Hip Cities and Lost Souls
Lance heard the party two blocks away, like voices echoing in a canyon: Jimi Hendrix's guitar licks emphasizing the silence of the other buildings. When he turned the corner, he saw the apartment windows flickering ominously with the sharp blue fire of strobe lights-- an open advertisement for a police raid.
And it got worse. People stood around at the end of the drive laughing, and others sat smoking pot on the steps up. Even the balcony held an over-flow of stoned people, many of them strangers, too young to be part of the set he and Sarah had known before leaving.
"What the fuck are you people doing out here?" Lance asked those in the drive. They looked at him with that indignant social air that had become all too common in Hollywood-- the outsider-insider head-trip that annoyed Lance to no end. As if the love & peace generation had become country club to which one had to be invited.
Acid's the door, man, the freaks once told him. You don't take it, you don't see like we do.
But his face convinced them to move back towards the stairs, and he herded them up, the crowd there joining them in the climb, glaring back at Lance, saying without words he was bringing them down.
A bummer, man, the old crowd had told him. You're just one big bummer.
His uncle would have called him practical. Practical in not wanting attention drawn to himself or his private little drug trips when he took them. Practical in refusing to let some stone asshole create that attention for him.
"Up," he said. "And into the house. I don't want you people out here."
He cast a glance back towards his landlady's apartment. For some reason it was dark, indicating she had gone out for the evening. A bit of precious luck that he wouldn't waste.
"Up," he ordered and the freaks climbed, reluctantly to the landing above, and slowly re-entered the apartment.
Once inside, Lance saw the reason for the over-flow. Wall to wall people. There was hardly space in the front room to stand-- though some lucky people near the walls had carved out little love-nests, their naked forms squirming like pink worms in the strobing lights.
At the far end of the room, near the mouth of the kitchen, another space had been cleared for dancing-- a stereo with two huge black-faced speakers blared out varying types of trip music. Hendrix had been replaced by the less-talents droning of Vanilla Fudge.
The dancing amounted to little more than people swaying in place. Even had there been more room, they would have still swayed, led on by a huge, blond-haired man Lance recognized from the old days, the arms outstretched with palms exposed.
"Can you feel it, children?" the huge man said. "Can you feel the vibes now moving through you? The fabric of reality calling to you, begging you to come down to it?"
"We feel it, Dale," some of the swaying trippers said, looking about as conscious as the stumbling drunks on Sunset Boulevard. "We feel it."
Lance felt sick and searched though the faces till he found the one he wanted and shoved his way through the human forest, grabbing Dan by the collar and dragging him to the wall.
"What the fuck is going on here?" he hissed into the face. "Are you trying to get us busted or what?"
The stoned Dan grinned at Lance, long brown cigarette dangling from his lip Bogart-style. But his eyes lacked the flat, nearly dead look of a tripper.
"We're safe, pal-- there might be cops outside watching, but they won't do anything."
"What?" Lance growled and glanced towards the balcony where more people gathered, imagining the army of blue uniforms spilling over the railing. "If they're watching..."
"Relax, pal," Dan said, patting his shoulder. "They're just out there to see who all's coming to this shindig."
One didn't play games like this with the police, taunting them as if they wouldn't react. Lance knew better. He'd seen the fire deep in Demetre's eyes, the embers of some deep fury that would not stay dormant forever.
Lance wanted to shake the smugness out of Dan's eyes and make him understand the fragile of balance of power upon which their freedom rested, this formidable idea that there were bigger fish than them to catch.
Lance felt the ill wind coming with its impending violence. Like the crisp jungle air just before a fire fight in Nam, each detail slipping into place.
"What about my landlady?" Lance asked. "I saw her lights out. Has she heard any of this?"
"Not likely. I saw her leaving before the party started."
Thank God for small favors, Lance thought. But who knew when the woman would return. He eyed Dan darkly. "I want the volume of this insanity turned down," he said. "And the people restricted to inside the apartment. That includes those on the balcony."
Dan's face twisted with disapproval. The noise level seemed to be part of his plan, a mating call to attract Bobo hither.
