Or how my mid-life crisis got its ass kicked


By Nick Dangier



We few. We happy few. We band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” —- William Shakespeare

Bro’s before ho’s.” —- Ice Cube

As it is nearly impossible to catch a taxi in this part of Pavas, we opted to hump it on foot up the hill to the nearest Metro bus stop. On our way we got lucky and caught a pirate cab that took us all the way to Plaza Viquez where the headquarters of the U.T.C. is located. U.T.C. meaning the Union de Taxistas Costarricences , one of Costa Rica’s biggest – if not oldest – taxi cab unions.

Once there we basically told them that our senile uncle had gone missing and that we didn’t want to alert the authorities because of our uncle’s extreme fear of police officers. God bless Costa Rica’s under-paid, under trained police force, but the truth is you’d be better off hiring an alcoholic rodeo clown with Parkinson’s disease to circumcise your first male born – on Pecos Bill’s birthday – than call the cops in this country for any emergency. “…especially when he hasn’t taken his meds’.” Ratso added, though it wasn’t necessary. We pretty much had them when Rat’ whipped out his billfold. They were friendly to us and seemed sympathetic, but when “we” (meaning Ratso) added that we were willing to pay a bounty of $500 to the cabbie who can give us the location of The Kahuna’s yellow beast plus another $250 to the dispatcher whose cab finds the vehicle, they became much more motivated. We sealed the deal with yet another $250 “donation” to the Union’s Benevolent Beer Fund, up front, and watched the wheels start to turn. Like my ole buddy Eddy Dogs likes to say: “Show me a person who can’t be motivated by money, and I’ll show you a person who can’t be motivated by anything.”

Now that our alliance with the daunting “Fuerza Roja” had been established and a nationwide man hunt for The Kahuna was underway, there wasn’t much more for us to do but wait for the phone call or text which would, hopefully, lead us to our missing team mate. We also badly needed rest and a hot meal. So we headed to my buddy Chino who has a bar in Alajuela. It doesn’t get more centralized than Alajuela plus there’d be “troops” at the bar this time of day and we may need back up. I also put a call through to the ranch, but upon hearing my voice Queenie abruptly hung up. It beats being berated in rapid-fire criollo Spanish until your ears sting. I’d have to make sure to pick her up something nice at Walmart; you know, while I’m in the big city, so we can celebrate a belated Saint Valentine’s Day. Together. In style.

Once we got to Chino’s gin joint I immediately formed up Task Force Kahuna and put them to work. Crazy Tommy and his cousin Anthony, who was down visiting from New York, would stand by manning the phones. I also gave them the unenviable task of contacting all the regional hospitals as well as the morgue in Heredia. Just in case. Every single call, of the dozens we’d already tried, The Kahuna’s cel’ went straight to his voice mail account, until even his voice box became saturated and the damn phone didn’t even ring after that. We’d given the taxi dudes Ratso’s cel’ number as well as Chino’s land line number at the bar, so it wasn’t exactly hard duty for the boys from Brooklyn. The Kid – Gigi – who was trying to earn his “stripes” there at the bar, I tasked with finding us a vehicle big enough for all of us, including Crazy Tommy’s 300 pound ass, a tow rig and two empty five gallon Gerry cans – “price is no object!” – I added, “Just see the Pay Master (Ratso).” All the while Chino was working on hooking us up with a little firepower.

We hadn’t been packing heat when we did our op’. We had opted against it. Getting busted without firearms it would have been difficult for the authorities, Nicaraguan or Costa Rican, to establish we were anything more than a couple nature photographers who’d accidentally strayed across the border. Both Rat’ and I have enough combined firepower to run the pasta eaters out of the North End of Boston, but that would mean losing several hours in side-tracking to either Ratso’s paradise by the sea or my ranch east of Orotina. Why were we concerned about being armed when so far there was zero evidence of foul play, other than the slim possibility that The Kahuna had double-crossed us? I’ll put it like this: BETTER TO HAVE IT AND NOT NEED IT, THAN TO NEED IT AND NOT HAVE IT. After all, in case you haven’t been paying attention, we’re not living in the corn fields of Iowa here.

WRITER’S NOTE: The Publisher wishes to convey in no uncertain terms that he DOES NOT condone the use of violence in settling any dispute, under any circumstances, however I, the author, do. Now that we have that cleared up…

This was different. If someone had simply carjacked The K’, which happens every eleven minutes in Costa Rica, then where was The Kahuna? Even in Costa Rica victims of carjackings are rarely – if ever – abducted or killed in the process. And since when is it chicks – let alone Gringas – who are jacking cars in Costa Rica or anywhere else for that matter? My gut told me this had everything to do with what we’d witnessed on Calero. We couldn’t be sure exactly who we were up against. If we did have to go to war better to be prepared for the worst. Or in the words of Nicolas F. Dangier’s Personal Motto #17: There is absolutely no problem that cannot be solved through the element of surprise, violence of action and overwhelming firepower.

Rat’ and I finally headed off to catch some sleep. Crazy Tommy was gracious enough to let us crash up in his two bedroom apartment which sits atop the bar on the second floor. Because Tommy’s cousin Anthony was down visiting it only left us with the living room sofa – which was a huge plush thing – and the little wooden love seat. I took the sofa. Hey, don’t blame me. Blame it on superior breeding. Rat’s got shorter legs than I do.

The call came at a little past midnight. A cabby based out of Puerto Jimenez said, via text, that he had spotted the vehicle we were looking for in an isolated rural community a couple kilometers east of Drake, a tiny, remote fishing village on the western shore of the wild and woolly Osa Peninsula. He included several photos of the yellow Toyotona from several different angles. This dude really wanted that bounty. It sure looked like The Kahuna’s big yellow beast. Though there was no sign of the sailboard and the monster mudder tires and buffed aluminum wheels had been switched out for factory wheels and tires. What cinched it for us was the “Chicks dig me because I surf” sticker in the back window. Upon verifying the GPS coordinates, Ratso made the money transfers to the guy’s account at Banco Nacional, as well as the cut going to his dispatcher in Puerto Jimenez.

The bar was really humming when Ratso and I came stumbling down the stairs from Crazy Tommy’s apartment. We headed directly to the kitchen where there is always a big ole pot of coffee brewing. I don’t know about Ratso, but my batteries felt at least 85% charged. Chino’s cook – Chica – nearly passed out when she saw Ratso’s shrowpt forehead. Crazy Tommy, who was standing behind Chica dabbing a piece of bread into Chica’s pasta gravy, without her seeing, chimed in with the sort of sarcastic wit folks from the great Borough of Brooklyn are known for and said, addressing Rat’: “Hey, ‘Alabama’… (he knows damn well Ratso is from Mississippi) … all you need is a couple neck bolts and a f#ckin’ hair piece and yous’ could be the world’s shortest Frankenstein with the f#ckin’ scar yous’ gonna f#ckin’ have.”

“Is that right, gay Donny Brasco?” Rat’ replied. The two of them had this north versus south thing going on. It was hard at times to tell the difference from when they were serious and when they were just messing around. It was turning out to be 1997 all over again, just with thicker waist lines and thinner hair lines. Meanwhile I kept my eye on the seven-inch meat clever sitting between them on the cramped kitchen’s island cutting board. “Allow me to explain something to you”, Ratso continued, “You see, CT, in about six weeks this scar here…” He pointed at his nasty purple wound with the half way consumed carrot stick he was nibbling on. “…it will be healed, but you’ll still be stupid.”

“Alright, alright! Enough of that bullshit.” I scolded them both. “We’ve got work to do.”

All five of us- the direct action element of Task Force Kahuna- gathered in Chino’s little office, while Ratso and I hovered over Chino’s old desk top computer studying Google Earth shots of the target area. From the cabby’s GPS coordinates we found the spot where the photos of Big Yellow had been taken only hours before. We printed out an assortment of different sat’ and land level pictures, both high altitude – to better study the general area, as well as more close up photos of the structures surrounding where Big Yellow was parked in the cabby’s photographs. They seemed to match up. We printed out the images, bundled them up for closer study on the way and then the five of us went charging out the door of Chino’s tavern like a bunch of volunteer firemen after being ejected from yet another Hooters.

