The Night Crew · Preview Chapters
The corner of Gayley and Le Conte, at the edge of the campus:
Frat boys cruised in their impeccably clean racing-green Miatas and cherry-red Camaro ragtops, with their impeccably blonde dates, all square shoulders, frothy dresses and big white teeth.
Two skinny kids, one of each sex, smelling of three-day sweat and dressed all in black, unwrapped Ding-Dongs and talked loud about Jesus and Joy to Come; celebrating Him and vanilla-creme filling.
At the Shell station, a tanker truck pumped Premium down a hole in the concrete pad, under the eye of a big-bellied driver.
And above them all, a quarter-million miles out, a buttery new moon smiled down as it slid toward the Pacific.
The Bee was impatient, checking her watch, bouncing on her toes. She was waiting at the corner, a JanSport backpack at her feet. Her face was a pale crescent in the headlights of passing cars, in the Los Angeles never-dark.
The Shell tanker driver stood in a puddle of gasoline fumes, chewed a toothpick and watched her in a casual, looking-at-women way. The Bee was dressed by Banana Republic, in khaki wash pants, a t-shirt with a queen bee on the chest, a photographer's vest with fifteen pockets, hiking boots and a preppy black-silk ski mask rolled up and worn as a watch cap.
When she saw the truck with the dish on the roof, she pulled the mask down over her face, picked up the backpack, and stepped out to the curb. The Bee had small opaque-green eyes, like turquoise thumbtacks on the black mask.
Anna Batory, riding without her seatbelt, her feet braced on the truck's plastic dashboard, saw the Bee step out to the curb and pointed: "There she is."
Creek grunted and eased the truck to the curb. Anna rolled down the passenger-side window and spoke to the mask: "You're the Bee?"
You're late," the Bee snapped.
Anna glanced at the dashboard clock, then back out the window: "Jason said ten-thirty."
Jason was sitting in the back of the truck on a gray metal folding chair, next to Louis. He looked up from his Sony chip-cam and said, "That's what they told me. Ten-thirty."
"It's now ten-thirty-three," the Bee said. She turned her wrist to show the blue face on a stainless-steel Rolex.
"Sorry," Anna said.
"I don't think that's good enough," the Bee said. "We might be too late, and it's all wasted."
Behind the Bee the Shell gas-delivery man was taking an interest: a lot of people in a TV truck and a blonde in a ski mask, arguing.
"You better get in," Anna said. She could smell the fumes from the gas as she turned and pushed back the truck's side door. Louis caught it and pulled it the rest of the way. The Bee looked at the two men in the back, nodded and said, "Jason," to Jason, said nothing to Louis and climbed aboard.
"Around the corner to Westwood, then Westwood to Circle," the Bee said. "You know where Circle is?"
"Yeah, we know where everything is," Creek said. They'd been everywhere. "Hold on."
Creek took the truck around the corner, humming to himself, which he did when he was tightening up. Anna turned back to the Bee, found the other woman gaping at Creek, and grinned.
Creek looked vaguely like the Wookiee in Star Wars: six-seven, overmuscled and hairy. He was wearing a USMC sweatshirt with the sleeves and neck torn out. Tattoos covered his arms: just visible through the reddish-blond hair on his biceps was an American flag in red, blue, and Appalachia-white skin, deeply tanned, with the scrolled sentiment, "These colors don't run."
"Hello?" Anna lifted a hand to break the stare. The Bee tore her eyes away from Creek. "We need some facts and figured," Anna said. "How many people on the raid, where you're based, what specifically you object to like that."
"We've got it all here, but we've got to hurry," the Bee said. She dug into the backpack, came up with a plastic portfolio, and took out a sheet of crisp white paper. Anna flicked on the overheard reading light.
The press release was tight, professional, laser-printed. A two-color pre-printed logo of a running mustang set off the words "Free Hearts" at the top of the page.
"Are these quotes from you or from the collective?" Anna asked, ticking the paper with a fingernail.
"Anything that's in quotes, you can attribute to either me or the Rat. We wrote the statement jointly."
"Will we meet the Rat?" Anna asked. She passed the press release to Louis, who slipped it in a spring clip on the side of the fax.
He's in the building now," the Bee said, leaning left to peer past Anna out the windshield. "Turn left here," she said. Creek slowed for the turn.
"We'd like to get an action quote when they come out, as they release the animals," Anna said.
"No problem. We can accommodate that." The Bee looked at her Rolex, then back out the window. They were right in the middle of the UCLA medical complex. "I'm sorry I'm so... snappy... but when Jason agreed to ten-thirty, we specified exactly ten-thirty. The raid is already under way."
Anna nodded and turned to Louis. "How're the radios?"
Louis Martinez sat in an office swivel chair that was bolted to the floor of the truck. From the chair, he could reach the scanners and transmitters, the dual editing stations, the fax and phones, any of the screens in the steel racks.
He fiddled with the gear incessantly, trying to capture a mental picture of after-dark Los Angeles, in terms of accidents, shootings, car chases, fires, riots.
"All clear," he said. "We've got that shooting down in Inglewood, but that ain't much. There's a chase down south, Long Beach, but it's heading the other way."
"Track it," Anna said. Cop chases had produced at least two famous video clips in the past couple of years. If you could get out in front of one, and catch it coming by, it was a sure sale.
"I got it," Louis said. He pushed his glasses up his nose and grinned at the Bee with his screwy nerd-charm. "Why'd you choose Bee?" he asked.
"I don't want a warm and fuzzy animal. That's not the point of animal rescue," the Bee said. Her response was remote, canned, and Louis' grin slipped a fraction of an inch.
"And that's why Steve picked Rat," Jason suggested.
The Bee frowned at the use of Rat's real name, but nodded. "Yes. And because we feel a spiritual affinity with out choices."
In the driver's seat, Creek grunted again, shook his head once, quick. Anna was watching him, taking his temperature: He didn't like these people and he didn't like the professional PR points the PR release, the theatrical ski mask. Too much like a setup, and Creek was pure.
A smile curled one corner of Anna's mouth. She could read Creek's mind if she could see his eyes. Creek knew that. He glanced at her, then deliberately pulled his eyes away. And said, quickly: "There's a guy on the corner."
