It comes up from time to time when I think of Sri Aurobindo. Like I wrote in the first essay on this blog, I cannot relate well to the man at all except for the fact that he was mightily overtaken by the Spirit while in prison and on trial for his life. It is a common syndrom, the jail house conversion. I recall he sat through his trial in something of an ecstatic, non-dual trance. I cannot say I knew personally anyone who could make the same claim. Michael, who’s story I tell below, sat through his in a trance but it was not of the sort where the consciousness is overwhelmed in the ineffable apprehension of cosmic wholeness. Michael’s was induced to overcome some of the side effects of his conversion and to set him up…but to all of that soon enough.
Killing The Beast, I believe, was the name of a thread someone started on a now dead forum long ago. It was about rooting out evil. I wrote this piece for that thread and then never put it up. But now let’s consider evil, consider the Beast.
So we wonder at The Beast. I’ve been an artist too long so I tend to forget, I no longer remember to wonder each morning at The Beast. But today might be the time to be conscious again in this manner to see what we are trying to kill here and what we would be well advised to keep of The Beast. For 18 years, doing work as a p.i., I tried to keep people from going to jail, or to get them out of jail, or to keep them off the gurney that rolls down the concourse to the Needle. The Beast roams at large in that concourse and breathes in, breathes out through that slight steel tube. My client Michael was on his way there once.
Michael talked to the wall for a month, maybe more, after he turned himself in. He was a sweet young man, quiet and dutiful, with a wife and a baby a week away. He had a job and a car. The Beast rode in that car because he put the two young women in the trunk and took them out east of Albuquerque and killed one with his knife and the tire iron, but the other, with 17 stab wounds and two skull fractures got away. Michael’s wife helped him turn himself in and he didn’t talk to anyone except The Virgin who apparently finds a residence in the wall of many an institution. The Beast slept in the bunk while Michael no doubt spilled his life to Our Lady of the Psych Ward Wall and he probably talked of cars, his car, his mother’s car when he was young and Mom let her brother sodomize her son in the back seat on their way into town. Cars; it will be a long time until Michael rides in one for he will probably live out his life somewhere near the concourse where The Beast lives and breathes. The Beast breathed enormous doses of stelazine and thorazine into Michael while he was standing trial so that he wouldn’t get distracted into a chat with Our Lady of the Court House Floor because that would make him look insane and someone incompetent of committing a capital crime. And though he wasn’t competent and wasn’t guilty in the capital definition, the State liked The Beast’s breath because it made Michael look sane enough and sociopathic enough (Google “stelazine stare”) for a jury to want to kill him. And it worked. But we got him free of Death Row and his mother was touched with the work we did to save her baby, Michael, the good little boy she beat up on a few too many times.
There was another guy who was talking in those days to Our Lady of the Cell Block Wall. They called him Weepie. Weepie and a man with the last name Chavez killed Joe A. in the Cell Block 3 (Maximum Security) exercise yard where The Beast was working out while the two stabbed Joe A. 47 times before the guards got him free of his handcuffs. Weepie needed that kill for some inside credibility and I think that when Ricky issued the contract on Joe A. he picked Weepie as a favor. Ricky looked out after his people that way. Weepie needed someone like Ricky to front for him because Weepie was the skinniest guy in the joint, he had that wretched name because he still had his tear-drop tat from his juvie days, and worst of all he looked just like Olive Oyle. Chavez had wanted to kill Joe A. on his own and he didn’t want to be in trial with Weepie because Weepie was just Weepie and that was a bad drug on the Chavez image especially now that Weepie had religion and was enjoying long and fruitful exchanges with Our Lady of the Protective Custodial Wall. The Beast was all round that morning while Chavez was telling me this. I was working for the widow of Joe A. in her civil rights and wrongful death suit against the State of New Mexico. Chavez, whose business with the A. Family had been successfully concluded, hoped she could loot the State for all she could carry away. And, indeed, she made out alright because it wasn’t hard to prove that the Warden knew and the Captain of the Shift knew and the Lieutenant for Cell Block 3 knew, and the Assistant Warden for Security knew and even the New Mexico State Secretary of Corrections knew that Joe A. was going to be killed if he went into the exercise yard that morning and they did nothing at all, nothing, to stop it. The Beast had been busy all around.
