“Any unit available, Six-A-Five is requesting assistance at Sixty-six-twenty-five Emmet Terrace, scene of a family dispute—any unit please respond and handle code two.”
“Six Frank One will handle,” Mike Montego quickly radioed.
Upon hearing confirmation from the Radio Telephone Operator, the RTO, Montego said to his partner, “Five must’ve caught a nasty one. So much for a quiet Sunday night.”
Bobby Diaz sped their unmarked green Plymouth four-door west on Franklin Avenue, saying, “I hate these kinda calls.”
“Yep, DV calls are too unpredictable.”
At Whitley Avenue Diaz cranked the wheel to the right sending them north. A block up the slight grade and a sharp left turn put them on Emmet Terrace.
Just ahead at the bend in the narrow road, Montego spotted the Hollywood Division black and white police unit parked alongside an ornate gray-painted wrought-iron gate tucked into a tall privet hedge. The gate guarded a small grass-covered yard fronting a two-story Spanish style residence.
Diaz braked behind the black-and-white and pulled the ignition key, killing the V8.
Both cops in plainclothes worked the Felony Car Unit, and often backed up uniformed patrol officers. They hurried to the closed gate.
Montego unlatched it and led the way to the front porch and the dark, eight-foot tall wooden entry door that stood partially open. Shouting and a sharp sound of glass breaking reached his ears.
Pausing, they eyed each other, then nodded while un-strapping their holstered firearms. Hands resting on their gun butts, they quickly entered and moved to opposite sides of the wide dimly lit foyer.
Immediately they spotted a blue-uniformed officer kneeling next to a distraught woman, her back against the wall, sitting on the floor. Her left eye looked swollen, blood trickled from her mouth.
The officer had his handkerchief pressed against her stomach. Blood from her torso soaked it, and oozed over his fingers.
Pressed against her other side she held a toddler with saucer-sized brown eyes and a quivering mouth, obviously scared. The small boy’s dark-brown hair matched his mother’s.
Montego recognized the pm watch blue-suit, Johnny Underdahl. A glance around the large living room revealed no one else, only an overturned blue velveteen-covered armchair, some broken glass, and a frilly lampshade on its side.
Underdahl yelled, “Get us an ambulance, now!”
“Johnny, where’s your partner?” asked Montego while signaling Diaz to go radio for an RA unit, a rescue ambulance.
Underdahl cast his eyes toward a closed door across the room. “Lou’s in there with the husband—don’t know his situation. We’ve been to this place before—that’s why we called for backup before we went to the door—we heard shouting, then a scream, so we busted in. Before we could do anything her old man used a damn butcher knife on her. His name’s Harry Watt.”
“How’d Lou’s ass get in there?” Montego asked, jerking his head toward the closed door.
“Her husband, Harry, went berserk—no warning, he whirled on Lou—put the blade to his throat. I was down here trying to stop her bleeding, it was gushing. Lou tried to break loose—they bumped into that chair,” Underdahl head gestured. “Knocked the lamp offa the end table—Lou got dragged into the other room. I felt helpless. Couldn’t do anything, then the door slammed.”
Underdahl looked at the trembling woman clutching her toddler son.
“Only a knife—no firearm?” Montego asked evenly.
“Yeah, that’s all I saw.” Underdahl shrugged his eyes.
Montego focused on the clearly frightened mother, she looked pale.
“What’s your name?”
Stifling a sobbing catch in her throat, likely swallowing some blood, she said, “Laura, Laura Watt.” She squeezed the boy even closer to her. “This is my son, Mikey . . . he’s three.”
Montego, working at staying calm, bent down beside the boy, and smiling widely said, “Howdy Mikey. My name is Mikey, too.”
The small boy snuggled closer to his mom, not making a sound.
Still kneeling, Montego looked at Laura and, wincing slightly, asked, “Do you have any guns in the house?”
She nodded jerkily, blood spilled from her mouth.
“Two revolvers. But none in where they are—it’s the den. At least I don’t think so. The guns should be upstairs in our bedroom . . . one in each of our nightstands.” Her pain obvious.
“What’s in the next room where your husband took the officer?” Diaz, rushing up, asked breathlessly.
“In the den? . . . we watch TV in there.”
Montego, rising as he patted the kid’s head, eased out a breath. No need to tell Underdahl to keep the pressure on her stomach, he was doing the best that could be done.
The RA unit better get here damn fast, or she’s gonna bleed out!
“That the only door into the den?” he asked her.
Laura Watt grimaced. “No . . . There’s another one . . . it opens the garage.”
