- The Last King of Texas
I remember standing paralyzed by the edge of the porch, then feeling a sickening momentum build up in my gut. I ran toward Ozzie, collapsing into a forward roll as another shot was fired, landing by Gerson, grabbing his bloody uniform shirt, beginning to pull. Kelsey shouted curses at me but then he was there too, helping. Together we lugged Ozzie around the corner of the building. Ozzie made wet sounds of pain.
The uniform next to me was yelling a code 10-11 into his field unit. The uniform at the mobile home was screaming at the bald guy to get on the floor. I looked over in time to see the officer's nightstick flash. Two strikes to the knees and Baldie crumpled awkwardly on the steps. At the count of three, his hands were cuffed in the small of his back.
No more shots came from inside the cinder-block house.
Ozzie Gerson was propped up against the wall, alternately cursing and screaming. There were so many voices I almost didn't hear the other noises coming from around the back of the building.
A door slammed. There was a muffled thud, some rustling. Then a very loud: "Hey!"
It was DeLeon's voice. A single shot ricocheted off brick, followed by more scuffling noises.
I locked eyes with Kelsey and just for an instant I saw what the bastard was thinking, what options he was weighing. Only one of those options was running to DeLeon's assistance. Then he was up and moving but I was already ahead of him, ripping through the brush and stickers.
When we got to the back of the house it was already over.
A second Latino man was kneeling with his chest and the side of his face slammed into the back wall of the house. He wore only jeans and huarache sandals. He was an enormous man, dark-skinned and hairy as a timber wolf. It was hard to tell much else about his looks because they were mostly ruined by the pistol-whipping he'd received. Nearby in the dirt lay car keys and a gun — a long-barreled .38.
Detective DeLeon didn't look much better than her apprehendee. Her skirt was torn and her panty hose reduced to amber cobwebs. Her white blouse was ripped. Her blazer floated in the tall grass nearby like some kind of pointy scarecrow. She had shiny red cross-hatching on her cheek and a line of blood down the side of her mouth.
She also had her Glock 23 pressed decisively under Timber Wolf's ear and was in the process of cuffing him one-handed.
Kelsey looked at her, looked at me, then lowered his weapon. He shouted our status to the officer at the front of the house.
Three seconds later the young uniform came busting out the back door with his gun drawn. He took one look at DeLeon and the apprehendee I assumed was Zeta Sanchez and was so surprised he nearly backed up into the house.
DeLeon got up and wiped her bloody mouth with the back of her hand. She let the uniform take over with Zeta Sanchez, then stumbled toward Kelsey and muttered, "Thanks for the front door."
She stumbled again as she walked past us. Sirens were already wailing in the distance.
Kelsey watched her go. In a tone of grudging admiration he muttered, "I'll be damned."
I turned and punched him hard in the gut.
It was a tai chi upper cut, only slightly less forceful than a pile driver. By the time I regained the feeling in my hand, Kelsey was doubled over, contemplating the pool his lunch had made in the dirt.
Then I walked back around the corner of the house, figuring I should try to help stop the bleeding of another guy I didn't like much either.
That evening after the Eyewitness News I owed Andy Warhol a reimbursement check for two and a half minutes.
With a concerned face, KENS anchorman Chris Marrou told San Antonio all about my day — how a pipe bomb this morning had nearly killed a private investigator, a UTSA administrator, and an SAPD homicide investigator; how the incident had spurred police into swift action this afternoon, leading to a bloody standoff and finally the arrest of longtime fugitive Anthony "Zeta" Sanchez. Police would not officially comment on Sanchez's connection with this morning's bombing or the recent murder of UTSA's Professor Aaron Brandon, but unnamed sources confirmed that indictments on both counts were imminent. Rumors had surfaced about Sanchez's onetime employment by the Brandon family and Sanchez's possible role in the 1993 murder of Aaron's father, Jeremiah, none of which the SAPD would comment on.
"But the UTSA campus," Chris Marrou assured me, "is breathing a collective sigh of relief tonight."
Chris seemed mildly disappointed that he couldn't offer a more detailed explanation for Zeta Sanchez's actions, but what the heck. The footage was good. The news cameras kept zooming in on Hector Mara's bloody front porch, the bloody back wall of his house, the bullet holes in the door. Grade A local news. A mug shot of Anthony "Zeta" Sanchez looked a lot better than Zeta had in person — a handsome, sharply angular face, mustache and beard no thicker than marking pen around his jaw and mouth. He had the heavy-lidded eyes and deceptively calm expression of a well-fed carnivore.
Marrou told us that Deputy Oswald Gerson was in critical but stable condition at Brooke Army Medical Center, that Hector Mara of 11043 Green Road had been questioned and released by police, and that the D.A. was praising the efforts of the detectives involved in today's arrest. I turned off the news. I fixed myself a margarita, took it out to the back patio, and sank into my well-worn butterfly chair.
I sipped painkiller-on-the-rocks while the sun went down over Mrs. Geradino's garage. The webworm patches in her pecan tree glittered orange. Her sprinkler sliced across the yard. The Geradino babies — six Chihuahuas that resembled boiled and shucked armadillos — yapped mutely at me from the other side of their mother's glass patio doors. Your basic romantic sunset at 90 Queen Anne.
