Preview : NIGHT BREED

You work nights in Hollywood, you meet the night breed. Soon as the sun melts below the high rises in Century City they come out. Faded starlets, washed up ex-sitcom stars, has-beens, wannabes that never made it, out and out psychos that took one too many hits off the old crack pipe, faded hookers, street kids fresh off the bus from Podunk, bums, winos, homeless, and just plain crazies.

As in any jungle there are hunters and prey. In Hollywood and downtown – everyone is prey. If you’re on the streets long enough you’re going to get eaten, if not by a predator then by the nature of the streets themselves. The first time the realization that I might actually be in danger while driving around the city streets was during a repair visit to the detective’s room in downtown. After a security check at the front desk, I am led by a sergeant to the detective’s offices to repair some thirty button call directors.

From my first step inside the first of a series of large offices, I was amazed at how many desks and different offices there were. In the first room alone there were over forty desks, easy. Forty desks! And that was just for homicide. The other rooms of the same size were for their own investigators. I’d always thought of detectives as a small part of the police force. Maybe a few sprinkled among the much larger force of uniformed street cops on patrol. I was wrong. From what I saw laying on vacant desks while repairing phones, I knew one thing for sure. I could never be a cop, no way! I don’t know how they do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the cops are on the beat. From files I would read while repairing phones, it looked like the city was out of control. It turned out, I was right on the money. In fact, after getting my face shoved face first into the world of cops and killers, the truth of the situation is hard to stomach. As far as being able to be a cop myself, forget it. It’s way too tough a job. I just couldn’t deal with it day in and day out. No wonder it twists and distorts the lives and careers of so many formerly good cops. I say cops should be in the field for only ten years, then let ’em do public relation type jobs for the remainder of their careers. To expect someone to have to deal with the scum of the earth on a daily basis for an entire career would twist anyone.

Being a snoop by nature, I would flip through some of the working case folders laying on top of the desks I’d be doing a phone repair for. I was always on the lookout for room traffic busting me on my little forays into private files, but I wasn’t that worried. Usually the rooms were empty or the other inhabitants were on calls or busy with some reports they were typing. While on one such excursion, I was expecting a few interesting tidbits to pass the time, while putting a phone back together. I end up with a lesson on the mean streets I’d never dreamed of in a million years.

While thumbing through a folder at another vacant desk, I get a file I was browsing, yanked out of my hand. I turn in my swivel chair and look up into the face of a very pissed off looking black man. An extremely large black man, who now has rage wrinkling his eyebrows. The face spoke, “What the FUCK are you doing?” As I try to reply with some kind of lame excuse, I was too slow. I instantly have a huge paw on my arm, jerking me up out of my chair. The large black face was all that was in front of me, as it spoke again, “You want to go to jail, ASSHOLE?” I was able to shake my head in a negative movement, but I was still too afraid to say anything. Why do anything to piss this guy off even more. Especially when he still had me in a Mongolian death grip. Thinking fast, I tell him the file must have stuck to the bottom of the phone while I was repairing it. As I picked up the phone to reconnect the cover, the file had been knocked apart. I was just straightening it out.

For the first time, the cop sees my tools laying on the floor by the desk’s trash can. He then sees my temporary pass on my work folder. Cop: “Why isn’t your I.D. on your shirt?” As I start to reply, another cop comes into the room. As he says, “Hey Moore, let’s go man, we’re waiting!” The man I have to figure is Moore, lets go of me. As he straightened his tie, he gives me some parting advice, “Never, ever, look in an officer’s case folder, understand?” I told him I definitely understood, ending with, “It will never happen again” which was already another lie. The truth was, I planned on never getting caught again. Giving me one last glare, Moore leaves with the Latino cop. One thing I found odd was the way these guys dressed. On the street and not knowing who they were, I would never have thought them police officers. They looked like guys going to a golf game. In the years to come, I would learn that a lot of things people take for granted are not what they seem.

Months later, while I’m waiting in line at Pink’s Hot Dog stand for a quick lunch on the run, I notice officer Moore and another guy talking on the sidewalk. I figure he’s cooled off by now, so as I head over to him, I figure I’ll do my groveling dog routine to really get on his good side. Just as I’m about to say, “Hi Officer Moore, remember me?” he spots me approaching and shoots me a look that says, “Get lost!”

