The street corner was hot with the stench of diesel fumes from the city busses and that oily sand smell that blanketed downtown Las Vegas in an invisible fog. The afternoon sun had bleached all the color from the land leaving it faded and used. $40 whores who normally haunted the plastic bus benches had retreated back to their cheap hotel flops seeking relief from 110 plus degree heat.
Two men sat in a booth at the White Cross Drug Store Diner. It was the one dark corner in a landscape of what Californians would call retro Fifties diner style, except it wasn’t retro anything. The owners had never gotten around to modernizing the place.
White Formica table tops reflected the flickering light of fluorescent lamps in need of a ballast change. One man was short and dark. He had the build of a bullfrog. He was picking his teeth in the reflection of a spoon that was still grimy from some previous meal. The other individual was a little bit taller but skinny in an un-healthy way. His skin was blotchy with vivid red patches and he was sweating even sitting under the air conditioning vent that pumped chilled nicotine laden air onto his head.
The skinny one named Benny sat and scratched at the eczema that had flared up just inside the hair line of his goatee beard.
One of these days I am going to turn into a giant flake.-He thought.
Mick the shorter of the two said, “Jesus I hate it when you do that Benny. Makes me want to go wash myself. Besides your getting your DNA all over the table top.” A whining note entered his voice, “C’mon man…stop that shit. We are going to be eating here in just a minute.”
“Fuck off.” Benny said with half inflated tone of resignation. “Just be glad Mick, you aint got the itch.”
“Yeah well what causes that shit?”
“Stress the doctors told me. When ever I get stressed out this, this crap starts to burning on my face and then the skin sort of blisters up and flakes off. It’s a real turn on to the ladies…nothing like having biblical leprosy when your trying to get busy with a lady and your face is broken out.”
“So how come we are meeting in this hole. Of all the damn places we have to meet at, why did you pick this one.”
“Cause The Bottle Collectors Lounge has been shut down by the city health department.”
“God I hated that freaking place. Man even the ice cubes tasted of cigarette smoke. Did I ever tell you about the knife fight I saw there between an old Cherokee whore named Rachel and some damn rummy? What…? What the hell did I say?”
“If you keep your pie hole closed for a second I will tell you what is so important about us meeting here and why I picked this place.” Benny said with a peevish look on his face.
Mick started laughing.
“Jesus this is going to take forever. Are you high?”
“Naaw I aint high, just maintaining. Sides your face got that puckered look. Your mouth went as tight as a Tom Cat ass that just took a shit.”
Slamming his hand down on the table top Benny said, “Damn it to hell! As I was saying, this is as close as I can get to the actual location, of a story that happened about a hundred and sixty years ago.”
“What the Fuck are you talking about?”
“If you shut up and listen ya toad, I will get to the nut cutting and you will understand… Ok?”
Waving his left hand in a dismissive movement Mick said, “Whatever…go on with your damn story. Besides who the hell do you have to screw around here to get a Coke?”
As if summoned by increasing negative vibes emanating from the best seat in the diner, a tired dishwater blonde waitress with limp hair, wearing a push up bra that did nothing for her tattooed breasts, came sauntering over with her large ass swinging back and forth like a metronome.
“Benny… look, look at this old hide coming our way. God Damn I love to see a professional at work.”
“Shit! Screw this! I can tell I aint going to be able to tell this damn story to you until we eat.”
The waitress who had a brass name plate that said, “My name is Connie and I am from Bismarck, North Dakota.” Stood in front of their booth with an expectant look on her tired face.
“Hola Bonita! Mi Corazon esta Deseando La Casa…” Mick smiled up at the waitress.
She looked down at the dark haired man who for some reason reminder her of a frog, asked, “What the heck does that mean?”
Mick smiled as he glanced at her tattooed chest, coolly considering whether or not, she might have other tattoos under her clothing. “It translates as, My heart is longing for home.”
“Uh huh. Well I got to give you points for that line.” She said with a smile that never reached her crow’s feet.
Shaking his head, Benny ordered the cheese burger plate and Mick wanted the tacos and fries. Connie dismissed the men from her world as she walked away.
“I tell ya Benny, an eight ball and the High Hat… She and I could fuck like porn stars. That girls still got talent in her ass.”
“God I don’t know who would have more cooties. You or her. You could swap Free Clinic Stories, and how you almost got the Hep at that ink joint down on Carson. She looks as rough as an old road.” Benny stated in a flat almost monotone, while staring at the waitress and her shanky reciprocating butt heading away to give the short order cook with the prison haircut and listless eyes, their order.
Having given up the ghost on his efforts to tell his story, Benny and Mick sat and drank their Cokes. Each large plastic red glass, had been delivered full of crushed ice and watered down soda syrup. Reflexively the men pulled a mash of ice and Coke into their mouths. They sat there and sucked on the ice until it had melted in their mouths. It was as an unconscious behavior in the desert confines of the Mojave, as breathing is for everyone else on the planet.
They caught up with each other’s stories and their adventures in the shadow lands of the greater Las Vegas pseudo criminal culture, until at such time their food order arrived.
“Piensa en mi, Cuando las palomas canten, En la torre de campana de la catedral. Mi torque sera la luz de la Luna
Basando te mejilla.-Or think of me, when the doves sing in the Cathedral bell tower. My touch will be moonlight kissing your cheek.” Mick said to Connie, their waitress, as she sat the food on the table top.
“Why are you reciting poetry to me?”
Mick looked her in the eye and said, “Didn’t you know that all Mexican men are Romantics and don’t you deserve to have poetry spoken to you?”
Connie blushed, “You sure don’t look Mexican.”
“Not all Mexicans have black hair and brown eyes…”
“Especially those that have a down home bog monkey from County Sligo, Ireland as a father.” Benny interjected.
Connie, spared a quick glare of annoyance towards Benny. She just stared at Mick looking for some sort of answer to an unspoken question and then not knowing what else to do, began to walk away.
Mick sensing an opportunity, slid a used business card with his digits written on the back of the card her way.
“Here is my mobile number. Call me. Maybe we can catch a bite to eat or something…” A pregnant pause hung between them
She hung back for a moment, a very small moment, from walking away “Or something… right?” Connie turned on her heel and marched back into the safety of the kitchen.
Mick reached over the table and gently slapped Benny on his shoulder and said, “Damn it Pendejo! Quit being such a cock blocker, geez!”
“Why would you, want to go out with a hide like that in the first place? I mean hell, she looks like she is pushing fifty.”
“Aww she’s just been rode hard and put up wet too many times. She is probably only thirty five, but I can tell, she’s still has some magic left in those hips. Besides dundito, you got look for the inner beauty in a woman.”
“You know what they say don’t you Mick?”
“Beauty is only skin deep but ugly goes clean to the bone!” Benny began laughing in a high pitched nasally sort of way that made Mick think of Hyenas.
The two men sat and ate their lunch. There was not a lot of conversation. Doing time in the Clark County Lock-Down had taught them both, when food is on the plate, it is time to eat. Grab-assing and talking is for afterwards.
Later when the plain, thick white plates were littered with the remains of their meal, Mick looked over at his companion and said, “Ok Benny you dragged me down to this hole in order to tell me some damn story. So shoot. Lets get this shit over and done with.”
A packet of Reds lay on the table between them. They both reached over and snagged a smoke. Benny lit his, while gathering his thoughts.
“Ok so it’s like this. About one hundred and sixty years ago a bunch of the local Paiute Indians had come back from a trading mission with the Navajo on the Colorado River. The Mormons had their “Mission aka Fort” already down there at what is now known as Washington and Las Vegas Boulevard.”
“Great… your giving me Nevada History 101.”
Benny continued with growing tone of annoyance and impatient, “Anyways Mick, them damned Mormons had their eyeballs on the land that the Paiutes were living on. So while the men in the tribe were out trading, the Mormons and a bunch of Cavalry from some place over in California, did a little raiding and killing. They scrubbed out almost all the women and children and were waiting on the local talent to come home.”
Hate flittered across Mick‘s face, “There is your Later Day Saints for ya. Never get between those assholes and something that is worth money. I hate those-blue eyed, tombstone toothed, Aryan Race looking mother fuckers.”
