The motel just off the Freeway was boring and dusty. But if the precautions he’d taken to get there had been effective, he was safe. But Varella still didn’t “feel” safe. He’d finally broken down and purchased a gun. (Footnote 1) All he’d known was that he wanted a .357 Magnum because that’s what Clint Eastwood’s foes had used in that movie “Magnum Force.” He’d never really shot one of these things before, but the man in the gun shop had been only too willing to give a complete historical rundown on each and every type of gun made since the Civil war. The storeowner explained that .357 Magnum stood for the type of shell and not the name of the gun itself. So then he had to decide if he wanted a revolver or a semi-automatic. He settled on an autoload L.A.R. Grizzly Mag. MK I pistol. It was a big gun, about 11 inches in overall length and weighed a good 3 lbs. Apparently he could convert it to a 45 Win. Caliber if he ever wanted to. He didn’t know what that meant, but if it meant bigger, he doubted that he’d ever want to, it was already too big. It had a checkered rubber stock and carried a 7-shot magazine. Effective and deadly. But his enthusiasm fell when he tried to imagine what it would feel like in a shoulder holster. The thing was just too dang big. Slightly at a loss, he decided to go with a smaller one. He’d been looking around aimlessly when he saw a very beautiful looking gun.
As a young kid he had been a fan of war comics. One winter when he was about 11, his uncle had visited from England and had brought Varella the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes along with a whole set of British war comics. He had devoured the entire collection by the time the snow had melted and had became a fan of both. One of the black and white war comics had been a story revolving around the life of a pure, silver plated Luger. Since then Varella had always thought that these guns were the most evil yet beautiful looking guns he’d ever seen. This gun looked just like a Luger and it turned out to be exactly that. It was a Mauser Parabellum 08 Luger Pistol, and with a 4 inch barrel it was less than 9 inches in length and weighed in under 2 lbs. It used 9mm Parabellum bullets and carried 8 bullets in the magazine. While it didn’t have a pure silver plating, it did have a polished blue finish. Because it was imported, it was about 5 times as expensive as the L.A.R. Grizzly, so naturally the gun shop owner was only too glad to make that sort of a sale. Apparently someone had ordered it, left a deposit and had never returned to pick up the gun. The man also sold Varella a nice form fitting leather shoulder rig that kept the gun nice and snug and close to his heart. But he still had never shot a gun before in his life. That was tomorrow evening’s project. Find one of the indoor gun ranges recommended by the gun shop proprietor and do some target practice. The bullets came 50 to a box and he bought 2 boxes. It amazed him that he could potentially kill 50 men for less than $20. If he could hit them with this thing. Well, tomorrow he’d have a chance to empty a box of these things into a drawing of a man. Maybe he could color the target’s hair blonde.
But first, he had to bury his dead.
The funeral took place the next morning, it was the Saturday, not quite a week after the tragic happenings at 126777 Coe Ln. Things normally would have happened quicker, but this had not been a normal death and certain things like autopsies and investigations had to take place first.
It was all very illegal but Varella wore the Luger under his left armpit, if he hugged someone, he’d have to do it with his left elbow low over the gun. That way they wouldn’t feel the bulk of the gun. He felt rather dashing and at the same time rather foolish wearing the gun. Twice, he almost took it off before he left, but it comforted him, at least he wouldn’t go easily if they came after him. He’d practiced setting and releasing the safety with the unloaded gun in front of the mirror a few times before he felt comfortable with the concept of carrying a loaded gun under his heart where he could accidentally put a bullet in his into his rib cage.
Varella expected it to be a small gathering and indeed it was reasonably so. Mrs. Wassau, Carl’s mother, Sandy, Carl’s widow and Cynthia his sister, were all there in black. Varella looked around, over by the entrance, was Carl’s grandparents. He glanced at Carl’s grandfather, Carl Perlman Sr., he was Mrs. Wassau’s father. “Gramps” and Carl had been the closest of friends. Varella had long envied the ties between Carl and his grandfather, he’d always wished his own grandfather had lived that long. He had always liked and trusted Gramps, ever since they’d first met while both he and Carl had been in college together. Now as he watched Gramps, he could see how decimated the old man was. A lot of his vigor and life seemed to have faded. For the first time in his life Gramps actually looked old. Varella cursed the ‘Tall Man’ and his men for what they had done to this family.
