A shot in the dark

When I was in the sixth grade, I was working after school in my parents bar, as usual. If you have read some of my stories on my website or novels, you are aware of my sordid past.

I walked from school each day to come to work in my parents, “establishment.” It consisted of three large rooms. A cafe with several booths and an adjoining kitchen, a long bar that opened everyday but Monday, and a large dancehall that could hold three hundred people easily when it was open, each Saturday.

At any rate, the bar had a long entry hall that the bar patrons would have to pass through as they came into the bar from the parking lot. They had to climb two concrete steps just in front of the doors. The floor was on a raised foundation and covered in wood, nearly one hundred years old. Our customers had to pass through two swinging doors, similar to a western saloon as they entered.

In that hallway sat a pinball machine that I played quite often, between chores. If I wasn’t mopping up vomit in the men’s room or loading fifty cases of beer into our dancehall coolers, you might find me in the dark bar playing pool on one of the two pool tables that stood there clad in green felt, calling out to me and the many troubled, drunk adults, that I called my friends.

I was playing the pinball machine when one of our bartender’s mother came in. She was a very old, small, and withered American Indian woman. She wore a heavy coat and carried a small black purse. Her shoes were covered in dust. She looked to be around eighty to me but was probably much younger. I was only about ten or eleven and had little skill in determining the age of women. They were and still are a dark mystery to me. She was probably fifty, but I thought she was much older for some reason.

She walked ten feet or so toward me and then turned to her left and entered the wide, shallow bar. There were two pool tables to her right, covered in green felt. Ray Gonzales was bent over one taking his turn at trying to sink the eight ball. His “Spock like ear” was clear to me as he leaned onto the pool table and under the bright light hanging above him to make his shot. His ear had been partially bitten off in a bar brawl years ago and the piece had been inserted under the skin of his chest. He had not had it sewn back in place yet. He looked like a pixie. He was not. He often made jokes about the ear under his shirt. He looked through the haze of the smoke from the cigarette in his mouth as he tried to sight the ball. His finger tips were covered in yellow nicotine.

Our local wino sat at the right end of the bar in the same shabby cloths as usual and in his favorite seat, talking to one of his imaginary friends. He nursed a small glass of Tokay. The juke box, full of the latest hits in Spanish and a having few English language songs for good measure, blared out “The Twist.”

The pay phone was on the wall to our left as I left my game and stood behind her. I used that phone most evenings to call Yellow cabs to come and take the drunkest men home. Their wives often called and I would answer while looking at the man whose wife sat on the other end of the line. Many would wave at me as I yelled their names and read their lips with the familiar answer, “I’m not here. You have no idea where I am.”

The room was probably forty feet wide at most and twenty feet deep. One of our regulars, Roy, an electrician and private pilot, sat at the bar talking to his girlfriend, Rosa. She was one of our bar maids from the Philippines, at the time. His wife thought he was working late on a project. As usual, he was not.

The red, formica bar with its wood trim ran the length of the bar with a mirror along the back bar. It made the room look twice as large as it was. There were perhaps twenty stools, waiting for those that came in to drink every day or so, for hours at a time, or just a quick beer. The back bar was lined with racks of potato chips and dried shrimp in small packets held in place by clips. Pickled eggs floated in a clear, gallon jar next to them. Every brand of cheap wine sat below, under a long light, waiting to be purchased by those looking for a glass of wine rather than the cold beer that they most of our customers usually indulged in.

Also seated at the bar was Becky’s common law husband, Edwardo. Becky was our other bar maid working that afternoon. Few people in my circle of adult drunks and addicted friends were married back then, or so it seemed. I suppose the choice to marry was far too difficult of a decision to make for those more interested in the instant gratification of alcohol or heroine. I stopped playing my game and followed the “old woman” into the bar, looking to get a snack.

I don’t know the details, but Becky’s lover and her mother weren’t on good terms at the moment. There was some dissension on the home front. As she approached the bar, Edwardo, swiveled around on his stool and produced a gun from somewhere, as if my magic. It all happened very quickly. The noise of the small gun being fired was deafening, as he pulled the trigger. The flash lit up his face and I could see the anger in his brown eyes from behind the old woman. We were about the same size and she offered little protection from a flying bullet.

I was standing directly behind his target and saw the flash from the gun and the smoke twisting like the bullet as it exited the short barrel of the weapon. We were about fifteen feet from him. The bullet entered her wrist and as it hit her, she turned slightly to the right and leaned forward to keep from falling backwards to the floor. She backed up half a step at the same time from the bullet’s impact to keep from falling over and grabbed her wrist. I can still smell the acrid smoke as it was ejected from the gun, along with the bullet that flew in my direction.

I was scared to death, and frozen in fear, I suppose. Becky’s mother was not. She regained her balance and ran quickly over to her assailant. He was surprised that she had not gone down. But before he could fire again, she was on him.

He was still in shock as she grabbed his gun and turned it up toward his face and the ceiling and wrenched it from his hand. She quickly raised the gun over his head and brought it down, several times in quick succession. The barrel slammed into the top of his head and raked his face each time as she brought it down upon him. She brought it down several times and with a force that only anger and fear can impart to a small woman. She pistol whipped him a few more times and he fell to the floor where he lay, silently. The woman sat on a stool at the bar and placed the gun on the bar.

Becky came from behind the bar quickly, with a towel and tended to her mother. My father grabbed the gun and placed it under the bar, out of reach.

I do not recall the police showing up then or at any other events after this incident that day. I suppose I was in shock. I don’t even think the police were called. The police had come to our establishment a few times, but I think they felt that those involved in anything going on in our place got just about what they deserved there and out of life.

We were near the edge of town and saw little of them, at best. Our customers were no the cream of the crop, but the bottom of the barrel. They seldom came quickly or solved any issues. Our place had a reputation, well earned and formidable.

Sadly perhaps, I have many stories like this one. And yet, I grew up to be a peaceful, productive parent, husband and citizen. I have never been arrested or seen the inside of a police station up to this point, that is.