Disclaimer: This is the chapter where I found myself needing to take some extra creative liberties with my depiction of the look, structure and activities of the LAPD Building, having never been there before in my lifetime and especially not in 1958. Just know, that like any good journalist would, I did my research and emailed the Los Angeles Police Department for their help. As they did not respond to the email of some no-name college student/novelist (completely understandable, guys), I had no choice but to imagine what it was like in that time. Just know that I do not blame the good officers of the LAPD for not answering and sincerely hope that if you have ever been to the Parker Center (as it is now called), as a visitor or as a criminal, that my poetic license does not hinder your enjoyment of In My Hand. If it does, well, you can pay for my plane ticket to California where I will be more than happy to schedule a tour of the facility.
Baker turned into the underground parking lot and pulled in amid the patrol cars, a speck of pale green in a stark sea of black and white.
He took the radio dial and jammed it back into place. The static was immediately replaced with a fractured and garbled version of The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak.” With no real signal in the garage all that could be heard was:
Take out the pap— and the trash
Or you don’t…
rock and roll no…
Yakety yak (don’t talk back)
In the lobby, he passed the bank of pay phones and the Joseph L. Young mosaic, which depicted what most saw as the state’s greatest, most appealing attributes: palm trees, tall structures (including Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the very building in which Baker was standing at the mosaic’s very center), rolling hills, and an adjacency to the Pacific Ocean. But, like Baker, Joseph Young was a Jew and after the capture and execution of the Rosenbergs five years ago, people had carved hateful slurs into the mosaic over the intervening years so that words like KIKE and TRAITOR stood out like nasty birthing scars on the beautiful piece of artwork attached to the lobby’s marble pillars. During the trial and long after the couple had been fried in the electric chair at Sing-Sing, people would love say they had suspected it all along. What else could be expected from those no-good Hebes, those shifty-eyed Desert wanderers; those money-grubbing, Communist-loving Jews? Julius and Ethel had done no favors for their own people who had tried to disown the traitorous sin to no avail. It was as if the Reichstag fire had happened to the Capitol Building; the Rosenbergs’ egregious betrayal gave McCarthy all the gleeful pretense he needed for rounding up possible enemies of the country by the hundreds and deporting them deep behind the Iron Curtain while harshly restricting the rights of those he had not. There was even talk of resurrecting the old Jap internment camps out in the desert.
The citizens of the United States had never been totally enamored with the Chosen People, but that foolish husband and wife had given the patriotic citizens—“the true democracy-loving people of this great land,” as the president had taken to calling them—a long-awaited chance to exercise atrophying anti-Semitic tendencies that had been forced into a restless hibernation with what they felt was unfairly invoked guilt brought on by war crimes committed an ocean away.
Not realizing he was doing so, Baker rubbed his left forearm. Many people—including his fellow officers—considered him a traitor too, a stranger in a strange land who should go back to whatever backwater European country he had come from, a place which was now under the “crushing vise of Communism,” another term the president loved to refer to in his many redundant, xenophobic speeches filled with half-truths that were seamlessly evolving into facts with each repetition.
The government labeled people like Baker “subversives,” seeming to forget about the broken and lonely people it had helped liberate little over ten years ago; immigrants with nothing left to lose who had been welcomed into a freedom-loving country where they could have the chance to start over if they so wished. Even that was now a half-forgotten dream in the minds of the American public, which was too prosperous and busy spending to brood over a conflict that was long over and paled in comparison to the threat of nuclear annihilation. The Soviets, and anyone even remotely associated with them, were the new enemy, the flavor of the month, the stunning fold-out of this month’s Adam Magazine and would ya check out the pair on her? As far as Baker was concerned, however, he was a true American and an officer of the law who solved murders. Catching those responsible for taking other lives was all he really cared about.
He walked by petty criminals being brought in by uniformed officers in blue uniforms lined with brass buttons and thanked whomever ran the universe that he didn’t have to wear dark-colored cotton in this sweltering weather. The on-duty security officer at the front desk took his sweet time scrutinizing Baker’s driver’s license and badge as if Baker hadn’t walked into this building practically every day for the past eight years. The government, once again reveling in its propensity for steering every day word association, called it “heightened preventative measures against the cunning and invasive agents of the Red Peril,” but—much like his feelings toward Andy Sullivan, reporter at large—Baker just called it a real affront to one’s tuckus region. And despite his job with the department, the status of “Individual of Judaic Origins” (another bubbkes designation the powers that be had so cleverly thought up) written permanently on his license didn’t help either. The guard gave him a dirty look and spat into an unseen trash bin before handing back the laminated piece of plastic and hunk of engraved copper back to their rightful owner.
Baker took his license and badge back with a forced smile, thanked the guard—telling him to go take a shit in the ocean, which wasn’t that far from the station, under his breath—and proceeded to the end of the lobby where he pushed open the doors to the building’s main hive of buzzing law enforcement activity.