Gigi, the kid, had managed to score us transport in the form of a full length 2003 model Blue Bird school bus. The original paint-job, yellow with black lettering which read: SAN ANTONIO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, had not been changed since the day the state of Texas donated the vehicle to Costa Rica. Gigi’s mom drives for the Ministerio de Educacion. Gigi had told his mother that he was taking a bunch of “gringos viejos” on a little day excursion to Jaco Beach. So basically we’d be hunting one big yellow whale in another even bigger yellow whale. The Kahuna’s going to love the irony when we find him, I thought to myself with an optimistic smile.

“Mister Nick, my mom say we have to have the bus back by Sunday afternoon- she need it for work Monday morning.” Said the kid in a somber tone. His mom is known in the neighborhood as a person you just don’t mess with.

“You got it, kid.” I replied. I started to walk over to where Chino was waiting on me to do our little business when Gigi respectfully took my arm. He had more to relay from his mom.

“She say we have to give her fifty bucks and if anything – and she mean ANYTHING – happen to her bus I no can come home no more…” I nodded and once again turned to do bizz with Chino, when he grabbed my arm again. “Mi mama, she want her monies up front- plus the $100 I already put in fuel tank.”

“Yo, Ratso!” I shouted to Rat’. Upon getting Ratso’s attention I pointed at the kid and walked away. Let Mister Money Bags deal with it…

We’d gotten a solid fix on the location of The Kahuna’s truck, at least, and our transport problem had been solved. Now it was a matter of our arsenal. Chino led me into the bar’s back room, while the rest of the posse prepped their personal gear. Through stacks of beer cases, both full ones and those full of sour smelling empty bottles, we reached the back wall where there was a row of three stand-up refrigerators standing side by side. Only the one in the middle had a solid door. The other two coolers flanking it had clear glass doors. Though the glass was fogged it was clear there were beverages as well as other staples you might find in a restaurant or bar’s storage room inside. Also by closer inspection I could see that the center cooler’s electrical cord was not plugged in. Chino stepped to the center cooler and motioned with a nod of his head for me to lend him a hand. Together we dragged the big domestic style refrigerator out from between the two coolers beside it and then he spun it around so that the rear of the cooler was now facing us. He pulled a hex head screw driver from his back pocket and went about unscrewing the bolts holding the rear panel in place. In no time at all, he had the rear panel off exposing a sheet of quarter-inch thick insulation. Carefully he set the dusty and tattered insulation off to one side, then he stepped back so I could take a look.

Inside the cooler was a rack of various caliber long guns plus a couple of well worn pistols. Both revolvers, which is good; they don’t eject shell casings, better known to law enforcement as: “evidence”. Among the rifles and shotguns only one looked like it might fire without blowing-up in your face. The others looked like they’d been made before any of us were born. The only long gun I was willing to trust was the 12 gauge Mossberg pump-action shotgun.

“Alright, boss, we’ll take the Mossberg and the snub nose .38 Colt. You got ammo to go with them?” I inquired.

Chino smiled his big, toothy, tobacco stained grin. It said: “Por supuesto, papa.” I stuffed the boxes of ammunition into the pockets of my cargo pants and told him to see Rat’ for payment.

The one thing the shotgun did not come with was a sling. I searched around the storage room until I found a length of sturdy rope which I used to fashion a sling for the Mossberg. We weren’t going duck hunting. We’d need the ability to go hands free while carrying the weapon and setting your weapon down on the ground ranks right up there with taking your boots off in the field when in a combat zone. To say that it is frowned upon would be the understatement of the century.

Finally it was time to saddle up and get this little field trip started. Before we pulled out of Chino’s parking lot I addressed the crew: “Okay, people, let’s listen up…” I clapped my hands together several times. “PEOPLE! YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! Anybody who needs to tinkle should go now…” They all looked at me like I was nuts. Anthony was the only one who seemed to get the joke. After all, I was on a school bus with a bunch of over-aged children and about to embark on what would undoubtedly prove to be educational.

I stayed up front with Gigi who, by orders of his mom, would be our driver on this caper. I was the only one out of all of us who’d ever been to the Osa Peninsula, though that had been years ago when I was exploring potential surf breaks down that way. So I’d play the role of navigator on this escapade. Gigi had just inserted a compact disc into the dash mounted stereo and it began to play. Jeezuss, why do these kids like this reggae-ton bullshit so much? I looked at my comrades in back. They didn’t look like they were digging it either. Acting as if I were an aficionado of the genre myself, I eagerly ejected the disc, bringing it up close to my eyes to better examine it in the dim, artificial lighting of the dashboard. “Wow!” I said. “You’re into these guys too?” He nodded proudly, happy to be fitting in with the gang so smoothly and so soon. Clearly the kid was pleased to see we shared common musical interests. That’s when I winged the music disc out of my open window like it was the world’s smallest Frisbee.

MAE!!! Pero porque, mae?!” The kid could not believe what he’d just seen and was quite apoplectic, nearly t-boning a taxi cab at the Coyol intersection with Route 27.

“Relax, kiddo, it ain’t your fault…” I said while inserting my C-D of Deep Purple’s Live at the Budokan album into the stereo’s disc slot, then cranked-up the volume. “You haven’t had the benefit of a proper rock-n-roll education. Well… class is in session now, boyo!” Behind me a chorus of cheers and whistles erupted when it became clear we would not be having to endure Gigi’s cacophonous crap for the next ten hours. The kid may well have been mad at me for winging his C-D out my window, but the truth is I probably saved his life in doing so. Strike that. I definitely saved his life in doing so.

Our destination was some 400 kilometers from Chino’s place, heading south toward the Panama border. The road is pretty good down to about Palmar Sur, but from there it gets increasingly worse until you wonder if you’re even on a road any more. We would have a lot of great scenery to enjoy along the way though. Once the sun came up that is. We’d follow the Inter American Highway to the Route 243 intersection, where we’d turn right and west to Dominical. From there we’d follow the Pacific Coast Highway South, Route 34, which would eventually dump us into Palmar Sur. There we could pick up the critical supplies we still needed, but could not purchase in Alajuela due to the late hour when we departed.

By an hour into the trip everybody had settled in and were either sleeping or fiddling with their personal gizmos. Ratso was in the very back of the bus enjoying the entire, well cushioned, rear bench seat to himself. He hadn’t slept well on Crazy Tommy’s wood love seat. I could hear Rat’ snoring every time the song changed on the C-D player, even this far up front playing navigator for Gigi, who was still angry about his reggae-ton C-D and refused to engage me in conversation. So now, in addition to Queenie’s hit parade, I was on the kid’s shit list as well. Crazy Tommy was fast asleep and snoring like a drowning water buffalo himself. He was sitting upright, head tilted back bouncing up and down with the rhythmical bouncing of the squeaky bus suspension – the unlit stub of his cigar still clenched tightly in his teeth. Sitting in the bench seat across the aisle from CT, cousin Anthony was busy sharpening his huge Crocodile Dundee style “mule skinner” knife; every now and then very carefully testing the edge with the point of his finger. He’d also brought along his golf clubs. Yeah… I said golf clubs.

The two of them- Crazy Tommy and his cousin Anthony – don’t share much in the way of a family resemblance. At least not at first glance. Anthony is one third the width of his cousin and is all the biker: Tall and lanky with wild, long hair, a shaggy beard and Harley Davidson tattoos covering his entire body all the way up to his neck. According to Crazy Tommy, Anthony is an associate of the “Red and White” (aka Hell’s Angles) NYC chapter. Back home Anthony has his own custom bike shop and boasts of owning a personal collection of over a dozen custom motorcycles – all Harleys (of course) – except for one old classic Indian that is so classic he rarely ever rides it and absolutely never when it’s raining or snowing. You only have to know Anthony for a minute or two before he’s wanting to show you pictures of his “scoots”, like a proud poppa might show off his children. Anthony’s clothes look like they haven’t been washed since before Gigi, our sulking driver, had even been born.

