designer. His expensive wardrobe, coffee-colored complexion, and neatly trimmed moustache all contributed to his stylish GQ look.

My wardrobe is much closer to the ground. Off-the-rack Macy’s suits that go with my battered club fighter look, broken nose, and cowlicky short black hair.

Hitch stopped short when he saw the rug urinating on my tire and made a gesture of disbelief. “You gonna just let this ragbag piss on your ride, dawg?”

“He’s not pissing on my ride. He’s giving my tires an acid wash,” I deadpanned. “I can have him do yours later if you want.”

Hitch was still frowning at the homeless man as I said, “We just caught a case from Hollenbeck Division. Let’s roll.”

We climbed into the car and pulled away from the curb as the bum shouted after us.

“Go on. Run from the Purple Prince. See if I give a shit!”

I turned at the corner and headed north up Third toward the freeway and Hollenbeck Division. The fresh homicide was a perfect reason to leave the filthy rug, and Lord Ding Wallace, behind.


“What are we rolling on?” Hitch asked.

“Don’t know. You ever heard of a Hollenbeck dick named Rick Laguna?”

“Ricky Laguna? Yeah, we were in Southwest Patrol together. He’s a good guy when he’s not drinking.”

“He wouldn’t give me anything over his cell. Just said that I wouldn’t like it.”

“What’s to like anymore?” Hitch grumbled, still bummed over this morning’s deposition. “Damn job is getting to be less like police work and more like sewage management.”

We took Broadway to the 101 Freeway, turned east, and headed toward Hollenbeck Division.

“Get my laminated division map out of the glove box and tell me where the Four-A-Fifty-Nine Basic Car Area, will you? I need a good off-ramp for North Savannah Street.”

Hitch opened the glove box and reached for the map.

“I can’t believe how the job has changed,” he groused, leaking cynicism. “Think about how much time is being wasted on fuckheads like Quadry Barnes. That animal shoots two kids in a market and we got the killing on tape, but our patrol guys have been jacked up over it for a month. Half a dozen cops and witnesses get stuck doing depositions; then we have to waste a week next month testifying. All so this bleeding hemorrhoid can get a ride to L.A. from Soledad, sit at the advocates table in his orange prison jumpsuit, and laugh at us. Worse still, these one- eighty-one complaints are like penicillin-resistant clap. Even when they’re cleared, they never get off your record.”

Of course, I was in complete agreement. Hitch fell silent as he looked down at the division map.

“Best off-ramp is First Street; then go left,” he advised, then dropped the map, pulled out his phone, and hit a preset number.

“Jerry, it’s Hitch. When you pick this up, I forgot to tell you I sent the story option papers for Trial by Fire over to Ziff last night for a legal opinion. I think the second eighteen-month renewal option is okay, but it shouldn’t be free. Warners should have to pay for it. Call me once you’ve talked to him.” He clicked off.

My partner hit the jackpot when he sold a big murder case of his to the movies a few years ago. It ended up being a box-office smash. The case was about a serial murderer Hitch caught when he was in Metro Robbery Homicide. The killer believed the only way he could stay alive was to drink his victims’ blood. The film was Mosquito and it starred Jamie Foxx in the lead role of Detective Sumner Hitchens. The damn thing grossed over $600 million worldwide. Hitch had three back-end points, making him instantly wealthy.

The second case he sold was one we worked together last year, which he calls The Prostitute’s Ball. We’re still in script development on that and it probably won’t get shot for a year or so, if at all. I reluctantly took a piece of it, because my half of the story rights payment is rebuilding my son Chooch’s garage apartment at our house in Venice, California. “Chooch” is short for “Charles.” He’s my only child and is in his final year at USC on a football scholarship.

Hitch has agents at United Talent Agency. The guy he just called was Jerry Eisenberg, who heads their film department. Ziff is a Hollywood power lawyer named Ken Ziffren. These guys are all at the highest levels of the Biz, and Hitch sometimes manages his movie interests from the front seat of our D-ride.

“I’m thinking we’re running out of road here, dawg,” Hitch complained as he holstered his cell, still marinating over his morning deposition. “You gotta have a law degree to do police work anymore. I’m thinking maybe it’s time for us to jump out of this free-falling safe before it hits ground. Team up for real, make movies full-time.”

It was a discussion we had at least twice a week lately. I don’t want to be a movie producer-I’m a cop. I think I’d look really stupid in silk shirts and overlapping gold chains. But it seemed like Hitch was becoming more and more disenchanted with the job. I had been trying to find a way to pull him out of his funk.

When we arrived at North Savannah Street, I started picking up curb numbers, looking for 1253. In the late forties, the houses in this district were newly built postwar homes for middle-class factory workers, but the last sixty years had taken a heavy toll on the neighborhood. Now the decrepit stucco and wood-sided bungalows displayed security-barred windows, peeling paint, and graffiti as they squatted in a ragged line of weed-choked postage-stamp-sized lawns.

Throughout the seventies and eighties, these blocks had slowly been turned over to poor Hispanic families who came north to find a better life. Make recently, the neighborhood had become ensnared in a dense maw of gang violence. Tagger art announced the competing sets. Varrio Nuevo Estradas claimed blocks right next to Clique Los Primos. Farther down were White Fence and Krazy Ass Mexicans, Avenue 43’s, Fickes Street Locos, and Evergreen territories. At last count there were over forty-five Hispanic gangs operating in the Boyle Heights section of Hollenbeck Division.

During the daylight hours these blocks looked forlorn but not overly dangerous. Most of the vato hitters worked their drug corners all night, stayed up until dawn, and slept until late afternoon. This left the streets to little kids and old women with swollen ankles who ventured out to make their morning trips to the market, pushing their stolen silver schooners from Vons or Albertsons.

After dark, as any Hollenbeck patrol officer could tell you, this hood had a whole different vibe. Lowriders full of young killers were parked on every street with the lights off, watching their turf. Heavy salsa beats rocked the tires while marijuana smoke, called yerba, drifted from the open windows. The nights were often interrupted by the savage rip of a MAC-10 spitting out copper-jacketed death.

It was easy to spot the crime scene. Six patrol cars were parked at the curb with a bunch of cops milling out front. Graffiti tagged the street as Evergreen turf. As we headed toward the address, we drove by a new white Ford Econoline van with a big blue V-TV stenciled on the side.

“Uh-oh,” Hitch said as we passed the vehicle. The back door on the van was open, revealing an impressive array of large, silver-studded equipment boxes. A TV crew had set up in a yard and was interviewing a tattooed Hispanic youth, gunning off footage using two digital cameras and an elaborate lighting package.

“We’re fucked,” I groaned as I caught a glimpse of a familiar man conducting the interview. He was a medium-built blond-haired guy wearing a blue blazer and diagonally striped tie. It was Nixon Nash, host of Vigilante TV, a hot nationally syndicated TV show that was currently riding the top of the Nielsen ratings.

“That guy needs a permanent room at the asshole academy,” Hitch said sourly. “Just one more example of what I was saying.”

He turned around, looking out of the rear window at the receding TV van. “It’s not bad enough we got wet farts like Quadry Barnes to deal with. Now we gotta also put up with this guy.” Then he added, “With him here, now I’m really wondering who got murdered.”

Vigilante TV had sprung to national prominence a few years back. The show billed itself as a police watchdog. Nash actually referred to himself on the air as America’s number one video vigilante.

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