Bruno Johnson, a tough street cop, member of the elite violent crime task force, feared by the bad guys, admired by the good, finds his life derailed when a personal tragedy forces him to break the law. Now he's an ex-con and his life on parole is not going well. He is hassled by the police at every opportunity and to make matters even more difficult, his former partner, Robby Wicks, now a high-ranking detective, bullies him into helping solve a high profile crime—unofficially, of course. Meantime, Bruno's girlfriend, Marie, brings out the good, the real Bruno, and even though they veer totally outside the law, he and Marie dedicate themselves to saving abused children, creating a type of underground railroad for neglected kids at risk, disposable kids. What they must do is perilous they step far outside the law, battling a warped justice system and Bruno's former partner, with his own evil agenda.
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By David Putnam
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2014 David Putnam
All rights reserved.
The bell above the door jangled. I looked up from the open Wall Street Journal on the scarred, grimy counter. A kid came in with a brisk blast of Southern California winter, his ball cap skewed on his head, pulled down over the top of his hoodie. He was black with dark skin that made him difficult to recognize under the navy-blue sweatshirt hood. Both hands were in his pockets.
The kid was about to die.
I was helpless. Knew I couldn't save him. I looked out the window in between the discount posters advertising cigarettes and cheap twelve packs of generic beer. The street appeared normal for a late Saturday night, pedestrians, cars all going about their business on Long Beach Boulevard, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet I knew they were out there, sensed it.
The only customer who'd come in before the kid was a small Asian gal, her hair cut in a pageboy and streaked with dark maroon. She'd put a Big Hunk candy bar on the counter and tried to catch my attention as I watched the kid saunter to the back by the walk-in refrigerator and disappear behind the Doritos rack. I'd told the overtly greed-driven Mr. Cho too many times to move the rack just for this particular problem.
"Gimme a bottle of that Hpnotiq vodka and some Virginia Slims one hundreds."
I pulled my eyes away from the kid to look at her. She was barely sixteen, hidden behind makeup, piercings, and some hard years on the street. She had potential to be a real beauty. I rang her up quickly, justifying the minor law violation — selling alcohol to a minor — in order to get her out of the store. It hurt to do it, went against everything I had worked for since I got out. I tried to put the guilt aside and concentrate on saving the boy's life. When the door closed, the bell had not finished its little jangle before he came at the counter in a rush. The gun out, turned sideways like in the gangsta videos.
I put my hands up. I searched for his eyes. When I found them, they were wild, out of control. As calm as I could, I said, "Listen. Just listen to me, okay?" There wasn't time to make him understand.
He jabbed the air with the gun. "Put the money in the bag. Now, Pops, before I blow a big hole in that ugly face."
The gun came up close enough to smell the oil and burnt cordite from within the huge round hole of the barrel. I moved slowly, opened the cash register, and carefully put the folding money in a small, brown paper bag usually reserved for pint bottles of liquor. "You can have it all. But you have to listen to me. They're out there waiting for you. You step out that door, and they won't give you any warning, none at all. They won't give you one chance in hell. They'll blast you right out of those designer kicks. You understand what I'm sayin'? I'm on your side."
"Shut up, old man. Just shut up. You think I'm some kinda fool or somethin'?"
"You need to listen to what I'm telling you. This is for real. Two steps out that door, and there won't be any second chances."
His jitters went to full vibration. His eyes flitted from the window several times then back to me as he wrapped his fried brain around it. His tongue whipped out and wet his lips again and again. The dope made him that way. He was a dope fiend, a sketcher jonesing for some crystal meth, desperate, ready to do anything it took.
"That's all you got? You got more under the counter, don't ya? Give it to me." He again jabbed the gun at the air. It went off accidentally, blasting a shelf of Old Granddad whiskey to the right, less than a foot away. The concussion from the muzzle blast bounced off my flesh. I dropped and crawled. Glass shrapnel punctured my palms and knees. The alcohol burned hot.
Two more explosions.
Bottles shattered and fell on my head, raining down glass and wet liquor.
There came a long pause in the noise, the calm in the center of the violence. I froze to listen. Sticky sweet liquor dribbled off the shelves as I held my breath, waiting for his footfalls to track me down, to fire one last shot, to silence the only witness. I thought of my girl, how much I loved her, how much I'd miss her, how I had been remiss in telling her so. I thought of all the kids stashed over at Dad's place and who would take care of them if I were gone.
Clump, clump. Two long foot strides. The bell jangled. I closed my eyes still holding my breath, knew the next sequence of events. Outside came the muffled yells, "Freeze. Police." The words punctuated by shotgun blasts. Lead pellets shattered the front window of Mr. Cho's cherished moneymaking store.
I got up, brushed my hands on my apron, streaking it with blood, and walked like an automaton to the door. The bell jangled as I went out.CHAPTER 2
"You," they yelled at me. "Police, get on the ground. Get on the ground right now."
I stared down at the dead kid, the meth freak rolled up against the store wall like so much dirty laundry, the gun still in his hand, the paper bag of money soaking up the thick, red blood that ran from a massive chest wound. I'd done this. This was my fault. They'd been out there waiting, these hunters of men, waiting, watching me. The dead kid, in their vernacular was "collateral damage," icing on their cake.
The yelling grew louder.
People rushed in.
"I said get down, asshole." The butt-stroke from the shotgun turned the night a bright flash of white and the air too thin to breathe. I went to my knees. The second blow hit my kidneys. Face first, I fell onto the sidewalk pocked with smashed-flat gum and cigarette butts. Someone jumped on my back, wrenched my hands behind me, and cuffed them.
Police radios squawked. Sirens rolled up the street.
I turned my head and saw the kid's vacant eyes, empty, wasted. The eyes of Derek Sams even though I was smarter than that and knew it wasn't Derek. No way it could be. Derek had been dead a long time. My voice hoarse, "You could have given him a chance. He would've surrendered."
"Shut your pie hole."
"You didn't even give him a chance. He would've put his gun down."
The boot came from off to the side, a fleeting shadow in a long, wide arc, aimed to broadside my face. I flinched defensively, only not far enough. My head exploded for a second time.
"What'd I tell you, asshole?" The words came as an echo in water that warbled and vibrated in the unkicked ear.
Gradually, the world came back into sharp focus. I realized what I had in my pocket and went absolutely still. I didn't want to provoke them further. I couldn't afford to. But it was already too late, they had me cold. There was no reason to believe, that under the circumstances, they wouldn't search me.
Two men moved in, stood close, their shoes a foot away, men evaluating the scene. "You capped two of them?"
"No, he ran out into our crime scene and refused to follow orders."
"So you capped him?"
"No, he resisted. We had to put the boot to him. No big deal. This is all good. It was a clean shoot. The puke had a gun in his hand. Look."
"Clean, right? So you got it all on video?"
The other man remained silent.
"Ah, man, tell me you got it on tape."
"The video broke."
"Sure it did. Here's the lieutenant. Shut your face and let me handle it."
A third man walked up. "I heard the call and was in the area."
A voice, one I recognized, one that made me want to shrivel down into the crack in the sidewalk.
"Whatta ya got?"
"Two-eleven, armed, came out of the store like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was ordered to stop. He didn't comply and we had to put him down."
"You got video?"
"No, the machine malfunctioned."
"Ya, right, how many times you think they're going to buy that one." The lieutenant paused. His shoes took a couple of steps back. "Hey, this is Sammy's Market Number II. Who's this dude?" The lieutenant nudged me with his toe.
The thug cop spoke up, "Sir, he came out of the store into our crime scene and —"
"Knock off the party line. I'm not some paper-pushing bean counter from downtown. I know what time it is. Get him up."
Two sets of strong hands helped me to my feet. The thug cop, who'd put the boot to me, had a flat, white face, blue, deep-set eyes, and buzz-cut white-blond hair. His shoulders were humped with muscle. He was nervous and flexed them again and again as if at any moment he would reenter the ring for round two. He was still pumped with adrenaline and had not yet registered the cold evening. He wore a t-shirt and jeans and a shoulder holster with his Los Angeles County Sheriff's badge clipped to it.
