Loris rose from the green water, slid upward naked and glistening like the storied blade. It was not so much dark around her as green. A crowding, hustling green. There was a dim light in the water below her and she knew she needed to return to that light. In fact, the thought made her feel soft and dizzy with anticipation. She continued to rise out of the dark water, hovering upward, water falling from her pointed toes now, making ripples the gold color of the light below. She floated sedately upward through veils of green.

It was vegetation: broad leaves and clambering vines of primordial jungle that broke the daylight up into shifting camouflage patterns of yellow and green shades. Like layered veils over the water below. The tangle fell past her eyes as she rose, an avalanche of seeking greenery trailing tendrils into the water at the bottom of the big natural well. She rose past more veils: green scrub, red-green streaked leaves of trees. She lifted slowly past the canopy, seeing only miles of more treetops in a circle around her, a horizon of jungle striving upward.

That horizon fell away as she continued her ascent, revealing the sea in the distance. Not that far, she thought. Not so far at all. She rose further, could make out the emerald necklace of cayes along the reef.
mayancalendargirls.comThen she was high enough to see the outer slopes of the reef, falling away like mountain foothills under the clear water. She was miles high by then, passing white wisps of cloud, brushing through one wispy cool wipe as she rose higher.

She could see the sweep of Caribbean coastline then, unmistakable. The inland cayes to the north, Guatemala’s coves to the south. She knew exactly where she was. She raised her hands above her head like a ballerina, linked her fingers together like a little girl at prayer. Then she fell.

Loris slid smoothly into consciousness as usual, white wisps on blue sifting before her eyes, then dissolving to a view of Bannock, lying on his back with his right arm stretched out as if reaching for her. She lay watching him, storing the dream away and scanning it in the light of her waking life, as she always did.

She’d been big on dreams since childhood, had made a cult of it for awhile there and was still a strong believer in their power and message. What she’d never believed in much was Men. And with plenty of reasons. Now she regarded the man who was currently sharing her dreams.

Not much to look at, but that had never meant much to her. A legitimate tough guy and she didn’t yet know if that was better or worse than the guys who pretended to be tough. But there was this: he had brought her here, where her dreams had beckoned her. He had brought oXo thousands of miles, perhaps to where he belonged. He seemed to respect and like oXo and didn’t seem to mind being a vehicle for the wayward skull, rather than trying to use it’s powers for his own gain. Well, other than the two hundred thousand. It would bear some thinking about.

She had the strong impression that Bannock was alone in the world, but that he wouldn’t mind changing that. She knew what that was like. He seemed like a very odd choice for the first man she could trust and believe in, but he might do.

She rolled softly onto his outstretched arm and without waking he curled it, drawing her to him. She moved her leg over his body and lay listening to his breath and breathing his scent. She wondered what he was dreaming.

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It wasn’t easy sorting it out, and Aphra was about to give up when one of those thunderbolts of luck hit. Most people in espionage had an almost superstitious belief that all success came from hard work, training and, well… superior intelligence. But she’d always seen a heavy streak of crap-shoot in it all and felt like you won most if you were ready to go with the roll. Which was good, because she was getting absolutely nowhere trying to get into the blonde’s scrambled head.

“So you saw the jade thing?”

“Yeah, yeah. And all these heads and gold and coralcaturas…”

And off she went, babbling to her beach hunk about coral. Aphra shook her head and knocked back some more brandy. She looked around the Paraiso and scowled. It was going to be a long night, and it looked like it would be right here in this beachbum dive. Where the seashell-wailing chick had split and now their idea of fun was some wispy hippy playing drums and this retro-hip/goth/vamp redhead spinning fireballs around. In a place with a thatch roof. Fairly foxy redhead, though.

She tried once again to corral Curtsy’s exploded attention. “Did you see a skull on the jade?”

“Yeah. How’d you know? MeiMei took pictures…” Then she plummeted off the re-recognition buzz into another weeping fit. “MeiMei. They… those fuckers! They…”

“When did you last see MeiMei?” Two steps forward, one step back.

“They stripped us, then they dragged her off. The guy, the yacht guy… Oh, man is he an asshole. He was going to rape us!” She touched her head and went ballistic over another memory fragment. “He shot me! He must have thrown me in the water. Those assholes!”

She was practically screaming at that point, and her boyfriend didn’t try to calm her down, just watched her like she was a circus act. Aphra tried to think of how to play her, then she veered off again, California smile breaking out through the tears. “But they came for me! They saved my life. It was so beautiful.”

“Not the same ‘they’ as the assholes who shot you?”

“Of course not!” The very idea offended her. She smiled and simpered like a middle-schooler in love. “The guys. My guys came and got me and brought me home. Oh, wait, I fucked that up, though.”

“Your guys?” Aphra didn’t mind admitting to being totally lost at this point and was starting to wonder if the head injuries Curtsy had apparently been piling up over the past week had done permanent damage. Hard to tell, though. How do blonde brain cells die? Alone.

“Yeah. Bongo and Bruto and Pinoccio and Caruso and Mayab. Well, Mayab isn’t a ‘guy’, really, but she’s cool and…”

God only knew what that rant was all about. What she had to show for this whole fuckup was that MeiMei had seen the skull, had gotten pictures, last seen in captivity by some guys who didn’t mind raping and shooting girls who took pictures of their skull collection. And she just couldn’t think of any further ways to pursue questioning without the blonde’s wackness getting contagious. She took another sip of brandy and went rigid when there was one of those sudden lulls in bar chatter and she heard somebody at the table behind her say something that snagged her attention like a number ten triple-snelled fishhook.

Kenny had done nothing but bitch ever since they came in the place–quelle surprise–and was starting to get on everybody’s nerves. “This hovel is deader than those ruins,” he whined loudly. “I thought you said the beach scene here was, you know, active.”

“Meaning, of course, cruisy,” Gareth replied. “Look it’s a cheap place to kill two days until the workshop starts. And there are some lovely women here, get a load of the table behind me.”

Kenny’s petulant gaze skittered past the knockout ebony/ivory pair and lit on Ganzo. “Not bad, I guess,” he pouted. “But he’s just…”

Loris, who’d been watching Copper’s fire-spinning with interest, turned to him and said, “We’re here, Kenny. Who could be more interesting than that?”

Kenny, confused, stopped to sort it out, and shot yet another covetous glance at Bannock, who had tuned him out. Xchab couldn’t even understand English and she was ready to slap him silly if he didn’t shut up.

“Okay, let’s talk about this trip to Jungleville,” he bitched to Gareth. “What are we really going to accomplish?”

“Maybe get greenlighted for a real feature, not another one of these dorkploitation reels.”

“But how? is what I’m asking.” His voice raised as the real source of his recent vapors came to the surface. “What we waltz in there with a stone skull and tell him it can talk to us? If it would really talk instead of all this stone innuendo, we could at least figure out where the bottom line is. Get a picture of the ending. Get a budget. Take out insurance.”

Which affected Aphra in the manner already mentioned. She turned slowly as if scoping out the scene and took a look. Two flitty-looking chipmunks in resort wear, very tasty-looking white girl in a white linen shift, DeNiro-looking cat coulda been the collection department for a loan shark, possibly yummy lil Injun gal, and a sixties burnout. Quite the crew, all right. And she remembered now that they’d come in with the little drummer boy and his tres lappable redhead fire-thrower.

She excused herself, walked past the washrooms that she wouldn’t have set foot in on a bet, and eased into the crushed shell lot where she’d parked. Didn’t take a rocket surgeon to spot the white passenger van with rental plates so she sashayed over, slipping one of her new tracers out of her purse. One-day Fed-Ex to Cancun, cost somebody bucks, delayed her a day to pick them up, but she didn’t see any way Hardley or the White House was going to have their numbers. She squatted quickly to click the sender under the fender of the van. As she walked back into the Paraiso, she did a quick check on her receiver. It lit up, tossed blips and digits around it’s touch screen, and basically told her, “Follow that car.” Don’t mean shit getting a wild break unless you’ve got it together to follow your shots.

Curtsy stood in the dark parking area fidgeting and chewing a fingernail. First they follow a yacht, now Aphra wants to follow a van. She’d been seeing Ganzo as provider and protector ever since she could remember. But now she could remember a whole lot more, and he suddenly seemed inadequate to the task. Aphra could swing about anything like magic. On the other hand, her last trick had played out pretty ugly.

Finally Aphra leaned over. pushed the door open and patted the seat. “Come on, girlfriend? Where else you got to go?”

Curtsy dithered a few seconds more then jerked the back door open, prodded Ganzo into the tiny back seat, and slid in after him. She looked at Aphra in the rearview mirror and said, “Okay, what the hell? Get us out of here.”

Aphra bobbed her head as she turned the ignition. “Oh, yowsuh, right away Miss Daisy.

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The club I play in Playa is called Posada Xi Ka’an. Don’t worry about the weird name. In the Yucatan a name like Xi Ka-an (from the Mayan: “Place of the Site of the Location of the Spot”) is no big deal. They have places around here named Oxkutscab and Tixcogob, man. Dzilbalchan, Dzinup, Xclakal, Xul-Ha, Hochob, Holbox, Xkaladzonof, X-Masil, Chikinzlofla. There’s even an Xpo, but it ain’t pronounced like they do in Houston. So do what everybody else does, fake it. The Mayas themselves can’t pronounce these things. I mean, come on…Xclaf? They just put the names on the map to confuse invading armies. It didn’t work. But it sure freaked out my spell checker. Check the website, Xzkcl.ctlom.
Seagull The Blasé Sojourner

Seagull could cover a mind-numbing number of songs, and had written a few of his own, but he was at his best–and remember, it’s all relative–when jamming his own lyrics on existing tunes. Such as Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville”, of which he had done dozens of vamps, including the one he was singing at the moment.

I spoke with the waiter, he said, “Be by later”
I’ve been here an hour with two lousy brews
They say “ahorita” or “un momentita
And leave you alone with the “mañana” blues

I’m wastin’ time again in Ahorita-ville
Waitin’ for my damn dinner and drinks
The waitresses say they’ll be back sometime today
But you know, that’s not what I think

They said they’d bring it in a Mexican minute
But two happy hours have already passed
I ate all the corn chips, the salsa and bean dip
And nibbled the salt off the rim of my glass

I’m wasting away to bones in Ahoritaville
Waiting for my waiter to come through the door
Some people say he just snuck by with a tray
But I think he don’t work here no more

I called for the cuenta, they said, “un momenta
If they’re back in an hour it’ll be strange
I paid a few pesos for my chile con queso
And everyone’s vanished to go hunt for change

I’m wastin’ half my life in Ahoritaville
Waiting for this damn dinner to end
Some people say it’s just the Mexico way
But by now, I’m all hungry again

A crowd-pleaser, especially among “sophisticates” like this film festival scuzz, who congratulated themselves for knowing what the Spanish lyrics meant–unaware that everybody else in the world did, too: even the Mexicans. But the waiters just hated it.

As soon as the meager applause died out, he ditched his multi-forged guitar and grabbed his dumbek, tossing the strap around his neck so it could hang right in front of his crotch. He pounded a quick, bright staccato on the rim, then moved to the slap and went into his watered-down, generic, but energetic Afro beat. And Copper was suddenly just standing there. Staring at the crowd with her arms hanging at her side, trailing chains. Slowly she lifted her arms and held them over her head, the Lost Soul dangling her chains like a broken puppet’s string. Then suddenly, somehow, they ignited and she stood between two crackling balls of fire. She paused a beat, then swung the fireballs around her, the excess white gas blasting parallel tongues of fire onto the floor like hot rails to hell. As always, she danced a trance inside the sphere of holy flame.
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At the front table, where you could actually feel a little heat from the blazing poi, Loris turned to Gareth and said, “Think about it, you show up with some music and entertainment, and hint that it’s what your films about. Hand drums and fire-spinning: hot totems for today’s youth.

Gareth leaned back and scanned her. “What makes you think that’s what it’s about?”

Loris smiled. “What do you think?”

Gareth, mindful of her close rapport with the rock head he expected to direct his film, nodded sagely. But please, show up and try to impress Coppola and Shane Black with a hippy fire dancer? How about a mime, just to round it all out? Maybe an organ grinder? Kenny might like that angle.

The gas was just about exhausted in the wound Kevlar balls at the end of Copper’s scything chains. And suddenly they flew off her hands. The crowd gasped as the chains flew across the floor and out the open door to the deck, pinwheeling alongside each other as their fires guttered out.

And between the flying sparks, Xchab walked into the club not looking at anybody, just doing a very Indian-like shuffle-dance to the beat of Seagull’s drum. She held her arms out from her shoulders, swept slightly back like a jet’s wings. She moved slowly into the room, shuffling and stamping, her taut young body weaving dreamily.

There were twenty parrots in the entryway to the Xi Ka’an, wings clipped, their scintillating, psychedelic feather moirés somewhat dulled by captivity in huge wrought-iron cages. And suddenly, for no reason, the birds were out of their cages. And flying on chopped-down wings. Xchab danced into the center of the floor, her arms rising and falling as she bobbed, her hands making circles in the air. And a squadron of brilliant birds hovered behind her arms, making big, flat, iridescent wings that moved and wavered and pulsed behind her as she danced without knowing her arms had become the leading edges for a flying wedge of determined, silent birds. Or that a huge blue parrot,with gold chest and white circles around its red eyes, was hovering unerringly over her head, fluttering back and forth as she nodded her erect head and shook her gleaming jet mane.

Winston entered the room unseen as people froze with cigars halfway to their lips and icecubes lying in their mouths, gawking at the Mayan girl dancing as the focal point of a wing of flaring feathers. He put a six-hole cane whistle to his lips and started piping. It was a shrill but soothing sound, a highly Indian tattoo of chrome notes as clear as icepicks, broken up by a slightly breathy counterpoint. Music from the Chiapas highlands, a splashing Laocoon rain over the tight metallic beat of the dumbek. Copper shook a bundle of goat hooves, producing a dry tambourine-like sound that reeked of stone temples and yellow eyes in the jungle.

Suddenly Seagull rattled off a sharp burst of rimshots, Winston reached into the highest register for a sustained scream from his whistle and Xchab threw her arms over her head to bring her hands together. The birds flew up, spiraling into the high rafters of the club. Then the lights went out.

Copper was working the tables with professional cool, her tin can wrapped in woven ribbons clanking and whispering as it filled with loot, Kenny was staring like a man envisioning tongues of fire, Gareth slowly turned his face to Loris, eyes wide and mouth sagging open.

She chuckled and touched his forearm on the table. “They’ll just love to see us,” she said.

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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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