In an exclusive new book excerpt, a dickhead film director goes on a ride-along and gets a painful surprise. 3,248 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
“Hotter ’n Hades,” moaned the boy wonder from the backseat of the black-and-white. “Seriously. My skin’s gonna crack. Any air conditioning in this bitch?”
Lucky Dey flicked an eye to his rearview mirror.
“Tell our guest why sheriffs roll with windows down,” suggested Lucky to his trainee in the Compton Branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department.
“It’s because L.A. Sheriffs use their ears,” replied Deputy Shia Saint George. “All year round it’s windows down. That way we hear what’s happening outside the vehicle like whistles or shouts for assistance. Or triangulation of gunfire—”
“Right, right,” complied Atom Blum, the Roadkill film director on tonight’s ride-along. “Must be hell on your skin and hair though.”
“My second night, sir,” replied Shia, keeping her eyes forward and scanning the ghostly corners and storefronts. “Time will tell.”
“Complexion like yours,” said Atom. “I mean, it’s fucking beautiful. Like camera-ready—art-school beautiful. And I would know because I’ve directed hours of cosmetics spots.”
“Spots?” asked Shia.
“TV commercials,” said Atom. “When I’m not making a movie, I shoot ads for television. Easy money if you’re A-list.”
“Wouldn’t know about that, sir,” said Shia.
“Hey,” said Atom. “Ever heard of an actress named Lupita Nyong’o?”
“No, sir,” fibbed Shia. She didn’t want to appear too interested in anything as shallow as showbiz — at least not in front of Lucky. Shia had obviously both heard of and been compared to the Twelve Years A Slave actress, especially after the mixed Kenyan-Mexican performer had collected an Academy Award. Their rich complexions and bone structures were striking in similarity. Once while standing in line for a nightclub, Shia had even been mistaken for the actress and escorted past the velvet rope by a bouncer. She hadn’t protested.
“You are every bit as spectacular as Lupita,” impressed Atom. “Especially now that I’ve been this close to both of you. I’d say your uniform thing gives you the edge.”
“Didn’t know I was in a competition,” fended Shia, flat and trying to sound unflattered.
“Come on,” laughed Atom. “All women are in a competition whether they admit it or not. Ain’t that right Sergeant Lucky?”
“Sir?” asked Lucky, pretending not to have been listening. He’d already reached what he sometimes called his douchebag threshold. If there were a switch he could have flipped to shut the visitor’s mouth to the off position, Lucky would have thrown it.
“All women,” confirmed Atom. “And call me sexist, but in one way or the other they’re in competition with all other women. And I’m talking the planet earth.”
From his left, Lucky marked a beige mid-nineties Lincoln Town Car slow-rolling through a stop sign before turning right onto East Compton Boulevard. He clicked the flashlight between his legs and, in an instant, crunched the math. Three men in the front, four deep in the backseat. Teens to early twenties. A fresh square of gauze poked out from under the driver’s white wife beater—the telling signature of a new tattoo.
But more importantly — as Lucky would calculate — not a single head inside the Lincoln so much as twitched when his black-and-white rolled past. The lack of interest informed Lucky that inside that car he’d likely find something arrest-worthy.
Like a gun.
Lucky spun the steering wheel and U-turned the radio unit into an immediate one-eighty.
“See ’em?” asked Lucky to his trainee.
“Counted six or seven,” said Shia. “Rolled the stop sign.”
“Kind of a chicken shit infraction, dontcha think?” suggested Lucky.
“Four in the back, there’s at least one riding without a seatbelt,” she countered. “So that’s two. I’ll run tags.”
The beams of the black-and-white’s headlights converged as Lucky closed the gap on the Lincoln. Yet before the license plate was even readable, Lucky could see the rear of the vehicle had been custom lowered.
“It’s gonna come back clean,” said Lucky. “Custom car out for a cruise.”
“You’re right,” said Shia, proving to have keen eyes and quick fingers on The Box.
Both cars slowed at the west-facing stoplight, the black-and-white slipping in a mere two feet from the Lincoln’s lowered bumper.
“You gonna light these bad boys up?” asked Atom from behind the protective screen which separated the backseat from the radio car’s occupied front.
Lucky ignored the director, keying his vision on the near-finished cigarette pinched between the middle and index fingers of the Lincoln driver’s left hand.
One. Last. Puff.
Sure enough — and as if on telekinetic command — the outstretched arm crooked at the elbow and the trail of smoke disappeared back into the car as the driver took a final drag. When the hand returned, the cigarette had been relegated to a flick position, momentarily perched on the driver’s cuticle.
