OR HOW MY MID-LIFE CRISIS GOT ITS ASS KICKED

BASED ON A TRUE STORY (sort of)

By Nick Dangier

(PART 3)

SOMETIMES IT’S A PLUS TO BE NUTS

I’d rather be in traction than miss out on the action…” — Henry Patrick “Mad Jack” Brinn (Legendary Costa Rica Ranger)

While Ratso slept it off, The Kahuna and I climbed aboard Big Yellow and headed up to Playa Lagarto. As it turned out there were no tuna steaks in The Kahuna’s freezer. The Kahuna knows a guy there who is a local commercial fisherman/engine mechanic/pretty decent welder and all-around Jack of trades. For a fraction of the cost of a restaurant or even wholesale fish market, The Kahuna boasted his guy, Tigre, could always come up with a fresh pargo rojo (red snapper), wahoo or yellow fin tuna; catch-of-the-day. Tigre is also The Kahuna’s connection for jumbo shrimp, “big as your head”, as The Big K likes to say and lobster (season permitting). The way I saw it, if I couldn’t get the boys to join me on this odyssey I was at least going to get a good ole Guanacaste seafood feast out of it before I went home with my tail between my legs.

We did indeed score ourselves a banquet from The Kahuna’s fish monger. Way more food than the three of us could ever eat in one sitting. Tigre wouldn’t let us leave until Big Yellow’s springs were frowning. So while The Kahuna got his Tucker Carlson fix in on Fox, I cleaned the fish, then de-veined and shelled the shrimp. Afterwards we packed up the feast and headed back to Ratso’s with the hope he was bright eyed and bushy tailed or at least sober when we got there. We did try calling him before departing The Kahuna’s house, but Rat’s phone went straight to voice mail.

The automatic lights of Ratso’s parking lot switched on as we pulled in. The Kahuna and I made our way into the dark virtually deserted hotel cautiously, as the last time we’d seen Ratso that day he’d been pretty wasted, in an especially ornery mood and carrying a loaded automatic rifle. There was music playing from the game room. His private quarters were lit up and we could hear the shower running. All good signs.

As the self appointed chef for the evening’s supper, I went about preparing our meal. I’d intended to grill the pargos and shrimp outside on the patio, but the damn Papagallo wind was blowing too hard; beach sand peppering me like bird shot with every gust. So I transferred the spread to Ratso’s fantastically equipped kitchen (all Viking and Sub Zero stuff). Instead of grilling the fish I opted to bake them whole, Guanacaste style- head and all- nice and slow, and stuffed with fresh herbs like mint and basil. Once my side dishes and salads were prepared, the fish doing their thing in the oven and the jumbo shrimp marinating in Terriaki sauce, I decided to explore the establishment.

WRITER’S NOTE: The trick is to never marinate shrimp for more than 10 to 15 minutes. Otherwise the shrimp will become tough and chewy.

The Kahuna had a Big Gulp cup full of rum and was happily planted in front of the monster screen TV watching Sean Hannity on Fox. Ratso appeared briefly, a towel wrapped around his waist, he flashed by us giving the thumbs up when he caught a whiff of the savory, fragrant aromas coming from the kitchen and said he’d be right out once he threw on some clothes.

The place really is spectacular. Lots of stone work and native hardwood construction. The hotel was designed by none other than one of Central America’s most innovative and imaginative young architectural firms, the Atenas, Costa Rica based Phy Art Architectural Design Company. Earth friendly and ecologically sound, all the hotel’s electrical needs are provided by 100% renewable energy sources such as coastal Guanacaste’s perpetual breezes and sun filled days.

As the hotel was undergoing a major remodel and expansion, there were no guests other than The K and me. Walking the empty corridors, the sound of my foot steps echoed off the imported Spanish tile. The complex is made up of a large, vaulted ceiling main building which houses the reception area, kitchen and dining rooms (both the interior and the open air one out on the patio), game room and of course Master Ratso’s spacious second story private apartment.

