The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman
DUST JACKET DESCRIPTION . . .
— Bumbling hitmen. Burning corpses. A threatened son. Life in hiding. Jerry Schneiderman’s orderly world as a young, family man with a booming space-design firm died on the spot when his business partner was executed by a diabolical, five-foot-nothing assassin on a rainy night in 1979 Los Angeles, and the buzzard-eyed ringleader came for him. Though the killers behind the murder-for-profit corporation were nabbed (after it took them nearly a dozen tries to complete their job), the trauma annihilated Jerry’s family and strip-mined his trust. Recovery only came years later with Jerry’s improbable rebirth as a prank-loving, civic activist who defended the weak by milking his scars, leaving his adversaries chasing their shadows. Nineteen seventy nine, just the same, never really left him.
REVIEWS & PRAISE . . .
— “In Chip Jacobs true-crime, The Ascension of Jerry, we are whisked back to LA’s Kodachrome world of the Seventies. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Jerry, the “bright colors and greens of summer” quickly change to the real life black-and-whites of mayhem and murder. But, this is not just another Hollywood Whodunit. In the end we find it is really about one man’s search and struggle to find his own personal truths and redemption. Well written and highly recommended.” — Steve Hodel, LAPD Hollywood Homicide detective (ret.) and Bestselling author, “Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder.”
— “Jacobs delivers a seductive tour of an L.A. rife with murder-for-hire plots, political corruption and sociopathic schemes. Against this backdrop the young Schneiderman comes of age, to ultimately emerge as the last man standing. A terrific book – I couldn’t put it down! — Stephen Jay Schwartz, L.A. Times bestselling author of “Boulevard” and “Beat.”
— “Chip Jacobs’ chops as an accomplished newspaperman are on brilliant display in The Ascension of Jerry, a delightfully off-kilter true-crime tale of a hero (sorta) who is neither especially loathsome nor lovable … maybe just lucky to get out alive. Jacobs’ prose is intimate, darkly funny, and crisp as he follows the twisted path that leads SoCal businessman Jerry Schneiderman through a series of weird events – including crossing paths with some dumb-ass hitmen and some burning corpses – only to emerge as a merry prankster with a jones for social activism. (If you haven’t yet deduced that this book is not your Mama’s supermarket true-crime trash, then you’re doing it wrong. But here’s the thing: Jacobs’ ear for a good story is pitch perfect, and he tells it with all the smoggy pastel colors of post-noir LA. The Ascension of Jerry isn’t an old song in a new key, but an entirely new song about crime, fear, and a weird kind of redemption that could only happen in the general vicinity of Hollywood. Jacobs is a genuine writer, not a wannabe scribbler. He knows what makes us keep turning pages. So for those few true-crime readers who like their mayhem served up in a sumptuous story, seek this one out.” — Ron Franscell, celebrated true-crime author.
— Chip Jacobs uses his boundless reporter’s energy and well-honed sense of Southern California to tell a gripping tale of serial mayhem and the curious life of Jerry Schneiderman. It’s reassuring to see the right writer was paying attention.” – David Willman, Los Angeles Times Pulitzer winning investigative reporter and author of “The Mirage Man: Bruce Irvins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America’s Rush to War.”
— “Chip Jacobs explores the underbelly of an L.A. murder-for-hire ring that leaves many dead and a successful space planner, Jerry Schneiderman, so affected by PTSD that he embarks on a widespread muckraking campaign that targets major political forces in Los Angeles and beyond. Pitched as a “roots of Occupy story” (aside from Mark Twain’s, of course), The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen, and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman (A Vireo Book/Rare Bird; April 2012) will leave you closing your blinds and forever looking behind your back for the crazed psycho-killer disguised as an ordinary blue collar guy.” – Foreword magazine staff pick, late-summer 2012
— “The pay for some deals is wonderful, but the drawbacks that can come along with it may be too much to swallow. “The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen, and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman” follows the life of Jerry Schneiderman, whose (space planning) career prospered, then quickly spun out of control when his business (partner) ate a bullet via assassin. Fearing for his life, he was on the run for (months), before he found his … life’s calling. “The Ascension of Jerry” is an enticing true tale of getting one’s life back in the midst of … skullduggery, highly recommended.” – Midwest Book Review, September 2012
— ” … a title for your shelf … a fascinating story” – Foothills Paper, July 27, 2012
— “The story of Jerry is filled with characters that seemed to have stepped out of a James Elroy or Raymond Chandler novel. Ruthless hitmen who can never find their quarry at home at night. A co-worker whose soul is corroded by hate and greed. A beautiful, helpless woman abandoned by a handsome swindler. And then Jerry, a clueless guy just trying to work hard for his family who is caught in a whirlpool of lies, betrayal and murder. It’s a classic LA story. Raymond Chandler would’ve been jealous.” – author Mary Castillo
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MEDIA COVERAGE . . .
