“I’ll have a salad,” Yvette says.
“Have something substantial,” Bill urges. “Who knows when we’ll have a chance to eat again?”
She considers the ceiling with a cross-eyed gaze.
“No really,” she says. “Just a salad.”
The waiter pretends to write this down, though Bill knows he’s completely illiterate. Can’t even sign his name. Just an awkward X. You can tell by the way he holds the pen. Upside down.
Bill glances up at the waiter, then back at the menu.
The waiter waits, nodding his chin to some inaudible tune playing in his head. Something catchy, a fragment lodged in his brain from last week’s carnaval. Women dancing bare-breasted on elaborate floats. Black men in gold lame suits, top hats and canes strutting back and forth down Carabobo Street.
Patiently the waiter waits for Bill to order. Pen poised upside down over his order pad. Each ticket in three parts, separated by sheets of carbon paper. Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, Bill thinks.
Bill is torn between the BLT and the carne asada with beans & rice and fried plantains. Finally he chooses the latter.
“Sorry,” the waiter says. “Kitchen’s out of plantains.”
“How the fuck can that be?” Bill asks. “It’s the national food.”
Bill reaches for his water glass, which is beaded with nodules of precipitation. But his perspective is off. A gnat fluttering in the corner of his eye perhaps. Or the shitty lighting.
His fingers brush the side of the glass. It tilts. Falls. Spewing a swath of wetness across the tablecloth and into Yvette’s lap. She screams and jumps from her seat. The waiter fumbles for his towel.
Bill puts his hands under the edge of the table and heaves upward. It goes over like a monstrous wave breaking on a placid shore. China, glassware, forks, knives, butter plate, breadbasket, floral centerpiece, the works, fly hither and yon.
In the aftermath of the explosion, a cacophony of voices rises like a mushroom cloud. Everyone in the room is talking at once about Bill’s freakout.
Throwing his napkin aside in disgust, Bill strides out of the dining room, leaving Yvette to make amends. Salaaming her apologies like some Arab princess who’s parked her camel in a handicapped zone.
The lobby is deserted except for an old man nodding off in a tufted leather armchair. His skeletal hand holds a finely polished blackthorn cane. Bill slips the cane from the geezer’s grip without incident. The old fart never even stirs. Bill hefts the dense hardwood shillelagh. A perfect affectation for the evening’s frivolities, he thinks. He tucks it under his arm and continues his rapid pace to the heavy bronze and glass front doors.
Outside, the night is thick with fumes from the offshore oil derricks, rising like cruciforms above Lake Maracaibo’s turgid waves.
Bill eases a 1,000 Bolivar note into the cupped hand of the parking valet. The attendant, encapsulated in an extra-tight pseudo toreador outfit, weaves adroitly between two newly arriving autos to retrieve Bill’s midnight-blue Lamborghini from its premier parking spot under the porte cochere. When he fires up the engine, it squeals like a stuck pig. Then settles into a deep and abiding rumble.
The valet holds open the driver’s door and Bill slips into the molded leather seat like a prick into a well-lubricated condom. The blackthorn cane goes behind the seats. Bill’s almost feminine hand moves the stick shift in and out of gear with coordinated plunges and releases of the hair-trigger clutch.
His other hand clicks open a gold cigarette case previously ensconced in the side pocket of his Versace tux and retrieves an oval shaped cigarette. The attendant scoops forward like an obsequious crab, holding a disposable lighter in his gigolo’s fingers. The flame licks the tip of the cigarette. Bill draws deeply on the cancer stick, feeling the nicotine race through his blood with the speed of a greyhound after a fake rabbit.
Through the thick glass sheets forming the façade of the hotel, a flurry of movement becomes apparent. As Bill concentrates his gaze, the scene becomes clear. Yvette is at the forefront running as best she can in 4-inch spikes, her party dress hiked halfway up her delightful thighs. Behind is a frenzied mob of diners bent on mayhem.
Bill revs the Lamborghini’s mighty engine. His eye catches that of the valet.
“Get the passenger door,” he barks.
As the attendant scurries into action, Yvette bursts through the glass and brass entry. At curbside she removes one stiletto-heeled pump and catapults it at the pursuing swarm. It soars like a ninja throwing star, catching the neck of the bare-shouldered blonde leading the pack. With a gurgling cry the blonde stumbles, falls. The rabble roils over her like a berserk rugby scrum.
Yvette bounds around the Lamborghini and sweeps into the passenger seat, tucking her sequined dress beneath her perfectly proportioned haunches. The valet slams the door. The dull thud of heavy metal resonates in the humid air.
“Step on it, buster!” are Yvette’s pithy instructions.
The Lamborghini blasts into the night, but not before a thrown champagne glass shatters on the rear bumper like a tiny supernova.
