Richard Garcia watches block after block of crumbling brick row homes. Industrial buildings pass the rented Chevy Suburban.

It is silent except for the hum of the V8 engine and the swish of tires slicing through endless puddles. The three other occupants are silent as well.

Rick clears his throat and speaks to the driver, “Hey, Manny, you know what I hate about these cities?”

“What’s that, jefe?” Manny asks.

“They’re rotting shitholes packed with mayates,” Rick spits out the last word.

“Si jefe, pinches mayates,” Manny agrees and laughs.

The others in the Suburban laugh too.

Culeros, definitely, Rick. Why do we do business in the inner city again? It was easier when we was shipping product out in the sticks,” asks Jay, a fat, strong cholo with “FEAR” and “PAIN” tatted on his knuckles.

Rick looks at a tattoo of his own, an Eagle Warrior on the back of his right hand. “Jay, we had to. Every fed and hillbilly chota was going loco on anyone moving fentanyl or heroin.”

The fourth member of the entourage, Juanito, a skinny young man, speaks up. “Still, why we comin’ all the way out here? I mean, fuck, this shit sucks compared to L.A.”

Manny gives him a playful shove. “C’mon, hermano, you ain’t afraid of da big black snake whoopin’ up on your ass, are you? We got cuetes.”

Juanito feels, inside his suit jacket, fingers tapping the butt of a borrowed Beretta M9. “Hope this piece of shit doesn’t blow up if I have to use it.”

Manny says, “Naaaw, Beretta is tough shit. That’s why the military uses it. I know it doesn’t come in pussy pink, but that’s all the paisas around here could get. We gunned up good. You sure you put the bullets in the right way?”

Juanito turns towards the window, “Fuck you, Manny.”

Rick raises his voice, “Both you culeros shut up. Manny, how much further?”

“Another twenty minutes, jefe.”

“Good. Shut your mouths and get icy.”


Crawford’s Bar, beat brick facade topped with narrow, slit bar glass windows, stuffed below four stories of shit apartments, half-unoccupied, is the rendezvous site.

In a back room, with walls featuring crosses of every shape and size, sits a Blood Dog Jimmy, de facto leader of the Oak Grove gang.

The room stinks of acrid fear-induced sweat, chain-smoked cigarettes, and stale beer. Blood Dog has been living in the room for weeks. He doesn’t care about the noise interrupting his sleep late into the night as long as there are people around he feels safe.

Not that he sleeps much anymore.

He is beyond caring that in ten minutes, the Cartel’s most vicious enforcer is arriving.

“Whatever happens D, don’t sweat it, this shit don’t matter,” Blood Dog tells the only other man in the room, Damian, a muscled bro just out of high school. “We listen to what they say, agree, then figure out how to get the fuck out of this shit.”


“You guys notice something?” Rick says.

“Nada, just another shitty hood.” Manny answers for the crew.

“Where’s everyone? Six in the evening, these streets should be hopping with jungle bunnies,” Rick says.

The Suburban’s occupants look around at the deserted streets.

Muy weird,” Manny says. “We’re here.”

“Just pull up in front. Time to get some answers from these motherfuckers. ‘Member, ojo. Rick says.

The four vatos walk into Crawford’s, the only light inside streaming through the bar glass. Rick wrinkles his nose at the musty yeast and cigarette smell. He looks at the lone bartender, a heavyset older black man, gray in the beard. The barman polishes a burned and gouged bar.

“Blood Dog here? He should be expecting us,” Rick says.

The bar man doesn’t look up, just keeps on polishing the bar. Taking his time, he cocks his head to the back. “In the back, ‘specting you.”

Juanito slaps a twenty on the bar. “It’s really annoying watching you rub that wood, ruca. Take a break and have a smoke. ‘Sides, where is everyone? Your hood got no alkies?”

“Don’t smoke. People don’t feel like hooch much these days,” the barman says.

“Juanito, leave the ruco alone,” Rick says.

They pass into the back room, Rick stifles a gasp. He stares at the crosses for a split second, then sees Blood Dog siting at a poker table. Damian stands. Without an invite, Rick pulls out a chair and sits.

He makes a show of looking at the walls, then taking a couple turns eying up Blood Dog and Damian.

“Didn’t know you monos were into Santeria,” Rick says.

Blood Dog licks his lips. “What? Isn’t that a drink?”

Rick waves his hand. “Never mind. Blood Dog, we all business here. The Oak Grove was moving shit for us. Now in the last couple of months, nada. Profits down to a trickle. What happened? Loss of initiative?”

“Ain’t you been catching the news? We got a killer loose and whoever they are has killed most of the gang’s top men. Half my pushers and dealers hit the road, the other half is laying low.”

Rock leans back. “Ah yes, this head chopper puto. Whatever problems you have with competition, my organization would expect you take care of it.”