I kept my head bowed. Robby Wicks, the lieutenant, leaned down to try and see my face, my one good eye, not swollen shut from the kick. "Ya, I thought it was you. Hey, Bruno, what's goin' down?"
The thug cop was stunned. "You know this asshole, Lieutenant?"
"That's right, and you call him an asshole again, I'll bust you back to working the cell blocks at Men's Central Jail. Take those cuffs off. You okay, Bruno? You want to file a complaint against this guy?"
I didn't know how to take his congeniality after what had happened the last time we met. He acted as if nothing had come between us.
My right eye was swollen shut and the other watered, blurring everything. I didn't say anything and rubbed my wrists, then daubed the eye with a sleeve.
The thug cop was angry. "Man, that ain't right. We didn't do anything we didn't have to, that we weren't forced to do. It was his fault. This was all by the book."
Robby Wicks said, "We'll never know for sure, now will we? Not since your video recorder just happened to malfunction."
"Bruno, say the word, and I'll start the paper on this one, do it myself."
I looked down at the dead kid pushed up against the wall of a shitty little market on a dirty sidewalk in South Central Los Angeles. Then I looked the thug cop in the eye until he looked away and he asked, "Who is this guy?"
Robby Wicks reached over and pulled up the t-shirt sleeve stretched tight around the thug deputy's large bicep. He revealed a recent tattoo, still red and enflamed against his too-white skin, "BMF," in bold black letters. "Looks like you recently made your bones and joined up, got initiated, huh? Good thing this doesn't smell of a blood kill. God forbid."
BMF, the insignia of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's elite Violent Crimes Team.
The thug pulled away from Robby, anger in his eyes.
Robby stepped over to me and pulled my sleeve up. My skin was black and made it difficult to see, but it was there, "BMF," only more crudely etched.
"This guy you called asshole is none other than Bruno the Bad Boy Johnson. The man who started the BMFs."
BMF, that's right. Robby had to rub my face in it. People do stupid things when they're young, things they regret for all time, things they wish with their very soul to take back. Only it was too late, like the kid on the ground, it was too late.
The thug deputy's mouth dropped open. "You're the Bruno Johnson?"
My left fist snapped out and connected with his right cheek — the diversion — as I came out with a right roundhouse — the heat — and laid it right on his nose. Cartilage crunched. Blood burst out as his knees gave way and his eyes rolled up. He melted to the sidewalk. His sergeant caught him. Uniform deputies moved in fast, batons out, ready to beat me until I was dead.
Robby held up his hand to stop them. "Hold it. Hold it, it's all over." He looked at the sergeant who was easing his unconscious man down to the same dirty sidewalk as the dead kid. "We done here, Sergeant? We going to call it even or do I call in IA and take this incident apart piece by piece?"
His eyes angry, "No, we're done here, Lieutenant."
Robby put his arm over my shoulder, turned us around, and guided us back into the shitty little market. I felt sick at his touch and would have shrugged him off had I not needed the insulation, the cover to protect what I had in my pocket, a small piece of what I needed to fight the underground war.
"Christ, Bruno, your hands are bleeding. You want me to call med aid?" He reached for the handie-talkie on his belt.
"No, I think you've done quite enough. That big white boy out there's not going to forget what happened. Especially, the way it went down right in front of all his homeboys. There's no way he can leave it alone."
"He can't lay a hand on you. Everyone would know about the bad blood. Besides, I'll whisper in his ear, make sure he knows exactly who he'd be pissing off."
The lieutenant of the elite violent crimes unit carried more clout than a deputy chief.
Robby looked around the store. "This the best you can do, Bruno?"
I got a broom from the back and started to sweep up. The handle instantly turned slick.
Robby took it away. "Man, you of all people know the routine. The forensics gotta have a go at this mess first. Come on, I'll give you a ride to the hospital. You need stitches on those hands and maybe even an X-ray of that rock-hard head of yours."
