Hollywood Moon
Hollywood Moon

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EXCERPT

ONE

“Hollywood Nate rents midgets,” the long-legged, sunbaked surfer cop whom the others called Flotsam said to his partner while 6-X-32 was passing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, cruising east on Hollywood Boulevard at twilight.

The dying spangled sunlight ricocheted off the windows of the taller buildings, and his shorter surfer partner, also weathered and singed, whom of course they called Jetsam, glanced at the driver through the smoked lenses of his wraparound shades and said, “What?”

Flotsam wore his two-inch hair gelled up in front like a baby cockatoo, and Jetsam’s was semispiked, both coifs streaked with highlights not provided by sun, sea, or nature. And with just enough gel to get it done and still not annoy the watch commander, a lieutenant in his early fifties, twenty years their senior, and very old-school.

“In fact,” Flotsam continued, “last Wednesday, Nate hired one to bowl with him for twenty bucks an hour. That’s when five coppers from the midwatch and Watch 2 got together at the bowling alley in the Kodak Centre with a bunch from north Hollywood and Wilshire. I heard that Nate, like, stole the spotlight with his midget.”

“Where did you hear about Hollywood Nate and midget love?” Jetsam wanted to know.

“I got it from Sheila,” Flotsam said, referring to Officer Sheila Montez, a midwatch P2 whom both surfer cops lusted for. “And I ain’t saying he loves little people, but, dude, he’s so cinematically dialed-in, he devised this way to capture the attention of all the bowling alley Sallys. His little fella gets all fl irty and cute with the Sallys, and it sets things up for Nate to move in and close the deal.”

Officer Nathan Weiss, a hawkishly handsome thirty-seven-year-old, physically fit gym rat, was called Hollywood Nate because he possessed a SAG card and had actually appeared briefl y in a few TV movies. And he always volunteered to work every red carpet event at the Kodak Theatre in his thus-far futile quest for cinematic discovery and eventual stardom.

Jetsam envisioned those feverishly hot Sallys as he shot a casual glance toward the Walk of Fame, where lots of curb creatures were already out. He saw a tweaker sidling closer toward the purse of an obese tourist who was busy yelling at her much smaller husband. The tweaker backed off and slithered into the crowd when Jetsam gave him the stink eye as the black-and-white passed. The Street Characters—Batman, Superman (two Supermans, actually), Darth Vader, Spider-Man, Bart Simpson, SpongeBob, and Catwoman—were all mingling with tourists in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, posing for camera shots in an endless quest for tourist bucks.

“Maybe we oughtta hire a midget too,” Jetsam said. “I used to bowl a lot when I was married to my second ex-wife, who I miss like a prostate infection. It was a low-rent bowling alley in Long Beach, and I was, like, the only bowler in the whole place who wasn’t sleazed-out. Even my second ex—who loved bowling, Leonardo DiCaprio, and pharmaceuticals—was inked-up, a butterfl y on her belly and my name on her ass. Her girlfriend told me how that prescription zombie screamed like a cat when they lasered my name off. I’da coughed up two weeks’ pay for a video of it. Her exotic girlfriend, by the way, might be worth your attention, bro. She’s an Indian.”

“Feather or dot?”

“Dot.”

“No way, dude,” Flotsam said. “Every time my laptop goes sideways, I get one of them on the line and always end up tossing my cell phone against the wall in frustration. I buy more cells than every cartel in Colombia. But I agree, we should definitely not overlook the target-rich environment at the Kodak Centre.”

Jetsam said, “Being where it’s located makes it, like, the most lavish bowling alley this side of the palace of Dubai. Maybe we can’t afford it?”

“‘Can’t’ is a frame of mind that don’t hold our photo,” Flotsam said. “Hollywood Nate claims that on certain nights, it’s full of bowling alley Sallys hoping Matt Damon will come in to roll a line or two, or maybe Brad Pitt when Angelina’s in Africa looking for sainthood with people even skinnier than she is.”

Jetsam said, “I hear what you’re saying, bro. I mean, there’s gotta be opportunities on those lanes for coppers as coolaphonic and hormonally imaginative as the almost four hundred pounds of male heat riding in this car.”

Flotsam thought about it some more and then said, “There’s a midget that works at the newsstand on Cahuenga. And there’s that roller-skating midget at Hollywood and Highland. The one that throws water balloons at tourists? He’d crawl in a clothes dryer for twenty bucks an hour.”

“A plethora of midgets ain’t gonna get us our way,” Jetsam said, showing off the new vocabulary he was acquiring from his community college class. “We gotta think original. Maybe we could, like, hire a clown to bowl with us. That would amaze those ten-pin tootsies.”

“I’m scared of clowns,” Flotsam blurted, and it was out of his mouth before he could take it back.

“You’re what?” Jetsam said, and this time he turned fully toward his partner as the late-summer sun dropped into the Pacific and lights came on in Hollywood, the fluorescent glow making the boulevard scene look even weirder to the swarming tourists.

Flotsam and Jetsam had been midwatch partners and fellow surfers for more than two years, but this was the fi rst time Jetsam had learned this incredible secret: His tall, rugged partner was afraid of clowns!

