Death of the Old Warrior
was like a younger brother to me. Not
a day goes by that I don’t miss him.
Having known him for over fifty years, we had become as close as
two people could be. We
disagreed on many things, but to be sure, we were like brothers.
To this day, I'm sorry that I wasn't there that night in front of
the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angéles. That was
the night Michael Aragón and
his bodyguards, Vincente,
Sammy, and Robert were killed.
unable to attend as a parishioner was nearing death and I had to give
him the last rites. I called
the hotel and left a message that I couldn’t make it.
Both Rolf and I were to
meet Michael and Anna that
evening for their anniversary dinner celebration.
Later, I found out Rolf had been running late, also missing dinner.
César was unable to
attend due to pressing business in Miami. Benjamin and Christina
were also away on business and couldn’t share in the festivities.
For this, I thank the Lord Jesus.
Only Kenneth was there. He
had arrived at seven-thirty that evening with his parents.
been a warrior once many long years ago, I understand the fear of
battle. Vincente, Sammy, and Robert gave a good accounting of themselves;
none cut and ran during the firefight. Though
they fought against unbelievable odds, each stood his ground with honor.
The boys must have known that they couldn't win, so they just
gave it their all. They
could’ve given up, but they didn’t.
They will always be remembered for that brave battle in the
winter of 1990.
Kenneth recalled, his father and mother were in wonderful spirits,
remembering the good times. Michael
drank a great deal, which was rare.
Before dinner, while having drinks, Michael and Anna
asked Kenneth a question about a vacation that they had all taken long
ago together in Spain. Michael
and Anna were arguing playfully about whether or not Michael had run
well in Pamplona.
Kenneth agreed with his mother's version of the fiesta,
claiming his father had been unable to keep up with the other, younger
runners and was nearly trampled by the bulls.
Michael feigned hurt feelings as the three drank too much
champagne. He played and
joked with Anna all evening.
Enjoying watching the two laughing and teasing one another, Kenny
hoped to have someone to share his life with when older.
He believed Rita to be
that someone. As he watched
his parents, Kenny thought of his precious Rita.
Not knowing how to break the news of his relationship with Rita
to his parents, Kenneth hesitated. His
parents had seen how Rita had
hurt him over the years. They
knew of her drug problems and many public disgraces.
For years, the tabloids had been full of her indiscretions.
Rita’s image as a
spoiled superstar was a matter of common knowledge and unfortunately too
public a record.
sure, she wasn’t Anna’s
idea of the ideal daughter-in-law. Over
the years, Michael had said little about Rita’s
problems, preferring to stay out of it.
His only concern was for his son.
Wanting his sons to have wives like his Anna, Michael wished for Kenneth to find a woman who would care for
him and be full of joy for life. In
Aragón’s mind, Rita wasn't that woman. As
Kenny recounted, he interrupted his parents.
Asking them to listen, he explained that he’d already married Rita
in Mexico, before she’d had the baby.
According to him there was a long silence; clearly the
announcement had taken his parents by surprise.
Anna rose from her
chair; walking over to him she kissed Kenneth tenderly on the forehead.
Saying nothing, Anna
returned to her seat. She
wanted to say something, but waited for his father’s response first.
Kenny waited without saying a word, knowing his father would be
fair, but honest. “Kenny,
I know you’ve always loved this girl.
I saw it in your eyes as children.
I would have never said no to this marriage.
But I would hope that you are certain this is what you really
want. We all have dreams for
our life and want to be loved by someone special.
And I'm sure to you she is special.
Your mother and I have deliberately stayed out of it.
I haven’t pressed the issue, waiting for you to make the first
was silent for a moment before starting again.
“What of the child? Why
have you kept the baby in Santa Bárbara?
Mijo, it’s been over
two months and yet, you haven’t brought the baby to see us.
Why have you chosen to exclude us from this part of your life?”
It was clear, his feeling
were hurt. Unable to contain
himself, Aragón spoke his
mind one last time. “What
of the fact that she’s famous. Your
family will be unable to have a normal life.
Have you asked yourself these questions?” With
those words Aragón
paused, waiting for Kenny to answer.
didn't care about her fame. He
didn't even know if he wanted any more children beyond his precious
little baby, Anna.
What he did know was that he wanted Rita
in his life. It wasn’t
about her drug use or reputation as a Hollywood party girl, he was
willing to accept all of that. The
question was, whether his parents were willing to accept his choice of Rita
as his wife. “Well, will
you accept your new daughter-in-law, yes or no?” Kenny
had laid down the challenge to his parents.
His mother could see his pain and hurt.
“You’re our son. We
love you more than you could ever understand.
Kenneth, your father and I want what is best for you.
As your mother, I can only say that I’m happy, if you’re
happy. But you must consider
that we have our own feelings on this matter.
Your father and I are concerned about what the future holds for
the three of you. Rita
may beat this drug thing with your help.
But then again, she may not.
Kenny, What of your child, Anna?
Will Rita be able to
care for her? Will the
strain be too great for her? These
questions only God can answer. But
still, I worry.” Anna had her say, leaving the matter to her son.
