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Blame it on Fruit Brute

by Jim LaVigne


           

I blame Fruit Brute for the whole thing. It was his fault that I was in Cozumel in the first place, it was his fault that Ricky Rockerman was such a jerk that he ended up bound and gagged in a dumpster, and, most of all, it's Fruit Brute's fault that five innocent, fun-loving Americans wound up in a Mexican jail for assault. He may be just a has-been cartoon spokesperson for breakfast cereal and not even an actual person, but man, I really hate that guy.

To be fair, it all started when I won this stupid vacation. My pal Ed and I were driving somewhere and listening to, of all things, the Oldies station on the radio. Ed and I are friends because we're so much alike, at least as far as personality is concerned, but there the similarities end. While we're both archetypical twenty-something lazy stoners, he's a small mountain at six-four and I'm a skinny little guy of five-eight. We get along great; neither of us worries and neither of us has an overabundance of ambition.

Anyway, we're in Ed's car and we're just listening to some crusty old favorite on the radio in that way you do when itës Monday morning and youëre wishing you could get in a car wreck rather than go to work. Then the announcer, a venerable local figure for the last twenty years named Ricky Rockerman comes on to announce a contest/giveaway. All-expenses paid week in Mexico, courtesy of KMPL, with Rockin' Ricky himself! All you have to do is be the twelfth caller with the correct answer to today's Wacky World Trivia Question. "What is the name of the breakfast cereal, now discontinued, that was the companion to Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Booberry?"

"Fruit Brute," I said listlessly.

"What?" Ed asked. "You know that?"

"Sure," I shrugged. "The werewolf-themed cereal. Guess they never did one for the mummy..."

"Dude," he said, "you should call in! Week in Mexico!"

"Naw..."

"Come on, man!" he said. "Mexico!"

"Shit," I said, getting out my phone, "why not?"

After all, this was Minneapolis in January; we'd have taken a free trip to Kentucky. If only I'd known... Well, as you've probably guessed, I was the twelfth caller and I was right about Fruit Brute. And so it all started.

I have to admit, things may have turned out differently if I hadn't chosen Ed as the one to go along, but I couldn't exactly say no to him when we'd been in his car when I'd won the thing, now could I? Not that Ed's not my best friend and not that I wouldn't do anything for him, it's just that, in situations like this, I know that the combination of he and I can lead to trouble. But, as things were, it was never a question. Ed and I were off to sunny Cozumel.

 

Excited and envied by our peers, Ed and I got packed and read all of the stuff that the travel agency who was doing our All Expenses Paid Vacation sent us. I remember it was cold and snowing the day we left and we were so glad to be leaving that we smoked a fat joint in celebration before calling a cab.

The first whiff of real trouble was when we arrived at the airport (three hours early, as specified) was Mr. Ricky Rockerman himself. At first I thought he was one of the Lucky Winners. Having heard him all those years on the radio, I thought maybe he'd look a little like Wolfman Jack or Johnny Fever, sort of cool and dissipated, maybe, who knows? But not this guy; this guy looked like an elementary school teacher gone sour and mean from a lifetime of bitterness. Shaped sort of like a pear, he had a big ass, narrow shoulders, skinny arms, legs, and neck, and an oversized head. His face was kind of scrunched-up and tight, like it was trying to pull in on itself at the nose, and was dominated by the pair of huge, 80's-style glasses he was constantly adjusting. As for clothes, the guy was a study in bad taste; plaid pants, ugly Hawaiian shirt, sandals with black socks... Overall, not the picture of Rockin' Ricky Rockerman that one might expect. More like someone out of a Far Side cartoon. I looked at Ed and he looked at me. We both shrugged and went over to the little group clustered around our host.

They were a mixed bag, our group. There was Mr. and Mrs. Kasterman, a nice older couple from New Jersey. Mrs. K reminded me a little of my mom; or at least what my mom might look like some day. There was Milton Somebody (I never caught his last name), a 40-year old computer nerd/virgin from Florida, The simple fact that he was here alone, unable to find even one person to go on a Free Vacation with him, made us all kind of sad. There was Barb and her boyfriend, Steve, hayseeds from Oklahoma who, while unsophisticated, turned out to be pretty OK. Never seen apart, we generally referred to them as Barbandsteve. There was also Todd and Caitlin Neidelman, two of the most uptight, whitebread, straight-laced, God-fearing, narrow-minded people on the face of the planet. You know; assholes. I don't know (or care) where they were from. Hell, Ed says. Of course, we didn't really know all that about our fellow travelers right away, but it didn't take too long for everyone to get to know each other.

