Monday, April 25, 2011

Chapter Four

I didn't really like dealing with the police much past "here's your guy," but now I'd had to deal with them twice in one day. I was out of Eric's precinct, but he called the right people and sent them my way. I hung out with the dead guy for a few minutes until two uniformed cops and one guy in plainclothes showed up.

The guy in plainclothes took my name and address and statement. I told him why I had broken into the place, and he nodded his head.

"Yeah, same warrant came up on her when I ran this place. Strange. Failure to appear doesn't usually connect so quick to murder," he said.

"You think it's murder, then?"

"Hey, that's a question for the crime scene guys. But first impressions? Yeah, looks like."

I'd had the same thought, but I had no training or experience to back it up. In fact, I realized as the plainclothes cop handed back my ID, this was the first time I'd actually seen a dead body. I expected to react differently, to feel something... anything, really. Disgust, fear, sadness, something. But it was just a dead guy on the floor. I didn't end up feeling one way or another about it. That should probably bother me.

"Um, you need anything else from me, officer?" I asked.

"Nah. Just make yourself available if I have any more questions, yeah?"


"Good. Here's my card. This your cell number on yours?"

"Home number. Just got a new cell," I told him, grabbing my card back and quickly writing my cell number on the back.

"Right. Probably won't need anything, but never hurts to be able to get a hold of you, right?"

"Fair enough, Detective," I looked at his card, "O'Neill."

I put the card in my jacket pocket and headed back outside.

I knew the next step, as this isn't the first time I've turned a simple trace-and-retrieve into a police situation. My part was over -- time to walk away and hope another one came up before I had to buy groceries or pay the power bill.

And that would have been the smart move. I mean, trying to track down Laura Mills now, while the police were looking for her as a person of interest in a murder? That would be dumb. I make a wrong move there, and I get in trouble. If I'm lucky, some of my police sources just stop talking to me. If I'm unlucky, I get arrested for obstructing a police investigation, get my licenses pulled, and have to go find yet another new job -- and I think I've exploited all of the good "big scary dude" jobs out there.

I'm also a guy who's now gladly taken on two careers that put him in situations that could easily kill him, so it's probably not hard for you to figure out that I'm not great at making the smart move.

Most times I go looking for someone, they're either at their home or work address, even those people who are actively running from me. Stick around a felon's house long enough, and he's bound to turn up. A lot of people will tell you it's because criminals are stupid, but that's not it. I mean, some of them are, obviously. But not all of them. It's just that most people have lives they have to get on with.

Even a lot of the criminals I track have to hold down day jobs, and if they know I'm looking for them, sometimes they'll drop in at work to pick up some money owed or let the boss know they need to be out for a while. But staking out their homes is so much better, because most people don't have much of a support system in place -- they always end up needing something from the house, or simply somewhere to sleep at night. They try to sneak in, of course, but it's usually pretty easy to spot them. After all, if they were good at sneaking around, they probably wouldn't have gotten caught in the first place.

But there are some people who don't show back up at their own houses, and thanks to the dead body on the floor, it looked like Laura Mills was going to be one of those people. It didn't happen as often, but I had ways of finding those people, too. Mike was thorough in getting information out of his clients, which helped a lot. The next step was about as mundane as you think it was -- check with the two references Mike made Laura fill in on his paperwork. One was a local, a guy who lived in Long Beach. He was first on the list.

On the way, I gave Mike a quick call to let him know what was up. He didn't have a problem with me trying to find Laura Mills before the cops did. It was my job, after all. Besides, something was starting to look a little off for both of us. The combination of the ridiculously high bail, the dead guy in the apartment, and the girl at the office claiming not to know her co-worker... all of it added up to something, but neither of us could figure out what.

I don't get over to Long Beach often, partially because it annoys me. All of these new, thin, million-dollar houses going up on streets named "Boathouse Lane" and "Smuggler's Cove." Guh. Long Beach used to be cool, but it's getting... I don't know, hip? Doesn't sound like there should be a difference there, but there sure is.

