By: Don Crawford
Alfredo Cordovan settled himself in the hard wooden chair in the back of the Ican Bar and Grill, in Tucson, Arizona. The bar was located on north Stone Avenue; a few blocks south from his well furnished apartment. The day had been hot in the high nineties that late September, and the evening sun was slowly dipping below the horizon. The hour was 8:20 p.m. His order of a screwdriver had arrived and he took a large gulp. He had asked for more orange juice than vodka. The liquid burned his throat. He glanced at his Omega watch. Socorro was late. This was the third time she had kept him waiting. She was to meet him sharply at 8:00 p.m. His frustration at her girlish behavior flooded over him. She was thirty-three years old; six years younger than he was. He thought he had taught her more discipline than to behave this way.
Being a Friday evening, the Ican was quickly filling up with customers; both the old timers and a few new curiosity seekers. They eyed the muscular man with his deep set dark unblinking eyes and the two empty chairs at his table. He indicated they were for his late companion. The newbie’s frowned at him, annoyed he was hoarding much wanted seating. After reading their expressions, Alfredo ignored them and turned his well shaped head to gaze out the large plate glass window and the busy traffic gliding along Stone Avenue. He combed his short heavy fingers through his uncut wavy black hair. His squared jawed, high cheek boned, handsome dark features were reflected in the window. In spite of the air conditioner, the room grew warmer as the crowd increased. His legs felt sweaty in his pressed jeans, and his green polo shirt was clinging to his skin. H wore black loafers without socks.
Another ten minutes passed and the crowd grew larger and more restless. He finished his drink and conceded the table to two pretty Hispanic women and their lone companion; a large gringo with bushy eyebrows and a curved scar running from his left ear to the side of his gaping mouth. The man glared at Alfredo as if to say: Why did you wait so long to leave; you selfish bastard? He shrugged at the trio as he moved slowly toward the front door, feeling more irritated Socorro hadn’t shown up. He decided to go on home and tell her when he next heard from her to forget him and their four month relationship. He was tired of her excuses.
As he made his way toward his late model, 2010 dark blue Toyota Camry, parked in the side lot of the bar, he heard the grating voice behind him. “Hey, ass wipe, I have something to give you.” Alfredo turned quickly, on his guard, and stared at the gringo from the bar, who wielded an eight inch blade targeting his throat.
“What’s your problem, mister?”
“I just don’t like you and your smug attitude; keeping us waiting for your table. What happened to your companions, or was that just a damned lie, you selfish prick?” He stepped closer and swung the blade toward Alfredo. Alfredo quickly turned sideways, hitting the man’s knife arm, and with a devastating kick of his left leg smashed the gringo’s right jaw. The loud crack resounded throughout the parking lot. He followed the kick with a lightening blow of his right open palm to the aggressor’s carotid artery in his left side neck. The large gringo fell to the ground like a giant Redwood tree. Alfredo stood over him to see he didn’t get up and then got into his car and drove away; leaving the man lying in the dirty driveway; the knife at his side. From his rearview mirror he saw several bar customers filing out of the bar door, gawking at his retreating taillights. What the man hadn’t considered was Alfredo’s work. He was the leading Kung Fu instructor in the greater Tucson area.
When Alfredo opened his dojo on Saturday at eleven a.m., wearing his black gee jacketed uniform, he was feeling restless. His first class of the day wasn’t until one p.m. but he wanted to do some exercises to work out some kinks. Since Socorro hadn’t called him, he wondered if she would appear today for her lesson. He had refused to call her.
Fifteen minutes into his regular Kung Fu exercises, the front door opened and two burly suits stormed in. Alfredo stopped his routine and moved toward the door to inquire about their presence. They both flashed badges. “This is Detective Sergeant Tom Duran and I’m Detective Sergeant Miguel Ochoa; Tucson Police Department. Are you Alfredo Cordovan?” He nodded, eyeing both men with caution.
“Where you at the Ican Bar and Grill on north Stone Avenue last evening?” Again, he nodded. Could I have hit that man too hard? What is this all about, gentlemen?”
“And did you have an altercation with a man in the parking lot?” Ochoa asked.
“Yes, I did. He came at me with a knife, totally unexpected and without provocation. I was only defending myself. Has he filed a complaint against me?”
Duran eyed him closely. “That man is dead, Mr. Cordovan. He died from a blow to his carotid artery, which we are assuming you delivered to him. Is that correct?”
Alfredo was stunned. He didn’t think he’d hit him that hard. In fact, he’d pulled his punch to avoid such an event. “I was only defending myself. He came at me with a knife,” he repeated. “Are you sure that is the exact cause of his death? And, who was he, anyway?”
“According to the coroner’s report, that is correct. The man you killed, Guy Raymonds,” Ochoa stated “was a known criminal. He had a long sheet of various assaults, rapes, and had spent time in Florence for promoting prostitution In fact, he was on probation. He was a very malo hombre, Mr. Cordovan, but we have to arrest you for murder, nonetheless. Will you come along without giving us trouble?” As he spoke, he moved his hand closer to his sidearm.
“Just let me lock up, and leave a note for my students. I really should go home and change clothes.”
“That will be all right. We’ll take you to your place to change,” Duran remarked, “but I strongly advise you not to try and escape. We’d have to shoot you if you did.” His grin stirred Alfedo.
At the Police Station, south of the Convention Center, having changed clothes, and being booked, he asked to call his attorney. They took him to a room with a phone and left him alone.
He dialed the number. “Hey, Casey, Al, I’m in jail,” pausing, “for murder. I sure could use your help, amigo.”
Casey Mulhouse was a long time friend and a graduate of Alfredo’s dojo, with a black belt. “Murder!” he exclaimed, “what the hell, Al? Who did you kill?’
Alfredo gave him the gist of the story. Casey told him he’d see him at the station later in the day. After the call, Alfredo was led to a holding cell with several other men; drunks, derelicts and possibly more serious offenders, he concluded. They paid him little mind, being absorbed in their own problems.
Sometime before one p.m., they were fed a plate of cold pork and beans and two corn tortillas, which Alfredo never ate, and a Stryofoam cup of black coffee, which he drank. He settled in a corner on the floor of the crowded stinky room and tried to think. In one corner was a toilet stool, and several men took turns pissing. Alfredo took it all in stoically. He found it hard to realize they thought he was a murderer. And, he wondered how the police had found him. He was a regular at Ican’s and perhaps, Otto, the barkeep, had fingered him, having eyed the gringo following him outside. He tried to maintain his composure. Otto, he reasoned, was only doing his civic duty. But, it wasn’t murder; it was self-defense. He hoped Casey could make a good case in his behalf after he talked to him.
A little after 3 p.m. the cell door opened and the jailer called out his name. “Your attorney is here.” And they led him to an interview room. Shortly, Casey joined him. They were left alone. They patted each other’s shoulders. “Hey, man, thanks for coming. Can you get me out of here? This is stink hole.”
“First, Al, you’ll have to stay here until you’re indicted; later today or early in the morning. At the indictment, I’ll arrange bail. Don’t worry. You’re an upstanding citizen with your own established business. You don’t have any relatives in Mexico, do you?”
“Casey, you know I’m an orphan; brought up in several foster care homes right here in Tucson. Why are you asking?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Oh, forget I asked you.” For the next half hour, Casey tried to assure Al that everything would be all right. Then, Casey left, telling Al that if he were called to the indictment, he’d be back this afternoon. If not today, he’d see Al in court the next morning.
There were too many prisoners to indict all of them that afternoon; Al had to spend the night in that same cell. Being rather sensitive, he could sense the anguish, the fear and anger that oozed from the cement walls of the cell. High up on one wall was a colored T.V., controlled from outside the cell. There was so much bickering and yelling about what channel was on. At five o’clock, they were fed two tacos, a spoon of frijoles, brought from the Menudo Café, across the street from the Convention Center and two blocks from the Police Department. After he ate, he closed his eyes and thought about his life, and what had brought him to this point.
When he’d turned eighteen, he was released on his own. For the first six months, he’d job hopped from one menial job to another; including a job car washing; a janitor at a local motel; and washing dishes in several greasy cafes.
Following his twentieth birthday, he left Tucson and traveled to southern California. Shortly thereafter, he’d joined the Merchant Marine and attended their school in Vallejo, out of San Francisco. From Terminal Island, he shipped out on a freighter for the Far East. He left the ship unauthorized in Japan. He wanted to learn martial arts. He’d passed a window and witnessed students practicing while on shore leave in Yokosuka. The sign on the window read: Tai Chi and Kung Fu. He enrolled and began classes immediately. He was advised by the Chinese Master, Kao Chien Huo, to first study Tai Chi.
“Tai Chi and “pushing hands” are foundation for all martial arts. Later, study many styles to find own best Way.”
For the first year and a half, while working as an English tutor for several wealthy families, he studied Tai Chi, and push hands. Then, he took up Aikido, or, “The Way of Harmonious Spirit,” first established by Morihei Ueshiba. He delved into Kend Do, “The Way of the Sword,” which used Bogu or heavy body armour for protection while fighting with wooden swords. He also undertook simpler weapons training, which he was told to think of as, “an extension of one’s own body.” such as Bokken, or wooden sword, and Tanto or knife fighting; both used in Aikido. He also learned the shortened Karate technique, Jeet Kune Do, or the style perfected by Bruce Lee. He’d discovered the major differences between Japanese Karate and the Chinese Kung Fu style, and chose the latter as being more in harmony with Tai Chi, which was more graceful and less aggressive but just as effective, and both could be utilized for either attack or defense. He’d also learned the rudiments of the Japanese language.
After twelve years in Japan, he returned to Tucson and secured his license to open his dojo in a small space on the Miracle Mile, teaching the Kung Fu techniques he learned from Master Huo . In his spare time to took up the study of Ken Po, (Kem Po) developed by Ed Parker in the USA, involving quick hand strikes in rapid succession and striking combinations. Over the years the dojo had become popular and his reputation as an excellent teacher spread throughout the greater Tucson area.
He had a restless night. He rinsed every thought from his memory of Friday night. He began to realize he’d been upset and frustrated with Socorro. He asked himself, could that frustration have contributed to the power of my blow to his carotid artery? His consciousness aroused some feeling of guilt in his gut.
Alfredo, being a long time martial artist, had adhered to the Buddhist way of life and its teachings. Brutal self honesty was demanded of every follower of these teachings. He had practiced self-watchfulness; the conscious awareness of every thought feeling and action he experienced as a means to self understanding, the gaining of self-control, and the realizing of the admonition of the Oracle of the Delphi, to “Mankind, know thyself.” Casey had told him at the indictment they would be pleading not-guilty due to acting in self-defense. Could he in all truth plead not guilty if in fact he had, even if from a momentary lapse of his training, killed the man due to his frustration with Socorro? All night, he wrestled with this question. He knew to plead guilty would automatically cause his imprisonment for life, or even possibly death.
Being a practicing Buddhist, he accepted without question the tenets of karma and reincarnation. Another of the tenets called for selfless service to humanity with disregard of self. That is why he had chosen the teaching of Kung Fu; so as to develop strong self-reliance and irrefutable confidence in each of his students; to impart to them their responsibility toward others and to have compassion for all living forms. Had that man some karmic need to confront him that night? Was it a part of my karma to kill him? He accepted what St. Paul had said: Whatsoever ye sow, so shall ye reap. He concluded that in his heart he could not plead not-guilty, even if contrary to Casey’s strong urging. He composed his thoughts to the idea of spending his life in prison or dying by injection. If it be his karma, then, so be it. This was only one life of many on the soul’s long pilgrimage to eventual spiritual liberation. Casey would be furious with him, but he had always been his own man and always tried to not only think for himself, but to think things through. He determined to plead guilty; concluding his frustration at Socorro had killed that man.
At the indictment the next morning, Casey was with him. He had said nothing, but when the judge ask for a pleading, and Casey rose to proclaim not-guilty because of self-defense, Alfredo yelled out to the judge, “Guilty, sir.” Casey turned to him, “Are you out of your mind?” He immediately requested a recess to allow him to confer with his client. The judge granted him fifteen minute and adjourned the hearing for those minutes, even when the prosecutor strongly objected.
When court was reconvened, the judge accepted Alfredo’s plea of guilt, and arranged for the prisoner to be remanded to jail, awaiting his Superior Court appearance. Casey jumped up and requested bail for his client. “Mr. Cordovan is an honorable citizen of this community; a respected business man. He has no reason to flee, and having pleaded guilty your honor, shows he is not trying to escape.” After pondering the request, the judge granted the request; again against the vehement objections of the prosecution.
After checking him out and retrieving his gear, Casey drove Alfredo home. They sat in silence, with Casey fuming all the way.
The first thing Alfredo did was eat a solid lunch, while Casey, refusing to eat, fixed himself a highball. Alfredo didn’t really drink that much but kept liquor on hand for visitors. Next, Alfredo showered and shaved, feeling dirty from the jail atmosphere. When he finally entered the living room where Casey was waiting, he sat down and grinned at his attorney.
“All right, Casey, let me have it.”
“You damned right I will! Whatever possessed you to pull that stupid stunt? Tell me, did you suddenly lose your senses?” Alfredo gave him time to cool down.
“I know you probably don’t understand, but remember the principles I taught you in the dojo? To be your own man and to think for yourself, and to think things through? Remember what I told you about the Buddhist tenets of karma and reincarnation. I know being a born Christian, you only gave lip service to those teachings, and you had every right to think for yourself. And, I know you don’t agree with me now, but I have my personal reasons for pleading guilty. I’m prepared to face the consequences of my acts. I fully realize I’ll spend my life in prison, or be executed. It doesn’t really matter” Casey tried to intervene. “Please, let me finish. This is only one life of many for me. And, it is really not that important. Only a few dozens of years out of the hundreds and hundreds that confront my soul’s journey to spiritual liberation. I ask you to respect my wishes, and don’t interpret these events as being anything personal to you.”
At his scheduled trial in the Superior Court of Pima County a month later, a trial by jury was waved, and the judge sentenced Alfredo to be executed for the murder of Guy Raymonds. A date for his execution was set six months later. He was immediately remanded to the Arizona State Prison at Florence, north of Tucson. Alfredo asked Casey to take care of his business; close it up and leave notice to his students the dojo would be permanently closed, and to act as the executor of his estate. And, if he had time could he contact Socorro, “You remember that pretty woman who shared your training with?” and ask her to visit him in prison. Casey, in tears, told him he’d handle all of it. They hugged, and as he was being led away, Alfredo only glanced back once, with a grin on his face. “Peace to all beings,” he whispered.