Read The Concrete River Online

Authors: John Shannon

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Private Investigators, #Thrillers, #Crime

The Concrete River

THE CONCRETE RIVER

ALSO BY JOHN SHANNON:

THE CRACKED EARTH

THE POISON SKY

THE ORANGE CURTAIN

STREETS ON FIRE

CITY OF STRANGERS

TERMINAL ISLAND

DANGEROUS GAMES

THE DARK STREETS

THE DEVILS OF BAKERSFIELD

PALOS VERDES BLUE

ON THE NICKEL

A LITTLE TOO MUCH

CHINESE BEVERLY HILLS

THE CONCRETE RIVER

First ePublished in 2013 by

MP Publishing

12 Strathallan Crescent, Douglas, Isle of Man IM2 4NR British Isles

mppublishingusa.com

Copyright © 1996 by John Shannon

All rights reserved.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Cover designed by Alison Graihagh Crellin.

eBook ISBN 978-1-84982-318-0

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Sarah.

The flat plains are indeed the heartlands of the city's Id.

— Reyner Banham

ONE
Incoming

“Alls I'm saying, when it slow like this week, we got a
situation
.” Ducks slapped his palms, as if wiping away something unpleasant.

“You gonna quit bottles, man, get into weight?”

Li'l Hammer kicked his heels against the low brick wall in front of the empty industrial buildings where they sat. It was after two a.m. and no one on earth seemed to be buying.

“Hey, why not?”

“You ain't got the props. The bangers see you, you ain't gonna have no ass left on you at all.”

“Fuck
that
,” Ducks said contemptuously, and he hunched his shoulders briefly, the mannerism that many people thought gave him his name, but Li'l Hammer had grown up with him and knew better.

“Hey, rain,” Li'l Hammer said.

They both looked up at the dark clouds and then Ducks’ eye went to the crumpled brown Ralphs bag, apparently discarded by the Walker Valve sign twenty yards away. They didn't sell anything from that bag locally. Their huge walled complex across the road was mixed black and white, full of Arnolds and boujee blacks that you couldn't trust, so mostly it was small time, a few cars stopping and carrying the dope out of Culver back into L.A.


Yo
,” Li'l Hammer said quickly.

An impressive BMW M-3 with blacked out windows approached slowly on the far side of the road. Dudes in that car wouldn't be doing no buying. The lights went out and the car stopped in the driveway to the locked-up fire gate that no one ever used. A skinny white man in a cowboy hat got out. Ducks caught a flash of a strange-looking gun in his waist. A bigger white man got out the other side. They said something to one another and then, astonishingly, they boosted one another over the tall gate.

“Ho’ shit.”

Territoriality asserted itself instantly. Peckerwoods were invading the Astaire, where they'd lived all their lives.

Ducks scooped up his precious bag and locked it into the trunk of the Z28. They sprinted across Jefferson and scaled the gate easily at the corner.

“Who the rover tonight?”

“Bones.”

“He no use.” Bones was famous for getting drunk on Night Train and passing out behind the laundry. Ducks got out his gray plastic Glock.

“You take the point, oh yeah,” Li'l Hammer said gleefully.

“Miami Vice, fuckers.”

Li'l Hammer had his 9mm Browning, and they stiffarmed the guns out in front of them with both hands like TV cops, enjoying the rush it gave them. It took them a couple of minutes to track down the invaders, back in a dark alcove that held the entries to four apartments. The bigger man was working at a window with a little crowbar. The apartment belonged to an older white guy who came and went at all hours, always dressed badly. He kept to himself and nobody knew for sure what he did for a living, but somebody said he was a private eye so they called him Dick Tracy.

“Freeze, motherfucker,” Ducks said, and then all of a sudden they were all cattycorner and frozen, eight hard eyes staring at a Glock and a Browning, plus a Chief's snubnose .38, and a nasty little Mac-11 with a 32-shot magazine. The Cowboy with the Mac-ll started to laugh.

“We got us enough firepower here to take out a small country. You must be the stud-horses in this here corral.”

“You steppin’ up to us?” Ducks was astonished that the cowboys didn't seem frightened.

“Oh, no, gentlemen, absolutely no disrespect is intended. It's entirely our mistake to trespass on your territory.”

Ducks couldn't make out the man's tone. There wasn't a trace of fear, even caution.

“Now, none of us want to end up a free lunch for the coyotes, do we? So we'll put our guns down and just walk away. Is that satisfactory?”

Ducks didn't know what to say. It wasn't developing at all the way he'd expected. The Cowboy watched him with what looked like amusement. The bigger man regularly squinched up his eyes, as if someone was sticking him with a needle.

“You, see.” The little square assault pistol sagged downward and Ducks watched the Cowboy snick on the safety and eject the long plastic magazine. “We take away the irritant, and the only thing that remains between us is respect.”

Li'l Hammer was looking to Ducks for a lead.

“But we are bad, gentlemen, and we know how to get the business over with if we have to.” The Cowboy's eyes stayed on Ducks, and the atmosphere was shifting imperceptibly toward the polar.

“Go on, beat it,” Ducks said.