“Maybe I said it wrong, dude,” Flotsam quickly added. “It’s just that they, like, shiver me. The way a snake creeps you out, know what I mean?”

“Snakes don’t creep me out, bro,” Jetsam said.

“Rats, then. I seen you that time we got the dead-body call where rats were all eating the guy’s eyeballs. You were ready to blow chunks, dude.”

“It wasn’t the rats themselves, bro,” Jetsam said. “I just wasn’t ready for an all-out rodent luau.”

“Anyways, I’m just saying, clowns, like, make me, like, all…goose-bumpy. I mean, maybe I saw too many movies about slasher clowns or something, I don’t know.”

“This goes on my desktop,” Jetsam said with a grin. “I’m holding on to this.”

“What happens in our shop stays in our shop, dude,” Flotsam said grimly, referring to their car with its “shop number” on the roof and doors. “So hit your delete key.”

“I feel ya, bro,” Jetsam said. “No need to go all aggro. Next time a boulevard clown squirts a tourist with a water gun, just stay in the car and roll your window up and lock the doors. I’ll man-up for both of us. And I’ll taze the first asshole that calls my partner a sissified, whimpering bitch.”

 

While 6-X-32 was cruising the boulevard, two homeless middle-aged panhandlers in east Hollywood named Axel Minton and Bootsie Brown were pushing a man in a wheelchair along the sidewalk to a graffiti-tagged neighborhood market frequented by local pensioners. It was a store where Axel and Bootsie often begged for change from the residents of the neighborhood, mostly Latino and Asian, who bought groceries there.

Axel was a spindly white man with sprigs of gray hair who would drink anything from a bottle if the label indicated any alcohol content. Bootsie was a black man blind in one eye who slept in a storage shed behind the apartment building where eighty-eight-year-old pensioner Coleman O’Toole lived. They both wore layers, sooty and drab, molded to their forms like fungus until it wasn’t clear where the fabrics left off and they began. And neither was many gallons away from wandering Hollywood Boulevard—like all those other self-lobotomized colorless specters in pull-tab necklaces and football helmets, or maybe wearing bikini bottoms on their heads—pushing a trash-laden shopping cart, chanting gibberish, or yodeling at terrified tourists. The Hollywood cops called it “gone to Dizzyland.”

Each transient had wheeled Coleman O’Toole to the store many times for a modest fee. This time they were both pushing the wheelchair, and they were bickering when they stopped in front and entered, leaving Coleman O’Toole parked in the shadows.

While Axel and Bootsie were inside loading up on shelf items, which included three quarts of 100-proof vodka and three quarts of gin, another octogenarian transient, known as Trombone Teddy, shuffled by. He’d been a good bebop sideman back in the day, or, as he put it, “when I was a real person.” Teddy, who was well known to offi cers at Hollywood Station, looked curiously at the fi gure in the wheelchair. Then he used his last few coins to phone the police, and the call was given to 6-X-32 of the midwatch.

Axel and Bootsie’s bottles of liquor and several bags of snacks were piled on the counter. The part-time clerk, who called herself Lucy, was a white transsexual in a blinged-out T-shirt, low-rise jeans, nosebleed stilettos, and magenta hair extensions piled so high she wouldn’t have felt being conked by a bottle of Corona, which could easily happen in that store. She adjusted her silk scarf to better conceal the healing from recent surgery to remove her manly apple and looked at the transients curiously.

Being acquainted with both of them as well as with Coleman O’Toole, she said, “Is Coley throwing a party or what?”

“It’s his birthday,” Bootsie said.

“No, it isn’t,” the tranny said. “His birthday was last month, same as mine. He brought me a card.”

“It ain’t his birthday, dummy,” Axel said to Bootsie. “It’s the anniversary of his retirement from the railroad. He has a party every year to celebrate his current life of comfort and ease.”

Lucy looked at Coleman O’Toole’s pension check and at the endorsement. The signature looked like the old man’s scrawl. “Why don’t you wheel Coley inside?” the tranny said, squinting out the window at the wheelchair figure alone in the darkness.

“You wanna check his ID, see if he’s old enough to buy booze?” Bootsie said with a wet, nearly toothless grin.

“Yeah, you wanna card old Coleman?” Axel said, snuffl ing and grinning wider than Bootsie. “Actually, the old bugger’s sick. Puked halfway down the street. You don’t want him in here unless you got a bucket and mop.”

“And all this booze is gonna cure him?” Lucy said, then shrugged and started ringing up the items just as 6-X-32 parked in front of the store and was met by Trombone Teddy.

The cops hardly noticed the old guy in the wheelchair, and Flotsam said, “Did you make the call, Teddy?”

“Yes, sir,” Teddy said. “Is there a reward for capturing a couple of crooks for check fraud?”

“Whadda you mean?” Jetsam said.

“If you would put in a word to the store owner, would he give me a few bucks for blowing the whistle on a pair of thugs?”

“High-level business negotiations are above my pay grade, Teddy,” said Flotsam. “But I gotta think somebody’d buy you a forty or two.”