Ready. For. Launch.
The light turned green. Simultaneously with the turning of the Lincoln’s front wheels, the cigarette’s remains were unconsciously discarded, catapulted end-over-sparking-end into the Compton air.
“Littering,” spoke Lucky in a throaty whisper. “Now there’s an infraction I can get behind.”
Atom pressed himself up against the right side of the screen, hoping to get close to Shia’s ear.
“What do you think we got in the car?” asked the boy wonder.
“You’re here to observe, sir,” reminded Shia. “Sit back and we’ll see what comes.”
Lucky engaged the button cuing the light array, spinning up the cherry and hot blue mirrored bulbs into an unmistakable frenzy. And certainly it was zero surprise to the seven male occupants of the Lincoln. Nary a silhouette in the backseat so much as swiveled. The driver acknowledged the sheriff with an empty-handed wave and glided the custom car nearly a quarter mile before indicating he was looking for a place to pull to the curb.
“Stay in the car, sir,” ordered Lucky without even a glance back at the director.
Atom pressed his face against the screen in hopes of getting his least obstructed view. To him, the traffic stop routine appeared orderly. Safe. Hardly how he’d imagine filming the scene.
While Shia was poised near the sidewalk, left foot forward and clearly prepared to face down any unwarranted conflict, Lucky allowed every young black male to exhume himself from the Lincoln one at a time. Each was instructed to spread his legs shoulder width while Lucky patted him down for weapons then freely dug into his pockets, temporarily depositing all contents onto the Lincoln’s hood. When he was satisfied, Lucky directed each to the curb to sit on his hands.
Wow, thought Atom. The compliance of it all. As if they were following some scripted routine.
“Boorrrring,” he whistled to himself.
No. Were Atom to have captured the traffic stop on precious film, he would’ve built up the scene’s tension by having deputies sweat the suspected gangbangers while remaining seated in the black-and-white. Next, he’d set his camera low and on a forward-moving dolly track. A medium wide-angle lens would best capture Shia stepping onto the curb, hand on the grip of her pistol, and unconsciously sashaying that dynamic ass in the direction of the suspects’ vehicle. So sexy, Atom thought, the way the gun belt and all the equipment hugged the top of the woman’s hips, both rocking and squeaking with every purposed step.
“Don’t be afraid to sex shit up a little,” demanded Atom to nobody whatsoever.
Worried his senses were dulling, the boy wonder released his brain to obsess over the beautiful young deputy. He loved dressing women. And suddenly he ached to be dressing Shia. From silky, bejeweled underthings to her Kevlar vest, Atom imagined Shia waking. Showering. Buttoning herself down for the day. Only the way Atom imagined it, she’d be climbing into clothes sewn by his favorite costumer. Tighter in the thighs and buttocks. Tapered at the waist. Slight padding in the bust to offset the obvious constraints of the body armor.
Oh, and please, some red flippin’ lipstick.
The arrest procedure involving the seven gun-toting Bloods should have been a pro forma process. Drop the three black-and-white loads of Cedar Block Pirus at the Compton Station where they’d be detained until formal charges and arraignments, then return to patrol and write up all reports at the end of shift. But the back-up at the booking desk was beginning to look like the line at the DMV.
Lucky suggested they make use of their wait time with a lunch break. That would have usually resulted in a vending machine sandwich had Atom Blum not treated the station house with a surprise order of pizza. The delivery driver from Pizza Wing unexpectedly entered through the front door of the Compton station hauling three vinyl hot-boxes holding a dozen extra-large assorted pies, enough for the walk-ins stuck in the lobby to each sample a slice.
Lucky rolled an empty office chair from the dispatch room onto the sidewalk that separated the back of the station house from the motor yard. He propped his boots on the bumper of a black-and-white, rested his head on a knob of concrete coping, and hoped to coax his body into a nap. His low back pain was manageable, but hardly vanquished. A fistful of Advil would probably last him through the rest of the shift, but that would require him to fill his stomach with something starchy — like the free pizza — which would surely lead to an uncomfortable shift in his ballast.
Lucky’s plan to lower his eyelids was spoiled when he glimpsed Atom talking up his trainee. The boy wonder seemed to have Shia trapped in a cinder-block corner near the outdoor barbecue pit and tiki bar named after a fallen deputy. The only prop that separated Shia from the towering movie director was her drooping paper plate and the pizza she carefully picked at with her fingers.
He’s a hound.
