“Great, there’s no one following us. Let’s go to Lyle street and see if we can get you a new car. You know where it is?” I asked.
“Shit, Bro, I thought you did. Nah, I’ve never heard of it. Check the glove box, I have an atlas in there.”
I didn’t know what he meant. What use would an atlas be? I dug it out anyway. It was a thick red book, a 2010 vintage road atlas of San Tadeo and San Tadeo County.
I leafed through it, seeing page after page of map sections. This must have been what people used before Google maps.
I went to the index and eventually found an entry for Lyle street, with a few page numbers and map references beside it. Manny pulled over while I looked through it.
“If you’ve got a map coordinate just open up the big map in the middle, so we can see what neighborhood it’s in.”
In the center of the book was a large, foldout map, the entirety of San Tadeo in one place. I found D8 on the map. Compton.
“Shit, that’s really in the hood, Bro. You sure about this?”
“You saw what just happened back there. You can’t drive this thing anymore. They don’t know who we are with these glasses on, but it’d be pretty obvious to anybody looking for the car who we were. Even if they can’t see our names.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Bro. I’ll head that way. Give me directions as we get closer.”
Back in the 90s, the hey-days of gangsta rap, Compton had been majority black. In present-day LA, those neighborhoods were majority Latino. I wondered what it was like here in San Tadeo. The last part of their name was the Soldados, after all. It did seem weird—two black dudes with a Spanish gang name?
Manny knew where he was going, and I didn’t need to give him any directions until we got quite close. “Right turn just up there, Manny.”
“Got it. Hold on, I need to stop.”
In a smooth movement he pulled into a convenience store parking lot, killing the engine.
“I’m starving, Bro. I had to skip out on breakfast to come get you, I need some snacks. You want anything?”
“Yeah, just a Coke,” I said.
Manny laughed. “Shit, Bro. They don’t sell that shit in convenience stores. What the hell?”
“Sorry, brain fart. Get me a cola or whatever.”
Manny went into the convenience store and came back out a few minutes later with a big bag of beef jerky and two colas. It was a brand I’d had before, acceptable enough. Brown, fizzy liquid with a big caffeine hit. What else was there to it?
I really needed to learn what this world’s equivalents of Coke and Pepsi were to avoid that kind of fuck up in the future. Like back in LA, the big brands were there but there were tons of small ones too. I was fairly sure the one I was drinking wasn’t one of the big guys.
Manny started up the car and offered me his open bag of jerky. I took some and began chewing. It was tough but delicious. It was nice to get something else in my stomach other than donuts. We were soon back on our way.
Lyle street wasn’t long, by Los Angeles standards. Only a couple of miles. The first few blocks were houses, the typical Pueblo style single-story jobs that I was used to in South LA. Stucco fortresses with bars on the doors and windows, and either pavement or gravel instead of grass. After that, it became kind of an industrial area with clusters of auto shops, car washes and a sprinkling of fast food restaurants. It was there that I finally spotted what we were looking for.
“Hold up, I think I saw it. Back up.”
Some of the industrial businesses there were set back from the road with large yards, fences and gates closing them in. We’d passed one a second ago and I caught a glint, just a tiny flash, of Big Bad Orange.
Manny reversed slowly until we were back in front of the gate. It was one of those sliding, metal types. Dented, scarred, and painted green. The sign over the entrance looked nearly as old as the gate and said, “Gonzalez Automotive Restoration.” The gate was closed, but through the tiny gap between the gate and the fence Big Bad Orange was clearly visible now that we were stopped. I moved my head around and caught tiny slices of the AMC Javelin on the other side, parked in the yard.
On the fence beside the gate, down near the sidewalk I spotted a tag. Even before I invoked my skill, I could see what it was. LSS.
Territory Claim Marker
Lyle Street Soldados
“This is the place,” I said.
Manny parked on the street and we walked to the gate. There was no bell and it was locked tight. I pounded on the metal, my fist making a loud hollow banging noise.
“Shit, Bro. Don’t knock like you’re the cops.”
“What else am I going to do? There’s no doorbell.”
