In a 2006 interview at OC Weekly—one in which we discussed at length the hierarchy of organized crime figures on the West Coast, Barrier told me that he wasn't worried about being whacked, but, he said, if it happened, they'd use a woman to lure him somewhere. According to Las Vegas news accounts, recovered cell-phone records show that on the night of his death, he had a seven-minute phone call with a woman named "Lisa." When one of Barrier's daughters called the number, Lisa claimed she didn't know Barrier. In a subsequent interview with police, the woman reportedly admitted she had been in Barrier's hotel room and that he may have suffered a seizure before she fled.

But the death—which authorities say wasn't caused by a heart attack or brain aneurism—has left Barrier's daughters claiming foul play. Steve Miller, a Las Vegas journalist and mob expert, former city councilman and longtime Barrier friend, says he's leaning against a homicide, but is waiting for the toxicology reports before he reaches any conclusions. "I believe that if this is a mob hit, it would have been much more dramatic and clearly meant to send a message to people who oppose the mob's new business ventures," Miller told me.

When I moved away from home to attend college in Texas, my parents shipped a prized possession to me by UPS. I'll never forget answering the door, greeting a smiling delivery man dressed all in brown, and then seeing two packages that looked like they'd been assaulted by an angry mob of gorillas swinging baseball bats. The destroyed boxes contained my expensive, partially crushed stereo speakers—the ones my parents forgot to insure.

Billy Joe Johnson in 2004, before he tattooed SS bolts on his neck
Billy Joe Johnson in 2004, before he tattooed SS bolts on his neck

Last week, I was reminded of that experience at the Bowers Museum press briefing for the new Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit. An arrangement between the Chinese government and the museum had UPS fly the priceless artifacts from Shanghai to Anchorage on a 747, then on to Ontario. There, the legendary objects from China's first emperor were carefully loaded onto the company's trucks and driven under helicopter escort to the Santa Ana museum.

Though surely not aware of my experience, museum president Peter Keller expressed relief about the safe arrival of the artifacts and glee that once again he and his staff secured a noteworthy Chinese exhibit before any other museum in the world. "It was a real struggle to get it here," he told gathered reporters and dignitaries. "And I can't say how thrilled we are."

Keller then introduced a triumphant UPS executive. "UPS people deliver on our promises," she said, ignoring my raised-eyebrow gaze. "Your business can trust UPS."

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