In comparison, Crazy Tommy looks like the kind of goomba Martin Scorcese’s casting director would keep on speed dial. Being a native New Yorker – born and raised – and because he is one big ole paisano who totally looks the part, he’s had an opportunity to play as an extra in a slew of gangster pictures and TV shows set in the New York area. In fact if you have ever followed the Sopranos series or saw Goodfellas you’ve seen him. He had an awesome thirty-seven second speaking part in the hit movie A Bronx Tale. It’s the scene where they’re all down in a cramped basement shooting dice. It was a hilarious line he’d been given to say to Chazz Palminteri’s character. Sadly it ended up on the editing room floor.

Crazy Tommy prefers four door Caddy’s to two wheeled iron horses. He bathes at least three times a day, wears cologne by the gallon and absolutely hates getting his manicured finger nails dirty. Anthony wears a huge brass hoop earring. Crazy Tommy wears a big ole gaudy gold pinky ring – on his left hand (a trait of wise guys). Crazy Tommy wears $400 Nat Nast silk bowling shirts and Armani knee-high see through black satin socks. His leather Gucci loafers cost more than the house Queenie grew up in. His massive dyed black 1957 Buick hood ornament of a Pompador hairdo necessitates two visits per week (at least) to the local barber. CT is more stoutly than his biker cousin. At just over 300 pounds, Crazy Tommy looks like if he were to fall down on high ground he might roll downhill and cause an avalanche. He is so fat, in fact, that his high school graduation picture is an aerial photograph. He’s so fat that when he goes camping the bears have to hide their food… I could go on forever, but I digress. At closer inspection they do both have that prominent shnoz common among natives of the Mezzo Giorno. In addition to the excessive nose and ear hair, as well as the wide Neanderthal forehead and bushy uni-brow… I think I’ll wrap up my critique of Crazy Tommy and his wonderful family here. I do have a tendency to ramble. I fear if I go any further, your humble writer will end up with a hole in his head in the trunk of an abandoned car by the entrance to the Zurqui tunnel. Seriously.

Above: Crazy Tommy in his “college” yearbook photo, forty-five years and 65,700 cannoli ago. Below: Cousin Anthony is quite the entrepreneur back in Brooklyn.

We made the sleepy little hamlet of Palmar Sur by 0630. Though well over half way to our objective, distance wise, time wise we were still short half way by at least one hour. And that’s if we didn’t get lost between here and there. We still had a ways to go before reaching Rincon and from there on the road would more closely resemble the surface of the Moon. Maybe worse. They don’t have herds of cattle wandering around blocking roads on the Moon.

We needed to hit the supermarket, pharmacy and hardware store, and none of them were yet open. We did find a little breakfast joint that opens its doors at 5am sharp, for the farmer types and insomniacs. So we parked the bus out front and went inside for a little grub. I told Gigi to go top off the bus’s fuel tank and fill the Gerry cans. I then handed him 50,000 colones (roughly $85 USD) and I assured him – in an extremely cheerful manner – that I’d order him up a big plate of pinto con natilla along with scrambled eggs, toast and coffee, which would all be ready for him when he got back. “I no like escrambled, you make them fried, sunny side up… and don’ breaka the f#cking yolk.” He said belligerently as he stomped off to complete his newest task. Well, at least he’s talking to me. Now if I can only smooth things over with my Queenie that easily…

My breakfast of fresh fruit with yogurt, criollo omelet, garlic toast with two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice and a nice cup of coffee, which – like my women I prefer steaming hot – was simply exquisite in that home spun country kind of way. Crazy Tommy, of course, had a different opinion. “Che puzz”, he mumbled at his plate before wolfing it down anyway. Anthony was busy looking over an edition of the local newspaper he’d found discarded by an earlier customer, over on the back table, even though he doesn’t read, write or speak Spanish. He’d ordered a cup’a Joe and was singing praises for the quality of the local coffee crop, while telling himself he understood what he was reading. Ratso? Rat’ hadn’t ordered anything. He was busy flirting with the cashier, who could not have been an hour older than 18, while the owners of the establishment – who I’m assuming were the girl’s parents by the menacing glances they were giving Rat’ – kept finding little tasks for the plump (only in the right way), perky farm town girl to do.

“Hey, Rat…” I called out to our hillbilly Romeo- just to get him away from the jail bait more than for any other reason. He was standing by the little bamboo cashier’s booth, leaning against the wall – hand on hip: The original Mister Cool.

“Yeah?” Rat’ said, without ever taking his crocodile smile or his eyes off the nubile young lady, who giggled uncontrollably at every word he uttered.

“Better make sure she’s not into boats.” I said. It was a classic drop mic’ moment. “You know ole ‘Guido’ is still out there, bud.”

“OOOOOOOOH!” Exploded out of Crazy Tommy’s mouth like somebody’d punched him in the solar plexus. Yeah, he’d heard about Rat’s rat of a girlfriend. Not that he heard it from me though. I do think CT takes great delight in the fact that Ratso’s girlfriend had been stolen by a paisano; even if he is a dentist.

And the kid? Gigi was contentedly eating his breakfast over at a table, just himself and his earphones, on which I’m pretty sure he wasn’t listening to Dick Dale’s greatest hits.

Once paid up we gathered outside for further instructions. Ratso and Gigi would hit the supermarket for provisions, while Crazy Tommy and Anthony would hit the hardware store for duct tape, plastic wire ties- the kind electricians use, the biggest pair of bolt cutters they had, a nine pound sledgehammer, a “hooligan bar” and about 10 sheets of poster board. While they were busy doing their tasks, I’d be at the pharmacy for a first aid kit, a big tube of Super Glue and a bottle of ether.

We only got lost once. It was an easy mistake; about six kilometers west of Rincon we came to a fork in the road and Ways didn’t help much. After following the wrong two-track road for a good ten minutes it suddenly dead ended into an abandoned gold mining camp. Back tracking didn’t cost us much time and soon we were on the correct course to where The Kahuna’s vehicle had last been spotted.

We pulled up nice and easy on our target, staying a good 500 yards from the compound we’d seen on the satellite photos. A good 250 yards ahead of us, heading west on the road which eventually ends in Drake, was a dirt driveway – maybe wide enough for one vehicle- shooting off to the left. It is a dead end farm lane that runs all the way to the northern edge of Lake Chocuaco and straight past the compound which was in the background of the photos the taxi driver had taken of Big Yellow. There were no other structures in sight, except for the junkyard fronting the compound, the narrow dead end driveway bisecting the compound from the junkyard.

The time was now 13:25 hours. There was no sign of Big Yellow. It was not where the cabby’s photos had shown it to be less than twelve hours before.

We truly could not have had a better vehicle for sneaking up on somebody. Who the hell would suspect anything out of the ordinary of an innocuous thing like a school bus? I had Gigi pull up to the narrow farm lane and back in just to the point that the bus wasn’t blocking the road running west to Drake. Not that it would have mattered much. We hadn’t seen a single other vehicle the whole way from Rincon to the target compound.

“Okay, kid”, I said, “you go pop open the hood and act like you’re working on the motor. If anybody comes around and asks any questions, you tell them you’re waiting on a group of tourists exploring the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve and that you’re tightening a loose fan belt or something like that – while you wait on your clients. Cool?” He nodded to the affirmative. “Oh yeah”, I added, “also- cover up the San Antonio stuff painted on the bus along with with the license plates, with the duct tape and poster board we picked up in Palmar Sur.”

The way we had positioned the bus it would be impossible for any potential bad guys to “squirt” by us and escape in a car or truck. The big school bus took up the whole width of the driveway- where it was parked and the driveway itself was flanked by rows of thick cana india live fencing on both sides. All around the compound and bordering the road and driveway for as far as the eye could see was an expansive sugarcane field – the cane now just about ready for harvest. The cane field ran all the way down to the lake’s shoreline and provided excellent concealment for Crazy Tommy, Anthony and myself while Gigi did his thing and Ratso went for a quick reconnoiter of the area.

Concealed within the cane field we went about loading the weapons, just in case we needed them. We couldn’t see Ratso or even the compound for that matter from where we sat. We could see the kid. Gigi had the hood up and was busy covering up anything that might identify the bus.

