With The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz James Ellroy melded noir and history to create his first L.A. Quartet. Perfidia, which comes out September 9 on Knopf, marks the start of a new quartet.
Set in Los Angeles on the eve of World War II, the novel revolves around the brutal murder of a Japanese family and intertwines fictional characters with real ones to explore the internment of Japanese Americans. Expect corrupt cops, communist sympathizers, an ambitious police chemist, and a gorgeous dilettante.
This excerpt features Kay Lake, a gorgeous 21-year-old moll who’s having an affair with William H. Parker, a Los Angeles police captain who would go on to become the chief of police in 1950.
KAY LAKE’S DIARY
Los Angeles, December 7, 1941
Sunday brunch with Elmer and Brenda. Decorous, save for the talk.
Brenda owns a lovely home in Laurel Canyon. The furnishings can be seen in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Harry Cohn enjoys Brenda’s girls and gave her free run of the Columbia warehouse.
A Mexican maid laid out huevos rancheros. Elmer mixed gin fizzes. Gary Cooper fucked Barbara Stanwyck on the couch I was perched on. Brenda swore that the rumor was true.
I felt disembodied. It was lack of sleep more than shock over what I’d heard at City Hall. Lee Blanchard, Ben Siegel and Abe Reles. Captain William H. Parker’s belief that I would now be ripe for entrapment. He held me to be a woman who would stand up for her man and do anything to cover his misdeeds. He was gravely mistaken there.
Elmer said, “Lee caught a squawk with the Dudster. It’s all over the air. Four Japs in Highland Park.”
Brenda dosed her eggs with hot sauce. “You go straight to shop- talk.”
Elmer said, “A good host plays to his guests, honey. Shoptalk is the only sort of talk that Miss Katherine Lake enjoys.”
I laughed and picked at my food. Brenda and Elmer were nearly ten years older than I. They were professionals; I was a cop’s quasi- girlfriend. The disparity rankled. We all went back to Bobby De Witt and the Boulevard-Citizens job. Open secrets and unspoken truths began germinating there. I wanted to peddle myself to wash the stink of Bobby off of me; Brenda refused to let me do it. She said, “You live by these crazy-girl notions you get from books and movies. I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I let you take that nonsense too far.”
Elmer handed me a cocktail. I wondered how up-to-date he was on Lee and Ben Siegel. “Bugsy” is now ensconced in a “penthouse” suite at the Hall of Justice jail. Sheriff’s deputies serve as valets, flunkies and chauffeurs for visiting starlets. Velvet curtains provide privacy for Ben and his overnight guests. His release is imminent. Abe Reles’ “swan dive” scotched the prosecution’s case against him.
Elmer smiled and waggled his cigar stub. We possess an odd telepathy and often seem to know what the other is thinking. It always pertains to “shoptalk.”
He said, “Lee paid off his chit with Benny Siegel.”
I said, “Yes, I figured it out.”
Brenda crushed her cigarette on a bread plate. “Tell all, honey. Don’t be a C.T.”
I said, “No, your lover goes first.”
Elmer sprawled in a chair and grabbed Brenda. She fell into his lap and went Whoops! He said, “Thad Brown drove Dudley Smith and Lee to Union Station. He read the papers a few days later and put it together.”
Brenda said, “How’d you figure it out?”
I made that zip-the-lips gesture. Elmer said, “Give, sister.” Brenda said, “Don’t be a C.T.”
I played coy. “There’s a Traffic captain who knows a lot about Lee.”
Elmer draped an arm around Brenda. “How do you know that?”
“Because Captain William H. Parker is courting me.”
Brenda hooted. “Honey, that sanctimonious son of a bitch does not court women in any kind of classic sense.”
I lit a cigarette. “You mean he doesn’t take bribes, beat confessions out of suspects, or screw your girls in the back of Mike Lyman’s Grill, where I’m meeting him at 1:00.”
Brenda looked aghast. Elmer looked flabbergasted. He said, “Kay, how do you know that Whiskey Bill Parker knows a lot about Lee?”
I blew an imperiously high smoke ring. “Because Parker is courting and coercing me. Because he has me transcribing wire recordings at City Hall before he tells me his play. Because you, Brenda and Lee had a very injudicious conversation on August 14 of ’39. You discussed your ‘service,’ the Boulevard-Citizens robbery and Lee’s debt to Ben Siegel. Elmer, you actually said, ‘If you owe Ben, he makes you kill somebody for him.’ ”
Elmer bolted his drink. Brenda waved mock wolfsbane.
I said, “Do you think that William H. Parker is incapable of extrapolating and reaching the conclusion that Lee and Dud- ley Smith killed Abe Reles? Do you think that William H. Parker doesn’t know that half of the Detective Bureau phones are tapped? Do you honestly think that you’re as smart as William H. Parker?”
Brenda fished a pack of cigarettes from Elmer’s coat pocket. “I can’t believe it. You honest to God like that son of a bitch.”
I felt myself blush. Elmer said, “No more calls from City Hall.”
Brenda lit a cigarette and blew her own high ring. “Gossip always comes in droves, Citizens. One of our girls picked up a tip from a G-man she tricked with. Some fellow named Ward Littell.”
Elmer said, “Give, sister. Who’s the C.T. now?”
Brenda said, “The Feds are going after the Department, strictly on the phone taps. Art Hohmann snitched the listening posts and the whole kaboodle.”
I said, “I destroyed that recording I described to you.”
Brenda said, “There’s oodles more, Citizen. Can you recall what you said on any given phone call from two years ago? Uh-uh, you can’t.”
Elmer cracked his knuckles. “I’ll tell Jack Horrall. He’ll pull the wires with the good dirt, and leave the Feds the pablum.”
I heard radio buzz next door. An announcer was almost shouting. The noise was high-decibeled and insistent.
Brenda climbed off Elmer’s lap and smoothed out her dress. She said, “Sweetie, please set Sister Lake straight on Whiskey Bill.”
Elmer leaned toward me. “Don’t hold no goodwill for that Pope- loving bastard,” he said. “He’s as ruthless as Dudley Smith, he was bone-dirty with Jim Davis, he’ll get the Chief’s job come hell or high water and take the Department down out of spite if it don’t fall his way. He uses people and tosses them away like fucking Kleenex. He’s a hatchet man, an extortionist and a fucking prig who gets shit- faced drunk, talks to God and moves his lips while he does it. He ran the ‘Bum Blockade’ for Two-Gun, he shackled Okies in the back of freight cars and sent them off to the lettuce fields up in Kern County, where the goddamn farm bosses paid Davis a buck a man a day. He ran bag to the Mexican Staties back when Carlos Madrano and Davis were supplying wetbacks to every Jap farm between here and Oxnard. You run, sister. Whatever that man has planned for you ain’t nothing you’d ever want for yourself.”
Brenda said, “Amen.” That radio blasted. I didn’t want to address Elmer’s pitch. I walked to the window and glanced out.
A man next door saw me. Our windows were wide open. His radio was earsplitting. He reached over and turned it off.
He said, “The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Excerpted from Perfidia by James Ellroy. Copyright 2014 by James Ellroy. Published in arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, and imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.