The Death of the Old Warrior  


Michael 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.  

I was 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.  

Having 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.  

As 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.  

To be 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 move.”  Aragón 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.  

Kenneth 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.  

“Look, 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.  

The two 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.  

A few 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.  Aragón 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.  

Happy for 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.  

Aragón 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 honored him.  

It was 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.  

The rains 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 Square.  Reacting instinctively as the men came over the low walls, the boys were returning fire.  

Uncle Rolf 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.  

To 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.  

Kenny 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 shallow.  

Looking 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.  

Staying 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 Kenneth Aragón 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.  

Now at 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.  

It was 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.  

Within 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 pistoleros.  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 structure.  

Turning 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 Michael Aragón shouted.  He then kissed his son on the cheek and released his last breath.  Aragón’s 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.  

Doña Anna Castillo-Von Furstenburge-Aragón 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.  

Though it 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.  

A strong 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.  

Immediately, 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 the barrio.  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 needed.  Rolando’s 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.  

Alfonso, 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.  

Looking 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.”  

Neither 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 the Eme.  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.  

Kenneth 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 off.  

Suddenly, 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 duties.  

Kenneth 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.  

A note 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.  

Needing 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.  Mrs. Aragón 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.  

In short 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.  

With 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 could be.  

Kenneth’s 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.  

On the 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 another.  

Having 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.”  

When the 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.  Michael Aragón 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.  

When most 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.  

As we 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 upper lip.  

Swaying 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.  Aragón’s 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.  

Soon, the 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.  Michael Aragón had been their friend and hero.  Also, many from the barrio came to pay homage to the new head of the Eme, Kenneth Aragón the little Anglo boy was finally and for always one of them.  

An hour 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.  

Walking 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 Aragón 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.  Michael Aragón had stood in their way.  But he was now gone.  It was left to his son to defend the Eme’s honor.  

Unable 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 little Anna.  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.  

Remaining 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.  

Asking César 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.  

Spending 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.  Michael Aragón 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 Aragóns had always helped their friends.  The Romeros were not an isolated example.  

Looking 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.  

Michael Aragón 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.