america the damned - 001
chapter 1: america the sick
san francisco 2003
america felt sick inside. His stomach ached. His head throbbed.
Sweat was gathering in his palms and in his pits. Still, he shivered uncontrollably. Exhausted, his breath came in irregular spurts – like an asthmatic gasping desperately in the bonfires of hell.
He was terrified. Scared shitless. Having lost control somewhere along the way, he didn’t know what was happening to him anymore. Or for that matter, what could possibly cure his ails.
Most of all, he’d lost his will to go on. His zeal. His desire to ask just one more question.
Crumpled at his desk, he drank straight from the bottle.
When he reached the bottom – unaware – he sucked down his own turbid backwash. Swallowed it whole in one mighty gulp.
Spinning his chair in idle frustration, he fell backwards. In a feeble attempt to maintain his balance, he kicked his feet up on the desk – sending important documents asunder.
Normally, he was meticulous in the organization of his office, but he simply didn’t care anymore. Not about his work. Not about order. Not about his pathetic life. Not about any-fucking-thing.
He merely yearned to sleep. To slumber. Peacefully. A chance to dream was all that he desired as he shut his eyes tight.
The sound of a ringing phone echoing in the deserted office soon brought america back to the waking world.
He didn’t want to answer the call. So he let the machine do its duty.
A Texas drawl spewed forth from the speaker. Loudly, and in a slow-then-fast-then-slow-again rhythm – like a pair of nervous adolescents eagerly dryhumping in their soiled jeans.
“Goddamnit america, you fucking piece of shit, pick up! This is urgent biz-a-ness. I mean it. I know it’s been a long time, son. But I got a dine-o-mite case for ya. Complicated as all hell. Crazy conspiracy type stuff. Right up your alley. Lotta ins, lotta outs.”
“Which reminds me, I gotta helluva story to tell ya. A while back, me and one of my mistresses went on one of them there cruises for divorcées and we ended up getting rather friendly with this lonely lady looking for love. Friendly in the biblical sense, if ya can get a whiff of my drift out there in Cal-a-forn-i-a – what with all that incest and pepper-menses floatin in your mara-joo-wanna smawg filled air.”
“So where was I? Oh yeah, I was out on the poop deck one fine eve-ning peering over the edge for any sign of sharks when my mistress managed to strike up a con-vo-sation with this tasty looking piece of meat and – faster than ya can say, ‘Holy crap ma, I got me a crawdaddy creeping in my trousers!’ – I’m back in the cabin in the middle of an uno, dos, tres. . .”
“Aw shee-it, I hate talking to these damn machines. They ain’t got no soul. I need me some real goddamn human be-ins to communicate with. Not no techno-lodge-ical gadgets. So c’mon son, pick ‘er up. It’s your old compadre, Joe.”
“And if I ain’t mistaken, I reckon ya still owe me one. america, are you there? I need you. Bad. Real bad.”
america recognized Texas Joe’s twang and he wanted it to disappear. To go away. Far, far from the pounding that was reaching a crescendo in his head.
Unfortunately, Texas Joe was one tenacious sonuvabitch. Like a cockroach, it would take something beyond nuclear annihilation to be entirely rid of him.
Moreover, it was true. america did owe Joe. Sooner or later, that fact would catch up with him.
And so, with tremendous hesitation, america reached over and picked up the phone – knocking over the files still remaining on his desk, as well as the empty bottle of bourbon.
“Hell-o? jesus christ, america! Da fuck are ya doin? Do my ears deceive me or was that just the recoil of a pistol I heard? What gives? I thought ya were one of them there paper pushing investi-gay-tors. Don’t tell me that you’ve done turned into Hump-free Bo-gart on me, son.”
“No, no, no. It’s nothing like that. I’m okay, Joe. Just a bit drunk. That’s all. Sorry to leave you to the machine like that, but I was trying to sleep it off. Then you startled me awake and I knocked over a bottle or something.”