Ahead and to the right, a woman in a ski mask was standing on the corner, making a hurry-up windmilling motion with one arm.
"That's Otter," she said. "And that's the corner of Circle. They must be out turn right."
Creek took the corner, past the waving woman. The street tilted uphill, and a hundred yards up, a cluster of women spilled down a driveway to the street, two of them struggling with a blue plastic municipal garbage can. A security guard was running down from the top of the hill, another one trailing behind.
"Got them coming out," Anna said, over her shoulder. A quick pulse ran through her: not quite excitement, but some combination of pleasure and apprehension.
Nobody ever knew for sure what would happen at these things. Nothing much, probably, but any time you had guards with guns... Did the guards have guns? She took a half-second to look, but couldn't tell.
As she looked, she reached behind her, lifted the lid on the steel box bolted on the back of her seat, pulled the Nagra tape recorder from its foam nest. Jason was looking past her, through the windshield at the action, and she snapped: "Get ready."
"Yes, Mom," he said. He fitted a headset over the crown of his head, plugged in the earphone. Creek was driving with one hand, pulling on his own headset.
"Everybody hear me?" Anna asked, speaking into her face mike. The radios were one-way: Anna talked, everyone else listened.
Creek said, "Yeah," and took the truck over the curb, one big bounce and a nose-down, squealing, full stop. Jason had braced himself, and Louis had swiveled to let the chair take the jolt. The Bee toppled over and yelped, "Shit."
Ahead of them, the women carrying the garbage can were jerking and twisting down the driveway, doing the media polka looking for the cameras, running for the lights, trying to stay away from the guards.
The raiders had gone into the back of the building, over a loading dock; the dock was contained inside a fence, with a concrete patio big enough for fifteen or twenty cars. At least a dozen women, all masked, milled around the patio; then a man ran out of the medical building, carrying a small, squealing, black-and-white pig. Then another woman, carrying boxes, or maybe cages.
As the truck settled, as the Bee yelped, Anna was out and running, the Nagra banging against her leg. Jason was two steps behind her with the backup Sony, and Creek was out the driver's door, his camera up on his shoulder, off to Anna's left. Bee, a little out of shape, sputtered in their wake.
Then Creek lit up and Anna yelled at the man with the pig, "Bring the pig. Bring the pig this way... Bring the pig." The man saw them coming and walked toward them, and she had the Nagra's mike pointed at the squealing pig and Jason lit up.
The security guards saw the camera lights and the first one turned to the man trailing, yelled something to the other, who ran back up the hill. The first one continued down, and shouted at Creek, "Hey, no cameras here, no cameras."
A group of masked women headed toward him, walled him off from the rest of the milling crowd, pushed him toward the ramp. Frustrated, he climbed up the loading dock and hurried to the open door. Just as he was about to go through the door, he jumped back, and a young man in a blue oxford cloth shirt and jeans ran out of the building and headed toward the lights.
Anna said to the microphone, her voice calm, even, "Creek, there's a kid coming in, watch him. Jason, stay with the pig."
Creek backpedaled. When Anna spoke into his ear, he'd looked up from his eyepiece and spotted the kid in the blue shirt: trouble, maybe. Trouble made good movies. The kid was striding toward them, a dark smear under his nose, one hand cupping his jaw. He seemed to be crying.
"They were gonna kill this pig, for nothing for soap tests or something, shampoo," the masked pig-man shouted at Jason's camera. The pig was freaking out, long shrieking bleats, like a woman being stabbed. "She's gonna live now," pig-man shouted, as the pig struggled against him. "She's gonna live."
The patio was chaos, with the cameras and the pig-man, the women with cages, all swirling around: Blue shirt arrived and Anna saw that he was crying, tears running down his cheeks as Creek tracked him with the lens. The dark smear was blood, which streamed from his nose and across his lips and chin.
"Give me that pig," he screamed, and he ran at the pig-man. "Gimme that." The animal women blocked him out, not hitting him, just body blocking. Both Creek and Jason tracked the twirling scrum while Anna tried to stay out of their line; she kept the Nagra pointed, picking up the overall noise, which could be laid back into the tape later, if needed.
The Bee caught Anna's arm: "He's just a flunky, forget him," she shouted, over the screams and grunting of the struggle. "But we're gonna do the mice now. Get the mice, in the garbage cans."
The women with the blue garbage can were waiting their turn with the lights, and Anna spoke into the mike again: "Jason, get out of there. Go over to that blue garbage can, it's full of mice, they're gonna turn them loose." Jason took a step back, lifted his head, spotted the garbage can. "Creek, stay with the kid," Anna said. "Stay with the kid."
As Jason came up, the women with the garbage can, who'd been waiting, popped the lid and tipped it, and two hundred or three hundred mice, some black, some white, some tan, scurried down the sides and ran out onto the patio, looked around and headed for the nearest piece of cover.
Jason hun close and then the kid in the blue shirt went that way, screaming, "Gimme those," and, sobbing, tried to corral the mice. They were everywhere, running over his feet, over his hands, avoiding him, making the break. He finally gave up and slumped on the ground, his head in his hands, the mice all around.
Jeez: this is almost too good, Anna thought.
As Creek tracked them, the Bee came back with her nagging voice: "Do you want an on-camera statement?"
And Anna thought, Who's running this thing? But she had to smile at the other woman's effective management: "Yeah, but we'd better hurry," Anna said. "The cops'll be coming."
Anna said into the mike, "Jason, get on the Bee, she'll make a statement." She pushed the mike up, raised her voice, shouted, "Rat, where are you?"
The man with the pig turned toward her: "I'm the Rat," he said. His teeth were bared, his face spotted with what looked like mid, but could be pig shit.
"We're gonna need you over here: we need a comment," Anna said.
"No problem," he said. He handed the struggling pig to a woman. "What exactly do you want?" The Rat had a deep, smooth voice, a singer's baritone. His eyes were pale blue behind the black mask.
"Just tell us why you did it," Anna said, nodding at Jason's camera.
He leaned forwards and stage-whispered, "For the publicity."
Anna grinned back and said, "Tell that to the camera."
Jason yelled, "Hey, Rat: You wanna do this, or what?"
As the Rat and the Bee talked to Jason's camera, Anna pulled the mike down in front of her face and said, "Creek, let's talk to the kid. Let me in there first."
