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The Kings Of Cool s-1

Don Winslow

  The Kings Of Cool

  ( Savages - 1 )

  Don Winslow

  Don Winslow

  The Kings Of Cool


  Fuck me.

  Laguna Beach, California 2005


  Is what O is thinking as she sits between Chon and Ben on a bench at Main Beach and picks out potential mates for them.

  “ That one?” she asks, pointing at a classic BB (Basically Baywatch) strolling down the boardwalk.

  Chon shakes his head.

  A little dismissively, O thinks. Chon is pretty choosy for a guy who spends most of his time in Afghanistan or Iraq and doesn’t see much in the way of anything outside cammies or a burqa.

  Actually, she can see how the burqa thing could be pretty hot if you played it off right.

  Did, you know, the harem thing.

  Yeah, no.

  The burqa ain’t gonna work for O. You don’t want to hide that blonde hair, you don’t want those bright eyes peeking out from behind a niqab.

  O was made for sunshine.

  California gurl.

  Chon, he ain’t small but he’s thin. O thinks he looks even thinner than usual. He’s always been cut, but now it looks like he’s been carved with a scalpel. And she likes the short, almost shaved, hair.

  “That one?” she asks, jutting her chin at a tourist-type brunette with really big tits and a retrousse nose.

  Chon shakes his head.

  Ben remains silent, sphinx-like, which is a role reversal, because Ben is usually the more verbal of the two. This isn’t a high bar to jump, as Chon doesn’t talk a lot, except when he goes off on a rant; then it’s like you pulled the plug from a fire hose.

  While Ben is the more verbal, O considers now, he’s also the less promiscuous.

  Ben is more Consecutive Monogamy while Chon is more Women Are To Be Served Concurrently. Although O knows for a fact that both of them-albeit Chon more than Ben-take full

  advantage of the Tourist Chicks who watch them play volleyball here at the beach, just a few convenient paces from the Hotel Laguna-encounters she refers to as FRSO.

  Fuck-Room Service-Shower-Out.

  “That pretty much sums it up,” Chon has admitted.

  Although at times he skips the room service.

  Never the shower.

  Basic rule of survival in the Greater Cross V Crescent Sandbox Tournament:

  If there’s a shower, take it.

  He can’t shake off the habit at home.

  Anyway, Chon admits to doing matinees at the Hotel Laguna, the Ritz, the St. Regis, and the Montage with not only tourist women but also Orange County Trophy Wives and divorcees-the difference between the two being strictly temporary.

  That’s the thing about Chon-he’s totally honest. No pretensions, no evasions, no apologies. O can’t decide if that’s because he’s so ethical or because he just doesn’t give a fuck.

  Now he turns to her and says, “You have one strike left. Choose carefully.”

  It’s a game they play-ODB-Offline Dating Baseball. Predicting each other’s sexual preferences and hitting for a single, a double, a triple, or a Home Run. It’s a really good game when you’re high, which they are now, on some of Ben and Chon’s supremo weed.

  (Which is not weed at all, but a top-of-the-line hydro blend they call Saturday In The Park because if you take a hit of this stuff any day is Saturday and any place is the park.)

  O is usually the Sammy Sosa of ODB, but now, with runners on first and third, she’s striking out.

  “Well?” Chon asks her.

  “I’m waiting for a good pitch,” she says, scanning the beach.

  Chon’s been in Iraq, he’s been in Afghanistan…

  … Go exotic.

  She points to a beautiful South Asian girl with shimmering black hair setting off her white beach dress.


  “Strikeout,” Chon answers. “Not my type.”

  “What is your type?” O asks, frustrated.

  “Tan,” Chon answers, “thin-sweet face-big brown eyes, long lashes.”

  O turns to Ben.

  “Ben, Chon wants to fuck Bambi.”


  Ben’s a little distracted.

  Sort of following the game, but not really, because his mind is on something that happened this morning.

  This morning, like most mornings, Ben eased into his day at the Coyote Grill.