The address was in one of those new developments, a place called Spinnaker Bay. Saying that the Beast looked out of place rolling through that neighborhood was an understatement and a half, and I was sure someone would call the cops the second I got out of the car. I'd have to make this quick.

The house was on Parson's Landing. See? Told you it was that kind of place. It looked like something I wouldn't pay to live in, a couple of huge cardboard boxes stacked together and stuccoed over. There were two cars out front, a BMW 7-series and an Infiniti Q45. The guy I was looking for was named Roger Mills. Same last name usually meant brother or father -- women didn't usually list their ex-husbands as references on our paperwork.

Brother was good. People went to their siblings for help on the run, but usually not their parents. I'm guessing that, by the car choices, I was dealing with a sibling rather than a parent -- they were both what young, rich guys considered "cool." Also, both cars in the driveway was a good sign, as it meant someone was most likely home. I parked the Beast along the curb and looked around. No one was out on the street, so I hopped out of the car, walked quickly up to the front door, and rang the bell. A young woman, tall, red-haired, and attractive, answered.

"Um. . . yes?"

"Hi. I'm looking for Roger Mills. Is he around?" I said, flashing a smile and keeping my hands at my side. It wasn't easy to look nonthreatening at my size, but I was going to make every attempt.

"Yeah. . . he's at the office late tonight," she said, looking me over while backing away from the door slightly. "Can I tell him who stopped by?"

Two cars in the drive, closed garage. The guy was home, and I knew it, but pushing it -- especially in this neighborhood -- would land me in jail for the night and effectively kill my investigation before it really started.

"Sure. My name's Jake Harris. Would you give him this and have him call me as soon as he can? It's in regards to Laura Mills."

I quickly scrawled my cell number on my card and handed it to her. She looked it over, then looked back up at me with a raised eyebrow.

"His sister? What kind of trouble is she in?"

"I'm sorry, I can only discuss that with Mr. Mills. Would you give him that and have him call me?"

"I'll tell him."

"Thanks much," I said, flashing the smile again and backing down the front steps.

He wasn't going to call anytime soon, and I knew it. My best bet was to hang outside the house until he went for his car, let him lead me to wherever Laura was hiding. That was the best plan, but hanging out in this neighborhood. . . wasn't going to happen. I stuck out like a stripper in a Pentacostal Church.

Mike could sit on him without attracting too much attention. His two-pack-a-day habit aside, he looked pretty clean-cut, and he drove a personality-free Lexus that would blend in in this neighborhood. Unfortunately, he was in Downtown L.A. -- half an hour in good traffic -- and that left this guy unwatched for way too long. He could slip out and vanish, and while tracking him wasn't the only trick I had up my sleeve, it was my best bet right now.

In a movie, this is where the hero guy (me, I guess, by default) would place some high-tech tracking device on this dude's cars and hang back, follow him to where Laura Mills was hiding out, and solve the whole damn thing. There was a simplicity to action movies that I envied all the time in my current career. All it took was some hack writer being too lazy to write what would really happen, and in comes the awesome deus ex machina that resolves everything. But here, now, in the real world, I'd just have to get on the cell to Mike, try to get him out here as quick as possible, and hope the guy didn't vanish in between now and then.

* * *

I was at In-N-Out Burger -- pretty much the only place close by I didn't look too out of place. Actually, I was in the parking lot, shoveling a Double-Double into my face, when my phone rang. I set the remains of the burger on the dashboard, wiped my hands off on a napkin, and opened the flip on my phone.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Hey. I just got to the address you gave me. One car out front, a BMW," Mike said.

Shit. I should have stuck around in plain sight, a big, stupid spectacle making sure the guy didn't move, until Mike got there. Honestly, though, I hadn't thought of that until just this minute.

"All right, Mike. Thanks. Guy probably took off," I said, sighing.