So what? thought Lucky. Lots of men were. Cops especially. And surely Shia knew as much. Between time in the Academy and then working the jail, she was certain to have been dubbed the hot girl — attractive to a fault and accustomed to a dog pile of male attention.
Yet there she was — his trainee — nearly cowering under the come-on moves from their Hollywood ride-along.
Politics wise, the movie director reeked of hands-off. He was rich, famous, and connected to top Sheriff’s brass. If it weren’t for the station house backdrop and Shia in uniform, Lucky would have sussed the duo’s pick-up bar posture as another horny guy hitting on another uncomfortable girl. Was he correctly reading the trainee’s body language? Or was the moviemaker so persistent that he figured it was only a matter of time before he turned her non-verbal rejection into a consensual roll in the hay?
Then Shia flicked a glance in Lucky’s direction.
Was it a check-in with her T.O. or a call for help? Lucky attempted a reread on the situation. Shia was a big girl. If she felt harassed there were both official and unofficial remedies, the latter being something as simple as a knee to the groin or a reminder that she was a trained bundle of badass. Then again, maybe she’d assumed the politics were such that rebuffing come-ons by the clearly connected ride-along might come with early and unwelcome career consequences.
Again, Shia flicked her soft brownies.
Please save me from this asshole.
Shia splashed water on her face and, for a minute or so, appreciated the cooling quiet of the ladies washroom. A lingering low-rent perfume left an annoying sting in her nostrils. One of the dispatchers, she figured, recalling a squat woman named Sunny with a mop of black curly hair and a pronounced curve to her back.
One bugger of a deformity.
Wear as much of that stinky scent as you want.
Shia made a mental note to schmooze the mostly female civilian staff just so they’d view the new trainee as a deputy who didn’t see herself as a cut above.
She dried her hands, swung the door open, and was surprised by the voice behind her.
“You alright?” asked Lucky. He was leaning on the wall, arms crossed.
“Fine,” replied Shia. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Checking in. That’s all.”
“You mean Mr. Impressed With Himself?” Shia asked. “Not a problem.”
“No complaints? Formal or otherwise?”
“He’s just one of those guys. Gets slapped a lot. But probably gets laid a lot because he’s not afraid to get slapped.”
“Not like he’s droppin’ roofies in my coffee,” shrugged Shia, referring to the date rape drug Rohypnol. “Handled way worse than him… Asked me to model for him. By his pool. So lame.”
“Maybe he’s seen enough for the night. Kick him loose.”
“Said I’m good. Jacked for our arrest.”
“Your arrest.” Lucky offered his fist. Shia softly knuckled him.
“Let’s get some more,” she gamely offered.
Lucky swung the black-and-white into a wide right turn from East Greenleaf onto Sante Fe, the steering wheel gliding underneath his fingertips as if he were the maestro of all road-weary Ford Crown Vics. He set his sights on a closing pair of oncoming headlights, readied his tactical flashlight and snapped a quick beam at the unknown driver of a panel van. The man behind the wheel—African-American, middle-aged, and scowling from the invasiveness of Lucky’s curiosity, appeared as if it was all he could do not to return a middle finger.
“Think that guy feels just a little harassed?” joked Atom from the backseat.
It was painfully obvious Atom loathed dead air. Every peaceful moment seemed shoehorned with his shallow observations, most of which Lucky ignored.
“Seriously,” pressed Atom. “Is it harassment? You know? The flashlight thingy?”
“Legally?” replied Shia. “No.”
“But say you live here,” continued Atom. “I mean, lucky for us we don’t. But say you did. You’re black. Every time you drive by a cop car you get a face full of candlepower?”
“Might feel harassed,” argued Shia. “But how I feel and the law. That’s two different things.”
“I’d sure as shit feel harassed,” admitted Atom.
“See that guy’s face? He was hacked off.”
“After 2:00 a.m.,” infused Lucky. “You’re driving a panel van in a high crime area? Odds increase that you’re up to no good.”
“Maybe the guy was driving home from his job,” pressed Atom.
“Just a flashlight,” defended Shia. “And maybe the next car we lamp is fulla van-jacking thugs following Mr. Hacked Off to his home where his wife and babies are sleeping. See where I’m going?”
“Hear ya,” said Atom. “But, come on. Isn’t any wonder why minorities feel oppressed by the police.”
“That what your next movie is about?” asked Shia, hoping to shift the conversation.
“I’d tell ya,” joked Atom before dropping a tired punch line. “But I’d have to kill ya.”
“That might be considered a threat to a police officer,” matched Shia.
“Flirt all you want,” teased Atom. “But you won’t get it out of me before I get it into you.”
