The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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I Get Around

Lloyd knew the coroner’s would be a zoo, but he drove by anyway. He was hungry to talk with Roy Narawamu, to see if he could pull any reason for these killings from the gore. A crowd of reporters and other trash overfilled the sidewalk in front of the building’s alcove and spilled into the street: TV news crews lugging their bulky shit, anchormen looking like so much dead weight at the ends of their microphone cables; newspaper reporters, about the only profession to still wear hats, outside of cops and milkmen; and goobers drawn by the news, detoured from their Sunday outings to Olvera Street or Griffith Park.

One of the newspaper photographers snapped Lloyd’s picture as he drove by, because the guy recognized him or because he was bored, he couldn’t tell. Man drives car. Stop the presses.

He’d only known Abraham for two shoeshines. Anyone in a job like that was only showing what he wanted the customer to see of himself, but Lloyd had liked what he’d seen. He was angry that some sociopath could so cavalierly reduce a vibrant life to dog food. Whoever was doing these killings was a lingerer. He’d had his victims somewhere secure, where he could take his time trifling with them. From what he’d seen of the previous victim, the perpetrator had spent hours flaying him, even after he was long dead. Had the killer’s mind gone on singing his victims’ muffled screams while he cut into their cold flesh?

Lloyd had rarely unholstered his gun when he was in uniform, and never hit anything he shot at. But he would plug this killer dead if he had a chance. Los Angeles Saved by Lloyd Sippie. We Were Wrong, Say His Parents at Hero’s Parade.

Lloyd Sippie flipped the bird out his passenger window in the general direction of La Puente.

He’d call Roy later, after there was time for the autopsy to be completed. Since he was canvassing the streets anyway, he was thinking he could keep an eye out for suspects, if Roy could give him anything to go on. The added purpose might help him get some traction under his wheels, which had been spinning pointlessly in his search for Artie, who Lloyd looked for as he crisscrossed the downtown streets in the blazing heat with the MG’s top up. With the light sunburn he already had, he figured he’d rather bake than broil.

He switched the radio on. When its British tubes finished their tea and warmed up, he spun the dial until he found some news. Far above Lloyd’s head, the Lunar Orbiter was flying 4,000 miles an hour over the surface of the moon, sending detailed photos to JPL, a few miles east in Pasadena. Down in Newport Beach, Marlin McKeever lost a ring finger, and his upcoming Rams season, after the finger jammed in the 4-track player in Roman Gabriel’s car during an auto accident. Lloyd wondered if humanity would win the race to put a man on the moon before our appliances killed us all.

The radio went to a commercial about chewing your little troubles away with Wrigley’s gum, then, “Jim Steck here with today’s breaking story: An apparent compulsive killer is at work downtown. This morning the second of two elderly vagrants’ mutilated bodies was found, and there is talk now that they may be linked to two or more earlier crimes, though there is no official word on that as yet. What is known is that both bodies were severely defaced and had red dice forced into their eye sockets. Police have no suspect or possible motive for the bizarre crimes.”

A string section started up, Sinatra and his “Strangers in the Night.” Did someone at the radio station have a dark sense of humor? Lloyd had been absently watching the strangers he passed on the sidewalks, looking for bushy Artie hair, but now lazily sorting the passersby into two categories: sheep and wolves. If it came down to it, who would eat who, dooby dooby do?

He drove for a couple of hours, seeing no more than what he’d seen for years, people going nowhere, doing no one any good. Lloyd wondered if ants and other creatures discarded their unneeded members like this. He drove down alleys where improvised homes of beat up sleeping bags on flattened corrugated boxes lay beside freshly minted garbage dumpsters; even our trash better protected than our fellows, not that Lloyd particularly liked his fellow man that much.

What was that poem he’d read in a Huxley paperback?

The leech’s kiss, the squid’s embrace,

The prurient ape’s defiling touch,

Do I like the human race?

No, not much.

separator

Once it had got past the Sinatra, it turned out to be a rock station on the radio, KRLA. He’d kept it there, hoping to become more conversant in whatever it was that Audrey liked about the stuff. Some of it was the same old adenoidal noise, but in every third or fourth song, he heard some life and intelligence, though it still sounded pretty juvenile compared to what he heard on the Lighthouse stage. The Ramsey Lewis Trio was about as rock and roll as he needed.

A semi-hysterical DJ kept reminding listeners that the Beatles concert at Dodger Stadium was only a week away. The news cycled through a few more times, but the only mention of the murders was a tape of the same segment Lloyd had heard. It rankled him each time to hear Abraham referred to as a “vagrant.” The man had probably been slapping a rag for 70 years, and that was his eulogy.

It was near 2 pm when he stopped at a phone booth and called the coroner’s office. It must have been 90 degrees, and the phone receiver was so hot he had to wrap his shirttail around it to hold it. It took six tries to get more than a busy signal. He asked for Roy, and it was another nine blazing minutes before he came to the phone.

Lloyd asked if he could posit anything about the killer. Roy sounded like he could barely bottle his emotions as he answered.

“Sippie, I can’t even tell you if the perp is left-handed or right-handed. It isn’t that I won’t. I can’t. This guy’s gone to town so hard on these people it’s like figuring which hand turned a meat grinder. On this one today, he’d even filed the bottom teeth down to the nerves, then filled them with a soldering gun.

“You want to know who to look for? Look for the sickest goddamn bastard you’ve ever seen. For someone to be this whacked and still calm enough to carry it out so thoroughly, he must have a brain that’s going 100 miles a minute. Look for a schemer. Look for someone who’s sharp enough to probably have the jump on you.”

“Are you OK? You sound like you just stepped out of a plane wreck.”

“I am not OK. I feel dirty just belonging to the same species as this guy. I gotta go. You have no idea what it’s like here today.”

The line went dead. Lloyd bought a Dr. Pepper and some beef jerky at the grocery next to the booth. At the MG, he nearly singed his hand on the door handle opening it. He pulled into the traffic lane, headed down another nowhere street. He’d stopped keeping track of the street names, but was generally working his way back toward the field with the tents in it he’d seen from the bus.

He’d forgotten the radio was on until it warmed up, just in time to hear a nasal-toned Beach Boy sing, “I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip.” You and me both, buddy, he thought; that’s my life more than any Sinatra song’s ever been.

Another 40 minutes of cruising the Artie-free perimeter of the downtown and Lloyd drove by the field. With its canvas Army surplus tents and lean-tos strewn amid the weeds, it could have been a safari village in the African veldt, except for the grim warehouses boxing it.

Lloyd parked around the corner, took a discreet piss against a wall that had a faded Farmer John Meats ad painted on it, and went to see if field-dwelling homeless were any less crazy than squatter homeless were.

 

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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.
jim@fourstory.org

Comments

Good stuff:
He switched the radio on. When its British tubes finished their tea and warmed up, he spun the dial until he found some news. Far above Lloyd’s head, the Lunar Orbiter was flying 4,000 miles an hour over the surface of the moon, sending detailed photos to JPL, a few miles east in Pasadena. Down in Newport Beach, Marlin McKeever lost a ring finger, and his upcoming Rams season, after the finger jammed in the 4-track player in Roman Gabriel’s car during an auto accident. Lloyd wondered if humanity would win the race to put a man on the moon before our appliances killed us all.

Keep it up, and I hope Sippie finds Artie soon!

2010-08-21 by Leslie

I play the songs in the story while I’m reading (“I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip.”)

Love the Huxley poem…

2010-09-3 by Brandao Shot

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