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“Guttentag brings the story lines together in a conclusion that leaves you morally conflicted yet surprisingly satisfied.” —San Francisco Chronicle
When a high-profile lawyer is murdered at the Chateau Marmont, lackluster detective Jimmy McCann takes to the streets and finds himself enmeshed in this complex web of prostitution and drugs, learning that the killer, a young girl named Casey, is a victim in her own right. Delving into Casey’s troubled community of homeless runaways,...
“Guttentag brings the story lines together in a conclusion that leaves you morally conflicted yet surprisingly satisfied.” —San Francisco Chronicle
When a high-profile lawyer is murdered at the Chateau Marmont, lackluster detective Jimmy McCann takes to the streets and finds himself enmeshed in this complex web of prostitution and drugs, learning that the killer, a young girl named Casey, is a victim in her own right. Delving into Casey’s troubled community of homeless runaways, characterized by abuse, rape, death and disease, but also by friendship, loyalty and love, Bill Guttentag has crafted a stunning literary crime novel.
Casey jammed her shoulder into a heavy oak door, and a moment later was running down a steep, wide driveway.
Her frayed backpack bounced on her shoulder. She was already out of breath. Dawn was breaking. Punching out against the sky were bright red-orange neon letters—Chateau Marmont. Casey froze. This wasn't the smartest thing to be doing: she was out in the open, and it was getting light enough for anyone to see her—a fifteen–year-old in a ripped leather jacket running from a hotel for movie stars. She looked around. But nobody was out. Even the Sunset Strip—the Sunset Strip was quiet. Had to be the quietest she had ever seen it. The street kids, the punk kids, the hip hop kids, the college kids, the glam girls, the tourists and the kids who roll the tourists, the whores, the johns, the strippers and the bachelor party assholes who drool over the strippers, the junkies, the hustlers and their dates, the baby transvestites, the do-gooders with their stupid sandwiches, the religious jerks and their pamphlets, the maps-to-the stars-homes Latino guys, the wannabe rock stars, wannabe rappers, wannabe models, wannabe starlets, the pimps, the dealers, crackheads, the LAPD, the LA Sheriff, the CHP cops—even the street cleaner trucks—they were all gone. What time was it? Maybe 4:30 or 5:00. Amazing. For once, something was going right.
She hurried down the hill. Voices. Shit. Voices. She thought it was deserted. Two Mexican guys from room service were sitting on the lawn beside the driveway having a smoke. If they turned, they would see her. Casey looked for a gap in the tall hedge on the other side of the drive. None. She looked ahead and behind. Still none. But she pushed through the hedge anyway, the branches grabbing her hair, scratching her face like a rake. On the other side was a garage with a parked pickup. She huddled next to the truck and could hear the waiters as if they were beside her. God, they got those guys trained well. The whole world is asleep and they still go outside to smoke. How much longer till they finish? She glanced at the sky—still lighter—and then she saw her reflection in the pickup's window. She hadn't looked at her face carefully in a long time—now she examined every pore. Her brown eyes were bloodshot. There were droplets of clear water around them. Across her nose were specks of red—but they were only freckles and what was left of freckles fading away. She pushed back long brown hair that fell past her shoulders, and ran her fingers through it. Her hair was wet in places, but she was pretty sure it was only water and sweat.
She could hear everything the waiters said. It was all in Spanish but somehow she knew they were talking about soccer. Soccer. Her life was crashing and the biggest thing these guys have on their minds is some soccer game. She thought, what about a trade? I'll give you the last couple of hours of my life if you give me the last couple of hours of yours. No way? You have any friends who want to make the deal? Is there anyone in the whole fucking city who would make this deal? Soccer. The sky was getting lighter by the second. How much longer could they talk about soccer? On and on. And the score—uno, uno. Who cares? ... She looked at her feet and then back at the sky ... But then, they had said all they had to say about the stupid game and went inside.
