3.09.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Mickey Spillane, circa 1943.
2. Helen Halyard, 1998–(about the Amistad case).
3. Anarchist Federation, 2013–(about Carlo Tresca).
4. Ian Greehalgh, 2014–(about Pancho Villa).
CC BY-SA by joelogon
CC BY-SA by joelogon

Numero UnoChapter 1 Pulling the trigger had been easy.  Living with it had been hard.  Crazy rage got replaced with a joyless emptiness.  No emotion, no feeling.  I felt as dead as the one I’d shot.

I had evened the score for a friend but the cost had been high—a woman I loved was dead, and the bullet that sent the killer to hell had along the way punched a gaping hole in my soul.  I tried to fill it with booze, or at least cauterize the damn thing, spending most of my evenings at Joe Mast’s joint, trying not to fall off a bar stool and usually failing.  But it hadn’t worked.  Nothing worked.

My best friend in the world, Pat Chambers, was a cop.  We had been on the NYPD together, till my hot head got me assigned to a desk where I soon traded in my badge for a private license and a shingle that said, ‘Hammer Investigating Agency.’

I couldn’t stay a cop.  All those rules and regulations drove me bugs.  I had a more direct method for dealing with the bastards that preyed upon society—I just killed their damn asses.  Killed them in a way that was nice and legal.  Self-defense, it’s called, and it catches in the craw of your typical self-righteous judge, but none of them and nobody else could do a damn thing about it.  They couldn’t even take my license away.  Because I knew just how to play it.

Just the same, Pat and I stayed friends, maybe because his scientific approach meshed well with my instinctive style—he was fingerprints and test tubes where I was motives and people. I could do things he couldn’t, and he had resources I didn’t. Usually private eyes and police are like oil and water, but what began as a convenient way for two different kinds of cops to feed each other information turned into a real and lasting friendship.

So when he showed up on the stool next to me, training his gray-blue eyes on me like benign gun barrels, I said, “What’s a nice guy like you doing in a joint like this?”

“Velda is getting worried.”

Velda was my secretary, and my right arm. She had been with me since I set up shop and I hadn’t made a pass at her yet. But there was something special between us that wasn’t just boss and employee.

“Tell her to lay off the mother-hen routine,” I said. I poured some whiskey in a glass and then down my throat.

“You need to let it go, Mike. It’s ancient history.”

“Not even a year, Pat.”

“Would you change it? Would you go back and not pull that trigger?”

“No.”

“Then it’s time to move on.”

I knew he was right. But I’d fallen into a goddamn self-pitying rut. Work five days a week, drink five nights a week. And on weekends, drink the whole damn time. Being numb was good. You didn’t think so much. But if I kept this up, I’d have a liver that even the medics couldn’t recognize as a human organ.

Still, I said, “Blow, Pat. I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”

“No,” Velda said, “you can’t.”

I hadn’t even seen the big, beautiful dark-haired doll settle her lovely fanny onto the other stool beside me. I must have been far gone.

“And we’re not about to let you crawl in that bottle,” she said, “and drown yourself.”

I gave them a ragged laugh. Hell’s bells—they had me surrounded. I pushed the glass and the whiskey away.

“Okay,” I said. “Officially on the wagon. Now. What do you suggest?”

“First,” Pat said, “you go home and sleep till you’re sober.”

“Second,” Velda said, “we go off somewhere and rest. Someplace where there are no women and no bad guys.”

“That sounds dull as hell.”

Pat said, “It’ll be good for you. You and Velda take the weekend for some R and R. Someplace out on Long Island, maybe.”

Velda said, “What was that little town you and your folks used to go out to? Before the war?”

“Sidon,” I said. I’d been there a couple times after the war, too. But not for a year or two. “It’ll be dead out there. The season doesn’t start for a couple of weeks.”

“Right,” Velda said. “The weather’s beautiful just now, nice and sunny and warm but not hot. The beach, the ocean, it’ll be like a dream.”

“Instead of this nightmare,” Pat said, slapping at my glass, “that you been wrapping yourself up in.”

I turned to Velda. “You’re going along?”

“Sure,” she said easily. “Why not? I got a new two-piece bathing suit I want to try out.”

“One of those bikini deals?” I said, getting interested.

She nodded.

“Hey, I’m game, baby, but I’ll be recuperating, you know? From drink and debauchery and a general state of depression? You’ll need to stay right at my bedside.”

“Separate rooms, Mike,” she said crisply, but she was smiling. “I’ll play nursemaid and babysitter, only I require my own separate quarters.”

“Might as well take you along instead,” I said to Pat, “for all the fun I’ll have.”

He raised an eyebrow and shrugged.

Velda frowned. “No offense, Pat, but you’re staying home. I’m not equipped to handle all the trouble you two could get into.”

She looked equipped enough to handle anything from where I sat.

“Now,” she was saying, climbing off her stool, “can you stand up, or do we have to escort you?”

I made it onto my own two feet. I may have leaned on them a little. A little more on Velda. She was softer and smelled a lot better.
The little guy could walk, but just barely. Velda had found some old sandals near the mouth of the alley that were apparently Poochie’s, lost in the struggle. Anyway, they fit him. He wasn’t saying anything, but he could stumble along with me on one side and Velda on the other, each holding onto an arm.

We trooped him through the lobby of the Sidon Arms, the only one of the little town’s four lodging options open year-round. The building was wooden and old but clean. The lobby was large enough to accommodate a summer crowd but nothing fancy, strictly pre-war, though I wasn’t sure what war. I guessed this hotel stayed open all year largely because of the bar off the lobby, where a high-perched TV was showing wrestling and half a dozen locals were nursing beers, watching whoever was battling Gorgeous George this week pretend to lose.

The cadaverous bald desk clerk in mortician’s black reacted with popping eyes and a, “Merciful heavens!” Could hardly blame him—Poochie was a tattered, blood-spattered, black-and-blue wreck.

We had not checked in yet but had a reservation. When I announced our names, the clerk pretended Poochie wasn’t between us hanging on like a very loose tooth to precarious gums. Everything was handled efficiently. We signed the book, and were told our rooms were adjacent but without an adjoining door. Everything aboveboard for a single man and woman traveling together.

Finally the clerk said, “What about your, uh, friend?”

“Recognize him?” I asked.

“Yes. That is, uh, Poochie. He’s Sidon’s resident beachcomber. He has a shack on the water, just outside town.”

Poochie showed no signs of any of this registering. He wasn’t unconscious, though, and had a goofy, puffy smile going. It widened whenever he looked up at Velda.

“He got hurt,” I said, which was all the explanation I was in the mood to give out.

“Oh, dear. Did he?”

Cripes, didn’t this jerk have eyes?

“Is Doc Moody still in town?” I asked. Moody had been a drinking buddy of my old man’s, on our visits to Sidon. And I’d tossed a few back with the doc on my last solo sojourn.

“Why, yes he is. Should I call him?”

“There’s an idea.” I dug out a five and tossed it to him, the way you would a fish to a seal. “Give the doc my name—he’ll remember it—and when he gets here, send him up to my room.”

Right now I was praying the good doc would be sober enough to see straight.

“Yes, Mr. Hammer,” the clerk said, and reached out a skinny, bony hand for the telephone.

The Sidon Arms had three floors and no elevator. We walked Poochie slowly up the wide lobby stairs and for the first time since we’d made the trek from the alley, the little guy moaned.

Velda said, “It’ll be all right, Poochie. It’ll be fine.”

My room was 2-A and Velda’s was 2-B. The rooms were identical—dresser, wardrobe, a couple chairs, double bed, nightstand, no closet, no bath. That was at the end of the hall. Velda went down there to fill a pitcher with warm water and I set Poochie in the more comfortable of the chairs. It was upholstered and had some padding. While she cleaned him up, I went back down to the lobby. The clerk told me Doc Moody was on his way, and I made my way out to the parking lot behind the hotel and got our luggage and brought it up.

Poochie seemed to be coming into focus as I hauled our bags in.

“I think I better give Poochie my bed,” I said, standing next to her as she bent dabbing a washcloth gently onto our guest’s battered face. She was in a white blouse and a blue pleated skirt and was the kind of nurse you dreamed to get.

“You can sleep with me in my room, if you like.” She flashed me the sweetest smile.

“No kidding?”

“No kidding. You know me, Mike—I don’t stand on ceremony. And speaking of ceremonies, there’s a justice of the peace in this burg, isn’t there? Wonder if he makes house calls like your doctor friend?”

“You’re no fun at all,” I told her. I leaned in and got our charge’s attention. “What was that about, Poochie?”

He smiled. It was like Dopey smiling at Snow White.

“What did Dekkert want with you, Poochie? Why did those creeps give you the Third Degree and then some?”

He shook his head just a little. “Yellow-haired lady.”

“What yellow-haired lady?”

“They say she’s gone. I live down the beach.”

“Down the beach from the yellow-haired lady?”

A little nod, then a wince at the pain it caused.

I asked, “Who is she?”

“Not nice. Not very nice.”

“They think you saw something, because you live near where she lives?”

Another little nod. Another wince.

Velda said, “Better lay off with the twenty questions, Mike.”

I stood, put my hands on my hips.

“Some gal with yellow hair is missing, and Dekkert wants to know where she went. Judging by the beating he gave Poochie here, Dekkert wants to know bad.”

Velda frowned. “Apart from any official police interest, you think?”

“Not necessarily. Typical of these towns to perform their rubber-hose symphonies well away from the station house and out of uniform. That alley makes perfect sense. This town rolls up its sidewalks at sundown, this time of year, with no tourists around.”

“Almost no tourists,” Velda said.

There was a knock.

“There’s the doc now,” Velda said.

“Is it?” I asked softly.

I went to the bed where I had tossed my suitcase. I opened it, and slipped the .45 Colt automatic out of its sling where it slept like a baby on my clean underwear. But babies can wake up screaming…

I thumbed off the safety and kicked the slide back and went to the door.

“Yeah?” I said, pointing the snout right where my visitor would be standing.

“It’s Moody!” a gruff, age-colored voice called. “This better be important, Mike. I was watching wrestling.”

Maybe he’d been down in the bar and I’d missed him.

I raised the snout of the .45, undid the night latch on the door, and opened it. Moody stepped in wearing a wrinkled suit and no tie with his Gladstone bag in hand. He was heavy-set but not fat, white-haired, with a friendly face whose drink-reddened nose held up a pair of wire-rim bifocal glasses.

“So it’s our resident beachcomber, is it?” he said idly, giving me a nod to acknowledge my presence. Not much of a greeting, considering after our last evening together I had paid for his night of drinking and hauled his booze-sodden carcass home.

He did more than just nod at Velda. He gave her the kind of smiling, appreciative once-over old men can get away with, taking in a good-looking young gal. He shook his head, sighed, remembering times long past, and gave me a frown that said, You lucky bastard.

I clicked the safety on the .45 and shoved it in my waistband.

The doc looked Poochie over for a good ten minutes. He didn’t ask him anything that couldn’t be answered with a nod or a shake of the head. He approved of Velda’s first-aid routine, but had Poochie stand for us to get him out of his ragged clothes and down to his skivvies. The doc went over the cuts and abrasions with alcohol-soaked cotton balls while the little guy squirmed.

Then he gave Poochie a shot and had us walk him over to the bed, where we got him under the covers. Within seconds, the little guy was snoring.

“I don’t mind saving his tail,” I said to the doc, “but I am not sleeping with that character. Should I get another room?”

“I’ll have Percy on the desk send up a rollaway for you, Mike. Somebody needs to be in the room with him tonight.”

“How bad is it?”

Moody shrugged. “Surprisingly, not near as bad I would expect. No teeth missing. No indication of internal bleeding. No broken ribs, at least apparently. We’ll see if we can get Poochie to come in for some X-rays,tomorrow or the next day. But I will say, it’s probably a good thing you came along.”

I grunted a laugh. “Dekkert is an old pro at delivering police beatings. He knows just how to mete out punishment and stop short of creating evidence of police brutality.”

“A bad apple, all right. He’s the deputy chief, but really, he runs things. Chief Beales is local and that helps him get elected. But Beales is soft, a figurehead.”

“Corrupt, though?”

“Oh, certainly. You haven’t been around in a while, Mike. Things have changed in Sidon.”

“Care to fill me in?”

“Maybe later. Over a drink, perhaps.”

“Sure, Doc. Listen, is Poochie here slow? You know, simple?”

“You mean retarded? No. But he is on the slow side. I suspect he suffered a trauma, perhaps physical, perhaps mental, when he was young. He’s something of an idiot savant.”

“Well, is he an idiot or not, Doc?”

He chuckled. “I mean to say, he has an artistic gift that may surprise you. Ask to see his shell collection, while you’re around.”

That sounded like a blast.

I asked, “You know of any yellow-haired women in town?”

“Why, certainly. We even have a redhead and a brunette or two. And at the moment, we have a particularly lovely black-haired beauty.”

He nodded to Velda, gathered his Gladstone bag, and took his leave.

“Nice old boy,” Velda said.

“I like him fine. I just wouldn’t want to live in a town where his sobriety stood between me and a scalpel.”

“That’s mean, Mike. Of course, there’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk.”

“Is that what I am? A reformed drunk?”

“Mike,” Velda smiled, her voice low so as not to disturb our slumbering guest, “you’re not a reformed anything.”

She gathered her overnight bag, and Poochie’s dirty, bloody clothes, saying, “I’ll wash these.” Then she blew me a kiss and was gone.

Almost immediately a knock at the door had me figuring she might have changed her mind. But I took my .45 along, anyway.

It was the rollaway.

The clerk himself brought it—they were clearly short on help before the season started. He seemed to want a tip, but I reminded him about the fin I’d already slipped him.

I had the rollaway unfolded and ready when the phone on the nightstand rang and I got to it before it could disturb Poochie. Not that the sedative the doc gave him would be easily pierced.

“Hammer,” I said.

“Mr. Hammer,” a mid-range, unctuous voice intoned, “this is Chief of Police Bernard Beales.”

Well, whoop de do.

“Chief Beales,” I said. “A pleasure.”

“Is it, Mr. Hammer?”

“Yeah, and I’m glad you called. Are you aware your deputy chief and two of his pals were beating up a poor little local guy they call Poochie? Right out in public? I had to put a stop to it. Of course, I didn’t know they were cops. They were acting more like a goon squad.”

“I see. Is that how you’re going to play it?”

“It’s the truth.”

“Do I have to come over to the hotel and have you brought in, Mr. Hammer?”

“No. In fact, I wouldn’t advise that. But I’ll be glad to come by some time in the morning and straighten this matter out myself.”

“You would give yourself up?”

“Why, is there a charge leveled against me?”

“No. Not at this time.”

“Fine. Then let’s talk about it in the morning. I had kind of a busy evening.”

“First thing in the morning, then.”

“No, Chiefie. Some time in the morning. I’m on vacation. I want to have a nice breakfast and who knows? I might want to take a constitutional along your lovely beach. Surely you want to let me know, as a tourist and the backbone of local economy, that I can come to Sidon and be confident of having a nice getaway.”

“Some time tomorrow morning then,” he huffed, and hung up.

But I said, “Nighty night, Chiefie,” just the same.

Time to beat the sheets. I’d had enough vacation fun for one evening.
Chapter 2

Poochie’s shack was a dilapidated affair, rudely constructed from boards drifted in off the tide, that probably never survived a winter without being blown down at least twice. Coming down from a dune, you could see its weathered tin roof displaying faded ads for hot dogs and soft drinks. Trailing after the little guy, Velda and I were pooped by the time we reached his place—we parked the car a good mile away and had to walk the remainder of the distance in ankle-deep sand.