“Okay,” Teddy said. “I’ll take a chance that generosity still exists in this ungrateful, goddamn world. Go inside and you’ll find two thieves cashing a stolen check.”

“This better be righteous, Teddy,” Flotsam said, walking inside with Jetsam at his back.

The tranny, who was as tall as Flotsam in those heels, was surprised when the cop appeared and said, “Can I see that check?”

Pushing the check across the counter, Lucy said, “Something wrong, Officer?”

“That’s what we wanna know,” Jetsam said.

Flotsam examined the check and said, “Are either of you Coleman O’Toole?”

It was Lucy who said, “No, they’re not, Officer. Coley’s the one out there in the wheelchair. These two sometimes wheel him down here to buy groceries.”

“Coley’s the salt of the earth,” Axel said, looking uneasy. “I’d fight a whole pack of pit bulls for old Coley. He’s a fellow wine connoisseur.”

“Connoisseurs don’t drink wine in a paper bag,” Jetsam noted.

“Coley’s my man,” Bootsie said. “When some no-account neighbor put lye in his gin bottle one time and he ended up wif a tube in his stomach, it was me that poured some good whiskey into the tube so he could get drunk.”

“That’s a touching testament to friendship,” Flotsam said, putting the check on the counter.

He walked to the door, nodding to Jetsam, who stayed inside while the grocery transaction was being completed. Lucy was counting out the change when Flotsam came back inside.

Axel Minton looked at the cop’s expression and said, “ Uh-oh.”

The tranny’s eyes were theatrically made-up so as to be seen from balcony seats, and those amazing orbs moved from Flotsam to the transients and back again before she said, “Don’t tell me that’s not Coleman O’Toole out there in the wheelchair!”

“Oh, yeah,” said Flotsam. “I’m sure it’s him. He’s strapped in and rigged up nice as you please.”

“What’s the problem, then?” Lucy asked.

“It’s that he won’t be needing all this booze,” Flotsam said. “Him being deceased and all.”

“Uh-oh,” said Bootsie, who pointed at Axel. “It was his idea after we found Coley layin’ on the fl oor, colder than Aunt Ruby’s poon.” Then he looked at the tranny and said, “Sorry for my rude mouf, Miss Lucy.”

“You lying rat!” Axel said to Bootsie. Then to the cops, “He was the one noticed Coley had already signed his check!”

“Tha’s right, Officer,” Bootsie said, “but it was this here pissant that pointed to Coley layin’ there quiet as a bedbug on your pilla and said ol’ Coley woulda wanted us to cash it and have a Irish wake!”

“Okay, you two turn around and put your hands behind your backs,” Flotsam said. And sotto to Jetsam, “Better notify the night-watch detective about the corpse in the wheelchair and our two grave robbers. While we’re waiting for the body snatchers, I’ll take care of Teddy.”

As Jetsam led the handcuffed miscreants out to their car to await the arrival of the coroner’s van, Flotsam bought a pint of Jack for Trombone Teddy to show that generosity still exists in this ungrateful, goddamn world.

 

The woman officer with the smartest mouth at Hollywood Station was Dana Vaughn, and Hollywood Nate was stuck with her for at least one deployment period, an unhappy way to spend his first month back on the midwatch. He’d spent a year at the Community Relations Office (acronym CRO, pronounced “crow”), tending to touchy-feely quality-of-life issues and getting a little bump in pay for the easy work. But when fellow crow Bix Ramstead shot himself after being involved in a scandal, a lot of the fun was gone from the job and Nate felt like returning to real police work. Besides, he needed to work nights in order to keep his days free to pursue and torment casting agents. At age thirty-seven, it was now or never.

With sixteen years on the LAPD, Nate Weiss figured he’d have to stick around for at least four more years to ensure a vested pension, but one he couldn’t draw until the age of fifty, which kept most cops on the job long past twenty years. He wondered what he’d do if his acting career finally caught fire in the next four years? Would it be worth it to resign from the LAPD and lose that pension for an uncertain career as an actor? He might damn well need the pension after he turned fifty and his pecs were falling and he couldn’t suck in his gut any longer. Hollywood Nate felt that he was way too handsome to make it as an older character actor, and the mere thought of it made Nate unconsciously pass his hand over his abdominals, well covered by a T-shirt, a Kevlar vest, and his uniform shirt.

Dana Vaughn, also a P2, who was driving 6-X-76’s Ford Crown Vic late that afternoon, hadn’t missed it. She never missed a thing, which was one of the reasons Hollywood Nate didn’t quite feel relaxed around her.

After noticing that subtle move to his belly, Dana said, “Yeah, you’re ripped, Nate. Abs to die for. Must be tough being as smokin’ hot as you. Who cleans all the mirrors in your house?”

“I just have a slight stomachache is all,” said Hollywood Nate lamely.

“Sure, honey,” Dana said with that throaty, tinkling chuckle of hers, which irritated him all the more because he actually liked the sound of it.

When he muttered, “I’d sure hate to work for you when you make sergeant,” she laughed, and that pissed him off more than when she snarked him about his vanity.

