I hang out with some fairly sketchy women and men in Mexico. We drink together in a combination restaurant and whorehouse that Gabriel Marquez used to frequent. The owner was a famous gambler who died at the bottom of a well. He was a womanizer and a heroin addict and looked after the welfare of hundreds of prostitutes. Many of them are still working here; mixing the air of sexual activity with the dead-gaze of eyes that look upward and away from the undeclared war of heavy bodies.
When the owner died someone asked his wife if she regretted her life with him and she said, “Not one second. It was like riding in a jet plane with the fuel gauge on empty.”
The whorehouse has great food. I am friends with the cook who is a hermaphrodite. She specializes in fried papaya and baby clams. Sometimes she shows me her penis. It’s a big joke between us and we like to get drunk in public and once I tried to put my dick on the table, but couldn’t and then she did and knocked some beers off with it and everyone had a good laugh.
Anyway, I was playing gin for ten pesos a point with an artist one day in the back garden where they hold fist fights between the gays and the miners. The gays usually win, and the artist makes black and white prints with a kind of plastic that is used in alien and monster costumes for the movies. He buys the stuff in Mexico City after a production is finished and somebody is trying to earn a few bucks on the left overs. He gave me a print of a young woman whose body is covered in bees.
The detail he has perfected in his plastic plates is like a drug trip inside the lens of a high-powered microscope.
So he says, “See those two guys over there?” I turn and said, sure. “Well the little one is the chicken man. He’s killed more than 20,000 chickens and two women who were extortionists and the chickens bother him more than the women. He has nightmares about the chickens. The other one is a bodyguard for the big guy. It takes a special kind of person to do that. You have to be able to breathe air without using your lungs. One of these days I’ll introduce you. I went to school with them.”
If for some unprecedented reason you noticed these two men on the street, you would have no idea about them. One is tall and the other is short and they dress casually. Which raises an interesting point: Can you tell what a killer looks like?
I think it depends.
I’ve known politicians and military men who were killers. I knew that if they felt like it they could drag me outside and shoot me, but the cigars and tequila I brought them along with the food and medicine that I let them steal for their troops was enough to protect me. All of those guys had pupils that rested upon pure white eyeballs and when they got excited they would pull their lids back with a muscle contraction and the whites would grow large, insane and shine out like a pair of prison spotlights on a dark yard where somebody was foolishly trying to escape. The giant squid had nothing on them. Anyway, it is the guys with the normal eyes, the ones who dress in blue jeans and tee shirts that are the scary ones.
As I thought about my conversation with the artist, I decided that killing thousands of chickens could damage the human mood of anyone. So in my mind, the short man got a pass and if he was ever brought before a judge, his defense would seem obvious do me. Surely the shadow of the chickens could be brought to bear on the murder of two female blackmailers and possibly any other transgression that might have occurred.
The tall man, who was a bodyguard, seemed more straightforward. Money, power, the thrill of big decisions; it would be a draw for just about anyone.
I understand more each day why Gabriel Marquez enjoyed coming here. The roots of Latin American literature are buried deep in places like this and sometimes the shadows and the neon lights come alive for me and I can see the old man, now dead, standing there with his arm around a girl, talking to a murderer or an enforcer, stealing life out of the disturbances of space and time.