"Hang on a minute. Someone's getting into the BMW. Male, dark hair. Could be your guy," Mike told me.

I tossed the remainder of my burger out the window and into the nearby trash can and started the engine.

"Keep on him," I said, "and let me know which way you're headed. I'll pick up the tail from you as soon as I can."

Mike handed him off to me just before the guy in the BMW got on the 405, and I tailed him after that. We took the 405 to 710, and just as the sun was going down, he pulled off the freeway into Compton.

My hopes of not getting shot at today were rapidly dwindling.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chapter Three

"You get some sleep?" Mike asked, checking to see that his client was out the door before pulling a Marlboro Light from the pack and lighting it.

"Not enough," I grumbled.

"Yeah, me either. It's never enough. But hey, this one'll be easy, I promise. Back by dinnertime, and with a good enough payout for you to take the next couple of days off."

I was interested immediately. Easy and a good payout don't usually go together. Easy usually means low bail, low bail usually means nonviolent. Good payout usually means I'm tracking down Charlie Manson or something.

"Who's the job?" I asked, straightening up in my chair across from Mike's desk.

"Girl -- lady, I guess -- from Century City. Failure to appear. Some reason, judge set her bail at half a million. She called me, posted right away."

"And she missed her court date?"

“Apparently so. Shouldn't have any problems tracking her down -- she's got a real job and everything. Probably just forgot. Got her info for you here," Mike said, tossing me a legal-sized envelope with a few sheets of paper folded inside.

"No psycho boyfriend, none of that, right?" I asked.

"Near as I know, man, she lives alone. Ain't even got a cat."

"All right. I wrap this up before sundown, you're buying the beer."

"Deal, man."

As I walked back out to the Beast, I opened the envelope. The first page was her bail agreement with Mike -- and on the first line, her name.

"OK, Laura Mills. Let's see where you're hiding," I mumbled as I started the car.

The file had both her home and work address, and nine times out of ten, that's where I found someone I was looking for -- at one of those two places. It being the middle of the day and all, I decided to start at the work address, a place called Umbra Dynamics. On her bail agreement, she'd listed her occupation there as "Staff Scientist." That was nice and vague.

The address on the form was down near the Santa Monica Pier, so I had a little bit of a drive. The weather was nice, a little hot maybe, but I drove with the windows down. Air conditioning in the Beast hadn't worked since two summers ago, and fixing it was a pretty low priority. I tossed a Slipknot disc into the in-dash CD changer and zoned out for most of the drive.

Umbra's office was a nondescript place, a tiny couple of rooms above a tourist shop. I walked the stairs and knocked on the door, which buzzed as it opened. A young woman in a sharp black business suit sat behind a desk. She seemed to be the only person there.

"May I help you?" she asked with a pasted-on smile.

"Yeah, I'm looking for a Laura Mills. She's employed here as a Staff Scientist?"

The young woman behind the desk blinked, but her smile remained firmly in place.

“I'm sorry. We don't have anyone here by that name."

"You're sure? You don't need to check a directory or anything?"

"I'm sure. Thank you for dropping by.”

So that was that, then. I don't claim to be a genius or a master of the study of human nature, but I knew I was being lied to. It was kind of hard not to notice when the person doing the lying was so bad at it. Plus, I knew Mike had verified this lady's employment as soon as he'd posted her bond. Mike took his business seriously, and he wouldn't have fucked this one up.

I'd try to figure out why this lady was giving me the runaround later. For now, it was off to the home address in Century City.

I'd never actually known anyone who lived in Century City. I mean, an address in that area came with a decently high income, but not celebrity-high, so none of the actors I'd met in my former career lived around there. And it wasn't stuntman or bounty-hunter low, either, so none of my current co-workers lived in the neighborhood, either. It was mainly lawyers and other professionals, I guess -- people I didn't have much in the way of day-to-day dealings with.

