Hooray for Hollywood.
Brass stars with celebrities' names were inlaid in the sidewalk but the stars of the night were toxin merchants, strong-arm specialists, and fifteen-year-olds running from family values turned vicious.
Open twenty-four hours a day, Go-Ji's welcomed them all. The coffee shop sat on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard, east of Vine, between a tattoo parlor and a thrash-metal bar.
At 3:00 a.m., a Mexican boy was sweeping the sidewalk when Nolan Dahl pulled his cruiser into the front loading zone. The boy lacked documentation but the sight of the policeman didn't alter his rhythm; cops could care less about inmigracion. From what the boy had observed after a month, no one in L.A. cared much about anything.
Nolan Dahl locked the black-and-white and entered the restaurant, sauntering the way only 220 pounds of young, muscular cop laden with baton, belt, radio, flashlight, and holstered nine-millimeter could saunter. The place smelled rancid and the aisle of deep red carpet between the duct-taped orange booths was stained beyond redemption. Dahl settled at the rear, allowing himself a view of the Filipino cashier.
The next booth was occupied by a twenty-three-year-old pimp from Compton named Terrell Cochrane and one of his employees, a chubby sixteen-year-old mother of two named Germadine Batts, formerly of Checkpoint, Oklahoma. Fifteen minutes ago, the two had sat around the corner in Terrell's white Lexus, where Germadine had rolled up a blue, spangled legging and shot fifteen dollars' worth of tar heroin into a faltering ankle vein. Now nicely numbed and hypoglycemic, she was on her second diluted jumbo Coke, sucking ice and fooling with the pink plastic stirrer.
Terrell had mixed heroin and cocaine into a speedball and was feeling as perfectly balanced as a tightrope walker. He slouched, forked holes in his cheeseburger, simulated the Olympic logo with five flaccid onion rings while pretending not to watch the big blond cop.
Nolan Dahl couldn't have cared less about either of them, or the five other things scattered around the bright room. Elevator rock played softly. A slim, pretty waitress the color of molasses hurried down the aisle and stopped at Nolan's booth, smiling. Nolan smiled back, waved away a menu, and asked for coconut cream pie and coffee, please.
"New on the night shift?" asked the waitress. She'd come from Ethiopia five years ago and spoke beautiful English with a pleasant accent.
Nolan smiled again and shook his head. He'd been working Hollywood night shift for three months but had never patronized Go-Ji's, getting his sugar rush from a Dunkin' on Highland recommended by Wes Baker. Cops and doughnuts. Big joke.
"Never seen you before, Officer--Dahl."
"Well," he said, "life's full of new experiences."
The waitress laughed. "Well, hmm." She left for the pastry counter and Nolan watched her before shifting his blue eyes, making contact with Terrell Cochrane.
Nolan Dahl was twenty-seven and had been formed, to a large extent, by TV. Before joining the force, his notion of pimps had been red velvet suits and big hats with feathers. Soon he'd learned you couldn't prepare for anything.
He scanned Terrell and the hooker, who had to be a minor. This month the pimp was into coarse, oversized, insipid plaid shirts over black T-shirts, abbreviated cornrows above shaved temples. Last month had been black leather; before that, African prince.
The cop's stare bothered Terrell. Hoping it was someone else under scrutiny, he looked across the aisle at the three transsexuals giggling and whispering and making a big deal out of eating french fries.
He eased back to the cop.
The cop was smiling at him. A weird smile--almost sad. What did that mean?
Terrell returned to his burger, feeling a little out of balance.
The Ethiopian waitress brought Nolan's order and watched as he tasted a forkful of pie.
"Good," he said, though the coconut tasted like bad pi±a-colada mix and the cream was gluey. He was a practiced culinary liar. As a kid, when his mother had served swill he'd said, "Delish," along with Helena and Dad.
"Anything else, Officer Dahl?"
"Not for now, thanks." Nothing you've got.
"Okay, just let me know."
Nolan smiled again and she left.
Terrell Cochrane thought, That smile--one happy fucker. No reason for a cop to be happy 'ceptin' he busted some rodney with no video going.
Nolan ate more pie and again aimed his smile at Terrell. Then he shrugged.
The pimp looked sideways at Germadine, by now nodding half-comatose into her Coke. Few minutes more, bitch, then back outside for more gravel-knee.
The cop ate the rest of the pie, finished his coffee and his water, and the waitress was there right away with refills.
Bitch. After bringing Terrell's and Germadine's food, she'd mostly ignored them.
Terrell lifted his burger and watched her say something to the cop. The cop just kept smiling and shaking his head. The bitch gave the cop his check and the cop gave her money and she turned all grinny.
A twenty, keep it, was the reason.
Fuckers always tipped big, but this? All that smiling, must be celebrating something.
The cop looked into his empty coffee cup.
Then something came out from under the table.
He was smiling at Terrell again. Showing him the gun!
The cop's arm stretched.
Terrell's bowels gave way as he ducked under the table, not bothering to push down on Germadine's head though he'd had plenty of practice doing that.
The other patrons saw Terrell's dive. The transsexuals and the drunken long-haul truck driver behind them and the toothless, senile, ninety-year-old man in the first booth.
Except the Ethiopian waitress, who'd been talking to the Filipino cashier. She stared, too terrified to move.
Nolan Dahl nodded at the waitress. Smiled.
She thought, A sad smile, what's with this guy?
Nolan closed his eyes, almost as if he were praying. Opening them, he slid the nine-millimeter between his lips and, sucking like a baby, fixed his gaze on the waitress's pretty face.
She was still unable to move. He saw her terror, softened his eyes, trying to let her know it was okay, the only way.
A beautiful, black, final image. God this place smelled crappy.
He pulled the trigger.
Excerpted from SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST © Copyright 2003 by Jonathan Kellerman. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc.. All rights reserved.