I made the comment earlier in my blog posts about how good intentions can blow up your face. Well, for Will Diaz, they’re just starting. So, Kaboom!
THE BETWEEN TIME
“Could you please explain what the hell you’re doing back in my jail,” I yelled at Max.
The last time he’d been in my jail, we’d talked in my office. This time we were in the interview room. The last time I’d given him a cup of coffee. This time there was a bare table in front of him.
“I screwed up,” he said.
I shook my head. I hadn’t sat down all the while I was in there, but instead paced back and forth like a man possessed.
While I didn’t want to admit it, there was another big difference between the last time and now. The last time I was in a position to help him. But he’d taken that away from me. And even if I wanted to help him, I’d burnt too much political capital with the courts the last time to hope to get another shot at saving his bacon.
“That is an understatement.” I stopped long enough to lean over the table and look Max in the eyes. “You punched RJ in the face! A man you’ve worked with. When he told you to leave there, you turned on him.”
“What was I supposed to do?”
If the look I shot him had been a laser beam, Max would have melted all over the chair he was sitting in.
“RJ’s like me,” I explained. “He’d have taken you home and told you to sleep it off. That or he’d have sat down with you and talked about it with you.”
He sighed. “Think he’ll cut me some slack?”
I shrugged. “Even if he does, will the DA go for it.” I felt like I wasn’t getting through. “Max, you broke his nose. You assaulted a police officer.”
It had been a couple of months since we took down the grow house in Ortiz. While we waited for our next infusion of grant money, RJ and I had been working hard to get as much info on additional drug activity as we could. We just weren’t going anywhere with it.
We’d sat down with the three guards, and to a man, they invoked their Fifth Amendment rights. They would all be going to prison for a long time to come. Espinoza had vanished from the face of the earth, and done it so well that it had left us half wondering if he’d ever existed. Even his family had no clue where he was. The funny part was, I believed them. He’d left them in a position where there was money, but no way to get at it, property, but no way to do anything with it.
He might as well have vanished and left them in abject poverty.
His eldest son was doing his level best to have declared dead so his will could be executed.
Somehow, it looked like he was barking up the wrong tree on that one. It would take years and not months to declare him dead. If he’d be kind enough to step in front of a truck, that would solve all their problems.
That didn’t look like it was going to happen either.
I’d been with Jewell and the band at the Silver Spur, where just a few months before we’d set up the buy from Martinez. It seemed like an eternity ago. He’d agreed to a plea bargain with the courts and was now sitting in an uncomfortable cell in Canon City, no doubt with Pam’s words echoing in his ears. I was in my typical place behind the amps. I was rereading Clancy’s Red Storm Rising when the call came through. George came over and tapped me on the shoulder. He tried to say something, but I couldn’t hear him over Brooks and Dunn’s “Neon Moon.”
He ended up holding his hand up to ear like he had a telephone. I understood that. I closed the book right in the middle of a Russian invasion of Iceland and followed him to the bar.
“You might want to take it in my office,” George said. “Quieter.”
He let me in. “Line two.”
I picked it up after he closed the door.
“Detective Diaz.” I knew it could only be the office.
“Will. It’s Tom.”
“Will, we need you to get to the hospital right away.”
“It’s RJ . . .”
Damn, someone shot him, but Tom dispelled that.
“ . . . We got called out to the Laurie place. Your buddy Max unloaded on him.”
An icy chill went up my back. For a second I didn’t know what to say. There was one guy I trusted with my life injuring another person I trusted with my life. I regarded both men as brothers. And now one was hurt, and the other on his way to prison.
Get hold of yourself, Will. It’s not the first time you’ve sent someone your care about to prison. You do the best job you can, and let the courts decide what to do with him.
“Are you at the hospital?” I asked.
“And where’s Max?”
“On his way to jail.”
“OK, I’m on my way.” I hung up and composed my thoughts for a second. I needed the camera and a few statement forms.
I stepped out of the office. George had been serving a beer when I came out, saw the look on my face, and came right over.
“I have to go in.” I looked over at Jewell and made eye contact. I made a running motion with my fingers, and she nodded. We’d talked about such a possibility happening, and the guys said if I ever needed to leave on official business, they’d make sure she got home.
“Look after my girl,” I told George.
“You got it.”
I had everything I needed except for the camera and forms, and I could get those from the office. I had my Walthers PPK on my ankle, handcuffs in my back pocket, and my badge.
Twenty minutes later I was at the hospital. The patrol cruiser was sitting outside the ER, and parked right behind it was the Sanford Marshal’s patrol car. Somehow, that didn’t surprise me much.
I grabbed the camera and went on in.
Tom stood outside talking to one of the nurses.
“Hey, Tom.” I noticed his uniform shirt had blood all over it. “Not yours, I hope.”
