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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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And the tall young woman squinted through the gloom into the squalid corner of the room where the baby lay. Then she walked softly into the room, past the moaning woman, and stood over the deformed baby.

Except that it wasn’t deformed.

Jane Wayne groaned when she saw the gleaming splinter of bone protruding through the shoulder. The left leg was jack-knifed and nearly touched the hip of the baby where the broken shards of bone had not torn the flesh. But they had torn through near the elbow. The child’s left arm was fractured into two pieces and the crimson slivers punctured the flesh. There was very little blood.

The mother of the baby had not tried to rearrange the body into the whole child it had been. She had merely knelt beside the broken naked infant and moaned.

Jane Wayne and Rumpled Ronald were very glad that Dilford and Dolly had gotten the call. They only stayed long enough to call the detectives and the police department’s Asian Task Force, and await the arrival of a translator, Vietnamese as it turned out.

They stayed long enough to learn who killed the baby. It was the ageless man, the baby’s father, who, the translator explained, had been in America less than two years. Who had seen his parents, two sons, and his former wife killed in the war. By the time he finally arrived in America he was sick and tired of rape and robbery and torture and murder, and he flatly refused to pay when three lieutenants of a former South Vietnamese colonel who owned a string of grocery stores in Los Angeles decided that all the expensive military training given them years ago by the United States government should not be wasted. These lieutenants decided they should receive compensation for the years of broken promises and the final defeat of their country, so they began their own guerrilla war, a reign of terror against the people in the Vietnamese communities. But occasionally a stubborn customer, like the ageless man, just got sick and tired of it and decided that they shouldn’t have the Vietnamese version of a mink blanket from Bijan’s, not if his family was sleeping without any blankets. And he decided not to cough up twenty percent of his weekly paycheck for the right to exist. Hence, the thousand cuts.

And after the thousand cuts, the moaning woman told the translator that her husband stopped working and became very despondent. And one afternoon the baby wouldn’t stop crying….

When the Beverly Hills investment counselor who put together income-property investment syndicates heard about one of his nameless tenants being arrested for murder, he concocted a gross-out gag for the gang at the Polo Lounge.

“One of our tenants been watching Monday Night Football,” he told them. “And apparently he liked the way our red-hot running backs spike the football into the turf after scoring a touchdown. This morning he tried to spike his baby! Six points! Just goes to show, these boat people can learn a lot in America!”

“Tell that one like it is, Howard Cosell!” his date giggled.

***

While Dilford and Dolly were assisting the detectives, Jane Wayne and Rumpled Ronald resumed patrol. The rumpled cop felt absolutely certain he would be killed in a traffic accident and hoped it would be merciful and swift. He was now thirty-three hours from his pension.

As it turned out, the translator’s statement by the ageless man caused problems for Jane Wayne, as did the act of baby spiking, as did the thousand cuts. Ditto for nailing dog heads to people’s doors and tucking paws in the petunias. Jane Wayne decided she didn’t like any of these things a bit. After sixteen months as a police officer, Jane Wayne wanted to go to Leery’s Saloon tonight and talk to Dolly and ask if baby spiking and paws in the petunias weren’t different from cops-and-robbers and car chases and fun things she had always expected from police work.

Except that the more she thought of it, she couldn’t wait until tonight. Jane Wayne, who wore her makeup too severe (the female officers had to wear it more “natch-your-all,” according to the captain), suddenly noticed that her mascara was starting to run. Jane Wayne, who drove the black-and-white while Rumpled Ronald rode shotgun and took his pulse, was starting to cry.

The tall young woman hadn’t cried since she was twelve years old and her mother died of cancer. She couldn’t believe it. Jane Wayne furtively wiped her eyes and smeared her mascara and glanced at Rumpled Ronald. He didn’t notice, and these days wouldn’t see an elephant on the sidewalk unless it directly threatened his life. Jane Wayne knew she had to talk to someone. Pronto.

There was only one person who would do. She had an overwhelming urge to find her favorite sex object, not because he was her favorite sex object, but because he was the only person she knew who was absolutely, positively, undoubtedly, certifiably crazy, and therefore might understand. She began cruising the Alvarado beat, searching for The Bad Czech.

***

After hanging the wino and fighting with the stubborn chopstick, The Bad Czech was pretty well under control for the rest of the day. That is, he was doing ordinary things like lipping Cubans.

The Bad Czech had never stopped reciting his list of grievances against the former President for being outfoxed by Fidel Castro.

