Friday, May 24, 2019

Moony's Road to Hell

In 2002, University of New Mexico Press published my fifth novel, a stand-alone private-eye story I called Moony's Road to Hell. At the time, it was the edgiest and most cynical writing I'd done.  I worked with crime-fiction noir and hard-boiled concepts, but I also included darker references to Chicano and Mexican culture. The plot involved ugly aspects of human trafficking such as the violence and abuse suffered by immigrants smuggled into the United States. The book also introduced two of my favorite characters:  Danny "Moony" Mora (the private eye) and Tomás "Chacho" Chavez (the best friend.)  Plus, I thought the jacket, front and back covers, fit perfectly with the tone I tried to set with this book.  

Here's Chapter 1 of Moony's Road to Hell.


Excerpt from Moony’s Road to Hell (© Manuel Ramos)

Chapter 1

Kiko Vigil nursed a warm beer in the semidarkness of La Tortuga.  Tonight, he kept his promise, even if it was only to himself.  He had to level with Lorraine.  He had screwed up.  He could never arrest her.  He might scare her away, hope that she would leave and never return to Denver.  He would not be the man who finally finished Elías Garza.

The noise never stopped in La Tortuga.  Banda music from a jukebox bounced off walls and roared back at Kiko.  Customers were forced to yell and gesture to communicate the most basic messages.  “¿Quieres otra?”  “Wanna dance, baby?”  The shouting mixed in with sounds of breaking glass, doors slammed shut, the thud of bodies tossed against a wall.  Smoke hung in heavy clouds at eye level, and in the background a light swinging over a pool table was interrupted by the shadows of men who played eight ball.

Tubas, trumpets, guitars, and accordions congealed into a beat that on another night would have had the burly, handsome man kicking up his boots and hollering his fool ass off just like any drunk mexicano in the joint.  Couples were doing exactly that all around him.  He fidgeted in a booth in the back of the room where he waited for Lorraine.
 Vigil blamed his headache on the smoke and noise, but he knew it was more than that.  An undercover agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service was sworn to prevent violations of the U.S. immigration laws and to apprehend those who flouted those laws, whether they were pathetic illegals who crossed over dreaming about a new pickup truck that would surely be theirs after a week or so of work, or the organized gangsters who made millions of dollars from the flow of undocumented aliens and illegal drugs.  He had violated his own code, for Lorraine.  And she wasn’t a pathetic illegal.

Kiko knew Lorraine had walked in the bar before he saw her.  Every man in the place turned and watched her long strides cross the grimy floor to the booth.  Some stared openmouthed and made the vulgar remarks that certain Mexican men will make whenever they ate in the presence of any woman other than their mother.  Others averted their eyes as soon as they had focused on the face, either because they were embarrassed by the thoughts that such a face generated or they knew the face, recognized it as the property of Elías Garza.  Mrs. Garza was strictly off-limits, and only the dumbest baboso would try to hit on her.

She slid in the booth across from Vigil and placed her well-manicured fingers over his hands, clasped together as though he were praying.  Her smile broke through the smoke and dimness, and Kiko expelled a rush of air from his tight lungs.  Even then, even when he stared at the disaster of his life. She excited him, brought his desire and heat.

She spoke to him in excited Spanish.  “Kiko, baby, I thought you wouldn’t be here.  You’ve been acting so strange lately.  What is it?  What’s wrong?  Why didn’t you come to my house?  This bar – I hate this place.  You know that.  These men here, they act like animals.  Even Elías doesn’t come here.  He can’t stand these people.”

He flinched.  She said her husband’s name to her lover without hesitation, brought him up in the conversation as though he were just another acquaintance, a person they both knew and so they both could talk about him.

Kiko Vigil clutched her fingers like a falling man grasping at lifelines.  Lorraine’s husband was the number-two man, answerable only to Placido Cardoza, the real boss back home in Guadalajara.  In the United States, Garza held all the cards and pulled all the strings.  Lorraine Garza was as involved as her husband.

Her life would be worthless, but her death would be lucrative for the killer who accepted Garza’s inevitable offer to pay for vengeance.  Her affair with Kiko would be revealed in the courtroom.  If she escaped, the missing Lorraine Garza would bring questions from Vigil’s superiors, and those questions would lead to this night when he warned her, when he blew his cover and jeopardized months of work that had already cost the lives of one agent and at least three smugglers – coyotes – who had raised the suspicions of Elías Garza.

“Lorraine, listen.  This is very important.  I must tell you something, and you have to understand.  This is the last time for us, for us together.  It has to be.”

She didn’t let him go on.  She said, “I won’t hear this.  You know how I feel about you, and you feel the same about me.  I know it.  I don’t care about Elías like that anymore.  We have to be together.  There’s no other way.  And now that Elías wants to give you more responsibility for some of the fieldwork, that means we can be together most of the time.  Elías doesn’t want to do the work – he’s been looking for someone to turn it over to.  He knows I can do it, but they won’t let a woman run things.  You and I can do it together.  He will go back to Guadalajara and join Cardoza.  He won’t even miss me.  You must believe me.”

The words rushed out.  He tried to stop her, to tell her she had it all wrong, but she wouldn’t listen.  Maybe she knew what he was about to reveal and was trying to prevent it, all the while recognizing the futility of her efforts.

A ripple of movement caught the corner of his left eye.  A man dressed in a dark suit and black shirt emerged from the smoke and noise and quickly made his way to the back of the bar.  Vigil had made a turn to get the man in full view when the first shot tore open his chest and exploded his aorta.  He slammed against the booth and twitched in agony as blood flooded his lungs.  The next bullets were irrelevant to their purpose.  Kiko Vigil was dead before the man slit Kiko’s throat and left the knife embedded in Kiko’s shattered chest.  He was dead before the man grabbed the screaming hysterical Lorraine and hauled her away with Kiko’s blood dripping from her long hair.  And Francisco Kiko Vigil died long before the police rushed into the deserted bar and found him sprawled on the floor with a piece of paper stuck to the knife blade.  In the paper were the neatly printed words:

quien todo lo quiere todo lo pierde.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.  His latest is The Golden Havana Night (Arte Público Press.)

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