Psycho Active 10th extract

In the days following I didn’t see Ricky at all. He was away Ramirez told me, on business. So I didn’t work per say. Instead I got acquainted with the trappings of my new abode. Like the kitchen in all its glorious antiquity with ‘60s modernist chairs and tables and cupboards with printed labels on them denoting the different sections for the girls: for Leya and Suzi and Abril, Felicita and Paola. The kitchen was the nucleus epicentre of Lola’s, where the girls would meet and talk about everything from politics to chlamydia. It was unnerving being there, with all that female energy. The girls would laugh when I came in and unloaded my shopping from the local supermarket – Mexican produce I would carry in those same 7/11 bags from San Antonio. They would all laugh except Paolo, who would smile.
I spent my days sweeping cigarette butts from the club, changing trashcan bags in the girls’ rooms – emptying them of the tied and used condoms, sanitary towels and tissue. In the evenings I would sit at the bar in the club and watch drunken gringos lose hand after hand at blackjack. Or win big and watch Leya and Suzi race to plant that first whisper in the high-roller’s ear, sowing the seeds of a profitable night. On Mondays the club would close and the girls would play poker and drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes and talk about what they were gonna do once they made enough money whoring. Lola would watch from a booth in the corner in darkness. On quiet nights we’d close early and pound tequila and sing glorious songs of revolution and Me’hico until Ramirez declared enough and we all called it a night. On the busy ones I’d sit up in bed and listen to the intoxicating call and response of midnight birds chirping, and the sound of boot heels coming and going from their bedrooms. It was all so perfect there in that dimly lit brothel in Mexico City. I thought I could stay forever.

At 4am one morning after a particularly busy Saturday, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. I asked who it was. It was Paola. I composed myself as quickly as I could and opened up. She was crying.
“I didn’t wake you did I?” She asked.
“No, of course not.”
She sat down on my bed and I sat next to her awkward, unsure whether to offer an arm or a tissue or glass of water. But she just put her head on my shoulder and sedately continued to cry so softly. I rested my head on hers.
I awoke in the morning with Paola gone and no evidence of her ever being there beyond an estranged purple sock lost at the bottom of my bed. I placed the artefact sacred in the drawer of my nightstand table and lit up a cigarette.
I spent the rest of my morning arranging my clothes and smoking cigarettes, and staring out into the street from my window. The Mexico City morning was grey and ghostly, haunted and sullen and overcast. In the street, a man in an ill-fitting black suit was walking his dog, letting it piss on the front of a convenience store. Spectres of people skulked around only half sober laughing so loudly and pissing so much. Hobos lay alone in doorways.
I thought about the Nurse in San Antonio and I started to miss her.
At midday there was another knock at my door. It was Ramirez. He told me to get dressed and that Ricky was coming and that I’d better be fucking ready when he got there. So I did.
Fifteen minutes later I heard a commotion downstairs in the club. It was Ricky barking at Lola about breakfast. Something about his eggs.
By the time I’d got a fresh suit on and got down the stairs Ricky was gone. I walked over to the booth in the corner of the club where Ramirez sat alone. He didn’t speak at first, just stared at me through squinted eyes and blew smoke all around slow and film noir.
“Where’d Ricky go?” I asked.
He didn’t immediately respond, took his time with his cigarette carefully ashing it into a triangular brown crystal ashtray on the table. “He don’t wanna see you today.” He said finally.
“Ok.”
Ramirez carefully eyed me as he’d always carefully eyed me since the first day we met. A stare that reverberated disdain and distrust all at the same time. In the slightest arch of that deadly squint even the faultiest body-linguist could perceive his severe hatred of me. And I didn’t know why.
“So” I said, “what should I do today then?”
“Clean the fucking toilet.” He said and threw his cigarette down into the ashtray and walked off into the back.
So I did.

After completing all my custodian duties for the day and with no sign of Ricky yet, I decided to head out for a walk in the city. I’d been at Lola’s for little over a month by now and I’d still barely left the place.
The street Lola’s was situated on (the name of which I’ve omitted for legal reasons) was in the formidable Red Light District on the moral vestiges of Mexico City. It was a place where lived and thrived what the city mayor would call a certain element. It was a sewer economy of misery and mistrust and wretchedly broken souls. But then and there on that grey ashen morning of fog and mist the street was life-electric spastic with colour and drunken exuberance. I walked past bar after bar, some still open, others permanently closed, but with the patrons parked outside nonetheless. Gringos in business suits garbled incomprehensible about nothing and locals garbled more cogent about something, only slightly though. Intoxicated wretches sang songs in the spirit and cheer of carollers, calling out for pesos, beer, and cheap love. Dogs sniffed around drains and lovers did things in alleyways and I just walked along with my hands in my pockets, chipper and contented in my new surroundings.
I came up on a vacated laundrette derelict beyond the faded beige lavadoras. In the doorway of the phantom business lay a homeless man burrowed up in a sleeping bag of stained burgundy-brown. He had a sign as most homeless do, cardboard with black etchings in Spanish on front: (in Spanish) South of the Rio Grande, rivers flow not to the sea but to the sky, who in turn rains on places where destiny is manifest, and lonely.
I observed the words whose meanings were lost on me then and there in that temporal location. But they seemed to somehow sing out off the cardboard and into my eyes and around my brain for a bit. I sat down next to the homeless man bundled up in that doorway and as I did he didn’t move, not even a twitch. I watched the world from his perspective in full hobo-vision. I watched the world as he did: as a silent and ignored agent – as a sociologist with full anonymity in his findings, a critic of the ever oscillating ebb and flow of God’s hedonistic children.
I sat pondering tranquil with the hobo still unmoved when I heard a low and vibrating hum. A deep unshifting frequency kilohertz lower than human possibility. Just UMMMMMMM. It reverberated heavy all around me. The tone inexorable and unwavering, obstinate in its unrelenting fortitude. I paid it little notice for its vibrations were a comfort to me on that morning. But then it shifted – an octave higher and then ascended more and more and took flight into that of a melody as sweet as morning dew on ripened fresas. Swooping and diving beautiful, major then major, then minor, assonant then dissonant. A complex melody of virtuosic proportion. I soon recognised it as human hum resonating from the burgundy-brown sleeping bag of my doorway companion. I pulled the bag away from the hobos face, releasing him from obscurity. The humming man was dirty and bearded, his face stained and his hair dark. He paid me no attention and continued his music. The pitch of which began to ascend, higher and higher, falsetto and beyond until it passed again that of human capability. The ears of the stray dogs in area piqued, pricked up and they began to run around frantic until he descended back to audible and they were tame once again.
Finally he stopped his song and we sat silent.
“Give me a cigarette.” He said
I handed him one from my packet.
“Light.”
I lit his cigarette.
He sat hunched over and smoking. His hands were grubby and his long fingernails held a hue of tobacco stain and deposits of previous lunches. I asked him his name and he didn’t respond. I told him mine. “I’m Robert. Pleased to meet you.” I held out my hand for him to shake but he didn’t take it.
“I know you.” He said.
“Yeah?”
“Yes. And you know I know you. But you don’t know who I am.”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“Hmph.” He drew a long toke from his cigarette and blew the smoke out of his nose for what seemed like forever. “Did you read my sign?” He asked.
“Yeah I did.”
“And?”
“I didn’t really understand it.”
“I didn’t expect you would. Where are you going, man? Are you lost?” He asked me.
“No. I’m comfortable where I am.”
“Fool’s response.” He said and flicked away the cigarette.
I observed him a moment. He had no provisions like the usual hobos do. Just his sleeping bag and sign.
“Is there somewhere I’m supposed to be?” I asked him.
“Well, yes. But only you and I know where that is.” He said and now staring deep into my eyes. “I’ve been in this doorway for ten thousand years but I am complete here. You are not.”
“I don’t believe in destiny. As if time were some linear series of events waiting for me to occupy their each scene.”
“And so you shouldn’t believe.” he said.
He grasped my suit sleeve and dug his long nails hard into my arm. “I know you.” He said again, his gaze still entrenched in mine, exploring the dimensions of my soul. “I know you.” His eyelids widened, his face harrowing and ghost-like. “I know you.” He repeated. His eyes grew and grew, and glazed over black and dark matter, huge and impossible and bug like. His tongue snaked from his mouth long and coiling out, growing and moving closer to my face. He started to speak though his mouth didn’t move, and his voice was an echo in my head, I think. He said words in succession, not succinct sentences but a list of words in a foreign tongue. Tocayotia (he gives it a name, he baptizes it) was the first; hueyiyaz (he is going to grow); then namictic (you got married); he dug his nails in harder and pierced the fabric of my jacket. mihcatzintli (dead person). And with the final word he let go and went back to his slouching in the corner of the doorway.
“What does it mean?” I asked him.
“Got a light?” he responded.

