Or how my mid-life crisis got its ass kicked

BASED ON A TRUE STORY (sort of)

By Nick Dangier

(PART 7)

IT’S SHOW TIME “There are no chicks with dicks, only guys with tits.” — Ted

Sure enough at exactly 1835 hours a procession of helicopters appeared in the crimson sky, coming down the coastline from out of the north. We counted 37 – mostly expensive civilian model – choppers. The one exception was the lead bird: A fierce looking Rooskie made Mi-28 attack helo’. Although there was plenty of room on the newly built landing pad for three choppers to easily land at once, the other helicopters lined-up aloft in a holding pattern and waited as the sleek war bird set down first.

The attack helicopter offloaded none other than El Presidente and Mrs. Daniel Ortega along with their personal staffs and body guards; an entourage of over a dozen people. Compared to the wait staff in their crisp white waist coats and black ties, Mr and Mrs Ortega looked like a couple of rubes. Danny Boy was dressed like a bus driver on his day off and the First Lady looked like a cast member from the Broadway musical – Hair. The good General, who had made all this possible in mere hours, stood at attention in his dress uniform totally ignored by El Presidente and his sparkling guests. Not until Ortega’s helo’ lifted off and cleared the landing pad did the other choppers begin landing three-by-three. A river of elegantly attired people began flowing down the boardwalk toward the patio dining area, guided by the crisply dressed wait staff.

Most of the shiny civilian helicopters had registration numbers corresponding to Nicaragua. Four of the helo’s had originated out of Honduras, one out of Costa Rica. It was the two choppers which had originated out of Mexico and Colombia that stuck out like sore thumbs. That’s a long way for a couple of civilian helicopters to fly. Very curious.

President Ortega and his hippy of a First Lady along with a gaggle of military clad photographers made up the reception line as they warmly greeted each and every arriving VIP. These international illuminatti streamed through shaking hands, double cheek kissing – a few hugs – and filed down the boardwalk bathed in the yellow flickering light of the tiki torches, which flanked the wooden walk-way at ten foot intervals on both sides. The guests poured out onto the dining patio and began filling-up the tables; glancing first at the place cards to make sure they were in the right place.

Ratso’s night vision gear was useless now, due to all the artificial lighting set up on the “Fair Ground”, as we re-dubbed No Man’s Land. The illumination created for this event was a wonder all by itself. All powered by no less than seven hugemungous half-ton diesel powered generators. They were set up over by the Marine’s beach camp, behind the sand dune, for the horrendous racket they make – I’m guessing.

Between the stage and the Fair Ground it resembled a Grateful Dead “jello party” for the rich and entitled. Hovering around the perimeter light posts swarmed massive clouds of mosquitos, the flying bichos that dine on mosquitos as well squadrons of bats that dine on them all.

We watched the crowd through our standard binoculars and waited anxiously for the show to begin; Pete the Yank’s camera getting it all. We’d captured so much with Pete’s camera that we were now on our third and last battery. We feared using Rat’s smart phone. It was all we had for communicating with the outside world, so we dared not run down its battery. Our mission was not yet over. We were getting the whos’, we still needed to know the whys’.

Once everyone was seated and settled in, a file of waiters soon appeared marching out onto the dining deck holding up serving trays of food, while another column of waiters – starting with El Presidente’s table – began filling champagne glasses. On stage a ten-piece Latin band began warming-up the crowd.

I can’t speak for Ratso, but watching them my mouth was watering like Niagara Falls. We really could not tell exactly what the folks were eating because of the distance, but it had to beat the Power Bars, leathery smoked tuna fajitas and flavorless canned fruit cocktails Rat’ and I had endured over the last three days. There was a brief moment when out of the humid blue, the merest of faint breezes came up from the south bringing with it the unmistakable, tantalizing aroma of roasting meat.

You could not have arranged a more diverse crowd. The only common denominator I could see would be the number of digits in their personal net worth. Even if those helicopters over there parked across the river were rented, they’d have to be costing easily $2,500 an hour, just sitting there parked in a muddy field in the middle of the jungle. Especially in the middle of the jungle.

Off in the back, by a row of port-a-potties, the Mexican and Colombian contingents sat at their respective tables eyeing one another. Twice before scuffles had broken out between their two respective security teams. They were difficult to distinguish from one another. Of course one shaved block- head, no neck goon in an off-the-rack double breasted Armani suit and black silk turtleneck, sporting cowboy boots, looks pretty much like another. The “jabeep” wearing body guards all seemed to have one of those eyebrow scars – like prize fighters. “They come with the suits.” Ratso said in a mocking tone. It was the Arab contingent, whose table rested directly between the Mexicans and the Colombians, who’d had to quell the two broncas. Even from our distance we could feel the tension coming from those three tables. I couldn’t help but think that much of that tension had to have been caused by the seating chart.

The closer you got to the stage area the more well-heeled the well-heeled seemed to be. You could tell by the way they were dressed. In the back row where the cocaine cowboys and the wife beaters were seated, the scene resembled a Columbus Day cook-out at the Soprano’s house. The damsels accompanying them were young enough to be their daughters. In one case – grand daughter! The young ladies appeared to be locals and they looked as if they’d bought their shiny prom gowns at the same yard sale.

Up in the First Class section, fronting the stage, the scene wasn’t much different. Ortega and his wife looked like they’d dressed to go buy mulch at Home Depot. The good General and his posse looked sharp in their heavy, long sleeved dress uniforms, though you could tell they were sweating their balls off. They fidgeted in their seats and seemed to be constantly tugging at the knot of their suit tie.

The center tables were made up of what Ratso dubbed: ‘The Beautiful People’. The kind of folks who “earned” their money through divorce, inheritance, stock and currency manipulation and/or political corruption. Their retard kids go to Harvard on phony tennis and rowing scholarships while your community volunteering, varsity lettering, 4.0 GPA having Eagle Scout of a kid goes to the local community college nights, after his/her shift ends at Dunkin Doughnuts. The kind of people who spend their evenings at art exhibits and political fundraisers. Two nights a week are dedicated to private Pilates classes, if they aren’t too tuckered-out from all the philanthropy. Sometime between afternoon cocktails and pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres they jump on Facebook and write a post about the trials and tribulations in their lives. Their accountants set aside 7.2% annually for the preservation of Arctic hair lice or whatever else Oprah is all excited about at any given moment. None of them looked as if they could change a flat tire to save their lives, but no doubt each and every one of them could tell you which spoon is for the coconut flan. Their clothes were top designer and the hookers they’d brought along were of the caliber that can speak five languages fluently, subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and cost more per hour than those shiny helicopters they’d flown in on.

