How does he carry that around? No problem, he answers. I had nightmares for a couple of weeks, but they were about my cousin dying alone in the street. I don't have any remorse.
Cuz calls and the Gringo is already laughing by the time he picks up the phone. They make plans to meet at a steakhouse so he can introduce me. Before the Gringo hangs up, he asks, Do you have any wash? Meaning lavada, the double-washed strawberry cocaine of the narcos. Great, bring me some. Yeah, I got the money.
A few more hours, a few more beers, and it's time to meet the boss. At the steakhouse they get a table in the back and shoot the shit until he shows up—a big guy with a small forehead and a Fred Flintstone jaw darkened by a five-o'clock shadow. His girlfriend is a green-eyed beauty with major cleavage and skintight leatherette pants. After some teasing about Cuz's Polish soccer jersey—I just bought it to go with my shoes; I didn't even look at the logo—the Gringo asks if he brought the wash. Cuz hands over a little plastic bag filled with white powder, and the Gringo turns aside to take a quick snort off the tip of Rigo's ignition key. Nobody saw me, did they? Cuz says, Yes, they saw you. He thinks it's funny.
After lunch we walk out of the restaurant with beers in our hands. A waitress stops us, so we chug down in the doorway and head for the car. Another bump off the ignition key for everyone and we're off, following Cuz's black SUV—leaving the safety of a public place, putting our lives in his hands. Adrenaline mixes with the cocaine, and every nerve is thrumming with a heightened sense of being alive. There's the club where I shot off the gun, Rigo says. There's the doorway where my cousin got killed.
Cuz leads us to a house in a suburban neighborhood with a pool and a bunch of attractive people drinking, an oddly domestic scene with a little kid running around the pool and five narcos huddling across the yard. There's a mountain party tonight, and they're partying here until it starts. The narcos slip outside to smoke a little dope, slip into the bathroom to snort the lavada. Cuz wants everyone to stay cool so they can make it to the mountain party tonight.
Standing behind his boss, the Gringo shakes his head—Please, God, no. Cuz always wants to hang out in the narco tent, and you're stuck out there in the middle of nowhere with all those guns—no thanks. But he doesn't say this to his boss.
Cuz doesn't take anything too seriously. His family is so rich, he says, that his older brother, the chosen one, is one of the five biggest landowners in Mexico. When Cuz's father dies, he'll inherit a fortune. So he keeps his business low-key, running the pill market in Guadalajara and on the coast. As long as he sticks to pills and avoids the cocaine and meth other families control, he's all right.
And El Gringo Loco? Why him? Was it his white skin? His brains? His twisted sense of humor?
He's my little brother, Cuz says.
After a couple of hours the Gringo, brimming with relief, says good-bye. Bro-hugs all around, plus promises to stay relatively straight and rise at dawn for the second phase of the mountain party—Cuz is a hard guy to say no to.
Now the real party begins. We head downtown to the club district, and man, is it hopping. The streets are jammed with sexy young women tottering by in high heels and short, tight skirts. Rigo leads the way into an American-style bar, and the shaggy young bartender spots the Gringo, comes around the bar to greet him with open arms. Where the fuck have you been? He gives them free beers and shots and after a while takes the Gringo into the bathroom to do a little deal. The Gringo loves the action, it is clear, loves being the American all the Mexicans want to see. He says he's thinking of doing six months in the U.S. and six months down here. You should come down for spring break, Rigo says. Yeah, that's when the six months would start. There's a stubborn core deep in that skinny body of Rigo's that just doesn't give a shit about living. It's oddly endearing. He wants to get healthy and be good but deep down can't believe that he deserves it, so he protects and punishes himself with booze and drugs and lays his neck bare to the knife of existence—which is, when you think about it, pretty much how you'd want a man who has killed 15 people to feel.
Outside, the Gringo sighs. You see how he is.
Never mind. The night goes on. Another cerveza. Another snort. The true El Gringo Loco is coming out now, sliding free in the haze of intoxicants. On the great avenue of trees and fountains called Lopez Mateos there's a street party with a reggae band, and the crowd is like Times Square on New Year's Eve. One of Rigo's girls shows up—very pretty and sweet—and then it's on to a rock club called Barramericano, where a good band is playing the Strokes note for note, then on to his uncle's club with the pretty girl driving.
Here we are at one of the best clubs in Guadalajara. Do you want to go through the front door or the narco door? Rigo asks.
The narco door, of course. It's black steel with a little speakeasy barred window and opens wide for Rigo. Everyone's so happy to see him. Inside the club is huge and packed with beautiful women and sharp men and spinning lights and a sound system as fancy and expensive—Rigo says it cost a million bucks—as ones in the best clubs in New York.
Ah, Mexico. El Gringo Loco is in his element now, hitting on the prettiest women. With his massive shoulders and goofy animated face, he is the dancing bear, and you can't help but laugh when he shimmies into yet another gaggle of beautiful women. And now Rigo is hitting on a stunning little thing in a skintight micromini while his date waits at the table. Dude, you already got a hottie right there! He laughs. Yeah, but look at that ass. She's sitting on it!
This goes on till five in the morning. Then Rigo takes his hottie home and drops another X. Good times, he says.
Two days later El Gringo Loco flies back to Portland and his telemarketing cubicle. In the morning he writes this note:
For now, I will try the "normal" life and see how it fits. I will try to laugh at the guy who talks shit to me at the club, listen to my boss belittle me in front of my employees and remember this is not Mexico and I can't just call one of my friends to teach him his final lesson. The days of El Gringo Loco are done.…
Then, thinking again of Mexico, glorious tragic Mexico, where the women are beautiful and life is sweetened by the presence of death, he adds a final line:
But never say never.…
Names have been changed to protect the reporter.