Judge Santiago Burdon

The Sinaloa Squeeze

“Are they shooting at us?” asks Johnny, behind the wheel.

“Of course they are!” I shout back at him. “How do you think the back window just shattered? Did you think it was them projecting bad vibrations our way? Damnit Rico, now what did you do?”

It had all been going so well. I knew it was too good to be true. We’d been contracted by El Jefe (The Boss) to collect the money owed to him by various traficantes. Drive around Sinaloa picking up debts and deliver the money back to him. That simple, nothing complicated or dangerous about it.

The easiest job ever, and Johnny throws dynamite into a fire.

Another bullet ricochets off our truck as we fly down the road, our pursuers close behind.

“Johnny, tell me what happened back there at the bar. You’re supposed to be watching my back, pinche guay! You hit on some cabrón’s girl again? Lose at pool and not pay the guy?”

“Desculpe me carnal (forgive me friend), they were trying to cheat me…”

“Ya, just like the time in Medellín, when you lost at poker and I wound up paying those fucking chulos for you. They were going to cut off your huevos and let you bleed to death, and all for a measly $75, you cheap bastard!”

Johnny’s voice quavers as he tries to speak, his eyes staying focused on the road.

“Digame que hiciste?” (Tell me what you did) I ask.

“Santi, please…”

Bullets whiz past us, one of them taking out my side mirror in the process.

“Shut the fuck up, Johnny! After all the years we’ve been together, you’re gonna lie to me? Mentrioso pedazo de mierda envuelo en piel!” (Liar, piece of shit wrapped in skin) How much do you owe those chulos? And tell me the truth, don’t make this any worse! Digame cuanto naco? (Tell me how much hillbilly)”

“I only lose two times! Then he say, give my money, cause all Colombianos are cheaters.”

“How much? I don’t need to hear your cuenta de hada.” (fairytale)

 “I think $100…”

“Okay, we turn around and go back. You’re going to pay those Mexicans what you owe them.”

“But Santi, I don’t have $100 to pay them.”

“Then how much do you have?”

“I only have like $60 on me…”

“What the hell, Rico! You’re betting with money you don’t have, and you’re betting on pool? This is long overdue, but let me tell you the ugly truth: you suck at pool. My dead grandmother could beat you with one arm and she went blind at fifty. That’s how terrible you are at playing pool!”

“Santi, it wasn’t my…”

“I’ll lend you $50 to pay those chulos. I just hope the owner didn’t call El Jefe and tell him what happened. The Cartel kills people for less than this.”

“And another thing you should might want to know, I didn’t pay for the beer or chicharrones either…”

“What the fuck were you thinking? You obviously weren’t thinking at all. Johnny, one of these days, you are going get me killed. I swear to something, I don’t know what, but I will come back and KILL YOU TWICE to make sure you never enter that Heaven you imagine exists! Now, turn around and head back before these Mexicans kill us.”

I look back to assess the damage to our truck, and that’s when I see them right behind us.

“Shit!”

Their truck rams ours, hard, from behind. Johnny swerves as we’re both tossed around the cab.

“Rico, we have to shake them!”

He slams on the brakes, cutting the wheel as he floors the gas and slams it into first. Somehow he manages to execute a perfect one-eighty turn, leaving those Mexicans in the dust.

“Maybe we should stop here and pay them,” Johnny suggests, “Then we no have to drive all the way back.”

“Ya sure, stop in the middle of nowhere and negotiate with some Sinaloa gangsters. Perfect, no witnesses, no protection. You with your antique .38 and me with my Glock that doesn’t even have a full clip. Might as well just ask them to kill us and steal El Jefe’s cash! Doesn’t matter we’d be dead, Jefe would find our bodies just to kill us both all over again. Now get back to the bar and step on it!”

We’ve still got a few kilometers left to go, and already the Mexicans are back on our tail. At least they’ve stopped shooting for now.

“I feel like there’s something you’re not telling me, Rico. Otherwise you’d never suggest such a dangerous meeting with these guys out in the middle of the desert. What aren’t you telling me, you crazy Columbian pendejo! I can’t get us out of this if I don’t know what we’re up against. Spit it out already!”

