Authors: Gar Anthony Haywood
All the Lucky Ones Are Dead
Gar Anthony Haywood
Open Road Integrated Media Ebook
My brother. Always was. Always will be.
T THE TIME OF HIS DEATH, LESS THAN THREE MONTHS
shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, Carlton William Elbridge had a personal net worth of twenty-eight million dollars. He owned two large homes in Los Angeles, a spacious Tribeca loft in New York, and three luxury condominiums, two in Las Vegas, one in Palm Springs. In the garage of his primary residence, an eight-bedroom Tudor hidden behind a wall of Italian spruce trees high in the Hollywood Hills, two Porsches, one Ferrari, a Lexus, and a classic 1961 Harley-Davidson panhead motorcycle sat in constant readiness.
His face had graced the cover of
magazine, as well as the covers of other national and international publications too numerous to count.
The Wall Street Journal
had published an extensive front-page profile of Elbridge in the summer of his twenty-third year, detailing his uncanny business acumen with open admiration. The mantel over his mother's fireplace (in the new three-bedroom home he had bought her in Northridge) was overflowing with his many awards and trophies, a collection he began to amass when he was only seventeen.
On the day of his funeral in Los Angeles, people lined the streets to watch the procession as if it were the motorcade of a President. The vast majority of these people were teenagers, but some were even younger than that: eight-and nine-year-old boys and girls gripping lit candles, their faces either gnarled by anger or stained with tears. For many of these children, Elbridge had been the center of their universe, the single voice in the wilderness they could not only hear but comprehend. While parents pleaded and teachers lectured, preachers prayed and law enforcement officers coercedâElbridge just spoke the truth to these young people. That this truth was often devoid of hope or optimism mattered little. What mattered was that it came from one of their own, someone the streets had qualified to make bold pronouncements about their present and their future. Andânot inconsequentiallyâin spreading this truth, Elbridge had made himself filthy rich, beating the very odds against achieving economic self-sufficiency they themselves faced daily.
He wasn't the Second Coming, but for most of his countless followers, Elbridge was close enough.
Weeks after his interment, newsstands around the country were lined with magazines paying tribute to Carlton Elbridge, either in cover stories lamenting his death, or in special issues wholly devoted to the telling of his brief life story. All raised questions about his motives for suicide, and discussed at length who might have stood to profit most from his decision to commit such a desperate and unexpected act. Conspiracy theories abounded.
In short, as incredible as it seemed, Carlton William Elbridgeâor C.E. Digga Jones, as he was most commonly knownâreceived even more ink in death than he had ever received in life.
But then, such was often the fate of the premier gangsta rapper in all the land.
o n e
HE CALLER IDENTIFIED HIMSELF AS
IKE FROM GARDENA
,” and he said he wanted to talk about Proposition 199, the California state ballot measure that would limit mobile home rent control.
“Go ahead,” Sparkle Johnson said.
“I don't think you realize what effect this bill would have on mobile home owners if it's passed,” Mike said.
“I think it would have very little effect on them, actually.”
There was a brief pause as the caller recoiled from the blatant indifference of Johnson's tone. “But the people who live in these homes are, by and large, older people on fixed incomes. People whoâ”
“So they're older people. So what? What does that have to do with anything?”
“But we're talking about people who have no other place to live. And if their rent were to suddenly go up by as little as fifteen percentâ”
“Oh, please. Spare me. These property owners you're talking about are
people, they rent their spaces out to make
. What do you think they're gonna do, raise their rents so high they'll drive all their tenants away? That would be stupid.”
“Look, if somebody's dumb enough to do that, let his tenants all get together and move out. I mean, what's the problem?”
“The problem is, if all the other park owners raise their rents at the same timeâ”
“Hey, I'm sorry, but those people should be free to rent their property for whatever, and to
ever, they damn well please. This is America, Mike. Government's got no business telling people what they can or cannot do with their own property.”
Stammering with exasperation now, the caller said, “But how about as that applies to racial discrimination? What about all the restaurant owners in the South who only wanted to serve white people before segregation was outlawed?”
Sparkle Johnson almost chuckled. “Let me tell you something, Mikeâyou don't want to ask me that question, okay? You don't want to ask me that question because you're not going to like my answer to it. You take me there, and I'm gonna have to tell you that
people should have been left alone too. They should have been free to serve whomever they wanted to serve.
“Now I know, because I'm black, you think I should feel differently about the subject. But I don't. The Constitution is very clear on the subject, it's not a racial issue â¦”
And that was it for Mike from Gardena. Having served his purpose as a detonator for one of Johnson's trademark tirades against big government, his call to her radio talk show was terminated without further ado. He wasn't told good-bye, he wasn't offered thanks, he was just hung up on under cover of Johnson's latest diatribe, freed to go back to whatever rock the liberal Democrat had crawled out from under in order to turn on his radio and use the phone. This was how all callers voicing disagreement with the vivacious and outspoken Ms. Sparkle were treated. Anyone calling her show expecting to enter into an actual
with the lady was in for a big disappointment.
Aaron Gunner figured he could stomach another five minutes of this bullshit, then he was gone.
He had a nine a.m. appointment to see Wally Browne, 720/KTLK's general manager and the man who was ultimately responsible for putting Sparkle Johnson on the Los Angeles airwaves, but Gunner had been waiting for Browne to show himself in the station's reception area for over thirty minutes now. Even having nothing better to do with his time was not reason enough for the private investigator to subject himself to this, a half hour of sitting on his ass pretending the live broadcast of Johnson's program playing over the station's sound system wasn't driving him to distraction. Especially when what he had to tell Browne he could just as easily have said over the phone as to the man's face.
When Browne finally did appear, moving rapidly toward Gunner with his right arm extended to shake hands, he was beaming, the poor bastard, clearly anticipating something other than the bad news he was about to receive.
“Mr. Gunner. So sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said, offering only the shortest of apologies.
He led Gunner upstairs to the runaway opulence of his private office for the second time in a week, and the two men sat down to talk, Browne behind the airport landing strip disguised as his desk, Gunner in one of the two chairs directly facing it. Just as he had four days ago, Browne offered Gunner a cigar, and Gunner shook his head to decline it. They were both getting pretty good at the routine.
“Well?” Browne asked anxiously. “How did it go?” He was an overweight man with unruly brown hair whose puffy face was naturally ruddy, but apparently, nervous apprehension could redden it further still.
“She didn't tell you?” Gunner asked.
“She won't talk about it. I assumed she was still upset that I hired you in the first place.”
“Oh, she is that.”
“But I can't help you.” Gunner shrugged, doing the best he could do to create the illusion of grave disappointment.
“What do you mean, you can't help me?”
“I mean that this was a mistake. She thinks you're wasting your money hiring a private investigator, and at this point, I'm inclined to agree with her.”
“Maybe the answer is another operator, I don't know. All I know for sure is that I don't want the job, and she doesn't want me on it. It's that simple.”
“You're saying she didn't like you,” Browne said.
Gunner almost laughed at that. The lunch he'd shared with Johnson two days earlier had not been bloody, exactly, but it had been ugly. Johnson had come already convinced that Gunner would despise her, and he had been unable to disguise the fact that he very nearly did. Combined with Johnson's insistence that Browne had hired Gunner in error, their complete and instantaneous dislike for one another seemed reason enough to end Gunner's work on her behalf before it could even begin.
Of course, Gunner had one additional incentive to walk away from the Johnson case, but this was something he could barely admit to himself, let alone to Browne.
“Whether she liked me or not is immaterial,” the investigator told Browne now. “What counts is that she can't see the point of going any further with this, and I can't see the point of arguing with her about it.”
“Let me talk to her again,” Browne suggested.
Gunner shook his head and stood up. “No. Thanks, but don't bother.”
Browne raced around his desk in a panic, said, “Listen, she's just being stubborn. She gets threats of one kind or another all the time, she thinks they're all the same. But these are different. She doesn't want to admit that, but they are.”
Browne swallowed hard, about to broach a subject he knew he should have mentioned four days ago, and asked, “You ever hear of a group calling itself the Defenders of the Bloodline?”
Gunner almost winced. His unspoken incentive for walking away was no longer unspoken. “Unless there's something you haven't told me yet, there's no evidence they're involved in this, Mr. Browne.”
“No, that's true. There isn't. Butâ”
“Maybe she's right. Maybe these threats
like all the others. You ever think of that?”
The question gave Browne pause. “Of course. But this guy who's been callingâ”
“The Defenders don't mess around with pseudonyms, Mr. Browne. They hate you, they want you dead, they tell you straight up, no phony names required.” He went on before Browne could interject. “And they don't generally threaten your life more than five or six times before trying to make good. Something your caller has yet to actually do, correct?”
“Correct. But I stillâ”
Gunner shook his head again. “Like I said, I'm sorry. But it's not going to happen. Right or wrong, the lady doesn't share your concern for her safety, and she doesn't intend to be a cooperative surveillance subject until she does. Which, quite frankly, gives me all the excuse I need to find something less aggravating to do with my time. Have a good day.”
Browne opened his mouth to protest further, but Gunner's back was already turned to him for good.