Eyes on the rearview mirror, Lucky caught the twisted grin on Atom’s face a split second before swiveling right to catch the reaction from his trainee. He expected something akin to an eye roll as she shrugged off or just endured another overtly sexual pass. Instead, Lucky saw Shia practically wince, inhale, then release air through secretly grit teeth. Shia didn’t even chance a look in her training officer’s direction. Embarrassed. As if her tolerating Atom’s overt crassness was somehow her own fault.
Lucky eased back on the accelerator until the black-and-white was rolling under twenty miles per hour. Next he quietly slung his seatbelt across himself until the tongue clicked in the receptacle. Shia picked up on the cue and followed suit, the retractor on her restraint unwinding in hushed ticks until the telltale metallic snap of the lock.
“Hey,” said Lucky to the movie director. “Got a question for ya.”
“Fire way, Sarge,” replied Atom, clueless that Lucky was not a sergeant.
“In the movies, you got something called a screen test, right?”
“Yeah,” said Atom. “For actors usually. Big screen doesn’t suit everybody. So we use screen tests to see how an actor comes across.”
“No shit,” said Lucky. “Did you know us poh-lice? We got ourselves somethin’ called a screen test.”
“Really?” asked Atom, hoping for some insider LA Sheriff’s juice. “What’s that?”
“I’d tell you,” mocked Lucky. “But I’d have to kill ya.”
Atom wasn’t quite certain whether or not Lucky was joking. Following the awkward pause, he decided to risk a laugh. Lucky and Shia relieved Atom with their own chuckles, joining in the fun.
“Naw,” said Lucky. “Just kidding. Why don’t I just show you?”
“A screen test. Sheriffs’ style.”
“You’re gonna show me a sheriffs’ screen test?”
“Only if you ask me to.”
“Fine. I’ll bite,” said Atom, getting slightly impatient. “Please show me how L.A. Sheriffs do a screen test.”
Lucky lifted his right hand and gave a come-closer gesture. Two fingers, beckoning Atom to lean closer to the mesh partition that separated the radio unit’s front and back seats. Atom shifted and leaned forward.
“Closer,” said Lucky.
“Close enough?” asked Atom, only inches from the wire.
With the sole of his boot, Lucky struck the brake. Hard. The shift in gravity sent the boy wonder’s face slapping against the acrylic partition. The sound was akin to that of football players colliding.
“OW, FUCK!” howled Atom, his body recoiling into the backseat, hands cupping his face.
“Screen test,” quipped Lucky.
“Not fuckin’ funny!” blasted Atom.
Shia covered her mouth, trying with all her might not to sound out her pleasure.
“Now, that’s harassment,” said Lucky. “But only if you’re a suspect. Good thing you’re not a suspect. Cuz it mighta been a lot harder.”
“Fuckin’ A, I’m not a suspect!”
“No. You’re a ride-along. And you asked for a demonstration.”
“You’re an asshole!”
Atom glimpsed Shia’s shoulders, bubbling up and down as she continued to stuff any sounds of her laughter.
“Oh, yeah?” bitched Atom. “It’s funny to you?”
“Only laughing because all trainees get screen tested,” fibbed Lucky.
“She got…” pointed Atom. “He did this to you?”
“All trainees,” repeated Lucky.
“Screen Test Society,” recovered Shia, getting a grip on her amusement. “S.T.S.”
“Consider yourself initiated,” nodded Lucky.
“Think my nose is broke,” Atom moaned.
“Pay attention,” chirped Lucky. “You have now been instated in a secret society of sheriffs. You tell anybody else about this, we’ll just state the facts. That you requested a screen test.”
“Didn’t ask for my nose to get broke!”
“Looks manly on you,” teased Shia. “Like you just scrapped your way out of a cage fight.”
“Screen Test Society,” waned Atom.
“Secret society,” reminded Lucky.
And there it was again. An unsettled pause. The boy wonder shifted his perspective from Lucky to Shia then back again. Were they messing with him? Or were they truly welcoming him into a clandestine club of cops?
Atom pushed out a defensive chuckle, not wanting to give away how much his face hurt or that he wanted to cry. He could taste the old bitterness at the back of his tongue. All the childhood slights he harbored were queued to rush in—reminders of why he chose to make movies and live such an over-the-top, over-compensating lifestyle. The director didn’t require a paid psychologist to dissect his motives nor was he ever one to apologize for anything to anybody. In Atom Blum’s playbook, saying I’m sorry was for pussies, peons, and as soon as he had his way, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Lucky Dey.