• Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    by Craig Terlson

    A collection of short stories where the humour runs dark and the slipstream bubbles up.

     

    ...imagine if Raymond Carver called up George Saunders and Joe Lansdale, and they all went drinking with Neil Gaiman.

  • Correction Line
    Correction Line
    by Craig Terlson

    “… it's clear that Terlson is way ahead of the curve in terms of crafting an engaging premise that reaches for elevated territory and reinvents enduring archetypes of action and suspense.”  J. Schoenfelder


    "Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed."   Kay Sexton

     

    "I love a novel that you can't put down, and this is one of them."  L. Cihlar

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Wednesday
Jul012015

Surf City Acid Drop: Six

I had no problems with members of the opposite taking charge, better yet, taking care of the bar tab. I followed her out of the Alondra and into a cab that idled out front. I wondered how long he’d been there. I also wondered how predictable I had become that Benno could tell people where to find me. I made a mental note to work on becoming a little less predictable. 

There wasn’t much need to take a cab in Barra unless you wanted a ride back to Melaque. Still, we whipped down the quiet streets, passed well dressed couples who peered into art galleries and glass shops. We drove under a row of yellow lights that glowed to life in the darkening town. A long shadow from a lone palm spilt across the road.

“I didn’t catch your name,” I said.

“That’s because I didn’t give it.”

“You know mine.”

“You will know mine soon enough.” 

She gave the smallest of head movements toward the driver.

 

###

 

The place she knew was one of those joints with a huge wooden door and not a window in sight. Even the sign outside, barely readable, Arlos or Arcos, felt unwelcoming. It took a couple of moments to get used to the light, or the absence of it, before the room came into focus. A semi-circle of tables hugged the edges of the bar, only one other table had a couple at it. A man in a dark suit sat at the bar, stirred an ice-filled drink, and spoke in low tones to the bartender.

We took the table farthest away from the bar.

A pair of drinks appeared at our table. I picked out the smell of dark rum, most likely Jamaican. Each glass had four wedges of lime.

“You’re a regular then. What if I don’t like rum?”

“Mr. Fischer, my name is Cynth Forrester. Does that mean anything to you?”

I clawed back into my brain, something vibrated from faraway, down a distant hallway, something I’d read in a paper.

“No matter,” she continued. “If you don’t run in certain circles, and I am guessing you don’t, then you would not have heard my name. It’s most likely better that way, though I couldn’t tell you why.”

“What kind of circles?”

“I am the director of several art organizations in the U.S., and down here. My main office is in Oaxaca. I prefer it down here because I love the air and the pace.”

“Not to mention the limes.”

“Do you like art? Do you go to galleries, Mr. Fischer?”

“You can call me Luke. It feels less like I am being interrogated.”

“Why would you think that? Don’t you have this sort of conversation with your clients?”

“What is it you need?” I chugged back half the drink and didn’t hide my grimace.

“It’s my brother. He has helped me out in the past. Or more accurately, I’ve given him things to do. He doesn’t need to work, our inheritance was more than sufficient for his kind of life.”

“Who did you get the money from?”

“Our parents were partners in a large, and very successful law firm in Montreal.”

“Montreal?” I leaned in.

“Yes. Have you been?”

“Spent some time there. So what happened?”

“When I was just finishing my second year of college, and Jules had just graduated high school, there was an accident.”

“Jules is the brother?”

“Yes, he is my younger brother. It was a drunk driver, crossed the yellow line – it was quick, not that it matters. I am not sure why people always say that when someone dies suddenly, as if the speed of death would make it better. As both our parents were only children, there were no uncles, aunts or even cousins, and we were left by ourselves a fair amount. We had the occasional nanny or au pair, but mostly we were on our own. After their death, well, we were really alone. Completely.”

“Sorry to hear this.”

“If that’s fake sincerity, you’re fairly good at it.” She tapped the table like she did at the rooftop bar. “But yes, of course it was difficult, especially the first few years, but that was a long time ago. Both our parents loved art and were great patrons. I’ve tried to do what I can do honour that.”

She fingered the edge of her glass – something she wasn’t telling me.

“And your brother? Let me guess… he’s an artist. A painter I’m betting.”

“I suppose it’s not such a wild guess to think that, but yes, he did try his hand at painting. And sculpture, and printmaking, glassblowing, and even a stint as a tattoo artist.”

“Good at any of it?”

“Focus problems,” she said.

