Skeleton Crew

The darkness was full of skeletons.

Not a novelty.

Well, these were a little different from most of the skulls and bones clanking around in Winston’s bummer dreams. Whole different attitude.

As he crept forward through the darkness, white grins popped out on either side, soared around overhead. Not your Day of the Dead types, not grisly Lost Temple stuff, either. More like Cemetery Spring Break. These skeletons frolicked, essentially. They paddled kayaks, balanced on surfboards far over his head, sat three deep on motorcycles, zoomed on jet skis, waved beers and margarita glasses. They wore tourist trap sombreros and NBA jerseys. They waved at him, made out with each other,

This had felt like a prophetic dream from the start, but he was beginning to have his doubts as he wafted along through the cavorting dead. He shouldered past a bunch of skeletal mariachis with old silver horns and entered another chamber, this one better lighted and painted with murals of Mexican revolutions and colonial life. Overhead was a balloon with two dead in the gondola, dressed like Villa and Zapata. Winston mentally shrugged and ghosted on, smoothly dollying in on dreamwheels.

He passed a table set with fruit and bottles, two handsome skeleton couples dressed to the nines for luxury dining. A skeleton parrot sat on the shoulder of the woman with the silvery gown. Then he saw the other table, over in the corner, and knew this particular dream was about to cut to the chase.

Four skeletons sat at this table: two dressed in the satire finery of fatcats in murals by Rivera and Orozco, a big-boned male in funeral suit sat across from them beside a set of gleaming white bones clothed in an embroidered peasant huipil. A shower of gold fell from the darkness above, flitting around before coalescing into a golden, translucent skull floating above the table and regarding him with eyes like holes punched in Hell’s back furnace. Winston, no stranger to the appearance of deities (benign, malign or design) in his visions and occasionally real life, was wiped out. He felt like falling to his knees in front of this pulsing, luminous creature whose eyes spoke of vision permanently focused past infinity.

In a thunderous echo owing much to The Great Oz, the skull spoke to him. “Are you trippin’, fool?”

“Who, me?” Winston said out of reflex. “No way. I wish.”

The skull’s glow throbbed like wind-stoked embers. “That’s what you think.”

“Actually, I think I’m dreaming.”

“Dream on, turkey.” The skull thundered. “Tomorrow night I’ll be right at this table. Be there or beware.”

The terrible glow faded, and the skull diminished without relinquishing eye contact. It was almost invisible when it suddenly popped back to full resolution and fireflush pulsation. “Oh, yeah. Bring some shrooms.”

Winston had learned that the last thing Xchab wanted to hear, while playing house with him and waiting for a whiter knight to sweep her onto a more reliable charger, was replays of his dreams and drugged visions. But this one required some information to understand and he had also learned that in such cases the best bet was to blurt them out to anybody who’ll listen. Some mousy secretary trapped on a diner stool or sodden wino slumped on the bus might just barf up the one key required to point one in the proper direction. And bingo. He’d barely gotten into the first leg of the cavern of skeletons when she fixed him with one of her stonecarved Mayan expressions. “Sounds like Pericos,” she said, in a bored tone. The old fart thinks he knows all this stuff about the Yucatan, but has no clue where people party.

Not that she’d ever partied there, personally, but she’d gotten a wistful nose to the window, coveting all the toys and doggies and lollipops, on her grim treks to sell woven bracelets and shell jewelry to the choked flow of First World twerps beer-bonging their way through Cancun’s hospitality ghetto feeding frenzy. Holding up her chintzy goods and suffering tourists snapping cellphone shots of her Mayan get-up while she soaked up the vista of all the moneyed, sophisticated, superficial glitz she coveted. Until the wait staff headed her off and hustled her back to the Yaxchitlan sidewalk.

But now it looked as though Winston, of all people, was actually going to take her there. Walk in and get a table, find out what these people eat and drink. She looked as stony as ever cruising across Palapas Park, but inside her a thwarted soul beat its untried wings.

Winston was blasted, of course, which might have explained a few things. He’d been glad Copper had declined to come along, muttering woodenly under the grip of Ketamine. They’d left her floating in an innertube, her bare bottom bulging down into the water: what she called “trolling for barracuda.” Her addiction to that rather nasty and consciousness-lowering drug was a mystery that Winston found at turns annoying and tragic. He didn’t like being around people who were “Ko’ed”: they were like amplifiers on stand-by mode, meat puppets who’d swallowed their own strings.

He, on the other hand, was toasted on some very fine Affy weed he’d scored at the hostel and augmented with just a pinch of mushroom dust and wouldn’t have minded a third party checkoff on what he was seeing.

He’d noticed it as soon as they came into the park, little kids with ice-cream cones staring at his loose hempen duds and weedeater hairdo, adolescent hand drummers calling out to Xchab over their beats but getting her usual basalt head snub job. There seemed to be a lot of bees around Xchab. Luminous golden bees. They followed her at first, stringing out in swelling squadrons. But by the time they left the park for the alley over to Yaxchitlan the swarm was all around her, shifting their pattern to create a scintillating veil around her dark, ordered features and short body. They towered over her head, milling and buzzing in a high register that almost reminded him of tin whistles. Too bad he hadn’t brought his flute. The glow from the bees lit their way through the alley.

He made one attempt to discuss this phenomenon with the girl, but she’d made it curtly clear that she didn’t want to hear any of his crazy shit at the moment. She was already up ahead, luxuriating in the interior of Pericos.

Winston strode into Pericos like he owned the franchise, imperiously waving off the waiters proffering menus and the worried looks that appeared when jipis and indios showed up amidst the carriage trade. He’d walked into too many pitiless courtrooms, forbidding boudoirs, raucous cellblocks, hellish Angel showdowns, and stonecold busts while partially decapitated by substances of unknown origin, trajectory or allegiance to quail at whatever dicey deal was going down in Chez Skeleton.

Because the dead were indeed at hand, floating around high up under the peaked palapa roof: real life skeletions. Up there on real motorcycles and jetskis and outriggers and crap. Far more troubling than anything in a dream, actually. Winston generally considered reality to be too weird for him: a crutch for those who couldn’t handle dope.

On the other hand, it was drug of choice for Xchab. She was getting hot over the whole proximity of wealth and leisure and the ability to deploy them. She leered artlessly at the displays of money, but her rookie stun quotient was out of synch with what the people themselves rated: she might read a Rolex or Prada gown as just a timepiece or black dress, while waxing ecstatic over a ripped Metallica shirt appliquéd in gilt or some switchblade cell phone or cunningly curved cheap sunglasses. The poiint being: this was The Stuff. And these were The Ones Who Be Havin’ Stuff. And above all knew how to get it, what to do with it, and how to evaluate and deploy it. She trailed Winston, stumbly and agog, her eyes and ears drinking the place in.

As soon as they entered, Xchab’s bee escort buzzed past her, eagerly leading the way. He followed the glow of the yellow bee road into the back room. Where he immediately saw the tables he’d dreamt, except that only the first one was really skeletons. Back in the corner sat four real people, more or less, and the bees were all around them like a seething gold lantern.

He was sauntering up to a table he read as freighted with enough greed and potential violence to make many a person’s “too high for this shit” lists, but wasn’t fazed. Well, he was impressed by the way the bees all coalesced around a small leather backpack sitting on the table, close to the big guy in the linen guayabera. In Cuba a guayabera might mean one thing, but in this part of Mexico, Winston tended to read them as, “there’s a gun under these starched shirtails”.

Xchab was staring at the two assholes in Melrose chic, magpie eye for the glister of expense. Winston was more interested in the guy with the pack. Muscle, but not a musclehead. Unlike, oh, say the per-diem ex-cop bodyguard sitting behind the pose monsters. And also flanking the pack, sensuous in white peasant drag, was one extremely hot gabacha. Hmmmmmm. Smelled like money and nogoodnikism to Winston’s veteran nose. Just like back in the day.

Read the Follow-up to this Episode

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