* Book highlighted on true-crime featurette out with DVD release of “Sinister“
* Author interview on “Connie Martinson Talks Book” – Summer 2012
* Vroman’s bookstore bestseller
* Why is civic activism and journalism legal and who was Jerry Schneiderman? – KCET, June 11, 2012
* Author interview for The Ascension of Jerry – This American Wife web radio, June 8, 2012
* “Jerry Schneiderman: The Rabble-Rouser you’ve never head about but should know” – L.A. Weekly, May 22, 2012
* “Author Chip Jacobs details Jerry Schneiderman Murder Triangle in New Book” – local CBS affiliate, May 17, 2012
* “Killer Prose: With ‘The Ascension of Jerry,’ writer Chip Jacobs reveals his wildest tale yet” – Pasadena Weekly, March 23, 2012 (Note: the “murder corporation” referenced in this article was located near but not in the old Bullocks department store in Pasadena.)
* Ascension of Jerry listed in Bookforum as an independent title to watch
Publisher: Rare Bird Books
CHAPTER NINE: L.A.’S LORD OF DISAPPOINTMENT
Richard, by one yardstick, had accomplished the extraordinary by March 1979: he’d managed to keep his head above the water-line until then, whatever the psychological currents trying to drag him under. His pallor had a healthier sheen now that spring roses readied to bud after a torrential winter. Nibbles for Kasparov & Co. design work portended activity for antsy hands. After Easter, his soul would have its chance. It was then he intended to reclaim his wife and daughter by committing himself to be the dependable provider that he’d seldom been over a lifetime of fractured relationships. Hopefully, he and Paige would consider a new start in San Francisco, away from the smiling bastards of L.A. and their own turbulent history there. Richard knew that if he could survive last winter, he could acclimate to any latitude.
Hence, as he knocked on the door to Paige’s rental home on Saturday, March 24, he had reason to believe he was knocking on his future. It’s just that the door that swung wide did not reveal the same head-turning woman who’d been openly discussing a marital reunion with him. It spotlighted a fragile, young mother quivering on her doorstep.
“What’s wrong,” he asked? “Is the baby okay? Somebody hurt?”
“Rebecca’s fine,” Paige said, her jaw barely hinging.
“Where is she?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“Let’s rewind here. What’s going on? Something’s up.”
“You really want to know?”
“I just got an anonymous phone call from a woman who said there was a contract out on you, Richard! A fucking murder contract. Somebody wants you dead.”
Richard was motionless. “I don’t believe it,” he said after a second. “A murder contract? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Now you know why I’m upset.”
“When did this all happen?”
“About eleven this morning. I was feeding Rebecca in her high chair, staring at the oven clock. That’s when the phone rang.”
“But how did this person even find your number? You’ve already moved twice.”
“The phone book or something – you tell me. This woman asked to speak with you and I told her we weren’t living together. She wanted to know if I was married to an architect and I said you were a (space) designer.”
“What does that matter?”
“Because she wanted to make sure that you were the right person to warn. Haven’t you been listening to what I said?”
“Yes, and so far it’s no big deal. Have you considered that maybe it was a prank call. A teenager or something?”
“You’re just not getting it if that’s what you think. This lady dared me to try to list your enemies. She said, ‘Why don’t you tell your husband to go around by making nice to people,’ and that you should be careful. She said for me to tell you that. She actually wanted your number but I wouldn’t give it to her.”
Richard glared at Paige as though she were a mental patient. “What the hell does that mean, ‘go around making nice’?”