"All right, people, listen up!" Ricky called out. He had a nasty, nasally voice, totally unlike his on-air tone, that sounded like a fork scraped across a plate. "I'm Ricky Rockerman. Welcome to the Winter Getaway 2003. This is my eleventh one of these and we're going to have a good, safe, fun time. All you need to do is listen to Ricky. Right? Right. Now, if everybody's ready, let's head over to gate 42C, just down the Red Concourse. If anyone needs to use the Rest Room, now would be a good time. All right, folks, let's move."

Sheep-like, our fellow vacationers grabbed their carry-ons and set off in Ricky's wake. I looked at Ed.

"That's Ricky Rockerman?" he said, echoing my thoughts. For some reason I've always had trouble with people that refer to themselves in the third person.

"Aw, come on," I said, "what did you expect? The dude's like older than God..."

"I ëspose..."

The flight down was fine and we made it to the hotel, the Hacienda, with no problems. It was when we were checking out our room, a dim, smelly little place overlooking the parking lot, that the true down side of our accommodations became clear. Looking at the hotel brochures, Ed could find no sign of a bar anywhere in the place. Not a saloon, tavern, pub, grogshop, or boozer anywhere to be found. It was, to our dawning horror, what appeared to be a Dry Hotel.

"What the hell?" Ed said bitterly, turning the brochure over and over. "Must be some kinda oversight..." He dialed the operator and asked about it. After a few grunts, he hung up in disgust.

"No bar," he said. "The heart of Tequila country and no bar. I can't believe it..."

"Hey, no big deal," I said, feigning unconcern. "So what? So we go into town for beer and tequila and what have you..."

"Yeah, I guess..." he said. "But no swim-up bar? No margueritas by the pool? Man..."

"Food's still free..." I said. "And there's a little thing out there called the Gulf of Mexico that I've heard is pretty cool..."

"Yeah, you're right," he said, brightening. "Let's go see the beach."

Looking around the hotel and grounds, we found nothing but more bad news; the pool was small and dirty, the restaurant was dingy, fly-blown, and stunk of fried grease, the gift shop was pathetic and, worst of all, the beach was a stinky, fish-strewn mess. While we were standing there, staring at the rotting carcasses and seaweed and the swarms of gorging seagulls, a workman, a local guy, came along, listlessly picking up cigarette butts with a nail on a stick. Ed hailed the man, a kindly, older guy, and asked him what was up with the beach.

"Red tide," said the man. "Kill all the fish. No good for swimming."

"Red tide?" I asked. "What the hell is that?"

The old man shrugged. "Who knows?" And, holding his nose, moved off down the beach.

"Well that's just great," said Ed dejectedly. "No booze, crappy food, and now no beach. Fucking Red Tide... Free or not, this does not look good."

"Now, now," I said hopefully, "there's more to Cozumel than this place, right? I mean, we drove through a whole city on the way here..."

"Yeah..." he said glumly and kicked a bloated pufferfish. "I guess..."

"You'll see..."

But Ed had been right to be worried. After a brief reconnaissance, we found that not only were we ten miles from the city (on the other side of the island), there were no rentable vehicles with which to get there anyway. Only the shuttle bus, which ran three times a day, at 8:00 AM, noon, and 6:00 pm, could deliver us from the Hacienda.

"I don't believe this!" Ed fumed as we sat dejectedly in the lobby. "What is this place, anyway, a damn concentration camp?"

"Don't think so," I said. "They didn't have palm trees and ocean views."

"Man..."

"Hey, look," I said. "I been thinking. Maybe we could just like, desert from the group, know what I mean? Like defect or whatever... Go off on our own."

"That might work," he said hopefully. "So what do we do? Just take off?"

"I think," I said, "that we better talk to Rockin' Ricky first. See what he says..."

"Well, let's go find his wide ass."

We found the whole rest of the group down next to the stinking beach, engaged in some sort of game--charades, maybe--under the stern direction of Rockin' Ricky. It didn't look like anyone was having much fun except for maybe the Niedelmans, who, as we were to find out, always did everything very enthusiastically. Not that they had fun doing things. On the contrary; they never seemed to really enjoy anything. But you had to give it to ëem. They were always very, very enthusiastic.

Ricky spotted us walking up. "There you are. You're late for game time." Like we'd really done it somehow...

"Uh, yeah..." I said. "It's just that... Well, we're not really fun-and-games, arts-and-crafts kinda guys, you know?"

"I see..." Ricky said frostily.

"Yeah, well," I went on, "the thing is Mr. Rockerman, sir, that we uh... Me and Ed here that is... We were kinda thinkin' of, well, kinda... leaving. Actually."

"Leaving?" Ricky said, his eyes huge behind the out-sized glasses. "Did you say you wanted to leave?"

"Hey," I said, flailing, "it's not like this place isn't... great or that we don't like you guys or anything. It's just we feel like we could use a little more... excitement. Like maybe we'd... fit in better in town. See what I mean?"

