Tiburcio's Treasure


G. Lloyd Helm

The Hole in the Wall bar was misnamed because there was no "wall." It was just a dry-brown, ghost-town-looking shack so far out in southern California’s Antelope Valley -- a desert valley where there have been no antelopes in living memory -- that I was always amazed it even had running water and electric lights. The shack sorta stuck up out of the creosote bushes in the bottom of this low place that might have been a volcanic crater a couple billion years ago. You could see the lights of the place for miles if the night was moonless. There was only one road (unpaved) leading to it, and it was made out of dust so gritty-fine it could blast the chrome off a truck bumper with just the slightest encouragement of a breeze.

How and why The Hole in the Wall got to be such a gathering place I don’t know, but it was. Some ways it reminded me of Callahan’s Saloon from the Spider Robinson stories only without the intergalactic clientele -- at least I don’t think there were any space aliens, but after what happened I’m not quite so sure.

Anyhow, aliens or not, it did manage to attract a pretty wide cross section of folks. One time when I was leaning on the bar I looked around and saw two Hells Angels; a drunk on his ass Air Force colonel; a couple of Goth chicks with purple hair and bad attitudes; a priest of dubious reputation; and a couple of old timers that might have been the ghosts of every donkey-dragging prospector who had ever poked through the Tehachipe Mountains looking for gold. I even saw a bridal party come in there one night complete with fooffy-gowned bridesmaids and tuxedoed groomsmen. But the night I met the ghost of Tiburcio Vasquez there was nobody in the place except me, my friend Big Dave Dodge, and the barkeep that called herself "Rio Rita."

Big Dave was a six foot five, two hundred fifty pound, longhaired, goateed, mean looking, chopper riding … poet. He was gentle as a new mother most of the time unless you got him really stirred up, which was not easy to do; but if a fella did manage it he would be well advised to hit the bricks running because Dave could pick up a motorcycle -- OK, a small one -- and lift it above his head. You would have expected his poetry to be something right out of the Beats or maybe a kind of Gangsta Rap but it wasn’t. It was classical verse that Robert Frost would have been proud of. It didn’t make him any money though, so he put his great talents to work writing the sloshiest garbage imaginable and selling it to greeting card companies. He wasn’t getting rich, but between that and his gigs playing "Outlaw Biker" movie extra roles, he was eating regular with enough left over to visit The Hole in the Wall once in a while.

Well anyway, one late evening Dave and I were leaning on the bar sipping suds and talking when I said to Rita, "Your last name’s Vasquez isn’t it?"

"Yep," she answered.

"Any kin to Tiburcio Vasquez?" I thought I was joking. Vasquez isn’t quite as common a name as Smith, Jones or Garcia but it is pretty common.

"Yep," she answered. "My great grandfather."


"Oh yeah. I been hearing stories about grandpa Tiburcio since I was a kid."

"OK, I’ll bite," says Dave. "Who is Tiburcio Vasquez?"

"You live out here and you never heard or Tiburcio Vasquez, the most famous bandito in all the great Mojave?"

Dave shook his head.

"You want to tell him, Rita, or should I?"

She suddenly got this speculative look on her face that piqued my curiosity. She had always piqued my curiosity anyway. She was one of those Latino women who could be any age between eighteen and a hundred. Long black hair, obsidian black eyes and an aspect that at one look made her the most gorgeous creature alive, and at another a crone out of some spook story. After a moment she said, "Go ahead."

"OK, but you can stop me if I go wrong." She nodded and I continued. "Tiburcio was a Californio from an old family that went back to before California was a state. Him and a lot of Mexicans were more than a little upset when the Anglos came looking for gold in 1849 and didn’t ever go away again, and when the Anglos began making all the Californios into second class citizens it didn’t make for a happy place. Tiburcio and several others got upset and started talking revolution to take California back from John C. Fremont and the boys, but they were pretty disorganized. So they wound up mostly as gallows apples -- including Tiburcio -- but he had a pretty good run as a thieving, murdering bandito for quite a while. He was better at it than Joaquin Murieta and Elfago Baca. Terrorized the borax mining companies and anyone else who ever set foot in the Mojave. And from what I hear he didn’t have any of Zorro anywhere about him. He robbed from rich and poor alike and kept it. Supposed to have left a stash of gold and stuff somewhere up here. People been looking for it since he got hung."

Dave looked at Rita. "And he was your great grandpa?"

"Me and about hundred others. Tiburcio got around."

"A romantic, huh?" I said. "I didn’t know that."

"Oh yeah. It was what got him hung really."

"Yeah? I didn’t know that. Guess you should have told the story."

"You did pretty good for an Anglo, but Grandpa Tiburcio and his gang robbed and killed people from San Francisco to San Diego, not just in the Mojave. And worse than that, he was a handsome devil that made all the ladies wet their panties. That’s why I am hardly alone in my kinship to him."

The speculative look came back to her face as she looked over us, as though she was trying to decide whether or not to tell us something else. We sipped beer for a little then she bent down and got a bottle of really good tequila out from under the bar and poured three shots. "Drink up and I’ll tell you some more about my grandfather," she said, shoving a plate with lime wedges and a salt shaker on it toward us.

All three of us did the "lick it, slam it, suck it" with the tequila then Rita leaned in closer to us. "I got a part of my grandpa his other grandkids don’t," she said.

"And what would that be?" Dave asked.

She looked around as though the walls might have ears, then pointed at a quart Mason jar sitting on a shelf above the back bar. I had never noticed it there before. It contained something that looked kinda like a mushroom with half the cap gone. "Reach that down for me," she commanded, so I walked around, got it down and put it on the bar beside the tequila bottle.

"What is it?" I asked.

"El Miembro Masculino de mi abuelo Tiburcio."

My Spanish ain’t great but it didn’t have to be to understand what she said. It was Tiburcio’s -- well, his generative organ, as they would have said in Victorian times.

"You mean that’s his…" Dave said, looking a little pale under his road tan.

Rita nodded.

But my Momma didn’t raise no fools that would believe just any old thing so I said, "Naw, that’s gotta be a joke, Rita! That can’t be his -- It’s gotta be a mushroom or something."

Rita didn’t take offence. She just lifted her left hand as though taking an oath and crossed herself with her right.

I picked up the jar and shook it a little. Dave got paler still and said, "Hey take it easy with that. You don’t want to drop it or nothing."

I sloshed it again. "So if this is the old boys pud, how did you get a hold of it -- no pun intended? How did he lose it?"

"I told you. That," she nodded at the jar in my hand, "is what led to Tiburcio getting hung. See, he had hundreds of girl friends from San Francisco to Tijuana, but he got eyes for the wife of a cholo in his gang. He went after Rosaria Leiva and Abdon, her husband, couldn’t take it, so he went to the sheriff and made a deal to betray Tiburcio for the eight thousand-dollar reward and amnesty for himself. Abdon lead the sheriff to Tiburcio’s hideout over in Agua Dulce and after a big gunfight Tiburcio was captured.

"They took him to San Jose to try him, and while he was in jail more than a thousand women came to see him -- and not just Mexican women either. High society Anglo ladies from San Jose and San Francisco came and brought gifts and gave money for his lawyers. If women’d had the vote and been able to sit on juries then, Tiburcio might not have gotten hanged, but he did. They say that all the women in San Jose cried when he died. But Abdon Leiva wasn’t satisfied with just getting Tiburcio hung. He went and bribed the undertaker with the eight thousand dollars, then he cut that off…" Dave and I both winced, "…and put it in this jar with a quart of tequila like the worm at the bottom of a mescal bottle. Then he took it home and gave it to Rosaria."

"Oh man! That’s cold!" Dave said.

Rita nodded and continued. "Rosaria got even with him though. Waited till Abdon was asleep and killed him with an ax."

"Whoa! What happened to her?"

"She got caught and they hung her too."

Dave and I looked at each other when she fell silent, then he reached for the tequila bottle and poured three more shots which we all slammed down.

"So how did you come to have it?" I asked after I got my voice back from the tequila.

"I got it from my grandmother. I don’t know how she got it, but she swore it was the real thing and…" Rita looked around again though it was still only the three of us in the bar to hear her. "…She told me that because of this, Tiburcio’s ghost can’t rest. He wanders around looking for his lost parts."

"OK! Now I know it’s Bullshit!" I said, laughing. "Ghosts! You almost had me there until the ghosts. Good story though!"

Dave, still looking serious, said, "You know they used to bury the heads and bodies separately after the guillotine. They buried the bodies at cross roads so that the ghosts wouldn’t know which way to go to look for their heads. People still swear they meet headless ghosts wandering around on moonless nights."

I looked from Dave to Rita and back, wondering if there was some kind of conspiracy between them to put me on, but if there was it sure didn’t show. Their grave expressions suddenly sent a chill up my back, but I put on a brave front. "OK, so where is this ghost wandering around? Where’s he buried? San Jose, right?"

Rita nodded. "But his ghost isn’t there, it’s here in Agua Dulce where he was betrayed. At Vasquez’s Rocks."

I blinked at her and the silence in the bar was like ninety weight motor oil poured over the three of us. Vasquez’s Rocks is an immense, surreally up-thrusting castle of stone in the edge of the Mojave Desert. If you have ever seen an old cowboy movie or a science fiction TV show you’ve seen the place because this alien seeming natural fortress has been used as outlaw hideout and extra terrestrial locale since movies first came to Hollywood.

Dave nodded. "I’ve heard movie people say that place is haunted. Some of the crews and extras won’t work out there after dark."

I looked back and forth between them, still thinking I was being had, but they both looked serious as a parson at sinner’s funeral. Still, I just couldn’t buy into it. "Naw, this is bullshit! There’s no ghost! That’s just a pickled mushroom or something, and this has been a great story and an interesting evening, but I’m gonna go home to Michele and sleep off this tequila." I started digging in my jeans pocket for my money clip to pay for my drinks when Rita said:

"I betcha if you took this out there the ghost would come to you, then you’d believe me wouldn’t you?"

"Yeah," Dave said, eyeballing me defiantly. "Then you’d believe her wouldn’t cha?"

This time I reached over and poured us all another tequila, which we slammed down. Then I picked up the jar again and headed for the door. "You two coming?"


Vasquez’s Rocks is a Los Angeles county park which closes at sunset unless you get permits, which is what a lot of production companies do in order to shoot there at night, but the place isn’t Fort Knox. ‘Closed’ means that a turnpike bar that wouldn’t keep out a kindergartner is let down across the road. I parked with the nose of my truck against the bar and we ducked under it and walked carefully into the open area in front of the "castle" part of the formation. I was carrying the jar, which had sat beside me on the car seat all the way down highway 14, and I was feeling both a little silly and a little put upon. Besides which, I had a headache. Tequila and beer is not a good mixture for me.

We stood for a couple of minutes and I finally called out, "OK Vasquez, whereinthehell are ya? You want yer pud back come and get it!"

Dave started shushing me. "What are you trying to do, get us arrested?"

"I’m just trying to prove to you that there ain’t no ghost." That’s when I noticed that Rita wasn’t with us anymore. "Where’d she go? She’s the one got us out here. What’s she do run away?"

Out of the dark Rita called, "Oye! Come here you two."

I couldn’t exactly see her, but we followed the sound of her voice toward another part of the formation that I knew pretty well. I used to bring my wife Michele up there before she was my wife. It was a nice private little place like an amphitheater scooped out of the solid stone with a wide bench at the back. It was away from the main part of the park and on nights when the moon was bright it was a pretty romantic spot. We’d park outside the gate, climb over and . . . well you can guess from there.

When we got around the rock and inside the niche it was so dark I couldn’t see anything. "Where are you, Rita?"

"I’m here. Come and sit down."

Annoyed but still willing to play along with the joke, I felt my way back to the bench with Dave right behind me. We sat and suddenly it was as though the dark little cavity in the rock had turned into a deep freeze. A silvery dot of light grew from a pinpoint to door size as though it was an aperture opening in then fabric of the night to let in an eerie crepuscular light.

I don’t know what big Dave was doing but I started shaking with more than cold and it was "feets don’t fail me now!" time, only my "feets" did fail me. I couldn’t move! I felt frozen to the bench with the supernatural cold. My eyes were bugging out as the spectral light coagulated into the figure of a man; tall and lanky with a mop of jet-black hair and a huge drooping moustache. He probably would have been handsome except that his head seemed crooked on his neck and his face was twisted with pain. He was dressed like a Mexican vaquero and was holding his wide round sombrero in front of him as though to shield his loins.

Fear was squeezing my chest so that I could hardly breath, but I managed to ask, "Who…who…are you?"

From somewhere, "Rio Rita" Vasquez stepped into the glow -- was part of the glow! She lifted her hand and touched the tortured face of the ghost. "Te quiero, Tiburcio," she said. Her voice was like the edge of a chisel drawn up my spine.

The ghost opened his arms to embrace her and in doing so he moved the wide sombrero from his loins. The sight made me cringe with empathy, and I heard Dave gasp with the same emotion. The crotch of Tiburcio’s brown pants was blood stained from his belt line to his knees.

Rita looked at us and her eyes turned my insides to water. "Bring it," she commanded and her words lifted me from the bench to my feet. I stretched out my hand holding the jar and Tiburcio took it from me. His touch was icy and malignant and numbed my arm from fingertip to shoulder. I was being pulled into the glowing aperture and I was struggling to pull back when I felt big Dave’s hands on the collar of my shirt and the seat of my pants, hauling me back from the supernatural trap. He dragged me out of the niche and just outside it we took off at a dead run for the car. We jumped in and did not stop until we were in Lancaster.

A few days later Dave and I went back out to where The Hole in the Wall had been and found that the place had burned down. There was nothing left but some charred sticks and truth be told they looked like they had been there for a hundred years.

What really happened that night I do not know, though Dave and I have talked it over a lot. Did we really see the ghost of Tiburcio Vasquez? And what the hell was Rita? Was she a ghost too? Maybe the ghost of Rosaria Leiva? But if it was Rosaria why didn’t she just take the jar down to Vasquez’s Rocks herself?

"Maybe she wasn’t able," Dave said. "Remember she never touched the jar. You got it down and you picked it up from the bar to look closer at it and you carried it when we went up there. She never touched it."

Maybe he’s right. Maybe she couldn’t, or maybe it was some kind of ghost conspiracy to catch a couple of live ones and she was the bait; at any rate that’s the story and it still scares the bejesus out of me when I think about it, but every time Dave and I have talked about it since it happened we always end up saying "Too bad The Hole in the Wall is gone though. It was a great bar."


© 2006 by G. Lloyd Helm

Bio: "G. Lloyd Helm is a 57 Year old philosopher and ne’er do well scribbler. He has been writing for about thirty years and has published poetry (two chapbooks available from the publisher MousePrints) short stories in some very obscure magazines, including a science fiction story ("Pandemic") soon to be published in an English Magazine called Delivered and a short memoir in Pilgrimage Literary Magazine (2005) numerous essays in various newspapers around the world, and one anti-war fantasy novel called OTHER DOORS (ISBN 0-9702112-0-1), available through Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com. He has a second novel DESIGN (SF) which has just been released by PublishAmerica. He is a former director of the Palmdale Playhouse Writers' Roundtable in Palmdale, CA. and current member of the Unknown Writers of the Antelope Valley workshop. He is working on yet another book because, though he is bloodied by rejection, he is too dumb to give it up. Of course there have been other things that supported his writing because, as we all know, anyone who thinks they will get rich, or even feed themselves on a regular basis with their writing is more than likely destined to disappointment. He has held a lot of jobs, of which the most important has been house husband and father, but he has also worked as a carpenter, laborer, cement finisher, taxi driver, radio disk jockey, actor, cook, teacher, and guitar bum. But chiefly he has supported himself by having married well. His wife is a retired US Air Force Master Sergeant so, for ten of the last twenty five years, he has live d in Europe. Three years in Spain near Madrid (1977-80), Four years near Frankfurt Germany (1983-87), and three years in Italy near Venice (1993-96)."

E-mail: G. Lloyd Helm

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