****NOMINATED FOR A SHAMUS AWARD *******
ISBN 0-9661072-4-1 Softcover $12.95
When an inmate dies an "accidental death," Matty Madrid, the private
investigator, uncovers multiple murders and singular corruption at the pen. In a stunning
conclusion set in the eerie world of a prison in lockdown, it's Maximum Insecurity for
sure. Warden Harley Jenks holds the power of life and death over 1,100 men and one woman
-- Matty Madrid.
Matty is the first norteña, the first latina from northern New Mexico to be featured in a mystery series. A one-time sheriff's deputy fired for insubordination, Matty's goals are simple, an ice-cold Tecate and justice for all. Her family has been around since 1698 and in the word of Harley Jenks, Matty "didn't fall off no turnip truck." Her cases take her from trendy galleries to the barrio, from the Roundhouse, the state capitol, to mountain villages, Indian pueblos, and New Age communes.
Author P. J. Grady knows what she's talking about. In the early '90s she worked at the state pen, including a stint at New Mexico's only maximum security facility which houses death row and the "hole."
At the Texas State Prison, you can
put out a contract on a man's life for a cupcake. At the Penitentiary of New Mexico, it'll
cost you at least a carton of cigarettes.
Most inmates at the penitentiary smoke. The canteen's only open only one day a week at the South Facility, but it does a bang-up business in coffin nails.
Inmate Isaac "Gordo" Gonzáles didn't smoke. Gordo didn't believe in polluting the temple of your body with tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs. You get a headache, you take an aspirin. That's okay. Sex is okay, too. Sex is natural. When the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," He wasn't talking test tube babies. In the closed world of the pen, La Pinta, sex is hard to come by, but Gordo had an angle. Sure, he did. Cons like Gordo know all the angles.
Every day, Gordo worked out in the gym, pumping iron. It was something to do, like art class or hobby shop or hanging out with the homies in the yard. But pumping iron is a wise investment of a man's time. Someday, hours spent in the gym could save his life.
Gordo had heard about the riot which engulfed the pen in 1980. All the cons know about it the way you know about AIDS or pepperoni pizza. You don't remember who told you, but you know about it anyway. Nobody knows how many inmates died in the riot. The records burned when rioters torched the Main Facility. Nobody mourns the nameless dead, but their spirits haunt the ruined cell blocks in Main to this day.
Gordo Gonzáles was afraid of ghosts, but he wasn't afraid of any man alive, not even Sweet Papa Foster. Any man with more smarts than Gordo would have had the sense to be afraid of Foster, but by working out Gordo figured he could build himself up to handle anything. Everybody said it was only a matter of time before La Pinta erupted again into fire and blood. Gordo was a big man, and he kept in shape. If trouble came, he reckoned he could handle it.
On a warm September afternoon, Gordo strolled into the gym. Most of the guys were out in the yard, watching a softball game. The sky above the Cerrillos Hills was as blue as the Virgin's mantle, trimmed with cumulus clouds. It would rain in a couple of hours, but by then the institution would be in lockdown. It was a shame to be in lockdown on such a beautiful day. It was too beautiful a day to die.
A couple of kids were working out on the far side of the gym. Gordo didn't know them. He figured they were pachucos, gang members, maybe, or wannabees. Lots of 'chucos coming into La Pinta lately. Gordo shook his head sadly. It wasn't the same no more. These kids, they don't got no respect. They don't understand the way things gotta be. One of the 'chucos had his shirt off, revealing a torso covered by tattoos. On his back, the Virgin of Guadalupe opened her arms to shower roses on the heads of a biker and his naked lady.
Buckets was in the gym, too, but nobody paid any attention to Buckets. Nobody ever paid him any mind. Looking for cigarette butts, Buckets rummaged through the trash as always. He hummed a little tune as usual, the same bars over and over. "De dum dum dum diddle dum."
But there was no CO anywhere in the gym.
That should have set off alarms in Gordo's head. A corrections officer is posted to the gym whenever it's open to inmates. It's his job to watch them at play, like a kindergarten teacher at recess. He doesn't eat on the job or drink a cup of coffee or read the funnies. He doesn't chew the fat with the fellas. He doesn't leave his post for any reason, not even to go to the john.
But Gordo didn't know there was no CO.
He set the weights in place and lay on his back on the bench. Stretching his arms, he began to press--down, up, down, up. He was settling into an easy rhythm when the 'chucos came over. Gordo ignored them. The one with the tattoos grinned at the other one, and they grabbed the bar, shoving it onto Gordo's chest and arms.
Like a beetle pinned to a board, Gordo couldn't move.
The next to the last thing Gordo ever saw was the cross tattooed on the 'chuco's wrist. The last thing Gordo saw was Sweet Papa's coal-black face as Foster crashed a five-pound weight into Gordo's head.
Foster stuffed his bloody shirt into a trash can. Hard on the heels of the pachucos, he slipped out the door to join the crowd at the ballfield where Devere was thrown out trying to steal second. At the three-two pitch, Harrison flied out to the shortstop, stranding Aguilar on third.
Alone with the dead, Buckets softly hummed.
* * *
Every week or so, Matty Madrid
drove down Highway 14 to visit an old boyfriend at the pen. She didn't know why.
After all, Mingo had walked out of her life ten years ago. She wouldn't let him in again if he were standing at the front door, his hat in his hand. Come to think of it, Mingo never wore a hat. But Matty knew that when you wall up a part of your heart, the walls themselves remind you what's inside.
"Yo, Mingo, how's it going?"
"Hiya, babe." Mingo grinned at her. He'd lost a button on his shirt. Medium and maximum security inmates wear identical uniforms, green workshirts and dark green denims. Minimums wear blue shirts and jeans like half the working stiffs in town. Matty wondered if the concerned citizens of Santa Fe know just how many work crews picking up trash along the highway are Penitentiary of New Mexico inmates.
Her grandfather's cousin, Cipi Vigil, had told her that when he moved to Santa Fe after the war, the old Territorial Prison on Pen Road was still in use. The convicts, as inmates were called in those days, wore stripes with numbers stenciled on the back.
Today, in their greens at La Pinta, inmates wear no numbers, no nameplates, although staff is required to wear picture ID at all times. Makes you wonder who's keeping tabs on who, Matty sometimes thought.
"Hey," Mingo said, "I heard about the job you did catchin' that fuckin' baby raper. Little piece of shit!"
"Yeah, I figured they were gonna send him up here from RDC."
"Not here, leastways not at South. He gets outta the fish tank, RDC, you know, they send him over to North. They got all the fuckin' PC's there. Baby rapers, hey, they're all PC's. Guys find out about 'em, they sure as hell beat the crap out of 'em."
The pen's North Facility is about a mile away from the South Facility as the crow flies. There are no crows at La Pinta, but there are flocks of ravens, feeding on the refuse of overflowing garbage containers, nourished by the atmosphere of death and decay. The North Facility houses maximum security inmates, protective custody or PC's, administrative and disciplinary segregation, and death row. The death house itself doubles as the property office at North. After all, nobody has been executed in the Land of Enchantment since 1960.
Mingo shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Got a job for you, babe."
"You do? Mingo--"
"Okay, it ain't for me. Like, it's for this dude I know."
"So, have him call me. I'll accept the charges."
Mingo chuckled. "Hafta be long distance, babe. Awful long. Yeah. Dude's roastin' in hell by now, I figger." He suddenly sobered. "Maybe hell ain't so far away from La Pinta."
"Mingo, what're you talking about?"
"Okay, okay. Dude name of Isaac Gonzáles got hisself wast-ed here a while back."
"Isaac--Gordo Gonzáles. Yeah, I read about it. But, hey, the paper said it was an accident."
"Yeah, well, don't believe everything you read in the papers. They're gonna print the bullshit Corrections give 'em. Half the time the department don't even know what's happenin'. They jes' git told what to say, an' they say it."
"Slow down, slow down. Tell me what happened."
"Okay. See, babe, they found old Gordo dead in the gym. He'd been bench pressin', see, and he was layin' on the bench, flat on his back, and this weight squished in his goddam head."
"Anybody see what happened?"
"Nah, there wasn't no CO or nothin', only Buckets, and he don't count."
"Howzat?" Matty asked.
"You dunno Buckets. He's a reg'lar full-mooner, dunno what planet he's at half the time. Anyhow, Investigations investigated and says it was a accident owing to as a result of Gordo, he got real careless."
"And the State Police? The OMI? What do they say?"
"Corrections didn't call 'em in. It was a accident. 'Member?"
"So, the family wants to sue. They wanna take Corrections to the cleaners or, like, the company that made the bench or somebody--anybody. I said maybe you'd look into it for 'em."
"What are you, my agent?"
Mingo just laughed.
"Yeah, okay, I'll look into it." Matty nodded. "But I don't know I'll find anything. I can't even get into the gym to look around."
"Sure, you can. Yard event's comin' up on Saturday. I can show you the gym. You talk to Buckets. Hell, that'll be a trip, awright."
"Hey, a yard event. I've never been to one of those."
