FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Current Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contributors FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//About FRESH YARN FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Past Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Submit FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Links FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Email List FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contact


The Night of the Pigeons
By Art Brambila

Candilario 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 lunch?"

"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 lips.

"You fuckin' egg I don't wanna; are you fucking loco, man?"

"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.

" 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 beautiful."

The young boy's tears rolled down his cheeks.

Transfixed only on the boy's crotch, the old man demanded, "Da' shorts, too!"

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 it all.

"I said take down da' shorts, too," the old man warned, still holding the gun.

What 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.

If 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 me.

And then one day . . .

(Come back for more of Art's story on upcoming FRESH YARN installments.)

PAGE 1 2

-friendly version for easy reading
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission

home///current essays///contributors///about fresh yarn///archives///
submit///links///email list///site map///contact
© 2004-2005