Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Adrienne (cont...) Danang

Chapter 8: Patrick Ryan

Ryan stood by the water cooler oblivious that he was smoking in the non-smoking police station. It was a new rule: first it was restaurants… then bars… and, even before the jails, the police station. He hadn’t read Max his rights for two reasons. One: because he Knew Max wasn’t guilty, and Two: because he hoped Max would talk more freely and give him something useful... something other than what he knew already about Nick.
Richards approached him waving the smoke aside and coughing… “What do you think?”
“He didn’t do it.” Ryan blew smoke in Richard’s face.
“What do you mean, he didn’t do it? Nick saw him coming up the hill on his motorcycle…”
“You mean, Mr. Baker?” Ryan didn’t like Richards… a sloppy cop that was too enthralled with the power a badge gave him. Ryan knew Richards had a bone for Max and he also knew Richards had another bone in his pants for Adrienne. “Then how did McGee drop her off at the hospital in his taxi?” He glared at Richards now, “Don’t piss me off, Dan. The receptionist at the ER witnessed that much and we already know Mr. Baker is a damned good liar.”

Ryan thought of himself as a good cop. He looked forward to starting each day with a good case to investigate.  Most cases were as simple as putting together a kindergarten picture puzzle. However, he hated cases where influence, old debts, and favors, filtered into his judgment… the pieces of the puzzle get smaller and it takes on three or four dimensions. He didn’t know what to do about Nick Baker because Nick Baker was a part of that kind of a puzzle. Now we had this Max McGee getting entangled in this mess with Richards pissing on the case files.

Ryan had served in the Brown Water Navy on swift boats out of Qui Nhon in Viet Nam where he met Nick's dad, Harry Baker. Harry Baker wasn’t in the Navy. He wasn’t in the Army. He wasn’t in the Marines or the Air Force either. At first Ryan thought Harry Baker was C.I.A. or maybe O.N.I. but soon learned Harry Baker was one of many contractors hired by the services to do jobs... well, jobs that were, off the record. Harry Baker was one of those people you had to work with in the services that you respected but wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with off the job. Ryan’s crew had dropped off this mysterious man in places no one but Charlie would venture into and then pick him up a hundred klics down-river. Nothing was ever said about these missions.

A year or so later Ryan had been transferred to the O.N.I. and stationed at the Saigon Embassy. Ryan was in his room when there was a knock on his door. He hated these knocks on the door. He hadn’t slept a full night in a week and he had been looking forward to hitting the sack for so long he’d stopped counting the hours, “Go away!” He shouted from his pillow, “I’m off duty.”
However, the way it works with the intelligence services, there is no such thing as off duty. His team had been investigating a case about the China White that was being stuffed into the guts of those GI’s in aluminum coffins before being shipped from Da Nang to Travis Air Force Base. Harry Baker wasn’t instrumental in uncovering who was exporting it and to whom it was imported but he was involved in taking care of the problem. Ryan’s team had uncovered the problem and, at the head of the list under the magnifying glass was Ryan’s brother.
Bonds that aren't easily broken...
“Ryan, open the door or I’ll kick it in.”
Ryan had been expecting Baker... he’d looked him up and made contact through a friend of a friend so he got off his cot and opened the door.
Ryan’s work was supposed to be about investigating and accumulating evidence to be turned over to Hoover’s suits for prosecution stateside. But for independent contractors such as Harry Baker, it was about eliminating the problem altogether. There was no official need for Ryan to bloody his gloves over a personal problem like his brother. This was, after all, a very personal problem for Ryan. His brother was stationed in Da Nang…William Ryan, Spec-4, at the Mortuary Affairs Unit. The O.N.I. boys had pulled the covers on most of those involved in the smuggling racket. William Ryan’s part was that of an amateur, way over his head in it.
“So what do you want me to do?” Harry Baker’s motives were oftentimes vague to Ryan but, suffice it to say, that he always knew what strings to jerk, how hard to jerk them, and how to use what he knew to some future advantage. The then Chief Warrant Officer, Patrick Ryan, liked Harry Baker’s ability to get things done but his likes and dislikes didn’t interest, or were of little influence, on him.
Look, I’m up for promotion. My brother...” Ryan was embarrassed to admit his motive but he was up for a promotion and the fact that his own brother might be involved in smuggling heroin made him particularly vulnerable. “I don’t want you to harm him beyond fuckin’ him up enough...”
“...enough to have him shit his pants out of this racket.” Harry paused a minute. He liked Ryan and had seen him in action. Whatever corruption he might be involved in was covered by the fact that he was good under fire. “You know you’ll owe me for this one.” 