"No I do not," Ricky said crossly. He put his arms akimbo and stared at us. "You young men are here by the good graces of KMPL radio. The station is paying for your airfare, your accommodations, and your food. But I guess that just isn't enough for the likes of you, is it? So now you want to leave. Well let me tell you this, young man. If you and your friend here do leave the group, I will cancel your return flight. Since it will be your choice to turn up your noses at the station's generosity, you can find your own way back to the States."

"But..." I said uselessly.

"But..." Ed said uselessly.

"But nothing," Ricky said. "Plenty of people would love to be on this vacation with Rockin' Ricky. If it's not to your taste, well I'm afraid that's just too bad. Now, while Rockin' Ricky will not force you to join the others, he will tell you this: If you leave, you are not coming back."

Through this exchange the others had been watching. Now they all looked away, embarrassed, except for the Niedelmans, who just kind of smirked. Ed and I, utterly at a loss and shaking our heads, walked away, back to our room. Given no choice, we had to cave in. Rockin' Ricky had us by the balls, so to speak, and we were trapped.

In the room we sat in the dark and mumbled to ourselves for a while, cursing this turn of events and anyone who referred to themselves in the third person. I was bitter, but Ed, irrepressible as always, sat up suddenly and thumped one meaty fist into his palm.

"Damn it!" he said angrily. "We're not gonna let this happen. We gotta fight this bastard."

"So it's war, then," I said dramatically, smiling.

"It's war."

That night the first shots of our hostilities were fired. At about 9:00 PM, when the others were off in the TV room watching some God-awful Mexican game show, Ed and I went over the wall. Actually it was just a fence, but there was symbolic meaning all the same. After a brief walk we were picked up by three college kids from Iowa who drove us right into town. Here we found all we were after; bars, discos, restaurants, shops, you name it. Lots of people (especially girls) our age, lots of decoration and lights and tropical charm.

"Now this is more like it!" Ed said, looking around.

"Indeed," I said, grinning. "Shall we?"

"After you..."

Twenty minutes later we were elbow-deep in food, drink, and revelry. From bar to tavern to disco and back to the bar, we made the rounds and then settled in at our favorite, a multi-level place with both dancing and bars which also happened to have the best-looking girls, generally speaking.

We drank, we ate, we danced. We made friends and Ed got this smokin' blonde's number at her hotel. It was pretty sweet. The latter part of the evening gets pretty hazy, to be honest; I recall some upside down tequila shooters and then? Like I said, a little blurry.

The next thing I remember, we were back at the Hacienda. It was dark and quiet and we were riding beat-up mopeds that we'd gotten from somewhere in town that I'm pretty sure wasn't a rental agency. With a minimum of staggering and noise-making, we managed to crawl back over the fence and get up to our room with no one noticing, leaving the mopeds for whoever wanted them. Exhausted and drunk, we fell asleep in minutes.

There were no serious repercussions from our first battle, aside from the man-sized hangovers we had, but the others in our group knew that we'd been out, that we'd tasted sweet freedom. All day, whether we were playing hearts on the patio or taking in the day's attempt at lunch, they seemed to be watching us, alert for sign of further insurrection. Or maybe they were just bored.

And a long day it was, too. Ricky ran the show like a poor man's Attila the Hun, bossing us around, hectoring us when we were too slow to move, badgering us all the time to have fun, and generally being a pain in the ass. At one point the Kastermans, wanting only to relax, were harangued up off of the beach and forced to join a desultory game of horseshoes. Even Barbandsteve got surly when Rockin' Ricky brought out the badminton. But finally the day's never-ending deathmarch of fun came to an end and we were, after dinner, finally left alone.

Still feeling hung over and tired, Ed and I wandered down to the lounge and turned on the TV to some Mexican sit-coms. After a few minutes Barbandsteve came in and sat down to watch, too. It seemed, in the show, like there was this hot blonde chick who was always crying and a bunch of her chiseled suitors... Or something. Even if I caught a word here and there, it was like watching a show with the sound turned off.

"So, uh..." said Steve after a while. "You fellas ain't uh... goin' out tonight then, I guess..."

"Why, what do you mean?" I said innocently.

"Aw, come on fellas," said Barb. "We know you two didn't get to lookin' like you did this mornin' at breakfast without some kind of... liquid assistance, right? And you didn't get it around here."

"Yeah, c'mon," said Steve, grinning. "We won't tell on ya. Where'd you get the hootch?"

"Promise not to tell?" Ed asked solemnly.

"Absolutely," they said.

"We snuck out last night," said Ed conspiratorially. "Went into town."

"No foolin'?" Steve said. "Even after what Rockin' Ricky said? About canceling your return flight?"