"Outta Joint at the Joint, real chiribí. Live music and barbeque, dudes' kids, their wives--shit, even some of their girlfriends. Hell of a time."
"Okay. In the meantime I'll talk to Gordo's folks. You got the address?" Mingo said she'd find Gordo's mother in Goose Neck, a village near the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, about an hour's drive from Santa Fe. "You tell 'em my fees? Fifty dollars a day plus expenses."
Mingo wriggled uncomfortably. "I kinda, like, told 'em you could do it on, like, a contingency basis."
"Contingency? Shit! What makes you think I'd work for a contingency fee! No way, Mingo! Fifty dollars a day plus expenses, and I want a retainer, too, $250, before I do a damn thing."
"They ain't got it, babe. They're poor people, ain't hardly gettin' by. His mom's a old lady. His brother got bunged up somethin' terrible, and he's on disability. They need your help, Matt."
Matty looked at Mingo. "What's in it for you?"
"Yeah, you. What's in it for you, Mingo? And don't gimme any crap about loving your fellow man. You're no more of a saint than I am."
"Hey, you're right about that for sure." There was a longish pause. "Okay, yeah. I got 'em to agree to pay me a contingency fee, too. But, hey, only if they win. They lose, they don't owe me nothin'."
"What if they win and they don't pay you?"
Mingo shrugged. "I got friends in Albuquerque break both their legs."
"Oh, for chriss--who's their lawyer? They got a lawyer?"
"No, well, I was, like, kinda thinkin' you might talk to your old friend Rodney--"
"No way, José! Kleiner, Sprague and Stone is a real heavy hitter. You think they'd represent the family of some con who dropped a dumbbell--"
"--on his cabeza? That's the dumbest--"
"Hey, you don't ask, you don't know. Do it for me, babe. ¿En tenga?"
Matty didn't wait until she got home to call Rodney Stone. About a mile from La Pinta, she pulled into Allsup's. Sipping a Slush Puppie, she dialed Kleiner, Sprague and Stone. Better get this over with, she thought. Rodney Stone was an old friend from Santa Fe High, but he didn't owe her any favors. She figured he'd say no.
She was right. "Sweetie, not little Rodney's cup of Lapsang at all."
"I know, Rod. Sorry to bother you."
"But? What do you mean, 'but'?"
"It just so happens a friend of mine--"
"Nothing like that, ducky bumps. I've known Dodi's family for years. She's just been admitted to the bar, and--"
"She's a she. Didn't I say? She's decided to go solo instead of joining a firm or enlisting under the PD's banner of 'truth, justice, and the American way'. She could use the business."
"Talk to her. Dodi Koren. She's on San Francisco Street, upstairs over the Reimann Gallery. I don't think she has a phone yet. They promised her one mañana, but that was three weeks ago. You'll like her."
"Yeah, right." But Matty sympathized with Dodi's problems with the phone company. In Santa Fe, Ma Bell's "tomorrow" means only "not today".
Matty climbed the stairs to Dodi Koren's office. A petite brunette in a miniskirt was at the file cabinet, her back to the door.
"'Scuse me. I'm looking for Ms. Koren? Dodi Koren?"
"I'm Dodi Koren," the woman said, turning around. "What can I do for you?"
"My name's Matty Madrid, and I'm--"
"Oh, right! Rodney called. I didn't expect you so soon. Come on in, and we'll talk."
Dodi's office was about the size of a walk-in closet in suburbia. Matty slipped onto a ladder-back chair opposite the attorney.
"So, you got your phone," she said.
Dodi grimaced. "I've got a phone, okay. They gave me the number of a contractor who just went out of business. Phone's been ringing off the hook. Irate customers up the kazoo."
"Not really. Half of them want to sue anyway. So, what have we got?"
"Nothing yet," Matty made a face. "I just wanted to touch base with you before I talk to the family, see if they got a case."
"Fill me in."
"'Okay -- Isaac 'Gordo' Gonzáles was an inmate at the state pen. He was lifting weights, bench-pressing, and one of them slipped and crushed his skull."
"Hold it! I know something about pumping iron. My second husband was a power-lifter. Real health nut. You know the type. Wouldn't eat any chocolate. Had to be carob." She shuddered. "Granola every morning. Massive coronary at the age of thirty-seven."
"Jeez! I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. We were divorced. Twice. What I'm saying is you couldn't drop the damn thing on your head, even if you tried to."
"Hey, I dunno from nothing. So far my info comes from an inmate, and he wasn't even there."
"It's pretty flimsy, Matty. Okay I call you Matty?"