I want you two to love her as much as I do.
Mama, I'm forty years
old now, I think I'm responsible enough to make intelligent decisions.
Papi, I want a wife. I'm
ready to settle down with Rita
and make a go of it. Rita’s past all of the garbage.
She's looking for something finer, better, a real life.
Now that we have little Anna, Rita understands
that it isn't just about her. We've
talked about what she was and Rita
understands what people think of her.
Rita’s decided not to
run away from life, but to take it head on.
I know that I can help her to do that.
You and dad have always been there for each other.
It wasn't always easy, but you two made it.
I know with your blessings we’ll make it.” Kenny
pled for his parents to understand.
When Aragón got up
from his seat, he had tears in his eyes.
Opening up his arms, he called his son to him.
Kenny walked into his father’s arms.
His mother joined them in their embrace.
The three stood there silently, each one lost in the moment.
“Son, you have our blessings.
Now, when do we see our granddaughter?” Aragón said the words with a smile.
“Soon, Papi, soon,”
Kenneth responded with the wide smile of a loving son.
Proud of him, Anna
kissed her husband. He’d
done what he always had. Michael
was there for his children, letting them be their own person.
As they sat down, Kenny thanked them both.
His parents were what they had always been.
Strong and fair, always ready to forgive and forget.
gave to their children everything that they had.
Most importantly, they gave of themselves.
Michael and Anna spent
their lives giving to their children.
They made sure each was educated.
Soon after came power and position.
Having amassed a fortune, the Aragóns
were wealthier than even their children knew.
Owning villas, estancias, corporations, and banks, the Aragóns had the kind of wealth that most could only dream about.
But they had more. In
Europe, they had friends in high places.
The Spaniards treated the Aragóns
like royalty. In America,
they were connected in every barrio
in the Southwest. Kenny, his
brother, and sister were secure, their future’s guaranteed.
minutes later, a serious looking Michael produced a large envelope.
Handing it to his wife, he remained silent.
She carefully opened it and removed what appeared to be a legal
document. She read it
carefully and tears welled up in her eyes.
Reaching over to Michael, Anna
kissed him tenderly on the mouth. They
held each other for a few moments before handing the document to
Kenneth. It was a trust deed
to an estancia in Argentina.
The land held several thousand acres and a large home.
The trust deed and its attachments showed an airstrip, race
track, polo grounds, tennis courts, pools, a lake, and several other
buildings. After reading the
document, Kenneth handed it to his mother.
was ready for the next bit of news.
Turning to them, he explained his plan to turn over the Eme
to Kenny. He’d decided
to retire. “I want to take
your mother and retire in Argentina,”
he commented happily. Anna
was pleased at what she’d just heard.
She had dreamed that someday they could leave Los Angéles and move away
to a quiet place. But Anna
never dreamed that she would be allowed to return to her Argentina.
Even more, she couldn’t imagine returning again to the home of
her youth, the land on which she was born, her father's estancia.
his parents, Kenny was relieved that his father could leave the Eme
before it was too late. And
here it was, the way out for his father.
Michael would be free of the ugliness of it all.
Kenneth had always wanted for his parents to be safe,
understanding the real family business only too well.
Standing up, Kenny walked around the table to where his father
was seated. Michael rose and
the two hugged. For Michael
and Kenneth, that was the moment when a man and his son became equals,
each admiring and respecting the other.
Both knew it was the eternal changing of the guard, a father
stepping down and the son taking the reins of power.
The two returned to their seats smiling at Anna. Now was to be her
time. Anna’s life was complete. Her
daughter, Christina, was grown
and a successful attorney and her sons were now men.
Benjamin was a successful and wealthy businessman.
Kenneth was his own man, strong and steady.
Having chosen his course, he would now chart it.
With a new daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Anna’s
life would be even fuller.
signaled Vincente and the
other two men to join the family at the table.
Pouring champagne for all, he stood up from the table and made a
toast. “To my wife, may
the years we have left be rich and full.
And may our love grow even more deeply in the years to come.
To my son, may your life be as blessed as that of your mother's
and mine.” Smiling
lovingly at them, he sat down. A
happy Anna told Vincente and the
others about his retirement. Raising
their glasses to Aragón,
his men toasted him. As
their leader over the years, he’d taught them honor, and in turn, they
time to leave. Aragón
placed several hundred-dollar bills on the table and stood up.
Calling the limo from his cell phone, Vincente
had already made arrangements. The
limo would be waiting in front of the hotel when the party made its way
out to the front entrance of the Biltmore and onto Figueroa
Street. When they got to the
large, glass and bronze front doors, Vincente
and Roberto held them open as Aragón,
Anna, and Kenneth walked out
onto the sidewalk toward the waiting car.
Seeing Anna was cold,
Kenneth placed his mother's mink coat over her shoulders.
As the three left the Biltmore, Kenneth looked forward to a new
life. They walked into the
cool night air, each having their vision of what tomorrow would bring.
having stopped the day before left the skies clear.
Large and bright, the moon’s light fell on everything.
Michael was first to sense something was wrong.
