The Sins of The Family: Chapters Five and Six

The Latest — By on October 21, 2014 at 12:36 am

 Chapter Five
The Judge and The Accused

 

Cantu hung up the phone and looked at the man in white through tired eyes.

“From what I can tell, Gomez sang a bit, but it could have been much worse. Can you fix it?” asked Cantu.

The man in white puffed thoughtfully on his pipe and blew a few smoke rings into the air above them before answering. When he did speak his voice boomed from deep within his barrel chest, delivered with a Southern drawl so heavy his words seemed to thud off the walls of Cantu’s office.

“Son, I’ve been doing this a long time,” began the man in white, “and back roads around legal issues such as these are nothing new. I wouldn’t fret about what that man did or did not say under duress. It was, after all, a coerced and patently false statement he made. A statement, I may add, made without the presence of legal counsel. All I need from you is the story he meant to tell, the story Gomez should have told.”

He paused and more smoke rings rippled through the air toward the ceiling as he struck a match and pulled deeply on his pipe.

“After that we are in for smooth sailing and sunny days.” The man in white went back to puffing on his pipe, filling the room with the heady aroma of vanilla and spice. “What about,” he motioned back to Alaric with a sly nod of his white-haired head, “our audience?”

“Ah yes, about that. I appreciate your willingness to come down and discuss this Gomez matter in person. Until then I must attend to this unexpected yet much anticipated matter of family business.” Cantu rose from his desk in a show of respect.

The white-haired man rose gingerly to his feet with a grunt.

“This the boy?” Asked the man in white looking Alaric up and down. “Is this the prodigal son returned?”

“Well, he could be,” said Cantu carefully. “This is my nephew, Alaric, Freddie’s boy. You understand the urgent need to attend to him as soon as possible don’t you?”

The old man held up a hand stopping the explanation.

“No need at all, I know how important this development is, and if he is anything like his father I suppose it’s important for all of us.”

“Well, that remains to be seen.” Cantu added.

The man in white stopped to offer Alaric a few words before he left, Cantu was caught a bit off guard by this and he hastily made an introduction.

“Alaric this is-” but the man in white cut him off.“The Judge son, they call me the Judge. It is both who I am and what I do. Keeps things nice and simple” The Judge carried the gravity of Jupiter in his words, a true force of nature. “I look forward to meeting you formally and under more proper circumstances, preferably at one of your uncle’s famous barbecue dinners.” The Judge turned to Cantu for confirmation, Cantu nodded back in the affirmative.

In a cloud of vanilla tinged smoke and white linen he was gone, leaving Alaric face to face with the man responsible for his mother and father’s violent end, or so he’d been led to believe.

The adrenaline and awe faded, quickly replaced with disdain and mistrust. In his mind Alaric visualized his next move. He would demand an explanation from his uncle and storm off never to see his face again, yet as he reached for the angst and fire of justified anger, it was gone.

In its place hung a diffuse glow of dormant feelings, muted and distant.

It was Cantu’s face that caused Alaric’s change of heart, so familiar yet very different than what he expected, his uncle’s face was almost comforting.

When Alaric recalled Cantu he pictured a bearded giant, a man still seen through a child’s eyes. An imposing and larger than life character made larger still by the years his mind had to build upon the legend of the man. Yet now, here and in front of him he seemed kind and almost fatherly. In Cantu, the family’s traits shone through brightly. Fair complexion, strong pronounced jaw and piercing brown eyes, Alaric was disarmed immediately.

Cantu must have felt the same, so he was the first to break the silence.

“Damn it boy,” said Cantu, visibly choked up. “You look so much like my brother, my God I just had no idea you would look so much like Freddy, it’s just so good to see you again.”

Emotion got the best of him and Cantu threw his arms around Alaric in an embrace of lost love for his brother, his family and the nephew he never got to know.