Instantly I give up any thought of opening my mouth. I do an about face and get back in line for a hot dog. There are few real seats at the place, so I always ate in my truck. I pull out the unread sections of my newspaper and read while chomping my hot dog. As I’m sucking down the last of my Coke, I spot Officer Moore looming in my rearview mirror. I instantly wet my pants. I figure he’s going to finish our little talk from the scowl on his face. He surprised me when he said an almost friendly, “Hey, thanks back there, you could have made some big time problems for me. I’m glad you were smart enough to keep your mouth shut.” I tell Moore, “No problem.” Then I went into my groveling routine. I started with the desk incident and how sorry I was about the whole thing.

Moore gave me his card, barely listening to me as he constantly looked around, as though he was looking for someone. As I take his card, I say a casual, “You looking for someone?” At this, Moore scowls at me and replies, “Look, stupid, I’m a detective, I’m always looking for someone. I almost thought you were smart for a minute.” I take the remark for a compliment, then say, “Hey, let me know if I can help you out sometime,” as I put his card in my jacket pocket. Not that I ever would, but you try to humor cops in my world. At this, he looks at me quizzically, then sort of blows air from his nostrils. Without a word, he heads for an unmarked car parked up the street. He gets in, glances around, then drives away.

Maybe a year or so later, I’m at the Shoreham Towers apartment complex. I’m sitting outside the front entrance by the valet parking guy’s unused booth. I’m sitting in the partial shade the building provided, while finishing up paperwork in between jobs in the same building. At first, I had been parked in full shade. As my paperwork took longer than I had expected, the hot sun was creeping into the driver’s seat. Since I was almost done, I slid over to the passenger seat to stay in full shade until I finished.

Just as I switch seats, I hear a loud, “WHUMP!” Its followed by a dull, “CRUMP!” As I look in my truck’s rear view mirrors, then out the front of the van, I see what looks to be a woman’s body on the hood and roof of a car the valets hadn’t parked yet. The parking was so atrocious, multiple valets still had trouble finding spots for the constant flow of visitors.

It looked like the woman had jumped from an upper floor, hit the canopy over the front entrance, then she bounced off of it onto the car. It must have been a suicide, was my first thought. Since a small crowd had already gathered, I decided to skip a closer look and get my workload for the building completed. I had one more repair to do, so I worked my way through the getting-larger-by-the-minute group of gawkers. I get into an empty elevator and head upstairs.

My plan was to finish the job, then get out of Dodge. It didn’t work out that way at all. As I finished my last ticket, I was busily filling out my paperwork in the elevator on the way down to save time. Still writing as the elevator door opened, I step out into a real live circus. News cameras fill the lobby. Cops of every sort are everywhere. Outside it’s a mad house. I don’t even try to get to my truck. From all the flashing lights on ambulances filling the drive, I get the impression that more than one person had jumped.

Since my truck was totally blocked, I wasn’t sure of my next move. As I looked for a side exit, I hear a voice say, just a few paces behind me, “Hey, there’s the phoneman. He saw it happen!” As I turn to the sound of the voice, I see a Vietnamese looking parking attendant who’s pointing me out to a uniformed police officer. The cop, following the valet’s finger, comes over to me, then asks me to come with him out to the street. As I nod an okay, while following him out, he says there are some detectives just up the street and would I mind telling them what I had witnessed. I tell him I didn’t see much, but I’ll recount what I had seen.

Holloway Street dead ends into a cul-de-sac. The last part of the steep street gets even steeper at the very end. Following the officer was no easy task with all the jammed trucks and cars completely blocking the street. Snaking our way past, we come to some stuck sedans, right at the end. I had to assume they were all unmarked cop cars. Leaning against one of the cars, laughing and talking with some other cops with a toothpick in his mouth is my old pal, Detective Moore. On seeing me, he smirks, then says, “Hey buddy, you see what happened here?” I told him the little I’d seen, while laying my tools on the ground to give my shoulder a break.

Moore asks me if I heard anything prior to the body landing. Maybe a scream or possibly some shouting? I tell him the same thing as I had before. I couldn’t embellish on what I didn’t see or hear, especially to a street full of cops. While I’m talking with Moore, I overhear another cop mention that the woman who had hit the deck was Art Linkletter’s daughter. Hearing that shocked me. With a dad so into humor, it was hard to comprehend. This explained the massive news media presence. No one cared about regular people.

