5:00 a.m. – I push myself half way up Sabino Canyon, but it takes more out of me than I plan and I have to walk part of the 4 miles home.
I will meet Willie’s son Chuck in San Diego tomorrow. I call Jesse Wallace at the police station, but she isn’t due until ten. I call her house; her husband says she’s at Balon’s.
7:30 a.m. – Jesse is at the counter talking to a uniformed cop. She wears dark pants, a white cotton blouse and a jacket, and penny loafers. I slip into it the other seat.
Ron: I can’t believe the judge let him go. The next time we get a call it’s going to be murder. I feel it.
Jesse: Ron, you did your job, you made the collar, collected the evidence, crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. If you start feeling responsible for how the system deals with it afterward, you’re going to be a very unhappy policeman. You need to take pride in what you can control, your job. You can be a good cop in a lousy system, and that’s better than being a bad cop in any system.
R: And if that little girl turns up dead?
J: You can what if forever, but it won’t help. Get over it, move on, and don’t look back.
R: He looks at his watch; Tell George I said hi. If you want to get together next weekend, give Kelly a call. She’s the only one who knows what I’m doing from moment to moment.
J: To the waitress, The usual, Martha.
Me: Seemed like good advice, Detective Jesse.
J: So what are you doing here, Green. Following me?
Me: Sort of. Called your husband; he said I’d find you here.
J: I’ll have to tell him to be less forthcoming.
Me: Your young friend needs a little support?
J: He’s my half brother from the Anglo side of the family. Dad was a cop, a good cop, but Ron doesn’t understand yet that being a cop doesn’t mean he’s responsible for the entire justice system. It’s a tough concept, and I’m sorry to say, too many of my fellow officers don’t believe it. They want to mete out justice, but it ain’t our job, and when justice doesn’t happen, it usually isn’t our fault. Ron’s going to be a good cop, but he’s going to have to get by this little hurdle.
Me: So how did you get past it?
J: I didn’t. It breaks my heart and my spirit a little bit every time some scumbag I worked hard to collar walks free. It chips at my resolve to do the right thing, no matter what I said to Ron. It makes me want to plant that extra piece of evidence, to beat out a confession, to exact some form of punishment if the system won’t.
Me: But you’re going to learn to live with it?
J: I know it’s the right thing to do, but I have to fight it, else I’ll give up. So, no, I won’t learn to live with it. But I hope I keep the strength to continue to do my job the right way anyway. It’s an ongoing battle. I want Ron to think the same way, to look at the issues, to make decisions about what he will do instead of falling into what I call patterns of misbehavior. If he does the wrong thing, I want it to be for a reason, and not because he didn’t give it any thought. Is that too much to ask?
Me: Well, don’t give up, Detective Jesse. If I’m arrested, I want it to be by a cop who cares about what I’ve done, and justice. Still, you can only start the process of justice, and the worst thing is those police who believe they must exact justice because they don’t trust the system. I don’t want to live in that world, vigilantism with a badge.
J: Sometimes I feel alone, like I’m shoveling shit against the tide.
Me: Then preach. You have the power to make others think about what they’re doing. It’s like you said, too many fall into patterns of misbehavior without thinking about it. Some of them, once they have their minds pointed at it, will change. It may not be a large group, but it’ll grow.
J: You been thinking a lot about this, Green?
Me: I think a lot about the law, that it should be the handmaiden of justice. I’m too old to be a cop, so I’m doing the most I can, and I’m willing to take the long view. I use the voting booth, I have this conversation with you, and maybe in my job I can help others find justice. You, in your job can start a mode of thought that, who knows, might change the face of police departments throughout the country, but only if you, and people like you don’t give up. There, so much for my soapbox. Guess you’re wondering why I came looking for you?
J: That question crossed my mind.
Me: Well, let me catch you up on my investigation, and maybe find those licenses.
Jesse nods, but makes no commitment. I run her through my discussions with Bob Cook, Mary Lopez and Valerie Heintz. I don’t tell her everything, but then I don’t hold back much either. She asks a few questions to prove she is attentive. She pulls a slip of paper from the pocket of her jacket.
J: Any questions?
Me: So the Ford Mustang is licensed to Jasmine Gonzalez, 503 South 6th Court, and the old Honda to Geraldo Diaz, Nogales. What can you tell me about them?
J: You have high expectations.
Me: You’re not a person to skip the follow-up.
J: Here’s what I know. Jasmine Gonzalez is a hooker, high class hooker, still on her way up in the world. She’s living with another a notch lower, Jackie Mendez. Neither has ever been arrested, but they’ve been involved with people of interest, so we have a file on both. Jasmine comes from a good home in Los Angeles. Seems she started selling it in high-school, then moved to Tucson three years ago and branched out. Jackie’s from Honduras, and that’s about all we know of her. She’s legal, got a green card, although I don’t think it was to peddle her ass to the convention community. They’re independents, no known pimp, but then, they work a different side of the street so to speak. They are discrete as far as this type of work goes, else they’d have landed in the criminal justice system somewhere along the way.
Me: And Mr. Diaz?
J: Now Geraldo’s someone we’ve come in contact with; I have a good-sized file on him, although I’ve never dealt with the man myself. He’s a PI in Nogales, but he does most of his work north of the border, from Nogales, Arizona to Phoenix. He’s a mercenary, so if someone has hired him for anything requiring privacy, they should be worried. But most of his customers don’t know that until it’s too late.
Me: How do you know that?
J: Turns out he’s been a snitch on his clients four times, all for rewards. If you want to know what he’s doing following you, my guess is, offer him a couple hundred and he’ll spill his guts.
Me: You done good, Detective Jesse.
J: You’ll keep me informed, right? No, her information isn’t free, and my half-hour recap has caught her fancy, tells her a few things she didn’t know, opens new avenues to explore.
J: Green, I’m reluctant to give you anything, but you know what you’re doing, and you know the people involved. And there’s no way I could have gotten the information on Resource Tap you did. I also know you’re not going to stop, but I have to tell you, you’re on dangerous ground; and you’re treading between of law agencies with conflicted turf. I’m one of those groups.
J: I’m warning you to be careful. Take it for what it’s worth.
8:30 a.m. – Carrie leaves me a message; I call.
Carrie: You’ll never guess what I learned?
Me: Come on, Carrie, I’m really not up for forty questions?
C: I heard from my chiropractor friend, you know, Mike Rock, you met him before. He told me Willie bought the Smuggler’s bar and restaurant. According to Mike, it was a zero cash transaction, leveraged with an unsecured loan, from a bank even.
Me: Well, that sounds untrue.
C: I’m driving by now and they have a new sign up for the restaurant, the grand opening of Esmerelda’s Place. Hang on, I’ll take a quick walk through. The car door slams; Esme’s in there giving orders, and there’s a bunch of workman retooling the bar.
Me: Why don’t you take a seat and look inconspicuous. I’ll be there in fifteen and we’ll have breakfast. Or at least you can.
9:00 a.m. – The restaurant is busy with mostly hotel guests; Carrie sits on the outside edge with a view of the main seating area and the new construction on the bar. Esme is oblivious to us as she directs the waitresses. She crosses to the bar to direct placing the mahogany bar. Eduardo enters from the lounge entrance. He bends to her ear and whispers; she nods and pushes him towards the restaurant. He orders breakfast. When Esme sits, they have an animated conversation; and then in English, So, find it.
10:00 a.m. – From my house I leave a message for Geraldo Diaz, Mr. Diaz. This is CB Green, the man you’ve been following. If you sign onto my website, www.cbgreen.com, you’ll find an offer you can’t resist. Your password is Eduardo. I want to know what you know. I’m willing to pay for it, and you don’t have to stop following me. I spend the rest of the day talking to agents re selling the townhouse
11:00 a.m. – Jasmine lives in South Tucson, that Mexican city within an American City, on the divide between Tucson and South Tucson, a dangerous place. If they are hookers on the way up, why here? Still, the cul-de-sac is a haven of well-kept rooming houses owned by someone with the power to protect his property. I park behind the spotless Mustang with the DO-ME plate.
Jasmine: You’re not with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I hope. She has dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, a perfectly smooth complexion and even white teeth. She is five-ten and from the raised stoop looks me in the eye; she is lithely athletic with small breasts; the package is attractive. She is dressed for success in a pinstriped dark skirt and jacket and a raw silk blouse.
Me: I tell her my name; I’m a friend of Willie Lopez’s. I’m looking for his killer.
She pulls me into a nicely furnished room. Her direct look is disconcerting; the girl is very beautiful.
J: How can I help? The soft lilt is more Irish than Spanish.
