Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
Twenty years after the trial...
Scorpions scattered as the giant, black suburban worked its way across the Nevada desert, sending a mile high plume of dust in its wake. The dust hovered in the breathless air just outside of Las Vegas, and eventually fell to the scorched earth.
The only passengers were FBI Agents Montgomery and Ball.
Montgomery had been a field agent for 14 years, mostly in the southwest, and was accustomed to the heat and scorpions.
He was the senior of the two.
Agent Dudley Ball was the son of a United States Senator, and was new to the field experience, and had only two years’ experience with the Department of Justice, and was still considered a rookie.
“Man, it’s hotter than Hell out here.” He said as he fiddled with the a/c vents trying to direct the cold air to his pink face.
Montgomery replied, “Don’t worry about it...this won’t take long and maybe we can get inside and cool off...maybe grab a cold beer.” as he tapped his fingers on the top of the steering wheel. He was probably lying, but wanted to calm his junior G-man. Ball was from Maryland where there were no deserts or scorpions.
In the distance, they saw a single wide trailer sitting all alone near a bluff slowly coming into focus. Oddly enough, there was a shiny new Chevrolet pickup sitting alongside that surely costs more than the trailer.
“Now who would do something like that?” Ball asked.
“What’s that?” Montgomery replied.
“Park a $35,000 truck by a $500 dollar trailer.”
“This guy apparently.”
Ball replied, “You mean someone actually lives in that thing?”
“Think so.” Montgomery turned off the beaten path , through a rocky draw , and stopped the Suburban next to the gleaming Chevy Silverado 4x4, taking a closer look at the faded green and gray trailer. The weathered streaks streaming down the sides made it look older than it probably was.
Balls mouth turned down, “Gee, what a shithole.”
They got out and were immediately welcomed by a scruffy old white dog, with one ear up, the other down.
Montgomery slapped the dusty paw prints off his J.C. Penney’s black slacks and pounded on the flimsy screen door.
“Yeah, what do you want?” came a man’s raspy voice from deep inside.
“We’re looking for Tommy Castle. Can you help us?”
The creaky door opened and a graying man about sixty peered out at them.
He was tall and thin, and had a two day growth on his face, and sported a white nicotine stained moustache.
A sweaty straw hat perched at an angle over his shaggy silver hair. He could have come right out of Central Casting.
The man kicked the bottom of the screen door and held it open just a few inches to get a better look at the strangers. He looked them up and down and tipped his beer bottle back for one last swig, then belched and tossed the bottle over his shoulder. The agents heard the bottle hit the linoleum floor and clink against what must have been dozens more.
The old man had a roll your own cigarette stuck to his bottom lip, and it magically stayed there as he growled, made his brows into a V. “Now, what’s this about Tommy Castle?” His smoky breath was rank and smelled like that wasn’t his first beer of the day.
Montgomery said, “We’re looking for him...would you be him?”
The old man grinned and said, “If I was lucky, I would. Now, just who the hell are you boys?” then crushed his cigarette on the floor under his dirty boot.
Agent Ball moved quickly, brandishing his official FBI badge, “We’re the dog gone FBI buddy, and you better start working with us here.” the young rookie said proudly as he pressed his shiny badge against the broken screen.
“Not THE FBI?” He shook his head disgustedly, “Get the fuck off my porch.”
The old man slammed the door shut covering the agents in dust.
Ball fanned the dust in front of his face as Montgomery turned to him and asked, “Will you please just keep your mouth shut and let me handle this?” He only said please because Balls father really was a Senator, and with his own retirement looming, certainly didn’t need any grief.
Montgomery pounded on the door again, and looked over at Ball. “Get off the mans’ porch.”
Ball stepped off the porch. Well, it was actually just an old broken pallet serving as a porch that had made its way to this hell hole.
The door opened again and the old man said, “You boys still here? Not too bright are you?” as he twisted the cap off another ice cold beer. The agents’ mouths watered, as Montgomery tried to get his interview back on track.
“Sir, listen, we’re sorry to disturb you, but we really need to speak with you for just a couple of minutes...can we come in?” Montgomery tried a softer approach.
The old man glanced over his shoulder and decided the place really wasn’t suitable for company, especially company in suits. The place was cluttered with beer bottles, old newspapers, overflowing ashtrays, plus the dog droppings in the corner gave him pause.
He muttered, “Nah, we can just sit right there and have our little chat...pull up a chair.” He stepped out onto the pallet and dragged a couple of old busted chairs to the oasis in the shade of the trailer.
So much for going inside and cooling off.
Ball looked at Montgomery disgustedly.
Montgomery struggled with his chair, apparently fixed to the earth by the caked mud halfway up its leg’s; a bucket of water was by his feet. Presumably, a water bowl for the old scruffy hound, still with one ear up, the other down.
“Wow, that’s some dog bowl you got there...” said the young agent as he scraped dog shit from the bottom of his winged tips with a dirty stick..