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Psycho-Active 9th extract

“Robert.” A name called in the darkness. “Robert.” My grandfather. “Robert. What do you think you are doing? Put the gun down, you fool.”
The barrel was stuck hot against my cheek. A hand in the darkness reached out and snatched it from my encumbrance. I held my arms out locked, focusing a phantom rifle at a hollow scene of dead leaves and shrubbery. The hand reached out again and stole me from my fixation. “Stop your foolishness, Robert. You got her. Come now.”
My grandfather took me by the arm and marched me over to where it all happened; by the bushes mottled with berries of red and flowers. There she lay, in all her morbid glory, peaceful and solemn and holy. Bright brown and bruised red like Ophelia in the river among the foliage in Denmark. I ran my small hand over her soft brown fur. She was still warm. My grandfather snatched it away. “What do you think are you doing? Come on, Robert. Help me lift her.”

The journey back home was silent. No more Joni Mitchell on the radio. No songs for the dead. Just my grandfather and I sat silent and cold as we rolled past an endless legion of pine on either side of the road. They stood to attention, solemn and reverent. The decorum of the Canadian wood not lost on me at that tender age. I looked to them from my window and gave my salute.

I started to think of the young fawn estranged from its mother out there alone in the woods. I wondered if he’d be ok, if he could survive. If he could make his own path. I concluded that I couldn’t be sure in any case. And that made me real sad.

Ricky looked up from the steering wheel and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You ready for this, gringo?” he said.
“What are we doing exactly?”
“Follow my lead.”
He got out the car and walked towards the store, full of purpose now. I could feel his sweaty energy as he paced across the gravel, onto the pavement, and through the dusty screen door, into the grocery shop. He slicked his hair back with hands and started browsing the aisles, feigning real interest in their produce. Tortilla breads; cans of beans; band-aids and rum and carpet cleaner. He picked up products and read labels before putting them back down again and moving on. I stood in the corner of the store watching. The young boy clerk had so far said nothing.
Ricky would always take his time in browsing a place when we were out on a job and to this day I still don’t know why he did it. He just did it. Every time we went out. Like a tactic in building suspense prior to some fantastic happening, or a strange meditation to swell the air with febrile energy; like a stalking beast savouring the few delicious seconds before a kill, dragging each moment on so as to draw as much he could from it. Ricky put a lot of stock in proverbs and idioms, and he tried to live his life by them. This was his calm before the storm I guess. And what a fucking storm.
Ricky walked up to the counter and ordered cigarettes. The boy got him a twenty pack of Benson & Hedges menthol. Ricky lit one. He put his hands down on the counter, took a drag and breathed out smoke long and heavy down towards his chest. He was calm. The boy was calm. They glared at each other mutual with their eyes fixated. The boy stared back nervous and tentative, lost in the horror of this great olive baboon looking down at him, staring down at him with furious and unyielding zeal. He didn’t show it though, the kid. You could just feel it being there. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I just stood at the back browsing the beer selection.
Eventually the kid spoke, broke the tension and asked Ricky if there was anything more he could help him with. Ricky stared him down a while longer before asking for the owner.
(at the time when this happened I was new to Mexico and I didn’t really know what they were saying. Actually I was pretty perplexed by the whole situation and the speed at which it escalated to its conclusion. I’ve since learnt Spanish and can now relay back to you the sequence of events with relative accuracy. With that in mind I hope you trust me to be reliable in translating it all to you, with the dialogue in Standard English. God speed).
“I’m sorry but my grandfather is sick. I’m looking after the store until he’s better.”
“Just get you fucking grandfather, please. Ok, calbron?”
“No, I’m sorry sir. As I told you before, he’s sick. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Puta madre!” Ricky smashed his fit down on the counter. “Is there anything you can help me with, calbron? A kid. You? Fuck no, fucking pendejo.”
The boy was scared. I felt kinda bad for him stood there terrified and all but you know, business is business. I didn’t know much about Ricky at the time, but I understood that maybe once long ago Ricky was a boy pissing his pants in a store while a great olive coloured baboon shouted in his face and slammed his fist around. Or maybe Ricky had a son somewhere also pissing his pants being verbally savaged by some other illiterate tyrant. It’s the natural order of things. The universe is a complex thing.
“So now, pendejo, what I need you to do, is pick up that fucking phone and call your sick fucking grandpa. Can you do that for me? Fucking please?”
Ricky turned around and looked at me.
            “No.” said the boy.
Ricky went grey. Instantly. All human blood left his body momentarily, as if it were about to re-emerge again phoenix in a fury of hatred and fire. He was still grey though.
“What did just you say?”
“I said no”, repeated the boy.
Ricky’s face twisted and contorted beyond natural possibility. His brow so low now it covered his eyes. Bile and molten venom was brewing in his gut. He was nearly ready to spit it out when the boy pulled a twelve-gauge shotgun up from under the counter and pointed at Ricky’s forehead. Ricky was grey no more.

I’ve always wondered why, since the invention of the screw cap or the twisted bottle cap, the advanced race that we are, still insist on plugging beer bottles with the primitive vacuum seal of a traditional bottle cap; as if beer were some forbidden nectar only to be harvested by man after some great trial of guile and wit. This gold and shining token bestowed upon man as a final gift from the gods, a farewell to their children, wishing them drunk and merry for the duration of eternity. Or maybe like Adam in the garden, beer was presented to man as a trial; a test from the makers to determine the holy resolve of their opus; whether man could rightfully ascend to the rank of angel and join their mothers and fathers in the administration of the republics of the universe. Man failed.
I picked up a Bud and cracked it on the side of the shelf and drank it.

Silver icelets of sweat rolled slick down the cheek of Ricky’s stony face. But to this day I maintain they were beads of heat, not fear. Staring down a twelve-gauge barrel of potential and precarious doom, Ricky was composed; collected and zenful. Calm in the face of this frantic hysterical boy screaming at him about justice and poverty and his sick grandfather, with his pubescent finger hormonal and erratic on the hair trigger of a twelve-gauge shotgun. Ricky slowly slid his right hand off the counter and reached around his back for the gun nestled between his boxers and the waistband of his black trouser pants.
“Put your hands on the fucking counter.” Screamed the boy.
Ricky obeyed.
“You fucking asshole.” Said the boy, tears in his eyes.
“Hey, kid it’s ok. Relax” said Ricky, soft and comforting.
“Don’t tell me to fucking relax, you asshole. You come here, you rob from my grandfather. You are a criminal.”
“No, no, no, kid you have misunderstood my intentions. I am an old friend of your grandfather. I came to pay him a visit while he sick, ok?”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Lie, me? No, you’ve got it wrong kid, I don’t lie.”
“You are a liar and a criminal.”
Ricky didn’t respond this time.
“You make me sick. Ever since I was a kid I watched people like you come into our store, our family business, take money from my grandfather, my father, my mother. I’ve watched people like you suck the lifeblood from our stores, our towns, ours states, from Me’hico. Watched you bleed it like a cut pig until there was naught but offal, and then you bled that too. Our forefathers fought and conquered and triumphed over the corruption of Díaz and for what? For a beast far more foul and ugly to take its place. The Me’hican project had so much hope, but she has failed. Someone needs to do something about it. I’m going to start.”
The boy held the shotgun, still pointed zealously at Ricky’s forehead. Ricky was calm, and plagued with sweat. Their mutual gaze iron and indestructible smouldered red-hot. The air was congested with unbreathable tension and it choked them both. Me too. “Enough” said the boy. “For Me’hico.” He cocked the shotgun.
And then, as if with intervention divine from Hades the boy lay on the floor with blood running slowly from the side of his skull. Ricky leaned over the counter to observe the fallen revolutionary sprawled there with the shotgun resting awkwardly by his side; broken glass and beer glittering him “Fuck me” exhaled Ricky as he returned from adrenaline asphyxiation “is he dead?” He asked, not me, but the universe. He shrugged.
Ricky walked around the counter and opened the cash register and emptied it of all currency, coins and all. “Let’s go, Robert.”
When we got outside Ricky stopped short of the car and hugged me, earnestly, for ten seconds or longer. When we finished our embrace he shoved a wad of pesos in my breast pocket and patted my back, “you did good, kid” he said. “Let’s go home.”

