“That you, Shasta?”
“Thinks he’s hallucinating.”
“Just the new package I guess.”
They stood in the streetlight through the kitchen window there’d never been much point putting curtains over and listened to the thumping of the surf from down the hill. Some nights, when the wind was right, you could hear the surf all over town.
“Need your help, Doc.”
“You know I have an office now? just like a day job and everything?”
“I looked in the phone book, almost went over there. But then I thought, better for everybody if this looks like a secret rendezvous.”
Okay, nothing romantic tonight. Bummer. But it still might be a paying gig. “Somebody’s keepin a close eye?”
“Just spent an hour on surface streets trying to make it look good.”
“How about a beer?” He went to the fridge, pulled two cans out of the case he kept inside, handed one to Shasta.
“There’s this guy,” she was saying.
There would be, but why get emotional? If he had a nickel for every time he’d heard a client start off this way, he could be over in Hawaii now, loaded day and night, digging the waves at Waimea, or better yet hiring somebody to dig them for him . . . “Gentleman of the straightworld persuasion,” he beamed.
“Okay, Doc. He’s married.”
“Some . . . money situation.”
She shook back hair that wasn’t there and raised her eyebrows so what.
Groovy with Doc. “And the wife—she knows about you?”
Shasta nodded. “But she’s seeing somebody too. Only it isn’t just the usual—they’re working together on some creepy little scheme.”
“To make off with hubby’s fortune, yeah, I think I heard of that happenin once or twice around L.A. And . . . you want me to do what, exactly?” He found the paper bag he’d brought his supper home in and got busy pretending to scribble notes on it, because straight-chick uniform, makeup supposed to look like no makeup or whatever, here came that old well-known hardon Shasta was always good for sooner or later. Does it ever end, he wondered. Of course it does. It did.
They went in the front room and Doc laid down on the couch and Shasta stayed on her feet and sort of drifted around the place.
“Is, they want me in on it,” she said. “They think I’m the one who can reach him when he’s vulnerable, or as much as he ever gets.”
“Bareass and asleep.”
“I knew you’d understand.”
“You’re still trying to figure out if it’s right or wrong, Shasta?”
“Worse than that.” She drilled him with that gaze he remembered so well. When he remembered. “How much loyalty I owe him.”
“I hope you’re not asking me. Beyond the usual boilerplate people owe anybody they’re fucking steady—”
“Thanks, Dear Abby said about the same thing.”
“Groovy. Emotions aside, then, let’s look at the money. How much of the rent’s he been picking up?”
“All of it.” Just for a second, he caught the old narrow-eyed defiant grin.
“For Hancock Park.”
Doc whistled the title notes from “Can’t Buy Me Love,” ignoring the look on her face. “You’re givin him IOUs for everything, o’ course.”
“You fucker, if I’d known you were still this bitter—”
“Me? Trying to be professional here, is all. How much were wifey and the b.f. offering to cut you in for?”
Shasta named a sum. Doc had outrun souped-up Rollses full of indignant smack dealers on the Pasadena Freeway, doing a hundred in the fog and trying to steer through all those crudely engineered curves, he’d walked up back alleys east of the L.A. River with nothing but a borrowed ’fro pick in his baggies for protection, been in and out of the Hall of Justice while holding a small fortune in Vietnamese weed, and these days had nearly convinced himself all that reckless era was over with, but now he was beginning to feel deeply nervous again. “This . . .” carefully now, “this isn’t just a couple of X-rated Polaroids, then. Dope planted in the glove compartment, nothin like ’at . . .”
Back when, she could go weeks without anything more complicated than a pout. Now she was laying some heavy combination of face ingredients on him that he couldn’t read at all. Maybe something she’d picked up at acting school. “It isn’t what you’re thinking, Doc.”
“Don’t worry, thinking comes later. What else?”
“I’m not sure but it sounds like they want to commit him to some loony bin.”
“You mean legally? or a snatch of some kind?”
“Nobody’s telling me, Doc, I’m just the bait.” Come to think of it, there’d never been this much sorrow in her voice either. “I heard you’re seeing somebody downtown?”
Seeing. Well, “Oh, you mean Penny? nice flatland chick, out in search of secret hippie love thrills basically—”
“Also some kind of junior DA in Evelle Younger’s shop?”
Doc gave it some thought. “You think somebody there can stop this before it happens?”
“Not too many places I can go with this, Doc.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to Penny, see what we can see. Your happy couple—they have names, addresses?”
When he heard her older gent’s name he said, “This is the same Mickey Wolfmann who’s always in the paper? The real-estate big shot?”
“You can’t tell anybody about this, Doc.”
“Deaf and dumb, part of the job. Any phone numbers you’d like to share?”
She shrugged, scowled, gave him one number. “Try to never use it.”
“Groovy, and how do I reach you?”
“You don’t. I moved out of the old place, staying where I can anymore, don’t ask.”
He almost said, “There’s room here,” which in fact there wasn’t, but he’d seen her looking around at everything that hadn’t changed, the authentic English Pub Dartboard up on the wagon wheel and the whorehouse swag lamp with the purple psychedelic bulb with the vibrating filament, the collection of model hot rods made entirely of Coors cans, the beach volleyball autographed by Wilt Chamberlain in Day-Glo felt marker, the velvet painting and so forth, with an expression of, you would have to say, distaste.
He walked her down the hill to where she was parked. Weeknights out here weren’t too different from weekends, so this part of town was already all ahoot with funseekers, drinkers and surfers screaming in the alleys, dopers out on food errands, flatland guys in for a night of hustling stewardesses, flatland ladies with all-too-grounded day jobs hoping to be mistaken for stewardesses. Uphill and invisible, traffic out on the boulevard to and from the freeway uttered tuneful exhaust phrases which went echoing out to sea, where the crews of oil tankers sliding along, hearing them, could have figured it for wildlife taking care of nighttime business on an exotic coast.
In the last pocket of darkness before the glare of Beachfront Drive, they came to a pause, a timeless pedestrian gesture in these parts that usually announced a kiss or at least a grabbed ass. But she said, “Don’t come any further, somebody might be watching by now.”
“Call me or something.”
“You never did let me down, Doc.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll—”
“No, I mean really ever.”
“Oh . . . sure I did.”
“You were always true.”
It had been dark at the beach for hours, he hadn’t been smoking much and it wasn’t headlights—but before she turned away, he could swear he saw light falling on her face, the orange light just after sunset that catches a face turned to the west, watching the ocean for someone to come in on the last wave of the day, in to shore and safety.
At least her car was the same, the Cadillac ragtop she’d had forever, a ’59 Eldorado Biarritz bought used at one of the lots over on Western where they stand out close to the traffic so it’ll sweep away the smell of whatever they’re smoking. After she drove away, Doc sat on a bench down on the Esplanade, a long slopeful of lighted windows ascending behind him, and watched the luminous blooms of surf and the lights of late commuter traffic zigzagging up the distant hillside of Palos Verdes. He ran through things he hadn’t asked, like how much she’d come to depend on Wolfmann’s guaranteed level of ease and power, and how ready was she to go back to the bikini and T-shirt lifestyle, and how free of regrets? And least askable of all, how passionately did she really feel about old Mickey? Doc knew the likely reply—“I love him,” what else? With the unspoken footnote that the word these days was being way too overused. Anybody with any claim to hipness “loved” everybody, not to mention other useful applications, like hustling people into sex activities they might not, given the choice, much care to engage in.
