Hollywood Crows
Hollywood Crows




“Dude, you better drop that long knife,” the tall, suntanned cop said. At Hollywood Station they called him “Flotsam” by virtue of his being a surfing enthusiast.

His shorter partner, also with a major tan, hair even more suspiciously blond and sun streaked, dubbed “Jetsam” for the same reason, said, sotto voce, “Bro, that ain’t a knife. That’s a bayonet, in case you can’t see too good. And why didn’t you check out a Taser and a bean-bag gun from the kit room, is what I’d like to know. That’s what the DA’s office and FID are gonna ask if we have to light him up. Like, ‘Why didn’t you officers use nonlethal force?’ Like, ‘Why’d that Injun have to bite the dust when you coulda captured him alive?’ That’s what they’ll say.”

“I thought you checked them out and put them in the trunk. You walked toward the kit room.”

“No, I went to the john. And you were too busy ogling Ronnie to know where I was at,” Jetsam said. “Your head was somewheres else. You gotta keep your mind in the game, bro.”

Everyone on the midwatch at Hollywood Station knew that Jetsam had a megacrush on Officer Veronica “Ronnie” Sinclair and got torqued when Flotsam or anybody else flirted with her. In any case, both surfer cops considered it sissified to carry a Taser on their belts.

Referring to section 5150 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which all cops used to describe a mental case, Flotsam whispered, “Maybe this fifty-one-fifty’s trashed on PCP, so we couldn’t taze him anyways. He’d swat those darts outta him like King Kong swatted the airplanes. So just chill. He ain’t even giving us the stink eye. He just maybe thinks he’s a wooden Indian or something.”

“Or maybe we’re competing with a bunch of other voices he’s hearing and they’re scarier,” Jetsam observed. “Maybe we’re just echoes.”

They’d gotten nowhere by yelling the normal commands to the motionless Indian, a stooped man in his early forties, only a decade older than they were but with a haggard face, beaten down by life. And while the cops waited for the backup they’d requested, they’d begun speaking to him in quiet voices, barely audible in the unlit alley over the traffic noise on Melrose Avenue. It was there that 6-X-46 had chased and cornered him, a few blocks from Paramount Studios, from where the code 2 call had come.

The Indian had smashed a window of a boutique to steal a plus-size gold dress with a handkerchief hemline and a red one with an empire waist. He’d squeezed into the red dress and walked to the Paramount main gate, where he’d started chanting gibberish and, perhaps prophetically, singing “Jailhouse Rock” before demanding admittance from a startled security officer who had dialed 9-1-1.

“These new mini-lights ain’t worth a shit,” Jetsam said, referring to the small flashlights that the LAPD bought and issued to all officers ever since a widely viewed videotaped arrest showed an officer striking a combative black suspect with his thirteen-inch aluminum flashlight, which caused panic in the media and in the police commission and resulted in the firing of the Latino officer.

After this event, new mini-flashlights that couldn’t cause harm to combative suspects unless they ate them were ordered and issued to new recruits. Everything was fine with the police commission and the cop critics except that the high-intensity lights set the rubber sleeves on fire and almost incinerated a few rookies before the Department recalled all of those lights and ordered these new ten-ouncers.

Jetsam said, “Good thing that cop used flashlight therapy instead of smacking the vermin with a gun. We’d all be carrying two-shot derringers by now.”

Flotsam’s flashlight seemed to better illuminate the Indian, who stood staring up white-eyed at the starless smog-shrouded sky, his back to the graffiti-painted wall of a two-story commercial building owned by Iranians, leased by Vietnamese. The Indian may have chosen the red dress because it matched his flip-flops. The gold dress lay crumpled on the asphalt by his dirt-encrusted feet, along with the cut-offs he’d been wearing when he’d done the smash-and-grab.

So far, the Indian hadn’t threatened them in any way. He just stood like a statue, his breathing shallow, the bayonet held down against his bare left thigh, which was fully exposed. He’d sliced the slit in the red dress clear up to his flank, either for more freedom of movement or to look more provocative.

“Dude,” Flotsam said to the Indian, holding his Glock nine in the flashlight beam so the Indian could observe that it was pointed right at him, “I can see that you’re spun out on something. My guess is you been doing crystal meth, right? And maybe you just wanted an audition at Paramount and didn’t have any nice dresses to wear to it. I can sympathize with that too. I’m willing to blame it on Oscar de la Renta or whoever made the fucking things so alluring. But you’re gonna have to drop that long knife now or pretty soon they’re gonna be drawing you in chalk on this alley.”

Jetsam, whose nine was also pointed at the ponytailed Indian, whispered to his partner, “Why do you keep saying long knife to this zombie instead of bayonet?”