8th extract from Psycho Active

Sometimes I feel the sockets around my eyes. I’m reminded that there’s a skeleton underneath all this. Like the ones in cartoons and pictures and TV shows. That beneath everything that I perceive human and special, is just hard bone. I’m reminded that human sentience is soulless and empty. That we’re all just blank pages in a book that no one’s writing.

I awoke abruptly in a room I couldn’t quite determine or remember. I was in a bed with red and purple satin sheets, lying next to a dark haired woman I didn’t know. My head hurt. “You were crying last night.” said a voice of porcelain honey and soft latin tones, “In your sleep. You cried.”
She turned to face me.
Before me: celestial beauty and angel light, gold and soothing and calm. It filled the room, took me whole. The great heavy blackness in my chest, the bondage on my lungs, began to ease. No more pain. No more weight. Just beauty. The room cleared. Her features defined: button and delicate and perfect, her eyes big and bursting saturated with pure soul. “Are you ok?” she asked sincere. I just stared back at her, enchanted.
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. “Ey gringo! What the fuck, man? It’s 11 o’clock already. You still in bed with my fucking whore?” It was Ricky.
I got out of bed and started to get dressed.
“Ey Paola, tell this stupid pendejo to get a fucking move on, ah?”
We two, her and I, locked in the infinite majesty of a few sacred moments before I was to bade her goodbye. She, Paola now, her beauty omnipotent.
“It was nice to meet you.” I told her.
“Hurry the fuck up, Robert.” shouted Ricky from behind the door.
When I didn’t respond he burst in and grabbed me by my jacket sleeve, pulled me out of my reverie, out the room into the hall and on our way. “Fucking gringo. We got a busy day and you fucking standing around like some stupid fucking asshole. You know I got you on probation, right?” He slapped me on the back and we walked through the club and out into the parking lot.
“Ey, nice fucking suit, hombre. My boy Rami got good taste, ah?”
“Thanks Ricky.”
We got in the car. Ricky started the engine and we got on our way.

“You have a good time last night, esse? Paola’s got some fucking titties, am I right?” Ricky asked.
“My head is killing me.”
“You fucking hungover, gringo? How much of my whiskey you drink last night? I’m gonna start you on a tab when we get back you know.” He slapped my leg. “I’m kidding, gringo. Relax.” He looked me over. “That’s a nice fucking suit but you know you gonna burn like a motherfucker out here today in that shit. Grab some of my shit. In the back.”
“Ok.” I reached over to his backseat and found a black garbage filled with silk pattern shirts of every creed and persuasion. “You got anything else?” I asked him.
“No.”
I put on a black short-sleeve shirt with swaying palm trees. I looked just like Ricky. His hair curly slick though, mine brown and scruffy and mediocre.

As we rolled past midday and on to the early afternoon my hangover began ease past its familiar brutality and into a more comforting haze. The desert outside high-contrast, stark and beautiful and desolate. Ricky was quiet now. I sat quietly too, trying to salvage the floating wreckage of the previous night’s events. I could clasp only superfluous flotsam and inconsequential debris: A girl on my lap, refilling my glass. Blonde she was. Whiskey. Dice. An American man, loud, his arm round my shoulder. Sick on a toilet stall door. Whiskey again. Then her. Paola.
Ricky turned the radio on.
“Where are we going, Ricky?”
He sat staring far out front and took a long drink from his water bottle, “A job, man.”
“Why do you need me?”
“Why do I need you, man? Because I need another guy to help me with this shit.”
“Why couldn’t you bring Ramirez? Surely he’s more suited to whatever were doing out here, which I assume isn’t landscape gardening.”
“You being funny, gringo? Fucking landscape gardening. I need Ramirez back at the club seeing to my affairs. This is a 24-hour-a-day business, gringo. Serious shit.”
“What about Lola?”
“What about that skank?”
“I got the impression she was the madame of the club or something?
“Madame, man. What you think this is, some Moulin Rouge shit? This is Meh’ico, gringo. Ain’t no madame my club, man. Lola’s my employee. She looks after the girls. See’s to all their fucking bullshit.”
“Ok.”
Ricky wiped the sweat from his forehead, “Why you asking so many fucking questions anyway, man? The fuck is this?”
I didn’t answer.
“What?” he shouted.
“I was just wondering is all.”
“You were wondering? You were fucking wondering, pendejo?” He was getting angry now. “You broke or what? You wanna make some fucking money or what? And you just fucking wondering? I try to help you, pendejo, and you just fucking wondering about shit? Ah?”
“Sure Ricky. Sorry.”
“Then why you gotta ask all these questions then, man? You drink my liquor, I let you fuck my girls, man.” He stopped for a moment. Started to calm “It’s not cool, man.”
“I’m sorry, Ricky.”
“It’s not cool.”
We spent a minute or so in awkward silence before he glanced at over at me, forgiving and remorseful, “Ah I’m sorry, kid. I don’t know what came over me. The heat or something, makes me kinda loco, you know?”
“My bags.”
“What?”
“My bags.”
“What the fuck? Your bags?”
“My grocery bags, Ricky. I left them out at the hotel. The food’ll go bad.”
He laughed, “what, gringo? Your fucking grocery bags? Buy some new groceries, man. We got a Soriana a few blocks from the club.”
“I need them, Ricky.”
He stared at me wry a few seconds, “Ok, whatever gringo. I send someone to get your fucking groceries from the fucking hotel.” He looked back out front, “Crazy ass white boy.”
We drove for an hour deep into the vast lifeless countryside and past another hour until we reached once again any semblance of civilisation: a small pueblo out in the middle of nowhere.
We pulled up next to a dusty pick-up truck in the grey gravel parking lot of a small convenience store. We stopped and sat silent while Ricky chewed something over, something unsure. His dark brow closed down over his eyes and his forehead wrinkled heavy with lines. Heavy with thought. As he grimaced darkly at the steering wheel a tidal familiarity washed over me. His cruel and spectre visage was as the same I’d seen in a life before, my life, but in a different time in a different place in my snowy past. Ricky, this latino man sat next to me, was soon manifest no more, naught but shadow and shade, a semblance of something I couldn’t properly recall, echoing though, echoing frequencies paternal.

“Robert.” A name called in the darkness. “Robert.” My grandfather. “Robert. What do you think you are doing? Put the gun down, you fool.”
The barrel was stuck hot against my cheek.

