CRAIS: EXCERPT - L.A. REQUIEM
Islander Palms Motel
Uniformed LAPD Officer Joe Pike
could hear the banda music even with the engine
idling, the a.c. jacked to meat locker, and the two-way crackling callout
codes to other units.
The covey of Latina street kids clumped outside
the arcade giggled at him, whispering things to each
other that made them flush. Squat, brown men come up
through the fence from Zacatecas milled on the sidewalk, shielding their
eyes from the sun as veteranos told them about Sawtelle over on the Westside and Roscoe Boulevard up in the Valley where they
could find day labor jobs, thirty dollars cash, no
papers required. Here in Rampart Division south of
Sunset, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans simmered with Salvadorans
and Mexican Nationals in a sidewalk machaca that left the air flavored
with epizote’, even here within the sour cage of the radio car.
Pike watched the street kids
part like water when his partner hurried out of the
arcade. Abel Wozniak was a thick man with a square head and cloudy, slate eyes. Wozniak was twenty years older than Pike and
had been on the street twenty years longer. Wozniak
was once the best cop that Pike had then met, but
now his eyes were strained. They’d been riding together for two years,
and the eyes hadn’t always been that way. Pike regretted that, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.
Especially now when they were
looking for Ramona Ann Escobar.
Wozniak lurched in behind the wheel, adjusting
his gun for the seat, anxious to roll even with the
tension between them as thick as clotted blood. His
informant had come through.
"DeVille’s staying at the Islander Palms
"Does DeVille have the girl?"
"My guy eyeballed a little girl, but he can’t
say if she’s still with him."
Wozniak snapped the car into gear and rocked away
from the curb. They didn’t roll Code Three. No lights, no siren. The
Islander Palms was less than five blocks away, here
on Alvarado Boulevard just south of Sunset. Why send an
"Woz? Would DeVille hurt her?"
"I told you, a fuckin’ perv like this
would be better off with a bullet in his head."
It was eleven-forty on a Tuesday morning. At
nine-twenty, a five-year-old girl named Ramona Ann
Escobar had been playing near the paddle boat
concession in Echo Park when her mother, a legal emigre’ from Guatemala,
had turned away to chat with friends. Witnesses last saw
Ramona in the company of a man believed to be one
Leonard DeVille, a known pedophile who’d been
sighted working both Echo and MacArthur Parks for the past three months. When the dispatch call had come in about the missing girl,
Wozniak had begun working his street informants.
Wozniak, having been on the street forever, knew
everyone and how to find them. He was a treasure trove of information that Pike valued and respected, and didn’t want to lose.
But Pike couldn’t do anything about that, either.
Pike stared at Wozniak until Wozniak couldn’t
handle the weight any longer and glanced over. They
were forty seconds away from the Islander Palms.
"Oh, for Christ’s sake, what?"
"It isn’t too late, Woz."
Wozniak’s eyes went back to the street, and his
face tightened. "I’m telling you, Joe. Back
off with this. I’m not going to talk about it any more."
"I meant what I said."
Wozniak wet his lips.
"You’ve got the girls. There’s Paulette
to think about."
The cloudy eyes flicked to Pike, as bottomless
and as dangerous as a thunderhead. Wozniak had three
daughters and a wife.
"I’ve been thinking about them, buddy. You
bet your ass."
Wozniak shook his head, and, for just an instant,
Pike thought Wozniak’s eyes filled. Then Wozniak
gave a shudder as if he were shaking out his feelings,
"There it is. Now shut the fuck up and play
like a cop."
The Islander Palms was a white
stucco dump: two stories of frayed carpets, stained
beds, and neon palm trees that looked tacky even in Los Angeles,
all of it shaped into an ‘L’ around a narrow parking lot. The typical
customers were whores renting by the hour, wannabe pornographers shooting
‘amateur’ videos, and rent-jumpers needing a place to stay while they found a new landlord to stiff.
Pike followed Wozniak into the manager’s
office, a skinny Hindu who stared at the two
officers with watery eyes. First thing he said was, "I do not
wan’ trouble, please."
Wozniak had the lead.
"We’re looking for a man with a little
girl. His name is Leonard DeVille, but he might’ve
used another name."
The Hindu didn’t know the name, or anything
about a little girl, but he told them that a man
matching the description Woz provided could be found on the
second floor in the third room from the top of the ‘L.’
Pike said, "You want
me to call it in?"
Woznick went out the door and up the stairs
without answering. Pike thought then that he should
go back to the car and call, but you don’t let your
partner go up alone. Pike followed.
The second floor was as dead as a fish in a dry
pond. They found the third door, listened, but heard
nothing. The drapes were pulled. Standing there on
the exposed balcony, Pike felt as if they were being watched.
They didn’t break down the door or any of that.
Wozniak took the knob side of the door, Pike the
hinges. Wozniak rapped on the door, identifying himself
as a Los Angeles police officer. Everything about Joe made him want to be the first one inside, but they had settled that two
years ago. Wozniak drove, Wozniak went in first,
Wozniak called how they made the play. Twenty-two
years on the job against Pike’s three bought you that. They had done
it this way two hundred times.
When DeVille opened the door, they pushed him
backwards, Wozniak going first and pushing hard.
DeVille said, "Hey, what is this?" Like
he’d never been rousted before.
The room was tattered and cheesy, with a closet
and bath off the rear. A rumpled double bed rested
against the wall like some kind of ugly altar, its dark
red bedspread stained and threadbare, one of the stains looking like Mickey Mouse. The room’s only other piece of furniture
was a cheap dresser edged with cigarette burns and
notches cut by a sharp knife. Wozniak held DeVille
as Pike cleared the bathroom and the closet, looking for Ramona.
"She’s not here."
"Anything else? Clothes, suitcase,
"Nothing." Indicating that DeVille hadn’t
been living here, and didn’t intend to. He had
other uses for the room.
Wozniak, who had busted DeVille twice in the
past, said, "Where is she, Lennie?"
"Who? Hey, I don’t do that any more. C’mon,
"Where’s the camera?"
DeVille spread his hands, flashing a nervous
smile. "I got no camera. I’m telling you I’m
Leonard DeVille was five-eight, with a fleshy
body, dyed blond hair, and skin like a pineapple.
The hair was slicked straight back, and held with a rubber
band. Pike knew that DeVille was lying, but waited to see how Woz would
play it. Even with only three years on the job, Pike knew that pedophiles
were always pedophiles. You could bust them, treat them, counsel them,
whatever, but when you released them back into the world, they were still child molesters and it was only a matter of time.
Wozniak hooked a hand under the foot of the bed
and heaved the bed over. DeVille jumped back and
stumbled into Pike, who caught and held him. A rumpled
overnight bag was nesting in about a million dust bunnies where the bed had been.
Wozniak said, "Lennie, you are about as dumb
as they get."
"Hey, that ain’t mine. I got nothing to do
with that bag." DeVille was so scared that he
sprouted sweat like a rainstorm.
Wozniak opened the bag and dumped out a Polaroid
camera, better than a dozen film packs, and at least
a hundred pictures of children in various stages of
undress. That’s how a guy like DeVille made his living, snapping pictures
and selling them to other perverts.
Wozniak toed through the pictures, his face
growing darker and more contained. Pike couldn’t
see the pictures from where he stood, but he could see
the vein pulsing in Wozniak’s temple. He thought that Wozniak must be thinking about his own daughters, but maybe not. Maybe
Wozniak was still thinking about the other thing.
Pike squeezed DeVille’s arm. "Where’s
the little girl? Where’s Ramona Escobar?"
DeVille’s voice went higher. "That stuff
isn’t mine. I never saw it before."
Wozniak squatted, fingering through the pictures
without expression. He lifted one, and held it to
"I can still smell the developing chemicals.
You didn’t take this more than an hour ago."
"They’re not mine!"
Wozniak stared at the picture. Pike still couldn’t
"She looks about five. She matches the
physical description they gave us. Pretty little
girl. Innocent. Now she’s not innocent any more."
Abel Wozniak stood and drew his gun. It was the
new Beretta 9-millimeter that LAPD had just
"If you hurt that child, I’ll fucking kill
Joe said, "Woz, we’ve got to call in. Put
your gun away."
Wozniak stepped past Pike and snapped the Beretta
backhand, slamming DeVille in the side of the head
and dropping him like a bag of garbage.
Pike jumped between them, grabbing Wozniak by the
arms and pushing him back. "That doesn’t help
get the girl."
Then Wozniak’s eyes came to Pike; hard, ugly
little rivets with something else behind the clouds.
When the two police officers
went up the stairs, Fahreed Abouti, the manager,
watched from the door until they pushed the blond man back into his room. The police often came to his motel to bust the
prostitutes and johns and drug dealers, and Fahreed
never passed up a chance to watch. Once, he had seen
a prostitute servicing the officers who had come to arrest her, and another time he watched as three officers beat a rapist
until all the man’s teeth were gone. There was
always something wonderful to see. It was better than
Wheel of Fortune.
You had to be careful, though.
As soon as the upstairs door closed, Fahreed
crept up the stairs. If you got too close, or if
they caught you, the police grew angry. Once, a SWAT officer
in the armor and the helmet and with the big gun had grown so angry that he’d knocked Fahreed’s turban into a puddle of
transmission fluid. The cleaning cost had been
The shouting started when Fahreed was still on
the stairs. He couldn’t understand what was being
said, only that the words were angry. He eased along
the second floor balcony, trying to get closer, but just as he reached the room, the shouting stopped. He cursed the fates,
thinking he’d missed all the fun, when suddenly
there was a single loud shout from inside, then a thunderous,
People on the street stopped in their tracks and
looked. People pointed, and a man across the parking
Fahreed’s heart pounded, because even a Hindu
knew a gunshot. He thought the blond man might be
dead. Or maybe he had killed the officers.
Fahreed heard nothing within the room.
"Is everyone all right?"
Maybe they had all jumped from the bathroom
window into the alley behind.
Fahreed’s palms were damp, and all his swirling
fears demanded that he race back to his office and
pretend to have heard nothing, but instead he threw
open the door.
The younger officer, the tall one with the dark
glasses and the empty face spun toward him and aimed
an enormous revolver. Fahreed thought in that instant
that he would surely die.
The older officer was without a face, his remains
covered in blood. The blond man was dead, too, his
face a mask of crimson. The floor and walls and ceiling
were sprayed red.
The tall officer’s gun never wavered. Fahreed
stared into his dark bottomless glasses, and saw
that they were misted with blood.
The tall officer dropped to his fallen partner,
and began CPR.
Without looking up, the tall officer said,
Fahreed Abouti ran for the phone.