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Authors: Thomas Sanchez

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BOOK: Zoot-Suit Murders
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athleen La Rue was above him. Way above him. The sun was behind her red hair. The kind of brilliant sun he had never seen as a boy on the farm in Oregon. A desert sun, fierce as a hot breath from a snarling Gila monster. He was so far away, the rope of his voice couldn’t reach her. He kept calling, calling, and calling, but he couldn’t catch the meaning of his own words. He was in the bottom of a deep pit, an enormous split in the earth, a grand canyon. It was dark where he was. It hurt his eyes to look at her against the sun. Her face was so pale, her wild curls a thousand red snakes surrounding the white face of an angel. She was so far away, so much above him. Her anguished lips opened slowly, a compulsive sad cry screaming down into the canyon to him, reverberating off the steep cliffs,
groping for him thickly in the darkness. He felt like his heart was broken in two. The hurt boiled up out of his chest and stung his throat like someone trying to strangle him. Her cries were so terrible, taking forever to reach him, so distant he was helpless to suppress them, each one coming stronger than the last.

The cries in Younger’s head broke from his dream. He sat up suddenly in the darkness of the room. Outside, the steady, mournful cry of a foghorn came muffled and distant through the drifting blanket of fog. He glanced at the luminescent green numbers of a ticking clock glaring at him from the nightstand: 4:30. He climbed out of bed and quickly slipped on his pants. He had almost slept through the dawn. He didn’t know what he was supposed to see with the dawn, but he was determined not to miss it a second time.

The streets of San Pedro were empty. Younger made his way quickly to the docks. It was difficult to see through dense fog from one block to the next, but the sound of a distant foghorn in the harbor guided him. Block after block through dark neighborhood streets brought him closer to the docks. The sky began to shimmer, the rising sun tearing cold gray blankets of fog right off roofs of warehouses. He was afraid he had missed the dawn again. But it wasn’t sun beginning to sear through the fog. He heard the clamor, a steel pounding and incessant wail of drills. Suddenly through the dark gray curtain of fog brilliant lights strung like Christmas ornaments in a forest of giant steel girders illuminated the predawn sky. Blazing lights stopped Younger in his tracks. For more than a mile, hulking four-story steel hulls of half-completed Victory cargo ships were lined like steel-ribbed primordial creatures in the steep cement guts of the mammoth Cal Shipyards dry docks. Jeeps of heavily armed Shore Patrolmen cruised along the scene of frantic activity, each dock protected by twelve-foot-high wire-mesh fence stretching into the distance where the blaze of lights gave way once again to fog. Hundreds of people worked the graveyard shift, swarming around steel hulls like ants at a July Fourth picnic, showers of welding sparks shooting off everywhere in a mad display of
fireworks. All the women were dressed in blue coveralls, red-and-white bandanas knotted around their braided hair.

Younger cut up alleys, went down back streets, passed deserted factories and sleeping neighborhoods to avoid the searing light of the shipyards. Fog gently enveloped him, its soft gray moisture a lazy falling miniature rain, making him almost invisible as he slowed his walk. He emerged before the stillness of the Americal packinghouses barricaded behind a steel wall of wire-mesh fence. The faintest glimmer of light fingered from the guardhouse through mist, giving Younger just enough illumination to see where to put his hands in the steel crisscrossing of the fence. He pulled himself up, climbing hand over hand, slowly, until reaching three strands of barbed wire running dangerously along the top. Younger’s pants snagged on the barbs as he tried to slip through the taut strands of wire. He hung, caught on barbs cutting into his flesh, small pricks of blood running hot on his legs, his pained breath exhaling white in the gray fog. He waited to see if the guard in the house heard him. The sharp ring of a telephone startled the quiet of the guardhouse. Younger wrestled his pants leg free of the steel barbs. He barely heard the guard laughing to someone on the phone as he dropped to the pier.

Fog was so thick Younger saw only ghostly outlines of seagulls swirling and dipping over choppy water, crying out in anticipation of their morning meal. Younger hid in a mound of coiled mooring rope stacked high against the wall of the packing plant. After an hour of waiting the smell of oil in the rope was making him sick. He didn’t know how much longer he could hide out in the rope without throwing up. He watched anxiously for the first sign of dawn. He knew when the sun seared away the fog he wouldn’t be able to get back over the fence without the guard discovering him. It was difficult to determine if the fog over the gray water of the harbor was ten feet before him or hundreds of feet away. It was impossible to know if the fog was rolling back or if the heave of the waves was tricking him into thinking he saw farther into the harbor than he actually did. Then he heard
it. The throaty sound of an engine exhaust muffling through water. Then he heard another, until an entire chugging chorus of engines surrounded him and he could see them all. Like hellish creatures appearing from clouds of a prairie fire, the tuna boats bobbed free of fog, bent iron fingers of net wenches cutting through cold air like twisted flagpoles on the decks of a wrecked fleet. The cry of seagulls split the air; they swirled in reckless feathered clouds, dipping down into the foaming wakes of the boats to devour guts of the catch being dumped overboard.

The boats passed out of sight, on to the far side of the pier, their sound almost totally blocked from Younger by high walls of the packing plant. He dug deep in his pocket for a stick of Juicy Fruit. Was this it? He peered into the fog bank that was now definitely drifting back over oil-slicked water as the heat of a new day began to assert itself. Was this all there was? Was this what the Virgin Mary wanted him to see? Tuna boats? He couldn’t put any of it together. What did any of it have to do with anything? He pushed himself up from the coil of rope. The sun was winning its war with the fog. Dawn was breaking. Suddenly the sound of another boat cut through the distant fog bank. He slipped back into his hiding place. Probably one struggling tuna boat catching up with the fleet after a long night’s fishing. But it wasn’t a fishing boat.

The sleek surprise gliding out of the fog dazzled Younger with its whiteness. From where he was watching, it appeared to be over a hundred feet long; its new paint seemed wetter than the water it cut through. The yacht was a total apparition, as if she were queen of the sea and had been waiting all this time in the bank of fog to see if her family of tuna boats would come home safely to put in with their precious cargo. But the queen of the sea did not follow her children. The yacht put by the tip of the pier, the smooth cut of the prow ignoring the packing warehouse where fishing boats had tied up, heading straight before Younger to the far end of the next pier, coming alongside an enormous cargo ship taking on grain through long steel chutes running down from a towering holding silo. The yacht bobbed
the length of the cargo ship, uncertain as a kitten at the feet of an elephant, then cut away to berth; men with ropes on the pier signaled her to come about.

A man emerged from the yacht’s cabin. He seemed to be the only one on board. Spluttering exhaust from the dying engine stopped. He grabbed hold of ropes thrown to him from the pier and secured them to the yacht, then swung off onto the pier ladder, climbing twenty steep feet to join men above. He looked down at the yacht, his white hair slicked back in wings beneath a blue sea captain’s cap, his face deeply tanned and distinguished looking. He said something to the men on the pier; hurriedly they untied the yacht’s securing ropes and threw them off into the sea. The yacht bobbed uncertainly, several currents taking advantage of its sudden freedom. It edged away from the pier like an abandoned child. High overhead, from the top of the cargo ship, the unexpected long iron arm of a boom crane appeared. Swinging from the tip of the crane’s boom, rubber-encased steel netting hovered above the yacht. Heavy netting plummeted into the water, barely missing the yacht. Deftly as a mother plucking her precious child from the bath, the netting scooped up the abandoned sleek white prize, hauling the yacht dripping and swinging over the top of the cargo ship to nest in the soft grain continuing to cascade into the cavity of the hold.

