Somebody once said Los Angeles isn’t really a city but a hundred suburbs looking for a city. Every suburb has a different flavor to it, and every Angeleno thinks he knows all about you when he knows which one you live in. But that’s mostly important because of the freeways.
Life in L.A. is centered on the freeway system. Which freeway you live nearest is crucial to your whole life. It determines where you can work, eat, shop, what dentist you go to, and who you can be seen with.
I needed a freeway that could take me between the two murder sites, get me downtown fast, or up to the Hollywood substation to see Ed Beasley.
I’d been thinking about the Hollywood Freeway. It went everywhere I needed to go, and it was centrally located, which meant it connected to a lot of other freeways. Besides, I knew a hotel just a block off the freeway that was cheap and within walking distance of the World News, where Roscoe had been cut down. I wanted to look at the spot where it happened. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t learn anything, but it was a starting place.
And sometimes just looking at the place where a murder happened can give you ideas about it; cops are probably a little more levelheaded than average, but most of them will agree there’s something around a murder scene that, if they weren’t cops, they would call vibes.
So Hollywood it was. I flagged down one of the vans that take you to the rental car offices.
By the time I got fitted out with a brand new matchbox—no, thank you, I did not want a special this-week-only deal on a Cadillac convertible; that’s right, cash, I didn’t like credit cards; no, thank you, I did not want an upgrade of any kind for only a few dollars more; no, thank you, I didn’t want the extra insurance—it was dark and I was tired. I drove north on the San Diego Freeway slowly, slowly enough to have at least one maniac per mile yell obscenities at me. Imagine the nerve of me, going only sixty in a fifty-five zone.
The traffic was light. Pretty soon I made my turn east on the Santa Monica. I was getting used to being in L.A. again, getting back into the rhythm of the freeways. I felt a twinge of dread as I passed the exit for Sepulveda Boulevard, but I left it behind with the lights of Westwood.
The city always looks like quiet countryside from the Santa Monica Freeway. Once you are beyond Santa Monica and Westwood, you hit a stretch that is isolated from the areas it passes through. You could be driving through inner-city neighborhoods or country-club suburbs, but you’ll never know from the freeway.
That all changes as you approach downtown. Suddenly there is a skyline of tall buildings, and if you time it just right, there are two moons in the sky. The second one is only a round and brightly lit corporate logo on a skyscraper, but if it’s your first time through you can pass some anxious moments before you figure that out. After all, if any city in the world had two moons, wouldn’t it be L.A.?
And suddenly you are in one of the greatest driving nightmares of all recorded history. As you arc down a slow curve through the buildings and join the Harbor Freeway you are flung into the legendary Four-Level. The name is misleading, a slight understatement. It really seems like a lot more than four levels.
The closest thing to driving the Four-Level is flying a balloon through a vicious dogfight with the Red Baron’s Flying Circus. The bad guys—and they are all bad guys in the Four-Level—the bad guys come at you from all possible angles, always at speeds just slightly faster than the traffic is moving, and if you do not have every move planned out hours in advance you’ll be stuck in the wrong lane looking for a sign you’ve already missed and before you know it you will find yourself in Altadena, wondering what happened.
I got over into the right lane in plenty of time and made the swoop under several hundred tons of concrete overpass, and I was on the Hollywood Freeway. Traffic started to pick up after two or three exits, and in ten minutes I was coming off the Gower Street ramp and onto Franklin.
There’s a large hotel right there on Franklin at Gower. I’ve never figured out how they break even. They’re always at least two-thirds empty. They don’t even ask if you have a reservation. They are so stunned that you’ve found their hotel they are even polite for the first few days. There’s also a really lousy coffee shop right on the premises, which is convenient if you keep a cop’s schedule. I guessed I was probably going to do that this trip.
A young Chinese guy named Allan showed me up to my room. It was on the fifth floor and looked down into the city, onto Hollywood Boulevard just two blocks away. I left the curtain open. The room was a little bit bigger than a gas station rest room, but the decor wasn’t quite as nice.
It was way past my bedtime back home, but I couldn’t sleep. I left my bag untouched on top of the bed and went out.
The neighborhood at Franklin and Gower is schizophrenic. Two blocks up the hill, towards the famous Hollywood sign, the real estate gets pretty close to seven figures. Two blocks down the hill and it’s overpriced at three.
I walked straight down Gower, past a big brick church, and turned west. I waved hello to Manny, Moe, and Jack on the corner: it had been a while. There was still a crowd moving along the street. Most of them were dressed like they were auditioning for the role of something your mother warned you against.
Some people have this picture of Hollywood Boulevard. They think it’s glamorous. They think if they can just get off the pig farm and leave Iowa for the big city, all they have to do is get to Hollywood Boulevard and magic will happen. They’ll be discovered.
The funny thing is, they’re right. The guys that do the discovering are almost always waiting in the Greyhound station. If you’re young and alone, they’ll discover you. The magic they make happen might not be what you had in mind, but you won’t care about that for more than a week. After that you’ll be so eager to please you’ll gladly do things you’d never even had a name for until you got discovered. And a few years later when you die of disease or overdose or failure to please the magic-makers, your own mother won’t recognize you. And that’s the real magic of Hollywood. They take innocence and turn it into money and broken lives.
I stopped for a hot dog, hoping my sour mood would pass. It didn’t. I got mustard on my shirt. I watched a transvestite hooker working on a young Marine. The jarhead was drunk enough not to know better. He couldn’t believe his luck. I guess the hooker felt the same way.
The hot dog started to taste like old regrets. I threw the remaining half into the trash and walked the last two blocks to Cahuenga.
The World News is open twenty-four hours a day, and there’s always a handful of people browsing. In a town like this there’s a lot of people who can’t sleep. I don’t figure it’s their conscience bothering them.
I stood on the sidewalk in front of the place. There were racks of specialty magazines for people interested in unlikely things. There were several rows of out-of-town newspapers. Down at the far end of the newsstand was an alley. Maybe three steps this side of it there was a faint rusty brown stain spread across the sidewalk and over the curb into the gutter. I stepped over it and walked into the alley.
The alley was dark, but that was no surprise. The only surprise was that I started to feel the old cop adrenaline starting up again, just walking down a dark alley late at night. Suddenly I really wanted this guy. I wanted to find whoever had killed Roscoe and put him in a small cell with a couple of very friendly body-builders.
The night air started to feel charged. It felt good to be doing cop work again, and that made me a little mad, but I nosed around for a minute anyway. I wasn’t expecting to find anything, and I didn’t. By getting down on one knee and squinting I did find the spot where the rusty stains started. There was a large splat, and then a trickle leading back out of the alley to the stain on the sidewalk.
I followed the trickle back to the big stain and stood over it, looking down.
Blood is hard to wash out. But sooner or later the rain, the sun, and the passing feet wear away the stains. This stain was just about all that was left of Roscoe McAuley and when it was gone there would be nothing left of him at all except a piece of rock with his name on it and a couple of loose memories. What he was, what he did, what he thought and cared about—that was already gone. All that was hosed away a lot easier than blood stains—a lot quicker, too.
“I’m sorry, Roscoe,” I said to the stain. It didn’t answer. I walked back up the hill and climbed into a bed that was too soft and smelled of mothballs and cigarettes.