Flanking the main building and facing the ocean are the guest suites: 24 in total, 12 single story rooms to each wing. All of the guest rooms have huge, luxurious bathrooms and floor to ceiling bay windows facing the beach. The effect is that you feel as if you can literally reach out and touch the foam from the waves as they break gently on shore. All of the units, the existing ones under remodel and the new wing under construction were in various stages of completion. Some were barely roughed in and still lacking tile, paint, wiring, windows and doors. Still others appeared ready for furnishing.

According to The Kahuna, out there in the darkness was a natural grass, regulation sized soccer field complete with goals and bleachers. Beyond that are two clay tennis courts and a beach volleyball court. Last, but not least was the huge Beduin tent Ratso had brought back from North Africa.

Custom made for a wealthy Arab sheik, it came complete with large, over stuffed silk and satin throw pillows as well as two intricately patterned Persian rugs, large enough to cover the entire floor. The Kahuna said Rat’ won the Arab “mobile home” off a Saudi prince in a spontaneous high stakes game of Texas Hold’em hosted by U2 drummer Larry Mullins Jr in the basement of the Nile Hilton in Cairo. The tent was still in the Aduana as Costa Rican Customs officials didn’t have a clue how to value the thing for tax purposes. Ratso’s plan was to set it up on the beach for honeymooners complete with 24-hour “tent service”. I knew Queenie would love it. I promised myself that I’d bring her out to Rat’s gorgeous little hotel once construction was completed.

My favorite sector of the complex (besides the galley-WOW!) is the game room. It’s appropriately marked at the entrance with a well varnished wall size cocobolo wood shamrock bearing the inscription: HOOLIGAN’S DEN carved across it. Inside you will find what I can only describe as Valhalla for your average red blooded Joe or Josephine: There is a regulation billiards table, 3 classic pinball machines, 2 desktop computers, an ample mini-bar along with plush Italian leather armchairs and couches. Hanging on the walls are no less than 8 big screen TVs for viewing sports events. There are no clocks or windows. Thankfully Hooligan’s Den is well air-conditioned. Along with the deep red crushed pile carpeting and numerous neon signs the game room gives off a classic casino-like vibe.

Recessed into the wall on the lounge side of Hooligan’s Den is a classic Magnavox Hi-Fi with a turntable for LP records. Recessed along with the stereo are no less than 200 long-play record albums. As I thumbed through the albums I soon came across a few which I immediately recognized as being mine: Ted Nugent’s Motor City Madhouse album, Guadalcanal Diary- their first album, Led Zeppelin II, a classic bootleg of Jane’s Addiction, recorded live at the Viper Room, and Soup Dragons Love God. I’d only just begun looking through the first row. To think I’d blamed Queenie for losing those records years ago. Well, we don’t call him Ratso for nothing. I’d have to take Rat’s sticky fingers up with him later. For now I just shrugged it off. I put the Nugent record on the turntable and set the speed to 33 rpm, then I spun the volume knob all the way up. The ONLY way to listen to the Gonzo Man! Wango-dango…

Running alongside the length of the pool table are two wall mounted racks of cue sticks. Hanging on the wall between them is a cluster of various sized framed photographs. Mostly personal pics of Ratso, well-armed, in various world hot spots spanning back to his days in The Corp. There were a couple recent photos of Rat’ and his now on-the-lam girlfriend. She looked hot in one particular pic of her lounging in one of the hotel’s hammocks, but what really caught my eye and immediately took me back 28 years was the photograph at the center of the cluster: An 8 x 10 inch shot of Ratso, The Kahuna, Dicky Roses, Mikey Pizza, ole Papillon, Wild Man Woodrow, Jimmy Popeye, Mad Jack Brinn, Sean The Mauler and your’s truly. If I recall correctly it was Little Joe that took the picture. My old crew.