“I think maybe I hit a guy with poolstick in the head. He no get up, then I run when I see you outside. Everyone start yelling and coming after me.”

“Johnny, I didn’t see anyone chasing you!”

“Because I put broke stick in doors to stop them.”

“You think you may have hit someone, you don’t know? No, no, no, of course not! Rico, which muchacho did you hit? It wasn’t the guy in the black shirt and white cowboy hat, was it? Tell me it wasn’t him. Was his name Rafael?”

“I think maybe someone call him Rafa. Yes, he have white hat. You know who is him?”

“Johnny, that’s Miguel’s, the owner’s son. Dios mio, we’re in deep shit now, pinche guay! Floor it already and quit looking behind us. Rico, you’re paying to fix the glass and any bullet holes as well!”

“You don’t have insurance for truck when you rent it?”

“What insurance, cabrón? This isn’t a rental! This is Sebastian’s truck and he’s going to be pissed when he sees this.”

Meanwhile, the Mexicans have closed the distance between us, pulling up along the driver’s side. The guy in the passenger seat points an AK-47 out the window, screaming at us to pull over.

Johnny looks over at me, showing no fear in his eyes. We’d both prepared for this day since the very first run we’d ever done together. Even with a machine gun pointed at us, I can tell he’s about to do something drastic.

“Rico, don’t do it!”

Just as he’s about to swerve and try running them off the road, the truck falls back and resumes following us once again. 

“Johnny, we have to clear this up. If El Jefe gets wind of what went on here, it’ll be a bad, bad thing for both of us. I’ll do the talking and I won’t let anything happen to you. Tu eres mi carnal. (You’re my best friend) You trust me, don’t you?”

“Si, I trust you always, but I don’t trust these pendajos…”

Finally we make it back to the bar. Two police cars are parked out front. Now, you might imagine they’ve come to settle our little disturbance, but keep in mind that this is Mexico. The police enforce their own laws, protecting their interests and the interests of anyone willing to pay for their services. Most all of them are on someone’s payroll, usually whoever controls that area of the Cartel’s operations.

“Relax, Johnny, everything is going to be fine. There’s no reason to be nervous. Just whatever you do, don’t look as though you’re afraid.” 

I do my best to reassure him, even though I have no idea how I’m going to handle the situation myself.

Miguel is out front, talking with the cops. I direct Johnny to park nearby. The truck that had been following us pulls around the back of the place, most likely to hide their weapons from the authorities.

I instruct Johnny to stay in the truck and wait until I call for him. As I turn to pat him on the shoulder, I see his gun on the seat between his legs.

“Johnny, either put that away or shoot yourself with it right now. Do not under any circumstances start shooting! Do you understand me?”

He nods reluctantly, but as usual I’m not banking on his compliance.

I exit the truck and start walking toward the officers. The guys who had been following us appear at the bar’s entrance, glaring in our direction.

“Buenas officers,” I say, “me gustaría una oportunidad para explicar.” (I’d like a chance to explain)

“You have a lot of explaining to do, Santiago,” the first cop says, turning to me with a grin. “You forgot to pay your tab and you left before you could buy me lunch. I’m glad you come back. Now you can buy lunch for both me and Enrique.”

It just so happens to be Officer Ceasar Fonseca from La Tuna, El Jefe’s hometown, and a cousin of his as well. The other cop I also recognize, Enrique Gallardo from Guadalajara, whom I’d met on several occasions out on El Jefe’s ranch.

“What a pleasure to see you both again,” I say. “I’d be honored if you would join me for lunch. I’ll buy, of course.”

“Claro, Santiago,” Enrique says. “Gracias.”

“Miguel,” I say, turning to the bar’s owner. “I am so sorry about your son. I guess my friend and Rafael didn’t quite get along. I would appreciate a chance to make it up to him.”

“Who?” he asks, “that lazy bastard who hangs around all day drinking my beer and fucking the waitresses? He’s my girlfriend’s son, not mine. I don’t care what happens to him, but you will have to pay your friend’s tab.”

I peel him off a C-note and shake his hand. Everything settled.

“Hey Johnny,” I yell back to the truck. “Let’s have lunch!”

He flashes me a smile so wide, I’m not sure it will fit through the door.

