For Felina...
A Jack Brady Story

by Robert W. Tinsley


Querida . I know I have done a terrible thing. That I did it in front of your eyes tears me apart. My only thought was to protect you, to protect our love. To see that pig lay his hands on you drove me mad.

****

......Kathleen, my secreta- . . . executive assistant, escorted Felina Ochoa into my office and seated her in one of my client chairs. Taking the other client chair, Kathleen opened a steno pad and prepared to take notes.

......Felina had come to Brady Investigations to save her boyfriend. "Señor Brady, you must help my Oscar. He is in big trouble."

......Felina was a waitress, just barely old enough to work in Rosa's Bar on San Antonio Street in downtown El Paso. A foot shorter than my six-four, she had a figure somewhat heavier than is fashionable these days but with all the right curves in all the right places. Her eyes were huge, dark pools in a heart-shaped face framed by short hair so black it seemed to have purple highlights. And her mouth. A little wider than necessary, perhaps, but with an upper lip shaped like a recurve bow and a full, rounded lower lip. In short, a mouth that could light a fire in just about any male she pointed it at.

......"What kind of trouble, Miss Ochoa?" I asked.

......"There was a fight in Rosa's last night. Oscar, he hurt a man."

......"How badly was the man hurt?

......"They said he was dead. But it wasn't Oscar's fault. It was mine."

......Great. A murder. Thanks for thinking of Brady Investigations...

......Kathleen was giving me the evil eye, willing me to cut her off. But the truth is, I'm a sucker for a pretty face and a sob story. It's part of why I do what I do: take on strangers' trouble.

......"Let's back up a bit," I said. "What's Oscar's full name? Tell me about him."

......Kathleen rolled her eyes.

......"Oscar Fernandez. He is a student at the Universidad Autonoma de Juarez. He studies political science. He is very sweet, very romantic. He writes me letters every day."

......The political science department at UAJ was known for its hotheads. They were always organizing some demonstration or other, especially around election time.

......"And the dead man?" I asked. "Know anything about him?"

......"His name was Ramón. He was a policeman. Well, he was going to be. He had just graduated from the police academy and was celebrating with some of his friends fromthe barrio."

......Wonderful. It just kept getting better.

......"Why do you say the fight was your fault?"

......"I was flirting with Ramón. I do it with all the customers. They stay longer, buy more drinks, tip better. Rosa said I was doing a good job.

......"Oscar picks me up after work, but almost never comes inside. He says I should get a better job. But last night he came in. When I took a new round of drinks to Ramón's table, he put his arm around me. By the time I noticed Oscar, it was too late." Felina looked at her lap, shaking off tears. "Oscar just seemed to explode. He started shouting and took a pool cue from the rack. He ran at Ramón and swung at his head. Ramon went down..."

......Kathleen handed Felina a Kleenex.

......"Everyone froze. It seemed like forever. Oscar ran out the door. I am so worried about him."

......I took a deep breath. "What do you want me to do?"

......"Ramon's friends in the police are after Oscar. I am afraid they will kill him. Please find him before they do. Help him."

......"I can't help him get away," I said. "If I find him, I'll have to turn him over to the police."

......"But you can't! They will kill him."

......"If I don't turn him in, I'll be in as much trouble as he is. I'll turn him in myself, make sure he isn't hurt."

......Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kathleen staring daggers at me. She came to work for me right out of the Navy having spent two tours as a Master at Arms, a member of the Navy's police force. She got real uncomfortable whenever I stepped over the line of the law. But, hell, I spent twenty years as a Navy SEAL. Stepping over the line was what I did. Hard habit to break.

......Felina leaned forward, her eyes brimming with tears. "Will you do this? Will you protect my Oscar?"

......"Yes, Miss Ochoa, I will personally take him to the police. If I can find him. Where does he live?"

......"He has an apartment on Arizona Street."

......"Isn't he a Mexican national?" asked Kathleen.

......"Si, but he moved to El Paso to be nearer to me. When he isn't here, he stays with his sister in Juarez."

......"Does he own a car?" I asked.

......She nodded. "A red Mustang. An older car. I don't know what year. It has frontera plates on it."

......The Mexican government issues frontera plates to all Mexican residents within 35 miles of the border. You see almost as many "Front. Chih." plates in El Paso as you do Texas plates.

......"Do you have a photo?" asked Kathleen.

......Felina dug into her purse and pulled out a snapshot of her with Oscar. It looked like they were at Ascarate Park. They were almost the same height, although Oscar's mop of stringy hair gave him a slight edge. He looked like he would blow away in a high wind.

......"I'll need you to make a list of Oscar's friends and their addresses," I said. "As complete as you can make it."