“No, that’s a bucket. Dog bowls under the trailer where it’s nice and cool.”
Ball bent over and peeked under the trailer as the dog raised his head from his muddy paws and showed his teeth.
He got the message and sat back up straightening his tie. “That’s some dog. What’s his name?”
The dog snarled again.
“Lop, and clearly offended that you mistook her for a boy.”
“Oh, sorry about that. Well, she’s...pretty.”
“Lop was once a show dog until she got herself run over, messed up her ear a bit. But, she’s a sweetheart and it’s hotter than Hell out here and she gets kinda cranky without her water...now just what do you boys want?”
Montgomery took over, “Like I said, we’re trying to locate Thomas Castle.”
“I take it you boys have never met Tommy?” the man said as he tilted his chair back against the trailer and put his aged cowboy boots up on an old spindle once used to carry miles of cable.
Ball gleefully announced, “No, but we have read his file!” Montgomery looked at him and shook his head wondering how he had gotten stuck training this little shithead.
The man smiled as he ran his tongue down the length of his Bull Durham roll your own, “You read his file huh?”
“Anything in that file tell you a man like Thomas Castle would be in a place like this?”
The old man closed one eye as he as he fired up a kitchen match off the side of his boot. The roaring flame caught the tip on fire, and he took a long, satisfying drag, then put the match out on his tongue.
Apparently it impressed the rookie, but Montgomery tried to stay on point.
“Well, the county records do show him as the owner of record of this property.”
Quickly offended, the old man scowled, “ONE of the owners...you sure do sloppy work for an FBI dude.” Then frowned, and picked at his sunburned nose.
“I’m sorry...yes, one of the owners, the other being a Daniel C. Castle...now, would that be you?”
The old man grinned, “Not if I was smart...but yes, I am Daniel C. Castle...now what?”
Montgomery’s ears perked up. “You’re a relative of Tommy’s?”
“I’m his big brother...well, his older brother...he’s a lot bigger than me...but I’m prettier...” the aging man smiled revealing his yellow stained teeth.
Agent Ball said, “Your brother?” as he frantically lifted his feet narrowly escaping an attack by a 4 inch long brown scorpion.
Daniel shuffled his worn alligator boots along the parched ground and mashed the scorpion beneath his number twelve’s. “That’s why anyone with any sense wears boots in this part of the country sonny.” Ball looked down at his dusty wing tips and frowned as Lop ate the scorpion..
Montgomery smiled at this news. Brothers? He scooted in closer to Daniel. “So, Daniel, when...”
Daniel interrupted him. “Dan...call me Dan...I don’t like Daniel...never have...knocked the last guy out that called me that...right over there...” gesturing wildly to his right at some spot only he saw. Montgomery didn’t take the bait, but Ball craned his neck and squinted.
“Ok, Dan...when was the last time you saw your brother?” Montgomery hoped they would get a straight answer. They didn’t.
“Well, let’s see...I think it was ’95 ...maybe ’96...can’t really say.” he said, as he shaded his eyes while looking up at a hawk buzzing around, which was apparently more exciting than listening to the FBI.
“‘You haven’t seen him in ten years?” Ball quizzed.
“Nope.” Dan, was also a man of few words.
Montgomery motioned for Ball to be quiet and let him do the questioning.
“Well, Dan, so you have had no contact with him since ’95 or ’96...is that right?”
Dan spat on the parched ground, “ For FBI Agents, you boys don’t listen so good do ya?” then wiped his chin with the back of his hand.
“Excuse me...did I miss something?” Montgomery craned his neck.
Dan said, “I didn’t say we didn’t have any contact...I said I ain’t seen him since then...wasn’t that your fucking question?”
Montgomery discovered that Dan was no ordinary recluse. He was certainly sharper than he looked.
“You’re right sir...I’m sorry...let’s try it this way....have you had ANY contact with him since ’95 or ’96? Is that better?”
“Yeah, much better...yes, we have contact ...sorta...”
Ball was now annoyed that they couldn’t get straight answers... “What do you mean sorta? Either you do, or you don’t...now which is it? ”
Dan was no one to mess with and turned to the red faced agent and announced, “You’re starting to get under my skin sonny...best settle down a bit.” He said it like he meant it.
Montgomery shook his head and apologized, “I’m sorry...go ahead...you have contact with him...how? Does he write you?”
“Does he call?”
“Nope...see any phone lines out here?” Dan gestured at the clear blue sky.
Agent Ball snipped, “Well, you could have a cell phone you know...lots of people do.”
“I ain’t lots of people junior...no use for a cell phone...”
Montgomery was flustered that they were so close and yet so far from the truth.
He leaned forward in his rickety chair and said, “ Look, Dan...just tell us what kind of contact you have with him and we’ll be on our way.”
Dan glared at them, reached in the pocket of his dirty jeans, and pulled out a sizeable pocket knife, which made Ball lean back.
But, Dan grinned as he began whittling on a mesquite branch that he picked up from under his chair. Staring at the branch , he said, “An old guy from Searchlight comes down that road right there...same one you boys came in on...and brings me a package from Tommy..
