Wednesday,31 Jul 2013
By the time Lucy and Terry met up with Marcia back at the hotel it was eleven-thirty. Lucy and Leslie had agreed on a 12 o’clock in Lucy’s room, at the same time Marcia and Terry planned to meet Hector Valdez at the plaza. After they left Lucy fished out her camera and was just about to turn it on and review her images when she stopped and put it down. She put her head in her hands, elbows on the desk, and sighed. Then she looked out at the ocean, where two-foot high waves broke close to shore. The swell had completely disappeared.
She needed to talk to her pal Mickey, who had a friend she swore could hack into any computer in the world from his fifth-floor walkup railroad flat on East 9th Street.
Five minutes to noon. She watched Leslie strolling up the road towards the hotel. Mickey’s hacker and the rest of New York would have to wait.
“Hey, what’s up?” Lucy went out on her verandah to greet Leslie.
“Hi, Lucy,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Me? I’m fine.”
“I mean after your accident yesterday.”
“Leslie, that was no accident. Trust me on this. But I’m over it regardless. Sit down. You want some coffee?”
“No, I’m good.” They sat at the patio table. “So what did you want to talk about here? I think we’ve gotten this thing–well, I’m not sure if ‘wrapped’ is the right word, but I’ve got enough footage to make the first episode work, one way or another. I’m looking forward to some cooler weather. Believe it or not I kick ass on a snowboard.”
“I believe it. Those 25 year olds got nothin’ on you.” She paused. “Listen, Leslie, I’ve seen you casting a skeptical eye Bobby’s way more than once. And I think you know, or at least sense, that something weird happened yesterday.” She waited. So did Leslie. Lucy bit the bullet. “Can I show you something?”
She opened the laptop and ran the unedited footage for her, pausing it here and there to explain what was up with Judy and the coffee, and how those parts had disappeared from the original. Then she told her the plan she and Terry had sold to Bobby.
“And he’s going for it?” Leslie asked incredulously. “Even though you told him Judy is involved?”
“Hey, it’s show biz. And this is a real mystery, because we simply can not figure out why they went after me too. I think—I don’t know—that Sandra’s death has something to do with Judy being so tight with Henrietta, that there was something going on with rigging the contest. Not that Bobby knew anything, he’s clueless. But why me?”
“Just an accident, Lucy. You were sitting next to her, you got coffee at the same time. Assuming that your entire thesis has any basis in reality.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that it does. But why would Judy let him pour me a cup of coffee, knowing it would knock me out, knowing that I would be obviously drugged and at least indirectly give away their plans? Why didn’t Judy just stop him after he’d poured Sandra’s coffee? It would have been easy to do.”
She pondered. “Good question. Maybe Judy just doesn’t like your looks. I’ve known her a few years and she’s one of the prettiest cutthroats in Hollywood, I will say. Or maybe they just guessed you were going out there to shoot, knowing what a gung ho girl you’re rumored to be, and they did it just to get you out of the way, either in the water or before you paddled out. Did you mention to anyone that you planned to go out in the waves to shoot stills?”
“Only Marcia, because I needed to borrow her longboard. And I know she’s not in on this since she’s the one who saved my ass.”
“Seems like somebody must have figured it out. What do you think?”
“I just don’t know. Terry’s working on the drug angle, to see if we can trace the barbies. But somewhere down the line we’ll figure out the reasons they came after Judy, and after me. That I will guarantee you. Look, this is all material, right? And you need material. Leslie, you know this is going to be a really hot property if we’ve happened on to a real-life murder.” She gave her best conspiratorial grin. “So I was hoping you’d shoot my part of the investigation with your camcorder, and then we can include it in the episode, or movie, or whatever this turns out to be. And use it for evidence if necessary.”
Leslie grinned. “I have to say that you and your pal Teresa have come up with one of the more audacious ideas I’ve seen in play of late, and with this ridiculous reality TV boom Hollywood is full of weird shit these days.”
“Just imagine the ratings if we actually bust somebody and solve a murder on the show.”
“So let’s roll, baby. I’ve got my camcorder right here in my bag.” She pulled it out, pointed it at Lucy, and turned it on. She narrated. “Here we have Lucy Ripken, book writer turned TV writer turned sleuth, attempting to discover if and how our surfer girl contest entrant Sandra Darwin was murdered. This, friends, is director Leslie Williams, and we are beginning act two of episode one, the X Dames. In act one Marcia Hobgood, a 23-year non-professional from Venice, California, came out of nowhere to win the X Dames surfing contest over several seasoned pros, but during the contest as you know, Sandra Darwin, favored by some to take home the first X Dames prize, died under what Ms. Ripken claims are suspicious circumstances. And how do you propose to solve this mysterious crime, Lucy Ripken?”
Lucy smiled awkwardly. “At the moment I need to make a couple of phone calls to New York, so you can turn that thing off.”
“I don’t think so, Lucy,” said Leslie. “I don’t want to miss anything, know what I mean? And you asked for it.”
“Fine, fine,” Lucy said. She got on the phone, got a dial tone, and punched in Harold’s cell number. It rang about six times and then his voicemail took the call. “Harold here. Spare me all but the details. Later.”
“Hey Harry, it’s Lucy in Sayulita. How’s your dig doing? Hope you found the mother lode. Meanwhile I’ve gotten myself into another–predicament down here. I need to talk to you. Try my cell, but its spotty. I’m in Suite Five at the Villa Roma Hotel.” She gave him the number and hung up, then looked at the camera. “That was exciting, eh?”
“You want to say anything about Harold? Like, who is he?”
“None of your business,” Lucy said.
“Fine, fine,” Leslie laughed. “Who’s next?”
“My neighbor, Jane Aronstein, who lives downstairs from me in SoHo, New York. She’s been looking out for my loft while I’m gone. I’m just calling to check on it, OK? You want to turn off your machine?”
“No way, Lucy,” Leslie said. “You haven’t watched much TV, have you? We need all this backstory—to fill in the blanks—and to fill the time, kiddo. Just pretend I’m not here.”
Four hours later, Lucy put a lid on her anxiety as they began their meeting. And she had to admit to herself that Leslie was a prescient girl. She’d gotten some undeniably interesting footage of Lucy on the phone with various players, and caught her mood as it spiraled down through disbelief and on into paranoid shock and rage.
But first came the report from Terry and Marcia, accompanied by a ton of good footage shot by Hector Valdez. Terry did the voice over as they gathered round to watch the dvd on her laptop. “Hector said the nearest pharmacies are in Bucerias, which is about half way back to Puerto Vallarta, on the other side of the hill. So here we are getting in the car, blah blah blah, leaving Sayu, heading through the forest. Enough of this already. Now, Bucerias. There’s the first pharmacia—that big white building with the red cross at the side of the road. So we parked and went in and Hector asked if he could get a bottle of seconal or a bottle of valium or codeine. The pharmacist is saying no, you must have a prescription. Then Hector in Spanish is asking where is the doctor who will give this prescription, and you can see the pharmacist shrug, and say no se, I don’t know.
“So it’s off, on foot, in search of the pharmacia sleazaria, down the street here. We wandered around a bit—its kind of a shabby but colorful little town—and ended up by the beach, where we found this seafood place that Hector had said was really good. So we had lunch. I know, I know, not part of the story, but wait, it gets better.” They viewed footage of the town and restaurant and the women vamping over some platters of food, then they moved back onto the street and unseen Hector taped from behind as Terry and Marcia spotted another pharmacia on a quieter side street. On screen the two women walked in and approached the woman behind the counter. Marcia in broken Spanish and with mime indicated that she was in very much pain and could they help her. The woman offered Advil, and Marcia said, no gracias, do you have mucho stronger pills please. The woman shook her head, said you need a prescription, speaking in English, and then she said, you must go and see Doctor Luis Cardozo, he is in the clinic two blocks down upstairs on the left side of the road. Muchas gracias etc. They went out, and walked down the street, and soon found a sign that said Clinica, open 8 am-8pm, Doctor Luis Cardozo. They went in, Hector still shooting from behind, and up a dingy flight of stairs to find a small waiting room. Behind a window, the receptionist was a well-groomed, pretty young thing. This time Terry approached, and asked about a consultation. The woman looked at the camera and slightly frowned but then said, what is the problem? Terry said migrano in mi cabeza, tapping her temple and grimacing, and apparently the woman got it. Speaking broken English and looking at her watch, she said a consultation is twenty-five dollars. Terry asked can I get a prescription? She said no problem. The doctor is in. But you can not take that in, she said, looking at the camera. No problemo, Terry said, sitting down, then getting up to go in to see the doctor.
Jump cut to Terry coming out. She looked right at the camera. “So this is the deal: I went in there and I said I had a migraine—this Doctor Cardozo speaks English perfectly well—and asked could he help me. He said, what would you like? I said, some sort of pain pill. He said I will prescribe Oxycontin, it is very effective. And also, I said, I have had some trouble sleeping because of it, and he said, I can also prescribe valium or ambien if you are willing to pay the consultation fee. I said sure, I was almost laughing at him by now, but he didn’t care. I gave him the money, five hundred pesos, and then said, Oh, by the way, I almost forgot, my friend Judy Leggett up in Sayulita needs a re-fill on her prescription. She’s really sick today and couldn’t make the trip down. He looked at me, then looked in his drawer, and pulled out a scrip pad. He wrote me two prescriptions, then thumbed through the pink second sheets of scrips he’d already written. Then he became all apologetic, and said, I am sorry but I wrote her seconal and oxycontin prescriptions and gave them to Senor Dario only five days ago, and since there were twenty doses in each I can not write another one for her until, let me see…he looked at his calendar…next Wednesday at the very soonest. However, with extenuating circumstances this delay can be circumvented if you are willing to pay double the required consultation fee in advance, as I may write this up as a medical emergency therefore justifying the need for…”
“God, he’s Doctor Feelgood,” Lucy cut in. Terry paused the dvd.
“No shit. And we sure as hell know where Judy got her drugs. Oxy for herself, and seconal for you and Sandra. She and Dario didn’t even try to cover their tracks. The arrogant fools.”
“Did you get copies of those scrips?” Leslie asked. “It might help to have them.”
