“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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Winston couldn’t believe Ms. Ruff, Tuff, and Hard To Snuff was in tears over mere material possessions. And not even hers. Touching, though. He’d known Copper a long time and knew there was a fuzzy heart inside the steel-belted leather shell, but it didn’t get out much. Much less so since the advent of Dr. K.

They’d found a little stuff floating around. Including some her fire chains in her shredded backpack. Bannock found a dive mask, and improvised a strap from his shoestrings to dive for more stuff, but just got coated with gunk. And Copper’s mood wasn’t improving.

Winston tossed her a baggie with the absolute last of his stash of weed. “At least you got your dancing rig, Cher. Now you have nothing to lose but your chains.” And at least all that fucking ketamine is gone.

“But how about your stuff?”

“Since when to I have anything worth a shit? You know me… if I need something I jack it or make it out of debris.”

Loris stroked Bannock’s back as he fussed around trying to improve the seal on his jury-rigged mask, but was keeping an eye on Xchab, who was doing a pretty good imitation of a Mayan stele, staring expressionless at the space that hid been her only home since the hovel of her childhood. “How about the kid, there?”

Winston shrugged, “She barely owns any clothes.”

Copper turned to her, snapping out of her funk. “Win likes to keep ’em bareassed and pregnant.”

The old hippie reacted in cartoon alarm, crossing himself. “Bite your tongue, bitch.”

Bannock stood up, tossed the mask out into the debris-smeared lagoon, and turned back to them in a sort of military movement that got all their attention. “Look,” he said off-handedly. “We’ve been up all night. We’re wet and hungry. It’s Plan B time.”

Copper cut her eyes at him, lips pursed. “If you’ve got a plan that has a meal, bed, and shower in it, lay it on me.”

“Was your visa destroyed, too?”

Copper frowned at the descent to the kind of bureaucratic reality she generally ignored. “And my passport. Chopped into fishy litter.”

“Good thing I’ve still got mine,” he said with an off-kilter grin that Loris really liked. Then he pulled out and flashed a gold-colored credit card, which Copper really liked.

“But weren’t you telling me how a deal’s a deal?” Loris spoke in a schoolmarm voice, but he could see the fun in her eyes.

She had a point, though. Bannock was a little abashed, said, “Yeah, yeah. Look, I was just thinking that over in the shower.”

The piping hot showers with lovely Oaxaca tile and mounds of fluffy towels. Which had put everybody in much better spirits than they’d experienced sitting in littoral muck eyeing the shambles of an owner-built, sovereign lifestyle.

They’d all gobbled mounds of room service hamburgers and beer, Bannock having convinced the concierge at the Gran Caribe that being allowed to entertain his friends in his room would play better with the high-tone clientele than having them troop into the doggedly upscale dining room or Riviera-style poolside café. Now the party lay about digesting their meal and possible futures. Xchab’s eyes kept flitting around this room crammed with more luxury than she could have previously imagined: cataloging with equal ecstasy the full-wall high-rise-glassed view of a world as much wider than hers as the gleaming Caribbean outsized the crystal pool below, the leather lounges, the microwave and blender in the kitchenette, the absurd paintings of hip Eurotrash lounging under palms. Winston bemoaned the loss of his stash, but was otherwise typically curious as to what came next. Copper, her usual rambunctiousness mellowed by fatigue and the aftermath of shock, lay with her hair dangling off a sofa arm, tapping a foot to the piped-in Cuban jazz. Bannock and Loris leaned slightly towards each other at the clever pull-out table in authentic blond Ikea.

“So why would I honor a deal with these two Hollyweird dipshits, but not Blaster? Well, I was working for them, for one thing.”

“And they’re so much more honorable and squared-away than he was.”

“Yeah right. No, the only difference between their level of scumbucketry and his, they have money.”

He looked at her for comment, but her face was neutral, still as an underground pond.

“So is that what I’m on here?” he asked her quietly. “Ethics measures up to money?

“Bannock,” Loris asked in a reasoning tone, “May I ask? Do you think about things like that very much?”

“Nope. And you can see why. It’s pretty much an acquired taste.”

