Book Excerpt from “Angel’s Gate” by Andrew Rafkin

A couple of weeks went by since the incident at the Hot ’N Tot. August, Diz, and the Nietos’ nephew, Little Chucky, were sitting at a table at the Jet Strip Club on Aviation Boulevard, close to LAX. August was going over some business with the club’s owner, Big Mac “Horse” McKenna, who was a good friend of his.

Mac was a big, black, forty-year-old Mr. Universe-looking guy, who August met inside Terminal Island Prison in the seventies, while waiting to be transferred to the Pleasanton Federal Prison where he would do his time for a bust. He was using airplanes to smuggle pot at the time.

In the early seventies, Mac and August’s friends, Roy, Burl, and Gary rode choppers together. Mac was a CHP motorcycle officer earlier in his career. When he was finally released from prison, Mac and a good friend, a previous lieutenant in the CHP, started the Jet Strip located by LAX.

In the early eighties, Mac moved to Rolling Hills Estates on Colt Road, a horse community on Palos Verdes Peninsula. August lived close by; they became good friends and partied at each other’s homes. They had various business dealings, but mostly Mac helped August launder money. Everyone knew that Mac’s money came from prostitution and strip clubs that he owned throughout Southern California, and that he handled a lot of cash.

At times, Mac would ask August to ride around with him while he picked up money from other strip club owners. He extorted them for a percentage of their income to be paid on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Anyone who wanted to open a strip club in Southern California had to have the okay from Big Mac and even though most of them didn’t like to pay their vig to Mac, they did it, because Big Mac McKenna, was a bad motherfucker.

Later, in 1990, Mac was killed, machine gunned in his limo in front of his heavily ​secured home in Orange County’s remote Carbon Canyon. It was believed that the other strip club owners were tired of paying the vig and put a contract out on him. Later, the authorities arrested Mac’s partners, Mike Woods and English Dave, for the murder.

One of Mac’s girls walked up to the table and told him that he had a phone call. He excused himself. Diz turned to August. “Mac’s got a good thing going on. It’s too bad we can’t get a piece of that.”

“Mac’s got this down; let’s stick to what we do best. Fuck! I don’t think I could handle fifty naked bitches every day anyway.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” They both laughed.

Diz was six-foot tall, good-looking, and strong as an ox. He was half-Italian and half-Mexican, born and raised in Compton. He grew up on the streets in a tough neighborhood, and was in and out of juvie; he later did some time in state prison.

Diz was tough and smart, knew how to come out on top, and where to put his alliances. He was a no-nonsense, solid motherfucker that you didn’t want to cross or screw with. August developed a strong alliance with him and the Nieto brothers; eventually Diz became a partner in some of his operations.

August’s pager went off. He looked at the number and knew the call came from Chip Jones. They went to high school together. He became the student body president, was popular with the girls, and a good friend of August’s, who eventually went to work for him. August walked over to the phone booth and made the call. Chip answered.

“It’s August. What’s up?”

“Bruiser, Snydo, and one of Bruiser’s men are here.”

Snydo was a skinny, blond-haired surfer dude whose family had operations in the harbor.

August had a bad feeling that Bruiser was behind pressuring Snydo to take him to Chip’s house to convince Chip to contact him. “This guy a hired gun?”

“Could be.”

“Are Bruiser and this guy armed?”

“Yeah . . . They asked me to call you. He wants you to come by and have a meeting.”

“He asked you, or threatened you?”

“Bruiser said he was unhappy about the way the deal went down. Apparently, some of the off-load from Gonzalo’s shipment was wet and he didn’t get the money he expected, and got charged back from Gonzalo.”

“Does he really want a meeting or is he gunning for me?”

“I don’t know, but he thinks he has some additional money coming to him.”

August heard Bruiser say, “Give me the fuckin’ phone. I think you cherry picked the load, and I want to negotiate a settlement.”

“Look, asshole, I told you I don’t do that sort of shit.”

“Then come over here and convince me.”

“Put Chip back on the phone.”

“Yeah, August.”

“Tell him I’ll be there in half an hour, and be sure to stay out of the way when we get there; it could get ugly.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him.”

August knew it would only take twenty minutes to get to Chip’s house, but intended to be there early. Diz jumped into the driver’s seat of August’s Mercedes; August got in the front passenger seat and Little Chucky Nieto got in the back.

While they drove to Chip’s house, August laid out his plan. “Let’s not get hot with these guys and start shooting immediately. Let me try to get these motherfuckers out of Chip’s house quietly, so the man doesn’t show up.”

“Those motherfuckers are the ones that caused the scene by going to Chip’s house in the first ​place, packin’ guns. We need to fuck these guys up! You pay me for security, if you don’t need me, then fuck it,” Diz protested.

“Come on, Diz, you know I need you, but there’s a time to use force and a time not to.”

“Look, August, these guys are packin’ guns, they’re not fuckin’ around, and there’s no chance for us to make any mistakes. We need to make a point.”

“Okay, Diz, let’s just see how they’re going to act, before we do.”

Twenty minutes later, Diz drove by the house and parked a block away. August knew that Bruiser and this guy were waiting inside, and if August just walked in, they could get the drop on them.

He had Little Chucky sneak around to the backyard while he and Diz hugged a hedge bordering the property and moved up to the side of the house. Then they quietly approached the front porch and climbed the stairs, while pulling out their guns.

Each side of the front door had louvered glass panels two feet wide, running from the top of the doorframe to the bottom for ventilation and light. Diz wasn’t going to wait to see how these guys were going to act. He swung his silenced .380 automatic through the louvered strips of glass, shattering them as he drove his gun to the bottom, then stepped through the opening followed by August, both firing their weapons.

Bruiser and the hired gun were caught off guard; both started shooting wildly as they moved to the kitchen for cover.

August dove behind a large wing chair, while Diz took cover behind a wall. The hired gun hid around the corner, reached out and fired a few shots, keeping August and Diz pinned down. Then Bruiser and this guy made a break for the laundry room and the back door.

Bruiser opened the back door and Little Chucky opened fire, causing splinters of wood to shatter around Dozer’s head, as he ducked back in, pinning them inside the house, caught in a cross fire. While Snydo and Chip remained flattened out on the floor, Diz and August moved ​toward the kitchen, guns held with both hands, ready to shoot at any movement.

While Dozer fired at Little Chucky, the hired gun covered the entrance to the laundry room. Nieto’s gun jammed. Sensing the lack of return gunfire from the rear, Bruiser yelled, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” He turned and dashed toward the back door, firing blindly, while running for his life. The hired gun opened fire on Diz and August while he backpedaled for the door, but took a bullet in the gut and went down. Bruiser ran out the back door, shooting wildly.

August and Diz kept running, jumped over the body, and out the door.

Bruiser already had a shoulder wound. As he ran through the backyard, he got shot in the ass as he jumped the rear wall and escaped.

August walked up to the hired gun as Little Chucky walked in. “What happened out there?” asked August.

“Sorry, man, my gun jammed. By the time I cleared it, he was over the wall.”

August looked at the guy on the floor. He had long blond hair and wasn’t wearing any shoes. He turned to Snydo and said, “You know who this fucking guy is?”

“Only that Bruiser was boasting that he was a Vietnam Vet, a real badass, trained in Special Forces.”

“The guy’s in pretty bad shape. Since you brought him here, I think it’s your fuckin’ job to dump him off at a hospital. I don’t even know this prick.”

“I’m sorry, August; I really didn’t have any choice.”

“Yeah, right. Well, you’re damn lucky; if any of my guys got hurt, Snydo, you would have ended up in the hospital next to this cocksucker.”

“I’m really sorry, man,” said Snydo.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it. I know that Bruiser and this motherfucker threatened you. They probably filled their noses with coke, got jacked up, and decided to come to town and fuck with me. You tell that piece of shit Bruiser that he better stay the fuck out of my way, or else.”

The wounded former GI started to cry out because his wounds were serious and he needed a doctor. “Shut the fuck up,” yelled Diz. “You should have thought about that before you came over here acting like some fuckin’ Rambo.”

August chuckled at Diz’s comment. “Chip, I need to get out of here. Clean up this mess as quick as you can, in case the cops come snooping. I’m sorry your house got fucked up. Have it fixed and give me the bill.” He turned to Snydo. “Take this guy to the hospital and dump him off in front of the emergency entrance, and get the hell out of there.”

August turned and left, followed by Diz. They jumped into the Mercedes; Diz put it in gear and took off. August shook his head. “Fucking unbelievable.”

* * *

A week went by. With revenge on his mind, Bruiser tried to get even. He sent a couple of his men to pour sacks of marijuana seeds in August’s boats as evidence. They towed them into the harbor and set them adrift. He hoped that the boats would be retrieved by the Harbor Master or Coast Guard, get searched, and that they’d bust August’s operation.

One of the problems in off-loading marijuana was that the decks constantly required cleaning. But, if you wanted to incriminate someone, pouring seeds in their boats or warehouses could do the trick. One of August’s friends spotted the Skipjacks being towed out; he warned him in time for August’s crew to retrieve the boats.

Bruiser thought he was vindicated, but he had gone too far. August had to put him out of commission. Bruiser was force fed a half-ounce of cocaine, causing him to go into violent convulsions. He was picked up by an ambulance and admitted to the hospital. He never really recovered; his operation eventually dried up.

Andrew J. Rafkin, was born in 1946 in San Pedro, California, grew up in a commercial fishing family. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and later graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills with degrees in economics and marketing. Louis Pagono, was born 1947, in San Pedro, California. He worked on the docks on his family’s commercial fishing boats, and later in his parent’s restaurant, Luigi’s. Later he joined the Merchant Marines, and worked on the freighters moving cargo up and down the Pacific Coast. Find out more at: www.andrewrafkin.com.

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