Authors: James Ellroy
When the meaning clicked fully in, Rice began smashing the club into the wall, four shots at a time, hearing hellish whispers in the wake of the noise: “It's real pharmaceutical blow, baby”; “Duane wouldn't want me to”; “Come on sweetie, party hearty.” When the voices degenerated into giggles, he slammed the ding-donger harder and harder, until the wood casing cracked and the dings screamed along in cadence with his blows. Then sections of plaster exploded in his eyes and into his mouth, and his head started to reel. He surrendered himself to the asphyxiation and fell backward into total silence.
A severed arm spraying blood across a windshield; the steam room at the Hollywood Y. Rice came to with a ringing in his ears and a hazy red curtain in front of his eyes, snapping immediately to the bandage at the crook of his elbow and the wall-to-wall padding that surrounded him. Goose-juiced because he had destroyed A-8, because Gordon hadâ
Rice held his breath until he passed out, his last half-conscious thought to kill the dope with sleep and get even.
He slept; wakened; slept. Stumbling trips to the toilet, untouched trays of food and a thickening razor stubble marked his drifting in and out of consciousness. Dimly, he knew his kick-out date was coming and the bulls were leaving him alone because they were afraid of him. But Vandy â¦
Again and again he plunged into self-asphyxiation.
Finally hunger jerked him fully awake. He counted twelve trays of stale sandwiches, and figured his Prolixin jolt had lasted four days, leaving him three days from the streets. Ravenous, he ate until he threw up. That night a Mexican deputy came by his cell to bring him a fresh tray, and told him he was in Hospital Isolation, between the Ding and the High-Power tanks, and that his release date was two days away. The jailer was wearing a paper party hat. Rice asked him why. “The nightwatch ding jailer just retired,” he said. “The watch commander threw him a party.”
It couldn't have happened.
Vandy would never let a wimp like Gordon Meyers touch her. But when the jailer walked away, the doubts came back. He tried to force sleep, but it wouldn't come. The edge of his vision started to go red.
Hours of push-ups and leg lifts produced an exhaustion that felt pure and nonchemical. Rice drifted off again, then awakened to muffled voices coming from somewhere outside his cell.
He followed the sound to a grated ventilator shaft next to the toilet. Peering through the grates, he saw two pairs of denim-clad legs facing each other. The white stripes along the pants seams was a dead giveawayâhe was looking into a High-Power Tank cell.
Laughter; then a deep voice taking over, his words echoing clearly through the shaft.
“I heard a dream score the other day, from this black guy on the Folsom chain. He and his partner were gonna do it, then he got violated on a liquor store heist. He was one smart nigger. He had it documented, the whole shot.”
A different, softer voice: “Smart nigger is a contradiction in terms.”
“Bullshit. Dig this: three-man stick-up gang, a bonaroo kidnap angle, an ace fucking safeguard.
“Here's the play: two guys hold the
bank manager, at her pad, while the outside man calls the manager at
crib and has him call his chick, who of course is scared fucking shitless. The outside man calls back and gives him the drill: âMeet me a half block from the bank an hour before opening, or your bitch gets killed and everyone knows you've been cheating on your wife.'
“Now, dig: the phone booth the outside man's been calling from is down the street from the manager's pad, so he can make sure the fuzz ain't been called. He trails the manager to the bankâstill no fuzzâwalks in with him, hits only the cashboxes, because the vault has gotta be time-locked, walks out, takes the manager out to his car, slugs him and ties him up, calls the inside men at the chick's pad, they tie
up, split, then meet later and divvy up the bread. Is that not fucking brilliant?”
The soft-voiced man snorted: “Yeah, but how the fuck are you supposed to find happily married bank managers with girlfriends on the side? You gonna put an ad in the paper: âArmed robber seeks cooperative pussy-hound bank managers to aid him in career advancement? Send rÃ©sumÃ© to blah, blah, blah?' Typical nigger bullshit and jive.”
“Wrong, bro,” the deep-voiced man said. “I don't know how he got the info, but the black guy had two jobs casedârighteous rogue bank managers, girlfriends, the whole shot.”
“And I suppose he gave you the skinny?”
