Bullets & Tiaras: Chapter 1


I hadn’t meant to kill him.

But there he was, dead as the proverbial doornail; the blade of his junk knife still embedded in his neck, exactly where I had left it.

“I didn’t mean to kill him.”

I decided I should say it out loud, for the benefit of the polite young policeman who was supposed to be taking my statement, but who was clearly distracted by my breasts. (Not an unusual occurrence, they are two of my finest assets, and their perkiness tends to make most men a little stupid.)

Since he was so focused on my bosom, I decided to give it a dramatic heave, accompanied by a heavy sigh. I hoped this would serve to adequately convey my distress over the unfortunate incident and that I wouldn’t have to resort to swooning (which, while often quite effective, is best done indoors, preferably on an Aubusson carpet, not on a filthy street in Downtown Los Angeles).

“It just all happened so fast.” I said, borrowing a bit of my mama’s Alabaman drawl to add color to my own rich Texas twang. “I didn’t know he was carrying a knife. It just popped up out of nowhere.”

“Yes, ma’am, it’s a switchblade – they’re illegal here in California.”

Carrying a “junk knife,” that is a switchblade that opens with the flick of the wrist, is illegal in all fifty states of our fine nation, not just California. However, I saw no reason to enlighten the nice officer on that point. He might wonder how I’d come to know such an esoteric piece of jurisprudence.

And that, in turn, might cause this upstanding member of the Los Angeles Police Department to pay much closer attention to my statement regarding the events that had led to my encounter with the newly dead Ernesto Rodriguez.

I reminded myself that no one had yet identified the dead man at my feet, whose blood had come dangerously close to staining my favorite pair of Tony Lama boots (full quill ostrich, naturally cured and nicely worn in all the right places).

So I continued to refer to the corpse as “that horrible man” while I waited for one of Ernesto’s drinking buddies to tell the officers his Christian name; though surely that was the only Christian thing about the bastard.

I’d already provided my own name, Victoria Dixon Hughes, along with my brand-new Wilshire Boulevard address. I’d had to check my wallet for the piece of paper with my equally new telephone number; my brain still wanted to give my old Austin phone number, a number I’d had for almost ten years before being forced to abandon Texas for the greener, more anonymous pastures of California.

After a brutal two years in the media spotlight, I’d been glad to pack up my Cadillac Escalade and get shed of the whole place. But there were some things I still missed about the Lone Star State.

It goes without saying that I missed my late husband, Bullworth Hughes, and my beautiful Austin home.

I also missed my concealed weapon permit and the 9-millimeter Sig-Sauer that went with it.

I was still waiting for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to review my application and determine if I had the “good moral character” required to qualify for a license to carry a concealed weapon in Los Angeles. In the meantime, I’d had to rely on my wits and years of rigorous martial arts training to exact a little justice for Maria Vargas and Nelly Hernandez, the two women Ernesto Rodriguez had brutally raped.

To be honest, even if I’d been packing my semi-automatic, I might still have chosen to stab Ernesto with his own weapon. Both Maria and Nelly had described to me in painful detail the switchblade that he’d carried and how, after raping his victims, he’d used the knife to carve his initials into their bellies.

I liked the symmetry of using that same weapon to kill the wretch. Which means, I suppose, that you could argue that I was lying when I told you that I hadn’t meant to kill Ernesto.

I suppose it was also a bit of a lie when I told the nice young patrolman (who had recovered from his initial fascination with my chest and was now looking deep into my dark green eyes as I told my story) that I didn’t know Ernesto was carrying a knife.

But even though I knew he owned a knife, I couldn’t be certain the scumbag would be carrying it tonight. That is to say I didn’t know – you see my point, don’t you? I simply skirted the truth, without actually lying.

And if Ernesto hadn’t been carrying the knife, then I wouldn’t have been able to kill him. So, when I said that I hadn’t meant to kill him I wasn’t truly lying about that either.

Of course, I had hoped the son-of-a-bitch would have a weapon, just as I’d hoped that he’d see me as easy pickings, too easy to resist, even if I wasn’t his preferred victim: an illegal immigrant more frightened of Immigration than of him.

Both Maria and Nelly had been unwilling to report the rapes to the authorities and unable to seek medical attention in case the police were called by a well-meaning medical professional. The risk of deportation was too great.