She was a hard one to read, the way she talked about her brother made me think they were close, but then an edge in her voice would slip through, and I started wondering again.

“Is he a drinker? Pot smoker, shooter, likes the nose candy?”

“Does anyone call it that anymore?”

“I’ve been out of the loop.”

She fished a pack of Virgina Slims from her tiny red purse, like a magic trick, her fitting it in there. 

“I don’t suppose you’d like a lady cigarette?”

“Back when I smoked ‘em I’d take anything – even light one of those candy ones if I could get a drag off it.”

“The candy again.” She fired it up, the ember glowing bright in the blue-black room. “Well, good for you.”

“So what’s to say he didn’t head out on a binge with his buddies. Go up to California, or hell, with your two’s bank account, the south coast of France?”

“I didn’t say he was a drinker.”

“No, but I figured.” I downed my overly sweet drink. “Any chance I could get a beer?”

After a few hand waves, though I didn’t know how the server could see a damn thing in the cave of a bar, I had a Negro Modelo in front of me and bowl of house peanuts that weren’t even in the same food family as Jimmy’s. She ordered another lime, sugar and rum special. Seriously, the drink made my teeth hurt.

“So tell me what you know and what you’d like to know.”

“An interesting way to put it Mr. Fischer.”

I ignored that she still wouldn’t use my first name.

“The second one is easy. You want to know where he is,” I said.

“I suppose I should start with the last time I saw him.”

“That would help.”

“You’ll pardon my hesitation. The other detectives—”

“I’m not a detective.”

“Each of them gave me a line about how they could find anyone anywhere. I fell for it. But I won't again.” She glanced back to the man at the bar. His dark suit made him as good as invisible.

“You keep looking for someone. And then hoping they’re not there. What’s the deal?”

“I am just being careful.”

“Like taking me to the darkest bar in Barra? We should be talking in Russian accents and speaking about red crows at night.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Just tell me when you last saw your brother.”

“There’s not a lot to say. He’d met a new group of friends in Oaxaca. Or he called them friends. Most likely they just wanted him along to pick up the tab. I’d asked him to read through some grant applications that I’d put through. He had a good eye, a decent editor, and picked out things I’d missed.”

“You could have hired anyone to do that. Seems like a bit of a throwaway. Make work project.”

“I know. And you are right. I wanted him involved, give him some sort of focus, to feel like he was accomplishing something.”

“But he just wanted to drink margaritas and chase senoritas.”

“He wasn’t like that. Why do you keep insinuating that?”

“Was he gay?”

“I think we’re done here.” She pushed her chair back hard and stood. The scraping raised a couple heads at the bar, including the dark suited one.

“Look, if you want to hire me to find someone, I’ll take a shot. Benno might have talked me up a bit too much. Though, somehow I doubt that. I can’t tell if you’re desperate or just not that bright. Running shows like you do, I’m guessing it’s the first one. I can’t make one dime of a promise that I can find your brother. But if you want to pay me, I’ll take it.”

“You’re honesty is showing.” She remained standing.

“Yeah, it’s a killer. School teachers and nuns really go for it.”

 

***

Next time in Surf City Acid Drop

She sat back down. I ordered another Modelo and got a refresh on the nuts. She nursed her drink and stamped out her half-burnt lady smoke.

“So he hung out with his new buddies. Nobody gay. Anyone check down in Oaxaca?”

Sunday
Jun282015

Surf City Acid Drop: Five

Leon followed me to the station, maybe looking for a few more pesos, and maybe just to keep me company. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He rattled on about some back room deal he’d seen. A quest that Benno sent him on that I couldn’t follow the logic. I didn’t know if it was real job, or something his addled brain had put together.

The segunda bus was not built for comfort, the wooden plank seat confirmed that – but it was cheap and if all the various part-Catholic, part voodoo, part Day-Of-the-dead, freaky talismans were working, we were likely to get there in one piece. A couple of kids went up the aisles with bagged juice before the driver booted them off. A mom whacked one of her kids in the back of the head, a fast lecture of a sort.

After a long winding drive through the city to pick up a full bus load, including a group of older woman all in black and a guy with a chicken skinnier than Leon, I left PV behind.

I cracked the window a half-inch, which is all it would give, and breathed in the air, jungle leaves with a hint of salt. As the sun climbed higher, I got to thinking how much I could go for a Pacifico and bowl of Jimmy’s peanuts. Still, there were a couple places in Melaque that were as good as the El Rayo, and cheaper too. I flipped through my paperback, followed Mcgee around the city as he tried to figure out some complicated scheme. Then the bus took a few sharp turns in a row and I put the novel down. There was no sense getting sick this early in the ride.

