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Earth Angels

by Gerald Petievich

Detective Sergeant Jose Stepanovich is a member of a new elite gang suppression unit in the Los Angeles Police department. The unit has the verbal go-ahead from the mayor on down to do whatever is needed to end the gang's rule of this city. The members of the unit were picked because of their expertise in the ways of the gangs. They are able to think like their targets, anticipate their actions and often alter the outcome. But adopting the gang's thinking has a downside. Soon there's a little difference between the good guys and the bad in their savagery and vindictiveness. The unit is effective, but at a cost. And the cost may be too high for the top brass to continue their support. Earth Angels delves into the darkest side of law enforcement, where duty becomes a double-edged sword and a man must face his own past and decide what is more important-his job, his convictions, or his life.

"This story may be fiction, but it is so graphic it reads like fact. The sharp pace, grim, down-to-earth action is a real bet to keep the reader up past bedtime." - Associated Press

"Clear and hard, and at the same time almost politic. The voices are real... A cop novel where the cops are all too human and the problems all too real." - The Washington Times


Twenty-three-year-old Primitivo Estrada stood alone at the portaled entrance to the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church. Killing time, he rocked back and forth on the heels of his highly polished Stacey Adams shoes. Time was something he'd had plenty of ever since he'd been kicked out of high school in his sophomore year for having a gun in his locker. He had never held a job of any kind. Everyone called him Payaso.

Because of the August heat, the ruffled blue shirt and mothballed tuxedo jacket he'd rented for the wedding were soaked through. Above him, the sanctuary's multifoil window reflected the surrounding jumble of apartment buildings, prewar bungalows, gas stations, taco stands, junkyards, and graffiti-adorned public housing projects that was East Los Angeles.

Payaso moved closer to the sanctuary door and opened it a few inches. Inside, it was standing room only. Father Mendoza, who the other vatos believed was a fag because he lisped, stood at the altar chanting religious bullshit. Kneeling in front of him were Smokey Salazar, vice president of the White Fence gang, and his cross-eyed bride Linda Medrano, whose gang nickname was Parrot. Careful not to make noise, Payaso eased the door closed again. A loyal White Fence homeboy, Payaso had earned the rank of veterano, having served time in jail and reached his twenty-second birthday without being killed by an opposing gang.

Payaso had volunteered to stay outside and perform lookout duty. He figured he might as well because he always cracked up in church. He'd kneel like everybody else and it would be all silent and everyone would like be praying. Then for no apparent reason he would just get the urge to laugh like hell. It was weird. It would start with a giggle and it wouldn't stop. He would like really crack fucking up during any church service. He used to think he was the only person in history with this inexplicable urge until he saw a movie at the Floral Drive-in Theater called College Vacation. In a scene he remembered vividly, all these college dudes laughed like motherfuckers during a church service and pissed off the minister. Payaso identified with this behavior and went back to see the movie four times.

Rocking back and forth, Payaso surveyed the line of customized lowriders parked at the curb in front of the church. The cars were all washed, polished, and decorated with paper flowers and streamers. At the conclusion of the church service the White Fence wedding party would be transported in fine style to the Knights of Columbus Hall on Soto Street for the reception.

Keeping his eyes on the street, Payaso lit a Marlboro. He took a long drag and gently blew a perfect smoke ring at the church door. He turned, aimed another ring at the wood framed house across the street, and for good measure, on more at the dingy El Cholo taco stand catercorner from the church.

For no particular reason, he thought of his mama, a fiery-eyed woman who showed her love by lying to the cops when they came to their tiny one-bedroom house on Ortega Street looking for him. At age thirteen, when he'd been a White Fence peewee, he'd learned his father really wasn't in the Army like Mama told him, that Madre, with her long raven-black hair and her White Fence teardrop tattoo was full of shit. His father had most likely been one of the beer-bellied Cabrons from the meatpacking plant on Los Angeles Street she invariably brought home on Saturday nights.