Montgomery went on, “And when does he do that Dan?”
“On the first...like clockwork...Tommy likes to be punctual...”
Ball, certain that the package was drugs spoke up, “And what’s in the package...Dan?”
Dan answered slowly, “$910.60 cents...and 4 packages of Oreo cookies.”
Both Agents sat back in their chairs. Tommy Castle sends cash and Oreo’s?
“That’s an odd amount...where did that figure come from? And, why Oreo’s?”
“You boys are kinda getting into my personal business...I don’t much like that.”
Montgomery replied, “I’m sorry Dan...But, you must admit it is odd ”
“Not to Tommy ...not odd at all...” Dan leaned back against the trailer.
“How’s that?” Ball asked.
Dan leaned forward and dropped his cigarette on the ground and smashed it under his boot. “If you read his file like you claimed, you should know my brother is a very calculating, precise fella. ‘Exacting’, you might say.”
Montgomery took the bait, “For instance?”
“For instance, my payment on this place is $400..all 640 acres...it’s called a section...a mile square...and my electric is usually around $100 bucks...and Tommy figures the last $410 should feed me...buy gas for the truck...shit like that...”
“The amount never changes?” Montgomery asks.
“Nope, never...” Dan shook his head emphatically.
“And the Oreo’s? Montgomery thought the cookies might be some kind of code, a lead maybe?
“He knows I like ‘em.”
So much for the lead.
“I don’t understand. Why does he do that Dan?”
“Because he's a sweet boy. Don't get me wrong, he ain't no queer. As a few learned the hard way, fuck with him, and he'll tear your head off and shit down your neck. But, to his friends and family, he's just a real sweetheart of a guy."
"Tommy told me he would always take care of me. And, that’s ‘exactly’ what he does. I never have to worry about a vehicle, a roof over my head, food in my belly, or clothes to wear. ”
Montgomery then said, “Nice...so basically anything you need, he provides...”
Dan replied, “As you can see, I have no worries." He gestured with his hands. "He’s kept his word...and I’m keeping mine...anything else fellas?”
Montgomery looked down at the parched earth. “I see.”
Dan continued, “He kept his word to you boys, too... didn’t he? Put it all on the line for you...have any idea what I’m talking about?”
Montgomery cleared his throat, “Yes, like I said, we have read his file. Your brother was good to us."
Dan replied, “ Good to you? I’d say making the case for a dozen mob guys to be sent away forever is more than being good. Not many men would do that you know...risk everything ...he’s a helluva guy ...”
Ball interjected, “Well, it sounds like he made out pretty well...considering...”
“Considering what boy? You think he was a mob guy, too? Well, he wasn’t. Ok, maybe because he didn’t go to prison with his friends, you figure he was a rat? Wrong again. He didn't give his friends up. They were stupid. He begged them to come with him to you boys. He gave them a chance to do the right thing, and they didn’t. Tommy did, even knowing he himself could go to prison. It's you boys that fucked up his life, not him." Montgomery stood to stretch his legs, "You know Dan, after the trial, he disappeared."
"I'd say a man that watches his wife step in front of him and get murdered on the courthouse steps has that right." Dan said as he glared at Montgomery.
"That was a tragic thing. Did you know her?" Montgomery asked with his head bowed.
"Of course. And she ain't no 'her'...she was Alexis Champion. A model, Emmy winner, hotel heiress, and handed out cash like it was candy. Not to mention my sister-in-law. Not a finer woman on earth." Dan's eyes welled up as he turned away.
"I'm sorry for referring to Alexis Champion as 'her' Dan." Montgomery said shamefully.
Dan wiped his eyes with a rag he dragged from his pocket, "It's alright. I get that you didn't know her." then blew his nose on the rag and stuffed it back in his pocket.
"Everyone's loss for sure, we know Alexis Champion's philanthropic work. Tommy was very lucky to have had her." Dan said softly, "If she was alive, she'd tell you it was the other way around. Traded her life for his, I figure that makes some kind of statement."
"She must have loved him very much." Ball replied slapping the dust from his slacks.
Dan turned and looked down at the shorter Ball, "It was a two way street lad. I guarantee he'd a done the same for her. In fact, took a bullet himself for her. Guess you know that huh?"
Montgomery nodded, "Yes, we do. It was a bad deal all around. We know he was hospitalized for over a month, should have been longer, but on 10-17-1996, a nurse went to his room and he was gone. Hoses and tubes had been jerked off and left on the bed. Vanished... from a secured hospital room, surrounded by law enforcement. No leads, no witnesses, nothing on surveillance cameras, nothing.
Dan grinned broadly, "You fellas are stuck huh?" then stood up and walked over and rubbed Lops’ ears.
Montgomery nodded, "Any idea how he pulled it off?"
Dan answered from ten feet away as he played with Lop. “You want to know about my brother? I'll fill in the blanks for you. He pulled it off because he's devoted his life to excellence through training and discipline.