“Shee-it america, no need for apollo-gees between ol’ friends. So how the heck ya been doin, son?”
“I’ve been better, I suppose.”
“It sure as shit sounds like it, son. Hell, ya sound as raw as my dick feels after getting a country blumpkin when I’m constipated. What are ya drinking anyways? I thought Annetta got ya off the sauce, what the fuck’s goin on out there in San Fran-sis-co?”
“Oh you know, everything’s just peachy here.”
In an unsuccessful attempt to evict the family of phlegm residing in the back of his throat, america coughed dryly into his clenched fist.
“So what can I do for you, Joe? If this is so important, maybe I better turn on Bertha.”
In his better days, america was an anal private investigator with a penchant for tape recording. Having been babysat by Marshall McLuhan – who’d been a dear friend of his folks – he learned from an early age about the importance of controlling the flow of information. He firmly believed that modern detectives didn’t need firearms so long as they could master the technology of communication.
Bertha was the name bestowed upon his elaborate recording system. She watched out for him – capturing every syllable uttered in his direction. Uncomfortable truths. Damned lies. Promises to pay. Threats. Everything.
She was always there, guarding his back – his only true partner now.
“No, sir-ee. This case here is a gen-u-wine code red. Ya hear me, son? A code-motherfucking-red! No tapes. No notes. No paper trail. No nothing. Top secret. Hush hush. Can’t even tell the pope in Rome during confessional. I just need that wonderful brain of yours and its magnificent attention to detail. Like an Amazon’s pussy, this shit runs deep, america. And it’s only gonna get deeper, so pay the fuck attention!”
“Give me a break, Joe. You know that I don’t handle code reds anymore. Not since my problems with the taxman. Everything I do is on the up and up these days. Anyway, I’m in no shape for that old school private dick shit.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know all about that crap, america. You’re a legitimate businessman doing court-appointed work on them there death penalty cases with those dirty hippie friends of yours. But ya know what I’ve always said, ya can’t be a legitimate businessman without being a lame tit businessman, he-haw.”
“Fact of the matter is, son, there ain’t no profit without risk. Not in this world and not – I hope, lord o’ mine – in the next. Which reminds me, congrat-u-fucking-lations on that there Garrett case. I didn’t think even you could save that bastard from frying.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Joe.”
Pat Garrett had just been convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances.
Specifically, he’d shot a Brinx security guard in the head outside the Wells Fargo branch on Market Street. A female guard on her first day on the job. Her name was Felicia Whitney and she was the niece of the Chief of Police. And first-degree murder with those special circumstances definitely qualified someone for the death penalty in California – even in liberal San Francisco.
Garrett fancied himself a modern-day Robin Hood. He stole from the banks and gave money to the poor – that was his line.
His major asset was the fact that he’d managed to accumulate a wide array of sources inside The City’s banks and security guard agencies. Most of these sources were temps, who were working shitty jobs and barely eking by just above the minimum wage. So they really had no incentive not to tell Garrett the details he sought – for a bit of coin to help one end meet and greet the other.
Given this constant supply of information, Garrett had been able to steal millions of dollars over the past decade without harming a soul. Usually, the guards would just hand the cash over to him. Sometimes they were even his sources.
Garrett didn’t carry a gun. He didn’t need one. Not counting his people on the inside, he worked alone so there was nobody to turn on him once the greenbacks started to grow. And his system was so good that he never even came close to getting caught.
But then he got cocky.
He started writing diatribes to the Chronicle. Bragging about his deeds and invoking the image of Bonnie and Clyde, his screeds bemoaned how multinational corporations were screwing over the little guy – especially the banks with their predatory loans, high interest rates, and hidden fees.
On slow news days, the paper would publish his rants, along with hand-wringing explanations by the editors about their journalistic dilemma as to their decision to print such pieces and fiery editorials about the need for the rule of law not to be subverted even for putative noble aims.
