Birds. Birds are the first thing one notices in this town. Or that I noticed anyway. Followed by flowers. Old world flowers. Broad leaved flowers. Wide mouthed and grinning and papering the walls of the colonial villas.
Marlon and I are hiding out near the top of the winding cobblestone paths of Gringo Gulch. We are shirtless and sweating and talking earnestly over the crack of Tecate cans in our open air living room.
On the spine of the ridgeline just beyond us, a mariachi band performs at a house party. Below us, in the boorish depths of Los Arcos, we hear the thud of dance clubs whomping from Plaza de Armas. These nearby songs and conversations join our excited dialogue and season it with a foreign mist that reminds me I am traveling.
Six blocks and 179 steps below us is the scopious Malecon. The slow, sunny heartbeat of the city. On its mile-long boardwalk there are stalls with traditional talvera pottery and huiichol works of art as well as tequila hawkers flipping Nicaraguan cigars and bottles of baston del rey under the watchful eye of street artists busking in the flattened heat. All species of heron divebomb onto the glistening bay as little black squirrels chase each other up tiled trees and shutter-flash stucco.
Despite the inviting allure of pulsing music coming from all directions, we must stay in tonight. For a few reasons, but ultimately to ensure our safety. To explain this I need to tell you what happened last night in the Zona Romantica. I need to tell you about Savannah.
“Cigars?” he held the package right in front of our faces. “Amigos, cigars?” The tout smiled broadly. We were on the Malecon enroute to meet Marlon’s date. “No gracias” Marlon responded. The tout took this as an invitation to join us on our walk and shifted to a whisper for the up-sale “Guys! Weed, cocaine? Girls? You like girls?”
His switch to the “dark arts” was more surprising than most. This vendor looked like Chef Boyardee after being slapped with a smiley-stick. Genteel, round and ebullient, he did not possess the characteristics one might associate with a hard gear peddler.
The Chef was the third pitchman we’d encountered on the block and I was becoming slightly agitated, Marlon was more philosophical about the interruptions, “If we no longer look like marks for their solicitation we will need to stop and take stock of our lives.” he said.
“Good point.” I acknowledged. “Criminals feast on the predictable. We should always strive to appear in possession of unclear values.”
For once, the stride produced by Marlon’s 6 foot 5 foot frame came in handy as the cigar-seller-cum-carnal-merchant struggled to keep up. He eventually faded back into the dim yellow haze of the expansive Malecon.
“Hey you want some, yeyo? Buddy, I got it!” The next seller on the boardwalk poked his head up unexpectedly from behind a sandwich board of sunglasses. He was dressed like a house painter and flicked his eyebrows up and down as he sing-songed his pitch, “Cuz I gooooot it”. He repeated. We continued down the boardwalk with the sound of him scatting “Yip, yip yip” behind us like a freshly snared coyote.
Just before reaching the sexually fluid ass grabby neighborhood known as Zona Romantica, Marlon’s date met us.
The Princess swept in with a confident gait and a confusing accent wearing a beautiful blue and yellow floral print dress. She lived near the neighborhood and was Type A to a “T”. We had no qualms handing her the reins to the evening, which she gladly took, marching us directly to her favorite bar in the Zona called El Sonador. She had pretty eyes that were perforated with the premature crows feet common amongst young survivors of divorce and emancipation.
In our early years of global gallivanting Marlon and I were top-shelf travel researchers. We’d have the terrain mapped out and know ins-and-outs of cuisine, festivals, and the back roads behind every bodega. These days we barely knew if the towns we visited had indoor plumbing. We arrived in this Mexican ciudad with a few ramshackle ideas but increasingly relied on strangers, bad luck and Marlon’s exploits with dating apps for action.
Out front of our destination a gentlemen who looked like the Great Kahli, only bigger, enveloped the Princess in a bear hug. That’s Louie, she informed us once inside. “Any guy that messes with us, he picks them up and carries them off”.
“Noted.” Marlon said sarcastically, loud enough for only me to hear.
