Nobody at the table seemed very happy, but that was often the peculiar case in resort fun spots. No joy on the faces of Fric and Frac over there, two metrosexual urbanoids who thought dressing down meant wearing Hawaiian shirts under their unstructured cotton Miami Vice blazers. Certainly none on the stolid countenance of the beefy, amoral cop type on their side of the table with “federales” scrawled on him as vividly as “crooked bodyguard”. Across the table, the slim, lovely brunette seemed to be visiting a personal tragedy. And the beefcake beside her, who should have been exhilarated to have a woman like that leaning against him and touching his arm, was nothing but a brochure on operational readiness pose.
And at his elbow, the small leather backpack swarming with a golden sheen of bees. Winston let the waiter glance askance; he plowed towards the table with Xchab in his wake, her faser set on Maximal Gawk. His thoughts on the nature of the gathering at the bee-anointed table were confirmed as he drew close enough to hear:
“Look, you told me you’d go as high as quarter mil,” the big muscley guy was saying. “And here it sits for two hundred grand. Just what are you sniveling about?”
“Nothing, nothing…” This from the sleeked-back weasel who looked like sniveling was probably his main function in life. “I just figured a guy like you would be resourceful enough…”
“Resourceful? You sent me out on a snipe hunt for some magic crystal skull, no idea where it was but fairy tales and Hollywood scuttlebutt. And there you sit with a nice glass of Argentine Chablis and I’m laying the thing right on your table. How much more resource you want?”
Winston had been waiting to see if the other semi-suit sounded as gay and supercilious as he looked and was rewarded beyond his expectations. “Liiiiisten, Butchy. The world lives on negotiation and wiggleroom.”
“Glad you’re aware of that.” The big guy looking for a waiter, scribbling on his hand to signal for the check. “I’ve already had more attractive offers.”
That lit up the two straights just the way Winston, who’d renegotiated many a stinky deal in his time, expected it would. Boiling down to the most useless question, but always the one they bleated out first: Offers from whom?
The honeypie in the tipica outfit broke off their sputtering with a soft comment, “I think he’s talking about me. Please pay no attention.”
“I dunno,” Winston stuck in from his peripheral hover around the table. “As offers go, you’re damned attractive.”
They all turned to look at this new voice in the jam-up; gnarly old Mr. Natural with a cute little Indian trick who squirmed under their stares.
“And just who,” lisped Frac, the gay one, “Might you people be?”
“Well, I might be the Ghost of Christmas Pretend to Come,” Winston answered solemnly, “But what it is, he called me so I came.”
The producer turned on Bannock with a gaze a little too watery to be the Eye of Flame he hoped for. “You called somebody to meet us here?”
“No. Duh.” Bannock rolled his eyes. “I’ve never seen this codger before.”
“Not him,” Winston said, getting the same dismissive quality without having to do an eyeroll. “Him.”
He pointed at the backpack.
That pronouncement nailed Loris’ attention right to the wall. Xchab stared at Winston, ready to hike up her skirt and sprint for the kitchen door.
“What? Who?” So Fric, the nominally straight dork, wasn’t any sharper than the gay one. “Who called you?”
Winston just stared at the backpack for so long that everybody started fidgeting, Xchab was edging towards thataway, and the straighter jerk was nodding significantly to the bodyguard, who folded his napkin slowly as Bannock came on full alert. Then he said, “oXo.”
Leaving Loris intrigued, Bannock flabbergasted, and the straight arrows aghast. “What the fuck is going on here, Bannock?” they bleated in unison.
“What’s going on is this.” Bannock crunched out the tone he hoped would carry complete finality. He wasn’t above just grabbing the money and dealing with the ramifications–as previously demonstrated–but would rather not. “You sent me to get something. I got it. You owe me money. I have no idea who George Carlin’s ghost is but after a few days around that skull I’m prepared to believe about anything. Maybe oXo got a cell phone and hailed the freak so he could score. Nothing to do with our deal, so don’t try to use it as an excuse to welsh.”
“Know what I’m wondering?” Winston said mildly.
“What you were just talking about?” Frac minced out cattily.
“Nope. What the hell I’m doing here. Is this some sort of reality show?”
“I doubt you’ve showed anywhere near reality since Altamont, Mister Natch.”
“So everybody’s wondering the same thing,” Loris put in. “Do you have any hunches?”
“I saw him in a dream. Big gold, glowing skull hovering right over this very table. He told me to come see him. Bring shrooms.”
Everybody goggled a bit except Loris, who purred, “And did you?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Winston shrugged. “A summons like that?”
“Won’t you sit down?” Loris pushed out a vacant chair and caught the waiter’s eye. “You and your friend?”
“For Christ’s sake, Bannock,” Fric remonstrated. “Did I miss a sign out front: Welcome Rainbow People Conventioneers?”
But by then it was pretty obvious to everybody, even their own sneering bodyguard, that it was time to cut the crap. Talk turned once again to money as the waiter laid glasses of sangria and bowls of chips and guacamole in front of the newcomers. Xchab was on the edge of her chair, inhaling the sound, look and smell of money, power, and self-satisfaction.
Winston leaned towards Loris, who met him halfway. “Excuse me, but do you happen to see anything kind of, you know… hovering… around my faithful Indian companion? Like, buzzing her, maybe?”
Loris took a measured look at Xchab, not breaking it when the girl turned to spot her gaze and twitched away like a mouse caught in the pantry. Finally she told him, “Nothing but the clouded aura of a seeker in turmoil. Why do you ask?”
Winston’s turn to stare. He cruised her shamelessly, then smiled and patted her arm. “Ah. I believe we might be family.”
But it was time for the backpack to be proffered within reach (straps tight in Bannock’s husky grip) and the stereotype briefcase nudged forward to be inspected. Loris watched Xchab as Bannock satisfied himself that the stacks of green bills were for real: the girl irradiated by the sight of the money. Garcon, a glass of water and defibrillator for the muchacha, please. She willed a quick mental message to the Indian girl: greed is self-defeating, honey. Sit in your own skin.
But when she saw these two L.A. jackals peering into the pack, gloating over their possession of one of the world’s four coveted authentic crystal skulls, she also strained to will a missive to Bannock, wishing she could speak into his head like oXo could: Remember the pistol trick, big boy? Walk out with the money and The Love?
Then caught herself. Possessiveness, grasping, force: the primordial roots of our self-immolation. Take your own advice, woman: tread the path, trust the path, be the path. She breathed deeply, in a healing cadence.
She had wondered how strongly she would feel the impulse to walk out behind the yoyos, stalking oXo. And heard his voice in her head. Not saying goodbye, but bidding her look to her left. Where Bannock sat, motionless as he watched the Californians and their goon walk out. Life’s a trade-off, she thought.
Aware of her look, he turned and murmured. “I’m really sorry. But a deal’s a deal.”
“Life is a circle,” she whispered to his ear. “I love it that you knew what I was feeling. And cared.”
She heard a sigh behind her and turned to see Xchab seething with an almost religious avidity for the briefcase and Winston meeting her look with a sad kindliness. “The wheel turns,” he said.
She gave him a wan smile and he reached to her ear, did a magic flourish and zippity-zap, held a mushroom between his fingers. “Think we oughta eat these babies and go for a swim?”
Bannock glanced at the darkness outside the cunning colonial windows and asked, “Swim? Where?”
Rang a bell. Oh, wait. “Isn’t that where Club Med is?”
Winston beamed. “Can you stand it?”