Dangerous Angels


"There are heroes, and there are the rest of us.
There comes a time when you just let go the ghost of
the better person you might have been.

...From the novel, RESERVATION ROAD, by John Burnham Schwartz
Vintatge Movie Tie-In edition, September 2007


"They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town..."

...Bob Dylan, Desolation Row


"Bene est rex esse"
(LATIN Interpretation: It's good to be king.)


Who knows where I am?  Venezuela maybe. Or Ecuador. It's hard to tell. I'm supposed to be in Colombia, but I can't tell these third-world banana republics apart anymore. I've crossed so many borderlines in the dead of night by now, they all look the same to me. I can't even remember the last time I went through customs. I could be in Disneyland for all I know. The streets down here are all trash-choked ruts and the sky looks like a pink slash of lipstick smashed up against a flat black wall of rain. Even the moon's gone cold and dark, as if some color blind artist just cut off his muse's ear and then painted everything black to cover his tracks.

I have no idea what I'm doing here on this surreal movie set, all dressed up in my priest outfit like some wannabe gypsy Jesus playing God, acting like I give a damn about these itinerant vagabonds, Hollywood refugees, and burned out harlot starlets: Comforting the sick, feeding the hungry, searching for absolution. Seriously, who writes this shit? But then, a buck's a buck, and like they say, follow the money. I'm no different than them really. A bewildered stand-in with nowhere left to turn, no hope, no faith, just like them.  And if there's anybody more dangerous than somebody with nothing left to lose, I haven't met them yet.  But for some uneasy reason, I have a feeling I'm about to.

Sure enough, there she is, looking exactly like one of those 1940's silent screen stars who just stepped down from a train into a cloud of steam at the Gare du Nord in Paris, but up close, she looks more like a coked up, anorexic runway model after losing a no-holds-barred knife fight to a suicidal crack head on acid.  I've been told her name's Pearl, but from the looks of her, it should be Medusa, or Delilah, or maybe Lucy Borden. Her dress is a tattered, blood-stained mess.  I've seen cadavers with more life in them, but good God she's a savage sight to see, panhandling for smokes, two fuzzy, bronze Goddess curls of flame-streaked, smoke choked, Palomino hair twirling around her face, sticking together like the cross hairs of a gun.  I can't even look at her she's so pretty. It's obvious why the other actresses hate her. You'd have to tie a pork chop around her neck to get those dogs to play with her, that's how gorgeous she is.

Her black silk designer dress fits her like a Trojan Extra Slim, not that I'd know. When she sees me staring at her like the letch I am, her blood shot orphan eyes burn hot as caramelized cocaine, glowing gold, hissing like two fiery chunks of smoldering charcoal, drowning in a treacherous river of tears.  Lion's eyes.  Killer on the run eyes. Dangerous angel's eyes.   You'd have to be blind not to see the ferocious beauty trapped behind the crack where all that pain gets in. Small as a thought or a slip of the tongue.  And she knows I can see it.

"Welcome to hell," she says, with not even a hint of irony, "You want to dance?"

She's playing the part so well, I can't tell if she's acting or not. Dance? I'm thinking, we're standing across the food table from each other in the middle of a B-movie Hollywood set on the banks of the Magdalena River in an abandoned hacienda somewhere on the border between nowhere and somewhere else I'd rather not be, and she wants to dance?  The blood dripping down her face is invisible, but I can see it plain as the blood of Christ, gurgling out of scars so deep they'll never heal, and all she wants to do is dance?  Priest or no priest, it doesn't seem to matter to her who she dances with, so I wrap her up in my arms and we start dancing to the music of a flea market accordion that drifts in through a bullet hole in the canvas covered window in the food tent. Then I lead her off across the garbage strewn lot to a fake room in a fake hotel where nothing is real and nothing matters, and we do perverted things to each other that nobody sane does to anybody. At least not by consent.

Why should I care if she's a borderline psycho?  I'm a man.  A man with desperate needs who loves women.  Flawed women.  Broken women.  Beautiful, angry women with crosses they can't bear to carry.  Wounded women who wear the wrong clothes, say the wrong things, and live in the wrong century.  Sad women, lost women, women scorned, hearts blown to pieces and burned, women who don't belong here.  Who don't belong anywhere.  

What either one of us is doing here, hiding out from the black-hearted ghosts and ghouls that lurk in our closets, dancing in the dark to creepy-assed Basque music is anybody's guess.  I'll dance to anything; I don't care.  Circus music. Merry-go-round music.  Any kind of music. Among the flickering Chinese lanterns we dance with the living and we dance with the dead.  It doesn't matter.  We've got nothing better to do and nowhere else to go.  We're not normal people, Pearl and I, and if other people had any sense, they'd leave us both alone.

Unfortunately, some of those other people can't resist screwing with people like us. They wag their twisted tongues and lie through their perfect porcelain veneers, trying to suck us down into the puke green whirlpools that gurgle inside their throats like toxic waste dump ponds only a demented zombie would get caught dead swimming in. They come in all shapes and sizes, our tormentors.  Drug smugglers, escaped convicts, poachers, paranoid cocoa farmers, narco-communist guerillas, glue snorting kidnappers, corporate crooks and cons, all looking to sell us to the highest bidder. Drifters, grifters, pedophile missionaries, muggers, buggers, and petty thieves, my cheating ex-wife, her gold digging lesbian lover and their mercenary army of legal beagles; they all prey on us like bottom feeding sharks, bobbing for bodies in water so deep they can't even see the roots that wrap their snaky tentacles around the watery graves of love struck mermaids and sea sick sailors, none of whom will be going home any time soon. And neither will Pearl.  It's easy to see that the beautiful boats she left smoldering in the harbor have sunk beneath the ashes of all those bridges she'd burned years ago, and that there's no turning back for her now.

Last night I stumbled across a shattered, porcelain tea cup and a collection of headless dolls lined up in a crooked row in the ghostly dust on top of an old steamer trunk Pearl's got hidden beneath the bed and thinks I don't know about. They stand at attention like wounded sentinels, souvenirs of a life nobody really lives in anymore. It's as if she'd died. Or maybe moved to Iceland. Oh, her body's still there, crushed up against the wall on her side of the bed, but there's not a whole lot of life left in it. Just a whisper of the girl she could have been, crying on the shoulder of a dead end road, rusting in the rain, wishing she were someone else, the treachery of unfounded doubt and suspicion still welded to her pasty but sweet white flesh. It's three in the morning and she's plastered up against a wall of pillows, thrashing around in her sleep like some smack happy, acid popping Ahab, firing harpoons at imaginary whales, and ignoring the blood thirsty school of sharks that keep slapping their leathery fins against the bottom of her rapidly sinking ship. I can feel the bed shake, and even in the shadowy moonlight, I can see her tears running for their lives, crazy as reckless rivers, spilling over the mascara stained lines that defiance seems to have carved beneath her sad amber eyes.

Suddenly she comes up for air and shakes her fist at the wind, whispering to me in a tiny voice I can barely hear, "You can't save me now, go save yourself!" And then she dives back head first into the churning water, wagging her mermaid tail at me as she slips beneath the gleaming foam, lost to her own true self, her beautiful, battered body straining against the tide, her face glowing gold in the savage moonlight. At peace at last, swimming home alone.

Through a jagged slit of cold morning moonlight I can actually see the blood sucking vampires standing in the black shadows, staring at Pearl and me, drooling over the marrow in our cracked white bones. With fake names and fake faces, they do their little soft shoe shuffles and shimmy against the peeling wallpaper, licking their greasy chops as they count my money, hustling to divide up the spoils before my soon-to-be corpse turns cold. 

All morning, Pearl's been stumbling around like a sleep walking, Mississippi cracker with a squirrel gun crammed up her butt for no apparent reason. I figure the last time she wore high heels must have been in junior high school.

"Just practicing," she says. She's already fallen down twice, but you gotta give it to her; every time she hits the dirt, she pops right back up like one of those pop-goes-the weasel, Jack-in-the-Boxes. The girl's got an iron set of balls, I'll give her that.

At first, I thought Pearl's eyes were luminescent emeralds, but up close I can see they're really two, jade streaked tawny jewels floating in a bottomless sea of smoldering ash and smoke.  She doesn't look shit like her photograph. She could be anybody. When she's not looking, I sneak a peek at all the demonic trash she's got hidden in the back of her mind, desperate as a little poor boy hoping to find a Southern Flyer wrapped in pretty paper beneath a Christmas tree, but when I strip away the ribbons and shake the crap out of the pretty little box, there's nothing in there. Truth is illusive like that. You catch what you can and settle for what you get. I don't know what I'm missing and don't care. But I'm curious, and can't stop looking, just like she knows I will. When she catches me with my sticky fingers stuck in her preverbal cookie jar, she gives me that look and pouts: "Why don't you stop pussy footing around and just say what's on your mind?"

I think about it but don't take her up on it. If only she knew. As far as I can see, she's already as damaged as a cracked plastic prize in a box of Cracker Jacks; it won't be me who breaks her. I don't know what shorted her brain out like it did and I don't care.  It's not my job to know. That's not why I'm here. Besides, like I said, I go for women like her.  It's okay by me if her body goes cold as a stiff on a slab with a tag on its toe and she tears at her hair and crawls around inside her crazy quilt colored clothes, looking for a spike, like the clueless junkie she is, every time she catches me drooling at her like I'm a half starved pussycat, laying by a restless river, waiting for a fat little fish to come floating by, looking for a snack. It's what I do, and I have a disquieting feeling she knows.

It seems to me, in the short time I've know her, she may well be as cocky as the kiddy porn star she says she was when she used to bone cocaine cowboys in Panama City for a dime bag when she was no more than a girl, only to end up a washed up prima donna, working these remote third world locations where top tier actresses wouldn't get caught dead, lighting fags for the burned out, back lot hookers who are too hammered to know that's what they really are. At least that's what she tells me she was, as if anything she ever says to anybody is true. If there had been a flaw in her self-confidence, I would have needed a microscope to find it. But swimming like she does in a curious brew of impervious innocence laced with poisonous rage, as sure as there are werewolves living in the gang-infested slums of Bogotá, if she doesn't do something about her suicidal slide into oblivion soon, there's no way in hell she's ever getting out of this flesh eating cesspool alive.  Shattered as she is, I'm surprised somebody else hasn't put her out of her misery by now, but then, why bother?  She'll never change. That's who she is, wandering around these jungle-choked sets like a shattered doll in a shooting gallery, picking up the small time parts and butt double work the legit stars gladly give her, and then laugh behind her back for taking: And believe me, there's nobody out there looking for her, except maybe for me -as if that makes any difference. I'm already dying of curiosity, wondering who she really is, lost even to her own true self, as vague and indefinable as the dead stars that shoot off across the inscrutable sky and vanish, leaving nothing behind but a half frozen vapor trail. No tracks, no trail of tears, no fingerprints on the candle stick. Just white dust and fog, that's all there seems to be of her now, rolling down the canyon like an underground flood, bubbling up through the mascara stained shadow of doubt that seems to have caked up in the lines beneath her inscrutable eyes. Even the silence seems to scream at her, "RUN" but she doesn't run. All her chips are on the table and her cards have all been played, but she doesn't know that yet. Pushing thirty, adrift in the perfect storm, having lived for years in a make-believe world where beauty is a commodity they only trade under the counter, she waits for the aces to fall from the devil's sleeve, but they never do.

I read an article about impalas once in Conde Nas Traveler that said: "...everything has a purpose, down to the black hoof-shaped gland beneath an impala's hock that emits a scent allowing scattered herd members to find one another after the panic of a predator's chase. Survival assures that this tendency to transform ones species...to adapt." That's the kind of scent Pearl has: The kind you can track blindfolded in the dark. I could find her anywhere. She couldn't escape if she tried. We're connected, Pearl and I. But not the way she thinks. She has no idea how badly some people want her to disappear.

"With or without you, she's gone," they told me. "Whatever it takes. A we want her to stay gone. You understand?"

I understood alright, and sometimes I swear, if I didn't know better, I'd think Pearl does too. It's almost like she KNOWS what's going to happen next. I can feel it in the way she looks at me when she thinks I'm asleep. It's as if she's waiting for something, expecting the worse, getting ready for it. And the night waits too, steely gray and cracked where all the light creeps in.

When she finally falls asleep, I can feel her heart beating against my chest, tapping out some exotic jungle rhythm that nobody but she and I have apparently ever heard before. As the waves of her bleak future smash against the breakers on a faded photograph of Playa del Carmen that clings precariously to a nail driven deep through the peeling wallpaper, I listen to the ghost bones of the "disappeared" moan. She knows there's a killer on the loose, she just doesn't know who he is yet, but it's too late to turn back now even if she could, as if she gives a shit. Just look at her over there, not a care in the world, jumping up and down on the bed in her sleep, naked, flopping around like a fish on a trampoline. I can't keep my eyes off of her, staring at those translucent gambler's eyes of hers, seeing nothing. Her fierce golden curls bounce like psychotic bubbles against her full bare breasts and her naturally blond hair flails in the bitter breeze like a Norwegian flag that's been ripped into rags. Even her hands seem to have a life of their own, fluttering like two angry butterflies, each headed in the opposite direction, signaling for me to follow. Which of course, I do. What bedazzled horn dog wouldn't? You can't imagine what it's like being with a girl like her. Not unless you've actually snuck in under her skin and looked at her from the inside out the way I have, digging deep for a peek at all that beguiling shit she's got hidden in the back of her tortured imagination. Even asleep she's more fun than any woman I've ever known. It's like she's got a priceless diamond mine buried inside of her. She could be anything she wants to be, instead of the sex-starved, crack-happy, runaway body double in an under budgeted, straight-to-video, flop house vampire flick she is.

