The Patrolman (2) - Prologue
By J. A. Stapleton
- 472 reads
It ought to have been the safest street in Los Angeles.
North Spring Street is the ‘best’ street in L.A., sitting at the geographical center of the city. A beating heart of banks, skyscrapers and leading financial firms. The San Gabriels sit below the horizon fifteen miles to the north and L.A. harbor, the largest man-made port in the world, twenty miles due south. The setting sun can be seen from here, as though dropping onto western neighborhood of Venice and the Pacific Ocean. The HOLLYWOODLAND sign hovers on the foothills of the Santa Monicas, partially obstructed by the constant construction.
200 North Spring always makes the cover of the visitor pamphlets for it is the home of City Hall.
It houses the Mayor, the City Council meeting chambers and serves as the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department. The Chief of Police keeps an office up on the eighth floor. The building opened in 1928, occupying a full city block in Downtown, bounded by Main, Temple, First and Spring streets. Several prominent institutions keep their headquarters here: the L.A. Tribune, Cónsul Incorporada (the Cuban tobacco company) and the International Savings & Exchange Bank to name a few. It was known as the Wall Street of the West at the turn of the century. That day, the routine motions of those working there were disturbed by gunfire.
TED Officer J. S. Thomson of Central Division was safe and off-duty when it happened.
LAPD’s Traffic Enforcement Division covered over 32,000 street intersections and Thomson happened to direct traffic at one of the busiest in Downtown – the district that suffers the highest percentage of traffic-related injuries and fatalities in the city. Thomson worked 7th & Flower Street – little over a mile from N. Spring. He worked the day swing – that was ten a.m. to six p.m. – five days a week for five years.
Captain Parker who ran A.I.D. (the Accident Investigation Division) was cutting costs and doubling watches. The son-of-a-bitch was getting cost-effective – a notch on his belt when he finally goes for the Chief’s job. The cuts came despite the view that TED officers were notoriously underpaid, the unit overworked and underfunded: writing up a quarter-million citations at three-grand per year. Real gratitude. Thomson’s relief, Policeman Dallas W. Walters, worked the mid and p.m. watch, and came to relieve him at six pronto. That day they shot the shit about some lunchtime fender bender, then Thomson took his leave. It was Friday.
A wave of violet shadow poured through Flower Street. Apart from the background noise of coffee shop muzak, the wide empty street was just that. Businessmen and women, curators, attorneys, bankers, and whatnots had been home since five o’clock. They would be talking with their partners, taking their showers, or preparing their eveningwear. In half an hour, Downtown would roar back to life with the slew of Friday night ‘cocktail traffic’ as it came to be known.
He turned right onto 6th, past Pershing Square – fruit central. Old homos curb-crawled at five mph, young homos in pleated jackets moved up and down the sidewalks, beckoning the tricksters over or shrugging them off entirely. Thomson idled by, doffing his hat. They didn’t bother him. He didn’t bother them. They had an understanding. The gigolos knew him. After his shift every Friday, the cop walked their route. There had been some trouble in the past, but that’s where it stayed. They were well-versed in the detection of policemen. Cops often came in felony cars, known as F-Cars. The drivers, plainclothesmen, were just looking for fags to roust. Fruit shakes were popular down here. When one got cuffed, the other gigs rabbited. If they got caught, they paid for prancing privileges. Thomson wasn’t bad when it all boiled down to it, nothing compared to that asshole cop Donlon who walked this beat daily.
Officer Thomson was a protty Scotsman by race. He was six-two and built like a football player. He’d been on a diet for several months and now was healthier than he’d ever been, though he could stand to lose a little more weight. His pants weren’t as tight and the revolver riding in the spring waistband holster was slightly more comfortable, fifty-six ounces of steel thudding into one’s side tends to grate on you after a while. The gun was fully loaded with six .38-calibre rounds. His size twelves hit the pavement with noisy slaps. He had blue eyes and dirty blond hair. He was on his way to City Hall, Cónsul’s, 200 S. Spring St. The old guy who worked there sold him Brevas at 10¢ a pop – the uniform had its perks sometimes. Since he’d quit drinking, he allowed himself one cigar on a Friday night. That was his only vice.
It became the thing that killed him.
He slowed his pace down a bit, Thomson walked with unhurried purpose. He had twenty minutes to kill before the Elysian Park bus arrived. He even started to whistle a tune from the Ink Spots. ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’ – Thomson had no intention of doing that, didn’t have a care in the world.
When he made Spring Street fifteen minutes later, there was a shriek and a wail. It was a woman’s voice, crying out for help. He couldn’t see her. Thomson, unlimbering his gun, picked his way through the hurrying cars – making for the source of the noise as fast as his legs could carry him. The people moving around him became a meaningless blur, he realized he was flat-out sprinting.
A hundred yards ahead, the door to Cónsul Incorporada came into view. Next to it, tucked away in the corner was a small family-owned gun store. They’d opened another store over on Alvarado a few months back. It seemed to be the cause of the disturbance.
As he drew closer, he could see a ’37 Ford Hearse mounted on the sidewalk. The driver was standing by with a pretty big shotgun. The woman was standing on the opposite side of the street, pushing a stroller, yelling obscenities. The driver looked terrified of her.
A yellow barrier blocked the sidewalk, Thomson sidestepped it. It had L.A. Railway Corp Maintenance Dept. on it. There was a manhole cover surrounded by hard-hatted workers, some drank coffee while the others chatted. The ruckus disturbed them. One of the workers’ eyes imprinted on him in passing. ‘Call the cops. Tell ‘em it’s a Code 3, possible 211.’ The rest he yelled over his shoulder.
He was coming up on the gun store, fast. He darted to the other side. A bus screeched to a halt behind him.
‘Get out of here, lady,’ he cried.
On approach, he formed a two-hand stance. Then he raised his gun at the armed robber. The guy shook behind his shotgun and didn’t dare moving it. Thomson heard the squeak of the stroller’s wheels, the woman running to get help.
‘Sir, I need you to stay perfectly still for me.’
‘Leave now, copper. It really ain’t worth dyin’ for.’
Thomson swallowed. ‘You move - I’ll shoot, copacetic?’
The look in his eyes told him he wouldn’t. He’d have to swing the gun ‘round for that – it would take him half a second. He knew that was plenty of time for the policeman to blow him away in. He’d be dead before he could get his finger on the trigger. He posed like a statue and nodded resignedly.
‘You clearing weapons or the register?’
His bottom lip trembled and his eyes went mobile, looking to the right.
Thomson caught on quick. Thomson wheeled ‘round, finger on the trigger. Some skinny kid was standing there now.
He hadn’t heard him approach.
He was on the skinny side, twenty-something. The face was lightly-sunburned with straw-like hair. Thick, overdrawn brows concealed the frightened look in his eyes. He stood there in a raincoat as if wanting to die, stood there like a question mark, a listlessness in him. Dumb kid.
‘Get out of here.’ Thomson said.
Footfalls – it was too late now. Three armed thugs came out of the gun store, saw him, and stopped in the doorway.
The kid said he didn’t wanna die.
Thomson pulled the hammer back. ‘If you shoot, fellas, your friend dies first – at this distance I’m Wild Bill Hickock.’
The three robbers swivelled, fanned out a step to have a clear field of fire. With disciplined precision the three men aimed at different points down Thomson’s body – the head, the chest, the groin. Thomson noticed each man wore a knapsack – with shotguns poking out and ammunition bulking it.
The smart thing to do was to let them keep their guns, their ammunition, and get the hell away. But Thomson wasn’t wired up like that, he was a cop after all. This is what cops do.
The getaway driver swallowed, closed his eyes.
The robbers coiled their trigger fingers.
Thomson drew breath, okey then. Time to earn your paycheck.
Vaguely he registered the kid utter a word – sorry. It was at that moment he realized he’d been bushwhacked.
Behind him there was an explosion. Thomson’s body was hurled forward as though he’d been kicked square in the back. The round slammed into the back of his head. It blew out the back of his skull and exited through his nose. He hit the deck. There was a small puff of dust from the sidewalk, then Thomson lay absolutely still. His face mostly obliterated, the concrete tatted with blood.
Dazed, the kid kept his gun on the cop just to be sure.
It was 18:37 p.m. The robbers bundled into the dingy hearse. With a squeal of tire smoke, it drew abreast of the kid. The engine pop-pop-popped. The three robbers were sat on three of the four little seats at the corners of where the coffin ought to be. The driver sucked a sweet, flicked it over with his tongue. He’d regained composure now. ‘Get in,’ he said.
The kid was frozen stiff.
Spring Street roared. People took cover in doorways and behind benches. Police sirens grew closer. Uniformed cops tore out of City Hall and ploughed across Grand Park. In a minute, they’d be caught or killed. ‘Noah,’ the driver said softly.
The kid looked at him.
‘Get in the car.’
Just five minutes for the job. Dead on time.
The hearse made a scruffy U-turn and moved at a ridiculous speed up to the intersection. There, it whirled right onto East 1st Street and, at fifty miles an hour, tore through a red light. The men chatted excitedly. They now had the firepower to pull their score, the ultimate score. With the money they could make a serious change in this city. In less than two minutes, they’d hit Skid Row and disappeared east, headed for Boyle Heights.
The kid, Noah, sat in the car. Trying to come to grips with the fact he’d just murdered a cop outside City Hall in broad daylight and had gotten away with it.
- Log in to post comments
Gripping, J.A. Intense and
Gripping, J.A. Intense and credible. A salud !
- Log in to post comments