He was an Eagle Scout, a football star, a world class surfer, then got himself shot up pretty good in Vietnam, and came home with a Purple Heart and Silver Star. Then he went to college where he graduated at the top of his class, picked up a Master's and a Phd. while he was there, learned six or seven languages, took private flying lessons, fixed wing, helicopter, jet ratings...can fly anything with a hood over his head. You boys are wondering how a normal dude could vanish like that. You're not thinking about Tommy Castle. He's no normal dude. Get it? Hell, he's even listed in 'Who's Who'. Did you even know that."?
The agents looked at each other and Montgomery spoke first, “No Dan, we didn’t know that...we knew about his military record, but had no idea he was a bi-lingual or a pilot." Montgomery knew then that someone with Tommy's talents could have pulled it off...but he would have needed help.
Dan walked back over and sat on the spindle, "Well, you know now. What’s next?"
Montgomery decided to press, "Do you know a Raven La Porte?" Dan grinned, "I do, and you know I do. Sat next to me at the trial. Maybe you boys missed that, too."
Ball was clearing his throat, "Uhh, well, we do have...ah, pictures. Pretty girl."
Dan bristled at the thought of a dipshit like Ball calling the Goddess of Biloxi a 'pretty' girl'.
"Pretty girl? Have you seen her in person son?"
"Raven isn't just pretty boy. Along the Gulf Coast, she's known as the 'Goddess'. No bigger than a ten year old girl. Jet black hair that hangs over a perfect butt, and that's what you see from the back. When she turns around, it's a feast for your eyes. Deep set big brown eyes, long eyelashes, luscious lips, exceptional rack...I'd say pretty would be an insult."
Montgomery spoke up, " For Tommy to pull this off, he would have had to have help. Now, we know you couldn't have done it since you were.."
"Incarcerated? Yep, just a result of a misunderstanding."
"You broke the mans’ jaw in three places, broke three ribs, and almost put out an eye. Some misunderstanding. What happened?"
"Bar fight naturally. Fella shot off his mouth about Tommy. I closed it for him. Anything else?"
"Yes, you did. 90 days, $2500 dollar fine, and one year’s probation.So, like I said, we know you couldn't have helped him from jail. Now, how about Raven?"
"I guess you need to ask her."
"I'm going to do just that when I find her. Funny thing is, she disappeared the same day."
"You don't say." Dan grinned, "Well, that is unfortunate for you boys."
"Have you heard from her?
"Nope. But, like Alexis, she's pretty well fixed. I wouldn't worry about her well being."
The agents knew they were getting nowhere on the subject of the Goddess, so Montgomery decided to get back to Dan.
Montgomery leaned forward and said, “And what about you Dan? You can’t possibly live on $910 a month...”
“You forgot the .60 cents...$910.60 old buddy...sixty cents is important out here. I can get a small bag of ice for that at the gas station in Ceely. And, yes you can...there ain’t a helluva lot to spend money on out here....but if I do need some extra cash, I just slip into town and sell something.”
Once again, Ball was thinking drugs. “What do you sell?”
Montgomery looked at his young partner again.
“A few paintings...I’m an artist...of sorts...”
“Really? Do you have anything you can show us? I’d be interested in seeing your work.” Montgomery at least looked impressed.
The agents stood in unison with Dan.
“Sure, my studio is just around back...come on.”
The three men walked around the end of the trailer and stepped into the world of Daniel Castle. It consisted of a few saw horses, a couple of sheets of plywood for a work table, and overhead, some old green corrugated fiberglass hastily nailed over a few rows of rotting 2x4’s making some shade.
Ball was annoyed at having to spend more time than necessary in the heat.
As their eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, they were dumbfounded by what they saw.
There were beautiful scenes of the desert in full bloom that seemed to jump off the canvas. A few portraits of cowboys and Indians in vivid color were leaned against the trailer. Wild mustangs rushing across the desert floor, on their way to nowhere in particular were propped against one of the sawhorses.
Montgomery particularly liked the one of a scrawny cow slurping up some muddy water by a forgotten stream.
Dan’s easel was just a sheet of plywood nailed between two sawhorses. It wasn’t like any studio either of them had ever been in before, but it was magical.
The agents moved closer for a better look. The feathered mane of a mustang trotting across the desert floor looked like the wind was actually blowing through the fine red hairs.
The lines in the cowboys face looked harsh, and well earned through years of living outdoors. And, the scrawny cow with its ribs showing, well, its looked half dead, but the painting had somehow given it life.
The backyard was simply a studio without walls, home to a very gifted artist.
“Dan, these are incredible...how do you sell them?” Montgomery was finally on a subject that Dan could easily talk about. Art.
“I load up a few and take them into town...sell ‘em at flea markets ...swap meets...you know, places like that...”
“What do you get for something like this?” Montgomery held up a sofa sized painting of wild mustangs scurrying across the desert.
“Usually, three, maybe four hundred on a good day...sometimes more...kinda depends on my mood...”
“Are you in a good mood today Dan?” Montgomery questioned with a smile.
“I was.” Dan’s answer should have closed the negotiations, but Ball missed it.
“How about this one?...I really like this....” He held a stunning portrait of a beautiful Mexican woman wearing a red dress, open at the back, holding a cigarette. It was breathtaking.
Dan scratched his stubbles on his chin for a minute, then said, “I’d let that go for $175...I happen to know that woman...I can always paint another.”
The agents looked at one another. Daniel was a skilled negotiator and his prices, while fair, were out of range for government workers.
But, these were not like the mass produced pieces of art found in hotel lobbies at those starving artist’s sales. This was REAL ART by a real artist that took weeks to do a painting instead of a few hours..
They each took another look before setting the paintings down.
Montgomery and Ball followed Dan back out front, and Montgomery shooed the lopped eared dog from the same old dusty chair he had already cleaned with the backside of his trousers before taking his seat.
“Thanks Dan for showing us your work...I must say I’ve never seen such realistic artwork...fantastic.”
“No problem at all. Anything else fellas? Sorta getting near me and Lops siesta time.”
“Well, maybe just a couple more questions and we’ll be out of here.”
“Have you had any other contact with Tommy....other than the once a month thing?”
Montgomery was trying to get the last thread of anything Dan might offer.
“Yeah, Christmas and my birthday....same way, delivered right to my door..”
Ball jumped in, “More cash?”
“Nope, for my birthday, it’s always a new truck...like that one.”
The men all stared at the truck. A new Silverado LT, 4x4, extended cab, loaded with options.
This was no simple work truck with rubber mats and a sleepy six cylinder engine with a long shifter coming out of the floor. Dan’s truck had power/heated leather seats, power windows, locks, tilt, cruise, BOSE CD changer and stereo, and of course, 4 wheel drive. The rims were chrome alloys. This would be a truck Tommy Castle would own...but Dan?
“So you get a truck like this every year for your birthday huh?” Ball asked.
“Yep, just like it... every year without fail since 1997...last years was black...I prefer the red...kinda racy lookin’...don’t you think?”
The agents grinned and nodded. “What happens to the old one?”
“Don’t know...the driver just brings me the new one, hands me the paperwork, gets in the old one and drives off...it shows up here , all licensed and insured...I don’t ask any questions and the old guy never volunteers shit to me...so that’s the long and short of it.”
“And, for Christmas?” Ball asked.
“Big box of Levi’s , size 32x34, and an assortment of colored t-shirts with pockets, size XL.. a whole years’ worth.”
The agents had learned nothing about Mr. Thomas Castle’s whereabouts. But, did learn the brothers were close. Their devotion to one another was evident. Tommy had followed through on his promises to Dan, and Dan was not about to tell anyone anything about his brother, especially the FBI.
“That’s some brother you got there Dan.” The young agent struck a nerve with the aging brother.
Dan cleared his throat and said, “Sonny, you have no idea what kind of brother I got...I’m proud of him, I really am...as you can see...he’s a better man than me by far...look around.”
Montgomery then said, “Well, don’t you try to contact him? What if you needed to talk to him...what would you do? “
“We said all that needed to be said a long time ago...”
“What if you got sick?”
“I ain’t sick...don’t get sick...too much alcohol in my blood.”
Montgomery glanced around, then said, “ You’d think with all his money, you’d figure he’d buy you a nice house and give you enough money to live on comfortably...wonder why he doesn’t do that?”
Dan looked around his property and after a few seconds of deep thought replied, “I thought he did.”
Montgomery put his head down and stared at the parched dry ground, ashamed that he had asked the question. It certainly wasn’t anything Tommy would ever live in, but, clearly, this was paradise to Dan.
Agent Ball wouldn’t let it go, “So, you’re happy living like this?”
“Sure, I’m happy...Tommy knows if he did more for me, I’d just fuck it up...I haven’t always lived like this though sonny...I used to have a beautiful wife, a nice stucco home with a red tile roof, a big swimming pool, a couple of BMW’s...lost it all.”
“How’d you manage that?”
“Stealth and determination lad...” Dan giggled under his breath, then continued, “No, actually, my wonderful wife died, and I dove straight into the bottle....never wanted to come out...still don’t as you can see.” Dan turned his beer up and guzzled down the last few drops.
“I’m a drunk and have no discipline..”
“And what about Tommy?” Ball asked.
“Like I said, Tommy is a real smart boy...not a drinker..say, that reminds me, would you fellas like something cold to drink? Pretty damn hot out here.”
“That would be great Dan. Thanks.” Montgomery was smiling just thinking about a nice cold beer. The outside thermometer next to the fence post screamed 119 degrees...and that was in the shade.
Dan surprised them when he shouted, “Maria...aqui pronto..” through the kitchen window.
The agents thought they were all alone, but a small Mexican woman appeared by the busted screen door. Dan wiggled his hand for something to drink, and she turned back inside and shuffled off. Maria had no idea who they were, but they must have been important. They were wearing suits.
Soon, she returned with a little metal tray, careful not to fall off the ‘porch’, and proudly scrambled to these distinguished gentlemen from the United States Government with refreshments.
Two mason jars filled with rusty ice cubes and tap water, and four Oreo’s were those refreshments.
Montgomery nodded politely and said, “Gracias Maria..” which appeared to make her day of course. She smiled, and nodded as she scurried back inside. Agent Montgomery quickly noticed that Maria was the Mexican woman in the painting, but said nothing.
Ball was using his thumb to scrape something off the lip of the mason jar, with no success, so he tossed an Oreo in his mouth and shrugged at Montgomery as he washed the cookie down with his rusty water.
Montgomery scowled at Ball, and then turned to his host. “I see you have a pretty Latino woman looking after you Dan...that’s nice.”
“She ain’t no Latino...she’s 100 % Mexican...at least she better be....that’s what I told them I wanted when I snuck over the border and bought her...$600 dollars American...”
Dan pointed south towards Mexico.
The rubber belt on the aging swamp cooler perched on the roof of the trailer started squealing. A swamp cooler was a poor mans’ air conditioner. It had four sides covered in burlap, and a series of little rubber tubes dripped water down the sides endlessly, while a low horsepower electric motor powered the little squirrel cage fan that blew the ‘cool ’ air down inside the trailer..
Effective, in most cases, but not so much when the outside temperature is almost 120 degrees in the shade.
“Maria!!..”Dan shouted again summoning her to the tattered screen door. She peered out at him and he pointed at the roof. “Si senior Dan...muy pronto..” She shuffled back inside and turned the relic off.
“Maria doesn’t speak English?” Ball inquired.
“Nope..not a lick.”
“And you don’t speak Spanish?”
“A tad.” He held his thumb and forefinger slightly apart, a tad.
“Then how do you talk to each other?” Ball asked as he turned his head sideways.
“What is there to talk about? I didn’t drag her over the border to talk...we get along just fine without talking...” Dan leaned back and grinned.
Montgomery wanted to get back on point and get out of there....his rusty ice water was now warm and had a suspicious odor to it.
“Just one more question Dan and we’ll be on our way...if you don’t mind.”
“You’ve come this far...let’s finish it up.”
“Where would you look for your brother...if you really needed to find him?”
“I’d go somewhere a man with his cash and connections wouldn’t be bothered. The boy is embarrassingly wealthy. So, offhand, I’d say anywhere in the world...”
“Yes, we know that. Is he married?” Montgomery thought maybe he could get a line on Tommy if he had a wife.
“Fellas....let me ask you something...” Dan sat up straight in his broken chair.
“Sure thing Dan...go ahead.” Montgomery said shooing flies from his drink.
Dan took a long swig of his cold beer and said, “Is my brother in trouble? Wanted by the law? Anything like that?”
Montgomery looked him in the eyes. “I promise you Dan, your brother is not in trouble with the law...he’s done nothing wrong...”
Dan stared at Montgomery. “Ok...That better be the truth...I know how you guys sorta make things up as you go along...but, I’m kinda old and don’t have a helluva lot to lose....so if you’re lying...I’ll be looking you up. As you know, I sorta have a reputation for doin’ that kind of shit.”
Montgomery already knew that. Other than the 'misunderstanding' after the trial, he knew that around the Los Angeles area, Daniel C. Castle was a notorious bare knuckle fighter back in the sixties, and made a handsome living at it. Warehouses, junkyards, abandoned buildings were the usual venues, since that sort of thing was frowned upon by the LAPD. Danny had a reputation of being meaner than a junkyard dog, and deadly as a snake.
He got himself in a bad one in ’68, and the 250 pound loser ended up dying from head injuries. Rumor around town was that Danny Castle was responsible, but it couldn’t’ be proven.
“It really is Dan...” Montgomery glanced down at Dan’s scarred knuckles, then raised his right hand, “I swear...”
Dan spat on another scorpion passing by and replied, “Ok... I have no way of knowing if they’re together, or if they're married. But, I do know if they are, he would never leave her."
"Isn't she the one you said was missing" Dan was giving them nothing.
Montgomery said, “ Yes, any idea where SHE might be?”
“On the other end of his arm...see, fellas, she thinks he’s pretty special, too...she won’t be far from him...Ever...” Dan said with a smile...he knew Raven La Porte was hopelessly devoted to Tommy. She had put her life on the line for him, more than once. What more could a man ask for than a woman known around Biloxi as ‘spit- in- your- face gorgeous’, that waited on him hand and foot?
Dan decided to have some fun, “Tommy likes cold weather.” The agents exchanged glances. The Tommy Castle they were looking for loved Las Vegas, Palm Springs, or Miami. They just couldn’t picture him anywhere cold.
“So, what are you saying? Somewhere like Michigan, or Minnesota?”
“Is it cold there?” Dan asked.
