The voice on the phone was English, but the Spanish accent was thick. He told me to stay where I was.
“I will be there rightaway. Minutes. Or sooner.”
A beat-up white VW pulled up eight tense minutes later. I hadn’t pictured my exit from PV, policia on my probably easy to find trail, in a rusted Bug.
I held my package from Benno out to him.
“Don’t be a wise-ass. Get in the car.”
We left town smoothly, not so much quietly, as the old german vehicle, I am sure made by some very old Germans, putted out of town. I guess that was the point.
My driver didn’t say much. Actually, he didn’t say a single word after his first warning to not be an ass. I studied the back of his head, long black locks spilled from his fedora – was that a thing if you worked for Benno? Matching headgear? His collar was stained yellow, probably crisp and white at one time, before he bought the VW and started the family business of driving guys out of town.
I thought he’d hiccupped, or sneezed. It took a minute.
“What about it?”
“Early flight to Tijuana.”
“Yeah, Benno told me.”
“Time it right, it should work.”
Should work. Yeah, that’s the hope. I sank back into the worn down seat and looked across highway 200. I caught a last glimpse of the ocean before we turned inland.
The patchwork fields were a refreshing breather from the noisy streets of PV. I let my eyes dance along the winding roads that snaked and climbed around the clumps of bushes, copses of trees, and over the rolling hills.
Tepic was an hour away, maybe two depending on how much power my well-tressed driver could coax out of the Bug. My muscles had only now begun to relax. A dull ache reminded me that not that long ago I was drowning in a bay of Tequila, barely vertical, stumbling down the cobblestones, and dragging Ms. F. behind. Good name for her.
I could have stayed. I could have explained to the cops that I knew nothing about the dead guy in my room. Yeah, it was a guy that many people had seen me talk to in the Esperanza or on the street. Maybe they’d seen me buy him coffee and even breakfast on more generous mornings. I’m sure some people had heard me give him shit, and tell him to get his act together, lay off the pipe, or nose candy, or mescal. That was the thing - too many people had seen this. And I’d heard too many stories from Benno about how things went with the Mexican police. There was a good chance I’d be fully cleared. But the question was when. The thing that knocked the most on my suspicions was the possibility that I was set up by the bootsie-twins. If they had paid somebody off to finger someone for Leon’s dead state, then things could go south real fast for this someone. And I didn’t mean Acapulco south, because it was pretty nice down there.
I churned this through my brain as I rode in the back of the Bug. It was more instinct than anything that made me run. That voodoo, EPS, crystal-ballian part of me was telling me to get the fuck outta Dodge. Maybe I didn’t have an actual vision of myself in a Mexican jail cell, but damn near.
Hell, maybe it was providential – to use that phrase from those Sunday School classes I took back in the dark ages. Maybe it was just the boot out the door that got me going in the direction of Cynth’s brother. After Strother’s place, I’d pretty much signed off on that one. There was too little too go on, and something about the whole deal smelled like a chile relleno gone bad. The suspicious part of me wondered if she had anything to do with Leon’s eviscerated neck. The paranoid part of me knew she did. And what did Benno have to do with all of this? He had Leon working for him. But on what? And it was Benno that steered her in my direction in the first place. Now he was sending me to Albuquerque as his delivery boy – and then telling me to head to Santa Fe. Somebody was yanking someone’s chain. And I felt the pull.
We drove through Las Varas as the sun climbed over a faded mountain.
“When’s the flight?” I asked.
“Eight-thirty. Give or take. Nothing is exact.”
“What if I don’t make it?”
“You will make it.”
He gave the Bug a bit more gas. It shot a black cloud of smoke from its rusted ass.
“Still a long walk to Tepic, wise-ass. Lots of places to get knifed, too. Cut you open like a ripe melon.” He held an imaginary knife up and slashed at the dashboard.
“Go easy. I’ve had a hard night. And I’ve been working like a dog.”
“Ah. You are like that song!”
“Didn’t take you for a Beatle’s fan,” I said.
“Best fucking band of all-time. No question. McCartney. Lennon. Genius.”
“Spend much time in England… uh, what was your name?”
