The Twice-Killed Cat
We became acquainted in a Mexican prison, where I was a guest for eight months. I make it a policy to never associate with people I’d met in prison once I was back on the outside, but in Johnny Rico’s case, he was the exception to the rule. Sort of like a mild virus you’re unable to shake, you know you’re infected, but you just learn to live with the malady.
Always with a bandanna around his neck, and most of the time its color clashed with his shirt. He says it serves as a fashion statement, but I’ve never been able to figure out what exactly he was trying to say. Then there’s his common practice of always wearing mismatched socks all the time. I’m sure he’s colorblind and I’ve tried to demonstrate the fact with simple a test numerous times, but he’ll never have any part of my experiment.
He’s very egocentric and will never admit to making a mistake or having a disability, but he’s my carnal and has always been there for me. My proverbial Colombian guardian angel. I gave him the last name Rico, which fits his personality hand in glove. Commonly translated as “rich” or “wealthy”, it can also mean exceptional, and for better or worse, that is Johnny all the way.
Cartagena, Columbia. A place so beautiful that even God couldn’t believe he’d created it with his own hands. If he vacations, I have no doubt this is his destination. Gorgeous women, true angeles sin alas, obras de arte (angels without wings, works of art). If god created a woman more beautiful than these Colombianas, he must have kept her up in heaven for himself.
Cartagena also happens to be the hometown of my lunatic sidekick, Johnny Rico.
There I am relaxing by the pool, working up an appetite for dinner with twelve-ounce curls, letting the sun have its way with me while recuperating from the night before.
“Excuse me, Mr. Bigotes,” says Raul, the concierge. “There’s a call for you. Would you like for me to bring the phone poolside?”
I’d made a request that I was not to be disturbed, interrupted or bothered in any way, but I guess the call must be important enough to disregard my request.
“Do you know who it is?” I ask.
“No, Mr. Bigotes, but he said it was an emergency.”
That’s all I needed to hear; instantly the mystery was solved.
“I’ll take the call on the phone in the lobby.”
I reach into my wallet and give him a healthy propina (tip), informing him that he never took this call for me. He nods to indicate his understanding.
“Diga me! Quien es?” says the voice on the other line. “Bigotes, I am very sorry to bother you…”
Which of course, he was not.
“It’s Johnny,” he says. “I have a big problem, and I really need your help!”
At first, I can only detect a faint quiver in his voice. Then, all at once, he starts crying uncontrollably. In all the time I’d known the man, I’d never known him to cry, and we had seen enough shit together that would have warranted it.
“Okay Johnny, find some huevos and meet me for dinner at Tesoro del Mar, 7:30 sharp. Entiendas pinche?”
“Okay Bigotes, gracias carnal.”
“Don’t thank me yet.”
Later, at the restaurant, I wind up dining alone. Wiping my mouth, I take a look at my watch. 8:15 pm. I swear, Colombians are more proficient at tardiness than even Mexicans. It’s a common and even accepted practice in this country to be late.
Just as I’m about to pay the check for my dinner and wine, in strolls Rico, looking as though his dog had just been run over.
“Did you order dinner already?” he asks dejectedly.
“Not only did I already order dinner, JR. I ate dinner, drank a bottle of wine, and tipped the bartender, the cook and the waiter. Now I am on the prowl for some of Colombia’s finest cocaine, an angel of the evening, and an orgy of such depravity and lewdness it would make a porn star blush. A night I won’t remember. Are ya in, carnal?”
“I thought you were buying me dinner?” he whines.
“That was at 7:30. It is now close to 8:30.”
“Are you going to start with that ‘gringo time’ again, carnal?”
“Okay,” I relent. “Have a seat, I’ll buy ya dinner. Como pasando contigo? Que haces dime?” (What’s going on with you? What are you doing?)
He begins to regale me with the tragedy that has caused him so much pain of late. His lower lip quavers and his hands begin to tremble as he speaks. From the way he is acting, I’m sure he has either fucked up big time or fucked somebody over, earning him a spot on their list.
“She’s cheating on me with some cabron at work!” he finally blurts out. “She’s fucking someone else, I’m sure of it. My heart has been killed twice!”
Son of a bitch, I thought, it’s about a woman this time instead. This coming from a guy who would fuck a bush if he thought a snake was in it.
Over dinner, I note that his heartbreak sure hasn’t affected his appetite. Two plates of pescado frito, arroz, salada, sopa, and cuatro cervezas later, finally we are ready to commence this mission of restoring my carnal’s manhood.
As we exit the restaurant, Johnny is still talking rapidly, crying, and flailing his hands in the air.
“Johnny, shut the fuck up,” I eventually tell him. “So, what’s this master plan of yours?”
“Come on,” he says. “I’ll show you!”
I’m already sure I’m not going to like this. If I must be shown and not told, odds are it’s another one of Johnny’s demented schemes, one that I would never go along with if explained properly beforehand. Trust me, I’d been witness to and participated in enough of his adventures in the past, some of which would make a schizophrenic’s actions seem normal.
We reach his car and I slide in the passenger side, immediately noticing the odd assortment of items in back. Bottles of tequila, beer (undoubtedly warm), rope, flashlights, and what looks like a box trap of some kind. It’s similar to what my grandma used to catch raccoons in her attic.
Why I’m even entertaining the thought of assisting this lunatic in whatever he has in mind this time is far beyond me.
It is in this moment I have to admit, Johnny Rico, insane though he may be, is my friend. That’s a word I have never used lightly, and while my standards of friendship are extremely high, I reciprocate by the same set of standards.
In other words, guess I’m in.
“First, we are to stake out her house,” he begins at length. “Then, we will wait for her cat to come along and trap it. Then, we are going to stab that son of a bitch until it’s dead TWICE and hang it from her door. When she comes home and sees it, she will know that no one disrespects Juan Villanova Johnny Rico and gets away with it!”
