Harbour Nocturne by Joseph Wambaugh

Harbour Nocturne - book cover

A simple tale of everyday police work in Los Angeles: death, sex, drugs, girls and a lizard.

Read a Short Extract




   Dinko ordered a beer, tipped the chubby white bartender a buck, and turned to scan the room, where he spotted Hector Cozzo, an old classmate from Mary Star of the Sea elementary school, and high school as well. He used to run into Hector occasionally after Hector dropped out in his junior year, but he had not talked to him in at least six years. Hector was fourteen months older than Dinko even though they’d been in the same grade, and he’d been the class clown who got in frequent trouble with the cops at Harbour Station. Even as a fourth-grade kid, Hector had had vulpine features and a sly grin permanently locked in place. You half expected his irises to be yellow.
   Dinko saw that Hector still had a taste for the retro, now comical, Al Pacino look from Scarface: a big gold watch and rings on both hands, bling that Dinko figured he bought from Mexicans in places like this. He had Here I Am shades on top of his head, and he still wore his black hair in a mullet, short on the top and sides but hanging down over his collar in the back. Some things never changed.
   “Yo, mullethead,” Dinko said, sitting down uninvited at the small table near the bar where Hector Cozzo was nursing a bottle of beer. “That haircut is way nineteen nineties. You gotta evolve more.”
   “Dinko!” Hector said. “Hey, brother!” They bumped knuckles, and Hector looked genuinely happy to see him, the shorter man’s crooked teeth shaded purple from the stage lighting.
   “Where you been hiding out, Hector?” Dinko asked. “I don’t see you around town no more, but I sometimes see your mother and dad when my mom drags me to church for the vigil Mass.”
   “I’m cribbed up in Encino,” Hector said. “That’s so I can stay close to all the porn producers. I’m always looking for talent, dawg. They call me Hector the selector.”
   They both laughed at that because in high school they’d called him “Hector the pimp,” not just for his flashy clothes but because he’d once shown up at school in a T-shirt that said, “I will pimp you out.” Of course, he’d instantly been sent home for that stunt, and Dinko recalled that Hector had wound up with some minor facial bruising after his father got through with him.
   “You musta set your sights low if you’re looking for talent in this joint,” Dinko said, taking a swig from his beer bottle.
   “Is this one of your hangs?” Hector asked.    
   “I’m looking to score some grow, is all.” Dinko said.
   “Me, I’m only here to do a little transportation job.” Hector Cozzo gave a deprecatory flip of the hand. “Whadda you do for survival? Still on the docks with the rest of the slav slobs?”
   “There haven’t been Slavs around here since the end of their wars over there,” Dinko said. “We’re strictly Croatians now, or do you get your news sixteen years late?”
   “Guess working on the docks is all you iches can do.” Hector said, referring to the suffix on the surnames of many Croatians, like Dinko Babich. Hector had always thought that the way the old Slavs did their lettering reminded him of hieroglyphics.
   “And how about an enterprising Eye-talian dude like you?” Dinko said. “You found something where you can make more than your old man did back when us iches and you dagos ran the docks together?”
   “I ain’t doing too bad,” Hector said. “I got a new red Mercedes parked out there.”
   “Yeah which model? The C-Class?”
   “Nope, the SL,” Hector said, and he saw that get Dinko’s full attention. So he lied and added, “And it’s not leased. I own it outright.”
   “They start at a hundred grand,” Dinko said. “Did you win a lottery, or what?”
   “I ran into some dudes in Hollywood that hire me for miscellaneous work. It pays good.”
   From Hector’s coy grin Dinko figured he must be running drugs, so he asked, “You wouldn’t have any Silver Haze or hydro you’d be willing to sell to an old classmate, would you, Hector?”
   “Not a chance,” Hector Cozzo said. “I don’t touch weed no more. I do powder cocaine only. And the best booze I can buy to keep my mind clear. You still a Scotch drinker?”
   “Yeah, I’m surprised you remember,” Dinko said.
   “I remember because I was a Scotch drinker back then. I still like it after a steak, but only eighteen-year-old single malt at nearly two Franklins a bottle. The rest of the time I drink very premium vodka. I got used to it hanging with all the former iron curtain socialists that’re taking over Hollywood.”
   “What kinda job you got, Hector?” Dinko asked, and Hector displayed that coy, snaggletoothed grin again.