We’d been up around an hour and a half. Back in my hotel room, Poochie had woken with a start and a cry that shook me from a deep sleep and a dream that was a hell of a lot better than sharing a room with a battered beachcomber. But he had settled down quick. He seemed to know that I’d rescued him, and accepted me as his new friend Mike, unquestioningly. I called Velda and she brought around his washed and still a little damp clothes. He grinned at her goofily and just as unquestioningly accepted her as his new friend Velda.

Poochie wolfed down scrambled eggs and bacon and hash browns at a cafe across the street next to the Sidon Palace, the movie house. Velda and I had the same fare and were damn near as hungry as our guest. I was amazed by his recuperative powers—his face was splotched yellow and purple and his eyes and lips remained puffy, but his manner was happy-go-lucky.

There had been no conversation at breakfast about last night. For Poochie, right now was all there was. He was sitting in a booth with his new pals Mike and Velda, gobbling down good grub, and what had been or would be was irrelevant. Not the worst outlook in the world.

I said we wanted to take him back to his shack, and he said swell, but he needed to pick up some hamburger at the grocery store. We did that, Velda spotting him a buck when Poochie’s pockets turned out to be empty. No surprise.

We drove a mile or so till he motioned us to pull over, like a kid who needed a john, and soon we were hiking it in the sand.

In a simple pleated navy skirt and light blue blouse with a sweater slung round her shoulders, my dark-haired secretary looked sexier than any bikini babe this beach had ever seen. Me, I looked like a city slicker in my rumpled suit, even without a tie and with my hat off. But after last night, I needed to go out heeled, and I needed the suitcoat to conceal the .45 in its shoulder sling.

The morning was bright and cool, the ocean breeze refreshing on your face, sun reflecting off shimmering sand, gulls swooping and squawking, the tide lapping, blue ocean glittering, the air salty and fresh, the beach scattered with driftwood and shells, clam, oyster, periwinkle. Good pickings for a beachcomber like Poochie.

Just outside the shack, Velda and I sat down on two old crates while Poochie ducked inside. In an eye blink the little guy came back out carrying a couple of cats. Scraggly, wild things, they were, but they swarmed all over him in the friendliest way, licking his face and rubbing themselves against his neck. He spread out the pound of hamburger on its butcher paper for them and they dug in together.

When I looked up at Poochie, he was facing the ocean, breathing the salt air, a battered little guy who owned the world. “Ain’t it good here, Mike?”

“Swell.”

And it was, as far as it went. But what he called home was a barrel to hold fish heads, three crude fishing poles set against the side of the shack, an ancient wheelbarrow to gather shells, two cats for company, and a broken-down shanty to keep the rain off his head.

“Come on inside,” he said brightly. “I got lots of things I want to show you.”

We followed him in, ducking our heads as we went. He put a match to an oil lamp and the pale orange light threw flickering shadows on the wall. A homemade table sat in the middle, around which were four more crates for chairs. Why he bothered with four, I don’t know. I doubt if he ever had company. A single bunk was built against the far wall, covered with somebody’s cast-off quilt. Behind the table a stove of iron pipes was overlaid on some bricks with a firewood bin next to it. For utensils there were two pots, some reclaimed and polished cans, several old knives and forks, and a wooden salad spoon.

What interested me most was the half-carved shell on the makeshift table. Beside it was a well-worn shoemaker’s leather knife. I picked up the shell and ran my hands over the picture carved there. It was beautiful—a manger scene with an angel in the background. The dog-eared Christmas card it was copied from lay under the knife.

He was grinning. Where his teeth weren’t yellow, they were black. “Like it, Mike?”

“You said it,” I grinned at him. “Where did you learn to do this?”

“In school.” He said it proudly.

“No kidding?” I couldn’t believe he’d stayed in school long enough to develop this kind of skill. The detail work was fantastic.

“Yup. That’s where I went when I was little. I remember it real good. I can hardly remember anything else about being a kid except the school. They were good to me there and a priest showed me how to carve wood. I did bad in all my studies, Mike, but not carving. That priest said I had a real talent. Then he got me a shell one day and I carved that. I got plenty of ’em. Look!”

He pointed to the walls and I whistled under my breath. They were arrayed on a two-by-four running around three walls, beautiful examples of what a simple mind could do if it concentrated.

He pointed to some beat-up cabinets below the crude shelving; they probably had been scavenged from the galley of some old boat. “I got lots more. Down here is my private collection.”

Velda whispered to me: “Idiot savant.”

Why did everybody keep saying that! I knew this guy was an idiot.

But like Doc Moody said, an idiot with a touch of genius. Each shell was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Some were carved into animals, others were seascapes, all worked into the rounded exterior of a shell. The pale light of the lantern hardly brought out the exquisite pink and cream tones. I knew people in the city who would pay top dollar for these.

I asked, “Ever sell any, Poochie?”

“Sure, I sell ’em. The stuff I keep on that one shelf, those are for sale.” He pointed. “That’s how I get all my money.”

His little shack wasn’t exactly a showroom. “How much do you get, Poochie? And who buys them?”

“Oh, a nice man from the city comes by and gives me a whole dollar a piece for ’em. That’s pretty darn good, ain’t it, Mike?

“That’s good, all right, but don’t you sell any more until I see the guy that buys them.”

“Why… sure, Mike. He’ll be here in a few days.”

“Great. Let me act as your agent. All great artists need agents.”

“You think I’m a great artist, Mike?”

“I sure do. How often does he come around, this guy?”

“Always around this time every month he comes.”

I would kick the crap out of the bastard for taking advantage of Poochie like that. A buck a piece and he was probably raking in a hundred per, anyway.

“I’ll negotiate a new price.”

Velda was walking around the little room, looking at the individual shells on the shelf, breathless at the sheer beauty of them.

I got up and put a hand on her shoulder. “I want to take a walk up the beach. Care to come?”

She shook her head, the dark tresses bouncing. “No. You go ahead. I’ve had my fill of walking on sand for a while. I’ll just stick around here and enjoy the view.”

Soon we were back on the beach where she had kicked off her sandals and was lifting her skirt to wade in the tide, her gaze on the expanse of blue that a world away joined the other expanse of blue above. The wind was making lovely dark streaming tendrils of her long raven hair, as if she were underwater. Who needed mermaids?

I started off with Poochie at my heels.

When we were out of earshot of Velda, I said, “Show me where that lady lives—the one with the yellow hair.”

As we rounded a dune, he pointed between a number of trees that stood in a row, like a tall fence designed to keep one half of the beach away from the other.

“Right up there, Mike. That’s where she lives. You’re not gonna go up there, are you?” He seemed fearful.

“No, Poochie, not now.”

I took in the place from a better angle. It was a magnificent home, built like an old colonial mansion right down to the twenty-foot pillars surrounding the entire structure. Set back a few hundred yards from the ocean, it commanded a superb view from the top of a slight rise. Earth must have been shipped in to make a terrace on either side, as its color was the bright green of lawn grass and not the duller shade of the sand variety.

From the rear of the house that faced the water, a flagstone path curved down to the trees and ended abruptly at a gazebo whose latticework was covered with ivy.

A little warning sign was tacked to the tree nearest the sandy beach. Poochie stayed behind, nervous, as I walked up for a better look. It read:

PRIVATE PROPERTY

KEEP OFF!

E.J. WESLEY

I grinned. Now I knew who the lady with the yellow hair was.

Sharron Wesley.

You probably read about her yourself—the infamous, two-timing ex-chorus tomato that stood charges for murdering her millionaire husband and got off scot-free when an all-male jury paid more attention to her legs than the testimony.