In just under twelve minutes Ratso completed his recon’. He suddenly and silently popped out of the tall sugarcane to our rear, breathing heavily and sweating like a race horse. He’d made a half mile loop around both the compound and the junkyard facing it. What caught my attention and lifted my spirits was seeing that wide, cocky grin on Rat’s face. Had he found The Kahuna? Had he found la puta camera?!

“I found Big Yella'”, he said trying to catch his breath, “she’s in the junkyard. Y’all caint see her from the road, there’s a ten-foot high wall running around the whole perimeter.”

“How’s she look? Will she run?” I asked eagerly, exposing my excitement at what I could only take as positive news. Ratso just shrugged his shoulders and said that the Toyotona looked intact. “And The Kahuna?” He shook his head and looked at the ground. For a long silent moment we all just stared at each other. None of us had seriously contemplated finding Big Yellow and not its owner.

“He could be in the little farmhouse that’s inside the compound…” Rat’ paused as he took a long swig of water from his camel back canteen, swallowing slowly before continuing. “…it’s the only structure there. They got a low fence within the perimeter security fencing of concertina wire and live fence posts that divides the yard – front and back. There’s a couple Rottweilers in back, but the fence gate is closed. I don’t think them dogs can gain access to the front yard, right now.” That was promising. “I’ve got a feeling he’s in that house, y’all.” I could tell Rat’ added that last part in an attempt to raise our spirits.

“Why so?” I asked. I’d always trusted Ratso’s instincts in the past. Well, most of the time anyhow. He explained that in the entire little farmhouse only one window – a rear window- facing the backyard where the two Rottweilers were currently penned in, was all boarded up and had an exterior steel security grate which was bolted from the outside over it. Not very secure if you’re worried about intruders. Perfect if you wanted to imprison someone. Now for the billion dollar question: “How many we facing? And what is their disposition?”

“I could only get a visual on one of them, but judging by the voices I’d heard coming from inside the house I’d say there are at least two more- one definite female- besides Tiny out front.” Ratso caught our quizzical expressions, so he explained: “Yeah, he’s a big boy… bigger even than Jumbo here.” Crazy Tommy blew Rat’ a kiss, then flicked it at him with his middle finger.

“Weapons?” Anthony interjected. I’d almost forgotten he was there. Ratso nodded to the affirmative.

“Yep.” Rat’ responded. “At least the big boy out front. He’s got a carbine. Looks like a Ruger Mini-14, though it could just as easily be one of those beastly .44 mag’s. He’s got it with him on the front porch.” I don’t know why Ratso felt the need to speculate on the caliber of the weapon as it didn’t really matter seeing as how none of us were wearing body armor anyway.

“Okay, Gunny, call the ball.” I said deferring to Ratso’s superior and certainly more recently practiced tactical skills.

“Right. Here’s what we gonna do, boys…” Ratso said as if he were calling a huddle in a high school football game and not planning what could easily end up with somebody getting clipped. Maybe even one of us.

Ratso’s plan was pretty simple. While he and I neutralized “Tiny”, who was guarding the entrance to the farmhouse, Crazy Tommy and Anthony would cut the lock off the junkyard gate and secure Big Yellow. Crazy Tommy had the snub nosed .38 caliber pistol and Anthony had the monster sized bolt cutters we’d picked up at the hardware store in Palmar Sur. I’d be the decoy while Ratso maneuvered on Tiny and took him out from behind. Then we’d essentially storm the house straight through the front door, with me as “breacher”, with Rat’ charging through the entrance once I’d cleared it for us. For that reason Ratso would carry the shotgun and I would be armed with the sledge hammer and hooligan bar.

While the boys from Brooklyn were moving to their designated positions and Ratso was making his wide loop through the sugarcane field to a spot he’d found in the compound’s southern perimeter fencing, with a hole just big enough for Rat’ to slip through, I crept through the tall cane to where Gigi was waiting with the bus.

“Okay, Gigi, it’s game on…” I said while gathering up the sledgehammer and hooligan bar off the bus. “Keep the engine running and be prepared to move fast when the time comes… okay?” As I was about to leave the bus I grabbed three items which would help me complete my part of the mission: Gigi’s mom’s wide brimmed straw gardening hat, complete with colorfully embroidered flowers around its crown, the Costa Rica road map laying on the dashboard and, as an afterthought, Anthony’s golf bag. I extracted half the clubs in the bag and tossed them onto the floor of the bus in a heap. I needed space for the hooligan bar and nine-pound sledge.

“Is Mister The Kahuna okay?” Gigi asked as I was scampering off the bus. He seemed nervous, but showed no sign of being scared sitting behind the wheel, engine running, both of his hands firmly gripping the steering wheel.

I stopped for the briefest of moments, looked him straight in the eye and said: “I sure hope so, kid.” Then I was off.

I waited to be sure CT and Anthony had crossed the narrow driveway undetected and were in position in the concealment of the scrub brush along the far wall of the junkyard, before I popped out of the cane field and began my move directly and openly toward the little farmhouse. It was roughly 250 yards from where Gigi had the bus idling to the farmhouse’s rusty wrought iron front gate. I walked casually, every now and then stopping to consult the road map I’d grabbed from the bus. Then I’d look around me like a lost tourist might do. With the dopey hat, Anthony’s golf bag slung over my shoulder, tiger striped camo’ shorts, flowery Hawaiian shirt and desert tan combat boots, I looked like a real character. Not dangerous. Just weird. It was the perfect disguise for putting my target at ease, if not amusing him, while giving Rat’ just enough time to maneuver up on the guy.

As I got closer I could make out at least two voices – both having thick Venezuelan accents – one being female. I still couldn’t see them as the only break in the thick live fencing was at the front gate.

When I got to within a yard or so from the gate Tiny suddenly came into view. No shit, he was a big fella. He was sitting on the porch apparently eating his lunch. As Rat’ had reported, he had a carbine leaning against the wall to his right. From the gate to the porch was no more than 15 yards. The gate, though closed, did not appear to have a lock . Mistake number one…

Tiny was six-foot or more and had to weigh 350 pounds easily. And not all that weight was blubber. The guy looked like he could bench press a motor home, though not in the body builder sort of way, but more the cornbread fed farm boy manual laborer kind of way. The other voice- the female voice- was out of sight in the house. There was music coming from inside the little wood shack that was the farmhouse. It’s what they call “Llanera”. Probably the most popular music genre in Venezuela. A Venezuelan car stealing ring in Costa Rica? Very strange…

“Ooo-pay!” I called out from behind the closed gate. I was busy trying to make myself look weak and stupid- very disarming – totally NOT the normal me. I jutted out my neck to make it look as scrawny as possible, eyes bugging out, sort of a sleazy version of Kermit the frog. In my head “Acualung” by Jethro Tull was laying down the soundtrack to my illusion. I got Tiny’s attention. He set his lunch aside, grumbled a bit, got up slowly and shuffled his way toward me in worn-out flip flops. My disguise must have done the trick. He didn’t bother picking up the rifle. Mistake number two…

“Why hello there…” I said in English. “I’m Representative Adam Schiff of California’s 28th Congressional District. I’m here for the naked pictures of Trump.” I extended my hand in greeting, but Tiny just stared at me; his tiny brain struggling to make sense of what was happening. He didn’t accept my hand. It didn’t matter. Ratso was approaching him from behind in a low stance staying below Tiny’s peripheral vision. In a split second more Ratso jumped him, putting Tiny in a rear choke hold. As soon as Rat’ made his move, I made mine, crushing Tiny’s testicles with my left hand in a grab, twist, pull motion (USMC LINE training 101) while simultaneously shoving the giant back hard with my right hand, landing him atop poor Ratso who was choking the hell out of the guy with everything he had, but Tiny’s neck was so thick he wouldn’t pass out. I pulled the bottle of ether and a clean rag from the pocket of my cargo shorts and being careful not to inhale the fumes as Ratso held his breath as well, I waved the rag soaked in liquid ether below Tiny’s nose until he went nighty-night, which was practically instantaneous; his eyes fluttering for a brief moment before rolling back into his head. We taped his mouth shut, but we were unable to wire tie Tiny’s ankles and wrists because of the size of the guy, so we just duct taped the hell out of him- mummy style instead. We immediately checked him for “pocket litter”- that is to say anything he might have on him as far as identification or otherwise which might tell us more about who he (they) are. All he had on him though, was 25 colones (roughly 4 cents U.S.) in loose change and a pack of rolling papers. I kept the rolling papers… okay, yeah, I’m not going to lie, I kept the 25 colones too.