“So anyways get this, Mick; your just gonna love this part of the story. When the braves showed up, the cavalry and the Mormon good ole boys, turned their guns and knives on them too. But they didn’t kill all the men. One old dried up buzzard named Cloud something… he killed one of those cavalry dudes and took his rifle and ammunition. They chased that old tough bastard up into Red Rock Canyon. Somewhere along the way, he got shot. He holed up in a cave and spent three days killing troopers and those Mormon redneck bastards.”
“Yes siree Bob! He never surrendered to them and only died cause he didn’t have any water. But you got to hand it to him though… They had to work for it.”
“Ok, that was a pretty effed up story. Why did you have to tell to me and why did you have to tell it to me here of all places?”
“Because that Paiute village stretched from just across the street from us, right where Odyssey Records is, north all the way down to where the High Hat Hotel where we took those two cowgirls that were in town for the National Finals Rodeo. So roughly, North from Oakey Avenue to Charleston Boulevard and East to West from Main down to Sixth Street.”
“Wow that’s big stretch of Las Vegas Blvd.”
“Know what else is important about their village Mick?
“It sat upstream of the Mormon Fort. Those damned Mormons realized that they couldn’t get a bucket full of water that didn’t have Indian piss in it.”
The two men sat there laughing at the idea of the so called morally and up right members of the Church of Later Day Saints drinking their morning cup of “Mormon Tea” with a nice leavening of urine.
Shaking his head Mick looked sideways out of the corner of his eyes that were wet from laughing and said, “Benny I got to tell you something, you come up with some of the damndest stories. Now tell me why this is important to you or me?”
“Guess who was the leader of the Mormons during the raid?”
“I have absolutely zero fucking idea. I don’t know… I ugh… guess I give up. Who was it?”
With a predatory gleam in his eye Benny leaned over the table and said in a stage whisper, “I will give you a couple of hints. Who is the biggest real estate grabbing, money grubbing, steal the silver dimes off your eyes before they plant you in the ground, asshole? Who just so happens to have designs on the Governors mansion? Ring any bells yet?”
Benny could see a dawning light of comprehension come into his friend’s eyes.
“You don’t mean C.Y.A. (Cover Your Ass) Smith do you?” Benny asked Mick.
“Got it in one! The very venerable Smith Clan of Southern Utah and Nevada. The clan that owns most of the land in Mesquite and by the way your dad’s former alfalfa farm.-What did they put on it again?” Benny said, with a knife twisting tone in his voice. “A parking lot wasn’t it? Didn’t they just pave over everything your dad worked for, just so they could have one more parking lot for their silent partnership casino?”
Mick’s two hands clenched into fists under the table. He squeezed his hands so tightly that his knuckles went white.-Memories of loosing everything flooded his head. His dad unable to find work because all the non-union and most of the union construction firms were owned or operated by the local Mormon mafia. His dad Patrick had fought the seizure of his property and in doing so had alienated the biggest and wealthiest clan in Nevada. Mick remembered having to live behind Joe Mackey Sixth Grade Center in the black slums of the West Side. His dad lasted three years before his drinking took him to the grave. At 17 years old, his mom finally gave up the fight and moved in with her sister down in Eagle Pass, Texas. Mick had been on his own ever since.
“So Compa, how did you come across this information? ’Cause as far as I know, I never have heard about this little massacre, let alone read about it?”
“Mick, you and I both have been jumping back and forth across the rail road tracks since we were kids-legally speaking. I love history and I am good at finding things. About a year ago I decided to combine the two together. Because Sheriff Lamb told me that if, he caught me fencing any more stolen goods, I was bound for a one way ticket to Sparks, Nevada and the loony bin. He said, “They don’t have to let you out, just because you have served your time. If they think that you are a threat to society, they can keep you up there as long as they think necessary. Especially if I just happen to send a little note their way.” -Benny shivered at the memory of Sheriff Lamb talking to him with his dead baby doll eyes. While trying to keep control of his bladder after the Deputy known as “Tex” held his head upright over that old metal desk, where Benny moment’s before had been held prostate over, as Tex beat the ever loving hell out of him with a nightstick.
