Complex Exclusive: Joe R. Lansdale's "L.A. Noire" Short Story, "Naked Angel"

Complex Exclusive: Joe R. Lansdale's "L.A. Noire" Short Story, "Naked Angel"

“I was going to surprise you.”

“I thought you might be someone else,” he said, and turned on a small light over the kitchen sink. She looked at him and smiled.

“Who would you be expecting?”

“Oh, someone about Warren’s size. Maybe drove you over in a big blue sedan. Maybe he’s standing out there right now with a lock pick in his hand.”

“I didn’t know you liked Warren that much,” she said.

“I don’t like Warren at all.”

“It’s just me,” she said. “Don’t be silly.” She smiled and looked Coats over good. “I certainly like your lack of dress, though a hat and tie might spruce it some.”

“Your husband, he never owned the Polar Bear Ice Company.”

“What?” she said.

“That means you didn’t inherit it.”

“Make some sense, baby,” she said. “I didn’t come here to talk ice. I came to see you and make some heat.”

“That’s all right,” Coats said. “It’s plenty hot enough.”

“I don’t know,” Ali said. “I’m starting to feel a little chilly.”

“You own the Polar Bear Ice Company. You bought it. And it’s not out of business. It’s just closed off and secret and the only time they make ice now they put someone in it. And you got a partner. Johnny Ditto. He’s on the books with you, honey. That doesn’t bode well. He’s not what you’d call your stand-up businessman.”

“In business, you have all kinds of partners. You can’t know them all. Is that a gun?”

“It is,” Coats said. “You know what I think, Ali? I think you’re just what you’ve always been, only more so. Your sister, you were running her with your high-end stable. You were her madam, her and the other girls. Somewhere along the line, you and her, you got sideways, and you had to have her wings clipped.”

“Me? That’s ridiculous.”

“You got a good act,” Coats said. “I believed it. That walking around the table bit, that was good. And I didn’t tell you my address. So how’d you come here?”

“I know people who know people,” she said.

“At the ice house, I found a camera, and I figure that’s where some special pictures were made; reels for smokers. But I also got to figure a girl like Meg, she might have made a film for one of the owners. Someone like Johnny Ditto, a little keepsake for him to take home and watch on lonely nights. But she decided maybe to keep the film, take it out of the private realm. I think she may have made other films, her and some of the other girls. Maybe not just for Johnny. But films for big-name guys who wanted to watch themselves do the deed with some fine-looking babe. Only the babes kept the films. Threatened blackmail. Asked for money. Johnny might not have cared who saw him do what. But some of the clients you and him were servicing, they might have been more worried. You couldn’t have that. So you had to have the films and you had to get rid of any girls in on the scheme. They had to pay. Even your sister had to pay.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ali said. “She was my sister. I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“But you might let someone else do it for you.”

Ali’s face changed. She looked older. She looked tougher. It was like the devil had surfaced under her skin.

“You’re too damn smart for your own good,” she said. “It’s wasn’t exactly like that, but you’re near enough you get the Kewpie doll.”

“I got to take you in,” Coats said.

She said, “Warren.”

Even though Coats expected it, he was still surprised. He thought Warren would have to open the door. But he came through it. The door blew off the hinges like it had been hit by cannon shot and Warren came speeding through the gap. He rushed straight at Coats. Coats brought his gun up and fired, but it didn’t stop Warren. Warren hit him and knocked him back over the table and into the wall. It made cabinet doors fly open and it made dishes fly out; they popped and shattered on the floor.

Coats lay on the floor with Warren on top of him, choking him with both hands. Coats’s vision crawled with black dots and there was a drumbeat in his head. He tried to get his feet stuck up in Warren’s belly to push him back, but Warren was too close. Coats felt around for the gun, but couldn’t find it.

Then he saw Ali, leaning over them, looking down at him. She had his gun in her hand.

“I got nothing against you,” she said. “It isn’t personal. But business is business, and it’s what runs the world. You finish up here, Warren. Make it look like a robbery. Mess things up some more.”

Warren didn’t seem to be listening. He was concentrating on choking the life out of Coats. Ali wandered off, sat in a chair at the table, and coiled one leg over the other.

“You are quite the waste, baby,” she said.

Coats pushed his shoulders up. It helped a little, lessened the choke. There were fewer black dots. He glanced sideways, saw a broken cup from the cabinet. He snatched it up and dragged it hard across the side of Warren’s neck. Warren yelled and sat up. One hand flew to his neck, the other still clutched Coats’s throat. Blood crept through Warren’s fingers, leaked onto the floor.

Coats smashed what was left of the cup into Warren’s nose and rolled him off. There was a shot. Coats felt a bit of a pinch in his side. He scuttled his feet underneath him and rushed at Ali. She was coming out of the chair, pointing the gun. Coats dropped down and the gun barked and his ears rang. He kept coming. She tried to fire again, but he had her wrist now and was shoving her into the wall. When he did he lost his grip on her, but she lost the gun. It went sailing across the room. He struck her with a hard right to the side of the head. She dropped like a brick and didn’t move.

A big hand grabbed Coats’s shoulder and jerked him backward. He went tumbling across the floor. When he looked up, Warren was looking at him. He had one hand to his cut neck. His nose was flat and bloody. His teeth were bared and there was a look in his eye that made Coats feel weak, as if from a blow. Warren trudged forward a couple of steps. Coats lifted his fists, ready to fight. He figured he might as well be bear hunting with a switch.

Warren’s face changed. He had a look that reminded Coats of a man who’s forgotten his money. Warren swallowed, then coughed. Blood flew out of his mouth. He pulled his hand away from his neck and blood squirted high and wide. Warren looked at his bloody hand as if it had been replaced with a catcher’s mitt. Coats saw now that the first shot he had fired had hit Warren in the side. The big galoot hadn’t even noticed.

Warren sat down on the floor and tried to put his hand against his neck again, but he was too weak. It kept sliding off.

“Damn it,” Warren said. Blood gurgled out of his mouth. He carefully stretched himself out on the floor and made a sound like someone trying to swallow a pineapple. Then he didn’t move again. He was as dead as last year’s Christmas.

Coats went over and looked at Ali. She was breathing heavily, and she had a blue knot on the side of her head, but that was the worst of it. When he stood up, he went weak. The hole in his side was dripping big time. He leaned against a chair for a moment, got it together.

Outside, through the doorway, he saw lights. The shots had been heard and someone had called. Pretty soon, cops would be coming up the stairs. He grinned, thought maybe it would look better all around if he could at least put on his pants.


Tags: la-noire, rockstar, fiction
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