Phones rang non-stop, officers jotted down notes or referenced sepia-tinged albums of wanted fugitives, and pretty young secretaries clack! clack! clacked! away on their Smith Corona Silent Portables, which, despite their names, were not very silent. The large office space was a forest of scuffed metal desks, file cabinets, water coolers and coffee makers. Homicide got one half of the room while vice occupied the rest. As he walked to his desk, Baker saw a nervous, red-eyed smack addict who couldn’t be older than eighteen, handcuffed to a chair as the cop sitting opposite him drew up a report. The addict’s puffy eyes kept shifting to all the possible exits, but even if he tried to make a run for it, he’d get a night stick to the base of the skull or maybe even several dozen bullets to the back if he was one very unlucky bastard. Poor kid, but not altogether surprising when the government allied itself with South American drug lords and dictators willing to fight the scourge of Communism in exchange for immunity and laxer narcotics laws. As a result, the number of heroin addicts in America had ballooned substantially since McCarthy had taken office. Without real purpose, the vice department of the LAPD had become a sham of phoney arrest quotas and crooked cops who had become the very drug runners (and users) they were once sworn to stop.
Ignoring the dirty glares from his colleagues, Baker passed by the paunchy, toad-like portrait of President McCarthy affixed to the center wall and reached his desk, whose metal top was covered with unfinished reports, memos, and the latest quarterly report on the number of Communists in the State Department. The government, it said, was happy to report that the number was down from 50 to 25, a figure that was constantly going up and down depending on the administration’s need to scare or pacify the American public into obedience. With the Fourth in two days, Baker guessed the lowering of the number was meant to emphasize democratic pride and increase spending for the national holiday. Unlike other officers, no pictures of family or friends adorned Baker’s desk.
There was a short note on top of the clutter, which was written in slanted handwriting of his secretary Gladys:
Ms. Short came by to see you. Asked you call her immediately.
“Oy vey,” groaned Baker, running a hand through his brown curls. He wadded up the note in his palm, threw it into the waste basket and pulled a blank report form forward, placed it in his Leterra 22, and began to type:
HOMICIDE INVESTIGATION REPORT
July 1, 1958 Case no. 76653 Prepared by Detective Morris J. Baker
This morning, Detective Connolly and I responded to an anonymous call, which led us to the bodies of two men in an Echo Park home at 1565 Altivo Way. Upon further inspection, the men were identified as former film director John Huston and current CBS journalist Walter Cronkite. The house in which they were discovered belonged to the former. The cause and subject of the two men together is unknown at this time, but cause of death for both victims seems to be bullet wounds inflicted to the chest area at point blank range. Charles Ward should be able to provide a more extensive answer in his autopsy report. Officers from the local HUAC office by the names of Hartwell and Waldgrave arrived shortly after myself to take control of the investigation and bring it under federal jurisdiction. Detective Connolly and I left the scene in their able hands while Harold Du Vay handed over photographs of the bodies. Charles Ward will turn in his autopsy report directly to the HUAC officers now in charge of the investigation.
There. That should satisfy any prying Huey eyes that were almost certainly planted in the station. He placed the report to the side and pulled out his Kools when a sharp voice made him jump in his uncomfortable metal chair.
“Baker!” It was Philip Hasncomb, a vice detective who—like most in the country–harbored a genuine hatred for the Semitic crowd. His nose was always bright red, not from the blistering LA sun, but from a cocaine addiction that well-known around the office. He sniffed and leered at Baker, “Parker”—sniff!—“wants to see you in his office straight away.”
“Did he finally decide to give me zhat raise I’ve been begging for?” asked Baker smiling innocently.
“Yeah, you’d like that, you money-grubbing”—sniff!—“son of a…” trailed off the mumbling Hanscomb, not catching onto the sarcasm as he walked away. Baker swiped his newly finished report from the typewriter, got up, and strolled over to Gladys’s desk.
“Gutn morgn, Gladys,” he beamed, placing his report on her desk. “Could you please file that for me?”
“Right away, Detective Baker,” she replied with the giggle she gave whenever he spoke Yiddish to her. Gladys Perkins was one of the pretty, twenty-something members of the LAPD typing pool with a pale complexion and a blonde bouffant haircut. She was also one of the few people in the office who treated Baker like a human being. Today, Gladys wore a white blouse patterned with daises tucked into a brown velvet skirt that stopped just above her knees. As usual, the entire outfit accentuated her fit hour glass shape and perfectly rounded breasts and, not for the first time, Baker imagined her out of those clothes and in his ruffled bed. But then she brought him back to reality when she asked, “You got my note about Ms. Short? She was quite insistent you call her right away.”
The image of Liz swam to the forefront of his schnapps-deprived mind and, not for the first time, it gave him a raging headache—the second one he’d endured that morning.
“Yes, I did. Thank you, Gladys.” He left her to her typing and headed for the office of William H. Parker, Chief of Police.