One of the Beautiful People was running about barefoot and wore nothing more than what looked like a white adult diaper along with costume store feathered wings. He pranced around the tables blowing air kisses while pretending to shoot at the other guests with a toy set of bow and arrows. Obviously he was intending to resemble Cupid. Only Cupid wasn’t two-hundred pounds overweight. His man breasts resembled a pair of huge, fleshy, pasty-white flap jacks bouncing off his ample belly as he leapt around the tables. Truthfully, if I hadn’t been so famished at the time, I probably would have been more grossed out. You could tell “Cupid” was somebody by the way everybody laughed along with his idiotic antics; like hired help might indulge the spoiled brat of a powerful and vindictive employer.

Mid way through dinner yet another helicopter appeared. This one hovered directly over the crowd. It couldn’t have been higher than 50 or 60 feet. The rotor wash actually up ended several champagne glasses and dozens of linen napkins went fluttering across the patio like so many tiny flying ghosts. All of the ladies present immediately threw their hands up in an attempt to protect their elegant and no doubt expensive hairdos. All excepting one that is.

She bore a striking resemblance to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The woman wore a bright pink pants suit that could have come straight out of the Mao Tse Tung Spring collection. Even with the rotor wash her hair did not move. It was like some sort of hair helmet. As if every individual hair of her Prince Valiant haircut was glued down onto her skull then sprayed with a heavy automotive varnish. Intriguing. Very intriguing.

The chopper pilot panned his lights at the surprised and clearly irritated guests below. Across the dining area body guards sprang into action. They drew their weapons and jumped to shield their clients from what they reasonably must have assumed was a hit. The Marine guards just looked bored. Clearly this was no attack. At Ortega’s table El Prez smiled and pointed at the chopper, as he said something into the First Lady’s ear causing her to clap her hands and laugh out loud. This was obviously all part of the Big Show.

The band leader struck up his orchestra into a rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” – with a merengue beat, while an overweight elderly man dressed in black tie and evening jacket descended from the open side door of the hovering Bell Ranger. This would be stunt man wore a bulky harness suspended from a steel cable, connected to an electric wench that slowly began lowering him toward the stage. Talk about your grand entrances. I looked at Rat and said: “And you say I never take you anywhere fun!”

This airborne party-crasher had his eyes closed tight as he seemed to choke back the urge to vomit. The crowd was in hysterics as the terrified guy in the shiny tux’ clutched at his testicles; the harness was clearly pinching his crotch. The helicopter’s crew chief, standing in the helo’s open doorway, tried to guide the pilot to put the poor dude down onto center stage. As the chopper pilot maneuvered the hovering ship it caused the guy in the harness to swing like a pendulum. He was now only inches off the deck. At one point he began trying to run – his legs bicycling in the air – which caused the crowd to erupt into fits of even greater hysterics. It all reminded me of one of those old Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies I loved when I was in kid – seeing them in re-runs on rainy Saturday mornings.

Judging by the reluctant acrobat’s facial expression he was not having fun and did not see anything amusing about what was happening to him. The poor guy looked old. Really old. He had to be pushing 80, for God’s sake. At one point he swung directly into the bandstand like a human wrecking ball, causing the saxophone player and the maracas guy to jump out of the way. The drummer held his ground, though and with a hefty shove sent the tuxedo clad Tarzan away from his drum set, but not before the reluctant Wallenda knocked over a pair of standing hi-hat cymbals which made a loud warbling sound as they went crashing to the stage floor. The band leader looked pissed. The poor, petrified old timer then swung out over Ortega’s entourage. The good General, in a heroic effort and with his boss watching, tried to get hold of the acrobat’s foot, but only managed to lose his own hat and went stumbling backward, flipping over his table which went down crashing with all its plates and glasses. A team of waiters immediately sprang into action to clean up the mess, while the General’s young aides collected his hat and got him back to his feet. A pair of stage hands were finally able to get a hold of Spider Man and get him out of his harness before he got killed to the wild applause of the audience.

Once Mr Tuxedo was firmly on the deck and clear of his harness, the chopper’s crew chief gave a salute to his reluctant former cargo and then the helo’ peeled off and landed over on the apron beside the landing pad. The crowd jumped to their feet, prompted by El Presidente, and gave the brave showman a thunderous round of applause. The guy straightened his toupee, tie and jacket, then bowed to the still clapping and whistling crowd. Emboldened by the cheering he grabbed the microphone from its stand and addressed the gathering of VIP’s; his hands still visibly shaking.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen …” He spoke in grammatically proper English, but with a thick Chilean accent. “My name is Mario Luis Kreutzverger Blumenfeld… wit’ a name like dat, you’t calls yourself don Francisco too!” His line was punctuated by a precisely timed rim shot by the drummer. The crowd was on their feet. In Latin America if Jesus Christ and don Francisco were booked to do a gig at the same venue, on the same night, it would be JC opening for don Francisco – not visa versa. And hey, they’re pretty fond of Jesus in Latin America. He paused for a moment to savor the explosion of applause in recognition of his classic decades long family oriented television program: “Sabado Gigante”. Hell, don Francisco was a weekly entertainment staple in our household, back when we all still did things like that as a family. From when my kids were in diapers up to adulthood. “It ees my great honor to be choor mister of ceremonies tonight an’ on behoff of El Presidente an’ heez loov-lee First Lady let me offer a ‘eartfelt welcome to all on dis ‘istoric evening…”

Don Francisco went into a long, flowery monologue showering praise on all those in attendance. The praise was laid on thick. I got the feeling it was all leading up to some kind of sales pitch. Listening to him speak I felt as if I’d jumped into a book half way through the story. He referred to the group gathered before him as “founders”or as don Francisco put it: “phonedayrz”. He also referred to them as visionaries and “pee-o-neerz”.

“What choo will create ‘ere…” He said, followed by a brief pause for dramatic effect, “… will be dee envy of dee worlt for wan-tousant jeerz!” That triggered a wave of applause from the guests seated before him, including their host and even all the people who hadn’t understood a word he said.

For a moment I focused my binocular on one of the Marine sentries. He was standing guard duty by the parking lot full of expensive helicopters. I don’t know why I did. I guess I was curious to see the reaction of “the help” to all this… whatever it is. The young grunt stood leaning against the fuselage of one of the helos’. His rifle was ten-feet away leaning against a fuel drum. He couldn’t have been much older than 18 or 19 and was totally consumed by what I assume was a video game, by the way he jabbed his thumbs at the screen of his smart phone. He physically swayed and juked back and forth with the virtual action unfolding on the tiny screen in his hands. He seemed oblivious to the actual action happening right in front of him. There is a paradox in there somewhere.

