A short story
George Pararas-Carayannis

No one was waiting for Alexander when he got off the Texas International flight at El Paso. He was exhausted after an all night flight from Honolulu and a change of planes in Los Angeles. He started walking towards the luggage claim area looking around for a familiar face. He did not see anyone he recognized. It was extremely hot and Alexander took his jacket off and threw it over his shoulder. He walked slowly to make sure that if anyone was looking for him, he would be easily recognized. He got to the luggage claim area, but his friend Nikko was nowhere to be seen. The carousel was revolving empty and the passengers were already waiting for their luggage. A few minutes later, suitcases began to appear and one by one were picked up by their owners. Alexander recognized his gray Sampsonite suitcase approaching. He smiled. There was no gorilla jumping on it, in spite of the television advertisement. Alexander picked it up and turned towards exit, then stopped.
"Now where the hell do I go?" he wondered. "Nikko said he would be waiting for me. Great start."

He walked outside the terminal looking in all directions. Still not a sign of his old, unreliable, unpredictable, untrustworthy friend, his former roommate from his school days in Chicago. Nikko could always be relied upon to be unreliable. The many years he had spent as a white hunter in the bush in Uganda, Burundi and heaven knows where else, had left him with no sense of timing, urgency or responsibility. From what Alexander remembered, collecting Nikko's share of the rent for their apartment in the near north side of Chicago, had always been a formidable challenge. Yet, in spite of Nikko's irresponsibility, Alexander continued to like him - perhaps because of his many stories of adventures in Africa or because of his carefree attitude which, at times, he envied. Alexander placed his Sampsonite near the curb outside the terminal and sat on it, still looking in all directions. "Perhaps they could use me for the commercial instead of the gorilla," he thought. "I could use the money."

About fifteen minutes later, a long black limousine pulled up and stopped in front of him. "Probably some old rich Texan on his way to his private jet," Alexander thought. "Or may be the executive of the advertising company that handles the Sampsonite account."
The back window of the limousine opened and his friend Nikko stuck his head out.
"Alexander, welcome to El Paso," he said smiling. "Sorry we are late."
"Well, if it isn't t the last of the great white hunters that was run out of Africa. Are you going to a safari in that?" Alexander said pointing at the black limousine. "Where the hell have you been Nikko? I thought you had forgotten me".
"We had a late start and we only have half an hour before our flight to Chihuahua."
"Nikko, I have been traveling all night and a good part of this morning. I need some rest. Can't we spent the night here?"
"Don' t worry Alexander you can sleep all you want tonight in Chihuahua. Anyway I want you to meet some very, very nice people", Nikko continued as the chauffeur opened the limousine's door.

Nikko and two other men stepped out and introductions were exchanged. One was a rather short and overweight man in his early forties. He was perspiring readily and looked as though he was a prime candidate for an immediate coronary thrombosis. He was introduced as Anthony Martinelli, president of the newly formed mining company, "Silvco". Nikko also mentioned that he was owner of a hamburger chain in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Obviously Martinelli was a well-fed Italian of large lateral proportions and obviously a member of a prominent "family." The man looked the part, sounded the part, and acted the part. His voice was deep, the words were emphasized, and the accent was definitely Brooklynese. The man kept on using the pronoun "I" instead of "We" to everything he said, and Alexander could not help but think that the man got his education, however limited, in the back alleys of Brooklyn, and not necessarily from fully certified teachers.
"A self-made man, used to having his way, and intimidating by his speech and demeanor." thought Alexander. "Great Nikko, you are well connected" he wanted to say, but decided to wait until they were alone.

The other man was introduced as a Gary Freeman, Martinelli's and also Silvco's attorney. The man was obviously very sharp, and obviously not doing any volunteer work for the American Civil Liberties Union or any eleemosynary organization," thought again Alexander. "I have to congratulate Nikko on his choice of friends and associates. Definitely a winning combination for whatever lays ahead in this Mexican business venture. A displaced Greek white hunter from the Serengetti desert, a Mafioso junk food pusher from Brooklyn with an uncle or father definitely in the funeral parlor business, a smart ass Harvard-educated, Jewish lawyer with a cash register for a heart, and now me - another displaced Greek, half ass lover, poet, wonderer, sailor, scientist, and a flat-broke dreamer. A great combination. "I wonder what the other directors and stockholders of the company are like?"

