The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Matthew Snee

L.A. Vice

A Poem Noir


The Case

The investigation starts simply;
just another routine drug bust
gone horribly wrong.
This debacle spirals and flowers
into bubbling spheres
of complex conspiracy and corruptions.

Hector is half-Irish, half-Mexican.
A fireball of a cop,
with as many reprimands on his record
as commendations.
He is 52 years old,
twice divorced…
A legend.

Mostly he feels like a creature
from one of the Marvel comics
he used to read as a kid –
Somehow tricked by luck
into stepping into the epicenter
of some terrible laser or bomb,
the atoms of his body
permanently wrecked and dissipating
like sand in the wind,
and all the strength in his heart
forever spent keeping himself from total disintegration.

People are born
and use their lives running from womb to womb,
from one safe warm clutching place to another.
Hector doesn’t get that luxury;
he is a cop,
and a Vice cop at that.
He spends his life on the OUTSIDE,
swaddled in screams
and gooey with hell.

So here he is.
In the back of this ambulance
frozen in traffic on the Santa Monica freeway,
his partner Amberton's hand clutched in his own.
Amberton has fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.
Amberton is still conscious and stares at O'Hector
through an oxygen mask
and the opiate haze in his eyes.

                        "This is your fault,"
Amberton seems to be staring at O'Hector.

                        "I know," O'Hector
stares back.
                        "I'm sorry."

The case is fucked,
it has always been fucked,
and they are fucked too.
Hector feels himself sinking
into the slushy currents of his own haze,
whatever painkiller the paramedic injected into his arm
to numb the pain of his own
- apparently trivial –

                        "Move this fucking piece of junk,"
O'Hector tries to scream
but he can only mumble.

A black fog encircles his vision.
He tries to shake it off
by whipping his head
but it only gets worse.

The ambulance suddenly seems impossibly dark,
except for the brilliant gold light outside of the windows,
just that,
and the darkness around him
and the light in front of him,

A Talk with the Lieutenant

If God made us in his own image,
then God is a scary fucking thing.
We are abducted
and then interred in flesh and bone.
We have little knowledge of our bodies.
They have even less knowledge of us.

Amberton is still in surgery
when the Lieutenant arrives.
The Lieutenant is six-foot-tall,
four feet wide,
red eyes
like bloody milk.

The Lieutenant wants to bum a cigarette
which means the Lieutenant wants to talk,

Hector follows him
until they exhale blue smoke
into the furious halogen white
of a stairwell at the end of the hall.

The Lieutenant speaks,
                        "The city demands to be restored to order."

                        "Does it?"
Hector replies.
                        "What kind of order do you mean?"
No turning back, now.
His voice echoes in the stairwell
like a pinewood box
echoes in dirt.

The Lieutenant stares him down,
The Lieutenant pulls his gun
and jabs it hard in Hector's chest.
He speaks,
                        "Do you think a deluge or volcano could destroy this shit?
                        Think again.
                        An earthquake?
                        Only men could do such a thing now.
                        Do you think that if you ceased to exist,
                        all the rest of us would cease to exist with you?
                        Maybe I should kill you right now..."

Hector asks,
                        "Would that make you God, then? Or man?"

The Lieutenant laughs.
                        "A God is nothing more
                        than somebody with the balls
                        to thunder in the nothingness."
He holsters his weapon.
                        "And I am much more than that.
                        You can't kill the disease, Detective.
                        You can only feed it."

The Lieutenant digs into his pockets
and pulls out a wad of hundreds.
He throws the money at Hector.
The money splashes
and feathers in the air.
                        "You get one more chance, Detective."

The Lieutenant sneers
and dashes his cigarette to the ground.
He turns and returns
to the waiting room
where he whispers unknowable consolations
into Amberton's wife's ears.

Hector bends and collects the money.

With Lisa

Night falls in Los Angeles
and the sky grows an orange skin of light
that will buzz sickly until dawn.
This is when the titans and vampires awaken
and groan in salutation to their victims.
This is when the streets thirstily wait
for blood to spill against their skin,
when the rest of us hide
and wait for our crumbs.

Hector shambles out of the hospital
like a rowboat adrift in fog and sharks.
A car has been arranged for him.
He drives slowly.
The city is jagged and lumbering
with traffic
and other human shit.
He turns on the car's radio
and its manic voices and plastic music
bleat against his ears like sugary puke.

He drives.
Van Nuys waits for him.
He and the car claw their way towards it,
until finally its lithe two-dimensional sprawl
is revealed around him.
The weight lifts off his shoulders.

He exits the highway
and glides slowly
over the empty smooth pavement
through post-war California pre-fab.

He arrives,
and stops the car.

Hector climbs out of the car
and staggers across grass.
He knocks on Lisa's door
and waits the long moment
it takes for her to answer.

Lisa has offered him the key to this door,
but he has said "No."
She has offered him many things,
all of which he has said "No” to,
for whatever reason,
stupid reasons –
he knows.
How easily you can find yourself treading upon a lifetime of regrets.
How easily you can continue to pile them beneath you.

She knows what happened out there today
but also knows that he probably doesn't want to talk about it.
She asks anyway.
He shakes his head as she embraces him
and pulls him inside.
It feels late even though it is early.
Lisa takes O'Hector to bed
and he falls into her and the oceans of her eyes.

They undress each other softly.
You can discover the entire universe
in the temperatures of a woman's skin.
The cool of her back,
the hot of her neck and thighs.
She is feathery rock
and anxious liquid.
She is the moon
burning against the black.
She is milk falling against him
in flesh and slithering hair.

