Chapter Seventeen

Serpentine Stairs towards Switchback Heaven.

Ronald Reagan.  

That’s where they took Big Willie Winsboro.  

Ronald Reagan Memorial Hospital in Westwood.  

It was just around the corner from Hosseini’s. And that’s where I took Beebe, not knowing until later, that’s where the big man hand ended up. Although, I could’ve just looked at my phone. There was a message from Merchant.  

Who would’ve thought that Ronald Reagan would be taking care of brown people, though? It helped that police were involved. Feds too. Some of the injured in Barnsdall had been brought over so the G-Men could keep close eye on them. So, when I came dragging Beebe in through the emergency doors, it was like they were expecting us. Merchant and Larsen. Johnson and Johnson. Some of those Salvadoreans in the park. A confluence of cocksuckers. I immediately regretted taking her there.  

Beebe wasn’t so happy either. She bitched at me as she was taken away on a gurney. Not wanting to be at a hospital like most sane and well-adjusted people, so she held onto the opal for good luck. The thing’s orbit taking hold. The obsession was beginning. The thing had found a new schmuck. Or was its power different over women. They weren’t as weak as men and it was better for all in the palm of her hand.  

I found Willie in a recovery room. Wires and tubes connected and coming out of all the orifices. His skin looked ashen. A grayish purple tone to his face, and maybe some new crevices had appeared in his forehead and around the mouth. But he was breathing. That was good.  

“Can you believe this motherfucker’s alive?” 

I turned my head to the doorway. Merchant, leaning against the frame.  

“Kind of, yeah.” Looking back to Willie. “But it makes you not trust reality, a little.”  

“Cause we all saw him take his last breath.”  

I nodded, but didn’t say anything else on it. Merchant leaning on his crutch. He looked like he’d taken a shower and changed his clothes recently. I was so tired of talking to this dude.  

“They pulled out the paddles on him. Sparked him right back to it.” Merchant shook his head. “Guess he wanted to live.”  

Pointing out the obvious was the man’s forte. And it was what ground you down. You wondered if he even knew it. If he knew he had the power of a stump grinder. “You still trying to charge him for Jackie’s murder?” 

“We found a Kershaw in them plants out front. You know them fucking elephant ears all out of control, in front of number two?” Merchant scoffed. “Dickhead just dropped the knife there. Prints all over it.” He couldn’t believe what he was saying.  

“Took you that long to find it? It was right there all that time?” 

“We found it.”  

We looked each other in the eyes. There was a wall between us. Not a tangible thing. Just a feeling that we’d never understand much about each other. We were spent saliva to each other. Something to leave on the ground. 

“So that’s it.” I asked.  

“You brought in the last of it.”  

For a split second I thought he was referring to the opal. But he wasn’t. He meant Beatriz Bonilla. They were one in the same. Weren’t they? Just a curious looking stone to put away in evidence. To put in a plastic bag on a shelf so it can be categorized and possibly be recalled later. Beebe would be charged for Erik’s murder. Who in turn would be charged for Jackie’s murder. It all seemed so simple then. It was known from the very beginning. And no one cared about Hosseini are the Armenians. Feds cared about the Salvadoreans. It was clear where the tethers were tightened and drawn.  

“Hosseini left town.” I told Merchant.  

Merchant took his time with it. “The guy that owns the apartment building.” He sold it well, with a deadpan stare.  

“Yeah, the guy that’s got LAPD on the payroll.” 

That straightened him up. Got him standing, rather than leaning in the doorway. “Say what?” 

“You don’t play the dope well.” I told the detective. “You guys know about Matos.”  

Merchant’s eyes narrowed and you could see him going somewhere that could only be touched by him. “She got caught up in that Fed raid.” Holding it all together. “Sometimes moonlighting will get your ass in a sling.”  

“She wasn’t working security at an elementary school, man.”  

“What the fuck you know about being a fucking cop?” 

“You got two that ain’t in the red no more.” I nodded. “Check’s in the mail, right.”  

“Fuck you.”  

It wasn’t going to get any better than that. It was a dark rift, not a thin blue line. There just wasn’t any room in his mind for someone like me. Someone straddling cracks. A man in-between. Merchant was looking at me like he’d always looked at me. Frustration all over his face. Like he was waiting for me to pick a side. Sides that had nothing to do with the lawful or the unlawful. Sides that had to do with shades and tones of skin color. No one knows where you stand. Not even you. Just what are you, and how did you get here? 

I thought of a ditch on the side of a road in Northern Louisiana.  

That’s how I’d gotten here.  

But why had I stayed? 

For that woman in the ditch.  

Jackie Meaux.  

I stared at Big Willie Winsboro. “You think he’ll make it?” He was breathing okay, it seemed.  

“Hell yeah.” Merchant was glad to put away the heaviness of our constructs. “Motherfucker was resurrected. There’s purpose behind shit like that.”  

Shit like what? But I didn’t ask that out loud. “You a religious man?” 

The cop’s face scrunched up. “Maybe.” He wasn’t quite sure. 

“Where’s your partner?” 

He gave me a look like it was none of my business. “That cough finally put him down.”  

“Put him down?” 

Merchant shook his head. “He just laid up.” He looked at Willie.  

We stood there for three or thirty minutes without saying anything. Merchant limped out of the doorway on his crutch. 

“How’s your ass feeling?” I asked at his back.  

He was half-way down the hallway when he said. “Better than yours.” it floated on an echo into the room.  

I stuck around for a few hours after Merchant left; roaming the halls and visiting the dead. Well, not really visiting. Lingering just out of reach of the Feds and LAPD. They had the Salvadoreans they brought in under heavy guard. They weren’t letting anyone see Beebe either. There was a little nurse-chatter about the Salvis. Something about La Pantera Rosa not being amongst the bedridden. He got away. Didn’t surprise me. Guys like that live to fight another day. No doubt that was why Hosseini skipped town. If the Feds and the Armenians couldn’t get him, then they’d take the money and run.  

I left the hospital at the point of exhaustion. Hadn’t slept in a couple of days and the period was at the end of its sentence. There was nothing left to do. The what now had reached its adieu. The whatever would have its day.  

So, I went home. To that little, sardine can in Pico-Union. Those goons weren’t in the park across from those ancient mansions. Maybe they got rounded up, or they took to the mattresses, knowing there’s a target on their backs, but they weren’t out there. I parked the Mustang along the curb of the park, in front of those houses called Alvarado Terrace, and let the warmth of the day settle in. Staring at those houses. A row of mansions all built around 1903. You know the story. White people dig in the earth and discover old dinosaur bones liquified into black sludge. A great lube for combustible engines. The rest is just history and money. White people build big houses and draw the lines around their fiefdoms. It’s all about property.  

That’s what I’ve learned.  

But boundaries are imagined, and people walk across them every day. And mix and mix and mix. And there’s nothing you can do about it, no matter how privileged you are. So, go ahead and back yourself into a corner, put up your dukes, and ready to fight for whatever trash you deem your bloodline. 

I fell asleep in the car. Dreaming about lines in the sand, big as Louisiana ditches. Banging on metal woke me up. There was Small Johnson with a hand flat on the hood of a stolen car.  

Speaking of white people in corners.  

I stuck my head out of the window. “Shouldn’t you be at Barney’s Beanery, celebrating?” 

He kind of smiled and squinted in the sun. “I missed you at Ronald Reagan.”  

“Did you?” 

“You almost made it.” Small Johnson, whose real name was Tommy Guenther from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, nodded towards a place my apartment might be. His dress-collar was too bright and stiff to look on at this hour. It was abrasive and uncool at this hour. It was noon. Or somewhere where shadows stuck close to the body.  

“Fuck you want?” I got out of the truck and leaned against the door.  

He shrugged and put his hands in his pockets and looked at one of the houses across the street. “Thought you might wanna know where Hosseini is.”  

I didn’t. But I was interested in one thing. “Why would you wanna dime your benefactor out like that?” 

Tommy Guenther squinted even more. “That’s a deal Bonner made, not me.”  

Bonner. Tall Johnson. “Tell LAPD you willing to buck?” 

“They got nothing on him and he’s left their jurisdiction.”  

“Nobody’s got anything on him, really.”  

“You do.” He looked at me. “So does your pal, Willie Winsboro.”  

I looked at him with upturned lips. Playing it hard, but knowing where this was going. “I recall you and Bonner being there when that barrel of money was dropped off.” 

Guenther scoffed. “Speaking of LAPD. They found four bodies at a dumpsite down near Long Beach.” He let that sit. “Word is the site manager is talking.”  

And there it was. Aiding and abetting murder. Short-hairs time, and maybe forever. I hoped I hadn’t blinked a hundred times before I said this. “Fuck are you talking about?” 

Tommy wasn’t buying anything I had to sell him. “Your buddy Willie will wake up, and I doubt he’ll implicate you, but that lot attendant has been talking about a little, red Toyota truck.” He tapped the hood with his ring finger. “And there was a Mustang that was reported stolen from a storage facility in Torrance the attendant can put eyes on.”  

“Say I give myself up.” I folded my arms in defense. “Start singing about you, Bonner and Hosseini.” 

“To LAPD?” Guenther looked amused.  

“Thinking your higher-ups would like to know their hitched up with the Armenian Power.”  

Tommy Guenther, a.k.a Small Johnson, stepped from in front of the car and leaned on the side of it with me. “How you plan on getting that meeting?” He asked.  

“I don’t know. Stand outside with a sign, holler and stomp around with the rest of them protestors.”  

That made the Fed laugh. “That’s funny.”  

“Is it?” 

“You wanna know how Hosseini and Bonner got all chummy?”  

Of course, I did, but I didn’t know we were all chummy. Guenther and me. One and half crackers shooting the shit in the shadow of old, white money. MS-13 territory now. White boys better watch out. I asked him how, but it was just more questions that made me trust my skepticism when it came to chumminess and Feds. 

“Who you think’s out there with those homemade signs most days?” 

They were out there most days, it seemed. On the corner of Wilshire and Veteran. Carrying signs saying something about freeing Iranian prisoners. Waving Iranian flags. Made sense. Most of Westwood was Persian owned.  

“Hosseini connected to those folks?” 

“He brokered a deal for those people not to be moved off that corner. Bureau brass was ready to call in some favors from LAPD to move them, less than civilized like. Hosseini came in and worked something out.”  

Worked something out. “That’s some serious weight.” I mused. 

Guenther nodded. “Man moves in some serious circles.”  

“So why you here, man? Serious Circles is halfway to Israel by now. Man’s untouchable.”  

Tommy the Fed shook his head slightly. “You and your boy touched him. That’s why he’s on the run. And if Willie wanted to talk… now that would be something.”  

“’You just said he wouldn’t.”  

Guenther shrugged. “Hosseini doesn’t know that.”  

“What’d you want from me?” 

Tommy Guenther smiled at me. His teeth were as white as his collar and I didn’t dare look at him longer than I should. 

Eventually, I walked home to my studio apartment with that rec-center-blue carpet and cigarette-yellow walls and slept for twenty hours. And when I was awakened by the Tejano music next door, I went outside to smoke a cigarette I didn’t have. I looked around for butts in the sidewalk cracks like a proper street fiend, but there was an old Salvadorean lady out there sweeping the broken concrete clean. I hadn’t smoked in years. Had no idea what I was doing out there, other than looking for a fog to cover my anxiousness. A familiar beat came bumping down the street. But it wasn’t a Honda Accord’s doors rattling up the block but a white 64’ El Camino. Built at the beginning of time to last. It idled down the street like an albino alligator, cruising for carrion. The driver wasn’t familiar to me. But the guy in the passenger seat looked like La Pantera Rosa. Not such a rosy complexion now, though. He looked pale. Although, it could’ve been the brightness of the interior reflecting off his skin. The El Camino stopped abreast of me, in the middle of the street. The driver had on dark sunglasses and a black windbreaker buttoned up to his neck. He leaned over and turned the music down, then looked back at me and nodded. I looked passed him at Flores. He nodded too. For a split-second I thought we were all just being good neighbors, milling out mellow motions on another blue-skied day, but the driver had to go and ruin it by placing a Glock 22 on his window seal. I looked over at the old lady sweeping the sidewalk, but she was minding her own business and making her way in the other direction. I walked over to the El Camino, making my way over to Flores’ side, thinking about where the MP9 was in my apartment.  

“Missed you at Barndall Park.” Flores looked bored.  

“You weren’t the only one.” I told him.  

“I know, saw you talking to that Fed yesterday.” Like it was nothing to flaunt his omnipresence. “You should get in the back.” His head gestured towards the bed of the El Camino.  

“You think I dimed you out to the Feds?”  

Flores looked at me, straight-on. “I know you didn’t. But you should get in the back. We’re gonna go for a ride.”  

“A ride where?” But I already knew. Flores and Guenther were on the same wavelength. Maybe even on each other’s speed dials. Bonner had Hosseini and his partner had Flores. The sick games men play. Tall versus Small.  

“You already know, motherfucker. Get in the back.” Flores’ eyes went all angry. 

“Get in the back, bitch.” The driver waved his Glock at me, seeing now that his black windbreaker had a Raiders logo on the chest. 

All had on was a faded blue Batman t-shirt and black UCLA basketball shorts. Barefoot and fancy free.

Okay. I got in the back of the El Camino, and when the thing roared up to Pico and took a left, and soared all the way to the Westside like Johnny Gold, I knew exactly where we were going. We passed Fox Studios and Hillcrest Country club across the street. A dozen or so groups playing golf. It was a fine day. Like every other day. It made you forget, this town. The silvery light of the Southland obliterates your hippocampus each day into a smile of moving dementia. There’s no other place you’d rather be. Because forgetting is living. How else can you live in the now? Just find where the sun shines and turn up Veteran and head straight towards the Santa Monica Mountains. Right on Sunset. Left on Bellagio and swirl up the serpentine stairs towards switchback heaven. You’ve taken this trip before. But never in the back of a white, El Camino. It was nice. The driver taking his time on the turns, like a nice, family drive up into the mountains. The eucalyptus trees towered over us, their slender leaves waggling like green arrows in the breeze. You could close your eyes and imagine you were in paradise, taking deep breaths and smelling the mint and citrus in the air. The turbo V-8 rumbling through your ears and up your backside, along your spine, could lull you into false hope. But those two dudes in the cab keep your eyes open, because this wasn’t a visit between friends.  

The El Camino came to stop under those trees by the tennis court. Big Willie and I had sat in the same place wondering who it was that Cliff was meeting. Guenther had told me outside Alvarado Terrace whose tennis court that was. Agassi. The dude wearing the Raiders windbreaker shut the Camino off and the sounds of California scrub-jays could be heard all around us in the trees.  

“I heard you got my money out of that storage unit.” Flores said, through the open passenger window. The fop of a tennis ball could be heard going back and forth on the court.  

“We did.” Although Willie had done all the heavy lifting. “Last time I saw it, it was in a garage in Westwood.” I looked over and could just make out two figures through the trees. “But it ain’t there anymore.”  

Flores nodded in my periphery. “Now it’s here.”  

“That what Guenther told you?” 

La Pantera Rosa, who wasn’t pink at all, opened the passenger door and got out of the car. He looked to be favoring his left leg. The dude driving got out of the car too. He wasn’t favoring anything but that Glock in his hand. I got out of the back of the El Camino because the end of a line was near and I desperately wanted to see what it looked like. We three stood there under a mammoth Eucalyptus tree and looked toward the tennis court. The scrub-jays were still chattering and the tennis ball was in a rhythmic twang off the rackets. Two out of three of us had shoes on.

“Anybody else see the irony here?” It was a line I’d heard in a movie. It was something I did when I couldn’t think of anything to say. They just seem to pop up.  

Flores and his boy looked at each other over the hood of the car. I was standing at the tailgate, wishing someone would finally get me. “Tennis.” I stated. “Agassi, tennis…” I shook my head. “Forget it.” Resigned to a reality gone rogue.  

