La Isla Bonita

“Now this is America,” Copper breathed rapturously. “What you truly miss when you’re expatting.”

Winston checked her out, slathering butter and strawberry jam on a thick slice of real (not Bimbo) bread. “Even more than having workable mail, telephones, and legal system?”

“Like I need any of those,” Copper tossed back. She was mopping up some over-easy eggs with a chunk of actual non-chorizo sausage, one of those lean, effortlessly wiry women who wolf down caloric goodies unscathed and drive normal women homicidal. “You want the American Dream, it’s right here: the Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast.”

“Well, the local version, anyway.” Loris hadn’t been out of the States long enough to long for yolk-soaked pancakes and non-crumbly toast and first world pig products, so she tucked away some chilaquiles between sips of iced tea.

“That tea,” Copper went on. “Made by seeping leaves in water. Not dumping some space station microdust in water. The coffee, actually steeped, not ‘NoEsCafé‘. What I’m talking about. A civilization has to freakin’ deliver to get taken seriously.”

Xchab was less sold. She’d have gotten molletes and chiles, but had been determined to explore gringo folkways and was therefore trying to wrap toast around eggs, sausage and refried beans as if it were a tortilla. Weird stuff, but damned good. And being here at this beachfront restaurant where couples in expensive clothes sat next to barely-clad sunlovers built like porn actors, where everything was sparkling clean and the food forthcoming forever, where stiff-uniformed waitresses who came across formal with “Usted” but slipped her some Mayan advice under their breath.

Bannock had eaten lightly, buttered bolillos from the basket and a steady stream of coffee from the stylish chrome carafes. He leaned back, chewing on some train of thought or another. Loris was waiting him out.

He rolled his cup around on the saucer, then blurted. “Okay. I can trace oXo down. We’ll go back up to L.A. and I’ll get all over it. An agent sent me to those clowns and I can…”

“Not necessary.” Loris blotted her lips and smiled at him. “Sweet and committed but not really necessary.”

Now Bannock waited her out. She reached into her Oaxaca engulf-all bag and pulled out a lurid slick brochure and handed it to him. The other three heads at the table followed it, wondering if crystal skulls had started putting out flyers.

“The Mayan Riviera Film Festival?” He glanced at her, then around the table. “Is this some kind of a joke?”

“Probably. Are Cannes and Sundance not jokes at a higher level of energy?”

“Beats me, but I bet you’re onto something there.”

She leaned over and pointed. “Looks who’s scheduled for the Saturday panel.”

“Seminar,” Bannock mumbled. “Holy crap, that little dork really is a producer.”

“And we can even get to see one of his films.”

“Can’t wait. Looks like The Loveboat meets Freddy Krueger does Girls Gone Wild in Cancun.”

“I’d pay to see it,” Copper chirped, skillfully nabbing Winston’s last slice of toast. “I was there two years ago. Wall to wall phonies and wannabes throwing money and pussy around. I made out like a bandit.”

“I’m looking at this thing and have absolutely no idea what the hell it’s all about. How big is Playa Carmen, anyway?”

“It’s a tourist trap full of Italian sharpies, American dullies, and gringo-wranglers from Mexico City,” Winston pronounced, scrumptiously sniping a roll when Xchab wasn’t looking.

“They get money from the state and national tourism boards to do stuff like that,” Copper told him. “Get their films laid off that way, too. Cheap local crews, kickbacks and downlines and shit.”

Bannock gave her a long look that she slid off of by signaling for more coffee. He stared at the brochure, working a toothpick around the corner of his mouth. Then he said, “I think I get it.”

“They want to move up the ladder from grinding out this crap,” Loris nodded.

“And think they can do it with the right director.”

“I hate to say it, but that’s not a bad idea.” Winston shrugged when they both glared at him. “If that sucker could direct me a dream, he could sure as hell put together a kickass blockbuster.”

