Cesar learned that crime paid from Antonio’s father. He also saw that it paid to be careful and to him it explained why Antonio’s father was never convicted of anything. And in that world you didn’t measure friendship by handshakes. And maybe that was why Cesar and Antonio’s father got along.
And Cesar knew damn well what he was doing.
On with a life as boss! Tucson had never seen such a success. Lists of crimes prepared by the County Attorney, or a suspicion of a connection with Cesar, or anonymous tips were never enough to generate much interest, while it should’ve been enough for the police. Crimes began to appear in the Citizen; crimes that were never looked at.
A poor boy who used to ride around in a mobster’s limousine suddenly owned his own fancy car. Suddenly there wasn’t a limit to the amount of money he had to invest. His neighbors watched his success and assumed that it all came from drugs.
Cesar then had the funds to invest in a fancy club on the south side close to the rodeo grounds. Patrons paid little heed to the flies from the horses, and the club was located in a neighborhood that had been written off anyway. Why he was damn smart, people agreed. Cesar pumping money into an area of town filled with socially dangerous elements proved how smart he was and won him many friends.
As long ago as the early seventies the chief method of persuasion Cesar used involved a pile of money and a revolver on his desk. That was how he negotiated with city officials and ordinary schmucks.
Higgs laid his head down on the table. He wanted to drink until he couldn’t feel anything. A picture of Maggie with a bunch of wild flowers came to mind. “Maggie….”
The regular crowd was tempted to go outside by the monsoon. As the burnished sun sank dark clouds helped create a brilliant sunset. There was a lull in the conversations, as patrons of the El Sombrero stood in awe. There was silence, as long as there was a break in the traffic.
Alone with the bartender Higgs banged his forehead on the table. Friends knew better than to get involved, so the bartender continued to wash glasses and said, “What’s the big deal about rain? I can’t remember ever owning an umbrella. Can you, Lenny?”
So that was how Higgs amused himself in the El Sombrero, during the rain before it cooled off, and with no more quarters for the jukebox. The last beer should’ve done it. Big mistake that beer. Not so good. Not so good.
As the regular crowd drifted back into the bar Higgs started to moan. Listening to a grown man moan was hard on everyone. “What happened?” someone asked.
“Oh, you know” was the response he got.
The same old song no longer had any listeners . Neither did the beer. Bitter beer. More people came in.
He wanted to marry her.
Perhaps a little too sensible. Maggie wanted to wait. Ever talk sense into a spoiled doll? Higgs shook his head. He wanted to become somebody. She didn’t care about that. She would’ve just as soon not have been a mayor’s wife. Hold on! She always campaigned with him. True, but was her heart in it?
She hated us. He was our mayor. The old crook may have passed for our mayor. He went around giving speeches about accountability. He even wrote a book on the subject. Complete with a preface by a guy named Cesar.
Sometimes she got horribly depressed…felt less than adequate. Whereas in fact she was smart. Even though she was his wife she was free to do whatever she wanted. He gave her that much freedom.
Well, like Shelly, she didn’t like the climate, didn’t like the food, and didn’t like people who only spoke Spanish. But regardless whether she liked Tucson or not, she’d promised to be faithful. Well they were friendly enough to have a baby. And they were lovers, within bounds. “Do you really mean friends?” “Or do you mean lovers?”
And he did all of the talking.
The one that didn’t say anything felt everything was wrong. “And always,” Kitty once said about her mother, “she saw good in everyone.” Sometimes she saw good in people, when Higgs didn’t, and then only when she made him notice. She even said that about Cesar. What she didn’t know. Or did she?
So she tried to look beyond her husband’s drinking. Let us return to their little house. Even when they could’ve afforded something better and her husband’s position demanded it she refused to move. Even when the house became old, neglected, and rundown she wouldn’t budge. She tried to make the house a joy to see. She selected the furnishings, did her best; but as long as they were in that house her efforts went unappreciated.
His drinking exacted a ghastly toll. Twenty years of it without stinking or falling down. After which she had to get away for awhile. And that, primarily, was what all of her projects were about. Why she tried to be everywhere at once. On every level, from national committees down to day care centers and food drives. Because it wasn’t merely a question of Higgs’ drinking, and all the headaches associated with it, the denial, the flubs, the lies, but…or was it to prevent it from harming her?
Now that was what Higgs then wanted to tell everyone. How Maggie disposed of the bottles and the cans so that they wouldn’t end up in their trash can. No wonder. But promises about sobering up never went far enough. Nonstop sermons and supportive therapy did no good. No wonder. A year in rehab wouldn’t have cured Higgs. Not to mention the hundred chances she gave him. And all the time he was busy organizing this and that, running the city, and in charge of millions of dollars. Working constantly and drinking. God, how he could hold his liquor! It took a muscle man to hold that much. Then becoming a god among thieves…. he and Cesar were alike in that way… he was often alone in a cozy little world peopled by flatterers and yes-men. Except for one person. No! She had to get out.
And there came a point because of his drinking that she had to get out of the marriage. The air she breathed became stifling, and her life had started to decay. Two monsters, equal monsters: work and booze. And she couldn’t take it.
He should’ve listened to her when she told him: “Power corrupts. Power corrupts Did he hear her? Perhaps? More likely not. More likely because of the alcohol her words didn’t sink in, or he was just too busy.
So she told him, “I’m going to take a trip. Get away for a while. I know it takes money, but I’ve got a little stashed away. Don’t worry.”
Dignity. Honor. Courage. See him. Drunk again.
“Gotta get away. Gotta go where destiny takes me. Go somewhere where people don’t know a thing about me.”
Backing the car out of the drive had to have been tough. The traffic was maddening (north and south, up and down), and she gripped the steering wheel as if her life depended on it (pretty damn rotten, and feeling pretty shitty) until she turned on the radio. She drove down Sixth Avenue headed for Nogales. Tears made it hard for her to see; and so drained by emotion she didn’t pay attention to the vehicle behind her. Oh, boy! Too much! Scared and without realizing when she passed Cesar’s Palace, she gripped the steering wheel harder and harder. It felt as she were choking someone, squeezing harder, helpless, in that instance aware of the gravity of her decision. Drove through a red light! She drove through a red light without thinking…then thought, “I could’ve killed someone.” And she began to shake. It wasn’t far to the edge of town, but within that distance she relived a lifetime.