Tony looked away from the red taillights of the cars in front of them and studied his partner's face. Frank wasn't aware of Tony's scrutiny. His attention was focused on his driving; he peered intently at the quicksilver flow of traffic on Wilshire Boulevard. The green glow from the dashboard dials and gauges highlighted his bold features. He was not handsome in the classic sense, but he was good-looking in his own way. Broad brow. Deeply-set blue eyes. The nose a bit large and sharp. The mouth well-formed but most often set in a grim scowl that flexed the strong jawline. The face unquestionably contained power and appeal--and more than a hint of unyielding single-mindedness. It was not difficult to picture Frank going home and sitting down and, every night without fail, dropping into a trance that lasted from quitting time until eight the next morning.
In addition to their willingness to work extended hours, Tony and Frank had a few other things in common. Although many plainclothes detectives had tossed out the old dress code and now reported for duty in everything from jeans to leisure suits, Tony and Frank still believed in wearing traditional suits and ties. They thought of themselves as professionals, doing a job that required special skills and education, a job as vital and demanding as that of any trial attorney or teacher or social worker--more demanding, in fact--and jeans simply did not contribute to a professional image. Neither of them smoked. Neither of them drank on the job. And neither of them attempted to foist his paperwork on the other.
So maybe it'll work out between us, Tony thought. Maybe in time I can quietly convince him to use more charm and less force with witnesses. Maybe I can get him interested in films and food, if not in books and art and theater. The reason I'm having so much trouble adjusting to him is that my expectations are far too high. But Jesus, if only he'd talk a little more instead of sitting there like a lump!
For the rest of his career as a homicide detective, Tony would expect a great deal of anyone who rode with him because, for five years, until last May 7, he had worked with a nearly perfect partner, Michael Savatino. He and Michael were both from Italian families; they shared certain ethnic memories, pains, and pleasures. More important than that, they employed similar methods in their police work, and they enjoyed many of the same extracurricular activities. Michael was an avid reader, a film buff, and an excellent cook. Their days had been punctuated by fascinating conversations.
Last February, Michael and his wife, Paula, had gone to Las Vegas for a weekend. They saw two shows. They ate dinner twice at Battista's Hole in the Wall, the best restaurant in town. They filled out a dozen Keno cards and won nothing. They played two-dollar blackjack and lost sixty bucks. And one hour before their scheduled departure, Paula put a silver dollar in a slot machine that promised a progressive jackpot, pulled the handle, and won slightly more than two hundred and twenty thousand dollars.
Police work never had been Michael's first choice for a career. But like Tony, he was a seeker of security. He attended the police academy and climbed relatively quickly from uniformed patrolman to detective because public service offered at least moderate financial security. In March, however, Michael gave the department a sixty-day notice, and in May he quit. All of his adult life, he had wanted to own a restaurant. Five weeks ago, he opened Savatino's, a small but authentic Italian ristorante on Santa Monica Boulevard, not far from the Century City complex.
A dream come true.
How likely is it that I could make my dream come true the same way? Tony wondered as he studied the night city through which they moved. How likely is it that I could go to Vegas, win two hundred thousand bucks, quit the police force, and take a shot at making it as an artist?
He did not have to ask the question aloud. He didn't need Frank Howard's opinion. He knew the answer. How likely was it? Not very damned likely. About as likely as suddenly learning he was the long-lost son of a rich Arabian prince.
As Michael Savatino had always dreamed of being a restaurateur, so Tony Clemenza dreamed of earning his living as an artist. He had talent. He produced fine pieces in a variety of media: pen and ink, watercolor, oil. He was not merely technically skilled; he had a sharp and unique creative imagination as well. Perhaps if he had been born into a middle-class family with at least modest financial resources, he would have gone to a good school, would have received the proper training from the best professors, would have honed his God-given abilities, and would have become tremendously successful. Instead, he had educated himself with hundreds of art books and through thousands of hours of painstaking drawing practice and experimentation with materials. And he suffered from that pernicious lack of self-confidence so common to those who are self-taught in any field. Although he had entered four art shows and had twice won top prize in his division, he never seriously considered quitting his job and plunging into the creative life. That was nothing more than a pleasant fantasy, a bright daydream. No son of Carlo Clemenza would ever forsake a weekly paycheck for the dread uncertainties of self-employment, unless he had first banked a windfall from Las Vegas.
