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The Delta Star
By Joseph Wambaugh
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1983 Joseph Wambaugh
All rights reserved.
THE HOUSE OF MISERY
It was mother's day and they were all watching The Bad Czech. Ordinarily, after three hours of well drinks and draft beer, the blinking and bruxing, staring and sighing, twitching and palpitations gave way to verbal ventilation. But this was Mother's Day, and since most of them disliked at least one mother (The Bad Czech had three ex-wives and didn't even like his own mother very much) the symptoms had persisted well into evening—hence, more frantic boozing.
Which pleased Leery no end. He just sucked his teeth and leered, and wiped the bar with a filthy rag and congratulated himself on being smarter than every other saloonkeeper around these parts. Leery wouldn't dream of closing on Mother's Day. He knew from years of experience that this was one of those special days when the walking wounded of the day watch really put it away. The seventy-year-old saloonkeeper leered as he broke open another case of Coors. A generation ago a motor cop had correctly noted that the dour tavern owner could not smile, nor even grin, smirk or simper. He could only leer. Ergo, the sobriquet.
Leery's Saloon, aptly dubbed The House of Misery by the angst-ridden who gathered there, was mostly taken up by a very long bar which could accommodate perhaps sixty souls if they stood or sat hip to hip, as they did every other Wednesday (payday for the troops) and on the Friday after that Wednesday. All the rest of the time they were broke, or nearly so, but there were always a dozen or so hard-core habitués from the day watch to carry Leery profitably into the later hours, when groupies and other civilians arrived.
Leery's Saloon was very dark, as every cop's bar must be (they don't want to see too much when they're off duty), and had a jukebox so that they could bump and shake and grind and wiggle on the minuscule dance floor in the next room. Leery's dance floor was exactly the size of three coffins, they said. In addition to the three-coffin dance floor there was a pool table in the adjoining room where the cops often got fleeced by mediocre pool hustlers passing through.
There were inevitable markers in the tavern to let civilian tourists know it was a cops' hangout. Such as a bumper sticker over the pub mirror that said Our Cops Eat Their Dead. Or Conan the Barbarian for Police Chief. Or Save Our Country, Book a Democrat. And other such messages which tended to keep out the riffraff.
But the final tip-off was the sign on the door to the women's rest room, placed there as an admonition to cops who inevitably pursued groupies with altogether too much fervor in the shank of the night. The sign on the women's room said Women ONLY!
Leery's was one of those places where the boys and girls would try to name potential customers who might enjoy the sounds emanating from within when The Bad Czech read anticop editorials: people like Dr. Mengele, Idi Amin and the whole Spanish Inquisition.
On Mother's Day, with the off-duty cops downing them as fast as he could pour, Leery could afford to be magnanimous and play the jukebox for the boys and girls. Of course he chose a few punk and new-wave earsplitters which tended to make emotional casualties drink more.
By now The Bad Czech was really getting into it. His fists were glowing white through the smoke in the saloon. He ground his teeth and gurgled, and unconsciously shredded the Los Angeles Times editorial page in his huge paws. The tendons rippled across his glowering jaw as he bruxed those donkey molars. Then The Bad Czech slapped himself across his broad Slavic forehead with enough force to knock an average man right off the barstool.
As though on cue, The Bad Czech's slap coincided with the sounds of The Sex Pistols crashing out of the jukebox.
"That does it!" The Bad Czech roared, loud enough to drown out a whole platoon of punkers. "She did it again! The cunt! She did it again!"
They all knew who the cunt was: it was one of the people The Bad Czech hated most in all the world. Still, playing out the familiar ritual, a rumpled cop named Ronald—who was two days from retirement and thus feared everything from traffic stops to earthquakes—said the obvious: "What did Rose Bird and The Supremes do this time?"
There was only one person The Bad Czech hated more than he hated the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Rose Bird. That was Jerry Brown, the governor who had appointed her. Because of his early education in a Jesuit seminary, Governor Jerry Brown was said by the cops to be the maddest monk since Rasputin, without the sex drive.
"That scummy, filthy, rotten, puke of a ..." Suddenly The Bad Czech started strangling on bile and spittle. Rumpled Ronald—who, with retirement so close, also feared falling bricks, toxic insect stings, and old ladies with scissors—banged The Bad Czech on the back to get him breathing again.
"You're hyperventilating, Czech," Rumpled Ronald offered. "Settle! Settle!"
Then the ten cops and three groupies who were making Leery rich on Mother's Day began composing possible bumper stickers to cheer up The Bad Czech. Such as: "Send John Hinckley a Rose Bird pinup."
The Bad Czech snatched a bottle of beer from Leery's hand, sucked it down and began taking rattling gulps of air.
Rumpled Ronald—who, these last days, feared runaway trucks and botulized burritos—had a bizarre vision of the ascetic supreme court jurist and the equally ascetic monk who was campaigning for the United States Senate. "Know what would be the world's weirdest no-action movie?" he said. "A porn flick starring Jerry Brown and Rose Bird."