Unwittingly, the newspaper – much of whose revenue actually came from advertisements by the very same banks that Garrett was robbing blind – created a folk hero, as the headlines blared:
Area Man Admits Responsibility For Recent Rash Of Bank Robberies
Calls Himself, “Digger Don,”
Says, “Doing It For The People”
Robber Cites English Peasants And Hippies For Name
Dares Police To Catch Him,
Public To Join Him
Another Bank Robbery,
Another Missive From Digger Don
“Giving Hope To Weary Masses Sick Of Leading Lives Of Quiet Desperation,” Claims Criminal Laureate
Bank of America Assures Public: “Banks Are Safe”
“Banks May Be Safe, But Their Money Sure Ain’t,” Retorts Digger Don
BOA Hit By Digger Don, Again
The public’s imagination had been captivated by this “Digger Don” – which was Garrett’s nom de guerre.
The “Digger” part being based on the 17th Century English peasants that confiscated feudal land for purposes of collective farming, as well as the radical hippies – who also had appropriated the name from the peasants – in the Haight with whom america’s parents had been co-conspirators in their valiant attempt to feed all the beautiful people during the Summer of Love.
“Don” was simply a nod to Garrett’s favorite movie: The Godfather.
The bigwigs at the banks and in law enforcement were none too pleased about looking like fools in the eyes of the public and they emphatically informed the Chronicle of their unhappiness.
The paper, in turn, let loose with a smear campaign about the icon that they’d helped create. A front-page Sunday exposé inquired: “Robin Hood or Just Another Hood?”
Citing anonymous sources and specious research into the finances of the non-profit organizations to which Digger Don had claimed he’d donated much of his ill-gotten gains, the article asserted that he was nothing but a fraud. A fake. A phony.
Eating up the story about Digger Don being just another criminal, the people of The City responded with outrage at having been deceived.
Garrett, too, was irate at the lies that had been published about what he’d done with his money. However, more immediately distressing to him were the accidental truths that the article had inadvertently revealed about his system of insiders. He became convinced that he would be caught at any moment.
Up to that point, he’d led a normal wife-and-kids-and-two-car-garage life in the Sunset District – albeit with a clandestine occupation. Yet, soon after the exposé hit the streets, he decided to take the money and run.
He’d made it all the way to SFO with the intention of boarding a plane bound for Tahiti before his love for his family compelled him to hand his ticket over to a bum asking for change outside the terminal.
He’d just give up the job, he told himself. Settle down and take care of the kids. Enjoy the wealth that he’d already accumulated. With tears in his eyes and a renewed sense of purpose in his soul, he hailed a taxi back home.
At first, everything proceeded smoothly for Garrett. Although he had occasional bouts of paranoia when it seemed as if someone was following him a little too closely down the street or when the phone rang late at night, mostly he acted in accord with his newfound plan. He led a normal, vanilla life.
He took his wife out to eat at fancy joints all over The City. He tossed the baseball with his son and took his daughter shopping for an endless supply of clothes – after making certain that their homework had been completed in a satisfactory manner.
All was well with the former Digger Don.
But then Garrett’s wife fell terribly ill.
The doctors couldn’t figure out what exactly was wrong with her. Instead, they constantly claimed that they needed to “perform more tests.”
Since there was no Bankrobber’s Local 282 and he’d always dealt only in cash, Garrett didn’t have insurance for his family. So he had to pay for all of her medical expenses out of his pocket.
Rattled, he soon began to lose his sense of calmness. His inner peace. As the exorbitant bills depleted his savings, he grew angry. Frustrated. Full-fledged paranoia followed shortly thereafter.
Much like he’d done in his younger years, Garrett sought solace in drugs – methamphetamine in particular. It kept him constantly alert so he could be with his wife, take care of the kids, fight the accounts receivable department at the hospital, and avoid his imaginary hunters.
His habit grew to epic proportions. Having became ensconced in the drug scene, he eventually bought the obligatory pistol for protection. His first gun.