Ok, so maybe it is true. Maybe Pearl did fuck my brains out, and I have been thinking with the wrong organ again. It happens. But, like I said, you don't know her like I do, and when she stops her trampoline tumbling routine long enough to catch her breath, she bolts up out of her dream sleep and makes her first, and most likely last, sober pronouncement of the day: "Most men I've known are nothing but horny gutter cats in heat, purring for a poke. They'll fuck anything that moves. Hookers, whores, their best friend's wives, goats, doughnut holes ...anything. I'm surprised they don't sniff my butt first before they stick it in. But you're not like those squealy little pigs I usually fall for. Why is that, Harley. Hmmm?"

As if I know. I change the subject fast trying to buy time. While I make up my mind what I'm going to do about what I'm supposed to be doing down here, she pulls out a wad of hundreds from a purse the size of a small pick up truck and says she's decided to celebrate her staying alive long enough to last another day by buying us a bottle of mescal. You know, to get things going, get the juices flowing. It's eight thirty in the morning, for Jesus Christsakes, and I already have a head banging hangover from last night. I feel like I just drank a gallon of wet cement and stuck my head in the oven. Who knows how she's going to get out of bed and walk to a liquor store, or for that matter, get herself back to the states in one piece after her movie wraps, but she doesn't seem worried about it. She wants to go home, and from what I've been told, she's the type who gets what she wants.

After finally shaking herself loose from whatever psycho rapist had been strangling her in her nightmares last night, she tells me she's done playing Cochita Banana and wants to blow this coca-munching rat hole. "Time to get right with Jesus and kick the bad assed smack habit I've got," she says, matter-of-factly.

Knowing what I know about her so far, I figure it'll take twenty years to kick the horse habit she's got, but it only takes her a week. Or was it two? I forget on account of us spending so much time banging each other senseless that I lost count. Don't laugh. Even fake priests like me have needs.

I admit there were times when I didn't think I could take listening to her brittle bones rattle and her skin fry like bacon on a hot skillet while she was going through the worse of her withdrawal. Watching a baby wren get its wings chewed off by a wild dog didn't made me that sick, but she's wouldn't give in and she wouldn't give up, and she finally kicked. And that's all that counts.

It's a week later when she tells me: "Now that I'm clean, it's time to go home." Wherever home might be. Eyes clear, her skin white as Ivory Snow, she looks good compared to the walking corpse she was when I first met her. The rum-soaked, pill-popping, ass-sniffing, coked-up Hollywood trash she's been traveling with have torn down all the sets, packed up their trailers and sound equipment, and headed north for LA, but Pearl's too smart to kid herself. She knows she's got no future in the movies back there in the states. There'll be no swapping spit with George Clooney, no paparazzi boob shots in front of Grauman's Chinese, no playing tonsil tag with Madonna on YouTube, no crotch shot on the cover of People Magazine. She knows who she is. She's hired help: A disposable, tarted up, butt double for-hire, and all she wants to do now is go home. Who can blame her? But trust me, from what I know about her old man, home is the last place on earth that girl needs to be.

Believe me, I know who Pearl's old man is. Even a dead broke, ex-con, corporate hatchet man like me doesn't work for just anybody. I had done my homework. I knew he was an ex-oil patch wildcatter from Houston who married Pearl's Argentine mother Maria Karina Ortiz, and then moved her to Santa Barbara where he made a fortune as a multinational financier and oil company front man who sold Latin American countries down the drain by entrapping them in vine choked mountains of debt, after providing their slime bucket, strongman puppets with astronomical, collateralized loans which, as anyone who'd passed Economics 101 knows, they could never pay back. And when the greedy leeches defaulted on those loans, as they always did, the only thing they had left of any real value with which to pay them back, were their resources, their oil fields, their political independence, their national pride, any dreams of sovereignty they ever may have had, and their family jewels.

The only difference between me and Pearl's old man is, I have a conscience. I don't torture people, or bust 'caps, or break arms. I hire muscle when I need it, but I manage the chaos and minimize the damage. My primary job is to qualify the unqualifiable and then secure and implement the loans. And once those debts come due and I call in the dogs. And when the shit hits the fan, I call off the dogs and call in the clean up crew. Nobody needs to die over money. There's plenty to go around. The old man thinks I'm a pussy, but that's how I work. And don't think I don't know what you're thinking. Even a cynical ex-con with a computer can dig up this kind of dirt on shit bags like Pearl's old man. It's not like I had a lot to do at Club Fed. other than deciding whether to butt fuck my way into a job in the prison laundry or mind my own business and Google a political hatchet job like I did. Even then I knew, big business is where the big money was. And it didn't matter to me what party the stingy old shyster belonged to. It's not like I vote. The only lever I've ever pulled was on a one-armed bandit in Reno. You know what George Carlin always used to say, "I stopped voting when I stopped taking drugs. I believe both of those acts are closely related to delusional behavior."

I could say I came away clean, but you'd be wrong. You never lose the stench of the cage, even in a white collar country club like FCI Lompoc, and the stigma never goes away. I had no choice but to make up somebody else to be. It wasn't me in there. I doubt anybody even remembers my face. I never talked con or even thought con. I've got no prison yard tales to tell or violent rape scenes in the shower to rehash. It's all I can do to recall the name of anybody I ever met in there. I did my time, stayed clean, and walked away. I've made a lot of stupid mistakes in my life and I hurt a lot of people who I had nothing against. I know I'm a college dropout and convicted felon who got seduced by the concept of taking money instead of making it after hauling in a small fortune perfecting the art of stealing derivative prop trading secrets and greasing the skids for corporate raids and hostile takeovers all over the U.S. and Latin America by falsifying numbers, fronting feeder funds, cooking the books, and leaking insider info to the old man. Ironically, when I finally did get pinched, they nailed me on a bogus securities fraud scam I had no part in. Seriously, they still don't know the shit I did that would have gotten me ten to life. Like the fact I haven't paid federal or state taxes since the early 80's. Or about the time I got talked into high jacking a South Korean shipping trawler off the Socotra archipelago near the Horn of Africa by my Somolian UCLA roommate during summer break. It wasn't brain surgery. We just hid our skiff in a cove and lured the ship close to shore by issuing false distress calls. We never fired a shot. We just held the ship and crew for ransom, and by the time Navy personnel from the USS Porter boarded the boat, my roommate, me, and our motley crew of part-time pirates were long gone. Eluding U.S. and NATO warships was a bit dicey, but we never got caught. I only did it twice but it still scares the crap out of me just thinking about it.

On the day I got released after getting an early parole for good behavior on the securities fraud charges, Pearl's old man sent around a three-pieced suit to pick me up, and on the way back to the city, he offered a job. I'd seen the old man's face in the papers but only knew the half of what it was he did. Rumor had it that he wasn't technically mobbed up, but that he had friends in the kind of places you best not go unless you're packing serious heat. My job, as I understood it, was to go to Bogotá and lie, cheat, and steal my way into the hearts and minds of the various government agencies down there, bribe threaten and conjole Congressmen, and play tour guide for independent UPI and AP staff writers. In my spare time, I blackmailed local CIA sponsored front men caught with their pants down, made threats, strong armed Colombian senators who didn't want to play ball with Occidental Petroleum, paid off judges, made exorbitant loans nobody could pay back, launder cash that I used to pay off the various cartels, and, in general, made offers nobody in their right mind could refuse. You know, the usual corporate gangster shit that no MBA grad with an ounce of self respect would get caught dead doing. Like finding half-starved, out-of-work guerillas who live in the jungles, dress in rags, and eat grilled crickets and sautéed leeches, build up their egos, slip em a few dineros, give em all new uniforms, and turn them into powerless puppets who do the old man's bidding down there. "Whatever it takes," the boss always says. And he meant anything.

For years he's been working both sides, softening the suckers up, and then having guys like me ingratiate myself into the jeffe du jour's confidence and then talk the strutting peacocks into cutting domestic spending, busting their unions, reducing regulations, privatizing their banks and utility companies, and loaning them money. I'm talking about a shitload of money. And when the power hungry egomaniacs don't pay those loans back, we take control of their gold, silver, copper, rubber, coffee, medicinal plants, tin, sugar, oil, and natural gas, and then proceed to make an obscene profit by selling those resources at sky high prices to the highest bidders. The old man told me that if you control the assets, you control the economy, but if you control the distribution of food and medicine, you control the country. Squeeze em dry, then clean up. It all sounded like fun to me. And like the old man always says, "It's not who you know that counts, it's what you're willing to do to those people you know in order to get what you need from the. That's what counts." The old man only had three rules: One; buy low, sell high. Two; never cross the boss. And three; never use a cell phone. Ever. That's it. Everything else was fair game. There were no other rules. Basically, I could do whatever it took to drive a deal and he'd provide the cash, credibility, access, backup, and protection I needed to get the job done. Cynical bastard, Pearl's old man. As far as he was concerned, vetting the hired help meant investigating whether or not we preferred gin or vodka martinis for lunch. Barely disguised brothels stocked with beautiful, crank-happy runway models, burned out Egyptian call girls, Spanish dancers, Peruvian strippers, down-on-their-luck Bollywood actresses from Mumbai, Valentino-draped hookers from Finland, ex-cheerleaders from Nebraska, massage girls from Ho Chi Minh City: all of them more than willing to do any twisted sister thing you want for a blow of coke, a hit of skank, or the latest bling-bling, or fashion accessory. Drug fueled, high stakes nymphomania in action; what's not to like about working for the old man? Well, actually, as it turns out, plenty, but I don't wanta talk about that right now.


After doing a little homework on the side, one of the things I learned about Clay Alexander Devlin was that, early in his "career", shortly after nabbing a top executive job at Enron, he personally spent nearly two million of his company's funds bribing Congressmen, soliciting influence at the White House, and running a scam in Brazil where he had his lackeys padded earnings by buying companies down there and then including their earnings in with those of Enron's in order to beef up their yearly estimates so they could entice more suckers to buy what was, by then, nearly worthless stock. Two of his employees went down for that half baked scheme, but as usual, the boss skated unscathed and moved on to investment banking.

It's blatantly illegal for an investment banker or private-equity executive to trade on behalf of his captive clients acting as both buyer and seller, but after leaving Enron only weeks before they fell, that's exactly what the old man did. He and his already wealthy private equity pals began to pull off a series of highly controversial leveraged buyouts of other companies they worked for in New York and New Jersey, purchasing the companies from public shareholders at inflated prices, using huge amounts of borrowed cash and precious little, if any, cash of their own. Once they'd taken control of the targeted company, they'd "strip and flip" it. That is, after restructuring the company, they'd "strip it", or, sell off certain underperforming assets, implement a series of cost-cutting measures, such as laying off employees, cutting research and development, and partially dismantling or otherwise reorganizing, it for the purpose of making it more efficient and therefore more profitable. Then they'd "flip it", or resell it, often at an ludicrously high return on their original investment. Then while the lemmings who were left holding the bag jumped head first into a sea of borrowed debt, and the laid off workers headed for the unemployment line, the old man and his corporate cronies raked in billions. Hell, Mitt Romney became a leading contender for the Presidency based on doing that.

The reason those LBO shysters got away with bribing Congressmen and public officials like they did, the old man told me, was because they never left a paper trail. And the old man was one of them; The "Gray Ghost", they called him. "It's easier to pocket a Congressman with a twenty-five year old Belgian ex-model-turned-hooker than it is to cover up a ten grand cash pay off," he said. "You never know whose freezer you're gonna find a stack of C notes in. Best just to pay off the hooker with small bills in advance and eliminate the quid pro quo squeeze."
Don't look at me; I knew I was working for a crooked corporate mobster and that I was nothing more than a glorified bag man on most of the jobs I did. Maybe I should have seen the black clouds rolling up over my head, but as broke as I was back then, I would have worked for Satan if he'd offered me per diem and an expense account.

Somewhere around the time Clay Devlin started playing fast and loose with the Feds, he again must have heard the saber toothed enforcers at the SEC at the door, because he left Kidder and Peabody right before the junk bond fiasco of the 80's, and fled back to Central America only weeks before the US Attorney's Office came down hard on his hoodlum pals Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. I found out later, the old man had been tipped off privately by the head of the Manhatten Attorney's Office at the time and told to take his expertise elsewhere, and to not come back to the US until things blew over in the LBO and private equity markets: Like in, say, fifty years. The term "Teflon coated" doesn't begin to describe the old man's luck when it came to escaping prosecution for tweaking, twisting, and outright breaking any number of state, federal, and international laws. It didn't take the "Brahmin Bull" (as the financial news hounds at The Economist had begun to call him) very long to retrench though, and in less than a year, he damned near bankrupted Panama after buttfucking their ex-CIA, ex-Panamanian secret police snitch Colonel Manuel Noriega, by bribing key players in the dictator's own Defense Forces to turn on him, fabricating his connections to drug running, and then driving him into exile and, eventually, prison, after which, the old man commandeered control of Panama's comatose economy, after blackmailing half of Noreiga's successor's cabinet and appropriating the crooked old fool's million dollar a day money laundering, cocaine smuggling, and vote rigging operation.

Who knows who the old man was working for at the time, but some political big wig at the top of the financial food chain apparently tipped off the then Governor of California at the time, Ronald Reagan, who was so impressed with the old man's ruthless cunning that he promptly appointed him as a special envoy to his new Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, coordinating all financial expansion projects and trade operations between California and Latin America.