Me: I saw you and your friend at Esme’s house, as I was driving in. She said you were with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
J: She would. I can’t stand the woman, but she’s friends with Jackie since forever.
Me: Yeah, but she was pretty mad with the two of you. It couldn’t have been what you did for Willie, you know, with the Russians?
Me: Come on Jasmine. I talked to the cops. They know about you two, so let’s get by it and see if we can help Willie.
J: You don’t have to be mean. Willie’s dead.
Me: I want to catch the killer. Do you?
J: More than you know. Willie was a good person. He had a heart of gold. I would have done anything for him.
Me: Were you lovers?
J: How could you say that? Willie tried, but I told him no, and he honored that. But he was randy like a teen-ager; and god how he loved those Viagra pills. Jackie sometimes relieved the stresses for Willie. He had a hard job, and he needed release. That cold bitch Esme wasn’t up to the task, so I asked Jackie to do it. She pauses; I paid Jackie to do it. Willie thought she did him for free, and it made him feel good that a hooker would find him so attractive. I was glad to do that for him.
Me: What about the two guys you set up for Willie?
J: They were giving him trouble. Willie paid us well to show them a good time. It wasn’t the first time we’d been taped. We played for the camera.
Me: Did you know he was going to blackmail them?
J: We didn’t know, but we knew. I’m sure Willie had his reasons. He was the man, and whatever he wanted was okay with us.
Me: Have you seen these two guys since?
J: Yeah, once, downtown, at Nordstrom’s. They were with their wives. The looks they gave us burnt a hole right through my heart.
Me: You did a lot for Willie, even took chances for him. Why?
J: Willie was good to us, right from the first time we met him at Wilmot Station, even after he found out we were prostitutes.
J: What were you doing at Wilmot Station? It not a place for paying fares.
J: We needed a place where we were normal people. Wilmot Station was our normal place. Don’t misunderstand, we were hit on all the time, but we said no. Anyway, we don’t do sex for free, and the regular clientele there don’t have the scratch.
Me: Did you know Esme before she met Willie?
J: Yes, she was a friend of Jackie, from before they came to the states. She came with us once to Wilmot Station, after her shift at the hospital. She put the moves on Willie real hard a couple months later. I’m sorry I got that started.
Me: Did you ever meet her son, Eduardo?
J: We called him Eduardo the Bull. He thought it was because he was such a big man, but it was short for bullshitter. Eduardo exaggerates everything; he is a man without nuance, like his mother. Jackie hated him, said he raped her when they were in Honduras. She said one day she’d cut his balls off and shove them down his throat.
Me: Did Esme know about this?
J: No, but one day I was so angry at her, I almost told her. I thought Jackie was going to faint. She made me promise never to tell Esme about Eduardo. She didn’t tell me why, but there’s a lot of shared blood down there.
Me: So I have to ask; inquiring minds want to know; So why do you do this for a living? You seem to have everything going for you. You’re beautiful, smart, personable … and very nice. You could make your way in anything you choose.
J: Mr. Green, I’m a hooker because I’m lazy and I like sex and I’m good at it; and I know what men like. I need money. I’ve only been doing this for three years, but in another four years I should be able to retire, maybe to the kind of home or living that you might approve of. She runs a manicured red nail down my cheek; I’m guessing you’re a man with the necessary funds, maybe we could get together some time.
Me: Jasmine, you’re very, very attractive, but I have people I love. Even if it was free, I’d pass it up and lust from a distance.
J: I knew you’d say that. I could really like you, Mr. Green.
1:00 pm – Lunch [$39] with Babs Morton, the real estate agent I’ve selected.
5:30 p.m. – At Wilmot Station I sit at the bar; the regular crowd comes in.
Me: To the bartender, Say, I was looking for a friend of mine I haven’t seen in a while, Willie Lopez. Do you know Willie?
Bartender: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your friend died last Friday.
Me: What ha-happened?
B: He was murdered. Willie had a lot of friends here.
Me: I was only here once, a year ago. Willie seemed to be the center of attention.
B: You bet, he was a standup guy who bought a lot of drinks. With a little less enthusiasm, Willie had a lot of friends who showed up almost every night. He was a real big shot in the business world. I saw a couple articles about him in the paper.
Me: I’m going to miss him.