“I told you psilocybin would be good for you.”

He leaned over to cup her head in his hands, brush his lips on her cheek and murmur, “And it told me you’d be good for me.

Copper glanced up, chuckling, “Hey you guys, get a room.”

Bannock gave her a look. “Excuse me, but we have a room. There might be a place on the roof for hippies to hang their hammocks. Why don’t you go see?”

Copper glared at him but Winston laughed and she joined him. Bannock leaned back and stretched to reach the cordless house phone on the counter. Waited, then spoke into it.

“Hey, I’ve got three friends here that need a room for tonight. Can you just put that on my card? Great, thanks. They’ll come down and pick up the key. Oh, yeah, that’s better. 516? They’ll meet him there.”

He slipped the phone into the pocket of his logo-monogrammed robe and said, “Let’s get together for a late breakfast tomorrow. About ten? Figure out where everybody’s Plan B’s are falling by then.”

Copper and Winston looked at each other and figured out Bannock had just bought some privacy in a really gracious way. They got up and headed for the door, giving him soul shakes and peace signs as he waved off their thanks, “Get a good night’s sleep,” he called out as they moved into the hall. “Exploit the facilities.”

As the door closed he turned to Loris. “They’ll probably get buzzed and spend the whole time joyriding elevators.”

“I think the Mayan girl could spend three days just ogling the gift shop.” She stood up and walked to the bedroom door, trailing her fingers along the view-under-glass as he watched her fondly.

“That’s the way of you crooks, I understand,” she said over her shoulder. “Rip off some poor slob, then throw it around like a sailor on leave until it’s gone and you have an excuse to pull some more crimes. That the deal?”

“I was thinking we could really use a Hummer,” She didn’t react, so he went on, feeling his way through unfamiliar thoughts. “Seriously … I can’t explain it exactly, but I just sort of felt like we’re into something together here. Do you get that, know what I mean?”

“Oh, I certainly do.”

“It’s like since that swim and getting the fungus among us there’s some sort of…. What? Is there a word for it? We’re a karass or grok or Temple of Shroom or something?”

“Nothing that fancy. We’re brothers and sisters. We always have been, but when you get around cubensis you become aware of it.”

“So is that where we’re at here? You and me? Brother, sister?”

“Don’t you feel it?”

Bannock came out of his chair slowly, moving towards her. “What I feel like, sis, is a little incest.”

Loris smiled, her robe slipping down off her shoulders, “Brother can you spare me some time?”

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You have to fly into Cancun in the daytime to even get a clue. Miles out you look down into open ocean and it looks like desert. You’re seeing the bottom because you can’t see the water. That’s your first clue.
Seagull, in The Blasé Sojourner.

It had come on pretty smoothly, considering half of the trippers were virgins. Xchab had fretted nervously, pacing and twitching and popping her eyes in totally non-noble redman sort of tension. Loris had tried to soothe the girl, but realized she was skittish and suspicious, so she just gave her some space and concentrated on her own little pre-flight mantras and mudras.

She’d smiled watching Bannock adjusting, peering around at first; trying to analyze and guard. But after her one of her prolonged dips, lowering backwards and sinking into the silky, accepting water, she emerged and whipcracked her hair and saw him staring at the pellets of water flying our like a crown of pearls shimmering with the reflected lights of the hotel zone. She waved to him and he waved back, then fell into the whole fingertip thing, wiping and weaving in the air. She giggled and kicked a spray of jeweled water at him.

Winston, of course, came on like a true slut, psychodillies as mother’s milk to him. He did a boneless dance in the shallows, flapping his floppy shirt to internal music. She gave another glance at Xchab, paralyzed on the sand, and figured it was time to shed a little light. She waded in, and approached the Mayan girl slowly. She got on response, seeing eyes focused inwards and dead-centered. She stood in front of the girl motionless, beaming herself into her. Xchab blinked once, in slow motion, the met her eyes, directly and without evasion for the first time. She sensed something powerful in the dark gaze, but also undirected, drifting in currents that emitted no light. She reached to her own waist and undid her soaked dress, then stepped out of it and whirled it around her head. Drops of moon-hue spun out into the darkness around them. Xchab stared at her, then tipped her head to watch the outward spiral of light drops into the night.

