Little Boy Blue

Little Boy Blue

by Edward Bunker


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No one knows prison like Edward Bunker. After living the majority of his adult life as the ultimate career criminal, Bunker has seen, heard, and experienced the brutal hardscrabble underworld most writers only know through research and conjecture. Bunker has spent the 20 years since his release from prison channeling his particular insight into successful books and films: He created such acclaimed novels as No Beast So Fierce and Dog Eat Dog, cowrote the screenplay for the Academy Award-nominated film "Night Train," and played Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."

Originally written in 1982 and out of print for nearly ten years, Little Boy Blue is based on Bunker's childhood and adolescence and serves as a searing commentary on the state of the American justice system. The protagonist is Alex Hamilton, an 11-year-old kid with potential: He's intelligent, savvy, and independent. Rebellious since his parents split up, Alex is constantly running from foster homes and institutions, yearning to be with his father, a broken man who cannot give his son the home he desperately needs. As Alex is pulled between well-meaning but exhausted social workers and viciously cruel authority figures, only one constant remains: his no-good criminal-minded peers, who lure him into a life of crime.

As someone who has lived this life and learned to tell about it, Bunker believes that the American justice system and American society are full of criminals because they breed criminals. Little Boy Blue chronicles the destructive progression from a childhood gone terribly awry to a life filled with crime and violence, told by a master of the crime-fiction genre.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781842432686
Publisher: No Exit Press
Publication date: 02/28/2008
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Edward Bunker played Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino's film "Reservoir Dogs." He is also the author of No Beast So Fierce and Dog Eat Dog. Most of his life has been spent in prison, where he wrote. He paid the postage for his early manuscript submissions by selling his blood. He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and child.

Read an Excerpt

In the summer of 1943, a plain black Ford sedan carried three people through the Cahuenga Pass from Los Angeles into the San Fernando Valley. A middle-aged female social worker was driving. An eleven-year-old boy was in the middle, and the boy's father was on the right. All of them stared through the windshield with somber faces. The social worker looked stern, but it was really a practiced stoicism insulating her emotions from the pain of sympathy. The father was silently determined, but his determination was furrowed with worry; his jaw muscles pulsed as he sucked on a cigarette. The boy's lips were curled in until almost hidden, and occasionally he bit them inside to stifle the smoldering tantrum. He was both working himself up and restraining himself. Rebellion was coming, but this particular moment was too soon.

Beyond Cahuenga Pass the large highway curved to follow the base of the hills dotted with white houses buried in green slopes. The social worker turned off onto a narrow, straight road through endless orange groves. Every so often there was a flash of white as the car passed a neat frame house set back from the road. The day was hot and the air dusty, and many insects splattered against the windshield. Once they passed two bare-legged girls riding bareback on a fat mare. In 1943, the San Fernando Valley was still the countryside--without smog and without tract homes--where a few small communities were separated by miles of citrus and alfalfa.

The boy stared ahead, as if transfixed by the white line in the black road that disappeared in shimmering heat waves. Actually he saw nothing and heard nothing. He was thinking of how many identical trips he'd taken since he was four years old, to yet another place to be ruled by strangers. It was nearly all he could remember--boarding schools, military schools, foster homes--those places and snatches of ugly scenes, tumult, and tears, the police coming to keep the peace. Whenever he thought of his mother it was with her face contorted in tears. He knew he disliked her without knowing why. He remembered the day when his father walked out, and he had run after him, dragging a toy Indian headdress, tugging at the car door and begging to go along. His father had driven away, leaving him sprawled in tears in the dirt, and his mother had come with a wooden coat hanger to make him scream even louder.

He remembered being in a courtroom but nothing about what happened. Then his mother was gone, never seen again, never mentioned. After that began the foster homes and military schools. He couldn't even remember the first one, except that he'd been caught trying to run away on a rainy Sunday morning. His memory images grew clearer concerning later places; he remembered other runaways, one lasting six days, and fights and temper tantrums. He'd been to so many different places because each one threw him out.

At first his rebellion had been blind, a reflex response to pain--the pain of loneliness and no love, though he had no names for these things, not even now. Something in him went out of kilter when he confronted authority, and he was prone to violent tantrums on slight provocation. Favored boys, especially in military school, looked down on him and provoked the rages, which brought punishment that caused him to run away. One by one the boy's homes and military schools told his father that the boy would have to go. Some people thought he was epileptic or psychotic, but an electroencephalogram proved negative, and a psychiatrist doing volunteer work for the Community Chest found him normal. Whenever he was thrown out of a place, he got to stay in his father's furnished room for a few days or a week, sleeping on a foldup cot. He was happy during these interludes. Rebellion and chaos served a purpose--they got him away from torment. The time between arrival and explosion got shorter and shorter.