Alaric simply stood there motionless.The hug felt good and he wanted to hug back. He wanted to feel the warmth and safety of a family member’s arms, but beneath the expensive shirt and goodwill of reconciliation beat the heart of a killer.
Alaric couldn’t just let it slide; Cantu could feel that Alaric was conflicted and released him from his embrace.

“I know what you must think of me, I know what you must think because of how your grandmother, my mother, felt about me. I couldn’t tell you then, you were too young to understand and as long as my mother was alive, the time wasn’t right. She had to lay the blame on me, for her sake. But you’re a big boy now Alaric, and you need to know the truth. Come on in and have a seat.” Cantu motioned back to the desk, and the large leather chair the Judge occupied moments ago.

Alaric turned to pick up the duffel bag stuffed with cash, the reason he had been shot at in the Lincoln what seemed like days before, but Cantu stopped him.

“Let’s not taint this with the business or money, it is a big day for you and for me, for our family, Alaric. I prayed this day would come, but I left it in God’s hands to make the first move. He did, and here you are.

I say all of that to say this.

Alaric, I know what you think, but kid, it ain’t the whole story.”

Chapter Six

Two Sides of the Same Coin

The whole story.

He was tired of those words, with the very idea of half-truths and lies. He was sick of not knowing who to trust and what was real.

Alaric remembered the day he got his version of the whole story from his grandmother, if that is what you could call it. It was after a night he had gotten into some trouble and was escorted home by the police. Seeing her grandson in police custody at her front door was the last straw. Amparo saw that Alaric had started down a dangerous and all too familiar path inherent in his blood. She knew she had to stop it, and this time she could do something to stop a man in her life before he wound up like his father or his grandfather before him. She knew that it was time to tell him the truth about his parents.

The next morning in the kitchen she slowly gathered the ingredients needed to make breakfast, the extra time helped her chose the words she would use carefully. It would have to be after school and it would have to be that day.
It was time.

Alaric skulked in and took his seat.

“Mijito,” she started, “I need you home right after school today, there are some things I need to tell you, things that we need to discuss, things we should have discussed long ago.”

His mind immediately flashed to an uncomfortable discussion regarding his failing grades and the events of the previous night, it was a discussion he felt compelled to delay.He chewed his breakfast slowly and tried to think of an excuse, something, anything to put this off, but nothing came. He felt her gaze on the back of his head as she awaited his answer.

“I’ll be here.” He said, not meaning it. Alaric picked up his backpack and headed off to school.

Once he was gone she retrieved a tattered manila folder from under her mattress. In it she kept newspaper clippings from the day of the crime. She knew the day would come when she would sit Alaric down and recount the events that culminated in the violent deaths of his parents, she never thought that day would come so soon.

There was more to the story than the faded yellow pages could convey, dots she would have to connect for her grandson. Alaric needed to know why she would have nothing to do with her son, his uncle, with Cantu. Amparo sat at home in her chair, a folder kept hidden for years in her lap. It lay open, her hand rested on a headline splashed across the faded page.

GANGLAND STYLE SHOOTING LEAVES THREE DEAD, ONE WOUNDED.

She would have to relive the pain and shock of that night and the events that followed, but it was her duty to do so. She sat and waited in her chair, waited for Alaric to come through that door to hear the truth and have his life changed forever.

At school, midway through English class a friend invited Alaric over to his house. Alaric decided he could be home a little late, a perfect chance to delay the inevitable.

The ancient Westclox mantle clock sitting above the fireplace chimed twelve times and she knew Alaric wouldn’t be home that night. She felt a sharp pain in her chest compounded by heartbreak as she realized she had just run out of time.

A single tear fell from her eye and followed the well-worn lines of her face and onto the yellowed page on her lap.

It was two-thirty in the morning when Alaric was startled awake by the sound of a barking dog as it echoed down the alley behind his house. He had fallen asleep in a lawn chair looking up at the stars in his backyard. Bad news or not, it was time to go home.

He crept into the house and peered cautiously around the corner.