Back at his place, Doc stood for a while gazing at a velvet painting from one of the Mexican families who set up their weekend pitches along the boulevards through the green flatland where people still rode horses, between Gordita and the freeway. Out of the vans and into the calm early mornings would come sofa-width Crucifixions and Last Suppers, outlaw bikers on elaborately detailed Harleys, superhero badasses in Special Forces gear packing M16s and so forth. This picture of Doc’s showed a Southern California beach that never was—palms, bikini babes, surfboards, the works. He thought of it as a window to look out of when he couldn’t deal with looking out of the traditional glass-type one in the other room. Sometimes in the shadows the view would light up, usually when he was smoking weed, as if the contrast knob of Creation had been messed with just enough to give everything an underglow, a luminous edge, and promise that the night was about to turn epic somehow.
Except for tonight, which only looked more like work. He got on the telephone and tried to call Penny, but she was out, probably Watusi-ing the night away opposite some shorthaired attorney with a promising career. Cool with Doc. Next he rang up his Aunt Reet, who lived down the boulevard on the other side of the dunes in a more suburban part of town with houses, yards, and trees, because of which it had become known as the Tree Section. A few years ago, after divorcing a lapsed Missouri Synod Lutheran with a T-Bird agency and a fatality for the restless homemakers one meets at bars in bowling alleys, Reet had moved down here from the San Joaquin with the kids and started selling real estate, and before long she had her own agency, which she now ran out of a bungalow on the same oversize lot as her house. Whenever Doc needed to know anything touching on the world of property, Aunt Reet, with her phenomenal lot-by-lot grasp of land use from the desert to the sea, as they liked to say on the evening news, was the one he went to. “Someday,” she prophesied, “there will be computers for this, all you’ll have to do’s type in what you’re looking for, or even better just talk it in—like that HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey?—and it’ll be right back at you with more information than you’d ever want to know, any lot in the L.A. Basin, all the way back to the Spanish land grants—water rights, encumbrances, mortgage histories, whatever you want, trust me, it’s coming.” Till then, in the real non-sci-fi world, there was Aunt Reet’s bordering-on-the-supernatural sense of the land, the stories that seldom appeared in deeds or contracts, especially matrimonial, the generations of family hatreds big and small, the way the water flowed, or used to.
She picked up on the sixth ring. The TV set was loud in the background.
“Make it quick, Doc, I’ve got a live one tonight and a quarter ton of makeup to put on yet.”
“What can you tell me about Mickey Wolfmann?”
If she took even a second to breathe, Doc didn’t notice. “Westside Hochdeutsch mafia, biggest of the big, construction, savings and loans, untaxed billions stashed under an Alp someplace, technically Jewish but wants to be a Nazi, becomes exercised often to the point of violence at those who forget to spell his name with two n’s. What’s he to you?”
Doc gave her a rundown on Shasta’s visit and her account of the plot against the Wolfmann fortune.
“In the real-estate business,” Reet remarked, “God knows, few of us are strangers to moral ambiguity. But some of these developers, they make Godzilla look like a conservationist, and you might not care to get into this, Larry. Who’s paying you?”
“Well . . .”
“All on spec, eh? big surprise. Listen, if Shasta can’t pay you, maybe that means Mickey’s dumped her, and she’s blaming the wife and wants revenge.”
“Possible. But say I just wanted to hang out and rap with this Wolfmann dude?”
Was that an exasperated sigh? “I wouldn’t recommend your usual approach. He goes around with a dozen bikers, mostly Aryan Brotherhood alumni, to watch his back, all court-certified badasses. Try making an appointment for once.”
“Wait a minute, I ditched social-studies class a lot, but . . . Jews and the AB . . . Isn’t there . . . something about, I forget . . . hatred?”
“The book on Mickey is, is he’s unpredictable. More and more lately. Some would say eccentric. I would say stoned out of his fuckin mind, nothing personal.”
“And this goon squad, they’re loyal to him, even if when they were in the place they took some oath with maybe a anti-Semitic clause in it here and there?”
“Drive within ten blocks of the man, they’ll lie down in front of your car. Keep coming, they’ll roll a grenade. You want to talk to Mickey, don’t be spontaneous, don’t even be cute. Go through channels.”
“Yeah, but I also don’t want to get Shasta in trouble. Where do you think I could run into him, like, accidentally?”
“I promised my kid sister I’d never put her baby in the way of danger.”
“I’m cool with the Brotherhood, Aunt Reet, know the handshake and everything.”
“All right, it’s your ass, kid, I have major liquid-liner issues to deal with here, but I’m told Mickey’s been spending time out at his latest assault on the environment—some chipboard horror known as Channel View Estates?”
“Oh yeah, that. Bigfoot Bjornsen does commercials for them. Interrupting strange movies you’ve never heard of.”
“Well, maybe your old cop buddy’s the one who should be taking care of this. Have you been in touch with the LAPD?”
“I did think of going to Bigfoot,” Doc said, “but just as I was reaching for the phone I remembered how, being Bigfoot and all, he’d probably try to pop me for the whole thing.”
“Maybe you’re better off with the Nazis, I don’t envy you the choice. Be careful, Larry. Check in now and then just so I can reassure Elmina that you’re still alive.”
Fucking Bigfoot. Well, wouldn’t you know. On some extrasensory impulse, Doc reached for the tube, switched it on and flipped to one of the off-network channels dedicated to long-ago TV movies and unsold pilots, and sure enough, there was the old hippie-hating mad dog himself, moonlighting after a busy day of civil-rights violation, as pitchman for Channel View Estates. “A Michael Wolfmann Concept,” it read underneath the logo.
Like many L.A. cops, Bigfoot, named for his entry method of choice, harbored show-business yearnings and in fact had already appeared in enough character parts, from comical Mexicans on The Flying Nun to assistant psychopaths on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, to be paying SAG dues and receiving residual checks. Maybe the producers of these Channel View spots were desperate enough to be counting on some audience recognition—maybe, as Doc suspected, Bigfoot was somehow duked into whatever the underlying real-estate deal was. Whatever, personal dignity didn’t come into it much. Bigfoot showed up on camera wearing getups that would have embarrassed the most unironical hippie in California, tonight’s being an ankle-length velvet cape in a paisley print of so many jangling “psychedelic” hues that Doc’s tube, a low-end affair purchased in Zody’s parking lot at a Moonlight Madness sale a couple years ago, couldn’t really keep up. Bigfoot had accessorized his outfit with love beads, shades with peace symbols on the lenses, and a gigantic Afro wig striped in Chinese red, chartreuse, and indigo. Bigfoot often reminded viewers of legendary used-car figure Cal Worthington—except where Cal was famous for including live animals in his pitch, Bigfoot’s scripts featured a relentless terror squad of small children, who climbed all over the model-home furniture, performed insubordinate cannonballs into the backyard pools, whooped and hollered and pretended to shoot Bigfoot down, screaming “Freak Power!” and “Death to the Pig!” Viewers were ecstatic. “Those li’l kids,” they would cry, “wow, they’re really something, huh!” No overfed leopard ever got up Cal Worthington’s nose the way these kids did Bigfoot’s, but he was a pro, wasn’t he, and by God he would soldier through, closely studying old W. C. Fields and Bette Davis movies whenever they came on to see what tips he could pick up for sharing the frame with kids whose cuteness, for him, was never better than problematical. “We’ll be chums,” he would croak as if to himself, pretending to puff compulsively on a cigarette, “we’ll be chums.”
There was now sudden hammering on the front door, and briefly Doc flashed that it had to be Bigfoot in person, about to kick his way in once again as in days of old. But instead it was Denis from down the hill, whose name everybody pronounced to rhyme with “penis,” appearing even more disoriented than usual.
“So Doc, I’m up on Dunecrest, you know the drugstore there, and like I noticed their sign, ‘Drug’? ‘Store’? Okay? Walked past it a thousand times, never really saw it—Drug, Store! man, far out, so I went in and Smilin Steve was at the counter and I said, like, ‘Yes, hi, I’d like some drugs, please?’—oh, here, finish this up if you want.”
“Thanks, all’s ’at’ll do ’s just burn my lip.”
Denis by now had drifted into the kitchen and started looking through the fridge.
“You’re hungry, Denis?”
“Really. Hey, like Godzilla always sez to Mothra—why don’t we go eat some place?”
They walked up to Dunecrest and turned left into the honky-tonk part of town. Pipeline Pizza was jumping, the smoke so thick inside you couldn’t see from one end of the bar to the other. The jukebox, audible all the way to El Porto and beyond, was playing “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. Denis threaded his way back to the kitchen to see about a pizza, and Doc watched Ensenada Slim working one of the Gottlieb machines in the corner. Slim owned and operated a head shop just up the street called the Screaming Ultraviolet Brain and was a sort of village elder around here. After he’d won a dozen free games, he took a break, saw Doc and nodded.
“Buy you a beer, Slim?”
“Was that Shasta’s car I saw down on the Drive? That big old ragtop?”
“She stuck her head in for a couple minutes,” Doc said. “Kind of weird seeing her again. Always figured when I did, it’d be on the tube, not in person.”
“Really. Sometimes I think I see her at the edge of the screen? but it’s always some look-alike. And never as easy on the eyes, of course.”
Sad but true, as Dion always sez. At Playa Vista High, Shasta made Class Beauty in the yearbook four years running, always got to be the ingenue in school plays, fantasized like everybody else about getting into the movies, and soon as she could manage it was off up the freeway looking for some low-rent living space in Hollywood. Doc, aside from being just about the only doper she knew who didn’t use heroin, which freed up a lot of time for both of them, had never figured out what else she might’ve seen in him. Not that they were even together that long. Soon enough she was answering casting calls and getting some theater work, onstage and off, and Doc was into his own apprenticeship as a skip tracer, and each, gradually locating a different karmic thermal above the megalopolis, had watched the other glide away into a different fate.
Denis came back with his pizza. “I forget what I asked for on it.” This happened at the Pipeline every Tuesday or Cheap Pizza Nite, when any size pizza, with anything on it, cost a flat $1.35. Denis now sat watching this one intently, like it was about to do something.
“That’s a papaya chunk,” Slim guessed, “and these . . . are these pork rinds?”
“And boysenberry yogurt on pizza, Denis? Frankly, eeeww.” It was Sortilège, who used to work in Doc’s office before her boyfriend Spike came back from Vietnam and she decided love was more important than a day job, or that’s how Doc thought he remembered her explaining it. Her gifts were elsewhere, in any case. She was in touch with invisible forces and could diagnose and solve all manner of problems, emotional and physical, which she did mostly for free but in some cases accepted weed or acid in lieu of cash. She had never been wrong that Doc knew about. At the moment she was examining his hair, and as usual he had a spasm of defensive panic. Finally, with an energetic nod, “Better do something about that.”
“Can’t say it often enough—change your hair, change your life.”
“What do you recommend?”
“Up to you. Follow your intuition. Would you mind, Denis, actually, if I just took this piece of tofu?”
“That’s a marshmallow,” Denis said.
BACK AT HIS PLACE AGAIN, Doc rolled a number, put on a late movie, found an old T-shirt, and sat tearing it up into short strips about a half inch wide till he had a pile of maybe a hundred of these, then went in the shower for a while and with his hair still wet took narrow lengths of it and rolled each one around a strip of T-shirt, tying it in place with an overhand knot, repeating this southern-plantation style all over his head, and then after maybe half an hour with the hair dryer, during which he may or may not have fallen asleep, untying the knots again and brushing it all out upside down into what seemed to him a fairly presentable foot-and-a-half-diameter white-guy Afro. Inserting his head carefully into a liquor-store carton to preserve the shape, Doc lay down on the couch and this time really did fall asleep, and toward dawn he dreamed about Shasta. It wasn’t that they were fucking, exactly, but it was something like that. They had both flown from their other lives, the way you tend to fly in early-morning dreams, to rendezvous at a strange motel which seemed to be also a hair salon. She kept insisting she “loved” some guy whose name she never mentioned, though when Doc finally woke up, he figured she must’ve been talking about Mickey Wolfmann.
No point sleeping anymore. He stumbled up the hill to Wavos and had breakfast with the hard-core surfers who were always there. Flaco the Bad came over. “Hey man, that cop was around looking for you again. What’s that on your head?”
“Cop? When was this?”
“Last night. He was at your place, but you were out. Detective from downtown Homicide in a really dinged-up El Camino, the one with the 396?”
“That was Bigfoot Bjornsen. Why didn’t he just kick my door down like he usually does?”
“He might’ve been thinking about it but said something like ‘Tomorrow is another day’ . . . which would be today, right?”
“Not if I can help it.”
DOC’S OFFICE WAS located near the airport, off East Imperial. He shared the place with a Dr. Buddy Tubeside, whose practice consisted largely of injecting people with “vitamin B12,” a euphemism for the physician’s own blend of amphetamines. Today, early as it was, Doc still had to edge his way past a line of “B12”-deficient customers which already stretched back to the parking lot, beachtown housewives of a certain melancholy index, actors with casting calls to show up at, deeply tanned geezers looking ahead to an active day of schmoozing in the sun, stewardii just in off some high-stress red-eye, even a few legit cases of pernicious anemia or vegetarian pregnancy, all shuffling along half asleep, chain-smoking, talking to themselves, sliding one by one into the lobby of the little cinder-block building through a turnstile, next to which, holding a clipboard and checking them in, stood Petunia Leeway, a stunner in a starched cap and micro-length medical outfit, not so much an actual nurse uniform as a lascivious commentary on one, which Dr. Tubeside claimed to’ve bought a truckload of from Frederick’s of Hollywood, in a variety of fashion pastels, today’s being aqua, at close to wholesale.
“Morning, Doc.” Petunia managed to put a lounge-singer lilt onto it, the vocal equivalent of batting mink eyelashes at him. “Love your ’fro.”
“Howdy, Petunia. Still married to what’s-his-name?”
“Oh, Doc . . .”
On first signing the lease, the two tenants, like bunkmates at summer camp, had tossed a coin for who’d get the upstairs suite, and Doc had lost or, as he liked to think of it, won. The sign on his door read LSD INVESTIGATIONS, LSD, as he explained when people asked, which was not often, standing for “Location, Surveillance, Detection.” Beneath this was a rendering of a giant bloodshot eyeball in the psychedelic favorites green and magenta, the detailing of whose literally thousands of frenzied capillaries had been subcontracted out to a commune of speed freaks who had long since migrated up to Sonoma. Potential clients had been known to spend hours gazing at the ocular mazework, often forgetting what they’d come here for.
A visitor was here already, in fact, waiting for Doc. What made him unusual was, was he was a black guy. To be sure, black folks were occasionally spotted west of the Harbor Freeway, but to see one this far out of the usual range, practically by the ocean, was pretty rare. Last time anybody could remember a black motorist in Gordita Beach, for example, anxious calls for backup went out on all the police bands, a small task force of cop vehicles assembled, and roadblocks were set up all along Pacific Coast Highway. An old Gordita reflex, dating back to shortly after the Second World War, when a black family had actually tried to move into town and the citizens, with helpful advice from the Ku Klux Klan, had burned the place to the ground and then, as if some ancient curse had come into effect, refused to allow another house ever to be built on the site. The lot stood empty until the town finally confiscated it and turned it into a park, where the youth of Gordita Beach, by the laws of karmic adjustment, were soon gathering at night to drink, dope, and fuck, depressing their parents, though not property values particularly.
“Say,” Doc greeted his visitor, “what it is, my brother.”
“Never mind that shit,” replied the black guy, introducing himself as Tariq Khalil and staring for a while, under different circumstances offensively, at Doc’s Afro.
“Well. Come on in.”
In Doc’s office were a pair of high-backed banquettes covered in padded fuchsia plastic, facing each other across a Formica table in a pleasant tropical green. This was in fact a modular coffee-shop booth, which Doc had scavenged from a renovation in Hawthorne. He waved Tariq into one of the seats and sat down across from him. It was cozy. The tabletop between them was littered with phone books, pencils, three-by-five index cards boxed and loose, road maps, cigarette ashes, a transistor radio, roach clips, coffee cups, and an Olivetti Lettera 22, into which Doc, mumbling, “Just start a ticket on this,” inserted a sheet of paper which appeared to have been used repeatedly for some strange compulsive origami.
Tariq watched skeptically. “Secretary’s off today?”
“Something like that. But I’ll take some notes here, and it’ll all get typed up later.”
“Okay, so there’s this guy I was in the joint with. White guy. Aryan Bro, as a matter of fact. We did some business, now we’re both out, he still owes me. I mean, it’s a lot of money. I can’t give you details, I swore a oath I wouldn’t tell.”
“How about just his name?”
Sometimes the way somebody says a name, you get a vibration. Tariq was talking like a man whose heart had been broken. “You know where he’s staying now?”
“Only who he works for. He’s a bodyguard for a builder named Wolfmann.”
Doc had a moment of faintheadedness, drug-induced no doubt. He came out of it on paranoia alert, not enough, he hoped, for Tariq to notice. He pretended to study the ticket he was making out. “If you don’t mind my asking, Mr. Khalil, how did you hear about this agency?”
“Wow. Blast from the past.”
“Said you helped him out of a situation back in ’67.”
“First time I ever got shot at. You guys know each other from the place?”
“They were teachin us both how to cook. Sledge still has about maybe a year more in there.”
“I remember him when he couldn’t boil water.”
“Should see him now, he can boil tap water, Arrowhead Springs water, club soda, Perrier, you name it. He the Boilerman.”
“So if you don’t mind an obvious question—you know where Glen Charlock works now, why not just go over there and look him up directly, why hire some go-between?”
“Because this Wolfmann is surrounded day and night with some Aryan Brotherhood army, and outside of Glen I have never enjoyed cordial relations with those Nazi-ass motherfuckers.”
“Oh—so send some white guy in to get his head hammered.”
“More or less. I would of p’ferred somebody a little more convincing.”
“What I lack in al-titude,” Doc explained for the million or so -th time in his career, “I make up for in at-titude.”
“Okay . . . that’s possible . . . I seen that on the yard now and then.”
“When you were inside—were you in a gang?”
“Black Guerrilla Family.”
“George Jackson’s outfit. And you say you did business with who now, the Aryan Brotherhood?”
“We found we shared many of the same opinions about the U.S. government.”
“Mmm, that racial harmony, I can dig it.”
Tariq was looking at Doc with a peculiar intensity, and his eyes had grown yellow and pointed.
“There’s something else,” Doc guessed.
“My old street gang. Artesia Crips. When I got out of Chino I went looking for some of them and found it ain’t just them gone, but the turf itself.”
“Far out. What do you mean, gone?”
“Not there. Grindit up into li’l pieces. Seagulls all pickin at it. Figure I must be trippin, drive around for a while, come back, everything’s still gone.”
“Uh-huh.” Doc typed, Not hallucinating.
“Nobody and nothing. Ghost town. Except for this big sign, ‘Coming Soon on This Site,’ houses for peckerwood prices, shopping mall, some shit. Guess who the builder on it.”
On the wall Doc had a map of the region. “Show me.” The area Tariq pointed to looked to be a fairly straight shot from here eastward down Artesia Boulevard, and Doc realized after a minute and a half of mapreading that it had to be the site of Channel View Estates. He pretended to run an ethnicity scan on Tariq. “You’re, like, what again, Japanese?”
“Uh, how long you been doing this?”
“Looks closer to Gardena than Compton, ’s all I’m saying.”
“WW Two,” said Tariq. “Before the war, a lot of South Central was still a Japanese neighborhood. Those people got sent to camps, we come on in to be the next Japs.”
“And now it’s your turn to get moved along.”
“More white man’s revenge. Freeway up by the airport wasn’t enough.”
“Revenge for . . . ?”
“Some of us say ‘insurrection.’ The Man, he just waits for his moment.”
Long, sad history of L.A. land use, as Aunt Reet never tired of pointing out. Mexican families bounced out of Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium, American Indians swept out of Bunker Hill for the Music Center, Tariq’s neighborhood bulldozed aside for Channel View Estates.
“If I can get ahold of your prison buddy, will he honor his debt to you?”
“I can’t tell you what it is.”
“Oh and the other thing is I can’t give you nothin in front.”
“Groovy with that.”
“Sledge was right, you are one crazy white motherfucker.”
“How can you tell?”
DOC TOOK THE FREEWAY OUT. THE EASTBOUND LANES TEEMED with VW buses in jittering paisleys, primer-coated street hemis, woodies of authentic Dearborn pine, TV-star-piloted Porsches, Cadillacs carrying dentists to extramarital trysts, windowless vans with lurid teen dramas in progress inside, pickups with mattresses full of country cousins from the San Joaquin, all wheeling along together down into these great horizonless fields of housing, under the power transmission lines, everybody’s radios lasing on the same couple of AM stations, under a sky like watered milk, and the white bombardment of a sun smogged into only a smear of probability, out in whose light you began to wonder if anything you’d call psychedelic could ever happen, or if—bummer!—all this time it had really been going on up north.
Beginning on Artesia, signs directed Doc to Channel View Estates, A Michael Wolfmann Concept. There were the expected local couples who couldn’t wait to have a look at the next OPPOS, as Aunt Reet tended to call most tract houses of her acquaintance. Now and then at the edges of the windshield, Doc spotted black pedestrians, bewildered as Tariq must have been, maybe also looking for the old neighborhood, for rooms lived in day after day, solid as the axes of space, now taken away into commotion and ruin.
The development stretched into the haze and the soft smell of the fog component of smog, and of desert beneath the pavement—model units nearer the road, finished homes farther in, and just visible beyond them the skeletons of new construction, expanding into the unincorporated wastes. Doc drove past the gate till he got to a patch of empty contractor hardpan with street signs already in but the streets not yet paved. He parked at what would be the corner of Kaufman and Broad and walked back.
Commanding filtered views of an all-but-neglected branch of the Dominguez Flood Control Channel forgotten and cut off by miles of fill, regrading, trash of industrial ventures that had either won or failed, these homes were more or less Spanish Colonial with not-necessarily-load-bearing little balconies and red-tile roofs, meant to suggest higher-priced towns like San Clemente or Santa Barbara, though so far there wasn’t a shade tree in sight.
Close to what would be the front gate of Channel View Estates, Doc found a makeshift miniplaza put there basically for the construction folks, with a liquor store, a take-out sandwich place with a lunch counter, a beer bar where you could shoot some pool, and a massage parlor called Chick Planet, in front of which he saw a row of carefully looked-after motorcycles, parked with military precision. This seemed the most likely place for him to find a cadre of badasses. Plus, if they were all here at the moment, then chances were Mickey was, too. On the further assumption that the owners of these bikes were here for recreation and not waiting inside drawn up in formation prepared to kick Doc’s ass, he breathed deeply, surrounded himself with a white light, and stepped in the front door.
“Hi, I’m Jade?” A bubbly young Asian lady in a turquoise cheongsam handed him a laminated menu of services. “And please take note of today’s Pussy-Eater’s Special, which is good all day till closing time?”
“Mmm, not that $14.95 ain’t a totally groovy price, but I’m really trying to locate this guy who works for Mr. Wolfmann?”
“Far out. Does he eat pussy?”
“Well, Jade, you’d know better’n me, fella named Glen?”
“Oh sure, Glen comes in here, they all do. You got a cigarette for me?” He tapped her out an unfiltered Kool. “Ooh, lockup style. Not much eating pussy in there, huh?”
“Glen and I were both in Chino around the same time. Have you seen him today?”
“Till about one minute ago, when everybody suddenly split. Is there something weird going on? Are you a cop?”
“Let’s see.” Doc inspected his feet. “Nah . . . wrong shoes.”
“Reason I ask is, is if you were a cop, you’d be entitled to a free preview of our Pussy-Eater’s Special?”
“How about a licensed PI? Would that—”
“Hey, Bambi!” Out through the bead curtains, as if on a time-out from a beach volleyball game, strode this blonde in a turquoise and orange Day-Glo bikini.
“Oboy,” Doc said. “Where do we—”
“Not you, Bong Brain,” Bambi muttered. Jade was already reaching for that bikini.
“Oh,” he said. “Huh . . . see, is what I thought is, here? where it says ‘Pussy-Eater’s Special’? is what that means is, is that—”
Well . . . neither girl seemed to be paying him much attention anymore, though out of politeness Doc thought he should keep watching for a while, till finally they disappeared down behind the reception desk, and he wandered away figuring to have a look around. Out into the hallway, from someplace ahead, seeped indigo light and frequencies even darker, along with string-heavy music from half a generation ago from LPs compiled to accompany bachelor-pad fucking.
Nobody was around. It felt like maybe there had been, till Doc showed up. The place was also turning out to be bigger inside than out. There were black-light suites with fluorescent rock ’n’ roll posters and mirrored ceilings and vibrating water beds. Strobe lights blinked, incense cones sent ribbons of musk-scented smoke ceilingward, and carpeting of artificial angora shag in a variety of tones including oxblood and teal, not always limited to floor surfaces, beckoned alluringly.
As he neared the back of the establishment, Doc began to hear a lot of screaming from outside, along with a massed thundering of Harleys. “Uh-oh. What’s this?”
He didn’t find out. Maybe it was all the exotic sensory input that caused Doc about then to swoon abruptly and lose an unknown amount of his day. Perhaps striking some ordinary object on the way down accounted for the painful lump he found on his head when at length he awoke. Faster, anyhow, than the staff on Medical Center can say “subdural hematoma,” Doc dug how the unhip Muzak was silent, plus no Jade, no Bambi, and he was lying on the cement floor of a space he didn’t recognize, though the same could not be said for what he now ID’d, far overhead, like a bad-luck planet in today’s horoscope, as the evilly twinkling face of Detective Lieutenant Bigfoot Bjornsen, LAPD.
“CONGRATULATIONS, HIPPIE SCUM,” Bigfoot greeted Doc in his all-too-familiar 30-weight voice, “and welcome to a world of inconvenience. Yes, this time it appears you have finally managed to stumble into something too real and deep to hallucinate your worthless hippie ass out of.” He was holding, and now and then taking bites from, his trademark chocolate-covered frozen banana.
“Howdy, Bigfoot. Can I have a bite?”
“Sure can, but you’ll have to wait, we left the rottweiler back at the station.”
“No rush. And . . . and where are we at the moment, again?”
“At Channel View Estates, on a future homesite where elements of some wholesome family will quite soon be gathering night after night, to gaze tubeward, gobble their nutritious snacks, perhaps after the kids are in bed even attempt some procreational foreplay, little appreciating that once, on this very spot, an infamous perpetrator lay in a drugged stupor, babbling incoherently at the homicide detective, since risen to eminence, who apprehended him.”
They were still within sight of the front gate. Through a maze of stapled-together framing, Doc made out in the afternoon light a blurry vista of streets full of newly poured foundations awaiting houses to go on top of them, trenches for sewer and utility lines, sawhorse barricades with lights blinking even in the daytime, precast storm drains, piles of fill, bulldozers and backhoes.
“Without wishing to seem impatient,” the Lieutenant continued, “any time you feel you’d like to join us, we would so like to chat.” Uniformed toadies crept about, chuckling in appreciation.
“Bigfoot, I don’t know what happened. Last I recall I was in that massage parlor over there? Asian chick named Jade? and her Anglo friend Bambi?”
“Wishful figments of a brain pickled in cannabis fumes, no doubt,” theorized Detective Bjornsen.
“But, like, I didn’t do it? Whatever it is?”
“Sure.” Bigfoot stared, snacking amusedly on his frozen banana, as Doc went through the wearisome chore of getting vertical again, followed by details to be worked out such as remaining that way, trying to walk, so forth. Which was about when he caught sight of a medical examiner’s crew with a bloodstreaked human body supine on a gurney, settled into itself like an uncooked holiday turkey, face covered with a cheap cop-issue blanket. Things kept falling out of its pants pockets. Cops had to go scramble in the dirt to retrieve them. Doc found himself freaking out, in terms of his stomach and whatever.
Bigfoot Bjornsen smirked. “Yes, I can almost pity your civilian distress—though if you had been more of a man and less of a ball-less hippie draft dodger, who knows, you might have seen enough over in the ’Nam to share even my own sense of professional ennui at the sight of one more, what we call, stiff, to be dealt with.”
“Who is it?” Doc nodding at the corpse.
“Was, Sportello. Here on Earth we say ‘was.’ Meet Glen Charlock, whom you were asking for by name only hours ago, witnesses will swear to that. Forgetful dope fiends should be more cautious about whom they choose to act out their wacko fantasies upon. Furthermore, on the face of it, you have chosen to ice a personal bodyguard of the rather well-connected Mickey Wolfmann. Name ring a bell? or in your case shake a tambourine? Ah, but here’s our ride.”
“Hey—my car . . .”
“Like its owner, well on the way to impoundment.”
“Pretty cold, Bigfoot, even for you.”
“Come come, Sportello, you know we’ll be more than happy to give you a lift. Watch your head.”
“Watch my . . . How ’m I spoze to do that, man?”
THEY DIDN’T GO downtown but, for reasons of cop protocol forever obscure to Doc, only as far as the Compton station, where they pulled in to the lot and paused next to a battered ’68 El Camino. Bigfoot got out of the black-and-white and went back and opened the trunk. “Here, Sportello—come and give me a hand with this.”
“What, excuse me, the fuck,” Doc inquired, “is it?”
“Bobwire,” replied Bigfoot. “An eighty-rod spool of authenticated Glidden four-point galvanized. You want to take that side?”
Thing weighed about a hundred pounds. The cop who’d been driving sat and watched them lift it out of the trunk and stash it in the bed of the El Camino, which Doc recalled was Bigfoot’s ride.
“Livestock problems out where you live, Bigfoot?”
“Oh, you’d never use this wire for actual fence, are you crazy, this is seventy years old, mint condition—”
“Wait. You . . . collect . . . barbed wire.”
Well yes, as it turned out, along with spurs, harness, cowboy sombreros, saloon paintings, sheriffs’ stars, bullet molds, all kinds of Wild West paraphernalia. “That is, if you don’t object, Sportello.”
“Whoa easy there Jolly Rancher, ain’t looking for no drawdown ’th no bobwire collector, man’s own business what he puts in his pickup ain’t it.”
“I should hope so,” Bigfoot sniffed. “Come on, let’s go inside and see if there’s a cubicle open.”
Doc’s history with Bigfoot, beginning with minor drug episodes, stop-and-frisks up and down Sepulveda, and repeated front-door repairs, had escalated a couple of years ago with the Lunchwater case, one more of the squalid matrimonials that were occupying Doc’s time back then. The husband, a tax accountant who thought he’d score some quality surveillance on the cheap, had hired Doc to keep an eye on his wife. After a couple days of stakeouts at the boyfriend’s house Doc decided to go up on the roof and have a closer look through a skylight at the bedroom below, where the activities proved to be so routine—hanky maybe, not much panky—that he decided to light a joint to pass the time, taking one from his pocket, in the dark, more soporific than he had intended. Before long he had fallen asleep and half rolled, half slid down the shallow pitch of the red-tile roof, coming to rest with his head in the gutter, where he then managed to sleep through the events which followed, including hubby’s arrival, considerable screaming, and gunfire loud enough to get the neighbors to call the police. Bigfoot, who happened to be out in a prowl car nearby, showed up to find the husband and the b.f. slain and the wife attractively tousled and sobbing, and gazing at the .22 in her hand as if it was the first time she’d seen one. Doc, up on the roof, was still snoring away.
Fast-forward to Compton, the present day. “What concerns us,” Bigfoot was trying to explain, “is this, what we in Homicide like to call, ‘pattern’? Here’s the second time we know of that you’ve been discovered sleeping at the scene of a major crime and unable—dare I suggest ‘unwilling’?—to furnish us any details.”
“Lot of leaves and twigs and shit in my hair,” Doc seemed to recall. Bigfoot nodded encouragingly. “And . . . there was a fire truck with a ladder? which is how I must’ve got down off the roof?” They looked at each other for a while.
“I was thinking more like earlier today,” Bigfoot with a touch of impatience. “Channel View Estates, Chick Planet Massage, sort of thing.”
“Oh. Well, I was unconscious, man.”
“Yes. Yes but before that, when you and Glen Charlock had your fatal encounter . . . when would you say that was, exactly, in the sequence of events?”
“I told you, the first time I ever saw him, is he was dead.”
“His associates, then. How many of them were you already acquainted with?”
“Not normally guys I’d hang with, totally wrong drug profile, too many reds, too much speed.”
“Potheads, you’re so exclusive. Would you say you took offense at Glen’s preference for barbiturates and amphetamines?”
“Yeah, I was planning to report him to the Dope Fiend Standards and Ethics Committee.”
“Yes, now your ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth is a known intimate of Glen’s employer, Mickey Wolfmann. Do you think Glen and Shasta were . . . you know . . .” He made a loose fist and slid the middle finger of his other hand back and forth in it for what seemed to Doc way too long. “How did that make you feel, here you are still carrying the torch, and there she is in the company of all those Nazi lowlifes?”
“Do that some more Bigfoot, I think I’m gettin a hardon.”
“Tough little wop monkey, as my man Fatso Judson always sez.”
“Case you forgot, Lieutenant, you and me are almost in the same business, except I don’t get that free pass to shoot people all the time and so forth. But if it was me over there in your seat, I guess I’d be acting the same way, maybe start in next with remarks about my mother. Or I guess your mother, because you’d be me. . . . Have I got that right?”
It wasn’t till the middle of rush hour that they let Doc call his lawyer, Sauncho Smilax. Actually Sauncho worked for a maritime law firm over at the Marina called Hardy, Gridley, & Chatfield, and his résumé fell a little short in the criminal area. He and Doc had met by accident one night at the Food Giant up on Sepulveda. Sauncho, then a novice doper who’d just learned about removing seeds and stems, was about to buy a flour sifter when he flashed that the people at the checkout would all know what he wanted the sifter for and call the police. He went into a kind of paranoid freeze, which was when Doc, having an attack of midnight chocolate deficiency, came zooming out of a snack-food aisle and crashed his cart into Sauncho’s.
With the collision, legal reflexes reawakened. “Hey, would it be okay if I put this sifter in with your stuff there, like, for a cover?”
“Sure,” Doc said, “but if you’re gonna be paranoid, how about all this chocolate, man . . . ?”
“Oh. Then . . . maybe we’d better put in a few more, you know, like, innocent-looking items. . . .”
By the time they got to the checkout, they had somehow acquired an extra hundred dollars’ worth of goods, including half a dozen obligatory boxes of cake mix, a gallon of guacamole and several giant sacks of tortilla chips, a case of store-brand boysenberry soda, most of what was in the Sara Lee frozen-dessert case, lightbulbs and laundry detergent for straight-world cred, and, after what seemed like hours in the International Section, a variety of shrink-wrapped Japanese pickles that looked cool. At some point in this, Sauncho mentioned that he was a lawyer.
“Far out. People are always telling me I need a ‘criminal lawyer,’ which, nothing personal, understand, but—”
“Actually I’m a marine lawyer.”
Doc thought about this. “You’re . . . a Marine who practices law? No, wait—you’re a lawyer who only represents Marines. . . .”
In the course of getting this all straight, Doc also learned that Sauncho was just out of law school at SC and, like many ex-collegians unable to let go of the old fraternity life, living at the beach—not far from Doc, as a matter of fact.
“Maybe you better give me your card,” Doc said. “Can’t ever tell. Boat hassles, oil spills, something.”
Sauncho never officially went on retainer, but after a few late-night panic calls from Doc he did begin to reveal an unexpected talent for dealing with bail bondsmen and deskfolk at cop stations around the Southland, and one day they both realized that he’d become, what they call de facto, Doc’s lawyer.
Sauncho now answered the phone in some agitation.
“Doc! Have you got the tube on?”
“All’s I get here’s a three-minute call, Saunch, they’ve got me in Compton, and it’s Bigfoot again.”
“Yeah well, I’m watching cartoons here, okay? and this Donald Duck one is really been freaking me out?” Sauncho didn’t have that many people in his life to talk to and had always had Doc figured for an easy mark.
“You have a pen, Saunch? Here’s the processing number, prepare to copy—” Doc started reading him the number, real slowly.
“It’s like Donald and Goofy, right, and they’re out in a life raft, adrift at sea? for what looks like weeks? and what you start noticing after a while, in Donald’s close-ups, is that he has this whisker stubble? like, growing out of his beak? You get the significance of that?”