They cruise down the malecon fronting Lake Maracaibo where strolling lovers and trolling maricones rub shoulders in the rich purple light of early evening. Yvette tosses the other stiletto pump out the window, then squints into the vanity mirror, adjusting her makeup.
“You’re such a fuck up,” she says.
Bill’s fingers tighten on the oak and leather steering wheel. A stand-in for Yvette’s neck?
“The waiter was an idiot,” he snaps.
“That’s why you went nuts-oid! Because the waiter was an impoverished, illiterate dirtbag from Barrio 24 de Julio.”
“And everyone was whispering about us.”
“They were probably remarking on my serendipitous jugs.”
There is no debate on that point.
Yvette turns on the radio and cruises the channels until she finds a tune that makes her hot between the legs. She cranks up the volume and begins to shimmy like the exotic dancer she once was.
“I want to dance ‘til dawn,” she says. “Then die.”
Bill considers Yvette with a jaundiced eye. Is she suicidal again or just playing out some fantasy pilfered from an old David Lynch movie. But her lascivious Lambada moves are addictive. He begins to gyrate, his arms waving in the air.
“Yeah, baby!” he shouts.
The Lamborghini drifts into the on-coming lane. Scream of brakes. Blare of horn. Head on collision avoided by a cunt hair.
Bill’s forehead beads with oil and body waste, his intestines do a triple back flip followed by a grand jete. His heart goes on vacation. I’m too young to die, he thinks, unaware that the fates have already taken his number. It’s just a matter of time and place.
In the heat of near collision and almost death, Yvette pisses her panties. Except she’s not wearing any. She scrambles in her purse for a wad of Kleenex. The scent of warm pee wafts on the night air.
“Don’t ruin the leather seat!” Bill screams, scrambling for a cigarette.
Across town a car bomb explodes outside the U.S. embassy killing two Marines and maiming a half dozen more.
The night is still young, though, for Lake Maracaibo, rift with petrochemical pollutants and an exploding duckweed infestation, it may be later than you think.
Yvette and Bill believe they will live forever. Who can argue with that?
Yvette: “I’m hungry.”
Bill: “I told you to order something more substantial than a salad.”
“What are you talking about? We didn’t even get started on our water glasses before you pulled that little table trick.”
Bill grins sheepishly and pulls up at a taco stand. A stunning Latino woman in roller skates sails over to take their order. Her name is Leona.
“You’ve got great legs,” says Bill.
Suspicion darkens her brow. Is this some kind of pickup line?
“Don’t mind him,” Yvette interjects. “He loves legs. But he’s strictly a one girl man.”
“You hope,” says Bill.
“You going to order something? Or just talk your heads off all night?”
“Talk’s cheap,” Bill says.
“So’s the food,” confesses Leona.
“Give me three tacos de puerco adobado.” Bill says. “And a Polax negra.”
“I’ll just have a salad,” says Yvette. “With the dressing on the side.”
“You’re starting with the salad thing again?” Bill grumbles.
“A girl’s got to look out for her girlish figure.”
“Jesus.” Leona skates blithely away, the taut muscles of her calves and thighs rippling like the lash of a whip.
Bill’s eyes watch her leggy departure, fascinated by the enigma of desire. An almond-sized knot of longing lodges in the back of his throat. He coughs discretely into the back of his hand.
Antoine’s Pool & Billiards resides in an historic building that has seen better days. A tin-roofed portico held up by Victorian cast iron columns casts deep shadows on the interior through wide-open French doors. Each pool table, like separate solar systems, has its own light source. The brick exterior is covered with layers of intricate graffiti. Picassos from the barrio.
Bill and Yvette are playing modified eight ball. Bill is losing. And drinking steadily of the rum anejo. He smokes a Davidoff panatela. A ball teeters on the edge but doesn’t fall into the pocket.
“You’ve had piss poor luck tonight,” Yvette says. “Three ball in the corner pocket.” She sights along her cue. Her hand draws back.
“At least I didn’t lose my shoes,” Bill says, as he walks behind her, nudging her elbow.
Yvette is barefoot, the soles of her feet already as black as heavy crude. She shakes her ass at him. Then sinks the three ball.
“One more, baby, and you’re history.”
Bill motions for a fresh drink.
“You keep drinking like that, you ain’t never going to get it up later.”
Using only the pressure of his hands, Bill snaps his cue in two; then walks over to the bar.
“Give me some ceviche,” he tells the barman.
A soccer game ebbs and flows across the TV screen on a shelf behind the bar. Venezuela vs. Bolivia. The players, spread across a shamrock-green field, mimic billiard balls spinning and colliding on the green baize of the tables. Bolivia scores. Yvette sinks the eight ball.
Bill is toast.
Tonight Yvette is getting under Bill’s skin. So, what else is new? While Bill sips his fresh drink, she scoots to the ladies room.
