H Is For Homicide Page 58

The OBO turned out to be a hundred dollars less than the $999 listed in the paper. Raymond turned his body slightly and took out a fat cylinder of bills with a rubber band wrapped around them. He slipped the rubber band over his wrist while he peeled off the right denominations. The pink slip was signed and changed hands, but I couldn't believe Raymond was actually going to take it down to the DMV. Habitual criminals never seem to be troubled about things like that. They do anything they please while the rest of us feel compelled to play by the rules.

The black guy strolled off as soon as the transaction was completed. Raymond and Luis made a study of the car, which seemed to be in reasonable shape. Chrome flakes were peeling off the bumper and the right rear taillight had been smashed. The tires were bald, but the body didn't show any major dents. The interior was gray, a rip in the passenger seat neatly sutured with black thread. The floor, front and back, was littered with fast-food containers, empty soft drink cans, crushed cigarette packs, newspapers. Luis took a few minutes to shove it all into the gutter, emptying the ashtray in a little mountain of cigarette butts.

’’What do you think?’’ Raymond asked me.

I couldn't imagine why my opinion mattered. ’’Looks better than anything I ever drove.’’

He stuck a finger in the key ring and flipped the keys into his palm. ’’Hop in. Bibianna goes with him.’’

I glanced over at the dark green Ford where Bibianna sat. She was perched up on the backseat, using the rearview mirror to braid her dark, glossy hair. ’’Fine with me,’’ I said.

I got into the Caddy.

Raymond got in on the driver's side and slipped his seat belt on. ’’Buckle up,’’ he said. ’’We're going to have an accident.’’

’’Is this car insured? We just bought the damn thing,’’ I said with surprise.

’’Don't worry about that stuff. I can call my agent later. He does anything I want.’’

I buckled up, trying to picture myself in a neck brace.

The transmission was automatic. The car had power locks and power brakes, power windows. Raymond started the engine, which thrummed to life. He adjusted the rearview mirror and waited while a silver Toyota passed at cruising speed before he pulled into the lane of traffic.

I tried the power windows, which went up with a quiet hum. ’’How do we do this?’’ I asked.

’’You'll see.’’

We seemed to drive randomly, taking Venice Boulevard through Palms, turning right on Sepulveda into an area called Mar Vista. These were neighborhoods of small stucco bungalows with small yards and tired trees with leaves that were oxygen-starved from all the smog in the air. Raymond watched the streets like a cop looking for the telltale indications of a crime in progress.

’’What makes this a drive-down?’’

’’That's just what we call it when we're out cruising for an accident. Car's called a bucket. I got a fleet of buckets, a whole crew of drivers doing just what we're doing. You're a ghost.’’

I smiled. ’’Why's that?’’

’’Because you don't get paid, therefore you don't exist.’’

’’How come I don't get paid?’’

’’You're a trainee. You're just here to beef up the head count.’’

’’Oh, thanks,’’ I said. I turned and looked out the window on the passenger side. ’’So, what are we looking for?’’

Raymond glanced at me sharply, suspicion etched in his ’’I'm just trying to learn,’’ I said.

’’A victim. We call 'em vies,’’ he replied in belated answer to my question. ’’Somebody running a stop sign, backing out of a drive into the right-of-way, pulling out of a parking space...’’

’’And then what?’’

He smiled to himself. ’’We hit the guy. You want to catch the rear quarter panel because the damage shows up nice and nobody gets hurt.’’

We drove around for an hour, unable to conjure up a traffic offender for the life of us. I could see that Raymond was impatient, but oddly enough, there was no twitching whatever during the time in the car. Maybe work was soothing to his battered nervous system. ’’Let me try,’’ I said.

’’You serious?’’

’’If I score, I want the money. What's it pay?’’

’’A hundred bucks a day.’’

’’You're full of shit. I bet you make a fortune and I want a fair shake.’’

’’Pushy bitch,’’ he said mildly.

We traded places. I took a moment to slide the front seat a little closer to the gas pedal and the brake. I eased the Caddy into traffic. By then, we'd worked our way up Lincoln Boulevard to the outskirts of Santa Monica. At Pico, I cut left, picking up Ocean Avenue at San Vicente. Raymond hadn't paid much attention, but when he saw the direction I was taking, he looked at me with surprise. ’’What's wrong with Venice?’’

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