Catalina Eddy by Daniel Pyne is a gritty, hardboiled exploration into the immutable police underworld of Southern California.
An obstinate Los Angeles detective investigates the murder of his estranged wife while fears of nuclear war and Communism grip the nation; in Losertown, a mid-career attorney in San Diego chases down a legendary drug kingpin but chafes against the Reagan Revolution policies of his new boss; and in Portuguese Bend, set in the present day, an undercover cop is paralyzed in a gunfight but determined to solve what may be her last case as a police officer in Long Beach. They are all, in one way or another, stuck in dreary endless loops of love, murder, and the quest for clarity, release, and redemption.
THE BIG EMPTY
THIS NUCLEAR EXPLOSION was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Bigger than Fat Boy. More terrifying than Little Man. A dazzling flash of light, a bright-blooming fast- growing impossibly mushrooming billowing monster of dust and debris, larger and larger, rising, at first quaint on the horizon and simply surreal and then, somehow, taking on the quality of death itself; the proportion of scale so out of whack, the dumb-dawning understanding that what you are watching is a window into extinction, not the fucking apple in the fucking tree in the garden with the snake, but the thing that should never have happened, the doorway you didn’t open.
His angular face a shimmering transparent reflection with Hollywood Boulevard rippling behind it, the detective stares through plate glass at newsreel footage of the Castle Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll, crisply wrought on a brand-new Philco television; broadcast, as a matter of fact, on half a dozen new mahogany Philco console televisions stacked like crackerbox apartments in the Nicholson’s Appliances sidewalk window display, the broadcaster’s narration quavering gravely down from the sidewalk PA speaker.
A pale sparkling sea.
Fingerlets of land in that water: dark, insubstantial smears on a mythomorphic multiform black-and- white Mark Rothko of a fucking horizon.
WHOOoom. There it goes.
“. . . A thousand times more powerful than the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima . . .”
Which is, what, supposed to be comforting?
And Behold I come quickly: to every man according as his work shall be.
It’s beyond words—
Alpha and Omega, I am the beginning and the end, the first and the last. So you better get on the stick—
—The hellcloud’s cataclysm keeps rolling, roiling, rising.
WHILE HE’S PLEASANT to look at, the detective is not in any way pretty; cool but not cold; youthful, but not callow; shrewd, but not smart enough to avoid the trouble that invariably will find him. Dove gray drapes his narrow frame, hat, white cotton
shirt, stark black tie: the kind of guy you want your daughter once to fall in love with. But not marry.
“What have they done?”
He turns his back on the televised atomic test and levels slate eyes on the young mother, a girl still, nineteen going on forty, bum-rushing an adult world she is not nearly prepared for; pleated skirt and sensible saddle shoes, pushing a plump baby in a carriage, she has arrested her stroll and stares past him, transfixed, horrified by what she’s just seen unfold on the cathode-ray screens. Tears stream down her cheeks.
“I just keep asking myself. What have they done to our world?”
“Even they don’t know, ma’am.” It’s a mystery the detective won’t be solving.
For without are dogs. He keeps recalling, for some reason, sermon fragments from sitting sleepy beside his mom at Sunday service, in the tumble to war, when he still was trying to believe it. And sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
In other words, pretty much everybody, the detective thinks. But oh well.
He offers the young woman his handkerchief: white cotton with his embroidered initials, RL—Rylan Lovely. There’s a stack of them, cleaned and pressed and folded in the top drawer of the bureau back in his room.
Lovely tips his hat and waits for a rattling Red Car line to pass before continuing on his way.
“HAVE YOU NOTICED how television makes everything the same size?”
The day glares with fiery high haze cloaking a dim dot of sun; he left his car in the shade of the clock tower and came through the delivery alley, between Pace’s newsstand and Humphrey Bakery, to find his usual spot empty and waiting at the counter of Hal’s Coffee. The Farmer’s Market squats like some strange clapboard gypsy village in the fast- growing flatlands west of downtown Los Angeles, on the corner of Third and Fairfax, a disheveled collection of green wood kiosks and canvas awnings, the new Television City studios rise mid-century pristine to the north, where the old Gilmore Stadium once reigned.
