Excerpt from Jalapeño Republic by Robert J. Alvarado
Heading into Los Angeles, Cisco activated the channel to Gus. “Gus, what do you have for me? I’m fifty miles east of downtown Los Angeles.”
“Nada. I don’t have an exact address yet, but I’m working on it. The old area is setup weird with common garages on the street,” Gus responded. “I know it’s near Sunset and Echo Park. The area will be like Old Town. They can still drive on tires there.”
“Traffic is crazy. I’ve had some weird looks from people. This ranfla sticks out like a sore thumb.”
“Oh yeah, something you need to know. I’m getting cross-reference blips from some source I think is trying to track you. I can’t get to the source because it keeps moving around, but will keep trying,” Gus continued sounding a bit worried.
“Is it security headquarters?” Cisco asked.
“No. It is some other source, a low-level old-fashioned scanner. I can’t isolate it.”
“Keep trying Gus.”
The news that someone was tracking him was not a surprise, however it made him uneasy. When Comsys alerted him to his destination, he descended from the aeropath and found himself hovering over the dilapidated baseball stadium. The open air baseball stadium with blue seats sat in a large ravine surrounded by an empty parking lot. A weathered large blue and white sign was still legible as Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers were big rivals for the Chihuahua Cubs and Cisco had seen them play at the Chihuahua stadium numerous times. Apparently, this was the old stadium and no longer in use.
Flying west, Cisco caught his first view of the older area of Echo Park. Surprisingly, he found it hilly with lots of green vegetation. Small houses dotted the tree covered hills. Circling the area again, Cisco looked for a place to touch down. He got lucky and a spot opened near a busy eatery. Parking the red car not too far from the Pioneer Chicken Ranch on the corner of Sunset Blvd and Portia Street, he sat watching lines of people waiting at the restaurant for their food.
The gaudy neon lights of the Chicken Ranch were lit even though it was daytime. Reflections from the neon lights sparkled on ranflas parked around it. They all had a similar style, though very different than the red one he drove. Six or seven ranflas were parked near the restaurant and dozens of young men dressed in an unusual style were standing nearby.
Arturo and his gang tailed Cisco into Los Angeles, keeping close as they followed the blip from the red car. They saw him park near a busy corner, but they had to park around the corner and down several streets.
“Flaco, go keep an eye on him,” Arturo demanded. The area worried him. Perhaps the driver had brought the red ranfla to L.A. to sell.
Flaco jumped out quickly, heading in the direction of the red car parked several blocks away. The intersections were busy with people, and he was surprised by functioning traffic signals for both pedestrians and ground-level vehicles.
Sitting in the red car Cisco activated the Pcom and heard Gus pick up immediately. “What’s the matter?” Gus asked.
“I hope you got something for me, cause it is not good here.”
Gus had told him the area was rough, though this was not what Cisco expected. The Chicken Ranch seemed a hangout for gangbangers and lowriders. Small groups of young men gathered at the corner whistling and yelling at passing cars and flashing hand signs. A row of decked-out motorcycles were parked near each other and several men in heavy boots and jackets stood near them. They were definitely Hispanic and all wore the same color bandana tied around their foreheads.
Another group of young men were dressed in karate-style clothes. Two were pushing each other, while several others egged on a fight. The situation made Cisco cringe. When Gus said it made Old Town look like Disneyland, he was making an understatement.
“I’m in the middle of a biker and lowrider convention and it doesn’t look good for me,” Cisco said.
“Oh, those must be some of the gangs that control that area. During the financial collapse of the United States, gang wars started in most of the large cities. Los Angeles was overrun by several ethnic gangs who sectioned off the city, running drugs, and taking protection money. The gangs or locals invented names for themselves. The bikers are the Mayans, if they are Hispanic,” Gus explained.
“Yes. I can see that name on one of the biker’s jacket. The lowriders look different. They look more Asian to me,” Cisco said.
“Those may be the Kudo kai, a minor arm of the Japanese Yakuza syndicate. Lots of people just refer to them as japovatos.”
“The Japanese word for mixed is japa, so the locals just started calling the downtown Asian gangs, japovatos. Mostly they are a mixed race of Hispanic and Japanese families who have lived in the area for ages,” Gus explained. “They speak some weird mixed Spanish and Japanese slang.”
“How dangerous are they?” Cisco asked.
“The Mayans are more dangerous. The japovatos can cause trouble, but now the gangs in Los Angeles are more like our Old Town gangs and most of it is show. They usually don’t make serious trouble outside of their area,” Gus told him.
“Well I hope not, because here comes four of them.” Cisco terminated the call.
Cisco watched four japovatos approaching quickly. They wore skin tight shorts with gray silk tops that resembled karate tops. Two wore an orange silk belt wrapped around their waists, another one wore blue, while the man in front had a black sash.