I remembered that case well, though I knew it strictly from the spectator seats. Because of Sharron, two husbands had died.  Even before she married Wesley, she had spent a term in the big house for manslaughter of hubby number one: a glorified pimp of a manager that she claimed  beat her.  Well, he hadn’t been beating her when she smothered him in his sleep. But the tabloids had loved that yellow hair and those long chorus-girl gams that she wasn’t shy about showing off only to jurors—reporters got in on the fun, as well.

Still, what the hell her second husband ever saw in her was more than I could see.  There are plenty of good-looking fluffs around Manhattan that don’t smother their hubbies in bed.  Of course, Wesley had died due to his bad heart, right?  That digitalis overdose was just an accident on curvy Sharron’s part.

And ever since, she had been using his dough to support a revolving door of gigolos and a gambling habit and a general party-girl good time. I knew her a little, and she had tried to make me more than once, but I’d sooner sleep with a snake. Last time I saw her, at the Zero Zero Club, she was crocked to the gills.

According to Pat, the D.A. had plenty to hang her with, but the shyster she had pleading her case did a fine job of screwing up the facts. The scandal sheets went crazy over the angle shots of her legs and the jury was drooling half the time. The judge who sat on the case almost blew his top at the verdict, telling that jury he’d never seen a greater miscarriage of justice in his courtroom, shooing them out in disgust.

If these fancy beach-side digs were any indication, Mrs. Wesley must have inherited her husband’s money intact and decided on this modest playpen instead of her penthouse on Central Park to establish a residence.

Only now she was gone.

A missing person.

And last night Dekkert had damn near crippled a nice simple-minded joe just to squeeze out any morsel of information about her whereabouts. No doubt Dekkert figured that the Wesley dame would have been seen, if she had taken off through town. Her car would be well known in this vicinity. Otherwise, beachcomber Poochie was in a fine spot to see anything and everything that went on at the mansion, even if he didn’t pay particular attention to it.

But why was Dekkert interested?

Sharron had a perfect right to go where she pleased. So what if she took off by boat, or with some out-of-towner in a strange car that wouldn’t raise any notice rolling through sleepy Sidon? She’d been gone a week. And a week wasn’t so long as to warrant an investigation when there were no suspicious circumstances.

Or were there?

The only thing I was sure of was that something foul was in the ocean breeze and I was going to find out what. I had tangled with Dekkert before and was not about to let him get away with making a punching bag out of an innocent schnook like Poochie.

Velda had fallen asleep on the sand when I got back. She had spread out that light sweater and was nestled down on it, her sweet, sultry face turned to one side. I gave her gentle prods with my toe until she looked up at me sleepily.

“Time to get up already?” she purred, stretching her arms.

“Rise and shine,” I said. “We have to go.”

“Where?”

“Town. I have a date.”

“Do tell!”

“With the police chief.”

She got to her feet in an instant. Her eyes narrowed, and the pretty mouth got as ugly as it could, which wasn’t very ugly.

“I get it, you louse. You’re going to work. I can see myself already, chasing all over Sidon doing your legwork. Well, if you think—”

“Aw, kitten, take it easy. I only—”

“You ‘only’ nothing. When you get that look on your face, it means trouble. We came up here for a vacation. You’re here for a rest, not to make an arrest.”

“You’re imagining things.”

‘If we are not here for rest and relaxation, big boy, I am going home.’

She turned and started to walk away, but I put out my hand and stopped her, turned her to me.  She had tears in her eyes.

‘Mike, don’t ruin this…’

“Hey, kid, I’m not drinkin’, am I?  I’m just curious about what’s going on out here in the sticks.”

‘Leave the curiosity to those scraggly cats, why don’t you?’

Poochie edged up near us and said, ‘Golly, Mike, why do you make the nice lady cry when you like her so much?  I can tell you do.’

When he realized what he had said, he turned his head and blushed.  It was so silly and cute that both Velda and I wound up grinning at each other.

Then her expression turned serious and her dark eyes took on a sensual cast.  ‘Do you, Mike?’

‘What?’

‘Like me… so much?’

I looked at her.  She was as pretty as anything I had ever seen.  Tall, jet black hair, always in that sweeping pageboy that I so admired.  Big and beautiful with more curves than a mountain road…

She was warm under my hands.  I tilted her chin and bent my head.  Her mouth found mine and she trembled under me as our mouths surrendered to each other.

When I held her away from me, she was gasping.  ‘That was the first time you ever did that, Mike.’

‘I’ve wanted to for a long time,’ I told her roughly.

‘Why?’  Her eyes were soft and inviting.  I ran my fingers through her hair.

‘You know why.  A dame works for a guy, and it gets out of hand, and all of a sudden—’

‘Shut-up and kiss me again.’

I did, but then Poochie was right there watching us with a big smile plastered on his baby-face mug.  The kiss turned into a mutual laugh, and then I tugged at her arm.

‘Let’s go, Velda.’

She just nodded.

We were already walking when I called back, ‘So long, Poochie!’

‘So long!  You’ll come see me again, won’t you?’

‘Sure will!’  we said together.

As we glanced back, we saw him dash into the shanty and come out with a shell.  He rushed to us and handed it to Velda.

‘A pretty present for the pretty lady,’ he said with a shy grin.

Velda took it, looking pleased.  It was his latest, the Nativity scene.

‘Why, thank you, Poochie,’ she said.  ‘It’s beautiful.’

When we were walking back to the car, she squeezed my arm and lay her head against my shoulder.  ‘I like Poochie, too, Mike.  Maybe we shouldn’t leave Sidon until we know he’s safe.’

‘Yeah.’  I lit up a Lucky.  ‘I have to make sure that Dekkert character isn’t a threat to him.’

‘You’re a softie, underneath it all, aren’t you?’

‘Yeah.  All squishy.’

‘If it weren’t for Poochie back there, I’d still be thinking you were just an old so-and-so.’

I blew a cloud of cigarette smoke and broke out my lopsided smile.

‘Kitten,’ I said, pretending to be shocked.  ‘Watch your language.'”

J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship (1840)
J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship (1840)


Numero Dos“Amistad, the film directed by Steven Spielberg, places before a large audience a glimpse of the brutality of the African slave trade.  For four centuries the traffic in human cargo transported tens of millions of people from the coast of Africa to the Americas to labor in diamond mines and sugar cane, tobacco and cotton fields.For two years, from 1839 to 1841, the Amistad incident was a central event in American political life.  It is to Spielberg’s credit that the revolt and the name Cinque, leader of the rebellion, are no longer known only to a very small segment of the public.

Spielberg’s film points to two important aspects of the slave trade: First, the economic relationships between the African kings, the slave traders, the plantation owners and the merchants, all of whom profited from the commerce in human property known as ‘black gold;’ and, second, the forces involved in the struggle against it.

The film has many weaknesses, some of which are discussed in the accompanying article. This comment, however, is primarily concerned with the significance of the Amistad revolt and its impact on political relations within the United States and internationally.

The arrival of the Amistad on US shores on August 25, 1839 was an event of worldwide importance. As the general public was later to learn, fifty-three Africans, after having been transported illegally across the Atlantic on a slave ship called the Tecora, were purchased in Cuba by two sugar plantation owners. While in transit aboard the Amistad to a plantation in another part of Cuba, the slaves revolted.

Sengbe Pieh (called Cinque by the Spanish) was able to free himself from his chains and gain control of the ship. During the struggle the ship’s cook and captain were killed while the lives of the two plantation owners, Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro Montez, were spared so that they could help steer the ship back to Africa. By day, the Africans directed the craft east; by night, the two Spaniards headed it back toward Cuba. As a result, after a two-month journey, the vessel ended up in the waters off Connecticut and was brought into Culloden Point on the eastern tip of Long Island by a US naval ship. The slaves were then taken into custody and charged with piracy and murder.

In a revealing scene in the film, no less than three different claims are filed for possession of the Africans at a circuit court hearing held to determine the fate of the captives. And for good reason. For the fifty-three human beings on board the Amistad, Ruiz and Montez had paid a total of forty thousand dollars, a vast sum in 1839.