She pushed back through the hedge—easier now that she had blazed the trail—and raced down the rest of the driveway towards the Strip. Casey took one last glance back. It wasn't completely deserted after all. There was the Marlboro man, behind the Chateau sign—forty—fifty feet high, holding a rope in one hand and a smoke in the other, his body cut out against the electric blue dawn sky. When she got here almost a year ago, she remembered seeing the Marlboro man for the first time and thinking how great the billboard was. He stood high, way high above the Strip. He owned the Strip. How many times had she been on the street, hating the street, hating everything about the street, and then looked up to see the Marlboro man. Calm, enjoying his smoke—nothing was gonna get to this dude. The street was his. And now with everybody in LA asleep but her and Pelés number one and two, the Marlboro man watched over the city like some kinda cool god.CHAPTER 2
It was the most unbelievable chair. So, so comfortable. Made of green velvet that rubbed against her back, the chair felt so good. Big, wide arm rests. The whole thing just wrapped around you. Casey got lucky, and it was hers without a wait. Whoever invented Starbucks ought to get some kind of medal. And this was the best one on the planet. Down on Santa Monica Boulevard, it had two of the green chairs, a couch, and lots of magazines and papers lying around. The place was filled with guys from the Sports Connection across the street who had already finished working out. Finished—this early. God, they looked buff. Big muscles, little shirts. All gay. But that's why Paul loved this place so much. And the girls, they were buff too. Tons of people come to Hollywood thinking they got the looks and bods to be movie stars, but watching the girls come here after their workouts, if they weren't on TV or something, they should be, Casey thought. Even the guys at the counter were awesome too. They smiled at her, told her to have a nice day, treated her decently. One kid who worked here, and who she used to see at the bus stop in a UCLA sweatshirt, called her his prettiest customer. Who's gonna complain about that? She called it Maui because it was so great here. The other kids didn't buy it, thought she was crazy. But the reason was, you come to Starbucks by yourself, you can disappear into your great green chair and everyone leaves you alone. Come with a pack of street kids, and you get different looks from the cuties at the counter.
Casey sipped her coffee. It was hot, good. She flipped through an Elle, but there was no way she could read now. Instead she curled her legs underneath her. She could have stayed in the chair all day, all night, all week. Just looking at the guys and girls going in and out of the gym, stopping for their coffees and going off to school, or their jobs, or wherever real people go. Freeze the clock. Stop time. Just sit here. Here. Forever. But even in Maui, there's a limit on how long you can stay ...CHAPTER 3
Joey's on Hollywood Boulevard, right in the center of it all, didn't have any great green chairs. It had a bunch of hard plastic booths. When Casey pulled the heavy glass door open, the smell of grease was everywhere. The windows were caked with so much dust and grime that when you wrote your name on one with your finger, it stayed for months. There was always a mile-long line to get some of their excellent fries, the location was cool, and they didn't chase you away—at least not usually. Everyone came here. Right now there were ten kids, maybe more. All hanging out. Slowly sipping coffee, sharing a cup between two, or even three. Later, there might be some money for something better. As Casey stepped through the doorway, she felt herself shaking. They were going to see right through her. Know the real 4-1-1. Back off, and come back again later. But behind her, she heard Jumper.
"Hey. Where were you?"
"I couldn't get back."
Jumper was nineteen, with short black hair, and despite all the shit, he smiled more than anyone she ever met. He was tall and quick, a distant echo of the junior high swim team captain he'd been a lifetime ago.
"You okay?" he said.
Casey prayed he wouldn't ask any more. "Yeah."
A second later, Dream flew in the door behind Jumper and dropped her arms over Casey's shoulders.
"Got a buck for fries?"
Casey reached into her pocket. She grabbed whatever was there and pulled it out. A wad of bills.
"Woah!" Dream said.
"Damn, Casey!" Jumper said.
Shit. Nice move.
"Remember your friends, girl!" Dream said with a big smile.
Casey slid her a twenty, and Dream practically skipped for the counter. Then she stopped. Turned around.
"How come you wasn't back?"
"Had a date."
Twirling the bill over and over, Dream said, "I guess so."
Dream had pancakes, and when you ordered them, Joey let you have the syrup bottle to go with it. The pancakes were floating in syrup. Casey thought, with a pencil and a napkin you could make a sail for them. Dream was also working on a plate of fries. She was thin like Jumper, had long curly hair and caramel- colored skin. Dream was from New Orleans and always talked about how much better the food was back home. But seeing her digging in now, this looked like the gourmet meal of a lifetime. Jumper had the Woodsman's Special: pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, home fries, orange juice, coffee. Woodsman's Special—what a joke. There weren't any woods around here for a hundred miles. Someone told Casey the guy who owned the restaurant before Joey used to be a hunter and that's where the name came from. In Seattle, lots of people hunted. On the Boulevard, if you see someone with a gun and he's not a cop, you better run 'cause you can bet your ass it ain't a deer he's looking to shoot.
Casey couldn't eat. She sipped coffee from a styrofoam cup. Watching Jumper dig in made her feel a little better. But then Dog-Face showed up. He was six-three, wiry, and with tatts up one arm and down the other. He grabbed a handful of fries from Jumper, practically ripping them out of his mouth, and slid into the booth beside Dream.
"Assholes. Assholes. Assholes," Dog-Face said.
"You got a real gift for words there," Jumper said.
"Hey. They're assholes. Alright?"
"Fucking cops. Giving everyone on the Boulevard shit."
"Sure they're giving shit," Dream said, "it was the mayor's best buddy or something who got taxed."
Casey stared into her coffee, stirring it around with a straw.
"And that gives them the right to fuck with everyone on the street? There's gotta be a million cops out there now. Everywhere you look, there's another fucking cop."
Casey felt it in her stomach. She kept moving the straw â&8364;¦
"Doggie, you're the mayor—you gonna let some street scum tax your buddy and not do nothing about it?" Jumper said. "That's really gonna happen."
"Man, it's ten in the morning!"
"It's appalling," Jumper said as if mortally offended, "At least wait until lunch before giving us shit."
"I didn't kill the asshole. And I got two cops asking me all this bullshit like I did."
"What planet you on, man? I see you on the Boulevard, you're the first one I ask."
Casey stared over at the counter, anything to avoid being sucked in. By the window, Joey was lighting a cigarette and at the same time reading the sports section while he filled the coffee maker. Passing right by Joey's window, was a cruiser. A minute later, another one.
"Chill, Doggie," Dream threw in between bites. "They'll get the guy who done it and this shit'll be over."
"Got that right," said Jumper. "One thing I learned in County—crime makes you stupid. Look at O.J. Leaves his glove, his blood, his hat, everything."
"O.J. beat it, man," Dog-Face said.
"O.J. had the million-dollar lawyer. Ninety-nine point nine percent of everyone else don't. He still done it. And they're gonna try him over again, right? You gotta be good to pull off the perfect crime and not get caught. You get pissed off and kill some dude, it don't make you the perfect criminal—it just makes you a killer. Everyone's guaranteed to fuck up. Watch—a week from now—they'll bust the guy who greased the mayor's buddy. And you ain't gonna find no million-dollar lawyer there to get him off."
Casey kept looking ahead. Just look out the window. Better to see the cruisers and cops than the eyes of the kids. She felt something. Dream's hand on her wrist.
"You alright, girl?"
"Yeah." Casey said it strong and tough, but even as she said it, she thought, that's one shitty acting job. She kept telling herself: just make it till tonight and they'll forget about it. It'll be just another jerk who got taxed in Hollywood. Make it through tonight ...
"You sure? 'Cause—"
There was a loud bang on the restaurant's window. Casey spun around â&8364;¦ It was only Tulip, slapping the glass with the heel of her palm. She was wearing her usual battered leather miniskirt and torn fishnet stockings. Tulip was yelling over the noise of the kids talking inside, and the traffic going by outside. Casey could barely make out what she was saying:
"You gotta do me a favor."
Outside, Tulip leaned against the glass and lit a Marlboro. She had dirty blonde hair, sort of a cute face, and Casey always thought if she'd been hanging out in some suburban mall instead of on the street, she'd probably actually look seventeen—that was her real age—but nobody here would ever guess it. She offered Casey a smoke which Casey was happy to take.
"You gotta do me a favor. See that girl—"
Tulip pointed down the block to a girl who looked about sixteen or seventeen. She was pretty, wearing clothes that were cool—not LA cool—but cool if you were from someplace else, which everyone was, and unlike all the other kids, she looked clean—her hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, her jeans were nice, her backpack was just a little ratty. She couldn't have been out too long. The girl looked over at Casey and Tulip. Casey's and her eyes met. She knew they were talking about her and looked away.
"I found her, like an hour ago. By the bus station," Tulip said as Casey stole another glance back at her.
"She don't know nothing. Like you was when I first seen you."
"Yeah, right," Casey said.
"That is right ... Just take care of her for a coupla hours, okay?"
"I got a date. C'mon."
"Don't do this to me. Not now. Not today."
"You gotta. Date. Money. C'mon—"
Before Casey could say anything else, Tulip was off down the street, waving back over her shoulder. As she went, she called back, "Her name's Robin—at least for now."CHAPTER 4
Jimmy McCann always thought the place looked a little sad. He had been coming to the Peking for years, and as much as he liked it, he really didn't like it. It was a dive. The place smelled like a window hadn't been cracked in a decade; it was dark, and when he first started coming, Jimmy thought the darkness was intentional, a mood thing, but later, he came to realize, they just never got around to changing the bulbs. For 20 bucks worth from Thrifty's, you might actually be able to see the food on your table—but on the other hand, maybe that wasn't such a good idea at the Peking. The walls were lined with headshots of actors, almost all of them no one ever heard of, but who might have had a bit part thirty years ago in some long-forgotten television show. Sometimes you found the same actors at the bar, but with a lot more mileage on them. That was a little sad too, because there it was, framed on the wall, proof that once they had their golden smiles, perfect hair and teeth, and dreams unshattered. Now, when Jimmy looked at them, they were nursing Bloody Marys and watching a basketball game that no sane person gave a shit about. The crowd didn't change much, but every few years the place would get trendy for fifteen minutes, and Jimmy would have to fight a bunch of kids, pierced and inked from head to toe, to get a seat. But for all the regulars bitching about the new arrivals, Jimmy liked the kids, and they often came over to his booth or sat beside him at the bar. The kids never knew what to make of him; he had a warm, round face, thick hair that was once dark red but now brown, and looked in his early thirties, but in truth, he was thirty-nine. He wore jeans and flannel shirts like it was a uniform and was cool to knock down beers with and talk about anything from the Dodgers' hopes for winning the division, to how the CIA screwed the pooch on everything they touched. But he was also a cop so they never felt completely comfortable around him. That was okay with Jimmy, he already had plenty of friends. Besides, part of Jimmy's theory of life was, everybody needed a place to escape, and his was this shit-hole bar on the corner of Santa Monica and Hibiscus.
In a dark booth, where long tears in the red leather were patched with fraying gray gaffer's tape, Jimmy took a pull on a Rolling Rock. Across from him, was a full bottle, untouched. He glanced up at the game, finished his beer, and wondered whether the time had come to go for the other bottle. A hand dropped down in front of him and lifted the bottle.
Excerpted from Boulevard by Bill Guttentag. Copyright © 2009 Bill Guttentag. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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Posted October 7, 2011
It is hard to believe that Bill Guttentag is a "two-time Oscar-winning documentary and feature film writer..." and "teaches a course at Stanford University".....or that Jessica Case, "(my fantastic-in-every-way editor)" according to Guttentag, is really an editor.
This book would have been an interesting story if I did not have to put it down so many times in frustration over the bad writing quality. A grade school child could have written it with less errors. I had to force myself to finish it just to find out the ending.
This is the most poorly written book I have ever read and I read a lot of books.
I'm glad I checked it out at the library. Do not waste your money unless the author/publisher re-writes and re-publishes a revised and corrected version, then it will be worth your time and money.
Posted January 5, 2010
No text was provided for this review.
Posted August 7, 2010
No text was provided for this review.