The Renegades: A Charlie Hood Novel | Chapter 13 of 57

Author: T. Jefferson Parker | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1487 Views | Add a Review

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“Listen and don’t interrupt. I invited you here to tell you a story. It’s about a friend of mine we called Mr. Wonderful, and the things that happened to him and why they had to happen to him. Your friend Hood plays a role in this story, too. But it’s bigger than both of them. It’s about chaos and opportunity.”

We’re sitting in La Cage, a rooftop cigar bar on Sunset, which puts us at eye level with a billboard of two enormous models posed in a pouty stare-down. Their bodies are painted a gold that glitters in the upturned lights. It’s an ad for a scent that both men and women can wear and, sure enough, you can’t tell if these people are male or female or what. They’re teenagers, just like the boy sitting across from me, though he looks older than they do.

His brow creases skeptically and he looks around as if someone could hear, but we’ve got this corner of the rooftop to ourselves. He leans toward me. I have his undivided attention. Terry Laws is big news in L.A. Everybody knows what happened to him, or thinks they do. The boy across from me starts to say something, but I shake my head and put a finger to my lips.

“Picture a desert night in the Antelope Valley, August, two years ago. I’ll help you get started, my friend—it’s black and hot and windy. The tumbleweeds roll and the Joshua trees look like crucified thieves. Terry Laws and I are on patrol out of Lancaster substation, northern L.A. County. The wind bumps the cruiser, moves it around a little. The sand hisses against the windows and you can’t see a single star. And that’s when we spot the van, parked on the Avenue M off-ramp, halfway between L.A. and nowhere. Right where the tipster said he’d seen it. When I open the door of the cruiser, the wind tries to rip it off, and it takes me both hands to slam it closed before I pop my holster strap and follow Terry to the van. I’m whistling something because that’s what I do when a situation gets tight. Helps settle the nerves, okay? Even walking up to the van I see it’s all wrong—windows open, windshield smeared, liftgate up. Up close, there it is, two men inside shot dead, all sand and blood, sure, we check for life but it’s fucking pointless and we both know it. All this had happened minutes ago. Not hours, minutes—”

“The Baja Cartel couriers, Lopes and Vasquez. This was all in the papers, Draper.”

“We didn’t know who they were. We call it in and wait for the crime scene people and the coroner and the dicks. We set up the detour cones then close the ramp. Hardly any cars using that exit in the middle of the desert at two a.m. An hour later the dicks and sergeants don’t need us anymore so it’s back in the cruiser to finish our shift. Not long after that we see the truck, a red Chevy half-ton, just like the caller said, and he’d gotten most of the plate right, so we flash the truck at the ruins off the Pearblossom Highway, where the utopia used to be.

“The tipster said he’d seen an older red pickup truck speeding away from the Avenue M off-ramp where the van was parked. We figure there’s a good chance that the guy in the truck did the shooting. But the truck driver plays good citizen and pulls right over when we flash him. He parks by the river-rock columns of the old Llano commune. Terry and I get out and put a few yards between us. We both have our flashlights up and our hands on our gun butts.

“The driver gives Terry his license but he looks high, tweak city, shaggy hair and a beard and a black T-shirt. I can see blood spray on his upper left arm and when Laws gives me a look I know he sees it, too. The inside of the Chevy stinks like ammonia, you know, meth sweat. Terry orders him to get out of the vehicle. When he steps out I see he’s about six foot seven or eight—Laws was six-two and this guy made him look small. He’s looking at us like he wants to eat us.

—I haven’t done nothing wrong tonight, he says.

—For a whole night, says Laws, congratulations.

“Then Terry hands me the guy’s license. Shay Eichrodt, thirty-four, six-eight, three hundred. I’m going to run it for warrants just as soon as we get this guy cuffed and stuffed.