Creek hung back a couple of steps, so the camera wouldn't be right in the kid's face. Anna squatted next to him, and patted him on the shoulder. "Are you okay?"
The kid looked up, dazed, a pale teenage child with brown eyes behind his gold-rimmed glasses. What?"
"Are you okay?" Anna asked again.
"They're gonna fire me," he said. He looked back at the building. "I was supposed to watch them. They were my responsibility, the animals. I was supposed to keep everybody out, but they came in so fast..."
"How'd you get the bloody nose?" Anna asked.
"I tried to hold the door, but they kicked through. Then about four of them held me and I couldn't get to the phone, and they tipped everything over in the lab, all the animal cages, everything." He touched his face. "I think the door hit me..."
"Look, there's gonna be two sides to this," Anna said. She looked back at Creek, and said, "Creek."
Creek stepped away, spotted a mouse looking at him from the top of the loading dock and closed in on it. Behind him, the Bee and the Rat were still talking to Jason's camera; the pig was still struggling with the woman who'd taken it, but the squealing had stopped, and the scene was almost quiet.
Anna turned back to the kids and continued, "The animal rights guys will be heroes to some people. And some people will be heroes to the scientific community."
She patted his thigh. "Now, go like this. From your nose."
She made an upward rubbing gesture with her hand, on her own face.
The kid gulped. "Why?"
"Want to keep your job?" Anna grinned at him. She was a small woman, dark-haired, with an oval face and cornflower-blue eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses: she had an effect on young males. "Be a hero. Smear a little blood around your face and we'll put you on camera, telling your side. Believe me, they won't fire you."
"I need the job," the kid said tentatively.
"Smear a little blood and stand up... what's your name?"
The kid was no dummy: He'd been born in front of a TV set. He wiped blood up his cheek and said, "Charles McKinley... How do I look?" His cheek looked like a raw sirloin.
"Great. That's McKinley, M-c-K-i-n-l-e-y, Charles, regular spelling."
"Yeah." He touched his face again: the blood was brilliant red.
"What's your job up there, Charles?" Anna got a few more details about his job, his age, where he lived.
"That's really great," she said. "Now what..."
The pig screamed, and Anna turned.
The woman who'd been holding it had carried it toward Jason's camera, where Jason was interviewing the Rat. As it screamed, the animal kicked free, and ran.
The Rat stooped and tried to scoop it up, like a bouncing football; but the pig went through, smacked into his ankle, and the Rat fell squarely on his butt: "Shit," he shouted. "Get the pig..."
Jason was still on him, lights in his face: He rolled and the pig, now panicked, ran behind the woman who'd originally held him, did another quick turn, and as the Rat tried to get to his feet, ran squarely into the Rat's chest, knocking him flat on his butt again.
Jason stayed with it as the Rat scrambled to his feet.
Anna grinned and turned back to the kid: "... Tell us what happened, talk to the camera," Anna said, pointing at Creek. "Creek, come on back."
Creek lit up and the kid told his story, breaking into tears again as he got caught up with it.
Anna stepped away to watch Jason, and when the Rat got tangled in a long complicated explanation of animal rights, she broke in: "How come all the women in the group?"
"There are some guys they just didn't make it tonight," Rat said. He started to say more, when Anna's cell phone rang.
She unclipped it and stepped away, glanced at Creek, who was still with the Kid. "Yeah."
Louis, calling from the truck seventy-five feet away, excited: "Jesus, Anna, we got a jumper on Wilshire, he's on a ledge."
"Where?" A basic rule: everything happened at once. Anna looked back at the two interviews, calculating.
"I don't know, somewhere on Wilshire, close, I think. I'm getting the address up."
"Get it now," Anna rapped. Very tense: a jumper would make everything. The networks, CNN, everything if they got the jump. She could hear Louis tapping on the laptop keys, where he kept the address database. "C'mon, c'mon."
"I'm getting it..."
"How're we doing on the cops here?"
"You got a couple-three minutes, I just heard the call."
"Get the address, Louis."
Anna turned to Creek: "Get ready to wrap it up."
And to the kid, "Cops'll be here to help, minute or two."
Louis came back on the phone: "Jesus, Anna, it's just down the street, we're a half-mile out. And he's still up there."
Anna spoke into the mike, her voice urgent: "Jason, Creek. Back in the truck. Now! Kill the lights. Move it!"
"Hey, what, what?" Jason kept shooting.
"Close down! Get in the truck. Now."
Creek's light went down and he was moving, no questions, but the Rat shouted at her, "Wait a minute, wait, what're... Hey, Anna, we didn't talk." And the Bee started toward her.
Anna, the phone pressed to her ear, walking back toward the truck, fumbled a card out of her shirt pocket and thrust it back at the Rat: "Call me. We gotta go."
Creek yelled at her: "What?"
"We got a jumper," she shouted back. "Let's go, Jason..."
They ran toward the truck: Louis had climbed into the driver's seat and was backing off the sidewalk.
As Anna and Creek came up, he jammed it into park and climbed over the seat into the back, as Jason came through the side. Creek slipped into the driver's seat and Louis shouted, "Down Westwood, then left on Wilshire, it's three blocks, it's a place called the Shamrock."
Creek: "I know the place: Jesus, it's two minutes from here."
"Gotta hustle," Anna said. "Gotta hustle, gotta hustle."
Creek spun the truck in a U-turn, paused at Le Conte long enough to make sure he wouldn't hit anything, then swept through.
Louis, whatever happens with the jumper, this animal thing is an A-tape," Anna said over her shoulder. "We want the bloody-nose kid to be a hero..."
Jason said, "That pig really pissed off the Rat, I think it's heading for a barbeque."
"I got a great shot of this little mouse, Louis, really cute," Creek shouted over his shoulder.
"Shut up, shut up," Louis said to them all. He had an earphone clamped over one ear. Then, "The guy's still out there. On a ledge. There's hotel people talking to him. He's from a party, high-school kids."
Creek had the gas pedal on the floor and they just caught the light at Wilshire. As they swept through the intersection, Anna said to Jason, "Give yourself some space on your tape. You gotta be ready, but the first tape is good, too."
"I'm ready," Jason said.
Creek nodded. Creek was always ready.