The China Beach Surf Club
Harry met with Willy Ryan at the China Beach Surf Club. It was a casual meeting in front of the beer stand. Surf boards leaned against the beer shack, GI’s in knee length cut-off baggies hung around with bottles in hand, waiting for a set: it could have been from an Instamatic picture of any scene in Baja California or anywhere else every surfer dreams of. The surrealism of a war going on just a few klics away didn’t escape anyone’s consciousness. That is what the beer, the rum, the vodka, the gin or the pot, heroin, and for some… some are even said to chew on a taste of C-4 to get a kick assed mother-fuckin’ trippin’ high… that’s what all of that was for… to blot out the faces of smiling gooks from out of the dark of a hootch or the thump of mortars and the AK’s staccato clack of caps busted... decapitations… punji sticks, legs and limbs… bloody shit and guts spilled out… all of it that was surely awaiting the next patrol. The chances that the award for service, beyond getting fucked up in one of the above aforementioned  ways, was very likely to be in one of those aluminum boxes Army Specialist William Ryan had been packing up to be shipped back to Travis for the past six months.
Reaching out a hand to greet Harry, Willy offered, “Ya fuckin’ wanna Tiger Piss?”
Harry put a hand forth, wrapping his huge paw around the un-calloused hand of a man who’d not done a lick of work in several years. “No thanks, I’ll stick with a Schlitz.”
“Pat told me you’re some kind a skivvy honcho… got some fuckin’ Mo-Jo of some sort, eh?”
The word, fuck, Harry never did like it…, no matter where there were GI’s in Vietnam everything was fuckin’ fuckin’… mother fucker…, fucked-up, fucked-over and fuckin’ this or fuckin’ that. No offense was meant by the term and no offense was taken but Harry just wanted to get on with his business and get it fuckin’ over with.
“I want you to listen real close to me,” Harry paused long enough to make sure the kid was listening.
“I’m all fuckin’ ears,” Willy’s brain was in high gear wondering, who the fuck did my brother send over here behind these pilot’s sunglasses?
“You have a choice… You need a change of scenery,” Harry pulled out a manila envelope. “Read ‘em.”
Willy held the papers away from the sunlight for longer than it would have taken him to read them twice… … a lateral transfer to the Marines… report to Camp Schwab… rank and all. He knew the training camp in Okinawa… he’d stuffed enough of the Corps’ corpses to know what the line at the bottom of the form meant… Marine Recon units were trained there.
“Okinawa? What the fuck? A Marine recon unit? Who the fuck are you?” The papers trembled in his grip. “Shit, I ain’t being trained for fuckin’ recon… I ain’t never even been through grunt fuckin’ boot camp! How can I…?”
“Your question ought to be, what is my choice?”
“I don’t fuckin’ get it.” Like a rat in a maze… Willy’s mind had no idea where it was being led. It hit on the idea that this had to do with an O.N.I. investigation, or something like that… maybe his brother was tipping him off by sending this guy. “You got fuckin’ nothing on me. Even if you fuckin’ did, I’d take the Stockade at Presidio over humpin’ the paddies like a pig-fuckin’ grunt.
“No one said anything about Fort Mason.” Harry took off his shades so that there was no doubt left at all about his steel grey eyes.
“Hey, does the lieutenant know about this?”
“No, you’re in the clear… just another body-bagger that can’t take it anymore.”
Willy tried to stay composed but he was damned near shittin’ his pants, “Let me get this straight, you ain’t talkin’ stockade?”
“No, I’m not talkin’ prison.”


Peculiar things happen in life that turn a guy like Willy around. His first tour in Recon gave him a taste of blood… he loved it… loved it so much that he re-upped… loved it so much that, after he recovered from shrapnel wounds in Okinawa, a couple Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, he went civilian contractor for the P.R.U. He took his bullet in Cambodia or Laos… no one says… no one cares… he was a civilian and the body counts are for G.I.’s. He never got to go home in one of the silver caskets either… his newfound honor bought him a hole in the red clay. In spite of that, CWO Patrick Ryan was beholden to Harry Baker because, in a way, he’d saved his brother and, well, these are the bonds that aren’t broken very easily.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Adrienne: The Sequel to The Book of Job


The Asturias Miners Strike of 1933

The manuscript I'm working on now is written as two parts. In part one I was drawn into a history lesson on the Spanish Civil War, the Post WWII Franco Regime and the French Resistance. These were the parents of the people in part two: where they got their start and so on.

At present a plebiscite for Catalonia's autonomy is climaxing after a century of struggle by the people of Northeastern Spain. The results of which are overshadowed by Scotland's drive that just recently failed. Over on the West end of the Pyrenees another people whose language and culture were suppressed with equal ferocity by the Franco regime is often skipped over.

