THE G-STRING GUNDOWN
By Walter Himes
(discovered by Josh Stallings)
Walter Himes spent most of his all-too-brief life in San Quentin for shooting a white man seven times in the face. Besides the seventeen Stripper Assassin tales he put out from behind bars, he also wrote Black Is Black, a manifesto that provoked the prison riots of 1979. That same year, he was found dead in his cell. The official coroner’s report states this was death by suicide, but many still believe a guard killed him over a $30 gambling debt. JOSH STALLINGS discovered this story from 1974 while cleaning out his grandfather’s gun safe.
“Hey boss, somebody sent you a strip-a-gram.”
“Send her in.”
Sunshine O’Shay trembled as she walked across the marble floor. She never thought she’d be in an honest-to-god mansion and yet here she was. Dressed like a sexy cop, showing as much cleavage as tape and a push-up bra could generate. Over her shoulder she carried a garment bag.
She entered a den that was larger than her entire home. A fat man in his mid-thirties sat in a club chair in the middle of the room. He had on a shiny gold velour track suit. He looked Sunshine up and down twice, slowly examining every inch of her coffee and cream skin. “They sent me a negress. Now that’s a spicy meatball.”
“You ready for this?” She was eighteen and fighting to sound so much older. “I hear you been a very bad, bad boy.”
“Oh yeah, I been bad, officer. Ha, take me in.” He put his wrists out, practically drooling at the thought of what was coming. Pauly stood at the door smirking. Jimmy didn’t need to tell him twice to get the hell out, guard the door in case Gina got home early. Now that would be a massacre. The closing door covered up the sound of the cuffs snapping home.
“Damn girl, that pinches. What are those, real cuffs?”
“Sorry baby.” She leaned down, kissing his wrist and giving him a look down her top at her breasts.
“Mmmm, they little, bitty things, but I still love to suck on those dark cherries. I hear the darker the berry …” That was the last thing he ever said. The blast from the twelve-gauge took his face off. He didn’t scream. His wide eyes showed life, but how does one scream when he is missing his lower jaw and most of his throat?
Pauly burst in, gun in hand. He saw his boss fighting for life and a dead stripper at his feet. What the fuck had happened?
Pauly ran to his boss hoping for some whispered information or instruction. As he stepped over the dead stripper, Jimmy’s eyes went huge. He was gurgling, fighting to warn Pauly of something. From the floor the shotgun fired between Pauly’s spread legs. The blow lifted him into the air and dropped him five feet back, blood pouring from his groin.
The bloody stripper stood over Pauly. “Yo cracker, you got any idea why I’m here?”
“No, none, I swear.”
Wrong answer. Flame and smoke engulfed Pauly’s head. When it cleared he was nothing but a stain on the carpet.
Sunshine walked to the boss. She pushed his ruined face with the shotgun barrel. “You, I bet you know why I’m here. Huh, smart man? Too bad you can’t tell me.” The shotgun rocked and Jimmy became a smear.
Sunshine dropped her blood-splattered cop’s costume. Dropped her bra and g-string. Crossed to the bathroom, where she took a hot shower. She soaped and removed the gore. She even washed the shotgun. She had hoped she would feel better afterwards, what she felt was numb. Clean, she slipped into the starched white maid’s uniform she had carried protected in the garment bag.
Careful to leave by the back door, Sunshine became invisible on the sidewalk. Just another brown-skinned maid heading home. Beverly Hills was full of them. Climbing onto the crosstown bus, she dropped in a dime and took her seat. She’d be back in Compton before they even found the bodies. Maybe she would feel better after the next on her list.
Caesar Cavasos was a big, bald Mexican. He ran Pussycats striptease club in East LA. He also ran the cribs behind it where a man could get his sexual needs serviced for a small price. He was known as an evil man. Now he was a dead man. Crabs crawled in what was left of his skull.
Detective John Stark stood on Santa Monica Beach, looking down at the corpse. “What are you doing so far from East LA, Caesar?”
“Hope you aren’t waiting for him to answer.” Leroy Jones was Stark’s partner. Salt and Pepper, the other cops called them, but only behind their backs.
Stark tossed the waterlogged wallet to his partner. Jones let out a slow whistle. “Well, well, looks like Caesar’s having a bad day.”
“Any idea who wanted him dead?”
“Shoot, Stark, might as well round up all of East LA. Truth, can’t think of many who wanted him alive.”