Alaric saw his grandmother asleep in her ancient La-Z-Boy recliner. She would be awake in a few hours making breakfast, and with that meal there would be hell to pay but he would deal with her then. He fell into his bed, and counted the minutes until sunrise.

His alarm clock went off and he slammed his hand on the snooze button hoping to silence it before it could alert his grandmother that he was awake. He listened intently, but there was no noise from the kitchen or the rest of the house. He figured she must still be asleep after waiting up for him so late. He quietly dressed, snuck out of his window and dashed to school. He would deal with her when he got back from later that afternoon.

He took his time walking home after school that day and still made it back sooner than he would have liked. At the chain link fence surrounding the front yard he took a very deep breath and prepared himself for the onslaught. He lifted the latch and swung the gate open, then jogged up the flagstone path to the front door and walked in.

“I’m home.” He called out, but there was no answer.

He crept quietly into the den and there she napped in her recliner, but she wasn’t napping. He knew even as he walked over to shake her just to be sure, that she was gone, her familiar face was papery and pale.

An old folder full of newspaper she was reading fell to the ground as he shook her and checked for a pulse he knew wouldn’t be there.

He picked up the phone and dialed 911, after that everything was a blur.

The ambulance arrived along with a police officer and later a coroner. She was an old woman and there was no evidence of trauma so it was pretty evident what had happened.

It was simply her time.

Alaric sat at the kitchen table in a hazy fog of shock and guilt. He wished he had been there, even if it was to be yelled at, maybe he could have helped, maybe he could have kept her from dying alone.

The cop standing next to Alaric in the kitchen snapped his fingers at him, trying to jar him from his thoughts.
“Hey, kid, one more time. You came home then what?”

“She was waiting for me to come home,” said Alaric, recounting the horrible scene he walked into. “She wanted to talk, I figured it was because I’d been messing up at school, so I skipped it. I stayed out all night, went to school then came home and found her…in the chair.”

Alaric thought of her body there in that ugly old recliner, she appeared so much smaller than normal. It made him stop and finally ponder her age. She was simply a constant in his life, like a constellation in the stars. Her fiery disposition masked her years, but now with that fire extinguished, her face told the real tale. The years of her long and difficult life were recorded in every line and wrinkle that crisscrossed her face. The glacial passage of time cut each furrow and valley with the pain she buried and the secrets she kept for a lifetime.

Secrets she now took to her grave.

“This was near the body.” Said the cop. He produced the manila folder.

It was what she was holding when Alaric came in and found her, the object he had mistaken for just a pile of old newspaper as he shook her trying to wake her from her permanent rest. The cop opened it, took out a page and looked it over. He then read the headline aloud to Alaric.

“Gangland style shooting” he said matter-of-factly, “Thee dead, one wounded. That’s some pretty heavy reading for someone her age.” He flipped the page around and held it up for Alaric to see.

“Know these people?” The cop asked.

Alaric glanced at the article halfheartedly when the names mentioned in the newsprint caught his eye.
They were the names of his parents.

“Those are my parents but,” he took the yellowed page and began scanning. “I’ve never seen this, she never talked about it, she never told me about any of this!” He poured over the information quickly, devouring every sensational word. He then hastily scanned the other pages in the folder. It contained all the articles detailing the events that lead to his parent’s death as well as the aftermath that ensued.

“Seems like she was about to tell you all about it.” The cop cocked his cap and began to walk out.
“Looks like this is a talk you shouldn’t have skipped.”

After the police had gone and the coroner had taken the body, her body, from the home, Alaric sat alone at the table searching the contents of the folder. It was the first time he had seen words like “crime syndicate” and “hail of gunfire” used to describe members of his family.

The whole story was there, if a bit out of context. A hit had been ordered on Cantu. The gunmen caught up to him as he and his wife, accompanied by Alaric’s mother and father prepared to leave a restaurant in Cantu’s car.

