The doorbell. Afterward Mrs. Ramsey wouldn’t remember much more than that. News was bad, really, really bad. Bad news no mother should have to hear. Worse possible. Worse possible news. Numbness. She never sought misfortune. Alan shot. No, it couldn’t be.
Rushed to Kino Hospital. Rushed to ER Kino Hospital. Alan shot. All a blur. Hours seemed like days. Shot in the head. Wasn’t expected to live. A hundred to one chance … a hundred to one chance he’d die. Save him. God, please. Save him! Do something God. Save him. Kids with guns popped. Alan wasn’t the only one then. Alan wasn’t the only one shot. Crosses lined 6th Avenue. Makeshift memorials along 6th Avenue. Crosses in front of the Burger King.
George went with Mrs. Ramsey to the hospital, where Alan lay in ICU. George went for Mrs. Ramsey. He was drawn to Mrs. Ramsey, though he didn’t know what to do. George didn’t know what to do or what to say. He and Mrs. Ramsey never left the boy’s bedside.
Potato Chip was affected as much as anyone. Then Potato Chip bought a hamburger and got a haircut as he planned the next war. Potato Chip armed himself and waited for the next war. Confession. Everyone pretended that they wanted to know. Everyone pretended that this wasn’t their fault. Then whose fault was it? Then Potato Chip wanted to say more than he wanted to in the past.
Alan was resuscitated, but never regain consciousness. He never should’ve been resuscitated. For all intents and purposes he died the moment he was shot.
Molly asked her mother, “When is it going to end? How many are going die? What will it take?” George asked the same thing. Faust, Michael, and Zimmerman weren’t any help.
Cesar sent his condolences. Quite right. He should’ve. Perfectly right it was.
Blame yourself. Beat yourself up.
Twice Maria Martinez sent Molly to the hospital to inquire about Alan’s progress. She reported, “no progress.”
“The foundation of my strength and my refuge is my faith in God,” prayed Mrs. Ramsey.
Alan died, died twice, maybe three times. Nine lives, maybe that was how many lives. Alan thought he had … nine lives before he ran out of luck.
“Fuck you, Alan. Fuck you. Fuck, fuck.” Mrs. Ramsey cried. Mrs. Ramsey didn’t feel anything after she said, “fuck you, Alan.” She kept stressing her son’s good upbringing.
George arrived at the Martinez home for the party with a long face. It didn’t take long before he was asked about the shooting.
Mrs. Ramsey replied with great gravity to Bill Fisher’s question about what she knew. George looked at him warily, knowing that he was the DA. Knowing what he knew he looked at the DA warily.
“Shot in the head. Rushed to Kino.” Those were the kind of details George gave, while Angela and Molly fretted over how he was ruining the party. George’s audacity angered them.
Take Bill Fisher, the DA. He knew questions to ask. He knew his job. Then … then didn’t he have more important things to do than attend a party? Like protect and serve? Think of Mrs. Ramsey and how she felt … how she felt as she faced the unthinkable. Hello. You can’t bring Alan back.
“How do you do, sir?” George asked.
“Oh, I know you,” was how the DA responded.
“Another murder. And awfully young. An awful thing. And how many arrests were made today, sir?”
“That’s not what I do.”
“Then how many prosecutions?”
“Please not here. Not now.”
Besides Bill Fisher there was the family’s minister, a recent immigrant with a German name. A boisterous man, this minister had a reputation for giving his blessing to lost causes. He regularly gave an opening prayer at city council meetings and was in the chambers when Zimmerman shot himself. If anyone knew what it cost to buy a councilman, he did.
Many younger people also came. Besides Rueben O’Toole, Danny and his wife, this group included famous and talented Ricky Young. Ricky sung into the hearts of women everywhere. Ricky sung. From a single hit record he had amassed a fortune, though like George his affairs were falling apart. He sung his one hit song.
Kitty wore black and composed a poem. A touch of melodrama. She was always melodramatic. She always sought the center of the attention. As for her father, still no word. Worried sick. Worried sick about him. Healthy, perhaps. Didn’t know. Hadn’t heard from her father. Better then that he was free. Just turned his back on everything. Felt sad for George.
Angela looked particularly beautiful, for this was her moment, hers and Charlie’s. This was her moment though it seemed like George was out to spoil it. All three sisters were dolled up but not ostentatiously so. Their hair was professionally done. Anna talked and joked with Danny, even flirted. George naturally acted somber, naturally somber. He remained sober. His thoughts were with Alan.
George noticed that Angela seemed pleased with Charlie. Gradually George’s fatalistic thoughts disappeared. He sat in silence. He sat and watched Angela and Charlie hold hands. He was glad to see that Angela was happy.
George had no time to dwell on what the future might hold for him. He didn’t go near Anna. He couldn’t go near her, couldn’t/wouldn’t, which would’ve brought him confirmation of her continued interest in him. She was obviously enjoying herself. She was obviously having a good time. She, Danny, and his wife were chatting off to one side … very agreeably for them. Looking at them George wondered how he could ever be happy without Anna. He loved Anna. He was sure he loved Anna, which was reinforced by a conviction that she was a very beautiful woman. He then found it strange that he’d been so enamored with her sister.