Still, though, Fox Plaza was in Century City, and MGM was headquartered there too, so I'd been there before for meetings and stuff. It wasn't too tough to find Laura Mills' apartment, on the ninth floor of a high-rise building that looked, well, like a lot of the other high-rises in the area. The info we had on her indicated she lived alone, so I was expecting her to answer the door. Most times, all it took was me showing up at someone's door for me to do my job -- the advantage of being big and scary, as Mike had explained to me when I'd come to meet with him after bailing Ethan out of jail.

"You've got a definite 'don't-fuck-with-me' look, man," he'd told me, lighting up a cigarette as I sat across from him. "Nine times outta ten, people will go with you just because you look like you'll kick the living fuck out of them if they don't."

"And the tenth time?" I'd asked.

"Well, tenth time can be a bitch. Every so often, you get one of these crazy motherfuckers who's all-fired sure he can take you down. That's when you have to actually be scary. Know how to shoot a gun?"

I did. I'd done a lot of weapons training for various jobs as a stuntman, and I'd gone out to the live-fire range for fun a couple of times.

"Good. Long as your criminal record is clean like you say, you shouldn't have any problem getting a conceal-carry license once you get certified."

He was pretty much right there. After a two-week training course, I had my license and all of my paperwork sorted out. And he was also right about me being able to pull most people in without having to really say or do much. Being big and scary-looking did tend to make people want to do what I told them. Just like the stuntman gig, I got the bounty-hunter gig more thanks to genetics than any kind of skill or talent.

I knocked on Laura Mills' door and waited about thirty seconds. Nothing. California law allows me to enter a client's home without permission if they've violated bail, so I decided not to knock again. Mike taught me how to pick most locks -- I didn't ask where he'd learned. Still, it only took me a couple of seconds to open the door to apartment 9G.

Even as I hacked the door, I was thinking about my next move. No answer to the knock meant she probably wasn't there, but it didn't mean she wouldn't be there at some point. I'd look around, try not to leave any sign I'd been there. See if I could find any evidence that she'd left, and if so, where. If I couldn't, I'd hang out outside, watch the place for a while, see if she turned up.

I knew she was gone as soon as the door opened, though. From the dried blood on the carpet, rust-brown rather than red, I guessed the guy on the floor had been dead for a couple of days. Laura's apartment had good ventilation, but I figured it wouldn't be too long before her neighbors noticed.

And that meant I had to call the police, though I really didn't want to do that.

It's not that I didn't care about the guy laying face down in a pool of his own dried blood on the floor. I mean, I kind of didn't -- I didn't know who the guy was or anything. But I didn't want to call the police simply because it meant that I probably wouldn't get to do my job now. It meant I probably wasn't going to get paid for this one.

Here's the thing -- cops aren't terribly worried about finding some people, and I don't mean any disrespect to the police when I say that. It's just that if you did something kind of minor, like skipping a court date, and you're not home when a patrol officer happens by. . . well, they're not going to run you down. They're not going to shake down your co-workers, your spouse, your parents, whatever, because they simply don't have the time and the resources to waste on your dumb ass. That's where people like me come in, and that's how I make my living.

But it's a different story when a dead body gets involved. Then the LAPD becomes a machine, an omnipresent network of individial law-enforcement professionals who all have their eyes open and looking for you. That's when they'll drop by your work every sixteen minutes, stake out your mom's apartment, and follow your husband around for days on end. They suddenly become way better at my job than me, and there are a lot more of them. My chances for getting paid look pretty grim at that point.

Of course, I couldn't *not* call them just because I still needed to make money. So, sighing, I pulled out my StarTac and dialed my buddy Eric.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chapter Two

It was just more than two years ago, March 18, 1996. A Monday. I'd heard friends from High School -- the ones who ended up working in offices -- complain about Mondays before, but to me, there wasn't anything necessarily different about them. Joys of a strange work schedule, I guess. I worked nights, days, weekends, everything in between, but I still managed to have plenty of time off.