A few short months after Ronnie made it to the White House, he made the old man his Assistant Under Secretary of Energy and sent him back to represent America's interest in the Panama. Once the ambitious over-achiever envisioned the dollar signs that loomed after parlaying that job into a cushy seven-figure K-Street lobbyist gig at the end of his tenure, he went right back to what he'd been so good at for so long, which was robbing Latin America blind. Not a bad days work for a highly paid LBO king an political hack who touted good Christian values, abstinence, and prayer in schools, while banging his sixteen-year-old undocumented Bolivian maid twice a week.

It was rumored in the years that followed, that because of his work paving the way for future corporate exploitation in the Latin American region, while generating millions of dollars of business for California, that he had been briefly considered a viable candidate for Governor in the 1986 election, but he eventually lost the nomination to the future Governor George Deukmajian. Several years later, unfortunately for the old man's rejuvenated political ambitions, his by then, seventeen-year-old, crank happy, sex addicted daugher Pearl, wasn't exactly fitting into the old fashioned moral majority, Tricia Nixon type of submissive Barbie Doll role that he'd meticulously produced for her to play, and his career temporarily ground to a halt. Until, that is, four years later when the new Governor tagged him to be his new Assistant Deputy Secretary of Energy and DOE liaison officer, in spite of his wife, the first lady, discovering to her horror, her hubby's soon-to-be, EX-assistant Chief-of-Staff and Pearl going at it like two rutting seals in the Governor's Mansion swimming pool.

A few short years later, the old man's corporate/political pimp handlers who'd funded the swindling of any country that had any measurable quantities of oil, gold, silver, bananas, coffee, rubber or sugar, during the eighties and nineties, read the tea leaves and deserted Latin America in droves, heading north to join the new US administration in their nefarious campaign to divert their invasion of Afghanistan to an attack on Iraq after 9/11 in order to essentially control the oil fields of Baba Gurgur and Kirkuk and pave the way for future corporate expansion in the region: just like they and others had done in Latin America. Having been left behind in Colombia to mop up the economic, cultural, and political quagmire they'd temporarily left behind in the nearly bankrupted region, the old man had to make due with fending for his own gluttonous self until his old friend, the newly elected President Reagan, talked his new Secretary of State into appointing him envoy-at-large to Latin America. Imagine that. The fox guarding the hen house. How novel of an idea is that?

Which leads me here to this rat infested, faux flop house on the outskirts of Killville, better known as Medellín, the homicide capital of the world. It's four in the morning and I'm nursing a stupefying tequila hangover while doing my best to sexually satisfy the old man's sexually insatiable daughter on a paper thin mattress in a clap trap room no self-respecting ghost would haunt. As far as I can tell, Pearl still has no idea that it was her old man's Colombian enforcer Enrique Morales who'd handed me a boatload of laundered cash and a note from the old man ordering me to keep Pearl on ice so she couldn't return to the US, whacked out on scag, wearing nothing but a Che Guevera bandana and a shady grin, and show up in LA in November to announce her father's myriad array of deviant sexual, legal, and incestuous transgressions, wiping out any shot the old man ever had at getting picked as the next Lieutenant-Governor.

Enrique and his crew of Norte de Valle cartel narcotrafficer trash make those prehistoric old farts in the Cali and Medellín Cartels like Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, Rodriquez Gacha, Santacruz Londono, and the Orejuela brothers, look like thumb-sucking Girl Scouts. They may not hold a candle to the thrill butchers in the Manuel Cepeda Vargas Urban Front or the Beltran Leyva Organization in Juarez but from the look on their satanic faces, if I turn on them, they won't even bother crossing themselves before stabbing me in the heart with a crucifix, ripping out my kidneys, and eating my liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Cannibals, the lot of them. Times have changed down south, and if I don't watch my step, I could very easily end up skinless and boneless at the bottom of a bubbling vat of hydrochloric acid. There's a reason they call Medellín the world's most dangerous city.

With the inconvenient distraction of our occupation of Iraq mucking up the works, it's getting risky cheating third banana republics in Central and South America out of their sovereignty, political autonomy, and natural resources, and then filtering a huge chunk of those profits to the rabid psychos in the Norte de Valle cartel in Panama, the guerillas, the left-wing rebels, the right-wing politicians, the Urban Front in Buenaventura, and the Marxist FARC scum balls in Cali who control most of the primary coca industry in Colombia, in order to protect their criminal, corporate, colonial enterprise. Let's just say, my calendar is full.

Even for cold-blooded assassins like Enrique Morales, there's easier money to be made in kidnapping: Anywhere from fifty large in Medellín for a nobody rich kid to seventy-million for an American oil exec in Panama City. I can't even imagine what somebody could get for a rock hard body stunner like Pearl. Just look at her. I swear, in spite of her being a board certified whack job, she's a peach. I mean, underneath all her masochistic psychosexual bravado, she's a genuine Cracker Jack prize, and I'm beginning to have serious doubts about what it is I've been paid to do to her. Which gives me one hell of an idea.

I read somewhere that some two thousand people were made to "disappear" last year in Colombia alone and over three-thousand a year were kidnapped, some by rebel forces, some by Leftist guerillas, corrupt policemen, and legally-challenged political rivals, some by the National Liberation Army, and some by right-wing paramilitary and other government state agencies like the police and army, particularly the Rincon Quinonez Battalion of the Colombian Army, whose regional leader just happens to be Pearl's great uncle on her mother Maria Karina's side, Eduardo Suarez. How convenient is that?

Pearl's old man wants her iced, no problem. He doesn't need to know. I'll make sure she takes the "long walk" and "disappears" for a long time alright, but not the way the old cabron thinks.

I already know enough about Pearl to be convinced that she is NOT going to like the idea, and damned if I'm going to be the one to explain the reason behind it. It's five AM and already she's giving me that look you only see on mistreated puppies who just peed on your five-thousand-dollar Persian carpet. Her pout is pure movie star close-up perfect and I'm actually beginning to think she really can either act, or read my mind.

"So what are you gonna do about me, Harley?" she says, "as if that's your real name. You gonna buy me a pair of cement shoes and toss me in the Amazon? Let the fish drink my blood and chew on my cold white toes?"

Huh? I know this stretch of water, and it's as deep as it is dangerous. I haven't heard her string more than three coherent sentences together since I met her a month and a half ago her and this sudden verbosity is making me extremely nervous. Maybe she's on to me, who knows? Treading carefully, I make my pitch: "LA is not where you need to be right now, Pearl. You don't want to go there. They've got smog, traffic jams, unemployed actresses, star stalkers, child abusers, serial killers, baby rapers, and liberals. Don't you watch FOX news? You need to get away somewhere. Take a nice vacation. Go somewhere hot and balmy where they make those fruity little aqua-colored drinks with pretty pink umbrellas. Lay low. You know, disappear for a while."

"Disappear?" she stammers. "You think I'm going to just disappear? You don't like me anymore? Is that it? You got a fifteen year old Cartel girl pregnant and plan to leave me behind to rot in this Godforsaken Hollywood piss parlor like a five dollar hooker tricking in some bed board banging pussy palace while you hightail it to the Virgin Islands with the sloppy little slut? Is that it?"

"Well, if you put it like that..." Crap. She's talking just like me. It's like listening to myself the way she talks. I can't tell if she's hammered on speed or just yanking my chain. She doesn't say a word for damned near a month, and now this? It's not helping matters that she's got her hand down my pants and my dick in her fist, and once her knees hit the floor, she really digs in and won't let go. So I clam up while she tries to convince me to change my mind, which of course, I won't. "I need a stiff one," she says, "and I'm not even thirsty," giving me the lecherous little wink that's kept her gainfully employed in the movies for years.

When she comes up for air, she mumbles, "You think you're gonna find somebody cute as me out there, Harley? Or has somebody sent you to whack me because of my big mouth which is a liability to my old man's chances to become the next Lieutenant-Governor of California. Is that the deal? Hmmm?"

Holy fuck, she really is reading my mind. "Nooo, I tell her. Get a grip," not that she needs reminding. "You just need a break. Hit the sauna. Get a massage. You know slap some of that green mud and a couple cucumbers on your face and chill out for awhile, that's all."

"Riiight. Listen, Harley, there's not enough evil in you to hurt me. I could smell it on you if there was. And I've seen the look on your face when you're coming. You swell up like a blowfish that just swallowed a balloon full of hot air. But who can blame you really. It's all I can do to keep from playing with my own self, I'm so gorgeous. They pay me big bucks to flash this body of mine in men's faces, and I've learned how to read them. I'm not dumb, you know. I have an SAT score of 2200, a 3.5 GPA, and an IQ of 128. So what is it? You tired of me boinking you until you can't stand up twice a day, or what?"

Damn. If I thought it was going to be this tricky saving the little ingrate's life, I may well have just dug a hole out back, popped a cap in her back, and collected my cash. I'm getting a hernia trying to come up with something compelling to say that will change her mind, but I've got nothing. I could give it to her straight, but how am I going to tell the truth to somebody as high strung and temperamental as she is? Talk about ruining somebody's day. Can you imagine her surprise if I told her what the hell I'm really doing here? Or who sent me? Holy Jesus. I've seen the gun in her purse and it's bigger than the one I've got stuffed down my pants. But unlike mine, her's is loaded, so I don't say squat.

Bad idea. And I thought I had a hair trigger temper. She hates silence worse than she does Colombians. I don't even see the right hook she throws at me until it's too late. When I get up, she's apologizing profusely while holding an ice pack on my head, wearing that same defiantly maternal look you see on the faces of mama lions in zoos, still fighting to the death for their pride, even as the cage walls slam shut all around them. It's as if she's been crying her whole life but never shed a tear. Brushing her lips against my bruise, she murmurs sadly: "I'm not going home, am I, Harley?"

The way I see it, Pearl's got no real choice in the matter, but I don't have the heart to tell her that. Not yet anyway. But there is an upside in this thing for her. First I could collect the hundred large from Pearl's old man for icing her, pay her mom's uncle Edwuardo Suarez in Rincon Quinonez twenty G's for setting up her semi-fake kidnapping, and give twenty percent to Pearl on the gross for going along with the deal. Either way, she's not going back to LA. And of course, I get richer. It's like a two for one K-Mart special. How slick is that?

Apparently not slick enough for Pearl. She wants it 50/50 and I don't do 50/50.

"60/40" I tell her.

"Fuck that, you double crossing, two-faced ferret," she says.

"Ok, 65/45," I tell her."

"Deal," she says. As smart as she keeps telling me she is, she must not be all that good at math, but who's counting?

"Wait just a minute there, buster," she says.

Oh oh.

"Where the hell are you gonna be while I'm getting gang banged by the 57th FARC battalion in some coca storage shed in the Colombian jungle after they kidnap me, hmm?"

"'We'll work out the details later," I tell her, trying not to smirk out loud. "Now pack your stuff and let's go. We've got an Army chopper to catch at 1100 hours."

"Well, aren't we the organized little captain commando," she quips sarcastically as she unzips my fly and begins a full frontal assault on my half-hearted resolve to stand up to her like the man I used to be before I met her. I don't know who's wearing the dress in this cockeyed little codependent sex fest, but I'm thinking a nice pink strapless one with powder blue flowers would go nicely with my eyes. Fortunately for me, the phone rings and I duck into the next room to take it. Enrique, isn't buying into my plan.

"Columbia!" he barks. "Pearl's mother Maria Karina will have one of her old Buenaventura slum bums hack your balls off with a machete if she even thinks you're planning on turning over her precious saint of a daughter to a Colombian commie. Are you kidding me? What we do instead is take her to Panama and set her up at her sea side hacienda in Bocas del Toro. I know people down there and nobody will lay one greasy finger on her. No narco-trafficking goons from the Colombian National Liberation Army or the Panamanian Revolutionary Armed Forces ...nobody. Not on my watch. They've got vine-choked triple-canopy jungles and mangrove swamps down there that are so thick you can't see your own reflection in a mirror. And the beaches are practically deserted this time of year. Did I mention Egyptian hookers? You'll think you're on Elgomhoria Street in Cairo down there, I'm telling you."

Apparently, Pearl's mother Maria Karina hates Colombians almost as much as she hates her sadistic, shit bag of a husband Clay Devlin. I can imagine Enrique giving me the kind of cockeyed look you only see on the faces of a syphilitic lepers; "If even one of those coca roaches so much as looks at her sweet innocent angel Pearl, she'll have one of her boy toys in the Calima Front whack all three of us."

So, Panama it is then ...and Enrique's not budging. "That's the deal," he says.

For such a macho pendejo, he sure caved fast. Even faster then me. According to him, Maria Karina is no less a ball buster than Pearl is. "Take it or leave it," he says.

I take it, but what do I care? I get my money either way and nobody touches Pearl but me. Who wouldn't like a deal like that? Everybody's happy, except, of course, Pearl. Jesus, the things I do to please that woman. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was falling for the cranky little nut cruncher. Holy Mother of God, how stupid would that be?

I'll keep watching out for her as long as I can, but there's nothing much I can do about the apparently amphibious demons that seem to be licking at her wounds and sucking the salt from her blood as they nibble away at whatever's left of her precious self. For all I know they'll be dragging her back to her invisible city beneath the sea any day now. I'll fight them until my fingers bleed, but it doesn't seem to be doing one hell of a lot of good. I can't fight what I don't understand and I can't kill what I can't see. And in time, I know I'll most likely lose this sad little tug of war we're apparently playing. But I'm not leaving her. The only place I'm going is down with the ship, just like I promised her I would. What else can I do? That's what giving a damn about people like Pearl does to people like me. She keeps telling me she doesn't need anybody and that she's on her my own, but that's not true. We're both trapped here together now, she, the sea sick sailor and I, forever haunted, marooned on the widow's walk. But if someday she doesn't come back, and if I find out that she's drowned out there, God only help her slap happy old man, because it'll be him swimming with the piranha soon enough.

