Cherchez La Blonde

People who didn’t know who Ganzo was might have thought of him as a good foil for the cute blonde he’d been showing up with in the bars and cafés on the beach and the restaurants along the glorified highway strip that Tulum thought of as the town of Tulum. Striking, if odd, couple. The oddly vacant young artisan and his red hot jewelry model.

Those who knew of Ganzo didn’t know quite what to make of it. The first time the question came up in the bar at the Paraiso one wag said, “He probably found her washed up on a beach,” and got a mild round of laughter out of it.

The blonde was kind of drifty too, in her own way. Don’t try getting her life story, that’s for sure. Even the total sharks around the cabanas had quit hitting on her. She was like a million dollar house that hadn’t had the electricity connected yet.

Women found her congenial, though, and Ganzo charming enough in a closed-circuit sort of way. She was in Paraiso talking to this American girl with glasses and frizz, a studious geek type, looked like Velma from Scooby Doo. The blonde animated and perky as usual, like a high school cheerleader who spaced out graduation. Saying, “Hey, it wasn’t just me who couldn’t believe it: those mariachi guys last night about fell out of their sombreros when you started jamming with them like that.”

“I don’t think those guys even read music, frankly. They just learned the parts for each song: no clue about improvisation. Trumpets are pretty simple when you’re used to tooting tubas and sousaphones.”

“That is just so cool, Celia. I never even knew any of those girls who played in the band.”

Because you were out there shaking your pom-poms and booty and nailing all the cool guys while we band geeks got the chess club dorks, Celia was thinking. But this dumb blonde didn’t really seem like that. Nice, not a “Heather” or anything. “Those guys were here again, earlier. But they didn’t let me play with them again. Too bad, I had this sort of Souza meets Gershwin riff that would have fit right in on top of that Cielito Lindo number.”

“I wish I could do something like that. You’ve really got it going on.”

Celia was floored. Here was Scarlett Johanson’s stunt double calling her cool? Whoa! And now she’s pulling out that gym bag, probably got more of that darling jewelry her Rain Man boyfriend made. But wait, what the hell is that?

“I almost forgot. I brought this for you.”

“What is it? Oh wow, it’s a seashell on steroids!”

She laughed and brandished the big conch, eighteen inches long even with an inch of the tip sawn off and polished smooth by Ganzo. “Yep. It’s a caracol. Ganzo did the hole in the end there.”

Celia moved the conch around in her hands, but when she pointed the cut-off end at her mouth, it fell into place. She could hold it up with one hand and blow into it. “Unbelievable! He reamed out the embouchure there and polished it.”

“Yeah, you know. You put your lips on it.”

Which is what Celia did. The big shell was surprisingly easy to play, with an open chop and exponential expansion like a flugelhorn. She did a few exploratory notes, ran some quick riffs. The conch had a unique, mellow sound and was hilariously easy to play. She did a line of Brahms, a quick hook from Herb Alpert. Everybody in the place was looking at her. She stood up and nodded, headed into a luminous, soulful take on Night In Tunisia. Curtsy stared at her with her mouth half-open and eyes shining: Ganzo watched with what might have been a smile. She did American Patrol, a sort of medley from The Music Man and nobody seemed tired of it so she started screwing around.

The conch was a natural for a muted, post-bop cool so she went into a sort of Virtual Miles thing, then started stutter effects and tonguing. She put her hand into the huge, flaring bell of the horn and moved it around, experimenting. Pulled her clenched fingers in and out, messing with bent notes and falling tones. Did a wah-wah riff with her hand moving in and out at an increasing frequency.

The blonde was delighted, clapping her hands and laughing. Get a kick out of fisting, do you, Goldilocks? But Celia felt bad at the thought: this girl was a true fan, open and alive and buying every bit of it. She blew out her cheeks like Gillespie, went way blue.

Aphra had been solidly pissed off for over a week. She’d figured out that her bug was giving such intermittent pulses because it was moving so slowly it had lapsed into a totally lackadaisical refresh rate. So yeah, she was pissed. She just couldn’t figure out why those bitches were cruising so slow. Or where or why. She’d come to the conclusion that the boat was adrift. No power, maybe nobody really at the wheel. But who the fuck knew?

So she’d been moving down the coast in a truly stupid little rental Volkswagen called a Bora. More like Boring. Like it mattered when she couldn’t go anywhere. Get a reading, head down the weird multi-lane highway south of Cancun, drive off on some wretched little road to the ocean and look out there and see nothing. And nobody else had seen anything, either. She knew better than to be asking about any blondies or chinkies, but had managed to figure out nobody she was looking for had been through. Once, just south of Puerto Morelos–odd little dump with a great Chinese restaurant, of all things–she’d gotten a possible scan about a hundred yards out, middle of the fucking night. Maybe saw some sort of boat out there, just at the edge of the beam from this bizarro lighthouse, tilted over like the Leaning Tower of Pizza. Since then, nada.

She’d been around Playa Carmen and that whole tourist trap, Riviera-wannabe scene for almost three days. They were out there, but she couldn’t close. It was driving her out of her ever lovin’ skull.

And now Tulum. What a pit. All about Mayan ruins. Near as she could tell the new stuff they’d slapped up along the highway was just ruins that hadn’t gotten around to being totally ruined yet. On the road to ruins, so to speak.

And of course, some washed-out two-laner full of potholes and speedbumps in the middle of nowhere going down to the beach. Which didn’t seem to have any big powerboats sitting there with her little runaways waving welcome to her. Mostly had all these shacks full of European hippies running around naked and stoned to their eyeballs. Some of it not bad stuff, come to that. She saw two sets of tits there that looked pretty toothsome and she got the feeling that if they didn’t swing her way yet, they might be susceptible to the right swing vote.

Which would have been just copasetic if she hadn’t been too pissed off to get into it. It had been an hour since she caught a squeal on her little ElectroFink gadget and it sure as shit looked like those ‘ho’s were right here, right now. But she was stalking down a damn beach in the damn dark, in her bare damn feet, is what she was doing. Fuck it.

She’d decided she could use a drink or three, maybe see what kind of chickadees were in these little cabana bars along here when she heard this just other-world music. Coming out of little bunker over there with the cute candles in paper bags out front. Some unreal riffs, she was picking up. What was that axe, anyway?

And what’s the beat, there? Tropical bebop? Trop-bop? One minute sound like some Tibetan temple thing, next minute it’s like Freddy Hubbard trying to do Delta. She turned and walked up the beach to the Paraiso.

Huh, what it was, was some white chick with nerd glasses playing a conch shell. Figure that out. Nice, though. Defly diff. Crowd of euro-wonks getting into it, nerd girl doing a sort of reggae/calypso thing now. She shills seashells from the Seychelles.

Then she stops and takes a big corny bow and there’s some nice applause, Aphra putting her hands together, too. Gotta hand it to Four Eyes. And this blond groupie up front just jumping out of her well-shaped hide over it all, nice looking stuff. Wish she’d turn around.

Which she did. Holy fuckin’ shit on a stick!

Aphra practically ran across the room and faced the smiling blond. Who looked at her without a flicker of recognition. What kind of wack game is this? She leaned into her, scowled, “Hey homey, don’t you know me?”

Evidently not.

The blond was looking at her like some oblivious livestock of the cud-chewing food group. Slight smile, looking expectant. Aphra was about ready to slap this bitch, snap her out of it, call her play. Instead she slumped slightly, met the big blue eyes at their own level. Said, really loud, “Yo, Curtsy! You in there girl?”

Evidently not.

Fuck.

On an impulse, Aphra reached out and cupped one of those nice firm titties under the loose T-shirt, then stepped close and reached down to clench a tight buttock, long fingernail just barely like brushing the Promised Land, there. Aphra’s patented Full Nelson Mandala hold. Pushed her lips up to hers and started going all tonguey. There was a shocked hush in the room, then she got a bigger applause than the conch girl did.

She broke it off and rared back, looked into Curtsy’s face. “Bring anything back, girlfriend?”

“No, well, wait a minute…”

Aphra snorted through her flared nostrils. “Now I been called a lot of things, especially afterwards. But never forgettable. Meanwhile I coulda just sworn you and the little chinkette headed out of Isla on a boat I paid for and never saw again. Ring any bells? Wanna cut the shinola and play nice?”

She saw something pass inside the baby blues, a sort of flutter that got her thinking that whatever this was, it might not be an act. “Hey girl,” she said in a friendlier tone, “Give it up.”

She watched as Curtsy’s expression seemed to crumple, then fall away like loose stucco. Her eyes widened, then moistened, her lips started trembling. Suddenly she dashed herself into Aphra’s arms, shaking violently. She threw her arms around her neck and clung for dear life.

“What up, baby?” Aphra asked her softly, patting her shoulders in a sisterly way. Looking over the heaving shoulders she could see this decently cute Mayan guy staring at her. In a kind of impersonal way.

A quick spasm shot through Curtsy and she pushed away from Aphra and faced her, definitely all there and aware. And not one little bit happy about it. Her eyes filled and spilled and she started sobbing. “I killed those guys, Aphra! I shot ’em and they’re dead.”

Aphra reached out for a soothing stroke on her upper arm. “It’s okay, honey. I’m sure they had it coming.” Whoever “they” were.

Curtsy’s sobs slowed down and lessened in volume. She held Aphra’s gaze, looking like a miserable little girl who totally knew her whole life is just ruined for the moment. Then it was like the sun came up behind the sky blue of her irises. Aphra had always noted (and coveted) the girl’s innocence and girlish enthusiasm, but at that moment she saw it go off the charts. It was Christmas and Birthday and First Prom in there. Curtsy beamed, wiping tears and laughing.

“But they came for me,” she almost yelled. “I knew they would.”

She grabbed Aphra’s upper arms in her powerful grip, practically jumping up and down. “They came, Aphra! They came and saved me.”

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