Jyl Anais

The Superhighway of Samsara

How many ways 
can I say
“I’m not dating 
your resume?”

You can put your dick
back in your pants,
take your SEAL training
and your surgical skills,
get in your Jaguar,
and take the next exit back onto
the superhighway
of samsara.

Because I’m not
auditioning to be your
next trophy wife,
and I’m not 
your mistress,
a woman you can call
when you’re bored 
with your wife or
when it’s convenient,
in between your 
real priorities.

If your wife can’t trust you,
neither can I.

I may have wandered into
the arctic wilderness of your heart,
but I’m an emotional survivalist
and can find my own way home.

I’m not an accessory
or a toy to play with. 
My dignity 
will always be worth 
more to me 
than unlimited access 
to your assets.

I could be a spiritual master,
incarnation of a goddess,
accomplished artist,
attend a college more difficult 
to get into than Harvard,
have a heart of gold,
model on the latest runway,
use remote viewing 
to help solve a sexual homicide,
and speak to the dead regularly,
be as loyal 
as the sun 
rising every morning,
but in your eyes 
I’ll always be reduced 
to my tits and ass.

You do know how to divide by
the lowest common denominator.
I know I’m only as valuable 
as how often
you want to fuck me.

I don’t give a shit
about your PhD,
your BMW,
or that you won
the biggest verdict
in history.
What I care about 
is the way you treat me.

Jonathan Woods

A Woman I’d Been Seeing

Helena, a woman I’ve been seeing off and on and who works over at the National Enquirer, texted me a picture of Jeff Bezos’s junk. You know, the one that’s been getting all the media attention. 

How had she come by it? Was it just floating around the office for all and sundry to consult? Like the Oracle of Delphi? Or did she have a special inside connection to the top brass among whom iPhone snaps of famous dicks suitable for blackmail would have limited circulation? 

When the image arrived in my inbox, I glanced at it. Read Helena’s comment: “This is it! J.B.’s junk. Totally awesome, yes!?”

It looked pretty nebbish to me.

But the full frontal issue for me was its provenance. Was it really his? Or a clever forgery?

I mean, the junk in the .jpg from Helena wasn’t tattooed with the name Bezos or even his initials. And no chain of custody had been established, like the cops are required to have for admissible evidence. (I’m a big Law & Order fan.) 

All I had was Helena’s word for its authenticity and she definitely didn’t score 100% on the truth-o-meter. More like 67%.

There was the time when she said she had a stomach bug and needed to stay home close to the ceramic bus. That night I spotted her in Veselka’s with some guy in a suit. They were eating stuffed cabbage and laughing at 1:00 a.m. I didn’t call her for a week. Then there was the weekend she went to Cleveland because her mother was ill. It was February. Nobody goes to Cleveland in February. I later found out she went to Miami (probably with the same guy). I discovered the airline ticket stub in her apartment—interleaved as a bookmark in Portnoy’s Complaint.

That Helena said it was Jeff’s junk meant diddly-squat. It could have been anybody’s.

Then it occurred to me: How many peckers had Helena been involved with in her 28 years? Five? Fifteen? A hundred? It’s a subject we never discussed. And, frankly, I didn’t want to discuss it now. What if she turned out to be the female equivalent of Georges Simenon? 

Jealousy swept over me like a riptide, carrying me out to deep waters. I was sure the .jpg prick belonged to the guy in the suit.

As it was mid-November and sleeting, I put on my tweed overcoat, my gray Bogart-style Borsalino and a scarf. In my pocket rested the snub-nosed .38 my roommate had asked me to keep while he went to prison for armed robbery. 

I took a cab to 2nd Avenue. 

It was my lucky night. There he was, the suit guy, sitting at a table in Veselka’s. But not with Helena. A skinny blonde faced him—scoop-neck T-shirt, no bra. She looked cold. They were both eating borscht with sour cream and drinking beer.

I took a seat at the counter, ordered a decaf tea and waited.

Soon enough he went to the men’s room. I decided not to approach the blonde and show her the pic. “Is this his?” It would have been too weird. Instead I followed him. 

He was standing at the urinal, junk in hand, mind somewhere. I stepped up behind him, jammed the snub nose of the .38 into his ear. He blanched. 

“Show me your pecker,” I said.