The hurricane in Pearl's head seems to have died down a bit this morning, but I'm not buying it. I can hear it rumbling off in the distance, the sound of it hissing up from the fault line that runs beneath the two of us now. Today is Pearl's twenty-ninth birthday, so I bought her a pink cupcake with sprinkles and stuck a candle in it. She looks at the thing in perplexed wonder, wavering back and forth in a salty breeze that seems to have squeezed in through the broken window and blown out the damned candle before she gets the chance to. Her hands fly to her face in mock surprise and the child in her beams, the calmly resilient look on her face, a study in bewildering grace. She doesn't think I can see her nudging her toes up against the edge of the treacherous riptide that's raging up against the indifferent distance, keeping the demons at bay for one more day, but I do. Draped head to toe in the scalding hot Jean Paul Gautier dress I gave her for her birthday, she looks like a red sailboat tacking into the wind, waiting for the menacing storm she thinks only she knows is coming. Expecting the worse.

It's strange, how happy she seems, in spite of everything, flopping around like a jellyfish, spread eagle naked, laying on her back on the bed, pretending she's making snow angels in the rolling white drifts that gather along the fence behind the fantasy barn on the fantasy farm in her head that she doesn't remember telling me about.

Rising up out of her revery, she springs out of bed like a ghostly apparition and sleep walks across the room, shaking off the snow as she goes. Then she sits down in front of the faux fireplace in the far corner of her make believe world and begins playing "Silent Night" on her air guitar. Her fingers flutter like drunk honey bees and the soft, sweet words of the song nestle up tight inside her mouth, but nothing escapes. She looks at me out of the corner of one sparkling eye and winks: "It's Silent Night," she says, smiling her crooked little snow angel smile, "you're not supposed to hear it."

Seriously, how can anybody with half a heart NOT look out for a girl like that?

As it turns out, much to my shagrin, Pearl hates Panama almost as much as she hates Colombia. When I tell her about Enrique's plan to hide out there, her eyes burn red hot, smoke rings start shooting out of her ears, and her head starts spinning around like that Linda Blair chick in The Exorcist".

"Panama?" she howls. "I'm not going anywhere near Panama. You don't know what it's like in that sweaty insect incubator. I was born down there for crying out loud. Nothing but mosquitoes the size of sofas, snakes crawling up your butt when you try to sleep, bone chomping piranhas in the swimming pool, pythons lying in wait under the hammock... trust me, I am NOT going back to Panama."

Good God, what next? For two months she says zip to me, and now, this.

I read in a book somewhere, that there's a black hole leading from the universal consciousness that lurks in the hidden recesses of the human heart, and I'm beginning to think that it's there Pearl's been living like a wounded soldier trapped behind the lines, hiding inside a mysterious wall of lead and rain, weakened and wasted, wanting nothing more than to feel something real: anything, instead of living in the long shadows with the sweet scent of decay lulling her to sleep. She's been hurt, but she'll never admit it. And if it's the last thing I do, I intend to get even with whoever it was that caused her all that pain.



When we arrive in Panama City, Pearl's still going after me, and she won't let up. Her face has turned scarlet and her eyes are cold slivers of solid black ice. We haven't had sex in three hours and it's got me worried. Our record is about two so far, and at that rate, I thought eventually I'd have to find a pharmacy and pick up a box of pecker picker uppers in case I need to step up the pace a bit before she dumps me for some oiled-up Caribbean beach boy. God knows there's enough of them sashaying all over the place in their stuffed Fruit-of-the-Loom codpieces.

Pearl thinks she's Eva Perón, standing on the balcony at Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires dressed in Christian Dior, bejeweled in Cartier, preaching labor rights and blowing air kisses to the adoring mass of unwashed peasants below. It's no wonder they call Panama City, Little Miami, with all the hard body peacocks strutting around, pecking in the dirt for attention. But when we catch a ride to Bocas del Toro near the Colombian border, it only gets weirder. It looks like a juiced up South Beach on 'roids down here. There's narco-traffickers and their supposed mortal enemies, the FARC regulars from the Darién 58th, sitting right out in the open together in the middle of the day, drinking Baru beer. Oil field trash, hammered CIA spooks, American oil execs in Penny's polyester suits, Peruvian hookers, gypsies, washed-up cage fighters, kiddy porn smugglers, lepers, petty thieves, and sodomites all walking around like they own the place: Which they probably do. Good grief, what have I gotten us into now? It's a Godforsaken wild west zoo around here, I swear. As if Pearl gives a rat's ass. She hasn't talked to me since we got here, but she's still got needs. Just look at her over there, laying by the pool in nothing but an iridescent lime green thong that even a blind man can see through, spurring on a conga line of wannabe boy toys that runs half way down to the beach, fighting for the chance to take turns lathering her up with sun tan lotion. Trying to pleasure the poor girl twice a day after this ego booster is going to be like tossing a wet noodle at the wall to see if it sticks; and wouldn't you just know, I can't for the life of me find a goddamned pharmacy that sells pecker pills. I haven't needed them yet, but why take the chance?

Fortunately for me, Pearl's been a busy little girl, running around all over town, buying shit she's already got ten of and never wears, while very likely scheming up a way to board a plane to LA without me seeing her. She's obviously on to me, so why not just tell her the truth and get it over with? Hell, she's already got it half figured out anyway, and doesn't need me hanging all over her cute little ass like a rash, filling her in on the details. Keeping something like that from a mind reader like her is not possible. She had my number the second her dress and my jeans hit the dirt. She keeps telling me that men are just dildos with checkbooks anyway, so what's so special about me? Why she's sticks around boggles my mind. I don't know what I'll do now if she decides to leave, but thank God she hasn't tested me yet.

The only thing I can figure is, she must think any chance she's got schlepping around with me must trump what will she knows will happen to her if she goes back to LA and trashes her old man's political future. But who really knows? I'm such a pussy-whipped puppy by now I may as well just grow fur and bark. She knows there's no way I'm going to let anything happen to her, so why not lay back and fuck away the summer with a terminally horny sap like me? I don't know what the hell's come over me. I guess that's what going soft on a women like Pearl does to all day suckers like me, and I do have to admit, she is getting to me. I don't know what it is. It's not just sex anymore. There's something else going on that I don't understand. Some kind of voodoo dance she's doing. Must be she's been spiking my drinks or something. Just look at her, laying there. She has no idea what's going on.  From humping small time drug lords and tinsel town trash in the doper dives of south Medellín to playing with the sea turtles on Playa Larga, strolling along the white sandy beaches on the Caribbean coast at dawn, snorkeling in the coral reefs, and laying naked beneath the mango trees; life is sweet. At least for now it is. Gets me dreaming about the good old days when I had a full head of hair and a hard on you could hang your pajamas on. What the hell, Pearl deserves a break. And if she's happy, I'm happy, although I doubt I'll be around long enough to see what happens to her once the old man finds out I haven't stuffed her in a cooler and tossed her in the Amazon by now.

Looking back, it shouldn't have surprised me when he pulled me aside one sweltering sauna night in Bogotá a few months back and whispered in my ear, low and menacing, like a cockfighter revving up his prized rooster; "I want her to disappear, Harley. Make her go away. You know what I'm saying to you? I want her gone."

"She's your daughter for Christsakes. You asking me to whack your own kid?"

"Well, 'asking' is not exactly the term I'd use. And what makes you think I give a shit about the cocksucking little hop head anyway? She's not my kid. My twisted tramp of a trophy wife went out and got herself shtuped by some grease ball spic bullfighter from Buenos Aires after a knock down drag em out fight we'd had, and bam, there ya go. Nine-months later, I've got a curtain climbing crump cruncher fucking up my life. I told Maria that if she ever told anybody about Pearl not being mine, she may as well jam a stick of dynamite up her ass and light a match, because nobody, and I mean nobody, is ever going to know about it."

I remember thinking just then, "Jesus H. Christ, the old man's finally lost it." I'd always had my doubts about his emotional stability, but come on. Do I LOOK like a hit man? I boxed in the slammer some, held my own, kept my cherry in tact, and minded my own damned business. But Jesus, I don't even know if the gun the old man gave me works or not? I'm no pistolero, believe me. I can't even tell if the damned thing's loaded, not that I could hit the broad side of an elephant's ass if it was. I hit a rabbit when I was a kid with a bow and arrow once, but when the arrow bounced off his butt, the little bastard got back up, shook it off, and stomped off in a huff, looking like he'd have given me the finger if he would have had one. But then, the old man's no virgin either when it comes to violence; he's has six charges for spousal abuse, two for inappropriate contact with a minor, three for assault and battery, and one for carrying a concealed weapon to show for it: Charges which were all eventually dropped. When the Judge in the case stepped down from the bench and ran for Congress a few years later, he woke up one day to find several neat stacks of fresh new thousand bills jammed into an aluminum Damiro attaché case under his living room sofa. He couldn't imagine how it got there, but I do, because I put it there.

When the old man wants to get up close and personal with his enemies, or he wants somebody punished for whatever perceived slight he or she may or may not have committed, he just outsources it, like he does everything else. It's not like him to get his hands dirty. He's got other things on his devious mind lately. A penny earned is a penny saved, and all that. No wonder he's trying to buy muscle on the cheap. But then, I don't think I've ever met a mega-corporate exec who wouldn't sell his own mother to the devil if he thought it would scare up another buck or assure him a profit of some kind, just like I KNOW I've never met a politician who wouldn't sell crack to a nun for another vote.

It may be true that I wouldn't have lasted a week in the Chicago pits, trading options and derivatives, or even a day at the Merc trading sweet crude and natural gas without the old man covering my ass. I know I owe him. So what if I've got a Jaeger-LeCoultre Amvox2 DBS Transponder watch the old fart gave me for Christmas strapped to my wrist. I still don't owe him what he's asking of me.

Looking back, I can't think of anything the ambitious old coot wouldn't do for a shot at the limelight, and nothing he wouldn't do to anybody foolish enough to try to take it away from him, including Pearl, her mother, or me. One indiscreet grudge fuck and his whole world went up in smoke. "A stain on the family name," he called it. "A permanent fucking bur under my blanket, having that whore I married drag my good family name through the dirt like that, making me look like a dickless redneck cracker. I swear to God that bitch would hump a dog's leg if the mangy mutt was wearing a pair of Prada pants. Hell, I only married the tarted-up harlot for her daddy's money. But I gotta tell you, she was one hell of a stone cold looker and a bad-assed bed board banger back then. She'd done some runway work for Nass Model Management in Brazil, a few soaps, a couple covers for some Parisian clothes horse rag: But good Lord she had a temper. And if I was ever going to have any peace again, I knew I'd best keep one eye open and a .357 under my pillow at night. I knew better than to cross her, and she knew what I'd do to her if she ever crossed me, so we more or less made a pact. I needed a trophy wife and she needed protection from the jealous army of Latin lovers who she'd banged, conned, and then jilted. Marriage? 'Security', she called it. I called it an "unholy pact with Satan", which is what it was."

The old man wasn't even getting winded and kept right on ranting away, his iron fingers wrapped around my thigh like a boa constrictor, his breath, hot and sticky as the night. "Being the good Catholic she was, Maria Karina refused to dump the kid in a sewer somewhere, and I saw no way around keeping it, me being a family values, right-to-lifer and all that. But now, things have changed and the power's shifted. I'm going to be running for Lieutenant-Governor of California soon, and I don't want my strung out, flame-throwing Bolshevik step-daughter flapping her gums to the press and fucking up my chances at a VP slot somewhere down the line. She doesn't even know she's not my kid. Can you believe that shit? At least her tragic disappearance will keep that tramp mother of hers in line and the ugly truth out of the papers. Besides, it's about time for a little payback, know what I mean? Maria won't know what hit her when she reads about her poor sweet angel going missing. She'll be in mourning for months. That oughta make a nice photo op for the New York Post, don't you think? Then after I get elected, she can play the grieving socialite: Ringing of hands, copious tears, a guest spot on Oprah, TV interviews, cards and letters by the truckload, flowers all stacked up at the door like a shrine to the Holy Mother herself. A voter bonanza is what it will be. But of course, in order to make that happen, Pearl's gotta go. Listen to me, Goddamnit. You find people with granite cojones who know what they're doing, and bury her deep; I don't want anybody digging her up. I can manage Maria, but I can't have those backstabbing Jew liberals on CNN and MSNBC sniffing around, grilling Pearl about my past. The little commie-loving trollop never did like me or my politics. I spent a fortune sending her through Journalism School at UC Santa Barbara, and this is the thanks I get?"

Jesus H. Christ. I couldn't believe it. The deluded nut job really was serious about me taking out Pearl. I could almost see snaky black slits where his eyes should have been and his tongue flicking back and forth past through his perfectly capped laser-whitened teeth.

