Night of the Pigeons
By Art Brambila
now realized the crazy old man was serious. His eyes widened with
fear; there was dread in his voice, "I wasn't messin' wit 'em,
Meester, I swear it. I was jest gonna take a few pigeones, borrow
'em, you know, for da little old ladies over on Sichel Street."
The old man jumped off his seat, "What! Mi familia? For somebody's
"My mama, she need de money, Señor. Please, I
was gonna pay you, cross my heart!"
The old man sat down again and glared suspiciously at the frightened
boy. When the old man said no more, Candilario sprang for the doors.
But the lanky old Italian jumped and caught him near the storage
shelves. He spun the boy around and punched him hard in the stomach.
The boy folded over gasping and the old man licked his chops and
snickered threateningly. "Git up you little boy and do all
that I say or I'll beat the living hell out of you!"
The boy lifted himself from the hard ground struggling to catch
his breath and begged, "Please, Meester, can I go home now?"
"No, you cain't go home now," the old man mocked.
"Why? I didn't do nothin'."
The old man stared straight at the boy and he wiped his mouth with
the back of his hand. "I say you messed wit mi familia! Now
you cain't go nowhere's 'til you do what I tell ya!"
The young boy was trembling. "What then?"
"Take off yer pants."
"Ya' don't want to?" the slimy old man said wetting his
"You fuckin' egg I don't wanna; are you fucking loco,
"Don't do it and I put a bullet through your fucking head,
cullatina, and bury your ass right here in my cellar!"
Candilario's mouth dropped open, he was trying to speak, but the
words didn't come out.
"What's da' matter, Bambino, Big Papa scare you?"
"Please, Meester," the boy mumbled, now crying, "Why
can't I go home? My mama is waiting. She worry. I won't do nothin'
no more. It's a promise," he begged, crossing his heart.
"Your mama know you're here?"
"No, but please, let me go home to her now."
"Who knows you here?'
That questioned drained the blood from my body. I pulled back from
the peephole and wiped my brow. Had the old man seen me? Did he
suspect he was being watched? I swallowed hard and needed to pee.
But Candilario was a street kid. He'd never tell, even if he knew
I was there, which he didn't. And he wouldn't say I had been with
him behind the pigeon coop or that I might know he was in danger.
You learn those things early.
"No...no...nobody knows I'm here, Meester -- honest,"
he answered with tears running down his face. Weak with fear he
softly laced his hands religiously and began to recite The Lord's
Prayer -- in his native tongue, "Padre nuestro que estas
en los cielos..."
"Stop that!" the old man demanded. "Ya' ain never
goin' home alive if ya' don't do what I want. Capisci!"
The young boy seemed resigned. He performed the sign of the cross
and looked to the heavens. He asked his Lord to forgive him. He
lowered his eyes and took a quick but darting look around the dark
cellar. Then he closed his eyes softly and left them that way. He
undid the belt of his pants slowly. His khaki pants dropped over
his muddied Keds.
The old man took one step back. "Porco zio! (by gosh),
he cried out with a sick and evil smirk in his ruddy face, "you're
The young boy's tears rolled down his cheeks.
Transfixed only on the boy's crotch, the old man demanded, "Da'
Just then the long air whistle of a rumbling train began to shake
the house. The bottles clinked and the light bulb swayed. But Mr.
Pelligrini, his eyes still narrowed and focused, was oblivious to
"I said take down da' shorts, too," the old man warned,
still holding the gun.
happened next robbed me forever of my innocence. And it robbed me
of my best friend. For through the peep hole of the cardboard, by
the dim light of a 40-watt bulb, while sitting on the wet, cold
ground, I saw it all.
The old, half naked man dropped to his knees crawling clumsily toward
the boy, eyes still riveted. As he was about to reach my friend,
the freight train roared and the house shuddered and howled, but
the old man never knew it. He never knew it because Candilario,
growing up quick in the mean streets of East L.A., opened his eyes
slowly and saw his opportunity. He cautiously backed himself against
the shelves, and slowly reached back and picked up a bottle of wine
and, quick as lightening, shattered it over the old man's head.