The Master of Ceremonies began calling out these “visionary pioneers” in the audience one by one. As their name was called out they rose to their feet, bowed graciously to the President and his better half then smiled and waved at their peers around them – who clapped and cheered – as if the honoree had discovered a cure for the capital gains tax. As don Francisco called out the VIP’s, most of them winced and rolled their eyes at hearing their proud family name butchered by don Francisco’s f#cked-up pronunciation.

After just about everyone short of the wait staff had been duly recognized, don Francisco took a more sober tone. His body language suggested this was not spontaneous. His movements were reminiscent of a priest overseeing some ritualistic right; head turned down in reverence, his hands tented together – finger tips at his chin – as if in prayer.

“An’ now, lahdeez an’ gemmoolmen…” don Francisco proclaimed as if MC-ing a Las Vegas boxing match. “… please allow me to een-tro-dooz to you da genious behin’ dis great dream… our host… Senor Presidente de la gran Reeee-puuu-bli-ca de Niiii-ca-ra-gua: Daniel Orrrrrrr-TEGA!” Everyone jumped to their feet and applauded wildly. Danny Boy sprang out of his seat, waved at the crowd, gave his wife a peck on the cheek and trotted up on stage. He and don Francisco exchanged what I thought was an embarrassingly long bro’ hug, and then Ortega took the microphone and addressed his guests.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” The President exclaimed; his English near Oxford perfect. Who knew? All Danny Boy lacked were bad teeth and an umbrella, and he could have passed himself off as a member of British Parliament.

“Before we get started tonight, I’m afraid I have some bad news to report.” The Prez paused for a moment, pacing back and forth before the attentive audience – mic’ in hand. Whatever this bad news was, you could tell it was weighing heavily on Danny Boy. Finally he summed up the courage to speak the unspeakable: “I wish to express my deepest regrets that the cast of Hamilton could not be with us tonight; scheduling conflict it appears…” That ignited fevered murmuring among The Beautiful People seated in the midsection. The same could not be said for the Bad Boys section in back by the port-a-potties or Ortega’s entourage in the front row. Judging by the blank expressions on their faces they’d never heard of Hamilton, the man or the Broadway hit. Or maybe it was that they simply didn’t give a rat’s ass. Ortega paused for a moment again, somewhat irritably, as he was interrupted by one of the Marine sentries who came charging up on stage. He stopped short of the Commander-in-Chief, flashed his Excellency a proper, snappy salute, handed him a note then gave another crisp salute before retiring from the stage. Ortega put on his reading glasses and studied the note for a moment. Had war been declared? The audience seemed to be thinking something terrible had occurred. Was the cast from Hamilton coming after all?! The crowd was hushed – sitting on the edge of their seats. Ortega cleared his voice several times, sneezed into a handkerchief he pulled from his back pocket and blew his nose loudly into the open mic’. Pollen was heavy in this environment. “Mister Epstein… Mister Jeffrey Epstein…” The Chief of State repeated into the microphone as if he were calling Bingo down at the local parish. He tapped the mic’ several times then said: “Your helicopter lights are still on. Repeat- Mister Jeffrey Epstein you’ve left the lights on in your helicopter…” Almost immediately a tall, embarrassed looking gentleman with silver, slicked back hair and strangely clutching a briefcase, jumped up from the kiddie table and jogged off in the direction of the helo’ pad, high-fiving his friends as he passed through the Beautiful People section.

El Presidente nodded at one of the stage hands standing in the shadows back stage and with dramatic effect all the stage lights, as well as the towering post mounted lights around the Fair Grounds began to dim. Simultaneously the Mist Screen fired up causing a fog-like wall of vapor to appear behind Ortega. In an instant a 30 foot by 20 foot illuminated image appeared. Rat’ was right. It did have a 3-D look to it. A series of disturbing images began to roll by. Scenes of urban rioting: People beating the piss out an overturned police vehicle, then setting it ablaze while others danced like drug crazed barbarians around the burning wreck. “Looks like the Patriots won another Super Bowl, eh, Cat… y’all sure know how to celebrate up yonder in Bass-tin.” Ratso said mocking my Bean Town accent. I gave him the standard Bass-tin response: I flipped him the bird.

“We only riot when we lose.” I said. “We’re not Philadelphia you know.”

That scene was soon replaced by clips from old black and white news reels from the 1930’s and ’40s, featuring Adolph Hitler at various National Socialist (Nazi) rallies giving his trademark stiff armed Roman salute, while seemingly endless waves of loyal storm troopers marched by in perfect Prussian review formation before him. From there the footage smoothly transitioned to a Trump rally, then to a photo shopped image of the two leaders. Trump and Hitler together as two halves of the same entity. It wasn’t until Trump’s image appeared on the Mist Screen that the entire crowd began hissing and booing. The pudgy little guy in the Cupid get-up and flabby man breasts climbed up on his table, turned his back to the stage and waggled his wide, flat fanny. He held up his index finger to his chop liver-like lips and hammed it up as if he were a naughty, naughty boy.

The images of Hitler and Trump were soon followed by a quick-fire series of horrific clips taken from decades of actual film footage depicting starving, fly covered children, bed ridden AIDS victims, dead tusk-less elephants, their rotting carcasses scattered across some nondescript African plain. In another disturbing scene was displayed a mob of drunken Canadians beating a baby seal to death with hockey sticks- one of the attackers unabashedly wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey. It was clear by the reaction of the crowd that there weren’t any Trump supporters among them, though there did seem to be at least a couple of Winnipeg Jets fans, judging by the smattering of applause during the baby seal beat down scene.

The broad with the pink pants suit and helmet hair, now pretty hammered from round after round of champagne toasts – not to mention the tequila shots she’d been doing with the Bad Boys over by the port-a-potties – stood up atop her table and began screaming obscenities at President Trump’s smiling face covering the Mist Screen. She looked absolutely deranged. She yanked off one of her white flat heeled deck shoes and hurled it at the stage. It fell short of her intended target and landed instead with a splash in the General’s soup bowl. In doing so she lost her balance on the table and teetered forward, face planting into the North Korean Ambassador’s lap.

The video show continued with scenes of striking workers, boarded-up factories and rows and rows of busy non-complaining, non-striking robots. El Presidente raised the microphone back up and spoke solemnly: “In less than fifteen years forty-percent of all currently existing labor in the world will be obsolete.” He took a pause for theatrical effect and said nothing for what seemed like a whole minute. Very awkward. I kind of felt sorry for the shmuck. He was clearly losing the audience. He scanned the crowd – no doubt looking to make some kind of bond with them through eye contact and the seriousness of the topic. The audience could not have looked more indifferent. Several had already gotten up and headed off to the port-a-potties. Others chatted and laughed among themselves. At the Colombian table they were playing an animated game of Dominoes. Everybody, including the hookers, were staring at their smart phones over at the Mexican table. The Arab contingent had long since taken off behind the sand dune with their young prom queens, and one apparent prom prince.