Ricky was already on Death Row the morning they killed Joe A.; sent there for having killed that other Cell Block 3 prisoner from Las Cruces and the new guard with one week’s tenure, both at the same time, both of them in the middle of Cell Block 3 where no two prisoners were to be out of their segregated cells at the same time. (Ricky was a wizard.) At his sentencing to The Needle, Ricky looked the new guard’s mother in the eye and apologized for killing her son, but the kid had, in effect, committed suicide when he tried to stop Ricky from doing what he needed to do which was to kill the guy from Las Cruces.
Ricky laughed when he told me this, but then he said he meant it and he genuinely felt sorry for her, sitting there in court looking like just another sorry assed Anglo woman with the thinnest kind of blood and the weakest sort of will.
Quite often when I went into that prison to chase the facts around I would have them bring Ricky in from Death Row so the two of us could kick back in the legal interview room, Ricky would drink the Coca Cola I brought him while I told him why I was there and then he could pass the word on his way back to his cell that it was alright to talk with me. It was like a courtesy call.
Ricky and I were hanging there one morning when into the adjacent room the guards ushered a fat, middle aged, red faced White guy who was doing life for a couple of psychopathic motivated murders. He had spent almost his entire sentence in protective custody because he was “mental,” a freak, and as such wasn’t tolerated well in such close confines. But some months before, due to overcrowding, the administration had farmed him out to a county jail in an end- of-the-world kind of hamlet called Estancia. He behaved himself so well there the Sheriff made him the office dispatcher on the night shift. Three nights before we saw him there in the next room, the fat man had walked away from the dispatcher’s desk and caught a ride to Albuquerque . The night after that he hired a cab to take him to a restaurant and on their arrival had killed the cabby and had been hauled down by some bystanders and witnesses when he tried to run. He was back in custody within 10 minutes and back in prison almost as soon. When the guards brought him in to see his lawyer, Ricky’s blood went up. He forgot I was in the room, forgot perhaps how to talk. His focus froze on the Fat Man and we sat there for almost five minutes without words. I said nothing, just listened to Ricky breathe because the Fat psychopath was a loose cannon, loose on Ricky’s watch and he wanted the Fat Man dead because Ricky had more power in that prison than the warden and a responsibility to keep it orderly. Ricky was not a psychopath, he was a warrior from a cultural substrate with alternative values, and perspectives, and economies that generally ran totally counter to the norm. His sentence to The Needle was commuted to Life the same time Michael’s was, along with five others. We cleaned up that day; it was on a Thanksgiving.
The County Sheriff who used the Fat Man as a dispatcher lost his job the next election, it was no big surprise. A few months later he and I were sitting around a vacant jury room in the court house in a town called Los Lunes. It was a criminal trial. I was working for the defense and he was a witness for the prosecution. He asked if I had heard what had happened that morning in Santa Fe. No, I had not because I’d been away from home for a couple of days. So he told me the story of a man named Andy who had been charged with first degree murder. Andy’s lawyer, a few weeks prior, had pled him to the lesser charge of second degree, and the previous day the judge sentenced him to seven years in prison with the obligation to pay the former wife of the man he killed $100,000 restitution to make up for the child support she would no longer receive. Early that morning Andy went to the former wife’s mobile home and shot her dead. He then went to the court house to take the judge hostage while he made his break for god knows where. But the judge was late in coming to work and that screwed Andy’s plan. He tried to run and a deputy sheriff, a Santa Clara Pueblo Indian named Naranjo, brother of a friend of mine, shot him down. Naranjo put a pistol full of bullets into Andy in the lobby of the Santa Fe County Court House where The Beast was all around. I thought, as I listened to this story, of how I had less than six months before sat at Andy’s kitchen table and talked with his wife and son and him about how the man he killed, the uncle of his son’s wife, had been threatening his son, threatening Andy too. One day the word was out that the uncle-in-law and another family member were going to make good on the threat that night. The son went out looking for the pair. Andy, out of his mind with worry, went out to find the three of them. He confronted the uncle in the drive way of the mobile home where his former wife lived. Andy thought the man was reaching for a weapon that was said to be always close at hand. Andy pulled a pistol, shot twice, hit once and drove away. The Uncle walked across the driveway, sat down on the steps to the former wife’s front door and bled to death with The Beast lounging there beside him.