"¡No problema, Dodi! So, what if it happened like they say?"
"We'd have to prove negligence, get a good look at the apparatus, maybe sound out some witnesses if we're going to put together a case against Corrections."
"There weren't any witnesses. Nobody saw it happen."
"No, I mean, people who'd used the bench before, somebody who noticed it wasn't kosher. Maybe a guard reported a problem. Nice little paper trail would be a big help."
Matty sighed. "I don't think it's possible. Those pendejos in Corrections cover their backsides pretty good. That weight bench is probably at a county landfill by now."
"Well, you can tell the family we might--might--have a case under the Tort Claims Act if we can prove negligence."
"'Negligent operation of a building.' Like I say, we'd have to prove it. It's going to take a little work."
"' Negligent operation of a building,' huh? Yeah, I had a case like that." She frowned. "It'll come to me. So, general all-around dumbness doesn't count?"
"Not in law." Dodi grinned. "You want to triple the number of tort claims filed? No, you're up against the doctrine of sovereign immunity. 'The king can do no wrong'."
"The hell he can't!"
"Well, the point is there are only a handful of things for which you can sue the state. 'Negligent operation of a building' is one of them. Sounds like what we have here, wrongful death resulting from negligence. It's worth a try."
"Is there such a thing as rightful death?" Matty asked. She got up to go.
"What's more, in March of '94 the state supreme court allow-ed claims for loss of consortium. That's a first for New Mexico."
"Con--sounds like high finance."
"Consortium." Dodi smiled. "The loss of a loved one's companionship."
It was Matty's turn to smile. "From what I know about Gordo, I figure Mrs. Gonzáles owes the state for her loss of companion-ship and not the other way around."
"I'm due in court." Dodi looked at her watch and frowned. "I'm representing a client who was cited for not wearing his seat belt."
"Not wearing his seat belt? That's only a misdemeanor. What does he need a lawyer for?"
"It's a civil complaint. My client's the plaintiff. Claims the seat belt law's a violation of the ADA."
"Americans with Disabilities Act. My client's claustrophobic. Buckling up exacerbates his condition. Hey, Matty, I want to be sure you understand. At the moment, it's not my case, and I wouldn't be able to afford an investigator anyway. But I'll be happy to talk to the family."
"Yeah, well, wish I could say the same."
Matty took I-25 to Goose Neck. At a "goose neck," a bend in the river, the town of Los Sumideros slumbered beside the Pecos until, in 1889, an Anglo postmaster changed its name from Sumideros to something he could spell. The post office closed in 1936, but the name, "Goose Neck," remained. Sometimes the locals called it "Goose Neck" and sometimes "Sumideros," but it didn't matter. They knew exactly what they meant.
Matty stopped by a cluster of trailers to ask directions. A small boy with a dirty face scooped up a handful of mud and threw it against the side of Matty's truck.
"¡Ya chole!" She shouted as she gunned the engine and drove away.
At Bevo's, the bartender directed her to the Gonzáles house, a two-room adobe in need of a new coat of plaster. Adobes are replastered every year by the women of the family or by the village zoquetera. But it looked like Goose Neck's zoquetera had followed the postmaster into history.
A couple of scrawny chickens scratching in the yard was the only sign of industry. Matty didn't think anybody was at home until the screen door suddenly flew open and a man came hurtling out. He carried a Winchester 75, and he pointed the business end at Matty's heart.
"Oh, shit!" she said.
Half turning, the rifleman hollered into the house. "Mom-ma!" He continued to level the .22 at his target as he shuffled to one side, making room on the porch for his mother.
Momma was the largest woman Matty had ever seen, maybe three hundred fifty, maybe four hundred pounds. She wore a flowered shift and terrycloth slippers. "Yeah?" Her voice was as harsh as a scrub jay's.
"Mrs. Gonzáles?" There was no response. "Mrs. Gonzáles, I'm Matty Madrid. I'm a private investigator. I'm here about the death of your son."
"Momma!" The man with the Winchester seemed alarmed.
"Shaddup, Sonny. She means Ikie. Put that bunny blammer down 'fore you shoot another hole in the roof again." He lowered the rifle obediently. "Git on in here." It took Matty a moment to realize Mrs. Gonzáles was addressing her.
Matty was on unfamiliar ground. She'd expected to find herself in a traditional Spanish-speaking household, a careworn vieja clutching a rosary to her withered breast.
But Mrs. Gonzáles and her son conversed in English, in the nasal twang of the Ozark highlands. It didn't take a detective to deduce Mrs. Gonzáles was an Anglo who had married a Hispanic and settled into domestic bliss beside the Pecos. Matty wondered what had happened to Mr. Gonzáles. Wherever he was, he probably didn't have call-forwarding.
