Authors: Joseph Wambaugh
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
Chip Muirfield and Melody Waters couldn’t come along on the trip that Mario Villalobos made to the Wonderland Hotel that afternoon. Chip and Melody had to drive straight to Chip’s apartment in Venice so that Chip could change his blood-spattered clothes. Then they hastily dropped off the butter-
suit at a local dry cleaner’s.
When the pants presser who was working the counter saw all the bloodstains, he said, “My gosh, what happened?”
To which a very cross and cranky Chip Muirfield replied, “I cut myself shaving. Just write the frigging thing up. I’m in a hurry.”
Chip Muirfield’s smart mouth ruined the remainder of the pants presser’s miserable day. The pants presser was getting sick and tired of chemicals and starch and burning his fingers on the hot iron and he didn’t need some prick poor-mouthing him just because he asked about some bloodstains. Suddenly the pants presser found a little envelope in the pocket of the suit. It had something soft in it. Maybe a few bucks folded up? Serve the prick right if the pants presser nicked him for it, which is what he decided to do. He looked around slyly and tore open the envelope and …
“Get over here right away!” the pants presser screamed into the phone to the desk cop at Venice Police Station. “Get the homicide detectives! Call the press room! Get the six o’clock news team alerted!” Jesus Christ, he better shave and change his shirt before the television crew got here!
The Venice detectives arranged a stakeout for that evening at the address given by one Chip Muirfield, who was a new tenant and unknown to his neighbors. When the young man finally showed up with a tipsy Melody Waters, who had told her accountant husband that she had to work all night on a murder case, they were jerked out of Chip’s car by four detectives with shotguns and
across the hood of the car by a big cop who got fairly frantic when he discovered that their man was carrying a gun.
The upshot was that Chip and Melody eventually got to identify themselves and explain the piece of Missy Moonbeam that Chip carried in his pocket. They made peace with most of the cranky detectives who had thought they had an L. A. version of the Yorkshire Ripper, but they didn’t make peace with the big detective.
When Chip got yanked out of the car by the big detective, he resented being spread over the hood of his car, and yelled, “Knock it off, asshole! Do you know who I am?” And he made the big, big mistake of trying to shove the detective at the same moment that the detective saw that his man was carrying a gun.
Chip found himself on the wrong end of the controversial police choke hold which the L. A. police chief had promised would be curtailed when he made his famous statement about the veins and carotid arteries of some blacks failing to open like those of normal people.
The choking of Chip Muirfield was good for lots of carotid artery jokes around The House of Misery for several weeks. They would say things like, “It proves that the veins and arteries of surfers open just like those of normal people.”
For several days Chip Muirfield had a little surfer imprinted on his neck from the charm he wore on his gold chain. Otherwise he looked like normal people. And it was a very unhappy Chip Muirfield who said goodnight to Melody Waters that night and sent her home to her accountant husband because Chip was too sore and shaken to put a move on her. It was a sad young cop who painfully swallowed, and gave Melody Waters a wistful little kiss as they stood for a moment heart to heart, shoulder holster to shoulder holster.
The pants presser reluctantly agreed to give Chip Muirfield a freebie on the dry cleaning after the outraged young detective threatened to sue for physical and mental anguish. It was an unhappy affair for all concerned. The pants presser didn’t get on the six o’clock news, and Chip Muirfield, still a very young cop, for the first time began to wonder if anything is ever as it seems.
One of the tiny vagaries of fortune, which veteran policemen like Mario Villalobos strongly suspect decide great events, was about to occur while The Bad Czech stuffed his face in the dining room of the Pusan Gardens, a Korean restaurant near Olympic Boulevard.
The Bad Czech was, to the chagrin of the chef, downing his second order of volcanic kimchi cabbage pickle, and dusting off a load of yukkive raw beef which had been meant to feed six people at an intimate party that night. The Korean chef was so mad that he dumped enough hot sauce on that minced beef to blister porcelain, but all it did was make The Bad Czech sweat like a whore in a hot tub and order more Japanese beer, which stimulated his appetite.
The chef conceded that it was hopeless. The restaurant owner insisted that the beat cops, who so sympathized with his “police problem,” were worth a few free snacks-which turned into these gastronomical orgies, causing the chef again to run out to the market in Korea Town before he could get the menu ready for the evening.
Between huge bites of red snapper and bean cakes and bottles of Japanese beer, The Bad Czech sang for his supper, as it were, commiserating with every waiter and busboy within earshot who couldn’t have cared less if. the cops threw their boss in jail for life.
