Try Fear - By James Scott Bell

Also by James Scott Bell

Try Dying

Try Darkness

Available from Center Street wherever books are sold.

My memories of growing up in L.A. come to me mostly in black and white. I see myself as a kid stepping through an episode of Perry Mason. That’s because my dad was an L.A. criminal lawyer, and I remember downtown as being made up of white, sun-bleached buildings, hot in the summer sun. When I first rode Angels Flight with Dad—I was six, and Dad was involved with a grassroots movement to save the venerable L.A. landmark, a movement that was ultimately successful—it was to the top of the Bunker Hill from Criss Cross, the Burt Lancaster noir classic (a black-and-white film, of course). And when I recall first seeing my dad in court, it was in the days of the fedora, which TV shows never depicted in living color.

There were a few things about Dad that remain “black and white,” in symbolic terms, too. Dad did not tolerate racism. He had played baseball at UCLA with Jackie Robinson, was even his roommate on road trips, and as a defender of poor clients brooked no color barriers when it came to justice. He taught me to think the same way, and made me want to become a trial lawyer like him. So I did. And even got to work with him, as his office mate, in the last few years of his life.

And so this book is dedicated to a great L.A. lawyer and a great man—my dad, Arthur S. Bell, Jr.


The author is greatly indebted to the following for their exceedingly valuable help in the preparation of this book and series: Cindy Bell, Christina Boys, Manuel Muñoz, Leah Tracosas, Karen Thompson, Al Menaster, Gina Laughney, Rene Gutteridge, Ellen Tarver, Michael J. Kennedy, Sgt. Mike Sayre, LAPD, Capt. Tom Brascia, LAPD, and Special Agent Michael Yoder, FBI.

Fear at my heart, as at a cup,

My lifeblood seemed to sip.



THE COPS NABBED Santa Claus at the corner of Hollywood and Gower. He was driving a silver Camaro and wearing a purple G-string and a red Santa hat. And nothing else on that warm December night.

According to his driver’s license his name was Carl Richess, a thirty-three-year-old from West Hollywood.

But he insisted he was the one, the only, Santa Claus. He said he could prove it, too. He pointed repeatedly to his hat.

The police officer who initiated the stop—for not wearing a seat belt—mentioned the Santa hat in his report, and the G-string. Also the open, nearly empty bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold on the seat next to the jolly elf.

After noting red eyes, slurred speech, and the odor of an alcoholic beverage, the officer ordered Richess out of his car for field sobriety tests.

Richess protested that he was late, that his reindeer needed to be fed. He said this even as he was failing the heel-to-toe and lateral gaze nystagmus tests.

He loudly screamed the same thing at Hollywood station, where they had him blow into the Intoximeter a couple of times. And again when they cuffed him to a metal rod on one of the wooden benches outside the holding tank. He was still muttering about reindeer when they booked him into the jail and stuck the six-foot-five, 280-pound would-be Kringle in a cell. They gave him some old clothes to cover himself.

They took his hat, let him keep the G-string.

Three others shared the community cell with St. Nick—two gangbangers and a Korean street performer who’d been fire-eating in front of the Pantages Theater. I found out later he set a well-dressed woman’s hair on fire, which is against several city ordinances.

About the time Father Christmas was being cuffed and stuffed—copspeak for arrested and jailed—I was nursing a Gandhi Latte at the Ultimate Sip. The Sip is an honest coffee establishment owned and operated by one Barton C. “Pick” McNitt, a former philosophy professor at Cal State Northridge who went crazy and now pushes caffeine and raises butterflies for funeral ceremonies.

He makes up drinks that have philosophical significance. He is serious about this. He came up with the Gandhi Latte because his style of foam, he believes, encourages nonviolence in those who drink it.

This has yet to be proven scientifically.

Pick also waxes loud on any subject he deems appropriate for the betterment, or castigation, of mankind. He does not believe in God. Father Robert Jackson, who everybody calls Father Bob, does. In the middle I sometimes sit, watching a philosophical Wimbledon.

But on this particular night there was no match,