I thought about Jeremiah Brandon — the old turkey buzzard with his seedy connections to the carnival circuit and his appetite for underage women that had eventually gotten him killed. I kept envisioning his face from the 1967 photograph, stuck on a body with no chest — a broken pinata thrown into the corner of a West Side barroom, surrounded by stone-faced employees who hadn't seen a thing. I thought about Jeremiah's two sons, Del and Aaron, and what it might've been like growing up in a family that made amusement rides. A kid's dream. Maybe Aaron Brandon had fond memories. Maybe he'd taken his own five-year-old son Michael to Uncle Del's shop from time to time to try out the products.
Or maybe growing up around the carnival business had been an endless series of encounters with people like Zeta Sanchez, carny owners with the same hungry eyes as Jeremiah Brandon. Maybe that kind of childhood produced an adult who studied medieval gore and monster stories and Crusade massacres. Maybe Aaron Brandon kept his little boy the hell away from that shop.
I took a long hit on my margarita.
The sun had almost disappeared behind Mrs. Geradino's garage. I checked my watch. Two hours before I was supposed to pick up George Berton for our double date. Enough time to visit my worried mother, maybe make one other stop before that.
I began the almost impossible task of getting out of a butterfly chair with a margarita in one hand. I wasn't making much progress when the back door creaked open and a man's voice said, "Undignified, vato. Somebody was to shoot you like that, you'd spout like a wine sack."
I turned my head. "Your perception of the world is overly grim, Ralphas." Ralph Arguello grinned in my doorway, his knuckles rapping lightly on the frame as if some long-dormant instinct was reminding his body that it was polite to knock.
Ralph's chili-red face was completely clear of life's little worries — self-consciousness, doubt, morality. His eyes floated behind thick round glasses and his salt-and-pepper hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. He wore an extra-large white linen shirt and black jeans. Several gold rings set with onyx stones glittered on his punching hand. "Sounded like you had a rough day, vato. Came by to see if you made it through."
I pointed to my stitched-up cheek. "Most of me."
Ralph stepped onto the porch, took a joint from his shirt pocket, then held it up toward me with a question — maybe did I want some? or did I mind? He proceeded to light up without waiting for the answer. I didn't want some, and I did mind, but neither of those facts would've fazed Ralph.
He held in the first toke, looked up at the corrugated tin of the porch roof, and let smoke escape through his nostrils. "Just wanted to tell you — when you're ready to mess with these people who blew you up today, come find me."
"You don't buy that the police have it under control?"
Ralph laughed. "Yeah. Mi amigo Zeta Sanchez."
"You know Sanchez?"
Ralph stared at me. Stupid question. Ralph knew San Antonians the way Audubon knew birds. The kill-and-study ratio was probably the same. "Zeta is sangron," Ralph admitted. "He makes a threat, it's going to happen. But pipe bombs at professors? No, man."
"Why so sure?"
"Zeta wanted to kill you, he'd walk up and shoot you."
"Sounds like that's what he did, in the end."
Ralph shook his head dolefully. "You meet Sanchez's brother-in-law, Hector Mara?"
"Bald guy, lives in a trailer home, likes to scream at policemen."
"That's him. Hector and Sanchez — they used to be rivals back at the Courts. Patched things up when Sanchez married Hector's sister Sandra."
"So they were brothers-in-law. So?"
Ralph took a second toke, stared into the backyard. "So nothing. Just that Hector Mara's been doing okay for himself the last six years since Zeta left town. Bought himself a scrap-metal yard on the West Side. Found enough money to pay off the mortgage on his grandmother's old house — that place he inherited out on Green Road."
"All that money from a salvage yard?"
Ralph shrugged. "He does a little fencing, takes away some business from my pawnshops. But the way I heard it, that's not where most of Hector's money comes from. Once Zeta Sanchez left town, Hector was freed up to do business with some of Zeta's old rivals — one guy in particular, Chich Gutierrez. Chich and Zeta, man — they couldn't stand each other."
"What kind of business?"
"Another thing — I hear Hector's more than a little bit in debt to Chich right now. Like maybe in debt enough to owe some large favors."
"Mmm. Hector thought Sanchez was gone for good, might be kind of inconvenient if his old compadre showed up again, started asking about his new business connections. Especially if Sanchez had ideas about getting back into the chiva. Sanchez, man — he's a war hero. People admire his style. He could take over Chich Gutierrez's business without half trying."
"I'll look into that."
"Just do it careful. Tell George Berton when you see him tonight — tell him I said to be careful."
"How'd you know I was going to see George?"
"Uh-oh," I said. "Kelly?"
"No, man, I didn't hear it from her."
He was enjoying some excellent, private joke.
"What?" I demanded.
He took a long last pull on the marijuana, then flicked the joint to the ground, crushed it under his heel. He offered me a hand and pulled me effortlessly out of the butterfly chair. "Just remember to deal me in, vato, once you're ready."