“Ok so you’re a locator now. That still doesn’t tell me how you came across this information.” Mick said with growing clouds of frustration crossing his broad forehead.
“One of my “clients” loves western history. You know Cowboy and Indian shit. He heard that The Gene Autry Western Museum over in LA, was going to hold a fund raising auction of unique and special material. One of the items was a diary of a then, very young second lieutenant named: Ralph Jones. Who just so happen to be commanding a squadron of troopers out of an Army base in California. On the surface of it all the diary didn’t seem to be too unique except for its age. I slipped the assistant curator 200 dollars and got a first hand look at the diary.”
Benny paused for a moment and then lit another cigarette before continuing on, “Halfway through his diary, this Lt. Jones talks about coming to the aid of Mormon settlers in Southern Nevada. Where he writes in great detail about the ring leaders of this… how did he put it? “Punitive Expedition against the savage Pa-Ute Indians.” Furthermore he goes on to tell all about doing their best to wipe out the tribe and the difficulty they experienced in killing one old Indian brave.”
“Benny this is terribly fascinating and I am doing my best to keep my eyes open. How does this relate to me and mine?”
“How much do you think a mile and a quarter of Las Vegas Blvd. is worth nowadays?”
“Millions I guess. Maybe hundreds of millions. It would all depend on where it is… Aaaw No Shit! You mean the area you told me about earlier?” Excitement sent sparks flying from Mick’s blue eyes.
“Yeppers! Right here in River City! The land was stolen from the Paiutes. They never had a “reservation” of their own. Helen C. Cannon gave them ten acres off of main street. Incidentally which is right around the corner from that damned Mormon Fort. They have never been paid for the land that was stolen from them. There is no, and I repeat no record of this massacre happening anywhere in the county or state records.”
With a grimace of disgust sliding across his face, Mick said, “Can you say cover up?”
“Exactly Mick. So who’s family made the most money off of selling those parcels? Hmmm I will give you one guess.”
With a low growl, Mick replied, “The ancestors of the bastard that stole my dad’s place.”
“Oh and before I forget it. Those troopers who came over from California, they were paid in gold not to tell anyone. The Lt.’s commanding officer told his lieutenant’s an sergeant’s that any casualties were because of a training exercise. The Paiutes tell about the massacre to their children and their grandchildren. But as far as the outside world goes, this “event” never happened. Because who are you going to believe; the US Army, backed by upright and morally clean white men or a bunch of illiterate Indians living in huts made out of sticks and mud?”
“No shit huh?”-Mick mused darkly.
The two men sat there in the booth exploring in each of their minds, the implied implications and ramifications of the story Benny had just related. Both men stared at some distant point or destination that only they could see. Finally Benny spoke up.
“When I first met you in county. I was strung out on speed and had the shakes so bad, that I couldn’t hardly see straight. You kept the creeps off my back until that shit flushed out of my system. That was ten years ago. I’ve been doing my best to stay clean and sober ever since… Well clean anyways. If I hadn’t gotten clean, one way or another it probably wouldn’t have been no more than six months and I would have been found dead down somewhere around D street.”
“What are you trying to say to me Benny?” Mick asked with a flat tone in his voice.
“I may have been a petty criminal most of my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know who is carrying my markers. You may or may not think it, but I am trying to pay off a debt. I owe you big time.”
A softness that was unfamiliar to Mick’s face came to life. “Benny man… you don’t owe me anything. I think we both helped save each other, or least found someone to watch each other’s back.”
Stretching his hands out flat on the table and pushing his back into the upholstered padded booth, Benny said, “It’s ok Mick, whatever you say. I just wanted my cards out on the table. You can take it for what’s worth.”
“Benny you got some sort of plan. Because if it is about getting a little back that belongs to us, from those A-hole, good ole boys, that have run this sand box like it is their very own, well I’m down with that.”
“See Mick I got this crazy idea…”
Twenty minutes later, Connie walked over to the booth and dropped off their check. As she leaned over to pick up their plates, Mick could see the business card sticking out of the top of her lacy purple bra.
-Opportunities indeed.-Mick thought with a mental laugh that would have made the Grinch proud.
An hour later both men shook hands and walked away. Each smiling with wolves in their mouths.