.........That's when Kathleen said, "Señorita Ochoa, we'll also need a retainer from you, some money for expenses."

......"Oh, yes, I understand," said Felina. She rummaged around in her purse and came up with a handful of small, crumpled, beer-stained bills. It came out to $107.00. I told her that would be fine for now.

......"Kathleen," I said, "why don't you take Miss Ochoa out front and give her a receipt? And sit her down and those names and numbers from her?"

......A few minutes later Kathleen came back in and shut the door behind her. "Shall I go get the mop and bucket?"

......"What for?" I asked.

......"To clean up the puddle of drool. Instead of throwing her out on her ear, you take a retainer. One-sixth of what we usually ask, by the way."

......II couuldn't argue, so I smiled and said, "You had to ask."

......"At least we're getting something for the job."

......I raised my eyebrows. "We?"

......"Damn straight. Someone has to pick you up when you trip over your own dick." Kathleen sighed and folded her long, lean frame into the client chair Felina had vacated.

......"Very well, Grasshopper," I said. "I'll let you help with this."

......Kathleen wanted to be a private investigator. I wanted her to be my sec - executive assistant. I wasn't going to win, but I hate training people. Intellectually I understand that people need time to train and perfect new skills, but I'm an impatient man. Always have been. The learning curve makes me nuts.

......"What I want is for you to quit calling me Grasshopper."

......"David Carradine in Kung Fu never seemed to mind," I said.

......"David Carradine is an old man now, like you. Let's get to work."

......"The guy could be anywhere. He could have made it into Juarez, or he could have thought they had enough time to close the border and stayed in El Paso. Split the names into two lists: one for the El Paso addresses, and one for Juarez. You take the ones on this side of the river, I'll take the ones in J-town."

****

Can you ever forgive me, mi vida? To have brought this thing upon you is my greatest shame. We have been apart less than a day, but it feels like a lifetime. I cannot live without you, mi amor.

****

......I headed over the Stanton Street Bridge to Mexico. El Paso and Juarez are essentially one large metropolitan area of nearly two-and-a-half million people. There are three official crossing points over the Rio Grande within the municipal borders of El Paso: the Stanton Street and El Paso Road bridges downtown (one way each), the Bridge of the Americas at what used to be Cordova Island before they tamed the mighty Rio by confining the remaining trickle to a concrete canal fifty feet across, and the Zaragosa Bridge in the Lower Valley. Every day tens of thousands of people cross those bridges in each direction, going to work, going home, or going to play. Makes for a hell of a traffic jam.

......I spent a fruitless three hours at the UAJ. A few students admitted knowing Oscar, but no one would admit to knowing where he was. Because of the demonstrations and the reactions of the Mexican Judicial Police and the Federales, the students were very suspicious of anyone asking questions.

......I headed toward the address Felina had given me for Oscar's sister. I was going to a place the tourists never see, far from the mansions along Avenida 16 de Septiembre. The roads were narrow and mostly dirt, the houses long boxes of concrete block about ten feet wide, each butting up against its neighbors, the vast majority two-stories, in order to squeeze maximum floor space from the tiny lots. Most of them had rebar sticking out of the tops of the concrete block above the roof. so the owners could claim the houses were unfinished, minimizing the tax bite. The only sign of individuality was the color each owner slapped on the block. Every shade of the rainbow and then some.

......Oscar's sister, Candelaria Solorio, lived in a turquoise house. Her postage-stamp front yard was bare dirt swept smooth and flat . Two metal chairs lined up beside the front door.

......I knocked on the screen door. The inner door was open and a hint of cooler air kissed my face on its way out to be incinerated by the heat of the day.

......A woman came to the door wearing blue jeans and a bright blue and green blouse covered by the thigh-length gray smock worn by virtually every female factory worker in Juarez. She probably worked the early shift at one of the maquilas so she could be home in time to meet her children as they arrived from school.

......The maquilas were what the U.S. press called "twin plants". A U.S. company would set up a manufacturing plant in el Norte to produce parts of a given product. They would then ship these parts to a plant in Juarez for assembly and ship the finished product back to the U.S. By locating the Mexican plant in one of the enterprise zones in Juarez, the U.S. company saved a bundle in taxes and import fees. Probably 70% of the employees in these plants were female.

......"Si? Who is it?" she asked in Spanish.

......"My name is Jack Brady, Senora Solorio," I replied in the same language. "I am an investigator from El Paso."

......A gringo is someone to be mistrusted, held at arm's length. But a gringo that speaks Spanish gets a little more consideration. A P.I. in West Texas better know the language or have a partner who does.

......"I'm here about your brother Oscar," I continued.

