The Writers Studio- Poetry Workshop October 2016

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Playwrights Foundation- THE REWRITE: IT’S ALL ABOUT PLAY SUBMISSIONS

THE REWRITE: IT’S ALL ABOUT PLAY SUBMISSIONS THIS WEEK


In this issue:

SUBMIT YOUR PLAY

HELP US SELECT NEW PLAYS – JOIN OUR NATIONAL READING COMMITTEE

LITERARY MANAGER LOGAN ELLIS



          PLAYWRIGHTS, SUBMIT YOUR PLAY TODAY!

PF’s open script submission process for our 40th Anniversary Season is open through October 1, 2016! Get your play read and considered!

Why Should I Apply?
Very simply, our open submission process is the single best way that Playwrights Foundation artistic staff gets acquainted with and can actively champion the work of a wide range of contemporary writers. While our reading series and festivals are outward expressions of the works we read, our development process and the advocacy and access to a national network of theater industry professionals interested in producing new work is priceless to new and emerging playwrights.

Playwrights Foundation exists to nurture, develop, and champion new plays.  As one of the leading and long-established “incubators” for new plays, when playwrights submit a play to us, they are not just entering a competition, but entering a community where their work will be valued and promoted. We are seen as a go-to source for producers looking for the kind of work we seek.

A National Reader Committee, comprised of fifty theater professionals with capacity to refer or produce plays, reads every submission in full.  All plays are read once by two readers; semi-finalists have a third reader added; the finalists will have their play read by twelve readers.

What Our Playwrights Have to Say
“BAPF was a crucial step in its [his play, Sound, BAPF 2014] development! Could not have done it without the amazing SF community of artists.” – Don Nguyen 

“Your willingness to take a chance on an unknown student playwright with an early play means more than I can say.” – Philana Omorotionmwan (Before Evening Comes, BAPF 2016)

“Playwrights Foundation has always held a special place in my heart and in my career/evolution as an artist.” – Lauren Yee (Samsara, BAPF 2012)

What Are You Looking For?
Playwrights Foundation’s programs are open to all playwrights living in the Americas and writing primarily in English.  We look for singular, diverse voices addressing comtemporary issues in ways that push the boundaries of theater.

Check out our submission guidelines and details HERE.

While we do request a modest $20 submission fee to cover processing, if this is an issue, please contact Logan Ellis, our Literary Manager to discuss a waiver atliterary@playwrightsfoundation.org.


HELP US SELECT NEW PLAYS – JOIN OUR NATIONAL READING COMMITTEE

READ FOR US!

Playwrights Foundation builds a discerning and diverse pool of theater makers to join our National Reading Committee each year for the Playwrights Foundation selection process. In 2016, over 500 playwrights submitted their work to the festival, and over 50 readers joined us to evaluate and select the winning scripts.

Who Can Apply?

If you are a theater artist invested in the world of new plays (for example, producer, artistic director, dramaturg, or literary manager to name a few), we want your voice in our selection process. Practitioners in all phases of career development are encouraged to apply.

What Do I Have to Do?

  • For the 40th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival, the committee will read plays from October 1st, 2016 to February 1st, 2017.  
  • Each reader will evaluate at least 5 plays each month during the 4-month term.
  • All members of this committee are volunteers, but we offer some super benefits:
    • Tickets to the festival
    • Recognition in our programs and website
    • Best of all, access to hundreds of awesome new scripts!

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HOW TO APPLY

The National Reading Committee for BAPF 2017 is accepting applications for membership through October 1st, 2016.

Are You a Returning Member?  Please re-apply HERE.

New Applicant?  Please apply HERE.

Questions? Please write our Literary Manager, Logan Ellis at literary@playwrightsfoundation.org.


Meet our Literary Manager Logan Ellis

Logan serves as the Foundation’s Literary Manager, overseeing our open submission process, and managing the National Reading Committee and PF Literary Council. When he’s not in Seattle, Logan is in San Francisco, where he’s also about to become producer-in-residence at the Magic Theatre.Learn more about Logan.

Currently, Logan is directing Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies  (BAPF 2015) by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm at Theatre Battery in Kent WA, near Seattle, where Logan serves as Producing Artistic Director. and was a co-founder.  “Theatre Battery has found its audience by talking about its work with community leaders … and using a ‘radical hospitality’ ticketing system, which encourages people to pay when they can, but lets anyone through the door for free”, said the Seattle Times.

 

A note from Logan about the Festival:
“Producers and Literary Managers look to the yearly Bay Area Playwrights Festival to discover some of the most compelling and urgent emerging voices in American theater. The collection of actors, directors, and dramaturgs that contribute to the development of these plays features the most intelligent and supportive artists of the San Francisco scene. We hope you’ll join us in 2017.”


P.S. WE’RE HIRING

Playwrights Foundation offers many ways for you to become part of our small, but mighty team.  Check out our current openings and opportunities
.

 

Playwrights Foundation uses Vendini for ticketing, marketing, and box office management.

Playwrights Foundation – 1616 16th st, Ste 350, San Francisco, CA, 94103, (415) 626-2176
Vendini, Inc. – 660 Market Street, San Francisco, CA, 94104, 1 (800) 901-7173

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Deena Remiel Author- FIONA’S CHOICE

Are you ready for an all-consuming romance?
Are you ready for an all-consuming romance?
View this in your browser

FIONA’S CHOICE releases 9/15!

And there’s even more publishing news…

First, the day is almost here! I couldn’t be more excited about releasing my latest PARANORMAL ROMANCE for the LOVE AMONG THE RUINS SERIES with Boroughs Publishing Group. This particular story has captivated me so, whenever I think back on it, I smile, close my eyes, and clutch at my heart.

I would love to see what you think of the story, so here is a link to sign up for an ARC to read and review. I have only a very limited quantity, and reviewers will be accepted on a first come first accepted basis, so if interested, and you have the time to commit, please click and fill in the form here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdzjc_sFBYzPPsXROeGjttTotJEsaXM8Il2mJtvWE2yOn0lvw/viewform 

So, what other publishing news do I have for you? Well, SALVAGED SOULS has a cover! Just a simple tweak and it will be sensational! As soon as I know the release date for that, I’ll let you know. It is the follow-up story to DISQUIETED SOULS. Both are a part of the Black Hills Wolves Series. Haven’t read DISQUIETED SOULS yet? Click here for this gut-wrenching love story:  https://www.amazon.com/Disquieted-Souls-Black-Hills-Wolves-ebook/dp/B015HV359O

Also, I’ve been asked to join a secret NEW multi-author series, which I’m super excited about. Look for more details in the spring. Afterward, I’ll return to stories already in progress for The Brethren and The Book Waitress.

PERSONAL APPEARANCES:
Glendale Chocolate Affaire
more details to come

_____________________________________________
Tuscon Festival of Book
s
March 11 – 12, 2017
9:30 am to 5:30 pm each day
University of Arizona Campus  

_________________________________________________________

PHOENIX COMICON!!!
More details to come

________________________________________________________

Desert Dreams Writers Conference
Thursday, June 1 – Sunday, June 4, 2017
Embassy Suites
Paradise Valley/Scottsdale


NEWSLETTER WINNER!!!!
CONGRATULATIONS TO SANDRA RODRIGUEZ
Be on the lookout for a gift from me through AMAZON!!!

 

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Randy Ford Author- A PRINCE

 

A PRINCE

by Randy Ford

Chapter One
Released and running. Enjoying his freedom. Enjoying his freedom. Running. Released. Freedom, freedom, freedom. George didn’t look back.

George didn’t dare look back. He wouldn’t look back. He couldn’t look back and stripped of his dignity, stripped again. Now he knew he wouldn’t be stripped, stripped of his dignity. Or raped by a movie queen. Now that he knew that he wouldn’t be stripped, stripped of his dignity again, he relaxed, but couldn’t sleep. Relaxed but couldn’t sleep. As long as he ran he wouldn’t be stripped, stripped of his dignity again. A friend of Clark Gable, loved by Greer Garson but not Richard Burton, he was raped by a movie queen. And now he was on the run. Free, free, free. Free at last, that world was now behind him. On a bus, a Greyhound bus, heading west, George, a man who could no longer show his face in Dallas, kept his head down … hat over his eyes. Wide-awake and keeping his head down, wearing sunglasses, he watched lightning from his window.

This boyish, innocent-looking fellow, with a round, honest face and a nervous laugh, wore an unbuttoned, long-sleeved shirt over a Ray Charles T-shirt bought at a concert, and sunglasses. ( After he got on a bus heading west, he didn’t need sunglasses.) He didn’t look like he just spent two days on a bus. He was wide-awake and didn’t look like he hadn’t slept for two days. He never slept, or it seemed like he never slept. In a rack above his head was stowed an old, tattered suitcase that contained the rest of his clothing.

About suppertime the bus neared Lordsburg, New Mexico breaking the speed limit during a downpour. It was slippery and dangerous but luckily there was hardly any traffic; and because of spray and grime it was difficult to see out windows.

In back of the bus George had been sitting next to the same man since Dallas. His neighbor was slim and tall, with dark, curly hair and dressed in a long-sleeved, sequined, cowboy shirt that looked like he slept in it. He obviously slept in it though he hadn’t been in a bed since Dallas.

Headache?”

“No.” There were many theories about George, and now one of them was that he had a headache. Was he frowning and looked like he had a headache? There were many theories about George. Theories about him came from all over, from emergency rooms and penthouses, from imaginary and real people and true celebrities, and many theories came from him. People didn’t know what to believe. They didn’t know what to think. Was he telling the truth? Were people telling the truth about him? No one knew. No one knew for sure because he liked keeping people guessing. Had both his parents died, died unexpectedly, recently? And when she died, didn’t his mother tell him, “Don’t be sad son.” “I had a brain tumor,” he said lying. “My father worked with Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind,’” he added truthfully. “ My mother owned a boutique on McKinney Street.” True again. McKinney Street in Dallas.

Sure.”

People didn’t know whether to believe him or not. They didn’t know what to think, and rarely figured him out.

Summers in Arizona can’t be too bad. I remember, as a kid growing up in Dallas, that summers in Dallas were toxic. It never worked out for me. My dad worked at Old Tucson. He was in movies. He wasn’t a movie star.” George liked to brag about his dad. “And what about you?”

Rarely a mile went by without them saying something to each other. Occasionally one of them stretched or got up and took a leak, but mostly they chattered continuously. And they talked so much that they kept other passengers awake. George liked to talk. And he talked except when low-grade explosions went off in his head. He sat there and talked about “fast cars,” “mother’s MG,” “ poontang,” “hating snooty bitches,” “Gone With the Wind” (being carried on sets), “singing lizards” (his father once own a night club that catered to the carriage trade), and “Mss M.” Really?

As hours raced by scenery was largely ignored. Texas mostly. George talked fast, looked out window, while ignoring scenery.

New Mexico. And not a tree in sight. Out here they’ll hang you if you look at someone wrong.” George looked for rope burns, as his friend spoke with authority. “They as soon hang you as look at you.” Anecdotal evidence: a rope burn around his friend’s neck. There wasn’t one, but there was an ugly scar in the middle of his forehead. Anecdotal evidence that his friend knew what he was talking about came from an ugly scar in the middle of his forehead. “A tire iron,” he explained. “I’m lucky to be here.”

They were both lucky to be there. Static bugged George more than low-grade explosions. Lightning flashes, God! Sometimes the least little noise made him jump.

Jumpy?”

No!” A response that carried to the front of the bus and maybe clear to Lordsburg.

“’In Gone With the Wind,” imagine it! If your dad was in “Gone With the Wind,” I’m Richard Burton.” George hated Richard Burton.

You don’t believe me.”

And why wouldn’t I?

You don’t believe me. I can tell you don’t believe me.”

I didn’t say I didn’t believe you. I don’t question what people tell me. By now you know more about me than I generally let people in on. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how you draw stuff out of me. I don’t normally talk to strangers. I don’t normally talk to people I know, much less strangers. Now you got me going, and I can’t stop. Well, my old man and old woman expected more from me … more than they ever got. Was on the dole, rode rails, and survived divorce. For some people college sticks. For others it don’t,” explained the drifter.

They locked me up and wouldn’t let me out.” George explained how his folks among their friends had a hard time explaining how a son of theirs ended up in Terrell. Now they could afford better than Terrell and later sprung for Oak Lawn. “Holes in my brain come from LSD. LSD, you know. Do I have to spell it? L.S.D.”

Oh. Well, I’ve been shot … shot at.”

Bragging?”

No. It’s true. I’ve been shot.”

My diagnosis is … was bogus. Without going into details they say I’m …”
And then George explained reason he rode Greyhound. He said it was because of a greedy bastard. “Bastard controls my inheritance.” They both had a bug called itchiness or travel bug, and George told his friend more about himself than his friend wanted to know. He always told people more than they wanted to know. And every detail hurt. Details hurt him … always hurt him. So why did he tell so much? “No safe place exists this side of Paradise. Don’t let bedbugs there bite you. And they call it Paradise.” His friend tried but failed to turn him off, but George wouldn’t shut up. “A few good friends remain convinced that I’m worth something.”

New Mexico.”

So you recommend Tucson?”

Yeah. Frst thing that I’d recommend in Tucson is that you go to the Paradise Motel on 6th Avenue. They’re good people. And will help you.” While he talked the dark-haired man looked past George.

I know Tucson.”

I know you know Tucson. Your dad worked at Old Tucson. He was in the movies, but he wasn’t a movie star.”

I won’t get lost in Tucson, so I’ll try Tucson.”

You do that, George. But it’s hot in Tucson. Too hot for me. You don’t want to end up in jail in Tucson. I know about jail, jail in Tucson, and you don’t want to end up there. Been in jail, and it ain’t good. I’m good at disappointing people and been in jail and good at hurting them. So you better watch out. Why? It’s why it’s good that I’m always on the go. I’m good at hurting people. It’s something I’m good at.”

My mother was an aristocrat in her own way,” said George. “I was good at disappointing her.”

A rich kid slumming!”

Who said anything about being rich?”

Not me.”

By then George had a throbbing headache and regretted that he talked about himself so much. .

Whacked!

Maybe.

Scared.

Oh, yes.

You have to check for bedbugs in Paradise.” Containing infestation was at times an obsession for George. “No nits. One dog. No cats. Yes, lice. Lice zapped in a microwave. (George often focused on microwaves. Not short waves, but microwaves.) Half-power will do it. Zap them! Give them their marching orders. And from what I understand about lice is that they march in single file.”

Well, here’s Lordsburg!”

Hurrah for Lordsburg!”

They were, in fact, pulling in front of a cafe at Lordsburg, Lordsburg New Mexico. Although George said he was hungry he didn’t want to get off the bus. It frightened him. It frightened him to get off the bus. Such a huge step frightened him. But his companion insisted, persisted, and badgered him out of his seat.

Okay, okay!” cried George. “I could use something for my stomach, as long as it’s cooked.”

As the noisy bunch got back on the bus a friendly driver reminded them that their next stop was Tucson.

By then George ran out of anything to say and with over a hundred miles to go he had time to think. He had to think what he was going to stop in Tucson. He had to decide if he wanted to stop in Tucson. He had to decide if he wanted to stop and stay in Tucson. His mood fit the stormy weather. Then clouds cleared and the sun came out.

Then it came to him getting off the bus. It came to making himself get off the bus. He wasn’t a violent person, so it should’ve been easy for him. He wasn’t a violent person and didn’t pack a gun, so he had to wait and see if he felt safe enough to get off the bus in Tucson. He waited until they arrived before he decided. By the time they reached Tucson, there was a noontime sun.

 

 

 

Chapter Two
George’s trial began as soon as he stepped off the bus in Tucson. After obsessing on scorpions George stepped off the bus. He didn’t step off the bus until he was assured that scorpions knew better than to be out in heat of a noontime sun. He figured it out of his own by figuring that critters were smarter than humans. And he figured he was safe because with swamp coolers smart humans stayed indoors too.

George’s trial began for earnest when he huffed down 6th Avenue. He huffed down 6th Avenue carrying his old tattered suitcase and darting like a crackle from shade to shade. It was hard to find shade in Tucson at that hour. At that hour sun was straight above him. George had money and could’ve taken a city bus, but he didn’t know how far he was going. He didn’t know where he was going. He could’ve asked directions, but men didn’t ask directions, so he took off walking in the noonday sun carrying his tattered suitcase. He didn’t have a hat. He left his hat on the bus, and it was mistake not to wear a hat in Tucson during the summer time. Even trees were thirsty. Since he just got off a bus and hadn’t been to Tucson since he was a small boy, he didn’t know what to expect. He knew it would be hot but not as hot as it was. It was monsoon. Thank God for monsoon. He expected dry heat, not to wilt within a block. Showers were forecasted, so it wasn’t dry heat. Rain was forecasted but at best wouldn’t begin if it began until late afternoon or early evening. Rain was spotty at best. It was hit or miss at best. Regretting that he wasn’t better prepared and not longer had a hat or hadn’t headed straight for a hotel, George looked for the Paradise, as his friend suggested.

At the corner of South 6th Ave. and 22nd Street, a determined George pushed forward. By then he was dried out. He was no longer sweating. He was dried out, no longer sweated, and felt weak. By then he was about to drop. By then he was also angry, angry at himself, angry at his friend, angry at the whole world but mostly angry at himself for not buying another hat. He didn’t have any water and felt weak (about to drop) and should’ve ducked in a business along 6th Avenue. If he had any sense he wouldn’t have been out there. Everybody knew better than to be out in heat in Tucson in the summertime. Everyone, and George should’ve known better too.

Where was Paradise. He saw Oasis, but he pushed on for Paradise.

George began seeing double. He was about to drop. He liked it. He liked the feeling. He liked seeing double. He liked feeling like he was about to drop. No, no, no, no! No! Steady. Walk from shade to shade. No, no, no, no! Keep walking. He liked feeling disoriented. He liked seeing double. No, no it reminded him of hallucinating. Now filled with anger and humiliation, anger and humiliation again over having been defeated by Dallas he now felt determined to conquer anger and humiliation and anything Tucson threw at him. He would conquer heat. He would conquer Tucson. He wasn’t thinking straight and thought he could beat heat. He felt determined to conquer anything Tucson threw at him. He put his suitcase on his head. He held it up there as he walked. It offered him a little shade as he stumbled. It felt like he was carrying the world on his head. Keep going … very serious and determined and head down (suitcase on top of his head) because he carried weight of the world..

He was so angry now that he had to stop and catch his breath. Catching his breath was hard for him. It was hard for him to breathe. Breathe.

Ah! That’s the trick! Transpose anger and humiliation to a street sign. 6th Avenue. Keep going. 6th Avenue. Keep going down 6th Avenue.” He heard his therapist. “On fire! Let it out. On fire! Let it burn out! Easy. Can’t fall down. Keep going.”

Dallas was like fuel … fuel for fire. He felt like he was on fire and felt like he was on trial. Yes, on trial. George swore. He was on trial. He held up a fist. With his free hand, he held his his fist up. Yes, he would beat heat. Heat! Damn heat! And he knew that he made the right decision when he didn’t pack a coat. It was too hot for a coat. And his suitcase was too heavy and it was too hot. He wished he were on a beach with waves coming in. He wished Tucson had a beach. Barefooted on a beach, pushed first into pebbles, then stones, then boulders, toss damn suitcase. It was too heavy, and it was too hot. Damn the suitcase. “You’ve got to put it behind you. It’s not fair.” As far as George was concerned shrinks never played fair. “Clear the deck.” He had two aims then: to find Paradise and to stay on his feet. Clear the deck and stay on his feet.

Paradise, at last Paradise! An image of Paradise appeared in front of him in the form of a rusted triangle sign. He risked his life running across 6th Avenue. He risked his life to get to Paradise. Paradise and AC. Merciful AC. Merciful brakes saved him. Everything came to a screeching halt. Merciful AC saves everybody in Tucson during the summertime. Give me your hand. Let me lead you to the office. Charlie sat alone behind a desk when George entered and let a screen door slam.

Hot?” To his deathbed George carried Charlie’s sarcasm. It hurt like being laughed at.

Lost?

No! Reprieved. Thank God for AC.

For generations Paradise Motel attracted street people, homeless people, poor people and their wives and children. Over time interest in helping homeless people waxed and waned in Tucson but never at the Paradise Motel. The Paradise had a reputation and was considered part of a solution and part of a problem, a big problem depending on which side you were on. People took sides in Tucson. They took sides over homelessness They took sides over street people in Tucson. They took sides over everything.

It was no longer fashionable to call them bums. It was no longer fashionable to ignore them, but there didn’t seem to be a solution. It didn’t seem right to let them starve. It cost too much to house them; whereas helping them caused big problems, and they were big because people didn’t know how to solve them. Since Charlie and his wife Shelly bought Paradise its fame spread all over the country and a few places overseas. Word of mouth accounted for most of it, and this was considered a big problem. (See! It’s a problem.) Word of mouth accounted for most of their business.

Now the Paradise had twenty-five efficiency units built around a horseshoe drive. In the middle, near the front of the property, someone took time to build a rock fountain shaped like a lotus blossom, suggesting paradise to weary travelers, a paradise where weary travelers could forget their problems. If Charlie and Shelly just catered to travelers, the Paradise wouldn’t have been such a big problem for the city. It wouldn’t have been such a big problem and wouldn’t have attracted so much attention, but Charlie wasn’t about to change, and Shelly knew it. Shelly did her best, but she knew she couldn’t change Charlie. She also did her best to keep the place clean, tried to run a clean place. No drugs and no prostitutes. She ran a clean place with no drugs and no prostitutes. Shelly had a nose for pot and evicted anyone she found smoking it. She had a nose for vice. She had a nose for prostitutes. But pot and vice were the least of their worries. Shelly knew how to handle vice and drugs.

Around the Paradise something broke all the time. And Charlie held to a philosophy about fixing things. He believed if it wasn’t broke why mess with it so consequently something broke all the time. He didn’t believe in prevention; he didn’t believe in messing with something that wasn’t broke, so sometimes Shelly had to hold a gun to his head to get him started on a project.

Besides blighted air the Paradise could advertise leaky roofs, which didn’t matter except during monsoons and winter rains. Mold accounted for many problems. But if the Paradise was marvelous, rates would’ve been higher, and there would’ve been more people living on the streets of Tucson.

Paradise…

Unit 10 … Did she still love him? She certainly didn’t know how to get rid of him and sometimes wished he were dead. Other times she didn’t know. She’d ask him what he was thinking. Pleaded with him to talk her.

Paradise.

I’m not giving in to him tonight.”

Paradise…

Unit 12… “You said yistiddy y’d go out and look fer a job.”

All you do is bitch, bitch, bitch.”

Hush, honey. Hush. You’ll wake the baby.”

Lawd knows I try. Lawd knows I does de bes I kin.”

Excuses. Face the truth. You ain’t gunna git nowhere. Lawd knows you drink too much.”

Paradise

Unit 23 …. “Daddy, you can’t take it back.”

You’re not calling the cops, are you?”

No, no, just get out of here.”

Paradise.

And if I ever hear you’ve put your filthy hands on Martha I’ll kill you!

And in front of Unit 25 and inside a customized dream machine …

Kiss me.”

No, no it’s too late.”

And there were many more survivors. There were many more survivors at the Paradise.

As for George his trial continued.

Water?” asked Charlie.

George gave a quiet response for someone dying of thirst.

Got just the ticket,” said Charlie, as he pointed to a stockpile of bottled water.
“Take more than one. Remember out here drink before you’re thirsty. Careful! Sip it, or it’ll make you sick. Plain o’ water is better than soda. Soda will only dehydrate you. Where’s your hat?” Without waiting for an answer Charlie tossed George a great big hat.

Charlie loved giving advice and helping. “I’ve always wanted to go where streets are paved with gold. So we bought the Paradise. But I can’t say that I wouldn’t mind striking it rich. It isn’t that. If I had a fortune I suppose I wouldn’t keep it long. I know it’d be wrong if I did. Damn conscience! What does money buy anyway?” When Charlie smiled people knew he thought he knew it all.

 

 

 

Chapter Three
Call Charlie the real McCoy. For real! The real McCoy. There wasn’t anyone like him. In Tucson there wasn’t anyone like him. He may have been naive because he invested in so many lost causes … naive because he invested is so many lost souls. People saw what he did. They saw how he invested in lost causes and how he invested in Tucson, not that Tucson was a lost cause. Charlie never thought Tucson was a lost cause. People knew his story. They knew what he did and how he felt. People knew how he felt about homeless people, knew how he felt about the down-and-out, knew how he felt about poor people, and how he put his money where his mouth was. People knew in particular how he felt about homeless women. He knew homeless people were vulnerable and knew homeless women were more vulnerable than homeless men. People knew how he felt and knew he was the real McCoy. They saw he helped people. They saw how he helped people at the Paradise Motel, even though many of them considered it a problem.

Charlie became a real McCoy after he saw an old woman defecating in the bushes next to one-way windows of Ma Bell and in plain sight of employees working there. He was sitting on a bus when he saw her and saw how everyone on the bus stared as she defecated. Way they gawked changed him forever and was why he bought the Paradise Motel. It was why he talked Shelly into buying it. Every morning Charlie woke up, as he often said, determined to wash a few more dirty feet. It sickened him. It shocked him. I changed him, changed him forever. Sometimes he talked like a priest. But did his wife like it when talked like a priest? Did his wife believe in his dream? Did she believe in it, or did she just go along with it. Did she still believe in him? Did she still love him? Those were questions he never considered. They never really talked.

On the surface Charlie and Shelly appeared happy, but they never talked. They obviously had some things going for them. They appeared happy and had some things in common. And they complimented each other. There was Charlie’s stubbornness and Shelly’s submissiveness, which started to untangle when she finally put her foot down and put a stop to their roaming the country. They roamed the country until she put her foot down. She had it after their old Volkswagen bus broke down near Nowhere Arizona. Nowhere Arizona, where was Nowhere Arizona? Then they had to decide. She forced the issue, and they had to decide between Tucson and Phoenix? Tucson or Phoenix? Shelly didn’t care. She told him she didn’t care and told him that she hated cactus. She hated Phoenix. She hated Tucson, but they never talked about it, but she told him she hated cactus. Maybe Charlie should’ve understood what she was saying

I’ll make it up to you.”

Yes, you do that,” she said.

At times he missed back east too. But he learned to love cacti. He loved saguaros. He thought big ones were majestic. He loved octillos. He loved prickly-pear jam. Yes, he missed back east, but he wasn’t unhappy like Shelly and didn’t feel stuck most of the time. Charlie had his dream, two dogs and golf. Yes, he loved cacti.

She’ asked him what he was thinking. “Tell me the truth.”

He wouldn’t tell her the truth.

Would plead with him to talk to her. Would plead with him to tell the truth.

He wouldn’t talk to her.

The only thing he talked about was homeless people. She got sick of him talking about homeless people. She got sick of him talking about nothing else. She grew to hate homeless people. He didn’t know how to talk about anything else. So sometimes she wished that he were dead. Sometimes Shelley wished Charlie were dead. Occasionally she took the next step and tried to think where she could stash his body … where she could dump his body in the desert.

So it was plain that all was not right with them, but there was enough in Tucson for Charlie. It surprised him that he was satisfied and Shelly wasn’t. He wouldn’t have been there if Shelly hadn’t put her foot down, and it surprised him. Many of his dreams were now centered there … now centered in Tucson, which made him happy. With Shelly’s help he built a home in a cactus field. She hated cactus. She hated saguaros. She hated octillos. She thought prickly-pear jam was tasteless. They built a home in a cactus field. Charlie never thought he would own a home. And Shelly hated it … hated sand and cactus.

When he wanted a mate Charlie grabbed one. He wasn’t wise enough to know better. Shelly was too good to be real, and from the beginning he was afraid she’d eventually leave him. It was too good to be real. It was too good to be true.

She grew up a Smith in Cleveland Ohio. She burned her bras to stay alive and graduated at the head of her class in Cleveland. She planned to go to Chase Western in Cleveland before she met Charlie. Her parents wanted her to go to Chase Western. Back there they said Shelly’s parents’ dreams for their daughter went unfulfilled. She never went to college. She married Charlie instead. She married that so-and-so who plopped her in the middle of a cactus field in Tucson, Arizona and expected her eat giant tacos for Thanksgiving. Smile and keep smiling. Be a perfect wife. Be perfect while she hated it. She hated it … hated … hated cactus so much that she wanted to run home to mamma. Cleveland defined by a lake: my, how she missed water. My how she wished Tucson had a beach. And when she complained Charlie threw her keys to their car and told her to keep driving and she’d eventually get to Tucson’s beach. Tucson’s beach … what was he talking about? And when she thought about it, it made her mad, madder, madder, and madder. .

And madder. Rocky Point. Driving to Rocky Point alone made her madder and madder.

When he found Charlie, George thought he wasn’t long for this world. It was already after noon, and he felt faint. He already felt as if he was about to drop. He was dehydrated and almost had a stroke. (At first it felt good. At first he liked it. He liked feeling faint. He liked feeling lightheaded.) He didn’t know anything about Arizona heat and heat stroke, so he wasn’t long for this world by the time he got to Paradise. “If I were dead and this was paradise,” he thought, studying the motel, “I’d think I made a mistake.”

At least he made it. He ran into it in time. He saw through a screen door that there was a real person inside the office, sitting in a big padded chair. He wasn’t hallucinating. He wasn’t hallucinating yet and saw a real person sitting there in a padded chair. Yes, he made it, but because he could no longer think he couldn’t tell the guy his name. He wasn’t asked his name. He couldn’t think because he stayed out in the sun too long. If he hadn’t gotten out of the sun when he did he would’ve ended up in heaven instead of the Paradise Motel.

The office, though fairly modest, was covered with plaques. For a moment the two men sized each other up. They slowly looked each other over. It was more than a moment. It was after noon, and Charlie wasn’t expecting anyone at that hour. There wasn’t anyone walking on the streets at that hour in the middle of June in Tucson. It was too hot, so Charlie wasn’t expecting anyone. It caught him by surprise. And there was something strange about George … something different and something he couldn’t put his finger on. Now Charlie had encountered many disabled people. He had encountered many mentally disabled people in his line of work. He encountered them everyday, but there was something different about George, something he couldn’t put his finger on.

Call it uncanny … call it anything you like but Charlie somehow knew from the beginning that this stranger, though peculiar … now wait a minute … not from the beginning…no doubt he had been in contact with enough people to have formed an opinion about George from the beginning. Call it curiosity. Something. Normally Charlie was good at sizing people up. It came with practice, and he was rarely wrong. But there was something different about George that he couldn’t put his finger on. Something. There was something about George’s manner that disarmed him, something that he couldn’t explain. And Charlie prided himself on his ability to judge people.

I had a theory about him,” he later said. “I think I knew from the beginning … I knew from the beginning he was peculiar. But it was hard to know for sure. Now what were first words or word that came out of his mouth? George said he wasn’t a bum. He said he wasn’t a bum and that he had money. And it was a lie. I could tell that he didn’t have a lot of money. Then how did I know from the beginning that I could trust him? And a damn Texan! Or was he?”

George repeatedly assured Charlie that though he was then strapped for cash that he had a sizable income. That seemed unlikely to Charlie. “That he would say he had a sizable income and he was knocking on my door seemed unbelievable to me. There was something wrong there, something I couldn’t put my finger on, but I felt I could trust him.”

A sizable income! Lord mercy, who was he trying to fool? With a suitcase like he had? And I’ve been around the world and met a few people. It didn’t add up. Well, friend, as you know, I’ve known a homeless person or two.”

Were you right?”

Of course not.”

George guzzled water, as Charlie thought. After he was warned, George guzzled water. “He’ll be sorry.” Imbecile!” But George didn’t throw up.

Then George said, “I’m looking for an apartment. I’m looking for somewhere to live.”

I see that you need a place, and I understand it.” And Charlie wondered why George continually smiled and was afraid that his own words sounded hollow, empty, and insincere. Maybe he been in business too long. Maybe he’ grew cynical. Maybe he was burned too many times. Maybe Charlie was burned too many times. “Right now we don’t have a vacancy.” Liar! “I’m sorry that we don’t.” Liar! “We just haven’t gotten around to taking down our vacancy sign.” Liar! Lying.

And madder.

George never saw a vacancy sign and didn’t know what Charlie was saying.

I figured …” continued George, without getting angry.

Figured what?”

That you wouldn’t rent to me because you think I’m lying.”

A Texan, hey,” Charlie said, changing the subject.

Lived in Dallas; born in L A. My dad was in the movies, but you wouldn’t have heard of him.”

Are your folks in oil?”

Were. My folks are dead. They were into mustard and salad dressing. Before that the movie business.” “Gone With the Wind,” George could’ve told him more about his father. And Miss M, someone he was in love with. About trembling when Miss M kissed him. He was then old enough to know right from wrong. “Don’t let my suitcase fool you. I simply didn’t anticipate my expenses.” With that his confessions died of paralysis.

I told you we don’t have a vacancy. Wait! It might pay to wait for my wife. She often has ideas when I run out of them.”

 

 

 

Chapter Four
Yes Shelly apologized, apologized and pulled wool over Charlie’s eyes. She told him she loved him, but did she? When she grew up she was going to marry a rich Texan, a prince on a roan, a decent fellow with huge arms. She was going to marry a Texan who would protect her and provide for her. Yes, Shelly apologized and apologized, and she wasn’t sure she made the right decision. She wasn’t sure she loved Charlie. She wasn’t sure she loved anyone … wasn’t sure she knew what love was. And Charlie knew when she was going to cry. He knew her. The first day after she said goodbye to her parents she cried and he stopped and put his head on the steering wheel. Trapped in a van he had no choice but to console her. Goodbye Cleveland, goodbye. And she apologized for crying.

Yes, Shelly apologized. She always apologized for not giving Charlie everything he wanted. She looked over from her side of the van. She looked at him from his side of the van and wondered what she got herself into. It happened so fast. He proposed, and she didn’t know why she said yes. He was laughing and shaking his head. She watched him laugh and shake his head and given the situation laughing seemed strange. Was he laughing at her? Charlie came with money. Shelly grew up with money, so money wasn’t a problem. Or was it? And it was nice to hear him say how much he loved her. But it made her sick. Yes, she apologized for this too.

I’m used to walking but not in this heat,” George said.

Here heat can kill you.”

Thank you for the hat.”

Are you going to stay in Tucson for a while?” Charlie asked. “You should always wear a hat.”

I was thinking about it,” said George. “At least it’s less humid here than in Dallas.”

So you’re from Dallas? I like Big D. I’ve always liked Big D.”

And when it became time for George to leave Dallas and head west he said that he wouldn’t commit himself again, so getting away from Dallas helped him. He hadn’t slept for two days. He hadn’t slept and was feeling it, feeling it and the affects of heat, but getting away from Dallas helped him. He still felt lightheaded.

I suppose you’ve been to Dallas?”

I had a great time in Dallas. Big D!”

Big D and Miss M! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Talk of Dallas made George angry again. Thinking of Miss M made him angrier. In Dallas Miss M led him astray. Oh, Miss M. She seemed to know what she was doing. She watched him with alluring eyes.

You’re very generous,” observed George.

Generous? Many people here accuse us of contributing to a problem … problem of homelessness.”

It’s ironic, isn’t it? You try to help and are contributing to a problem. It’s the way people think, I guess. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that a little suffering makes one stronger.” George became animated as he spoke quietly. He became animated when he spoke of suffering. Charlie followed him with great interest and said, “Suffering for gain, I like it.”

But most terrifying part of it comes from steadily losing ground.”

Charlie smiled and said, “If you’re hungry, you can go to St. Martin’s.” But before he gave George more information, Shelly came into the office. “Honey, George here is looking for a place to stay. Maybe you could suggest something.”

Shelly knew Charlie well. She knew him too well and knew that he already would’ve rented George a room if he didn’t have serious reservations about him. Shelly didn’t like how her husband did business, how he picked and chose whom he helped. And didn’t like how he threw money around. She wasn’t in the helping business like he was. She hated the helping business. Yet it was Shelly who managed their business because if she didn’t Charlie would give it away … would give it away and they wouldn’t have anything left. But she wouldn’t have cared so much if he were her Texan, or if he changed.

She had to ask herself what happened? What happened to their marriage? Where was longing and passion when she pecked him on the cheek. Why didn’t she ever give him a real kiss? And why she pecked him on the cheek and called it a kiss? Why weren’t they passionate? They were once passionate. Or was it simply lust? Wet sheets clanged to their bodies as they lay on separate sides of their bed, and when the snooze alarm woke them they headed for separate bathrooms. She still tried to think positively. When did she stop getting angry with him? When did she stop thinking positively?

Then the screen door slowly opened, and another homeless man poked his head in. Here was another opportunity … another opportunity to help someone. Here was another man approaching them with his hand out. Here was another chance for victory. Yes Charlie knew it, as he took this homeless man outside. He knew how to handle it and took the homeless man outside. Charlie already sized this man up. This left Shelly with George. Not knowing what else to do George introduced himself.

Okay,” said Shelly. “Well?”

I can tell that you’re a very lonely person.”

What! What’s with you?”

Truth coming from a stranger stunned Shelly.

I can see you don’t have love in your life,” George said.

Stunned. It was accompanied with a tremor. Shelly suffered from agony, and George saw it. He saw inside her, but would she go there and let ugliness ruin her day?

Yes, you’re very unhappy,” George repeated.

Shelly started fiddling with her blouse sleeve and said, “I’m sorry. You need to excuse me!” But she didn’t move … couldn’t move. “No. No, no please. You’re wrong.”

I know,” said George.

Holy shit! Here I thought … I stay busy as a rule. You caught me at a bad time.”

I know.”

We don’t really hate bums. It’s a joke of ours. This is Charlie’s dream. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s his dream, but what he does is a drop in the bucket. It doesn’t amount to much.”

And of course you’re angry,” George said, as he realized he sounded like every therapist he ever had. George also realized that he hadn’t been offered a chair, and as exhausted as he was it was too much.

And George saw that Shelly hated him. She just met him and hated him. George saw Shelly hated him. He saw it and it made him think of Nurse Cranely. Just as sure as his name was George the nurse’s name that held him down for his first shot of Haldol was Cranely.

George? It’s George, isn’t it?” George nodded. “Do you think I’m loveable? Holy shit! I don’t know what’s gotten into me. You’re a stranger, and I asked you if you think I’m loveable.”

Sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers than people you know. But yes, you’re loveable.”

George had always been a good little boy and what shocked people most was that he turned out bad; and when everybody counted on George and he disappointed them, they said that he was unlike George they knew. It was unlike George, George they counted on, but he was the same person. He was always the same George. And though people had different names for him, George remained George and never used another name.

In my case appearances are deceiving. I’m not really homeless … just strapped for cash. I was a bad boy, so they made me stand in a corner. I was a bad boy, so they punished me. Now I’m in a new town looking for a break.”

So you’re looking for a rental?”

Really, Mrs .…” said George with a halfhearted smile. “Really, I’m not looking for a handout. I’m just strapped now.”

Please call me Shelly.”

Shelly.”

So you think I’m unhappy?”

All he had to do was to look at her to know she was unhappy but he wouldn’t criticize her. He would have nothing to do with criticism.

Charlie and I are happy enough. Yes, Charlie. He tries. That much I can say for him. He tries. George,” she said, “I hope you’re not in a hurry. Your name is George, isn’t it?”

George nodded. “Time is on your side. You have all time in the world.”

It’s amazing. You’re amazing. It’s amazing how in tune we are.”

I don’t mean to make people feel awkward.”

No, no. It’s the opposite. You … There’s plenty here to keep me here, this meeting and that and Mass; so when it works out I enjoy talking to people.”

It depends …”

Yes, you’re so right. It depends. You seem to know what I’m thinking.”

I’m not without resources, but someone else controls my money. A miser doles it out to me each month. It drives me nuts.”

In a perfect world I’d be doing something else. But our world isn’t perfect, is it? It wouldn’t be impossible. But I wouldn’t know what to do. I would’ve made up my mind, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I could face Charlie. I wouldn’t know what to say or what to do. I don’t know how to tell him. I don’t know how to break it to him. I would’ve stood up to Charlie and told him the truth if I did. But he wouldn’t hear me … has never heard me. That’s him. That’s Charlie. He’s deaf when he wants to be. Then he wouldn’t believe me. His head is buried in the sand. He’s too busy. He’d rather play golf, loves playing golf rather than listen to me. He’d rather help people. I’ve tried to tell him? Hasn’t he heard me cry? Sob. In a perfect world he’d support me … support me, regardless. But the world isn’t perfect. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I suppose you’re …”

“I’m smart; I am. How about you?”

In this imperfect world I am. I’m known as a dishrag.”

I know what you mean,” George said. “Yes, but I’m now free. But I’d rather be on the moon, wouldn’t you? They say I’m delusional. Now who isn’t delusional?”

Delusional? But lovable. Delusional? I don’t believe you’re delusional.”

No, I’m not. I’m not loveable, so don’t trust me. What are we up to our necks in? Crap! Sand! Buried in sand!”

Don’t we love it?”

Yes, we do. We’re up to our necks, and we love it. My parents bitched about Charlie. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. They found our relationship immoral. I had a don’t-give-a-damn attitude, a phony don’t-give-a-damn attitude, but a don’t-give-a-damn attitude all the same. And everybody knows mistakes a girl can make with a handsome fool. And you add Johnny Mathis and a bottle of rum and a liter of coke. Right song. Right song. Right song, our song and a mattress on a floor. What gentleman intentionally gets his best girl drunk? Roaring drunk! Hmm. ‘You’re going to take off with him, aren’t you?’ mother asked. Well, good lord! What was her problem? Now I know.”

George sat listening to Shelly, enjoying her story as he would a tale of adventure. He enjoyed her story. He enjoyed all her story. When she finished, he nodded. After a long pause, she said, “George, there’s a friend who might be able to help you. She rents furnished rooms and serves meals. It would give you a chance to be part of a family. It would give you a chance to part of a community. Maria is an unhappy widow. She was one of the first people we met in Tucson. She helped us. She rented a room to us. Rent there is reasonable. Room and board for a reasonable price. And she’s a good cook.”

Okay.”

There are other boarders. There’s this one guy who lives there … his name is Fred. I don’t care for Fred. He’s a nincompoop. So, what do you think George?”

I’ll check it out.”

Good. That makes me feel better.” But she actually felt terrible.

Why frown?” demanded George.

I don’t know. I don’t know, but sometimes I feel like taking one of my husband’s golf clubs, one with a metal head, and while he’s snoring pounding him to death.”

I felt the same on the bus. Only I thought about taking a gun and …”

Now George.”

 

 

 

Chapter Five
Under her clothes still flowed fine lines of a beautiful body. Tight blue denim still looked great on her. Waiting she worried about when she would no longer look great. She watched her weight. She watched what she ate. She counted calories, dieted, and worried whenever she put on a few pounds. She watched her weight. She watched her appearance. She knew she looked attractive. She knew she once was alluring. Now it was different. It didn’t make any difference now. It was too late.

Early pictures of Anna showed a slim girl, a very slim girl with an enviable figure. She was seductive even then. But don’t construe that she was lewd. Don’t judge. Don’t judge her. Don’t judge her. She may have gotten careless but so have many people, so don’t judge her. Many girls get in trouble, but it doesn’t make them sluts. Now she had more to worry about than her figure … or her loss of one. She worried now about what she was going to do. She worried before she began to show and knew she couldn’t keep it a secret for much longer … knew it would be impossible. There were other girls in her predicament, other girls who got in trouble. Other sluts! No, she wasn’t a slut. She would never be a slut. And when she called herself a slut she felt ashamed. She felt dirty.

Perhaps soon. No, don’t rush it. Anna wondered when she would show. Anna wondered when she couldn’t hide it. Anna wondered when she would have to tell. Painting her nails she wondered. Painting her nails she worried. And painting her nails she was angry. “He thinks only of himself,” she thought. “He must know and thinks only of himself. He mustn’t find out.” Boy or girl, she would make sure he never found out. She wanted to deprive him of what was legitimately his … because she was angry … because of what he took from her. Boy could he sing. And got good reviews from her and so on. Still she wouldn’t tell him.

But what a bitter cross to bear, yeah! It hurt. It was heavy, and she felt pain and she felt weight and knew it would be a struggle to raise a child without a father. Maybe she should tell him. Maybe she should tell him and make him responsible. Children need a father. No! They need a father and a mother. No! No! A child doesn’t need a despicable father. Poor Anna, she never figured out why he never called her again. If along with pleasure … his pleasure … if only he had said something about her as a person. If only he treated her like a person. If only he hadn’t treated him like a toy. A phone call would’ve been a start.

Anna was beginning to understand something. Slowly she was beginning to understand something she knew all along. Molly was right, of course. “You can’t trust men.” You can’t trust them.

You can’t believe men. “I don’t believe men,” Anna told one of her sisters. “They have no heart, as God would want them to have.”

Yet look at her, an added pound or two. No use counting calories now. Soon she wouldn’t be able to wear tight jeans. And true friends wouldn’t care. True friends wouldn’t look at her differently. It was Danny, Danny who would be the most upset. But… And it was a big but. She knew that there were risks involved. Danny would find out sooner or later. Who’d stand up for her and who’d keep their distance? Would Danny? Her sisters didn’t count.

Angela, give it up!” Angela had never been easy to deal with. Each morning Angela saw how long she could primp in the bathroom. She never thought of other people. The house luckily had five bathrooms. “Angela give it up!”

Angela slipped off her nightgown and stood in front of a mirror. She admired her little uplifted breasts, integral parts of her body, and her tight belly, revealed too often by short blouses. So beautiful from the front, a creation so different from a man, same as her sister she felt submissive and often wondered when her time would come. At junction of her thighs, more surprises. Yes, but … even with misinformation she knew more than her mother thought she did. Yes Mrs. Martinez was unaware of many things, especially when it came to her daughters. Yes, Mrs. Martinez was unaware of how much her daughters knew about life. She was unaware of many things that went on in her house.

Like her big sister Anna, Angela knew that men often could seem sincere when they weren’t. Like her big sister she knew men couldn’t be trusted. She knew you couldn’t trust men. She knew you couldn’t believe men. She knew she couldn’t trust men and that she had to be careful and be a good girl and keep her promises to her mother. There would be nothing but a mess if she weren’t careful. She knew if she weren’t careful she could get in trouble. Yes, be a good girl and promise. But secretly where nobody had yet penetrated she ached for attention. Yes, she ached for attention there.

Angela, give it up!” her big sister yelled.

Yearning for intimacy she caressed herself and throwing her head forward allowed her long brown hair fall over her face.

Thank God for Molly. She did so much good. Molly, youngest, seemed more grownup than her older sisters. She was a levelheaded, mature girl, polite, mature, mature her age. No one guessed her age. Molly seemed older than her sisters. She seemed older and never felt her age, and it always confused her when people said she was the prettiest. She felt plain. She thought she was plainest. She couldn’t be the prettiest of three. She couldn’t be. She saw a fallacy when there was one. She was smart enough to see it and recognized false smiles of people who said it. Mamma’s little girl, Molly was mamma’s little girl. Mamma couldn’t do without her. Fetch this! And that! Talking to Mamma as a friend rather than a daughter Molly frequently said, “Mamma, you should” or “Mamma, you shouldn’t.”

Of course Molly tried to pull it off as best she could. She tried to act older than she was. She always tried to outdo her sisters. She always tried. And she always tried as hard as she could to please. And she knew how to do it. If her two sisters wanted to approach their mother … wanted something from their mother they approached Molly first. So Molly Martinez could get away with anything. She was smart enough to get away with anything. She could say anything and get away with it. She could look Mamma in the eye and say, “Oh, Mamma, it was down right mean of you to fib like that. It was down right rude to fib.”

Fib? What do you mean dear … fib?”

Conniving and getting Mr. O’Toole’s hopes up.”

Well now, tell me what’s wrong with padding? Women do it all the time to catch a man’s eye. Why your sister ….”

She doesn’t need padding. She doesn’t need help.”

She doesn’t? Why she wouldn’t recognize a good thing if it were handed to her.”

I’m ashamed of you Mamma.”

It’s the weather. There’s nothing to do, as hot as it is, but stay inside.”

Well Mr. O’Toole, I hear he’s from Houston and came out here to sow a few oats.”

Mamma, you’re terrible.”

Terrible, terrible. Not until you’re my age will you know what terrible means.”

Mamma, you seem to forget that O’Toole is twice Anna’s age.”

I didn’t know we were talking about Anna.”

A mirror hung on the bathroom door and it almost always lied. Mrs. Martinez picked the mirror up at an antique barn because it showed a person’s image from head to foot.

Angela, give it up!”

Not a word from Anna as she took her turn. Oh, so round. Another quarter inch and she wouldn’t be able to button her jeans. She’d wait until Sunday before she told … told anyone.

Anna seemed annoyed, as she stood in front of the door of the bathroom and thought of the bastard. Yes, he’s guilty, she thought. Now what was his name? Her darling stud. Stud! Whoopee!

Mamma mia!” Panting he said, “I love your body, long for it, dream of it. Speak to me. Say something. I’ll try again. I love you Anna.” He said, “I love you Anna.”

He rushed her… wanted her badly … wanted her from head to foot.

Anyway he loves me. He must love me. He has to love me. He doesn’t have a choice. ”

She resisted him only for so long. He said he loved her.

It was he who unbuttoned her trousers and pulled her blouse out and first slipped his hand under her bra. It was he who wanted her more than anything. It was he who couldn’t his hands off her. Whoopee. She remembered a night in a back seat of a red Impala. Customized. Skirted. Powered windows. No brakes! Overdrive. No brakes. Once he got started there was no stopping him. It was his lips that uttered first obscene words.

I never intended to go that far.”

I’m sorry, Anna.”

Don’t be sorry. I enjoyed it too.”

A genuine bargain: free.

Sometimes during a shower bathroom steamed up so much that she had to take a towel and wipe the mirror off. That night on top of A mountain around Christmas they would’ve fogged windows up. Steam heat! Now it was over a hundred in shade. Over a hundred. Pray for a good monsoon.

And when Sunday came her mother took it pretty well except for one small detail. “What do you mean you don’t know the bastard’s name or where he’s at? No name for my grand baby. How could you do that to me?”

 

 

Chapter Six
Along with her daughters Mrs. Martinez primped each morning while carrying on a conversation.

Did you notice how Mr. O’Toole looked at you baby? And Fred, he ….”

And Molly, she’s just jealous. Why else would she make such a fuss over my boyfriends?”

It’s a pity you girls can’t get along. With Molly I don’t need to worry. But what’s happened to Danny?”

Oh, he’s gone to Phoenix.”

I detest flirting and with you girls hoping for God-knows-what.”

Mrs. Martinez knew what she wanted for her daughters. She meant it when she said she wanted Anna to get married first. Anna was oldest so she had to get married first. And now that she was pregnant there was more urgency than ever.

Their house in Menlo Park offered a view of a tiny arroyo. You couldn’t see from their back porch an arroyo and where it emptied into the Santa Cruz, but they had access to a river walk and the Santa Cruz. They achieved easy access to a river walk when, years earlier … only a sliver of time, really … Maria and her late husband bought the old rock mansion and fixed it up. Their house was built of volcanic rock excavated nearby. It was excavated from a quarry that was long abandoned. They dug this quarry out of the side of A Mountain.

They worked on their old house for years (never finished it): ‘twas a shame that she had to take drastic measures to keep it. Having stood for nearly half a century their mansion was built for a rich man, as stately houses often were. It was built for a rich man, an influential man, and a community leader. It was built to last … last forever out of volcanic rock.

Hardwood floors in their old house were covered with rugs that now showed signs of wear from heavy traffic. With high ceilings and antique furniture room after room had a television in it. Their old house also had a homey feeling about it. Mrs. Martinez did her best to give it a homey feeling. She did her best to make it a home. She did her best.

After her husband left Mrs. Martinez held things together by taking in boarders. At least she had a home, a place to lay her head and call her own. It may have been crowded, but it was home, and it was pretty nice. And don’t holler about cold water. Don’t complain when you didn’t need to. Don’t holler about anything. Given circumstances and responsibilities she had, Mrs. Martinez did her best. To save money she served starches to her meat- and-potato crew. “For a pittance,” as she was fond of reminding everyone, she served good food … best food possible.
It was the most fashionable house in the neighborhood since it hadn’t yet become an eyesore. But obviously it had seen better days. It was old and too large to clean, too many nooks and crannies to keep up with. But no one complained. No one ever complained about Mrs. Martinez’s housekeeping. No, with demanding boarders they knew finding enough time for everything was a problem for her. And they all knew complaining wouldn’t do any good, so no one complained.

Her best, my eye, look at the yard … an informal, overgrown mess … and flowerbeds of dead weeds. Mrs. Martinez loved her house, a real gem, ailing though it maybe, but she hated her yard. And out on the veranda you found a broken down swing.
Then just where could Mrs. Martinez find solitude? On the veranda.

As for Tucson, mountains rose from a desert floor, and mountains formed an amphitheater with the city in the middle. And walk a few blocks, and one could find solitude in a desert. In early days one had to be tough and ornery to survive in the Sonoran Desert … to survive out there among rattlesnakes one had to be tough and ornery. That was not to say there weren’t rattlesnakes in town.

Mrs. Martinez blew off what complains there were, or she didn’t listen to them. But she was known to challenge people. “Go ahead, and talk. Say whatever you want.” “Dictatorial,” yes, and over years boarders used epithets to describe her. And sometimes there wasn’t a reason for what she did. “Illegal? Illogical.” And she couldn’t stand hairsplitting. How did she put it? “Subterfuge wouldn’t be tolerated.” In some circles she was ridiculed for taking in boarders. But Mrs. Martinez knew where her priorities lay and thought that without a house she would become a freeloader. Owning a house gave her life meaning.

That morning the women had already made up their faces. By half past six Maria also had a table set, and everyone had started gathering around it. Besides coffee and tea, beans and tortillas, salsa, maybe huevos revueltos, and so forth, hot oatmeal was always served. On this particular morning Kevin O’Toole … Mr. O’Toole … and the women waited for Fred.

Fred!

What did they know about Fred?

Nothing.

Devil. Why did they wait for Fred? Fred was working in Tucson under his own name, but he didn’t want anyone to know that he came from Racine. In the delivery business, eh? It was funny. Delivery business, eh? It didn’t make sense. Delivery business? Then where did his money come from? He seemed to have a lot of it. Where did it come from? He was secretive about his money. Delivery business, eh?

Fred had promised not to be late for breakfast again. Now he was late again. Had he been late, really late someone would’ve shot him.

Since he fled Racine Fred stayed clean and sober and clear of all penny-ante infractions. Fred knew his family. He knew they wouldn’t help him. His family disowned him but before they did he graduated from relying on them to causing them trouble. Trouble then followed him. Trouble followed him until he got out of Racine. Yet he was slick, crude and slick, and it showed. Trouble followed him until he learned how to avoid it. He learned to avoid attention, learned to lay low, as he graduated from penny-ante stuff.
“What would they get if they got him? Nothing. What could they pin on him? Nothing. What was his name? Fred. No, his real name. His real name? Fred. Fred. And where was he from? It remained a mystery. Cesar, he’d see to it. Cesar protected him. Cesar protected his men. Protection: it came down to company you keep. It came down to company you keep and what you did for someone. It came down to loyalty. Loyalty, it came down to loyalty. It didn’t have to do with money. It boiled down to the company you keep, loyalty, and what you were willing to do for someone.

After he finally came Maria gave Fred a bowl of hot oatmeal. He sat down with a bowl of hot oatmeal. No everyone could eat.

Oatmeal again! Sure, sure, oatmeal was good for you, but it would be a lot nicer with strawberries on top. It was berry season. Fred insisted on strawberries. Fred knew how to push it. And push it he did! Just being around Fred meant conflict. You could find strawberries at Safeway.

Where are you?” Fred asked waving his hand in front of Maria’s face. “Hello-o! Are you there? Are you in there? You have to be somewhere. You can’t hide. You don’t need to hide. You’re not in any danger. I’ll protect you. I’ll be thinking of you all day.” As he concluded Fred snapped his fingers.

Fred, shut up!” shouted Mr. O’Toole. “I’m tired of listening to you.” Maria hated shouting. She hated excessive noise.

How handsome he is,” said Fred referring to Mr. O’Toole. Conflict between Fred and Mr. O’Toole was unavoidable.

Though she was not, Maria acted like she was angry. But there were other things that made Fred’s life miserable.

Anna!” he said. “Anna, I love you.”

Oh, no,” Anna thought with revulsion.

With rejection Fred flagellated himself, knowing a prize he sought was unobtainable. He knew because Anna didn’t conceal her disgust. Still he didn’t give up. “I think she’s beautiful,” he thought and knew in a crazy world anything could happen. Every time he saw her he thought that it might end happily for him (with her in his arms and him ready to forgive her … forgive her of everything.

So he waited for Anna, waited until he heard her in the hall. And then he came out of his room with some silly excuse. He tried not to be obvious. He tried to make it seem like he wasn’t waiting for her. He tried to make it seem like he never stood and watch her from afar. He tried not to be obvious, but he was too obvious. Whenever he saw her, he looked for exposed skin as she walked by. He was obviously staring at her and hoped she would bend over. When she bent over, her blouse rode up and exposed skin that she never intended to show him. A conversation with his boss on this subject might’ve gone like this:

Looking at me?”

Yes, I’m looking at you. Are you having a good time? Tell me why you’re such an idiot when it comes to women? What do you mean you’re in love with Anna? Really in love?”

But, damn it, his boss didn’t know. Cesar didn’t know. Cesar didn’t know Fred’s heart. And longer it went on the more impossible it was for Fred. That kind of love was powerful, but it was pure fantasy. In Fred’s case, pure fantasy.

Then Mr. O’Toole asked Anna to marry him, and Mr. O’Toole was more desirable than Fred. This was about time Fred convinced himself that he couldn’t afford risks, and if asked about his love for Anna he would reply, “Oh, it didn’t amount to anything, really.”

Let us now hear from Mr. O’Toole: “What other people in the house think doesn’t matter to me. So three women and their mother and I live in a mansion, an old volcanic rock mansion; and most pleasant sight that I’ve ever seen is Mrs. Martinez’s oldest daughter Anna. We found each other, and I told her that I could afford it. I told her I couldn’t like without her. Then I gave her a little something, after I went to her mother and we talked. Thank God her mother didn’t think that age differences mattered. No, at least not right a way. No, definitely not. To Mrs. Martinez age differences didn’t matter. And Anna got more fidgety and hemmed and hawed before she announced that she was pregnant. Hearing she was pregnant, I declared, ‘I’m not the father. It’s a shame that I’m not the father.’ But hearing Anna was pregnant brought me back to earth and helped me remember my age. I asked myself then, did I want to be a father. Did I want to be a father at my age? Did I want to start over? And I asked myself if she noticed my bald head. Did my bald head bother her? Could she live with my bald head? Could she live with my thick glasses, my thick glasses, my excessive weight, my excessive weight, which I admit didn’t make me attractive. Did it matter? Did it all matter to her? Could she? Now that she was pregnant, maybe … But did I want to become a father? At my age, did I want to be a father … did I want to be a father again. Why, I never got a chance to tell her that I was her prince. And there I had this huge gold ring in my hand. ‘This,’ I told her, ‘could be yours.’ Then I found myself like an idiot making promises. I promised to give her anything she wanted. I cast myself in a positive light and made promises that I wasn’t sure I was willing to keep. I promised I would be gentle. Gentle, gentle when I value sex during which women pass out. Now men don’t ever pass out during sex … that’s a woman’s privilege. I value a good woman a lot, when I go to hold one. I value passive women. I value submissive women. Now she told me that she didn’t know the name of her baby’s father. Imagine how it made me feel when she told me that … that she didn’t know the name of baby’s father. I thought I’d buy her a chinchilla coat and thought that would make her feel better. I thought I would buy her a chinchilla coat and she would say yes.”

 

 

 

Chapter Seven
Mr. O’Toole was fifty-six years old. Twenty years before then he came to Tucson from Houston after a run of bad luck. Speculating in land then, more successfully than he ever would afterward, he could afford to be generous. He was generous and wealthy and gave women more than clothes from Neiman’s. He could afford to give them chinchilla coats and because of it felt invincible.

August 1972. Galveston, Texas. When Mr. O’Toole woke up in the morning, he lay there listening to waves crash into a seawall. He could afford to sleep in, so he lay there. In August 1972 he lived a luxurious lifestyle. He could afford a luxurious lifestyle and felt superior because he had money. He was a wealthy real estate man and felt all he needed was right woman to share his wealth with. Then he had a run of bad luck. Perhaps he tried too hard. Perhaps he never found the right woman to share his wealth with. You wouldn’t expect someone like him to sleep alone unless he wanted to. You wouldn’t expect him to sleep alone for a month, a week, or a day. He could afford women. Sometimes he bought women. Sometimes he bought a prostitute. But he could also lie there as long as he liked and nobody cared. He could afford to lie there. So what was wrong? He hadn’t figured it out yet.

In front of the Sea Breeze Motel and beyond street stood a sea wall and over the wall, as far as eyes could see, stretched a beach and a sea. But he lay there. A beach didn’t motivate him. Galveston Texas didn’t motivate him. A sea didn’t motivate him. What was wrong with him? Why was he in Galveston? How could he be so stupid as to forget everything he knew about women? Now he was offended when he looked in a mirror. He was offended by his beer belly. He didn’t like how he looked. He didn’t like it. He was offended by it. He was offended that morning as he put on his bathing trunks. It was simply absurd for him to think that he could walk out the Sea Breeze Motel and find a mate.
He couldn’t wait; still he lounged around the motel. Lounging in a chair on a beach was very pleasant, but Elizabeth had a different version of how they met. She remembered how her expression changed from horror to wonder as she watched Mr. O’Toole balance an egg in a spoon. She never knew where he got an egg or a spoon. She stood there amazed. He looked awkward, yet he balanced an egg in a spoon. She felt awkward. It was an awkward moment as she awkwardly smiled and glanced about. She had just come out her room to fetch a bucket of ice and saw Mr. O’Toole … saw Mr. O’Toole balancing an egg in a spoon. Why? Where did he get the egg? Where did he get the spoon?

Don’t breathe, or you’ll spoil everything.” He felt awkward when she said, “Don’t breath, or you’ll spoil everything.”

Elizabeth, while talking with a friend about going to Galveston, qualified her statements about it being too soon to go shopping for a man. It was too soon. And she knew it. Too soon. Too soon. After a divorce, it was too soon. It was too soon to go shopping for a man, but what the hell! She felt lonely. And to show her friends she thought that she might just throw herself at someone. She would get dolled up and throw herself at a man. No one knew her in Galveston. She would get dolled up and get fucked.

Elizabeth spent a portion of each day in Galveston shopping for a man. Shopping for a man and going through a divorce … shopping on the rebound, she cursed her ex and said to herself, “I’m better off without him.” She said, “I’m better without him,” as she realized just how shabbily he treated her. She was better off without him.