Tonight’s the night, she thinks, as she squats over the smelly hole in the floor. If everything goes according to Bill’s plan, we’ll be on a flight to Mexico City in the morning. No more of Hugo Chavez’s looney tunes. No more death squads. Left or right.
Back in the bar Bill keeps fiddling with his cell phone, checking the time. Pablo is late. Where the fuck is he? The bartender, Fidel, is asleep on his feet. Business is slow, dead even.
At last a familiar figure appears in the doorway, longish coal-black hair, white shirt, dark trousers. Pablo. But his mahogany complexion is bleached stark white, as if he’s fallen into a vat of lime. He stumbles. Keels over at Bill’s feet.
A crimson amoeboid stain spreads across the back of Pablo’s white shirt, blood leaking from a mortal wound.
Holy shit! thinks Bill.
Fidel gapes over the bar.
“What’s up with Pablo? he asks.
“What does it look like?” Bill demands. “He’s been stabbed or shot.”
Fidel looks queasy, as if he might puke. He pours himself a brandy and shoots it back.
Just then Yvette walks up.
“What’s up with Pablo?” she asks.
But Bill is already squatting down. He lifts under Pablo’s arms, turning him partially over, resting his head on his knee. Blood dribbles between Pablo’s lips. His eyes are vague, as if some insect from outer space has burrowed inside his brain and taken control.
Suddenly, Pablo jerks to a seated position, his mouth opens and he vomits. Clots of viscous blood spew across the floor. And a small leather bag soaked in magenta gore, its drawstring pulled tight.
As if he has achieved some final resolution of his sorry-assed existence, life swirls out of Pablo like an exhalation. He falls back into Bill’s arms, stone cold dead.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Bill says in amazement. He’s never had anyone die in his arms before. He lowers Pablo’s corpse to the floor.
“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” says Yvette.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Pablo was not a nice person.”
“But he served his purpose.”
“Only because you weren’t on the receiving end of his brass knuckles.”
Yvette’s knees crack as she bends down and reaches out for the leather bag. Bill slaps her hand away and scoops it up.
When he releases the drawstring, more than a dozen jumbo rough-cut emeralds, like the multifaceted eyes of a greenhead fly, tumble into his palm. His hands are stained with blood from the bag.
“You’re right, he was a bastard,” Bill says. “But at least he delivered the goods come Hell or high water.”
“And whoever punctured his tire won’t be far behind,” Yvette says, sucking on her teeth.
“Don’t get nervous, pet.”
“Most assuredly I’m not your pet.”
Yvette takes a Beretta 9mm from her purse, confirms the clip is full, then ratchets a shell into the firing chamber.
“Keep an eye out, while we give Pablo a quick funeral,” Bill says.
Together Bill and Fidel heft Pablo’s cadaver into the alley and on the count of three hoist him into a dumpster. Fidel wheels a bucket and mop from the storage room and soaks up the pool of Pablo’s blood.
Bill’s Rolex shows 10 minutes to midnight. He stands behind Fidel squeezing and releasing his shoulder blades. Fidel is as tense as an alley cat dropped in a cage of pit bulls.
“We’ve got a party to go to,” Bill says gaily. “Take two aspirin and get some rest, pal. Everything’ll look different in the light of day.”
They zoom through midnight streets, where a light rain has left puddles capturing the red filigree flash of sudden brake lights, the neon yellows, crimsons, blues and purples of cheap pleasures and promises not kept.
A glistening black Land Rover 4x4 follows each twist and turn of the Lamborghini. Never too close, never too far behind. Yvette keeps looking back at the tailing lights. She spits through the open passenger-side window. The noxious fumes of fear waft from her armpits.
They’re bound for the birthday party of the American consul, born at 12:13 a.m. 57 years before. Ahead, outside the consul’s official residence, a line of expensive cars weaves through a maze of steel & concrete anti-tank barriers and snarls of razor wire.
Security is extra tight after the earlier bombing of the U.S. embassy. Marines in full combat gear flash light beams in the faces of the guests, bark incomprehensible questions, paw through car trunks and under seats.
They confiscate Yvette’s 9mm. Handing her a numbered claim ticket. When she starts to make a fuss, they threaten a strip search. Bill feigns a limp and they let him keep the blackthorn cane.
Yvette wonders if the young Lego-jawed Marine would be as good in bed as she imagines.
The consul’s party spreads like pasteurized honey across the lawns of the official residence, which roll like black velvet down to the edge of Lake Maracaibo. The main house is a blaze of light. Flickering tiki torches illuminate the ebb and flow of the guests.
Women, gorgeous and plain, stacked and flat-chested, lesbian and straight, mingle and collide like stars in a night fisherman’s net. The men, all in dark suits, puff on Cohibas and talk money, whores and fast cars, not necessarily in that order. A mariachi band strolls and strums amid the throng.
Bill swoops up two flutes of champagne and hands one to Yvette. They tap glasses. Down the hatch.
“You know I’m crazy about you,” he says.
Her eyes give him her reply.
Behind them, the tailing Land Rover disgorges three lugubrious travelers before being whooshed away by a valet. The driver’s face is instantly recognizable as Agustin Rios, the gangster, flanked by two flunkies. He produces an engraved invitation. No one checks them for guns or similar paraphernalia.
Meanwhile, Bill and Yvette flit among the flotsam of guests and party crashers. Bill goes back to drinking rum. Yvette munches on chunks of iceberg lettuce provided by some hapless assistant to the salad chef. A DJ spins salsa tunes by the pool. A notorious female drunk sheds her clothes and dives in. When she climbs dripping up the chrome pool ladder, Bill hands her a towel.
Impelled by an instinct for survival at all costs, Bill glances behind. Light glints off the lapels of Agustin’s sharkskin suit, as he repels toward them through the riffraff. Grabbing Yvette by the elbow, Bill spins her into the night.
Hand in hand they scoot to the bottom of the sweeping lawn. On a pier at the lake’s edge, a clique of pleasure seekers waits to board a classic 1949 Chris Craft Sportsman bound for an oilrig a quarter mile out. There, a famous Argentine dance band plies its vibes.
Just as the lines are cast off, Bill leaps aboard, pulling Yvette with him. She gives a B-minus imitation of a Marilyn Monroe squeal. They totter on the stern as the twin 120 hp Evinrudes rumble. Once they’re safely in the cockpit, Bill bends her backwards, a blade of grass in Lake Maracaibo’s fume-choked air, and kisses her deeply. The varnished mahogany decking of the motorboat shimmers like ancient gold.
Agustin rushes up to the edge of the dock, but comes up short. The launch is already twenty yards out. “Fuck!”
When the second launch, inbound, arrives at the shore side dock, the trio of badasses leap aboard with amphetamine-enhanced impatience. They elbow through the disembarkees. Eyebrows are raised. A foolish man steps toward Agustin, who knees him in the nads.
As the launch heads out to the oilrig, someone calls security.
Meanwhile, back at the rig, the band struts its stuff under the stars. Their music is pure orgasm. Yvette goes wet between her legs for the second time that night. Bill’s feet won’t stand still. A dozen pairs of dancers swoop and glide across the rude planks of the rig. Overhead fog lights drape the scene in a talcish light, blanching the dancers to a corpse-like hue, the dancing dead.
The band transitions into a Joao Gilberto bossa nova tune amid scattered applause. The dancers just keep going, segueing into the new beat. This is serious business.
“They’ll be on the next boat,” Bill says.
“What shall we do?”
“Let’s dance.” Bill takes her hand and slow Sambas onto the floor. There, things heat up. Yvette spins and gyrates. Bill moves with gravitas, a legacy of living in the Spanish tropics.
Suddenly Agustin splits through the audience. In his hand, a silver chrome Browning 9mm.
“I want the fucking emeralds,” he shouts, shattering the rhythm of the band.
The mood changes from gay to tragic in a heartbeat. The crowd and the other dancers draw back in alarm. Only Bill and Yvette hold the floor. The band takes up a tango.
Bill and Yvette lock eyes. His right arm reaches around her back, pulling her close. Her bosom rises and falls with emotion. They begin to dance. Legs bent, torsos tight together. They move effortlessly. Slowly, then faster and faster.
“Stop!” screams Agustin. He levels the pistol at Bill.
As they swirl and swivel toward the gangster, Bill swings Yvette aloft, turning her almost upside down across his right shoulder. One long, sumptuous leg points at the moon, her body is parallel to the floor, the other leg bends across Bill’s chest. Her dress falls away. In the V between those stunning legs she’s naked as a jaybird.
Poor Agustin. It’s as if he’s never seen a quim before. For a split second, he’s utterly distracted by this most hush-hush item of female anatomy.
Time enough for Bill to swing the blackthorn shillelagh in a withering overhead arc, slamming it full bore into Agustin’s right temple. Skull bone cracks like an egg. Brain matter liquefies. Agustin sways; then
Yvette continues her bare-assed flip, landing in a perfect split, just in time to snatch Agustin’s gaudy 9mm as it spins across the planked surface. Blam. Blam. Goodbye bodyguards.
Bill pulls Yvette to her feet. The band breaks into a classic tango tune. Pugliese’s La Yumba! With a wave to the onlookers, Bill & Yvette do a cross over tango walk to the waiting motor launch. Aboard, they disappear into the gloom of the vast lake, never to be seen again on the streets of Maracaibo.