Now, as the tires consumed the dusty road, the boy worked himself up, anticipating what he would do. Tears and pleas had been futile, his father not deaf to them but helpless to change things. He too had no choice. He was in his fifties, worn and thin, his skin red and leathered from alcohol and laboring in the sun. He wasn't an alcoholic, but in recent years he drank a lot because of his wife, his son, and the Depression. A good carpenter, he was proud of his craft, but work had been impossible for nearly a decade. Only with the start of the war had he been working steadily. He would have been happy except for his son. Why couldn't the boy accept the situation, the necessity of boarding him out? The man had told the boy that the law required someone to look after him. If only there were a family--aunts, uncles, cousins, friends--but both the man and his former wife were orphans who had come here from southern Ohio, thinking that they'd build a new life in sunny southern California. The man had an older sister who lived in Louisville, but he hadn't seen her for twenty years.

The man felt guilty about his son and salved his conscience by paying more than he could afford on the military schools and boarding homes. He scrimped on his own meals, lived in a cheap room. The boy didn't seem to notice the sacrifices. The man wondered if the boy was crazy.

The man flipped his spent cigarette through the window and suddenly felt angry. He'd spoiled his son. That was the trouble. Only a spoiled boy would run away, fight, steal, throw tantrums. The man had done his best. He knew he'd done his best.

The social worker kept her hands firmly on the wheel, her no-nonsense shoes on the gas and clutch. Traffic lights were gauged early to shift down the gears. She'd learned to drive when she was forty, having grown up where automobiles were not part of the landscape, and she was always conscious of what she was doing. But with an empty road and moderate speed, she had room to think. She could feel the boy beside her, his body well known to the welfare agencies. Eleven years old and he'd already accumulated a file. A bright boy, in the top two percent in intelligence, though his chaotic behavior and emotional problems kept him from being a good student. The boy had potential, but it would be wasted. Years ago the situation would have agonized her, but for her own peace of mind she'd developed a protective shell around her feelings. She did all she could to help but didn't invest her soul in a case. Too many cases failed, as if divorces and foster homes were precursors to Juvenile Hall, reform school, and prison. This boy's chances for a successful life were very slim, made worse by his tempestuous nature. His unique potential would develop into unique destructiveness. What a pity, she thought, that there's no direct relationship between the intellect and the spirit. This boy needed a home and love for salvation, and nobody could provide them, certainly no agency or institution.

"We're early," she said. "We could stop for a bite somewhere."

For a moment the man didn't respond, and then, as the words filtered through his reverie, he seemed startled. He looked down at his son--a boy with a head too big for his body and eyes too big for his head. "You hungry, Alex?"

Alex shook his head, not wanting to speak and break his gathering emotions. He needed everything for the looming conflict.

The man, Clem Hammond, flushed. He too had a temper. He shrugged an apology to the woman for his son's churlishness, thinking what his own father would have done faced with such a snotty attitude: the stern farmer would have cut a switch and raised welts. Times had surely changed, and not necessarily for the better. Yet Clem could understand Alex's misery, and he was sorry for being angry with the boy. "We could stop and get some airplane magazines." Then to the social worker he added with pride, "Alex doesn't like comic books."

"I don't want 'em," Alex said, without looking around. His hands were pressed between his legs, clenched into white-knuckled fists. Acid burned in his stomach, and tears pressed behind his eyes. I don't want to go there, he moaned inside...don't...don't...just take me home, Pop. I'll sleep on the floor and I won't be any trouble...please, Pop...please, God....

The silent prayer didn't slow the Ford. The orange groves fell behind, and now alfalfa fields glowed in the sun. Whirling sprinklers threw off necklaces of sparkling water. The low foothills that were the northern border of the San Fernando Valley grew larger. The Valley Home for Boys was nestled at the base, shaded by eucalyptus, pepper, and oak.


Alex's feet pressed the floorboard, his body rigid, as if he could restrain their forward progress by willpower.


A narrow road coated with fallen leaves was behind the sign.

"I don't like it," Alex said through tight jaws.

"How can you say that? You haven't seen it." Clem was holding back his own anger. Hadn't he done all he could? He also saw the hints of a tantrum.