In the photo we’re all wearing the same matching olive drab U.S. Army issue rain ponchos, covered in mud and one in all laughing like we’d just pulled off the heist of the century. The ponchos had “accidentally” fallen off a U.S. Southern Command (at the time based in Panama) MH-60 “Blackhawk” bearing the moniker: BEACH BOYS painted on the doors. Their crew chief was a native Californian, like our Kahuna. The photo was taken in the foothills of the great Talamanca mountain range, on the western bank of the Sixaola River bordering Panama.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. April, 1991. During rescue and recovery efforts following the 7- point- plus earthquake that slammed Costa Rica’s east coast and sent a series of powerful aftershocks, for days after, as far west as San Ramon and Puntarenas. As a public appeal for help went out, we all felt a pang of patriotism for our adopted country and so, one-in-all, we volunteered to go to the most effected area and see what we could do to help.

Less than two weeks prior Ratso and I had been in the middle of Kuwait City, where we’d witnessed the retreat and eventual defeat of Sadam’s vaunted Republican Guard Units and the carnage they left behind in the wake of their hasty retreat. Then of course Mean Mother Karma caught up to them on the “Highway of Death” in the form of U.S. air power. Images that will haunt me forever. Better nightmares for the rest of your life, I guess, than what they got. However well deserved. After Kuwait the earthquake rescue and recovery mission seemed like a 4th of July picnic at Playboy Mansion West by comparison.

That photograph taken that rainy day in the Talamancas brought a bitter sweet smile to my face.We all looked so young and full of piss-n-vinegar. Even The Kahuna. I couldn’t take my eyes off those smiling, muddy faces until I heard Ratso calling from the kitchen. In a clear, sober voice he hollered: “The fish is out of the oven and the shrimp are ready… let’s eat, boys!” Nobody, and I mean NOBODY can bounce back from a bender like ole Ratso.

The meal was delicious if I do say so myself. Over dinner the three of us were able to get caught up on each others latest conquests and adventures. Ratso told us all about the “Dirt Circuit” i.e. his experiences from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria to Mali. I told them about Luca’s nut sack and our roofless corral. The Kahuna recounted his recent naked bungee jump off a waterfall in Bali with two vacationing Swiss Air flight attendants. I told them my harrowing story of shaving a bunyun off Queenie’s foot, a week before, utilizing a standard domestic cheese grater. I couldn’t help but feel a little out done by Rat’s and The Kahuna’s lives. It was as if they hadn’t grown up at all. And I’d become Tax Payer Nick- solid citizen- who yells at the neighborhood kids to get off the lawn. And get a damn haircut!

Eventually we’d consumed all we could. I know I was stuffed. It was now or never as far as making my pitch. We cleared all the dirty dishes from the table and I laid out a large grid map of Isla Calero in their place. The three of us stood around the map and sat’ intel’ photos I’d managed to score off a buddy of mine back in REDACTED. I basically relayed to my cohorts everything I’d gleaned from my bro-in-law and his buddies plus some additional U.S. Department of Defense sat’ intel’ I’d squeezed out of REDACTED, regarding recent Nicaraguan activity in the Isla Calero area. Rat’ and The Kahuna just stood there staring at the maps and photos, their arms folded, stroking their chins as if they were scrutinizing a piece of modern abstract art they couldn’t quite figure out.

“Damn, Cat…” Ratso was the first to speak up, as I knew he would be. “…Seems pretty bold, don’t ya think? I mean you’re basing a lot on the word of a kid-” I cut him off before he could finish his sentence.

“Bold? BOLD?!! Bold, my friend, is a guy who gets drunk, steals a chopped Harley Davidson off a One Percenter and then- wearing nothing more than a cummerbund- does a wheelie into the duck pond of the most exclusive country club in Cherry Hill! In front of two-hundred invited guests on-the-day-of-his-wedding… I’m bold? Tssssh.”

It’s true. And if it wasn’t for my buddy Dino whose mom baked cookies every week, for twenty-five years straight, for the Philadelphia chapter of the Warlocks outlaw motorcycle gang there’d still be a contract out on Rat’s shiny head (I’m not kidding. Their clubhouse is located across the street from where Dino grew up). I couldn’t do anything about saving Ratso’s marriage or the equally torn up rose bushes though. After all, my powers are limited. Lucky for Rat’ the cops took him away before his former future father-in-law could go home and fetch his shotgun. Man, do I miss the 90’s.