This son-of-a-bitch was heavy. Holy shit was he heavy. Rat’ and I nearly pulled a couple hernias dragging Tiny out of sight with him snoring like a drunk gorilla the whole time. Lucky for us the breeze, which was just barely a whisper, was coming out of the west. So the two big watch dogs penned up in back still hadn’t picked up our scent and were contentedly lounging in the shade of a towering avocado tree.

“Ready, Cat?” Rat’ said, his voice barely audible. I nodded to the affirmative. The front door of the farmhouse was wide open. As hot as it was it made total sense. So there would be no need to breach. Ratso moved quickly, but silently straight for the dark doorway. There was no longer any sound coming from inside the house. Ratso had the old Mossberg tight into his shoulder – finger on the trigger – as we stepped stealthily toward the eerily quiet building with me only an arms length behind. I moved backwards covering our “six” with the hooligan bar, wielding it like a baseball bat. As we stepped onto the front porch Ratso silently pointed to where Tiny’s carbine had been resting only minutes- if that- before. It was gone. Not good.

Once inside it took a moment for our eyes to adjust to the dim natural light provided by the open front door. On a small wooden table sitting in the center of the rustic kitchen were two plates of hardly touched food. So obviously there were at least two more people here other than Sleeping Beauty out front. With my left hand I felt one of the plates. It was warm. On the gas stove a big soup pot was boiling over. “They were just here.” I whispered to Ratso. He nodded back in acknowledgement, keeping his eyes and the shotgun trained on the sparsely furnished living room to our front and the nearly pitch black hallway beyond it.

We made our move toward a row of three doors running the length of a nearly black hallway roughly ten feet deep with a small open window at the end. As we got closer it became clear only one of the doors was locked and from the outside at that. We walked ever so slowly – heel to toe – so as to make no sound as we crept. We took special care to stay on the floor joists so as not to create any squeaking, which old wood floors tend to make when tread upon. First we cleared the room nearest to us as we made our way down the spooky hall. The door was ajar. Inside in the dimly lit room was an old foam mattress laying on the floor with some clothing scattered about. Although there was a double-hung style window in the room, it was covered by a makeshift curtain fashioned from an old dusty, dry-rotted beach towel. It reminded me of my kids’ rooms when they were teenagers. It was musty and smelled like feet. We skipped the center door which was wide open and clearly vacant of any human presence or even furniture for that matter. Now that we’d cleared the first two rooms, we moved straight to the last door which was secured by a hefty padlock from the outside. After a quick study of the door and its frame, I decided to ignore the lock and I gave the two hinges one good smack each – starting with the lower- using the sledgehammer. So much for stealth. The whole door, which wasn’t much more than a solid wood slab hung in an old termite ridden frame, went crashing to the floor inside. Ratso immediately passed by me- weapon at the ready- and entered the dark room.

I was standing there squinting into the dark, dusty void wishing I had night vision goggles, when Ratso retrieved his smart phone from his back pocket and flipped on his flashlight mode, bathing the tiny room in a cone shaped white beam of light. Jackpot! There on a narrow cot with a thin, well stained, sheet-less mattress lay The Kahuna. Ratso did not hesitate. Once we could confirm the human form we saw laying on the cot with its back to us was The Big K, and he appeared to be alive- however disheveled- Rat’ left the room and started searching for the camera, tossing over tables and cabinets as well as the meager well-worn furniture in the Spartan living room. In the end he did successfully locate The Kahuna’s car keys, his wallet (less any money) and, thank God, his passport. But no camera.

The Kahuna was wearing nothing but his white cotton skivvies. He looked up at me with a bright, childlike gaze. I checked his eyes with the light of Ratso’s phone. He was high as a kite on something. His pupils were the size of Hula Hoops. I could tell by his smile that he recognized me, though he said nothing. “We’ve come to take you home, brother.” I said as I gently helped him get to his feet. I hastily searched the tiny prison where he’d spent the last twenty-four hours, but I couldn’t find any of The Kahuna’s belongings – most importantly at that moment his shoes – so I tossed him over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry and headed for the door, picking up Rat’, who was still searching for any sign of Pete the Yank’s camera, on my way. As we were passing through the living room something caught my eye and made me stop short. On the mantle was what at first glance I took to be an old 33 rpm record album with Sonny and Cher on the cover. Closer inspection told me I was wrong. It was actually a framed photograph of a man and a woman who looked a great deal like the 1970’s singing icons, but the late model automobile in the background of the picture proved otherwise. Were they our two missing occupants? There simply wasn’t time to ponder such things.

Rat’ returned to point and covered our exit with the 12 gauge, sweeping the barrel right to left, left to right in a 60 degree arc as we came out onto the front yard. I can tell you that as an old guy The Kahuna is still 200 pounds of mostly muscle. Due to all those hours he still spends to this very day out in the surf line-up, no doubt. Along with the weight of Anthony’s golf bag full of demo tools, my knees felt like they were going to go POP! at any moment. But that wasn’t prominent in my mind. The thought that loomed in our heads, of course, was where were the others? Tiny’s carbine didn’t walk off by itself. Had they run off to get reinforcements? We had to get moving. Every minute more on the “X” worked against us. The element of surprise was long gone and now they had a good idea about our disposition and strength of numbers.

“Get The Kahuna on the bus, Cat…” Ratso said to me over his left shoulder just as something came charging at us from our 3 o’clock, or right of our position, that streaked straight for Ratso – pouncing onto his back. At first I thought it was one of the Rottweilers, but at a second glance I realized it wasn’t one of the guard dogs at all, but Cher from the photo in the living room! She’d caught Rat’ by surprise giving him no time to react with the shotgun. Now with her clamped onto his back and biting down hard onto the right side of Ratso’s neck, the weapon was essentially useless to him. For a split second time seemed to freeze as my brain struggled to digest what I was seeing. It was a voice shouting to me from behind and to my left that snapped me out of my mind freeze.

“MISTER NICK!” It was the f#cking kid, who I’d expressly told to stay with the damn bus. As I spun around to see what Gigi was yelling about and why he’d disobeyed f#cking orders, I had just enough time to hit the deck and cover The Kahuna, who’d gone down with me, as Cher’s partner Sonny Bono, straight shiny black sheepdog hairdo, big walrus mustache and all, popped up at our 9 o’clock wielding the missing carbine. The S.O.B. had me dead in his sights, at less than 10 yards when Gigi, swinging like the Babe (when he played for the Red Sox), caught Sonny Bonehead square in the face with what I believe was Anthony’s sand wedge if I’m not mistaken, before Sonny could squeeze off a round and send me to the Promise Land. I gave Gigi a snappy, heartfelt salute as I got myself and The Kahuna to our feet. We might just make a Costa Rica Ranger out of this kid after all…

Meanwhile Ratso was still spinning and bucking like a wild pony to get Cher off his back. Crazy Tommy, who for some reason had still not popped the lock on the junkyard gate – upon hearing all the commotion – came charging over to see what was happening. At first he tried to get hold of Cher’s legs which were splayed straight outward due to the centrifugal force created by Ratso’s wild, panicked spinning, but quickly gave up the effort after nearly being kicked in the face by one of psychotic Cher’s pink high top Nikes. He just stood there laughing instead. “Ride ’em, cowgirl!” Crazy Tommy was cheering Cher on. “Git ‘im, girl!”