"It's dirty," Alex said.

The Ford went through sunlight mottled by the overhead foliage. Stillness filled the grounds, a hush broken by occasional trilling birds. But all living things were hiding from the August heat.

Everyone was tense. Alex's eyes roved like those of a small, trapped animal, and his breathing was thick, but he held back the tantrum, waiting.

The road widened into a parking lot. Around it were several two-story buildings with yellow tile roofs; near the eaves the yellow was streaked. These were the dormitories. The administration building was white-washed frame that had seen better days. The parking lot was nearly empty.

The social worker parked and turned off the motor. Nobody spoke or moved. Finally Clem unlatched the door, the sound sharp. He stepped out and beckoned to his son. "C'mon." ,p>The woman got out the other side, but the boy stared straight ahead and didn't move.

Clem flushed. "No, no, I'll have none of your shenanigans today, young man. Just get out of the car."

The boy shook his head without looking around. His breathing was audible.

Each of them knew the script. The man would be more determined because he'd seen other tantrums, and the boy's fury was greater through practice. Long ago a display of tears and thrashings brought conciliation. Now each of them had a tolerance.

The boy needed to behave insanely, even though that would probably not change things. His rage was simultaneously blind and planned, berserk irrationality as a means to an end.

"Get out or I'll drag you out," Clem said.

Alex didn't move a muscle.

The social worker was a worried spectator, sweating in the heat.

Clem leaned inside, one knee braced on the seat, a hand on top of it. "Come on."

Alex's breathing became a hoarse rasp, a choked cry, like someone having a seizure.

"Knock it off," Clem said, his anger rising.

The gasping intensified, and the boy's face purpled. The man leaned in further, reaching to grab the boy's elbow. At his touch the boy yelped and jerked away, sliding down to the floorboard in the corner, banging his head on the dashboard and wrapping his arms around the steering post. Tears poured down his face, and he gave wheezing sobs of futile rage, his body too small to consummate his fury.

Clem kneeled down on the seat and reached for the boy's locked arms. He jerked one hand loose, muttering curses. As he went for the other, the first one fastened again. The boy's breathing now contained coughs and animal sounds. A discharge of adrenaline flooded the boy's nervous system, giving him additional strength.

Infuriated, Clem moved in closer on his knees on the seat and tried to reach down and slap his son across the face. The steering wheel and narrow space made this ineffectual.

The social worker stood watching in the hot glare. She was horrified. She'd seen many rebellious children, but this was like watching a soul begin to die. The woman stood helpless while the cries cut through her and the summer afternoon.

Clem backed up, his rump jutting out, and grabbed a foot. The boy thrashed, kicking, twisting, and screaming. Clem couldn't pull him straight out; the leverage was insufficient, and the boy's arms were locked too tightly around the steering post. The man was sweating now, puffing from exertion. In sudden fury he wrenched his son's leg, pulling him loose in one swift move, dragging him out so that he flopped on his side on the hot macadam. The fall jerked Clem's hands loose, and the boy lunged for the bumper, fighting for every inch. But Clem pried his fingers loose and hauled him to his feet, cuffing him across the back of his head.

The woman assisted Clem now, taking an arm to help restrain the child. They dragged Alex, kicking and screaming, toward the administration building.

Thelma Cavendish stood peering from a dormitory window, attracted by the uproar. She knew the boy was being assigned to her cottage. Her stern, fat face reflected sharp disapproval of such rebellion.

As the trio struggled up the walk, a school bus jammed with the younger boys of the Valley Home pulled in. The boys leaned from the windows, yelling, then spilled out of the door.

Despite his flaming brain, Alex was aware of the new arrivals, and his fury was redoubled for their benefit, sensing that it further discomfited his father.

The two dozen boys came over to Alex like filings to a magnet, forming an audience, falling silent and serious. None seemed particularly sympathetic to the newcomer.

Clem tripped on a step and fell momentarily to one knee. "You're gonna be sorry," he muttered between clenched teeth, wishing he could thrash the boy but afraid that the Valley Home might refuse to take him. Already Alex had been thrown out of half the boarding schools in southern California.

The sweating social worker was encumbered by her purse and had to release the boy to reach for the screen door. Alex turned on his father, clawing for Clem's face.