He was jealous of Michael Savatino's good fortune. Of course, they were still close friends, and he was genuinely happy for Michael. Delighted. Really. But also jealous. He was human, after all, and in the back of his mind, the same petty question kept blinking off and on, off and on, like a neon sign: Why couldn't it have been me?
Slamming on the brakes, jolting Tony out of his reverie, Frank blew the horn at a Corvette that cut him off in traffic. "Asshole!"
"Sometimes I wish I was back in uniform again, handing out citations."
"That's the last thing you wish."
"I'd nail his ass."
"Except maybe he'd turn out to be out of his skull on drugs or maybe just plain crazy. When you work the traffic detail too long, you tend to forget the world's full of nuts. You fall into a habit, a routine, and you get careless. So maybe you'd stop him and walk up to his door with your ticket book in hand, and he'd greet you with a gun. Maybe he'd blow your head off. No. I'm thankful traffic detail's behind me forever. At least when you're on a homicide assignment, you know the kind of people you're going to have to deal with. You never forget there's going to be someone with a gun or a knife or a piece of lead pipe up ahead somewhere. You're a lot less likely to walk into a nasty little surprise when you're working homicide."
Frank refused to be drawn into another discussion. He kept his eyes on the road, grumbled sullenly, wordlessly, and settled back into silence.
Tony sighed. He stared at the passing scenery with an artist's eye for unexpected detail and previously unnoticed beauty.
Every scene--every seascape, every landscape, every street, every building, every room in every building, every person, every thing--had its own special patterns. If you could perceive the patterns in a scene, you could then look beyond the patterns to the underlying structure that supported them. If you could see and grasp the method by which a surface harmony had been achieved, you eventually could understand the deepest meaning and mechanisms of any subject and then make a good painting of it. If you picked up your brushes and approached the canvas without first performing that analysis, you might wind up with a pretty picture, but you would not produce a work of art.
As Frank Howard drove east on Wilshire, on the way to the Hollywood singles' bar called The Big Quake, Tony searched for patterns in the city and the night. At first, coming in from Santa Monica, there were the sharp low lines of the sea-facing houses and the shadowy outlines of tall feathery palms--patterns of serenity and civility and more than a little money. As they entered Westwood, the dominant pattern was rectilinear: clusters of office highrises, oblong patches of light radiating from scattered windows in the mostly dark faces of the buildings. These neatly ordered rectangular shapes formed the patterns of modern thought and corporate power, patterns of even greater wealth than had been evident in Santa Monica's seaside homes. From Westwood they went to Beverly Hills, an insulated pocket within the greater fabric of the metropolis, a place through which the Los Angeles police could pass but in which they had no authority. In Beverly Hills, the patterns were soft and lush and flowing in a graceful continuum of big houses, parks, greenery, exclusive shops, and more ultra-expensive automobiles than you could find anywhere else on earth.
From Wilshire Boulevard to Santa Monica Boulevard to Doheny, the pattern was one of ever-increasing wealth.
They turned north on Doheny, crawled up the steep hills, and swung right onto Sunset Boulevard, heading for the heart of Hollywood. For a couple of blocks, the famous street delivered a little bit on the promise of its name and legend. On the right stood Scandia, one of the best and most elegant restaurants in town, and one of the half dozen best in the entire country. Glittering discos. A nightclub specializing in magic. Another spot owned and operated by a stage hypnotist.
Comedy clubs. Rock and roll clubs. Huge flashy billboards advertising current films and currently popular recording stars. Lights, lights and more lights. Initially, the boulevard supported the university studies and government reports that claimed Los Angeles and its suburbs formed the richest metropolitan area in the nation, perhaps the richest in the world. But after a while, as Frank continued to drive eastward, the blush of glamor faded. Even L.A. suffered from senescence.