“What’s in his hand?” Stark knelt down. The dead man’s hand was frozen into a fist. A tuft of glitter shone through his fingers. With a pen he pulled the fingers open . Lifting a round half dollar–sized strip of lamé, a red tassel was attached at the center. He held it up to Jones. “Now all we need to do is find a stripper missing one pasty.”
“What’s up, little soul sister?” Ronnie leaned on his Chevy Bomb by the front door of Pussycats. James Brown’s “The Payback” thumped through the wall. Ronnie bopped his head to the beat. He was cholo cool, khakis and a wife beater, Pendleton top button closed.
“Boss in? I needs to speak to him?” Sunshine wore Chuck Taylors, a pair of hip huggers, and a crop top that showed a healthy amount of skin.
“Ain’t you heard? Found his dead ass in Santa Monica Bay.”
Ronnie tilted his head toward an unmarked police car. “The man’s inside asking questions. Better skip out if you done it.” He kept a straight face for a moment then burst out laughing.
“What? You don’t think I could’ve done it?”
“Chica, you couldn’t kill a rat with a scattergun.” He was still laughing to himself as Sunshine entered the club.
The two detectives had taken up residence in Caesar’s office. Stark was openly enjoying the line of dancers that paraded in to speak to them.
“Damn waste of time, for all the information we’s getting.” Jones wanted to get rolling, slap around a few stoolies, get to the bottom line. It wasn’t a dancer done this; women poison or stab. They don’t shotgun off a man’s face.
“Only one left, okay with you?”
“Just get to it.”
Stark almost spit out his coffee when Sunshine came in. She was that good looking. He eyed his notes and motioned for her to sit, not sure he could speak without stumbling over the words. “Sunshine O’Shay, is that right?”
“Yes sir, that is my name.” She focused all her charm at Stark. He was handsome, in cop kind of way, with his long sideburns and thick mustache.
“Call me John.”
“Okay, John. You all have any idea who done this?”
“Not yet, but we’ll find the perp, trust me. We always get our man.”
“What are you, a couple of Mounties? You Dudley Do-Right?”
Stark was suddenly embarrassed. He searched his notebook like some answer was deep in there. Jones asked if she knew anybody that wanted Otis dead. Her laugh told him what he already knew. The list of folks who wanted the whoremaster dead was long and wide.
“That’ll just about do it.” Stark finished writing her address in his notebook. “If you think of anything else, you give me a call.” He passed her his card. She leaned over the desk and with her eyes locked on his, she took the pen from his hand and wrote on his notebook.
“That’s my number. You bored Saturday night, say eight, call me. I might be hungry for dinner.” As she walked out, she swung her hips just enough to keep his eyes on her.
“What the hell was that?”
“That, Detective Jones, was the famous Stark charm.”
“Don’t smell right.”
“Not in this life, white boy.”
Driving back to the LAPD Homicide office, both detectives were thinking about Sunshine, for very different reasons.
King Charles and Ray-Ray sat in King’s office behind the Watts Head Cutter’s barbershop. Guns, drugs, women, King ran the black side of the ghetto. No one so much as got their hair conked without his knowing about it.
“Jimmy G’s dead. Took a gauge to the head.”
“No real loss there, King, right?”
“Took out Caesar, same way. The Italian mother-rapers didn’t sanction any hits. I didn’t. So who the hell did it?”
“Could be Jimmy G pissed off some husband? Caesar, that spick been just begging to die for a time now.”
“Find out who the hell is killing folks without my say-so.”
“It is done.”
“Good.” After Ray-Ray was gone, King sat back, put his feet up on his desk. He struck a kitchen match and fired up a robusto. Jimmy G, Caesar and he had all come up together. They were the young lions of crime. Hell, they brought about the treaty between the Mexicans, blacks and Italians. They carved up the city and got rich in the process. They all played high school football at Franklin. Senior prom, they all were there. It was when they came together. In many ways, that was the beginning of their triumphant rule.
1955, Compton. Kendra looked in the mirror and liked what she saw. The pink taffeta prom dress was filled out in all the right places. Sure, she wished she had some more breasts, but what she had looked good. She heard the knock at the door. She knew it was Otis, but she hung back. She’d let him sit with her father for a few minutes, let the old man scare him. As long as Otis behaved and didn’t get Pop’s Irish up, he’d fare okay.
“You look more beautiful than Dorothy Dandridge.” Otis was driving his Ford.
“I don’t, and keep your eyes on the road.”
Dressed in his father’s suit, he was so handsome, it was as if she had never seen him before. He wasn’t big, or strong, he didn’t play ball, but something about his glasses and shy smile on this night was making her feel different in a very good way.