“RJ’s.” He nodded to the closed door. “He’s in there.”
“How’s he doing?”
“Feeling pretty stupid,” he said.
I could appreciate that. You always felt stupid after someone got one past you and rang your bell for you.
“How bad was it?” I knew sooner or later I’d have to go in there and look at the damages. I was delaying it for a bit.
“Max was out of control,” Tom said. “It took three of us to wrestle him down.”
I nodded. “What was it about?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Jerry’s handling the case but I’ll give you good investigators statement before the night’s over.”
“Thanks.” I knocked softly on the door.
“Come in,” I heard Pam say.
I went on in. RJ was holding a cold compress to his face and nose. His shirt was full of blood, and despite his face having been cleaned off, he still had blood on it and in his beard.
“You OK?” I realized it was a rather stupid question.
“Perk, do I look OK?” His voice sounded muffled and strange, no doubt a result of swelling in his face and nose. I brought the camera up and took a picture, the kind that looked good to a jury.
He waved his hand. “Sorry, I’m just a little pissed.” Pam handed him another paper towel.
“I’ll bet,” I said. “You up to telling me what happened? We’ll do a more in-depth interview later. Just enough to get charges pressed.”
He shrugged. “I was up in the Cap area with Jerry. You know we’ve had some folks going out into the farmers fields and stealing gas.”
It was a pretty familiar story this time of the year. Farmer Smith or Valdez or however left their tractor out in the field. They come out the next morning and find it empty courtesy of someone’s five-gallon gas can and a siphon hose. Some of them had wised up and brought their equipment home at night, but others convinced they’d never be stolen from left their stuff out there. Of course, they found out they were dead wrong.
The plan we had was simple but hadn’t produced any results yet. Patrol the county roads and look for vehicles parked on the side of the road. Spotlight the vehicle, check it out, get license plate numbers, and of course spotlight the fields and see what could be seen.
So far the tactic had produced a big fat goose egg. All we’d manage to bust were teenagers in various states of undress and one drunken guy who ran over a mailbox.
I nodded. “Go on.”
“It was about 8:30 or so when dispatch said there was a domestic in progress up at Max’s house. We started heading there. When we got to the Capulin Road, we saw Tom coming. We went up together. When we got there, the door to the cabin was wide open. We could hear Eva screaming and Max yelling back. Too bad you weren’t there.”
“Think I could have gotten him to calm down?” I asked.
“No, they were screaming at each other in German.”
“We go in because it sounds serious. It was. The kitchen was a mess, broken dishes all over, and a chair had been knocked over. Eva is in the corner of the living room. And between him and her is Zorro. He had an ax.”
“Zorro?” I said.
Zorro had finished his program at Teen Challenge and came back a different person. He was still quiet, very reserved, but there was a whole lot different about him.
I hadn’t been there when Max picked him up from the bus station and took him out to his place to get a start. The first time I saw him was a Sunday.
We’d all arrived for church. It was the usual Sunday morning crowd. The local ranchers decked out in western cut suits and Stetsons. Then there were the hired cowboys, most also dressed in western clothing, but minus the suit jackets and wearing Resistol hats. Then there were the just everyday folks who lived nearby, many wearing jeans and their Sunday best, and maybe a John Deere tractor hat.
Pants were the norm for the women also. Very few wore dresses to church, and more than a few also wore cowboy hats. As I’d pointed out a long time ago, ranching and farmers were the great equalizers between the sexes.
Pastor Morgan was standing outside talking with some of the locals when we arrived. As Jewell went to speak to some of the other ladies, I went over to talk to him.
“Morning, Will,” he said.
“Pastor Morgan,” I said, much to his disdain. “How are you doing?”
“Doing well, Detective.” I guess he’s serious about this first name stuff. “And you?”
“I’m like one of these farmers out in his field. I’m outstanding.”
“Friend of yours in church today.”
“Oh?” I asked.
“Surprised me. I hadn’t seen him in years.”
“Who is it?”
“He’s sitting with Eva in the back.”
He’s a little mysterious I thought. But then I didn’t need to put on my detective hat to figure this one out. Max basically said it would be a cold day in Hell before he ever darkened the doors of any church again. That left one possibility.
“Zorro is here?” I asked.
Robert nodded. “Believe it or not. I don’t think he’s got his armor on yet, but at least he knows where it’s at.”
“Excuse me,” I held up a finger. If Zorro was indeed sitting in my church, that was right up there with Lazarus stepping out of the grave.
I went on in, and let my eyes adjust from the bright outdoors to the slightly darker interior of the church. I scanned slowly around, and sure enough, sitting in the back row, up against the wall, I saw him sitting with Eva.
I almost didn’t recognize him.
