Friday, May 12, 2006

El Matabuey

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file.

“What am I supposed to do with $400,000 in cash, give or take a couple ten thousand or so?”

The blue mist, the smell of spearmint. The taste of wet metal in my mouth. It had the flavor of greed and fear.

The question disturbed me. I realized I was afraid to seek answers. I decided to call my father. But after I dialed the number, I realized that someone was probably monitoring or at least tracking my calls. I may have put my dad at risk. Someone might show up at his door and demand that he hand over the monies they had some how “lost” in Los Cabos, Mexico, and which were somehow delivered in a carbon copy of a suitcase owned by an innocuous tourist who happened to be staying at the Westin Regina, halfway between San Jose El Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, right on the ocean. I hung up before it finished the first ring.

I looked down from my balcony to the beach. Surf sprayed on the rocks.

The ultimate irony was that I knew the answer. I had known it for years. In fact, I had been actively seeking it. Now I was afraid.

The beaches were posted with “DO NOT SWIM – DANGEROUS RIP TIDES” and the hotel’s swimming pools were positioned so that when you lowered yourself into the glistening warmish waters, you heard the surf and you imagined yourself in the sea itself.

The skies were blue. My eyes were equally so.

But, this was not a good time for blue skies. Typhoons, though rare, could hit the southern part of the Baja Peninsula. The last time it happened, all the bridges were washed away, along with the homes built along the edges of dry washes. The dry washes, or “arroyos,” weren’t so dry after all. Now all the bridges had been rebuilt, resulting in lovely, spanking new, glistening white concrete structures across which one ferried oneself in the Stygian SUV that suited your mood, or your taste. My mind was suddenly drowned in almost-forgotten memories of songs I had heard long ago on a long-forgotten radio station. Blue Oyster Cult. Don’t fear the reaper. Was that it? The concept of a reaper was too vague for anyone to fear anyway.

The caves belched magnesium-infused waters. I imagined tangles of snakes – the way diamondback rattlesnakes weave themselves into a ball in their dens in the carbonate caves of southern Oklahoma.


“They call it a MATA BUEY,” he said. Inside the glass terrarium, an enormous black and tan snake lay motionless. Its triangular head was the size of a small child’s fist. The scales were dry. The eyes were classic pit viper.

“Bull-killer?” I asked. My voice was weak. His eyes were a celestial blue. I felt my knees tremble as his voice resonated somewhere in my chest. I suddenly understood how and why an old queen would do anything at all to keep the lovely, yet venomous young man in her clutches.

He was close to me. I could sense his heart pounding in his chest. His face, however, looked calm, even indifferent. I knew he was dissembling.

The snake about about 8 feet long. At its widest point, it had the thickness of a small child’s calf.


I knew what was expected of me. I was resisting. My life was in danger as long as anyone knew I had seen the cash. If I jettisoned the Burberry plaid carryon luggage, someone would find it. Someone would know it was once in my room and that I had touched it.

If I returned it, claiming an error, the people I returned it to would pocket it and claim I never gave it to them.

If I did what I knew was expected of me, I would be passing through a cold, dark toll booth to oblivion.


Bags of pink gel. The color of the matabuey’s smooth, pink throat. The venom dripping lightly from one delicate fang.

Something resembling a tongue or a plump boll of cotton yawned as the snake’s jaws opened. With its mouth fully open, I could imagine it swallowing a tennis ball, or, more likely, a rat, a rabbit, even a baby coyote. (photo on

Clear plastic containers of pink gel. Substances are glistening, clearer than flesh, and certainly more enlightening. Our light illuminated what it could. An IV pole. A smooth rush of gurney wheels.

Tears sizzled like venom on my cheeks.