The following morning, the three of us were up early, Crockett was scrambling eggs and frying bacon while Brooks and I packed the mining gear and filled the canteens. We’d stayed up much of the night discussing what had happened. We’d stayed up much of the night discussing what had happened. I’d told them what Charlie had said to me. Brooks suggested we split. Crockett said no.
“I ain’t goin’ anyplace… we got our work here, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna be run off.”
Our “success” with Charlie during that initial encounter was due to several factors: for one thing, Crockett anticipated Charlie would use fear tactics to influence us; though I knew nothing about the Tate-La Bianca murders (which was also in our favor), I had experienced Charlie’s fear games before. Too, Crockett had been prepared for Charlie by Brooks and me. We’d been spouting his rap for months, so that nothing he said was new to Crockett. Crockett’s validity, meanwhile, had been established in Charlie’s mind by the mere fact that Brooks, Juanita, Bo, Stephanie, and I had defected. Equally disturbing, perhaps, in light of my claim of a “psychic barrier” on the canyon, was Charlie’s inability to get his trucks and supplies up to the ranch. Charlie knew enough about psychic power to realize that such phenomena were possible, and after meeting Crockett, however briefly, it became clear to him that the old miner was for real. In a single afternoon the stage was set for what was to become a battle of nerves.
The month that followed was both bizarre and frightening.
While we ate that morning, Crockett reiterated what he’d said the night before. “The idea is not to take anything from Charlie – not even Snake, Paul. We don’t need to make any agreements with him… we have all we need right here – a mine to dig, a good garden, plenty to keep us busy. We put our attention on what we have.”
Brooks and I both sensed that Crockett was intrigued by Charlie and that part of his motivation to stay was prompted by his own curiosity. Crockett loved games. When Brooks asked him what he thought about Charles Manson, Crockett replied succinctly, “He has a lot of power.”
We’d no more than stepped out the door when Snake appeared at the gate and motioned to me. Dressed in skin-tight Levi’s and a transparent silk halter top, she stood leaning against the fencepost. Charlie wasn’t wasting any time. While I spoke with Snake, Crockett and Brooks started down the wash. She asked what I was doing and I told her we had work to do.
“Charlie wants you to come up and make some music. He brought tapes of the stuff we recorded at Spahn’s.”
Charlie knew my greatest tie to the Family was the music. A lot of the work was mine. He also knew how tight I was with Snake. She asked if I was coming back with the Family.
I said no, and started down the wash after Brooks and Crockett.
“I’ll come back later, Paul,” she called after me.
It was around nine o’clock and already hot; the sides of the wash loomed up on either side of me as I scrambled over the boulders, then descended to the creek bed. I spotted Brooks and Paul far down the wash, Crockett in front wearing a red bandanna tied around his neck, and Brooks just behind him. I could see the tire tracks from Charlie’s dune buggies in the sand, and yellow paint on an outcropping of rock where the vehicles had scraped the canyon walls. I thought about Snake and decided then that I would make love with her. What I had going with her (in my mind) had nothing to do with Charlie. Submitting to any of the other girls would be different, like taking of Charlie’s hospitality. But with Snake I had established a separate relationship. That night, when we got back to Barker’s, she was there… and I was horny. I knew Charlie had sent her, but it didn’t matter. I took her up to the bunkhouse and we made love.
Later, when Crockett asked me what happened, I told him.
He shook his head. “You’re a fool,” he muttered.
“Maybe so, but I feel a lot better.”
Around eleven the next morning
Crockett came out of the bathroom as
“Letter sent to Bob’s post-office box in Vegas.”
“Hundred and thirty in Ballarat at eight this mornin’,” he said, more to himself than to any of us.
“Got to go to L.A.,” I announced. “Induction physical… Shit!”
“Finally gonna do somethin’ fer yer country, are ya?” Stanley jibed. “’Stead o’ hangin’ around with this no good rock hound.”
Crockett sat down with a cup of coffee and took out his cards.
How’re Bob and Juanita getting’ along?” he asked.
“Got married Sunday… no, Saturday… and left the state.” Stanley slurped at his coffee. “No great loss… as a miner, Bob wasn’t worth two tits on a boar.” He set his cup down. “What’s all the to-do up at Meyers’? I seen two spanking-new dune buggies sittin’ out front… seen a couple of guys down in the wash too, drivin’ motorcycles; said they was headed up here.”
“More supplies for Charlie,” I said, looking at Brooks. “Probably Bill Vance.”
“Well,” Stanley said, getting to his feet, “I got to stop at Meyers’ and pick up some of my tools, then I’m headin’ back to Vegas; anyone want a ride?”
“Yeah, I’ll ride with you… then hitchhike to L.A. and make that physical by Monday.”
