A body is unearthed in Griffith Park. The cops tag it a routine dead-man job. They're wrong. It's an early-warning signal of Chaos.
There's a murderous fire and a gold heist. There's Fifth Column treason on American soil. There are homegrown Nazis, Commies, and race racketeers. It's populism ascendant. There's two dead cops in a dive off the jazz-club strip. And three men and one woman have a hot date with history.
Elmer Jackson is a corrupt Vice cop. He's a flesh peddler and a bagman for the L.A. Chief of Police. Hideo Ashida is a crime-lab whiz, lashed by anti-Japanese rage. Dudley Smith is PD hardnose working Army Intelligence. He's gone rogue and gone all-the-way fascist. Joan Conville was born rogue. She's a defrocked Navy lieutenant and a war profiteer to her core.
L.A. '42. Homefront madness. Wartime inferno--This Storm is James Ellroy's most audacious novel yet. It is by turns savage, tender, elegiac. It lays bare and celebrates crazed Americans of all stripes. It is a masterpiece.
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Read an Excerpt
(Los Angeles, 9:30 P.M., 12/31/41)
It’s a sit-and-wait job. Some hot-prowl burglar/rape-o’s out creeping. He’s Tommy Glennon, recent Quentin grad. He’s notched five 459/sodomies since Pearl Harbor.
Happy fucking New Year.
Three-man stakeout. Two parked cars. 24th and Normandie. Sit and wait. Endure bugs-up-your-ass ennui.
The rain. Plus war-blackout regulations. Drawn shades, doused streetlamps. Bum visibility.
It’s a stag hunt. The PD worked that way. Four victims mugshot-ID’d Tommy. The Chief and Dudley Smith conferred. They called it. Per always: perv shit on women mandates DEATH.
Elmer gargled Old Crow. He had the front-house car. Mike Breuning and Dick Carlisle had the alley. Tommy had the crib cased. Two leggy sisters lived there. Lockstep surveillance locked down the gestalt.
Central Burglary tailed Tommy a week running. Elmer moved the sisters out and moved his leggy girlfriend in. She had the legs and the stones for the job.
Ellen Drew. His part-time girlfriend and part-time Paramount starlet. Ellen glommed raves in If I Were King and went pffft. She part-time whored for Elmer and his part-time girlfriend.
Brenda Allen. Part-time squeeze of Chief Jack Horrall. It’s who you know and who you blow. Call-Me-Jack set up the bait gig.
Elmer scoped the house. Upstairs lights gleamed. Ellen cracked the shades to spotlight her gams. It violated blackout regs and lit her legs gooooood. Tommy G. was a leg man. Elmer read his Quentin file and glommed the gestalt.
Thomas Malcolm Glennon/white male American/DOB 8/19/16. Preston Reform School and Quentin. Tight with pachucos and Four Families tong men.
Fireworks popped somewhere north. The rain drenched the sparks and killed the effect.
“It’s who you know.”
Elmer knew Dudley and Call-Me-Jack. Thus, this shit job. Mike B. and Dick C. were Dudley’s strongarm goons. Dud got the night off. Some unknown geek shivved him three days ago.
Elmer yawned. Elmer futzed with his two-way radio. Police calls spritzed.
Niggertown 211/Happytime Liquor/prowl cars at scene. Dope roust at Club Zombie. Mexicoon rumble, 84th and Avalon. Zoot-suit beaners ex-cape.
Elmer yawned. Elmer skimmed the dial. He hit a civilian band and got lucky. The PD’s New Year’s bash warbled.
It’s live from City Hall. It features Count Basie’s Band. The Detective Bureau muster room’s rigged with radio mikes. The Count’s at the keyboard. There’s Lester Young’s sax.
Here’s the inside tattle. Two bluesuits popped the Count with reefers. Jack Horrall caught wind and tossed the pitch. Your call, Count. Six months honor farm or a one-night engagement?
Rain slammed the car. Said rain outslammed Count Basie. Elmer skimmed to Band 3. He caught an open line to Breuning and Carlisle.