"And don't let her fool you with that sleepy-eyed, innocent act of hers," he said. "Smack isn't the only thing she's hooked on, and she couldn't kick that sex jones of hers if she tried. And don't ask me how I know, but those mouth watering teats of hers are real, and she's got a high powered brain to go along with them. She'll go to work on you if you don't keep a close watch on that one-eyed monster you've got locked up in your pants. Thanks to her two-faced back-stabbing mother and those left-wing Panamanian La Prensa and Vanguardia reporters she hangs out with, she's got more dirt on me than a pig's ass, and I don't want that cocksucking hack Chris Mathews on MSNBC plowing through my garbage a week before the election. You got that? FOX NEWS can't keep covering up for me forever. And make it look like an accident. You fuck this up Harley, and you may as well join the Marines, go to Afghanistan, and start killing ragheads for Jesus, because you have no idea how far down the crapper your career will go if you don't. That's how serious I am about this. There's no hole deep enough. End of story. I want her gone, you understand? Gone!"

I understood alright. California's Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Clay Alexander Devlin, was a sick, vain, money-grubbing cannibal with a ring in his nose, who had no problem having his own kid whacked if it meant getting a shot at the big money. Unfortunately for Pearl, until lately that is, there hadn't been anything I wouldn't do for money back then. And right about now, I'd say she and I are both knee-deep in shit.

I'm no rocket scientist, but I see things, I'm thorough, and I get things done; I'm a facilitator and I don't like loose ends. I could hire a Kuna Indian from Colón to pop a poison dart in Pearl's butt, collect my hundred grand bonus, and keep working for the old man, tracking down the documents we need to blackmail the suckers who run things down here. I could keep kiting bad checks, filing bogus registration papers for dummy corporations, bribing Saudi sheiks for private access to their newly discovered oil fields, orchestrating another coup or two, taking a trip twice a month to the Caymans to deposit the old man's ill gotten gains, or driving a couple independent oil producers into bankruptcy, then buying them back cheap and sitting back while the fattest batch of big oil leeches, blood sucking vipers, and butt-fucking corporate whores you've ever seen in your life pour into Paradise through the gates of Babylon in search of, as Leonard Cohen once put it, "the card that is so high and wild you'll never have to deal another".

But what fun would it be to bump off Pearl? Think about it. Without her, it's all just painting by numbers and business as usual. A whiter shade of pale, if you will. It wouldn't be hard to keep her around. All I'd need to do to get her to stay is buy her a dozen long stemmed coca leaves and a box of nose candy, but unfortunately; she's not interested in anything I have to say lately. She's cooking something up, I can smell it. And I don't mean tortillas, tamales or bandeja paisa. I'm talking "The Great Escape" here.

I'm so buzzed on chá mate right now I could climb the Great Wall of China naked and not get winded, and it's not calming me down any finding the fully packed suitcase Pearl thinks I don't know about hidden under the bed. When I confront her about it she starts chirping away about how pretty it is in the jungles of Brazil this time of year. Something's up, but she's still giving me nothing. Then, as usual, she changes her mind:

"Manaus," she tells me. "It's in the tropical rain forest beside the Negro River in the heart of the Amazon. There's a bar there that's open all night called Armando's across from the square facing the Belle Époque opera house Teatro Amazonas. You'll love Manaus. We can cook up the fish we catch, munch on fresh fruit, swim in the Rio Madeirra river, sunbath nude on a secluded white sand beach, and copulate till our bones groan."

Yeah, right. Swimming in the Rio Madeirra, my ass. I read about Manaus in Condé Nast Magazine. They've got toothpick fish in that polluted waste dump that swim up the hole in your dick and blow your johnson up like a hot air balloon. Doesn't sound like much fun to me. But if you like deep-fried tarantulas or want to get yourself a brand new black market AK-47, hey, Manaus might be just the place for you.

"Seriously, Harley," Pearl says, "it's so remote, no one will ever find us there. Nobody's even heard of the place. They've got this herbal guarana-berry extract that'll make you wanta screw till you're black and blue. And the women there are almost as cute as me. So, you going with me, or what?"

Well, that's it. She's made up her mind. We're going...and her old man just paid me a hundred grand U.S. to make sure she stays put. Oh, the webs we weave. And I know what you're thinking; I ought to put her on the payroll. It's like she's doing my job for me. But for all I know, Pearl's playing me, just like her old man warned me she would. The last thing he said to me in LA before I left was: "She's a cobra, kid. It's OK to stand back and watch her wiggle her plump little rump in your face and do that cock-teasing song and dance she does, but don't stick your hand in the basket. Trust me on this."

Knowing that doesn't help, because there doesn't seem to be one damned thing I seem able to do about it, even if I wanted to, which I'm not sure I do. I'm not kidding; the girl's ruthless. Just look at her over there, chomping at the bit, packing all her shit into a suitcase that's bigger than a Ford F-150. But first, she says, she's got something on her mind; "Why is it you don't feel about me the same way I do about you, Harley. Huh? Why is that?"

"You're just ticked off that I don't fawn all over you and tell you lies about the moon and stars the way those buffed up Hollywood grips that you hang out with do. Am I right?"

"Not exactly. The fact that you have no idea how good you've got it with me, is what I like best about you. If you knew what you had, you'd get so cocky you'd most likely dress me up like a twelve-year-old virgin and sell me to Enrique for the price of that ten-dollar hooker you keep staring at over my left shoulder. What is it with you? You blind? Come to think about it, why are you with me anyway?"

"Because, in five minutes you can become anyone you want to be, but it would take a life time for anybody to be like you."

Oh oh! Where the fuck did that come from? I think I may be going soft. Damn, what next? Pearl's bawling her eyes out, hanging all over me, slobbering on my face, forgiving me for things I haven't even done to her yet. What the hell did I say? If I'd have known that's the kind of shit she wanted to hear, I could have come up with a dozen lines better than that, although I have to admit, that one kind of snuck up on me out of the blue. I don't know what the hell's happening to me, but what I do know is that I better get my head out of my ass and get straight about what I'm supposed to be doing to her down here, before she slaps a leash around my neck and makes me heel.

"You don't even know me," she blubbers, soaking my shirt.

"I know you," I tell her, "and I'll take you crazy over any sane woman I've ever known. You're just me in drag. I've known you all my life. And if you must know, you're the only family I've got. And sucking on the muddy white bones of a fat back channel catfish back on the family farm in Illinois and swapping spit with my third cousin-once-removed Gloria Docksteader doesn't count. I don't have anybody else."

Shit. Now I've really gone and done it. She's digging an elbow in my ribs, twiddling her index finger down my pants, and gurgling in my already water logged ear;

"You are such a girl, Harley."

And then she starts sobbing up another storm. Good God, you'd think the poor woman is about to drown in a sea of tears. Somebody needs to stick a thumb in the dike. Where is that little Dutch fucker when you need him? If I could have come up with lines like this when I needed to, Princess Caroline of Monaco would be breast-feeding our love child as we speak.

"OK," she says, composing her overly emotional self, giving me that do-me-on-the-desk-right-now look I love, "Brazil it is then, right?"

"Hold your horses there, Pearl. From the evil look's Enrique's been giving me lately, I'm guessing he's called your old man by now to explain in pornographic detail what it is you and I have been doing to each other down here, and assuming he did, I doubt the old man is going to be very happy about it. I figure we've got about two hours, tops, to get the hell out of Dodge."

"You think I don't know that? Why do you think I stayed up all night packing and pouring over these travel brochures? So what's it gonna be, Harley. You comin' to Brazil with me or not? What's the deal?"

She's got me now; there's no way out. I may as well just admit it; I am totally fucked -not that there's anything wrong with that. It looks to me like I'm going to Brazil, but I figure she and I had best get a few things straight first:

"The deal is, Pearl, if I go to Brazil with you, it won't all be all wine, roses, and boffing our lights out in a hammock in some romantic rain forest three times a day. I'll be gone the first time I see you disappear into the bathroom to 'powder your nose', if you get my drift. What I won't do, is cheat on you, walk out on you over nothing, or hurt you intentionally, but I can't promise anything else. You got that?"

"You left out lying," she quips, grinning ear to ear. "You think I'm not paying attention?"

"I lost my first wife because I wouldn't lie, so take it or leave it."

"Oh what the hell. Three out four's not bad."

"One more thing. If I do this thing with you, whatever the hell it is we're doing, I'm only going to do it once. This is it, OK?"

Pearl's Gulf of Mexico wide smile shoots across her pretty face like a crooked line of coke on a white porcelain plate: "Fine by me, baby cakes. Let's hit it. We've got a plane to catch."

Whew. That was close. I think I'm getting away with something here until she blurts out something on the way to the airport that's obviously been burning a hole in her brain: "When I met you, I was pushing thirty and my future was toast. I knew you were everything that's bad for me, but I didn't care. You were cute and you wanted me, but I'm not fooling myself. I know who I am; I'm a wind up sex toy that men can't get enough of. What I'm not, is Meryl Streep. I'm not going to be walking the red carpet anytime soon or getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard. I know I'm a spoiled little ex-junkie rich chick who's crazy in love with a guy who's a better actor than she is. And I know you're real name's not Harley McCoy. You're a chalk mark on white sand, that's what you are. I swear, loving you is like walking on water, I never know where I stand. Who are you anyway?"

"Trust me, you don't want to know."

"Beep. Wrong answer."

relativity or the primordial states of the universe, but it's fair to say I'm basically a random string of elementary astroparticles swimming around in a magnetic field of cosmological protoplasm which is being dragged through space by a quantum wave of gravity through a deep and dangerous black hole in the middle of nowhere. That's pretty much the way I see it."

"Well, thank you very much for that, Steven fucking Hawking. What... you can't say you like my tits and let it go at that? What is it with you these days? Good grief, if I would have wanted a lecture on strings, quarks, and quantum physics, I would have stayed in school. If we're going to run away together, I just though I should know at least something about you, that's all. Like, you ever been married?"

Shit. This isn't going to be as easy as I thought. I hand her a half crumpled up photograph I've got stashed in my wallet. I figure if I show her a picture of my first wife she'll think I'm opening up, but judging by the stunned speechless scowl on her face, I may as well have handed her a tarantula.

"You were MARRIED to that slutty little pop tart? You're one sick puppy, Harley. How old was she anyway, twelve? You probably had to burp her before you stuck it in."

"If you must know she was nineteen, and I only married her because she was pregnant."

"How noble of you. You gonna ditch me when I get wrinkles?"

Adding up the points I've been scoring in this dizzy game Pearl and I are apparently playing, I figure I'm losing about fifty to zip. I'm desperate, so I launch a Hail Mary:

"You'll never get wrinkles, baby. Your skin's smooth as polished granite; if I dropped a quarter your ass, I'd have to duck before it bounced off the ceiling and took out one of my eyes."

"Good grief, Harley, who's writing your material these days, Henny Youngman? I was only kidding about Lolita. I should have been your first wife, not that gum- smacking cow. You wanta marry me, right? Men do like me, in case you haven't noticed. Like, a lot!"

Distracted by the nuances of her fondness for breath-taking understatement, I take about three seconds too long to get back to her on that one. Make that fifty-one to zip I'm losing by. You'd think we were already married the way she's ignoring me, flitting around like a horny hummingbird looking for something red to hump. I've never seen her like this. Must be what love feels like, not that I'd know. But I do like the way she loses her icy cool, and if I get whacked tomorrow, who gives a shit? At least I won't die bored. Up until now, there's been nothing more sensual to me than a pretty Panamanian girl in a yellow summer dress with a Stradivarius tucked up under her chin playing Mozart. But Pearl is definitely growing on me, and I'm smart enough to know that I better start watching my step.

On the way to the airport, I get to thinking; if I keep doing what I've been doing, I'm going to end up a punch drunk fighter who takes the money but won't take the dive, and if I can't figure out what I'm going to about it, it won't be long before the devil comes around to claim his pound of flesh. Word on the street is, Enrique's already tipped the old man off about Pearl and me boning our asses off, but whether he did or not, won't make any difference if we don't make that plane. When we hit the departure gate, I hear a Bob Dylan tune on the staticy speaker system: "Ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more..." How weird is that? Seriously?"

After arriving in Manaus, we grab a cab outside the Eduardinho Terminal at Eduardo Gomes International Airport and tell the cabbie to keep going till he runs out of road. It doesn't take long. Dressed up like tourists, we stay hidden from the prying eyes of the occasional choppers that keep buzzing the tops of the rain forest canopy, one of which most likey belong to Pearl's old man. When we get to the water, we jump on board the boat we booked earlier for a trip to Lago Januário to catch the sites. You know...disappear for awhile. Unfortunately Pearl picked the trip to coincide with the Processão de São Pedro celebration and we have to play bumper boats nearly the whole way.

When we finally arrive, we warily tiptoe past the cross-eyed, under-fed crocodiles, and begin looking for the deserted movie set Pearl says is located just outside of town near a former rubber plantation on the banks of the Solimões River.

"Nobody will ever find us there," she crows, as if anyone sane would want to. You end up anywhere near here and you're good as alligator bait anyway, although I doubt Enrique will stop looking for us until he's positively identified our bloated spear-ridden carcasses. It doesn't dawn on me till later that he was born in Brazil and used to spend his summers hunting for piranha in the Rio Negro, but that's only one of the many things I'd forgotten about until it's too late. I'm no slouch when the chips are down but I'd rather trap a rat than shoot one. I know Enrique's rap sheet and if he ever gets a chance to pop me and snatch Pearl, the Amazon is one bad-assed place to slip away to if you don't want to be found: And if you speak Portuguese, which I don't and Enrique does, you can stay lost down here for years -or make sure somebody else does. And if anything happens to you, like say, you accidentally get your head cracked open like a pineapple with a machete, nobody will read about it in the morning papers. I don't really know all that much about Enrique, but from what I've heard about the creepy slime ball is that he'd grind Pearl and me into hamburger meat and feed us to his pet python for lunch if the price was right. I just have to count on the possibility that the old man's paying him enough to keep him calmed down long enough for us to get good and lost, and give me time to figure out what the hell I'm going to do about Pearl.

