Lawyers Guns and Money, a short story by StevenHunley. Date added: 2012-09-22. Times viewed: 635.
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- Intro: Dude gets arrested in Bolivia
Lawyers Guns and Money
The coke trade can be dangerous. That’s the only way I can put it. You’re a stranger in a strange land. You might hook up with the wrong connection, some evil greedy bastard, who’ll end up selling you out to the police. Still, the local police can always be bribed. Nixon thought he’d figured a solution. American dollars talked loud in the seventies in Bolivia. To help him fight his “war on drugs” Nixon started sending the DEA down south. The DEA could not be bribed as easily as the locals and figured what with their sensitive surveillance equipment and money that they’d soon have the dealers and transporters by the balls.
They were wrong, and in the end, totally out of their league.
Here’s how it went down in Santa Cruz in seventy-two, when Hugo Banzer Suarez ruled. It was just a few years after he threw the country its latest coup. What a party that was. Political assassination and arrests were the order of the day, the Bolivian blue-plate specials.
In Santa Cruz was a bar. One of a hundred.
The bar was pretty nice, but not too nice. The bar itself was long and carved of mahogany, a rich red color, almost, which was good and matched the blood that was sometimes spilled on it. The mirror behind it was a beveled, stained on the edges with yellow, from the constant tobacco smoked within. On one side it was chipped where a glass thrown by one of its patrons had missed its mark, another patron’s head, and hit the glass instead. A typical bar in Santa Cruz it was.
Two gringos sat at a table in back. Although the bar was crowded with men they sat alone, shunned by the rest. It was easy to figure out why if you knew the two. That’s why the other men avoided them with ease. They knew the two.
Lenny, the taller one was not tall, had a lump on his head that never went down, and slobber constantly hanging from his lower lip. That didn’t bother him one bit.
The other one, Phil, was fat, sweaty at all times, had more chins than a Chinese telephone book, rumpled pants and coat, and carried a cane made of cane. Why? As he once put it, “Just for fun.”
They were both drinking the cheapest beer available, which in Bolivia was pretty cheap. Even the other men, the workingmen, who traded their sweat for Pesos Bolivianos working on the oil rigs that doted the outskirts of town, drank better beer than they did, though they could hardly afford it. For this reason the two Americanos were shunned, and for another reason as well. They were DEA.
Assigned there by the US state department they were supposed to be undercover. Being Lenny and Phil they had managed to keep their cover for all of two weeks. They had taken no notice. Even if they had known they wouldn’t have cared. They were getting paid well, extremely well considering the rate of exchange, and in their leisure moments ,which were many, divided up their time neatly between the bar and the whore-house down the street.
“Life is good to us,” Lenny slobbered to Phil.
“Yes, I agree,” Phil sweated back, “life is good.”
They made a few busts occasionally when needed or required, not by detective work, which was beyond their abilities anyway, but through the work of low-life informants. This method gave them more time to invest in their drinking and whores. When they finished their cheap beers they made their way through the door for the walk down to Esmeralda’s establishment.
On the way, crossing an intersection, the traffic blocked their way. A small buff-colored donkey pulling a cart stopped right in front of them. The driver was small too.
“Move this donkey,” said Phil to its driver, “or I’ll move it for you!”
He couldn’t, the traffic wouldn't allow it. There was nowhere to go.
Phil tapped his cane on the donkey’s buff rump and knocked off some dust.
“Come on, move it!”
He slammed the cane harder and the donkey let out a bray. Another hit even harder followed, his face getting flushed with effort.
“Move it I said, move it!”
At this the donkey sat down Phil went ballistic and starting to hit the animal with so much ferocity the cane split into sharp sections. When the driver got between him and the animal, and caught the cane with his hands Phil exploded. He pushed the driver aside, and began to whip the mule mercilessly, over and over. The cane splintered just as the mule broke free of its halter, and ran down the street pursued by the driver. A crowd formed and drew the attention of a cop. After the driver caught the mule and returned, accusations were made. Money was spread around. That’s how they took care of it. That’s how they always took care of things, Phil and Lenny, by spreading money around.
“You’re crazy Phil, just crazy!”
“Whadda you think you are? Some kind of psychiatrist? Some kind of Sigmund Somebody?”
Then Lennie grew thoughtful, and therefore completely out of character and said,
“Well, maybe that’s what you need, some kind of psychiatrist.”
“Whores or mules, what difference does it make? They’re all the same to me. Let’s go, Vamos.”
Fortunately for them Esmeralda’s was only a block away and they made it there in safety. Sometimes they were just lucky.
Women working in Esmeralda’s were lucky too. Phil had already broken his cane and wouldn’t be able to replace it until the next morning. When he was in top form he could be a cruel dude. Still, he paid them well for their lacerations with his filthy cash. He was generous in this respect. But it was getting harder and harder to find girls that liked that sort of thing. Many, who thought they did at first or did it because they were strapped for cash, and I do mean strapped for cash, had consented to such treatment. But now their backs and legs and bottoms were sore and needed time to heal. The broken cane, now lying on the street would provide them the time they needed. Poor putas, poor burro… but Phil was poorer yet.
For an American entrepreneur Bolivia was a different story entirely. In that Violent South of Sun they call Bolivia you could get ice-cream and danger at the same fashionable shop on the corner across from the plaza. It wasn’t a bed or roses you understand, but the money that could be made smelled just as sweet.
Dude went back to town and met Hugo. They walked to the plaza around noon to have ice cream at a popular shop. While they were eating two men who dressed impeccably saw Hugo across the room and came over. They looked so alike they had to be brothers. They shook hands with Hugo and Dude when he introduced them. It’s something you do down there, rather Hispanic and formal. They sat together and talked. Later, after they left, Hugo whispered,
“That’s the two bothers I score from.”