  He got a table on the open deck near the fireplace and ordered his usual pot of black coffee and the crazy-good eggs machaca (for those in the benighted regions east of I-5, that’s scrambled eggs with chicken and salsa, a side of black beans, fried potatoes, and either corn or flour tortillas, which might be the best thing in the history of the universe), opened his laptop, and read the Gray Lady to see what Bush and his coconspirators were doing on that particular day to render the world uninhabitable.

  This is his routine.

  Ben’s partner, Chon, has warned him against habits.

  “It’s not a ‘habit,’” Ben answered. “It’s a ‘routine.’”

  A habit is a matter of compulsion, a routine a matter of choice. The fact that it’s the same choice every day is irrelevant.

  “Whatever,” Chon answered. “Break it up.”

  Cross the PCH to the Heidelberg Cafe, or drive down to Dana Point Harbor, check out the yummy-mummies jogging with their strollers, make a freaking pot of coffee at home for chrissakes. But do not do not do not do the same thing every day at the same time.

  “It’s how we nail some of these AQ clowns,” Chon said.

  “You shoot AQ guys while they eat eggs machaca at the Coyote Grill?” Ben asked. “Who knew?”

  “Funny asshole.”

  Yeah, it was sort of funny but not really funny because Chon has smudged more than a few Al Qaeda, Taliban, and their assorted affiliates precisely because they fell into the bad habit of having a habit.

  He either pulled the trigger himself or did it remote control by calling in a drone strike from some Warmaster 3 prodigy sitting in a bunker in Nevada knocking back Mountain Dew while he smoked some unsuspecting muj with a keystroke.

  The problem with contemporary warfare is that it has become a video game. (Unless you’re on the actual ground and get shot, in which case it is most definitely not.)

  Whether direct from Chon or run through the gamer, it had the same effect.


  Blood and sand.

  Without the bull(shit).

  All true, but nevertheless Ben isn’t going to get into this whole subterfuge thing any more than he has to. He’s in the dope business to increase his freedom, not to limit it.

  Make his life bigger, not smaller.

  “What do you want me to do,” he asked Chon, “live in a bunker?”

  “While I’m gone,” Chon answered. “Yeah, okay.”

  Yeah, not okay.

  Ben sticks to his routine.

  This particular morning Kari, the waitress of Eurasian Persuasion and almost reality-defying beauty-golden skin, almond eyes, sable hair, legs longer than a Wisconsin winter-poured his coffee.

  “Hey, Ben.”

  “Hey, Kari.”

  Ben is seriously trying to get with her.

  So fuck you, Chon.

  Kari brought the food, Ben dug into the machaca and the Times.

  Then he felt this guy sit down across from him.


  Burly guy.

  Big, sloping shoulders.

  Sandy, receding hair combed straight back.

  Kind of old school.

  In fact, he was wearing one of those “Old Guys Rule” T-shirts, which totally miss the obvious point that if old guys really ruled, the
y wouldn’t have to proclaim it on a cheap T-shirt.

  They’d just, you know, rule.

  These are guys who can’t figure out social media technology, so Ben figures their days of rule have gone the way of the compact disc.

  Anyway, this guy who looked to be in his fifties sat there staring at Ben.

  Very high creepiness rating.

  Ben was like, do I know you, am I supposed to know you, is this some sort of weird early-morning gay thing? Or is this guy just one of those “I’m a people person” tools who thinks it’s his human duty to strike up conversations with people sitting alone at restaurants?

  Ben is not I-like-to-meet-new-people guy. He’s I’m-reading-my-frea king-newspaper-and-flirting-with-the-waitress-so-leave-me-the-fuck-alo ne guy.

  So he said, “Bro, no offense, but I’m kind of into what I’m reading.”

  Like, there are five empty tables, why don’t you sit down at one of them?

  The guy said, “I’ll only take a minute of your time, son.”

  “I’m not your son,” Ben said. “Unless my mother has been deceiving me all these years.”