The girl reached out now, laid her hand tentatively on Loris’ cheek as if checking to see if she was really there. Her hand trailed down the pale skin, slid off the pale breast, hung heavily at her side. Loris tossed the wet huipil onto the sand and made a simple gesture.

Immediately Xchab shed her own clothes, which blew whatever was left of Winston’s mind. Xchab had emphatically not been the type for public nudity. He stopped his ghost dance and stared at the two naked women standing face to face, the short one so dark and solid, the tall one so while and slim. Whoa!

Bannock stared at the pair, also. He exulted in the sight, wiped out by the beauty of both of them. But without a touch of lust, a lack he was somewhat aware of. Sublime shapes under the cresting moon. Then Loris turned and walked back into the sea. Once waist-deep, she dived, the flash of her half-moons and wonder under the lunar lighting. When she breached again, she waved to Xchab, laughing. Xchab stared then did the last thing either Bannock or Winston expected. She broke into a laugh and charged into the water, kicking up a fountain of spray until she, also, took a dive.

She came up and paddled towards Loris like a puppy, chortling in childish glee. Loris splashed water in her face, initiating a spate of horseplay that the men watched, struck dumb and motionless. Until Loris glanced at them, standing ankle deep in their street clothes and snickered. “Wotta bunch of wussies.”

Winston glanced at the big guy and said, “Are we going to take that?”

“Hell no, podnuh.” And Bannock was immediately pulling off his attire and sailing it back onto the beach.

“Who’s the rotten egg?” Loris taunted while Xchab cackled and tossed Mayan catcalls at them.

The two men thundered into the water like Percherons, belly-flopping noisily into the wet warmth, then swam at the howling girls with windmilling crawl strokes that filled the air with a filigree of moonwater. They slithered through the pale light like otters, basking and bellowing in the electric night over the reef.

The sky was lightening, the turquoise tint seeping into the water, and Bannock was spending more and more time below the surface, watching the quicksilver underside of the surface, snatching at fish, sliding around Loris’ legs like an eel. He pushed off the bottom and came into the air like a killer whale, a big male upsurge into a sky going pink but still full of stars. He stood near Loris and tossed big double handfuls of water into the sky, watching the seductive play of color in the droplets, striving to build his own rainbow. “So this is where stars come from,” he murmured.

Then he turned to Loris, and was washed over by feeling. The beauty of her, rising from the water like a Greek marble. The wonder of her, every line and movement a hint of the strong, smooth stream he’d plunged into in her depths. Then he saw that the water on her cheeks wasn’t seawater, but tears and was beside her in a minute, waiting for her words.

“We made a big mistake,” she whispered, and Bannock felt the big red balloon inside him go slack.

“I don’t think so,” he told her, trying to catch her eye and not succeeding. “I feel better about us all the time.”

That brought her around, sweeping him with a sorrowful gaze he saw as somehow Italian. “So do it. And when I’m, you know… like this… and feel that way, I take it pretty seriously.”

Winston had been floating with eyes dilated upwards and all the drive and animation of a barnacled log, Xchab also back-floating with her head to his, her lush hair pulsing around him like seaweed. He suddenly tipped his head up, the girl’s hair spilling over his brow like the world’s worst comb-over. “Seriously?” he piped. “Are you serious? Don’t take anything seriously. Or it will take you right back.”

He flopped back into sensory deprivation and Loris stepped to Bannock and laid her hands on his pectorals, her head on his chest near his heart. “I’m talking about oXo,” she said forlornly. “Those guys are assholes. They are imprisoning him to exploit him.”

Bannock placed his palms just where her hips curved out from her waist and spoke into the top of her head. “Did you have a vision of him chained in a dungeon begging you to come rescue him and bring some crack?”

“I just know, okay? We have to get him back.”

He took a long pause, feeling her skin, the warmth of her against the hair of his chest, watching the fingers of day creep up the eastern sky over Isla Mujeres. “I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with me anymore, but I guess that’s a good enough reason for me, too.”