“You do not need to know wise-ass. And just like you, no not England, America radio. And now, Mexico radio, too. I play in the clubs, I cover all of them. I sound more like George. Do you like them?”
“Sure. I mean, you gotta give them respect for their songwriting. But me, I need more guitars, some groovy riffs and a smooth deep bass.”
“You like jazz?” He spit on the passenger side floor. “American masturbation.” He did another gesture at his dashboard.
“Ha. Someone said that jazz is five guys playing five different songs at the same time,” I said.
“Ah, good. So maybe you are not such a wise ass?”
“Nah, not big on jazz. But give me Dick Dale double-strumming a jungle beat, drummer putting down a steady drive, and a slick horn cutting through it all.”
“That sounds like jazz. I don’t know this Dick Dale.”
“A lot of people don’t. Well, if you were a surfer you would.”
“And you surf?”
“I wish. Just more of an admirer. Never even been on a longboard. Seems like about the coolest thing there is. Watching a big break come in, getting on top of it, riding it out.”
“Has this Dick Dale written anything as beautiful as Norwegian Wood?”
“Not in the same way you’re thinking. But in other ways, his Misirlou has its own beauty.”
As much as I enjoyed the diversion into what surf rock might have in common with the Lennon/McCartney catalogue, a throbbing built in the back of my skull – half-caused by too much tequila, and the other half of the pain reminded me that there was a good chance I’d have a few carloads of PV’s finest waiting for me at the Tepic airport.
“This is not good.”
“What, that I don’t like—”
My driver cranked the Bug hard and we spun down a gravel road running parallel to the airport. I peered out the back window. A pair of police cars were parked nose to nose. Not so much a roadblock, as a... well, I don’t know what the hell they were doing. Maybe they just decided to stop that way. Right.
He gunned the VW, spitting out more black smoke, stones machine-gunned the undercarriage, as if any second they would shoot out and pepper my feet.
“Whoa, whoa. Whose to say they’re looking for us?” I shouted at him over the whining engine.
“Not us. You.”
We came to a T in the road, and he took a hard left.
“And you don’t think they’ll pay attention to someone driving the shit out of a VW?”
“No one in that car. You need to look closer. You miss a lot.”
I stared out the back window, squinted at the cop cars shrinking in the distance.
“If there’s no one in the car, why are you driving like we’re in the Daytona?”
“I do not know this person. Day? Toni? Another musician?”
“It’s not a—“
“They are watching.”
He slowed and took a right. I saw we were still headed in the direction of the airport. A row of hangers came into focus.
“I take it I’m not going to check in.”
“Go down into the seat.”
“I thought you said they weren’t in their cars?”
“They will be now. They know my car. Benno greases their wheels. They allow me certain cargoes.”
“So why bother? Aren’t I just a different delivery?”
“My cargoes don’t breathe. Go down.”
I edged down and out of sight. I wondered what these other cargoes were. I fingered the package on the seat next to me. From conversations I’d overheard, I knew Benno had some reach in other cities. And now he was sending me to Albuquerque, or I guess I sent myself.
We drove up to a pair of hangers that looked more like farm quonsets than anything holding aircraft.
My driver gave a short honk and the door began to lift.
We pulled up next to plane that wasn’t exactly a crop duster, but only a couple tiers higher.
I peeled bills into the pilot’s hand, until my new Beatle loving friend gave a grunt. I think the pilot would have gladly taken it all.
I listened to them speak in Spanish. I didn’t catch much. Damn, I so needed to take some lessons. I thought I gathered the gist of it. They were making a cargo drop in Tijuana.
“You are in luck,” my driver started, “he just got a tune up and passed his safety. With luck you will stay in the air.”
“Best news since Christmas,” I said.
I tucked the thick envelope under my arm and climbed into the back of the winged wonder.
“Do you have any fears of being in the air?” His grin showed off some sparkly-ass fillings.
“Would it matter if I did?”
He looked like he actually considered this for a minute before he closed the plane door. He stopped half-way to give me one last piece of advice.
“When you get where you’re going, give another listen to Norwegian Wood. I think you’ll see what I mean.”
Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:
The next twelve hours slid by in that slow liquid way that happened to me when I went across a long distance, even more so when it was in planes. In the air I lost track of time – something to do with not having a connection with the ground.
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