We’d walked by El Sonador a dozen times previously but never noticed it had a second floor. That was where the regulars went, and where the Princess had led us. Upon exiting the stairwell there is a bar to the left and against the far wall, based off the PA equipment, live music is performed. A pool table was directly in front of us and the right side of the room, where a wall would normally be, was completely open to the sky and lined with a row of high-top tables. The most distinctive decorum could be viewed only once approaching the bar and turning around: a neon pink sign reading, “Down The Rabbit Hole”. Whether this meant the bathroom, the stairs, or a different referent altogether, we would soon find out.
Marlon and I sat at a table and enjoyed the view down below onto preparations for Latin America’s largest Pride Parade. While the Princess ordered up at the bar Marlon informed me of the origins of her confusing accent. She was a Saudi heiress to an oil baron, he said, and had left a life of privilege in her twenties with little more than a shirt on her back and skirt on her butt.
“Okay, plans have changed okay?” Princess was back at our table and slightly worked up. “My friends. You know, the ones I warned you about?” She looked at Marlon for confirmation. He didn’t give any. He forgets such things. “Well, they are the depraved ones. And they are on their way.”
Simone showed up first. She was a striking surfer blonde who maintained eye contact for too long and was the kind of girl I’d have fallen in love with immediately in my twenties. She indiscriminately broke the hearts of those around her depending on who was buying the next round. Simone attempted to explain the car crash she was involved in on the way to the bar, but was having trouble, because she was already totally fucked up. Her routine was to engage us intensely in conversation for a few minutes, then abruptly leave the table and move to the middle of the bar where she would stand alone and sway.
As potentially problematic as Simone appeared, Savannah was the real prize. She was fat, and that was easily her best attribute. Her demeanor. Her judgements. Her conversation style. All hit the same acridic notes. This being her birthday, she was in an especially foul mood. If there was a way to get even with the world, Savannah was going to find it.
Savannah planted herself across the table from us like she was Sergeant Herc from The Wire.
“Okay, what drugs do you have? She asked.
I patted my front shirt pocket in jest, thinking she was kidding.
“Were we supposed to bring some?”
She pursed her lips and nodded sarcastically.
“I don’t believe you.”
She looked to her friends with a visibly annoyed expression.
“Well, I guess we are at an impasse.” I laughed uncomfortably, Marlon was only halfway paying attention. He was staring at the far wall, distracted by his new goal of getting a second date going later that night while easing out of this one.
“Okay. FINE. What if I gave you 1,000 pesos, what then?”
Now she had Marlons attention. We looked at each other, and he joined me this time in a pat-down miming routine.
“Seriously?” She rolled her eyes. “Barter. Let’s barter then. What could you barter?”
Simone came back to the table for a moment and interrupted the interrogation, “That guy finished third in the country in jiu jitsu. Wowwwwww.” She was chewing on a straw and pointed at the back of the guys T-shirt that announced a national title. “Sounds like someone who knows how to handle a man between his legs.” I said.
Simone got up without responding and walked back to the bar. She stood close to a crusty expat who was watching NHL. She surprised him as she slowly started running her index finger up and down his back, tracing a hockey logo on his shirt. He pitched up in his chair when he realized who was playing etch-a-sketch on him, and now with urgency, attempted to flag down the bartender to get drinks flowing.
Unable to convince Savannah we didn’t have a coin purse of cocaine up our rectums, Marlon got up to dance with the Princess and left me alone with the brute.
Feeling her staring at me I pretended to get a text.
“You need to leave.” She said firmly. “Now.”
Huh? I glanced up from my phone. “Hey, I’m sorry we didn’t come loaded-for-bear with narcotics but it seems like the kind of place….”
“This will not end well.” She interrupted. “Let me just tell you.”
Savannah looked different, as if overcome by a presence.
“Leave now. You don’t know PV. You’re going to get punched in the nose.”
The specificity with the location she forecasted soft tissue damage was startling.
