Travelers and tourists are very different animals.
NIGHTMARE POR LOCOS
As soon as Street Norris crawled out of the tent, he saw the body lying face down, legs splayed and feet flattened against the lush Mexican grass. It was nestled in a small depression, less than fifty feet away.For a breath or two he watched four ravens pacing back and forth, intently viewing the corpse. Ignoring his late middle aged stiffness and with no thought of investigating, he stooped and crawled back into the tent.
His only reaction was what a retched start this was for a month long Second Honey Moon, even though there was one sardonic thought among all of this. The Day of the Dead was only two days away. He wanted Kate to witness this Mexican celebration for deceased family, and Oaxaca was a major center.
Kate was awake but not yet willing to accept it. He paused, leaning on his good knee, torn between wanting to watch her sit up, or telling her about the body.Four years of marriage had not lessened his love for this woman he had labeled, The Dwarf.Not because she was that short, but because of her perchance for diabolical mischief. When he did speak, his voice had a natural deepness, and slightly laced with a cancerous hoarseness.
“Look, I don=t want to spoil your day, but . . .” and he almost laughed, “there=s a dead guy laying in the grass about fifty feet from here.”
“Sure,” she smiled weakly and rolled away.He shrugged.Kate liked her first cup of coffee in bed, and only after the sun was high enough to warm her. Today he woke too late to have her coffee ready, so she=d have to forgo that and have her toilet first.Street didn=t want her to face a corpse the instant she stepped out.
“No joke, Hon. There=s a body out there. You hear anything last night?”
“Okay, Bear. You win. I=ll get up. Might as well since I=m wide awake.”She sat and pulled on a heavy T shirt.“But you don=t have to be so creative this early in the morning, darling. Unless . . . well unless is good enough . . .Right?”
He ignored this. “I kid you not. Scout>s Honor. He=s laying out there in a dip.” Finally Street got her undivided attention.
“And this is not good, right?”
“Exactly.Unless Mexico changed its sense of justice in the last three hours, it ain=t good at all.” He could see her gauging the possibilities that the police would ignore them if she did not become a witness. He kept still, seeing no need to add that her beauty wouldn=t shield her, or him, or keep the police from nosing around.
He reached out and put his arms around her. “Hmm. Have I ever told you, you=re definitely a major league hugger, Bear?” She snuggled down and sighed. “That=s the first thing that turned me on about you.” He held her a little closer, enjoyed her chin rubbing along the edges of his beard.
“Have I ever told you you=re the only woman who hasn=t tried to get me to shave off my beard?”
“I love it! It makes you more like a bear.”
“This is nice and could get nicer,” he said after perhaps two more minutes. “But itisn=t going away no matter how long we stay like this.”
“Got any suggestions?” She released him, leaned back on her elbows, her long dark hair draped over her pillow. “You=re the expert about dead bodies and avoiding authorities.”
“I say let=s clear out pronto. The first law down here is ‘Leave the Scene and Blow Town’ even if you=re one hundred percent in the right.” She nodded, but when she chewed her lower lip, Norris decided to give the corpse a casual once over while he waited for her decision.
Sticking his head out of the tent, for an instant failing to realize the body was now bridging rather than laying in the dip. Then it threw both hands into the air, managing to roll completely out of the depression, and get to its knees.
“Maybe we could just lay low in here until the missionaries get up and find it,” Kate said. He admired the way she hit on their best chance for avoiding the police. He delayed the good news as he observed the resurrection.
The man=s hair was almost as long as his wife=s.However, it was a tangled mass of Dread Locks in five or six shades of yellow. At this instant it also had clumps of dead grass and dying wild flowers clinging lovingly to its entire impressive mass.
“Listen. We=ve just had a miracle. I am watching a resurrection.”
“Sure. And it isn=t even Easter.” Her sarcasm seemed to warm their tent.
“Honest to God, I thought the guy was dead the way his feet were splayed.”
“You=ll do anything to get me up, won=t you?” Her tone convinced Norris it would take about three hours to crawl out of her dog house.He rationalized he might shorten that by taking her shopping in a village not yet popular with the tourists.
