By: William Smith
Hot Nights in East L.A.
The hot summer seems never-ending, sun beating down on the roof of Melinda’s small one bedroom rental. The air conditioner’s been broken for two weeks and heaven only know what will go wrong next. A small box fans rhythmic sound, the blades hitting against its frame, blows a warm breeze over Melinda’s boady. She lies on her tattered couch thinking, (what am I going to do now, my job is gone and today I get my last unemployment check.) She drifts back into a half sleep, remembering how things were so long ago. How Carlos her boyfriend and Angel his best childhood friend, went from friends to rivals since Angel moved ten blocks away and into a whole new world. That’s when Angel joined the Southside Boys, the local gang that run the streets in that area. He grew from a sweet child into a member of East L.A.’s most vicious gang; he went from Angel to become known only as “Reaper,” the angel of death. Who could have imagined that Carlo’s childhood friend would end up his killer? Carlos was shot two days before Christmas; just another drug deal gone badly is how the papers read.
Melinda wakes up to the same warm breeze, slowly makes her way into the bathroom and throws some cold water over her face. She looks at herself in the bathroom mirror; she is twenty eight years old but looks much older, all the worries and the trauma of losing Carlos is taking its toll. Opening the bathroom cabinet seeing her sleeping pills, she thinks “I don’t know what to do; maybe eating all of these pills is my only way out, no more suffering, no more crying, no more painful thoughts. Just a bottle of pills, fall back to sleep, and it’s over.”
Suddenly, Melinda hears a knock at her front door which jars her back to reality once more. She takes a big sigh, wipes away the tears from the corners of her eyes, and runs to answer the knocking. When she opens the door to her amazement it’s Chico, Carlos’s younger brother the only Chicano in Carlos’s family to get out of East L.A. Chico was an Honor Student in high school and received a full scholarship to Stanford University near San Francisco, to pursue his dream of becoming a Doctor of Philosophy. He’ll raise his brothers and sisters out of the ideology of the ghetto gang bangers. “We have so many brilliant minds in our own community and I’m going to show them all the way out,” he would always say.
“Hi Melinda,” he says as their eyes first meet.
“Chico! How happy I’m to see you,” she gives him a big hug and pulls him into the house. “Don’t want any trouble, they are still warring and I’m right on the boundary. What’re you doing? You know how dangerous it is here?”
“Melinda, I’m here to see my Mom and most of all you. I’m not worried about those Southside Boys; I’m ready for their shit.” He lifts his silk tank top and in his belt is a “45 Auto” loaded and anxious for revenge.
Melinda looks into his eyes, remembering how much Chico looks like Carlos. “Chico please, I can’t bear to lose another loved one. You need to go back to school, not tomorrow, but now before they know you are home”.
“I have no bones with those gang bangers, but if I see Angel, I’m going to make sure he doesn’t place anymore of those “teardrop tats” on his cheeks.”
“Chico, don’t say that! You’re scaring me. Nobody has seen him since the shooting or you know he would already be dead.”
“He’s been seen around lately, but not to worry, I’m only here for the weekend. I’m going to show you the town, check this out,” he pulls out a wad of cash folded and held together with a rubber band. “We are going to paint the town. You put on your best party dress and I’ll pick you up and 8:00 sharp,” he says with a smile.
“I don’t know Chico; it’s been so long since I’ve been out.”
“Just be ready, no questions asked.” He grabs her giving her a short kiss, “I’ve got to go, don’t forget 8:00”, and out the door he goes.
It’s 6:00 p.m.; Melinda looks through her closet trying to figure out what to wear. After looking through her small wardrobe she decides on her white pullover mini that makes her look so sexy. As she is putting on her makeup, she notices the bottle of pills sitting there but forces the negative thoughts out of her mind. I’m going to have fun with a handsome young man, tomorrow will be soon enough for worrying.
What a great evening, dinner at “Rob’s on the Strip,” rubbing elbows with the Hollywood celebs. Then down to the “Whiskey Ago-go,” for some dancing and plenty of drinks, although Melinda notices that Chico isn’t really drinking that much.
They arrive back at Melinda’s around midnight. Chico parks his car across the street from her house, he jumps out, rushes around the car stumbling a little and they both start laughing. Opening the door he graciously lifts her up to her feet, places his arm around her, and walks her to the front door.
As they reach the porch, Chico turns Melinda towards him, pulls her close and gives her a long and passionate kiss. He says, “I’ve wanted to do that ever since I was ten years old.” She throws her arms around him and gives him another passionate kiss.
“Chico, will you stay with me tonight? I want you to hold me tight. I haven’t felt safe in the arms of a man in a long time.” She looks at him seductively.
“Nothing would please me more, but not tonight.” He reaches into his pocket, pulls out the wad of cash held together with a rubber band and hands it to her. “Here take this and hold on to it,” he places the money firmly into her hand.
“Chico, what is going on? Is there something wrong?”
“It’ll be fine, do as I say,” he kisses her again and leads her through the door. “Now I want you to stay in the house tonight, don’t come out no matter what happens.”
“What?” Melinda is starting to feel a little queasy from the drinks, “Chico what is going on?”
“Melinda please, it’ll be fine and hopefully I’ll see you soon.”
She watches as he reaches his car. Starting to feel a little sick, she staggers over to her tattered couch, sits down and throws the wad of bills onto the coffee table. She pulls off the rubber band, opens the fold, and out drops a key. “Well what is this?” she thinks to herself, “Chico must have forgotten about his key, I will give it to him tomorrow. Twenty four C-notes, $2400 at least I know he will be back.” She lies down, finally realizing how damn hot it is.
As she falls into her dreams, she remembers how Chico always seemed infatuated with her. He and his little friends would sit on the porch, waited to watch her strut by, and of course she would always give them that little extra wiggle. How when she and Carlos were split up for six months, he would be hanging around all the time. They even had that night when she got a little too drunk, made love with him, then made him promise never to tell.
Suddenly, Melinda awakens to the screeching of tires, the sound of gunfire, rapid gunfire exploding in the quiet night. Melinda jumps to her feet, runs to the window and sees Chico’s car. It is still sitting across the street, all the side windows are shot out, and there is a figure slumped over the steering wheel. “Oh My God,” she thinks, “They have killed Chico!”
Hearing a load crash, Melinda looks to the right and sees a black SUV has crashed into the parked cars along the street. Three hooded men step out from the darkness between the houses and open fire on the SUV, automatic weapons fire echoes through the silence once more.
One man stumbles from the SUV, pistol in hand, trying to return fire, when unexpectedly Chico runs out of the darkness between the houses. He looks the stumbling man in the eyes and says, “No more teardrops for you,” firing four shots into the stumbling man. The man falls to the ground like a sack of bricks.
Melinda in a state of panic, runs out of the house and over to Chico’s car. Her heart franticly beating, tear streaming down her face, she sees the figure slumped over the steering wheel. She pulls back the figure, finds that it is a stuffed dummy dressed up to look like Chico, realizing with relief that Chico must be alright. Down the street she sees the man lying there dead. When she walks closer, she can see that it’s Angel, “Reaper,” lying motionless in a pool of his own blood.
She can hear the sirens wailing in the background. Running back into the house, she grabs the money and the key, hurries out the back door and jumps into her old Pontiac. Looking down at her lap she notices that the key has stamped into it L.A. International Airport, locker #23, “well I’m only 10 miles from the airport, I have to go check this out.”
Walking through the airport she asks the security guard where the lockers are. Pointing his finger, he directs her to the second floor. She thanks the man, anxiously runs up the stairs to where the lockers are. Looking around she notices a young girl with two little children, sitting in the seats across from the lockers, crying. Melinda looks around and sees that the place is absolutely empty. After all it is 4:30 A.M. She asks the girl, “What’s wrong?”
“My father was supposed to pick us up here but has been in an accident, now me and my two girls are stuck with no way to get to my parents house,” She tells Melinda.
“That’s a shame,” Melinda says, “let me take care of something and then maybe I can help.”
She walks over to the locker, places the key into the lock turning it a quarter turn to the right. It comes swinging open. There in the locker is a small familiar gym bag. Reaching in she pulls it out seeing Carlos written on the side and remembers that this is Carlos’s old gym bag. She sits in a seat across from the lockers and opens the bag. Inside she finds twelve banded stacks of $100 bills with $10,000 stamped on each band.
“Oh My God!” she says to herself, looks back down into the bag and notices an envelope. Opening the envelope she finds an airplane ticket and a note. The note reads:
If you are reading this, all I want to say is that Carlos was ready to leave East L.A. with you last Christmas. The money in the bag is yours. You are now a free bird; you can go anywhere you wish, but it is my wish that you will take the one way ticket to San Francisco and come stay with me.
Hoping I’ll see you soon.
Melinda sits there for a few moments collecting her thoughts; this is too good to be true. Looking over at the young girl, she starts to think about what she should do. Getting up she walks over to the girl and says, “Hey why don’t you come with me? I think I can help you.” And they all get up and leave returning to Melinda’s old Pontiac.
“Do you know how to drive?” Melinda asks the young girl.
“Sure I know how to drive,” says the young girl.
“Good, get in the driver’s seat and you kids get into the back.”
Melinda jumps into the passenger’s seat, opens the glove box, where she finds the title to the car. She reaches into the bag, pulls out half of one of the bundled stacks of money, and slips it between the folded title. Looking at the young girl she hands the bills to her along with the title telling her, “these are for you, I have run into a little bit of good luck and I want you to have these, now you can go to your parents and see if your father is all right.”
“What, Are you sure? What about you, what are you going to do?” she exclaims.
“Well you can let me out here at the front door, I have a Plane to catch,” she smiles, gives the young girl a hung and jumps out, ready to catch the next plane to San Francisco.