Clandestineby James Ellroy
Fred Underhill is a young cop on the rise in Los Angeles in the early 1950's a town blinded to its own grime by Hollywood glitter; a society nourished by newspaper lies that wants its heroes all-American and squeaky clean. A chance to lead on a possible serial killing is all it takes to fuel Underhill's reckless ambition - and it propels him into a dangerous
Fred Underhill is a young cop on the rise in Los Angeles in the early 1950's a town blinded to its own grime by Hollywood glitter; a society nourished by newspaper lies that wants its heroes all-American and squeaky clean. A chance to lead on a possible serial killing is all it takes to fuel Underhill's reckless ambition - and it propels him into a dangerous alliance with certain mad and unstable elements of the law enforcement hierarchy. When the case implodes with disastrous consequences, it is Fred Underhill who takes the fall. His life is in ruins, his promising future suddenly a dream of the past. And his good and pure love for a crusading woman lawyer has been corrupted and may not survive. But even without the authority of a badge, Fred Underhill knows that his only hope for redemption lies in following the investigation to its grim conclusion. And the Hell to which he has been consigned for his sins is the perfect place to hunt for a killer who hungers but has no soul.
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By James Ellroy
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 James Ellroy
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Wacky and I had been partners for three months when Night Train entered our lives. The roll call sergeant told us about him as we were getting into our '48 Ford black-and-white in the parking lot at Wilshire Station.
"Walker. Underhill. Come here a second," he called at us. We walked over. His name was Gately; he needed a shave and he was smiling. "The loot's got a good one for you guys. You golfers get all the breaks. You like dogs? I hate dogs. We got a dog who's terrorizing little kiddies. Stealing their lunches over at the elementary school off Orange and Olympic. Mean old trash can dog, used to belong to a wino. The janitor at the school's got him. Says he's going to kill him, or cut his balls off. The Animal Regulation guys don't want the squeal, 'cause they think the janitor's crazy. You guys go take the mean old dog to the pound. Don't shoot it, 'cause there's all kinds of little kiddies might get upset. You golf guys get all the breaks."
Wacky pulled the black-and-white out onto Pico, laughing and talking in verse, which he sometimes did when coffee reactivated the previous night's booze still in his system.
"Whither thou, o noble beast, the most we do is ne'er our least, o noble hound, soon to be found, awaits the pound thence gas andground."
I laughed on while Wacky continued, driving his poetry into the pavement.
The janitor at Wilshire Crest School was a fat Japanese guy of about fifty. Wacky waggled his eyebrows at him, which broke the ice and got a laugh. He led us to the dog, who was locked up inside a portable construction toilet. As we approached I could hear a keening wail arise from the flimsy structure.
At the prearranged signal from Wacky, I kicked a hole in the side of the outhouse and shoved in our combined lunches -- two ham-and-cheese sandwiches, a sardine sandwich, one roast beef on rye, and two apples. There was the sound of furious masticating. I threw open the door, glimpsed a dark furry shape with glittering sharp teeth, and slugged it full force, right in the chops. It collapsed, spitting out some ham sandwich in the process. Wacky dragged the dog out.
He was a nice-looking black Labrador -- but very fat. He had a gigantic whanger that must have dragged the ground when he walked. Wacky was in love. "Aww, Freddy, look at my poor baby. Awww." He picked the unconscious dog up and cradled him in his arms. "Awww. Uncle Wacky and Uncle Freddy will take you back to the station and find a nice home for you. Awww."
The janitor was eyeing us suspiciously. "You killee dog?" he asked, drawing a finger across his throat and looking at Wacky, who was already carrying his newfound friend lovingly back to the patrol car.
I got in the driver's side. "We can't take this mutt back to the station," I said.
"The hell you say. We'll stash him in the locker room. When we get off duty I'm taking him home. This dog is gonna be my caddy. I'm gonna fix him up with a harness so he can pack my bag."
"Beckworth will have your ass."
"Beckworth can kiss my ass. You take care of Beckworth."
The dog came awake as we pulled into the parking lot of the station. He started barking furiously. I turned around in my seat to slug him again, but Wacky deflected my arm. "Awww," he said to the beast, "awww, awww!" And the dog shut up.
I led the dog around to the locker room from the back entrance. Wacky made the run to the hot dog stand next to Sears, and came back with six cheeseburgers. I was petting the hound in front of my locker when Wacky came back and dumped the greasy mess on the floor in front of me. The dog tore into it, and Wacky and I shot out the door and resumed patrol. So began the odyssey of Night Train, as the dog came to be known.
When we returned from our tour of duty that night we heard Reuben Ramos's saxophone honking from the locker room. Reuben is a motorcycle officer who picked up a love of jazz from working Seventy-seventh Street Vice, where he raided the hop joints of Central Avenue regularly, looking for hookers, bookies, and hopheads. He had taught himself to play the sax by ear -- mostly honks and flub notes, but sometimes he gets going on some simple tune like "Green Dolphin Street." Tonight he was really cooking -- the main theme from "Night Train" over and over.
When Wacky and I entered the locker room we couldn't believe our eyes. Reuben, in his jockey shorts, was twisting all around, blasting out the wild first notes of "Night Train" while the fat black Lab writhed on his back on the concrete floor, yipping, yowling, and shooting a tremendous stream of urine straight up into the air. Groups of off-duty patrolmen walked in and walked out, disgusted. Reuben got tired of the action and went home to his wife and kids, leaving Wacky to yell and scream of the dog's "genius potential."
Wacky named the dog "Night Train" and took him home with him. He serenaded the dog for weeks with saxophone music on his phonograph and fed him steak, all in the fruitless hope of turning him into a caddy. Finally Wacky gave up, decided that Night Train was a free spirit, and cut him loose. We thought we had seen the last of the beast -- but we hadn't. He was to go on to assume legendary status in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Two days after his release, Night Train showed up at Wilshire Station with a dead cat in his jaws. He was chased out by the desk sergeant, who threw the cat in . . .
Excerpted from Clandestine 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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