Vigilante ss-11, page 1part #11 of Shane Scully Series
( Shane Scully - 11 )
Stephen J. Cannell
Stephen J. Cannell
The filthy rug limped along the sidewalk on swollen plastic baggie-wrapped feet, hunched against the chilly February wind. It was a Persian design with a navy and cranberry center surrounded by a stained, red and gold border. The rug was worn to the nub. I watched as it leaned against the wall of a six-story ornate rococo structure located on the corner of Broadway and Third Street in downtown L.A. A minute later a puddle of urine seeped from underneath it and spread across the sidewalk to drain into the gutter. The rug was pissing on the north wall of the magnificent Bradbury Building, built in 1893 and considered by most to be one of Los Angeles’s most significant architectural landmarks.
A minute later, the rug turned, revealing that it was wrapped around the shoulders of an ageless man with a complexion like a strawberry pie that had exploded in the oven, the planes and furrows of his face made red by a landscape of sores and broken capillaries. He was one of L.A.’s street denizens. This homeless resident of downtown was on a breakfast tour of the overflowing Dumpsters that sat in the alleys behind Broadway and had paused during his 8:00 A.M. buffet for a leak in plain view of a line of commuter traffic.
He deposited about a quart of dark, yellow liquid on the side of the rococo brick building, the top four floors of which currently housed the Internal Affairs Group of the LAPD.
I’m a police officer posted to Homicide Special, an elite investigations unit that is part of the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division, and this was my first cop dilemma of the day. As a sworn badge carrier, I knew I should arrest this guy on half a dozen public nuisance ordinances, but it was chilly outside and warm in my car and I had left my overcoat back at the office, so I really didn’t want to budge. Emotionally, I was sort of past this stuff. I’d given up rolling drunks years ago when I’d left Patrol.
I sat there, buffered against the crisp February wind, and tried to conjure up some pity. He was just a poor soul who had slipped through the cracks in our transient, fast-moving society. But ignoring him wasn’t working, because he still had his junk out and continued to urinate in public. I reminded myself that he was pissing on a building that housed the LAPD Internal Affairs Group, an act that most cops would certainly applaud.
I was working on these excuses, while waiting in the red zone in front of the Bradbury, hoping my partner, Sumner Hitchens, would hurry up and come down from a deposition he was giving upstairs at Internal Affairs Group. If he arrived in time I could get out of here without incident and leave the homeless guy to his urine-soaked wanderings.
Detectives all drove department cars, the sole exception being Homicide Special, because of the high-profile, often covert nature of our investigations. Hitch had called me this morning to ask if I could pick him up at IA because he’d dropped his Porsche Carrera off for servicing a block away on Broadway before walking over to the Bradbury.
Hitch was giving this deposition on behalf of two patrol officers who had been accused of beating a suspect named Quadry Barnes in a Hollywood Station interrogation room. My partner had been in the adjacent holding area when the event was supposed to have happened and had witnessed everything. He told me the arresting cops never laid a hand on Quadry, who by the way had just held up a 7-Eleven, killing two teenaged clerks, casually blowing them out of their socks with Teflon Black Talon 9mm hollow points, also known as cop killers, without so much as a shrug.
There was a continually changing set of rules in the street game we all now played. This felon had committed a double murder and, stupid asshole that he was, had done the deed in full view of the store’s surveillance cameras. Once confronted with the video, he abruptly cut a deal with the prosecutor and drew a “Skip Court, Pass Death Row” card, saving the court the time and expense of a lengthy trial and the state endless capital appeals, not to mention the final medical dispatch of Mr. Barnes to the lower regions of hell. As a result, this dirtbag got to keep breathing until he died of natural causes or got shanked in some prison yard brawl.
Right after making his lifesaving deal, Quadry promptly accused the arresting officers of doing a drum solo on his head in the station I-room with their PR-24 aluminum nightsticks.
The EMTs were called but couldn’t find a mark. This fact was of almost no consequence. Once the charge was made, regardless of its validity, Internal Affairs was mandated to take the case. The two patrol cops were pulled from the field and put on paper-clip duty for several months until the adjudication of their IA Board of Rights hearing.
