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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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.”

Tags: , , , ,

Read the Episode Leading up to this one

Nobody at the table seemed very happy, but that was often the peculiar case in resort fun spots. No joy on the faces of Fric and Frac over there, two metrosexual urbanoids who thought dressing down meant wearing Hawaiian shirts under their unstructured cotton Miami Vice blazers. Certainly none on the stolid countenance of the beefy, amoral cop type on their side of the table with “federales” scrawled on him as vividly as “crooked bodyguard”. Across the table, the slim, lovely brunette seemed to be visiting a personal tragedy. And the beefcake beside her, who should have been exhilarated to have a woman like that leaning against him and touching his arm, was nothing but a brochure on operational readiness pose.

And at his elbow, the small leather backpack swarming with a golden sheen of bees. Winston let the waiter glance askance; he plowed towards the table with Xchab in his wake, her faser set on Maximal Gawk. His thoughts on the nature of the gathering at the bee-anointed table were confirmed as he drew close enough to hear:

“Look, you told me you’d go as high as quarter mil,” the big muscley guy was saying. “And here it sits for two hundred grand. Just what are you sniveling about?”

“Nothing, nothing…” This from the sleeked-back weasel who looked like sniveling was probably his main function in life. “I just figured a guy like you would be resourceful enough…”

“Resourceful? You sent me out on a snipe hunt for some magic crystal skull, no idea where it was but fairy tales and Hollywood scuttlebutt. And there you sit with a nice glass of Argentine Chablis and I’m laying the thing right on your table. How much more resource you want?”

Winston had been waiting to see if the other semi-suit sounded as gay and supercilious as he looked and was rewarded beyond his expectations. “Liiiiisten, Butchy. The world lives on negotiation and wiggleroom.”

“Glad you’re aware of that.” The big guy looking for a waiter, scribbling on his hand to signal for the check. “I’ve already had more attractive offers.”

That lit up the two straights just the way Winston, who’d renegotiated many a stinky deal in his time, expected it would. Boiling down to the most useless question, but always the one they bleated out first: Offers from whom?

The honeypie in the tipica outfit broke off their sputtering with a soft comment, “I think he’s talking about me. Please pay no attention.”

“I dunno,” Winston stuck in from his peripheral hover around the table. “As offers go, you’re damned attractive.”

They all turned to look at this new voice in the jam-up; gnarly old Mr. Natural with a cute little Indian trick who squirmed under their stares.

“And just who,” lisped Frac, the gay one, “Might you people be?”

“Well, I might be the Ghost of Christmas Pretend to Come,” Winston answered solemnly, “But what it is, he called me so I came.”

The producer turned on Bannock with a gaze a little too watery to be the Eye of Flame he hoped for. “You called somebody to meet us here?”

“No. Duh.” Bannock rolled his eyes. “I’ve never seen this codger before.”

“Not him,” Winston said, getting the same dismissive quality without having to do an eyeroll. “Him.”

He pointed at the backpack.

That pronouncement nailed Loris’ attention right to the wall. Xchab stared at Winston, ready to hike up her skirt and sprint for the kitchen door.

“What? Who?” So Fric, the nominally straight dork, wasn’t any sharper than the gay one. “Who called you?”

Winston just stared at the backpack for so long that everybody started fidgeting, Xchab was edging towards thataway, and the straighter jerk was nodding significantly to the bodyguard, who folded his napkin slowly as Bannock came on full alert. Then he said, “oXo.”

Leaving Loris intrigued, Bannock flabbergasted, and the straight arrows aghast. “What the fuck is going on here, Bannock?” they bleated in unison.

“What’s going on is this.” Bannock crunched out the tone he hoped would carry complete finality. He wasn’t above just grabbing the money and dealing with the ramifications–as previously demonstrated–but would rather not. “You sent me to get something. I got it. You owe me money. I have no idea who George Carlin’s ghost is but after a few days around that skull I’m prepared to believe about anything. Maybe oXo got a cell phone and hailed the freak so he could score. Nothing to do with our deal, so don’t try to use it as an excuse to welsh.”