“He’s an Indian,” Flotsam whispered back. “They always say long knife in the movies.”

“That refers to us white men!” Jetsam said. “We’re the fucking long knives!”

“Whatever,” said Flotsam. “Where’s our backup, anyhow? They coulda got here on skateboards by now.”

When Flotsam reached tentatively for the pepper-spray canister on his belt, Jetsam said, “Uncool, bro. Liquid Jesus ain’t gonna work on a meth-monster. It only works on cops. Which you proved the time you hit me with act-right spray instead of the ’roided-up primate I was doing a death dance with.”

“You still aggro over that?” Flotsam said, remembering how Jetsam had writhed in pain after getting the blast of OC spray full in the face while they and four other cops swarmed the hallucinating body-builder who was paranoid from mixing recreational drugs with steroids. “Shit happens, dude. You can hold a grudge longer than my ex-wife.”

In utter frustration, Jetsam finally said quietly to the Indian, “Bro, I’m starting to think you’re running a game on us. So you either drop that bayonet right now or the medicine man’s gonna be waving chicken claws over your fucking ashes.”

Taking the cue, Flotsam stepped forward, his pistol aimed at the Indian’s pustule-covered face, damp with sweat on this warm night, eyes rolled back, features strangely contorted in the flashlight beams. And the tall cop said just as quietly, “Dude, you’re circling the drain. We’re dunzo here.”

Jetsam put his flashlight in his sap pocket, nowadays a cell-phone pocket, since saps had become LAPD artifacts, extended his pistol in both hands, and said to the Indian, “Happy trails, pard. Enjoy your dirt nap.”

That did it. The Indian dropped the bayonet and Flotsam said, “Turn and face the wall and interlace your fingers behind your head!”

The Indian turned and faced the wall, but he obviously did not understand “interlace.”

Jetsam said, “Cross your fingers behind your head!”

The Indian crossed his middle fingers over his index fingers and held them up behind his head.

“No, dude!” Flotsam said. “I didn’t ask you to make a fucking wish, for chrissake!”

“Never mind!” Jetsam said, pulling the Indian’s hands down and cuffing them behind his back.

Finally the Indian spoke. He said, “Do you guys have a candy bar I could buy from you? I’ll give you five dollars for a candy bar.”

When Jetsam was walking the Indian to their car, the prisoner said, “Ten. I’ll give you ten bucks. I’ll pay you when I get outta jail.”

After stopping at a liquor store to buy their meth-addled, candy-craving arrestee a Nutter Butter, they drove him to Hollywood Station and put him in an interview room, cuffing one wrist to a chair so he could still eat his candy. The night-watch D2, a lazy sensitivity-challenged detective known as “Compassionate” Charlie Gilford, was annoyed at being pulled away from shows like American Idol, which he watched on a little TV he kept concealed in the warren of work cubicles the size of airline restrooms, where he sat for hours on a rubber donut. He loved to watch the panels brutalize the hapless contestants.

The detective was wearing a short-sleeved, wrinkled white shirt and one of his discount neckties, a dizzying checkerboard of blues and yellows. Everyone said his ties were louder than Mötley Crüe, and even older. Charlie got fatigued listening to the story of the window smash on Melrose, the serenade to the guard at Paramount Studios’ main gate, the foot chase by the surfer cops, and the subsequent eerie confrontation, all of which Flotsam described as “weird.”

He said to them, “Weird? This ain’t weird.” And then he uttered the phrase that one heard every night around the station when things seemed too surreal to be true: “Man, this is fucking Hollywood!” After that, there was usually no need for further comment.

But Charlie decided to elaborate: “Last year the midwatch busted a goony tweaker totally naked except for a pink tutu. He was waving a samurai sword on Sunset Boulevard when they took him down. That was weird. This ain’t shit.”

When he spotted the acronym for American Indian Movement tattooed on the prisoner’s shoulder, he touched it with a pencil and said, “What’s that mean, chief? Assholes in Moccasins?”

The Indian just sat munching on the Nutter Butter, eyes shut in utter bliss.

Then the cranky detective sucked his teeth and said to the arresting officers, “And by the way, you just had to feed him chocolate, huh? This tweaker don’t have enough speed bumps?”

To the Indian he said, “Next time you feel like breaking into show business, take a look in the mirror. With that mug, you only got one option. Buy a hockey mask and try singing ‘Music of the Night.’”

“I’ll give you twenty bucks for another Nutter Butter,” the Indian finally said to Compassionate Charlie Gilford. “And I’ll confess to any crime you got.”

Copyright © 2012 by Joseph Wambaugh

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