He recalled years of being carted next door with his brothers and sister to Mrs. Valladolid's place to spend the night huddled together on her rancid living room rug. On Sundays Mama always served menudo and treated the kids extra nice. Payaso eventually figured this was to assuage her guilt for getting laid.

His first trip to the L.A. County Juvenile Hall had been when he was twelve years old. He and some other peewees had been dropping bricks onto cars from the Soto Street freeway overpass. When the cops came, he and the others ran. He took a shortcut through a backyard, but his T-shirt got caught on the edge of a chain-link fence. A motor cop, whom he remembered as being ten feet tall, laughed when he found him, called him greaseball, and slapped him hard enough to make him see stars.

At Juvenile Hall, a bearded gringo counselor tried to reach Mama by telephone, but, as luck would have it, it was Saturday night and she was off somewhere getting a piece of ass. So Payaso was placed in a padded isolation cell with a small window on he door and remained the night, intermittently jacking off to kill time. At about noon the next day mama picked him up. Subsequently, he made six other trips to Juvie Hall and served both a thirty-day and a ninety-day sentence at the Fred C. Nelles Juvenile Detention Center in Whittier.

At eighteen, he was convicted of car theft and sentenced to a year in the Los Angeles county jail. He received a sentence reduction due to jail overcrowding and, with time off for good behavior, served three months and twenty-one days. While he was there, he used the guile he'd developed at Nelles and managed to negotiate a job in the jail kitchen. Most of the mess duty was scrubbing institutional-sized pots and pans and cleaning out the kitchen's overflowing grease pit, but the position had distinct benefits. He was able to steal spoons and other utensils easily whittled into shanks for other White Fence homeboys serving time. He even provided weapons to prisoners in other cellblocks in exchange for Marlboros. He always checked out these buyers, though, to make sure he wasn't selling to a member or associate of a rival gang, who'd use one of Payaso's sharpened forks or spoons against him.

Another benefit of mess duty was that he was able to spit or urinate into the food served to the deputy sheriffs on the jail staff. Everyone knew the deputies would beat him to death if they ever found out, so this gained him respect from his comrades and moved him several notches higher in White Fence gang hierarchy.

Bored, Payaso wandered out of the shade to his Chevrolet. Parked fourth in line behind Smokey's, the car was a highly lacquered blue and had been lowered to within four inches of the street. Its seats were covered with pleated leather upholstery referred to in East L.A. custom-car circles as "tuck-and-roll." He reached through the window opening, unlocked the glove compartment, and took out a $1.98 spray can of Four-star paint and a cotton athletic sock. He looked about furtively to make sure no one was watching, then dropped down on his haunches to hid from passing cars. Holding the sock over the spray-can nozzle, he pressed the trigger firmly and allowed the spray can to hiss a healthy amount of gold paint into the sock. He set the paint can down on the sidewalk and, using both hands, cupped the sock like an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, and took deep breaths.

Toluene-induced lightheadedness spread from his nasal passage to forehead, to his spine and the very center of his brain. Dope TV came on and his mind flipped though the channels. For brief, flashing moments he was relaxing comfortably in a dentist's chair with his mouth open wide, standing on the corner of Brooklyn and Soto streets watching the Cinco de Mayo parade, sitting anxiously in the principal's office at Castelar Elementary School waiting to get spanked with a thick wooden paddle, cavorting about while dressed as a monkey on Halloween, screaming while holding tight to the restraining bar in a roller coaster at the Magic Mountain amusement park.

He sprayed another shot of paint into the rag and sucked more paint fumes into his lungs. It was like sliding into soothing, tepid water as the high changed to the lighter-than-air, everything-is-OK sensation he'd first experienced as a nine-year-old when he'd inhaled model airplane glue. Clearly, as if the radios of a fleet of lowrider Chevys were playing simultaneously he could hear his favorite tune:

Earth Angel, earth angel, will you be mine?
My darling dear, love you all the time.
I'm just a fool. A fool in love with you.