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By Randy Wayne White
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
All rights reserved.
James Hawker found the girl's body in the alley between an abandoned Sears store and a pawnshop.
Starnsdale had once been a community of struggling actors, writers, and stuntmen. Now it was a ghetto. A slum. No one struggled anymore. They lived. They rotted. They died.
Hawker had been traveling from one roof to another, above the streets.
When he noticed the curl of pale hair and the limp, white hand protruding from beneath the trash, he climbed down a fire escape ladder.
A cat screamed and ricocheted from a cardboard box toward the street. The alley smelled of garbage and sour urine.
It was one fourteen A.M.
The blue glare of the streetlight showed a decrepit Cadillac beyond the mouth of the alley. It rested on cement blocks in lieu of tires. Its windows were shattered. Someone had splashed the word PANTHERS in black paint on the side. The Cadillac looked like some strange steel animal, tortured beyond hope.
Hawker slid the little Ingram submachine gun off his shoulder and hung it by its sling on the ladder. The long, tubular silencer — almost as long as the Ingram — weighted the muzzle toward the tarmac.
He began pulling garbage and trash away from the body. What he saw sickened him.
He knew the girl to be seventeen. She looked younger. She had a thin, angular face with high, hollow cheeks. A purple bruise bloated the left side of her jaw.
The hair was a mousy brown, but had been tinted blond — as if bleached by the sun. In California everyone wanted to be a surf god or a surf goddess.
Her blue eyes were wide with the horror of her death, her thin lips drawn back into a silent scream.
She had not died easily. Or prettily. She had suffered all the terrors and indignities of which nightmares are made.
Her killers had stripped her naked.
Her breasts were small, pale cones, like those of an adolescent. They had used a knife or a razor on one breast. Blood had coagulated around the initial P they had carved into her.
A pair of sheer panties remained around one thin ankle. Her legs had been forced apart, and more blood had coagulated on her thighs and beneath her.
The blood had a dull metallic stink.
James Hawker stood, feeling the anger move through him like nausea. Fifteen miles away tourists probably still roamed the star-haunted streets of Hollywood. A few miles beyond that, California's rich slept soundly in their Beverly Hills fortresses.
But here, in the bowels of this south Los Angeles hellhole, the animals were allowed to roam and steal and murder and rape.
A few blocks away, Hawker knew, a man and woman were not sleeping.
He could picture them in the living room of their neat stucco Spanish-style home in the last respectable neighborhood left in Starnsdale. This lone neighborhood was known as Hillsboro, because of the main street which ribboned through it.
Slowly, lethally, Starnsdale had followed the footsteps of so many other suburban communities. The middle-income areas had gradually become lower-income areas and, finally, ghettos.
The ghettos produced a few people smart enough and determined enough to work their way toward a better life. But, mostly, the Starnsdale ghetto produced drunks, drug addicts, whores and — worst of all — savage bands of street gangs.
The people of Hillsboro had watched with concern, and then terror, as their middle-class neighborhood shrank to a narrow peninsula of respectability surrounded by a sea of ghetto violence.
Hawker could imagine the man and woman in their neat stucco home exchanging nervous glances, and a few nervous words.
The ticking of the clock on the wall would be like a hammer in their ears.
This girl was their daughter.
Hawker wished he had a jacket or a sheet with which to cover the body before he notified the police.
He decided to use his black T-shirt for want of anything better. She had already suffered enough indignity.
He pulled it over his head and draped it over the girl's face and chest, like a shroud.
"Hey ... white boy!"
Hawker whirled to see four figures silhouetted by the streetlight. They stood at the mouth of the alley.
"What you be doin' on Panther turf, white boy? You lost? Some mean ol' nigger steal your car or rob you or something? Aw, poor little white boy done lost, fellas." There was thick laughter as they approached, walking in a line toward him.
Hawker rested his hands easily on his hips. "A girl's been murdered here," he said between tight lips. "And unless you assholes want to join her, you'd better freeze right there while I go for the cops. Got it?"
The force of his voice stopped them for a moment. Hawker could see them more clearly: four black men, all in their late teens or early twenties. They wore jeans, dark T-shirts, and baseball caps with the bills flipped upward. Around their necks, in the style sported by late-show cowboys, were tied blue and black bandannas.
It was the standard uniform of the Starns Panthers, one of Starnsdale's most violent street gangs.
"Ohh, this white boy be bad!" the tallest of the four joked in mock terror. The others laughed and slapped outstretched hands.
"We goin' to kill him, Cat Man?" another asked.
The tall one, Cat Man, grimaced as if the question was stupid. "What you think, motherfucker? This white boy done found the girl. Then he see us in the alley. Cops be tracking our asses for the next month if he gets away and squeals to them."
"You killed her?" Hawker whispered.
