MURDER IS LIKE A POODLE


Fiction by Jan Marica





Murder is like a Poodle. In some people's lives, it is a furry little lap-dog that follows them around where-ever they go. It's as much a part of their world as the fuzzy slippers they put on in the morning when they get up and go into the bathroom to brush their teeth. It's just a part of things.

Paco had one of those little Poodles in his life. One time, he was sitting around with some of his boys in a dive he owned down in East L.A., when some an arrogant drunk none of them had ever seen before stumbled into the place and started acting obnoxious. The guy was already half drunk, and he should never have been in that kind of place talking to strangers the way he did. He said something rude to Paco. Paco gave him one chance: he told the guy to shut up and get out, but the guy told him to fuck off.

That was all it took. The guy was dead right at that moment, he just didn't know it. Paco walked into the back-room without saying another word and came back out with a pistol in his hand, with which he put three little lead messengers into the guy's brain. The message that they carried was death, and the guy fell down, and somebody dragged his body away and got rid of it. Paco sat down and had another drink.

I used to make a lot of money selling dope that Paco's boys brought into the country. When it came to business, Paco never touched anything himself, he always had Shorty handle the details - the thing with the guy in the bar was personal, not business. Shorty was Paco's main man, bodyguard, chauffeur, etc. He was a sweet little guy in a lot of ways, just so long as you didn't fuck with him.

I never realized just how dangerous hanging around people like Paco and Shorty could be; not until after Jimmy got shot. And when that happened, it wasn't even directly related to Paco, it just seemed like that was the kind of thing that happened when he was around. It was that little Poodle, always lurking in the background.

What happened was that Paco came up to the Redwoods to do some business with Queenie, maybe buy some land or something. Queenie owned the land right next to me and he was my original connection to Paco's scene. Queenie met Paco when they were both in the joint. Queenie was doing time on a murder rap and Paco was in there for something else. When they got out, Paco offered to set Queenie up in the importing business, and Queenie came to me.

The time that I'm talking about, they threw a big party, and everyone for twenty miles around came to boogie. There was lots of good dope, whiskey and food. Queenie liked to play the big shot - his whole style revolved around that kind of role. And it amused Paco to watch all the hippies do their thing.

I had been down in the city when the party started, but I arrived the next morning, determined to do my share of damage. I was promptly held up by a couple of Paco's boys, who stopped me at gunpoint, until they somebody recognized me. Guests were being carefully screened - although eventually everyone in the neighborhood showed up. After we got everything straightened out, I went inside, said "Hi" to Paco and Queenie and joined the fun.

That evening, nobody was too serious about anything, we all just kind of kicked back and took things as they came. Paco and the boys were into coke, and there was plenty around. Even Suzy, Queenie's little monkey was getting into it. She grabbed a plateful right out of Shorty's hand, and must have spilled at least a half ounce on the floor. Shorty thought that was hilarious - those guys loved that fucked-up little creature of Queenie's - and he just broke out another bag full. It was cool with me as long as Suzy kept out of my plate; Paco was paying for it.

He was paying for everything. He had brought sixteen guys with him - they must have closed up half the auto-body and upholstery shops in East L.A. - and their supply list included boxes of Crown Royal, steaks, camping gear, all kinds of toys like bows and arrows, and three brand new Jeeps to haul it all in. But that was his style; if you needed something, you went out and bought it. It looked real cool to me, I never stopped to think that he had broken arms and legs to get some of the money he used to buy all this shit.

In the middle of the night Shorty and some of the boys decided they wanted to go hunting. So we went out looking for something to kill. We went up to a little meadow I knew of and sure enough there were three does, munching on the long green summer grass. They froze in the light of the hand-held spot-light we had brought with us, and we blew two of them away, before the third took off full-bore through the bushes, followed by a hail of bullets. More meat for the barbecue.

The next morning started slow. We finally got rolling about noon, and Paco, Queenie, Shorty and I got into one of the Jeeps and went to look at land and stuff. We stopped in Thorn Junction, a tiny town that consisted of a Post Office and a small store, and a most unusual thing happened; we saw a cop.