Crouching alongside the packing plant, heading for the barbed-wired fence, Younger kept mumbling two things over and over so he would never forget them: the maritime number of the yacht he glimpsed as it sailed dripping into the air, and the name of the cargo ship the yacht miraculously vanished into,
Vera Cruz Ally.


he Hollywood Stars were cooking. Angel was breathing red hot and throwing comets. Out on the mound the breath from Angel’s nostrils steamed into cold evening air as he stamped angrily at the earth. The Bees were frightened, afraid to swing at the ball because they kept eating empty air, afraid not to swing because the furious pitches came curving dangerously at them, like the arc of a great blade that could slice a man’s head off. The Bees swung in self-defense.

“I tell you, Younger, this Fresno bunch is cowed. Angel’s been punching the ticket on each one of them.”

“He’s been hot like this for two weeks, Senator.”

“That boy you’re looking at out there is the star Star. He’s
going to pitch this bunch of bums all the way to the Coast championship.”

“If he’s not drafted first.”

“He won’t be.” Kinney turned to Younger, his lips curved in a sly smile beneath dark glasses. “I’m taking care of it.”

“If Roosevelt can’t keep a big-league pro like DiMaggio out of the draft, how you going to pull it off with an unknown West Coast player? Half the teams he plays against don’t even know his last name.”

“All things are possible in love, war, and politics, Younger.” The smile on Kinney’s lips grew larger as he slumped down in his seat, trying to make himself more inconspicuous to the surrounding crowd. “Love, war, and politics, Younger, eternal sisters with no rules. You’ll find that out someday. When you do, I hope it’s not too late.”

“Did you get the information I wanted?”

“We’re working on it.”

“Working on it! How much time do you need, Senator? The Jap army could be camped out on the Golden Gate Bridge by the time you come up with the information.”

“Now don’t get hasty, Younger. We’re working on it.”

“I risk my life climbing over guarded fences in the dark, and you can’t find out who a couple of boats are registered to.”

“I didn’t say we couldn’t find out, I just said these things take time. There is a war going on, Younger. Other matters are equally pressing. But I do think we’ll have the goods on who owns the yacht within a couple of days. The cargo ship, on the other hand, is not so easy. Going through the Mexican bureaucracy is like pouring money down a rat hole. You have to bribe the left hand to find out what the right hand is doing. We do know one thing, though.
Vera Cruz Ally
belongs to somebody high up in the Mexican government. Look at that Angel out there, would you! Nobody can spit and polish a baseball the way that boy can. Once these hot-blooded Latins get cooking, there’s nobody they can’t beat.”

high up in the government?”

“Younger, I told you to hold your horses. We don’t have that information yet; besides, it isn’t a crime to stuff a fancy yacht into the hold of a grain ship.”

“Will you tell me, Senator, if you had a two-hundred-thousand-dollar yacht and wanted to take a cruise to Mexico, would you do it under fifteen hundred tons of grain?”

“Younger, I’m not implying there isn’t something fishy going on. I just don’t see the connection between that yacht and the Sinarquistas. The Sinarquistas are Fascists, not Sunday sailors. We know they come from Madrid to Mexico City, then wetback it across the border into California. They don’t sail up the coast in two-hundred-thousand-dollar yachts. They are Fascists, they try to set up a fifth column wherever they can. The way they traditionally do it is by organizing street gangs first, to gain control of thugs and bullies to do their dirty work later. They can’t operate without control of the street gangs. Without support of the gangs there is no way for them to put an iron fist in their velvet glove.”

“Angel struck out the side. Maybe he shouldn’t look so good, the Army might want to draft him for one of its teams.”

“What did you dig up on the La Rue girl?”

“She’s a sad case really, she …”

“Wait a minute, Younger, the hotdog kid is selling foot-longs up there. Get me a dog, would you? Mustard, hold the relish. You want one?”

“No, I don’t want one.” Younger climbed from the box seats into the grandstand bleachers and brought back a drooping slab of pink meat wrapped tightly in a soggy bun.