Another thing he disliked about Dana Vaughn was that she called him honey in the way that his aunt Ruthie called him honey. Like the old woman at the donut stand in Farmers Market, his usual destination for a croissant and coffee in the morning.

Dana was six years older than Nate, with twenty-one years on the job, but she acted like she was from the WW II generation or something. Almost every damn thing she said to him somehow sounded patronizing and made Nate feel like a kid. And to make matters worse, she still looked good. She was fit, with great shoulders and only faint lines starting around her alert golden-brown eyes and at the sides of her mouth when she smirked at him.

Dana used the workout room nearly as much as Nate, always in a tight tank and spandex shorts. She didn’t even bother to dye her salt-and-pepper ear-length bob, and it looked just right on her, emphasizing the woman she was, not the girl she had once been. If she’d been what the surfer cops called a yuckbabe or one of those always griping about “JFH,” meaning just-fucked hairdo, instead of an older woman who still looked hot and knew it, Nate figured she’d have been easier to take.

The first time Nate had ever seen Dana was in the station parking lot when he happened to be loading his war bag and shotgun into his shop after he’d just come back to patrol from his stint at the Community Relations Office. Dana was also new to Watch 5, the midwatch, and had been working for the first time that night with young Harris Triplett, a phase-three probationer whose field training officer was on a day off. Since the P1 was in the last phase of his eighteen months of probation, he could be put with a P2 like Dana instead of with a P3 FTO. In fact, Harris was scheduled to complete his probation in a matter of days, and Nate had intended to buy him a burger to celebrate.

Nate remembered seeing her dead-stare the kid just before she got behind the wheel that fi rst night, and he heard her say to Harris, “Boy, I need to know right out front. Do you intend to fanny burp in my presence or in our shop?”

“Of course not, ma’am!” Harris Triplett said, stunned.

Then Dana said, deadpan, “Do you intend to crank up loogies? You got loogie problems, I suggest you swallow them. To spit them out the window and have them blow back on our shop would be highly unprofessional and might jeopardize your probation.”

“I don’t do things like that!” Harris said.

“I want you to remember a few basics about curb creatures,” she said. “Rock cocaine is either in their mouths or in their butts. Watch the breathing of the chest for a tip-off. It’s a built-in lie detector. And throw their keys on the roof of their car if you’re gonna return to our shop to run their records.”

“Yes, ma’am. Okay,” Harris said.

“And if they got booty rock, it’s your job to deal with it. There are dark and scary places where I won’t go.”

“Right,” Harris said earnestly.

Dana wasn’t through. “One more thing: Most males have no shame, but you need to remember there’re EEO laws on the books regarding age and gender. Do you resent working with me because my badge and handcuffs’re older than you? And do you think you can get away with making sexual innuendos and maybe touching me in an inappropriate way because I’m an old woman?”

His face flushed, Harris Triplett looked around for help at that moment, and the passing surfer cops stepped in to save him.

“She’s just honking on you, dude,” Flotsam said to the boot.

Still deadpan, Dana continued, “On second thought, I’m pretty much EEO-proof. You can fanny burp if you want to, but no loogies. And about the sexual harassment, if I happen to touch you in a lewd or offensive way, you have every right to complain to the watch commander.” A long pause. “But tell me you won’t, honey. Please tell me you won’t!”

“Get in the car, bro. She won’t hurt you…very much,” Jetsam said to the utterly bewildered rookie, and for the fi rst time, Hollywood Nate got to see Dana Vaughn flash that annoying half-smile of hers when she slid in behind the wheel.

Remembering that episode, Hollywood Nate had to admit that Dana was sometimes entertaining, even though she could be a major pain in the ass. A good thing about her was that, like Nate, she preferred Starbucks latte with biscotti to the usual Winchell’s cuppa joe with two sugars, two creams, and a raspberry jelly donut. Moreover, Nate knew that she’d been in a fatal shooting the month prior, when she’d worked Watch 3.

That late-night watch was a graveyard shift for three days a week, lasting twelve hours. It overlapped the hours of the four-day-a-week, ten-hour midwatch. Two weeks after the shooting, Dana had asked to be assigned to the midwatch, and her request was granted. As an authentic gunfighter and a senior officer on the sergeants list, she was entitled to great respect.

For twelve years prior to her assignment to night-watch patrol at Hollywood Station, Dana Vaughn had been away from patrolling the streets. She’d worked at the police academy for eight years as an instructor, teaching computer classes and report writing and reviewing the academic curriculum. Then, after leaving the academy, she’d spent four more years across the street from Hollywood Station in the Hollywood narcotics unit, housed in a small building at the corner of De Longpre and Wilcox. There she did mostly administrative chores and helped the UC coordinators who handled the undercover officers.

Being a single mom, Dana Vaughn had tried for most of her career to keep from working the streets, seeking jobs that would allow her to have evenings at home and weekends off in order to properly raise her daughter. Late in her career, Dana had decided to take the sergeants exams, passed them easily, and was on the sergeants list. Now that her eighteen-year-old daughter, Pamela, was going off to Cal in September, Dana had decided that it was time to get more street experience in a black-and-white. After her promotion, she’d be sent to a patrol division as a supervisor, and she wanted to be ready for the new job.