Andy was a shy, pleasant, worried, round little middle class lath and plaster contractor who had an acute brain disorder triggered by fermented barley. They found out about that one too late and the judge would not let it be admitted into evidence at the sentencing where The Beast was watching from the back row.
The next night I left Los Lunas and headed south to a mountain town with a cowboy dealer who had hired me to help his lawyer make 24 ounces of cocaine, thirteen pounds of marijuana, two and a half gallons of crystal meth, a couple blocks of hash, and 1,200 tabs of LSD legally disappear because to all involved the FBI had obviously lied on the sworn affidavit for the search warrant, an act that should make those pharmaceuticals inadmissible as evidence. After I had spent several days finding witnesses to the fed’s big lie, the cowboy came around and told me that the next day he had a meeting with Another Busted Dealer and they were going to be talking snitches and rats. But the two men didn’t know each other, or each others friends, or each others enemies, or anyone’s real name and neither knew where the other one stood on the issues of a high-rolling cattleman dealer who always got busted but never was charged, or the guy who got his product wholesale along the border in guns-for-drug deals and who had been busted a few weeks before and might have been the one who had rolled over on them. When the feds searched the house of the gun runner they found an original Yoko Ono piece hanging above the couch. It had once been stolen in a burglary at the Dakota Hotel and god knows The Beast hung there. The gun runner told the cowboy and me that he had always thought the piece was a copy. We’d had our meeting with this man on foot along a dirt road that ran through the hills, his call. And we had every reason to believe that he had a second who wasn’t all that far away with a rifle because things can turn funny-shaped suddenly when strangers are talking snitches and rats. That was why the cowboy asked me to be in place to take up his slack if the meeting went sour with the Other Busted Dealer.
I was the first one at the 7-11 parking lot, site of the rendezvous. The cowboy had rented for my driving pleasure and general transport a Lincoln Town Car and this was where I was topping off the tank. The Other Busted Dealer and his side-kick showed up next. I knew them for their Jeep CJ and their ski clothes, the two guys I was going to start shooting at, if and when… They went inside and I went in behind them. One bought a candy bar and the other one jerky. I paid for the gas and bought a newspaper to cover my pistol that lay between me and The Beast in the passenger seat. The Cowboy showed up last in his pickup and the Other Busted Dealer, quick like, climbed in beside him and off they drove. I slipped the Lincoln out onto the highway behind them just ahead of the sidekick in the Jeep. The trick was to stay three cars back and still make all the same lights. They drove into the hills on a winding road and pulled into the back lot of a time-share complex. I drove past, around a hairpin switchback and pulled to a stop on the wrong side of the road right above the pickup and watched the animated conversation through its rear window.
I had time then to take what seemed like a leisurely inventory of my life to that date and I found that I could not have been more pleased with where I had been, where I sat now and who I was. Robert Service once wrote: “The world’s a jolly good joke to him, and now is the time to laugh, ” so I did. And I found a familiar heat rising up my spine, radiating into the viscera, infusing my heart with delicious longing, doubling my lung capacity, forcing into my throat; if I had then anything to say it probably would have been spoken in a language that no one else had ever heard either. When it reached my ears all the white noise within miles became harmonized notes in the perfect overture to this highly localized little celebration. And then I saw all into eternity turn crisp and glowing, and despite the vividness of shape and color, eradicate all boundaries and all frontiers, and fuse with me into an indivisible totality; shipped straight back to the non-dual again…in a clumsy Lincoln Town Car with only a newspaper, a pistol, and The Beast.
Everything seemed straight between the Cowboy and the Other Busted Dealer who got out of the pickup and strolled across the lot to a time share. I drove down past the driveway just before the Cowboy pulled onto the road to show him I was still around and still on the clock. I don’t suppose given all the events that The Beast was too disappointed…there was after all a little commonality with the Sri.