Francis Coppola emerged slowly from the hot pool and stood for a moment savoring the jungly scent of the night and the sounds of the waterfall into the pool. He was the last one out, the others slipping away to let him enjoy his He didn’t understand why these guys would get into hot water to relax, then get all stressed-out jabbering about projects and budgets and agents and residuals. Especially those two latecomers. God, they were insane: talking about directing a film by séance if he got their drift. What I need up here, he suddenly realized, is a steam room.

Definitely. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? That was an offer to relax nobody could refuse. There was something really East Coast and borough about steam. Guys with Yawk accents sitting around naked in the mist, walking around in rough Turkish towels. This whole hot tub thing was so California by comparison.

He rubbed down with a soft, fluffy towel and shook drops from his beard into the hot water. Thinking, kind of like me, maybe? Gone California? Or have I just disappeared into some global stratosphere, a tower in The Cloud?

Chuckling at himself, he turned to head to bed and almost walked into a half dozen really beautiful young women, also wearing only towels or shifts. His eyebrows raised as he smiled at them appreciatively and waved them towards the pool.

Aqua termal,” he said in his best Corleone rasp. “Prego.”

The girls laughed. All except the stone-faced little Maya girl, who was starting to fascinate him. What a face she had, really. He couldn’t help framing her whenever he saw her.

“Mr. Coppola,” the tall brunette said, “We really appreciate your hospitality here. It’s such a beautiful, serene place.”

“You’re fairly beautiful and serene yourself, my dear,” he told her. “You do massage, I understand?”

“I do. And I’d be honored to give you one any time you like.”

“I’ll take you up on that. Maybe tomorrow after breakfast.”

“Any time. I just love your work. I saw Goodfellas six times.”

He almost laughed his towel off. “Good one. Thanks for the laugh. You ladies are taking a really late soak tonight.”

“We need to cleanse her skull,” Copper offered as she shed her towel and slipped into the water.

He looked at Loris’ hair a little differently, hoping it wasn’t infested. “Please don’t put any soap in the water.”

Loris smiled, held up the towel-wrapped object she’d been carrying, and let the towel slide away from oXo, grinning at the director with eyes aflare from the mosquito torches on the deck. “He doesn’t need soap, just running water,” she said. “And love.”

He fought the impulse to cross himself. “Okaaaay.”

He backed away towards the lodge. As he walked off he heard the girls all giggling, a sound as bright and clean as windchimes. But he didn’t even consider going back to bask in their beauty and youth. There were plenty of attractive young people who weren’t nuts. Turning, he saw them all shedding their wraps and slipping into the hot water like sirens of many colors. He called back, “Just don’t leave a ring.”

Xchab was the last into the pool, even with the other girls teasing her and beckoning her in. She looked balefully at Aphra, timidly at Copper and Curtsy. But when MeiMei smiled and waved her in, she stepped down to the stone bench that ran around the perimeter of the pool, standing there thigh-deep in her cotton huipil, frozen. Finally Loris walked the length of the pool and looked solemnly into her eyes, holding that spooky glass skull between her breasts. Slowly, gently, she reached up and rolled one shoulder strap down the Mayan girl’s shoulder, then the other. Xchab didn’t try to stop her shift from sliding down into the water and when Loris held up her free hand, she took it, stepped out of the floating garment, and lowered into the water. Loris beamed at her, turned and moved towards the other end of the pool.

She waded back across the pool to the waterfall that animated its narrow end, the other girls watching as she marched towards it holding oXo in front of her like a sacrament. She extended her hands and the glassy skull slipped under the little cascade, water flowing around the smooth contours rather than splashing off. She stood motionless, head bent forward and eyes closed, as oXo luxuriated in the wash of moving water.

Aphra was playing a little submarine footsy with Copper, and wouldn’t have minded sitting within hands-on range of the redhead, who it turned out contained a sexuality as wild and fiery as her own. But for whatever reason, the girls were all sitting a little too distant to touch, evenly spaced around the pool, heads leaning on the rim, watching Loris and oXo. So Aphra bided her time, and watched with them.