Dana’s ex-husband, a lawyer at a firm in the city’s tallest downtown office building, at Fifth and Grand, had bought their daughter a new Acura for high school graduation and assured them both that all through her university studies, he’d send $1,500 a month for Pamela, and he’d promised to continue the payments through graduate school if she sought an advanced degree. All of this made Dana despise the philandering bastard a little less than she had during their brief marriage.

An incident that Hollywood Nate found very strange happened the very first night that he worked with Dana Vaughn. They’d received a “prowler there now” call in the Hollywood Hills on a street below the famous Hollywood sign. They were the first and, Nate assumed, the only car to arrive. After checking the property on foot with flashlights, and after interviewing a nervous neighbor who thought she’d heard somebody knock over a trash can, they decided that it was probably a coyote or a raccoon or even a deer, since the hills were full of critters.

When Nate and Dana were returning to their shop, Nate noticed another Crown Vic, parked half a block farther down the unlit street. Silhouetted across the roof was a light bar.

“That doesn’t look like a midwatch unit,” he’d said to Dana Vaughn, trying to peer through the darkness. “Must be somebody from Watch Three.”

“It is,” she said.

“You got infrared eyeballs or what?” Nate said. “How do you know?”

“I know,” she said.

“Why’re they sitting there in the dark like that?”

“That’s how a guardian angel does it,” Dana said, starting the engine and driving back down to the flats, passing the parked black-and-white without a word and without looking its way.

“It’s great working with you,” Nate said. “I just love a mystery.”

Dana Vaughn heaved a sigh and said, “I’m sure you remember the OIS I got involved in when I was working Watch Three.”

“Yeah, everyone knows you smoked a guy that was doing a death grapple with…what’s his name.”

“Leon Calloway is his name,” Dana said. “That’s him in the parked unit, with his partner.”

“You gonna enlighten me or what?” Nate asked.

And then Dana Vaughn said, “Yeah, I guess I’ve gotta.” And she slowly began to tell Hollywood Nate the story of her officer-involved shooting, which had endeared her to even the most hardcore anti-female coppers on Watch 3, one of whom had been Leon Calloway.

Calloway was a hulking, flat-nosed, twenty-five-year P2 with a jutting jaw that pushed into a room ahead of him, and a meticulously shaved head the size of a beach ball. He’d spent his last ten years working the night watch at Hollywood Station. When Dana Vaughn transferred to Hollywood patrol, some of the women officers told her which guys were good to work with and which were not. Calloway was in the latter group. When he occasionally worked with women officers who were in phase three of their probation, he was a mouth-breathing nightmare who scared the hell out of them.

Calloway would usually start the evening by saying to a female rookie, “I hope you can hold your pee or do it in an alley like a man. I don’t like looking for a ladies’ room when I’m doing police work.”

That might be followed by “Velcro crotches would solve the problem. I think I’ll invent police pants with a Velcro crotch for all you…ladies.”

It wouldn’t take long either before he’d look at the young boot, and no matter how feminine she appeared, he’d say, “Are you a lesbian?”

The first time they encountered Latino gang members in Southeast Hollywood, he’d always tell the probationer, “I don’t chase. If they run, you chase. I’ll drive after them. Try to keep up.”

Or he’d say, “Do you carry D batteries in your war bag?”

And when the perplexed female rookie said, “No, sir, why?” Calloway would say, “To throw at any little asshole that disses us by running. I hope you got a good arm, sis.”

And all young boots were warned by the older female officers that if they got an upset stomach from eating greasy tacos fried in lard from a stand on Normandie Avenue—which Calloway liked because it was a “full pop,” meaning it was free to cops—or if they were under the weather for any other reason, he was sure to say, “Oh, you’re not feeling well? Is it that time?”

The young women learned very quickly that they’d chosen a career in what was still a man’s world, and Leon Calloway never let them forget it.

He didn’t try any of this with women cops as senior as Dana Vaughn, but he was a hellish partner for rookie Sarah Messinger, who happened to be riding shotgun with Calloway on the night that Dana Vaughn got into the only officer-involved shooting of her career.

A business dispute had taken place between a streetwalking prostitute on the east Sunset Boulevard track and a customer who happened to be a parolee-at-large. The parolee was a large black man, even bigger than Leon Calloway and, as it turned out, considerably stronger. Although Hollywood had a very small African-American population, it was a nighttime destination for many black men from south L.A. because it was, well, Hollywood. The parolee, whose name was Rupert Moore, was one of those, and he was specifically looking for transsexuals or drag queens, having gotten a taste for them during his twelve-year jolt in Folsom Prison.

The detectives later learned that earlier in the evening, Rupert Moore had been turned away by at least one tranny and two dragons on the Santa Monica Boulevard track. After drinking in a bar on Western Avenue for three hours, Rupert Moore had decided to try east Sunset Boulevard, where he’d met a Latino tranny named Javier Molina, aka Josefina Lamour. A drag queen who was working a short distance farther east saw and heard the encounter and later gave details to homicide detectives.