“It’s a popular name in Armenia.” The dude in the Raiders windbreaker saw me.  

Flores gave his boy a nod and they both started towards the little, parking spot where Cliff’s Beamer was parked. Three steps led up to a chain-linked door that went onto the court. I followed but hung back. The tennis court had been built at the bottom of a canyon wall. It was lousy with kudzu overgrowth. The place was dark and green and the feeling of being sheltered permeated everything. Flores was limping for sure. His left leg bothering him as he made it to the gate and lifted up the latch. His driver was standing a step below him, still with that Glock out, when his head exploded all over the chain-linked fence. His body slumped down the steps before I even heard the gunshot echo down the canyon. He was still holding on to his gun as it clacked on the concrete.  

La Pantera turned to look over his shoulder with little surprise and then walked out onto the court. Price to pay for admittance. He knew exactly what he was getting into. But there was no way he could be thinking he’d get what he was owed. That shot had come from somewhere along the ridge, hidden in all that kudzu. Agassi was playing a more ruthless game. Assassins in the trees was not the game of checkers Flores was brushing out. I shot up the stairs and onto the court, not wanting to lose any pickings on this fine day.  

Agassi was sitting in a chair along a concrete retaining wall, drinking water from a plastic bottle. Cliff was over by a small toolshed putting tennis balls away, pretending not to shit his pants. Both were acting as if no one’s brains were just blown all over the court. Or maybe they were just secure in the fact that they had hound out there in the woods with screaming bullets to protect their backs. Agassi’s gaze finally swept over to us, as if we were there to scape some land for one of his many properties. Flores was breathing heavily, sweat on his brow. I hung back, looking at Cliff. We were more alike in this setting than I thought possible. Both beat-up bystanders lurking on the edges of powerful blades.  

“What’s up Arden?” Flores managed.  

Arden Agassi. He looked like the guy in county lock-up with me and Willie. But he didn’t have any tattoos. He had the requisite bald head, but he had a lanky frame from seeing many days of light leisure. And he was definitely the guy in the lady’s apartment that was arguing with Hosseini. But who was the guy in jail with us? I could feel the kudzu moving out there on the ridge. The hairs on the back of my neck rising up. Looking over my shoulder through the chain-linked fence, all I could see was a vast wall of green; the light breeze causing a wave effect in the foliage.  

“Miguel.” Agassi picked something off the end of his tongue and flicked it away.  

Miguel Flores. Like his father. Two families that went way back. Armenians and Salvadoreans in the land of the sun. “Where’s my money?” Flores asked, not really giving a fuck about history of families.  

Agassi squinted. “What money?” 

Flores looked over his shoulder at me. That’s my I’m here. To bear witness. “The money in that blue barrel.” I croaked. “We found it in a storage unit down in Torrance.”  

The Armenian didn’t seem surprised by any of this. Hosseini had hit him up already, no doubt. “Curious place, isn’t it.”  

Flores and I didn’t know who he was addressing. We looked at each other and flickered our eyebrows. “The storage spot?” I finally asked. 

“It was my brother’s idea.” Agassi began. “It was bait. Trying to lure you down there.” He looked at Flores. “But you didn’t take it. Pretty neat play, I’ll give you that. Sending those two down there.” He looked at me. “What was your promised percentage?” 

“Twenty.” I almost yelled it. Flores didn’t bother to look at me. Hoping on hope that somebody would honor an arrangement. Maybe somebody would get paid. At least walk away with something. And immediately I felt a twinge; a tug from a discorporate hand on my shoulder. A cold touch from friend already forgotten.  

“Twenty percent of what, exactly?” Agassi asked.  

Flores looked confused. “Two mil…”  

“This is why you’ve failed, Miguel.” Arden told him. “You don’t treat people with the proper respect.” He nodded my way. “The man’s cut would’ve been a few million more than that.” He had his legs crossed and brushed something off his white shorts.  

La Pantera gave me a mystified look. “How much was in that barrel.” He asked me.  

I didn’t really know exactly. Just what Willie had said, offhandedly. “Thirty million.” Saying it anyway.  

“What?” Flores’ mouth was left open. The number didn’t make sense to him and he looked back at Agassi. “Bullshit.” He shook his head. “You keeping thirty million in a barrel down in a storage unit… no.”  

Agassi uncrossed his legs and pressed his hands to his thighs and stood up. He had a crooked smile on his face. “As opposed to two million?” He laughed, sounding like a crow with laryngitis. “I told you, it was ruse put together by my brother.” His head turned towards the kudzu ridge.  

His brother was the sharpshooter out there. But what was he doing in county two days ago? He got himself arrested on purpose. Or he was arranged to be put in there. “You and your brother are twins?” I asked. 

That got a sharp gaze from Agassi. He’d taken a few steps toward Cliff and had stopped in his tracks. “You’ve met him, then.”  

“In county lock-up two days ago.” I told him.  

The Armenian raised his chin in recognition. “Bonner.” He stated. “He wanted to know what you and your gorilla knew.”  

Gorilla. The man could be hated enough. He accepted it and reveled in it. He stared at me, wanting me to challenge him. This was all he had left in life. He had everything else. Now, he had to entertain himself. Pull the strings and watch them dance.  

“Why you so afraid of him?” I asked.  

Agassi blinked. “Afraid of whom?” 

“Big Willie Winsboro.” 

“Who?” Agassi was in no way convincing in his naivety. “Oh, the big black man who lives in the alley.” He turned and continued walking towards Cliff, who was standing by the toolshed, still putting tennis balls away. I wondered why he was there. I was a golf pro, right?

“You know he lives in the alley behind that building Hosseini owns. I saw you there last night, arguing in that lady’s apartment.” That stopped him again. “What’s that lady to you?” 

Agassi seemed to slump over a bit. Only the weight of family can do that to a body. Albatrosses around necks and such. “Yes, you were lurking out there. Where is the stone, Mr. Mangham?” 

“Probably in some bedpan at Ronald Reagan.” I told him.  

His eyes narrowed into slits. “I got the fucking thing.” Flores blurted. We all looked at him. Even Cliff. “Just a fucking marble.” He held it up between his thumb and forefinger. The sunlight reflecting more than that. “Tell that motherfucker out there to take his barrel off the back of my head, if you want this.”  

“It would be rolling my way before your body hit the court.” Agassi told him.  

Flores nodded and put his hand down. “I just want the money that’s owed to me.”  

“On the place in Filipinotown.”  

“Motherfucker…” Flores’ couldn’t comprehend why the man was playing it this way. Like all of this was news to him. Agassi nodded and walked over to the other side of the toolshed. Our gazes followed him over there and saw the blue, plastic barrel for the first time, tucked in the corner, hidden by the shed.  

“Well, if you’ve come to collect, you’ve come to collect.” Agassi motioned to Cliff, who hopped to it, going over to the barrel which one on the other side of the tool shed, and dragging it out to the center of the court.  

Flores and I were standing just on the other side of the net. Cliff was out of breath and staring at the barrel and the job he’d done dragging it over to the center. Agassi had followed him and stepped around to take the lid off the thing. “By all means.” He smiled, holding the lid up. 

We couldn’t see inside the barrel from where we were standing. About twenty feet away. Flores looked at me. I looked at him. This was all very strange. A bag-man-meet-up on a tennis court in Bel-Air. And Agassi was no bag man with that twin out there with a scope on us. I shook my head. Cliff was looking at the Armenian for a cue. He gave it with a slight nod and Cliff kicked the barrel over.  

It fell over and rolled a bit. Paper poured out of the opening and twitch fibers moved in our legs. The money is loose! Gather it up! Our loins were speaking to us. Our stomachs had dropped.  

“Shit.” Flores yelled.  

I moved too. But only up to the net when the paper flying around turned out to be something other than cash. Cut-up pieces of paper. Old newspaper and white printing paper, cut into small pieces. A strong breeze kicked up and flicked the paper into a tiny whirlwind. Confetti in the wind.  

Flores had walked up to the net and stood in the barrage of dry pulp. But there wasn’t a look of surprise on his face. Only anger. He stared at Agassi from across the net. “Motherfucker.” He stated, again.  

“I told you it was ruse.” Agassi reiterated. “A set-up. You have to wonder how you heard about such a thing. A barrel of money in a storage unit in Torrance. Absurd.” He kind of scoffed.  

An important thing to point out, how we all get lead astray. Dollars to donuts it had something to do with family. And La Pantera knew it. He was gritting his teeth, not looking at Agassi any longer. He watched the swirl of monopoly money meander itself all over the tennis court. He sort of smiled, or grimaced, and shook his head. “Fucking Ed.” He said.  

“What?” I was still present and looking for answers for some reason.  

“Ed.” He looked at me. “She got it from Beebe who got it from Erik.” He shook his head. “Motherfucker. Should’ve known those tweakers were just bait.” He turned his attention back to Agassi. “But that’s how you roll, huh Arden.” 

“Excuse me?” He was watching the paper swirl. 

“Erik was your son.” 

Agassi thought about it, a flicker of something in his eyes, like, was he my son? “He had his own path.” Was all he had to say about that dude. 

“All this shit for some family heirloom.”  

“Which you still have.” He looked over towards the ridge.  

Flores remembered he still held it in his hand. He opened his fist and the opal rested in his palm. He tossed it in the air, caught it as it came down. Agassi watched it closely go up and down and land with a soft thwap. “You got nothing to give me for it and gun to the back of my head.” The Pantera started. “I should just give it up, huh.” He looked at the stone in his hand. “I don’t get it. My old man…” Flores shook some memories back into their caves. “What the fuck did he ever see in it?” 

“Glory.” Agassi croaked, and left it at that.  

“Fuck does that mean?”  

Agassi smiled. How can one explain something like that? A trinket really, passed down through generations. Stolen maybe, at times and lost in others. The fact that it still in someone’s hands and not buried deep in the earth is a wonder. Its extraction is some sort of human glory in itself. If digging in the earth for things you deem precious is not just an arbitrary construction, then yes, it is sublime.  

“It means that you haven’t the capacity to understand it.” Agassi had his hands in his pockets, waiting for something. Pieces of paper were still circling about. He glanced furtively towards the ridge behind us.  

“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Flores said and tossed the marble onto the court. It made a tinkering sound, bouncing into all the fake cash, and disappearing. Then he turned around and faced the kudzu, wanting to see his death coming.  

Agassi was torn. He lost the marble in the swirl of paper, shuffling towards it and looking over to see his twin bring the doom to Flores. He was a rodeo clown dancing about, not sure where the bull would turn. But the shot from the ridge didn’t come. The breeze had picked up and a lawnmower could be heard whirring on another property. The foliage out on the ridge was moving in waves. La Pantera and I stood there for a while, waiting. Agassi still jumbled about behind us, his confetti-ruse in the air all around him, the marble lost again. He could’ve been just another old soul on skid-row, chasing dead dreams. I thought about Brenda and that hard, cement corner she died in. Pretty sure which family member put that bullet in her head. But the reasoning behind it still eluded me.  

Eventually Flores limped off the tennis court, and I wasn’t far behind him. We left Agassi and Cliff there to sift through needless paper and varnished stones. While Flores lumbered down the steps to the El Camino, I paused and looked into the ridge of green overgrowth. Where had the shooter gone? Or was he still out there, gone to boredom in the Bel-Air hills. The El Camino came to life like an old, sleeping dragon. He didn’t even look up as he backed the beast out into the street, leaving me and his headless compatriot in the dust.

I moved up into the ridge along little pathways, losing myself in the kudzu, finding grape vines here and there. Switchbacking up the ridge, I came to a little spot where a bench was hidden behind a big sugar bush. I sat down and could see the tennis court through small openings in the bush. There was an empty shell in the dirt. Some boot prints. It was really quiet. No sirens could be heard. Folks minded their business in these hills. I sat there and sniffed the lemonade berry bush that was all along the ridge. Then I saw the Agassi twin down by the tennis court, pulling Flores’ man up the three steps. He took the dead man’s Raiders windbreaker off and gave it a look. He was holding it up with both hands, giving it a good gander, seeing some blood on it and shrugging, then putting it on and dragging the man onto the court. 

I almost threw-up, but I didn’t.  

There was a path that went down to Chalon, on the other side of the hill that put you down by a golf-course. Part of Bel-Air Country Club. Bellagio ran along its western side and I just walked it down to Sunset and then to Veteran, and made my way back to Ronald Reagan. It was a Tuesday afternoon and the place was quiet. The personnel at the front desk looked at me as if I needed medical attention and I was in the right place. No, I told them, I was here to see about some folks who had it far worse. But Beatrice Bonilla and Willie Winsboro had both checked themselves out against medical advice. Beebe probably had some help. Her sister Ed, no doubt, being the bridge to Flores getting the stone. I wondered if they knew that it was tossed into memory on a tennis court just a few minutes north of there. Probably didn’t care. Just glad to be done with the thing. Which was a sentiment I could relate to. But there was always something unfinished.  

I walked down to Wilshire and made my way back to Barrington, stopping for a moment near that dilapidated church on the hill, on government land. The structure had a chain-linked fence around it, but there was an opening along the eastern side that some zombies had made, but something about the place was just sad. It was something to look at and not touch. It would get knocked down eventually, if someone like Hosseini had his way. But it’s the way of the west. You see it all the time in this city. There’s not much for remembering. Empty lots don’t have much shelf-life. Build something new, please and let us forget. It’s a blissful place to live if you give into it.  

The 7-Eleven was quiet and I walked through it towards the alley, not thinking about hot dogs or malt liquor. Big Willie’s tent and every other belonging was nowhere to be found. Someone had come along and taken that futon. Maybe Willie had come along, his first stop after the hospital. But I searched up and down the alley to no avail. No Big Willie Winsboro. So, I went back up to Hosseini’s building and shoved my way into Jackie’s place for one last look. There was nothing in there. The place was cleaned out. Cliff had done his job. Bastard. Nothing in that apartment but giant, dust dunes on the wooden floor where the couch used to be. I walked the place like a landlord on loan. Looking at empty rooms like they were someone’s future rather than sad rooms for ghosts. Jackies bedroom closet had been emptied. What would they do with her clothes? Goodwill probably. Then the thought of where Jackie’s body would finally lay, pulverized my thoughts. I’d asked Larsen a thousand years ago, who would identify her body, and he never answered me. Did she have a will?  

Out of that empty apartment ready for rent and up the steps towards Cliff’s place. His door wasn’t even locked. I stepped in and went straight for the patio to that far corner where the safe was still sitting.  

Finally found Big Willie Winsboro down in Skid Row. He looked alright for a man who’d just had three bullets removed from his torso. He’d lost some weight and his jorts hung half-way down his ass. But I don’t think that was much of a fashion change. It taken me about two weeks to track him down. The thought of him going back to Skid Row only entering my head when a nightmare about Brenda woke me up at three o’clock in the morning. Images of dark tunnels and brains along the walls still lingering when I parked the Toyota at a meter along 6th and Los Angeles. Willie was sitting in the same place we’d found Brenda; along the curb on 6th just before San Pedro. His bare feet in the gutter, not caring about the broken glass and needles and human feces. It was a hot day and he had no shirt on and you could see the pink, puckered marks on his chest and stomach where the bullets came and went. He looked up at me and spat out yellow juice from the licorice root that was in his mouth. His face a little gaunt and ashen. But still a miraculous healing human being. 

“Been looking for you.” I told him. “Hospital said you checked yourself out.” I shook my ahead in astonishment.  

“Ronald Reagan.” He snorted. “You believe that shit?” 

Sure, I thought, he was the governor of California once. So was Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’d be a hospital named after him shortly. “They took everyone there. Makes sense for the Feds.”  

“You still talking to them Janssen motherfuckers?” 

