From my ogoing on-line novel "Willie".
For me it’s just another long, hot, summer day, working with my big buddy Willie. We’re fabricating iron on a pneumatic steel bender, in the brutal Arizona sun, in the gritty industrial district of old south Phoenix and will do so for the rest of the day… or so we think.
Willie Benson is 34 years old. An Anglo, that stands six foot-two inches tall, 240 pounds, without a drop of fat. He’s a big, friendly looking man, with penetrating steel grey eyes and a Paul Newmanesq grin that never leaves his face. Willie’s the kind of man that other men find likeable and a little scary, both at the same time. With a sandy blond, full head of curly hair, a classic bad boy, women find him irresistible. He’s also a self described “Rounder” or career criminal.
I’m fifteen years old and big for my age. He works with me in the steel yard my family owns. This is my third summer working with Willie, who needs a straight job to meet his parole requirements. Every Friday, he has to stop by and show his caseworker at the Department of Corrections his pay stub, and it better say 40 hours. The funny thing is, he never cashes the checks. He considers it a matter of honor that he earn his living through his chosen vocation… crime. He is quite proud of his vocation and discusses with me often. This morning he’s telling me how to steal TVs.
“I tell you kid, televisions are a great way to pick up a little quick cash. I mean who doesn’t want a better TV. On a good day I can unload eight or ten of em.”
I’m a little confused. “Just how do you get a hold of eight or ten TVs?”
At heart Willie is a big kid. He smiles with a twinkle in his eye, like a he’s stealing candy.
“Shit…grabbing TVs is easy. You wander into the Monkey Wards or any big store. All you need is a receipt. If you can’t find one in the trash or on the ground, just buy something that cost a few bucks. Walk on back to the TVs and fold the receipt so the store name is in plain sight. Tuck the receipt in your mouth, pick up a set and head for the door. You can’t talk and nobody is going to ask a guy with a receipt in his mouth if he paid for the TV. Shit… the manager will usually get the door for you. And if he gets wise and starts asking questions, you can always throw the TV on him. The problem with them getting the door is they may want to help you to your car. You really want to avoid that. It gets a little sticky when you’re trying to explain the six or seven TVs in the back of your station wagon.”
To me Willie is a great big guy with a lot of funny stories, who also happens to be a criminal. He’s not a threat. Like a big uncle, I always feel safe around him. But today, I will see first hand, just how afraid others are of my big friend.
Years later when talking with my father about Willie, he tells me he has seen his Criminal record, which states: When apprehending use extreme caution, he is to be considered, usually armed but always dangerous.
The bender we are working at is situated between two driveways that sit about twenty five feet off of the oily dirt road that runs in front of the steel yard. Trucks come and go all day, in and out loaded with steel reinforcing bars. The neighborhood is a combination of dirty, run down motels, shacks, old two room adobe houses and Industrial plants. It’s also the home of the poorest of the poor, numerous gangs, street people, junkies and drunks. So, it doesn’t seem odd when the two drunks start arguing just outside the gate on the other side of the bender.
They look like street people, unkempt, dirty long hair, several days of stubbly beard. Both in dirty work pants, one wears a sleeveless Levi jacket and the other an old, faded, sweat stained, tee shirt that say’s, “American Graffiti.”
The guy wearing the sleeveless jacket starts in, in a very loud, drunken voice.
“Jimmie, You didn’t even like that chick. I don’t need you shit!”
They’re so loud that most of the men working in the yard sort of stop what their doing to see the show.
The shaggy man in the “American Graffiti” tee shirt looks over and starts talking to Willie and me with an intoxicated slur, while his friend stumbles on seemingly unaware.
Approaching us from the front, he blirts out, “Like her… Can you believe him? She was my cousin! I’ve known her all my life!”
We’re starting to laugh at the developing scene when the other man notices that his friend has wandered through the first gate into the yard. He is now standing at the second gate, just behind us, so he wanders on over.
Extending a friendly hand, he appears to be the classic happy drunk.
He mumbles to Willie, “Hey man, that’s Jimmie, I’m Sam, how you doin?”
Willie smiles and turns to shake his hand. We are both snickering.
As Willie turns I noticed the man standing across from us reaching behind his back, as if to tuck his shirt in.
Suddenly, time slows to a crawl and all sound seems to disappear. I see the next few seconds like an instant replay in some sort of twisted, slow motion movie. I watch the look on the man’s face change from a lazy smile, to deadly serious. In a seemingly choreographed move, he pulls out a big stainless steel revolver. Grasping it with both hands. He is now pointing it directly at Willie’s head.
This movement causes Willie to turn back to the man. The barrel of the pistol looks huge and hollow and is about eight inches from center of Willie’s forehead. Meanwhile, the second man produced his own gun. Grabbing Willie by the shoulder, I watch as the barrel is firmly pressed just under my friend’s right ear at a slightly upward angle, causing him to carefully tilt his head to the side. Willie’s hands instinctively, slowly, rise, signaling surrender. The man on the other side of the bender say’s in very low, but deliberate, staccato voice“ don’t-even-breathe you big, dumb, motherfucker… F-B-I.”
It seems so surreal. In the same instant that the men are grabbing Willie, several Police cars and unmarked white sedans descend on the yard with lights flashing. Agents wearing blue blazers with F.B.I. in big yellow letters printed on both the front and back appear out of nowhere, all of them pointing shotguns or pistols directly at Willie. He is cuffed and shoved to the ground in seconds.
One of them say’s, to me, in a clear voice “Son… get over hear now!”
Scared to death, my heart pounding and starting to tear up, I immediately walk towards the officer.
As I do, I heard another agent say, “Willard Benson, you are under arrest for interstate trafficking of narcotics, fraudulent schemes and receiving stolen goods. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney…”
In a way that makes me feel sick to my stomach, it’s just like some crime drama on television.
Another group of police and FBI agents are taking Willie’s car apart, cutting the seats and spare tire with a razor knife. I don’t know what they are looking for but, they don’t seem to find anything.
They immediately take Willie to a waiting car. A tow truck backs up and hooks on to his old station wagon and in an instant they’re both gone. Just a few cops are left behind, talking with Chuck our foreman.
As they drive away, I catch a glimpse of the side of Willie’s face. He’s seated in the back of an unmarked white sedan. Sitting slightly forward, obviously because of the handcuffs behind his back. Although he’s still smiling, trying show he’s not been beaten, all color has left his face. He looks as if he has aged twenty years in just a few minutes, like a caged dog on his way to the pound. This is the last time I will see my friend for just over eight years.