"Fuck that geek," I said. "Did you see him today? Like with the poor old Kastermans? What an asshole..."

"Yeah..." said Barbandsteve. "He is kind of a jerk..."

"Jerk?" Ed said. "Man, that dude gives jerks a bad name."

Morose, we all sat around and watched the next show on, which featured some crazy dude chasing an almost-topless chick around a cheap barbershop set. Then came some commercials for quick-drying cement and weird Mexican sodas. We were all bored to tears and it was only 8:30 PM.

"Screw this," said Ed all of a sudden. "I'm not spending my only Friday night in Cozumel watching this crap. I say we go over the wall again."

"Count us in," said Barbandsteve eagerly.

The three of them looked at me for some reason. I shrugged.

"What the hell?" I said and we all got up to leave.

Just then the door flew open and in walked Rockin' Ricky himself. Dressed in ridiculous plaid Bermuda shorts and a shiny Acapulco shirt, he waddled in and, since we were all standing there looking like we were about to leave, looked us each up and down. We feigned innocence and a sudden interest in the décor.

"Going somewhere?" he asked.

More or less at once we all mumbled something in denial. No, no! Just uh... watching TV!

"Well, good..." he said greasily. "Because you know what will happen if Rockin' Ricky finds out you've been leaving this resort without permission... Right?"

We all mumbled now in agreement. Yeah, we knew...

"Fine then," he said. "Good night." And it looked like he was going to leave. At the last second, though, he stopped and turned around.

"And just in case," he said, sneering, "anyone has any bright ideas... I've arranged for a guard dog to be posted on the grounds at night. Anyone out wandering around after 10:00 PM will be in for... quite a surprise." And then he left before we could even say anything.

"A fucking guard dog?" I said when he'd gone, shaking my head. "Unreal..."

"That dude's like, messed up, man," Ed pronounced. "He can't do this... Can he?"

"Looks like it," said Steve sadly. "I mean, this here's Mexico."

"What can we do?" Barb said.

"I'll tell you what we can do," I said, trying to sound defiant. "We're going out anyway."

"What about the dog?" asked Barbandsteve.

"Let me worry about the dog," I said. "You two just be ready. We'll meet behind the showers at, oh, let's say 10:30. Rockin' Ricky will be in bed for sure by then..."

"We'll be there," Barbandsteve promised. "And we sure hope you guys know what you're doin'..."

"Not to worry," I told them. "We'll be knockin' back tequila poppers in no time."

Later, when Ed and I were alone, he had to ask:

"So what's your plan?"

"Plan?" I said. "Who said I had a plan?"

"Uh huh..." he said. "I see. The old wing it and see what comes up, huh?"

"You got it," I said. "Now come on, we gotta get some meat from the kitchen..."

Originally my idea had been to find some meat, put some drugs or something in it, and then give it to the dog. Slip him a mickey. But there was just nothing we could put in or on the meat that would knock out a dog. We pondered.

"I got it," said Ed. "We go ask the Kastermans. Old people always have tons of pills and medications and stuff."

"Perfect," I said, and off we went.

"You want what now?" asked Mr. Kasterman. He was standing in his PJs in the doorway of his room, looking like something youëd win at a carnival. Behind him, getting a running play-by-play of our exchange, was Mrs. K, already in bed for the night.

"Uh..." I said, trying to sound reasonable. "Laxatives. See Ed here isn't used to the water in Mexico..." I had thought of asking for sedatives, muscle relaxants, something like that, but that seemed kind of obvious.

"That I can understand," said Mr. K. "No one is used to this water. I'm not sure it is water, for that matter... But usually it works out the other way, what with the diarrhea and whatnot..."

"Yeah, well," Ed said sheepishly, "not with me, I guess..."

"What do they want, Morty?" came Mrs. K's car-horn voice.

"I'm taking care of it already!" Mr. K called back. "Go back to sleep!"

"Who can sleep?" returned Mrs. K. "What with the talking and knocking on doors and all... And now this poor boy with the Quicksteps. Oy!"

Finally, despite Mr. K's dubiousness and Mrs. K's interference, we ended up with a bottle of Ex-Lax pills and, thanking the K's, we made our exit. In our room we salted the nasty-smelling meat (Ed said it was horse, but how he could tell was beyond me) and then went out looking for Doggie.

In the end, though, we didn't have the heart to feed it to the animal. Maybe he reflected the fact that Ricky Rockerman had picked him out, or maybe guard dogs in Mexico are held to lower standards than in the States, but, for whatever reason, this "guard dog" was definitely nothing to worry about. Hell, we had a hard time getting him to notice us. Of an utterly indeterminate breed, maybe a cross between a shepherd and a collie, once black or dark brown, he was now a solid gray, streaked with white. When we walked up to him, lying there in the dust of the hotel patio, he looked up and wagged his tail and then went back to sleep. Even the flies buzzing around him seemed kind of lazy.

"Guard dog my ass..." Ed said.

"Yeah," I said. "Not much to worry about, I guess."

"Let's get goin'."

It was that night that we hooked up with this shifty little dude in town and got ourselves a big fat sack of Mexican brown. It wasn't great weed, but it sure was cheap, and, sitting on the beach, we rolled up a couple of outrageously big joints and spent a good half-hour smoking them.

We'd parted ways with Barbandsteve when we'd hit town, planning on meeting them later for the trip home, although how exactly we were going to get there was still up in the air. We'd gotten lucky on the way into town; a passing chicken farmer had picked us up.

Stoned to the eyeballs on the beach, we lay back, listened to the waves, watched the stars, and passed a bottle of Mezcal back and forth. Life was good. It got even better when these three college girls, very nice, friendly types from Montana came by... Again, the rest of the night is sort of vague in my memory, but I know we went dancing with the girls, smoked more of the sack, and drank more than anyone's fair share of tequila. If it's a blur to me, at least it's a pleasant blur.

Somehow we did meet up with Barbandsteve (both well-oiled) at the appointed time and place, but we'd come no closer to getting a ride back to the hotel. Befuddled with booze, we sat on a low fence and wondered what we were going to do.

We were still wondering when this car pulled up, a 60's-era Chevy with all kinds of fancy detailing and chrome and paint. The driver, a thin dude with slick hair and a thin face, was a guy our age but he had this sort of menacing air about him, like he'd stab you soon as look at you. At least that's the impression I got.

"Hey amigos," the dude said, rolling down his window. "Que pasa?"

"Not much, man," Ed said, walking over to the car. "What's up?"

"You four look lost, amigo..." the dude said in decent English. "Maybe I can help you out?"

"We're not lost," said Ed. "We need some wheels."

"Yeah?" asked the dude. "Where you going, man?"

I was having some misgivings by this time but, then again, I was loaded and stoned and very tired. I just wanted to lay down somewhere and die and this dude, however shady-looking, was offering us a ride back to the hotel so that I could do just that. Likewise, Barbandsteve seemed more than willing to accept this unexpected largesse. OK, whatever the excuses I might make, we took the ride.

At first it was all right. We motored along the dusty island road, the ocean silver and blue in the moonlight on our left, the black jungle on our right. Introductions were made and were learned that our benefactor's name was Juan.

Then, with a fairly dramatic and sudden turn, Juan angled the car off the main road in a hard right and onto a smaller, even dustier side road. I looked at Ed and he at me and an all-too-familiar look passed between us. Uh-oh.

"Hey!" Ed called over the seat at Juan. "Where we goin', man?"

"Shortcut!" called back Juan, grinning.

"Uh huh..." said Ed, sitting back. Barb, also in the backseat with us, was still just looking out the window, apparently oblivious.

Ed leaned over and whispered in my ear. "If this dude tries anything, you go low and I'll go high. On my signal."

"Gotcha," I whispered back, not bothering, in a drunkenly brave way, to conjecture about the possibility that Juan might have a gun and/or knife on him. "Let's just hope he doesn't crash first..."

"Yeah."

And this was, all too soon, a very valid concern as our new pal Juan whipped the old Chevy through tight turns and barreled straight through stop signs and rights-of-way. In the dust and darkness it was hard to even see the road. Buzzed as I was, I felt myself digging my fingers into the seat and, since there weren't even a hint of seat belts, bracing for a crash. Oh man, I thought, this is it. Dead in Mexico, wrapped around whatever kind of tree that is in the back seat of a Chevy muscle car. What would my mom think?

"Hey!" came a yell all of sudden from Steve, who was up front next to Juan. "Ain't you goin' a might fast there, pardner?"

"What's the matter?" grinned Juan like some hell-spawned cab driver. "You afraid, man?"

"Well, I..." said Steve, seeming to actually think this over.

"Well I'm scared!" yelped Barb from the back seat. "Slow down!"

"Relax, amigos," oozed Juan. "We just gotta make one quick stop before I drop you off. And we donët wanna be late."

Something in the way he said it made us all shut up and sort of shrink into ourselves. This was not looking good. There was a high-pitched whining noise coming from somewhere and I was about to tell Barb to shut up, that it was annoying, but then I realized that it was me and told myself to shut up. All I recall of the rest of that part of the ride is a kaleidoscope of imminent death; trees, fence-posts, and road signs looming up in the dusty lights and then slipping past the car as if by magic. Finally I just shut my eyes.