Instinctively he looked up toward the bell tower across the
street at Pershing Square. As
he did, he saw a flash of light and heard the cracking sound of the
first shot as it rang out. As
a second shot rang out, Kenny watched helplessly as his father grabbed
his chest and crumbled to the ground.
Shots were now coming from every direction.
Anna, terrified, tried to get to her husband.
Kenny grabbed his mother, holding her closely in his arms trying
to protect Anna with his own
body. Suddenly, he felt his
mother and he being shoved through the large plate glass doors of the
Biltmore Hotel lobby. Pushed
downward toward the ground, they fell onto the smooth, cool marble
floor. A dazed Kenneth then
looked back through the glass doors to see Vincente
running out to join Robert and Sammy as they opened up with automatic
weapons fire on several men coming across the street from Pershing
instinctively as the men came over the low walls, the boys were
had taught them well. Keeping
their Uzzis at the ready, the boys had concealed them beneath their dark
blue overcoats for just such a moment.
His disciplined hand showed there that evening. Prepared
for just such an attack, the three men were sure of their abilities.
Ready to give up their lives before Michael would be hurt, the
boys moved into position in front of him at the curb line.
They’d drawn a line in the sand over which no man would pass.
Each had been trained in hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship and
rapid deployment. They were
taught to use the surrounding terrain to overcome the enemy.
But this was out in the open in an urban setting.
With no ground cover, all that was left to them was sidewalk and
the walls of the Biltmore itself.
Kenneth, the scene was surreal. Only
his childhood friends stood between his family and death.
There the bad boys stood all three wearing cashmere overcoats
over their black tuxedos. The
boys looked more like movie stars than bodyguards.
Kenny watched as Vincente smiled and nodded at his two friends, motioning them
forward. Italian shoes
grinding the shattered Biltmore window glass into the sidewalk, as they
walked forward into the fray. They
began killing everything in sight. Kenneth
instinctively covered his eyes as bullets found their mark, shattering
glass and pock marking the cement facade of the building.
Hotel guests began shouting, terrified woman screaming in fear.
The glass of the hotel windows continued to be shattered.
Crying out for help, many wounded hotel guests tried to find
cover. But it was too late.
The bullets had found their victims, innocent people whose only
crime it was to be a guest of the Biltmore that evening.
crawled with his mother to the safety of an overturned couch in the
hotel’s foyer. From behind
the couch, Kenneth looked out the empty window casings to see his
friends returning fire. Frozen
in time, the bad boys stood their ground killing everything that moved.
Leaving his mother to the safety of the lobby, Kenny crawled
forward, toward his wounded father.
He crawled on his hands and knees over broken glass until he
reached Michael's side. Crouching
down to avoid the bullets whizzing by, Kenneth tried to make his father
more comfortable. But that
was impossible Michael was fading quickly, his breathing deep and
up toward the boys, Kenny could see them twenty feet from the sidewalk
in the middle of the street. It
was then that Sammy took several direct hits to the chest.
Falling forward onto his knees, he continued firing his Uzzi
until he hit the ground hard, face first.
There he lay dying thirty feet from Kenneth in the middle of Figueroa
Street. He heard him shout
to Vincente, “Adios amigos, I’ll see you in Hell.” Kenny
was stunned. Within seconds,
it was over. Sammy, his
friend of thirty-three years was gone.
Evening the score for Sammy, Vincente
and Robert had killed all but three.
They were now caught up in the killing frenzy.
The boys reloaded their weapons with magazines pulled from their
vest pockets as they continued forward. The
two boys began moving out beyond the middle of the street.
close to his father, Kenny watched helplessly as another eight or ten pistoleros
rushed over the low walls of Pershing Square, forming a V formation and
moving forward toward Vincente
and Robert. Beginning to
cross the street in unison, the pistoleros
fired their automatic weapons as they moved forward.
The assassins were there for Michael Aragón,
he was the hard target. Killing
would be frosting on the cake. And
nothing would stop the pistoleros
from hitting their target. It
was kill or be killed. Each pistolero understood they couldn’t go home unless Michael Aragón
was left dead on the streets of Los
Angéles. Even if the pistoleros died, but failed to kill Aragón,
their families would suffer for their failure.
In the end, Aragón
had to die.
Kenny’s side, Anna had
bravely rushed from the safety of the Biltmore onto the sidewalk to sit
next to Michael and cradle his head on her lap.
As she held him, her evening gown became covered with Michael’s
bright red blood. Gently
stroking his hair, she whispered encouragement into his ear.
Her husband was badly wounded and holding onto life as best he
could. And she was trying
her best to give him the will to live.
Dazed and in a state of shock, Kenny was lost.
Without a weapon, he couldn’t help his friends.
Unable to leave his father’s side for the first time in his
life, Kenneth felt defeated. His
supreme confidence was now a thing of the past. Sitting
there next to his mother, Kenneth had given up as he watched the life
drain from his father’s body. He
was helpless as all hell broke loose and Vincente
and Robert began moving forward to engage more oncoming pistoleros.
The boys were lost in the killing frenzy.
then that the tide began turning against the boys.
Robert took two rounds to the right leg.
Spinning around, he fell to the ground.
As he did, he was wounded in the chest.
Trying to stand, he tumbled forward firing rounds into the
pavement as he did. Time
seemed to stand still as Kenneth watched Vincente
calmly kneel down on one knee beside Robert.
As Vincente stroked his
dying friend’s hair, Robert stared up at his friend and smiled.
“Kill them. Kill
the bastards,” he said as he drew his final breath and joined Sammy in
the blackness of death. Vincente
was now the only thing that stood between the pistoleros
and the Aragóns.
Kenny heard Vincente shout
the word, “bastards,” making an almost animal-like, guttural sound.
Picking up Robert’s weapon, Vincente
began firing both Uzzis into the dark figures moving toward him.
As he calmly walked forward into a hale of bullets, he felt
himself invincible. For a
few moments it seemed as if the bullets couldn’t touch him.
Moving quickly and efficiently, he took out pistolero after pistolero.
seconds, Vincente had taken
out most of the enemy. Then
suddenly, closing from another angle on Figueroa
Street, three pistoleros
rushed him. Firing at close
range, Vincente took several
rounds in the upper chest and shoulder.
Dropping to his knees, he looked around as if in a world all his
own. His green eyes meeting
Kenny’s, Vincente watched,
powerless to help any longer. The
world went silent for a moment. Then
Vincente looked toward heaven and shouted out for Maria
and fell forward onto his face, his head rolling onto his right
cheek. As his body settled, Vincente's
eyes were wide open and devoid of emotion.
They seemed to stare past Kenny, looking off into eternity.
He died facing the family he protected.
As sweat and tears filled his eyes, a shaken Kenneth looked up to see a
man come out of the shadows, pick up a weapon and engage the last of the
But he couldn't make out the man’s face.
Kenneth could see only that the man was dressed in a tuxedo.
As the figure moved forward, firing the weapon, the remaining pistoleros
broke off the attack. They
ran back toward the low walls of Pershing Square and into the parking
As sweat and tears filled his eyes, a shaken Kenneth looked up to see a
man come out of the shadows, pick up a weapon and engage the last of the
But he couldn't make out the man’s face.
Kenneth could see only that the man was dressed in a tuxedo.
As the figure moved forward, firing the weapon, the remaining pistoleros
broke off the attack. They
ran back toward the low walls of Pershing Square and into the parking
his attention to his father, Kenneth tried desperately to stop the
bleeding from two wounds in Papi’s
chest with his tuxedo jacket. His
father’s breathing was now shallow and his face pale.
A glassy eyed Aragón
reached out and grabbed his son’s arm.
Struggling with the pain, Michael forced his upper body off of Anna's
lap and slumped forward into a sitting position.
Pulling Kenneth close to him, Michael began whispering into
Kenny's ear. In Spanish he
warned, “Be careful, trust no one.
They’ll come for you next.
But they won't be sloppy this time.
It will be someone from the inside, someone you know and trust.
Listen only to the veteranos
and your uncles.” The pain
too great, he could say no more. Then
coughing loud and hard, blood appeared in Michael’s mouth.
He was having trouble breathing.
Unable to get enough air, Aragón
fought to take in one last, long, hard breath.
“Get your mother out of here to a safe house,” a dying
shouted. He then kissed his
son on the cheek and released his last breath.
body fell backwards against Anna,
his head resting on her lap. Though
he had cheated the angel of death many times before, Michael Aragón,
the head of the Eme and an
American war hero, was dead. Remaining
strong to the end, Michael kept his nobility of spirit.
But what now lay next to Kenneth was an empty vault that had once
held a special man. His body
was only a shell. The angel
of death had finally stolen his soul and carried it away to eternity.
prayed quietly for her dead
husband. Smoothing out his
tussled hair with her bloody hand, Anna’s
face looked placid. There
were no tears. As Kenneth
looked up at her, his mother’s appearance was calm, almost tranquil.
“He's gone,” she said calmly.
The fear was also gone. There
were no tears, only the blank stare of a woman wondering what she would
do with her now empty life. The
love of her life had left her. Anna’s
knight in shining armor had fallen on the hallowed field of battle dying
as he had lived, a warrior.
seemed like an eternity, the entire gun battle had taken less than two
minutes. Becoming suddenly
very silent, there were no more gunshots or fearful thoughts.
Then the sirens began to wail, the police were on their way.
This was always the way it was, too little, too late. Turning
back toward the hotel, Kenneth took in an eerie scene.
Wounded guests and employees were shouting out calls for help.
The front windows had been shot out, and shattered glass covered
the lobby. He noted bodies
all along the sidewalk and in the middle of the street.
More bodies lay on the floor of the Biltmore lobby.
Several appeared to have been wounded.
The dead and dying lay everywhere and Kenneth’s three gallant
friends lay dead.
hand suddenly grabbed Kenny's arm, pulling him up from the ground and
onto his feet. Holding a gun
close to his shirt, the man was an older Chicano. From the way he
was dressed, Kenny could tell that he was a veterano.
"Listen to me. I'm
Alfonso Vega, a veterano
de La Eme. Your
father’s dead. You and Doña
Anna must come with me now.
You're no longer safe here.” More
a demand than a request, suddenly there were eight or nine armed vatos
surrounding Kenny and his mother. Gently
separating Anna from her dead
husband, they lifted her up from the ground.
Rushing her along, the men quickly placed her inside a waiting
car at the curb. In a
confused daze, Kenneth watched as his mother looked back at him through
the rear window as the car sped away.
a second low rider car pulled up next to them at the curb.
Pushing Kenneth inside the car, they raced away from the scene.
Within minutes, he was safely inside the barrio
of East Los Angéles.
Making several quick turns, the driver made his way deeper into
Soon, the car came to a fast stop in a dirty, trash strewn back
alley. Men shouted as orders
were being given. Vatos
carrying weapons moved rapidly from building to street, taking defensive
positions. After Kenny got
out of the car, Alfonso pulled
him aside, telling Kenneth that he must get it together.
Kenny then heard something, he would never forget.
“You're our leader now. Act
like a vato loco.
Your father’s dead, for that I'm sorry.
But we need you to be strong, now, not later.
So get hold of yourself and stop acting like some fucking broad.
Be a man.” The
words were stern, but true. Alfonso
had to say it. It wasn't
pleasant, but he was right and Kenny knew it.
Still in a state of shock, Kenny walked quietly behind Alfonso toward an old house. When
they entered the living room it was full of hard, tough veteranos
waiting for orders from Kenny. He
thought it odd that he knew none of these men, and yet, here they were
surrounding him, protecting him. Looking
around the room, Kenny saw the welcomed face of his childhood friend Rolando.
Now a button man for the Eme, he was known to the veteranos.
Somehow, this one familiar face gave Kenny the strength he
confident stare into Kenneth’s eyes told him that he could do it.
His expression was the same as it had been when they were kids in
the school yard fighting the older boys, thirty-three years earlier.
As purpose again returned to his soul, Kenny suddenly became
angry. Looking out across
the dark room, he studied each man’s face.
He found confusion and desperation in their eyes, a need to be
led, to be assured. They
wanted something to happen, anything.
They were at war. Their
leader had fallen and they wanted answers.
do you know the man Grover?” Kenny asked firmly in Spanish.
Alfonso nodded yes. “Find
him and have our men get him and my mother on a plane to Mexico.
You and Rolando get to
the Gallardo family and make arrangements for a safe house.” Kenneth
was now himself again, back in control.
Pulling a business card from his bloody tuxedo jacket pocket,
Kenneth told Alfonso to call the name on the card and have arrangements made for
a jet from Mexico to Argentina.
“I will give you instructions for Señor
Romero, as to when and where to take them.
This must be done tonight. Make
sure that twenty soldiers are with them at all times.
They are to travel separately. I
want single targets. Do you
understand?” Kenny was
clearly now in control of his emotions.
“Yes, Don Aragón,” Alfonso
responded respectfully, proud of his Don.
around the room, he saw two large, muscular young men standing against
the wall. He pointed at
them. “You two will go to Argentina
with my mother. You,” he
pointed to the taller of the two, “will act as driver.”
To the second man he shouted, “You will act as valet.
Don't take any weapons with you.
There will be some at the estancia.”
Kenny watched them carefully
as he gave the orders. “What
are your names?” Kenny asked. “Kenneth
Lopez,” the tall dark one, answered respectfully.
The shorter one with red hair answered, “John Rodriguez.”
had been outside of the United States, with the exception of Mexico's Baja
region. But they would
go. These vatos
were ready to die for their new don.
They didn't know Kenneth. They knew only that he was the head of
For them, that was enough. Life
was simple; they followed orders. Early
in life, they’d been conditioned to stand up for the barrio.
Later, they became a part of the Eme.
This meant doing what you were told, even killing.
To them, this was a job like any other.
The fact that they were to go to Argentina
didn't matter, they would never question why.
then looked at the dark, Indian looking veterano
sitting closest to Alfonso.
Asking his name, the man answered, “My name is Mario,” as he stood up, almost at attention.
“You will pick five soldiers, all wedos.
Make sure that the villa
in Montecito is opened and
that it’s protected. Do
you understand?” Kenny
asked in a cold, hard tone of voice.
The man nodded his agreement.
“We must look like Whites, como
Gringos. All of them
will be dressed in suits and have neat haircuts, no shades.
Get to my father's house and make sure you get the keys to his
auto repair business. Then
go there and take two Mercedes Benz cars for you and the men.
Get to Santa Bárbara
by noon tomorrow. I will
give you a letter of agency before you leave.
Pick your smartest men to stay at the villa.
Instruct them on security and what to say if the police visit.
The letter will explain who you are and what you’re doing
there. Each man will be
listed as an employee, cooks, gardeners, valet, whatever.
Also, you will take another five men to stay in the barrio
of Santa Bárbara.” Kenny
then stopped for a moment and looked around the room, his mind wandering
Kenneth remembered the fight he’d had in the past with a Colombian
drug lord's young son, when at his Uncle César's house with Rita.
Kenny shouted out loud in Spanish, “Were the men Colombianos?”
his voice full of rage and anger. “Sí,” Vega answered
looking concerned. Kenny’s
face became cold and hard. “So
those bastards decided to break the truce.
Well, they made an error in judgment,” Kenny said soberly.
“We’ll make them pay. Our
Colombian friends will lose everything they’ve stolen.
I want them off American soil.
No city in this country will be safe enough for them.
Kill them, kill them all; especially the Pérez
family in Miami.”
Kenny's eyes blazed with hate as he spit out the words.
Soon after he said the words, his men left to take care of their
stayed at the safe house for three days.
Every day was the same, a steady stream of visitors from the
Brotherhood. Each came
offering condolences. The
families loved his father. Kenny's
message was always the same. They
would soon receive instructions. But
each left with an understanding that the Colombianos
were to pay dearly for their error.
When, where, and how, was left to some future time.
was sent to Rita by way of a vato
loco from Santa Bárbara.
The vato was normally
assigned to the Santa Bárbara
house, but he’d been visiting on the East Side of LA when Michael Aragón
was killed. The vato remained in LA, awaiting orders.
When he arrived at the villa, he went directly to Rita.
The note read that Kenneth was fine and he would be with her
soon. She was relieved to
know that her Kenneth was alive and well.
to deal with the Los Angéles
Police Department, Kenneth sent a veterano to his father’s attorney, Mel Feinstein.
A good man, Feinstein had worked for Kenny’s father ever since
he could remember. The veterano
carried a note to Feinstein’s home that morning.
The note instructed him to contact the LAPD and inform them that
Kenneth was afraid to come in. He
feared for his life. Mel
immediately made the call. The
police were at his home within seven minutes of the call.
Feinstein knew what to do. Before
the LAPD arrived at his home, he immediately began to put pressure on
the PD. Making calls to
local politicians and friends of Aragón’s,
they in turn called their political contacts.
The PD was flooded with concerned city councilpersons, members of
the Board of Supervisors, and congressmen.
Within a half hour, the LAPD’s top brass were handling
Feinstein with kid gloves and apologies were immediate.
The PD’s black and white cars were conspicuously absent.
The LAPD’s top brass wanted assurances that Mrs. Aragón and her son were alive and well.
Feinstein’s assurances came through the Los
Angéles Times Newspaper. From
that point on, he negotiated through the media, raising the stakes of
the game. The result was
what he had expected; the LAPD caved in to his demands.
would meet with no one. Instead,
she would issue a written statement through her attorney.
She wanted no more pressure.
Feinstein insisted that his second client, Mr. Aragón’s
son, Kenneth, would not meet with the police for thirty days.
Also, under no circumstances would he meet at a police facility.
His preference was his attorney’s office.
He would however, issue a written statement as to his
recollection of the events surrounding his father’s death.
order, Kenneth provided a second note for the police.
In it, Kenneth stated flatly that he didn’t intend to become
the unprotected target his father had been.
He added that he didn’t intend to blame the LAPD for anything
related to his father’s death. Kenneth
assured them that he believed that they’d done everything possible to
keep the streets safe. The
LAPD understood and appreciated Kenneth’s public support.
There would be no issue.
immediate concerns having been resolved, Kenneth turned his attention to
his father’s farewell. Giving
instructions to everyone that there would be no funeral services, he
spoke to me on the third day, after Michael’s death.
We were to be the only ones in attendance.
Kenneth chose to have no funeral mass.
Instead, sacraments would be said at the cemetery.
Rolling Hills, a large cemetery with grassy, gentle hills, was
chosen as the burial site. The
Brotherhood was respectful of Kenneth’s wishes, sending only their
condolences. While they all
wanted to say a last farewell to their comrade in arms, each understood
the danger. The Colombianos
weren’t finished. They
could attack the funeral service. They
all knew how crazy the Colombianos
mother and his Uncle Rolf
would soon be on their way to Argentina.
His sister and brother were kept at a safe distance; each was out
of state. Soldiers had been
sent to watch over them. Leaving
nothing to chance, Benjamin and Christina
were both surrounded by a safe wall of veteranos.
day of the funeral, I arrived early wearing my finest vestments, the
robe of white and gold, in honor of my dear friend, Michael.
It was a cold early morning when Kenny joined me atop the lonely
hill. Standing on the
highest point in the cemetery, we could look out across the vista
of the Los Angéles skyline. The
California sun was bright and
the strong winds blew the clouds out to sea, leaving the skies above
clear and blue. As the winds
blew across the grassy hillsides, it was as if a giant invisible comb
stroked through the high blades of grass.
The winds caused the blades to move in one direction and then
carefully thought through the words to my prayer the night before, I
began by reading a verse from the Bible.
Beginning my teary-eyed prayer of remembrance of Michael, Kenneth
smiled. “Dear Father, I
place my friend Michael's soul in your comforting hands.
I commend him to the peace that only you can give.