The last time I saw him, Zorro had been dirty, gaunt and hollow-eyed. I’m reasonably sure I’d never seen him dressed in anything except faded jeans, a shirt that was so dirty it could stand on its own, and reeking of sweat and sometimes urine.
The almost two months away had done wonders for him. He’d put on a few pounds. Not a big surprise there. Before, most of his calories came out of a beer bottle. I was sure he’d eaten well at Teen Challenge. They urged eating protein and had a gym. Judging from the looks of things, he’d found it.
They’d also introduced him to two amazing concepts, a comb and a shower. And someplace, he’d picked up a nice dress shirt, and the funniest part of all was the tie. I’d never pegged him for someone who could know how to tie a Windsor Knot, much less own a tie tack.
He held a black Bible and had been chatting quietly with Eva. He saw me coming and stood up as I approached. In a way, he almost reminded me of a little boy playing grown up, but his hand was steady and strong when he greeted me.
“Zorro, it’s good to see you again.”
“You too,” he said.
Jewell had come into the church, came over, and I made the introductions. Somehow, it seemed this was how it was supposed to be.
I snapped back to the ER and studied RJs face, which was swollen despite the ice pack. Pam handed him another tissue, and he dabbed gently at his nose. There was blood on the paper when he pulled it away.
“Dang, Hermano,” I said. “What does the medicine man say?”
He coughed a little on the blood that still seeped from the shattered nose and down into his throat.
“Her.” Pam handed him an Emesis Bowl.
RJ spit up the blood, then allowed Pam to dab the blood on his lips away with a clean tissue.
“They took X-rays,” he said. “Dr. Dale said it should be fine, but it’s going to be sore as hell for a long time.”
“Black eyes, too,” Pam told him.
“Black eyes. You’re already looking like a bandit with a mask.”
He sighed. “You still going to love me, Baby? Black eyes and all?”
She smiled. “Heck no! I like my boys a little less beat up and more sissified.”
I laughed. “RJ, remember one thing. Pain goes away, chicks dig scars, but glory lasts forever.”
He dabbed away a little blood. “Well, hopefully, the glory will come later. Right now, I’m not seeing much.”
I nodded. “Let me release Tom, then I need to get a quick statement from you.”
“Sure thing,” he said.
That was yesterday, and I’d interviewed him on tape, and then transcribed the statement myself. This morning I’d taken it over to Pam’s house, and RJ signed it. I got some more pictures of him. He looked worse today than yesterday. RJ’s nose swelling was at its worse, and he almost looked like he was wearing a mask. His eyes were swollen and puffy.
I pushed a picture of RJ over to Max.
“I know you didn’t care that you were working for RJ, but that’s no reason to have done this,” I told him.
“Will? What do you want from me? A confession of guilt?” There was anger in his voice. What surprised me was that he’d managed to stay seated.
“OK, mea culpa. I did it. I punched him in the face and busted his nose. Satisfied?”
“No,” I told him. “I don’t need a god damn confession out of you. I’ve four witnesses who say you unloaded on him. I’ve two witnesses that say you slapped Eva around.” I paused. “Again.”
“Then why are you wasting my time?”
I shook my head. The answer to that was rather easy. I was frustrated beyond belief with him. And I was frustrated that there was nothing I could do about it.
“I want to understand why a friend of mine would assault another friend of mine,” I growled.
Maybe it was really as simple as that. I needed to understand.
Sadly, I knew whatever answer he gave wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear.
“RJ told me that it was time to leave. I told him to go to hell. That this was between a man and his wife. He said, ‘I’ll take you home, and you can sleep it off.‘ When I didn’t move, he touched my arm and said, ‘Let’s go!’”
I nodded. “And because he wanted to take you home to sleep it off, you busted his nose. You’re a hell of a nice guy, but you’re a lousy friend.”
“RJ, OK, maybe he hasn’t been around the same block as you. You’re still someone he knows and will look after.”
Max sat back in the chair a little. “I don’t know, Will. Maybe I just went a little crazy.”
That’s an understatement.
“Look,” I said. “I’ve never seen Eva happier until recently. And I think Zorro would have split your skull with that ax if you’d pushed the situation. I think you owe RJ big time for saving your life.”
He scowled. “I could handle the Fox.” He used the English version of Zorro’s nickname.
I don’t know, I thought. Zorro has a body count that is pretty high. He’d probably look at you as just one more.
I didn’t say that. “Eva’s been in church. She’s happy. Her statement says you barged in there like a mad man. Zorro was outside chopping some wood and ran in when you screamed. By then you’d already slapped her down.”
“Did Zorro tell you he shoved me away with the ax handle?”
I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to deflect his blame in this to someone else. I wasn’t falling for it.
“He should have chopped your god damn head off. And in defense of a woman, I wouldn’t have blamed him.”