Spielberg’s film is useful in depicting some of these economic facts of life of the slave trade, but the director’s idealization of Cinque might lead the viewer to conclude that the Amistad revolt was an isolated incident, explained entirely by the heroism of one individual. This would be erroneous.

The rebellion took place at a time when opposition to slavery, both from the abolitionist movement and from slaves themselves, had reached new heights. In 1831 William Lloyd Garrison founded the Liberator, the first consistent voice of the anti-slavery movement. Two years later, Lewis and Arthur Tappan, Garrison and others founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Pro-slavery forces struck back. Their supporters in Congress passed the infamous “gag rule,” banning consideration of antislavery petitions. Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist editor in Illinois, was murdered by a mob in 1837.

On the political front, the nullification controversy of 1832-33 pitted South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun against President Andrew Jackson and supporters of a strong central government. Calhoun, a leading ideologue of slavery, asserted that individual states had the right to render federal laws null and void.

The nullifiers threatened to secede if the federal government “trampled” on their rights. Increasingly slaves were taking up arms against their bondage. In 1791 Toussaint l’Ouverture, inspired by the great French Revolution of 1789, led a slave revolt in Santo Domingo (Haiti). Ex-slave Denmark Vesey, inspired by the Haitian revolt, prepared for an armed attack on Charleston in 1821-22. The famous Nat Turner rebellion in the United States took place in 1831, the same year that a major slave uprising, bloodily suppressed by the British, erupted in Jamaica. By the time of the Amistad incident revolts were regularly taking place on board slave ships in African waters.

By 1839 the Atlantic slave trade had been outlawed. Slavery was now legal only in Cuba, a Spanish colony, and in the southern half of the United States.

The arrival of the Amistad on American shores on August 27 created a storm of controversy. Commentaries appeared in the Northern and European press, while every effort, for obvious reasons, was made to keep it out of the Southern newspapers. On September 2 a play entitled “The Long, Low Black Schooner,” purporting to be based on the revolt, opened in New York City and played to packed audiences.

The abolitionist movement, recognizing the significance of this development for the struggle against slavery in the US, formed the “Amistad Committee” on September 4 to raise money and provide support to the Africans in jail.

The Spanish government responded by demanding that the American government immediately extradite the slaves to Cuba to face charges of mutiny and murder.

A great deal, morally and politically, rode on the fate of the Amistad captives: were they to be returned to their alleged “owners” or released and escorted back to their homes in Africa?

A significant weakness of the film, from the historical point of view, is its portrayal of the abolitionist movement. In writing a script for a film it is certainly permissible to introduce changes for the purpose of emphasis. But why Spielberg has chosen to depict the anti-slavery forces, for the most part, as fanatical and Bible-thumping buffoons is something of a mystery. Moreover, adding a fictional character–Joadson, a black abolitionist played by Morgan Freeman–only serves to obscure or diminish the role played by historical figures, such as Lewis Tappan, portrayed as Joadson’s associate, who led the opposition to slavery. Tappan, an abolitionist and silk merchant, played a principal role in organizing public meetings and raising funds to defend the imprisoned Africans.

University professor Josiah Gibbs, an opponent of slavery and one of those presented in a foolish light by the film, was able to find two Mende translators on the New York docks who made it possible for Cinque and the other Africans to testify in court. The testimony of the captives revealed that they were not Cuban-born slaves, and therefore subjects of the Spanish government, but had been transported illegally across the Atlantic.

Three of the captives, Cinque, Grabbeau and Fuliwa, described in district court how they had become slaves. They explained that men were often seized by other tribes for outstanding debts or taken prisoner in attacks on villages. Black slave traders would then transport their victims to sites on the coast where they were held before making the brutal Middle Passage.

The slaves on the Amistad, from eleven different tribes, had been held in the Lomboko fortress in Sierra Leone before making the trans-Atlantic trip. Cinque and the others physically demonstrated in court how they had been shackled aboard ship. For two months the Africans were kept in inhuman conditions until they reached Cuba. Those who survived the journey were then bathed and fattened up before being sold in the Havana slave market.

The case for the captives in district court was argued by attorney Roger Baldwin, grandson of an American revolutionary who signed the Declaration of Independence and a supporter of the anti-slavery cause. District Judge Judson ruled in favor of the Africans, ordering their return to Africa.

President Martin Van Buren, at the behest of Southern slave interests as well as the Spanish government, appealed the ruling and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

Former US President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), by this time a Congressman, had closely followed the Amistad case. In the House of Representatives he accused Van Buren of working with the Spanish monarchy to have the captives returned to Cuba, where they would face certain death.

When the case came before the Supreme Court Adams agreed to participate as legal counsel with Baldwin. Nicknamed “Old Man Eloquent,” the 73-year-old Adams passionately argued for the rights of the Africans, including their right to rebel.

Evoking the ideals of the American Revolution, many of whose participants were still alive, he thoroughly discredited Van Buren’s collaboration with the Spanish monarchy. He made a powerful argument that if the judges ruled in favor of the Spanish crown they would be repudiating the democratic ideals on the basis of which the American republican form of government had been formed.

In the course of his argument Adams quoted an article published in a journal of the day, “by one of the brightest intellects of the South,” that defended slavery as resulting “from the natural state of man, which is war.”

In reply, Adams declared, ‘There is the principle, on which a particular decision is demanded from this court … on behalf of the southern states.  Is that a principle recognized by this Court?  Is it the principle of that DECLARATION? [Here Mr. Adams pointed to the Declaration of Independence, two copies of which hang before the eyes of the Judges on the bench.] … Is that the principle on which these United States stand before the world?  That DECLARATION says that every man is `endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

‘If these rights are inalienable, they are incompatible with the rights of the victor to take the life of his enemy in war, or to spare his life and make him a slave. … The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided.  I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men, than this Declaration.’

Adams and Baldwin had established conclusively that the Africans had been illegally transported to Cuba.  The Supreme Court justices, seven of whom were Southerners, had little choice but to free the rebels.  Ruling in favor of the Africans, in any event, did not have a direct bearing on the continued existence of slavery in the US.

A study of the Amistad affair and this entire epoch in American history, the period leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War, is critical.  Spielberg’s film, insofar as it encourages such a study, is useful.  The film can not, however, be a substitute for serious study of historical developments.

For those who are interested, the full text of John Quincy Adams’ speech is available on the World Wide Web.  In preparing this article the author found very useful material at www.mysticseaport.org.  It contains information on the slave trade and a copy of John Barber’s detailed report on the Amistad incident, written in 1839.” Helen Halyard, “Amistad: Some Historical Considerations;” World Socialist Website, 1998

Bonus Army Clash solidarity riot protest

Numero Tres“Quote:

‘I declare that bourgeois society must be changed by attacking the pillars that support it. A revolution is needed to change it, not a fascist revolution that is regressive and reactionary, but a proletarian revolution, one of slaves against slavers, of civilisation against obscurantism. I declare that I feel my spirit and strength reinvigorated every time the interests of reaction attack me with their persecution. I affirm my libertarian faith.’  Speech by Tresca in 1925.

Nunzio Pernicone, the author of this book, died of cancer on May 30th 2013.  He was a colleague of the late Paul Avrich, and like Avrich contributed much to historical research of anarchism.  His other major work, Italian Anarchism, 1864-1892 appeared in 1993.  This particular volume is an expanded and corrected version of the first 2003 edition.  It involved many years of research tracing obscure old Italian immigrant anarchist militants in the United States.

In some ways this book is a tribute to Pernicone’s father, a great admirer of Tresca.  Salvatore Pernicone imparted anarchist ideas to his son, and was an actor and director in various amateur theatre groups that put on plays as benefits for Italian-American radical papers that included Tresca’s Il Martello.  Indeed some of the plays that were performed in the 1920s and 1930s were written by Carlo Tresca himself.