He did her wrong, and there were things that she couldn’t forgive him for. What a fool she had been. And what a fool she was as she shopped for a man. She did her best to make their relationship work, made the best of it, pretending throughout their intimacy that she didn’t know. He didn’t love her, and she pretended that she didn’t know it. Throughout their lovemaking, which became mechanical, she pretended. He wore a mask, pretended he loved her. He went through motions and became mechanical. His true self would’ve been more passionate and risqué … lovemaking turned into fucking. She liked the word fuck. She knew that he was cheating her. She knew he could be more passionate and risqué. When they first met, he was more passionate and risqué. She lost a child; but it hadn’t been as intense as her feelings were when she went shopping for another man.

On the rebound. You can imagine. Lonely. Imagine it. Imagine it. At first Mr. O’Toole was ambivalent. Mr. O’Toole could buy women. There were no shortage of women. She went shopping for a man, feeling vulnerable and lonely. She should’ve seen that she was likely to make mistakes, if not same mistakes, similar mistakes. There was nothing diabolical about it. Mr. O’Toole could buy women. Imagine. He could buy women, so he didn’t value women. To him women were a dime a dozen. Then Elizabeth threw himself at him. And he saw an opportunity. He did. She thought she was in love. She did. Imagine. He was trying to balance an egg in a spoon. Imagine. And they must’ve had a wonderful evening for it to continue. They fucked and fucked. On the rebound and shopping for a man. It was then easy for her to make the same mistakes. Don’t you think so? Fucking, fuck, a mistake?

Mr. O’Toole’s and Elizabeth’s house had to be sold. Their property divided, it had to be sold, sold at a loss. “You keep pictures.” Keeping pictures of their journey to Greece and Egypt never made sense to him. Keeping pictures of her didn’t make sense. Mr. O’Toole no longer wanted to have anything to do with Elizabeth. Keeping pictures of them as a couple didn’t make sense either. Heaven only knew why she wanted anything that reminded her of him. It was silly. Silly, silly, silly and sad that she would hang onto to anything so painful. While it was so fresh and raw she had no insight and blocked out most of her memories. She didn’t blame herself, couldn’t blame herself, though she should have seen what would happen when she married Mr. O’Toole on the rebound. She was looking for happiness and should’ve seen that she wouldn’t find happiness with Mr. O’Toole. She was looking for fuzziness, fuzziness and happiness. She didn’t know him when she married him. It happen too quickly … too soon after her first divorce. Mr. O’Toole gave her a chinchilla coat for a wedding present.
Slender still and lovely she thought during her second divorce that she didn’t have anything to live for. She thought that she didn’t have anything to live for and vowed to never make the same mistakes again. She knew her marriage to Mr. O’Toole was a mistake. She vowed she wouldn’t make the same mistake again. (She had vowed it before.) Mr. O’Toole clearly played with her emotions. She was a fool. She was fooled and she whom once cared so much was left with little feeling. She knew she was a fool.

She loved him and passionately gave herself. They were his misdeeds and not hers; she wouldn’t accuse him … there was no need because he was cruel and violent. Mr. O’Toole thought he could buy women.

Elizabeth honked before she could run him over. She intended to run over Mr. O’Toole but honked and warned him. She intended to kill him. She intended to him when she got behind a wheel and found herself in middle of an intersection, found herself in middle of an intersection without knowing how she got there. He was crossing the same street. He was crossing the same street when she honked and swerved. She would’ve hit him had she not swerved. She first swerved in his direction but then swerved the other way to save his life. Terrified she honked and slammed on her brakes. He waited for a light to change; then she swerved in his direction. Terrified she slammed on her brakes. So she surrendered to an urge and would’ve succeeded if she hadn’t been in therapy.

Before she gave up she bought a red pair of spiked heels and jumped on a plane to Houston. She knew what she wanted. She knew what she wanted to do, but she was appalled and angry with herself over it. “I’m appalled by how some women throw themselves at men. Don’t act surprised. I’ve been married, been there, done it.” Yes she knew that her pain had a shape, shape of wedding ring lost in a drain. “Don’t tell me you didn’t expect it.” she told herself.

How could he have been so stupid as to forget that eggs break? He made her laugh.
Mr. O’Toole raised his head slightly and looked into her blue eyes. As he smiled he also looked for right words.

Yes she gave it one more try. She gave him a second, a third, a fourth chance.
August 1974. Galveston, Texas. By then Elizabeth thought she knew Mr. O’Toole. Her eyes told a story. She should have been afraid to look into a mirror. Once again they argued. It always started with an argument. Already trenches were dug. Arguing.

Crying.

Not far away in the next room a television told her that Mr. O’Toole was in there. She thought no one knew that they were heading for a divorce. She thought no one knew.

And minutes seemed like hours.

Five minutes.

Ten minutes.

“…sleeping soundly,” and why shouldn’t he be? She didn’t dare move. He could afford to sleep in.

Fifteen minutes.

They returned to the Sea Breeze Motel to fix the unfixable. He was drinking. Unable to toe the line. Drinking. More drinking. More lovemaking. More fucking. It no longer mattered to her. Already looking for what she knew would come she weighed her options and decided that she had to leave but knew that she had better not say anything that would upset him. She knew better than to upset him. She knew to walk on eggshells. They both knew how easily eggs broke.

And waves pounded the seawall harder.

First time he slapped her he busted an eardrum. First time he choked her he left marks. He liked it when women passed out when he fucked them. He was insulted when they fell asleep.

Twenty minutes. Snoring. Safe to leave.

She didn’t know why she stayed as long as she did. After the first time he slapped her she knew she should have left him … should have left Mr. O’Toole. After first time he choked her she should’ve left him.
What a disappointment, just as he said tender things she stood up for herself. His violent reaction caused her to die over and over again. Guilty as charged. A good man. Cruel bastard. One of the secrets Mr. O’Toole left behind in Houston was a son. .

And he paid for her black eyes and broken teeth by giving his half of a house. She sold the chinchilla coat he gave her. She kept pictures she should’ve destroyed. She didn’t know why she didn’t destroy them. Because of a house she refused to have him prosecuted. On his worst day he attempted suicide by drinking bleach.

 

 

 

Chapter Eight
Distressing as his divorce was for Mr. O’Toole, Tucson turned out to be an answer to a wordless prayer. Tucson … Tucson offered him respite. After an unpleasant divorce, after an ugly divorce, Tucson offered him a new beginning, a second chance. It gave him a chance to breathe.

Mr. O’Toole never talked about himself. He never talked about himself except with Charlie. He wanted to put Houston behind him and people wouldn’t have known he came from Houston had Charlie not said something. Charlie should not have said anything. After an ugly divorce, Mr. O’Toole needed space. He needed time and space to heal. He needed solace. He found solace in Tucson, and it helped that he didn’t need to work. He had money and didn’t need to work.

Mr. O’Toole seemed very modest when the opposite was true. Mr. O’Toole came across as a modest man and relied on adopted mannerisms that served him well. Everyone recognized him by these mannerisms. Everyone recognized him, but no one really knew him. Mr. O’Toole remained a mystery. And so Mr. O’Toole went to Charlie for advice; and each time Charlie talked about his relationship with Shelly and said too much. Charlie and Mr. O’Toole became close. They were best friends. They trusted each other. They trusted each other with their secrets, so Charlie agreed to help him work on Maria. Maria had to be convinced that he was right for Anna. Maria had to be shown what he could offer her daughter, things that were in no way free, such as a chinchilla coat.

And yet when Mr. O’Toole laid it out on the table and when he proposed it felt awkward. It felt awkward because of their ages. It felt awkward because Mr. O’Toole was much older than Anna. It felt awkward because Mr. O’Toole had been through this before. So he stammered. Drooled. Felt his age. He felt like an old man. Filled with despair when he should be happy he stammered, drooled, felt his age and told Anna what he would do for her. Mr. O’Toole told her what he would give her. He would give her anything she wanted. All she had to do was tell him what she wanted. He may have been twenty years older than she was, but with age, he said, came maturity. To convince her, he also said that she didn’t need to love him and rested his case.

Then she turned up pregnant. And Mr. O’Toole cried foul. Okay but she still wouldn’t cough up name of the father. And because of it … because Anna wouldn’t name the father, Charlie told Mr. O’Toole that he shouldn’t waste time on her. And because of it, Mr. O’Toole didn’t know what to do.
From after a storm until about sundown they sat on the veranda steps talking because in Tucson Maria Martinez recognized more in Mr. O’Toole than anyone else did. A storm cooled Tucson off, so they could sit there and feel refreshed. They could sit there because an afternoon monsoon blew heat away, and for a short while Maria was a girl he once knew in his hometown who believed in him. A cypress tree in the front yard came apart during this storm. Wind blew a cypress tree down. And roses on a wooden trellis along the north side of the veranda lost most of their petals in the wind. Mr. O’Toole commented on wind and rain and told Maria that rain made him feel alive. He felt alive. It made him feel young again … young and alive. After stifling heat, it refreshed him and made him feel young again. Then he said, “I wish that I could say I’ve never hurt anyone. I wish I believed in God and mercy, and I wish that it hadn’t stopped raining.”

Don’t pull that on me.”

What do you mean?”

Now come on, you’re smarter than that. And we’ve both gone through our share of troubles. I know you’re after my daughter. Mr. O’Toole, I don’t care what you’ve done. Important thing is that you don’t mistreat Anna. I’m gonna be a grandmother soon, and my grandson needs a father. Note my preference: a grandson. But why are you asking me when you don’t need my permission.”

Mr. O’Toole sighed and explained how as a boy he ran away from home. (He didn’t explain how as a man he ran away from Houston.) So he ran away. As a boy he ran away. He ran away at age sixteen. And he rejected his family, which of them … his father or his mother … which one? And he kept trying. And for ten years he tried to prove himself. He needed to prove himself to his parents, but he waited too long. He thought maybe he’d go home and show his folks what he achieved, but he waited too long. He became a successful businessman. Maybe his mother knew that he wouldn’t fail and that what his father feared most wouldn’t materialize. His parents didn’t live to see his success.

Mrs. Martinez wondered what any of this had to do with Mr. O’Toole’s proposal. Why was he telling her this? Why?

Mr. O’Toole knew that Marie understood though she didn’t say much. She only interrupted him once or twice and that was with a nod. Except for Charlie, he hadn’t revealed as much about himself to anyone else in Tucson.

Mr. O’Toole seemed like he was born of rage and hence born in a bag that he had to kick and punch his way out of … and then to watch his face and see desperation and fear … then … then … then fear.

And it was about then that one of them, or both them, first noticed George. George? George? George? How long was George standing there in the yard, listening and waiting, wondering when Mr. O’Toole would stop talking? Only child. Twenty years ago ran away. Could have shot his father. No, never. Not strong enough. Not strong enough to shoot his father. They didn’t know how much George heard. They hoped this stranger hadn’t heard anything.
`
Mr. O’Toole ran away from the one place on earth that according to his parents was set aside for them, Eden, and he screwed it up and because of it he got shit beat out of him.

Anna was angry.

Angry? With whom? About what?

For heavens sake girl, calm down!”

So angry that she tore out the front door without looking and almost tripped over Mr. O’Toole and her mother. “Out of my way! I’m never coming back!” she yelled, pushing between the two. And while trying to navigate steps she tripped in front of George. Or had she set a trap for him, as George supposed? But it didn’t matter because George, the poor fool, fell for her right then

Later that evening Mr. O’Toole said nothing when he handed Anna an expensive set of ruby earrings.

I find it rather shocking,” said Charlie, when he heard about it, “and also that Mr. O’Toole would go to Maria before he went to Anna.”

And Anna didn’t like it … that Mr. O’Toole went to her mother. How old fashion! How disgusting! How disgustingly old fashion. And that her mother urged her to accept his proposal. “Mother! Mother! Nonsense! No!” yelled Anna.

When she opened the box and saw the earrings, Anna giggled. She had no idea what to say. Maybe Mr. O’Toole could buy women. Anna had never received such an expensive gift.

And as for George, he listened to Shelly’s assessment of it. To him Mrs. Martinez was an angel. To him Anna looked like an angel.

 

 

 

Chapter Nine
She did what? When was it? Who? What? “Miss M, that’s who,” said George. You all know Miss M? The Miss M? The Jamaican bombshell and movie queen! The Miss M! Unbelievable. Unbelievable Miss M. Where? Dallas. “My father was in the movies and knew Miss M. When she came to Dallas she stayed with us.” Keep going … go on. Was George truthful? Was he telling the truth, as farfetched as it seemed? Miss M?

It started one day when he stayed home from school. Sometimes his parents didn’t make him to go to school. They didn’t make him go to school sometimes when someone special was around. Miss M was considered special. Most of her fans would agree.

George was watching television when Miss M came into the room. He watched television waiting for her after his parents left, left him alone with Miss M. It didn’t seem that long ago. Perhaps it was how it happened. Perhaps it was when it happened. Perhaps it was the first time, perhaps not. Do you think she timed her entrance? She knew he was there. She knew George was there. She knew he was there, waiting, waiting and already powerless and under her spell? Under Miss M’s spell.

George grew up in a high-rise apartment building built on Turtle Creek Drive. There were several of them built along Turtle Creek Drive in Dallas. Their apartment was directly below Greer Garson’s penthouse … something that wasn’t lost on Miss M. This was funny, given Miss M’s status in Hollywood. It was funny that Miss M looked up to Greer Garson. Not that the two were rivals, nor were they pals. George often wondered what happened when the two stars met in an elevator. Probably nothing happened. Probably they didn’t acknowledge each other.

When he needed someone, George had no one to protect him. Call in the goddamn marines or something. Call in the National Guard or something. George needed protected. Or better yet, leave it to Mrs. Miniver. She lived in a penthouse above them. Mrs. Miniver lived in a penthouse above them. Please, please do something Mrs. Miniver. All his life George heard how great Miss Garson was as Mrs. Miniver, and she lived above them. She lived above them, but she didn’t hear anything. His parents should’ve protected him, but they weren’t home. So Miss M looked after him.

Only someone naive would’ve said that he didn’t ape movie stars, but because of his experience George could honestly say that he didn’t. His father was in the movies, worked at Old Tucson (inside Tucson) and had a small part in “Gone With The Wind.”

They lived in an apartment under a penthouse, in an apartment filled with marvelous treasures. Pictures of famous people. Paintings by famous people. And they had a giant painting of a Coca-Cola can. They had originals and a giant painting of a Coca-Cola can. George’s mother and friends collected such things. They collected many collectibles. George’s mother had to have an original Georgia O’Keeffe. His father objected. He didn’t think an O’Keefe orchid went with a Coca-Cola can. He was more practical. He didn’t have an artistic eye and was more practical than George’s mother. And he was more concerned about finding a bargain than whether they acquired this or that. Take their furniture. Most of it came second hand from a hotel, probably the Baltimore, the Baltimore in Phoenix. George’s father lived by a philosophy that said that if you make a bad choice it could always be cover over with a pillow. So they had pillows everywhere. The old man didn’t know the difference between a copy of a Georgia O’Keefe orchid and the real McCoy, nor did he did he give a damn.

George had a fine voice and knew he had his listeners hooked. He did really, even people that he didn’t yet know. He loved his voice. He really did. George used his voice to impress people. People told him he belonged on radio. George had them in the palm of his hand. George looked them in the eye, and he had them … had them in the palm of his hand. He had them hooked. Something about him drew them in, something. What? Then he’d look away.

Mrs. Martinez poured him a cup of hot Constant Comet and seemed satisfied … seemed satisfied with herself. Fred hadn’t yet appeared because he couldn’t sit still as long as the rest of them. As George proceeded everyone around the round oak table didn’t move. He had them. He had them with his voice. He had them with his story. He had them in the palm of his hand. Even Mrs. Martinez stopped staring out a window. From her window over the sink she could see power lines that stretched along the river from Tucson to Mexico, and this morning on the same windowsill stretched the family tabby.

So George … an elf-child … demon’s offspring … how much were you going to tell them? Everything? Or only bits and pieces? Would he lead them along? Even what he told was invalidated by nervous laughs. They didn’t know whether to believe him or not. Why should they believe George? They didn’t know George. Why would anyone broadcast what supposedly happened to him? Why would anyone broadcast what supposedly happened to him to strangers? It seemed farfetched, but most of it he didn’t make up. And if it were true there would be other victims. If it were true there would be scandal. There must’ve been other victims, other victims who hadn’t come forth. Otherwise it wasn’t believable. And with Miss M. Everyone knew who Miss M was … everyone . And often it sounded unbelievable, farfetched. He said before continuing that he never knew what elf-child meant and that he never looked it up, but the demon part he got. Because of his mother’s tone, which he never forgot, because of her criticizing and her correcting him, because of it he felt unloved and shitted upon … because of it he got the demon part. And that was when Miss M entered his life. He would never forget her scent, Miss M’s sent. And fresh from her shower too … never! He would never forget it.

Miss M was afraid of being alone. She was abandoned. Abandoned. Abandoned as a child and was afraid of being alone. And it was why she craved fame. Why she craved fame so much … why she needed fame and love, which needed to be analyzed. And if her secrets got out people would find it was because she was afraid of being alone. There were clues, clues like she rarely went anywhere without an entourage?

From a small town, Miss M only had one or two boyfriends. She had many admirers but only one or two boyfriends. She reportedly took lovers but didn’t have boyfriends. She seduced her bodyguards. To her there was a difference between boyfriends and lovers. She preferred lovers. Then George caught her eye. Even as a youngster, he caught her eye … as if she could overlooked it. George was only a boy when he caught her eye. And as merely a child, he shouldn’t been … well …

Well, where were his parents when he needed them? Why weren’t they suspicious? Why didn’t they protect him? Why didn’t they protect George? Why didn’t he say something to them? Why didn’t George say anything to them? Why didn’t they know? Why didn’t he? Why, why, why? What an idea! With Miss M! But then he knew and had no illusions that what she did to him was wrong. Wrong! He knew right from wrong. He was male; she was female. He had feelings. She was Miss M. It was best not to say anything. She was Miss M. It was best not to feel anything. But when feelings later popped up, for some reason or another, he couldn’t process them. He didn’t tell anyone then. He didn’t tell on Miss M then, so he couldn’t process it. Now he told everyone he met about Miss M. and what she did to him. His shrinks told him to talk about it, so he did. Take a big breath and let it out. He did. Tell everyone … tell everyone what she did. But did this mean that he had to admit that it felt good? Time hadn’t changed it. Time hadn’t changed a thing. It felt good. He didn’t know why he enjoyed it so much, but he did. And what did it matter what experts thought? He enjoyed being with Miss M. Who created rules? He enjoyed Miss M. She made him feel special. She made him feel good. She made him feel like a man. Who said how things were supposed to be? And why should he listen to them? She made him feel special. She made him feel good. All he knew was what Miss M meant to him.

Whenever he chose he could see her standing there framed in a doorway, in her velvet scarlet robe and her hair still wet from a shower. It would’ve been better if it hadn’t started. But it did. That was to say rules were broken. Perhaps in the end he would move on, grow up, out grow it, over come it, and forget a crush that he had on her. And after being with her no one could question his manhood. Alone, together alone, it never should have been. He should never have been left alone with her.

Every time Miss M came to Dallas she stayed with them because she hated staying in hotels. She lived in hotels, so she hated them. On George no trace of her remained except her scent. Oh, he knew that she was still seen on the big screen. Her scent never left him. No, never! He never saw her movies. He couldn’t get up courage to see her movies. And he never saw her movies on television. When he was young, he was too young. When he got older, he couldn’t stand to see her and not touch her. Even on the front row he couldn’t touch her. His parents wouldn’t take him. He was too young. But even then there wasn’t much about Miss M that he didn’t know. He thought his parents should’ve known. He thought his parents should’ve protected him. He thought he should’ve told them … thought he should’ve told someone.

It was while watching Miss M disrobe that he thought that she somehow forgot that he was there, as if she were on a screen and he had a private showing. He was sure she intended it that way. He thought she intended to give him a private show. Her robe falling to the floor seemed to prove it to him. The way she lounged around proved it to him. He’d been around sets and movie making. He’d been around it enough to know that movies just didn’t happen, knew movies were planned, movies scripts and directors … lights, camera, action … and her slowly untying her robe and allowing it to slip to the floor seemed scripted to him. Oh, boy! Impossible to forget: her slowly walking toward him without a stitch on. He was almost sure she didn’t say anything, but he couldn’t say for sure. He wanted to say something to her, such as “wait. Wait, wait, what are you doing. There was no time to think. There was no time to say anything. There was no time but he used time he had to fake a smile. He looked up and his eyes focused on her breast. Those big delicious melons. Good grief. She smothered him with those delicious melons. As far as he was concerned this was enough. She didn’t say nor do anything else. It was enough. It was too much.

Good grief!

Go down to the Tasty Freeze, in a big car; take George. Georgie-baby thought it was cool to go down to the Tasty Freeze with Miss M. So they went. They took her big dog, her big St. Bernard, or it might have been another time. First time to the Tasty Freeze with Miss M. It may seem an odd place to go with fame, but the Tasty Freeze was an excuse. Notorious! Mss M was notorious and suggesting the Tasty Freeze was a ruse. A ruse and an awful situation for a kid. There ought to have been something that they could’ve been done to her. Miss M. Maybe there was something they could’ve done to Miss M, if George spoke up. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe, maybe not because people thought boys like George begged for it when women such as Miss M were involved. George enjoyed it, so it was complicated. George enjoyed attention … enjoyed Miss M. So a part of George overlooked her touching him. And a part of George thought he was a healthy male, showing his manhood, and this proved he was a healthy male. She was a sexual bombshell, so why wouldn’t he be attracted to her? More males his age lost their virginity than was thought. Twelve? But twelve? Think of the experience. Say it again. He was twelve years old then. Twelve years old.

Something memorable and instructive, a notch on his pistol.

Again. A notch on his pistol.

It didn’t reflect well on Miss M but it may have been instructive. A wimpy wiener, what could she have gotten from it? They went for banana splits at the Tasty Freeze. What was she thinking? They were mobbed at the Tasty Freeze. Her fans gather around her convertible, autograph hounds, and envy. She would’ve known she would be mobbed. Everyone recognized her. A Godly dame. A saint on the screen. She once played Joan of Arc, naked Joan of Arc. Godly.

Sin.

If he recognized sinfulness, what would he have seen in you or me? At some point he retreated into a dark wood to secure himself. And Mrs. Martinez’s tabby ran across the oak table, as O’Toole excused himself. Where was Fred? Fred!

 

 

 

Chapter Ten
A tabby purred, as she rubbed her whiskers against George’s hairy arm. And outside, hell, there was enough electricity flowing up a dry riverbed to light all Phoenix. Yes, up hill. Santa Cruz, when it flowed, it flowed north. Santa Cruz wasn’t the Nile: most of the time it was just sand. But during monsoon, Santa Cruz sometimes flooded.

Well, one by one they excused themselves. O’Tooles, Mollys, and Angelas of the world didn’t fool George. They didn’t know George from Adam. They didn’t know him, the real George. And they weren’t sure they wanted to know George either. After his story about Miss M. they weren’t sure. They heard his story, saw his pain, but weren’t sure … weren’t sure what to think. They saw his pain but didn’t want to see it. They didn’t want to see George’s pain. They couldn’t relate to his pain because their pain was nothing like his. They didn’t know whether to believe him or not. They couldn’t see inside him. Yes, it was coming from inside him.

Most of them were turned off by George’s candor. They wouldn’t have revealed so much about themselves. They wouldn’t have been so candid, particularly with strangers. It was foreign to them. It was threatening. They thought it was wrong. It was wrong. And if what he said about Miss M were true, it was wrong too. They heard more they wanted to hear. They heard more than they wanted to know. And it hurt, hurt, and particularly hurt fans of Miss M. There! They all were fans of Miss M. They watched her movies on television. Then there was no one at the table but George. And the tabby arched her back, while Mrs. Martinez washed dishes.

The affair was thorny. The affair was sorted. The affair was shocking. What George said about Miss M shocked them. A twelve-year old. A twelve-year old couldn’t be held responsible. A child. Scandalous. It didn’t matter who the child was. It didn’t matter what the child did. It didn’t matter … it didn’t matter if the child were boy or a girl. A child was a child and shouldn’t have been touched. Children shouldn’t be abused. It was scandalous, but it never made tabloids. It was fodder for tabloids, but it never made it. Nothing … nothing came out. Not because there weren’t sources because there were. And it would’ve been a big story, worthy of a headline … headlines. There were sources, people who suspected. But it was also a secret. Their secret, their special secret that Miss M asked George to keep. Their little secret. Miss M’s and George’s secrete.

George didn’t stir, never spoke, and just sat there transfixed. They were never caught. Maybe people suspected, maybe not, and that was it. George was waiting to get caught. He wanted to get caught but wasn’t old enough to understand what it meant. And he didn’t know what would happen if they got caught. What would’ve happened, he wondered.

By then to him the Jamaican Queen was featureless, but still she was important to him. Alas, come see on the wide screen Hester Prynne, this Protestant and Puritan woman. Come see the Jamaican Queen as Hester Prynne. It was her greatest role. He hath done a wild thing ere now to her, this pious Master Dimmesdale because of condition of his heart. She was as guilty as he was. She was the embodiment of sin. Hester with her needle and thread; Hester could no longer look forward to a future. Hester, a child of honorable parents, turned into a heap of shame. Behold, Miss M playing Hester! A bad angel even to her fans. With faultless beauty coexisting with simplicity she always dominated the screen, as she dominate George. It still made him shudder. George never watched her movies; yet he could see her.

George was a big talker. He was always proud of his voice. He had always been a big talker, talking about things that may or may not be true, terrible things if they were true that most people wouldn’t confess to. Ah yes, things about Miss M. Ah yes, to strangers. And as a girl, herself Lolita. Lolita lying beside Humbert, Humbert resting his head on a pillow and burning with desire and dissatisfaction. And with Lolita on her pillow. No, no, it was nonsense. It wasn’t an excuse. There was no excuse.

Oh life, looking to live again.

Yes, George was a great storyteller. But the world that he described, when they thought about it, didn’t seem plausible … didn’t seem plausible for a transient. In any case it served a purpose. It threw them off guard.

Remembering that she kissed him the night before she received an Oscar … kissed him on the mouth … George described what Miss M was like in person. George could describe what Miss M was like as a person. He said she confided in him, when she didn’t trust anyone else. She didn’t trust people. It was sad that she didn’t trust people and that she of all people never believed that she was loveable. The more people adored her the less she trusted them. It got so that she trusted no one. George said she didn’t trust anyone except him. Miss M told him she didn’t trust anyone else.

Courage to speak truth. Courage. Encourage people to speak truth. Always truth.

Shelly laughed and said, “You have to admit that we see all kinds. And I have to say that he made me cry when I didn’t want to because he saw through my smiles, as we talked. That guy George, I can’t get over how … That guy George made me cry. Charlie, what did you think of him?”

For four years they lived within the constraints of an apartment connected to an office and a few feet away from the front desk. The office always seemed bigger to Shelly than their living space. But who cared besides her? Charlie never needed much space. He could make do when Shelly couldn’t. Who noticed when she ran out of room for old pictures and a collection of Teddy bears? Who cared? Who was willing to give her a little more space for special items that meant so much to her … special items that seemed to identify her … stuffed bunnies, butterflies, and birds? Shelley loved stuffed animals: bunnies, butterflied, and birds. And alarmed and angry over how their money was dwindling she gave up hope of Charlie ever properly providing for her. Charlie had to have his huge desk and easy chair, even though they didn’t fit in the Paradise office; yet he didn’t see what Shelly needed.

Through bars on the window she could see an alley, dumpsters, telephone poles, and often people …broken people … so many broken lives walking through there, walking through their alley, through broken glass, traffic you’d expect in an alley, drunks, druggies, and prostitutes, down and out, and an occasional squad car. Shelley kept windows locked and never opened them and grew to detest it.

Shelley never admitted that she detested it (except to George). “Kill them and shut up about it,” or something like that reflected her true sentiment, as she stood at her kitchen counter looking out bars.

Courage.

That fellow George kept bringing up stuff about himself that I didn’t ask him about. What do I mean? Personal stuff. Then he looked at me and said something and I knew he had me pegged. He had me pegged. What do I mean? I don’t know. Somehow I knew he knew me. Somehow I saw he felt my pain. I saw he felt my pain and my shame and I was ashamed, ashamed because I couldn’t feel it myself. He saw what I couldn’t feel. It hurt. It had to hurt because I cried. I cried.”

I didn’t cry. No, I didn’t cry. I don’t cry. I don’t.”

So Shelley haphazardly vacuumed the apartment connected to the office. She haphazardly did housework. She washed dishes, completed mindless tasks like washing dishes; without thinking about it, she washed dishes without breaking a dish. Given her state of mind she felt thankful for it … that she didn’t break a dish … that she didn’t throw dishes at Charlie. Given her state of mind she was thankful. Predicting which dish she would eventually break became a guessing game, which disturbed her when she broke one.

Courage. George stressed courage. George was right. Courage.

Charlie expected her to fix lunch for him. She looked at the fridge before opening it and thought, “I wish I had arsenic.”

She thought about slapping together ham sandwiches. She thought of putting arsenic in his ham sandwiches. Since there were only two of them she could serve him a ham sandwich and get away without cooking. She hated cooking, and when he insisted that she cook him something she made the same few dishes. She cooked out of a box or a can when she could get away with it. Charlie was easy, or he liked to think he was easy and rarely complained because he usually ate on the run. So she was disturbed to find that they were out of Miracle Whip. Shelly didn’t feel like running down to a Circle K for Miracle Whip, so she didn’t know what to do. There were certain things that Charlie could do without, but Miracle Whip wasn’t one of them. “Whatcha gonna do?” Shelly asked herself. “Make do. Yes, I’m okay. It’s okay.” Lately she ran out of things before she went shopping.

Sardines. No, sardines wouldn’t do it. Peanut butter. He got peanut butter. He luckily liked peanut butter … crunchy … it gave it more substance. He was a hardy man and needed substance. Of course it was awkward when she improvised.

Courage. They talked about courage. George and Shelly talked about the meaning of courage. Courage.

They sat down to eat at once. They never prayed before meals. They never blessed food. Food was food. It was strange that one of them brought up George, and it seemed like Charlie wanted to talk about George too. It was strange that Charlie was who brought up George. He said it seemed strange to him that a transient had enough money not to quibble over rent, and it threw him off. And Charlie thought George was hiding something. And it was very suspicious. “What did he tell you?” he asked Shelly. “Did he tell you that he came from Dallas? Damn these people Shelly who show up thinking that we’re a goddamn charity.” These people … the way he said these people he sounded serious enough, except he was chuckling. So he ate peanut butter, hunched over his sandwich. All these people, all these people they helped …. Those fine upstanding citizens, those victims …”

Bums! But George wasn’t one of them. Strange! George wasn’t a bum. Strange.

Charlie liked this woman; he loved this woman; he liked her before he married her, and he liked her afterward. He liked Tucson too. He liked Tucson better than any place he ever lived. He liked Tucson because it was another country. It was close to the border. It was close to the Mexican border and was another country, at least their neighborhood was, was another country with another language, Spanish, which they hadn’t learned. He listened to this woman and respected her, respected her for her common sense: “first off,” she said, “you can’t rescue everyone.” He listened to her. He resisted the idea that you can’t rescue everyone, had to resist this idea, and resisted it to keep Shelly at bay and in her place. Still he listened to her, and it made it easier for him to turn people away. It made sense that you couldn’t rescue everyone. Okay he listened, but he tried to help everyone who showed up at his door, but he couldn’t help everyone and had to turn some away. And he rarely gave credit where credit was due while he acted like he knew it all, as a professor treating Shelly like a stupid woman.

You love me? You do love me,” he kept asking her.

Yes. Yes, I love you.” And Charlie did love Shelley.

But how long could she keep it up? How long could she keep pretending? How did she keep it up all those years?

I hate him,” she thought. The truth was she hated him.

Courage. It didn’t take courage to stay in the marriage. It took courage to leave it.

Much of her insecurity was traced back to insecurity of her mother, who tried to keep in contact with her runaway daughter, when she took off with a guy in a Volkswagen bus. A guy Shelley hardly knew, someone she brought home and who upon entering the house her father warned and began screaming at … screaming about driving safely because, as he said, after investing so much in his daughter he didn’t want to end up with her dead. Later no one remembered what he screamed about, except for Shelly, who was embarrassed by it. The gal knew right away that she would marry the guy with long hair and a silver cross around his neck. A few years later Shelly’s father forgave Charlie, even offered him a job in Cleveland, only they lived far away. By then they lived in Tucson, another country. This made Shelly’s father sad; finally to be near their daughter Shelly’s parents started spending winters in Tucson. They were considered winter visitors.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven
Shelly’s mother was a small woman with plump lips. Shelly’s eyes drooped. Both women looked alike … daughter like mother. But because she lived in Arizona, Shelly’s skin had brown blotches on it. Because she didn’t protect herself from sun, Shelley had blotches on her skin. She had wrinkles her mother didn’t have. Shelley tried to avoid sun, but she wasn’t always diligent. She hated imperfection, hated blotches on her skin and tried to cover them up. She hated wrinkles. She hated how she looked. What was happening to her? She hated what was happening to her. She hated Arizona because of what it was doing to her. She saw that she was shriveling up. She compared herself to a prune. She had to get out of Arizona because she didn’t want to look like a prune. She had to get out of Arizona before she turned into a prune.

Do you have any idea why my mama never liked you?” Shelly asked, glaring at Charlie who sat opposite her. “Do you know what you’ve done to me?”

Why bring it up again?” Charlie asked.

Can’t we talk? Why won’t you listen? Why don’t you ever listen to me? Why can’t we have a decent conversation?”

Her mother rarely tolerated nonsense and considered her daughter’s infatuation with Charlie ridiculous. They belonged to a country club; yet Shelly’s mother hated golf, had no use for tennis, never played squash or swam. She rarely exercised and couldn’t keep weight off. Yet she wouldn’t talk to people who didn’t belong to their country club. “Never forget who you are. And hold onto it.” As a girl Shelly had this drummed into her head. And she hated it. But now … never forget who you are.”

Courage. George and Shelly had a decent conversation about courage and standing up for yourself.

Enough self pity,” Shelly said to herself. “Face Charlie and give him a chance. Let it out. Let go. Let it out. Let him have it, if need be. He prefers men, homeless men. He prefers homeless men to me. He prefers to bury his head in the sand. I pity a man who’s stakes his life on the draw of one hand. Not to mention that he’s throwing our money away. Maybe I should remind him that it’s our money and that we live in a community property state. I should have some say. It’s my money too. We should talk about it. But his heart’s in the right place, and he’s far from stupid. We’re not wealthy, and there’s always something. He’s willing to help anyone; as everyone knows he’s always doing something for someone. So I can’t despise him. It’s a crime to despise him. We can’t have children. Maybe having children would make a difference. It would make a different to me. Would it to him?”

Shelly, you’re always frowning,” Charlie said. “It causes wrinkles. I’m sorry. We agreed …”

We didn’t agree. We never agreed. We never agree. We never fight. We’ve never had a decent fight. To see us sit in silence is a pitiful sight. As if to complete a picture, whenever you can you flee leaving me sitting like a sphinx. We’ve never had a decent fight. We never fight.”

I find you sexy.”

Don’t change the subject. Sexy? Thanks. Sexy. God knows I want to be sexy. Alluring. Sexy. You find me sexy. He finds me sexy. Sexy. To say I’m sexy is a compliment. You can’t mean it. Look at me. Look what’s happening to me. Look at these wrinkles, these blotches. I hate them. But I’m glad I haven’t frightened you off. I like to wear neat cotton dresses. In summertime I like to stay cool in neat cotton dresses. Do you find them sexy? So you look at me and find me sexy. And when I’m overwhelmed, am I sexy? When I’m confused and overwhelmed, am I sexy? Or when I’m pouting? When I’m scared? Ashamed? I’m glad you find me sexy.”

I like the way you walk.”

“Way I wiggle? I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

My feelings? My feelings weren’t hurt. You didn’t hurt my feelings. ”

It seemed like she never loved him.

Courage.

On the day Charlie first came to her home Shelly and her mother had a big argument. Shelly couldn’t remember what this argument was about. A big argument. She remembered that they argued. And it seemed like their argument influenced Shelly. Well, perhaps. Precisely….

I was trying to prevent more friction. I had a headache and wanted to get out of there.” She laughed and continued talking. “You know mama has forgiven you by degrees. ‘He isn’t all bad,’ she said. ‘But if he’d only get a haircut.’ ‘Mama!’” Laughing, Shelly continued, “Do you remember coming to dinner and how nervous you were about meeting my parents?”

I vaguely remember. You were in pigtails, remember?”

“No you wore a pigtail … a neat pigtail. You were polite. I wasn’t in pigtails! As polite as you could be.”

Rudeness fit me better.”

Why you were a gentleman. They didn’t expect it.”

You’re kidding.”

Yes, I’m kidding. See we can kid.”

You bring this up all the time, as if you wanted something different.”

I hate you,” observed Shelly, as she placed a jar of peanut butter back in the fridge. “Are we missing something?”

No, not that I know of. You just said you hate me.”

I was kidding.”

Courage. Say what you mean.

Our genes are good. Of course they are.”

That’s nonsense, mama.”

Yes, and without saying anything Shelly’s mother acted superior. She always acted superior.

Courage.

Whole family received Charlie in a brightly lit dinning room, but Shelly’s mother found no confront in what she saw (seeing her daughter hold hands with a long-haired hippie disturbed her), and she smiled until it drove her husband batty. What was hidden in that tortured soul? God only knew because she always smiled around Charlie. She appeared happy.

Their house offered a perfect view of Lake Erie, and trees offered privacy. Their magnificent house couldn’t be seen from a boulevard. Over the years their house didn’t changed, only foliage around it grew thicker. Her father’s business kept them supplied with new cars.

Was Shelly desperate?

Do you think she was?” her mother asked.

Courage. Tell the truth.

Honey, tell me again where you were born and where you grew up.” Shelly’s demand startled Charlie. Tell the truth. Then to have her share her mother’s feelings about him startled him. “There has to be something about you that I don’t know.” She was sure he kept secrets. She was suspicious, didn’t trust him, and was sure he kept secrets. She was suspicious of him.

While eating Charlie began telling her things about himself that she obviously knew. They compared facts about each other. Tell the truth. Truth was sometimes hard for them. It was sometimes hard for them to tell truth from fiction.

Remember our house?” she asked. A house with a curved drive.

No.”

You’re kidding. My mother’s hot chocolate? Remember she served hot chocolate? Mother’s sewing? Bridge night? Piano and songs? Twin painted pictures of ships … never finished any of them. A television-dominated every room. No conversation, only television. A large two-story lakefront home, in the wintertime, by a fire, watching television. Playing cards, or playing a piano, or singing. Couldn’t stand it. I had to get out of there. And then you came along.”

You know what impressed me? A crystal chandelier in dinning room.”

You didn’t talk much. You’ve never talked much.”

Anyhow I was impressed,” replied Charlie. “But it was a long time ago.”

And I’m Methuselah’s wife. Methusulah’s wife with wrinkles … blotches and wrinkles”

Traveling across the country, passing through Cleveland, dirty and hungry, almost anything would’ve looked good. A series of breakdowns … painful separations … itchy feet … jumped in my Volkswagen bus and lost myself driving … you know my story.”

Tell me again where you came from.”

Three or four nights in a row spent trying to stay warm in a goose down sleeping bag that lost its loft. Needed a warm body. Looking for warmth and went into Laundromats to find it. Unbearable loneliness, bewilderment and uncomfortable. I would’ve talked to anyone. Cleveland seemed like a foreign country to me. Then I saw you. I mean I didn’t really see you.”

We didn’t meet in a Laundromat.”

I’ve a fondness for Laundromats. People talk more freely in Laundromats. People talk more freely with strangers.”

And I smelled you coming,” declared Shelly. “Kidding. Just kidding.” They began to laugh. Charlie laughed loudest. My folks and I always fought. They were stupid, stingy, and miserable.”

Why o’ why have I always believed that crap?” laughed Charlie. “Still I prefer Laundromats, smell of Cheer. Cheer! Cheer!”

Cheer. And are you useful, Charlie? Are you worth the trouble?” quizzed Shelly. They both laughed again. “See! See what?”

Loneliness revisited,” he exclaimed.And he went on laughing.

But I seized a good thing,” said Shelly with renewed vigor. “I seized it and squeezed it. And squeezed it. And it squeezed me. That’s how I’ve survived. But it almost squeezed me to death though. Sometimes, Charlie, you frighten me. Thank you, Charlie. Thank you for everything. Laundromats, that’s where your heart was.”

It was a passion … a passion of mine. A place to meet people. ”

Shelley then said, “George saw my sadness.”

Courage. Tell him.

Travel always depressed me.” Tell him why. I haven’t lost anything in Tucson. You didn’t know how to hold a conversation,” said Shelly. “Why don’t we travel anymore?”

You know why.”

I thought I knew how to stay true to you. I thought I knew how to stay true to myself. Live in a special place with a special man. Opportunity! Now I don’t know how to stay true to you and stay true to myself. I don’t know. A long, long ways out there, barely visible, there was a buoy to hang onto. And all around me a sense of nothing, a void, emptiness, stillness. You were my lifeboat. I was sinking, and you were my lifeboat. But I couldn’t imagine living in a land without grass. Green grass.”

I couldn’t either,” said Charlie.

Then why are we here?”

He didn’t answer her. Maybe he couldn’t answer her.

Nothing’s worse than boredom,” said Shelly.

Nothing?” asked Charlie with a smile. “Then I suspect life’s too exciting for you here.”

There’s more than one way to look at it,” said Shelly. “‘There was an old woman who ran out of steam, and she didn’t know what to do. Then one day she heard a train and its diesel was idling and ready to go and she knew she had to get on it … on a train. She knew she had to get on this train and out of town before she shriveled up … shriveled like a prune. She remembered hearing a whistle and knew what a train could do for her. But something stopped her. She made many excuses such as what if she got stranded and couldn’t find a place to stay? What if she ran out of money? What would she do for money? What about food? What would she do for food? Where would she stay? Would she become homeless? Charlie, what if I’ve heard that train?”

Are you finished?” he finally asked.

You won’t answer me? You won’t answer me. There once was an old woman who ran out of steam.”

And that’s not you.”

Shouldn’t she take care of herself? Shouldn’t she?”

Courage.

So you think you know what you want,” said Charlie. “Well you don’t!”

Easy now … slowly tell him. And tell he again if you have to. Courage. Shake him. Shake him up.

People love you, so you’re not without love. So you think since you’ve helped a few people that you’ve done your bit.”

What are you talking about?”

No longer able to sit in a chair Sally tried to explain how she felt. She felt sorry for her husband. He wasn’t listening, and she felt sorry for him. Then one morning she woke up and looked at herself in a mirror. And what she saw she didn’t like. This was even before Charlie rolled over and when she could still hear him snoring. Then she stopped herself. “That’s close enough. Too close.” She pushed him away.

She ran to a window. She looked through bars. The alley was dark, and two dark figures were walking through glass. Scream for help! But she couldn’t scream. Then clutching a mirror she tried to unlock the window and gave up after discovering it was stuck. She couldn’t get to the bars because the window was stuck. Stuck. Running into a table. Way too much noise.

Courage. What if there was a fire? She couldn’t get to the bars.

She lay back down in the dark. Awake lying in a room and listening to her husband she decided that she could no longer live a lie, and finally a day came that she most dreaded. It would be another sixty or seventy minutes before an alarm went off. An alarm had already gone off in her head. All of a sudden Shelley felt old, perhaps too old to adapt to change. Wrinkled, blotched, she felt old. She had to get out of Arizona. Packing would be hard for her. Saying goodbye harder. Confronting Charlie even harder, so why wouldn’t Shelley skip out while he slept? Don’t be silly. She couldn’t do it. No matter how much she dreaded it she confronted him. She wouldn’t forgive herself if she hadn’t. She had to talk to George. She heard a train. It was waiting … waiting for her.

I suppose more tears will be unavoidable,” she told George. “All tears I’ve already shed won’t be enough.”

That last hour was worse. She had to get out of there because four walls were converging causing her to panic. Onerous bed and sheets … onerous bed and sheets saturated with sweat. She had to get out of there before she screamed. She had to get out of there and talk to George and get out of Tucson. She had to get out of Arizona. Onerous bed and sheets saturated with sweat. No, considering and compared with other rooms in Paradise their sheets were fresh and clean. Comparably clean,

Why? Why? And why? This Charlie asked over and over again. But she wouldn’t explain. She couldn’t explain. Shelley couldn’t explain to Charlie’s satisfaction. Why? Why? And why? She couldn’t explain and later she wasn’t around, so what was the point?

Yet she was still that girl, or thought she was … that girl … the same girl who believed that she had to have a man; to her marriage to the right man was divine and sacred, though she knew a piece of paper didn’t make it right. A piece of paper didn’t make it sacred. There was a rule from her childhood, which before she married Charlie she broke, but if she had been more mature it wouldn’t have led to a wedding. And did not lust play a part? To substitute lust for love, and let lust decide … and she did more than marry her man, there was a promise she made and (promises or not) had suffered because of it. And she did more than be Charlie’s wife: she gave all of herself, but it was never enough. When he said come on she went, and when he mistreated her she accepted it. She accepted it and hated herself for it. Yes, her body, her mind, and her soul were entirely his, even what should be hers was his and was distorted by how it should be. Should be, should be, should be! Proof of true love shouldn’t come from should be but no more should be; as hard as it was, as she asked herself, why shouldn’t her happiness be important? She had to ask George. Or why happiness wasn’t as important as freedom? Another should? But no more should because she wanted to live. Perhaps then back in Cleveland she would find some answers.

O furious old man, I refuse to take responsibility for your unhappiness. Set me free. Name your terms. I don’t care. I’m going.”

Worm. Worm!

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve
As he sat on his bed in his room tacked onto the back of the house, George felt shaky. He felt shaky and recognized pressure people placed on him. People always wanted something from him. People always wanted something. People were always taking things from him.

George hadn’t unpacked yet and already knew more about other residents than he wanted to know. He knew something about each of them. He hadn’t unpacked yet and knew something about each of them. He knew that he had other options, but on the other hand he received a warm reception. Well, not quite a warm reception from everyone. And he wasn’t sure he met everyone. He didn’t always receive a warm reception.

Mrs. Martinez went out of her way to make sure that he had clean sheets and a towel. He hadn’t paid her yet … he couldn’t pay her yet; still she made sure he had clean sheets and a towel. It was a wonder that she believed him … believed him when he told her he had money in Dallas and could afford to pay her. Mrs. Martinez went out of her way to make sure he felt comfortable, which made him suspicious. George was always suspicious. By nature he was always suspicious. There was no question about it; she received him with open arms and wasn’t turned off by his candor. She could’ve been put off by details about Miss M, but she wasn’t. (She was a fan of Miss M.) She could’ve been put off, and since he was out of cash, could’ve said adios. She needed money. She could’ve been put off, but quite the opposite, it was details about Miss M that hooked her.

He sat there, shaking and thinking, “This isn’t much but it’ll do.” At least he had clean sheets and a towel “Besides what do I have to lose? (Nothing.) With people around, it beats living by myself. And if I want to get away, I have a room and direct access to a back door.”

Escape. On the run, so he had nothing to lose. No, too much had happened to him for there to have been an end to madness, madness of having to pretend that he was sane and not being able to pretend all the time. Mad, he pretended he was sane, and he pretended he was sane for so long that he was good at it. He was good at pretending. Using all his skills he did what he had to … to survive. He pretended he was sane to survive. And predicaments he found himself in. He had been a guinea pig. No, not quite a guinea pig. Tricked. An experiment gone awry. Hot-wired his brain. There was nothing worse than static in his brain. Nothing worse. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with his brain. Now people relied on him and were always taking something from him. It was a wonder he had anything left. It was a wonder.

With a tiny closet and a large bed George’s room seemed smaller than it was and to him, bare and lonely. But it had a window; no, no, not a window as such! He had to do something about that window. He had means to do something. He had to do something about his room. He had means to do something about his room. He would do something but didn’t know what. He liked to talk, so when he was alone in his room, he talked to himself.

Was his window worth worrying about? Was his room worth worrying about? He couldn’t open his window because of outside heat. It had a shade. If he kept the shade down, people couldn’t see in. If he kept his shade down, he could keep some heat out. It was important to him that people couldn’t see in. Sometimes he liked to disappear. So his window wasn’t really worth worrying about. On his turf, in Dallas, he would’ve been more worried about a window in his room. In Dallas, he would’ve been more worried period. In Tucson? He hadn’t been there long enough to know. He hadn’t been in Tucson long enough to be worried. Why in Tucson he was already a celebrity. And wouldn’t Mrs. Miniver be proud of him? He had already become a celebrity, and he didn’t have a publicist.

George and Mrs. Martinez argued about how much he could afford to pay for room and board. How could she know how much he could afford? How could she know how much money he had? How could she know how much money he had in Dallas? How could she know he was telling the truth about how much he could afford? She knew nothing about his finances, and yet when he insisted that he could afford what others paid, she shook her head and refused to believe him. She didn’t believe him. She didn’t believe he had money. From that he surmised that she was crazy too. Crazy as the Mad Hatter … and rightfully so. Crazy as the Mad Hatter. It wasn’t his excuse. He was simply crazy. Crazy? He couldn’t be too crazy. He made it to Tucson and found Mrs. Martinez’s boarding house.

The strange thing to him was that he made it to Tucson alive; as if he couldn’t have held demons at bay long enough to make a bus trip from Dallas to Tucson. It always amazed him that he never successfully took his life, when so many of his friends had, such as Murphy and Watt and Mercier, and many others he forgot about. He never wanted to forget Murphy, or Watt, or Mercier. No, no never! Murphy, Watt, and Mercier were friends. And they were successful, when he was not. Murphy slit his wrist. Watt took too many pills, and Mercier stepped in front of a car. Now George slit his wrist once, overdosed twice, and thought about stepping in front of a car. But he was a failure. Each time he tried to kill himself and failed, they said he was asking for help. Asking for help? Now come on, if he wanted help wouldn’t he simply ask for it? And if he wanted help, he wouldn’t have ended up in Terrell or Oak Lawn. If he wanted help, wouldn’t he have simply asked for it? While each time he attempted suicide, he ended up in either Terrell or Oak Lawn. Asking for help? Hell!

He forgot how many times he tried and failed … how many times he tried and failed to kill himself … how many times he felt like a failure. And he and Faust had long conversations about it, and how they tried again and again until under duress or because of fear … fear that they finally might succeed that they finally stopped. Why had Faust encouraged him to continue? So let’s make it clear that he wasn’t asking for help. And it was also clear that hospitals made people sicker. Hospitals made people sicker because they brought out worst in people. Hospitals always brought out worst in George, but now that George was out, weren’t people fooled? But wasn’t he tired of pretending he was sane?

Quite an ordinary room but adequate for a single person. Perhaps he shouldn’t complain about what Mrs. Martinez charged for room and board. Maybe he should simply accept Mrs. Martinez’s hospitality.

Crazy. Crazy as the Mad Hatter.

George wondered how Mrs. Martinez felt about taking in boarders. He couldn’t see how she could be happy about it. It meant a lot of work. It meant extra work. It meant constant work. It meant picking up after people. It meant extra cooking and cleaning. She couldn’t be happy about having so much work. She couldn’t be happy about the situation.

Reality: for the first time now he faced reality of sharing a bathroom. George wasn’t happy about having to share a bathroom. At Oak Lawn and Terrell they had bathrooms attached to each room, so he didn’t have to share one. At home he had his own bathroom. He always had his own bathroom, but at Mrs. Martinez’s boarding home he faced reality of sharing a bathroom with other people. He didn’t like it. He didn’t know how it would be. He didn’t look forward to it. He valued privacy and didn’t look forward to it. He didn’t know what it would be like, and he had no interest in putting up with someone pee on floor. Or hair in drains. Or whiskers in sinks. Or someone forgetting to flush a toilet. Height of disgust would be to see turds that someone left for him. Some gift! Some gift! Turds! Some gift. Thanks, but no thanks! And the first thing that he noticed in there was a smell of stale beer … secondhand beer. And cigarette smoke. He hated cigarette smoke. It would take some getting use to. He would never get use to turds left in a toilet. He would have to get used to lack of privacy. Living in a boarding house meant he would have to get use to it, but he wasn’t sure he could.

This living arrangement unfortunately and distastefully reminded him of Oak Lawn, a place he threatened to blow up. He threatened to blow up this hospital after they placed him in shackles. He hated shackles, but there wasn’t much he could do about it after he threatened to blow up the place. The very idea of going back to Oak Lawn posed a considerable threat, such a threat that the thought of it agitated him.

Save him … save him, if you can!” George’s mother passionately pleaded. “Save him … save him. “ How could you not like him? How could you not like him, when he was such a dear? Take my word for it: he was a dear. George was a good boy. “Save him … save him. Please help him! Do the best you can for him!”

George was just confronted with what he did. Yes and his mother had a difficult time accepting what he did and that he showed no remorse. It was hard for her. It was hard to think that he didn’t show any remorse. It was hard for her to think that of her son. So she began acting like George didn’t belong to her. She in a sense disowned George … in a sense she emotionally disowned him, disowned him for survival.

And George’s enemies. What proof did they have? George had more enemies than friends. What proof did his enemies have …except he got caught red-handed, and …. At least when he was in the hospital people were safe from him, and he meant no more to them than a name. “Stay out of my way,” he yelled. At least in Oak Lawn George was safe and people were safe from him.

Then he was free. They hadn’t caught him yet. Catch him! Catch him if you can! Don’t! Let him go. Forget about him. Forget him. Let him go.

After midnight George was in an elevator heading down to the parking garage. He didn’t know it was after midnight, and he didn’t know when his parents would come home. He didn’t know where he was going. George didn’t know where he was going, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care if his parents drove up then, as he stood there turning a parking garage key. And with his other arm shaking from the weight of a full paint thinner can he trembled with anticipation. George knew what he was doing? He did. Or did he? Jury was still out. Ding. Ding! Running again before he knew he was running, stumbling, tripping over his own feet, oops! George hadn’t meant to spill paint thinner there. “Oh, well, what the hell! Hell!” He was, he was at war. George’s own private war. George was at war with himself. “Matches?” Where were the goddamn matches and evidence? In his pocket. An empty paint thinner can was evidence too and …

Behind him someone shouted, “Hey boy, whata ya doin’?”

Doin’? Him? What? Mama’s dear boy, good boy, just tried to burn fucking building down, that’s all. Doing? Just trying to burn fucking building down.

On Thursday morning, July 17 George was admitted to Oak Lawn for the first time. He was transferred from Terrell to Oak Lawn because his parents could afford a private institution. “Empty your pockets, please.” And butter your toast on the right side.

Oak Lawn Hospital felt more like a country club to George than a psychiatric institution. And presumably they never used EST and isolation unless it was absolutely necessary.

Oak Lawn served better food than the State Hospital at Terrell. With prints of lupine and sunflowers, bursts of light and color hanging in corridors, van Gogh seemed an appropriate choice for an insane asylum. This corridor led to double doors and locked Ward B. A signed warned “Beware: Flight Risk.”

Oak Lawn, Oak Lawn, this is Houston. Over.”

Good morning, Houston, Oak Lawn here.”

Roger, Oak Lawn. Good morning. When ready, you can brush your teeth.”

Inside and on one side of a day room and down another corridor were individual rooms. On other side of a day room, at the farthest end, near a small kitchen, was a glassed observation room where staff conferred and worked while keeping track of everyone.

How’s George this morning?”

George is fine … just fine.”

At any given time fifteen to twenty patients of both sexes shared a ward. All were rich and locked up. All had families who could afford hefty fees.

Good news, George won’t be here long. His mother says he’s a good boy.”

They first took George over to Parkland’s Emergency Room, then Terrell, and when they found out his parents could afford hefty fees, over to Oak Lawn. The next group takes place at 0900. They have 20 percent left in Alpha Quad, 15 in Bravo, 8 in Charlie and 9 in Delta. Sick. Just don’t understand it. Just don’t. Think he’ll make it? Hope so. Whata ya think? Ain’t thinkin’.

Status report: “CDR 2, CMP 8, LMP 2.2. The LMP is really off. That means George hardly slept.”

Oak Lawn then was relatively new. More correctly it refashioned itself a number of times. When a ward was overcrowded some people slept on sofas, but most of the time hospital census was kept well below its capacity. Most of the time all patients had private rooms. Without a thirteen George had room fourteen. In fifteen, on the left, Faust was institutionalized. George remembered that room on right was always vacant.

A Ping-Pong table acted as a catalyst. Ping-Pong was more direct than spying on each other from behind magazines. Smoking took up most of the time. George hated cigarette smoke.

Six to four! You’re serve! That’s the point that we mustn’t lose sight of. Six to four! You’re serve! Jesus! Serve! Do you want me to reach across the table and knock your goddamn fucking head off?”

It’s four to six, not six to four! You get it right or I quit.”

My concern with the moon is that they won’t git those goddamn astronauts off it. I’m afraid for them. They have families. They have children. They have wives. We all know they have families! Oh, I’m so afraid.”

Faust! You goddamn mother fucker you better stop messing with me.”

Jesus Christ! Serve! Goddamn it! Serve!”

Now there’s no mystery here. Take hydrogen and oxygen atoms and melt in potassium hydroxide at close to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and what da ya git?”

Git? Without potassium you git bad cramps.”

Goddamn it! Serve!”

“Bad cramps. Cramps. Cramps in the head. Bad cramps in the head.”

Yes, we’ve all got it. Cramps in the head. We were actually pretty interested’ in seein’ what you git when you mix piss with water … pretty water. Nurse, my piss is yellow, and it’s been like that forever.” And on and on like that all daylong. Just scream. Jesus! “And all the taking of the Lord’s name in vain don’t git noboby nowhere.”

Roger. Dodger. Roger. Dodger.”

Some of them talked to devils and others screamed. But of course there always were those who preferred to be left alone.

My concern is with potassium, which I think I can safely take, and if I can trust water, which in some way is related to cramps, but I’m not a doctor. That is if I have my potassium every morning, which means there’s a good chance that I won’t have head cramps and that when I’ve finished it I’m half way home. Hurrah for potassium! A big harrah!”

Worm!

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen
Early in the evening Maria came out on the front porch. Mr. O’Toole sat with her and held her hand. Maria thought what was required from a man was really simple. She had never asked much of a man. To her, it was simple. When she was married, she didn’t ask much of her husband. Now she sat next to Mr. O’Toole on the front porch and didn’t expect anything from him. She was surprised when he sat next to her and held her hand … surprised and delighted.

Poor woman communicated by caressing her companion’s hand and realized that her gentleness was reciprocated. She hadn’t expected him to hold her hand but was thankful. She hadn’t thought her gentleness would be reciprocated. Once again she overlooked what Mr. O’Toole did to Anna. She forgave him. She forgave him instantly. She forgave him when he reciprocated her gentleness. She melted. She forgave him for what he did to Anna and rejected any idea of scandal. Now that he turned his attentions to her, it was easy for Maria to forgive him. And if Mr. O’Toole could expose himself, then Mr. O’Toole deserved a second chance. To Maria nothing anymore seemed cruel or vulgar about him. Maria forgave him. Her neediness prevailed. But there was something she didn’t know. While he made a play for her, Mr. O’Toole found it hard to overlook his attraction to Anna.

Pale but radiant, with her back against the wall, Anna had become a goddess to Mr. O’Toole, except she went and got herself pregnant. She went and got herself pregnant and said she didn’t know who the father was. What did she mean she didn’t know who the father was? Or she didn’t know his name or where he was. To give up his quest after he found out may seem awful, but there was something inside Mr. O’Toole that told him that Anna would reject him anyway. Now he set his sights on her mother.

All day long …”

All day long?

All day long,” Maria continued, smiling. “I’ve been thinking of you.”

A great deal of you, and a little of me, today, is a formula for happiness.”

Mr. O’Toole you’re full of bull.”

But hopefully socially acceptable. Socially, acceptable bull.”

Yes indeed, very acceptable.” And as they talked Mr. O’Toole thoughts strayed toward Maria’s beautiful daughters. “And thoughts that I’ve had today have been beautiful.” This was one of those times when Maria’s dark brown eyes came alive. And would he say he loved her? Yes, he talked of nothing else.

And as I saw you more and noticed you more often, as I got to know you better, I became less and less intimidated.”

Bullshit!” shouted Kitty. Just at that moment Kitty came out on the porch and in time to hear Mr. O’Toole carry on about love. “I say Mr. O’Toole you’re full of shit. I know that you’d like us to believe that you’re not … not full of shit. But you can’t control what we think, anymore than you can control who you are, and I was awfully determined to keep my mouth shut until I heard you tell lies about love. Now I know it was you who made them up, and I can see Maria buying it. Now it’s my turn to let you have it.” Then changing the subject, Kitty asked, “Maria, have you seen my father?”

No,” said Mrs. Martinez. “Come to think of it, I haven’t. Do you suppose he’s gone to church?”

And repent, yeah! Let’s hope.” She caught sound of her words with surprise and uneasiness. No one could’ be more out of the ordinary than Kitty. Kitty was a rebel. She was a poet and rebel who didn’t follow anyone’s lead. She didn’t need to follow anyone’s lead because she let her emotions guide her. She never held back. She always said what she meant. Even as a little girl Kitty was brutally honest. Her father brought her up. He brought her up to be that way. And her father was proud of her, how he brought her up, and appreciated her honesty. And she always thought that as a single parent he raised her as best he could and, when he got into trouble, he called on Mrs. Martinez for help.

Unaware that she might be intruding, Kitty sat on a swing and swung back and forth. Before she came out on the porch she made up her mind to chew Maria out, and as for Mr. O’Toole, she saw that he thought he was something else. Nerve of the guy! What a slime ball! Nerve! But what was this? Holding hands. Holding hands after what he did to Anna. She couldn’t believe her eyes. But she never saw Maria Martinez look so alive and happy. It threw her for a moment.

When she showed Kitty a diamond engagement ring Mr. O’Toole gave her, Maria said that she never dreamed such a thing could happen to her. Here was someone who was beginning to look worn out, who never expected to get married again and then suddenly it all changed. Kitty had never seen Maria Martinez look so alive and happy. “Until then,” Maria said, “I didn’t know what it meant to be alive.” This threw Kitty for a moment.

Kitty looked how she wanted to. She could change her appearance without much effort. She squinted sometimes to fool people into thinking that she had superior concentration and this often unnerved them. Kitty enjoyed it. Kitty enjoyed unnerving people and felt afraid when people ignored her. She was hard to ignore but was sometimes ignored. Ignoring Kitty was the best way to get her attention. All of twenty-five, she looked to be twice her age. This day Kitty wore men’s clothing. Men said they didn’t notice clothes, but they noticed Kitty’s when she dressed in men’s clothing. Not many women in those days dressed in men’s clothing. In a black vest, a white shirt, and trousers that matched, she knew how her clothes fit and enjoyed being stared at. She enjoyed how her clothing affected people. For an affect, Kitty allowed her long straight hair to come down over her shoulders.

