Man, that summer of 1959, you couldn’t go anywhere in Tucson and not hear, “Sleepwalk” by Santo & Johnny. There were some killer sides that year like “I Only Have Eyes for You” by The Flamingos, “So Fine” that The Fiestas did and Jackie Wilson singing “Lonely Teardrops.” But it was “Sleepwalk” that was everywhere that summer, playing in the Southside dancehalls—like El Casino and the Del Rio Ballroom - where couples held each other close and danced to a sound that somehow perfectly blended country, rock n’ roll and did it all with a bitchin’ Latin groove. It was just the right song for a border town in the Southwest. You would hear it coming through rolled down windows of low riding cars on Speedway or on juke boxes at every drive in around town. The old Pachucos and the young Cholos and all the Vatos just dug it.
It was also the song I heard playing on the radio of Eddie Paz’s chopped, channelled and lowered midnight blue ‘48 Merc the steamy Saturday night Arturo Sandoval shot him to death when they were arguing over Araceli Lopez.
Eddie was a Southside guy like the rest of us. He worked at a copper mine up in San Manuel, fifty miles to the north. Him and Ariceli had been dating since they were juniors in high school and Eddie was saving his dough so they could get married and he would have enough money to put a down payment on a house.
Sometimes late on summer nights Eddie and me would drive up to Starr Pass west of the city. We had been best friends since kindergarten, growing up two doors apart in Barrio Santa Rosa, and told each other everything. I guess we were like brothers. Up there, we would look down on the lights of the city or watch heat lightning dance over the Catalina Mountains. From those hills, we could hear what sounded like a hundred desert highways, all going to places I had dreamt about but never been. I wanted to get away; I thought anywhere must be better than Tucson. Not Eddie though, he wanted that big house where he could have barbecues on Sundays, raise a bunch of kids and coach their ball teams then send them all to college. Eddie made me promise that if anything ever happened to him that I would look out for Ariceli.
Nobody knew where Sandoval had come from. There were rumors that he was from LA or El Paso. Even though he wasn’t much older than us, there was prison ink on his arms and a knife scar that ran from under his left eye down to the corner of his mouth. People said he sold mota around town and was involved with some bad cats that did bad things from Nogales. He wasn’t one of us, nobody in our crew liked him and we all tried to stay away from him.
But I guess he wanted Ariceli. She was the finest girl on the Southside and maybe in all of Tucson. He started following her around, parking his new Ford outside the house where she lived with her mom and dad. Her pops tried to run him off but he threatened the old man. When Eddie got back from a week’s worth of working at the mine and found him parked in front of her house, drinking a Modelo and smoking a cigarette, Eddie told him to beat it. Arturo got out of his car and broke the bottle in the street and started after Eddie, holding the bottle low and out in front of him, like it was a blade. Eddie had boxed Golden Gloves and won the city championship the year before. He wasn’t a big cat, just 5’7” or so but he was tough and his hands were quick. Arturo was much bigger but Eddie just waited until he got close then busted a right to the point of his chin that laid him out on the still hot pavement.
Nobody saw Arturo for a while after that. We figured he might have gotten the message and skipped town. Ariceli had to be home by eleven on Saturday nights so after dropping her off that night he was killed, Eddie met me at Ritchie’s Drive-In on Sixth. We got Cokes and started cruising Speedway. It was getting late so it was pretty quiet. We came to a stop light near the college and Arturo’s Ford was in the left lane.
“Hey Putas,” he called out.
We ignored him but he kept it up. Then he told Eddie how he was going to have Ariceli, one way or the other. Sleepwalk had just come on KOVA when Eddie asked him if he needed his ass kicked again. He stayed even with us until we came to the next light and in a mocking tone said,
Then, as Eddie turned to look at him, he raised a pistol and shot him in the face.
Arturo made a run for the border but they caught him down by Rio Rico. He was sentenced to forty years in the state pen up in Florence, an hour north of Tucson.
Ariceli was two months pregnant with Eddie’s baby. Eddie Jr. was born seven months later but she was never the same after he died. I tried to be there for her, tried to help but nothing I did seemed to work. She just got sadder every day. When Little Eddie was three; she overdosed on pills and passed away. She had just turned twenty one. I felt guilty as hell about not being able to help but there really isn’t a damn thing you can do for a broken, empty heart.
I never left Tucson. I got married and we adopted Eddie Jr. I used to take him up to Starr Pass and tell him what his dad was like when he was a little kid. Little Eddie would have made his pops proud. He was an All –State baseball player, graduated from Arizona State. He became an accountant, bought a big house up in the foothills and had three great kids.
Eddie Jr. was there on the day Arturo Sandoval was released from prison. When he walked through the main gate, an old man suddenly free after 40 years inside, Eddie slipped a disc into the player in his car, cranking up the volume. As the first haunting strains of steel guitar at the beginning of Sleepwalk reached him, Arturo Sandoval looked up with a puzzled look on his face. Eddie Jr. emptied a revolver into him.
Five years ago today Eddie Jr. rode the needle at Florence. I feel like I failed him, I should been the one who pulled the trigger, not Little Eddie. I will live with guilt and regret the rest of my days for not doing that. And every year, I take three roses for three graves to the cemetery just north of downtown, the one with sweeping views of the mountains that surround Tucson.
Today, when that song comes on the radio, old timers in South Tucson listen for a moment, think about the old days and remember the father, the mother and their son, then quickly change the station.