The Cowboy slowly grinned, the corners of his thin lips spreading wider and wider as if the scar of his mouth would grow until the whole head split in two. A panic began to seep through Ducks and he wanted to run. For the first time in his short life, the pistol offered no comfort at all.

“I think we'll do that, gentlemen,” the Cowboy said, but made no motion to leave.

The tension grew unbearable and Ducks felt his pistol crying out, the trigger flexing and daring him to fire.

“It's Miller time, Godzilla,” the Cowboy said finally. He laughed again as he took a fistful of the big man's shirt and led him away. They took a long time leaving.

“I dint
like
that,” Li'l Hammer said, when they were gone.

“They wasn't after no VHS,” Ducks said, eyeing Dick Tracy's window. “No way, Jose.”

*

The first big rain of the year had begun during the night and had flushed a woman's body out of the storm drains down in Long Beach, but Jack Liffey didn't know anything about that yet. All he knew was that his alarm had gone off, buzzed all the way through its cycle and finally stopped.

He pawed the night table, but it was the gesture of a younger man, a faint species memory of some solace to be found there. An open pack of cigarettes, a shiny brass .30 caliber cartridge casing filled with cocaine, a bottle of scotch… For a few glorious years, he had reached out first light to lay two fingers into the warm hollow at the back of Kathy's neck.

Now his hand found nothing. The emptiness flooded in before he was ready, like a fresh awareness of a death, and his whole body went rigid with the struggle. Just about everything he cared about was gone, and everything now had to be taken neat. And for the first time in his life he wasn't substituting some new addiction: he had locked away the booze, the drugs, the old Raymond Chandler novels, even his daughter's photograph, if only to prove to himself the mathematical purity of his will.

He tipped himself out of bed in one motion, tugged on yesterday's clothes and stared down at the ashtray, with its lone unused cigarette and pristine matchbook. They were all over the apartment, these little failure kits that he never touched. You made your own luck, but only after you proved to yourself that you had a right to it.

He headed out the front door, then halted at the sight of the darkly wet path between the condominium buildings. Weather, he groused, instead of climate. The downspout gurgled softly into the geraniums, and, like most people in L.A., he ignored the cheap folding umbrella and grabbed a cap as he walked out into the rain.

He tugged on the baseball cap as he emerged from the eaves. The cap said Pasadena Penguins. Every time Dan Margolin asked
How ’bout those Dodgers?
, he asked back,
How about the Pasadena Penguins?
to show his general contempt for sports, until Margolin finally had the cap made up by one of his aunts. Margolin thought it was a terrific joke.

The mini-mall with his office was ten minutes away across Ballona Creek and he heard the unusual roar of a lot of water as he approached the channel on foot. He came to a dead stop on the bridge, staring down. Somewhere it had rained heavily in the night because Ballona Creek was fast and deep, only he couldn't see water. He could have walked from side to side on the styrofoam cups, billions of them like angular white froth, as the first rains scoured out the gutters and storm drains of the whole city. Between the cups, like punctuation marks, there were thousands of little red spheres, yellow spheres and fluorescent green spheres, bobbing along toward the sea. Finally he guessed that they were tennis balls. He didn't even know they made colored tennis balls. A lawn chair passed on the flow and then something that looked like a large dead dog.

At the strip mall, Marlena Cruz had just opened her Mailboxes-R-Us and she leant forward aggressively, glaring at the tiny monitor on top of her biggest copy machine.

“Waiting for Jay Leno?” he said.

“If it's not one damn thing it's another. This is my penance for not betting it all on some shiny-haired Basque
pelotista
.”

She was heavy, fiftyish, strong as an ox and always complaining about joining the petite bourgeoisie. He liked her looks, but she'd have been really stunning in a gypsy way if she'd lost about fifty of the pounds.

“Never bet on Basques,” he said. “Never bet on little guys with big grudges.”

“Advice is not your specialty, Jack. Not since you went and buy a condo at the top of the market in 1989 and lose all your down.”

His mailbox was full. It was mostly junk, offers from CPAs to do bookkeeping for his business, and just about anyone familiar with the placeholding function of the zero could do that. Marlena's mailboxes were more expensive than the post office's, but she provided other services like passing on messages and holding his unregistered .32 Dreyse German submariners' pistol, his cold piece that he didn't want anybody nosy to find in his office upstairs.

He went out to buy a paper from the machine. The
Times'
headline yelled at him inscrutably,
Ter Braak May Head Opera.
What could you do with a newspaper that didn't even know the name of its own city? Nobody but tourists and ex-mayors called L.A.
Los Angeles
.

Marlena leaned out the door. “You used to be a scientist,” she said. “Can you make this thing work?”

“It's not what I'm good at.”

She preened a bit. “Maybe you could come back late tonight, after I close, and we could find something you're good at.”

He smiled. He probably wasn't much good at that any more, either, or at being a father, or at being the kind of friend who gets people through a bad night. If he was good at anything any more, it was just at finding missing kids. Maybe it was enough. He'd discovered his art by accident, and it had saved his bacon when his electronics job became one of the half million in the city to evaporate at the end of the go-go 1980s, just about the same time his marriage did the same.

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