If it wasn’t for my buddy Dino’s mom, who baked cookies for the Philly chapter of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club every day for 25 years straight, there’d still be a contract out on Ratso’s shiny head.

“You know Ortega’s got a battalion of brand new Rooskie tanks, right?” Ratso moaned, wanting very much to switch the topic away from that day back in Philly.

“Tanks don’t work well in swamps”, I countered a little more sarcastically than I’d intended. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have brought up his wrecked wedding.

“How exactly do you plan to get in? Maybe disguised as a tarpon fisherman? Like: oops, shucks- a-huck-a-hucka-huck… sorry we drifted into your heavily armed DMZ- duuuh. I’m from Boston…” Ratso was even more sarcastic than I’d been. And his shot at Boston was way out of line, seeing as I hadn’t made a single inbred hillbilly joke (yet) to warrant the shot.

“All this negativity, Moriarty…” I said in my best Donald Sutherland impersonation invoking one of the greatest dude flicks of all time: Kelley’s Heroes. “…this is a righteous and beautiful thing, baby. Enough with all the negative waves!” The Kahuna laughed. Ratso’s facial expression didn’t change. So much for levity. 

“Is that right? Okay, hotshot, have you thought about area denial, huh?” Ratso was talking about land mines.

“Yes I have. I reckon we’re liable to encounter a few butterflies.” I wasn’t talking about colorful winged insects. I was referring to the PFM-1 high-explosive anti-infantry mine brought to us by the very same folks that gave the world the Berlin Wall, John Podesta’s hacked e-mails and most henious of all: vanilla flavored vodka.

The butterfly mine is also known as the “green parrot” due to its size, shape and color. In simple terms it’s a plastic container filled with a demonic explosive liquid. Less than ten pounds of pressure is all that is necessary to set one off. Once the fuse of a butterfly is armed it cannot be disarmed. If you are unlucky enough to step on one, all you can do is quickly cover your testicles with your helmet or hands, then look straight up toward the heavens. Not so much for help from the Almighty- it’s too late for that, but to keep the blast from blowing off your family jewels and the flying debris from blinding you. But I wasn’t worried about land mines. “I reckon the Sandees have deployed their area denial weapons to defend from an incursion from the south… from Costa Rica.” I let all that sink into Senor Negativo for a moment.

“So?” Is all Ratso said.

“So… we won’t be going in from Costa Rica.” Now Rat’ looked more confused than contrarian.

“How do you intend to approach the island then? He asked. I could see curiosity was now getting the best of him.

“I intend to infil’ from the North. From Nicaraguan territory.” I said, reeling Ratso in slowly- click, click, click. The Kahuna was back in front of the television and seemed disinterested. “They won’t be expecting any company from their rear.” I continued. Although truth be told, standard operating procedure for deploying butterfly mines is to bury them in circular clusters, roughly 15 meters in diameter to protect a position from all approaches. Of course Ratso knew that. Only we weren’t interested in the position of the Sandinista forces holding the island, except in so much as we didn’t want to make contact with them. On a S-n-R (Surveillance and Reconnaissance) mission making contact with the enemy or in the parlance of Special Operators: to be “rolled up”, discovered by the bad guys, is an automatic mission failure. A successful S-n-R is when you slip in, get the intel’ you’re looking for, then slip back out without the injuns knowing you were ever there.

“What about MON-Fiftys, tough guy? They could have them strung up in the trees or even submerged along the goll-dang river banks- all around their perimeter for all we know, Cat!” Ratso ever the pragmatist, did have a point. All I could do to respond to that one was shrug my shoulders. The MON-50 is the Russian version of our M18-A1 Claymore command activated (usually) mine. Unlike the butterfly which is designed to maim, not kill, the MON-50 is deadly out to 60 meters and can still ruin your day as far out as 300 meters. “And just exactly how do you plan to get in? Take a bus to Managua and sign up for a tour group?” Ratso laughed at his own wit. I kept my poker face and answered his question with three simple letters.