“Get her off me, you fat bastard – SHE’S BITING MY NECK!!!” Rat’ screeched. Seeing Crazy Tommy laughing at his predicament must have triggered something in Ratso, because all of a sudden he seemed to realize what he needed to do. He flung himself backward and down on top of Cher. Rat’s 175 pounds – plus gear – came crashing down on the screaming and shrieking banshee from hell, forcing Psycho Cher to release her grip just long enough for our hero to free himself, jump to his feet, wheel around and deliver a solid barrel strike to the top of her head. It appeared as if the shotgun barrel strike to the noggin had not phased the Cher doppelganger at first. She actually got to her feet and looked as if she were about to say something, her long shiny black hair all tangled up like a bird’s nest, when her eyes suddenly went big and then crossed in a cartoonish fashion. As she did her knees buckled sending her falling face first into the very same fresh pile of Rottweiler poop that Rat’ and I had managed to avoid on our way in. Threat neutralized, Ratso quickly moved to secure her with the wire ties and duct tape; while taking special care not to touch the dog poop.

Sonny Bono didn’t look too good either. He wasn’t unconscious, yet, but didn’t put up any resistance to us securing him and taping his bloody mouth shut. His upper lip was split wide open where Gigi had nailed him with Anthony’s golf club and the front of Sonny’s shirt was splattered with his own blood and pieces of his own broken teeth. He wasn’t going to die from his wounds, but I believe it’s safe to say his carefree days of eating corn on the cob are over.

“Hey, Tommy, WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT, dude?! Why the hell isn’t that goll-dang gate opened yet?!” Gunny Ratso growled, while rubbing the huge purple hickey on his neck. Crazy T, somewhat insulted by Rat’s scolding – being a lifelong civilian and unaccustomed to anybody talking to him that way (and still living to tell the tale after) – explained that the bolt cutters had zero effect on the big, honking lock securing the junkyard gate keeping Big Yellow trapped inside. Anthony was standing atop a door-less 20-foot Conex container sitting just inside the gate to the left. Apparently it served as a storage shed for rusty truck rims and old, worn-out tires.

“I’ve got more bad news, fellas…” Anthony said from his perch atop the container. “…Big Yella’s drive train is gonzo.” Okay, so it’s thinking outside the box time. Again…

I handed The Kahuna, who was leaning against me babbling incoherently like a drunken sailor on his first night ashore, off to Crazy Tommy and then I made a run for the school bus, with Gigi in hot pursuit behind me. “Mister Nick! Mister Nick, WAIT!” The kid was hollering behind me, while trying to keep up. “My mama’s hat, Mister Nick… where her hat?! Mister Nick!” At least the kid had remembered to keep the bus running. As I was adjusting the driver’s seat to accommodate my longer legs, Gigi came scampering onto the bus and seemed surprised to see me behind the wheel.

“Kid, you’re about to learn two very important things…” I said as I slipped another of my Nicky’s Rockfest Collection C-D’s into the C-D player. “ONE: That The Cult is very probably the most under rated band in rock-n-roll history and TWO… and TWO… ” I was having trouble getting her into reverse- grinding the hell out of the gearbox- Gigi wincing the whole time. Finally I got it. He was glaring at me speechless- his mouth hanging wide open. I thought he was waiting to hear #TWO, so I continued just as I floored the accelerator sending the kid flying head first into the windshield. “…and number two: HOLD THE F#CK ON!” I must have had the bus doing 60 miles per hour, in reverse mind you, the transmission screaming, when Billy Duffy was at his guitar solo peak on the classic “Bad Fun”- off The Cult’s album- Electric, and that’s when I cut the wheel hard right sending the rear right corner of the bus slamming into the steel gate striking it dead center.

Billy Duffy, lead guitarist of The Cult: the most under rated band in Rock-n-Roll history…

As we made the sharp turn the whole right side of the bus came off the ground threatening to roll the vehicle. Gigi was absolutely freaking out. His normally suntanned face- ashen white. Making that hairpin turn what had kept us from rolling over was the front left fender of the bus catching on the farmhouse’s iron front gate, tearing off the whole fender like it was no more than a piece of stale pita bread. Between the roar of the bus’s small block V-8, the high pitched whine of the tranny, the sheering off of the left front fender and the ramming of the plate steel junkyard gate – not to mention The Cult jamming their asses off from the bus’s multiple speakers – we made one hell of a racket. The last sound was the two steel junkyard doors, the impenetrable padlock still in place, as they went crashing to the ground. We hit with such force that the damn gate, which must have weighed a couple-hundred pounds, actually flew back ten feet from its mooring between two heavy concrete columns, the lag bolts exploding out of the columns sending concrete shards flying outward like shrapnel. The whole gate very nearly landed on Anthony. The bus itself suffered four broken windows in back, besides losing the left front fender and the rear emergency door was now crumpled and jammed shut.

“No biggy, kiddo. We can fix ‘er up good as new.” I said with a fatherly wink in the rear view mirror at the reflection of Gigi who was now sitting in the bench seat behind me, in a catatonic state. He had that thousand-yard stare. Unblinking, as if he could see into a terrible and terrifying future. Even waving my hand in front of his face, he did not react in any discernible fashion.

Crazy Tommy got The Kahuna aboard the bus and sat him down beside Gigi. The Kahuna was trying to say something, to no one in particular, but only managed to squeak out a series of unintelligible sounds, like a guy trying to play a harmonica an hour after quaffing down a handful of Quaaludes. The two of them: Gigi in his catatonic state, jaw hanging open, The Kahuna wearing nothing, but his baggy boxer shorts and a moronic grin – mumbling incoherently while drooling all over himself, they looked like a couple of Costa Rican dignitaries accepting another environmental award at the U.N.

With The Kahuna safely aboard I climbed down from the bus and gave Anthony and Crazy T a hand moving the crashed gate out of the way. Then I helped them roll Big Yellow into place so we could hook her up to the tow rig. No longer weighed down by her drive train, she was easy to roll out. Ratso was atop the Conex container pulling security. Although Big Yellow was missing her drive train (engine, transmission and driveshaft) she did still have wheels and the tires were fully aired up. We could still drag her home behind Gigi’s mom’s somewhat wounded bus.

With me at the helm, we made our slow, plodding way east back toward Rincon. It was not by choice. Normally we’d of used an alternative route for our exfil’, but there simply wasn’t another option other than the way we came in. Certainly not any alternative routes that the beat-up school bus could traverse, towing Big Yellow behind us no less. We were now a good three kilometers east of Sonny, Cher and Tiny’s compound, but we all stayed frosty knowing full well the bad guys may still have something up their sleeves. Our speed could not have been greater than 20 or maybe 25 miles per hour. I had no way of knowing for sure as the speedometer had stopped working upon ramming the junkyard gate.

“CONTACT SIX O’CLOCK!” Ratso called out just as the first bullet went through the jammed and crumpled back door of the bus, where it then ricocheted off the vertical hand rail beside me at the top of the stairwell. It exited out of the glass window of the bus’s accordion style main door. Rat’ was in the back of the bus covering our rear with the carbine Sonny Bonehead had been gracious enough to donate to the cause. He had seen the muzzle flash out of the dusty plume behind us. Ratso did not hesitate to return fire, joined immediately by Anthony who now had the shotgun and Crazy Tommy who began blazing away with the .38 snub nosed pistol. Behind us an early model Land Rover had emerged out of the dust cloud we were creating. It was one of those old diesel convertible pick up versions. I could only see it clearly in my right side mirror every time they tried to flank us. The left side mirror was history after receiving a direct hit from the original volley of fire, that was now continuous.

“How many are they?!” I shouted over the horrendous calamity of gunfire – theirs and ours. Why do I always forget to bring ear plugs when I go on these little outings with the boys?

“A bunch!” Anthony shouted out. His voice didn’t have fear in it so much as excitement. He sounded downright giddy. “They’re shooting at us!” No shit. And I thought those were supersonic mosquitos whizzing over my head. Oh, life for Repo Man is intense indeed…

“Don’t let ’em pass us, Cat! If they can blow out our tires or put a round through the engine block, we’re screwed!” Ratso yelled.

“What?! You think this is my first car chase, Slick?!” I answered back, feeling somewhat insulted. I was zig-zagging all over the place. At one point our vehicles, the Land Rover and our school bus, collided on our left side as the bad guys tried to take advantage of a wide shoulder we encountered making our slow motion escape. They failed to flank us and Ratso managed to push them back even farther into the dust cloud using to great effectiveness the carbine. There is no better human being to have by your side in a gunfight than a pissed-off United States Marine with a bad attitude and a rifle in his hands. Or a couple wayoh’s from Brooklyn. The Canarsie Kids were throwing down hate like they were born for it. I have no idea whether or not Crazy Tommy or Anthony were actually hitting anything, but they sure as hell were creating one sweet ear shattering ruckus.

