knew he should've left the area, given himself an alibi. He knew he'd be questioned. No doubt about that. But he
just couldn't leave. It wasn't in him to leave. Not when a thrill far too enticing was just seconds away.

The two young men had crossed Central Avenue. Poison Rat met them at the car wash. After the first nine shots, he stood over them and pumped in the last twenty-one till he clicked on empty.

Three blocks away, his head underneath the hood of an '89 Ford Ranger pickup, adjusting the jets on the carb, a mechanic heard the long burst of rapid gunfire. Even here on 92nd and Central, the northwestern border of Watts, that was a lot of shots during the day.

Like he did whenever he heard gunfire, even a single shot, the mechanic thought of the love of his life, his son. He still remembered an article in the
L.A. Times
a year or so ago that calculated if every neighborhood in the entire city had as many homicides as this area, there would be more than 11,000 killings a year in Los Angeles.

The mechanic worried, too, about his wife, but not nearly as much. Their relationship was shaky at best, and she was most likely away at work at the hospital. Or in a Compton crack house.

The mechanic told his boss he had to walk up the avenue, just to check. The boss who owned the ramshackle auto repair was accustomed to this. He told a customer, “Hell, a car could backfire and my man here would think it was a bullet fired into his son's heart.”

The mechanic walked quickly toward the car wash. From a block and a half away, he could see there were a few people gathering. Most folks around here knew better than to go to the scene of a shooting. A second shooter, an ambusher, could be lying in wait.

The man's walk turned to a trot. Then he saw, through the small standing group, two bodies sprawled out. He started to run.

Forty feet away, a lady, one of those standing near the bodies, noticed the running man rapidly approaching. She raised her hands over her head, crossing them frantically. “No! No! Mr. Sims, no. Don't come over here!”

He panicked. His body released a cold sweat. He ran past the
woman to the fallen men. He couldn't recognize the faces of his son and his son's friend. But, he recognized the jersey. Number 34. His heart died right there at that car wash.

December 2013

The oak door opened and light slashed darkness at the Redwood Saloon. Danny, the bartender, eyed me and gave up his customary greeting.

“Hit 'n' Run!”

I had earned that sobriquet from my frequent forays in and out of this haunt on 2nd Street between Broadway and Hill in downtown Los Angeles.

I worked a block and a half east at the
Times
as the paper's street gang reporter and if the day was slow—no triples, no doubles, no kids under ten shot, no grandmas over seventy, no desperate assistant city editor pestering me for briefs—round three or so I'd head to the Redwood. Danny would see me enter, and by the time I got to the bar, a shot of Early Times was waiting to be swallowed. I drank the harsh whiskey as a tribute to my grandpa, my mom's dad, a tough Armenian from the fierce city of Van who started every American morning with a shot of E.T.

I'd lift the shooter, down the shot, leave a fin, grab a couple of peppermints for later, pop a stick of Big Red for now, walk back into the brightness, and return to the job I loved. I'd be back at the paper quicker than most of my fellow metro reporters took to get a cup of coffee and read another Plaschke column on why the hell there was no NFL team in America's second largest city.

This had gone on for years. When it started, having a drink during the day wasn't a sin for a journalist, though it was already thought to be old-school. But, back then, old-school was cool, even fashionable. Not that I ever tried to be cool or fashionable. I was just old-school for real.

Now, by 2013, drinking during the day was considered cause for
concern, in a league with insubordination, relying on one anonymous source, or tonguing out a fifteen-year-old girl while on the education beat. Fuck 'em. Part of the romance of being a journalist was going to a bar and having a drink. Damn, I loved that. Whenever I heard Coltrane's “My Favorite Things,” it made the list. But, I did make some concessions. Rarely did I have more than one drink and never three. Plus by now, I'd switched to vodka—usually Stoli, sometimes good old Smirnoff. This was after a surly old-time photojournalist named Boris Yaro told me vodka didn't smell. Maybe it didn't reek like whiskey, but it still fouled my mouth.

So today I got a Stoli on the rocks. A double. It wasn't a hit-and-run situation. This day I was done at the newsroom and heading down to 74th and Hoover to hook with King Funeral, the ancient forty-seven-year-old shot caller of the Hoover Criminals, one of California's biggest and deadliest black street gangs. I had already talked with him once, sort of a get-to-know-each-other preinterview. Didn't tape it, didn't even take notes. This night was to be the real interview.

That was my specialty, street gangs. No other reporter wanted to deal with them, even though gangs were the single biggest social problem in Los Angeles, often accounting for more than seven hundred homicides a year in the city and a thousand in the county, the County of Angels. The killings had dropped dramatically over the last few years, city officials were quick to boast. Now, there was “only” one a day.

Covering gangs was a natural fit for me. After graduating from high school, while my classmates sought out respected universities, pragmatic trade schools, or meager employment, I ventured, like a wide-eyed tourist, to America's most dangerous neighborhoods. I carried a past armed with its share of demerits, some of them attained in the slums of the South Bronx, East St. Louis, the Westside of Baltimore, and the South Side of Chicago, the rest on the streets of Compton, South Central, and Watts. The Southside of Los Angeles. The worst side, the best side, depending on what you were looking to get out of life.

Typical of the isolation racial groups felt in Los Angeles, many
black residents here partitioned the Southside into either the West-side or the Eastside, the dividing line being the Harbor Freeway.

Of course, the editors at the
Times
didn't know the details of that boisterous time of my life. Didn't know about my arrests and my felony convictions, either. When I was hired, I simply threw out the form requesting a background check. A secretary later called to say she didn't get it. I told her I had filled it out. She said she'd double-check. That was the last I heard about it.

BOOK: Southside (9781608090563)
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