Graffiti

“No one could stop him. Or even keep up with him. Not the city maintenance crews. Not the department of transportation, which angrily lamented that a few minutes of tagging could take a whole day and three thousand dollars to remove … He’d go bombing — tagging walls — for two, even three days without really going home except to eat and change clothes. He owned the city. … He never thought about the damage he caused. It never occurred to him that writing was bad for the neighborhood. After all, he could be getting his thrills doing far worse things. … Now midway up the footpath he saw his destination — the wall anchored to the side of the slope. It was flawless … The wall overlooked all of Mission Valley and even if his tag was there for only a day, thousands of drivers would see it from the freeway below. Pretty good for seventeen years old.  Cal Trans was going crazy trying to catch him and keep up with erasing his tags. And he’d done it all alone. A oner. No crew of squealing fatuous kids backed him up. … Slic’s concentration was broken by a rustling sound to his right. He froze in the darkness then forged onward. He could run faster than whatever or whoever it was and he knew it couldn’t be the police. He’d done his homework. He’d watched the area police patrols for days and he knew their schedules. He could do his work before they came around again.

At the base of the wall, the mass of smooth gray-white concrete stood illuminated by the moon –so much bigger than it looked from the street below. Maybe six hundred feet across. Fifty feet high. Earth and concrete molded together, each holding back the other. Slic reached into the pocket of his pants, feeling for the can of ultra-flat spray paint he’d stolen — racked — that afternoon. … The cool feel of the metal spray can started his heart beating faster. … Five minutes. Maybe ten. That was all he needed. … Then suddenly, from nowhere it seemed, an unnatural breeze brushed his face. There was no time to react. An arm from nowhere reached around his neck and another pulled his own arm sharply, painfully behind him and up. The paint can fell, rolling a short distance down the hill into the darkness. As his body lifted off the ground, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes enveloped him; a deep, strong voice whispered in his ear. ‘Toy This canvas isn’t yours.’ Toy. It was an insulting word used by his friends to describe a writer with no style. This was no police officer.”

This encounter begins the relationship between the seventeen year old tagger, Slic, and Guillermo ‘Gui’ Colon, a Portuguese muralist. For Colon, who is storing his paints in the tunnels under the hill, the wall is his last chance to create an important piece of art. But how is he to persuade the law not to erase it like so much tagging rubbish? Colon’s plan is ingenious. He has witnessed the murder of a prominent businessman in the neighborhood near the wall. If he is allowed to paint his mural, it will be a glorious courtroom scene that includes the face of the murderer. But age is working against Colon. He needs someone young like Slic, to help him scale the wall. Grudgingly at first Slic is drawn to the older artist and agrees to help. In the process Slic learns a thing or two about art and Colon something about how to dangle in mid air and what to do if he falls into the animal enclosures at the zoo. Judith Thornton is assigned to investigate the murder of the businessman and she becomes the broker of an agreement between law enforcement and Colon. But the murder investigation takes a dramatic turn when she is astonished to see her face among those being painted on the mural. 293 pages.

In the first edition, Graffiti was titled False Witness.

Graffiti received a 2014 Eric Hoffer Legacy Award.

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