Time goes by. One night at a retirement party I get into an argument with a drunken biker while shooting pool with a pal, Eric. In between shots, I had been making derogatory remarks about Harleys to make Eric blow his shots. Since I’ve ridden three into the ground in between breakdowns, I figured I could make as much fun of them as I wanted. Hell, I had an Electra Glide parked in the rear that I’d ridden over on. This tattooed moron, not even in our conversation, thinks otherwise. As he tells me to shut the fuck up about Harleys, I mimic him and toss in a couple of more insults to really piss the guy off. I didn’t get concerned until the drunken biker, now enraged, shouts, “Get your ass outside, mother fucker!”

Then, as he starts for me, he finishes with, “I said outside, asshole, I’m going to pound that smart mouth shut!” As I backed towards the rear exit, I figured on my famous “get behind a parked car” defense and then play “stay away from the psycho” until he ran out of steam or the cops showed up. What I didn’t figure on was my buddy Eric, whom I was shooting pool with, breaking his pool cue over the tattooed monster’s head, dropping him in a back hallway.

This turn of events seemed to interest the monster’s pals. As they came over the small room divider sectioning off the pool tables from the dining room, I decide on a Plan B. Plan B was to get Eric on the back of my Harley, parked just outside the back door, and haul ass! In those days, there wasn’t a helmet law, which facilitated a quick getaway. As the bike fired up, I rolled it off the kick stand, clunked it into gear and took off as soon as I felt Eric’s weight on the seat behind me.

Hell hounds were on our trail big time. It was a good thing that bike fired right up, we barely escaped getting our asses kicked. As it was, we just missed getting nailed by a shower of beer bottles and tall glasses as I hopped the curb and roared down the street. As I went off the curb, I caught one of my low exhaust pipes with the fish ends on the edge of the curb. My bike started backfiring as the engine sucked air from the now busted exhaust pipe connection. Swell. I decide to head for our phone company garage on Formosa a few blocks away. Once inside the locked gates, we would be home free. I could leave my bike and catch a ride home from Eric.

As I turn onto Willoughby Street, I can see more than one cop car is responding to the fracas at the bar. Besides the cops, there are also some motorcycle headlights coming down the street in our direction. The chase was on. As I went around a line of cars, slow off the fresh green light, I clear the intersection at Fairfax then punch the throttle as I shift up, trying to put some distance between us and our new friends. Just as I shift up into third, I pass a sheriff’s car, just making a right turn onto Willoughby. Shit! As our eyes lock, I put the cycle into light speed. At the same time, the cop hits his roof lights, and whips a U turn.

I’m really popular all of a sudden. Eric yells in my ear he has some hits of acid in his jacket. He suggests I don’t let the cops catch him with his stash. Now, all of a sudden, the incident with the pool cue is clarified. Normally, Eric is the personification of mellow vibes. Who knows what a person is thinking on acid. With this incentive, I make some fast lefts and rights. At any red light, I go onto the sidewalk, then shoot across the street to keep the cop off my ass. With the cop on my rear, the motorcycle lights have left the chase. A small break.

It seems with every block we flash past, the sheriff behind me is being left behind. I start to relax and back off on the throttle. Unfortunately, the sheriff’s radio worked pretty well. With a break in the chase, I make a left onto Romaine Street, then half way into the block, I stop and tell Eric to hide. Eric jumps off the still slowly-moving bike and runs into some tall bushes, hiding in a side yard from the street. Just as he disappeared into the shrubs, he comes flying right back, landing on his ass on the sidewalk. He had run full speed into a chainlink fence, unseen in the dark that was right behind the bushes. Hopping back onto his feet, Eric laughs, then runs across the street saying a quick, “See you tomorrow!”

Now free of Eric and no cops in sight, I act cool and steer the bike for home. In two blocks, I’m blocked off at an intersection and arrested. The sheriffs are pissed at my reckless driving. They close their ears to my trying to talk my way out of the mess and wait only long enough to let me watch my cycle get lifted onto the impound yard’s tow truck, before taking me to the slammer. I knew where it was going. I had just done a repair ticket for the cop’s impound yard a couple of weeks prior.

Cuffed with my hands in front of me, a small concession, I’m taken to the sheriff’s lock up off of San Vincente. I get fingerprinted, then am on my way to be booked for evading arrest. I figured I was screwed. With the cuffs off, I start to look through all the various business cards I had in my jacket pockets. I knew I had to have at least one lawyer’s card in them somewhere. I come upon Detective Moore’s card. That shows you how often guys clean out their jackets. Grasping at straws, I ask some of the cops in the booking area if they happen to know my pal Moore. On the way over, with the original arresting officers, I had been told to shut up at every attempt at conversation. Not only were they uncaring, they also couldn’t hear their radio chatter. After telling me to shut up, in one last pissed sounding request, I took the cops’ advice and kept my mouth shut the rest of the short ride.

