The third bus dropped him off in the city of Venice.
He’d been riding and changing buses for nearly three hours, inching his way across the endless city toward Jake’s place at the beach. He was surprised to discover that he wasn’t the only person in Los Angeles who didn’t know where the hell he was. Even the people who lived here didn’t know anything. He’d given the first driver Jake’s address, and the guy had glanced at him for a split second, then turned back to his driving.
“Where is that?” Friendly, but stupid.
“I don’t know. I was hoping you’d tell me.” No sense pissing him off so soon. “Venice?”
That was the magic word. The bus rumbled twenty or thirty blocks while the guy hashed out a plan, talking to himself the whole time, working through the possibilities. Eventually he came up with an itinerary, involving a couple of transfers. It was barely comprehensible, but it worked.
By the time the kid got off at Pacific Avenue it was early afternoon and the sky had turned a bright, hazy gray, fading to brown at the horizon, when you could see it. It was hot, but there was no visible sun. There was a taste in the air that the kid had never known before, since he had never been less than a thousand miles from the sea, and now he was just two blocks from it. The bus lumbered away, and he stood there and looked after it.
A seagull wheeled far overhead. A siren howled in the distance. But for that there was no sound and no movement on the street. The Pacific Ocean lurked unseen just on the other side of some buildings to his left, and the lack of anything beyond it made him feel as if he were standing at the end of the world. The corner he was on featured two broken down apartment buildings, an empty lot and a corner grocery. He went into the little shop to buy cigarettes and a Coke and to ask about the address he was looking for. The guy at the counter was 40, completely bald and muscled like Marciano. His chest rippled under his shirt when he pushed the change across the counter. He shrugged at the address. “It’s down Pacific.” The kid borrowed an opener for the Coke, drained most of the bottle, then set out to find Jake.
It was a neighborhood of flaky stucco apartments, four and eight to a building, jammed side by side and all of them touching the sidewalk. The street curved gently to the right and disappeared a few blocks ahead. Parked cars lined both sides. As he rounded the curve, things started to happen.
An ambulance overtook him from behind and raced past. Two boys on bicycles followed, and behind that a police black-and-white went by, too fast for the narrow, curving street. Rounding the curve himself, he saw the official vehicles parked all over the street. Ambulance, couple of squad cars, paramedics, fire truck. Uniforms all over the place. As always, the cops had drawn a small crowd, and now they were engaged in crowd control. They were standing in various heroic poses around the scene, refusing to speak to the curious neighbors. The kid had been looking at addresses, and now he saw that he must be very near his destination.
The cops seemed to be guarding one of the apartment buildings, and they seemed to be too late. The windows on the ground floor were smashed, glass and pieces of the frames blown outward and strewn on the sidewalk. The front door was hanging by one hinge. The kid couldn’t see the address on the building, and then he had gone as far as he could without knocking down one of the cops.
Through the broken doorway came the ambulance attendants rolling a stretcher, it’s occupant under a sheet and showing only a bloody face. As they rushed past the dangling door it twisted off it’s remaining hinge and fell face up on the sidewalk, revealing the four tin numbers tacked there. It was Jake’s address. As the stretcher went by, the bloody face looked up at the kid.
“Hey Alvin,” it said. “When did you hit town?” Then Jake was gone, stuffed into the waiting ambulance.