Monday, December 28, 2015

The Trinity River Massacre

The Trinity River Massacre

It spawned the biggest manhunt since Bonnie and Clyde, but few today remember that bloody night in 1971.

Rene Guzman and Leonardo Lopez lived in West Dallas and supported their drug habits with burglary. Someone in Ellis County had seen them in action and written down the plate number on Guzman’s car. That’s what brought the sheriff’s deputies to their door at 2810 Ingersoll Street on February 15, 1971, the day after Valentine’s.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Blues from Texas and the Great Beyond

It’s not even a tone, more like a pulsing; a spot on the dial where one moment there is a faint sound and the next there isn’t, then there is, then there isn’t. It could almost be Morse code; something, nothing, something, nothing, di, di, da. I bend down closer to the dashboard speaker and try to focus on it. Gradually it becomes a voice, then I realize it’s a woman’s voice, but still far too faint for me to understand anything she’s saying. But she’s saying something and for me. It’s a human voice, and even if I have no idea what she’s saying, I can hear the sympathy and warmth in it.

Stevens taps on my shoulder. I look up. “You shouldn’t do that,” he says. “You may need to start driving any second now.”

So I sit up and put my hands back on the steering wheel. The minutes pass and slowly it gets louder until I can start making out her words."Because we’re all just trying to get back home. Isn’t that all that any of us are doing? Trying to get home."

And hearing her say that, I’m thinking to myself, well, I can’t speak for the fellow next to me, darlin, but it’s all I’m trying to do, I’m just trying to get home.

"Home, it’s a word we say all the time, but do we ever really think what it means? Home isn’t just a place we go to eat and sleep. It’s really the place where we come from and where we will all ultimately return. That means it’s not really an actual physical place. It’s really a spiritual place, because it is where ultimately our body and soul go to reunite with the rest of the universe. Your little gray home on the Wabash is simply a temporal representation of that great final reunion with the Sun!"

"Oh, man,” I say.

"What is that?” demands Stevens sharply, his voice teetering on the edge of disgust.

"Some lady on the radio,” I say. I’m about to add, she sounds like a sweetheart, but I don’t. I’m not going to share that with Stevens.

"Sweetheart? Are you nuts? That spook? That’s Rose Dawn, the clairvoyant.”

"The what?”

"She has a program on that Mexican station. Goddamn spook, she talks to the Great Beyond and gives answers to listeners’ questions. Rose Dawn. She’s a crazy bitch. The woman is disgusting.”

"We need to have faith that it’ll all work out. We’re all, each of us, just pieces in a grand celestial mosaic."

"Turn that shit off,” shouts Stevens.

"Fuck you,” I say. “It’s my radio.”

"It’s not your radio. This is a stolen car.”

"Yeah, well, I stole it, so shut up and if you don’t like it, then get out!”

"We’re all of us broken, so it doesn’t matter. Find your strength in knowing that!"

"I hate that crap!” fumes Stevens. “All that Celestial Hey Diddle Diddle! She’s the worst.”

"We’re all imperfect and that makes us perfect. We’re all damaged and that makes us strong."

"Unity of opposites, you’d think the crazy bitch invented it,” sneers Stevens.

"Well, I’d rather listen to her than that phony goat gland doctor,” I say.

"Hey, don’t you go disparaging Doctor Brinkley. He’s doing a marvelous service for mankind.”

"What? Transplanting goat scrotums?”

"That’s a legitimate business, but, more importantly, he makes folks understand that their Number One Priority isn’t over the rainbow, it’s right between their legs.”

"Shut up, I’m listening!”

"I’m hearing you out there, your voice calling from the other side. I’m listening, please speak to me. Do you have a message?"

"Yeah,” I laugh. “Get me the hell out of here!”

"Did you say you want to get out? Then be free!"

That instant, the marshmallow fog vanishes and, with a giant bump, we land on an asphalt roadway, right in the path of a blue Plymouth, coming at us from the opposite direction. We both swerve to keep from hitting each other. He hits his horn and lets it blast for at least ten seconds as he heads past us. Up ahead, I see a road sign that says Tupelo ten miles.

(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil,  available on Kindle)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

1930s Desperados in Love and Death

"Five minutes,” says Clyde grandly, like it’s the Pledge of Allegiance. “Five whole minutes!”