Money rules the night down here and I'm spreading cash around as fast as I can. It's not hard keeping out of sight, but considering the violent history of Enrique and his salivating voodoo-clown-sidekick Silviano, it's only a matter of time before they spot us. Being underestimated seems to be my only hold card right now, and I just hope to God Enrique thinks I'm the glorified milk toast gopher and bungling bagman that the old man has lead him to believe I am. I'm also counting on him not knowing about the two trips I made down here a few years ago after they'd discovered oil and manganese in a rain forest just outside the city of Macapá. And you can add that to the litany of things I haven't told Pearl: Like, I know how to manage the damage I've caused and protect people who don't deserve to get hurt. Not that I'm St. Harley of Assisi; I have no idea how to live life on the square. I don't even own a car, for Christsakes. Hell, the last time I paid federal income taxes was 1982. In fact, the only reason I'm not in the slammer right now is because I've got one of the country's best and most discreet tax attorneys on speed dial. I may have been the high school salutatorian at St. Mary's back in Illinois, but it didn't stop me from being the first kid in my class to get kicked out of school for putting my fist in the face of a priest I caught humping a thirteen year old choir boy buddy of mine. That pretty much sealed my already rotten reputation for swinging first and not asking questions later, not to mention forever enshrining my infamous legacy in parochial school lore.

A scarlet macaw is screeching away in a palm tree on the banks of the Solimões, which is no more than a lazy yellow dribble of piss meandering forlornly beneath our sad little steam-driven ship of fools. Playing tourist would be fun if it wasn't a hundred and ten degrees outside and if the sinister black thunder clouds weren't gathering in the rotten orange-colored sky to the south. Thank God, the further into the Amazon basin we go, the cooler it gets. No wonder the Manaõs tribe that once inhabited the area got themselves wiped out. They probably didn't even fight back it was so hot.

On the edge of the shore, there's a monstrous boa constrictor soaking up the last of the late afternoon sun and he doesn't look happy to see us. He's most likely wondering what a boatload of gringo assholes is doing out here without mosquito nets. Last time I slept in a hammock without one, I was six-years-old. Nothing says "Amazon" like a big snake with a screeching kingfisher locked in it's jaws.

A couple Bayano Cuna spear fisherman hunting for piranha in a rustic dug out canoe, appear suddenly out of a muddy Igarapé and move towards us, staring as if they'd like to know how anybody could be so stupid as to come down here this time of year to gawk at birds whose names they can't even pronounce. Don't ask me what we're doing here; ask Pearl. I have no idea what possessed her to pick this evil shit box to hole up in. From the looks of Alice in Adventureland over there, strutting around in her new Josie Jungle print spaghetti-strap camisole-pants outfit, chatting up a couple bird watchers from Nebraska, you'd think she'd just booked a hostess gig on the Discovery Channel. Don't get me wrong, I like pink dolphins as much as the next guy, but I'm not crazy about the idea of floating for two hours down this muddy trickle of spit in a leaking crate on our way to Novo Airão to see one.

Off to the starboard side, there's a lard-assed alligator on the river bank, polishing off a Howler monkey that only seconds earlier had been chomping away peacefully on a Brazil nut. People actually pay good money to see this shit. I swear to God it's Disneyland-on-acid down here. And believe it or not, Pearl wants to go even further south to Peru to see the iridescent blue morpho butterflies and listen to and blue-and-yellow macaws screaming themselves hoarse in the crazy blue jungle skies.

"When I was a girl," she tells me, "my mother would take me there to see the otter and the pink and grey river dolphins churning up the river. I never minded sopping up sweat and swinging at mosquitoes. I can hardly remember my mother, but sometimes, I can hear her squealing with joy when she'd see a translucent tree frog or a hairless pink monkey. Those memories all come back to me sometimes. After all, she was my mother and I don't plan on letting the old man get away with the way he treated her. That's just one more thing I'll make him pay for someday."

Watching the sparks in her eyes turn dark as the coffee-colored river mud that dribbles along menacingly beneath our poor excuse for a boat, I believe her. And I know enough to keep my mouth shut.

Enrique's on his way; I can smell him. I just have to figure out where to stash Pearl long enough to concentrate on putting him out of his misery without getting her cute little cantaloupe butt in a sling. Nobody will miss that diseased cockroach, except maybe Pearl's old man. He's had the sub-human deviate doing his dirty work around here for so long, he couldn't take a dump unless Enrique was standing by to wipe his lazy ass. Without all the corruption, bribery, political graft, and big oil money floating around down here, the old man wouldn't last a week running a legitimate business. He needs Enrique more than he needs me, but hopefully, he hasn't figured that out yet. Time will tell.

As much fun as I'm having watching wild animals rip each other's guts out and then eating them, I begin to realize that it's time to put an end to this voyage of the damned before somebody human gets hurt. It's amazing what a few greenbacks will get you in this impoverished hell hole.

While Miss Fauna & Flora is busy talking the bird watchers from Nebraska into skinning-dipping in the piranha-infested river, I hustle over to the captain's cabin to tap into his secure, space-aged TETRA Digital Mobile Communications System. This isn't any ordinary tourist boat we're on, and the CIA would shit a brick if they knew the ex-spook pal of mine that I rented it from had let me use their precious phone. When Pearl's old man finally picks up, I get right to the point:

"It seems, boss, there's been a few new developments down here since we've last talked. First of all, I've had second thoughts about making Pearl's disappearance permanent and would like to amend our deal. What I'd like to suggest is, if you let Pearl walk, I can guarantee you that she won't talk to anybody about anything that relates to your shady political career or your felonious climb up the corporate ladder. If you don't let her walk, I talk. I've already set in place a plan to release copies of a boatload of documented evidence of every move you've made for the last twenty-years to the six major news conglomerates, the California nominating committee, and the ConocoPhillips board of directors. I know how much you've been coveting that CP CEO job that's going to be open once the current boss has an unfortunate airline accident, and it would be a shame to lose your shot at a job like that. Could be your stairway to the Governor's office."

I think I can hear the old man breathing, but it sounds more like a monkey whimpering for its mommy.

"Now listen carefully," I tell him. I've got facts, figures, names, times, dates; I've even got one entry that documents in detail the night you banged the Venezuela Ambassador's wife, Imelda, at the Tamanaco InterContinental Hotel in Caracas four years ago. I've also got the actual pharmacy receipt of the prescription that her personal physician wrote for the case of the clap you gave her. Oh, did I mention the hidden video that the room service guy sold me for a pack of Lucky Strikes? I don't think those born-again fundamentalist voters in Palookaville who worship the water you think you walk on will be very forgiving if they see the way you gussied up poor Imelda in a pair of crotchless panties and a nun's habit and made her sing 'Jesus Christ, Superstar'" at the top of her lungs. She takes a nice picture, but the barking at the moon, doggie-on-all-fours, peeing-on-your-face routine was a bit much, don't you think? And that's not even the interesting part.

"So listen, here's the deal. You harm one hair on Pearl's head and I'll erase any chance you ever had of grabbing that top spot at ConocoPhillips: And you can flat forget about being the governor of California, or, God forbid, the vice-president. And there's nothing you, Enrique, or his rabid pack of glue sniffing coco cowboys can can do to stop me. I may have lost my shot at getting into The London School of Economics by getting booted out of Stanford six-hours shy of getting my graduate degree (after beating the shit out of my professor for the B he gave me for boning his fiancé, instead of giving me the A I'd earned), but I've wised up since then. I got it all down in black and white. And once the media gets their hands on this shit, you won't even be able to get elected to the Dog Patch school board. You listening to me?"

The silence rumbling through of the transcontinental line is awe-inspiring. I can actually hear his teeth grinding. I'd rather listen to the devil sing Christmas carols, but Garbo finally speaks:

"Oh, I'm listening alright, you cocksucking little back-stabbing schmuck. But if you think those talking heads on the nightly news or the cable channels are going to release that crock of shit you think you've got on me, think again. You wanta know who owns those outlets? NBC? General Electric. ABC? Disney. CBS? Viacom. CNN? AOL. Time Warner? FOX? That Aussie neocon hag Rupert Murdoch owns that one, just like he owns the Wall Street Journal, but we own most of the rest of them, lock, stock and barrel. Hell, I'm on half of those boards. We determine what the sheep read and listen to, because we are the media. Men like me built this fucking country. And our political objectives and military strategies have always been subservient to expanding the corporate empire, and believe me, once you give politicians, corporate hacks, and the Pentagon that kind of power, they are never going to give it back. We're like bottom-feeding sharks that way, trolling the murky depths, devouring anything that moves. But sharks don't eat sharks. We've got the money, the political capital, and the military clout to take care of our own, and we've earned the right to run this country. Just look at the numbers; the wealthiest one percent of the population of the U.S (which would be me and my friends), earned twenty-one-percent of all of its combined income last year, and the bottom fifty-percent (that would be you), earned less than thirteen percent. You get the picture?"

When the old man gets angry he normally hides behind a wall of bizarre theory, extremist abstraction, and unrestrained fury, but when he really gets mad, he sets up an impenetrable wall of distraction, smoke, and mirrors and starts spewing his latest take on why he and his obscenely wealthy pals have been ordained by God to rule the earth and precisely how they are going to go about doing that:

"What it all comes down to," he says, "is to educate the opiated masses to disregard the facts and then get the fuck out of our way. After all, facts are nothing but inconsequential diversions, and lucky for us, the primordial rubes who vote for our political proxies are too intellectually lazy to know who they're voting for. None of this is brain surgery; we're in the business of building a new Americanized world order in order to make the world safe for Monsanto, Exxon, Microsoft, and Dow Chemical by spreading capitalism throughout the world by any means possible, including the use of pre-emptive force based on false facts and cherry picked Intel. It worked in the selling of the war Iraq, why not down there in Bananaland? Hell, we're the ones who built the juiced-up military/industrial complex Eisenhower and Roosevelt bitched about. And why the hell shouldn't we have the right to force democracy on any country we can buy, steal, or militarily defeat on the cheap? It's how the game's played. You know the drill: we send in the CIA, start up a revolution, shut down the current government, and then install a stooge who puts serial short sellers, bottom line profiteers, predatory lenders, and mega-corporate supply siders who live off the weaknesses of the economically wounded in charge of policing themselves, and then we send in an economic hit man like you to pull the strings and collect the spoils."

I couldn't resist: "Isn't that's like arresting a life long career pedophile and allowing him to serve his time in a junior high girls' locker room?" The old man doesn't say anything but it doesn't stop me from ranting on:

"I swear to God, Eisenhower and FDR would turn over in their graves if they could see how right they were when they predicted the fiasco that's resulted from the unholy alliance you constructed between crooked politicians, the multi-mega nationals, the military, and the Defense Department: Not to mention the orthodox evangelical cultists and Bible beating theocrats who pimped their supernatural dogma to Congress and then colluded with the fossilized remains of the war mongering old war whores at the Pentagon and State Department to sell it like soap to the suckers who vote for the political gansters who support them. Four thousand dead, over thirty thousand wounded, Afganhistan about to go up in smoke, and your wingnut fanatic pals still don't get it."

"Uh...whatever you say, Einstein. Who stuck a stick up your butt? By the way, they're not my wingnut pals. I think you've been watching too much Air America and MSNBC. But then, some of us blue collar schmucks didn't get a free ride to UCLA, so I'll have to take your word for whatever the fuck you just said. You're the one with the fancy-assed degree in Economics, you oughta know this shit. What you keep forgetting is, war is a blood sport, not Tiddly Winks. Even the right wing Jesus freaks like Pat Robertson make back room deals with the devil. You know what it is I pay you to do. I should be preaching to the choir here. You've been facilitating those loans and clandestine coups down there long enough to know how the game works. Hell, the CIA is recruiting Spanish-speaking operatives as we speak. It's time we got back to work down south and started kicking some spic ass. And it's time we made ourselves some money while we're at it. You of all people should know how the deal works. I know you once thought working on the merger and acquisitions team at Shearson Lehman Brothers, playing front man at Madoff's various feeder funds, and trading options in the Chicago pits and the NY Merch wasn't as thrilling as holding up a bank. Not that watching the fucking ticker tape at Kidder and Peabody or spreading rumors in order to manipulate share prices down the drain was any picnic, but I got you those jobs for a reason. I needed someone on the inside: Someone who understood how options exchanges, derivative trading, and feeder funds work. If that dumb assed frog scam trader Jérôme Kerviel, could lose $7 billion of Société Générale's money, and Bernie Madoff and his vampire ghoul of a wife could make off with 50 billion, imagine what you could have made if it hadn't been for that sticky little integrity issue you've always seemed to have. Ok, so Kerviel and the kike got caught, but you were a lot more careful than those gluttonous assholes and if you would have just kept your pie hole shut and kept doing what I told you to do, you could have made more than the £827 million Nick Leeson lost Barings Bank a few years back. Stealing money isn't brain surgery. Ask my old pal Bernie. They didn't call him the "Jewish T-bill" for nothing. You think it's easy getting into the Palm Beach Country Club, or the Boca Rio in Boca Raton, or the Bohemian Club? Hell, it costs $25,000 to join and $5000 a month to get into that Nazi-loving boys' club. You gotta have a pile of cabbage to buy your way into any of those fat cat preppy dives. Of course falsifying documents, concealing deals, illicitly trading without authorization, misappropriating other people's computer access codes, and buying stocks, commodities, and currencies low and selling them highs doesn't hurt. And listen, kid. You've got to admit that you learned more working for me than you ever could have at the la dee da London School of Economics, and I admit that we made major league money on the info you gave us. But the one thing you SHOULD have learned is, you can skulk around in a back alley and stick a gun in somebody's face like some thritee-year old, drug-addled Somali pirate, but I'm telling you, it's a lot easier to rob people with a fountain pen. It's not about guns, bombs, and bullets anymore, it's about acquiring control of capital and natural resources without firing a shot. And the way you control capital and resources is by getting find out about what's going to happen next, and then leveraging the shit out of the info. For instance, once you control a country's energy supply, you control the machinery of power. Just ask Putin how that's working out for him in Russia. Last time I saw him at the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Hanoi he was wearing a sixty-thousand dollar Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch on his wrist. You know what I'm talking about?"