Hector has been with many women,
but it is this one that he dreamed of
all the time he was in the arms of the others,
even before he ever met her,
before he knew her name or her smell
or knew that such a pink blond rose could exist
to open up beneath his voice and fingertips.
He gives her something,
something he barely understands himself,
something somehow only he can apparently give her.
She has grown sick of the others,
so she says,
and he knows she does not lie.


here they found each other,
in Los Angeles,
at the edge of the continent,
this concrete swamp,
this hastening cataclysm.
Here they are,
two moths sick of the flame.

Afterwards they lie against each other.
Post-sex affections recede
from their skins and mouths
like the sun flickering through leaves and branches.
She pulls away from him
and they tear like wet glue.
Gobby strands of heat linger between their bodies,
and slabbed droplets of air
fill the empty spaces
where she stuck warmly to him.

She heads to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Hector decides to get up before sleep takes him.
He walks naked through the house after her,
spotting on his way flowers
limp in the vase on the dining room table.
He bought the flowers for her a week ago;
they are now withered and pale.

Lisa notices him staring.
                        "They are still beautiful,"
she says.


The Stare of Morning

the night slips away
and the morning sun comes
like an angry crowd of teeth.
Hector wipes the sleep from his face
and feels Lisa's warm skin against his own.
He drinks in a long gaze of her.
In the morning light her skin is a fiery pink color
that has never existed anywhere else but right here,
right now.

He can hear the sound of the air conditioner,
and somewhere beneath its voice
the sound of her breath.
He can hear distantly through the window
the sound of traffic,
never ending across this land.

Hector scratches at a web of scabs on his arm.
He tastes his mouth.
Lisa stirs slightly
and releases a sound like she knows she is sleeping
but at the same time wants to say hello to him.
He smiles.
He loves her.

                        "Whatever that means,"
she would say and laugh.

In a better world,
where he would be a better man,
there would be time enough
to be less determined.
Time enough to lay back in bed,
and sleep.

And after a few hours
they would rise together,
eyes happy,
into this new day
shared between them.

He would grunt,
and find himself drinking coffee
at the kitchen table;
she would stand at the stove cooking eggs.
There would be music,
and Lisa would hum along with it.
Her feet would be bare on the floor.
                        "I know,"
she would say,
                        "Why don't we go away for a while.
                        We could go down to Cabo for the weekend
                        or we could drive out to the desert somewhere
                        and lie fat in the sun.
                        Just the two of us."

Hector would listen,
the words would sound good
and spread through his heart.
There would be song in her voice.
The past wouldn’t matter,
any of it.
There would only be the future.

He would feel taller than ever,
yet still smaller than the smallest star in the sky.

Hector would feel
as though he has been hit by a big thing,
something bigger than he has ever known.
Something he has never seen coming
or even heard its footsteps behind his walls.

                        "You're cute enough to keep,"
Hector would reply.
Then a hesitation would strike him,
but one he would swat away.
                        "You're making me complicated, babe,"
he would finish happily.

                        "What do you mean?"

                        "I mean I got my feet on the ground with your weight on my back."

                        "Sounds like hell,"
she would say.

he would smile,
standing up to kiss her.
                        "It's goddamned heaven."

But this is not that world,
and Hector is not that man.

He gets up,
straps on his gun,
and leaves the house
before Lisa awakes.

Impossible Imposter

A man can be Hell if he wants,
and for no reason.
He can tear down everything,
ruin the dawn,
set fire to the night.

The safe house is perched high in the hills
hidden in a fog of trees.
It is built of opaque glass, slick plastics, rich wood,
deceptive circles,
and apparently inaccessible rooms.
It is surrounded by patrolling men with machine guns
and oscillating video cameras.

Hector knows of its hidden back door,
accessible through a sewer grate a half-mile away.
He prowls through the tunnels under the Earth,
through darkness
and stagnant filths.
His gun never leaves his hand.
Hope never leaves his heart.

He reaches his destination –
a wall.
He searches its corners
until he finds the secret button.
The wall sighs and gives way,
sliding into itself.
A hallway is revealed.

Hector steps into it,
and the wall closes behind him.
He is now in the house,
moving through the shadows.
He hears soft voices
and follows them.

Hector comes to a rec room.
Inside they sit at a poker table.
To his horror,
Hector finds the Lieutenant sitting with them.
They are counting and dividing money between them,
snickering, smoking cigars,
their smiles wide with teeth.
Two detectives,
men Hector knows,
stand guard around this transaction.

There is nothing to lose except for justice.
Hector steps out of the shadows, pointing his gun.
he commands.
                        "L.A. Vice!"

They all turn towards Hector in shock.
The detectives move for their guns.
Hector shouts at them.
They raise their hands.

The Lieutenant stares,
Hector looks at them.

                        "What're you gonna do?" one of them asks.

Hector shoots him in the head.
His brains spray across the poker table,
and his body slides out of his chair onto the floor.

The Lieutenant watches with quiet bemusement,
then turns to O'Hector.
                        "Planning a defection, are we?"
he asks.

Hector points his gun at the Lieutenant.
                        "Things used to be good, once,"
Hector says.
                        "Now they're bad.
                        Everything is fucked up."

                        "No, detective,"
the Lieutenant says.
                        "The only thing fucked up is you."



MATTHEW SNEE is a novelist and poet currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona, where he lives with his family and three dogs. Born in Nebraska, but raised in Delaware, he is self-taught. His short work has appeared in Pank, Black Heart Magazine, and Haggard & Halloo, among other places. His first novel, The Cardboard Spaceship, was published by Creativia in July of 2016. His new novel, The Year I Slept, was published in February of 2017.



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