"She ... get this ... she ..." The Bad Czech grabbed another beer from the bar, gulped half of it, settled, and said, "The rest of The Supremes voted for Corky. For once they got their shit together. But not Rose. No way. She writes a twenty-two page dissent!"
Everyone was of course used to the town crier reading the Los Angeles Times aloud and strangling on bile, and knew that Corky was the airport police dog who had sniffed out some dope in a suitcase and was getting his balls rapped for illegal search and seizure, just like the cops with two legs.
"Listen to this," The Bad Czech read: "'A traveler to protect his privacy should not have to resort to an airtight suitcase or other extraordinary measures to prevent the escape of even one marijuana molecule'!" Then the monster cop tore the paper to shreds and cried, "The fuckin dog is forcin smugglers to trash their Gucci luggage. And Rose Bird says it ain't fair!"
Rumpled Ronald looked at his watch and marked the fifty-one hours and thirty minutes when his pension would be secure. Then he took his own pulse and thought of hypertension, aneurysm and stroke.
One of the groupies, an emaciated girl with a splayed pelvis who looked like a toilet plunger on the barstool, said, "Hey, Leery. The Czech needs some cheering up. He ain't beat up nobody for, oh, two three days now."
"Hey, Czech," another groupie giggled. "I hear you're only shooting at cans these days. Mexi-cans. Puerto Ri-cans ..."
Well versed by the cops in the multi-ethnic makeup of Rampart Division, a third groupie said, "Naw, The Czech only shoots at knees ... Chi-nese mostly."
And so forth.
The groupies were regulars in Leery's Saloon and every other cop bar from Chinatown to Hollywood. Those familiar nameless groupies, as ubiquitous as dog shit on a vice cop's shoe, as they say. When the cops were too despondent to ventilate, the girls got things going.
"Gimme a double!" cried a singsong voice from the smoke and gloom. "My throat's as parched as Jerry Brown's balls."
The voice belonged to one half of the inseparable team of Hans and Ludwig, who were shoulder to shoulder, elbows on the bar, surrounded by the three groupies.
It made The Bad Czech even meaner and madder than usual to see Hans and Ludwig getting all the attention and drinking out of the same beer bottle. But the groupies thought it was cute and adorable and they hugged Hans and Ludwig when they did it.
Even through the darkness The Bad Czech could see Ludwig's huge wet tongue slopping around on the bottle's mouth. Then Hans tipped the same bottle to his own mouth and, without wiping off the slobber, drank it down.
The Bad Czech longed to snatch the beer bottle from that scrawny, noodle-necked, pathetic excuse for a cop, and stick it down his throat until that whiny singsong voice of his was muffled by eight inches of bottle glass. That's what he wanted to do. Except that he was scared shitless of Ludwig.
Hans' partner wasn't scrawny. Ludwig was all muscle. His chest and shoulders heaved and swelled when he sucked on the beer bottle. And his eyes were nothing like the dumb little blinking eyes of his partner, Hans. Ludwig's eyes were full of yellow menace. The pupils were elongated. And along with the massive musculature, he was nearly as tall as his skinny partner.
The Bad Czech was the biggest, strongest and unarguably the meanest cop at Rampart Station, but he saw something in those eyes that made him gulp back his anger. Ludwig had the eyes of a killer. He was sapphire-black and weighed 130 pounds. He was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, and understood no English. He was a Rottweiler, the largest dog in the K-9 Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Ludwig stuck his big ugly tongue clear inside the beer bottle as Hans held it for him. A bleached-out groupie with fat-handles hanging over her panty girdle just loved it. Especially when Hans then stuck his own tongue in the throat of the same bottle and drank.
The Bad Czech wanted to puke.
The reason that Hans and Ludwig were at the bar on Mother's Day was sitting as far away as she could get, at the other end of the long bar. Hans beamed whenever Dolly glanced his way.
Only five feet one inch tall, Dolly was the tiniest of the new breed of female cops to be accepted by the police department after the screws were tightened by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Dolly was wondering why the hell she had come to The House of Misery on this day. Wasn't life wretched enough without people tormenting themselves? Then Dolly happened to lock eyeballs with Hans. Oh God! That skinny creep of a K-9 cop even smelled like his big, slobbering, revolting dog. Oh God!
And then, as if Dolly wasn't depressed enough, there was her partner, Dilford, sitting on the stool right next to hers. Why the hell couldn't Dilford find some other place to drink, for chrissake? If she wanted to think about it, she'd probably find Dilford even more revolting than that revolting K-9 cop and his revolting dog. For two interminable months she'd been assigned as Dilford's partner, and Dilford made no secret of how much he despised working with a female officer. Even after she saved his ass.
Did Dilford thank her when she used her stick to coldcock a Cuban drag queen who, while wearing a red lamé dress and silver heels, had kicked Dilford in the nuts, breaking the queen's ankle strap and Dilford's fighting spirit as he lay on the sidewalk holding his balls and howling like a bloodhound? No, he didn't thank her. He wasn't grateful. He was embarrassed. No, he was outraged. A female had retrieved his burning chestnuts. The prick!
After the drag queen incident, Dilford and Dolly wore more or less relentless expressions of desolation as they morosely went about their beat marking time, each trying to avoid looking at the other's persecuted face. Everyone called them The Personality Team.
Suddenly The Bad Czech screamed: "THAT CUNT!" causing Leery to spill four fingers of bourbon. And it wasn't even a well drink. Leery looked sorrowfully at maybe thirty-five cents' worth of booze dribbling away.
This time The Bad Czech was referring not to Rose Bird but to a member of the Los Angeles City Council who, according to the editorial page, was urging a moratorium on the use of the police choke hold, which closed off the carotid artery and in recent years had resulted in sixteen deaths of suspects, mostly blacks, at the hands of police.
Things had really gotten out of hand when the Los Angeles police chief committed a faux pas in public and said that he had a hunch that "in some blacks the veins or arteries don't open as fast as they do in normal people." Never mind that he later said he meant "in normal fashion." Normal people?
The cops had lots of fun at the chief's expense, such as referring to their black and white police cars as their "black and normals." After the predictable hue and cry, out the window went the baby with the bath water. No more choke holds—which now caused The Bad Czech to confuse genders and scream "That cunt!" when he was referring to a male member of the city council.
"They want us to use tasers!" The Bad Czech thundered. "Tasers!"
The Bad Czech had eyebrows that made Leonid Brezhnev's look plucked. Those eyebrows, when he was cranky like this, seemed to stand on end and reach halfway up to his hairline. And at this moment he was really cranky. "They want us to use taser guns," The Bad Czech thundered. "Tasers! When you're on your belly tryin to wrestle some mad-dog animal in the rat shit and garbage? Tasers? Lasers? What the fuck is this, Star Trek? How about razors? How about instead a chokin their necks we jist CUT THEIR FUCKIN THROATS? Huh? Huh?"
Everyone knew that The Bad Czech shouldn't get this excited, but since everyone except Ludwig the Rottweiler was scared shitless of the monster cop, nobody tried to make him mellow. Until the door burst open and a tall cop strode in who had the nerve to do it.
A powerful voice, very close to a baritone, said, "So let's start shooting the assholes who wanna fight. Don't choke em! Smoke em!"
The very next day there was a brand new bumper sticker on The Bad Czech's eight-year-old pickup truck. It said Don't choke em. Smoke em!"
The cop who offered the slogan that settled The Bad Czech right down walked boldly up behind him. This broad-shouldered cop was over six feet tall and had good upper-body strength and legs that could crush a beer keg, they said. This cop was a former punker who had been a cop for only thirteen months, who wore new-wave rouge that couldn't be removed with a Brillo pad, but wash-away hair dye so as not to give the lieutenant fits.
This cop put one zip-up knee boot on the bar rail and boldly grabbed The Bad Czech by his monster eyebrows and started massaging his temples. Which made his headache go away instantly. Her name was Jane O'Malley. Three nights after graduation from the police academy, she choked out a combative trucker who thought he could drive a sixteen wheeler across the water in MacArthur Park right onto Duckie Island. The trucker was dusted out on PCP and it was only Jane's choke hold that saved the life of a foot-beat cop who was nearly beaten to death with his own stick by the duster.
After the angel dust incident, and after seeing her pumping iron on the weight machine in the men's locker room, The Bad Czech christened her Jane Wayne, and said The Duke would have been proud. And she loved the name almost as much as she loved the choke hold. Almost as much as she loved the music of The Go-Go's and Talking Heads, and new-wave clothes. In fact, she was now wearing metallic stockings and a miniskirt and patent knee boots. And Jane Wayne really loved to cellophane her brunette shag cut, which the lieutenant couldn't see at inspections but which turned purple in the sunlight. She loved all these things. But there was one thing she loved above all else: sex.
After it was learned how Jane Wayne never shrank from violence and how much she adored sex (only The Bad Czech was man enough to make it through a weekend at her apartment), she also became known as The Bionic Bitch. So while Jane Wayne, a.k.a. The Bionic Bitch, started going into heat from rubbing the enormous shoulders of The Bad Czech and whispering to him things like, "Hear there's been a run on the bank. The sperm bank. Wanna refill the vault?" which made everyone who was not bombed get mildly aroused, Leery decided to encourage more barroom romance.
The K-9 cop's amorous peeks at Dolly were not lost on the ever-watchful Leery. Always one to promote young love, which in turn prompted rounds of drink buying, the dour little saloonkeeper sidled up to Dolly wiggling his pinched red nose and poured her fourth Scotch and water. "Dolly, I think Hans likes you," he said. "Wanna buy him a drink?"
"Oh God!" Dolly sneered. "Stow the matchmaking, Leery. I'd sooner be fucked by Ludwig."
Excerpted from The Delta Star by Joseph Wambaugh. Copyright © 1983 Joseph Wambaugh. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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