"Uh, we about done here, boss?"

"Listen, you ungrateful fuck. I know a shake down when I see one, and if you think you can scam me into paying you and Pearl off for keeping your fat yaps shut, think again.

Let me refresh your memory about a few things. What those Ivy League patsies and cream puff professors at UCLA, Colombia, Harvard Business School, and the University of Chicago don't teach you golden boys anymore, is that you its one thing to commit trading scams, fraudulent transactions, and computer fraud, but's it's a whole other ballgame to blackmail a guy like me. The way to get rich these days is to con resources out of countries too stupid to know they just got robbed. I think you'd be a lot better off getting back to making money the old fashioned way: stealing it. And the best way to do that, as you well know, is to first pick a country, install a dictator de rigueur who has no problem with us fleecing it, talk the poor sap into privatizing the national industries, which of course will breed corruption, and, when the state sells off state-owned businesses and assets to the highest bidders, we sit back and watch guys like you deposit our profits into numbered accounts in the Caymans. Nobody but the giant multinationals see a dime. Hell, we're talking about backward primates here. It's nearly as bad in Central and South America as it is in Africa where a kid dies every fifteen minutes. Most of the spics down there in Latin and South America still live in the dark ages, but if the banana boat pilots running the state play (with the help of our CIA surrogates) agree to sell off half their nation's assets, namely, to us, then we win. Game over. And while we get richer, those pompous strutting peacocks we put in power buy themselves snazzy Rolls Royces, pin some dime store medals on their lackey's chests, trade in their little women for high priced trophy whores, and move into spiffy new gold-plated palaces; and if they don't play along, you read about the plane crash in the papers.

"Sounds like business as usual in Washington D.C. to me," I say. "But ya know what, boss. I know this shit you're selling me may fly in the far right extremist, white supremist, Milton Friedman supply-side netherworld you live in, but someday, those people you've robbing blind are going to wake up and turn on you."

"You mean us, right?"

"Yeah, right. Whatever you say. But if you're right about who built this country, and your contribution to it, then you're responsible for this mess we're in now. You broke it, you fix it. Which reminds me, how is the war in Afghanistan and Iran working out for you guys anyway?"

"Not bad, actually. We're making a fucking fortune on that war. Hell, we funded al Qaeda and Bin Laden during their battle against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and we funded Saddam when he agreed to fight our surrogate war for us against Iran. And when it suited our purpose, we hung him out to dry. Don't they teach you kids to read history books in those fancy colleges anymore? You ever heard of Jaime Roldos, Mossadegh, Omar Torrijas, Colonel Alvador Beltran Luna, Carlos Castillo Armas, Salvador Allende, Augusto Cesar Sandino, or the Shah of frigging Iran? The CIA murdered those guys and most of the ones they didn't kill, died broke. You don't play, you pay. It's like that game 'whack a mole'. Sometimes you gotta break a few heads. Power doesn't come cheap, ya know. Whenever a greedy dictator-for-hire pops up and stabs us in the back, we book him a flight. Then, after the funeral, we go hire another stooge in a shiny black shark-skin suit to take his place. It's like three-card ante. We send corporate hit men like you to sweep into town in the dead of night in the name of regime change or whatever, swindle the clueless morons out of their country's family jewels and then walk away clean. Of course it's all a lot easier to get all that power once you get your political operatives in the Administration, Congress, and their fat cat friends to go along with your plan to rig the financial markets and get the Pentagon to back your pre-emptive, economic wars of opportunity."

Once again, I couldn't resist: "Nice work, if you can get it. Beats having to make an honest living. But seriously, is this fanatic little gab fest going somewhere?"

"It will if you'll shut the fuck up for minute. I'm almost done here. Now think about it; why the hell do you think I sent you to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to meet with Ahmad Aziz of the Foreign Ministry a few summers ago? The packages you delivered to money grubbing deviants like him were worth millions to us. What you never seemed to understand is, if you can predict the next catastrophe, the world is a cash machine. You know how it works; we're building our own private Ponzi scheme and that takes cash: I mean a cargo plane of cash. We're going for the big oil score here and the action ain't the Middle East. In fact, I don't know why we didn't just buy Iraq from Saddam in the first place and then outsource the management of the place to India. Would have saved us all a lot of grief. Those camel fucking invented mathematics, for Christsakes. They know as much about quadratic equations and algebraic conic sections as they do roadside bombs and IED's. And even if the Pentagon hires Kellogg Brown & Root, Bechtel, Fluor, and Haliburton to turn the entire Middle East into a giant Disneyland, it'll take twenty years: And us old farts don't have twenty years. Hopefully, once the idiots who dreamed up that cockeyed pipe dream crawl back into their McMansions in Beverly Hills and the Hamptons, we can get back to making money in Latin America. That's still where the big bucks are, and there aren't any rag heads to deal with down there. We're in the economic fight of our lives, kid, and believe me, we've already lost control of the Middle East. I know it's in our national DNA to expand our influence and assure our stranglehold over the third world and their resources, but it's time to exercise our moral imperative to move our stalled global crusade south. That's all I'm saying. We gotta get while the getting's good, because, the FED can't bailout everybody and there's no way to stop the coming depression. The war we should be fighting is a socioeconomic one in Central and South America. We need to solidify our hold on the their assets we've already got, and acquire the new resources we'll need to guarantee our fucking survival in the future: And our survival depends on oil. Green energy, my ass. Fuck alternative energy. And don't tell me you haven't you heard of the Monroe Doctrine? We've been ordained by God to be the caretaker of the world's petrochemical resources. Just ask Pat Robertson. He's got us covered with the man upstairs on that one. We're above parochial ideals, values, morality, and the rule of law. God gave us dominion. Go check. It's in the Bible."

"Well, unlike some people I won't mention, I've actually read the book, and I don't recall seeing anything in there that says building a worldwide empire by military force ever has, or ever will, succeed for long. Just look at how that worked out for the Romans, the British, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, the Russians, and all those other empire builders who went belly up."

"Yeah, but they were idiots, every one of them. The way you take over and hold a country whose resources you wish to buy, steal, or otherwise control, like the ones we own in Latin America, is to leverage, manipulate, bribe, blackmail, bankrupt, threaten, deceive, distract, cajole, and seduce; you don't slam a big stick up their butt. It's just basic business. We gobble up losers, plant stories in the financial press, and then sell short before the profits tank. Using carrots is less messy than invading other countries and it doesn't require murdering so many innocent people. That's not cost affective. Even if there are eight billion freedom hating Muslims out there shitting in a hole in the dirt, wiping their asses with their sleeves, we've gotta learn to play nice with them. Not one of those goat fuckers doesn't want a new camera phone, an HD-TV, and an iPod."

"In case you haven't noticed, boss, since that pesky recession started a few years back, there's been a revolution going on between the haves and the have-nots, and the have-nots are really pissed at you guys."

"As well they should be, the blood-thirsty, camel-humping, Jesus-hating freaks. This inconceivable occupation of both Afganhistan and Iraq is only fanning the flames. What we need to do is get back to stealing the oil and other natural resources we need without having to blow the shit out of everybody. The southern hemisphere has everything we need, so let's go take it. It's the only way. We've been fucking those people down there over with untenable loans for a hundred years, but by the time the rest of the world discovers how deep in debt we've become, and that we can't pay back our loans, it'll be payback time for sure. Even those sheep-fucking, Saudi sheiks, camel-humping Dubai emirs, and commie chinks in China know what happens when those debts come due. What our government's been doing in the Mideast for years is exactly what the largest monopolistic corporations in the western hemisphere have been doing to smaller businesses since the turn of the last century. It's nothing short of a hostile leveraged buyout, but the price is too high. There's an easier way. If you own and control the media, the politicians, the Justice Department, the White House, and Congress, you can pretty much do whatever you want to anybody in the world. Come to think of it, I don't know why we don't just go over there to the Middle East and nuke the sons-of-bitches; then, after the radioactivity dies down, we send in our best people, kill everything left standing, collect the spoils, and then run for our lives with the loot. Why occupy a fucking country when you buy it lock stock and barrel, crown your dictator de jour, embroil him in a mountain of debt, and when he defaults on the loans, set up a series of leveraged buyouts and start collecting your fees, bonuses, and stock options. Hell, the Chinese have already purchased over $387 billion dollars of our Treasury bonds; why not sell them the countries we conquer?

"Listen to me. The barbarians may already be pounding at the gate, but fortunately; the solution is simple. Fuck borrowing money from China; let's just go steal it from South and Central America. It's time to get back to digging around in our own back yard for the oil and other energy we need, and start eliminating syphilitic roaches like Hugo Chávez who don't want us to have it. It's him and the other anti-American, left-wing radical dictators in Latin America we should be worrying about, not those psycho thugs in al-Qaeda. Those blood-thirsty towel heads have already begun to eat their own. Can you even imagine what we could be doing with all that money we're throwing down a rat hole in that polluted land fill over there? We could have bought Venezuela by now."

"Well, boss, you just better hope Hugo and the other neighorhood bullies don't nationalize all the sugar, rubber, banana, and coffee plantations, gold mines, oil and gas companies, and everything else you've got control of down here, because, in case you haven't noticed, the Muslims in the Middle East aren't the only hostile takeover targets in the world who hate our guts."

"Well, don't count on Hugo living long enough to avoid getting a banana stuck so far up his fat ass he'll shit fruit for years. I keep telling you, kid, there's nobody that can't be bought and sold for a profit if the timing's right, and we have an edge. Those hot-blooded Latin types tend to sell out cheaper than those mutton-munching Muslim cocksuckers. Hell, even our own government spends more on K-Street lobbyists than they do cancer research in this country. And the CEOs of nearly half the multinational companies in the country work either with us, or for us. Why risk gambling on shit like oil futures when we can control the price per barrel of crude by controlling the fields themselves. Don't worry about ole Evo Morales, Corea, and Hugo Chávez. Believe me, they'll all be getting on the wrong plane soon enough. Remember, we make the rules, and we're going to keep doing to Latin America what we've been doing to our best friends' wives for years, in spite the cardboard cutout commies stirring things up down there."

" And how exactly do you propose to do that?"

"We do it by doing what we're best at: Backing neo-fascist assassins like we did Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta in El Salvador during the civil war that we financed down there back in the 80's: The same way we supported and funded his CIA stooge successor José Napoleón Duarte Fuentes. We made a fortune on that deal and not one American soldier or diplomat got killed over it. Hell, it was you who facilitated the sale of military equipment to those unstable slugs to the tune of about ten million dollars. I hope you're taking notes, because if you think you're going to fuck with me, you better know this shit. And don't think that fictitious pile of trumped up lies, forged documents, doctored photos, staged videos, innuendos, doctored death bed confessions, or rumors you've cooked up is going to stop me and my friends from fulfilling our God given manifest destiny. Expansionism is in our blood and it's in our country's own best interest. Roosevelt called us Royalists but he was wrong. We're patriots, Goddamnit. Our domination of the planet is inevitable. It's God's will. Fuck anybody who doesn't think so. If I had my way, I'd line up every motherfucking one of you do gooder socialistic Peace Corp types and slice off your dicks so you can't breed. Do you seriously think that a glorified gladiator and small time, corporate fixer like you is going to stop our crusade to rule the world?

"One can only dream."

"Listen, you sarcastic fuck, it's the white man's burden to clean up the cesspools in those Chiquita banana republics down there. As long as they've got gold, hardwood lumber, bananas, sugar, oil, gas, and the other goodies we need, people like me are going to keep getting it on the cheap. They've got it and we want it, end of story. Count on it. You think the mindless middle class has the stomach to give up their gas guzzling Range Rovers, Land Cruisers, Ford Expeditions, and Cadillac Escalades? Not going to happen. Just ask Jimmy Carter how that fifty five mile an hour speed limit deal worked out for him. The dictators who rule Latin American governments have always been supported by elite cabals of the world's richest men, and they understand our addiction to gas and oil. They have no moral qualms about making sweet heart deals with banks, financial institutions, multinational conglomerates, K-Street influence peddlers, and more importantly, big oil sheiks and emirs who can keep the spigots open. They've already sold their souls to the devil; they've got nothing more to lose. That's what poverty does to people, and I know what it's like to be poor. My old man was an itinerant Texas oil trash rounder from Midland who married his Wellesley-educated secretary in the late thirties, struck it rich in the forties, and then swallowed a bullet when he lost it all in the crash of '82. My old man left us nothing. Everything I got I earned."

"You mean, stole, don't you?"

"What difference does it make how I got it. I deserved it. When you get cheated like that, you've got the right. Rich white guys like me have been building military and CIA backed alliances and loosely affiliated confederacies of economic slave states run by right wing tyrants who control totally corrupt totalitarian regimes down there in Central and South America for a hundred and fifty years or more, and if we don't keep exploiting their insatiable greed and lust for wealth and power, then somebody else will. It may as well be us."

