I arrived at Spahn’s late in the afternoon and parked behind the tack room. It was hot and muggy; the wranglers were just quitting for the day. I recognized Shorty and Randy with their backs to me, standing with Pearl by the corral. I waved but Pearl didn’t look up. I had an impulse to go down and say good-bye, but decided against it. Danny De Carlo was sitting in front of the saloon drinking a beer when I walked up. Ouisch squatted beside him, embroidering one of Charlie’s shirts.
“How’s the Great American Desert?” Danny hoisted his beer in greeting.
“Hot. Hi, Ouisch.”
“I’ll drink to that… want one?”
I shook my head. “Charlie around?”
“Went to Malibu to pick up Bruce,” Ouisch said cheerily.
“Where’s he been?”
“England… studying Scientology.” She moved away from the door as I went inside. “What are you up to, Paul?” she called after me.
“Just come to get my boots and drop off my buck skins.”
“Hey, De Carlo!” I heard Bill Vance’s voice from the semitrailer. “You gonna lie on your butt all day or give us a hand with this carburetor?”
“Just like the fuckin’ army, ain’t it,” Danny muttered as I came out with my stuff. He drained the dregs of the beer, then picked up the rest of the six-pack and sauntered off toward the semitrailer where Bill, Turk, and another mechanic were standing. Ouisch followed him.
I tossed my gear into the back of Stanely’s pickup, then trotted toward George’s place.
“Hi, Paul.” I heard the voice and turned to see Sherry and Pooh Bear step out of a tent set up on the site of Dody’s old lean-to. Then Sadie, Snake, and Brenda appeared. They were all dressed in Levi’s and wore buck knives strapped to their waists. I walked over and wheeled into the yard in the milk truck and parked at the side of the saloon.
As they got out of the truck, Charlie said something to Bruce and he walked off toward the corral. I went down to meet Charlie. As always, he greeted me warmly, putting his arm around my shoulder.
“I’m glad you’re back… real glad.” Charlie wore buckskins, motorcycle boots, and a hunting knife strapped to his left hip. “Man, you know you’re breakin’ my heart. What’s happening with us?”
“Nothin’. It’s just I want to stay out at the ranch for a while.”
“With that guy Crockett?”
We walked along the boardwalk.
“Do me a favor. Stay the night… stay in the tent. Did you see how I got it all fixed up over there? It’s real nice… great place to make love… you can just stay in there, you know… Snake and Brenda are there.”
“I got to –.”
“Hey, haven’t I always given you everything I got? Everything… all that I have is yours, man!”
I glanced at the tent and saw Snake standing in the doorway. She waved. We walked over to Stanley’s truck and Charlie leaned against it, his eyes on me. He sensed then, I think, that I was really leaving, and might not come back. I must have been heavy for him. I’d been a mainstay, someone he could depend on. I reflected the flower child in him; now I was checking out. Bruce Davis, it appeared, had already assumed my position as second in command.
“What about our music, man… what about Helter-Skelter, the revolution?”
“I’m still into the revolution, but… this isn’t how it used to be… all these other dudes, everyone strung out all over the place. Where’s the love? … It just isn’t the same.”
Charlie’s voice was suddenly hard.
“No, it ain’t… man… the shit’s coming down. The love thing is over – it’s Helter-Skelter now… and don’t you forget it. And when it happens, we’re comin’ to the desert – all of us.”
“Yeah, Charlie.” I climbed in the truck. “But with Crockett at Barker’s, you can’t get up there.”
Charlie’s eyes flashed. “You just watch me, brother.”
At that moment I had no idea how dangerous a game I was playing. I swung the truck around and headed for the corral; that’s when I spotted Juan Flynn leading a horse up from the creek. He called to me, and I stopped the truck. Dressed in a pair of Levi’s, cowboy boots, and his battered straw hat, his powerful upper body delineated with sweat, Juan cut an awesome figure in the afternoon sunlight as he approached the truck.
“Where ‘ave you been, Paul?”
“For good, huh?”
“I don’t know… scene here is getting freaky.”
The expression on Juan’s face acknowledged his agreement. “Hey, Bo and Stephanie left too… T.J. has gone, Karate Dave. Last week some black dudes come here looking for Charlie… he say he’s going to cut them up.”
“When you comin’ to the desert?”
“Maybe soon… I have work here.”
“Guy out there I want you to meet.”
Juan stepped away from the truck and I headed for the highway, shouting to Shorty as I passed the corral. He waved his hat. It was the last time I was to see Shorty Shea. As I reached the Santa Susana Pass Road, I switched on the radio to find some music. I don’t remember the exact date, but it had to be around the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth of July, approximately one week before Charlie sent Bobby, Sadie, and Mary to Topanga Canyon to murder Gary Hinman.
By then I was beginning to consider Crockett a man I could learn a great deal from; also, unconsciously, I was priming Charlie for a confrontation with Crockett. By lauding Crockett’s powers, I was building my own strength. My direction, however, was by no means certain; it was more like drifting out of one orbit into another, being drawn, half-willingly, half-unwillingly; I saw the potential for growth through Crockett’s games of attention and consciousness. I had seen it work following my spill on the motorcycle. Afterward I had told Crockett, “I want to learn how to do that. I want to learn the laws of healing. Can you teach me?” But he had not committed himself; he had said only that it takes time. We had made no agreements; he knew that my ties to Charlie were deep, that it would take a long time to free myself from them. Part of what drew me to Crockett was that he did not press me. Unlike Charlie, whose ego demanded that he be the center of attention, always talking, selling his rap, Crockett felt no such need. His powers were silent and unspoken, like those of the desert.
For the next two weeks Crockett, Brooks, and I were together constantly. We rose early, hiked up to the mines, and worked several hours, before trudging back with backpacks loaded with rock. Later, with mortar and pestle, we crushed the rock, separating the fold from the quartz base. This physical labor worked wonders on us. Within a relatively short time we were lugging out sixty and seventy pounds on our backs while scaling some of the steepest and most treacherous mountains in the Panamints; that kind of work and danger (one false step and it’s 250 feet into oblivion) forces you to concentrate, to be there, to “come to Now.” Everything we did, Crockett did with us; his body seemed indefagitable. It vexed me to see a man I considered “old” bounding up and down those trails without effort while I was exhausted.
We planted more vegetables – tomatoes, lettuce, squash, melons, onions, carrots, beans; we rebuilt fences, refurbished the bunkhouse, and laid a new floor in the kitchen. In the evenings we played concentration games for hours, learning to be silent yet in full communication with each other. Gradually me senses revitalized. I found myself aware of sounds and smells and changes in air currents; we could hear people coming through the canyon long before they reached the base of the wash. There were many occasions when Brooks and Crockett and I would look at each other simultaneously, acknowledging that we heard Bob and Juanita driving back from Ballarat hours before their arrival.
The desert lends itself to psychic phenomena; you become aware of plants, rocks, mountain peaks, lizards, insects; with everything so open and delineated, it’s as though each entity is given its own special place in the cosmos “to be” and you begin to respect that space, that organism, and the vibrations is contributes to the whole of the surroundings.
At no time did we smoke dope or use drugs of any kind.
I began to understand how Crockett could put up a psychic barrier on the entrance to Golar Canyon. Once when I asked him about it, he said, “Well, we have created a beautiful place here… a good life; we’ve agreed to put our attention on what we have. We don’t want no one comin’ in here to mess it up. Unless people come with true love in their hearts, well, it don’t make any sense us havin’ anything to do with ‘em.” When Brooks asked Crockett what love was, he said, “Love is just allowing someone to be… the granting of being-ness.”
Crockett wasn’t a musician, but he agreed to help Brooks and me with our music; he said it was important we had a goal and that music was a good one. The only instrument we had with us at the time was Brook’s guitar (and it only had four strings). So I cut a piece of bamboo and made a flute and taught myself to play it. In the evenings we sat outside on the porch and played. Crockett told us to project our music to the surroundings.
“Play to them rocks up there… play to the trees… project your sounds to what you see around you so they can feel it too. Sounds are just vibrations of feeling, and if you give them spontaneously and consciously, well, then, I don’t see why you can’t make beautiful music. There ain’t no formulas for music… not set ways.”
What Crockett said about music was very much like what Charlie taught us – to improvise and be loose, to tune with the flow of energy and just use the instrument to project it. But Crockett said more.
“The rhythm of life,” he insisted, “can be understood in terms of cosmic octaves… in laws of seven… the scale. All life is conditioned in action. It’s no accident, ya know, that the word do is the same word as the first note of the musical scale, do. The scale begins with do and ends with do, and that, ya see, is the very pulse of life. Like they say, ‘the beat just goes on’. When you play music ‘consciously’ with this kind of awareness, ya realize what power it really has. It’s like them walls of Jericho… music brought them right to the ground. Music can bring down a lot of walls. It’s the harmony ya make when ya mine ore out of the mountains… that clear precision of sound that lets ya inside the mystery. Ya his that pick just right, and the sound takes ya right up the musical scale to the jackpot.”
One evening around six-thirty I was by myself on the porch. Crockett and Brooks were up at the mine, and Juanita and Bob were in the bus. I was playing my flute, trying to project the sounds across the garden and beyond it to the fig trees. I was completely absorbed in the sounds and the touch of my fingers on the stops. But I noticed a lizard at the far end of the porch basking in the last of the sunlight, and after a time he crawled over to me and just stayed there by my leg while I played. A little while later, be crawled up on my leg, just tilting his head from time to time. Finally, he crawled up my arm and across my hand and out onto the flute, looking into the holes, curious, I guess, as to where those sounds were coming from. It was only when I moved my hand and started laughing that he shot down my arm and dropped to the floor, before crawling through a crack in the porch.
Sometime around August 3, Stanley Berry, Bob’s brother, drove up to the ranch to tell us he’d located a good mining prospect in the Muggillon Mountains in northern Arizona and that we should go down there and check it out. We talked it over one evening during dinner and decided to make the trip. Stanley left the next morning, saying he’d meet us in Kingman at his brother Tom’s place and that we could start from there. We left two days later.
We stopped in Las Vegas to buy supplies and a few mining tools. Bob drove while Juanita and Crockett sat with him up front. Brooks and I rode in back. The drive from Vegas past Lake Meade is a scenic one, and after days of hard work, Brooks and I were enjoying it. We sat on a mattress with our backs against the cab of the truck discussing the prospects of a meeting between Charlie and Crockett. I asked Brooks if he thought Charlie and Crockett would get along.
He shrugged. “I doubt it… but I’d sure like to see them together, I think Big Paul would blow Charlie’s mind.”
“Charlie says he’s comin’.”
“Yeah, when Helter-Skelter comes down… he’ll be tryin’.”
“Think Crockett will ever agree to that?”
“Told me he wants to meet Charlie sometime.”
“Charlie might blow Crockett’s mind.”
At that moment, both Brooks and I turned around to see Crockett looking at his through the rear window. He had a big grin on his face.
For the next week we waited for Stanley. While Brooks and I roamed around Kingman, Crockett stuck pretty close to Tom’s, reading and playing solitaire. But he was getting angry. By the end of the week he was arguing with Bob.
“Don’t your brother know what a telephone is?”
“He’ll be here,” Bob said.
“We’ll wait one more day.”
“I said, he’ll be here.”
“After tomorrow, I won’t.”
On Saturday, August 9, 1969, while Brooks, Crockett, Juanita, and I drank iced tea and watched a late TV report on the Apollo 11 first moon landing, which had taken place the week before, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle, and Linda Kasabian paid a visit to 10050 Cielo Drive in Bel Air to do a job for Charlie. The following morning at breakfast we saw another news broadcast describing the slaughter of five people and an unborn child; Crockett was seated at the table, across from me sipping his coffee. Brooks was to his left, and Bob and Juanita were still in bed. The newscaster had finished his brief report, closing with a remark about how bloody the murders bad been and that Roman Polanski, the husband of Sharon Tate, had not been available for comment. Crockett lit a cigarette and looked at me, exhaling as he did so. “Wouldn’t it be somethin’ if old Charlie did that.”
I looked at Brooks, who was wiping egg from his platter with a piece of toast. “Naw…” he said, “no way.”
But Crockett’s crack bothered me. My first impulse was to call him on it. Where did he get off saying a thing like that? He didn’t know Charlie. He didn’t know the Family; he was just a wise-ass miner with big mouth and a lot of games. Yet, when he said it, a chill ran through my body.
“What’s the matter, Paul?” Crockett asked.
“Nothin’, except you got a rotten sense of humor.”
In retrospect, I see my reaction to Crockett’s remark as an expression of my own uncertainty. Had I truly believed it impossible, I would have forgotten it at once and regarded it, as Brooks had, as a bad joke. Yet, in some respects, Crockett was indirectly attacking me. Since Charlie and the Family were one, any comment regarding Charlie was applicable to us. If Charlie’s trip had become murder (which I wouldn’t consciously allow myself to believe, despite his talk about showing blackie), then all of us were in some sense part of it. Months later, I would ask Crockett about the remark. He said he remembered making it but that he hadn’t really thought it was true. “It’s jest that sometimes somethin’ comes into yer head and ya say it and it don’t make any sense and yo don’t really believe it but still ya say it. It’s kind of an impulse. I’ve found that sometimes them impulses are right and sometimes they’re not, but I like to give ‘em a chance. Fact is, I never thought of old Charlie as a murderer until I finally come up to him face to face.”
The next day, when Stanley failed to show, we loaded the truck. Bob got angry and said he and Juanita were going back to Barker’s to get their stuff and split. Crockett said that was a fine idea.
In Vegas we bought a newspaper, and that’s when we read about the La Bianca murders. According to the article, the police did not believe the Tate and La Bianca murders were related; the article said further that a suspect for the Tate murders was in custody. It did not say that on the door of the refrigerator in Lino La Bianca’s house two words had been written in blood: Helter-Skelter.
From Vegas we drove across the Pahrump Valley into Shoshone. Bob stopped so that Juanita could buy some cigarettes. Then we filled up with gas and headed north. We weren’t twenty miles out of town when a sheriff’s patrol car screamed down upon us and nearly ran Bob off the road. Two khaki-clad officers leaped out of the car with shotguns.
Moments later we were all lined up along the roadside with our hands up. The shorter, stockier cop waved the shotgun at us; he looked like a madman.
“Don’t any of you move, by Jesus, or I’ll blow your goddamned heads off!”
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD