It was a bit surprising to have that kind of insight into each other’s heart of darkness. After all, we had only known each other a few hours. Nevertheless, we knew exactly where we stood with each other as we walked away from the snake charmer and down the sidewalk jammed with women in tall platform sandals, spandex dresses, darkly tanned bodies. Men were wearing Hawaiian shirts, loose pants, sandals. It was another world, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to the "real" one. Ever.
In an open-air bar, chilled humid air poured out like boiling, tornadic clouds as a flamenco guitarist with Dimarzio pickups on his classical guitar burned the night with tanguillos and arpeggios, reminding me not so much of the Gipsy Kings as Al DiMeola or Paco de Lucia -- especially after a slim, sinewy dancer mounted the small stage. She was next to him, somewhere between two ceiling fans and the humid south
A sculpted python was wrapped around the portal over the entrance of the bar. It was the classic Garden of Eden motif promising temptation and eventual seduction. The night was fetid with histories of those who had fallen before us.
I could tell the small of my back was damp. I desperately wanted to feel a hand on it.
"I can see why Italian designers take up residence here in
"It’s interesting how darkness is appealing in the tropics, even romantic. It’s not at all romantic in the north. In fact, “white nights” are considered romantic near the
We were pretending to have a conversation.
Across the street, tourists were having their pictures taken with boa constrictors around their shoulders, necks. I looked at
I felt my hands sweating, my knees trembling.
"Feels pretty good once they finally get the boa constrictors away, doesn’t it?" said
"Sort of like being 'God's hostage,' isn't it?" he asked. I inhaled sharply. The words burned me to the core. I was not sure why.
“Imagine a god that would you force you to stay in a motel room for years, without letting you go,” he said, rather cryptically.
“Are you talking about a kidnapping? Like the “pesca milagrosa” in
“No. It is someone who will tell you that God would not let him leave the motel room for 8 years. And, who will say that when he tried to disobey God, God re-arranged his teeth.”
I looked at
"This is a real person?” I asked.
“What do you think?” he asked. “But here’s the point. What would you do if you really believed that? You think that if you resist, He'll crush you. But, you know He'll crush you eventually anyway, so your choice is simple. Struggle, and die quickly. Don't struggle, and die slowly," said
"Sounds about right." I couldn't tell if he knew what an impact the notion of “God’s Hostage” had on me.
"Yeah, I've seen the film. I've punched Bobo the Clown," I said, thoughtfully. I was referring to Albert Bandura's experiments at
"Are you saying we're all hostages of our conditioning?" asked
"I don't know what I'm saying." I dug inside my pink faux crocodile bag for my lipstick. "I've met a couple of people who might fit your definition of a God's Hostage. It was frightening and tragic. That’s really all I can say. But, well, no doubt about it. I'd rather be beaten up by a child programmed by Bandura to think I'm Bobo the Clown than to be a “God’s Hostage”."
This was not a good place for us to be.
I had a simple question. Why reject the fake bills? Won't they pass? And, even if they don't, so what? Isn't everything, to a certain degree, counterfeit?
I was living in a state of existential fraudulence. This much I knew. The life I defined by all the subtle and not-so-subtle connections, coincidences, and karma-driven awakenings was not so easily positioned in the "authentic" realm. I was too fragile and I knew it. If you manipulate my perceptions, you manipulate my reality. Change my reality and you change my life.
Sometimes it felt like the only thing real were bruises. Adrenaline surges meant you could tell when something was putting you in danger. Only things that were real could be harmed. Isn't that right?
All that glisters is not gold. You can't test for "real" with your eyes. I thought of my dad and his equipment for running radiometric surveys to detect the presence of gold, silver, and rare earth elements. He had been spending time in the
It seemed like a good time to change the subject.
"Why are you here?" I asked
But, the truth was, such thinking made it easier to do the work I did in
Dad was still working on the inventions in the lab. Farley Kritzoff's map and all the others were still filed away somewhere. They had been there for years, and I still wasn't sure what to do.
"You have to know when a show of force is necessary. Sometimes you have to let people know you mean business in the only language they understand."
It sounded like a passage out of Savage Peace. Did
The coils would constrict. All knowledge and maps were locked away, inaccessible, for all practical purposes.
Earlier, the psychic outside Mango's Caribbean Grill told me the thing I always heard from psychics and I was getting tired of it.
"Yeah. You think it's funny. You're not having to hear this," I said to him under my breath. That just made him laugh harder.
"You will have a long life," she said. Her hair was bleached yellow blonde, but she had dark black roots. She spoke with a Cuban accent. She had no way of knowing I was completely indifferent to the idea of a long life. Long, painful, filled with loss. Who would want that? "But you will be lucky in your career,” she said. “People see you as a success."
"Great. Sounds good. Anything else?" I regretted it, and hoped she would not say anything that would embarrass me in front of
"Someone has blocked you and has put a terrible curse on you. You will not be able to break free and you will never have a happy love life as long as this curse is on you. Someone out there cares about you very much but he's afraid to tell you."
I thought of Dad in
The whole thing was making me feel pretty depressed. Maybe psychics said this to everyone. Who knows. But, I had heard the same thing from psychics in
Danger made me aware of the real. Without it, reality faded into old Polaroids and echoes of my dad, Marcus, my ex, his dad -- the assorted people and who had come and gone from my life.
The night before, I had awakened in the middle of a deep, vivid dream, and I was crying in my sleep. I was sobbing. Abjectly, with despair so profound I could hardly breathe. I was riding a horse toward
But I could not afford to remember. I could not afford to feel. Feeling was counterproductive to my ultimate goals - I knew when I had to face a certain kind of warm, oozing fear.
I knew it, and I would go on.
“Let’s go to Fat Tuesday’s. Have one of the drinks, maybe dance?” asked
“Savage Peace.” We could talk all we wanted about death squads, training grounds, and small airports that appeared on no one’s maps, except in the occasional classified one, based on satellite photos and infrared reconnaissance. The ground-truthing with GPS was what mattered. That was the stuff you had to take your malaria medicine for.
Savage peace, indeed. No one seemed to know until after that the bloodshed was quite immediate. It was hard to understand the concept of “show of force,” especially when it was done for no other reason than a kind of ontological insecurity, fear of one’s own identity wavering, fading, distorting – quickly, out-of-control, toxic like mercury.
"Still thinking about God's Hostages?" I asked. I wanted to see if
"Not in this oasis," he said. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The code word the Ambassador and I had used for the silly drop points for maps was called "The Oasis." It was perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not.
I lost my nerve. It would be easier to go dancing.
“Great idea – let’s do it. I was wearing basic black pants, a white blouse I had bought in