......"Dios mio," she said. She opened the screen door and stepped out on the four square feet of porch she had. "What has happened?"

......A gringo coming to her home and asking about her brother couldn't be good, but the look in her eyes told me she didn't know about the killing. I hated to be the one to tell her.

......Her hands flew to her face, as I explained. "Ay, Dios!" Her initial shock gave way to suspicion. "Why have you come here to tell me this?"

......"Your brother's sweetheart hired me to help him."

......"You will help him escape?"

......"No, Senora," I said. "I'll find him and protect him when he turns himself in."

......"And who will protect him after?"

......I didn't have a good answer for that one.

......"You will not find him here."

......"Can you tell me where else he might have gone? All I want to do is help him."

......Her eyes softened a little, but it was a while before she said, "He would not come to Juarez."

......"Why not?"

......"Felina," she said, her lips twisting in a sneer. "If he came here, he could not get back to El Paso to see her. My brother believes he is a character in a telenovela. Love is life. He would die for his love. That woman has taken advantage of Oscar's feelings. She leads him around by the nose. He writes her love letters. Long letters every day. If you truly wish to help Oscar, Senor Brady, watch her. He will not be able to stay away."

****

I must go away, querida. I cannot bring more shame and danger to you. But I cannot leave without seeing you one last time. To touch your hair, to breathe your scent once more. This I must do. Or die.

****

......While I was wasting time, tire rubber and breathing the dust of Juarez working my way through the list, Kathleen had been working the north side of the river. She called me about 9 PM on my cell.

......"Hey, Boss. Any luck?"

......"Nope. You?"

......"Where are you?"

......"Waiting in line on the Bridge of the Americas trying to get back into El Paso."

......"Traffic backed up?"

......"As usual," I said. "It'll probably be another 30 minutes before I'm breathing American air again. Did you find anything?"

......"When do I not? Which brings up a point: I haven't been getting much field time lately."

......I really hate training people.

......"Me sitting behind 300 cars all trying to get into the States is not the time or place to renegotiate terms of your employment." I tried again. "What did you find?"

......"I found him," said Kathleen. "Oscar."

......I gulped. "Where is he?"

......"An apartment belonging to a friend of a friend in Canutillo." She gave me the address. "I batted my lashes at the third guy on Felina's list, and he sent me here. Oscar's Mustang is in the back. Do you want me to wait?"

......Canutillo is a tiny bedroom community that butts up to the western edge of the El Paso city limits. "Yeah. Keep an eye on him. The way the traffic is moving I should be there in about an hour."

......"OK, Boss," she said. "See you later."

****

......I pulled in behind Kathleen's gray Taurus at 10:24. She climbed out of the car to meet me.

......I tilted my chin at the apartment house. "He still in there?"

......"Yep. His Mustang is out of sight around the back of the building. You going to go in and brace him?"

......"Brace him?" I asked. "You've been watching too many westerns. I'm going to go talk to him. Try to convince him to let me take him in."

......Her eyes lit up. "You want me to hang around? Watch your back?"

......Lord, give me patience. "I don't think my back will need much watching. He's just a scared kid needs someone to talk sense to him."

......Her face was a balloon I'd just let the air out of.

......"Go home and get some sleep. We can tie up the loose ends tomorrow."

......"Come on, Boss. This guy killed a cop. You can't go in there alone."

......"Kathleen, I must outweigh Oscar by a hundred pounds. If I can't take care of one skinny kid by myself, I might as well hang it up and raise jalapeños."

......"But..."

......"Go on. You did a good job."

......Too angry for words, she flounced off and got into her car.

......I watched her drive away, then I walked to the first-floor apartment door. After three rounds of knocking, each more vigorous than the last, I heard a tentative "Quien es?" through the door.

......"My name is Brady," I said in Spanish. "Felina sent me."

......"Who?" asked the voice.

......"Felina Ochoa. Look, you can either let me in or I can turn up the volume on this conversation and attract a lot of attention."

......I heard the doorknob rattle as someone unlocked the door. It was opened against a chain. I could see a strip of male human through the gap.

......"Where's Oscar?" I asked.

......"I don't know who that is," said the man.

......I was about to reply when my ears caught the sound of an engine out back.

......Shit. I stiff-armed the door, popping the chain. The guardian of the portal, a young man about half my size, flailed backward into the apartment, tripping over a cracked coffee table, landing on his butt. His eyes were about the size of Eisenhower dollars.

......The apartment was an efficiency with a combined living/dining/bedroom. A short bar set off the kitchen. There was only one way to go, so I went. I wound up in the bathroom looking out a small window onto an alley.