“But I believe you.” She rolled over on her stomach and yawned loudly
He made his offering as he began to join her.“There=s a village way up in the mountains that has a really a nice market the Gringos haven=t invaded yet. Like to go? Got lots of stuff.
“You=re sweet,” she yawned, pushing closer. “I ever tell you what a nice bear you can be?”
“Don=t embarrass me.” He slipped an arm around her.Kate=s low body temperature only responded after snuggling a long time, or on a tropical beach where the direct sun killed normal people.
“YOU! People in the tent!Got a match?” Silently he told Lea not to answer. “HEY! There in the tent. I really need a light!” The tone was one of great desperation.Street wanted to choke her when she calmly responded.
“Sorry, but we don=t smoke. No matches.”
“Then how in the hell do you light this stove?”
Street surrendered; rose, pushed the tent flap back and confronted a face no more than six inches away. He recoiled more from foul odors than surprise or fright. The face was covered with an ingrained coat of dirt which highlighted large pores, and an array of various sized black heads. It uttered a sardonic laugh, and the effort accented deeply etched laugh lines along it=s filthy cheeks and furrows across a wide forehead. The uncut Van Dyke beard was red at its roots, jet black in its center and white tipped. It blended perfectly with the black eyebrows, stretched in an almost unbroken one inch thick line from one sideburn to the other.
“Hi. I=m Duggie, man. Hey, you ain=t got a cigarette to go with that match, have you? Somebody copped mine, or I ran out, or . . . .”Suddenly there seemed to be too many options for his present thought processes, so he surrendered.
Street managed to back The Foul Breath Machine up so he and Kate could get out. From a respectable distance they almost succeeded in ignoring the body odor which ranked somewhere between molding canvas and rotting rubber. Kate beat a path to the ladies rooms.
“What=s that?” Street asked as the man carefully poured a colorless liquid from a small plastic medicine bottle into an almost empty Coke bottle.
“Hundred and eighty grain. It=ll lay you out. Kills you in a year.”
“How much longer you figure you got?=
“Who cares? This is the Day of The Dead anyway. Know what that is?”
“That=s why we are down here.” Street watched the coffee pot so he could ignore the drinking.
“My Mom always said a watched pot never boils.” This came after a terrible coughing spell which turned his face a deep, unhealthy purple and almost erased the blackheads. Duggie started to say something else, but a second fit exploded, finally ending in violent vomiting just as Kate emerged from the toilet block. Street watched her turn right, and make for the large red and green RV up above their camp site. He decided to join her as soon as he gave the man a cup.
“Can=t mix that with grain,” Duggie rebuffed his offer, as he rose and walked off in the direction of the men=s toilets.
Street put the coffee back on the stove to steep and waited.She was at the door of the RV, apparently engaged in conversation, so he resisted the temptation to join her. Norris was about to retrieve the two-week-old Washington Post newspaper when she came down the hill, sniffing the air as she sat on the tail gate of their small Japanese truck.
“He’s that coming back?” Kate asked. Street shrugged and poured her a coffee. “God, he smells awful.”
“That=s just you and your over sensitive nose,” he grinned as he handed her a large mug.“I didn=t smell a thing..
She grinned and took two large swallows. “No wonder, with a nose broken ten times.”
“Eleven.” He bent over and kissed her on her mouth.
“It=s a nice nose, though,” she purred. “Most noses get in the way when you=re kissing. Yours just flattens out it=s the first one of its kind I=ve ever tried. I highly recommend it.” Before he could respond, she frowned, then sighed as she looked back at the RV. >Guess what?”
“It=s got a full sized bath tub, too?”
“I thought we came down here to escape that sort of crap?”
“Remember when you told me we would be too early for the mobs of crazies in Yellowstone Park ?”
“God, yes.And the next thing we see is that old woman trying to pet a moose.= He paused then offered, >Are the trailer kids that swacked?”
“I=ll let you find out for yourself.”She smiled wickedly between draining her cup and holding it out for a refill. “I hate telling you this, but you=ve got to go up there and talk to those fools.”
“Matter of fact, you=ll enjoy doing this a lot.”
“Total crazies, eh?”
“Absolute, totals. But that isn=t what you are going to enjoy the most.”
“You keep Duggie away and I=ll see what I can do.”
“They=re Californians. Don=t you always say Californians aren=t really Americans?”
“Trapped me again didn=t you?”
“Actually, this is a very serious.But you=ll discover that part yourself.So get up, bea nice bear and . . .”Even though he wanted a third and fourth cup, he rose from the tail gate.
“Moderation in all things,” he mused as he began walking up the hill toward the RV.
“Not in all things, darling!”
The RV was a thirty-some foot Pace Arrow, with two air-conditioning units on its roof. Between those was a storage platform where a large green canvas tarp covered a rambling hump. Three plastic loungers and a plastic table, with umbrella, were grouped near an oversized outdoor gas grill. From the interior came the Beatles >Yesterday=. He called out over them and waited. After his second bellow, the screen door opened and a very tall blonde woman stepped into the Mexican sunlight.
She wore no makeup and her corn colored mane was twisted and tangled across her neck and back. Her forehead was matted with rows of frowns and squinting left her face a lacy fabric of lines and furrows. None of which deflected a single iota from her beauty which was, Silver Screen Stunning. For perhaps fifteen seconds she stood shock still, a slight indulgent smile playing across her full lips. Her eyes were so condescending; it was obvious she was totally accustomed to accept intense levels of adoration with complete calm.
Street introduced himself, ending with, “We=re down there in the green tent.”She nodded, stepping over to sit in one of the loungers, gesturing him to join her. He chose to stand, keeping his distance while he silently cursed Kate.
>We=re from L.A.= she said in a deep contralto. “Going south for the rays and surf. I=m a genuine beach bum.”Her very short skirt was actually a scarf which managed to cover only a very small fraction of her upper thighs. Street always admitted an eternal weakness for long, strong, shapely legs. These began somewhere a foot or so below a pair of breasts which taunted and primped while he completed his survey. “Going all the way to Chile. Just following the sun for a year or so.” She stretched and the thin fabric covering her breasts nearly gave up.
“Going to take all this?”
“If you=re going any further than Panama, you gottahave a Passage de Carne.”
“A what, sweetness ?”
“It=s another name for a surety bond. Keeps you from selling this out of Panama. Until then, each country puts it in the owner=s passport. You got to bring the car back with you, or they won=t let you back in.”
“Nope. You could sell this for about five times whatever you paid for it if you could get it to say Columbia without a Passage de Carne.”
“Sounds interesting.” She lifted her head and called, “Jerry! Mick! Better get out here! This dude says we gotta have something to . . . .” Two blonde heads, appeared, instantly. So quickly that Norris decided they had been just out of view listening to his wisdom and laughing at his archaic responses to semi-nudity.
“Hi. I=m Jerry and this is Mick,” the taller announced as if the entire ontological strata existed because he was Jerry. They were both taller than Street, in wonderful physical shape, and each cast auras of tolerance and total provinciality.
“He=s telling me we have to get a bond for Chile.”
“OK, man,” Mick grinned. “We=ll get one of those pronto.” He looked very pleased that he could speak a word of the native language.
“You gotta get it in the country you were born in,” Street offered.
“You mean I=ve got to go all the way back to Oz?” Mick mocked.
“No I mean you got to get it where your buddy bought the car . . . man.”
“No way! Right, Mick? We=re out on the great adventure, you know?Got enough money to bribe any of these Beaners,” Jerry offered.
“You=ll need that too, but you got to have the Carne.But you can go without this.”
>”We=d be totally lost without Minerva,” Marlene inserted. “The toilets really suck down here, you know?” Street nodded and went on. It was obvious to him, he was wasting his time.
“You got any travel books? Maps? Guides. Stuff like that?”
“You know, I was gonna, you know. Then I thought Mick said he had some and …Well . . . We got rushed taking off and I guess we forgot >em.”
Street was about to retreat, until Kate marched up carrying an expression which demanded he keep trying. Just as she arrived Duggie flew in, almost performing a perfect crash landing on the thick grass directly in front of Marlene.He was instantly rewarded with flesh, which Duggie totally ignored both its quality and quantity.