“Yeah, he did, and I believe him. He got ten to life as a habitual offender, why not share the wealth, he's looking at a dime minimum. One chick lives in Encino, on the corner of Kling and Valley View, in a pink apartment house; the other, Christine something, lives in Studio City, a house on the corner of Hildebrand and Gage. I told you: one smart fucking nigger.”
“I still don't believe it.”
“If Bo Derek offered you a headjob, you'd think she was a drag queen. You're just a terminal fucking skeptic.”
Rice listened as the conversation deteriorated into the usual jailhouse shtick of sports and sex. When the talk died altogether, he lay down with his head next to the ventilator shaft and once more fell asleep.
Vandy took over his dreams, short-take images of her laughing, moving around in bed. Then she was there with the Vandals, vibrato growling their closing number: “Gotta get down in the prison of your love. Get down, get down, gonna drown, gonna come so good, so hard, burn my body in your prison yard, prison of your love!”
Rice awakened for the final time in L.A. County Jail stint just as Vandy and the Vandals brought “Prison of Your Love” to its off-key crescendo. Coward, he said to himself. Coward. Using sleep the way a junkie uses smack. Maybe she fucked him and maybe she didn't; when you look into her eyes, you'll know.
So stay awake and fight.
He stood up and looked around the cell, his eyes catching a wad of newspaper beside the toilet and a book of matches on top of the sink. Thinking,
let them know
, he struck a match on the ventilator grate, then lit the newspaper and watched it fireball. When it started to burn his hand, he dropped it into the toilet and listened to the sizzle and hiss of newsprint. Satisfied with the way the ink was running, he turned his attention to the floor-to-wall-to-ceiling padding.
Gouging was the only way.
Rice dug his fingernails into a seam of wall padding and pulled outward. Naugahyde, foam and a layer of webbed cotton were revealed. He poked a finger into the hole and felt metal in back of the webbing. Spring reinforcement. He gouged his way to it, then twisted the nearest piece of metal back and forth until it broke off in his hand.
It took him hours to hone his tool on the ventilator shaft grates. When the spring was razor sharp, he pressed it into a sodden ball of newspaper and darkened the tip. Flexing his left biceps into a hard surface, he thought of Hawaiian Gardens and Vandy. Then he marked himself with his past and future, so the whole world would know. The words were
Death Before Dishonor.
obby “Boogaloo” Garcia watched his kid brother Joe loosen his clerical collar and do air guitar riffs in front of the bedroom mirror. He felt his own priest outfit constrict his body and said, “I can't take none of your rock and roll rap today,
I quit fighting 'cause niggers kept knocking me out in the third round, and you'll never make it as a musician 'cause you got no drive and no talent. But we both got a job to do, and we're behind for the month. So let's
Joe cut off the music in his head; his lyrics put to an old Fats Domino tune, “Suicide Hill” substituted for “Blueberry Hill.” Leave it to Bobby to puncture both their balloons with one shot, so he wouldn't have a good comeback. “Tomorrow's December first. The Christmas rush and the rainy season. We'll double up on Bibles and prayer kits,
siding jobs.” Bobby's jaw clenched at the last words, and Joe added, “And we'll give some money to Saint Sebastian's. A tithe. We'll find some suckers with bucks, and rip them off and give the
to earthquake reâ”
Bobby stopped him with a slow finger across the throat. “Not earthquake relief,
It's a scam! You don't do penance for one scam by giving bucks to another one!”
“But Henderson gave two grand to that priest from the archdiocese for earthquake relief. Heâ”
Bobby shook his head. “A scam within a scam within a scam,
He gave the priest a check for two K and got a receipt for three. That priest has got a brother in the D.A.'s office. The Fraud Division. Need I say fucking more?”
Joe tightened his collar, feeling his nice guy/musician self slip back into Father Hernandez, the phone scam padre. He grabbed a stack of Naugahyde-bound Bibles off the floor and carried them out to the car, wondering for the ten millionth time how Bobby could love hating his brother and his job and his
as much as he did.
Bobby and Joe worked for Henderson Enterprises, Inc., purveyors of aluminum siding and Bibles in Spanish. The scam originated in a phone room, where salesmen pitched rustproof patios and eternal salvation through Jesus to unsophisticated and semi-impoverished Angelenos, offering them free gas coupons as a come-on to get the “field representatives” out to their homes, where he signed them up for “lifetime protection guarantees,” which in reality meant a new siding job or Bible on a “regular installation basis”âmeaning debilitating permanent monthly payments to whoever was gullible enough to sign on the dotted line.