“If I find a minute to think about it, Saunch, but meantime here comes Bigfoot and he’s got that look, so if you could repeat the number back, OK, and—”
“We’ve always had this image of Donald Duck, we assume it’s how he looks all the time in his normal life, but in fact he’s always had to go in every day and shave his beak. The way I figure, it has to be Daisy. You know, which means, what other grooming demands is that chick laying on him, right?”
Bigfoot stood there whistling some country-western tune through his teeth till Doc, not feeling real hopeful, got off the phone.
“Now then, where were we,” Bigfoot pretending to look through some notes. “While suspect—that’s you—is having his alleged midday nap, so necessary to the hippie lifestyle, some sort of incident occurs in the vicinity of Channel View Estates. Firearms are discharged. When the dust settles, we find one Glen Charlock deceased. More compellingly for LAPD, the man Charlock was supposed to be guarding, Michael Z. Wolfmann, has vanished, giving local law enforcement less than twenty-four hours before the feds call it a kidnapping and come in to fuck everything up. Perhaps, Sportello, you could help to forestall this by providing the names of the other members of your cult? That would be ever so helpful to us here in Homicide, as well as the chance of a break for you when that ol’ trial date rolls around?”
“The L.A. Times has referred to me more than once as a Renaissance detective,” said Bigfoot modestly, “which means that I am many things—but one thing I am not is stupid, and purely out of noblesse oblige I now extend this assumption to cover you as well. No one, in fact, would ever have been stupid enough to try this alone. Which therefore suggests some kind of a Mansonoid conspiracy, wouldn’t you agree?”
After no more than an hour of this sort of thing, to Doc’s surprise, Sauncho actually showed up at the door and started right in with Bigfoot.
“Lieutenant, you know you don’t have any case here, so if you’re going to charge him, you better. Otherwise—”
“Sauncho,” Doc hollered, “will you dummy up, remember who this is, how sensitive he gets— Bigfoot, don’t mind him, he watches too many courtroom dramas—”
“As a matter of fact,” Detective Bjornsen with the fixed and sinister stare he used to express geniality, “we probably could take this all the way to trial, but with our luck the jury pool’d be ninety-nine percent hippie freaks, plus some longhair sympathizer of a DDA who’d go and fuck the case all up anyway.”
“Sure, unless you could get the venue changed,” mused Sauncho, “like, Orange County might be—”
“Saunch, which one of us are you working for, again?”
“I wouldn’t call it work, Doc, clients pay me for work.”
“We’re only detaining him for his own good,” Bigfoot explained. “He’s closely connected with a high-profile homicide and possible kidnapping, and who’s to say he himself won’t be next? Maybe this’ll turn out to be one of those perpetrators who specially like to murder hippies, though if Sportello’s on their list, I might have a conflict of interest.”
“Aww, Bigfoot, you don’t mean that. . . . If I got knocked off? think of all your time and trouble finding somebody else to hassle.”
“What trouble? I go out the door, get in the unit, head up any block, before I know it, I’m driving through some giant damn herd of you hippie freaks, each more roustable than the last.”
“This is embarrassing,” said Sauncho. “Maybe you two should find somewhere besides an interrogation cubicle.”
The local news came on and everybody went out to the squad room to watch. There on the screen was Channel View Estates—a forlorn-looking view of the miniplaza, occupied by an armored division’s worth of cop vehicles parked every which way with their lights all going, and cops sitting on fenders drinking coffee, and, in close-up, Bigfoot Bjornsen, hair Aqua-Netted against the Santa Anas, explaining, “. . . apparently a party of civilians, on some training exercise in anti-guerrilla warfare. They may have assumed that this construction site, not yet being open for occupancy, was deserted enough to provide a realistic setting for what we must assume was only a harmless patriotic scenario.” The Japanese-American cutie with the microphone turned fullface to the camera and continued, “Tragically, however, live ammunition somehow found its way into these war games, and tonight one ex–prison inmate lies slain while prominent construction mogul Michael Wolfmann has mysteriously vanished. Police have detained a number of suspects for questioning.”
Break for commercial. “Wait a minute,” said Detective Bjornsen, as if to himself. “This has just given me an idea. Sportello, I believe I shall kick you after all.” Doc flinched, but then remembered this was also cop slang for “release.” Bigfoot’s thinking on this being that, if he cut Doc loose, it might attract the attention of the real perpetrators. Plus giving him an excuse to keep tailing Doc in case there was something Doc wasn’t telling him.
“Come along, Sportello, let’s take a ride.”
“I’m gonna watch the tube here for a while,” Sauncho said. “Remember, Doc, this was like fifteen billable minutes.”
“Thanks, Saunch. Put it on my tab?”
Bigfoot checked out a semi-obvious Plymouth with little E-for-Exempt symbols on the plates, and they went blasting through the remnants of rush hour up to the Hollywood Freeway and presently over the Cahuenga Pass and down into the Valley.
“What’s this?” Doc said after a while.
“As a courtesy I’m taking you out to the impound garage to get your vehicle. We’ve been over it with the best tools available to forensic science, and except for enough cannabis debris to keep an average family of four stoned for a year, you’re clean. No blood or impact evidence we can use. Congratulations.”
Doc’s general policy was to try to be groovy about most everything, but when it was his ride in question, California reflexes kicked in. “Congratulate this, Bigfoot.”
“I’ve upset you.”
“Nobody calls my car a murderer, man?”
“I’m sorry, your car is some kind of . . . what, pacifist vegetarian? When bugs come crashing fatally into its windshield, it . . . it feels remorse? Look, we found it almost on top of Charlock’s body, idling, and tried not to jump to any obvious conclusions. Maybe it intended to give the victim mouth-to-mouth.”
“I thought he was shot.”
“Whatever, be happy your car’s in the clear, Benzidine doesn’t lie.”
“Well yeah . . . does make me kind of jumpy though, how about you?”
“Not the one with the r in it”—Bigfoot fell for this every time—“oh, but here’s Canoga Park coming up in a few exits, let me just show you something for a minute.”
Off the exit ramp, Bigfoot hooked a U-turn without signaling, went back under the freeway and began to climb up into the hills, presently pulling in at a secluded spot that had Shot While Trying to Escape written all over it. Doc began to get nervous, but what Bigfoot had on his mind, it seemed, was job recruitment.
“Nobody can predict a year or two hence, but right now Nixon has the combination to the safe and he’s throwing fistfuls of greenbacks at anything that even looks like local law enforcement. Federal funding beyond the highest number you can think of, which for most hippies is not much further than the number of ounces in a kilo.”
“Thirty-five . . . point . . . something, everybody knows that— Wait. You, you mean like, Mod Squad, Bigfoot? rat on everybody I ever met, how far back do we go and you still don’t know me any better’n ’at?”
“You’d be surprised how many in your own hippie freak community have found our Special Employee disbursements useful. Toward the end of the month in particular.”
Doc took a close look at Bigfoot. Jive-ass sideburns, stupid mustache, haircut from a barber college out somewhere on a desolate boulevard far from any current definition of hipness. Right out of the background of some Adam-12 episode, a show which Bigfoot had in fact moonlighted on once or twice. In theory Doc knew that if, for some reason he couldn’t imagine right away, he wanted to see any other Bigfoot, off camera, off duty—even married with kids for all Doc knew, he’d have to look in through and past all that depressing detail. “You married, Bigfoot?”
“Sorry, you’re not my type.” He held up his left hand to display a wedding ring. “Know what this is, or don’t they exist on Planet Hippie.”
“A-and, you have like, kids?”
“I hope this isn’t some kind of veiled hippie threat.”
“Only that . . . wow, Bigfoot! isn’t it strange, here we both are with this mysterious power to ruin each other’s day, and we don’t even know anything about each other?”
“Really profound, Sportello. Aimless doper’s driveling to be sure, and yet, why, you have just defined the very essence of law enforcement! Well done! I always knew you had potential. So! how about it?”
“Nothing personal, but yours is the last wallet I’d ever want money out of.”
“Hey! wake up, it only looks like Happy and Dopey and them skipping around the Magic Kingdom here, what it really is is what we call . . . ‘Reality’?”
Well, Doc didn’t have the beard, but he was wearing some tire-tread huaraches from south of the border that could pass for biblical, and he began to wonder now how many other innocent brothers and sisters the satanic Detective Bjornsen might’ve led to this high place, his own scenic overlook here, and swept his arm out across the light-stunned city, and offered them everything in it that money could buy. “Don’t tell me you can’t use it. I am aware of the Freak Brothers’ dictum that dope will get you through times of no money better than vice versa, and we could certainly offer compensation in a more, how to put it, inhalable form.”
“You mean . . .”
“Sportello. Try to drag your consciousness out of that old-time hard-boiled dick era, this is the Glass House wave of the future we’re in now. All those downtown evidence rooms got filled up ages ago, now about once every month Property Section has to rent more warehouse space out in deep unincorporated county, bricks and bricks of shit stacked to the roof and spilling out in the parking lot, Acapulco Gold! Panama Red! Michoacán Icepack! numberless kilos of righteous weed, name your figure, just for trivial information we already have anyway. And what you don’t smoke—improbable as that seems—you could always sell.”
“Good thing you’re not recruiting for the NCAA, Bigfoot, you’d be in some deep shit.”
AT THE OFFICE NEXT DAY, Doc was listening to the stereo with his head between the speakers and almost missed the diffident ring of the Princess phone he’d found at a swap meet in Culver City. It was Tariq Khalil.
“I didn’t do it!”
“But I didn’t—”
“Nobody said you did, fact they thought for a while it was me. Man, I’m really sorry about Glen.”
Tariq was quiet for so long that Doc thought he’d hung up. “I will be, too,” he said finally, “when I get a minute to think about it. Right now I’m conveying my ass out of the area. If Glen was a target, then so am I, I would say in spades, but you folks do get offended so easy.”
“Is there someplace I can—”
“Better not be in no contact. This is not some bunch of fools like the LAPD, this is some heavy-ass motherfuckers. And if you don’t mind a piece of free advice—”
“Yeah, care in motion, as Sidney Omarr always sez in the paper. Well, you too.”
“Hasta luego, white man.”
Doc rolled a number and was just about to light up when the phone rang again. This time it was Bigfoot. “So we send some Police Academy hotshot over to the last known address of Shasta Fay Hepworth, just a routine visit, and guess what.”
Ah, fuck no. Not this.
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I upsetting you? Relax, all we know at this point is that she’s disappeared too, yes just like her boyfriend Mickey. Isn’t that odd? Do you think there could be a connection? Like maybe they ran off together?”
“Bigfoot, can we at least try to be professional here? So I don’t have to start callin you names, like, I don’t know, mean-spirited little shit, somethin like that?”
“You’re right—it’s the federals I’m really annoyed with, and I’m taking it out on you.”
“You’re apologizing, Bigfoot?”
“Ever known me to?”
“Uhhm . . .”
“If anything does occur to you about where they—so sorry, she—might’ve gone, you will share that, won’t you?”
There was an ancient superstition at the beach, something like the surfer belief that burning your board will bring awesome waves, and it went like this—take a Zig-Zag paper and write on it your dearest wish, and then use it to roll a joint of the best dope you can find, and smoke it all up, and your wish would be granted. Attention and concentration were also said to be important, but most of the dopers Doc knew tended to ignore that part.
The wish was simple, just that Shasta Fay be safe. The dope was some Hawaiian product Doc had been saving, although at the moment he couldn’t remember for what. He lit up. About the time he was ready to transfer the roach to a roach clip, the phone rang again, and he had one of those brief lapses where you forget how to pick up the receiver.
“Hello?” said a young woman’s voice after a while.
“Oh. Did I forget to say that first? Sorry. This isn’t . . . no, of course it wouldn’t be.”
“I got your number from Ensenada Slim, at that head shop in Gordita Beach? It’s about my husband. He used to be close to a friend of yours, Shasta Fay Hepworth?”
All right. “And you’re . . .”
“Hope Harlingen. I was wondering how your caseload’s looking at the moment.”
“My . . . oh.” Professional term. “Sure, where are you?”
It turned out to be an address in outer Torrance, between Walteria and the airfield, a split-level with a pepper tree by the driveway and a eucalyptus out back and a distant view of thousands of small Japanese sedans, overflowed from the main lot on Terminal Island, obsessively arranged on vast expanses of blacktop and destined for auto agencies across the desert Southwest. TVs and stereos spoke from up and down the streets. The trees of the neighborhood sifted the air green. Small airplanes went purring overhead. In the kitchen hung a creeping fig in a plastic pot, vegetable stock simmered on the stove, hummingbirds out on the patio poised vibrating in the air with their beaks up inside the bougainvillea and honeysuckle blossoms.
Doc, who had a chronic problem telling one California blonde from another, found an almost 100-percent classic specimen—hair, tan, athletic grace, everything but the world-famous insincere smile, owing to a set of store-bought choppers which, though technically “false,” invited those she now and then did smile at to consider what real and unamusing history might’ve put them there.
Noticing Doc’s stare, “Heroin,” she pretended to explain. “Sucks the calcium out of your system like a vampire, use it any length of time and your teeth go all to hell. Flower child to wasted derelict, zap, like magic. And that’s the good part. Keep it up long enough . . . Well.”
She got up and started pacing. She was not a weeper, but she was a pacer, which Doc appreciated, it kept the information coming, there was a beat to it. A few months back, according to Hope, her husband, Coy Harlingen, had OD’d on heroin. As well as he could with a doper’s memory, Doc recalled the name, and even some story in the papers. Coy had played with the Boards, a surf band who’d been together since the early sixties, now considered pioneers of electric surf music and more recently working in a subgenre they liked to call “surfadelic,” which featured dissonant guitar tunings, peculiar modalities such as post–Dick Dale hijaz kar, incomprehensibly screamed references to the sport, and the radical sound effects surf music has always been known for, vocal noises as well as feedback from guitars and wind instruments. Rolling Stone commented, “The Boards’ new album will make Jimi Hendrix want to listen to surf music again.”
Coy’s own contribution to what the Boards’ producers had modestly termed their “Makaha of Sound” had been to hum through the reed of a tenor or sometimes alto sax a harmony part alongside whatever melody he was playing, as if the instrument was some giant kazoo, this then being enhanced by Barcus-Berry pickups and amplifiers. His influences, according to rock critics who’d noticed, included Earl Bostic, Stan Getz, and legendary New Orleans studio tenor Lee Allen. “Inside the surf-sax category,” Hope shrugged, “Coy passed for a towering figure, because he actually improvised once in a while, instead of the way second and even third choruses usually get repeated note for note?”