“O-T-B”, was all I said. Ever so briefly a smile covered the old Recon Marine’s smug mug. OTB meaning: Over-The-Beach, is probably the most classic and time honored method of infiltration into hostile territory for navy and marine combat swimmers, the world over, since the dawn of time.

From about a mile offshore (preferably at night, but can be done during daylight hours as well), from a small local civilian type craft under way the whole time, a small team of scout/commandos simply flop one by one into the water and swim with all their gear the mile or so to shore; stealthily, very stealthily. The swimmers then “skull drag” aka low crawl across the beach toward the concealment of beach grass, swamp thrushes or in the case of Calero: the jungle tree line. The trick is to move flat as a board, so slowly across the sand that any enemy sentry who might be guarding that sector from a distance or passing by in a patrol boat, cannot discern movement , or better still mistakes you for a sea turtle or clump of kelp. The combat swimmer is most vulnerable during this excruciatingly slow passage over the open beach. For that reason it’s always best to synchronize your OTB with peak high tide; diminishing the distance from the camouflage of breaking waves to the concealment of the tree line.

The Kahuna, who’d been animatedly watching the Laura Ingram show on Fox, finally chimed in from the couch, addressing me through the back of his head as he never took his eyes off the TV. “Why don’t you abort your mission, Nicky, and the three of us go down to Playa Hermosa instead? A bunch of kids have got a weekly moon-lite surf session and beach party going on. We could take the long boards. Who knows, we might even tag ourselves a couple hot little waheenees! Wadda ya say, bud?” This he said slurring his words. I ignored the comment and kept my focus on Ratso.   

“What if the dentist’s boat doesn’t sink?” I reasoned. “What if some passing sport fishermen see her and tow her back in? You really want to be around when the cops show up, find your M-4 and who knows what else you’ve got stashed here?” Ratso didn’t speak. He was leaning on the table, palms down and seemed to be doing some complicated mathematical equation in his head judging by the confused look on his face. It seemed an eternity passed before Ratso looked directly at me. Then with sincere confusion in his eyes he looked up and in a sheepish way asked me: “What boat?”

Once The Kahuna and I explained to Rat’ how he’d spent the afternoon murdering an innocent quarter-of-a-million dollar yacht, he seemed much more interested in getting out of Dodge. Short of leaving Costa Rica on the next flight out, Isla Calero looked to Ratso like the perfect place to lay low. As far as The Kahuna? “Hell, kid,” he said, “I was in all along!” Good ole K. He’s like a golden retriever: Loyal to a fault, lots of wavy blond hair and ALWAYS up for a road trip.

We agreed that any financial reward gleaned from this little caper would be split three ways evenly. Any costs as well. Although in all honesty I was still a little fuzzy on where the financial reward would come from. I guess sometimes you just gotta have faith.

For the next two hours we went over our plan. The Kahuna would secure us air transport to Barra del Colorado where an old friend of ours from way back, would supply Rat’ and I with a boat and captain to get us to our insertion point approximately one mile north of Isla Calero; well within Nicaraguan territorial waters. The Kahuna would also extract us once our S-n-R was completed. Ratso and I went over our actions-on-target once we cleared the beach on our OTB, as well as what gear we’d need. Ratso’s closet looks like a Rothco warehouse. For the most part I’d brought along everything, besides provisions, that I’d need.

In accordance with the info provided by my brother-in-law and his pals, we decided to launch on Monday 11 February. If we departed Barra del Colorado at 1930 hours-sharp- we should be just off our insertion point one mile north of the San Juan River mouth, by or around 2150 hours: Peak high tide. That is as long as Mother Nature did her part and provided us with a calm sea state, fair winds and only the slightest of moons. We’d make our extraction on Sunday the 17th at the crack of dawn at a point on the canal one-and-one-half miles south of Laguna Los Portillos; at least one whole mile inside undisputed Costa Rican territory. Although that probably wouldn’t matter to a contingent of Nicaraguan Marines in hot pursuit of two ghillie suit clad gringos if we were to get rolled up.