   “I do this and that for some guys who own various businesses in Hollywood. I’m sort of a collector. In fact, they also call me Hector the collector. That’s why I got a crib in the valley, so I can be closer to my work. The drive down the Harbor Freeway to Pedro is a bitch these days.”
   “Well, I see you’re not gonna tell me nothing, so I guess I better go look for somebody that’s got some weed.”
   When Dinko started to get up, the shorter man grabbed his arm and said, “Don’t go, brother. I got some outstanding vodka in my car. As soon as I finish what I got to do here, I can meet you somewheres and we can get juiced and gas about the old days.”
   “Well, I do love a mystery.” Dinko sat back and took another swig from the beer bottle. “Can you at least tell me why a guy that drives an SL is sitting in this shit hole?”
   “I’ll be glad to answer that, Dinko,” Hector said. “Because of her.”
   He pointed up to the stage, where a stunning new dancer had just replaced the black stripper. She didn’t appear old enough to be lawfully employed there, and she looked rather like she’d rather be just about anywhere else. Her glossy dark hair tumbled to her shoulders in natural waves, and she had large, wide-set amber eyes. She was slim and rather tall, and she had booty. He figured there was no blanket-ass Indian blood in this girl, so he wondered what she was doing in a Mexican joint. Her silky pale mocha flesh gleamed under the light from the ceiling spots. Dinko couldn’t take his eyes off her.
   “So, you like her, Dinko?” Hector asked, with that smug, patronizing grin that was beginning to really irritate Dinko.
   “What the hell’s she doing in this dump?” Dinko asked.
   “It’s her first week here,” Hector said. “I only heard about her last night and thought I’d come down for a look. I like what I see.” Then he added, “The whole fucking world’s turned non-smoking on me, even a dive like this. I gotta run outside and grab a cig.”
   Dinko said, “She can’t be Mexican.”
   “Yes she can,” Hector said. “Recently arrived from Guanajuato. Before you arrived I spent an hour talking to her and to the proprietor of this joint. She speaks English pretty good. I bought her.”
   “Whadda you mean you bought her?”
   “I bought her dance contract, which wasn’t binding in the first place, so it didn’t cost much. I offered her a job dancing in a Hollywood nightclub owned by some criss-cross dudes I know, where she’ll make ten times what she makes here. They’re always looking for new talent, and I’m kind of a talent scout, among other things.”
   “What’s criss-cross mean?” Dinko asked.
   “You know,” Hector said, “the kind of guys that cross themselves like this.” And he made the sign of the cross, touching his forehead, heart, right shoulder, and left shoulder, instead of moving his hand left to right, as the Roman Catholics did it.
   “You mean Eastern rite,” Dinko said. “So your employers are Russian or maybe Armenian or…”
   “Could be Serbs,” Hector said, winking at the mention of the ancient enemy of the Croatians.
   Dinko figured Hector Cozzo had to be working for Russians. Everyone knew that Hollywood was full of them, and they were into all sorts of crime and owned most of the nightclubs. But he couldn’t stop staring at the ravishing girl. She had small breasts, but they were perky and they were real.
   “She’s so young,” he said. “And she can’t dance worth a shit, but who cares?”
   “My sentiments exactly,” Hector agreed. “She’ll make tips beyond her dreams when she gets to Hollywood, with those bucks-up Armenians, Russians, and Georgians. All those rich old ex-commies jist love the club I’m gonna put her in. I’m letting her finish a couple of sets here, and then off we go to Hollywood to let my employers see what I bought for them. She can easy get a Franklin for a special lap dance up there.”
   “She’s just a kid,” Dinko said. “She looks kinda…lost.”
   “Now I’m trying hard not to roll my eyes, dawg,” Hector said. “She’s a fucking Mexican whore!”
   Hector’s cell rang. He pulled it from his pocket, looked at the number, and said, “Gotta take this, Dinko.” He got up and walked to the front door and out to the street, while Dinko stayed and watched the girl shuffle through a dance, her smile frozen, seeming vulnerable and forlorn.
   When Hector returned, he seemed tense. “A Harbor City homie I been waiting for ain’t gonna show up. The dumb motherfucker got stopped for running a red light, and the cops found a gun in his car. Stupid fucking silverbacks – I hate doing business with them.”
   “I thought you were down here because of the girl,” Dinko said, pointing to the stage.
   “She’s part of it. I also had to set something up with somebody I got involved with in a weak moment.”