7th Extract from Psycho Active

Through the first door after I entered Lola’s a young brunette girl, maybe twenty at a push, sat in a booth smoking and taking jackets, giving tokens in exchange. My blazer was half way off before I realised it was still soaked with the faceless man’s blood, “I’m fine actually. Air conditioning gives me a chill.” I said and smiled. She didn’t smile back, just stared and watched after me as I went through the next set of doors and into the main room. As I pushed inside I was smack struck with the overwhelming waft of cigarettes and perfume and pussy. The room, an amphitheatre of dim lit lights and purple velvet, men on barstools and men at black jack tables; semi-clad girls in French black lace attending the tables and blowing kisses, themselves young and blooming lilacs still lost in the intoxicating years of primavera youth. I walked over to the bar and ordered a double bourbon on the rocks. The barmaid served it with a wink and smile. I offered a smile and blew a kiss to her back as she saw to another customer. After she’d dispensed with a loud and drunk American man sat on the stool beside me, I called her over again and asked for Ricky Alverez. She said she didn’t know no Ricky and went back to her bartending. I figured she was lying, but felt no need to protest. There was plenty else for me to do here. I turned my stool and watched a while this strange and wild amphitheatre.
After about fifteen minutes or so of sitting, observing the ceremony of sin that was Lola’s main room, a Hispanic man in a navy pinstripe suit tapped me on the shoulder, “Ricky’s waiting. Upstairs.”
“Ok.” I said, and gave him a nod and got off my stool.
“Fucking cunt.” Shouted the American man. “I been waiting to speak to Ricky for nigh on two hours now, and you take this asshole up only been here two fucking minutes? Not fucking likely, Ramirez.”
“Shut the fuck up, Derek. Ricky will see you when he’s ready.” Said the suited latino man.
The American man stood up.
“Sit, down, Derek.” The latino man put his hand against Derek’s chest and pushed him back on his seat. “And don’t, don’t address me in front of new company. Ever.”
“Fucking unbelievable.”
The suited man grabbed me by the arm. “Let’s go.”
He sat me down on a plastic chair, a chair the same as one I sat on in school detention, outside the closed door of what must’ve been Ricky’s office. A small, engraved gold plaque read Lola. I sat pondering what Ricky might want from me, might offer me, on that grave and lucid night. He was vague and frantic when we’d spoke on the phone earlier that evening: talk of fame and pussy and big money and ‘I like you, gringo. I fucking like you. Come down to my place, man. I got this chick you wanna fuck for sure, man. Yeah come down. Now. Right now man, right now. Right fucking now.’ I questioned why I, a white thirty-something Canadian male from San Antonio would be of any interest to a man like Ricky. It didn’t make any sense, and made complete sense, all at the same time. My two conclusions mutually exclusive yet blood bonded by the complete confusion of it all. My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the re-emergence of the suited man’s from the door labelled Lola. “Ricky will see you now.” I got up and he patted me down.
I was led into a dark room mottled with antique furniture and the distinct pungence of Arabic oud cologne. Ricky was screaming at an indeterminate figure situated somewhere in the room. I was sat down opposite a large wooden desk, waiting while Risky dispensed aural punishment in a tectonic explosion of expletives. His desk top was a mismatch of unorganised papers, a rolodex brimful with flayed post-it notes, a bonsai tree, a large pile of cocaine, and a gun. Ricky continued with his tirade of furious rage, in one hand a cigarette clinging for dear life under Ricky’s latino gesticulations. In the other a very large and purple dildo. He’d paid me no notice since I arrived.
After he’d finished shouting he sat at the desk and placed the dildo down and did a line of cocaine. “Oooh, rrRoberto, I completely forgot about you, man. You want a drink?” I was already holding a drink. He clicked his fingers, “Ramirez, go get Robert a drink. Whad’you want, Robert?”
“I’ve already got a drink.”
“He’s already got a drink. Ok. Ramirez, don’t get him a drink. Ok. ”
“Robert man! How the fuck are you?” he got up and hugged me around my arms while I sat. He was sweating profusely through his silk patterned shirt.
“I’m good, Ricky, how are you?”
“Fucking incredible, man. Apart from the headache I got from this fucking skank and her purple fucking cock in my desk draw.” I turned to observe a quiet figure in the dark, sat on an vintage leather coach: an aged wart of a woman, curled over and dressed in 1920s attire, smoking a cigarette held in an old fashioned holder. This was Lola.
“Anyway.” He said “Enough of this bullshit. You’ve met Ramirez already.” He pointed to the suited man. “You want a line of coca?” now he pointed to the white pile on his desk “It’s good shit, man.”
“I’m fine with bourbon for now, thanks.”
“Fuck it then. Down to business.” He slammed his fist down. “On the bus you said some shit about going south. Some shit about Guetemala. How you fixed for that? You got a ticket, man?”
“Well no, not yet. I hadn’t really thought about it yet. I’m just at the Holiday Inn for now.”
“You a cryptic motherfucker, Robert. I like that. I like that.” He lit a new cigarette and observed me a while, and frowned, “The fuck happened to your face, man?”
“Your doormen kicked my ass.”
“Ah ha ha, oh yeah, they’ll do that.”
Ramirez said something to Ricky in Spanish.
“Oh but you hit Barry first though right? You crazy fucking gringo. He would’a killed you, man. Barry loves killing white boys.” He snorted a bump of coke off his fist “They found my card in your pocket when they fleeced you. You a lucky fucking gringo, you know that?”
I didn’t answer back.
“How you fixed for cash?” he asked.
“I’m not.”
“Then how the fuck you expect to get to fucking Guatemala with no fucking pesos, gringo?”
“Brazil.”
“Excuse me?”
“I’m heading for Brazil. Through Guatemala.”
“Whatever. Fucking Brazil then. As far as I see it, gringo, you owe me.” He pointed at me stern, with his cigarette between his fingers, “You owe me for my doorman’s fucking dental bill.” He said it with a new severity to his tone. “So!” he slammed his fist again, “You work for a me, I pay you, you fuck some o’my whores. We get rich. OK!” He spat in his hand and offered it to me. I spat in mine and we shook, blood bonded now. He stared steely with his dilated black eyes hard into mine and held my gaze with pious tenacity, “La noche es larga, gringo, y el día está mojado con sangre.”
I nodded.
“Bueno!” he shouted. “Ramirez, get Robert here another fucking drink and some pussy, ok? And find him a new fucking suit too, he looks like shit.” Another bump of coke. “Robert, you stay here tonight. You ride out with me en la mañana. 11am sharp, ok gringo?
“Ok, Ricky.”
“Ok!”
“And what would you have me do, Ricky?” A woman’s voice spoke, old and gravel and full of whiskey. She was Texan, Lola was.
“You, you fucking old whore.” Ricky stood up from his desk grasping in his hand the purple dildo. Ramirez took me by the arm and began to lead me out. “You.” screamed Ricky “can eat this purple fucking cock.” He strode across the room with vexed determination and beat her with that large and purple dildo as a dissatisfied king would a jester.

6th extract from Psycho-Active

When we got to the bus station in Mexico City Ricky patted my back and reminded me to look him up at Lola’s. I said I would even though I was half unsure what the next twenty-four hours would have in store for me. I was in a new town again, and I wasn’t anywhere near where I was meant to be. The street outside the bus station was vast and concrete and bare. There were citizens all around doing their day-to-day, but it didn’t bustle. It was hot and lonely there. I tried my best to flag a few passers-by and get directions, but my attempts were met with disdain and boiling impatience. I flagged a cab to ask the driver for directions. He spoke in frantic English and told me the way I had to go. Psychically I mapped the hypothetic streets I would need to follow. I thanked him in Spanish and he smiled and held the smile out a while, almost expectantly. I gave him a nod and bade him adios but it wasn’t until I was a couple steps on my way I heard him shout “pendejo”. And then I realised I’d forgot to tip him.
I checked into the Holiday Inn Mexico City with the only luggage to my name a pair of grocery bags with 7/11 produce. The girl at the desk was young and cute and dark skinned and owned an ivory smile that could tame the savage Chupacabra. A bellboy showed me to my room and I tipped him meagrely. I was running out of pesos. He seemed happy enough.
My room was as I expected: magnolia and square but comfortable. I dropped my bags and sunk my face hard into a memory foam pillow; left it there sinking until it accepted the terms of my face’s contours. I lay like this until I needed air again. When I did I turned on to my side I went into my jacket pocket for the business card Ricky had given me earlier. It was burgundy-red with single navy line cutting down its left flank. In cheap copperplate writing it read just his name and phone number, forgoing a title, job or otherwise: Ricardo Alverez, 55 5283 8472. I flicked it twice with my index and placed it on the bedside next to the room phone and got undressed. I wrapped myself in the duvet, once again burrowed, and slept for several hours.
At 11pm I awoke with the taste of bitter and cloves in my mouth. I decided now would be the best time to attend the long awaited mini-bar. I clasped between all my fingers bourbon and vodka miniatures, and took them to the edge of the room and knocked them back. I placed myself on the floor.
As I lay on my side on the carpet of the corner room on the top floor of the Holiday Inn Hotel, I watched out my window the wildest lighting storm I’d ever seen. Supernova clouds of pure energy firing blue electric hell onto the endless Mexican landscape below. Made me feel for the first time since I set out on my journey, truly alone, truly small. Like I was only man alive in the world witnessing God let us know what he really thought of this mess; indignant and unnoticed except by me. He vented his frustrated rage on dirt and rock and things already dead, while the rest of us went on venting ours on trees and animals and air and each other. I just lay there on that carpet in that hotel in Mexico City, and watched.
I started to think of Virgil from back home and what he was up to now. Thought about calling him. Decided not to. Instead I got up off the floor and knocked back another miniature and sat on the bed again by the phone. Instead, I gave Ricky a call.

The cab driver dropped me off at the corner of a road I didn’t quite catch the name of. He knew where Lola’s was, just refused to drive me the door. He said “yo no ir más lejos” and pointed down the street “es de esa manera.” I tipped him adequately and he smiled “gracias señor.”
The street on the way up to Lola’s was a maelstrom symphony of spectacular neon lit doorways and hookers with cigarettes and sexless faces that detailed the horror of the 21st century twilight; and scrawny men in work slacks walking and drinking and spilling 40 ounce malt liquor beers; and SUVs luminous electric and blue humming out frequencies god-like and reverent; and a man bloodied and beaten mercilessly in the street by bouncers all in black. The scene at once shocking and hellish piqued in my mind a raw excitement that rose slow in my head: an ecstasy feeling I couldn’t quite maintain. I had to be part of it. I walked over to the bouncers brutalising the civilian man and watched close with my hands in my pockets. They dragged him over to the curb and began to position him biting on it. “Say” I interjected “what’d he do?”
The men furious with bloodlust adrenaline quickly responded to my query. One black. One white. The black man spoke “who the fuck are you?”
“No one, really. I was just wondering what this guy did.”
“You know him?”
“No. I just wanted to know why you two blockheads were beating ten shades of crap outta this poor fellow.”
His eyes lit up red with crimson hellfire “The fuck did you just say!?”
And before he could follow his response I threw my fist hard square into his hulking jaw. Then everything went black.

I awoke I don’t know how long after, in the road, next to a red car. A man lay next to me, his face an indistinguishable red pulp with white teeth strewn all around him like some scatter of misplaced dominoes. It was the beaten man from before. I think he was dead. I wondered why I wasn’t. I got up and brushed myself down, my jacket damp through from my curb-neighbour’s blood. The two bouncers stood in front of me laughing, guarding the entrance to a doorway. They were a queer motley, the two of them. The black one donned long snaking dreadlocks and wore a black leather cowboy style hat. The other, hulking and white had a sandy blonde mullet haircut and horn rimmed pedophile glasses. He spoke with a Russian accent. The sign above them read ‘Lola’s’. I walked over to the sniggering doormen and the black one handed a card, “Ricky’s waiting for you upstairs” he said. I opened the entrance door. A hand grabbed my shoulder, it was the black bouncer, “I would’a killed you man. You lucky.”

5th Extract from Psycho Active (unedited)

After my cereal I sat contemplating the likelihood of me getting a car, which was probably reported stolen by now, past the officious pig-fuckers of the United States Border Patrol. I looked in Nurse’s rearview to see how I looked after the beating and the crash. Any visible abnormalities could thwart my emigration intentions indefinitely. I prodded, pulled and slapped my cheeks, lifted my eyelids, examined my corneas, smiled and frowned and grimaced and yawned. My face seemed ok. Perhaps a little tired. But aesthetically satisfactory. I pulled up my shirt to examine my upper body. Bruises of blue and purple and burning red were painted out across my abdomen and torso, like a constellation map of the galaxy. It was beautiful, in a way.
I concluded that as long as I didn’t get strip-searched, my appearance wasn’t going to be a problem. And being a thirty-three year old white western male and a Canadian citizen no less, being so much as asked to leave the vehicle would be a highly unlikely circumstance. However, one small hitch nagged my more nervous neurons: if the young Nurse had reported her vehicle stolen, and nominated me as the primary suspect, then I would no doubt be driving into a very premature denouement of my Trip.
But that my friends, was also highly unlikely. You see, as I told you before when I was musing on the makings of the pretty young Nurse: she is a white, middleclass American living in the Deep South, her primordial instincts would immediately direct her accusations first at Hispanics or Blacks or maybe even hopped up Natives. The cops would probably make the same knee-jerk conclusions. God bless white American hysteria.
Of course they would eventually collate my sudden disappearance and the theft of Nurse’s car happening within minutes of each other. Eventually. But the fog of ingrained white American hegemony would afford at least, a few days more on the lamb.
There is a racism that sleeps a light slumber in the hearts of every European settler in the United States, despite their current political leanings. From swastika painted neo-Nazi skin heads who ride the beast proudly in their rallies and in the beatings of black teenagers; to the public prosecutor in the courthouse fighting-the-good-fight against the scourge of immigrant street warfare, sipping coffee made from beans from Latin-America and Ethiopia; to the Columbia grad who knows subway stops he shouldn’t alight at. America: the land of the brave, and the lynch mob; America: where freedom is quantified by skin pigmentation – a cast system no less pernicious or toxic than in India; Yes, America, where even in the abolition and white guilt and progressive liberalism of the North, soccer-moms cower behind curtains and whisper words even darker than the skins of the new black family that recently invaded their suburbia.
Not me, though. I’m Canadian.

I got in to Laredo around 1am. It was a peculiar time to be crossing the border and I knew it would probably be subject to scrutiny by the patrol. But stopping and booking into another motel was not an option. I’d been assaulted by enough innkeepers for the night.
I drove around near deserted streets, left and right and left again around the city’s grid system, stewing and driving before the Last Judgment. It was Monday by now, I think. Ghostly Laredo had returned to the coyote days of old, muted and lazy drunk. I half expected a tumbleweed to brush across my path. Or perhaps this queer tranquility was just the solemn hush before a desperado was thrown through a saloon bar window. Or the quiet before a hyperbolic gunfight rolled out into the street with bullets in cowboy hats and screams of whores. Or maybe it was just the reverent silence before the frenzied rape of a shopkeeper’s daughter by a tequila-demented bandito. Warm whispers in the evening air reminded me it was Wednesday, not Monday. It was probably time to move on.

Laredo was founded in 1755, christened Villa de San Agustin de Laredo by one Don Tomás Sánchez, a veteran captain of the army of New Spain. Nearly a century later in 1840 Laredo had been declared capital of the independent Republic of the Rio Grande: an unrecognized state set up by insurgents who opposed Santa Anna’s Centralized Mexican Government after he disbanded Mexico’s Congress and suspended the constitution. After a bitter and wild struggle, the rebellion failed, and Laredo was once again embraced by Mexican sovereignty.
In 1846 during the Mexican-American war the United States military occupied Laredo with a force of Texas Rangers. Military might broke the back of the Mexican resistance and the territory was ceded to the United States of America.
What followed was a referendum by the people of Laredo to petition the American government to return the town to Mexico, which was denied. So the Laredan people left their homes and crossed the Rio Grande River and formed the new settlement of Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico. Their old homes practically a pebble-throw from their new ones, and hopelessly visible from the banks of the Grande.
The Laredo border is now one of the most heavily guarded crossings in the developed world.

In 2005, I Robert Giraud, your protagonist, visited Laredo to celebrate the 250th anniversary of its founding with my father-in-law Phil, my ex-wife Jan, and Jan’s mom. The festivities were electric.