Mrs. Gonzáles sat down heavily in a rump-sprung easy chair. Neither she nor her son moved to turn off the television set. Once again, the Roadrunner outwitted Wiley Coyote. Matty sat on the edge of the couch and Sonny sat down beside her, so close their thighs touched. It was time to establish a few ground rules.
"Back off, bro, or I stick your ugly nose up your ass." The matriarch of the family grinned, displaying broken yellow teeth. Fiddling with the pink bandanna he wore about his head like a pachuco, Sonny scooted away from Matty. Mingo had said Gordo's brother was disabled. Matty'd expected somebody in a wheelchair, a vet, maybe, or the victim of a drunk driver, the scourge of New Mexico's highways. She hadn't realized Sonny was two tacos short of a combination plate.
"'Okay, Mrs. Gonzáles, let's talk turkey," Matty said. "Darryl Minguez told me what happened to your son--"
"Mingo!" Sonny began bouncing up and down.
"Yeah, Mingo. He said you were thinking about suing the state. I talked to this lawyer--" Matty handed Dodi's card to the old lady."Maybe you can sue, maybe not. It'll take an investigation to determine whether you gotta case."
"Investigation. An' that's you, huh?"
"That's me. I'll need a retainer plus fifty dollars a day and expenses."
Mrs. Gonzáles guffawed. Sonny giggled, following his momma's lead. For a slow learner, he picked up some things mighty fast.
Matty got up to go. "Mrs. Gonzáles, I'm gonna give you my card, too. You think about it. Okay?"
Matty hit the blacktop at eighty, anxious to leave the adobe house and the Gonzáleses behind her. She'd gone eyeball-to-eyeball with a Mafia don and his "soldiers" once. Not even the godfather of the Front Range left as sour a taste in her mouth as Mother Gonzáles. She figured she'd seen the last of Goose Neck and its denizens for a while. If the old lady wouldn't pay her retainer, Matty wouldn't take the case. Some things you don't lose any sleep over.
* * *
In the tumbledown adobe, Mrs.
Gonzáles turned to her surviving son. "G'wan, git me a beer," she said.
"We ain't got no beer, Momma." Sonny started to shake. He didn't like to say no to Momma, but they were clean out of beer. He'd had the last one himself for breakfast with a mess of sardines and crackers.
"I know that, hardhead! Git on down to Bevo's and git me some. Well, what're you waitin' fer?"
Sonny scurried out of the house. For a big man, he could move quickly. He carried the Winchester cradled in his arms like a baby. It was almost a part of him, and he took it everywhere. It's legal to carry a loaded weapon in New Mexico so long as it's not concealed, but it's illegal to take it into a bar. Max Gonzáles, the proprietor of Bevo's, knew that if he were to insist on a rigid enforcement of the gun laws, he'd lose most of his customers. You might as well try to stop them pissing in the Pecos.
Max was a distant cousin of Sonny, too distant to trace their common lineage. Because the locals tend to intermarry, there are a lot of Gonzáleses in Goose Neck. By marrying an Anglo, Sonny's father had demonstrated an uncommonly independent streak. Unfortunately, his marriage seemed to have done little to invigorate the stagnant gene pool.
"Gimme a beer, Max," Sonny said. "I gotta git Momma a beer."
"Sure, bro, sure. What you want?"
"Gimme a Coors. Momma likes Coors."
"Sure. How many of 'em you want?"
Momma hadn't told Sonny what to say. "Jes' one, I s'pose, Max. Momma don't want no more. Jes' gimme one."
"That'll be a buck fifty, bro."
But Sonny was broke. His wallet was as flat as a roadkill on the interstate. He'd spent the last of his money whoring in town Saturday night, and he didn't even have $1.50. On top of that, the whore hadn't been very nice to him. She'd hurt his feelings when she wouldn't let him do it bottoms up. He'd have been better off if he'd grabbed some girl off the street like the last time. At least she'd have put up a fight. Sonny liked it when they fought. It got him all excited. But he showed her. He showed the whore. When he punched her in the face, it felt really good, and then he had to do it to her again. He got so excited he had to do it again, but she didn't charge him the second time.
Sonny began to get excited just thinking about it until he remembered his empty wallet. Desire deflated in him like a flat tire. Momma sent him to get a beer. If he went home without it, Momma'd get mad.
That scared Sonny. Thinking about Momma scared him. It scared him to think that she'd get mad. It scared him so bad he soiled his pants.