Front page of the Daily News spread out next to his coffee, black, he picks at the questionable glazed Danish.
Hal’s stool is Lovely’s office.
“Eisenhower and Howdy Doody,” Lovely gripes. “Ed Sullivan and thermonuclear war.”
Headlines: H-BOMB TEST ON BIKINI ATOLL ‘A MILESTONE FOR WORLD PEACE’, SEN. MCCARTHY CLAIMS ARMY GENERAL ‘UNFIT’ FOR UNIFORM, IKE TO NIXON: VIETNAM INTERVENTION A NO-GO.
Hal, quite round, blue-black Navy tattoos on both forearms and sporting the usual cook’s cap and functional apron, refills Lovely’s cup of joe. “What are you on about now?”
“I was watching newsreel of the H-bomb test in the window at Nicholson’s. Our newest doomsday weapon—as if doomsday needs be enhanced and improved—a thousand times more powerful than the one we dropped on Hiroshima . . . but on the TV? No different from the lather coming off two tablets of Alka-Seltzer during the commercial break.”
Hal just stares at him.
“ ‘Relief is just a swallow away.’”
“What are you gonna do?” Hal says, rote. He’s inured to Lovely’s morning jeremiad, and Lovely worries, as he often does now, that maybe he’s thinking too much out loud.
Lanky greengrocer Johnny Leong crosses from where his tiny wife is stacking Valley Fresh grapefruit, and drops several scraps of messages in front of Lovely, all scrawled in Chinese.
“Not many calls for you, Ry Lovely. You should advertise. Get on the stick.”
Lovely smiles, bemused, smooths and stares at the notes. “Your wife has beautiful handwriting, Johnny, but I don’t read Chinese.” He holds up the first one. Leong puts on his glasses:
“Miss Lily Himes—”
Lovely tucks the message away, cuts him short. “—Okay. I know what that’s about.”
“Word from the bird,” Hal cracks.
Leong reads the second. “Screen Gems. They have an actor who has got himself in a scrape—”
“No movie studios. I made a rule.” Lovely crumples it up. “Next.”
“Jimmy Del Rio called.”
“The divorce lawyer? Categorically no.” Lovely crumples it. Leong shows no reaction. Another:
“Lost cat. Some little girl’s pet. You have rules for cats?”
“Any reward offered?”
Leong scowls, scolds. “Mercenary.”
Lovely smiles, pockets this one. The last message is written in English. Beautiful cursive that Lovely can read.
“That one came here looking for you,” Leong says. “I wrote down the information myself.” When Lovely stays quiet, the grocer angles his head, expressionless. “Attractive lady. Long of leg.”
Lovely stares at the address.
HIS BLACK MORRIS MINOR rumbles around a shady curve and slides to the curb in front of a Spanish courtyard six-plex overhung by fan palm and jacaranda in the Silver Lake hillocks on the city side of Griffith Park. Rusting wrought-iron cursive on a low stucco wall spells out: Diablo Bonita Apartments.
Lovely double-checks the address against Johnny Leong’s note, then climbs out of the car to walk under an archway pegged with tangled pink bougainvillea, and up the flagstone steps.
Bubbling fountain, tropical planters.
A lithe sulky wisp of Aspiring Actress has arranged itself on a lounger, platinum hair splayed out, two-piece sea-foam bathing suit with rocket-cone padding she doesn’t really need, a perfect ass Lovelycan’t help but admire, and a winged foil sun reflector tucked up under her chin, trying to find a tan in the flat, chalky light.
Big rhinestone-studded, cat’s-eye sunglasses follow Lovely speculatively as he walks to the apartment in the back, and she calls out in a low, throaty stage whisper culled from Lana Turner byway of Lauren Bacall, “Hey, Fuller Brush man. Where’s my gift?”
