The following story is included in L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories, a collaboration between Rockstar Games and Mulholland Books. Today also marks the publication date of Block’s novel A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, which Time Magazine says “reads like it’s been jolted by factory-fresh defibrillator pads.”
Red light’s on, so I guess that thing’s recording. This whole project you’ve got, this oral history, I’ll confess I didn’t see the point of it. You running a tape recorder while an old man runs his mouth.
But it stirs things up, doesn’t it? The other day—Wednesday, it must have been—all I did was talk for an hour or two, and then I went home and lay down for a nap and slept for fifteen hours. I’m an old man, I got up every three hours to pee, but then I went back to bed and fell right back asleep again. And dreams! Can’t recall the last time I dreamed so much.
And then I got up, and my memory was coming up with stuff I never thought of in years. Years! All the way back to when I was a boy growing up in Oklahoma. You know, before the dust, before my old man lost the farm and brought us here. Memories of nothing much. Walking down a farm road watching a garter snake wriggling along in a tractor rut. And me, kicking a tin can while I’m walking, just watching the snake, just kicking the can. Del Monte peaches, that’s what the can was. Why’d anybody remember that?
Mostly, though, what I kept going over in my mind was something that happened in my first year on the force. If it’s all the same to you, that’s what I’ll talk about today.
Now, you know I wasn’t but sixteen when the Japs bombed Pearl, and like just about everybody else I was down there the next morning looking to get into it.
They sent me home when I told them my age, so I waited two days and went back, and wouldn’t you know the same sergeant was behind the desk. This time I told him I was eighteen, and either he didn’t remember me from before or he didn’t give a damn, and they took me.
I went through basic and shipped out to England, and from there to North Africa, and what happened was they cut me out of the infantry and made an MP out of me. But I don’t want to get sidetracked here and tell war stories. I came through it fine and wound up back here in Los Angeles, and I’d been military police for better than three years, so after a few months of beer and girls I went down and applied to join the LAPD.
Now, what they would do then, and they probably still do it, is when they were done training you they’d partner you up with an older guy. You were partners, you’d ride around together, take turns driving, all of that, but he’s the guy with the experience, so he’s more or less in charge. He’s showing you the ropes and it’s something you can’t get from a book or in a classroom.
They put me in a car with Lew Hagner. Now, I’d heard of him, because he had a big part in the Zoot Suit Riots in ‘43, and there were plenty of Mexicans who’d have liked to see him dead. And after I was home but before I joined up with the department, there was an incident where he got in a gunfight with three zoot-suiters or pachucos or whatever you want to call ‘em. Mexicans, anyway. He got a scratch, treated and released at Valley General, and they were all dead on arrival. One of them, the wounds were in the back, and the press made some noise about that, but most people wanted to give him a medal.
Lew was fifteen years older’n me, and I was, what, twenty-two at the time? An old twenty-two, the way everybody’s older after a war, but still. Plus my old man died while I was overseas, and a fifteen-year age difference, plus he’s there to show me the ropes; well, I’m not about to say he was like a father to me, but you might say I looked up to him.
Anyway, we’re two guys in a car. And it’s good, and I’m learning things you don’t learn any other way. All the feel of the streets, and what might be trouble and what’s not. What you had to enforce and what you could let slide. When you had to go by the book, when you didn’t even have to open it.
How else are you gonna learn that sort of thing?
Continue reading “See the Woman”