“So, you=re saying we got to have passports to even get into Guatemala, dude?”
“Well, Mick=s got his, but I=ve never been out of the good old U.S.A. How am I expected to know all this? Why doesn=t someone tell you all this crap when you cross?” Marlene stretched, Lea rolled her eyes. Duggie=s head jerked forward as he caught himself nodding off.
“Man, you sure are loaded with useless information.” Duggie moaned. “You tell these dudes everything from where to eat to where to get this monster repaired?” As Duggie spoke, Jerry disappeared into the RV, to re-emerge in a few seconds with a traveler=s belly bag. He walked over to the folding picnic table and turned the leather pouch upside down, letting ten or so books of American Express travelers checks fall out. “We got enough bread to bribe the world!” he gloated. “We=ll get over the borders with this, right?”
“You still gotta have passports . . . .dude.”
“You know you=re real douche bags showing that kind of bread to strangers.” Duggie grunted as he reached out to check their denominations. He grunted even louder at the ten, five hundred dollar checks. After carefully fingering four or five of the books and dropping each back of the picnic table, after seeing the same amount,Duggie lost interest and stretched out.
After a few minutes of awkward silence Kate and Street went down the hill. Duggie stayed beside a reclining Marlene. The pose reminded Street of a suburban scene: lovely lady and her faithful dog, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, in a California valley.
“Well Dwarf, we can at least say we tried.”
“Yes, I guess we can fall into that trap . . . .more or less.”
Street decided to dodge her doggedness.“Let=s run up to the ruins at Monte Alban.” Lea shrugged and agreed until later.
“They=re going to end up in some ditch with their throats cut if they keep flashing that money before strangers, aren=t they?”They had just crossed the railroad tracks, preparing to climb the steep slopes to the ruins above the city. Her tone was laced with both fear and low level loathing for his apparent lack of interest in conveying the danger the trio could face as soon as they headed south. “Street they=ll end up in a ditch with their throats cut if they keep flashing that money to total strangers.”
“They remind me of a bunch of high school seniors on their graduation trip.”
Street=s nod dismissed the danger and the trio. “I hope the ruins haven=t gotten like the market. That was a real bitter disappointment.=” Kate decided to take the hint.
“Really? I sort of liked it. All the stuff in one place. Easy to get to.”
“I guess it=s still okay unless you=ve seen the one that overflowed into every avenue and alley. Women walking around with garlic woven in their hair like withered golf balls. Witch doctors selling love potions, magic mushrooms and herbal cures for any and all aliments. Now the government=s pushed it under one tin roof.And that=s driven all the magic and witchcraft away. They want a Mexican Wal- Mart. Uniformity .”
Lea shook her head and focused on their road. The way to the Monte Alban Ruins became more narrow and twisting the higher they rose. It was a steep incline, so they climbed slowly.Kate drove while Street took in the breath taking vistas and thought how much things had changed. He decided to voice his concerns.
“The world is starting to look exactly the same everywhere you go.”
“Oh, it=s not that bad yet. How about the market in Morocco? You can=t call that down town Rockville.”
He grunted as the truck crept along in first gear. “Mexico=s dying to become the fifty-first state.”
>Not in your life time
At every hair pin turn little gangs of children sold everything from genuine Zapotec artifacts to Kleenex. “I wish I could trust you to drive nicely. I=m terrified if I have to stop on a hill this steep.”
“Well, first you=ve gotta get us up this,” he joked. “If you=re willing, I promise to drive sanely coming down. Then you can look and do some shopping.”
At the top of the climb, Street nodded at the huge throng of Mexican women selling food, shawls, blouses, pottery and of course, artifacts in the parking lot.“You better hold off on the shopping. The ruins close at sunset.” He looked at the sun for a second. “That=s at least two hours from now, enough to see everything. Then you can shop. They stay until the last gringo leaves.” After she parked she moved through the zig-zag files of women. Her motion and concentration reminded Street of a well-schooled field dog searching for game.