Carlo Tresca was born in Sulmona in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He was the sixth of eight children unto a well-off family which owned land and a carting business and stationery shop. However an economic slump in the 1890s effected the fortunes of the family. His older brother Ettore became a doctor and joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) after witnessing the appalling health and living conditons of many workers and peasants. Carlo himself had by the age of fifteen developed an intense hatred of the Catholic Church and began to engage in anti-clerical activity. He then began attending PSI meetings where he met many rail workers, Sulmona having developed into a major rail centre in the Abruzzo in this period. By 1902 Tresca was propagandising for the PSI among the artisans of Sulmona. He followed this up with organising drives among the peasants in the surrounding area. He capped his reputation by giving the final speech on the May Day rally that year. His talents as organiser and orator were being honed by his activity, and soon he received a sentence of thirty days for his socialist activity. He aggravated the situation by calling the carabinieri captain who had arrested him a drunk who had arrested him to please the city’s “cancerous criminal clique” ending up serving seventy days.

He now applied his skills to radical journalism, working on a local socialist paper and finally being brought up on a charge of insulting the army. He had now attracted the enmity of a local baron, who sued him for libel. Tresca had few illusions that he would be convicted for this, and in Italy at the time this meant five years in prison and a heavy fine. He decided to emigrate to the USA.

He arrived in New York in August 1904. Here he involved himself with the immigrant Italian socialist movement. He stood on its revolutionary wing. Very soon he became editor of its paper, Il Proletario. He perfected the agitational literary skills he had developed in Italy, attacking the Catholic Church and the consular representatives of the Italian state, accusing them of parasitism and corruption.

Tresca’s exposure to the Sulmona rail workers had developed a taste for direct action among Italian workers. He involved himself in a hat makers strike, delivering fiery speeches on the picket line. By now, he was following the development of revolutionary syndicalism in Italy, which spread its ideas to the Italian American community. He agreed with the statement that “five minutes of direct action were worth as many years of parliamentary chatter”. Another development was the emergence of the industrial unionist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Tresca welcomed its development and became a very visible supporter, although curiously he never actually joined it. He did publicly declare himself a revolutionary syndicalist.

By now, the reformists among the Socialists were tiring of his revolutionary ideas. He had tried to establish an alliance with the Italian American anarchists and as the result of an incident between the two currents, Tresca was meant to attack the anarchists in the pages of Il Proletario. He declined to do so and was forced to resign in 1906. He resigned from the Italian socialist section itself after the vicious attacks on him by the reformist leadership. He now launched an independent paper La Plebe.

In this period he suffered a first attempt on his life when a small-time Mafiosi tried to slit his throat, most likely under contract from an owner of a conservative Italian newspaper.

Tresca went on to taking a leading role in the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, organised by the IWW. He went on to take part in further strikes throughout the USA, including two textile workers strikes, a hotel workers strike and a miners’ strike. He was always fearless and was arrested several times. He carried on anti-militarist agitation through a new paper L’Avvenire (The future) and was fiercely opposed to the First World War. The authorities closed down the paper when the U.S. entered the war in 1917. A massive repression began against members of the IWW and against anarchists.Tresca was arrested himself along with the IWW leadership, even though he now felt lukewarm about the IWW because of “centralising tendencies” initiated by Big Bill Haywood. In the end the charges were dismissed, but Tresca narrowly avoided imprisonment and/or deportation. Whilst by now Tresca had increasingly anarchist convictions, he did not profess them openly and underlined the point that his new paper Il Martello (The Hammer) was an independent voice. This won him no friends around the anarchist current organised around Luigi Galleani. Whilst professing anarchist-communism, they were strongly opposed to effective organisation, sneered at involvement in workplace agitation which they dismissed as reformist, and adopted the use of armed force, engaging in bombings and bank robberies. They felt that Tresca should have openly expressed his anarchism and to prove it should have risked deportation. Tresca tried at first to get along with this current, but faced growing denunciations from them.

In 1923 he printed an ad for a birth control pamphlet in his new paper Il Martello. For this he received a prison sentence of a year and a day!

He became a driving force in stopping the growth of fascism amongst the Italian immigrant population. He actually forged an alliance with some of the Galleanists , and between 1923 and 1924 anarchists were in the forefront of anti-Fascist activity along with old allies from the IWW. Tresca also became involved in the defence of the Galleanist anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, who were eventually murdered by the State on flimsy charges. There though Tresca faced Galleanist suspicion (although Vanzetti himself sent him a letter of thanks for his defence work).

In 1926 Tresca narrowly avoided death at a rally as the result of a bomb, which prematurely exploded and killed all three of the fascist bombers. The anti-fascist agitation eventually led to the dissoving of the Mussolini-sponsored Fascist League in 1929.

He was now gaining other enemies. He had at first welcomed the Russian Revolution. However, it soon became apparent that the Soviet Union was nowhere near the ideals of socialism and anarchism and he became a staunch opponent of the Communist Party. They turned on him and launched vicious attacks in their newspapers. He served on the Dewey Commission which exonerated Trotsky of all charges from the Moscow show trials. He accused the Soviet secret police of the disappearance of Juliet Poyntz, who had been involved in the Soviet underground apparatus in the USA, and disgusted by the situation in Russia, was now preparing to issue a denunciation and publish a book on her experiences in both the US and Russia. Indications are that she was murdered by NKVD agents and buried in the woods near New York.
Tresca had to face the combined attacks of both Communists and Galleanists. When Armando Borghi, one of the chief proponents of the organisational anarchist communism of Errico Malatesta and who had been a leading light in the Italian syndicalist union USI, came to the USA he foolishly took the side of the Galleanists. From house arrest in Italy Malatesta pleaded for these vicious polemics against Tresca to cease.

By now, other enemies of Tresca were becoming more concerned about his activities. He had been opposed to the Mafia from soon after his arrival in America. Now he began a public campaign against them in Il Martello. On January 11th 1943 Tresca was shot dead by an unknown gunman as he was crossing Fifth Avenue.

Was it the NKVD who had ordered his death? Was it the work of Mussolini’s secret police? Pernicone and others believe that it was in fact a hit ordered by a Mafia notable, Frank Garafolo. Undoubtedly Tresca’s fearlessness resulted in his death, whoever was responsible.

Pernicone paints a warts and all portrait of Tresca, examining his colourful love life, and his sometimes dubious use of funds.  He broke a tenet of anarchism that one should never provide information to the government when he testified to the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney about Poyntz.  Many U.S. anarchists, not just the Galleanists, were shocked by this act, and many old friends and comrades broke off relations with him after this.  Equally Tresca’s anti-Fascism in the end led him to support for the Allies in the Second World War, though he qualified this with the hope that a social revolution would break out at the end of the war.  As Pernicone asks: ‘Did Tresca not see the contradiction between these two objectives?  Did he seriously believe in the possibility of a social revolution emerging from the war, or was he merely engaging in formulaic anarchist rhetoric?’

This book describes a fascinating and larger than life individual, in the process shedding light on the state of the Italian-American anarchist movement, a movement crippled by vicious personal polemics and rivalries, and by a failure to go beyond either anti-organisational Galleanist insurrectionism on one hand and ad hoc labour organising on the other.”

mexico-Pancho_villa_horseback

Numero CuatroDoroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as Francisco or ‘Pancho’ Villa, was a Mexican revolutionary general.  He was born on  June 5, 1878 and little is known of his early life.

According to his own version of his life story, at the age of 16 he shot an older man, the son of a big landowner, who had tried to rape Pancho’s younger sister, Martina.

Pancho became an outlaw, not an unusual path for a man of the lower classes in Mexico to be forced into during the rule of Porfirio Diaz.  Judges belonged to the aristocracy and offending an estate owner for any reason could lead to jail, execution or forced recruitment into the Army.

Díaz’s presidency was characterized by the extreme exploitation of the working class, farmers and peasants.  Wealth, political power and access to education were concentrated among a handful of families, overwhelmingly of European descent, who controlled much property in large estates.