Filing a false police report was a Class C felony worth, at best, only a year in jail, which meant nothing to Quadry Barnes, who had just agreed to serve a life sentence. It was just another part of the endless cycle of BS that cops were now forced to deal with.
I watched as the Persian rug wearer turned to look at the street. He still had his equipment out and now began waving it at the passing commuter traffic. I’d been studiously trying to avoid dealing with this guy, but he’d finally crossed the line. I opened my car door and got out. As I approached him I began to pick up a raw downwind odor, which grew in intensity as I neared.
“Excuse me, sir, but you’re unzipped,” I said politely. “Exposing yourself in public is a violation of Criminal Statute Three-One-Four, punishable by fines and incarceration.”
“You miss me wid dat, dog breath,” he growled through a busted mouth with the few teeth he had spaced wide like the front grille of a ’53 Buick. He waved his meat at me to make his point. “Dis here be the English Sentry. The English Sentry, he do what he do. I got no say over Lord Ding Wallace.”
“Don’t make me arrest you,” I said. Of course we both knew jail would be a step up in his accommodations. To back my empty threat I pulled out my badge. The wind shifted, and I was suddenly treated to an overpowering mixture of ripe odors well beyond my limited powers of description.
“The fuck do I care ’bout dat?” he said, taking offense.
The exchange was starting to escalate, as it usually does with schizophrenic street people.
“You stargazing, tally-whacking piece of shit.” “This here be Morning Pride. Big Boy needs his space.”
I really didn’t want to cuff this guy. If I put him in the Acura, I’d have to shampoo the interior when I got home. I was trying to decide my next move when my cell phone beeped with an incoming text message. I looked down and read a note from my captain, Jeb Calloway, at Homicide Special. He was asking me to call a homicide detective named Rick Laguna in Hollenbeck Division. I turned away from the Persian rug and punched in the attached number.
“Shane Scully, Homicide Special,” I said when he answered. “Is this Detective Laguna?”
“Yeah, Rick Laguna,” an unfamiliar voice replied. “I’m with Hollenbeck Homicide. We just picked up a fresh one-eighty-seven that you guys at Homicide Special need to process.”
“Who got killed?”
“I’d rather keep that off a cell transmission. The address is 1253 North Savannah Street in the Four-A-Fifty-Nine Basic Car Area of Hollenbeck. That block is claimed by the Evergreen gang, so park in tight near curb security.”
The Evergreens were a Hispanic set named after Evergreen Cemetery, which was located in Boyle Heights and was the final resting place for scores of their bullet-riddled homeboys.
“Is this gang related?” I asked.
“Who the hell knows what it is? I’ll tell you this much. You ain’t gonna like it. I’ll fill you in when ya get here.” He hung up.
I heard a splattering noise and pivoted to see the rug had moved behind me to my Acura. Lord Ding Wallace was now dispatching a yellow stream onto my
Just then, I spotted Hitch walking toward me from the Bradbury Building carrying a blond alligator wafer case with chunky gold fixtures that he’d once mentioned cost him over two thousand dollars. My millionaire partner was handsome, athletic, and looked tricked out this morning as usual, wearing a gray herringbone jacket with a silver pocket square over dark Armani slacks. Not that I can exactly spot an Armani cut, but I know Hitch favors that designer. His expensive wardrobe, coffee-colored complexion, and neatly trimmed moustache all contributed to his stylish GQ look.
My wardrobe is much closer to the ground. Off-the-rack Macy’s suits that go with my battered club fighter look, broken nose, and cowlicky short black hair.
Hitch stopped short when he saw the rug urinating on my tire and made a gesture of disbelief. “You gonna just let this ragbag piss on your ride, dawg?”
“He’s not pissing on my ride. He’s giving my tires an acid wash,” I deadpanned. “I can have him do yours later if you want.”
Hitch was still frowning at the homeless man as I said, “We just caught a case from Hollenbeck Division. Let’s roll.”