After about an hour of moseying and dawdling, disappointed at Laredo’s lack of gunfights and bar-brawls, I joined up with the Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge en route to the border crossing. I was slightly pensive, mostly drunk again, but not detectably so. The Gates of Mordor approached, and its Orcs were waiting for me with their axes and clubs and standard-issue 9mm pistols. Vigilance was required once more.
There were no other cars pulling up to the booths at the border, only empty lanes. I could almost see the guards and their cinderblock heads bobbing together buoyantly, reveling in the good job they’d done keeping brown people out today. I had my pick of the lanes. I decided center was safest.
I was met by a cinderblock with a shaved back-and-sides cut: A living ex-military cliché. Just another, I thought, among a nation of real life clichés that never seem to disappoint. He wore aviators at night.
He tapped the window of Nurse’s car with a ballpoint pen.
I rolled it down “Evening officer.”
“Bit late t’be callin’ the evenin’” snorted the cinderblock. A local brick-head it seemed.
“My apologies, officer. Good morning.”
“Can ‘ah see your passport please, sir?” He scanned it. “Canadian.”
“Get too cold fer’ you up there in moose country or somethin’?” He said so the other cinderblocks could hear. They bobbed along compliantly. He grinned a redneck’s grin, except with actual teeth.
I hated his fat face and wanted to smash it with the tire iron in Nurse’s glove box, but instead I said “Just topping up on my tan.”
The cinderblock didn’t smile. He started to examine the side of Nurse’s car. “What’s the nature of yer’ visit to Mexico this evenin’, Mr. Giraud?”
“It’s too late to be calling it the evening, remember?” I quipped in the witty, wry way I often quip.
“What’s all these dirt marks on the side of yer’ vehicle, you been drivin’ off road?”
I opened the door to get out.
“Stay in the vehicle, sir.” I clicked the door back shut. He knelt down to study Nurse’s tires. I watched him in the side mirrors.
“I’d like you to pop yer’ trunk please, sir.” He said approaching the window with his cinderblock head – robust, square and true – obscuring everything else. It was huge. It had its own center of gravity. I started to feel my head being drawn by its pull. It had an overwhelming magnetism. I couldn’t fight it. I veered off unable to control my own orbit anymore. My was getting closer to his, and there was nothing I could do about it. “Woah, woah! Have you been drinking, sir?”
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. My head just carried on its inexorable course to Cinderblock IV. Our heads nearly touched.
“That’s fucking it.” He snapped. Yanked open Nurse’s door and dragged me out.
It seemed ever since I’d started my Trip people had been dragging and pulling and throwing me all over the place. I put it down to climate change. It was pretty hot this time of year now.
He threw me up against the side of Nurse’s car and called for the cinderblock cavalry: “Bobby, check this asshole’s trunk and glove box.” “Brandon, run this motherfucker’s plates.” He had my arm wrenched right up behind my back so I could caress my neck hairs with my fingertips if wanted to. I decided not to.
“The fuck is wrong witchu’, boy, you a queer or somethin’?” Yelled a now very angry cinderblock. He wrenched my arm up higher. I could nearly touch my head hair now.
“Look, officer, this is all a big mistake.”
He didn’t agree. He just called back out to his band of blockheads “Bobby, what’s the hold-up?”
Bobby, a smaller, scrawnier cinderblock, but a cinderblock nonetheless called out “Bottle of liquor, cereal and some other crap. Groceries mostly. Bread; milk; gas bottles.”
“How ‘bout the glove?” Said the man who had by now nearly dislocated my right arm. I’d ascertained by now that he must’ve been the Alpha-Block: King cinderblock. Überblock.
“Just a tire iron, Billy. Looks clean.”
He called out for the third block-sketeer “How’s it comin’ on those plates, Brandon?”
“Computer’s slow. Just a minute, Billy.”
“Ok, Bobby, fetch me the breathalyser.” Said the man intent on tearing my muscle tissue, whom I now knew to be Billy. Billy the redneck blockhead.
The whole scene was getting ridiculous. I decided to weigh in before a miscarriage of justice was enacted. “Look, Billy, is it? This is all a big mistake.”
“Ah’ heard that one before. You must think I’m a fuckin’ dumbass. Well ah’ think you’re a drunk faggot whose about to spend the night in a cell.”
“No, seriously Billy, I’m not drunk or anything; I’m just tired. I’m driving down on work. A really important business trip.”
Billy was didn’t respond.
“I’m a representative of the Cumbersome family oil corporation. I’m normally based at our Brownsville rig but I had to collect some personal effects from my aunt’s in Hebronville tonight. I can give you her number but she’ll be asleep by now.” His grip loosened slightly, and then tightened it again. “I’m on my way to Monclova to help oversee the setup of our new site in the Nuevo León area.”
“They found oil in Monclova?” perked a now more inquisitive Billy.
“Near Monclova; in the Nuevo León area. That’s why I’ve got all this dirt on my car. Ok I admit I may have been speeding a little on Route 16, but that’s only because I’ve got this really important meeting in the morning. I’m just tired, Billy. I’m not gonna’ get a chance to sleep tonight.”
He dampened tenacious grip again. “What about the liquor, Mr. Giraud?”
“You know, to grease the squeaky wheels of business so-to-speak.”
“But it’s open?”
“My aunt’s a drunk. She insisted on a night-cap. What could I say?”
Billy the redneck blockhead thought about it for a second. It was a plausible story to him. A majestic exemplar of thespianism I thought, though. He bat it around, played ping-pong with my story. It would be a long game. He had a big head.
He let go of my arm “alright.” called out to his cinderblock compatriots “Guys, stand down, we fucked up. Fella’ works fer’ Mr. Cumbersome.”
“He’s my father-in-law, actually. Family business.”
“I’m sorry, sir. It was misunderstandin’ on my part.” The humbled cinderblock conceded.
I got back into Nurse’s stolen car “No apologies necessary, Billy. The United States Border Patrol is an American institution, and you guys at the Laredo branch are truly innovators in your craft.”
“Thank you fer’ sayin’ so, Mr. Giraud.”
“No problem, Billy. You a pleasant day.”

I drove off into the moonlit morning passed Nuevo Laredo and out once again on the Road. With the danger no longer in my wing mirrors, I deemed it safe to once more tear up the tan sand-roads and the Byzantium night-morning sky. I was a painter again. A post-post-impressionist swirling beiges with blues, with purples, with intoxicated red hues and the other divine auspices of starry night-morning liberty.
As my wheels ripped the dessert road floor with the pious hum of motor engine reverberation, I started to feel that same stirring in my stomach I felt on Route 16 with the window down at 80mph. An indescribable feeling that can only compared to the absolute freedom of freefalling through the night with no parachute and no gear. When the only possible outcome is death; but it doesn’t matter because in those few fleeting moments before the end, there’s enough living for a lifetime.
There was Land Rover in my rear view about quarter-mile back matching my 80 with his. He was the only other wanderer on the Road that night.