Kitty Higgs wrote her first poem when she was sixteen. She didn’t know that she could write and didn’t know what to write when she wrote her first poem. Kitty had no idea what to write about except that she wanted to be a writer and was hopeless at softball and wanted to be a writer, and in the mirror she looked like a boy. Since she looked like a boy, she should’ve been good at softball, but she was hopeless. Kitty was hopeless at baseball. Kitty was hopeless at sports. Kitty couldn’t catch a ball, so she wanted to become a writer. Kitty never liked wearing dresses or blouses or skirts. She always wore pants and people kidded her for it. They kidded her and said she wore the pants in her family. Kitty remembered that her mother once made her a sailor’s suit, which she liked. And she spent her teenage years faced with a dilemma over what to wear. Remember Kitty didn’t wear dresses and because of it was called Butch. She was called Butch at school. Girls kidded her and called her Butch. So Kitty didn’t want to go to school, but her mother slapped her and made her go. She endured college until she dropped out, surviving like she did in high school. Then she discovered Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Plath poet, and suddenly Kitty wanted to write. She didn’t know she could write until she wrote a poem. And wrote she did, wrote about her braids, her report cards, and a big trip to the Grand Canyon. Ghastly stuff. But she wrote. Lately Kitty started sharing some of her stuff with Maria.

George bathed and made himself more presentable before unpleasant memories drove him from his room.

Every time George ended up in an emergency room he gave himself a different name. Hello, Pete. Count your blessings kid. Things could be worse.

Mrs. Martinez and Mr.O’Toole stood when George joined them. He was walking in a dream and seemed surprised to find people on the porch. He seemed surprised when he saw people stand up. It was cool this evening because of a storm, and people were sitting on the porch. George’s own illness didn’t surprise him but seeing Kitty dressed like a man did.

I’m from Dallas,” said George, introducing himself to Kitty.

So you are a Texan! I never met a Texan I didn’t like.” Kitty then looked around hoping to be rescued and laughed. “What are you doing here?”

I’ve lost my way” was the answer George gave.

That’s easy to do.” Kitty found herself sympathizing with this stranger. Something about him fascinated her. Thinking about his predicament brought a smile to her face.

Mrs. Martinez also wanted his attention. Like Kitty she was fascinated, fascinated by George but she was motivated by a desire to have him to herself. “Why don’t we all sit down? Why don’t you sit down George? George is it? Yes, George. Over there,” she said, as she pointed at lawn chairs around a glass table. “The evening is perfect. Monsoon clean the air.”

I’ve been to Dallas,” declared Mr. O’Toole. “I’m from Houston. It was when I felt most free. I was born a Texan too. Once a Texan always a Texan. George knows what I mean, I’m sure. But you know what they say, ‘You can’t go home again.’ Thomas Wolfe had it right.”

Alarmed George repeated Mr. O’Toole. “You can’t go home again.”

Thomas Wolfe? I knew him. He’s dead, isn’t he,” asked Kitty. “Yep, I read him in college. ‘Poor child! Gosh! Poor child!’”

What are you talking about? Poor child?” asked Maria Martinez.

You mean, ‘Whatta ya talkin’ about?’ Iddn dat how ya say it? And at the moment of decision you still can’t go home. I said ‘poor child’ because you can’t go home again. Whether there’s a connection between what’s happening to you or not, you can’t go … you can’t go home again. That young man had his feet on the ground, but things kept building up. Building up? Inside, that’s where. Good morning, Mr. Joyner! Good morning, Mr. Shapperton! Goin’ somewhere? Nope! I like it here just fine. Kept building up until it killed him.”

Maria then turned to Kitty and said, “George arrived yesterday from Dallas. He’s our newest …”

That I did. I arrived yesterday from Dallas.”

What’s Dallas like?” asked Kitty with genuine interest.

Bigger than Tucson.”

Oil?”

Oil and fashion. Fort Worth is a cow town.”

Is Dallas as big as Phoenix? I’ve been to Phoenix.”

With Fort Worth, bigger.”

Fashion? Tell me about it,” Kitty demanded.

In terms of what?” questioned George.

You mentioned it.”

If you have money there’s always Neiman Marcus. I’ve met Stanley. Anything your heart desires, ask Stanley for it. A diamond studded ballpoint, it’s yours. Ask Stanley… Stanley Marcus. Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus.”

Dallas has always been a medieval town, totally owned by a few banks,” added Mr. O’Toole.

Ask Mr. O’Toole. He knows everything,” said Kitty.

Here’s my theory about Dallas,” Mr. O’Toole declared. Instead of waiting for him to finish Maria whispered something in his ear. Mr. O’Toole nodded and started to apologize. Maria sensed George’s agitation. She saw George’s agitation. Maria saw George’s agitation and she sensed it.

Careful George,” cautioned Kitty. “Most people here hate Texans.”

Mr. O’Toole looked with defiance at Kitty, who then excused herself. No sooner had she disappeared than Fred came out on the porch. Every week Fred found time to clean his American Eagle Luger. He didn’t need an excuse to clean his American Eagle Luger. This pistol had been his companion for many years. His American Eagle Luger had been his companion for many years. For many years he didn’t go anywhere without it. Sometimes he held it just because of how holding it made him feel, and sometimes he used it. Sometimes he used it for target practice. Sometimes he went into the desert and shot cans. No one knew what else he shot. Mostly since he came to Tucson the Luger hung in a holster on a hook in his closet. But this day he didn’t know for sure, but it felt like he might need it. He didn’t go anywhere without his Luger.

Fred hesitated, uncertain whether he wanted to be sociable or not, and then went over to the group. Trained in a tough school, apparently authoritative and efficient, Fred liked to imagine himself in charge. The American Luger helped him feel in charge. He called it his heater. He respected his heater, and people respected him because of it. People respected Fred when he carried his American Eagle Luger. Fred was dressed in a white jumpsuit, which George noted at once, for with monsoon it was cool enough to wear one. Without a part his red hair was brushed straight back from his temples; and his eyes, which were focused on George, seldom betrayed his thoughts. When necessary he was cold and shrewd and expressed himself well with a sharp tongue. Most of the time he hid behind sunshades.

I’m Fred,” he declared.

Okay,” replied George, laughing.

Just a minute. Nobody laughs at me. Understand?”

George is our new lodger,” observed Mrs. Martinez. “He’s who we’ve all been talking about. “

George? George is it? There’s something about you I don’t like. There’s something else I’m sure,” said Fred. “There’s something I don’t like about him.”

Fred, he’s different,” responded Mrs. Martinez.

If you say so. Maria knows best. Listen to her, and she’ll tell you.”

It’s hardly your business,” Maria snapped.

Maria has a tendency to give the store away. She’d give it all away if you let her. So you’re George.” And so by degree, and growing more and more agitated, Fred continued to glare at George. George was also agitated. “But you know how it is sometimes, George. A man can make mistakes. He can get in a jam when he never intended to. Everyone makes mistakes. There are mistakes to be made.”

Who got to you?” George asked.

What do you mean?” Fred’s tone conveyed a message. “What do you mean who got to you? What do you mean?”

I’m serious. Who got to you? I know who got to me.”

Whoop-do-do.”

Fred leave him alone,” commanded Maria.

Easy Maria. I won’t hurt him.” Then to George. “I won’t let you get close to me, so don’t try. I’m warning you: mind your own business. George, George is it? Stay out of my hair. If you stay out of my hair, there won’t be problems. You understand? Understand me? Do we understand each other?”

Never mind Fred. He’s soft underneath. It takes a while for him to warm up to you.” Maria’s role as a peacekeeper became clear at that moment.

Don’t pay attention to me because I’m generally in a bad mood. I’ve seen too much, I guess. I’ve seen dark side of life, and it’s hard for me to see a bright side. Do you have friends George? People you trust. I suspect you do. Looking at you I suspect you do. Lots of friends, I bet. Well, I don’t. I walk alone, sleep alone. And I fart alone. Do you know what I mean? I think you do. I fart alone. There something about you that makes me think you do. Makes me think you understand.” Fred also brooded a great deal. His rejection by Anna only made it worse. Yes, he brooded a lot. Lucky for him he wasn’t able to think. He couldn’t think things through. Like he said he didn’t have friends, and he spent a great deal of time making enemies. He spent a great deal of time taking care of business.

And what about Fred’s business? He never talked about his business. No one knew for sure what he did. It was hush-hush. It was hush-hush and exciting and he enjoyed keeping it secret. He enjoyed suspense. No one knew if he was a detective or a gangster. They all knew gangsters. They all knew mobsters, or they knew people they suspected were gangsters or mobsters. They suspected he worked for Cesar, which would make him a gangster or a hit man. Being a hit man carried with it more respect than being a gangster. All this was exciting and secret, which he enjoyed very much. He would’ve liked to go home, only going home to Racine would’ve meant turning himself in. Of course, no one knew this.

You rent to a stranger who obviously has no money, but you hassle me over being a day late. It’s hardly fair.” Fred directed this comment at Maria.

Look who’s talking about fairness,” added Mr. O’Toole.

Ignore him, George,” lectured Maria. “You’re better off to pretend that he doesn’t exist. Stay clear of him, and he doesn’t exist.”

That’s right ignore me, ignore me and piss me off. My room is next to yours. I hate people. Have you seen Anna? George I don’t like you. Have you seen Anna?”

No.

So Fred was someone George would want to avoid and wouldn’t want to tick off. George could sense his anger. And Mrs. Martinez cautioned him to be careful around him. After that George avoided Fred as much as possible. They shared walls, even so George avoided Fred as much as possible.

Anna?” Mrs. Martinez continued. “No, I haven’t seen her. No.”

Okay.”

And with that, Fred excused himself.

 

 

Chapter Fourteen
Shortly thereafter someone new to George staggered up the sidewalk, and this stranger looked like Huey Long taking a stage. God almighty! Except the b-b-b-b-bas-tud was drunk. You could tell he was drunk by the way he walked. You could tell by the way he talked. You could tell he was drunk by the way he stumbled up the sidewalk and approached the front porch. And you could tell he was drunk and a politician, a drunk politician because he looked like Huey Long walking on stage. He also acted like a politician … not that he stumped anymore or gave speeches or did anything in particular but drink. And it was the way it was with him yesterday and the day before.

Still people took to Higgs like they did when he was elected mayor of Tucson, when he first threw his hat in the ring some twenty years before then; but now exuberance of those years was all but gone. Now with those years gone, he found himself imprisoned … not just imprisoned by booze but more significantly by demons within him. As for as his drinking was concerned, there was no reasoning with him. He couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop. He tried to stop. He tried to stop many times, but something always came up that set him back. To him there was no better pastime for a lonely man than drinking. Now he would’ve thanked anyone who could give him a key to his cell. There was no better pastime for him than drinking.

And God bless him! Throughout his political career he meant to do more than he ever did. Anyhow he was well intentioned. It counted that he was well intentioned. And as mayor he wanted to be boss and had a hard time waiting for answers. Indomitable he was until he sold out. Jesus! Jesus, how he sold out. But who wouldn’t be tempted? He ran an honest campaign and ran on his honesty, but he changed once he got into office. What was new?

Rather tall, Higgs had many wrinkles. His face, sun-splotched, timeworn, and scarred from removed cancerous spots. He always wore a hat, but if he didn’t you’d seen his bald head was also scarred, crusted and scarred. He wasn’t in good shape. Still in his Palm Beach suit he swaggered a bit. He always swaggered, had always swaggered, which identified him as much as anything else. Only his coat was ancient and worn at the elbows, which brought him ridicule instead of respect. His white shirt, too, was filthy. He wore a suit even during summertime, when during June before monsoon it was over 100 degrees almost every day. He had just been to a city council meeting.

George was leaning back in his chair when Higgs stumbled up steps and headed straight for him. Extending a hand Higgs stank of stale beer. He had beer on his breath and was drunk, but his manners were impeccable and were cultivated to impress people. He impressed George. Higgs couldn’t see very well or focus his eyes and drunk, so he stumbled up steps. And he couldn’t see well, so he examined George’s face for some time as though he was trying to put a name with a face.

Do I know you?” Higgs asked. “Does anyone know this man? I know his face. I know this man. I never forget a face. I remember faces. I know the b-b-b-bas-tud.”

Hush, Higgs!” Mrs. Martinez had gotten out of her chair and gone over to Higgs to help him. She always helped Higgs as best she could. She had a special place in her heart for Higgs. She helped him because when she saw him in this way it hurt her … something from within herself hurt when she saw him drunk. It hurt, but it didn’t come from love. That wasn’t to say that she hadn’t once loved Higgs. She loved him once. But now, as far as she was concerned he was an arrogant bastard, a drunken arrogant bastard, and not once had he apologized for being one.

Hush.”

Do I talk too loud? Do I talk too much? That comes from making speeches. I’m not hard of hearing. It comes from making speeches. It comes from making speeches. Damn you all! And I’m still doing it. Making speeches.”

Lenny, meet George. George, meet …

You don’t have to yell. She’s always yelling. George, is it? You’re just like Shelly described you. George?”

Yes. George is my name.”

Lenny Higgs, retired and miserable. Your former mayor.”

George Batman. My father was named Zack Batman,” George said.

Batman,” snickered Mr. O’Toole before he stood up and guided the former mayor to a chair.

My father died over ten years ago,” said George.

Indeed Batman lives on.”

Yes, if you knew what he looked like maybe you could recognize my father in ‘Gone With the Wind.’”

“’Gone With the Wind?’ Damn good movie. Long but damn good. Damn straight! A chair before I fall on my face. And your mother?”

My mother?”

Worm.

George had a hard time talking about his mother. It was hard for him. George should’ve told one of his boyhood stories and worked in his mother. It was easier for him to talk about his mother when he worked her into a story. Yep, it was never easy. It was never easy to tell the truth. Tell truth, yep. But it wouldn’t be his voice speaking, not even in part. That was the only way it would’ve come out. It was the only way he could do it. Quietly, slowly, he would have to work up to it. It wasn’t easy.

Worm.

Mrs. Batman. Couldn’t bring her back to this planet. Enough of this place. Brought him a little closer every time. Every time a step closer to joining her. And even worried if he’d see her. George didn’t know if he would see her. George wanted to see her. He had to see her. He would see her he was sure. Her ghost haunted him forever and ever afterward. Ashes to ashes. And scattered in a garden, Garden of Gethsemane. (He then didn’t know Tucson had a Garden of Gethsemane.) George had to see her. If George then knew there was a Garden of Gethsemane in Tucson he would’ve gone there to see his mother. Why did she have to die? He needed to see her. He needed to talk to her. Rise and pray that he wouldn’t enter into temptation. On schooldays she woke him. George was very happy then. She kissed him to wake him. When? Then. Sure. Long or short hair. She had short hair.

George murmured, “A prickly rain made me shiver; her road had come to an end when I was sixteen and already getting old.”

George paced along, raindrops riddling him, mile after mile down a long highway, and up a hill. He ran away before disaster and before his character was shaped.

Worm.

At times, as one might guess, when she designed dresses, as indeed records showed, before he had a conscience, everything went well. Nobody suffered sickness, suffered loss, nobody knew regret or starved for love more – more than George. And nobody cared. Nobody! None whatsoever.

Worm.

Murderer, he thought. Yes, murder. And guilty too. Forever sorry afterward when it dawned on George. Murder and guilty. As sure as she drove her MG into a tree it was murder. Murder, George swore. Murder. Or a silly supposition from a sixteen-year-old. Would he ever see her again? Bam! (He could go to the Garden of Gethsemane to see his mom.) Just like that. Gone. No, nearer to her than he ever was when she was alive. Gone. Gone to Gethsemane.

George ran along, raindrops riddling him, mile after mile down a long highway and up a hill.

Ran away. Running from what? A picture of innocence, a boy who ought not to have go to Gethsemane to see his mother after being punished, as his father yelled. “Give me that belt! Pull down your pants and grab both knees. It hurts me more than it does you. There, there that will do. Gracious!”

You shouldn’t have hit him so hard. Listen, my pet! You shouldn’t have hit him so hard.”

I know what I’m doing. Boy has to learn sometime. Boy has to learn to listen.”

Worm.

Where is she? Hope she’s …

Worm.

Knives. George was fascinated with knives. How he took them out in the middle of the night. Knives. While she slept. While his mother slept. While his parents slept. Thought about it all day … thought about knives. Knives. Thought about killing himself with a knife. Took a knife, a big o’ kitchen knife, and did what? Throw away keys. Lock him up and throw away keys. Eight o’clock and back to Oaklawn.

Worm.

As he listened to George talk about death … deaths of his parents Higgs became overwhelmed with memories of his wife. Overwhelmed by memories.

Maggie was an incredible woman.” It was Mrs. Martinez who picked up Higgs’ cue.

Maggie, yes, she was an incredible woman,” agreed Higgs. “An incredible woman. And Kitty is an incredible daughter. Incredible. Circumstances reduced me to this … a mighty blow. Now a drunk! A drunk. Me, who was once mayor … mayor … mayor of Murder Capital of the World! Murder Capital. Mayor. Build a scaffold, or hang me from a tree.” This conversation sobered Higgs. And he stood up and did an about-face before he continued. “Remember a phone call. I don’t remember getting dressed. I don’t remember anything else. I remember a phone call. I didn’t deserve her! Never did. Listen, Pet. I never deserved Maggie.”

Stop slobbering! When are you going to stop drinking?” asked Mr. O’Toole, after restraining himself for as long as he could.

Shut up! Who asked you? Things happen. Things happen. Just happen.” Before continuing Higgs steadied himself. “Our car was found with no sign of my wife. For homicide, a difficult case to prove. Mayor’s wife murdered. Her body wouldn’t be found for a month. Mayor Higgs resigned, sold his house and drunk the proceeds. Mayor Higgs, and notice this happens in front of a whole community, dressed police chief down. Police chief deserved it while case was never solved. Higgs went to Armory Park, lay down on a bench, and thought about suicide. Higgs thought about suicide after his wife was murdered. Lacked courage though. Lack of courage, a huge moral dilemma for him. Now Higgs wandered around town with his head in a bottle.”

Fred, then subdued and reserved, went to his closet and reached for his holster. Alone in his room he changed into a white shirt and tie. After all he had to please his boss. He loved Cesar and had faith in him. He had to say it. No matter what it cost him. He loved Cesar.

Forget it Lenny,” said Maria, while she still sat on the porch. “I know he can’t forget her. None of us can. I knew his wife well. She was a good woman. Maggie was a good woman”

What could be worse … to have your wife murdered and not able to prove it was murder?”

Fred was charged with killing Francoise in Racine. Returned an indictment charging murder in the first degree, but in spite of overwhelming evidence he walked.

Mr. Higgs, time to wash up,” announced Molly from the front doorway. “Your soup is getting cold.”

Okay,” muttered Higgs.

You have to excuse Lenny. He’s still fighting old battles. My guess is that he’ll die fighting them,” said Maria to George. “Meanwhile he won’t eat with the rest of us. He’s eccentric but harmless.”

Had Fred made his peace with God? Did he confess that he killed Francoise?

Soup? Soup again?”

By then Fred reached front door. He appeared huge. He had his Luger concealed under his suit coat and hoped the coast was clear. And it would’ve been if Higgs hadn’t started talking about his murdered wife.

Deep down Higgs knew the truth, except he had too much to drink. And he couldn’t afford it. It had taken a toll, and he couldn’t afford it. There was no way to avoid what happened. No way.

Higgs!”

When he saw Fred, Higgs stood up and staggered toward the younger man. Higgs always insisted that he didn’t drink to get drunk. He was drunk, but insisted that he didn’t drink to get drunk. According to him he didn’t drink all the time. According to him, he never drank to get drunk … never drank to escape. It looked as if he drank all the time. He was always a player. He wasn’t greedy. He had been a player. He always been a player. Never asked for much and didn’t need much, but he needed to be a player.

Fred wanted to escape. No such luck. Fred couldn’t escape.

At once Higgs, who wasn’t a good fighter and obviously drunk, blocked Fred’s way and, in front of everyone, swung at him. He was angry and sad, and tried to hit Fred in the face with his fist. He swung, but he missed. He was angry and sad and tried to hit Fred and missed. He had a grudge against Fred.

Higgs could see nothing for a moment and stood swaying and swung again. Missed again. And again.

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen
“L A? What have you lost in L A.?”

Oddly Molly knew answer to her question even before she asked it. She knew Anna couldn’t stay … pregnant and couldn’t stay.

The two sisters sat on the back porch steps, when Anna announced her decision. It was the first time she said anything about it to anyone. It was the first time Molly heard anything about it.

L.A? You aren’t going to leave soon, are you?”

Tomorrow. Is it soon enough?”

Tomorrow? Tomorrow, really? That soon?” What Molly wanted to do was bawl her eyes out, and she was afraid she would. “Tomorrow? Does Mamma know?”

No. And I want you to tell her.”

What? No. Such news will kill her. I know it will.”

She has to be told. I can’t simply disappear. But Molly, you’re wrong. It won’t kill mamma. I think everyone will be enthusiastic about it. Mamma is a strong woman.”

What a selfish, small, and insensitive broad,” thought Molly. She felt glum. For her part (she plead guilty) Molly also honestly gave a great big sigh because she would have less competition. “Where will you live?”

Somewhere. I don’t know where yet.”

George quickly learned that fastest way to escape scrutiny was to go out the back door. Only then could he escape. It seemed like it was the only way. It was the only way he could go out without being seen. If he were lucky he could get out the back door without being seen. Where else but the backyard could he travel to his heart’s content?

Power lines back there reminded him of horrible distances between Dallas and Tucson. It took two full days to go between Dallas and Tucson on a bus. It took two full days without counting layovers. If he’d kept going he would end up in L A.: L A. where his mother planted lilacs before he was born. L A, place of his birth. L A, a connection he had with Anna but didn’t know it yet. He was glad he didn’t go to L.A. and landed in Tucson.

George stepped out onto the back porch and heard the girls talking about someone moving to L A. He didn’t catch enough of it to know whom they were talking about. He caught only part of it. His mind was elsewhere. His mind was off in the distance somewhere. Perhaps his mind was back in Dallas. Caught cha! Yes, caught thinking about where he’d like his ashes scattered and what he’d do if they blew away. He knew ashes scattered on the ground were likely to blow away. He was also troubled by static from power lines … static in his head. It bothered him that he heard it.

George, what do you think about Anna moving to L A? I’ve been trying to talk her out of it.”

L A is ungodly.” It was the first thing he thought of when he thought of LA. “From what I’ve heard it’s that and more. I looked at Hollywood, and what I learned could fill a book. But I suppose you can’t stop her?”

Next afternoon Anna would board a bus and ride through the night, and as soon as it got dark, she’d recline her seat and wouldn’t stir until she started dreaming sad dreams. At first George told her not to go near Hollywood and Vine. “Don’t go to Hollywood and Vine where pimps are.” George wished he hadn’t brought up pimps. He objected then to Anna going alone. He knew what buses were like, he knew what Hollywood and Vine was like, he knew what LA was like and objected to Anna going alone. Any man might whistle at her and who knew where it could lead. Changing subject from pimps and prostitutes, he told her then more about his own history, which included more about Miss M and how his father would take him to the old Paramount lot. She would be in LA as the sun came up.

Sunrise in LA. Sunrise in LA and a bright future. LA looked better in the morning than in the evening. She would be almost to L A as the sun came up. It looked bright when the sun came up. But when Anna actually arrived in LA it was misty and overcast. Smog, it could be smoggy.

LA was by then already built up, with smog, more smog, and super highways and traffic jams; “smog’s not so fine,” George said, “from automobiles mostly.” And it could be harmful to young minds. It could be harmful to young bodies, but he said, “All in all L A wouldn’t be a bad place to live. Anna sat perplexed, as doubts began. “Go boldly on. Give it a try. If you don’t like LA you can always come home.”

Not without hassles. Packing a hassle. Leaving a hassle. She wouldn’t move to LA without them. She wouldn’t move to LA without hassles. She knew it wouldn’t be easy. Sometimes there would be nothing to cheer about. She would live there alone …pregnant and alone. She could end up alone and friendless. Ah, yes, she could see her future … a darling spoiled and cherished girl, endeared from birth and always nourished, well nourished would be far away from family and friends. And when she thought of dangers and freedoms that she would be exposed to she felt vulnerable.

George drew up a few rules for Anna. They worked on rules together. Rule one: be careful whom you hang out with. Rule three: never expect to find a decent man in a bar. Go to church. Start at church. Church was a good place to meet people … decent people. Churches help people. (George spoke from experience. He wasn’t religious, but he spoke from experience. Churches help people. When you are hungry go to a church. When you are in a bind, go to church.) A lot of girls never get married because they don’t meet the right person. A lot of girls have unhappy marriages because they meet the wrong one. Of course there are more women than men and it means … means … means competition.

When Angela heard them she joined everybody on the back porch. Then Molly turned to Anna and asked, “Will you write us? Will you promise to write? Will you at least think about us once and a while?”

I’m not saying goodbye. I’m not saying goodbye yet.” Emotion in Anna’s voice surprised Angela. “I hate saying goodbye.”

Angela turned to George and asked, “What is she talking about?”

She hates saying goodbye. I can understand not saying goodbye.”

She’s crazy.” And then realizing what she said Molly apologized.

In a choked voice, Angela asked, “What the hell’s going on?”

If God’s willing I’m leaving. And L A’s my destiny. If it’s God’s will, I’ll leave tomorrow night and I make it.”

You can’t go!” asserted Angela.

Don’t be silly, I can go where I want. Unless I die, and then I can’t go anywhere.”

Now everyone saw that Anna had her mind set on going to LA. And everyone knew once she had her mind set that she wasn’t about to change it. Trying to talk her out of it wouldn’t get anywhere. Everyone knew trying to talk her out of it wouldn’t work. They thought she was foolish, and didn’t see how she could make it but knew talking her out of it wouldn’t work. She didn’t have a man and she was pregnant, and they didn’t see how she could make it. A pregnant woman without a husband, forget it. She didn’t know anyone in LA. She hadn’t lost anything in LA, so why did she have her heart set on going? Forget it, forget it, forget it. What was in LA for her? Nothing.

You wouldn’t know where to start.” It was Angela again.

I’ll start with the Yellow Pages. I have a little money. I’ve been saving my money.”

You’ll fail. I know you will. You’re taking something from me. You’re only thinking of yourself. I’ve always wanted to go to LA. You know I’ve always wanted to live in LA. Now you’re taking it away from me.”

No, Angela. You’re free to go. Just as I’m free to go. I’ll make it.”

No, you won’t make it. No decent man will have you. No husband in the world,” said Angela “will accept your bastard. You’re pregnant, forget it.”

Angela!”

But Angela continued. “I see you beginning with one drink and more drinks and marijuana. Marijuana will be be your downfall. You’ll become a non-entity, I know. Indeed!” said she, “I won’t be able to sleep; and to know what’s going on with you will hurt us! Molly,” said she, “don’t talk to her. Don’t try to talk her out of it. Let her sink. If none of us help her she’ll surely sink,” she said. “I think she deserves L A,” said she. “I know it. I know. She’s a slut. LA deserves her.”

No!”

Let me finish. And deserves what she gets,” said Angela. “No, I’m not envious. I never felt envious. I never wanted attention Anna got and chances she’s had. We’ve had disputes. When we dispute sometimes, I choose Anna’s side, or I give in like a pushover. I take sides. I take Anna’s side and call her a sweetheart. But I won’t do it anymore. I’ve flattered her. I’m flattered when she’s flattered. I’m flattered when people say she’s the prettiest. It pleases our mother to see how well we get along, and it pleases me too. And Anna and I are very much alike; we’re spoiled and think that the world was created for us. Now she’s going to LA. I’ve always wanted to go to LA. I want to experience LA. I want to have a lot of important friends in L A. I want to be on the cover of Life Magazine and be like Marilyn, as in Marilyn Monroe. And marry a millionaire, a Texas millionaire. Now Anna you’re throwing it away. ”

George frowned.

Back on the front porch: “I showed the son-of-a-bitch,” declared Higgs, as he picked himself up off the deck. “Well! I kept an eye on him. And I showed him. I showed him. ”

Higgs, you’re a disgrace,” said Mrs. Martinez, laughing and shaking her head. “A drunk and a disgrace.”

The son-of-a-bitch. See how Fred ran. Scared son-of-a-bitch. Scared the son-of-a-bitch. I can’t help it that I fell. Too much liquor. Wallowing in the stuff. Turned tail and ran.”

He swung and missed. And missed. He strained a muscle, and Fred walked off. A little incident Higgs called a fight. Bam! and it was over. Bam and it was over. No one hurt, unfortunately. A disgrace! Yeah, Higgs had been one for a very long time. A disgrace. A disgrace. Still he was spry when he didn’t drink too much. Why he used to be able to drink anyone under the table and not have a problem. He started out as a social drinker. Then by and large he considered drinking to be a social necessity, even an opportunity … a connection with people. Then he lost Maggie. Murdered! And he wasn’t young anymore and not in the best shape. And could no longer keep demons inside him at bay. He could no longer keep demons at bay. No, no, no, he didn’t have a drinking problem. No, no it wasn’t a drinking problem. It was a disease. It became a disease. He had a disease. Some disease. Want another drink? He never could turn down a drink.

And Fred merely stepped out of the way, and Higgs fell on his face. “I think he must’ve seen that move in a movie somewhere,” said Fred, laughing. He always laughed at Higgs. “But what does he know about me, besides who I work for, that’s it? I always look for my name in print. But what could be printed about me? Papers print only fluff.”

Son-of-a-bitch!” mumbled Higgs.

Old man you don’t have a clue why you’re angry at me. You don’t have a clue. But without figuring cost you know that I’m tough. Without figuring cost you can’t get change back. You’re right: I’m tough. I’m a mean son-of-a-bitch, so I’m thankful Maria lets me to live here. I’m thankful Maria. Thank you. I’m thankful for Maria. She lets me live here. She picks me up and let’s me live here, tut if she didn’t I don’t know where I’d live. Yeah, I’ve seen violence, violence and greed; and I’ve seen what happens when to two merge. It ain’t pretty. No, it ain’t. Listen to me … giving a sermon, when I’m not ordained.”

And just as Mrs. Martinez’s three daughters and George joined them on the front porch Fred finished his little talk by saying, “So Higgs, I’m thrilled that you don’t like me, so you better leave me alone. I’m crazy about my work, just crazy about it. There isn’t anything I like as much, really. Except maybe being here, where there are so many nice girls. Adios, Amigos and Amigas. Good day!”

Yes, everything in Fred’s manner spoke of violence, but violence was just his project and not his creation. He had a boss. He had someone over him, and everyone damn well knew who his boss was, except … except … except George.

As Fred drove off in his Suburban Mr. O’Toole got enough courage to say, “Holy, shit! Oh, my!” And turning to Higgs he asked, “What got into you? What were you thinking?”

Thinking? He doesn’t think. And everything else he tries to do is equally muddled. Here Higgs!” At this point Mrs. Martinez offered him a hand and became aware of his tremor. It wasn’t that she wasn’t aware of his tremor before. “You’re so impetuous, too impetuous for your own good, you impetuous you. What were you thinking? And what am I going to do with you?” she asked, sliding him into a chair. “How long am I going pick you up? I won’t always be around. I won’t be around forever. What will you do then? Don’t act so helpless … so helpless and lost … you’re not helpless or lost. Honey, if I thought you were lost, I’d give up.”

Son-of-a bitch.”

As he listened to Fred’s sermon Mr, O’Toole saw his father’s arms and face. Yes, arms and face of his father. Arms and face with a belt in hand. A belt or a switch. A paddle. A shoe. A plastic bat. A plastic bat, a belt, a switch, a paddle or a shoe. First thing his old man could get his hands on: a switch, a paddle or a shoe. He saw his old man with the first thing he could get his hands on. Mr. O’Toole also remembered a broken collarbone. And his father throwing him against a wall and making him lie about it at a hospital. “You tell them you fell off a horse?” There wasn’t a horse involved, when his father made him say there was. You see, Mr. O’Toole was his father’s son, or thought he was and knew he deserved every whipping he got. There was an ogre in his childhood, and that person was his father. His father was a mean son-of-a-bitch, a mean son-of a bitch like Fred. Fred reminded Mr. O’Toole of his father. And for many years Mr. O’Toole didn’t want to see the man, but within time he forgave his father … like he forgave himself. Yes, Mr. O’Toole was his father’s son. And he always thought, “I deserved those beatings.” Deserved those beatings and taste of blood and revenge when taste of blood and revenge never left him.

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen
When she took George’s arm Angela laughed nervously and guided him through the house to the front porch. She wanted to say, “Look at me. I’m chaste and beautiful and virginal.” Was it the truth? Beautiful, yes. Rest. No. When Angela took George’s arm, she wanted to say, “I’m beautiful, chaste, and virginal.”

George, maybe you don’t want to talk about it, but I’d like to hear more about your experiences with movie stars … unless it’s real private and because it’s real private you don’t want to talk about it.”

Flattered George couldn’t turn down her request. He was flattered and found it amusing. He always liked talking about Ms. M. He was conflicted and liked talking about Ms. M when he shielded himself. To return to Miss M … except with Anna and Molly pushing him along, down a long hallway, through a living room, and out the front door, timing couldn’t have been worse.

California-bound and happy about it Anna felt more determined than ever. She seemed happy about it, conflicted and happy. Was she really happy? She would say yes. Yes, she would say yes.

Just as her kids and George came out onto the porch, Maria Martinez was on the verge of tears. You’d think she knew about Anna’s decision. You’d think she knew Anna was heading for LA. She was on the verge of tears because maybe she sensed something was up. Normally she was a step ahead of everyone else. Normally she was a step ahead but not this time. This time, nervous about Anna’s delicate situation, she couldn’t avoid talking about it.

Excuse me, but it ain’t her fault. You know that there was a man involved. I don’t believe it was a boy. I trust Anna had more sense than to … I mean … well, you know what I mean. She’s accepted responsibility, and it’s why I’ve forgiven her. I can’t believe how she accepted responsibility. She’s already paid a price, a big price and she’ll keep paying for it, with diapers, clothes, education and all it. I don’t mean to sound like an unforgiving, grouchy old bag,” she said, taking a big breath. “But I do have certain ideas about virtue. She was only partially responsible. It takes two. It takes two to tango. But lying down with evil just doesn’t cut it. It takes two to tango. So you see my dilemma … she got pregnant. I’ve forgiven her, but you see my dilemma.”

Yes Mama, I’m here. And I’m pregnant.”

And I forgave you. I told you, didn’t I?”

Maria Martinez’s words hung in the air before they sunk in. Her idea of virtue somehow got mixed up with her idea of evil, where lying down with evil certainly meant the same as lying down with a man … if you do it you could certainly get pregnant. If you do it without taking precautions you could certainly get pregnant. Hadn’t Maria lectured her girls enough on the subject for them to know? Shouldn’t Anna know better? She was taught. She knew about birds and bees, so why did she get pregnant? Marie felt she did her part, so Marie asked what happened as she saw her influence dwindle. Why hadn’t she done more?

Yes, I forgive you, like I always forgave you,” said Anna’s mother, as she dried her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief she found in one of her pockets.

Anna grabbed George away from Angela and made him stand by her side. Usually she depended on Danny to stand by her side, but she hadn’t seen Danny in a while. Out of habit she acted cavalier, as again she announced, “I’m here!” At long last Anna had everyone she wanted together. At last she had everyone’s attention.

Anna often tormented herself. She was aware of what she could lose and what she already lost. She lost her virginity long ago, so she wasn’t thinking of that. Over the last two weeks she thought through everything and made up her mind. Now she knew that she had to get out of Tucson.

Fifteen minutes before then she thought she could easily make her announcement. She had given herself a pep talk. She had been through the hardest part, she thought. The hardest part she thought was announcing her pregnancy. Her pep talk did some good, but by the time she faced her mother she lost her confidence.

Anna began with a calm speech about being pregnant, as she defended herself. Everyone looked at her and so did George, not knowing what to expect. Mr. O’Toole seemed very perturbed. Mr. O’Toole couldn’t look at her. He fidgeted and couldn’t look at her. Anna’s arrival, especially then, was particularly awkward and distressing to him. After his proposal to her mother, Anna’s arrival was awkward and distressing.

What the hell!” she sighed, after taking a big breath. It was already too late. “What? You aren’t happy?” Then she added, looking directly at Mr. O’Toole, “You all should be happy for me.”

Disconcerted Maria Martinez took her hand, and before she could say anything both women started to cry. Before they said anything to each other, they cried. Anna, however, tried to mask her nervousness and tears, and there was a sign of sympathy from her mother. It seemed then clear to Anna that she hadn’t been forgiven.

Somehow George’s being there improved the situation until Angela interrupted her sister and approached George with a photograph.

What’s true in this photo? It doesn’t look like me. It’s me, but I’m sure it doesn’t look like me. What’s honest?”

George tried to stammer something in reply.

Then Angela turned on Anna and said, “And why do you always get the attention?”

Is something wrong?” asked Anna. “You’re beautiful and of the three the prettiest. I’m ugly by comparison.”

But once again Angela wasn’t listening. She stared instead at George and cried, “What an idiot!”

An expression of pain crossed George’s face. He hated confrontation, he hated it, and he hated his situation as he noted his predicament. Then to save face he said, “I never guessed that women of Tucson were so beautiful.”

You wouldn’t lie about it, would you?”

Photographs don’t lie, and a face like yours deserves to be on the cover of a magazine. A face like yours deserves to be on the cover of Life Magazine. ”

A magazine? Life Magazine.”

Magazine? Just what kind of magazine?” asked Angela’s mother.

Magazines,” George replied. “Like Life Magazine.”

Up until then no one had paid attention to traffic on the street. Then, just when Anna again began to disclose her plans, which was going slowly, a white sedan pulled up and two men in business suits got out. Anna stopped in mid-sentence, while everyone watched two men approach.

A short dialogue, both material and pleasant, then transpired between Mrs. Martinez and two men who identified themselves as detectives by flashing their badges. One of them took from a folder a composite drawing of a white male suspect and asked if anyone could identify this man. To some of them the drawing reminded them of Fred, but none of them were sure, and without being positive they were afraid to say, or knowing Fred they were afraid to say because they were afraid of him. This so incensed Higgs that he almost blurted out “I know who it is!” He almost blurted it out only he didn’t have the nerve either.

Detectives!” Higgs instead declared. “Where were you when I needed you?” Then: “Who the devil could it be? What do you think? Maybe we could put our heads together. Maybe we could put our heads together and come up with a name. What is this about?”

While everyone suspected Fred, the detectives explained that there was a shooting in the neighborhood and asked if anyone heard shots. No. Maybe backfire, but no shots. No shots. Backfire maybe.

Witnesses told the detectives that it was a well-dressed white male and that they took him for a mobster and that the victim had a business connection with Cesar, which particularly alarmed Higgs. When the detectives brought up Cesar’s name it particularly alarmed Higgs.

A mobster!” cried Higgs. Word mobster also alarmed Higgs. Mobster. Why would anyone suspect he was connected with a mobster? Did he look guilty? Was he guilty? Higgs asked himself if he was guilty. Did have guilt written across his face? But did it matter? Did it matter since he was no longer mayor? He was an old drunk, a drunken has-been, so why did it matter? Higgs, former mayor … how could he be connected with a mobster? Why would he be connected to Cesar?

The detectives drove off, after leaving their cards and asking for as much help as possible. Afterward everyone was too far into their own world to pay attention to Higgs.

Higgs! He could still hear tone of Cesar’s voice. Higgs! At the time, Mayor … Higgs! “Get the hell down here!” Wanting to blame everything on liquor … wanting to blame everything on his drinking … and smallest acknowledgment of it made everything right; for no matter how much he was mixed up with Cesar, he, sir, was the last person who would totally bend. Happily in public Higgs demonstrated courage by denouncing Cesar. Privately it was different. Cesar and Higgs … the two men grew up together. Cesar and Higgs grew up together.

Higgs!

All Higgs had to do was to give Cesar slack. All Higgs had to do was look the other way. Little things were sufficient, and about once a month Higgs drove down Twelfth Avenue, got out at Cesar’s, went inside, and smoked a stogy with him … smoked a stogy with Cesar. They smoked cigars together for old time’s sake.

Higgs!

I don’t understand what’s going on,” would be Higgs’ spiel to Cesar; “but I don’t want to know.” Spiel … “I don’t want to know” was an arrangement with Cesar that Higgs didn’t want to talk about, or that he went out of his way to court Cesar. If it were the case, that he courted Cesar, instead of the other way around, Higgs could blame no one but himself.

Perhaps, so,” Higgs would say; you could believe it, but by doing so you wouldn’t acknowledge the temptation of money, Cesar’s money. Call it what it was. Call a spade a spade. Cesar’s bribe would’ve been hard for anyone to turn down. Corruption … call a spade a spade.

Lookee,” Higgs admitted at the time; “accepting bribes under any circumstances is wrong. Accepting bribes under any circumstances was corruption. I’m honest. I don’t accept brides,” but if he hadn’t … what he said didn’t make sense. “Cesar and I go back a long ways. We’re old friends. We grew up together.” Still he tried to be as clear as possible. He hated thugs; they were killers and punks, and as mayor he shouldn’t have had anything to do with them. He hated Fred. For more than one reason, he hated Fred. He and Cesar grew up together.

Well, sir,” Higgs said; “if it were true, the lesson learned was that no one was immune.”

Higgs!

I could’ve made up some excuse. I could’ve told him,” answered Higgs; “that I was too busy and couldn’t come. I could’ve stay away, except he was an old friend. It was shortly after the beginning of my second term, and as boss of the city I could’ve legitimately told him that I was too busy. Sure. And make Cesar angry? If I had told him that I was too busy he wouldn’t believe me and the consequences … well … he couldn’t afford to make Cesar angry.“

Higgs!

I wanted to be rescued,” said Higgs. “I understand myself better now, and you might understand yourself better too if you were in my shoes … if you were in my shoes and didn’t accuse me. If I had a paper sack of money, would you automatically assume that it came from Cesar? Shame on you. I should box your ears. Allow me to set the record straight. I never accepted a bribe.”

Higgs!

What? I accepted his money?” Higgs cried; “it’s a damn lie! I never accepted brides. I never accepted bribes from Cesar. It was never quib for quo. It was a lie that I accepted bribes from Cesar. I would never accept bribes. Gifts? Gifts or bribes … wouldn’t it be the same thing? Don’t accuse me of lying. I’m not a liar. And I never accused anyone of lying. Who? Maria’s husband Antonio.”

Higgs!

In those days Cesar wore hundred-dollar suits and threw money around. A hundred here, a hundred there. A modest dresser I had to live on a mayor’s salary, and I knew how to live on a mayor’s salary. It was hard, but I … but we lived on it. Now I get about, take walks, play checkers, and watch my back.”

Antonio!

Poor Antonio! The rascal didn’t hurt me much, but shoot me if I’m not honest. I suppose that he thought that he was doing Tucson a service.”

While Higgs tormented himself, George thought of Miss M. What would’ve happened if he divulged their secret back then? What would’ve happened to her? Out of fear George couldn’t help but think that somehow he would’ve been blamed. He wasn’t the blame but would’ve been blamed. To a certain extent he did, indeed blame himself. To an extent George accepted the blame. Angela noticed how he trembled and asked, “What’s the matter?”

I hope,” said George, “you won’t be angry at me. Indeed Miss M was a movie star, but I have to be honest. I can assure you that I wish it hadn’t happened.”

Don’t be angry,” urged Angela.

I hope you believe me.”

We believe you. Now what?”

Now what? O, good Heavens!” answered George. “Was not Miss M the idol of millions? You say she was. And did she touch me? Didn’t she touch everyone?” asked George trembling. “Tell me that it didn’t happen, that we didn’t have our little secret. What would’ve happen if I said something? What would’ve happened if my parents knew? No, no, but it did happen. I can assure you that it did,” cried George. “But would they believe me? Believe me? A child against an adult. A child’s word against an adult’s? A boy over a celebrity? A boy and not a girl? And if my parents sought prosecution, wouldn’t her public cry foul? Wouldn’t they have turned it around and accused my parents of extortion?”

Upon saying this George doubled over in a chair. He doubled over in pain as he frequently did on the floor. He cried again. Not many of them had seen a grown man cry, and they were amazed. Grown men don’t cry. “No, no,” George cried. “What I’ve told you about Miss M happened, but who would’ve believed me, believed that she touched me? How unlucky I was that my parents often invited her to stay in our home and did nothing … didn’t try to stop …. stop her. They had to have known. They knew. I’m sure they knew. Surely devil himself was involved.”

Surely.”

See you’re beginning to have doubts about me. You’re beginning to think I’m making it up. But how could I blame you? I’m to blame. I caused my own misery. I caused it. It was my own fault. And people often told me to get over it. It should be simple, shouldn’t it? Get over it! Yeah! I should be able to do it. I should be able to get over it. But why don’t I? Am I not grown and isn’t Miss M dead? Didn’t you enjoy it? Oh shit, to have it happen. To a boy? And to what extent was I to blame? I was a child.” Angela then pulled a chair up and sat there, trying to comfort George, as he grieved. “I miss her. I loved her. Hold me. Love me. Hold me, and don’t leave me.” But the more he expressed his torment the more he withdrew within himself and more he rocked.

Antonio!

But what did my husband do?” demanded Maria.

You know what he did,” answered Higgs. “Antonio turned out to be just as corrupt as I was. Bootlegging, drinking, mourning over violence … the end of sanity.”

You’re wrong!”

Excuse me!”

I don’t want to argue. I don’t want to argue about this. We were lucky to have lived through it. I don’t need to apologize.”

Antonio!

Maybe I didn’t win every battle.”

Fourth and inches. Tell me who always won,” insisted Maria.

But observe where we are now,” continued Higgs.

Fourth and inches. We didn’t always make it.”

Antonio!

BODY FOUND IN DUMPSTER. ARMS GONE! headline read.

Poor Antonio. Antonio’s body was found in a dumpster.

I’ve been thinking about LA,” began Anna. “I’ve been thinking of going to LA. I’m thinking about going to LA tomorrow. I’m moving to LA.

No one reacted.

Did you hear me? I’m thinking about moving to L A.”

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
Run. But wait! No, run. Better be safe. Run. Serve, pick up ball, and serve! Idiot! Forget his name. Forgot his name. Ah yes, certain things come back to him now, things that he didn’t invent. Faust, that was his name. Horrible! To be used as a guinea pig. A guinea pig … imagine! It sounds like one of Dr. Claxton’s tricks.

At that moment doorbell rang three times. It announced arrival of company. Maria went to open the door. George froze with horror. Surprise, horror, and loathing were depicted on his face. He conjured up the scene that followed. Faust! Which of them didn’t feel George’s skin creep?

Almost without exception residents of the boarding home gathered at the same time every evening to watch evening news. (There were only three channels then) There were reasons, whether they watched news or not … of course some of them never paid attention to news … there were reasons why this time together was so necessary. There were reasons why this time was so necessary for residents of the boarding home, different reasons for each of them. People concerned knew each other well. Some of them lived there for many years. They knew each other well and looked forward to socializing each evening. A television was set up in the living room for general use and stayed on most of the time. So everyone gathered around this television set.

Dusk wouldn’t arrive for several hours; but it had cooled off, air had not only cooled but had grown moist, and a scent of rain had awakened senses. The living room, with its high ceilings and oak panels, harked back to former residents who didn’t worry about cooling or heating bills.

Commotion increased on the front porch. Good Christ! With his gang Faust was … ever since George met him at Oaklawn he wouldn’t put anything past Faust … with his gang Faust was making a commotion. No shouting please! All lost souls yearned to be free. Six months in Oaklawn, and whatta you git? A little more time. His mother didn’t believe him. Six months in Oaklawn, and whatta you git? His father didn’t believe him: his aunt, no: she didn’t: at first, at first shock: believe no, no: Mr. and Mrs. Batman, no. Let him cool his heels for a while. Forgotten. George. Yes, forgotten. Forgotten in Oaklawn.

Cruel it seems. Sedate him. Knock him out. Use that new drug. EST! Zap him and maybe he’ll be less depressed. Zap him and maybe he’ll be more controllable. Yet the more George complained the more he had to complain about.

Everyone was talking at once. Everyone exchanged accusations, and there was no single reason for the noise. Maria went to investigate.

Practically all of Mrs. Martinez’s news came from television, because, as she rightly said, she stayed too busy to read anymore. Her tendency those days was to rely on television and venerable Dan. She was determined to keep abreast of national events, so she watched national news every evening. She watched Dan Rather, while she tried to ignore most local things. She ignored local news. She hoped that by ignoring local things, local news that they would go away. She watched news with her boarders. They only watch Dan Rather.

Why didn’t they wash their hands of me and set me free? It would’ve done more for me than keeping me locked up,” George thought.

A number of people rushed in from the outside. Some also came in through the back door. More waited on the porch. Maria hurried back into the living room, while several people clawed passed her.

Ah, there’s the Ping-Pong champ!” yelled a voice familiar to George. “Hello George, you bastard! How you been George?”

There he is!” Another voice topped the noise of the crowd.

George recognized two voices immediately: one belonged to institutionalized Faust, the other Dante.

Stunned, Maria couldn’t stop ten or twelve people from pushing their way in. Some were distinguished. Others were nobodies. Some looked like they came directly from the street. None were completely drunk.

Fred came into the room again. He came to talk to Mrs. Martinez. He had other business there as well, and to George and Mr. O’Toole he was less than civil; but his landlady noted that he was unusually pleasant to her. He was usually pleasant around her. But he wasn’t fond of George. From the moment Fred met him, he knew he didn’t like George, and he told Maria he didn’t. He didn’t keep it a secret that he didn’t like George. And wasn’t it possible that Anna changed her mind and had taken a fancy to him? No, it wasn’t possible. She had her heart set on moving to LA, so it wasn’t possible. Then screw her! He would like to screw her, but it was all or nothing with him. All or nothing, he was that kind of guy. All or nothing. He was that kind of guy. Still he approached Anna and tried again. Anna didn’t appreciate being hit upon. He tried and used skills long neglected, finally forgotten and proclaimed his love before he was done talking to her. Done with listening he spoke from his heart. He spoke from his heart in hopes that he could convince her, help her see what he could give her and allow her to think of herself as worthwhile. He had a change of heart and wanted her to think of herself as worthwhile.

Go away! All lies, nothing but lies. Nothing exempted George from lies. To be duped and wishing he wasn’t thinking he was duped. In the lead Faust danced around the room like a bantam rooster. Having nothing to say but words of others he flexed his muscles. Faust flexed his muscles and danced like a bantam rooster. He danced, and the extent of his torment couldn’t be grasped. Others were followers. Others followed his lead and dance too. Dante’s hair flowed down to his shoulders. With his arms extended over his head he danced with ease. He danced like a bantam rooster. Dante also suffered. He suffered and danced. His cries, above all his cries, wild, were a credit to him.

Faust and Dante were still in hospital garb. Another man in an army jacket laughed without an apparent reason. There was also a very fat, extremely serious and quiet short man, who went around punching walls with his fists. There was a nurse and an anachronistic hippie. Two women looked in through the front door but didn’t come in. Angela slammed the door in their faces and locked it.

Hello, George, you bastard!” repeated Faust as he went up to his friend. “Surprised to see your buddies?”

Mr. O’Toole was a low-down brute. He gave Mrs. Martinez every indication that he loved her when he asked her to marry him. He gave every indication that he loved her by giving her a ring. And she said yes and was thrown off by his apparent sincerity. One mustn’t forget that he just threw himself at Anna. He just threw himself at Anna’s feet. When Mr. O’Toole heard Mrs. Martinez’s eldest announce that she was pregnant, he naturally couldn’t stand it. Now she said she was moving to LA.

At that moment Faust caught sight of Maria and approached her. She turned pale. “So it’s true,” he said softly, running his hand through Maria’s hair.

George gasped and couldn’t speak. Trying to escape George moved toward nearest door. He gasped and tried to escape. Directly behind him came Faust, grabbing his shoulder. “Not so fast.”

Ominous. For George’s benefit. Restrained, finally restrained. Dragged down a hallway and locked in a padded cell. A turbine howled in his ears. Static in his head.

Their names were Dante and Faust. Dante suffered from manic depression for which he took lithium. Faust, on the other hand, took a pair of scissors and tried to stab his mother. He was committed and was considered criminally insane.

Something for you,” a doctor said, nodding twice, as he zapped him again. “Two peas in a pod. Faust and George. Next!”

And how many times had George almost died? How many times had George tried to kill himself? And with a great future ahead of him why did he try to kill himself? How many times on a table did he feel like dying? Each time he confessed. Confessed. Confessed. But nothing concerning Miss M.

The presence of young women restrained them somewhat. To an extent nurses controlled their patients, but all they needed was an excuse for misbehaving.

George recovered and yelled, “Faust! What the hell are you doing here? And who are these people? Faust how did you find me?”

Friends!”

Is this how friends treat friends?”

Maria had many questions for Mr. O’Toole, but she abstained from asking them. She didn’t ask them because she didn’t know what to say. She would wait for a better time. She would wait until they were alone. She didn’t know what to say and would wait for a better time when there weren’t so many people around … when they got another private moment. She thought that he eventual saw through Anna … he still had warm feelings for her daughter that was for sure, but Maria thought he saw through her. And Maria was more and more able to say to herself and think that he was getting over Anna, and, what was more important, she was able to say it without being jealous. She was finally not jealous of Anna. Mr. O’Toole was kind to Maria even before, with an image of stability, of respectability, and of something to be sought after, except for one incident … except when tried to choke Anna. But Maria was now reassured. With a ring on her finger, she was reassure for hadn’t he asked her to marry him and hadn’t he seemed sincere? Hadn’t she accepted his proposal?

Who was Mr. O’Toole? They didn’t know a whole lot about him, about his troubles in Houston, or how he ended up in Tucson. He did try to explain by saying, “When I get a hankering for a certain year, make and model of a car, I go out and buy it. I may go on wearing the same old clothes, or drop my membership to a health club, but I’ll still buy that car. I know essentials. I love cars. I lost everything. And started over with a few dollars. I know that we’ll make it, as long as we love each other. And I know what I want. And I get what I want. When I see a car I want, I won’t hesitate. I’ll go out and buy it. When I see a woman I want I … ”

As for Maria, she liked the way he talked. She liked her Texan.

But there were lights that were never turned off. To see George in a bright light. Stripped of his clothes and irresistibly funny. Stripped down to his underwear wasn’t very funny. To see him try to flush his underwear down a toilet wasn’t very funny. It was very disturbing. Wasn’t it more likely guffaws than giggles? So there were lights that were never turned off. And under those lights that they kept on to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. And he was in there so long that his brain stopped working.

Over a million Somalis are threatened with starvation as UN infrastructure in the country dissolves. And in LA looters were arrested today during riots after the acquittal of police officers, cleared of assaulting an African-American.”

Did you hear that Anna?” Molly asked. “Riots in L A.”

Storms of rage, overshadowing liberty. George knew what was afoot. He followed news pretty closely.

Riots in L A. Anna it’s another reason that you’re making a mistake.”

Riots. Riots in LA. The only riot George recalled at Oaklawn occurred on his first day there. After it he vegetated. He played ping-pong and vegetated.

Six months ago they were sentenced together. Yes, they were bound together, they were bound at the hip, but it didn’t mean they were inseparable. Of course they were guilty. Lie! More lies! Lies. He couldn’t breathe; if he didn’t get out he’d never breathe again. In that place his brain didn’t work. He was brain dead. They zapped him, and he was brain dead.

Have you forgotten your friends? Friends like Dante?”

Go away!”

George, you can’t escape.”

No!” George yelled, which startled everyone. It startled everyone because they didn’t know what he was responding to.

No? What’s the matter, George?” Mrs. Martinez asked.

I was dreaming. Sorry.”

Was it a bad dream?” George didn’t answer.

No matter where he went he knew then that he couldn’t escape. So he was at their mercy; that was truth and little else mattered. He was at the mercy of Faust, Dante, and friends.

Something bad?” Molly asked. “Your dream?”

Dream, yes. Bad, I’m not sure.”

Dreams are like that. You’re never sure of dreams.”

No? You can’t tell us no.” Faust grew louder and was obviously drunk.

George apologized for disturbing everyone. Apologies, Mrs. Martinez intimated, were no more use than prayers. Either one prayed or one didn’t, but what would anyone else do had they been in George’s shoes?

Run! Released and running. Enjoying his freedom George refused to go back. He hid. Ran. Ran to Tucson. He would rather die than be stripped of his dignity. Found. Found in Tucson.

You can’t run, George. Guilty, as charged!

Guilty? Guilty of what? George’s history was a sad one, but guilty?

That he should feel guilty all of his life because of what Ms. M did to him. And make him think that he was being chased. He was chased … hunted … was he not? How real this all was. Was it a dream? And then unable to get it out of his mind because of repetition, and unable to move on. It always came down to the same thing: guilt. Guilty! George! He heard his name called. George, a transient worm. Guilty!

A tiny blur, a tiny glimpse of the truth. Bah, truth, whole truth, and nothing but truth, so help you God. Worm knew, though he said he didn’t. Worm knew, so help you God. They came to fetch him from a den of deception. Came to put him in a spotlight. He wept, so he couldn’t see because of tears. He knew he’d lose, if he went with them. He didn’t know if he had a choice, but if he went with them he knew he was giving up. He would lose everything. No! Saying no was his strength, his only strength, since he couldn’t think it through, couldn’t really understand, didn’t know what they wanted, felt nothing, ah but just a moment, he felt, he suffered, guilt made him suffer. Saying no was his strength. Now?

All the same Worm felt guilty.

There was a time, while George still lived under his parent’s roof, when he felt distressed by same fears that haunted him then. He felt haunted and his nerves were shot. He should’ve told someone about how his nerves were shot. He should’ve told someone how his head was filled with noise. He should’ve talked to someone. He should’ve talked to a professional because maybe he needed medication. Maybe medication would help him. And maybe he should’ve told someone that he wasn’t getting any better. But a roar in his head had an identity, drone of vileness, poison, and mud slung from every direction had an identity. He should’ve told someone about it and what it meant to an adolescent. Others scarcely heeded him while he earned his stability after a long struggle.

Across the room Dante put his arm around Mrs. Martinez. Faust droned on while Dante’s hands roamed. Dante’s huge hands roamed to Mrs. Martinez’s rump. Suddenly Dante became passionate and told Mrs. Martinez that he loved her. But those words no more came out of his mouth than Anna said, “I think it’s horrible.”

George?” Faust stopped his mud slinging and concentrated then on something specific.

I’m in love.” Mrs. Martinez didn’t object when Dante started unbuttoning her blouse. George’s interest, however, was focused on Anna.

George?”

What?”

Tell them everything.”

Everything? But?

No buts. Only truth. All of it. Truth is the most valuable thing in life. Truth.

What’s your hurry?” Mrs. Martinez really wanted to know. “I hope you won’t hurry.”

“Most valuable thing in life is …

I’m no amateur in making love.”

The most valuable thing in life is …

Making love.”

I can see it.”

Honesty,” said Faust, having found the right word.

So what do you think I should do? Tell lies? Make up stuff? I’m not you! I won’t make up stuff.”

But it was all too confusing; how could a grown woman seduce a boy and never admit that it was wrong … especially when this child had desires of a man … especially when this child had hair on his chest … especially when this child had pubic hair, and she took advantage of it? Miss M took advantage of it. You couldn’t blame George. Hardly. He was maile. Her picture was on his wall. Those times during a drive-in movie. Those times in her automobile.

Stop it!”

Yelling was followed by more yelling, an outburst of several voices at once. Faust’s gang was waiting for a signal to cause more trouble. Dante threw Faust a high sign and then said to Mrs. Martinez, “Hey, baby, it’s been too long since I had a good fuck”

Okay,” Mrs. Martinez said. “Okay. Well?”

It’s been too long.”

Okay.{

What’s going on?” demanded Higgs after entering the room with Kitty.

Where did he come from?” laughed Faust. “All we have to do is get an old man drunk.”

No you don’t!” exclaimed Kitty. “He’s drunk enough.”

Somebody do something!” cried Anna, as Dante fumbled with her mother’s straps and Maria helped him with her hooks and eyes.

Go ahead, lady,” Dante repeated. “Git flat on your back and I’ll take care of you.”

Then like the end of a reel everything went blank for George. As quickly as that his old friends disappeared. He caught himself before he commented on it.

Oh no!” cried Mrs. Martinez.

Exclamations were heard from almost everyone.

I won’t let you go,” cried Mrs. Martinez. “You can’t go tomorrow!”

You can’t stop me,” countered Anna.

Then in a faltering voice Maria said, “You should be ashamed.”

And indeed Anna looked like she was totally destroyed. Mr. O’Toole didn’t know what to do. Mr. O’Toole didn’t know how to rescue her. He had just proposed to her mother and didn’t know how to rescue Anna. Kitty rushed to Anna and embraced and kissed her. Except for Maria, everyone crowded around Anna.

It doesn’t matter. I can see everyone’s against me,” muttered Maria.

 

 

Chapter Eighteen
Ka-boom! Thunder. Lightning. More thunder and lightning. Rain.

George paced floor, rain outside riddled roof; thunderclap after thunderclap shook house, and lightning struck a nearby tree. Electricity in the air. Electricity in George’s head. Ka-boom! Thunder. When as wind caught a shingle and ripped it off, and electricity failed, leaving everyone in the dark, George said, “This was something I didn’t want to see.” Ka-boom!

Yet most of it was over and soon forgotten, except for worse part … worse part was when the electcity went off. Darkness. No AC. It was the worse part as sure as his life was shaped by it, and night and storm indeed were opposed to his sanity. Numerous times it drove him to the brink and was in great contrast to George’s gregarious nature. Like the storm George soon exhausted himself. After exhausting himself, he usually slept.

George started slowly; stopped, started again, and held their interest. But they obstructed him, since he caused them dismay, and shaking their heads the three sisters left the room.

Howl, howl! Ka-boom! Crack! Thunder.

Disconcerted Mrs. Martinez glanced at Mr. O’Toole.
“Once there was … Mark how she came out into sunshine, which seemed for no other purpose than to reveal a scarlet letter. That was substance of what I saw … a scarlet letter. Miss M driven by a desire for young boys: memory of how it felt … how I felt. See how I remember how much pain there was. I remember pain, the same as when I connected with a dame …when I connect with a dame on the screen, but what was I to do?

Once there was a summer movie. I went to summer movies, many summer movies. It was showing everywhere (I was nineteen) as if the whole world knew my shame. It was a summer movie I watched every night, over and over again. ‘Let him hide, if he can!’ It was a topnotch movie, a big budget flick starring Miss M; and I was nineteen. I refused to see her movies up until then. I will not insist on truth, though it was a terrible ordeal in contrast with her ignominy. It should’ve been enough that I suffered through a terrible ordeal. ‘Thou and thine, Miss M belongs to me.’ Yes, I desire you. I still do. My Miss M.”

