Back then, Moving Day in L.A. was a phantom holiday that occurred, for many Angelenos, every other month or so. In the 1950s and ’60s, when the rent was dirt cheap, people moved to be closer to a new job, away from an old lover, or when it seemed that a fundamental change of life was in order. Sometimes the person moving would not only change the numbers on his or her door but also the name on the mailbox, the used car in the driveway, and even the style of clothes they donned to walk out and meet the day.
Now and then the move was not merely aesthetic or convenient but necessary; like when a bill collector, lawyer, or the law itself was hot on the temporary tenant’s trail. At a time like this the migrant leaseholder would make sure that the new domicile was inside the border of a different unincorporated town or municipality of L.A. County. That way the law offered few systems to track his whereabouts. A man could actually avoid dunning or even arrest by merely moving across the street.
In the case of a necessary move, the rental émigré would load up a truck in the middle of the night and go with no fanfare, or notice to the landlord.
This was not the case with my midmorning migration.
My daughter and I were moving, that Sunday, from Genesee at Pico to Point View just a few houses north of Airdrome; not more than eleven blocks. This was a necessary move that was not due to any legal or monetary bureaucracy.
Five months or so earlier I had almost died. At that time I had been involved in a case that put my home in jeopardy, and so I had sent my daughter to stay with her brother at a friend’s place, temporarily. I resolved the case but then drove my car off the side of a coastal mountain. Whether this accident was due to a subconscious death wish or just bad luck is uncertain, but I was in what the doctors called a semicoma for the better part of two months.
During that time a squatter named Jeffrey had taken possession of the empty house on Genesee. With the help of my friend Raymond Alexander, Jeff was put out. This was not a gentle eviction and I worried that Feather, my adopted daughter, might one day be home alone when the squatter returned for revenge.
And so I sold the Genesee house and bought a new, larger place on Point View. I might have ranged farther but that September, Feather was going to enter the seventh grade at Louis Pasteur Junior High and the new address was just a block away from there.
And so some friends—LaMarque Alexander (Raymond’s son), Jesus (my adopted boy, now a young man), Jackson Blue and his wife’s associate Percy Bidwell—helped Feather and me load our belongings into a rented truck and drive it over to the new door.
I would have hired a moving company but recently, within the last week, the city had seen fit to inspect all five of the rental properties I owned and demanded I fix structural problems, perform a termite-extermination, and in one place they even required that I install a new heating system. It would take every cent I had, and then some, to pay for the improvements, so I rented a truck from my old pal Primo and called on my friends to lend a hand with the move.
Feather set herself up in the entranceway of the rare two-story residence and directed the men where to deposit the bureaus, tables, beds, boxes, and chairs. My daughter had light brown hair and skin. She was tall for twelve and lean, not to say thin. She was becoming an accomplished long-distance runner as her brother, Jesus, had been, and was fluent in three languages already. Neither she nor her brother had one drop of blood in common with me, or each other, but they were my kids and we were family.
“Uncle Jackson,” Feather said from the front hall, “that little table goes in Daddy’s room upstairs. He uses it for his desk.”
“Upstairs?” Jackson exclaimed. He was around my age, mid-forties, short, jet black, and skinny as a sapling tree. “Girl, this table might look little but the wood is dense, and heavy.”
“I’ll help, Uncle J,” Jesus said. My boy was pure Mexican Indian. He was no taller than Jackson Blue but his years of working his own small fishing boat had made him strong.
Jesus got behind the table, taking most of the weight, and Jackson groaned piteously as he guided it up the stairs.
“This is a really nice house you got here, Mr. Rawlins,” Percy Bidwell said.
He was almost my height, a brassy brown, and good-looking. His hair had been processed into tight curls. I always distrusted men who processed their hair. This was a prejudice that I realized was not necessarily justified.
“Thank you, Percy. I like it.”
“Jewelle said that you haven’t moved in years. I guess this house was just too good to pass up. Must’ve cost quite a bit for a place this big in this neighborhood.”
I also didn’t like people asking about my business. Percy was racking up the negative points on my friendship register.
“Do you work for Jewelle?” I asked.
“No.” He seemed almost insulted by the question.
Jewelle MacDonald had come from a real estate family and on her own had amassed an empire of apartment buildings and commercial properties. She was even part-owner of a major international hotel that was being constructed in downtown L.A. Jewelle was barely out of her twenties and married to the onetime roustabout, now computer expert Jackson Blue. It was no insult to ask if Bidwell worked for her. She had sent him to help Jackson, after all.
“Jewelle told me that if I wanted to get in contact with Jason Middleton,” Percy said, “that you were the one who would do that for me.”
His sentence structure told me that he thought that I was somehow under the direction of Jewelle; that all he had to do was mention that she had asked for something and I would make that something happen.
I turned away from him and called, “LaMarque!”
“Yes, Mr. Rawlins?”
The lanky twenty-two-year-old loped from the truck to my side.
“Where’s your father?”
“He had to go back east on business.”
Business for Raymond, more commonly known as Mouse, was high-end heists with the strong possibility of brutality and bloodshed.
“So he sent you to take his place?” I asked. I could feel Percy Bidwell starring daggers at my back.
“Mama did. When you called to ask for Dad to help, she send me.”
“How long you been back from Texas?”
“You outta all that trouble now?”
“I ain’t in no gang no more,” he said, looking down a little sheepishly.
EttaMae, LaMarque’s mother and Raymond’s wife, had sent the young man down to Texas to work on her brother’s farm for a while. She did that to save the lives of the gang members who had tried to claim him as one of their own. Raymond would have killed them all if she hadn’t interfered.
A car pulled up to the curb just then. It was a dark Ford with four male passengers. Most cars in Southern California transported a solitary driver, a couple, a double date, or a family. Four men in a car most likely spelled trouble if there wasn’t a construction site somewhere in the vicinity.
“Well,” I said to LaMarque while watching the men confer, “you get back to work and I’ll give you twenty dollars to go home with.”
“Yes, sir,” he said. Etta had taught the boy his manners.
LaMarque ducked his head and ran back to the truck.
“Mr. Rawlins,” Percy Bidwell said.
“Yeah, Percy?” I was watching the men as they prepared to disembark.
“About Mr. Middleton.”
“What is it you want with Jason?”
“That’s private,” the young man said.
“Then you better just call him up yourself and leave me out of it.”
“I don’t know him.”
“And I don’t know you.”
“Jewelle told me to tell you to call him.”
“You don’t tell me what to do, son, and neither does Jewelle.”
The four men were out of the car by then. They were all white men, tall, and burly. Three of them wore off-the-rack suits of various dark hues. The eldest, maybe fifty years of age, was dressed in a dark-colored, tailored ensemble that was possibly even silk.
The leader began the stroll up the slight incline of my lawn.
“Easy,” Jackson warned from an upstairs window.
“I see ’em, Blue.”
“Is it all right?”
“I hope so.”
“Mr. Rawlins,” Percy was saying, trying once again to impress his will upon me.
“Either get back to work or go home, Percy,” I said. “I got other things on my mind right now.”
Copyright © 2014 by Walter Mosley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.