Winston bobbed up, eyeing them like a graying sea otter. “Good enough for me, too. Whatever you’re talking about.”

Bannock ignored the old hippie, who receded once again into the sea. “If it wasn’t for you and ol’ oXo I wouldn’t have been caught dead eating this crazy shit. But now I can’t believe I would have turned it down, ever. It changed me too, somehow. I feel like a different person. Does that wear off?”

She smiled softly into his wet chest thatch and said, “Not if you work at it.”

“So I’m a different person now? Would you say?”

“If you say so. And not just you, either.”

Bannock turned where she was looking and saw Xchab slowly rise, the water slicking down off her cinnamon body as if off sheet metal. As she came up out of the water her hair slid off Winston’s head, like a stop-action of aging. She stood facing the dawn and reached out towards the faintest aura of sun, doing something ritualistic with her fingers. She turned to them and Bannock saw what Loris meant: the girl’s face was cast into a firmer mold, hard as igneous rock, ductile as sand. She was a solemn priestess, eyeing them for worthiness. And spoke: “This is the place where the sun is born.”

She reached down and gently lifted Winston’s head, Loris noting a more tender attitude towards the geezer. He stood and looked around at them, then at the shivering new sun. And Xchab spoke again. “The place and the time.”

Xchab’s hand had come to rest on the green fender of the taxi as they got in, tracing the last three letters of the words “EcoCab”. Winston chuckled and leaned over to tell Loris, “Cab is a Mayan word. It means ‘bee’, wouldn’t you know”.

The ride from Punta Nizuc to the other end of the lagoon had been almost entirely silent. The driver didn’t know what to make of the odd quartet, and anyway their clothes were soaked and sogging up his cool Toluca seatcovers. The foursome, wrapped in the soft, brown ego-restructure of a waning good trip, had little to say, but found it very comfortable to relax in one another’s company without babbling.

They got out at the gravel lot by the bridge, huddled together in the post-dawn while Bannock handed the cabbie a too-big bill and got no change. But as soon as they turned to head down the path hacked years ago through the mangroves they saw Copper slumped under the stunted trees like a sack of old clothes.

Winston moved to her, shocked at seeing her in such an abject, beaten posture: unthinkable for the ebullient, defiant redhead. Bannock was looking around for threat as he followed Winston towards Copper, Loris moving in with a calm certainty. Just as Winston reached her, she tilted her head back, her eyes puffed and tearful. “It’s gone!” she sobbed. “They killed it!”

Winston looked where she was pointing and saw only a slick of oily rubbish and chopped vegetation where his home had once floated.

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Loris had already slipped out of her huipil and waded waist deep in the warm tropic waters just inside Point Nizuc. She stood topless, lapped by gentle dark waves, arms raised as if to embrace the gibbous moon.

Winston still had on his droopy hemp pants, standing knee-deep in the water carefully counting out a handful of mushrooms. Xchab eyed him with guarded disgust. Old hippy getting set to bend his brains again. He’d be naked in a hour if her experience proved true; humming his Hindu chants or barking like a dog.

Bannock had kicked off his shoes and rolled up his Dockers, wading tentatively in the shallows while keeping an eye towards the hotels and Club Med buildings.

Xchab winced as Winston gulped down a big pinch of the dread hongos, then stared as Loris turned from her moonitation and approached him like a marble goddess emerging from the sea. She had been respectful of Loris from first sight: unable to pigeon her into any imaginable hole, wiped out by her beauty and whiteness and grave aura. And there she was examining the fungi, holding one up to examine by moonlight. The big matón who was obviously her boyfriend had come up to watch as Winston wolfed down another dried cap.

“So what’s the dose on these little beauties?” Loris asked.

“Well, based on your estimated body weight, obvious attitude, and extraneous pulchritude,” Winston offered in judicious tones, “I think three or four should do you wrong.”

He hunched a shoulder at Bannock and added, “Tuffy, here, about the same.”

“Okay, can I get eight, then? Wait, make it twelve.”