I shook my head. “I looked for you in the alley. What’re you doing down here?” Looking around at all sorts of folks living filthy and free.  

Willie tilted his head towards the sky and closed his eyes, letting the sun wipe away guilt and regret and all that lay there waiting for sleep. “Seemed like a good spot to be.” His eyes still closed. “I owed it to Brenda, at least.” He opened his eyes and looked at me.  

It made sense in some street level dharmic way. “The man that killed her is still walking about.” I told him. 

“Why’d they kill her?” Willie asked. 

“The opal.” Shaking my head. “She let it go. Let Miguel keep it. Let herself go. I don’t know.” And I truly didn’t. 

“That fucking marble.” He spit more yellow juice on the blackened street.  

“Yeah, that fucking marble.” Agreeance is fertile.  

So many things that were still bothersome. “What about Merchant? He still fucking with you?” Big Willie took the root from his mouth and ran his tongue over his teeth, and it occurred to me why he was down here in Skid Row.  

“No.” Shaking my head. “Haven’t heard from him.” I told the big man about what Guenther laid out to me, the four dead down in Long Beach. “I don’t know if they put it together or even care. Small Johnson got what he wanted… what’s it matter now?” 

“Just a game white people play.” He stuck the root back in his mouth. “But Hosseini got away.” He smiled like he had cigar in his mouth.  

“You like the man.”  

“Respect him maybe. Maybe.” He thought about it. “Motherfucker, all he really had to do was move away.” He raised his eyebrows. “I mean, shit, the man just went on vacation after all that.” He shook his head. “Gotta give it to him.”  

I looked at Willie a long time. “How you know he left?” He was in the hospital when Beebe and I went by his place.  

Winsboro squinted up at me and smiled. “What I heard, anyways.”  

Heard from whom? But I didn’t ask. I knew. The man was still somehow tethered to Hosseini. Committed murders and served as supreme bag man. Now they were both hiding out. Fuck em’. They are where they belong. Willie here and his master wherever he was. I found one, I’d find the other. Because I didn’t bother telling the big man what I’d found in Jackie’s safe.  

It had a false bottom. A flash drive with spread sheets. Laying out all of Hosseini’s properties and finances. Jackie was good at what she did. Whatever that was. Security and spreadsheets and gathering of lost stones.  

But what now? 

Hosseini would have to be at one of these places on Jackie’s sheet. Willie didn’t have to help. And I’d lied to him anyway. Didn’t tell him that Merchant helped me out. Jackie didn’t have a next of kin, so he had me come in and identify her body. She’d also made out a will that was in that false bottom. She wanted to be cremated. I had the remains in a small wooden box some kid had made in shop class. Maybe that kid was me. I asked Big Willie if he wanted to take a drive out to the Palisades.  


“You never went out there with her?” 


We took the 10 west until it veered into a tunnel heading north on the 1. I still had the Mustang. No one ever came looking for it. Made me wonder what the previous owner was into. We hung a right up Temescal Canyon and another right on Sunset and back through a neighborhood of million-dollar houses. It was a sleepy place on a plateau that ended at a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There was bench out on a grass precipice. We sat out there with the box of ashes between us.  

“Damn dog.” Was all Willie could manage.  

“I know, man.”  

Blue on blue on white.  

“Shit, man.” Willie took a deep breath. He looked at the box. “She wanted her ashes out there?” He nodded his head at the Pacific. 

“I don’t know. Her will didn’t say anything like that. Just said she wanted to be cremated.” The ocean was a flat sheet of pale electric. The horizon was a hard white melting of nitrogen into water.  

Willie didn’t say anything for a while. Neither did I. Jackie was there in-between us. Then the nag took over. “How’d you get to be a mercenary?” I asked him. “You blowing out your knee and all in college. Couldn’t’ve made it in the army after that, right?” 

With the licorice root in his mouth, Big Willie Winsboro just smiled at me.  


Chapter Sixteen

Nobody Wants to Die in Louisiana.

That someone else was the person that wanted the opal the most. But I had to find the stone first. Assuming LAPD didn’t have it, I had to arrange a meeting. Someone had texted from Jackie’s phone. It had to be Beebe just out of jail. I couldn’t figure it any way else.  

I texted her back. “Where do you wanna meet?” 

Barnsdall Park.  

Her killing ground.  

It made me wonder if she was in her right mind. If she ever was. Women are crazy, right. Hysterical homilies running through their heads. Men unable to decipher anything coming from their mouths. But I was trying not to get stuck in that whirlpool of thought. Beebe Bonilla had made it this far. She had her own story. And she’d been smart and wily enough to get into this position. I couldn’t go in blindly.

Big Willie had put the Smith & Wesson in the glove box of the Camaro. I had to believe that she wouldn’t be alone. Regardless of how La Pantera Rosa felt about Beebe, there was money on the table. I waited until dark and parked two blocks down on Kenmore and walked in with the MP9 at the small of my back. Creeping up the western slope like I knew something about being a stealthy soldier. The hill was mostly manicured, so the going wasn’t too tough. I reached the plateau with most of my breath still intact.  

Crouching down, I could make out a group of people in the lined trees. Same spot where Erik got got. I counted six guys, plus Beebe, Ed and their older brother. Money is thicker than diluted blood lines. They were all strapped and ready. Beebe hadn’t said a word about being alone. Or to come alone. But they had to know I wasn’t carrying that barrel of cash up those steps from the parking lot.  

Unless they thought Big Willie was with me.  

I was still crouching there on the western edge of that great, flat lawn when I saw a flash of something. It was more like a gleam. A catching of the sepia park-lights hidden in the trees over there, further to the left of where I’d marked Beebe. A dark shape was moving along a bush. The gleam shimmered again, and I knew what it was. Who it was.  

A badge on a chest.  


But no Martinez. Could be he was down in the parking lot, waiting to escort me up. Wonder if Hosseini knew his pet pigs were drawing paychecks from MS-13? They just shot to kill a man. For the real-estate tycoon. Was Hosseini’s reach more Byzantine than I thought? Was he working Martinez and Matos against Flores? Pink Panther wasn’t that naïve. He’d know what dirty cops were like. Which means they’d have to know about Big Willie. But not about the money. They didn’t know it was in Hosseini’s garage. I stayed crouched there for a long time. Waiting. Watching. It’s what I did best. Seeing it all go by. The world spin, and the people come and go. Out along the edges. Never touching and never being touched by it. A place I knew well. A good place for inertness. Waiting for the world to come to you. They don’t tell you to live your life that way. They tell you to grab it by the horns. Be the aggressor. Be a go-getter. I hadn’t lived my life that way. I’d stayed back, crouched along the edges, just like now. Anxious for what the night will bring. Crouched and gawking for the hawk to pounce. And the world didn’t let me down.  

A bright light hit the row of trees.  

A beam from above.  

A deep thwapping could be felt in the chest and the tops of the trees were swaying. A helicopter with a search light. Everyone looked up. I did for a second, and then watched the search light hit the group in the trees.  

Matos was the first one to disappear. Down the hill towards the parking lot. But came right back up, trailed by dudes with bulletproof vests that read FBI. The vatos in the trees ran in the other direction, but there were more FBI agents rambling up the southside of the plateau. They were boxed in.  

Then somebody started shooting. 

I don’t know who it was that shot first. But the Feds opened up and it was nothing to be happy about. Things were blurred with movement and gun smoke. I didn’t dare move at first. Frozen in my crouch, it was happening so fast. Trying to keep my eye on Beebe. But I lost track of her. The frenzy became too much, and I had to move. Down the side of the hill that I’d come up and around to the parking lot. Slow, slow, slow. Keeping my head down and crouching between the few cars that were parked in the lot. Sporadic gunfire could be heard. Peaking over the hood of a Kia Soul. There’s a guy with the government’s acronym stenciled on his back. He’s carrying an assault rifle. He’s lingering under the sepia lot light. The last one, left behind from the staging point. His back was to me, and his head cocked up, looking at the hill. He was missing out on the action. Maybe that’s why he didn’t see the dark figure slithering down the hill on the north side of the park. Not using the concrete stairwell but snaking through the trees.  

I don’t know how I saw her, but I knew who it was right away.  

Somehow, she’d escaped again. Beebe Bonilla, the artist. She had a knack.  

The FBI agent didn’t see her coming until it was too late. But he did see her. Raised his gun, then his head whipped back and he crumpled like a drunk.  

Perfect headshot. She was a stone-cold killer.  

Beebe walked towards me, stepping over the agent. I stayed down, but she knew I was there, behind that Kia Soul. Then remembered the two guns and pulled them and stood up straight. She was about twenty feet away and smiled at me. Her gun down by her side.

“Where the fuck you been?” Beebe asked.  

I looked around, trying to find words to answer her, and shook my head instead. “I been around.” Saying finally.  

Beebe kind of giggled and looked around. “Where you got that money stashed?” 

She didn’t even blink. Didn’t even care if I was packing. Maybe she didn’t even think I had it in me. To pull a gun on her. To shoot a person, much less a woman. Point blank range when all the world was looking for her.  

“It’s in a garage in Westwood.” I told her.  

Now she blinked. Maybe she didn’t have me all that pegged. “Westwood?” Her mind was turning like those blades on that helicopter still thwapping above us. Slashing its spotlight every which way.  

“Fucking Flores.” She shook her head.  

“Which one?” 

Beebe shot me a glare. “A garage in Westwood, huh.” She nodded. “Your boy not around to carry it.”  

“Matos tell you she and her partner shot him down in a fucking 7-Eleven.” I wanted to spit, but my mouth was dry.  

“It’s good to die close to home.” She looked around. Probably thinking she wasn’t that far from home. “Where’s this garage in Westwood?” She asked.  

“You know where your old landlord lives?” 

That confused her. She blinked some more and got all fidgety. Her fingers started moving over the gun at her side. “Hosseini?” She asked, but her uncertainty was like a hidden dagger.  

“Who you think called in the calvary?” 

It made sense to Beebe. A flat slate of recognition laid out calmly on her face. She nodded, slightly. “It’s always good to have some white friends.”  

“Is that what Persians are?” 

“I don’t know what the fuck a Persian is.”  

“Your friend all the same.”  

“Hosseini?” She spat. 

I just stared at her. My hands still lingering behind my back. I was surprised she hadn’t said anything. It was such an odd gesture to be frozen in. She probably knew what was at the small of my back. Maybe she wanted me to go for them. A duel. A duel in the police spotlight.  

“You lived in his building.” 

Beebe grimaced. “That was Erik, man. He worked that deal out with Hosseini. His dad and shit.” She looked over her shoulder.  

The action was all back there. No more gunshots could be heard. The night bird was still circling. The spotlight hit the parking lot and we both ducked down. Beebe coming around the car to crouch down with me.  

“The Agassi’s wanted that opal back.” I said, leaning my back against the Kia, feeling pain in my bent knees.  

“Erik wanted that.”  

“The opal?” 

“Yeah. When he found out Jackie had it, next door, shit man, he fucking nutted in his fucking pants, man.”  

“He killed her.”  

“Been trying to tell you.”  

The nightbird circled away from us and seemed to take all the oxygen with it. There was just dust left to breath. “Why’d you kill him?”  

“He was…” She shook her head and looked towards the entrance of the parking lot. Cars kept on rolling by on Hollywood Blvd. They were used to helicopters in the sky. It’s a big city. Lots of things happening. “You know why.” She looked at me and all the hardness in her eyes went away. There could’ve been regret in there somewhere.  

“He killed Jackie Meaux.”  

“For that fucking opal.”  

I sat down on my ass. Knees up, gun biting into my lower back. I took it out and Beebe didn’t seem to mind. “People get killed for less.”  

“Where’d you park?” Beebe sidestepped my forlorn flippancy.  

“Couple blocks down.” I pointed East.  

“Think we can make a break for it?” 

And there it was. I could feel the slotting of things. A slight nudge in a new direction. The taking over of a role that someone else had held for some period of time. A new man. A new job. She needed a new Clyde. But to what end? A hail of bullets in Arcadia. Some dumpy town in Louisiana. Not even a town really. Just a gas station. A stop-over crowded with pine trees and wide ditches that could be confused as bayous if you were counting them.  

Nobody wants to die in Louisiana.  

Beebe Bonilla didn’t wait for me to answer. She just got up and ran for the exit of the parking lot. And I found myself following her. But my heart wasn’t in it. I don’t know if it was old age or what. Just couldn’t be following women around anymore. Not like that. Had I ever? Yes, to a certain extent with Jackie. One day you look up and find yourself in a strange city. Los Angeles. And wonder why you’re here. Why you stay here. Cause you have one friend. And one friend only. So, where else are you going to go? Making friends is so hard when you get older.  

Beebe was out on Hollywood Blvd at this point. Running down the sidewalk with a strange gait. LAPD was nowhere to be found. A tacit agreement with the G-Men. The Armenians were nowhere to be found. Tacit agreement with the G-Men. The Salvadoreans were going down. Made sense who was more Anglo. As much as I wanted to point her towards Hosseini and let her rip, it wasn’t the move right now. Going into this meet, I thought it was, but the man had the FBI on speed dial.   

What now or whatever. The magnificent malaise again. You chose one or the other. You care or you don’t care. Both have consequences. I caught up to Beebe. She’d turned left on Kenmore and she was slowing down. Something was slowing her down. She had a hand to her lower back. 

“You okay?” I asked, weakly, out of breath.  

Beebe stopped and looked back at me. “I think somebody shot me in the ass.”  

I looked at her butt. It was a nice butt. It was too dark to see anything but the round shape of things. We kept trudging along. That helicopter was still circling the hill behind us. Finally, some cop cars came racing down Hollywood Blvd. None of them paid any attention to us. Watching that nightbird in the air. It was their beacon.  

The Camaro was where I’d left it. Nobody cared about a stolen car, either. We both hopped in and headed away from Hollywood Blvd. It wasn’t until we cut down Normandie and hit Beverly that I was able to breathe again. Wasn’t even sure where we were headed but breaking that yolk of Barnsdall sure made the air thinner and crisper. I had the windows down and cruised down Beverly with some Zam-Rock playing. Witch playing No Time. I was feeling loose. At the end of something. Still had no idea where we were going, but it felt good somehow. Or maybe I did know where we were going and could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  



Beebe hadn’t said anything since we’d gotten in the truck. Thought for sure she’d have something shitty to say about my wheels. She was just propped on her left hip, lips pressed together like angry fault-lines.   

“You still got that opal?” 

 “Yeah, I swallowed it before your boys squeezed me.”  

I blinked. My boys. “Matos was just going through the motions, huh.”  

“She goes back with us a ways, but yeah, she had no choice. That fool Martinez is a fucking dope.”  

She goes back with us a ways. We hit a bunch of green lights and cruised all the way down to Rossmore without seeing a cop car. “Who posted your bail?” 

“Who you think?” 

I didn’t have to. Her sister, Ed, had slipped out of the dragnet. She’d probably gotten word to her brother, La Pantera Rosa. “You swallowed the stone?” Going back to that. 

“Still waiting to shit it out.”  

Um, okay. I guess we’ll just ask Hosseini if she can use his bathroom. We took a left on Rossmore and burned down towards Wilshire. Not rubber, but exhaust. That Camaro had been built in a different time. But nobody notices in Smog City.  

“That all you care about?” She asked. 

“It’s an heirloom a certain family might want back.”  

“Agassi.” She spat. 

“How did Erik lose the stone?” I asked.  

“What?” She blinked, and a tear rolled down her cheek. 

I stayed silent, watching the road, afraid to look over in the chance that I might glimpse a shade of compunction from her. Too late. The plomo had poisoned her. She was in full on remorse mode. Flipping through the rolodex of years in her mind’s eye.  

“I did love him.” She finally said.  

Still didn’t have any words for her. Moments like that make you think if answers aren’t your thing. Forever caught in the curve of the question mark. It’s a comfortable place to be. Answers have the flatness of finally meeting nothing. What’s there left after the solution? 

“There was at time…” She started and stopped. “There’s always a time, right.”  

We cruised passed the tar pits and LACMA on our right. Right across the street was an art installation. Concrete, freeway dividers, stood up lengthwise. Captain America painted on one. The Kirby Cap. JFK and Reagan on other dividers. Nelson Mandela with his arms crossed, smiling.  

“I don’t know.” Beebe was still ruminating. “It’s always good in the beginning. Then you stop caring when the hurt comes in.” She shook her. “Stupid shit. Petty shit. Dumb-ass resentments.”  

“What stupid shit?” Just making conversation. 

“That stupid fucking stone.” She made a face like she needed to fart. Shifting her body, a little to ease it out. “I used to hide it from him, at first, just to fuck with him. Why though?” She shook her head. “That thing ain’t nothing but poison. Why’d I play with it like it was some secret we could keep?” 

The gauntlet of Beverly Hills came up and we caught some red lights because there’s one every ten feet. Proceed slowly through this ville. Take a gander at all the wares. We’ll even sell them to you if you got enough dough.  

“It might come in handy for you, finally.” I told her.  

The car shifted slightly, as Santa Monica Blvd came up. “What’d you mean?” Beebe asked.  

“Just worry about shitting it out.” I told her, and wondered about how that would go with a bullet in her ass.  

So was Beebe. A grimace carved over her face and she put a hand on her shot buttocks. “I can’t feel it.” She murmured.  

The light turned green, and I wheeled a left onto Santa Monica, and we rolled through Century City. New money usurping. But that was decades ago and nobody really cared. They were just tall, glass buildings gleaming at night.  

“You can’t feel your ass?” 

Westwood coming up, and the Los Angeles California Temple on the left. Its golden statue on top, waiting for a western turn towards the Pacific with the second coming of Jesus. A horn ready to blow for saints in the latter.  

“Where the fuck are we going?” She asked. 

I looked forward and cranked the steering wheel to the left, just missing a line of cars parked along the curb. “We’re going to get your money.” I told her.  

“What money?” She asked. 

A right on Westwood all the way up to Wilshire and another right. “What’d you mean, what money?” I asked Beebe.  

“My butt feels weird.” She stated.  

It took a minute to turn left on Westholme. Car zooming by. Hosseini’s house came up on the right at Thayer and Le Conte and I pulled up to the curb in front and stopped.  

“This is it, huh.” Beebe pointed out. 

“This is it.”  

“I need to take a shit.”  

 “Just in time.” 

Beebe’s feet touched the ground gingerly. She had an arm over my shoulders, and she winced, her face a wrinkled plain of agony. “It was Ed’s idea.” 

We started for Hosseini’s front door, slowly. “What idea?” 

“To have Buddy take a look at the thing.” We made it up the concrete walk and I rang the doorbell. “Maybe it was worth something we thought. Get something for our pain, you know.” No one had answered the door yet. Beebe motioned to sit down on a white bench a few feet to the left of the door. She sat down, leaning over on the cheek that had no bullet lodged in it. “Our pain.” She scoffed. “That’s how she sold it to me. She didn’t get what I got. That’s for sure.” Beebe Bonilla looked out at the lawn and nodded toward something. “You got the right house, Easy Money?” 

Turning to look over my shoulder, I saw a for sale sign.  

P & C Real Estate. 

His own fucking company.  

There were big windows to the right of the front door. Peering in them didn’t give you the impression that Hosseini had moved. Furniture was still there. Everything looked like people were still living there. Since this morning. They couldn’t have moved that quickly.  

But they could’ve left.  

Leaving Beebe on the bench, I ran down to the garage. There were no windows on the garage doors. Along the side, that faced the house, was a door that wasn’t locked. I opened it. Cars were gone and the barrel of dough too. Splitsville, U.S.A. They put the house up and would sale everything in it. As is. Fucking Andrea. Played me like a mandolin.  

I walked back up to the house. Beebe was in the bushes, popping a squat.  

Chapter Fourteen

Where the Motes Dance and the Atoms collide, and the Bones are Wet Chalk.

Our mamas weren’t the same. But our friendship to Jackie might’ve been in the same ballpark. But it still felt as if Big Willie Winsboro could see the floor, and I still had lumber under my ass. I still didn’t know how she ended up with that opal. And I still didn’t know for sure who cut her throat. Some way, or some time, I’d knew I’d figure it all out.  

We took the barrel up to a house in Westwood. The thing had thirty million dollars in it, Willie finally confessed. And we just rolled up into some dude’s garage on Thayer Ave.  

It wasn’t just some dude, though. It was Jasper Hosseini’s house. It was this church-like thing up on a small green hill, but still nestled in the neighborhood. The house was a bonanza of A-frames, with tan stucco walls and redwood shingles. The garage was built on the low part of the small hill. Two, heavy wooden doors that swung up. We put the blue barrel in the back corner of the garage that housed two Mercedes.  

Hosseini didn’t come out to greet us. Or thank us for recovering his money. I wasn’t sure whether we’d recovered it or stole it. Either way, it was above my pay grade. But speaking of getting paid.  

“Flores promised us four-hundred grand.” I reminded Willie as he lowered the garage door. It made a horrible wrenching noise and the big man looked around to see if any neighbors were disturbed.  

“It ain’t Flores’ to give anymore.” Willie looked uncomfortable in this hood. His steps looked like they were on borrowed time.  

“What’s your boss gonna do with thirty million?” 

Big man rankled at that. “You just got a way about you. Thinking we got to a place, but we really didn’t, did we?” 

“What place did we get to? You still holding on to cards. Playing me out. Tell me what kind of place is that, Willie?” I looked at Hosseini’s house. “Some place where you’re just the help, huh. You only allowed in the garage.”  

I thought he might thump me again; put me to sleep, his jaw was rippled and tight. But his nostrils flaring was only a meditative release. “I owe the man something.” Was all he said. He footed the garage door shut.  

“Jackie owe him too?” I asked.  

He looked at me and then glanced across the street at another two-million-dollar home. “Ever see yourself living in a place like that?” 

“If so, she paid in full.”  

Big Willie nodded. “She did.”  

Some brakes toiled to a stop and we both looked out to the street. A dark Crown-Vic came to a stop in front of the house. Johnson and Johnson got out and adjusted their ties and lingered around their government vehicle. Tall Johnson cleared his throat, and some belligerent crow in a eucalyptus tree yelled back at him. Short Johnson had his hands in his pockets, chin tucked to his chest like he was waiting on some paperwork to be filled out.  

“Fuck they want?” Willie asked.  

“They ain’t here to see us.” I told him.  

His head turned towards me and his eyes were crinkled in question. “What?” 

The front door to the A-Frame-a-thon opened and Mr. Hosseini stepped out and waved a hand at the agents, like they were two family members come to visit for Thanksgiving. Short Johnson kept his hands in his pockets, but Tall Johnson smiled a dumb smile and waved back.  

“What the fuck?” Willie was dumbfounded.  

Tall Johnson started walking up to the front door as his partner kind of hung back and pursed his lips at me. “A business man needs partners, I guess.”  


“You didn’t know?” 

“Fuck you.” Willie was staring at Hosseini.  

The old Persian didn’t bother to look our way. Maybe his neck was too stiff from the fall he took last night. He looked like he was sucking on a Werthers, waiting for his grandchildren to get here. Hands in the nice pockets of his nice, charcoal slacks.  

“Hey!” Willie raised his voice. 

The agents kept walking up the cement walkway towards Hosseini; who still hadn’t acknowledged the delivery of thirty million dollars. We’d just cut the lawn and needed to go on to the next house.  

“Hey, motherfucker!” Willie bellowed, and that crow in the eucalyptus squawked and took flight.  

The whole neighborhood was tinged in goose-pimples. Every blade of grass in all the front lawns stood straight as light poles. Johnson and Johnson stopped a few feet away from Hosseini, who sucked his caramel and finally looked our way.  

“You working with these two crackers!” Willie accused the man. 

A few more birds took off, not wanting to see a man of means get yelled at in his own neighborhood like that. It was shameful. The FBI agents were thinking the same thing. Looking from us to Hosseini, like, you gonna take that kind of lip from the help. Mr. Hosseini took his right hand out of his custom pocket and held it up. Like that was all he had to do to silence the plebian.  

“You motherfucker.” Willie said it so only he and I could hear it.  

“What’s it for?” I yelled at the Johnsons.  

They both were still looking over at us. Aviator sunglasses on in the bright morning light. The sky was a brilliant, pale blue. “What?” The tall one asked.  

“The thirty million in the barrel we put in the garage.” I yelled.  

Hosseini was looking around for neighbors who might be snooping. Hands back in his pockets. Tall Johnson looked at him. Hosseini shook his head.  

“What kind of land deal you guys in on?” I yelled some more.  

“Motherfucker.” Willie said.  

I looked at him. “I hope you got more to say than that. You having a seizure?” 

Willie looked at me. “It’s the fucking V.A.”  


“That land is up for sale.” He spit on the ground. “Where Veteran’s Hospital is. All that shit’s for sale.”  

“How you know that?” I asked.  

“It’s all anybody talks about over there.”  

Over there. “You at Veteran’s Affairs much?” 

He shook his head. “7-Eleven.”  

All the loopy-headed, sideways-walking people that come and go from the convenience store, looking for malt-liquor and hot dogs. The things that come out of their mouths are to be ignored. Just put your head down and you won’t see them. I looked from Big Willie to the Johnsons. The short one had his head down. The tall one was saying something to Hosseini.  

“They’re just middlemen.” I told Willie. “What’s this got to do with Jackie?” 

Hosseini and the agents were up there on top of the hill. We were down there by the garage. They were talking, doing their best to ignore us. Just make sure you pick up the grass clippings.  

“Jackie figured out who her neighbors were.” Willie said, out of nowhere.  


Willie turned towards me. “She figured Hosseini was keeping a stable.” He looked up the hill. “Ain’t that right!” He yelled.  

They looked down at us again. This time Hosseini looked nonplussed, shaking his head. Tall Johnson looked annoyed, with his hands on his hips, he nodded at us. “LAPD’s got a warrant out for your arrest. You might wanna break camp and get out of town, I was you.”  

“You was me, huh.” Willie spat in TJ’s general direction.  

“I know, it’s a big stretch, putting myself in your shoes, imagining myself living in a tent in an alley.” Tall Johnson sucked his teeth and shook his head, with this stupid smirk on his face. “But life’s all about what kind of imagination you got. Like can you imagine yourself not living in a tent in an alley. Some people just see the ten feet in front of them. That’s how they get lost.”  

I laughed. Some more crows took flight. “Federal government pays you to sound like a dumbass white man. That’s what’s beyond anyone’s imagination. How you can be out in the world saying and doing the stupidest shit, playing with people’s lives and get a paycheck for it? Cause you’re really bad at what you do.”  

Willie laughed now.  

Tall Johnson’s lips disappeared and he turned towards us. Short Johnson put a palm up, like hold on now.  

“You think I’m bad at what I do.” Tall Johnson managed a forced chuckle. “What is it you’re doing with your life, Elam Mangham? Currently out of work, Elam Mangham.” He took his hands off his waist, getting loose. “Same for Big Willie Winsboro. Wanted for murder.” He looked like he might come down the hill to our level. “Of your own friend. Looks like you’re both doing an amazing job.”  

Short Johnson shook his head. Hosseini looked like he wanted to go back inside. Neighbors were starting to stick their heads out.  

“Again, you’re getting paid to not know a damn thing.” I told TJ. “Shit’s supposedly in your purview, but maybe talk to your partner every once in a while.”  

That stopped him. The tall one looked at the short one. Short Johnson was staring hard at me. “What’s that?” Tall Johnson asked. 

Hosseini said something we couldn’t hear. Johnson and Johnson seemed to listen to him and back off. Hosseini had the front door open and the agents went inside with him. Willie and I stood there and let it happen.  

“Just when I thought we were getting somewhere.” I lamented.  

“Let’s go.” Willie said.  

I was a bit shocked. “What? We’re right here. The end of the line. That fucker can answer for Jackie.” I pointed at the house.  

Willie stepped around me. “He ain’t got nothing to say. But you right, it is the end of the line.” He walked towards my truck.  

Watching him step long and weary towards the stolen Mustang, thoughts of whatever blanched my brain. What now was pushing back. The nexus in the road. It doesn’t matter which road you take. Does it? They both end up in same place.  

Hosseini’s house was quiet. The neighborhood went back to its own business. Willie was getting in the car. His place was known now. Or so he thought. I still didn’t know who killed Jackie Meaux.  

We left Westwood. It was a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Unless you were a millionaire with government friends. So, back down Wilshire we went. Through that beautiful gauntlet of planned palm trees and vast green lawns. Manicured for the dead. Must have been a thousand graves for dead soldiers in that cemetery across from the Fed building. A nice spread to come home to in death. It stretched up towards Bel-Air. A long field of shamrock with hardly a stone to be seen. They were all recessed markers.  

“Pretty place to rest.” Big Willie mused, as we passed.  

Couldn’t argue against that, so I didn’t. We cruised on under the freeway and drove through the Veteran’s center. There was a white church on a hill that was dilapidated and had a chain-linked fence around it. 

“You said the place was up for sale?” I asked. 

“That’s the word around the campfire.” 

“Word on the street.”  

Willie sighed. “Whatever you wanna call it.”  

“Hosseini’s buying it?” 


“He’s buying the land for what? The fed land. The Veteran’s center and all them dead people back there. What’s he gonna do with it all?” 

Big Willie Winsboro looked at me. “What’s it matter?” He spit out of the window.  

The flow of traffic came to a standstill. No one ever knows why this happens. A wreck, people trying to get to the beach, or just too many damn people with cars in a city indentured to rubber and cement.  

“It cost a couple people their lives.” I reminded him. “That matters, motherfucker.”  

That motherfucker snapped Willie out of whatever gloom he had blanketed himself in. He looked over at me, again. “I know it matters.” Was all he had to say.  

“Back there at Hosseini’s, you said something about Jackie figuring out who was living next to her. What’d you mean?” 

“Think about it. She’s working that building downtown. It wasn’t the only thing Hosseini had her on. You know what I mean?” 

I didn’t, and let it ride through my silence, like I was thinking about it. Which I was. Jackie was working other angles for her boss. Okay. What angles? 

Willie was telepathic all of sudden, nodding with my unseen mental tasks. “Assholes coming and going, carrying shit in briefcases. Shit like diamonds and opals.”  

“She knew about the robberies.” I said.  

“Well, she had too, if she was working security in that building.”  

“But she knew the Salvadoreans were ripping certain people off.”  

“She was good, she would know that.”  

“She say anything to you about it?” 

Big Willie made a face, like, what’d you think. We inched along Wilshire. The old, rundown, church stood vigil off to our right. It was something out of an old Western. A sanctuary on a hill. Maybe it was some old set miles away from Gower Gulch.  

“Pretty sure she knew what Erik and Beebe were about.” Willie looked out at the church and seemed transfixed by it. “That Erik had to be the one that brought that stone to Ed’s attention.”  

“What?” I hit the brakes, barely avoiding rear-ending an Audi. “Why would he wanna get rid of the thing?”  

Willie shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he was in a tight spot and needed two-grand.”  

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” Working it out in my head. “Dude was obsessed with the thing. He wouldn’t wanna get rid of it.”  

Willie and I ruminated. Sitting in traffic, not really knowing where we were going. Back to the Jackie’s building. Back to his alley. All of it Hosseini’s anyway. Even that church was Hosseini’s soon.  

“Beebe.” Willie finally said.  

Cars finally started rolling and things opened up to more than a crawl. I pulled the Mustang into the 7-Eleven parking lot. It was packed with cars at this time of the morning. Ten o’clock. The only spot open was a perpendicular place out near the sidewalk. Big Willie was out of the truck and stretching before I could turn the key. He was smiling too. The sun hitting him in the face.  

I got out of the car, giving him a wary look. “You alright?” 

He took a deep, long breath of piss and vagrancy. “Yeah.” Was all he said.  

“Good to be home, I guess.”  

We hadn’t been away all that long. But in L.A. your neighborhood is your neighborhood. Even a convenience store can have the smells of home.  And it was definitely a happening spot. Every spot filled in front of the place. People walking in out and Willie’s people loitering outside. Veterans and all sorts of folks living in the outdoors, in the sunshine.  

We walked toward the entrance and I eyed the cars lined up in front. One of the cars looked familiar. A Crown Vic. Not the Feds though. We knew where they were. No, it had to be Merchant and Larsen. Hanging around, knowing where the man lay his head.  

“Hold up.” I blurted, standing in the middle of the parking lot.  

Willie looked over his shoulder at me, but kept walking.  

My eyes went towards the store. There was a lot of people inside and it was hard to tell if the detectives were in there, buying donuts and coffee.  

“Willie.” Trying to stop him, just for a second.  

“What?” He finally stopped.  

I nodded towards the Crown Vic.  

Big Willie gave it a gander. Then immediately looked inside the store. He didn’t see them in there either. He shrugged and kept walking.  

I went in after him.  

Merchant and Larsen were not in the 7-Eleven. Maybe it was some other plain clothes cops buying coffee and donuts, or whatever mystery-meat they slap on a bun at ten o’clock in the morning. Which a bunch of construction workers were going to town on. The store was filled with yellow hardhats and orange work vests. Men with hard looks working a site across the street, on the corner of Wilshire and Barrington. A new apartment high-rise. An all-glass thing, reflecting blue sky to the multitudes.  

They all looked at Willie like they knew him. All giving him knowing nods and the big man giving them back. He moved through them, towards the back of the store, opening one of the cooler doors and grabbed a big fruit-punch Gatorade. I stood near the front door, not really wanting anything in there. I stepped outside and a wrinkled, old-prune of a man asked me for a dollar. He was hanging out by the trash can. His fingers were black, like he’d plunged his hands in million cans just like it. He had a greyish-yellow beard and lines on his face that went all the way back to the Sumerians. There were no dollars to give him. Just a card to be swiped that one guards with their life. I just shrugged and mumbled at the guy and moved on past him, like a had some better station in life pulling me away.  

When, in fact, I didn’t. Not much separated me from that man. There are a million hairline cracks in the trillions of miles of concrete we’ve built. It’s a miracle if you stay top-side and… 

A LAPD patrol car had pulled up right in front of the mustang. Okay, lots of cops stop at 7-Elevens. But the two cops that got out of that car were familiar to me.  

Martinez and Matos.  

The two patrolmen that cuffed Willie and I on the curb and eventually hauled us downtown. A squirming in my gut made me think of the man’s black fingertips back there, rummaging through what I had left of any intestinal feelings.  

Coincidence is just a word. And this area of West LA is no doubt their beat. But the timing is conspicuous. And that Crown Vic was still there and no plain clothes cops in sight. Martinez and Matos were both looking sheepish. Like they were there for someone specific, but didn’t want them to know that.  

Real subtle.  

They ambled towards me, or the store; couldn’t quite tell. I moved to my left, where I young man was selling flowers. He had a nice set up, selling to the all the young white people, fresh out of UCLA and USC, living in the neighborhood.  

Martinez and Matos eyed me and entered the store.  

Strange. There’s a stolen car right there. They parked right in front of it. Not to mention they had us on the curb just yesterday morning.

I stepped past the shimmer of red and purple and yellow and orange of the flower set-up and walked towards the alley that led back to Jackie’s building and where Big Willie Winsboro lived. The way was silty with loose pebbles. An alley that hadn’t been re-paved in years. Potholes everywhere. It sloped down towards Texas Ave and even further down to Santa Monica Blvd.  

The crunch underfoot was deafening. So quiet.  

Down near Jackie’s building, I stopped. Willie’s tent wasn’t where it was supposed to be. A few more steps and, you could see why. Someone had ransacked it and left it in shambles. The tent and all of his possessions strewn across, and down the alley. It looked like good police work. Or so, those ham sandwiches would tell you. If they have a piece of paper in hand from a judge, they can litter as much as they want. Societal rules don’t apply.  

Being a good human being is out of the door as well. You cease to be one when they think you’ve committed a crime. Especially murder.  

I stood there, looking at the man’s entire life, carelessly thrown across a concrete gully in West Los Angeles, and wanted more for the man. Wondered if someone like me was doing enough.  

“Your boy could use a house cleaner?” A voice to my right said.  

Could tell it was fucking Merchant, right away. He was standing in the walkway of Jackie’s building, with Larsen, a crutch in his right armpit. Motherfucker was still coughing up bits of his lungs. Good for him.  

“You gonna give him a ticket for littering?” I turned towards the two dicks. “Tough job you got here, throwing trash around in alleys.”  

Larsen spit brown phlegm in my direction. Merchant had that stupid mustached-smirk on his face. “Unfortunately, that’s most of what this job is, sifting through trash, looking for more trash. The steamier the better.”  

“Glad you’ve accepted your lot in life.”  

“Have you?” Larsen asked, with a wet, popping sound in his throat.  

“I don’t know. Tell me what that lot is. You motherfuckers are the life coaches.”  

Larsen’s mouth tightened and he looked over at his partner. Merchant liked the life-coach line, you could see it in his smirk. Feeling loose because they had the upper hand, and pretty damn sure their prey was near. He limped closer, using the crutch. 

“Surprised your up and about.” I told him. 

Merchant gave a slight shrug. “Just a flesh wound and I got a big ass.” He paused for laughs. There were one. Then he proceeded to be a cop again. “Good start would be to keep walking, let your boy take the fall for all this.” Merchant said. “We like him for your friends murder.”  

I looked at Merchant long and hard. Avoiding looking at the wretch Larsen. “What kind of motive you putting on him for it? What’s he get out of killing his best friend?” 

Merchant finally glanced at his partner. “Look at this fucker, talking about motive, like everybody who’s ever watched a fucking Law & Order.” He shook his head.  

 Larsen agreed with a muffled cough. “Lay of the fucking land, these days, motive don’t amount to much, when you’re making a case.”  

“These days?” I looked at Larsen like he was a dog with worms under a carport. “It’s always been that way for a black man.” Merchant was inching closer. “When have you ever needed a fucking motive to shoot us.”  

“Us?” Merchant was surprised.  

I shot him a hard look.  

Gunshots went off somewhere.  

Three, four, five shots. Then six and seven. Sounding like they were coming from up near Wilshire. Merchant and Larsen started moving in that direction. Larsen pulled his piece and shuffled up the alley. Merchant doing his best with the crutch. I went ahead.

The 7-Eleven parking lot was swarming with folks. Construction dudes and nine-to-fivers all breathing heavy and looking back towards the store. An electric lilt quivered through everyone. Merchant and Larsen pushed through and I followed, through the double doors, inside the store, the clerk leaning over the counter looking down an aisle, towards the back of the place.  

Martinez and Matos had their guns drawn, two hands on metal, arms straight as arrows, standing in back aisle where all the coolers were. Their gats weren’t smoking but you could smell charcoal and sulphur. An odor that ate away at your nose hairs.  

Big Willie Winsboro was up against one of the glass cooler doors. Slumped but sitting up, kinda. He had four bullet holes in him. Three more had shattered glass behind him. A golden energy drink was all over the floor, mixed with red.  

Nobody said anything for a long time. We just listened to Willie breath. A rattle, they call it. Death rattle. It’s more like a crinkling sound. Like a piece of paper being scrunched up and opened back up and flattened out on a table.  

A man’s life. A white piece of paper on a table.  

“What the fuck?!” Merchant finally yelled.  

Martinez and Matos looked around and lowered their guns.  

“Why’d you shoot him?” Merchant asked.  

The patrol officers just looked at each other, spooked.  

“Huh?” Merchant pushed. “What’d you shoot him for?” He moved in between them, closer to Willie. “He have a weapon?” 

Martinez raised a hand in Willie’s direction. There was a Gatorade bottle near his right hand. “He wasn’t complying.”  

Matos backed him up. “We asked him to get down on his knees.” She looked at me. “He wouldn’t listen.”  

“So, you shot him five times.” I pointed out.  

They all looked at me.  

“Fuck!” Merchant yelled.  

The patrol officers didn’t even flinch. They holstered their guns and stood there.  

“He wasn’t complying.” Larsen cut in. “Didn’t he threaten you in anyway?” 

Martinez and Matos exchanged a furtive glance. “He said some things…” Matos started. “Talking shit.”  

“Talking shit?!” Merchant’s mind was blown.  

Matos shook her head and looked down at her feet. “He wasn’t backing down.”  

“Sir, we had no other choice.” Martinez implored.  

“Cause your job depended on it?” The patrol officers both shot quick looks my way. “Or your life?” 

“Fuck does that mean?” Larsen hacked out the words through a grumbling cough.  

“I don’t know, ask Hosseini.”  

Both Martinez and Matos’ flared and the skin on their faces tightened. Bingo. Bought and paid for. You could feel their heartbeats from where they stood. The money wasn’t enough. It’s all just a trick.  

“Ask who?” Larsen looked at Merchant.  

But he was kneeling down in front of Willie, with his back to us. I stepped over and did the same. Merchant stood up and backed away. Big Willie wasn’t really present. Barely breathing, looking off somewhere above us into the ether. Where the motes dance and atoms collide, bringing about the white light. A different white light than that of the Southland. 

“Who the fuck is Hosseini?” Larsen chirped.  

“Shut the fuck up.” Merchant told him. 

“What?” Larsen again.  

I put my hand on his leg, like, hey man, I’m here. Someone is here with you. His eyes trickled down to me. What was I to him? Some stranger who drove him around one last time until his death.  

Or drove him to it.  

“I’m sorry.” Was all I could say.  

Big Willie Winsboro blinked and shuttered. Merchant cursed again. Larsen was still trying to find out who Hosseini was. I stayed, crouched in front of Willie until I couldn’t feel my legs any longer. Ambulances came and more cops. Merchant and Larsen became busy with directing traffic in out of the 7-Eleven. Cops upon cops upon cops. Internal Affairs bigwigs came down the cop pipe. But no sign of the feds. Probably too busy counting their money. Hosseini hoping his place in the middle passage would still keep him unseen.  

I wandered out of the store and through the parking lot and down the alley again and found myself picking up the detritus of Willie’s life. A person cleaning up and alleyway wasn’t something you would see every day. Other than those looking for aluminum cans to recycle, most of the time alleys in L.A. are defacto dumps. Need a second-hand couch or mattress, just cruise the alleys on the Westside and you’ll find the choicest hand-me-downs. You need a tent for a family of six? What about a sweet Coleman cooler? A black futon? Or a braided rug, or some Japanese lanterns? I did my best to gather everything and lay them on the fallen tent. The futon I just left off to the side, near a dumpster, for someone fresh out of one of the midwestern or southern states to fill their bachelor or studio with. The mattress too. It was a pile of someone’s life. Sitting in and alley in West LA. That’s all that was left of Big Willie Winsboro. All he had to show for his life. My eyes were wet and started dripping. It came then. Every word and puzzle in my mind dissolved into a loose flowing of letting go. Muscles were loose sinews and bones were wet chalk.  

Let it all go, man. Just let it all go.  

So, the mantra goes. 

Say it a million times a day and maybe a notch of change in you will happen. Maybe a cool breeze will come along in your favor, to cool the brow. A little less worry and little more thankfulness.   

But why let go now? Why when people have died and you’ve done nothing for them but gather their belongings? There were still questions to be answered and people to be fucked with.  

Chapter Thirteen

A Nice Letter Home to Mama.

And chill the fuck out, I did. All the way down to the bottom, again. No, not again. It can’t be again, if it’s a place you never left. It’s just a place that you exist in. A plain of being. Down there. That’s where you are. At the place where nothing exists. If nothing can exist. A notion to boggle the mind. Because that’s where it all started. At a place a human mind can’t fathom. A sleep where the subconscious knows no tales.  

This time I didn’t dream of any friends. There was no Jackie in the mud, on the side of the road. There was no one. No one there but me. And even that was something loosely based on me. An ego untethered. A braided rope, unstrung. You forget about will, in a place like that. The will to do something. Like live. Heartbeats run on their own accord.  

Eyes open involuntarily.  

Still in that corridor. But nobody else was around. Those Armenian goons weren’t lying around with you. Funny. That’s damn funny. But not funnier than the storage unit to my left being empty. The blue, plastic barrel was gone. A clean-up crew called Big Willie Winsboro.  

But why leave me? Because you’re an asshole who took a swing at him with a bat on the word of a two-bit cop.  

My head felt like a rotten watermelon. I got up, I think, and stumbled against a metal wall. It made so much noise, that I thought the police would come. But then I remembered, they don’t come down this far.  

190th and Normandie.  

I hadn’t been out that long. The sun was sitting just above the horizon. I could see it out of that window by the elevator. Looking down, I could see my truck was where I’d parked it by the cinderblock wall.  

The bed was full of Armenian goons and a blue, plastic barrel.  

I yelled, but Big Willie couldn’t hear me. He was getting behind the wheel, ready to drive that carnival of goods to clown-town. More yelling and beating on the window did no good. I hit the elevator button. It took about a month for the thing to bing and open. Another month to get down to ground level and watch my shitty, little Toyota roll out of the gate and take a left on Normandie.  

Curious. A left, on Normandie. The highway was to the right. Where was Willie going with that mess? Heading towards the heart of the Southbay. Towards an entanglement of powerlines and train tracks and warehouses galore. I thought about how I could follow him. Looking around at my surroundings. Vehicles everywhere. Big lumbering things. But there was that Mustang sitting there in front of the pop-up camper.  

I walked over and could hear, right away, snoring from inside the camper. Stepping over to the Mustang I could see the keys in the ignition. A moment of glory, some would call it. God is good, some would say.  

Some would say it was meant to be.  

I would say it was dumb luck.  

That’s where things sit, between chaos and fate.  

I got in the car. Cranked the thing up and pulled the thing into drive and shot towards the gate that was just now closing after Willie had gone through it. I braked and glanced at the rear-view mirror. The gate was motion censored. It had to close first and then re-open. The thing was slow as tar. It started creaking back on itself. Still, no one came running out of the camper. I imagined a bearded meth-head rampaging out with only his whitey-tighties on and a shotgun in both hands. But no, nothing. The gate opened enough and I flew out of there like bats do from Hades.  

Left on Normandie, and I was swerving through cars before I knew it. The Mustang’s accelerator was loose and as soon as you touched it, it surged ahead. Almost a buck every time you tapped it. Sensitive thing.  

There was nothing but big-rigs down this way. The movement of industry. Its bedrock was trucking. Works great on a highway, but on city streets it played havoc with traffic and destroyed pavement. Potholes and train tracks tore up the underbelly of the Ford. I didn’t even give two thoughts to worrying about that meth-head’s ride. Probably should have, but all I had were justifications in my head. Like, leaving your keys in the ignition, just what are you asking for dummy. For a thief to come along. And that’s all that I was. In every aspect a leech.  

My Toyota truck came up at Normandie and Carson. Stopped at a red light. I came to stop behind him and thought about honking but suppressed the urge. I looked around. Did anyone else see this pile of men in the back of my truck? If they did, they chalked it up as a thing you might see in L.A. They were filming shit all the time. You’d see all kinds of crazy shit out here. No telling what you’d see. Jurassic Park jeeps driving on the 405, Whooley-mammoths caught in tar out on Wilshire, folks wearing costumes drinking coffee out of paper cups, waiting for action to be yelled, caught in a perpetual year-around Halloween. Go into any neighborhood in Los Angeles and see the crane lights at night and watch the poets of nightfall work. Watch the people hustle for fame or art or just plain paychecks. But it’s anything goes in a city that pretends for a living. Dreams coming to life become innocuous in the minute details of the making. Bystanders become acclimated to the bizarre and the focus on one’s own life sets in.  