Using the recent sat’ intel’ photos we established alternate extraction points as well as potential locations for setting up our Observation Post (OP), or “hide”. By the time we reached our objective we would be as familiar with Calero as we are with the neighborhoods where we grew up.

If my merry deserters were correct and the Big Evento was going down between Tuesday 12 February and Saturday 16 February we’d catch it. I only prayed that it would take place at Calero. Otherwise we’d be in for five fun filled days of sweat, chiggers, and mosquitos for nada. It wouldn’t be the first dry hole we’d ever experienced, of course, but that doesn’t mean it would sting our pride any less.

We also decided it best for all of us to move our gear and more importantly our persons up to Tigre’s fish camp in Playa Lagarto. If the cops did indeed come snooping around Ratso’s or even The Kahuna’s place for attempting to convert the dentist’s Love Boat into a U-Boat, we sure as hell didn’t want to be around when they showed up.

I have to be honest. I hadn’t felt so stoked about a dangerous op’ like this one since I took Queenie and the kids back to see my old neighborhood in Boston during Saint Patty’s. That was over twelve years ago. After we wrapped up our mission planning session The Kahuna headed home. He promised to be back at 0500 hours with Big Yellow for our RV (rendezvous) with Tigre, as he went sailing out the door. If not for the fact he only lived a couple hundred meters down the beach and that there is rarely any traffic, according to Ratso, at peak hours, let alone midnight, I would have demanded he let me drive him home; he was that hammered.

Ratso went out like a light. I was too pumped up to sleep. So I fished the roach out of my rucksack that The Kahuna had been kind enough to give me, from the doobie we’d smoked on the road to Rat’s. I walked over to the game room and plopped Some Friendly by The Charlatans U.K. onto the turntable then headed back out onto the beachfront patio. I could hear the music through the hotel’s exterior speakers. I collapsed into one of Ratso’s huge hammocks and gently swayed with the now quite pleasant breeze. I sparked up the roach. With a big, fat grin on my face I let the weed, rhythm of the ocean and the music carry me off to dream land; feeling as if I’d finally driven a stake through the heart of my mid-life crisis.

We only had three days to train up, mostly just practicing our OTB and upstaging our gear and supplies before “D-DAY”. We borrowed one of Tigre’s fishing pangas equipped with a 75hp ‘Rude outboard motor. The Kahuna- a giant rasta joint dangling from his lip- at the helm. By the end of each day I could barely raise my arms and I walked like a middle-aged Pecos Bill. No complaints though. I loved being back in the water.

MONDAY 11 FEB 2019 D-DAY H-HOUR (-12)

0700 HOURS LOCAL TIME

TIGRE’S FISH CAMP

PLAYA LAGARTO GUAN COSTA RICA

After a hardy breakfast of piangua soup and gallo pinto with fatback bacon graciously provided by Tigre and his awesome senora, we rolled out of Tigre’s compound in route to San Jose.

One of Tigre’s older sons volunteered to guard Ratso’s place when the contractors weren’t there working. Rat’ had been able to settle his labor dispute over a three beer keg negotiation sit-down with his striking construction workers the morning of the day I arrived. Which explains his condition that day. Tigre’s kid was told to tell the cops, if they showed up, that don Ratso had gone to Nicoya to donate blood to the Red Cross. You know… For the orphans.

The Kahuna was able to secure us a Cessna 206 single engine seaplane for our insert’ and extract’. A perfect aircraft for where we were headed. A buddy of The K’s from Las Vegas (Nevada) keeps the plane in Belize, where he does seasonal fishing tours. The aircraft was at the time in Costa Rica being serviced at the Pavas airport. The owner (we’ll call him “Gus”) would meet us at the Hotel del Rey for lunch where we’d go over the details.

Tigre’s son was told to tell the cops that don Ratso had gone off to Nicoya to donate blood to the Red Cross. You know… For the orphans.

