Yellow Mama Archives II

Bill Baber

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Baber, Bill
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Zumpe, Lee Clark

Fashion Statement

 

by Bill Baber

 

I could give a rat’s ass if the client didn’t like my appearance. Things have changed in this business—in my opinion, for the better. It used to be you wore a suit to do this job. I had never owned one and had done pretty damn well. In fact, some considered me the best in the business.

Sure enough, I could tell he wasn’t impressed with what he saw. The longish hair, bushy beard, and sleeves on both arms. They were my pride and joy, done by the best tattoo artist in San Francisco.

He wanted his wife killed and started to explain why. Told him I didn’t need to hear that shit. Explained to him I charged fifty K.

When he grumbled about my fee, I should have just walked away. He wore a suit, let him hire a guy who wore one. Back in the day, everyone in my line of work wore a suit. But they started to stand out. These days, a guy like me looks more like the average man on the street. You had to adapt with the times.

He finally accepts the terms, but not until I tell him payment isn’t required until the job is done.

I got his address and a picture of his old lady. Not bad looking for a woman her age. Maybe I should have listened to his reasons for wanting her offed.

I’m on the job the next morning, my nondescript white Toyota sedan parked two houses up from his.

Shortly after ten, the garage door goes up and she backs out in a newer Mercedes.

I followed her to a supermarket a short distance away. The store doesn’t seem busy. She parks and exits the car. I pulled in the space next to her on the driver’s side and waited. Forty minutes later she comes out with a cart of groceries. She’s wearing black yoga pants and a sweatshirt. She has a nice figure. Blonde hair cut stylishly, blue eyes, and a touch of makeup. Again, I wonder why he wants her dead, but that’s none of my affairs.

She finishes loading the groceries into the trunk and walks toward the driver’s door. As she opens it, I roll down the passenger window of my Toyota and the silenced. 22 Colt Woodsman goes to work. I always use a .22 because it has enough kinetic energy to enter the skull but not enough to exit. It just bounces around a few times, turning your brain to mush. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

Three in the back of her head and she collapses between cars.

I’ll wait a few days to call her old man about collecting my fee. But the asshole will know she’s dead when she doesn’t put dinner on the table tonight.

Obviously, the story is on the news and in the papers the next day. No witnesses, no suspects. Since robbery wasn’t involved, the cops figure it for a thrill killing.

Three days later I’m leaving my apartment to go collect. Too late I see a guy in a dark gray suit approaching with a gun in his hand. I put two and two together—he hired a guy who charged less than I did.

And I let him get the drop on me—a son of a bitch who wore a suit.


Tear Stains

By Bill Baber

 

I’m sweating like crazy, due to the fact I’m digging a big goddamn hole in the desert. It’s not something I want to be doing, but when Papi says dig—you do as he says.

But that’s not the only reason I’m sweating. It’s because I have a premonition. I know who this hole might be for. I have filled plenty of them out here for Papi Chavez. This one could be for me.

Papi is into all kinds of shit in Phoenix. Drugs, girls, bootleg Bacanora from Sonora. You name it—if it’s illegal, he has a hand in it. And that hand rules with an iron fist.

The first day I worked for him, Chavez hardly spoke to me. One of his lieutenants, Johnny Canella, pulled me aside.

“Three things will get you killed quick around here,” he said. “Messin’ with Papi’s women, stealing from him or doin’ any dope or drinkin’ when you’re on the job.”

The first thing I did wrong was to fall for one of his girls. Not one he pimped out, but a chica from his personal stash. Melinda was her name, tall, dark and beautiful. I chauffeured her around a few times and something between us just clicked. She made me laugh. And when we weren’t together, she made me smile. But that pendejo Chavez had eyes and ears everywhere and I think he must have figured it out.

It wasn’t just Melinda. I was guilty on all counts. I skimmed every time I collected, and I had been taking more lately, hoping Melinda and me could start a life somewhere else. And the drugs Papi sold were the best. I developed a taste for his coke. Unless I had to be around him, I stayed wired most of the time.

The light of a full moon bathed the desert. Sahuaros cast eerie shadows and a coyote chorus serenaded me as I dug. I imagine a far-off owl is tormenting me, calling You, you repeatedly. My pops used to warn me, be careful who you run around with, don’t be a punk. By that time, I already had a reputation as a damn good thief and knew my way around women and drugs. I just laughed at him; thought he was a sucker. He busted his ass in the desert heat all day working for the water department, diggin’ ditches and shit. I saw too much easy money to be made and too many beautiful women for the picking. My lot was cast.

I finished the hole and lit a smoke. Started thinking how I should have listened to my pops, thinking he had been right. For a long while I knew how things might end. And once I started fuckin’ around with Chavez I knew my time might be short. I wished I could do a bump but since Papi would be here soon, I knew I couldn’t. Most of all though, I just wished I could be with Melinda—somewhere far away.

Not much later, three Expeditions slowly crawl down the dirt road. Clouds of dust rise into the moonlit sky. It’s the hour of reckoning. I’ll be able to tell who the hole is for by who gets out of the cars.

They come to a stop; the headlights turn off. Johnny Canella and Hector Lopez get out of the first car. Estabon Munoz and Junior Ortega from the second. Papi steps out of the third. And Melinda.

That seals it. The fucking hole is for me. I guess I knew it all along, though I had held on to a faint hope I might have been wrong.

“You broke the three commandments,” Papi said. “I believe the consequences for doing so were explained to you, were they not?”

All I can do is say yes.

Guess I thought I was too slick to get caught. Again, I hear my father’s voice, “You ain’t as smart as you think you are mijo.”

Junior picks up the shovel. He’s the newest guy. Johnny Canella shoves me into the hole.

In the moonlight, I can see bruises on Melinda’s face. There are tears on her cheeks. I think it is the last thing I will ever see. My face is covered with the first shovel full of dirt. But as the world goes dark, I see another tear-stained face. My father’s, and I will die wishing I had listened to him.


A Moral Question

by Bill Baber

 

Fucking Rudy. It’s past ten on a Sunday night. I know it’s him pounding on the front door. I gotta work in the morning and don’t have time for his shit. But Rudy don’t care. This ain’t the first time and what makes it worse is that I know exactly what he wants.

Reluctantly, I open the door. He looks like hell, has a cigarette in one hand and is holding a liter bottle of Coke in the other. And he is twitching like the Richter Scale when a big one hits.

“I need a ride to Indio and forty bucks. I’ll pay you back.”

No hello, how you doing-nothing. At this point, Rudy just uses people. He has used me too many times, is into me for four hundred bucks. I knew a long time ago any money I gave him was as gone as a six-pack on Saturday night. Forty dollars buys a gram of meth in Indio. Indio isn’t that far from the glitz of Palm Springs. But Indio has more meth dealers than Palm Springs has its namesake trees. 

I guess I’m an enabler. I have let Rudy get away with this far too long. I’m tempted to tell him to beat it but that won’t solve the problem. He’d just come back tomorrow or the next day. He has become a total degenerate. He looks like a typical tweaker, his teeth are rotted, and he constantly picks at scabs that litter his face and arms. His clothes are stained and dirty, and he smells like trash that has been left to rot in the desert sun.

I roll down the windows to negate Rudy’s stink. It is a warm desert night and diesel fumes from the big rigs heading toward Phoenix from LA smell better than Rudy. Indio istwo exits east on the 10. Rudy just sits and twitches.

I realized the time had come to face the facts. Our friendship had become a one-way street. We had known each other since we were kids and had been through some crazy shit. Poor Rudy was the smallest and a step slower than the rest of us, the one who always got caught when we stole candy from Safeway when we were little kids—or beer when we were a little older. I used to watch out for him when we brawled with cats from other towns around the valley. Maybe he figured I would always look out for him. But we had come to a dead end. The Rudy I used to know was never coming back. We started smoking weed together when we were young punks. I stopped there, not Rudy. First it was pills that he started popping like candy. Finally, meth. I could have gone down that same road as well, but I was done feeling sorry for him. This was the life he had chosen. I had a good job now, a nice place in Palm Desert and started taking night classes at the community college. I wanted to make something out of my life. I’d known too many people go to the dark place Rudy had. It was damn sad.

I take the exit for Central Indio but instead of turning right, head toward the hills to the north that border Joshua Tree. Rudy doesn’t notice, he’s tweaking hard. After about ten miles, the pavement ends. I steer my truck onto a rutted, rock-strewn road that climbs into the hills before ending at the edge of a deep canyon. I stop the truck and tell Rudy to get out. It’s dark out here. There is no moon, only starlight. He is oblivious—still thinking he is going to score.

Instead, I stand behind him, raise a .45 and shoot him in the back of the head. In the darkness, I hear his body tumble over rocks into the canyon. I throw the gun after him.

I stand there for a few minutes, saying goodbye to my old friend and trying to pray. In the distance, coyotes howl. Despite the warmth of the night, I begin to shiver. I get in the truck and start down the hill.

All the way home, I try to convince myself I had done Rudy a favor, that I had sent him to a better place. I’m not sure if I believe it or not. But I figure I’ll go home, have a few beers and see what I think in the morning.

 

 

Bill Baber’s writing has appeared at Crime sites across the web and in print anthologies-most notably from Shotgun Honey, Gutter Books, Dead Guns Press, Close to the Bone, and Authors on the Air Press- and has garnered Derringer Award and Best of the Net nominations. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published in 2011. He lives with his wife and a spoiled dog in Palm Desert, Ca. on the edge of the desert and sometimes just on the edge.

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