"Louis, talk to me," Anna said.
Louis' eyes were closed, and he was leaning away from them, listening hard. "There're two cars on the way, we got maybe a minute by ourselves. Maybe two minutes."
Anna said, "where's that Three truck? Weren't they still out?"
"They were drifting south after that chase," Louis said. "They're way the hell down by Huntington Beach. They're out of it."
Anna said, "Jason, I want you tight on the guy. Creek will pull back a bit, get the full jump, if he goes, but I wanna see his face..."
"You got it, sugarbun," Jason said.
Creek showed his teeth: "Sugarbun?"
Jason grinned at him: "Me'n Anna getting intimate."
"Yeah?" Creek glanced at Anna, who rolled her eyes.
"Me'n Anna doing the thing," Jason said. He was almost talking to himself, looked like he might giggle. He was wound, his eyes big: He liked the movement, maybe too much. He was talented: might go big in Hollywood someday, Anna thought, if he didn't blow his brains out through his nose. "Doin' the thing," he muttered.
"Shamrock," Anna said, and pointed. Ahead, a twenty-story green-glass-and-steel building showed a bright green neon shamrock at the top. And Jason, who'd crawled between the seats, spotted the jumper: "There he is! He's toward the bottom, like five or six stories up, you can see him..."
He pointed, and Anna noticed that his hand had a tremor: not the trembling of excitement, but the jerk of a nerve breakdown. She glanced at his stark, underfed face: Christ, she thought, he's back on the crank.
She turned away from his straining face, and looked where he was looking. Five stories, Anna counted: And there he was. The would-be jumper wore dark pants and a white shirt. From a block away, in the lights that bathed the outside of the building, he looked like a fly stuck to a sheet of glass. "Get us there, Creek," Anna said, breathlessly.
They were doing seventy-five, the wheels screaming, right up to the hotel, then Creek hammered the brake and cut sideways and they went over the curb again and Jason spilled out, running toward the hotel with his camera.
The man on the ledge had his back to a sheet of plate glass, his arms spread. The ledge, Anna thought, wasn't more than a foot wide she could see the tips of his shoes.
"Guys, I'm gonna try to get up there," Anna said into her mike as she dropped from the truck. "You're gonna be on your own for a minute: Jason, I want face." She sprinted toward the hotel's front entrance, the Nagra flapping under her arm.
Hotels didn't want to know about media. As far as hotels were concerned, no media was good media. Anna had two options. She could try to sneak in, but that took time. Or she could run. She ran forty miles a week on the beach and if the stairs were placed right, no hotel security man in California could catch her.
She hit the glass doors and went through the lobby like she was on a motorcycle. Two bellmen huddled at the reception desk with a couple of clerks, and one of the bellmen saw her and just had time to turn, to open his mouth and shout, "Hey," when she was past him. The elevators were straight ahead, and a brass plaque with an arrow pointing to the right said Stairs.
She took the stairs. Ran up one flight, two, then a man shouting again, from the bottom, "Hey..." Third floor, not even breathing hard. Anna got off at the fourth: There'd be security on the fifth floor, and the desk people might have called them. She rain into the hall on the fourth floor, looked right and left, decided that the right end would be the far end of the hotel. There should be another flight of stairs that way.
She ran down the hall, now aware of her heart pounding in her chest, turned a corner past a niche with Coke, ice and candy machines, to another stairway. She pulled open the door, looked up and down, heard nothing and ran up to Five. She took three seconds, two long breaths, pulled off her headset, shoved it with the Nagra up under her jacket in back, held it with one hand and sauntered into the hallway. Halfway down, three older men security, probably stood outside an open doorway. A dozen kids were scattered up and down the hall, a few of them talking, most just looking down at the open door. All the kids were dressed up, the boys in suits and ties, the girls in pink-and-blue party dresses, all with the stark white look of fear on their faces.
One of the security men looked toward Anna, and even leaned her way but as she did, a woman shrieked, and the men in suits turned and ran through the open door.
My God, Anna thought, he jumped.
The girls in pastel dresses were looking at the door, the boys were looking at each other, all were frozen. Anna knew that this was one of the moment's she'd remember: they were like sculpture in some modern wise-cracking installation called California Kids.
Then Anna moved, and when she did, a couple of the girls began sobbing, and one of the boys yelled, "Oh no. No, Jacob..."
Anna ran lightly down the hall, found another open door a few rooms closer than the one where the security men had been. She looked inside: a man and woman, both gray-haired, horrified, were standing at their window, looking out. Anna stepped inside:
"Did he jump?"
The woman, white-faced, looked at her, her mouth working, nothing coming out, then: "Oh my God."
Anna stepped around an open suitcase, walked across the room and looked out the window. The jumper was facedown, a black-and-white silhouette on the yellow stone, six feet from the pool. Ten feet from the body, Jason was moving in with his camera. From across the pool, Creek, also focused on the body.
Anna took out the recorder, hit the record switch, held it by her side: didn't hide it, just held it like a purse.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I don't know... I think it was just kids, having a party. They were making noise, we could hear them running in the hallway. The next thing we know people were screaming and the hotel people came."
Anna could feel the recorder taking up tape: "Did you see him go?" she asked the gray-haired man.
"I think he was coming in," the man said. "He turned and it was like he lost his balance and all of a sudden he jumped, like he was trying to make the pool..."
The woman turned to her husband. "Jim, let's get out of here."
Anna stepped back, looked at the luggage tag on the suitcase: James Madson, Tilly, OK. "Are you Mr. And Mrs. Madson?"
The woman turned toward her. "Yes, yes... Are you with the hotel? We'd like to check out."
"You'd have to talk with the people downstairs. Are you all right, ma'am? What is your name?"
"Lucille... I'm all right, but the man, the boy, he... Jim, I think I'm going to throw up."
She started toward the bathroom with her husband behind her, one hand in the middle of her back, patting her, and Anna stepped to the door and looked out.
Hotel security was there in force, along with four or five uniformed cops. She stepped back, said, "Madson, M-A-D-S-O-N, Tilly, Oklahoma, T-I-L-L-Y," to the Nagra, then popped the recording tape and slopped it inside the waistband of her pants. She had two spare tapes in a black pouch on the carrying: she took out a spare, slipped it into the recorder. Hotel security usually didn't ask if they could have the tape, they simply took it, destroyed it, and apologized later.