Apparently Josefina didn’t like the look of Rupert Moore any more than the other trannies and dragons had. Josefina waved him off when he pulled his green Mazda to the curb, slurring his words and saying, “Say, baby, how ’bout you and me go for some sweet time in any motel you want.”

Josefina had never been known to take black tricks and wasn’t about to start with this supersize drunk. “ Uh-uh, sorry,” Josefina said.

Rupert Moore had heard too many “uh-uhs” that evening, and he turned off the engine and got out.

Josefina tried walking away fast in sky-high wedges, but Rupert Moore, with his much longer stride, caught up and said, “Sweet stuff, I got forty-five dollars and it’s all for you.”

Josefina kept walking until Rupert Moore grabbed the tranny by the arm and said, “You think you’re too good for this nigger? Is that it, bitch?”

“I’m sorry,” Josefina said, very frightened, looking around for a black-and-white, a vice car, anything! But the headlights kept passing swiftly by on Sunset Boulevard, and nobody seemed to notice or care that a large man was holding a small woman by the arm as she struggled to break free.

The Pakistani owner of a nearby liquor store later said that he heard a scream, and when he ran outside, he saw Josefina Lamour trying to hold her spilling intestines inside her belly as Rupert Moore ran to his car, brandishing a bloody knife. Josefina Lamour was dead when the ambulance arrived eight minutes later.

Six-Adam-Seventy-nine, driven by Leon Calloway with his female rookie as passenger, was the first to spot the Mazda, moments after the call came out. It was his P1 partner’s first pursuit, and it was memorable for the way things ended for all concerned.

With light bar flashing and siren howling, Calloway drove a nine-minute pursuit that made the rookie regret not having taken her partner’s advice about going to the bathroom before leaving the station. The pursuit ended in Rampart Division west of Alvarado, where, after a turn onto a one-way street, Rupert Moore crashed the Mazda into a row of trash cans sitting curbside in front of an apartment house. Two tires blew, and the parolee leaped from the damaged car and ran in panic into the darkness.

Within minutes, sixteen cops from Hollywood and Rampart Divisions were swarming the neighborhood with flashlights, searching yards and stairwells of apartment buildings, scanning fire escapes, and climbing walls and fences to check neighboring yards. But their murder suspect was nowhere to be found.

A voice on the tactical frequency said, “Airship up!” And soon they heard the police helicopter overhead and knew the spotter was trying to use night vision lenses to find their suspect.

Bored with it all, Leon Calloway decided to amuse himself at the expense of young Sarah Messinger. The rookie was just about to go into a dark alley, remove her Sam Browne in the darkness, and probably drop her radio and half her other gear in order to have an urgently needed pee.

The two of them had been searching as a team and were now half a block from the nearest assistance. They had entered a seedy apartment complex from the street side, climbing over a security gate. After searching alcoves and stairwells, they’d emerged in a poorly tended public area that fed onto the alley and was protected by a ten-foot-high wrought-iron fence with razor wire across the top. The gate could be opened from the yard side but was keyed on the alley side, a good thing given the number of Latino gang members who lived in houses and apartments bordering that alley.

When the partners got to the imposing security fence and Sarah was ready to scurry into the alley for the nature call, the big veteran cop backed against the wall of an adjoining garage, paused, and held a vertical finger to his lips, as though he’d heard something. Of course, his young partner froze and listened also, but all she could hear were the hum of traffic, meringue music coming from one of the second-floor apartments, and the faint sound of other cops calling to one another somewhere east in the alley.

Suddenly Leon Calloway began to bark. The sound came from his chest and passed up to his throat, where it took on a gravelly resonance that made Sarah Messinger actually spin around, expecting to face a gangbanger’s pit bull. Leon Calloway’s face looked flushed in the moonlight as he continued to strain and bark.

Then he yelled, “Come out, asshole, or we’ll turn the dog loose. This is your last chance.”

His astonished young partner gaped at this amazing performance until Leon Calloway whispered to her, “For chrissake, boot, tap on the side of the garage!” Then he began barking again.

Sarah Messinger obeyed in confusion by knocking twice on the clapboard with her knuckles.

Leon Calloway stopped barking and whispered urgently, “What the hell’s the matter with you? I said ‘tap.’ Use your baton, and don’t stop till I tell you.” Then he watched her draw her baton and knock on the wood siding: tap-tap-tap-tap.

It seemed to satisfy him and he shouted, “Last chance, dipshit! I’m taking the leash off Rambo right this second, hear me?” After that, he resumed barking.

Sarah Messinger was miserable. She had to pee desperately, and there was a killer on the loose, and she was tapping on the side of a ramshackle garage, and her goofy-ass partner was barking like a crazed Doberman, and finally, she’d had enough.

“Sir,” said Sarah Messinger, “why am I tapping on the side of this garage?”

“Why do you think, dummy?” said Leon Calloway. “It’s our dog wagging its tail!”

The rookie cop never got a chance to respond to this new information, or to Leon Calloway’s canine performance in general, because the instant she stopped tapping and he stopped barking, she heard a scraping above her. And when she looked up, Rupert Moore, who had been lying flat on the garage roof, legs and arms spread as he tried to hang on to the broken composite shingles, lost his grip completely and slid down, tumbling off the roof and landing with all 280 pounds on Sarah Messinger, slamming her skull onto the concrete and partially paralyzing her.