1973, Los Angeles, Homicide Department. Jones hefted a stack of files. “Somewhere in all this mess is an answer.”
“Why can’t it be a coincidence?” Stark pulled up his tie.
“I don’t believe in coincidences. Two dirtbags get their heads cleaned with a gauge, two days apart? No, they connected, just can’t see how yet.”
“You need me to stick around?”
“Nah, you gots a date with a dancer. Go on. I’m waiting for a call from Smitty in the gang unit.”
“Alright, I’ll get with her twice, once just for you Jones.”
“Just check her ID first, hate to have to haul you in for staggi.”
“She’s over eighteen.”
“She dances at Pussycats.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right, they never ever had an underage stripper.”
“Screw you. You’re just bustin’ balls because she went for me.” Stark was sure Jones was wrong. Damn, she had to be eighteen. He took his ’67 Firebird, six years old, but still badass. If this didn’t get her panties wet, she was frigid.
Across town Sunshine was slipping into a white go-go dress. She had showered and put on a wig, long and straight, just the way white men liked. She finished her make-up and did a twirl in front of her mother’s bed.
“Baby girl, you look amazing. Your daddy be so proud of you.”
“You sure about that, Momma?” Sunshine held a water glass with a straw to her mother’s lips. Her mother was quadriplegic, she had been for Sunshine’s entire life.
“Look at you, darlin’, you are amazing. Yes, he would be proud.”
“Do you think he’s watching us?”
Sunshine kissed her mother and went to wait in the living room. She watched the phone. Begging it to ring. Finally, at a quarter to eight it rang. She had it her hands on the second ring. On a pad she wrote down an address on West Century Blvd. near Inglewood. She, hung up, and hoped her father looked away sometimes.
Stark glided the Firebird to a stop. He splashed on liberal amounts of English Leather. Lifting his lip, he checked his teeth, smoothed his mustache, and was ready. The house was a GI home built for returning soldiers after WWII. The lawn was longer than the neighbors. For a flash Stark saw himself pushing a mower and Sunshine handing him an icy tea. Shook his head and cleared the thought. Love them, leave them, move on. Sunshine opened the door and his resolve was gone. When she took his hand, she could have led him anywhere.
“Momma, this is Detective Stark.”
“Um, call me John, Mrs. O’Shay.”
“We’ll save first names until we know each other better.”
“Fine,” he didn’t like her firm, cold eyes. Eyes that looked like they could see through any snow job he wanted to run.
“You take care of my baby girl. You keep her safe out there.”
“Don’t worry, I’m packing, I’ll keep her safe.”
“There is a bad man wants to–“
“Momma, no.” Sunshine silenced her. “Sorry John, she is a worrier. Now good night, Momma, I love you.”
Stark waited until they were in the Firebird before he spoke. “Where would you like me to take you? I know a steak joint up on Sunset.”
“Older white cop with a younger Black girl? We better stay down here.”
“I’m not that much older.”
“Relax. I like it.”
“You are eighteen, aren’t you?” He tried to sound casual.
“Are you planning to sleep with me? Bit forward, Detective.” She stared at him, her face flat of emotion. He stammered and started to blush. She left him hanging then finally let out a laugh. “I’m eighteen, turned a few months back. So if, IF, you get lucky you won’t wind up in the pokey. Now why don’t you take me to Bertha’s Soul Food on West Century. Feed me and we’ll see where the night takes us.”
“Sounds good.” Stark was glad to have it all out. His face cooled. From the corner of his eye, he saw that she was scanning for a tail. She was subtle, but it was clear she was afraid someone might be following them.
“Sunshine, you know you can trust me, if you’re into some kind of trouble.”
“I like you, John, no, really. But I have a past. If you knew …”
“Girl, I, well we all have secrets. I’ve done some stuff I wish I hadn’t.”
“My mother can’t work.” Sunshine looked out the window. “I was fifteen when she had the accident. We needed money. He said he was a good man and he’d never make me do anything I didn’t want to.”
“Who, who hurt you?”
“King Charles. He is a … he will… he gets girls for, you know.”
“He’s a pimp.”
“Yes. Two months ago I turned eighteen and went legit. I started dancing at Pussycats. I don’t work the cribs, just dance, you have to believe me.” Stark passed her a starched white handkerchief. She dabbed at the tears running down her face. She slowed her breathing. She leaned her head on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, John, really I am. He’s still looking for me. If he finds me, who knows what he might do. I know he’s killed more than one girl. Had one of them drink Drano, another he ODed on smack and pushed her off the San Pedro Bridge. If you want to take me home and forget we never met, I’ll understand.”
“Never happen. I got a feeling you are going to change my life. Now let’s get to the eating; I am starving.”
Bertha’s was a small house converted into a restaurant in the ’60s, the name spelled out on the roof in ruby neon. With yellow and purple paint, it was anything but subtle. Sunshine ordered chitlins, oxtails and gravy, mac and cheese. Stark teased her about how skinny she was. He ordered the fried chicken, greens, rice and beans. Bertha’s didn’t have a liquor license, but there was a bucket of ice stuffed with bottles of beer under the counter, not for sale. You took them and tipped accordingly.
In between bites Sunshine gave Stark an idyllic picture of her growing up. Her mother and father had been the perfect couple. Dad worked helping to build airplanes in Santa Monica. Her mother had been a nurse. Sunshine wanted to go to college, be a teacher. “That dream died when I took my first trick. And all that destruction because a drunk driver missed a corner. Killed my dad, crippled my mother …. Shoot, here I am crying again. Sorry.” She dabbed her eyes, looking down at the handkerchief. “I covered it in eye make-up. Sorry, I’ll wash it.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“But I do.” Reflected in the glass covering a print on the wall, she saw King Charles enter. He was resplendent in his purple crushed-velvet trench coat and matching slacks. Alligator shoes. A fur-lined fedora. He even carried a gold-handled walking stick. Ray-Ray held the door for him, he was in a simple pinstriped suit and a bowler.
Sunshine waited for them to sit. Then with a clumsy elbow, she dumped a bowl of red beans and rice onto Stark’s lap. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Jenny May came out from behind the counter with a large white towel and a bottle of club soda.
Sunshine watched the detective disappear into the rest room. Then she was up and moving fast. Straight up to King’s table, she moved the waiter out of the way. “They won’t be staying.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Me? I’m the one knows why your partners got smoked. Now you still want this man standing here while we talk?”
King waved the waiter away angrily, “Get the fuck out of here. When I want food, I’ll come see you.”
“Certainly, Mr King.” The waiter disappeared, probably checking his underwear.
“Outside.” Sunshine stood and walked out. King had to move to keep up.
“Not him.” Sunshine pointed at Ray-Ray. “He stays in the restaurant.”
“Nope. He goes or I go home.”
“Boss, I’ll be a hundred feet away, max.” Ray-Ray said, turning away.
“Okay. Keep your damn eyes open and off the waitresses.” King watched Sunshine walking toward his Cadillac Brougham. He knew her from some place but couldn’t place her.
Detective Jones was running full lights and sirens. Last he heard, Stark was going to a soul food joint. Somewhere on West Century Blvd. He was with Sunshine and had no idea what he was into. It had taken the guys from the gang unit to piece it all together, but they had. Sunshine was anything but a civilian. She was a combatant. Blowing across Hawthorn he traded paint with a UPS truck. The driver called him a “stupid nigger.” Would have upset him, might even have used his .38 to knock out a few of the cracker’s teeth, but his partner was on the line so he kept blasting.
In the Caddy, King looked her over like he was deciding whether or not to eat her. “You a brave, little girl. You know who I am?”
“Yes, I do, Chucky, I do.”
“Chucky? No one … not since school … oh mother fu—you are.”
“Yes, I am.”
King’s mind raced. This girl could have been Kendra nineteen years ago. But Kendra was in a chair, no way she could have …
“Do you know why I’m here?”
“I—we didn’t mean to hurt her. We were just messing around and she stumbled …. Really it was an accident. Ask …
“Who? Jimmy G? He didn’t have any good answers. Caesar begged, told me it was all your idea. He did say my mother was asking for it. Well, he almost said it. Couldn’t finish with his face all over the pier.”
King closed his eyes. The night flooded in, drowning out the present.
It was on a deserted road up behind the Griffith observatory. After the prom, they had failed to hook up with any bitches. So King, Jimmy G, and Caesar, they headed up to the overlook, to drink some beer and fuck with some kids.
Kendra had decided on the dance floor that tonight was the night she would give herself to Otis. He was a good man. She loved him like no other. He made her feel shy when he came around.