......The window was just wide enough for Oscar to shimmy through, but there was no way I was going to get my six-four, 280-pound frame through. I saw a Mustang's taillights moving down the alley.

......I turned and beat feet for the front door. The guy I knocked on his ass was just starting to get up. As soon as he saw me, he flopped back on the floor.

......Exiting the apartment I broke into a full run toward my truck. I jumped behind the wheel, but before I could close my door, the one on the passenger side opened. Kathleen flung herself into the seat and slammed the door.

......I don't think I screamed, but my heart sure skipped a beat or three.

......"What the hell are you doing here?" I started the Explorer, and pulled a screaming U-turn.

......"Watching your back," she answered me. "Like a partner is supposed to do."

......"You are not my partner. You are my employee. Employees are supposed to follow orders."

......"I'm not your partner yet."

......I caught up enough to see Oscar's tail lights. He made a left onto Talbot Road and then a right onto I-25.

......"What do you want to bet he's headed for Rosa's Bar?" said Kathleen.

......"No bet," I said. I punched Johnny Soto's home number into my cell phone. Johnny's in charge of the Crimes Against Persons Division of the El Paso Police and a longtime friend of mine. That might change after tonight.

......Johnny's wife answered and I knew I'd interrupted dinner. When I got Johnny on the line, I said, "I'm following Oscar Fernandez down I-25 toward downtown."

......The silence on the other end of the phone stretched way longer than was comfortable.

......I decided to go on. "I found Fernandez in Canutillo. Unfortunately he, uh, evaded me."

......"Evaded."

......"Yeah. He's headed downtown. I'd bet money he's headed to Rosa's Bar to seehis girlfriend. We're about ten minutes away."

......"You're betting more than that, Jack. I'll get some units to the area. If he so much as looks like he's headed somewhere else, call me on my cell. We'll discuss the whys and wherefores later." Johnny hung up without saying goodbye.

......I punched the "off" button on my cell.

......"Just how pissed is he?" asked Kathleen.

......"Really pissed. Didn't yell or anything."

......"I guess you won't be sitting down comfortably for a while."

......We spent the rest of the trip in silence. Oscar got off at the Downtown Exit and turned south on Mesa Street. I had to close the distance between us. When he made the turn onto San Antonio I was right behind him. He slammed to a stop in the middle of the street. I had to engage the anti-lock braking system to avoid being high-centered on his trunk.

......A block ahead of him two cop cars had pulled out to block the street. Splashes of red light bathed the interior of my Explorer and painted slashes of crimson on the walls of the surrounding buildings. Two more cop cars pulled in behind us. Next thing I knew there were uniformed cops on either side pointing guns at us. Kathleen and I put our hands on the dashboard. The bottom fell out of my gut. This wasn't going to turn out well.

......Ahead of us Oscar came to a decision. The brake lights went out. He gunned his Mustang forward. I couldn't believe my eyes.

......"No!" I yelled, though I knew he couldn't hear me.

......The Mustang jumped ahead like a quarter horse out of the gate at the Rainbow Futurity. He must have been doing almost 60 when he hit the 12-inch gap between the cop cars. Both cars were thrown back enough that the residual momentum of the fatally damaged Mustang carried it through the gap to come to a rest almost directly in front of Rosa's Bar.

......Searchlights and headlights washed the wreck of the Mustang. Even from here I could hear the cops yelling, telling Oscar to get out with his hands up.

......The passenger door of the Mustang flew open and Oscar threw himself out, trying to make Rosa's front door. His face was covered in blood. He had something in his hand.

......One of the cops yelled, "Gun!"

......It sounded like the Fourth of July. Stucco dust erupted in little puffs all over the front of Rosa's Bar. Luckily the windows were small. Neither of them got so much as a nick.

......It later turned out that the police had fired 28 times. Two of the bullets had found Oscar Fernandez. It was enough. He fell headlong to the sidewalk, rolling, coming to rest on his back.

......Rosa's front door was thrown open. Felina ran out and dropped to her knees beside her Oscar. Even from where we sat, hands on the dashboard, I could see her back shake with great heaving sobs.

......Oscar's right hand lay open on the sidewalk. In his palm lay a small book. A black leather-bound journal as it turned out.

......Felina kissed his face one last time.

****

Calor de mi corazon, this will be my final gift to you, the gift of my love. Read it from time to time and think well of me if you can. I will carry you in my heart forever.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Robert W. Tinsley.



Robert W. Tinsley is an expatriate Texan living in Colorado Springs, CO. He is a licensed mechanical engineer in private practice. In addition to the Jack Brady series, he has written over 40 non-fiction articles and is on the Editorial Advisory Board for Heating, Piping, and Air Conditioning Magazine.

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