“Is the garage accessible from outside?”
She slightly shook her disheveled head; a dark tress fell onto her bruised forehead.
“You need a remote switch . . . and the door in the den leads to the garage . . . it’s probably locked.”
“We need the damn key, ma’am,” blurted Diaz excitedly.
Laura instantly cringed. Little Mikey squeezed more against his mother’s side, his wide eyes now focused on Diaz.
Patting the boy’s head, Montego asked calmly, “Laura. Is the key to the den handy?”
She seemed to relax some and then she glanced toward the kitchen.
“In the first drawer under the counter . . . key chain with a white rabbit’s foot . . . the remote’s in our Buick. Another one is hanging on a hook on the den wall . . . next to the door leading into the garage . . . the same key also opens the outside garage door.”
Montego, not hearing any sounds coming from the den, took that as a good sign. He spied a white-tiled peninsula counter, and went to it. Sliding out the shallow top drawer he found a soiled rabbit’s foot with an attached Schlage door key.
He spun about and hurried back to the front room and gave Diaz a questioning look.
“You or me, amigo?”
Diaz immediately reached out.
Montego tossed the key with the rabbit’s foot to him.
To Officer Underdahl he said, “Hang in there while we go speak with Mikey’s daddy.” He winked at the boy, still wide-eyed. Smiling again, he added, “Everything will be all right—you’ll see, son.”
Montego turned to Diaz motioning for him to join him near the den door.
“It’s too quiet in there, Bobby.” He eyed the closed door. “The guy’s up to something. We gotta get in there soon.”
He pulled out his treasured Bulova pocket watch, and said, “We’ll go in through both den doors at the same time—let’s synch our watches.”
Diaz unstrapped his wristwatch.
They adjusted the minute hands to match.
“OK, you’ve got one minute to get to the outside den door, ’cause that’s when I’ll be busting inside from here,” Montego said.
Diaz re-strapped his watch as he rushed out the front door.
Montego slipped the Bulova, the only thing of value his dad had ever given him, into his watch pocket and yanked down on his four-inch Colt Python, freeing it from its shoulder holster. He didn’t like having to rely on the heavy revolver. In most situations a little kenpo did the trick.
But not always.
His free hand casually touched his chest near his pounding heart. He then eyed the six cylinder chambers, even though he knew the piece was loaded; a double-check never hurt.
Montego had reached the Godan level of assistant instructor in kenpo, the Okinawan-style martial art, thanks to many years of training with Yoshi Kono and his grandson, Kenji, who went by “Kenny.” Montego had lived with the Japanese-American family after six long grammar school years with a strict Christian family in North Hollywood. His move to the Kono’s lush, garden-surrounded home and dojo in Torrance occurred thanks to Eagon Quinn, a lifelong friend and mentor. The then-LAPD homicide detective, after seeing the fresh cut on young Mikey’s neck, courtesy of a Mexican bully, had felt a change of scenery would do him good, on multiple levels. Eagon immediately phoned the Konos.
Montego re-holstered the blue-steel Python and brushed his fingers over the hairline scar on the side of his neck.
Righting the overstuffed armchair, he tugged out of his brown blazer and draped the sports coat over the chair-back. Then, while stepping toward the den door, he pulled out his pocket watch and checked the sweeping second hand.
Ten seconds to go.
A thumping noise sounded loudly from behind the door.
He paused and listened intently. Hearing no voices, he checked his pocket watch.
He slid it back into its snug home, grasped the brass doorknob prepared to kick his way inside, but the handle turned. He didn’t hesitate.
A hard push swung it banging into the wall on his left.
Instantly, he saw Lou sagging to the floor, his back sliding down against a far wall. Blood flowed from his waist area just above his black Sam Browne belt. His blue-steel six-inch service revolver was out of its full-flap leather holster.
Harry, on his knees, loomed over the wounded cop, clutching a long, serious-looking blade in his left hand.
Spying Montego, the big man whirled away from the wall and scrambled on all fours across the blue-carpeted room.
When Montego realized what Harry was going after—Lou’s Smith & Wesson revolver lying on the rug—he sprang forward. But before he could reach it, Harry, rising, spun back toward him, the S&W in his right hand about to send a slug on its way into Montego’s chest.
Montego’s quick keriage, a forward kick, sent the gun airborne and Harry stumbling.
Montego side-glanced at Lou, the wounded cop’s back propped against the wall near the garage doorway, before turning back toward Harry, now rolling to his left, still holding the butcher knife.
