Los Angeles, 2/24/64 SUDDENLY
The milk truck cut a sharp right turn and grazed the curb. The driver lost the wheel. He panic-popped the brakes. He induced a rear-end skid. AWells Fargo armored car clipped the milk truck side/head-on. Mark it now:
7:16 A.M. South L.A., 84th and Budlong. Residential darktown. Shit shacks with dirt front yards.
The jolt stalled out both vehicles. The milk truck driver hit the dash. The driver’s side door blew wide. The driver keeled and hit the sidewalk. He was a fortyish male Negro.
The armored car notched some hood dents. Three guards got out and scoped the damage. They were white men in tight khakis. They wore Sam Browne belts with buttoned pistol flaps.
They knelt beside the milk truck driver. The guy twitched and gasped. The dashboard bounce gouged his forehead. Blood dripped into his eyes. Mark it now:
7:17 A.M. Winter overcast. This quiet street. No foot traffic. No car-crash hubbub yet.
The milk truck heaved. The radiator blew. Steam hissed and spread wide. The guards coughed and wiped their eyes. Three men got out of a ’62 Ford parked two curb lengths back.
They wore masks. They wore gloves and crepe-soled shoes. They wore utility belts with gas bombs in pouches. They were long-sleeved and buttoned up. Their skin color was obscured.
Steam covered them. They walked up and pulled silencered pieces. The guards coughed. It supplied sound cover. The milk truck driver pulled a silencered piece and shot the nearest guard in the face.
The noise was a thud. The guard’s forehead exploded. The two other guards fumble-grabbed at their holsters. The masked men shot them in the back. They buckled and pitched forward. The masked men shot them in the head point-blank. The thuds and skull crack muffle-echoed.
It’s 7:19 A.M. It’s still quiet. There’s no foot traffic and car-crash hubbub yet.
Noise now—two gunshots plus loud echoes. Muzzle flare, weird-shaped, blasts from the armored car’s gun slit.
The shots ricocheted off the pavement. The masked men and the milk truck driver threw themselves prone. They rolled toward
the armored car. It blitzed firing range. Four more shots popped. Four plus two—one revolver load.
Masked Man #1 was tall and thin. Masked Man #2 was midsized. Masked Man #3 was heavyset. It’s 7:20 A.M. There’s still no foot traffic. This big blimp up in the sky trailed department-store banners.
Masked Man #1 stood up and crouched under the gun slit. He pulled a gas bomb from his pouch and yanked the top. Fumes sputtered. He stuffed the bomb in the gun slit. The guard inside shrieked and retched very loud. The back door crashed outward. The guard jumped and hit the pavement on his knees. He bled from the nose and the mouth. Masked Man #2 shot him twice in the head.
The milk truck driver put on a gas mask. The masked men put gas masks on over their face masks. Gas whooshed out the back door. Masked Man #1 popped gas bomb #2 and lobbed it inside.
The fumes flared and settled into acid mist—red, pink, transparent. A street hubbub started perking. There’s some window peeps, some open doors, some colored folks on their porches.
It’s 7:22 A.M. The fumes have dispersed. There’s no second guard inside.
Now they go in.
They fit tight. It was a cramped space. Cash bags and attaché cases were stacked in wall racks. Masked Man #1 made the count: sixteen bags and fourteen cases. They grabbed.
Masked Man #2 had a burlap bag stuffed down his pants. He pulled it out and held it open. They grabbed.
They stuffed the bag. One attaché case snapped open. They saw mounds of plastic-wrapped emeralds.
Masked Man #3 opened a cash bag. A C-note roll poked out. He tugged on the bank tab. Ink jets sprayed him and hit his mask holes. He got ink in his mouth and ink in his eyes.
He gasped, he spit ink, he rubbed his eyes and tripped out the door. He shit in his pants and stood around flailing. Masked Man #1 stepped clear of the door and shot him twice in the back.
It’s 7:24 A.M. Now
there’s hubbub. It’s a jungle din confined to porches.
Masked Man #1 walked toward it. He pulled four gas bombs, popped the tops and lobbed them. He threw left and right. Fumes rose up red, pink and transparent. Acid sky, mini-storm front, rainbow. The porch fools whooped and coughed and ran inside their shacks.
The milk truck driver and Masked Man #2 stuffed four burlap bags tight. They got the full load: all thirty cash sacks and cases. They walked to the ’62 Ford. Masked Man #1 opened the trunk. They dumped the bags in.
A breeze kicked up. Wind swirled the gas clouds into wild fusing colors. The milk truck driver and Masked Man #2 gawked through their goggles.
Masked Man #1 stepped in front of them. They got pissy—Say what?—
don’t block the light show. Masked Man #1 shot them both in the face. Slugs blew up their goggle glass and gasmask tubes and doused their lights in a second. Mark it now:
7:27 A.M. Four dead guards, three dead heist men. Pink gas clouds. Acid fallout. Fumes turning shrubs gray-malignant.
Masked Man #1 opened the driver’s side door and reached under the seat. Right there: a blowtorch and a brown bag stuffed with scald-on-contact pellets. The pellets looked like a bird feed/jelly bean hybrid.
He worked slow.
He walked to Masked Man #3. He dropped pellets on his back and stuffed pellets in his mouth. He tapped his blowtorch and blazed the body. He walked to the milk truck driver and Masked Man #2. He dropped pellets on their backs and stuffed pellets in their mouths and blowtorched their bodies.
The sun was way up now. The gas fumes caught rays and made a small stretch of sky one big prism. Masked Man #1 drove away, southbound.
He got there first. He always did. He bootjacked niggertown robbery squawks off patrol frequencies. He packed his own multiband squawk box.
He parked by the armored car and the milk truck. He looked down the street. He saw some coons eyeballing the carnage. The air stung. His first guess: gas bombs and a faked collision.
The coons saw him. They evinced their standard ‘‘Oh shit’’ looks. He heard sirens. The overlap said six or seven units. Newton and 77th Street—two divisions rolling out. He had three minutes to look.
He saw the four dead guards. He saw two scorched dead men near the east curb back a few car lengths.
He ignored the guards. He checked out the burned men. They were deep-scorched down to crackle skin, with their clothes swirled in. His first guess: instant double cross. Let’s fuck up IDs on expendable partners.
The sirens whirred closer. A kid down the street waved at him. He bowed and waved back.
He had the gestalt already. Some shit you wait your whole life for. When it lands, you know.
He was a big man. He wore a tweed suit and a tartan bow tie. Little 14’s were stitched into the silk. He’d shot and killed fourteen armed robbers.
: I window-peeped four years of our History. It was one long mobile stakeout and kick-the-door-in shakedown. I had a license to steal and a ticket to ride.
I followed people. I bugged and tapped and caught big events in ellipses. I remained unknown. My surveillance links the Then to the Now in a never-before-revealed manner. I was there. My reportage is buttressed by credible hearsay and insider tattle. Massive paper trails provide verification. This book derives from stolen public files and usurped private journals. It is the sum of personal adventure and forty years of scholarship. I am a literary executor and an agent provocateur. I did what I did and saw what I saw and learned my way through to the rest of the story.
Scripture-pure veracity and scandal-rag content. That conjunction gives it its sizzle. You carry the seed of belief within you already. You recall the time this narrative captures and sense conspiracy. I am here to tell you that it is all true and not at all what you think.
You will read with some reluctance and capitulate in the end. The following pages will force you to succumb.
I am going to tell you everything.
Copyright © 2019 by James Ellroy. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.