The old Italian don, bloodied and dazed, fell back on his ass, but
he started to get up again, groaning. He pointed the gun to Candilario's
heart. "Bastardo, che va in culo a sua madre (bastard,
motherfucker)," he screamed, "Li uccideró, li
uccideró!" (I'll kill you, I'll kill you!).
And that was it.
There I watched the old man die.
I saw it all while I was crouched in the mud and drenched in the
rain. And it burned deeply in my soul and etched itself into every
fiber of my mind. Candilario Barrera, the tough little Maya, didn't
give him a chance to shoot. He took a gallon-weight can of stewed
tomatoes, angled it, and with the edge of it he cracked the old
man's skull! The old man went down again, barely conscious.
Candilario Barrera, a 13-year-old kid from a tiny village in southern
Mexico, whose ancestors had survived centuries of hardship there,
now found himself living to survive in the killing streets of Los
Angeles. He quickly wrenched the gun from the old Italian capo's
hand. He parted the semi-conscious man's teeth with the barrel of
it. He pushed it in, and toggled and twisted and pushed it in a
little further, and then further into the old man's mouth. Then
the hairs behind my neck lifted eerily as I saw something I almost
could not believe: the old man's eye lashes fluttered slightly open
and blinked softly. He had a slight smile on his face. His lips
enveloped around the barrel of the gun almost erotically. He sucked
on it lightly, peaceful and serene. He looked up at Candilario,
seemingly content, as if to beg. To beg, but not for his life, but
unbelievably, as if to beg for the bullet . . . intimately inviting
Candilario to pull the trigger.
And to do it lovingly.
Candilario's eyes, black as coal, and cold as ice, darted fiercely
around the dim little room. Then little Candilario, not a bit concerned
with the old man's apparent gestures of pleasure, coolly squeezed,
and then . . . pulled the trigger!
The whistle of the train, whoo-o-o-, whoo-o-o-o, drowned out the
blast of the gun and Mr. Pelligrini's head exploded like a grenade
with shrapnel of bone from his skull embedding in the cardboard
shields of the crawl windows right in front of my eyes. Bits of
his brain and flesh splattered and pasted on the ceiling like spitballs
in a high school lab class. The last of the old Italian mobsters
in Los Angeles was dead. And I was just beginning to live.
every life has its script, then mine turned a heavy page on that
night of the pigeons. Although Candilario Barrera and I had been
best friends in our youth, I never saw him after that night and
I really never cared to. Candilario's family moved to South Gate
and I stayed where I was. He never knew what I'd seen in the cellar
of Mr. Pelligrini's house because we never talked about it. But
the old man's sexual approach, and his murder, made Candilario callous,
mean and angry. I heard over the years of the dark side of Candilario's
life and his involvement with the Eastside gangs, but I was too
busy with my own street challenges to pay too much attention to
his. He climbed the ranks in the drug wars and he wound up going
in and out of prisons, building up an army of cutthroats and thugs
while dealing in cocaine, heroin and women, and creating a legend
of himself in the annals of crime in Los Angeles.
The years passed and what I saw as a kid in Mr. Pelligrini's cellar
brought to me a new appreciation for life. I took a different path
from that of my old friend Candilario. I learned to cover my pains
and overcame my poverty with hard work and a new hope for my future.
I lightened up in school taking courses in history and social sciences
while I took a part-time job running numbers for a bookie over on
North Broadway. I paid my way through college and vowed that I wouldn't
die in the streets of a barrio as I made plans for all of my tomorrows.
After college I worked for an old family friend as a junior bail
bondsman, and then I spent some time as a bounty hunter. I bought
a small print shop in East L.A. while I hired out as a part-time
private investigator. I dealt with lots of gangsters and lowlifes
in my time but I never thought I'd have to deal with the likes of
Candilario Barrera again, and that would have been all right with
And then one day . . .
back for more of Art's story on upcoming FRESH YARN installments.)
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