I was making my way down to Monterrey, to stop for supplies and respite. It had been a long drive as far and I was running low on Cinnamon Toast and liquor. I prayed to the Aztec gods of Mexico that they kept their shelves stocked with my favourite breakfast cereal. I tuned into a local radio station, to keep my senses acute.
It was about 2:20am and I was halfway to Monterrey. I’d slowed to a dilatory 60mph. The reggaeton on the radio was losing its rigour. The Land Rover was still in my rear view keeping its same distance.
By 3am I was so tired my head was nearly on the steering wheel. I had to fight to stay awake. I slapped my face and rubbed water in my eyes. In vein. I lost the fight and fatigue overtook me. The holy rubber steering wheel now a pillow for my forehead. I fell asleep.
I jolted suddenly, woke up to radiant light filling the entirety of Nurse’s car. I assumed it was a divine message from those Aztec gods: a memo that everything was alright, that there’d be Cinnamon Toast in Monterrey. No such luck. I checked the mirrors to observe the source of this new elysian illumination, only to find the Land Rover was right up my rear with its headlights on high beam. The intensity blinded me temporarily. I tried to focus my vision on the road ahead so as not to swerve into the ditch on the side, when I felt a thud in the rear of Nurse’s bumper. I was being rammed. I hit the gas hard speeding up to get out of reach, but the Land Rover’s engine was too powerful and persisted to ram me with crash after crash after crash, until I could feel debris come away from Nurse’s car, like scuppered oak from the hulls of an English schooner bombarded by enemy pirate cannonball fire.
My thoughts drifted away. I started to think of my old boss Reggie. Wandered what he was doing right now. Probably in bed spooning his wife, Ellen. Or maybe he had trouble sleeping, and was sat up drinking whisky with milk and watching the late-night poker channel. That would be a terrible waste of single malt. He had a fine collection of scotch. CRASH. One final ram and I lost control of the car, and descended front-first into a ditch on the side of the road.
I awoke with my face smothered by Nurse’s deployed air bag, my face buried deep in its suffocating embrace. I fought off pillowy bastard until it deflated and I could get free. I got out the car to access the damage. I stopped short when I saw the beams of the Land Rover stationary now about 50 metres down the road. There was a man standing outside the car, smoking a cigarette. I couldn’t make him out properly. I remembered where I’d seen the Land Rover before now. It passed through border control as redneck Billy was wrenching my arm up out of it’s socked. It had passed through without stopping. Without any checks.
The man got back in his car and drove off.
Nurse’s car was now nose-down in a ditch at the side of the road. It looked like I wouldn’t be making it to Monterrey just yet. Which was a shame because my milk was going bad. I decided to sleep in the wrecked car for the night.

Harold Horatio was a world famous explorer, highly celebrated for his successful expeditions and anthropological studies of the native peoples of Papua New Guinea. He was well known and was much talked about by the upper echelons of Victorian society, his work often a conversation opener at dinners in high courts. There were plans for a knighthood from the Crown should his expedition in the Amazon be fruitful.
It was hard being a famous explorer in the 19th century as
most of the known world had already been discovered by the Spanish and the Portuguese and a little bit by the Dutch. So a lot of the other famous explorers spent their time walking around Australia and Africa and America and the South Pole, searching for clues of an otherwise unknown world. But these places didn’t interest Harold. Harold had a penchant for the peoples of the earth’s rainforests.

Harold’s father was the head of the nearly dissolved East India Company, a trading company founded by his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in 1600. Harold’s sea-legs were in his DNA, you see. But Harold’s father William Horatio felt differently. He claimed the Horatio family’s seafaring days were over and that Harold should stay in London with him and take over the company when he retired. He always blamed Harold for the company failing 1874.
After the East India Company’s dissolution William Horatio descended into desperate alcoholism, and violently beat Harold’s mother to death nearly a year later. Harold was in the Amazon Rainforest with the Chief at the time. He was hooked on Psycho-Toads. He was an explorer of other dimensions now.
Robert Giraud wouldn’t meet the Chief for another 139 years.

I awoke to the psychic rays of the pulsating Aztec sun pummelling my face through the cracked window of Nurse’s windscreen. There were loud foreign noises and commotion all around me. I got out the car to determine the disturbance.
A frail Mexican fellow in dishevelled denim overalls with no t-shirt underneath was directing a tow truck to my wreckage in the ditch. I attempted to converse with him with my high-school Spanish, but he ignored my presence as though I was a mosquito lusty for blood protein. He swatted me away as I fumbled with phonetics.
I eventually got him to acknowledge me and at least attempt discourse. But the only tangible word I could make out from his pursed prune-like lips, was policia. PO-LI-CI-A. I was always terrible at high-school Spanish.
I insisted “No policia por favor, no policia!” but swatted away again my feverish protests and hooked the tow truck to the rear of Nurse’s car. “Please, señor!” I protested once more. He stopped for a moment; spoke to me in a low quieted voice, words I couldn’t understand. But I got the gist of it. I handed him a folded Ben Franklin and he unhooked the car. “Gracias señor.” I said.
“Gracias gringo.” He smirked.
The Volvo C30, Nurse’s car, my chariot of liberty, this automobile – once a 296 horsepower freedom ticket from modern-day monolithic monotony, slavery, the American corporate 21st century – was pretty beaten up after the crash. It seems my delicate phoenix wings had been clipped by the harsh realities of rural bandito Mexico, and for now I would soar no more. I’d had to trash the car on the outskirts of town.

Before embarking on this venture of mine, this divine pilgrimage to Thebes – to Babylon, to the ancient city of Tollan – I was wise enough to memorise the maps I’d need to get me to where I was going. There was no data trail on my laptop. No analogue paper trail with Sharpie markings for evidence. Just me, and my unwavering mind. So I knew there’d be an airport on route 85D about twenty-five minutes outside of Monterrey. My plan now was to ditch Nurse’s Volvo at the airport’s car park and get a taxi into central Monterrey, where with my remaining American dollars would buy a one-way ticket to Mexico City. Once I got to the capital, I’d have to see what happens. The pace of my Journey would have to slow for now, though.

Ditching the car was an easy enough affair. Mexican airports had relatively little security in their car parks, even post-9/11 to my dismay slightly I must admit. I sat in the driving seat for a minute or so savouring a few moments of solemn reverence. Nurse’s car had served me well. But now it was time to say goodbye. I rested my forehead on her steering wheel and said a little prayer.
I whispered a quiet psalm from Corinthians. It whispered back. Alien words in a language I didn’t then understand, but now know to be ancient Nahuatl. It recited long passages to me in strange staggered rhythmic patterns, sporadically speeding up and slowing in paces I found hard to follow. I pulled my head back to see if the steering wheel was moving but it wasn’t, it just kept whispering these incomprehensible stanzas back and forth and in circles around my head. Then with unimpeded movement it opened up, shot dual beams of glistening golden light directly into my eyes through my optic nerve and into my brain. Red and gold and gossamer and warm engulfed me. Nurse’s steering wheel was showing me something. A vision. The secrets of unexplored dimensions; of parallel universe. It was comforting. I felt like a babe again, resting in maternal womb, and wished to stay that way forever. I swam around in the swampy nirvana in a new state of unknown ecstasy. It was a feeling, an emotion I’d once before experience, I think. I figured rapture had finally happened and that this must be heaven.
But seismic tremors shook, and dislodged me from my foetal euphoria. The red and gold and serene washed away as titanium claws clasped at my ankles and shinbones. Serenity was replaced by acid and bleach colours, brutal and naked white. I jerked and grabbed at the gossamer but it slipped fluid at my touch. I screamed as loud as I could muster but my voice was silent in the purgatory vacuum. I awoke suddenly with a jolt. Nurse’s steering wheel whispered one final word to me “Nimocehuihtoc (I am resting)” as I fought to catch my breath.

My time in Monterrey was largely uneventful, I’m sorry to say. I spent most of it wandering around with my tattered 7/11 bags trying to figure out how to get to the bus station. I was disheartened. I didn’t have a car to keep my groceries in anymore. I did notice though, in my dawdling about town, that there was a queer sense of ill ease about Monterrey. Something off-kilter. To look as it, it was like any other 21st century metropolis, with skyscrapers of silver and chrome and such, but something clandestine whispered of a city in the grips of crisis of identity. In the throws of existential uncertainty. Strange: Monterrey was littered with hot dog stands selling New York Style wieners on street corners; with clothing stores offering 2-for-1 on white tees with star spangled banners; souvenir shops with cowboy hats and six shooters. No sculptures of the Cerro de la Silla: the titanic bush-mountain range on the edge of town. Although a hunk of pointy olive-green plastic would hardly make a good paperweight.
Monterrey seemed to be in some way reselling the promises of the American dream to its Mexican people. Promises of personal liberty and prosperity. Of social mobility, and ‘all men are created equal’. Those covenants of the constitution. Ask any Canadian and they’ll show you the fraying hems of that tawdry tapestry. Where the batteries go in those knock-off toys. As every man north of the Rio Grande River should now know, sacred American promises come with a price tag. It all depends on whether you shop Walmart or JCPenny.
The mountainous peaks of the Cerro de la Silla watch hubristically over this mess. It gave up on western civilisation a long time ago.