Blood Dog takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Ain’t no rivals. Unless the River Front or Boulevard Boys got someone who can walk through walls. No one is this good. And the beheadings are only a part of it. People talkin’ on the street and downtown that the bodies were taken apart.”

Rick picks his fingernails and nods to Manny and Jay. They move to positions behind Blood Dog and Damian. Rick then slams his Beretta on the table.

Shouting, Rick says, “Listen, pendejo, I didn’t fly all the way out from L.A. to hear your bitch excuses and ghost stories. This isn’t a fucking consult. This my bosses, direct, giving you an ultimatum: get your niggers in line, get them hustling, or else.”

Unflinching, Blood Dog asks, “Or else what?”

Rick leans in, baring his teeth. “Or else we make you watch us run a training on your baby mama, take her apart with a chainsaw and then take you apart. And the rest of your shit for brains monos can be pushed out. See, this is America, the land of opportunity. Lotsa of hungry paisas ready to move in and bust ass hustling up the feria. Motherfucker, you think you big, hard shit? Save it for the pinches gringos, they might be impressed with you. We’re not; we know you are just the smallest minority. You ain’t shit to La Raza. Comprede?”

Rage flashes across Blood Dog’s face before running slack. “Yeah. We got it. What you want us to do?”

“Now that is more like it, holmes. First, get your chickenshit crews back on the streets. Second, well, you gonna wait for some ‘overseers’ to get here in a couple of weeks, then take it from there. Now, tomorrow, we gonna do some talking to the people downtown.”

Rick stands up and leaves, taking his vatos with him.

After they are gone, Damian asks, “What we going to do, Dog?”

Blood Dog stares into the dark maw of the hallway. “Nothing, D: nothing. I’m fucked either way. But if I were you, if you got folks in some other city, leave, D: just run and never look back. Fuck this place.”


Evening shadows quickly gather in the Grove. Manny drives the Suburban to the nearest freeway entrance.

“Fuck these streets,” Manny says after hitting an especially large pothole, “We might be lost. Juanito, pull up maps see where we are at.”

Juanito fires up his phone. “Si, this shithole gives me the creeps.” Juanito looks at his phone. “No service. Yo, Jay, try yours.”

Nada. Manny, just keep heading west on the boulevard. It’s the right direction.”

“I guess,” Manny says, looking about as the streetlights come on.

Ten minutes later, they see a freeway overpass. It is covered in a mural of a mountain of skulls under a red sky.

“Yo, got eyes on the on-ramp?” Manny calls out.


Nada.” Jay and Juanito answer.

The Suburban crashes through a massive pothole.

“Fucking culero!” Manny yells. He stares at the road ahead, the headlights highlighting a mass of potholes like a battlefield in the dim streetlights.

“Seriously, anyone have a signal yet? I am not liking the looks of this,” Manny asks.

No answers; the neighborhood is as deserted as the far side of moon.

Manny keeps driving. Silence reigns inside the Chevy.

Except for a steady scratching noise.

A few minutes down the road, they see another freeway overpass.

“You see that, holmes?” Juanito says.

“Yeah. Not good,” Manny says.

“What do you mean—” Juanito is about to ask when he sees it; the same grotesque mountain of skulls mural.

“Yeah, Juanito. You notice something else? Watch.”

Juanito watches as Manny slows down and Rick and Jay join in.

“No cars.”

“Could just be the same mural on a different bridge,” Jay says.

“No man, look at it. No way someone does the exact same twenty foot painting,” Manny says.

Manny speeds off; still no on-ramp.

Two minutes later, they see the same bridge, taunting.

Rick says, “Stop here for a minute and kill the engine, holmes.”

Rick gets out, followed by Manny, Juanito, and Jay.

“Grab the flashlight, Juanito,” Rick says.

Silent night wind and the rustling of leaves greets them.

Juanito clicks the flashlight on. Jay, Manny, and Rick follow suit with their phones.

“Let’s get on top of the freeway, see what the hell is going on,” Rick says.

They walk single file up the overpass’ massive embankment, a forest of concrete pillars casting shadows in their lights.

Something scurries into the underbrush. Juanito and Jay half reach for their guns.

Up top, the four men reach a cracked and weed-overgrown stretch of road. Feeble overhanging lights sputter and die out only to sputter to life and die again.

They look out over the road they were traveling; except for a hundred feet on either side of the bridge, it is dark except for some half-light in the distance towards downtown.

A dog barks far below in the dark. Maybe a distant siren half-heard.

“This is fucked, like some really bad mojo.”

Rick lights a cigarette and pauses a moment in a rush of night air.

“Something…” he says.

Sounds of laughter, feminine, approach the men.

The sound takes forever to get close. Juanito shines his light in their direction. A light outline, two glowing orbs.

Distant still.

Rick draws his gun and holds it to his side. “Hey, who’s there?”

The others follow Rick’s lead.

“Jay, watch our six. Juanito, Manny, follow me.