Nothing happened, so I tried to knock a little more politely the second time. A noise I’d been hearing the whole time suddenly cut off. It’d been a high-pitched screeching noise. I didn’t recognize it—the sound of some power tool. Now that it was gone, it was obvious that it had been coming from inside the yard. I pounded again, louder this time.
“Bro,” Manny objected.
“Hondo, Flattop, you guys in there?” I yelled.
I heard some movement behind the gate, a door opening and feet walking across gravel. Then, a voice.
“Who is that?”
“Hey, my name is Mack. We met at Mesotonic Technical. I brought my friend. We want to talk about getting a new car.”
An eyeball appeared in the gap between the gate in the fence post, looking us over.
“Shit, it is you, white boy. You ditched that weed shirt, good call,” the voice said. I thought I recognized it as Hondo, and that thought was confirmed when he unlocked and slid the gate open.
He stood there in greasy, faded blue jeans and a white muscle top, with safety goggles pushed up onto his forehead. His hands and arms were covered in grease stains.
“Hey, come on in. Don’t stand out here.” He waved us in, but I stopped him.
“Actually, we need to get the car off the street. Can we park it in here?” I asked.
Manny ran back to the Regal, started it up and a minute later was easing it through the gate, which Hondo closed behind him.
I looked around, taking in the yard. It wasn’t huge, maybe a hundred feet wide and the same deep, before ending in the flat, grey metal wall of an industrial building with one giant sliding door, repurposed into a garage. Beside that sliding door, a single, heavy metal door in a human size was gaping open. Lining the walls of the yard were neatly stacked body parts in all colors and several towers of black rubber tires. Crouched in the middle of the yard like a predatory animal was the AMC Javelin, shining in the sun.
“Cool car, Bro.”
“Thanks,” Hondo replied, smiling. “I restored her myself, with my dad. It’s not mine though, it’s Flattop’s car. “
Hondo nodded, accepting the praise. “Listen, if you guys are here to do business, I’ve got to get Flattop. I’m working on a project, and he’s the one handles the business side.”
“Sure,” I agreed. Hondo returned to the garage, picked up a phone just inside the door and dialed. After a quick chat he hung up and returned to us.
“He’s on the way. It’ll be a few minutes,” he said. “Hey, why can’t I ID you two? I can’t even get your names. You’re not in the light.”
Before I could make up some kind of convincing lie, Manny was talking. “It’s the sunglasses. Sweet, right?”
He pushed the sunglasses on to the top of his head. “Try now.”
Hondo looked at him and smiled when his ID worked. “Nice. Don’t show that shit around here though. Just the fact that people can’t see your name is going to make them want to rob you. They’ll want whatever it is that you got.”
I thought about that, and of course it was true. We’d gone from being exposed to snitches to becoming a target for ambitious robbers. Great.
“Shit. Manny, we have got to hit that gun range soon.”
Hondo laughed. “Hell yeah, you do.”
“Damn, Bro. Yeah, you’re right. My uncle told me about one he likes. We’ll go there, it’s pretty cheap and you can bring your own guns.”
There was a pounding at the gate, and Hondo went over to let Flattop in. He was dressed much the same as the last time I’d seen him, and looked actually surprised and glad to see me.
“Hey, glad you decided to come by. Did you decide you need a ride?”
He came in and shook my hand, pulling me close in a version of the bro hug.
“Yeah, we need to get rid of Manny’s car and get a new one. Can you help out with that?” I asked.
“This piece of shit? We can sell it for scrap, but that’s about it.” Hondo said.
“Hey, Bro! That’s my baby.”
Hondo just snorted. Manny looked a little offended, but it passed quickly.
Flattop shook his head, grimacing. “Hondo. Yeah, we can get rid of the car. There won’t be much money in it. It can’t be entered into the light system, and nobody cares about Regal parts. No self-respecting gangster is going to want to drive that. Why you getting rid of it?”
“The Hip have it in their description of us.”
Flattop nodded, but I noticed he gave my glasses a look over.
“I think we can help you. Come on in the garage and we’ll show you what we’ve got.”