“I look in the truck bed and see four suitcases, the big rolling kind, all lying flat. Like this guy’s headed to the airport for a vacation, right? Terry tells Eichrodt to turn around and put his hands on the truck and spread his legs. Eichrodt turns around. He sways and loses his balance and I can see he’s not just high, but drunk, too. Son of a bitch falls down to his knees then groans and pitches over facedown in the dirt, prones himself right out for us. Terry takes a wrist restraint and goes to lock him but Eichrodt kicks Terry’s shins and knocks him ass over flashlight. Eichrodt is up, fast as a cat, and I’m drawn and yelling but he and Terry are already going at it and there’s no way I can fire, so I holster up and draw my baton and jump right into the fun. I hit him hard on the knee, so he picked me up and threw me against the cruiser. I weigh one-eighty, and none of it’s fat, but he threw me like I was a doll. Even Eichrodt wasn’t strong enough to lift Terry and all of his muscles off the ground, but I could see them in the cruiser lights, Terry with the baton and Eichrodt with his fists, bludgeoning each other like a couple of giants in combat. So I charged back just like I had good sense, working his legs and knees before he could hit or kick or throw me. But that bastard just wouldn’t fall. He was a bloody mess. So were we. For a minute I thought he was going to win.

“When Terry hit Eichrodt over the head with his baton for probably the tenth time, Eichrodt went down hard and he didn’t move.

—He looks dead, says Terry.

—He’s breathing, I say. He’s alive.

“We cuff him with two pairs of restraints on his wrists and two on his ankles. Then Terry and I check our wounds. Terry’s got a deep cut over his eye and a torn ear, and his jaw is swelling up like it’s broken. I have a cut lip and a swollen eye, and my forehead has a lump the size of a baseball from hitting the car. But we’re okay, none of it is that serious. Terry calls in. I kneel down by Eichrodt and check the restraints and I watch the cars going past just a few yards away on the highway, and it dawns on me how close I’ve just come to getting killed by this guy.”

I pause for a moment and sip my tequila. The boy drinks beer. I relight my cigar then pass the lighter to him and he relights his. Down on the Sunset Strip the sidewalks are busy with people. The cars move slowly. Taillights twinkle and brake lights flash. A million hearts, a million hustles.

“I read the papers, Coleman,” he says. He yawns. Like a lot of teenagers, he is eager to be unimpressed. “You and Laws found a handgun and forty-eight hundred dollars in a toolbox in the truck. You found brass that matched the gun, and the bullets that killed the couriers. That would have nailed Eichrodt in court but he never made it to trial.”

“Correct.”

I watch the parade on Sunset. The cops have pulled over a black Suburban and I think of all the black Suburbans I saw in Jacumba, where I grew up. Jacumba squats at the Mexican border down east of San Diego. Noman’sland. Suburbans are the vehicle of choice for soccer moms and Mexican drug traffickers, and there were no soccer moms in Jacumba.

“I’ve already told you one thing that didn’t make the papers,” I say. And I’m sure he knows what it is.

“The suitcases,” he says.

“Yes.”

“Well, what was inside? What did you do with them? How come they didn’t make the news?”

“Before I answer that, I want to tell you something. It’s something that the young don’t understand. It’s the most important thing I’ve learned so far and I want to give it to you now. Listen: Things in life only happen at two speeds—fast, or not at all. That’s why you need to know what you want. Because when you know what you want, you’ll be able to see the difference between chaos and opportunity. They’re twins. People mistake one for the other all the time. You get about half a minute to decide what you’re looking at. Maybe less. Then you have to make a choice.”

“So what was in the suitcases?”

The boy is staring at me now. I’m about to tell him something that I’ve never told another person, something damning and dangerous and unretractable. I’m going to do it because I see big potential in this young man. He’s gifted by history and inspired by his blood. I think he’s what I’m looking for.

I curl a finger at him. He leans in and I whisper in his ear.

“The couriers’ money, Mexico bound. Four suitcases. Three hundred forty-seven thousand and eight hundred dollars.”

He sits back and his brow furrows again and he looks out the window then returns his gaze to me. He wants to smile but he doesn’t want to be caught smiling. Love has a face. So do fear and envy and surprise and every emotion under the sun. His face is joy.

“Incredible.”

“Not really.”

“You and Laws took it.”

“Did we?”

“You had to. It’s the whole point of the story—chaos turning into opportunity.”

“I’m glad you understand that. Because this is where the story begins to get interesting. Another beer and another cigar?”

“Oh, yes.”

I nod to the waitress and she nods back.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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