Curtsy luxuriated in the hot water, which almost seemed to be rhythmically palpitating her body. She played with the underwater sealed-beam floodlight beside her, trying to make shadow puppets in the water, her hands starting to move in time with the beat she felt in the water. The whole pool started to flicker in a slow, sure rhythm. She spread her thighs, then pushed them together. Her nipples tingled. She closed her eyes and for some reason had an image of Puch Pop, standing on top of a pyramid at Cobá, just looking at her.

MeiMei was feeling the same insinuation in the water and “decided” to just lay back and like it. It figured that wealthy directors would have devices like this in their hot tubs. She wriggled her hips around on the smooth tier, watching Loris’ careful laving of oXo, but caught movement from the corner of her eye and looked back towards the buildings. And saw Tuan and Winston strolling down the path, in quiet but intense conversation. She was glad to see OB, but wondered if he was crashing one of those “all-girl moments.” Then she saw Townsend and Bannock behind them, also talking with interest. And behind them, that “Seagull” character chattering to Ganzo, who regarded him with a serious gaze. Tuan saw her and smiled and she giggled, “Company, girls.”

Aphra opened her eyes and saw a group of males arriving, ringing the far side of the pool. They stood watching the women for a moment, probably impressed by the general tableau. Breaking the calm, she said, “Damn. There go the neighborhood.”

Everybody but Xchab laughed: she was eyeing the men a little nervously. And suddenly the big indio that had come up with the blonde just stepped in the water right beside her, took off his wet towel, and tossed it back on the deck. Curtsy, on Ganzo’s other side, smiled at him and reached out to stroke his hair as he settled down between them. Faced with the typical hot tub dilemma of what to do with his hands, he chose the usual approach and spread his arms along the rim of the pool. Curtsy leaned her head into his left hand, smiling happily. His other hand brushed the back of Xchab’s torrent of black hair but she didn’t shy away, for some reason. She looked sideways at him and he was looking back at her, his expression as blank and noble as a dog’s. One thing she realized at that moment: whatever else there was about Ganzo, she knew she would never have to fear him. She sunk a little deeper in the water, also feeling the beguiling pulse in the water and reluctantly starting to respond. A few minutes later she put her own arms on the pool rim, her left hand slipping behind Ganzo’s head, the other laying on the nape of Winston, whose other hand was buried in Copper’s cuprous curls.

Curtsy hadn’t been the only mermaid getting an eyeful as Townsend and Bannock, standing side by side, peeled off their trunks and eased towards the pool. Couple of major swinging dudes, was the way she sized things up. Classic match-up: showy class versus brute power. It was hard not to linger on the sheer beauty of the slide of Town’s abs and pecs, but the scars and welts made a tour of the big lug’s torso rather interesting as well. She wondered what they’d look like out swimming. She watched Townsend move around and slip in beside Aphra, and the look she gave him. Something going on there, for sure. Didn’t think that muff-mistress swung that way. He also laid his arms along the rim as he unwound and Aphra gave him a “Oh, please, whitebread” look, but didn’t move away from his hand on her shoulder.

Bannock moved in between MeiMei and Loris, who smiled at him as she continued facilitating oXo’s brain scrub. Mei felt his hand brush her left shoulder at the same time that Tuan slithered into the water like an otter, ducked his head, then shook it off before settling beside her and placing his left hand under her hair to caress the down on her slim neck. She extended her arm to give him a friendly Dutch rub, before resting it on his hard deltoid. His right hand moved behind Curtsy, who reached behind his neck to twine her fingers with MeiMei’s.

Loris, who had been standing a few inches from oXo as she held him under the waterfall, had been exposed more heavily to the pulse that the skull was emanating. She moved slowly and dreamily as she turned around to face the circle of faces ringing the pool. Her nipples were tight, her aureoles puffy, her thighs tender, her face muscles slack and creamy. She moved to the center of the pool and bent forward to gently place oXo on the bottom. For a moment she appeared to everyone else as a sleek form on the surface, an hourglass of buttocks, fluted back and wide shoulders riding above the water like an island.

She straightened up and looked around, noticing the slackening and loosening going on around her. The Love, she thought, is the ultimate massage. Then she had another thought, which she knew she should share. “We are about to hear something,” she said. “It’s called the First Tone. There will be four Tones before this is over.”