I suddenly conjured-up the mental image of all those empty bar stools in whorehouses across the greater Managua metropolitan area at that very moment. There must have been 200 of them present at this shindig. “We all know what is coming.” Danny Boy continued. “We- the world’s elite- must think of our own well-being first, if we are to save those who depend on us to guide them… yes, clearly billions of people will die, but that- my friends- is a sacrifice I’m willing for them to make…”

The First Lady couldn’t take her eyes off her man. To her way of seeing it, he was on a roll: like Neal Diamond at Shea Stadium. Fidel would have been so proud.

“The poor after all, have always betrayed us!” Ortega’s tone was becoming loud betraying the anger and resentment welling up inside him. “While we bled and sacrificed for them, what did they do for us, eh?” Ortega shrugged his shoulders and turned out his pants pockets in a mocking fashion. “Hay, que pobre soy! I have no monies… feed me, house me, build us a school and a hospital – waaa, waaa, waaa- what a bunch of babies, I tell you.” The Great One seemed to sense he was drifting. He cleared his throat, took a sip of what looked like water from a clear glass sitting out of sight on the podium and smiled at the audience, indicating a shift in topics. “Ladies and gentlemen what if I told you I have a solution…” Now Danny Boy raised the mic’ up close to his lips- almost touching- nothing but the sound of breathing echoed across the Fair Grounds from multiple and massive speakers. I couldn’t contain my short chuckle as my mind immediately went back to an old Jerky Boys skit where they crank called people as heavy breathers.

On the Mist Screen behind him the images now changed by 180 degrees. Now the visuals were of clear blue skies along with a sparkling sapphire Caribbean Sea below. The camera’s perspective is that of a seagull, gracefully circling above what looked like Isla Calero. I can say that with great certainty after studying hundreds of sat’ intel’ photos and maps of the region over nearly as many hours.

On the Mist Screen Calero had been transformed into a rich man’s paradise: golf courses, luxurious residential communities with pristine green rolling lawns, surrounding private swimming pools. There were tennis courts, a yacht club as well as high end restaurant courts and elegant shopping gallerias. What were not present in this developer’s video sales pitch were homeless people, striking mobs or burning vehicles. And most important of all: NO DONALD J. TRUMP.

“I present to you, my good friends”, Ortega said with passion in his voice, “the all new Free Republic of San Juan del Norte!” Then he swept his arm across the heaven-like images on the Mist Screen like every model on every TV game show you’ve ever seen. “A nation with NO EXTRADITION!” He said with a raised eyebrow, clearly reading this crowd. The audience responded by jumping to their feet and raising their champagne glasses. If he didn’t have their attention before, he sure as hell did now. Mizz Pants Suit Helmet Hair leapt to her feet and let out an ear shattering, Arkansas style rebel yell: “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-HA!” She was no longer drinking from her champagne glass. Her left hand was wrapped tightly around the neck of a liter bottle of Patron Tequila she’d scored off the Mexican contingent and was now quaffing down mouthfuls of the bitter sweet liquid straight out of the bottle. She had long since discarded her jacket and blouse. Every now and then she extracted a lime slice from out of her brassiere and sucked down hard, wincing at the ultra tart fruit as it took the sticky sweet edge off the tequila.

“And for your modest contribution of one-billion-dollars payable in Bitcoin or facsimile there of, you too can become a full-fledged CITIZEN-FOR-LIFE of the great all new Free Republic of San Juan del Norte…” Danny Boy let the audience take it all in for a moment while whispering something to don Francisco; keeping his hand over the microphone as he did.

Ratso lowered his field glasses and looked at me, rage glaring in his eyes. “Whoa, Cat…” He said. “… y’all hear that shit?! One billion clams! That there ree-public don’t sound so free to me! An’ the f#ckin’ island belongs to f#ckin’ Costa Rica!” Ratso was fully wound up. “So that’s what all this is about?” He complained. “A goll-dang time share scam for rich international criminal scumbags – huh? A tropical Davos for pampered perverts?!” Ratso has always been one of those ‘man of the people’ types. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, as well as his childlike naivete.

“Welcome to the world, brother.” I replied. What else could I say? How about: I wish I had a billion dollars. Think about it. No poverty. No extradition (hey, you never know- it could come in handy); a nation state full of rich suckers… you kidding me, I’m THERE! If only ole Meyer Lansky could have lived to see it.

It was obvious by the low murmuring in the crowd that the folks weren’t diggin’ what they were hearin’, as Rat’ would put it. One billion dollars was still real money and a high price to pay for a condo in the jungle. Ortega took the crowd in for a moment. Then he grinned widely and re-addressed the audience. “Relax, my good friends… you have ten years to come up with the full amount for obtaining full citizenship and besides, with the income all citizens of the Republic are entitled to from our hotel and casino concessions, in addition, once our inter-ocean canal is completed all citizens will enjoy a percentage of the profits from the canal as well; that one billion dollar investment ‘get-in’ looks pretty damn cheap. Of course all of this comes with the full blessings of our friends in Moscow and Beijing.” I immediately thought about Abbot and Costello, and their cheezy dredging barge. Uh-huh, yeah right… that canal’s gonna happen. Suckers. And as far as Putin sharing power or even the profits- good luck with that one too.

The whole vibe of El Evento Grande suddenly became more festive. Danny Boy bounced around from one end of the stage to the other. Now it felt more like a Tony Robbins self help seminar. “Who wants to PAAAAR-TY!?!” El Prez shouted into the microphone. The audience erupted into one great roar that sent a tree full of sleeping parrots to come suddenly awake and take flight. At that very moment the images of Ortega’s paradise-by-the-sea were replaced on the Mist Screen by a menu of popular karaoke selections. El Presidente Danny Boy Ortega – Emperor-For-Life of the all new Free Republic of San Juan del Norte, motioned for his Empress to come join him on stage for a dance. Then he passed the mic’ back to don Francisco, while the band kicked into a rousing rendition of “Juana la Cubana”. The audience continued to cheer and applaud enthusiastically.

Don Francisco returned to his role as Master of Ceremonies and began calling out to the crowd for participants to come up on stage and join the President and First Lady in a group sing-along; the lyrics floating across the Mist Screen. Don Francisco’s English pronunciation had not improved as the night wore on. As he called out names from the audience few responded. They either were not interested in singing karaoke or they didn’t recognize their own names as don Francisco murdered them linguistically. He messed-up the Saudi Prince’s name so badly that several of the Marine guards were ordered to position themselves in front of the stage, in order to stop the Prince’s bodyguards from charging the old showman and slitting his throat with one of those long, curved knives Arab gentlemen are fond of carrying around. Needless to say, it took a bit of ego massaging to get the Prince up on stage, but reluctantly he eventually did.

