September 11, 2012 at 12:12 PM
A Serialized Novel and Podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato
Andrew Lovato, Ph.D., is a communication professor, author and eavesdropper.
The following is Chapter Thirteen of a serialized novel and podcast. Start at Chapter One.
It was exhilarating to be young and “full of our stuff,” as my father liked to say. My friends and I would spend our days wandering around downtown Santa Fe acting like we owned the place. Fences meant nothing to us as we hopped over them if they provided a more direct route to where we were going.
One afternoon Rudy and I were roaming the town after school. We were ready for some adventure so we walked around the Plaza for awhile scouting out if there were any babes or vatos that we knew. To our disappointment, things were pretty dead. There were only the usual dozing homeless guys lying on the grass, a few elderly Hispanic men smoking cigars on benches, and the usual assortment of tourists with one-track minds, obsessed with anything turquoise.
We discontentedly shuffled in the direction of Agua Fria street south of the Plaza to see if anything was happening there. We made our way down a narrow, dirt road that was more suited for accommodating burros than cars.
“Cavrone, this town is dead!” Rudy complained.
“I wish I lived in LA like my cousin Eddie. You should hear about all the “chingones” that go down there. Man, there’s always something to do.”
“Yeah, this city is pretty “pinche” in that way” I replied as we turned the corner.
I gazed ahead and scoped out a couple of familiar figures, Bennie and Mario Tapia were approaching. Bennie was in our class at De Vargas and his brother Mario was a couple of years younger. They were the type of guys that my mom wanted us to keep our distance from. They were tough kids from the housing projects on lower Alameda Street. It seemed like most of the bad things that you read about in the newspaper happened in that part of town. Bennie wasn’t really as bad as all that. He wore pachuco style clothes and he could look kind of ornery sometimes but for the most part he was a cool guy who was pretty funny. He was a great artist and he drew devastatingly hilarious portraits of our teachers that emphasized their imperfections. Mr. Garcia, our science teacher, became a slimy worm with glasses under Bennie’s hand. Mrs. Gabaldon was transformed into a hideous, waddling hippopotamus. We passed these sketches around in class, giggling under our breath. Woe to anyone who got caught with this contraband!
As we met up with Bennie and his brother, I immediately detected a look of barely concealed fear and anxiety in their eyes.
“Hey Bro, what’s happening?” I inquired.
Bennie stopped and forced a weak smile.
“Hey Elvis, what’s going on?”
“Nothing Ese, We’re just killing time.”
Young Mario looked up at me with a troubled expression that conveyed a feeling that he had a great secret to release from his soul that would consume him if he didn’t let it out. Rudy and I peered at the brothers expectantly as Mario shifted his weight from foot to foot and turned his gaze toward his shoes.
Bennie tentatively began, “Something weird just happened, Elvis and, uh, you know, me and Mario just came across it and we’re kind of freaked out.”
“What is it, Man? What do you mean?”
Instead of replying he motioned with his chin for us to follow and we walked quickly down Agua Fria and turned toward Alameda Street until we reached a run-down little casita with a torn screen door and beer bottles and trash all over the front yard. As we neared the house, the worst smell I had ever experienced hit me full-force. Rudy started to gag and we covered our noses with the sleeves of our shirts. I heard a roar behind the screen that sounded like an airplane engine. When Bennie swung open the door I jumped back in disgust and astonishment. I was confronted with the thickest swarm of flies imaginable that dive bombed around the room in agitation. I waved my arms desperately to keep them away. I felt sick and stepped back toward the door wondering why Bennie would have led us to such a foul, hellish place.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be rumpled clothes piled on a tattered, green couch at the far end of the dark room. I stopped suddenly as the image came into focus and it made my heart leap in my chest. There was a small, dark body of a man lying slumped against the arm rest. Rudy and I edged closer and stared in disgust and fascination. I couldn’t take my eyes off the face that was frozen in a grotesque death mask. His open eyes were milky white and peered at eternity with an expression of shock and surprise as if whatever his poor soul had witnessed in those last moments had turned him into stone. His mouth was cast in an open circle as if he had uttered a confounded “oh” before he crossed into the void. The brazen flies that cared little for etiquette saw the opening as an opportunity to enter a dark, warm environment.
“Holy shit!” blurted Rudy.
Before anyone could respond, we all simultaneously burst out the door running out of endurance to hold our breath and fell into the yard wheezing, choking and spitting on the ground.
After a couple of minutes we regained our composure and Bennie explained:
“That dude was a junkie, man. Everyone around here knew it. It was only a matter of time. He was a weird fucker, Ese. He didn’t do nothing but stay locked up in that filthy shack. The only time he came out was to trip downtown for his welfare check and score dope. I don’t think he ever ate nothing. Man did you see all the syringes and shit all over the floor in there? He still had one stuck in his arm Bro!”
“When did you find him?” I whispered.
Bennie remorsefully admitted that he had slipped into the apartment more than a few times, being that the door was never locked and in the past he had found varying amounts of cash lying around that he’d helped himself to. The poor, addled junkie never seemed to notice and likely never knew how much money he had.
Bennie was clearly worried and his agitation was growing by the minute.
“Shit, what do you think we should do? I don’t want to get blamed for all of this. I didn’t have nothing to do with it.”
Rudy pondered deeply for a moment and replied, “It doesn’t look like anyone knows about this yet. Man, from the smell it seems like he’s been dead for awhile. We better make some tracks before anyone sees us here.”
We hiked up to Alto Street Park and sat in a circle weighing our options.
Rudy insisted, “We can’t just let him rot even if he was a junkie. Someone might not run across him for weeks."
“Yeah, I know” Bennie acknowledged, “How do we get the word out without giving ourselves away and getting blamed for something?”
“But we didn’t do anything” countered Rudy.
“Yeah but the cops will always get you for something. They need someone to blame when something goes wrong.”
Bennie spoke with a wisdom borne of experience. His brother Mario sat quietly absorbing everything.
Suddenly Rudy stood up and shouted, “I got it!” Let’s make a phone call to the cops from a pay phone. They won’t be able to trace the call.”
It seemed like a reasonable idea so we ambled over to the pay phone at the grocery store on West Alameda and scraped together a couple of nickels.
I was selected to do the talking and I dialed 911. A cop-sounding voice answered “911 emergency.”
I cupped my hand around my mouth and in the deepest, gravelliest voice I could muster I mumbled, “I think there’s a dead man at 632 Alameda and you’d better come quick. An eruption of giggles exploded behind me which surprised me given the gravity of the situation. Before the cop could ask any questions I banged down the phone and it was done.
We hung around the store for a little while and when it began to get dark we headed back toward the house of death. Sure enough as we approached, the street was blazing with red and blue lights and the sound of cop radios crackled in the dusk air. We nonchalantly strolled past the scene and Bennie had the “cajones” to ask a cop what was going on.
The cop sneered at our motley gang and stiffly replied, “It’s none of your business. You kids just keep moving.”
And so we did.