“Patriots!” he moaned. “Freedom lovers. Sure. There was thirty-two freedom lovers on those fuckin boats from Cuba, and one hundred and twenty-five thousand thieves, rapists, murderers, lunatics, insane persons and faggots! Why couldn’t Billy Carter have been President? You could get him drunk and talk to Billy!”

Lipping Cubans meant that every time The Bad Czech encountered someone he considered to be a Cuban hoodlum, after a pat-down for weapons and preliminary questions as to what the thug was up to, The Bad Czech would suddenly grab the lower lip of the suspect and pull it down to see if there was a tattoo.

Fidel Castro, when he was outfoxing Jimmy Carter, went to the trouble of tattooing all the lunatics, insane persons, murderers, robbers and drag queens whom he loaded on the leaky boats and sent to Miami, the reason being that if any of them ever tried to sneak back into Cuba they would be readily identified by that tattoo. At first some tried to bite the tattoo and obliterate it. Until the Cuban authorities smashed their teeth with rifle butts.

The more he thought of it as he foraged about his beat, lipping Cubans, the more The Bad Czech decided to write in Fidel Castro’s name the next time he voted for a United States President. Castro was his kind of guy.

The Bad Czech, ever a diligent cop, kept a little notebook full of the names, addresses and descriptions of all the tattooed people he lipped. Ditto for those Cuban boat people who wore an additional tattoo on the left hand, a practice of the Cuban prison gangs identifying their criminal specialty, be it mugging, burglary, rape or murder.

Cecil Higgins thought it was unsanitary to lip Cubans, and tried in vain to c
onvince The Bad Czech that some
day he was going to get rabies sticking his hands in people’s mouths.

“Czech, ain’t you lipped enough people for one day?” Cecil Higgins griped. “How ‘bout you go wash your hands? I’m gettin queasy thinkin where your mitts’ve been.”

The Bad Czech obediently went inside Leo’s Love Palace, kicked two fruits and a dope peddler out of the rest room, and washed his hands and face, deciding to sit in the park and feed the ducks and call it a day.

Jane Wayne spotted Cecil Higgins and was out of her car when The Bad Czech emerged from the saloon. While Cecil Higgins walked over to the radio car to try to persuade Rumpled Ronald that the odds of surviving a day and a half were excellent, Jane Wayne approached The Bad Czech and walked him into the doorway of Leo’s Love Palace, out of view.

“Hi, hon,” The Bad Czech grinned. “How’s your day been? I sure had a hangover and …”

“I had a pretty bad day, Czech,” Jane Wayne said, and for the very first time he saw Jane Wayne’s chiseled chin begin to tremble. And her eyeliner was wet. “I had a pretty bad day. I don’t like it when babies get broken and they put paws in the petunias,” she said.

And as The Bad Czech stood with Jane Wayne in the grimy doorway of Leo’s Love Palace, she began spilling it in a cracking voice, while her mascara ran and The Bad Czech’s eyes gradually looked less demented.

Jane Wayne told The Bad Czech that when the cops from the Asian Task Force got the Vietnamese translator to the detective squadroom, she and Rumpled Ronald stayed long enough to hear the translator tell the detectives that the ageless man had been sick and tired of war and napalm and pirates who had robbed him and raped his wife during their journey on the leaky boats. And he was sick and tired of displaced persons’ camps, and after finally arriving in Los Angeles, he was sick and tired of seeing his boss get extorted by the Vietnamese lieutenants. And after he stood up to the former soldiers, they decided to teach him to mind his manners and gave him the thousand cuts in the presence of his wife. Then a strange thing happened. He just got sick of being sick, and tired of being tired, and this morning when the baby wouldn’t stop crying he just … well, he wasn’t sure what he did until he saw the baby all broken on the floor.

And then, through the translator, the ageless man made a request of the detectives. He asked the detectives if they would please observe a custom of his homeland. If he signed whatever document they might require, could they please take him out and shoot him at once. For this he respectfully thanked them in advance.

The Bad Czech was thinking about asking Jane Wayne to come home with him after they got off duty, and it occurred to him that for the first time in his police career he was thinking of having a woman come home without the slightest thought of jumping on her bones. He suddenly felt that lipping people was unbearably lonely work and he wanted to be with her. Except that before he could ask her, Jane Wayne started to sob, and she said that nobody told her police work was about people who wanted to be taken out and shot, and dog heads nailed to doors. And broken babies.

The Bad Czech took the tall young woman in his arms and he patted her back and said, “There, there. It might not be real anyways. I mean, not really real.”