"I mean it, Dan," Lance warned. "It's my rules or the party's over."
"All right, all right," Dan said, shoving Lance away with annoyance. "Yo!" he shouted towards the balcony, beginning his own cattle drive, bringing the herd inside before closing and locking the door. He moved through the crowd to the stereo and jerked the volume down.
"Hey!" the huge Dale roared. "We're missing the best part. Turn it up. Turn it up!"
This last became a chant taken up by the swaying forest of people, their faces twisting into something ugly now that their illusion had been shattered. The volume of their voices drowned out the music.
"Shut up!" Lance shouted, drawing attention to himself. The chant stopped. Dan turned the volume on the stereo down another notch. "This is my apartment. Either keep down the noise or get out."
They moaned, some echoing the all-too-familiar epithet of being brought down. Here we go again with him, they muttered. Should have known he'd be a bummer.
But they quieted-- slowly reabsorbed into their trip, beginning the slow sway to the tunes as Dale brought his arms up telling them to stay calm.
"The door's still there, people," the large man said. "Just close your eyes. You'll feel it. Don't let this bring you down."
But Dale's dark eyes seared across the room at Lance. Hatred and rage spilling out of him as he mouth spouted slogans of love. Lance turned away and hooked Dan's arm, dragging him to a free space near the door.
"How long does this have to go on for?" he asked.
Dan looked deflated and shrugged. "A couple of hours, I guess."
Lance looked to the wall clock just visible in the kitchen. Two hours meant midnight. He glanced around the room for Sarah and found Marie instead, a stoned, pretty Marie seated in the corner half undressed, some macho, imitation-hippie manhandling her.
"All right," Lance told Dan. "But I want them out by one. You dig?" Dan dug it but didn't agree, his face going sour as Lance turned away.
Lance tapped macho-man's shoulder.
"She's taken," He said, hooking a thumb towards the door. The man wasn't stoned and glared up at Lance, hands forming fists at his side.
"Don't," Lance warned. "Just get."
"She's yours?" the man asked, sudden comprehension coming into his opportunistic eyes.
"Well why didn't she say so," the man grumbled and rose, and after a quick study of the room, staggered out.
"What did you do that for?" Marie asked, her voice cold and her eyes indicating a condition less stoned than Lance had thought.
"I'm not sure Mike would have approved," Lance said, pulling her to her feet. She staggered and giggled as her bared breasts brushed against Lance's arm. He ignored her interest and pulled up her bra. Only then did the frown appear as she realized who Lance was.
"Where is Mikie," she asked in her previously innocent voice, her gaze searching the room for sight of him.
"He didn't come back with me," Lance said. Mike had mumbled about needing to think, wandering off towards the Boulevard. "Just come on."
He took her hand; she resisted, showing a bit of interest in another lurking male across the room. Lance pulled her towards the beaded curtain and through it into the hall. Bodies had filled this space, too, littering it with acts a degree or two more serious than those in the main room. Dan's room was an outright orgy-- one body piled on top of another in a confusion of limbs. The bathroom had a waiting line. The smell of burning dope rising out of it like something from Dante's hell-- one man sat on the closed toilet lid, pulling the rubber arm tie tight, while prodding at open sores with a needle, looking for a useable vein.
Lance paused transfixed, wondering if he should be the ultimate drag and put a stop to it. Where had the heroin come from anyway? Had it been part of the Denver package? Did American drug companies manufacture that, too? Or were these just needle freaks, shooting anything they could melt down in a spoon, using sugar and water when there wasn't any kind of pill.
He'd known junkies before, both here and back east, but had never watched the process. It was worse than simply being odd-man-out in a general high. He retched, his empty stomach sending searing acid up into his throat.
"Come on," he grunted and yanked the curious Marie from the door, barging into the master bedroom where and even larger and more obscene orgy was underway, bodies sprawled on and odd the bed. In the middle of it, back against the headboard, a naked and stoned Sarah moaned, some strange man's face in her crotch.