"So how did those scams you helped promoted to the stock holders of Enron, AIG, GM, and Chrysler work out for you and your monied-up pals anyway?"

"Don't give me that shit, smart guy. Your the economics major. Enlighten me."

"You want the Cliff Notes version?"


"The real reason companies like Enron failed was because of the hubris of megalomaniacs who ran the place and bought and wielded political power and influence the same way you used to trade Nikkei index futures and derivatives in the Chicago Pits. They failed to control their company's cash flow and capital resources, and by greatly overreaching in their acquisitions and fast-track expansion across the world, the greedy fucks conspired to commit securities, bank, mail fraud, and insider trading, and then they made false statements to banks and the public, cooked the books to cover their debts, and mislead investors, bankers, and their own employees about their overall losses, which of course resulted in a run on the stock, lowered credit ratings, and caused insolvency, which resulted in the largest bankruptcy in US history. The end."

"'Well, fuck all that; it's all water under a bridge that burned a long time ago. It's all about oil now. Why do you think the rag heads call Dubai the 'City of Gold'? And why do you think they call oil, 'the black blood of Allah' ? Because in our life time, oil will continue be the driving force that determines the stability of the world, and our control of its price, supply, and distribution is the axis on which that stability turns-that's why. Fuck wind, solar, geothermal, bio diesel, and ethanol. Ain't gonna happen. They pump over a hundred and thirty thousand barrels of oil out of the fields of Dukhan, Qatar in one day alone, and with prices rising like they have been, you do the math. Why waste time trading options, commodities, grain futures, or derivatives when we can make money taking a cut of the international petrochemcal action. Fuck the Delta spreads, credit default swaps, Ginzies and proprietary trading. You need a PhD to understand all that convoluted cockamamie bullshit. Whether you trade eggs, bananas, grain, pork bellies, precious metals, or butter, you're still betting the come and trading shit whose value depends on underlying assets or securities. Forget about that. It takes too much luck to win that crooked crap shoot. Too many variables. Is it really so hard for a bright guy like you to understand why we want to move on to what we do best and why it's so important to play a game we win with such predictable regularity?

"Don't tell me. You cheat, right?"

"You say that like it's a bad thing. What is it with you, biting the hand that feeds you all the time. Some of us weren't teacher's pet in high school, and didn't make the honor roll, or get picked for valedictorian, or get an A in anything but gym. Hell, I had to buy half my grades to get my law degree from the University of Houston but here I am, still standing. You don't get where I am without cheating. If we can plant a mole like you on a trading floor, brokerage house, or investment bank somewhere and you leak us insider info, we're too far ahead of the game to get caught. Not to mention the fact that we've got half the judges and prosecutors involved in these investigations in our pockets. All we need is forewarning. We can't control illogical political violence or the vagaries of randomness, but if we can tilt the table and skew the odds just enough to control the damage once the shit goes down, we can cheat the house nine times out of ten. And crude is still king."

"Yeah, well, those vagaries of randomness are impossible to predict with any quantitative accuracy, so don't fall in love with your own hype. Things you see aren't always what you think they are. Quantum physics says that the act of observation affects the reality that is observed and that the inherent fluidity of science and philosophy belies dogma. Everything's in motion, and nothing ever really sleeps. Everything changes and everything is in perpetual motion. Nothing dies. It's all invisible quantum energy. And it's all random. That's my take on it anyway."

"Well thank you very much, Deepak Chopra? Jesus. lighten up, would you? I swear to God, I never understand one fucking word you say half the time? Fortunately, you're not the only brainiac in town. You left out one important piece of the puzzle. Just like in our hedge fund days, you need leverage. Remember, tactics equals amateurs, and logistics equals professionals. You need a long term logistical strategy to be able to predict catastrophes, and, once you get that edge, start your engines, because the race is on. All it takes is a nod, a wink, a tip, or a whispered leak over martini's at the Polo Lounge. Otherwise, you're just another sucker betting against the house; and in the long run, the house always wins. Luckily for us, we are the house...but that doesn't mean we're gamblers. In the long run, ninety percent of the gamblers out there lose, and why shoot skeet when you can shoot fish in a barrel?

"Well you know what they say, Wall Street is just Vegas on crank."

"No shit, hot shot. And Wall Street loves me. Hell, even the Pope kissed my ring and gave me a medal a few years back when I greased the skids for a new church in Panama City that I got built. The things you gotta do. My Lord, I'm amazed they haven't made me a saint yet."

"Bene est rex esse."


"That's Latin for, 'it's good to be king'."

"You bet your ass it is, and fortunately, for those of us who rule the economic kingdom, in spite of the fact that the world economy is still a one armed bandit, the game is fixed. It's like playing chess with half the pieces missing. And we know where the pieces are hidden. We also know how to get the leverage we need and how to game the system. If you want to survive, you have to parlay that advantage into action. We work in the dark, like roaches, and they can't kill all of us. You should know that, because you were always one of our top producers. Even if you never did give a shit about money, you sure as hell made us plenty of it. You were sharp as a tack and you were fucking fearless: I saw you nigger-rig a hundred deals out of twine, toothpicks, WD-40, and duct tape. You knew when to calculate the variables, how to quantify the risk, when to pull the trigger, and when to take the 'money shot'. You were good, kid, but somewhere along the line, you developed a conscience, and when you swim in a bloody tank surrounded by sharks, a conscience is as irresistible as a fresh wound; they can smell it on you.'

"OK, I get it. You're the guy behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, right? Well, sadly enough for you, I'm afraid they call that collusion, influence peddling, tampering, and insider trading: And you know how the SEC feels about that. Just ask my bunkmate at Lompoc."

"Well, actually it's more like 'Skull and Bones' and the men behind the curtain don't want you to know who they are for a reason. Some of them duke it out in public once in awhile, but most of them prefer to work in the shadows, keeping things secret as they troll the depths of the world's economies, fiddling with the levers of power, backing politicians they can buy and sell like Ivory soap, hunting for acquisitions, digging for black gold, tweaking the odds, building their economic world wide empire."

"Got it. Like the piranha they are, they feed the frenzy. How Malthusian, eating their young and multiplying like rats, right? "

"Yeah. Rich rats. They breed, eat, and make money. That's about it. It's what they do. It's what we all do. Or used to. It's not as easy to steal as it used to be. Even things like Pit trading are going electronic, and due to state-of-the-art surveillance and monitoring, there won't even be any more traders on the floor eventually. But fortunately, there are still a lot of ways to skin a cat. Even a fat cat."

I'd love to interrupt the old man's ever growing psychotic train of thought to remind him that he and his xenophobic racist pals are barely civilized totalitarian thugs, gangsters. and chauvinistic zealots who don't have the cognitive or intellectual capability to differentiate between right and wrong, but why waste my breath? To them, it's always been a matter of "us versus them", "our way or the highway", and "he who dies with the most toys wins". And all that matter to them are money and winning. The old man's right. It's all about sex, drugs, and dirty money. And anything goes. Leverage your ass off and gamble with other people's money. They're right and everybody else is wrong. The concept of ethics plays no role in their decision making process, and because they truly are apolitical, pathologically dishonest, and intrinsically immoral sociopaths, they operate in an existential vacuum in which there is no intrinsic compunction to adhere to any moral, spiritual, or constitutional law. Not that I'm George Washington when it comes to spinning a tale or two, but at least I have a frigging conscience. Without one, there's nothing people like the old man won't do to turn a profit: And nothing he won't do to Pearl to stop her from getting in his way. But I'm afraid he's been living on another planet for so long, what good would it do to say anything to him about it? Ok, I admit it. I did cash the pay checks he sent me, so shoot me. I LIKE silk sheets, cashmere jackets, and Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon chronograph watches. I never said I was a saint. But I've had about enough of old man's rant and try to save a little time by summing things up for him:

"Ok. Let me get this straight. The new and improved Roman Empire is on the march, greed is good, and it's perfectly acceptable to do whatever it takes to stay in power, including paying somebody to pop a cap in your own daughter's back. I get it. But I'm not giving the money you've paid me back. Now can we move along?"

"Well now. You may think you're better than me, but you're not. I've seen you get in the face of a Panamanian banker who wouldn't back one of our loans, and if that's not terrorism, I don't know what is. And don't give me any of Maria Karina's sanctimonious left-wing fanatic bullshit. You're the 'Good German' here, not me. What I am is your own worst enemy come to life. I know about your condo in Cannes and that Art Deco pussy palace you own near the beach on Paloma Plage in Cap-Ferrat. And you can forget about hiding out on that pseudo-yacht you keep on the port of St. Jean. I know your shady neighbors and they'd roll over on their own mothers for a fin. I'll have Enrique show up at the Voile d'Or, spread around a few francs, and your running days will be over. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate you doing your time at Ralph M. Parsons, Kidder Peabody, the NYC Mercantile, and the Chicago pits, hustling financials, T-Bills, and grain contracts. You were a good soldier. I gave you the kind of education money can't buy. I paid you a boatload of money to go where I sent you and to do did what you were told. I remember when you were nothing but a burned out keyboard banger and night shift button pusher, learning arbitrage, futures, equity, proprietary and index trading, playing the margins at the CBOT and God knows where else. Thanks to me, you raked in half a million in your worst year as a semi-rogue Nick Leeson wannabe. You were a fair-haired rookie sensation in those bad old days, and you became one of my top producers. And even if you never did give a shit about money, you sure as hell made yourself and me plenty of it. You were sharp as a tack and you were fucking fearless. I saw how you nigger-rigged a hundred deals out of twine, toothpicks, and duct tape. That McGruder guyt had nothing on you: You knew how to quantify the risk and calculate the variables, and you knew when to pull the trigger and take the 'money shot'. You had the gift, Goddamnit. You, better than anybody, knew there's nothing that can't be bought and sold for a profit. But those high flying days are over now, and I'm going to have to find another way to get back my investment in you. It's time to you paid the pauper, kid. You're in over your head, but if you do this one job for me, you're out. Like I told you, having Pearl disappear is going to happen with or without you, and if you go through with this tired old cliché of dropping a dime on me based on some concocted bullshit about a video, a suitcase full of files, a diary, photos, or whatever the hell it is you think you've got on me, I'll just send somebody else down there to finish the job. You think I can't find some Buenaventura slum punk to whack Pearl for the price of a pack of Gold Flake fags? And if I find out Enrique's right, and that you have been laying the wood to that vindictive little smack-happy step-slut of mine, instead of dropping her cold dead carcass in a pen full of half starved pigs, I'll just have Enrique chop off your piss stick and throw it in the hole with her. I know that sick twist and he won't think twice about cutting out your liver and sautéing it in bacon and onions for lunch. Now, you wanta forget about your half-baked amateur scheme you've cooked up and do what I hired you to do, or not?"

Calling the bluff of a ruthless and streaky gambler, while holding the shitty cards I've got, isn't as difficult as it may seem. You just go all in and turn to stone while you watch the other guy sweat: "Leave Pearl alone," I tell him, "or your career is dead bang dead."

The sound of silence is not as comforting as you may think. The old man's voice sounds more grizzled than the suppressed groan of a wolf with its foot in a bear trap: "You've got a black heart, you know that, kid."

"Not as black as the night I nailed your wife in the back of the Bentley you bought her. Now, are you going to let Pearl walk or not?"

Ignoring the barb he barks back, "What, you can't throw her in front of a truck? She wears contacts, you know. She's half fucking blind without them; she'll never see it coming. And make it look good. I don't want that commie Jew, Wolf Blitzer on CNN snooping around down there, digging up the dirt, so to speak."

"What is this, the Sopranos? Have you heard even one thing I've been telling you?"

"Ok, fuck it. Turn that bitch into bait and let the sharks have at her. Don't make me come down there."

As macho and cock sure of himself as he is, I can hear the gears whine in the old man's brain pan. Smoke's pouring out of the receiver and I swear I can actually feel the damned thing melting in my hand. He's a hot headed psycho when he's mad and it only gets worse when he's running out of time: And he's not a patient man. The California gubernatorial primaries are less than a year away and he's not even trying to hide his rotten cards. Obviously looking to leverage a compromise, he finally tosses one out there like a horse's head in a snitch's bed:

"You win this round, Harley. But if I was you, I wouldn't set foot in the U.S. for a long, long time. So here's the deal. You make sure Pearl stays gone till November 5th and I don't have Enrique cut your balls off and serve em for lunch, OK?"

"Works for me."

Now, how easy was that? The old fart caved awfully fast, but he knows how little shit I'll take before I blow. My temper has already cost me an MBA, a shot at the London School of Economics, a Rhodes Scholarship, three wives, and a year in the slammer, and he knows exactly what I'm capable of if I really get pissed. He's not as stupid as he looks. He knows the score and he's got my records. He's obviously been told that I've been covering for Pearl and keeping her out of trouble. But he also knows that if anything happens to her, like if she stubs a toe a toe, splits an end, or breaks a nail...anything, it's all over for his shot at Lieutenant-Governor or, rumor has it, the future vice presidency of United States Incorporated. I really see no reason to tell him that I don't have anything actionable on him: No photographs, or videos, or a diary, or a suitcase full of files. What I've got on him is butkus. It never even crossed my mind to blackmail the serial felon. Why would I? His checks have never been late, they never bounced, and you know what they always say, "You sign up, you ride for the brand". Loyalty has always been my curse, but fortunately for Pearl and me, the old man never could play poker worth a shit.