Then, all of a sudden, we skidded to a stop in the gravel road. There was a second of little settling noises and then everything was quiet. I opened my eyes just as Juan exited the car and looked around. We were in front of what looked like a biker bar, a low building with an old-west style walkway out front, lined with tough-looking cars and motorcycles. Loud music and voices came from inside. Juan walked over and went in.

"What's goin' on?" asked Steve, as if he had somehow missed the last ten minutes.

"We don't know, Steve," said Ed. "We don't know..."

That shut Steve up, but we didn't have long to wait. Juan wasn't in the place more than five minutes before he was back, this time at a full sprint and with several large, angry-looking men in tow. One of them was waving a pool cue and another was brandishing, strangely enough, a chair.

"Holy shit!" I said, grabbing Ed by the arm.

"Leggo!" he said, grappling with my hand, which seemed to be off on it's own like a bad movie monster.

Then Juan was there, vaulting into the convertible neat as can be. Laughing like a crazy man, he slammed the car (left running) into gear and tore off into the night, spitting gravel at the angry men as they spat curses at him. Within seconds we were back on the twisty, dusty road.

I don't remember anything else about the ride back to the resort. It's as if my brain, deciding to be merciful, has (for once) done me the favor of blocking it out. That or the tequila... At any rate, we found ourselves at the Hacienda. My recollections of it pick up just after we crawled over the wall and just before the guard dog jumped us.

Ed saw it first, and dismissed it as the toothless mongrel we'd seen earlier, but as it slowly, purposefully walked towards us I saw that he was wrong. This was a Rotweiler. Crazy-looking, heavily muscled, drooling... Just nasty.

"Hey, Ed?" I said, trying to divert his attention from helping Barbandsteve over the wall. "Ed?"

"Yeah, what?" he said.

"You know that dog we saw before?"

"Sure."

"Well," I said, trying to be calm, "that wasn't the guard dog Rockin' Ricky was talkin' about."

"No?"

"No," I said. "Now this! This is a guard dog."

"What the..." was all he said, and then the beast made his attack and I ran like hell, Ed right behind, with Barbandsteve screaming along in the rear. We made it, panting and terrified (or as terrified as we could be with a skinful of Mezcal), into the Hacienda lobby, and slammed the rickety wooden door on the dog. It barked and barked, though, so we beat it out of there, knowing Ricky (or somebody) would come to investigate. With a bit of luck, we all made it back to our rooms without being seen. We said goodnight to Barbandsteve and turned in, tired beyond belief. It'd been a big night.

 

The next morning we four jail-breakers were conspicuosly hung-over at breakfast, red-eyed, smelly, and grumpy as bears, but if Rockin' Ricky noticed, he didn't say anything. Ed and I ate and then wandered down to a relatively fish-free spot on the beach, but, like a recurring illness, Ricky rounded us up for the day's activities. The rest of the day was taken up with volleyball, tetherball, badminton, shuffleboard... It was grueling.

That night, we went over the wall again, and this time we took, in addition to Barbandsteve, Milton the friendless wonder. We made the rounds, showed Milton a good time, got loaded, got stoned, danced with the ladies, and then stumbled our way back to the Hacienda and bed.

And that was the pattern for the next two days. Long hard days of slaving away at Rockin' Ricky's Super Happy Fun Time, nights spent in drunken debauchery and the corruption of innocent souls. Think I'm exaggerating? You should have seen the Kastermans at the karaoke bar. That Mrs. K does a mean Dusty Springfield, man... There were no more hair-raising encounters like the one with Juan and we all had a great time.

But it couldn't last. It was too good to be true. We knew we'd get caught when we took the K's over the wall; they made too much noise and it took too long to heave 'em up and over. And, sure enough, we got busted, caught in the glare of Rickyës flashlight like stripe-suited cons in an old silent movie.

"Well, well..." he said, his turkey neck bobbing. "What have we here?"

"Vacationers!" crowed Mrs. K. She'd had quite a bit of crème de menthe.

"Quite you!" snapped Ricky, rounding on her. "You are in big trouble."

"Oh my..." said Mrs. K.

"And the rest of you," he said, goggling at us. "What have you to say for yourselves?"

There was a pregnant pause, as they say. Ed and I waited, trying to see where this wide load jerk was headed. Then there came a sound, a little noise, but we all heard it, and it came from Mr. Kasterman:

"Balls," he said, real softly.

Ricky'd heard something. He wheeled on Mr. K.

"I beg your pardon?" he squeaked. "Did you say something Mr. Kasterman?"

"I said balls!" said Mr. K., drawing himself up to his full five foot two. "Great big hairy donkey balls to you, Mr. Rocking Ricky! And the shwantz that goes with 'em! I am fed up to here already with your bossing and kibitzing and now you are cross with my dear wife? Well, Mr. Rocking Ricky, that is enough!"

