A faded red Datsun rolls through a stop sign on Las Palmas, and John still has to tell his trainee to light it up. The driver stalls out halfway down the block, fumbles with the starter and finally limps over to the curb. He gets out of the car, hands up, zipper down. The boy in the passenger seat has a swollen mouth and a long-suffering scowl.
"Don't you know anything about cars," John says as he puts the hustler in the backseat. "Get into a piece of shit like that and expect a man to be able to do anything and drive at the same time? How fucking new at this are you?"
His kid is doing a lousy job of searching the driver, and an even worse one of acting like he means it. He won't last another week. John doesn't even care. The hustler has an out-of-state ID that's faker than Pamela Anderson's tits but he doesn't look underage or criminally insane. John's had enough garbage for one day to do any more paperwork if he doesn't have to.
Which is, of fucking course, when they hear what sounds like a three- or four-car collision at about Lexington and Highland. "Let's go," John has to tell his guy, and they load the driver into the backseat too. Goddamned rookie doesn't even brace himself for the U-turn.
Not one but two drunk-yet-not-dead drivers, three injured passengers or pedestrians, a mailbox ripped clean out of the sidewalk and six patrol cars. At some point in the hurry-up-and wait game, Datson dude puked on himself, and John relishes cashing in an IOU to make Dewey get both John's idiot and the douchebag back to the station.
That leaves John with the other boy. He might be asleep but he barely startles when John slams his door and starts the engine. "Give me a real name and address," John says, "and I'll let you sit up front."
A long minute and a heavy sigh later, he says, "Ryan. Echo Park."
John hits the lock button. "Don't make me fucking chase you."
Ryan gets out and gets back in, cool and casual like it's a carpool. "Thanks," he says, soft but sincere, and John almost throws him back out on his ass.
John's married but he's not an idiot. He knows what he likes and that it can't stay like this forever. Of course he ends up at the end of a shit day with the nicest, politest, prettiest hooker he's ever given a free pass to. He never even complained about the delay.
"You got a record?" John asks, because he can't figure it out. Ryan's quiet but observant, smart enough to keep his mouth shut. Clean hair, not cracked out. Biceps like he lifts free weights in a prison yard. Jeans and t-shirt a size too small, but that's just a uniform.
Ryan stares out the window as they crawl down Sunset. "Not for this," he says.
John spends anywhere between 10 and 20 hours a day in a car waiting for shit to happen. He can amuse himself for a block and a half. He whistles the theme from "Dragnet."
"Stole a car," Ryan adds eventually. "Not well."
John doesn't mean to laugh.
"One night in juvie. Got out and my mom was gone." John stops laughing. Ryan says, "This paid better."
"Tell me about it," John says. Service instead of college, no degree, no back-up plan.
Ryan bites his lip and looks away again. "It's never been worse than what I left behind," he says and John doesn't know how to say, that's not what I meant, you don't have to. "I won't be on the street forever."
"That's good," John manages. "A plan is good."
"You can't bust people for porn, right? If everyone's old enough and gets tested and everything."
It still manages to surprise John, like punch to the gut, when he forgets for a minute how the world works. "If you have a real ID to go with that name," he says. "They take that shit seriously."
"All right," Ryan says.
Ryan's boxed-in bungalow has concrete instead of lawn. It isn't the shittiest block of the neighborhood, but it's not nice. A helicopter swoops down toward the 101 and a car alarm goes off.
When he puts the cruiser in park, Ryan takes off his seatbelt. "So what'll it be?" he asks, sliding a hand down his own pants.
John knows he should be offended, or interested, or at least pretend to be one or the other. It's not even the first time this week someone's tried to fuck him for the wrong reasons. "No thanks," he says. He unlocks the doors again. "Not necessary."
Ryan shrugs like it's no big deal, like he can take it or leave it. That's definitely not what John is looking for, some quickie in the car that makes him feel good for a minute and guilty for a month.
"You had a lot of questions," Ryan says, and opens the door.
John says, "Just curious," and Ryan says, "okay, thanks," again.
Five, maybe six years later, John wins Richie Rich in a random lottery. Ben Sherman has a mouth straight from Santa Monica Boulevard and a heart like the walking wounded.
It takes two hours into their first shift together for John to remember that hustler he'd bounced back onto the street. Different guy, same jaw. Same quiet.
John spends his fair share of time in the back room at the DVD store flipping through cases, wondering if he might see someone familiar staring back. All those twinks start to look alike. All those faces in the backseat from years on the job already do.
Ben has a cop's face on an Abercrombie body, wary eyes and a quick trigger. He's no hustler, but man alive can he run like he means it. Sweat on his brow when he stops, flush in his cheeks, a quick tug to yank his vest back in place. A smile for John, sometimes, if they caught the guy.
He doesn't ask much, even after John finally tells. They spend days on patrol together, weeks, months. They bicker over bullshit. They fight about things that matter. They stop needing to speak when it matters most. They become partners, a word John hasn't used in so long he almost forgot what it means. He has an even harder time remembering it's up to him to teach Ben where the lines fall.
Ben looks at him all the time, across the front seat, over the hood of the cruiser, from behind men he's cuffing and shoving back into the car. Ben never looks at him like it's no big deal, like he could take it or leave it. He always means it.
They spend another sunny day rolling through intersections looking for trouble, a stupid skirmish between street kids on the horizon. "Don't make me chase after you," John warns, knowing it's useless, knowing wherever Ben goes John's going to follow.
Ben says, "You already got me," chin up, fingers already wrapped around the door handle.