Book excerpt

East on Sunset

A Crime Novel

Will Magowan

Ken Mercer

St. Martin's Press

EAST ON SUNSET (Chapter One)

It’s amazing how quickly your whole day can turn to shit.

Will Magowan let out his breath as he fought to steer his now hobbled Volvo station wagon into the parking lot of the mini mall.

Things had all been going according to plan: He’d put on his best shirt and a pressed pair of khaki pants and left the house right on schedule. He was driving east on Victory through Van Nuys, the traffic moving for a change, when it happened.

The white Daewoo cut into his lane without warning, and he was forced to jerk the steering wheel to the right to avoid ramming into it. He felt his front wheel hit the curb, then the front end of his car dropped as the tire blew. The steering wheel began to shudder in his hands.

As a general rule, he hated mini malls, considered them to be a blight on the land, part of the plot to pave over every last inch of Greater Los Angeles. But he had to admit he was pleased to spot this particular one, a way for him to get off the busy street.

He turned into the parking lot and switched off the ignition. He got out of the car and went around the front of it. The passenger side front tire was now a shapeless mass of deflated rubber.

A car horn blared behind him. Will turned and saw the white Daewoo idling by the entrance to the parking lot. He went over to it. The passenger side window cranked down, revealing a dark-skinned man behind the wheel.

“I am so sorry.” The man spoke with an accent, Indian or maybe Pakistani.

Will leaned into the passenger window. The backseat of the car was covered with translucent plastic shopping bags filled with takeout containers. The smell of curry wafted out through the open window.

Will tried to tamp down his anger before he spoke. “You need to watch where you’re going.”

The man nodded. “I am so sorry. Please no police? I will lose my job.”

“Maybe you should have thought about that before you cut me off.”

“Please, forgive me.”

Will glanced back at his disabled car. The tire was toast, but the rim looked like it would live to fight another day.

He turned back to the man. “It was an accident, right?”

The man nodded again. “It was quite unintentional.”

Will straightened up. “Then don’t worry about it.”

The man thanked him and shook Will’s hand through the window before driving away, disappearing into the traffic and exhaust fumes on Victory.

Will walked back toward his car. Of course, he’d just let the AAA membership lapse in a cost-cutting move, figuring he hadn’t used it in years. Which meant that he’d be the one getting down on the oil-and Slushee-coated pavement himself. In his dress clothes.

He reached inside the car for his cell phone and date book. He opened the book and turned the pages until he came to today’s date. He punched in the number he’d written down, then hit call.

A young woman’s voice answered. “Los Angeles Dodgers.”

“Joe Gibbs, please.”

Will was put on hold. Instead of music, he was treated to a recording of Vin Scully doing play-by-play. The sun beat down on the blacktop, and he began to sweat in the afternoon heat.

The other man came on the line.

“Joe, it’s Will Magowan, I’ve got a meeting with you at four—”

“You mean an interview.”

“Right. Listen, I’m having some car trouble and I’m still out in the Valley.” He flipped open the date book. “Can we reschedule?”

“No.”

Will thought that maybe he hadn’t heard right, the crappy cell phone reception and all. “Sorry?”

“Sorry won’t cut it. I need people that are dependable.”

“I am dependable. I just got a flat tire.”

“You can’t even make it to the job interview, what’s that supposed to tell me?”

Will started to wonder if he really wanted to work for this dick. He stared out at the soot-covered stucco buildings of the mini mall: a Vietnamese nail joint, check cashing store, a Del Taco.

“I’m sorry.” Will thought that he was starting to sound a lot like the Indian delivery dude. “I’m really interested in the job.”

“Well, you sure got a funny way of showing it.”

Will inhaled the smell of frying oil from the Del Taco. Up ahead at the corner, a Mexican man wearing an Angels cap stood in the hot sun selling oranges in green mesh sacks. “Please, just meet me in person. You won’t be sorry.”

“Look, I was only seeing you as a favor.”

“What do you want me to tell Charlie?”

“It was Charlie Miesmer referred you?”

“That’s right.”

Even over the static of the cell phone connection, Will could hear the other man let out a breath.

“You used to be a cop?”

Will nodded. “I was a detective with LAPD.”

A rusting VW camper van with a longboard strapped to the roof pulled into the spot next to him. A faded decal on the driver’s window had a pastel-colored map of California above the words SUMMERTIME ALL THE TIME.

“Tell you what. Chuckles sent you, you can’t be all bad. You think you can manage to get your ass in here at ten on Monday?”

Will didn’t bother to check his book. “No problem.”

“I certainly hope not,” the other man said before hanging up.

EAST ON SUNSET Copyright © 2011 by Greenland Creative, LLC.

KEN MERCER was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1962 and began writing professionally at the age of 17. He lives in Northern California.