So, a little, red Toyota truck filled with Armenian goons and a blue, plastic barrel, deep on South Normandie gets a just a raised eyebrow and a slight frown.  

The light on Carson turned green and Willie still hadn’t looked in his rear-view. He hadn’t taken me as a thief either. We rolled through and headed towards 228th Street. Willie hit the left blinker at 228th and we cruised along that street until it ended at Avalon and took a right. Then took that to Anaheim and found ourselves in an even more twisted up, corrugate, man-shaped place near the Port of Long Beach.  

There was a landfill tucked into a little corner of a modern industrial port. Where water ways had been dug out in exact angles and concrete poured in fine, rigorous molds. Everything built for large vessels to maneuver easily and ready the spread of goods and services. Bridges had been laid over the waterways and giant, metal power-poles stretched their lines out over the port. The hairs on my neck and arms stood up. A crackling of energy moved in this place. Too much electricity. Too many moving parts. I almost missed Willie pull my truck into the landfill. He took a right onto E 1st Street, and the road flipped back on us. At this point Willie knew somebody was following him. Or someone was behind him doing the same thing he was. Getting rid of bodies. It troubled me that none of them had moved at all. They were just unconscious goons that last time he’d checked. It seemed a severe ending. Bodies left in a dump. What had Big Willie done? 

There were more RVs down here. All along the right side of the road. Older, dustier things that had come to rest in a junkyard, near a landfill. Willie took a right into a wide opening between two, low brick walls. I stopped the Mustang just before the opening, pulling over in front of a blue sign that read: Falcon Refuse Center. 

It was early morning, the sun just up, behind us. I turned the ignition off and got out of the Mustang and walked around to the entrance. Willie had stopped my truck just inside the place. I stood there looking at the red brake-lights. The smell of refuse filling my nostrils. The sound of seagulls squawking overhead. The hum of industry all around us.  

Big Willie got out of the truck and faced me. He gave me a knowing nod. Like, hey, glad you could make it. Then a head popped up in the back of the truck. And then some more stirring of bodies. The goons were coming to life.  

I found my legs moving towards the truck as the goons got out of the back, like clowns at a circus. They looked dazed and confused but aware of something I wasn’t. I got within ten feet and stopped.  

“What the fuck?” 

Willie looked at me. “Mr. Hosseini.” Was all he said.  

I looked around like a feral dog at a large metal structure; a garage or hangar, with large openings, where you could see massive piles of garbage sitting in the shade of the aluminum roofing.  

“He owns this.” I said, trying to piece anything together, but my mind was a box of missing pieces. Just when I thought I had it all figured.  

Big Willie looked at the four Armenian goons getting their bearings. “The Agassi’s do, anyway.” He pulled a gun from his jorts pocket. That Smith & Wesson MP9.  

Curious. Where had that been this whole time? In the glove box? How do you lose track of such a thing? 

Winsboro raised the gun and fired four shots. Quick. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Four shots to the head. The goons go back to being sacks of potatoes, but with neat little holes in their foreheads and gruesome blowouts in the back.  

The seagulls overhead bolted.  

I was half-crouched over and flinching, backing up. Willie put the gun down and had an indifferent look on his face. “That’s money’s Mr. Hosseini’s.” He pointed the gun at the barrel in the back of the truck. “Armenians owe that for them land deals.” He looked at me. “Them Salvis can’t have that.”  

“So why clip the goons?” I pointed at the muck of organs and bones already in decay at the back of my truck. 

Big man gave his patented shrug. “Said clean it all out.” He looked over at the goons. “Guess they don’t want no loose lips.”  

Or sinking ships. It went back to Beebe and Erik. Family emulsions. Entanglements. Untie the knots that you can and just murder the rest. The big man winked and pointed his finger like a gun at me. Then he put the real gun in the waistband at the small of his back.  

“Hosseini’s the real gangster.” I said, to anybody that would listen.  

Big Willie was nodding, like, yeah man, now you know. But he could’ve told me from the very beginning. But he didn’t. “We should get out of here.” He told me. “There’s dudes here that’ll take care of this.” He pointed to the dead men on the ground.  

“This whole thing’s about property.” I told him.  

“Same as it ever was.” Willie held the truck door open. “You trying to drive, or what?” 

“How’d Jackie get that opal?” 

The big man’s shoulders sort of slumped and he shook his head. He was tired of me. I thought we were friends. It was all just a means to an end. The culmination always having dollars in the hand.  

“We gotta go.”  

Willie would tell me on the road. That big, blue plastic barrel went in the trunk of the Mustang. With two million dollars of cash in it. Or so, I imagined. I never took a look inside, did I.  

“There’s more than two million dollars in that barrel, isn’t there?” 

Big Willie didn’t say anything for a while. He just watched the webbing of industry go by. I steered the car north, taking the 710 freeway to the 405. Willie said he’d lost track of Jackie at some point. Somewhere in Louisiana. Where we were all from. But I didn’t know them back then. Only Jackie, at the tail end. When I was leaving the damnable place. When she was leaving it too.  

But Willie and Jackie had another history.  

“Told you we was down there during Katrina.” He started. 

Down there.  

“But you met Hosseini in Israel.” I cut in, getting ahead of myself.  

“Bosnia. But that ain’t got nothing to with this. That was before.”  

“Jackie met him back then too?” 

Big Willie nodded slightly. “New Orleans was something else.” He looked sad. Palm trees passed and a brilliant blue morning started setting in. Who could be sad in a place like this? The answer, is plenty of people, Jake.  

“I heard.” My memories went back. “I lived up north. Lot of folks came up there. It was tough.”  

“You were in Bastrop.” Willie stated.  

I looked over at him in surprise. “Did I tell you that?” 

Another slight shake of the head. “Jackie mentioned it. She went up there after the flood to see about her dead wife’s grave.”  

The blood stopped pumping in my heart. Or so it seemed. At the same time, my stomach plunged downward and my testicles wailed. The freeway was a white line and that’s all I could concentrate on. A white line in the white light of morning. I tried to swallow but my throat was a broken piston.  

“She never told you that?” Willie asked.  

I just shook my head and gripped the steering wheel and hoped he didn’t see the moisture in my eyes, welling up.  

“She was a soldier too.” Willie kept going. “Well, a merc anyway. From your town. Bastrop.” Willie eyed a sign. “Take Manchester.” He told me.  

Manchester was an exit. I took it, pretty sure I knew where he wanted to go. For once. Roscoe’s. We pulled into the lot. It was eight-thirty by my phone. Willie hopped out of the bed of the truck, all spry, like he was done with the third shift, heading into the weekend. I got out and eyed the trunk.    

For some reason, at that moment, I didn’t think there was any money in it. The idea of storing money in a barrel in a storage unit in the Southbay seemed a ridiculous heap of missed opportunity. Washed money didn’t seem to be a gangster’s problem. Banks weren’t that exclusive. 

I wanted to hear more about Jackie. We sat down in a booth by a window and watched the cars on Manchester. Inglewood was alive and moving. What day was it? I looked at my phone, again. It was Sunday, and no one had bothered me yet.  

“You hear from your girl?” 

We were waiting for our food, sipping coffee and water. “Beebe?” 

“You still thinking I killed Jackie?” 

The waitress came with our food. Waffles and fried chicken and brown gravy. The smell of it wiped our minds for a split second. The waitress didn’t smile or say anything, knowing it was the food that mattered.  

“Merchant thinks so.”  

“What’d you think?” 

“Why would Merchant think so?” 

“That’s what you think?” 

I drenched the waffle in syrup and cut into it and forked a big bit into my mouth and started chewing, looking at Willie, across from me. He’d done the same thing, but had skewered some chicken and gravy as well with his waffle.  

“Me thinking has got me in this place and this time.” I held up a forked piece of chicken. “Not much to show for it.” 

“You too hard on yourself.” Willie told me.  

I scoffed up waffle and had to wipe my nose with a napkin. “I was thinking I hadn’t been that hard on myself these last few years. Thinking maybe I hadn’t pushed myself enough.” I looked Willie in the eyes. “You ever get that feeling?” 

“You can get to feeling complacent. Everyday being the same and all, out here.” He took a long sip of water. “You miss the weather in Louisiana?” 

He caught me off guard. I hadn’t thought about weather in a long time. Much less Louisiana. “Sometimes. Sometimes I miss sweating.” I smirked.  

Big Willie smiled too. “Just stepping outside is all it can take sometimes.”  

And like that, a warmth started spreading in my chest. Thinking of beads of sweat on the forehead. Cloying t-shirts and the feeling of being underwater. “Swamp-ass. I do not miss swamp-ass.”  

Laughter came rumbling out of the big man. He even showed some teeth. “I know that’s right.” He chuckled. “Give me that dry heat, any day.”  

In this tiny moment, we were friends again. All of the future moments were still up in the air. But this moment was good. “I miss the trees, though.” I pondered.  

Willie nodded and chewed his food, no doubt thinking of tall pines and moss-covered cypress trees.  

“Winsboro.” I stated, flatly.  

He looked up from his mess of gravy and waffles and fried chicken, but didn’t say anything, letting me play it out. “I been to that town. We played them in basketball.”  

“I’m from Epps.” Willie started. “I-20 goes through there. Take the exit, go south to Winsboro, north to Epps.” 

“Poverty Point.”  

“Yeah. Them Indian mounds.” He slurped some coffee. “Grew up, right down the road from em’.”  

Dirt mounds built four thousand years ago by Native Americans in that region. The Mound Builders. Some of them built in the shape of animals. One shaped like a massive bird. It was eroded now, covered in manicured grass. Awe-inspiring all the same.  

“We used to go there when I was kid.” I mused.  

“Who?” Willie asked. “You and your parents?” 

Me and my parents. Guess you could say that. “My grandparents used to take me.”  

“Your grandparents white?” Willie asked.  

Strange question. But maybe if you were wondering. Wondering about the shade of another man’s skin. It’s a thing on planet Earth. As long as we can see in color. We’ll know what sets us apart. Always.  

“They were.” Was all I felt I needed to say. 

Big Willie caught the drift. People passed away, eventually. Especially old people.  

“What about your parents?” 

“What about them?” 

“It’s like that, huh.” Willie produced a toothpick from somewhere and started poking his teeth.  

“We trying to get to know each other, now.” Thinking ploys can only get you so far. “Little late for that shit.”  

“I forgot.” Willie was on to me. “You got an aversion to friends.”  

“That what this is?” I took a long sip of water. “Me and you trying to be friends. Maybe you’re right, I don’t know much about it, but you ain’t been all that forthcoming when it comes to the openness of friendship.”  

“Guess you can hold on to hope that somebody’ll be there when you taking your last breath.”  

“Never given it much thought.”  

A car honked at another car out on Manchester. Inside, Roscoe’s was getting crowded. Arteries calling out for stoppage. “I hadn’t either, for a long time. Living one job to the next. Walking tightropes. Not really caring about shit, cause you think you bad as shit. Not really noticing how you getting through it all is because you got people next to you. Helping you through it.”  

“That’s a nice letter home to mama.”  

“Ain’t it.” Willie smirked at me, not buying the cynicism I was selling. “But my mama’s long, gone and sounds like yours is too.”  

“What’re you saying? We’re stuck with each other?” 

Big Willie chuckled and turned the toothpick over in his mouth. “You can pick your nose and you can pick your friends…” He stopped, looking at me to finish.  

“Just don’t wipe your friends on the couch.”  

“We had the same mama.” Willie held his water cup up for a toast.  

Chapter Seven

“Don’t mean the maid’s gonna let you in.”

Kiss him goodbye for me. 

 A nice epitaph after shooting someone in the back and leaving him for the vultures. I’ve never known love like that. Don’t know if I’ve ever known love at all. Well, maybe that’s not true. Just not that deepdown spooky love that makes you want to end it for all time or die trying. Now Beebe was on the run with a phone that wasn’t hers and a red-hot-barreled-gun.  

“How you know it was her?” Willie was being reticent.  

“She sent the text.” I told him.  

“How you know it was her?” 

“Who else would’ve or could’ve sent that?”  

We were rolling hard down Normandie. Looking to hang a right on Beverly as soon as it came in sight. We couldn’t hear the sirens any longer. A fast getaway. As fast as a little, red Toyota would allow.  

“Could be anybody.”  

“You wanna live in that world, fine. But the thing is, we gotta try and put some things together. Strings some things along, at some point. The thing that makes sense is that we know them to be together.” 

“But why would she shoot him?” 

It was as good a question as any. Beverly came up, and I made the turn, and took it down to Larchmont and hung a left, looking to get lost in the leafy shades of Hancock Park. Probably a dumb move on the surface, but hiding in plain sight, right. Neighborhoods like Hancock Park are quiet, with wide streets where my truck would look like any other landscaping vehicle. We didn’t quite look the part, but maybe we were painters or swimming pool guys who forgot their gear. Either way, we looked out of place and were banking on rich folks’ obliviousness. 

I pulled the Toyota under a giant elm on the corner of  4th and Hudson, where the two streets bent into all the leafy greenness of overhanging elm and sycamores. I shut the truck off and Willie and me looked around. Quiet it was. Dark now, with sepia streetlights buzzing.  

“So, she shoots him in the back?” Willie continued the train of thought from decades ago. “For some fucking fancy marble? Don’t make no motherfucking sense?” 

“Cause we’re on the outside of this.” I told him. “It never makes sense until you get on the inside of things.” Acting like I’d been privy to that vantage point before.  

“You can park in the neighborhoods and look at the pretty houses, that don’t mean the maid’s gonna let you in.”  

“That’s nice.” Nodding. “Some fucking street poetry right there.”  

“Outsider poetry.” Willie corrected me. “You always bringing it up, like you know that thin line and you fear it. But you above it, all the same.” He was looking at a guy on his bike roll by us.  

“I don’t know if it’s nothing but a fascination.”  

Big Willie seemed to understand that and nodded. “So, she shoots him for the marble before she even gets it.”  

I nodded. “Maybe she shoots him for the phone.”  

“Her only way to get to the marble.”  

Willie and me sat with that figuring. Maybe, just maybe we were getting somewhere. Scratching away at surfaces. Sooner or later, we’d get to China.  

“What’s so special about that fucking marble?” Willie asked.  

“I don’t’ know.” I thought about it. “Erik…”  


“He said something there at the end.” Rummaging through those seconds of half-breaths and half-words. “Something about jewelry.”  

“Something about jewelry?” 

“Well, he said the word jewelry.”  

“That’s it?” 

A woman went by, walking a dog. She was in her early fifties, wearing some sort of tennis outfit. That certain skirt with the certain top that they wear. A lidded-cap on her head and white sneakers. The dog was one of those ubiquitous French bulldogs. The tennis-lady didn’t pay us any attention. Just on her nightly stroll, in her safe neighborhood. 

“I think so. It was hard to make it out, you know.” I looked at Willie. 

He kind of cut his eyes at me and said, yeah. We sat there and listened to the nightly, neighborhood white noise. Both thinking, what now. Then one of us, or both of us said something. 

“Should we take the thing to get looked at?” 

Where to? Back downtown to the Jewelry District? Going back Westside didn’t seem the logical choice. “Them two dudes would be looking for us, for sure.” Willie pointed out. 

Merchant and Larsen. Two dead bodies we were in the vicinity of, and nothing to shield us from them put a few text messages and a smooth, flecked stone. We were kids at play, not even able to see the cars coming to get out of the way.  