The booking cops were a bit less up tight. I was in luck. One of the booking cops did indeed know Detective Moore. I hand the officer the business card, prompting him to disappear into another room for a minute. When he came back a couple of minutes later, he has me wait by a non-dial courtesy phone, to await a call back from a message the officer had left. It was strange the way I prayed the phone would ring before I was formally booked. I knew how the deal went down. If I was booked, it was a whole different ball game. If I couldn’t make bail right away, a bus ride to the main jail in downtown L.A. was in my future. No one wants that. I don’t care how tough you think you are. Downtown is to be avoided at all costs. I can say this much. If you do have the joy of getting locked up in the holding tanks, you’ll never laugh about it later in bull sessions with unknowing pals. What’s funny about standing in puke and shit, while you’re held in place by the pack of unwashed humanity, smashing you against the walls? A bit of advice. If you are in a jammed cell, get smashed against the bars. At least then, you can attempt to bribe a jailer. If smashed into the far recesses, you’re shit out of luck, pal.

The phone didn’t have the chance to finish its first ring when I was on it. As I said my name, the voice on the other end said, “Yeah, yeah, I know who it is you fucking idiot. What’s up phoneman? An officer tells me a good friend of mine is about to get himself booked. What gives?” Like a little bitch about to get spanked, I tell him everything. After a quiet pause, he says he’ll see what he can do. Twenty minutes later I’m on the sidewalk. I’m sans my Harley, but I’m not in the slammer. The bike would be safe in impound until morning. I walk up to Santa Monica Blvd. and put out my thumb to hitch a ride down to Formosa Street to get my Pac Bell truck to drive home. I get a ride from a sissy who wanted me to go dancing with him. I kept his delusions in his head until just before my street, then jumped out of his car as he slowed for a red. I called back a fast, “Thanks a lot,” then half ran the rest of the way to the company garage.

With luck, I could sneak my truck home, then come into the garage extra early on a slow Saturday morning to slip the truck back into its parking spot with no one the wiser. It all worked out alright. I was able to hit the sack in my own place, just before midnight. The next day, after a half day of doing cut-overs, Eric gave me a ride to the impound yard to get my cycle out. The guys at the yard remembered me, so they cut me some slack on the usual built up charges. Eric even fronted me the dough as I was short.

To show my gratitude, I put in a call to Detective Moore after getting my cycle out of the sheriff’s impound yard. I had to leave a message on his answering machine. I left a lame message half way witty, thanking him for getting me cut loose. Later, back at home, when I checked my own answering machine, I find Moore has left me a number where I can reach him.

I dial him up. He answers with a “Yeah?” On hearing it’s me, he asks if I could meet him somewhere in the morning. He needs to bounce something off me. I tell him I’m at the Denny’s coffee shop on Sunset, right across from the tuxedo center almost every morning. How about we meet there the day after since it was Sunday tomorrow. He says a succinct, “See you there tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.” followed by a click, signaling our conversation was over.

When you’re dealing with an unfriendly cop who just got you out of jail, who’s to argue? I reset my alarm and figure on no day off. Reading a thick Sunday paper at Denny’s, while taking up a seat at a half empty counter the next morning, I spot the hulking mass of Moore coming up the wheelchair ramp, then into the entry of Denny’s followed by another big guy in a suit. I figure the second guy was a cop too, just by the way he moved in sync with Moore. Two peas in a pod.

Without sitting down, Moore and the other detective nod a hello, then Moore points me towards an empty bunch of booths in the rear. As he sits down and orders some coffee from a smiling oriental waitress, his buddy waits for me to slide in, then effectively pins me between them in the half circled table. Moore gets right to the point. Short and sweet, Moore wants some good busts out of me. Since I’m a phoneman, he knows I see a ton of stuff. He wants me to drop a dime whenever I see a sure thing, the bigger the fish the better. I order an orange juice, then as the waitress leaves, I tell him I know how to return a favor. At this, he slides out, as does his so far, silent buddy. We shake hands. The big white cop with him just nods his head at me, keeping a blank look on his face. Our meeting took about three minutes.

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