Springing to his feet Harry waved the nasty blade threateningly before him, his quickness and agility surprising Montego who said in an authoritative voice, “You don’t want to do this. Think of your little boy—Mikey looks up to you, Harry. He doesn’t want to lose his daddy.”
He hoped by using Harry’s name and reminding him he had a son would make him pause, sober the father a bit, maybe even consider putting down the knife.
The wafting stink of booze accosted Montego’s nostrils.
He flash-thought about his words to Mikey: “Everything will be all right—you’ll see.”
Now he feared it would be impossible to keep that promise.
The crazed, glazed look in Harry’s red-rimmed eyes confirmed what he’d just said hadn’t registered.
Harry Watt had lost it—a reasonable man wouldn’t have disarmed and stabbed a uniformed officer, after all. Montego couldn’t tell, at a glance, how badly Lou was wounded, but he looked to be fading fast—hopefully from shock rather than blood loss.
“Drop the knife, Harry—I can shoot your ass and end this right now, no fuss, no muss. You really want little Mikey going through life without his daddy?”
Montego doubted his words would have any more impact than his last attempt to reason with the guy. He wasn’t keen on shooting the deranged man with the wild eyes and military crew cut, but he sure as hell didn’t relish the thought of getting slashed and gashed, either.
He made slow side-to-side moves, drawing the long blade like a magnet. Harry quickly switched the bloodstained knife to his right hand and made two wide slashing arcs, followed by reverse arcing moves. They definitely weren’t clumsy.
Just as the second movement ended, Montego dived feet first and scissor-kicked Harry’s left leg, twirling violently as he did so. Harry landed on his right knee, hard. His knife-wielding hand struck the carpet heavily, but he managed to hold onto the handle.
Twisting up, Montego grabbed Harry’s left wrist and wrenched it clockwise, forcing him to his right. His flailing right hand gripping the knife caught only air, inches from Montego’s chest.
Harry, instantly spinning to his left, countered. His right hand swiped back toward Montego’s head.
Forced to let go of Harry’s wrist, Montego ducked. He could tell the blond man had some training in hand-to-hand combat—key word: some.
Before Harry could follow through with a second back-slash, Montego drove an uppercut into the guy’s stubbly chin.
Harry, stunned, fell back a half step before catching his balance. Shaking his head, he spun low to his right while bringing his right hand and blade in a wheelhouse move toward Montego’s mid-section.
Montego leaped back, the blade barely missing his gut; just then a noise from behind alerted him that Bobby had entered the room.
“Call another RA unit, then check Lou—stop the bleeding!” yelled Montego, not taking his eyes off Harry’s glinting blade.
He couldn’t see Diaz’ reaction but imagined he was torn—
Help Montego, or help Lou.
“Don’t worry, Bobby—I’ll handle this asshole—go!”
Montego focused on two things: saving the life of his fellow cop, and making sure he didn’t end up with blood spilling out from his gut, too. Spying a peripheral movement to his left told him Diaz had gone into the other room to make the call.
Harry, likely pissed at the word, asshole, lunged at Montego, his knife now held straight out in front of him.
Another upward keriage kick nailed Harry’s elbow. The knife flew free. The man howled.
A follow-up kick caught his chin, snapping his mouth shut, likely breaking teeth while knocking him back against the near wall.
Montego figured it would finish off the big lug.
Bellowing like a bull, Harry pushed off the wall and charged.
Montego sidestepped as Harry rushed past, and chopped the back of his neck hard with a callused, bladed hand.
Harry crashed into the curved wooden arm of a sectional sofa, blood spattered from his nose. He instantly grasped a cushion with his left hand and flung it back toward Montego while scrambling to his feet.
Montego, batting the small cushion aside, dropped into a horse stance, prepared for another bull-charge.
Harry, instead, went all prizefighter. Dancing on his feet like Rocky Marciano, he moved toward Montego, his anger-distorted face blanketed by blood.
Montego, amazed at the man’s bullish tenacity, reluctantly fisted his hands realizing Harry apparently had been in the boxing ring more than a few times.
After a flurry of flying fists, all barely blocked, Montego dipped and sent a pile-driving blow into Harry’s mid-section. Quickly stepping behind him, he threw his right arm across Harry’s throat and pulled him back and down hard. With his left arm locking onto his right wrist, he squeezed his right forearm against Harry’s carotid artery until the man stopped resisting.
The fact “sleeper” holds were no longer authorized by the LAPD as too dangerous hadn’t stopped Montego. He felt he had no choice.
Sometimes you gotta bend the rules.
He released his hold and let Harry lie back, then he rolled him onto his stomach so he wouldn’t drown in his own blood. His nose bled profusely.
Gathering up both the S&W and butcher knife, Montego placed them out of sight on an upper shelf. He then rushed over to Lou.
Bobby Diaz had yet to return from calling for an ambulance.
Montego pulled a folded handkerchief from his rear pocket, unbuttoned Lou’s uniform shirt, instantly sickened by the blood oozing from the gash, soaking what had been a white T-shirt at the beginning of the cop’s shift.
Montego pressed the clean kerchief firmly against the wound, while murmuring, please don’t let him die.
Moments later, Diaz rushed into the room, revolver in hand.
“Bobby, throw your bracelets on Harry before he comes to—then grab Lou’s piece off the shelf over there.” Montego head gestured.
Diaz homed his firearm, yanked free the Peerless handcuffs hanging over his waist belt, and did so. He then scooted over and shoved the S&W into Lou’s full-flap holster, the “suitcase” as many cops called it.
Keeping pressure on Lou’s wound seemed to be stemming the blood flow, to Montego’s relief.
It felt like an eternity before he heard the welcoming ululating siren dying down in front of the Watt’s residence.
Once the emergency medical team had taken over, first looking after the woman, Montego joined Diaz and Underdahl watching Harry Watt, now conscious but groggy as he sat out on the front porch steps.
“You want the EMTs to check him?” Diaz asked Underdahl.
“Nah, they gotta take care of Lou—if one of you guys will ride shotgun for me, I’ll take him to Hollywood Receiving for an MT, then book his fucking ass.”
“Bobby’s wheelman tonight,” said Montego. “So I’ll get little Mikey and go with you, Johnny.”
“That’s cool, Mike. I’ll get Mrs. Watt’s statement while I’m at the hospital.”
Following emergency surgery, Montego and Underdahl were allowed to speak to Laura Watt. They took “Little Mikey” into the recovery room with them.
Laura gave them a weak dimpled cheek smile and a slight nod, then spoke softly to her son before glancing back at Montego.
He shrugged and returned the smiling gesture.
Underdahl’s method of getting her to open up and explain what had caused her husband to explode impressed Montego. Perhaps the heavy medication helped. It soon became apparent she needed to talk. The woman had plenty to get off her chest, and skillfully encouraged by Underdahl, that’s exactly what she did.
“Harry’s a Korean War veteran. He fought at the Kumsong River in July ’fifty-three—one of the last battles in the war . . .”
She brushed her hand against a persistent fallen tress, fighting a losing battle.
“The same month the armistice agreement got signed.”
Montego, in junior high school at the time, had followed the war in the Citizen News. Every day after classes he’d checked the newspaper’s front page. Almost always he found a major story from the fierce fighting occurring on the frigid Korean peninsula.
“Harry lost too many friends over there. One was a high school buddy, Fred.” She paused and glanced about. Looking back at Underdahl she continued, “I knew Fred, too. I didn’t tell you, but Harry and I both went to McPherson high back in Kansas. He was a couple of grades ahead of me. He came back to McPherson after the war. I worked at a soda shop on Main Street. He came in a lot. We talked, and eventually he asked me out. We dated for several years before getting married.”
A happy expression flooded her face, quickly followed by a look of concern.
“I’m sorry—you officers don’t want to hear all this.”
Montego stepped over and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Laura, we do need to hear this, for our report. It helps us to better understand your husband. It’ll help him, too. Please keep talking.”
She sighed. “I don’t really know. For a long time everything was fine . . . until we went to the movies and saw Pork Chop Hill.”
Montego remembered the film. It starred Gregory Peck and Woody Strode. Not a big spirit-lifter if you happened to be a Korean War vet, he imagined.
“I wish we’d never seen it,” she swiped at the fallen tress. “Afterwards, Harry started having quiet periods. He changed from drinking the odd beer, to whiskey and soda—too much whiskey. I was afraid he might lose his job at the machine shop.”
She sighed again and worked the fingers on her left hand. The IV tube on her left wrist hung in there and remained intact.
“When Mikey was born, Harry seemed really happy, he cut back on his drinking.” She paused, letting out a breath. “That lasted for a couple of years, then something happened at his job, I don’t know what. He wouldn’t say—but he went back to the bottle.”
She began fisting her hands. “He stopped going to church, and when I told him I wanted the pastor to come talk to him, he blew up.” She glanced over at Montego. “That was the first time Harry hit me . . . about a year ago.”
Tears welled; soon they streamed down her cheeks. She dabbed carefully at her swollen eye.
“Tonight, he blew up over nothing. I can’t even tell you what got him so upset—all I said was I wanted to go to the evening services at the Presbyterian Church over on Gower. Reverend Blackstone was giving a sermon. I like his preaching . . . makes me feel comfortable.”
Montego pulled a tissue from a two-toned blue Kleenex box on the nearby stand and handed it to her.
She took it and smiled a “thanks,” then a fearful look crossed her bruised face. “What’s going to happen to Harry? Do you think that poor officer is going to be all right?” She began sobbing. “Oh dear God, please make everything OK.”
Bobby Diaz sat behind the steering wheel as Montego settled into the gray-vinyl passenger seat of the Plymouth four-door parked in the breezeway separating the police station from the small hospital. Montego lifted the hand-mic from its clip on the dashboard as he let out a satisfying sigh, glad his body had survived the tussle with Harry Watt. Tonight was his first shift back in the field since being shot several times and nearly killed. Whatever lingering doubts he might have had about his body’s readiness for extreme physical activity had gone poof with the first kick.
“Six Frank One, clear,” he voiced into the mic, realizing a bit too loudly.
The RTO handling Frequency One, which included Hollywood Division, responded “Frank One, clear,” in her sweet, distinctive voice.
He re-hooked the microphone onto the dash-mounted clip, smiling at a distant memory, the time early in his career when a sergeant had taken him downtown to Communications Division, and told him to sit in a cubicle with an RTO, one of many small stations forming a horseshoe around an open area where the dispatcher operated. His job was to feed the paper slips, each a request for police service filled out by one of half a dozen or more officers sitting in an adjacent room, to each RTO. Upon getting a phone call, the officer on the “Complaint Board” would fill out a form indicating the type of service requested; then he’d drop the slip into a narrow slotted trough with a continuous running belt. It, in turn, sped the slip to the dispatcher. A half-glass wall separated the two rooms and acted as a noise barrier.
He’d been a rookie when he sat beside Momma Mary, the Sixth Division’s RTO, on that occasion. Sweet-voiced Mary Bloom had overseen his anxious efforts to handle incoming calls while scratching out the proper forms to pass to the dispatcher when a general broadcast to all frequencies was required. All forms were saved for record-keeping purposes along with all radio transmissions.
The sergeant had told Montego that spending an hour or so in the cubicle would give him an appreciation of the RTO’s tough task, and serve to remind him always to be courteous whenever communicating over the radio from the field.
Often, patrol cops got rude with the RTOs. it occurred, usually, when a field cop was in a hurry to receive a result to his request for wants-and-warrants-on-a-suspect, and the RTO didn’t get back to him promptly.
The officers’ oral requests, documented on appropriate forms, once received by the dispatcher, were sent via a pneumatic tube up to Records and Identification Division, R & I, on the second floor in the Police Administration Building, PAB. This meant the RTO had no control of the time it took for a records clerk to look up a suspect’s file, jot down the necessary notation on the form, and then return it via the tube to the dispatcher, who would slip the information-filled paper back through a slot into the designated RTO’s cubicle.
Diaz wheeled the four-door out of the breezeway and onto Wilcox Avenue. He headed north toward the “Boulevard of Renown.”
“So, where does Señor Tonto want to patrol for the remainder of the watch?”
The Tonto tag started when Montego was a pre-teen, thanks to the Lehmans, his weekday foster parents. Whenever they caught him cussing, a piece of green Palmolive soap was stuck in his mouth; then they made him lay on his back with his mouth shut for fifteen minutes. He wasn’t even allowed to say gee or gosh as they sounded too much like Jesus and God to the strict couple.
Finally, no longer wishing to suffer the nasty taste of green soap, he decided one day a trip to the library in North Hollywood Park was called for. He intended to look in an English/Spanish dictionary for a word or words that would sound like he wasn’t swearing when he was.
His research resulted in finding tanto peor, meaning “so much the worse.” Not all that vulgar sounding, but it would have to do. He’d tired of searching.
It took a while to get the words to roll off his tongue when he was pissed, but his foster parents thought his verbal outbursts amusing, and, thanks to their ignorance, not that it mattered, he kept at it. After a few weeks, he was mostly blurting out “Tanto!” as it was short and simple. His Anglo friends inevitably heard it as “Tonto.”
And so the tag was born.
Montego shrugged his eyes. “You’ve got the wheel, amigo mio.”