Just a little over four hours of The Kahuna’s bizarre music mixes later we were pulling up to the traffic light at Paseo Colon and La Sabana, jamming out to the Squirrel Nut Zippers and their retro-swing hit: The Suits Are Picking Up The Bill; the perfect soundtrack for San Jose. I’ve got to be honest. I absolutely love “Chepe”. This crazy city has been the launch pad for more world class adventures than Bangkok and the Port of Liverpool combined. And the women? Fuggedaboutit. Las Ticas make the dames in Bangkok and Liverpool look like Bulgarian coal miners by comparison.

The three of us entered the Del Rey through the street side entrance and grabbed three open bar stools. I hadn’t been there in easily ten years and I was surprised to see there weren’t more people hanging out. Back in the early 90’s when Big John, Surfer Gregg and British Tim opened the joint you could hardly find a place to stand. Even in the early afternoon.

The Pink Lady, as we affectionately referred to the hotel back then, was rivaled only by the Soda Palace and maybe Key Largo for intrigue and debauchery. If I had a dollar for every time I staggered out of the Del Rey with the sun well above the horizon, I’d be writing this from the piano bar of my personal 747 Jumbo Jet in route to my private whale hunting lodge on Isla del Coco. Along with Lady Gaga, Pope Francis and Andrew “Dice” Clay as my invited guests.

We asked the bartender for a couple’a three menus. The boys got a pair of Imperials and I settled for a Tropical Peach Ice Tea on account of the fact they didn’t have any Fuze. Over to our right, seated at one of the booths, were four gents who appeared to have been there a while judging by the collection of empty beer bottles littering their table. Because of their close proximity to us, it was impossible not to overhear them.

The two guys on the right were clearly gringos. The other two looked local and quite a bit younger. They wore the garb and tat’s of local gangbangers or “cacos”, as they’re called in Costa Rica. One of the gringos was a dead ringer for Hollywood mega-star George Clooney. It was uncanny. Maybe a little younger and plumper than the real McCoy. Chubby George was wearing a white, sweat stained tee shirt emblazoned with the logo of CNN across the front. He was perspiring profusely, even though it was pretty cool in the bar. I also remember him seeming extremely nervous. Unlike his compadres who were swigging cervezas out of the bottle, Chubby George Clooney was sipping white wine spritzers from a long stemmed foo-foo glass. To Chubby Georges left sat the other gringo. He was a few years younger than his compatriot and had a couple square yards of dirty blond dreadlocks stuffed under one of those wool ski caps that rastas and suburban white kids who want to irritate their parents like to wear. He sported a scrubby little soul patch just below his lower lip and was wearing a black tee shirt, its short sleeves rolled up to his shoulders exposing bright pink pipe thin arms, with the ANTIFA logo across the sweat soaked front. The poor kid’s face was badly sunburned and visibly peeling. Beside him on the floor, sat an expensive looking commercial quality video camera. Was that why the two hoods were sitting there- so they could snatch the camera? Chubby George Clooney and Shopping Mall Rasta wouldn’t be the first or last gringos to get played in Costa Rica.

Sunburned Rasta was jabbering-on in English about the summer when he worked as a roadie for the rock band Screaming Trees and how the bass player shot him in the eye with a bottle rocket, “in the banquet room of a Hacienda Inn outside Brownsville, Texas…” The two gangsta’s just stared stone faced at the dreadlocked white boy without expression; probably not understanding a word of what the guy was saying. Chubby George Clooney wasn’t listening. He was busy trying to get the attention of the waitress, waving his hands around and snapping his fingers like an old Hindu woman trying to shoo a ferret off a Christmas tree; totally wanting the ferret to get off the tree, just confused as how to go about it.

The bass player’s response to Sunburned Rasta and his attorney was pretty clear.

Across the horseshoe shaped bar from us sat a row of local ladies of the night (or day!). An even mix of Ticas and Dominicans. Upon seeing us sit down they’d immediately formed up into their attack formation to dive-bomb us, one by one, until I shot them down with a flash of my wedding ring. It has the same effect on hookers as a flask of holy water and a crucifix have on vampires.

At a table across the room, diagonal to where Chubby Clooney and his pals sat, were three lovely Amazons who looked to be somewhere in their late 30’s/early 40’s. Not your typical prostitutes for these latitudes. Does Costa Rica have some sort of puta exchange program going on with Scandinavia? I’d have to consult The Kahuna. He’d know.

