Having the living shit kicked out of me by two baggage handlers in a utility room in the guts of Caracas’ Maiquetía International Airport wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was just when I thought I’d pass out from the pain and it couldn’t get any more vicious, one of my drunk, red-eyed attackers started yanking open his pantolones with incensed rum-fumed vigor.
It was three days after New Year’s. Normally it was a time when I paired down my vows for the coming months. Quit smoking so much pot, call my mom more often…really, I mean really, start flossing. As goon one ground my cheekbone into the grit of the concrete wall while goon two prepared to mount me, two clearer resolutions crystallized in my panicked brain:
One—if I get out of this alive I swear to God I am going to rip Diego Guzman’s skull open with my thumbs.
Two—then I’m going to choke his cousin Paola to death.
It’s hard to candycoat it; the attempted rape was brief. The horny one, let’s call the son of a bitch Valentino, jerked down my cargo shorts while the second thug braced me against the wall like an animal at slaughter. I tried screaming for help but they had punched me in the neck, face and kidneys so many times I could barely breathe let alone cry out. What the fuck was help in Spanish anyway? Ayuda? Ayudo? I couldn’t conjugate worth a damn when I was perfectly sober and at ease, let alone brutalized by dread. I garbled. Blood sloshed in my mouth and a loose tooth clinked on the concrete floor.
Then I heard Valentino spit in his palm to lube himself. The only thing that saved me before Valentino began his probe was that I shat myself and puked at the same time.
A small victory for me, perhaps my last on earth.
Thank God Venezulean food sucked. The national dish is a fried sweet corn meal, lard and ditch water pancake called arepas and, starved out of my mind before charging to the airport, I’d downed a few from a street stand.
The shock of being spashed and sprayed by copious amounts of my hot, runny fecal dapple took Valentino aback. There was a long pause of what I imagined was disbelief as, outside, the loud grumbles of jet engines roared on takeoff and landing. I could feel the vibrations through my palms on the wall. But, even with the deafening noise, I could also hear the sharp click of a knife snapping open. Then I prayed.
Please God. Let this be quick.
Then gunshots. Loud. Two sharp reports in quick succession.
I jerked my head in the direction of the gun as the two drunken baggage handlers, now with ragged bloody holes in their split foreheads, pitch forward against the concrete floor like crumpled sacks of slack meat.
A tall man in a khaki summer suit, slickly groomed for the latest Esquire spread, shouldered his weapon and stepped around the corner of a doorway. Dark serious eyebrows twitched.
“Grab your shorts.”
I did as I was told and tripped away from the dead men at my feet. I felt like I was going to faint and vomit again. Or both.
“D’fuck are you?” I stammered.
The man slipped on a pair of aviator sunglasses and looked over his shoulders, right then left. He waved me toward him, “It pains me to use an overused expression, but my name is Brandon. I’m with the U. S. Government and I’m here to help you.”
OK. Rewind. Just back the fuck up.
It was never my intent to travel to Venezuela for trouble and, when I finally agreed to come, it was never my intent to stay longer than a couple of weeks, let alone to get suckered into a smuggling scheme by a tall Latin American beauty and her quick-conning cousin. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bob Dylan may blame it on a simple twist of fate, but I blame it on the goddamn wind.
See, Diego Guzman and me used to be buds. This was way back on Kauai - Hawaii when he was just turning pro on the kite-boarding scene and the sport was still wobbly on its puppy legs. I got to know Diego because I hung out on the kite scene fringes and dealt weed to a few of the pros. Back then, man, Diego? He ruled. Ranked third in the world, sponsors all beserko for his swarthy Argentine swagger and mad, skyrocketing moves. Landed himself an energy drink sponsorship and movie stunt work without breaking a sweat. Total extreme sportstar lifestyle. That is until he shattered his back on a coral reef in Fiji and the money drifted away on a slick of blood and bone.
To recover from his back injury, Diego decided to hide out on the island of Margarita off of Venezuela’s mainland. Diego chose Margarita and the tiny village of El Yaque on the island’s south side because, as he put it, he could fuck off all day and still live large on his savings while he planned his comeback.
I’d heard of El Yaque. Hell, anybody who knew anything about the pro kite-boarding scene had. Place was an epicenter for kite nuts because of the predictable offshore winds. Far from mainland Venezuela and the sprawling nightmare of Caracas, the place was kept relatively pure of trouble so as to attract lily-white European locusts on holiday. Venezuela pretty much has a zero tolerance rule when messing with foreign tourist money being pumped into the country’s lopsided economy.
Since his accident, Diego had been up in my FaceBook grill to come visit, pinging me all the time with pics of topless babes strolling the sand. Finally, when a great-aunt left me some money, I decided to leave Kauai and take a few weeks, check it out. It was awesome, until…that night.
It was late. We were baked out in a cantina with pool tables and a disco just west of the touristy end of town and just below Diego’s condo high on the water. Lukewarm Polar beers passed around and, between slugs, Paola, Diego’s cousin, stroked my hair. Paola and me hooked up after my first week on the island and she drove me crazy. Raven-haired goddess straight up. Crazy. Freaky. Sexy.