Cisco briefly thought about lifting off and leaving, then decided to get out of the car to meet them instead. In an instinctive move, he removed the Chihuahua Cubs baseball cap.
“Ano, ese, doko vienes?” the black belted japovato asked Cisco as he walked up. His speech was deep and guttural. He pulled at Cisco’s t-shirt saying something else to his friends and laughed. Cisco figured they wanted to know who he was and where he came from. The one wearing a blue belt walked around the red ranfla nodding his head up and down.
“Española, New Mexico,” Cisco lied, forcing a wide grin. At least the car was from Española.
As Flaco rounded the last corner, the neon sign of the Pioneer Chicken Ranch blazed in the afternoon sun. Parked on one side of the restaurant was a line of motorcycles. Bikers dressed in leather jackets and black boots stood nearby. On the other two sides, odd looking ranflas gleamed in the sunshine. They were nothing like the lowriders of Española or Old Town Dublán. These were sleek and streamlined. Young men wearing tight-fitting outfits milled nearby. Four of them were talking to the driver of the red car. Turning around, he walked quickly back to where Arturo had parked.
Leaning in the window he said, “Crazy shit, ese. There are crazy-looking ranflas. Some of their gang are talking to the vato. This is not so good. We need to get out of here.”
“You’re a culón,” Arturo called Flaco a chickenshit. “Go back and keep an eye on him,” he growled.
“I’m telling you, we got to get out of here. There is a biker gang and a bunch of weird looking ranflas. There are four of them talking to the driver of your car.”
Blackbelt’s dark slanted eyes turned into long slits. “Nani ases koko?” He demanded to know why Cisco was here, making hand gestures when he spoke. Cisco noticed calloused formations on the first two knuckles of each hand.
As Blackbelt continued to express his displeasure at Cisco’s presence, his three cohorts walked around the car making comments and touching it. Cisco was not sure if they liked it or thought it was weird.
“Mi primo vive aquí en Echo Park, ese,” Cisco told him he was he here to visit his cousin. Very slowly he slid his right hand down to the side of his pants and felt for the tiny laser in his pocket. “¿Ese, tienes problema con eso?” he asked calmly if that was a problem. He tried to speak in street slang like a lowrider and made no threatening moves.
Blackbelt’s lips tightened and his right hand retracted to his side into a fist. “Anata wa koko no eres bienvenido aquí debes irte,” he hissed in his lingo near Cisco’s ear. The odd mixtures of Spanish and Japanese slang told Cisco he was unwelcome and should leave, now.
“No problema,” Cisco assured him, “I’m just visiting my cousin, ese. I’ll be gone in the morning.”
“Horale mishiranu hito,” BlackBelt hissed. “¡Ano ne, vamonos!” Blackbelt called to his friends to leave.
As the four japovatos strode away, Cisco watched them jump into a sleek silver and black aerorider. It lifted and headed west above Sunset Boulevard. He got back in the red car and sank low into the seat. Slowly he breathed in and out, trying to relax after the encounter with the strange japovatos. He activated the channel to Gus.
“Hey Cisco, you okay?” Gus asked.
“Yes, so far. The japovatos spoke in a mix of Japanese and Spanish, good enough for me to understand. They told me to leave now. I need a place to go.”
“The car is still parked on Echo Park Ave. I just can’t figure out for sure which house they might be in. I’m searching the utility records and stuff like that to try to figure it out. Is there a shopping center or parking lot where you could chill for a while?” Gus asked. Cisco thought and remembered the empty Dodger Stadium parking lot and told Gus about it.
“Good. Go there and I’ll call you as soon as I know something.”
Cisco started the ranfla and drove ground level on Alvarado Street. Staying on ground level seemed like a good idea with the japovatos patrolling the sky. Shortly, he found Stadium Way and wound toward the stadium parking lot. The parking area’s gate was ripped from the hinges and hung as a twisted reminder of a bygone time. The asphalt was cracked with humps of pavement buckled in a long ridge across a wide area. Weeds and small bushes pushed up through the cracks. Cisco wondered why the old stadium had not been demolished. Parking in the shade of a large tree, he opened the windows and stretched out his six-foot frame as much as possible and tried to relax.
Flaco headed back toward the corner of Sunset and Portia. He was a block away when he realized the red car was gone from the parking space. “Mierda,” he cursed. Running back to Arturo, he was out of breath when he jumped into the blue car.
Arturo glanced at the scanner, which had not blipped. “Fuck, he’s on the ground. You fucking let him get away you idiot,” Arturo cursed.
Arturo lifted the blue car and headed down Sunset Blvd hoping to spot the red car driving on ground level. The hand held scanner showed nothing. Not a very powerful scanner, it could only locate the beacon if it was airborne and within about ten miles. He crisscrossed Echo Park Lake, flew back over the Chicken Ranch, and hovered over a large park. The red car was nowhere. Arturo lifted higher and flew off west on Sunset Blvd.