It was the summer after my third year in college, same year my dad bought me a MG. He bought it for me during my summer vacation, which I spent at home. In my MG I drove through Oak Cliff to the Twin Drive-In. I went to see my beloved Miss M. I went to a drive-in to have more privacy and to be alone with my beloved Miss M. By then no longer a child but in many ways less than one … more a child than a man … stunted … by then stunted. Nor can I say I ever matured.”

I had to see her again. I never watched Miss M’s movies on television. I never saw her in person after she suddenly stopped coming to Dallas. I head her name, I saw her photographs, I watched her old movies on the big screen, in privacy of my MG, where I could touch myself, and I followed her in magazines. But I never watched her movies on television or on the big screen until I went to see her at the Twin Drive-In. That was it, though she’d been in our home many times. I spent Thanksgiving Day in Oak Lawn thinking my parents somehow found out. I thought they found out and that she no longer existed in their book because of it. But how wrong I was.”

George recognized sounds of shots, six distinct shots in rapid succession and a siren, and later more sirens. He recognized gunshots, and nothing was more chilling. Nothing was more chilling to him than shots in the middle of the night. Five minutes elapsed after gunshots first siren. Helicopter overhead. Circling spotlight. Three in the morning shots woke him up. Not quite awake. Confused. Courage. Gunshots. Helicopter circling overhead. Spotlight. Confusion.

It was the first time in his life that he heard live shots. Shit! He was lying directly under an open window, under a clean sheet and on a fresh pillow when he heard gunshots. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. In rapid succession … pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. George sat straight up. Until then he slept soundly. He didn’t often sleep soundly. He hardly slept. “Shots,” he thought. “It ends in death. Shots, death is final.” He hardly slept after gunshots in the middle of the night … spotlight overhead. Bright light through his window.

Then fully awake he lay on top of sheets. He lay on top of sheets, and with small, dull eyes he stared at the ceiling, he stared at a ceiling fan, and his lips twitched. His ear caught another siren. He wondered who got shot this time and tried to think of something else. He tried to think of something else. Anything else. But unfortunately he couldn’t.

And he felt lucky to have a roof over his head. And he felt lucky to be alive with a roof over his head. He felt lucky to be in Tucson. There now … there now; indeed he was lucky. He felt lucky to be living in the Murder Capital of the World. George felt lucky to be alive. George hadn’t yet gotten use to his new bed. Moonlight lit his room. Moonlight came through a window and lit his room because he opened it to get fresh air and feel less confined. Lying in the middle of a bed he felt less confined with a window open and then felt too exposed. He didn’t know that if it was better to keep a window open or keep it shut. Yet he wanted to be left alone. He wanted to be left alone in his room when he had his door shut. He didn’t know whom he could trust. Then pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

In the morning he tried to avoid old mistakes. He thought about it and decided he would avoid old mistakes by revealing less about himself. He saw how he embarrassed the three sisters and didn’t want to make this mistake again. Also he decided he would make himself useful. He would look around to see how he could make himself useful and find out more about people he was sharing the house with. He studied people there. He tried to study people there without them realizing it. He wanted to know what made them tick. He wanted to get inside their skins. He wanted to get inside their brains and find out what made them tick. He wanted to observe what their insides were like so that he wouldn’t have any surprises. He hated surprises. He didn’t think they could hurt him, but he didn’t want to be surprised. No! No surprises! He thought it was too late for it anyhow. He thought he’d seen everything. He’d already jumped into water over his head. He was thrown in water over his head. At a very early age he was thrown in water over his head and was forced to swim. It was swim or drown. Now he’d have to swim, or would he?

Let’s speak of something else. Try to sleep. Another killing. To what end? George opened his eyes again and stared at a ceiling fan. Another siren. He wondered who shot whom as he stared at a ceiling fan.

Here was what Cesar remembered about his childhood: daily reception he received from two bullies in his second grade class, and how he was left in a ditch after a beating. Even living with a limp he refused to believe that he deserved beatings and ridicule, and he refused to believe that he somehow provoked beatings he received. Only if he’d told his mother, or his teacher, someone, anyone … if only he told someone maybe abuse would’ve stopped. And when the first question by his mother was “Well, where have you been?” … why didn’t he tell her the truth? Tell her? Why didn’t he tell her the truth? Tell her and help her understand why he couldn’t stay out of fights. And he wouldn’t answer her. Even though he sometimes came home and went to school covered with blood, he didn’t snitch. He never snitched. He wasn’t a snitch. Cesar knew that if he snitched he’d get it. He knew that if he snitched it would get worse for him. Not knowing who to accuse his teachers asked, “What happened to you?” Answer: “I tripped and fell.” “Right!” He tripped and fell. Right.

And he got sent to the principal’s office. Principal: “Explain the black-eye.” “Or how did you get those nasty cuts on your face.” Right then Cesar let the principal know what he thought of him and didn’t anticipate the principal’s reaction to being called boss.

Guilty! Yes, he called the principal boss. Who was boss? Who was boss now.

With each swat on the butt he got from the principal’s Enforcer, Cesar laughed and repeated, “Yeah, boss!” Whap! Boss! Whap! Boss! Whap, whap! How could Mr. Rogers then claim that he never spanked a child in anger?

Cesar’s toughness was, incidentally, quite apparent from the beginning. Boss! And after so many decades hasn’t Cesar taught everyone who boss was? Even in high school Cesar ruled hallways. He ruled hallways of his high school. Then whatever happened to little Billy? Boss. Even in high school Cesar formed a syndicate.

His mother made the following distinction: Cesar was distinguished from little Billy by how much he compensated for his limp.” Bless her soul! A limp? Mentioned Cesar, and no one ever mentioned his limp. And no one knew when little Billy became Cesar, though everyone was aware of a transformation. Yes, there was a transformation. Contrary to local lore he didn’t suddenly anoint himself boss. He became boss by outliving his enemies. He somehow managed to outlive his enemies. He outlived them so there wasn’t any doubt about who the winner was. There was no doubt who boss was.

 

 

Chapter Nineteen
The adobe house where Billy grew up stood on busy South 6th Avenue and close to the railroad tracks and Sunset Park and was in South Tucson where murders often occurred. Busy South 6th Avenue was a main artery then and a part of U.S. 80, connecting California with Florida. It was a gateway to Tucson. 6th Avenue ran parallel to railroad tracks, until it reached a junction with a highway heading south to the border. U.S. 80 ran east from there. U.S. 80 ran north through Tucson back then, when a blackout was seriously considered by the city council.

Interspersed with houses, South 6th Avenue had motels (Paradise Motel) and bars (El Sombrero and the Rusty Nail) and had a reputation for being a rough part of town. South 6 South 6th Avenue ran through the mile-square town of South Tucson, which didn’t deserve the reputation it had. It didn’t deserve being called a lawless city. South Tucson was no bigger than a square mile and it was completely surrounded by Tucson; hence it was small and much of its roughness was imported, imported from Tucson.

Little Billy knew South Tucson because his house was located there, and like the South Tucson his house looked shabby. (To be fair, people of South Tucson took pride in their city and did best they could) Like the city, Billy’s house looked rundown and suffered from neglect. It looked shabby and rundown … with a ceiling in a back room literally falling down … and it was located in a part of town where most people were desperate, desperate and poor. Little Billy grew up in a house he wished he could forget. And because of how his house looked Billy grew up ashamed of where he lived.

Even before his transformation little Billy felt he needed to take care of his mother. As a boy he felt he needed to. As a boy he felt he needed to be man of the house. As a boy, he became man of the house. And after her husband skipped out Alma Gomez did her best but always just scraped by. They were poor, very poor, and this left an indelible mark on young Billy. Young Billy saw what poverty did to his mother, he saw what poverty did to people, he knew poverty as a boy and vowed when he grew up to never be poor. He vowed to make something of himself and was driven to succeed. As a single parent raising a kid, Mrs. Gomez had to sacrifice and work long hours, which affected Billy. He was left alone much of the time he wasn’t in school. He was left alone and had too much time on his hands. He was left alone, and Mrs. Gomez felt bad about it. And leaving him alone was where she felt she went wrong. But she didn’t have a choice. Billy worked to help his mother.

People looking in from the outside didn’t realize how tough it was. People judging from the outside didn’t know what it meant to depend on a bus or having to walk when most people drove. Most people didn’t know what it meant to be a single parent and having to work long hours to make ends meet. Most people couldn’t sympathize because they weren’t in Mrs. Gomez’s shoes. Every morning Mrs. Gomez walked to work and worked cleaning motel rooms, clutching nothing but a lunch pail, and every afternoon little Billy, even in the first grade, came home to an empty house. He was left alone and was expected to stay out of trouble. And if he didn’t always live up to expectations, it wasn’t his fault. And reality hit little Billy even harder at night when after laboring all day his mother felt too exhausted to cook. She felt too exhausted to cook or do much of anything. She worked all day and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. And she expected little Billy to do his chores, which he did. He was expected to do his chores and get his homework done. He was expected to throw his papers, which he did. She expected little Billy to do most everything for himself, which he did. And they generally ate TV dinners, and he ate his on a tray in front of television watching a half-hour of Dragnet. He loved Dragnet. But he obviously didn’t believed the premise of Dragnet … that bad guys always got caught and were punished … however, if he didn’t learn anything else from it, it got him familiar with what to expect from cops. And he loved to play cops and robbers.

Little Billy helped his mom and it didn’t leave much time for himself. Still he had too much time on his hands, but it didn’t leave much time for himself. He thought he had to take care of her. And as man of the house, he thought it was his responsibility. And he took on more responsibility than he should’ve. And with his mother as his focus he never asked to stay overnight at a friend’s house until he met Antonio. Antonio’s influence will be dealt with later.

Little Billy slept close enough to his mother to hear her snore and found confront in it. Hearing his mother gave him confront. Sometimes they slept in the same bed. Sometimes they slept in the same bed but didn’t feel that there was anything wrong with it. Each morning little Billy checked on his mother before he got himself ready for school. He always got himself ready for school. He got his own breakfast and got himself ready as she got herself ready for work. Mrs. Gomez got herself ready for work without smiling and stayed focused on her own aches and pains. She had long braided hair and looked exhausted most of the time. She felt exhausted much of the time. She compared her hard life to hell, and hell stooped her before she was fifty. Hell actually unfolded in front of their house every Friday and Saturday night. Little Billy had become Cesar by then. Transformation occurred by then, and before he was finished he raised plenty of hell.

Cesar had a strong commanding voice. He was loud and could be heard and understood for more than a block. He spoke with authority. His voice gave him authority. He always spoke with authority. Mrs. Gomez went to her priest for guidance. She didn’t know what to do, so she went to her priest. She didn’t know what to do with Billy. She needed guidance. She didn’t know what she should do. She knew she was making mistakes but didn’t know what to do about it. Her priest told her to leave Cesar alone because of his maturity. Cesar was always mature for his age. As man of the house, Cesar had to be mature. Mrs. Gomez never voiced an opinion about Cesar’s maturity. She never said what she believed since she was never assertive. Cesar or little Billy? She always referred to Cesar as her innocent little Billy.

Antonio and his two bodyguards, Conrad and Julian, would arrive at Mountain View Elementary School in a black limousine every weekday morning at 7:50. They always arrived at 7:50 on the dot. On the surface this daily routine seemed unnecessary. On the surface it didn’t seem like Antonio needed two bodyguards. This was Tucson and not Chicago. This amount of protection for an elementary student seemed absurd to most observers. This amount of protection for Tucson seemed absurd. Idea had been for the Chicago mob boss to quietly retire with his family in Tucson where his children could grow up away from violence and the Chicago mob boss could grow old in the shade of a paloverde tree … overlook roasting at 110 in the shade. But resting in shade never materialized, and he wasn’t fool enough to allow his son Antonio to ride his bicycle up and down a sidewalk without a couple of bodyguards slowly driving up and down the street beside the boy. The house was still there. Antonio’s house was still there. With an iron front gate long gone the house looked pretty much the same as it did … pretty much like any other house on the block. Fuss at school caused by Antonio didn’t disrupt classes, though buzz about him and his family never stopped. Mountain View Elementary School was just as lively after the final bell as it was in the morning. And when he left the building Antonio always had two bodyguards waiting for him in a shiny limousine.

Almost always late little Billy would reach Mountain View just before the tardy bell rang. He ran to class, and his day wouldn’t be complete without seeing a shiny black limousine pull away. Appalling idea that he had to walk to school … humiliating idea that he had to walk and taunts and encounters with bullies and a principal’s Enforcer … blood and bruises and black and blue marks so pissed Billy off that nothing could’ve kept him from getting even.

What would a mob boss do?”

Ask Antonio!”

Cesar learned that crime paid from Antonio’s father. He also saw that it paid well. He grew up poor and crime paid well. Billy learned crime paid well. If you were smart, crime paid well. Cesar was smart and was determined to do well. He also saw that it paid to be careful and to him it explained why Antonio’s father was never convicted of anything. And in such a world you didn’t measure friendship by handshakes. And maybe that was why Cesar and Antonio’s father got along.

And Cesar knew damn well what he was doing.

On with a life as boss! Tucson had never seen such a success. Lists of crimes prepared by the County Attorney, or a suspicion of a connection with Cesar, or anonymous tips were never enough to generate much interest by cops, while it should’ve been enough. Crimes began to appear in the Citizen; crimes that were never looked at; crimes that were never solved. This list of crimes grew long.

A poor boy who used to ride around in a mobster’s limousine suddenly owned his own fancy car. Suddenly he had a lot of money. Suddenly there wasn’t a limit to the amount of money he had … suddenly Cesar had more money than he knew how to spend. He had more money than he could invest. His neighbors watched his success and assumed that it all came from drugs. They assumed many things, but how much of it could they make stick?

Cesar then had funds enough to invest in a fancy club on the south side close to the rodeo grounds. Close to the rodeo grounds, but patrons paid little heed to flies from horses, and the club was located in a neighborhood that was written off anyway. The club was not very far from the house Cesar grew up in, so he knew the neighborhood. He knew neighberhood politicians who ran South Tucson. Cesar soon ran South Tucson. He ran South Tucson because of who he knew. He wasn’t a politician, yet he ran South Tucson. Why Cesar was damn smart, people agreed. He didn’t need to be a politician to run South Tucson. Cesar pumping money into an area filled with dangerous elements proved how smart he was and won him many friends. And Cesar knew how to eliminate enemies.

As long ago as the early seventies the chief method of persuasion Cesar used involved a pile of money and a revolver on his desk. That was how he negotiated with city officials and ordinary schmucks.

 

 

Chapter Twenty
Higgs laid his head down on a table. He wanted to drink until he couldn’t feel anything. He wanted to forget everything. He wanted to drink himself silly. He was already drunk but wasn’t drunk enough. He wanted to drink some more. A picture of Maggie with a bunch of wild flowers came to mind. “Maggie …. with wild flowers in her hair.”

A regular crowd was tempted to go outside after a monsoon storm. The storm was violent and sudden and had cooled everything off. It cooled everything off to such an extent that everyone was tempted to go outside. As a burnished sun sank dark clouds created a brilliant sunset. It was spectacular. Tucson had the most spectacular sunsets. What a show! There was a lull in conversations, as patrons of the El Sombrero stood in awe. People pulled over to watch the sunset. As patrons stood in awe, there was silence; as long as there was a break in the traffic, there was silence.

Maggie …. with flowers in her hair.”

Higgs banged his head on the table. He banged his head so hard that he hurt himself, but friends knew better than to get involved. Knowing better than to get involved a bartender continued to wash glasses and said, “What’s the big deal? What’s the big deal about rain? I can’t remember ever owning an umbrella. Can you, Lenny? What’s the big deal about a sunset?”

Maggie….” Higgs started crying. Sobbed.

So that was how Higgs amused himself. He frequented the El Sombrero and amused himself there. He amused himself there during storms as it cooled off and wind blew hard, as wind blew from all directions, and with no more quarters for a jukebox. (Somehow he always managed to get another beer.) Now he wasn’t drunk enough, his last beer should’ve done it. Big mistake that beer. Not so good. Not so good. Not so easy. Not so easy. Easy now. His last beer was bitter.

As regulars drifted back into the El Sombrero Higgs moaned. And he moaned and moaned. Listening to a grown man moan was hard on everyone. “What happened?” someone asked. Everyone knew Lenny, so why did someone ask, “What happened? Everyone knew the former mayor.”

Oh, you know” was a response given.

The same old song and people no longer listened. Neither did beer listen. Bitter beer a bitter pill. More people came in. People no long listened to Lenny.

Maggie with wild flowers in her hair.”

Lenny wanted to marry her. Lenny wanted to marry her more than she wanted to marry him.

Her idea? No, his idea.

Ah!

Maggie. His! Maggie. His!

Perhaps too sensible, Maggie wanted to wait. Ever talk sense into a spoiled doll? Higgs shook his head. He wanted to become somebody. She didn’t care about it. She didn’t care. She didn’t care if Lenny became mayor of Tucson. She would’ve just as soon not have been a mayor’s wife. Hold on! She always campaigned with him. True, but was her heart in it? Was her heart in it?

She hated us. He was our mayor. She hated being our mayor’s wife. She hated being in the public eye, yet she campaigned with him. She hated it. Maggie hated it. She hated campaigning, yet she helped him get elected.

Old crook may have passed for our mayor. He went around giving speeches about accountability and acted like our mayor. He wrote a book on the subject. Accountability. He was our mayor for many years and wrote a book on the subject. Complete with a preface by a guy named Cesar.

Sometimes Maggie got horribly depressed … felt less than adequate. Whereas in fact she was smart. So many things depressed her. She went around in a bad mood most of the time. But even though she was Lenny’s wife … a mayor’s wife … she was free to do whatever she wanted. He gave her as much freedom as she wanted. It’s not clear if she thought about killing herself.

Well, like Shelly, she didn’t like Tucson’s climate. She didn’t like summer heat, didn’t like Mexican food, hated hot food, hot weather, summer and didn’t like people who only spoke Spanish. She thought everyone in America needed to speak English. But regardless whether she liked Tucson or not, she promised to be faithful. She promised to be faithful to her husband. She hated being a mayor’s wife, but … but she promised to be faithful to Lenny. Well they were friendly enough to have a baby … Kitty. And they were lovers, within bounds. “Do you really mean friends?” “Or do you mean lovers? Within limits.”

And Mayor Higgs did all talking … all negotiating. She always stood in the background.

And always,” Kitty once said about her mother, “she saw good in everyone.” Was it true? Did she see good in everyone? Was it true? Could she see good in evil? Sometimes she saw good in people, when Higgs didn’t, and sometimes it was the other way around. Sometimes Higgs saw good in some people only when she made him notice. She even said it about Cesar. She even saw good in Cesar.

So she tried to look beyond her husband’s drinking. Let us return to their little house. Even when they could afforded something better and her husband’s position demanded it she refused to move. Even when their house became old, neglected, and rundown she wouldn’t budge. When their house became old, neglected, and rundown, she tried to make something of it. It was a joy of hers, in spite of its condition, and she tried to bring joy to it. It depressed her; yet she brought joy to it. She did her best, but maybe it wasn’t enough. She selected furnishings for the house, did her best; but what depressed her was that her efforts went unappreciated.

His drinking exacted a ghastly toll. It exacted a ghastly toll on everyone close to Higgs. His drinking … twenty years of it without stinking or falling down. Then she had to get away for awhile. She hated Tucson. She hated being Tucson’s mayor’s wife and had to get away for awhile. But where could she go? She felt trapped and didn’t know where she could go. And this, primarily, was what all of her projects were about. Why she tried to be everywhere at once. Why she got involved in everything she could? Why she got involved in everything she could and neglected her house and neglected herself. On every level, from national committees down to day care centers and food drives, she got involved and put her stamp on it. She got involved and put her stamp on it and hated it. Because it wasn’t merely a question of Higgs’ drinking, and headaches associated with it, denial, flubs, lies, but … or was it to prevent it from harming her? Was it to prevent him from harming her?

Now this was what Higgs wanted then to tell everyone. How Maggie disposed of bottles and cans so that they wouldn’t end up in their trash. How she tried to make him presentable. How she picked him up. He was never a falling down, stinking drunk and over the years her efforts seemed to work. And no wonder it took a ghastly toll on her. And over years promises about sobering up never went far enough. Nonstop sermons and supportive therapy did no good. (He wouldn’t go to AA. He was afraid to go to AA. Because he was mayor, he was afraid to go to AA. } No wonder it took a ghastly toll on Maggie. A year in rehab wouldn’t have cured Higgs. AA wouldn’t have cured him. Not to mention a hundred chances she gave him. And all this time he was busy organizing this and that, running a city, running Tucson, and in charge of millions of dollars. Working constantly and drinking. God, how he held his liquor! It took a muscle man to hold as much. It took a muscle man to hold so much liquor. It took muscle to run a city. He was never a falling down, stinking drunk. Then he became a god among thieves, and she saw it all and it took a ghastly toll. He and Cesar were alike in that way. Gods among thieves. And the mayor was often alone in a cozy world peopled by flatterers and yes-men. Except for one person. No! She had to get out. Maggie had it and had to get out.

And there came a point because of Lenny’s drinking and ghastly toll it took that Maggie had to get out of their marriage. Air she breathed became stifling, and she had to get out or else it would kill her. Her life had started to decay. Decay because of two monsters, equal monsters: work and booze. And she couldn’t take it anymore.

He should’ve listened to her when she told him: “Power corrupts. Power corrupts.” Did he hear her? More likely not. More likely because of alcohol her words didn’t sink in, or he was too busy. He was very busy and rarely home.

So she told him, “I’m going to take a trip. Get away for a while. I know it takes money, but I’ve got a little stashed away. Don’t worry.”

Worried?”

Dignity. Honor. Courage. See him. Drunk again.

Gotta get away. Gotta go where destiny takes me. Go somewhere where people don’t know a thing about me.”

How long?”

Don’t know.”

Safety. Safely.

Backing a car out of the drive had to have been tough. Traffic was maddening (north and south, up and down), and she gripped the steering wheel as if her life depended on it (pretty damn rotten, and feeling pretty shitty, pretty shitty for leaving Lenny) until she turned on the radio. She drove down Sixth Avenue headed for Nogales. Nogales and possibly Mexico. Tears made it hard for her to see; and so drained by emotion she didn’t pay attention to a vehicle behind her. Traffic was maddening, so she didn’t pay attention to a vehicle behind her. Oh, boy! Too much! It was too much for her. She had to get a gripped as she gripped a steering wheel. Scared and without realizing when she passed Cesar’s Palace, she gripped a steering wheel harder and harder. It felt like she was choking someone, squeezing harder, helpless, in that instance aware of the gravity of her decision. Drove through a red light! She drove through a red light without thinking … then thought, “I could’ve killed someone.” Life you save may be your own. And she began to shake. Shaky, It wasn’t far to the edge of town, but within that distance she relived a lifetime.

Remember how you took care of him … how you took care of him for years and what it did to you? What a toll! How you tried to make marriage work? What harm did one drink do or socializing with a drink in his hand? Everyone drinks. His drinking wasn’t unusual. In defense of his drinking, drinking helped him relax. Was it his drinking? Everyone seemed to drink.

Most likely distracted. Driving past airport, during rush hour, not knowing where she was heading. Checked her watch. Not home from his meeting yet. Checked her watch. He wouldn’t know yet she left. He would have to get his own supper. Sometimes he didn’t get home until quite late. With meeting, sometimes he didn’t get home until quite late. Maybe he would eat out. “Would he miss me?” she wondered out loud. She knew how her husband would be upset if she didn’t have supper on the table. Not just her husband. Most husbands. Her father was that way too. All alike! Fetch this and fetch that. Acting helpless. And expecting it

Rush hour. Traffic was maddening (north and south). Heading south. Toward Mexico. That car. That car was still there. She didn’t notice she was still being followed.

But afterward Kitty sat on her father’s knee, his precious little helper, so much more helpful after mommy left them. And he held his glass away from her while she reached for it. Glass was only a fourth full, and each day she reached for whatever he had in his hand. Precious little helper. Yet he claimed that he didn’t have an alcohol problem.

Never knew for sure what happened. Had his suspicions. He knew his wife lost it. And he suspected that she partially lost her mind. Why else … why else would she leave them? His mind couldn’t fully comprehend it. He never understood why she left them.

Hold fast. Steady.

But as she took quick breaths between sobs and drove south she understood better than ever before. Finally she knew what she had to do. Car was still there.

From when she first sat on his knee Kitty felt as if she had to take care of her father. Like all other deep feelings, worry … that while she worried she made excuses for him. Whenever he fell down, there she was r to pick him up … there she was caring too much and totally unaware of what was happening to her. She was always there … always there when he needed her and was unaware of what it was doing to her. No, she didn’t recognize it.

An hour passed. Thus Higgs was forced to endure again sadness and pain … sadness and pain over loss of Maggie caused. Meanwhile regulars he knew paid homage to Higgs.

Strange hour, indeed it was and strangely unnerving to say the least. He felt exhausted; he felt broken. Only drinking helped. So shaken was he that he had forgotten that he had sent for George.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-one
Molly guided George into the El Sombrero. It sat across the street from a branch library. Most people entered the bar directly from a parking lot in back walking past two restrooms, with men’s piss on the floor. Down a hall smell of piss. Inside smoky and smell of stale beer … to an unaccustomed customer, pity their eyes. Most were regulars. Most knew everyone. Loud, loud music, Mexican, Mexican music, and those who didn’t like it didn’t have to come in. It was considered a Mexican bar. South Tucson was primarily Mexican.

One could stand or sit at the bar. Simple choices. No dark beer or sissy drinks. If you asked for it, you could get pot. No sweetness. Pot. Drugs. Shit. Dealing outside, near and on a payphone. No places for girls but broads were welcomed. Queers were outlawed. Queers were outlawed. You either belonged or you didn’t. And sometimes killings took place there. There were often brawls.

And yet Molly knew her way in and out, while George … well. George looked about and felt like running. George wasn’t sure. It wasn’t like he was chicken. Still he felt like running. He had been around the block, and anyone who accused him of being chicken didn’t know him. He just felt reluctant to go into a Mexican bar. There weren’t many Mexicans where he came from. He wasn’t sure of spicks. He was sure of wetbacks. There weren’t many Mexicans where he came from, so they were spicks and wetbacks to him. There weren’t any in the high-rise he grew up in … except for maids and landscapers. He grew up in an exclusive high-rise apartment in an exclusive white section of Dallas. But he didn’t have anything against Mexicans. Wasn’t Mrs. Martinez and her girls Mexican? Yet he felt reluctant to go into a Mexican bar. He considered himself lucky. He was on a roll and felt reluctant to take too many chances. So he hesitated at the door of the El Sombrero before sliding in.

Why had Higgs sent for George? What was the matter with Higgs? What was burning him up? Whatever it was it was hush, hush. It was hush, hush as far George was concerned, but everyone knew. Everyone knew but couldn’t really say. Higgs would’ve liked a resolution. He would liked it solved. And he would have liked for it to make sense. He couldn’t make sense of it. He didn’t know for sure. He couldn’t make sense of it. Was his wife murdered? If so who murdered her. In the back of his mind he thought he knew who murdered her, but he wasn’t sure. He couldn’t be sure. And it had been that way for a long time. But with George around something seemed different.

For years Higgs occupied the same table in a dark corner, in the back with his back against a wall. Higgs always faced door. He always wanted to keep track of door. He always wanted to see who came in. A clock kept ticking. Unaware of time Higgs waited for George. He waited, sadly and nostalgically waited and thought he wasn’t drunk enough. He wanted to get stinking drunk. With sum of his experiences, he sat in blue light of a neon clock. He sat in a blue light hoping he wasn’t noticed. He wanted to disappear. He waited for George hoping to disappear.

When he saw George he ordered a round of beers. More? Yes, more for my friends. “Everyone, I want you to meet George.”

George!” There was uproar.

Molly knew when to excuse herself, exercise restraint and not say what she thought about Higg’s drinking.

A thousand thanks, Mr. Batman! You’re infinitely kind to come. God will reward you. Welcome to my office. Cops came to house today. What do you suppose it was about?”

Murder.”

Well … what do you know. Another murder. We live among murderers. I wouldn’t have guessed it. Sit down!” And George sat, as Higgs continued. “Tried to remember it the way I need to. More murders than you can count. One more murder. So hard to forget. Yet we can’t remember them all. It’s hard to put a face on it. Hard to put a face on all of them. Silly. Goddamn silly. Goddamn it, I had it stored away until you waltzed in. Damn, it used to be that I never forgot a goddamn thing.”

Quite right we never do.”

Ssh! Don’t tell anybody. Help. H-e-elp me, George,” Higgs pleaded.

A barmaid sat beers in front of the two men and removed four empties.

So Maggie no longer was driving toward the border and this gave Higgs great comfort, or some comfort … some comfort when he couldn’t find comfort from anything else that happened the night Maggie died. So Maggie was coming home, or so he thought. Or he liked to think. So Maggie changed her mind. Her car was turned toward Tucson, and not toward Nogalas. She was heading north toward Tucson when … so she was coming home when…. She had gotten almost a mile from the city limits sign when … past the airport when … What with a decision to leave her marriage she had already driven fifty times that distance and instead of feeling liberated she was boiling inside over something that wasn’t concrete. So she turned around and was heading home when … Had no way of retaliating except to leave him, but her sole purpose for leaving was to save herself and not punish him, so she decided to turn around and was heading home when … Surely she wouldn’t leave her daughter, with Kitty already developing into a problem. Kitty was already a hand full.

It was my fault. I pushed you. You ran away. And you stopped. For some reason you stopped. You knew better than to stop. You were heading home when you stopped.

Bingo!

At that time of night the highway would’ve been deserted. It was most likely deserted so investigators couldn’t say what happened. They found her car with flashers on but not her body. They didn’t find her body until later. They found her body l after a long search.

Geniuses of psychology couldn’t figure it out, but Higgs did. Without mechanical problems: she wouldn’t have stopped unless she felt safe. She didn’t have a mechanical problem. Her car didn’t show mechanical problems, so she felt safe when she stopped. And she wouldn’t have stopped for a hitchhiker. She wouldn’t have stopped for a hitchhiker or stopped along the side of highway at that time of night without a mechanical problem. Nor for a disabled vehicle either. Her car was found intact, with no mechanical problems, and was found by the side of the highway, abandoned by the side of the highway. None of it made sense, no sense at all unless … cops! It was the only idea that made any sense to Higgs. Cops! Cops would’ve been able to stop her without alarming her … alarming anyone. And flashing lights would’ve reassured her. She would’ve stopped for cops. She was stopped for speeding before, and if uniforms were used she wouldn’t have been able to tell difference between real cops and fake ones. They could’ve gotten her to step out of her car. Even real cops could’ve been involved. Murdered. Was she murdered?

Cops?”

Shish!”

Detective who talked to Higgs seemed competent and told him where his wife’s body was found. It was found in the desert about three miles from her car. Three miles from her car? She stopped her car, got out, and, for some unknown reason, wandered off? She wandered three miles from her car, where she died? No. It didn’t make sense to Higgs. Detective asked him, “Had she been depressed.” It didn’t make sense to Higgs.

Was she depressed? “Yes.” He had to answer yes. “Yes, she was depressed. My God! Depressed! Who wasn’t depressed? Goddamn note she left me sent me into a nosedive.” Higgs pushed past the detective and ran into the street, yelling as he ran.

Higgs told George, “They thought she harmed herself.”

Suicide?”

Yes, suicide. They ruled it a suicide, but I didn’t buy it. I didn’t buy it for a second. Not Maggie, not my Maggie. She was too strong willed. I didn’t buy it, didn’t buy it for a second.”

In time a medical examiner debunked suicide, and his report knocked Higgs flat. His report knocked him off his feet. From beginning he didn’t think that she could kill herself: car faced Tucson, meaning she was heading home. Why would she commit suicide?

Suicide. No. No.

Mere mention of suicide was all it took. What else can I think about? What else have I thought about besides joining her?

Help. H-e-elp me, George!”

Suicide. No. Not suicide.

George remembered his own struggle … his own struggles. He remembered his thoughts … his attempts. How many times did he try to kill himself? How many times did he try to die? How many times did he try to overdose? How many times did he cut his wrists? How many times did he try to hang himself. Yes, he remembered. Yes, remembered desperation. Yes, remembered surrendering to urges. He told himself he could. He gave himself permission. On the edge. On a rooftop. Ready to take a plunge. To fall an undetermined distance. Hit cement face down. Then he gave himself permission to live. “You could come home,” said George. “Come home,” said George.

Come on.”

Why not?”

You’re right. I could go home, and then what?”

It’s up to you.”

My choice? You’re no help.”

Worm.

Your could give yourself permission to live.”

No help. You’re no help.”

Who’s running away? Trapped! He’ll find answers, full of agony, his eyes gouged out with a spoon.

Life ain’t fair. That’s all comfort you get. Life ain’t fair. You may deserve more, but it’s all you’ll get.” Worm, be Worm. Little worm, who endured all the abuse. “Whut you want?” asked George’s father, as he lowered his paper. Tell him George. Tell him what Miss M did. Nothin’. All the commotion over nothin’? All the bullshit! “You don’t see them, do you?”

See what?”

Scratches.”

What?”

Scratches. Scars.”

Scars? What scratches? What scars?”

You don’t see them.”

What in hell are you talking about?”

To feel nothing. Worm. “Forget it.” Yes inside George felt worm-like. He felt worm-like and wanted to forget everything. But it was tedious, so tedious. It was a lot of work and tedious. Wasn’t he meticulous? If he weren’t meticulous, maybe it wouldn’t be tedious. See how carefully he worked at it. Sure, by then a judge ordered him into therapy.

I’m not the same boy,” he tried to say, and he hoped that there was someone out there who’d believe him. “I’m not the same boy.” There had to be someone out there that believed him. There were other victims, other boys … other boys who understood. Meanwhile George thrived on disassociation.

After Maggie’s murder Higgs seemed stuck. Old and drunk, stinking and drunk most of the time he stumbled around aimlessly. He found an excuse to drink. He drank all the time. Still people wanted things from him and popped into his office whenever they wanted something. Popped into the El Sombrero whenever they wanted something.

Waiting for death. Dunk all the time. Waiting for death. Waiting to die. Now he was a falling down, stinking drunk. Drunk and occupied with thoughts of death … preoccupied with death. And Higgs didn’t account for any pleasure he got from it. He didn’t admit he got pleasure from it. To see Maggie again. That was what he wanted. To see Maggie again. What he was waiting for?

What a strange occupation indeed, plotting one’s destiny, an exhilarating, humbling, and sobering experience. To pass time in that way with a kindred soul, which they both knew would never happen again. Planning together. With their shirts catching an updraft as they fell, flying for a split second, an idea that appealed to both of them. They were all set for a quick journey, as they encouraged each other and drank with resignation. They were set to hit cement face down, as they encouraged each other and drank with resignation.

George and Higgs talked to each other about timing. They listened to each other. They felt connected and listened to each other. George and Higgs felt connected. George and Higgs felt a connection. George hadn’t found many people who would listen to him, so he knew what it meant to be a good listener. And Higgs appreciated George because he listened. But before anything could happen intervention would have to be stymied, good-byes misinterpreted; and everything they once believed in had to be forgotten.

They sat there in the El Sombrero, talking, drinking, and hardly thinking. “Well, George, so here we are.” But their talk stopped when they began to doubt their resolve.

When asked what Cesar did Higgs generally replied, “He owns and runs various businesses.” From way he paused, anyone could tell that he was evading the question. He was evading George’s questions. Ashamed of his connection? It was hard to say.

They were compadres. Cesar and Higgs grew up together. Could they have been close, in cahoots since junior grade school or some such thing? Friends since then Higgs wouldn’t have been elected mayor without Cesar’s support.

So Cesar expected the mayor to call on him every week, and there was nothing Higgs wanted more to avoid. There was nothing more Mayor Higgs wanted to avoid was call on Higgs. But he had to go. Higgs couldn’t avoid Cesar. At least that was what he said. Maggie always countered it with “We’ve got all we need.”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two
The clock said seven, and they’d been talking and drinking since six. Higgs ordered one more for each of them before they left the El Sombrero together. An excuse Higgs gave he gave innumerable times but no beer ever seemed more important to him than this one, more important because he needed fortification. It seemed only yesterday and just as vivid. It seemed only yesterday and just as vivid since Maggie’s death and nothing was more humiliating than what he was about to do. Yet he couldn’t give a good reason why he became buddy-buddy with his tormentors. Yet he couldn’t give a good reason for doing it. He couldn’t say why it was different now except George came to town, except he met George and he had George for fortification.

Sometimes in the cafeteria; sometimes during study hall, they teased Lenny. They teased him and teased him and boys couldn’t keep from laughing at him, and he felt inferior. He had to overcome feeling inferior. And he showed them by becoming mayor, Mayor of Tucson.

By this time Maggie, with sparkling eyes and long hair (the first time Lenny noticed her she was wearing a red dress with spaghetti straps), was flirting, hoping Lenny would notice her. By this time Cesar, his domination over Antonio completed, turned his attention to Lenny. He looked at Lenny and saw a victim. Some kids came across as victims, and Lenny was one of them. Lenny came across as a victim. Cesar saw Lenny as a victim and started plotting what to do to him.

Then came a day when Cesar offered Lenny his car by saying, “Go ahead. Ask her out. Here are my keys and get a little for me.” Cesar offered Lenny keys to his car in the school parking lot and got a kick out of it. He got a kick out of saying, “Get some for me.”

Cesar’s Chevy convertible came with sunglasses and suntan lotion. By then word spread throughout school that good girls didn’t ride in Cesar’s convertible. Cesar’s convertible gained that kind of notoriety. Cesar had that kind of reputation. Everyone knew Cesar and knew he was bad news. Cesar loved notoriety and loved ruining reputations. He loved scandal and even then used scandal to gain power, but more than anything he loved to make people squirm. He enjoyed making people servants.

Lenny was already in love with Maggie and she with him, but she still wouldn’t put out. She had a reputation to keep, so she wouldn’t put out. She would only go so far, still Lenny loved her. Or thought he loved her. Sometimes Lenny thought Maggie was a titty-flirt.

They’d drive down to the golf course on the Santa Cruz, running then. Running then, bank to bank, an oasis in the desert. They’d park there … park on the golf course at night and petted. Petty was as far as Maggie would go. And for while their future depended on what went on there. They were going steady and prospects of having a life together seemed possible. Life seemed possible then.

Still Maggie wouldn’t put out. No matter how much he pressured her she wouldn’t put out; she simply wouldn’t. And it meant to Lenny (and his friends) that she didn’t love him enough. If she really loved him, he reasoned, she’d do it … she’d let him, she would. If she really loved him, she would put out. And Cesar would say something dumb like, “I think there’s something wrong with her.”

Like what?” Only thing wrong with her, as far as Lenny was concern, was that she wouldn’t put out.

How many times did they have this conversation … with lowered, contemptuous voices, led by Cesar … and with Lenny seething inside and often wondering what was wrong with him because of Maggie wouldn’t put out? What was wrong? What was wrong with him? No joking. They had this conversation. And laughed. And with Lenny seething inside.

Oh Lenny! Lenny, honey … is s-something wr-wrong? Tell me!” Yes, there was something wrong, but he wouldn’t tell her what. Maggie pleaded, while shielding her breast with her arms. With arms folded across her chest, she explained, “I’m afraid, and I keep thinking that you wouldn’t like me for who I am if I … “ (But she wouldn’t say.) “But I don’t want to be left out because I won’t. I don’t want to be left out, but I want to be a virgin on my wedding night.” (And this made Lenny want to get married right then.) But I don’t want to be left behind. I don’t want you to think I don’t care about you. I said I was afraid you wouldn’t care.”

I care alright,” said Higgs, silently cursing.

Knowing you care is important to me. If you didn’t care I don’t think I could live. If you didn’t care I don’t know what I’d do.”

And she trusted that he wouldn’t talk to his friends about her … that he wouldn’t share details, details about their petting and said once again, “I was afraid that you wouldn’t like me when I wouldn’t. I was afraid so I gave in a little. I mean I’ve enjoyed it but … but I see how unhappy it makes you. Of course my parents … we’ve talked about it. Not about you and me but in general terms … my parents, daddy mostly, him, mostly my daddy and me have talked. Now how about a piece of gum?”

Gum?”

Yeah, Juicy Fruit.”

Yeah. Gum.” And Lenny couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

And all this while Jessica and Lydia thought there was nothing wrong with putting out. All this while kids had free access to cars. Kids then had their own cars and smooching meant nothing to some girls, some girls put out and some girls didn’t. Some humped; some didn’t. Some fucked, some didn’t. And other girls were embarrassed by it: that was how different girls were. What the hell! That was Lydia’s attitude. One night, Lydia; and the next, Jessica.

Now, when Cesar said to Lenny, “Call her up and take her out … here are my keys … get some for me,” Cesar felt high. And it was funny to him. “Get some for me.” He would tempt Lenny in a way that he hadn’t been tempted before. If Maggie wouldn’t put out Lydia would. “Oh, go on, Lenny. Maggie won’t find out, and what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Cesar giving him keys to his convertible didn’t tempt Lenny. He was tempted when Cesar said, “get some for me” and when he knew Cesar would ask him about it afterward. So after he took Maggie home, he picked up Lydia.

For three weeks Lenny got himself plenty and hated himself for it. First Lydia; then Jessica. “Do you remember Lydia?”

No!”

What a heel I was?”

It was when he nearly told Maggie about Lydia but instead said, “What a heel I’ve been.” First Lydia; then Jessica. But she knew. Of course she knew. Of course, Maggie knew. Everyone knew. By this time Lenny and Maggie, whom everyone saw cruising around in Cesar’s convertible, were an item, and how in world would Maggie not know?

Lydia was especially good-looking, but Lenny didn’t fall for her. They had Cesar’s convertible and a choice spot at the golf course, and with blues on. Lenny loved blues. People with horses lived nearby, and Lenny hated flies and smell of horses. He loved blues but hated flies and smell of horses. (It was a smell Higgs always associated with Cesar’s Palace; goddamn it! Not just smell of horses but also pesky flies.) He hated Cesar, Cesar’s Palace, and Cesar didn’t care for him. Lenny preferred the El Sombrero. Lenny fell for Maggie without her putting out.

And plenty more things happened that made him hate himself: fucking Lydia when he had doubts about wanting to, fucking her over and over and feeling depraved and disgusted with himself immediately afterward. Fucking Jessica, and feeling depraved and disgusted with himself. He didn’t love Lydia. He didn’t love Jessica. He loved Maggie, and Maggie wouldn’t put out.. He hated himself for fucking Jessica. He didn’t love Jessica. He loved Maggie. And he learned then that women couldn’t keep a secret. He somehow knew Lydia and Jessica couldn’t keep it secret. Somehow he knew they would tell. He somehow knew they would tell and Maggie would find out. And friends would talk, and it would become talk of the school. Everyone would find out … ha, ha, ha. And instead of having something to brag about, he faced ridicule … ha, ha, ha! Ridiculed about the size of his peter. Shut up! Ha, ha, ha! He didn’t enjoy it. Sex was supposed to be enjoyable. Maybe it was because of the size of his peter that he wasn’t enjoying it so much. God damnit! … poor Maggie. Ha, ha, shut up! It hurt Maggie. He knew it hurt her. He knew it hurt Maggie. It was obvious to Lenny that Lydia had been there before. And Jessica too. It was the kind of girls they were. It was why he went out with them. He knew they would go all the way.

Forget idea of him living a humdrum life. Higgs had his friend Cesar to think for it.

At that hour with Higgs and George drunk, Higgs attacked Cesar for his depravity, but how could he say anything? How could he say anything when …? What right did he have to criticize Cesar when …? And Lydia, in khaki blue of prison garb, was crying because her life was over … her life ruined because of mistakes she made. And what about Jessica? Forget Jessica! Higgs talked about how he had a devil of a time with Lydia and Jessica and how it frightened him. Forget Jessica! Maggie was still a virgin and remained a virgin until they were married. He had to wait until they were married. Only a couple of girls up until then. It was strange when he thought about it. Only a couple of girls up until then. And it seemed even stranger after Maggie told him how much their first kiss meant to her. It seemed stranger then.

No, no, come on I never loved Lydia or Jessica now you see how I was and I was a fellow without a lot of experience and I made a lot of mistakes and not so long ago either but now I want to go steady and hope eventually we get married. Maggie I want to marry you. Will you marry me? They were still in high school, when Lenny asked Maggie to marry him, and don’t be fooled by rumors, rumors you hear, you hear that I care for Lydia or Jessica. Listen give me a second change. When we get a chance, I want to tell you how much I love you. Forgive me Maggie

Look here take a good look at me and what you see is a lonely old man, and I don’t care anymore about something like drinking and not because it all gets put behind me before I can see you again. Forgive me Maggie

I’m talking about cruel fate, cruel fate of knowing that son-of-a bitch, knowing what that son-of-a bitch did, knowing that I’m going to shoot him, going to shoot him and with my luck I’ll miss. I miss you. Forgive me Maggie

It won’t be long Maggie, No, it won’t be long.

At that hour with glazed eyes that seemed set in a glaze, two men focused on what they’d been through. They were still sitting there, each with a bottle of beer, in a smoky bar and hidden from Saturday’s crowd, and each with more to say…

Going to shoot the son-of-bitch.

Without backing of the son-of-a-bitch, Lenny would never have been elected president of his senior class. Without the backing of the son-of-a-bitch, he would never have been elected mayor. He happily woke up one morning to the reality of having won by a wide margin and accepted a gift without mentioning his benefactor. It was an understanding from the get go. He wouldn’t mention his benefactor. It was an understanding they had when Lenny ran. He didn’t have to tell people, of course, because everybody knew who ran things.

It was a pretty vicious campaign. The results were recorded, and it was pretty vicious. It was reported in the weekly edition of the Tattletale but nothing was written about how Cesar stole the election for Lenny. Horace Jackson should’ve won. Horace Jackson had more determination than Lenny. Horace worked harder than Lenny. He was more qualified than Lenny and should’ve won. Horace had the most determination and lined the halls with the most posters … three or four times more than anyone else. And Lenny wasn’t as smart as Horace but wouldn’t have wanted to be. Lenny felt contempt for anyone smart enough to belong to the National Honor Society, and Cesar convinced him to use it against Horace. So he used it against Horace. Run on contempt was a strategy conceived by Cesar. And before he could come up with a response, Horace was assailed by a hateful band of nose pickers and snot eaters who were organized by Cesar to mock him. Nose pickers and snot eaters followed Horace around. Nose pickers and snot eaters taunted him. Poor Horace, there wasn’t a backlash. Poor Horace, he was smart but not smart enough to outwit Cesar. And every time nose pickers and snot eaters mocked Horace, Lenny stood up for him. He’d say, “How gross! They should cut it out and show more respect for someone who belongs to the National Honor Society.” And each time he defended Horace, Lenny got closer to winning and eventually overtook his opponent. He eventually overtook his opponent and won by a landslide.

And afterward, as a way of celebrating, Cesar said, “Let’s run to border and get some nooky,” and three of them went down there, and Cesar got out, walked in, and plopped down a wad of dough. He chuckled as he led the way. Antonio and Lenny tagged along as Cesar led the way. Antonio and Lenny wouldn’t have had nerve enough had it not been for Cesar. It was Cesar’s idea. It was Cesar’s idea to cross the border and get nooky. Cesar instigated it, and Cesar led the way. It was Cesar’s idea. They were only seventeen and wouldn’t know where to go if it weren’t for Cesar. Cesar led the way. That night Lenny was passionate, he was weak, he was stupid, he was pitiful, and worse thing was he felt inept. And he blamed Cesar. He blamed Cesar so he didn’t have to accept the blame.

Going to shoot the son-of-bitch.

Higgs remembered how Maggie cried.

Now what’s the matter, honey?” he asked.

I’m so happy.”

Notwithstanding that he just gave her an engagement ring, he saw in her face sadness that came from a sense of foreboding. He was drinking, garnering courage. But not yet drunk. He wasn’t drunk. He made it a point not to drink too much around Maggie.

Wow, I’m glad it’s over. Don’t laugh. I was nervous.”

I couldn’t tell.”

They sat facing each other at table in front of a huge fish tank. They ordered sea fish platters and platters had come. They allowed a waiter to squeeze lemon over cod. They planned to go to a movie; except Lenny said something came up, something that he was vague about. He stretched his arms across the table and taking her hands said, “I wanted this to be perfect.”

It was just like I always imagined.”

And he felt like taking her in his arms and kissing her on the lips, except the damn table stood in the way. The damn table stood in the way; their fish, shrimp, and scallops were getting cold, and they were in a public place. Captain Hook’s seafood platters were very best in Tucson.

She had to be beautiful, and with all of competition how else could she have caught a future mayor? How else could she have caught the president of the senior class? And of course Maggie forgot everything the moment he finally took her in his arms. Forgot how he hurt her. Forgot how he humiliated her. Forgot Lydia and Jessica. Forgot how he kept looking at his watch. Forgot how nervous he was. Yes, he seemed very nervous. Nervous? It was expected, wasn’t it?

She never cared for his silly grin. She never liked his silly grin because she knew it indicated a lie. Truth hurt. And truth hurt her more than his lies. Maggie’s thoughts dwelt for a moment on high school and Lydia and Jessica and lies and how unfortunately she called Lydia and Jessica sluts. She called Lydia and Jessica sluts, and it belittled Maggie. She felt superior … felt superior to Lydia and Jessica because she didn’t put out before she was married. But Lenny never spoke of Lydia or Jessica. Of course he didn’t love either one of them. He loved Maggie. Boys didn’t love girls like Lydia and Jessica. But he was too much of a gentleman to slander them. Now Maggie smiled thinking of her victory; it was just like him, silly boy, even after they were engaged to be considerate and get her home on time, even when she was willing to reward him: reward him by allowing his tongue to slip into her mouth and more. But for all of her seductiveness he held her at bay.

What’s the matter?”

Nothing.”

For nothing you seem awfully jumpy. Okay. So it’s nothing.” It was okay then for him to give her a long, wet, passionate kiss; and as they held each other she chuckled and said, “Good night. And a cold shower might help.”

So after he proposed to Maggie and took her home for the night he hooked up with Cesar. Cesar then took charge. Cesar took charge and much like a concierge Cesar ushered Lenny into the Pioneer Hotel. They didn’t mention Maggie. By then Maggie would’ve been in bed. By then Maggie might’ve been dreaming of Lenny.

Rushing, they thought they knew everything, everything they needed to know. And thanks to Cesar, Lenny lost his innocence and was already caught up in complications of sex. Cesar arranged everything. He rented him a room for him at the Pioneer Hotel downtown. The Pioneer was the best hotel in town, and Cesar rented him a room there. Lenny’s face burned. His palms sweated, and his temples throbbed when he entered a room Cesar rented for him.
Yes, Cesar arranged everything. He arranged for a room and a prostitute. Yes, a prostitute and room in the best hotel in town … an upscale prostitute. And contempt Cesar had for Lenny never surfaced, as he captained a game. A rotten game, when one thought about it. “Whatta you think?”

A neat place,” said Lenny, as he looked around the lobby. How could Cesar afford it, Lenny wondered.

Going to shoot the son-of-bitch or I’m going to die trying.

Lenny went with Cesar to the Pioneer Hotel downtown. One needed no further explanation, in truth, than that Maggie went to church. Higgs blamed it all on her because she went to church (hypocrites infuriated him; Higgs concluded, Catholics were more sexually liberated). Oh, but it was just an excuse, come on Higgs, be honest! Higgs blamed it on the church. You can’t blame her for your downfall … or see Maggie again. You can’t blame Maggie for your downfall anymore than you can blame it on Cesar. But this was preposterous: to blame his down fall on anyone but himself or blame it on Maggie for not putting out and because she remained a virgin until their wedding night.

Cesar, a consummate horse trader (a title Antonio gave him), a considerate trickster, had an unusual ability of always getting his way, and even back then could get people to sin. His hold on a night desk clerk at the Pioneer was based upon Cesar’s knowledge that clerk had a taste for boys. Weaknesses, Cesar knew how to capitalize on weaknesses. He could spot weaknesses and capitalize on them. And too often and shattering, Lenny allowed Cesar to capitalize on his weaknesses. Cesar controlled his victims and used this control to put himself in positions of power. This explained how he finagled a room at the Pioneer and set Lenny up for a night with Flo. And for Higgs, Cesar made such arrangements on a regular basis until Maggie’s death.

It was after midnight approaching one o’clock. Already musicians that played that night in the ballroom had unplugged their guitars and were lugging speakers and other equipment to a van double-parked in front of the hotel. There were also people from the bar still going up to their rooms, and a clerk behind the main desk, sleepy by then since he worked a double shift, was expecting Cesar to come in with a friend. He had a room key ready, a key on a ring with a tag with a room number on it. If Cesar had gone up to the fourth floor with Lenny he would’ve seen that his instructions were followed … that instead of any room he arranged for a better one, where a woman by the name of Flo waited for Lenny, a better suite where a prostitute named Flo waited for him.

When Lenny entered the room and locked the door behind him, the light was on and Flo sat there with her back to him. He saw that she was naked. She was naked, looking out a window. Looking out a window she watched band below her get into their van and drive down Stone Avenue. In silence she thought about how she usually worked South 6th Avenue (in a halter-top, short shorts, and stacked heels) and not downtown and felt out of place in the Pioneer Hotel.

Floe suffered from asthma. Chronic asthma. Often it took all of her effort to breathe, but she needed money, and as a high-class prostitute she made a lot of money. Cesar paid her a lot of money.

Lenny felt sorry for Flo, whose asthma attack was so severe that she spent most the night sitting in a chair attached to a breathing machine. Most the night she couldn’t breath unless she was attached to a breathing machine, and then it became Lenny’s job to sit up with her and learn about asthma and learned that it didn’t do any good to get overly alarmed. She told Lenny not to worry. She told him not to worry because she knew at what point she neeedd to be rushed to a hospital.

Going to shoot the son-of-bitch.

Lenny stood there, looking at her nervously, but all he could see was her back. Was she trying to punish him? Was Cesar trying to punish him? Did he know she had a problem with asthma, a big problem with asthma, and was trying to punish him? Was Cesar?

As she struggled to breathe Lenny waited. Waiting was too long for him, as he unbuttoned his shirt, fumbling with each button, waited as he unhitched his trousers and let them fall to the floor. He felt a certain amount pressure then and hoped it didn’t show. He waited as he stood there in his boxer shorts and undershirt. He waited as he sat on the edge of the bed. And there she sat wearing nothing but nail polish. She couldn’t breath, couldn’t breathe unless she was hooked up to a breathing machine, and wore nothing but nail polish.

Now she demanded his attention. It was what he was doing … paying attention while she demanded even more from him. Without turning around she said, “Don’t wad your shirt up, or throw it on the floor. You’d be fussier, if you had to do your laundry.”

What’s that?”

An iron lung.”

She really didn’t care. She could care less about Lenny. It meant nothing to her: a stupid kid corrupted by a friend. You’d think she’d feel sorry for him: a stupid kid corrupted by a friend. From her window she watched the two of them enter the hotel. What was his name? Cesar! What kind of name was that for a kid? She didn’t like Cesar and thought it was wrong for a kid to procure a prostitute for a friend. Cesar. Not her type.

She always wanted to be a mother. To have kids of her own … to fuss over … to worry over. She always wanted to be a mother. She was, she supposed, still hoping, at least subconsciously, that her life would have a fairy-tale ending.

I have asthma. Does it change anything?” Yes, it changed everything.

No. It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter.” It did matter.

Yes, it does. Ugh, asthma. I don’t know why it should matter, except I need to breathe. I don’t want to die yet.” Yes, she needed to breath. He didn’t have to know what it was like because he cane for only one reason. He didn’t have to know anything, but she tried to explain, while he came for only one reason. She knew what to do … knew what he wanted, and that he was in the room for only one reason. She knew how to give her what she wanted. And if she wanted to, she could give him a quicky. Maybe he would be satisfied with a quicky, but Cesar paid her for all night, so she didn’t want to shortchange Lenny. She hated asthma and didn’t want to shortchange Lenny. She could make him think that she enjoyed it, make him think that she was a virgin, she could make him think almost anything, and she felt pretty sure that he wouldn’t know the difference. Ah, to start over, start over with a single guy, someone who found her worthy of attention and love her. “I’m sorry. Asthma, God, how I hate it.”

Can I do anything?”

Yeah, you can hang your shirt up. You’ll find hangers in the closet. And I can help you with your pants, so that they won’t get wrinkled.”

As he grew impatient, he wished that she’d stop chattering.

What’s in the machine?”

Water.”

It runs on water? Amazing.”

She frowned, as he then asked, “What’s the matter?”

Amazing, isn’t it?”

Normally it’s not this bad. Normally I’m good for a trick or two. Imagine getting five hundred dollars and me not able to breathe. Bummer! Bummer for you!” So Cesar rented him a room on the fourth floor of the Pioneer and procured Flo for five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars was a fortune then. “Five hundred, imagine him giving me five hundred … five hundred for…. “Never expected five hundred. What do you think?”

Think? Think? What do I think?” What did Lenny think?

Well, it’s about time, don’t you think? I’ve been waiting all evening. Cesar said something about you celebrating something … Well!”

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three
Going through Maggie’s side of a closet after her death, packed away in an original box and wrapped in tissue paper, Higgs found a pair of satin shoes. Oh, God. He remembered those shoes and when she wore them. They brought back happy memories as he saw her in those shoes walking down the aisle as his bride. Those very same satin shoes were on her feet, and her father was walking beside her down the aisle, and it came to him that she was ill prepared for him. She didn’t know what she was getting into. She didn’t know when she married Lenny. She wanted to marry Lenny, knew she loved him but didn’t know what she was getting into. She wanted to be married, wanted to experience martial bliss, but she didn’t yet know that her lover, her husband and her mate would also become her enemy. He remembered her in her wedding dress and satin shoes, straightening her bodice so that she’d look perfect. She looked beautiful. She looked perfect. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her as she came down the aisle. “I do.” Remember? There were tears of joy in her eyes when she repeated “I do.” And those shoes were only worn once … once.

Congratulations. Best value in Tucson for only five hundred smackers.”

Cesar continued to help Higgs. He continued to provide him with prostitutes. Name them all. He couldn’t. Higgs couldn’t name them all. Too many. Hope, Hyacinth, Rosie, and Martha. Higgs won Martha Dillon’s heart. True love, one suspected but he never considered leaving Maggie. Never considered giving Maggie up. Wore out Martha. Before then, Hope. What about Rosie? Perfume for Rosie. Over the years many more. Hyacinth! Ah, Hyacinth. But he still loved Maggie. Gifts said it all.

Time together was not as important as it once was. They didn’t spend as much time together as they once did. They weren’t as passionate as they once were. They weren’t as intimate as they once were. What went wrong? Lenny and Maggie appeared happy on the surface.

No matter what you may think we can be thankful for Flo.

Cesar approached Flo at the corner South 6th Avenue and West 49th Street, her corner. He signaled to her. He had bad breath. Better than having no breath than bad breath. She came over to his car. Flo thought Cesar wanted her for himself. Yes, Cesar hired her before. Cesar would hire her again. Cesar, an amazing thug if there was ever one. He was one of those strangers that she could never forget. She would never forget him. Never. She would never forget Cesar. Cesar knew how to pamper women. He also knew how to use women.

Yes, Higgs knew Cesar from high school but was never close to him. There’s another lie. How could he say that he didn’t know Cesar well? He controlled Higgs.

Over the years none of the women betrayed Higgs, though he always ran that risk. And they all knew who he was. He was mayor, and they knew it.

Cesar’s. And Higgs knew it. And within a few years time they all were on the take. I’m sorry Maggie. “Come,” said Higgs, dragging George with him. By then Higgs and George were friends. “Come on, George.”

So Higgs had Cesar in his sights, and the bill was overdue. “Going to kill the son-of-bitch.” Higgs knew that he couldn’t continue to live how he was living, and the bill was overdue but still odds were against him. “Going to kill the son-of-a-bitch.” So George and Lenny went together to Cesar’s Palace, where a doorman knew Higgs by name. “Hello, Mr. Higgs.”

They found Antonio’s body in a dumpster near here,” said Higgs. There had been many murders in that part of town. Higgs told George about it and about where they found Maggie’s body.

In some cactus, off a dirt track, in an isolated spot. People get stuck in the desert all the time. Still I go when I can where I placed a cross.”

Cesar’s Palace oozed money, oozed drugs. Drugs and women paid bills. There was no cover. There was no need for one. There was no cover charge. There was no need for one. When they entered the palace, George stuck close to Higgs. Higgs led the way.

A tall, topless waitress with dyed hair sauntered up to them.

Not today babe,” Higgs said to her. “Go get Cesar for me! Tell him to get his ass down here.”

There. Under his shirt. Why hadn’t he been frisked? Amazing … considering that Higgs had a gun under his shirt. Was it necessary to say that it was loaded? Was it necessary to say that he was totally loaded? Was it necessary to say he was drunk? They should’ve frisked Higgs like they frisked everyone else. A doorman knew Higgs by name. “Hello, Lenny.” They were on first name basis. It was no longer “Hello, Mayor.

Higgs never stopped hating Cesar. Since high school, he hated him … except it was more complicated. It wasn’t that he simply hated Cesar, but he couldn’t remember when he hadn’t also hated himself for allowing Cesar to control him. He couldn’t remember when Cesar didn’t control him.

And then there was a fifty-dollar Derringer that he had hidden under his shirt … a fifty-dollar Derringer he pulled out and mesmerized George with … a Derringer Higgs intended to shoot Cesar with … a frozen moment during which witnesses were aghast.

He hoped Heaven would receive him. Higgs knew he would be shot. Higgs hoped he would be shot. He hoped George wouldn’t be caught in the crossfire.

But before Higgs got very far he was picked up by the scuff of the neck and hurled to the floor. Before he could do any harm with a fifty-dollar Derringer, he was stopped in his tracks. And as a bouncer pounded Higgs punches no longer hurt. Higgs suffered no pain in spite of having his face pulverized. With his cheekbone separated from his right eye socket and driven into his jaw, he could’ve drowned in his own blood. Instead he felt cheated. Cesar’s life was spared, and Higgs felt cheated.

Triumphantly Higgs entered Cesar’s Palace, only to be thrown out of it. Higgs planned to shoot Cesar, only to have his weapon taken away from him. He was thrown out into the street and landed on his tailbone. And half rising Higgs yelled, “I’m going to shoot him, going to shoot the son-of-a- bitch.”

What went wrong? Walking into Cesar’s Palace with a Derringer wasn’t a good idea. To pull it out in front of everyone wasn’t a good plan. It was evident that Higgs didn’t plan. And maybe he waited too long. Who could blame him for waiting for as long as he did? And maybe he wasn’t really planning to kill Cesar. Maybe he was planning to get shot.

To have been shot by of one of Cesar’s bodyguards would’ve been one thing, but to bleed to death on a sidewalk on 6th Avenue wouldn’t do.

