The shop sits under the paths of both Interstate 10 and 710, surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with five strands of back-slanted barbed wire. It’s loud out here, and it smells like metal and paint and rubber. City Terrace isn’t a city at all-it’s L.A. Sheriff’s turf. That’s good because the Sheriffs are usually spread a little thinner. Usually. And I know a couple of them. On one side of Miracle Auto Body is a tire shop, and on the other is a former junkyard surrounded by a fence with shiny circles of razor ribbon on top.
I lower a window and listen to the steady roar of the freeway traffic. There are twenty or so busted-up cars out front of the body shop, like they just fell down from the one of the interstates and got in line for their miracle. Some look bad and some you can’t see what’s wrong. Behind them there’s a big concrete-block building with a glass-roofed high bay where the pounding and painting are done.
When I cased it three nights ago, the lights inside were off and outside security floods were blazingly on.
But now the inside lights are on and the yard lights are off.
I get an odd feeling.
I know what I should do: put my foot on the brake, put the ’Vette back into gear and leave. Absolutely. No question about it. I have no reason to be here in the first place, other than my curiosity about Barry and the diamonds.
Woman, put your cute little car in gear and drive away. You’ve got 505 horsepower under that shiny yellow hood. Use it.
I throw the car into drive and go. I feel cagey and proud of my self-control. I take a deep breath, but the steering wheel turns wide right, then sharp left, and I finish the U-turn and stop again outside Miracle. When I roll down the window, the roar of the interstates comes at me from behind the shop. The roar says, Check it out, Allison, we’ll cover you.
It’s a nice offer.
I try to figure the risk. If I get caught here by the Sheriffs, they’ll detain me and a warrants check on my license will come back clean because I’ve never been arrested. The ’Vette plates will come up clean because the car is hot but the plates are not. I’ll tell them I was looking for a guy who said he owns this place, we had a late date, you know, my business and not yours.
But why would the Sheriffs roll up now? It’s late. It’s quiet.
If there was noise or a complaint, they’d have checked it out hours ago.
Maybe nothing happened. Maybe the Miracle workers quit work early because it’s a Saturday, forgot the lights, and headed home for the night. Maybe I’m imagining trouble where there isn’t any. Maybe that’s why I’m not in prison.
Opportunity knocks softly or not at all. It’s my job to listen.
Just a look in the window.
I ease the car down the service road shared by Miracle and the tire shop. The darkness closes in a notch. The road is pitted and the Z06 bumps hard. I see the big concrete stanchions of the interstates looming ahead, and the rivers of light made by thousands of headlamps.
In the parking lot there are six cars: a pimped black Escalade, a black 500 SL, two Accords with fat tires and stingers, Barry’s red Acura-thanks again to Melissa-and an older white panel van. The first four are Asian Boyz rides, but the panel van sticks out like a leg in a cast and I can’t figure it.
I swing around and park away from the other cars, facing the exit. I turn off the engine, pull on my leather gloves. I think about putting on the mask and wig but don’t-I’m just satisfying my curiosity now, not pulling a job. I’m innocent. I nudge the door closed with my thigh, palm Ca~nonita and walk toward the building like I own the place, which is how I walk everywhere.
I pass through a sliding chain-link gate to get in. The gate is open. That odd feeling comes back.
Well, I’ve been warned.
But I think about what’s inside. My diamonds.
I start up the steps to the landing and the front door. Light spills from inside. I take long, quiet steps, quiet as I can be. At the door I look through the dirty glass to the lobby and see brown carpet, a long counter, the back end of a computer monitor, a wall with a girlie calendar and a hallway leading to the bay in back. The counter has a lift door which is open and up. Behind the counter there’s an open office door, and I can see the desk and chair inside, a steel file cabinet thrown open, another chair tipped over and lying in the doorway. I check for surveillance cameras but don’t see any.
I look back at the cars waiting for bodywork. There’s an elevated steel catwalk around the building, and I follow it one quiet step at a time. I use the safety railing to steady myself. The sound of the freeways presses in close.
The windows are low and cranked open in the summer heat. Up on my toes I can see into the bay. It’s one big room, divided into side-by-side workstations by disposable paper drapes affixed to railings with sliding hooks, an industrial version of hospital privacy curtains. Some of the workstations have cars in them, in various stages of repainting. The color of each car is the color on the curtain around it, bright reds and blacks and silvers. Big industrial fans sway the sheets. No cameras that I can see.
A dead guy lies by a red Honda. He’s still got a painter’s breathing apparatus over his face.
Twenty feet away in the direction of the lobby are two more bodies, apparently men and apparently dead. One has a pistol in his hand. The other’s gun is a few feet away.
Another fifteen feet toward the lobby lie two other guys.
I stare at each one of the men again for a few seconds, looking for movement but seeing none. Just the lilting of the paper curtains.
I walk down to the next window. My heart is in my throat and the interstates are roaring in my ears. Other than that I feel a clarity that overrules fear.
From here I can see back farther toward the lobby, and I find exactly what I expect to. Two more men down near a yellow Thunderbird, their M243 SAW machine guns strapped around their necks.
Then, just inside the door leading to the lobby there are two more bodies. They’ve fallen over each other. A Mossberg military combat shotgun rests a few inches from one of the outstretched hands. The same guy has a red canvas backpack still clutched in the other.
One more man is sprawled faceup and arms out a few feet away. He’s wearing a suit and tie. It’s Barry.
Ten and out.
That’s a lot of dead men.
I lean against the building and look up at the towering overpasses and their halos of headlights. I breathe deeply and try to see things for what they are. I look through the window again for security cameras: nothing. I look to the rear of the bay, to the metal roll-up door where they bring the vehicles in and out. It’s closed. I see the control panel for that door, the big red button and the big black one.
Then I go back to the front door and try it. Locked.
I get a feeling that isn’t quite a thought. Something to do with the guns inside and the locked front door.
Back under the second window I squat in the darkness and wonder how loud the firefight must have been. It looks to have been brief by the way the bodies fell. Nobody got very far. I try to gauge the roar of the interstates and imagine the blasting and popping of the pneumatic wrenches of the tire shop nearby, and I figure, sure, it’s possible, you could have a neat little ten-man shoot-out here in this industrial wasteland under the freeways, and unless you had a customer waiting in the lobby or a bum in the Dumpster out back or a Sheriff ’s patrol just happen by, nobody would even hear it. The whole thing could have been over in a minute.
I can see that.
But I can’t see the victors walking out the front door and locking it behind them.
And I can’t see them scrambling to get out ahead of the back roll-up door as it rattled down.
And I can’t see them climbing out the window right above me, either.
I can’t see the victors leaving all that hardware behind. Gangsters don’t leave good weapons lying around. It just doesn’t happen.
The bottom line is I can’t see any victors at all. I don’t think anyone got away. Which makes me think of Barry’s diamonds.
I climb through the window.