Friday, June 19, 2009

BALLENTINE

Remember when I said that women get you killed? I don’t take my own advice. But I’m writing this, so you know I’m not dead. And it was worth the risk.

For a second I got a cold chill under the fancy dress shirt. What if I picked a day she wasn’t working? Finally in Los Angeles, Trey got lucky.

Tokyo was looking fine. Snappy blazer and some ass pants that showed off a sweet peach. Her hair was glossy and pulled back and she still had that wise-ass look.

She’s the only one that treated me with any kind of nice in this town. Couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. I slicked myself up with the fancy pants and shirt with buttons and hoped she wouldn’t remember I wore them the last time we talked. If she knew the clothes were the same, she didn’t seem to care.

I strolled into the clothing store like I had all kinds of business to be in the rich part of Santa Monica. Soon, it won’t be an act. We had the place to ourselves and I leaned against the counter as she organized a rack of bracelets. I thanked her for the recommendation on the restaurant, the beer and burger place.

“Glad you liked it.”

“But it was missing something.” I pocketed the business card for the store.

“What’s that?” and she didn’t even look up from the bracelets. I liked that. We were talking like we knew each other. Friends, even, who trusted each other enough not to watch every move.

“You.”

That got her to look at me. Dead in the eye. We stood that way for two minutes, a couple of years. It meant something. It really did. That look was enough for me. The best thing I’ve found in this town.

She didn’t talk, so I took over. “Someday. Soon, I’m going to call this store and I’m going to ask for you. What’s your name?”

She told me, but for her safety, I’ll keep calling her Tokyo. I kept going, “When we talk on the phone, I’ll tell you where I am. Might be far. Out of state. But when you find the time, you’ll come out to visit. And we’ll have a good old time, build it up and tear it down. Because you and me have a lot to talk about and a lot of things to live together.”

It got to her. She didn’t look away or smirk or make an excuse. Like I said, the eyes meant something. She’s game, I can tell. All kinds of questions chattered in her head. I watched her pick one. “What’s your name?”

I told her the truth. “I don’t know yet. But I’ll know by the time I call you.”

Have you ever been that slick? I don’t think so. And then you have to make an exit. Her hand was frozen on the counter and I put mine on top of it. “Don’t forget me.”

And then I was gone. She’ll be hearing from me. I hope she does. The only way I won’t call is if I’m dead. Could happen soon.

My last will and testament: I’m not leaving any of my stuff to anyone. Don’t have anything anyway. Let the dagger rust. The thumb drive isn’t mine. There’s a copy of it on Gabriel Chacon’s laptop computer. Who cares about clothes and shoes.

It would be nice if someone buried me. Back in Ballentine. Home. Where the trouble started. If this is my last chance, I have to tell you what happened.

It’s simple.

Lying in the mud, just outside of Ballentine, Washington, are two bodies. One of them has three 9mm holes in him. He is lying on his back. The rain was hitting his face when I left.

The other body has one .38 special slug in him. He’s twisted, face down, with his arm bent around his back. Never forget the way he looks.

My dad and I were in the trailer, trying to talk and watch TV and drink beers with the pounding of the rain on the roof drowning everything out. Everything except the sound of the Plymouth Valiant.

The rain never bothered my dad and he went out toward the car without a slicker. I stood in the doorway to the trailer and waited. The Valiant stopped in the clearing near the trailer and left its lights on. The rain looked like small, falling fish in the headlights.

Sig got out with two other guys. The Eagle and Rass, Sig’s brother. Sig and his crew are the North River Gang. They handle things in their part of town and we don’t deal with them. Ballentine’s perfectly divided by the river. Plenty of territory for everyone. But Sig doesn’t think so. He wanted it all. My dad and I were selling good weed to the South River Family for years and everything was cool. Until Sig decided he would squeeze out the South River and take the whole town. He wanted our weed and our guarantee we wouldn’t sell to the South River.

I told you before how hard my dad was. Never backed down from a fight and Sig was nothing to him. He stood his ground for months, despite Sig’s threats. It came down to that night.

My dad walked right across the muddy lot. Like crawling into a VC tunnel. No fear. “What the fuck, Sig?”

The last thing I ever heard him say.

Three shots from Sig’s gun were louder than the rain. My dad staggered backwards and tried to stay on his feet. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He made a fist like he was going to deck Sig, then he fell backwards into the mud. The smoke from the Glock hung in the rain.

I killed the lights in the trailer and went to where I knew my dad kept his gun. Sig and Rass were coming closer to the trailer and Sig was yelling, “Don’t do anything stupid, Trey. Your dad didn’t know business. But you can play this right.”

The problem with a trailer is there’s only one door. Didn’t have time to bust out a window. I came out the door and Rass was no more than ten yards away. He didn’t have a gun. He put his hands in front of him, like he wanted to stop me so we could talk. I fired the revolver and put one round in his chest. It knocked him into the air and backwards. He did a flip and twisted himself up, stopping face down in the mud.

Sig screeched something, don’t know what he said. Then the bullets started flying at me. But it was dark on this side of the trailer, away from the Valiant’s headlights. I shot back, emptied the revolver, so they’d think twice about chasing, and ran into the forest and rain and night.

I ran and left my dad there, dead. Getting rained on. I’d like to bury him. I’d like someone to bury me if I don’t make it. Maybe we could be side by side.

The rain didn’t stop and I kept running. Daylight didn’t mean anything and barely dented the steel grey sky. Not a lot of people to trust. No cops. Not for a second generation weed grower. I killed Sig’s brother. He’s got a bigger gang than me. Anyone who wasn’t in his gang would want to be on his side of a fight. Outgunned and outnumbered. No bullets left. I ditched the revolver, making sure there were no prints.

My dad had carried that .38 into the tunnels of Nam. He said the .45 was too loud. You’d go deaf down there if you shot it and then you’d be dead. Usually couldn’t see anything anyway, so you had to rely on hearing and smell and everything else. So that .38 had kept him alive. Except this time. I was too slow. Should’ve had it in my hand when I heard the Valiant. This all could’ve ended differently.

The only people I could trust were old Nam buddies of my dad. Some head-cases that call themselves the Rail Riders. They ride freight trains all over the West Coast, running drugs or guns or looking for excuses to get into fights. Never rolled with them before, but I’d put back some beers with them and knew where to find a couple that day. They hooked me up with the basics of hopping freights, gave me the routes to get to Los Angeles.

I thought it would be new down here. I could start over. But when trouble wants you, it’s going to find you. And I asked for it, too, when I picked up that black bag. But I didn’t ask for Sig down here. Gotta think one of the Rail Riders told him what my plan was. That’s a fucked up double cross. Add it to the list.

Because nothing’s easy, right? Anything you want, you have to take. Snatch it out of the teeth of the shark before he bites your arm off and you bleed to death.

Now you know.

If I die making this deal go down, if it all blows up and makes the news and someone asks about me, tell them the truth. Trey didn’t shoot first. They killed my dad. I shot back.