I closed my eyes and thought about the corn-rowed girl from last night. It wasn’t a daydream type fantasy, where I’d whip her off to Acapulco, or one of the cheapo lover’s motels that lined the darker streets in PV— it was more wondering what the hell was her game? Did she end up leaving with that group of losers? What did she make of the way it ended? And which one was hubby? I banked on the guy with the split nose. Him and his Brooklyn accent suggested that he’d be the one. She was trouble on a stick, no doubt about it, and the light fixture across the back notwithstanding, I was kinda relieved when I had to bust into Benno’s private party. I’d take airborne paperweights and swinging pool cues any day over whatever she was throwing.

To my surprise the driver pulled off his regular route and into El Mapache to give us a stretch break. The reality was that he was out of smokes. I paid my few pesos and took a leak in a room where I made sure I didn’t touch anything else, and made damn sure it didn’t touch me. I grabbed a banana and an agua con gas to ease my acid stomach. The ladies in black got off with their many bags.

The next couple of hours slid by in that lazy Mexican way that slowed my breathing and my thinking. The sun poked through the lush jungle and I caught a few glances of the ocean between haciendas. A couple of skinny cows shaded themselves under a parota tree. An older woman moved from the row ahead and sat next to me. I guess she was just being friendly, or had enough of her traveling partners, family members, that even if I didn’t know what they were saying, I knew they were harping on her. They kept saying mi vieja, mi vieja, and then rattle off a bunch of advice, or that’s what it sounded like. The vieja unwrapped a bundle on her lap and then shared her homemade tortillas with the salsa verde that she’d plucked from her large bag. Lucky for me, I’d kept a bit of the water, as the salsa had a serious kick in the head fire quotient. I dropped off to sleep for the last hour, the worn out governor on the engine hummed a diesel lullaby.

When we pulled into Melaque, I felt rested, my stomach had settled, and I felt my whole pace shift down. Not many tourists had found their way down to this sleepy working class town. Barra Navidad, further down the coast, attracted more travellers with its night life and overpriced margaritas. For me, Melaque had all I needed. A few simple palapas, white sand, gentle breeze off the Pacific, and a damn fine market with some of the best food I’d had since I came to Mex. Hell, even the roosters had a softer cockadoodle here.

I checked into the Monterray, got my usual room on the second floor, with same great view, and the same broken ceiling fan. The sun was at its hottest, and I knew places would be shutting down for siesta any moment. I jogged across the street, grabbed a couple of Pacifico’s at the bodega on the corner. Then I planted myself under a striped umbrella, half in the sun, with a cool half in the shade. If I timed it right, the beers would last until Don Pedros opened, where I’d stroll down to for some light dinner music and a long stick of garlic camarones.

If I was careful with my money, I could easily hang out here for a couple weeks, live off the market food and two-for-one cervezas. If needed, I would sweep a floor, or do a few loads of dishes, it wouldn’t take much to stretch it out. I was in no hurry to get back to PV. I probably should think about tracking down Mrs. Charmer’s deadbeat hubby – finish the job, collect the payout. But then what? I had no other work. Drive to Wisconsin for a mid-Western holiday? Not likely.

Big questions like that disappeared around the sixth Pacifico and right after the second stick of those damn fine shrimp. The tide washed in, a storybook moon rose above the ocean, and the nylon strings of a classical guitar plucked along with each appearing star. The guitar player wore a stained white fedora and a wrinkled suit jacked over his floral shirt. Cream pants and a pair of white sneaks finished the outfit – stylish in his own mismatched way. He went through the Jobim songbook, his voice perfectly matching the sound of his guitar. Any moment, I expected the girl from Ipanema to stroll right up and buy me a shot.

A couple of local girls giggled in the corner, the table candle flickered shadows across their perfect skin. I raised my Pacifico in their direction when I caught their eye and they stopped laughing. A fews seconds later they started again.

Benno’s place, guns at my forehead, loaded Glocks, and swinging lamps seemed a million miles away right now. I waited for the usual restlessness that crept inside me the longer I sat in a bar and the closer it got to last call. But this night, it didn’t appear. The candles were blown out one by one and I was washed back to my room at the Monterray, a pair of Pacificos given as a parting gift, the girl’s laughter faded into the ocean air, and the moon slipped into water like someone had tucked it in for the night.

