A cheap hooker named Missy Moonbeam takes a fatal dive from the roof of a sleazy hotel. But what’s a Caltech phone number doing in her trick book? And how does that connect to a dead private eye and a useless credit card? And what does all that have to do with a Whisky-class Russian sub and the Nobel Prize?
Join Joseph Wambaugh’s ravaged cops of Rampart Station as they follow a trail of corruption from the world of pimps and crazies to the think-tank labs of the country’s top chemistry wizards—where genius and greed mix to create an award-winning case of murder.
“A page-turner . . . This is a must-read for Wambaugh fans.”—USA Today
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||724 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The House of Misery
It was Mother’s Day and they were all watching The Bad Czech. Ordinarily, after three hours of well drinks and draft beer, the blinking and bruxing, staring and sighing, twitching and palpitations gave way to verbal ventilation. But this was Mother’s Day, and since most of them disliked at least one mother (The Bad Czech had three ex-wives and didn’t even like his own mother very much) the symptoms had persisted well into evening—hence, more frantic boozing.
Which pleased Leery no end. He just sucked his teeth and leered, and wiped the bar with a filthy rag and congratulated himself on being smarter than every other saloonkeeper around these parts. Leery wouldn’t dream of closing on Mother’s Day. He knew from years of experience that this was one of those special days when the walking wounded of the day watch really put it away. The seventy-year-old saloonkeeper leered as he broke open another case of Coors. A generation ago a motor cop had correctly noted that the dour tavern owner could not smile, nor even grin, smirk or simper. He could only leer. Ergo, the sobriquet.
Leery’s Saloon, aptly dubbed The House of Misery by the angst-ridden who gathered there, was mostly taken up by a very long bar which could accommodate perhaps sixty souls if they stood or sat hip to hip, as they did every other Wednesday (payday for the troops) and on the Friday after that Wednesday. All the rest of the time they were broke, or nearly so, but there were always a dozen or so hard-core habitués from the day watch to carry Leery profitably into the later hours, when groupies and other civilians arrived.
Leery’s Saloon was very dark, as every cop’s bar must be (they don’t want to see too much when they’re off duty), and had a jukebox so that they could bump and shake and grind and wiggle on the minuscule dance floor in the next room. Leery’s dance floor was exactly the size of three coffins, they said. In addition to the three-coffin dance floor there was a pool table in the adjoining room where the cops often got fleeced by mediocre pool hustlers passing through.
There were inevitable markers in the tavern to let civilian tourists know it was a cops’ hangout. Such as a bumper sticker over the pub mirror that said OUR COPS EAT THEIR DEAD. Or CONAN THE BARBARIAN FOR POLICE CHIEF. OR SAVE OUR COUNTRY, BOOK A DEMOCRAT. And other such messages which tended to keep out the riffraff.
But the final tip-off was the sign on the door to the women’s rest room, placed there as an admonition to cops who inevitably pursued groupies with altogether too much fervor in the shank of the night. The sign on the women’s room said WOMEN ONLY!
Leery’s was one of those places where the boys and girls would try to name potential customers who might enjoy the sounds emanating from within when The Bad Czech read anti-cop editorials: people like Dr. Mengele, Idi Amin and the whole Spanish Inquisition.
On Mother’s Day, with the off-duty cops downing them as fast as he could pour, Leery could afford to be magnanimous and play the jukebox for the boys and girls. Of course he chose a few punk and new-wave earsplitters which tended to make emotional casualties drink more.
By now The Bad Czech was really getting into it. His fists were glowing white through the smoke in the saloon. He ground his teeth and gurgled, and unconsciously shredded the Los Angeles Times editorial page in his huge paws. The tendons rippled across his glowering jaw as he bruxed those donkey molars. Then The Bad Czech slapped himself across his broad Slavic forehead with enough force to knock an average man right off the barstool.
As though on cue, The Bad Czech’s slap coincided with the sounds of The Sex Pistols crashing out of the jukebox.
“That does it!” The Bad Czech roared, loud enough to drown out a whole platoon of punkers. “She did it again! The cunt! She did it again!”
They all knew who the cunt was: it was one of the people The Bad Czech hated most in all the world. Still, playing out the familiar ritual, a rumpled cop named Ronald—who was two days from retirement and thus feared everything from traffic stops to earthquakes—said the obvious: “What did Rose Bird and The Supremes do this time?”
There was only one person The Bad Czech hated more than he hated the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Rose Bird. That was Jerry Brown, the governor who had appointed her. Because of his early education in a Jesuit seminary, Governor Jerry Brown was said by the cops to be the maddest monk since Rasputin, without the sex drive.
