Down the Barrel (Part Two) or "Stick It"
“How do we even know these guys are who they say they are?” Kerry asked. “Those are some ratty looking uniforms.”
“And their shoes don’t match, but does it make a difference?” I asked. “They’re the ones with the M-16.”
There were six of us altogether, four of us sitting inside a concrete bunker, jagged rebar jutting out of rough-sided, cinder block walls, while we waited. One of my brothers had gone back to retrieve the VW bus, and get more ransom loot so that we could bribe our way out of this mess.
OK, it wasn’t ransom money but it seemed that way. We were strangers in a strange land, acting like Americans, and four of the six of us had decided to go skinny-dipping. Besides me there were two of my brothers, two spouses, and one female bff of one of the spouses.
Down in Ensenada, Mexico, in the summer of 1975, camping at a campground about twenty minutes’ walk up the beach, we had been observed by the same Mexican Federales who guarded the abandoned hotel we had been checking out. We had seen one of them in the distance as we were leaving but had given him no thought.
Returning to the sand along the ocean, we dumped our towels and books, and hit the water, tossing off our swimming attire, those of us who were going au natural. It didn’t take long before we were aware that our actions had attracted the notice of that guy guarding the abandoned hotel.
Whereas I had only seen one as we were leaving, there were now four of them lined up along the waterline, and though no words were conveyed, communication was not a problem.
“They want us to get out of the water, and one of them has an M-16,” I said. “I’d recognize that thing with both eyes blind-folded and my hands tied behind my back. I can sense it.”
I had had to be able to break one down in boot camp, until all removable parts were distributed out on the table, and then reassemble it, all within sixty seconds. I was quite proficient at it.
I had never had one pointed at me, however.
We grabbed our suits and pulled them back on as we came out of the water, and then walked up the sand toward the hotel, after they had made it clear that that was our destination.
We were a somber group of individuals. First of all, the two of us who had remained clothed were not in hot water, so they were free to go wherever they pleased. As it turned out, one went back with Noland to get the bus and more money, while the other remained with us in the bunker.
I called it a bunker, but it could have been a kitchen, a laundry room, or anything. It was just one of countless similar components of the sprawling complex which had been abandoned in the late sixties, all of them cement-gray in color.
The four Federales had been conferring amongst themselves and then the one who spoke the best English, had told us that we would have to accompany him back to the “station,” unless we could come up with the money for the fine.
We interpreted that to mean that we could buy our way out of this jam, if we could come up with enough loot. All we had with us was $37.20.
The man looked forlornly at the money. “Ees that all?” he asked sadly.
|What do you mean, "Ees that all?"|
Hence, someone went back to camp to get more, and he could drive the VW bus back with the ransom, er, fine.
While we waited, the guy asked if we had any marijuana. The way his eyes twinkled and the way he drew out the merrrrry waaaannna left us no doubt what he was after.
“I wish,” I said instinctively, but the reality is that it would not have been a good thing. Besides, we were petrified to bring it across the border, for the very reason that had now presented itself. Finding a lid of (ironically) Mexican weed on us would have upped the ante considerably.
“He doesn’t want it to smoke it; he wants it so he can hit us up for more money,” suggested Kerry.
“I don’t know about you but I know I don’t have more than about ten bucks with me, so it ain’t no biggee-dah. You can’t get blood from a turnip.”
When Noland returned with the bus, he came back with Roy, the son of Alejandro, who owned the campground at which we were staying. How on earth word could have spread that rapidly, might possibly have had something to do with a little flirting going on between Roy and JT.
Alejandro carried a lot of weight in those parts, and our family had been staying at his campground for several summers, so when he heard what was afoot after Noland had returned to the camp, he sent Roy back to negotiate.
You have to understand that when the toilet in the camp bathroom was obliterated by an M-80 firecracker, it was not our family that Alejandro went after. He knew within minutes who was responsible. When the father of the miscreant was informed that he owed twenty-five dollars for the replacement model, the man told Alenjadro to stick it.
|Speaking of strangers, who is THIS guy?|
Which Alejandro did, right in his face, a pistol the size of a small cannon. The man had a sudden change of heart and decided $25.00 was cheaper than a trip to the Mexican Emergency Room and paid up. He did so while packing up, hurriedly, and vacating the premises.
No, Alejandro and Papa had formed a close friendship, so when two of JT’s clan came back to camp with a story of rifles being pointed at various members of her family, Roy gallantly volunteered to act as a intermediary, and the rest was perfunctory.
We had pooled $37.20 altogether, and given it to the men already so Roy could not do anything about that, but we were off the hook for any more. Now it was time to go back and face the music with the folks.
I mean, I was twenty-two at the time, so the music was not exactly Beethoven’s Fifth, but it wasn’t “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” either.
“For heaven’s sake, people,” was all Mama said; I mean, what was anyone going to say to Kerry? She was just a friend.
In Cali we had skinny-dipped at Big Sur, we had done likewise in the San Gabriel Mountains frequently, and we had taken advantage of the pool at Claremont Men’s College, many a midnight. But we weren’t in California any longer and we had had to learn the hard way.
Chalk one up under my little sister’s name:
JT: 1 - Mexican Federales: 0