Cat Man held his arms outstretched, smiling, and dipped slightly. It was like a regal bow. "The Panthers tried to show the lady a very nice time. Tried to show the lady how to get down, Panther-fashion. Dig? The lady couldn't find the groove, man, couldn't go with the flow." The wide, white grin disappeared from Cat Man's face. "So we each took our turns, then branded the bitch and killed her." His hand searched the back of his pants momentarily, reappearing with a stub-nosed .38. Its nickel-plated barrel looked black in the poor light of the alley.
"Now the Panthers are going to get down with you, white boy," Cat Man said, his face contorted into a snarl. Two others had drawn small handguns, and Cat Man tossed his .38 to a short, overweight kid to his right. "Hold my piece, Fat Albert, while I do my thing on this Casper. I'm gonna show you the way to hell, white boy. I'm gonna kill you with my hands."
Cat Man was well named. He was smooth and fast — but he was too anxious. He took two bobbing steps, then lunged at Hawker with a sizzling fist.
Hawker stepped under it, then cut Cat Man's face open with a jarring series of rights and lefts. As he began to fall, Hawker grabbed Cat Man's bandanna and swung him toward the other three to give himself enough time to reach the Ingram submachine gun.
Two shots exploded, and lead splattered off brick above Hawker's head, stinging his face.
He swept the Ingram into his arms, dived, rolled, and fired. The silencer reduced the chain-rattle clatter of the submachine gun to a series of heavy thudding noises.
The three Panthers jolted one by one. They backpedaled against the walls, hands clawing desperately at their faces and their chests.
Fat Albert, his jaw shot away, sat heavily on the tarmac, a stunned expression in his eyes. Whimpering, he leaned against the wall of the pawnshop. His head slumped.
Like the other two, he was dead.
Hawker got quickly to his feet. He took his T-shirt from the body of the dead girl, then went to the corpse of Fat Albert. The stub-nosed .38 was still locked in his hand. Hawker pried it loose.
He found a chunk of gravel and studied the bare brick wall for a moment. In one flowing motion he drew the head of a giant hawk, and added a fierce eye. Beneath it, in block letters, he wrote: REVENGE.
Out on the street there was the sound of voices. Hawker knew he had to hurry.
Cat Man was just waking up, trying groggily to figure out what had happened. Using the T-shirt, Hawker wiped his own prints from the Ingram and placed it beside Cat Man.
Cat Man's eyes widened as he saw the corpses of his three dead friends. "Motherfu — you killed 'em all! Razor gonna get you for this, man. Razor gonna have your head for this!"
Hawker's smile was bitter. He swung the .38 easily in his hand, wondering who Razor was. The Panthers' leader? Probably. "I didn't kill anybody," Hawker said calmly. "Not as far as the cops are concerned, anyway. They'll think you did it. And lab reports from the girl's body will give them enough evidence to make any charge stick." Hawker motioned with his head toward the Ingram. "Now go for it, asshole. Go for the gun before I kill you. I'm giving you a chance."
Cat Man tried to crawl away, his voice high-pitched, crying. "Don't be killin' me, mister. Shit, this ain't legal. I got my rights, man. I know my fucking rights —"
"Go for the gun!" Hawker shouted in a whisper.
Cat Man's hands were a blur as they reached for the Ingram. The moment his fingers were around the metal trigger, though, Hawker pressed the .38 to Cat Man's temple.
"Oh, God," Cat Man whimpered. "I'll do anything, man, do anything you want me to do. Just don't kill me."
"Yeah. There is something you can do," Hawker said as he pulled the hammer back. "Tell your slimy street gang friends what happened here. The cops won't believe you, but your buddies will. And tell your buddy Razor I'm just getting started."
Without warning Hawker swung the barrel of the revolver from Cat Man's head to Cat Man's groin. He pulled the trigger and jumped away from the spout of blood, as Cat Man writhed on the tarmac, screaming.
Hawker wiped the .38 clean and pressed it back into Fat Albert's right hand. Then, taking care not to touch the revolver, Hawker scraped Fat Albert's knuckles raw on the asphalt and touched them with Cat Man's blood.
It would explain the cuts on Cat Man's face.
The dead girl looked pitifully pale and small amid the corpses of the animals who had murdered her. Hawker wished there were some way he could sweep her away from all this. He couldn't spare her parents the knowledge of her death, but he wished there was some way to spare them the circumstances of her dying.
Unfortunately, there wasn't.
Not any longer.
There were more voices on the street now, and the clatter of people running.
Hawker threw the T-shirt over his shoulder and pulled the black watch-cap low over his forehead. He studied the alley for a moment, making sure he had left no footprints in the blood.
As Cat Man screamed, James Hawker vanished up the fire escape.CHAPTER 2
Four days earlier Jacob Montgomery Hayes had summoned Hawker to his sprawling Kenilworth estate on the shore of Lake Michigan. As usual he had sent a messenger boy.
"Have a project which may interest you," the note read. "Will warn you beforehand that it could be tougher than the Florida project."
