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
......"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
......"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.
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
......"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
......"Everyone froze. It
seemed like forever. Oscar ran out the door. I am so worried
......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?"
......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?"
......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.
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
......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
......"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.
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
......"Your brother's sweetheart
hired me to help him."
......"You will help him
I said. "I'll find him and protect him when he turns himself
......"And who will protect
......I didn't have a good answer
for that one.
......"You will not find
......"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
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?"
......"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
......"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
......"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?"
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."
......"Go on. You did a
......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."
......"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.
......"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
......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
......"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
......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
......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
......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."
......"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
......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,
......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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...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."
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