In a flickering streetlight stands a light-skinned black woman, hair pulled back into a tight bun. She beckons to them. She is dressed in a white plunge top and denim cut-off shorts.

Juanito speaks up, “Hey guys, how come she has no shoes?”

Rick whispers to him, “Shut up, let me take care of this, keep your guns down.” He then shouts, “Hey, you there! What is your name, chavala?”

Ava,” she says. “You seem a little lost.”

“We are. Is this road closed? Can you tell us how we get to the main highway?” Rick says.

“You don’t,” Ava says.

“Que passa, mija? What you say?” Rick asks in disbelief, stepping closer.

“I said you’re never getting back to sunny ol’ California and dicking mamacita ever…again. Though Juanito seems like he’d be the dickee,” Ava says with a smile.

Juanito fumes and points his Beretta and storms towards Ava, hissing, “Chupa mi vegra estupida puta!”

Rick turns to stop Juanito when Ava closes the distance in the blink of an eye, grabbing the barrel of the Beretta.

She twists it.

Juanito screams in pain as his trigger finger is pinched by the trigger guard, forcing him to the ground.

Rick draws a bead on Ava just as she pivots behind Juanito, using him as a shield.

“No bueno, Rick, you won’t shoot through your boy here, will you?” she says.

“Who the fuck are you?” Rick asks.

“I’m a big part of the reason you’re up here.”

Guns leveled, Manny and Jay close in.

“Back off!” she snarls and yanks the pistol over Juanito’s head.

He whimpers.

Jay approaches. “No way, puta. Let him go or we blast you.”

Beads of sweat threaten to drip into Rick’s eyes. Quickly, he whips out a tactical folder and slashes Ava’s arm.

Rick hears a crunch and pop as Ava rips the trigger guard through Juanito’s finger. Ava Sparta kicks Juanito to the ground. Rick stabs her in the arm, eliciting a shriek.

Fast but not fast enough.

Ava clubs him in the jaw with the butt of the Beretta.

Dazed but on his feet, he hears shots break out.

Manny grabs his arm, “C’mon jefe! We’re getting back to the car.

Spitting out teeth to answer, Rick’s tongue lulls useless in his mouth and he leans on Manny for support.

“Bitch just took off. C’mon, Juanito!” Jay yells.

“Where’s my fucking finger, where the fuck is my finger?!” Juanito screams.

“Fuck your finger, let’s go!” Jay grabs Juanito as everyone runs for the embankment.

Lit by only Manny’s light now, they stumble down the embankment.

When they are among the concrete pillars, something snatches Juanito from Jay’s grasp.

Mierda!” Jay runs after him.

Rick sputters, “C-c-c-car. Lights.”

Manny answers, “Si! Si! Yo, wait, Jay, we getting to the car. I’ll bring up here and we can flush out this bitch.”

Manny and Rick only hear shots ring out, then something like wet meat being slammed into a countertop.

Manny dumps Rick in the passenger seat. Rick still clutches his Beretta.

Manny guns the engine. He puts on the high beams and races as far up the embankment as he can go. Following the muzzle flashes of Jay’s pistol, he almost hits Jay as he comes running down.

“Let me the fuck in!” Jay says.

Manny unlocks the doors and Jay leaps into the back. “Go! Go! Andela!

“What about Juanito?” Manny asks.

“Mofo is dead. That bitch bashed his brains in.”

Manny backs up.

Something dark comes flying towards the windshield. Spider-web cracks spread across it.

Manny blinks a couple of times to be sure of his eyes, then sees Juanito’s headless corpse.

Flooring it in reverse, Manny jars everyone in the Chevy when he hits a concrete pillar before throwing it in drive.

Juanito’s corpse slides off the hood and flops to the ground.

They burn rubber down the road.


Still alone on the dark abandoned road, Manny cries out, “Fuck! I must’ve punctured the gas tank, we’re almost out.” The Chevy sputters to a halt.

“Okay, do a bullet c-c-check,” Rick says.

Jay changes mags, “Topped off, jefe. Now what?”

“We w-w-w-wait.”

Manny pops the mag out of his Beretta. “For what?”

“For whatever,” Rick says.

Minutes crawl by; the shuffling of bare feet on pavement comes towards them.

Manny prays. “Dios te salve, María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo…”

Dozens of eyes shine, glaring at them from the darkness.

Rick smacks Manny. “Shut the fuck up, Manny. You think God hears us? After all the people we’ve killed, the women we fucked, raped, and fucked up? The families we destroyed? No, Manny, God doesn’t want to hear your shit. We’re already dead and in Hell.”

More feet shuffling towards them. Somewhere outside the car, Ava laughs.

Three safeties click off.

Jay aims towards his window. “Live the life, die the death.”

Rick straightens up. “I can’t believe I’m going to die in this shithole.”

Manny sobs.

Somewhere in the abandoned dark, gunfire erupts, followed by screams.

Then silence.