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Authors: Joseph Wambaugh

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

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BOOK: The Delta Star
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“That is fucking it!” Leery shrieked suddenly. “I ain’t taking this shit! Look! Just look!”

It caused quite a stir even among those zombies who could barely lift their heads. Ludwig, deep within a canine dream or fantasy, had begun to moan, softly at first, and then with feeling.

And had begun ejaculating. Right on Leery’s pool table, on the felt, right by the side pocket.

“Czech, you got nothing on Ludwig,” said Jane Wayne admiringly.

“Like my old man. When he’s asleep
!
” said the fat groupie disgustedly.

“Know why dogs lick their own balls?” said The Bad Czech profoundly. “Cause they can.”


Fuss
, Ludwig!
Bitte
!
” Hans cried hopelessly. “Please don’t jizz on Leery’s table!”

Then, pandemonium! When Leery saw the jizz he lost his temper and gave Ludwig a hell of a poke with the pool stick, right in the ass. The Rottweiler rose up with a roar that sounded like a space shuttle blast-off.

Leery dropped the pool cue and went over that bar like no man seventy years old. Jane Wayne broke down a door crashing into the men’s room. The Bad Czech screamed in horror and drew down on the Rottweiler, pointing his two-inch Colt with both trembling hands. Ludwig sat upright on the pool table and roared, his huge head bumping against the hanging light and sending fearful shadows across the barroom full of terrified people.

Then, as fast as it had begun, the terrible roar subsided. Ludwig growled a bit and blinked his yellow menacing eyes, which were full of sleep and bloodshot from the smoke and booze. Then he plopped back down. In a few seconds he was snoring again.

And The Bad Czech was reholstering his gun shakily. And cops were walking, running, crawling out of The House of Misery.

The detective had a crazy thought when he unlocked his BMW, happy to see that no roving gypsy had ripped off his Blaupunkt. He remembered telling a professor in a police science class he once took at UCLA that police work wasn’t a science. It is and always will be an art, he had claimed. As he watched them staggering, sliding, weaving to their cars he remembered making that observation. And he thought it over. These? These are artists?

Then the detective saw The Gooned-out Vice Cop. He wasn’t getting into a car like the others. He was walking, no, floating down Sunset Boulevard. He seemed to be floating leisurely along the sidewalk into the darkness, his eyes like bullet holes.

Mario Villalobos’ own eyes started to ache again. He needed a good night’s sleep desperately. He unlocked his BMW and got in. But he wondered: what the hell did The Gooned-out Vice Cop see in that mirror?

The last sound the detective heard from The House of Misery was Leery’s anguished cry: “Achtung, Ludwig!
Achtung
!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter
Two
THE HANGING WINO

T
h
e bad czech was really cranky the next day. He had an awful headache. The base of his skull hurt, both temples hurt, and the top of his head, where his heavy black hair was parted by a cord of white scar (compliments of an NVA mortar fragment at Khe Sanh), hurt most of all. Even his eyebrows seemed to hurt. There was nothing like the central city, growling and farting and belching forth a pall of smoke and pollution, for intensifying an already brutal hangover. The Bad Czech lurched along his beat on smog-choked Alvarado Street with the old black cop Cecil Higgins, and looked like he might commit murder. Which he tried to do within the hour. And which he finally managed the next day.

But before attempting murder and finally succeeding, The Bad Czech had a rather normal morning. First order of business for the two beat cops was to stagger into Leo’s Love Palace, an Alvarado bar frequented by Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Dominicans and Salvadoreans. Leo, a Pima Indian, despised all the greasers even more than he despised the huge paleface and the old nigger now looking at him with agony in their bloody eyes. Leo started mixing up the morning Alka-Seltzer for the beat cops without being asked.

Three Salvadoreans boogied out the back door before finishing their beers, causing Cecil Higgins, who had just removed his police hat and was massaging his aching bald head, to say, “Musta been a good hit on Sy’s Clothing Store over the weekend. Those three was all wearin Calvin Kleins.”

