Brown's Requiemby James Ellroy
Fritz Brown's L.A.--and his life--are masses of contradictions, like stirring chorales sung for the dead. A less-than-spotless former cop with a drinking problem--a private eye-cum-repo man with a taste for great music--he has been known to wallow in the grime beneath the Hollywood glitter. But Fritz Brown's life is about to change, thanks to the appearance of a racist psycho who flashes too much cash for a golf caddie and who walked away clean from a multiple murder rap. Reopening this cas could be Fritz's redemption; his welcome back to a moral world and his path to a pure and perfect love. But to get there, he must make it through a grim, lightless place where evil has no national borders; where lies beget lies and death begets death; where there's little tolerance for Bach or Beethoven and deadly arson is a lesser mortal sin; and where a p.i.'s unhealthy interest in the past can turn beautiful music into funeral dirge.
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By James Ellroy
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 James Ellroy
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Business was good. It was the same thing every summer. The smog and heat rolled in, blanketing the basin; people succumbed to torpor and malaise; old resolves died; old commitments went unheeded. And I profited: my desk was covered with repo orders, ranging in make and model from Datsun sedan to Eldorado rag-top, and in territory from Watts to Pacoima. Sitting at my desk, listening to the Beethoven Violin Concerto and drinking my third cup of coffee, I calculated my fees, less expenses. I sighed and blessed Cal Myers and his paranoia and greed. Our association dates back to my days with Hollywood Vice, when we were both in trouble and I did him a big favor. Now, years later, his guilty noblesse oblige supports me in something like middle-class splendor, tax free.
Our arrangement is simple, and a splendid hedge against inflation: Cal's down payments are the lowest in L.A., and his monthly payments the highest. My fee for a repossession is the sum of the owner's monthly whip-out. For this Cal gets the dubious satisfaction of having a licensed private investigator do his ripoffs, and implicit silence on my part regarding all his past activities. He shouldn't worry. I would never rat on him for anything, under any circumstances. Still, hedoes. We never talk about these things; our relationship is largely elliptical. When 'I was on the sauce, he felt he had the upper hand, but now that I'm sober he accords me more intelligence and cunningness than I possess.
I surveyed the figures on my scratch pad: 11 cars, a total of $1,881.00 in monthlies, less 20 percent or $376.20 for my driver. $1,504.80 for me. Things looked good. I took the record off the turntable, dusted it carefully, and replaced it in its sleeve. I looked at the Joseph Karl Stieler print on my living room wall: Beethoven, the greatest musician of all time, scowling, pen in hand, composing the Missa Solemnis, his face alight with inword heroism.
I called Irwin, my driver, and told him to meet me at my place in an hour and to bring coffee -- there was work on the line. He was grumpy until I mentioned money. I hung up and looked out my window. It was getting light. Hollywood, below me, was filling up with hazy sunshine. I felt a slight tremor: part caffeine, part Beethoven, part a last passage of night air. I felt my life was going to change.
It took Irwin forty minutes to make the run from Kosher Canyon. Irwin is Jewish, I'm a second generation German-American, and we get along splendidly; we agree on all important matters: Christianity is vulgar, capitalism is here to stay, rock and roll is evil, and Germany and Judaica, as antithetical as they may be, have produced history's greatest musicians. He beeped the horn, and I clipped on my holster and went outside.
Irwin handed me a large cup of Winchell's black and a bag of donuts as I got in the car beside him. I thanked him, and dug in. "Business first," I said. "We've got eleven delinquents. Mostly in South Central L.A. and the East Valley. I've got credit reports on all of them and the people all have jobs. I think we can hit one a day, early mornings at the home addresses. That will get you to work on time. What we don't snatch there, I'll work on myself. Your cut comes to three hundred seventy-six dollars and twenty cents, payable next time I see Cal. Today we visit Leotis McCarver at 6318 South Mariposa."
As Irwin swung his old Buick onto the Hollywood Freeway southbound, I caught him looking at me out of the corner of his eye and I knew he was going to say something serious. I was right. "Have you been all right, Fritz?" he asked. "Can you sleep? Are you eating properly?"
I answered, somewhat curtly, "I feel better in general, the sleep comes and goes, and I eat like a horse or not at all."
"How long's it been, now? Eight, nine months?"
"It's been exactly nine months and six days, and I feel terrific. Now let's change the subject." I hated to cut Irwin off, but I feel more comfortable with people who talk obliquely.
We got off the freeway around Vermont and Manchester and headed west to the Mariposa address. I checked the repo order: a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, loaded. $185 a month. License number CTL 412. Irwin turned north on Mariposa, and in a few minutes we were at the 6300 block. I fished out my master keys and detached the '78 Chrysler's. 6318 was a two-story pink stucco multi-unit dump, ultra-modern twenty years ago, with side entrances, and an ugly schematic flamingo in black metal on the wall facing the street. The garage was subterranean, running back the whole length of the building.
Irwin parked in front. I handed him the original of the repo order and tucked the carbon into my back pocket. "You know the drill, Irwin. Stand by your car, whistle once if anyone enters the garage, twice if the fuzz show up. Be prepared to explain what I'm doing. Hold on to the repo order." Irwin knows the procedure as well as I do, but even after five years of legalized ripoffs, the whole deal still makes me nervous, and I repeat the instructions for luck. Strange things can happen, have happened, and the L.A.PD. is notoriously trigger-happy. Having been one of them, I know.
I dropped down into the garage. I expected it to be dark, but the morning sunshine reflecting off the windows of the adjacent apartments provided plenty of light. When I spotted CTL 412, the third car from the end, I started to laugh. Cal Myers was going to shit. Leotis McCarver was undoubtedly black, but his car was a full dress taco wagon: chopped, channeled, lowered, with a candy apple, lime-green . . .
Excerpted from Brown's Requiem by James Ellroy Copyright © 2006 by James Ellroy. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. quartet -- The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz -- were international bestsellers. American Tabloid was Time's Novel of the Year in 1995; his memoir My Dark Places was Time's Best Book and a New York Times Notable book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and Los Angeles Times Best Book for 2001. He lives on the coast of California.
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