“Holy shit!” Exclaimed Alaric, he had no idea that Mattie’s mother died with his parents that night.

Cantu was hit in the shoulder and thigh but the injuries were minor, his wife and Alaric’s parents were not so lucky. Some of the photos showed bodies slumped inside Cantu’s bullet riddled Lincoln Mk V.

Alaric had to look away from those.

The story of vendetta and murder unfolded before him. The next few pages chronicled the arrest of a suspect and that suspect’s mysterious death followed by another arrest and yet another death of a suspect. Cantu was implicated and appeared in a picture being placed into a police car, the headline:

REVENGE!

The very next page featured a smiling Cantu as he stood next to his white-suited lawyer, a lawyer who would later become a judge that Alaric would meet years later. Above this picture another headline:

ACQUITTED!

It appeared his parents had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cut down by the shadowy enemies of Cantu and his criminal enterprise in their prime. Taken from Alaric forever. He began to understand the hatred Amparo had for her son, he began to see why she refused to speak to him and cut him from her life. The man was a snake, and Alaric would pick up the mantle of mistrust and disdain his grandmother laid down at her passing.

The next day he received a call from Amparo’s lawyer. He was made aware of a will that stipulated the home and the balance of a substantial savings account went directly to him and that he would be emancipated, even though Alaric really didn’t know what that word meant, or from where the money had come. He surmised that the talk his grandmother was to give him was a warning, a warning of the criminality in the branches of his family tree and the need to stay far away from these tendencies. He knew the truth and even though she couldn’t tell him in her own words, he was able to discern that truth by her final action of collecting the information to show him the day she died.

***

Cantu walked to a large mahogany bar along the same wall as the massive limestone fireplace and made a drink.
“You have a drink you like, son?” he asked.

Alaric didn’t answer.

“Scotch it is.” Said Cantu as he dropped three large cubes into a heavy crystal tumbler. “It was Freddy’s,” Cantu checked his choice of words and began again, “it was your dad’s favorite.” Cantu sat down behind the large paper strewn desk and slid the drink over to Alaric. “What I have to tell you is probably going to come as a shock to you, and there is good reason it should. Your grandmother was a fragile woman beneath that tough exterior. She kept her world turning after the murders due to the many truths she held onto. Of these truths was the version of how the night I lost my whole world went down. She held me responsible Alaric, and while that may be the truth it is only half of it. The whole truth, the whole story has a lot to do with all this you see around you.”

Cantu took a long swig of scotch, leveled his gaze at his nephew and just came out with it.

“Alaric, your dad and I started this business, this family business. He was my right hand. That night when they took your parents and my wife from us, they were after me, this is true, but they were acting on a hit ordered on all of us, Alaric.”

Cantu looked into his tumbler of Scotch as if the rest of the words he was to speak lay at the bottom.

“I just had the dumb luck to make it out alive.”

Alaric felt numb. Amparo was never been able to tell him the context of those headlines and photos of the slumped and murdered bodies of his parents and aunt. He wondered if she knew, he wondered if she would have told him a story to confirm the words his uncle now told him.

Cantu could anticipate what Alaric was thinking.

“Yeah she knew, Alaric.” Said Cantu nodding, “she knew but didn’t want to believe, you see she loved Freddy more than she loved me, this was no secret. It was my role to play the villain and I played my part like any good son does for his mother even if it’s wrong. You see Alaric, I looked and acted so much like my old man that she couldn’t bear to think that Freddy had anything to do with the family business. In her mind all the evil that my father had was somehow transferred to me, bypassing your father.

She was content to hold onto that belief while we were in business together, that it was just some sort of phase he would outgrow, that I was merely a bad influence on her baby boy.” Cantu took another big gulp from his glass emptying it and spun the ice cubes around.

“Hell, maybe she was right.” Cantu added with a sigh.

“Why were they after you, why was the hit ordered?” Asked Alaric.