Anna stepped into the hall. Two of the men who'd been in the room were just coming back out. Hotel security and a manager-type. Before either could say anything, Anna said, "Could somebody help my mother? I think she's gonna be sick."
The manager-type asked, "What's wrong?"
"She saw the man jump, she's in the bathroom..."
The manager went by, into the Madsons' room, while the security man ran down the hall toward the elevators. Anna turned the other way and walked back down the hall to the steps.
Into the stairwell, down and around, and around, to the first floor. Pause, listen. Nothing. She stepped into the hallway, saw a sign that said Parking Ramp, and went that way.
Creek was standing fifty feet from the body. No blood, no movement, nothing but a hotel clerk and three cops walking reluctantly toward it. Creek saw her coming and made his open-handed "Got anything?" gesture.
She'd pulled the headset back on. "Quick quotes from a witness," she said into the mike. "They said there was some kind of party before he jumped, or fell, or whatever." Anna spotted Jason, headed toward them. "Creek, look up there, fifth floor, about one, two, three, four, five windows to the right of the jumper's window... See where the curtain comes through?"
"I'm gonna see if I can get the Madsons to come over there."
Jason came up and Anna asked, "How'd you do?"
"I got his face all the way to the ground," Jason said, with trembling satisfaction. "He hit twenty feet away."
"That's great," Anna said. "Look up there, to the left of where he was. I want you to yell, 'Jim and Lucille Madson, come to the window.'"
"'Jim and Lucille' I don't have the lungs for it."
"You've got nice lungs," Jason said; and his eyes seemed to loop. Stoned, or coming down. Too much of this lately; the last time she'd gone to pick him up, he'd been wrecked.
"Just yell the names, huh?" she said.
Jason yelled, and after a minute, the Madsons came to the window and peered out.
"Get them?" Anna asked.
Creek had the camera on the window. "Yes."
The Madsons went inside and Jason dropped the camera off his shoulder, his face suddenly somber.
"You know what?"
"What? Look, we gotta get..."
"I think I'm gonna hurl..."
Anna leaned closer to him: "What the heck are you doing, Jase? Are you stoned?"
"No, no, no... I'm just having a little trouble dealing with this," Jason said. He looked at the body.
"At what?" Anna cocked her head, puzzled.
I'm just... my head's fucked up," he said. Then: "Anna, I'm sorry, but I gotta go," he said. He pulled off the headset and handed it to her, shamefaced. "I'm sorry, but I've never seen this before. I've seen bodies, but this was... He was smiling at me."
he turned his knees in, so he was standing on the edges of his tennis shoes, head down, like an embarrassed little boy. "I gotta go. You gotta couple of bucks I could borrow until we sell this shit? Take it out of my cut?"
Anna stared at him for a second. Concerned, not angry. "Jase, how bad is it?"
"It's nothing," Jason insisted. "You're probably done for tonight, anyway. You got a couple of bucks?"
"Yeah, sure," Anna said. She dug in her pants pocket, came up with a short roll of twenties, gave him two."
And he went, hurrying away across the stone patio, Creek peering after him. In the background, they could hear sirens: fire rescue, too late.
"What was that all about?" Anna asked, watching as Jason went out to the street.
Creek shook his head. "I don't know."
"Well..." Anna hoisted the camera, looked through the eyepiece, focused on the group of cops around the body and ran off fifteen seconds of tape. Then she ran it back, forty-five seconds, and replayed
The jump was there, in and out of focus, but undeniably real, taking her breath away: and at the last second, the man's arms flailing, his face passing through the rectangle of the lens display, then the unyielding stone patio.
"Jeez," she said. She looked at Creek. "This is..." She groped for a concept, and found one: "This is Hollywood."
Creek muttered, "Better go. The pigs are about to fly." She nodded and they headed for the truck, walking fast, but not too fast. The cops were disorganized at the moment, but five minutes from now they wouldn't be. This would not be a good time to be noticed.
Louis had backed the truck into the street, jockeyed it into a no-parking zone.
"Where's Jason?" he asked, as Anna and Creek unloaded the cameras.
"Took off," Anna shrugged.
"How come? Did he shoot it?"
"Yeah, he got some great stuff," Anna said. "I don't know what his problem is: he freaked."
"Doesn't sound like the Jason we know and love," Louis said, puzzled.
An ambulance went by, and Creek turned the truck in another U and they headed through light traffic back west down Wilshire.
"We get it all?" Louis asked.
"We got it all," Anna said. "The jump is an A-plus-plus. Probably the best thing we've ever had, exclusive. I'm gonna sell it with the pig as a package."
"As a poke," Louis said.
"Yeah. Let's find a spot where we can see the mountain." Anna pushed a speed-dial button on the cell phone, waited a moment, then said, "Let me speak to Jack Hatton. Anna Batory. Tell him I'm on Wilshire at the Shamrock Hotel."
Creek looked at her curiously, and Louis said, "Hatton? Why're you calling Hatton?"
"Revenge," Anna said, and grinned at him...
Jack Hatton came on ten seconds later, his voice the perfect pitch of good cheer: "Anna, how you doing?"
"Don't 'how you doing' me," Anna shouted into the phone. "Remember the swimming cats? I hope you got lots more cat tape, you jerk, because we got the jumper coming off the ledge, all the way down. Two camera, in focus, twenty feet, and there was nobody else there. So go watch channel Five, Seven, Nine, Eleven, Thirteen, Seventeen and Nineteen and then tell the Witch why you don't have it, you cheap piece of cheese."
"Don't Anna me, pal. And I'll tell you something else. We got there quick 'cause we'd just been up to UCLA for the animal raid, which you probably heard about by now, too late, as usual. We got a mile of tape on that, too. We got animals screaming, we got a riot. We got a kid beat up and bleeding. And when you see it on Five, Seven, Nine, Eleven, Thirteen, Seventeen, and Nineteen tomorrow, you can explain that too, dickweed."
"Anna..." A pleading note now.
"Go away." And she clicked off.
Beside her, Creek grinned. "I'm proud a ya," he said.
From the back, Louis said, "Such language... we really gonna blow off Three?"
