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By Paul D. Marks
Average 4.8 STARS
P.I. Duke Rogers finds himself in a combustible situation in this racially charged thriller. His case might have to wait... The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece during the 1992 "Rodney King" riots and that's just the beginning of his problems.
While Duke tracks down the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim's brother. He must also confront his own possible latent racism - even as he's in an interracial relationship with the dead woman's sister.
We stepped outside, squinting into the sun. People were running by, in both directions. Police cars, sirens wailing, sped by. No one stopped to help a man laying in the street. Tiny looked around, surveying the situation: “The good life is just a dream a way,” he said.
He went to the cab of one of his trucks, started the engine. Motioned for me to get in as I was about to head for the man bleeding at the curb. I went to the downed man. He was Asian. Korean? A gash was leaking blood over his right eye.
“You all right?” I started to reach for him.
“Lemme ‘lone,” he said, pushing himself up off the curb. He staggered away. I started to go after him when Tiny called out.
“Let’s go, man.”
I jogged back to Tiny’s van, got in. He eased it toward the street. A rock cracked the windshield. Thrown by a boy who couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. Tiny didn’t make any attempt to chase him down. He killed the engine.
“This is shit,” he said, surveying the street up and down. “We better walk.” He looked at me. Studying my face. No emotion in his eyes. “You’re gonna stick out like a sore thumb. At least in the van you couldda ridden in back.”
“Got some shoe polish? I can go in blackface.”
But he didn’t seem to take offense. I wasn’t trying to be racist or offend, only to make light of a bad situation. The humor may have been in bad taste, but that’s how I deal with tense situations. Bad jokes.
Tiny and I closed the wrought iron gate that led to his lot, locking it with the biggest padlock I’d ever seen. The rusty chain that he triple wrapped around the two sections of fence had to be almost an inch thick.
“Hell, this won’t keep ‘em out,” he said, clasping the lock shut. Tugging on it. “Nothing will.” He spun the cylinder of his revolver, snapping it back in place. “Let’s go. No use keeping the vultures waiting.”
We started off down the street. The acrid smell of smoke blanched my nostrils. He pulled out a green kerchief and held it over his nose. Not red or blue. No identifying with Bloods or Crips. A neutral green. But hell, that was probably somebody’s colors. Somebody’s signal to go to war too. I coughed. Tiny ripped his kerchief in half, handing me a ragged end. I flashed him the OK sign. I wanted to say thanks, couldn’t talk. The green cloth made a fair smoke screen. But hey, fireman, how ‘bout one of those oxygen bottles you’ve got on your back? That’s something I’d be tempted to loot for.
Running, jostling bodies sprinted up and down the street, loaded with booty. VCRs. TVs. Even mattresses. It was as if there was a giant sign hanging over L.A., being pulled along by the Goodyear blimp, that said: “Free Shopping Day.”
A police car pulled up in front of a stereo store. The window had been bashed in, the door pulled from its hinges. People were running in and out, taking anything they could carry. Going back for seconds. Thirds. The cops jumped out of their car, pounding batons on a low wall. People zipped off. The cops headed back for their car. Three young men came out, loaded for bear. They started chanting: “Rodney King. Rodney King. Rodney King.” It lasted about five seconds. They laughed self-consciously. Gave up the chant. Ran off with their loot. The cops didn’t give chase.
“This isn’t about race anymore,” Tiny said. “Got nothing to do with Rodney King.”
A mob of kids ran toward us. We ducked into the doorway of a book store. No looting there. It didn’t seem to interest them as they kept running. If I had been at home, I’d probably be shouting at the TV for the police to “shoot the looters,” like Jack was, no doubt, doing now. But down there on the streets, it was different. They were just people. Maybe doing things they shouldn’t. But still people. Still Americans. At least most of them. There were, we learned later, a lot of illegal aliens taking part in the Big Party.
And it was a party. Giddiness run rampant. These people acted as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Most of them grabbed stereos. The brand didn’t matter. They’d keep the ones they liked best. Sell the rest. Some of their situations were a little sadder, though the people were just as giddy. They were taking cartons of Frosted Flakes, diapers and Tide. Whole families participating together. Real family values.
Tiny and I bolted from the doorway, ran down the street, ducking for cover by low walls, doorways, shrubs all along the way. We weren’t out to party. We were on a mission. He was taking me to Warren, to Teddie’s family. I didn’t know why, but I was curious about it. Warren obviously wanted nothing to do with me. Yet here was Tiny taking me to him. What was this all about? Was it a setup? Were they going to beat some confession out of me when we hooked up with Warren? Was I being paranoid? Were my own prejudices coloring my thoughts? Was I scared shitless to be one of the few white faces down there when the fires of hell were breaking out all over? I didn’t know. I didn’t care. I just wanted to find Teddie’s family.
Maybe I should have gone home. Watched the whole conflagration on the tube with a gun in one hand, a beer in the other. Hell, we could’ve had a party. Like a Super Bowl party, only this would have been a Hellfire party. Everything’s burning. Get out the violins and fiddle while the city turns to dust.
A group of men came out of a trashed beauty shop with armloads of blow dryers. What were they gonna do with all those?
We came to Florence and Normandie. Half a block away the cops were regrouping. Or retreating. Or hiding out. It was hard to tell. There was a swarm of them, but they weren’t doing much of anything. People were looting, throwing rocks, bottles and the like right under their noses. As we left the intersection, I glanced back. A large semi was pulling into the intersection. We continued away from the intersection. Later I learned that this was where Reginald Denny, the driver of the semi, was pulled from the truck. Beaten within an inch of his life. We were gone before it happened. But I still have pangs of guilt for having been so close and having done so little. Now I know how lucky we were.
In a sense it was a quid pro quo situation. Tiny’s black face was my passport among his people. My white face was his insurance that the cops might just leave him alone – if they knew he was with me. That might have been why he wanted to help me out. Protection. But it wasn’t an uneasy truce. I felt comfortable with him. Like we’d known each other all our lives. Maybe we had. The last thirty minutes had been a lifetime.
We crouched behind a low wall at a service station, surveying the situation. He watched two sides. I watched the other two, covering each other’s backs. We were both armed; neither of us wanted to use our guns.
Noise barked from every direction. Sirens. Shouts. Choppers hovering. Shots. Too many shots. It all blended into a cacophony of confusion. The din was ear shattering and lifeless, inert, all at the same time.
“Why’re you helping me?” I asked Tiny as we scoped the street out. He never answered my question, though I asked several more times.
There was an explosion in the distance, then the shock wave. A new column of black smoke appeared every few minutes. Slow-motion funnel clouds.
“Man, don’t they know they’re tearing down their own goddamn neighborhoods,” he said, scanning the horizon. “Where’re they gonna get food and clothes when all this burns to the ground?”
We were on the move again...
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