Meanwhile, his money evaporated like the speed he was smoking out of his glass pipe.
Broke, he decided that there was no other option – he needed to get back to work.
Initially, he toyed with the idea of hitting the hospital’s finance office – figuring the country’s insurance woes were such that many other people must be paying cash like him. He even fired off a scathing Digger Don letter to the Chronicle decrying the nation’s health care crisis.
However, he ultimately concluded that he was too well-known at the hospital to establish the type of discreet insider system he’d need to pull off a big heist. Instead, he returned his attention to the banks and – despite the heat generated by the exposé – was still able to score some solid information.
Apparently, a rookie guard would be making her first pickup. A rather hefty one at that.
So he injected a few grams of ice, grabbed his gun – just in case – and headed towards the Wells Fargo on Market Street.
And then all hell fucking broke loose.
Already shaking uncontrollably by the time he reached the Brinx truck, he began to panic when the stunned guard refused to acquiesce to his demands. It was the middle of the day on The City’s main thoroughfare and people were watching. Indeed, it felt like the whole world was staring at his soul – as if they could see right through his mask.
As he grappled with the guard, he swore that she aimed her gun at him. Fearing for his life, he fired without thinking, grabbed what he could of the moneybags, and sprinted down the street.
Once he reached his safehouse, he realized that he’d been had. The whole thing was a setup. There was nothing but plants in the bags. Motion sensors everywhere.
They’d finally outsmarted him.
His hands and clothes covered in red dye, he made his way towards the hospital to say one last goodbye to his wife. An off-duty officer arrested him when he stopped en route to shoot some speed in the bathroom of a Jack in the Box in the Mission.
The next morning, the Chronicle ran a full color spread detailing the history of the Digger Don saga, some skeletal information about the real Pat Garrett, and the tragic story of the deceased Felicia Whitney.
The paper explained that Whitney was the Chief of Police’s niece – who’d just begun her new job as a security guard and had volunteered to be a decoy. The cops and the banks had joined forces to develop an elaborate ruse to ensnare Digger Don. They spread a rumor that there’d be a large cash pickup by a novice guard the following week.
However, the delivery on the day of the incident was only meant to be a test run for the scheme. Apparently, Garrett’s sources were keener than expected.
Indeed, the cops had once again been totally humiliated by Digger Don. A good chunk of the brass had been present at the scene, yet they all sat idly by as Garrett appeared out of nowhere and stuck up Whitney.
The embarrassed cops called an immediate press conference – demanding the hide of the notorious Digger Don. Revenge became the order of the day. And so the District Attorney vowed to seek the death penalty.
america knew this story because he was the one who uncovered it. Pat Garrett was his client. As a private investigator assisting in the defense of people charged with capital crimes, it was america’s job to discover their stories.
In a death penalty case, a defendant has the constitutional right to present mitigating evidence, which can be anything that could convince a jury that the defendant deserves to remain among the living. A good defense team will therefore investigate their client’s entire background and present a social history to the jury explaining how their client reached the point where they could possibly commit the heinous act with which they’ve been charged. The point of such a presentation is to humanize the defendant – to demonstrate that he has value as a person – so that twelve fellow human beings will be unable to vote to execute him.
The Public Defender deemed the Garrett case too hot for her overburdened office to handle. When private counsel was sought for appointment by the Superior Court, the radical attorney – William Genet – eagerly volunteered to represent the accused at a reduced rate.
Genet was drawn to the case by the Robin Hood mythos of Digger Don. While america preferred not to take on any more work, he did so as a personal favor to Genet.
A close comrade of his parents back in the sixties, the long-haired Genet was practically like blood to america. Ever since america returned to The City, he’d been plying his investigative skills to aid and abet Genet with his controversial capital cases.
And – together – they saved Pat Garrett’s life.