When they came out, he sat on a stone wall under a large tree, watching her move along the long aisle of hopeful merchants. She grazed, speaking her soft limited Spanish; smiling at some and laughing with others. Kate had a limited Spanish vocabulary, but her pronunciation was so perfect, most of the venders returned rapid replies. As always, about ninety percent went right over her head. None of that mattered. The joy she radiated, and the gaiety woven in her voice over came all.
Like a street cur, Norris settled down for the long wait. The sun was just beginning to ease back from its oppressive heat, and there was a nice lingering smell of frying pork carnitas. The round green hills stretched out until they met the sharp gray mountains half way to their summits. As he recalled the Mexico from twenty years before, he nodded to passing men, whose eyes and foreheads were usually hidden by wide brim, weather-beaten straw sombreros.
He was yanked back when she called his name. Lea was only a few feet from him, escorted by a middle-aged Mexican male. “Darling I think I need your vocabulary,” she smiled. The man was very nervous, and removed his old felt hat which he continued to finger the entire time they spoke.The sun rinsed the wispy patches of sweat matted hair. “He=s so nice and he keeps telling me something is peligroso. That=s dangerous isn=t it?”
Street nodded, shifting his body off the wall, standing up to become a bear of a man towering over the pair, his thick white beard layered and untrimmed. “A good day to you my friend,” he offered in poorly pronounced Spanish. The man nodded. “My wife tells me you are speaking about danger.” Again the man nodded. AHere?” Street motioned with both hands.
“No, senor. Not here. On the road to Teajuantepec.”
“Because of the bandits?”The man gave Street a puzzled glance, as if asking, how he, a gringo, would know this. There was also a slight hint of respect.
“Yes, but now also soldiers, Señor. Buses are held up at night, people beaten and robbed. Sometimes it is bandits and sometimes the soldiers.”
“So, nothing=s really changed.”There was a long pause as the man stared at him.Kate was smiling, her head cocked to one side.
“You do not advise us using the road?” Kate mouthed a question he could not read.
“Not unless you wish to lose everything.Pardon, senor, but she is very beautiful, and would be in grave danger.”
“What=s he saying?”
“The road to the coast is full of robbers with machine guns holding up buses and tourists. They=re raping some of the Gringas. He also says you are very beautiful which is why he said something.” He watched her color change as a faint trace of amusement reflected in her eyes. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small wad of bills which he offered the man, who shook his head with great dignity.
“She is your wife?” he asked quietly.
“Of four years.”
“She is very beautiful. I think she gives you the good life.” He smiled as his eyes quickly offered to apologize if he had offended. When Street smiled, the man added, >Go over the old bad road to the coast, Oso Negro.=
“Through the drug fields?”
“Yes.If you do not stop it is safe.” Finished, he turned and walked back along the wall and vanished in the neglected corn fields. To discourage questions, Street urged her to finish her shopping before it got too dark.
“We better go right back to the campground and warn those fools not to take that road,” she said as she almost dragged him to the truck.“Why did he call you black bear?”
“Don=t I look like one? Even if the beard is getting gray?” She shrugged and abandoned her curiosity.
He was amazed she allowed him to drive down the mountain. She sat with her back braced against her door, facing him, ignoring the vistas and telling him not to stop for any of the vendors.As he swept past each small group, they hurled insults at them. He was happy she lacked expertise in Mexican profanities.
The RV was still on its hillock when they got back. Duggie was stretched out under one of the large trees, seemingly asleep.As soon as the truck stopped, he rose and came over. Norris noticed a pack of cigarettes in each shirt pocket. He wore a wicked grin as he took out the pack of Camels. “Well, maybe they=ll listen to the voice of age and wisdom,” he smirked. “They sure as hell didn=t want to listen to me.” He laughed so loudly, he began coughing and had to sit down. When he was in control again, he added, “You gonna try again?”
Street hesitated, but one look from Kate sent him up to the RV accompanied by a grinning Duggie.Just as they reached the crest of the knoll, all three occupants appeared and started taking down their patio furniture.
“Hi,” he opened. “Just heard there=s gangs with machine guns pulling people off of buses.We=ve been told the police are in on robbing everything that looks gringo.”
“Just like this screwed up country,” Jerry muttered, as he folded the last chair and passed it through the door to Mick.
“Hey!” Duggie snarled, stepping around Norris and confronting Jerry, as Kate joined them. “How many people have seen those checks?That=s begging to be robbed in this country
“Really?”Marlene offered with a wide yawn that showed her perfect teeth. “So, what=s the worst that can happen? They=ll take all our checks and we=ll have to go somewhere to get refunds, right?”
“No,” Street punctuated her flip remark. “You could all get murdered.”None of them even flinched.
“How about getting gang raped by a dozen or so of those kind of animals?” Kate offered.
Marlene stared at her, then shrugged as if rape only intruded on the lives of ordinary women.
“Maybe you get murdered after a marathon rape,” Kate offered the woman=s back as she retreated into the RV. “Then maybe they start in on the guys too.”
Duggie took a really deep drag on his Camel then added his advice in his tired tenor. It came out without the slightest traces of emotion or concern.
“Yeah, maybe you=ll get lucky.” Then he burst out coughing after he tried to laugh. After regaining control he amended, “That=s all crap!”Mick and Jerry didn=t bother to turn around as they packed the gas grill. “You=re gonna get caught on a hairpin curve in this dinosaur. When they pull you out, they=ll just want your money, maybe even the RV. But once they=re inside they=ll see her with that blonde hair and her all girl body. Maybe if she=s really unlucky they=ll keep her alive for a couple of days. But if they do she=ll get you two jerks killed right then and there.”
“Or if you=re really lucky,” Street added, “they=ll throw all three of you out in the jungle on some dirt road with not even the clothes on your backs.”
“We don=t scare easy, Prince. Maybe we got something inside to take care of banditos. Ever think of that?” Jerry offered as he helped get the gas grill through the door, then closed it after them
Kate stared at the door, then turned to Street. “We got to make them realize what=s going to happen!” When Street shrugged, her anger finally smothered her frustration. “You both know what we got to do, so let=s do it.” The RV=s Diesel came alive and before she could move, slowly pulled away, as Marlene waved to them from her elevated Captain=s chair.
“What we should=ve done was rob >em blind,” Duggie offered.Kate looked at him in total disbelief. “Yeah, I should=ve got two or three guys from town to come up here and take every damn thing they had, including their clothes. ‘Could=ve gotten it done cheap as dirt and then we could=ve played the good guys and lent them enough bread to get back to LA.”
“Duggie, will you please shut up!” she demanded watching the RV pass through the entrance gate and disappear.
“Hey, that would=ve honestly done em a favor,” he muttered.
“Oh God! You=re so screwed up, Duggie.”
“No. Maybe Duggie=s right,” Street mused. “His idea has got some validity.”
“You=re both so smug. So damn superior. Such elitists!” But before she could really voice her indignation Duggie interrupted.
“Yeah. Send >em back to LA. I mean, what the hell Street. They=re all just too stupid to die.”
“One day I hope you both have to eat your words! We should=ve done more.” Street agreed, silently, and even started to say so, when Lea spun and headed for their truck. She turned half way down the hill. >You coming, Bear?= Street nodded and trotted until he caught up.
In the station house the policeman also nodded . . .Agreed too readily . . . Made out he was filing a report . . .Went to the radio and called for assistance . . . Street noticed the cop hadn=t bothered to turn on the power. He didn=t tell Kate.
She got the local paper for the next two days. There was always nothing. Neither he nor Duggie told her it was useless, that tourist robberies were seldom if ever reported. As Duggie confided in the men=s room the day they were departing, “It=s bad for the tourist trade. What the hell. West Coasters are . . . .They think they know it all, don=t they?” Street felt a tinge of guilt. He didn=t acknowledge Duggie=s explanation.
<a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/"><img alt="Creative Commons License" style="border-width:0" src="http://i.creativecommons.org/l/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/80x15.png" /></a><br /><span xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/" href="http://purl.org/dc/dcmitype/Text" property="dc:title" rel="dc:type">Nightmare Por Locos</span> by <a xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" href="www.bbriefner.com" property="cc:attributionName" rel="cc:attributionURL">B. B. Riefner</a> is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/">Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License</a>.