Ennui on $360 a Day

The overwhelming impression you get from Cancun’s hotel zone is that everything permanent was constructed by Mayan Martians from Las Vegas. The nightlife strip is a little different, though. It’s essentially an MTV pachinko machine bouncing springbreak assholes around until they fall out the bottom.
Seagull, in The Blasé Sojourner.

Townsend’s problem was, he was on the ground, but had nothing to go on. Aphra Alisander had flown into CUN and that was all that he or anybody running knew about it. Until she was somehow spotted or used one of her compromised credit cards. Which so far she hadn’t done. So he was trying to dig her up through a combination of detective work and hoping to blunder into her or some rumor of her having passed through. He was diligent in his search, even though it was a long shot that got longer the more he persisted. He might look like a blond beach jock, but he was a seriously workaholic young man. Who combed the pleasure zones of a city built to be very little else, surrounded by an invisible cloud of his own peculiar discontent. A lack of happiness that would get absolutely no sympathy from any man alive.

He’d paid a courtesy/fishing call on a low-grade local asset, a reporter named Montero who covered politics for a tabloid rag. Montero had sniffed around the whole concept of regional impact on the gringo elections, meticulously dissected it for any possible profit opportunities, and gave a mental shrug. He just couldn’t see any feasible way the Yucatan would matter to anybody else, anywhere.

He considered the possibility of making something up (he’d read Carre’s “Tailor of Panama” four times since being recruited as a tag-end Agency stringer) but was dissuaded by his awareness that his abilities to concoct stories was limited–witness the fact he was working for a scandal-and-tits rag like “QueQui”. And something about Townsend. It wasn’t like the movies, he’d long since figured out. It isn’t the big, bulgy macho guys you have to watch out for. It’s clean-cut, meticulous, polite robots like Townsend Hardley who will disappear your ass for you.

So he worked at ingratiating himself. Towns was the first actual contact he’d had with any Norte operative since he was recruited ten years ago by a shaggy little spook who looked like Steve Buscemi playing a surfbum laid out on a rock in the sun for a few years. He dragged the young agent around Cancun’s stunning collection of bars, strip clubs and practically nekkid beaches, margarita and cervesas flowing like wine. It was doubly gratifying that the young gabacho picked up almost every check. Meanwhile plastering the kid with information and tips, most of it totally worthless. Townsend had learned early that intelligence is like that: a flood of mindless data where a few worthwhile plums dissembled like white raisins in stale coffeecake.

One tidbit that stuck with him was Montero’s dissertation on Mexican political news. “I know, I know, you’re from gringolandia; you think getting to the bottom of things is just a matter of throwing money and time at a question. It’s different here.”

It looked fairly different to Townsend as he spoke: they were sitting in lounge chairs with two young mulatas gyrating on their laps while his attention strayed to a pale redhead on the main stage, dancing nude and vicious in a blaze of spinning fireballs. “In Mexico, there is no bottom,” Montero continued. “Seriously, it’s like quicksand or some hole to China. You think you find out the explanation, but it’s just another layer on the onion. And there’s always another layer inside that one, forever. Periodistas here just settle for the story that works.”

“I don’t know about journalism,” Townsend replied, leaning over for his beer and getting a puffy black aureole rubbed in his eye. “But I’m beginning to think that’s the way it works with spycraft.”

And if Mexican politics was obscure, dire and berserk, Montero was pleased to inform him, it was apple pan dowdy compared to the governmental structures in nearby countries he could mention. Such as Belize, Guatemala, Cuba, half the Caribbean and all of Central America. Which made an uncomfortable fit with Townsend’s emerging awareness that flying into Cancun didn’t necessarily mean that Mexico was the ultimate destination. There was only one major jetport in the entire region that included Belize and a hell of a lot of Guatemala. For that matter, if you wanted to go from Washington to Cuba, the only really logical route would be to fly to Cancun, then transfer to a flight to Havana. So he could end up trying to trace a sexy black woman in a country internationally famous for them, and where he would be singularly unwelcome. His dad would have said, “Major bummer.”

The entire transportation thing was a nightmare, for openers. As soon as he’d mentioned checking car rentals, helipads, limos, bus lines, and such, Montero had laughed his somewhat drunken butt off.

“Cancun,” he hooted, “Is really nothing but transportation. A computer in the federal tourism office figured out this was the place, so they built a city here, then started building ways to get here. Then the syndicates started nailing down the ways of getting around from hotels to bars to brothels to tourist traps. There might be more taxis in Cancun than in New York. Think about this thing, Town: a city of three quarters of a million residents–not counting over three million turistas every year–that didn’t even exist thirty years ago. Where would you find anything like that in the world?”

“Bahrain? Dubai?”

“Oh, right, it’s all about Arabs now. Nobody cares about us frijoleros anymore. You aren’t even fucking with Castro these days. But listen, every centavo that comes into this town–falls into the Hummer dealers, the Donzi dealers, the Ferrari dealers–gets brought here by a tourist from somewhere else. Millions of people bringing billions of pesos…and none of them come here with a car.”

That bit of information did what the sheer boredom of the task hadn’t been able to do to Townsend’s husky work ethic. He gave up canvassing transport and ditched the shoe leather approach altogether. In fact, he ditched shoes altogether. Opting to spend his time strolling the shreds that remained of Cancun’s famous powdery “air-conditioned” beaches, poking around at random in the gush of sunstroked humanity laid to waste thereupon. Until he had more to go on, this was as legitimate a place to search as any other, he realized, and fell into a rather solemn and joyless beachbum life: drifting along the miles of hotel frontage, mingling with groups of funlovers, checking out the bikini corps at poolside, stopping by dozens of bars to cool off and ingest fluids.

And he actually spotted a few black women, even a couple that might have fit the bill. But not for long. He pored over the broiling, coconut-scented bodies and kept moving.

And at night he made the rounds of a staggering number of absolutely absurd clubs, disdaining the hypertrophied stroboscopic honk of the tourism mill while quietly quartering rooms where legions of exhilarated, shitfaced hedonists boogied around like corn in a popper.

The problem with Townsend–who was about as fit, handsome, and sexually desirable specimen of human male as the planet produces without ironically making them queer–was that he just wasn’t that committed to the mindless philandering that flirted shamelessly with him or just stalked over to peep some cleavage and slip him a room number. He tended to feel his father’s legendary womanizing as a sort of hereditary flaw, which somewhat spoiled him for the banquet of female pulchritude continually laid at his feet.

He suffered numbly from a condition that has been virtually eliminated in the American male, at least to hear the popular media tell it: a hunger for “something more meaningful”. And like most pilgrims searching for meaning, he had no idea what that means. Up to his ears in sex, he would have liked to feel love–never suspecting that he was too tightened up to experience normal emotions. He wanted something special, something that grabbed his breath, heartbeat and balls at the same time and wrung them every which way but loose. He sought The One.

Worse yet, his bar was set pretty high. He wanted a woman he could talk to about what was really going on his head. Which meant classified material as well as secrets of being that very few people experience or understand. Somebody as stealthy and lethal and over-engineered as himself. He dreamed of a beautiful female spy who would be the only one with whom he could truly be himself. He hadn’t yet figured out that the only person he’d ever seen or heard of who fit the bill was Aphra Behn.