Monday, March 24, 2014

The Wild, Wild West

I met today's Guest Blogger in the Mavens of Mahem, the Upstate chapter of Sisters In Crime. I cheered Joel's induction as he raised the number of "brothers" in our group to three.

Joel Gomez-Dossi has done a lot of things in his life, and some of them he'll even admit to. He started his career as a stage manager. Then he became a production manager for PBS and finally morphed into a freelance writer, working for regional publications across the country. Now he practices the world's second oldest profession: telling stories. He is the author of two novels published by Bold Strokes Books,
Pursued and Deadly Cult. Joel can be contacted at and

Robert Knightly

Yuma, Arizona during the 1960s seems like the perfect setting for a Western. Located about twenty miles from the Mexican border, the town’s call to fame was the Territorial Prison. But it closed in 1904, and agriculture became the economic powerhouse. The township, with a population of about 25,000, was now modern. It even had a new dog track to encourage economic growth. Yet growing up in Yuma during that time, I longed to experience a Hollywood adventure where I could be a cowboy and overcome insurmountable odds. Because in every good Western, the good guy wins, the villain is punished, and life becomes better.

No doubt, the adults in town shared in my fantasy because for one week each year they relived the Western ideal. At the county fairgrounds, the Yuma Jaycees presented the Annual Silver Spur Rodeo, with a bronco riding competition; steer wrestling; and everybody’s favorite, team roping.
Months before the event, townsmen stopped shaving in order to participate the whisker-growing contest. And women hauled out their sewing machines and bought shiny fabrics in anticipation of the Queen Horsemanship Competition.

But this weeklong event couldn’t satisfy my quest for adventure all year long. I needed more. I wanted unknown territory, filled with excitement, sin, and other adult things. On one particular Sunday, my Hollywood dream almost came true. My best friend and I were riding our bikes at the school parking lot. He pulled a wheelie, and then abruptly stopped and asked, “Ya wanna go to the Dog Races?”

“Really?” I asked, with my eyes lit up. I'd never been to the dog races before, though my parents talked about it often, usually disparagingly because it involved gambling, drinking, and other adult vices. Everything a good cowboy could want.

From January through March of each year, dog racing competed for the affections of Yuma Township. Ten dog races were held each night during those months, with eight dogs chasing a state-of-the-art artificial rabbit. Betting included straight, place, or show and they even had a “Quiniela double,” if you were lucky enough to bet on the first two greyhounds to cross the finish line. It was fair and square. They even used photo finishes – the first dog track in the state to have them.

With great anticipation, we left the school parking lot. I wondered what mysteries we would discover at the track. Would we stumble upon a thief attempting to abscond with a lucky winner's take? Or maybe we would discover a box load of winnings that was mysteriously buried.

Sadly, we never made it to the dog track. After what seemed like an hour of riding in the hot sun, we hadn't arrived anywhere. We were just beyond the town border, and in the desert. All around us was zilch. Nothing. Nada.

Except in the distance, where something peaked out from a hill of sand. We hid our bikes at the side of the road and stealthily climbed the hill. Just beyond it was a near-hidden oasis consisting of a corral and an adobe hut. Horses grazed in the corral. And nearby, saddles waited in the ready with reins neatly arranged by the side. And on the wall of the hut hung two large rifles.

We looked at each other and wondered. Who owned this outpost, and for what purpose? There weren't any humans on the property, at least from what we could see. So our conclusion came quickly. Its purpose had to be bad. We needed to investigate further.

“You go first?” my friend asked.

"Me?" I said. "No way."

“Okay, I’ll go." His voice lacked conviction, but I didn't care. He took a deep breath, and trudged down the sand. Then he suddenly disappeared from sight.

“You okay?” I shouted at the sand.

“Yeah, I fell, that's all.” He stood up, brushed off his pants, and made his way to the corral. The horses trotted towards him to say hello. "Come on. Ya gotta see this!" he beckoned to me.

I began running to the horses. I never was very athletic, so I was kind of slow. But when I reached the corral, a man shouted out from nowhere. “What are you two kids doing here? GET OUT.” We looked round and round, but couldn’t see anyone.

He yelled again, and my friend turned towards the sound of the voice. Then he turned towards me, and then towards the voice again. He made an instant decision and ran away, leaving me in the dust and facing certain doom.

“You, there,” the man yelled at me. “Why are you here?”

I said nothing. A grizzly-looking man appeared from the side of the hut, hauling two large garbage cans. “Get the hell outta here!” He threw the cans at me, and rotting garbage flew everywhere.
I didn’t hesitate. I ran back to the road, mounted my bike, and flew home as quickly as possible. When I arrived, I quietly opened the front door and snuck in. My mother and father sat on the davenport while a Gunsmoke rerun played on the television. I slipped through the living room, and as far as I could tell, my parents didn't suspect a thing.

The next day, my friend and I exchanged stories about our adventure with everyone at school. Yes, we embellished the plot a bit. But even if we hadn't, our adventure would still be filled with thrills and suspense.

I live in upstate New York now, and I write thrillers. But I try to remember what I learned that day every time I sit down at the computer. The tenets of a good story remain the same, whether it’s a Western, a Thriller, or a Mystery. Suspense is anticipation. And to be thrilled involves narrowly escaping catastrophe.

It's also important I mention that in the 60s, the public never realized the cruelty that dog racing inflicted on its dogs. The Yuma Greyhound Park was no different. It closed in 1993, after two serious cases of animal abuse claimed the lives of over a hundred hounds.

© 2014 Joel Dossi

1 comment:

  1. Joel, perfect!! Thank you for this mini thriller--a ton of suspense in a tiny package.