“I don’t know. But you better quit asking questions and start getting to the bottom of this.”
“I can’t get to the bottom of something when you’re telling me that somebody wants me dead? It’s ludicrous on its face. Who’d want to murder me? Tell me? I can’t wait to hear.”
“That call didn’t come for nothing. This woman asked about you – Richard Kasparov. She sounded nervous herself.”
“So you say.”
“There was no call, was there Paige? Admit it. You made it up.” Richard made a shoving gesture to imply he was being sandbagged. “You’re playing to the court for money. Very sneaky of you.”
“I’m confused. How could you think I’d go from discussing getting back together to accusing me of such a thing? I’m scared, okay. Remember the man on the deck with Isabel. Remember (Howard’s) calls?”
“Scared, acting, whatever.”
“I’m pleading with you, Richard. Don’t be stubborn. Go to the police. Figure out who’s after you. This could be your life were talking about.”
“Quit saying that. Where’s my daughter? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
“You’re certifiable if you think I’m letting Rebecca go with you when I just receive a call saying somebody wants you dead? No mother on earth would allow that.”
“I’ll ask again,” Richard said crimson-faced. “Where is she?”
“All right. I’ll answer again. She’s not here.”
“Is she with Erica across the street? I’m her father in case you forgot. I’m not a schmuck. I have rights.”
“And I have a duty to keep my daughter safe.”
“If that’s the way you want to play it, the next phone call you’ll be getting is from my lawyer. I’ll see you in court. I don’t have to take this shit.”
Richard pivoted, storming towards Erica’s home with a body language that’d clear out a crowded post office. Paige’s friend, however, was ready to intercept him from her doorway.
“Turn around, Richard. You can stop right there,” Erica shouted. “The baby ain’t coming with you.”
“The hell’s she not. I hope you know the law …”
“I hope YOU know,” Erica interrupted, “that I hate your guts and you’re going to fucking die if you don’t watch it. NOW, GET OFF MY PROPERTY!”
Had anybody noticed Richard’s pallor as he returned to his Cougar, they’d have seen it was no longer maroon as it’d been during his argument with Paige. Forehead to chin, he was chalk.
Richard’s hopeful day had been disemboweled by his blow-up on Paige’s doorstep. By the time he arrived home to call his attorney, Paige had already beaten him to a lawyer. She’d phoned her attorney at home about the mysterious caller and he ordered her to immediately hang up and contact the Los Angeles Police Department. The eight-month-old baby that Erica had brought back to Paige’s house lay in her crib as she did. Sometime that day, Paige also phoned Tammy to ask her advice about what to do. Tammy was incredulous about the anonymous warning, preaching common sense. “Paige – this is 1979,” she said. “These things don’t happen.”
The LAPD, then so understaffed that there were a quarter-million unanswered emergency calls the year before, seemed to agree. The officer with whom Paige had spoken to said he understood her anguish about the warning call, but there wasn’t anything that the department could do for her husband. There was too little evidence of “a specific threat.” Besides, the cop on the line was reluctant to fill a report out. It was the weekend shift.
Paige re-contacted her lawyer to describe the runaround the officer had given her. Afterwards, her attorney phoned Richard’s on the Sunday of recriminations. The two bickering lawyers agreed that a judge would referee who was right.
Come Monday, March 26, Richard could list few reasons why he should be alone, eating leftovers or deluding himself that he’d ever rebound after this latest kick to the stomach. Early that morning, the women he’d been dating phoned him and Richard was overjoyed with her timing. He was a man in need of gentle handling and a lusty romp, and she thought he was dashing. Outwardly, Susan Sullivan contacted him for a different purpose, inquiring if he could pay her for the clerical work she’d previously done for him. Richard mainly cared that she called.
He had met her in February, when a temp agency referred Susan to Space Matters to fill in as the office receptionist. Right away, Richard and his indefatigable libido noticed that the leggy newcomer had the sex-appeal of a Penthouse magazine model, not the mothball-scent of a dowager who typed fifty words a minute. Susan, all the same, was confined in an office where Richard was viewed as a crook. Because of that, her ongoing allegiance to him made her his personal fan-club, his estrogen analgesic. He’d even carped as they’d gotten closer that he’d received a bad deal in the dissolution, saying Jerry was the only person with whom he squabbled. Whether he believed his own tripe or not, he promised to phone Susan later that day about getting together. He told her that if they did connect, it’d have to be after he attended a “client” meeting. This was not exactly the truth. The meeting that Richard referred to was his official appointment to sign over to Jerry the companies that he’d defrauded.