The agents nodded.
“Then you could try that. Don’t forget Alaska. I did get a postcard from him a few years ago. Musta slipped my mind.”
Montgomery replied, “And the chances you still have that postcard?” “None, do I look like the sentimental type? It was from Alaska, Nome, I think. But, that was many years ago and you won’t find him there...you won’t find him anywhere. I sorta like you boys, so I’ll just tell you to leave it be.” Dan licked his roll you own and fired it up. Eager for any kind of lead, Montgomery begged, “We need his help.”
“He won’t do that...not ever again...you guys fucked him over the last time he stuck his neck out for you...just like the military...thanks for your help, now get lost....”Agent Montgomery bristled at the suggestion. “ What do you mean? We never told him to get lost.”
“Really? Then why didn’t anyone from your outfit help him when he needed you? You just left him ...deserted him...wouldn’t even return his phone calls when he begged for help...so good luck getting him to help the government again...”
“Ok, I get it...somehow the government screwed him, and now he’s done with us?” Ball pressed on .
“Smarter than you look kid...look , just forget about him helping...the first thing you gotta do is find him...and I promise, that just ain’t gonna happen..” Dan leaned his rickety chair back against the faded trailer looking very amused.
The seasoned Montgomery was not ready to throw in the towel, not yet. He simply asked,
“If you were Tommy...how would you live?”
Dan hesitated, smelling a trap. “ The same way I do now...Oh, he has more cash...” He smiled, “but I’m richer.”
They had gotten all they were going to get from Daniels C. Castle, so the three men went off subject and spent the next hour discussing the wonders of the Nevada desert.
To most folks, the desert was thought to be a dry rotting piece of earth that God surely forgot about during the creation.
But, to desert dwellers like Dan Castle, the desert was full of beauty, grace, elegance, and a certain charm. The desert floor was painfully quiet at night, and to some people, like the Dan Castles of the world...quiet was a really beautiful thing.
The Agents and Dan made for unlikely companions way out there, but through the hour or so of visiting, Ball and Montgomery both felt they had been privileged to get a peek into the Castle family...as seen and told by one of its’ fallen...
The sun dropped over the Nevada mountains signaling the agents that it was time to ‘get on down the road’ as Dan put it. “Easier to travel in the desert at night...much cooler”
They stood, smiled and shook hands. Dan grinned and rested his boots on the spindle as the agents got back in the dusty Suburban and drove away.
As the agents drove over the bumpy dirt road, Ball said to Montgomery, “ Man, what a difference in these brothers....one’s a bum, the other a millionaire...how could they be so different?”
Montgomery glanced at Ball, amused at his ignorance and said, “They aren’t different at all ...one just has more money...”
“I don’t get it...we learned nothing that could help us...nothing.”
“We learned a lot.”
“Tommy is bilingual and a pilot. Plus, Dan is in a lot of pain and will never give up his brother...Never.”
“So, how does that help us?”
“It redirects us...we’re looking in the wrong places...”
Leaning back against his modest trailer, Dan took another swig of his Bud and said, “Assholes” ...and the lop eared dog barked. Apparently, he agreed.
“That’s right Lop...assholes.” They turned and went back inside where Dan flicked the central air on. “Thanks hon.” came a shout from the bathroom.
“Hey, stop the car for a minute.” Montgomery said to his junior driver. The Suburban screeched to a halt, throwing up sheets of red sand.
Montgomery walked to the rear and opened the hatch. He needed to adjust their cargo. A sofa sized painting of mustangs running across the desert floor, and a smaller one of a beautiful Mexican woman in red dress holding a cigarette..
Dan slipped the $575 cash in his top pocket and yelled at Maria... “Obtener vestidos bebe, vamos a la cuidad” ( get dressed baby, we’re going to town)
In a few minutes Maria appeared at the hallway door and asked, “Do I look alright sugar?” with no Mexican accent at all.
Maria wore that same form fitting red dress, posed with a cigarette in one hand, the other arm folded over her chest. Her long chestnut hair piled high on her head, revealed 4 carats of diamonds on her ears. She did a long, slow french inhale, and spewed the smoke out as she gestured, “Where are all these fucking scorpions coming from baby?”
“I let them out of that jar when I heard these assholes coming through the draw. And, you look like a million bucks gorgeous....I just can’t wait to get back home and out of this shithole...”
Maria leaned against him wrapping her arms around his waist, “Oh, it was kinda fun for one day...but you’re right...I can’t wait to jump in the pool when we get home...love me handsome?”
“ Always have, always will.”
While Maria had been showering, Dan had washed the dirt and mud off his face, shaved, slipped his yellow retainer from his teeth, and dispatched his fake moustache to the toilet.
Then he shampooed his long gray hair in the kitchen sink, and used his Vidal Sassoon blow dryer to perfection.
His starched jeans were Levi’s, the shirt was by Calvin Klein, his shiny silver tipped boots were Laredo’s, and the watch was a Rolex Daytona.