Then I hear a muffled sobbing sound. Bonnie must be getting all emotional.

"What is it, Sis?”

"Oh, Daddy,” she squeaks, “what about if when we die, you go to heaven and I don’t? What’ll happen to us?” She starts to cry.

"Oh, Sis,” says Clyde. And I know that they’re in each other’s arms again.

"Oh, Daddy!”


"At least we gonna get to go down together. Isn’t that what we always said we wanted, Sis?”

"I know, but, what if…” Before she can finish, Clyde cuts her off.

"Reckon we’re just gonna have to explain to old Saint Peter that we’re a package deal. I’m sure we can get him to understand that.”

"Oh, Daddy, I love you! Don’t worry, I ain’t sceered.”

"All right!”

"Bonnie may not be scared, but I am. I’m so scared I’m shaking like a leaf. So this is how it ends. Shit. Maybe if I had my twelve-string in my hands, I could pick out a song that would buck me up a little for when that light gets turned off. Why’d I leave it behind in that car? Why, because I knew I was about to die in a hail of goddamn gunfire and I didn’t want it getting all shot up. I wanted someone else to have it to play songs on even if it was one of Frank Hamer’s boys.
(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil," available on Kindle)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Albert Speer, Hiding from Hitler in the Ruhr

Speer suddenly remembered an incident from ten years earlier when Hitler’s takeover of the government was still not entirely complete. Speer’s organization had been given offices in a building whose occupants were at variance with their orders to immediately vacate. When they didn’t move fast enough, someone sent in stormtroopers. Speer remembered coming in to look over his new office and finding a large bloodstain on the oriental rug on the floor. ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it immediately,’ they told him. Sure enough, the next time he went in, the blood-stained carpet was replaced by another. The incident was never mentioned and he hadn’t given it any thought until now.

But then it’s easy to have no conscience when all you’re is an acceptor, someone who does what he’s told and leaves it at that.

That night, sitting around the campfire, Speer decided to try to get Manni Loerber to talk.

“I have a question,” he said. “Do you mind telling me what all that stuff is you keep talking about at the factories, which always seems to compel everyone to throw away all caution? What does it all mean?”

Manni grinned. “It doesn’t mean anything, Herr Reichsminister. Look, let’s just keep this simple. You do your job, I’ll do mine. All right?”

Speer tried another tack. “You know, I saw you and your brothers perform many times back in the old days,” he said. “You seemed like such a fun bunch.”

Manni sat silently reflecting on it for a while, the light from the fire dancing on his face. “Yeah, well, it was a long time ago,” he said, like they were talking about someone he’d never met.

Then von Poser spoke up. “If I remember, Herr Manni, didn’t your brother Ziggy go into the Navy? He became a U-Boat captain, sank a lot of enemy ships. I don’t recall hearing of his death. Is he still alive?“

“I wouldn’t know colonel, we haven’t talked since before the war.”

“And your brother Franzi? What about him? Didn’t he join the SS? Wasn’t he doing some kind of research?”

A tiny spark of humor showed in his eyes, causing the curtains of his reserve to part just the slightest. “Yes, he’s one of the Reichsfuhrer’s seers.”


“Alchemist, actually. That was his training. But mostly they use him for horoscopes.”

Von Poser laughed. “Heinrich Himmler uses alchemists? That is too funny, Herr Manni.”

“You might not think it was funny if you were an alchemist having your talents squandered making horoscopes for people who have no future.”

“I can see your point,” chuckled von Poser. Everybody feared and hated Himmler and the thought of him shivering in front of an astrologer seemed particularly rich.

“What about your brother Sebastian?” asked von Poser. “He disappeared, didn’t he? For all the gossip the afternoon papers used to print about you boys, when he vanished no one said anything. Some people thought it might have been something, political.”

Manni shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Colonel. Father refused to talk about it.”

“And you, Herr Manni, what have you been doing all these years?”

“Oh? This and that.”

“Meaning precisely?”

“Meaning precisely, don’t ask.” But he said it without rancor.

“And now you’re part of a three-man campaign to save the Ruhr.”

“That’s right, and if you ask any more questions, it’ll be a two-man campaign in about thirty seconds.”

