Touch Of Evil, 1958, USA, Director Orson Welles

Damned right I blame Hank Quinlan for what happened down there in Los Robles but not as much as I once did.  Miguel had wanted me to get help from a psychiatrist or a counsellor or someone.  I said no thanks and that I’d beat the blues on my own, thank you.  But what happened down in Los Robles back in ‘56 still gives me nightmares.  I just don’t hate Hank Quinlan like I used to and I’ve learned to live with the nightmares.  I hate them all for what happened.  And when I say all I include me.  God it was awful.  The night Miguel and me arrived in Los Robles I was accosted by this Mexican hood.  He was a handsome guy, and I called him Pancho which I shouldn’t have, and he didn’t like.  But if I had my time to go over again, I would have called the punk something a lot worse.  And then I was dragged to see this tough guy clown called Joe Grandi.  I called him a stupid little pig which I definitely don’t regret even though he was murdered later.  

When I saw him the next night he was without the wig on his head and lying dead at the bottom of my bed in this fleapit hotel in the centre of Los Robles.  I didn’t feel anything but terrified.  I woke up in the dark and drowsy from all the sodium pentothal that Pancho and his charming friends had popped into me that afternoon.  I had been staying at the Mirador Motel which is out of town and in the desert somewhere.  But as soon as I was knocked out by the sodium pentothal they dragged me into the fleapit downtown where Grandi was killed by Quinlan.  I just wanted to get out of that fleapit fast.  Quinlan and Grandi had this plan to make me look like a dope head.  The one thing they agreed on was that Miguel and his testimony against the Grandi family had to be discredited.  And they went for what they thought was the weakest link, that is me.  After what happened down in Los Robles, I now travel north on my vacations.  It affected me which is why I talk too much when I meet people.  Thank you, you’re very sweet.  You can’t believe how proud I am of stopping smoking.  I did it all on my own.  By then there was no Miguel Vargas in my life.  That’s another story.  I haven’t smoked for some time.  

I had expected peace and quiet in the Mirador.  And I hate myself for that.  I had insisted that Miguel take me to a motel back on the American side of the border.  Miguel was annoyed, seeing as he was Mexican and working for the Mexican Government.  If only I’d have stayed in Los Robles.  At least I would have been close to Miguel, not out on my own somewhere.  Funny thing, Los Robles had a strip joint.  For a small town the place had some pretty girls.  Overdone ladies perhaps but pretty nevertheless. 

Grandi sent Pancho and his gang out to the Mirador and they assaulted and doped me.  I can’t describe how awful it was and if I could, I wouldn’t.  Once Pancho and his friends had me unconscious they dragged me back to Los Robles and dumped me in that terrible hotel.  Miguel was busy on this case he should have never been involved in.  Some local bigwig had been blown up in his car.  He had a young woman with him, and she was pretty too.

To be fair to the Mirador Motel at least the bed had clean sheets unlike the fleapit where Grandi was killed.  But then Norman Bates kept his motel clean, and look what happened there.  The man that ran the Mirador was creepy but he meant no harm.  What could he do against Pancho and his reprobates?  There were a couple of girls in the gang but they were as twisted as the guys.  Can you believe that?  Things have been said about the man who was in charge at the Mirador.  He wasn’t the type to take home to Ma and Pa but he didn’t act hysterical in the way people said.  People don’t have to be gangsters to be cruel.  He was creepy though.  He had a look of the actor that played Norman Bates in that film Psycho.  I had to walk out of the cinema halfway through.  A film about dark deeds in a motel brought back too many memories.

I was still with Miguel then.  Miguel didn’t make a fuss about me walking out of the cinema.  Miguel was like that, he liked to be protective.  He was a big man and a decent man which was why I married him.  I felt protected which was maybe why I felt so let down by him.  It wasn’t really his fault but if he hadn’t got involved doing the decent thing in Los Robles then none of it would have happened.  The truth is that his decency wore me down in the end.  He was always fighting a cause somewhere. See what I mean about blaming everyone and not just Hank Quinlan?  People don’t realise that I never met Hank Quinlan.  Maybe if I had, he alone would be my monster.  I heard all about him from Miguel and how Quinlan used to frame suspects.  But I also heard about how his wife had been strangled to death and that Quinlan was never the same after that.  He was some kind of man, I suppose.  

Once Miguel discovered the police corruption in Los Robles then Quinlan had to do something or felt he did.  Joe Grandi wanted to discredit Miguel before the trial of this other Grandi that was in prison.  And that was why Quinlan and Grandi hatched the plan for Pancho and his friends to fill me up with dope.  Miguel was a little vague when I asked him why did Quinlan kill Grandi.  Miguel could be like that, preoccupied.   Miguel said something about Hank Quinlan not wanting witnesses and Quinlan being off his head on booze and not being able to think straight.  Quinlan killed Joe Grandi in the fleapit while I was there out cold in the same room.  And with one of my stockings, would you believe.  That isn’t the kind of thing that makes you feel good about yourself, I can tell you.

Los Robles was a dump of a town.  The kind of scruffy place that looked less dangerous at night because you couldn’t see the dirt and rubbish quite so well.  But Miguel and me got a kick out of walking through the border crossing that first night.  It felt like being free.  That only lasted until the car exploded, and that was when Miguel got involved.  I blame him for that.  I blame myself for wanting to go to an American motel.  I blame the other cops that let Quinlan run his crooked show even if they were hoodwinked.  I blame any of the trash associated with Grandi.  I blame the guy that ran the Mirador for not having the sense to jump into his truck and drive to get help.  I blame the local politicians who had not wanted to ask questions about a local police detective who never failed to solve a case and had the good luck of always finding incriminating evidence.  And I blame the girls in Los Robles who for a few bucks let these deadbeat men think they were something.   All that doesn’t let Quinlan off the hook but I can’t just hate the one man.  Maybe if I could it would have been different between Miguel and me.

Miguel quit his job in Mexico City after what happened in Los Robles because I wanted to come home to the States.  I have nothing against Mexicans.   Here in Los Angeles I work to support the Mexican communities and I’ve found good friends there.  But after Los Robles I just needed something more familiar.  Miguel agreed because he couldn’t resist the idea of rescuing me again.   I know I’m being harsh but it was how I felt about him and everything after what happened in the Mirador in the desert and then the fleapit downtown.  You know, I like vacations but I’ve never stayed in a hotel since what happened in Los Robles.  I made Miguel buy a big camper.  Those were good holidays but they didn’t keep us together.  Now I rent a lodge in the Rockies every summer.  Me and a couple of girlfriends.  It’s not quite the Rockies.  It’s not far from this town called Bridgeport.

Mike’s job here in Los Angeles didn’t help any, and after a while I think he blamed me.  The feeling was mutual you could say.  Miguel worked for the District Attorney.  I told him it was a good job but Miguel felt it was a comedown from working for the Mexican government.  And of course he saw things he didn’t like.  I lost count of the times he said so much for American progress.  Miguel used to say that Quinlan would have been thrown out the LAPD for decency.  LAPD were helping to run drugs over Los Angeles.  The only cop Miguel had any respect for in LA was this detective called Dave Bannion but Bannion left to work for the FBI and after that Miguel couldn’t settle.  So I blame the damned LAPD for Miguel wanting to go back to Mexico and for the two of us separating.  I did pack my case to follow Miguel to his job in Mexico but by the time the taxi had arrived to take me to the airport I had unpacked the case.   A month later I was no longer Mrs Vargas.  These days I keep away from men.  I have a tennis instructor I like and I let him mix me a martini but I even keep my distance from him.  He doesn’t seem to mind.  No, he’s Mexican.    

Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here.