“Whoa, you’re a trouper after my own riddled heart.”

“There are still three of us unserved, if you recall.”

Winston shot a highly un-inclusive look at Xchab, who was hanging way outside the companionable circle the others had fallen into around the handful of shrooms. Then shrugged and handed Loris a dozen of the shriveled little pixie caps and gobbled the ones remaining. He waded out deeper, staring into the shifting moondepths for minnows.

Loris turned to Bannock, cupping the sacraments between her breasts. She quietly took in his reluctance and smiled.

“You know, the first time I ate these things I was a completely different person.” She stared past him, into some temporal inner distance. “They squared me away, put my life into a different order.”

“I thought that was oXo’s job.” He spoke lightly, but was actually very interested in her past. A first for him. He wanted all of it, everything about her.

“Simplest answer; they worked hand in hand.”

“So how long ago was this different person?” How much past baggage could she have at her age, anyway?

“Not as long as you’d think. I was a cheerleader, how do you like that?”

“I can see you cheering people up. Kind of unexpected, though.”

“Not really. I was definitely attractive. I was also a neurotic, grasping, manipulative, shallow little rotten twat. All social, just what looks best and how can you get it. Messed up.”

“Kind of typical, though.”

“Worse than par, I’d say. I was a pretty fucked-up kid. I was heading for suicide or one of the installment plan suicides lots of my friends had already signed on for.”

“But you dropped acid and traded your pom-poms for tom-toms?”

“It was a process. But I’d have to say that drugs saved my life.”

“Try not to give any speeches at PTA rallies, okay?”

Her only answer was holding out cupped hands full of p. cubensis

“So your opinion as a professional healer/weirdo is that I should eat this disgusting crap?”

“Absolutely. Cross my heart.”

“Okay, but I gotta tell you…”

She leaned in quickly, stopping him with a quick brush of her lips. “No you don’t.”

Bannock bowed his head to sniff the fungus in her hands. They had a little smell, but faint amid her vanilla soap, faint musk, and clean, silvery personal scent. He carefully picked out half the shrooms, then paused.

“Should I chew them up?”

“Not recommended. They taste nasty. Just get them down the hatch quick as you can.”

He popped them in his mouth and bent to scoop up a handful of the lukewarm Caribe water, and lapped it like a dog to chase them home. “Well. That’s that. Do I get my money back if I end up drooling in a loonybin somewhere?”

She stepped close to him and cupped his face in her hands. She stared into his eyes from six inches away, luminous under the moon. “We’re going to be just fine.”

And he believed her. Maybe that was what it really was about her all along: he believed her.

Loris turned and approached Xchab, who was on the point of turning tail, but stuck around mostly because of her personal awe of the white girl. She dressed like a queen on the tele, took charge, didn’t defer in the least to Bannock–who Xchab had immediately seen as a macho, dangerous guy–and in fact had obviously talked him into eating the mushrooms. And, don’t forget, she hadn’t batted an eye when thousands of dollars crossed the table back in Pericos.

But above all, she’d been nice to her. Had noticed her, for one thing. Invited her to the table and treated her well. There was something about her that just told you she was on the right side. She walked up to Xchab with two hands full of fungus, held them out to Xchab as if it was already agreed.

The Mayan girl glanced at the men, who were watching her with a careful neutrality, just wanting to see what she’d do. She wondered, herself. Then she looked back at Loris, pale breasts luminous under the moonglow, her face ancient and innocent, and couldn’t look away.

“I’ve never thought of it as a trip,” Loris said. “Always as coming home. And I’m all I’ve got to come home to.”

Xchab stepped forward, as though putting her foot over a cliff. She held out her hands, cupped as if to receive water, and Loris poured the remaining shrooms into her grasp. Without breaking her gaze into Loris’ big eyes, she swallowed them. They tasted totally revolting, like dirt and chicken droppings, but she was a jungle girl and had consumed weirder eats out in the village. She gave a deep, all-over shiver like a big dog coming out of water.

The big guy said, “So now what?”

And when Loris spoke, Xchab knew it was profoundly true. “Now we wait,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

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