“That night will haunt me for the rest of my life. It never should have happened.” Cantu got up and walked back to the bar and made another drink.

“That night was an attempt by some very unprofessional people to put an end to what your dad and I were busy building. It was 1982, and we were supplementing our capital with dealings in, shall we say, contraband materials?”

“Drugs.” Alaric clarified.

“Yeah,” repeated Cantu, “we were moving drugs, guns too. It was something that Freddy was never comfortable with, but it was a necessary evil. We used the money we made from the sales to finance your father’s plan, you see he saw a way to use those questionable dealings to parlay our fortunes into a legitimate enterprise. It was what he was good at; he could see the numbers behind the game. He could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a bright light Alaric, your dad was a hell of a numbers man. We were doing business with a crew that supposedly represented a group from Laredo, the Suarez Cartel, same guys you and Mattie ran into tonight. Things went well for a time, but the middlemen got greedy and started changing the prices for us unbeknownst to Suarez himself, 10K worth of product became 20K, payments were made and never kicked up to Suarez, so in effect they were stealing from him and us. We figured we would put an end to that. Your father and I decided over dinner to drive down to Laredo to meet with Suarez and make him aware. That’s why we were at the restaurant that night. The wives were there because we discussed everything together as a family, any big moves were by unanimous decision and that night we were all of the same accord.” He finished his Scotch in one drink this time.

“Goddamn I miss them all so much.” Cantu stayed silent for a moment, staring at nothing. The silence became uncomfortable and Cantu began talking again.

“The best I can figure is that they were onto us, I guess they felt they had to make a statement. Who knows what those coked up lowlifes were thinking. Probably thought they could knock us off and take over our operation. So they planned the hit.”

Cantu went back to that place in his mind where he and Freddy could still call the shots, together. Alaric let him remain there a little while longer as he processed the information.

It couldn’t be true could it?

For the last few years he had been using the hatred of his uncle as a crutch, or as a motivator.

He wasn’t sure which.

After Amparo’s death and when the lawyer finalized the paperwork and Alaric was emancipated, his options opened up. He righted the ship as far as grades were concerned and graduated on time. Now, in his senior year of college he found he was slipping into a lifestyle he wasn’t all together comfortable with. The reason he ran into Mattie and was nearly killed in a shootout earlier that evening was because he was after a bag of weed, not the most mature way to handle his life at the time. Yet that wasn’t it, Alaric was no saint, and it was all starting to become clear. Alaric had an uncanny ability to see through to the inner workings of a system and make them work smoother, and smarter, it was what he did. After what Cantu told him of his father, that ability made much more sense.

At the beginning of his collegiate career Alaric was invited to join a card game hosted by one of his friends, a kid named Montanez, who just happened to be a future mayor of San Antonio, at a house he rented. The game known only to their circle of friends. There was a small buy in and the game was far from high stakes, but after a few games Alaric saw the makings of a lucrative business, so he persuaded Montanez to let him take over.

There were others in the neighborhood of modestly priced starter homes, the bulk of them rentals filled with guys just like them. If he opened the game to them he could host more than one game throughout the week. There was a mandatory buy in of course, but to some of the best players and regulars Alaric offered a VIP card for a small fee. It covered booze and one buy in per month. Soon he was making quite a bit of cash, enough to pay his rent at least. Alaric took the next step and offered wagering on local and national sporting events.

Alaric noticed Cantu staring at him as he realized he had been lost in thought.

“Your gambling operation?” Asked Cantu with a sly grin.

“How could you possibly know?”

“Son, I’ve been watching you the whole time. I knew that you had it in you, but I needed to know that it was you making the decision for yourself. I promised myself that I would not interfere unless I saw that you wanted to get into this line of work. I admit that the timing of all this is a bit ahead of schedule, but in this business there are no such things as accidents or chance. Whether you call it fate or God, it delivered you to my doorstep tonight and so tonight is the right time.”

“Mattie was surprised to see me tonight at The Store.” Said Alaric, hoping to make the encounter a little less spiritual.