“I think it’s a damn shame the vice cops waste their time hasslin the good people who run clean establishments like this one,” The Bad Czech announced theatrically.
“Uh huh,” Cecil Higgins mumbled, trying to quench the flames with water, since the Japanese beer didn’t seem to be doing it for him.
The Korean dilemma, the dilemma of many bar owners from the Orient, was that they could not convince the police department that their customs were not a threat to public safety. And that what is at most unsavory in America is commonplace in Seoul and in most of the rest of the Orient and southeast Asia.
“It’s a damn shame that in this day and age the vice squad still wastes time and money and manpower to infiltrate fine places like this and pose as customers just to write a few lousy tickets to B-girls,” The Bad Czech said for the benefit of a nighttime cocktail lounge B-girl who doubled during the afternoon as a food waitress.
She knew that the opinions of a lowly public servant like the monster beat cop carried about as much clout with the chief of police as the message in a fortune cookie. Still, she went along with the charade with Korean forbearance.
,” she said. “Too bad.”
“I mean, look at it this way, Cecil,” The Bad Czech said to his partner, who was wiping the dripping perspiration from his face with a napkin. “The vice squad spends maybe a hundred bucks buy in drinks in the bar here, pretendin to be customers, until they finally get one poor little hostess to ask them to buy her a drink. And then they go, ‘Dum, de dum
!’ and pull out the shield and write her a ticket for solicitin drinks. Big deal. They protected the public morality? I ask you, is that police work in this day and age? What with the streets overrun with maniacs and insane people and murderers and rapists and all the other things we owe to the Democrats? I ask you.”
“Uh uh,” Cecil Higgins mumbled, wondering if a glass of milk would put out the fire.
“It’s just the Oriental culture, for chrissake! They like to come into a place and meet pretty girls and they don’t mind if the pretty girls ask them for a drink and tell them how manly they are. Hell, I used to love that when I was in Nam and Thailand and Cambodia and Japan. That’s what it’s all about.”
“Uh huh.” Cecil Higgins had his lines down pat.
“The city licenses taxi dancers. Round-eyed taxi dancers. I think they dump on these people cause they’re foreigners.”
The Bad Czech looked toward the waiter clearing the next table and the waiter nodded at the monster cop and said, “Light on,” which The Bad Czech understood to be “Right on,” but which were the only two words the Korean knew, and he didn’t have the faintest idea what the monster cop was babbling about and wished he’d get the hell out.
It was tough getting The Bad Czech to stop singing for his supper. When the boss was here, his expressions of sympathy and understanding with the Asian plight might have gone on for half an hour. But he was tired and it was time to close the show, which always ended with The Bad Czech making a gesture to pay the bill. Of course it was always refused, with lots of bogus smiles and bowing by long-suffering people who wished the boss would dump these two big dummies and start concentrating on bribing politicians and other people who counted.
Unlike Cecil Higgins, who in a more traditional fashion would halfheartedly reach in the pocket with a mumbled, “Whadda we owe ya?” The Bad Czech had panache, and took the trouble to display his credit card, saying, “How much for the lovely chow?”
The employees would grin through tight flesh and say, “No, no. On house. Come back soon.”
And The Bad Czech would look surprised and say, “Really? Why, that’s awful nice. Thanks a lot. And if I can ever help ya in any way …”
But then a singular thing happened. Not singular in itself but, as he later would consider it, something that helped Mario Villalobos come to the inescapable and troubling conclusion that most Big Events are decided by the falling of less than a sparrow. Of a leaf, perhaps.
Or in this case, of a chopstick.
When The Bad Czech was doing his act with the credit card he stepped on a dropped chopstick. The chopstick lodged between the ripples of The Bad Czech’s ripple-soled shoes. The chopstick clicked along the parqueted floor when The Bad Czech took a step. He looked down and tried to kick the chopstick out of his ripple sole. The stubborn chopstick became lodged more securely.
“I got a chopstick in my shoe,” The Bad Czech complained to Cecil Higgins, who was belching lava.
“Oooohhhh, I know
d we shoulda
gumbo,” Cecil Higgins moaned. “This Ko-
soul food gives me heartburn.”
But The Bad Czech wasn’t commiserating with Cecil Higgins. He was dancing around in the darkened cocktail lounge on one foot, bitching and groaning and trying to extract the stubborn chopstick.
“I can’t get it out!” The Bad Czech cried.
Cecil Higgins belched fearfully loud, moaned, and said, “Gud-damn, Czech. I know it ain’t your day but I can’t help ya with this one. Ya gotta take chopsticks out
a your own shoes. My stomach hurts too much to be takin chopsticks outa anybody’s fuckin shoes.”