Eternally thorough, america had learned every little detail of the rollercoaster ride that had been Garrett’s life. In fact, all the high and low points were laid out in the paperwork that had just been displaced from america’s desk. It turned out that Garrett had, in fact, been giving substantial sums of money to the needy. Also, there’d been a particular humiliation that Garrett had suffered at the hands of a bank – which had been the spark to the prairie fire that was his criminal career. Not to mention the endless string of horrendous acts perpetrated upon him by his sadistic father ever since he was an infant.
At the same time, america was well aware that Garrett had done terrible deeds – not the least of which was killing Felicia Whitney. But america was of the view that a person should not be defined by their worst actions.
america truly believed in his heart – and his experiences investigating why people kill had yet to shake this belief – that if you take the time to learn a person’s full story, it is impossible to conclude that they have no redeeming qualitites such that they deserve to cease to exist.
Utilizing his renowned courtroom flair, Genet masterfully conveyed Garrett’s story to the jury – who returned a unanimous life verdict after only an hour of deliberation.
Genet and america had now won an astonishing twelve straight capital cases.
“One more and we get a set of steak knives,” whispered a beaming Genet after the jury announced its verdict. america muttered back something about only wanting dull knives nowadays since “sharp ones would be far too tempting.” After shooting america a quizzical look, Genet embraced an upbeat Garrett, ran his fingers through his weathered white mane, pumped his right fist victoriously, and hustled out of the courtroom to address the throngs of media gathered on the steps outside. america begrudged Genet this one character flaw – his media whoredom.
Avoiding the mob, america slowly snuck out the backdoor. He always performed the same ritual after every victory. He’d sit solemnly in the courtroom – quietly pondering what he’d managed to accomplish – before walking back to the office so that he could tidy up his files.
It was also his tradition to meet up with everyone on the defense team later at Mario’s to celebrate with burritos and margaritas.
But not this evening – no – he’d rather drink alone tonight.
“Seriously, america. That there damn sure was some a-maze-ing ass work y’all did. You and that Genet fella are like Houdini or some shit.”
“I mean, Walter Crenshaw was one thing. He was just a kid. But this Garrett scum – jesus h. christ in a tub of the colonel’s spiciest – that sonuvabitch killed a cop and lied about being Rob-in Hood! Down here, we woulda given the bastard some drunk disbarred good-for-nuthin attorney and nailed the fucker to a longhorn hood ornament for all to see in their Sunday finest.”
“But you guys, shee-it, y’all do your legal mumbo jumbo thang and that dirtbag’ll probably be back out on the streets robbing banks tomorrow morning. Just tell ‘em to stay the fuck away from the ones that got ol’ Joe’s money, he-haw.”
Braying, Texas Joe added: “Hell, I’m just kidding, america. Ya know if I ever get in any sere-e-ass trouble with John Q. Law, I want y’all on my side.”
A yawning america didn’t have the energy to correct his old friend’s numerous inaccuracies as to the details of the case.
america and Joe went way back. To exciting days that america would prefer to forget now – if he could ever fully remember them in the first place.
Despite his name, Texas Joe had actually grown up in Nebraska – poor as dirt – where he earned a scholarship playing defensive tackle for the Cornhuskers. After graduating with a business degree, he set off for Texas to make his fortune during the oil boom. He ended up involved in every shady business to be found in the West Texan redneck diaspora.
A first-rate huckster, Joe could sell an air conditioner to an Inuit – if only because the Eskimo wanted him to shut the fuck up and get the hell away from his igloo. In other words, Joe was the absolute antithesis of america’s hippie family. However, america had been a prodigal son, leaving the liberal enclave of the Bay Area to go to school at New Mexico State University. Aggieland.
With his incessant urge to question everything – likely inherited from his folks – america thought it natural that he become a private investigator after he finished college. Starting off at a big firm in Albuquerque, one of his first clients was an oil conglomerate represented by Texas Joe. The cartel sought a discreet relationship with an out of state PI firm for sensitive matters.