We were in the mountains just north of Los Angeles, filming some shitty action movie that, to my knowledge, still hasn't come out. Probably never well. The script, what little I'd seen of it, was god-awful, filled with terrible cliched action-hero lines and a cartoonishly evil villan character with an army of goony henchmen. But it had a lot of money behind it, and a couple of big names. Big budget and big names on an action film usually means insane stunts, and that's what this one had going for it. And that, my friends, is where I came in.

I wanted to be a stuntman ever since my dad and I moved to Los Angeles when I was 13. Our first week in town, we'd seen some movie filming near one of the skyscrapers downtown, seen a stuntman taking a fall 20-odd stories and getting up to the applause of his crew. Right then and there, I knew what I wanted to do, and the family genetics for being big and scary-looking decided to help out with that one.

By 15, I towered over most of my classmates. I went Varsity in football and spent most of my time in the gym. I read up on all the literature I could find -- books, biographies, behind-the-scenes memoirs, you name it. By the time I graduated high school, I was ready. I knew every answer to every question anyone could ask me when I applied to live my dream.

They asked me nothing. They took one look at me, nodded, and told me I was in.

And for the next eight years, I got blown up, thrown off of buildings, shot at, beaten up, knocked through walls, hit by cars, and any other manner of grisly death you can think of, all for the cameras, of course. And I got paid pretty damn well to do it. It was a blast, and I got to travel all over the world and see all sorts of cool things.

See, it seems a guy like me is tailor-made for playing the large henchman type. The guy who never has any lines, just looks like a big obstacle for the hero of the movie until he gets taken out in any number of fantastic and mostly unbelievable situations. Producers liked me because I looked kind of huge next to the muscled-up action stars, and stunt coordinators liked me because I had my techniques down cold, was up for whatever they asked, and was willing to learn everything I could. A guy like me could work a lot, and I did. I also had the fortunate dual-training in stunt driving, so they got two for the price of one most times.

Which brings us to that Monday in March. We had a midafternoon call time, which was great because I got to sleep in, at my own house no less, and still have plenty of time to drive out to the shoot. Had breakfast with a couple of work buddies, and we piled into one of the waiting studio vans about 11:00 in the morning. We were in a pretty good mood, because my buddy Ethan and I got to get blown up and thrown through the air for today's shoot. Sad that we consider it fun, but we stunt guys are like that -- somewhat mentally deficient, I guess. We dig the dangerous ones, the ones where some actor will walk up to us after and go "man, that was nuts."

I lived for that look they had on their faces when they said that.

But that day, as with pretty much every day, there was a lot of waiting around first. A lot of prep work. The stuff we do might look death-defying in the movies, but we do enjoy, you know, living. Most of the stuff we did had been done thousands of times before in various combinations, and we knew how to do it as safely as possible. That meant checking and triple-checking all of the equipment, doing dry runs of the stunt, then going back and checking eight more times. The only thing better than pulling off an awesome, mindblowing stunt was doing it without so much as a papercut. Bonus points if we didn't even break a sweat.

Unfortunately, none of that was in the cards that day.

I remember setting up for the stunt. Ethan and I were going to be behind a car that exploded while the hero of the movie said hero-of-the-movie-type stuff. The explosion was supposed to blow us back and away -- we were both wearing rigs that would pull us on high-tension wires that someone would remove later in post-production. I remember the first A.D. calling "action," and then, for a few minutes, there's just this blank spot in my mind.

When I opened my eyes again, I was looking up at the desert sky. There was a lot of noise around me, a lot of movement. I rolled my head to the side and saw one of the actors, a little Scottish guy who wasn't exactly a big name but well on his way, sitting on the tailgate of the medic's ambulance getting his hands bandaged.

Shit, I thought. Something went wrong.

This was going to be a problem. Actors weren't supposed to get hurt -- it was on my boss, the stunt coordinator, to make sure of that. But the little Scottish guy hadn't even been in the shot. I remembered that. He was in a shot later in the day, but the last time I'd seen him, he'd been drinking coffee over at craft services.

While I was trying to figure out what happened, I decided to get up and ask some questions. Much as I tried, though, I couldn't make my legs move. I tried to look down at my feet, but my head movement seemed restricted to rolling from side to side.

"Shit. Look, Jake, I need you not to move, OK?" I heard a voice from my right. [P} I rolled my head that way and saw Bryan, one of our medics, crouched down beside me. From his face, I could tell I was messed up something bad.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Try not to talk. We're getting you to the hospital, but just stay still until then, OK?"

That's when I passed out again. I wouldn't find out until much later, but the stunt had gone terribly wrong. My rig hadn't activated when the explosion hit, and I was on fire. Then, the rig fired late and off-target, slamming me into the ground at high speed. I ended up with burns, cuts, bruises, and a concussion, but that was minor. I also ended up with a back that was broken in three places.

It was quite a while before I even got out of the hospital. Hell, it was quite a while before I was even conscious again. But the second I had my wits about me, I knew my career was going nowhere fast.

See, here's the thing. No one was going to come right out and say I wasn't going to work as a stuntman anymore. No one was even going to intimate that the accident had been in any way my fault. In fact, no one was going to say anything -- but everyone involved knew where this was headed. My injury had cost a ton in insurance. Lost time. Overtime. Bad press. I would eventually heal up all right, but the damage to my career was irreprable.

No one wanted to hire a stuntman who had cost his last production millions. Even if the producers could ignore that fact (and they couldn't), none of them would want to take the risk on a stuntman who'd had a terrible back injury. The spine is one of those things that never heals right, or so most people think. I feel fine most days, but I can definitely feel it when I do something I shouldn't. . . so I guess I agree with "most people" on that one.

Fortunately, productions carry really good insurance on stuntmen, pretty much for just such an eventuality. I was covered for my entire hospital stay, my physical therapy, my rehab time. But once that all ran out, I was down to my savings, which I'd mostly burned through in six months. I moved to a cheaper place, but the writing was on the wall by then: no studios were going to call. Find a new career, and find it now.

Which is when Ethan called me. He needed me to come bail him out of jail. Seems he'd gotten into a drunken brawl at a club on La Cienega. I pulled the rest of the cash out of my savings account, called a bail bondsman, and made my way out to the Parker Center jail. I didn't know then that the bail bondsman I'd called would turn out to be my boss, and more than that, my best friend.

The first thing I noticed about the bondsman was that he was a little guy, little and kind of pale. It was two in the morning, but he looked awake and sharp, his dark eyes barely blinking on either side of his thin nose. He smelled heavily of cigarette smoke, and had a styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand when he walked into the visiting area.

"Whoa. You're a big motherfucker, aren't you?" the bondsman said, looking up at me as he chugged from his coffee.

"Uh. . ." I started.

"You Jacob Harris?” he asked.

“Yeah. That’s me.”

“Hey. Mike Shaw, Ace Bail Bonds. Magistrate set bond for your buddy yet?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “No one’s really telling me much.”

“Hang out right here, big man.”

Mike vanished into the police station, and reemerged a couple of minutes later with a file folder.

“You’re all set, pal. Your guy Ethan’s being processed out now.”

“What do I owe you?” I asked.

“Two thousand. So what is it you do for a living, man?”

“Right now? Nothing.”

“Hm. You wanna drop the money by my office tomorrow.”

It wasn’t a question.

“I’ve got it with me now.”

“Tomorrow. Got an interesting proposition for you.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chapter One

As the first bullets slammed into the side of the 1991 Chevrolet Caprice wagon, my thoughts weren't ones of fear or concern, really. Anger would be more accurate, though not anger at the guy doing the shooting. No, that would have made too much sense.