The four men headed for Mexicana' s airport counter, the chauffeur and a porter following with luggage. The flight was already boarding so they had to hurry. Martinelli tipped the porter and the chauffeur, and from their expression on their faces, Alexander gathered that the tips were generous. Nikko and Martinelli proceeded towards the gate, with Alexander and Freeman following. They went quickly through the final security check and, a few minutes later, they were seating comfortably in the first class of the plane.

During the hour and a half time of their flight, Alexander had a chance to talk to Nikko alone and relay his earlier thoughts.
"Don t worry Alexander" Nikko assured him. "Martinelli is a member of a prominent family, but there is nothing to worry about. They are the good guys, and yes there was a brother, not an uncle or father, in the funeral parlor business - a whole chain of them in three states. All Martinellis had passed with flying colors the hearings of the task force investigation on organized crime headed by Bobby Kennedy, prior to his assassination. Also, according to Nikko, all other officers and major stockholders of the new mining company were very legitimate businessmen. We are indeed very lucky to have such important and rich people backing us on this business," said Nikko reassuringly.
"As you can see, they are looking for good legitimate business, such as this, to invest their hard earned money. Why else would they be interested in a mining business in Mexico?"
"Nikko, you know these people better than I do and, anyway, I 'm here only for a couple of weeks to help you evaluate these mines, then I am going to return to my comfortable and peaceful poverty", said Alexander.
"Wait, until you see what we have here," said Nikko, pointing with his finger to the mountain ranges below. "Then you will change your mind. There is a lot of silver and gold in these mountains. Most of the world's silver comes from this region of Mexico. You are a geologist, you should know that. We are going to be filthy rich".
"Well, as I said", continued Alexander. "I am only here for a couple of weeks to help you, then I am history. I am heading back to paradise".

A few minutes later the head stewardess begun announcing, first in Spanish then in broken English, Mexicana's approach to Chihuahua's airport and the instructions pertaining to landing. Then suddenly, before she even finished, the plane banked to the right and went into a steep dive, much like a dive-bomber.
"The pilot must be fresh out of the Mexican air force, or there is something wrong with the plane", Alexander immediately thought, terrified at the prospect of dying prematurely. He remembered one night during the big war, when he was a kid at his grandmother's house in Athens, watching through the window an aerial dogfight between the English Spitfires and Hurricanes and the German Nesserschmitts and Stucas. He recollected the sound of sirens forewarning of the impeding attack by allied forces and the orders to maintain darkness. Anyone turning lights on, ran the danger of being shot by the Germans. He remembered the English bombers diving - much like this Mexicana jet - and dropping their bombs, but often missing the military targets, hitting the city instead. He remembered the sky lit with antiaircraft fire, the German planes intercepting the British in the air. He had been too fascinated to be scared then, and reluctantly he had followed his grandmother to the illusionary safety of the basement. He remembered planes stalling and spiraling to the ground, their final explosion proceeded by other weird sounds - bombs intermingled with explosions and firing antiaircraft cannons. Somehow, the steep dive of the Mexicana plane brought these images and latent fears out of his subconscious where they had been buried for almost three decades. He held his fists closed, obviously anxious.

Just as abruptly as the Mexicana plane had gone into the steep diving angle, it straightened out. Alexander breathed a sigh of relief, then looked around. Everyone looked tense, then when the plane's gear touched ground at the end of the runway of Chihuahua's airport, the passengers started clapping their hands in applause as though something extraordinary had been accomplished. Alexander looked towards the pilot's cockpit door expecting him to step out, any second now, in a matador's costume to take a bow for his accomplishment - while the stewardesses would be showering him with red carnations.

Nothing like that happened, but the people seemed happy to be on the ground. From their expressions of gratitude on their faces, no one appeared as though he would be writing to the Mexican equivalent of FAA complaining about the unnecessary exceedence of banking and diving angles on the airplane by this macho pilot who must also been a part-time matador. Alexander noticed that Martinelli also had been shaken visibly by the landing experience and that he was wiping sweat off his fat face with his handkerchief. He also heard him curse the pilot and say something about not flying Mexicana again. Alexander now felt amused and smiled. "May be the man is not so intimidating, after all. He seems to worry about his life," he thought.

A few minutes later they were in the terminal and going through immigration and customs. No one looked at their suitcases. They were too far from the border and anyway it is a little difficult to collect "mordida," in an airport - in full view of everyone. This is best done in border towns when tourists come into the country by car.
The four men walked out of the terminal, porters following with the suitcases. A chauffeur-driven black Mercedes 600 was waiting outside at the curbside. The chauffeur run out and opened the door.

"Bienvenido a Mexico, segnor Martinelli," "Bienvenido segnores" he said addressing the rest of us. An older man with greasy hair, dressed in a three piece suit, emerged and repeated the "bienvenidos". He introduced himself as "Jose Hurtado," local attorney and a "personal friend of licenciado Torres-Vargas" in Mexico City. The good Mexico city licenciado had called him the day before, informing him of their arrival and directing that every possible courtesy be extended to segnor Martinelli and his guests, and to make sure that their brief overnight stay in Chihuahua would be as pleasant as possible. Hurtado also said that he had been instructed by licenciado Torres- Vargas to make arrangements for chartering an aircraft for their flight to the mountains, the following day.

Hurtado was very flowery and, in spite of the three piece suit and his aristocratic appearance, had the attitude of a man who had been in subservient roles all his life. He was drooling with respect and reverence every time he mentioned licenciado's Torres-Vargas' name, as though the latter was either a saint or at least a good personal friend of the Pope, or both. Alexander quietly observed him and reached the conclusion, right then and there, that Hurtado was definitely an ass-kisser of great proportions.

The luggage was loaded in the trunk of the 600, and the men, all five of them, now managed to squeeze in for the ride to town. Alexander sat in front, next to Hurtado, and soon regretted it because the man wouldn't stop talking and besides he must have emptied a whole bottle of some cheap after shave lotion on himself. He had an odor ranging between roses and velvetta cheese. Alexander was becoming nauseous and had to lower the window of the car, opting to breath exhaust of cars from the outside - this being the healthier alternative.
"First the airplane dive and now this," he thought. "My poor stomach will not take it."

Fortunately the ride was short. Within a few minutes they reached their destination: "Hotel Mirador." Alexander practically jumped out before the car came to a complete stop. That was fortunate. A couple more minutes of velvetta cheese or aqua velva odors, and he would have thrown up. His stomach was really upset.

"Hotel Mirador" was not exactly a Hilton Hotel and would never qualify as one, but it was adequate. It fell more in the Motel 6 category, where they always "leave the light on". It was on the main road, "Avenida Universidad". and apparently quite popular with American tourists traveling by car south - judging from the number of cars with American plates in the parking lot. It was a combination of hotel-motel, and featured a small restaurant with a large sign advertizing a mixed type of menu for its diversified clientele of car/camper, traveling Gringos.

The men checked in but before taken to their rooms, agreed to rest for a couple of hours and to meet at seven in the restaurant for dinner, and to consolidate the plans for the next few days. Hurtado insisted on seeing everyone individually to their rooms, making sure that the accommodations were satisfactory. Much to Alexander's consternation, Hurtado escorted him also to his room and shook hands with him at least three times before finally leaving. Alexander breathed a sigh of relief when the man finally disappeared from view. He locked the door behind him and now took a deep breath. He needed a bath and some sleep.

When Alexander walked into the restaurant at 7:15 in the evening, everyone was there, including Hurtado. The man had a different three piece suit and, this time, smelled of garlic, onions and aqua velva. "May be the man works part time as a short order cook," Alexander thought. Intentionally he sat at the extreme opposite side of the table.
"Well, did you get some sleep Alex?" Nikko asked.
"I had a real nice nap - thanks," Alexander replied. "And I'm now staving."
"Several bottles of Bohemia beer were on the table and a plate full of quesadillas was in the center." Alexander helped himself to both while listening to the ongoing discussion, with Hurtado stating the arrangements.

