First in Group > Crime Caper / Freelance / A photo retoucher

Synopsis: In a dusty hellhole of a town, a ragtag group of merchants tired of paying for protection band together to take down the local gang-leader.


The Cast

I’m Dooley. I run the animal clinic smack between Benny’s Electronics and The Joint—short for The Jazz Joint—a piano bar that still has an upstairs, if you know what I mean. 

up·stairs (əpˈsterz) noun – The hotel above the bar where you can pay for an unclean bed and an unclean woman who lays in it with you and makes noises like she enjoys your company. 

The ladies do their thing freelance-style. There’s no pimps in Bordertown, and we aim to keep it that way. 

I don’t go upstairs. My wife would turn me into Dooley casserole. But Periquito sometimes does. No one mentions it. Not ever. For the same reasons. Mention Periquito in the same breath as the ladies of the night and you’ll wind up in a desert-dug shallow grave. 

Because Periquito married the favorite daughter of Juan Alacran and was tasked with moving Alacran’s operations into L.A. In 1947 that meant trial by fire in Bordertown.  

Bor·der·town (bôrdərtoun) nounAn almost forgotten outpost where everything is made of scrub and bone dust and backward glances. The sun presses your eyes into slits, every bit of sparkle blinds.  

So there’s me, Dean Dooley, I guess I’m the wildcard because I’m sure as shit not the brains or the brawns or the beauty. Benny the Jew is the brains—at five-five and maybe a buck twenty-five soaking wet and carrying a cat, there really isn’t much to Benny but brains. Big brains, big spectacles perched on that big shark’s fin of a nose, and most important—big balls. 

Benny’s smart. And Benny’d had enough of Periquito’s “protection.” 

pro·tec·tion (prəˈtekSH(ə)n) noun – The benefit of not getting your shop windows smashed and your face broke by neighborhood thugs because you’re giving Periquito and the Beef tidy white packets of salad (and I mean envelopes of cash) every Friday. 


Per·i·qui·to (peɾiˈkit̪o) and the Beef (bēf) proper nouns – Neighborhood thugs who smash your windows and break your face. 

With me so far? 


And let’s be clear. You can’t call the cops in Bordertown because cops in Bordertown graze on Periquito’s lettuce. By that I mean they’re on his payroll. 

Let’s talk about Ginger and Eve. 

Jack “Ginger” Rawlings plays piano at the Joint. He’s the opposite of Benny. Tall, red-headed, freckled, with a chin that just keeps going. And it has a nice big cleft in it, too. He’s the high-striking strongman, with a zinger of a smile. I’d call Ginger the looks of the operation if not for Eve, but because of the total smoke-show she is, we’ll call Ginger the brawn. 

Eve owns The Joint—one of the only hold-outs left in a town slowly being swallowed up by Periquito’s long arm of Alacran law. With the face of a Mucha Moet & Chandon advertisement, an Aphrodite body, Pachuca pin-up hair, and the pert mouth of seasoned seaman—just to look at her you’d think she was an upstairs girl. You wanted her to be, you’d turn your pockets inside out for it. But no chance. 

And then there’s the Carp. We needed him most of all. Or maybe it was the other way around. A former photo-retoucher turned movie man, he liked to hold out on Periquito, and was getting mighty tired of sweeping up glass. Most recently he’d spent a Friday night in the clink, nose pointing east and leaking blood all over his seersucker suit while the normally blazing marquee of his Rio Theatre stayed dark.

A big black hole where a brilliant star collapsed.  

The Plan

So let’s talk about… 

The Plan (plæn) noun – A convoluted half-baked bad, bad, bad idea Benny had one night. How much had he been drinking?  Enough. And the fucked thing was Benny drank sherry. I don’t know why we trusted the scrappy little bastard. Especially after he started using the term ‘street justice.’ 

So, Benny’s knocking back his third or fourth sherry and polishing his glasses on his shirttails more than usual. First he gets a wrinkle right through his forehead and then the glasses get sideswiped off by one of his delicate little hands and you’re always, no matter how many times you’ve seen the gesture, always surprised by how small his eyes look when the magnifying lenses come off. So surprised, in fact, that you usually miss the first few words that come out of his Clara Bow mouth, because you’re busy thinking how this child in front of you looks so familiar and he reminds you of someone… and then you realize. 

He reminds you of Benny the Jew. 

“You got any savings left, Dooley?” 

“Didn’t have any savings to begin with.” 

“I did. And it’s all, every penny of it, building Periquito’s empire,” Benny says, and slips his glasses back on. 

Per·i·qui·to’s Em·pire noun maybe, but who cares By that time he owned most of Bordertown. And on the south-side, was his estate. The only truly green stretch of acreage in Bordertown, and by green I don’t mean money. I mean lawns. And tree canopies. And money. 

It’s odd, really.  The color I always associate with the devil is green. Not red. 

Red’s the inside of the Joint at high point on a sultry Saturday night when everyone’s well rested and ready. The rosy pleather booths beckon and the wood grain shines in the same hue. Crimson drapes the stage and candy-apple lamp shades bounce the electric light around until it hits your face warm. When Ginger has a tub thumper with him it’s like being inside a beating heart. 

Really, a beating heart’s what it was. It’s the center of Center Street, and if Eve can’t keep liquor stocked that heart will seize right up. Periquito gets that. He squeezes her harder than all the rest and waits for her to pop so he can slurp up the whole street. So he can turn those upstairs girls into his property. 

Eve tops off Benny’s fluted slipper of a glass and even the sherry looks red. “I’m in.” 

Benny’s head rolls back, then he leans forward. The edge of the burnished bar comes right up to his collarbone. “I haven’t given you any details yet.” 

“Don’t need ‘em.” Eve hunkers down so Benny can look at her eyes instead of her décolletage. “I’m in. I just don’t want to be the digger. Square?” 

“We ain’t gonna do murder, Eve. Geez.” 

The glasses are back off and I’m trying to remember who Benny reminds me of when Eve asks, “Gonna tie his fucking shoelaces together, Benny?” 

Ginger snorts, because… I don’t know if I mentioned it, but Benny is short. Near to the ground, I think is Eve’s point. But Benny has a plan, and that plan is elaborate.           

e·lab·o·rate (əˈlab(ə)rət) adjective – Basic elements of entrapment, coercion, and ultimately blackmail, mixed together with props, decoys, technology, and a classic honey pot

Set the scorpion on the bird, Benny says. And we all know he means Alacran. 

Alacran, future father of the Mexican mafia and current father to Periquito’s wife.

The details take weeks. Benny draws diagrams and Ginger colors them in. The Carp backs out at least twelve times. I spend another tidy pile on protection in the interim and I’m at the Joint so often my wife comes down and accuses Eve of grand theft husband.  

Eve barely notices. She’s a hard woman who likes to remind us that, “We’re all fucked.”  

But really, it’s Periquito who’s getting fucked. And his wife is not going to like it. 

We hope.

“Hope is a poor strategy,” the Carp says, and backs out. For the thirteenth time. 

The Caper

 The stage is set. 

I’m enjoying an export cigarette in Benny’s company and watching Ginger try to impress the Joint with the Hammerklavier, which he may be playing beautifully but nobody here can tell. We’re all waiting for the horns to show up so Ginger can give us some real shake. 

Benny nudges me. Periquito’s swaggering in, flanked as usual by two hefty sides of beef. They make a production of popping the buttons on their suit coats and flashing the forty-fives strapped a few inches down from their armpit sweat stains. 

We ignore the implicit threat and watch Eve. She coolly pours their drinks and places them disinterestedly on the bar in front of them. Even me, who knows what she’s doing, and watching for it, can’t see whether she’s managed to empty the compound powders into each of their bourbons. 

house bour·bon (hous bərbən) nounWhat tough guys drink. Tastes like a creosote fire. Tastes like the word carmine. It’s a flavor that’ll hide anything. There could have been two-day old dead skunk glands in those glasses and Periquito and the Beef probably wouldn’t have known it. 

I heave out a sigh and stand, going for my tie with both hands. I remind myself it’s just fine if I look nervous, if my face is as red as the Joint. If I walk like my knees are made of poached egg and my voice shakes like the outskirt shanty town when the Southern Pacific barrels through Bordertown.

 I’m going to ask for a private word with Periquito. I’m requesting violence upon me. I’m inviting pain.    

cow·ard (kou(ə)rd) noun Dean Dooley. Born in 1915. Died in 1947 when it was discovered that churning stomach acid had eaten him from the inside out. Also see “yellow belly bastard.”  Also, “chicken-shit mommas boy.”  Also, draft dodger. Also, noodle-armed. Also— 

It takes me a flat-out week to get from Benny’s booth to the bar where Periquito’s pouring the mug full of fire starter right down his meaty gullet. 

Mea·ty Gul·let (mēdē ˈɡələt) noun – Periquito’s neck. Diameter is about 25 inches but I’m not great at distances. You could hold the Indy 500 on the ring around his collar. As tiny as Benny is, is how huge Periquito is. He gut punched me once. I disgorged my esophagus. 

I’ve never found conversing with Periquito to be easy, but as I walk towards him, empty handed and empty headed, I realize my tongue might not work if I’m not handing him an envelope full of money.  

I linger at his elbow and clear my throat. Not as an attention getting device, understand, I’m trying to cough the rust flavor of fear out of my mouth. He swivels to face me and his eyes drill the idea into my mind that he has horns. Big Hereford horns that will tear apart my paper skin and show everyone exactly what color my insides are.

Breaking noises come out of my mouth, but Periquito responds like they’re words. And they must’ve been, because he throws a few coins on the bar and lumbers to his feet, giving me a gesture of lead the way, asshole. 

I float out of the Joint. Because aside from supplying the tranqs, my only important job is to get Periquito into the alley so he doesn’t pass out on Eve’s bar. 

And I’ve done it. 

I’m so distracted by my relief that it takes a minute before I notice the Beef limbering up their arms. My internal celebration is snuffed out, my self-congratulation turns to smoke.

I learn a lot about the alley in the time it takes the knockout powder to take the Beef down. Like exactly what a brick wall smells like when it breaks your nose. 

Blood, it smells like blood. 

And it fucking tastes like it too. 

I’m spitting out fragments of pavement and possibly my own teeth when Beef-One finally sways, takes a step, and then a knee, before he catches his balance with his face. Three pairs of eyes follow his descent into the grimy gutter. Beef-Two topples a garbage can on his way down, the lid spinning and clattering out its gritty spiral to a stop. 

“Huh,” Periquito says, his no-shit tone like he’s looking at some perplexing piece of vandalism and just learned it was painted by Van Gogh himself. 

My job at this point is to appear perplexed and afraid, and I must say I’m pulling it off big-time. 

Periquito’s finishing up being impressed by the art show and is moving quickly into the suspicious and angry faze of the evening when, over his Ford Fairlaine frame I glimpse Ginger navigating a wheelbarrow at me for all the world like he’s the one who downed a grip of horse morphine. 

I’m trying not to notice when Periquito… notices. As he turns his attention to Ginger I decide the chemical knockout isn’t panning out fast enough. I go for the old fashioned kind. 

I whack him—GONG—with the garbage can lid. 


I don’t know if it’s my slapstick antics or the tranquilizers finally kicking in, but the man totters on the balls of his feet before dumping himself neatly into Ginger’s waiting conveyance. 

We proceed to convey the fuck out of him. Straight to Carps high-shine movie picture show where he’ll wake to find himself a low-life in glowing lights. A real Hollywood star. Without the Hollywood. More like Jolly-Wood. 

             Jol·ly-Wood (ˈjälē wo͝od) noun – A pecker at full point. You get it. 

He won’t have any clothes on, is my point. 

And neither would those–same breath—ladies of the night. 

Because what Benny’d gotten in his shop half a year back was an old fashioned hand-crank 35mm movie camera. We could’ve made a lot of magic with that machine, but why be selfish. Benny wanted to share it with Mrs. Periquito. But we’d run it by the man himself, first. Get his critical review, so to speak.

Periquito’s usual doll was all for the scheme, and she’d managed to twist Periquito into some pretty interesting positions which we immortalized through a very discreet hole in the wall between bedchambers. We even got some brilliant washroom material of the post coital clean-up. 

For all the muttering Carp did under his breath about the quality of the shots we gave him to work with, the final film was a masterpiece. We all agreed. We even set it to music. Small touches go a long way. 

Unfortunately Periquito didn’t take pleasure in the details. Not the way we did. Especially during the denouement of the film wherein a beautifully lettered invitation encourages him to bring in his misses and perhaps also his father in law for a free viewing. 

The next screen informed him that, in fact, we’d already mailed out the invitations—together with a beautiful playbook to accompany the main feature. 

Periquito responded by pumping six bullets into the screen—a big loss for the Carp but at least it wasn’t Benny’s face. 

The Happily Ever After

Well, Periquito vanished. The Beef found real jobs… as bookies and bounty hunters. Alacran’s daughter was rumored to have returned to Mexico City sans husband. But we don’t really know. 

Periquito might be out there somewhere, still alive.  


But I doubt it.




{1942}  This crime caper has a wonderful structure. The definitions, descriptions and the breaks between paragraphs or dialogue give the story a great pace.  

{1774}  What a wonderfully original, amusing choice to weave in period definitions. It added such charm and local flavor for the era. Your strong characters fueled this story, their unique voices and their plan propelling the plot to the exciting end. Entertaining read! Well done.  

{1504}  The definitions are entertaining and informative. The protagonist has a strong and distinctive voice. Periquito’s vanishing makes the ending satisfying.  


{1942}  As you develop the story, definitely expand the ending of the happily ever after. Some slight further insight on the succeeding plan alongside their their new life may be interesting since we only hear about the The a beer and Periquito.  

{1774}  You could’ve added TUB THUMPER to the definitions. Share why and how Periquito might be dead (his former father-in-law)? Reveal why some other mafia head didn’t step in to collect the riches from the businesses after Periquito took off.  

{1504}  At the end you might mention some details about Eve, Dooley, Ginger, and Benny before giving the information about Periquito, his wife, and The Beef. Perhaps consider adding words to the title to make it a stronger hook.

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