Doom-and-gloom depression descended and gave the night's darkness a hard edge. I should've done more to stop the kid's assassination. He was someone's child, someone's grandchild. A mother, an auntie would be waiting up for him tonight and, instead, they'd get a coroner's house call.CHAPTER 3
Outside, everyone had been moved away from the front of Mr. Cho's store and stood behind yellow crime-scene tape. An instant crowd had gathered. Both ends of Long Beach Boulevard — a major drag through town — remained blocked off. Robby had me by the arm, escorting, letting all concerned know I now came under his protective veil.
"I'm working a serial killing, down south of here on Cookacre," he said, "heard the call and stopped by. Good thing or your black ass'd be on its way to county about now."
The lump in my pocket grew warmer, even though it was physically impossible. When I didn't answer, he kept up the rhetoric to cover the uncomfortable silence.
"This case is a bad one. You've seen it in the news. I know you have. All the good citizens are staying indoors because of this guy. After dark, they're afraid to come out from under their beds."
Robby didn't wait for me to answer. He knew I had heard of this suspect. Like he said, everyone had.
"The dude tosses a coffee can of gas on the victim, holds up a lit lighter, and says, 'gimme all your money.' The victim complies, and the suspect lights his ass up anyway. Then he stands by and watches. Just stands there, cheering like it's Saturday night at the fights.
"There have been three so far, and we don't have a clue. The victims are too random. Wish you were still on it with me. We'd tear this town apart until someone told us. Right now they're all too scared to give up the dude. Who could blame them? What a way to go, huh?"
In the twenty years working for the Sheriff's Department I'd seen my share of burnt people, charred people, an image sewn into all your senses, the reek, the stark fear forever frozen in the victim's eyes.
We made it over to the police line. The short, dumpy Mr. Cho elbowed his way through the crowd and pointed a stubby little finger at me. "You fired. You hear me, you fired."
Robby gripped my arm tighter, spoke to me out of the corner of his mouth, "Sorry about that, man."
"Don't be. I was looking for a job when I found this one." I had to make it look like I didn't care, even though I did. I had a parole agent who insisted the members on his caseload remained gainfully employed. Worse, I didn't know how Marie was going to take it. I needed the job for the kids.
We rode in silence in the undercover cop car. Neither of us wanted to talk about the stolen couple years that had slipped by. Largely unnoticed by him, I was sure. My hands and knees and eye throbbed with enough pain to keep the past embarrassment at bay. He took Roscrans west then Willowbrook up to 120th and over to Wilmington and up to Martin Luther King Hospital. The people in the area serviced by the hospital called it "Killer King."
I basked in some relief. I'd been wrong about the surveillance. They had been staked out looking for this torch. I hoped with all my heart that's what it was and that they weren't there for me, watching me in order to find the kids I had stashed. Now I could see Marie without the worry of pulling her into what I had going on.
Excerpted from The Disposables by David Putnam. Copyright © 2014 David Putnam. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Captivating, hard-to-put down with meaningful plot. Bruno is a true hero, s saving grace for lost souls.
Good cops, bad cops, dirty cops, ex-cops, they are all here. Bruno Johnson is an ex-cop with a murder conviction. Now, he is on a crusade with his red-hot Puerto Rican girlfriend to save battered children from the incompetence of Child Protective Services. To fund his plan he has stooped to working for a Los Angeles mobster, which is risky business for a parolee. All Bruno needs is one last big score and he will be over the border but the Violent Crimes Task Force and the FBI have other plans. The Disposables exposes the lawlessness within law enforcement from an insider’s viewpoint. This fast-paced story is so loaded with violence, corruption, double dealing and back stabbing the reader may want to wash his hands every time he lays the book on the nightstand. Even the altruistic Bruno is so dirty from his past life as a cop that it is difficult to bond with him. There are so many villains in this book you don’t know who you hate the most. The treachery builds steadily toward a twisted, deceit filled climax. This is an excellent cop story written in cop jargon and told from the level of the gutter. Read it.
Loved this book
This book is sooooo easy to review. Buy it, read it, love it!!!! Highly recommend!!
Enjoyed the fast paced action.
I enjoyed reading this book. It kept my interest. I couldn't put it down.
Unputdownable. Great action and memorable characters. I'll be reading The Replacements next.