"No," Anna said. "But they'll be sweating blood. I'm gonna jack them up for every nickel in their freelance budget."
"Most excellent," Louis said, with great satisfaction. "Get me to a place where I can see the mountain and I will crank this puppy out."
Anna punched the next speed-dial button: "I'll start selling."
Anna sat in comfort and quiet at her kitchen table, a cup of steaming chicken-noodle soup in front of her, pricking up her nose with its oily saltiness. She yawned, rubbed the back of her neck. Her eyes were scratchy from the long night.
At moments like this, coming down in the pre-dawn cool, Creek and Louis already headed home, she thought of cigarettes, and of younger days, sitting in all-night joints a Denny's, maybe eating blueberry pie with a cardboard crust, drinking coffee, talking, smoking Chesterfields. Some old name. Luckies. Fauloises or Players, when you were posing. She didn't do that any more. Now she went home. Sometimes she cried: a little weep that didn't make her feel much better, but did help her sleep.
Anna Batory was a small woman, going on five-three, with black hair cut close, skater-style, or fencer-style. And she might have been a fencer, with her thin, rail-hard body. The toughness was camouflaged by her oval face and white California smile but she ran six miles every afternoon, on the sand along the ocean, and spent three hours a week working with weights at a serious gym.
Anna wasn't pretty, but she wasn't plain. She was handsome, or striking, a woman who'd wear well into old age, if that ever came. She thought her nose should have been shorter and her shoulders just a bit narrower. Her hands were as large as a man's she could span a ninth on the Steinway upright in the hall, and fake a tenth. She had pale blue killer eyes. One of her ancestors had ruled Poland and had fought the Russians.
Anna pushed herself away from the table and, carrying her cup of soup, prowled her house, making sure that everything was right. Looking out windows. Touching her stuff. Talking to it: "Now what happened to you, old pot? Has Creek been messing with you? You're over here by the picture, not way out at the edge."
Sometimes she thought she was going crazy, but it was a happy kind of craziness.
Anna lived on the Linnie Canal in the heart of Venice, a half-mile from the Pacific, in an old-fashioned white clapboard house with a blue-shingled roof. The house made a sideways "L." The right half of the house, including the tiny front porch, was set back from the street. The single-car garage, on the left side, went right out into the street. The small yard created by the L was wrapped in a white picket fence, and inside the fence, Anna grew a jungle.
Venice was coming back was even fashionable but she'd lived on Linnie since the bad old days. Anyone vaulting the fence would find himself knee deep in dagger-like Spanish bayonet, combat-ready cactus and the thorniest desert brush. If he made it through, he'd fall facedown, bloody and bruised, in a soft bed of perennials and aromatic herbs.
The interior of Anna's house was as carefully cultivated as the yard.
The walls were of real plaster, would hold a nail, and were layered with a half-century's worth of paint. Hardwood floors glistened where the sun broke through the windows, polished by feet and beach sand. They squeaked when she walked on them, and were cool on the soles of her feet.
The lower floor included a comfortable living room and spare bedroom, both filled with craftsman furniture. A bathroom, a small den that she used as an office and the kitchen took up the rest of the floor. The kitchen was barely functional: Anna had no interest in cooking.
"The fact is," Creek told her once, "your main cooking appliance is a toaster." Creek liked to cook. He considered himself an expert on stews.
On the second floor of Anna's house, under the steep roof, were her bedroom and an oversized bathroom. Creek and four of his larger friends had helped her bring in the tub, hoisting it from outside with an illegal assist from a power company cherry-picker.
The tub was a rectangular monstrosity in which she could float freely, touching neither bottom nor sides nor the ends; in which she could get her wa as smooth and round as a river pebble.
In the adjoining bedroom, the queen-sized bed was covered with a quilt made by her mother; the material taken from clothes her parents had worn out when they were young. Under the canal-side windows, the quilt looked like rags of pure light.
Creek and Louis had dropped her at the corner of Dell and Linnie just after dawn. The truck couldn't conveniently turn around on Linnie, a dead-end street no wider than most city alleys.
"Sorry about the Witch,"" Louis said. The Witch would be calling her. Anna hated to bring work back to her house.
"That's okay," Anna said. "For this one time, anyway."" She waved good-bye with the cell phone, and walked down the narrow street to her house. A neighbor in his pajamas, out to pick up the paper, said, "Hey, Anna. Anything interesting?"
"Guy jumped off a building," Anna said.
"Nasty." He smiled, though, as he shook his head, and said, "I'll watch for it," and padded back inside.
Anna had sold thirteen packages of the jumper wrapped with the animal rights raid. At fifteen hundred dollars for local transmission, she'd sold to nine stations, and at three thousand for the networks Southern California stations out she'd sold four. Hatton at Channel Three had called back twice, pushing. They wanted it, had to have it. Finally said the Witch would call.
She did, five minutes after Anna got home. The cell phone buzzed, and Anna went to the kitchen table and picked it up.
"Screw us on this, we'll never use your stuff again." The Witch opened as she usually did, with a direct threat.
"We can live with that," Anna said. She looked out the kitchen window, at the dark line of the canal. In a couple of hours, the reflected ball of the morning sun would start crawling down its length, steaming the water, bringing up the rich smell of algae soup. She'd been asleep in bed, this whole conversation no more than a pleasant memory. "We already told Hatton that. I only agreed to talk to you as a courtesy."
"Courtesy my large white Lithuanian butt," the Witch snapped. Anna could hear the pause as she hit on a cigarette. "If we don't buy, you lose a big source of your income. Gone," she said. Exhaling. "Outa here. I promise you, we won't buy again."
"You take a bigger hit than we do," Anna said. "You never know when we're gonna come up with something like this jumper..."
You're not that good..."
"Yeah, we are: we're the best crew on the street. And your career life at Three is what? Four or five years? And you've been there three? You'll be gone in a year or two, and we'll sell to your replacement. And we'll make our point: You don't steal from us. Even if it's swimming cats."
"I apologized for that," the Witch shrilled.
"What?" Anna shouted. She banged the cell phone three times on the table top, then yelled into the mouthpiece. "Did I hear that right? You laughed at us."
"So I'm sorry now," the Witch shouted back. "Name the price."
"Network price," Anna said. She sipped at the soup. "Three thousand for the package. Plus two grand for the cats."