Otis had been gentle when he unbuttoned her gown. He touched her body like it was precious. She arched her back, pressing her near naked body against his. Their lips met. The kiss wasn’t gentle; it was hungry. He pulled her legs apart. She guided him into her. She screamed his name, told him how much she loved him. He held her close, echoing her words of love. He’d thought she was the one for him since the fourth grade, but now he knew. He really knew. When the release finally came, he let out a howling scream.
That was the sound that attracted the three football players. They ripped the Ford’s door open. The naked couple tumbled out onto the dirt. They circled around them. “Well, well, Otis Four Eyes. How the hell did you get this fine woman into your car?”
“You get her drunk? That it, ese?” Caesar asked.
“Nah, bet he hit her with a shovel.”
“Jimmy right about that? He hurt you?” King moved in closer.
Otis stood, facing the bigger man. “Let her go.”
“Four Eyes, you giving orders?” King drove his fist into Otis’s gut, doubling him over. On the way down, Caesar hit his face, spraying blood into the dust.
Kendra threw her body over him.
“Kendra, time you was with some real men.” She spat up at King. A good glob hung off his chin.
Caesar laughed. “Hey, King you gots some on your chin.”
“I know what the hell I have and where. Get that bitch.”
Otis whispered, “Now, don’t look back.”
And he was up, his fists were full of loose dirt. He threw it in the two nearest faces. He threw wild unfocused punches. One caught Jimmy G off guard; he stumbled back, his nose bleeding. Caesar nailed Otis in the back of the skull with a baseball bat he used as a walking stick. Otis crumpled. King laid his boots into Otis.
Kendra was running around the car to get in the driver’s side. She tripped on a tree root. For a brief moment she thought she was flying. Then she landed hard and tumbled. When she stopped moving, she had lost all feeling below her neck.
King looked at Sunshine sadly. “You killed Caesar and Jimmy G over a mistake? We never meant to hurt your mother.”
“But you did mean to kill my father. Nobody beats a man to death by accident.” Before he could speak again, she raked his face with her long nails, drawing blood. He yowled and slapped her. Blood came from her lips. She scratched the other side of his face. This time he punched her nose. It flattened in to a bloody pulp. Her blood splattered the windshield.
Sunshine kicked the car door open just as Stark cleared the diner’s door. She fell back screaming, “No, King, don’t shoot me …. No, please. Stark, help.”
Stark’s .44 Magnum exploded into the night. He punched two fist-sized holes into the windshield. The first shot took King’s neck out, the second shattered his chest.
The siren filled the air as Jones bounced into the lot. He jumped out shotgun in hand. He searched for a threat, saw none. He leaned into King’s car. “He’s still breathing.”
“Get his gun before he plugs you.”
“He ain’t got no gun, Stark. Way you hit him he couldn’t move far. No gun. Did you see a gun?”
“Hell yes, I saw a gun. He was trying to kill Sunshine.”
Jones moved around the Caddy and helped Sunshine up. “He didn’t have no gun, did he?”
“I’m sure I saw one. Detective Stark wouldn’t have shot him if he didn’t, would he?”
“And that’s how it will have to play. I read the file on your mother’s accident. And what happened to her date. Odd that all three dead men went to that same prom.”
“Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?” She gave him a subtle wink.
Jones dropped an untraceable throw-down pistol into the Caddy. Stark would get a commendation for bravery for saving the young woman’s life. Their being on a date would never be mentioned.
Ray-Ray called on Sunshine late one night. He brought her a briefcase. They stood on the front porch like two old friends chatting. “I have to know, Sunshine, what made you believe you could trust me.”
“Well Ray-Ray, greed and fear. You wanted King’s empire. And you know if you screwed me, I would find you.”
“And what if the cop hadn’t shot King?”
“I would have used the .32 in my jacket pocket. Same one I got pointed at you.”
Ray-Ray looked at her hand. It was in her jacket pocket, aiming at him. He started to laugh. “Nothing gets past you.”
It wasn’t until she was in her mother’s room that she counted the money in the briefcase: $30,000. Her mother smiled at her. It was done. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, the sleep of the righteous. Sunshine watched her mother sleeping for a time, then slipped from the room.
Thinking it all over, Sunshine finally felt relief. Killing one man is hard. Killing two is near impossible. But after three, it just started to come naturally.
Beautiful, Naked & Dead, Josh Stallings’ first novel, is garnering great notice from readers and reviewers alike. Its sequel, Out There Bad, has met with equally stunning reviews. He is busy working on the third Moses McGuire crime novel, One More Body. In addition to his fiction, his noir memoir All The Wild Children will be published by Snubnose Press. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Erika, two dogs and a cat named Riddle.