At around ten, they got back on the road heading to Nuremburg, but a couple hours into it, it began raining so heavily that they finally gave up. They found an abandoned farmhouse on the side of a hill overlooking Detmold and went to sleep there. When they awoke, shortly after dawn, it had stopped raining and the heavy gray cloud cover opened up to blue skies and swarms of enemy fighters. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere today,” declared von Poser. They found some dry wood and got a fire going. They made coffee, sliced some bread and opened their last remaining cans.

“What have we got?” asked Manni.

“Fish, potatoes, and gooseberries,” answered Speer.

“Sounds perfect,” said Manni.

“Colonel von Poser tells me that today is your birthday. Allow me to offer you many happy returns of the day.”

“Thank you,” said Speer, a little uncomfortably. They’d been traveling for a week and this was the first time the young man had directed anything personal towards either of them.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “In honor of the occasion, I shall teach you the single most important skill I know, one that will definitely guarantee your success in the postwar world.” But then he waved his finger at Speer. “But you must promise never to ask any more stupid questions.”

Speer stared at him, stunned, feeling a mixture of curiosity and fear. He hoped this would not have to involve making a pact with the devil. As it was he was already trying to weasel out of an existing one.
A chapter from Germania (Simon & Schuster, 2008) that didn't make the final edits. Kindle download available here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Deep Ellum Icon: Honest Joe's Pawn Shop

Here is an original sign (there were hundreds) from Honest Joe's Pawn Shop, for decades a Deep Ellum institution. Here is how I used it in "Friend of the Devil," as a pawn shop in Del Rio:

The tower bell starts ringing, bong, bong, bong, and that’s when I see, a block and a half up the street, a big sign for Honest Joe’s Pawn Shop, which I don’t remember being there before. Bong, bong, bong. So I wrap my arm tight around my guitar case and start running toward it. The whole way up, there’s folks standing there saying, Hey Slim, Hi Slim, Where you running to, Slim? And to each of them I give a nice, friendly how you all, because as anyone in the business will tell you, fans are money in the bank. bell is still ringing when I force myself to stop and catch my breath for a second before going in, because nothing good ever happens to anyone who comes too fast into a pawnshop. Honest Joe’s is really just a hole in the wall; less an emporium than a vestibule with a couple glass display cases filled with trays of watches, rings, and pocketknives.
Honest Joe is a little bald gnome of a man with green eyeshades, who sits perched on a swiveling metal high chair. He looks up from his racing form and swivels to face me. “Whattaya need?” he drawls.
I set my guitar case on the counter and open it. He tries not to look impressed, but he is. “That’s a Martin, innit?” he asks. I nod.
“I need a gun,” I tell him. 
(Excerpt from "Friend of the Devil," available on Kindle)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Speer at Glucksburg, the Night Before His Arrest

Manni helped Speer back to his room. Speer sat down on his bed while Manni rummaged through a dresser and found a pair of pajamas for him. “Do you need help getting into them?” he asked.

Speer shook his head. “Sit down, Loerber. Let’s have a last drink,” he said pointing to a nearby chair. Manni sat down while Speer brought out a bottle of schnapps and two glasses from a bedside table. He poured some into each glass and handed one to Manni. He raised his glass to Manni. Manni did the same to him.

“Happy Days,” said Manni.

“Happy Days,” answered Speer.

They drank. Manni drained his glass and set it down. Speer held on to his almost-empty glass and looked hard at Manni. “Am I a fool, Loerber?” he asked.

“Herr Reichsminister?” asked Manni.

“I mean it, Loerber. Tell me the truth. Do you think I am a fool?”

Sitting in his chair, Manni brought himself respectfully to attention. “Yes, Herr Reichsminister, I do think you are a fool.”

“Please tell me why?”

"Herr Reichsminister, is there any point?”

“Just tell me the truth.”

“Because you expect the whole world to see it your way,” said Manni. “You think that all you have to do is explain it to them, factually, in a helpful, reasonable voice, and the world will lose track of what you’ve done. Because you act candid, you assume they’ll accept your explanation that all you were was just a talented technocrat doing his job, no different from all the other people just like you who are doing the same thing all over the world. You think your reason and your irony is enough to keep the shit from touching you when the fact is you’re already up to your ears in it.”

Manni thought for a second, then added, “But beyond that, of course, I think you’re a great guy to work for.”

“And that’s why you’re still here?” Speer asked.

“That’s right.”