"Fuck that," the Witch said. "Network for the package, okay, but the cats we did, we did with our own crew."
"C'mon, c'mon," Anna shouted. "I'm making a point here."
"So'm I... Five hundred for the cats."
"I'm serious, we don't need you. Network plus a thousand for the cats."
"Deal," the Witch said. "I want to see the fuckin' pictures in ten fuckin' minutes." She slammed down the receiver.
Anna called the truck, and spoke to Louis. "Send it to Three."
"How much you get?"
"Four thousand I got a thousand for the cats."
Louis said, "Examonte, dude," and repeated the price to Creek, whose laughter filled the background. Anna grinned and said, "We're dropping thirty-five thousand bucks in the pot that's three times the record."
Creek shouted at the phone, "We might as well quit, we'll never do this again."
"How're the radios, Louis?" Anna asked.
"Good. Nothing happening."
Anna hung up with Creek still laughing about the money. She'd wait until Creek had dropped Louis, and there was no chance of recovering for a quick run. Good stuff sometimes broke just at dawn, although the regular station trucks would be out prowling around fairly soon.
Waiting for bed, Anna trailed by the Steinway, touched a few keys, yawned, flipped through the sheets for Liszt's Sonata in B Minor. She'd been trying to clarify the fingerwork in the fast passages.
She didn't sit down her head wasn't quite right yet. She put the music on the piano, said hello to a couple of plants, enjoyed the quiet. Went into the utility room and got a plastic watering can and filled it.
Barefoot, humming to herself something stupid from Les Misérables that she couldn't get out of her mind Anna took the watering can out to the porch, and started watering the potted plants. Geraniums, and some daisies: plants with an old-fashioned feel, bright touches in the shade of the jungle.
Back inside, she refilled the can and walked through the house, checking with two fingers the soil in a hundred more plants: some of them were named after movie stars or singers, like Paul, Robert, Faye, Susan, Julia, Jack. Most were small, from a desert somewhere.
On a broken-down Salvation Army table, the first piece of furniture she'd bought in California, she kept a piece of Wisconsin: a clump of birdsfoot violets, dug from the banks of the Whitewater River, and a flat of lilies-of-the-valley. Just now, the lilies-of-the-valley were blooming, their tiny white bell flowers producing a delicate perfume that reminded her of the smell of dooryard lilacs in the Midwestern spring.
Behind the California tan, Anna was a Midwestern farm kid, born and raised on a corn farm in Wisconsin.
The farm was part of her toughness: She had a farm kid's lack of fear when it came to physical confrontation. She'd even been in a couple of fights, in her twenties, in the good old days of music school and late-night prowls down Sunset. As she climbed into her thirties, the adrenaline charge diminished, though her reputation hadn't: The big guys still waved to her from the muscle pen on the beach, and told people, "You don't fuck with Anna, if you wanna keep your face on straight."
The toughness extended to the psychological. Farm kids knew how the world worked, right from the start. She'd taken the fuzzy-coated big-eyed lambs to the locker, and brought them back in little white packages.
That's the way it was.
Anna finished watering the plants, yawned again, and stopped at the piano. Liszt was hard. Deliberately hard. Her home phone rang, and she turned away from the piano and stepped into the small kitchen and picked it up. This would be the sign-off from Louis and Creek: "Hello?"
"Yeah, but I was talking to a guy at Seventeen about the animal rescue tape. I don't know what they did, but it sounds a little weird."
"Like how, weird?" Anna asked.
"Like they're making some kind of cartoon out of it."
"What?" She was annoyed, but only mildly. Strange things happened in the world of broadcast television.
"He said they'll be running it on the Worm," Louis said. Channel Seventeen called it the Early Bird News; everybody else called it the Worm.
Anna glanced at the kitchen clock: the broadcast was just a few minutes away. "I'll take a look at it," she said.
She went back to the piano and worked on the Liszt until five o'clock in the morning, then pointed the remote at the TV and punched in seventeen. A carefully-coiffed blonde, dressed like it was midafternoon on Rodeo, looked out and said, "If you have any small children watching this show, the film we are about to show you..."
And there was the jumper, up on the wall like a fly.
Anna held her breath, fearing for him, though she'd been there, and knew what was about to happen. But seeing it this way, with the TV, was like looking out a window and seeing it all over again. The man seemed unsure of where he was, of what to do; he might have been trying, at the last moment, to get inside.
Then he lost it: Anna felt her own fingers tightening, looking for purchase, felt her own muscles involuntarily trying to balance. He hung there, but with nothing to hold on to, out over the air, until with a convulsive effort, he jumped.
And he screamed Anna hadn't seen the scream, hadn't picked it up. Maybe he had been trying for the pool.
Anna and the night crew had been there for the pictures, not as reporters: Anna had gotten only enough basic information to identify the main characters. She left it to the TV news staff to pull it together. At Channel Seventeen, the job went to an intense young woman in a spiffy green suit that precisely matched her spiffy green eyes:
"... identified as Jacob Harper, Junior, a high-school senior from San Dimas who was attending a spring dance at the Shamrock, and who'd rented the room with a half-dozen other seniors. Police are investigating the possibility of a drug involvement."
As she spoke, the tape ran again, in slow motion, then again, freezing on the boy's face not a man, Anna thought, just a child. He hung there in midair, screaming forever on Jason's tape. The Madsons, from Tilly, Oklahoma, were also shown, but their faces at the window were cut into the jump, so it appeared that the Madsons were watching as they had been, though not when the tape was shot.
At the end of the report, the tape was run again, and Anna recognized the symptoms: They had a hit on their hands.
Too bad about the kid, but... she'd learned to separate herself from the things she covered. If she didn't, she'd go crazy. And she hadn't seen the jump, only the aftermath, the heap of crumpled clothing near the pool. Less than she would have seen sitting at her TV, eating her breakfast, like a few million Angelenos were about to do.
Anna drifted away from the television, sat at the piano and started running scales. Scales were a form of meditation, demanding, but also a way to free herself from the tension of the night.
And she could keep an eye on the television while she worked through them. Five minutes after the report on the jump, the blonde anchor, now idiotically cheerful, said something about animal commandos, and a version of the animal rights tape came up.