By now I was nearly out of cash, but I had enough for a bus ticket to Mexico City. It was a one-way ticket that would deliver me and my fellow travellers thirteen-hours through Mexico’s arid and unloved dessert.
The bus was pretty packed when I got on, but in better shape than I guess I expected it to be (notions of yellow tint windows and free roaming livestock). I walked through the aisle searching for a pair of permissive eyes to tell me it was ok to sit down next to their owner. I got to the back and still found none. I perched myself with my 7/11 bags between an elderly lady thumbing her rosary beads, and a middle-aged man wearing dirt and oil and the other auspices of an honest day. I sat for a minute arranging my groceries before I heard a man’s voice from the middle of the bus, “Ey Gringo, come over here a minute.” I looked around to see if there were any other gringos on the bus, but there were none. The old lady with the rosaries confirmed it, “He mean’s you, gringo.”
“I didn’t know you could speak English.” I told her.
“I speak many languages, gringo.”
“Like what?”
She didn’t say anything back, she just looked up at me through these eyes that seemed grow. And they grew, and keep growing til her crimson-black pupils dilated and expanded til they took over completely. These blood ink stains unhindered by coarse fabric, grew and grew until there was no white left in her eyes. She opened her mouth to say something but no words came, just mouthed empty syllables in lip shapes I couldn’t recognise. A voice called from the other side of the bus, not hers but that male voice in English again said “Ey gringo, you hear me or what?” I asked the old lady to excuse and that maybe we’d talk later, but she was stuck in her silent speech thing. As I stood up she grabbed my wrist, when I looked down at her, her tongue was out long and snaking. I apologised and I said I had leave, but she wouldn’t loosen her iron tenacious grip – bony and relentless. When she finally let go her eyes were still huge and black, bug-like, she said in a voice that echoed with alien frequencies “temaz, teochihuaz (he will bathe, it will be blessed).” I said I was sorry and it nice to meet her, she let go and made my way over to where the male voice had called me from.
The only empty seat was next to a man in his middle thirties, Hispanic, obviously, but with a hard face, rocky and chiselled and handsome. I sat down next to him. We didn’t talk for the first few minutes. I shuffled around and rearranged my groceries.
“What’s in the bag?” he eventually asked.
“Just my groceries. Why’d you call me over?”
“Gimme one of those Twinkies.”
I handed him a Twinkie. He ripped the packet open and ate the thing whole. I watched him as he chewed the golden cream filled treat with large oscillating chews. When he’d finished and swallowed I asked him “Don’t you have Twinkies in down here in Mexico?”
He thought about it, “Yeah. I just wanted try a gringo Twinkie.”
“And?”
“Pretty good. Pretty moist.”
I nodded.
We spent another hour sat in silence as the bus rolled through endless dunes.
The bus’s seats were synthetic green and faux-leather, bolted down with rust-bronze thumbtacks. The lining was thin and uncomfortable; my ass went numb a couple times. The man who’d beckoned me over was staring decisively out the window at dry weeds, thinking about home and sex and Mexican Twinkies probably. “So what do you do?” I asked the man as his daydreams slipped away from him. He frowned for a second, still occupied on the arid outside: my usually piquant question, rubber and dull to him. He ignored it. Instead he responded with “So what you doin’ in Mehico anyway, man?”
I paused for a moment. Up until then I hadn’t really thought about it much, to me Mexico was little more than a section of the Road. “Just passing through.” I replied.
“Just passing through, gringo? You always talk like you in a movie? All ominous and shit. C’mon now, gringo?”
“No, really, I’m just passing through.”
“Through to where?”
“The Guatemalan border for now, I guess.”
“Then where?”
“My Destination.”
Laughing to himself he replied, “O-k then.” Thoughtfully, he looked down at his hands, they were hard and scarred and calloused. He looked up at me once more and asked “so what you running away from then, gringo?”
“My name is Robert Giraud.”
(next section in childhood flashback)

“Excuse me?”
“You keep calling me gringo. My name isn’t gringo, it’s Robert Giraud.”
“Ok Ro-bert Ge-rard. Sensitive mother fucker, ain’t chu?”
“What’s your name?”
“My name?”
“Yeah”
“My name” he said, “My name is Ricardo, man. People call me Ricky, though” He held out his brutal hand for me to shake. I took the thing, a solid hand of pure carbon and titanium with a grip to fracture knuckles, to cut off circulation. We held the handshake a fraction too long; a few milliseconds more than we should have. He stared heavy into my eyes, and in his I saw a spectre of something not quite what it seemed, something off, something knowing; like in these eyes this Ricky fellow kept a jewel of some grave secret yet to be harvested. We’d met before. I fucking knew it.
He let go of my hand, “Don’t worry about the whole gringo thing. It’s a Mexican word, like err, ah, term of endearment thing.” He smiled and winked at me and then went back to his musings on the Mexican tundra, “Oooh, an Armadillo!”
We were seven hours into our journey now on a road somewhere between Guanajuato and Querétaro before we talked again. Ricky spoke first, said something about the whores in Mexico City, then something about his grandma’s place in Tlalnepantla. I sat and listened and rearranged my groceries. Everything was going bad.
“You never did tell me, gringo.”
“Tell you what?”
“Your wife’s tit size.”
“Sorry?”
“I’m kidding, gringo. No, what you were running away from back home.”
“Who says I was running?”
“Why else would a guy like you be here? I mean you look like shit but that suit probably cost a few dollars. Someone fuck you over in a ponzi scheme or some shit? No lemme guess, you catch your wife fucking some dude? Not that I give a shit or anything, but it’s a long fucking journey and you ain’t say two words.”
“I dunno. I guess I’m looking for something.”
“Looking for something. Looking for something in Meh’ico?”
“Yes. No. I mean, I mean, not a place in particular; more of like, a feeling, you know? Like it’s not a specific place manifest, it’s just I’m sort of chasing this feeling I felt a long time ago that’s only come back to me recently. It’s telling me to go south, so that’s where I’m headed, to the border.
Ricky sat thoughtful a few seconds, chewing over what I’d said. A fly landed on the back of one of his hands. He swatted it. “You’re one cryptic mother fucker, you know that gringo?” He said and smiled; I smiled back. “You stopping off in Meh’ico City for long?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. Maybe.”
“Well, if you need a place to stay, hit me up at Lola’s in Buenavista. I’ll be there the next couple of days.”
“I dunno, I’ll probably just check into a Holiday Inn or something.”
“Think about it, gringo.” After he said it he slipped a card into my jacket breast pocket. “Think about it.”

Yesterday I Woke Up Tired

Yesterday I woke up tired. I woke up with a feeling neutral and grey and crushing. Now all I have is apathy and lethargy and all the other ‘gies. To the point where all true emotion I once felt has been siphoned out by spirit-suckers who sucked my life-force through the marrow from a dislodged shinbone I didn’t notice. Quiet and calm and hollow, now.

I think I know the guys who done it. Not personally though no, but in faces on LCD screens and in newspapers and subtle changes in the wind. Today is a new day, but not a good one.

I’m reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey for the second time now. It’s a literary novel about a mental institution in America in the 1960s, told from the perspective of a Native American patient who spends his days pretending to be deaf and dumb, sweeping the floors of the hospital. The hospital is run like machine clockwork under the autocratic rule of head Nurse Ratchet, until one day the system is upset by a renegade new admission: Randal P. McMurphy, whose larger-than-life eccentricities are a crowbar in the cogs of its machinery.

But the story is really about the way homogenous monolithic societies who are run for and by perfectly programmed robots, deals with the danger of freethinking subversive spirits. It makes them uniform, re-dressing them in the garms of white middle-class adequacy.

I wouldn’t say the 2015 UK general election had any Randal P. McMurphys, not by a long shot, but there was a voracious hunger at least in the minds of the young, for a change in an antiquated system that didn’t work for them. But that idea was churned into bone meal by a middle-class hysteria fearful of the constitutional unknown.

I guess just like in Kesey’s famous novel, our society dealt with wild new things it didn’t understand with the same conviction. With the only way we knew how.