Dona Eelah-ree kleentone, Mister Georges Oros- come on up and join us!” Pants Suit Helmet Hair and stupid Cupid did not hesitate to rush up on stage. Don Francisco continued to prod the audience for more participants in Ortega’s sing along.

What really blew our, by this point, already pretty well blown minds was the presence of none other than legendary drummer, guitarist and front man for the world famous rock band- Foo Fighters: Dave Grohl. I actually had tickets for their upcoming October concert to be held at El Estadio Nacional in San Jose’s La Sabana Park. I’d bought tickets for myself and all my kids. Queenie hates rock music. A real family event that set me back 850 smackers!

“You know, Cat”, Ratso said while watching the long haired legend take the stage and join arm-in-arm with the other VIP’s, “do you really think it’s a coincidence that Kurt Cobain eats a load of buckshot and suddenly the lowly drummer becomes front man super star? No more depressing friggin’ Nirvana, hello happy sappy, up-beat Foo Fighters…”

“Sappy? Sheeee-it. You know you’re getting as bad as The Kahuna with all these conspiracy theories. It’s all that Fox News you guys watch, no doubt. I guess you probably think Paul McCartney had John Lennon wacked. Some kind of deep, dark, secret connection between Paul and the Lucchese crime family… right, numbnuts?” I wasn’t done. “An’ another thing: Foo Fighters rock way harder than bloody Nirvana ever did!” Neither of us had enjoyed much in the way of deep REM sleep since our insertion. It was beginning to show in the weird stuff rolling around in our heads and spilling out of our mouths unfiltered. Ratso wasn’t done either.

“I’ll tell ya another thing, Cat…” He said. “Cobain’s girlfriend- that Courtney Lovelace or whatever her name is… she was in on it, Cat, and that ain’t no shit!”

If the explosions caused by the combat engineers earlier that day hadn’t run off our mascot- Fat Albert, first, the gut wrenching, out of key and out of sync “singing” coming from the stage across the river would have. Environmentally speaking, who can say for sure how much damage the howling of those rich, drunken iluminatti was inflicted upon the natural residents of this virgin wedge of Earth? It’s certainly above my pay grade, though I for one will be hearing their rendition of “We Are The World” in my nightmares for years to come.

It was my turn with Pete the Yank’s camera when the battery light began to blink. “Hey, Rat”, I said. “We’re losing our camera.”

“Maybe we should make tracks, Cat- before this clam bake wraps up and those Marines head back to their camp- which, as you know, sits smack dab in the middle of our exfil’ route.” He glanced at his watch, then added: “We’ve got less than four hours ’til sunup, Chief. Less than four hours of darkness for us to reach our extraction without being detected…” He was right. We needed to get moving while the gettin’ was good.

Under normal conditions Rat’ and I could cover a good fifteen miles in four hours or less, even at our age and humping all this gear. These were not normal conditions. In this case we had a couple hairy obstacles between our hide and our extraction point: First of which was the murky, fast running, monster infested San Juan River; about eighty yards wide at the point where we’d decided to make our crossing. Add to that the platoon of Sandinista Marines we had to slip through, plus roughly 350 civilians running around who could spot us and sound the alarm. Judging by what we’d witnessed I don’t imagine they’d be too keen on letting Rat’ and I see the bright lights of San Jose again, knowing what we now know. Those goons in the Bad Boys section weren’t there for their intellectual value. Of course the Bad Boys wouldn’t be a problem unless the Sandinista Marines failed to ventilate us first.

“What we need, Cat, is a good old fashioned diversion.” Ratso said with a glint in his eye. I’d seen that glint before. It was usually followed by something getting blown up. He reached into his rucksack and carefully extracted a 12-inch piece of grey plastic PVC tubing roughly 2-inches in diameter, capped on both ends. It had a length of waxed timed fuse sticking out of its center. “Just a little binary explosive we used a lot back in Iraq…” He cheerfully explained. “She packs a lot of bang for the buck, Cat. Of course this one doesn’t have a shrapnel component.” Basically it looked about the size of one of those artillery round simulators they use at BUD/S during “Heel Week”. Powerful enough to mess you up good if you were too close when it went off, but other than that, there was little danger of hurting anybody, but HOLY SHIT! level loud. Good ole Ratso. He’ll never let you down.

“Follow me, Cat. I’ve got point.”

“Try not to fall and bust your head open this time. Okay, Slick?” Was my reply. No joking in my voice for once.

We policed up our gear and headed out of our happy home of the last three days. Once we’d finished covering up the hide’s loop holes and entrance, we slithered down the embankment on our bellies to the same spot Fat Albert had occupied before. Our target across the dark river was roughly the same spot where the little deer had been devoured by the snake. It is an image impossible to shake loose of my consciousness as I do the breast stroke ever so slowly across the black, fast moving water. For some strange reason, the theme song from The Flintstones kept playing on a loop – over and over again – in my head as I followed Rat’ to the other side; happy as hell to at least get a cool bath after three days of nothing more than baby wipes and flakey layers of unscented deodorant.

We made it across without becoming anything’s supper. The current carried us down to about half way between the mortar tubes and their ammo’ crate, which was currently guarded by one of the Marines. I peered over the low bank and scanned the Fair Grounds. This close I didn’t need my binocular. By this point, about 10 minutes past 1am, the party was in full swing.

Up on stage Georges Oros (“Cupid”) was belting out Sinatra’s greatest hits with a thick eastern European accent. Believe me when I tell you, it was no night at the Met’. He sounded like Bullwinkle’s arch adversary- Boris Batonov as he slaughtered “My Way”. Being an unabashed, life-long Franky fan the whole scene: seeing Cupid- his pasty white rolls of belly fat hanging over his now somewhat soiled diaper (thong?), his bloodshot eyes and jiggly man tits, while be-smudging the legacy of one of the greatest non-Irish entertainers in the history of showbiz, I got that same nauseous feeling you might get from say… discovering a pubic hair on your marshmallow only after you’d already consumed half the bag.

Over in the Bad Boys section Eelahree Kleentone was standing atop the Arab contingent’s table wrestling with all the straps and buckles of her Kevlar corset while she did an awkward striptease for the fellas. She eventually gave up on trying to pry loose her thick canvas under garment and began swinging her pants suit jacket over her head instead. She whooped and whistled like Calamity Jane on crack as the boys cheered and egged her on.

