Chris Honore’ (Colombia 1967-69)
My mouth going dry, my heart side stroking toward my throat, I turned slowly, squinting into shadows. Suddenly, Margarita Sonrisa was standing there, wearing a long silk nightgown, wispy spaghetti straps, the outline of her lovely shape lushly revealed. She was something, Margarita Sonrisa. A come hither voice that could chase a note to the deepest corners. Her latte skin smooth, lovely, darkened by the shimmering white of her gown, the front marred only by a delicate spatter of blood.
Margarita Sonrisa. You tell me. She sang at a local nightspot, Las Palmas, a dusty place off the strip, all white stucco and neon outside, dim and stale inside. Most nights she stood alone at a microphone singing desperate songs that snapped your heart and dropped it at your feet and made me, like all the other mooks in the place, fall in love with her again and again. Where she came from, hell, it was anyone’s guess. South of this, north of that. But this was L.A.; no one asked, no one cared.
She’d moved in with Cal a month ago and damned if you could explain to me why. Cal was a train wreck, pasty and bleary-eyed, crude, secretive, a sliver under your thumbnail. Yet, I knew Margarita was there, in his small, stale place, sharing his gray, wrinkled sheets. Or so I figured.
Light barely touched her and I saw in her hand a Tula Tokarev, a mean little Russian military automatic. Blue-black steel, 8 rounds, made a hole like a drop of black ink, and was usually found tucked snugly into Cal’s ankle holster.
I looked hard at that pistol, lethal as snake venom, and at Margarita, her lovely face calm and distracted, her large, dark eyes staring at me, at the room, and at Cal, her black hair hanging in strands around her face.
I’d heard her words, “Danny, you have to help me…” and looking at her holding that little show-stopper, at the wreck of a living room, I knew that things had just gone from unexpected to dicey.
“I was asleep, but I woke… Heard Cal talking on the phone. Yelling. Something about a picture. Then…” Her voice was a whisper, uncertain, fear and shock nudging each word. Or so it seemed.
Cal was laying on the floor in a halo of congealed blood, a small hole near his temple, a nimbus of red gore on the creamy wall near his desk.
“He’s dead, Danny,” she said.
I walked over to Cal and looked down at him. Still dressed in yesterday’s clothes. An arrogant man, massive-looking in his signature brown suit, oxblood brogans, a no rules cop, taking people and twisting them with what he knew or swore he could find out. Collecting payoffs like a toll taker. Now here was the end of it.
I glanced at Cal and then at Margarita. She stood there in the vague speckled light looking back at me, waiting, the hand holding the gun still rigid at her side.
I noticed Cal was clutching a photograph tightly in his right hand. Reaching down, I pried it loose, his hands cold and clammy to the touch. It was black and white, grainy, the flashbulb turning Cal’s face from lust to surprise. I studied the image. “What the…?” I said softly. Sure, Cal manhandled women, pushed them around, some willing, some not. Always had a hard time with the word “No.”
I turned the picture over. Scrawled in black ink was one damning sentence: “Won’t be long now.” Four words. But I knew exactly what Cal saw coming. Scorched earth. Devastation. The photo was of Cal and a local street girl. Claudia Heartland, I’d called her. Hair the color of new corn, long graceful legs, a pretty face, still fresh, every glance filled with hope and expectation. Came to Hollywood to break into pictures and sure enough, she had. Only this was her first and her last.
Claudia was two weeks dead, now, violently dead, found off the Pacific Coast Highway shot in the head. And the photograph was of Cal straddling her, her torn skirt hiked up, her face a mask of fear, and in Cal’s right hand the Tokarev, pointed down at sweet Claudia’s left eye.
Cal must have found the picture pushed under his door early that morning, that one sentence scrawled on the back. And suddenly he was on the receiving end, knew his life was about to be dropkicked, prospects narrowed to that Russian automatic, the one Margarita found on the floor when she was awakened. The one Cal used to dispatch himself with after he’d gone berserk with fear and anger and loathing – loathing for the whole of it, the rank scams and cheap hustles.
Only in L.A. Where nothing, I mean nothing, is what it seems, even my photo.
Chris Honore’ (Colombia 1967-69) was born in occupied Denmark, during WWII. After the war, he immigrated to America. He went to public schools and then attended San Jose State University and the University of California, at Berkeley, where he earned a teaching credential, an M.A. and a Ph.D. After teaching high school English for two years, he joined the Peace Corps. He’s a freelance journalist based in Ashland, Oregon. His wife owns a bookstore on Main Street. His son is a cinematographer, living in Southern California.