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The Kings of Cool

Don Winslow



  “A REVELATION . . . EVERY BIT AS SAVAGE AS ITS TITLE . . . This is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on autoload.”




  “HIS MOST BOISTEROUSLY STYLISH CRIME BOOK, his gutsiest and most startling. . . . The Winslow effect is to fuse the grave and the playful, the body blow and the joke, the nightmare and the pipe dream.”


  “WINSLOW’S MARVELOUS, ADRENALINE-JUICED ROLLER COASTER of a novel . . . is both a departure and a culmination, pyrotechnic braggadocio and deep meditation on contemporary American culture.”


  “THIS IS THE STORY OF LOVE’S COSTS— and the acceptance of whatever that cost entails.”


  “SAVAGES IS THE BOOK OF MY GENERATION. . . . Solidifies Winslow’s reputation as not just one of the best crime writers working today, but one of the best writers, period. Jesus Christ, this book.”


  In Savages, Don Winslow introduced Ben and Chon, twentysomething best friends who risk everything to save the girl they both love, O. Among the most celebrated thrillers in recent memory—and now a major motion picture directed by Academy Award–winning filmmaker Oliver Stone—Savages was picked as a best book of the year by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly, Janet Maslin in The New York Times, and Sarah Weinman in the Los Angeles Times.

  Now, in this high-octane prequel, Winslow reaches back in time to tell the story of how Ben, Chon, and O became the people they are. Spanning from 1960s Southern California to the recent past, The Kings of Cool is a breathtakingly original saga of family in all its forms—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, friends and lovers. As the trio at the center of the book does battle with a cabal of drug dealers and crooked cops, they come to learn that their future is inextricably linked with their parents’ history. A series of breakneck twists and turns puts the two generations on a collision course, culminating in a stunning showdown that will force Ben, Chon, and O to choose between their real families and their loyalty to one another.

  Fast-paced, provocative, and wickedly funny, The Kings of Cool is a spellbinding love story for our times from a master novelist at the height of his powers. It is filled with Winslow’s trademark talents—complex characters, sharp dialogue, blistering social commentary—that have earned him an obsessive following. The result is a book that will echo in your mind and heart long after you’ve turned the last page.

  DON WINSLOW is the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels, including Savages, The Gentlemen’s Hour, Satori, The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Power of the Dog, California Fire and Life, and The Death and Life of Bobby Z. He lives in Southern California.

  To learn more, follow Don Winslow on Twitter at or visit







  The Gentlemen’s Hour



  The Dawn Patrol

  The Winter of Frankie Machine

  The Power of the Dog

  California Fire and Life

  The Death and Life of Bobby Z

  Isle of Joy

  While Drowning in the Desert

  A Long Walk up the Water Slide

  Way Down on the High Lonely

  The Trail to Buddha’s Mirror

  A Cool Breeze on the Underground

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  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2012 by Samburu Inc.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition June 2012

  SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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  Designed by Kyoko Watanabe

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Winslow, Don.

  The kings of cool / Don Winslow.

  p. cm.

  “A prequel to Savages.”

  1. Friendship—Fiction. 2. Conflict of generations—Fiction.

  3. Laguna Beach (Calif.)—Fiction. 4. Domestic Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3573.I5326K56 2012

  813'.54—dc23 2012010619

  ISBN: 978-1-4516-6532-1

  ISBN: 978-1-4516-6534-5 (ebook)

  To Shane Salerno, for everything.

  Anytime, anywhere, man.

  In the Bible, Mama, Cain slew Abel

  And east of Eden, Mama, he was cast,

  You’re born into this life paying

  For the sins of somebody else’s past.



  Fuck me.

  Laguna Beach, California



  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 retroussé 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.

ile 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 divorcées—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, they 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-freaking-newspaper-and-flirting-with-the-waitress-so-leave-me-the-fuck-alone 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.”

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.