   Now Dinko’s curiosity made him want to grab Hector by the front of his stupid pimp shirt and make him talk. He said, “Hector, what the fuck’re you doing messing with Crips and Bloods? Whadda they got to do with your new life in Hollywood and all those dudes that cross themselves backwards?”
   Hectoe signalled to a waitress for two more beers. He thought for a long moment before speaking, then said, “Did you hear about the robbery last year where a posse did a takeover of the security guards at the container storage facility down the road? The one where they pistol-whipped and taped up the guards, then brought a stolen tractor in and jist hooked up to the chassis under a huge container and drove off with a can full of imported goods?”
   “Yeah,” Dinko said, “I think it was booze in the can they stole, wasn’t it? All the longshoremen on the docks figured they fucked up and got the wrong chassis. The can on the chassis next to it was full of flat screen TVs.”
   Hector said, “They probably had a bought-off trucker tell them, ‘It’s in row ten, space thirty-nine,’ only that would be too hard for a nigger to handle since they ain’t got the brains of a dead squid. But they’re willing to go in like a wolf pack with Tec-9s if somebody on the inside sets up a deal for them. They can bring it when it comes to blue steel and muscle.”
   Hector stopped talking and looked at his drink. Dinko nodded to encourage his classmate to continue, but Hector thought better of it and said, “Look, Dinko, I’m glad I ran into an old friend here. I need you to help me out. I need you to take that Mexican chick to an address in Hollywood and wait for her. She’ll only be there for half an hour, to meet the boss. Then I need you to take her home to East Wilmington, where she’s staying for now.” He pulled out two hundred-dollar bills from a money clip and put them on the table with a business card from a nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard. He wrote his cell number on the card.
   “That’s all I gotta do?” Dinko said. “Take her and bring her back, no problems?”
   “No problems. That’s all you gotta do. I need you to help me, brother. This other thing with the silverbacks…” He stopped and shook his head, the bravado gone, making him look more like the goofy high school kid Dinko remembered.
   “Man, you’re not the violent type,” Dinko said. “If you’re fucking with the Bloods and Crips you might end up in the harbour, caught in somebody’s gill net with crab’s eating your face.”
   “I can finesse this,” Hector said. “I jist gotta go talk to a dude. Will you do the job for me?”
   Dinko certainly could use the two hundred dollars, but it wasn’t the money that made him scoop the bills off the table. He wanted this job because he’d seen the girl.
   “Thank you, dawg,” Hector said, producing another business card. “I gotta run back to the dressing room now and tell her what’s going on. Gimme your digits.”
   “What’s her name?” Dinko asked, using Hector’s pen to write his cell number on one of Hector’s business cards, under where it said “Hector Cozzo, Facilitator and Entrepreneur.”
   “Lita Medina,” Hector said, standing up. “You won’t have no problem with her.”
   “No worries,” Dinko said. “I’m locked on.”
   Dinko felt his excitement grow as he sat alone at the table and watched the dark corridor leading to the dressing room. A few minutes passed before Hector emerged, rushing toward the front door with a thumbs-up for Dinko. Then Dinko saw the silly fucker blow him a kiss before he breezed out with a very serious expression on his goofy face.
   After another ten minutes, she came from the darkness at the back of the bar and approached Dinko’s table. She struck him as incredibly demure and, well, respectable. She looked even younger with her stage makeup replaced by only a little eye shadow and lip gloss. He stood, and she held out her hand. It was a delicate hand, but her fingers were long and her nails had recently been done with French tips. When he shook her hand, it felt cool and dry; his own felt hot and moist. Her lustrous dark hair, a shade lighter than Hector’s, was swept back to one side of her face and fell to her breasts. He remembered how those breasts had looked when she was onstage. Now she was wearing a long-sleeved red shirt, blue jeans, and inexpensive flat shoes – dressed more for a trip to the mercado, he thought, than to a meeting in a Hollywood nightclub.
   She nodded politely and included her matronymic name when she introduced herself, saying in heavily accented English, “I am Lita Medina Flores. I am very happy to meet you, senor.”

Copyright © Joseph Wambaugh 2012