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or jimmy and donald
ate one June evening when the wind had more teeth in it than a shark's mouth, a policeman was gunned down by an unknown shooter at the corner of Mission and Twentieth.
A bullet did a dance on his head while he stood in a doorway. How his body hit the ground drew everybody's eyes when it was too late to see anything.
The murder of a cop was no trifle. The following day a crowd of unemployed SalvadoreÃ±os gathered in front of Hunt's Donuts to look at the bloodstains where the killing had taken place. A homeless man pushing a shopping cart stacked with beer cans and soda bottles past them ranted: “A cop was shot! God wanted him for a sacrifice!”
Standing among the SalvadoreÃ±os was a two-bit criminal named Ricky Durrutti. What he'd just heard, he didn't like. More people than he could remember had been rubbed out on Mission Street and God wasn't the causeâbad luck rode enemies and friends alike into the ground. The cop's death spooked Durrutti, even though he had nothing to do with it.
The police bothered him, even the dead ones. Ghosts were everywhere and snuffed out cops were the worst kind.
His quick sallow face was impassive as he watched a knot of teenage girls sidle toward Ritmo Latino record store, girls dressed for summer in halter tops and non-designer sweatshop jeans. Durrutti looked at the dried blood on the sidewalk, then across the street. Every third storefront on the block was a neon-lit pawnshop with guns in the window, a Spanish language video rental shop, or a dull-eyed liquor store with more junkies in the doorway than you could shake a stick at. One-hundred-foot tall palm trees pitched drunkenly in the fog. The sidewalks were rife with pillow vendors from Nicaragua, homeless winos, pimps in black leather jackets and Honduran women dealing oranges in five pound bags.
Durrutti's vest pocket held a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. A hand-typed unsigned request urging him to pay them a visit. He'd read and reread the missive so many times in search of an insight that wasn't forthcoming, the letter was in tatters. He didn't know what the Feds wanted from him and he was reluctant to go downtown to their office to find out.
“I swear to Christ,” he muttered to himself. Then, “To hell with it. I'll go see them. I can handle it.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was lodged in the Federal Buildingâa twenty-storied 1960s-style blue glass and steel tower of architectural pornography located off Golden Gate Avenue. Clothing defined everyone who did business there. The copsâand there were more varieties
than you might imagine: local, state and federal law enforcement officers, each with their own idiosyncratic fashion senseâdressed in a mind-bending range of off-duty Gap store leisure wear. The lawyers, the high class criminal defense lawyers, were garbed in three-piece suits from the Union Square shops. The women had on high heels that'd been rescued from the discount bin at K-Mart. And everybody sported hairdos invented by the Los Angeles Police Department.
The first cop Durrutti encountered when he walked into the Bureau's office was a real beauty. A fifty-year-old overweight caucasian male attired in double-knit slacks and a wide-lapel rayon disco shirt from the 1970's. The way the policeman was glued to his desk, surrounded by military surplus furnitureâgunmetal gray filing cabinets stood sentry by a pair of dirty windowsâhe might have been sitting there for a thousand years. An expensive cotton-candy yellow toupee was plastered to the top of his head. His off-white complexion was pitted, the lifelong acne tracks underscored by the fluorescent lighting. His large, calloused and scarred hands rested on a pile of paper work. The name tag pinned to his shirt said he was Agent Elroy Kulak.
Durrutti had been waiting his whole life for this moment. It was predestination. Now that his destiny was here, he found it scared him. Specifically, he feared the police and he feared himselfâand he was clever enough to hide it. The terror in him was a lake of violence with no bottom. His baritone voice, frogged over by a two-pack a day Marlboro habit, gave away no indication of the distress
he was feeling. “I got a letter to come see you guys. It sounded important.”
His biography was compact and short, but his rap sheet was long. Ricky Durrutti was at that strangest of all crossroads, having lived long enough to make a lot of mistakes, but not long enough to fix any of themâand the cumulative body of mistakes made was starting to amount to quicksand. He was thirty-five years old. His police record was substantial. His rap sheet was a heaping dish of misdemeanor weapons convictions seasoned with shoplifting offensesâstealing socks from Macy's and getting caught with them stuffed down his pants had been his last bit of mess. His father had died young from tuberculosis contracted in the penitentiary, followed by his wife. From the old man, Durrutti had acquired a swarthy, sharp-featured jaw and a gift for trouble. From his mother he inherited nearsightedness, a bellicose chin and an abundant porcelain forehead. To remember his parents, he laid flowers on their tombstones every year when their wedding anniversary came up.
He gave the cop a flinty stare, slitting one brown eye, the one that still functioned reasonably well, and said, “They call me Ricky Durrutti.”
Kulak lent the visitor his ear, a malformed squib of pinkish flesh, not quite sure what he'd heard. “Durrutti?”
“That's right ... Ricky Durrutti. Do I get to sit down or what?”
The Fed hesitated, making him wait, torturing him with a cop's flagrant love of prolonging a moment until it has no more meaning, then wearily said, “Take a chair.”
Kulak's coarse-skinned face was yellow and pink and
red under the office lights, bumpy, uneven and covered with shaving nicks and ingrown hairs. A dermatologist's delight. He skimmed a file from his desk and gave Durrutti a corrosive smile. When a cop smiled at you, it was a guarantee there could be hell to pay. A tax that would eliminate several years from your life. Kulak's smile was ornamented by several missing teeth. He fixed his Aryan blue eyes on Durrutti's unpolished shoes, cocked his head with a flourish and droned, “It says here you sold a revolver to a Mister Jimmy Ramirez. Is that correct?”
Durrutti gulped once and his heart jumped and did a skip. Every now and then he did someone a favor. Altruism came naturally to him. Sharing was automatic. Among friends being generous was a good thing. It fostered empathy and mutual respect, the thongs of male bonding. Men felt closer to each other after they exchanged weapons. He'd owned a revolver he didn't want and he gave it to Jimmy for Christmas. Thinking fast he offered the cop a blip of double-talk.
“Is that what this visit is about? Why didn't you say so in the damn letter? Then I wouldn't have had to come down here and everything and shit.”
The Fed didn't fall for it. Law enforcement agents hate it when you pretend ignorance. They can smell the dissimulation; it acts like a stimulant on them. They get high on lies.
“And I don't know no Jimmy Ramirez. I could have told you that over the phone.”
Kulak's eyes dilated and his smile got even toothier. Then he frowned gorgeously. “No?”
Durrutti masked his discomfort. “No way. Don't know him.”
Kulak nodded and threw the report down on the desk. “Of course not. You don't know shit. You're an imbecile. A mollusk.” He paused to pick his nose, unmindful of the other man's presence. Then he said, “Can you tell me why the gun that Jimmy Ramirez ended up with had its serial numbers filed off?”
The answer was simple. A masterpiece of simplicity. He leaned forward in his chair, elbows on his knees and stared at the blank wall behind Kulak's toupee. He had planned to use the pistol to rob a bank. A large bank, something downtown, nothing that would hurt the little man in the street. In case the job went bad, or even if it was successful, he'd filed off the registration numbers on the piece to hinder its identification. It was an elementary procedure. No big deal. By the time he had completed the task, the idea of pulling a heist had worn thinâbanks were not his forteâand he'd unloaded the gun on Jimmy.
He kept his understanding of the situation to himself and said to Kulak, bold as a rat caught with a piece of cheese in its mouth, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
The beefy Fed picked up a pencil from his desk and chewed it, giving the eraser a thorough gnawing. Then he said, trying to be helpful, “Okay, you gave a weapon to Mr. Ramirez. He's a felon. Did you know Jimmy Ramirez had done time in Corcoran for manslaughter?”
Durrutti maintained a laissez-faire policy toward other people's personal lives. Gossip was deadly; not only did it sicken the spirit, it could get you killed. If someone had
served a sentence in the California prison system, that wasn't his concern. He didn't stick his nose into these things. It was one of the reasons he was still alive. Scared and alive.
“Hell, no,” he crowed. “That's news to me. I never heard anything about no gun. Or this guy you're talking aboutâ”
Kulak talked over Durrutti, as if he was conversing with himself, having started a thought in his own head. “Somewhere, someone had the gun's serial numbers removed. I don't have to tell you this is a serious offense.”
As if Durrutti didn't know it. He was literate. He knew the penal code. The whole affair reeked of a ten year sentence with baloney sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner at Folsom State Prison. But all he said, mincing his words until they sounded inoffensive, was, “Did you guys talk to this Jimmy Ramirez dude? What did he say?”
Kulak rubbed his freckled temples with his fingertips, massaging them. “Mr. Ramirez was contacted by us after he took the weapon to a gunsmith to get it re-blued. The owner of the shop called us when he noticed the problem.”