As Zen sat in his car smoking, dreams of reality came flooding back to him like pictures from a long dead childhood. Black and white photos to soothe and cut into the heart’s memory of time and space. A stop sign up ahead almost covered by the gritty sand of the grape fields. Huge gusts of wind blowing into and through life’s safe little havens. Those almost forgotten piles of sand in the kitchen sink under that east facing window. The first thing you saw as a kid when you went to the kitchen for breakfast. The mountains blown clean and stark in the days bright light. Only to fade into that long dismally dark of night’s long journey to daylight once again and maybe peace. Peace of mind came and went with the hurricane of wind and dust. Dust and grit sandblasting everything in it’s path.
The smoke felt good in his lungs. He sucked it deeper. John had always hated these all night sit and watch jobs Vivian was forever finding him so he could pay the rent on time and eat. Especially in December, the month of the Mother and Child and hope. Now that he’d lost Amos Fly his hopes seemed to have dimmed. With hope dashed, the life we live ends all hope and time punches out your lights with one last hurrah. Let’s hit him again. He ain’t bleeding. Yet.
Vivian, yeah, sweet, Vivian. Some babe, Vivian. Zen thought. She stuck with him through thick and thin like she was his sister. This Amos Fly job was for her. A cheap payback for all the past deeds come and gone. Future deeds as well.
The trees and grape vines bent with a new blast of wind. Dust and sand scraped at the car windows finishing the pitting the sand and wind had started in past Decembers. With one last long deep drag from the Pall Mall it gave up it’s life and flooded his lungs with another. Zen crushed the butt out in the ashtray. This bird on the run, Amos Fly, probably a small time ginch with a taste for bad juju and larceny was gone and into that wind.
The blowing sand piled up along the road like drifting snow. Great brown patches of the stuff serpenting along the road’s edge obscuring it completely in places. Tumbleweeds stacked up against everything that got in their way. Fences, houses, or anything else that stood still long enough. Tumbleweeds, brought to this desert years ago by some mad man in hopes that the cattle they had imported would feed on it. The cattle wanted nothing to do with the prickly weed. Thousands of tumbleweeds piling up like a log jam in a river of sand. Sitting and waiting for some one with a pitch fork and a strong back to come and clear them away. The pitchfork. The Devil winds. It was as if God was speaking and no one was listening.
When Zen got to Euclid Ave he needed to make a choice. Stay up near the foothills or go south on that street named for the mathematician. The street lined on both sides with miles and miles of gravilla and pepper trees. A street with a wide median that stretched from the lemon groves of the foothills south to the dairies. All those trees standing like more sentinels at the gates of heaven and hell. The trees were planted by brothers who had come from Canada years ago to build a city of their dreams. They did the job then moved on to Australia to start all over again. Zen opted for the trees and river of green over the brown shifting sand. A full stomach and lungs full of nicotine made it hard for him to stay awake as he passed through the rhythmic early morning shadows of the tall trees. He needed to get to a phone and make some calls. Calls that if made soon enough might do some good in finding Amos Fly.
Lack of sleep and a desire to see his old friend, Sam Hobbs, owner of the once swanky, Ford Lunch, in Ontario, pushed John further south. At one time, Ford Lunch was the place to stop on the way out to Charlie Farrel’s Palm Springs paradise. Which in the late 30’s was a youthful watering hole for the makers and shakers of Lotus Land. Along the way, Ford Lunch became a pit stop for the jaded. That is if you weren’t a Mexican or worse yet, Black. That’s the way things were before the last two wars and even today after the Korean police action. Sam and his brother also owned a string of race horses along with several hundred head of prime beef. Which of course, didn’t eat the tumbleweeds either. Sam and John went way back as John’s mother was at one time the Hobb’s family cook and cleaning lady.
Thinking of the phone calls he needed to make Zen made the left turn from Euclid onto Holt Blvd. Three rapid fire shots rang out. The rear window of his coupe suddenly shattered into thousands of glass missiles. The flying shards biting at the back of John Zen’s neck. Almost losing control of the coupe and narrowly missing a delivery truck at the curb Zen jerked the wheel hard right then left while power shifting into second gear. Tires smoking, he sped away from the intersection. He could feel the blood begin to trickle down his neck to his collar. Zen careened along to the next corner and made a squealing right turn and went a block south into the Ontario Police Department’s parking lot. Some of the bulls were already outside lured by the gunfire and screeching tires. One of the men was John’s old high school buddy, Chief of Detectives, Don Ray. Zen parked and then went to the trunk for a towel to put on his bleeding neck. His old friend ran up to him and said.
“Christ, it had to be you didn’t it, Zen?”. The big blond man grabbed John’s free hand and pumped a greeting.
“What other circumstances would you prefer?”, smiled Zen.
John then told his friend what had just happened. The Chief of Detectives sent the squad cars out to look for anything and everything. Don Ray spoke again.
“Come inside and we’ll take a look at your neck.”
The two old friends walked inside talking of old times and leaving the current situation for later. After Zen’s neck had been cleaned up John told his friend why he was in town his and about and the flown, Amos Fly. A uniformed officer knocked and entered the office shaking a manilla folder.
“Chief, we found these on the backseat of your friend’s car. Looks like small caliber rounds but they’re pretty well smashed up. I doubt they will be of any use to us.”
Don Ray just nodded his head and the officer turned and left. After a moment he spoke.
“Fly? Yeah, I’ve heard of him.” said the Chief of Detectives. “He’s been around the area for several months and works for one of the vineyard boys out in Cucamonga.”