Which was where Bobby and Joe, as Father Gonzalez and Father Hernandez, L.A.-based “free-lance” priests, came in. They were the “heavy closers”âpsychological intimidation specialists who sized up weaknesses on the follow-up calls and
the sucker sign, setting in motion a string of kickbacks originating in the main office of U.S. Aluminum, Inc., and its subsidiary company, the Truth and Light Publishing House.
With the trunk of their '77 Camaro stuffed with Bibles, siding samples and wall hangings of Jesus, the Garcias drove to a “close” in El Monte on the Pomona Freeway. Joe was at the wheel, humming Springsteen under his breath so his brother wouldn't hear; Bobby threw short punches toward the windshield and stared out at the dark clouds that were forming, hoping for thundershowers to spook their closees into buying. When raindrops spattered the glass in front of him, he closed his eyes and thought of how everything important in his life happened when it was raining.
Like the time he sparred with Little Red Lopez and knocked him through the ropes with a perfect right cross. Red said his timing was off because bad weather made his old knife scars ache.
Like the time Joe and his garage band won the “Battle of the Bands” at El Monte Legion Stadium. He played adoring older brother and glommed a groupie who gave him head in his car while he smoked weed and kept the wipers going so he could eyeball prowling fuzz.
Like the righteous burglaries he and Joe pulled in West L.A. during the '77-'78 floods, when the L.A.P.D. and C.H.P. were all evacuating hillsides and mopping blood off the freeways.
Like the time he felt guilty about treating Joe like dirt, and agreed to rip off the guitars and amplifiers from the J. Geils bass player's pad in Benedict Canyon. Halfway down to Sunset with the loot, the car fishtails and sideswipes a sheriffs nark ark. Joe freaks at the badge and cocked magnum in his face and starts blabbing how a hitchhiker left the stuff in the trunk. No way, Jose, the cop said. Bingo: nine months in the laundry at Wayside.
Like the times when they were kids, and Joe got terrified of thunder and woke him up and made him promise always to protect him.
Bobby switched to left jabs aimed at the wiper blades, pulling his fist back a split second before it hit the glass, watching Joe flinch out of the corner of his eye. “I always carried you, ain't I? Like I promised to when we were kids?”
Joe kept his eyes on the road, but clenched his elbows to his side, like he always did when Bobby started talking scary. “Sure, Bobby, that's true.”
“And you've always watchdogged me when I got off too deep into my weird shit. Ain't that true?”
Joe saw what was coming and swallowed so his voice would be steady. “That's true.”
“You've got to say it.”
Tightening his hands on the wheel, Joe fought an image of their last B&E, of the woman with her skirt up over her head, Bobby with his knife at her throat as he raped her. “Y-you'd be â¦ you'd hurt people.”
“What kind of people?”
Joe stared straight ahead. The sky was getting darker and taillights began flashing on. Concentrating on their reflections off the wet pavement gave him a moment to think up a new answer that would satisfy Bobby's weirdness and let him keep a piece of his pride. He was about to speak when a station wagon swerved in front of them.
Joe flinched backward and Bobby grabbed the wheel out of his hands and yanked it hard right. The car lurched forward, missing the station wagon's rear bumper by inches. Bobby jammed his foot onto the accelerator, looked over his shoulder, saw a tight passing space and jerked the car across four lanes and down a darkened off-ramp. He slowly applied the brake, and when they came to a stop at the flooded intersection, Joe was brushing tears from his eyes.
“Say it,” Bobby said.
Joe screamed the words, his voice breaking: “You're a rape-o! You're a mind fuck! You're on a wacko guilt trip, and I'm not kicking out any more of
penance!” He swung the car out into the stream of traffic, punching the gas, doing a deft brody that set off a chain of honks from cut-off motorists. Bobby cracked the passenger window for air, then said softly, “I just want you to know how things are. How they're always gonna be. I owe you for getting us out of burglary. Too many women out there; too many chances to pull weird shit. But you owe me your guts, 'cause without me you ain't got any. We gotta remember that stuff.”