AmSAW Registered Writings

Contact the Author's Agent at
 [ ]

Two Mules for

by D. J. Herda


He hadn't wanted to go. Not for anything. He even told him so. But you know Rommell. When he started crying in his beer about needing an article on cruising down to Cabo San Lucas for the Journal’s travel section, Lazlo started packing.

He didn’t have much choice. Lazlo needed guys like Rommell. That's how freelancers make their living. That's how they survive. Besides, he rationalized, it might even be fun. "Mexico Magic ... Cruising the Baja Peninsula" or some such Sunday morning dribble. Not particularly exciting. Then again, Lazlo had never been to Cabo. He figured he owed it to himself. Besides, Rommell had promised him $400. That was a lot of money for a travel piece back in 1987. Even for Lazlo.

Boarding the SS Norway out of Los Angeles, the writer snaked his way through the innards of the vessel until he stumbled across a cozy little bar manned by people with names like Julio and Jesus and Manuel. He climbed up onto a stool, noticing from the corner of his eye a solitary figure hunched over a glass. The figure sported a short-cropped G. I. haircut, freshly laundered open-necked shirt, and khaki trousers. His stout build made him look like a Marine Corps drill sergeant or a travel writer or any one of a number of other people with whom Lazlo had no particular interest in associating at the moment. As it turned out, he couldn't have been more wrong.

Lazlo laid a twenty-dollar bill on the bar and ordered a Bombay Martini, Gibson, with two onions. It was the best way he knew to help alleviate the disparity between first- and third-world nations. About the time the glass had warmed to room temperature and the gin had evaporated, an absolutely sparkling blonde in her early twenties max came up to the bar and sat down next to the drill sergeant and started carrying on a conversation as though she knew him, which, it soon became painfully evident to Lazlo, she did. He watched from the corner of his eye as she bubbled over, oohing and ahhing with each minute that drew the ship closer to sailing. Her stocky companion grunted back occasionally, not in a rude or abusive manner but more like he had just awakened and found himself in a place where he would rather not have been. He barely ventured a glance at his stunning companion until it looked for all the world to Lazlo as though he were a.) hung over; b.) trying to get hung over; or c.) royally pissed off that he was neither. In any event, Lazlo decided the time was right for introductions.

The guy, it turned out, was Harry Block. Harry Block was, without a doubt, the greatest living detective in the civilized world. Lazlo learned that, of course, from Harry Block. Debbie wasted little time in offering her affirmations.

For the rest of the afternoon and well into the dinner hour, when most civilized passengers had long since seated themselves to begin their six-day-long Bacchanalian gorging for which all cruises worth their salt are known, the three seafarers talked up a storm, drank up an ocean, and all things being equal became good friends. And when they finally staggered to the dining room only to find that some cruise-line idiot had seated them at different tables, Harry put up such a fuss that the three of them were removed somewhere far off to the port side of the ship and given a table together with a handful of other seagoing malcontents.

The triumvirate spent the next three days slicing through waters blue enough to have been carved from a shimmering sheet of sapphire. Each day they spent as if it were their last, lounging deckside, soaking up the harmful rays of Ultraviolet Sol, and exchanging war stories--Harry's having to do with his fifteen-year stint with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the last several years of which were spent on Vice. That, naturally, led to tales from his twenty-some years as a private investigator working out of Newport Beach, California. That's where he met Debbie, hired her as his Girl Friday (actually, he recalled, it was on a Wednesday), and encouraged her to get her private investigator's license so that the world would have not only Harry Block, Champion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way of Life with which to contend, but also Harry Block Junior, or Danger, as Lazlo soon came to call her. For there was something in the way she spoke and more than a little in the way she looked that instinctively told him it was true.

Besides sitting and soaking and swapping and laughing until they damn near turned blue, Lazlo recalled that they must also have done a fair amount of drinking, because somewhere deep in the furthest recesses of his mind he recalled that they took on a fourth compatriot, a big-chested, wide-grinned, black-haired girl of eighteen or so whose parents, as a reward for the girl's having fought her way through four years of high school somewhere in upstate New York or New Jersey or one of those eastern states, gave her a brand new Ford Mustang and, of course, a cruise to Cabo San Lucas.

For some reason--and Lazlo hadn’t a clue why--this girl wanted for all the world to hang out with them, despite the fact that Harry, Debbie, and he had a median age roughly forty times her own (Harry, Lazlo was convinced, was quite old even back then) and despite the fact, too, that her mother and father were along on the cruise, and her father stared daggers through Harry and Lazlo whenever his precious young jewel pulled up a chaise and plopped her taut-skinned bikini-bottomed derriere down alongside them, which of course only gave the three of them all the more of a laugh.

Lazlo doubted that anything of a serious nature could ever become of the girl’s fanatical desire to break into their world because, for one thing, while he was still young enough to appreciate the girl’s attentions, he was unfortunately just old enough to want something more in a relationship than a great pair of tits and an adoring smile. For another, Harry, although Lazlo had suspected him of being ready, willing, and able to show a girl a good time, had Danger with whom to contend. And, although he wasn’t at the time certain yet of the relationship between Harry and Debbie, Lazlo suspected that it was more than platonic, going somewhat deeper than either had admitted to him and, indeed, while straddling a couple of stools somewhere deep within the inner bowels of a bar in Puerto Vallarta a few days later, he finally worked up the courage to broach the subject with her after Harry had disappeared in yet another of a long line of futile attempts to locate the elusive el bano.

“I’m not sure,” she replied, laughing and pausing long enough to suck some blue curacao and rum through a red straw. Her laughing green eyes and white Irish skin punctuated the darkness of the bar beyond her. “I mean, I love Harry, in a way. And I know he loves me, sort of. But there’s this age thing. I’m going to want kids in the future, and I don’t get the feeling he’s going to want to do that. So for right now ...” She shrugged, and if Lazlo hadn’t been so drunk, he would have felt a tear or two well up in the corner of his eye. And maybe even have said something stupid.

So after three solid days of silliness aboard the ship, the trio finally awoke on the fourth morning to the sound of some ungodly screechy voice informing them that disembarkation to Puerto Vallarta would commence at 0-Eight-Hundred, whatever the hell that meant. Everyone was to feel free to come and go at any time during the ship’s stay in port. They were to have a good time while ashore. But they were under no circumstances to miss the ship’s sailing at Eighteen-Hundred-Thirty hours, which, so far as Lazlo could fathom, translated somewhere between three p.m. and midnight. Sharp.

So, as the sound of footsteps filled the halls and the ship began listing heavily to port, Harry, Debbie, and he promptly scurried to the dining room, where they had a window-side view of the lemmings deserting to some tropical sea, and they ate kippers and eggs and drank gin Marys and champagne and finally settled on a plan for the day, which was roughly the equivalent of making their way to Carlos O'Brien's, overlooking the shimmering Bahia de Banderas, where they could stop to sample the oysters and cervezas. Which is precisely what they did.

Somehow they had managed to elude their shadow, who probably in her eighteen-year-old, just-out-of-high-school way of looking at the world would never in a million years have figured them to have clambered up to breakfast just as every other passenger on board was scurrying to catch the first dink to shore.

Nonetheless, as luck would have it, she managed to catch up with them in the middle of Las Real de la Hoya, or some such street, which, loosely translated, means "walk this way for the beer." After listening to her laundry list of things she absolutely had to see and do while in port, they firmly yet politely informed her of their own intentions, which were nowhere near so ambitious as hers, after which Danger extended an offer for her to join them, which the girl equally politely declined, her daddy hustling up the street behind her, swinging his arms wildly like a marathon walker in his very first Olympics. When the girl's father caught up with them, Lazlo wished them both a pleasant day, and the trio sallied off to Carlos O'Brien's, where they laughed their way up the stairs to a table on the balcony overlooking the most beautiful oceanfront view in the world.

After an hour or so and two or three buckets of cerveza mas fina (each bucket containing a dozen eight-ounce bottles swathed in ice and dropped unceremoniously in the center of the table), just as many oysters on the half shell, and some ungodly number of tequila shooters, for which Harry had developed an unquenchable penchant, they began betting one another that they could parasail over the ocean as well as any of the touristas they were watching from their bayside perch. After what seemed an eternity, Danger and Lazlo threw some American money on the table and dragged Harry kicking and screaming down to the street and across to the beach, where they signed up for the flights of their lives. Harry, who kept insisting that he would keep his feet planted firmly on good old Mother Earth, thank you very much, was the last of them to go and very nearly backed out at the last moment as the outfitter who was strapping him into his straitjacket warned him to pull on the right rope when he wanted to go right and on the left rope when he wanted to go left.

"What happens if I get the two mixed up?" Harry asked, half in jest and half in drunken stupor.

"Then, senior, you are likely to wind up like the poor fellow we took out last month."

"Yeah? What happened to him?"

The diminutive boy covered the glare from his eyes and pointed with his free hand to a group of high-rise buildings hugging the waterfront. "You see that last building there? The one closest to the ocean?"

Harry grunted.

"The poor fellow pulled right when he should have pulled left and smacked right into the side of that building."

"Oh, my God!” Danger said. “What happened?"

The boy simply shook his head, and as Harry seriously contemplated the physical machinations required to free himself from his constraints, someone standing between him and the water blew a whistle, gave the thumb's-up signal to the driver of the powerboat waiting impatiently just offshore, and stepped back as the boat's engines roared to life, yanking poor Harry's lifeline taut and lifting him like some great patriotic eagle, legs dangling wildly high above the beach, as he sailed off into the blazing afternoon sun.

After fifteen minutes or so of skittering just inches beneath the clouds, Harry felt the boat throttle back to a crawl. He fluttered back down to earth. As the crew disengaged him from his bindings, Danger and Lazlo threw their arms around him, praising him as they might a young child for having learned to make potty for the first time.

"Harry, I'm proud of you," Lazlo told him. "And to prove it, you get to decide where we're going next. Anywhere you want. Just name it."

Harry dusted the sand off his feet, slipped back into his docksides, and said, "Let’s get a fuckin' cab. I need a drink."

The rest of the day was something of a blur. Lazlo wasn't sure why. He believed they may have given a local cabby fifty dollars to be their guide for the day and instructed him to stop out front of a local bar or two before they finally squealed to a halt at some magnificent resort that, Harry miraculously recalled, lay sandwiched somewhere between the mountains and the sea. It was of little consequence to Harry that all of Puerto Vallarta lay sandwiched between the mountains and the sea.

As they walked through the archway leading past the open-air lobby and out onto the sand, Lazlo saw out of the corner of his eye the cabby take off. Fifty dollars, even fifty American dollars, didn't go as far as it used to. Lazlo said something about it to Harry, but Harry didn't hear. A demon possessed, he had zeroed-in on the cabana and was nosing his way straight toward the bar, at which he paused only long enough to sniff the tequila, then continued past a tree-lined terrazzo overflowing with blinking miniature lights and squawking life-sized parrots.

Once settled into their chairs, Lazlo ordered a round of the house's specialty--a coco loco, which consists of rum, tequila, gin, and vodka in more or less equal amounts (about a cup-and-a-half of each) with just a drop or two of pineapple juice thrown in for flavor. Halfway through the drinks, the three of them grabbed some towels and lay out on the beach, sucking their brains out through long white straws and broiling beneath the equatorial sun. They threw themselves into the ocean and apparently showered off afterwards, because somehow Lazlo ended up with a handful of photos of the three of them grinning their asses off and burned to a crisp, all except for Harry's big buttercup butt, which he had thoughtfully turned toward the camera just as the shutter did its job. Lazlo recalled having repeated these activities several times throughout the course of the afternoon until, as the sun began to slip behind the mountains looming over their shoulders, Danger glanced down at her watch, which told her it was very nearly 5:30, and somebody, most probably Danger, herself, shrieked out in terror, "Oh, my God! The ship! We're going to miss the ship!"

Lazlo immediately began a futile search for his Carrera sunglasses, which he eventually realized with more than a little mirth he had been wearing when he first slammed his body into the surf and not wearing when he crawled out. Harry speculated that some shark was now scooting along beneath the surface in a $300 pair of shades, the best dressed fish in the sea. Danger and Lazlo helped Harry into his shirt and the three of them made a mad, wobbly dash for the street and a cab when Harry suddenly pulled up short.

"What-a-fuck are we doin'?" he asked.

Danger, no longer amused, shouted back, "We're getting a cab back to the ship! We've got fifteen minutes before it sails without us! Now let's go!!!"

That was good enough for Harry, who stepped out into the street. A yellow automobile with an even yellower driver squealed to a halt and threw open the doors.

"Awright," Harry said, obviously every bit as drunk as Danger and Lazlo combined and maybe even more so. "I'll go back to the ship. But we're not, but we are, but we're not sailing."
The three of them piled into the cab, Danger stumbling over the curb and landing face-down against Harry's glowing chest. "What do you mean we're not sailing?"

Harry rolled down the window and pointed up into the towering green tropical jungle just feet from the road. "Well take a look, for Chrissake. We're already in paradise. Why-a hell would we wanna leave?"

Danger and Lazlo humored him on the way back to the dock, where they stumbled up the gangplank singing "A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall," much to the overwhelming amusement of the crew, who had apparently never before seen three gringos so drunk they could barely walk but who could nonetheless manage to carry a tune, and the last thing Lazlo recalled before beginning the search for his cabin where he fully intended to pass out on the bunk was that they would all take a rest and then meet in the dining room for the midnight buffet.

Somehow, Lazlo managed to awaken himself just three minutes before the turn of the day. After throwing a comb at his hair, he found his way down the labyrinthine halls to the buffet, where he pretty much sat alone, quietly munching on boiled shrimp and smoked salmon until nearly one a.m., when he finally realized it was unrealistic to expect to see Harry and Debbie again before morning, so he went back below deck and passed out on his bunk once more. He was awakened after what seemed mere moments by the 7 a.m. call for shore leave in Mazatlan.

As was nby ow the custom, Lazlo intended to wait until the exodus began in earnest before making his way up to breakfast, but for some reason or another he had gotten showered, shaved, and dressed far more quickly than anyone in his condition had a right to expect and so decided to go up to breakfast early, where he fully anticipated running into Harry, hung over and grumpy, and Danger, as bubbly as ever. When he got to their table, however, the entire dining room was abuzz with rumors. Lazlo ordered kippers and steak with a gin Mary back, reminiscing about the one time in his life when he'd actually suffered an honest-to-God hangover complete with symphonic tympanis banging out the percussion line from Verdi's Aida ... and hadn't much cared for it. He vowed right then and there that he would never suffer another. All the while he sat at the table, trying vainly to rehydrate himself from a small bathtub of ice water someone had been thoughtful enough to set before him, he was picking up on bits and pieces of table-side chatter. Just a few words here and there. Surly. Cursing. Suitcase. Captain. AWOL. Furious.

In his addled state of mind, Lazlo tried picturing some Russian sailors jumping ship to America and freedom--this was during those years of detente before the Russian Bear began its terminal political hibernation. When it finally dawned on him that they were neither on a Russian ship nor in American waters, he bolted.

"What? What did you say about going AWOL? Who did? When?"

A woman who weighed 350 pounds if she weighed an ounce and was on the cruise with her husband, who tipped the scales at 351, both of them working in Hollywood in the movie industry, manufacturing foam-rubber boulders that looked identical to the real McCoy but weighed, of course, substantially less, replied, "Last night. Two passengers came back drunk as a skunk and got into a fight at the gangway. The girl went to their cabin and packed their suitcases while the guy threatened to beat up the purser if anyone pulled in the plank. The captain still doesn't know who they were. He's going over the passenger list right now to try to find out."

Lazlo sucked in as much air as he could without exploding, then slowly let it out and settled back in his seat.

"I know who they are," he said softly, just as the steward arrived with his kippers. Thirteen people rocked back simultaneously in their chairs. Twenty-six eyeballs bored holes through him. A dozen-and-one I. Q.s struggling to approach the educable mentally handicapped range wondered what on earth he was talking about. He slowly unfolded his napkin and placed it in his lap. Deliberately, he reached for his drink and sipped from it, then took a hard gulp.

"What do you mean?" Shamu asked him. "If you know something, you've got to tell the captain. He's worried sick, trying to find out who it is who's missing."

He's worried sick, Lazlo thought to himself. Yes, he knew something. He knew that Harry and Debbie had done one of the dumbest things they'd ever done in their lives. He knew that they had jumped ship into a foreign country--with no passports or visas. Worst of all, he knew that Harry had a warrant out for his arrest by the Federales. And he knew instinctively that when they caught him--and they would catch him--Harry would be lucky if he ever saw daylight again.

When he had finished eating, Lazlo made his way to the bridge, where he told the captain what had happened. The captain asked Lazlo if Harry was in any real danger. Lazlo shrugged. The captain asked if there was anything he could do. Lazlo shrugged again. He looked out the windows of the bridge at the sun rising above the blue-collared buildings.

"Why is Mr. Block wanted by the Federales?" the captain asked. "If you tell me the reason, perhaps I can ... " He stopped short, realizing that he could not finish his own sentence. There was nothing he could do. There was nothing Lazlo could do. There was nothing anyone could do. Harry and Debbie were gone. Perhaps forever.

Lazlo left the bridge and made his way back to the cabin, where he threw his camera and a couple of lenses into a bag and set off for shore. All the while he thought about Harry and the very first story he had ever told him. It seemed like years ago. Like another world. It was a wild story about a case he'd had in Mexico more than ten years earlier. Over and over again Harry's words rang in Lazlo's ears. Over and over again Lazlo wondered what would happen when the Federales caught up with him.

Now all he could do was wait. And hope to hear from them. And wait some more, the words of Harry’s Mexico story still ringing in his ears.


- BACK -

NOTE: All material on this site is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  Contact the editors for right to reprint.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2006 by the American Society of Authors and Writers.







Hit Counter