With politeness George then circulated. But George couldn’t get from one side of the room to the other and to Anna without being drawn into conversations with various people. Besides he didn’t want to be too obvious, so he slowly circulated with a beer in his hand. He talked and listened while he circulated and listened to the family’s minister utter Cesar’s name. He uttered Cesar’s name to humor a drunken DA.
“O God, our refuge and our strength,” George said to himself and gravitated in their direction. They were discussing city hall and turmoil there. And Cesar. And Cesar’s connection with city hall. Throws them a few bones. And George remembered his last conversation with Cesar. Kind of worrisome. The minister spoke slowly, drawing out each word. He emphasized a role he played in the healing process after Zimmerman’s suicide.
“Oh poor fellow, it wasn’t his fault.”
“He shot himself. Hello.”
“A bit untidy it was. Messy. And what’s happened to his wife and kids since?”
Drawn to this conversation, George said, “Overdosing wouldn’t have been so messy. Sometimes poison is the only cure.”
“But not as dramatic.”
George wished Sam were there. He needed Sam. He’d feel more confident if Sam were there. There was so much Sam could tell the DA about Cesar. Sam knew much more than George did. “Cesar was brought up under the tutelage of…” George almost let slip what Sam told him when the DA interrupted him.
“George, you sound like you’ve done your research.” The DA’s slurred words startled George. “But let me assure you that we’re working on it, but all we’ve got are bits and pieces. Bits and pieces. Bits and pieces don’t lead to convictions. It helps to understand human nature. I’m not saying that we have anything significant.” For Bill Fisher, this was all he was willing to reveal. He was always tightlipped about work in his office. No one on the outside knew how his office worked. “George, I hear that within you there is a police chief, a clear-sighted diplomat, and master detective. I’ve also heard people say that you’d make a great mayor.” As he spoke the DA watched George’s agitation grow.
“Yes of course,” the minister interjected. “A great mayor. Before I heard the call of the Lord I used to frequent Cesar’s club. We all did. He always had a great band. Good Lord, that doesn’t seem like that long ago.”
Cesar and the DA were old friends … went to high school together. Little hellions. Duck tails and turned-up collars and all that stuff. “We were drag racing buddies. Played chicken the year Bobby Lane died in a car crash. Both of them were always in trouble. I didn’t have a choice. My father was a policeman.”
George trembled inside. If Bill Fisher and Cesar were close, any investigation seemed pointless. Even if George didn’t know all the facts he knew that he knew too much for his own good. Tiny fragments of evidence … bits and pieces … as if held together by a magnet then came together and frightened him. George knew he knew too much.
To be a free man like Higgs, except George didn’t know what was going on with the old man. Higgs made a good mayor.
“Oh by the way, George what do you think of Charlie’s luck?” George gritted his teeth and ignored the DA’s taunt. “Yes, that’s to say that it’s someone else’s misfortune. Tell me George, is Angela a kind of woman that would interest me? I think not. I hear she’s sluttish.”
George wondered whether being married to Anna would spoil his life. George thought about asking Anna to marry him and wondered whether being totally devoted to her would wear him out. But he was doing just fine. He didn’t need to be married. He didn’t need entanglements. He just needed to escape the Cesars and the Bill Fishers of the world. His quickest escape then seemed to be a virtual tour of his own adolescence.
Growing pains. Growing pains hurt. Serious mistakes but nothing fatal. Spanish fly and the flamingo. Imaginary people and all of their vices. Old agony. There was no safeguard against wickedness and like snares. Up and down … morning, noon, and night, up and down an elevator. Running wild. Running hell out of mother’s MG. By then he crossed the great divide.
“So you really know Cesar?”
“Excuse me,” laughed Bill. “Do I really know him? Why he was like a brother to me. I was an idiot who ended up on the right side of the law. So Rev, where’s fairness?”
“Don’t ask me. I refer to God.”
George felt shaky, almost giddy.
“Oh dear me!” cried George in confusion. “I’m sure, good or bad, we all have our impressions of Cesar.” George’s mind jumped from place to place. One minute he was brimming with optimism, the next feeling hopeless. He remembered warts, bunions and pimples. He remembered going through phrases. He remembered where the idea about him becoming mayor came from.
Anna joined George, when remarkably he felt the need for her support. He needed Anna more than ever.
“You’re right there, we should all look to God,” declared the minister without a smile. “And Cesar is a human being worthy of respect. And …”
“And you’re obviously drunk,” added George.
“And a work in progress,” continued the minister.
“And you wouldn’t believe how ridiculous you sound!” cried George.
“We never get credit … the credit that we deserve … our people … there I go again … our people. We’ve all sinned. Including you. I’ve had my share of close calls.”
“I hear your congregation is growing,” put in Bill Fisher. “You must be doing something right.”
“Jesus deserves the credit,” the minister replied, obviously pleased. He turned to George, who was dumbfounded. “You seem agnostic to me. You ought to read what Paul says about agnosticism.” The minister obviously wanted to know more about George. “Enough said.”
“I know nothing about theology, yet I feel that it has everything to do with my running for mayor. Figure that one. Equate my running for mayor with war here. Win or lose, it’s war.”
“You’re not exaggerating when you call it war,” said Anna.
“As it is said, by their works ye shall know them. Prepare yourself. Be a good Boy Scout.” Hearing this George glared at a drunken DA. “It seems to me,” continued Bill Fisher, “that you’ve got yourself too worked up and are too emotional. If you had more distance, more objectivity, and less passion… Besides in my opinion people get pretty much what they deserve.”
“Exactly,” cried George. “People get pretty much what they deserve. That pretty much says it. And I damn well don’t want to be mayor!”
“George, who said you wanted to be mayor?” asked Mrs. Martinez. “Let’s all applaud him for not wanting to be mayor.”
Anna’s reaction was the most extreme. Ready to drag George out of the room, she grabbed his wrist; and George, jerking his arm away, hit Mrs. Martinez in the nose. Maria Martinez swayed and squeezed her nose to stop it from bleeding. Reaction from everyone was one of horror. It’s difficult to describe how George felt. It was difficult. It was just the sort incident that he thought might happen and was dreading. He could’ve panicked. It could’ve been the end of the world. Now he felt humiliated as he stood there feeling naked. Then everything turned around, and in place of horror there was laughter. Thank God Mrs. Martinez wasn’t upset.
For what felt like forever George was disoriented, and he stood apart from everything. To him it was like watching strangers interact. With Mrs. Martinez’s bloody nose, words were thrown back and forth and Angela turned pale. There was no love for George on her face, no compassion, only contempt for him.
Maria Martinez spoke laughingly and said something very kind while she held her bleeding nose with a handkerchief. Anna also couldn’t contain herself and laughed.
George asked at last, “Will you forgive me, Mrs. Martinez?”
“All this fuss over a bloody nose. Why there’s nothing to forgive.”
George started to leave, but Anna wouldn’t let him go.
“Don’t go,” Anna whispered.
“You have no idea how happy that makes me.”
“Calm yourself, my friend,” said Bill Fisher, as he reached out for George. “Go on. Say it!”
“Haven’t you gone after some pretty big fish?”
“Yes I have in my day.”
“And just how many have gotten away?”
The DA squirmed and muttered, “I’d hope not many.
“And wasn’t it you who made a reputation by sending a couple of sixteen-year-olds to the gas chamber?” This time, however, George didn’t know what he was talking about. The fact was that he knew very little about the DA. He didn’t know if Arizona had a gas chamber. “And you mother,” he suddenly asked Mrs. Martinez, “didn’t you rent me a room in hopes that I’d marry one of your daughters?”
“What’s gotten into you?” asked Maria Martinez.
“George is in rare form tonight,” Angela murmured.
“So he is Angela.” George wasn’t sure who said that.
Angela managed a brave smile. Anna winked.
“By now I know George. He’s. … he’s. … what can I say?” was all Maria Martinez could muster.
“I came here not sure of a reception … unsure of how I would be treated, or mistreated,” George went on. “Then someone suggested that I could become mayor. For those of you who expected an acceptance speech I say thanks but no thanks.”
“Look he’s trembling,” Bill Fisher observed. “I’m sure he would make a fine mayor.”
“And we’re surprised that there’s another killing,” declared George. “Someone should step up. Who is that someone? Ask the DA here. That’s how someone could make a name for himself, but I’m not your man. I’m not your man!”
The DA was talking to the minister. While the minister listened he kept looking in George’s direction.
“So we live in Gomorrah.” George.
“Some days it feels like it,” agreed the minister.
“But out of darkness we must emerge.”
“Yes George. Out of darkness we must emerge.”
“Where old courthouse cronies grease each other’s palms. Where there are tales of corruption and malfeasance by well-meaning men and women. What are we going to do?”
“Our sins are inherited by our children.”
“I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I’ve had my kudos … but mayor?” George didn’t know why he kept bringing up the idea of running for mayor. For some time he tried to leave. The minister was still trying to stop him. To leave George tried to push his way free.
Maria Martinez was the first to realize that something had gone, terribly wrong. “Oh, no,” she cried.
Anna stepped in between George and the minister in time to receive the full brunt of her lover’s savagery. Her head hit the floor. Her head hit the floor when she fell. Her head hit the floor after George hit her. Afterward she lay on a carpet with her face contorted with pain. Some of them remembered that George said nothing. She hadn’t expected him to knock her down. No one expected it. In shock most of them said nothing. Anna offered excuses. “Lately he’s been under a lot of strain.”
Maria Martinez said to the minister as she bid farewell, “Well, it’s neither black nor white.”
Two or three days afterward people were still talking about what happened.