In the southernmost Los Angeles district of San Pedro, one of the world’s busiest harbors, an unlikely pair of lovers are unwittingly caught between the two warring sides of the law. When Dinko Babich, a young longshoreman, delivers Lita Medina, a young Mexican dancer, from the harbor to a Hollywood nightclub, theirs lives are forever changed, as their love develops among the myriad cops and criminals who occupy the harbor. Suspense and tragedy are intertwined in the everyday life of the cops and residents of San Pedro Harbor, with the unflinching eye for detail and spot-on humor that only a master of the form like Joseph Wambaugh can provide. Their paths will cross with many colorful characters introduced in Wambaugh’s acclaimed bestselling Hollywood Station series: the surfer cops known as “Flotsam and Jetsam”, aspiring actor “Hollywood Nate” Weiss, young Britney Small, along with new members of the midwatch. Humor, love, suspense and tragedy are intertwined in the everyday life of the cops and residents of San Pedro Harbor, with the unflinching eye for detail and spot-on humor that only a master of the form like Joseph Wambaugh can provide.
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"So now i'm like, a hottie hunk on account of my fake foot, is that what you're telling me? I'm all irresistible or something?"
"It's not that you're irresistible," the young sergeant said. "It's what your prosthesis represents to certain people, those who suffer from a kind of paraphilia. Specifically, their disorder is called apotemnophilia."
"And what's that mean exactly?"
"The manifestation of a desire so intense that therapists have a hard time even explaining it, possibly a desire with a powerful sexual component. It's a fascination with amputation that sometimes goes so far that the person wants to be an amputee."
Sergeant Thaddeus Hawthorne was a twenty-eight-year-old UCLA graduate who, like thousands of Angelenos before him, had learned that his BA degree in the liberal arts had very little practical application in the job market of the twenty-first century. He had tested for, and joined, the LAPD just shy of his twenty-second birthday because of the good pay and job security. He had a very high forehead, and a sparse dark mustache crowded the limited space between his long, bulbous nose and upper lip. He anxiously looked from one blue uniformed cop to another as he spoke, both sitting across the table from him in a booth farthest from most of the bustle on this Friday evening at Hamburger Hamlet.
The recently appointed sergeant, who had just finished his probationary period at Van Nuys Division as a patrol supervisor before transferring to Hollywood Division, knew he should use "college talk" sparingly, if at all, in the company of street cops, especially this pair of weathered surf rats with their doubtful smirks and sea salt stuck to their eyebrows and lashes.
They were several years older than he, both being divorced womanizers, and they unnerved him with their reputations for sneaky get-back when it came to supervisors they didn't like, especially young supervisors.
"You mean there's nobody else but him that can do it?" the taller one said, nodding toward his partner.
Sergeant Hawthorne knew that this tall one had been driving during the fateful pursuit a year prior where his partner had suffered a hopelessly smashed foot in a traffic collision. It had ended with the pursued killer in a stolen van being shot to death by Officer Britney Small, then a probationary boot, currently working Watch 5 along with these two.
The sergeant said, "Your partner happens to be one of the few law enforcement amputees in all of California. It would be greatly appreciated by everyone in the Hollywood vice unit if we could eventually get the guys bankrolling their operation, and I'd certainly write you a glowing commendation that would look good in your personnel package."
Sergeant Hawthorne looked uncertainly at his massive burger, wishing he could cut it in half but not daring to, not when the tall cop across from him was effortlessly mashing his with one big paw and tearing into it like a wolf.
The taller of the suntanned cops scoffed at that lame enticement of a written attaboy but flashed a grin at his partner, saying, "See, dude? I told you when we got our new foot, fame would follow." Then he told the sergeant with pride, "You should see when this crusher catches a juicy at Malibu. He can even, like, hang three inches of our fiberglass foot and rip that kamikaze just like always. My pard's got a pair hanging on him!"
The sergeant was trying to figure out exactly what the hell the tall one had just said to him when the shorter one said, "Carbon, not plastic. The surfing skate is made from carbon and polyurethane, not fiberglass." Then he told the sergeant, "I got two models. The on-duty foot is way different and fits real good in my boot, and it's pretty easy to run on."
The tall one said, "You should see all the Emmas in butt-floss bikinis start jiggling their chesticles when they ogle the robo kahuna with the bionic hoof. It's all beer, bubble baths, and blow jobs for him. Me, I'm happy just to get his leftovers."
"He's always pimping me out at Malibu," the shorter one said dryly. "He, like, tries to sell them on sympathy disrobing for a handicapped kahuna."
Bewildered by the surfer-speak and opting instead for flattery, Sergeant Hawthorne said to the shorter one, "I think it was pretty gutsy of you not to take a medical pension and retire when the accident happened. A lot of officers would have."
That didn't work. Both cops shot the sergeant a snarky look that said, "We don't quit, dude," and the shorter one said, "What you want me to do is way twisted. Even for Hollywood, this is sick shit."
"I can't deny it," Sergeant Hawthorne said, taking the first bite of his cheeseburger and sadly watching a dollop of ketchup squirt out onto the yellow L of the sky-blue UCLA sweatshirt he wore when working vice to make himself look less like a cop. The troops around Hollywood Station said he was so lacking in copper machismo that he could dress in an LAPD raid jacket and still nobody would ever make him for Five-Oh.
"Whose idea was this, anyways?" the shorter cop asked.
"Sort of my idea, I guess," Sergeant Hawthorne said. "I talked to your watch commander as well as your midwatch sergeant about it before I decided to invite you here for a bite to eat."
The shorter cop said, "Lemme lock in on this. Are you telling me that Sergeant Murillo actually thought I should do this demented shit?"
It was Sergeant Lee Murillo who'd pointed out that the young vice sergeant resembled the nineteenth-century writer Edgar Allan Poe, and had begun referring to him as "Sergeant Edgar."
"Well, no," Sergeant Hawthorne admitted. "Your sergeant said it was completely up to you and that nobody should try to influence you one way or the other."
"Does the croaker who does the kind of freaky swashbuckling surgeries you talked about still practice around here?" the tall cop asked, starting on the second burger he'd ordered because, what the hell, little Sergeant Edgar with the big vocabulary was sponsoring the meal, wasn't he? In fact, the tall cop had ordered the burgers with fries, plus a side of onion rings, and was even considering a piece of cherry pie with a double scoop of ice cream.
The vice sergeant said, "Not anymore. He's a burned-out crack addict now. He was fairly notorious for doing various kinds of edgy operations in a certain Tijuana clinic. It's an abattoir."
"A what?" the tall one said.
"A slaughterhouse." Sergeant Hawthorne instantly regretted using a word they might not understand. He was aware that everyone at Hollywood Station knew this pair by their surfing monikers of "Flotsam and Jetsam," and he noted that Flotsam always referred to Jetsam's prosthesis as our foot, so it appeared that these two were Velcroed. He began to think of possibly including the tall partner in the deal as a way to persuade Jetsam to accept the assignment.
Jetsam said, "He probably got one of those craigslist doctor degrees where they treat all ailments with leeches."
"No, Dr. Maurice Montaigne's medical degree is legitimate," Sergeant Hawthorne said. "But his license to practice was pulled long ago."
"What was that word you used to describe this creepy crap?" Jetsam asked.
"Apotemnophilia," the sergeant said, this time leaning over the plate before taking a second bite of his burger. "I've been reading up on it."
Flotsam said, "That's the biggest word I've heard since 'pica and pagophagia.' We got a call about a dude from his momma. He used to get all weirded out when he got drunk, and he'd eat red clay and ice cubes. She got scared he was gonna clog his colon. He told his momma it was for an iron deficiency. I told her it was just fucking Hollywood."
Sergeant Hawthorne stared at Flotsam for a moment before saying, "That's very interesting."
Jetsam asked the sergeant, "Why would anybody go all off the hook with fantasies of doing something like that to himself?"
"I told you, it's truly incomprehensible," the sergeant said, after chewing and swallowing a modest bite. "There aren't many people in the entire world who have this condition."
"And they all live around here, probably," Flotsam said with a head shake. "Fucking Hollywood."
The sergeant had been assigned to the station long enough to know that in these parts, cops always uttered the mantra "This is fucking Hollywood" to explain anything inexplicable, so he merely nodded and said, "It's illegal to amputate a healthy limb in Mexico as well as the U.S., but of course it's a lot easier to get it done across the border. So that's why I've prepared a cover story for you about a place in T.J. called Clínica Maravilla."
Jetsam said, "How could I fool anybody? Wouldn't the quack see my amputation was, like, done by skilled surgeons?"
"No doctor will be seeing you at all. We've been told that Dr. Maurice is effectively retired, holed up somewhere smoking crack twelve hours a day. He's harder to find than John the Baptist's head."
"Who the fuck's looking for that?" Flotsam wanted to know, and Sergeant Hawthorne cursed himself again for using an obscure metaphor.
"Who's the freak you're dying to pop?" Jetsam asked.
"We're not really dying to pop the Russian with paraphilia. He's just a very important client being serviced by the collector and the big boss. The collector is the guy who takes the money and pays all the bills, and sets up the special dates, and arranges for the girls to get medical care when needed, and —"
"With the weird croaker we're talking about?" Jetsam asked.
"At one time." Sergeant Hawthorne nodded. "But now that the dangerous doctor's a hopeless crackhead, they no doubt use somebody else these days. What we're hoping you can do is to get enough info that we can jack the collector for a few felonies and use that to persuade him to trade up for his boss. The collector's name is Hector Cozzo. The girls call him Hector the collector, and he's got a minor rap sheet for identity theft, forgery, and possession. The most time he's ever done is sixty days in county jail. He's a small-timer who somehow got this pretty good gig of collecting from massage parlor girls and from dancers working at a nightclub in east Hollywood that I'm sure you know about, Club Samara."
"In other words, he's a pimp," Flotsam said.
"More or less," Sergeant Hawthorne said.
"So who's the boss?" Jetsam asked.