“Know what I’m wondering?” Winston said mildly.

“What you were just talking about?” Frac minced out cattily.

“Nope. What the hell I’m doing here. Is this some sort of reality show?”

“I doubt you’ve showed anywhere near reality since Altamont, Mister Natch.”

“So everybody’s wondering the same thing,” Loris put in. “Do you have any hunches?”

“I saw him in a dream. Big gold, glowing skull hovering right over this very table. He told me to come see him. Bring shrooms.”

Everybody goggled a bit except Loris, who purred, “And did you?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Winston shrugged. “A summons like that?”

“Won’t you sit down?” Loris pushed out a vacant chair and caught the waiter’s eye. “You and your friend?”

“For Christ’s sake, Bannock,” Fric remonstrated. “Did I miss a sign out front: Welcome Rainbow People Conventioneers?”

But by then it was pretty obvious to everybody, even their own sneering bodyguard, that it was time to cut the crap. Talk turned once again to money as the waiter laid glasses of sangria and bowls of chips and guacamole in front of the newcomers. Xchab was on the edge of her chair, inhaling the sound, look and smell of money, power, and self-satisfaction.

Winston leaned towards Loris, who met him halfway. “Excuse me, but do you happen to see anything kind of, you know… hovering… around my faithful Indian companion? Like, buzzing her, maybe?”

Loris took a measured look at Xchab, not breaking it when the girl turned to spot her gaze and twitched away like a mouse caught in the pantry. Finally she told him, “Nothing but the clouded aura of a seeker in turmoil. Why do you ask?”

Winston’s turn to stare. He cruised her shamelessly, then smiled and patted her arm. “Ah. I believe we might be family.”

But it was time for the backpack to be proffered within reach (straps tight in Bannock’s husky grip) and the stereotype briefcase nudged forward to be inspected. Loris watched Xchab as Bannock satisfied himself that the stacks of green bills were for real: the girl irradiated by the sight of the money. Garcon, a glass of water and defibrillator for the muchacha, please. She willed a quick mental message to the Indian girl: greed is self-defeating, honey. Sit in your own skin.

But when she saw these two L.A. jackals peering into the pack, gloating over their possession of one of the world’s four coveted authentic crystal skulls, she also strained to will a missive to Bannock, wishing she could speak into his head like oXo could: Remember the pistol trick, big boy? Walk out with the money and The Love?

Then caught herself. Possessiveness, grasping, force: the primordial roots of our self-immolation. Take your own advice, woman: tread the path, trust the path, be the path. She breathed deeply, in a healing cadence.

She had wondered how strongly she would feel the impulse to walk out behind the yoyos, stalking oXo. And heard his voice in her head. Not saying goodbye, but bidding her look to her left. Where Bannock sat, motionless as he watched the Californians and their goon walk out. Life’s a trade-off, she thought.

Aware of her look, he turned and murmured. “I’m really sorry. But a deal’s a deal.”

“Life is a circle,” she whispered to his ear. “I love it that you knew what I was feeling. And cared.”

She heard a sigh behind her and turned to see Xchab seething with an almost religious avidity for the briefcase and Winston meeting her look with a sad kindliness. “The wheel turns,” he said.

She gave him a wan smile and he reached to her ear, did a magic flourish and zippity-zap, held a mushroom between his fingers. “Think we oughta eat these babies and go for a swim?”

Bannock glanced at the darkness outside the cunning colonial windows and asked, “Swim? Where?”

“Punta Nizuc.”

Rang a bell. Oh, wait. “Isn’t that where Club Med is?”

Winston beamed. “Can you stand it?”

Read the Episode Leading up to this one

Tags: , , , , ,

The darkness was full of skeletons.

Not a novelty.

Well, these were a little different from most of the skulls and bones clanking around in Winston’s bummer dreams. Whole different attitude.