“But it just won’t work with their Melrose ambitions,” Loris said, and Winston nodded agreement as he chewed. “But even at a little festival like that one, there’ll be deals to cut, bigshots to impress. So they’ll definitely bring oXo.”

Bannock let that sink in for a moment. “I see one problem.”

“I’m a so glad to hear that,” Loris beamed. “Because I was seeing about a dozen.”

Bannock tapped the brochure with a thick finger. “It’s a couple of weeks off.”

“True. They probably flew back to Burbank in the meantime.”

“Or this clown and his buttboy could be buried up their necks in aromatic spirulina in some health stalag,” Copper put in. She turned to Loris, “The Riviera here has gotta be the highest concentration of spas and Zen centers and health hedonists in the world.”

“Really?” More than casual interest from Loris, all right. “Maybe I could do some massages somewhere.”

Bannock turned to stare. “You do massages? Like professionally?”

“My main trade, actually. Did you think I was just a dope dealer’s social secretary?”

“Cool. Can I get an appointment?”

“Great.” Copper rolled her eyes, her instinctive hostility to Bannock waning, but still worth a goad or two. “Massagist meets misogynist.”

Bannock ignored her, as he’d been doing. “So we lay up somewhere then get down there in advance and scope it out, get his room number. Be sitting there when he walks in with the skull.”

“If he has it with him,” Winston cautioned.

“If not, we persuade him to take us to it.”

Copper, after scouring the last food off her plate, and anybody else’s she could reach, announced, “Well, I know where I’m going, while you guys plan your extortion caper. Place I can live cheap, hang with good people and decent musicians, and there’s enough summer tourists to dance up a few bucks.

“Sounds like a plan,” Loris said. “Is this a real place?”

“More or less. Isla.” She pointed out over the turquoise water, still and sleek in the summer morning. “You can even see it from here.”

Everybody turned to take in the low ridge of land floating on the horizon. Winston said, “Well, you know I’m an island kind of guy.”

“Let’s try not to get this one torn down around us.” She turned to Bannock and he saw the aggressive snark fall off her. Just the redhead next door, smiling a little ruefully. “Hey, look, Bannock, man… I really appreciate you springing for the room and meals and all. That was nice and you’re a solid guy, especially with me giving you a hard time.”

“Not a problem, Red. Maybe we can see you fire dance sometime.”

Copper reached under the table, unconsciously patting the little day pack that held her kevlar-wrapped fire chains. The fact that the chains–and even the little bottle with the last of her Coleman white gasoline–were her only possessions to survive the wreckage of Winstonia was a powerful spiritual statement to her. And only the latest of many.

“So what’s the chances of us bumming a few bucks to catch the ferry over, get bunks in Poc Na for a few nights until I can dance up some cash? Like a hundred bucks, maybe?”

“We can do that. But tell me a little more about this Isla place.”

“Oh, it’s the max. You know those Corona commercials? Couple in hammocks under palm trees on a beach, chuck their cell phone in the ocean? They shot those on Isla Mujeres.”

Bannock turned to Loris. “I don’t know about you, sunshine, but I’ve always dreamed of living in a beer commercial.”

Copper quickly told Loris, “And there are plenty of spas there, too. Massage pavilions on the beaches. Look, whatever you guys do, you’re this close to Isla, you should get to know the place. It’s really, really special.”

“How about this? We all go over there. You guys get situated, pick up a few bucks, figure out your next move.” He turned to Loris. “We’ll play tourists for awhile, then head down to Playa Carmen to scout the festival, look up Mr. Crystal.”

Loris looked at him with a cryptic smile.

“Hey, I was angling for the money before I met you. What do you think I had planned? Sitting on a beach for a long time, surrounded by fun people and beautiful women. So it’s not like it’s a stretch.”

“Best thing is, hotels are cheaper there, ” Copper said. “Like the Villa Kiin you can get a cabana for like eight people for less than your room cost last night. And their pool is amazing.”

Nobody bit, so she had to finish it herself. “They call it the Caribbean Sea.”

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