I'd read Hemingway and Orwell (mostly about Catalonia) and seen several documentaries and movies that covered what had gone down during that period. It was, however, difficult to find sources about the Basque people in English.... not even documentaries. The suppression of the Basque language by Franco is partially responsible for this but what sources I did find were rich with a spirit that is skipped over by the pro-Stalinist or Marxist Anarchists of Barcelona and Madrid. The libertarian Basque nationalism that the first spark that lit the flames of the Spanish Civil War begins in Asturias and still fetsers today. Asturias is where my story begins.

From Part I: The Maquisard

Chapter 2: Asturias

A group of villagers were huddled at the side of the tracks leading into a mining town nestled between steep hills. A woman patted a young girl on the head and slipped the girl behind her skirts as the Guardia Civil ordered the group to line up. The girl scurried away and down into the arroyo behind. The woman raised her fist in the air as a distraction and a last gesture of defiance with a shout, “Viva la Revolucion!”
 A man joined her with raised fist, as did the others in the group. “Viva la…” 
The girl scurried away down into the arroyo before some of the bodies, neighbors she had known since she was born, fell after a loud volley of Mausers. Then there was then a horrible silence except for a restrained moan, a few pops and cracks of pistols. She watched from her hiding place under a boulder as the refrain from an old lullaby passed softly from her lips: “Los pollitos dicen los pollitos dicen pío, pío, pío cuando tienen hambre tienen frío.” Tears clouded her vision. It would be the last time she afforded tears to wash her face for over thirty years.
            In English the whole verse is: “The little chicks say pio, pio. pio when they are hungry... when they are cold. The hen looks for the corn... gives them food, and provides them shelter. Under her wings sleeping chicks huddle together to hasten another day!”

Sleeping… hung-over… soothed by the lullaby rhythm of steel wheels on steel tracks… chunk-cat-clack…chunk-cat-clack… chunk-chunk… Then noise: a whistle… awake… another town… steam hissed… exploded from pistons, escalated by the chatter and clamoring of another group of volunteers boarding. Alesandro peered through half-shut lids to watch the eager new ones standing in the aisle, falling against each other whenever the train jerked to a start. He’d been crammed into a seat on the wooden bench of the car, shoulder to shoulder, with young men… young or younger than he. Their voices were, from the start in Madrid, loud and boisterous… songs of the revolution… “A Las Barricades!” Bravado smothered fear and anticipation, driven by the cheers of crowds alongside the tracks. Red and black flags on la locomotora del destino chugged their cars away from the station and from the safety of homes and chalkboards of classrooms.
After this disruption of not-thought, his attention turned to the changing Castilian landscape that passed his window… images flashed by. The train wound its way towards Asturias; another country on the far side of Spain. Some aboard were CNT labor unionists, veterans of street fighting, but most were volunteers: metropolitan boys with pink hands. The propaganda posters depict men; masculine men with chiseled chins and muscled forearms, fists thrust skyward over the barricades... men, not boys… boys who hoped to be greeted with cheers and welcomed by the calloused hands of miners holding firm at the barricades of Gijón and Oviedo, they would be heroes; heroes alright, dead heroes.
The train they rode left Madrid was loaded up with untrained young and eager faces armed by little more than the enthusiasm and the naivety of youth. Only a few had seen blood from more than a scratch before and were unprepared for what awaited them in the mining towns in and above Oviedo or Gijón on the Biscay coast. From Madrid they crossed north through the heartland of Castile-Leon and into a region of rugged mountains, passed towns and stations that prominently posted the red and black flags of the Revolucion. The rails were controlled by the anarchist labor union, the CNT, most sympathetic to the cause. But, this was an irony of a civil war full of ironies that, in cooperation with the new Republic in Madrid, the same union trains, controlled by the same union, would fill its cars with experienced and hardened Moroccan troops, Regular Army troops of Colonel Yague and General Ochoa, under orders of the Generals of the Republic in Madrid, Francisco Franco and Manuel Goded, to quell the miners’ general strike that had crippled most of the country.
Next to Alesandro snored the fledgling journalist; his brother by adoption and Euskara blood.  Euskara blood knows no nation but the Basque Country of the coastline and mountains along the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees Range of Southern France and Northern Spain.  Their bond, however, was stronger than the fraternity of blood. Alesandro Otxoa was orphaned at five years of age by the pistoleros of the Guardia Civil. Alesandro Otxoa had been embraced and given a home near Biarritz by Marcel’s half-Basque father out of loyalty to the Otxoa family. It happened during the general strikes at La Canadiense in 1919. One of his earliest memory was that of a door being kicked in… of his father’s shouting… his mother’s cursing… screams… both taken out the door… the sound of clap-crack pistol retorts… their bodies lifeless on the street.
Alesandro took his secondary level education at the Lycée Militaire and thus had an inkling of military experience: little more experience than to know how to load and shoot a rifle, to march in drills, and to study rudimentary military history on his own in the school’s library. Therefore he felt responsible for, and protective of, Marcel, whose military ambitions were next to nil and who wasn’t supposed to be on this train in the first place.
The storm clouds forming in the atmosphere over the Second Republic of Spain were dark with foreboding: a civil war of which the life of Alesandro (Gotson) Otxoa would be entangled, from his first taste of combat in this one week in October of 1934, until his imprisonment in Carabanchel in the mid nineteen-fifties.
Alesandro was determined, and obligated by his heritage, to leave the comfort and safety of Bayonne at twenty years of age to join the CNT of the anarchist movement rising up in Barcelona. There in Madrid, as soon as he heard the news of the strike, he tried to bid farewell to Marcel over wine in a café alongside of other boys eager to become men.
“You aren’t going without me,” Marcel protested.
“There is too much going on here, Marcel. The people need your voice. Someone has to keep an eye on the political wrangling of Euro…” Alesandro rattled off his argument staccato knowing his words were falling on deaf ears.
“I won’t have it Alesandro, the hottest story in all of Spain is in Asturias.”
Taking a sip, holding the bottle to his lips without mocking, he said sincerely, “You’re an academic, Marcel. How well would you… would you be able to kill a man?”
“Ha, I can. Just as well as anyone. Hell, we are all amateurs!” he argued.

The brothers got drunk… so very drunk that Alesandro barely remembered agreeing to board the train singing what would be the anthem of the revolution, “La Rhumba La Carmella,” and chanting “¡Unidad, Proletaria Hermanos!” with the others. His stomach sick, he came to and swore to himself that he’d never get drunk again. It was an oath that he kept except for an occasional toast or to wash down stale bread. Alesandro knew from the time he awoke aboard that train he was going to keep his vigilance guardedly; for, one afternoon, his guard was down and his drunkenness nearly cost the life of his little brother.

The Book of Job Revisited is written in the recent past that prepares the way for the third book Adrienne: Part I. The Maquisard, and Part II.The Chaos of Obsession. If my reader hasn't done so yet, check out this link for the Book of Job Revisited and leave a comment... even if you hate it!
www.amazon.com/Book-Job-Revisited-Taxi-Romance-ebook/dp/B00NY2JQYC


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Screenplay: A Taxi Romance (excerpt)

FADE IN:

EXT. HEAVEN - BRIGHT LIGHT ABOVE - ETERNAL DAY

NARRATOR
Max had read the Book of 'Job' describing heaven, the  throne of god:  white light: Angels zip about.  The Satanic entourage approaches. Lucifer steps forward, leans with one hand on the left arm of the throne.

THE LORD
(casually)
From where do you come?

LUCIFER
From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down on it.

THE LORD
Have you considered my servant 'Job', that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that fears God and eschews evil?  And still he holds fast his integrity, although you moved against him, to destroy him without a cause.

LUCIFER
Skin for skin, yea, all that a man has will he give for his life. But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.

THE LORD
Behold, he is in your hands now, but save his life.

EXT. EARTH - BIBLICAL TIMES - CITY DUMP - NIGHT

'Job' sits in rags with boils over his whole body.  Job's wife, in fine silks, adorned with jewelry, approaches him, and whispers in his ear

JOB'S WIFE
Do you still retain your integrity? Why don't you curse God and die?

INT. HEAVEN - LOWER LEVEL - CUBICALS INTO ETERNITY - MORNING

Angels sit on Oriental Rugs in a Bedouin Tent of God way up on high; while, in a dingy cubical, one of an eternity of cubicles that stretch out for an infinity, several levels down, sits a lower-level angelic bureaucrat. He reads from a large screen.

ANGEL
(Mutters)
Shit, his troubles have only begun.  Max, he's no 'Job', but is alone with or without, new, or, old friends.  He has a loving family that would have nurtured him but he will disappear from their sight for several years. Like a cat, he's gone away to lick his wounds.  Hoping that everything would be back to normal someday, someday always will be after the one he's in.  And, that reality is one he lives in for over a decade.

A nasty little imp, Lucky, enters the angel's cubical.

LUCKY
Wha cha upta, old boy.

Angel cancels the page, spins around, sees the visitor is the Imp, Lucky, with a black cat, turns back to the monitor, and fakes looking busy

ANGEL
(mildly sarcastic)
Oh, Lucky!  Did the cat drag you in?  I'm busy with some new directives on venial sins.  Some are shifting, you know.  Like eating meat on Fridays and all that.  What have you been up to old boy?

LUCKY
(puffs up its chest)
Oh, I've been tagging along with the Master Satan.  You know, Numero Uno, the Big S, to and fro, and all that.  What were you reading?

Angel turns its back to the screen and scrolls down the page, comes back to Max's name, opens the file

ANGEL
(yawns)
Lookie here.  This guy, Max?  Looks like you've been at him.

Lucky peers over Angels shoulder. Angel leans away from the smell.

LUCKY
Vaguely.  Oh yeh. Just a few days ago I smacked him down a notch or two.

ANGEL
Seems okay. Pretty good guy.  Some black marks but, well, he's human.

LUCKY
He's a damned drunk.

Angel pulls out a pint labeled Heavenly Nectar from a drawer, takes a toke, and passes it to his friend.  Lucky guzzles it down until it is empty.

Lucky points to the floor

LUCKY
(seriously)
Ah!  We don't get much of this stuff down there unless one of you guys get busted, or switch sides, smuggles a case in through the back door:  know what I mean?  All we get is rot-gut.

ANGEL
(reads consul and comments)
Yes, Max has his faults, marriage on the rocks.  She dumped him and married again. No real fault of his.  He did try to mess around back then but his heart wasn't in it. Didn't have much luck there. Good to his daughter though. Pays double the going rate for support.  Volunteered at that!  He likes his work and the inmates he helps with writing poetry, painting, sculpture, and, ah yes, even a fledgling or two with novels.

LUCKY
(bitter)
Yeh, but hey, this ego-maniac.  This A-hole has some protection goin' for him.

ANGEL
Isn't this the pot calling the kettle black?

LUCKY
He has his health, his career and his wits about him.  He is a drunk but a happy drunk.  Say, give me a chance, lift that fence a bit and let me at him.  Suppose we put a case of Nectar on it.

ANGEL
Have at him if you're bored. It might be interesting to see what he is made of. I say he'll come out smelling like roses.

NARRATOR
Where's that Imp ever going to get a case of Nectar when he loses.

LUCKY
I've seen these types before.  They can be moral: all good and happy as long as they don't have to go out of their way too much for it. Let's say you let me take away his creative drive and see what happens to our happy-go-lucky chap after I'm done with him. Even the Big Kahuna won't recognize him.

Angel speaks at the screen after he watches Lucky leave

ANGEL
I've also seen cases like this before. They can't get so bad that the Big Kahuna doesn't recognize them.

FADE OUT:

FADE IN:

INT. VISION - DARK BAR - NIGHT

Bearded San Juan De la Cruz sits at a table in the back of the bar. The bar looks empty but for a prostitute at the bar, the balding barkeep and a neon Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall.

SFX: clacking of pool balls o.s. on the break with intermittent clicks and clack of each shot

SAN JUAN
(reads under his breath)
Sluts,  Dykes,  Whores, and Saints:  These are the women I've given my heart. Madonna Saint; Hard core slut; all unavailable; no contest. I fall in and out of love with a purity and intensity that confounds me. It never fails. The more they reject this unconditional love the more I crave them. Such subservience can be depended upon.

The neon Virgin of Guadalupe comes off the wall and opens her robe suggestively.

SAN JUAN
(shouts)
Senoras de la noche oscura: Masochist!  Absolutely! Absolutely!

LUCKY
(as barkeep)
Hey, knock it off or your gone!

SAN JUAN
Okay.  Right.

SAN JUAN
(low voice)
The purity of passion and intensity is astonishing, purging. This my friends is no playground masochism of leather costumes, whips and chains.

PROSTITUTE
Say, what are you reading anyway,  PORN?

San Juan stands with the book in his hand as if a preacher

SAN JUAN
(proclaims)
This here is the Big Tent, out of the donjons, an open-air variety of being led about on a leash of unfulfilled aspirations, and submitted to the sting of the whip of labored love lost!

LUCKY
Dammit, John!  Outa here!

SAN JUAN
Such a pathetic waste of time!

NARRATOR
The old junkie wasn't so far off.  Max had found his self bouncing around in the limbo of a private purgatory for so long that he'd begun to accept that San Juan de la Cruz's condition was going to define the rest of his life.


FADE OUT:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monte de Alduides and Medilaz



The Maquisard
Prologue
Monte de Alduide and Mendilaz are not great mountains with granite escarpments that attract climbers. There is nothing special or dramatic about their contours except that they are a part the Basque Pyrenees serving as God’s fence between Spain and France. Their nude meadows are so gentle that sheep are pastured on unimposing contours that drop down into beech forested folds skirt northward towards France. Over that side of the fence their voluptuous bodies undulate into runlets joining the streams Lohitzeko Erréka with Egurtzako Erréka. These streams braid themselves across the frontier into France, splicing into the rivers La Nive des Aldudes down through the communes of Urepel and Aldudes and onto Banka becoming a steady flow that rolls across a rich green landscape.
            On the Spanish side their pastoral vales are deceptively passive. On this verdant landscape, eleven hundred years before on Roncesvalles Pass, Basque warriors waited with little more than spears and knives in ambush against the retreat from their homeland of armed and armored Charlemagne’s knights. Orreaga is the Basque name for the pass where the Roman road crossed into the Aquitaine and this was where the knight of the troubadours’ song, Roland, his lance and steed useless, died. It was on these same hills Napoleon’s invincible Grande Armée was harassed and needled into retreat, where the Spanish Maquis held out during and after the Spanish Civil War, and, as Basque Separatists, well into the seventies against Franco’s tyranny. If the Pyrenees are the hartz baten hortzak, Basque for the teeth of a bear, then this part of the range has been the bear’s molars that grind down armies of occupiers and tyrants. Armed only by the tenacity and perseverance of the Basque language and culture, banned by Franco and revived after he died, the Basque have always been the last thing oppressors confront as they are swallowed into obscurity.

            From the east of Monte Alduide, and beyond the Roncesvalles Pass, the peak of Mendilaz rises up to where La Nive d’Arneguy Riviere and La Nive de Bethéroble are fed. These are Basque streams that wind down through these creases in the earth towards France, their dells flanked with ash and birch, as rich with history as their Basque names. Descending further they tumble over weirs to become La Nive until its progress flattens out, but still embraced, by low and verdant hills almost all the way to L’Adour and the port city of Bayonne.

            Mountain rivers roll and the river La Nive rolls and twists its way skirting past the east bank of the Basque commune of Itxassou. On one of those verdant hills above, a complex nestles within a hundred acres that was once a modest house with a rich history of its own. From the road nearby it would appear to be a typical French farmhouse hidden by hedges on a narrow lined lane. It had been remodeled and expanded from the inside out after The Hungry Years by the investment banker, Marcel Fournier. Predawn, a light radiated out of the second story window above the garage. It was the light from the window of the former Basque Maquis, Alesandro Gotson Otxoa. In his small quarters he prepared for the day ahead by meditating for a half hour and putting on his work boots as he had been doing from the same quarters since the winter of 1957.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tegucigalpa/Safe House

   Max usually needed to have extra fortification just to board a normal flight. This one warranted more than a shot or two. The rickety Taca Airliner was a sheer horror and Kuka’s supervision forced him to fly dry. Pride kept him from the airport bar and Kuka eased his fear of flying by holding his hand. Max was resigned to certain death by the time their plane careened into what seemed to be a crash landing approaching the airstrip.
   They were greeted by thick humid air at the Toncontin Internacional Aeropuerto in Tegucigalpa. Old military C-47s and C-123s were lined up on the other side of the landing strip from where a few civilian airliners were docked… well, not docked but parked. They walked across the dusty tarmac towards the small building. Kuka went through the turnstile first to a stand where a customs officer awaited like a hungry spider. 
   Several soldiers in pilots glasses loitered in the open air lobby and, though they would appear to be relaxed. Max sensed that they were watching the pair for reasons other than checking out Kuka’s body.
   Passport, a forged press card, and Max’s visa, were scrutinized by an intimidating officer in Gucci pilots’ glasses that Max supposed were Government Issued; those along with this guy’s perfectly tailored uniform. The officer was also as lean as he was stern. Max felt as though the fucker would just as soon castrate him and hang his balls on the wall, than to allow him into his precious country. It wasn’t much of a hidden fact that this was an observation grounded in a profound truth. Americans are not welcome in Central America, even by allies. From what Max could see from the airport and the rough landing, this country was a dump.
   “¿Qué va a hacer en Honduras, Sr. McGee?” Eyes he couldn’t see masked behind pilot’s glasses were scanning every tic and hesitation in Max’s reaction to the machismo of official testosterone driven intimidation. Max outweighed the officer by 20lbs and stood a good three inches taller. Common sense dictated that it would be a bad idea to try to play the macho card with this man.
   Max wasn’t ready to answer questions in Spanish.
   “¿Por lo tanto, usted es un periodista, Señor McGee?” Macho sneered the words.
   Max stood nervously, not knowing exactly what he was being asked but rightly assumed periodista meant journalist. 
   He was about to answer when Kuka cut-in to explain, “Él no habla español.”
   The officer tapped on the desk at Max’s picture on the passport. It seemed like an eternity, another Tibetan Bardo, before he handed it back. He then spoke in clear English, “Where are you going in Honduras?”
   Kuka explained that she had a letter, signed and stamped, from an official important in the government affirming they were connected.
   He waved them through. The other soldiers outside the small room that passed as a lobby, observing from behind dark glasses, undressed Kuka and castrated Max. A Volkswagen taxi pulled up and the driver swiftly loaded their luggage in the front with nearly one motion circled to the driver’s seat and slammed his door. The soldiers might have been curious because the luggage amounted to little more than a couple of small valises and an aluminum camera case. One soldier was about to approach.
   “Get in quick, don’t look back,” Kuka ordered.
   The driver didn’t speed but drove away as quickly as he could without drawing undue attention. Max could hardly bear the odor. The cab smelled of death. The soldier walked back to a payphone and dialed a number as they left.
   Kuka gave the driver an address. The driver, steering wildly through a zig-zag maze of side streets, made sure that if anyone was following they would have been hard pressed to tail them. He didn’t talk much… he just drove until he casually glanced back at Kuka and said, “It is plan B now, Si?”
   Kuka gave the driver another address. She put a hand on Max’s thigh. “Give me your note book.”
   She handed it back to Max. She had written on an open page and whispered in his ear as though they were lovers, “I’m going to give him an address. Let him go a couple of blocks and then give him this one. The phone number is for emergencies only.”
    “What, you won’t be with me?”
   “Maybe later. He’s with us,” She nodded towards the driver, “don’t trust him. Your contact’s name is on the table by the window. Ask him for his name in English. Burn the note and the page immediately. If he gives you any other name than that one, don’t go with him and get out of there any way you can. Call the phone number when you get a chance. Don’t worry, arrangements have been made.”
   “Don’t worry?” He felt like he was in a Woody Allen comedy.
   “Are you afraid?”
   “Maybe.”
   “Fear, respect it,” she assured. “But keep your wits.”
   “I’m okay.”
    “You’ll have several other guides. The Bird Dog’s old but he is the best in the business, follow his suggestions.”
   “Bird Dog? I thought you and I… that we’d be together.”
   “Later, but not now. Honduras is a dangerous place. We have been spotted together. Stay inside. Don’t go anywhere. You will stand out like a sore thumb as the only gringo on foot if you leave the house.”
   “Spotted? How do you know?”
    “The soldier, as we left the terminal, is an officer from the UNO. We always have a plan B.” She was no school marm at this point.
   The driver stopped, she paid the fare, and Kuka kissed Max with a simple peck on the cheek before exiting the cab, “Ciao, Max.”
   “What is your name driver, ¿Cuál es su nombre?” Max asked in tour guidebook Spanish and slaughtered the pronunciation of cuál.
   “Luciano,” he simply nodded, “I speak English.” He continued driving with his eyes on the rear view mirror.
   Max didn’t argue. He gave Luciano the new address as directed and was dropped off after winding through some more streets, “How much do I owe you?”
   “La Señora paid your billete,” he said contemptuously and then added almost seductively, “but I have a pinta of rum to sell you if you want… for you, only cinco Lempiras.”
    “No thanks,” Max was glad that he only had dollars but he still regretted saying it. He was resigned to trying to stay sober.
   As if the driver read Max’s mind he offered his services again, “I gladly take dollars.”
   “No thanks,” Max said out of reflex remembering Kuka’s warning not to trust him.
  
    Max was the only occupant of the safe house. It was in what would be considered a good neighborhood. The fact that it had a toilet, shower, and a walled in yard, testified to that. Trucks with soldiers patrolling could be heard passing by throughout the night. 
   Max wondered, why all the secrecy? Wasn’t Honduras an American ally? A base for Contras? Perhaps not… not all the contras are allies. Some are enemies worse than the Sandinistas. He felt more ignorant than ever before. He thought of Kuka and lit a cigarette, staring out the window into the yard. Yes, he was jealous of Kuka. He felt betrayed and abandoned. He had to let go.
   Max checked the packet of Lempiras on the table by the window and looked for a note with his driver’s name. Wondering what the rate to the dollar was, he found the name mysteriously inside a message scribbled on the envelope: “Diego.” That was the only name he saw. Okay, if a pint of rum is 5 Lempiras, shit, that looks like a good rate of exchange. He played around with Kuka’s admonition in his mind, “Stay in the house…” 
   Damn, he concluded, a pint would never be enough.
   He wore, as a prop, one of those photo-journalist vests with all the pockets. He took out his wallet from the top pocket. The press pass in it, even though it was forged, made him feel like a “somebody”. 
   This kitchen table was a good place to set up for the night and become the fiction Max pretended to be. He opened his note pad and spoke into the tape recorder Kuka had given him saying, “I will write what I see and that is all: who, what, where, when, and leave out why.”
   Max was now, by or hook and crook, a journalist. He might as well act like one. He had no training as a journalist and only a rudimentary grasp of English grammar. It was worth a try.
   “I am alive and on an adventure. I am resigned to the understanding that nothing I believed or knew before this sojourn would amount to anything,” he recorded.
Leaving out the why would prove to be the hardest part as he filled two or three pages of notes.
   Max hadn’t even thought about drinking since boarding the plane until Luciano offered the pint. He couldn’t even get tanked up with rum before the flight. He tried explaining to Kuka that he needed it to fly. She insisted he stay sober and he was willing to appease her for the moment. She must have had some kind of magic because he hadn’t thought about drinking at all until that moment. Stay inside was Kuka’s command. He checked the cupboards and under the sink… nothing. He gave up and took a shower. He packed a spare pair of trousers, a few changes of underwear and socks, and a Berlitz Spanish dictionary, into the pack.

   The sun hadn’t risen when he heard the knock. He opened the door in his jockey briefs. A short stocky man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt stood there.
   “Who are you?” Max asked, as instructed but regardless, he envisioned being bent over and raped on the kitchen table, taken by the authorities, kidnapped, or otherwise violated. His sphincter clinched to think of it.
   “Diego,” the man answered.
   Max breathed a sigh of relief after Diego spoke first. There has been a change in plans. You have enough provisions to keep you a month.
   “How about cigarettes? And Kuka… what has happened to her?”
   Diego dropped a New York Times on the table. The front page covered an attempted assassination on Comandante Cero. Several top commanders and journalists injured or killed in a bomb blast.
   “What’s this got to do with Kuka?” then it dawned on him that there might be more to her than he’d imagined. “Where is La Penca?”
   “Don’t worry, she wasn’t there,” Diego assured, “Stay here. You can get sunlight in the courtyard but don’t… don’t under any circumstances, don’t go out on the streets. I’ll bring you a carton of smokes.”
   “How about some entertainment. I don’t have a TV or radio. How about a liter of juice… tequila, rum, vodka… even beer?”
   That afternoon Diego appeared at the door with a radio and a box containing a TV.
   “Anything else?” Max queried.
   “You mean booze? No.” Diego pointed to the New York Times that was still on the table, “We’ll see. But you need to be alert.”
   Max hadn’t heard a word from Diego about the bombing at la Penca. He didn’t like the idea of waiting without any way to pass time lacking some companionship or distraction from the obsession to drink. He felt a strong urge to delay Diego’s departure so he tried to strike up a conversation, “Who do you think planted that bomb, the Sandinistas?
   “I would put the Sandinistas last on the list of suspects.”
   “Who would be first?”
   “The Somocistas? Had him expelled from ARDE… one of Robelo’s, maybe CIA. It doesn’t matter. Some of the Miskitos have quit and it is clear that Pastora is marginalized.” Diego answered sadly and waved, “Adios. Hang tight a few more days, Max. Changes are everywhere. No one knows much of anything.”
  Max watched Diego leave and resigned to accepting his isolation. He knew as much from Kuka’s lectures that ARDE was a loose coalition of Contras and that at least two thirds were ex-National Guard or mercenaries. Eden Pastora was a thorn in the sides of those who wished to restore the Somosa family to power in Managua and had little concern for the Miskito tribes of the east coast.
   The TV had rabbit ear antennae and only one state run station in Spanish on which Max could catch a word here or there that it was news about the bombing in la Penca. A week passed with no word from Diego. No booze… nothing but his journal for a companion. He searched the AM radio airways for any English language stations and found a few; one from Costa Rica and one night he caught a talk show from KGO in San Francisco. He remembered listening to that station as a teen in Spokane. Les Crane and Ira Blue came through all the way to Spokane on his transistor radio and opened his mind to the big giant world beyond. He was delighted to hear it break through his exile twenty years later between waves of static in the middle of the night.
   Another week went by and Max was running out of cigarettes. The admonition to stay in the house grew weaker as time and tedium set in. He began to tear up pages of the New York Times to make cigarette paper and emptied tobacco from butts into an empty tuna can… just in case. There had to be a place nearby where he could find cigarettes and booze to help make the waiting bearable. Nightfall seemed the best time to venture out.
   It was quiet and eerily dark and there were no stores of any kind in the surrounding blocks of the neighborhood. A pickup truck approached and Max instinctively knew to duck behind a wall as it passed. Several armed soldiers rode in the back where a fifty caliber machine gun was mounted. It didn’t seem like a good idea to explore any further the neighborhood of his prison.
  Max had gotten up pre-dawn to roll a cigarette from the tobacco in the tuna can. A tall man, an older American, in a grey crew cut, sports coat and chinos came through the gate by the street. Max was still adjusting his eyes to the dark and didn’t see Diego at first. He began putting on his trousers before he answered the heavy knock at the door.
   Diego, along with the tall man, entered. Max stood at the opened door where, once in the light, he could see that the tall man’s crew cut was white and the lines on his face were well traveled. He had an aura of vigor that telegraphed he was one bad hombre that it would be wise not to fuck with even though he must have been in his late sixties or early seventies.