Two Mules for McCandless
by D. J. Herda
"This is a breathtaking tale made all the more exciting by the fact that it's based on a true story. The action is non-stop, and the characters will live in your memory for a lifetime. This is Dennis Hopper's Doublecrossed times ten. The scenes of Block being tortured in a Mexican jail or haunting. It's a sure winner at the book stores, as well as at the box office." - Don Bacue, Editor-in-Chief, International Features Syndicate.
Narrator Lazlo recalls meeting Harry Block and Harry’s Gal Friday, Debbie, on a cruise bound for Cabo San Lucas. He tells of their drunken ribaldry, their harrowing experiences parasailing over the bay at Puerto Vallarte, their bar-hopping, surf-slamming, and ultimate bonding.
The next morning, Lazlo learns from some fellow passengers that Harry and Debbie jumped ship into Mexico. Lazlo fears for their safety, recalling a story Harry told him about his last run-in with Mexico’s Federales. The story of the run-in unfolds in a flashback.
December 1975. Harry receives a call from Don McCandless, a notorious California drug dealer who wants Harry and his attorney, Tony DeGregorio, to help get his son get off a trafficking rap.
“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” said Harry.
“Oh, yeah. One more thing,” McCandless said. “The D.A.’s going to try to slap him with murder-one, too. A couple of mules and their kids that my son allegedly bumped off down in Jalapo when a drug deal went sour.”
Harry wants to ask if the kid is guilty but decides the better of it. He needs this job. Besides, sometimes the less he knows, the better. So he grabs DeGregorio, and the two hop the next flight to Sacramento to meet with young McCandless. There, in the state pen, the kid tells them a few things, then draws a map to his estate in Ensenada, where they’re to dig up $200 thousand in cash and gold coins to use for his defense.
But something goes wrong. The Federales nab the two gringos and throw them in jail, where they’re separated. Harry is tortured and forced to endure the worst weeks of his life before he finally manages to buy their way free.
The two gringos return to the states and tell their tale to Old Man McCandless. The Old Man informs them that his son was convicted of trafficking but hasn’t yet been charged with the murders. Worse, the kid broke out of prison and is missing. Word on the street is that the Federales hired a group of goons to find the kid, smuggle him back into Mexico, and kill him. Now, Mexicans aren’t too concerned about the law, but they draw the line when it comes to killing kids. So, the old man hires Harry and Debbie to find him before the Federales do.
Their investigation takes them to a Jamaican-born banner-plane pilot by the name of Jee-mae. After an unnerving interview, Jee-mae admits that he saw McCandless kill the two mules and their kids in Mexico. He had been McCandless’s pilot down and back. He tells Harry he’s going to make his last flight in the banner plane, then lay low for a while.
Jee-mae hops into the cockpit of his aging Stearman and takes off. But something goes wrong. The plane crashes in a ravine filled with young children. A girl is killed. Several more are seriously injured. By the time Harry reaches the site of the crash, Jee-mae is gone. The local cops are baffled; the insurance investigators are indignant; Harry knows what happened.
He and Debbie follow Jee-mae’s trail to his family’s Jamaica plantation, where they extract valuable information from him prior to his death—poisoned right beneath their noses. Harry and Debbie, fearing for their lives, make a hasty retreat. Back in the states, they learn that young McCandless—still on the lamb--had been in Jamaica, at Jee-mae’s family plantation, just before Harry and Debbie arrived. They also learn from one of Harry’s airline snitches that McCandless has since returned to Miami. They set out to find him, only to turn up a newspaper article saying that McCandless was killed in the streets of Little Cuba the day before. He had been shot through the head, gangland-style. Or had he?
A visit to the local coroner’s office confirms the report. But a clandestine peek into the coroner’s records says otherwise. Harry and Debbie return to California, where they learn from Lennie the Worm that the Federales had hired a goon to trail McCandless to Jamaica. Failing to catch up with him, the goon returned to Miami, where McCandless turned the tables and had him killed. The Dade County Sheriff’s Department, working in conjunction with Orange County, put out the story that the corpse was McCandless. But why?
Harry places a call to one of his former tormentors back in Ensenada. The Mexican cop hangs up, but Harry persists and finally gets him to listen. Harry tells him that the D.E.A. is coming down on his lieutenant for absconding with the $200 thousand of drug money that Harry and DeGregorio had dug up. Harry convinces the cop to squeal, promising to make him look good, maybe even set him up for a reward and a promotion when the lieutenant goes down. The cop agrees.
Harry and Debbie set up a meeting with Old Man McCandless at his oceanfront condominium. He calls Orange County Lieutenant Dick Bartello to meet them there. After exchanging formalities, Harry tells Bartello he’s been invited there to arrest the old man on seven counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, extortion, possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, and bribery of a foreign official. Old Man McCandless laughs and asks, "Why not for cheating at bridge?"
Bartello is skeptical, but Harry unravels all in a long and convoluted tale that drags attorney Degregorio into the murders. He’s hauled away screaming that he’ll get even. After explaining all but two of the charges he has made against Old Man McCandless, Debbie asks, “What about the two counts of attempted murder?”
Harry explains that one attempt was when someone whom Harry recognized as Degregorio—upon the Old Man’s orders--tried to run him down just moments before their penthouse meeting. “And the other?” she asks.
He tells her it was for attempting to kill his own son. Harry turns to Bartello, getting the cop to admit that the kid was still alive and in protective custody.
The old man calls Harry screwy. “Why on earth would a father attempt to kill his own son?” he demands.
Harry explains that the kid had been using some leverage he held over his father to get the old man to make him a partner in his drug business. Jee-mae had revealed as much when he told Harry he saw McCandless kill the two mules and their children down in Mexico. But he left out one important point. He saw McCandless do the killings, all right--but Old Man McCandless, not his son. By eliminating his son, the old man would be breaking the only remaining tie to the murders. Bartello takes the old man into custody.
Back home in Newport Beach, Harry fills Debbie in on the loose ends. She breaks out some champagne and asks where they're going to get the money for that month’s rent, since the old man was Harry's last employer and he obviously wasn't about to pay Harry the balance of his fee.
“What about the ten thousand we got up front?” Harry asks.
“Gone,” she said. “Credit cards, telephone company, rental cars, airline tickets.”
"Shit,” Harry spits. "Well, honey, looks like we'll have to return that new couch in the back office.”
"Yeah," says Deb. "But it seems a shame not to put it through its paces first. At least once."
NOTE: All material is copyright protected. No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically, mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author. All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers. Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency
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