The Toyota cranked up without remonstration. Japanese toys were the joints you wanted to play with the most. They never broke and they always listened. Did what you told it and never backtalked.  

Whatever. We were going back downtown.  

Down to Rossmore to Wilshire, thru Koreatown and that old, bawdy stretch of silent-era-money-buildings. Thru MacArthur Park and the detritus strewn stretch of Alvarado. Where they sold everything from fake IDs to mannequins to tacos to crack cocaine. Whatever you needed was in that park and on that lane. I lived right down the street.  

I hooked a right down Alvarado. 

“Where you going?” Willie asked.  

When he didn’t get an answer, he figured it out when we pulled up to the light at Pico. “They know where you live, man.” Was all he said.  

He was right, but we kept rolling that way anyway. Maybe the thought of being staked out was better than the monotonous existence I had before. It was the action that had seeped its way into my blood and there was no going back. 

A left, on Pico and then a right on Alvarado Terrace, and even older money in those historical-marker mansions on that short stretch. A small, park across the street belied the grandeur. Just a little, strip of a thing. Some grass and a foundation where a gazebo used to be. Not much else. Check out the tattoo on that guy’s neck under those trees. He’s for sure up to no good and hasn’t a care in the world for the social significance of those mansions. What’s he got in those pockets? 

I slowed the Toyota to a roll; turned around at the end of the road and parked along the curb of the park. No parking in front of the mansions. The man under the trees wasn’t rolling solo. A couple other tattooed dudes stood under the trees with him. They clocked us but didn’t make a big deal about it. The truck was left idling just in case.  

Big Willie eyed the trio under the oak trees. “Neck tattoos.” He looked at me. “You know these motherfuckers are crazy, right.”  

“I’m thinking, what do they know that I don’t. Spent my whole life looking for jobs. Going from one to the other, never learning a trade. Doing this, doing that, just enough to pay the rent. Thinking one day, I’d just make a million dollars.” I had to smile at that, and shake my head. “Win the lottery or some shit.” 

There was a guy laid out in the park. Right in the middle, in the grass, his bare belly rising up like a small hillock. Drunk as the day is bright. There were some kids playing in a sandbox not far away, a woman on a bench watching them play on a stone dragon. 

“But you gotta play to when the lottery.”  

“Play them numbers.” Willie added.  

“Some people figure it out sooner than others.” I nodded at the dudes under the trees. “They got a good bead on things, you think. Feel like they got it all figured. Got a solid life plan.”  

Big Willie looked at the dudes under the trees. “I used to have one.”  

“What happened to it?” 

He held up his hands in acquiescence. Hands with long enough fingers to reach back in time and touch the nothingness, but couldn’t touch a slippery blade.  

“You know how I met her?” 

Willie looked at me quizzically. “Jackie?” 

I nodded. “She was in a ditch on the side of the road.”  

Big man didn’t dare touch that. Best to let a man run it down the line. Give him space and let him get to it in his own time. .  

“Those dudes are Salvadorean, no doubt.” I said instead.  

“Good bet, with the neighborhood and all.” 

“That cop Larsen.”  

“You think that motherfucker has TB?” 

“I don’t think people get that anymore.”  

“Lung cancer?” 

“Maybe just a cold.”  

“What about him?” 

“He knows this neighborhood. Or the people that live in it, at least. Wonder what he knows about East Hollywood?”  

“You got his card, you gonna ask him?” 

One of the dudes moved out from under the trees, looking our way, the guy with the neck tattoo. He had a look of menace in his eyes.  An almost hunched over feeling of energy about to burst from a pocket of injury.  

“I’m just saying, East Hollywood and Pico-Union ain’t far from each other.” I looked away from the cholo, thinking he might think he won the stare-off and would find someone else to mad-dog. “But what’s in-between?” 


“That and Filipinotown.” 

“Historic Filipinotown.” 

The neck tattoo guy was still standing just outside the shade of the trees. His boys were acting unafraid and uncaring. It took a lifetime to learn that kind of vibe. How old were they? Early twenties?  

“Where someone just put up a new apartment building.”  

Big Willie thought about that. Not too hard though, he was eyeing the neck tattoo guy, which I was wishing he wouldn’t. “That dude that Jackie worked for.”  

I nodded, looking at the mansions. “How much you think one of these costs?” 

It forced Willie to look away from the park. “I don’t know, a few million at least.”  

“Real-estate in L.A.”  

“Ain’t cheap.”  

We rolled away from Alvarado Terrace, taking a right on Pico and drifted downtown, leaving the park to those kids with mean-eyed stares and confident dispositions.  

“You ever been in one of those jewelry spots?” I asked Willie as we passed the convention center at Fig and Pico. “Cause those motherfuckers are like Fort Knox. You can’t just walk up in there looking for an appraisal.”  

“Unless you delivering food.” Willie mused.  

We stopped at a burger joint on Hill and 8th. I had to park the Toyota down the block and go in. I came out with three bags. One for the job and two for Willie. I couldn’t think about eating. I don’t why. Maybe because I still held the image of Jackie’s head flopping down those concrete stairs and the notion of filling my stomach curdled with open necks.  

The Jewelry District was three blocks down Hill. Right across from Pershing Square was the heart of it. Circuits running back in on themselves. There was something bringing us back in a loop.  

I’d parked the Toyota at a meter just west of 5th. This area of Hill was busy with folks, mostly middle eastern, running stones and shiny metals. There were middle-aged guys with goatees out on the sidewalk smoking white cigarettes and genuflecting with their hands. There were street-folk looking for food in trash cans and picking up butts in the gutter. Big Willie finished his third burger and fries and sucked down a large vanilla milkshake. There were some fries left in the bag and he offered them to me. I declined. He gave them to a dude dragging a big speaker behind him, jamming out the ubiquitous Tupac track. The man wasn’t dead. Just get out on the streets in L.A. and you’ll feel him on every corner.  

I don’t think Willie knew the dude with the speaker, but maybe he did. He seemed to know a lot of people down here. That Death-Row shit was booming in our ears. The speaker guy was on the corner, eating the fries from the greasy-bottomed bag.  

“This don’t seem weird to you?” I asked Willie. 

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and burped. It smelled of onions and mustard and dead rats. “That every motherfucker you see down here has a bluetooth speaker the size of a car?” 

They were everywhere. Competing turntables, mobile and lithe, ready to scream for attention. “No, I mean, back down here again. Same block, same square. Like something’s pulling us back.” I looked at my phone. Nothing. Yet. “Seven o’clock at night.  

“Maybe.” Big Willie gave it some thought. “That thing with Brenda in the parking lot. Something bout that ain’t sitting right.”  

“Like what?” 

The big man’s chin moved side to side, slightly. “I don’t know. Them Armenians own that lot, right.”  

“Do they?” 

“That’s why Brenda went there. Some kind of extraction point.”  

“Extraction point?”  

Willie shrugged. “Something about those tunnels, too.”  

I nodded. “One of them leading right there.” I pointed to the high-rise on the corner of Hill and 5th. “But there’s something bothering me about this whole area. Some story in the news maybe.”  

“The news?” As if mentioning it was like bringing up some dead ritual.  

“Yeah, you remember something about some jewelry snatches? Some dudes running game down here. Following people and ganking their briefcases.”  

Willie seemed hooked. “That do sound familiar.”  

The felt-bag was in my hand. I’d taken it out of my pocket at some point and hadn’t noticed until now. “What’s that got to do with Armenian and Salvadoreans and Filipinotown?” 

“Maybe them Feds would know.” Willie pondered.  

I looked at him. He returned the gaze. I told him I’d go in the high-rise alone. Didn’t think they’d let a dude with no shoes in a building like that. He didn’t argue but wasn’t too happy about missing out.  

Walking into 515 Hill Street was easy. Security was lax to say the least. Two dudes in black suits with guard-cards that were there to just answer questions mostly. I didn’t ask any and followed a group of about five people to the elevators with the bag of food I was delivering. There was a reason I bought so many burgers. Wasn’t even sure what floor to go to, so I just followed the other passengers. The ding for the seventh floor sounded and I jostled my way out to a hallway with three others. Two women and a guy with a ponytail. I followed a woman wearing an evergreen jumpsuit. One of those Dickies things, stiff but comfortable looking. She looked over her shoulder at me, wondering what I was doing. I gave her smile as she buzzed a door. The whole hall was nothing but offices with bulletproof glass. Men and women behind counters with jeweler’s eyes, peering at refinement only by appointment. The girl in the Dickie’s jumpsuit was buzzed in and I followed her. She held the door open for me and smiled. They get a lot of food deliveries. I must’ve looked the part. That delivery-boy’s gaze of always looking up. Up towards the top, from the bottom of the well.  

“Is that for Buddy?” The girl in the jumpsuit asked. 

Startled that she spoke to me. “Uh, yeah.” I handed her the bag of food.  

She kept the smile on her face and took the bag. “Thanks.” 

I stood there for too long, scoping the operation out. The girl walked behind the counter and put the bag of food down on a counter. There was a man, maybe Buddy, sitting at a small desk with his jeweler’s eye, examining what looked like a diamond. He had on a worn black suit; a size too big for him and had a black yarmulke on his head. He didn’t notice me lingering. The girl still had her back to me. 

“I was wondering…” I took the felt bag from my back pocket. 

The girl in the jumpsuit turned around. Maybe Buddy didn’t look up from his stone.  

“Could you guys take a look at something?” I asked the girl. 

A pained look came over her olive-colored face. “We only do things by appointment here.”  

“I know, I know. I was just wondering if this worth anything.” I had the marble out in the palm of my had.  

Jumpsuit girl pursed her lips and shook her head slightly. But her eyes went to thing in my hand and something flickered in her eyes. She stepped forward with worry at the corner of her mouth. She leaned against a display-case-counter filled with gold and silver jewelry and gems of all cuts and colors. “What is that?” She asked.  

Shrugging. “It’s what I’m trying to figure out. I was hoping you guys could take a look at it.”  

“Let’s see.” Buddy held out his hand without looking up at me.  

I handed the marble to the girl and she handed it to Buddy. He looked at it; rolling it between his fingers. “Some kind of glass eye.” He said, finally looking at me. 

“That’s what I was thinking.”  

Buddy gave me a discerning look over his bifocals. He turned the nebula in his fingers. Something in his eyes showed knowing in them. Some flicker of light. Maybe it was the too bright fluorescents above, playing sterile tricks. But it seemed like he knew the thing that was in his hand.  

“Where’d you get this?” He asked. 

“Family heirloom.”  

Buddy looked at the girl. She looked at him. They were suspicious. They moved ahead accordingly.  

“Family heirloom.” Buddy nodded. He looked at it under his jeweler’s eye. “Looks like an opal.”  

I looked at the girl. She kept her face a stone. “An opal, huh.” I was wary, knowing they knew the stone.  

Buddy turned the marble around, scrutinizing it. “Yeah, but you don’t often see them designed like this.”  

“Like what?” 

“As glass eyes.”  

“You’ve seen it before.”  

They were both surprised by my question. Some sort of leap they thought plebians couldn’t take mentally. Or I was too sensitive to the level of scrutiny in the room. But there’s a manner built into this world. One of set places and thought patterns. 

Buddy stayed very still. He didn’t look at his assistant. If that’s what she was. The girl in the green Dickie’s jumpsuit. She was motionless as well. “I have never seen this before, no. But I’ve heard tell of it.” He held the stone in the palm of his hand.  

“What’s it worth?” 

He eyed me over his glasses and frowned. “Maybe two thousand dollars.”  

“Two thousand?” The two words rushed from my mouth without hesitation. “Why all the fuss?” I asked no one in particular.  

“What fuss?” Buddy seemed interested in something, finally. 

I shook my head and frowned my own damn self. “Maybe there isn’t any.” I stepped up to get the marble back from him. 

But Buddy had his own intentions and kept the thing in his hand. “How did you come by this stone, if I might ask?” 

“You asked it. But I don’t have an answer for you, Buddy.”  

The old Jew looked at me like he was surprised I knew his name, but then looked at his apprentice and gave a slight nod. The girl in the jumpsuit made no gesture that she was sorry or worried about anything. An envious place to inhabit.  

“You have no idea how you came into possession of this thing?” Buddy still held the marble in his palm.  

“I do know this, but I don’t think it’s any or your business.” 

“Well, maybe it is, sir.” Buddy began. “If you came by this by less than desirable means.”  

“Less than desirable means, huh.” I looked at the white-bearded man. “What’s the most desirable? Digging for it myself? Putting my hands in the hard dirt and pulling it out myself. And who’s at a loss there?” 

“Mother Earth.” The girl in the jumpsuit finally spoke.  

Buddy cringed. “Jesus Christ.” 

I almost cracked a smile but the urgency for seriousness overruled everything. We all looked at each other with a tiredness only city-living could provide.  

“I’d go to the police, if I were you.” Buddy said. “Being in possession of this is not good.” 

“How so?”  

“It’s a stolen item.”  

“Well, you’re currently in possession of it.”  

“Would you like for me to take possession of it?” Buddy asked. “I can take the steps to get it in the right hands.”  

“What hands would those be?” I stood over the counter, teetering on my tiptoes, ready to run, but I wasn’t letting that stone go. “You’ll call the cops as soon as I leave, so, I don’t think those are the right hands.” I glanced at the girl. “Somebody in this building get robbed?” 

Furtive glances between Buddy and the young lady in the jumpsuit. Bingo. I snatched the marble from Buddy’s palm. He had a look on his face as if I’d struck him. I cringed this time, not wanted to harm an old man. But he was just startled at a hand from the bottom reaching up, and taking something from him. 

“Out on the streets, some guys were doing jobs. Following guys with briefcases. Snatching whatever was in them.” Putting the marble back in its felt-bag.  

“Some Latino dudes, right?” The girl in the jumpsuit, suddenly interested.  

“Ed.” Buddy said with an exacting tone. 

He was looking at her but she didn’t return the gaze. She was looking at me for some reason. Like she wanted more information and thought I had it.  

“Yeah, I think so.” I put the bag in my back pocket. “That’s what I read, anyway.”  

“You read this where?” Buddy chiming in. 

“On my phone.” It made me remember it. I checked my pocket to see if it was still there. It was. I took it out to see only a notification for a social media app, and put it back in its pocket.  

“They caught the guys, right?” Ed again. 

“You think they stole this off a jeweler?” I asked Buddy, patting my backside. In my peripherals I could see Ed checking me out.  

He had a resigned look on his face. “Or a courier.”  

“You guys know all this though.” I looked from him to Ed. They gave each other wary glances. “You know exactly who it belongs to.”  

Buddy sighed and pulled his jeweler’s eye down over one eye. “Ed, you should call security.”  

Ed’s eyes cut downward and then up at me. She’d had her phone in her hand. I hadn’t noticed, maybe it was there the whole time, it looked so nestled and apart of her palm. She swiped her thumb up and I began to move. I don’t think her heart was in it. I made it to the door and into the hallway and halfway to the elevator before a guy with black cargo pants and black polo shirt and a utility-belt came striding my way from the other end of the corridor. Gave him a nod and a pursed lip smile and hit the down button on the elevator. The man had gun holstered on that belt.  

“Sir.” He said.  

Looking over at him, the security guard seemed unsure of whether he was talking to the right guy. “You gotta come with me.” He had a hand out.  

“Do I?” Giving him a confused look. “I just delivered some food, I’m leaving.”  

He had on black combat-boots and looked unsure. He looked back over his shoulder, quickly, toward the hallway, as if it could help him.  

The elevator dinged.  

Some more jewelry workers crowded in towards the door. The security guard stood there looking at me as people moved in between us and the elevator door slide open. I got in with five or six other people. What could he do, I was leaving?  

Down in the lobby the two security dudes paid me no mind. Too busy eating their own dinners. McDonald’s bags in front of them. Slipping out in the crowd, out on to Hill, felt like a cool breeze. 