The chief continued, “He got into trouble a few weeks back over the working girl you mentioned but nothing more than that. Though there’s been some talk about a racing wire and some of the guys he’s working with. But nothing we can put a finger on.”
“Yeah, okay, who does he work for?”, asked Zen.
“You mean, the Otter?”
“Yep, that’s him”, replied his old friend.
“Christ, the mob. I might have known.”
The Italian mob had long ago made it’s presence felt in the bucolic Cucamonga/Upland/Ontario area. Lured there by cheap land and a land that grew some of the finest mission and zinfandel grapes in the world. The mob usually kept a low profile in the hinterlands, while saving it’s more lurid life for the city of Lost Angels. Out in the vineyards they held their secret meetings and initiation rites for the new “made men”. Some of those men, at times, made their way back out to the vineyards only to find a hole waiting for them in some quiet spot among the vines. Or made a last car ride out to the area only to be dumped along some lonely stretch of farmland road. Dead, of course, before they hit the pavement.
With mob involvement things had made a drastic turn for the worse for Zen. Involvement that meant he would need to have local police help and he would need to help the cops. Both men agreed to help one another in any way they could. After bidding farewell to Don Ray he made a stop at a local car dealer to have the coupe’s rear window replaced. While waiting for the repair he made several calls on their pay phone. One of the calls was to another friend, Ben Morris.
“Hannigan’s”, growled the voice that answered the phone.
“Ben, you old Irish pretender you.”
“That you, John? Listen I have some fight tickets. The guy I was going with can’t make it. You wanna go? We”ll be so close we’re gonna get sprinkled with sweat and blood, my friend. A regular pugs baptism.” Laughed Ben.
“Great, sounds good. Look Ben, I need a favor. We need to talk, privately.”
“Yeah, okay. Come to the bar tomorrow morning, before we open. I’ll be here.”
“Thanks Ben. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Fine. tell Vivian I still love her.”
“You and me both, pal. See ya.”
With that Zen rang off, collected his coupe, and made the long drive home for some much needed sleep.
Bad juju and that long drive home made for one tired p.i., thought Zen, as he finally made it over the hill named for the cereal king, W. K. Kellogg, and down into the next valley. It was a little cooler and somewhat less windy there as the sun was quickly fading with a long free fall into a crimson and gold flecked sky. Car headlights flicked on like maniac fire flies searching for love or lust. Thoughts of going by the office were long gone. He wanted only booze, a shower, and sleep. He would also call Vivian. Vivian…yeah…one hell of a case you found for us, eh, sis?, he thought. Parking on the street he quickly made it up the stairs to his apartment. Silently he opened the door and stepped into the darkness. As usual after he’d been gone for a time John had his .45 out. Zen’s body was tense with his senses reaching into the dark apartment. Not finding anything he sighed and turned on the lights. Zen, stripped off his bloody clothes and stepped into a very hot shower. The hot shower felt good as the blood and grime were washed down the drain. Stepping out of the shower he felt somewhat renewed. He dried off and got into a robe.
John made a drink of scotch on the rocks and drank it down. He made another then called Vivian.
Vivian answered with, “Oh, Zen, where have you been? I’ve been so worried.” Zen replayed the days events for her.
“My God no, Zen, what have I done? When my old school chum, Brenda May, asked if I or uh you could help her out with this Fly character I never realized it would lead to this. I knew she had fallen on hard times but now this mob deal. Oh my God. I should never have asked you to help me or my friend, oh my God, Zen, what have I done?”
The words had come out in such a rush it made Zen chuckle. His first laugh of the long day. “It’s okay, Vivian. It’s okay. Look, I think I need to find a place out in Ontario in order to be a little closer to the action.”
“Sure, Zen, whatever you say”.
“Okay, Vivian, I’ll see you at the office in the morning. Have a good night, sis.”
“Yes, alright, Zen, sleep well and lock the door.”
”Done deal, babe.”
With that they said good bye. Zen, checked the magazine in his .45 one more time, re-chambered a round, finished off the scotch, turned the lights off, and feel into bed.
Sleep came almost instantly. The dreams came later. At first just movies to amuse the mind. Nothing really to be remembered. One of life’s little perks in living color with sound and maybe some laughs, if you were lucky. Just stuff the bored mind makes up while we sleep and how’s it go…to perchance dream. The simple movies vanished with an explosion of brilliant white light. Hot lead rained down from above pelting him as he scurried head down looking for somewhere to hide. Death was all about but it never found him. Death found others in his stead. The dream of Korea was back. This night with a vengeance. A phone was ringing far away. Getting closer with each ring. Zen struggled with the dream and the ringing phone. As usual the phone won.
“Yeah. Alright. I’m awake.”
“Zen?” It was the voice of his cop friend, Don Ray. “Look we found Amos Fly.”
“Out near Rialto Colton and the cement pit.”
“Is he alive?” As soon as Zen spoke the words he knew the answer.
“No, Zen, he was…I know this is a little early for this but he was drawn and quartered.”
“Whoa. Okay. Let me get it together and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“You know where it is, right?”
“Yeah, i remember it. The place with the flagpole right by the side of the road.”
“That’s it. See you when you get here.”
John Zen knew the place. It had been there for what seemed like forever, a huge mound of concrete to be mined and used to build the homes and businesses in the area. Of course Zen knew it. Zen knew that when the mountain of concrete powder was gone, when it gave up it’s last load, Zen would be just some more dust and powder. He would be dead like the last roses of a warm December.