It was quite a performance. Stirring, really. Who knew that Mr. K. could be so... forceful? Ed and I cheered and the others, Neidelmans aside, also either nodded or actually voiced their disgruntlement. Ricky was taken aback for all of three seconds and then regaining his composure, peered back at Mr. K like a vulture eyeing a hunk of road kill.

"Well, Mr. Kasterman," he sneered, "I am deeply sorry that you feel this way. None of my other guests have ever had cause to complain, I assure you." He paused and paced back and forth a couple of times like a movie villian contemplating out hero's demise, giving us rebels the fish eye.

"Well," he said finally, (he said "well" a lot) "we will all be going home the day after tomorrow. Until then, there will be no more scheduled activities. If you want to miss out on all of the fun, that's up to you. As far as Rockin' Ricky is concerned, you're on our own." He paused, maybe in hopes of someone protesting this statement (no luck), and then finished up.

"Until then, I will be in my room." And he turned to leave.

"Uh..." said Ed, "Mr. Rockerman?" He stopped and turned back to us.

"Yes?"

"Does this mean we're... free? To come and go, I mean?"

"Absolutely not," said Ricky. "The rules are the same. If you leave the Hacienda, I will cancel your return flight."

"Aw, man..." said Ed, scrubbing his face.

But Mr. Kasterman wasn't done yet. His pent-up testosterone had popped and there was no turning back. Bristling as much as a dumpy little guy can bristle, he went face to chest with Rockin' Ricky and backed him up to an adobe wall. Ed and I looked at each other and moved to restrain Mr. K if things got ugly.

"Now you listen to me!" Mr. K told Ricky. "And listen but good. I did not survive the Shoa and coming to this country just to be bossed around by a radio disk jockey. No. And if we want to play games, we will play games. If we want to go into town and go crazy with the tequila and the dancing and the singing, we will do that, too. These boys are good boys. All they want to do is enjoy their vacation. And so do the rest of us. And that's why, Mr. Rocking Ricky, we have to do what we now do... Get him boys!"

This last came so utterly unexpectedly that there was one of those weird pauses in life where no one knows quite what to do. I looked at Ed, he looked back, we both looked first at Mr. K and then over to Ricky, who was just as surprised as we were, and then Ed and I just shrugged and went for it. Ed, a big, fast guy, grabbed Ricky by both forearms, rendering him suddenly as inert as a big bag of sand. I went to help but it was patently obvious from the bewildered, sad look on Rockin' Ricky's face that there was no fight in him and so I just sort of hovered. I noticed that the Niedelmans had made themselves scarce.

"Good!" said Mr. Kasterman, regarding Ed and his captive. "Take him away!"

"Uh... away?" said Ed over his shoulder.

"Yeah," I said. "Like... away to where, Mr. K?"

"Oh..." he said, snapping somewhat out of his moment of power-madness. "I suppose his room is bad enough. We can lock him in there."

I turned to Mr. K. "Are you sure about this?" I asked, jerking my head at Ed and Ricky. Mr. K looked back at me and there was a look in his eyes, a kind of sparkle, that told me that he was not only sure about locking Ricky up in his room, he was enjoying it.

"Young man," he said, smiling, "I have never in my life been more sure."

"Well all right then," I said. Why not? As far as I was concerned, this was his show now.

And so we incarcerated Rockin' Ricky Rockerman. His cell was a fly-specked hotel room and his shackles were made of clothesline, but, for that, his imprisonment was no less real. He barely made a sound; I guess he was in shock or whatever, and I felt kind of bad for him. But not that bad.

We spent the next day doing whatever we damn well wanted. We told the Hacienda staff that Ricky was sick and didn't want to be disturbed in any way. They bought it without so much as a blink. I guess Ricky was as big a prick to them as he'd been to us.

That night we all (sans Niedelmans, who'd gone into hiding) went onto town and had a huge lobster dinner with all the amenities and then went dancing. It was a great night, a sort of odd family thing that you experience only in truly bizarre circumstances, a bringing together of people so different yet so connected that it could only happen to each of us once in a lifetime. And we knew it.

So we partied, we drank and danced and sang. And that's when the Federales got us, right there in the Green Monkey Bar and Disco. Like tan-suited ghosts, completely out of place in the garish, noisy bar, they were all of a sudden just... there, big guys, mostly, with thick mustaches and hard eyes, hands resting ominously on their holsters. All around us things just stopped. No one moved, no one said anything. The music continued to blare from the speakers, but that just made things even more tense, like we suddenly had gained a soundtrack. One of the cops came out of the group and went up to Mr. Kasterman, who, oblivious, was still jiving away to Madonna, happy as a clam.