Joe would call every morning with some new crackpot scheme that america “just had to get right on.” Everything from attaining blackmail photos of competitors sleeping with whores to discerning the secret ingredient in Coca-Cola. The two hit it off and it wasn’t long before Joe offered to help america set up his own office. america jumped at the opportunity since – just as he’d refused to allow his family to fence him in to a certain manner of behavior – he detested working for the faceless firm with its endless rules and office cubicles.
america soon became immersed in every sketchy operation in the Southwest as Texas Joe taught him how the “real world worked.” As they would both readily admit, they’d each saved the other’s ass on more than one occasion in this era of constant code reds.
america’s office eventually became established enough that he was able to branch out and handle other clients so as to hone his more legitimate skills. And when the Texas Joe lifestyle – namely, the hellraising triumvirate of booze, drugs, and floozies – finally got the best of him, america returned home to start anew.
“So how you doing, Joe? It’s been an awful long time. How’s Julie? The kids? Business?”
“Shee-it america, ya know me, I ain’t no good at no small talk. I’m Texas Joe for chrissakes, I do everything big! Big hats, big bolos, big boots, big Caddies, big butts, big boobs, big deals, big fucking money. Big, big, big.”
Fuck me, thought america. Joe’s not screwing around, this shit must be serious.
america knew that he should hang up the phone. Tell Joe that he was busy, tired, sick – not doing well – and that the last thing he needed right now was to get involved in some crazy code red conspiracy nonsense.
But america couldn’t say no to Texas Joe. Not to the man who’d given him his most cherished possession so many years ago – his freedom.
“Look at me, putting the rubber on before I even pay for dinner. Where are my manners? I’m sorry, america, it’s just that I’m so darn excited to be working with the best again and this is such a great fucking case. Let me tell ya all about it. . .”
“Aw shee-it, I guess it has been an awful while. Well, I can most certainly tell ya, son, that things ain’t never been better for ol’ Joe.”
america could smell the pungent odor of bullshit in the night air. What’s more, there was something foreign in Joe’s twang – it almost sounded like a hint of fear.
“Julie and the kids are doing fine, thanks. We got us a brand new Texas mansion up in San An-tone. Fastest growing city in the whole goshdarn country. That house sure did settle the little lady’s bellyaching. Hell, I got me three or four mistresses now and I don’t get nary-a cross eyed look from sweet ol’ Jules.”
“Speaking of which, if you want a nice something something for Annetta, I just happen to know a fella who can get diamonds die-rect. And I don’t just mean wholesale, I mean right from them there mines of See-air-a Lee-own-ay. Straight from those poor little African kids’ dirty hands. N’fact, I’m a partner in that there venture. How the fuck is that hellraiser doing?”
Stirring uncomfortably, america cast his eyes around the room in search of a fresh bottle of booze.
“Joe, you know Annetta and I are no longer affiliated. I’m back as a solo dick.”
“Shee-it, I know that old adage – ask me no questions and I’ll tell ya no lies – better than any damn fool. But c’mon america, this is ol’ Joe you’re talking to here! Ya know better than to bullshit a bullshitter. That’s like the guv-ment trying to go into biz-a-ness. It just don’t work, son. So tell me the goddamn truth.”
america was telling the truth. A habit that, according to some people, was one of his many faults. The Annetta situation was complicated. They definitely no longer worked together. Though, they were still close. However, much to america’s chagrin, they were most certainly not a couple, despite the occasional interaction of a sexual nature.
In fact, america had been so busy with the Garrett case – not to mention feeling like shit – that he hadn’t even spoken with her for a few weeks. And the last time they did talk, it was far from pleasant. Stressed out about the case and his miserable life, america had been in a rotten mood. Then she voiced her concern about the fact that he was drinking again. He responded that she no longer had the right to give him grief – before ending the conversation abruptly. america imagined that she was probably out with the gang at Mario’s sipping margaritas right now – celebrating the Garrett verdict and wondering where the fuck he was.