"That's what we want to learn from Hector Cozzo. Our source said that massage parlor where Cozzo collects, is partly staffed by Asian girls who we now think were brought into the States as part of a human-trafficking ring, possibly with the help of Asian and Armenian or Russian gangsters. This could turn into a RICO indictment. You probably heard about the federal prosecutors indicting seventy members of Armenian Power last February?"
Both uniformed cops looked at each other with blank expressions, so Sergeant Hawthorne said, "No? Well, Armenian Power was working with Eurasian gangs here in Hollywood, Glendale, and other places, doing everything from identity-theft scams to kidnapping for ransom. The particular massage parlor and nightclub girls we're interested in have to pay their masters for travel expenses from their home countries, plus room and board and living expenses. Not to mention the stiff prices they have to cough up for drugs, so they can tolerate their pathetic lives. They're never able to pay back what they owe, and eventually, they either run away or just get cut loose with the clothes on their backs and a few bucks in their purses."
"You mean, after they're all thrashed and shot out?" Jetsam said.
"Exactly," the sergeant said. "Some of them are underage, too, but they get supplied with good ID and Social Security numbers and the rest of it. It's hard for ICE to prove they're in the country illegally, and besides, the feds are more concerned with Department of Homeland Security task force jobs these days, especially anything that remotely smells like terrorism. They're not much worried about illegal immigrants who get pimped out in Hollywood. We're working this mission on our own."
Flotsam said, "This here collector, how do you know about his client with the ..."
"Apotemnophilia. One of the older Korean girls who ran away and now lives in Las Vegas got busted, and she's trying to cut a deal on a possession-for-sale she's facing there. She did a lot of talking to the Vegas police, and they phoned us because the crimes she talked about are going down here in Hollywood Area. I had a long conversation with her on the phone. It was very enlightening."
Flotsam was not surprised that a young top spinner like Sergeant Edgar would refer to their bailiwick using the now politically correct LAPD designation of "Hollywood Area" instead of the more militaristic-sounding "Hollywood Division," by which all of the older coppers still called the unique real estate policed by the officers of Hollywood Station.
The tall cop said, "So is the hooker that dimed the collector willing to testify if you bust him for pimping or whatever?"
"I had to promise her that we would never subpoena her into a Los Angeles courtroom before she'd talk to me at all. Besides that, she doesn't know anything really specific. What she does know she learned one night last year when she got an outcall job to a house in Encino that's occupied by Hector Cozzo, though his name is not on the deed. There she was ordered to service a big middle-aged guy with a streak of white running through his dark hair. "
"Like a fucking skunk," Jetsam said sullenly.
Sergeant Hawthorne said, "She guessed he was Russian, from his accent. She was told that he was the collector's wealthiest and most important client. She did her job that night and got well tipped out, and was allowed to sit around for a few hours afterward, doing some blow that Cozzo gave her while he and the Russian talked in an adjoining room. She got a peek at some photos from an album the Russian brought with him and saw that they were looking at shots of amputees and amputated limbs. Arms, legs, hands, feet."
Flotsam said, "Goddamn! She's lucky the freaks didn't do a little amputation on her that night. Just for the fun of it."
Sergeant Hawthorne said, "Anyway, at one point, she overheard Cozzo mention to the client, that yes, he'd heard of a surgeon the big Russian knew a lot about. A surgeon that charged twenty thousand for taking an arm and fifteen thousand for a leg, on otherwise healthy people in a Tijuana clinic."
Jetsam said, "Did your snitch say if those two mutant deviates had all their own body parts intact?"
"Yes, they did. And by now I've read enough about that kind of paraphilia to know that most of these people are obsessed with the idea of amputation but don't necessarily try it out on themselves. They probably like to hear horror stories about some of the more gutsy people who allegedly went the distance. But Hector Cozzo is not one of them. He was only trying to please the Russian."
"Why don't you, like, operate the goddamn massage parlor with an undercover copper and get a violation for prostitution and be done with it?" Jetsam said. "Why fuck with this sick Russian at all?"
"We've tried UC operators without success," the vice sergeant said. "These people are super careful and highly suspicious, and besides, we're looking beyond a masseuse turning tricks. I know you've heard a lot lately about the LAPD cracking down on so-called erotic massage parlors, but we're aiming higher. We want the money guys behind this one. So after we got the intel from Vegas and I learned about the collector's rich Russian client with paraphilia, well ..."
"Dude," Flotsam said to his glum partner. "Don't push the off button. Let's air this out. I wish they'd send me in as bait to chum up the water. I could handle whatever some Bangkok Bessie might wanna spring on me besides a back rub." Then he leered at a buxom waitress and said, "And I could totally bring game to this here breast-aurant."
"Keep your mind in this game, bro!" Jetsam said. "They're trying to shanghai me here!"
"Funny you should say that," Sergeant Hawthorne said. "The name of our primary target is Shanghai Massage."
"See?" Jetsam said. "There's all, like, bad juju going on here. I'm not down with this program."
"Don't go aggro, dude," Flotsam said to his partner. "He ain't asking for a kidney."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Harbor Nocturne"
Copyright © 2012 Joseph Wambaugh.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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