The Bad Czech sat down crankily and took off his size 15 EEE shoe, and broke off the chopstick trying to dislodge it from the rippled rubber, and finally grabbed a soup spoon and dislodged the broken shaft of the stubborn chopstick.
And after he did, he got up grumpily and picked up an American Express card which he had apparently dropped on the floor while he was dancing around on one foot. He had an American Express card because Karl Maiden played a cop in their commercials.
Except that he hadn’t dropped his credit card. It was still on the table where he had put it when he started fretting about the chopstick. The Bad Czech’s credit card was later thrown into the lost-and-found drawer by the busboy who eventually cleaned and reset the table.
Mario Villalobos would come to understand and explain to The Bad Czech how it really worked, the thing called destiny. How an insignificant event could connect with something so great, something that signified for some men the ultimate honor that one human being can bestow upon another. And for some men even more than that.
The Bad Czech, despite the fact that he wondered if it was really real, would become linked with a double murder and a Nobel Prize for science.
And it happened because he mistakenly picked up a credit card from the floor. It happened, in the final analysis, because he had a stubborn chopstick in his shoe.
Dilford and dolly, The Personality Team, constantly sulked while on patrol, turning one persecuted face to the other persecuted face only when it was absolutely necessary.
It hadn’t been easy for Dolly, to adjust to an out-and-out chauvinist like Dilford. It was bad enough with the run-of-the-mill chauvinists who couldn’t adapt to the idea of females on patrol even though women were now undergoing academy training identical to the men’s.
Dilford was one of those who never tired of short-people jokes when he had a male audience.
“Hey, Rumford,” Dilford might yell to one of his pals from the morning watch, “bet you thought I was working alone. I got a partner: Too-tall Dolly. Stick up your shotgun, Dolly, so Rumford can see you.”
Then while all the other jackasses hee-hawed, Dilford might yell, “Hey, Dolly, put a bicycle flag on your Sam Browne. Let the sergeant know you’re here.”
Things had gotten off on the wrong foot the very first day that Dolly was assigned to work with Dilford, after completing her one-year probationary period as a police officer. First thing he did was say to her the same old things she’d heard since academy graduation: “I have to work with you. It’s not my idea. So let’s just pretend it’s a date, shall we? Except I don’t open the door for you and I don’t light your cigarettes.”
And so forth.
“Does that mean we don’t do any police work, Dilford?” the sorrel-haired, hazel-eyed mini-cop said to her tall, lean, sarcastic partner, himself only a three-year policeman.
“That’s what it means, Shorty,” said Dilford. “We put our blinders on so I don’t get tempted to do police work with nothing but a split-tailed munchkin to back me up if I get in trouble.”
“I see,” Dolly nodded sweetly. “And what time does this car get hungry?”
That was another thing the other chauvinist pricks had taught her. The car ate at a given time. Regardless of when she might be hungry, the car ate when the man got hungry.
“I’ll let you know when the car gets hungry,” Dilford said, and the war had begun.
There was no question who drove and who did the paper work. He drove. Unless he was too hungover to drive and then she drove and did the paper work.
On the third day of their partnership he had made her so furious while she was loading the shotgun that she jammed the third round into the magazine and broke the nail on the ring finger of her right hand. Dolly lost her composure and yelled, “Son of a bitch!” scaring the crap out of Dilford, who was checking behind the seat of the black-and-white Plymouth for dope, knives, guns or time bombs which might have been left by prisoners from the last watch.
And then she made the further mistake of crying out, “Fifty bucks for this acrylic job, and look at it!”
The fingernail was snapped off cleanly, and along with it went the hand-painted stripes and racing-car decal that had adorned that particular nail.
“Well, no shit,” Dilford grinned, calling all his pals to commiserate. “Looky here. The mini-cop lost her fingernail. The one with the Porsche racing stripe. It’s really true. A policeman’s lot just isn’t a happy one!”
And if that wasn’t bad enough, she got in a foot pursuit with a car thief that very afternoon while Dilford the wheel man circled the block in the car and tried to cut off the thief in an alley north of Temple. But another radio unit had intercepted the suspect and the foot race was over. Almost. In that the police department dressed the female officers in the same uniform as men, there just wasn’t a place to keep certain essentials. When Dolly came hot-footing it down Temple that day, the suspect was already hooked up with Dilford’s handcuffs. And Dolly dropped one of the essentials from her sock.