The poor Foo Fighters front man was sitting by himself drumming his fingers on the table, while stopping every few seconds to check his watch. He looked like the guy who’d finally discovered, after an hour rolling down the road, that he’d gotten on the wrong bus.

Ratso fished the fire cracker from hell out of his rucksack and pointed at the big crate full of fireworks 25 yards away. I couldn’t hold back my smile. This was going to be awesome; something to tell my future grand kids about some day.

We watched. We waited. We needed the sentry that was guarding the fireworks box to go take a leak or something. It wasn’t long before we caught a break. A group of four Sandinista troopers came walking over and joined the lone guard. They pried open the crate and began taking out the mortar charges. As large as the charges were, each man could only carry three of the aluminum and black powder packed paper and cardboard wrapped explosive bundles at a time. We looked on patiently as the five soldiers made two trips carrying the air burst fireworks canisters from the crate to the mortar tubes. Judging by the size of the crate and number of mortar tubes set up, there must have been 90 rounds still in the box. Assuming it had been full to begin with.

The good Lord smiled upon us once again. The bone heads not only left the fireworks crate wide open, they also forgot to re-post a guard to watch over it. The young grunt who’d been watching the crate was now over with the mortar operators totally fixated on the loading and arming procedures of the firing tubes. This was one sloppy outfit. The sentry had even left his rifle laying straddled atop the open fireworks box- 40 yards away.

“Hey Rat’…” I whispered.

“Yeah?”

“You’re my favorite super hero.”

Using a perfect hook shot, Ratso tossed the charge up and into the open fireworks crate, while I held onto the coil of timed fuse ; letting out just enough slack as to not accidentally yank it out of the explosive charge. We made sure the fuse element was lain out straight and out of view. I also took care that in no place did the fuse cross over itself. Rat’ calculated that we had approximately 60 seconds worth. Just enough time for us to get clear- reach the river mouth, before she blew. With any luck it would provide us the distraction we needed to get past the Marine camp undetected.

“Fire in the hole…” Ratso gave a quick, hard tug on the initiator lanyard, setting off a spark which lit the fuse.

“I see smoke”, I whispered – following textbook demo’s procedure straight out of Camp Huey 3rd Phase Land Warfare 101, confirming that the fuse was lit and running.

“Let’s git, Cat!” Rat’ said in a hushed tone as he got moving toward the river mouth with me following not far behind.

With the fuse blazing away, we made a double time dash for the beach, all the while concealed as we stayed low and hugged the muddy river bank… fifty-eight Mississippi, fifty-nine Mississippi, sixty Mississippi… nothing happened. I glanced over at Ratso. He shrugged his shoulders. I was about to say something sarcastic when all of a sudden there was an earth shaking KA-BOOM! Ratso gave me his trademark cocky – you were about to say something- face, then exclaimed proudly: “Detonation in high order, good effect on target… Let’s boogie, Cat!”

No one in the crowd seemed to notice. After all many in the crowd had seen the soldiers load the fireworks launch tubes just as Rat’ and I had. No doubt they took it as part of the fireworks show. That is until the fireworks charges themselves began to cook off in a chain reaction, including all those fireworks canisters the troopers had stacked up beside the launch tubes, ready to be fired, which sent all those explosive charges – designed to burst in bright, bold colors hundreds of feet in the air – exploding in all directions only feet above the ground. The sky-burst canisters went streaking and tumbling over the stage and over the heads of the audience, sending everyone scurrying for whatever cover they could find. Several of the canisters landed in the now abandoned orchestra box, exploding in a massive multi-colored mushroom cloud. In my mind I could hear Jane’s Addiction playing “Stop”, as we took a brief moment to enjoy the chaos we’d created.

General Butt Crack jumped to his feet and began shouting orders over the screams of the VIP’s and staccato of exploding fireworks canisters. Several of his men immediately beat a bee-line for the stacks of 50-gallon drums of highly flammable, highly explosive aviation fuel over by the landing pad. They valiantly went about rolling the heavy metal barrels away from the chaos unfolding, though air-burst canisters were exploding dangerously close all around them.

Ortega’s security detail had the Exalted One’s sleek chopper wound up and ready to lift off once Danny Boy and the First Lady were aboard. For all Ortega knew this was an attempt on his life. It’s not like there’s a shortage of people who’d like to see him go face first into a wood chipper. El Presidente, in his first act as Emperor For Life of the all new Free Republic of San Juan del Norte, essentially abandoned his guests to their fate.

The heat was so intense inside the fireworks crate that the rifle the young Marine guard had absentmindedly left atop the crate began an “escape” of 7.62 mm bullets from its 30 round magazine. They popped off slowly at first, every fifth bang a tracer round. Now even the Sandinista troopers were convinced that they were indeed under attack, as green colored tracer rounds streaked across the stage and over the heads of the fleeing crowd. Because of their trajectory the rounds must have appeared to them to be coming out of the tree line on the opposing riverbank. Sweet sacred Mother of merry mayhem… I’ve got to admit it: It was all such a wondrous and gratifying sight to behold. And I wouldn’t have missed it for all the Fuze Peach Ice Tea in the world.

The Sandinista troopers formed a skirmish line and began returning fire against the opposing riverbank, raking it with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades . Offshore we could just make out the silhouette of two Nicaraguan Navy gun boats, cruising about 500 yards off the beach, standing by to assist. A team of three Marines came running up to their skirmish line carrying a Russian tri-pod mounted PKM heavy machine gun; belts of ammunition draped over their shoulders and joined the fight. Down range of their fury they were absolutely obliterating the area where our hide was located in a snarl of exploding dirt and wood shards which flew outward in every direction. Entire palm trees came crashing to the ground as if swept down by the hand of God himself- the fire was that intense.

The handful of Marines who had been detailed to guard their beach camp, except for the radio operator who was at his post frantically calling for help, came running up and over the sand dune, ducking under stray bullets and exploding fireworks canisters as they did and joined their comrades in blowing the hell out the dark jungle across the river. Needless to say, with all the kinetics going on around us it was no longer necessary to whisper.

Just as we were about to make our mad dash past the Marine’s camp and down the beach, a red, white and blue (amusingly the same colors as Costa Rica’s flag) air-burst canister landed atop the Marine’s little radio shack instantly setting its canvas roof ablaze. The radio operator, upon realizing what was happening, ceased his frantic calls for help, came charging out of the radio shack and took off at lightening speed in the general direction of Panama; a ten-foot high rooster tail of beach sand kicked up behind him as he very quickly faded into the darkness. The poor, dumb bastard probably envisioned himself running the DJ booth at the Officer’s club in Managua when he got the crazy idea of joining the Sandinista Marines.

