I dart past LiLi’s Noodle Stand built out of rusting corrugated metal pieces, into the shade of some awnings, under the sign and enter a street-row of shops with power cables cris-crossing the sky hooking the shops all up and down the alley. And the streets are jammed with five thousand Angel City batos all stinking and sweaty and looking at you like the first meat they’ve seen in a long time, wamchaka.
I step across cracked pavement, and the heat is burning the bottoms of my shoes. Damn these boots. My feet are dying. I see a kid swipe a bottle of water out of the corner of my eye, $8.95, wamchaka, and that is no joke. He puts it in his girlfriend’s bag, so smooth as she walks past him. No body else sees her. But I lock into her round little brown face and her pouty lips under the shade of her hood. I’ve seen this girl tearing up the half pipe at Eden. She’s not making eye contact with anyone, keeping a low profile. I time my footsteps to hers… keeping just out of range of her sight using some old woman for cover. She doesn’t see me coming, and she doesn’t see me reach into her bag as she passes me. She doesn’t even feel me reach inside, and I get that water. It’s the first I’ve had all day, and the V-pill has given me a crazy headache.
The shock of the water, or maybe it’s the heat, makes my head spin. Here comes the goon squad, some local Trog medics, rushing through the crowd; blaring air horns squish squishing in white sneakers and paper smocks and gas masks. What the fuck do they need those for? Everybody moves or gets shoved out of their way. I guess that’s it; fear works better than a siren. I see them as my vision swoons rushing past wearing black rubber gloves, carrying paramedic gear and a stretcher. It occurs to me the gunshots I heard a minute ago were real and there’s some poor fool with his guts spilled out on the pavement. I look through the clothing store full of bins all stacked up crazy with shit spillin’ out everywhere; little kids running around with water pistols without water in a gutter that smells like piss and shit. The alley on the other side of the store is a stampede, bright sun punches through the darkly scattered bins, and I can barely see through the feet of the mob – two kids on the ground.
I recognize the grey color on one of them, dead fo sho, wamchaka, no mistake. The other still looks like he’s breathin’. Big black rubber glove turns him over, and his head rolls all weird and the kid spits blood. Not a good sign. Then I heard screaming; the mother of the one that’s still alive. She’s Iranian from the looks of her, head to toe in black. She’s screamin’ her head off bloody murder. I hear more gunshots and the chopping din of the police helicopters pounding overhead…
“You in the red, stand still!” A cop’s voice booms from one of the helicopter drones.
The cops are shooting into the crowd with a 22 calibre semi-automatic, goin’ for the perps. It’s all a big video game to them, working the chopper controls while they sit safe in an office in Van Nuys; shoot the little bato. What’s one less person in the world? That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Light headed… not feeling right. I stumble back into a magazine rack of some old porn from twenty years ago. Some fool collects this stuff and sells it 50 bucks a pop. I’m reeling. I put the water in my pocket and keep my hand on it fo sho. But I’m feelin’ dizzy and feverish, and I just slide against the magazines right down on my ass.
The dude starts screamin’ at me “Что ты делаешь? Таковы мои журналы! Выйдите из них прямо сейчас!” I can’t understand what he’s saying. I can almost barely see. Someone is calling my name. “Nina, Nina,” she says. Thank God it’s Erika, my girl, my angel. If I passed out I might wake up looking like a vulture’s picked over prey.
“Get up, get up.”
Her eyes shine down on me, perfect blue. Her lips all blushed. My lips reach out for hers. “Oh my god! Thank god you came for me.”
“It’s just lucky I found you. When I heard shots I was afraid. What’s happened? Are you hurt?”
“I dunno, wammy, something’s wrong,” I said, rubbing my sore head.
“Let’s get you out of here.” Erika helps me on my feet, my stone strong girl. I lean on her like a tree, like some drunk-ass-bitch who can’t hold her shit. My hand goes through her short cropped black hair, and I can still appreciate the nape of her neck moving into the muscles of her back.
“Where are we going?” “Eden.” A lightning clap behind tells us something goes wrong with the chopper. It got shot at by somebody on the ground. I look over my shoulder, squinting upward as the chopper’s gun gets jammed on repeat fire. Bullets start whizzing everywhere, and the whole crowd stampedes.
Soon the adrenaline kicks in, and Erika and I are running down the alley full bore as the thing loses control and crashes. The sound of helicopter rotor and smashing metal screams down the alley. Glancing back I see fire billowing from the wreckage and hear the zap of downed power lines, as people everywhere are screaming more dead, and more to come I fear, and I shudder. Wamchaka, one thing I’ve learned, the police don’t like it when we shoot down their helicopters.