Young, eager LAPD cop Mike Montego has to deal with a string of art thefts, crooked cops, a passionate, complicated girlfriend, kinky sex, and bloody mayhem. After all, it’s Hollywood in the early ’60’s!
Ex-Hollywood-based LAPD cop Jess Waid knows, intimately, what he’s writing about. 459-FRAMED IN RED, Book Two in the Mike Montego series, engagingly captures the essence of early ’60’s L.A., seen through the eyes of a cop who’s determined to make a difference.
Be sure to read the other volumes in Jess Waid’s Montego series, all available as Kindle e-books–Book One, SHADES OF BLUE, Book Three, THE PURPLE HAND, Book Four, HE BLEW BLUE JAZZ, Book Five, CIRCLE OF YELLOW, this one dealing with the all-too-common issue of domestic violence, and Book Six, KONA GOLD. If you’re a fan of fast-paced police fiction, written by an author who knows the score, you’ll definitely want to read all of them, preferably in chronological order!
459-FRAMED IN RED (ISBN 978-0-9866241-01-0) is available as both a trade paperback ($19.95 plus shipping & handling) and an e-book ($3.99). For further information or to place an order, contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sun was high in the cerulean southern California sky. The lightly sweating runner was high, too. Following the well-paved, winding roadway along the mountain ridge, deep-breathing Mike Montego reached his turnaround point on Mulholland, just west of Outpost Drive. He bent forward, hands on bare knees, catching his breath as he paused to look down on the sprawling city that was rapidly filling the coastal basin below. Although a bright day, smog partially shrouded City Hall, at 434 feet the tallest building in L.A., but up here atop the Hollywood Hills, the faintly eucalyptus-scented air he gulped tasted fresh as a young starlet’s lips.
Montego continued to suck deep, filling his lungs, grateful for the release he felt, that familiar feeling he always got when he ran hard, that feeling that gently pushed aside the lingering heaviness of having killed a man nineteen days ago. And not just any man—Montego had killed a fellow cop.
Today, Tuesday, April 10, 1962, Montego’s last day on RFD. The LAPD doled out relieved from duty status stingily, usually reserving it for family bereavement. A cop, even a certifiably insane cop, was family, after all. So Montego had accepted the two weeks off-duty with an acceptant stoicism.
He would be back in uniform tomorrow, back on the beat, demons be damned. It would take more than a couple of weeks off the job to assuage the guilt he still felt, to quiet the critical chorus that constantly sang slightly off-key in his head. It would take more than simply shedding his blue uniform for a few days to shut them up. He shrugged his shirtless shoulders; glad to be staying in the sweet air for a few more blessed hours.
Montego shook his arms, looked up the camel-colored hill, then started pounding the winding hot pavement again, heading for his mother’s house, his girlfriend, and a light lunch.
As he ran, he forced himself to drag some of the things that were bothering him to the surface, to lay them out in plain view for a moment, the sorts of things he seldom confronted head-on, the sorts of things that stayed parked in the recesses of his brain, disturbing his sleep at night, roiling his gut during the day.
There was his gal, Julie. Things were better now with her. He’d accepted her for what she clearly was, a gorgeous, smart, compassionate, astonishingly passionate woman who, amazingly enough, seemed to love him. His past, her past, neither mattered. Julie, his Julie, was now.
Then there was the cop—a completely crazed serial killer. Montego felt certain there was nothing he could have done to prevent killing the psychotic, enraged, murderous guy whom he’d liked, and who had come oh-so-close to killing Montego instead. Still, it seemed almost impossible that neither he nor any of the other officers who worked with him on a daily basis had an inkling of the pool of darkness that lay in the sick officer’s soul. Was there a sign, some slightly out of character statement or behavior that Montego had missed?
His mind drifted a bit as he gazed at the varying hilltop views but he kept up the pace that allowed him to run sub-three-hour marathons. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking of cops. He’d also worked with a dirty cop who’d managed to get himself killed recently in a suspicious double homicide along with a prolific burglar, and with a sergeant who liked getting his cock sucked by other men in public washrooms. What a department. What a world.
Just because a man wore a uniform didn’t mean he couldn’t be a dick. His stepfather, Steve Buckingham, proved that. An L.A. fireman, Captain Buckingham was completely anal, to the point of absurdity. Montego’s mother had been married to the man for over nine years now. She’d learned, as so many women of her generation did, to keep her mouth shut when necessary, to work around the edges of their relationship when required. Which probably explained why she usually chose to call her son from her office, Room 1108, City Hall, where she worked for the L.A. Fire and Police Pension System, rather than from home. Every time she rang him from work, Montego could immediately smell the place, feel the green carpet under his knees, the one he’d crawled on so often as a rug rat twenty years earlier.
He continued running, now a brief dip in the pavement, then another steady uphill. Wiping his right forearm across his brow as he ran, his thoughts drifted again. Today the Dodgers played their season opener. He saw himself in the new stadium in Chavez Ravine, taking in the sights and sounds, quaffing a couple of beers, stuffing down a mustard-slathered hot dog, munching on a bag of roasted peanuts, the spring ritual he’d cherished since being a punk kid watching the Angels play at old Wrigley Field.