“Here they come again!” This time it was Crazy Tommy calling the play-by-play. For a moment there was another burst of sustained gunfire as once again they tried to pass us. This time on the right. Thank God they hadn’t tried flanking us on the left. On the left hand shoulder of the narrow road, I’d noticed at just that very moment, a young kid of maybe 8 or 9 years who was standing barefoot astraddle a beat-up hand me down bicycle. Evidently car chases and shoot-outs are the norm for the Osa on a Saturday afternoon. The little boy never even lifted his eyes from the screen of his Samsung Galaxy A80 as our rolling fire-fight passed him by.

“I’m Winchester – F#CK!” Rat’ proclaimed, simultaneously tossing the now empty little rifle to the floor. He immediately began searching for something – ANYTHING – he could find to throw at our assailants.

A moment later Crazy Tommy chimed in as well, declaring: “I’m out too!”

Anthony, God bless him, still had three rounds of buckshot left which he held in reserve to defend against the bandidos’ if/when they tried making another run on us. Of course he still had his big, badass knife of his if/when it got to that level. And the sand wedge.

We didn’t have long to wait. I could see them making their charge, this time on the left. By the lack of fire they were now receiving from us, the bad guys must have concluded that we were completely out of ammunition, which of course wasn’t far from the truth. Just ahead of us I could see a four way dirt intersection. There wasn’t any traffic light or stop sign that I could see. To the left, about a quarter mile down the side road, was the State Park entrance and tourist center. I gunned the engine getting our speed up to at least 40 miles per hour, The Kahuna’s stripped-down yellow beast bouncing around at the end of the tow rig like a two-and-a-half-ton marlin dancing and bucking from a skip lure, in an attempt to put more distance between us and our pursuers. As luck would have it, praise be to Allah, at that very moment coming toward the intersection on our left was an Imperial beer truck. At the time I couldn’t actually see the lumbering beer wagon. It was actually the plume of dust it was kicking up that was floating in the still air up above the tree line looming over us to our left that I could make out. It must have been coming from the park after a delivery. My timing could not have been more perfect. The large straight-job truck was sailing along at a pretty good clip when it just missed hitting Big Yellow and instead t-boned the British made jeep full of scumbags behind us, who were only seconds away from eating our lunch, rolling the Land Rover over and over several times in a broiling cloud of dust and flying road gravel as it ejected the clowns in back with the assault rifles as if they were nothing more than inanimate rag dolls. Gee, I sure do hope you boyos’ are insured… NOT!

“Uuh-RAH! Get some, you mother f#ckers!” Ratso cheered enthusiastically, while pumping his fist in the air.

Vai fan culo, mortaggia sua!!” Both Anthony and Crazy Tommy exclaimed in unison, whatever the hell that means, adding a series of vulgar Napolitano hand gestures which required no translation.

I didn’t used to be an Imperial fan, but I am now.

The Kahuna had slept peacefully through everything and Gig was still just staring off into the netherworld, his eyes glassy and unblinking. His mom was going to kill him. No doubt. Us too probably, but we’d saved The Kahuna, in swashbuckling fashion, as well as what was left of Big Yellow and I gotta tell you, loyal reader, I was feeling pretty damn good about it.

It was about ten past 7 pm when we rolled into the gas station in Palmar Sur. While I was dealing with the gas station attendant, Rat’, Crazy T, and Anthony clambered off the bus to stretch their legs and make a tally of the bullet holes Gigi’s mom’s bus and The Kahuna’s Toyotona had received during our running shootout with the car thief Comanches. After a thorough accounting it was concluded that we received a total of 23 hits (though two of the holes appear to have been caused by one bullet). Fifteen hits to Big Yellow and eight being absorbed by the school bus.

I took Crazy Tommy aside for a moment, out of earshot of Gigi and the other guys as the wheel measuring the amount of liters filled on the pump spun on.

“Hey, the kid really shined for us, man. We can’t let him down. You know what I mean?” Crazy Tommy nodded to the affirmative.

“Outstanding f#cking kid… stand up all the way.” Crazy T said as if he didn’t quite know where I was going with the conversation.

“Do me a solid, bro…” I reached into my pocket and pulled out two $20 bills and handed them to CT. “…go over there to that paint store and pick us up the following items…”

We didn’t follow the coastal route out. We stayed on the Inter American Highway heading north. It became increasingly chilly until downright cold as we climbed the spine of Costa Rica’s Cordillera Central.

In addition to the other items Crazy Tommy had purchased at the paint store was a pair of white painter’s coveralls for The Kahuna who had been practically naked before receiving his tight fitting duds. It appears Crazy Tommy has still not caught on to the fact that in Costa Rica what they call an adult man’s EXTRA LARGE is actually an American child size MEDIUM. As cold as it was climbing the mountains up to the Central Highlands and sweet home Alajuela, he’d have froze otherwise. There wasn’t a great deal of options available to us at the time in the great metropolis of Palmar Sur at 7 o’clock on a Saturday night.

The Kahuna was finally coming out of his stupor by the time we got on the General Canas Highway for our final leg home. It was now just shy of 11 pm. We’d all been eagerly and impatiently waiting for him to wake up so we could get a de-brief and find out the story of what had happened. How he’d let himself be taken by a bunch of immigrant carjack douche bags. And who were the mystery “gringas”?

“They weren’t car thieves, dudes.” The Kahuna said defensively, between huge bites of the sandwich Ratso had made for him. He was famished having not eaten anything in over thirty-six hours. “They’re Russians.”

“RUSSIANS?!” The three of us answered at once. Gigi was still silent. “What Russians?” For a moment I pondered the possibility that The Kahuna might still be a little goofy from the drugs they’d given him.

“No really. I’m not bullshitting you guys. What? You think those dirty KGB sons-of-bitches just faded away after the Soviets collapsed?” His tone implied that he did not like being mocked. Then he calmed down a bit, regained his composure and began explaining to us, in chronological order, what exactly had gone down.

It turns out that my Red Sonya, the wild looking Nordic chick and her two friends from back at the Del Rey bar, had not been Viking princesses at all, but rather Bolshevik vixens instead. Then it dawned on me.

“No shit… wow. They must have been the very same broads that showed up on Calero, with the Tico border guard! Right Rat’?”

“The Rooskies have always preferred using female agents for covert op’s. They’re more reliable than the men. Less alcoholic…” There was a brief pause before Ratso continued, as if his mind had suddenly drifted off to a different place, then he continued: “Women are simply better suited to gaining the confidence of a man, especially if they’re hot.” Ratso seemed relieved not to be the only swinging dick on the bus who’d been hoodwinked by a woman recently.

“Oh yeah? You telling me Sonny and Cher are Russians?” I said, not ready to buy the ‘Russian Collusion’ story. “And that goon on the porch with the afro, speaking Venezuelan Spanish and eating f#cking arepas – he’s Russian too?” The Kahuna looked at me for a moment as if it had been me who’d taken the happy pills, until I explained to him which “Sonny and Cher” I was referring to.

“No. They’re not Russians,” The Kahuna clarified, “they’re Venezuelan Intelligence – DGCM (Direccion General de Contraintelgencia Militar). ‘Sonny’ as you call him, is a Major and Ratso’s girlfriend Cher is a friggin’ Colonel.”

“And those A-holes that chased us? Who the hell are, I mean, were they?” Ratso inquired, while unconsciously rubbing the spot on his neck where Colonel Cher of Venezuela’s Secret Service had bit a chunk out of him.

“I’ve got no idea.” The Kahuna responded in a dismissive way before taking a long swig of his ginger ale.

“Maybe it was mistaken identity. You know, like there’s another gang of middle aged gringos out there. Riding around the Osa in a big yellow school bus, starting trouble with the locals. Wouldn’t that be ironic?!” Crazy Tommy said, interjecting a little levity into the situation, causing everybody – except the kid – to laugh out loud. I was surprised Tommy knew what ironic meant.

