For today's blast from the past, a little heat from the one, the only (you'd best hope) Bill Baber. And a little drive that you may not want to take, but in The Gutter, it goes to a place some folks live for.
Desert Heat by Bill Baber
God, it was hot out on the desert that night. The windows were all down and all that did was let in a wind that felt like it had been launched from the business end of a blowtorch. It was toward the end of July and down on the flats the stars were bright overhead while lightning flashed incessantly over the far mountains.
We were halfway between Tucson and Nogales listening to the X which was coming somewhere out of Sonora. They went right from Muddy Waters doing “Rollin’ Stone” into Hank singing “Ramblin’ Man.” Then, some good Otis Rush and Gaff turned up the radio. Otis was the closest thing to a God he believed in. I grabbed one of the two lukewarm Tecates that were left and Gaff passed me a bottle of mezcal. There was nothin’ to see ’cept for the occasional prongs of a Saguaro or a skinny jack rabbit crossin’ the road.
We were in Gaff’s ’58 Imperial–that sonofabitch was heavier than a played out Houston whore and the Chrysler 392 hemi under the hood was a beast. That car mighta been slow to get rollin’ but once she did, there was nothin’ on the late night desert highways that could keep up with her.
There was as much chrome on the dash of that bitch as there was on the exterior of the car. Gaff kept the dash lights low or else the glare would blind you. There was an orange glow comin’ from the end of his Lucky. Neither of us was sayin’ much. This last job had been rough. We’d covered twenty-two hundred southwest summer miles in under a week chasing a guy from West Texas to New Mexico before finally catching up with him in Oklahoma. The guy had been more than happy to come up with the money after which Gaff cut his throat with a razor and left his body on the bed of a dingy Tulsa motel room.
After topping a little rise, the lights of a small town illuminated the surrounding emptiness. Might as well of been a big neon sign you could read from a hundred miles that said “Trouble Ahead.”
“Hell,” Gaff said, “it ain’t much past ten. Maybe there’s a spot we could get a beer that’s cold.”
Well, there sure was. There was a hillbilly band playin’. And they were damn good. Course Gaff had to get his Fender out of the trunk. He ripped through “Matchbox” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” with those boys and the joint was jumpin’. You woulda thought he’d of played with those cats forever. They might have played some of the best blues ever heard west of the Delta that night. You could smell mota out in the gravel parking lot. And if there was a hot Mexican girl in a bar like that, Gaff was gonna find her. Hell, he’d found ‘em as far north as Calgary.
So there we were, havin’ us a time. And the Mexican girl? Her name was Esmeralda and I could tell right off that Gaff was in love. I’d seen the look before. She was beautiful. She had the flashing eyes and the painted red lips and she was already wearin’ that low crowned, wide brim straw hat Gaff fancied. From experience, I knew what was comin’ next.
He was a tough lookin’ bastard. Gaff was going to have his hands full. Hell, this guy might take both of us. He started right for Esmeralda, grabbed her, called her a puta and went to slap her. Well, that’s as far as he went because Gaff hit him with a jackhammer that woulda gone through granite and deposited the muchach right in the middle of the dance floor.
A minute later, when Gaff wasn’t lookin’, the pendejo got off the floor, produced a blade and I had to pull the little Colt semi from my pocket and save Gaff’s ass. I knew we weren’t the only ones packin’. We weren’t that far from Tombstone and there was always some old boy in a place like that thinking he was a modern day Doc Holliday. Gaff pulled his piece and we backed out of there.
With the shots still echoing through that honky-tonk and the smoke not yet cleared, we were streakin’ north like a comet, headed back toward Tucson. We would have never made it south to the border. Some local boys in an old Ford gave chase but we outran ’em before the lights of town faded in the rear view.
“Alverez is gonna be pissed,” I say. This ain’t the first time we’ve been late with his money.
“Fuck him,” Gaff says, taking a pull on the mescal and lighting another smoke. “When it’s you and me that got his money, the prick should be patient. We might be late with it once in a while but he always gets it.” He takes a deep pull on his smoke and breaks into a grin. “Besides, we’re the ones doin’ all the work. Might be time for a little vacation.”
Right about then, Gaff slows down as we approach the southern edge of Tucson. The night hasn’t cooled any. It ain’t two yet, it’s Saturday night and there will still be a bar open. There is, at the south end of Speedway. A twangy country band is playin’ a Buck Owens song and right away a Mexican girl catches Gaff’s eye.
The border will have to wait. And Alverez is still going to be pissed. Fuck it, no sense worryin’ bout that tonight, Alverez and his money are the least of my concerns when Gaff gets on a roll like this. Ain’t no tellin’ what might happen.