Though she should have sat in the front pew, Sandy sat by Varella, silent throughout the whole service. He knew she must have been going through hell, but he found himself incapable of reaching out to her. Varella wondered what was going through her mind, if it had been anything like what he’d been going through, she must have been going through hell. He hadn’t seen Carl’s body since that night, he hadn’t wanted to. He realized that everything was still a blur and he was probably in a daze. Somewhere in the back of his mind Carl was still alive, though the bloodied image of his best friend spitting out blood kept haunting him.
Father William, the priest who was speaking, hadn’t known Carl, but he seemed to imply that Carl had been a religious person. The priest went on about redemption in Christ Jesus Our Lord and Saviour, and then read the 23rd Psalm. Varella vaguely remembered it from his childhood. He didn’t listen to much of it. He didn’t want to think of death. Death only happened to people in the news or in another part of the country. Not to his friends, his friends were too young to die. There was that dull ache in his stomach. What does happen to you when you die? It scared him, he put it out of his mind. This whole funeral was so depressing and seemed so hopeless. He wanted to walk away and pretend it hadn’t happened.
Once all the religious stuff was over, the usher announced that the guests were to walk by the coffin to pay their last respects. Varella didn’t want to go up to the coffin and look at Carl. He wanted to remember Carl alive, joking around, full of zest. He wanted to remember the Carl that had plotted with him to put the frog in the punch at the AKO “Luau by the Sea Dance.” Somebody had already spiked the punch and the frog had gotten drunk.
When his turn came it was towards the end, because he’d been sitting in the pew right behind the family. He hesitantly approached the coffin, guiding and supporting Sandy ahead of him. Carl lay there, his hands crossed over his chest. Varella recognized Carl’s nose and mouth, but the rest of his face didn’t seem right somehow. It was puffy and it looked like putty. The color was all wrong too. He also noticed that they’d put make up on Carl’s face, lots of it. Suddenly he felt very sick and weary. Ahead of him Sandy turned and buried her face in Varella’s chest, her sobs shaking her body. He held her very tightly with his right arm around her, yet carefully making sure she didn’t run into his heavy holster on his left. His heart was breaking for her. His tenderness surfacing finally as he held her close. She seemed so delicate.
Varella was one of the pall bearers as expected, but he’d been slightly surprised to find out that he hadn’t known any of the other pall bearers. He wondered who’d selected them. Nevertheless the funeral went smoothly and Carl was buried with full Masonic honors. Varella hadn’t remembered that Carl was a Mason, they’d last talked about it five to six years ago. They provided a lot of dignity to the burial. He was grateful to them for that.
As they dropped the coffin into the ground and covered it up, he felt a sense of panic. How would Carl breathe? How could they put him away like that? But then he calmed down. Carl was dead. Carl had been killed.
After the refreshments, he looked around the small crowd, gathered there in the lawn of the Memorial Chapel. Carl’s sister Cynthia, Carl’s mom Sue and Gramps, her father, were thanking the friends who had attended. Sandy didn’t seem to be around. Varella was again reminded of the toll this death had taken on this wonderful family. He turned his attention to Gramps. Gramps’ business seemed to be always minting money and as he well knew, their stocks were really booming these days. Varella wondered if Carl’s family had ever been poor. It seemed like Grandfather Carl Perlman had always been a very wise old rich corporate executive. He walked over to the old man, Gramps smiled wearily as he saw Varella’s familiar face. He took Gramps’ hand and was pleasantly surprised as the friendly old man pulled him and hugged him tightly. Then in a panic he remembered the gun and dropped his arm low, keeping his left side slightly back. There was a lot of sadness in the hug. Slowly Varella stepped back and looked at the familiar wizened face of this man who’d sort of replaced his own Grandfather many years ago.
“Varella” said Gramps in his low stately voice, “Varella, you are now our only son.” There were tears in the old man’s eyes. Gramps paused for a bit. Then continued “My boy, there are items that will need to be cleared up, I was hoping that you would take Carl’s place by his mother’s side in the next few days. She requires the support and you know how much you mean to her. I shall be sending someone by Carl’s office to clean up his belongings, I can understand that that would be the last thing that you would want to do at this time, but it needs to be done. And the sooner you do it, the better you will feel. The lawyers have already started all the legal proceedings on the will and upon Carl’s estate. Sue has indicated to me that she would very much like you to be present at the reading of the will and she would also appreciate your presence at the house. I think that that would be a very good and healthy idea. It would certainly raise her spirits. It will remind her of the good times, it will remind her that life still goes on in the midst of death.”