Lovely throws her an indifferent glance and stops before the door to apartment C. Thumb poised above the doorbell, he looks back at the actress again. She smiles, lots of teeth.
Behind the screen, the front door creaks in the breeze: unlocked, not completely closed. Lovely draws open the former and nudges the latter; it swings in revealing a cool, dark flat done up in Deco, with a female bent. Everything is tidy, symmetrical, unnaturally well ordered. No knickknacks on the counters or tables. Furniture all squared up.
He steps in and pulls the front door shut behind him. Listens to soft flop of a curtain over an open window in the bedroom he assumes is at the end of the short, dark hallway. To his left is the kitchen, checkerboard linoleum, white Formica counters, pastel- blue painted cabinets with chrome pulls glinting the spackled light that passes through a louvered window in the back door.
A gnawing dread draws him down the hall to the bedroom, where everything, again, is ordered and pristine.
Except for the bed: unmade, tangle of sheets.
And the woman who stares sightless up at him from the floor, arms and legs awkwardly disposed, shot through the chest.
She’s beautiful, Lovely thinks. A silvery haze, like the discarded shroud of a soul, has already begun to veil her turquoise eyes. Her lips are purpled with scarlet lipstick and the start of livor mortis.
Lovely is visibly shaken. It’s not the dead body; he’s well acquainted with death. It’s her.
Overcome by her, stunned: the utter silence of this woman is surreal to him.
He gathers himself, finds a phone on the bed stand, reaches for his handkerchief to lift the receiver, careful of fingerprints—but then discovers his handkerchief gone and remembers that he gave it away. As if separated from his body, he sees his hand is shaking, ever so slightly. His legs feel numb. He moves to the bathroom door, thinking he’ll use a washcloth for the phone, but when he opens the door he discovers three policemen and a blunt, bristle-haired detective he recognizes waiting in the middle of the small tile bathroom, staring back at him like a huddle of guilty children.
“What are you doing here, Lovely?” Detective Sergeant Henry Paez, Los Angeles Police Department, is wily, cynical, a third-generation Angeleno—maybe he and Lovely used to be friends and maybe Lovely made the LAPD look unusually foolish and craven not so long ago and Paez took the heat, they don’t talk about it, but it haunts them both.
“New departmental policy on urination, or you just got more equipment than one man can handle?”
Lovely steps back and the cops come out, sheepish, as Paez growls, “Don’t be a wisenheimer. We got an anonymous call.”
“No. Just a tip,” he says, deliberately vague. “We were barely getting started, heard you come up the steps and wondered who it could be. Did you know her?”
Lovely hesitates. “Prospective client. She left a message at my office, I came at the appointed time. I don’t know what she wanted.”
Paez hears the equivocation. “That’s not what I asked. I asked, did you know her?”
In the pause that follows, Lovely has time to reflect on all the self-recriminations and unanswerable questions and bitter contradictions Paez’s question sets in motion, like faded snapshots and archive footage from someone else’s life: a landscape of pulp fiction and B movies, the butt of fatuous East Coast jokes; drifters, dreamers, starlets, schemers, fast money and fancy cars, improbable fauna under demented blue skies or unbearable secrets and unholy dreams—Queen of Angels, stripped naked and waiting, beckoning, lurid, yearning, daring you to take her, and fall.
“Yeah,” Lovely admits finally, conditionally, and says what logically follows but which feels alien and somehow impossible, after all this time, even wrong, the minute it comes out of his mouth:
“She’s my wife.”
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Daniel Pyne's screenwriting credits include the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Pacific Heights, and Fracture. He made his directorial debut with the indie cult film Where's Marlowe? Pyne's list of television credits (writing and showrunning) is vast, and includes J. J. Abrams's Alcatraz and Miami Vice. His last novel, Fifty Mice, was published by Blue Rider Press in 2014; his previous novels Twentynine Palms and A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar were published by Counterpoint Press. He lives in Southern California.