My exact thought in that moment? *$200. Seriously. I'm getting shot at for $200. Less after taxes.*

I wanted to just get the hell out of there and leave this one for the cops, who were probably already on their way. But if the cops got this guy, I didn't get paid. And rent was due three days ago.

The bullets were tearing right through both sides of the car, not even slowing down as they passed through the passenger and driver doors. Homeboy with the AK-47 must've thought I was an idiot to be hiding there. I was making myself as small as possible behind the driver's side tire. For a guy my size, that wasn't easy, but I wanted to keep all of the metal in the engine in between me and the guy with the gun as I tried to count bullet hits. When I got to 30, I popped my head up over the hood to see if I could get a visual on the guy.

The house I'd tracked Raymond Hernandez to had a deck about two, two and a half feet off the ground, and that's where he was standing. When I looked up, he was pulling the clip out of the AK, so I knew I only had a second or two. Thankfully, I'd pulled my Sig Sauer .40 the second the gunfire started, so I took aim and fired three shots, one right after the other. Left leg below the knee, right leg above the knee, right arm above the elbow. Pretty much what I'd intended.

Hernandez dropped the AK, and I was on him fast, clearing the four steps to his deck with one jump and tackling him to the ground. I had him on his stomach and cuffed in a couple of seconds. I stood up and tucked the Sig into my behind-the-back holster, then started digging in my jacket pockets for my phone.

"I'm bleeding, man," Hernandez complained from the deck.

"Good," I said.

I finally found the thing, a new StarTAC 85. It was smaller than my old phone by a bunch, and I kept losing it in my coat pockets. Of course, my coat's kind of huge, so that could be part of the problem. I opened the flip, and two of the five little signal lights were on, just enough to make a call.

"Don't you gotta read me my rights or something, man?"

"I look like a cop to you, jackass? Now shut up. I'm on the phone."

* * *

They took Hernandez away in an ambulance, and I got tossed politely enough into the back of a cruiser. I knew I was headed for the station in Echo Park, but I didn't know how long they were going to hold me there. If my buddy Eric was working tonight, I'd be out in an hour. If not, I'd be lucky to be on the street before daylight.

"Jacob Harris. This your correct address on your license, Mr. Harris?" the patrol cop asked through the open door. I wasn't cuffed, but they had my gun, my wallet, and my credentials.

"Yeah. Business address is on the conceal-carry," I told him.

"OK. Let me tell you what happens now, Mr. Harris. Whenever there's a shooting, we have to take you down to the station and interview you."

"Don't want to interrupt you, Officer, but I've done this before. I know the drill."

The patrol cop just nodded and closed the door. He was a young guy, looked like he was just out of high school. I outweighed him by a good hundred pounds. I could see when he first approached me a few minutes before that he thought I was going to be a problem -- I'm 6'5", covered in tattoos, and wearing a motorcycle jacket in L.A. in June.

But as soon as the squad cars rolled to a stop, I tried to make it clear I wasn't a threat. I put my hands on top of my head and got down on my knees in front of my gun, which was sitting on the pavement in front of me, clip out and slide pulled back. I had my wallet and concealed-carry permit in the front pockets of my jacket, and I identified myself as soon as the cops came near me. Like I told the Officer, not the first time I've done this.

Eric wasn't working tonight. It was some new guy, transferred in from Parker Center sometime in the last week, so I got to go through all of the red tape they could throw at me. When they were satisfied I wasn't a criminal and was in fact acting within the bounds of both the law and my chosen profession, they processed me out, handed me my gun and my paperwork, and booted me out the door into the dawning daylight.

My StarTAC had a dead battery, probably because I'd forgotten to shut it off when they'd taken me in. My car wasn't too far away, just the other side of MacArthur park, so I wasn't stranded or anything. I just needed to make a phone call first, make sure Mike had my money ready to go. According to my watch, it was almost seven in the morning, and my landlord would be looking for the overdue rent in an hour.

