November 12, 2006

Roots - Part III

By Doog © 2006

Editor's Note: You can find the first installment here and the second installment here.

If there was one vice that defined Leo G, it was gambling. During his adult life, he made and lost a lot of money. That is to say, he made it by means of various (mostly) successful business ventures - some legal, most not-so-legal - and he lost it in the finest casinos the grand state of Nevada has to offer.

Leo G was, by nature, a high roller. The stakes were never high enough. He would give $5 and $10 chips to his kids to play with around the house because, in his own words, "If there ain't three numbers on it, I ain't gonna play it." As the phrase du jour goes, that's just how he rolled.

The thrill of the game consumed Leo G so much that he would often disappear for weeks at a time, abandoning his wife and three sons in their Napa Valley home with nary a word of goodbye. Grandma Jan would keep some cash salted away inside the house - survival money for the inevitable 'next time.' Growing up, the three boys never realized that their father's disappearing acts were unusual - a testament both to Grandma Jan's patient character and to the frequency of the event. However, they always knew when he had returned - there was a box of field-picked strawberries sitting on the front porch.

One early fall afternoon during one of Leo G's Houdini acts, two unmarked sedans sat in the driveway when the boys got home from school. Following their mother’s terse instructions, the boys packed up a suitcase of clothing and belongings, climbed into the back seat of the cars, and pulled away their childhood home, not realizing that they would not soon return.

It seems Leo G had gotten himself into some trouble.

A couple of weeks earlier, Leo G was in Reno, leaking cash as usual, when a money lender (and his hired muscle) tracked him down and demanded payment. Of sixty thousand dollars. In full. Needless to say, Leo G did not then have, nor did he possess the means to acquire, sixty large to pay back the shark. True to form, he began to negotiate for 'a couple more days, sure, you know I'm good for it, of course, I have it, I just have to go cash out some investments', all the while figuring the quickest escape route from the city.

The shark was having none of it.

"Tell you what," he said, "You do a job for me and my partners, and we'll forget about it. The whole sixty large."

Leo G readily agreed, then received his instructions on what to do.

Two days later, Leo G hopped a plane for Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. At the stipulated place and time, he met up with the woman and the boy, who were to be his 'wife' and 'son' for the next few days. Together, the newly formed family went to the designated junkyard and picked up the truck towing a motorboat on a trailer. That is to say, the motorboat with the false hull stuffed full of narcotics.

The border crossing into Texas was anticlimactic in its normalcy. Leo G dropped off the woman and the boy in Dallas, and continued through New Mexico and Arizona. Traveling westward on I-10, windows rolled down and the radio turned up, the warmth of the Arizona desert blowing through his hair, Leo G felt the entire weight of his gambling debt lifted off his shoulders. A man reborn, his imagination began running wild with plans and possibilities. After all, he realized, his planned route was just a few hours south of Vegas...

Leo G plotted. Then, brimming with self-confidence, Leo G drove into the desert, unloaded the drugs from the boat's false hull, and buried them. Deep. He then drove into Sin City and sold off the truck and the boat, fully expecting to double up within a day or two and continue on his way with a nice tidy profit, nobody being the wiser.

The best laid plans of mice and men... One bad run led to another; soon, a wild-eyed Leo G was betting his last grand against huge odds, desperately trying to get back even. His last dollar gone, shoulders slumped in defeat, Leo G stumbled out of the casino into the garish Nevada heat. Blinking his eyes clear, he ambled up and down the strip, mentally sorting out his next step.

In the end, the decision to call the feds, turn himself in, and go State's Evidence was both very easy and very difficult. It was easy because of the immunity and amnesty he would be granted by the government; it was difficult because it went against his upbringing, his fiber, his very essence. The feds were the enemy, and narcs were vermin fit only for extermination. Now, he was the rat. By choice. With trembling hands, Leo G made the phone call.

After finishing the interrogation, the feds made Leo G an offer. He would report to his 'business associates' sans truck, boat, or drugs, but instead with a body mike and a credible story. If there's one thing that Leo G was good at, it was selling a story. He passionately recounted the harrowing tale of the vicious windstorm in the Arizona desert that flipped over the boat trailer and broke open the false hull, contents spilling out. Panicked, he packed up the drugs in the truck's bed and drove into the desert, where he buried it. He left the wrecked boat on the side of the road, abandoned the truck in the next town, and made his way back to California via Greyhound, where he arrived broke and exhausted, so glad to be back with his friends.

By the end of the recounting, Leo G had his initially suspicious audience hanging on every vivid detail. Even if they didn't entirely believe the whole wild tale, it seemed plausible enough. Packing up their shovels, they journeyed in caravan to the Arizona desert. Once the drugs were found and excavated, and likely just as the bad guys were about to take care of Leo G and dump the body in the same hole, the federal agents stationed about the area swooped in with helicopters and desert vehicles and rounded up the drug ring.

Simultaneously, two unmarked cars were dispatched to Leo G's house in Napa Valley to take his family into protective custody. Later that night, local police responded to a call made from a neighboring house. They found Leo G's house broken into and thoroughly vandalized, jerrycans filled with gasoline suggesting that the police's arrival had just barely prevented the house from being burned to the ground.

For the next couple of years until the conclusion of the trial, Leo G and his family were shipped from location to location, assuming new identities, always looking over their shoulder, spooked by the slightest hint of danger. Once, the drug thugs almost caught up with the family. Two of Leo G's sons were riding their motorcycles through town when they were spotted by some familiar faces from their not-so-distant past. The villains hopped into a car and gave chase, but the boys were able to shake their pursuers on a twisty mountain road. The family left town that same night.

Once Leo G's testimony was made in court and appropriate convictions handed down, the pressure eased somewhat. The feds relocated the family with decreasing frequency, and after a while Leo G, Grandma Jan, and family permanently settled in Sacramento. Partnering with one of his sons, Leo G started a legitimate and successful air conditioning repair business. Years passed, and Leo G, by now a grandfather several times over, had softened into a caring, charismatic, humorous man. The Leo G that I knew.

In myself, I see a lot of the kinder, gentler Leo G. At times, though, the ghost of the Leo G that I never met peeks out from the shadows of my soul. It is the dark side of my soul. The inveterate gambler. The overconfident risk-taker. The fast talking con man. The calculating manipulator. The mobster within.


Doog lives in California, is married with two young children, is a complete donk of a poker player while being a kick-ass poker blogger. He's also the most modest, humble person you'll ever meet, should you have the esteemed privilege.

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