"You will fly to an airstrip in the mountains in the morning, then you will continue by car and finally on horses to the "Tuna" mining area", he said. "Everything has been arranged, but I will not be coming with you", he continued. "I must return to Mexico City to help with the election campaign of licendiado Torres-Vargas' friend, Louis Echeverria - our new presidente to be". "Arriva y Adelante" is our slogan - Up and Forward", he continued.
Alexander felt relieved that Hurtado would not be coming. Imagine having to put up with more aqua velva, garlic, and velvetta cheese smells in a small plane. "Arriva y Adelante", he echoed, happily.

Dinner was ordered, then after dinner drinks and, finally, much to Alexander's dismay, Cuban cigars were offered by Hurtado and were lit by Martinelli, Nikko, and Freeman . Politely, Alexander refused to smoke a Cuban cigar, stating for the record that he refuses to support communists in this fashion and, besides, it was bad for his sex life.
"Speaking of your sex life", Nikko interrupted smiling, "it is going to take a turn for the better tonight - cigars or no cigars."
"How is that?" Alexander said.
"You just wait and see," Nikko responded. "You are in for a big surprise".

The conversation lasted for half an hour more, all agreeing to meet in the morning at seven for immediate departure. The reason for this early departure was explained by Hurtado.
"You don't want to fly over the mountains in a small plane later in the day when the sun is up and you have strong updrafts and downdrafts".
"Well I don't mind the updrafts," said Alexander. "It is the downdrafts that I don ' t really care for."

Martinelli, Hurtado and Freeman left. Nikko and Alexander stayed. The son of the hotel owner came to the table where Alexander and Nikko were still seating.
"Everything is arranged," he said to Nikko.
"What is arranged?" asked Alexander.
"Las muchachas, segnor", the Mexican responded. "Son las mas lindas de Chihuahua".
"What is he talking about?" asked again Alexander.
"I told you, your sex life is going to be drastically improved tonight", said Nikko with a sinister smile on his face.
"Well, there is only one woman in my life," proclaimed Alexander nostalgically. "She is a Swedish beauty but, unfortunately she lives and works very far from me, in Basel, Switzerland. Although I hardly know her and probably will never see her again in my life, I am still in love with her. As for the others in Honolulu, they are all inconsequential. I'm going to bed, Nikko, I need the sleep."
"But the segnoritas are already here and they are very lovely" Nikko insisted, still smiling. "You are going to bed, all right, but definitely you are not going to sleep". "Come with me", he persisted and started for the front door. Reluctantly Alexander followed.

A taxi was already waiting outside, and Nikko walked towards it with Alexander following a few steps behind. It was too dark to see inside. Nikko opened the back door and made the introductions.
"Alexander, these beautiful ladies are Graciela and Elvira." "How are you ladies, I hope you still remember me?" he said smiling.
"Of course Nikko" said Elvira. "How could I ever forget you. We had such a nice time when you were here last", she continued in broken English.
"This is my very special friend Alexander. I told you all about him on the phone earlier. This guy is an amazing character," Nikko continued pointing at Alexander. "He is a writer, a poet, a scientist, an explorer and, more importantly, a great lover. He is Greek like me but he lives in Honolulu, in the Hawaiian islands."
"Honolulu," both girls exclaimed at the same time. "I want to go Honolulu" said Elvira.
"Me too" added Graciela.
"Well, if you are nice to my friend Alexander here, perhaps he can take you both back with him. He lives on a beautiful big yacht you see with his four pedigree dogs."
"It is not really a yacht, and it is not really that big", mumbled Alexander. "My dogs are not really pedigree - they are strays that I picked up in the streets. One I found in a garbage can, the other one run over by a car", he continued - but he was again interrupted by Nikko.
"Alexander is really modest and somewhat shy", Nikko continued. "He hasn't been around girls much, and never with a Mexican girl. My friend is probably still a virgin".
"No I am not a virgin. I have never been one", Alexander protested.
"Well, he is not going to be a virgin very long," said Graciela and took Alexander's hand and held on to it. Come sit next to me" she said. Then, turning to her girlfriend, she said: "Que wapo."
The two girls giggled and started a long dialog in Spanish interrupted by continuous giggles.
Nikko turned to Alexander and said; "It seems, whether you like it or not, your fate has been cast. Graciela likes you and wants you. Move in, I'll seat up front."

Alexander sat between the two giggling girls, with Graciela holding his hand. Alexander felt awkward, but good. From whatever little light there was, he could see that both girls were very pretty. Graciela appeared very statuesque with a beautiful oval face, high cheek bones, large eyes and long, raven-black, hair. Alexander couldn't help but notice that she also had very large breasts. Elvira appeared smaller, thinner and did not look Mexican at all. Her hair was blonde.

"What do you girls do?" asked naively Alexander, "Do you go to the University?"
"I have graduated two years ago" , said Graciela, "I am not that young.
"She works for the television station", added Elvira. She is very famous here in Chihuahua. You can see her in the news almost every night", she added. "Today, she is off - lucky you".
"And what about you Elvira?" asked Alexander. "What do you do?"
"I am a model" said Elvira smiling. "I m very famous too." "My photographs have appeared in many magazines".
"Elvira is a model and an actress" added Nikko. "I m going to take her to New York and introduce her to some friends of mine in the film industry. She will be an overnight success there - I know it", he continued unconvincingly. "She can also sing".

Alexander smiled. His friend was really laying it thick about his connections in the film industry. Perhaps he was referring to Martinelli and the funeral parlor businesses. He decided not to make any comments and to concentrate on the business at hand - specifically his hand which was being excessively and passionately squeezed by Graciela. He decided to reciprocate the affection of his newly acquired friend. "What the hell," he thought. "You only live once". And with this justification, he squeezed back.

The taxi continued for a few more miles to the outskirts of town, then stopped at a place which appeared to be a night club or a discotheque. The neon lights were indeed bright but it was not Broadway. Loud latin music could be heard. The four got out and Nikko asked the taxi driver to wait for them. Then, they entered the night club. Graciela, being the local television celebrity, immediately was recognized by everyone. The nightclub owner himself came to meet them and they were ceremonially seated up front, near the orchestra. The noise was far too great to carry a conversation. They ordered drinks and, not being able to talk, decided to dance.

For the first time Alexander took a good look at Graciela. She was not just beautiful, she was fantastic. She was wearing a tight black sequin dress which emphasized the voluptuousness of her body. The cleavage was unbearably noticeable. Her hair was long to her shoulders and her face resembled that of a flamenco dancer Alexander had seen once in Seville, Spain: "Maria de Los Milagros", Seville's flamenco champion. Graciela looked very much like her, except that she looked a great deal happier. She appeared to have a constant Mona Lisa, type of smile permanently fixed upon her face. Perhaps this was the reason of her success as an anchor woman on local television. She could probably deliver very bad news with a reassuring smile that everything was under control. Graciela took Alexander by the hand again and asked him to dance.

"I don t know how to do this", Alexander replied, resisting meekly.
Graciela pulled him up to the dance floor and proceeded in teaching him her own version of hip gyrating, "cumbia" . It was easy and came natural - at least for her. Alexander picked it up immediately but could not quite match her hip gyrations. They started dancing almost two feet apart but, a minute later, they were dancing very close together, almost embraced - her big breasts excruciatingly poking his chest.
"You are a very good teacher", said Alexander, breathless. "Teach me more", he continued and moved his hands down her back to her pelvis, holding her closer. This was definitely a Mexican standoff and a definite improvement in the relationship of their respective countries. Perhaps it would lead to a better trade agreement, or perhaps to a change in immigration laws or import-export tariffs.