A young man from the bus--the athletics coach--pushed through the crowd of boys, scattering them. He wrapped his arms around Alex, pinning him. The boy collapsed, and the coach carried him inside. Alex had not willfully surrendered, but the ferocity of his resistance had sucked all his strength away. His brain fogged near a faint, and if the young man had not been holding him up, he would have collapsed on the floor. His body tingled as if charged with electricity. His eyes fluttered and nearly rolled back into his head. The woman and the young man were frightened by the boy's paleness and the blue tint to his lips. Neither had had any experience with such behavior. Clem, however, had seen this stupor that followed the tantrum many times.

"Is there any hot water around here?" Clem asked, scanning the waiting room, which was furnished with an empty desk and stuffed furniture, the masonite floor scarred by years of young feet. The coach waved toward a short corridor where a frosted-glass door at the end opened into a washroom. It was too small for more than Clem and Alex. The father shut the door and turned on the hot water, waiting until steam rose from the bowl; then he shoved his son's hands under the water. For nearly half a minute Alex remained limp and oblivious, until the pain got through to his stupefied brain and the scalding water made him squirm. His hands turned scarlet.

Alex tried to pull his hands away. "It's okay, Pop. I'm okay."

Clem turned him loose, knowing the episode was over, the rebellion spent. "Wash your face," he said quietly, ashamed at having lost his own temper, aching and sad at the whole situation.

Alex turned on the cold water and used cupped hands to splash it on his face, mindless that it dampened his cuffs and collar.

Clem Hammond lit a cigarette and sat on the toilet and waited.

Outside the washroom the young coach, Mike Macrae, listened as the woman told him about the boy's history. The young coach was awed and for some reason felt guilty. He was just ten years older than Alex, and he wondered if he could befriend the boy. In his whole life Mike Macrae hadn't experienced as much anguish as he'd seen the boy go through in just a few minutes. Maybe he could take a special interest in the newcomer, straighten out the warp. The social worker sighed.

Inside the washroom Alex Hammond patted his face dry with a paper towel. Clem dropped his cigarette butt into the toilet. "Hey," the man said, "look here." The boy's eyes were downcast. The man searched hard for words, and words came hard.

"You've got to act like a man," he began, then halted. After a pause he said, "Remember the poem you learned last year . . . by Kiping?"

"It was Kipling, Pop."

"I don't remember...but I remember what it said...about taking what happens and holding your head up and being a man. It isn't my fault you have to be in these places. What do you want me to do?"

"Let me stay with you." The boy's head was still down; he shuffled a foot.

"If I could, I would. I've got to work, and there's nobody to look after you."

"Pop, I can look after myself. I won't get in trouble, I promise."

Clem fought down the wetness in his eyes. "You can't live in a furnished room."

"We can get a small place."

Clem shook his head. He wanted to hug the boy, but such gestures had stopped. Maybe . . . maybe, he thought, we can rent a place and have a woman come in to help. "I can't make any promises," he said, "but maybe we can work something out."

"Oh, Pop, please."

"Remember, it's not a promise . . . but I'll see what I can arrange."

The tears welled in the boy's eyes, triggering a similar response in the man, and he gathered his son in his arms. Please God, Alex pleaded silently, let it be so. I won't do anything wrong.

Clem held his son at arm's length, hands on his shoulders. "Okay, I'll work on it, but you be good here. Don't give them any trouble. I've got to work out of town this week, but I'll be here to see you a week from Sunday."

"Promise, Pop?"

"Promise. You can go horseback riding at Griffith Park if you want."

"Oh, yes!"

"I talked to the superintendent. He's a nice man and he tells me the housemother, Mrs. Cavendish, is a fine person. Show me you can stay out of trouble so I can leave you alone while I work." He tapped the boy's arm with a clenched fist.

Alex nodded rapidly, his face glowing.

"You'll have to apologize for causing the lady all that trouble. Then we'll see about getting you settled."

The glow faded from the boy's eyes. Suddenly he was embarrassed by what he'd done and pricked by the reality that he had to stay while his father left.

Little Boy Blue. Copyright (c) 1981 by Edward Bunker. Published by St. Martin's Press, Inc. New York, NY

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Little Boy Blue 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is one of the better books i have ever read. it tells the story of a young boy stuck in the cycle of crime. he grew up with a new boarding school each week, if they would keep him even that long. he stole, fought, swore, and threw tantrums. when he got out of juvenile hall he went back to the streets and picked up a new drug habit. this book vividly illustrates an alternative lifesyle to the law abidding. it is very intersting and i would reccomend it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
edward bunker is one of the best criminal writers. his stories take you on journies that only a real life criminal could ever really know about. i consider this book his best, and also consider it as a personal favorite of my own.