His dirty jeans, t-shirt, and boots were piled on the floor making a nest for Lop.
Maria stood with her hands on her hips, “You do clean up nice, Danny. And, I love you to death.” then kicked the newspapers scattered over the floor. “Let’s go home, baby.” Maria reached behind Dan’s head and caressed the nape of his neck, as she cruised his mouth with her sexy red lips.
Dan returned the kiss then patted his leg, “Come on Lop. Let’s go home girl.”
Daniel held the back door of his truck open for her. Did they say home?
Lop hopped in and began slurping her fresh cold water.
Factually, Lop was no ordinary dog. She really had been a show dog, until she was spotted by Hollywood. Now, she does TV commercials. Everyone knows Lop as the white shaggy dog that lies by her dish with a bone floating over her head, like she’s dreaming of it. She jumps up and runs to the bank to retrieve her bone from her safety deposit box. Yep, meet Lop Castle.
And, by the way, Maria Gonzales was no simple peasant woman dragged across the Mexican border, either. No. She was the former Maria Conchetta Diego. The daughter of the former Ambassador to Mexico, and one of the Diegos. You know as in, “San Diego? ” now known as Mrs. Daniel C. Castle.
The Castles got in the flashy red Silverado and headed home to Las Vegas, where they lived at the base of Red Rock Canyon, where they enjoyed the good life in their two story, white stucco villa-complete with stables for Daniels champion Arabians, dual tennis courts, and an Olympic sized pool.
The FBI had been duped. Again.
The Castles whipped into The Bellagio to have dinner. Today was their twentieth anniversary, and since they got married in Spain and didn’t register the marriage in the US, well...
Montgomery got back in the Suburban and told Ball, “Ok, let’s go...I got an idea...call it a lead.”
“I can’t wait to hear this...Dan didn’t give us a lead...” Ball was smug as usual.
“Sure he did....the trucks...they have to come from somewhere, and someone’s paying for them...I’m guessing Mr. Thomas Castle doesn’t go to a Chevy dealer every year to pick out and pay for a truck for old Danny, but somebody does. We’ll start there.”
There was a 9 hour difference in time between the brothers. Tommy’s cell phone rang at seven the next morning.
“Hey...what’s up brother? May I assume your company arrived today?” Tommy said into the tiny Bluetooth plugged into his ear as he walked hand in hand with his bombshell wife along the wet sandy beach avoiding the hundreds of sand crabs looking for a home.
The warm waters splashed on shore covering their bare feet with foam, then raced out again..
“ Agents Montgomery and Ball. Montgomery’s pretty sound, but Ball is a dickhead. I’m sure they’re going to try and trace the trucks...but, everything is handled...Just don’t go to Nome, Alaska anytime soon.”
Tommy laughed, “You don’t need to worry about that!”
No worries little brother.”
“Ok, I’ll call my friends in Washington. They’ll keep Montgomery and Ball busy for a few more years. Nice job Danny...Hey, we want you and Maria to come on down. Maybe we’ll toss a few shrimps on the Barbie, huh?”
“Maria and I were just talking about that. Both of us love it there. We’ll see you soon...I promise.”
“Ok, brother. I love you.”
The bar room brawler, replied, “I love you, too “
Dan hung up and hoisted his glass to Maria, “Feel like taking a little trip doll?” Maria clinked her glass to his, “Si senor...Castle!” and smiled.
The FBI wasn’t celebrating though.
Not only did they not know where Tommy Castle was; they didn’t even know if he still was Tommy Castle.
Millionaires with powerful connections could change their names as often as they changed their socks.
Why do they want him so badly? A casino case? Dan didn’t believe them for a minute, not that it mattered. He knew his brother had walked close to the line all his life, dancing between the raindrops. So, this was business as usual.
Dan also knew his brother had done nothing criminal, even though Tommy had warned him to be on the lookout for the feds that particular day, he didn’t ask any questions. Dan never questioned his brother. If Tommy said it was important, it was important.
Besides, both the brothers liked screwing with the government.
He also knew if Tommy surfaced for the FBI, the mob wouldn’t be far behind.
Testifying against old men that eventually died in prison would not set well with their sons. A five hundred thousand dollar contract had been placed on his head years ago, and thankfully, his head was still attached to him.
As Dan said, Tommy really was a smart boy. A smart boy with very powerful connections.
Unfortunately, neither Montgomery nor Ball, had any idea how far up his connections really went, but it would soon be clear to them that it was clearly way above their pay grade.
Maybe, he really was hiding in plain sight. Hell, he could be the guy standing next to them at a bar. Or, sitting next to them at the airport. Is that him?
Oh, they had photos, but they were twenty years old. In them, he looked like a movie star; glamorous, big hunky kind of guy, with a square jaw, dimpled chin, and long sandy hair.
Does he look like that now?
With a billion dollar bankroll, he could look like anybody, and be anywhere.
But, who? And where?
One thing’s for sure; He’s damn sure not in Alaska.