“You’re a spy, aren’t you?” said Speer.

Manni Loerber smiled like he’d just been paid a compliment. “And when did you come to that conclusion?” he asked.

Speer slowly shook his head. “In the Ruhr,” he said.

“You knew back in March and you haven’t done anything about it until now? I feel good about that.”

“You are a spy,” said Speer again. “Who are you working for?”

Manni answered proudly. “Herr Reichsminister, it was my honor to serve His Majesty, the King of England.”

Speer didn’t say anything for a while. Then he quietly muttered, “I guess I ought to be relieved it wasn’t the Russians.”

“Well I wouldn’t be too relieved,” said Manni. “It is my unfortunate understanding that all the best information got siphoned off by Soviet counter-spies and sent to Moscow.”

Speer thought about it. “Either way, Germany died.”

“I gather the Allied prognosis was that it was necessary to kill Germany in order to save it,” answered Manni.

“And your prognosis, Herr Loerber?”

“I don’t have one,” answered Manni. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

Speer smiled bitterly. “And I thought you were my friend. You betrayed me.”

Manni shook his head. “No Herr Reichsminister, it wasn’t betrayal.”

“It wasn’t? What was it?”

“It was serving two masters, Herr Reichsminister. And if I hadn’t served you well, we might have had this conversation sooner.”

Speer looked away, fuming with anger and humiliation.

Manni remained standing at attention. “Do you know what this is now?” he asked. “Herr Reichsminister, it is the end of the line. We are at the moment before the axe comes down. I heartily recommend you get some sleep. If you get up early enough, maybe you’ll get to eat breakfast before they come for you.”

Speer looked back up at Manni. “So what did the British pay you?” he asked bitterly.

“Thirty pieces of silver, what do you think? Listen, I’m a Jew, I’d have done it for free.”

“Suddenly everyone’s a Jew,” said Speer.

“I’m sorry,” offered Manni.

“Don’t be,” said Speer. “I’m sure I’m going to hell anyway.”

“Goodnight, Herr Reichsminister.” Manni turned to leave.

“So you’re a Jew?” asked Speer.

Facing Speer again, Manni smiled and gave a curt bow.

Speer shook his head angrily.

“If it’s any consolation, Herr Reichsminister, you almost succeeded in killing us off,” said Manni.

“So that’s what it is now?” said Speer. “You’re blaming me for that? You know I didn’t have anything to do with that.”

“Please, Herr Reichsminister,” said Manni. “Welcome to the rest of your life.”

“So what will become of me?” asked Speer.

“I don’t know,” said Manni. “I doubt they even know what they’re going to do. Ultimately these things tend to take on a life of their own.”

“Unless of course they just decide to kill me on the spot,” suggested Speer.

“That is always a possibility,” accepted Manni. “I don’t know anything other than it’s the Kibosh.”

“Kibosh?” asked Speer.

“It’s one of those American words,” said Manni.

“Ah,” said Speer.

“So what will become of you, Loerber?” asked Speer. “Will you go to London?”

Manni let out a short laugh. “I hope not,” he said. “I’d like to return to Berlin.”

“There’s not a lot there, you know,” Speer pointed out.

“Oh, I know,” answered Manni. “I’m not in that big a hurry. I’ve still got lots of friends in Hamburg. Some of them must be alive. I’m sure I’ll find something there.”

“So you’ve got it all figured,” said Speer.

“Only for the next day or so,” said Manni.

“I guess I should sleep,” said Speer.

“You’ll thank me in the morning, Herr Reichsminister.”

“I’m sure I won’t,” said Speer. “Do something for me, will you?”


“There’s some reports on my desk on the left-hand pile. Bring them to Galbraith. I’d like him to see them. Do this for me, Loerber.”
(Another chapter left out of the published version of Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008; Kindle copy available here).

Friday, January 9, 2015

Texas Bluesman Explains Why He Won't Gun Down Everyone Who Pisses Him Off

I walk straight through the house without looking at anything, past the dining room all set up for supper, and the living room with all the golden chairs and couches and lamps and all the historical paintings of Brinkley and his dick. I can hear the Mexican servants hurrying to catch up. One of them runs past me to get the door open before I get to it. As he pulls it open for me, a glass door opens in one of the ante-rooms next to the circular staircase. Two heads cautiously peek out. It’s Rose Dawn and The Great Koraan. The moment he recognizes me, his face reddens. Then I hear Rose Dawn cry out, “Herbert?” But I don’t stop., the night air is cool and sweet. The dark sky is bright with a sliver of moon and thousands of stars. My mind goes back to all those ancient-pretending paintings of Brinkley and it almost feels like what I just walked out of was Babylon itself. For a moment, I think about Hamer and find myself wondering if it was a mistake to have left him with those people. But that thought only lasts a moment and then I’m just glad to be away from them.