“No. I asked, but he wouldn’t do it,” Terry said. “And he wouldn’t let us film him, understandably. I should have been tape recording but I didn’t think to bring one down. But we do have the prescriptions he wrote for me—anybody wants any dope I can get it for them,” she laughed, “which we might be able to use somehow or other. At least to get the good doctor into the story. We thought of sticking around and doing a sneak attack on him with the camcorder when he came out of his office but it seemed cruel. He’s just a hack making money off the bad habits of gringos on vacation. It hardly seems worth it to ruin him. His involvement in this is unwitting I’m sure.”
“I guess,” said Lucy. “But he’s sure loose with that prescription pad.”
“There’s a long tradition of that here, Lucy. People have come to Mexico to cop cheap drugs for decades,” Leslie said. “Guys like Cardozo are simply meeting a need.”
“No shit,” said Marcia. “I have friends who go to Tijuana for Valium, codeine and birth control pills, and my mom gets her Retin A and Ambien down there.”
“Well, you guys certainly made some serious progress,” Lucy said. “I wish I could say the same.” She sighed. It was her turn now. She had enjoyed the last few minutes, when her mind was on matters other than what was going on in New York.
“What about you, Lucy? What happened up here with–”
“It’s a nightmare.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m still in shock. That’s why I let you guys do your thing first. I meant to get down to the real estate office but I got sidetracked. Leslie, you want to run this bummer?”
Saturday,27 Jul 2013
Now they were in the midst of another breakfast on the verandah. As always, the camera guys were armed and shooting. Bobby cleared his throat. “My friends, I have an announcement to make which may strike some of you as strange, but this is the television business and sometimes things don’t go exactly the way you expect them to. In light of Sandra Darwin’s shocking accident and tragic demise, we have had to re-think certain elements of our show. Yesterday afternoon, one of our producers”—he glanced at Teresa—“called the Puerto Vallarta hospital where Sandra Darwin had been taken, and where, sadly, she subsequently passed away. And this producer spoke with one of the doctors, and requested that they perform a blood test on Sandra, to see if there were any drugs involved. When I heard this I thought she meant steroids, but no, what she was talking about was–barbiturates, or opiates. This producer for some reason seemed to think that Sandra had been drugged prior to the contest, and that somehow these drugs had caused the accident—accidents—that let to her death. I think personally that she is crazy, this producer, but in the interests of making sure that we left no stone unturned regarding Sandra’s demise, I informed Senor Dario–who is not here, by the way, because he is handling matters relating to Sandra’s death for her family back home in Utah–that he should permit the doctor to obtain some of Sandra’s blood prior to the embalming or cremation of her remains. However, Dario called me back an hour later and said that she had already been identified and sent to the mortuary for embalming, per her parents’ request. And so this blood sample was unavailable.”
“Wait a minute,” said Lucy, standing. “You can’t tell me that her body was embalmed on the same day as–”
“I’m afraid so, Ms. Ripken,” said Bobby. “Senor Dario said that–”
“I don’t care what Dario said. Don’t you know why Teresa requested this?”
“I think I do, Lucy. Drugs, like I said.”
“Yes, but what does the presence of such drugs in her body—the possible presence, I mean—tell you?”
“Nothing. I mean, what, that she had a drug problem?”
“No, of course not. Jesus, Bobby, why don’t you try thinking—for once! Has it occurred to you that maybe she was drugged! That someone did it to her so she would drown during the contest, fool.” The table buzzed.
“You want to keep your job, mind your manners, Lucy,” Bobby said, but the way his nostrils flared, she could tell this public verbal combat was getting him off.
“Don’t talk to me about manners, Bobby. We’re talking about murder here.”
“Murder? What the hell do you mean? You saw that wave runner land on her head, Lucy.”
“But you said she died from drowning.”
“And blunt force head trauma.”
“Well guess what, Bob?”
She paused dramatically. “For reasons which I will make obvious later, I had a sample of my own blood drawn last night, and rushed to the lab in PV. I had my own blood tested for opiates and barbiturates too. They called me with results early this morning. It appears that at some point yesterday I had been given a rather large dose of seconal.” A general outcry arose around the table. “You know what seconal is, Bobby?”
“Of course I know what seconal is. Every redblooded American knows what seconal is.”
“Well all I have to say to you is,” and Lucy stared directly at Judy Leggett, wearing shades, seated next to Bobby, “Have a look at your tape from yesterday’s breakfast meeting.” With that she sat down.
“What is she talking about?” Moki Sue demanded. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Hey, hey, I don’t know. Jesus,” Bobby said. “Listen people, what I was going to tell you is that we have to stick around for a day or two, sort out the aftereffects of the– tragedy, and see what we want to do next for the show. And then its on to Chile for the snowboarding competition. But meanwhile I intend to look into these–ah, interesting questions that have been raised by Ms. Ripken. I would like you all to meet me at Don Pedro’s for lunch, at which time we’ll have a new schedule. People, I know this has been something of a shocker, but we have to look at the big picture, don’t we? And the truth is, for a lot of reasons we had an incredibly dramatic surfing contest yesterday. Lucy, Terry, can you guys come back to the house with me?”
“I’m coming too,” Judy said, jumping up.
“Me too,” said Marcia.
“Hey, I want to see what she’s talking about,” said Moki Sue.
“Yeah, we all do, Bobby,” Charlene chimed in.
And so the remaining contestants, along with crew members and a few hangers on, climbed into the small fleet of rented SUVs for the short trip from the Villa Roma to La Casa de la Luna Grande.
They arrived at the house five minutes later, camera guys shooting as always. They entered to find Ruben Dario seated on a sofa talking on the phone. He held up a hand authoritatively, and the crowd hesitated in the foyer as he murmured into the phone.
“Yes. OK, Mrs. Darwin. Yes. Tomorrow. That’s fine. Bye now.” He hung up. “OK. Sorry. That’s done. I’m shipping the body home tomorrow.” He looked appropriately grave. “But hello, my friends. What are you all here for?”
“Videotape, Ruben,” said Bobby. “We need to look at the tape from yesterday’s breakfast.”
“Well you have all that on the machine in your room, do you not, Senor Bobby?”
“Yes I do. Please wait here folks.” He walked down a long hallway while fourteen people filled the living room, dominated by a massive television monitor at one end. A couple of digital editing machines sat on a table nearby. Bobby emerged a minute later with a disc that had the words “pre-con breakfast” scrawled on one side. He put it in one of the machines, cued it up, and ran it.
They all watched. The dvd ran through the breakfast. Lucy was dumbfounded: the bits that she’d identified as suspicious had been seamlessly erased. Nothing showed how she and Sandra had been herded to one end; nothing about the waiter and the coffee pot and Judy Leggett. They were simply gone. It ended. Bobby looked at Lucy. They all did. “Lucy,” said Bobby. “Was there something on there that…did I…did we miss something?”
“No. I mean yes. I mean I don’t know,” Lucy said, flustered. Teresa put a hand on her arm, and gave her a look.
“Hey, Lucy did take barbiturates yesterday, and she doesn’t know how. So maybe she didn’t recall exactly what–”
“I know what I saw, dammit, Terry.”
“I know Lucy,” she murmured. “Just be cool.”
“Well, in any case,” said Bobby. “I don’t see any reason for you all to hang around here. I would suggest you all go to the beach, enjoy those little waves out there—thank god that monster swell is over, eh?—and we’ll get together for lunch like I said. Lucy, Terry,” he added, “Can you two stick around for a few minutes?”
“Here comes the shaft,” Terry said to Lucy. “Any last words?”
They waited while the gang filed out. Ruben Dario lingered, arrogant dark eyes on Lucy–and then he left as well.
“Well, ladies,” Bobby said. “Want a coffee?”
“I have a copy of that dvd,” Teresa said quietly.
“What?” Bobby said.
“I came back here and copied it on my computer last night, when you guys were all down at Don Pedro’s ‘mourning’ Sandra’s demise with all those margaritas. Don’t even think about getting mad, Bobby,” she added quickly, as Schamberg puffed himself up. “You have zero credibility here. But I will say that I know you would never have anything to do with what happened out there, and that’s why I’m letting you in on this.”
“Thanks, I guess,” said Bobby. “But what’s the point? There’s nothing on that tape that says anything, Terry. Which brings me to my next point. I’m thinking that maybe–well, we’re not sure exactly when the–”
“Bobby, be quiet a minute, will you?” Terry said. “I know you’re ready to fire Lucy and me, but first I want you to remember what you just saw, and then look at this.” She took a dvd out of her purse and slid it into the machine. After a few seconds, the same video they’d just watched started up. But then, at a certain point, something else showed up: Judy herding Lucy and Sandra down the table. They watched some more, and soon saw the incident with the coffee pot and the waiter. This time, Lucy noted, when the waiter came back from the kitchen he gave Judy a cigarette—that’s what she’d sent him to fetch, it seems—which she lit, and smoked, they saw in snatched bits, as she watched him deliver the coffee to Lucy and Sandra’s cups at the other end of the table.
“And so?” Bobby asked impatiently when it ended.
“Did you see anything different?”
“Yeah. Judy seating you guys and then getting the guy to get her a cigarette.”
“Did you see the coffee pot disappear?”
“She poured coffee into her cup in her other hand. Jesus, this–”
“Her cup’s on the table, Bobby. She’s putting something in the pot down there. She’s–”
“This is the most paranoid thing I’ve–”
“Then why did Ruben just edit it out of the tape we all watched, Bobby?” Lucy said. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”
He shook his head. “You two are fucking nuts. How do you know Ruben did that? What are you saying? That Judy–Judy and Ruben tried to have–that they drugged and murdered Sandra? But why? What the hell for?”
“They also drugged me, Bobby,” Lucy said. “And I have no clue as to why. Do you?”
“What do you think?” he snapped. “Why the fuck would anyone want to drug a writer?” he sneered. “All you have to do is fire them.”
“Fuck you, Bobby,” Terry said. “Can’t you see this is serious?”
“Whatever.” He shrugged. “So what do you want to do, ladies? My suggestion is you shut the hell up about all this paranoid conjecture and take the next plane home to LA. I’ll be happy to pay you a month–two months!–salary to ease the pain, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“Whoa, Bobby boy,” said Teresa. “Don’t get condescending on me. Besides, I have a better idea, if you don’t mind listening for five minutes.”
“What would that be, Terry?” he said dismissively. He’d already written them out of his script.
Lucy took the reins. She and Terry had worked it out earlier, after getting Lucy’s blood work back and watching the video one more time. The whole scene they’d just played out had been an act, to get the guilty parties to let down their guard.