Higgs was no longer crawling without direction or mindless, irrational, immersed and oblivious, remembering, hoping, without feeling any pain … injured and should’ve been dead or at least feeling pain associated with a cheek bone separated from an eye socket.

Now George waited his turn. Now he expected it more than ever, as he waited his turn.

And as he heard Higgs’ bones crack he shut his eyes. Then no…no…he screamed!

Back in a padded room and stripped to his underpants for his own protection … If he calmed down George would get supper. They weren’t allowed to deny patients food. Gone were days of bread and water. What was worse: bite of his father or a beating with a belt? His father called it spanking. He saw nothing wrong with spanking a child. What sentence hurt him more? To be abandoned? To be ignored, or a spanking. From a beating with a belt to a padded cell, how did it happen? From a padded cell to a straight jacket.

What a fix! It just couldn’t be! What happened? He stole his mother’s MG. For stealing his mother’s MG did he deserve capital punishment? Yes he took her car on a Sunday morning, took her keys out of her purse as she slept. To steal her MG he needed to steal her keys. To steal her keys he crept into her room. But he didn’t know how to drive such a powerful machine. Yes George stole his mother’s MG and ran the tin can into a brick wall. Dummy! Whack! Who took his mother’s MG?

And there were other acts of in desecration: take a bugger and smear it on a wall. Punish him for pooping in his pants. Poody, poo! “Poo-poo goes in the toilet and not in his pants.” Deprived of supper because he wrote his name on the wall in poop. For posterity. A strategy was to make him sit there forever and until … sit on a toilet until … please! Whack! Nothing helped. Whack!

But he should’ve been potty trained. George was no dummy. He should’ve been potty trained. He had brains so it should’ve been easy to potty train him. But he was shit. Just because he liked to play with his poop and found it fascinating he was shit. Mother all crushed, but there was no need to murder her kid. Whack! At age five covered all over with poop. Grrr! Grr!

Searched for a program. Find something that would help him. Spock said … fuck Spock, this boy needed real help. Here in the middle of the twentieth century and they couldn’t fix this. They didn’t have answers. No one had answers.

George didn’t watch Higgs get beat up. He couldn’t watch. It was too painful to watch. He heard blows and bones crack but couldn’t watch. He didn’t see it happen. From beginning to end he didn’t see what happened but was engaged in self-flagellation. A good psychological term for it: self-flagellation. Perhaps it was what he did whenever he pounded his fist into a wall: self-flagellation? Perhaps he ran his mother’s tin can into a wall on purpose? Self-flagellation? Suicide idealization? Asking for help? Maybe he wanted to hurt his mother. Maybe it was self-flagellation. He didn’t know.

He didn’t know. He didn’t know how they ended up out on a sidewalk … no, in the middle of a street with cars going by from every direction. In middle of a sidewalk on South Sixth Avenue. That was when he first saw what they did to Higgs … saw Higgs’ injuries. Saw his broken jaw.

And without waiting for an ambulance the former mayor instinctively crawled home to Maria Martinez’s house.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four
“She’s not dead yet,” Cesar thought, as he sat by his mother’s bed. “Thankfully not yet.” But he knew it wouldn’t be long. He could see that it wouldn’t be long. And there were times in his life when everything seemed to stop. This was one of those times.

Cesar knew that his parents were just a couple of kids when they met. When they met they didn’t know much about love. When they met they didn’t know much about each other. They thought that they knew more about love than they did, and after they were married they learned that they didn’t know much. And they thought they knew more about each other than they did

They used to go to a park around sunset, Sunset Park to watch fast pitch. They watched fast pitch and were so wrapped up in each other that they couldn’t keep track of the game. Cesar knew that they were happy. He saw that they were happy. He always thought he came from a happy family, and he thought it would stay that way. When his father got called up during the war and his mother went through a seven-month pregnancy without him, she didn’t know that he wouldn’t come back whole. She didn’t know then what war did to men and expected her husband to come home whole from the war. She knew nothing about shell shock, but she soon learned more than she ever wanted to know about it. After the war, Cesar’s father was unable to work. After the war, Cesar’s father drank all the time. And Cesar’s father had a good excuse for not working: shell shock gave him a good excuse. So Cesar’s mom worked That was where things stood when his father couldn’t take it any longer and left. One night, he picked up and left.

Because he grew up without a father Cesar thought he had take over … become man of the house. And as man of house it meant he was boss. And there was something inside him that would sometimes boil over. He was angry most of the time but didn’t know why. It would begin with blood rushing to his face. He’d hit something, or overturn tables, and instantly his mood changed.

War deprived Cesar of a father. He saw what it did to his father. Cesar saw what war did to his father but didn’t know what caused it. He could only imagine what caused it. He never knew what happened. Young when he left; old when he returned; left his mother; left a son. Left Cesar’s mother with everything to do. Left his mother to raise a son on her own. He could’ve stayed. She would’ve let him. She would’ve nursed him.

When he could afford it Cesar bought his mother a large, two-story home (which was also painted blue, and with a turret with windows, plenty of windows because she liked light). A neat yard, how perfect and appropriate with nothing out of place. Apache plume, Cliff rose, and Desert almond (even Crucifixion thorn and Corona de Cristo, both of the Bittersweet family), all pruned and nurtured by loving hands. Yes, significant. Profoundly significant. Cesar’s mother loved smell of Desert honeysuckle and loved to watch humming birds probe brick-red flowers. She loved flowers and cultivated them. She loved her son. She loved him before and after he bought her a large, two-story home.

Mysteries of nature. Brightness verses darkness. Evil verses goodness. Fountains she kept filled for birds. Bird feeders everywhere.

Windows everywhere to let light in. For air and light and perfect symmetry two French windows framed a front door of varnished walnut. From a front gate between iron stags to shiny painted steps of a porch, and a Welcome Mat, curved a path of neatly raked gravel. But no doorbell. Somehow a doorbell would’ve seemed out of place.

God cursed the bastard: Cesar had a sweet mother. She was still breathing. Meant something, her breathing.

I see,” he said. “Lung cancer.”

She got better, then worse, and worse still, back and forth like that until finally … finally… Time was no longer on Alma’s side. Go quickly. Please go quickly. And peacefully. Quietly. Quietly, peacefully, and quickly. They gave her something for pain. And Cesar watched her body shrivel to nothing.

Curse the bastard. Excuses. Was it a fact? My, my … bastard was getting what he deserved. Would hit a wall with his fist. Turn over tables. Third time broke his knuckles. Destroyed something of hers. Destroyed everything … everything of hers. Was he crying? Big men don’t cry. Oh, my, were there tears? Think he was only man who ever cried? Sat there and cried. Now stuck. That is to say he got what he deserved.

Malignant spots appeared on her lungs. They appeared before she paid attention to coughing, and coughing became a serious problem before she threw up blood. She didn’t go see a doctor until she started throwing up blood. At first she thought she had a cold that wouldn’t go away. It was irritating and she refused to get sick until it was too late. . What it did more than anything was exhaust her. Coughing exhausted her. Cesar remembered his mother telling him “don’t cry for me.” Good God he heard her tell him that over and over. “Don’t cry for me.” He couldn’t stand hearing her tell him “don’t cry for me.” Problem with lung cancer was that it couldn’t be bandaged. It couldn’t be bandaged. And cruel as it seemed, it wouldn’t get better. Then death.

Now death was something to think about: death. Uncombed hair: the first time in her life that she didn’t feel like combing it. Thin, fine as silk … fine, silk hair. She asked Cesar to tease it for her. It was too fine to tease. Then she completely lost her hair. Her long braids gone. And she let her house go. She asked him to sing her favorite hymns. As she was dying, she asked him to sing her favorite hymns. “God is Still on the Throne,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “I’ve Received an Invitation.” She asked him to sing her favorite when he couldn’t sing. “Pray for me,” she asked. “But don’t cry for me.”

God cursed the bastard.

For her he stumbled through Psalms 23. “He feeds and guides his sheep. He is host to His people forever.” Cursed him.

Cesar watched his mother struggle, and he saw her failing. He watched her shriveled to nothing. He watched her when she couldn’t breath. It hurt her to breathe, as she lay on her side gasping for air. Cesar sat quietly and didn’t move while he watched her struggle. He had a talent for concentrating so he sat there hour after hour without moving or talking, watching his mother’s breathing become shallower and shallower. And he knew from sounds from her throat that end was near. Yes he had a talent for concentrating. But sometimes there was a pause, a pause in her breathing, and he wondered if there would be another breath. Then she jerked all of a sudden, like she was popped with a rubber band, like she was asleep and then popped with a rubber band. And he didn’t move until he couldn’t sit there any longer and then retreated to his mother’s turret. He waited long enough.

So much left unsaid,” he thought as he walked away and climbed up into his mother’s turret. He remembered how she challenged him, at once candid and undeviating, and looked upon what he became with severity. She was only person who could get away with it. She was the only person who could challenge him and get away with it. Whenever she challenged him, he gritted his teeth and walked away. He was able to walk away.

To him she seemed to frown on everything he tried to do. She didn’t like how he turned out. She didn’t like his business. She didn’t approve of Cesar’s Palace and what it represented, and she constantly complained about it. While other people never saw that side of her. To other people she was gentle and kind. Whereas she lectured her son about morality, and Cesar knew that she considered him wicked. He sought his mother’s approval, but she considered him wicked.

She went on and on. She gave it to him. She could give it to him and get away with it because she was his mother. And he took it with his head down, as she used words, hateful words that she regretted as soon as she said them. She could get away with it when other people couldn’t. Something must’ve happened between them that wasn’t easy to reconcile, too horrible for him to admit, or something she couldn’t understand, or wouldn’t want to know about since it involved her son. He listened while she used words calculated to soften him. She also used words calculated to hurt him. And what he couldn’t stand to hear from his mother … what she said … she hoped would do him good. It was not only her words that made him wince. It was not a threat of ending up in hell that made him wince. And it was not merely weight of everything … weight of what she taught him which she constantly reminded him of. He couldn’t dismiss it after she told him that she loved him. That she found him loveable hurt him.

Stupid … he knew that she prayed for him every night. He knew that she never stopped praying for him, and he felt it was stupid for her to pray for him. He thought it was stupid for her to think criticism helped him. To him talk of morality was gibberish. Gibberish … it was a sick world that he was bought into and profited from. And criticizing him wouldn’t change him.

Strictly business. It was strictly business.

And what does your son do?” In Alma’s case everyone knew. And everyone knew she accepted his money. She criticized him, yet she accepted his money. And what amazed him most was how she accepted his money and then spat in his face. She told him that she loved him and then spat in his face.

No, not literally. She didn’t literally spat in his face. No, no, too nice for it. Very polite and jocular. Sweet. She never cross-examined him. She never asked him questions about his business. Without asking she knew, yes knew, most of his sins: yes, his guilt. Yes, Alma knew her son’s sins. And he got away with it. She knew how he got away with it. His perversity: in her mind, was also disgusting. Yet he was her son, and she loved him. She always told him that she loved him. She knew more about him than anyone else did, and it sickened her.

She never said anything about his successes … a limousine and hundred-dollar suits … except when she criticized him. She always referred to him as her lost son. She never said anything about his expensive suits.

So much left unsaid … not enough time left for her to grapple with her fears (fear?) fears and sorrows, sorrow.

It didn’t matter to her that he was El Jefe. It didn’t matter to her that he son was El Jefe. Sitting in her rocker where she read her Bible, she told him, “I don’t care about who you think you are. You’re still my little Billy, and nothing nobody or you can do will change it.”

Well, why her? Why do the righteous often die first, assuming that the righteous go to heaven and sinners …“that those who choose Hell never leave Sixth Avenue?” Go down to Cesar’s Palace built for a carriage trade … park your car in rodeo grounds parking lot, battle flies and smell of horses, and when you go in they’re on to you, baby. And when the jig was finally up, was it too late? Cesar’s mother told him “You can’t take limousines and hundred-dollar suits with you.”

It went without saying Cesar was taught right from wrong … that as a child he was taught right from wrong. The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, blessed, woe, you shall not, and so on. He was taught to honor his mother, his father, (though he didn’t think he had a father) to look up to them, and (even harder) to listen to them, for example when his mother read him a chapter a day from the Bible and expected him to memorize verses. He was taught that going to church and reading the Bible was what good boys did. So after Cesar rejected his mother he felt uncomfortable around her. It didn’t help when she said, “Listen, Billy, you could’ve made something of yourself,” or say other things that he didn’t like to hear such as, “I didn’t raise my son to be a disgrace.” How much did she know?

Why, Cesar,” his mother would ask, “why don’t you marry a nice woman?” How much did she know? When did she start calling him Cesar?”

Now, mamma,” he began. “How many times have you said…”

Why don’t you marry a nice woman? My dear boy,” she’d continued. “I’d gladly give up everything for you. Nothing would please me more than to have a grandbaby. “

Mamma!”

But like everyone else God gave you freedom to choose from a smorgasbord.”

Mamma!”

Well, it’s true. You used to say, ‘When I grow up I’ll eat steak every day.’ Maybe it was because we couldn’t afford steak and had to survive on beans. To this day I prefer my beans to your steak.”

How much did she know?

You diet, I’m told, chiefly on ugliness, more fitting for a pimp than a Christian.”

Mama.”

No, a purveyor of worldly goods. Dope and naked women. Violence and smuggling. Where did my Billy go? On what highway was he last seen? When I told him not to hitchhike. These days, it’s crazy. Dangerous. Never know what might happen. Son, there’s no free ride.”

How’s that? Face reality….”

Son, I believe you’ve made wrong decisions. We’ve all made wrong decisions, but decisions aren’t equal. There are big decisions and small decisions. There are bad decisions and good ones, so it comes down to knowing which are the right decisions. Now you know what I’m referring to. I can accept even grossest comments about you, accept them if I knew that you’ve accepted our Savior.”

How much did she know? … that I like eating steak every night, even though I often eat alone … that I eat steak every night. Could she understand? What did anyone know? What could he tell her that she didn’t know?

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five
Alma, Cesar’s mother, rushed out every Saturday to buy a huge ham for Sunday dinner. “Why would she do it?” Cesar asked. “Why would she humiliate me in this way?” Whores. Exotics. Working gals. Some retired, others not. Some with children, some without. And invite Higgs. She invited them for Sunday dinner … Sunday dinner after church. And she did it every Sunday. “She does it to humiliate me,” he thought.

Alma opened her doors and allowed them to come in. She greeted them. She always greeted them with open arms. Found room for all of them at her dinner table. It didn’t matter who they were: she made room for them. All who wanted to come were welcomed, all dancers and prostitutes who worked at Cesar’s Palace that wanted to come. She invited them all and welcomed them all into her home. She invited them even though Cesar didn’t like it. It didn’t make any difference. It didn’t matter whether he liked it or not. She invited them to a huge ham baked with pineapple, mash potatoes, white gravy, green beans, sweet peas, and corn on the cob … always served with hot rolls and real butter … a home-cooked meal that Cesar considered a crock. She used his money to feed them, and she did it over his objections. Was he ever invited? He could come, if he wanted.

Cesar tried to escape reality by fleeing to his mother’s turret. He heard a death rattle and had to escape. A man closely associated with death felt sickened and had to flee. As he waited for his mother to die he was filled with sorrow and experienced regret. From time to time he felt like smashing things and overturned a table, a bookcase, and threw books and broke a window with a telephone. Except for loud ticking of a grandfather’s clock only sounds were caused by cursing and shattering glass or smashing something. He found great satisfaction in destroying his mother’s home. He found great satisfaction in destroying a home he bought for his mother. He found great satisfaction in destroying his mother’s things. His bodyguards stood around on the porch, smoking, and hoping that old woman would soon die. They wanted to call it a night. It never occurred to them that she might already be dead.

With indignation Cesar said, “You think you got away with it, don’t you, but you haven’t. I wish that I could say that I’m sorry for dirt and blood on my hands.” At which point he broke another window: this time with his fist. It was a bloody mess. He ended his rage by swearing that he’d take on the whole goddamn town.

Hear me out … mother kept hounding me about finding a nice woman. Nothing would’ve made her happier than Cesar finding a nice woman. Mother, a hard-nose card player and fond of music. Now that’s an idea. Why don’t I find a nice woman? What about Pamela?

Pamela was once a poor innocent young creature. Innocent! And too good to be true. Really? This was in early days, good days, good times before Pamela began using cocaine … before she had to have cocaine everyday, and the man who met her at the bus station was much older and thought nothing of exploiting her. Yes, if she were older, she might’ve been wiser and less gullible. He knew just what to say and in less than ten minutes he had her in his clutches. But don’t think this favorite of his was as nave as she looked. She decided on her own to move to Vegas. Never asked her parents, but if she had more experience a stranger in a bus station wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

Were there any men who wouldn’t have been attracted to Pamela? No, indeed not. She was attractive, and she kept herself looking young and in good shape. Yes, she kept herself looking young and good shape until cocaine took over her life. Yes, her looks, but it wasn’t her looks that got her into trouble. Or her boobs. But just when did she get it into her head that she had to have her breast augmented and then to pressure an old colonel into paying for it? As popular as she became, she could’ve easily paid for it herself. She paid later, paid in installments. She paid when cocaine took over her life.

STRAIGHT FROM VEGAS
HUGE BOOBS

Huge … at Cesar’s Palace … another centerfold headliner. Pam always started with a slow grind and slow music … big boobs … bare butt … a hand for a lady. Pam relied on tips. And boy did men tip her.

Cesar!”

Sorry, babe.”

Too late to change her profession, they kept coming; honey, to see her boobs. Another opening … another town … three songs made a performance … six times a night, same thing … two weeks a gig … why would Pam do anything else, once she got into it? Half of them always seemed like they were drunk and out of their minds. Forty-fives, but under special lighting, who really knew? Really? Real? Silicon … wonders of silicon … it wasn’t unusual for men to go nuts over silicon boobs.

Cesar’s mother, a hard-nose card player and fond of music kept harping on: “Why don’t you find a nice woman?” What about Pamela?

And so Pamela was coming back. Delightful! Coming back, Cesar talked her into coming back. Queen of stage, somebody prophesied that Cesar would fall for her before he did. He promised he would never do anything to hurt her.

Oh, how he missed Pamela. He missed her, really missed her, though he knew that if she knew what he was doing it would frighten her. He thought about Pamela. He thought about Pamela a lot. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. No, no she hurt herself. Poor Pamela, who put up with so much and who heard all stories about Cesar, was never deterred. She loved him, so she didn’t let stories about him deter her. Instead she tried to understand him. She tried to understand Cesar. She tried to understand why he was so bent on destroying so much … tried to understand why he was bent on destroying everything he touched … tried to understand him … tried to understand why he tried to destroy her. She was one of few people who tried to understand him. How Pamela cursed him and loved him. She loved him and knew she did. He knew she loved him. She told him so, only to have him push her away.

Unwanted circumstances tend to make us dislike ourselves, and there are conditions under which strongest people are obliged to ask, “Why me?” She didn’t ask for it. She never asked for it. It wasn’t his fault either. Pray sit down. There are conditions under which smartest people are obliged to ask, “Why me?”

Poor Pamela would ask him, “What’s the matter? Why are you so angry?”

I don’t know,” he answered. “I suppose I’m trying to get even.”

But, dear,” cried she, “why would you? You have everything.”

What am I to do?” asked Cesar. “Ignore the punk?” Punk? Who was he talking about? She never found out.

Once more Pamela looked at herself before poison leaked into her body and even before she disfigured herself. It was happiest period of her life. It was a time she liked to go back to. It was happiest time of her life and was a time she would like to go back to. She wanted to start over … before she got off a bus in Vegas … before men began concentrating on her boobs … before she became famous. Looking back she started crying. “What have I done to my body?” With cocaine what had she done? Terror over getting ill hit her hard. And assuming a stance of indifference was Cesar’s way of coping. Now his mother was dying. First Pamela, now his mother.

He wanted to tell Pamela, “Save yourself. Don’t wait for me.” And he wanted to tell his mother, “Save yourself. Don’t wait for me.” Pamela, why do you look to me? Why are you here?” She wanted to say, “You sent for me.” But before she had a chance, he said, “I’m root of your problems. You can stay with me morning, noon, and night; but don’t expect me to help you. I’ll promise you things. What can I promise you? You can have heroin, the purest heroin money can buy, and all pot you want from our neighborhood handyman. I’ve promised the Almighty that I’d give you all you want.”

What do junkies care about? What else besides their fix?

Pamela, you don’t know me, indeed you don’t. You wouldn’t keep asking me to hold you, if you did. And if you did, you would get as far away from me as possible. Me! Yes, me, who has lost all feeling.” With those words moisture came to his eyes. Pamela, yes, Pamela.

Pamela knew him too well. She knew more than she wanted to know. She was on the mark. He didn’t fool her and she knew that she would always be his girl. He didn’t deserve her. She knew he didn’t deserve her. She became his trophy. She didn’t like being his trophy. One of the most beautiful women from Vegas, something from another galaxy, a trophy! He chose clothes for her and told her what to wear each day. True love baby! He chose clothes and told her what to wear each day. Pamela … in a smart navy-blue jacket with shoulder pads. Pamela … with huge boobs and shoulder pads. He took her with him everywhere. He wouldn’t let her out of his sight. To meetings in Mexico, to big confabs. Everywhere people stared at them. Cesar was powerful; Pamela beautiful. Gorgeous … always beside him. This was enough for him. Enough. Pamela wanted more, but this was enough for him.

Pam was already a crack head and cranking up on horse, but did he care? He would say, “No, I’m most detested, most loathsome human alive. For a buck I’d get my mother high.”

Let her give you the news. That morning Pamela was unlike herself. She knew she had to tell Cesar, but she couldn’t imagine how she could do it. She couldn’t use anyone else as a go-between because he wouldn’t listen to other people. She had to tell him … tell him herself. To make it worse he expected her to shield him from unpleasantness. Cesar expected Pamela to shield him. He had enough on his mind, she thought, without adding to his worries. She hoped he would listen to her.

Leaking silicon? What? Leaking silicon?”

Cesar felt a jolt. “Leaking silicon!” Son-of-a-bitch made her repeat it and then distanced himself. It was poisoning her. Silicon and heroin? Was it lethal?

When you’re no longer aroused because of an insatiable appetite it means you’ve had too much of it. If it’s really bad (say you surround yourself with it twenty-four seven), then it becomes boring. A little interest may be there, but it becomes boring. There’s no use kidding yourself, it becomes boring. And about a lack of desire. Something is missing. Cesar was always surrounded by beautiful women. Beautiful, naked women always surrounded him, and it became boring. And he worried about his lack of desire. And it was something he tried not to worry about.

Another thing missing in Cesar’s case was trust. He didn’t trust anyone. He knew if he let his guard down he would get screwed … or worse killed him. He knew if he let his guard down someone would kill him. And he knew he couldn’t let his guard down whenever he started to get intimate. Every time he created a shell for himself. Every time he crawled into a shell. He couldn’t relax even around Pamela. Not for a moment. .

Or he forced it. But impotence didn’t apply to him. His equipment worked. A ride with him was as good as with anyone. It was something to remember the same as Fourth of July or a Big Bang; although Fourth of July came more often than a Big Bang. And good poetry. He knew where to start if he had half a mind to.

But most of the time he didn’t want to. Most of the time he didn’t want it. Most of the time he was bored. If it’s any good, lovemaking needed to be spontaneous, so what more could a merchant of sleaze expect? Answer? Nothing.

He couldn’t shut his eyes for a second, even while Pam serviced him. He watched Pam closely. He was suspicious and watched her closely. But he shouldn’t apologize for it, however. For after all he was El Jefe. But he was still a human being. And who the hell would accept blame?

Blame sleaze. Blame influence of sleaze and smut for everything that went wrong, for everything that went wrong in Tucson. For all Tucson’s woes, blame sleaze. Blame sleaze for child abuse and wife beating. Blamed sleaze for every form of impotence. Sleaze, blue and cold. And blame indifference. So blame Cesar, merchant of sleaze.

As his mother lay dying Cesar conversed with himself in this way. Her dying started it. He had good reason to cry, but he didn’t cry. He didn’t cry but instead destroyed her house. She was all family he had. So it occurred to Cesar that it was good that she didn’t know everything about him.

Cesar then stood on the veranda, his shirt completely unbuttoned. He looked south toward the border. He looked south toward the border, turned his attention away from his mother and concentrated on his business. His whole attention was concentrated on his business. It was then that his mother refused to die.

Cesar park his car north of the border. It was hot, but he decided to walk across. He asked two custom officials if they could recommend a good, cheap cafe. He didn’t need a recommendation. He knew where to eat. He went down there many times. He lived in Tucson and went there many times. Cesar still asked two custom officials what they recommended … where he could go and avoid Montezuma’s revenge. They laughed and said they didn’t know where. It seemed like a perfect way to divert attention away from real reason for his trip. They knew him and laughed. Who didn’t know Cesar?

Then he walked through a turnstile that separated two nations, from where he could see a restaurant perched on top of a hill. There Cesar knew he would find elusive Carlos. He also expected to find a place filled with a small army and tried to think how he could gain their trust. Why was he going alone? He had his reasons.

 

Walk was short and hot. It wasn’t far and hot, and he quickly climbed a hill up to a restaurant. This was a sleepy town and had only three or four restaurants. Red mud caked his shoes by the time he reached top of the hill. If it hadn’t recently rained, he would’ve been fighting red dust because there was a steady stream of traffic up and down a dirt road from the border to town. As it was climbing was very slippery.

From a terrace at the restaurant Cesar had a good look at a fence that ran up and down rolling hills between the two countries. Not far west of there mesquite post with strands of barbwire replaced hardened chain link. Further west of that, somewhere along a remote stretch of fencing, Carlos knew there were people crossing into the United States. He knew where there were gates, but there weren’t custom sheds or officials, making it a cinch for smugglers. It was a cinch for smugglers but not for people they smuggled.

But apparently possibility of death in the desert didn’t deter them. It didn’t deter people determined to get into the United States. Mules generally survived these harsh conditions. Mules generally knew where they were going. Those who were mislead by coyotes and trudged long distances on foot were the most vulnerable. Many didn’t make it. They weren’t prepared or just gave up. To supply a demand for cocaine and marijuana or to establish a better future for themselves and their children, they risked everything. Searing heat made it an inhospitable place for people from Mexico and Central America. The group that most interested Cesar was made up of individuals with a strong will to survive and individuals ready and willing to work for him.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six
Entering Cesar found himself in a restaurant with a large hardwood dance floor. At a round table flanked by huge windows that overlooked la linea sat Carlos, a Mexican wearing typical Mexican pointed boots and, what seemed in congruent, a perfectly tailored business suit. He also wore a tightly cinched tie with his tailored business suit. Cesar recognized him. They recognized each other. But before Cesar could approach el jefe of Sonora one of Carlos’ pistoleros frisked him because the Mexican boss knew that there were people out to kill him. Generally Carlos kept a low profile, so all that was known about him was that he ruled drug traffic in Sonora. Carlos ruled it with an iron hand. Carles was El Jefe of Sonora.

Cesar remembered to open conversation with “Don’t mean to intrude.”

Heard you’ve been looking for me?”

Yes, I’ve been looking for you. And I think we can do business.”

Carlos nodded. Nor did he waste time. He knew all about Cesar. They hadn’t worked together but he knew about him. He checked Cesar out before he agreed to meet with him. Carlos was always careful. He had to be careful. It was how he stayed in business. It was how he stayed alive. So Carlos knew what Cesar wanted. He knew he wanted to do business with him and set up this meeting while accepting all risks. So Carlos didn’t know Cesar but recognized him … recognized him by the way he walked into the restaurant. He recognized Cesar’s swagger. The way he walked into the restaurant told him a lot. Cesar came alone and Carlos knew it was a risk for Cesar. Carlos respected Cesar for accepting the risk. He knew Cesar never went anywhere without his bodyguards, so Carlos was impressed when Cesar appeared alone. Carlos knew about this gringo through his network in the States. Now Carlos had to make sure that he could trust Cesar. In order to do business, they had to trust each other.

Carlos often went up to the border to dine with friends and would watched with contempt activities of the Border Patrol and Customs on the other side of la linea. He had to be careful not to look too conspicuous. Still he scouted out the border from this vantage point.

Carlos was very congenial and said he loved the United States, especially Vegas. He knew Cesar had connections in Vegas. This made Cesar a good prospect. A man with connections in Vegas could be a real asset. A man such as Cesar with connections in Vegas could be a real asset for Calos. Carlos seemed happy. He seemed congenial and happy. He had a large organization and would see it grow bigger. And he acted like he had nothing to fear. He often met people in this restaurant close to the border and acted like he had nothing to fear. After all he, a 210 pound native of Durango, was el jefe of Sonora, and his influence extended to his native city.

Well,” Carlos said, “I hear you had a wonderful trip.”

From Tucson?” Cesar asked. “It wasn’t much of a trip.”

What about Tucson?”

I can take care of Tucson. No need to worry. I’ve got Tucsson under control.”

Bueno. How’s your Spanish?”

So, so.”

Don’t worry. You’ll get by. We speak English here. English is currency, as good as gold. Let’s go! Gotta go,” said the big man as he threw his napkin into his unfinished soup. “My jeep is parked out back. Kept it running, just in case. It purrs like a tomcat.”

It was not Billy who got in this jeep. It was Cesar, on the ascent. And Carlos didn’t wait to finish his dinner. He didn’t wait for anything, and they rode for more than hour along the border, following no road, no track that Cesar discerned, toward a hole in la linea that he only heard about. He understood then why Carlos needed a jeep.

Men in a second jeep followed them and stood guard as Carlos got down and signaled for Cesar. Since he didn’t want to risk angering his host Cesar quickly dismounted. Then standing beside Carlos in a sun-scorched land of creosote bushes, scrub mesquite, and jumping cholla, he looked quietly down at tracks of traffickers … traffickers of drugs and humans. And lying there in a wash, no more than fifty yards from the border, was a coyote or pollero (as smugglers of humans were known), lying where he found shade … lying under a mesquite tree.

Cesar had heard that Carlos was a ruthless man and didn’t play by any rules. Cesar had same personality, except he hadn’t killed a man yet.

As he stood next to el jefe of Sonora … el jeje of Tucson standing next to el jeje of Sonora … away from civilization … away from laws and civilization, Cesar felt fragile. And with a dry mouth and a sharp pain in his stomach he knew that for the first time in his life that he had gotten himself into a situation that he couldn’t get himself out of. He didn’t feel in control. And he knew that he had to prove himself in some way or else. He had to somehow gain trust of el jefe of Sonora.

Cesar always remembered how he thought that it was peculiar that a coyote was sitting there alone under a mesquite tree. It was peculiar that he was waiting under a mesquite tree and Carlos knew he would be there. It was peculiar that they were expecting each other and this coyote obviously came a long way on foot. It seemed peculiar.

The coyote wasn’t poor but dressed simply, though a layer of dust had accumulated on his boots and trousers. His measured, slow response, first to a sound of two jeeps and then to Carlos himself gave a sense of his predicament. It showed he was waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. He may have been waiting for a long time. He was waiting patiently and didn’t seem to care that he was irksome to Carlos.

Smuggler slowly sat up. Cesar and Carlos went up to him together

Take your time, my friend,” said Carlos, in Spanish. “There’s always tomorrow, Brother.”

Si, senor!” Something in Carlos’ tone made the smuggler jump up. Then he started to say something but thought better of it. It seemed clear that he knew Carlos, and an explanation wasn’t needed. It seemed clear that he was waiting for Carlos. It seemed clear that he knew what was about to happen. So he shuffled forward with his sombrero in his hand, as Carlos pull out his pistol.

The pollero stepped back and said, “No, no,” or “Esperar,” while Carlos removed the gun’s safety.

Carlos said nothing, as the other Mexican shook his head in disbelief. “No,” he repeated, but no one seemed to panic. The smuggler must have thought that maybe he could negotiate his way out of this situation.

Then Carlos fired. He fired and aimed for the pollero’s head. He didn’t miss. He shot the pollero at close range in the head. Then he handed the pistol to Cesar and said, “Shoot him again.” The pollero was already dead when Cesar shot him.

Cesar remembered for an instant standing there immobile and a little bewildered. He couldn’t believe what he just did. He couldn’t believe he shot someone, but this pollero was already dead when he shot him. But Cesar knew that he didn’t have a choice but to shoot the dead man in the head. It was both symbolic and telling. It was symbolic and telling, and Cesar knew that it was only way he could seal a deal with Carlos. He knew he sealed the deal by what he saw and what he did.

No, this isn’t happening; no not to me, no,” Cesar thought.

Splendid!” yelled Carlos. “What would you have me say? Too bad? He knew. He knew when he joined us. He knew when he double crossed us. Like we say in our business ‘anything can happen.’”

Here.” Cesar handed him back his pistol. “Now can we talk?”

Sure. Sure.” Carlos put an arm around Cesar’s shoulder, as they walked back to the jeep. “Well, I’m sorry for his family.”

Cesar didn’t say anything.

I feel sorry for his family. So you want to talk? And you want to deal? So you came to Mexico to do business with me? You came to Mexico to deal. No, no, don’t worry. He’ll get a decent burial, and his family will be taken care of. I’ll see to it. Anyone working for me gets a decent burial. As for you and me, now I think we can do business. We can be friends. After what I’ve seen I’m encouraged. I think we can work together. Don’t you agree?”

I agree.”

From that point on the two men’s relationship grew

Early in life Cesar determined that the surest path to power was to cater to vices of people: then even if the syndicate invaded Tucson or Antonio’s father came out of retirement, then as a major supplier of illicit fun, Cesar was someone they couldn’t ignore. So he went to see Carlos with high hopes.

Despite his fearlessness Cesar hadn’t expected immediate success. His strategy was to arrive at the restaurant with a proposal and expected Carlos to be suspicious.

A business deal between Cesar and Carlos, back in 1972 before it was forged in a very profitable way, was cemented by killing of a pollero, and with blood on his hands Cesar saw his worth to el jefe of Sonora rise. On heels of the killing something else, more dramatic and significant, became apparent. When he shot a dead man in the head and thought it doesn’t matter because he’s already dead he didn’t go “Whew! Oh, God! Or what did I do?” No.

Cesar always stuck to his story that he never killed anyone. He could say he never killed anyone because he never directly bloodied his hands. Even after one of his henchmen was arrested and confessed to orchestrating a murder for him, Cesar claimed his innocence. He always maintained his innocence. And he said it with conviction. He was convincing. Pain on Cesar’s face impressed a judge … a judge conducting an inquiry, and Cesar’s half answers hid truth and deceived everybody. The judge should’ve stopped Cesar when he plunged into something irrelevant. The judge should’ve compelled him to answer questions posed by the prosecution.

I’m innocent,” he repeated and repeated. He looked innocent.

I understand it, but…”

No, you accused me; very well I refuse to incriminate myself. I have a right to take the fifth. Where’s your proof? You’ve accused an innocent man. I have a right to refuse to answer your questions.” He refused to answer their question and always proclaimed his innocence. Cesar took the high ground and knew he’d walk. He took the fifth and walked. He knew his rights and walked.

If he’d then talked about how he shot a pollero without flinching (though he was already dead), least perceptive person in a courtroom would’ve noted improbability of it. Don’t question him, but help him. He’s innocent, so help him. Help him because he couldn’t help himself, and as far as anyone knew Cesar didn’t have a guilty bone in his body. But since he resisted an urge to tell everything about his long connection with murder, starting with a shooting of a pollero, and link his fate with henchmen as he should’ve, no one ever knew about excitement he got from killing. They never knew he enjoyed killing … enjoyed rush of killing. They would’ve demanded proof of it. They wouldn’t believe it unless they had proof. They just wouldn’t believe it. What a fix! It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. So he was never satisfied with simply giving orders? Proof was there but they didn’t have it.

Then when we say murder of enemies and rivals, it must be understood that we mean murder of many. And murders occurred on a regular basis. But who knew how many? They took place both north and south of border, in Nogales, Sassabe, and Tucson; in desert locations, in cities, and along highways and byways. Murders of guilty people but never innocent people … representatives of every stratum … brains as well as grunts. Never of innocent people?

Yes, yes, murder! Mere thought of murder gave Cesar goose bumps. And it caused his heart to race.

Mysteries of nature. Darkness verses light.

His mama got lung cancer even though she didn’t smoke. “How do you figure it?” he asked himself. “She wasn’t a smoker. She took care of herself and didn’t smoke.” While those whores … And when did he first realize that she wasn’t going to die? (His mother had lung cancer and refused to die from it.) When did he realize it? Was it yesterday or years before then? She went down so fast, shriveled to nothing in less than a month and then refused to die. He watched her shrivel to nothing and refuse to die. It was hard for him to watch. Cesar, who caused so much grief, would live, while his mother, who loved as if her whole life depended on it held on. She suffered and held on.. To her secret of life was obvious loving. Cesar loved her but feared her judgment. So she refused to die.

But he felt most pain when she seemed to turn against him. He felt she turned against him, but did she really? And as he felt she turned against him he felt disintegration of his world. It just wasn’t how she opened her doors to strippers and whores. It wasn’t just how she provided ham dinners for his strippers and whores. It just wasn’t how she offered them a haven. And he wouldn’t have tolerated it, if she hadn’t been his mother, but she wasn’t a saint. None of us are saints. No, she wasn’t a saint and married a loser, and Cesar blamed her for depriving him of a father. And then she refused to die.

Frequently Cesar found himself standing in his mother’s living room with someone he’d hurt. He hurt a lot of people, so whenever he went to his mother’s house, he often ran into someone he hurt. Most likely they were given a place to stay. Mostly likely they were given a meal and a bed. His mother would ask, “Where would they go?” When she asked, “where would they go” Cesar didn’t have an answer, and his mother would smile. Something about his mother’s face when she introduced him to her guests told him that she was serious and that he better not object to her generosity. And she smiled knowing their connection with Cesar. They always had a connection with Cesar. But he still supported her without hesitating, and she spent his money how she saw fit. He may not have approved of it, but … in her house (a house he gave her) most definitely and without question she ruled. She ruled though she knew his explosive nature.

He never said anything. She accepted his money, and he never said anything. And when he never said anything, she always felt relieved. Alma didn’t know what she would’ve done, if he had. And when he was in his mother’s home and among her bric-a-brac and frills, Cesar … well, he wanted to leave.

Remember Ida Owen?” His mother expected him to remember all of their names. “Ida … Ida Owen was poor, she was pretty, and she was silly. It’s a pity.”

Mama, I don’t want to hear about poor Ida Owen.”

Then on cue Cesar dug into his pocket for something for poor Ida Owen. And if it weren’t Ida Owen, it was someone else. He never left his mother’s house without giving something for some poor soul … some poor soul he had a connection with … some poor soul he hurt. If in her high-handed manner Alma played on his guilt, it also gave him a chance to mollify some of the harm he did. It gave him a chance to do something good … after all the bad something good.

Truly by nature Alma Gomez was generous and noble. Or else … and this was probably the case … she was generous and noble because she never forgot what it meant to be poor. Forged by poverty and sorrow she learned early in life the meaning of living, and thus she was never happier than when she helped someone.

Through dreary years of cleaning drudgery Alma looked forward. She never looked back. And as time went by with less and less confidence that her son would find decent, honorable employment she came up with a strategy. She came up a strategy for his sake, as she was fond to say. She hadn’t asked for many things and had placed her energy into raising a son, whom she loved more than herself, still loved except she detested what he became. Instead of what he could’ve been, what he became. In her mind he could’ve been someone she could’ve put her faith in. At the end of her life, she had no faith in him. And there, as she lay dying, her lost son returned home. He responded to news of her dying by rushing home. And then she tricked him and refused to die.

Every week … at least once a week, he went to seen her … went to see his mother. B-b-boss Cesar, in his hundred dollar suits, with his gun-totting thugs, with his gun-totting bodyguards and the a perversity of attitude, he was ready to give her whatever she wanted. “Billy, if only you hadn’t been so greedy.” Only his mother could’ve gotten away with saying, “if only you hadn’t been so greedy.

She still called him Billy. In her mind Billy would never have committed crimes associated with Cesar. Cesar was a different human being or a creature belonging to a different species than Billy. A monster would’ve destroyed his mother. He would never have gone to her house, really. He would never have given her money. really. He would never have bought her a home, really. He wouldn’t have fit in. But Billy came to see her every week.

There was always a smell of cooking in his mother’s home, always a pot of cocido simmering on the stove; something she could always stretch by adding carrots, cabbage, or a potato or two, depending on what she had in her cupboards. Cesar loved his mother’s cocido. He loved her cooking.

Hungry?” she’d ask him.

Cesar never was, but he found it impossible to turn her down.

Tortilla? Corn or wheat … freshly made. Beans and rice…I know you like it.” And he always let her serve him a bowl or a plate of his favorite food. It was smells that he remembered and what he remembered then: not bad breath … bad breath that was so offensive to him, as she refused to die. No cigar smoke.

As Cesar waited for his mother to die, it became a blow that left him devastated. For first time in his life death touched him personally and for the first time in his life he didn’t know how to respond. He waited in a stupor. He waited for his mother to die in a stupor and didn’t know where to turn. No help, no help, he had only himself and no one else. And while his bodyguards stood nearby they couldn’t help him. While his gun-totting bodyguards stood around on the porch, Cesar had only himself. There was no on to help him. No one. He … he himself … would have to bury her. And he didn’t hear the phone ring.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven
Higgs still felt no pain. He wouldn’t remember all of this because he had one thing in mind. And that had to do with Cesar and not his injuries, but how could he have thought of anything else when he couldn’t get close to el jefe? “Kill the goddamn so-of-a-bitch.” He still wanted to kill el jefe, his old friend.

And George followed him. He ran after Higgs. He ran after Higgs, without knowing where it would lead him. George didn’t know where Higgs was going or what he would do next. And why would he want to follow Higgs? He didn’t know.

Higgs’ eyes were full of anger. He was badly injured and full of anger, and he should’ve waited for an ambulance. Someone should’ve stopped him. George should’ve stopped him. Police should’ve been called. George should’ve called the police. Charges pressed.

Higgs thought that he might catch Cesar at Alma’s home. Given what happened at the club, it was foolish for Higgs to go to Alma’s home. It was foolish because Cesar might be there. It was foolish, but that was where he went. He didn’t go in his car, but he pulled himself along, finding energy from a source he didn’t have before. And he went up South 6th Avenue toward downtown, past the El Sombrero and people who knew him and people who knew where he had been. He headed for Alma’s home, acting like an unleashed bulldog. And George followed him like he was on a leash. It wasn’t tidy. Higgs was bleeding. He was badly injured, so before he got to Alma’s house he almost collapsed. He almost collapsed because of loss of blood. He went up the street bleeding, where he had come and gone and up a street he tried to improve and the battle hadn’t been won yet.

They were sitting on Alma’s front porch. And Cesar sat there too. No one spoke. Nothing to say. Nothing would help. Alma was dying … or supposedly dying and nothing would help.

Higgs stumbled up the sidewalk, the one that led up to Alma’s blue Victorian house. It seemed better than walking away.

 

Cesar knew Higgs was coming. Cesar knew Higgs was coming. “Going to kill the son-of-bitch.”

Dead. Dead walking. So much death. Indeed it was almost as though they sat there waiting for death, occupied, of course, with their own thoughts, yet joined in their own preoccupation of the same thing. Death! Alma was dying or supposedly dying. Higgs was badly injured.

To die. Higgs couldn’t account for pleasure the idea gave him. To die. To see Maggie again. Waiting for death. Waiting for it. Asking for it. Waiting to see Maggie. “Going to kill the son-of-a-bitch.”

But Higgs didn’t know sidewalk from the street, and George wasn’t paying attention either. It was partly because George was caught off guard. He was caught off guard by turn of events, caught off guard. He wasn’t expecting any of it. George wasn’t prepared for violence. He hated violence and wasn’t prepared for it. George wasn’t prepared for violence. He wasn’t prepared for Higgs pulling a gun and Higgs getting badly injured. It was partly because George was caught off guard and partly because Higgs couldn’t have been stopped because the old man found a source of energy unknown to him before.

Cesar caught sight of Higgs, looked at his face and Cesar saw what happened to him. He knew what happened to him. Cesar knew Higgs had been to his club. Now it came down to who wanted to see whom? Cesar knew the whole story. Cesar was expecting Higgs.

With a pounding heart the old man found courage to open the front gate and enter the yard. Old man saw Cesar’s bodyguards standing around and yet found courage to open the gate, found courage to approach Cesar standing on the porch. Many times Higgs had walked up that curved-path of neatly raked gravel. Over the years Higgs had been one of Alma’s guest. Often he went up to the house seeking comfort and refuge. Often Higgs went to Alma’s Sunday ham dinners. Often Alma fed Higgs.

It was memory that stopped him. It was memory of smells and tastes … memory of ham baking and taste of real butter on hot rolls that stopped him. It was Alma’s kindness. It was Alma’s kindness that stopped him. It was Alma … Alma who stopped him when he stopped and stood there with his eyes closed and remembered one thing that he loved best about Alma: her open arms … open arms she always greeted him with.

When Higgs didn’t have enough strength to go on Alma was there for him. Alma would smile and laugh and joke and share her table. When he didn’t have enough strength to go on she smiled and laughed and joked and shared her table. He always went there to take stock of himself, and sometimes he ran into someone from Cesar’s club. Desperation made awkwardness irrelevant. No matter how awkward it was Alma made everyone feel at ease. She made everyone feel at home and at ease while her smile was an apology.

When times were hard Alma demanded laughter. One of the prostitutes would help her set the table. Higgs liked smell of fresh baked bread (except in the summer time she kept her oven going and always had a batch of Tollhouse cookies) and Higgs would’ve gained weight had he gone to Alma’s everyday. Then he would eat, and butter his rolls and listen to Alma tell funny stories, which always snapped him out of a funk. She loved talking about way back when and about when she was always broke, when she was happy and broke, when she was happiest and broke, truly was. Everyone could see then that that was when she was happiest. Her Sunday ham dinners made her happy.

Idea of finally meeting el jeje set George on edge. He dreaded meeting Cesar. And he lived in fear until he found out that his expectations were wrong.

Cesar tried to read Higg’s face. Higg’s face was so mauled that he couldn’t read it.

Higgs hated Cesar, and Cesar hated him. Their hatred for each other had grown over the years.

Going to shoot the son-of-bitch.”

Higgs? Higgs!”

Higgs didn’t acknowledge Cesar. It seemed like Higgs hadn’t heard him.

Or get shot and see Maggie again

Two bodyguards stood behind their boss and saw Higgs pull up his shirt, and they reacted by drawing their weapons. They knew what Higgs did at the club, so they drew their weapons. Then Cesar stood up and raised his hand, signifying a truce. They didn’t think Higgs had a weapon.

George was innocent looking, he was rich, he was generous, and he was foolish. George still had an apartment on Turtle Creek Drive, still with its Hopper and Pollock, and a Swiss-born caretaker. He still had connections with Dallas. George still had a sharp-eyed fiduciary in Dallas, someone he somehow had to get rid of. George was still rich; he was generous, and was foolish., so how in the world did someone with his background and resources ended up broke? He ended up in Tucson broke, and by then all specifics of which were lost in a dark abyss.

Whenever people first met George they knew there was something different about him. It didn’t make any difference who they were they knew there was something different about him. He would know nothing about them, and they knew nothing about him, yet they knew George was different. He didn’t necessarily look different, but they knew he was different and knew he would try to save them. George would sit with strangers and talk with them for hours. He would listen to strangers for hours, and they knew he was listening. They knew he was listening and cared, and his generosity often overwhelmed people, hence he needed a fiduciary. He would give away everything he had if he didn’t have a fiduciary.

George wrote a letter to his fiduciary about his money and property, when he realized that he needed much more money than his current allowance. After all it was his money. It was his money and in his mind he should’ve been able to do what he liked with it. Sum of money left to him by his parents was … well … more than he could’ve possibly imagined. And more than he could’ve possibly spent. He had no idea how much money he had. He didn’t know how to manage money. He had no idea what his money could do and what it couldn’t. When driven to think of money he never thought of what he’d do if he had access to it all. He would probably give it away. His money would fly away. Always a challenge for his fiduciary he would as soon give it away as keep it. So he needed a fiduciary.

Anyway George scoured town for something perfect for Anna. He looked for something perfect to give her as a going away present. George looked for something perfect for Anna after he convinced her to be reasonable and not move on a moment’s notice. He convinced her to plan her move to LA and to delay it a few days to give everyone a chance to adjust to the idea. George looked and looked, and this was before he admitted he was in love with her. He knew nothing about love, so how could he know he was in love with Anna. Given the circumstances he couldn’t know about love. Given what Miss M did to him, he couldn’t know. George’s confusion and chagrin about love came from an obvious source. It seemed obvious given circumstances. Blame circumstances. Every time he was with Miss. M, he experienced contradictory feelings. George was unprepared for what happened. He was innocent and didn’t know where the movie star was headed. She walked into a room, into his life, and it felt good. He was confused, and it felt good. But it wasn’t love. He didn’t know he was in love with Anna, didn’t know about love, when he started scouring Tucson for a perfect gift. As he staggered, looking around Tucson, George’s hands trembled. Was this love?

He thought of buying Anna something small, such as a lap full of roses. Think bigger. Roses don’t last. George again thought about Anna leaving and felt sad about it. Why? Why did she have to leave? Why couldn’t she stay? Why did George feel sad? He just met her, and she was leaving. He found himself thinking a lot about her. There was more going on there than he knew. He didn’t know he was in love … in love with Anna. He knew nothing about love. He was innocent and Anna was pregnant and about to leave. He heard an inner voice say, “Don’t discount your feelings, boy.” He was surprised by how he felt. “Don’t discount your feelings. Be honest. But values, I need not tell you, are important. Look past Miss. M. Look past Miss. M. Don’t ignore feelings. “

From an early age George knew right from wrong. He knew it was wrong to be jazzed all the time. He had too much too early in life, but he still liked to be around women. And women liked him. George had no small amount of charm. Women liked him.

He cried, sobbing over a Jamaican bombshell. Desperation lurked beneath pain. Then he regained his composure.

George searched antique stores. George was drawn to antique stores. Then he found what he considered a perfect gift. Laid aside in one corner, with other items from Old Mexico, with a painting of The Archangel Michael and a hundred-dollar brooch, both heirlooms, was a Spanish silver jewelry box that caught his eye. He could afford it, afford anything in the shop. He had plenty of money, only he didn’t have access to all of it. There were many items there that he could’ve chosen, that he could afford, some then being unpacked by a clerk who noticed his interest in the jewelry box. Someone’s treasure, he supposed. His primary goal, then clear in his mind, was to please and impress Anna. This was before he knew he was in love with Anna and when roses wouldn’t do. He could’ve stayed with roses adding cheer to a sad time in Anna’s life, only others would’ve given her roses, while a jewelry box, obviously unique, suggested that there was more to come. Such a present … a jewelry box … was worth more than its price. Likewise his generosity and wow factor of such a gift were obvious and remarkable to everyone, considering that he initially appeared to be broke.

Pure silver! Gosh, golly! Pure silver!

Anna was well aware of the effect that she had on men and that she was Danny’s first love. Love then perhaps was no more than a passing fancy with her, but for Danny and George? It didn’t take much to stir great emotion in George. All Anna had to do was speak to him in a certain way … smile and speak to him in a certain way and he fell in love.

Pain was too great for Danny. On learning how Anna gave herself to a stranger and got herself pregnant, Danny asked her point blank, “What do you mean you don’t know his name? Is it true? Is it really true? You don’t know his name?” Of course if she had said in repentance: “It’s really true, and I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.” Or said, “I was raped,” or something like this … Danny wouldn’t have been so upset. He would’ve been sad, but he wouldn’t have been so upset, and it would’ve been something he could accept.

Damn it! Despite trying not to, they argued.

Danny remembered that he tried to explain. He remembered he tried to explain why he was so upset and tried not to argue. Some boys with steady girlfriends treated their women like they were possessions, but Danny wasn’t one of them. Danny couldn’t imagine treating Anna that way. Anna was different. She was strong willed and stubborn. Danny knew Anna and knew he had to be careful. He knew she was strong willed and stubborn and knew he had to be careful but when she told him that she planned to party he exploded before he caught himself. “Damn it!” Cursing was Danny’s trump card. Whenever he wanted to make a point, he cursed. “Damn it!”

By this time Anna turned red and had an angry look that she sometimes got with a projected chin and stammered, which even surprised her. She took his reaction as a challenge. He cursed, and she cursed back. He tried not to argue, but nobody was going to tell her that she couldn’t do something. She had just turned twenty-one, and before then he always gave in. Then she turned up pregnant. AND SHE DIDN’T KNOW THE FATHER’S NAME.

To set aside hurt feelings George offered to take her out himself. Superior beauty of Anna eclipsed beauty of other women, while jealousy instead of concern for her governed George’s response. He was convinced that she couldn’t protect herself. He was wrong but was convinced of it. And he thought that her future happiness depended on him. Because of this George showed her as much tenderness as he could, tenderness that essentially went against his nature. For her part she assured him that she could take care of herself (she was stubborn and could take care of herself) and promised to show him that she could. And to reassure him she told him that she and Kitty would stay together all evening.

George considered Anna incapable of deceit. As far as he knew she was always honest. He never caught her in a lie. He just met her and could never remember catching in a lie. Then should he not trust her? Could he trust her? He trusted her, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because he knew he had no hold on her.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight
When she and Kitty entered The Hideout, Anna stood silently, looking for a cue from her friend. They weren’t shocked by what they saw. They weren’t shocked by who they saw in the bar. They weren’t shocked by what was going inside the bar. They weren’t shocked because they heard stories. They heard stories about what went on in this honky tonk. And it didn’t take long before Kitty to waltz up to the bar and order, in a deep guttural voice, a margarita. “Without salt and extra tequila please! Well, I promised I’ll get drunk.”

This proclamation brought attention of the barkeeper, and he proceeded then to mix a margarita and ask what Anna wanted. She ordered same as Kitty. She also wanted to get drunk. Not pregnant yet and she wanted to get drunk. She didn’t care. Anna ordered the same as Kitty, but had it been her choice she would’ve ordered rum and coke. She ordered a margarita because she felt she had to conform.

The Hideout was crowded, smoky, and loud. Music hit people when they entered the bar. Loud music hit them. Kitty explained that loud music came with the territory and made private conversation possible. Before Anna knew it Kitty found an old friend who demanded all her attention. The two ignored Anna.

Anna usually, as inferred by Danny, blamed her mistakes on her naivete. About certain things she was nave but not generally. And surely nothing (but her naivete) contributed more than her feeling invincible. In addition her tacit submission to things didn’t necessarily mean consent. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so harshly criticized, but when a daughter, a young woman, a family member, or a friend got herself in trouble, staying out of it was difficult.

So when she ordered her margarita Anna heard Danny’s “damn it,” his words to her were more of an effort to control her than care for her. Then she, as if in defiance, posed with her drink in her hand. She posed and wanted people to notice her. She wasn’t showing yet, when she posed with a drink in her hand. And she intended to stay planted there till some man spoke to her. She planned to get drunk and stay planted there until a man spoke to her.

This being one of those times when she should’ve listened to her mother, she rejected everything she was taught, but it wouldn’t have mattered had she not been beautiful. It wouldn’t have mattered except she had never indulged so much before. And she didn’t know how to manage her indulgence.

When a band started playing slow, blue music Anna found herself dancing with a stranger. They slow danced, and he held her tight. On the floor were guys who could dance and those who couldn’t but it didn’t matter much either way. Slow dancing in a crude fashion simulated their thinking, their calculations, and their plots. This was true with the guy who danced with Anna. Maybe it was wise for them to continue dancing without talking. Everything hinged on how drunk Anna got. Everything hinged on how drunk she got and he knew it. So he kept buying him drink.

Anna Martinez was actually tall and, as indicated before, striking, but she had a restrained manner about her that many people mistook for coyness. She dressed like Kitty. She wore a maroon French beret with a matching kerchief tied around her neck. She came to the honky tonk overly dressed in a close-fitting blouse neatly tucked into a fringed skirt that was cut on the bias. Around her waist she wore a sash that matched her beret. When other people, men and women, wore sequin western shirts and expensive Stetsons typical of the southwest, she dressed the same as an eccentric from Paris. One word came to mind: the word dramatic. Kitty helped Anna pick out her outfit.

Not that she needed it; her clothes still gave her an advantage over other unattached women. She’d never been to the Hideout before. And she never dressed that way before. Very, very striking. Very, very provocative. She looked very nice. Very, very nice. That night she was perhaps too … too provocative.

He knew what he wanted before he saw her. He had no name, would never have name, or she didn’t ask him his name, and he didn’t tell her. She never knew his name. And he was suave. He was suave and knew what he was doing and would use same techniques on someone else. She was stacked, Mexican, and hot and stacked. He was white. Her soft, big breasts bulged out the top of her low-cut blouse. His hands went where they shouldn’t have gone as he warmed up to her breasts: like cushions: all flesh and little nipple.

But first he sat on a stool next to her and said, “Hello. From around here?”

It was his intention to woo her, as she wooed her own fate. This being indeed a means that he used to reaffirm his worth, he acted superior; for nothing could’ve been more true than that someone so taken with himself usually turned out to be a bore. And she needed him to woo her to reaffirm her worth.

When this stranger turned on charm, he also exerted an extraordinary amount of condescension, and in so doing he usually dominated women. Whenever he entered a room, this time a honky tonk, people generally gravitated toward him.

Damn good band.”

Best damn band in Tucson.”

Let’s dance.”

Okay.”

They danced. They danced and danced. They dance rest of the night. They danced hunched over each other. They danced and drank. Dancing … a lot happened in a short time. Before long The Ramblers came to the end of their first set.

Wasn’t she a fortunate senorita? Thoughts of her mother, and attune with her vitals, showed how nervous she was, and tipsy. She loosened her kerchief. Drinking and happy, and having gone this far no one could help her, not Danny, not Kitty, not her mother, not anyone. She loosened her sash.

He told a couple of crude jokes. Wanting to please him, she chuckled. More drinking.

The Ramblers took the stage again. Damn good band. Best in Tucson. She untied her kerchief and let it fall to the floor.

More dancing. More drinking. Sash had to go. He removed it and, while dancing, popped it like a bullwhip and tossed it to the floor.

Where was Kitty? Kitty was nowhere in sight.

Anna loved a sense of freedom and then this stranger. So she drank and danced with him, and he asked, “Is it so? Is it a fact?” And he pretended to be really interested in her. He pretended that he was interested in what she had to say. He pretended a lot. He pretended that he was attracted to her.

And she was easily led along. Would she step on his slanted boots? Would she embarrass herself. Would she trip and fall, embarrass herself without locking her arms around his neck? Would she lock her arms around his neck? She wasn’t that drunk. No, she didn’t need to worry. He knew how to lead and made it seem easy. She wanted to lock her arms around his neck. He could dance and made it easy. He made it look it easy. He was easy to follow. He knew what he was doing, but what did she know? What did she know? Only that he had big strong hands, hands that by then were cradling her rump. It was though he needed nothing else but big strong hands. His handsome face or pleasing personality didn’t mattered as much, as much as his hands.

She thought, “I must be careful.”

Promiscuousness was much in evidence there. Promiscuousness was much in evidence in The Hideout. Hot, she pulled her blouse up out of her skirt. What happened to her sash? It didn’t matter.

He took advantage and explored her back with his fingers. Cheek to cheek she let him hold her tighter. Aware of those hands, those big strong hands as they inched up her spine, she gently moved his hands back to her rump. There they felt good and less threatening. Bare skin. Arms locked around his neck, his hands inched up her spine.

Looking down at her he didn’t say a word. Hardly moving he led her. She followed. And along with excitement he frightened her, and it was when she thought of Mr. O’Toole.

An amiable Anna was only twenty when she was introduced to Mr. O’Toole. Her mother, therefore, thought her oldest daughter deserved someone like Mr. O’Toole. She thought Anna was right for Mr. O’Toole … someone who could provide her with all material things that she could imagine. Anna’s mother thought she was right for Mr. O’Toole though Mrs. Martinez knew nothing about Mr. O’Toole’s past. She thought she knew him well enough to not be appalled by his proposal, though she knew nothing about his life in Houston.

Mr. O’Toole’s age made him a better match for Anna than her sisters. And conversations Anna had with Mr. O’Toole seemed to bare it out. They could relate to each other, which was more than could be said for Anna’s sisters. And since Anna didn’t express having a problem with having a man who could’ve been her father as a suitor, no one knew how she really felt about it. No one could read her mind, as some people made a scandal out of it, prying into things that they shouldn’t have. But there were those among those who knew the family well who concluded that at some point Mrs. Martinez would recognize the folly of pushing Anna into the arms of Mr. O’Toole.

Mr. O’Toole presented his first wife with a chinchilla coat before he married her, a chinchilla coat he selected and paid cash for. Then after his divorce he became so resentful of this coat that he cut it into pieces and stored individual pelts in a box. Doing this he exacted revenge on someone he once loved. While it may have seemed sensible to sell the coat he took a pair of shears to it. Now he thought about buying Anna a chinchilla coat. Why a chinchilla coat?

Alone with Anna, Mr. O’Toole asked her if she thought age differences between people mattered in a relationship. Anna didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want to offend him and didn’t respond truthfully. After some thought about it, she said, “No, it doesn’t make a difference to me.” She responded in that way because she didn’t want to make him unhappy. And she no sooner said it than he took her hand. It startled Anna when he took her hand. He immediately apologized.

The stranger had more girlfriends than anyone could imagine. He had blondes, brunettes, and redheads. He had more girlfriends than any of his friends did. Now he had Anna. And she never thought of it in terms of making a mistake. He thought of it as a conquest.

The stranger took Anna straight from The Hideout to his apartment. He suggested that they get some air and they somehow ended up in his brand new Merc. Those big strong hands guided her … guided her to his car when she was drunk. Those big strong hands guided her to his apartment. She wasn’t able to find Kitty. Kitty disappeared and left her to fend for herself. But it was no excuse for her leaving The Hideout with a stranger. It was no excuse for her ending up in a stranger’s apartment. It was no excuse, and she hated being reminded of it.

Anna was drunk. Drunk, she drank more. She let her defenses down because she drank too much. She felt sick. She was sick and drank more. And more. Her head was spinning. She thought she was going to throw up. She seemed sad. She wanted to be somewhere else. She didn’t want to be with a stranger. She didn’t even know his name. She didn’t want to go a stranger’s apartment.

But his warmth momentarily reassured Anna. Very gently with a big, strong hand on her elbow he urged her out of his car. Because she slipped she couldn’t account for her beret, and wind blew her hair loose. It also revived her enough for her to know what was going on. And she knew … she didn’t need to guess … she had no allusions … she knew what he wanted. She was drunk but knew what she was doing.

At ease, he continued smiling, as he fished keys out of his trousers. At last she spoke. “Take me home,” she said.

He ignored her request. He was young, virile, sensual, horny, and his face reminded her of a vulture.

