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Bar Stool Blues by Bill Baber

Who woulda thought ass-sitting on a bar stool minding your business could be dangerous. Well, belly up to the bar and Bill Baber will show you.

Because anything can happen in the gutter.

Bar Stool Blues by Bill Baber


It had been a while between jobs and that meant Gaff and I had been spending lots of time on bar stools. That was how our business worked. Sometimes we spent long stretches waiting for a phone call. Drinking was a way to pass the time.

At times we were really busy; a hit in Denver followed by another in Vegas then a job in Mexico. Some were quick; a day’s drive, locate the target, execute the kill and head back to Tucson. Other times we might have to hunt someone down. I liked those jobs the best. They kept you on your toes, kept the adrenaline pumping. We once spent two weeks and over twenty two hundred miles chasing some loser all over the southwest before we caught up with him in a cheap motel in Deming, New Mexico. Gaff slit his throat and left him to bleed out on a dirty mattress.

We used the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson as a base. The rooms were cheap and decent. There was a good restaurant and the best bar in town. On top of all that Tucson was centrally located to most of the places we operated throughout the Southwest and northern Mexico.

It was the beginning of what passed for winter in Arizona. We were growing bored. Some nights Gaff and his turquoise Fender would sit in with a band that played locally. But mostly, we drank to in a futile attempt to keep boredom at bay.

That’s what we were doing when the desk clerk walked up to Gaff and handed him a slip of paper. He glanced at it.

“Vegas,” he said. He finished his Beam and water before heading to the pay phone in the lobby.

He returned a few minutes later visibly shaken. He signaled the bartender for another drink which he quickly downed and ordered another.

“Vegas had me call Sammy Giancana in Dallas. They offered us a hundred grand to kill the fucking president.”

“Holy shit, “I said. “Why do they want him dead?”

“For starters his brother Bobby is cracking down on the mob. And, after Castro shut down the gambling joints in Havana, the mob was in bed with the CIA. They were gonna take out Castro, make it look like a mob hit. Kennedy found out and squashed that plan. So the dagos ain’t happy with the president.”

“So what did you tell them?” I asked.

“I made an executive decision,” he said. “Told them to go get fucked.”

He took a long pull from his drink. “I might be crazy but I’m not nuts.”

We both finished our drinks and ordered another round.

“Here’s the thing,” Gaff said.  “They’re going to come after us because we know. They won’t leave any lose ends with something like this.”

                                                            ***

The next day we were at Rillito Downs betting the ponies, figuring we would do something with a Sunday besides spending it drinking and smoking one cigarette after another. The day was blustery, the wind cold and biting. Neither of us were having much luck so we left after the sixth race.

I saw them first; a black Cadillac parked three spaces from Gaff’s Chrysler. One of the doors opened. I pulled my gun before shouting to Gaff to get down.  I got the first guy as soon as he stepped out of the passenger side door.

“Cover me, “Gaff yelled as he began belly crawling between cars. I fired three rounds keeping the driver busy.  Seconds later Gaff popped up behind him and shot him in the back of the head.

After an incident like that, we went back to drinking and didn’t let up for nearly a week.

                                                            ***

Friday came around and we still had no prospects. We were getting antsy. We had finished breakfast and were drinking coffee. A television in the restaurant showed the president’s motorcade rolling through Dallas when something went terribly wrong. Kennedy had been shot.

Two days later, we watched as a nightclub owner and small time hood from Dallas named Jack Ruby shot Kennedy’s alleged assassin with a Colt .38 revolver in the basement of police headquarters. We knew of Ruby and we were aware of his underworld ties.

“They got him before he could talk.” Gaff said. “And I’ll bet you a bottle of Beam they get Ruby too.”

The next morning we got a call. Some pendejo who ran a string of brothels in Hermosillo was behind on his protection money. The jefe’s who controlled the city wanted to send a message. It was time to go back to work.

“Be good to drink tequila instead of bourbon for a while, “Gaff joked while we packed the car.
                                                                                   
                                                            ***

As the years passed, we heard a few things. A stripper we knew who had worked at one of Ruby’s joints told us he was involved. She said he hated Bobby Kennedy with a passion. When Castro threw the mob out of Cuba, Ruby started selling him guns. Word was that pissed Giancana off so they fingered him to keep Oswald from singing. Ruby got life but was granted a retrial. We heard he was going to talk. We also heard the mob poisoned him to keep him quiet.

The government said he died of cancer.

“Bullshit,” said Gaff. “The mob tied up loose ends.  The government is trying to cover their ass because they know what really happened. And you owe me a bottle of Beam.”

The mob only tried to take us that one time. But we never worked for them again either and that was fine with us. Like Gaff said, we might be crazy but we sure as hell weren’t nuts. We gladly kept our distance. There was plenty of work without them and between jobs we were more than happy to spend some time sitting on bar stools. Those bastards could do their own killing.



Inspired to write by Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and the poems of Brautigan and Hugo, Bill Baber has worked as a ranch hand, bartender, truck driver and, for a while, as a sports columnist. His crime fiction has appeared at various sites on the net. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011.He lives in Tucson with his wife Robin and a spoiled dog. He has been known to cross the border just for a cold Mexican brew. A novel in waiting can be found somewhere on his computer.