With his thirst and hunger quenched, for the moment, The Kahuna began to tell his tale. “After I returned to the Del Rey from dropping you guys off in Barra Colorado, I found the Amazons hanging out in the bar. After some friendly small talk I invited them up to my room to have a drink… you know, smoke a joint. They must of slipped a ‘Mickey’ into my rum and coke when I stepped into the bathroom to take a leak. Anyways all I can remember after that is waking up the next morning butt naked in the hallway passed out by the ice machine. When I couldn’t find anything missing from my room and I found out that they’d already checked out of the hotel, I just put it out of my mind. Hell, it ain’t like I was the first guy to pass out drunk, clueless and naked at the Del Rey.” We all nodded knowingly to that last part. “The next time I saw them, they were getting the drop on me at the airfield; a 9mm Makarov to my head, a hypodermic needle in my arm and that was all she wrote. I must of told them everything when they drugged me in my room.”

The Kahuna said that the three Russian GRU agents aka “Las Amazonas”- my Red Sonya and her two sexy pals – had taken the camera. They never actually interrogated him. At least not that he could remember. He could remember hearing them conversing in English, of all things, with the Venezuelans through the thin walls of his cell the day they’d grabbed him. He continued that the Venezuelans were instructed to “disappear” the gringo once his “usefulness had been drained.” The Kahuna took that to mean once they’d drained his bank accounts, obtained his mother’s maiden name and his U.S. Social Security number. Once they had those two things it would be bye-bye Kahuna. For good. Meanwhile his personal info would be sold on the black market to the highest bidder or maybe Sonny and Cher would settle down somewhere, raise a little family and live happily ever after off The Kahuna. Shortly there after Las Amazonas had taken off. The Kahuna never saw them again.

For the last twenty minutes of the ride home, everyone was with their own thoughts as the realization that we weren’t going to get rich off this caper and worst of all – that we’d been beaten by a bunch of third world beta nazis slowly sunk in. There wasn’t going to be any Dropkick Murphys playing my birthday party. Muse would not be opening for them.

In the rear view mirror I watched the guys as the billboard clogged scenery, illuminated under the highway street lamps, flashed by with a woosh sound one after another at a rhythmic pace. The adrenaline rush now gone I began to feel a little depressed. We were each in the whole (Rat’, K and me) by twenty-eight-hundred dollars each if you took into account Pete the Yank’s camera. $2,834.38 USD to be exact, but who’s counting?

The westbound toll booth gate was open at this hour so I just blew through, my mind flashing on all the events of the last few weeks. It had never been about money. Not really. It was about feeling ALIVE. It was about being back in the game. Then I was struck with an epiphany.

It was like being struck directly in the forehead by a lightning bolt. It had been right in front of me the whole time. I’d gone off thinking that it was what you do that defines who you are. What a fool I’ve been. The truth is that happiness and contentment with one’s self is not achieved through events or adventures. And it’s not about money. It’s achieved through relationships. It’s about those moments, after a hard days labor, of sharing a sunset with your wife and best friend of twenty-seven years without either of you feeling the need to utter a single word. It’s about watching your kids score that soccer goal, graduate college, walk down the aisle. And it’s about going on wild road trips with your beautifully degenerate, non-conformist and extremely violent buds.

We pulled into Chino’s parking lot at around 11:45 pm. The engine had been overheating the last four or five klicks of our journey home. Even after turning off the ignition the old motor continued to go:kah-blunk-kuh-klunk-a-dunk for a moment or two more.

Ratso and The Kahuna climbed off the bus and went straight into the bar, which was rocking. I took Gigi aside before he headed home to face his mom. Anthony and Crazy Tommy were standing-by over in the shadows by Chino’s trash dumpster, out of earshot, but watching intently.

“Look, kid, you gotta pull yourself together.” I said. Gigi still had the 1,000 yard stare. “Remember to stick to the story I told you. We parked the bus by the Beatle Bar in Jaco Beach and some young guys wearing Saprissa jerseys – totally suspicious looking hooligan types – probably from Tibas, were hanging around it when we all headed down to Croc’s for lunch. When we got back, a couple hours later, the bus was gone. Afterwards we grabbed an Uber home. Got it?” I had no idea if he’d really been listening to me or not, but he did give me a sort of nod before shuffling up the dark street like a guy who did not want to be where he was going.

Once Gigi was gone, I tossed the bus keys to Crazy Tommy and then he and Anthony mounted the bus. Before they pulled out, I walked around to the driver’s side window where Crazy T sat behind the wheel.

“You know what to do, right?” I said, fully confident that he did. Tommy just smiled like Beethoven might have smiled had someone asked the Maestro if he knew how to play the piano. Then they were off.




When I got to Chino’s that morning the steel security curtains were down, but the padlocks were off. Chino wouldn’t be opening for another hour. I lifted up the side door curtain and walked in. Chino was behind the bar doing his pre-open inventory. On the stereo “Piel Morena” by Thalia was playing; the volume down low, hardly audible over the clinking of beer bottles. At the other end of the bar Gigi and Crazy Tommy were laughing up a storm. The kid’s mood had come back to its normal bubbly self. It appeared that he was off the hook with his mom.

“Tell me somethin’, Gigi…” Crazy Tommy was saying to the kid in his trademark – dead on – perfect impersonation of the late, great Rodney Dangerfield: “…what’s the worst thing about oral sex?” Gigi just shrugged his shoulders. After all what could possibly be wrong about oral sex? Answer: “The view.”

I’d spent my morning at City Mall. The kids had called me earlier to tell me their mom (Queenie) was ready to give me a pardon, but with strings attached. Those strings included, but were not limited to a platter of almond fudge brownies from Spoon. I walked behind the bar and stashed the brownies in Chino’s cooler until I was ready to head home. My eldest was inbound with our truck to pick me up. Anthony, Ratso and The Kahuna had already headed back to Guanacaste in Crazy Tommy’s convertible Beemer. Anthony has only been to the beach once and that was Jaco, so he was eager to visit the spectacular bay where The Kahuna and Ratso call home. Maybe go down to Tigre’s for a little tuna fishing.

Ricky DiVino, our buddy with a body shop/mechanic shop in Atenas, had a tow truck sent to pick up Big Yellow and drag it back to his shop, just before they all split for the coast.

Once Gigi went charging out the door, all decked-out in his cleats and soccer garb, Crazy Tommy came sidling over to me and sat down. As he did, he dropped the day’s edition of El Diario Extra plus a receipt and some change on the bar top in front of me. I unfolded the paper and took a look at the front page. Pictured was a photo of a school bus. It’s tires were slashed and it was missing its front fender. Its left front fender. All over the vehicle was spray-painted vulgar graffiti mocking Alajuela’s professional soccer team known as “La Liga” and their club of supporters known as “THE 12th”. The emblem of Alajuela’s biggest rival: Saprissa, which is San Jose’s professional team and their fan club – “LA ULTRA”, were prominently displayed in spray-paint as well, as if the vandals wanted the whole world to know who’d done the deed. The vehicle had been discovered abandoned, parked half way up the steps of the Juan Santamaria statue in the middle of downtown Alajuela. In Spanish the newspaper’s headline read: SCHOOL BUS FOUND VANDALIZED. WAR BETWEEN RIVAL SOCCER CLUBS RE-IGNITES!

“‘Alajuela sucks!'” I said quizzically, quoting from the article while looking directly at Crazy Tommy. “The vandals spoke English?” Crazy Tommy shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“Maybe they was educated vandals.” Tommy replied matter of factly, while puffing on his cigar, sending billowing plumes of smoke rings floating up to the ceiling.

“Maybe.” I replied with a big grin of my own. For a moment nothing was said between us. I tossed the receipt for the spray-paint and The Kahuna’s coveralls that we’d purchased the night before in Palmar Sur, into the waste basket behind the bar and put the change in my pocket.

“Hey, CT…” I said.


“You ever do any roofin’ work?”

The CURSE of CALERO soundtrack is available on Dangier Records / 666, Suite 5-C, Barack Obama Boulevard, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran