The Patrolman & Other Stories - #3 White Lights, Bright Sirens (Part II)
The look on her face was of confusion. The look on her face when she saw the gun in his hand was of surprise. The look on her face when he spun it round in the air at Tom Maher was of terror.
Mr. Slate shot him once, climactically through the groin. A mixture of blood and pre-ejaculate ran down his leg to the floor. She screamed. Tom Maher pitched over in a bloodied mess on the plastic cover. In one violent corkscrew of motion, he landed a blow on the side of her head. His body twisted up from the floor, the silenced gun in his hand. On his feet, he dragged her by the hair, across the floor to her ‘Honey’. With all his weight behind it, he knelt on her back pinning her down, she sprawled, her legs flailing about. He took a few moments to draw breath, to rationalize his thoughts. Then he spoke: ‘Tell me, he said. ‘What happened to your other renters?’
She looked sideways at him, stifling her cries. The blue eyes blazed, ragefully. Tears formed in the corners. Her lips moved with speaking. He thought they read ‘Good-bye’ to her husband. Mr. Slate held the gun out.
‘Whup!’ he felt the recoil. ‘Whup-whup.’
A noise came from the throat, Tom Maher, the rapist, gave a single heave on the floor and then nothing. Three shots, placed expertly, in his left breast. A ghastly wailing cry filled his ears, she broke out into a mixture of sobs, choking phlegm up over the sheet. ‘What did he do with their bodies, Mrs. Thomas Maher?’
The body flung round. Slowly, agonizingly, the hands with the black fingernails groped up for his throat. He pushed the muzzle, which was still flaming hot, against her forehead and pinned her to the ground. ‘Talk.’ A few minutes later, when she forced herself to calm down she said, or Mr. Slate thought she said: ‘The river.’
Fuck, he cried. He tumbled off her, pushing himself into the bed. Who the fuck were these creatures? How many black men had they killed and for what? To hide some sick fucking rape fantasy? June Maher sat bolt upright; Mr. Slate pointed the gun at her. Wincing, the hands reached up to shield her face.
Outside, a hobo rifled through a trashcan. Written in blood-red capitals was the phrase: ‘STOW IT, DON’T THROW IT.’ The Los Angeles City Council were test-running it on selected neighbourhoods within the Downtown and Little Tokyo areas of the city. Above, he heard a noise. He looked up to the window of the corner-building, the one where plenty of strange sounds came from at night. Through the small breaches in the blinds, he saw two muzzle flashes. A few seconds later, the lights went off. He figured if he’d spend the last of his change, on calling the cops, they’d move him on down to the river. That’s where all the drunks, hopheads looking for a fix lurked. It wasn’t safe down there for a guy like him, loads of fucked up shit went on down there. Plus, it was freezing. They’d have to chip him out with an ice pick come morning and he didn’t exactly want to die, not in his sleep and not on the streets. The hobo simply moved upside to the next trash can, found a half-eaten ham salad sub and went on his way.
Upstairs, Mr. Slate put his clothes on, shivering. Drawing long, dry heaves. Sweat flooded down his face, some stifled cries too. He attempted to compose himself and went for the celloo case. Setting it down on the floor, he unbuckled it at both ends and produced the Springfield Sniper Rifle from inside. The M1903 was a five-round, magazine-fed repeater. It was effective up to one thousand yards, more than enough to cover the width of 7th Street. He took it in his hands, twisting it round. The sights were perfectly aligned. Making his way over to the window, he peered through. He cocked the rifle with the bolt handle, poked the muzzle out through a small gap in the window and checked his wristwatch.
It was nine o’clock.
To Jake Lacey, it was just one of those days where he wished he could have disappeared off the face of the earth.
To begin with he was anxious, his hands were trembling, his head ached, his joints were stiff. His mouth was stale – from smoking too many Luckies – his tongue was burnt after down his coffee. He needed to pee too but didn’t dare leave his window table out of fear of losing it.
His aunt was running late, which was unlike her. She despised tardiness, often using it as a measure to one’s character. The watch on his wrist said it was eight-fifty, making her twenty minutes late. He wondered why he had picked this place for dinner, out of all the delis, eateries and restaurants in the eastern edge of Downtown.
Commare’s was one of those places that served everything but specialised in nothing. The pasta was often described as dry, the sauce had too many onions in, and the ratio of appetisers outweighed the number of main options on the Menù serale four-to-one. Despite that, the interior was more than well-put-together, actually quite beautiful one would say, hopefully it would lessen the impact of what Lacey had to tell her. Next week, he would be leaving a most-promising career in the Los Angeles Police Department to join the U.S. Infantry. He wanted to serve his country the best way he knew how. Why should he get to stay behind while all the other, poorer guys got drafted into the War? He was more than just able-bodied; he felt that he could make a serious difference if they gave him the opportunity to do so.
He took a long pull off his cranberry juice and gazed thoughtfully out through the window. Not a lot was going on outside: some big shots driving a new coupe pulled up for dinner, four, maybe five hot rods blazed past him, he guessed they were heading down to one of the many viaducts along the river for a drag race, a homeless guy zigzagged back and forth across the street from trash can to trash can, collecting scraps for his dinner. Lacey looked around. Waiters lugged stacks of plates full of leftover food three-feet high back into the kitchen. Like all restaurants, it would get dumped into black sacks and hurled out-back for the garbage men at the end of the night for a Tuesday collection. He wanted to tell the homeless guy that, but he figured he already knew. Maybe the owners had threatened him, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done that. Maybe they took pity on him and left him a little something after-hours, or maybe they just left him to ravage. This was L.A. after all and in an establishment like Commare’s, their reputation was tantamount to success. Especially with how much they charged for Gnocchi Spinaci.
There was a small Italian courtyard in the middle of the restaurant, with fairy lights dangling from the ceiling, the look was completed with an expensive miniature of the Trevi water fountain in Roma. The floor tiles were hand-carved in the mosaic style, more Antoni Gaudi than Bartolomeo Berrecci or Giuseppe Pannini, but still worth looking at. You didn’t need to be a genius to see how much work they’d put into this place. It was a shame Jake could only afford a few drinks, dinner and nothing much else. They still homecooked their Cannoli with Italian produce which, with the War raging on in Europe, was difficult to come-by in any foreign restaurant. He took another long pull off his cranberry and wondered where the hell his aunt had gotten to.
For some time, Lacey sat looking at the glowing neon sign of a barber shop across the way called Ritchie’s. It wasn’t exactly on 7th Street, it was down a little road called Linklater Avenue on the left. A man was standing outside it, looking up at the sign too. He was an ugly, little man. Scrawny, not more than five feet five inches tall. His arms hung loosely down by his sides; a forgotten cigar clenched in the fingers of his left hand. A couple passed him, making their surprise known. To put it bluntly, he wasn’t inconspicuous. He wore a white pastel gray three-piece suit with a white raincoat fastened over the top. The look was completed with a white, pinstriped Fedora. His skin was slightly off-piste, well-shaven. The top lip bore a thick toothbrush mustache, heavy eyebrows met over the hook of his relatively small nose giving him an otherwise ratty appearance. He moved slowly toward him, out of Linklater and across 7th. He was cool, and walked coolly over to the swinging double-doors of Commare’s, he looked coolly down the street and pushed his way inside. Probably checking to see if anyone was tailing him. He should have just worn a sign around his neck saying ‘I AM WITH THE JEWISH SYNDICATE’. He looked like one of Benny Siegel’s guys, well, the kind who hang ‘round him anyhow. He could well be one of Jack Dragna’s mob – he gave off that hard, skull-bashing-baseball-bat-ya kinda vibe.
When he was inside, Lacey’s suspicions were affirmed. The waiter bowed, escorting him past all the other guests waiting to be shown a table. He plucked a reserved sign off from one of the corner booths at the back of the restaurant. Mr. Outfit shook his head, choosing to sit down at the bar and enjoy a drink instead. Over Jake’s shoulder, the traffic rumble was bad.
L.A. public school buses rolled down 7th. Two-man Army jeeps, each with an armed guard escorted them. The convoy ran the full width of road. Ran for blocks, probably. Soldier-drivers pushed ahead forming a rolling blockade. The windows did nothing to mute the engine rumble. Each school bus carried fifty people. They were handcuffed. Each of the fifty people had a black sack pulled down over their faces. They couldn’t see light, they rattled around in their seats, their hands clasped the seat in front of them for dear life. The spiel was all over Central Police Station. Lacey heard a few guys working the Traffic desk talking about it. That was two days ago. Not so hidden military secrets featured an internment camp several miles northeast of the city. It was being called The Santa Anita Assembly. Local Japanese were rounded up in the middle of the night, forced out of their homes by the Marines and the PD and herded into pens. The United States congress was paranoid, the government feared an imminent attack on home shores following Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a month ago and there was no such imminent attack or reprisals that followed it.
Officially, the federal government were pumping money into an apple distribution plant in Manzanar. Unofficially, the federal government were building a second incarceration camp to house more Japanese. There were 127,000 Japanese-Americans living in the United States. Of which, there were 112,000 on the West Coast. How can you spend tax-payers’ hard-earned money on internment camps with a War on? It was being kept secret from Joe Public, that’s how. But Jake Lacey figured nobody would give much of a fuck if they did know for sure, over 2,000 of their boys were killed, over 1,000 were injured. Emperor Hirohito had dug his claws into the Nisei (second generation) and Sansei (third generation) and they intended to wreak havoc upon Franklin D’s America.
Half-way down bus number two, somebody caught his eye. The absence of hair on the thin wrists suggested they were a woman. Her hands were shaking violently. A Cartier wristwatch rattled on the wrist closest to him. Red fingers scratched, tore fluff, out of the seat in front. Lacey thought of a dog moments before an illegal dogfight – he had broken one up in a bunker in Leimert Park on January 1st. The pooch was stuffed into a tiny, metal cage, doing anything to escape despite the fear of an immediate reprisal. The woman Jake didn’t know was a perfect metaphor for White America in January 1942, terrified.
‘That’s not fucking right,’ a woman said behind him.
‘It ain’t their fault, he said, half-turning in his chair. ‘Most of them are second-gens anyway.’
His melancholia and the stoplight changed abruptly. It was like someone was shining a searchlight on his table. Every eye in the vicinity was on Jake’s aunt, Miss. Evelyn Morgan Lacey who, at the age of forty-four, was still simultaneously a suspiciously unmarried woman and a conversation-stopper at worst. Wearing two blue gemstones for earrings, a dark-petaled flapper dress from the mid-twenties, open-toed brown platforms and her hair tied back in a bun, Evelyn out-dressed her nephew quite shamelessly. He had done his best that night with a cheap double-breast, but she stunned everyone at Commare’s. Moving with slow, economic movements she joined him at the dinner table. Jake got to his feet. She smiled warmly, the same look a proud mother would give her endearing son. He planted a kiss on her cheek, her scent an intoxicating blend of cigarette smoke and French perfume. He waited for her to sit and tucked the chair in behind her. She had raised him to treat women properly.
People in the repair shop, Quick-e-mart, even the restaurant-goers thought he was her younger man, the Laceys were used to that common misconception and neither of them really gave a fuck anymore. She crossed her legs and said. ‘How are you, Jake?’
‘Fine thank-you, Ma’am. How are you?’
She crossed her arms too. ‘Not complaining.’ Glancing behind her, she snapped her fingers. Two waiters appeared at her side in a heartbeat. ‘Can I get a double Scotch, another ashtray and whatever my nephew’s drinking, please?’
Jake held his up. ‘Cranberry.’
They nodded and made themselves scarce.
‘You ain’t come over to the house in a while, where’ve you been?’ Evelyn asked, raising her pencil-thin eyebrows up at him. She slid a fresh pack of Marlboro open with her thumb-nail, took one out, tapped the end against the box a few times and slotted it in the corner of her mouth. Jake took out his lighter and lit it, she rested a hand against his. Evelyn blew an ‘O’ over them and sat forward as if to say, well?
‘It’s been quite stressful at work, Ma’am.’
‘Glad to hear it, nothing worse than an idle young man.’
He smiled, mischievously. The physical resemblance was all there if you were looking for it. They had the same long nose, high cheekbones and an edge to their jaws that looked razor-cut. Evelyn’s eyes were somewhat smaller than his. It was something she said her mother Morgan (and Jake’s paternal grandmother) had given her. He said: ‘And what about you, found any work yet?’
Evelyn Lacey smirked. ‘When it suits me.’
‘Fuckin’ good answer I thought.’ They laughed hard, full belly laughs. She took his hand in hers. ‘Are you O.K., Jakey? For money or anything?’
‘Don’t play silly, Ma’am. I can look after myself.’
‘I know, I taught you that myself.’ She said.
Their drinks arrived on a round silver tray. The waiter wiped their table with a wet cloth. Dried it with another. He set down two placemats and their drinks on top of them. He handed the lady a glass ashtray and she tapped her ash out in it. She took a long drag, blew out a little smoke through her nose and settled herself forward in her chair, ready to talk business. ‘What’s the occasion, Jake? This kinda place doesn’t come cheap. Not on a policeman’s salary.’
A lump stuck in his throat. He readjusted his tie. Finished the cranberry juice off and started on the second. ‘I wanted to tell you something.’