The Patrolman (2) - Chapter I: The Patrolman (Part IV)
Three bullets had passed cleanly through the door. Noah sat against it with his grampa’s Colt Frontier Six-Shooter balanced over his knee.
As old guns go, this one was very dependable. It had been loaded with the ammunition of a Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle – those fuckers were effective up to two hundred yards. But the bullets had missed their mark and the policeman had survived unscathed. He was glad to have missed, Jake Lacey seemed to be a nice enough fellow.
The girl, June Hartsfield, was no longer hysterical but she was still understandably anxious.
A cordon had been erected outside. Scores of cops in leather jackets barricaded Santa Monica Boulevard off between North Harper and Havenhurst and waited for Noah to make a move.
Down below, the dead were being lugged out in leather cadaver pouches by men in white overalls to vans marked County Coroner. It looked officious and menacing. The cops who weren’t busy smoking, chewing gum or shooting War paranoid shit gave them a hand. It was pure hubbub: newspapermen magicked up quotes and photographers snapped pix and skimmed broken bulbs across the street. Noah crossed the room deftly and watched it all play out and waited for something to happen.
He sensed a flicked of movement behind him. June was there.
Just then a plainclothesman nudged a van door to. A pair of feet were poking out wearing brown and white spats. His eyes widened. They belonged to Henry, the bastard that got them into this mess in the first place.
‘Noah?’ she said.
He went back over to the door and slumped against it and came to terms with the fact he would be dead meat inside of an hour.
‘That you, Noah?’ said Lacey.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘My superiors have instructed me to tell you that you that you have until 10:55 to come out.’
June served him a regrettable look.
Noah pressed it. ‘Then what happens?’ He knew already, he was just testing the waters, seeing if the officer had the cojones to say it.
‘They’ll come in, I guess.’
‘And what’ll you do, Officer?’
A beat, then: ‘I guess I’ll be coming in with them, pal.’
He sat in silence and examined his shoes. They were brown Oxfords and a size too small and were falling apart. They’d last him a good few years but he wondered what they’d look like sticking out of a body bag. He took the gun out and gave it a look over.
‘What do you think of that?’ said Lacey.
Noah sighed. ‘Doesn’t matter,’ he said.
He stuck the Six-Shooter in his mouth and pulled back the hammer and heard the finality of its click.
The girl screamed.
The cop thrashed against the door.
Noah closed his eyes and counted to five.
Not many people can pinpoint the day their life went wrong, but Noah could, and he could name it.
Tuesday. A couple of week’s ago. It was night.
The meeting started a few minutes late, owning to the abysmal weather conditions and disappointing turnout. In fact, hardly anyone showed up at all. Outside, the storm drains were swollen with rain. The basement they were meeting out of shrank and creaked under the sheer weight of it. They met there every Tuesday. It was one of those little and nondescript bars off Ventura. The bartender was like-minded and sympathetic to their cause and didn’t charge them anything to meet there. The owner didn’t know anything about it and they liked it that way.
The San Fernando chapter of the CPUSA (the Communist Party of the United States of America) was one that lacked initiative. The Hollywood and Malibu chapters were all Fifth Columnists – men dedicated to political and industrial sabotage, the dissemination of capitalist propaganda through film and outré subversive covert operations. Here, all they did was talk.
Noah and the others were growing tired of it.
Their evening speaker, a professor from Berkley, hadn’t made it. To-night’s lecture was on the positives that arise from factions in proactive and productive left-wing politics. To-night, they would be addressing anarchism and whether there would be a place for it in Communist society.
When they realized he wasn’t going to make it, their Kaptain, a guy named Charles who bore an uncanny resemblance to that fascist Lindbergh, split them up into study groups and sat them down with texts to re-evaluate. Breaking off with Roland and Bill, his closest friends if he truly had any, Noah spotted a new guy sitting at the back keeping to himself and smoking a homemade cigarette.
‘Anyone see him around before?’
‘Nah, man.’ Roland said.
Charles came over and slapped a pamphlet on the table.
Noah fingered it: LAW, LAND AND . . . AUTHRORITY – An Anarchist Essay. It had been written by Giovanna Berneri and costed five cents and was printed on sedge paper. ‘This way,’ Charles explained, ‘If anybody’s caught with one by the police, all they need do is simply drop it into a body of water and the pamphlet dissolves. Pretty neat, huh?’
Noah turned it over: ‘Printed By The Los Angeles Anarchist Society. California, U.S.A.’
‘The Illuminati have been doing the same thing since the 17th century,’ said Bill pragmatically, ‘That’s nothing new.’
Nobody could impress him, he was just one of those types.
‘I’m sure they did,’ Charles said and resisted the urge to roll his eyeball. ‘The guy in the back, do you know him?’
They declined in triplicate.
Charles thought about it for a moment then waded through the folding chairs to the back of the room. After a brief conversation, the man took it on the arches. Up through the basement to the bar and out into the street.
‘Trouble,’ Charles said, passing them by, giving no other explanation than that. The three of them didn’t think any more of it.
The rain had subsided when they quit the meeting.
The guest speaker didn’t bother to call and the men left an hour earlier than they usually did. Noah and the other two were about to go their separate ways when a figure appeared from around the corner. ‘Evening, fellas,’ he said, ‘Can I treat you to a pot of coffee?’
It was the guy from earlier.
The Fat Rabbit Café – Coffee & Cake – Open Late.
Noah and Henry smoked while the other two wolfed down a two-day old apple cinnamon and a piece of red velvet cake that had seen better days.
Henry Mallinson had that devil-may-care look about him.
He was around the same age as them, though his eyes belonged to someone considerably older. His skin was permanently sunburned and his features dark and thick but strikingly handsome. Henry struck Noah as an ex-convict with his hair maintained in the prison buzzcut style.
When the others finished their cake and coffee, Mallinson tossed everyone pre-rolled smokes. They struck up, and settled back and got ready for what he was about to tell them.
‘I was born in Mooresville, Indiana. The son of wheat farmers,’ he said. ‘You’ve probably heard of it, John Dillinger’s first caper was at my uncle’s grocery store. He stole thirty dollars. When I was sixteen, I moved to Indianapolis to be closer to my grandmother. . .’
Mallinson proceeded to tell them about his life. He was a thief and a good one at that. He stuck-up stores and illegal card games and always gave the majority share of the loots to charities and people in need. He was a true believer in affirmative action: ‘Nobody gives you anything in life – you have to get up and take it.’
He had been released from the state prison at San Quentin six months ago. He’d been paroled after serving a third of his twenty-year sentence for an attempted murder and subsequent armed robbery of a bank in Glendale. The deadly assault charge was down to him having a shoot-out with the arresting detectives. He ran out of bullets and surrendered shortly afterward.
‘Why give yourself up?’ said Bill.
Mallinson relished the spotlight, he sat back in the chair and folded his legs. ‘Well, I used up all my bullets of course and there was nothing that could be used as a bat.’
They burst into laughter at that, Noah did too.
‘They gave me a bum leg for my trouble, don’t you worry.’
‘But you surrendered peacefully?’ Bill asked.
‘Sure did,’ he said. ‘Followed every instruction they gave me without a fuss. Tossed the gun and got on my knees. Power-hungry cops.’
‘Fucking fascists,’ said Bill.
‘Pigs,’ exclaimed Roland.
The coffee shop was now empty. The chef working the girl switched everything off and was mopping the floor around them. The place reeked of disinfectant. The waitress who brought them their drinks was busy polishing the knives and forks with an old dish rag dipped in vinegar. She eyed them with contempt. It was getting late and she wanted to go home.
Noah, who was less captivated with his yarn than the others, drew an obvious conclusion: ‘You’re a criminal,’ he said simply.
That made Mallinson laugh. ‘Sure am,’ he said.
‘That’s what the big society has labelled him,’ Bill chimed.
‘No,’ Henry said. ‘I am a criminal. I’ve robbed and I’ve hurt people to help the less fortunate. You know who I am?’
‘Robin Hood?’ Roland laughed.
‘No, man,’ he said. ‘I’m the guy who will bring hope to the people of Los Angeles. The average Joe, the bums down by the river, the housewives who haven’t got enough money to get away from their sadistic, vicious husbands.’ He pointed at him. ‘All I need is your help, Noah.’
Noah let it soak in for a moment.
‘Okey, what do you need our help with?’ Noah.
‘A job,’ he said. ‘If we do it right, nobody gets hurt. We spread the money around, redistribute the wealth based on merit. Those sad saps down by the river will be able to sleep with a roof over their heads and the housewives can catch a train back to Oklahoma or Tucson.’
Helping the homeless appealed to Noah’s sensibilities. After all, he was one.
An Okie far away from anything that resembled home.
‘Right,’ he said.