He’d love to be there today, but he wanted to see his mom before she and good ol’ Steve took off on their vacation tomorrow—and thankfully, Steve wasn’t home this afternoon. Platoon A, stationed on the west side, had the shift. Instead, Montego would go to tomorrow’s game—he’d miss Johnny Podres, today’s starter, but tomorrow the Dodger pitcher on the mound would be Sandy Koufax, the sensational left-hander who batted right. Montego had played ball against the next man in the rotation, Don Drysdale, during their senior year in high school. That year the Unified School District decided Hollywood High, a Western League member, would join the Valley League. So he and his HHS teammates found themselves playing against Van Nuys High, and Drysdale was their featured pitcher. A gangly kid named Bobby Redford played second base for Van Nuys. Montego heard Redford had his eye on the movies. What the hell, he wasn’t that great of a ballplayer. The movies. If Montego hadn’t wanted so badly to become a homicide detective, he would have tried his hand at cinematography. Better to be behind the camera than in front of it as far as he was concerned.
Redford. Drysdale. Koufax. The Dodgers. Baseball. Getting the new stadium built hadn’t been easy. Most of the people who lived in the vicinity of the proposed stadium were poor, and Mexican. A very bad combo in L.A. Many of the good citizens of Los Angeles viewed the barrio of Chavez Ravine as an eyesore and a slum, a haphazard collection of shabby shanties deserving of demolition. Hundreds of Mexican-American Angelinos, however, called it home. At one point, the noted Hispanic actor Cris-Pin Martin, who played the Cisco Kid’s sidekick, Gordito (“Fatty”), got involved. Martin lived on a peak in the ravine in an elaborate Spanish Revival villa. He often walked the narrow streets below his mansion, greeting “his people,” people like the Arechiga family, like a Mexican godfather.
On the day they were to be evicted, the Arechigas—four adults and three children—barricaded themselves inside their modest home. Three sheriff’s deputies kicked in the door, and one of the Arechiga daughters, Aurora, a war widow, went limp and was forcibly carried down the front stairs, journalists’ cameras clicking as nearby bulldozers moved in to take down the house. Other Arechigas, and some of their neighbors, scuffled with the deputies. One of them, a woman, was handcuffed and taken to a squad car. Throughout the melee, the Arechigas children cried hysterically.
It made for a sensational story, a story Mike Montego followed closely, thanks to his heritage. His father was born in Concordia, Mexico, east of Mazatlan, which caused him to root for the Arechigas. His mother, the daughter of Norwegian parents, was born in the middle of Montana on a sheep ranch. That part of him looked guiltily forward to baseball played in a spectacular new stadium. Nothing’s easy, he thought as he moved to the crushed granite shoulder to allow a green sedan to pass, a four-door he immediately recognized as an unmarked police car. Continuing along Allenwood Road, he headed down to Laurel Pass, where he would make a loop and return to Mulholland Drive.
His mind, lingering on baseball and the struggles of Mexican-Californians, was interrupted by an automobile’s slamming door off to his left as he passed Coreyell Place. It was the same plain-green car that had passed him earlier. Curious, he stopped by an acacia tree and watched.
Two men—detectives, he knew them by sight—exited the vehicle wearing similar sport coats and brown slacks. The driver, taller and dark-haired, was removing what looked like a medium-sized framed painting from the trunk. Montego recognized his old Hollywood High classmate, the smarmily suave Danny Kahei. His partner, a thuggish Charlie Thane, was short, heavier than Kahei, with blond hair. They worked the division’s burglary squad. Thane grasped the painting from Kahei and put it with several others leaning against the sedan as Kahei closed the trunk lid.
The duo picked up the paintings and carried them toward a residence. At that point a tall, burgundy-colored, willowy hopseed bush blocked Montego’s vision.
It wasn’t unusual to see detective cars on his beat, but it was certainly out of the ordinary to see detectives carrying paintings into a house that neither lived in.
They could simply be returning stolen property, but he had serious doubts about that. LAPD protocol required victims of theft to come to the station property room to personally sign for any items of theirs that had been recovered. If no one showed up to claim them, the items eventually went to public auction. Besides, Montego mused, there had always been something not quite right about the phony-acting Kahei. Even as a teenager, the guy sported a Cheshire grin that smacked of scamming.
Montego turned away and resumed jogging, his mind now spinning, now occupied with uncomfortable thoughts of Kahei and Thane. Nearing the end of a hilly ten-mile run, he looked forward to cooling off with a long swim in the large, meticulously maintained (thanks to good ol’, “a place for everything and everything in its place” Steve) Buckingham pool. The fairly new home with its red-tiled roof was less than a mile east of his present location on Mulholland Terrace.
Forty-five minutes and fifty laps or so across the pool later, Montego’s mind was back on Kahei and Thane. Seeing the two dicks hauling paintings from their car to the house on the cul de sac troubled him. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen their unmarked unit parked on the narrow streets of his beat. What the hell were they up to?
Montego decided that after the swim he’d jot down today’s observations. It was a habit of his—you never knew how such notes might pay off in the future. It’d certainly paid off in the past. Besides, his long-held suspicions regarding Danny Kahei added to his gut feeling that something about what he’d seen today wasn’t right.
Flip-turning into what he decided would be his final lap, he kicked harder, as if speeding up the swim would return him to duty sooner. He was anxious to get back into uniform, to buckle up his Sam Browne belt, and feel the satisfying weight of his blue-steel Colt Python on his left hip. From now on he’d wear a cross-draw, a more secure setup during close combat situations, a hard lesson learned in his recent death struggle with a cop gone psycho.
As Montego hauled himself, dripping, from the pool, he heard Julie call from the kitchen. “Come and get it, Mike.” He grabbed a towel from the back of a deck chair and did a quick dry-off. Visions of Julie’s lithe, naked body writhing beneath him, her tawny arms pulling him into her liquid warmth danced in his head as he padded toward the sliding glass doors. Although nothing would happen with his mom present, it certainly beat thinking about crazed and crooked cops, he thought ruefully as he slid open a door and called out, “Here I come.”