The one in the .jpg Helena sent? It wasn’t his.

I clubbed him on the side of the head anyway. He slumped floorward. I fled.

Later that night the truth hit me. 

Helena was sleeping with J.B.! What a shag hag (!), as my Brit friends would say. 

I read in the Times he was coming to NYC about the new Amazon HQ. According to the paparazzi and glam gossip sites, he always stayed at the St. Regis. 

Then Amazon dumped its New York plans. But that didn’t mean J.B. wouldn’t come to NYC. To catch a Broadway show. Mayhap to boink Helena!

* * *

Every day, like Elisha Cook, Jr. in The Maltese Falcon, I sit in the lobby of the St. Regis, hidden behind my copy of the Daily News, the .38 in my pocket, waiting.

But my patience is wearing thin. If he doesn’t show soon, more than likely I’ll have to shoot Helena instead.

Wayne F. Burke

SECURITY

Sam No Shirt talks on and on while cupping the telephone receiver to his ear and taking swigs off a brown quart bottle of beer. A black stripper comes in at ten; she bends over the desk to sign in. I look down the front of her dress and she smiles at me. She looks a little like Haley Mills, the actress…Then a taxi cab driver; then a guy who works as a proofreader; then some punk rockers who use the hotel studio; then the drunk, walking as if pushed from behind, and crashing through the door to the elevator; then a dope dealer dressed all in black like Johnny Cash; who even looks like Johnny Cash–a Johnny Cash who has spent time in a concentration camp. Then the girl who brings guys up to her room comes down and demands I move the drunk, who has, she says, passed out in the hall by her door. I get up from the desk and walk to the elevator,a big stack of keys jingling at my waist. I get off at the 4th floor. The drunk is face-down, his dress shirt and red face soaked from the bucket of water the girl who brings guys to her room at any time day or night doused him with. The drunk’s key is in his door. I drag the drunk into his room and throw the key in after. The girl who brings many guys up to her room not to play checkers, and whose face is painted like several kinds of flowers, slams shut her door.

Danny D. Ford

Excerpt from a Bad Day 

It wasn’t a real shit
It was hollow
spluttered
drawn out thin
he was too weak to wipe
so his wet arsehole just hung there
like a petal in the morning wind
– dew drop about to drip
a sore eye
welling up with tears

The air freshener clicked 
and sprayed outside the cubicle
the sound like the hissing gas 
of a turning cap
on a cola bottle

Damp electricity
coated the filthy tiles 
as his bony face
and the hard to reach bog roll
bathed
in lonely fluorescent light

William Taylor Jr.

Our Secret Places

Tell me something pretty like you mean it
because we’re cut loose and drifting

wading through terrors and half-bred joys
strewn about the landscape like 
somebody’s garbage

I hear the dark’s been asking around
it knows our names
our numbers

all our secret places

The day is coming 
when we’ll be 86’d from every 
heart and every bar

and there will be a reckoning

and we’re as guilty as any guilty thing
that was ever naked beneath the slivered moon 
blinking in the judgment of the sun.

Chris Butler

Abort 

A big bang births a universe. A universe births a woman. A woman births a uterus. A uterus births a body. A body births a thought. A thought births communication. A communication births a language. A language births a letter. 

A letter births a word. A word births a sentence. A sentence births a stanza.  

A stanza births a first draft. A first draft births a second. A second births a third. A third births obsessive compulsion. Obsessive compulsion births a poem. 

A poem births a pen. A pen births a typewriter. A typewriter births a computer. A computer births a document. A document births a submission.  A submission births a publication. A publication births a book. A book births into a collection. A collection births a career. A career births retirement. A retirement births death. A death births abortion.

Tim Heerdink

Airborne

Wrath & desire are easy to catch
if the wind catches the air just right.

Emotions run rapid in intense situations
where fear is more prevalent than the plague.

Shit, just a scent of sex can capture
a man in the depths of his thoughts.

We’re wired to fornicate and spread
seed to replenish the population.

Truth be told, this sudden blood rush
remains independent from procreation.

Biology still has its tricks & triggers
& yet, all I want is the flesh.

Soaking wet like a never-ending storm
which brings comfort with its warmth.

Man wants and wants despite the urge
to be a respectable person in society.