Now, you have to understand that we more or less owned this neck-of-the-woods. The cops were very hesitant to come up there at all. It was over thirty miles to the nearest real town, and because of the hilly country, their radios didn't work. Naturally they felt very isolated, and didn't venture out there too often. A couple of confrontations between armed citizens and certain members of the Sheriff's Department that had taken place a year or two earlier, did nothing to increase their enthusiasm.

Shorty and I and were sitting in the Jeep, and Queenie and Paco were in the Post Office - probably looking at the pictures of old buddies up on the wall - when the cop drove into town. He pulled up across the street and got out of his car and walked into the store. Shorty very casually reached into the pocket of his windbreaker, and pulled out a snub-nose thirty- eight. I was blown away. For all our wildness, and King-of-the- Mountain behavior, we didn't just pull guns out as soon as we saw a cop. Especially not in town. I mean, it was public property, they had a right to be there too.

But see, that was not how Shorty, and Paco and those guys looked at it. A uniform was the enemy, and if he bugged you, you shot him. Pure and simple, that's how it was.

I talked Shorty into putting the gun back in his pocket, and a few minutes later the cop came out of the store with a soda and a package of Twinkies in his hand and got in his car and drove away. It was over, for the moment, but it started me thinking. It had been a long while since I had been around these guys, and I had forgotten what the whole thing was about. I was getting fat and comfortable, and there wasn't much violence around my scene. Paco and Shorty were for real, they had both killed people with the guns they carried. I had never even pointed one at anybody.

We went on about our errands; looked at some parcels of land, smoked lots of good Humboldt Skunk Weed, snorted as much pure flake as we could get up our noses, and went back up to Queenie's place on top of the hill. The day was not the same for me though. The incident in town had left me feeling slightly uncomfortable.

By late afternoon, the party was in full swing again, and quite a few people had managed to make their way up the hill to Queenie's. Paco's boys were more or less letting anyone come up the road now, I guess Queenie had told them it was cool. I was inside talking to Paco and Queenie, running down some scams I had in mind, hoping to make some money without having to risk my neck, when I heard a commotion outside. Loud voices, and then a woman crying.

We went to check it out; it was Possum, Jimmy's woman. She was eight and a half months pregnant and in tears. We tried to calm her down, and she sobbed out her story: " It's Mad Jack," she told us, " He's down there with a gun, and he says he's gonna shoot Jimmy and me for trespassing!"

This little problem between Jimmy, Possum, and Mad Jack had been stewing for a while. Mad Jack had recently moved to the area and nobody liked him. He was an alcoholic, and anti-social as hell. He had purchased a small six acre parcel, and part of it straddled the path that Jimmy and Possum had always used to get from the tiny little logging shack they were squatting in, to the road. There was another way around, but it was a real steep path, and hard for Possum now that she was getting so big. For some reason, Mad Jack would not be reasonable about the whole thing and had warned them off numerous times, threatening all kinds of wild things. He was mean and could cause plenty of trouble, but no-one really thought he would carry through on any of his threats.

Possum had found a receptive audience in Paco and his boys. This was right up their alley, Motherhood being one of the few things they did respect. It was a chance to flex their Macho. So, Paco and Queenie, being - as I said - delegators, sent me and Shorty, and a few of the other guys hanging around, down to deal with the situation. Dealing with the situation, of course, involved being well armed, so Shorty loaned me a pistol and an M-1 carbine with a couple of thirty round clips. It was a nice gun, and on the way down the hill, as I admired it, Shorty told me it's history. All about the two Federales he shot with it down in Sinaloa, and some other stories which I don't remember. Just like deer hunting stories.

When we got down to the area where Jimmy's path came up to the road, there was Jimmy standing by the edge of the trees, and no-one else was around. We all piled out of the Jeep we were in, and Jimmy was surprised as hell to see all the guns. He was a big guy, but very peaceful; guns were not his thing at all, he didn't even hunt.