The tape had been cut up and given a jittery, silent-movie jerkiness, a Laurel-and-Hardy quality, as the masked animal rights raiders apparently danced with the squealing pig, and dumped the garbage can full of mice. Then the Rat was bowled over by the pig they ran him falling, crawling, knocked down again; and falling, crawling and knocked down again: they had him going up and down like a yo-yo.
The guards, who'd come and gone so quickly, had been caught briefly by both Creek and Jason. Now they were repeatedly shown across the concrete ramp and up the loading dock; and then the tape was run backward, so they seemed to run backward... Keystone Kops.
The tape was funny, and Anna grinned as she watched. No sign of the bloodied kid, though. No matter: he'd get his fifteen seconds on another channel.
"Good night," Anna said, pointed the remote at the television and killed it.
She worked on scales for another ten minutes, then closed the lid of the piano, quickly checked on the back to see that the yellow dehumidifier light wasn't blinking and headed up to the bedroom.
In the world of the night crew, roaming Los Angeles from ten o'clock until dawn, Anna was tough.
In more subtle relationships, in friendly talk from men she didn't know, at parties, she felt awkward, uneasy, and walked away alone. This shyness had come late: she hadn't always been like that.
The one big affair of her life almost four years long, now seven years past had taken her heart, and she hadn't yet gotten it back.
She was asleep within minutes of her head touching her pillow. She didn't dream of anyone: no old lovers, no old times.
But she did feel the space around herself, in her dreams. Full of friends, and still, somehow... empty.
The two-faced man hurried down the darkened pier, saw the light in the side window, in the back. He carried an eighteen-inch Craftsman box-end wrench, the kind used in changing trailer-hitch balls. The heft was right: just the thing. No noise.
He stopped briefly at the store window, looked in past the Closed sign. All dark in the sales area but he could see light coming from under a closed door that led to the back.
He beat on the door, a rough, frantic bam-bam-bam-bam-bam.
"Hey, take an aspirin." The two-faced man nearly jumped out of his shoes. A black man was walking by, carrying a bait bucket, a tackle box and a long spinning rod.
"What?" Was this trouble? But the fisherman was walking on, out toward the end of the pier, shaking his head. "Oh, okay."
He must've been beating on the door too hard. That's what it was. The man forced a smile, nodded his head. Had to be careful. He balled his hand into a fist and bit hard on the knuckles, bit until he bled, the pain clearing his mind.
Back to business; he couldn't allow himself to blow up like this. If there were a mistake, a chance encounter, a random cophe shuddered at the thought. They'd lock him in a cage like a rat. He'd driven over here at ninety miles an hour: if he'd been stopped, it all would have ended before he had her.
Couldn't allow that.
He tried again with the door, knocking sedately, as though he were sane.
Light flooded into the interior of the store, through the door at the back. The man knocked again. Noticed the blood trickling down the back of his hand. When did that happen? How did he...?
The door opened. "Yeah?"
The boy's eyes were dulled with dope. But not so dulled, not so far gone that they didn't drop to his shirt, to the deep red patina that crusted the shirt from neckline to navel, not so far gone that the doper couldn't say, "Jesus Christ, what happened to you?"
The two-faced man didn't answer. He was already swinging the wrench: the box end caught the boy on the bridge of the nose, and he went down as though he'd been struck by lightning.
The two-faced man turned and looked up the pier toward the street, then down toward the ocean end. Nobody around. Good. He stepped inside, closed the door. The boy had rolled to his knees, was trying to get up. The man grabbed him by the hair and dragged him into the back.
Jason was wrecked. As in train wreck. As in broken. As in dying.
Even through the layers of acid and speed, he could feel the pain. But he wasn't sure about it. He might wake up. He might still say, "Fuck me; what a trip." He had done that in the past.
This stuff he'd peeled off the slick white paper, this was some bad shit. A bad batch of chemicals, must've got some glue in there, or something.
He wasn't sure if the pain was the real thing, or just another artifact of his own imagination, an imagination that had grown up behind the counter in a video store, renting horror stories. The horror stories had planted snakes in his minds, dream-memories of bitten-off heads, chainsaw massacres, cut throats, women bricked into walls.
So Jason suffered and groaned and tried to cover himself, and frothed, and somewhere in the remnant of his working brain he wondered: Is this real?
It was real, all right.
The two-faced man kicked him in the chest, and ribs broke away from Jason's breastbone. Jason choked on a scream, made bubbles instead. The man was sweating and unbelieving: Jason sat on the floor of the shack, his eyes open, blood running from his mouth and ears, and still he said nothing but, "Aw, man."
The man had been hoping for more: he'd hoped that the doper would plead with him, beg, whimper. That would excite him, would give him the taste of victory. That hadn't happened, and the heavy work kicking the boy to death had grown boring. The boy didn't plead, didn't argue: he just groaned and said, "Aw, man," or sometimes, "Dude."
"Tell me what it's like when you fuck her," the man crooned. "Tell me about her tits again. C'mon, tell me. Tell me again what it's like when you do the thing." He kicked him again, and Jason groaned, rocked with the blow, and one arm jerked spasmodically. "Tell me what it's like to fuck her..."
No response: maybe a moan.
"Tell me about Creek: he looks like a monster. He looks like Bigfoot. Tell me about Creek. Was he with you two? Were all three of you fucking her? All three at once?"
But the doper wasn't talking. He was in never-never land.
"Fuck you," the two-faced man said, finally. He was tired of this. He could hear the ocean pounding against the pilings below them, a rhythmic roar. He took a long-barreled Smith & Wesson .22 revolver from his coat pocket and showed it to the bubbling wreck on the floor.
"See this? I'm gonna shoot you, man."
"Dude." Jason was long past recognizing anything, even his own imminent death, the killer realized.
He squatted: "Gonna shoot you."
He pointed the pistol at the boy's forehead, and when the roar of the surf started to build again, fired it once. The boy's head bumped back. That was all.
The two-faced man waited for some sensation: nothing came.
"Well, shit," he said. He'd been having more fun when the doper was alive. Had he really fucked her? Anna? He had all the details. So maybe he had.
He stood up, pulled open the window on the ocean-side wall, and looked down. Deep water. Everything dark, but he could hear the water hissing and boiling.
Just like it should be, he thought, looking out, for this kind of scene.