The California sun…
seemed to be free of its cage as Baker made the drive out to Echo Park from his studio apartment in the heart of Chinatown. He found that no one ever seemed to bother a person there. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Patriotic Americans hated the “Chinamen” just as much as they hated the Jews and there were drunken raids on Chinese shopfronts and businesses from time to time–and sometimes resulting with more than just the loss of one’s income–but living among the Coolies could made a Yid somewhat invisible. More importantly, it just felt right: two peoples who had, at points throughout history, amounted to nothing more than slave labor to a higher power and were now despised for their association with Communism. Still, he’d have chosen railroad construction back in the day, had the choice ever presented itself.
The sky was nothing like that July-Rockwell illustration on Baker’s refrigerator calendar. A deep haze hung in the red-orange sky that was fighting a losing battle to bring light to the city of Los Angeles. The weak beams of early sun caused amorphous shadows among the forest of palm trees that Echo Park was home to; the palms looked more akin to deformed monsters than the botanical landmarks of warm weather. But on that front, the lack of light didn’t make it any less sweltering. It wasn’t even eight yet and Baker’s white shirt was soaked with sweat. He cursed himself for stupidly forgetting to wear an undershirt and neglecting to shave the shallow stubble creeping up his neck.
At least his hangover was abating.
Looking out the side of his pale green Continental Mark II—whose noisy Y-block V8 engine never shut the hell up–Baker saw a cluster of lotus plants shooting out of the lake like the periscopes of a bright green submarine armada.
Out of the radio came the gibberish of Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It”:
Ah ha ha ha (Ah ha ha ha)
Ey eh, oh
(Ey eh, oh)
Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba
Just like this country, the lyrics made no sense to Baker.
“Aw yeaaah, baby!” came the disc jockey who had the voice of someone who has had the unusual habit of gargling gravel after brushing their teeth all their lives. “Don’t ya just love that one, folks? Even the Reds can’t resist a tune that good! This is KPXM Los Angeles where we playin’ all the jiviest jams of yesterday, today and tomorrow, baby! Aww yeaahhh…!”
Soon, the previous Echo Park branch of the LA public library system came into view. Cleared of its books, it now served as the city’s local HUAC office where potential Communists were taken to be processed and interrogated. It was located on West Temple Street, but Baker was in favor of changing its name to Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse since people who went in usually didn’t come out, at least not with their psyches, teeth or fingernails fully intact.
The building was a lot like a beautifully-structured cake, constructed in an appealing combination of white and orange bricks. Now, big black letters sat atop the entrance like blight on a potato farm:
HOUSE UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE OFFICES: LOS ANGELES DIVISION
One could still make out the faint black stains the original letters had left on the white front of the building that had read:
ECHO PARK BRANCH. LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY
But, Baker thought, as American priorities dictate, reading always takes a back seat to hunting Reds these days.
The deafening roar of a super-sonic jet overhead brought him back to his senses. Like a thunder clap, it was, and for a moment, it blurred out the Continental’s overworked radio and engine as it hit Mach 1. Baker snapped his head up just in time to see a white cloud (caused by pressure and temperature changes, or some such as he had read in the papers a while back) bloom from the jet’s tail end as it sped off into the morning sky, its thunderclap advance becoming more and more muted by the second. For ten years, mankind could break the sound barrier and for ten years, he wouldn’t let anyone on the ground forget it.
“Oy, ok, vhee get it already,” said Baker as his hungover brain threatened to roll over like a dying dog, its paws splayed in the air.
It was only a five-minute drive from his apartment on North Hill Street to the library (roughly a ten-minute ride to the LAPD Police Academy in Elysian Park where Baker had earned his badge) and then another nine to the house via Glenadale Boulevard, which took him through Effie Street and then to Echo Park Avenue. Altivo Way was a small street right off the avenue, boxed off by palm trees and bushes and lined with bungalow-looking houses. Giving off the impression of an exclusive colonized jungle, the place looked comfortable, not to mention expensive. The city proper was barely visible between all the scrub and Baker reminded himself, with a wry grin, to look out for tigers.
1565 was curious in several ways. For one, it was built next to a railing that looked down into a patch of forest. For another, it was an oddly-shaped structure that resembled a ranch at first glance, but upon further inspection, revealed several lower levels. It reminded Baker of the wooden puzzle boxes he’d seen on sale in the various shops and stalls lining the curbs of Chinatown.
He pulled up next to the house, noting that several sleek black and white Chevy Delrays were already parked outside. The circular crest on their bodies read City of Los Angeles, Founded 1891 and featured the state bear and American flag. A young-looking uniformed officer (a newbie named Thomas or Travis, Baker couldn’t recall which) was leaning against one of them, probably there to keep out any nosy passersby. Not that Thomas/Travis needed to be there, as a spider web of yellow police tape crisscrossed the entire length of the front of the house. The officer tipped his crested hat in recognition of Baker,
“Morning, Detective. They’re waiting for you inside.”
“Thank you,” replied Baker, a bit awkwardly. Kid must be new if he was treating Baker like a normal human being. He noted the gold calligraphed H on the mailbox while strolling up the stone walkway to the latticed wooden door at the end. Baker turned the warm brass knob, noting how greasy it felt—from the incautious hands of the others inside, no doubt—and walked into the house. A quick view of the dimly lit interior was all he had before the voice of his partner boomed out of the darkness,
“ABOUT TIME YOU, HEBE SON OF A BITCH! NOW WE CAN FINALLY GET STARTED!”