“Get the cast and crew comfortable with the idea of sticking around a few days to shoot more background, location, other footage to fill in. That should be easy enough, since you already mentioned a day or two of downtime. Meanwhile, let Terry and Marcia and I look into this a little further. We have some leads we’re working on. Just let us have Leslie and one of your cameramen—that guy Hector Valdez would be my choice, because he speaks Spanish fluently–to shoot everything we find. Then if we get something good, you can incorporate it into the show as a real life murder mystery, solved in real time. I don’t know what could kick off a new TV show better than a real murder, with real people solving it, as a part of a show about a real life surfing contest. We don’t even have to involve the cops if we find something out, unless you want us to write it that way. It will be a first, man. It’ll make the show.”
Terry finished: “And if we can’t figure anything out or we’re just being paranoid, you’ve still got your surfing contest with a built-in tragedy, and then you’re off to Chile.”
He stared at them, and then a smile broke out on his face. “Fuck, MacDonald, you are such a genius. God damn!” He looked at his watch. “Three days. Make it happen. I’ll cover your asses and keep everybody busy.”
“Including Ruben Dario—and Judy,” Terry added ominously.
He looked concerned. “Yeah. I guess she’s a–what would you call her?”
“A Person of Interest,” said Lucy. “That’s one notch below ‘suspect’.”
“Right,” he said. “Well, I’d better get back to the beach and see what’s up.” He headed out.
“Good job, Terry,” said Lucy. They high-fived. “Good job, Luce,” Terry said. They low-fived. “So now what?”
“Pharmacies. Internet. Real estate. That’s where we want to go. I think you and Marcia and the camera guy Hector Valdez should work south from here towards PV, find the pharmacies, and see if you can find out anything about any prescriptions Judy or anyone connected to her might have gotten. I think we can clue Valdez in, and he can translate for you and shoot anything that happens. I’m going to sit Leslie down and tell her what’s up—I know she’s got nothing to do with this, and she can shoot me with that little handheld camcorder she’s been using. I want to see what I can find out about Dario and Townsend, without showing my hand. I’ll also check in with some friends via phone and email to see if we can do a little hacking into the realtors’ office website. That may be the best way to see what’s up with those guys.”
Wednesday,24 Jul 2013
Upon awakening alive and comfortable in a cushy bed, linen sheets, the whole nine yards, Lucy murmured, “Ouch. My head hurts.” Then she heard the cries of seagulls above the soft call of the surf. She opened her eyes. She lay atop the covers on her hotel room bed, her hotel bathrobe draped over her body. Terry sat on one side, Marcia on the other, both looking concerned. Warm sunset light angled in the open doors, and a faint breeze swayed the white curtains. “Jesus, what happened? What time is it? How did I get here?”
“It’s almost five o’clock,” Terry said. “You’ve been out for like six or seven hours.”
“Out? What do you mean, out? I was in the water, and–Oh my God, what happened? What happened to Sandra?”
Terry and Marcia exchanged glances. “I was able to get to you, Lucy,” said Marcia. “But not her. I was paddling back out and both you and Sandra had wiped out. It was insane out there. I was closer to you and you were going under after that wave threw you over the falls so I came after you. I think Sandra must have gotten hit by her board because she was face-down in the water like she was unconscious. Those poor fools on the wave runner tried to get to her, and instead, they got snatched up by that giant wave and crashed right down on top of her.”
“People think she may have already drowned,” said Terry. “But it looked like the collision fractured her skull as well. It was a total disaster. The wave runner guys barely made it to the beach alive, and they lost a ten thousand dollar camera and the wave runner. They got them both back when the waves finally backed down and the tide went out this afternoon but both are completely ruined, and the camera guy broke his arm.”
“Jesus Christ,” Lucy whispered. “God, thanks for saving my ass, Marcia. I don’t know what happened out there, but–”
“You shouldn’t have been out in that surf, Luce,” Terry said. “It was too big.”
“But what about the contest? What happened to the contest?”
“That crazy fuck Bobby insisted that they keep going,” Terry said. “First Marcia hauled you onto your board and somehow she got the two of you in by riding this giant wall of whitewater sideways on the longboard, then we dragged you up on the beach, and after a few seconds of mouth-to-mouth you woke up, tossed about a quart of saltwater, took a deep breath, and looked at me. God I was so happy to see you open your eyes I cried. Jesus, Lucy, that was way too close.”
“Then you looked at me,” said Marcia. “And said ‘what the hell happened?’ and passed back out. But you were breathing normally so we laid you down in the shade and Terry sat with you to make sure you were OK. Then Martina brought Sandra in like five minutes later, and Bobby and Dario scooped her up and wrapped her in a towel and Townsend volunteered to take her away to the hospital in Puerto Vallarta but a couple of us saw her, and her head looked really bad. Like smashed in. I swear to God to me it looked like she was dead, Lucy. I don’t know, but…” her voice quavered. Then she took a deep breath and went on. “Dario’s her fucking boyfriend, and he saw her too, and he didn’t even want to go to the hospital.”
She hesitated. “But he’s a heartless bastard and I think your friend Bobby’s a Hollywood psycho so after we got both of you onto the beach, I couldn’t believe it, Bobby was like, on with the show. We didn’t know what to say or do at that point, to tell the truth I was kind of in shock, but anyways me and Martina paddled back out like trained dogs and got some more waves. Since Bev wasn’t quite at our level, at least in those big waves, me and Martina made the finals.
“Then Henrietta and Moki Sue took the second heat over Charlene and Erica, no problem, no accidents, no weird shit. Then we all sat on the beach for half an hour not saying a word.”
Teresa cut in: “Bobby and Judy and the X Dames people were walking around all solemn, playing up how the drama of the contest had been heightened by the “accident” and shit, I mean they were just feeding off the tragedy like jackals, Lucy, it was disgusting. And I know that’s exactly what he wants us to do with whatever the fuck else we write, too. I tell you I’m ready to walk.”
Marcia said, “Anyways me and the other girls were all too freaked out to do anything except what they told us, I swear to God we were numb and dumb—so then the four of us went back into the waves for the final.”
“And Marcia simply kicked ass,” Terry said. “She won hands down.”
“You won? That’s great!”
“Fuck it. It isn’t great at all. Not with what happened to Sandra.”
“But still, as they say, the show must go on.”
“I guess. Yeah. Right,” said Marcia. “The show. Fuck the show.”
“Well, think of the 25 grand, and art school, and…”
“It’s blood money, Lucy.”
“Come on, Marcia, don’t say that. You didn’t do anything…”
“Other than save Lucy’s life, win the contest, and prove yourself a major heroine, girl,” said Terry. “Me and Lucy were ready to spank your bottom after you dragged that horndog panther back here last night, but now you’re like, queen of the X Dames.”
“Queen of the Dead’s more like it,” said Marcia. “God, I still can’t believe what happened.” Tears came into her eyes. “It was so surreal and scary. One minute it’s a great contest, I was in a total groove, just dominating out there, and the next minute it’s a nightmare at sea.”
“Hey,” said Lucy. “Be quiet a minute. I need to think.” She sat up in bed, then put a hand to her forehead. “Oi, my head hurts. But some things are coming back to me now.” She looked around. “Did you my camera too?”
“I did. It’s in your bag.”
“Good job. Thanks.” She stopped. “Now what I’m wondering is why would I pass out again for six hours if I was unconscious for like one or two minutes, or whatever, and then you brought me back. Is that normal?”
“What do you mean, normal?” Terry asked. “There’s nothing normal about almost drowning, Luce.”
“I know, I know, but still.” She paused. “So where did they end up taking Sandra?”
“To the hospital in PV.”
“Have they declared a cause of death?”
They both shrugged. “Not to us,” said Terry. “In fact I can’t say–at least not for sure–that she’s dead. But we’ve been here keeping an eye on you since Marcia got her photo and video op collecting her prop winner’s check from Judy and Bobby, who both smiled for the camera while Marcia looked like she was at a funeral.”
“Well I was, kind of, wasn’t I?” Marcia said.
“Yeah. You were,” Terry said succinctly. “Then it was lunchtime. We weren’t even remotely hungry so we borrowed a car and hauled you up here and haven’t heard anything from anybody since.”
“Poor Sandra,” Lucy said. “She was a sweetheart, wasn’t she? I mean, kinda tough, but really goodhearted. She just wanted to hang down here and spread the surf gospel. God damn.” Lucy’s eyes welled with tears. She wiped them with the edge of her bedsheet, and focused her still wavery brain: “Hey, listen, now that I’m up and OK, let’s see if we can find out if they said yet how she died—and I’d like to see if we can get them to do a blood test on her, OK?”
“Whoa, Lucy, slow down. A blood test? Why?” asked Terry. “She drowned and got her head bashed in. Take your choice.”
“Hey, you saved my ass and dragged me out of the water and woke me up and then I pass out for six hours. So what’s up with that?” She looked at Marcia.
“Sound like drugs to you?”
“Drugs? What do you mean, do you think I drugged her–and you?”
“No, not you, of course not. But maybe somebody did.”
“But why?” Terry said. “What would be the point of–” It dawned on her. “What, one of the other competitors?”
“Moki Sue?” Marcia said. “No way. She was totally bummed out. That’s half the reason I won. After what happened she could hardly paddle out, much less surf the way she needed to, to beat me. Same with Martina. As for me, I was pissed that they even continued with the contest, and I guess it’s lucky for me that when I surf mad I surf really well. Comes from fighting the crowds at Malibu and Topanga, where you have to battle for every wave.”
Lucy looked at her. “Listen, Marcia, I don’t know how you surf when you’re mad but I can tell you that I got a bunch of images of that first wave you got, when you did the aerial 360, and that was one spectacular maneuver, I have to say.”
“Hey, thanks, Lucy. I’ve been working on that move but I never did it in a wave that big before. I don’t know how I pulled it off.”
“I’m pretty sure they got it on video, too,” said Terry. “I could hear the judges barking about something totally awesome not long after the heat started.”
“Video. Footage!” cried Lucy. “That’s it! We need to look at footage. From last night. From this morning. All of it. Every inch.”
“For what?” Terry said. “Luce, Bobby’s got all that stuff in the can already. He’s scheduled a breakfast meet for 9 am tomorrow. Probably going to pack it in I would guess. What else can he do once everybody knows Sandra’s died? If he wants to go on with the show he’s got his episode, but it seems to me it would be in seriously bad taste.”
“Bad taste? This is television we’re talking about here! Do you really think he’s going to cancel the show because of–”
“A death in the first week of shooting?! What else can he possibly do?”
Lucy looked at her. “You said it yourself, Ter. The guy’s a sleaze. And we’re talking about The Industry. This isn’t going to stop him. If anything it’ll inspire him to greater heights of sleaze.”
Five minutes into the breakfast meeting the next day, Terry flashed a ‘You sure got that right’ look at Lucy. Then they returned their attention to Bobby Schamberg, on his feet at the head of the long oval table, struggling to look gravely compassionate in light of the fact that he had just officially announced Sandra’s death, by drowning and traumatic head injuries, to the entire cast and crew of X Dames, Episode One. Although the resemblance hadn’t occurred to Lucy before that moment, the combination of false compassion and fake sincerity transparently layered atop shallow, selfish, scheming thoughtlessness made him look very much like one ex-president George W. Bush.
Lucy and Terry had taken a taxi to Bobby’s house the night before. They had interrupted his intimate frolic involving two Canadian sisters and Henrietta; they had also interrupted a similar bit of business, it seemed, involving other characters, for even as they insisted to Bobby that he get his butt out of his overladen bed and let them have a look at the tape of the entire day’s events, out of the corner of her eye through a window Lucy saw Judy Leggett and Ruben Dario skulking down a path towards the sea.
And then they’d watched the videotapes.
Things became subtly clear, at least to Lucy’s suspicious eyes, as she viewed assorted fragments of unedited tape from the pre-contest breakfast on the verandah. First, Judy Leggett casually steered Sandra down to the end of the table, so that she ended up seated next to Lucy. Then Judy Leggett and Ruben Dario ran the waiters, keeping the food and drink coming, and at one point, a waiter with a pot was about to pour coffee for Lucy and Sandra when Judy sharply called him back. He went to her side, she spoke a few words to him, and then he returned to the kitchen, leaving the coffee pot on the table. Judy glanced around, picked up the coffee pot, and moved it out of sight under the lip of the table for just a few seconds. Then she put it back on the table. A moment later the same waiter came to the table, picked up the pot, and proceeded to head straight to the end of the table to pour coffee for Lucy and Sandra.
Lucy had kept her mouth shut, watching that tape. Then they’d watched some more tape, of the contest, and there was nothing odd to be seen. Later, she’d told Teresa what she thought. Teresa, who had watched with her, hadn’t even noticed any of the business with the coffee pot.
Friday,19 Jul 2013
Lucy put her black one-piece on under pink shorts and a black t-shirt, stepped into her flip flops, and methodically packed a bag with her waterproof camera, towel, #30 waterproof sunscreen, shades, collapsible sun-hat, three lipsticks, hairbrush, Spanish phrasebook, pack of sugarless gum, hairbrush, and five hundred pesos. She knocked on Teresa’s door, went in, found her dressed and ready to roll, then crossed to the next door. She knocked. No answer. Knocked again, a little harder.
“Momentito, por favor.” A man’s muffled voice. They looked at each other.
“The plot thickens,” Terry said.
“Want to guess who?” Lucy said.
“Ten bucks says its Dario.”
“My bet’s on Bobby.”
“No way. He’s already babed-up. Besides, why would he speak Spanish?”
“He thinks I’m a maid.”
Lucy banged harder on the door, then waited. It opened after a moment. Wrapped in a towel, bleached hair sticking straight up, a shit-eating grin on his face, there stood El Pantero, aka pantera macho, the surf king of Sayulita, and X Dames contest judge. Blond, buff, and cut to die for. “Fuck,” Lucy said, plunged into a sudden whirl of a state: dismay, jealousy, insecurity, anger. Take your choice. “What the hell are you doing here?” she said.
He shrugged, and grinned. “Miss Marcia—she—ah–invites me. So I come.” Marcia emerged from her bathroom, naked, toweling her long black hair dry. She was slender, muscular, small-breasted; perfect, and eleven years younger than Lucy. And Lucy could not help but notice that her pubic hair had been—styled? Trimmed and groomed? What was the correct description? The Brazilian was a complete shave; Lucy knew that much. But this was more of a–landing strip!
“Hi Lucy,” she said, completely guileless. “What’s up?”
By seven-thirty they had assembled on the Villa Roma’s immaculately-groomed grass terrace overlooking the rocky south end of Sayulita Beach. They sat in white wrought iron chairs around a long white oval-shaped wrought iron table sculpted with fleur de lys and such. The Villa Roma fancied itself fancy. Lucy found herself seated next to Sandra Darwin at one end of the table, closest to the steps leading down to the beach. Sandra was distracted, tense, intent, eyes mostly on the waves awaiting her. Lucy knew she wanted this one bad. All the surfer girls were present, including the two from San Diego who’d arrived late—their names were Bev and Charlene, a pair of hard-charging, thirtyish blondes, perennial surf-contest also-rans but good enough to fill the X Dames ranks and on a good day capable of an upset win. They both featured the sculpted, angular faces and lanky musculature Lucy had come to associate with serious women surfers. Also on hand were the four ringers Bobby had gathered up on the beach the day before. Six more women to go with the Hot Surf Six, and all possessed of a strong, sexy vibe. Hector and the other camera guys roamed the periphery, documenting every moment of drama at table, as four waiters in black pants, white shirts, and black bow ties delivered platters of fruit salad, eggs, beans, toast, bacon, chile rellenos, and tortillas along with pitchers of coffee, milk, fresh orange juice, and bottles of champagne. Among the surfer girls only Marcia, tucked in between Moki Sue and El Pantero near the other end of the table, hit the bottle. Lucy counted three brimming refills. In the background, across two hundred yards of churning ocean, the waves cracked and roared, a dozen local surf kids slicing and dicing them in a hurry to get it while they could, before the X Dames Sayulita Surfbabe Throwdown took over.
They ate and chattered, while the crew filmed on. The drama had turned quiet: a bit of sexual undertow, and the girls anxiously looking out to sea. No time for bullshitting now, with the tension building. For all the Hollywood hype and the sexy babe business and the sideshow insults, there was a surfing contest about to start, and the waves out there loomed big and fast and unforgiving. These girls were up against the real thing.
Eventually Bobby tapped a spoon on a glass a few times, then stood and cleared his throat. He took off his shades and smiled his sexiest Hollywood producer smile. “Well here we are, gang. And this is it: Showtime. Never in my wildest dreams about how this show would work did I imagine that we would have a set-up like this for the first episode. Like Henrietta told me last night, ‘The surf out there is fucking ferocious, man.’ And that it is,” he said, looking towards the waves. “So I’m only going to waste one more minute of your time before we get on with it, because I wanted to say thanks to my partner Judy Leggett for steering us to Sayulita after we decided to start with a surfing contest. What a great little town it’s turned out to be. And thanks to Teresa MacDonald and Lucy Ripken for agreeing to come down here on short notice to help organize the story. And to Ruben Dario and Sandra Darwin for setting things up. Thanks to all you crew dudes, and Leslie, our fine director. And most of all thanks to the girls,” he raised a glass of champagne, “for sticking your butts on the line by signing up to paddle out in that maelstrom to compete. I for one am not going to even get my toes into that crazy ocean today. You is one brave bunch of dames. So here’s a toast to the X Dames.” Bravos and applause.
He went on. “So I know you’re all wondering how its going to work, right? Well, we decided in the interests of showbiz to keep it simple. Also the waves being so large, we thought you ladies might get worn out if things went on too long. So this is it: two thirty-minute heats, six surfers in each—well, four, since I suspect our last four entrants may end up on the beach, where I found them and where they belong, watching. We count the best six rides, you score points from one to ten, ten being tops. Each judge scores each ride then we average out the three scores. Two advance from each heat, leaving four in the final. The final’s one hour, same deal only you’ll get scored on ten rides. Judy’s wave-tracker guy says this is the last day of the swell and its probably going to start fading this afternoon so we’re planning to do the whole shoot today, probably try to squeeze the final in before lunch too if we can. Time is money in showbiz, and today the surf’s on the clock too.” He looked at his watch. “It’s eight-forty-five. First heat’s at ten. Everybody should be down at the pavilion by nine-thirty. That’s it. Do your best, girls.”
He sat down. Judy whispered something to him. “Oh,” he stood again and went on. “I almost forgot. You know this already but just in case it slipped your mind, the prize for winning today is twenty-five thousand and an invite to the next round of X Dames with its hundred grand first prize pay-off. I think you all know the drill. We’ll take one winner from each of six or eight sports, put them in a ring with a bunch of starving lions, and whoever survives gets a hundred grand. Hehe just kidding. No, the finals are still in the works. We’re honestly thinking about hiring trainers from Thailand and teaching our individual winners to kick-box, so that we can have a real fight to the finish. But the main thing is today we got some world-class waves, and you girls have a chance to strut your stuff and launch episode one with some sexy surfing. And so–may the best dame win. Everybody else, well, you got a paid vacation in Mexico.” The waiters began clearing the table and the cast and crew of the X Dames collected their paraphernalia and surfboards and headed down the road to the beach. Showtime.
“Remember, Lucy, timing is everything when you’re paddling out,” said Marcia. “Get as close as you can to the impact zone, where the waves are breaking, while there’s a set on. Then when the set is over paddle your ass off and hope you make it outside before the next set comes.”
Lucy stood between Marcia and Sandra, each carrying shortboards, waiting for the moment. Lucy had Marcia’s Mayan snake-patterned longboard under one arm and her camera with an extra-long strap double-looped around her neck and clutched in her free hand. Stretchy rubber leashes with Velcro end-straps connected the boards to the women’s ankles, so that if they took a wipe-out the boards wouldn’t get carried on the waves all the way to the beach. They wore rash-guard shirts, all but Lucy’s numbered so the judges would know who was who. An air horn blown at 9:30 had signaled to all the surfers in the water to head shorewards. Marcia and Sandra, flanking Lucy, stood at water’s edge in the cove; Martina and Bev had decided to hit the water forty yards up the beach, closer to the impact zone, but a riskier paddle. All five of them looked out to sea, making their calculations.
Standing between the buff young surfer girls, Lucy wondered what she felt she had to prove–why she’d decided she had to go out there and shoot stills from the water. They had a video camcorder guy up on the judges’ stand with enough digital telephoto power to see the whites of their eyes, two hundred yards offshore; Leslie and Bobby could easily grab stills from his tape. They had another camera guy with full telephoto power patrolling the beach, and a third in a waverunner cruising outside the break.