I shrugged and laughed nervously, almost making a crack about Marlon and my boxing prowess before thinking better of it. Admittedly these three broads all seemed deeply brainsick, but hey, we were traveling. It usually paid to give a wide berth to eccentricities. While she slurped down her third red bull-vodka I glanced around the bar. I suddenly saw things differently, and not just because Princess had pressed unknown tablets into our mouths before taking Marlon to the dance floor. As I looked around, I realized every single person was male. Sure this was a famously gay neighborhood, but the men here seemed shorn of the playful chicanery we’d experienced elsewhere. They had the black eyes of Mako sharks. And these eyes all seemed fixed either directly on me or at the dance floor where Marlon was two-stepping with Princess and Simone was swaying like it was the last night at burning man.
What would we do when the drugs kicked in?
I pretended to go to the bathroom but snuck down to the street to clear my head and think. I texted Marlon to join. Waiting for him to emerge I surveyed the scene. Across the street a group fresh off the cruise ship waddled down the uneven sidewalks with skinny legs and big tummies like a line of baby ducklings.
Marlon came down wide eyed. “Are you feeling anything yet?” he asked. “A little.” “Yeah, me too.” “Who knows what this shits got in it. In a few minutes whatever the fucks happening to Simone will be happening to us.” His pupils bobbed in recognition. I then shared my interaction with the Soothsayer Savannah, he nodded while rubbing his jaw and looking down the street. The torrential energy of Princesses had absorbed most of his attention so he hadn’t noticed the extent to where Savannah might be onto something with our impending danger. He could recognize the insane when he saw it, but despite his size, Marlon was a devout pacifist.
“Okay, I’m going to pay the tab. Do you think Princess will leave with you?” I asked.
“No. She will bring them.”
“Then we just go, hopefully they are too fucked up to notice.”
Marlon nodded, and with that our escape plan was hatched.
We returned upstairs to pay and remove any identifying markers.
As I crept over to the far corner of the bar, I saw Soothsayer holding Simone. Both were balling.
“I wish she’d known, I wish she’d known.” I heard Savannah saying. “I want to be punched in the face.”
Now SHE wanted to be punched in the face?
What’s with this girl and pugilism?
“Now’s our chance” I said under my breath to Marlon, who had rocking-chaired his way across the floor trying to stay low.
“Should I say goodbye?” He asked.
“You seriously want to join that?” I said, doing a sharp nod in the direction of the girls without looking at them. The Princess had now glommed onto the group and all three were in a huddle weeping.
“I can just imagine your sasquatch-ass trying to hug a group of sobbing girls everyone in the bar is trying to bang. How easily could the Great Kahli or a jiu jitsu champion or an elderly hockey fan confuse your advances and take it upon themselves to high stick your ass over the top rope into the romance zone?”
“I see your logic.” He said, and then left without missing a beat, “Catch you down the Rabbit Hole” he threw over his shoulder.
There is wide orange tile under my feet and an aquamarine sofa behind me as I peck away at these keys. The birds chirp around us as if in an arboretum. There is a straw thatched roof just below my sight line that blocks my view of the Malecon along with some slanted banana leaves. The trees create a sloping brown valley that is filled in straight to the horizon by the Banderas bay. The sky above it is a painters palette of pastels that is ushering in a warm rolling breeze.
The picturesque scene is interrupted by the clomping of feet down below.
I look over the metal railing where Marlons basketball shorts are drying, down onto the steep staircases and notice next to the loud walker is a silent one. A girl. She walks like a pianist touching keys. Each step hitting the proper note. Lifting and falling. An orchestra of hips and arches. Compared to the cacophony of the boys sandals, she walks as if speaking in a different tongue. The same beats and breaths but without the need for words. Like royalty. As they briefly entered a street light I notice the soft-walker looked vaguely familiar. Those aren’t boys sandals next to her, I realized. That is the unmistakable physique of Savannah.
“Marlon! I hissed across the room. Did you tell the Princess where we were staying last night before we ghosted?! I paid my tab but I don’t remember you paying yours?”
He dropped his Tecate onto the tile as I cut the overhead lights.
WHERE: El Sonador
WHAT: Don’t go there.
WHEN: The end.