The music was loud, a South American hip-hop, I think, and on the horizon, if you squinted, you could almost make the distant humps of mainland Venezuela in the moonlight. Diego howled and handed me a small, white plastic cup. I threw back some clear one hundred proof rum and it flared like a soft nugget of fire down my throat.
We were so drunk. So high.
“Dang, man, glad I made the effort to get down here finally,” I said, shifting Paola on my lap. “Don’t want this to end. Ever.”
Diego grinned, “The place, no?”
“The place? This is awesome. Fuck Hawaii,” I said, “Five dollar gas, half-Philippine jerks calling me a haole and shit and I was freakin’ born there! You got it made, man. Made.”
Diego leaned in.
“What if you could live here like a king, too, eh? Never go back to Hawaii? Would you be interested? Knowing how to do that?”
I laughed, but Diego’s creased forehead and frown told me he was serious. Paola and Diego exchanged glances and smiles.
“What? What’re you talking about, man?”
Diego stood and smiled. Then he hooked a finger. Paola got up next.
“We want to show you something.”
The man called Brandon shoved me down a narrowing concrete hallway.
“I guess I should say thanks,” I said.
Brandon grabbed me by my upper arm and gave me another shove. The hallway seemed to get warmer as we made our way. I figured we must be heading out toward the tarmac or somewhere else outside in the brutal equatorial sun.
“You guess,” Brandon snarled sarcastically through clenched teeth. “Keep moving, dipshit.”
I looked over my shoulder. “But what about those guys back there?”
Another shove. “They’re nobodies. Hired local muscle, five times removed and not worth the scrape of a shoe. It’s a long story. You don’t need to know.”
I stumbled, nearly losing one of my sandals. “You got to get me out of here, man.”
“I am trying to, Mr. Esposito. With the jet noise, someone may or may not have heard my gunshots. I don’t want to be found by the police as much you do.”
“Fucked is right. I can help you get out of this hell hole of an airport and out of Venezuela but you have to do exactly what I say right now, do you understand?”
I nodded and he spun me up against the wall.
"OK. Where are the boards?”
“The boards with the diamonds. Where are they?”
“Stop bullshitting me. I know all about Diego and that skank-slag cousin of his, Paola. Where are your board bags?”
“I— I checked them.”
Brandon paused and suddenly looked crushed. He quickly unholstered his weapon from the nylon holster beneath his jacket and pressed the still-warm barrel to the center my forehead.
“Wait! Dude! They’re in a locker! A storage locker! My flight doesn’t leave for three hours so I checked them in with one of those short-term storage companies near the front of the airport. I didn’t want to wait on line with it all. I figured the lines would thin later. I was at the bar. Those guys just grabbed me when I went to take a piss. They shoved me through some door and brought me down here.”
“Where what? The bags? Dude, near the airline check-in.”
“Your itinerary said you were checked through to Miami.”
“Was. There was a change of plans.”
I swallowed hard, “Yeah. He contacted Diego last night. He said I was to drop off the boards in Montreal, not Miami. Miami was too hot.”
Brandon lowered his weapon. He grabbed me by the back of my neck and holstered his gun again.
More shoving down the hallway.
I took a deep hit and passed the joint to Diego, who passed it to Paola. She declined.
“Look, man, I don’t know….”
“Duaaaaaane….we’ve been doing this for over two and a half years, brah. Trust me, no one knows.”
On the kitchen table were three kite boards, slightly thicker than average, rubber foot mounts fixed to the decks. Diego told me that under each flawlessly glassed surface were embedded thousands and thousands of dollars worth of rough diamonds, mined from the mountain plateaus of Venezuela.
“There will be so much quick money you could turn around and come back, stay like a year and live on one delivery. Or walk with the cash. Your choice. This is so easy.”
“But why diamonds?”
Diego took a hit and gave me a look. He handed me back the joint.
“Diamonds are perfect! Look at them.” He shook a few out of a yellow envelope into his open palm. “Wouldn’t hurt a soul. Like a pocket full of dirty sunshine, no? Diamonds hold their value, man, and are, like, universally accepted for barter. They do not set off metal detectors, dogs cannot smell them, and they can easily be converted to cash almost anywhere. Know what the Kimberly Process is? Conflict diamonds?”
“What? People dying over these things?”
“People die for lots of things, man. Get real. The Kimberly Process? Fucking Hugo Chavez said fuck that legal shit. When he came to power and the CIA tried to get rid of him? That play fair business went out the window. Venezuela produces, like, one hundred and fifty thousand carats annually, but, officially, it has exported none, nada since 2005. That’s when Chavez told the world they can kiss his brown ass. Reason nobody cares is because Venezuela is a small part of the overall diamond pie, no? Plus, he’s got the oil, too.”
“This is crazy.”
“I’ve been moving my rocks to a man I met in Miami. His name is Saltzman. He is, like, this super Jew. Pays me fucking cash, dog. Sixty, seventy grand per delivery.”
“Diego…I don’t know.”
“Come on. It’s perfect. I trust you, and I know you can handle yourself.”
“Yeah, maybe dealing weed, but not shit like this.”
Paola sauntered away from the table then and out onto the balcony. I watched her hair whip in the moonlit breeze as Diego playfully punched my shoulder.
“Think about it, Duane. Live down here like a king. Paola would love that.”
I dragged my eyes off Paola’s backside and looked down at the boards on the table. Ornate surface designs. Leering skulls sparkling. Hot blue and black.
I took another hit on the joint. Then my life went to hell.
“OK.” I said.
Brandon and I were on a set of metal maintenance stairs going up. He stopped halfway and jerked me back the collar. I looked back. If he let go of my shirt, I would’ve tumbled to my death. His face was eight inches from mine.
“This is the deal, Esposito. I’ll say it once. We’re going to go to the place where you checked your stuff, then you and I are going back to the embassy. No stops. Got it?”
“They’re mine now. Mine. Not Diego’s, not Saltzman’s, not yours, not Chavez’s, not Mossad’s. They’re mine.”
“I’m tired of playing diplomat in this sweat box of country. Sure, it would’ve been fun if the coup had gone according to plan back in 2002. But you know what? Since then, it’s been utterly suckful. Plus, I’m tired. I’ve been bounced around more tough cracks that you can shake a yucca plant at and it’s my turn to live a little. I found out about Diego’s little operation and now I’m taking my cut. You will say nothing, do nothing, and go back to Hawaii like the stupid little stoner shit you are.”
“Who is this Mossad guy you keep talking about?”
He blinked, “You don’t read at all, do you?”
“Read? I read. I just don’t—”
“Israeli intelligence? Ring a bell? Forget it, brain boy. Let’s go.”
We pushed through some doors and we were back in the airport’s main atrium. Fifteen minutes later, we had the boards.
Yeah, you might have faith in guy who is all macking the James Bond tough talk, waving the ceramic gun around. But not me, hoss. I knew from my days dealing there was no way a player like Brandon was going to let me slide.
Back to embassy? Right. The deal was burnt. And whoever sent Valentino and his sidekick had me in their sights, too, so my chances were telescoping down to zero. Brandon was going to either bust me, drop me of in the slums of Caracas, or shoot me dead… the last two being pretty much the same fate.
I decided I needed to go long.
We were almost to the frantic coiling swarms of cab drivers outside the airport when we passed two security guards cradling machine guns—their mirrored sunglasses all Boss Godfrey a la Cool Hand Luke. My mind scrambled through what little Spanish I knew. When we passed the guards, I yanked my arm free and started screaming and pointing at Brandon.
“¡El tiene una bomba! ¡El tiene una bomba!”
Then I dove to the ground.
Brandon’s suit jacket must have flapped open and exposed his gun then because the guards were in tactical firing stance before my knees shredded open on the concrete.
The world exploded.
The back of Brandon’s tan suit became a homecoming float of bloody carnations. Half of his neck was chopped away by automatic weapon fire and landed in the gutter.
Feet, bodies, shrieking panic-stricken Spanish. Horns, crunches of cars.
I crawled like a roach until I found my feet and ran. I ran and ran and ran until I managed to wave down a cab. I demanded to be taken to the ferry. The driver refused until I threw about a hundred dollars, American, on the front seat.
I was heading back to Margarita.
I knocked and Diego said to come on in.
Blue dope smoke smogged the room. Diego’s eyes drifted up from the head of naked Paola, who was using his tightie-whitey lap as a pillow.
“Duaaaaaaaane, man. S’uuuuup?” Diego licked his lips, thick tongued. “Umm. Hey. Wait. Whoa.” He tried to concentrate. “No. You miss the flight, dog? Wha’ happened?”
On the counter, in the kitchen, was a husked bottle of Cachaca by a dozen squeezed-out limes and a sack of sugar used to make Caprihanas. I grabbed the bottle by the thick neck and thwacked it against the side of Diego’s head. The bottle remained intact and Diego flew across the couch.
Paola tumbled to the floor, waking and unfocused. I grabbed her discarded black bikini top from the floor by her feet, whipped it around her neck and choked her until she was still.
Behind me, Diego struggled and tried to stand, his blood soaked hair smearing all over his leather couch in long, arching streaks.
After choking Paola to death, I stood up and picked up the bottle of Cachaca and bopped Diego on the head again, knocking him cold. Then I dragged him to the bathroom and got a sheet from the linen closet.
I hung Diego from the shower curtain rod until I was sure he was dead, too. Then I cleaned up as best I could. I found a box in the closet with three coffee cans full of rough diamonds and stuffed my pockets.
Two hours later, I caught a flight to Amsterdam.
BIO: Kieran Shea’s short crime fiction has appeared in a bunch of ‘zines—Plots with Guns, Beat To A Pulp, Powder Flash Burn and the now-defunct Demolition. Living outside Annapolis, Maryland, he bitterly kicks the tires of the status quo on principle and drinks far too much coffee.