We beg your forgiveness for his sins.” It
was then that I heard the roar. We
turned, looking down the hill toward the winding road below.
Hundreds of cars were coming slowly up the road, stretching back
a quarter mile to the entrance of the cemetery.
There were more lined up on the street, beyond the entrance of
the cemetery. As several
cars stopped, people got out and began running up the hill toward Kenny
and I. Suddenly,
hundreds of people, families and friends, began leaving their parked
cars on the road below. Running
toward the top of the hill, the people were shouting, “Aragón.”
Making their way up the
grassy hill, the people of the barrio
came to honor Michael. The vatos and their families, old people and young children, fathers and
sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents, all were shouting, “Aragón.”
crowd reached the burial plot, they walked quietly, respectfully toward
the casket. Standing in
silence, they paid their respects. The
expressions on their faces were stern, but full of love and admiration
for the man that they had once called friend.
had been more than a friend. He’d
been the head of their Eme,
giving them so much over the years, jobs, money, homes, and paid for
several to go to college. In
these years, he had redeemed their self-respect and given them courage.
When no one else would reach out to help them, he had always been
there. Michael was their
source of pride for many years. And
on this day, they wouldn’t let him be forgotten.
of the crowd reached the top of the hill, I began my prayer again.
“Father, I commend this man to your safekeeping.
Forgive his sins, though many.
He wished only to live, giving much and asking little.
These people gathered here today, are a testament to his
giving.” With those words,
people began crying quietly. The
old women held their rosary beads. The
men stood by strong and emotionless.
Each held Aragón
in great respect, choosing to be strong, as Aragón
had always been. The
children remained silent and still.
They had been told that a great man had died.
Having finished my prayer, I made my way over to the casket.
Patting it gently and kissing it, I walked toward Kenneth.
We held one another, giving each other strength. We
said nothing, only smiled.
stood looking at the casket, an old crippled woman, walking with two
canes, slowly made her way through the crowd to Kenneth.
I watched as she stood in front of him, looking deeply into his
eyes. The woman reminded me
of a painting I’d once seen. It
was the painting of a brown skinned Mexican peasant woman, battered and
beaten by life. This old
woman could have posed for it. Her
ancient, wrinkled, weathered face was beautiful with its deeply lined
slowly back and forth as she spoke in Spanish, she said softly to
Kenneth, “Learning to bend when the winds were very strong, your
father, Miguel Aragón,
was the tree that never broke. When
the harsh rains of life came, we of the barrio
stood under Aragón’s
outstretched branches. We
sought the shelter of his shade when the heat of the sun of life was too
hot. Because of his love, we
grew, our families grew.” Dropping
her canes at her sides and unaided by anyone, the old woman stood
firmly. After a few moments,
she took Kenneth’s hands in hers and raised them to her face.
Holding them first against her leathery cheeks and then to her
lips, she gently kissed the palms of his hands.
Then pulling a nearby child to her, she held Kenneth’s right
hand. Grasping his hand
firmly, she brought it down tenderly on the little girl's head.
The old woman ran his fingers through the girl's black hair,
finally placing his hand on her beautiful smiling face.
“This one needs you, as all the others here do.
We need you to be as strong as your father was strong.
now gone and you have been left to lead us.” Those
were her last words. After
the little girl handed her the canes, the old woman turned around slowly
and melted into the crowd.
others moved quickly to console Kenneth and wish him well before he
could ask her name. Several
of the faces seemed familiar. Doña
Maria and little Maria
stood in front of Kenneth. He
reached out and held them both. Next,
came the parents of Vincente, Roberto,
and Sammy. Kenneth grieved
with them. Many of his
neighbors and their families came to pay their respects.
But there were also many he didn't know.
These had come to pay their respects and honor his family.
All were there to remember a great man.
had been their friend and hero. Also,
many from the barrio came to
pay homage to the new head of the Eme,
the little Anglo boy was finally and for always one of them.
came and went before the barrio people left. I
stayed seated until the last ones had paid their respects and left.
The barrio people and
their cars were gone, only Kenneth and I were there alone, in the
deserted cemetery. We stood
silently as the workmen lowered the simple bronze casket into the
ground. Finishing their work
quickly, the older man asked if they should begin covering the box with
earth. Kenneth told them to
begin and he and I left.
slowly together, Kenny held my arm tightly as we descended the hill
toward the road below. A
parishioner awaited me, to drive me back to the parish.
Saying nothing as I entered the waiting car, I left Kenneth
standing there alone on the road. I
smiled weakly as Kenneth fought back the tears.
He cried for his father. As
the car pulled away, I began to cry for Kenneth, for I knew that the
devil had begun his game anew with Aragón’s
son as his play thing. Kenneth
was the new battleground. As
I was being driven to the parish, I thought of the Colombian culprits.
They wanted nothing more than money and power.
had stood in their way. But
he was now gone. It was left
to his son to defend the Eme’s
to bear going back to the East LA house, Kenneth returned alone to the villa
in Santa Bárbara. He
needed to be with Rita and his
When Kenneth arrived at the villa,
Rita met him at the door.