About 3 P.M. that afternoon at the Westside office of Jerry’s lawyer, Richard relinquished them all: Space Matters, CM-2, the subsidiaries in the works, everything. That night around supper-time a voice inside usurped him. Before his ego protested, he was on the line with his ex-partner pouring out what he hadn’t said hours earlier that day: that he was sorry, immensely sorry, for skimming from him, for going seditious on him, for destroying everything they’d cobbled from those all-nighters forward. Richard’s voice was weepy and he wanted Jerry to know his own chicanery was skinning him inside. Jerry conceded he was hurting, too, and hoped the wound bound.
“I want you to be okay, Richard,” Jerry said as they closed out their conversation. “After everything I still do.”
“I appreciate that,” Richard said. “You’ve got to know I never thought it’d get to this point. Things snowballed. Thought I could dig my way out. God, do you remember how we started off? The Fegen parties?”
“How could I forget?”
“Probably should’ve savored them more, huh? Just do me a favor, all right? It’s something that has nothing to do with the business or whatever I’ve done to you.”
“If anything happens to me, and I’m not saying it will, make sure Paige and the baby have what they need? You know, check in on them once in a while. I know it sounds melodramatic.”
“Are you planning on going someplace, Richard?” Jerry asked, unsure if Richard was suicidal.
“Not directly. I can’t explain it. Maybe in the future. Just promise me?”
“Sure. I’ll look out for them. I just wish I knew what was going on. You don’t want to tell me.”
“No. Not today.”
After that conversation, Richard was a condemned building tumbling inwards in a dust storm of dismemberment and structural surrender. Only random frontage remained, and how long could that last? He rang Susan at home just after 4 P.M. to further discuss a rendezvous. On top of the money she hoped he would pay her, Susan was anxious to find out whether Richard had had the opportunity to read the script she’d given him with the part she was auditioning for. Susan didn’t intend on being a temp-secretary forever. She aimed on being a Hollywood actress. Richard answered that he was planning to read the script tonight, so head on over.
She arrived at his house on Chandler Boulevard at 8:45 P.M in the midst of another rainstorm. Richard met her at the door presenting a together-persona. Behind him, fireplace logs crackled. Upstairs in the master bedroom, the college-basketball title game pitting Magic Johnson against Larry Bird in a clash of future sports mega-stars aired on TV. With little chitchat, the two walked up the stairs, entered the bedroom, sat on the bed and kissed. Richard switched off the game and made an announcement. He told Susan that she deserved a nice dinner on him and that he’d hear no objections. Susan said it sounded lovely, but what about the creased dress that she was wearing? Richard had a notion how to straighten it out: she could remove it and hang it on the doorknob. Off it went.
And here came what was underneath it. Susan wrapped herself in a vine around Richard as they melted onto the floor. With body heat rising, Richard’s mouth made the first move, just not sexually. There on the ground he began inquiring about her financial situation – bills, expenses, rent. The math of L.A. life. He told her that if she needed to economize, she could shave her expenses by moving in with him. Just look at all this space! He’d been raising co-habitation with her in recent weeks even as he kindled hopes for a second chance with Paige. Susan, just as before, told him she’d have to demur being his room-mate. She prized her independence too much. Still, she was sure glad that she was here.
They shifted onto the bed naked and forgot about cost-of-living calculations. Richard entered her and then pulled out to dab some Vaseline. They went to boinking again, but neither of them climaxed. Richard said that since she didn’t seem to be in the mood just yet, why not go eat? Good idea, Susan replied. She put her still-wrinkled skirt back on and stroked her eye makeup while Richard watched a beauty pageant on TV.
They were in Richard’s Cougar on the hunt for a late dinner by 9:30 P.M. with it damp and romantic outside. The first place they tried, Albian’s on Ventura Boulevard, was closed. When they passed it, Richard pointed out the building next door and, forgetting who he was with, proudly said Paige had supplied some of the interior decorating. They drove next to La Serre, also on Ventura Boulevard, and found an open kitchen. Richard ordered impulsively – artichoke hearts, beef, and strawberries. They were back in the toasty house by 11:15 P.M.
Susan sat downstairs near the waning fire and sketched with the pen and pad that she’d asked Richard to borrow. She left her bag and sweater by the front door apparently uncertain if she was spending the night. Ten minutes later, the drifting scent of incense disrupted her artwork. She followed the aroma upstairs to the bedroom. Richard, that skunk, was up to something.
Johnny knew the call lay spring-loaded on Howard’s tongue. He just had no way of predicting that his employer would sound the claxon during a pounding storm when he and Chaser had already shot up and were preparing to drift deliriously into the dawn. Not that either man were bellyachers. One of the first lessons that they learned about Howard was that unsolicited, dissenting opinions consigned you to his dog-house, and good luck getting out the same as you went in.
Howard had been drinking at a bar near Johnny’s house in Ontario when the mood struck him and he hit the pay phone around 9:30 P.M. “Let’s go take him,” he said in a low rasp. Logistics were arranged, and weaponry gathered. Howard had the .357-magnum that his wife gave him as a thoughtful birthday gift to complement his other firearms. Johnny grabbed his M-1 paratrooper rifle and the carbine-clip that he’d stashed for it under his bed. Chaser brought his own pistol.
They climbed into the front seat of the El Camino that police two weeks earlier had absolved in the Buonsanti-house takeover and veered on the freeway westward. From Ontario, it was about an hour’s drive to Van Nuys with no corona of red brake-lights in their windshield.
Howard wasn’t one for idle chitchat, either to fill the time in until they arrived or just in general. What was even there to say? Chaser, Johnny and Robert had flubbed the job or encountered such stupendously bad luck on so many consecutive efforts—nine, ten times, maybe more—that the only apt summation for it was confounding clusterfuck. Howard, as such, had accepted that he had no recourse except to forget about the alibis he’d devised before to remove himself from the future crime scene and hand-hold his minions through the job. It could be a training mission for future killings. So there the three were on the freeway, knifing through the damp, black night, nobody talking. Next to them on the roads were big-rigs hauling consumer products and dour men traveling to boiler-room jobs.
Had Howard switched on the all-news AM radio, KNX or KFWB, the ones with the Ted-Baxter-voiced newscasters and typewriter soundtracks, he would’ve heard about an eventful day in his world. Gasoline prices were forecast to blow stratospherically in the wake of an Arab-OPEC decision to raise crude oil costs nine percent, this after two embargoes in the decade. Talking heads predicted that there’d be a free-for-all on the world markets and more pain for commuting Californians at the gas pump. Commuters like Howard.
Competing news burbled out of Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Michigan State Spartans had defeated the Indiana State Sycamores for the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Normally, the title game and the tournament that led up to it were only holy days for Vegas bookies and sports nuts. Not anymore. The ’79 matchup attracted a record audience that’d popularize the college basketball playoffs into the big money, bracket-filling gambling juggernaut that it is today. “March Madness” was being born. In the game, the college player of the year, a rangy white-bread forward from French Lick, Indiana named Larry Bird, was hogtied by the Spartan’s double-teaming defense. The hero of the championship was from Michigan State, a 6’9” man-child with a solar-flare smile and marquee ball-handling ability. The player’s first name was Earvin, though everyone called him “Magic.” The NBA’s L.A. Lakers would soon draft him as their franchise player. A city in a snit was desperate for his effervescence.
Weather, however, dominated the news cycle, from the sagebrush high desert to L.A.’s curvy coastline. The years’ rain totals were already threatening records etched in 1969, when a giant swarm of warm Pacific Ocean water propelled such destructive storms – landsides and mudslides everywhere, four-hundred million dollars in property damage, ninety-one deaths –they still felt like urban myth. A decade later, Angelenos continued overreacting to rainy-days, where most locals drove with the herky-jerky reflexes of someone ice-skating for the first time. Hydroplane spinouts and fender-benders littered the roadways as Howard made his way to Van Nuys. “What pansies,” he might’ve clucked flying past an accident.
From the sounds of the radio updates, the storm was an L.A.-monsoon. Central boulevards had become asphalt swamps, fallen boulders one-hour bottlenecks. Come nightfall that Monday, no one remembered seeing the sun during its regularly scheduled hours. Not far from where Howard was driving, stretches of Laurel and Coldwater Canyons, rustic enclaves filled with actors, rock stars and other creative-sorts, was waterlogged Bohemia. Almost anywhere you went that day, palm trees bent backwards and power lines drooped. Call it a deluge, another storm of the century, or for Howard’s murder corporation, a sweet window for score-settling.
Two-thirds of the way there, Howard steered onto the Ventura Freeway and into the corridor slashed through the emerald Verdugo Mountains. They motored through the cities of Glendale and Burbank, home of Walt Disney Company and Warner Brothers, past hilly Forest Lawn Cemetery, and then Universal Studios. Plunging further west, they reached the heartland of manicured single-family houses and cartoonishly repeating strip malls known as the Valley.
Just before Howard hit the San Diego Freeway, he turned north on Woodman Avenue and entered a section of Van Nuys called Sherman Oaks today. Up ahead were glass-framed car dealerships, a General Motors plant, and the Busch beer gardens that nary rated a blink by L.A.’s gaudy standards. Then, too, Howard and his men weren’t from here. Nearing Richard’s street, they wheeled by spacious homes with basketball hoops in the driveways and Spanish imitations crowned with red-tile roofs. To them, this was the high-rent district. To them, breaks never sprinkled on their families were required for admission here.
Nevertheless, they’d made the drive in short time thanks to the late hour, rain and televised basketball-championship that made Magic legend. It was past 11 P.M., almost Johnny Carson hour, when they parked around the corner from the home that’d defeated them so many times before. Outside they acted as if they belonged, taking the sidewalk until they got closer to Richard’s house. From there, the shadows were easy for them to dissolve in. Richard’s street was nearly as wide as an airport runway, divided by a grassy median planted crookedly with pine, magnolias and eucalyptus. The trees and residential landscaping projected green suburban forest, and, in a sense, dangerous privacy. Besides that, Richard’s southerly bedroom pointed away from the boulevard, and it was that room that Howard had decided where they’d get their business done. Knocking on his front door to bait Richard had gotten his men bumpkis.
Before they went around back, they cupped their hands around their faces to look in through the bottom level of the wood-and-stucco, ranch-style house. The half-burnt logs flickering in the fireplace was just what they hoped to see, tantalizing proof that their target was near, except for the juxtaposition nearby. No cars were in the driveway, Richard’s Cougar most notably. “Jesus F Christ,” Howard might’ve muttered. “Not again. This guy is the luckiest sonabitch alive.”
They snuck off the property and returned to Howard’s car. He wasn’t about to call it a night. He flipped the El Camino around and drove through the slippery, slick streets. He turned onto Van Nuys Boulevard and pulled into a local hangout. Corky’s, the Art Deco coffee shop with a roof shaped like a weak smile, the same place that Johnny had retreated to after his earlier whiff on Richard, would be their waiting room. The three blew a slow, forty-five minutes inside avoiding any loud discussion of why they were there. They each had coffee, and Howard ordered a bagel. Time-killing by the fry-chefs, that’s all it was.
Johnny drove back from Corky’s and maybe that rebooted their luck. When they passed the home this time, they each noticed that Richard’s Cougar was parked in the crescent driveway. Pulse rates galloped at its presence. Howard ordered Johnny to park the El Camino a few blocks away on a drag facing south toward the Ventura Freeway for their getaway. The trio then set out on foot again in the rain and double-backed toward Chandler Boulevard. Their clothes were still soggy from before.
Reaching the house, they strode past the bushes fronting the property and hurried across the concrete apron. Swuh, swuh, swuh – Johnny’s wet boots squeaked with every step. They ducked by the garage underneath one of the second-floor rooms and entered a narrow side yard partitioned with two sets of gates that closed automatically. (Johnny and Chaser were familiar with it, having just been here for the burglary.) At the base of the steps leading to the deck, the men paused to scan the grounds and re-secure their hardware. Johnny, the designated shooter, carried his rifle in his pants like a phallic enhancement. Finally, they tiptoed up the stairs. None of the planks creaked.