I slept like a man who had been awake for days.

 

###

 

After a breakfast of huevos rancheros with a side of beans and hot chiles, I took a long walk around the town. Passing the cigar shop my pace slowed, and I had to jam a stick of wintergreen in my mouth just to keep walking. The sky was overcast, the sun barely made its way through a mesh of gray clouds. It was a good day for a long walk-run. I hated exercise as much as the next guy, unless he was one of those muscleheads flexing their pecs at the local Golds, and I wasn’t sure they liked it either. But I knew if I didn’t take my heart rate above its usual sleepy state once in a while, well, I wasn’t doing myself any favours. Chances are that I’d run into Mrs. Charmer’s deadbeat again. I was not going to lose him on the account of me wheezing for oxygen by the side of the taco cart.

I changed into a loose pair of khakis and white t-shirt that I’d just picked up in P.V. – a classy addition to my wardrobe. I kept it at a light jog for the first fifteen minutes, then picked it up the pace. It felt good to sweat the Pacifios out of me. The beach was barren by the time I was halfway to Barra Navidad, which I could see in the distance. It’s not a place I hang out in much, but I figured what the hell, I didn’t have any other plans. Maybe, I could grab a late lunch, and I knew the perfect place to drink a quiet beer and have a smoke. Damn. Gum just didn’t work the same. But I’d give up the coffin nails for good.

I decided on the rooftop bar at the Alondra. The place was jammed during tourist season, but the elbow room improved significantly after the middle-age Jane and Bob’s went back to Indiana, or Nebraska, or God help them, that frozen wasteland north of the 49th. It was just pure bonus that the beer prices dropped when the touristas flew home. I skipped lunch and went right into a pair of Dos Equis, on special, and a plate of tostadas. It fit my budget just right. The sun dropped as fast as the two beers down my throat. The place was packed out at five people plus me. We were perched six stories up with a great view of the Pacific. The surfers were out catching the last few waves of the day. The music reminded me of the El Rayo Verde, and for a minute I thought I had slipped into some waking day dream, and had only imagined that I’d jogged to Barra – especially when I saw her. I looked again, gave my brain a mental shake, and made sure it wasn’t a different woman. It was the same ebony hair shaped into a perfect ponytail, but she had bumped up her dress code a few social classes. Her white dress shone in the approaching twilight, and the disappearing sun cast a last reflection on a string of pearls that were the colour of wealth.

I wondered if she recognized me from the El Rayo, not that a guy with an ice bag on his forehead made a lasting impression. I had decided that she didn’t, when she got up and walked toward me.

“You mind?”

I reached over and slid out the chair.

“I saw you at Jimmy’s,” I said. 

She smelled of some exotic flower I couldn’t place.

“Where?”

“El Rayo Verde.”

 “Oh, that place. Yes, I was there to meet someone.” She flipped a wayward strand of hair back into place.

“I never noticed you with anyone.”

“We ended up meeting later.”

She ordered a mojito with extra lime. I nursed my second pair of Equis and waved the server off.

“I almost went over and bought you a drink that night,” I said.

“You should have.”

Her tone wasn’t inviting – I couldn’t quite figure it out.

“You staying in Barra Nav—”

“I’m afraid I need to stop this small talk. I’ve never had a use for it. And not for flirting either – frankly,  it’s infantile.”

“Fair enough.”

I took the last swallow of beer and held up two fingers in the direction of the bar. When in doubt, order more beer.

“I know who you are and I want to acquire your services.”

“My services? You have a room you need swept out?”

The server arrived with her mojito, four slices of lime crammed in the glass, and my beer. I tried to pay and it was her turn to wave the server off.

“So how do you know I am the one you’re looking for. Pretty unlikely we’d end up in the same bar don’t you think?”

“I have been told that you can find people.” She plucked a lime from her drink and bit into it.

“Who are these people and should I be paying them, or maybe suing for false advertising?”

“A man who knows you very well told me that you are good at it. Finding people. Mostly because you are very stubborn. Pig-headed, he said.”

“Lovely compliment. Still not sure I’m your guy.”

“He also said that you were broke a lot of the time and would take the job, Mr. Fischer.”

I tapped my fingers on the table – dying for a smoke.

“Hmm, this man happened to be fond of short-brimmed Fedoras?”

“Can you find people?”