Most of the people in Mexico were landless.  Foreign companies, mostly from the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, also exercised a great deal of power within Mexico.  Díaz changed land reform efforts started under previous leaders.

His new land laws virtually undid all the hard work by leaders such as Benito Juárez. No peasant or farmer could claim the land he occupied without formal legal title. Small farmers were helpless and angry; from this cause, many leaders including Francisco Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata would launch a rebellion against Díaz, escalating into the eventual Mexican Revolution.

Madero decided to run against Díaz in the 1910 Presidential Elections. Diaz thought he could control the election as he had the previous seven. Díaz, however, did not approve of Madero and had him jailed on election day. Díaz was announced the winner of the election by a landslide, providing the initial impetus for the outbreak of the Revolution.

Madero’s vague promises of agrarian reforms attracted many of the peasants throughout Mexico and in late1910, revolutionary movements broke out in response to Madero’s imprisonment. The rebels were particularly strong in the north and included Pancho Villa, who captured Ciudad Juárez (bordering El Paso, Texas) along the Rio Grande.

Villa's PR got slicker when media discovered him

Villa’s PR got slicker when media discovered him

After Madero defeated the weak federal army on May 21, 1911, he signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez with Diaz. It stated that Díaz would abdicate his rule and be replaced by Madero. Insisting on anew election, Madero won overwhelmingly in late 1911.

Some supporters criticized him for appearing weak by not assuming the presidency and failing to pass immediate reforms. But Madero established a liberal democracy and received support from the United States and popular leaders such as Orozco, Villa, and Zapata.

Madero was a weak leader and his support quickly deteriorated. His short-lived regime came to an end in 1913 when commander-in-chief General Victoriano Huerta set in motion a coup d’état. Madero and vice president José María Pino Suárez were both assassinated less than a week later.

After Madero’s murder, Huerta proclaimed himself provisional president. Venustiano Carranza then proclaimed the Plan of Guadalupe to oust Huerta from office as an unconstitutional usurper.

The new group of politicians and generals (which included Pablo González, Álvaro Obregón, Emiliano Zapata and Villa) who joined to support Carranza’s plan were collectively styled as the Ejército Constitucionalista de México (Constitutionalist Army of Mexico).Villa joined the rebellion against Huerta, crossing the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) into Ciudad Juárez with a mere 8 men, 2pounds of coffee, 2 pounds of sugar, and 500 rounds of rifle ammunition.

Villa’s remarkable generalship and recruiting appeal,combined with ingenious fund-raising methods to support his rebellion, would be a key factor in forcing Huerta from office a little over a year later, on July 15, 1914.

 This was the time of Villa’s greatest fame and success. He recruited soldiers (both Mexican and mercenary) and raised money using methods such as forced assessments on hostile hacienda owners,and train robberies. In one notable escapade, he held 122 bars of silver ingot from a train robbery (and a Wells Fargo employee) hostage and forced Wells Fargo to help him sell the bars for spendable cash.

A rapid, hard-fought series of victories at Ciudad Juárez, Tierra Blanca, Chihuahua and Ojinaga followed. By the end of 1913 he had amassed an army of 3,000 men and become governor of Chihuahua. He also confiscated the large land holdings of the aristocracy to finance his army and help the poor.

The new pile of loot was used to purchase draft animals, cavalry horses, arms, ammunition, mobile hospital facilities and food, as well as to rebuild the railroad south of Chihuahua City.

Villa signed a contract with Mutual Film Company of New York for $25,000 for exclusive rights to the revolution. Along with boots and artillery, Mutual Film provided Confederate Army uniforms, boots and fancy guns for the front row so Pancho’s scruffy soldiers would look better on the silver screen.

Make-up artists supposedly powdered Villa’s face to lighten it for certain scenes,his hair was trimmed and combed. Mutual’s camera crews accompanied Villa’s peasant army when there built railroad transported his troops and artillery south. Mutual filmed the bloody battles where he defeated Federal forces at Gómez Palacio, Torreón and Zacatecas.

Life of Villa (1912) and The Life of General Villa (1914), the two films made about Villa’s life by the Mutual Film Company have been lost, but some unedited film reels of the battle of Ojinaga (January1914), showing Pancho Villa and his army fighting Federal forces, as well as photographs and publicity stills taken from the original film,do still exist.

Villa’s good relationship with the American media wasn’t an accident, he was well aware of the power of the press and even delayed an attack on Juarez to avoid conflicting with the World Series.

_______________________________

Villa (back row on left) and his posse

Villa (back row on left) and his posse

Marijuana the Soldadera

Many of Pancho Villa’s soldiers were indigenous Yaqui Indians and they were very fond of smoking ‘motas’ – marijuana cigarettes. The term marijuana is said to have originated with the soldiers of Villa’s army. Several stories about the origin of the term have been told over the years, but it is most likely that it began with the female camp followers of Villa’s army,known as Soldaderas.

A popular corrido (folk song) written at the time of the Revolution called Marijuana: La Soldadera tells the tale of a young woman who accompanies her beloved Juan when he joins Villa’s army to cook his meals, but she proves braver than Juan and when he is killed, takes up his rifle and fights bravely, being promoted to sergeant.

Some insight into the popularity of corridos celebrating Soldaderas is given by this description from the lifestory of Zeferino Diego Ferreira,one of Villa’s Dorados:

 “Once I met a colonel named Petra Herrera. She dressed like a man and was very brave. Her troops operated in the north and belonged to the Northern Division. Almost all of them were men. They fought with grenades made of the sacks from goat testicles filled with shrapnel and gunpowder, with a fuse. They hardly used anything else. I mean they were brave!

Pancho on his 50 cal.

Pancho on his 50 cal.

Pancho Villa himself is said to have smoked marijuana before going to battle to become ‘mas valiente‘ (more valiant).

There is a picture of Villa and Porfirio Ornelas sitting under a tree, taken at Canutillo in 1920; they are said to be smoking ‘motas’ but others claim they are eating, it is not clear from the picture, but I would tend to think they had stopped for a spot of lunch and Villa looks to be biting on a piece of food, not smoking a ‘mota.’

Some have said a photograph exists that was taken in Sabinas while Villa was negotiating his amnesty with the Federal government where he can be seen smoking a ‘mota’; newsreel footage of this event also exists and it is claimed that twice Villa can be seen smoking.

Author Alvaro Canales has claimed to possess a sequence of photographs taken in Sabinas that show Villa rolling and smoking his ‘cigarro de hoja.’

There are references about Villa’s smoking habits in his early days in the book El Verdadero Pancho Villa by Silvestre Terrazas and also in his later years in Con Villa: Memorias de Campanļa by Jose Maria Jaurrieta. In his book Greed, Rage, and Love Gone Wrong, Bruce Rubenstein describes the use of marijuana in Villa’s army of Indians and mercenaries:

 “A contingent of long-haired Yaqui Indians known as Las Cucarachas (The Cockroaches) smoked marijuana, a habit that soon became the hallmark of Villa’s army. Gringo recruits like Ward, Tom Mix (later a movie star), Tracy Richardson and Sam “The Fighting Jew” Dreben turned up their noses at loco-weed and mescal. They drank American whiskey purchased in Texas, often with the proceeds from sales of marijuana they brought across the river with them.”

________________________________

 La Cucaracha

La Cucaracha is the Spanish equivalent of Yankee Doodle – a traditional satirical tune periodically fitted out with new lyrics to meet the needs of the moment. The origins of the song are obscure, but the Mexican writer Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi claimed the song was brought to Mexico from Spain by a captain of marines.