With my curly red hair and pale, freckled skin, I was clearly a gringa and most likely a citizen, but I’d been counting on the fact that Ernesto would still see me as just another defenseless female; after all, I was all alone late at night in the wrong part of town and seemingly too naive to realize the potential for danger.

When I got up to leave the tiny little bar, Ernesto had followed.

Just as I’d expected he would.

I hadn’t gone but ten yards or so when I heard him running up behind me. Didn’t he wonder why I didn’t turn to look at him as his work boots pounded on the concrete? Did he think I was deaf? Or just monumentally stupid?

He grabbed my right arm with his left hand as the switchblade flicked open in his right fist. I was delighted to see he’d brought his little toy, because it put me in “imminent mortal danger” which, by law, allowed me to respond with deadly force.

I think Ernesto was a little surprised when, instead of trying to scream or yank my arm away, I laughed.

I know he was very surprised when I bent my left arm, bringing my forearm up high and fast against his right wrist. As I’d expected, his grip on the knife was loose, he clearly hadn’t meant to use it until after he’d finished raping me. He’d expected the very sight of a weapon to turn me into a helpless, weeping ninny, and that I would allow myself to be dragged into a nearby alley.

Which is exactly what Maria and Nelly had done – complying with their attacker’s demands in the hope of living through their ordeal. No doubt there’d been other victims as well, women whose stories I would never know. Maybe some had struggled against the monster, but I could be reasonably certain that none had really fought back.

At least not the way that I had been trained to fight.

As I sent his knife flying, I slammed my left knee into his groin and was pleased to see him double over in pain. I suppose at that point, if he’d been smart enough to run – or rather crawl – away, I would have had to leave it at that.

But the idiot still hadn’t realized he was outclassed. He dove for his knife, stubbornly intent on making me his next victim.

The knife was behind me and Ernesto had the advantage of seeing where it had landed, but after twenty years as a champion baton twirler I could whirl like a dervish. I spun around, scooping up the knife. Ernesto landed a fist in my lower back, knocking the wind out of me.

I stumbled but recovered quickly, kicking out at his feet with a low sweeping motion that would have made Grandmaster Aquino, my former Escrima instructor, proud.

I knocked my attacker off balance and he lurched forward, grabbing for the knife.

Not a chance.

Taking a quick sidestep I chopped hard against the bastard’s throat with my left hand, then smashed a roundhouse kick into his lower back.

Ernesto fell to his knees as I circled him slowly, feinting with the knife.

Toying with him.

Fear filled his eyes, the hunter finally realizing that he had become the prey.

I wish I could tell you that I offered him a chance to flee – that I warned him that if he ever so much as touched another woman I’d come back and finish him off.

But, really, what would have been the point? You think a serial rapist is going to quit cold turkey just because some skinny gringa tells him to?

No?

No.

I didn’t think so either.

So I waited until he got back on his feet, tottering a little from the pain. Then I shoved the blade into his carotid and leapt back to avoid the spray of blood.

Ernesto Rodriguez fell to the ground and I stood there and watched him die.

Of course, I gave a more carefully edited version of these events to my interviewer.

“I can’t really tell you how it happened, Officer Jacobs,” I said, sneaking a quick glance at the nameplate pinned above the pocket of his uniform. (If there’s one thing I learned during my reign as Miss Texas, it’s that people really do appreciate it when you remember their names.)

Well, honestly, I could have told him exactly how it happened, but I didn’t.

In the belief that the less said, the better, I simply continued to stare at the young officer, keeping my eyes open as wide as possible (it was a look that had often kept my daddy from delivering a well-deserved whupping when I was a child and I’d always found it equally effective with other authority figures).

Officer Jacobs nodded sympathetically. “Well, ma’am, I’ll write up the report tonight. All you need to do is come by Parker Center tomorrow and sign your statement.”

“Thank you, Officer.” I gave him my best smile, allowing my lower lip to quiver just a bit.

“There shouldn’t be any problem ma’am. A woman has the right to defend herself.” He patted my shoulder in a manner which I’m sure he meant to be comforting, so I pretended not to notice when he leaned in to inhale the scent of my perfume.

An hour later I was home, showered and in bed, where I enjoyed a restful night’s sleep, completely untroubled by the fact that I had just taken a man’s life.

As my late husband Bull would have said, “Ernesto Rodriguez was a man who needed killing.”

I’d been happy to oblige.

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