UNITED STATES—Working for Wylie, a door opened at Fraser Bros. Boiler Company, the ersatz office of Wylie properties. The location next to a beauty parlor on La Brea had been adopted because the wife of the owner was doing accounting, straightening out the business of Jim Wylie.
According to Cheryl, the receipts for the first year had previously been housed under a bar in Redondo Beach, which was the previous office of Wylie properties. Cheryl was wise and smart, the daughter of a pioneering Hispanic politician, “My dad met Wylie one time and said he didn’t trust him and not to get involved in dealings with him.” Cheryl also told about describing Wylie to a friend of hers, who instantly knew who she was talking about because he had tried to pick her up at a dry cleaners.
Well, the boiler company with its reek of grease and old plumbing was where Wylie and I met, to take care of petty cash, new contracts and utility bills for the various houses. I’ll be honest, when we sat there and worked on eviction papers, his nervous energy left me frazzled at first. It made me feel like taking the afternoon off. He himself wasn’t tense but always on the move, even when seated. “When we think, we move our feet,” he taught me a credo of putting thoughts into action.
Many of our papers filed dealt with residents at the house on Estrella Avenue, which Wylie was thinking about unloading to get some welcome cash. Working with him, provided a glimpse behind the Mercedes SL: because of his gambling nature, Wylie spread himself thinly. But really it wasn’t gambling, it was a zeal to put ideas, ballasted by a keen intelligence, into action that got him into a corner.
Estrella was the scene of one of the wildest moments ever in my management career. The end of May, I stopped by on a Saturday to meet Jim, thinking of selling Estrella. A real estate agent came and there were two white men and a woman, their Christian faith belied as much by the crosses that dangled from their necks and the blankness on their almost imperceptibly pinched faces when plunged into the raggedy household they wanted for their charity agenda. Of course, Jim Wylie wanted more than anything to leave a good impression of the property.
We were walking through the house and asking all the tenants to show their rooms for the visitors. We got upstairs to the Jones’ door. Wylie knocked on the door. From inside Beverly Jones said there was a medical emergency. That was what she said the last time we visited. There really was an emergency this time.
While the Christians were looking at the house a cholo slipped inside. He had been shot. He was walking and wide awake, even though he had taken a bullet, and managed to slip inside the room of the Jones, the newlywed couple in Mac’s old room.
From downstairs, Lawrence Brown’s wife made a hullaballoo. She shouted up what had happened. The cholo had come in from the street and banged on her door first. She didn’t let him in. “I don’t want no cholo to die in my room.”
The cholo had traced a path between the rooms of the people he had been dealing to, the Jones and the Browns. But I didn’t recognize this then. Estrella was an ersatz war zone, all right, where so much was happening, all that I observed took years to crystallize.
Wylie now forced his way into the Jones’ room. The skinny guy in a white wife beater came out, a little blood dribbling down from his neck and onto the white of the wife beater, and he flew the coop. The Christians left, dismayed and aghast. Soon afterward, police and ambulances came. The medics put a helmet-like contraption on the wounded guy’s neck and head. A cop went with him aboard the ambulance to get the details while the cholo was still awake.
I learned that Saturday that a 9mm bullet can pierce a neck and leave a man standing. Afterward, Wylie and I laughed about the look on the faces of those Christians.
Grady Miller is a humorist. You should read his early pieces in “Late Bloomer” (on Amazon) selected from when he used to be funny.