As she backed away from oXo, towards her place by Bannock, MeiMei asked, in a voice so relaxed she could barely articulate, “Tones? Like the Calendar? What does that mean?”

Loris smiled as she moved away from oXo, to the edge of the pool. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Nobody else asked why she had done what she did or said what she said, nobody spoke. Nobody even really thought. oXo had begun to “broadcast” his pulse of live, whole, movement stronger and at a slightly lower frequency. A frequency that those who give names to such things call “Alpha”. She moved back to the edge and sat down. Immediately Bannock cupped the base of her skull. He extended the thumb and finger of his huge hand to rub behind her ears, like you’d do to a big dog. She closed her eyes in pleasure. Nobody ever thinks that massage people like to be rubbed, too. But this guy did.

She put her hand behind his head, as well, idly ruffling his short, wiry crop. She extended her other hand behind Townsend, then removed it to lift his hand behind her own head, then replaced it at the base of his skull. All twelve people were now touching, a dozen heads woven together by intertwined arms and hands. And in the water, an intimate pulsation was throbbing stronger and deeper, a righteous somatic dub that synchronized twelve heartbeats into a single chorus.

Kenny and Gareth discovered that somebody had walked off with their all-important director and spiritual leader and immediately spun into frantic, mostly ineffective motion. They blasted around the dark lodge, pushed into empty rooms–even Bannock and Loris’ room, which would have scared them green to intrude on in other circumstances. They burst out onto the side deck and looked down at the pool, where they could make out people lounging around in a gold mist suffusing the air above the water. They tore along the porch until they hit the stairs, then stopped as if they’d run into an invisible fence. Kenny was at the point of tears as he wailed, “It has to be down there. That bitch took it down there to play with in the fucking water.”

“I guess,” Gareth said, feeling extremely strange and out of place.

“Well, why don’t we just march our perfect butts down there and seize it?” Kenny demanded.

“Nah,” Gareth demurred. “You go ahead if you feel like it.”

Kenny stared at the mist, which seemed to be vibrating in some way, his mouth working. “Well,” he finally said, “As long as they bring it back.”

“It’s not like they can go anywhere,” Gareth hastily added. He turned back and headed for bed. After a few tortured seconds staring down at the pool with fists clenched, Kenny followed.

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Bannock’s head rested on his laced fingers, a straw hat low over his eyes. One leg dangled out of the huge cotton hammock, an occasional flick of his toe keeping him in a gentle rocking motion. He kept his eyes on the view down to Privassion Creek and the valley below, taking in all the delicate and charming graces of Blancaneaux lodge, but mostly the foreground of view of Loris giving a very intense massage to Shane Black.

Not, rather pointedly, on Kenny and Gareth sitting forward in their cane chairs, their positions and faces advertising supplication. Or even on Curtsy, perched on a table over by the wall and moving her head back and forth to follow the conversation. She’d been following the “Melrose Mafia”, as Loris called them, for three days, practically underfoot. Gareth actually saw possibilities in her for the film–apart from his more immediate schemes for her lush flesh–and had really nailed her when he mentioned they’d need a dolphin wrangler and that Hollywood was practically begging for people who could get cetaceans on their marks.

Continuing his abject crawling to Bannock, Gareth wheedled, “Listen, Big Guy, you did a fabulous job getting oXo for us and it was very small of us to quibble over the money. We felt shitty immediately and hope you’ll accept…”

“Now you need something else,” Bannock said quietly, his eyes half closed as he watched Loris’ hands running over the writer’s shoulders in an almost hypnotic sequence.

“Well not really need,” Gareth said.

“And not so much else,” Kenny stuck in.

“Look, Bannock,” Gareth moved on with an urgency that indicated he might come to the point of their barging in on his siesta. “We’ve taken some meetings behind the skull, and now we’re here. Here in the same house with Coppola and Cage and Shane Black and Marty Bregman and Pacino might even show up and…”

“But we’re getting no love,” Kenny pouted. “We need interface, capische? Input, liaison, face time.”

“You want face time with a skull?”

“You know what he means,” Gareth almost begging for sympathy and succor. “We’ve got access, the director of all time, building a cast…and we can’t talk to oXo.”

“Did you call his agent at Morris?”


“Just fucking with you, man. You need some answers from oXo.”

“Exactly. You nailed it.”

“Well, you came to the right place.”

Gareth turned to Kenny, gushing. “I told you. This man has a few rough spots on his diamond, but he delivers.”

“I didn’t say ‘the right person’. I said the right place.” When Gareth stared, puzzled, he nodded his head at Loris, now working on Black’s fingers as he seemed to be liquefying.

“Of course. Didn’t I tell you, Kenny…”

“You most certainly did not ‘tell me, Kenny’. You said…”

“Okay, okay. But look, do you think she’d…”

“Ask her when she’s done tenderizing Mr. Kissy Kissy Bang Bang, there. And you guys might consider having her work you out, too. You’re both way too uptight.”

Gareth looked at Loris, now kneading the soles of Shane’s feet, and approved. Even Kenny seemed open to having a woman put her hands all over him. “So when will she be done?”

“A massage therapist’s job is never done,” Bannock said with mock gravity. “But I’d say that guy’ll be medium well in about another twenty. Long as you’re up, could you shag me a beer?”

Townsend flowed into the dark bedroom like moonshadow. Moving silently but surely, he took a position in a dark corner to await alarms and gauge the breathing from the bed. He held his fist up to his face, reading his responder without releasing the tiniest amount of glow from the LED’s which were all working overtime in the immediate presence of their obscure object of acquisition. It took two reads before he believed it was sitting in plain sight on the dresser. He ghosted over and scanned it, his stylish glasses giving him a view of it, all twisting, psychedelic color-maps with digits dancing at the sides of the projection. Just sitting there.

Just sitting there in the middle of a big, confused pile of silverware from the dining room, two glass windchimes from the pavilion, and various other odds and ends piled up in a gleaming game of Pick Up Stix. He bent as close as he could without his display feeding back too much to read, but knew there was no way to remove the teetering cage of noisy junk without toppling it onto the steel tray it rested on. Shit. Well, more ways than one to get a cat skin.

He crept to the door sticking close to the walls, opened the door six inches noiselessly, and exuded.

On the bed, Aphra watched the dim triangle of light on the ceiling narrow and disappear before relinquishing the butt of her Detonix, under the pillow. That man was a thief in the night, that’s for sure. Could feel you up and knock you up but not wake you up, no doubt.

Speaking of which. She slid her arm softly over Copper’s ribcage and cupped her firm breast. With just the tip of a fingernail, she gave a tiny pluck at the end of her nipple. No response from the redhead, who must be pretty exhausted, all told. So she scissored two fingers around said nipple and started to move them slowly together and apart. It took about a dozen little squeezes like that before she felt a hand reach back, grab her pubic tangle, and slide down to cup her warmth and do a little finger-walking of their own.

Loris sat in a lotus position, regarding the producers with a neutral calm. Behind her, Shane Black was snoring lightly on the massage table. She thought out the two metrosexuals’ dilemma, to the point where they were about ready to jump out of their skins from anticipation, and said, “Have you tried drugs?”

“Well, I’ve experimented a little,” Kenny offered demurely.

Tried them?” Gareth expostulated. “He’s like indicted them. Convicted them. He’s like, rounded them up and exterminated them.”

“She means on oXo, you twit.” Bannock continued his slow rocking motion and languorous expression.

“How could we do that?” Kenny asked, genuinely stumped. “Maybe a sort of inverse bong-out?

“Kenny,” Loris said, “He doesn’t breathe. He’s a rock.”

Gareth pointed two pistol fingers at her. “You are, baby.”

“Oh, so now he’s just a rock?” Kenny whined. “Before, he was some ascended soul brother.”

“He’s a great, transcended oversoul. He’s a spirit, a mind. But then so am I. We all are. But here’s the deal with him, and it’s kind of sorry, really. He’s been in shifty hands around L.A. for a long time and he’s picked up, basically, a nagging drug habit. He’s the ultimate monkey man. Likes to bring people around him and interact with them when they’re stoned. He’s right in your mind when you blow it and he likes the feeling.”

