[I made several false starts on this novel. I like certain things about each; but mostly they were too long (cut here so hopefully you don’t go to sleep). That, and when I pitched a screenplay version at a conference in Santa Monica, CA, I was told no one wanted anything to do with drug scripts. Here is one of the first attempts.]
THE DOGS OF MEXICO
ROBERT BOHNERT LOOKED up from the marina where he was pointing out the merits of a twenty-eight-foot cigarette boat to a customer when Don Barrera’s black Mercedes pulled in before Power Outing’s showroom. Barrera’s driver got out and opened the rear door. Barrera, immaculate in a dark suit, white shirt, and tie, slid out and stood for a moment under the palms, shading his eyes against the glare of the Florida sun.
Barrera saw Robert and waved.
Robert hesitated, glanced aside at his customer, and waved back. Even at fifty yards Barrera’s big toothy smile was evident, sinister as a shark’s.
Barrera’s driver was a new guy, short and stout, a body-builder type. He wore wrap-around sunglasses and a bright yellow shirt, the broad collar open over the lapel of his jacket. He followed Barrera inside with an arrogant, slap-footed swagger.
“We took this little beauty in on trade,” Robert said, turning his attention to his customer again. They stood before a twenty-eight-foot cherry-red Scarab poised like a rocket in its cradle alongside the boat slips in the canal. “It has a 350-horse engine that’ll hit sixty knots in about ten seconds flat.” Robert let his gaze linger on the boat with feigned admiration.
“Yep,” said the customer, “I bet the women love this baby.” The customer, a Nordic type with sun-bleached hair wet-combed in waves, wore sandals, purple shorts, and a hot pink shirt. He sported a cluster of gold chains around his neck and both wrists.
Robert forced a smile. “You’re right about that. I don’t know what it is about these cigarette boats, but they attract the ladies all right.” It was true. Unaccountably, the most undesirable men were often surrounded by beautiful women on these boats.
“It’s the subliminal suggestion of phallic power,” said the Nordic.
Robert looked at him.
“You know” — the Nordic ran the flat of his palm down his stomach and shot it out and away from his crotch — “va-room! Power!” He slapped his thigh and laughed.
Robert attempted a smile.
He stole another look toward the office. Barrera rarely showed up at the marina, maybe half a dozen times over the whole year, and on each of these occasions he had taken Jimez to lunch. Jimez was the manager, a grizzled old Cuban with a lined face and a shock of unruly white hair. Jimez would be out for the rest of the day and he never spoke of it afterward. Robert didn’t ask. He didn’t want to know.
[I cut fourteen pages here in respect for the reader’s attention span. Basically, Barrera takes Robert to lunch and tries to persuade him to deliver drugs. Robert refuses. I introduced Robert’s live-in, Jill, a chapter in her POV.]
This wasn’t a role Jill particularly liked. She thought of herself as a moral person — when she thought about it at all — and though she wasn’t sure just what she was doing, or why Barrera had coerced her into it in the first place, she knew instinctively that something about it was shady.
Still, a girl had to look out for herself, so she went through the motions, standing in the doorway of Robert’s little one-bedroom mobile home, holding the photo of his ex, pretending to be angry.
“What’s wrong with you?” he said, looking truly perplexed.
“You think I want to be with some guy, him keeping a picture of his ex under the bed?” She tossed the photo on the sofa.
“I always had that picture,” he said. “What’s the big deal all of a sudden?”
“Don’t wait up!” she said, and barged out, slamming the door.
He pushed the door open and shouted after her, “Six months you’ve been here, and I never even looked at that picture. Not once!” But she was already getting into her old Lincoln Town Car, moving out in the mist of rain that had begun to fall.
She drove the Town Car out of the trailer park. At the entrance a billboard with a picture of a radiant family of happy campers read, SUNRISE MOBILE HOMES – FLORIDA LIVING AT ITS BEST!
Thirty minutes later, she eased the car through an upscale neighborhood, a slip of paper in hand, looking for an address. The rain fell steady now and the street numbers were hard to see. She turned and then stopped alongside an intercom built into a stone column before a massive iron gate. She rolled down the window and pushed the button and jumped when a man’s voice answered immediately, “Yes?”
“Jill,” she said.
The gates slid back and she followed the drive in for fifty yards and stopped before an elegant Greek Revival. She took her umbrella from behind the seat and got out.
She was about to ring the bell when the door opened. A man wearing a white shirt with thin red leather suspenders, a red bowtie, and red socks, stood in the doorway. In spite of these sporty touches, his was a sinister presence. He took her umbrella, closed it, and placed it in a stand alongside an ornate coat tree.
“Come with me,” he said.
She followed him into a cavernous living room. The motif was classical, a bit ostentatious. With a little shock she saw now that the furnishing were grouped together in the center of the room, surrounded on three sides by ornate cages, floor to ceiling. Each cage contained a complex maze of tunnels and honeycombed structures in which a variety of exotic snakes lay entwined in lethargic repose.
A second man, a Cuban godfather type in an immaculate suit, white shirt. and black tie, rose from a club chair and came forward. “I begin to think you don’ show.”
“It was hard to see in the rain.”
The man in red suspenders moved around behind her. “You’re just in time for dinner,” he said. She turned as he reached into a small wire cage and took out a white mouse. Her sense of foreboding increased as she realized he enjoyed her discomfort.
“I can’t stay but a minute,” she said.
“Our Mr. Daigle, he make a joke,” Barrera said, dismissive, and took an envelope from his pocket. “The second half, as agreed.” He handed it to her. “Make it hard for him. Maybe I give you a bonus, eh?”
Against her better judgment, Jill had let herself be swept into something dark and frightening, something evil from which she hadn’t the wherewithal to remove herself. She wasn’t insensitive to what Barrera might be up to, and wished Robert no harm. But in spite of reservations, she had herself to think of. First, it was simply a matter of time before Robert left her. Men always left her, eventually, and she told herself she would be a fool not to profit now when she had the opportunity. Still, she was scared, and more than a little prickled with guilt.
She mustered her courage and spoke, “May I ask why you want me to do this?”
In her peripheral vision she saw the man, Daigle, slip the mouse into a cage with a with a large python. She looked away.
“I am not an evil man,” Barrera said, watching the cage, “but a student of the human nature. It is helpful to know how a creature will act when he is backed in the corner with nowhere to go. It is how the scientist do, no? Study the human nature?”
The squeak of the mouse sounded in the small silence that followed. She refused to look or acknowledge it.
“I have to go,” she said.
Barrera smiled. “Tomorrow, then. Sí?”
It was barely light outside the trailer. Jill woke with a wave of apprehension as Robert quietly entered the darkened bedroom. He was dressed for work in a summer blazer, sport shirt, and Topsiders. He carried a flashlight and knelt, shining it under the bed.
She pulled the sheet up over her head. “What’re you doing?” she mumbled.
“Sorry, Have you seen my wallet?”
She rolled over in the covers, her back to him. “Go. a. way.”
[I cut a long scene here where Robert refuses Barrera, and Barrera fires him.]
Barrera parked under the palms and they both got out. Robert followed him across the lawn to Power Outing’s showroom.
The new man sat at the black walnut desk, thumbing through the brochures. He pushed himself out of the chair and then sprawled on one of the leather sofas as Robert followed Barrera to the desk.
Robert couldn’t see the new man’s eyes behind the sunglasses, but his head tilted back and the corners of his mouth kinked in a barely suppressed grin.
“You may take your personal things,” Barrera said to Robert, gesturing at the desk, making little circles with a dangling forefinger.
Jimez came out of the glassed-in office, He looked one to the other.
Barrera seated himself on the other sofa as Robert slid one of the desk drawers open. Robert removed a solar calculator and pitched it on the desk along with an address book and a box of Band-Aids. He slapped the drawer shut and opened one below.
Barrera half turned, relaxing back on the sofa. He ignored Robert rummaging through the drawers, looking instead at the new man with distaste.
“This is Rufo, my sister’s son . . . family,” Barrera added with distaste.
Robert lifted out a shoebox of odds and ends and dumped the contents back in the drawer — pencils, paperclips, computer disks. He began piling his own things into the box.
Barrera continued to look at Rufo. “Such a specimen. A fat insect with those sunglasses. Eh?”
Rufo self-consciously took off the sunglasses and tucked them inside his jacket. His eyes were small and bright, burning with pent up rage.
“And this suit” — Barrera took the faintly iridescent lapel of Rufo’s jacket between his thumb and fingers — “look at this material. Cheap. Disgusting. Still, he is family. So naturally he is taking your place in the family business.” Barrera sighed. “No more good men.”
Robert was only half listening as he tossed a pocket-sized Spanish dictionary into the shoebox.
Barrera casually leaned up and pinched the hem of Robert’s jacket between his fingers. “Ah, now here is quality. Who is the crafter of this fine material? Armani? Yes? No matter. It is a fine work.”
Robert took a step back. “Keep your hands off me.”
“And those shoes,” Barrera continued, nonplused. “Fine craftsmanship and excellent for going on the boats. Look at this Rufo’s shoes. Rufo, stand over here so we can see your shoes.”
Rufo hesitated, then rose slowly from the white leather sofa and stood, red faced, shuffling in place, as Barrera looked him up and down, shaking his head.
“This one would gladly accept such an offer as I make to you. But can you see in your mind this Rufo discussing business with an intelligent client? Ah, not like the old days. No more good men.” Barrera gestured at Rufo’s feet, again making small circles with the dangling forefinger. “Rufo, stand around here where Roberto can see your shoes.”
Robert couldn’t help but glance at Rufo’s shoes — cheap imitation alligator.
Robert picked up the box. “He’s a cool son of a bitch all right,” he said, and started for the door.
Rufo caught him and swung him around. Robert barely glimpsed Rufo’s enraged eyes before Rufo hit him and everything exploded in splinters of light and burned out to nothingness.
For a moment Robert didn’t know where he was. His senses began to collect through a ringing haze and he realized he was laid out on the floor, Jimez bathing his temples with wet paper towels.
“Cuz, you okay here?” A shadow of alarm showed in the deepened lines on Jimez’s face.
Robert struggled to his knees, little blinking lights dancing about. He managed to get to his feet and stood for a minute leaning against the doorframe.
“You better sit down over there,” Jimez said. “Just take it easy.” Jimez began gathering Robert’s things back into the shoebox.
Robert got Barrera in focus where he sat on the sofa watching it all with a faintly amused expression. Robert glanced about, blinking, trying to clear his head.
“Where is he?” he mumbled.
Jimez glanced up. “Cuz, you took it on the chin pretty good there. You better sit down and pull yourself together.”
“Where is he?” Robert said again.
“We sent him out,” Barrera said. “He make trouble. We don’ want trouble.”
Through the picture window Robert saw Rufo down at the marina, chinning himself on the red Scarab’s bowsprit. Rufo, looking like a muscle-bound chimpanzee, had taken his jacket off and was chinning with one arm for the benefit of three teenage girls in string bikinis lounging in the cockpit of a double-decked Daystar tied up in one of the slips.
Robert stumbled his way to the desk and swept one of the floor lamps up in both hands. The wire tore loose with a flashing pop, and some of the showroom lights went out.
“Hey!” Jimez shouted as Robert pushed through the double glass doors, crouching forward across the lawn, carrying the lamp pole clutched in both hands.
Rufo, his back turned as he performed for the girls, switched chinning arms and didn’t see Robert until he was alongside, swinging the lamp like a baseball bat. The heavy base caught Rufo in the breadbasket with a wump! He billowed out from the bowsprit, dropped, and folded over in the gravel like a thick sausage.
Robert stood over him and when he saw Rufo wasn’t getting up he stumbled back to the showroom, only vaguely aware of the screaming girls on the Daystar.
He swung the lamp again, hurled it through the plate glass window with all his strength — a thunderous explosion followed by a great rattling and tinkling of glass raining down. Robert crouched forward as if to charge the building with his bare hands.
Jimez rushed out past him, eyes wide, fixed on Rufo moaning in the graveled marina behind.
Barrera stood slightly behind the emptiness where the window had been, stood in the glittering bed of shattered safety glass, watching, smiling, clapping his hands. “Bravo!” he said, looking thoroughly pleased. “Bravo!”
Robert wheeled about. He swung around behind the building and climbed into his pickup. He fired it up and backed around just as Jimez, his old legs wobbling askew, came running around the corner and flailed to a stop in the driveway. He threw his hands up and Robert hit the brakes.
Robert stuck his head out. “You don’t get out of the way, I’m gonna flatten your sorry ass!”
Jimez bent toward him, arm spread. “Cuz, listen, you don’t really think he’s gonna let you go. You don’t know Barrera. He’s—”
Robert gassed the truck, popped the clutch and hit the brake. The truck took a short bouncing leap and squawked to a stop. Jimez lurched backward. Robert did it again and Jimez leaped aside. Robert gunned past, the old truck fishtailing onto the pavement.
Trembling with adrenalin so he could hardly keep his foot on the accelerator, Robert drove home at two in the afternoon. His head ached from the blow to his chin. His teeth hurt in their sockets and his jaw felt like it was broken.
It was humiliating, going home at two in the afternoon. Fired. Out of work. With some relief he recalled that Jill had a flight out today and wouldn’t be back till the end of the week.
He turned in at the Cozy Cove Trailer Haven and eased down the shell road to number 7B were a U-Haul trailer was parked, hitched behind Jill’s old Lincoln Town Car. Robert nosed his truck in behind the U-Haul, killed the engine and sat for a moment, looking.
Jill came out of the mobile home carrying clothes on hangers in one hand and a spider plant in the other. Jill, a shapely blond with troubled eyes, came to a hesitant stop when she saw him parked behind her U-Haul. She lifted her chin, then hurried on down to the Lincoln. She set the spider plant on top, swung open the rear door, laid the clothes out on the back seat, then lifted the spider plant down and set it inside in the footwell.
Robert eased his door open. Jill stood out of the Lincoln and shut the door.
“These are all my things!” she shouted. “Your key is on the table.” She hopped in behind the wheel, slammed the door and locked it. The car lurched away from the curb with the U-Haul. Robert stood, staring after her.
He went up the shell walk and opened the door. On the little Formica table stood an envelope propped against a Budweiser beer can. Two hangers of Jill’s clothes hung from the inside doorknob, but apparently she had decided against returning for them. He looked about at the empty trailer, then opened the cabinets and saw his cheap dishes were gone. So was the flatware. The refrigerator was empty but for a jar of pickles. He opened the envelope but there was nothing in it other than the house key. He walked through the trailer, only vaguely noting what had been taken. After a time he let himself down at the little built-in table.
He was still trying to figure how best to go on as night closed in on the trailer. He roused himself and found a can of Wolf Brand Chili. But no can opener. He took the church key from the glove compartment of his truck and punched little overlapping triangles around the inside top of the can. Then didn’t have a pot to heat it in. Nor a spoon to eat it with. He opened the cabinet under the sink and dropped the can in the garbage and shut the door. He paused, then opened the door and pulled the garbage can out again.
It was his wallet all right. He picked it out. Empty except for his driver’s license and social security card. Whatever money he had — about fifty dollars if he remembered — and two credit cards were missing. He pitched the wallet on the countertop and lifted the cushion from the bench around the tiny built-in table. His bankbook was gone too.
[At this point, Robert meets Jimez and agrees to deliver the drugs. There is one more brief scene with Jill.]
Jill’s old Lincoln Town Car, U-Haul attached, sprawled across one corner of the crowded parking lot at a tourist center high in the Colorado Rockies. The Lincoln was empty, doors locked, but a man’s legs in coveralls stuck out from underneath near the a rear wheel. The man slid from under, stood, glanced about, and slipped a pair of vice-grips into his pocket. He stepped away among the RVs and disappeared.
A few moments later Jill came out of the tourist shop. She lit a cigarette and stood for a moment, surveying the snow covered peaks rising around her. On the drive up from Florida, she had thought often of Robert, and had convinced herself each time that all was well. Whatever Barrera was up to had nothing to do with her. She was free, unencumbered and on her way to her sister’s in Seattle with money in her pocket. She marveled again at the scenery, tossed the butt, and unlocked the car.
Soon she was climbing again, trying not to look at the drop-off running alongside the metal guardrail on the passenger side. She went up through a high pass and started down around the switchbacks. She put her foot on the brake. The pedal sank slowly to the floor. She hit the brake again — slammed it hard. The car gained speed. Sudden terror pumped a rush of blood to her head as she realized the car was traveling too fast for the upcoming curve. She whipped the steering wheel sharply. The U-Haul jack-knifed into the car and shoved it crashing through the guardrail. A sustained scream filled the car as it turned slowly in space. Sunglasses, cigarettes, maps, all seemed to fall upward as the valley below rolled into view. She fell forward and hung over the steering wheel, her weight momentarily suspended in the seatbelt harness.
[There wear things I liked about these sections, but in both cases there was too much filler. What you’ve read here has been severely edited.] —Asher