As neither our meals nor our plane guy had yet to show and with my curiosity peaked, I decided to strut on over and say howdy to las Amazonas. On the bar’s sound system Cold, Cold, Cold by Cage The Elephant was playing. I made my smooth move toward them, sipping my ice tea through a politically incorrect plastic straw, while simultaneously checking out how Steve McQueen level cool my reflection looked in the street front window as I went. The three damsels were at least six footers and wore matching bad ass red knee high stiletto heeled calf skin boots. In addition they also wore matching black leather mini skirts and vests that did little to hide their ample Nordic breasts. They looked like they could have stepped right out of a Frank Frazetta painting entitled: “Conan the Barbarian’s Slutty Sisters”.

The one in the middle really caught my eye. She had long, Cleopatra style, flaming red hair with straight cut bangs that came down just shy of her long, thick lashes. She had a devilish smile set under piercing blue eyes that drew me toward her like a tractor beam. If I wasn’t happily married and on a mission from God, I’d half a mind to invite her upstairs to the balcony suite and show her where the horse bit me. Alas it was not to be. The Kahuna, who’d been in the lobby waiting on his buddy, suddenly appeared like a bad penny, grabbing me by the back of my shirt collar as if I were a wandering child, before I could reach my Red Sonya. “Gus is here.” He said.

I could see our lunch finally arriving to our position at the bar as The Kahuna and I headed into the lobby to meet with Gus. Passing behind Ratso I tapped him on the shoulder and told him The K and I would be right back, and to keep his paws off my fries. Rat’ was wearing The Kahuna’s red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN baseball hat (actually signed across the bill by POTUS himself) side ways -Marky Mark style. He was devouring his cheese burger like a guy who’d spent the last decade on a deserted island. For a moment I silently chuckled to myself at the irony. After all we were headed to a deserted island. Ratso just gave me a grunt and went back to his lunch.

I caught a bad vibe coming from Chubby Clooney’s table. They were getting pretty loud and Chubbo, those wine spritzers apparently now kicking in, was on a tirade about “U.S. policy in Latin America/migrant caravans/#blahblahblah…” Are you not a gringo? I thought to myself. The guy was simply too pompous to be Canadian.

WRITER’S NOTE: Few things piss me off more than people who can’t wait to go overseas to talk trash about their country. There is something decidedly slimy about it.

That little voice of mine was babbling something I couldn’t quite make out; a warning of sorts. In my mind’s eye I had a quick flashback of the bar at the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua, Nicaragua- circa 1988. That was during OPERATION BEACHED BEECHCRAFT. What to this very day The Kahuna and I refer to as “Ratso’s Action At The Intercontinental” or simply: “The Incident”. Something told me I should sit down and eat my lunch- keep an eye or better put: a lid on Ratso while The Kahuna worked out the details with Gus. I didn’t follow my intuition. I followed The Kahuna instead. That would prove to be a mistake.

Gus turned out to be a real stand-up guy and die-hard Patriots fan to boot. It was looking like the start of a beautiful relationship. There would be no charge for use of the airplane, other than replacing any fuel consumed and, of course, tipping the ground crew. In return I agreed to let Gus park his Costa Rica vehicle- a 2007 Range Rover- in our bodega up on the ranch when Gus is in Belize or back in The States. There was one problem. He needed the plane back by no later than noon Friday the 15th. That would effectively cut two days from our operational window; narrowing our chances of catching The Big Evento by nearly half. What had started out as a long shot had just become a one-in-a-million shot. Hey, what could I say? Gus was being a real gent’ and indeed never even asked what we were up to. Had he asked, I’d of lied of course. Yeah, Gus, ahh… we’re goin’ tarpon fishing, bud. We’d also come too far to smarten up now.

TO BE CONTINUED… Don’t miss the next action packed chapter of THE CURSE OF CALERO or How my mid-life crisis got its ass kicked next week in the next mind expanding edition of The Costa Rica Post!

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