Officer Messinger finally got to release the few hundred cubic centimeters of urine from her bladder while she flopped on the walkway like a fish, and Officer Leon Calloway found himself fighting for his life with a man even bigger and stronger than he was. Rupert Moore had dropped the murder weapon on the walkway next to the flailing young woman who was trying in vain to get her limbs to obey and whose body happened to cover the knife, preventing the killer from grabbing it before he scrambled to his feet.

Then Leon Calloway began shouting for help and trying to draw his Beretta, but Rupert Moore, surging with adrenaline, had the cop’s hand in both of his, and there began what looked to the semiconscious young partner like a macabre death dance. Two big men, one of them shouting for help, the other screaming curses, both clawing at the pistol, lunging forward and jerking backward in a lunatic fox-trot, banging into the wrought-iron gate, falling to their knees, and then crashing down onto the walkway. The killer was on his back and the cop on top of him, the pistol at chest level of both men, whose grunts and raspy breathing sounded to the still-helpless rookie like noises in the hog pen on her grandparents’ farm in Stockton.

Instantly, there were flashlight beams and more shouts. Men were yelling, as was a woman, who had all run down the alley in the direction of Leon Calloway’s cries for help. But they couldn’t help him. They were locked out of the yard by the tall iron barrier and the razor wire.

One male voice hollered, “Run around to the front, Sam! Hurry up!”

Another yelled, “I’ll climb the fence next door! Get some light up there!”

Another screamed to the still-floundering rookie, “Shoot him! Shoot the bastard!”

Then there were more voices screaming at both Leon Calloway and Sarah Messinger: “Shoot! Shoot! Kill the fucker! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”

But Sarah Messinger couldn’t shoot anybody. Her entire focus was on getting her knees under her, and she couldn’t even manage that.

By this time, the three cops still standing outside the fence had guns pointed and were lighting Rupert Moore and Leon Calloway with crisscrossing flashlight beams, but nobody dared take a shot, not with heads bobbing and the big cop on top. Leon Calloway hadn’t enough strength left to do anything but hang on to the gun, with the tip of his index finger jammed between the trigger and the grip to keep it from firing. From one second to the next, Leon Calloway didn’t know if the muzzle was pointed toward Rupert Moore’s face or at his own, but he sensed it was at himself.

Now the helicopter was hovering right above them, lighting the life-or-death struggle with an aerial spotlight, and Sarah Messinger resumed her battle with cerebral contusion and the law of gravity, managing to get to her knees. And when she looked up, there in a literal spotlight, she was uncertain if this was reality or just another Hollywood production. Then she began vomiting all over her uniform shirt while voices were still screaming at her, “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”

But Officer Sarah Messinger just had to ignore them all, and she lay back down, her cheek pressed to the concrete, and in a moment went into the deepest slumber of her young life, one from which she would not awaken for ten days.

In agony, Leon Calloway tried to muscle the gun down, but Rupert Moore kept bending his wrist inexorably, and the muzzle kept moving back, back toward the face of the cop, who felt Rupert Moore’s powerful fingers gouging, prying his own away from the trigger guard. And then there was nothing he could do to stop this powerful force.

During those last seconds, Leon Calloway was certain he would die, and he tried to remember the words he’d learned at catechism: “O my God, I am sorry for having offended…”

One blast, one fireball, one echoing .40 caliber round ringing in their ears, and it stopped the praying, the shouting, the Hollywood fantasy, everything.

It came from the yard next door, also fenced off with wrought iron, which Dana Vaughn and her male partner had entered from three properties away during all the screaming. By climbing the fences, they’d managed to get to the adjoining yard of a stucco triplex, where they had a better view. They were right in the kill zone, with Rupert Moore lying at an angle where one of them could risk a head shot. Maybe.

And that’s what Dana Vaughn had done. While her partner was unholstering his nine, she was already at the fence, aiming her Glock with both hands as the airship’s spotlight bounced and the crisscrossing beams from flashlights danced over the two men, making her dizzy. She took a long breath, held it, and squeezed off the only shot she’d ever fired outside the police pistol range.

The .40 caliber round did not strike the intended target, which was the skull of Rupert Moore, but was close enough, entering the side of his throat, ripping apart the carotid arteries and bathing Leon Calloway first in spatter, then in spurt, when he fell face forward onto the gurgling killer, who began quickly to drown in his own blood.

The first rescue ambulance that roared into the alley whisked Sarah Messinger from the scene, followed by a second. One of the cops waiting outside the now-open security gate worried that Rupert Moore hadn’t bled out yet and said to the paramedics, “Did you happen to hear the Dodgers game? Did they win tonight? Who was pitching?”

The paramedics declined the invitation to discuss Dodgers box scores and instead ran to the side of Rupert Moore, who might not have finished bleeding out but who was very dead nonetheless.