A sleek black and silver ranfla came up behind him and one of the passengers made hand signs. Arturo knew the signals were not friendly, but there was no way he was leaving without finding his red car.
“Hey,” Flaco said. “I saw that ranfla at the chicken place. It’s the same guys that talked to the pinchevato.”
Flying above street level, the late afternoon traffic was getting heavy, forcing Arturo’s car to slow down. The silver and black ranfla was on his tail. After several blocks, Arturo grinned when he saw Comsys light flash red to indicate an impending stop. Accelerating, he deliberately flew through the intersection and made a sharp left turn. The traffic infraction set off an alarm on his Comsys. The black and silver ranfla tried to follow, but was stopped in the middle of the intersection.
“With luck the police will get them and not us,” Arturo said hoping the traffic control police were the same here in Los Angeles as most of the rest of the Jalapeño Republic. With any luck, the traffic police would assume the local gang was the source of the problem. Arturo circled another corner and landed on a street not too far away.
It did not take long for the LAPD’s traffic control officers to recognize a familiar ranfla stopped in an intersection. The LAPD officers forced the Comsys of the black and silver car to land. The japovatos were not surprised by the turn of events. They knew the procedure well.
“Baka, pinche vatos, los mataré,” the driver swore, vowing to kill the fucking vatos in the blue car.
Cisco groaned bumping his knee on the dashboard as his body stretched on the uncomfortable seat. Disoriented, his brain thought he was back on Mars in his small sleeping pod. The single bed in the pod was barely enough for his large frame and how he and Monica managed to have sex took a bit of contortion. Dozing off again, he pictured Monica’s face, but it quickly morphed into Vivian’s. Images of stripping the rose-colored bodysuit from Vivian’s firm body were etched in his brain. Her body had only aged in a good way from when they were teenagers. Her breasts and hips slightly plumper, while her body tone was tight and muscular.
Suddenly the Pcom chirped him out of his visions. “Shit,” he cursed shaking his head as he opened the channel on the Pcom. It was after 6:30 PM and deep twilight shadows cut across the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
“Did you have a nice sleep?” Gus asked and laughed. “I was going to wake you, but not much is happening, so thought I’d let you sleep.”
“You got the address for the sedan yet?” Cisco asked trying to shake the sleep from his brain.
“The car is parked in a single garage on Echo Park Avenue between 2225 and 2227 on the west side of the street,” Gus answered. “It’s moved twice today, but always comes back. I checked the satellite records. The satellite signal from 2227 had 97 calls for 245 minutes, 2225 had one. My guess is that’s the house, but you’ll have to check it out from the ground.”
“You sound groggy,” Gus said.
“Still a little space weary, I guess. Have you picked up anything from security headquarters?” Gus had told Cisco he would monitor the secure channels of the Republic for any chatter about the case or anything he thought odd.
“No. Nothing much. They sent out two operatives in opposite directions, maybe as subterfuge or maybe on legit assignments. Not sure. I saw your report to headquarters go through. The beacon is not working, so they are most likely confused.”
“What about the tracking signal you noticed?”
“It stopped. It was probably nothing.”
“Thanks. I’ll call you when I get to the location. I just want to get the girl and get out of here.”
Starting the car, he lifted from the old Dodgers Stadium parking lot and turned northwest. Flying low he told Comsys the address and let it map the route. According to Gus, it should not be far.
Arturo had almost given up finding the red ranfla. It was like finding a needle in a haystack without the use of the scanner. They had been cruising for several hours and the rush hour traffic was getting crazy and busy.
“This is stupid, Chingon,” Oso whined. “It’s getting late and I’m hungry.”
“Me too,” Flaco chimed in. “Drop me off and I’ll pick up some chicken. That place on the corner is always busy, so it must be good.”
Turning back toward the Pioneer Chicken Ranch, Arturo landed nearby and Flaco jumped out. About ten minutes later, he returned with three bags and sodas.
“Damn this is good,” Oso said as he devoured the crispy chicken. The breading of the fried chicken had a spicy kick.
Suddenly the scanner chirped. A blip was moving and it was nearby. Throwing his bag of half-eaten chicken on the seat, Arturo lifted the blue car and headed toward the blip. “I got you now vato,” he grumbled.
Robert Alvarado is a native of Phoenix Arizona. His award-winning saga, The Young Pistolero Series, won several first place finishes in The Latino Author top-ten list and the International Latino Books to Movie Award. Three of his recent works, Jalapeño Republic, Just Vanished and The Spanish Sword were finalists for an International Latino Book award in several categories. He holds an Engineering Degree from Arizona State University, although spent most of his career representing a large computer company throughout Latin America. Proud of his ancestry, Alvarado’s passion radiates in his writing of stories from a Hispanic perspective.