And then The Bad Czech decided to try to cheer up Jane Wayne and he said, “Hey, tell you what! Let’s go for some barbecue after work, and then we’ll go bowlin, and then we’ll go to Leery’s, and we’ll play all the good old rock ‘n roll numbers. We can frug and jerk and … there, there,” he said, patting her back.

Just then a middle-aged hairdresser from Hollywood came mincing down Alvarado looking for a twenty-two-year-old gay-bar hustler named Cubby, who had “borrowed” three hundred bucks from the hairdresser saying that it was needed for his sick mother who lived on Alvarado Street at an address which turned out to be Leo’s Love Palace. The Hollywood hairdresser was mightily bummed-out and was standing there hands on hips looking at the seedy bar and thinking of the damage he would like to inflict on that little bitch Cubby when he saw two figures in the shadows of the doorway. It was silly, but they looked like cops.

They were cops.

The Hollywood hairdresser thought he must be going mad. One big cop and one monster cop were hugging in the doorway of Leo’s Love Palace. In full uniform.

The monster cop partially obscured the other one but there was no mistaking that he was also a big one. The Hollywood hairdresser could hear their black leather creaking and their nightsticks clashing together as they embraced!

It was possibly the most erotic sight the hairdresser had ever seen. This topped every fantasy he ever had. The hell with Hollywood! This is where it’s at!

Before he sped home to say adieu to his landlady and look for an apartment around these parts, he clearly saw the monster cop kiss the other guy while he burped him, saying, “There, there. There, there.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five
THE PLAY PIMP

 

The cause of death, rcduccd to ordinary language, was that Missy Moonbeam a. K. A. Thelma Bernbaum suffered enough damage in the fall from the roof of the Wonderland Hotel to splinter her spine, explode her spleen, and puree her kidneys. Moreover, her skull had a hole in it big enough to accommodate a nest of hotel mice.

On the way back from the morgue Mario Villalobos drove to the Wonderland Hotel to talk to the clerk who had mentioned a white pimp from Western Avenue. The Wonderland Hotel was what Mario Villalobos had expected: a sagging old whore of a hotel held together by paint and putty, now a home for pensioners and welfare recipients. Also living there were three Western Avenue hookers, five dope peddlers and two members of the Screen Actors Guild.

The hotel clerk’s name was Oliver Rigby. He was about sixty years old, had a bald narrow skull and dentures that threatened to fall out of his mouth when he talked. And he talked as often as he could find another human being to hold still for it. But he wasn’t thrilled to see Mario Villalobos.

Oliver Rigby had been bookmaking, panhandling and hotel clerking in these parts for nearly forty years. When he saw the middle-aged guy in the five-year-old blazer and one of those reject neckties with the little stitched flaws that made it look like it was strafed with bug shit, and which he knew came from a little Jew on Los Angeles Street for five bucks, he knew even without the cynical brown eyes that this was a cop.

“Name’s Villalobos.” The detective halfheartedly opened his coat and flashed the shield pinned to his belt.

Oliver Rigby squinted through the cigarette smoke, his and the detective’s, which cast a pall over the counter in the seedy lobby. He read the rank on the badge.

“Yes, sir … sergeant,” he said. “What can I do for you? Is it about Missy Moonbeam? Sad thing, sad thing. Little girl in the first bloom. Sad thing.”

“Yeah, well what was this about a white pimp?” The detective examined the report made by another investigator Saturday night when they couldn’t find Mario Villalobos, who was shacked up with a Chinatown groupie.

“Yeah, I think I seen this guy over on Western. I go over there to get the racing form every day.”

“What makes you think he’s a pimp?”

“Big pinstripe suit. I think I seen him last week talkin to some a the street hustlers on Western, is what made me think. Maybe he’s a play pimp?”

“See him with Missy Moonbeam on Saturday night?”

“No,” Oliver Rigby said, almost losing his upper plate, pushing it back in place with both thumbs. “But I seen him comin down the elevator that night. He may a been a visitor a somebody’s.” Then he quickly added, “Course I don’t rent to girls, I know their hustlin tricks. I don’t keep no rooms with hot beds. I don’t allow none a that. I don’t …”

“Yeah, go on,” Mario Villalobos said with his peculiar, sad sort of sigh, lighting another cigarette.

“Anyways, once in a while I find out some a the girls’re hookers on the avenue. But long as they don’t bring tricks here, I can live with it. They gotta act like ladies and don’t bring no tricks. This white pimp, this tall guy with black hair, you don’t think he was a pimp?”

“Anything’s possible,” Mario Villalobos said. “But finding a white pimp alive and well on Western Avenue would be about like finding a blue-footed booby nesting on your roof. Which reminds me, is the door to the roof unlocked?”

“Yeah.”

“Isn’t it dangerous, as Missy Moonbeam proved?”

“Some a the tenants like to sit up there and get the sun in the …” He snapped his fingers and finished it in tune: “.. . the sun in the mornin and the moon at night!” Oliver Rigby looked disappointed when the detective didn’t smile.

“What makes you think the play pimp was involved?”

“Cause I heard her scream. Then the cars outside started screechin their brakes and there she was layin in the street. He came rushin through the lobby.”

“Who was her best friend in this building?” Mario Villalobos asked.

“The kid never had no friends in this hotel, far as I know,” Oliver Rigby said, lighting a new cigarette with the butt of the last while Mario Villalobos wondered what his lungs must look like. “She only been stayin here, oh, six months maybe.”

“She live with her old man?”

“A real pimp? I don’t allow niggers around here. I let these white girls stay, they behave. But I tell em, you do what you want on the streets but don’t bring the streets home to the Wonderland Hotel. I don’t want no trouble with no vice squad and I …”

“I’m sure this is a hotel fit for the Moral Majority,” Mario Villalobos nodded wearily. “Ever see someone, a righteous pimp, let’s say, hanging around outside?”

“No niggers in the Wonderland Hotel,” Oliver Rigby said. “And no greasers neither.” Then the hotel clerk looked at the dark eyes and coloring of Mario Villalobos, realized the name was Hispanic and quickly added, “Course I ain’t got nothin against clean decent Mexicans, you understand.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mario Villalobos said.

“I love Fernando Valenzuela and all the other greas

… all the other
Mexicans
and foreigners on the Dodgers,” the hotel clerk said.

“Me too,” Mario Villalobos sighed. “We’re from the same pueblo but I took a Berlit-z course in English. Now can we get back to Missy Moonbeam? Did she ever bring a trick home with her? Trust me, Oliver. I don’t work vice. I catch people who kill people. I don’t care who turns tricks on my beat. I don’t care who books horses or does dope and I don’t even much care who steals hubcaps as long as they’re not mine. I only care about catching people who kill people. And then only if they do it on my beat. See where I’m coming from? Don’t lie to me, because your hotel happens to be on my beat and somebody pushed somebody off the roof. Don’t tell me any lies or I’ll get really mad at you, Oliver.”

Oliver Rigby looked at the deep lines around the mouth of the detective and at his hair too gray for his age and at brown eyes that for sure had seen most of it. He knew who he could screw with and of course he knew from an unhappy life on the streets who not to screw with. He said, “She
took a few tricks upstairs. Onl
y a few, you understand.”

Mario Villalobos knew of course that Oliver Rigby would know exactly how many tricks Missy Moonbeam took to her room because the Oliver Rigbys of this world demand a piece of the action from the Missy Moonbeams of this world for letting them take tricks to their rooms, and keeping it quiet, and even warning them if someone who looked like a vice cop should get on that elevator and go up to the fifth floor where she lived.

“Did she take a trick up to her room on Saturday night, Oliver? Sometime between nine o’clock and when she did her header off the roof? Think carefully, Oliver. And don’t make a mistake that causes me to do extra work.”

“I swear to God she din’t,” Oliver Rigby said. “There was just this guy, this tall guy, came down a few minutes after I heard the scream and the cars slammin on their brakes out on the street. Look, I don’t want no problems. I wish I din’t even mention the guy in the pinstripes to the cops that came out Saturday night. I bet Missy tossed her own self off the fuckin roof is what I think. We had two other girls toss theirselves off the roof over the years. It ain’t no big thing.”

And that, Mario Villalobos had to agree, was a fitting epitaph for all the Thelma Bernbaums who ended up on a steel table in the coroner’s by way of the streets of Hollywood: it ain’t no big thing.

But there was one problem with the suicide theory of Oliver Rigby. A big problem which kept them from closing the book on Missy Moonbeam and calling her a jumper, which of course Mario Villalobos would like to have done. The first police on the scene Saturday night found one of Missy Moonbeam’s shoes in the hallway leading to the roof. They found a piece of her panty hose torn from her leg and hanging from the air-conditioner on the roof. They found two of Missy Moonbeam’s false fingernails on the step by the door to the roof. Unfortunately for Mario Villalobos, Missy Moonbeam was probably dragged from her room on the fifth floor, out to the roof, ending up dead under the cutlasses of swashbucklers who wanted to watch Days of Our Lives.

The room of Missy Moonbeam had been gone over pretty well by the detectives who got the call Saturday night. There were no readable latent prints that showed promise. There were no signs of a fight inside the room. It was probable that the killer overpowered her while she was standing outside the door or in the doorway. The door was unlocked and the keys were still in her purse, so it was possible that the killer was known to Missy Moonbeam.

It would have been very natural in these unnatural situations to have assumed that the killer was someone she had picked up as a trick. But she was fully clothed when she hit the roof of the panel truck from five stories up. There was no money in her purse or tucked inside her panty hose or bra. The bed was neatly made, so the possibility of a deadly customer was not likely. There had been no seminal fluid in her vagina, anus or mouth. Mario Villalobos had checked with Hollywood, Wilshire and Central divisions. There hadn’t been a street whore murdered for several months, and earlier victims were not killed like this one.

Mario Villalobos, using the passkey given to him by Oliver Rigby, broke the coroner’s door seal, entered, and sat on the bed in the dismal little room of Missy Moonbeam thinking how much he’d love to have a double shot of vodka. He’d just about conceded that this had the earmarks of a case that faded away under a deluge of “investigation continued” follow-up reports, and finally was forgotten. When street whores were done in by unknown suspects, the possibilities were infinite. It usually became one of those “an arrest is imminent” gags when the lieutenant asked about it every month or two.

Even Missy Moonbeam’s trick book was pathetic. It bore the names of every superstar in Hollywood along with phone numbers allegedly belonging to the superstars. He smoked and shook his head wearily, and imagined the frail little coke freak with the man-in-the-moon tattoo on her thigh, stroking the ego and the limp penis of some john who couldn’t get it up until she showed him how lucky he was to be turning a trick with a girl who regularly balled the biggest superstars in Hollywood. And here were their names and phone numbers in her trick book to prove it. And as often as not, when the john started looking at those names and imagining himself treading the same ground that his favorite movie actors had trod, so to speak, it was the ultimate aphrodisiac. Burt and Clint and Warren, and… Jesus Christ! Look out, man-in-the-moon! I’m coming through!

It was such a corny old game that it made the detective pity all the Thelma Bernbaums he had known. Then when he picked up the trick book he saw another piece of writing on the back of the book. There were doodles around the name, squiggly lines and jagged, manic, red slashes. There was a red ballpoint pen lying beside the book. A name and phone number were scrawled within the jagged doodles. The entry was not written neatly, as were the other names and numbers, by an Omaha child raised with the Palmer penmanship method. It was written by the same hand all right, but it was scrawled, no slashed across the book. It was on the page not with the play phone numbers, nor the real ones, the numbers that turned out to be sisters in Omaha, an aunt in Kansas, a V. D. clinic in Hollywood, an answering service favored by street whores. All the numbers that counted. It was slashed across the back of the book, and it aroused his curiosity.

The name was Lester. The telephone number was not a metropolitan Los Angeles number. When he got back to the squad-room, Mario Villalobos ran the telephone number and it came back to the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, one of the foremost institutions of scientific learning in all of America.

Mario Villalobos wondered if Lester was some student or professor who, tiring of science all day, occasionally enjoyed a little of Missy Moonbeam’s “art” in the drab little room on the fifth floor. But that didn’t seem likely. His was the only name among the important numbers. A relative? Family friend? He wondered how many Lesters there might be in the faculty, staff or student body of Caltech. Probably hopeless, or of no value in any case. He’d make one quick phone call to Caltech to satisfy the lieutenant and that would be that.

Before leaving he checked her clothes and saw that Missy Moonbeam had favored hot pants, which never go out of style, not with the street whores of Hollywood. And she had three pair of thigh-length plastic boots: one red, one green, one yellow. Mario Villalobos supposed that the boots must have just allowed the tattoo on her leg to peek out between the hot pants and boot. He replaced the coroner’s door seal with another that he kept in his briefcase. He took a last look at her yellow plastic boots, sighed wearily for the sheer squalidness of it, and locked the dismal little room.

The squadroom was almost empty when he put his case envelopes in his drawer. He was going to drop by the restaurant on Sunset where cops often ate on payday. It wasn’t payday but he needed a good meal tonight. The trouble with the restaurant was that it was too close to The House of Misery. He told himself he shouldn’t go there two nights in a row, not having a death wish as yet.

Well, maybe he’d stop for one drink before going home.

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