  “Shut your smartass mouth and listen,” the guy said quietly. “We didn’t mind when you were selling a little custom shit to your friends. But when it starts showing up in Albertsons, it’s a problem.”

  “It’s a free market,” Ben answered, thinking he sounded like a Republican all of a sudden. Seeing as how Ben is generally to the left of Trotsky, this came as an unpleasant epiphany.

  “There is no such thing as a ‘free market,’” Old Guys Rule said. “The market costs-there are expenses. You want to sell up in L.A., compete with our little brown and black brothers, be our guest. Orange County, San Diego, Riverside-you pay a licensing fee. Are you paying attention?”

  “I’m riveted.”

  “Are you clowning me?”


  “Because I wouldn’t like that.”

  “And I wouldn’t blame you,” Ben said. “So, for the sake of discussion, what happens if I don’t pay this licensing fee?”

  “You don’t want to find out.”

  “Okay, but just for the sake of discussion.”

  Old Guys Rule looked at him like he was wondering if this kid was fucking with him, and then said, “We put you out of business.”

  “Who’s ‘we’?” Ben asked. He saw the look on the guy’s face and said, “I know-I don’t want to find out. And if I do pay this fee?”

  OGR held out his hands and said, “Welcome to the market.”

  “Got it.”

  “So we have an understanding.”

  “We do,” Ben said.

  OGR smiled.


  Until Ben added, “We have an understanding you’re an asshole.”

  Because it’s also Ben’s understanding that no one controls the marijuana market.

  Cocaine-yes. That would be the Mexican cartels.


  Meth-the biker gangs, more recently the Mexicans.

  Prescription pills-the pharmaceutical industry.

  But the 420?

  Free market.

  Which is excellent, because it runs by market rules-price point, quality, distribution.

  The customer is king.

  So Ben pretty much dismissed this guy as some whack-job trying to jerk his chain. Still, it’s a little troubling, Ben thought-how does the guy know who I am?

  And who is this guy?

  Whoever he is, he gave Ben one of those old-school stares until Ben actually had to laugh.

  OGR stood up and said, “You motherfuckers think you’re the kings of cool, right? You know everything, no one can tell you anything? Well, let me tell you something-you don’t know shit.”

  OGR gave Ben one more Bobby Badass look and then walked out.

  The kings of cool, Ben thought.

  He kind of liked it.

  Now he turns his attention back to the game.


  “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal,” Ben says, lacing his fingers behind his head and tilting his face to the sun.

  “To have sex with a deer, or with a cartoon character?” Chon asks.

  “Both,” Ben says. “And may I point out that Bambi is an underage animated ungulate? Not to mention a male?”

  “Bambi is a boy?” O asks.

  “Again, Bambi is a deer, ” Ben clarifies, “but, yes, he’s a boy deer.”

  “Then why are so many girls in Playboy named Bambi?” O asks.

  She likes Playboy and is grateful that Stepfather Number Four keeps them in his “home office” desk drawer so Paqu Paqu is what O calls her mother, the

  Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe — doesn’t see them and get pissy because she is an older version of the centerfolds who is constantly attempting to airbrush herself via expensive cosmetics and more expensive cosmetic surgery.

  O is pretty sure that the National Geographic Channel is going to do an archaeological dig on her mother in a futile quest to find a single original body part, a private joke that explains why O gave Four a pith helmet for his last birthday.

  (“Why, thank you, Ophelia,” a puzzled Four said.

  “You’re welcome.”

  “What’s it for?” Paqu asked, icily.

  “To keep the sun off your vagina,” O answered.)

  “Girls are named Bambi,” Ben says now, “because we are culturally ignorant, of even pop culture, and because we crave the archetype of childlike innocence combined with adult sexuality.”

  His parents are both psychotherapists.

  Ben, oh Ben, O thinks.

  Hard body, soft heart.

  Long brown hair, warm brown eyes.