The bartender has a hot streak of orders. A short man on the high chair at Willie’s table nurses a tall drink; whatever it is, it will always be the same, because this is the new sultan, and he needs his idiosyncrasies to set himself apart. A hard looking petty girl I recognize from before takes a chair, and then two women, older and not as good looking, settle in; and men start to congregate, and by seven the room is a star filled heaven, and the sultan’s table the galaxy.
Me: Have any of Willie’s regulars been back since?
B: Well, the regular riff-raff are here with new allegiances. That guy wouldn’t be so quick to jump in Willie’s grave. He treated it like some kind of royal ascension. Well, duh! It’s only a bar. Willie did it better, but still, a big shot at the Wilmot Station? What’s that equivalent to? You got to be reaching low to call that the top. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Willie, but being the leader of this group is only one step higher than the Lord of the Flies. Know what I mean?
Me: It’s sad. What about his business friends, or those two good-looking girls.
B: The two girls, they were hookers. Not for this clientele, but I saw it on them.
Me: Like his wife?
B: If I were a betting man, yeah. And his business buddies were real mean guys. They gave us a lot of business, but it’s business I’d rather not have. Two or three times caused a real ruckus.
4:00 p.m. – My flight to San Diego is on time.
6:00 p.m. – It is raining inSan Diego. I haven’t Debbie Lopez in the seven years since her divorce from Willie. She was as a thin, short blond, a little mousy, almost real pretty, but not quite. Willie courted her in Toronto on a year long two-weeks-a-month assignment for me; she worked for our company. Willie had the sultan’s chair at the Holiday Inn in North York and was on cloud nine, a potentate in two countries. In those days I ate out every night and generally had one drink short of too many; and too often I was caught up in the sphere of Willie’s realm. I remember meeting a girl at the bar, one of Willie’s hangers on. She was one of the most beautiful girls I’d ever known, even prettier than Jasmine Gonzalez. I’m not sure how, even with twenty-twenty hindsight, but that relationship started me down the path of separation from the sultanish Willie.
It is easy digress at times as the eclectic Willie rises like a ghost of disremembered recollections. So where am I? Yeah, Debbie. She and Willie were married in Lake Tahoe at one of those drive-in marriage places. I and Willie’s alcoholic brother, Danny, are the only invitees who attended. I had a sad feeling watching the fifty-five year-old lecher taking the twenty-three year-old child bride.
After the wedding I stayed with them when I was in San Diego. Willie’s new sultan’s chair was established in a bar six blocks down the hill from their penthouse apartment. In all my trips I attended once; it was ugly and old, but for Willie it was a familiar territory to trot out the same old routines, and to scavenge among the wreckage of other lives for a little vicarious enjoyment.
Debbie didn’t attend these shows, instead making a real life for herself. She had grown up in a poor neighborhood with abusive parents and a household of noisy siblings. She’d been lucky to graduate from high-school, and even then could barely read or write. She started at San Diego Junior College and boned up on the prerequisites, then applied to and was accepted by San Diego State. She graduated in four years with a degree in journalism, and what at times seemed like a visceral distaste for her you-can’t-drive-a-spike-with-a-tack-hammer husband. When the business fell apart, she let him run away.
I was an investors in his software firm. WLE, Willie Lopez Enterprises. The office was a constant bustle of deals being done, a magazine being published, clients being soothed, and egos of the prima donas he’d hired being blown up all out of proportion to their capabilities. I often marveled at Willie’s ability to keep so many balls in the air, but it was more out of chaotic desperation than controlled intent. Willie was a great starter of activities, but he never learned to finish anything.
WLE got positive local press as one of the fastest growing companies in town. He took company public on the Vancouver Stock Exchange by buying an existing shell of a past-defunct public company. Then, with the help of a slick bunch of conmen leaches, Willie became the president of a public company and devoted his full time to puffing up the stock. For fifteen months he rode the roller-coaster of a company badly out of control as he played a shell game with the books to hide the companies ever increasing blemishes from the market. Willie thought that he’d get the money out of the stock to fix whatever it was that was broken, but he was being squeezed from two ends. His controller was stealing money from under his nose, and the money guys in Vancouver were playing him like a puppet on string. I remember the call from Willie on a Friday afternoon; the stock had hit nine bucks and my fifteen thousand dollar investment was worth seven million! Willie was worth two hundred million! I spent the weekend walking on air, but on Monday I couldn’t reach my Canadian broker, and by one o’clock the exchange had shut down WLE trading when it hit a nickel. Our broker was one of the conmen, and it wasn’t our stock he was trying unloading at a bloated profit. I went on with life as if the four days of wealth had never happened, and Willie moved on to pick up his life without the encumbrance of wife.
It is twelve years since the Tahoe marriage and she is no longer the twenty-three year-old naive girl. Age had worn well on her, and the almost pretty girl has become the very attractive woman. She is the style section editor for the San Diego paper, and her new husband owns the largest law firm in Southern California.
Me: Debbie, was the time with Willie so bad?
Debbie: You can never know the half of it, but it was worth it. I could never have gotten my education any other way. I needed to sink to the bottom to change my life. If I’d stayed in Toronto, I’d have been mired in the ignorant but safe life of my friends and accomplished nothing. Willie took me out of that; so I ignore the bad times as necessary bumps in the road of life; but at the time it felt like prison. Willie wanted someone young and beautiful to hang off his arm, like a piece of jewelry. I didn’t want to be that person. I would watch myself go through the activities of cleaning house, preparing the meals, having sex, being at his side, but within months of getting married, my head was someplace else. Going to college was an escape, but then it caught me up. I couldn’t learn enough; and suddenly I was a threat to Willie, the Hispanic machismo Willie. I became the smart one, and I saw what was happening with the business. I told him to save some money when times were good, to cash out, but he wouldn’t hear it. He spent it all polishing the image. I made a try at finding who Willie was, but he was too busy painting the picture of who he thought he was.
Me: Was there a real Willie?
D: Sure there was. It was this scared little kid who wanted to be tough, but didn’t have what it took to be mean. It’s not that Willie wasn’t mean, but it was always with an edge of humor. He didn’t want to get anyone mad, just wanted to have a little fun. I’ve since learned it is schadenfreude; Willie took pleasure in the pain of others. It made him feel better to see others fail as he had. He gave them a shoulder to cry on so he could rejoice in the wetness of their tears. I’m being a little cruel to the dead, but I’ve learned the truth has a value; Willie never learned that. And when it all fell apart, Willie left a note saying the rent was a month behind; he wished me good luck! Well, while Willie squandered, I saved. In dribs and drabs from the household budget, my account had enough money to pay the rent and let me limp through the last six months of school. I even paid for the divorce. I never heard a word from him.
Me: There was a contract out on Willie when he died. Were there criminals in his past?
D: There were some strange things that happened. Two Hispanic guys showed up out of nowhere. I remember them because they were both named Manuel. Willie said they had been part owners in his bar business in LA. One of them said in jest that they were collecting on a past investment. They did drugs, cocaine I think.
Me: Did Willie do drugs?
D: No, never. Willie was down on drugs. He thought addicts deserved to die from their drugs, weak souls who didn’t deserve to live. But back to the two Manuels, Willie was scared of them. They bought almost a hundred thousand shares of WLE that Friday afternoon, the weekend before the stock crashed, even though Willie told them not to. Willie was gone by Monday afternoon. They asked me where he went, but I didn’t know. I was lucky they believed me. I heard your shared stockbroker turned up dead three months later, beaten and tortured. The IRS was more trouble, but after a while even they went away. In six months I’d pretty much gotten Willie out of my life.
D: The first time I met Willie, I though he was a fat old man. He looked sort of slimy. I never thought of him as attractive, but suddenly he was there around me all the time. I must have said no a thousand times. And then there I was getting married. When I tried to move everything was in slow motion. At the altar Willie looked like a fat spider, and despite some good things in our life, I could never get over a feeling of being drained of my bodily fluids to sustain him. When Willie left I was able to move again, to breathe freely. It was like a new person was born. Willie was a stage in my life I had to go through; he was my trial; he was my walking on coals. I am who I am because of Willie, so I try to be thankful for that. I wish I could say I was sorry he was dead, but I hope for Willie’s sake there is no God.
8:00 p.m. – I walk uphill in the rain to Willie’s and Debbie’s old apartment. They were on the seventh floor, in the penthouse with a great view of the harbor. I slosh down the hill to Max’s, Willie’s old stomping ground. It has changed names as well as function; Max’s is now Willie’s, a hamburger joint with a bright Formica-white interior. I order a burger and sit at the table closest to where I recalled Willie’s sultan’s seat. I think back to that night I was here, but the setting would not evoke the past.