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.

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