And yet she’d volunteered to get out there in the swim to shoot. Macho Lucy in action, planting herself in the middle of things because she felt compelled to compete with these girls yet didn’t know how to surf well enough. She’d only surfed half a dozen times and these were far bigger than any waves she’d ever paddled into. Pushing her limits, taking that risk, that’s what it was all about. She did want to get good pictures, but ultimately the camera was just an excuse.
She glanced back. A sunny, windless, eighty degree late spring morning in Sayulita. Hundreds of people sat on lounge chairs beneath umbrellas, or stood in the sand near the judges’ stand, or roamed the beach, all digging the fact that simply by being on vacation this particular week they’d stumbled into a television surf-circus featuring a dozen bodacious babes and a real life Hollyweird vibe. Up on the judges’ stand Lucy could see judges Judy, El Pantero, and Ruben Dario, clipboards in hand and binoculars at the ready, with a couple of assistants close by—and a cameraman on a stepladder above them all, his camcorder roving from the contestants, to the crowds, to the waves cracking and roaring two hundred yards offshore. The four other competing girls, already suited up in their numbered rash-guard shirts, loitered by the judge stand waiting for the second heat. As expected the four ringers hadn’t even bothered to put on rash-guards. Per instructions from Leslie, they were hanging around the pavilion in thong-style bikinis, exposing major curves and reveling in their fabulous fifteen minutes being interviewed by a guy from Mexican TV news while Hector taped them. In their divers charming accents each explained why she couldn’t possibly go out in such crazy, dangerous surf. Lucy and Teresa had fed them their lines after breakfast.
Lucy could be up there now with Teresa, monitoring the action, self-importantly playing the writer on location, but instead she had talked herself right into the thick of it. She was about to paddle a longboard out into the biggest waves she’d ever seen. Teresa, at the edge of the pavilion, gave her the thumbs up, and then the airhorn sounded again.
“Chaaaarge,” screamed Marcia, dashing for the water and leaping onto her board to start her frantic paddle to the outside, where the breaking waves awaited them. Sandra was right behind her. Up the beach, Bev and Martina dashed and leaped onto their boards. The race was on to see who would get out and grab the first wave of the contest.
Lucy took a slightly more cautious approach, moving a little farther into the water, then waiting for a wall of whitewater to rush around her legs. She slung her camera onto her back, laid down on the board, and began a fast, steady paddle out, using the receding whitewater, so powerful it almost qualified as a riptide, to push her along.
Ten of the longest minutes of her life later, Lucy, wasted to the point of near-unconsciousness, lunged over the top of an eight-foot wave and thanked Jesus Buddha and Lord Krishna too that she made it over that one, and she thanked her divers deities as well for the momentarily calm sea before her: that was the last wave of the set. She had made it! Only shoving under, over, or through six major walls of whitewater, and at least twenty minor ones, had taken every last ounce of her strength, and now she verged on a physical melt-down. She paddle-dragged herself a dozen yards further out, and a moment later was joined by Sandra.
“Did you shoot my first wave?” Sandra said. “It was awesome.”
“Are you crazy? I barely survived getting out here,” Lucy panted.
“Like Marcia said, it’s all timing, Lucy. Hey, chickie, I think I just scored a ten,” she called out to Martina, “and I didn’t even have to take my top off.” Martina ignored her. “Oh oh, Luce,” said Sandra, “Here’s comes another set. And it looks like a big one.” She shook her head. “Damn,” she said. “My energy’s really low this morning. I musta had one too many shots of sauza last night.” She shook her head again as she paddled towards the rising horizon, with Lucy, Martina, and now Marcia and Bev behind them, racing to get in position to grab one of the next waves.
Lucy felt wiped out. Usually a minute’s rest after a burn would bring her back, but she was feeling slower, less responsive, as she paddled the longboard, camera on the deck in front of her. Beyond the waves, she could hear the buzz of the waverunner, a higher tone above the roaring surf. She angled to her left, towards the waves’ shoulders, while the competitors paddled to the right, deeper into the impact zone.
As the first set wave hit the rocky reef on the bottom it pitched up to about ten feet high, and steepened radically. Marcia, closest to the break, whipped her board around and with a single stroke caught it, stood, and dropped in. Lucy, forty yards down the line, started shooting. Marcia hit the bottom of the wave at full speed and then using that speed threw a fast turn and flew up the face at a sharp angle towards the lip and then when she hit the lip instead of carving back she went airborne, grabbed a rail, and somehow, impossibly, she whipped her board around and completed an aerial 360 and landed on her feet on the board on the face of the wave. She dropped to the bottom and as the wave began to close out ahead of her raced back to the top and flew over and out.
Lucy had captured maybe fifteen images in ten endless seconds, and so she knew that regardless of what had been taped from the beach, she had still photographs of what had to be one of the most amazing surfing maneuvers she had ever seen pulled off by a woman. Guys had gotten good at 360 aerials. Not too many women had, especially on a wave that large.
Then the next wave came and Lucy, busily shooting, barely cleared the lip as she paddled over. She was narrowly missed by Bev, who caught it, dropped into a bottom turn, raced down the line and then slashed a huge cutback close enough to shower Lucy with a rainbow spray. And then the next, and biggest wave, rose up, and Sandra Darwin, in perfect position, paddled twice and caught it. As she slipped down the face, instead of leaping to her feet, her hands slid out from under her as she tried to push up off the board and she headed straight down at full speed into a pearl dive, face planted on the board deck. The wave crashed and she disappeared under it. Lucy had it all on camera, shot from the lip down the line. The board bobbed up, twenty yards closer to shore. Sandra popped up a few seconds later. She was maybe a hundred feet away by then, and so Lucy couldn’t be sure if Sandra looked over at her, and meekly called out the word, “help,” or if she, Lucy, only imagined it. Then Sandra slowly flopped over, and went face down. “Help! We need help here,” Lucy cried out. “Sandra’s down,” she yelled, but there was no one near enough to hear. Martina blasted by on the next wave, the white water behind her slamming Sandra and her board, sending her under again. Flopping on her longboard, Lucy barely cleared the wave. Behind it there was another, larger one; charging in front of that next wave, the wave runner, with two guys on it—pilot and cameraman—raced furiously towards Sandra, intent on a rescue. Lucy watched, firing away even as she felt herself sliding up the face of the wave, afloat on her longboard and trying to paddle as she realized that she was not going to get over the top–and that she was losing consciousness. She watched helplessly as the wave that was about to throw her over the falls and down to the bottom of the sea lifted the waverunner with two men and a video camera up on its breaking crest and then it tumbled down directly upon the floating body and board of Sandra Darwin, and then Lucy too was gone into darkness.
Tuesday,16 Jul 2013
Next morning Lucy awoke from her usual restless sleep just before sunrise to the rhythmic rising and falling roar of big waves breaking in a steady, swell-driven surge. She knew from the sound that it would be big out there, possibly bigger even than the day before. Like every ocean-lover Lucy got an elemental charge from the sight and sound of big surf, but before she would permit herself the thrill of getting out of bed to throw open her curtains for a look at the wave-crazed bay, she forced herself to lie still and recall as distinctly as she could, through the unpleasantness of a minor tequila hangover, the events of last night. For purposes of X Dames plotting, and also to soothe her soul. It had been a long, strange evening.
After settling into their suite, the three women had chilled out for a short break, then dressed for dinner tres casual, tres chic, short summer dresses and sandals all, and headed out. It took about half an hour to walk from their hotel to La Casa de la Luna Grande, or the House of the Big Fat Moon, as they translated it: first a stroll a few hundred yards down a dirt road that paralleled the curve of Sayulita’s rocky south end beach, then a jog to the right to the town square, where hippie vagabonds sold jeweled tchatchkes, and Mexican kids played soccer between the palm trees while their parents sold tacos, flan, cake, DVDs, toilet brushes, plastic action heroes, and other useful stuff from ramshackle little stands around the plaza’s edges. Clusters of half-drunk, sun-roasted gringos noisily roamed in search of the perfect fish taco, while their downscale surfer and hippie brethren loitered on low walls and benches in the plaza, guzzling Pacifico beer from fat liter bottles or margaritas from plastic cups. Music blared out of radios, bars, cars, and restaurants. Everybody looked slightly buzzed and vacantly pleased with themselves. What could be better than a beach vacation in a foreign town where you could stumble down the street somewhat wasted, with little chance of getting insulted, robbed, arrested, run over, or blown to pieces?
From this festive arena the three women crossed the bridge, and made their way to the beach road. After passing a large soccer pitch and a couple of shabby old two-story hotels, derelict construction sites, and the fenced and gated grounds of the town school, they entered the posh precincts of the North End, where the houses on the beach to the left, and on the hills rising up to the right, took on a more grandiose, even pompous, bearing, and enormous, dusty SUVs rumbled past, bearing gringos downtown. This was monied territory, on both sides of the road. One of the last houses on the beach was La Casa de la Luna Grande. Bobby Schamberg had rented it for two weeks for ten grand. Staying with him in the main house were Judy and Henrietta, with Leslie Williams and her pair of executive producer boys ensconced in the guesthouse by the pool. Excepting the Mexicans surfer girls and Sandra Darwin, who lived in town, everybody else involved with the show had holed up at the Villa Roma. Ruben Dario, who summered in a beachfront manse in Santa Barbara, had his own hacienda, said to be the biggest house in town, on the hill overlooking the north end and the bay.
They made their entrance. The house included a huge verandah overlooking the north end beach, where heavy shorebreak surf pounded on the rocks scarcely fifty feet from where the gang sat down to dinner after killing two bottles of tequila in half a cocktail hour. While the waves rattled the crockery they ate gourmet mex surrounded by waiters, fast-moving cameramen, lighting and sound guys, make-up artists, and assorted stylists, all directed by Leslie Williams’ assistant director, a Mexican-American guy called Hector Valdez. Leslie was nowhere to be seen, having retired early to her guesthouse with her pair of boy EPs in tow and “a horny gleam in her eye,” as Bobby smirkingly put it. Turned out Leslie was a rapacious boy-chaser but that was definitely not part of the X Dames narrative. The crew busily shot videotape from every possible direction, planning to plug footage from this intro dinner into the X Dames Episode One.
Along with the surfer girls Lucy had already met, and Bobby and his posse, there were a couple of local notables on hand: Ruben Dario, of course, for he was a major player in this X Dames game. Also present was Wally Townsend, Dario’s American partner in the realty end of his business interests. Between them they had sold sixteen Sayulita houses over the past winter, and currently had eleven more in escrow. Although they weren’t demonstrably affectionate, judging by what Lucy saw in the course of the well-documented evening, Ruben Dario and the Amazon surf-queen Sandra Darwin possibly had a thing going on.
The other guest was a man called Pantera Macho, short version El Pantero, the panther, a dark-skinned, muscular, and gorgeous Mestizo from Puerto Escondido, famed for surfing Puerto’s heavy, scary tubes with the cunning grace of a large, predatory cat. Hence the name. With his luminous black eyes and his ripped, cat-like body, topped by a ridiculously sexy shock of dyed blonde hair, the panther was hot, and he knew it.
Through the evening, several semi-planned spats erupted among the surfchicks—these babes were quickly learning how to make reality more real for the cameras, and so, urged on by Terry and Hector both, Moki Sue merrily belittled the surfing skills of her competitors, especially Marcia and Henrietta, who retaliated in kind.
Trapped between Dario and Townsend, Lucy missed out on the girly melodrama and instead made useful small talk with the realtors. Dario, who was half-Mexican and half-Californian and possessed dual citizenship, seemingly had married into one of Sayulita’s wealthy families year back. He was rich, arrogant and all-knowing, while Townsend, American salesman type to the rotten core, kissed Dario’s ass. From the two of them Lucy learned how the Ejido system worked. Before the law allowing gringos to buy houses via bank trusts had passed, the only way for gringos to own property in Mexico was with a Mexican partner, called a prestanombre, whose name would go on the deed along with the gringo name. These paper partnerships of convenience, formed under edicts proclaimed by each municipal council, or Ejido, were accompanied by powers of attorney which prevented the Mexican prestanombres from doing anything with the houses, such as buying, selling, renting, occupying or otherwise using them to their own advantage; and if properly written, the powers of attorney allowed the American partners to do what they wanted without the Mexican partner’s permission. Dario served as prestanombre for over fifty houses in Sayulita, he claimed.
With roots in both Sayulita and Southern California, Dario had been a serious surfer a few years back. Since he was also a big shot around town, he had been anointed an X Dames surfing contest judge. The surf champion El Pantero was the second judge, and Judy Leggett, former American womens’ champion, served as the third.
Judy maintained a low profile through the evening, and Lucy wondered what it was—other than Judy’s weird replay of the knife-to-the-nostril scene from Chinatown–that had triggered her suspicions in the first place. Here in Sayulita, off her own turf, Judy seemed a non-player. Terry said she thought the woman was stoned on codeine or barbiturates, easy to come by from a Mexican pharmacy, but who knew?
In any case the show’s mix seemingly was rich with potential strife and conflict. Good material.
As was her habit at large, loud dinners, when not making small talk Lucy watched. And so she watched—Marcia. After she’d downed several shots of tequila and at least five beers, Marcia ended up coming on hot, cheap and heavy to Ruben Dario. Lucy knew why: he’d been sneaking smoldering Latin lover-man glances at Marcia every chance he got. And she fell for it, for at heart, Lucy was certain, Marcia remained an innocent in spite of her surf skills, her Goth hair and surf-goth style, and her possibly evil drug habits. In his late thirties, Dario was handsome, wealthy, once a renowned surfer, now a man of the world. All in all, a major temptation for a girl like Marcia.
The two other serious surfer girls, from San Diego, were due in at midnight. Bobby had trolled the beaches of Sayulita that very day, X Dames checkbook in hand, and found four other hot babes and signed them up to fill in the competitive ranks. However, the two Canadian sisters, the Japanese exchange student, and the Colombian hippie girl were not actually surfing or even paddling out, due to the unusually large waves. Instead they would stand on the beach in their itsy bitsys—they all had great bods, of course, and Bobby would provide the bikini if anyone didn’t have the right one—with surfboards at hand, gazing out wistfully and shaking their heads. Surf’s too much for us. We’ll have to leave it to the pros. This would enhance the already awesome reps of those dames brave enough to paddle out in this once-in-a-decade monster swell. It was shaping up to be a wild, wild scene. Made for TV.
And then as the night wound down, somewhere in the mists of tequila-land El Pantero had made a move on her, Lucy Ripken. After staring at her intermittently with his bad kitty black eyes at the table, and flashing his lovely white-fanged smile her way to further signal his interest, he caught her in an unguarded moment as she emerged from a 600-square foot bathroom designed to mimic a jungle grotto, and there among the lilies and orchids and rustling green leaves he almost convinced her that an amorous tumble in her posh, king-sized hotel bed would be worth the next day’s regrets; but no, at the last possible instant, before her inhibitions simply melted away in the heated urgency of the panther’s desire, she slipped away, back to the table, strewn with tequila bottles, and sat her ass down to draw a deep breath and consider her options; and then a skewed glance across that same table at Teresa, stone cold sober, watching her with concerned eyes, had shut down her libido. And so instead of humping the panther, soon thereafter she slipped out the door with Teresa, and the two of them trudged home side by side, holding hands on a long, pleasantly sobering mile’s walk down the sands of Sayulita’s beach, from the north end to the south, mulling their own less-endangered fates in the shadow of the fate of young Marcia, wasted on tequila and beer. They had left her to fend for herself. Back at the Villa Roma they’d sat up for half an hour taking notes on the evening’s doings, plotting, plotting–and then crashed in their separate bedrooms. Marcia hadn’t shown to claim the third bedroom by the time they went to sleep.
And now another day. Lucy got up and pulled the curtains and the sliding glass doors open, then jumped back into bed, drew the sheet up over her naked self, and gazed out, listening to the loud but strangely soothing roar of the sea. Across the dirt road, through the picture-framing trunks of coconut palms, in the misty morning light, on a glass smooth surface the big waves broke, one after another, six to ten foot faces, clean lines in the sunrise light, surfing perfection on an epic day at Sayulita Beach. At this sleepy hour she could see just three early-bird wave hounds out, scoring right-breaking waves one after another. She watched one drop into an eight-footer, only to blow his bottom turn, lulled by a slow-peeling wave-lip that suddenly collapsed, sending him into a crash and burn under several tons of furious whitewater.
Big surf, half a dozen hot wave-riding girls, and after last night, enough plot potential to drive the X Dames for a season, if need be. Like Leslie had said, just put them all in a room, or in this case an ocean, and let them be themselves. It seemed to Lucy that with so much going on both in front of and behind the cameras, the real challenge for Teresa and her would be writing and editing out the shenanigans of those not actually on the show. Or working them in as the scenario required.
She put on a plush terrycloth robe she found hanging on the bathroom door, then banged on the door to the next bedroom. “Yo, Ter, time to shake it. Showtime, hon.” She heard a murmur, and went in. Zonked out flat on her back in the middle of her kingsizer, Terry was covered by her sheet from head to toe, like a corpse. “Hey, get your booty moving, girl,” Lucy said. “The surf is way up and we have a TV show to invent.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Terry said, pulling the sheet down and sitting up in bed in her sleeping t-shirt. “You know me, Luce. Morning’s not my best time.”
“Did little Miss Marcia make it home?” Lucy said, nodding at the door to the next bedroom.
Teresa shrugged. “I don’t know. I took half an Ambien to make sure I slept.”
“You got any extra? I hear that stuff works and doesn’t mess you up. A good night’s sleep would be a godsend. Jesus, I hope Marcia didn’t chase that Dario home,” Lucy said. “He was throwing bedroom eyes at her all night, right in front of his girlfriend—or I guess the appropriate word would be mistress.”
“I noticed. So did she. Sandra I mean.”
“So did everybody. It’ll be on prime time. Our little Marcia’s none too subtle. Which makes her perfect for reality TV, doesn’t it?”
“Yep. Hey, where’s coffee? I need coffee. The Ambien may not fuck you up but it definitely clogs your head.”
“Everybody’s coming here for breakfast on the verandah in…” Lucy looked at her watch. “Twenty minutes. Then its down to the beach to get the first heat started. They’re thinking about getting the whole contest done today, while the waves are smoking.” Lucy felt totally wired. This was reality TV. With big waves and red-hot girls to ride them, it was sure to be really good fun.
Thursday,11 Jul 2013
“Holy shit, look at that surf,” Marcia said, speeding up, grogginess magically gone as the waves beckoned. Past a row of craft vendors’ tables set up on the sidewalk at the end of the block, and the beach beyond, they could see white water everywhere, waves smaashing across the bay, a rocky point with a huge house atop it a quarter of a mile away to the southwest, and a couple of dozen surfers spread out from the crowded beach before them to the outer line-up, maybe two hundred yards off the shoreline. They hit the beach. El Costeno was on the right, its expansive palm thatch roof shading rows of mismatched grubby white wood and plastic tables and chairs sitting in the sand. Up the beach a large temporary elevated pavilion had been erected atop a scaffolding framework supported by metal poles buried in the sand, with X DAMES emblazoned in bold blue letters across the four sides of the pyramid-shaped white fabric roof. Sponsor flags flew: beer, surfboards, tequila. Parked directly behind it were several four wheel drive trucks, canopied cargo beds loaded with video gear. Clearly, a fairly major production was on tap. “I gotta get my board and ride some waves,” Marcia said. “The surf looks awesome. Where did she say the hotel was?”
“There,” Lucy said, pointing. “It’s that hulking monster.” A quarter of a mile down the beach, where the road curved seawards towards the house on the point, a five-story building rose up in front of a small hill blanketed with white, red-roofed houses buried in flowering foliage and coconut trees. The top story appeared unfinished, all raw concrete columns, empty windows, and scraggly rebar.. On the hill around it, the smaller buildings blended into the greenery.
“That’s the Villa Roma,” said Teresa. “I checked the site out on the web last night. And also several other Sayulita sites and blogs. Seems that everybody in town hates that building and its owner, your typical American asshole who thought he could bribe his way into building a high-rise condo tower in a town with a four-story height limit. But they claim to have stopped him with some sort of legal maneuver, and he’s actually taking the top floors down now. Anyways those other little buildings on the hillside are hotel rooms, and they looked really cool on the web.”