He knew in his heart that he should be there with them. With her. And not stuck on the phone with his past.
“You’re right, Joe. You aren’t any good at small talk. So let’s just cut to the chase already.”
Clapping his hands together excitedly, Texas Joe hooted: “Yee-haw, now we’re talking my language! That’s why I’ve always loved ya, son. Cause you know how to do biz-a-ness right.”
“So here’s the lowdown. Did you read the cover story in the Chronicle magazine last Sunday?”
america vaguely recalled scanning over the paper on Sunday morning. Even when busy or depressed, he read the news religiously. It was part of the job – knowing everything that was happening in The City. His city.
He scoured his memory until he could picture the article in his mind. Something about Dan White’s gun having gone missing.
It had made him think of his parents. They were friends with Harvey Milk, who’d been The City’s first openly gay Supervisor. Milk – together with Mayor George Moscone – had been assassinated at City Hall by a fellow Supervisor named Dan White.
White was an angry ex-cop, who believed that Milk and Moscone had conspired against him politically. Ultimately, White was able to use the so-called “twinkie defense” to get off with a slap on the wrist for killing two beloved public servants – a feat that even the silver-tongued Genet could never have pulled off.
When the shocking verdict was announced, an indignant mob trashed downtown in what came to be known as the White Night Riot. Meanwhile, an unknown Supervisor named Dianne Feinstein was catapulted to mayor by the tragedy.
Fucking bitch is now a Senator that just voted to invade Iraq, groused america. The quirks of history never ceased to amaze him. Somehow the good guys always lose. But of course, Joe had taught him that lesson long ago.
america ran through the specific details of the article in his head.
Some guy had been going around town bragging about how his father had White’s gun. The reporter did some legwork and it turned out that the gun had, in fact, gone missing from SFPD’s evidence locker. However, when she tried to vet the guy’s story further, he stonewalled her.
What could any of this possibly have to do with Texas Joe? wondered america. Though, he was too drunk and weary to even attempt to connect the disparate dots.
“Yeah Joe, I saw it. Dan White’s gun apparently went missing. So what of it?”
“Well, did you happen to notice that the article all-so mentioned that a-nother gun had up and walked out of a police storage room?”
“Huh, what the hell are you talking about, Joe? It’s late. And I don’t really feel like playing newspaper trivia with you right now. So please – if you don’t mind too much – would you just get to the point already?”
“america, you’re right. Something is doggone wrong with ya. You’re really slippin if senile ol’ Joe is better informed than ya. Shee-it son, the article was in the San Fran-sis-co Chronicle. In your own backyard for chrissakes! You’re gonna need to get up to speed – and quick – for this one.”
“Joe. . .”
“Okay, okay. Here’s the short and curlies of it. The reporter made some calls and found out that LAPD has no fucking clue as to the whereabouts of a certain Mister Sirhan Sirhan’s alleged weapon of Kennedy destruction. A rather interesting lil’ tidbit, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
america turned the phone around in his hand so that he could better see the mouthpiece into which he bellowed: “Goddamnit Joe, you call me up out of the blue – in the middle of the fucking night – just to bother me about some Kennedy bullshit! We can’t crack those eggs, you know that.”
At Joe’s urging, america had tried valiantly to get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding the assassinations of the two Kennedy brothers.
In fact, back in their hazy code red days, the conspiracies surrounding the dead Kennedys had been almost an obsession of Joe’s. However, america had ultimately been able to convince him that – without further revelations – they’d gone as far as they could in attempting to decipher what really happened on those two fateful days in Dallas and Los Angeles.
Joe was the one who was fucking losing it if he wanted to start that wild-goose chase up again, mused america as he reached for a bottle that he’d discovered buried beneath his desk.
“Shut the fuck up and listen to me for a minute, america. Goddamnit, this ain’t no Oliver Stone fairytale! This is real. Real case. Real client. Real money. And I need me a real motherfucking detective, ya hear?”
america sensed that something more was going on here. Joe was on edge. Someone had frightened him and – in his own fucked up way – he was turning to america for help.