“Know” and “blow.” Maladroit Mike and Dipshit Dick. This jive New Year’s Eve. What good’s your insider-cop status?
He loved Headquarters Vice. It dispensed yuks and served to scotch his call-biz competiton. Then the fucking Japs bombed fucking Pearl Harbor and fucked the white world up the brown trail.
He got detached to the Alien Squad. It was Japs twelve days a week. Japs, Japs, JAPS. Foreign-born, native-born, for sure and alleged Fifth Column. Raid their pads. Confiscate their goods. Transport them to ritzy horse stalls at Santa Anita.
Band 3 popped sound. Breuning and Carlisle bullshitted. Who shivved the Dudster? Their rambunctious kids. This meter maid with jugs out to here.
Breuning and Carlisle gassed. They hashed out the Fed’s phone-tap probe. The PD was knee-deep in shit. It’s a nail-biter.
City Hall was bugged and tapped, floor-to-rafters. Rival cop factions spied on each other. Grifter cops, tonged-up cops, cop strikebreakers. The Feds took note and launched a probe.
Cop fiefdoms. Cop thieves. Cops in the Silver Shirts and German-American Bund. Calls to the DA’s Office. Calls to Mayor Fletch Bowron. Detective Bureau cops be scaaared.
Elmer was scared. He ran a call-girl ring. He peddled flesh to the L.A. elite. He made biz calls from the Vice squadroom.
The radio browned out. Shit—line crackle, static, hiss. Elmer twirled the dial. He caught some luck there. Good Lord—it’s Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree.
It was auld lang syne for displaced crackers. That was him, defined. Cliffie connoted hayrides and moonshine. Cliffie brought back Wisharts, North Carolina.
Wisharts was Klan Kountry. Geography is destiny. Klan life fucked up his daddy and big brother, Wayne Frank. That hate-the-jigs diet stuck in young Elmer’s craw. He hit eighteen in ’30. He joined the Marine Corps. Semper Fi: Parris Island, Camp Lejeune, Nicaragua.
Man-o-Man Managua. The Marine detachment backstops puppet Führer Somoza. Jarheads snuff his political rivals and stand embassy guard. They’re bellhops and part-time assassins. El Jefe loves Lance Corporal E. V. Jackson. Hence a plum job: run Jefe’s favorite whorehouse.
He learned the biz that way. It spawned his notion of call-service-to-your-door girls. Jefe shot him Plum Job #2. He watchdogged the L.A. police chief.
James Edgar “Two-Gun” Davis. One vivid lunatic. Davis and Jefe were sordid soul mates. They boozed and whored together. Davis loved Lance Corporal E. V. Jackson. Here’s why:
A leftist zealot charged Davis with a machete. Lance Corporal Jackson shot and killed him. Davis shot Lance Corporal Jackson a police department appointment.
Good bye, Marine Corps. Hello, Los Angeles.
Elmer liked police work. Davis set him up with a cooze pusher named Brenda Allen. Elmer and Brenda clicked. They concocted their phone-exchange biz and saw it flourish. The L.A. grand jury sacked Two-Gun Davis. He poked one Jailbait Jill too many and took it up the dirt road.
Call-Me-Jack’s in now. He’s got 7% of the call biz. Sergeant E. V. Jackson is twenty-nine. He’s one lucky white man.
Cliffie Stone laid down hick ballads. That was Wayne Frank’s mawkish meter. Wayne Frank was a hate dog and nativist nabob. Kid brother Elmer notched opportunities. Wayne Frank harvested shit.
Wayne Frank goes Klan, goes rumdum, goes hobo. He habituates the West Coast and clocks an untimely end.
Elmer gargled Old Crow. He was half-tanked. It was 10:18. Tommy G. always hit between 10:00 and midnight.
The hick music rubbed him raw. He doused the radio and gassed on the rain. His prowl car was sunk fender-deep.
He checked the house. Cracked blinds gave him a look-see. Ellen was upstairs. She was pacing and smoking. She provided a Leg Show De-luxe. Smoke plumes plumed out a transom slot.
Elmer tuned in Band 3. Mike B. groused to Dick C. Dudster this, Dudster that. More drift per their rambunctious kids.
More line fuzz and static. Elmer killed his jug and tossed it out the window. “Whoa, Junior” fuzzed in.
Elmer grabbed the receiver and flipped the talk switch. The fuzz-static cleared.
“Our boy’s coming south. He hopped the next-door fence. You take the front. Let him sniff Ellen and start upstairs before you sh—”
He shoved out the door. He puddle-leaped and lunged for the curb. His shoes squished and leaked. He pulled his piece and chambered a round.
His hat flew off. The rain stung his eyes and ratched up his vision. He made the lawn/the front porch/the front door.
It’s unlocked. Go in slow now. You oiled the hinges and jambs. Tommy won’t hear shit.
He got inside. He smelled Ellen’s cigarette smoke and perfume. He made for the stairway. He squished all over the living room rug.
Mike and Dick squished toward him. They hit the stairway. Everybody went sssssshhh.
They scoped Tommy’s muddy footprints. They heard floorboard creaks and foot scuffs upstairs.
Mike winked. Dick did that slice-the-throat thing. Elmer gulped—mother dog, holy shit—
Mike whooped. Dick whooped. They ran upstairs and raised a ruckus. They bumped each other off the walls and hit the landing. Elmer heard front-widow glass shatter. Tommy pulled some human-fly stunt.
Elmer ran back out the door. There’s that black sky and sluice rain, there’s half a glimpse. There’s Human Fly Tommy, running northbound—
He’s two front yards up. He’s cutting toward the sidewalk. There’s no soaked grass and more traction there.
Elmer cut crossways and hit asphalt. His flapping raincoat slowed him down. He gained ground, lost ground, gained ground. He aimed at Tommy’s back and popped three rounds. Muzzle flash turned the rain red.
Tommy gained ground. Mike and Dick fired—back there, long-distance. Shots ricocheted off front porches.
Tommy ran east on 26th. Elmer caught a sideways look and emptied his clip. The flare messed with his eyes and made little halos.
Elmer ran east. He reloaded and sprinted. His raincoat slipped off. Window shades went up. He got some sight-in light.
He gained ground. His wind faltered. Something dropped from Tommy’s pants pocket. He stopped and aimed tight. He had him, he had him, something said DON’T. He squeezed three shots wide on purpose.
Tommy cut north. He’s a Human Fly. He’s a fleet-foot rape-o. Watch him vamoose.
Elmer heard Mike and Dick, way back there. Shots bounced off the street. Them dumbfucks blasted will-o’-the-wisps.
Elmer stopped and caught some breath. He walked east and checked the sidewalk.
Tommy dropped something. Elmer saw it and picked it up. Well, now. Tommy dropped a red leather address book.
Ellen said, “Swell New Year’s.”
Elmer said, “I had that same thought.”
“I guess you’re not much of a shot.”
“Come on. At night, in the rain?”
They drove through Hollywood. Ellen flopped at the Green Gables Apartments. It adjoined Paramount and lubed early cast calls. Ellen had a second marriage going. Two husbands and a kid at age twenty-seven. Her hubby was off with the Air Corps. She serviced Elmer’s clients out of ennui. She serviced Elmer, likewise.
Elmer hit Melrose, westbound. Call it Aquacade by Night. Muted streetlamps. The blackout and curb-high floodwater.
Ellen lit a cigarette. “He pulled out his pecker and waved it. That’s when I screamed.”
Elmer yocked. Ellen wagged a pinkie. Tommy Glennon—hung like a cashew.
Elmer yocked anew. Ellen groped his trouser pockets and extracted his roll. She peeled off a fifty and stuffed the roll back.
“That felt nice.”
“Not tonight. The weekend, maybe.”
“I’ve got late duty. My bodyguard gig with Hideo Ashida.”
Ellen said, “He’s cute, for a Jap. Do you think he’s queer?”
“Come on. He’s the best forensic chemist in this white man’s PD.”
Ellen tossed her cigarette. “Tell Jack Horrall thanks for the fifty, and tell him no more bait jobs for this little black duck.”
“Tell him I said you should go back in the Marines. There’s a war on, and you should be fighting it, like my husband.”
Elmer said, “Do you love me?”
Ellen said, “No. You’re just my wartime diversion.”
Ellen scrammed at the Gables. Elmer U-turned and booked east. This nutty brainstorm percolated. His short hairs prickled on overdrive.
Tommy G. lived at the Gordon Hotel. Breuning and Carlisle were too lazy to go toss it. The Gordon was straight up Melrose.
Let’s prowl Tommy’s room. Let’s sniff leads. Let’s get some buy-back on that fuckup. Let’s mess with Dudley Smith.
The Dudster gored his goat. Hey, Elmer—toast this guy. That don’t sit right. He ain’t no black-robe killer.
The goddamn rain. Backed-up sewers. Mud slides. No hot toddies, no swell women.
Elmer parked upside the Gordon and puddle-jumped in. The lobby was threadbare. A clerk dozed by the switchboard. He wore a green felt leprechaun hat.
Tommy rented 216. Elmer walked upstairs and braced the door. He caught zero voices and no radio warble. He pulled his piece and shoulder-popped the jamb.
No Tommy. No nobody. Just this flop. Just this twelve-by-twelve den of despair.
No bathroom. One closet. A milk-bottle pissoir by the bed. No chairs. One closet, one chest of drawers.
Elmer locked himself in. Thunder shook the whole building. Geeks yelled “Happy New Year!” out on Melrose.
He checked the closet. It contained nada. That meant Tommy lammed. He had a car or stole a car. He traded shots with three cops and vamoosed. Farewell, you rape-o cocksucker.
Elmer tossed the drawers. He caught some provocative shit.
A teach-yourself-Spanish book. A smut-photo book. Spicy donkey-show pix, à la Tijuana. Note the porkpie hat on El Burro.
Nazi armbands. Jap flags. One tattoo stencil. Note the excised parts:
Outlines for swastikas. Outlines for an “SQ” circumscribed by coiled snakes.
Elmer thumbed Tommy’s address book. More odd shit accrued. Look—there’s no addresses and no full names.
Look—a “J.S.” and a Hollywood exchange. “St. Vib’s” and a downtown exchange. It’s probably St. Vibiana’s catholic church.
Look—RE-8761. No names or initials. Republic’s a south-of-downtown exchange.
Look—MA-4993. That number’s familiar. He scoured his brain and snagged it.
Eddie Leng’s Kowloon. A Chinatown slop chute. It’s open-all-nite. It features tasty shark-fin soup.
Eddie Leng was a Four Families tong geek. Tommy G. was a known tong associate.
Plus: three more no name/no initial numbers.
Elmer grabbed the wall phone and roused the switchboard geek. Get me MA-6884, pronto.
The Detective Bureau. The Vice Squad night line. It was manned round the clock.
He got four rings and a pick up. He heard noisemaker squeal. The clerk came off blotto.
“Uh. . . yeah?”
“Rise and shine, dipshit. You got phone numbers to run.”
The clerk yawned. “That you, Elmer?”
“It’s me, so grab your pencil.”
“I got it here someplace.”
Elmer said, “HO-4612. The subscriber’s got the initials J.S.”
“Okay, I got—”
“The number for St. Vibiana’s Church, and the subscriber name for RE-8761.”
The clerk perked up. “I know that last number. It’s a hot-box pay phone, and them farkakte phone-probe Feds been looking at it. A lot of hinky City Hall guys make their hinky calls from there.”
Elmer said, “Don’t stop now.”
“Who’s stopping? I was just pausing.”
“Come on. Don’t string this—”
“It used to be a bookie’s hot-box, and the drift is it still is. It’s over on 11th and Broadway, by the Herald. That farkakte reporter Sid Hudgens stiffs his unkosher calls from it.”
Sid the Yid. Scandal scribe, putz provocateur. St. Vib’s—the papist hot spot. Eddie Leng’s eatery.
Tommy, what does this shit portend?