She called me Herbert in front of her husband and the Mexican servants. No telling who else knows it now. Great. This thing is starting to happen even faster than I’d expected. As I walk along the road toward town, I notice someone walking towards me from the opposite way. Even before I can make him out, I guess who it is. It’s that other guy. He sure does have a way of showing up.

I try to walk past him, but he keeps trying to block my path. For some reason he’s boiling angry. “You fucking asshole,” he shouts in a high-pitched voice. “What’d you have to do that for? I hand it to you on a fucking silver platter. Couldn’t you just let it happen? We’d have won. You’d have walked free. But you couldn’t do it. Why? Didn’t you see his pain? Don’t you see how the man was suffering? Why couldn’t you just let him do himself? Why do you have to play God.”

Fuck you,” I say. “I don’t believe in God.” That gets me so ticked off, for a second I actually consider taking out Old Lucky and going back and shooting him. But I don’t. If I shot everybody that pissed me off, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of people left. I don’t really hear what he says after that, except that I shouldn’t expect the next round to be any walk in the park.

By the time I finally get home to the rooming house, Jack is asleep on the rocking chair out front. As gently as I can, I pick him and carry him inside and put him down on his bed. Then I sneak into the kitchen to see if Mrs. Gruner might have put anything aside I could eat.
(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

German Navy Rusts in Flensburg Harbor

At the edge of the park was a hillside that overlooked the harbor. Ziggy lit a cigarette and stared out at the ships anchored there. Apart from all the U-Boats, there were destroyers, corvettes, minesweepers, patrol craft, and even a cruiser. And in all of them, probably not more than a few dozen crew still aboard. They were dead ships, the German Kriegsmarine was a dead navy. The victors would divide them among themselves. A few ships might live on a few years as workhorses or testing vessels. The rest would be broken up for scrap, used for targets or just sunk.

Then he realized the flying boats were gone. Cremer must have already got them towed up to the cove. Manni definitely had a clever idea. Had the flying boats remained there in plain view, they’d quickly stop seeming special and simply fade into the mosaic of rusting, derelict warships. But now, having been revealed and then promptly hidden, their mystique would exert itself deeper into the imagination, making the prospect of flying away in one all the more tantalizing. And that is precisely how they wanted Himmler to react. He wondered when he’d hear again from Manni or Westerby.

Ziggy remembered Franzi’s face in the car window. He looked a lot worse than that night in Ploen. Since then, the SS had completely disappeared. There were reports of large numbers of them still hiding in nearby forests and the British were wary of spreading themselves too thin to go on any extensive searches.

So where was he right now? Could he feel his way toward him? Once it had been easy to do, but he hadn’t done any of it in so long that he no longer even knew where to start. Ziggy kept trying to imagine Franzi somewhere, in a forest or a house or inside a vehicle, but each time he did, the idea failed to grow into anything real. He knew he was going about it the wrong way.

Was it possible he’d lost his ability? And what was that ability anyway? What were the mechanics of perception? Perhaps if he just focused on one thing, Franzi, was he far or near? What were his eyes seeing? What was he thinking? What did his skin feel? Warmth or cold? Cold or warmth? Cold. Dry or damp? Dry. What was he smelling? Cooked cabbage and tinned beef, cold and greasy on a plate. Cigarette smoke, open window and a night breeze, smell of pine. Pine trees outside the window, the wind blowing through them. They were in a farmhouse, inland, but still close enough to smell the sea. They were keeping within reach of Flensburg. There was a forest nearby, men hiding inside it. Lines of kubelwagens hidden under camouflaged tarps. They were staying put, waiting for something to come. Inside everyone was tense.

Ziggy opened his eyes. A bluebird was looking at him from a nearby branch. It chirped and then flew away. Ziggy went back to the office.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster 2008, Kindle download available here).