Damn it! Danny, Oh shit! This stranger’s face now reminded her of a vulture.

It seemed sad to Anna that her mother wanted her to marry a man old enough to be her father. Mr. O’Toole smiled in spite of feeling rebuffed. Smiling was his remedy for many things, so he kept smiling. He was evidently very fond of Anna. He didn’t love her but was fond of her. Then while keeping his eyes on her face he stroked her hairless arm. It was a gesture of a man who had wooed and possessed women before and who still knew what he was doing. And in the same way he then turned on charm.

You’re beautiful!” he said. “You’re a fine looking woman and beautiful.” He kept smiling like a vulture and holding her hand. “Just like a dove,” the stranger said. “You’re a beautiful woman,” and he never took his eyes off her face.

But what does it matter?” she thought without letting him know her feelings.

She made her decision. He smiled, as she felt sick again. “I think … I think I’m going to … quick a commode. I think I’m going to throw up.” Then he removed those strong hands from beneath her blouse. He hadn’t expected her to be sick, but it wouldn’t deter him.

Anna spent a considerable amount of time in the bathroom while the stranger felt impatient. He was impatient. Yet he knew that he was close to getting what he wanted. Her agreeing to come to his apartment was all that mattered. She was an adult and consented to come to his apartment. There was enough light in the hallway for him to see her as she staggered toward him. If then and there he were honorable nothing else would happen-.

Anna sat down again on the couch and planned to stand up as soon as she could. She wanted to think she could resist him. She thought she could handle herself. She thought she could handle him. She wanted to think that she could escape. “Nobody can tell me what to do. I can take care of myself,” she thought, “but what am I doing here?”

All a blur later. Out-of focus. She thought they talked for a while. She knew that they sat close together and kissed. They kissed again and again. Their kisses were sloppy and intense. She was sure that he urged another beer on her. One beer? No food. Her stomach again. And she felt dizzy and thought that she could trust him. She mistakenly thought that she could trust him. He seemed nice. He seemed concerned. He seemed concerned for her. His big strong hands were moving again, swiftly unfastening her buttons. She ignored it as best as she could. She didn’t seem worried. “Well, if you don’t want him to tell him no. You just met him.” She didn’t even know his name. His big strong hands swifty removed her bra.

Pushy. Was she ready?

She heard her mother’s highly animated voice warning her. Mrs. Martinez endlessly lectured all three of her daughters about respecting their bodies. Anna knew her mother didn’t want to be a grandmother, didn’t want to be a grandmother just yet and demonstrated that by telling her to be careful, to save herself for her wedding night and to get most out of life. And Anna intended to do just that. She clearly didn’t want to marry then, or not at least until she was sure. She had worked out a system: she’d carry a pack of gum in her purse, and if he pressured her too much, if it came down to it, she would offer him a piece of Juicy Fruit. Where was her purse? Where was her gum? Where were his lifesavers?

 

 

Chapter Twenty-nine
For two or three days Anna didn’t see Mr. O’Toole. She didn’t see him and heard from her mother that he was suddenly been called out of town. She assumed he was called out of town on business. She assumed, and she didn’t really care; but she saw that her mother did.

Anna had never been more confused. When Mr. O’Toole returned, Mrs. Martinez made sure that they were alone again. Anna didn’t know what to make of it. She was confused. She saw how Mr. O’Toole flirted with her mother, and yet her mother was pushing Mr. O’Toole off on her. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t make sense to Anna. What her mother was doing didn’t make sense to her. Maybe she didn’t see what others saw. Maybe she didn’t see what other people saw. Maybe she couldn’t see inside Mr. O’Toole’s heart as other people thought they could. Maybe she didn’t want to think that Mr. O’Tool’s real interest lay in her. Did rest of the family see it when she didn’t? This was before she knew she was pregnant.

They were finishing a main course waiting to tackle desert, and conversation centered on Anna and Mr. O’Toole. It wasn’t long before Anna felt embarrassed by it. She excused herself and got up from the table. George sat there taking it all in and felt embarrassed for her. Then Angela, who more than anyone felt left out, suddenly also excused herself. She went to her room. The whole time she was at the table, Angela’s eyes never strayed from Mr. O’Toole, and as she left the dinning room he winked at her.

Wind picked up during dinner, and stars sparkled like diamond Mr. O’Toole bought Anna; so it seemed auspicious when Mrs. Martinez urged everyone to leave the couple alone. Anna accompanied him then as far as the front porch.

As the couple went out to the front door Higgs barreled past them. Higgs was on a mission too. He missed supper and was on a mission too. It wasn’t an unusual mission for him. He had a flask filled with booze in his hip pocket and wanted to see how quickly he could drink himself into amnesia. Anna parted first and sat in the swing but with uncertainty. She was still confused … confused because she didn’t quite have maturity expected of her. Then Mr. O’Toole sat next to her and took her hand.

On his trip to Phoenix to buy a ring Mr. O’Toole almost turned around at Casa Grande. He pulled off the exit to Casa Grande and almost turned around. He thought about it and thought about it. Did he really want to remarry? Did he want to complicate his life again? Did he want to lose his freedom? He almost turned around because he didn’t want to face rejection. He hadn’t realized that he was still angry over having been rejected before. He was angry, still angry, and felt his anger was justified. Anna knew nothing about this. Anna really knew very little about him. She knew nothing about his life in Houston. He told her that he was married before but didn’t share anymore. And if he did he wondered if she would be sympathetic? Of course he wouldn’t give her details or not many of them. After all those years during which he was afraid of risking again, a moment finally came when he decided he would propose to Anna.

Anna, do you know what I have here?” he asked.

I can see that it’s a little package. Expensive things often come in little packages.”

Expensive indeed; yes, yes indeed expensive.” Then handing her a little package, he said, “A small token. Guess what it is.”

Oh! Oh my! No!”

No?”

She shook her hand and started to cry.

He saw her startled look and her tears and wondered if he could get past this. Were her tears tears of joy? Were her tears tears of sadness?

Anna!” he continued. “I can understand why you might think I’m too old for you. How you could be turned off because of my age. At times you seem like a flirt … I swear you do … a flirt of the first order. It’s hardly fair. You blow hot and blow cold, and it was the last thing I expected. And yet, Anna,” he quickly added, after observing how she seemed offended, “I know you’re a sincere person. How could I call you a flirt?”

I never said age mattered. I’d never say age mattered, mattered to me because … it doesn’t.”

Tension then grew as he handed her the package.

Please open it and tell me what you think. Please” he demanded, grabbing her.

Please! You’re hurting me. I will, I will, but let go of me!” she exclaimed. “And I’ll let you know when you let me go. I’ll tell you how I feel … about my feelings … everything. But let me go!”

Your feelings? Yes, certainly you have feelings.” Then after releasing her and nodding, he said, “My Anna, my precious Anna has, without a doubt, feelings that without a doubt confuse her. Be honest about how you feel about our age difference.”

I’ll try.”

Wait! First open the package.”

Yes, I’ll open it.”

Finally she tore into it. She opened the package and didn’t stop until she tried on the ring for size. The ring sparkled. It was beautiful and expensive. She was torn. As she tore open the package, she was torn. But as she tried on the ring for size, she drifted toward relenting. She drifted toward relenting and giving hin the answer he wanted … relented and tell him yes. A seesaw of emotions, every hot flash, and every pulse was confirmation of her inexperience. In a moment of acquiescence Anna allowed her impulsiveness rule. She then kissed him, and her kiss meant everything to him.

Night progressed, and they remained on the porch. They sat there watching traffic. They didn’t say much. They watched traffic come and go and didn’t say much. And they watched Higgs come back with another pint tucked away in his hip pocket. But still Anna hadn’t made up her mind. He saw her agitation and thought the cause was his age. Mr. O’Toole didn’t know what to do. He wanted an answer from her, so he tried to good naturedly cajole her out of it. This didn’t sit well with her. She couldn’t stomach it.

Mr. O’Toole could see that she was worked up. Then by half-past eleven when almost everyone else had gone to bed, someone inside turned porch light out. This suited Anna. This suited Mr. O’Toole but for different reasons than it suited Anna. It gave her a chance to excuse herself, after which she went to her room in the dark.

That was Saturday. Sunday came, and Mr. O’Toole didn’t approach her on Sunday. Anna’s sisters, Mrs. Martinez and rest knew that something was definitely afoot. ()r they hoped something was definitely afoot.) Because of it they tiptoed around. Monday crawled; Tuesday was worse. Wednesday she gave Mr. O’Toole her answer.

Gently Anna laid her head in the stranger’s lap and felt immediately better. Yet he felt annoyed and impatient, and she picked up on it. But she said nothing and closed her eyes. Embarrassed over what was happening, she closed her eyes. With emotion the stranger thought about how easy it had been.

Then she felt his hand cup her breast. With his big strong hands she could feel him slowly, gently and purposely stroked her breast. All evening he looked at her and wanted her. He then knew that that moment had arrived, as his long fingers desperately tried to get a response. Then she said: “No!”

What?” Anger reddened his face. “What do you mean no?”

No.” Then she felt horrible about it. He thought her no meant yes. She knew she should’ve said no before then, as he continued and thought her no meant yes. He fondled her bottom and her front; then all of a sudden she tried to push him away.

Please take me home,” she said. She tried to be polite.

Don’t be ashamed.”

I’m not ashamed. I made a mistake. I shouldn’t be here.”

Forgive me,” he said, while he continued to hold her and slip a hand inside her pants. “Don’t be afraid.”

Nice apartment!” chirped Anna. She felt sick to her stomach. Damn it! She could hear Danny curse.

The stranger couldn’t believe that she meant no. She came with him to his apartment, so he couldn’t believe that she meant no. She didn’t mean it. He was sure she didn’t mean it. She couldn’t have meant it after she allowed him to go so far. Then she expected him to stop. No. No! Why did she lead him on? Why did she?

You’ll allow me to kiss you … allow me to caress you. You came with me to my apartment and led me on. Now, come on,” he pleaded. “You let me touch your breast; but you won’t let me … What’s this about?”

Anna knew she made a mistake. She knew the mistake she made. She drank way too much. She drank too much and regretted it. She let herself be led by him and regretted it. She let his big strong hands roam her body but didn’t permit anymore. She drew the line.

But he was handsome, and he made her feel good. How dark his hair was, how blue his eyes were, how clear his complexion was, how tall, how strong he was, but how impossible her situation was. It hardly started when…

Kitty betrayed her. Damn it! Kitty betrayed. Kitty left The Hideout without Anna.

Listen, you really are a tit flirt,” he declared. “Hot and cold tit flirt.” Now he was angry. “Tit flirt!”

Flirt? Tit flirt? Sometimes she imagined how it would feel. How having a lover would feel? To be kissed and touched. Holding hands. Lying in a bed beside each other, she would tell him her dreams. He would tell her “you have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” It would be wonderful. Oh, so wonderful. She would try to imagine how it would be, but not this. Fantasy. Not this.

No!”

I won’t hurt you, I promise. I promise I won’t hurt you,” he told her as he pulled her back to the couch.

He was surprised that she didn’t resist him, but he knew what he was doing was wrong. It was too easy. She didn’t resist him, but he still knew it was wrong. Because she told him no, he knew it was wrong. But what did it matter? He knew he wouldn’t see her again. He sometimes wished he could make it up to her, though he knew he wouldn’t see her again.

No. No!

She didn’t resist, but it didn’t mean he didn’t hurt her. And nothing satisfied him. It wasn’t very satisfying.

Take me home,” she demanded afterward, sobbing. So he knew where she lived.
Anna felt very, very small. Her mother tried to tell her. If only she had listened to her mother. Soon she knew she wouldn’t be able to hide it. She knew soon she wouldn’t be able to hide what she did. So she told Molly. She told Molly first, always Molly: “Yes, I’m pregnant. No, there’s no father.” Molly was always sent for when something broke down and usually succeeded in fixing it. This time Molly asked Anna: “Does Mr. O’Toole know?” This time Molly couldn’t fix it.

And Anna had to admit that she hadn’t told Mr. O’Toole. And Mr. O’Toole always said what he would do for her and she now wondered what he would do when he found out that she was pregnant.

They had dinner at six o’clock, and Anna and Mr. O’Toole excused themselves at seven. It was three hundred yards from the house to the riverbank and another hundred yards to their bench. It didn’t take them long to reach their bench. It may have seemed longer for Anna. It wasn’t far, and they got there before it got too late. Anna looked at diamond on her finger, diamond Mr. O’Toole gave her, she looked at the diamond and Mr. O’Toole and tried to figure out how she could give it back. She didn’t know why she accepted it, she now wanted to give it back. Problem was she had grown fond of the ring and the attention it brought her.

What was his name? She couldn’t remember him telling her his name. She remembered he said he wanted her to go with him to get some air; but she felt she wouldn’t have gone had Kitty not abandoned her. She didn’t remember how she got from the front door of the club to the stranger’s car. She was too drunk to remember. He had to practically carry her and nurse her too, and she remembered asking, “Where’s the commode?”

Afterward, sitting on the commode at home she got proof that she needed. She was bleeding. She didn’t need more poof. She once had a bad opinion of whores, but now she felt like one. She felt sullied and worried. She felt like a whore. She felt sullied and weak but still strong enough to confront and resist Mr. O’Toole. She once had great plans and she liked to dream. She had a plan and would tell Mr. O’Toole and, soon as possible, would get out of Tucson. But there was one thing that she didn’t like, and that was morning sickness, but she hadn’t yet decided what she would do about a baby. Anna had proof she needed. She was bleeding.

By time they reached their bench she was ready to tell Mr. O’Toole, ready to tell him and give him back his ring. (She assumed he would want his ring back.) In a few minutes she thought she’d be free of an awful burden, having kept details of how she got pregnant to herself. And she knew she would have to accept full responsibility. She was bleeding. She somehow knew she was pregnant.

They settled on a bench, their bench, which faced the Santa Cruz and tears came before Anna could stop them, tears while her lips trembled. She bit a finger hard and saw that Mr. O’Toole hadn’t looked at her. There was a great deal of laughing and joking during the meal. Her mama said Anna was lucky to be getting a man such as Mr. O’Toole, and, though her mother said it many times, Anna felt uncomfortable and said to herself that she’d just have to see. Inside it tore her apart. When she laughed moisture came to her eyes and disappointment set in. She felt sure Mr. O’Toole would want a virgin on his wedding night. He wasn’t one but expected one. Then Angela lifted up her tea glass and “damn her”… drank to Anna’s health, and said that she felt sad that they didn’t have champagne. Angela said a toast with champagne was called for and everyone agreed. And Anna laughed to keep from crying and bit her thumb until it hurt.

But wasn’t Anna glad when people finished their desert and her mother began clearing dishes? Then she found herself sitting next to Mr. O’Toole and thinking that there couldn’t be a better time to tell him, and started with a question. “Would you like a piece a gum? “

Then she tried to explain that it had nothing to do with him. She tried to explain and give her ring back. It was her ring by then, and she wanted to give it back to him. She cried a little too, and, as she turned away she thought about wanting to get pregnant and looked with affection at a hurt and puzzled Mr. O’Toole. But now that she was pregnant …

When they went outside stars were shinning and she was glad that she had somehow found courage to tell Mr. O’Toole. She felt full and talked to Mr. O’Toole about her swelling belly. Beforehand she arranged in her mind all that she said and thought how much better it was to be honest than to have him hear it from someone else. She was determined to be honest. At first she hoped that they could weather it. She wanted to keep the ring but knew she had to give it back. She felt sure that they could weather it but couldn’t blame him for walking away. “If he walks away, so be it,” she thought. They sometimes argued anyway but up until then it never lasted for very long.

The Texan reacted by exploding and slapping her face. In the heat of the moment Mr. O’Toole forgot a cardinal rule: “never leave bruises.”

 

 

Chapter Thirty
Anna in her prime thought about death and hurt she was forced to endure. She didn’t like what she saw. She didn’t like when she looked in a mirror. She didn’t like her predicament. She didn’t like her choices and ached for something different. She ached for a simpler time, a time that wasn’t so sordid and mean. She felt sad and ugly. She ached for a time that wasn’t so sordid and mean.

Besides her no one knew the whole story. No one knew what really happened. No one knew how she was lured into a stranger’s apartment and raped. And she didn’t want to talk about it. She was pregnant and didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to go back to The Hideout. She didn’t want to see the stranger again and didn’t want to talk about it. And she had no one to blame but herself, and as she stared at herself in her mirror she counted furrows in her forehead, wrinkles she hadn’t noticed before. She counted wrinkles in her forehead and couldn’t stop crying. She was starting to show, and she saw it in a mirror. She was still a young woman. Here was a pregnant young woman with wrinkles, a pregnant young woman who ought to have been happy. Here was an unhappy woman burdened with betrayal and fear. Then holidays got stupid and endless around Thanksgiving. Then by chance she caught Fred cleaning his gun, a gun she borrowed without ever intending to return it. It was Friday afternoon, and all other residents of the rooming house were either gone or napping.

Anna’s mind was elsewhere whenever her mother tried to talk to her about a wedding. She didn’t want to talk about a wedding, and when Mrs. Martinez approached the subject of Mr. O’Toole in glowing terms, Anna glared at her. Each time he came up she glared at her mother. She later explained that when he said that he loved her … each time he said he loved her she wanted to believe him, wanted to, wanted to, but couldn’t.

A baby! Mrs. Martinez couldn’t get over the idea and tried to put a pleasant spin on it. Normally her maternal instincts would’ve taken over but nothing helped then.

It also preyed on Anna. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could she stop thinking about it when she was beginning to show? Mr. O’Toole only had a vague idea of how she felt. He didn’t seem to care how she felt. He didn’t seem to care. He didn’t seem to care about her. While he wanted to forgive her … while he wanted them to be happy … while he wanted someday to have another son of his own, he didn’t seem to care. .

All afternoon Mr. O’Toole wanted to confront her and waited for her door to open. He waited as long as he could. He waited until he couldn’t stand it any longer before he entered her room. He entered without knocking. Since they were engaged it seemed okay for him to enter her room. He knew her room well. He felt impatient, so he entered her room without knocking. What was left of their relationship for him was knowledge, or so he thought, that he could control her, and it might’ve been true until he slapped her. Slapping her changed everything. It changed everything, just as everything changed for Anna when she was raped.

Anna walked down hall and entered her room and found Mr. O’Toole waiting for her. He thought he controlled the situation. He thought he had a right to enter her room, but he was nervous because beforehand he knew that Anna could snap. He knew she could snap, just as he snapped.

Mr. O’Toole never intended to hurt her. His intent was clear; he planned to talk her into telling everyone that he was the father of her baby. It took him a while. It was difficult, and it took him a while, but he finally decided to take responsibility for Anna’s pregnancy. He started out by saying, “Get yourself ready for the time of your life. Imagine having everything you ever wanted.” It wasn’t a smart thing to say. His timing was off, and it didn’t help.

Mr. O’Toole was a tall man, a tall Texan who always wore cowboy boots, which made him taller, and he towered over Anna. And he couldn’t get over her room. It had always been her room and was filled with stuffed animals and Kewpie Dolls. Kewpie Dolls and Elvis. She had a poster of Elvis on the wall. Although Mr. O’Toole went in her room every night, he couldn’t get used to a room that reminded him of their age difference.

Instead of looking at him she stared at herself in a mirror. There was only one place he felt like standing and that was as near to her as possible. He wanted now to stand beside her. It had taken a while, but he was now willing to stand beside her. She couldn’t stop him now. She couldn’t stop him from putting his arms around her waist. (There was no reason why he should have done it other than he wanted to.) With both hands Mr. O’Toole reached around her and patted her belly. “There you are,” he said. “As purdy as anything I ever saw, as purdy and invitin’ as a pool of clear, cool water on a hot summer day.”

Oh, stop it!” she said, working her jaw, as she fished in a drawer for something.

Let’s just talk,” he said, feeling for a fetus that he wished were his. “You done seen me in the worse light. Stumbled, like I did. I think if that’s all you ever see, you’ll have it purdy good.” He meant it, the two of them … Mr. O’Toole, the Mrs., and then a baby … maybe a son again, another son … just maybe … and moving away from Tucson for just long enough to … Didn’t she say she was going to LA?

Mr. O’Toole turned her face to his and looked at her. Anna tried to smile. It was a fake smile. She seemed to be following him. “Can I ask you something?” Anna asked. He let go of her and stared. He hadn’t expected her to ask for anything. He wanted to do all talking. So he waited and again very nervously. “Can you be truthful?” It was Anna’s favorite question. It had always been. He fidgeted. Why not be honest? Why not be kind, courageous, and strong? And honest? “Can you be honest?”

Shoot.” Later he considered this choice of an expression as ironic and poor. Right then he thought that there couldn’t have been a better opening for a conversation he wanted to have with her. But by the time she finished his assessment changed, as well as the color of his face. Without stopping she told him that they had no future together. Then it came down to her telling him that she had to leave Tucson. Then she asked, “Do you hate me?” In less than a minute she told him everything she wanted to tell him, asked him to be honest, and that would’ve been it if she hadn’t been desperate.

If anyone from the outside saw them then they would’ve seen Mr. O’Toole shuffle, seen him move his feet back and forth, same as tossing a ball from hand to hand, or same as a kid on base, or on all fours in a football stance. Then he decided not to accept what he just heard. “Nope,” he said. “We O’Tooles always git what we want. Yes, you’re gunna have time of your life with me.”

Nope,” Anna said. “You’re wrong.”

Mr. O’Toole blurted, “I know what I want. We always get what we want.”.

I know what I want too,” she said more forceful than ever.

We O’Tooles always get….” he began again.

She knew then that he hadn’t heard her. Absorbed in his own loud, noisy self, he heard her words but hadn’t really heard her.

Anna felt like saying, “Well, fuck you,” except it wouldn’t have been ladylike. Instead she said, “Don’t let me keep you, sir. But I want you to know that you might not see me again.” Anna said this, as she fished again for something in a drawer.

Maybe he only heard his beating heart, and then, as he raised his hand, a strong urge to slap her dissipated.

Oh! Mr. O’Toole!” she said. “If you only knew the …”

The word “pain” never came out of her mouth because before it did, and with untypical ease, she pulled out Fred’s revolver.

Anna didn’t want to hear about her father anymore. She wanted to forget his connection with the mob and seized every chance to talk about his kindness. Antonio was boy whose father’s bodyguard (Anna’s father) brought him to elementary school in a black limousine, a limousine and not a hearse as alleged. Anna always defended her father, though she didn’t remember much about him. “Now look here, Kitty,” she would say, “your father may be mayor,” and she would stand with one hand on her hip and the other pointed at her friend. “Your dad came to my dad and not the other way around.” But her dad was then dead, and it didn’t matter that he was a close friend of Cesar. “Just remember it. Just remember they were friends. It wouldn’t make sense without knowing it. It wouldn’t make sense without knowing they were friends.”

Anna thought it was normal for men from Mexico City to stop by her house and talk to her dad and for her mother to greet them in slacks. It all seemed normal to her. With a broad and innocent face her mother would sit on a sofa, feeding her babies, while her husband, in the same room, would deal with men with guns. It seemed normal to Anna. It seemed normal for her father to deal with men with guns. To have guns in their house seemed normal. These men had been in her house before. And they had to be taken seriously. They had to be taken seriously because they carried guns and because they were powerful men. The way they talked to her father Anna could tell they were powerful men. And she knew they never came to Tucson without a reason.

To Anna they seemed nice but what did Anna know about the Mafioso? The Mafioso who worked for her dad or for Cesar (she never knew who worked for whom) acted friendly and came to her house during the middle of the day and asked her dad, “If you don’t want to do business with us, who else can we do business with?” And she and Angela, before Molly came along, knew their dad was big and important.

Yes, and what would you do if my father were mayor instead of yours?” Anna asked Kitty.

I wouldn’t care,” Kitty said. And Kitty wouldn’t have cared.

If Anna’s father had been mayor, more than likely he might’ve still been alive. She knew that she missed a whole lot that went on between men from Mexico City and her dad. She came in and out of the room but missed most of it.

All right, Miss,” she could hear how people talked about her father then. Cesar might’ve impressed them, but he couldn’t compete with her dad. Anna was naturally proud.

One day she heard a group of people talking about her godfather: how he rode around South Tucson in a big black limousine. He had bodyguards just like movie mobsters. Because of it she often wondered why her father didn’t have any of his own. She intended to one day ask him about it. She saw that Cesar had bodyguards, and if he needed them her father certainly did. Who knew, but had her father had them … had bodyguards he might’ve still been alive.

She sat in the middle of the back seat with her father while her mother drove. Angela and Molly sat with her mother in the front, and they drove up a curvy, narrow road to Phoenix and over the arroyo where Tom Mix died. Anna didn’t remember why they went to Phoenix. But she certainly remembered what her father talked about. Time flew faster than her mother drove around curves as her father talked.

Her father talked about coming from a family of mobsters. His father’s father was still respectfully remembered in Chicago and New York and still could be heard from the grave saying, “Don’t get into the business unless you’re willing to pay ultimate sacrifice.” She knew that her father and Cesar were in business together and that somehow Higgs, her friend Kitty’s father, was involved. She also knew that they were supposed to look after each other.

She said that she thought that she understood all that, and either she did or she didn’t. Anna remembered how her father cautioned her mother to slow down for curves, and cautioned her by saying “remember what happened to Tom Mix,” but he never thought about protecting himself. Anna could forgive her father for anything except that.

He pointed out interesting details along the highway; “this is where Tom Mix died;” “the Palo Verde under which they dumped so-and-so’s body;” “roadhouse the Fed’s raided in 1968;” and “the various tracks in the desert that mules used for their escape.” According to him Arizona desert was full of corpses. Arizona had become a dumping ground. Each curve had its story, and the meanness of it thrilled Anna. Her father said more than once, “Let’s go to the movies to see how it’s supposed to end.”

If I were you,” cautioned her mother, “I wouldn’t talk to your children about any of it. You don’t want to give them nightmares.”

Later, when she got bigger Anna forgave her father for sending her out the room, for going on long trips without her, for forgetting her, and for all sorts of lapses. “Then to forgive someone: would it be something new for her?” she asked as she held Fred’s gun to her head. But it didn’t take her father or his death to teach her what a gun could do. Coming from the family she did she didn’t need a picture drawn for her.

In her family children were supposed to be seen rather than heard. They were supposed to be cute but not act out. Children were dismissed. Anna knew the drill. She knew her place. Cesar needed to say in private what he had to say to her father, and sometimes that was how it was. Anna knew when to leave the room. She was sensitive. She read her father and knew when he wasn’t happy. Yes, Anna knew the drill well and was so quiet that she had gone unnoticed. She was lying on the floor near the door and two men who came to see her father nearly stepped on her. They walked over her and didn’t excuse themselves. Their mistake was when they didn’t shut a door all the way.

Anna crawled a few feet so that she could see through crack in the door. The two men stood in the center of the room but wouldn’t have wanted to be observed. They whispered, so Anna could only see them, and she saw tension between the two men, Cesar and her father. She remembered seeing Cesar hold her father by the lapel, as he jabbed him with a finger and with their faces inches apart. She remembered the shirt Cesar wore and that his belly hung over his belt. She remembered everything. How Cesar was angry. How he stood towering over her father. Very angry. And she never forgot how defeated her father appeared. Well, on that Sunday she said Cesar brought all the kids candy and everybody was home and by the time he left and got into his limousine everybody knew that his visit wasn’t a social call. Anna’s mother looked worried. Her father didn’t say anything. He wouldn’t have said anything. He wouldn’t have wanted to worry his family.

Poor Antonio never before received such a tongue-lashing: with his shoulders slumped and his head buried in them, each word made him twitch. Anna had never seen him like that. She had never seen him so down. He was putdown and down. He normally had a bounce to his step. Anna wanted to yell, “Stop! Please stop! Stop!” She wanted to come to the defense of her father. But she remembered what she was taught. She knew her place.

But what did Anna know about who killed her father? She had her suspicions. She knew what she was taught about the business and had her suspicions. In the back her mind, she knew she knew who orchestrated it. She would never know for sure but in the back of her mind she thought she did. After what she saw and how her father reacted, she thought she knew. She also knew that it was a crime to kill and a crime to steal and a crime to sell crack cocaine. She also learned it was a crime to steal crack cocaine. And she knew that Cesar ran it all, but she would never say she knew, and there were deals struck here and there and for years Cesar hadn’t been stopped.

So Cesar then still ran his Palace where the show never stopped. Dancers waited their turn, and show never stopped. Dancers were ready to pounce as soon as some poor sucker entered the place, and hustling never stopped.

Inside a boardroom there had always been a long oak table with fine leather chairs and a back door leading to an alley and a quick getaway. They all sat around this table in accordance to a pecking order with Cesar at head of the table, and, when he was alive, Anna’s father at the other end. Higgs would sometimes attend these meetings. He sometimes attended these meetings and danced a familiar tune. He sometimes attended these meetings when he was mayor and obviously they made it sweet enough for him to want to dance. No one ever remembered asking him if he wanted to dance, but it was correctly assumed that he would. Future always looked bright; never mind what made it shine.

Cesar’s dark black eyes were always darting around. He’d look up and down the table, trying to stay on top of whom he could trust and of whom he couldn’t. Cesar never had a sunny disposition, and it didn’t take much to make him nervous. He read people well. He was nervous and read people well; and those he couldn’t trust were forced out, so why was he nervous? Nervousness helped him survive.

Most certainly he would,” Anna said. “No longer do I want to live in a place where life is cheap and people are murdered everyday for money!” and she said it while she still held Fred’s gun to her head.

Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” taunted Mr. O’Toole.

You want me to do it, don’t you?”

Cesar came in and told the assembled that they had a crook in the room. Everyone knew what this meant. Cesar sat at the head of the table and wiped sweat from his brow with a personally monogrammed handkerchief. He sat there and said they had a crook in the room. His trousers were cinched tight, and a loose shirt accentuated his belly. “You can’t win. You can’t win,” he then said, glaring at the man sitting in a chair opposite of him. “These days you don’t know who you can trust.”

It didn’t matter that the two of them had been best friends and business partners for most of their lives. It didn’t matter that they got their start together and that Antonio’s old man treated Cesar as a second son. It didn’t matter.

Because he’s a good man” was what Cesar said whenever he picked someone. By then he had given the order.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one
At what point did Cesar pass Antonio? At what point did Antonio become part of Cesar’s organization? From a driver’s son to number two in Cesar’s organization? How? When?

Finances, Antonio excelled in finances. Antonio was always good with numbers. He knew how to balance books. He had a business head. It was his idea to conserve a legit front, and it was a good one, and from the beginning these boys looked for sound investments. They invested in legitimate businesses. They used them as fronts. Say they worked at it, and you can’t imagine how careful they were. Now why did they do it? Because they were smart. It was Antonio’s idea. Antonio was smart. Antonio was good with numbers.

Antonio knew that when they got their hands on loads of money they needed a safe place to put it and knew that banks wouldn’t be anxious to help them unless money came from a legitimate source. Now that shouldn’t have been hard to figure out. It wasn’t, but it was Antonio’s idea. Antonio’s father taught his son this and other lessons, and people were surprised to hear him say “You can’t trust criminals and don’t expect people to do business with someone they can’t trust. The biggest criminals in world know this. How else do they stay in business?”

Antonio had to explain it to Cesar. He had to explain how it applied to their business. This was Antonio’s strength. He knew how to explain things. He knew how to put something in the simplest terms. Antonio was good with numbers. Antonio was good at business. He and Cesar discussed it many times. “Go ahead, supply folks with sin: your booze, your women, and your coke. Make a few cents doing it, but for every two cents you make, invest a penny back into the community. Take care of people and you can be assured a place in their hearts. Don’t do it and …”

Antonio said that in his opinion their desert had the best year-around climate in the world. He said because they had the best year-around climate people the world-over would come to them and the best way to capitalize on it was to promote it. Where else could you play golf 365 days a year? Then first, to pull it off they had to act like they were made of money. “Money flows like a great river, like the Colorado, money attracts money but not until they built a dam could clever alchemists (guys my dad knew) turn it into gold. There wouldn’t be Vegas without a dam.”

What are you talking about?” Cesar asked.

Hoover Dam and Vegas,” answered a smiling Antonio, “and it was all legal. My dad was pals with guys who built Vegas. Yep, those guys knew their math and knew the importance of taking care of people. They knew the importance of giving people what they want.”

So Antonio knew his math, and he formulated a business plan that created Cesar’s empire. Until his death Antonio was an alchemist. He was the alchemist that kept lights on at Cesar’s Palace. And he literally turned mile after mile of desert into green, and how did Cesar show his gratitude?

He and Cesar never discussed their business with other people. They always kept their cards close to their vests. It was safer that way. They were private people, so no one knew who came up with what. No one knew for sure who was brains behind their success. The boys frequently ran down to the border and early on had their eyes on a huge piece of property. They were already thinking big and biting off more than most people their age knew how to handle. They saw green where other people only saw cactus and sand.

They enjoyed driving off the main highway into the desert. (It was considered a dangerous highway. Because of curves and drunks coming back from Mexico, it was considered dangerous.) And Antonio took notes. He would see something and record it. He jotted down quick notes and figured out what this or that cost. He visualized things. He had a keen eye and could visualize things like: over there, on top of that hill, perfect for a spectacular hotel and out front a Romanesque fountain with a circular drive. Water was key like water was everywhere in those parts, key to where to place hundred thousand dollar homes and for a Swiss spa and, of course, a pro golf course. It became the best eighteen holes around, perfectly landscaped in and around rugged hills along the border. And they said the hotel didn’t have a room with a bad view, and they created a waterfall and a lake for effect. It all took water, water for a golf course, a Romansque fountain, a waterfall, and a lake for effect. There was an avenue of transplanted saguaros leading up to resort (lit at night like Christmas trees) and an ornate gate that promised luxury. They called the whole package El Dorado.

The first time they drove down together Antonio remembered which road to turn off on. He knew how to get to the property. He had already spotted a hill on the property for the resort. He had it laid out in his mind: a golf course, a fountain, waterfall and lake for effect … all in his mind. Antonio wanted to lay it out for Cesar. He wanted to show Cesar all old Coatimundi Ranch but knew his partner wouldn’t be interested in the main house with its ocotillo ceilings or the Mexican corrals or Indian graves that hadn’t yet been disturbed. “This ranch once had been part of a large Spanish land grant,” he said, hoping to convey significance of the place. By then Antonio had a plan, but he needed to sell it to Cesar.

How far are we from the border?” Cesar asked.

Through a canyon, maybe four or five miles.”

As his jaw dropped open, Cesar exclaimed, “No shit!” Cesar then thought it was perfect. Four or five miles from the border, through a canyon.

They were talking about buying ranch, the old Coatimundi … four or five miles from the border, through a canyon … because Cesar was sold on idea. It’s location … four or five miles from the border … made it perfect in Cesar’s mind. He was more than delighted, and Antonio shook his hand like priming a pump, a pump on top of a gusher and shouted. They both laughed. “Four or five miles,” Cesar repeated. And they would own it. “Perfect!” A short trip had been very educational for him.

Ain’t it pretty?” And Antonio could already hear water sprinklers. He already saw green where there was only cactus and sand.

All right,” Cesar said, “but get this: it’s got to be Five Star. Five star all the way.”

I’ll write it down.”

You do that. When you said a canyon takes you all the way to the border, you’ve hiked it, right?” Sycamore

I have my sources.”

And what’s at the border?”

A barbwire fence.”

“A barbwire fence. Then we won’t touch the canyon.”

And from there Antonio’s ideas grew.

Anna removed gun from her head and with two hands pointed it at Mr. O’Toole. Then as she stood there she recalled how her father was killed and how his bullet-riddled body was found in a shallow grave. She remembered how much he meant to her. She remembered what he meant to her and what he did for Cesar. She saw buzzards. She saw buzzards flying over her father’s grave. She never knew for sure who the buzzards were, but she had her suspicions. Her father never shared with his family his business, so Anna wondered what would’ve justified his murder? She had suspicions but could never prove anything. She had suspicions, and her suspicions never went away.

Highway was expanded to four lanes. It was expanded to four lanes and engineered to showoff El Dorado built on a hill overlooking an artificial lake. Drivers also could see first and the last holes of a golf course and where lots for hundred thousand-dollar homes were for sale. Anna remembered seeing this scene for the first time from the back window of an old Studebaker. As usual her mother drove while her dad sat in the back seat with her and her sisters. After driving to the last vantage point her mother parked car on the shoulder so that they all could look back at the resort. It was magnificent. It was palatial. It was splendid. It was expensive. It was expensive to build. Antonio and Cesar spared no expense. It spoke money. It was Five Star, Five star all the way. But Anna never questioned where money came from. Now her mother had to take in borders.

Antonio got out the car first and motioned for his children. Anna ran to her father, getting there first. She felt proud of her father. She was proud of the resort that her father helped build. And as she stood next to him, he seemed so tall to her. As she stood next to her father … as they stood there looking back they saw another vehicle leave a parking lot in front of the resort, saw it disappear around a bend, and then reappear, moving much faster than they had been. It was a familiar big black limousine with Cesar smoking in back seat.

All five of them stood there holding hands in the wind. Antonio looked at his handiwork for the last time with an expressionless gaze but made all three kids scramble back into the car before limousine went past. A familiar fat man lowered his window and waved. There was nowhere to hide as a familiar fat man waved. The two adults knew the score. The children somehow knew it too. No one said a word.

After her husband’s death Mrs. Martinez lived a hard life and one rarely free of worries, but if she had accepted Cesar generosity it would’ve been different. If she had she could’ve remained part owner of El Dorado.

Maybe someday someone will come along and explain it to me,” Anna said, with a gun still pointed at Mr. O’Toole. He didn’t respond. She had surprised him. He didn’t respond, but it seemed like he was begging her to shoot. He wore a blue cowboy shirt with a lone star sewn on front and his face was as ashen as the star. He decided to ignore her gun and reason with her.

What was it you said?”

What did I say?”

Your father must’ve been a smart guy.”

Yeah,” Anna replied, “but not smart enough. If he were smarter he’d still be alive. If he were smarter, he would’ve out smarted Cesar.” Then she looked Mr. O’Toole in the eye and said something that shocked him. “He deserved what he got.” With this she began to cry and, when he reached to disarm her, she yelled, “Back off!”

You wouldn’t shoot me, would you?” Mr. O’Toole asked, as he stepped back with his hands up.

I never intend to. If I intended to, you would be dead. I don’t like guns. I’ve never liked guns. I grew up around guns and never liked them. Guns make me nervous. I don’t mean to disappoint you.”

Listen, I can see that you’re upset.

She shook her head. “You don’t understand. I’m sorry that I disappointed you. I’ve hurt too many people.”

Mr. O’Toole felt many different things, too many things for him to recall, and everything converged with his anger. Anna hadn’t thought any of this through.

Dead people don’t have to think anymore.”

You wouldn’t, would you?”

No, I couldn’t. I have another person to think about. I have a baby to think about.”

Ignoring gun Mr. O’Toole grabbed her hand and slammed her into a wall. It knocked air out of her and bruised her back. However he stopped himself before he killed her. “How’m I gunna git out of this now … this time?” he thought.

I’ll be good, I promise.”

Drop the gun, Anna.”

No!” Until he mentioned gun she hadn’t realized that she still held it. She’d proven how strong she was and had only a slight quiver in her voice. Show him or be dammed.

Then he slapped her. He slapped her again, and Anna’s cheek burned. Still she wouldn’t drop the gun. No truce yet. She knew all along what she had to do. No truce yet. It took him slapping her to convince her that she had no choice. She again turned the gun on herself, this time at her belly.

For a moment Mr. O’Toole stood motionless. Then he knocked her to the floor, and the gun flew out of her hand. When he knocked her to the floor, Mr. O’Toole thought he saved her life. The gun landed a few feet from Fred, who just entered the room.

Fred was in his room for only a few minutes when he heard a loud thud. Initially he tried to ignore it. He didn’t need additional trouble, so he tried to ignore it. Whenever he came home he wanted to leave trouble behind.

Fred was Cesar’s main man, or Fred said he was, but wasn’t hired when Mrs. Martinez rented him a room. He’d just come to Tucson from Racine where he got into his first scrape with the law. He killed his first man when was twenty-four. Fred figured it made him a marked man. He also figured that it made him marketable. At an early age he bought a gun, learned to shoot it, and beginning with a few break-ins graduated to arm robbery. Because of it he spent ten years in prison, a history that made him even more marketable … a history people in Tucson weren’t aware of. Time in prison also helped him forget penny ante stuff and kept him from making simple mistakes. He didn’t want to go back to prison.

With money he brought with him he lived for six months in Mrs. Martinez’s rooming house. He thought at the time that he was living on nothing but what he said he learned was that he hardly needed anything to live on. He also learned meaning of having nothing before deciding to take a job at a car wash.

Mrs. Martinez took him in under the assumption that he would make a decent tenant. It had at the same time driven him crazy and made him ask stupid questions about himself while Mrs. Martinez planted traps, hoping to catch him in them. She wanted to catch him in a lie to find out if he was a liar. But lucky she didn’t catch him and stench of what he had done hadn’t reached Tucson yet. Only the Lord bothered to keep track of him. He was hounded him out of Racine and was told to flee but wasn’t looking for Redemption. From the bottom of his heart Fred believed the good Lord shielded him … shielded him from prosecution, so only the Lord bothered with him.

Eventually Cesar found Fred working at a car wash. He and his chauffeur went there to get mud off his limousine. They had driven through the desert where no limousine had gone before, in and out of arroyos to an old ocotillo corral for a meeting with the Border Patrol. Cesar frequently did business with the Border Patrol, and Cesar liked to talk about keeping them waiting. Mud was splattered up to the windows, which told Fred the limousine was driven fast. (Fred knew about driving cars fast.) As Fred wiped off the back bumper, Cesar lowered his window and yelled that it had better shine, and there for a second it looked like Fred would take offense. Both of them looked pissed. Both of them looked like they could explode. But there was no reason for them to look this way. Limousine was what impressed Fred, and if it hadn’t been for a limousine he wouldn’t have cared a rat’s ass about Cesar. Fred knew of Cesar, knew his reputation, and wouldn’t have cared a rat’s ass about him had Cesar not been driving around in a limousine. However, when Cesar paid him Fred said, “I know that you’ve never heard of me but you soon will.” And that was how Fred got Cesar’s attention. And what set Fred apart? His willingness to take risks and, if need be, take a fall.

That evening Fred heard more commotion than a loud thud before he opened Anna’s door. Angry words that came out the room were nasty, vulgar and loud, and there was a man standing over a woman lying on the floor in pain. Mr. O’Toole kicked Anna before he saw Fred.

Fred’s gun lay on the floor. Fred had stepped into an ugly situation but felt immune to it. He wasn’t an emotional man. He often got angry, he often said insensitive things, but he wasn’t an emotional man. Fred had seen too much violence to be emotional. At the time he prophesied that given a chance Mr. O’Toole would eventually kill Anna. At that moment though he didn’t say anything as he retrieved his gun and Mr. O’Toole rushed past him to get as far away from Anna as he could.

Fred was an intense man with a scowl that would’ve frightened anyone and big protruding eyes that looked like they’d pop. He wore a necktie that he carefully tied in a Windsor knot and a white shirt that he ironed himself. Fred, standing across the room from Anna, saw great agony she was in. And he recognized quaking of someone who was scared to death. He’d seen it many times before. He remained perfectly still, except for a mouth that twitched. He just stood there. He just stood there, and by degree she realized that he hadn’t come to help her. Then with great effort she pulled herself up and crawled upon her bed. Bruised and hurting she suspected that she was bleeding inside and hoped she aborted her baby.

Except for causing her to crying, all this toughened her. She knew that she and Mr. O’Toole were through, and he knew it too, but he begged and pleaded and still did things to win her back. As though he’d won he said, “Just whose fault was it? Who had the gun?”

Anna despised him. And he knew that he couldn’t trust her but couldn’t leave her alone. While he waited for her to try to get even, he paced the floor and plowed his hands through his hair. He sat on the edge of the bed and couldn’t sleep. Night after night he couldn’t sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-two
Mr. O’Toole started badgering Anna long before the explosion. Afterward he should’ve avoided her. They should’ve avoided each other. For both of them, however, scabs made for easy picking.

Because Anna had gun in her hand, Mr. O’Toole had answers for everything. Because Anna had gun to her hand, Mr. O’Toole could justify his actions, and he did. He said he slapped her to snap her out of it. He made himself out to be a hero. He indicated he saved her life.

I’m going away,” Anna threatened a hundred times. “I’m going to LA.” She said this a hundred times. “And I’m coming back.” Her voice was distant and irritating. She sounded like a bitch, and she knew that if she didn’t leave she would kill Mr. O’Toole.

Mr. O’Toole hit a woman before. He hit his former wife and sent her to a hospital. He had a temper and when he lost it there was no telling what he would do. When he lost his temper he was known to lash out. He followed his father’s example. Son like father … he was always his father’s son and his father was the one who taught him that the O’Tooles always got what they wanted. Thankfully, Mr. O’Toole rarely lost his temper. . “Buy her something expensive,” a little voice in the back of his head said, and he went out and bought her a new yellow convertible. Thinking he could make up for everything by buying her something expensive, he bought her a new yellow convertible.

Once they were married he intended to buy it for her anyway. He just hadn’t told her. He honestly thought that he could patch things up. He went out of his way to patch things up. He apologized and promised never to hit her again. And though Mr. O’Toole had plenty of cash and could afford it he said that it was a hard decision, particularly after what Anna put him through, and then fork over cash for a new convertible and then have her run the car into a telephone pole and call it an accident. An ACCIDENT! He could strangle her, not just strangle her … strangle Anna but he restrained himself. He restrained himself this time. Man was he angry. He should’ve have seen it coming. Still he restrained himself. Mr. O’Toole went down to the body shop hoping damage was minor. But once there he could see, as everyone could, that Anna was lucky to be alive. What if she died?

This is too much,” said Mr. O’Toole. “She’s driving me crazy.”

Get out of my way. I’m not as helpless as you seem to think I am. I’ll have my baby. Get him born and decide what to do and do it on my own and see how it works out.”

And when something goes wrong?”

Bring it on. I’ve been to hell, seen you there, and made it back,” Anna said. “And you think I won’t survive? I will! It’s that simple. I will!”

It’s never simple,” Mr. O’Toole said. He knew what he was talking about. It was never simple.

You think that you can scare me, control me, but you can’t.”

He sat on the edge of the bed and couldn’t sleep.

And someday you’ll find yourself alone. End of discussion.” It wasn’t end of discussion.

Again threads that restrained Mr. O’Toole broke. He gripped side of the bed with his two hands and pushed himself forward. “Without me you’re nothing! You’re nothing! You’ll end up on the street. You’ll beg me to take you back. Just because you’ve got a purty ass, you think … Just because you’ve learned how to get your way you think … without me you’re nothing.” … and whenever he thought of her baby he was reminded that he offered her a way out. He offered her redemption. He offered her redemption, but she wouldn’t take it. … and he didn’t have to be reminded that he got burned twice in his life. And he was reduced to what he could carry in a U-Haul, and his mind was made-up for him when he broke down in Tucson. She deserves to be miserable. She deserves what she gets.”

Mr. O’Toole’s spirits perked as soon as he drove through El Paso and until he began to drive too fast and almost ran off the road. His eyelids felt heavy from ack of sleep, and he almost ran off the road, so he grabbed a cup of coffee the stay awake. Several people made recommendation that he accept Mrs. Martinez’s hospitality because she owned a boarding home where he could stay until he found a better place to live. He never found a better place to live. He liked Mrs. Martinez immediately but didn’t expect to make her his friend because he didn’t forsee how he’d get involved with Anna. He thought he was too old for Anna, so he hadn’t expected it. He hadn’t planned it. At the boarding home, he had ample opportunity to get to know all three sisters and let his tongue hang out whenever he saw the oldest one come out of her room and give him a broad smile. He didn’t do anything in particular to make her look at him. And she didn’t look at him because of his looks. When she paid attention to him he thought it was because she sensed his sincerity; and he proved his sincerity by taking her out to expensive restaurants. Leaning forward they talked at length, casually about all sort of things and dallied sometimes because they wanted to impress each other. After good-byes he would then put his hands over his face and fall back into his room.

Then Mr. O’Toole began talking with Higgs, one dumbfounded, the other hiding something. Former mayor, sober for a change, kept repeating in an agitated way, “I can’t figure it out. Why she would want to leave. Her daddy wouldn’t have wanted it.”

I don’t know why either,” Mr. O’Toole whined. “I’ve never understood why you can’t satisfy some people. What do you think is wrong with her? This is not how I intended it.”

My daughter told me some things.”

Mr. O’Toole planted his elbows on the table and leaned forward and tried to milk information out of Higgs. Then leaning back again he said, “There’s nothing I can do now. No point wasting effort. She’ll come crawling back.”

You think so? I’m not so sure. Listen,” Higgs said, “at one point I thought I could figure such things out and generally could but that was when times were simpler and women were more predictable. I raised Anna after her father got himself killed … raised all three of them because Antonio was my closest friend and you could say that it was my duty to raise all three girls, only they wouldn’t listen to me.”

I wish I could get inside her head. I know that it has nothing to do with me,” Mr. O’Toole said, closing his eyes.

You think not?”

What do you mean?”

I’m not one you should ask,” Higgs said, allowing his eyes to rove up and down Mr. O’Toole.

By now I thought she would’ve changed her mind.”

Listen,” Higgs said, “you shouldn’t blame yourself. All the time I was raising her she didn’t pay attention to me. Only listened to me because she had to. Placated me, her mother too, ‘till she turned old enough to be on her own. ‘Uncle, you’re too old fashion!’ So old fashion!” the old man piped with barely enough air to make a sound. “You see how old fashion we are.” Old, he repeated, stressing old. “You shouldn’t blame yourself when you’re old enough to be her father.”

Mr. O’Toole placed his tongue in his cheek and said, “I feel like I’ve been run over by a train.”

You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Southern Pacific,” Mr. O’Toole scoffed, and he got up and asked again, “What’s wrong with her?”

Mr. O’Toole spent three weeks without sleeping more than an hour or two. He cried, sometimes caught himself crying when he least expected it. His eyelids puffed up, and circles around them sagged, and wasted Mr. O’Toole shuffled around with his head down. He wore same shirt day after day and never changed his pants. He didn’t know where he was half the time. He didn’t observe the world as it turned. Then one day when she ran into him on the front porch, Mrs. Martinez asked him if she could help.

Thank God she’s leaving soon so that I can get on with my life,” he muttered.

We can’t forget her,” mother said, as she started down the steps.

Christ,” Mr. O’Toole grumbled, grabbing her by the arm. “Can’t we talk for a few minutes? Don’t you have some time? No one cares but you. Anna’s leaving, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I know it. Why can’t you stop her? Why can’t you?” he asked, as the couple slowly strode down the sidewalk with Mrs. Martinez leading the way.

Where are we going?” Mr. O’Toole asked after they walked away from house and headed for the river. “Listen, if you don’t want me to come along, I could …”

I could use company. The house will be lonely without her. She was my sunshine.”

Just remember,” Mr. O’Toole said, “just remember that I offered to take care of her,” and they kept walking, stepping into the street when they ran out of sidewalk. They crossed the river and headed for 6th Avenue. They weren’t going to bars on 6th Avenue. Mr. O’Toole seemed surprised that Mrs. Martinez would walk so far and seemed to be heading for the Paradise. After a few blocks Mr. O’Toole asked, “What do you think Charlie knows?”

Charlie? I guess I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know if I’m coming or going,” she admitted, as they’d stepped into a busy intersection. “It was such a shock. If anything were to happen to her, I’m a goner. Goners are losers, and I’ve always set my sights higher than that.”

Mr. O’Toole kept her from being hit by a car, when he pulled her to safety and held her for a moment. He also squeezed her, ignoring that he was hurting her. By time he let her go, she sensed his strength and felt him tremble. “He’s just a scared kid,” she thought and saw his pain and watched tears come. She couldn’t remember the last time she saw a man cry. For a second Mrs. Martinez seemed shocked. Men weren’t supposed to let emotions show. The two stood facing each other, Mr. O’Toole sobbing with his chest heaving in and out. Then she cried too. Afterward she wiped her nose with the back of her hand and opened her mouth and released air from her lungs. Mr. O’Toole seemed on verge of cracking. This was the moment when Mr. O’Toole first thought about proposing to Mrs. Martinez. He felt close to her. And it startled him.

George stood so that he could hear through the door of Kitty’s apartment while he waited for someone to open it. He carried a gift and wore a wide smile that disappeared as soon as Mrs. Martinez and Mr. O’Toole came up behind him. Shock of seeing them together was so strong that George wondered what he’d gotten himself into. He was beginning to regret having come to Tucson. Why did he stop in Tucson? Why didn’t he keep going? Why didn’t he keep going when he had a chance? This placed a damper on what already was a sad occasion.

George felt sad, felt sad, and felt people expected too much of him. He didn’t understand why people expected so much when at any moment full extent of his illness could emerge and embarrass him. It frightened him more than anything. He felt exposed. This fear lasted only a moment before Mrs. Martinez touched his shoulder. She gave him a little smile while George couldn’t help but look aghast. He should’ve been pleased that he gained her confidence … that she felt that she could touch him. By then he knew that she and Mr. O’Toole were seeing each other, and George supposed that if it hadn’t killed Anna, seeing them together would. He turned around and greeted them.

George, you look well,” she said and from the comment George suspected that she somehow knew more about him than she did.

I didn’t want to come,” he said at once. “I don’t like crowds.”

George observed how the couple held hands. They were happy and silly and their happiness was apparent. He felt sad, and their happiness was apparent. The way Mr. O’Toole pushed her along also seemed to indicate that their coming together was more his idea than hers. “George, it’s too noisy in there for them to hear you,” he said. “Or by now someone would’ve let you in. Just open the door. You’re too polite.”

You don’t have to tell me what’s proper!” George complained. “I know how to behave!”

Mrs. Martinez stepped past him and opened door to the apartment without hesitating. When George caught a glimpse of a living room crowded with people he wanted to forget the party. His worse fears had come true. Unfortunately for him when he turned to leave he faced Mr. O’Toole, which irked him along with being talked into coming to the party and to even thinking that Anna would appreciate getting a present from him. He was accustomed to disparaging himself.

He dreaded coming for days. It was worse in the middle of the night, alone in his bare room, and he knew signs, which left little doubt in his mind about his condition. Before this he started deteriorating, something that always confused and exhausted him. He had been avoiding people, so that when faced with noise … noise of the room it sounded ten times louder than it actually was. He started hyperventilating, or so it seemed to him, gasping for air until he told himself to stop. Then he felt lightheaded. He already was intoxicated.

Where a party!” Mr. O’Toole shouted. This also irritated George.

We’re here,” Mrs. Martinez said. “And I don’t see Anna, and I’m not surprised because she doesn’t like to arrive on time for anything. She prefers to keep everyone guessing.”

Yes,” Mr. O’Toole said, “that’s Anna. She likes to keep everyone guessing” and he took Mrs. Martinez’s arm again and led her across the room.

The room was too crowded for George, so he stuck close to the couple. Normally he wouldn’t have done it. Normally he went out of his way to be friendly but necessity of it seemed unclear. He continued, however, with an exaggerated expression that said he was unsure of himself. “You’re chipper,” Mrs. Martinez observed but he didn’t answer her because he didn’t feel chipper.

In the kitchen Anna opened the refrigerator door and took out two beers, first opening one for Danny and then opening one for herself. She was squeezed into a party dress with spaghetti straps and an empire waist that emphasized her protruding belly. She was showing now. And her hands were shaking and her eyes were closed. She couldn’t hide any longer. She and Danny were best friends and had been for years. He was three years older than she was and seemed wiser. He shut door to the refrigerator so that he could stand next to her and tried to take a beer bottle out of her hand. She wouldn’t let go of it, and they had a brief tug-a-war. The gulf between the two of them then widened, as she gulped down beer.

Do you think beer helps?” Danny asked. This was for him a position he wanted to avoid. It was the wrong thing to say when he didn’t know when he would see her again.

I’m not drunk yet, am I?” she asked in a sharp tone.

I should’ve known better than to question you,” he said. Then with sudden savageness, he said, “If you don’t care about yourself, at least stop and think about your baby. I care about both of you.” He cares. He cares.

You don’t! Nobody does! You don’t need to worry about me.” Then after a moment and trying to regain her equilibrium she said, “What’s wrong with me the way I am,” and her voice broke.

She couldn’t, even with her best friend, go into everything, what had gone on before rape or after he learned of her pregnancy. She couldn’t talk about most of it. She couldn’t talk about it with her best friend. And Danny knew her well enough to know that she wouldn’t listen to him anyway. Danny, whose face always betrayed him, considered her mood his fault. Danny took news of Anna’s leaving hard. He took news of her moving to LA even harder. Quarreling over something or another, he afterward said, “Damn it! You’re not going to LA.” However thinking of her welfare, Danny gave her a thousand dollars for an apartment. He helped her set herself up in an apartment in LA by giving her a thousand dollars. It was a great sacrifice for him. He didn’t really have the money. So she confided more in him than anyone else. She however never told him about what Mr. O’Toole did to her. She never told him about violence … about the incident with a gun and how she thought about killing herself. It was out of the question: talking about it meant giving an explanation, and an explanation seemed futile. “Wearing heavy makeup,” she would say, “it didn’t cost me as much as talking about it would.”

And what would he have said? What would he have done?” Anna later asked herself and wished that she and Danny could’ve been more open.

There is,” she would also say, “a high probability that I’ll need a little help. Ridiculous! I don’t need a man. I don’t need a man that badly.”

I’ll be on my own,” she said, reaffirming her commitment. “And get this through your skull: I’m going to make it in LA. I’m not going to stay in this town and get killed. I’m determined. I’ve the will and the strength to live on my own, and I’m happy and all I want people to do is to leave me alone.”

Well, if that’s what you really want, I’ll quit trying to stop you.”

You wouldn’t succeed anyway.”

She finished a beer, almost a whole bottle without stopping. Drunk or not, redness of Anna’s cheeks and the way she trembled indicated how difficult all this was for her. She steadied herself, and with a smile full of sweetness said, “This is my party, and I’m not going to let you spoil it. I really pity someone who doesn’t have enough courage to grab what they want.”

Neither Danny’s behavior nor indeed how he talked to her gave away extent of his love for Anna.

When he joined the party with his gift George circulated, while looking for the guest of honor and someplace to land. Perhaps by then George thought that he shouldn’t have spent money on Anna, since it looked as if no one else had and that she wouldn’t have understood it anyway. And how much more obvious could he have been? “What’s wrong with it,” he repeated. The answer to this was beyond him. “What was wrong with him buying Anna a gift?”

Mrs. Martinez saw the fancied-wrapped gift in a huge box. She knew at once what it meant, but she didn’t mention what she thought to anyone. By then she thought she knew George and thought she knew what a gift from him meant. When people think that they have a chance with someone … even when they don’t… there is nothing that could be said that would discourage them. With George trouble was that in addition to having a winning personality, he almost always got what he wanted. However around Anna he felt unsure of himself.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-three
George could impress Anna with what he knew about LA. He could impress her and tell her that he could help her. He could help her, and she would accept his help. She could’ve said, “Yes, if you want to, you can help me find my way around LA!” but she hadn’t known George long enough for it. Besides there was no way knowing if he could really help. And he might become a nuisance, a bother, and she didn’t need a nuisance, a bother.

She first confided in George when she decided to leave and thought about moving to LA. He encouraged her not to rush it and think about it to make sure. She thought about leaving for a long time. Long before George arrived she thought about leaving. And she thought about LA. As a little girl she had stars in her eyes and thought about LA. “Why would anyone want to move to LA?” asked George, as he told her that he could put her in touch with some people his parents knew there. She had stars in her eyes, and when George talked about knowing movie stars her eyes lit up. He could put her touch with Miss M. He knew that he could help her, as well as show her around. He said as much, but she didn’t take the bait.

George was born in L A. He grew up in Dallas but was born in LA and grew up hearing his parents talk about going various places in LA with various people, some of them famous, some of them not. As a boy, he and his parents made several trips to LA, so he thought he knew the territory. He thought he knew his way around LA and seriously thought about going back with Anna. But Anna didn’t ask. She didn’t ask George to go with her. After Mr. O’Toole kicked her and she didn’t get over it, she became more determined than ever to get out of Tucson. She still thought about it for a long time before she decided. And she was more determined than ever to go by herself and be on her own … really on her own and not depend on someone else and then maybe she could avoid complications. But … “Why didn’t I ask George for help when I could’ve?” she would later ask herself. “He said he knew Miss M.”

George searched the room for Anna, but Mr. O’Toole was watching him as if he sensed that they shared similar feelings for Anna. “Good God!” George cried, “Where is she? It’s her party. Where’s Anna? She should be enjoying herself.”

Yes, yes I agree,” Anna’s mother said, as she walked over to George.

Anna, Anna, always Anna. Why worry about Anna? She doesn’t care about us,” Angela declared from a corner. Angela seemed very angry. “Oh, it’s George. Well, well, we have Mr. Celebrity with us again. How wonderful! Mr. Wonderful!”

George didn’t respond. He didn’t respond because he felt awkward. He already felt awkward with a gift in his hand that seemed so heavy that he thought it could fall through the box it was in. How could he have been so presumptuous?

Angela!” her mother said sharply. “You’re rude. Leave George alone.”

What did I do wrong?” Angela asked.

He’s a gentleman! George is a gentleman,” her mother said as if she forgot that she’d come to the party with Mr. O’Toole. Mr. O’Toole went to the door of the bedroom, inside which he hoped to find Anna. He was searching for Anna and hoped to find her alone. He kept searching for Anna. And he couldn’t keep his mind off of her. He was obsessed with Anna and more than once said to her mother, “You’ve raised her as best you could. It’s now time to let go.”

George went once to where he was born in L A. They drove past the hospital on way to see one of his father’s old cronies. “You could show Anna around,” George muttered. “No!” he declared, “it wouldn’t work out.” George thought he knew LA.

And George wanted to leave the party and return jewel box to antique store. He wanted to get his money back. He thought maybe he could return the jewel box and get his money back. Then Mrs. Martinez said something that startled him. She said Anna was too pretty for her own good, but Angela was actually prettier and within a year or so Angela wouldn’t have competition but for now Anna got all the attention. Mrs. Martinez warned George, and George could see then why Anna needed something like his gift to cheer her up. He could see why he bought her a gift. Too pretty? “She’s too pretty to be alone,” George declared.

George supposed that truth was that Anna simply didn’t understand what affect her looks had on men or how cruel she was. Angela said that Anna was selfish and that she had no brains and that was why she got into so much trouble; but Angela was not much better. Mrs. Martinez said Angela looked up to her big sister but would never admit it and that all she was really interested in was to have men chase after her. But was there ever a chance of that with Anna around? Did Angela have a chance with Anna around? Angela tried to tell herself that she could be just as attractive as Anna when she put her mind to it and prayed that Anna would really leave. Angela also said that if Anna had any sense she never would have gotten involved with Mr. O’Toole. And if she had any sense she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant.

Mrs. Martinez latched onto George. She latched onto him for other things other than his money. At the same time George thought that if people really knew him they wouldn’t be attracted to him. They wouldn’t be attracted to him like they were if they weren’t thrown off by his honesty. He embarrassed himself. He was too honest, he thought … too honest for his own good. George would say that he was a fraud and that there was no reason why people should gravitate toward him, but people still did. What would he do if the situation were reversed? What would he do if people treated him like a hobo? George couldn’t say.

Anna had no idea how much George cared for her. Did she even notice him? He asked himself, “What could she see in me? But does she even notice me?” “He would take care of her” was how he answered his own question.

George sat on a sofa and Kitty straddled arm of same sofa and they watched other guests entertain each other. They all knew each another. They were all friends, or were supposed to be friends, or else they wouldn’t have been invited, and when Higgs confronted Fred, Kitty nearly had a stroke. She didn’t like it. As far as she was concerned patching things up was her responsibility.

I saw it coming,” Kitty said to George several times, an indication that she couldn’t focus on anyone else but her father. Higgs stood in front of her, glaring at Fred, who had enough sense not to say or do anything. Then, with all his strength, the old man (Higgs) threw a glass at Fred, only missing his head by a few inches.

Unable to remain seated then, Kitty sprung off her perch. She covered distance between herself and her father in less than five seconds and restrained him with an embrace. Added to her horror was a feeling of nausea, as she relived this incident in her head over and over again. None of this she anticipated. Now remember they all were suppose to be friends.

No one was particularly happy about Anna’s leaving except maybe Mr. O’Toole. Maybe he wanted her to leave and maybe he didn’t. Maybe. Or did he think that he still had a chance and could somehow convince her to take him with her? No one knew what he thought. Then did he think that she was smart enough to know that she could get anything she wanted from him and he’d do anything for her? Not likely. Did he really think that women couldn’t resist him? Yes. Would he let her know what he thought? No. Would he get down on his knees and ask her forgiveness? No. Would he plead and cry, forgetting that he had made a play for her mother and proposed to her mother? No. Would Anna consider it? Who could say? But one thing was for sure: she was intelligent, determined, and had an ability to sell herself and get where she wanted to go. And for now it seemed like she had made up her mind.

Mrs. Martinez didn’t have any use for Anna’s behavior. She considered her oldest daughter rude (she considered it rude for her to hide in the kitchen during her own party). She considered it rude though she knew who was with her daughter and though she knew Anna didn’t often get a chance to talk with Danny. Now Mrs. Martinez scurried to the kitchen for a dustpan and broom and had her suspicions confirmed. Anna was in the kitchen alone with Danny. She raised an idiot, Mrs. Martinez thought … an idiot who was so engaged in a conversation with Danny that she didn’t hear smashing glass and commotion in the front room. Anna had to be given details of what happened.

When Anna finally joined the party she didn’t allow her mother to sweep the glass up but insisted on doing it. She didn’t want anyone else to take charge for she knew that if she let her mother do it she would regret it, so she didn’t let her mother sweep the glass up. “It was my party,” Anna would say, “Well, it was my responsibility and not my mother’s to make sure my party was a success. Who invited Fred anyway?”

Anna swept up glass and dumped it into a wastebasket. She got on her hands and knees to make sure she hadn’t missed a slither; and after expressing contempt for anyone who would disrupt her party she handed said broom and dustpan to … she didn’t see who.

Higgs had been acting stranger than his weird self. Though energized the old man was showing signs of slowing down. Still when he threw a glass at Fred’s head he had enough strength to seriously hurt Fred. Nothing infuriated Higgs more than to see Fred at Anna’s party. Who invited him? Was Fred invited or not?

Fred was a cold, cruel, heartless menace, a killer and a hired gun and Higgs felt duty-bound to make one last stand. Everyone knew Fred was a hired gun and who hired him. So Higgs felt it was his duty to stop cowering and take care of the bastard. Who would do it if he didn’t? So he threw a glass at Fred’s head. He tried to take care of Fred knowing full well that Fred could get the better of him.

This didn’t matter to the old man. Higgs couldn’t wait for the day when he could desecrate Fred’s grave and knew that no one would object. Higgs couldn’t wait. Then even if he got prosecuted he figured he would’ve given Fred a send off he deserved. He would make sure he outlived Fred and give him send off he deserved. Secretly he plotted and looked to George for help, except with George he focused on Cesar. Higgs planned to get even.

Kitty’s apartment was in the Castle … a huge, old, castle … that on the outside looked more like a museum than a residence. The Castle, with a stark facade and parapet, was the only structure of its kind in Tucson. Built entirely of rock, (lava rock from A Mountain) it looked like a fortress: complete except for a moat. It reminded George of something off Warner Brother’s lot. Out back, instead of a gate with a guardhouse, there was a pool that hadn’t been cleaned all summer.

Higgs knew how kids loved the place … he loved it as a boy … and without knowing anything about its bloody past. Kitty felt strangely at home in the Castle. She lived there among her friends, and it felt like home. It was a warm place in spite of being drafty

The Castle sat on a small lot and in years past it was so notorious that most women wouldn’t go there. A cattle baron and former Arizona governor built the Castle and it suggested indulgence more than anything else. Before subdivided grounds surrounding the Castle once covered several acres. These lots were developed by one individual, and every time he sold one the Castle seemed larger.

Kitty was not one of those people who sought comfort, needed the latest convenience or wanted it all. She just wanted a living room with plenty of space. She wanted to be able to stretch out and kick back. She wanted a stereo with double speakers. She loved music and wanted a place to laugh, dance, and sing. She loved her apartment. She loved it the minute she first saw it. She loved the Castle. Kitty wanted an apartment big enough to throw parties.

Every young person, every party animal and every swinger wanted an apartment in the Castle. They would talk of drinking. They talked of debauchery. They talked of an eventual headache. But Kitty thought she could handle it. She was a young mature woman who loved a good time and thought she could handle it.

Idea of throwing a party for Anna came to Kitty day before the actual event. It came to her on spur of the moment, and she rushed about making arrangements. And she threw the party thinking they would all come together and share a few laughs and a few tears with Anna before she took off. She remembered to invite Danny. It took some effort to find Danny. It was her main contribution and thought it enough to provide a place and ice. Kitty had other people bring beer and food and prayed they would bring enough for everyone. “Your mother always brings more than her share,” she said to Angela, “so we don’t need to fret.” That Angela was a Martinez too was something Kitty counted on. She counted on her like she always did, knowing that the Martinez clan always brought more than their share. Kitty liked to think of herself as the genius behind the idea, an engine and genius. She thought throwing a party was great and congratulated herself and thought coming up with it should’ve been enough of a contribution.

Angela went shopping for her ideas, and she picked music from her own record collection. She liked Sting, WHO and The Boss and knew it was a safe bet that everyone else would enjoy them too. If she had it to do over again Angela would’ve been more selective and wouldn’t have invited Fed.

If you don’t watch out,” Angela told Kitty, “he’ll cut your throat.” They both knew they were talking about Fred.

He scares me too,” agreed Kitty. “Yet he hasn’t completely gotten to me.”

In time he will.”

So watch my back for me,” Kitty said. “Keep your eyes pealed, and if you see him with a weapon tell me. Lately have you seen how he hangs around Anna? You and I know how to protect ourselves. Anna obviously doesn’t.”

Anna won’t be a problem for long. Look Fred’s standing in a corner poised to pounce!” cautioned Angela and as soon as she said this she headed toward the kitchen.

Now watch me trip,” she yelled but as she reached the door Anna came out and bumped into her.

Watch out fool!” Laughing they both hugged each other and went about their business. “No more sense than God gave chickens,” the older of the two said and felt affection that they shared for each other.

Fred stood where he could watch everyone. He wouldn’t budge or take his eyes off of Higgs.

Higgs didn’t move either. They stared at each other. Higgs had a plan in mind, and it was something that he thought a lot about. He was pleased with himself … pleased that he had a plan. He foresaw everyone’s shock. Without a word he steadied himself by putting his arm on his daughter’s shoulder where before she held him. Her attention returned to the three sisters.

There was no other attempt made to change Anna’s mind, yet it seemed clear that it was not what any of them wanted; nor would it change.

Angela was really angry but she didn’t express it. There were definite reasons why she thought her anger was justified, but she never confronted Anna. Furthermore she never talked to her mother, Kitty, or Molly about it either. She however confided in George.

George took on everyone’s problems. He took on their problems and was burdened by his own daemons. He couldn’t let go of his daemons. Time and again George’s good heart got him into trouble, not his head but his heart. It was his major problem. So he sat on a sofa and saw Higgs throw a glass at Fred for no apparent reason or explanation. He didn’t know their history. He didn’t know their history and why Higgs threw a glass at Fred. Still George knew that the thrown glass was only the first volley … a first volley, and it reminded him of the outcome of their meeting at the El Sombrero when the old man said, “Come with me. I’m going to kill the son-of-a-bitch.” George sat there watching and couldn’t explain how he felt. He knew he felt frustrated, and it infuriated him that so many people turned to him. It partly terrified him and partly flattered him and caused him to turn and run. Each time he ran he got on a bus and tried to forget everything including his name.

The evening was still young. Guests were already brooding with George and Higgs, and Fred seemed to be enjoying their agony. Angela suggested they listen to music, listen to music and perhaps dance … perhaps dance if anyone was in the mood. It was time for Anna to come to the rescue, and only Kitty had an idea why they hadn’t seen much of her yet. Their night on the town, last time they went to The Hideout together, was still fresh on her mind, and she had a pretty good idea why Anna wanted to talk to Danny. And knew why her friend would have trouble with him.

Charlie came in ahead of Shelly, Charlie whose eyes were full of contempt. He didn’t have a hair out of place, while Shelly no longer had any patience. But Charlie’s eyes glowed. His blood raced through his veins, his eyes glowed, and his excitement was apparent to everyone who greeted him.

Shelly walked behind her husband so slowly and so deliberately that it seemed as if she were being dragged, seemed as if she were being pulled and forced to come to the party when she apparently wanted to be somewhere else. She seemed to George so frail, so very frail and he felt like defending her. He felt like defending her even though he didn’t know what was bothering her. Only a hint emerged from her posture. She held Charlie’s hand, and he was caressing it as they walked in.

Anna took her present from George and laid it on a bed in the bedroom. But though her graciousness eased his edginess, George found it difficult to supplant his fears with self-assurance. He was worried that Anna would reject his gift and take him for a fool for spending so much money on her. He felt nervous about it, but her warm reception overrode his nervousness. Compassion for him instead of contempt filled her heart. George succeeded but didn’t know it. He succeeded when he thought he didn’t have a chance. He had only met her and yet fell in love with her. He also knew that she had made up her mind to leave, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He knew that she would get on a bus in the morning and he likely would never see her again. She, on the other hand, didn’t share intensity of his feelings. George saw tears in her eyes as she reentered the room. He misinterpreted those tears. They were the last thing he wanted to see, Anna with tears in her eyes. Anna experienced extremes of sadness and joy due to her pregnancy; and when either one of these extremes caught her by surprise, it confused and worried her.

Angela, poor Angela sat in a chair opposite of Fred. She watched George with affection. She watched Fred suspiciously. She watched George and didn’t understand why she cared. She watched him come and go. She watched him when first entered the room with a present for Anna. Angela’s curiosity piqued her. And her feelings were on the surface. Anyone could read them. Anyone could see that she was jealousy of Anna. Whenever George looked in her direction, she turned the other way. She trembled whenever they happened to be in the same room. Their rooms were across from each other. She watched for George. She watched him come and go. Their shared hallway offered little room to escape. They often bumped into each other. In silence Angela suffered humiliation from having to compete with someone else … from having to compete with her sister for George’s attention. The party let her be herself and allowed George to see it. Then she saw Anna flirt with George and asked what time her sister’s bus left in the morning.

Seven, nine, or eleven,” said Anna.

Angela wagged a finger at her sister and said, “You don’t have to leave to sin. Tucson has enough sin for everyone. You might think that you can run but you can’t. You can’t hide.” Immediately she knew she said the wrong thing.

Sin,” repeated George.

Anna turned her attention to George but gradually because she was surprised by her sister’s hostility. George squirmed and felt like disappearing. He looked around the room, searching for someone to rescue him. Then he remembered his gift in its fancy-wrapped package. Anna hadn’t thanked him or mentioned it and was sitting so close to him that their thighs touched. George took a deep breath, looked at her, and then repeated, “Sin!”

 

 

Chapter Thirty-four
Anna grinned, her first grin of the evening. Until then she looked so serious and weary that a grin would’ve been impossible for her. Yes, she had energy left.

You look beat,” George said.

I am,” she answered. “But I can sleep on the bus.”

 

You look sad.”

A little sad, but excited.”

Anna stood up and looked ready to make an announcement. She looked ravishing, and it wasn’t hard to believe that it had something to do with her pregnancy. Everyone waited. Everyone waited with anticipation, but it became apparent that she didn’t know what to say. She stammered, when Fred spoke for her,

Fred always frightened Anna. To be sure when she had his gun pointed at her pregnant belly she frightened herself. Guns always frightened her. She grew up with guns; yet guns frightened her. She also knew Fred carried a gun and undoubtedly was frightened of him when he entered her room uninvited. But this wasn’t main reason for her fear (though it shouldn’t be discounted): images of her father’s murder were forever etched in her brain; knowledge that he was shot by a hit man remained with her.

Hit men were made of flesh and blood. They were human and made of fresh and blood like other people; and however hardened they may seem in many ways they were just as frail as anyone else. Fred had his weaknesses, and Higgs saw them. He saw them and played on them. George saw them too. Like other occupations, Fred’s job required conditioning, and in the majority of cases bonding, or a lack of it. It made a difference. Loyalty made a difference … made all difference in the world. It might not seem like it, but hit men had some of the same feelings as anyone else. Like most people they couldn’t always control their appetites, their passions and act unemotionally. And knowing this about Fred delighted Higgs, and this brought up question about how drunk Higgs really was when he threw a glass at Fred’s head.

Among things that in Higg’s opinion that constituted foulness, foulness of the situation, Cesars’ control and that Cesars’ hired gun had the upper hand were two. Difficulties that he immediately saw was that Fred could’ve gotten away with anything and how he touched Anna. As he watched the scene through a crack in the door Fred’s touching Anna’s cheek infuriated Higgs. These two men, after knowing each other for many years, often knew what the other was thinking. Higgs saw how Fred looked at Anna. He saw how he looked at her and touched her cheek. Certain looks and gestures Higgs recognized. He interpreted them. He knew what they meant. He had been there since he was a former lecher. Watching Fred he recognized himself, and he didn’t have to go very far back in time for him to recall sweating profusely when with his own huge hands he looked for a passionate response.
That was where things stood when Fred showed up at the party and when Higgs acted like a father to Anna. This was the reason that he felt like he had to defend her. It was the reason he threw a glass at Fred’s head. He had to defend Anna because he became a father to her after her real father’s death. Mrs. Martinez encouraged it. She felt her daughters needed a father figure, so she encouraged it, and for many years Higgs did what he could to protect all three girls. He did his best, but the younger two were so envious of Anna that it seemed to them like Higgs focused his attention on Anna. It might or might not have been true, but it didn’t matter if it were true or not because it seemed like it. To make it worse, Anna and Kitty became best friends. Therefore when he saw Fred touch Anna’s cheek Higgs snapped, and this became his only explanation for throwing a glass at Fred’s head. Higgs remembered seeing it and snapped at Anna’s party.

You’d be mistaken if you thought that after he proposed to her mother that Mr. O’Toole would leave Anna alone. To the contrary, he never stopped looking for opportunities to be alone with Anna. He didn’t stalk her, but he still looked for opportunities to see her, to talk to her, and to be alone with her. After he proposed to her mother, it became harder to show affection for Anna, but it didn’t stop him from looking for her. Mr. O’Toole was one of those people who wouldn’t accept no. He didn’t accept rejection. Nor was he deterred by normal boundaries (though after his proposal to Mrs. Martinez became known he had to be careful and discreet whenever he approached Anna). The proposal was in fact a bad move for him. He knew it was a mistake. He knew it was a mistake as soon as he proposed. He knew it but couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t face rejection. And before Anna left he considered breaking off the engagement with her mother, and only fear of how it would look kept him from doing it.

It was then night before Anna’s departure and well into her going away party, when George arrived with his present, during which time Danny and the young woman were arguing in the kitchen. Were they arguing? No one knew what they were doing in the kitchen, and George was surprised when he didn’t see Anna. He looked for Anna and didn’t see her. It was her party so he thought he would see Anna. Like everyone Danny didn’t want Anna to leave Tucson or to lose her, though he couldn’t/wouldn’t say so. The opportunity didn’t arise, or if it did he never acted on it. Had he, maybe she wouldn’t have left.

Anna no sooner made her appearance again when George, Fred, and Higgs, all three of them, tried to grab her attention at the same time. They tried to grab her attention and left her with no place to go. (This young woman, who was yet but a novice in the business of men, still needed flattery. Without it she turned on herself, or else did something to be noticed. And when she turned on herself, it didn’t make her happy. Sometimes, perhaps out of fear of being unloved and like her mother and her sisters, she spent an inordinate amount of time primping in front of a mirror.) Wanting then to disappear, Anna immediately turned around, and Danny, who followed her out the kitchen, was there to rescue her. Danny knew just how near the surface her tears were.

As a politician who never lost a race Higgs was all smiles. After he threw a glass at Fred’s head he was all smiles. After he recovered, he stood with his hands outstretched and seemed very much at ease or at home on his own turf. Fred, more aggressive than anyone else, spoke first and, having most to overcome accepted the former mayor’s apology, his handshake and apology, and, while smiling at Anna, the older man took him aside.

Keep your filthy hands off of her, or I’ll…” said Higgs, as he squeezed Fred’s hand.

Standing then in front of Anna, George watched the two men move to the side and asked her, “What’s going on? Are you somehow to blame? For sure I’m not guilty. I’ve done nothing for which I need to confess. Tell me why grown men act so immature.“ As for the men in question they weren’t going to stop.

Dante has the hundred thousand.” Faust whispered in George’s ear.

Besides Danny, always an affable host, there was Angela, who sat in a corner feeling excluded and gloomy. Other guests included Joe, Brian, a young businessman (unknown but certainly a catch); Sally, an amoral debutante (who seemed intelligent); and LuLu, a modern day Joan of Arc (who would never make it in Hollywood). Molly wasn’t invited, and Anna made no reference of her.

Then off to the side a fully recovered Fred was jubilant. His laughter seemed out of place, as he assumed the role of an obnoxious clown. “They shouldn’t expect fun. With Anna what is there to be happy about? Insult me with your intelligence. Tell me why she’s leaving. Don Juan here, Danny may know. If he doesn’t, who would?”

No!” exclaimed Danny.

A definite no?” asked Fred. “But I don’t mind. Being insufferable has always opened doors for me. George, tell us about slumming in Beverly Hills.”

I don’t think so, Fred,” Anna declared.

But Anna he’s full of firsthand information.”

I don’t care,” said Anna, approaching George. “Forgive me … in my haste this afternoon I forgot you. I’m glad you came anyway.”

George felt so flattered that he couldn’t say anything. Anna observed this and seemed pleased. For the party she wore a loose blouse over stretch pants, hiding her pregnancy. She took George’s arm and paraded him around the room.

Angela doesn’t look pleased.”

Angela has just had to accept that she’ll have to grow up.”

Anna introduced George to other people, most of who had already met him. Fred tried to be courteous. Almost everyone was talking at once. Anna had George sit next to her.

Look who’s schmoozing,” shouted Fred.

Fred, you’re an idiot,” countered Higgs.

Bravo! I was just observing.” Fred said this in the most serious tone.

And I’m simply being honest.”

Fair enough!” cried Fred. “George, I hear, wrote a book on honesty.”

Fred’s sarcasm made everyone laugh.

There’s still plenty of cold beer,” Anna suddenly offered. “And plenty of food. Everyone, help yourselves.”

More beer? Nothing can save this party.” Having said this, Fred did honors.

Danny also took a bottle, hoping to forget his sadness in it. Anna declared that she would drink herself silly. One minute she seemed depressed and the next bubbly. She was heading for a headache and as the evening progressed became more and more preoccupied.

George was the only one who didn’t drink.

Do you need a wet towel?” asked Lulu.

No, but perhaps you could open a window,” answered Anna who indeed was shivering and sweating.

Danny expressed alarm and said, “Remember, you’re pregnant.”

I don’t need a reminder.”

 

 

Chapter Thirty-five
“Why don’t we play a game?” suggested Lulu.

I know a marvelous game,” added Fred, “even though it’s not played often.”

What is it?” asked Lulu.

Let’s confess our greatest crime and no lying allowed.”

Or stretching truth,” said Danny. “Let’s not!”

Why not, Danny?”

It’s a dumb idea. Well, intriguing, really,” said Kitty, “and it could be construed as bragging.”

I don’t know,” said Anna, thinking about it. “What happened before when you played it Fred?”

Some of us enjoyed it, but afterward everyone felt badly.”

I can see why.”

Let’s go for it!” declared Anna, suddenly smiling. “It’s my party. Let’s go for it. Each of us must agree to tell something, spontaneously, without thinking of consequences.”

We’ll draw straws to see who goes first,” exclaimed Fred. “Of course, if you’re chicken, you can pass.”

Anna provided matchsticks. “George, draw first. It’s simple, really … simply tell your greatest crime. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with.”

Almost no one liked the idea, but no one wanted to oppose Anna. No one wanted to oppose her because it was her party. No one wanted to oppose her because she was leaving Tucson. No one wanted to oppose her because this was her last night in Tucson.

As for me I don’t know which of my crimes is my greatest,” said Brian.

One important rule,” replied Fred, “confessions don’t leave this room.”

Confidentiality, a good idea! Does everyone agree? Confessions don’t leave this room. But how do we know if someone’s telling the truth?” asked Danny. “Who wouldn’t lie? Everyone’s going to lie.”

I won’t,” Anna declared. “I won’t lie.”

Are you serious?” asked Danny. “You won’t try to protect someone? You won’t change names to protect innocent people?”

Yes, I’m serious.”

Then let’s do it.”

Don’t forget therapeutic value of a confession,” exclaimed Fred. “The shortest straw goes first. So George, draw.”

Without a word George drew, followed by Anna and each of her guests. Fred drew the shortest straw. The second shortest belonged to Danny, followed by Anna, then Angela, Kitty, Lulu and so on. At this point no one indicated that they were thinking of backing out.

So begin, Fred,” ordered Anna impatiently. “Stop stalling.”

No doubt Fred rehearsed his. The game was his idea, so he had time to rehearse.

I don’t want to be a snitch!” cried Fred. “We all know what happens to snitches. What do you think, George? You know how scummy I am, but I’ve never been a snitch.”

Oh, my!” declared Sally. “We’re ready. But Fred won’t tell the truth. He doesn’t dare tell the truth. He knows what happens to snitches. He’ll attack George as a diversion.”

Fred!” said Anna sharply. “Confess!

Here goes. Lost in a desert for what seemed like an eternity silence of the night was broken by a sound of an automobile. The stars weren’t out. It was pitch dark. There was a chill in the air. Then when a sound from me could’ve been fatal, apocalypse, I was aware that I could never reveal what I saw or put names to faces. My life depended on it. Truth was, it was very, very dark, pitch dark, and I couldn’t see. I didn’t see who they were. I wouldn’t be able to identify them now if they were in this room. It was cold. It was dark. It was dark, so I’m not sure what I saw. You can’t imagine how afraid I was. Petrified. I have never been so afraid. Went for a walk. Lost. Lost in a desert on a dark night. You know it still hurts. It hurts me. What I saw hurt me … hurts me. Some people may think I don’t have a heart, but what I saw hurt me. I should’ve contacted the cops. Maybe I saw enough to help solve a murder. Maybe I could help solve a cold case. You never know how a missing piece will help. From my vantage point … from what I could tell … two big strong men lifted a corpse out of a trunk and dumped it under a Palo Verde tree, and I did nothing. I tried to forget what I saw and did nothing. For years after that I avoided certain individuals.”

Kitty stared at Fred and thought of her mother’s unsolved murder. Higgs stood up and sat back down.

And what if we stopped right here?” asked Danny, knowing that his turn was next. No one responded. “Pass. I pass, according to the rules I can pass. There’s no way I could top Fred.”

Then it’s my turn,” said Anna.

Danny seemed alarmed over Anna’s eagerness.

No, I want to go next,” interjected Kitty. “I want to get it over with. Like everyone else,” began Kitty, “I’ve done things that I am not proud of. Like Fred I’ve done things I’m not proud of. In college, struggling … we all know what college is like: no sleep, cold pizza and watching pennies. My roommate my freshman year was Marsha. Well-meaning and sweet Marsha … I liked Marsha. Marsha. I would do anything for Marsha. We were both freshmen. It was our first semester, and she already knew that she didn’t belong in college. Worried and flunked, studied and crammed, memorized and as quickly forgot everything. College was impossible for her. She hated college. She knew she wouldn’t make it. I didn’t care as much and made good grades. We shared a room off-campus. We finally just stopped talking. I wanted to go out, and she studied all the time, so we stopped talking. I thought we didn’t have anything in common. So I picked a quarrel, a violent quarrel and moved out. Three days later I discovered that I didn’t have a term paper that I’d written about Percy Shelley. I immediately suspected Marsha. Beside myself, I flew across campus on my bicycle. I swore at Marsha, calling her this and that … called her a bitch … a lying bitch … called her a lying thief. And a lying cheat. A liar, a thief, and a cheat. But she gave me nothing back. Sweat rolled off my brow. Shortly after that I learned that Marsha killed herself and felt even worse. I felt like shit.”

Instead of a great crime,” said Fred, “you told us about something that you had no control over. A worse crime? Mine! Mine, for not calling the police.”

Then Joe took his turn. Once a handsome man he was quite short, slightly bald, slightly gray, and slightly overweight. He began his story deliberately. “I can’t forget the worst day of my life. I won’t make excuses. I’ve never had a worse day. It was right after graduating. Rocko married Karen Allen, his high school sweetheart. Rocko, poor guy, gave Karen everything, and in the end she dumped him. Yes, they divorced. Well, we were rivals. I knew Karen loved lilies … but not just store-bought lilies. She had to have wild lilies, driving poor Rocko wacko, naturally because he didn’t know where to find wild lilies. At my suggestion he promised her a whole bouquet of wild lilies, and without thinking he promised them. Naturally he became frantic. Then on the day before Karen’s birthday, he came to me excited. ‘I’ve found out where some are! I know where to find wild lilies’ ‘Where?’ ‘Barth’s Bath.’ ‘Where?’ ‘ Barth’s bath. A meadow twenty miles from here. There’s a stream there, running water, very green, and lots of lilies.’ And he told me that he was going there first thing next morning. And I acted like I was happy for him. That evening before going to bed I decided to beat Rocko to Barth’s Bath. Karen had a headache. She suffered from migraines; and if her migraine persisted she wouldn’t be able to get out of bed on her birthday. I thought wild lilies were just what doctor ordered. I knew I had to get to Barth’s Bath first. I had to get to Barth’s Bath before Rocko did. That morning, well before six, I found Barth’s Bath, a meadow with a stream running through it. And lilies were there t. Wild lilies just like Karen wanted. There weren’t very many. Barth’s Bath had shrunk to a trickle. Even though he was married to Karen then Rocko didn’t have a chance. There weren’t many. There weren’t many wild lilies. It still made a nice bouquet. And I loved Rocko. He was provincial, not very sophisticated. As Rocko went one way I went another. You can imagine Karen’s delight. From that point on Rocko’s marriage crumbled. The next thing I knew Karen kicked him out and I moved in.”

How depressing,” cried Fred. “If I had only contacted the police.”

You started this,” Sally reminded him.

It’s agony,” said Anna. “We could play cards instead.”

But first … Anna, it’s your turn,” cried Fred.

George,” Anna addressed him suddenly in a sharp tone, “my friends here, particularly Danny and Kitty, don’t want me to move to L A. What do you think?”

Kitty became nervous. Danny froze. Several seconds of silence followed.

No … no … don’t seek my opinion,” George whispered.

That’s it! I won’t move! I’ll stay here and have my baby. I’ll have my baby here. Danny!” Anna addressed him with great relief. “Let that be it.”

Anna!” said Kitty, shaking.

Anna!” said Danny, concealing his joy.

Everyone seemed stunned.

And now for my crime: everyone already knows it. Just look at me. There it is … in my face … in my belly. It’s alive. It’s alive and well. Particulars aren’t important. Now isn’t my crime a great one?”

Having said this she suddenly got up like she meant to leave the room.

Anna! Anna! Bravo!” everyone yelled and clapped. “You win! Anna wins!”

Just then the doorbell startled everyone.

Faust,” George murmured to himself.

Out of breath Maria Martinez rushed in. “Dial 911! They’re after me, Anna. Ten men and all drunk!”

Don’t let them in. They’ll ruin our party. We were having so much fun.”

No one besides George knew what was going on. It seemed clear to him that this was planned.

Inside the Castle, on their way to Kitty’s apartment, Faust and his men stopped and admired rare furniture, rare paintings, and Egyptian vases, furniture and furnishings that made hallways opulent (much like rare furniture, rare paintings, and Egyptian vases in hallways of Oak Lawn Hospital did).

Lenny Higgs appeared unceremoniously after Maria Martinez rushed in. Even drunk, Higgs commanded respect. He assumed a role of a man at the wheel as he sat between Danny and Fred.

Ah, Mr. Higgs, I’m glad you’re here!” said Anna.

Please, Anna!”

You’ve been a father to me.”

George heard someone say, “If you let them in, they’ll tear you apart.”

What do you think, Danny?” Higgs asked in a whisper. “Do you think we can talk her out of leaving?”

Faust’s gang had grown by two: a reckless punk who was useless from birth; and an odd fellow who turned out to be a world traveler and a philosopher of sorts. The odd fellow expounded on power of the word versus limitations of the law. Thanks to Faust none of them were really soused, but they all felt dehydrated, which activated their psychoses.

Faust urged them on. He wore a brand new safari hat, fastened around his neck with a cord. George tried to block Faust’s way.

As he staggered toward the kitchen, Dante stumbled over Danny’s feet and stepped with his combat boots on the hem of Lulu’s pretty party dress. He didn’t apologize or indeed notice what he did.

What’s going on?” demanded Anna.

Greeting George with a big toothy grin, Faust winked and said, “Watch!” By then Faust’s gang had mixed freely in with Anna’s guests.

Get out!” George yelled. “Faust take your ….”

Faust? What?” asked Maria. “Faust?”

George got up and in a shaky voice said, “Nothing. It’s nothing. Thanks. Thanks to you I have a room. But unfortunately my finances are in shambles. I may have to go to Dallas to straighten it out.”

What did I tell you?” warned Fred. “He’s already talking about leaving. George is already talking about leaving us.”

For a moment no one responded. Later George couldn’t remember his friends from the hospital leaving.

George is a very rich man,” insisted Danny. “Rich in experience.”

Goddamn!” exploded Higgs.

Again everyone was in awe.

George, addressing Higgs, explained how his father made a fortune from a celebrity brand of catchup. Obviously the old man did very well selling catsup, mustard, et cetera, et cetera, named after his friends. As only heir George never worked a day in his life.
“George has lots of money,” concluded Danny.

We’ve got a porker,” bellowed Fred. “A rich porker.”

Someone who can do something,” croaked Higgs in a drunken way.

Fantastic!” laughed his dumbfounded landlady. “Well, you never know!” And she went to George and hugged him.

Others congratulated him and shook his hand. For a moment they forgot Anna and treated George like a celebrity.

After that Maria sat for some time with her eyes glazed over while faking a smile. Perhaps she wasn’t as resilient as everyone thought. Thinking she closed her eyes for a moment. “Am I really getting married again?” she asked. “Where is Mr. O’Toole? And Molly? And I’m losing a daughter. I’m getting married and losing a daughter.”

Oh, Mamma! It’s about time you heard the news!” shouted Angela. “Anna changed her mind. She’s not moving. She’s staying. She’s not moving to LA.”

Come, George. Sit beside me,” Maria continued. “Friends, congratulate us. I stand corrected. We’re not losing Anna, and I’m getting married. I’m going to have a grandchild, and I’m getting married.”

Danny sat there and stared with his face twisted in a fake smile. He smiled like Maria did.

Too weird!” muttered Higgs.

Anna nodded in agreement.

Millions and a Texan from Hollywood. I always said I’d get me a rich Texan. But George, you’re too late. I’m marrying Mr. O’Toole.” But Mrs. Martinez wrung her hands as she sat there heartbroken.

Look!” Fred declared. “She’s having second thoughts.”

No, she’ll marry Mr. O’Toole, and he’ll give her everything,” said Angela.

George,” asked Maria turning to him, “what do you think I should do? I wish I knew. Should I marry Mr. O’Toole?”

About Mr. O’Toole?” asked George. “Marry Mr. O’Toole? Why insist on a perfect world? So he had his eye on Anna first? So what!”

Fred thought, “A con artist, and he knows how to schmooze. Meet a con artist. Here we have a con artist.”

George noticed Anna glaring at him.

He’s got mama wrapped around his finger,” declared Angela.

Something’s wrong,” whispered Higgs. “Everything’s wrong.”

Thank you, George,” said Maria. “I thought there weren’t any decent men left. You hear that, Lenny? My thoughts right now are so indecent. Lenny! You’re my oldest friend. Where would you take me if we were to run off together?”

To Vegas,” Higgs announced without batting an eye. “Vegas!” Anna jerked her head up and stared at her mother.

Mamma, have you lost your mind?” cried Anna.

I wouldn’t, would I?” asked Maria. “You don’t think I’d run off to Vegas with Lenny, do you? It’s too late, isn’t it? Lenny and I are old friends, old friends. That’s all, isn’t it? Lenny and I are old friends. It’s okay for Anna to think about taking off to L A. Then what’s wrong with me running off with Lenny? Come on Lenny! Put your money where your mouth is. I’m going to cost you a pretty penny. Lenny, why not Vegas?”

Sodom, here we come!” declared Higgs, standing up.

Are you nervous, Lenny? Take me to Vegas. Sodom, here we come.”

George was heard muttering, “Faust stay out of this.”

What are we waiting for Lenny? For you to have a heart attack? Vegas!”

Let’s go!” roared Higgs. “I love her! I’ve always loved her! I’ve always loved Maria! Vegas!” Out of breath he grabbed Maria’s hand and started pulling her toward the door. “I love you! Vegas here we come!”

While this drama unfolded intensity of the party increased a notch. Everyone drank, some shouted and laughed, and all were completely uninhibited. Kitty headed for front door, obviously embarrassed by her father.

I love you Maria!” shouted Higgs.

You’re too drunk to know,” Maria laughed. “I’m me. You’re you, and why not? (She pointed to Angela.) Blow your nose. Wipe your tears. Don’t be sad. All his life Lenny has had a crush on me. Lenny, are you ready? Even when he was married, he had a crush on me. Since grade school he’s had a crush on me.”

Ready! Vegas here we come!”

Mamma, would you really go to Vegas with Higgs?” asked Angela.

Lenny! My Lenny!”

Jilt Mr. O’Toole, and you won’t disappoint us.” It was Anna’s turn.

No!” cried Maria, and seizing Higgs she wrapped her arms around him, and as soon as she did she started to weep.

No,” said Anna. “No! That’s it! I can’t stand this. I’m going, going to L A.”

Mamma! What are you doing?” wailed Angela.

Wailing is not becoming!” cried Maria. “I know wailing is not becoming.”

Anna stepped between her sister and her mother. In her best dress Angela stood facing her sister. She wasn’t going to budge.

Your envy is showing!” Anna shouted at Angela.

Maria!” cried Higgs, as Kitty dragged him to one side. Kitty’s whole being was now focused on rescuing her father. “She loves me!” he kept repeating. “She loves me! She loves me! She loves me!”
“He’s too old to get it up!” proclaimed Fred.

I’m not too old!” shouted Higgs. “She loves me.”

I’d head to Caesar’s Palace first!” cried Brian.

Cesar! If you have money to burn go to Cesar’s!” enjoined Higgs. Obviously excited Higgs suddenly collapsed.

Fainted!” people around him observed.

They waited too long,” someone shouted. He’s having a heart attack.

He’s too old,” Fred said. “And having a heart attack. He’s too old to get it up.”

Get him water! Someone do something,” cried Kitty. “Give him space. Get him water.” Almost at once it became apparent that Higgs would live. His breath was deep and sonorous like he fell asleep.

There goes my trip to Vegas. It was utterly ridiculous anyway,” declared Maria, as she helped Kitty with Higgs. “It wasn’t meant to be. There, he’s already coming around. Angela, let’s go home. Good-bye Anna. Good-bye. Write sometime.” As a farewell gesture Anna kissed her mother lightly on the forehead.

I was thinking,” Anna said, trembling with emotion, “thinking about staying. It was certain that I’d leave. Now I won’t ask you to understand why I must go. You are ridiculous people. Utterly ridiculous. Now I have to think of what’s best for me. And yes what’s best for my baby. You have to believe me that I’m sad. All I know is that I have to escape. Tucson has a way of ruining people. Mamma, I won’t end up on the street. You heard me. I know how to take care of myself. Don’t think badly of me. Mamma, I won’t end up on the street.”

But before a final farewell George rushed outside. Angela overtook him near a corner.

George, talk sense into her,” she said. “Anna doesn’t want to go to L A.”

George looked at her, shook his head, and walked on.

Angela watched George cross the street in the opposite direction. “Where are you going?” she yelled.

To Cesar’s!” shouted George. “I need a beer.”

Then Angela walked home with her mother. Both women were thinking of their dreams. More than once Angela imagined Anna interfering with those dreams.

A shame! Lose a sister. Lose a stepfather. Both on the same night.”

A couple other guests, who came outside shortly after Angela and George, said good-bye to each other.

I have a gun,” Fred said to Anna. “And if you don’t leave town will I shoot you with it? Yeah.”

 

 

Chapter Thirty-six
A few weeks later George rushed back to Dallas. George rushed back to Dallas to take care of business. He rushed because he was angry. He was angry because he wasn’t getting as much money as he thought he should. He was angry with Matthews, his fiduciary. Among other things after he got to Dallas he confronted Matthews and demanded an increase in his allowance. Matthews was understandably defensive. Matthews thought he had George’s best interest at heart and took offense when George confronted him. It was ugly. It was nasty. Matthews acted like George shouldn’t expect more from him. But George sympathized. It was ugly, nasty but George sympathized. He sympathized when ranting would’ve been more affective. George didn’t know how to express his anger. He was pissed, but it didn’t matter much because he didn’t know how to express his anger. George wasn’t broke, far from it. What mattered more was that Matthews agreed to loosen purse strings. Perhaps it wasn’t as ugly, nasty as George thought.

Very little information about George came out of Dallas that year. Friends in Tucson were left guessing. Then again George wasn’t obligated to communicate. So George turned out to be as unreliable as Charlie was afraid he would be. He hadn’t lived in Tucson very long so he wasn’t obligated to communicate. And as time went by and with no news from George, even those who were closest to him began to think he wouldn’t come back. And those who depended on him felt let down.

Rumors about George, however, were numerous. No one was quite sure where they came from, but rumors about George were numerous. Rumors, rumors, rumors, there were always rumors. Most of them came out of left field, so they were mostly unfavorable and almost always contradictory. Rumors like “George has been arrested.” Or “he’s lost all his money, every penny and feels too humiliated to come back.” With his absence rumors about him gained more and more credence. Rumors. Was any of it true?

Not surprisingly Maria took the greatest interest in rumors about George. Every day she waited for a letter to come, hoping George would write her. And she would say with a nervous laugh, “He must be really busy, really, really busy, or else we’d hear from him.” She also expected an apology. She looked for, hoped for, and wanted an apology from George for not saying good-bye. She would demand an apology if she could. So upset was Maria that no one could mention George’s name in front of her. And it upset her to think that George had forgotten about her. She felt betrayed. She grew very fond of George and missed him and felt betrayed. She loved George like everyone else did, so his betrayal only reinforced her idea that men couldn’t be trusted. Higgs, however, took George at his word and thought he would return.

After a year or more Maria received a letter from a Rose Mercer of Dallas that disturbed her greatly. Who was Rose Mercer? To receive a letter from a woman she didn’t know troubled Maria when the woman Rose Mercer claimed she knew George well. And what Rose wrote disturbed Maria even more. It seemed that George, unable to write himself because of his illness, asked Rose to write Maria for him. Illness? What? What illness? Cancer! No, not cancer. “George has been very sick, but so far thank goodness he’s avoided a hospital stay. (Thank goodness.) And one only has to compare this with ups and downs he’s experienced all of his life.” Ups and downs? What ups and downs? What was she talking about? Ms. Mercer went on to write about mistreatment George was receiving. Mistreatment? Mistreatment? Mistreatment?

Maria wanted to know more and cherished the letter. But more importantly it became possible to talk about George again. More importantly they had something concrete about him to talk about again. They no longer had to rely on rumors.

Talk and more talk. “George? Did you say George? Was there such person? Oh, yes, yes, we all knew him.” Talk.

What I was afraid of happened. He got fed up and left.”

No, Charlie. No. You can’t say Charlie. You can’t say he got fed up and left.”

George gave us enough hints about himself, from a prominent family with a ritzy address and a fortune that mainly came from catchup means he shouldn’t be hard to find.”

And they talked about how generous he was. They talked about his generosity and what a good listener George was. Maria talked the most, the most about George. Maria became George’s spokesperson. She became his spokesperson because she had the most invested in him.

Everyone had his or her opinion about George. Everyone thought they knew George. Everywhere you went George turned up in a conversation. Everywhere! And it seemed like George was everywhere at once.

Over a year and a half after George left Joe from Anna’s party came up to Angela and gave her a note. He didn’t say how he got the note. It was a note from George and Joe didn’t say how he got it. He wasn’t suppose to tell and didn’t. After he left Angela opened the letter and read:

My Dear Angela,
Perhaps by now you’ve completely forgotten me. You may wonder why I’m writing you and not Anna. I don’t understand it myself, but I have an irresistible urge to make sure you’re reminded of me. I can’t seem to get you out of my mind, and this time I want to get it right. I keep stumbling over myself. I need you. I do but I don’t and there’s the funny part. Maybe the part I can’t explain is that intangible called love. I sure hope so. Don’t ask me what I’m doing because it’s complicated.
Your friend,
George

Angela read this note over and over again. It was unbelievable. She couldn’t believe it. Not only did she like reading it over and over again but she also kept his words close to her heart. Angela could only hope, and hope she did; only she didn’t know exactly what she was hoping for. Why would George choose her? Why would George choose her over Anna? Was he in love with her? Did she love him? It was unbelievable. It seemed so illogical to her, but then why wouldn’t he choose the prettiest sister? “It’s a mistake. It has to be a mistake,” she thought. It was unbelievable to her. So she went back to Joe to get answers. But Joe, who knew the importance of caution, knew when to keep his mouth shut. Instead he handed her a note addressed to him. It said:

Would you please give the enclosed note to Angela Martinez? I don’t know how else to be discreet. I put my trust in you and wish you well.
Peace,
George

It doesn’t make sense,” said Angela, handing Joe back his note. And it didn’t make sense to her. “When he was here he didn’t have much to do with me,” she added. It was unbelievable. It had to be a mistake. It didn’t make sense.

On the night of Anna’s party Mr. O’Toole wanted to talk to George and waited for him to come home. When George returned from Cesar’s well after midnight Mr. O’Toole pumped him for information and wanted to know everything Anna said and did. He wanted to know everything, everything Anna said and did. Instead Mr. O’Toole heard all about what occurred between his betrothed and Higgs (his betrothed Maria Martinez and Higgs). Mr. O’Toole valued George’s opinion and wanted to know what George thought. He wanted George’s honest opinion about Anna, about Anna and LA, about Anna and LA and her baby. Mr. O’Tool wanted to know how George felt about Anna’s pregnancy. And he wanted to know what he thought about his engagement to Maria. George was blunt. He didn’t mince words. George told him frankly that he felt that his relationship with Maria wouldn’t last. He told him frankly that he thought it was a mistake. George told Mr. O’Toole that he thought his relationship with Maria wouldn’t lasst. They then talked about their lives and in the morning parted best friends.

Then when Mr. O’Toole suddenly broke off their engagement Maria kept her feelings to herself. She felt hurt. Of course, she felt hurt. But it didn’t take long for Maria to realize that Mr. O’Toole never loved her. She was blinded by his attention while he never loved her. It was too good to be true. If there was ever a case of someone proposing while on the rebound, this was it. Mr. O’Toole jumped too quickly from Anna to her mother for it not to have been a case of it. It was obvious, obvious to everyone. It was too good to be true. Much later Maria expressed her disappointment.

Other things took an ugly turn. Anna finally moved to L A. She had her baby, a boy, and gave him away. Sleeplessness plagued her. She had bad dreams and terrible thoughts. Living, just living, became a problem. It was as if Anna didn’t know how to proceed … didn’t know how to proceed without someone. Then Mr. O’Toole disappeared, and when she heard about it Anna felt much worse.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-seven
When she learned that Mr. O’Toole went to L A Maria knew why. Maria suspected he would go before he went. She knew he would go. She knew Mr. O’Toole would go to LA and search for Anna. Mr. O’Toole wasn’t very subtle. He didn’t hide his feelings for Anna. Most people thought he would go … would go and find Anna.

After she learned Mr. O’Toole went to LA, Maria thought about going herself. She seriously thought about going. She wanted to see her grandson. She wanted to see her grandson. And she wanted to check up on Anna, but she was afraid how it would look. She was curious. She was worried. She was curious and worried. She didn’t know what to do. But she was concerned about what Anna would think. She wondered: would her grandson look like a member of the family? Would he look like Anna or his father? Since she didn’t know who the father of her grandson was, Maria hoped he looked like Anna. Then when Maria learned that Anna gave her grandson away, she was furious. She was hurt. And she didn’t like idea of Mr. O’Toole being with Anna. It worried her. She knew she had cause to worry, and she said, “If they’re together, I’ll kill them both.” And she could strangle her daughter for leaving Tucson.

As for Anna, at first she didn’t want to have anything to do with Mr. O’Toole. She didn’t want to have anything to do with him because she didn’t believe he was an honest man. She didn’t believe she could trust him and he hurt her, mentally and physically. Anna knew first hand about his temper. He hurt her, and she knew she couldn’t trust him. Then how could she forgive him? How could she trust him? But then too she didn’t think she could survive on her own. She thought she needed a man. So she learned to overlook certain things.

To hear something, anything from Anna would’ve made Maria happy. Silence. Nothing! And because of it Maria worried. She worried about her daughter. She worried about her grandson. She was furious over Anna giving her grandson away. She worried all the time, but it didn’t do any good. And silence made her more worried than ever. And it made her wonder. And knowing Mr. O’Toole went to LA made he worry. It made her wonder how she failed. It made her think. It made her wonder. It made her worry. It made her think about things she hadn’t done right. She could list the things she hadn’t done right. There were many things. From early childhood until Anna left, Maria saw mistake after mistake; there were many mistakes, and she blamed herself. She blamed herself and felt sick. Are we surprised? From Maria’s lips came cuss words directed at LA. She couldn’t cuss Anna. She couldn’t cuss Mr. O’Toole, so she cussed LA.

But some people never change. Higgs for instance: everyday Higgs went by city hall. He had a routine. He followed the same routine. Everyday he went by city hall. He started early morning, when he started drinking. Then he followed a route from city hall down 6th Avenue, the same route every day starting with drinking. He hung out in the same bars, saw the same people and sparred with Cesar. Every day he sparred with Cesar … rarely missed a day. You could set your clock by his ramblings. But to those who paid attention to Higgs something predictable was bound to happen. There were those who saw it coming. It was bound to happen. He would trip. He would fall. He would break a hip and end up in a nursing home. Kitty didn’t know what else to do with him but place him in a nursing home. Higgs kicked and screamed, but she didn’t know what else to do. And in a nursing home Higgs became a celebrity. Here was a former mayor, deserving notoriety. In a nursing home, Higgs became a victim of too much attention. “Keep your hands off me,” he’d yell at nursing staff. “Keep your hands off me.” By then he’d lost his dignity. He was a celebrity who lost his dignity.

Then for Danny: to not see Anna helped. Learning that she had given birth to a boy caused Danny great sadness and hearing that she gave her baby away made him furious. Like Maria, it made him furious. Anyhow, with Anna gone Danny had no reason to move back to Tucson.

Then before it got really hot Maria, Angela and Molly also decided that they needed to leave Tucson. They knew how hot and oppressive Tucson got during June and before monsoons, so they decided they needed a vacation. Maria convinced herself that she needed a vacation. She decided a change would help her get through what otherwise looked like a long, tedious summer. She liked monsoons but didn’t like June. But she knew she couldn’t go on a vacation because she couldn’t close her boarding home. She couldn’t go on vacation because people depended on her. Maria and her girls would’ve gone to Cave Creek if they could’ve gone.

From Houston Rueben O’Toole arrived. He rang the doorbell, and no one knew who he was. Here was a stranger who looked like Mr. O’Toole, and he talked like a Texan just like Mr. O’Toole talked like a Texan. And no one ever knew how he found Mrs. Martinez’s home. Rueben was intelligent, intelligent and confident and motivated. Motivated, Rueben came to Tucson looking for a dad he never knew. He was looking for his father, Mr. O’Toole and didn’t know his father had gone to LA.

Rueben always wanted a father. He always wondered about his father and what happened between his father and mother. Rueben always wanted a father and wondered where he had gone. It was difficult for him. Not having a father was difficult for Rueben and shaped his character. There was some secret, and he hated secrets because of it. And for a long while Rueben acted like he didn’t want to know it because he hated secrets. And then he had to know and kept looking until he traced his dad as far as Tucson. And he kept looking until he knocked on Mrs. Martinez’s door. “Perhaps nothing happens without a reason,” Rueben would tell himself later.

George arrived in Tucson on an afternoon flight from Dallas. No one met him at the airport. No one knew he was coming. But as he emerged from a concourse he kept looking over his shoulder. He felt uneasy, hoping against hope that he wasn’t being followed, so he kept looking over his shoulder. He kept looking thinking that there was someone … that someone was following him, but he couldn’t be sure. Concourse was crowded. Airport was busy. It was a busy time of day. He came in on a late afternoon flight, and he wasn’t sure that he wasn’t being followed. And he hoped he wouldn’t start hallucinating. George already felt shaky. He wasn’t sure of anything.

Later, much later, as he made the rounds, everyone commented on how fit George appeared. He hadn’t changed, everyone said. Only his clothes were different. He had new clothes. Everything he wore was new. New, and they came off racks of the best stores. They were expensive clothes from the best stores. New clothes, with tags still on them, tags and labels from the best stores, but … but even these clothes had something wrong with them. They didn’t fit George. They didn’t look right on him. George didn’t fit his clothes. George’s new clothes didn’t fit him. It was like he hurriedly bought them without trying them on.

George brought with him a private detective named Sam. Sam grew up in Dallas and knew that his accent would always give him away as a Texan. George found him in the Yellow Pages, though it was understood that they wouldn’t talk about it. They would keep it a secret. Not that it mattered. George found Sam in the Yellow Pages … not that it mattered.

Sam quickly impressed everyone with his genteel and engaging manner. Only Higgs thought the young man seemed too smooth to be trusted. Higgs thought he could see through Sam. Higgs had a knack for seeing through people. But what bothered Higgs most was that Sam had prior knowledge of everyone. It seemed like he had been thoroughly briefed, so Higgs didn’t like Sam.

From the airport George and Sam took a cab to the Gentry Hotel. The hotel was not a particularly good one and had greatly deteriorated during the short time George was away. Without Charlie or Shelly to advise him George rented a dark, dingy room. (It may seem strange that he didn’t go to Mrs. Martinez’s boarding home.) He showered, changed, and left hurriedly. George left in a hurry. He didn’t want to be in his room any longer than necessary.

George took a cab down South 6th Avenue and had a cab driver stop in front of a large adobe home. To his surprise it was a short ride. And to his surprised the yard was landscaped meticulously. Unsurprisingly, it had a rock garden and cactus scattered here and there. No one was in sight when he pulled up, though when he got to the porch he heard a shrill voice coming from inside. Two people were shouting at each other. It hurt his ears to hear people shouting at each other. George climbed a set of steps and rang a doorbell.

Come in!” screamed Mrs. Ramsey. “Come in! The door is unlocked.”

Mrs. Ramsey had her back to the door when George let himself in. With her head cocked to one side and her shoulders slumped she stood in suspended animation. She didn’t turn around to look at George.

Alan! Stop it! Can’t you see you’re putting us through hell?”

Her son Alan was lying on a couch. He was lying on a couch with his feet propped on an arm. Alan bit his lip, shut his eyes, and raised his eyebrows, as he showed disdain for his mother.

Mrs. Ramsey turned around and, seeing George, shouted, “What do you want?”

You must be Mrs. Ramsey.”

I’m her. And you?”

I’m George.”

George. George! I don’t believe it. I thought …. God almighty, you’ve come. You’re here.”

I came as soon as I could,” George apologized.

I prayed and kept hoping, kept hoping you’d come..”

Don’t listen to her. The bitch ain’t prayed a day in her life.”

Wait! Wait! I’ll be back!” Mrs. Ramsey disappeared into the kitchen.

Don’t be surprised if she don’t come back with a kitchen knife,” said Alan. “Mostly she bitches. And that’s being generous. Cruel. Dead. Shot dead. That’s what happened to her old man, my father.”

So I heard.”

Fuck you!”

My, my, you’re angry. What’s got you ticked off?”

Living. And I ain’t angry.”

I’ll note it.”

You do it. And who told you you could come in here?”

Your mother asked me ….”

Whatever.”

Your mother wrote me.”

Whatever.

Suppose she….”

And as for my old man, I despised him. He got what he deserved.”

I’m going to say it again. I see you’re pissed.”

He’s angry over murder of his father and won’t admit it,” said Mrs. Ramsey, coming back into the room. “Murdered! And you!” She screamed at Alan. “No, no, no! No, no, no! I’m not going to say it.” From then on Mrs. Ramsey tried to ignore her son. “Thank you, Lord, thank you. George, you’re an answered prayer.”

How could I say no?” asked George. “And I brought someone with me who’ll be able to help more than I can.”

Well, a real murderer is sitting there on the couch there.”

Fascinating. Now she’s accusing me of murder.”

No respect. Always disrespectful.”

Shove it!”

See!” cried Mrs. Ramsey.

Shut up!” yelled her son.

Alan!” And Mrs. Ramsey started crying.

Mister, this is dreadfully simple. You keep her away from me. But it don’t matter. I’ll get whipped if I do or if I don’t. She don’t understand. I can’t get out. People who try to get out don’t make it. It’s that simple. If they try, they’re dead.”

Listen to him. George, you can see why I sent for you. I’m worried sick. I thought seeing his old man in a coffin would turn him around. Nope! Now I’m afraid to let him out of my sight.”

Bitch! Nothing’s going to happen to me.”

Shut up! He belongs to a gang. It’s the end of everything if we don’t stop them. He’ll get himself killed.”

I see,” was all George could say.

Kiss my ass!”

See!

It’s a waste of time.”

No it ain’t. I didn’t raise you for nothing. But I can’t see putting any more effort for nothing. Jeezus! Gotta be tough. Well George, thanks. I think you get the idea. Have you had something to eat? You’ll have to excuse me. I have a cold.”

No, yes. Forgot how hot it could be here in June. Getting off the plane was a real shock. Where do you think we should start?”

Get the cops moving. Get them off their butts.”

God Almighty….”

Shut up, Alan. I told you to shut up.”

The more George heard the worse his headache got.

This is what it’s about. Family and fame.”

Alan!”

Let me give him a heads up. Cause he won’t hear it from anyone else. Let me do it. Let me give him a heads up. Dope. Pot. Crack. Meth keeps you humping. Hates senseless killing, so make it count.”

Alan!”

Shut up bitch! He’s not interested … not really interested.”

You’re a disgrace Alan. I should call the police. He won’t go away!” cried Mrs. Ramsey. “Alan just lies there and won’t go away. I don’t want him to go away, but it’s impossible if he stays.” She wept and then laughed to stop weeping. “Show me a little love and respect.”

Respect, shit! She has a gun to my head and is on her knees all the time. That don’t work. It never has and never will. Mister, look out for her lies,” Alan muttered. “She lies all the time.”

Uno momento, por favor! I do what?”

Lie!”

Let’s control ourselves,” said George slowly.

After a good lunch,” laughed Alan.

George was beginning to dislike Alan and frankly wanted to leave.

After all I’ve done for you, I get this. Pity of course. Pity, George, that you see this.”

Listen!” said George. “This doesn’t help. Maybe I caught you at a bad time and should come back.”

No, no. You didn’t come at a bad time.”

Is there somewhere where we can talk?”

This way, out in the courtyard and … lunch?”

And Mrs. Ramsey led George outside and into a shaded courtyard where they could talk in private.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-eight
“Mrs. Ramsey, I took it on myself to hire someone.”

Hire someone?”

Yes, someone we can trust. His references were good. Unknown to Tucson. Fearless. Nobody’s patsy.”

You hired someone?”

Yes. Hired an investigator. His name is Sam. Someone from outside. Someone Cesar can’t buy.”

Monster. Cesar! Saw him yesterday. Oh yes, we’re friendly.”

That would be Cesar.”

And this Sam? You say that we can trust him?”

I’d bet on it. I wanted to talk to you before I introduced you to him. And Anna Martinez? How is she doing?”

She’s back. Back from LA. She moved to L A, had her baby and gave him away.”

Mrs. Ramsey, you seem to know what’s going on.”

Luckily Molly keeps me informed. Saw her yesterday. With Cesar. Monster! Molly fraternizing with the enemy. Besides Molly’s getting married. To that O’Toole guy. Not the old guy, but his son. I heard Anna talk about Mr. O’Toole. She said that she ‘couldn’t breathe’ and was ‘caught in a barbed wire snare.’ Something such as that. George, I hope that you can do something.”

We’ll give it a try. But you be careful.”

I’ll try for my late husband’s sake. My late husband, now there was a little man for you, trembling in front of me, reduced to that, as I tried to talk to him. With his citations, his plaques, he tried to be a good citizen. Shaking. Trembling. Those hands. Shaking. Trembling. He had goods on somebody. I know who … who he had goods on somwonw before he was murdered. We all have our suspects. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

I need to know everything.”

Just like that. Shot. Shot right in his heart. Then Alan had gall to tell me that he predicted it!’”

George started to leave, which surprised Mrs. Ramsey.

Something wrong?”

I don’t feel well. My stomach, perhaps its jet lag.”

Maybe ginger ale would help. I have ginger ale. I’ll get it for you.”

Next George had to see an old gentleman and knew where to find Higgs. Normally he avoided nursing homes.

Bewildered he recognized risks when he saw them. Hawaii Street, not as far as he thought from East Tennessee. Walk, yes, walk east, hoping by walking to garner enough strength to overcome fear. Reaching Hawaii he felt sick, really sick. Ginger ale hadn’t helped. He hadn’t expected his pores to ooze. He was sweating, but it wasn’t hot for June. Day reminded him of green puke. Really sick. From the color of the building he knew where he was. Shuffle forward: right, left, one two, three, four! One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

To George, a warehouse best described the gloomy old building. A warehouse painted army green (upchuck) and of no particular distinction. So here was where they put Higgs, Higgs a former mayor of Tucson. Now out of reach, out of sight, out of mind, Higgs. On reaching an outer gate he noticed a plaque that read “Oak Grove.” Immediately George thought of Faust.

After hesitating George opened one of two glass doors and entered a waiting room. Pea green. Vincent van Gogh replaced by Gotterdammerung. A huge desk encircled a toothless clerk. Directed to a nursing station. Down a hall, around a corner, through double doors. Tile instead of oak floors, heavy furniture instead of nothing.

George knew that Faust was lurking around somewhere. And at a nurse’s station there he was. No. Though he expected it George was still surprised.

Faust?”

Do I know you?” Faust remained business-like. “George? Let me see if you’re on the list. George? No.”

Higgs? What about Higgs?”

George’s face twitched. He pretended not to be nervous. Something bothered George: something recent, something painful, and something sad. Faust smiled.

Faust …”

I don’t know the man Higgs. Higgs? I think I saw his name on this list. Higgs?”

Faust,” he said, “tell the truth. Why are you here?”

Are you talking to me?” asked Faust.

Quit acting,” demanded George. “Quit acting Faust. When I got off the plane I thought you were following me. Today I thought … ”

Today? Today I pulled a double shift. You’re mistaken. It couldn’t have been me.”

You’ve been stalking me.”

Stalking? Me? No. I don’t know you.”

Cut games! I’m already nervous. But you know it. You know me. We’ve known each other for a very long time. Have you seen our shrink today?”

Oh my God did you miss your appointment?”

Come on Faust! What are you doing here?”

I’m not going to get angry. I’m not going to get angry. No, I’m not.”

Faust! It’s me! George!”

George? I don’t think I know him. Is he a resident?”

No. I’m George. Now Faust who said I needed a doctor?”

Faust? Let me see. Is he a resident? No, I don’t see his name on the list.”

Stop it Faust.”

Ever played ping pong? We have ping pong here. We’re known for ping pong.”

You know we’ve played ping pong together. I don’t appreciate ping pong anymore. I don’t appreciate you. Where’s the rest of your crew? Dante and the rest?”

I got rid of them. Now what was that name again?”

Lenny Higgs. You know him. I thought everyone knew him.”

Higgs. Room 503. Lucky it’s not 13.”

And what did you do to Dante?”

Room 13. Next to your old room. It’s ready for you.”

Yep! Higgs. Married?”

A widower. His wife was murdered. On the plane today I had a feeling that I’d run into you,” said George.

Yep, I’ve been here all day. Pulled a double shift.”

I know how you operate.”

You do, do you?” Faust smiled vaguely.

It was confusing. This is Oak Grove, isn’t it?” asked George looking up and down the hall. “So cushy and plush, Oak Lawn was a star of a chain. We called it a country club. Crochet, croquet, and croissants. Just a way for them to get their hooks into you. Shadows. Voices. Cease fire! Salute. They insulted you. Humiliated you. Toilet blues. There goes his shirt, his pants and his briefs down toilet. Time out. Time out! Off limits. No more toilet paper. Joint ran on toilet paper. Remember? Joint ran on toilet paper. Joint ran out of toilet paper.”

You’re confused,” replied Faust with a broad smile. “This is Oak Grove, not Oak Lawn. George, I’m not your enemy.”

You’re full of tricks.”

And … and so now here we are. Sometimes you like to play with my emotions. Suddenly you’ll sulk and not say a word.”

Too often I’ve ended up empty-handed.”

What do you want from me?” Faust finally asked.

Screw you!”