It’s truly a miracle none of the helo’s collided in their frantic escape. Most of them instinctively headed out to sea then turned north toward Bluefields. Not the gunships. They hovered over our now abandoned observation post and joined their brothers across the river by pounding the entire area around it with machine-gun, rocket and cannon fire. They looked like fire breathing dragons – tracer rounds spitting out of their combined mini guns at the rate of 6,000 rounds-per-minute- lashing the ground like long, flaming tongues. Just the very sound of those mini guns, that high-pitched electric buzzing chainsaw sound, made me shudder knowing that no longer than thirty minutes prior we’d been in that same spot all cozy-like, enjoying the show.

Now was the time. Before we made our dash south to our extraction point, I had an idea. It just struck me as we were passing the now empty camp’s flag pole. “Hold-up, Rat'”, I said. I unsheathed my K-bar and moved quickly over to the flag pole. With two quick slashes of the knife the huge Nicaraguan flag came fluttering down into my open arms. Ratso smiled his wide grin. I could tell he wished he’d thought of it first. It was going to look great hanging on the wall at Chino’s bar.

It wasn’t long before the sound of calamity and mayhem faded out to our rear as we made our slow trek south to our extraction point. I knew it wouldn’t take long, even for that bunch, to figure out that no one had attacked them. The way that box of fireworks cooked off I cannot believe that much in the way of evidence betraying Ratso’s little improvised exploding device could have survived.

My only question was- which way the shit storm would go? Would it go #1): Accidental detonation of ordinance contained in fireworks crate? In other words- human error, in other words- the clowns operating the mortar tubes would be blamed. Seeing as all of this was under the command of the good General, he would be the one receiving the wrath of El Presidente first. From there the shit storm gathers in ferocity until landing in the lap of the poor kid who’d simply forgotten his rifle, all excited about the imminent fireworks show. I’d sure as hell hate to be that young fella after his platoon sergeant and his LT got their asses reamed out for screwing up El Jefe’s beach party. It’s little things like f#cking-up your bosses big night in the limelight that gets guys like the good General executed. You know, after that eventual day when General Butt Crack makes another “little” mistake. Even something innocuous like saying without thinking it though first: “My President, I think those jeans make your ass look fat…” That’s all it might take. Historically speaking, the life of a general serving a third world dictator is almost as long as your typical baseball season.

Or would the official after action report read more like option #2): Surprise attack by numerically superior number of heavily armed enemy combatants (probably funded by the CIA). Due to bravery and professionalism up and beyond the call of duty the good General and his crack command of warrior patriots were able to meet and destroy said enemy force in a brief, but fierce fire-fight resulting in total destruction of aforementioned enemy force, with zero friendly KIA and only one MIA (the radio operator from the Marine beach camp), thus not only saving His Majesty – El Presidente, but also the First Lady and many invited, international guests as well. Placing the good General Butt Crack firmly within the annals of Nicaragua’s greatest national heroes. Bigger even than that chick who married Mick Jagger back in the day. RECOMMENDATION: That General Butt Crack be immediately, without delay, promoted to Field Marshall. I’ve got my chips on #2. Hell, the S.O.B. would probably receive the Nicaraguan medal of honor before it was all said and done.

We made good time on our hump out, arriving at our extraction point with an hour to spare. It wasn’t long before The Kahuna appeared as a glint of light in the southern sky; his starboard wing tip picking up the faint rays of the rising sun. Before wading out into the canal to climb aboard the Cessna, we paused for a moment to take a selfie with the souvenir we’d “liberated” from the Sandinista beach camp, using Ratso’s smart phone. We no longer had to worry about running down its battery.

We made a short stop at Junior’s floating city to retrieve The Kahuna’s sailboard. Both Rat’ and I were relieved to find Colochos, sitting on the family dock, contentedly mending a casting net when we came drifting up to the compound. So he’d obviously made it home okay.

During our flight back to San Jose The Kahuna entertained us with more of his crazy music mixes. The opening block started off with Twenty One Pilots hit- “Tear In My Heart” which was followed by Fat Boy Slim’s “Ya Mama”, Butthole Surfer’s “Who The Hell Was In My Room Last Night/Who The Hell Was In My Bed“, followed then by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of “Voo-doo Child“, culminating with the Judas Priest classic- “Breaking The Law”. That last one had been another of our road trip favorites, back in the day and felt especially relevant to this caper.

The Kahuna had thoughtfully not only remembered to bring along my McMuffins, he had also remembered to bring some fresh bananas and to remove the rear bench seat and co-pilots seat from the cramped little aircraft. The removal of the seats was to accommodate quick boarding onto the plane, during our extraction, while we were carrying all our gear with potentially pissed-off hostiles hot on our tail. Of course, lucky for us, that scenario never materialized. In fact I’d say it’s safe to say the bad guys never knew we were there. Mission accomplished. The bananas were to fight off leg cramps which both of us were suffering after three days of, for the most part, laying prone. I thought I’d pulled a hamstring on our dash down the beach, I was so stiff.

Rat’ and I sat on the floor of the tight little plane facing one another. Covered in mud, dried sweat and swamp slime we were both still wearing our ghillies and ruck sacks. We sure as hell weren’t going to go walking through the terminal at Tobias Bolanos airport looking like we did.We’d get out of our tac’ gear and wash off the camo’ paint before we landed, but for now we just kicked back and enjoyed the euphoric high which extreme sleep deprivation can bring on.

Neither of us said a word. We didn’t have to. Too wired to sleep, we just sat there grinning at each other like a couple of guys who’d just struck it rich. With what we’d witnessed (and recorded) we were going to make millions. F#ck Langley. They’re too busy framing President Trump to give a damn what Ortega’s got up his sleeve this time, and besides this was OUR op’. No. We were going to sell this story and footage to TMZ Entertainment, baby. Just the footage of Pants Suit Helmet Hair dancing on her table should bring in a cool mil’ all by itself. Not only would I have enough money from my cut to put a new roof on our corral, I could take Queenie to the Big Sandy Machine-gun Festival in March as well. Queenie loves nothing more than blazing through a thousand rounds of .50 cal ammunition while sitting on a picnic blanket in the middle of the Arizona desert. She says it helps her unwind. That’s not all. I could also hire The Dropkick Murphys to play at my birthday party this summer. And with the fazoles we were going to make shaking down stupid Cupid, I’d be able to hire Muse to open for them. Ahh… life is good.