I’ve found myself light-headed
in situations where I need to be clear.

The only cure for man’s rage
is self-mutilation, perhaps.

Joe Surkiewicz

Rocky Raccoon

Melvin steered down the aisle between the barbecue grills, folding lawn chairs and stacks of white Styrofoam coolers, leaning precariously to counterbalance the raccoon clinging to his side. 

It was one of those big drug stores with ready-made furniture, groceries and a seasonal section in the center overflowing with lawn and patio items.

Melvin was undersized for ten years old. He was also barefoot, with his tattered jeans rolled up around his ankles. His T-shirt was ripped and faded, shades of Huck Finn.

“Look at that kid,” said a man to his wife. They were inspecting a stainless steel, four-burner liquid propane grill. “Goddamn, he’s got a raccoon.”

The raccoon, nearly a third Melvin’s size, stretched out, nose extended, eager for a handout.

Melvin stopped to inspect a display of outdoor fire pits. A crowd gathered.

“Is he tame?”

“Sort of.”

“Does he bite?”

“Just don’t get between him and a morsel.”

“What’s his name?”

“Rocky.”

The front cashier, a plump middle-aged woman who had stepped away from the front register to see what all the commotion was about, said, “It’s got a mask just like a bandit.”

The front door opened, ding-a-ling, and Lizzie walked in, fourteen going on twenty, only it didn’t show because of her loose dungarees and oversized Baltimore Colts football jersey emblazoned with “19,” her hair tied back with a red bandana.

Ka-ching and she emptied the front register of all its bills and three rolls of quarters. She slipped into the storeroom behind the front counter where the lady employees put their purses.

“What’s he eat?”

“Anything. Everything. But he’s partial to grapes and frogs.”

That got a laugh.

“Where’d you get him?”

“In the woods.”

A man with a tie and a pocket protector filled with pens squatted next to Melvin. “Son, can I help you find something?”

“A quart of Pennzoil 5W-30.”

“We carry Quaker State.”

Melvin said, “Daddy told me to accept no substitute.” 

“Try Cook’s Hardware on Main,” the man said.

Back at the trailer, Lizzie spread the take on the fold-down dining table—$371 in cash, a prescription container half-filled with Quaaludes, a baggie of weed, and seven cartons of Marlboros.

“We ought to do a supermarket next,” Melvin said.

Lizzie said, “Naw, they’d throw you straight out. They only allow seeing-eye dogs. And sure as shit someone would call social services.”

The next day was a mixed bag. Melvin was tossed out of ValuCity by a gray-haired lady manager screaming about vermin and health regulations. They had better luck at the auto supply store, but the take was less than a hundred dollars.

Lizzie decided to give Rocky a rest the following day and boost over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics. 

Melvin took the lunch his sister had made for him—a baloney-on-white-bread sandwich with lots of yellow mustard, a twin-pack of Twinkies, and a can of warm Coke—and tried his luck fishing in the stream behind the trailer.

He got back around four with three perch and a good-sized catfish. The trailer was a mess—all tore up, upholstery ripped to shreds, gnawed paper on the floor, shit everywhere. 

No Rocky.

Lizzie stood at the stove, frying up dinner.

“That raccoon went ape shit while we was gone,” she said, her back to Melvin. “Here’s your food.”

She slammed the plates on the table. “He tore up my clothes and shit on my underwear,” Lizzie said. “And he got into the ‘Ludes.”

Melvin poked at his plate with a fork. “Chicken again?”

“We need a new raccoon.”

Willie Smith

Those Daze

One of those days when I can’t decide 
how many humps in an m, the number 
of an’s in banana, how Achilles 
could ever overtake the tortoise, Death 
and I go walking. Arm-in-arm, he with 
his disarming smile, filling my ear with 
foreboding and despair. Would I like to, 
would I care to, step around into the shade 
to share a drop of something cool and 
not-so-sweet? After quaffing, after quenching, 
after swapping tales of lying and of wenching, 
he a bony forefinger raises: 
“Now’s the time to discuss,” he hisses, 
“succumbing to after-life-lust.” My jaw 
drops. Lightning fractures the air.  
Death with a rusty can my mouth waters. 
The mind a garden of rot and food for no thought.