" So what it is, my man? Your lady is all uptight, says Mad jack is gonna blow you away." I told him we were there for him if he needed help. " Just let us know, if we can help out man...I mean, we can slow this dude right down for you...ya know what I mean?" I liked to talk like that then.

" Hey, It's not like that. Mad Jack is just all pissed off cause his chickens got munched by a racoon last night. So he came down here and started yelling at me. I tried to talk to him, but I couldn't get a word in edgewise...You know how he can get...'sides I think he's been hitting the jug already this morning."

He told us he thought that Jack had gone to town for more wine, and he was going to hang out there till Jack got back, then try to talk to him again.

" Hey, well if you need us, we're right up the hill...you should get your ass up there, 'cause you're missing one hell of a party, man. Come on up as soon as you get things settled. Okay?"

Shorty and the other guys were ready to head back up the hill. They were getting restless, since the possibility of action was rapidly fading, so we piled back into the car and returned to the party. Now, Queenie's is, as the crow flies - and they do around there - just up the hill from where we were talking to Jimmy, and sometimes when the wind is blowing right, you can hear noises from the road down below. It also happened that Mad Jack had an old International truck that sounded very distinctive, so a couple hours later when I happened to hear his truck down below, I recognized the sound.

" He's back," I thought. Then in one of those rare moments that sometimes happen at parties, everything was silent and I clearly heard the sound of the truck pulling to a stop, the engine switching off, and some voices; all carried on the wind right up that hill to my ears. I heard another noise too, which I did not recognize - although something inside of me must have known what it was - a sort of a loud popping sound, like a balloon bursting in the distance. Then the sounds of the party resumed, and I forgot all about noises from down the hill.

I forgot all about it until another hour had passed and someone came up from my place - half way down the hill - to tell us that Possum was in labor, and we all suddenly began to wonder where the hell Jimmy was. That's when I realized what that funny noise had been. And that's when I started to get worried, because I realized why Jimmy wasn't at the party yet; realized that he'd never be at another party again.

I told Queenie and Paco what I had heard, and once again, Shorty and I and the boys went off down the hill in the Jeep. This time, we couldn't find Jimmy, or Mad Jack or anybody. So back to the party we went, only now the festive atmosphere was gone. It turned into a very long night, during which I got as drunk as I could.

Possum had her baby about midnight. Jimmy's sister and my old lady, and several of the other local ladies hung out and helped with the birth - which went very smoothly, considering it took place by kerosene lamp light - and the rest of us continued to sit around at Queenie's. The feeling was very different now. A certain tension filled the air. Paco's boys continued on as usual, but the rest of us couldn't manage to summon up the enthusiasm we had displayed earlier.

Some people thought I was being overly pessimistic. They thought Mad Jack, for all his meanness, didn't have it in him to kill anyone; that I had heard something else. There were a lot of theories, but all we could do was wait until morning to find out.

In the morning, it was almost nine o'clock by the time we had all dragged ourselves out of bed, assembled and talked things over. No new facts had come to light about Jimmy's whereabouts, but rumors were flying. One of the rumors was that Mad Jack's wife and kids had also vanished. We weren't sure what to make of that, but we figured we had better go check things out again.

Paco and his boys were packing up and getting ready to take off. He must have concluded his business with Queenie and he had no wish to be around if the cops got called in. A possibility that began to seem more and more like a necessity. Shorty offered to go with us one more time to look for Mad Jack and see if we could get anything out of him.

This time Queenie went with us too, and so did Pete. Pete was another of Queenie's jail pals. He had at one time been a cell mate of Charlie Manson's. He had a weird outlook on things, telling me once, with great glee, how he liked to see the look in people's eyes when he held them up at gun point.

" There's nothing like it, man. You've got the power. I love to look into their eyes while I'm holding that gun up to their head. All it takes is a little squeeze of your finger and they're gone, man...they know it too, it's beautiful..."

Pete's idea was to grab Mad Jack, take him out into the woods, tie him to a tree, and do things to him that would make him tell us where Jimmy's body was. By now we all assumed that Jimmy must be dead. Pete was quite willing, even anxious, to be the one to do whatever needed doing, to get Jack to talk. I guess maybe he wanted to see the look in Jack's eyes, while he asked him questions.

Once again, I had a piece in my pocket, and although I was pissed off at Jack, I felt pretty uncertain about the idea of using it. I tried not to show my doubts, though, in a tough- talking crowd like this, I didn't want to seem like some kind of pussy.

We got down to the road in front of Jack's place and yelled up the hill for him. Soon, we heard a voice calling back down to us. "Who is it? What do you want?" After a certain amount of yelling back and forth it became clear that he had no intention of coming down, he was obviously uncertain about our intentions. Hell, so was I.

We sent Allen up to talk to him. Allen was sort of Jimmy's brother-in-law; Allen's old lady was Jimmy's sister. Nobody actually got married in those days. We elected him, because he was the coolest head among us, and well liked by everyone, including Mad Jack. He was probably the only person who could walk up there and not seem threatening to Jack. It was clear by now that Jack was very nervous about something.

Finally, we heard movement in the woods, and Jack and Allen appeared through the trees. Jack stopped just past the tree line, and the rest of us stood on the road a little ways below, spread out in a semi-circle. Everybody but Jack and Allen had a gun, although I kept mine in my pocket. Pete was back behind a car with a shotgun, and I was just as nervous about him as I was about Jack.

" Where's Jimmy..." We demanded.

" I don't know! Why ask me? I haven't seen him since yesterday. I talked to him on the road and then I went into town. After I got back, I never saw him again." The words came out in a rush, as if this was a little speech he had been waiting to make, and he was glad his audience had finally appeared.

" Hey man," I told him, " I heard your truck pull up here on the road after you got back from town. And I heard you talking to him. You know how sound travels around here. I was right up the hill by my house, working outside, and I could hear your voice and his." I lied a little to make the case against him seem more convincing.

He looked at me and there was something frightening about the look in his eyes. " I don't know what you're talking about. I came straight home from town and I've been here ever since. I fell asleep yesterday afternoon. I don't know where the fuck he is, and I don't care."

I'll say one thing for him, he stuck to his story. No matter how we argued he wouldn't budge an inch. He was so convincing, that in spite of what I had heard, even I began to have doubts.

Then we mentioned his wife and kids, and he suddenly looked worried. He didn't know where they were, he told us, he hadn't seen his wife since yesterday. She was supposed to be staying in town with her girlfriend - he didn't say why - and the kids should be at school. The upshot was that we decided to go into town and look for his wife and kids. We actually believed by now, that he was just as confused as we were.

We let him go get his car. Allen went with him, as a sort of escort, and the rest of us followed in one of the Jeeps. When we got to the school yard, we could see his wife's car parked by the school - she helped out there sometimes - but he didn't stop, he just kept driving past, right on into town.

When we got there, right behind him, he pulled up in front of the store and jumped into the phone booth. We parked across the street, in front of the Post Office again, and Allen got out of Jack's car and walked over to us.

" I think he did it," Allen said. " I think the fucker did it. He didn't say anything about it, but just the way he acted in the car, makes me think he knows what happened to Jimmy. But I don't know what we can do, he's over there calling a lawyer."

Queenie turned to me and said " Go get him and bring him over here. We've got to get him out of town. We can't do anything here."

So, I got out of the car and walked over to the phone booth with my hand in my jacket pocket, on the butt of the little snub-nosed thirty-eight Shorty had given me. I had fired guns like this plenty of times and I knew just what they could do. I knew just what a similar gun must have done to Jimmy. As I walked across the street it was like being in a different world. Everything got real quiet, all the noise and commotion around me seemed to just fade away, until it felt like I was walking through a sort of a haze that blocked out everything except me and the phone booth and Mad Jack. He turned around to look at me. The gun in my hand felt huge; very heavy, very solid.

I put my face right up next to the glass. " Come on out of there," I whispered. I looked at him, my face only inches from his. He wouldn't look me in the eye, he just shook his head. I knew he had heard me. I knew my words were as clear as the noise of his truck had been to me the day before, as clear as the sound of that gunshot. I said it again, " Come out of there, Jack." And I showed him the gun.

He wouldn't look at it. But I knew that he could see it, I knew it must look as big to him as it felt in my hand. I told him once again: " Jack, get out of the phone booth. You're coming with us. We want to talk to you some more." I couldn't hear the sound of my voice, but I knew the words were reaching him, I knew I sounded calm, and clear. He just shook his head again and wouldn't look at me. He was sweating inside the booth, and I couldn't tell whether or not he was talking to anybody. It was more like he was just waiting there with the phone in his hand to see what was going to happen. Like the phone was something to hang onto; a life preserver in the grip of a drowning man.

I suddenly felt as though I was standing on the edge of a cliff. I was looking over the edge, and it was a long way down. I felt a shiver go through me as the winds from down below blew up and gently ruffled my hair. I looked down one more time, then I turned my back and walked away.

I went back to the car and opened the door and got in. I shook my head. " He wouldn't come." I said. " There's too many people around. I can't get him to come out of the phone booth...besides, he's talking to his lawyer or somebody. Let's get the fuck out of here."

They could all relate to that. Nobody was too keen on the idea of witnesses, especially Queenie and Pete, who could both end up doing some (more) serious time if they ever got caught with a gun or anything like that. Since no one else was inclined to go and try to get Jack out of his phone booth, we turned around and drove out of town.

We went back out to Jack's place and poked around to see if we could figure anything out. There were ashes in the fireplace and it looked like he had been burning something when we got there, but it was impossible to tell what. We found a .22 rifle that seemed as though it had been fired recently - at least there was no dust on it, and it did smell a little of cordite. But everyone up there was shooting guns off all the time, so there was nothing unusual in that, and of course we all handled it, so if there was any forensic evidence to be gleaned from that gun, we destroyed it.

I went back down to the city, and Paco and his boys went back to East L.A. A few days later, a hiker found Jimmy's body in a shallow grave just a few miles away. The police were finally called in and their investigation turned up nothing that we didn't already know. Nobody mentioned anything about our confrontation with Jack, that was glossed over. And Jack of course was no-where to be found.

Almost six months later he turned himself in on his lawyer's advice, and when the case came to trial he surprised everyone by tearfully admitting the whole thing in court, and pleading self-defense. The prosecuting attorney was caught flatfooted; he had spent all his time trying to build a case that would prove Jack had done it.

Jack's lawyer knew what he was doing. He came up with a tale involving organized criminals, that sounded like something right out of a T.V. show, but had enough elements of the truth in it to be hard to dis-prove. Jack told the jury that we were all a bunch of gangsters up there, and had threatened his life. He feared for the safety of his wife and kids.

Jimmy he told them, was just another thug in the organization, and when the confrontation between them came down on the road that day, he thought he saw Jimmy reach for a gun. In panic, he pulled his own pistol, and shot him. Then consumed by remorse and fear, he tried to bury the body. He knew it was wrong, but he was just trying to save his own life. I guess we handed him that story on a plate. He had a very sharp lawyer, who made it seem all too real to the jury, and the prosecuting attorney was miles behind. Jack - now clean shaven, and very straight looking - was acquitted within hours.

Some time later Paco and Shorty came up, and Shorty, who had taken a liking to Possum, stopped off and gave her a bunch of bread. I don't know how much it was, but she was able to buy a small house in town, and ended up with a pretty nice little scene for herself. I gave Shorty back his guns, although he offered to let me keep them.

" No thanks," I told him. " I really don't need them. I probably would never use them. They'd just sit around."

Shorty certainly used them. Someone used one on him too; I heard a year or two later that he got shot down in Mexico when somebody tried to rip off one of Paco's loads. Maybe the brother of one of those Federales that he blew away with that carbine. That's how those things go.


THE END







© Jan Marica 1992,1995