Of course heads were going to roll over all this. Not ours, but somebody- that’s for sure. Once the story got out and the world had a chance to see how ole Danny Boy really feels about the poor, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to show his face at Davos for a while. A long while. The press will probably turn so negative (even CNN) for Ortega that Madonna and Dennis Rodman stop taking his calls. And then what? It could all snowball into losing even his closest pals; maybe Maduro and Raul Castro stop coming around for poker night. Maybe Al Baghdadi would renege on that offer to take him marlin fishing in Key West this Spring. Speaking of Spring… Spring Break in South Beach will definitely be off. That Rolling Stone cover shot he’d been stressing all those sit-ups and daily tanning sessions over, would be as good as dead too. That one had been a lifelong dream. There was still the chance he could keep his key-note speaker gig at the upcoming Democrat National Convention in 2020 though.

So ask me if I care. I’m sticking to Nick Dangier’s personal motto #1,109: That Nicky gets paid though the heavens may fall. And if I can strike a blow for freedom by pissing in a tyrant’s punch bowl along the way… well, that’s icing on the cake. I was flying high. Not just because of the exhaustion induced delirium or sudden (soon to be) windfall of cash, but that natural high you get from really being ALIVE! I was dancing on air. I felt like I did that day back in the summer of 1977, when I lost my virginity to Mary Margaret “All Aboard” O’Hara in a paddle boat under the pier by the U.S.S. Constitution exhibit in Boston Harbor, while Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” gently floated down from someone’s portable AM radio up above on the dock. I’ve been fond of freckle-faced girls and warm summer days on the water ever since.

I was still rubbing off my face paint, with a relatively clean rag I found tucked inside the cabin compartment where the flare gun and first aid kit are stored, when The Kahuna had us taxiing over to the main hangar where Gus had asked us to park the plane. It wasn’t yet 8am and as Gus had said we had to have the Cessna back by noon, I wasn’t surprised to see he wasn’t there.

I transferred my muddy gear over to Big Yellow which was parked outside the main hangar and helped The Kahuna load his sailboard onto the roof of his bright yellow personnel carrier. I slung my filthy ruck’ over my shoulder and grabbed from the back of Big Yellow my pre-packed bag with a clean change of clothes, bath kit as well as my wallet, that both Rat’ and I had left with The Kahuna the day we headed out.

Ratso had a head start on me as he ran off for the showers. I held back for a moment so I could unpack Pete the Yank’s camera from my rucksack. The Kahuna was understandably eager to see what we’d captured on the Nikon, and after all, he had an equal stake in all this too. It was easier than trying to explain in words the crazy shit we’d witnessed the night before. What was on that camera said it all. It was solid gold. I tossed him the camera and cigarette-lighter battery charger, then I ran off to the locker rooms as well, ecstatic at the idea of a hot shower. Even at home on the ranch it’s a rare moment when there is still enough hot water for me, especially now that half of Nicaragua is living in my house. The Big K would wait for us to get cleaned-up, then we’d all go to Denny’s for a celebratory breakfast and de-brief for The Kahuna. We’d also go over our marketing plan for what we had to sell.

The mid-morning sun felt awesome on my now sparkling clean, well groomed self as Ratso and I made our way around the corner of the terminal building to where The Kahuna had re-parked Big Yellow, per request of the airport rent-a-cop. I couldn’t wait to see The Kahuna’s face after he’d had a good thirty minutes or so to study the video footage we’d shot. Except Big Yellow wasn’t there and for that matter, neither was The Kahuna. Had the pesky rent-a-cop made him move his vehicle again? Rat’ and I started walking around the terminal, then the hangar area- feeling a bit peeved by this point as the euphoria was wearing off, only to be replaced with irritation. Where the hell was he? Ratso was listing all the violent things he was going to do to “that old mummy”, if this was some kind of joke, when I decided to walk on over and ask the main gate guard if he’d seen an old Gringo in a bright yellow Toyotona roll out of here in the last thirty minutes or so. How could he miss a vehicle like that, right? Sure enough, the guard said he indeed had seen a vehicle leave matching that description, though it wasn’t a Gringo who’d been driving, according to the guard, but a Gringa with what appeared to be two other Gringas with her. He didn’t see any guy with them – young or old, but as Big Yellow’s windows are tinted, The Kahuna could have been sitting in the back. But why? What the f#ck was going on?! He wouldn’t just take off like that. Had he pulled a double cross? Standing there, freshly bathed – our grungy ruck’s slung over our shoulders – just a couple of hillbillies fresh off the turnip wagon, looking around the place like a couple of bo-bos’ ho’d never seen an airport parking lot before, my gut told me The Kahuna was no rat. Something or someone had happened to him. Ratso was quick to concur. I don’t mean to sound callous… I mean The Kahuna is like a cherished demented uncle to me, but money is money and not only was our beloved teammate missing, but Pete the Yank’s friggin’ camera to boot. The camera with our financial future digitally trapped inside.

“Somethin’ ain’t right, Cat.” Ratso said almost mumbling.

“I know, Slick. The Kahuna’s in trouble, man. We’ve got to go find him and get the camera back.”

“So, ya gotta plan?” Ratso didn’t look tired now. He looked pissed off. Pissed off that anybody would be stupid enough to mess with our old compa’ (or our money) and think they could get away with it.

“Yeah”, I said. “But we’re gonna have to go visit the most powerful intelligence agency in Costa Rica first.”

Rat’ didn’t say anything for a moment as his brain tried to compute the word “intelligence” in the same sentence as “Costa Rica”. Finally he replied quizzically: “The Mossad?”

“Nope. La Fuerza Roja, papito: Costa Rica’s red taxi cab union! Those guys are everywhere – coast to coast – border to border, around the clock, every day, dude, rain or shine. Every one of them has a radio and a cel’ phone, and every one of them will do ANYTHING for a buck (God bless ’em), but we’ve got to move fast. If this is all about the video, his life could be in grave danger.”

“So we put the word out, offer a bounty to any cab driver who can locate Big Yellow and then go from there? That’s not a bad plan, Cat. Not bad at all, son. Congrat’s.”

“Hey, what can I say?” I replied, feeling a bit cocky after Rat’s obvious compliment of my tactical prowess, adding: “You know my mom used to say I was ‘special’, but until now I’d always thought she meant retarded…” I let all that sink in for a moment as we headed to the bus stop. Then I suddenly remembered I was broke.

“Hey, Rat…” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Ya got any money on you?”

DID THE KAHUNA TURN RAT AND DOUBLE-CROSS OUR HEROES? WOULD THE DROPKICK MURPHYS PLAY AT NICKY’S BIRTHDAY PARTY? WOULD MUSE EVER AGREE TO OPEN FOR THEM? FOR THE ANSWER TO THESE AND OTHER PRESSING QUESTIONS CATCH THE EXCITING, SURPRISE CONCLUSION TO the curse of calero, or how my mid-life crisis got its ass kicked, by nick dangier, in next week’s edition of The Costa Rica Post. Don’t miss it!

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