George, take my pulse. You want to know if I’m real. If so, take my pulse. You’re a worthless piece of shit. Go ahead, kill yourself. You’re nothing but a worthless piece of shit.”

And it gets lonelier and tougher.”

I’m not impressed.”

And it breaks your heart.”

I’m going to scream!”

Go ahead. Scream! Don’t let me stop you.”

If something lousy happens, it can last forever. That’s why it’s lonelier and tougher.”

Well, there you are,” said Faust sincerely. “You said it. I didn’t.

Maybe I am a piece of shit.”

Yes, you’re a dirty, filthy human being, and someday… Yes, you’re a piece of shit.”

Stop!” George responded by slamming fist into a wall.

Mister, you must keep your voice down. You’re in a nursing home.”

Filled with old people. I know,” said George, as he looked around for Faust. “Forgive me. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m not sure but maybe you can help me. Tucson’s former mayor Lenny Higgs’s room?”

Sure. Come this way. I’ll show you his room. Room 503.”

Not 13?”

They went past opened doorways on each side of the hall. His escort walked a little ahead, a little faster than George. George followed until they came to Higgs’ room number 503 and knocked before he entered. On top of the television were portraits of Kitty and Kitty’s murdered mother.

George. How’s my hero?”

God, I forgot to tell you good-bye. I’m sorry. How are you?”

Just fine. And as you can see they have me on applesauce.”

What’s new?”

“Applesauce is tart. No beer. Call it justice. What about you?”

Okay.”

You can do better. See what they’ve done to me?”

I’m sorry.”

Don’t be. I’m a grown man and can take it. I don’t know why I ever thought life would offer me more than this. I’m a grown man and can take it.”

Applesauce.”

Applesauce. Perhaps my little woman is waiting for me.”

Why do you say perhaps?”

You know … Maybe I’m not going. Pearly gates and an angel with a long memory … with a long memory. Now I have to consider the alternative.”

Well, I’m glad to see you’re fit.”

Just keeping alive, George. It’s better than the alternative.”

I meant it when I said you look fit.”

That’s thanks to Kitty and Molly. I have to get out of here. I hate it here.”

Faust suddenly appeared in the doorway and called, “Steal his breath away. A good guy gone astray.” And before he disappeared Faust laughed again. George did his best to ignore him.

Nothing on television but murder and mayhem! Shows you can’t get away.” Higgs cried grasping his chest like he was having a heart attack. “Are you here for a while?”

I plan to stay. I like Tucson. It’s better than Dallas. Better for me that is,” George replied.

That’s good news.”

And I’ll help you this time.”

That’s even better. It’s good to see you.”

Gotta catch them this time. Just gotta. Got money. Hired an investigator. Yes, can do. We’ll catch them. We’ll catch them this time.”

George, be careful.”

Don’t worry.”

Yes, but be careful.

Snivel.”

What did you say?”

Forget it. I dropped by to tell you I’ve hired an investigator and we’ll catch them. We’ll catch them this time. We’ll put them out of business. We’ll put them away.”

Maggie, precious Maggie. I failed her. I blame myself for her death.”

Higgs insisted on getting up. George carefully helped him into a wheelchair. Higgs then insisted that George push him across the hallway. George knocked for Higgs. Door was soon opened. Alma, Cesar’s mother, dressed in a flowery robe, happily greeted them. Higgs asked her if they could come in and led George inside by wheeling himself. In a corner by the window sat Kitty in an armchair. Seeing George startled both women. Alma now looked totally confused and was enjoying a second childhood. She was a survivor. She survived cancer … breast cancer.

Alma,” said Higgs. “Of course you recognize this guy. We all loved George. Bless him, Alma, as you would bless your own son Cesar.”

Cesar?” Yes, Alma was confused. And when Higgs finished Alma blessed George. She raised her right hand and with three fingers made sign of the cross over him.

George, now you can’t fail. We’ll catch them this time.”

When they were out in the hall, Higgs added, “And she’s like a mother to my daughter. She’s always been like a mother to Kitty. After her mother’s death, a mother to her. I’m wiped out. That’s what happens when you get my age.” And after George opened his door he added, “We’ll succeed or die trying. We’ll catch them this time.”

I’ll give it my best shot.”

I’m sure you will,” Higgs said, as he disappeared into his room.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-nine
George sat in The Rusty Nail, eating a hamburger and drinking Coors while he waited for Sam. After waiting and waiting he finally gave up. Leaving a note for Sam with a bartender George aimlessly wandered streets of Tucson.

Most afternoons in late July thunderstorms rolled in from the southeast, causing flooding. As if on a timer this was one of those afternoons.

George worried about lightning, obsessed on it, but waited for a cloudburst before seeking cover. George worried about lightning more than anything else. Off and on he paid attention to people trying to stay dry. He watched them jump over huge rivers or avoid getting splashed by cars. Soaked, and with his face and clothes covered with mud, George felt horrible. He felt horrible while avoiding lightning.

He didn’t know the city as well as he thought he did. He thought he knew Tucson better than he did. Streets weren’t where he thought they should be. He misplaced houses. At some street corners he paused to indiscriminately pick a direction. On edge his nerves accounted for his aimlessness, and he put energy into wandering. He hated the position Higgs and others placed him in.

George found himself in front of a train station. There wouldn’t be a passenger train for many, many hours, so the station was locked. It seemed like he was the only person who wanted to go somewhere. He wanted to be anyplace other than Tucson. He wanted to catch a train out of Tucson.
George crossed the street to the Gentry Hotel, thinking that he might go to his room, but the thought of his room depressed him. He hated his room. He hated his room like he hated hotel rooms … hated all hotel rooms. Felt panicky. Something wasn’t right. In middle of an intersection almost hit. Close call. Pursued. Pretended like nothing was wrong. Something wasn’t right but he pretended like nothing was wrong. Was George pretending? Sat in a sidewalk cafe. But he couldn’t stay. He could’ve ordered something and stayed … Looking out for Faust. Always on the look out for Faust. He realized he was always on the look out for Faust and realized that he was looking over his shoulder.

Frightened. Nervous. Shaking. Pulled in a certain direction. Not imagining it. Pulled in all directions. Absolutely sure of it. Not imagining it. Concentrate. He tried to retrace his steps back to train station but couldn’t. Couldn’t find damn station. Instead he found himself standing in front of a movie theater. Found himsef standing in front of The Fox. “Missing”, starring Jack Lemon and Sissy Spack. Truly missing. “Missing.” He knew it was a movie that he shouldn’t see. “Missing”. At the same time he fought to keep from being drawn inside.

He fled, ran, thinking he could outrun his illness. But everywhere he turned, there was “Missing” … on Congress. Miserable. Missing. He knew Faust was around somewhere. No mistake, it was Faust. Run. Don’t trip. Soaked.

You pervert. Fag. Nasty. Cocksucker. You ain’t worth shit! Voices from inside his ear. Muddle. Static. God. Torment, doubt, and anxiety escalated all at once. A jumble. Mush. Fuck. He felt like he’d explode, leaving him spent and hanging. Bouts of depression were only beginning. Frustration and futility times ten. Ten times ten times ten. Pow! #*&!#*!! Incredible energy, incredible. Pyrotechnics in his brain scared him. His desire to live ended. No longer having fun.

He sat under an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane on the banks of the Santa Cruz. Alone, except for sandstone statues of Christ and his disciples. Rain had done its magic and cooled things off. It cleaned air. Rain cleared air. Found peace from his surroundings by focusing on serenity in Garden of Gethsemane. Then ruined it by fixating on a conversation that he had with a stranger about a sensational story that appeared in the Daily Star: FOUR YEAR OLD SHOT TO DEATH FOR DRUGS. A chill caused him to shudder. Idea of FOUR YEAR OLD SHOT TO DEATH FOR DRUGS made his shudder. FOUR YEAR OLD SHOT TO DEATH FOR DRUGS.

He left garden and walked east. Crossed the Santa Cruz, again back toward downtown. Visualized the Castle, street and neighborhood. Crossed river again. He knew he wouldn’t find anyone home.

She must be with Mr. O’Toole.” Anna must be with Mr. O’Toole. So there was no use for George to go to the Castle. He kept walking. His feet took over. Walking. Totally oblivious to his surroundings he marched along. Walking. Traffic was out there, trying to get him. Walking. Pitch dark, cold chills, madness. Walking.

A picture of Mrs. Ramsey’s son Alan armed with a Saturday-night special entered his mind. FOUR YEAR OLD SHOT TO DEATH. FOUR YEAR OLD SHOT TO DEATH. SHOT TO DEATH FOUR YEAR OLD. SHOTTODEATHFOURYEAROLD. FOURYEAROLDSHOT TO DEATH. Murder, murder of Higgs’ wife, murder of Mrs. Martinez’s husband, Mrs. Ramsey’s husband, and a FOUR YEAR OLD SHOT TO DEATH, SHOT TO DEATH BECAUSE OF DRUGS. Alan, why would he be involved in murder of four year old Flora Soto?

Yes, George read every word written about latest murder … first read … heard about it at the airport. We’re talking precisely about murder of four year old Flora Soto. George didn’t like Alan. Alan was a punk. Poor Mrs. Ramsey.

Alan. Gasoline. Acid. Blinded with acid and set him on fire. Gutless, ruthless, ruthless, gutless … gutless, ruthless cowards are more dangerous. Shudder.

An indiscriminate shooting with a semi-automatic weapon. Shudder.

Faust?

Heading for Mrs. Ramsey’s house with a broken heart. Headed one way, then another. On south side, in right neighborhood, near right house, when … change of plans. Slipping. He needed a doctor. He needed a shrink. He needed his shrink. Then just as quickly beast disappeared.

George had to avoid confessions. He remembered how he took on Miss M’s depression. A fall from a marquee into a black pit. His face felt hot. He was still soaked, and his face felt hot.

Now compassion more than passion. Faust talked about suicide! Like everyone else in Oak Lawn George wanted his life back.

Ah, here was the Castle! George rang and asked for Anna.

A large sleepy-eyed woman told him that Anna Martinez never lived there. She didn’t tell him that Anna had moved back from L A.

Then back to his hotel. Feeling differently. Really different. Hard to explain. Again his emotions flip-flopped. Worst suspicions justified. Worst suspicions really confirmed. Then he knew for sure that Anna ran off with Mr. O’Toole.

Spit it out if you dare, say it!” He kept at himself. “Shit-head!” “Fuck-up!” He kept it up. “A piece of shit.” “Turd!”

He made it as far as his hotel. Then instead of something more lethal, something more lethal than embracing a stranger with tears. He wanted to tell his life story. He wanted to find somebody to tell his life story to. How he hated that old hotel! How he hated his room! How he hated hotel rooms. How he hated all hotel rooms. Those sterile hallways, whole building, his room. His room. Stopping just short of a revolving door, he mumbled, “Enter Ward B, Room 14.” He suddenly remembered Faust saying, “I was like a mad man. I took a knife and thought about stabbing myself to humiliate you.”

But wasn’t Faust mental?” George recalled his own close calls, as people brushed past him. “I’m a fucked-up piece of shit!”

Fucked-up piece of shit,” a voice answered back.

Fucked up. Fucked up piece of shit.”

And forgot to time his step with a revolving door.

Thunder and lighting wind blew. It looked like more rain.

Just as he entered a revolving door he watched a man going around on the other side. The man stared at him. He quickly moved through the revolving door, and George followed him around. He felt pretty sure he recognized … then he knew for sure and definitely identified Faust.

George ran out into street and was nearly hit by a car. Down the sidewalk there was a niche in facade of hotel with a slight overhang. As hard as it was to see George noticed that the man he identified as Faust was standing in the niche. George suddenly wanted to walk by him and pretend like he didn’t notice him. He tried to resist this urge.
For a second they stood face to face, rain then pouring. George seized him by the shoulders and turned him toward a street light. Something shiny then caught George’s attention. Something drawn from other man’s pocket. Something … It happened so fast that George couldn’t react. George only remembered shouting, “Jesus!”

A flash. A replay of something or was it nothing? Restricting his air. Then he entered a place where there was no pain, no struggle, nothing. Nothing. Then his assailant yelled, “Let this serve as a warning. If you live, get out of town! Get out of Tucson and never come back.” Then his assailant (or boy) pushed him to the ground and rushed out into storm.

Bleeding George lay in a pool of blood. Very quickly, a crowd gathered around him. Some of them didn’t want to get involved. Some of them heard shot. A doorman recognized George and called paramedics.

When George was released from the hospital Sam took him to Mrs. Ramsey’s instead of back to hotel.

 

 

Chapter Forty
And Mrs. Ramsey worshiped George. She worshiped him, mothered him, and protected him. She nursed him, and in the name of protecting him, she chased people off. Mrs. Ramsey took George in and nursed him. Moment George showed signs of fatigue she told people to go. Moment George showed signs of fatigue Mrs. Ramsey chased people off. Mrs. Ramsey was very protective, over protective of George. This peeved George. Instead of being thankful, it peeved him. But while Mrs. Ramsey kept everyone else away she checked on George constantly. She hovered over him and didn’t give him peace. This went on forever, or it seemed like it to George. And when he finally had enough of it, George shouted at her. Still fifteen minutes was as long as she could stay away from him.

More than being with Mrs. Ramsey George enjoyed being with Molly. Molly saw him every day. Molly came to see George every day, and she started coming as soon as she heard about the shooting. George enjoyed seeing her, enjoyed seeing Molly, and asked Mrs. Ramsey to let her see him. And George’s affection for Molly got to Mrs. Ramsey. George didn’t have to say anything to communicate his affection for Molly. Mrs. Ramsey saw it. Mrs. Ramsey was jealousy. She was jealous, jealous of Molly, though she wouldn’t admit it. Mrs. Ramsey would stand in the doorway and listen to George and Molly talk.

This isn’t working,” protested George. “Look, I’m not your prisoner.”

Of course not,” Mrs. Ramsey replied. “George, you”re not a prisoner.” And she didn’t understand why he considered himself a prisoner.

Now unable to leave the house without reliving horror of the shooting, George didn’t have a moment of peace. He had nightmares about it. He was afraid to go outside. He didn’t feel safe. And he didn’t feel safe anywhere. He suspected Alan, Mrs. Ramsey’s son. Alan hadn’t been around, and this made George even more suspicious. He suspected Alan shot him but couldn’t say why he did because he didn’t recognize his assailant. At first he thought it was Faust. Then he couldn’t be sure. And with each passing day he became ever more vigilant … ever more afraid. Often George asked, “Tell me, Mrs. Ramsey, have you seen your son? Have you seen Alan?”

Not today. He’s gone off with his girlfriend, I suppose.”

I keep thinking that I hear him in the house. Are you sure he’s not here?”

Not a chance. He’s really gone. Besides he’s all but grown.” And it was with sadness that Mrs. Ramsey worried about her missing son.

Sometimes the shooting flashed across George’s mind. He had flashbacks, and this replay seemed real. Maybe he was suffering from post dramatic stress syndrome, though it wouldn’t have been diagnosed then. He had enough diagnoses as it was, and didn’t need another one. In darkness he felt the cold hard surface of a bulldog revolver pressed against his chest and, as the gun fired, prayer was directed to the proper Person. Shot! Shock! Shot! Shot! Shot! It was like shock treatment to a depressed person and just as affective. Questioned about it, he didn’t have many answers. He knew how he felt but didn’t know what to call it. Still he was submitted to questioning. Most the time he was submitted to questioning in the middle of the night. He told police that he was oriented times five. He told the police he wasn’t crazy. They saw he was shot. They had a copy of a medical report, so why wasn’t it enough? It was never enough. Interrogated, he had somehow been at fault. Interrogated, he proclaimed his innocence. He requested a glass of water and proclaimed it. He proclaimed his innocence and requested a glass of water. How many times did he have to retell it? How many times did he have to tell his story? He felt persecuted. Was he persecuted, or did it simply feel like it?

Assurances were given that the matter would be thoroughly investigated. Where was Sam? George became angry with Sam. Where was Sam? Sam? Where was Sam?

Molly appeared and announced through the screen door that her mother and Angela were just behind her.

Speak of the devil! And where’s Higgs?” asked Mrs. Ramsey jumping up and exaggerating her enthusiasm. She had heard that Higgs had walked away from the nursing home, and she seemed genuinely concerned.

He’s coming. Higgs is coming. He’s right behind us.”

Why not welcome everyone? Why not everyone come? I refuse to hide. I can’t run and hide,” said George. .I’m not Higgs’ mother, so what can I do?”

Molly entered the house first. Then Higgs seemed to appear out of nowhere.

In Tucson these things continue to happen. Unfortunately people are being murdered. Any news about the Soto murder?” George asked.

It was a peaceful day when all hell broke loose,” Mrs. Martinez said. “But what do you expect during monsoon?”

Monsoon! Everyone cheer monsoon!”

Monsoon!” everyone cheered.

George has been concerned about my son Alan. Yes, concerned.”

He should be concerned,” said Mrs. Martinez.

Throughout this conversation Mrs. Martinez never looked at George. She didn’t look at him because she hadn’t forgiven him for choosing to live with Mrs. Ramsey. She didn’t understand why he chose to live with Mrs. Ramsey. Mrs. Martinez had a room for George and was disappointed. She was also angry with George because of it. She was so angry that for the longest time that she wouldn’t allow anyone to mention his name. Mrs. Martinez was shocked to see that George was walking around and felt hurt and slighted by it.

Mrs. Ramsey hurried to get chairs for her guests. Higgs found his own.

George, you had me worried. I won’t lie to you. You had me worried. I felt angry because you weren’t still confined to a bed.”

Mama!” Molly couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

We know what you’re up against,” Mrs. Martinez continued. “Oh! I’m sorry. But are you going to desert us again?”

I never deserted you. I always intended to return.”

We all noticed your new clothes. Angry. We’re not angry. We’re just disappointed that’s all. We understand. You know that you’re still welcome at my house. Why is she making a face?” demanded Mrs. Martinez abruptly, indicating Mrs. Ramsey. “Blaming, I don’t intend to continue it.”

Drivel!” cried Mrs. Ramsey.

What do you mean drivel?”

Drivel! You seem to forget that I lost my husband too. And Mr. Higgs lost his wife. And what we saw was Higgs trying to drink his way through his grief.”

Don’t bring me into this,” demanded Higgs. “Let me quietly and unassumingly step up to a podium, a podium again and say the obvious. Murder has become a cottage industry here. It’s a cottage industry here in Tucson.” Higgs was waiting for this opportunity to expound on his theory as to why Tucson was in the shape that it was in and to advocate for a new Tucson and a new this, that and the other. He had been waiting for many years. Talking about a new Tucson he sounded like he was running for mayor again. “And if we’re too afraid, what do we have left besides memories of dead people?”

We have police.” Until then Molly hadn’t known what to say.

An excellent suggestion. We have police.” Higgs said, as he made for door.

Lenny!” Mrs. Martinez called after him.

Let him be,” George said to Molly as she started after Higgs. “Let him go.”

It tears your heart out,” Mrs. Ramsey said after Higgs left.

George had been thinking about shooter’s admonition but hadn’t told anyone that he planned to leave. Whether he stayed or not in Tucson, he told himself, depended on Sam. He put his faith in Sam. It depended on Sam. He trusted Sam. He was paying Sam. George trusted Sam because he had to trust in somebody. So he told Mrs. Martinez and her daughters that as soon as he felt well enough that he would stop by their house. Mrs. Martinez replied that she thought he looked well enough to stop by now.

Charlie, who had come in a few minutes earlier, quickly assessed situation and decided that he didn’t want to be a part of it. As soon as he could, he excused himself.

Wasn’t that our Charlie?” Mrs. Ramsey asked, interrupting Mrs. Martinez with her question.

Now that’s stupid,” replied Mrs. Martinez. “It was obviously Charlie.

I hardly recognized him.”

His wife left him,” declared Molly. “It was forced on him.”

It was horrible,” added Mrs. Martinez. “Rumor has it that it was horrible. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.”

There’s no one more attractive to me than a fallen knight,” exclaimed Angela.

Angela!” admonished Mrs. Martinez.

This was not the first time that he was dumped,” declared Angela.

What do you know about it? How do you know?” Mrs. Martinez snapped.

I just do! Charlie is my hero. Charlie is a hero.”

He’s everyone’s hero,” responded Molly. “Look what he’d done for vagrants. It’s hard. It’s like death of a spouse, only he knows Shelly is alive. It’s murder. It’s murder.”

But we only know part of it, his part.”

Mamma, what do we know? We can’t walk in his shoes.” Angela again.

Vintage Angela!” cried Molly. “Angela at her best.”

You don’t seem to recognize how much Charlie has given this community … with his work with vagrants,” explained Angela. “And it wasn’t enough to have chosen someone, to believe in her, to pay homage to her, and then have her dump him. For God sake George, help us out!”

George felt like screaming.

Mrs. Martinez was about to intervene when Higgs, his daughter, and Sam came into house. Twenty-three, short and obese, Sam fit description of an elephant. It was his great girth that impressed people most. At same time he preferred to wear his tie undone. Like him or not you couldn’t ignore him.

Angela carried on about her wounded knight. Funny how it worked, as she sought George’s attention, and as she feigned a right amount of disinterest in him. Back and forth that way.

George’s letter was all proof Angela needed. She was sure George loved her. His letter proved it. Now she saw Molly as a rival. She viewed her own sister as a rival. She kept George’s letter. Angela kept it in a safe place. She kept this treasure hidden in a safe place, reading it over and over again, and she felt flushed whenever she read it. Now she felt flushed. Angela would’ve gone anywhere with George. She loved George. All he had to do was ask her. When she heard that he was shot, she was devastated. Now Angela and Molly were rivals.

For her part Mrs. Martinez focused on Sam. George felt amazed at how quickly this investigator gained confidence of these people.

Sam, what do you know about Alan Ramsey?” George asked.

Later, George.”

Exaggeration and self-importance made Kitty appear conceited. Maybe she was conceited. Maybe. To think that she had an audience showed her naivete. Her eyes shone and her voice quivered as she recited an unfinished poem … an unfinished poem she was writing. (She never finished a poem.) During it George found himself silently editing text to fit his experience.

Something about a city on its knees, about a dark city, a crooked city that rose out of the desert. A dark city that rose out of ashes. A phoenix. (Not Phoenix) Kitty had the wrong city, but it didn’t matter. A murmur of approval for all seeds of malice. There were certain bloodthirsty individuals in this community who celebrated their tyranny. Secrets, silence; and those who spoke out faced peril.

George! Where are you, George?” asked Mrs. Martinez.

See how you’ve exhausted him,” chided Mrs. Ramsey.

People were generally surprised by intensity of Kitty’s work.

Wow!” cried Sam. “When are you going to get it published?”

No, publishing was never my goal.”

I know a publisher.”

Come along, Angela,” demanded Mrs. Martinez. “I concede. We’ve exhausted George.”

Mrs. Martinez intended to make a big deal about leaving but didn’t reach door. Kitty and Molly questioned Sam relentlessly, as did Rueben. Higgs spoke to him in an official manner. Only Angela showed no interest.

Cesar is no fool,” reported Sam. “I suppose you all know him and know …”

We do, and he knows us,” said Mrs. Martinez.

Dope, gambling and prostitution, those things all in the open. Like in the Old West. But murder? Well … murder is harder to prove.” It was clear that Sam had zeroed in on the Mafioso. If nothing else was clear, this was. And George looked alarmed. He was alarmed and with good reason because he thought Sam shouldn’t talked about Cesar. Loose lips sink ships was something he believed. George thought Sam should’ve been more judicious.

Well, I don’t worry about minor things … little fish,” continued Mrs. Martinez. “Tell us what you found out about murderers among us.”

George couldn’t believe what he was hearing. What was Mrs. Martinez thinking. Loose lips sink ships, or worse … compromise Sam. And Sam wondered if Mrs. Martinez was nave enough to think that he would jeopardize his investigation by revealing what he found out.

I always intended to retire but after Maggie’s murder, what choice did I have?” asked Higgs shrugging his shoulders. “Sam, tell George about those kids hanging around outside, asking for him, four or five of them,” exclaimed Higgs. “Mrs. Ramsey’s boy and….”

Alan? I knew it. I knew he was hanging around.”

Alan’s mother took it from there. “And me worried sick. Now that’s a real coincidence … that Alan’s out there with his friends. I suppose Alan is out there with Potato Chip. Don’t know who else he hangs out with.”

By then Sam had moved out onto the porch and out of earshot. Rueben followed him.

Higgs’ revelation caused a hubbub.

So what does it mean?” Higgs asked. “Alan is with Potato Chip.”

George,” said Angela, “save us, and we’ll applaud.”

George didn’t want to hear what Angela was saying. He wanted to retreat and wanted Sam to save him. But where was Sam? Where was Sam when he needed him? Sam was out on the porch with Rueben O’Toole. George already applauded Sam for his effort.

We all want the same thing,” declared Mrs. Martinez. “We all want to see this town cleaned up. We want to take back Tucson,” declared Mrs. Martinez. “We’re not able to sleep at night. None of us feel safe. Cesar’s tentacles are everywhere.”

There’s been more talk lately. Yes, more talk than ever before. We can only hope that talk will lead somewhere. We can only hope that it’s more than talk. More! More!” Mrs. Ramsey emphasized “more.”

George again questioned his sanity. He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. As he led the crew out of house and into front yard, he wanted to run and hide, but he surprised himself by saying, “I’ve met Mrs. Ramsey’s son, so I’ve an idea what these kids are up to. I can identify him.” George had no idea what he was doing. He led crew and walked past Rueben and Sam. And as they approached four boys, George sincerely believed that no one was more bankrupt than Alan. No one was more bankrupt than Alan, he thought, except maybe himself. And it seemed like he forgot about Sam.

Four kids huddled under a streetlight. Three of them were henchmen, fourth their leader. Four kids … who were they? Four kids … whose were they? Four kids huddled under a streetlight, talking with intense agitation and uncommon eloquence.

Molly slipped in behind George. She tried to get as close to him as possible. She tried to catch his ear. She might’ve even tried to push him, or was she trying to stop him? Would he listen to her? Would George stop and listen to her as she tried to tell him what do? Then with a wave of his hand George invited the boys to come over to him. They were all young. Then where did George get his courage? Was it courage or stupid?

Sam worried about this situation getting out of hand. Meanwhile, Potato Chip gave him a dirty look, as Sam rushed into the street.

Of four kids only one could’ve been over eighteen. George thought he saw this kid before. He was immediately reminded of Dante, and he struggled to hold onto reality. The older kid, same as Sam, stood on the sidelines but was ready if needed.

 

 

Chapter Forty-one
George recognized first lieutenant Alan, and behind him came Bulldog. Alan! It was definitely Alan. No mistaking Alan. Bulldog was youngest. Thirteen, he was made private. Mean with a savage streak, Bulldog was made private and lacked meat on his bones. They all looked dangerous. They all wore army fatigues.

Michael,” muttered eighteen-year-old while introducing himself. “Michael.”

Finished introductions gang stood their ground, stood their ground, stood their ground. Alan was definitely leader. He stood out, and they looked dangerous. With defiance they seemed to say, “Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.” And it felt like war would erupt if anyone uttered another word. “Fuck you.”

I heard that you were looking for me,” began George. “Well, if I’m your guy, take your best shot.” Molly couldn’t believe he said this. “Come on. It’s time you put your revolvers away.”

Fuck you!” cried Alan.

In response George threw up his hands.

Fuck you!” cried Michael in shrill voice. “Fuck you!”

Dido!” growled Bulldog. “Fuck you!”
“Fuck you!”

You’re history!” sputtered Potato Chip, saliva flying from his mouth. George felt like he was history. Saliva flew everywhere.

Okay,” said George. “Here I am. Take you best shot.” George didn’t care anymore and acted like he didn’t care.

Mister, don’t think we don’t know who you are. And as for your friends they can fuck themselves.” Alan.

Allow me to speak,” cried Michael. “Don’t you think that we don’t know that you’ve turned that bird dog loose on us?” He pointed to Sam. “That queer has us pegged wrong.”

Then you’ve got nothing to worry about,” countered George.

Nothing doing, nothing doing,” Potato Chip babbled, looking around. Red veins bulged from the side of his neck, as he mad dogged George. George smiled. Potato Chip exploded.

George!” Mrs. Martinez suddenly called. “May I say something?”

Lady you stay where you belong.”

Sam, say something. You could help,” cried Mrs. Ramsey.

Sam shifted his weight uneasily. But while they pondered what to do next, Molly crossed an imaginary line and jabbed Potato Chip’s shoulder with her index finger.

EAT SHIT! FUCK BOYS CLUB, BOY SCOUTS, AND YMCA. WE’RE SOUTHSIDE CHIPS!” shouted Potato Chip. George smiled again. Potato Chip exploded again.

No!” cried Sam.

No, Molly!” pleaded George. “You’ll get yourself killed.”

In spite of protests Molly continued to jab Potato Chip with her finger.

Stop! Stop! Please stop!” pleaded her mother, horrified. “George, if you don’t stop her ….”

It was too late. Molly, flushed, jabbed Potato Chip harder.

Hey!”

Crybaby!” Molly.

Sam found courage from Molly’s bravery. Or was it stupidity? Then George stepped forward. He had a job to do. He knew what he had to do. And it was one of his finest moments. It felt like an hour. He couldn’t believe what he was doing. He had a job to do. He had a job to do. There was that and idea of Molly showing him up. Molly had shown what Potato Chip and his gang really were. Somehow word got out about Sam. Somehow the enemy knew who he was. Then by time Sam decided to act, Molly finished jabbing Potato Chip and Kitty started reciting this epigram.

Potato Chip. Oh my, that’s a hoot,
And that guy over there is Bulldog
Passing gas as usual
With their stupid games.
Behind two grades,
Who emancipated them?
Do they say their prayers like everyone else?
When with their next breath they say
Go fuck yourself.”

Kitty acted pleased with herself, as Molly in triumph crossed back over to her side. Both women knew that they pulled off something extraordinary.

But George thought Molly acted stupid.

Angela gasped. Mrs. Martinez struggled with anger and regretted having followed George. Now she stood silently.

Sam felt ashamed of himself. Would he recover?

George felt guilty and ashamed and held his head down. He had triumphed. Yet he held his head down. Even Alan and Potato Chip were taken aback. Bulldog was too. Only Michael stood completely calm.

Gentlemen, I don’t think name calling gets us anywhere,” declared Higgs. “We don’t have to get even or act like idiots.”

But we can’t let this slide,” countered Bulldog, trembling all over.

That bitch will pay!” growled Michael. He was referring to Molly.

Instead of shouting, communicate,” cried George. “Communication is key.”.

And who do you think you are?” asked Bulldog.

He’s got his head up his ass!” added Alan.

Alan!” His mother almost added “watch your language.”

Mrs. Martinez shook her head and said, “We better get out of the street.”

We’re being fucked over. We’re human beings and shouldn’t be treated like shit! We make demands, and our demands are ignored. I need time to figure this out.” Having said this Alan signaled a retreat.

Wait!” George.

Fuck him, fuck him, fuck him!” babbled Michael.

Let’s finish this inside, away from traffic. Cops may be on their way already.” Mrs. Ramsey said this, while directing people back to her home.

Want to do business?” George asked.

Business?” asked Potato Chip.

Call it what you like, but maybe we can deal. But deal has to be fair. Deal fair and I’ll deal. I don’t have control of my millions. Matthews controls everything.”

Millions?” Potato Chip

What!” proclaimed Bulldog.

They’re still in diapers,” muttered Higgs.

Please!” pleaded George. “Five or six months ago Mrs. Ramsey wrote me for help.”

George, now is not the time to play your hand,” cautioned Sam.

Fuck!” Michael cried in his shrill voice.

I’m not going to fold,” said Potato Chip.

I’m not asking you to fold. I have a business proposition,” asserted George.

Screw him!” proclaimed Michael.

Fine! Screw me!” declared George. “I just don’t want to see anyone else hurt. But Matthews … that’s who we have to convince.”

Bullshit!” squeaked Michael. “We’re not fools.”

That’s not in dispute,” George agreed immediately.

We plead innocent!” Michael shrieked.

Innocent of what?” asked George calmly.

It’s very complicated,” Alan answered.

Keep talking,” Potato Chip urged George. “I’m listening.”

Listen, mister,” shouted Michael. “We’re not fools. Who’s this guy?” he asked pointing to Sam.

Sam, meet …. Meet Potato Chip.”

As he laid out a deal George ushered the two groups onto Mrs. Ramsey’s porch. Sam couldn’t believe that George was going to give so much money away. And for what? College.

Assuming he means what he said, can you imagine me going to college?” asked Potato Chip.

With an ax to grind? No!” answered Kitty.

You think I’m not smart enough?”

It would take a bit of doing on your part, but you’re smart enough. Only ….”

Only what?”

We all have grievances,” Kitty continued. “Anyhow, you’re too bent on destruction to get anywhere.”

Maybe. Well, we’ll see who’s left standing,” declared Potato Chip.

Funerals all over town, everywhere, everyday,” responded Kitty. “Too many tears for me.”

Bulldog was lost in thought until he said, “He ain’t got no evidence. But suppose then that he did. We better then finish what we started. Finish it!”

Evidence?” Sam persisted. “You think I don’t have the goods on you?”

You ain’t got nothing!” shouted Potato Chip.

Sam pulled the boys to one side, and George followed them.

Says who?” Sam whispered. “I’ve a list of crimes going back four years. I’ve been directed from person to person, all credible. I have two more lists of crimes, also extended over a substantial period, dates, locations and details: all real crimes. Evidence that connects you and your gang to real crimes. Now I have these lists in a safe place and if anything should happen to me ….”

NO!” yelled Potato Chip at Sam.

What?”

NO! You ain’t got shit! NO! We’re out of here. I repeat you’re full of shit. Shit!”

Then why run away?” demanded Sam.

Dejected Michael fished a cough drop from his pocket. Bulldog seemed afraid.

Hey Potato Chip!” Bulldog cried out. “I told you we shouldn’t trust them.”

Do you understand what he’s saying?” Potato Chip asked. “Back off or else.”

You can’t intimidate me,” continued Sam. “I plan to keep digging, first into Flora Soto’s murder. Then I’ll keep digging.”

Wait!” cried Michael. “We didn’t have nothing to do with little girl’s murder. We’re innocent. Police know it. You know it. They have their suspects. Police have their suspects. They have their suspects. You ain’t helping our reputation.”

Hold it!” Sam ordered. “You’re forgetting there was a witness. I know, I know …. Mrs. Soto isn’t talking and isn’t about to. Suppose you were in her shoes? She and her daughter were innocent. I know what she fixed for supper that night. Her husband’s favorite casserole. Afterward uneatable. I know what they did before supper. They barely said grace. They rarely prayed. Yet they were innocent. Tell me who created this horror. And victim’s father? Left civil service, and we know the rest … turned to crime, cheated, started snorting and took too many chances. Elmira Soto had a love for weakness, stray cats and dogs and a scumbag husband.”

We don’t have to listen to him,” Alan declared. “Let’s go!”

Michael gave Sam the finger.

Go! But what’s it going to be? College or an early coffin?” asked George.

Chip, don’t listen to him. He’s full of shit!” yelled Alan.

A mind game, that’s all it is,” responded Potato Chip.

This was a blotched hit,” declared Sam. “A blotched hit.”

Stop!” cried George.

A blotched hit.”

Where’s your proof?” demanded Bulldog.

Stop!”

A blotched hit.”

We didn’t murder nobody!” cried Potato Chip. “We may not be saints, but we ain’t murderers.”

And you think they’re college material.”

Potato Chip started to run off, when Alan grabbed him by the arm and whispered in his ear. Potato Chip then turned and took a large envelope out of his pocket and threw it on a table. This got everyone’s attention. “Here’s some of fucking money! Toilet paper! Something to wipe your ass with!”

You’re better than that,” George declared. “Potato Chip you can do better than that.”

Piss on ‘em!” yelled Michael.

How much is there?” asked Molly.

I’m ashamed! Ashamed of you! Ashamed of all of us!” said George, going up to Potato Chip. “We speak of murder of a little girl like it means nothing.”

This is crazy!” exclaimed Mrs. Martinez.

Leave it alone,” pleaded Angela.

Alan tried to have last word: “Chicken shit!”

Please, let’s see what we have here,” cried Sam, opening a packet of money. “Chicken feed! You could make more money with a regular pay check from McDonalds.”

That ain’t true.”

He’s not legit,” Alan responded immediately. “We didn’t knock off some old lady for it.”

No!” screamed Potato Chip.

That reminds me,” laughed Higgs, “of an attorney who defended his client by using hunger as an excuse for murder … murder of six people during a robbery of a McDonalds. Multiple homicide.” He concluded, ‘Hunger breeds desperation.’”

It’s too late Lenny! Now leave me alone!” exclaimed Mrs. Martinez. “You didn’t have enough sense to get me out of this rotten town. I’ve always wanted to leave.” Then she turned to Michael. “And as for you, you insolent bastard, why are you laughing?”

Mrs. Martinez!” exclaimed George.

Fuck you, lady!” Alan yelled.

Listen to him,” pursued Mrs. Martinez. “And these boys, they’re just kids. Our kids. No peace for their mothers. A girl grows up at an incredible speed and suddenly declares, ‘Mamma, I’m pregnant.’ ‘You’re what?’ ‘I’m pregnant, Mamma.’ ‘But … but who’s the father?’ ‘I don’t know!’ You don’t know! What did she mean she didn’t know? How could she not know? Insane!” She then turned to Rueben. “And you keep your filthy hands off Molly.” Then she yelled at Michael, “And you go to hell!”

Mama!” cried Molly.

It’s okay, Molly,” Michael replied calmly. “It’s okay. She can’t hurt someone who’s dying.”

Dying?” asked Mrs. Martinez. “Who? Who’s dying?”

Mamma, he’s dying of cancer. Michael is dying of cancer,” responded Molly, indicating Michael.

Cancer?”

I’ll be okay,” replied Michael in a low, hoarse voice. “Doctors have only given me a month or two to live.”

Shouldn’t you be in bed then?” asked Mrs. Martinez.

It wouldn’t make a difference,” said Michael smiling. “I’ve decided to spend the time I have left with my friends. Raising hell with my friends.”

Forever a politician Higgs asked what he could do to help.

You’re not feeling sympathetic, are you?” asked Sam. “Well, I’m not either.”

You’re right. I don’t feel well,” replied George. “This is too much for me.”

He doesn’t feel well?” Michael laughed uneasily. “This is too much for him. He doesn’t know the first thing about feeling ill.”

Whiner, whiner!” taunted Alan.

Don’t you understand?” asked Mrs. Martinez. “Michael has cancer! Don’t you understand? He’s dying. He’s dying of cancer.”

Cancer! Oh, God!” declared Angela, followed by an uneasy murmur. Then Alan pushed forward and whirled about on one foot in front Mrs. Martinez. George looked with surprise at Alan. “Stop it!” cried Mrs. Martinez.

I’m sympathetic,” mumbled George. “Honest! I’m sympathetic.”

And so as not to betray a friend … as for what he’s trying to do,” Higgs said in a loud ringing voice. “I don’t know what I’m trying to say. If we’re talking about Cesar, well …”

There you have it,” interrupted Alan. “A hung jury. As far as Cesar is concerned, a hung jury.”

I’m disappointed,” exclaimed Mrs. Martinez. “I see very little empathy here.”

I’m sympathetic,” said George.

May I ask,” Higgs paused before he continued, “why pick on Cesar? We all know Cesar. He’s small fry. Cesar is small fry.”

No one wanted to say anything else about Cesar.

I know only a little about cancer, but I’ve been convicted of it. Burnt toast,” Michael chuckled, and started coughing and couldn’t stop.

Lung cancer,” said Mrs. Martinez seriously.

Let’s go home, Mama. This can go on forever!” declared Angela.

Look, Michael is delirious,” observed Mrs. Martinez. “No telling what germs are lurking about. Rueben has had a cold.”

Colds are least of my worries,” said Michael. “You all hate Potato Chip. You hate him because he frightens you. Give up hoping he’ll change.” Again he began coughing.

Is that it?” Mrs. Martinez interrupted. “Good grief!”

I agree,” said George. “Nothing is as important as your health. You can only go full throttle for so long. ”

Can’t you see that he’s getting sicker by the minute?” Mrs. Martinez seemed genuinely concerned for Michael.

You hate us. You hate us. I don’t understand why you hate us. I don’t understand why they accuse us. Ask Mrs. Soto,” demanded Potato Chip. “She’ll tell you. We weren’t anywhere near there that night. We weren’t near her house that night. We have solid alibis.”

Which is more dominant, love or hate?” asked Mrs. Martinez with grief. “Love or hate?”

Maria, you’re looking in the wrong place,” remarked Higgs. “Asking wrong people. Asking wrong questions. Asking wrong people wrong questions. If you want answers go to source.”

Everyone knew who Higgs was referring to. Everyone knew Cesar. Everyone knew Cesar was source. Michael then seemed extremely ill. He lacked energy and couldn’t focus. He used phrases that he rehearsed such as: “It’s been fun!” They saw Michael dying before their very eyes. Then suddenly Michael asked Higgs to conduct his funeral. Alarmed Mrs. Martinez tried to hold Michael in her arms. He pushed her away. “Too tired to trot. And I’m only eighteen.” Michael seemed like he wanted to say more, but he didn’t have strength enough.

Come to mamma!” soothed Mrs. Martinez.

Take your hands off me!” declared Michael, breaking free.

Leave him alone, ,mamma.”

I think,” declared Higgs, “rather than our sympathy Michael needs a competent nurse.”

We gotta go,” Potato Chip said. “Mike, are you coming?”

I’m coming.”

It seems like he’s worse.”

As Michael stood up everyone could see that he had no energy. Color was gone from his face, and he closed his eyes except for a crack.

I knew this would happen!” cried Mrs. Martinez.

See what you did,” whispered Alan to his mother. By then Mrs. Ramsey was hoping people would leave. As if on cue a taxi pulled up in front of the home. Michael’s friends helped Michael in it, and they sped off together.

Hoodlums!”

I don’t know how long it’ll take, but we’ll catch the murderers,” Sam declared, as Mrs. Martinez also left in a hurry. Sam tried to catch her. Angela, Rueben, and Molly excused themselves. Higgs and his daughter did the same. They alone were pleasant.

At least there were only a few surprises,” George muttered, and Mrs. Ramsey left the room without comment, which for George meant the excitement wasn’t over. Or was it?

 

 

Chapter Forty-two
As George stepped off porch, another Yellow Cab stopped in front of house. Two women sat in back. One of the women, whom George immediately recognized, stuck her head out the window.

George! Hey good looking. How’s lady-killer?” she cooed. “I heard you’re giving them hell.”

George stood there feeling horrified.

Heard news?” a soothing voice continued. “Faust escaped. And Dante says ‘hello’ and all good-for-nothings at the hospital do too. See you tomorrow!”

The taxi sped off.

That’s crazy nurse Lumbert again,” George explained before realizing there was no one else around. “But what is she doing here?”

Then George kept looking for Faust to appear.

Faust!”

Mrs. Martinez wouldn’t accept help from anyone. She was too proud to accept help. She had always been proud. Mrs. Martinez was a proud woman. So Mrs. Martinez shut herself in her room and wouldn’t come out. And it was not grief over the loss of Anna … it was not grief over loss of Anna that made her shut herself in her room. So she let her house go and shut herself in her room. She did only a minimum to keep her house and spend rest of her time in her room. And she wouldn’t talk about it. She refused to talk about it. She grieved alone and assumed anguish mothers feel over loss of a child. She pined. She wouldn’t accept help and wasted away. And she was so distraught that she wasn’t sure that she wanted to live.

And as his illness intensified George assumed blame. He accepted blame for everything. He accepted everyone’s blame and felt obliged to do it. Well … what was he going to do about it? He tried sleeping all day. He left Mrs. Ramsey’s home, found himself a room, and tried sleeping all day, but it didn’t work. Shreds of sleep here and there were all he enjoyed. He didn’t enjoy much of anything. And George was afraid that if he slept too long that he wouldn’t wake up. And there wasn’t any place he could go where he felt safe. Weak he then wished that he never emerged from murky obscurity of living like a transient. He wanted to hit the road again. He wanted to retreat. He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He wanted to get out of Tucson where people depended on him too much. George blamed himself for either trusting people too much or not trusting them at all. There was no in between. He felt numb. He wanted to run. He wanted to hide. He lived through so much that he wasn’t able to feel much of anything. And through it all he grew increasingly vigilant. He kept looking for Faust.

Having managed to take Faust aside and talk with him about surveillance cameras Cesar placed in George’s room, George asked him in a friendly tone, “If I were to leave these people in the lurch, what kind of person would it make me?” And as George obsessed on this, appearance of Nurse Lumbert troubled him a great deal because he didn’t trust her.

George also questioned wisdom of Sam for not involving police in his investigation. As for who killed Flora Soto there was still no solid evidence that linked Alan and his gang or Cesar to this murder. As for who shot him, George could only speculate.

George ran into Rueben and Angela, who were out for a stroll. In the middle of Riverwalk there was no way to avoid them. He tried to walk past them but couldn’t avoid them. And at same time he felt like an intruder. He couldn’t avoid them, but George might’ve been wrong when he thought that he saw them holding hands. They were holding hands. Angela wanted George to see that they were holding hands … she wanted holding hands with Rueben to get to George. Holding hands to anger George. Holding hands to hurt George and make him jealous.

Nurse Lumbert asked first about his health. George asked himself, “What’s behind her concern?” He also remembered how Faust used to say, “When somebody is out of sight they don’t exist. So George tried to disappear.” And that was why ‘O if only I could disappear’ became a mantra for him.

As usual Rueben seemed friendly. And yet George might’ve forgotten a conversation they had had Rueben not questioned him about the past and his impressions of Anna and Mr. O’Toole. Nothing was said about previous evening. Not much was said.

Angela confessed that they hoped that they would run into George. She wouldn’t elaborate. George asked about her mother. During their whole conversation they avoided answering questions. In a dizzy haze then George didn’t mind. He didn’t seem to mind that Angela and Rueben were together. He didn’t mind that they were holding hands.

Rueben and Angela didn’t ask George to join them on their stroll. Neither did they invite him to the Martinez home. Angela felt very relieved that she avoided answering questions about her mother.

Oh, yes,” Rueben said, “two women came by the house this morning and asked for you. One of them was in a nursing uniform.” Crazy nurse Lumbert, thought George. He could see that Rueben felt troubled by the two women and their inquiry. “They spoke fondly of you,” said Rueben. “They seemed anxious to set up shop.” Nurse Lumbert is like that. Friendly. But I don’t need a nurse. Claxto, the head shrink, had to have sent her. Why would he do it? I can’t imagine that he’s genuinely worried about me.

George, you’ve changed.” said Angela, kissing him on the cheek.

What do you mean, I’ve changed?”

There was no doubt,” replied Rueben rather dryly, “ that those two women seemed rather anxious to find you.” George seemed nervous, while he tried to get more out of Rueben.

Oh, by the way Anna called.”

Angela’s last statement hit both men with a jolt.

At least she hasn’t totally disappeared, or has she?” George demanded, after a long awkward silence. He acted like he hadn’t been in contact with Anna.

It appears she hasn’t. She was furious. Anna can be a prima donna. You know yourself that she has been–how can I put this kindly–ah, prissy. She asked about you, George.”

And did she say anything about my father?” asked Rueben O’Toole.

No. Nothing.”

Rueben appeared angry, as they walked away as cordially as possible.

George watched them stroll along the Santa Cruz, a river without water in it. He stood there watching them. All of George’s energy was diverted to watching them, as he got more worked up.

Having Nurse Lumbert around worried George, but what worried him more was Faust and having Faust follow him. Now George knew … just knew he needed to add Rueben O’Toole to a list of people he needed to be leery of. Maybe Rueben already knew too much … too much about him. This encounter hadn’t been accidental. This encounter on the River Walk wasn’t accidental. No sirree! And why had Nurse Lumbert come from Dallas? Who was behind it? Faust? Faust! If so, who was behind Faust?

For George’s liking, there were too many coincidences. Hearing about Anna’s phone call made him even more anxious. Anna? Why had she called? Just thinking of Anna made him nervous. Who would’ve thought that George would’ve become romantically involved with Anna or one of her sisters? Who would’ve thought George would’ve been romantically involved with anyone? After Miss M anyone? All three sisters were beautiful. George couldn’t make up his mind which one he liked best. They were all too beautiful for their own good. Each time he saw one of them his feelings swung in that direction. The lascivious nature of those feelings was something he never forgot. He loved all three of them.

The first time George went to see her, Anna told him the saga of her relationship with Mr. O’Toole.

Sam came to see him immediately after lunch. George knew that he could trust Sam to be thorough.

Has a network in Mexico. Bribery. Stealing. Killing. Are you sure? Never sure. Cesar’s too smart for it. Meets tonight big boys from Mexico City. Francisco Leon with his poker face buddies. Francisco Leon has president of Mexico by the balls. Sweet, eh? Knows how to squeeze them. Knows how to squeeze the president of Mexico by the balls. Where is he now? He’s just getting out of bed.

Was George happy? No. He was off somewhere and not in mood. Restless as hell he was. Could never like Cesar again after hearing what Sam had on him. Murder? Not sure. Never sure. Concerning Cesar, never sure about murder.

George! Are you listening? Where’s my buddy George? He doesn’t do anything right. He doesn’t do anything right. He’s a piece of shit.” Faust’s words ran over and over again in George’s brain. “Drinks a lot.”

When Cesar went to Mexico City Francisco Leon invited him to supper to drink and to check him out. Cesar never worried about his liver when his gastric juices were churning. His intestines were same as pipes when he farted.

Geooorge! You scum of the earth! You snot-faced bastard! You piece of shit!”

Go away Faust. Please. Please go away. Go away.”

George mentioned Anna and that he went to see her. He didn’t tell anyone else he went to see Anna. (George felt he could trust Sam.) He wasn’t sure anyone else knew where Anna was staying. Was she hiding? George didn’t know. She was staying on outskirts of Tucson, south of town off Old Nogales Highway in a small, ramshackle trailer, while her spirits seemed remarkably high. Anna lived by herself, but she had a retinue of men whom she relied on for rides. One guy had broken off an engagement on her account. She never mentioned Mr. O’Toole.

Yes, last evening was a disaster.” Clouding over. Gone. “What happened, Sam?” asked George.

To make sense out of it was too complicated.”

Was George saying anything? No.

George then brought up Mrs. Martinez. In Sam’s opinion Mrs. Martinez was nuts. Because she had always been kind to him, George resented Sam saying Mrs. Martinez was nuts.

Watch it, boy! George is a rat. No, he’s a rat fink! Squirrelly, squirrelly, squirrelly! And George can’t keep a secret.”

Molly’s sudden entrance rescued George. She didn’t knock. She never knocked. Molly came over to announced that her mother was on a tear and that Mrs. Martinez and Higgs were embroiled in all out war.

Fat chance of that you’ll get a fair trial. They’ll hang you. Black clouds are gathering.”

Molly had also quarreled with Angela. Angela had fought with whole family, even with Rueben O’Toole. That forced her out the house. After she gave this last piece of information Molly left with Sam.

At last alone. George needed solitude.

Pray for a thunderstorm. Death’s a coming. A thundering of hoofs, he could feel it coming. Claaap! Death was breathing down his neck. He loved lightning.

Run! Hide!

And there were other problems. Problems, problems.

Absorbed in thought George returned automatically to Mrs. Ramsey’s home. Now he picked up his stride. Only Mrs. Ramsey hadn’t returned. No one was home.

Crap! Claaap!

Run away! Run! Hide!

Around suppertime Alan burst in on him. Alan was loud, and George couldn’t get rid of him. Gradually they got to talking, and Alan confessed things that he shouldn’t have. Alan seemed proud of his crimes.

I’ve been thoroughly fucked. George, do you think I’m stupid?”

What matters,” said George at last, “is….”

Just give me a fair trial.”

I’ll do better than that. I won’t judge you.”

What’s that?”

I won’t judge you. I mean it. I won’t judge you.”

Alan reacted by slamming his fist into a wall. “Shit! George, you’re fucking with me.” His mother walked in just then. “Shit!” She proceeded to slap her son across the face.

Turn the other cheek, staunch friend, soul buddy.

And do you want more?” Mrs. Ramsey yelled.

No. I’m out of here.”

Mrs. Ramsey gave her best and her best wasn’t good enough.

Hey Buddy, how about ping pong?”

To him it’s a game. Alan thinks it’s a game,” said Mrs. Ramsey.

Stop!” George shouted. And that was it.

It was a little after eight o’clock when Molly burst in again filled with gossip. Some of this gossip was far afield. She quickly covered far afield stuff … about Michael mostly.

She talked about Nurse Lumbert and related it to Michael. “It’s wonderful how much care he’s receiving! It’s wonderful how much care he’s getting from Nurse Lumbert. Thanks to you George. I’ve admired your generosity,” said Molly.

But by far the juiciest piece of gossip was about Higgs and her mother. It hadn’t been pretty. Higgs escaped to Phoenix.

Later the old man said, “She’s poison, George, poison. A very vindictive woman. She’s always been vindictive. And her ammunition … always guilt. It’s gotten worse over the years.” And then Higgs added, “Yep, I think Maria has the goods on me, but she’s too afraid to use them.”

The following evening Maria Martinez confronted George. By then she’d already crossed point of no return and felt quite embarrassed. George saw how nervous she was.

Now before you say anything,” she began, “don’t think I’m in a forgiving mood.” George waited for her to calm down. “Were you to blame or not?”

I’ve certainly heaped enough blame on myself,” interrupted George.

You admit it? Good, you admit it.”

I’ve always accepted blame. I’m to blame. Whatever it is I’m to blame. I accept it. Blame me!”

I haven’t slept either.”

They found themselves sitting facing each other.

Please not a word about gangs. I don’t want to hear anything else about gangs.”

Okay,” replied George.

Have you had contact with Anna?”

Yes.”

How is she? And last winter did you write Angela?”

Y-y-yes.”

And not me?”

Yes.”

Why? I missed you George. Why them and not me? I missed you George. I think I know why, but I need you to tell me why.”

Is there something wrong?”

No, everything’s perfect. He proposes, she accepts, and then it’s all off. First Molly loves Reuben …”

Molly!”

And then there’s the problem of him being Mr. O’Toole’s son. But what she means is that it has more to do with Mr. O’Toole’s relationship with her big sister than anything else. Figure it. And before we know it Reuben is mauling Molly, and then it’s Angela and then Molly again, then nothing could keep him out of one of their rooms. Crying and carrying on. Crying and carrying on. I’ve never seen such carrying on. Can you figure? So if you were to make your intentions clear and let Angela know how much you love her, maybe, just maybe we could clear everything up. Angela loves you George. You’re who she loves … who she really loves.”

George closed his eyes for a moment.

Mrs. Martinez, you mean you want me to….”

Yes.”

I see. And what if I don’t love Angela? What if I love Molly? What if I love someone else?”

You don’t love Molly. If you don’t love Angela why did you write her telling her that you do … you do love her when you don’t? You’ll break Angela’s heart George.

That’s a good question. Why did I?” Then George recited his letter to Angela from memory.

So what are your intentions?” demanded Mrs. Martinez.

George didn’t tell her, or perhaps he didn’t know himself. Finally he said, “Torn.”

Torn? No, no, not torn. You can’t be torn. Tell me that you’re at least interested. Help me out George. Tell me you are at least interested in Angela.”

All I can say is that I find myself caught.”

From children I’ve watched my girls mature into beautiful women, change into womanhood, and it seems to me that they haven’t learned anything. ‘Come, come, Mrs. Martinez, don’t get shook. Be cool.’ All winter I went to my mailbox looking for a letter from you George. Then you write to Angela. And you’re torn?”

Yes, torn. You know I’ve seen Anna.”

Yes, Anna called me. It wouldn’t take much. A well placed word. A small gift.”

Stop!”

You’re no better than Reuben. I shudder to think of a future if either one of you marries one of my daughters. And as for Anna? Anna is nothing but a flirt. She’d make you miserable.”

Silence.

And what is with our white knight?” Mrs. Martinez asked.

Charlie? I have no idea.”
“I’m suspicious of him too. So gods have been kind to me? I used to think that you were a prince, George, but now I’m not so sure.”

I can guarantee you that I was never a prince. Charlie is your white knight, your prince.”

Admit that you love Angela and that’s why you came back to Tucson.”

I give up. I don’t love Angela. Angela loves Reuben O’Toole.”

With you there’s nothing sacred. My girls have thrown themselves at you, and what do you do?”

I didn’t come back to marry Angela. I didn’t come back to get married. I don’t plan to get married.”

Then why did you come back? I went to the mailbox everyday. I waited everyday for mail to come.”

You’ve said that.”

Obviously you don’t care.”

Silence

George, everyone takes you for a fool. Watch out, they’re all trying to fleece you.”

Silence.

As she turned to go Mrs. Martinez offered him another invitation to come to her house.

Maybe … just maybe I’ll come over.” This was a response she was waiting for. This response gave her hope. This response made her life possible. His maybe gave her hope. She was searching for hope.

I think that might be a good idea. As I see it you have some apologizing to do.”

Understand why I’m cautious. For as long as I can remember, nothing has lasted long, no happiness has lasted for me. No relationship has lasted for me. Besides Angela responded to my note, finally she did.” George hesitated for a moment; then took a torn piece of a grocery bag from his pocket. On it was written: “George! I know that you’ve been in contact with my sister Anna. You’ve made your choice. So be it! Therefore if you intend to visit us you’re not welcomed. Angela Martinez.”Maria Martinez hesitated only a moment before grabbing George’s arm and say, “You’re coming with me.”

No!”

Yes!”

But….”

You’re such a fool. No, I was a fool.”

Yellow tape secured a crime scene. A chalk outline of a corpse survived a monsoon rain. What really happened here? Was there really more violence then than there used to be? All over what? Another kid. More and more crosses lined South 6th Ave. “Another kid,” while current mayor worked on a deal, while current mayor worked on a truce.

What loving mother wasn’t scared to death? Afraid for her son or daughter? Didn’t know who was involved in shootings. Could’ve been … maybe not. Sounded like him. Could be. No. A lot to worry about… Because of Alan … because of Joe … Mike … Jesus … Jesus and Jesus … Armando, Diana, or Salvador. Mrs. Ramsey faced this fear every time she picked up a newspaper.

Mrs. Martinez was also frightened, but she was afraid for other reasons. Afraid of losing her daughters, she kept meddling and interfering. Mention something to her and she got in the middle of it. Suffice it to say that she often made a mess of things. Suffice to say that she thought she failed. Within past year, and particularly lately, her worries more and more came to fruition. Anna pregnant and giving her baby away, Molly in love and with Angela unable to keep her hands off Reuben And with Reuben being Mr. O’Toole’s son. Agony: they all learned something.

Angela got her hair butchered. “If only I had her hair!” Mrs. Martinez replied. By time Angela came back from the beauty shop it was too late. And Molly copied her and chopped her hair off too.

What Molly gave as a reason for postponing her wedding couldn’t have been real reason. Mrs. Martinez knew how easily Molly was influenced and suspected Angela had something to do with it. She suspected Angela exploited one of Molly’s weaknesses. Angela knew Molly’s weaknesses. She knew Molly better than anyone else did. But Mrs. Martinez thought that she could salvage an impossible situation, if only she could convince George to give Angela attention she craved. George was key. And all Mrs. Martinez had to do was work her magic on George. In any event Mrs. Martinez saw nothing reprehensible about her interference.

 

 

Chapter Forty-three
Mrs, Martinez needn’t have worried. She had everything under control, so she needn’t have worried. She had everything under control. In spite of herself, she had everything under control and wouldn’t let go. And before she knew it Mrs. Martinez had two weddings to plan. And she planned each wedding down to the last detail. So within a short period of time Angela and Molly seemed to exist on parallel planes, as both women emerged with same plans. They were going to get married on same day, at same time, and in same church. And they would’ve married same man, if it were possible. They would’ve married George if it were possible. So the whole world saw competition between the two. Astounding! Astonishing! Some felt storks were already on the way. Mrs. Martinez couldn’t have been happier.

Question then was did Molly envy Angela sitting there with George? Pshaw! Reuben was handsome enough. Reuben was worthy, a dead ringer of his father, filled with vim and vigor. Reuben was a great catch. Then as wedding day approached, air within the Martinez’s boarding house was electrified. For time being, madness. For time being, excitement. Suddenly there wasn’t enough time. Worth watching. Copulation soon enough. But while Angela celebrated, she also felt sad. Molly tried not to show her feelings. Sad Breathe deeply. Sad. Breath seemed in short supply.

Even in circles where ridicule was expected people talked about the upcoming event with excitement. A man for Molly, a good match. She’ll be able to dominate him. A man for Angela with excellent credentials, a man of means, a prince, who on top of everything appealed to the bride-to-Be’s vanity. But Maria Martinez had learned to be cautious. She had reason to be cautious.

For one thing there was no way that George could ever live up to Angela’s expectations. Angela’s expectations were high, so there was no way he could live up to them. She was looking for a prince. He wasn’t a prince, so he knew he would disappoint her. George was no prince. But Angela never mentioned any reservations, if she had any. If anyone had any reservations, no one mentioned them.

As for George, leave the guy alone. Complaining about his socks not matching served no purpose. Bitching and complaining. No. George soon embarrassed Angela. Her expectations were high, so he easily embarrassed her. Embarrassed by him, really embarrassed by how he presented himself, Angela then began mistreating him. And she compared him to Charlie. Whenever she brought Charlie into their conversations, horror! Why would she compare George to Charlie? And all of a sudden George couldn’t do anything right.

As for the eldest, Anna was still ostracized by her family. And it was not entirely her family’s fault. It was more like Anna ostracized herself. So she felt herself despised. Dirty. Shitty. Rescue the fallen woman. The fallen woman needed rescued. How frequently did George visit her? Did he think he could rescue her?

Then a miracle occurred. But who approached whom first? Who apologized? All anyone knew was that one day out of the blue Anna appeared and after that was frequently seen in her mother’s home. Mrs. Martinez and Anna seemed to have salvaged their relationship. Frequently the two women could be heard talking about upcoming weddings.

Mrs. Martinez then faced an unsolvable problem. She then had to match Anna with someone too. Where was Mr. O’Toole? No, Mrs. Martinez wouldn’t suggest that Anna and Mr. O’Toole get back together. Still she faced an unsolvable problem. And Mrs. Martinez’s ego wouldn’t allow her to let it go … wouldn’t allow her to mind her own business. And she played on everyone’s sympathy. She complained of enormous pain, pain that she chose for herself, as she tried out suffering … suffering of every shape and size.

Mrs. Martinez maintained that somehow possessing a wedding ring would salvage Anna. She had it all worked out, except she faced an unsolvable problem. She had it worked out and her work cut out for her. She knew she had her work cut out for her, as she set out to find someone for Anna. Inspired by soaps she held out hope for her eldest, as she compiled a list of possible husbands. Danny, Brian, Joe, and even Mr. O’Toole…who e