“That scummy, filthy, rotten, puke of a…” Suddenly The Bad Czech started strangling on bile and spittle. Rumpled Ronald—who, with retirement so close, also feared falling bricks, toxic insect stings, and old ladies with scissors—banged The Bad Czech on the back to get him breathing again.
“You’re hyperventilating, Czech,” Rumpled Ronald offered. “Settle! Settle!”
Then the ten cops and three groupies who were making Leery rich on Mother’s Day began composing possible bumper stickers to cheer up The Bad Czech. Such as: “Send John Hinckley a Rose Bird pinup.”
The Bad Czech snatched a bottle of beer from Leery’s hand, sucked it down and began taking rattling gulps of air.
Rumpled Ronald—who, these last days, feared runaway trucks and botulized burritos—had a bizarre vision of the ascetic supreme court jurist and the equally ascetic monk who was campaigning for the United States Senate. “Know what would be the world’s weirdest no-action movie?” he said. “A porn flick starring Jerry Brown and Rose Bird.”
“She…get this…she…” The Bad Czech grabbed another beer from the bar, gulped half of it, settled, and said, “The rest of The Supremes voted for Corky. For once they got their shit together. But not Rose. No way. She writes a twenty-two-page dissent!”
Everyone was of course used to the town crier reading the Los Angeles Times aloud and strangling on bile, and knew that Corky was the airport police dog who had sniffed out some dope in a suitcase and was getting his balls rapped for illegal search and seizure, just like the cops with two legs.
“Listen to this,” The Bad Czech read: “ ‘A traveler to protect his privacy should not have to resort to an airtight suitcase or other extraordinary measures to prevent the escape of even one marijuana molecule’!” Then the monster cop tore the paper to shreds and cried, “The fuckin dog is forcin smugglers to trash their Gucci luggage. And Rose Bird says it ain’t fair!”
Rumpled Ronald looked at his watch and marked the fifty-one hours and thirty minutes when his pension would be secure. Then he took his own pulse and thought of hypertension, aneurysm and stroke.
One of the groupies, an emaciated girl with a splayed pelvis who looked like a toilet plunger on the barstool, said, “Hey, Leery. The Czech needs some cheering up. He ain’t beat up nobody for, oh, two three days now.”
“Hey, Czech,” another groupie giggled. “I hear you’re only shooting at cans these days. Mexi-cans. Puerto Ri-cans…”
“Well versed by the cops in the multi-ethnic makeup of Rampart Division, a third groupie said, “Naw, The Czech only shoots at knees…Chi-nese mostly.”
And so forth.
The groupies were regulars in Leery’s Saloon and every other cop bar from Chinatown to Hollywood. Those familiar nameless groupies were as ubiquitous as dog shit on a vice cop’s shoe, as they say. When the cops were too despondent to ventilate, the girls got things going.
“Gimme a double!” cried a singsong voice from the smoke and gloom. “My throat’s as parched as Jerry Brown’s balls.”
The voice belonged to one half of the inseparable team of Hans and Ludwig, who were shoulder to shoulder, elbows on the bar, surrounded by the three groupies.
It made The Bad Czech even meaner and madder than usual to see Hans and Ludwig getting all the attention and drinking out of the same beer bottle. But the groupies thought it was cute and adorable and they hugged Hans and Ludwig when they did it.
Even through the darkness The Bad Czech could see Ludwig’s huge wet tongue slopping around on the bottle’s mouth. Then Hans tipped the same bottle to his own mouth and, without wiping off the slobber, drank it down.
The Bad Czech longed to snatch the beer bottle from that scrawny, noodle-necked, pathetic excuse for a cop, and stick it down his throat until that whiny singsong voice of his was muffled by eight inches of bottle glass. That’s what he wanted to do. Except that he was scared shitless of Ludwig.
Hans’ partner wasn’t scrawny. Ludwig was all muscle. His chest and shoulders heaved and swelled when he sucked on the beer bottle. And his eyes were nothing like the dumb little blinking eyes of his partner, Hans. Ludwig’s eyes were full of yellow menace. The pupils were elongated. And along with the massive musculature, he was nearly as tall as his skinny partner.
“The Bad Czech was the biggest, strongest and unarguably the meanest cop at Rampart Station, but he saw something in those eyes that made him gulp back his anger. Ludwig had the eyes of a killer. He was sapphire-black and weighed 130 pounds. He was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, and understood no English. He was a Rottweiler, the largest dog in the K-9 Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.