Alexander felt excited by this Mexican girl. Momentarily, he thought about the lovely Carina in Switzerland. He felt guilty that perhaps he was betraying her by dancing so close to Graciela. But then, he reasoned that he may never see Carina again, so it didn't matter. One night on a park bench at the Victoria docks in Singapore - waiting for the sunrise - a couple of letters and long distance phone calls, were hardly a commitment. Besides this Mexican girl was so close, so attainable - and this was here and now. Alexander kissed Graciela but, when he raised his head, he saw Nikko and Elvira from a distance watching and smiling. Alexander felt foolish, embarrassed, and eased on his embrace of Graciela. He went back to the initial two foot separation - but not for long.

The night turned out to be great fun, dancing and doing not only the "cumbia", but also the "marengue" the "cha-cha", the "rumba" the perennial "mambo", the "pachanga", and even the "tango" - which Alexander had perfected after his last visit to Buenos Aires. He knew he was gaining respect on the dance floor because the crowd was making room for them at the center by withdrawing to the sides. Everything was quickly coming back. Dancing was like bicycle riding - once you learn it, you can do it again. All you need is rhythm.

Encouraged by the approval of his newly-acquired fans, Alex spiced up his dancing with a little routine of "paso doble" he had picked up in Spain, a few "salsa" moves he had picked in Puerto Rico, a little hip shaking routine he learned in Papeete, a move by a Fijian fire dancer he once observed in Suva, a little Greek "zembekiko" he had seen at the port city of Piraeus, and even a few steps of a fertility dance he had picked up at a village of former cannibals in the highlands of Papua-New Guinea. The fans looked approvingly and when he and Graciela finally stopped dancing, they gave them a big hand. Graciela's television station must have gained at least ten percent in ratings that night. Alex felt like a local celebrity also. Perhaps he could keep it up, shake a few hands, then run for mayor of Chihuahua. In spite of his long journey and lack of sleep, Alexander did not feel tired. He wanted to continue, but then Nikko approached him to tell them that he and Elvira were leaving.

Alexander took Nikko aside and asked him: "You are not going to leave me all alone with this gorgeous, sexy woman, are you Nikko?"
"Yes, I am my friend, you are a big boy and you are now on your own", Nikko replied. "Besides you are doing very well. Look at the applause you got. There is a taxi outside waiting and it has been paid. Aren't you going to ask Graciela to come to the hotel with you?"
"Do you think it would be appropriate?" asked Alexander. "This is only our first date - and it was blind ".
"What do you mean appropriate and blind? You are blind. Look at her. She expects it. Don't be a fool Alex. You only live once, so do it. Tomorrow our little plane may crush in the mountains of Sierra Madre Occidental, or the bandits may get us, or both".

Nikko' s final morbid argument of possible, imminent doom convinced Alexander about the meaning of life, the finality of existence, and of the urgent need for one to "seize the moment". "I will do it , I will do it", he responded emphatically and with renewed conviction and confidence.
Alexander did not have to ask Graciela to come with him to the hotel. She suggested it herself a few minutes later when they were alone. The taxi was waiting outside and quickly took them back to "El Mirador".

Alex had hardly closed the hotel door behind them when Graciela embraced him and pinned him hard against the wall. They kissed passionately. Then, while slowly making their way to the bed, they begun undressing - dumping individual pieces of clothing to the floor. Alex had trouble with the zipper of the sequin dress. Graciela helped. They didn't manage to get as far as the bed. It was too far to wait. Graciela was already on the floor. She was saying different things in Spanish - words that Alex did not fully understand but did not need translation. He definitely was not going to reach to his pocket to pull his small, Spanish-English dictionary. There was no time for that.

Decisively and roughly, Graciela pulled him down, towards her. There was no point in further resisting . He kissed her on the head, on her lips, on her neck, on her breasts - time and time again. Elated by the irrevocable course of events - and his already decided fate - Alex rose his head momentarily to catch a big breath. "Viva Zapata", "Arriva y Adelante", he screamed loudly. He also felt like pounding his chest with his fists, but did not want to give Graciela the impression that he was that primitive. Then, without further guilt, succumbed to his blissful fate of his night in Chihuahua.


© 2002 George Pararas-Carayannis

The realization of truth is more difficult than its discovery.

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