I heard the ring through fuzzy sleep. Groaning, I opened one eye and groped for the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hel-lo, Eve Diamond," said a cheerful voice on other line. "Miller here."
My editor was oblivious to, or else ignoring, my sleep-logged voice at ten in the morning, a time when most reporters were already at their desks, rustling through the daily paper and midway through a second cup of coffee. I swallowed, and tasted chardonnay, now a sour reminder of last night's excess.
"...slumped in her new Lexus, blood all over the place, right there in the parking lot of Fabric World in San Gabriel," Miller was saying. "Guess the bridesmaids won't be wearing those dresses any time soon."
I cleared my throat.
"Can I have that address again, my pen stopped working."
"Why, suuure," he said. "Hold on, let me see what the wires are saying."
I would hold forever for Matt Miller. He was my hero, known and loved throughout the paper as a decent human being, a trait the Los Angeles Times rarely bred anymore in its editors. Most of the real characters had long ago been pushed out of the profession or early-retired to pickle themselves slowly and decorously in hillside moderne homes. They had been replaced by gray-faced accountants with more hidden vices. Funny thing was, Matt didn't seem to drink too much, and he was happily married.
After a quick shower, I was out the door of my apartment. I lived in a funky hillside community ten minutes northwest of downtown. Silverlake's California bungalows and Spanish-style homes harkened back to an earlier era when the neighborhood had bustled with some of Hollywood's original movie studios. And though the studios had long ago given way to the same public storage facilities and mini-malls that infested the rest of the city, a whiff of 1920s glamour still clung to our hills and attracted one of the city's most eclectic populations -- lately it had been a wave of boho hipsters. They settled down, living cheek by pierced jowl alongside multigenerational Latino families, third-generation Asian-Americans, Eastern European refugees from communism, 1930s-era Hollywood communists, and a smattering of liberal white yuppies, all of whom somehow managed to get along. Plus it was freeway close.
Within moments I was chugging along the ten-lane expanse of asphalt, looping around downtown Los Angeles and heading east on Interstate 10. Steering with one hand, I flipped the pages of my Thomas Guide with the other, looking for Valley Boulevard and Del Mar. Out my window, the bony spines of the San Gabriel Mountains were already obscured by a thick haze. The San Gabes were a scrubby desolate range northeast of the city, from which bears and mountain lions emerged with regularity to attack the inhabitants of tract houses gouged from the hills. Each year, flash floods and icy ridges claimed a dozen or so hikers. You wouldn't think that could happen so close to the city, but it did. The way I saw it, nature, too, demanded its pound of flesh. It was only we who called it accidents.
The cars ahead of me shimmered in the heat. The forecast was for 102 degrees in the Inland Valleys, with a Stage 1 Smog Alert. Already, perspiration pooled in the hollows of my body, and I cursed the fact that the A/C was out again in my nine-year-old Acura Integra.
Oh, it happened at that place, I thought, as the mammoth shopping center loomed into view. It was an anomaly that only the Pacific Rim fantasy aesthetic of Los Angeles could have produced. Built in a Spanish Mission style, with dusky earth tones, the three-story shopping center catered exclusively to the exploding Chinese immigrant community, although on occasion, a looky-loo gringo would wander through, bug-eyed at the panorama of this Asian Disneyland.
At San Gabriel Village Square, a name developers clearly hoped would evoke a more bucolic time, you could gorge on Islamic Chinese food, buy designer suits from Hong Kong, pick out live lobsters for dinner and $700 bottles of French cognac for dessert, or take out a $1 million insurance policy on your cheating spouse.
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