I finally stopped pacing and sat. I studied him for a moment. The moment seemed to drag on into a long uncomfortable silence.
Max finally spoke. “You going to be able to help me out of this?”
I thought about my answer. If I talked to RJ, I was sure he’d drop the charges. But what message would that send? While I valued Max’s friendship, RJ and I were more than friends. He called me Hermano, and I did the same. In that second, I realized RJ was the only brother I had.
And if we forgave Max, what would that say to the community? That it was OK to take a swing at a cop? It wouldn’t stop there, but get worse until one of us got hurt.
I leaned back in the chair. “You remember that night in the woods?”
He looked at me blankly. “Yeah. So?”
“So, we swore to one another that if any of us did anything stupid and broke the law, the rest of us would make that person accountable not only to us but to the law.”
He frowned in confusion. “You took that seriously?”
I nodded. “If I remember right, it was a blood oath before God.” I held up my right hand. The scar was still visible. “You’ve got one too,” I reminded him.
“We were drunk!” he said.
“We meant it, and we signed the charter. Okay, maybe not in blood, but certainly ink. If our word doesn’t mean anything to each other then what good is it to the rest of the world?”
He shook his head. “So I take it that you’re not helping me out this time.”
“No. And I’m suspecting I shouldn’t have helped you out the first time.”
“You owe me,” he said.
I nodded. “Yes, I do. But I can’t let that debt interfere with what has to be done.”
He nodded. “Eva’s pregnant.” He just dropped it out there like somehow, someway, that justified everything.
It was my turn to frown. “You sure?”
He nodded. “She told me herself. I’m sorry, Will, but that good little church going play at being a Christian girl went out and . . . How does the Bible say it?” He looked up in the corner of the room as if there was a display screen feeding him the scripture he needed. “Oh yes. That good little girl ‘is guilty of acting like a prostitute.’ “
I recognized the verse. “Judah and Tamar.”
“You’re not the only one who’s read the Bible.”
He was trying to bait me. “Good for you. Now if you check your Bible, you’ll find that Tamar is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.” I nodded. Yep, don’t try playing that game with me. “Christians aren’t perfect,” I reminded him. “We’re merely forgiven.”
He acted like he hadn’t heard the words I’d just spoken. “Want to know who the daddy is?”
“Is it any of my business?”
He laughed. “It should be. You brought him into my household. Said it would be a good thing to have some help around the ranch.”
He nodded. “The same. I found out when I went and found all of his stuff out of the bunkhouse, and in our bedroom.”
In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me. Zorro had cleaned up pretty good, and when he wasn’t drunk and stoned, he was charming company. I knew he was a hard worker, was respectful of women, and to a woman eight thousand miles from home and alone, he must have seemed like an angel.
“So that,” he said, “Is what the fight was all about.”
That part made perfect sense. “But what about RJ? Why did you unload on him?”
Max thought about it for a second. “Because he was there.”
I didn’t know what to say for a second. “Here’s hoping I’m not around next time you’re pissed.”
Max stood up and knocked on the door for the jailer. When they came for him, he paused at the door, turned, and looked at me. “My friend. Do you recall this old German saying? ‘Der Weg zur Hölle ist mit guten Vorsätzen gepflastert..’ “
Of course, I did.
After he left, the Sheriff came in and sat. “I don’t speak German, Will. What did he say?”
I took a breath. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
“Hmmm,” was all he could say. I wondered if he saw the troubled waters we were sailing into and just merely agreeing.
“I’ll talk to the DA, maybe get him out on his own recognizance,” the Sheriff offered.
“Don’t do that.” I shook my head. “We coddled Max in the Army. Did you know he got busted twice while we were in? Once from specialist, and once from Sergeant. He was my driver, you know. Maybe if we’d been a little tougher on him, he wouldn’t be here today.”
“I didn’t know that. He said you owed him. What did he mean.”
I took in a breath. “This goes to the grave. Cool?”
He nodded. I knew it would.
“There’s fewer than five people on this planet who know this. Max stopped me from shooting our platoon daddy in the back.”
As always, the Sheriff maintained a face that would have done him proud at any card table in the world, though I was pretty sure he was thinking, “I’ve turned this guy loose with a gun!”
I went on with the story. “To this day, I don’t remember what he was ranting about, but when he started to walk away, something in me said, ‘screw this!’ The next thing I know, I feel a hand on mine, and Max was saying, ‘He ain’t worth it, Will.’
“My pistol was halfway out of the holster. If I’d shot him, you and I wouldn’t be talking about this today.”
The Sheriff sat quietly for a moment. “I see. You’re the last person I ever thought would have done something like that.”
“Want to know the scary part, Sheriff?” I said. “So did I.”