She thought Dilford’s eyes, which slid back three inches past his pale eyebrows, might never come out of his skull when he saw a little Puerto Rican kid running up to Dolly to present her with the dropped essential.
“This is your new police force!” Dilford yelled, loud enough to scare the pigeons in Echo Park. “Double pierced earrings. Striped fingernails. And Tampax in their socks. Oh mercy!”
It had all come to a head three weeks earlier when the Cuban drag queen did a rough impression of Pele and tried to kick Dilford’s bolas through an imaginary soccer goal.
That was a very bad day for Dilford, who was still tender from his vasectomy. Dilford had decided to become the only bachelor cop in Rampart Division to get one. Two of his academy classmates had been slapped with paternity lawsuits by a couple of grossed-out groupies from the Chinatown bars. Dilford said that if he ever got married he’d have the plumbing reattached, or adopt some little rug rats, or maybe marry a rich broad who had her own rug rats.
Dilford and Dolly had both been extremely cross and grouchy that day. He from the vasectomy, she from starting her period and having two humungus pimples blooming on her chin. She always felt that what happened was poetic justice in that Dilford deliberately antagonized the drag queen, knowing as he did that male homosexuals generally did not like being questioned, detained, searched or in any way handled by female officers.
Female police officers could hand-search either sex, according to department regulations. Male officers could not hand-search females unless it was a dire emergency. The bull-dykes on the other hand loved to be searched by the female officers. In fact, a great but unheralded contribution by female officers was their ability to pacify fighting bull-dykes simply by sweet-talking them. Or when necessary, by talking dirty.
Dilford, who kept his taffy-colored hair meticulously styled and sprayed, never missed a chance to pounce on any cop-chasing groupie who happened by Rampart Station at change of watch, but had been morally indignant and evinced biblical wrath when earlier that day Dolly had talked a two-hundred-pound fighting-mad bull-dyke into jail after the dyke had broken the jaw, nose and rib of a U. S. Marine (male sergeant) who had been screwing around with the bull-dyke’s
. Dilford had been outraged when Dolly smiled at the dyke, batted her lashes seductively and gave a sexual promise to the bull-dyke which, though the dyke didn’t believe it, so charmed and enchanted the scar-faced street fighter that she dropped her boxing pose and came along like a kitten.
After they got the bull-dyke booked, Dilford had sneered, “I suppose all you females dig that kind of thing. Probably got to have a tendency in that direction to even want a man’s job.”
“Look, Dilford,” she answered, “if I wanted to get in fights I’d get married. Would you rather fight with people or do the job the easy way?”
“If you were a full-sized man like cops’re supposed to be, we wouldn’t have to embarrass ourselves by offering tits and ass to a frigging bull-dagger,” Dilford sneered.
“I wonder if you’re gonna be one of those … assholes who deliberately gets his female partner in a physical altercation to try to prove something, Dilford?” Dolly asked, her voice shaking. “I know my limitations, Dilford. I don’t want to get in punch-outs with these people out here. I’m not trying to prove anything.” And then she made the mistake of adding, “I’m secure in my sexual identity, Dilford.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dilford asked, slamming on the brakes at the intersection.
It was then he spotted the drag queen sashaying down Eighth Street, trying to shag passing motorists and get twenty-five bucks for a head job, and leave the customer thinking he had been partying with a real woman. Which seldom happened in that the drag queen was six feet two inches tall and had shoulders like Mean Joe Green.
Dilford, as bitchy as he was, knew full well how bitchy drag queens got with female cops, especially if male cops made flash-light-and-nightstick jokes during a pat-down search by a female officer.
“Let’s see what that Cuban drag queen’s up to,” Dilford said. “I think that’s the one sometimes carries a loaded thirty-eight in his purse.”
Dolly figured right off that the only .38 the Cuban had was the 38 D-cup filled with latex attached to his chest. And she suspected that Dilford was bitchy enough today to get her into a fight deliberately. Dolly was nervously fiddling with a lock of her sorrel hair which the lieutenant made her pin above her collar with a dumb barrette to comply with ancient department regulations, when her off-duty below-the-collar hairdo was infinitely more attractive. Then Dolly stopped fiddling with her hair and decided that even Dilford couldn’t be enough of a prick to deliberately get her hurt. On the other hand …
“Sure is a big drag queen,” Dolly said.
“You scared?” Dilford grinned nastily. “Scared of a mincing faggot?”
“I heard about a drag queen on Alvarado v/ho tore the uniform and even the T-shirt right off Cecil Higgins one day. This wouldn’t be the one, would it?”