“Whatever,” said Marcia. “I’m going to get my board.” She dashed off down the beach, the eyes of several young Mexican surfdudes following her. Kept company by half a dozen panting mongrel dogs, the dudes lolled on the sand in the shade of the X Dames pavilion, watching the waves, drinking beer, and checking out the girls.
“How about you, Luce?” said Teresa. “Would you paddle out there?”
“Paddle out, yes,” Lucy said. “It’ll be great for shooting up close. My camera’s waterproof. And I can paddle pretty well from swimming and working out. But I couldn’t ride those waves. I’ve only surfed like five times and I just don’t know enough.”
“Excuse me, ladies,” a man interrupted them. They turned. He was forty or so, a handsome tall Mexican in carefully pressed khaki shorts, black leather sandals, and a loose-fitting, well-made sports shirt and sunglasses. “Are you–”
“Teresa MacDonald.” She held out a hand. “And Lucy Ripken. You must be–”
“Ruben Dario. From the show. And a local here as well. So nice to meet you. I hope you traveled well. Come join us, please.” He gestured at one of the larger tables at the front edge of El Costeno, which faced out to the surf. Three women sat there, comfortably slouched in tiny bikinis: one Asian and two Mexican. They were uniformly brown, lithe, long-haired, and beautiful in the modern way, physically confident, fierce, fearless, and yet utterly feminine. Powerbabes, soon to rule the world. As she and Terry followed Dario to the table, Lucy thought, any TV show that’s got this trio, plus Marcia, Henrietta, and Sandra, all of them out there in those waves, is going to rock!
“So where’s the lovely Henrietta?” said Moki Sue Kalahani’I, the 26-year old “surf dominatrix”, after they did the meet and greet, sat down, and ordered beers. On her left sat Martina Casals, a 20-year old Mexican girl famous for a video-taped tube ride she’d grabbed at Puerto Escondido, the renowned Mexican Pipeline, down the coast in Oaxaca. Martina had entirely disappeared inside this ten foot tube for five seconds and then come flying out still on her feet, with a huge smile on her face and the top half of her bathing suit blown off and away by the wind and spray inside the tube. Needless to say that topless tube ride lived on in the land of endless loops on the internet, and Martina had become one of the five or six most famous female surfers in the world as a result. At the end of the table lounged Erica Nunez, over 30 but four times in a row the Mexican women’s surfing champion. She had pretty much the same body as the other two, five and a half foot tall smoothly-muscled girls in impossibly great shape. Neither she nor Martina spoke English very well, so Dario, the only bilingualist among them, carried the conversation.
“I have no idea,” said Teresa. “I thought she came down with Bobby and all the TV people.”
“Yes, I saw her this morning at the house Bobby’s rented,” Dario said. “Don’t worry, Senorita Moki, she’s on it. She wants that money as much as you do.” He smiled. “And have you writer ladies concocted some interesting—narratives–for our girls to pursue?”
“We sure have,” Terry said. “We wrote the whole damn show on the plane coming down here today.”
“This is good,” he said, then turned and did some explaining in Spanish. The two Mexican girls laughed.
“What?” said Lucy, hating her own lack of Spanish. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, I was just telling them about how much Moki Sue wants to beat Sandra’s butt and everybody else too, but especially Henrietta’s. And they think it is funny that all these gringas are so intent on beating each other that they don’t realize that the Mexican girls are the best surfers here at their home beach.”
“Hm,” said Teresa. “Sounds like a challenge—and a plotline.”
“Hey, gang,” Marcia said, breathlessly arriving at the table. “The hotel’s cool.” She wore a dinky bikini bottom and a short sleeved rash-guard top in neo-psychedelic colors, and carried under one arm a short, skinny little board, maybe six feet long. Her sickly pallor had gone away as if by magic in the Mexican sun, and she looked like a red-hot surfer girl, ready to rule some waves.
Lucy did a quick intro, then Marcia said, “So why aren’t all you big time wave-bombing surf chicks out there now? Too hairy for you? Those waves look awesome!”
“Because they were better this morning at high tide, Chiquita,” said Moki Sue. “And we’re saving it because we are competing tomorrow and we all surfed for three hours today.” She turned to Teresa. “So why is this girl in the contest? A little t & a bimbo to fill in the background? Or are you a hot surfer, too, little girl?” she sneered.
“See you in the waves, puta bitch,” Marcia said as she turned and headed towards the water.
“Ouch! Girl’s got a short temper,” Moki Sue said with a grin. “Can’t take a joke.”
“It wasn’t funny,” said Lucy. “And she’s a good surfer so don’t take her too lightly.”
Moki Sue gave Lucy an appraising look. “So what are you going to write about that? How I insulted one of my competitors and–”
“Personal vendettas and hurt feelings are fodder for the plot,” said Terry, “So keep it up.” She turned to Lucy. “Seems like we already have our villain in place.”
“Hey,” Moki Sue said. “Don’t typecast me. I’m not your Dragon Lady bad girl. I just want to win, like everybody else. The mind game’s part of the gameplan.”
“Excuse me, ladies,” said Dario. “I wanted to ask our writers here–” Lucy and Teresa gave him their attention. “I’m already organizing the next segment after the surf contest. Did Bobby mention our plans? Will you be able to travel to South America from here to work on the snowboarding competition next week? My partner Sophie has been down there scouting locations, and it looks like she has lined up a great mountain with a fully equipped lodge, reliable lifts and excellent powder, in the Chilean Andes. The feeling is if we can alternate winter and summer sports it will create a great dynamic for the series, I think to give it that global feeling.”
“Chile? Next week? Jesus, I don’t know. I’ve got a book to finish. Luce, what do you think?”
“Hey, look at that,” Lucy said, quickly whipping a small pair of high-powered binoculars out of her bag. “Is that Marcia?” She focused. “Yes. She’s caught a monster wave.” They all watched as the girl stood up on her board at the top of a huge wave, then dropped in. When she hit bottom it was evident the wave’s face was nearly three times her height, at least fifteen feet high. She hit the bottom on her little short board, carved a big, smooth turn, and climbed up the face of the wave at high speed. At the top she whipped a slashing cutback, and her board broke loose of the water, freefalling down the face. Her feet hardly touched the board until it hit water near the wave’s bottom, when she somehow landed perfectly balanced and executed another big turn, this one ending with a lunging kickout over the top as a collapsing section closed the wave out.
They were quiet for a few seconds, taking it in. Then Moki Sue said “Holy shit! That girl can surf!”
“Magnifico,” said Dario. “And what a mighty wave!”
Martina said, “Thees ees I theenk the wave of the day so far. It is like Puerto Es only not so breaking hard as there.”
“Judy told me the swell’s going to peak tomorrow,” said Teresa. “So it could be even bigger for the contest.”
“Hey, I’m from Hawaii,” said Moki Sue. “I eat waves like these for lunch.”
They all looked at her. “Chow down, baby,” said Lucy.
Monday,8 Jul 2013
With luggage in hand and a pair of surfboards in silver bags racked on the roof, Lucy, Teresa, and Marcia shared a cab to the airport early the next morning. They did the airport shuffle, boarded, and eventually took off. Marcia promptly passed out with her head glued to the window, leaving Teresa and Lucy to contemplate their young companion. “She looks wasted,” Terry said quietly.
“I know,” Lucy answered. “When I went to get her she was still unconscious. As was her sister. As were the two dudes with them.” She stopped. “It took me five minutes to shake her awake, and the boyfriend or whoever he was did not appear to be a happy little surf-puppy.”
“What do you mean?” Teresa said.
“There was some strange-looking paraphernalia on the stove and table,” Lucy said. “I don’t know the drug of choice these days but this looked like some demented child’s chemistry set.”
“Speed, I’ll bet,” said Teresa. “A lot of people are into it because its cheap and easy to make, and they say the rush is better than cocaine and lasts for days.” She looked grimly amused. “And best of all it destroys your brain faster than any other drug.”
“Jesus,” Lucy said. “What I have gotten us into? And my poor dog, for that matter. Marcia’s sister said she’d take care of him while I’m gone.”
“He’ll be OK. As will Marcia. They wouldn’t have been passed out if they were on a speed binge. Plus if they’re surfing every day they can’t be doing it that much. Your body just can’t take it. In any case, as far as our pal here goes, if speed is her demon of choice she probably won’t be able to get any down there. The whole concept of speed is completely anti-Mexican, unless you’re working for the cartel. She’ll have to dry out.”
“Hope you’re right,” Lucy said. She sighed. “At least I didn’t see any syringes.”
“Yeah. It’s not like we’re going to have time to babysit a fucked-up 23 year-old with a drug issue. We got TV to write, right?”
“Right,” said Lucy, happy to change the subject. “So that meeting was all well and good but do you really know what we’re going to do?”
“You’ve seen reality TV, right, Lucy?” She looked at her. Lucy looked back solemnly, then burst out laughing.
“Actually I did watch Survivor once,” she said. “And I’ve seen American Idol a couple of times.”
“That’s it?” Teresa asked, grinning. “Well, that means you’ve watched about two hours more reality TV than I have, Lucy. Bobby never even thought to ask, so intent was he on hiring me—us–but the truth is, I don’t even have a television.”
“I’d say that if we weren’t such literary geniuses we’d be in deep shit, Ter,” Lucy said. “But knowing that we are, in fact, obscure but authentic literary geniuses, we will simply create a masterwork of televisable reality. Out there amidst las olas altas.”
“No doubt, Chiquita,” Teresa answered. “Or get fired and go home.” Marcia stirred. “The dead live again,” Teresa exclaimed. “Stand back.” The girl shuddered, then went back to slack-jawed sleep. Now that she had a chance for an extended, upclose look at Marcia, Lucy didn’t like what she saw. A sallow sickliness suffused her skin. Her eyes wore raccoon rings. She looked worn way beyond 23 years.
But on the other hand the girl was smart, sexy and a hot surfer. Lucy knew her own enthusiasm had gotten her into this situation. She’d fallen for Marcia’s sense of style, in her flash car, on the beach, in the LA waves.
Lucy shook her worries off. “So tell me everything else you can think of about what we’re going to do with the show, Ter,” Lucy said.
“Well, to begin with, I think we gotta get some serious conflict going ASAP,” Terry said, whipping out a notebook. “Let’s take a meeting, Lucita.” They spent a couple of hours scheming X Dames plotlines involving shark attacks, Mexican-flavored beach parties leading to tequila-drunken catfights, collisions in the waves, international romantic intrigues, offshore diving adventures gone wrong, weird intestinal encounters with enchiladas, and other potential narrative thrills. Though it was tempting, they entertained and then dropped the idea of having Marcia’s apparent drug issues enter into the story. By the time they were closing in on Vallarta they had several pages of dramatically-enhanced reality mapped out around the surfing contest. And then with a swoop over the Bay of Banderas and a semi-circular maneuver to approach from over the mountains to the east, they landed with a single bounce—just enough to shake Marcia awake–followed by a smooth glide down the runway.
Twenty minutes later they found Sandra Darwin, a six-foot two-inch Amazon of a surfer girl, waiting amidst the gang of sign-waving hotel limo drivers and timeshare hustlers and other airport scammers outside customs. Sandra held a sign with Teresa’s name on it. Upon seeing her Lucy named her the Girl from Surfalita, cousin to the girl from Ipanema, for she was definitely tall and tan and young and lovely, except that at 27 years old Sandra Darwin was way too cut to be an entirely convincing bikini beach babe from Brazil or anywhere else. She wore shorts and a tank top and flip-flops, and had hard, ropy arms and legs. Though her blond-banged, blue-eyed face was pretty enough, she didn’t sport much in the way of curves, real or fake, in the usual places. What she sported was sinew and muscle. She looked like she could kick ass. “Hey girls,” she’d said when they approached, dragging boards and suitcases. “Who’s the surfer?”
“Me,” said a groggy Marcia. “I’m–”
“I’m gonna whip your booty in the contest, honey,” Sandra said, and then laughed. “Just kidding, kid.”
“Hey Sandra, how are you?” Terry said.
“You’re Teresa?” she asked.
“Yeah. Call me Terry. Or just Ter. Nice to meet in person at last, after all the email. And this is Lucy, and Marcia Hobgood, your competition.”
“Hey,” said Lucy. “How’s it going?”
“You’re the hotshot windsurfer, right?” said Sandra. “Did the Precolombian fake book?”
“Yes, that’s me. I get around out there,” Lucy said. “But I’m not–”
“I liked that book. Read it in a night. Let’s blow this joint,” Sandra said. “I hate airports.” She was an abrupt one, or maybe just a non-bullshitter. Nothing wrong with that, Lucy decided as they followed her out to a tank-sized white SUV, strapped the boards on the roof rack, and threw everything else in the back. They soon found themselves headed north on Highway 200.
“Beer and sodas in the cooler there. Help yourselves,” Sandra said a moment later into the rearview. Lucy handed Terry a ginger ale and had one herself.
Marcia cracked a Tecate, took a half-can swig, and said, “Aaah. I needed that.”
“I guess you did,” said Lucy, giving her a look. She gazed back inscrutably, her eyes circled by darkness, until Lucy looked away. “Hey Sandra, how long’s the ride?”
“Half an hour unless we get stuck behind a slow truck. The road gets pretty skinny and curvy once you get past the Punta Mita turn-off.” With mountains rising beyond a hazy valley to the east, and the Pacific to the west, they drove north through a landscape of scattered development, a classic colonized Mexican mingling of raggedy-ass little towns and ramshackle roadside retail buildings and massive American superstores and oversized bi-lingual billboards touting everything from Kahlua to Hummers, interspersed with golf courses, condo developments, hulking overscale hotels and timeshares along the shoreline to the west, and herds of horn-honking cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles jockeying for position in the four-lane road. For fifteen minutes Sandra pointed out the sights and named the towns and turn-offs—Nuevo Vallarta, Mezcales, Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacatle, Punta Mita–as they cruised along, paralleling the windy blue seas of Banderas Bay. Then they went through a checkpoint manned by a uniformed squad of what appeared to be sullen teenagers hefting submachine guns— Federales, Sandra said—and followed the light flow of traffic as two lanes on each side shrank to one and the road snaked into jungle-covered, hilly terrain.
Fifteen twisty minutes later they hit a flat, open stretch, where Sandra whipped a left past a brand new Pemex gas station and a Subway sandwich store and turned onto a newly-paved road. “They just did this road,” she said. “Used to be a potholed mess, back in the good old days,” she sighed. “But now–”
“What?” Teresa said.
“You’ve never been here, right? None of you?”
“I only go to New York,” Terry said. “This is my first time out of the USA.”
“I was in Mazatlan once,” Lucy said. “In college. Drunk for a week. And I’ve tripped through the Yucatan a few times, but that’s another world over there.”
“I went to Ensenada last year with some friends,” Marcia said. “We partied, and surfed, and partied and surfed some more, and then went home. It was cool.”
“Well, Sayulita was really cool,” Sandra said, as they turned right off new asphalt onto older asphalt, and dodged several potholes. “It used to be the perfect little Mexican beach town, but unfortunately it’s just too damn close to the PV aeropuerto. Which means that in the last few years it has gotten overrun with gringos of a different persuasion than the surfers, artists, and nomadic hippies that have always come here. Now there’s a bunch of rich guy houses on the hills and–don’t get me wrong, there have always been Americans and Canadians and even some Euros here, because it is a really cool town, with a nice beach, good fishing, and a fun surfing wave. But lately development has been happening way too fast.”
“Money does that,” said Lucy.
“Everywhere and always,” said Teresa.
“Yeah, I know,” Sandra said. “But I came down here a lot of years ago to surf and hang out, and then I got the Mexican branch of the Wave Divas off the ground and I never thought about buying property, even though it was still pretty cheap a few years back. And now all of a sudden everything is for sale, but without serious hustling and hassling buying anything is practically impossible. That’s why I gotta kick your booty in the contest, Marcia,” she said, and laughed mirthlessly. “I could use that X Dames dough. So if you turn here,” she said as she slowed and pointed to the right, “and go down there to the end of that road, Calle Miramar and turn right on the beach road, Palmar, you’re headed into the north end, where you’ll find your trophy haciendas on the hilltops. Downtown’s across the bridge just ahead. Along here you’ve got your roasted chicken stand, your paint store, your hardware store, hair salon, electric junk store, guy who does welding, car parts, bad art gallery, progressive private school for gringo kids–” They approached the bridge, and eased over. The river was a brown trickle flanked by mud banks. Beyond the downtown ahead they could see dozens of white or brightly colored Mediterranean-style houses scattered across the hillsides; between the established houses, half-built projects occupied much of the open land. “The river’s kind of scuzzy–a lot of sewage still goes in untreated, unfortunately, inspite of the new plant down by the beach, but the Mexicans have always done it that way, and when there were only a few hundred of them it didn’t hardly matter. Now there’s a few thousand Mexicans and gringos, and their shit stinks.
“But what the hell,” she went on, as they cranked a right. Ramshackle stalls housing craft vendors and food shops and plastic toys and kitchenware lined the riverbank on their right. “There’s a great swell right now and the surf is way large for Sayu, so the contest should be intense. Fantastic timing for the show.” She looked back at Marcia. “Are you ready, kid?”
“May I quote you?” said Marcia. “I’m gonna whip your booty.”
Sandra laughed. “We’ll see about that.” She turned left onto a dusty street lined with parked cars in front of small stores and houses behind foliage-covered walls. She drove two blocks and parked. “Here we are, girls: beautiful downtown Sayulita. The town plaza’s right there.” She pointed up the street. “Everybody hangs out there in the evenings.” She pointed the other way. “The beach is there, and the waves. You’re supposed to meet Ruben Dario, one of the X Dames producers, at El Costeno, the open air restaurant on the beach at the end of the street. I should warn you: some think Ruben’s the big bad wolf in this town, and he knows it. But the waves are right in front so you can check it out. I’ll take your stuff to the VR—it’s down the beach, you can’t miss it—and catch you later.”
“Cool,” said Lucy, climbing out. “The air’s nice here,” she said.
“It’s usually eighties by day, high sixties by night, until June. Then it gets stinky hot and sticky. Anyways you’re also scheduled to meet Bobby Schamberg and Judy and that whole gang at Bobby’s rental house, La Casa de la Luna Grande, on the beach at the north end of town, at seven o’clock for dinner. It’s about a half an hour’s walk from the hotel, or you can have them get you a taxi. Your stuff’ll be in your suite. See you then,” Sandra said. She drove off.
“Well here we are,” said Lucy, taking a look around. “Looks like a sweet little town.” Mexican and American hippies and surfers of all ages, girls in bikinis, sun-baked families, excited kids, barking and scrounging mongrel dogs, and dusty vehicles crowded the streets. Everything moved at a tropical crawl. It smelled of dogshit, fried fish, sunscreen, spilled beer, and the sea.
“Let’s go check out the waves,” said Marcia. “I gotta see what the surf’s like.”
They walked down the middle of the street, lined with two- and three-story buildings, ground floor tourist shops selling Mexican art, surfboards, bottled water, beer, clothes, groceries, and, in at least four different storefronts, REAL ESTATE. “She wasn’t kidding about the development, was she?” Lucy said. “It’s realtor hell.”
“I heard it’s because gringos can buy waterfront now without having a Mexican partner,” Teresa said. “You can get some kind of bank trust. Used to be foreigners couldn’t buy within a thousand meters of the beach. But now–” she shrugged. They all stared down the street and past all the clutter and out to sea. Where giant waves were crashing down.
Wednesday,3 Jul 2013
Greetings, readers. This being the low, slow season, I’m going to try something different with the blog for a few weeks.
First, a little background: Back in the days when I lived in the USA, I wrote things other than web content. I wrote magazine articles, and I wrote books, on architecture, interior design, music, and travel. > Read more
Tuesday,2 Jul 2013
This fruit blog examines the mamey (pronounced mah-may) fruit, offspring of the mamey zapote tree. The tree is a large, ornamental evergreen that matures at 60 to 140 feet, and produces the fruit shown here. These fruits are a dull brown on the outside, utterly nondescript in appearance, growing from 4 to 10 inches (10-25 centimeters) in length and 3-5 inches (8-12 centimeters) in width. However, the fuzzy, rough brown exterior hides a jewel within, for the edible fruit is a beautiful, rich orange in color. You can tell its ripe if the skin is slightly soft to the touch. But that isn’t usually necessary, as these fruits are often displayed cut open in an ornamental zig zag pattern reminiscent of a tulip flower. Also, sellers will often nick the fruit near the stem so that potential buyers can see that the interior is not green but appropriately pink and thus ripe. > Read more