But it then the heat creeped in. Up from all the concrete like a paved-over swamp. The truck was still parked where I’d left it. Willie was not. There was a ticket on the windshield. Parked in red zone.  

I grabbed the ticket and looked around for Willie. He’s not an easy human to miss. He wasn’t anywhere to be seen. It was dark now. Lights were lit up everywhere and there seemed to be less people on the streets, but still an energy that kept you from sleepiness. I got in my truck and cranked it up, thinking of few places Willie might have gone.  

Chapter Six

“A Waffle and Two Wet Noodles.”

She didn’t give up any goods though. One tough Filipino chick. Holding it down in a lonely office in the Valley. So, we were back in the red Toyota, waiting to follow Andrea somewhere.  

“You text them back?”  

Them. Whoever had Jackie’s phone.  

“I did. Nothing yet.”  

“What’d you text em?” Willie said with half a glazed donut shoved in his mouth.  

To tamper down the strip-mall-blues we’d hit up the shop next door to the real-estate office. Star Donuts. There’s never a really good name for a donut shop. But every strip-mall has one, as if they knew, whoever develops that soul-sucking urban planning, that you’d need a donut just to make it through their site.  

“I told em it was the cops and they needed to give up, we had the place surrounded.”  

Big Willie shoved a bear claw into that maw he called a mouth. His lips where gleaming with glaze. “They might just buy that.” He laughed. “Coming out with they hands up. Nobody but an old lady and grocery cart out on the sidewalk.” 

The sugar had gone to his head.  

“She’s right, you know.” I nodded toward the strip mall. We were across the street, parked along the curb on Ventura. “We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing.”  

“Nobody does.” He finished another glazed and washed it down with chocolate milk. “We all just throwing shit against the wall, hoping it stick.” 

Spaghetti again. 

Men are waffles. Women are spaghetti. But Jackie was a waffle. And the two men looking through her past were just wet noodles.  

“Just like sitting here, waiting on this one to lead us somewhere.” He pulled his shirt up and wiped his mouth. “Where she gonna take us? Filipinotown for some fucking adobo.” 

“What’s your beef with her?” I was watching a man rolling tires down the sidewalk. Two at a time towards a dirty tire-shop next to the strip-mall. “Or is just Filipinos in general you don’t like?” 

Big Willie smacked his lips. I had the windows rolled down. My man was kind of ripe. But no one said anything about it. Just upturned nostrils would do. “Loyalty to your boss in a matter like this, she ain’t no friend of Jackie’s.”  

“What’s she supposed to do, two bums off the street come bumping through?” The dude was steady rolling tires on the sidewalk. “I think you got something else you need to work out.”  

The big man was side-eyeing me. Something about that bum remark wasn’t sitting well with him. An old Latino man went by, pushing an ice-cream cart, the bell ringing over the rush of traffic. The tire guy rolled used rubber around him, giving him a nod.  

“What I need to work out, huh.” He had a toothpick between two fingers, working it in a molar. “You got everything wrapped up tight and ready to go, huh. Ain’t nothing nagging in the back of yo head? I’d say I’d like to meet a motherfucker like that. Pick they brain for all the secrets to the universe.”  

“What’d you wanna know?” 

That got a smirk and half a scoff. Andrea left the office around four-thirty. She got into a champagne-colored Prius, that new-fangled mirage of a Toyota, and headed east on Ventura.  

“There’s that fucking color again.” Willie pointed out.  

We were following another car, again. Twice in one day. We weren’t’ even qualified to do this type of thing. This thing that detectives get a license for. Private investigators, right. You need a certification for this type of work. It’s impossible not to ask yourself the question a hundred times a day, just what the fuck am I doing. What the fuck am I doing tailing cars with a shoeless man named Willie? 

That Prius took us all the way down Ventura to Studio City and into that valley of squeezing mayhem. It’s a tight fit of a gorge that connects the Valley to Hollywood, and Studio City being the runoff of its industry. 

The Industry.  

That’s what they call it. Factories come in all shapes and sizes and concepts. But their gaits are all the same. Big lumbering fellas that wear cowboy hats and six-shooters and light matches off five o’clock shadows. Hollywood just happened to get the likeness right. American industries are all the same. White men swaggering.  

So, through the gorge on the 101, down into Hollywood, and yeah Willie was right, straight into Historic Filipinotown. Andrea parked her car along Temple and walked casually into a massive, new apartment complex. One of those things that takes up a whole block. A jagged thing made of glass and graphite.  

“What’s she parking on the street for?” Willie asked, as I pulled the truck along the curb on Temple.  

We were on the other side of the street, watching Andrea enter the building. Not much was going on over here on Temple Ave. It was a quiet pocket just outside downtown. A brand-new building that stuck out like a sore thumb in an old, forgotten hollow. Which made you wonder about gentrification and the sociological conundrums that come with plopping down new developments in hoods like these.  

“What’s the rent run in a place like that, you think?” Big Willie thinking the same thing.  

“In this neighborhood…” I shrugged. “What’s the walkscore, you know?” 

“The what?” 


“What’s a fucking walkscore?” Willie really wanted to know. 

I sighed, thinking why’d I ever open my mouth. “I don’t know, it’s like a way to measure what’s in the neighborhood. Coffee shops, restaurants, bars and bookstores. Shit like that you can walk to.”  

“Huh.” The big man looked around. “Not much around here, but downtown right there. Echo Park, Dodger Stadium.”  

That’s the way it went. If you were to move into a suspect neighborhood, what cool hoods were at least near you. “You thinking about getting a place?” 

Willie looked at me like I was problematic at least. “I live in a tent in a alley. Think I got extra cash laying around to put down a deposit.” He fumed a bit. Pushed air out of his nose. “Panhandling pays well, you think.”  

“I didn’t know you panhandled.” I told him. “But I guess you’re right. I wouldn’t give up living on the westside either.”  

“I ain’t putting my hand out, motherfucker.” The man getting a little warmed up. “But you thinking I wanna live in a tent the rest of my life is troubling.” 

“You never know why folks are on the streets. Could be a choice for some.” I eyed the building, avoiding any kind of glare from the man.  

“When wouldn’t it be a choice?” Willie shifted and the whole truck moved with him. “You think one thing ain’t connected to the other. It’s all one long, string going back to the beginning, ain’t it. You here holding on to that rope, just like everyone else, hoping on hope it keeps you in good mind.” 

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I reached for it and saw in the side mirror Andrea coming out of the apartment building. I was having trouble getting my phone out of my pocket at that angle.  

“Freedom got a cost. Don’t it?” Willie was still blabbing about life on the streets. He hadn’t seen Andrea. “They selling that anyway.”  

“You see her?” 


I got my phone out finally, but was looking over my shoulder at Andrea getting in her car. “She’s getting in her car.”  

Big Willie turned to look over his shoulder. “She don’t live here then.”  

Maybe, maybe not, but she was on the move again and could possibly lead us to her boss. I looked down at my phone as the brake lights lit up on Andrea’s Prius. “Shit.”  


The phone in my hand and the Prius in the side mirror felt like the weight of the world was in-between the two things. A crafty thing for such a monstrosity. Let it go, I told myself. Let it all go.  

“Jackie’s phone wants to meet.”  

Willie looked at the phone in my hand, searching the text, moving his eyes along the words, then back to the Prius moving away, down Temple, towards downtown. “Can’t we do both?” He asked. 

I handed the phone to Willie. “Ask em, when and where.” Cranked the truck up and busted a U-turn in the middle of Temple.  

Willie knew how to text, I assumed. His big fingers having some trouble with smart-phone technology. Then the sound of the swoop came. Message sent. The Pruis up ahead was going under the 110 freeway. We puttered up behind her at a safe distance. Cruising through Hope Street and then Grand, the Prius stopping and parking under some trees in front of a tan building on our right. I pulled over and parked closer to Hill Street and watched Andrea get out of her car and climb some short steps up to that tan building. 

“What’s that building she’s going into?” I asked Willie. 

He was looking down at my phone. “What’s them three dots mean?” 

“They’re typing something.” 


“What’s that building she’s going into?” 

“County board of supervisors.” Willie didn’t even look behind him to check. “Person on the other end of this is typing.” He figured it out.  

“What’s she going in there for?” I pondered.  

“They say meet em at Barnsdall Park in thirty.” Willie held up the phone.  

That’s what the text said. I blinked and looked from the phone in his hand to the rear-view, knowing that cutting bait with Andrea had to be done. “That’s what, fifteen minutes away?” 

Willie didn’t answer. He just waited for me to make a decision. Something I wasn’t very good at. My whole life a waiting game, for things and people to come to me. Not much going in that regard.  

“She may be in there awhile.” I mused.  

“She might be at that.” Big Willie almost whispered. 

“Fuck it.” I cranked the Toyota up and took a right on Hill. “What’d you think the odds are it’s our favorite couple meeting us in that park? 

“Who else would it be?” Willie didn’t know what to do with my phone. He held it like it was a stick of dynamite, not wanting to damage it.  

I grabbed it from him before it exploded in his hand. “Somebody with heavier hands.”  

“Slitting throats ain’t heavy enough for you?” Willie looked at me. 

He had a way of making you feel like every question you asked could be a dumb one after all. “Knives are for pussies.” Feeling like that was good comeback.  

“Easiest way to get stabbed, don’t pay them cowards any mind. Or think that whatever they pointing at you is some bullshit.” Willie had thumb in one of his nostrils, digging for gold.  

“Advice from a learned man of the streets, no doubt.” I didn’t bother to look at him, keeping my gaze straight ahead, turning the truck onto 1st Street and going back under the 110, and taking a right on Beaudry.  

There was a burnt pinkness in the sky now. The sun was just on the other side of some high-rises that bordered downtown. The air smelled of diesel fumes and dogshit. Big Willie Winsboro flicked his thumb out the window. One booger dart coming your way.  

“You like to point shit out like that.” He stated.  

“I’m just amazed at your acumen.”  

“My acumen?” 

“I think you’re right about most things.” I looked over at him.  

We went under the 101 and took a left onto Sunset. Traffic wasn’t too bad. Willie sighed, looking at a Burger King as we passed it. The man was hungry. Maybe hangry. But I didn’t think we had time to stop for a Whopper. Guess those donuts weren’t enough.  

“What I been right about?” He asked, in his certain timing of things. Just when you thought the convo over.  

My mind went blank as a sheer cliff cramped in on our left. Sunset Blvd was a street with many faces. It curled and cut through the city like an exacting worm. Burrowing its way from El Pueblo De Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean, with the confidence and imagination of a creature that knows the world in which it finds itself. A secret subterranean warp in space that only a few humans ever feared to tread.  

“This whole thing you been right about.”  

“You saying anybody know anything right now is wild.” Big Willie chuckled. It sounded like a train track in the distance. “We going, right now, to meet some people that got Jackie’s phone. Maybe they slit her throat, maybe they didn’t. We don’t even know what the lady did for a living. We can’t even find her boss.” He wasn’t laughing any longer. “Ask me, we ain’t right about anything on this.”  

“It’s a little early, don’t you think, to be so hard on ourselves.”  

We took the bend at Alvarado doing fifty and bleating voices came from the crosswalks. The sky was a deep fuchsia. Cigarette smoke and piss were in the air. Also, the electric slackening of Saturday night lay like a layer of translucent fog all along Sunset.  

“We can get caught slippin on thing like this.” Willie said. 

“You have some experience?” 

“What kind you hoping for?” 

“I’ll take whatever you got.” 

Sunset turns into Hollywood Blvd if you go straight enough and then Barnsdall Park is on a corner in a flash. There’s a thin strip of a parking lot out front on the Hollywood entrance. I parked the Toyota there and took a deep breath. 

“You gotta gun?” Willie asked.  

“I don’t know. Check the glove box.”  

He did. Nothing but papers in there. Parking tickets and mechanic receipts.  

“Guess not.”  

“What now?” 

Something popped off somewhere. I flinched. Willie looked over his shoulder. Could’ve been a gunshot or a firecracker. Two more pops. No, they were gunshots. We both got out of the truck, looking up the hill of the park. There were a handful of other cars parked in the lot as we stood there listening. Someone came stumbling down a concrete stairway that led up the hill. Two people, now. A young couple probably out for a stroll. Their eyes were wide with adrenaline and unpacked flight. They saw us and beelined for a black Rav 4.  

I put my hands up and stepped toward them. “What’s going on up there?” 

The man stopped. He was a white guy with lots of dirty, messy blond hair. “Somebody’s shooting up there.” He ran towards the car. His girl already in the passenger seat.  

They were out on Hollywood Blvd by the time Willie and I were taking the stairs. We ran into more people fleeing. More wide eyes and open mouths, gleaming and puffing in the dusk. An off-white tinge in the west made it hard to see anything but movement. Barnsdall was a plateau. You went up a set of stairs on the side of hill and then at the top the thing flattened out. There was a grove of trees straight ahead. An open lawn stretching out toward a white-line on the horizon.  

Willie was huffing behind me, I thought, my own breath in my ears was all I could hear. We both paused on the plateau, sucking oxygen. The darkness in that tree grove pulling us along.  

We didn’t say anything to each other. Maybe because we were out of breath, or words would only fail us, or give us away at this point. We moved under big pine trees, slow as we could, thinking someone could be lurking in the gloom still. Someone with a gun. 

Pine needles crunched under our feet.  

Something moved at our eleven.  

“Hey!” I yelled before thinking.  

More dark movements and then nothing. It seemed to disappear down the other side of the plateau and I was running after it before thinking. I tripped over something. The toes of my right foot catching a rock or a fallen limb, and then going tumbling over in the dirt and pine needles. It took me a minute to get my bearings after rolling around. Seeing Willie standing about ten feet away, recognizing that was the direction behind me.  

“You tripping over bodies now.” He said, not asking if I was alright, and immediately feeling shame for thinking of myself before a possible dead body.  

I got up and looked behind me for phantoms going down hills. Nothing. I stepped over to what I’d tripped on. I got out my phone for the flashlight. There was a notification on the screen.  

A text that read: “Kiss him goodbye for me”. 

Laughter burst out of my mouth. Willie looked at me. I couldn’t see his expression in the dark and I was quite happy with that. Managing to get the flashlight working on my phone we looked at the body on the ground.  

“That’s him.” Willie said.  

Who was him? “Erik.” I pointed out.  

“What the fuck’s so funny?” Big Willie asked.  

The phone was still in my hand, lighting up Erik’s back. I was still laughing apparently. He was face down in the dirt and pine needles and spit-away gum. But he wasn’t dead yet. He moaned and moved a bit. I moved the flash along his shiny back. He was wearing a silver, satin jacket, with a Raiders logo embroidered on the back.  

“Jesus Christ.” I lamented. The laughter was all gone.  

“Nice jacket.” Willie said.  

“You a Raiders fan?” But Willie didn’t bother to answer.

I moved the light a long three little, neat holes. Some red had seeped out into the silver thread. Erik Agassi groaned and tried to crawl, but he had three bullets percolating somewhere in the back of his lungs.  

Police sirens bleated too far away.  

Crouching over Erik to hear whatever he was muttering, caused my legs to cramp up. He was heaving something about Beebe. Yeah, we know. She shot you in the back and then sent a love letter via text. One last blurb of love. I got closer and could smell Erik’s breath. It smelled of rotting teeth and cigarettes. He was mumbling deathly shakes but managed a word or two about jewelry. Which made no sense to me.  

“We should kick rocks.” Willie urged. “Less you want nother body on your belt.” 

Erik was gone. Just like Jackie. Two dead and nothing but footsteps and police sirens to show for it. No, information is not free. Darkness under those trees was all we had. That and a strange marble. Jewelry indeed.  

“Let’s go.” I stood up and felt light-headed and flimsy-legged and didn’t know if the world was for me anymore.