“I don’t want to tell you about how we found her until you get where we’re going, Rawlins. But I can tell you that we need your help because a white policeman looking into anything down in Watts right now will only draw attention to something we need kept quiet.”

“And why would I want to help you?” I asked, unable to resist kicking the man when he was down.

“What does that sign on your office door mean?” he asked in way of reply.

“It means what it says.”

“No,” Suggs said. “It means that you’re down there playing like you’re a private detective when you don’t have a license. That could pull down jail time if somebody wanted to prosecute. I’m sure if I went around and talked to a few of your clients I could build a pretty good case.”

I wasn’t so sure. Most of the work I’d done wasn’t anything to get me in trouble. I never misrepresented myself as a private detective. And Suggs was more right than he knew about white cops in black L.A.—no one would talk to them after the riots, or before.

But I said, “All right, Officer. I’ll go where you’re taking me. But I’ll tell you this right now. If I don’t like the way things smell I’m walkin’ away.”

Suggs nodded, released the brake, and cruised out into the boulevard. His easy manner accepting my conditions made me think that this simple ride in a policeman’s car was going to take me down a much longer journey than I had planned on when I rolled out of bed that morning.


The Miller Neurological Sanatorium was a long, flat bungalow off of La Cienega just above Wilshire. If you drove by it you would have thought that it was a motel or maybe a factory for light manufacturing. The entrance was at the end of a long driveway and the bronze sign announcing its name was half the size of a sheet of notebook paper.

Suggs parked his car so close along a high white fence that I had to scoot across the seat to get out on the driver’s side.

A few steps ahead of me, he opened the door to the clinic and walked in. I followed cautiously.

A young white woman in a nurse’s uniform sat behind the desk in the reception area. She had a delicate face that was more red than white with thousands of freckles crowded around enormous brown eyes. Those eyes got bigger when we walked through the door.

“May I help you?” she asked the white man.

“We’re going to room G-sixteen,” Suggs told her.

We had taken two steps toward the double swinging doors behind the reception desk when the freckled fawn stood to block our way.

“I’m sorry but I can’t let you back there.”

Suggs frowned at the plucky youngster. I could imagine the bile roiling in his gut. First he had to explain himself to a Negro and now a mere woman was trying to block his way.

But he took it pretty well. The white man’s burden, I suppose.

He held out a worn leather wallet that had his detective’s badge on one side and his identity card on the other. The woman looked very closely at the wallet and mouthed the name.

I realized then that I hadn’t asked Suggs for his I.D. I was too well trained, knowing that asking for a cop’s badge might well expose you to manacles and blackjacks and a night of deep bruising.

“And who is he?” the nurse asked.

“Who are you?” Suggs asked back.

“Why . . . I’m not the one being identified,” she said.

“Neither is he,” Suggs said.

We went through the double doors, all three of us. Suggs led the way, I followed him, and she took up the rear.

The floor of the hallway was paved with shiny white tiles. The ceiling and walls were white too. There wasn’t a smudge or a streak anywhere along the way. It was by far the cleanest medical facility I had ever seen.

We got to the end of one hall and turned right onto another. Halfway down this corridor we came to a door marked G-16. Suggs reached for the knob but the nurse got in front of him again.

“I’m not supposed to let anyone in without first identifying them at the desk,” she said.

“Honey,” Suggs said, “this is way beyond you. I showed you the badge, so get out of the way before I twist your pretty wrist.”

“I will not.”

I wondered if the riots were just one symptom of a disease that had silently infected the city; a virus that made people suddenly unafraid of the consequences of standing up for themselves. For almost a week I had seen groups of angry black men and women go up against armed policemen and soldiers with nothing but rocks and bottles for weapons. Now this eighty-seven-pound girl-child was standing up to a gruff cop who outweighed her three to one.

“Ezekiel Rawlins, ma’am,” I said.

“What?” For the first time she looked directly at me.

“My name. It’s Ezekiel Rawlins. I’m here as a consultant to the police. If you had asked me I would have told you my name.”

“Oh,” she said, realizing that maybe she was the one that had been discourteous. “Rawlings?”

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