Sue was Carl’s mother, the only daughter of Carl Perlman Sr. Varella had always known exactly where Carl had gotten his strength and resolve. It had been from his mother’s father. Carl had respected his father, but had always idolized his maternal Grandfather, and it could be seen in him. Carl had grown up with the same manner and drive as Gramps Perlman. One thing Varella knew was that, if anyone was going to help him find Carl’s killers, it would be Perlman and the old man’s far reaching influence, not Brinks and his men. Gramps’ attention was distracted by one of the family and Varella respectfully stepped out of hearing to allow them privacy.
Somebody touched his arm lightly, he turned. It was Sue. Her eyes were red but she put on a brave smile. Still conscious of the gun, he hugged the little woman carefully and kissed her cheek. It wasn’t necessary to talk. There wasn’t anything that could be said. Yet he felt that at least he could it would be proper to reassure her even if it was only for the gesture. “I’ll be right here, if you ever need anything, Sue. You can leave a message on my answering machine at home. I’ve moved out of the apartment temporarily, but I’ll be back there tonight to pick up my mail and stuff. I’ll keep checking my messages.”
She nodded silently.
“We will catch these men” he said awkwardly, not knowing if it was appropriate to say this here, “I know we will catch them,” he hesitated, wanting to reassure her, “because I know what they look like.”
She nodded sadly and indifferently. Varella realized that catching the people who had done this, was not something that was on her mind at this moment. She was still mourning her dead.
When Varella turned around, he noticed that Gramps had finished talking with the Uncle. He wondered if he should mention having seen the killers to Gramps, Gramps would know what to do, but before he could speak, Cynthia slipped herself under his right arm and gave him a hug. By the time they’d talked for a few minutes, Gramps was surrounded by more people. Varella decided that he’d bring it up some other time. This probably wasn’t the appropriate place anyway.
Varella stood there slightly apart from everyone for a second, he thought of Carl’s face lying in the coffin. Carl was dead. There was an empty hole in his gut. He wanted to leave and go somewhere, but he couldn’t decide if he’d feel worse somewhere else.
Varella turned, he didn’t have the foggiest idea who the man addressing him was. “Yes?”
“I’m Josh Nunsson, Carl and I became friends just months before his death. Can I speak with you in private, away from here? It is very important.”
Varella sensed a bit of urgency, and tried to size up the situation. What better place to find your victim than at Carl’s funeral. The man was huge, easily 6′ 6″, had dishwater blonde hair and looked like a football linebacker, plus Varella didn’t feel like talking to anyone right then.
“I’m sorry I don’t think this would be an….” then he remembered a question from a time that felt like it had been centuries ago. The cop that night at Carl’s house had asked him “Are you Josh?” He’d forgotten about that.
Who was Josh? Carl had obviously asked for Josh on his death ‘bed’. Was this that Josh? If so, how did this football player looking person fit in the picture? Maybe he was one of the men who had killed Carl. Varella felt the heavy loaded gun under his armpit and felt more confident. This may be a lead and if so, he’d better follow it. “Actually let me just say goodbye and we can go somewhere private.”
As they left Varella made sure that enough people saw them together, especially Brinks who looked like he belonged among this rich crowd. Something about that bothered him, he shook it off, it would come to him later.
Just as he was about to step out the door behind Josh, one of Brinks’ men stopped him with a message. Josh had already stepped out. The note said “Don’t forget the trap!” Varella turned and caught Brinks’ eye across the lawn, neither of their expressions changed, Brinks gave an almost imperceptible nod and then he was gone, covered behind a group of people. Varella doubted that anyone had caught the transaction. Don’t forget the trap.
Varella followed Josh in the newly rented black Mustang. He wasn’t taking any chances and he stayed a few cars behind the big man. The ride was short as there were a number of nice restaurants as close as 3 blocks away in the quaint downtown area of this little ritzy suburb. In the back of his mind the memory of Sandy, looking pale and hugging him very tightly remained. He hadn’t seen her leave.
1. Before the passage of California’s “Cool Down” period and “Instant Check” laws.