beer | An LA Crime Story

Marigold Walls

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The marigold colored walls of Barragan’s main room screamed sunshine. Rhea headed for the darkness of the bar. It was a little after seven on “Dollar Taco Monday” – an easy choice for her first review. The tacos were OK – somewhere between the fresh grilled asada ones at the Saturday night Pop-ups on Yale St. and the ones at Taco Bell. And at a buck a piece she could easily meet Manny’s five dollar limit.

She sat at the end bar stool next to a long verticle window. where she had a sliver of a view of the street outside. Sunset Boulevard started in heart of Boyle Heights – as Cesar Chavez Boulevard – it danced west through the brightly colored hood that defined LA’s origins; it shot past Chinatown where its name changed to Sunset then wove through the hip haunts of Hollywood – gliding past the glitz of the strip, winding through half a dozen stately hoods dripping with the trappings of wealth glimpsed through high hedges and iron gates before it sailed down its final hill and ended at the Pacific. Quite a street. And her view of the Hollywood boys strutting down it was a treat.

“San Miguel dark, right?” The bartender smiled at her. She smiled back,

“Yeah Ernie, thanks. And five tacos. Mixed.”

He slid her the beer and wrote up her order. She took a swig. After thinking a little, she took out her phone. She opened her notepad app and wrote a few words: “Dollar tacos. Back room. Sunset Boys. San Miguel.” She looked out the window, straining to see the boys on the street. It was a good spot to check them out – and maybe she’d find one to share a few tacos with. Several potentials hustled by. But it was still light out and she could see the frays on the edges of their strut and the tired in their eyes. This glimpse of reality sometimes made her wonder what the hell she was doing. Sometimes it even made her vow to quit. She wanted someone with hope and plans and laughter and sincere lust for her. But then dusk would fall and the boys looked better and her need overcame her vow.

A waiter brought Rhea her tacos, a display of chorizo, beefy oxtail, lime chicken, herbs, beans and cacique cream encased in fried tortillas. Heaven. She looked back out the window, maybe someone to share with would walk by. A scruffy girl about sixteen came into view, carrying an overstuffed blue IKEA bag. Rhea drained half the beer in a single gulp, wrapped the tacos in a few napkins, slapped ten dollars on the counter, took the tacos and left.

Outside, Rhea looked for the girl. She hurried past a mobile covid vax truck and two food trucks parked behind it, selling fried chicken, plantains and waffles to the newly vaxxed.

Rhea spotted the girl on the corner. She approached her.

“Sheena?” Rhea said, close behind. The girl turned.

“Officer Porter!” she cried out, recognizing Rhea.

The girl seemed shaky. Are you OK?” Rhea asked her.

“Yeah. Yeah…” Sheena answered, unconvincingly then looked at the napkin-wrapped bundle Rhea was holding. “Those tacos?”

Rhea offered them to her, “One is chorizo.”

Sheena flashed a brief smile as she took four of the little tacos, leaving the chorizo one. “I’ve been looking for you. Where’ve you been?”

“Sorta on a break.” Rhea explained then asked again, “Everything OK?”

Sheena wolfed a taco. Finally she answered, “No.”

“What happened?” Rhea asked.

“Nothing happened really, it’s just… There’s this smell…”


“Down by camp.”

Rhea looked at Sheena’s IKEA bag, “So you’re moving?”

She nodded “Just until it goes away… ”

“It’s that bad?”

“Yeah.” Sheena confirmed.

Rhea tried to offer an explanation, “It’s probably just all the trash there. Or maybe all the piss, soaking the ground.”

“No…” Sheena said, kind of slow. Something was bothering her.

“Could be the muck in the L.A. River.” was Rhea’s next idea.

Sheena looked her in the eye, “It’s kind of a scary smell.”

Tart Man

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The man walked another four and a half blocks, up a winding little street to a four-unit stucco building built in the thirties. He entered the garden apartment. Inside, a battered and dusty old sky-blue surfboard propped up against the living room wall was the only bit of personality in the cracked plaster interior of the little one bedroom unit.

The man went into his tiny kitchen and put the tart on a paper towel. He got a dark beer out of his fridge and popped the top. As he started to take a bite of the tart, he heard a key turn in his front door. He opened the utensil drawer next to the ancient stove and took out a small twenty year old glock.

“Mr. Jones?” came a familiar voice. “You here? I’m gonna kill you.” The afore-mentioned Mr. Jones pocketed the glock and went into his living room.

“It was an accident, Leland.” Jones told Leland Hays, who was standing in his entryway, pissed off. “And stop threatening me every time shit happens.”

“Shit?!” Hays hissed, turning red. “That’s seventy five grand up in smoke! Why the hell were those girls in there?!” He carried on, talking about the Domingos fire.

“Ozrin wanted the pick-up there.”

“He never told me.”

“I thought he did–” Jones carried on, returning to the kitchen.

“You thought?! No. You don’t think, you do as you’re told. I had to hear it from the cops? The COPS!” Hays followed him.

“I just found out myself.” Panama told him, keeping calm.


“This morning. I went over there for the pick-up, saw the Police tape–”

“The fire was three days ago. You were gonna leave them there for three days?”

“…I left them food.” Panama took out a knife, sliced the tart in half.

“I called Ozrin.” Leland informed Jones, “He says the pick up was tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? No–” He offered half the tart to Hays.

“And he said the location was never changed–”

Jones put the beer to his mouth, “Ozrin’s paranoid. He changes the location every other time then changes it back.”

Hays watched him take a long pull of the beer.

“Thought you quit all that.”

Jones took another. “I did.”

Hays took out his wallet,

“Get three more now, Before Ozrin takes his business somewhere else.” He tossed five twenties on the worn counter. “There’s a hundred for gas.”

He turned to leave, then turned back and almost smiled,

“Those girls dying is on you.” Then he was gone.

Panama Jones checked the time. It was ten-forty-five. He dumped the rest of the beer, took a bite of the tart, grabbed his board and left.

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