We climbed into the car and pulled away from the curb as the bum shouted after us.
“Go on. Run from the Purple Prince. See if I give a shit!”
I turned at the corner and headed north up Third toward the freeway and Hollenbeck Division. The fresh homicide was a perfect reason to leave the filthy rug, and Lord Ding Wallace, behind.
“What are we rolling on?” Hitch asked.
“Don’t know. You ever heard of a Hollenbeck dick named Rick Laguna?”
“Ricky Laguna? Yeah, we were in Southwest Patrol together. He’s a good guy when he’s not drinking.”
“He wouldn’t give me anything over his cell. Just said that I wouldn’t like it.”
“What’s to like anymore?” Hitch grumbled, still bummed over this morning’s deposition. “Damn job is getting to be less like police work and more like sewage management.”
We took Broadway to the 101 Freeway, turned east, and headed toward Hollenbeck Division.
“Get my laminated division map out of the glove box and tell me where the Four-A-Fifty-Nine Basic Car Area, will you? I need a good off-ramp for North Savannah Street.”
Hitch opened the glove box and reached for the map.
“I can’t believe how the job has changed,” he groused, leaking cynicism. “Think about how much time is being wasted on fuckheads like Quadry Barnes. That animal shoots two kids in a market and we got the killing on tape, but our patrol guys have been jacked up over it for a month. Half a dozen cops and witnesses get stuck doing depositions; then we have to waste a week next month testifying. All so this bleeding hemorrhoid can get a ride to L.A. from Soledad, sit at the advocates table in his orange prison jumpsuit, and laugh at us. Worse still, these one-eighty-one complaints are like penicillin-resistant clap. Even when they’re cleared, they never get off your record.”
Of course, I was in complete agreement. Hitch fell silent as he looked down at the division map.
“Best off-ramp is First Street; then go left,” he advised, then dropped the map, pulled out his phone, and hit a preset number.
“Jerry, it’s Hitch. When you pick this up, I forgot to tell you I sent the story option papers for Trial by Fire over to Ziff last night for a legal opinion. I think the second eighteen-month renewal option is okay, but it shouldn’t be free. Warners should have to pay for it. Call me once you’ve talked to him.” He clicked off.
My partner hit the jackpot when he sold a big murder case of his to the movies a few years ago. It ended up being a box-office smash. The case was about a serial murderer Hitch caught when he was in Metro Robbery Homicide. The killer believed the only way he could stay alive was to drink his victims’ blood. The film was Mosquito and it starred Jamie Foxx in the lead role of Detective Sumner Hitchens. The damn thing grossed over $600 million worldwide. Hitch had three back-end points, making him instantly wealthy.
The second case he sold was one we worked together last year, which he calls The Prostitute’s Ball. We’re still in script development on that and it probably won’t get shot for a year or so, if at all. I reluctantly took a piece of it, because my half of the story rights payment is rebuilding my son Chooch’s garage apartment at our house in Venice, California. “Chooch” is short for “Charles.” He’s my only child and is in his final year at USC on a football scholarship.
Hitch has agents at United Talent Agency. The guy he just called was Jerry Eisenberg, who heads their film department. Ziff is a Hollywood power lawyer named Ken Ziffren. These guys are all at the highest levels of the Biz, and Hitch sometimes manages his movie interests from the front seat of our D-ride.
“I’m thinking we’re running out of road here, dawg,” Hitch complained as he holstered his cell, still marinating over his morning deposition. “You gotta have a law degree to do police work anymore. I’m thinking maybe it’s time for us to jump out of this free-falling safe before it hits ground. Team up for real, make movies full-time.”
It was a discussion we had at least twice a week lately. I don’t want to be a movie producer-I’m a cop. I think I’d look really stupid in silk shirts and overlapping gold chains. But it seemed like Hitch was becoming more and more disenchanted with the job. I had been trying to find a way to pull him out of his funk.
When we arrived at North Savannah Street, I started picking up curb numbers, looking for 1253. In the late forties, the houses in this district were newly built postwar homes for middle-class factory workers, but the last sixty years had taken a heavy toll on the neighborhood. Now the decrepit stucco and wood-sided bungalows displayed security-barred windows, peeling paint, and graffiti as they squatted in a ragged line of weed-choked postage-stamp-sized lawns.
Throughout the seventies and eighties, these blocks had slowly been turned over to poor Hispanic families who came north to find a better life. Make recently, the neighborhood had become ensnared in a dense maw of gang violence. Tagger art announced the competing sets. Varrio Nuevo Estradas claimed blocks right next to Clique Los Primos. Farther down were White Fence and Krazy Ass Mexicans, Avenue 43’s, Fickes Street Locos, and Evergreen territories. At last count there were over forty-five Hispanic gangs operating in the Boyle Heights section of Hollenbeck Division.
During the daylight hours these blocks looked forlorn but not overly dangerous. Most of the vato hitters worked their drug corners all night, stayed up until dawn, and slept until late afternoon. This left the streets to little kids and old women with swollen ankles who ventured out to make their morning trips to the market, pushing their stolen silver schooners from Vons or Albertsons.
After dark, as any Hollenbeck patrol officer could tell you, this hood had a whole different vibe. Lowriders full of young killers were parked on every street with the lights off, watching their turf. Heavy salsa beats rocked the tires while marijuana smoke, called yerba, drifted from the open windows. The nights were often interrupted by the savage rip of a MAC-10 spitting out copper-jacketed death.
It was easy to spot the crime scene. Six patrol cars were parked at the curb with a bunch of cops milling out front. Graffiti tagged the street as Evergreen turf. As we headed toward the address, we drove by a new white Ford Econoline van with a big blue V-TV stenciled on the side.
“Uh-oh,” Hitch said as we passed the vehicle. The back door on the van was open, revealing an impressive array of large, silver-studded equipment boxes. A TV crew had set up in a yard and was interviewing a tattooed Hispanic youth, gunning off footage using two digital cameras and an elaborate lighting package.
“We’re fucked,” I groaned as I caught a glimpse of a familiar man conducting the interview. He was a medium-built blond-haired guy wearing a blue blazer and diagonally striped tie. It was Nixon Nash, host of Vigilante TV, a hot nationally syndicated TV show that was currently riding the top of the Nielsen ratings.
He turned around, looking out of the rear window at the receding TV van. “It’s not bad enough we got wet farts like Quadry Barnes to deal with. Now we gotta also put up with this guy.” Then he added, “With him here, now I’m really wondering who got murdered.”
Vigilante TV had sprung to national prominence a few years back. The show billed itself as a police watchdog. Nash actually referred to himself on the air as America’s number one video vigilante. V-TV was just beginning its third season. However, according to the show’s main title, the police legacy of its host, Nix Nash, had started twenty years earlier in Miami Beach.
Most cops across America knew Nash’s history by heart, because we all watched the show like ghoulish rubberneckers checking out a freeway disaster. In the mid-nineties Nix Nash had been a patrol officer in South Florida. After just three years on the job, he’d decided to change professions and quit the police force to go to law school.
As a lawyer he found his way to L.A. and began practicing here. The majority of his clients were violent predicate felons who, by the account of most, were guilty as hell of the charges brought against them. Despite that fact, Nash did very well getting them off, usually by claiming every imaginable brand of police impropriety. His favored courtroom tactic was to put the arresting officers on trial.
From 2000 to 2006 he expanded his L.A. practice to cover civil lawsuits against cops. The word around the courthouse was he was not above buying false testimony, although, in all fairness, that claim had never been proven.
If there is such a thing as karmic payback, it made a heartfelt appearance in 2006 when one of Nash’s partners turned him into our bunco squad for embezzling from his own law firm to support an over-the-top Hollywood lifestyle. Needless to say, a lot of overtime went into that investigation, but not one of the cops working it put in for even an hour. The case quickly rose to the level of divine providence.
Other author's books:
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