Hayes was referring to their first experimental vigilante mission. On a small island on the west coast of Florida, Hawker had slammed head-on with a South American organization hell-bent on ruining America's economy.
Hawker had left a lot of corpses in his wake. But the mission was a success. Now Hayes, one of the richest men in the world, was summoning Hawker for a second job.
And James Hawker was more than ready. He had spent a boring three months waiting. He had done everything he could to stay busy: refining his computer techniques, sparring at the old Bridgeport gym on Chicago's south side, forcing his body through a daily running and calisthenic routine that would have wearied a Spartan.
So Hawker welcomed the summons, welcomed, once again, the chance to put his cop's instincts and skills to work — and put his life on the line one more time.
On a bright June afternoon he had climbed into his vintage midnight-blue Corvette and caught the Kennedy Expressway northward, toward Kenilworth.
Hayes Hill, shielded from the rest of the world by a high wrought-iron fence and twenty acres of rolling park, was a red-brick fortress through the summer trees.
The electronic gate swung open at Hawker's approach, then swung closed behind him as he wound his way down the narrow asphalt drive.
In the distance Lake Michigan shimmered like liquid sky.
Jacob Montgomery Hayes's formal English butler, Hendricks, let Hawker in.
"Mr. Hayes told me to come over, Hendricks."
"What a novel way of saying you have an appointment."
Hawker smiled. Hendricks was right out of a 1940s English movie, and he had a wicked sense of humor.
Hawker decided he could joke, too. "Hendricks — Mr. Hayes told me that you were a British spy during the war. MI-6. Espionage. What about it?"
For just a moment the butler's eyes flickered — he'd been caught off-guard. He soon recovered. "Men found a great many things to be done during the war, sir. We were among the very few who did not catch a venereal disease in the process."
"Does that mean you were a spy?" insisted Hawker, grinning.
"On the contrary, sir. It means we wore our condoms like proper Englishmen. Steel yourself, sir. Mr. Hayes will think you've gone quite mad, laughing like that."
Hayes was in his study. He was a stocky, middle-sized man, with wire-rimmed glasses and a fierce, honest face. Surprisingly, he wore a knit pullover shirt and a long-brimmed fishing cap.
He sat at a cherrywood desk near the massive stone fireplace. A breeze came through the window, moving the curtains. He was hunched over a thin vise, tying a fly. A briar pipe was clenched between his teeth.
He looked up only briefly when Hawker entered, then returned to his work. Hawker stood over his shoulder, watching him wrap green Swannundaze over white goose biots.
"A trout fly?" Hawker, who liked to fish, asked.
"Right. An Aigner peacock nymph."
"I didn't know you tied, James."
"I don't. Not well, anyway. Sometimes I say 'ah' to pretend I understand when I really don't."
Jacob Hayes chuckled. Finished, he shoved himself away from the desk and motioned Hawker into a leather chair. Looking beyond Hayes's shoulder, Hawker could see an oil portrait of a yellow Labrador retriever, the gun cabinet filled with classic field guns, and a wall full of books.
"You've recovered from the Mahogany Key mission?" Hayes asked without preamble.
"What do you know about California?"
"Not much. Let's see ... the Beach Boys, Hollywood, earthquakes, Cannery Row, cocaine —"
"And street gangs," Hayes interrupted. He pulled a file out of the desk and handed it to Hawker.
"Street gangs, as in West Side Story?"
Hawker was being facetious, and Hayes allowed a thin smile to cross his face. "Not exactly. I'm talking about Los Angeles street gangs. They don't have much time for singing and dancing. They're too busy blasting each other in the back with shotguns. Or beating up pedestrians. Or cutting the throats of the people they rob."
Hawker opened the file as Hayes continued to talk. "There's a suburban community south of L.A. called Starnsdale. It used to be a nice place. A lot of minor actors and scriptwriters used to live there. It had some light industry. Good stores. Nice churches."
"Sounds like Bridgeport," Hawker said. He was referring to Chicago's Irish section, where he had grown up.
"Exactly. And just about the same thing happened. As the houses on the outskirts of Starnsdale aged, the wrong kind of people started moving in. It got worse and worse. The community began to rot at the edges. Soon they became full-fledged ghettos."
"Now Starnsdale has one little strip of area, known as Hillsboro, which hasn't been taken over yet. The people in Hillsboro are the last holdouts. But they live in absolute terror. Within a ten-mile radius of Starnsdale there are fifty-seven different black and Hispanic gangs. It's been estimated they are responsible for nearly five hundred murders a year — half of those through gang warfare. They roam the streets at night like wolves. No one and nothing is safe in their path."
"I'm surprised the people who live there haven't sold their homes and moved."
"Would you buy a house in a place like Hillsboro? No. No sane person would. They can't move because they can't sell. These people are trapped, James. They live on a narrow peninsula of sanity surrounded by violence. But they want to fight back.
Excerpted from L.A. Wars by Randy Wayne White. Copyright © 1984 Dell Publishing Co., Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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