She dissolved into tears and held him close.
He was now strong, his tears having been shed earlier.
The old woman had taught him that life must go on.
Kissing Rita tenderly
on the mouth, Kenneth went to his little Anna.
Finding her in the bassinet, he lifted her out and held her
close. He kissed her several
times before placing her gently back into her bassinet.
at the Santa Bárbara house
for a week, Kenneth did little other than to ride daily.
On the fifth day, he played in a polo match.
Rita felt it best to allow him to grieve in his own way.
There were no phone calls or pressing business.
Vega had been left
behind to deal with the soldiers. Before
Kenneth was to return to LA, Uncle César came to visit. Angry
when he entered the villa, César
and Kenneth had words. Uncle
was deeply offended that Kenneth hadn’t invited him and the Contessa
to the funeral. Raging for
minutes, he shouted at Kenneth, demanding an apology.
Listening quietly, respectfully, Kenneth understood his Uncle’s
pain. Both men felt the loss
of his father. Michael Aragón
had a special place in Uncle César’s
heart, and his wound wouldn’t be easily healed.
He had lost his best friend in life, his greatest supporter.
The Romero family owed
everything to Aragón.
To be at the funeral was a matter of honor.
to sit down and listen, Kenneth poured him a brandy.
As Uncle lit an expensive Cuban cigar, the aroma filled the room.
“Uncle, I love you and I’m sorry that you were barred from
the funeral. But it had to
be done. The Colombianos aren’t finished yet.
You and Uncle Rolf were
my father’s best friends. You
two are all I have left. I
had to protect you both. Rolf is with my mother on their way to Argentina. My brother
and sister are safely outside the state.
My Rita and the baby
are protected. I had to act
fast and be sure that all of you were protected.” The
words were logical and sincere and César
knew it. Wanting to help run
the Eme, César asked Kenneth
what he could do for the Family business.
Kenny was firm, but polite. The
answer was no. César wasn’t to be involved in the Brotherhood.
Insulted by Kenneth’s answer, César
was hurt and angry. Kenny
then made his proposal, offering his uncle complete control of all
legitimate Eme holdings.
The proposal included the management of bank accounts, banks, in
short, everything the Aragón’s
owned on paper. Explaining
to uncle that he wanted these assets kept legitimate, Kenny left nothing
to chance. César
was shocked by the offer. The
sums were now in the billions of dollars.
This kind of financial power was immense and he understood its
potential. Accepting, he
thanked Kenneth. Business
done, the two men gave each other the abrasso,
holding one another as they cried for Michael.
Kenneth cried the tears of a son for a lost father.
César cried for the
man who had saved and then nurtured his family for a lifetime.
the remainder of the day with Kenneth and Rita, before
leaving, César was given the
only key to a safe deposit box. That
box held all codes and information to the Eme
fortune. That key would
unlock a world of wealth for César.
Kenneth had just made his uncle one of the most powerful men on
the planet. What the media
knew of César Romero
was all a carefully crafted campaign.
The world believed him to be a wealthy influential man.
In fact, his wealth was limited.
Like most men in his position, he was a highly mortgaged
millionaire. Governments and
their tax systems inhibited the amassing of fortunes in liquid assets,
preferring their citizen’s holdings be in stocks and land.
True power came from the ability to control and produce large
sums of cash at a moments notice. The
man returning to Madrid was
now the master of his own fate. His
dream of a financial world empire was finally realized.
had saved César’s father
from financial ruin. He’d
also helped César to become
the man he was. Aragón’s
son, Kenneth, was now helping César
to realize his greatest dreams. The
had always helped their friends. The
Romeros were not an isolated example.
back, I can now see clearly what Michael saw.
In the mid-nineteen seventies, Aragón,
a visionary, understood the Colombian threat.
I remember Michael had only one concern, the madness of the Colombianos.
He once said, “With these men, you can’t do business.
They’re animals. To
them, killing is part of doing business.
Reckless and personal, they destroy everything they touch.
The Colombianos never
build for the future; they live only for the moment.” His
words were prophetic. Within
two or three years, they had destroyed the Puertorriqueños
on the East Coast. These
insane men had killed many Cubanos
in Miami's drug trade.
Then they moved into the Southwest to challenge the Eme.
This was where Kenneth’s father had stopped them.
This was when the struggle began.
These insane bloodthirsty Colombianos
had to be stopped. No
messages were to be sent, only death.
When Colombianos were
found in Eme territory, they
were removed. If anyone was
found befriending them, they disappeared.
had formed alliances with the Mexicans to stop the Colombianos.
He understood that it was only a marriage of convenience.
The families on both sides of the border were worried that one of
their soldiers might make a mistake.
One nervous soldier might kill the wrong person igniting a war.
But over the years the fear of miscalculations lessened.
A system replaced friendship.
Rules replaced the handshake.
The last fifteen years had been good for both sides of the
border. But this was 1990, a
new world. It was Kenneth Aragón who would now have to maintain the marriage with the
Mexicans and find others to join forces with.
His dream of an international Eme,
the Mexican-American Mafia was
now to become a reality.