Mike's a good guy, don't get me wrong. But he tends to be a little forgetful at times, especially those times when it's financially advantageous for him to do so. Usually it doesn't bother me too much, but I got fairly raped on taxes this year, plus the Beast needed a new transmission. I hate coming up short, and this is the first time in two years I've done it.

Mike was straight. One of the desk cops at the Echo Park station had called him when I came in, checking to see if I did indeed work for him. He'd pressed some of his contacts a little, found I'd been the one to bring Hernandez in (sloppy though the job may have been), and hit up the ATM shortly after. My cash was on the barrelhead, so to speak.

It didn't take long to walk back to the Beast, my 1970 Buick Riviera. Me and the car were born the same year, and my dad and I had put it back together from a wreck while I was in high school. It took a fair amount of work to keep the thing running, but it's worth it. The Beast looks every inch of the badass ride it is, and it makes a world-ending noise when I start it up. Eats gas like a motherfucker, but gas is cheap. Besides, I fit in the driver's seat. That's not easy in some of the crap Detroit's putting out these days.

Mike's office is Downtown, in the shadow of the Parker Center, in a cluster of Bail Bondsmen's offices and convenience stores. I'm only in the office when I'm getting paid or grabbing an assignment. My somewhat fluid work schedule would give me plenty of time to spend on my other interests, if only I had any these days.

By now it's probably pretty obvious what I do for a living. Mike and his guys post bond on anyone who needs it, and most times, those people show up for their court dates or whatever. When they don't, though, that's when I get a call. And that's when I go looking through neighborhoods where you get shot at with Chinese-made AK-47s.

As I rolled down Los Angeles Street, Mike was standing near the curb smoking a cigarette. When he heard the Beast coming, he flicked the cigarette off into the street and stepped up to the curb. I pulled over, and he stuck his head in the passenger window, handing me a small stack of $20 bills and frowning.

"Wish it was more, man. You OK?"

"No holes, no bruises. Could use a nap."

"Sorry about that one, man. Nothing in that motherfucker's file to indicate anything more than a nonviolent felon. Ain't nobody thought he'd be tooled up like the goddamn National Guard."

"It's the job, Mike. I'm fine," I said, folding the $20 bills into my jacket pocket and nodding toward the street. "I've gotta get going."

"Yeah, your landlord. You told me. Hey, drop back by after. Got another one for you. Easy one this time, I promise."

"Will it keep?"

"Couple hours. Get some rest first."

Mike extricated himself from the window, and I headed to my appointment with a very agitated landlord.

* * *

My landlord's a guy named Eammon. Nice enough guy, but don't be a couple of days late on the rent. He'll turn from friendly to ice-cold in second and a half if he doesn't think he's going to get his money on time. Fortunately, I was only $100 short before last night's adventure. I gave him an extra $50, and it seemed all was forgiven.

Had a quick bite to eat -- Hot Pockets, which are god-awful but at least they don't take long to make -- and passed out for a few hours on the couch. I set the TV to turn on at noon and forced myself to get some sleep.

At 12:30, after a shower and a change of clothes, I was back on the road headed for downtown. I really didn't want to take another assignment so soon, but the $50 I had left to my name wasn't going to do a hell of a lot for me. Savings accounts. . . well, those were a thing of the past.

Might surprise you to learn this, but I wasn't always living this way. I had a career before this, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. But things happen, things you can't control or change no matter how much you want to. One bad break -- in my case, literally -- can flush your entire plan and send it swirling.

Everybody's got a sob story, though. I guess I'm no different, and mine is no worse than anyone else's. I can't complain too much -- I've got a roof over my head, I eat regularly, I've got a car and cable and all that stuff. I could be doing a lot worse, and the several homeless people I drive by on the way downtown remind me of that. And I'm not getting shot at every night, so I've got that going for me.

Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it. And while I was waiting for Mike to finish up with a client when I got to the office, I couldn't help but think of the day that brought it all to an end.