“The Store?”

“It’s what everybody calls the place I saw Mattie tonight.”

“Clever name, we just refer to it as the little house.” Cantu jotted the tidbit of information into a notebook that lay open on his desk. “I have to remember that, but I only sent Mattie out the to little house, The Store, about six months ago. It is his first real job for the family.”

Alaric wasn’t too keen on the idea of his uncle keeping tabs on him in secret, but in a strange way it made him feel good. He felt that sense of inclusion that only family could impart. It also made sense, the police had been to Alaric’s card game a few times about noise or an unruly player, but they didn’t seem all that curious or concerned with what was going on inside even though it was pretty evident.

He felt this was the unseen hand of his uncle at work.

It was a lot of information to process and a flood of new feelings came with it. The undertow of the realization began pulling him out into a sea of uncertainty. Cantu threw him a lifeline.

“Alaric, depending on how you perceive the hour on it is either very late or ridiculously early, so I must insist we call it a night. You are free to stay here, if not then I will arrange for Bully to give you a ride home. I really wish you would stay.”

Alaric looked at his watch. It was four in the morning and time had slipped by quickly. He really wanted to get home, but the cocktail of scotch and adrenaline he was on had taken its toll. He looked up tiredly at Cantu and nodded that he’d stay.

“Bully will see you to your room, I’ll see you in a few hours if you’re up, if not then feel free to sleep in.”

“I appreciate you telling me the other side of the story, she didn’t ever get to tell me, although I feel that had she been able to, the story may have been abridged.”

“My mother had a very hard life, Alaric. Her way of dealing with all the loss was to blame me. It made her feel at ease and like less of a failure as a mother and a wife. It made her feel better and so that made me feel better, I was doing my part as a son. I made it okay to hate me, and more important than that, she knew that I knew. Sometimes our relationships in this life are a strange, and scary thing. That doesn’t change the fact that we need them. Enough of this seriousness, get some rest and we’ll see you tomorrow, God willing.”

They walked to the top of the stairs, and down at the bottom a large and sweaty man waited with a big sloppy grin on his face. “Boss, is this it? Is the family back, I mean do we have all the Cantu boys together?” asked Bully nearly bursting with excitement.

“That remains to be seen, Bully. Please take my nephew to the room above the garage. There I pray he will make his decision.” Cantu placed his hand gently on Alaric’s shoulder. “I’ve been waiting on your return to offer you a job. Join me, and your cousin, join your blood and close the circle. I know you can find a way to realize your father’s dream of our family rising above making a living as common criminals. Do it for your family that isn’t here anymore. It is what they would have wanted. We need you to pick up where your dad left off, we all know that you can do it.”

Cantu held his breath nervously, he only had one shot to turn Alaric and bring him in, and he hoped it had worked.

Inside Alaric switches began to flip and electricity began to flicker through the darker recesses of his mind, in his heart he felt it all fit him like a well-tailored suit. He knew deep down in his soul that this is where he needed to be. He felt as if wings unfolded from behind him and he could finally fly, doing what he was born to do. All those nights that he cried for his mother and father, mourning the loss he also felt something else. It flickered like a small flame emerging from smoldering ashes. He stifled it before, but now this feeling was allowed to blossom in his mind he started to feel a thirst for revenge. It wasn’t directed entirely at Cantu as his grandmother had wished, it was for those unseen assailants firing at that Lincoln killing all but one of the occupants those many years ago. He wanted to hit back at those that struck first. He could take the family legit, but he also felt that he could take down those who robbed him of his family.

Alaric knew he wanted to join the family and try to accomplish what his father hadn’t, but he also wanted to sleep on it. He looked at his uncle, the man he reviled for so many years and contemplated a decision heretofore unimaginable.

“I’ll have an answer for you in the morning.” He said, and with that he finally hugged his uncle, it felt exactly as he thought it would.

It felt like home.

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