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Extract: LA Confidential by James Ellroy

James Ellroy is an American crime writer known for his distinctive, staccato writing style. LA Confidential is a big, powerful novel and is the third in Ellroy’s LA Quartet. It has been adapted into a highly acclaimed film.

Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as crooked as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three L.A.P.D. detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The book takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood. One of the best (and longest) crime novels ever written, it is the heart of Ellroy’s four-novel masterpiece, the LA Quartet, and an example of crime writing at its most powerful.

Read an extract from LA Confidential below…

Contains some strong language.

LA Confidential
James Ellroy


February 21st, 1950

An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought of a pachuco at the border – right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.
          He’d been running a week; he’d spent fifty-six grand staying alive: cars, hideouts at four and five thousand a night – risk rates – the innkeepers knew Mickey C. was after him for heisting his dope summit and his woman, the L.A. Police wanted him for killing one of their own. The Cohen contract kiboshed an outright dope sale – nobody could move the shit for fear or reprisals; the best he could do was lay it off with Doc Englekling’s sons – Doc would freeze it, package it, sell it later and get him his percentage. Doc used to work with Mickey and had the smarts to be afraid of the prick; the brothers, charging fifteen grand, sent him to the El Serrano Motel and were setting up his escape. Tonight at dusk, two men – wetback runners – would drive him to a beanfield, shoot him to Guatemala City via white powder airlines. He’d have twenty-odd pounds of Big H working for him stateside – if he could trust Doc’s boys and they could trust the runners.
          Meeks ditched his car in a pine grove, hauled his suitcase out, scoped the setup:
          The motel was horseshoe-shaped, a dozen rooms, foot-hills against the back of them – no rear approach possible.
          The courtyard was loose gravel covered with twigs, paper debris, empty wine bottles – footsteps would crunch, tires would crack wood and glass.
          There was only one access – the road he drove in on – reconnoiterers would have to trek thick timber to take a potshot.
          Or they could be waiting in one of the rooms.
          Meeks grabbed the 10-gauge, started kicking in doors. One, two, three, four – cobwebs, rats, bathrooms with plugged-up toilets, rotted food, magazines in Spanish – the runners probably used the place to house their spics en route to the slave farms up in Kern County. Five, six, seven, bingo on that – Mex families huddled on mattresses, scared of a white man with a gun, ‘There, there’ to keep them pacified. The last string of rooms stood empty; Meeks got his satchel, plopped it down just inside unit 12: front/courtyard view, a mattress on box springs spilling kapok, not bad for a last American flop.
          A cheesecake calendar tacked to the wall; Meeks turned to April and looked for his birthday. A Thursday – the model had bad teeth, looked good anyway, made him think of Audrey: ex-stripper, ex-Mickey inamorata; the reason he killed a cop, took down the Cohen/Dragna ‘H’ deal. He flipped through to December, cut odds on whether he’d survive the year and got scared: gut flutters, a verin on his forehead going tap, tap, tap, making him sweat.
          It got worse – the heebie-jeebies. Meeks laid his arsenal on a window ledge, stuffed his pockets with ammo: shells for the .38, spare clips for the automatic. He tucked the switchblade into his belt, covered the back window with the mattress, cracked the front window for air. A breeze cooled his sweat; he looked out at spic kids chucking a baseball.
          He stuck there. Wetbacks congregated outside: pointing at the sun like they were telling time by it, hot for the truck to arrive – stoop labor for three hots and a cot. Dusk came on; the beaners started jabbering. Meeks saw two white men – one fat, one skinny – walk into the courtyard. They waved glad-hander style; the spics waved back. They didn’t look like cops or Cohen goons. Meeks stepped outside, his 10-gauge right behind him.
          The men waved: big smiles, no harm meant. Meeks checked the road – a green sedan parked crossways, blocking something light blue, too shiny to be sky through fir trees. He caught light off a metallic paint job, snapped: Bakersfield, the meet with the guys who needed time to get the money. The robin’s-egg coupe that tried to broadside him a minute later.
          Meeks smiled: friendly guy, no harm meant. A finger on the trigger; a make on the skinny guy: Mal Lunceford, a Hollywood Station harness bull – he used to ogle the carhops at Scrivener’s Drive-in, puff out his chest to show off his pistol medals. The fat man, closer, said, ‘We got that airplane waiting.’
          Meeks swung the shotgun around, triggered a spread. Fat Man caught buckshot and flew, covering Lunceford – knocking him backward. The wetbacks tore helter-skelter; Meeks ran into the room, heard the back window breaking, yanked the mattress. Sitting ducks: two men, three triple-aught rounds close in.
          The two blew up; glass and blood covered three more men inching along the wall. Meeks leaped, hit the ground, fired at three sets of legs pressed together; his free hand flailed, caught a revolver off a dead man’s waistband.
          Shrieks from the courtyard; running feet on gravel. Meeks dropped the shotgun, stumbled to the wall. Over to the men, tasting blood – point-blank head shots.
          Thumps in the room; two rifles in grabbing range. Meeks yelled, ‘We got him!’, heard answering whoops, saw arms and legs coming out the window. He picked up the closest piece and let fly, full automatic: trapped targets, plaster chips exploding, dry wood igniting.
          Over the bodies, into the room. The front door stood open; his pistols were still on the ledge. A strange thump sounded; Meeks saw a man spread prone – aiming from behind the mattress box.
          He threw himself to the floor, kicked, missed. The man got off a shot – close; Meeks grabbed his switchblade, leaped, stabbed: the neck, the face, the man screaming, shooting – wide ricochets. Meeks slit his throat, crawled over and toed the door shut, grabbed the pistols and just plain breathed.
          The fire spreading: cooking up bodies, fir pines; the front door his only way out. How many more men standing trigger?
          From the courtyard: heavy rounds knocking out wall chunks. Meeks caught one in the leg; a shot grazed his back. He hit the floor, the shots kept coming, the door went down – he was smack in the crossfire.
          No more shots.
          Meeks tucked his guns under his chest, spread himself dead-man style. Seconds dragged; four men walked in holding rifles. Whispers: ‘Dead meat’ – ‘Let’s be reeel careful’ – ‘Crazy Okie fuck.’ Through the doorway, Mal Lunceford not one of them, footsteps.
          Kicks in his side, hard breathing, sneers. A foot went under him. A voice said, ‘Fat fucker.’
          Meeks jerked the foot; the foot man tripped backward. Meeks spun around shooting – close range, all hits. Four men went down; Meeks got a topsy-turvy view: the court-yard, Mal Lunceford turning tail. Then, behind him, ‘Hello, lad.’
          Dudley Smith stepped through flames, dressed in a fire department greatcoat. Meeks saw his suitcase – ninety-four grand, dope – over by the mattress. ‘Dud, you came prepared.’
          ‘Like the Boy Scouts, lad. And have you a valediction?’
          Suicide: heisting a deal Dudley S. watchdogged. Meeks raised his guns; Smith shot first. Meeks died – thinking the El Serrano Motel looked just like the Alamo.

LA Confidential

James Ellroy

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