“I don’t know,” Dilford shrugged. “What if it is?”
“Well I’m down to my last T-shirt,” Dolly said, trying her best to make an overture in case Dilford had evil intentions. “I own fourteen T-shirts, fourteen pair of socks and fourteen underwear. So I only have to go to the
every payday. I’m down to my last pair.” She tried a conciliatory smile when she said it.
“Fourteen underwear,” Dilford sneered acidly. “Do you wear jockey shorts like me?”
“Let’s talk to the frigging drag queen,” Dolly said, muttering, “Prick!” under her breath.
“Let’s do it,” Dilford said, parking the radio car and jerking open the door, muttering “Bitch!” under his breath.
The drag queen was wearing a red lame dress and silver pumps with ankle straps, and was also feeling pretty bitchy that day in that not a single trick had been had. And it was smoggy and the drag queen’s boyfriend Pablo had not slapped him around lately, no matter how bitchy the queen acted or regardless of how much he deserved it.
The drag queen had once been the happiest hod carrier in Havana, lunching on bricklayers, so to speak. Then Castro got it in for homosexuals and started throwing them into jails for crimes against the state, finally loading them on leaky boats and sending them to Miami. In short, this drag queen had been very unhappy the last few years and was in no mood for some stinking roust by a couple of cops. Which is exactly what the queen said when they stopped him.
“I was not doing noth
,” the drag queen said. “I am in no mood for some
“Watch your mouth, seesler!” Dilford said. “And open that purse so my leetle partner can take a look.”
It took only a few minutes of Dilford’s smart-mouthing and mock Spanish accent before the big drag queen got really bitchy and said, “Th
f I have done someth
wrong, take me to
“Listen, rat breath,” Dilford sneered, standing nose to nose with the tall drag queen. “I’ll take you to Yale. I’ll take you to Harvard, or I’ll take you to the fucking dog pound if I feet like it. So don’t give me any of your …”
But that was almost all he said that day, other than when he was on the sidewalk, howling like a bloodhound. Dolly had always been a football fan and she said that the drag queen didn’t have to take any steps like place-kicker Jan Stenerud. But the drag queen did a Jan Stenerud on Dilford, all right. The queen kicked Dilford’s balls so hard he had pubic hair in his throat for a week, Dolly said. And Dolly became a more popular girl around Rampart Station because she took out her stick and, using the toe of it, buried it in the crotch of the drag queen, right up his panty girdle. It caused the drag queen to join Dilford down on the sidewalk, howling like a coyote.
That was a very noisy afternoon on Alvarado. Especially when the paramedics were loading Dilford into the ambulance, while he held his wounded testicles. Dilford was foaming like a mad dog and cursing the former President of the United States for being outfoxed by Fidel Castro, and cursing the Catholic Church for helping to settle the Cubans here in central Los Angeles. Dilford’s eyes were about as deranged as The Bad Czech’s when he began to imagine that his sucked-up testicles would never fall into place. As the paramedic was closing the door, Dilford screamed: “Thanks a lot, Jimmy Carter, you dumb cracker! Ooooohhhh! Thanks a lot, Pope John Paul, you dumb polack! Ooooohhhh, my nuts!”
As Dilford was being driven away by ambulance, the last thing he saw was his partner Dolly chattering away with Jane Wayne and three other cops. Dolly was warning that the girls should always use a pencil eraser to unload their shotguns so they didn’t break a fingernail.
“Goddamn acrylic nail job costs fifty bucks,” Dolly complained to Jane Wayne, who looked at Dolly’s fingernail and clucked sympathetically while Dilford nursed his nuts and moaned.
Those bad old days were in the past. Things weren’t much better now but they were quieter. Dilford and Dolly weren’t openly hostile anymore. They were resigned to finishing out this month as partners, so they turned one persecuted face to another persecuted face only when it was absolutely necessary.
It was to be their Boat People Day, as Dilford explained it that night at Leery’s Saloon, when Dolly got so bombed that she bought drinks for the entire gaggle of losers in The House of Misery. The afternoon began, appropriately enough, in Fu’s Fast Foods, a Chinese version of an American greasy spoon, where cops ate because it was free to them or half price. Since there were no spoons in Fu’s, Dilford called Fu’s a greasy stick joint, but he ate there anyway. And he provided wonderful lunchtime conversation for the ever-suffering Dolly, who was starting to roll her eyes a lot, just like her lanky partner. She’d even started to whine like Dilford when she was bitching back at him. Partners often took on each other’s characteristics, usually the worst ones.