As he crept forward through the darkness, white grins popped out on either side, soared around overhead. Not your Day of the Dead types, not grisly Lost Temple stuff, either. More like Cemetery Spring Break. These skeletons frolicked, essentially. They paddled kayaks, balanced on surfboards far over his head, sat three deep on motorcycles, zoomed on jet skis, waved beers and margarita glasses. They wore tourist trap sombreros and NBA jerseys. They waved at him, made out with each other,

This had felt like a prophetic dream from the start, but he was beginning to have his doubts as he wafted along through the cavorting dead. He shouldered past a bunch of skeletal mariachis with old silver horns and entered another chamber, this one better lighted and painted with murals of Mexican revolutions and colonial life. Overhead was a balloon with two dead in the gondola, dressed like Villa and Zapata. Winston mentally shrugged and ghosted on, smoothly dollying in on dreamwheels.

He passed a table set with fruit and bottles, two handsome skeleton couples dressed to the nines for luxury dining. A skeleton parrot sat on the shoulder of the woman with the silvery gown. Then he saw the other table, over in the corner, and knew this particular dream was about to cut to the chase.

Four skeletons sat at this table: two dressed in the satire finery of fatcats in murals by Rivera and Orozco, a big-boned male in funeral suit sat across from them beside a set of gleaming white bones clothed in an embroidered peasant huipil. A shower of gold fell from the darkness above, flitting around before coalescing into a golden, translucent skull floating above the table and regarding him with eyes like holes punched in Hell’s back furnace. Winston, no stranger to the appearance of deities (benign, malign or design) in his visions and occasionally real life, was wiped out. He felt like falling to his knees in front of this pulsing, luminous creature whose eyes spoke of vision permanently focused past infinity.

In a thunderous echo owing much to The Great Oz, the skull spoke to him. “Are you trippin’, fool?”

“Who, me?” Winston said out of reflex. “No way. I wish.”

The skull’s glow throbbed like wind-stoked embers. “That’s what you think.”

“Actually, I think I’m dreaming.”

“Dream on, turkey.” The skull thundered. “Tomorrow night I’ll be right at this table. Be there or beware.”

The terrible glow faded, and the skull diminished without relinquishing eye contact. It was almost invisible when it suddenly popped back to full resolution and fireflush pulsation. “Oh, yeah. Bring some shrooms.”

Winston had learned that the last thing Xchab wanted to hear, while playing house with him and waiting for a whiter knight to sweep her onto a more reliable charger, was replays of his dreams and drugged visions. But this one required some information to understand and he had also learned that in such cases the best bet was to blurt them out to anybody who’ll listen. Some mousy secretary trapped on a diner stool or sodden wino slumped on the bus might just barf up the one key required to point one in the proper direction. And bingo. He’d barely gotten into the first leg of the cavern of skeletons when she fixed him with one of her stonecarved Mayan expressions. “Sounds like Pericos,” she said, in a bored tone. The old fart thinks he knows all this stuff about the Yucatan, but has no clue where people party.

Not that she’d ever partied there, personally, but she’d gotten a wistful nose to the window, coveting all the toys and doggies and lollipops, on her grim treks to sell woven bracelets and shell jewelry to the choked flow of First World twerps beer-bonging their way through Cancun’s hospitality ghetto feeding frenzy. Holding up her chintzy goods and suffering tourists snapping cellphone shots of her Mayan get-up while she soaked up the vista of all the moneyed, sophisticated, superficial glitz she coveted. Until the wait staff headed her off and hustled her back to the Yaxchitlan sidewalk.

But now it looked as though Winston, of all people, was actually going to take her there. Walk in and get a table, find out what these people eat and drink. She looked as stony as ever cruising across Palapas Park, but inside her a thwarted soul beat its untried wings.