  “But that’s me, ” O tells him. “Childlike innocence combined with adult sexuality.”

  Short blonde hair, thin hips, no rack to speak of, tiny butt on her petite frame. And yes, big eyes-albeit blue, not brown.

  “No,” Ben says. “You’re more adult innocence combined with childlike sexuality.”

  He has a point, O thinks. She does view sex mostly as play-a fun thing-not a job to be performed to prove one’s love. This is why, she has opined, they’re called sex “toys” instead of sex “tools.”

  “ Bambi is a proto-fascist piece of work,” Chon snarls. “It might as well have been shot by Leni Riefenstahl.”

  Chon reads books-Chon reads the dictionary — and also hits the Foreign Films/Classics section of Netflix. He could explain 8 ^1 / 2 to you, except he won’t.

  “Speaking of gender ambiguity,” O says, “I told Paqu that I’m thinking of becoming bisexual.”

  “What did she say?” Ben asks.

  “She said, ‘What?’” O answers. “Then I wussed out and said, ‘I think I want a bicycle.’”

  “To pedal to your girlfriend’s house?” Ben asks.

  “To pedal to your girlfriend’s house,” O counters.

  She could play for either or both teams and would be heavily recruited because, at nineteen, she’s drop-dead gorgeous.

  But she doesn’t know that yet.

  O describes herself as “poly-sexual.”

  “Like Pollyanna, only way happier,” she explains.

  She would consider going LTG Lesbian Till Graduation — except she isn’t in school, a fact that Paqu points out to her on a near daily basis. She tried junior college for a semester (okay, the first three weeks of a semester), but it was, well… junior college.

  Right now she’s just glad to have her guys here. As for ODB, they can have any women they want, as long as one of them is her.

  Check that, she thinks They can have any woman they want as long as I’m the one they love.

  The pain of it is

  The pain of it is

  Chon flies out tonight

  This is his last day on the beach.


  Specifically, Laguna Beach, California.

  The brightest pearl in the SoCal necklace of coastal towns that str
etches down that lovely neck from Newport Beach to Mexico.

  Going along the strand (pun intended) — Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach, Capistrano Beach, San Clemente (interrupt for Camp Pendleton), Oceanside, Carlsbad, Leucadia, Encinitas, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Torrey Pines, La Jolla Shores, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Coronado, Silver Strand, Imperial Beach.

  All beautiful, all fine, but the best one is Lagoona — which was the name officially given to the town by the State of California until someone explained that there was no actual “lagoon,” but that the name derived from “ canada de las lagunas, ” which in Spanish means “canyon of the lakes.” There are two lakes, up in the hills above said canyon, but Laguna isn’t known for its lakes, it’s known for its beaches and its beauty.

  About which Ben, Chon, and O are a little blase, because they grew up here and take it for granted.

  Yeah, except Chon doesn’t right now because his leave is up and he’s about to go back to Afghanistan, aka Stanland.

  Or, in the spirit of things Afgoonistan.


  Chon tells Ben and O that he literally has to get packing.

  He goes back to his efficiency apartment on Glenneyre and packs a baseball bat into his ’68 green Mustang — in honor of Steve McQueen — the King of Cool — and drives down to San Clemente, not far from Richard Nixon’s version of Elba and hence known in the latter half of the 1970s as

  Sans Clemency.

  (Nixon, poor Nixon, the only truly tragic hero in the American political theater; the only recent president more Aeschylus than Rodgers and Hammerstein. First there was Camelot, then The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, then Richard?)

  Chon drives not to the old Western White House

  The real name of which was, with presumably unintended irony,

  La Casa Pacifica

  “Peaceful House.”

  There was Nixon in Exile, prowling around the Peaceful House chatting with paintings, while down on the actual Pacific, Secret Service agents chased surfers away from the nearby famous break at Upper Trestles lest they organize an assassination attempt, which is, it should be noted, probably the first time that the words “surfers” and “organize” have been used in the same paragraph.