"Oh, for God's sake--" Max gave him the beer just to get rid of him. One of his customers laughed. The tall, skinny man beside him didn't crack a smile. He nursed a cup of cold coffee between two pale hands.
Wearing a loopy grin, Sonny went home. By the time he reached the house, he'd forgotten all about changing his pants
* * *
Anita was waiting for Matty at the
front door. Anita was Matty's cousin, once removed, Cipi's daughter-in-law. Cipi and
Manuel Madrid, Matty's grandfather, were first cousins, primos, and the best of friends.
After Pearl Harbor, they'd enlisted together in the Coast Artillery. With nine hundred
buddies, Manny Madrid died on Bataan, but cousin Cipi continued to look out for Manny's
family. So, it was only natural that his daughter-in-law would be there when Matty needed
her. Anita's heart was as big as Santa Fe Baldy.
Anita beamed. "Oh, Matty, I'm so glad you're here. Your grandmother, she's been having a real good day, only I gotta go home. Little Frances Ann's been coughing and Tina's gonna take her to the doctor. I gotta go home and start the supper."
"Sure, 'Nita, but I'm sorry the baby's sick."
"Oh, it's just a bug. You know. The babies get 'em all the time, only Tina--it's her first baby." She shrugged.
Matty smiled. "Hey, 'Nita. You go on home. We'll be right as rain."
Anita hurried next door. For a moment, Matty remained in the doorway, thinking about her own little girl. When Esperanza was a baby, Matty's heart had missed a beat with every childish cough, every sneeze and sniffle.
She turned and walked into the house. Gran met her in the hallway. "You home, mi'jita? I fix you something to eat." The good days, as 'Nita called them, were coming far between as Alzheimer's took its inevitable toll. You learned to treasure them, like happy memories of little Esperanza, squirreling them away to feed you in the long winter of the soul.
Gran went to bed early, but Matty sat up late. Sometimes when she wrestled with a problem, she'd talk it over with our Lady of Solitude, an image of the Blessed Virgin flanked by faded photographs of John XXIII and RFK. Matty, who hadn't been to confession since Esperanza's accident, didn't really believe Our Lady listened to what she had to say. But somehow it helped to talk things over with somebody who wouldn't argue or interrupt, somebody who was just there.
Matty found herself thinking of Erlene Gonzáles. One son in the pen and another one ... She thought of Esperanza. Who's to say Mrs. Gonzáles doesn't grieve for her lost child as I do for mine?
The phone rang. Matty half expected to hear Mrs. Gonzáles's voice.
"Matty? Dodi Koren."
"Oh, hey, Dodi. I saw Mrs. Gonzáles--"
"I know. She called me. She wants to go full tilt on the lawsuit."
"¡Bueno! But, Dodi, I gotta tell you I don't think she's got any money."
Dodi chuckled. "I know. She called me collect from a bar in Goose Neck. I told her I'd take it on a contingency basis. That's okay, but I said I don't know about your fee."
"If she pays my retainer, $250, I'll bill her for services, Dodi. I gotta helluva collection agency. You know Dwight Anaya?"
"Popo, the Mexican Man Mountain? Sure, I saw him wrestle the Human Anaconda a couple of months ago. He's got a helluva sleeper. Put that sucker out so fast! God, I wouldn't want him after me."
"He's sweet, but he's kinda persistent, sorta like wasps in the jelly jar."
"I'll bet." Dodi cleared her throat. "Listen, Matty, there's something else--"
"There's always something else. What's up, Dodi?"
"I want you to find somebody for me."
"For a client?"
"No, for me, It's my husband, my third husband. I want you to find him."
"Your third husband?" Matty stared at the receiver. "Okay, what's the deal?"
"Herbie ducked out on me while we were living in Al-buquerque. I was in law school at UNM, and he was in and out of the bars on Central."
"So? You don't need to find him to dump him."
"I don't care about the schlump, but I want my assets back. He cleaned out our checking account, our savings, some bonds my dad gave us, even my grandmother's diamond ring."
"Herbert Chass Koren. Five feet nine, one hundred sixty pounds, blond, balding, but he parts it on the side and tries to hide it. Born Shaker Heights, Ohio, December 11, 1961."
"What does he do for a living?
"I told you, he's in and out of bars--"
"I thought you meant he's a lush."
"Close. He's a comedian. Thinks he's gonna make it on Letterman someday."
"¡Oh, chiste! Hey, I'll see what I can do."
"Super. I'll tell Mrs. Gonzáles it's a go, so long as she comes up with your retainer. Oh, and, uh, I'll send you a retainer for finding Herbie. Cross my heart. Okay?"