Winston was blasted, of course, which might have explained a few things. He’d been glad Copper had declined to come along, muttering woodenly under the grip of Ketamine. They’d left her floating in an innertube, her bare bottom bulging down into the water: what she called “trolling for barracuda.” Her addiction to that rather nasty and consciousness-lowering drug was a mystery that Winston found at turns annoying and tragic. He didn’t like being around people who were “Ko’ed”: they were like amplifiers on stand-by mode, meat puppets who’d swallowed their own strings.

He, on the other hand, was toasted on some very fine Affy weed he’d scored at the hostel and augmented with just a pinch of mushroom dust and wouldn’t have minded a third party checkoff on what he was seeing.

He’d noticed it as soon as they came into the park, little kids with ice-cream cones staring at his loose hempen duds and weedeater hairdo, adolescent hand drummers calling out to Xchab over their beats but getting her usual basalt head snub job. There seemed to be a lot of bees around Xchab. Luminous golden bees. They followed her at first, stringing out in swelling squadrons. But by the time they left the park for the alley over to Yaxchitlan the swarm was all around her, shifting their pattern to create a scintillating veil around her dark, ordered features and short body. They towered over her head, milling and buzzing in a high register that almost reminded him of tin whistles. Too bad he hadn’t brought his flute. The glow from the bees lit their way through the alley.

He made one attempt to discuss this phenomenon with the girl, but she’d made it curtly clear that she didn’t want to hear any of his crazy shit at the moment. She was already up ahead, luxuriating in the interior of Pericos.

Winston strode into Pericos like he owned the franchise, imperiously waving off the waiters proffering menus and the worried looks that appeared when jipis and indios showed up amidst the carriage trade. He’d walked into too many pitiless courtrooms, forbidding boudoirs, raucous cellblocks, hellish Angel showdowns, and stonecold busts while partially decapitated by substances of unknown origin, trajectory or allegiance to quail at whatever dicey deal was going down in Chez Skeleton.

Because the dead were indeed at hand, floating around high up under the peaked palapa roof: real life skeletions. Up there on real motorcycles and jetskis and outriggers and crap. Far more troubling than anything in a dream, actually. Winston generally considered reality to be too weird for him: a crutch for those who couldn’t handle dope.

On the other hand, it was drug of choice for Xchab. She was getting hot over the whole proximity of wealth and leisure and the ability to deploy them. She leered artlessly at the displays of money, but her rookie stun quotient was out of synch with what the people themselves rated: she might read a Rolex or Prada gown as just a timepiece or black dress, while waxing ecstatic over a ripped Metallica shirt appliquéd in gilt or some switchblade cell phone or cunningly curved cheap sunglasses. The poiint being: this was The Stuff. And these were The Ones Who Be Havin’ Stuff. And above all knew how to get it, what to do with it, and how to evaluate and deploy it. She trailed Winston, stumbly and agog, her eyes and ears drinking the place in.

As soon as they entered, Xchab’s bee escort buzzed past her, eagerly leading the way. He followed the glow of the yellow bee road into the back room. Where he immediately saw the tables he’d dreamt, except that only the first one was really skeletons. Back in the corner sat four real people, more or less, and the bees were all around them like a seething gold lantern.

He was sauntering up to a table he read as freighted with enough greed and potential violence to make many a person’s “too high for this shit” lists, but wasn’t fazed. Well, he was impressed by the way the bees all coalesced around a small leather backpack sitting on the table, close to the big guy in the linen guayabera. In Cuba a guayabera might mean one thing, but in this part of Mexico, Winston tended to read them as, “there’s a gun under these starched shirtails”.

Xchab was staring at the two assholes in Melrose chic, magpie eye for the glister of expense. Winston was more interested in the guy with the pack. Muscle, but not a musclehead. Unlike, oh, say the per-diem ex-cop bodyguard sitting behind the pose monsters. And also flanking the pack, sensuous in white peasant drag, was one extremely hot gabacha. Hmmmmmm. Smelled like money and nogoodnikism to Winston’s veteran nose. Just like back in the day.

Read the Follow-up to this Episode

Tags: , , , ,