Lyrics for La Cucaracha exist commemorating 19th-century conflicts in both Spain and Mexico, but the most famous verses were written during the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920. Included among the new lyrics were the most famous verse of all:

 La cucaracha, la cucaracha,              The cockroach, the cockroach,

Ya no puede caminar;                        Can’t walk anymore

Porque no tiene, porque le falta       Because it doesn’t have, because it’s lacking

Marihuana que fumar.                       Marijuana to smoke

______________________________

Success on the battlefield brought money for toys

Success on the battlefield brought money for toys

There are many stories about the origins of this verse, some refer to the ‘cucaracha’ as Pancho Villa’s car, which with his soldiers hanging out of it looked a bit like a cockroach and was notorious for breaking down.

Others say that the song is ridiculing the Federal forces they said couldn’t fight without smoking marijuana. Some say it was directed at the dictatorial Mexican president Victoriano Huerta who was ridiculed by his many enemies as a drunk and dope fiend who lived only for his daily weed.

Perhaps the most accepted explanation of it is that it is a song about a soldadera. “La Cucaracha”is a nickname sometimes given to women whose name is Cuca,which is short for Maria de Refugio, a fairly common name in Mexico.

La Cucaracha became the anthem of Pancho Villa’s army, according to Marijuana – The First Twelve Thousand Years by Ernest L. Abel:

“The song was adopted as Villa’s battle hymn after his capture of Torreon and subsequent over-throw of the Mexican government because many of his men had smoked marihuana before going into battle, much like other soldiers drinking alcohol before battle.”

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Pancho’s fall from grace

By December 1914, in conjunction with the armies of Carranza and Zapata, Villa captured Mexico City, forcing Huerta to flee and placing control of the government in the hands of the three rebel leaders. However, the following spring,Villa was forced out of the triumvirate when he lost a power struggle with Carranza.

In the ensuing conflict, his troops were badly defeated by Carranza’s army at the Battle of Celaya. In his book Pancho Villa and Black Jack Pershing, James W. Hurst gives an account of Villa’s disastrous attack at Celaya. He describes the behaviour of Villa’s encamped army before the battle:

 “The Yaqui Indians smoked marijuana and danced away the night-time hours in wild abandon. The peasants drank sotol and whiled away the hours in song and conversation; the Dorados patrolled the area and tried to maintain a semblance of order.”

 Villa launched a frontal attack at night that foundered on the artillery and machine gun fire of the Federal troops. Hurst describes the action:

 “The Yaqui Indians who led the attack were stoned on marijuana and they made no attempt at subterfuge, as they charged into the illuminated barbed wire they were simply slaughtered.”

 Villa was forced to withdraw to his headquarters in Durango. There he resumed his life as a bandit, raiding isolated American border towns and mining camps as well as Mexican villages. The defeat at Celaya was blamed on the Americans,who had allowed Carranza’s troops to pass through U.S. territory while trying to ouflank Villa’s army.

Even worse, they had sup-plied Villa with bad ammunition. Zeferino Diego Ferreira, a cavalry soldier in the Division Del Norte, explained what happened when he told his life story to Laura Cummings in the 1970s:

 “They killed a lot of our men at Celaya but we didn’t have ammunition. If it weren’t for the United States, Carranza wouldn’t have won. They sold us ammunition that wasn’t any good. It only had a tiny bit of gunpowder in it. Hardly any. Instead, it had sawdust inside.

When we fired, the bullet would fall two or three feet ahead of us. The United States helped the federales a lot. When they couldn’t take Agua Prieta, they let them pass through U.S. territory to attack the city from the north. A lot of Villa’s silver ended up in the hands of the United States.”

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The Colombus Raid and The Mexican Expedition

Villa did like to have his picture taken for posterity

Villa did like to have his picture taken for posterity

Clearly, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had sided with Villa’s rival Carranza. This infuriated Villa,who retaliated against U.S. Citizens in Mexico. Sixteen American mining engineers were slain in the Santa Isabel Massacre of January 1916. Two months later, Pancho Villa became the first man to invade U.S. territory since the British in the war of 1812.

At approximately 4:17 am on March 9, 1916, Villa’s troops attacked Columbus, New Mexico and its local detachment of the U.S. 13th Regiment. They killed 10 civilians and 8 soldiers, leaving 2 civilians and 6 military wounded, for a total of 18 killed and 8 wounded.

The raiders also burned the town, took many horses and mules, seized available machine guns, ammunition and merchandise before returning to Mexico. However, Villa’s troops suffered considerable losses, with at least sixty seven dead, caused mainly by armed citizens in Columbus. About thirteen others would later die of their wounds. Five Mexicans were taken prisoner.

 The raid may have been spurred by an American merchant in Columbus who supplied Villa with weapons and ammunition. After Villa paid several thousand dollars of cash in advance, the merchant decided to stop supplying him with weapons and demanded payment in gold.

The U.S. press reacted sharply to news of the Columbus raid. Their action was especially swift in the Los Angeles Times. Before Villa’s New Mexico incursion, the news-paper had described Villa as a “rebel leader.”

The beginning of the end for Villa was the American price on his head

The beginning of the end for Villa was the American price on his head

After the Columbus raid, an editorial denounced him as an “outlawed Mexican bandit” and “the vilest kind of ruffian.” President Wilson could not stand idle in the face of an invasion of US territory and sent Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing to lead an expedition into Mexico.

A $5,000 bounty was offered for Villa’s capture and Army posters invoked “The Flag, Old Glory” in calling for 25,000 recruits: “Come on, boys, be ready to shoulder the trusty Springfield.”

On March 15, Pershing led an expeditionary force of 10,000 men into Mexico to capture Villa but Pancho had already had more than a week to disperse and conceal his forces before the punitive expedition tried to seek them out in unmapped, foreign terrain. Pershing made his main base encampment at Casas Grandes, Chihuahua and divided his force into two columns to seek out Villa.

Due to disputes with the Carranza administration over the use of the Mexico North Western Railway to supply his troops, the Army employed a truck-train system to convoy supplies to Pershing’s encampment and The Signal Corps set up a wireless telegraph service from the border to Pershing’s HQ. The newly adopted aeroplane was used by the 1st Provisional Aero Squadron to conduct aerial reconnaissance of the mountains.

The idea sounded better than it was – gasoline had to come in on pack mules and two planes crashed in the first week, with the other four soon lost to further accidents. The campaign was a logistical nightmare — there were no roads or maps and drinking water was scarce. Many Mexicans undoubtedly misled the Americans, pointing in one direction when they knew Pancho had gone the other.

The Mexican government at first was favourable to the U.S. Attack on its enemy, Villa, but Carranza came to resent the U.S. Presence and soon Pershing’s troops were fighting both Villa’s rebels and regular Mexican troops. In June, Lieutenant George S. Patton raided a small community and killed Julio Cárdenas, an important leader in the Villista military organization, and two other men.

Patton personally killed Cardenas, and is reported to have carved notches into his revolvers, but Villa continued to elude capture. In early 1917, as war loomed between the United States and Germany, President Wilson recalled the Army. General Pershing gave up the chase with the memorable explanation: “Villa is everywhere and Villa is nowhere.”

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 The end of the Revolution and Villa’s Death

In 1920, the Carranza government struck a deal with Villa in which he agreed to halt his raids in exchange for settling down on a ranch in Canutillo and being appointed a general in the Mexican army.  However, on June 20, 1923, Villa was ambushed and murdered in Parral by followers of Álvaro Obregón, a former army general, who feared that Villa would oppose their leader’s candidacy for president in the upcoming elections.

Immediately following his death, the name of Pancho Villa was eliminated from all history books, children’s books and all monuments in Mexico. It wasn’t until 1975 (more than a half-century after his death) that both the Mexican and American governments felt safe enough to exhume his body, and when they did, they discovered that someone had stolen his head.

After a large parade was held in his honour in Mexico, Pancho Villa’s body was sent to the cemetery where many Mexican revolutionary heroes were buried, and he was finally given the proper burial he deserved.”    Ian Greenhalgh, “Pancho Villa, the Mexican Revolution, & Marijuana;” Veterans Today, 2014