If Joe was scared, america would need to be at his sharpest to handle this case. So he reluctantly let go of his tenuous grip on the bottle and, instead, attempted to clear his head by taking slow, deliberate breaths. Nice and deep. In then out. In then out.
“Sorry, son. I didn’t mean to snap at ya like that. But you know me, I can get crabbier than a Red Lobster buff-ay.”
“You see what happened was, I read the piece in the paper about the gun and put it in the RFK file – just in case – and forgot all about it. Then, a few days later, this friend of mine. . .”
america could tell that – for once – Joe was actually groping for the proper words to say.
“Well, this fella, I hadn’t seen him in ages, he walks right into my office out of the clear blue Texas sky. So we have us a couple stiff belts of the good stuff for ol’ time’s sake and eventually get to talkin. Just shootin the shit, ya know how it is, america.”
“Then – all of a sudden – he looks me right in the eye and says, ‘Texas Joe, find me Sirhan Sirhan’s gun.’”
Like an aspiring thespian in a highschool play, Joe paused dramatically, before adding: “So I say to you now, america, find me Sirhan Sirhan’s gun.”
“Who’s the friend?”
“I told ya, son. This here’s a code red. No names.”
“But I told you, Joe. . .”
Interrupting, Texas Joe began to speak in rapid-fire bursts: “Fuck me up the ass with a jack-o’-lantern, son! Ya see I got a butt of my own – mighty big one at that – and it burns with my raging hem-roids. I don’t need no more butts. So you listen here, this is how it’s gonna work, I talk and you pay the fuck attention.”
“Now I know you’ve gone all chickenshit on me with the taxman and everything, so I done set us up a dummy company – ‘america’s search for the truth.’ That’s the name right here on the incorp-or-ating papers I’ve got in my hands. How ya like the ring of that one, ma bell? Ding-a-fucking-ling!”
“All the money will be funneled through there. And it will be a lot of money, son. So spare no expense. Do whatever ya gotta do. Just find me this motherfucking gun. And pronto!”
“But remember, no paper trail of any kind. Not even a goddamn cocktail napkin. Tell people you’re back on the Kennedy cases if ya must. Everyone knows you’re just ga-ga over that conspiracy shit and it’ll give ya the cover ya need. But do not let it go beyond that. Don’t even tell a soul that you’re working with me again. And I mean not a soul.”
“And if ya do have any tax questions then talk to Annetta. I’ve always told ya that ol’ anarchist accountant can solve all your woes, son.”
Exhaling through his nostrils, Joe accidentally snorted as he added: “N’fact, I’ve reconsidered. I think ya most certainly will need help on this one. It’s that big. So let’s go ahead and bring the ol’ fox in. But just the two of you. Understood?”
america was already drunk and hating life. Now some crazy Texan was sending him off to look for an infamous gun and, in the process, making him enlist his ex-girlfriend as his only partner. It all seemed like a very bad idea.
america knew that he should’ve said, “fuck you old man,” slammed down the phone, and gone to bed. Slept it all off.
But he couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.
If administered sodium pentothal, he’d have to admit that – like a septuagenarian with a softy – his interest was mildly piqued by this code red. And Joe was too old a friend to dismiss if he really was in trouble.
So america heard himself say those dreaded words. The ones he’d thought he’d never dare utter again.
“Okay, Joe. I’m on it.”
“I knew you would be, son. I’ll talk to ya soon. And don’t forget – code red.”
“Oh and america, one more thing. . .”
“Yeah, what is it?” grumbled america.
“Have sex with Annetta one time for me. Doggy-style! I always did fancy her rear, he-haw.”
“Screw you, Joe! You and your stupid fucking case can go to hell for all I care,” screeched back america.
But it was too late.
Joe had already hung up the phone.