As soon as Matty hung up, the phone rang. A recording asked, "Will you accept a collect call from--"
"'Okay, yeah. Mingo? What's up?"
"Listen, babe, you know that little matter I asked you about before?" Like Mingo, Matty knew the phone lines into the pen are monitored electronically. He didn't need to tell her he was talking about the late Gordo Gonzáles.
"Yeah, okay, Mingo. Everything's cool."
Mingo sighed. Matty's antennae went up. It was one thing for Mingo to ask her to look into a primo's death, but it was something else for him to nag her. But she knew better than to talk about it on an open line.
"Listen," Mingo said, "you comin' to Outta Joint at the Joint?"
"Oh, right, the yard event. That's--what--this Saturday?"
"Yeah. I'd really like you to be there, babe."
Matty's antennae continued to wiggle. In the four years Min-go had been in La Pinta, he'd never asked her to come to a yard event. After all, there was nothing between them anymore. Nothing to bind them but broken dreams.
"Okay, I'll be there, Mingo."
"Great! That's swell. Okay, I'll see you Saturday then. ¿Suave?"
Mingo hung up the phone. "Yeah, she's comin'," he said to his companions. Like him, they were in greens. "Okay? Okay, Jaime? Okay, Spidey? Now, get the fuck off of my back."
"You done good, bro." Jaime grinned. "We ain't gonna forget it." He thumped Mingo on the back and sauntered off with another inmate. Spidey's forehead was tattooed in a pattern of inky black webs.
Startled, Mingo spun around.
"Buckets! Jesus Christ--"
"Ya got a smoke, Mingo?"
Mingo sighed. "Buckets, I ain't got a smoke. You couldn't pay me back if I did, you asshole. Ask the Man for some roll-your-own, will you? Go on, git outta here."
"I'll let you look at my roach, you gimme a smoke."
"I'll let you see my roach, Mingo. I caught him in my house a little while ago."
"Why the fuck do I wanna do that? Why the fuckety-fuck do I wanna look at some goddam fuckin' bug?"
"I wuz thinkin' we could have us some roach races. Doobie says they used to have 'em roach races all of the time."
"You gotta have some bread if you're gonna bet on 'em, Buckets. That's why you race the motherfuckers, so's you can bet on 'em. Oh, shit, lemme see your roach."
"Jes' a minute. He was here a minute ago." Buckets began rummaging through his pockets, looking for the roach. "Jes' a minute."
"Aw, go away, Buckets. Git!"
Alone, Mingo stared unseeing at the obscenities scrawled on the wall beside the telephone.
* * *
Bright and early, Matty turned her
attention to a new problem: how to locate an aspiring comedian. She called Al Montana in
Albuquerque. Like Rodney Stone, Albert Montaño was an old friend from Santa Fe High. He
had changed his name to Al Montana when he moved to the Duke City, where he managed a
"Al! Hey, it's Matty Madrid."
"Matty! ¡Qué milagro! How you doing?"
"¡Así así! How's things with you, Al?"
"Would you believe it? I'm getting divorced. Debbie's divor-cing me."
"Hey, too bad, Al."
"Listen, I can live without Debbie. I can live without her just fine. She's gonna take me to the cleaners, and that's okay, too. It'd be worth a bundle just to dump the little bitch. Only, would you believe, she's suing me for custody of Boopsie?"
"Yeah, the dog. I raised that little mutt since it was a pup, and now she's trying to alienate its affections, the little bitch!"
It took a minute for Matty to understand Al meant his wife and not the dog. "Well, okay, Al--"
Al groaned. "Don't never get married, Matty. It's hell on wheels."
"Yeah, well, it's funny you should say that. I was talking to somebody yesterday. She's been married three, no, four times, I guess."
"'Hope springs eternal.'"
"Yeah. Listen, Al--"
"What can I do for you, Matt?"
"I'm looking for a comedian."
"Sweetheart, nobody's looking for a comedian these days. They all want gangsta rap, in-yer-face-type death metal. 'Less it's a World War II reunion, something like that. Then it's the big band sound or maybe country. Country's hot, ya know. Hey, I could let you have Tex Dooley and the Cactus Crooners and at a discount, too, seeing as how you're a friend and all."
Matty laughed. "I don't want to book a band, Al. I'm looking for somebody for a client, and he--the somebody-- he's a comedian, Herbie Koren. Used to play some of the clubs in Albuquerque. Maybe you heard of him."
"Herbie Karr! Why didn't you say so! Yeah, I know Herbie. Everybody does. Makes Henny Youngman look like Oscar Wilde."