“Who’s lost?”

“My brother.”

“For how long?”

“I haven’t seen him in three months,” she said.

“That’s a bit cold.”

The comment was more about her lack of emotion than the length her brother had been missing.

She took another lime from her glass and bit into it.

“Uh-huh,” I started. “I’m guessing you went to the police or—”

“A waste of time and money. If you’ve spent any time down here, and I think you have, you know how corrupt they are here. As far as the ‘or’, yes, I tried a couple of people. Both of them took easily accepted my money. I haven’t heard from them since.”

“P.I.’s are a dishonest lot.”

“Are you?”

“A detective? Hell no.”

“I meant the other – dishonest. I can tell things about people, usually right away. But I’m not sure about you.”

“What did our mutual friend say about me?”

“He said you were too full of integrity for your own good.”

“Sounds like Benno,” I said.

She gave no sign that she recognized the name.

“If you are interested in helping me – more importantly, if you think you can – then we can go somewhere and talk.” She tapped her fingers at the table, like me fiddling for an invisible pack of smokes.

“What’s wrong with here?”

“I only came here because I was told by this person that I might find you here. It’s much too open. I’d rather speak privately.” She glanced over to the bar where the server gave her a nod. She waved him over, already reaching in her small, but I was sure, expensive bag.

“Sure, I know a place,” I said.

“So do I,” she said. “We’ll go there.”

 

***

Next time in Surf City Acid Drop

I had no problems with members of the opposite taking charge, better yet, taking care of the bar tab. I followed her out of the Alondra and into a cab that idled out front. I wondered how long he’d been there. I also wondered how predictable I had become that Benno could tell people where to find me. I made a mental note to work on becoming a little less predictable. 

 

 

 

Saturday
Jun272015

Where you been, Where you goin?

With apologies to Joyce Carol Oates, I thought I'd write a bit about where Surf City Acid Drop has been, and what's coming up (in prep for tomorrow's new Chapter).

Where's the damn surfing?

Well... I always imagined that Luke Fischer's world has a soundtrack drenched with a Dick Dale-ian vibe. That being said, the metaphor of trying to ride the waves increasingly becomes part of the story (as does that nasty Acid Drop).

So what's happened thus far?

So literary of me to throw in a "thus". Luke got his ass handed to him by the not-so-charming Mr. Charmer, and drowns his sorrows in his favorite bar, the El Rayo Verde. He notices a brunette in the shadows, and to let you know, she will be popping up again, asking more of Luke than a tilt of his Pacfico. Luke's sometime employer/friend Benno asked him to ride shotgun over one of his two-shades too dark business deals. Things go bad, and Luke has to go all Samurai with his pool cue to settle things down.

Luke decides to get the hell out of Dodge, or at least PV, for a few days. He leaves the Hotel Esperanza, and is met by the street kid, Leon, who tells him about a backroom deal of Benno's that he was part of. Suffice to say, we will be also seeing more of Leon.

And where are things headed?

Luke is headed toward his other favorite hang-out in Mexico, the town of Melaque. While he is escaping the pool-cue swinging, bathroom cold-cocking, ways of PV, he is about to get hired by a familiar woman in search of a missing family member. Luke is always the first to declare he is not a detective, and yet he finds himself with a case – one that is going to send him on the run, right out of Mexico.

Art galleries, thugs with odd names, and dead bodies, are just a few of things Luke is going need to surf through. Oh, and some good soup, and always good beer - even reluctant detectives need their leisure time.

New Chapter tomorrow - thanks for reading.

Sunday
Jun212015

Surf City Acid Drop: Four

 

“Put the stick down or I put your buddy down.”

This one had more New York edge in his voice—an urban guy, out slumming with the prairie folk.

“Not my buddy,” I said.

“Fischer… after all the margaritas I’ve paid for.”

“Can’t stand those.”

“Hey, hey, back to business bozos. And put the cue stick down, slim.” He jabbed Benno with the end of the pistol.

“Slim? Where’s your horse, Roy?” I held the thick end of the stick in place.

The guy by the door moaned and stirred. I’d taken the sides down to one to one, but in a couple of seconds those odds were going to slide back and not in my favour.

“Oh what the hell. He’s not worth it. We both know that.” I let the thick end drop, and pulled the stick in like I was hauling in rope.

“Heh. Hard to find good help down here. Now, let’s see about—”

I shot the stick out, the smooth wood slid like a rocket through my palms and slammed into the bridge of the guy’s nose. He fell back, a spurt of blood arced above him. Benno kicked out at the Glock as it went off and buried a slug into the mahogany bar. I was about to make a crack about ruining the beautiful workmanship when something hard came down across my back. I knew by the weight it was one of those ugly-ass lamps that Benno had in each corner of the room. The blow took me to my knees. I stumbled back up, and saw that the Mid-western guy that I thought I’d put down was up and grabbing anything off the wall shelf and heaving it at my head. I caught a snowglobe, wound up, and shot it back at him. It smashed against the wall a few inches from his head. Benno reached below the bar and pulled out a much shinier gun than the one he’d just kicked out of the New Yorker’s hands.

“That’ll be enough of this shit.” He cocked it and aimed at a flat spot on Mid-western’s forehead.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s all settle the fuck down.” He dropped the two paperweights he was in the process of heaving my way. “We’ve had some breakdown in communication—but you can’t blame us. This deal, it’s got a river of bullshit running through it.”

“Get out and take your bleeding friends with you.” Benno held the mark on the guy’s head.

He walked over, turning as he moved to keep his eye on Benno, and one hand in the air, to the guy whose nose I’d split open. He reached down to pick up his pal’s Glock.

“Nuh-uh. You can leave that right there.”

“Hey, that’s an expensive gun. I just got it.” The New Yorker held one hand up to his bloody face.

“And this is a cheap bullet,” Benno said.

The one by the door came to with a groan. 

“What the—“

“Shut up.”

The three so-called business prospects limped out of the room, and into the warm Mexican night.

“Damn, Benno.”

“I know, I know.”

“Next time I’m working you better have a six of Pacifico, or I’m not coming to save your ass.”

“What do you mean I’m not your buddy? You hurt my feelings, Luke.” He pulled a cork on some Cuervo gold and poured a couple of inches into two glasses.

“You outta lime?” I asked.

“Afraid so.”

“How about ice? I think that lamp caught the back of my head. Why would you buy something like that?”

“Sorry.”

“You’re making it hard to make up.”

I downed the tequila and Benno poured another. And then two more after that.

 

***

Mornings at the Hotel Esperanza were the best time of day. From my bed the sun climbed and walked across the white walled houses and apartments row by row. The orange roofs, lit by the strengthening sun, shone against the bleached buildings, even though I knew they were full of dirt and gritty with sand from the beach down the hill. Up the hill, houses rose out of the sandy cliffs, stone staircases wound through lush foliage. I was on the fifth floor, the smallest and cheapest rooms were here. I had a step out balcony that was all of two feet square, where if I didn’t fall over the wrought iron railing, I could listen to P.V. come awake. It always started with the roosters, but the dogs were close behind. If I stayed here long enough, one of these days a dog will beat a rooster to the morning call. It hadn’t happened yet.

The hotel had been converted from an old hospital. A long curved wheelchair ramp ran through all five floors like a giant spiral staircase. The Morales family kept it spit-shine clean, hiring one of the many cousins and nephews to sweep, mop and clean the whole place daily.

I took the stairs that followed the ramp. Mornings, I didn’t quite have my sea legs for the decline. I shuffled into the breakfast area. Laid out was the standard tray of papaya and pineapple, next to the same buns I’d seen yesterday and two days previous. The coffee was strong with a deep undertone of cinnamon. At first I came here because it was cheap and away from the tourist hotels, but I stayed for the coffee. Of course it was Benno that had told me about the place.

I gingerly patted the back of my head, still sore from my bang-up with the deadbeat Charmer in the Cafe Carlos bathroom. Added to that was last night’s projectile lamp. A damn good thing he didn’t get a chance to launch those paperweights, or I’d be fingering stitches this morning. The bottle of Cuervo I split with Benno didn’t help. He was good enough to throw me an extra thousand pesos for saving his ass. I asked him if his ass was worth less than a hundred bucks, and he threw in another five hundred.

My big plan for the day was to get the hell outta Dodge, or PV anyway. I had enough cash to get me a segunda bus ride down to Melaque. There, I could hole up in the the Monterrey, watch the pelicans dive bomb the bay, and set up a steady line of Pacificos. The salsa in Melaque was fresher, the tostadas crunchier, and hell, no offense to Jimmie and the El Rayo, but even the peanuts were better down there.

I loaded up a styrofoam bowl with fruit, then reconsidered thinking about the six hour ride, where bathroom breaks were at the whim of the driver, and half the time he never stopped at all. I put back half the fruit. 

“Hey, hey, you spare something?”

It was Leon, the skinny kid who was a fixture every morning, right along with the overripe papaya.

“Sorry, pal. Nothing to spare.”

“Oh, c’mon Fischer, I know you went out last night. You must have scored.”

Leon had been panhandling the Esperanza as long as I’d been coming down here. Most likely in his mid-twenties, I still called him a kid because I never saw him without a stained baseball caps from the Yankees or the Red Sox, and only ever those two teams. He had a long rattail of hair that poked out the back of them. If it wasn’t for the track marks and the vacant stare, I might have took him for a freshman at a junior college.

“Scored what, Leon?” 

I handed him a piece of fruit from my bowl, which he stared at like it had recently died. He dropped the papaya back on the table. 

“Just a few hundred, Fischer. You know I’m good for it.”

Leon had yet to pay me back a single peso since I’d met him. I dug out a few bills and pushed it into his hand.

“Awesome. Hey, say hi to Benno for me. Tell him I’m available. Anytime he needs. Any work. Any—”

“Right.”

I knew Leon worked for Benno. I guessed he did some of the dirtier stuff that Benno didn’t want to ask me to do. He was always nice to him, gave him money whenever he saw him. I think he knew part of the kid’s backstory, but he never told me when I asked. He just said that he’d been in a situation like that in his life, and he had to pay back. I found it hard to imagine the sharply pressed Benno on the streets hustling for change. He was a like a guy born to run things. Still, everyone had a past.

Back in my room, I stuffed a few clothes into my canvas bag. I pushed in the novel I’d picked up at the swap, some old John D. Macdonald thing, pretty sure I’d read it before. It was one of the ones with a colour in the title, and Travis McGee on his boat in Florida. There’s a guy who knew how to do it. I took my last pack of wintergreen gum off the nightstand, slid out a stick and popped the rest into my breast pocket. Not that long ago, I was a pack of Camels a day guy. The gum was the only thing that kept me sane when I was dying to light up. Since quitting, my body had improved a lot. For starters, I no longer gasped like a carp in an open boat if I ran more than a block.

I tucked the rest of my clothes and my other pair of shoes onto a shelf in the tiny closet. The Morales didn’t mind if I left stuff in the room Sure, they might rent it out while I was gone, but as a long time guest I got some preferential treatment— like an actual bar of soap in the cold water shower. The Esperanza was as close to home as I had had these last months. People here mostly kept to themselves, the cleaning staff smiled at me, and the Morales even let me slide a day or two if I wasn’t paid up. Even though he was the guy who first showed me the simple hotel, Benno was always trying to set me up somewhere else. He thought I’d like some condo on the outskirts, choked with parota trees and a better view of the ocean, as in one where I could actually see water. I liked the Esperanza just fine – the sunrise, the roosters, the dogs, the seagull crap and all.

 

***

Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:

Leon followed me to the station, maybe looking for a few more pesos, and maybe just to keep me company. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He rattled on about some back room deal he’d seen. A quest that Benno sent him on that I couldn’t follow the logic. I didn’t know if it was real job, or something his addled brain had put together.

Thursday
Jun182015

Surf City Acid Drop:Three

 

I leaned against the back wall of Benno’s place and sipped my Negro Modelo, disappointed that he didn’t stock Pacificos. The ice-filled tub of brown stubbies with the gold tops that glittered like they were winking at me eased my melancholy. It was a usual Benno affair – men in cream suits, and turistas in bad bermudas mingled about downing shots of Tequila and sucking limes. Benno wanted me there as a presence. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t have to step into a situation if needed. In the semi-dark, spirits flowed as quick as the money did, and tempers could flare.

At a party a couple of months back, I needed to escort a rancher who flew down from Wyoming. He’d taken a swing at Benno. I guess he didn’t like the terms offered, not that I ever knew the details of the deals, nor did I want to. I grabbed him by the collar of his Oakland Raider jersey, a boneheaded thing to wear to a Benno event, (and c’mon, the Raiders?), and dragged his cowboy-ass out the back door. He was as lousy a puncher as my bathroom pal, Steve – more brawn than anything like aim. I gave him a couple hard and fast in the kidneys and hit a pressure point on his neck. If anything, I was neat and tidy.

Tonight, the stereo played some Southern Cal rock, a couple of thick guys in cheap suits shot eight-ball on Benno’s slate table. Benno talked to a trio in the corner of the bar. I wasn’t sure where this bunch came from. He had a couple of folders out, aerial photographs of a green land with a snaky river across lush terrain. I wondered if Benno was developing the land, and equally I wondered if he actually owned it. I reminded myself it wasn’t my business. I just cracked another Modelo and gave one of the group a tough guy look that I’d perfected. My expression lay somewhere between confident and bored, and it usually did the trick – unless someone got a bit too much Cuervo in them and figured I was just the right guy to challenge to a pissing contest. I hated that. It used to happen when I worked the gym in Montreal, hired to spar with the next great hopeful. Back there it wasn’t Tequila that made them swing hard, but if I landed one too many on the chin, my opponent kinda lost their composure. We were supposed to be just sparring, but I’d put more than a couple down that way. Still, the old guys that ran the gym never saw me as someone they’d put in the ring. I was too undisciplined, or that was what they told me. That and the fact that I’d never train.

At Benno’s, I had to play it down the middle, even give a smile once in a while. Not a, hey you’re a jackass for believing any of this bullshit and you deserve to lose your money kinda smile – but more of a, hey stud, you got it all happening, you’re the shit sort of grin.

Benno folded up his folders and took the trio through a door to a backroom. I knew he held a lot of his “special” meetings in this room. The decor was a few notches up, and included a fully stocked mahogany bar. Before he went in, Benno had turned and gave me a nod, a signal to park myself outside the door. He’d never told me if I was to prevent anyone from coming in or leaving. Again, I was supposed to be a presence. I didn’t really care, it put a few bucks in my pocket. I’d already planned on heading out to Melaque in the morning. I needed some quiet time and a place where I didn’t rely on beer ice to keep the swelling down. 

Voices rose and fell in the room. The cue ball broke another rack.

“You know where I could find a glass of white wine? I can’t stand Tequila.”

She was thin, but had just the right amount of s-curves in her pale peach sundress and sandals.

“Not a country known for its vintages. Better to drink the beer than the water.”

She reached out and took my beer, tilted it back, and drained half of it. She handed it to me without wiping her mouth.

“I don’t really like beer.”

“I can see that.”

Her blonde hair tumbled down in cornrows, a bead of sweat hung on her neck like she was an iced pitcher.

“You’re not interested in the developments?” I asked.

“A bit too shady for me. I’ll let the hubby swing his dick over that.”

I glanced at her ringless fingers. She caught it.

“Hubby for the week,” she said. “Appearances and all.”

“Oh.”

That was the best reply I could come up with. This one had danger tape and barb-wire wrapped around all 109 pounds of her and her damn near see-through peachy dress.

“You work for him?” she asked.

“Good guess.”

“Not really.” She took a moment to relieve me of my beer and the rest of its contents. “I know you didn’t come with my bunch. And you’re not a local by the way you dress. But you move like someone that’s pretty comfortable here. I’d say you been here a while, long enough to know better, and long enough to be trusted by the likes of our host.”

“Elementary.”

“Come again?”

“Your power of observance.”

“Oh, like in the books. I don’t do books.” The bead of sweat hung on and was joined by another that had slid down her tanned neck.

“No, I guessed that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Her lips made a razor thin line across her too-much in the sun complexion.

“Nothing, I—”

A huge crash came from the room behind me. I spun toward the guys at the pool table, grabbed a cue from one of them, and rapped on the closed door where Benno and his new buddies were.

“What’s up, Benno?”

“Stay the fuck out!”

The accent was mid-western, a slight twang. I considered my response for three whole seconds. Then I kicked the door in. The guy standing next to it caught a good rap in the head when the door flew open. A low swing with the cue took his legs out, and I clubbed him another one on the way down.

The guy in the middle of the room lunged for me.

“Son-of-a—”

The end of the cue took the wind out of the last bit of sentence, and Mr. Mid-Western went to his knees. I rapped him another one across the back of his head and he hit the tile.

I brought the cue around, and over my head, a bit of a samurai flourish I’d worked on after a weekend of Kurosawa movies. I stopped it about a half-inch from the guy holding Benno by his nicely pressed Brooks Bros. shirt. I tapped his head, just lightly.

“Hey Luke. Go slow.”

That was when I noticed the Glock pointed at Benno’s stomach.

“Put the stick down or I put your buddy down.”

***

Watch for the next chapter of Surf City Acid Drop on Sunday.