At that point in the story, Dana said to Hollywood Nate, “The watch commander sent me downtown to the BSS shrink, and I had to show up without a weapon and sit around with a bunch of other cops who were supposed to talk about emotional trauma they were supposed to’ve experienced. Nobody had much to say, and when it was my turn, I had nothing to say. So I had to go for a private session, where the shrink said, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’ And ‘Tell me about your relationship with your parents.’ I said to him, ‘A cop was about to get killed. What do my parents have to do with it?’ He said, ‘Well, then, tell me what you felt when you pulled that trigger.’ I said, ‘First of all, I didn’t pull, I squeezed. And I felt the Glock buck in my hand. And I also felt an acrylic nail snap off when my finger got snagged on the wire fence. And I felt pissed off because I paid forty bucks for those acrylics. Those are the things I felt.’ Finally, he seemed to think I was hopeless and gave up.”

“What happened to the young boot?” Nate asked.

“She’s okay,” Dana said. “She was in a coma for ten days, but she’s in physical therapy and doing fine now. She was brand-new to Watch Three when it happened, so I didn’t know her at all and had never spoken to her, not even in the locker room.”

“And that was Calloway in the black-and-white?”

“He’s the main reason I requested to come to Watch Five. I thought that if he didn’t see me at roll call every day, he might stop dogging me.”

“So he’s your guardian angel,” Nate said.

“On Watch Three, whenever he was clear, he’d roll on every call of mine that he figured had the slightest element of danger involved. I’m sure it drove his partners crazy. I know it drove me crazy.”

“And now you have someone to watch over you, just like in the song.”

“Much to my discomfort,” Dana said. “I tried talking to him about it, but he claims he backs up everyone like this. I finally talked confidentially to the watch commander and got to come to Watch Five.”

It was close to midnight when Dana Vaughn and Nate Weiss got a “man with a gun” call to the parking lot near the border with West Hollywood. It involved an elderly resident shooting at feral cats with a pellet gun. The pensioner explained that the cats were keeping him awake with their cries at night.

After giving the appropriate warnings and hearing promises from the old guy’s daughter that it would never happen again, Dana and Nate were walking to their car, and there it was again: 6-A-79 parked a few houses away, lights out, watching.

“Okay, that’s it!” Dana Vaughn said.

While Nate waited beside their shop, she crossed the street and approached the driver’s side, saying, “Leon, can I talk to you for a minute?”

The hulking cop said something to his partner, got out of the black-and-white, and trudged off with Dana Vaughn until they were alone.

She said to him, “Leon, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that you think you’re taking care of me, and I know why, but you gotta stop.”

“I back up everyone on code two and code three calls if I can,” he said, avoiding her eyes.

“Not like this, you don’t,” Dana said. “And it’s embarrassing.”

Leon Calloway, looking in the direction of his shoes, said, “You saved my life, Dana. I was two seconds from having my face blown apart. When I go home at night and peek in at my son sleeping, I think, I get to do this because of Dana Vaughn. When I wake up in the morning after a bad dream—and I have lots of bad dreams now—I think, I get to wake up this morning because of what Dana Vaughn did for me. That’s what I think.”

“Have you talked to our BSS guy?” Dana asked, referring to the Behavioral Science Services shrink who was assigned to the officers of Hollywood Station, a man with a lonely job, because cops, being members of a macho tribe, feared a stigma of being soft and needy.

“That’s for sick people,” the big cop said. “I’m not sick.”

“Leon, this is over, hear me?” Dana said. “You’ve gotta move on with your life. Leave it behind. Let it go. If you do this again, I’m gonna have to complain to the captain.”

Leon Calloway kept his head bowed for several seconds and finally turned and shuffled toward his waiting black-and-white.

“Roger that,” he said without looking back. “But I’ll never forget. And if you need anything, you just call Six-Adam-Seventy-nine. I’ll be all over it.”

When Dana got back to their shop and they resumed patrol, she said to Hollywood Nate, “There was one thing about the BSS shrink that I didn’t tell you about. He said that women aren’t so afraid to admit it when we can use a little help. I told him for the third time that I had no regrets about capping that guy, and that he did lots of bad things in his life, and I had no choice and no remorse. The shrink said, nevertheless, I killed a human being, and that means something to me in a certain part of my brain. He predicted that I might have night sweats and recurring dreams about trying to fire my gun and having the round dribble out and fall on the ground. He said that kind of dream is common to cops, especially after a fatal OIS.” She paused, looked over at Nate, and said, “Do you ever have dreams like that?”

Nate studied Dana Vaughn as she drove, observing that the wise-cracking veteran had morphed. Now her mouth was pulled down at the corners, and her voice had lost some of its timbre, and in a peculiar way she looked younger. He liked being with this Dana more but thought it was time to bring his partner back from that other place.

Hollywood Nate cocked an eyebrow and said to Dana, “My gun never dribbles, partner. It’s always locked and loaded and ready for action.”

That did it. The tension faded, and she grinned mischievously, saying, “Ah, so all the Hollywood Nate gossip I hear from the girls in the locker room is true? Well, when you’re ready for show ’n’ tell, be sure to drop a dime, honey!”

Copyright © 2012 by Joseph Wambaugh