The Patrolman (2) - Chapter I: The Patrolman (Part III)
He had the distinct impression that this had all happened before and that it would all happen again. He had a feeling somebody was going to die.
A redheaded woman.
Jake Lacey saw the woman from the other side of a black lake. The city skyline loomed up behind her and continued to grow. She stood motionless on the farthest bank. Her hair blew, wrapping her face like a headscarf in a sandstorm.
Rising off the water came a mist of lead and cordite and the smell of pure cordite.
The woman rolled her head in his direction.
‘Who are you?’ Lacey called out, his voice nothing much more than a whisper. Yelling louder and louder, he realized the noise was trapped in his chest, groans game out. Lacey stepped off the bank of trampled flowers into the lake took a step toward her. He stepped off the bank of trampled flowers into the lake. The water wasn’t quite knee deep.
You can make the other side but be quick about it.
Without another moment’s thought, Lacey found himself wading through the water at a good pace. The ripples grew with each footfall. The cold water brushed against his calves. The backwash of the waves clawing at him, almost dragging him back.
He tried again: ‘Who are you?’ he said.
The woman gazed at him with a touch of something in her eyes, Lacey couldn’t place what it was.
He was making good pace: twenty, maybe thirty yards.
Her teeth flashed.
She’s smiling? Why?
Then he took a step closer and realized something was off. He trod on something hard. Beneath the surface were skulls – human skulls. His movements had disturbed them. They seemed to rattle as if they were waking up. He glanced behind him. The bank had a flatbed truck on it and seemed miles away. Too far to turn back, he could only continue now.
He splashed around frantically, jogging.
The water gave plenty of resistance. Bony hands penetrated the gunmetal surface of the water. They were now clawing at him, trying to drag him under. There was blood in the water and they knew that. Lacey was moving frantically. They were going to tear him apart limb from limb.
There were hundreds of hands sticking out. Some were still alive, getting their heads and shoulders free. They were writhing in some kind of unanimous agony, consumed by their unified aim of destroying the being that had awoken them. But the woman was moving toward him.
She extended a long, bony foot and plunged it in the water. Her arms were outstretched, almost longingly.
‘Help me,’ he shouted.
The setting sun went out like it had been turned off at the switch. He was plunged into darkness.
He could hear the slaps of her wading toward him.
Suddenly, light. There was a lock of hair an inch from his face. It shocked him and he flailed his arms and toppled backward. The water slapped him on his ass. Fingers crawled up his back, reaching for his neck.
The woman’s hair ignited like someone had tipped a measure of kerosene over her head. It smelled like burning plastic. The color changed, turning a ghastly shade of green, the blue, and then finally, finding somewhere in between. It turned a bluish black color.
The face appeared at once and became attractive: ‘Who are you?’ he said.
The woman smiled that smile: ‘Dead.’
And with that, she turned her back on him. Spinning on her heel. The top of her skull erupted and warm liquid splattered his lips.
She belly-flopped into the water. The surface shattered and consumed her. He reached out for her and caught air.
Jake Lacey bolted awake.
He was in a cold sweat and shivering.
A light wind found its way through a crack in the window to him. The bedclothes were soaked in little pockets of sweat and were glued to him. The bed was hard and a spring in the mattress was broken and stuck into the left side of his back. He let it prod him, opening his mouth to breathe and gazed up at the ceiling.
There was something on it. He couldn’t make out what. Red neon light glared across the ceiling. Whatever it was was small and black and moving quickly across it. A spider?
It didn’t matter. The damage was done: he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep now. He promised himself to stay awake. He couldn’t endure any more time in that horrible place. With each passing moment, the memory of it ebbed deeper into his subconscious and was soon lost to him.
The red neon blinked off, breaks squaked as a vehicle started away from the curb.
He rolled over and looked at the clock.
It was four o’clock.
A few hours later he was walking his six-mile beat.
It was a sunny December morning – always like that this time of year – it was a Sunday and his second day at his new job.
From east to west, Police Officer Lacey strolled down Santa Monica Boulevard. He began at the North Hoover Street intersection at eight o’clock sharp. His patrol ended at the Casbah Lounge on the corner of La Cienega. Yesterday it was an easy route and he had help. Today, he was on his own.
Lacey was a slow walker, enjoying the opportunity to take in the world around him. His route would take him anywhere between an hour-thirty and two hours. He would veer off-course, checking the backstreets and back alleyways for trouble. If there was any, he was advised, it wouldn’t be on this route. ‘You’re a rookie after all,’ the Watch Commander said to him, ‘We’re not that nasty.’
Two blocks away was Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard was a different story entirely. ‘Auto Theft Central’ the guys at the Station called it. The rich movie executives frequented it in their imported cars – it was bound to happen.
Hollywood Division was pressured into running constant, multiple TED patrols twenty-four hours a day.
As he was walking, Jake Lacey suddenly felt tired. He had been wandering the streets like he was in a dream – going blocks without remembering. What in the hell happened to me last night?
He’d walked a solid five miles already without realising. He always knew when he was tired whether that was mentally or physically exhausted. He knew how to shrug it off – he blinked and swallowed hard. Yeah, something was off today.
He was coming up on North Fairfax. From what he remembered the next block and a half was all coffee shops and beauty parlors. Nice and quiet, Lacey thought. There was an easy slew of morning traffic. There were six or seven walkers – which included him – making up the foot traffic on both sides of the street.
West Hollywood was deader than a goldfish in a desert.
Lacey glanced his watch. It read 10:04 a.m.
Beside him was a hiss as a garbage truck breaked at the lights. The driver was watching him. A colored couple were strolling toward him hand in hand. The woman flashed him a wry smile.
Lacey tilted his cap: ‘Good morning, sir. Ma’am,’ he said.
As they passed him there was a sound like a dog bark. The woman gasped. A flock of pigeons took to the sky.
A gunshot – couldn’t have been more than a block away.
‘Call the police,’ he yelled.
The rest of Lacey’s thoughts were a blur as he raced toward the source of the gunshot. He looked down Santa Monica and was unable to make out anything resembling a disturbance. Heads turned after him. He was running flat-out. He was running so fast he had to hold onto his hat. The sound of his feet slapping the pavement was lost on him. Blood coursed through his body, his breath started wheezing. An ache formed in his legs and he pushed himself harder. Where the hell did that come from?
Then, as if someone shut off a valve, he quit breathing and gave up his pursuit.
The Hollywood Bank & Financial Trust stood out to him on account of its stone pillars. It was essentially an office building. It stood on the corner Santa Monica and North Harper. It had been fixed up to resemble the First Bank of the United States. Askew at the front of it were two imported palm trees, bowed, croaching to catch the sunlight.
Gasping for air, Lacey stared up at the bank.
As he went to set off again he noticed something strange.
Standing at the entrance was a bear of a man. He had a boxer’s nose and punch-drunk red skin. He stood the way a guard stands in a long overcoat that brushed his leg just below the knee. A hand held something in his interior pocket.
Lacey studied him.
The bear was shooting nervous glances the length of the street and was sweating like a whore in a church.
What are you hiding in there, pal?
As though in a timely response to his question, the jacket blew open slightly. He glimpsed a length of metal. It mean one of two things. A baseball bat or shotgun? Either way, you don’t bring one with you if you’re just there to make a deposit.
Lacey had a choice to make: retreat and call for backup or take him on.
The guy was maybe thirty feet away. If Lacey broke cover now, the bear would see him crossing the street in less than five seconds. If he was packing, and at this range, he would be sawn in half if it was a shotgun. If not, he’d wake up with a busted nose and a bruised ego a few minutes later.
Think Jakey, think.
Lacey pressed his back into the cover of the car and saw a streetcar approaching from a distance. If I charge over, I die. If I call for backup, maybe someone else eats a lead sandwich if they haven’t already. Maybe there was somebody bleeding out in there, maybe there wasn’t.
There was a rattle on the window from the building close to him. Staring at him puzzledly was a greengrocer, wondering what on earth was going on.
Lacey gestured, thumb and pinkie. Call the police.
It took the grocer a moment to work it out, then he was gone.
Sunset’s two blocks over – they’ll be here in no time.
As he made calculations, a gunshot echoed across the street.
Lacey floundered and lost his balance and sprawled himself out on the floor. The noise had been so loud he thought it had been aimed at him. He reached around and unbuttoned his sidearm, a .38-calibre standard issue revolver.
A man screamed like a girl.
Feet slapped away in the opposite direction.
There was a ding-ding from the Pacific Streetcar.
Lacey poked his head through the car’s window and watched the bear through it. He was really sweating some now. The jacket was open in full-view – it was a double-barreled shotgun. He was too young and too inexperienced and vastly incapable of steering this situation toward a positive outcome. But his mind was made up now.
Thirty metres away, the green and yellow streetcar tapped on its brakes. Was it dumb? Yes. Was it dangerous? Incredibly. Was it achievable? Let’s hope so.