“Great dogs.” Kinney bit off six inches of meat, his words puffing around the load in his mouth. “Now, what’s the poop on the girl?”

“I think La Rue’s harmless. A lonely type, typical kind who gets involved in wacko cults. She has terrible asthma, a wonder she’s alive really.”

“Have you met the Voice?”

“No, but she promises me I will. Be patient, she says. Everybody seems to have all the time in the world except me.”

“You’ve got to get to the Voice. He’s the ticket.”

“He’s certain to be at the Shrine next month. They’re having some kind of big rally there, first in L. A. The girl’s all excited about it.”

“Is La Rue thick with the Zoots?”

“She spends her days pounding the pavement, proselytizing for her outfit. She’ll put the bite on anyone trying to put over her beliefs.”

“She getting any converts?”

“Not among the Zoots. I think they tolerate her because she acts crazier than they dress. She’s unique.”

“She having better luck with anybody else?”

“Older people mostly. Yah, I guess you could say she is getting through to some of them. She’s filling up her meetings anyway. I think people come to hear what weird thing she’s going to be telling them next. Last week she promised to give us a secret electronic gizmo the Sponsors invented. We attach the gizmo to our radios and hear Mankind Incorporated broadcasts, giving instructions about the final worldwide program of organization. The week before, she was excited about another mysterious invention the Sponsors cooked up at the lab in the center of the earth with the help of their metallic-headed little friends. This one was a beaut, a blue beam having power to melt steel from thirty miles away. She told us it had recently been tested in Seattle and stopped all motor traffic for twenty minutes; even police cars going to investigate the massive traffic tie-up were stranded and helpless. I checked the Seattle papers back over the past year, couldn’t find one reference to a weird thing like that happening. God knows where she gets this stuff.”

“What about the Doomsday Vibration Machine? Some kind of apparatus capable of suspending animation that can be used to immobilize entire armies and make their eyes pop out. Does she ever talk about that?”

“I tell you, Senator, her outfit has more crazy ideas. I mean, they believe the earth is a glass crust and there are these tiny metallic-headed supermen living in the middle of it controlling balances of nature, like gravity, ocean tides, earthquakes, that kind of stuff—but I don’t recall her ever speaking about some powerful secret Vibration Machine.”

“La Rue’s never talked about vibrations?”

“She’s talked about what she calls a theory of vibrations, how love has a high vibration rate, and hate has a low one. She says all these vibrations are of the same universal substance, coming from the sun. According to her, we can get to a point where we’ll actually see these vibrations; they’ll become visible. Eventually we’ll be able to see if someone is thinking good or bad things about us.”

“But no Vibrating Machine that can destroy all weapons on earth, stop armies in their tracks, suspend airplanes in air, freeze movement of ships on the seas?”

“Not a word.”

“What about a film called
Dealers in Death
? Supposed to document how Hidden Rulers of the world, including Roosevelt and Hitler, are plotting the final holocaust. What about that?”

“I never heard her talk about it. She says the Hidden Rulers have a very low vibration rate, and the One True Voice an extremely high aura of vibrations. She’s more concerned about the day when she can control her aura of vibrations so she’ll be able to leave her body and travel to another person’s healthy body, or another planet even. I think that’s the real reason she believes in all this malarkey. Figures one day it’ll free her from her own sick body.”

Kinney rolled the empty mustard-stained hotdog wrapper between his palms and tossed it to his feet, shaking his head in disgust. “Jesus, Younger, the garbage some people will wade through if they believe it will cure what ails them.”

“It’s a free country, Senator.”

“That’s right. Sometimes, though …” Kinney stood to leave in the blare of seventh-inning-stretch organ music. His
shoulders seemed to slump as the screeching tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” echoed across the dusty diamond and empty outfield bleachers. “Sometimes I just wonder if it’s worth all the spit and blood to keep it free for
Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

BOOK: Zoot-Suit Murders
11.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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