Illustration by Rob Clayton
WAYNE PICKED THE LOCK.
He worked two picks. He tweaked the bolt. He jiggled hard right. Deadbeat patrol/room 6/Desert Dawn Motel.
Sonny said, “Motherfucker’s got two last names. Sirhan Sirhan.”
The door popped. They stepped inside. Wayne toed the door shut. Check the four-wall dump-site.
Soiled bed. No rugs. Horse-race posters/jockey silks/racing forms stacked.
Sonny said, “Motherfucker’s a track nut.”
The room smelled. Scents mingled. Spilled vodka and stale chink. Stale cheese spread and cigarettes.
Wayne checked the dresser. Wayne pulled drawers. Wayne sifted junk. Acne swabs/booze empties/cigarette butts.
Sonny said, “Motherfucker’s a pack rat.”
Wayne pulled drawers. Wayne perused. Wayne sifted junk. Racing forms and tip logs. Scratch sheets and hate tracts.
Cheap-paper tracts. Non–Wayne Senior stock. Text and cartoons — anti-Jew stuff.
Dollar-sign skullcaps. Bloody prayer shawls. Fangs dripping pus. “The Zionist Pig Order”/“The Vampire Jew”/“The Jewish Cancer Machine.” Jews with claw hands. Jews with pig feet. Jews with scimitar dicks.
Wayne skimmed text. Said text waxed repetitious. The Jews fucked the Arabs. The Arabs vowed payback.
Sonny said, “Motherfucker don’t like the Hebes.” 100
The text rambled. Typos reigned. Longhand margin notes crawled. “Kill Kill Kill!”/“Death to Israel!”/“Zionist Pig-Suckers Must Die!”
Sonny said, “Motherfucker’s got a grievance.”
Wayne dropped the tracts. Wayne shut the drawers. Wayne kicked a chair back.
“We’ll give him two hours. He owes Pete a grand and change.”
Sonny chewed a toothpick. “Barb split on Pete. Frankly, I seen it coming.”
“Maybe I got to her.”
“Maybe Pete’s evil ways did. Maybe she said, ‘Quit selling hair-o-wine to Sonny’s fellow niggers or I’ll leave your white ass, you honky motherfucker.’”
Wayne laughed. “Let’s call her and ask.”
“You call. You the motherfucker who’s in love with her and too motherfucking scared to say boo.”
Wayne laughed. Wayne chewed his nails. Wayne tore a nail back.
The Pete thing hurt. Pete bruised his balls. Pete trimmed his balls back. He was wrong. Pete was right. He knew it.
He called Wayne Senior. They talked. Wayne Senior pledged Work. “Good work”/“in time”/“soon.” He might take it. He might not. He owed Pete rotations: Saigon/Mississippi/the funnel.
Sonny said, “Let’s go to L.A. We’ll find Wendell Durfee and shoot his black ass.”
Wayne laughed. Wayne chewed his nails. Wayne tore hangnails back.
Sonny said, “Let’s kill some street nigger and say it’s Wendell. It’ll put the fucking quietus on all that shit you carrying around.”
Wayne smiled. The door jiggled — whazzat?
The door stuck. The door popped. A doofus walked in. A young guy/all swarthy/thick rat’s-nest hair.
He saw them. He trembled. He crap-your-pants cringed.
Sonny said, “Ahab the A-rab. Where’s your camel, motherfucker?”
Wayne shut the door. “You owe the Golden Cavern eleven-sixty. Fork up or Brother Liston will hurt you.”
The doofus cringed. Don’t hurt me. His shirttail hiked up. Wayne saw a belt piece. Wayne snatched it fast. Wayne dumped the clip.
Sonny said, “How come you got two last names?”
Sirhan gestured. His hands moved mile-a-minute. He made geek semaphore.
“Forgive me. . . I take falls . . . race horses . . . many headaches. . . I forget I lose money if I don’t take medicine.” Sonny said, “I don’t like you. You starting to look like Cassius Clay.”
Sirhan spieled some Arab shit. Sirhan spieled singsong. Sonny threw a left. Sonny hit the wall. Sonny tore plaster.
Wayne twirled the gun. “Brother Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson and Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams.”
Sonny threw a right. Sonny hit the wall. Sonny tore plaster. Sirhan moaned. Sirhan exhorted Allah. Sirhan dumped his pockets fast.
Booty: ChapStick/pen/car keys. C-notes/fives/dimes.
Wayne grabbed the money. Sonny said, “What you got against the kikes?”
Wayne hit the Cavern. Wayne unlocked his room. Wayne saw a letter on the dresser.
He opened the envelope. He smelled Barb straight off.
I’m sorry for that night & I hope it didn’t cause any trouble between you & Pete. I told him you were justified, but he didn’t get it. I should have told him that I tried to stab you, which might have told him how far down I’d sunk & how much sense you made.
I’m a coward for not writing directly to Pete, but I’m going to invite him to Sparta for Christmas, to see if we can work things out. I hate his business & I hate his war & I’d be an even bigger coward if I didn’t say so.
I miss Pete, I miss the cat & I miss you. I’m working at my sister’s Bob’s Big Boy & avoiding the bad habits I picked up in Vegas. I’m starting to wonder what a 35-year-old ex-shakedown girl-lounge bunny does with the rest of her life.
Wayne reread the letter. Wayne caught subscents. There’s the Ponds and lavender soap. He kissed the letter. He locked up his room. He walked to the lounge.
He’s drinking. He’s smoking. The cat’s on his lap. He’s watching the Bondsmen — Barb’s combo sans Barb.
Wayne shagged a waiter. Wayne passed him the letter. Wayne tipped him five bucks. Wayne pointed to Pete. The guy understood.
The guy walked over. The guy dropped the letter. Pete tore at the envelope.
He read the letter. He wiped his eyes. The cat clawed his shirt.
Reprinted from The Cold Six Thousand
©2001 James Ellroy, published by Alfred A. Knopf Inc.