Johnny always had to kill something twice. I’d never understood where that ritual originated from, and I’d never though to ask until now.
“Uh huh…” I say. “So, you think the best way to win her back is by mutilating her cat, killing it twice and hanging it from her door. What is this, some sort of Santa Muerta ritual, or an ancient Indian ritual kinda thing?”
“No, this is all my idea,” he confesses proudly. “I thought of it myself!”
Like I never would have guessed.
It is then that Johnny pulls out a bag of cocaine the size of his fist, gleefully shoving it in my face. It’s not like he has to force me to partake. I open the bag and snort a healthy amount through his silver coke straw, and he does the same. I pop open a warm beer for me and one for my carnal, take a large hit of tequila, and pass the bottle over to Johnny.
Together we speed off into the night.
It is 9:20 pm when we run out of gas three blocks from his girlfriend’s house. We have to walk two kilometers to a gas station, through a barrio I was not very comfortable strolling about in at night. Johnny, meanwhile, seems oblivious to the danger, trudging ever onward without fear. He assures me he has earned safe passage through almost every neighborhood in the city. I doubt his dispensation but don’t express my disbelief.
Finally, we return to the car and gas it back up.
Slowly we creep down Johnny’s girlfriend’s street, lights off, but for some reason he has got the radio blaring.
“Johnny, the radio!” I yell. “Turn it off, pendejo!”
“Si si,” he complies, “I don’t like this song either…”
For Christ’s sake, if he’s going for stealth, it’s a lost cause already.
He parks the car across the street, in an alleyway with a perfect view of her house.
“I see that you’ve done this before,” I observe. “How long have you been stalking her, JR? This is not a healthy activity, carnal.”
“Only four or five times,” he confesses. “How else to make sure she’s not fucking around on me?”
Stepping out of the car, we quickly get the trap set up, and Johnny puts an unopened carton of milk inside.
“Johnny,” I laugh, “that’s never gonna work! Have you got any fish, maybe a can of tuna or something?”
“No, but that’s a good idea,” he says. “Come on, let’s go get a can of tuna…”
Half an hour later, we return with the tuna, bait the trap, and resume our surveillance mission.
“You know Rico, wouldn’t it have been easier to just send her a box of dog shit, like you did to that prostitute you were so madly in love with? What was her name? ‘Laura the Zorra’ (slut), if I remember correctly?”
“First of all Bigotes, she wasn’t a prostitute! That was a rumor started by some bitches, chismosas (gossipy women), only because they were jealous of her. So don’t you call her a zorra! Also, that pinche gato got into my Toyota and pissed all over inside. I could never get the smell out and had to sell the car for pennies, do you remember? So, the gato deserves what he has coming to him!”
“Isn’t that the car you sold your sister? And Johnny, with all due respect to working girls, she was a prostitute whether you want to believe it or not!”
“Ya, yo se carnal, I know she was a prostitute. And my sister never did figure out what that smell was, either!”
I start laughing uncontrollably and Johnny joins in, unable to catch his breath. There’s snot running from my nose, and the sight of it sends Johnny into complete hysterics.
There we sat laughing, smoking cigarettes and joints, drinking beer and tequila and snorting cocaine well into the night. We’re telling jokes, lies about women we’ve had, and exchanging stories of close calls experienced on dope runs. All while waiting on a cat that may or may not decide to show up.
Two hours later and it’s close to midnight. My speech has become so slurred, it is practically incomprehensible. I’m talking fast without punctuation, Chicago style, speaking total cocainese. I could run a marathon with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, with Johnny on my back, I am so coked up by this point.
It is then I look outside the window, noticing the mountain of beer cans and cigarette butts that has accumulated on the ground beside the car. That’s when it occurs to me how bad I need to piss. Opening the door, I stumble out over the mess, and Johnny follows suit.
“Bigotes, mira playo (there’s her cat)!” he says, before I can even get unzipped. “Venga gatito, venga bebe…”
The cat walks right up to Johnny and start rubbing against his leg. What happens next isn’t pretty. I immediately grab the bottle of tequila, guzzling a monstrous amount.
“Now, I kill this fucking cat twice!” he screams, raising his knife yet again.
“Johnny, that’s enough!”
I almost can’t believe the sheer level of the brutality I’ve just witnessed. I never thought he’d actually go through with it. I nearly double over and start puking right then and there, but somehow I manage to maintain my composure.
Next thing I know, we’re standing on his girlfriend’s porch. Grinning maniacally, Johnny does the deed as promised, tying the poor creature’s carcass to her door.
“Okay,” I say, “let’s get the fuck out of here!”
“What!? No carnal, I want to see her reaction…”
My friend has proven himself to be a total psychopath, but I am far too tired, shocked, and fucked up by this point to offer much by way of resistance.
Johnny hands me a joint. I light it, take a hit, cough and follow him back to the car. He hasn’t even attempted to clean the blood off himself.
It is now close to dawn, and soon the sun will be shedding its light on Johnny’s heinous crimes, to which I have become an unwitting accomplice.
It isn’t long before a car pulls up to his girlfriend’s house. She climbs out and Johnny smiles wide, poking me in the ribs to make sure I’m still awake. He wants us both to see what happens next.
Meanwhile, an old woman is sweeping the sidewalk in front of the house next door. She looks up as a scream pierces the stillness of the morning. Abruptly dropping her broom, she hurries over to where Johnny’s girlfriend stands screaming on her porch.
“My cat, my cat!” the old woman begins to shriek. “My baby! Oh, my poor little Tito…”
Johnny just stares straight ahead with a blank expression on his face.
“Wrong cat,” he says.