Gareth stared at her. “So he surrounds himself with telepathically linked stoners and feeds off their energy?”

“If you want to put it like that.”

“Not a problem. I’ve worked with directors like that before.”

“And he’s worked with weaselish Hollywood types before you two. That might help. But maybe not.”

“What? Other producers and directors have had access to him? Why haven’t we heard about this before? Part of the appeal here is novelty…”

“I only know a couple of names, but they’re big names, that I recognize.”

“Name me one,” Kenny challenged with his lip stuck out stubbornly.

“River Phoenix.”

“Oh my God, don’t even bring that name up.” Kenny held his hands to his cheeks, stricken. “I could just sob every time I see that perfect face. And the hair to die for.”

“Not the only bodily fluid you seep out at the very thought, I’m sure,” Gareth observed waspishly. “But look, if he’s such a great seer and fortune teller and all that, it didn’t seem to help River much did it?”

“Because he wasn’t listening. Or asking the right questions.”

Kenny shot a look at Gareth. “This is getting complicated.”

“It always does,” Loris admonished. “Because you turkeys always think he’s a wild joker to cheat with or an ego medallion you can use like bling or a hood ornament. You have access to unlimited energy and use it to pull your puds, then go to smash in your own greed and silliness. You don’t need to worry about him helping you, you need to worry about ending up worse off than when you started. Take my word for that. Or do whatever you want.”

“Okay, what can I say?” Gareth saw no point in getting cute with Loris: she saw through everything he threw out. “You got me… I’m a weasel, I play angles. I got needs. So kill me. But I need to…. see?”

“Maybe you can hire somebody else to ask questions for you,” Kenny sniped bitchily. “Some slut who had a three month run on Jeopardy.”

“Shut up, Kenny. No, wait, wait a second, you’re right. I got it.” He turned back to Loris, excited, “You know how to work him, don’t you?”

“I definitely don’t know ‘how to work him’. Haven’t you been listening to me? It’s more like I’m learning how to let him work me. He’s an influence.”

“More like under the influence to hear you tell it.”

“You paid a quarter million dollars for him, don’t you think it’s worth listening a little?”

That shut Kenny up but Gareth had seen the Route To Riches. “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I’m seeing it now. We need you. On the picture.”

“Look, if you’re just going to play Hollywood games, I…”

“No, no, serious. We need somebody to liaise here. F2F peripheral. We’ll put you on salary, you handle him for us.”

Loris thought a minute and said, “I can handle that.”

Gareth looked at Bannock, who had turned his head toward them as soon as he started talking about using Loris. “Full salary, above the line. No points, but hey, gimme a break. On the production payroll as of now. What I’m saying, she’d have a job and we’d treat her right.”

In a low tone, almost a growl, Bannock said, “That’s what I’d suggest.”

“Sure, Biggie, no problemo. We’ll list her as a scout.”

“I was a scout once,” Kenny mused idly.

“Really? Did you make Eagle?” Bannock asked him.

“Double bogie, I think they said.”

“Look, she’s on the film.” Gareth scrambled to get back on track, nail it down. “You come along. No pay…hell we already paid you. We’ll take care of her.”

“If you know what’s good for you.”

“You bet, Bannock. Might even be a speaking part for you in this.”

“You talk like you’ve seen a script,” Loris said evenly.

“Nah, sorry,” Gareth grinned apologetically. “Just reflex. It’s my nature. See, that’s why we need you.”

“First thing we’re going to do,” Loris said with an understated forcefulness, “Is clean up his aura. Give him a nice bath.”

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“So was it worth it?” Kenny bleated. “Was it worth all that money, all that trouble, all that flesh-pressing with these slimy, delusional third world… glamballers, all the humiliation? Walking around for a solid week with our ball sacks dripping sweat and fungus?”

“I thought you were getting your nads de-sweated by that child who thinks he’s a cameraman… and that you’re a director.” Gareth looked around to see if the there was a sufficient audience of young and bi-curious noshing the dinner buffet around the pool at El Faro to bring out the full flower of Kenny’s pissiness. Saw nothing but tepid, wind-down conversation at the pool bar, micro-mini-mogulettes and mogulitos slacking off after ninety-six hours of everybody pretending to be at some branch eye of the Glamorwood tornado.

“He’s twenty-two, very talented–if raw–and if I’m not a real director of our real film, then what aren’t you?” Kenny somehow managed to give the impression of stamping his feet even though sitting down. Actually so slumped in a lounge chair that he could barely glare over the tabletop into Gareth’s tired and bloodshot eyes.

Gareth sighed. “We got that award.”

“Ooooo, we got an award. A Plexiglas trophy made out of melted-down six-pack thongs for our excellence in cultural portrayal of jailbait poontang wearing nothing but rectal floss and gallons of ersatz blood! They love me, they really love me. I think I spotted one of the busboys who didn’t get an award.”

“Well, I can see somebody got up on the wrong side of the bidet this morning.” No point in trying to talk to the little cumbucket when he was like this. “Tell me when you can do enough of an impression of a sentient being to discuss how we’re going to handle meeting Francis Ford Fucking Coppola and trying to get him in on our film.”

Kenny started to say something twatty, but stopped. He seemed to sort of shake himself off, a Springer Spaniel quiver that shed a rain of petty fuckwittedness all around him and left him reasonably in the clear. He looked at Gareth grimly and said, “We’ve got to grab their attention up there. All of them, not just Mr. Godfather. We have to come on, you know.”

“I know, I know. I just don’t know how, know how. All I have to do is impress a bunch of world-class impresarios.”

“Well think about it. I’m hatching an idea myself.”

“You’re going to think and scheme all evening?”

Kenny stood up and squinted towards their cabana. “I am going to take a nice little nap. What do you think?”

He grabbed his linen man purse and turned to mince off, then turned for a smile he thought was naughty, but actually came off as sort of desperate/degenerate and said, “And star in a little film production of my own.”

“Kenny,” Gareth said, and something naked and plaintive in his voice cut through his partner’s usual camp-out. “Can we get the hell out of this tourist trap piece of shit?”

Kenny started to say something flip, but Gareth slowly stood up and approached him, shaking his head slowly. “You’re right. The award was a sick joke. This whole fiasco was a waste of time, money… air. We’ve got two days until we have to be up at that lodge. Let’s go somewhere quiet and simple and regroup.”

“But Jorge…” Kenny started to say, then stopped and gave Gareth a rare genuine smile and foppishly punched his shoulder. “You’re right, he’s not near as talented as all that. Nor as hung as I’d like, either. Look, how about Tulum?”

“Perfect. Let’s just pack up and check out, right now. And maybe that way we can also lose…”

“Fat chance,” Gareth said in a hollow tone, gesturing towards the deep shadows under the palapa by the steps to the beach. Where a pair of long, lovely legs led up to a white swimsuit filled out by a classy brunette. And beside them sat a hulking figure looking right at them with a relaxed vigilance.

Kenny stiffened, and his whole poise fell apart again on the spot. He lunged over towards Bannock and Loris practically howling. “Bannock, we told you. That first night.”

That first horrible night, Gareth thought, as he followed Kenny over to the man who had dogged their steps for four days. Check into our room and here’s the Angel of Contusions sitting there like he owned the place. Which I suppose he did. Unless somebody wanted to contest the title.

He was past being afraid of Bannock or even angry. He walked over and pulled up a chair, plopped down two feet in front of him as Kenny stood there quaking and making little gibbon faces. He started to speak, but Loris rolled over, graced him with a beautiful smile and passed him a cold beer from the bucket on the table. He took it and nodded to her, genuinely grateful. Something in the gesture redefined the conversation before it even started.

“Look, Bannock,” he said wearily, “What I told you is true. We don’t have it… him. We shipped our gear on ahead so it could clear Belize customs. Oxo’s already in Belize. Safe and sound. There’s nothing you can beat out of us and no point in following us, really.”

Bannock nodded amiably. He was in no hurry. He was like the Mounties or something. Always got his skull.

Kenny finally subsided, sank into a lounger muttering to himself. Loris offered him a beer, too, but he just shook his head and kept on shaking it for awhile.

It was Loris who finally spoke. “Gareth, why don’t you just invite us to come with you?” she said.

Gareth and Kenny stared at her, dumbfounded. Why not just invite us into your bank so we don’t have to fret with all those pesky details like breaking in? Gareth could only think of saying, “It’s by invitation only. Francis’ invitation.”

“But you need an entourage,” Loris told him, and he realized they’d heard what they’d been saying. He opened his mouth, but didn’t get very far.

Loris swiveled gracefully, stood, and walked over to Kenny. “Sweetheart,” she said, “You’re a bundle of nerves. Lie down.” Kenny obeyed, numbly. “No, on your tummy.”

Kenny obeyed silently and humbly, as if he was in the habit of taking orders without thinking about them. Loris moved to his head, knelt, and reached out her hands to cup the back of his skull. The other men watched without speaking or moving: she seemed to broadcast a wave of silence around her, calm spreading out from her like ripples on a pond. As if independent creatures, her hands began to move.

Kenny lay on his back, eyes closed, smiling slightly and radiating a deep, organic peace. Gareth stared at him: the man seemed taller, more substantial, the lines of his face altered by the lack of ego-grubbing and drama. He looked at Loris, sitting beside Bannock on the other lounger. She said, “I’ve been around film people before. You’re a nervous lot. This guy used to take me to parties with him, once to this retreat up in Santa Barbara. I gave massages to whoever wanted them. He said it made them easier to do business with. I thought it made everything more sane and human, is all.”

Gareth stared at her with wonder and even a trace of trepidation. Yea, not only had she heard his prayer, she had answered.

Loris stood smoothly and motioned him to his feet. “Let me show you something,” she said. “This great little club off Fifth.”

Bannock stood up as well, darkening the glow of pool lights and luau lamps, from Gareth’s point of view. He got to his feet and gestured at the raptured Kenny. “Think the hotel will lend us a stretcher?”

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Seagull, though as about as establishment-unaware as they come, still found is art, such as it was, driven by economic realities. One of which was that songs mocking out tourists are not favored in places that pay one to sing. So he rather relished serving up his latest opus for the select.

They come to the Island in the winter time
Drink tequila on the beach with salt and lime
They swing in their hammocks and laugh ’cause they know
Everybody back home is covered with snow

They’re only here for six months or so
While the weather back home is twenty below
They’re out in the sun with a smile every day
They’re the snowbirds down from the US of A.

They put on a sweater at the first sign of fall
And give their travel agent a telephone call
They wait ’til December, see what Santa Claus brings
Then they pack up their bags, and they spread out their wings.

They’re only here for six months or so
Until the hurricanes are starting to blow
They’re out in the sun with a smile every day
They’re the snowbirds down from Ontario way.

There’s Canadian sunsets and Indian summer
But Northern winters can be quite a bummer
They wait until the Superbowl and Grey Cup are lost
Then they head for the airport, whatever it costs.

They’re only here for six months or so
While Old Man Winter puts on his show
They’re out in the sun with a smile every day
They’re the snowbirds down from New York and LA.

They wear oil and bikinis, every woman and man
So they can fly back up north with their Yuca-Tan
It’s tropical heaven they all can time share
And nicer than freezing their butts off up there

They’re only here for six months or so
When hell freezes over they’re ready to go
They’re out in the sun with a smile every day
They’re the snowbirds down out of Canada, eh?

It went over better in Summer, when there were fewer gringo snowbirds in the Café Cueva, though you never knew how the sunburned, silvertipped resident set might take it, either.

But the place was pretty full for low season, and incredibly hottie-loaded. That one table over by the bookcase was one hundred percent over-the-moontang and he’d add on a few points every time the big black chick made a move. Not that he’d kick Miss Saigon there out of bed, either. Hell, he wouldn’t even toss Curtsy back to the dolphins. Amazing bunch and he was playing to their table, hard.

But not to ignore those new faces on the sofas around the coffee table in the back corner, by any means. A slender drink of water slipping around in a cotton shift that made it pretty clear it was just there like the veil on a sculpture: temporary cover up some amazing shape. Sitting right by the cutest Mayan chick he’d seen yet. I’d buy a bracelet with my name on it from her for a dollar, Seagull thought as he strummed an instrumental break. Even sing one just for her, like “You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re Mayan”? And a familiar face amongst them. Not to mention familiar tight tits, tough ass and red head. The fire-dancer he’d almost hooked up with in Uxmal two years go, but she was traveling with that sexy lezzy with the rattletop djembe. Damn! Maybe I should set my axe on fire and play with my teeth.

Copper was unaware she was being scanned by a potential musical collaborator, traveling agent, and bed-partner: she was just relaxing in the mellow, sweet, innocent Isla Vibe. She’d always doted, on the Island: the perfect combination of her kind of laid-back and unspoiled with a decent number of gringo dorks with enough money to make spinning her fireballs here an exercise in profit, not just exercise.

Beyond that, she had a certain affinity to a place where she had her own church right on the main square. Well, not really her church, though to hear some people tell it…

The combination of her name and hair color brought a spark of recognition everywhere in the area, but nowhere more than on Isla, where the main church on the plaza principál is dedicated not to the Lady of Guadalupe, but to the Virgin de la Caridad de Cobre. Unusual in Mexico, where you gradually find out that it’s barely even a Catholic country at all, in the normal sense, but manifestly a goddess cult in which Christ is revered mostly because he’s the favorite son of the original Latin Lupe Lu. But the Charity of Copper virgin cuts her action on Isla, where Lupe’s church is much smaller and located out in a colonia. Well, also located on a clifftop with Caribbean view, but prestige-wise, Copper Charity is the go-to deity on Isla and Copper got a kick out of it.

A deeper kick, that still hadn’t completely settled in the lamina of her subcon was that in Cuba, where the Virgin originally hailed from the town of Cobre, she carried a second ID, a persona she found fascinating. To a practitioner of Santeria–the Latin Caribe’s answer to voodoo–many Saints are merely hosts for powerful Id gods, AfroCarib spirits that ride people like horses but reside inside Catholic canoneers like parasite eggs injected into host grubs. The Virgin might have her sparkling white chapel and muted bells in the main square, but over the flickering lanterns and fresh-spilt blood of sacrifice she was the Goddess Oshun, and far, far from a blushing virgin bride.

Xchab had absolutely no idea what sort of place her weird new companions had dragged her to this time. It was obviously a gringo/Euro kind of place but showed none of the flash she associated with that in Cancun. In fact, it was downright shabby: old sofas, used books piled all over one wall, rough floors, burlap ceilings, counters and shelves made of what looked like driftwood or at least heavily distressed lumber. They didn’t even make your coffee for you! They brought these little glass cups of grounds in hot water and you had to push the plunger down to pour the coffee out. And how about the entertainer? He looked like a clown with his big puffball of sandy hair and his tramp clothes and taped-together glasses. And his guitar looked like it was not only used, but abused and grafittied by some minature music gang. And if wasn’t a clown, just a singer, then his singing really, truly sucked.

Loris was pretty totally happy, not that she was a hard person to make happy. She was running with maybe the best man she’d ever met, was on the trail of oXo, and absolutely loved Isla Mujeres. Their cabana at the Villa Ki’in was like a dream to her; funky living room with posters of Kahlo and Zapata opening out on a patio with cane loungers that gave onto a powdery beach sloping down to a little lagoon of calm water flushed by waves breaking over a reef. The water was clear as the air, and shallow enough that she could walk over to the reef and peek down at tiny wrasse darting in Technicolor. She’d lazed on the beach all afternoon, drinking in the sun and Bannock’s presence, but with few words spoken. Just watching Copper and Winston frolic in the water while Xchab strode solemnly around at waist depth, her long man’s shirt floating around her as she peered into the crystal water like a stalking heron. Just resting a hand on Bannock’s hairy arm and feeling him relaxing, too. And, okay, yeah, drinking a few Coronas.

And now this little place with the cool Brit couple and the knucklehead slacker singer and the Yucatan coffee and rich brownies and the feel of a sort of hideout from reality, some forgotten niche in development where you could be unwary and human. The people who came in for coffee seemed to share that feel: uncoiled, yet aware, happy to be here. The other table there, those three model-looking girls, look at them. Just young, beautiful and not a care in the world.

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