"Senor Kasterman?" said the cop, louder than the music. Mr. K turned around, still dancing and then stopped dead, eyes widening like a camera shutter.

"Maybe..." said Mr. K warily. Ed and I edged over to stand behind him and Mrs. K.

"You are under arrest," said the cop, whipping out handcuffs.

"Hold on, officer," I said, moving between Mr. K and the cop. "What's the charge?"

"Kidnapping, Assault, False Imprisonment," ticked off the cop. "As alleged by a Senor Rockerman. Now please, if you will move aside..."

"That wasn't Mr. Kasterman," I told the cop. "I did that. It was all me. I did it all."

"No," said Ed suddenly. "It was me that actually did it. He's lying. Itës me you really want."

"No, it was me," said Myron, coming forward out of the blue. "They're both lying. I did it."

"No, it was us!" said Barbandsteve, shoving to the fore. "You got us dead to rights, officer. We done all the kidnappin' an such. We're your culprits."

The cop considered all of this for a few seconds. The music blared, the other patrons sat frozen like time had stopped, and the other cops stood there looking suddenly uncertain. Then the head cop said something in Spanish I didn't get at all and the other cops swept into action, clapping the cuffs on the lot of us. In a matter of minutes we were all in a van, bumping down the road to jail.

 

I don't know if you've ever been in a Mexican jail, but I personally can tell you that it is an experience to be avoided at all costs. Maybe it was the smell, like burnt shit, or the guy in the next cell who screamed all day and all night. Maybe it was the heat that made it feel like sitting in a sauna set on roast, or the way the guards leered like lovesick sadists. Or maybe it was just the fact that we were prisoners in a foreign country. At any rate, it really, really sucked.

All that night and into the next day we waited, taking turns sleeping because the screaming guy was, we discovered also into grabbing at you through the bars and trying to bite you. By two that afternoon, we were getting pretty hopeless. The others had been taken to somewhere else (who knew where) and it was down to just Ed and me. As usual.

"Man..." said Ed. "What a way to end up. Busted in Mexico for kidnapping Ricky Rockerman... Sad, really."

"Yeah..." I said. "Who'd of thought? I always thought we might get popped for something. Possession, probably. But this? Man."

"You suppose it's..." he said unwillingly, "you know, hard time? For Kidnapping?"

"Hard as it gets, I guess..."

"Man..."

We sat and sweated and worried, resigning ourselves to a new life as gringo prisoners, until about 3:30, when the cell-block door suddenly sprang open and, lo and behold, who should walk in but Mr and Mrs Kasterman, the jailer right behind.

"Good news, boys!" said Mr K. "You're sprung!"

Ed and I leapt to our feet, hardly believing our eyes, and rushed to the bars. Was this really happening or had Ed and I finally gone bonkers from the heat? But no, it was real! The jailer unlocked the door and, after a few papers to sign and our possessions to reclaim, we were out of there. The breeze that washed over us as we walked out of that stinking rat's nest felt like God himself had sent it.

"But..." I said to Mr K, once we were well outside. "How? What happened?"

"Oh," said Mr K dismissively, "it was all just a big misunderstanding. We straightened it all out."

"Uh huh," said Ed. "But what about Rockin' Ricky? What about the charges and all?"

"Well..." said Mrs K, "as it turns out, Mr Kasterman and I happen to own KMPL radio. We... well, we kind of forgot about it, and then, we were looking through our business cards and we recalled meeting with that nice man, the one with the honest face..."

"It doesn't matter," said Mr K, gently cutting her off. "You boys did a good thing. You stood up. Not so many people do that nowadays. You can be proud. But the important thing is, there are going to be no charges. You boys are free."

"And," added Mrs K, "Mr Rockerman won't be leading any more tours to Mexico."

"Might be for the best..." said Ed solemnly.

"Yeah," I said. "He seemed kind of... unsuited for the job, if you know what I mean."

"Unsuited?" said Mr K. "No, young man. He is not unsuited, he is what we call meshugana. He needs a rest, maybe."

"Or a swift kick in the pants..." said Mrs K.

"That too," said Mr K.

 

And so that was how it went. It wasn't the worst experience of my life, but, then again, it wasn't the best, either, what with the jail and the crazy screaming, biting dude and all. On the whole, though, I'm glad Ed and I went. It was that one-of-a-kind thing that makes for memories that you will always hold, the sort of ordeal that only the best of friends will ever hope to share. Ed and I never really talk much about it, but once in a while, when we need to cheer up or when the situation didnët look good for us, we'll look at each other and say the one word, "balls", and everything somehow gets be a little bit better.

Still, I'll never get over hating that bastard Fruit Brute.

All content on this website copyright 2005 Jim LaVigne