“Really, they don’t seem like coke dealers.”
“Neither do you, my friend.”
Dude peered at his image in the beveled mirror.
“I see what you mean. But I’m only a transporter."
Then they started to talk of psychedelics again, and Dude mentioned Yage, a substance Alan Ginsberg had written about in The Yage Letters. In the 1950s Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, found and described it. Ginsberg read the study.
“They have it here, but here they call it ayahuasca.”
“I’ve always wondered about it, what’s it like?”
“Maybe I can arrange something,” Hugo said, “get back with me tomorrow.”
It seemed innocent enough, talking about Harmaline and sipping that ice-cream soda. But Dude’s nose was a bit numb. He’d done a line before heading into town and couldn’t smell the evil in the air. It was there, drifting from the back room where it had been hiding behind a curtain.
Lenny and Phil liked ice-cream too.
They were sitting in the back room when Dude and Hugo walked in, watching the two brothers who they’d been trailing for weeks.
“Who’s that they’re talking with now?” sweated Phil.
“Looks like an American trying to score,” Lenny greased back.
“What an idiot.”
“From the frying pan right into the fire.”
That’s all they said to each other before returning to swilling their cheap beer. But it was more than enough. Just by saying it they’d placed Dude on their “to get” list. Why? Guilt by association, that’s why.
Poor Dude, wrong place, wrong time. He should have stayed safely back in California and hung-five or been shooting the curl on some gnarly wave, or whatever it is surfer’s do.
They still needed to find out where he was staying. That would give him time to breathe but not much.
Two days later Dude was getting into a cab at night to head into town. Canadian Steve had told him there was a rumor going around that some agents from the DEA had busted one of the two brothers and was searching for the other. The cab had two passengers in it already but Dude was willing to share and took a seat in front next to the driver. As they pulled away from the hotel he felt cold steel pressed on the back of his neck between the top of his spine and his head.
A voice said, “You’re under arrest.”
He never even made it to dinner.
Later, as he sat in the damp cell in center 42 watching pairs of cockroaches slow-dancing across the floor, our Excitable Boy remembered the words of the immortal Warren Zevon.
“I’m hiding in Honduras
I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers guns and money
The shit has hit the fan”
Yes, he wasn’t in Honduras and he wasn’t being realistic. But then again, when have you ever known Dude to be realistic? Never. Not in this lifetime anyway.
When the DEA left Center 42 with the prisoners in back of the truck it was temprano en la manana-still dark. That was unusually early for Lenny and Phil to wake up.
Their plan was to take them to a lock-up in the capital, La Paz where, unlike in Santa Cruz, the officials could not be bribed. It was probably a mistake. The only way there was by a single road named El Camino del Muerte that wound its way up, into the Eastern Cordillera or Cordillera Oriental of the Andes and was called that simply because it was a treacherous single-lane tract, with many switch-backs, at times steep, and many buses of Indians had gone down there, like a ship at sea, falling over its edge and drowning in its canyons, which were common, as the altitude climbed from sea-level in the yungas, or valleys, to fourteen thousand feet near La Paz. It had a reputation for danger. This day it would keep its reputation… in spades.
As they pulled out of town the forest began to surround the road. It was cool and still early. An hour later the dew was still on the grass, and the leaves, and the steel barrels of the AKs held by the primos (or cousins) of the two brothers in the truck. They secreted themselves in the forest. Hugo had seen to that. Dude knew nothing about this. He was only along for the ride. Handcuffed to the other two for crimes of his own, they jostled and bumped along the road in the back of the truck. On the truck rolled, deeper and deeper into the gaping mouth of the forest. There would be no arrival at the capital and no turning back on this trip. Yet there would be a stop.
A tree had fallen across the road. One agent stepped down to inspect.
“We’ll just use the winch and pull it aside,” he told the other who remained in the cab.
“It’s OK,” the second one answered, “we’ve got all day.”
The first one went to the trunk of the tree to take a closer look.
When the agent came to the trunk he didn’t see a break or an uprooting. All he saw was the cut.
He noticed the forest had gone quiet, as silent as a grave.
When he considered both the quiet and the cut he knew he was dead.
A shot rang out of the shadows proclaiming liberty. The other barrels soon grew so hot they turned the dew to steam. The prisoners regained their freedom and along with the gunmen gained the safety of the forest. Their laughter, soon muffled by the leaves and the creepers and lianas, then the clearing went silent save for the drip, drip, dripping of scarlet death as it stained the fallen leaves.
Where they walked between the trees, the footpath gave way to a trail, the trail to a narrow dirt road. Their jeeps were lying in wait. From there it was to the skirts on the outskirts of town. With warm skirts the beer was always so cool. They entered Esmeralda’s place from the secret back door and took her by surprise.
She was elated.
Each found his favorite skirt or woman, same thing. The wild-eyed pistol-wavers weren’t afraid to die, yet they weren’t afraid to party either.
That’s how they do it in the tropics.
A day later Dude left town for good, his only souvenir of the incident the cuff marks on his wrists. Whatever bad memories he had of the town they were left like the red mud from his boot heals as he knocked them against the aluminum steps he took boarding the plane. His memories therefore were good.
“Vaya con Dios,” Hugo told him. Before, when he heard it from others, even from friends, it only meant goodbye. From Hugo it meant,
“Go with God.”
Sometimes brothers are not always born under the same roof.
©Stcven Hunley 2011
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