The pattern became marginally but unmistakably cancerous. In the healthy flesh of the city, a few malignant growths swelled here and there: cheap bars, a striptease club, a shuttered service station, brassy massage parlors, an adult book store, a few buildings desperately in need of renovation, more of them block by block. The disease was not terminal in this neighborhood, as it was in others nearby, but every day it gobbled up a few more bites of healthy tissue. Frank and Tony did not have to descend into the scabrous heart of the tumor, for The Big Quake was still on the edge of the blight. The bar appeared suddenly in a blaze of red and blue lights on the righthand side of the street.
Inside, the place resembled Paradise, except that the decor relied more heavily on colored lights and chrome and mirrors than it did in the Santa Monica bar. The customers were somewhat more consciously stylish, more aggressively au courant, and generally a shade better looking than the crowd in Paradise. But to Tony the patterns appeared to be the same as they were in Santa Monica.
Patterns of need, longing, and loneliness. Desperate, carnivorous patterns.
The bartender wasn't able to help them, and the only customer who had anything for them was a tall brunette with violet eyes. She was sure they would find Bobby at Janus, a discotheque in Westwood.
She had seen him there the previous two nights.
Outside, in the parking lot, bathed in alternating flashes of red and blue light, Frank said, "One thing just leads to another."
"It's getting late."
"You want to try Janus now or leave it for tomorrow?"
"Now," Tony said.
They turned around and traveled west on Sunset, out of the area that showed signs of urban cancer, into the glitter of the Strip, then into greenery and wealth again, past the Beverly Hills Hotel, past mansions and endless marching rows of gigantic palm trees.
As he often did when he suspected Tony might attempt to strike up another conversation, Frank switched on the police band radio and listened to Communications calling black-and-whites in the division that provided protection for Westwood, toward which they were heading. Nothing much was happening on that frequency. A family dispute. A fender-bender at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilshire. A suspicious man in a parked car on a quiet residential street off Hilgarde had attracted attention and needed checking out.
In most of the city's other sixteen police divisions, the night was far less safe and peaceful than it was in privileged Westwood. In the Seventy-seventh, Newton, and Southwest divisions, which served the black community south of the Santa Monica Freeway, none of the mid-watch patrol officers would be bored; in their bailiwicks the night was jumping. On the east side of town, in the Mexican-American neighborhoods, the gangs would continue to give a bad name to the vast majority of law-abiding Chicano citizens. By the time the mid-watch went off duty at three o'clock-
-three hours after the morning watch came on line--there would be several ugly incidents of gang violence on the east side, a few punks stabbing other punks, maybe a shooting and a death or two as the macho maniacs tried to prove their manhood in the wearisome, stupid, but timeless blood ceremonies they had been performing with Latin passion for generations. To the northwest, on the far side of the hills, the affluent valley kids were drinking too damned much whiskey, smoking too much pot, snorting too much cocaine--and subsequently ramming their cars and vans and motorcycles into one another at ghastly speeds and with tiresome regularity.
As Frank drove past the entrance to Bel Air Estates and started up a hill toward the UCLA campus, the Westwood scene suddenly got lively. Communications put out a woman-in-trouble call.
Information was sketchy. Apparently, it was an attempted rape and assault with a deadly weapon. It was not clear if the assailant was still on the premises. Shots had been fired, but Communications had been unable to ascertain from the complainant whether the gun belonged to her or the assailant. Likewise, they didn't know if anyone was hurt.
"Have to go in blind," Tony said.
"That address is just a couple of blocks from here," Frank said.
"We could be there in a minute."
"Probably a lot faster than the patrol car."
"Want to assist?"
"I'll call in and tell them."
Tony picked up the microphone as Frank hung a hard left at the first intersection. A block later they turned left again, and Frank accelerated as much as he dared along the narrow, tree-flanked street.
Tony's heart accelerated with the car. He felt an old excitement, a cold hard knot of fear in his guts.
He remembered Parker Hitchison, a particularly quirky, morose, and humorless partner he had endured for a short while during his second year as a patrol officer, long before he won his detective's badge. Every time they answered a call, every damned time, whether it was a Code Three emergency or just a frightened cat stuck in a tree, Parker Hitchison sighed mournfully and said,
"Now, we die." It was weird and decidedly unsettling. Over and over again on every shift, night after night, with sincere and unflagging pessimism, he said it--"Now, we die"--until Tony was almost crazy.
Hitchison's funereal voice and those three somber words still haunted him in moments like this.
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