Crockett glanced up from his cards, “Good idea.”
“Yeah, ya might get lucky,” Stanley joked, “get drafted… go to Veet-Nam.”
“Would you draft him?” Crockett asked dryly. “Either one of ‘em?”
Stanley looked at me, then at Brooks. “Yeah, I see what ya mean.”
I smiled and flipped Crockett off.
Stanley grinned. “Hey, little Paul, that reminds me, ya know what a taint is, don’t ya? Think he’s old enough to hear this, Big Paul?… Ya know, Brooks?”
“Nope, what’s a taint?”
“Ya know that little space in there between the pussy and the asshole?” He paused, his eyes dancing from me to Brooks. “Well, taint pussy and taint asshole!”
Stanley’s laugh sounded like a flock of startled poultry.
I ripped off a booming fart. “Let’s go,” I said.
On our way out, we stopped at the Meyers ranch so Stanley could pick up his tools; Clem and Bruce were sitting outside with Brenda and Sandy. The dune buggies were pulled right up to the house; boxes of supplies lay strewn along the narrow porch. Charlie appeared on the porch with Squeaky as Stanley and I got out of the truck. He was all smiles. He told Stanley that he was welcome to any tools or equipment he saw lying around. Stanley thought that right neighborly and immediately loaded his truck with backpacks, picks, and shovels that Charlie had brought up from Spahn’s It was obvious to me that Stanley’s eagerness to actually take the stuff pissed Charlie off. That was Charlie’s way with people: offer them everything so as to immediately put them in his debt. Usually the offer was enough. The first day I met Charlie he offered me food, shelter, a harem of women – his entire life-style – asking only that in exchange I “cease to exist,” a fate that could well have become Stanley’s had he ever returned to the Meyers ranch while Charlie was there, which he didn’t. Several days later, Charlie would tell Crockett, “When Stanley comes back up here, I’m gonna bury him.” We considered it part of Charlie’s ongoing fear games, not knowing that by then he’d been responsible for at least eight murders.
I attended my physical in L.A. on a Monday morning and before noon was classified as unfit for military service. A well-thought-out spiel on the virtues of drugs in expanding consciousness (plus my police record) was enough apparently to make me “undesirable.” That afternoon I hitchhiked up to Spahn’s to find Juan, only to learn that he had left for Golar Canyon. In the meantime, Brenda had returned to Spahn’s to deliver a message to Clem and Gypsy: Charlie wanted them to come to the Meyers ranch at once and to bring a load of motor parts. Brenda hailed me as I approached the boardwalk, and I walked down to the corral, where she and Clem were sitting on the chassis of a dune buggy smoking a joint.
Brenda informed me they were driving back to the desert later that afternoon and that I was welcome to ride with them. I thanked her and told her I would. She asked why I hadn’t come back to the Family, saying that Charlie was hurt by me and that I was needed. By then, Brenda had become one of Charlie’s heaviest and most dependable girls. She could talk his rap and get things done. And in contrast to some of the others, she never appeared spaced-out or lethargic. Yet, Charlie had a firm hold on her. Like everyone else, she had been ordered to work on me.
Clem, on the other hand, was totally blitzed, and sat slouched over the steering wheel of the dune buggy, his eyes glassy, his hair matted and snarled; he wore buckskins and a hunting knife on his belt. He appeared stiff, almost cadaverous, as though the essence of what was once Steve Grogan had been drained out of his body and replaced by a recording that mumbled bits and snatches about Helter-Skelter and the piggies and how beautiful it would all be when the young love came to the desert.
Later, on the ride back to the desert, he became animated. He was driving, while Brenda sat between us. “Hey,” he said, “heard about Shorty… huh?”
I didn’t reply. I just looked straight ahead over the tops of boulders fronting on the horizon, and beyond them to the mountains, which were cast in crimson, as if a fire were burning somewhere beneath my vision. I did not want to believe what Clem was saying, but I knew it was true, and he didn’t stop talking.
“… Yeah, it was a trip, you know. I never seen so much blood… it was all over everything. But he wouldn’t die… he jest wouldn’t die… he kept sayin’, ‘Why, Charlie, why? Why, Steve, why?’ And we just kept stabbin’ him… me and Bruce and Tex and Charlie. ‘You know why, motherfucker?’ Charlie says… but he wouldn’t shut up… So when Charlie told me, I took the machete and chopped his head off so he’d stop talkin’… and it just rolled off the trail, bloop… bloop… bloop… into the weeds.”
I didn’t tell Brooks and Crockett what Clem had said. I justified it by trying to convince myself it wasn’t true, that it would be a weakness. I wanted to be strong and not tell them. Yet, deep down, in the truest part of myself, which was only then becoming partially accessible, I knew it was true, that everything I had been committed to in the Manson Family had turned foul, irrevocably malignant.
Juan spent two days at the Meyers place with Charlie and the Family, then moved into the Barker ranch with us; he said very little, but I sensed he knew a lot. Meanwhile, more supplies arrived for Charlie – stolen dune buggies, Harleys, weapons, food supplies. Helter-Skelter was in full swing, happening just as Charlie had described. There was still a part of me, even then, that thought maybe he was right; Brooks and Juan expressed similar feelings, yet we all recoiled at “the reality” of what the Family had become. It is not easy to see people you love become subverted, twisted, rendered into robots. Crockett became our island of sanity, something solid like the mountains we could turn to and feel assured. Crockett had agreed to this position, consciously pitted himself against Charlie. Juan’s defection became Crockett’s victory. But the battle was only beginning.
Juan’s decision to join us wasn’t made until he had taken off for a week (with a canteen and some dried figs) and hiked into Butte Valley to be alone. Juan Flynn was a deeply sensitive man, by nature happy and thoroughly outgoing. During the course of our friendship, I saw evidence of his compassion and generosity. His experience in the United States (after coming from Panama) had been no picnic. Immediately upon arrival, he was drafted into the army and sent into combat in Vietnam. He later confessed to all of us that his battlefield experiences were terrifying and that only by smoking hashish could he keep from being totally paranoid.
“I was scared,” he admitted. “Sometime I theenk I will die and that eet would be better to die than to be so frightened… that I just have to fight and fight and kill anyone who might kill me. In war every man become a child who want his mother… because there is so much he will never understand alone.”
It was not hard to comprehend how Charlie’s rap on making love and facing your fears had appealed to Juan, particularly in light of his infatuation with Brenda. Charlie continued to use her, as he did snake, as a means of luring us back to the fold.
With each new day the scene became more nerve-racking – like two armed camps in the throes of some bizarre and arcane psychological warfare. At odd hours during the day Charlie would send down contingents of women – Snake, Ouisch, Brenda, Sandy, and Squeaky – to work on us all. When that failed, he’d come into the yard with Clem and Tex, brandishing shotguns, and start shooting them off around the property. We learned to size up a situation and turn it around without panic. On one occasion Crockett borrowed Clem’s shotgun and began taking target practice in the front yard.
Often Charlie would engage Crockett in verbal exchanges, which sometimes lasted hours. But Crockett played it perfect; he did not fight with Charlie or openly disagree in a way that might provoke anger. He merely expressed opinions which left Charlie utterly flabbergasted. He later confessed that he and Charlie shared many of the same opinions about the world but that Charlie “had a hole in his humanity.” One evening they were out in the yard near the porch – squatting on their haunches like two Indians taking a shit. Brooks and I were inside listening through the window. Charlie was discussing karma, how every man and every spirit has a destiny that is inevitable. He insisted that part of his destiny was to bring about the revolution through Helter-Skelter. As usual, he did most of the talking. Finally, after a long silence, Charlie asked Crockett, “Look, do you always keep your head like that?”
Crockett seemed to ponder several moments, then said, “If you were beating me with a stick, Charlie, don’t you suppose I’d know it?”
“Dig it… why don’t you teach me?… How ‘bout that… you teach me?”
“Teach ya what?”
“What you know.”
“I can’t teach ya… ya already know everything.” We watched through the window as Charlie got to his feet and stretched, then knelt down again beside Crockett.
“Naw,” he said. “I don’t know nothin’… really, I don’t.”
“Well, that’s about the same as knowin’ everything. Can’t teach a man who knows nothin’… ain’t nothin’ to build on.”
Charlie just couldn’t get a handle on Crockett; he couldn’t get any agreements with him, nor could he get any disagreements. Their exchanges served only to exasperate him; yet he would not give up. The dynamics of the situation were curious. Charlie wanted me back in the Family; he, perhaps, knew better than I how deeply I had been affected and that only Crockett stood in his way. Crockett was the first guy Charlie had encountered who (Charlie believed) had more knowledge than he did. The rules of warfare were different because of it; he couldn’t just kill Crockett; it would prove only that Charlie had been defeated. Rather, he had to psych him out, discredit him, con him. Getting us back into the Family would accomplish all three objectives. But up until that point it had all gone against Charlie. Not only had Juan Flynn joined forces with the Crockett-Posten-Watkins contingent, but there were others who were contemplating similar maneuvers.
If the murders were weighing on Charlie’s mind at that time (certainly he was aware of the hysteria they must have created and that the Man would seek a just revenge), it didn’t manifest itself physically in his outward behavior. Such was not the case with many of the others. Within a matter of weeks nearly everyone broke out in hideous open sores on their arms and legs – sores that would not heal.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD