While the storm rages over California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood Sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”
Private investigator Duke Rogers, infamous for solving the case of murdered starlet Teddie Matson, feels he must do “penance” for his inadvertent part in her death. To that end, he takes on the case of Carlos, the murdered day-laborer, as a favor to his sister Marisol, the housekeeper down the street from Duke’s house.
Duke must figure out what ties together Carlos’ murder, the ex-lawyer’s desperate ad and the woman jumping from the sign? And who is the mysterious “coyote”? Amid the controversial political storm surrounding California’s Proposition 187, Duke and his very unPC sidekick Jack are on the case. They slingshot from the Hollywood Sign to Venice Beach. From East Hollywood to the “suicide bridge” in Pasadena, and from Smuggler’s Gulch near the Mexican border back to L.A. again. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate in this searing sequel to the explosive Shamus Award-winning novel White Heat.
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I was famous.
Dateline. 20/20. Primetime. Good Morning America-famous. I didn't want to go on those shows, but I didn't have a choice. If I avoided them they'd have said what they wanted about me and I'd have had no way to set the record straight.
So now people knew my face. Knew my name. Stopped me on the streets. Some even asked for autographs. I hated every damn minute of it. I never wanted to be famous, just good at what I did.
But I was famous — for being a fuck-up, only most of the rest of the world didn't know it. They knew me as the private detective who had found promising starlet Teddie Matson's executioner. They didn't know I had inadvertently helped him find her to kill her.
Rita knew. Rita was Teddie's sister. We'd had a brief fling, for lack of a better word. It'd been two years and I was still waiting for the phone to ring. I would have called her but I didn't have the guts. You need someone to go down a dark alley with you, I'm your man. But the truth is, I was afraid to call her. Afraid she would reject me. Afraid she would hate me. Afraid she would see me for the fuck-up my father always said I was.
Sitting in my tiny den on the north side of the house, I tapped keys on my IBM 486 clone computer. I had only recently gotten rid of my Leading Edge 8088 computer with two floppy drives and no hard disk — true Stone Age technology — and already my 486 with its one hundred twenty-eight kilobytes of memory and twenty-megabyte hard drive, running Windows 3.1, was out of date. I was making decent money for a change, but why buy one of those new Pentium computers when it would be obsolete by the time I got it home from the store?
It had been two years since my dog Baron had been killed and I was finally ready to get another. I thought I might find one on the Net. Of course, no dog could replace Baron — that's why I waited so long — but I felt the need for the companionship only a dog could give.
Loyalty was something else. For that I'd have the dog and my bud Jack. We'd been to hell and back together. He had my back and I had his. But I couldn't curl up with him at two in the morning with an old black-and-white movie on Turner Classics.
The afternoon sun — the first sun I'd seen in three days, an eternity in Los Angeles — streaked through the window, through the old-fashioned, wide-slatted Venetian blinds, leftovers from when my parents lived in this house. They cast film noir shadows across the keyboard, a lineup of bars holding my fingers hostage. For a private detective I'm a pretty good typist. Took it in high school and it all came back when I needed it. Maybe the only thing I learned in high school that was really useful. Sure, I always loved history, but most of that I learned on my own.
What kind of dog should I get? Something big. Shepherd, like Baron. Rottie. Malamute. Dobie. Akita.
The radio droned in the background. A speech supporting Proposition 187 by one of our local SoCal congressmen. "... Proposition 187 is the answer to California's needs," Congressman Dan Wilkman declared, "It will stop the flood tide of illegal immigration into our state. A flood that is draining the resources for our schools, emergency rooms and other valuable services. If you don't want California to morph into Mexifornia, vote for Proposition 187 —"
The bill was the latest firestorm to hit California. It was everywhere these days. On billboards, the television, radio, newspapers. You were either fer it or agin it. No middle ground. The vote was coming up in a few weeks. But I'd heard it all before. I hit play on the CD player. The radio switched off. Portishead's song "Sour Times" from their Dummy album came on. A little spacey but I liked it. I turned to the computer, dialed up the modem, tapped a bunch of keys, hoping to find a computer bulletin board system or newsgroup that might have dogs in need of a home. But it taxed my brain too much at this early hour. I picked up the paper and looked in the classifieds.
Thump. A noise on the south side of the house — the driveway side. I don't scare easily, but I don't like unexpected noises either, day or night. I grabbed the kit bag that held my Firestar 9mm that I carried from room to room — am I paranoid, maybe. In my line of business, you have to be paranoid. Headed for the back door. Wished Baron was heading there with me. I lived in a reasonably good neighborhood, the one I had grown up in. But both it and the city had changed. Besides, the bad guys were mobile. And they liked nicer neighborhoods.
Now it sounded like a tank pulling down the driveway. The only one who felt comfortable enough to come down my driveway was Jack. But he always rode his Harley and I knew its sound. I opened the door to see a desert camouflage Humvee there. What the hell?
The driver's door opened. I had my finger on the Firestar's trigger guard. Then Jack appeared standing above the car's roof. His ever-present wraparound shades hid his sniper's eyes and thousand-yard stare. He should never have left the service. He was a politically incorrect man in a politically correct time. And while he didn't always think or say the right thing, he mostly did it. He knew he was tough but he took no false pride in it.
We were opposites in many ways. He was six-two, built like the Rock of Gibraltar. I was five-seven, but tight and stocky like a mortar round. He wore his hair in a brush cut. Mine looked like I'd just gotten out of bed, no matter what I did to it. He was my friend. I could count on him, without ever having to think about it. How many people could you say that about?
"Like it?" he said.
"Sure, if you're going to war."
"I'm always at war."
That was for sure.
"Hummer. Military model?" I said.
"It's a Gulf War refugee. Makes your Cherokee look like the runt of the litter."
"Well, this model's not exactly street legal."
A yapping sound came from the car, though I use that term loosely. "Where are the .50 cals?"
"I wish," Jack said, opening the passenger door. A large rat scooted out the door, running in circles.
"What the —"
"For you. I found her in the wash, swimming her heart out."
This was one of the wettest years L.A.'d had in a long time. Rain every day, or so it seemed. Film noir weather. Perfect for Raymond Chandler's mean streets. Hell, if he thought they were mean back then, he should see them now. The wash, as Jack called the Los Angeles River, was normally a dry, cement bed, great for movie car chases and atomically radiated motion picture critters to come barreling down. But in these rains it was a raging river. If Jack found the pup in the wash she was lucky he'd come along or she might have been washed out to sea by now. At that I didn't know how he could have saved her. Half the time even the fire and rescue crews can't save people in the violent current.
"I think you should call her Molly."
"Molly?" I said, setting my kit bag, with the pistol in it, down on the stairs leading up to the back door.
"After the Unsinkable Molly Brown."
"C'mere, girl." The dog paid me no mind. She rolled on her back so Jack could pet her stomach. "Maybe you should keep her. She likes you."
"You'll grow on her. 'Sides, I can't keep dogs in my apartment. Got plenty of illegals though. Crammed in like sardines, otherwise how could they afford my neighborhood.
Pretty soon we'll be living in Mexico norte. Gotta say I'm ready to move."
"You're over the top, Jack. And you're always ready to move. One-a these days you're gonna run out of places to move to."
Jack's hand glided across Molly's tummy. "Let's get her settled."
"What kind of dog is she?" Her fur was yellow-gold, with a black muzzle. Dark brown, inquisitive eyes and floppy ears.
"Don't know. Looks like she might have some Shepherd. Maybe when you take her to the vet you can ask."
When I take her to the vet. Well, I did want a dog and sometimes it works out better when things fall into your lap than when you go looking for them.
"Bring her in."
The first thing Molly did, of course, was pee on the kitchen floor. Luckily it was linoleum and easy to clean. I was going to let Jack do the honors when he said, "No, man, your dog, you gotta get used to it. Train her. I know she'll never replace Baron, but I got a good vibe on her."
I did too; I'm not sure why. After peeing she looked up at me with those big brown puppy eyes as if to say, "Sorry, buster, but you know how it is."
I knew how it was.
"Hey, what's that shit you're listening to now?" Jack said.
"Sounds like space-head music — space-case music."
"Don't you like anything post 1850?"
"Why don't you ever listen to anything classical?" Jack's idea of a hot composer was Scarlatti. If you wanted to push it, Grieg or Dvorak would do.
"Or that country music you listen to," I said.
"Cowboy, not country. Get that straight."
"Yeah, I know, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers."
"Tex Ritter. Rex Allen. Sons of the Pioneers. Cowboy. 'Sides, I told you, I'm starting to get into swing. Ellington, Goodman, the Dorseys. Got a thing for Jimmy Dorsey."
"Not that kind of thing. He's just got a certain sound."
Okay, so I exaggerated earlier. He likes some stuff from the twentieth century. But hell, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Dorsey — they might as well have been from the eighteenth century as far as the rest of the world was concerned.
"Well, at least you've moved into the twentieth century."
"I'm a twentieth century man, but I hope to make it to the twenty-first century. Anyway, why don't you call the vet, make an appointment, she probably needs shots."
"Don't we need to take her to the pound, see if someone claims her?"
"Anyone who lets a dog like this get out deserves to lose it. Get on the phone."
I mock-saluted Jack, but I called the vet and made an appointment for the next day.
Jack didn't hang around long. Molly and I were left alone. Flotsam and jetsam adrift on the convulsive tides of the L.A. River.
Baron's collar was too big for the pup, so I made a slip knot leash from rope, put it around Molly's neck, making sure not to pull too tight, and headed outside for a walk during a break in the rain. If it rained anymore we'd be getting into the forty days and forty nights kind of thing. Would it wash away the corruption? I doubted it.
The glare of the sun bouncing off the hard pavement made me squint but the air had that sweet, wet, new mowed lawn smell as we walked and I wondered what I'd feed her. Baron's food had long since been tossed and I didn't think I should be feeding human food to a dog. I'd pick up some puppy food on my next trip to the market. In the meantime I'd make do with something around the house.
It'd been two years since I walked a dog along my street. It'd been two years since I walked on my street. The dust had finally settled from the huge Northridge quake that shook L.A. on Martin Luther King Day in January. Most of the debris had been removed and chimneys fixed. A couple of houses on the street were still yellow tagged — meaning they were unsafe for more than supervised entry pending repairs. No red tags on my street — buildings unsafe for human entry and occupancy. I was lucky, the only thing that broke in my house was a prop vase from The Big Sleep. But right next door the chimney had come down in their driveway. I guess I was on the good side of the quake ripple.
I live in the heart of L.A., well it's the heart to me. Not far from Beverly Boulevard and La Brea. Not far from the Beverly Center. In the Spanish colonial house I grew up in. Today I live alone. Make that yesterday I lived alone. Today I had a new roommate, Good Golly Miss Molly.
We walked down the street, under the palms that looked like they were hoping for better weather, headphones from my Walkman tucked snug in my ears. Hot, dry Santa Ana winds blew; in L.A. the weather seemingly changed with the flick of a switch. Metallica's "Enter Sandman" played loud in my head: and like they say in the song, I always slept with one eye open. Good advice. Every other house had burglar bars on the windows. Seemed like every time I stepped out of the house these days, someone had put up a new set of bars on their windows. I hadn't succumbed to temptation yet. After all, this was a good Los Angeles neighborhood in the nineties. And I refused to become a prisoner in my own house.
Molly trundled along, sniffing everything there was to sniff. I smelled the neighbor's honeysuckle, sweet in the bright, fresh day. Then I saw a semi-familiar face, the housekeeper from a couple doors up, young, pretty, probably undocumented. But she'd been here at least two years 'cause I remember crossing paths back then, while I was walking Baron and she would walk her employers' two Yorkies — talk about rats.
"Hola Señor Rogers. Long time no see. You have a new dog." She spoke with a slight accent and an engaging smile. I tried to remember her name.
"Perro," I said, trying out my rusty Spanish.
"Sí, perro. Cómo se llama?"
I remembered some high school Spanish so I knew what she had asked. "Molly."
"Molly, qué bonita. That's a pretty name."
"What are your dogs' names? I knew them, but I can't remember."
"Oh, they are not my dogs. They belong to my employers. Their names are Hillary y Guillermo, William-Bill, after el presidente and his wife."
"Esposa," I said.
Good thing Jack wasn't here. He wouldn't have approved. He thought people should speak only English in the USA. He probably wouldn't even want Molly consorting with dogs named Bill and Hillary.
"Sí, wife." She smiled warmly. "It's good that you have a dog again. A man needs a dog."
I smiled at her, trying for friendly. I wasn't one of those people who could smile on demand. I was no actor, though in my business you have to be to some extent. "I'm sorry, I don't remember your name?"
"Marisol. It means, sunny sea."
Pretty name, but I didn't say it. These days you might get sued for some kind of harassment. Hell I might have been sued for smiling at her, if she was another person. Had to be on your guard. I wasn't as unPC as Jack. These things made him absolutely crazy. And he was starting from a farther point along the craziness scale to begin with. Jack leaned more to the right, while I tried to balance in the middle. It wasn't always an easy balancing act.
Marisol's face matched her name, pretty in an unadorned, wholesome way. Nice smile. Jet black hair trailing down her back. Bronze skin. Nice figure. Something else you didn't comment on these days.
We talked for another thirty seconds, then she went her way and I went mine.
The next day the vet told me that Molly was a Chinook, or mostly Chinook. A rare breed, used for dog sledding in Alaska. Another transplant to L.A. Almost everyone here is from somewhere else, even the palm trees aren't natives. On the way home I stopped at the pet store for a collar, food, and other supplies that I hadn't thought much about in two years.
To me a Chinook was a helicopter, so I looked up Chinook dogs. They were "invented" as a new breed of sled dog. Walden, the guy who created them, wanted a dog with power, endurance, and speed. But also one that would be gentle and friendly. He'd bred them from a mastiff and a Ningo, a Greenland husky descended from Admiral Peary's lead dog, Polaris. Sounded like a good line to me.
Powerful and friendly, my kind of dog. I liked big dogs. Tough dogs. Not junkyard mean dogs. I figured some breeds had a bad rep, Rottweilers and German Shepherds to name a couple. They could be friendly or they could be nasty, depending on how you raised them. Baron was the friendliest dog of all, kids loved him. But he was also protective of me and his turf. The perfect dog.
I turned to Molly. "You got a lot to live up to, girl." Right now she was about the same size as the Yorkies, but they were full grown. Molly would grow to be a monster. I scratched her ears and she rolled on her back for me to scratch her tummy. I guess we were going to be friends after all.
I had blown off almost two full days of work to bond with Molly. I was working cases, but I didn't give a damn about them. Ever since my seven minutes of fame with Teddie Matson's case, I had every two-bit producer who needed the goods on his wife or girlfriend or boyfriend, or all three, or had to know what the competition at the other studios were up to, wanting me to work for them. I had no end of cases to work. A lot of Hollywood riff-raff; the fact they might be worth a hundred million dollars didn't make them any less riff or raff. I was making good money for a change. And I hated every minute of it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Broken Windows"
Copyright © 2018 Paul D. Marks.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
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