Lance staggered back, tripping over his own feet as he tried to retreat, tried to close his eyes. But it was the same scene all over again. The parties. The drugs. And this! He should have screamed, but his mouth didn't seem to work, except to utter a hoarse whisper to Marie. "Come..."
"Where?" she asked, her own gaze studying the pile of squirming flesh as if trying to find a place for herself.
"Just come," he said and dragged back down the hall and through the beaded curtain. The music's volume had risen again with the blond-headed Dale screaming at his followers to "Feel it!"
Lance plunged through the dancers and snapped off the music.
"Out!" he said to the stunned faces.
"Hey, pal," Dan moaned, untangling himself from the arms of a near-naked brunette. "You said one."
"I changed my mind," Lance snapped.
Big Dale and his followers looked enraged enough to riot, but looked towards Dan as to blame him.
"What kind of stunt is this?" he roared. "You call a party and then send in this fascist!"
"It's his place," Dan said sourly.
"But that's not partying!" Dale said. "If we're here to party than let's party. No rules. No paranoia. No bring downs."
Others beyond the influence of the big man nodded from their love-making and private trips in the corners, glaring at Lance across the room.
Uncool, man, their gazes said. You don't belong here with us.
And he didn't. And didn't want to. Finally with angry twist he put the music back on and barged through them towards the door, dragging a limp Marie behind him.
Dan met him half way, his face a mixture of rage and embarrassment. "Look, pal, I don't mean for it to come down like this..."
"Fine!" Lance snapped. "You just make sure it's over by one. You got me?"
"Sure, pal," Dan assured him. "But where are you going now?"
"I don't know," Lance said, looking at Marie, who stared back with the same stoned rage as the others, trying to twist her hand out of his. "Maybe I can find Mike. I shouldn't have left him with the mood he's in."
He glanced towards the beaded curtain and stiffened.
"By one," he mumbled and pushed Marie out, letting the door slam hard behind him.
A click of keys or loose change gave the figure away, stiffening Mike as he walked. He glanced back and saw someone slipping in and out of islands of shadow on the park side of the street. The half moon face illuminated briefly by a light over the triangle.
He stopped. Los Feliz rose in an arch up from Hollywood Boulevard, skirting the rocky foundation of Griffiths Park. The streets of Hollywood hills rising from it, up the layers of the mountain to the stilted houses and glass walls of L.A.'s jet set. The glowing eyes of each house confused him. He hadn't intended to come this way, but had wandered up and around by accident, seeking the least used avenues in which to think-- his mind a jigsaw of illogical images: Tucson, his kid, the dope, the bust. Each event clicking off one after another. Inevitable. Irreversible. Like some sort of extended suicide.
Demetre bothered him most of all, a loose screw in a delicate machine, capable of wrecking everything. Mike didn't completely trust the man or his instincts as a cop. What would stop him from finishing what he'd started?
Perhaps Mike had intended to hide in the park, changing his mind when he thought of the muggers, perverts and bikers for which he could be mistaken. The cops patrolled the place regularly.
His fingers brushed the hard handle of the pistol in his belt. He studied his pursuer. The figure had stopped, too-- just beyond the last string of lights on the upper curve. The shape of a flat-topped Spanish-styled hat showed against those lights, like the ghost of Zorro who had pranced these hills centuries earlier.
Sloppy, he thought. Mike could have killed the figure with such a backdrop of lights. And yet the figure struck him as professional in every other way, the movement as familiar to him as a twin's, almost indian in style. But the impatience ruined everything. The anxiety obvious even from a distance.
No, too small and agile for his ilk.
But the sense of the hunt vibrated here. But which hunter? Dan's Bobo? Or maybe Buckingham himself?
Did Buckingham know already of Mike's search? Mike had meant to stop at the Free Press office on his way back from Demetre, but had forgotten.
He moved, this time quickly, his boots clacking like horseshoes on the sidewalk. He stepped into the street, then across it. No sense in trying to be cute. Vermont Avenue brought bright lights, crossing Los Feliz then winding up into the hills. He turned up, ignoring the broader street and its string of closed stores.
Plenty of places to hide down there, he thought. But he no longer wanted shelter.
The climb hurt his stiff legs. Too many days on the road. His muscles used to driving not climbing. Around him, a miniature wilderness, low trees and shrubs marking the boundaries of rich people's houses. Fancy cars snuggled into angled driveways like hibernating creatures. Some rose sharply from the road. Others descended. The lights from each house filtered through the leaves with snatches of music and laughter.
And below and beyond the houses, L.A. stretched out like a sea of glittering stars. The beauty of it awed Mike, but deeper inside, it reminded him of just how far humanity had spread its over-populated disease.
Behind him, his pursuer followed, whispering step lost in the party noises around him. Mike climbed more vigorously, twisting with the road till it came back upon itself only higher up in the mountain. Down through the trees and the breaks of houses, he could see patches of road upon which he'd just come. He could see the ghost following in its leap from shadow to shadow.
Yes, yes, keep coming, Mike thought. A little higher up and he would have the fool.
After another compete twist in the road, he saw the others. A clumsily moving mass of human flesh rising up along the lowest loop behind Mike's ghosts. A full dozen moving figures who cared nothing about noise, laughing and cursing, smashing bottles on the roadway.
Or pseudo-bikers. Mike couldn't tell from here. Plenty of both came and went from the park. They seemed like a pack of wolves following a trail. Mike's ghost noticed them, too, stopping abruptly to stare back-- so alarmed as to have paused in a pool of light, verifying Mike's earlier impression of Zorro.
The ghost seemed to draw a weapon.
Mike ran-- a deliberately loud run with boots thudding the pavement and gravel. The sound carried back down the hill in echoes. The head of the ghost jerked up and froze, seemingly unable to make up its mind as to what action to take. Then, after a moment, it resumed chasing Mike.
Farther down the loop chain, the bikers howled, picking up their own pace for a more boisterous pursuit.
"Come back!" they shouted. "We're not going to hurt you."
Mike's ghost picked up speed, abandoning its previous care, running full tilt up hill.
Mike reached the crest of the hill and an entrance to the park. It startled him. He'd forgotten how large a park Griffiths was or that there were other ways into its tangle besides the long green strip of land down near Los Feliz and Western. Two low concrete and stone columns abutted the road with a veil of trees echoing them beyond, forming a dark wall of darkness.
Images of the park came back to him. A greek theater. A bird sanctuary. A municipal nursery. The park even had its own planetarium. But all did not sit close up on each other like things did in Disneyland. From lower down, nearer Hollywood, he could have seen bits of them over the lips of the trees, a bald head of a mountain rising up out of it, its forehead marked with the famous white letters of Hollywood.
But he'd never come up into the park this way and felt disoriented. The trees seemed to close him in.
The bikers shouted. The footsteps of the ghost sounded louder, closer, drawing up in him the increased beat of his own heart. The old excitement coming again. Like it did driving the trucks of dope over the Mexican border. Like when he'd set the fuse to bomb a bank.
Beyond the entrance, the road curved with soft, angled embankments rising to either side, thick enough with tree trunks and underground to provide cover. He rushed up one side and into the shadows where he stopped and crouched, his pistol out.
The ghost appeared an instant later, stopping just as Mike had.
"Over here," Mike hissed, pushing his hand out to wave the figure forward. The ghost did not hesitate, leaping up the embankment as Mike had done. But the minute it reached cover, Mike grabbed it, pushing his pistol under the brim of the hat.
"And why exactly were you....?" He sputtered to a stop. Chris' broad face grinned up at him.
"Hello, Michael," she said softly. "Fancy meeting you here."
The urge to pull the trigger surged in him. Like a thoughtless impulse over which he had no control. But the pistol lowered as he stared at his ex-wife and her disguise.
"Why you following me?" he asked sharply.
"I wanted to see where you were going," Chris said and freed herself from his now-limp arms. "I saw you wondering around Hollywood. You looked lost. I was afraid you'd get yourself in trouble."
Mike's teeth ground together. It was her usual logic, twisting things every so subtly.
"I would have been fine if you hadn't led that pack of wolves up here," Mike growled.
A flicker of shame showed briefly in Chris' eyes as she glanced back down towards the road. The grumble and laughter echoed off the mountain side as the bikers advanced.
"They must have been lying in wait down on Los Feliz," Chris said. "But I've got a gun, Michael."
"Which is likely to attract a police patrol if you use it," Mike said.
"So? Do we run?"
"Not unless we want them tracking us all night. I've got a better idea."
He led her out of the trees and back down to the roadway, pausing at the edge where the shadow of trees formed a deeper pool of darkness.
"Take out your pistol," he said.
Chris complied. The first of the gang appeared around the curve. Shaggy figures stopping short as Chris and Mike stepped out into the light with pistols raised.
"Just hold it right there," Mike said in a tone of voice he himself had heard a thousand times. He needed no badge for them to stop. "And what exactly are you people up to?"
"You the fuzz?" one of them asked.
"What do you think?"
"Well, we didn't mean nothing," another said. "We were just going up into the park."
"The park's closed after dark. Why don't you go home?"
"Why don't you drop dead," a new voice said, coming up behind the band of shaggy wolves, a shotgun in his hand. "What's the matter, Mister Day? You don't remember me?"
Mike's stomach tightened. "Billy?"
"Good guess," Billy Night Rider said, shoving people out of his way, his blond hair shimmering silver in the dim light. "I heard you were in town. But what are you doing impersonating a cop?"
"What are your hounds doing hunting me?"
"Nobody was hunting you, Day. We were hunting..." Bill leaned closer and squinted at Chris, then laughed. "Well, I'll be! That's your Ex, isn't it? When did you two get back together."
"We haven't. We just happen to be here."
"Like Frank and Jesse happen to be brothers. Bullshit. What are you up to?"
The hard eyes peered up at Mike from the soft incline, the hunger and suspicion exactly the way Mike remembered it, waiting with jealous anticipation for his own change in the Big Time-- too mean for the Hell's Angels. Too sane for the asylum.
"Nothing, damn it! Just leave us alone!"
Billy's mean face grew meaner. "Maybe somebody hired you, eh?" he asked, shifting his feet; his gang shifting, too.
"Hired me? For what?"
"To help clear us out of town."
"To make it easy to take over."
Mike laughed. "Now who's full of shit, Billy. I don't even like this town, let alone wanting exclusive rights to it."
"Maybe you don't. But the man who hired you might."
Mike squinted, trying to study the subtler features of the man's bloated face. What was he saying? Who was he talking about?
"And just exactly who do you think hired me?"
"Do I have to name him?"
"You do if you don't want a bullet in your head," Mike growled.
The big man's hands fiddled with the shotgun while staring straight up at Mike-- the debate obvious in his eyes, timing out his own reflexes, then with a sag, he seemed to decide not to risk it.
"Bobo," he muttered.
An immense wave of relief washed through Mike and he laughed, the echo of it carrying into the hills on either side of the road. He wanted to hug the man for being so simple.
"I'm not associated with Bobo in the least," Mike assured him. "Dan's looking to scalp the man, too. Go talk to him."
"So that's what they were after," Billy mumbled.
"Then you saw them already?"
"They were around asking questions. But so have others."
"Others?" Mike said with a note of alarm. "Like who?"
Billy's broad face brightened as his eyes became devious again. "Wouldn't you like to know."
"Out with it, Billy," Mike said. "I'm in no mood for games."
"People," Billy said. "I don't know who all they were. Some in suits that might have been cops. Others who looked like freaks who might have been cops, too."
"And what kind of questions were they asking?"
This time, Billy's face went dark as he shook his head from side to side. "Bad things, man. Talk about some character named Buckingham."
The chill rose and fell inside Mike, but he kept his face unaffected. "And what did you tell them?"
"What could I tell them when I didn't know anything."
"You've never met Buckingham?"
"Hell no," Billy said, spitting again. "And I don't intend to. From what I've heard he's nothing but bad news. Killed some of my Frisco connections. Rumor has it he's on the warpath, killing everyone who gets in his way."
"Warpath? You mean he's an indian?" Mike said, truly startled for the first time.
"That's what I've heard," Billy said.
Stark images raced through Mike's head, flashing of faces he'd seen, indian activists he had known along the road, from the crowd currently occupying Alcatraz to the throng that had waylaid them on the road. But none seemed to fit the frame he had built for Buckingham in his mind.
Something snapped. A branch maybe or a loose piece of gravel farther up the road. His attention focused upon the low sound and a different chill touched him.
They'd been careless, letting their voices rise in a dangerous place. He glanced at Billy and the other man had noted the sound, too, stiffening, his finger curling around the shotgun trigger.
Now, Mike heard the movement of feet and the under-lying hum of several automobiles. The raspy whispered voice of a police radio sounded somewhere in the mixture, confirming his suspicions.
Mike grabbed Chris' arm and leaped up the embankment towards the trees. Billy motioned stiffly for his boys to move. But the searing search light from up the road caught him full in its circle.
"Don't move," the voice behind the light said.
The biker's shotgun boomed.
Out went the light.
"Get!" he screamed as more lights rose and gunfire from the bikers took these out as well.
Mike sagged against a tree trunk, breathless, the panorama of fighting before him like a illusion. He made out two police cars, one up the road, the other down behind the gang. He could only guess the number of cops, there weren't many. At least one had gone down with Billy's initial blast. The other bikers had silenced those below, leaving only the intermittent flashes of gunfire from under upside car.
"Let's hope he doesn't get to a radio," Mike muttered.
"No problem," Chris said, crouching near him, her pistol balanced in the crook of her arm. She fired once. The cop's answering flashes ceased.
Mike yelped and snatched the pistol out of her hands. "Why the fuck did you do that?"
Chris looked hurt. "I thought that's what you wanted, Michael."
"To kill a cop? No way! Leave that to Billy's crowd. I'm not stupid. Those sons of bitches stick together. God! They fry people in this state for less. Come on. Let's get the hell out of here before all hell breaks loose."
He grabbed her hand and dragged her higher into the hills, beyond the shield of trees into the rugged soil beyond, weeds and dull grass and jutting teeth of stone. They could have been on the surface of the moon.
"What's the matter now?" Chris asked, still annoyed at his scolding, refusing to understand the fury with which cops reacted.
"We're going the wrong way."
The great white letters spelling out Hollywood loomed above them like some new generation stonehenge.
"There's nothing up this way but rock," he said. "We've got to get back down into the city and get ourselves lost." There would be helicopters and dogs, and hundreds of enraged uniformed men, beating the bush. "We have to go down."
"Fine," Chris said. "Lead on."
Already sirens wailed the distance. Mike angled southwest, back into the trees. The land formed a V before them, Vermont Canyon yawned with the road winding along its rim. The red splash of approaching police lights light up the road from Los Feliz like a false dawn. City and county cops most likely, answering the call of fallen comrades.
Mike felt sick to his stomach.
"We have to cross the road," he said, squinting to see the curved top of the planetarium on the west ridge. "Otherwise they'll cut us off."
"Then get on with it," Chris growled, her dark face shimmering red with the sweat and lights, her eyes hard the way they had been years earlier in Tucson.
Even here, the ground had become a scraggly moonscape, opening up into sudden holes or drops as they descended. By the time they reached the road, Mike's legs and ankles bled. He spat out the dust, but it infected his lungs and eyes. He glanced to the left and saw evidence of the battle scene farther down the road, now blistered with slashes of light and whispering radios.
"I say we skip the climb and stick to the road," Chris said, staring up the other side of the gully. "It comes around the planetarium, too-- and we won't kill ourselves getting there."
"But we might wind up in a jail cell," Mike mumbled, though felt no more like climbing than Chris did. "All right. But let's be quick about it. God only knows what we're going to do once we get there."
"We'll climb down into valley, of course," Chris said, taking him by the arm in a burst of energy.