The three were on the back side of Richard’s tree-dotted property with no neighbors in sight. So far, advantage them. Hunched in the blackness of the night, they tried gathering their wits and still found their jumpiness hard to contain. The moment that had taunted them might never arrive, as if a hex had interceded to keep Richard Kasparov alive during the two months he should’ve been dead, was finally ticking down to a flashpoint crescendo. Gingerly, they arranged themselves into their pre-attack crouch outside Richard’s master bedroom and what a silhouette it must’ve been: three lurking figures, two of them baring scowls, the other a devious smile, communicating with hand gestures in the rain. Howard had smartly insisted on silence here, knowing the execution they’d traveled half-a-county to carry out demanded precision. They weren’t in some outland ghetto crackling with hourly gunfire and lethargic policing. They were in the epitome of protected, L.A. suburbia panting steam, thinking mayhem.
They focused their eyes on Richard through a sliding glass window designed to spill California’s amber light into the space. Howard was tucked in behind Johnny on one side of the window the way a baseball umpire hunches over the catcher’s shoulder. Chaser positioned himself on the other edge of the window. They observed what was happening inside the house, adoring what they saw. Richard, miraculously, was lying there bare-chested ten feet away and within easy striking- distance. They were close, deliciously close, with Richard’s head at a sideways angle from them. Just one tug of the trigger and they could get on with the plan and out of the frigid night.
The single object between them and their mark was a thin piece of glass, little more than a sheet of fortified silica that a nameless factory disgorged and shipped out. Something the would-be kidnapper who stood here five months earlier could’ve crumpled with a violent elbow. In the years to come, the fragility of Richard’s barrier would unleash haunting questions and ten-thousand tears: how could he have possibly believed that something so eternally delicate, so transparent would protect him when he knew Howard was on the prowl? Why wasn’t he under armed guard, or better yet, on a jet to the remotest village in Mexico or Lichtenstein he could locate? Richard had to know he had a bullseye stapled on his back.
Yet he appeared comfortable at home, at least with the California rain crashing down outside. The entire world seemed to be indoors, out of the storm apart from Howard, Chaser and Johnny, chilling at fifty-two degrees and dropping. Every now and then, a breeze ruffled their wet trousers, as raindrops plinked rooftops with a drowsy patter and Richard’s pool sloshed chlorine whitecaps. Electric blankets were made for these nights.
Just not to Howard. To him, the rainy conditions couldn’t have descended at a better time. A tactical benefit attached to it that he dared not squander. Between the gray-cape the storm threw over the starry sky and their obscured position on the flip side of Richard’s property, nobody would notice them up on the deck and decide the strangers warranted a phone call to authorities. With apologies to insomniacs and street cleaners, hardly anyone was outside at all. There was just no disputing their meteorological advantage. For Howard, it had sliced potential witnesses down to nothing.
The ample-sized balcony was less beneficial. While there was enough room to accommodate three grown men of varying dimensions, they couldn’t be sure in the darkness if there were wrought-iron patio chairs or anything else they might trip over. They’d already sidestepped the bougainvillea bush near the top of the landing. Certainly, Johnny and Chaser were all for a wham-bam execution. Back in the comfort of the El Camino, they could warm their fingers over the vents of the cranked-up heater and calculate how long it would be until they could re-blast heroin into their arms. They also needed to keep that to themselves. Howard was enjoying himself too much to ponder a car ride. Blue fingers, potential pneumonia: he’d didn’t care. He had his quarry in sight.
Being pressed up against that plate glass also had complexities. Every time the three exhaled, their breath fogged the pane up with steamy, amoeba-shaped clouds that hazed their view. Johnny probably had to keep wiping the glass with his sleeve to maintain his sightline, and do it with nary a sound. If one of them so as much as sneezed or lost their balance, the noise would ruin their element of surprise. They’d have to retreat down the steps and lope to the car knowing they’d blown their gazzilionth chance at Richard, maybe even their last one. Only so many assassination attempts can pass before the intended victim catches on, even Ostrich heads. Neither Chaser nor Johnny wanted to be on the end of Howard’s reaction if that came to be. Ask Robert Freeman how failure felt.
The late hour optics was one consideration that they needn’t fret over. On this night, practically the only illumination in the 13,000 block of Chandler Boulevard emanated from the lamps and floor-lights beaming through the upstairs sliding glass door. They bathed the upper bedroom in a glow of dull yellow set against the blackest of nights. Viewed from the outside, the effect was that of a well-lit fishbowl, an ocular phenomenon splendid for close onlookers eager to go unnoticed. Richard and Susan, had they peered out the window for any duration, would’ve seen nothing but back-glare and their own reflections. The deranged faces gazing in at them from the sides – Howard, Johnny, and Chaser’s – might as well have been invisible.
Fishbowl notwithstanding, even the visually impaired have intuition. Evolution embedded man’s self-preservation instinct near the top of his genes. An inexplicable creak or a fifth sense could’ve been Richard’s personal air raid warning to save himself. Dive now and say a prayer. Run out the back door and pound on a neighbor’s door for help. How could Richard have been so unmindful of the monsters close by after the blunt warning call from last weekend? There was only one conceivable answer. His fight-or-flight reflex was on shutoff.
If Johnny and Chaser knew about Howard’s reputation in situations like these, they might’ve used that warm, yellow light from Richard’s bedroom to distract them from their employer’s countenance. Rumor was that Howard’s eyes bugged out with no blinking or peripheral reflex when he was gripped by violent thoughts, as if he were spellbound by a trance. Word also was that the veins running up his neck had their own Dr. Jekyll identity, pulsing to the width of coaxial cables when Howard’s stupor locked in. His men probably didn’t want to dwell on how that mutation might someday haunt them, so they re-focused on shooting Richard to please the boss. They would, too, when he stopped fidgeting. A quick check of the watch would’ve shown they’d been crouching on the deck for two-and-a-half minutes rather than the hour it must’ve seemed.
Richard was leant up against the headboard reading the script when Susan strolled into the bedroom, drawn by the incense. He tossed her his pajama top and asked her to join him in bed, perhaps conjuring up a grin about the next few, carnal hours. She disrobed, slipped on his top and jiggled next to him. Richard’s king-sized mattress was a dark invitation fitted with blue sheets and a brown-and-white comforter. Susan took the pages from his hands and asked him if she could rehearse her lines for her upcoming audition. Richard said to go for it. He’d be her audience-of-one.
Susan descended into character and Richard listened as raptly as his perforated soul would permit. Feet away outside the bedroom, rain pattered down on the men indifferent to their target’s depression. Astoundingly, Richard had briefly stared out the south-facing window sometime after Howard and company had assembled on his landing, causing them a scare until it was clear the optics were blinding him to what lingered so near. Soon enough he was listening to Susan again read from her script, which the deck-bound killers had mistaken for a book.
He had been lying down for about five minutes when his restlessness awoke. A relaxant was needed to draw into the mood, and Richard bounced off the bed for the numbing agent kept within reach. He walked to his dresser, opened a drawer and removed a brown paper bag. Next, he went to his closet and took a shoebox down from a shelf. With those items in hand, Richard laid back on the mattress next to Susan. In no time, the slender fingers endowed with all that starry ability, the fingers that should’ve helped him and Jerry get their names emblazoned on the top of a high-rise, had pinched, tamped and rolled a textbook doobie. He returned the brown bag and shoebox to their hiding spots and re-positioned himself halfway down the bed. There was a tasty anticipation to getting stoned on a rainy night.
While Susan read, Richard lit the joint and inhaled a beefy first hit. Smoke coils drifted, and the pleasure ride was instant. He passed the doobie to Susan, who pulled a toke and returned it back to him. The joint’s red tip dimmed, but Richard didn’t try to relight it, figuring he always could later. Susan went back to reciting her lines for another minute while Richard got cozy again. This time, he situated himself diagonally across the mattress on his stomach with his head near Susan’s hips and his hands propping up his chin. It was if he were floating on a cloud with time suspended.
Suddenly from the bedroom’s placidity it happened, the termination of a ruined man …
Copyright Chip Jacobs. The Ascension of Jerry (Rare Bird Books – March 2012)