Putting the pieces together are the sergeant they call the Oracle and his squad of street cops. There's Budgie Polk, a twenty-something firecracker with a four-month-old at home, and Wesley Drubb, a rich boy who joined the force seeking thrills. Fausto Gamboa is the tetchy veteran, and Hollywood Nate is the one who never shuts up about movies. They spend their days in patrol cars and their nights in the underbelly of a city that never sleeps. From their headquarters at Hollywood Station, they see the glamour city for what it is: a field of land mines, where the mundane is dangerous and the dangerous is mundane.
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By Joseph Wambaugh
LITTLE, BROWNCopyright © 2006 Joseph Wambaugh
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Chapter OneWanna play pit bull polo, dude?" "What's that?"
"It's something I learned when I worked Metro Mounted Platoon." "It's weird thinking of you as a cowboy cop."
"All I know about horses is they're assholes, man. But we got the overtime there. You know my little Beemer? I wouldn't have that if I hadn't worked Metro. My last year in Metro I made a hundred grand plus. I don't miss those crazy horses but I miss that OT money. And I miss wearing a Stetson. When we worked the mini-riot at the Democrats convention, a hot little lobbyist with nipples big enough to pack up and leave home said I looked like a young Clint Eastwood in that Stetson. And I didn't carry a Beretta nine then. I carried a six-inch Colt revolver. It looked more appropriate when I was sitting on a horse."
"A wheel gun? In this day and age?" "The Oracle still carries a wheel gun."
"The Oracle's been on the job nearly fifty years. He can wear a codpiece if he wants to. And you don't look like Clint Eastwood, bro. You look like the guy in King Kong, except you got even more of a beak and your hair is bleached."
"My hair is sun-streaked from surfing, dude. And I'm even two inches taller in the saddle than Clint was."
"Whatever, bro. I'm a whole foot taller on the ground than Tom Cruise. He's about four foot ten."
"Anyways, those pacifist demonstrators at the convention center were throwing golf ballsand ball bearings at our horses, when twenty of us charged. And dude, when you get stepped on by a fifteen-hundred-pound animal, it sucks bad. Only one horse went down. He was twenty-eight years old, name of Rufus. That fried him. Had to retire him after that. One of those Jamba Juicers threw a lit trash bag at the one I was riding, name of Big Sam. I beat that bitch with my koa."
"It's like a samurai sword made of koa wood. The baton's about as useless as a stalk of celery when you're up there on a horse seventeen hands high. Supposed to strike them in the clavicle, but guess what, she juked and I got her upside the head. Accidentally, wink wink. She did a loop de loop and ended up under a parked car. I saw a horse get stuck with a knitting needle by one of those tree fuckers. The horse was fried after that. Too much stress. They retired him to Horse Rescue. They all get fried sooner or later. Just like us."
"That sucks. Sticking a horse."
"That one got a TV interview at least. When cops get hurt, nothing. Who gives a fuck? When a horse gets hurt, you get on TV, maybe with that Debbie D-cup news bunny on Channel Five."
"Where'd you learn to ride?"
"Griffith Park. A five-week course at the Ahmanson Training Center. Only horse I ever rode before that was on a merry-go-round, and I don't care if I ever ride another one. Got the job 'cause my sister-in-law went to high school with the platoon lieutenant. Horses're assholes, man. An RTD bus can pass you three inches away at sixty miles an hour and the horse doesn't blink. A little piece of paper blows in his face all of a sudden and he bucks you clear over a pile of tweakers and base-heads sleeping on a skid-row sidewalk at Sixth and San Pedro. And you end up in Momma Lucy's shopping cart with her aluminum cans and refundable bottles. That's how I got a hip replacement at the age of thirty. Only thing I wanna ride now is a surfboard and my Beemer." "I'm thirty-one. You look a lot older than me."
"Well I ain't. I just had a lot to worry about. They gave me a doctor that was so old he still believed in bleeding and leeches."
"Whatever, bro. You might have progeria. Gives you those eyelid and neck wrinkles, like a Galapagos turtle."
"So you wanna play pit bull polo or not?" "What the fuck is pit bull polo?"
"Way I learned, they trailered ten of us down to Seventy-seventh Street on a night when they decided to sweep a three-block row of crack houses and gangsta cribs. Whole fucking area is a crime scene. Living next to that is what razor wire was made for. Anyways, all those Bloods and Crips have pit bulls and rotties and they let them run loose half the time, terrorizing the 'hood and eating any normal dogs they see. And the whole fucking pack of gangsta dogs flew into a blood lust the second they saw us coming in and they attacked like we were riding T-bones and ribeyes."
"How many did you shoot?"
"Shoot? I need this job. You gotta be richer than Donald Trump and Manny the plumber to fire your piece in today's LAPD, especially at a dog. You shoot a human person and you get maybe two detectives and a team from Force Investigation Division to second-guess you. You shoot a dog and you get three supervisors and four detectives plus FID, all ready to string yellow tape. Especially in the 'hood. We didn't shoot them, we played pit bull polo with the long sticks."