“Oh my head!” The Bad Czech moaned. “I’m feelin main-street pain. Don’t talk too loud, Cecil.”

As The Czech said it, he drank down the Alka-Seltzer, moaned again, and was licking the foam from his wiry black moustache when a black Puerto Rican came finger-popping through the door listening to station KROQ with two shiny new radios blaring music in his ears. He saw the two hungover blue-coats at the bar, said, “Uh oh,” and highballed it back out onto Alvarado.

“Shee-it,” Cecil Higgins said. “That sucker’s the fifth thief I seen this mornin with brand new ghetto blasters glued to his fuckin ears. Raymond’s Stereo Center musta got raped over the weekend.”

“I gotta get some fresh smog in my lungs or I’m gonna die, Cecil,” The Bad Czech whimpered, and lurched out of Leo’s Love Palace onto the busy sidewalk, the older cop following along behind, still rubbing his loose bald scalp.

“Jesus Christ on Roller Skates!” The Bad Czech suddenly cried.

“That’s who it is, aw right,” Cecil Higgins nodded as the two beat cops moved off the sidewalk to let Jesus Christ on Roller Skates boogie on by.

He wore an ankle-length dirty gray sari and shoulder-length dirty brown hair and a full beard and dilated blue eyes. He was about as skinny as the skateboard he was riding and could not possibly have carried the seven-foot cross made of four-by-fours if he hadn’t had the ingenuity to attach a roller skate to the toe of the cross, which Cecil Higgins said proved that he might be crazy but he wasn’t stupid. His mission seemed to be to stop every twenty yards or so, put the cross down and scream, “Prepare ye for my coming!” at the top of his lungs.

If that wasn’t bad enough he also had a ghetto blaster strapped around his neck, but at least it wasn’t tuned in to KROQ. He was playing a cassette of “The Old Rugged Cross.”

“Wonder if Jesus Christ on Roller Skates was the chaplain for the gang that ripped off Raymond’s Stereo Center?” Cecil Higgins mused.

“Maybe it’s the cheap booze at Leery’s,” The Bad Czech groaned. “But ya know, Cecil, sometimes I ain’t too sure no more what’s real and what ain’t.”

“Huh!” Cecil Higgins grunted. “You on
l
y got thirteen years on the job, boy. Wait’ll you got twenny-eight years like me. Some days I walk this here beat and I don’t know my dick from a dumplin. Tell ya the truth, Czech, I ain’t been absolutely sure what’s real and what ain’t for maybe twenny-two years now.”

“I know that Jesus Christ on Roller Skates was real,” The Bad Czech mumbled, more to himself than to Cecil Higgins, as the two blue-suited beat cops walked gingerly on their ripple soles to reduce the pain. “Only reason I know is, that screechy roller skate hurt my head, is how I know.” Then he added, “I’m pretty sure that Jesus Christ on Roller Skates was real.”

***

And while The Bad Czech was moving tenderly about his beat, Mario Villalobos, also experiencing a world-class hangover, wiped an imaginary dust spot from the roof of his BMW and headed for the back door of Rampart Station wondering how many of the locals had survived the shootings, stabbings, rapings and stranglings that undoubtedly occurred over the weekend while folks gathered to celebrate Mother’s Day.

“Morning, Mario,” a young voice said cheerfully. “Have a nice Mother’s Day?”

“Morning,” the detective answered, heading for the coffeepot.

He only glanced at Chip Muirfield and at the brand-new three-piece butter-
brickle
suit the young detective was wearing, and at the tanned, handsome face and sun-streaked surfer’s hair. Yet somehow he had known that the young man would say “Have a nice Mother’s Day?”

Chip Muirfield was the nephew of retired Deputy Chief Lorenzo Muirfield, who after retirement was appointed by the mayor to the board of police commissioners. Chip was a law-school dropout, disappointing his Uncle Lorenzo, who decided to redeem his nephew by pushing him to the top of Lorenzo’s chosen profession. (When it came to nepotism the Hollywood film studios had nothing on the police department.)

Chip Muirfield was only twenty-seven years old and had been a policeman for just four years, most of it in administrative jobs. He had been temporarily assigned to Rampart Detectives on a loan to give him some “seasoning,” as his uncle put it when he begged the favor. And to prepare Chip for the quick ascension up the bureaucratic ladder which was to be his destiny. This kid had so much topspin you couldn’t keep him inside the baseline, everyone said. He’d taken to detective work with a fervor. Especially homicide, because he loved to look at dead bodies, the gorier the better. And he discovered much to his delight that Melody Waters, the only female on the homicide team, shared his fascination with mutilated corpses.

Melody was a cute-as-a-button brunette, five years older than Chip, and the only female officer on the Los Angeles Police Department with the balls to wear a shoulder holster like Clint Eastwood. Very few male detectives had the balls to wear a shoulder holster like Clint Eastwood. Chip Muirfield also wore a shoulder holster. The other cops said it was a love story: Dirty Harry meets Dirty Harriet.

Mario Villalobos sat at the homicide table and rubbed his aching eyes and looked at the two happy young hot dogs who had found each other in their shoulder holsters, and he wondered if he could afford to pull the pin when he got twenty-five years in. But he really couldn’t afford to, not with the second divorce just final. Not with two teenaged sons to support from his first marriage. He was ever grateful that the brief second one was childless. He might have had to stay for thirty in order to get the maximum pension. As it was, he longed to retire at twenty-five years. Then he happened to glance down at Chip Muirfield’s feet. The kid was wearing suede saddle oxfords!

It was not the same police department that Mario Villalobos had joined back in the early sixties, before the street riots and Vietnam, when dinosaurs like The Bad Czech were the rule and not the exception. Mario Villalobos III in those days had felt obliged to explain away his Spanish surname to every policeman he worked with: “No, I’m not Mexican. No, I’m not even Spanish, for chrissake. Well, I mean I had one freaking grandparent who migrated from Spain to England but he never spoke Spanish again. In fact, he married my grandma in Wales. I know I’m dark, but … no, I can’t speak Welsh! Only Richard Burton can speak Welsh. And my mother was an Okie from Muskogee. If I was a Mexican I’d admit it!”

But even if a partner was convinced, there’d be the directed calls from communications to meet a motor cop or a traffic unit to translate for some poor wetback they were booking for drunk driving. Only to repeat: “Yes, I know I have a Mexican name. It’s Spanish really, but I can’t speak … Aw, shit!”

Until finally, one night while on patrol in Watts in 1965, when half the city seemed to be burning and a fire storm was lighting up the sky in the west for twenty miles, a wise old cop from San Pedro who had been moved in for riot duty said to him, “Kid, I was you I’d take advantage a my name. I mean, here you go around apologizing to everybody cause you got a name like a beaner and cause you’re dark enough to pass for one. I see the department changing a lot by the time you grow up and get whiskers. If this riot means anything I think they’re gonna be pushing the minorities up the totem pretty soon. I was you, I’d be a Mexican. Know what I mean?”

And the old cop was almost right. After the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Employment Opportunities Act, the federal and state legislation tightened the screws all right. But it was the blacks, Orientals, and women of any race who finally were the beneficiaries of the pressure.

“He’s a federal captain,” the white cops might sneer when referring to a recently promoted black who otherwise (they thought) wouldn’t have made it. Or, “He’s another one of those feds we gotta accept,” referring to a five-foot-three-inch mini-cop like Sunney Kee, who they said was not only a foreigner but a midget as well.

The push really began after the boat people came to Los Angeles: the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians. And the Cubans. The cops just loved Jimmy Carter for letting in the boatloads of Cubans.

Along with the boat people came the Koreans, Thais and Chinese, and Latinos from all over Central and South America. To the center of the city, close to downtown, where they worked for minimum wage and less in restaurants, factories and sweatshops.

But Mexicans had been around too long for the Affirmative Action people to think about. Mario Villalobos had years ago taken the trouble to study Spanish for three years during his off-duty hours in order to be a more promotable Mexican when the time was ripe. It never was. Of course the Mexican-American cops knew he spoke gringo Spanish, but then so did lots of Mexican-American cops whose families were middle-class and assimilated. Mario Villalobos never claimed he was one. But he never said he wasn’t. It had all taught Mario Villalobos one thing for sure: beaners usually get screwed anyway. Being a counterfeit Mexican had never helped him at all. As it turned out he should have had a Vietnamese surname.

When he got settled in his chair at the homicide table, Mario Villalobos hefted the pile of reports from the weekend and wondered if anybody was left intact in the division.

“Hey, Mario,” Chip Muirfield said, “Melody and I were thinking about stopping for some brunch on the way to the coroner’s. Want to join us?”

“Brunch?” Mario Villalobos said. Homicide detectives going for brunch? Eggs Benedict, no doubt. Maybe a glass of Chardonnay?

“No thanks,” Mario Villalobos said. Then, “The coroner’s? We got one being posted today?”

“Yeah, a white streetwalker from Santa Monica and Normandie. Report’s on the bottom there. Looks like somebody pushed her off the roof of the Wonderland Hotel. Five floors. Probably her pimp.”

Mario Villalobos said, “What’re things coming to when pimps push their meal tickets off roofs?”

“I’m just guessing it was her pimp,” Chip Muirfield said. “Night clerk said on the report that he saw a tall white guy he thinks is from East Hollywood. Runs girls from Santa Monica and Western.”

“The night clerk’s a liar or stupid,” Mario Villalobos said, burning his lip with the coffee and failing to get his cigarette lit until the second try. Maybe he’d switch from vodka to Scotch? Some guys said your hands were steadier the next day.

“Why?”

“When the spades start letting a honky run girls on Santa Monica and Western, that’s when Margaret Thatcher’s going barhopping in Buenos Aires,” Mario Villalobos said.

“Well, some white guy was seen going up the elevator on Saturday night about ten o’clock, just before she screamed. The postmortem begins at ten-thirty this morning.”

“Anything left to post? She must look like strawberry shortcake.”

“The report says she hit the roof of a panel truck. Maybe she’s not busted up so bad. Is it okay if I meet you at the coroner’s after I brunch with Melody?”

Mario Villalobos nodded and closed his eyes, and ran his hands through his half-combed graying hair. Brunch with Melody. He’d probably be at least a deputy chief like his uncle. Or a state senator like the last chief.

Already finished with their paper work because they came to work forty-five minutes early, the two young detectives gathered up their case envelopes and reports and their briefcases (Chip’s wasn’t plastic like Mario Villalobos’, it was cowhide, hand-stitched) and headed for a fun-filled morning of watching dead bodies get hacked up, sawed and generally reduced into something resembling steak tartare, which they both ate for brunch.

“The prom queen and the quarterback,” Mario Villalobos said, shaking his head painfully. “With shoulder holsters.”

Just then a young bluecoat came charging into the squadroom, a freckled lad with violet eyes. He ran up to the homicide table and said, “Sergeant! You work homicide don’t you?”

“Yeah,” said the detective trying to remember the young cop’s name. “What can I do …”

“Sergeant. You aren’t gonna believe this!”

“Could you maybe kick back a little and …”

“Sergeant!” The young cop wiped his sweaty face on the blue sleeve of his uniform. “They found this bag in Lafayette Park! Two-A-Forty-three found it and …”

“That’s not my area,” said Mario Villalobos. “See Detective Sanford and …”

“Sarge! They thought it was crappy diapers in the bag. Or old Kotex or something. At first. It looked like a rotten melon! All purple and black!”

“What?” Mario Villalobos sighed.

“The head!” the young cop cried. “There was a head in the diaper bag. I thought it was a rotten melon! It’s a man’s head! I think! They’re watching it there. We called for the dicks but nobody came. We waited five minutes and …”

“Wait a minute, son,” Mario Villalobos said. “First of all, that isn’t my area. Detective Sanford will be glad to roll on that call. But you should try to settle a bit before you …”

“You should see it, Sergeant!” the young cop cried. “It looked like a rotten melon. I thought it was just diapers in the bag at first and …”

“Mellow out,” said Mario Villalobos, grabbing the freckled young cop by the shoulder. “Listen to me. Did it still have the eyes in it?”

“Eyes? Eyes? Yeah, I think so. Yeah! It still had eyes!” the young cop cried.

“Well then you can’t bowl with it, can you? So what good is it? Just go get yourself a can of soda pop, and after you settle, go see Detective Sanford? Okay?”

So while Sergeant Mario Villalobos was wrapping up his morning’s paper work and the freckled cop with violet eyes was trying to mellow out by thinking, what the hell, you can’t bowl with it, The Bad Czech was about to get mad enough to commit murder. It all began when he decided to hang the wino.

The wino was one of those real pain-in-the-ass winos. One of those play ragpickers who push a shopping cart around Pico and up Alvarado clear to the freeway, pretending to pick up trash and bottles, stealing whatever isn’t chained, locked, screwed or nailed. One of those winos who, in addition to being a thief, also had a fetish and foraged through MacArthur Park stealing the underwear from old women who couldn’t put up a fight. One day he pulled the stockings right off the old shocks of a snoozing grandma in a wheelchair and was chased by The Bad Czech clear to the water’s edge, where the wino waded and swam to Duckie Island and had to be arrested by helicopter. The Bad Czech’s uniform was covered with duck shit and had to be dry-cleaned twice. The Bad Czech didn’t like that wino one little bit.

His name was Elmo McVey. He was a cadaver with a crew-cut who smelled like the Vernon slaughterhouse. It was particularly frustrating because he was ruined by alcohol yet somehow could still outrun The Bad Czech.

The two cops spotted him while they were making their first pass through MacArthur Park, hoping they wouldn’t observe any assholes pulling a pigeon drop on pensioners, or mugging checker players, or purse-picking commuters on the way to the bus stop. The last thing The Bad Czech wanted to see when he was this cranky was Elmo McVey. But there he was.

The skinny wino was sneaking up on a young Guatemalan couple who were necking on the grass. They had a prize in a carrying bag next to the wooden bench some distance away. The prize was a big silver stereo, which wasn’t switched on but was protruding tantalizingly from the bag. Elmo McVey was creeping toward that bag like a mangy cat stalking a grasshopper.

The Bad Czech said, “I’d like to hang that wino.”

“So would I,” said Cecil Higgins, not knowing that The Bad Czech was feeling mean enough to do just what he said.

As they were watching Elmo McVey wriggling along the grass fifty yards away, a toothless woman with chin whiskers came wheezing along the path through the park and said, “Officers, are you watching that dirty wino?”

“Yeah, lady,” Cecil Higgins answered. “What’d he do, steal your purse?”

“He stole my bra!” the whiskered woman answered. “From the clothesline outside my window!”

Cecil Higgins took off his police hat and rubbed his loose rubbery bald scalp, which was starting to lose its chocolate sheen what with all the futile experiments with hair-growing preparations. All the cops said it was beginning to look like a moldy coffee bean. He also used Lady Clairol on his moustache, which if left untouched would be dead white. “Lady, even for Elmo McVey that’s a new low,” said Cecil Higgins. “Wonder what he’d do with a size fifty, E cup? Pretty hard to peddle it, I imagine.”

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