"So, where can I find him?"
"Jeez, he ain't been around in a month of Sundays. Tell you what. I'll ask around. Let you know what I find out."
"Thanks, Al. You're a doll."
Having launched the search for Herbie Karr or whatever he called himself these days, Matty made some notes to herself about her other case, the wrongful death of Gordo Gonzáles. Of course, it wasn't her case until Mrs. Gonzáles forked over $250 as a retainer, but she might as well get started. She needed to talk to Buckets. Okay, she figured Mingo would arrange a meeting with him during the yard event. She needed to talk to Mrs. Gonzáles again. She also needed to see the incident reports on Gordo's death. Dodi could ask for them when she filed for discovery, but Matty suspected whatever reached Dodi's office through proper channels would be "revised" to reflect the party line.
She'd have to get a hold of the reports unofficially.
Matty dialed the Corrections Department's Central Office and asked to speak to Carolyn Nhung. When Carolyn came on the line, Matty suggested lunch. They met at the Feed Store on the Turquoise Trail, where they pigged out on the Feed Store's Christmas tree burritos, smothered in red and green chile.
Carolyn had been a nurse in her native Viet Nam. She and her husband, an officer in the ARVN, fled Southeast Asia in a leaky boat to seek a new life in America. In spite of her training and experience, Carolyn had been unable to find work as an RN. She'd gratefully accepted a clerical position in the Health Services Bureau at Central Office. She needed the money, but even more she needed the Blue Cross benefits to which a state employee and her family are entitled. Willie Nhung was slowly dying of a drug-resistant strain of TB he'd picked up in a re-education camp near Ho Chi Minh City.
"Matty! I am so very happy to see you. Anita talks about you all of the times at meetings of the Sodality."
"How are you, Carolyn? How's Willie doing?"
A look of pain flashed across Carolyn's face. "The doctors say it will not be so long. I cry for him already."
"I'm sorry, Carolyn. I know how that goes." Matty reached for Carolyn's hand and gave it a squeeze. "How do you like working for Corrections?"
Carolyn made a face. "Oh, my good gracious, Matty. Those people, they do not hardly work at all."
"Yeah, well, welcome to the wonderful world of state emp-loyment. You know we got more state employees per capita than anybody? I guess that way if half of them pull their weight, we'll maybe break about even."
Carolyn shook her head sadly. "It is all one big coffee break, eight to five."
"What about the secretary of Corrections? What about him?"
"Gilbert Gurulé? Oh, the secretary is a very nice man--"
"Everybody say Secretary Gurulé is a marionette. The marionnettiste--"
"The puppet master?"
"The puppet master who pulls the strings is Warden Jenks. Everybody know."
"Harley Jenks. Yeah." Jenks had come to New Mexico from Texas, the thirteenth warden in as many years. Lucky thirteen. Mingo, who was eager to gripe about CO's, case managers, food stewards, nurses, and associate wardens, didn't have much to say about Harley Jenks. She wondered why.
"Carolyn, a couple of weeks ago, an inmate died in an accident at the pen."
"Isaac Gonzáles. Yes, I remember. Dr. Delattre was required to certify his death. He is one of Health Services' physicians, Dr. Edgar Delattre."
"I'd like to see a copy of the medical report."
Carolyn's eyes widened, but she didn't say anything.
Carolyn Nhung took a deep breath. "Matty, chérie, I know I am sounding so corny when I say this, but we did not come to this country, Willie and I, to make the fast buck. And we did not come here to be tools of the devil." She looked around her, but the other tables in the tiny dining room were empty. Their waitress was in the kitchen. "I will send you the report, the full report, so you see with your eyes what I speak about."
The next day, an envelope with no return address arrived at Matty's house. Like all letters mailed in Santa Fe, it had been postmarked in Albuquerque. It contained a copy of Isaac Gonzáles's death certificate, identifying the cause of death as blunt force trauma. No surprises there. But the envelope also contained a report from Francis McGuire, the physician's assistant who had been the first person to examine the body: "Severe trauma consistent with a blow from a blunt object. Pressure marks on upper arms. Probable restraint by application to the upper arms of an object at least three feet in length during induction of trauma."
In other words, somebody held Gordo down while some-body bashed in his skull. The death of Gordo Gonzáles was no accident.
Top of the Page | Authors | Books
Copyright ©2010 Avocet Press Inc.
All the text and images published on the Avocet Press web site are for personal use only and are not for use in the public domain. You may not re-use any text or image in any other publication or for any commercial use.
Reproduction, redistribution, or exploitation is strictly prohibited.