"Oh, I get it. Pit bull polo." "Man, I rode through them, whacking those killer bulls, yelling, 'One chukker for my team! Two chukkers for my team!'I only wish I coulda whacked their owners."
"Bro, a chukker is a period of play. I know 'cause I watched a special on the Royal Family. Horny old Charles was playing a chukker or two for Camilla with big wood in his jodhpurs. That old babe? I don't see it."
"Whatever. You down with that or not?" "Yeah, I'm down. But first I wanna know, did anyone beef you for playing polo with the gangsta bulls?"
"Oh yeah, there's always an ABM who'll call IA, his councilman, and maybe long distance to Al Sharpton, who never saw a camera he didn't hug."
"You ain't a 'hood rat, are ya? ABM. Angry black male."
"Spent my nine years in Devonshire, West Valley, and West L.A. before I transferred here last month. ABMs ain't never been filed on my desktop, bro."
"Then don't go to a police commission or council meeting. ABMs are in charge. But we don't have hardly any living in Hollywood. In fact, nowadays most of south L.A. is Latino, even Watts."
"I been reading that the entire inner city is mostly Latino. Where the fuck have the brothers gone to? I wonder. And why is everybody worrying about the black vote if they're all moving to the suburbs? They better worry about the Latino vote, because they got the mayor's office now and they're about one generation away from reclaiming California and making us do the gardening."
"You married? And which number is it?"
"Just escaped from number two. She was Druid-like but not as cuddly. One daughter three years old. Lives with Momma, whose lawyer won't be satisfied till I'm homeless on the beach eating seaweed." "Is number one still at large?"
"Yeah, but I don't have to pay her nothing. She took my car, though. You?"
"Divorced also. Once. No kids. Met my ex in a cop bar in North Hollywood called the Director's Chair. She wore a felonious amount of pancake. Looked too slutty for the Mustang Ranch and still I married her. Musta been her J Lo booty."
"Starter marriages never work for cops. You don't have to count the first one, bro. So how do we play pit bull polo without horses? And where do we play?"
"I know just the place. Get the expandable baton outta my war bag."
The Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha, aka MS-13, began at Los Angeles High School less than twenty years earlier but was now said to have ten thousand members throughout the United States and seven hundred thousand in Central American countries. Many residents of state prison displayed tattoos saying "MS" or "MS-13." It was an MS-13 crew member who was stopped on a street in North Hollywood in 1991 by Officer Tina Kerbrat, a rookie just months out of the LAPD academy, who was in the process of writing him a citation for drinking in public, nothing more than that, when the MS-13 "cruiser" shot her dead. The first LAPD woman officer to be murdered in the line of duty.
Later that evening a besieged Mexican resident living east of Gower Street called Hollywood Station to say that she saw an LAPD black-and-white with lights out driving loops around a dirty pink apartment building that she had reported to the police on several occasions as being full of Mara Salvatrucha gang members.
On the other occasions, the officers at the desk kept trying to explain to the Mexican woman about gang injunctions and probable cause, things she did not understand and that did not exist in her country. Things that apparently denied protection to people like her and her children from the criminals in that ugly pink building. She told the officer about how their vicious dogs had mauled and killed a collie belonging to her neighbor Irene, and how all the children were unable to walk safely in the streets. She also said that two of the dogs had been removed by people from the city pound but there were still enough left. More than enough.
The officers told her they were very sorry and that she should contact the Department of Animal Services.
The Mexican woman had been watching a Spanish-language channel and was almost ready for bed when she first heard the howling that drew her to the window. There she saw the police car with lights out, speeding down the alley next to the apartment building, being pursued by four or five barking dogs. On its second pass down the alley, she saw the driver lean out the window and swing something that looked like a snooker stick at one of the brutes, sending it yelping and running back into the pink building. Then the car made another loop and did it to another big dog, and the driver yelled something that her daughter heard from the porch.
Her daughter stumbled sleepily into the tiny living room and said in English, "Mamá, does chukker mean something very bad, like the F word?"
The Mexican woman called Hollywood Station and spoke to a very senior sergeant whom all the cops called the Oracle. She wanted to say thank you for sending the officers with the snooker stick. She was hopeful that things might improve around the neighborhood. The Oracle was puzzled but thought it best not to question her further. He simply said that he was glad to be of service.
When 6-X-32's lights were back on and they were cruising Hollywood Boulevard, the driver said, "Dude, right there's where my career with the Mounted Platoon ended. That's where I decided that overtime pay or not, I was going back to normal patrol."
His partner looked to his right and said, "At Grauman's Chinese Theater?"
"Right there in the courtyard. That's where I learned that you never ride a horse on the Hollywood Walk of Fame." "Bad juju?"
Sid Grauman's famous theater seemed somehow forlorn these days, dwarfed and sandwiched by the Hollywood & Highland Center, better known as the Kodak Center, containing two blocks of shopping and entertainment. It was home to the Kodak Theatre and the Academy Awards and was overrun by tourists day and night. But the Chinese Theater still held its own when it came to Hollywood weirdness. Even this late, there were a number of costumed creatures posing for photos with tourists who were mainly photographing the shoe and handprints in the famous forecourt. Among the creatures were Mr. Incredible, Elmo, two Darth Vaders, Batman, and two Goofys, one short, one tall.
"They pose with tourists. Pix for bucks," the driver said to his partner. "The tourists think the creatures work for Grauman's, but they don't. Most of them're crackheads and tweakers. Watch little Goofy."
He braked, making the nighttime traffic go around their black-and-white. They watched the shorter of the two Goofys hassling four Asian tourists who no doubt had refused to pay him for taking his photo or hadn't paid enough. When Goofy grabbed one of the two Asian men by the arm, the cop tooted his horn. When Goofy looked up and saw the black-and-white, he gave up panhandling for the moment and tried to disappear into the throng, even though his huge Goofy head loomed over all but the tallest tourist.
The driver said, "The subway back there is a good escape route to the 'hood. Dealers hang out by the trains, and the hooks hang around the boulevard."
"What's a hook?"
"A guy that approaches you and says, 'I can hook you up with what you need.' These days it's almost always crystal. Everybody's tweaking. Meth is the drug of choice on the Hollywood streets, absolutely." And that made him think of his last night at Metro, which was followed by the replacement surgery and a right hip more accurate than a barometer when it came to predicting sudden temperature drops and wind-chill factor.
On that last night in the Mounted Platoon, he and another mounted cop were there for crowd suppression, walking their horses along Hollywood Boulevard all calm and okey-dokey, along the curb past the Friday-night mobs by the subway station, moseying west, when he spotted a hook looking very nervously in their direction.
He'd said to his partner, who was riding a mare named Millie, "Let's jam this guy."
He dismounted and dropped his get-down rope. His partner held both horses and he approached the hook on foot. The hook was a sweaty, scrawny white guy, very tall, maybe even taller than he was, though his LAPD Stetson and cowboy boots made him tower. That's when it all went bad.
"I was talking to a hook right about there," he said to his partner now, pointing to the sidewalk in front of the Kodak Center. "And the dude just turned and rabbitted. Zip. Like that. And I started after him, but Major freaked."
"My horse. He was fearless, Major was. Dude, I'd seen him chill in training when we were throwing firecrackers and flares at him. I'd seen other horses rear up on their hind legs and do a one-eighty while Major stood his ground. But not that night. That's the thing about horses, they're assholes, man."
"What'd he do?"
"First, Major reared clear up tall and crazy. Then he bit my partner on the arm. It was like somebody cranked up his voltage. Maybe a tweaker shot him with a BB gun, I don't know. Anyways, I stopped chasing the hook, fuck him, and ran back to help my partner. But Major wouldn't calm down until I made like I was going to climb in the saddle. Then I did something very stupid."
"I climbed in the saddle, intending to ride him back to the trailer and call it a night. I did that instead of leading him back, which anybody without brain bubbles woulda done under the circumstances."
"He freaked again. He took off. Up onto the sidewalk."
The moment would be with him forever. Galloping along the Walk of Fame, kicking up sparks and scattering tourists and panhandlers and purse snatchers and tweakers and pregnant women and costumed nuns and SpongeBob and three Elvises. Clomping over top of Marilyn Monroe's star or James Cagney's or Elizabeth Taylor's or fucking Liberace's or whoever was there on this block of the Walk of Fame because he didn't know who was there and never checked later to find out.
Cursing the big horse and hanging on with one hand and waving the creepy multitudes out of his way with the other. Even though he knew that Major could, and had, run up a flight of concrete steps in his long career, he also knew that neither Major nor any horse belonging to the Mounted Platoon could run on marble, let alone on brass inserts on that marble sidewalk where people spilled their Starbucks and Slurpees with impunity. No horse could trample Hollywood legends like that, so maybe it was the bad juju. And very suddenly Major hydroplaned in the Slurpees and just ... went ... down.
His partner interrupted the sweat-popping flashback. "So what happened, bro? After he took off with you?"
"First of all, nobody got hurt. Except Major and me."
"They say I ended up in John Wayne's boot prints right there in Grauman's forecourt. They say the Duke's fist print is there too. I don't remember boots or fists or nothing. I woke up on a gurney in an RA with a paramedic telling me yes I was alive, while we were screaming code three to Hollywood Pres. I had a concussion and three cracked ribs and my bad hip, which was later replaced, and everybody said I was real lucky."
"How about the nag?"
"They told me Major seemed okay at first. He was limping, of course. But after they trailered him back to Griffith Park and called the vet, he could hardly stand. He was in bad shape and got worse. They had to put him down that night." And then he added, "Horses are such assholes, man."
When his partner looked at the driver, he thought he saw his eyes glisten in the mix of light from the boulevard-fluorescence and neon, headlights and taillights, even reflected glow from a floodlight shooting skyward-announcing to all: This is Hollywood! But all that light spilling onto them changed the crispness of their black-and-white to a wash of bruised purple and sickly yellow. His partner wasn't sure, but he thought the driver's chin quivered, so he pretended to be seriously studying the costumed freaks in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Excerpted from Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh Copyright © 2006 by Joseph Wambaugh. Excerpted by permission.
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