A stranger appears in Paradise, crosses the threshold of a mother and daughter's simple lives, sending each on an odyssey that challenges their physical endurance and the very timbre of the human soul.
Inspired by the very real danger and tropical splendor of the Mexican Riviera. Beware the thin veil that separates hell from paradise!
Tequila Road uncoils like a boa constrictor.
Inspired by the very real danger and tropical splendor of the Mexican Riviera. Beware the thin veil that separates hell from paradise!
Tequila Road uncoils like a boa constrictor.
Tragedy in Dubai, Poppy’s Return to Mexico
Puerto Vallarta International Airport
Puerto Vallarta had not experienced a violent, tropical storm like this one since 2002 when the ocean surged into hotel lobbies on the Malecon.
The Gulfstream 550G made a third failed attempt to land, as a fierce crosswind hammered the aircraft. Nose up, its silver skin sequined in dancing rain, it climbed out of the turbulence and banked around the sheer face of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The lone passenger sat in the opulent cabin staring out into the black abyss, seeing not dangerous weather, but the sudden, dark turn of her life.
Just as the tower prepared to abort the landing a break in weather brought the plane down safely, taxing away from the terminal to the far corner of the tarmac where the black Hummer waited. From her window Poppy recognized the tall, thin man, silhouetted in the wet glare of the high beams. He stood erect under a black umbrella that threatened to collapse in the gusting wind. Parked to his left, in the shadow of a windowless hangar, was a silver SUV.
The aircraft door swung open to the sultry perfume of the tropics startling Poppy’s sleeping memories, the ones left behind a decade earlier when a life of splendor whispered her name. But this wasn’t the hour for looking back. She must pay close attention to what waited in the driving rain. Rising to leave, she felt the stabbing effects of the tragedy which had brought her here from the other side of the world.
The flight crew awkwardly assembled for their passenger’s departure. In a few minutes they would refuel and depart. Scattered thoughts played in the recesses of Poppy’s mind as she walked to the front of the cabin; the countless trips shared, circling the globe, sampling food, drink and exotic cultures. More than employees the crew had become friends. Their lives, like hers, had been consumed by one man’s power, money, and daring adventures.
A haggard Captain Dougherty stood next to Evan, his co-pilot. At the open door was Michelle, the flight attendant. “I just want to say that John was, well... that,” The captain’s stammer trailed off into a whisper. “If there’s anything I can do…”
Poppy noticed shock and disbelief etched on their faces. “It’s out of our hands now, Frank.” She struggled to express so much more but the words were locked away. “Thank you,” she added, and then simply walked down the stairs and out of their lives.
The man, patiently waiting on the wet tarmac, held the umbrella as Poppy descended. She placed her hand in his and felt the reassuring grip of her Godfather, Demetrio Mendoza.
“Bienvenida a casa a la Princesa,” he said as if their separation had been 10 days, and not 10 years. He offered his arm tilting the umbrella to her favor and motioned toward the mystery vehicle where two men stood watching.
“My apology, but you must relinquish your passports now.” He saw the dark circles that dimmed the youthful face he remembered.
“Nobody said anything about that. Why?”
Demetrio nodded toward the strangers. “The United States and Dubai have requested it until they prepare an investigation. It’s…” He shook his head at the foibles of mankind. “Fear insights over reaction,” he added, thinking it unnecessary to reveal the confiscation of her passports had been more than a request.
Poppy reached into her leather brief and extracted the documents. He handed off the umbrella. “Remain here. I will take care of this.” He gently caressed her cheek. “And then I will take you home.”
He walked to the Mexican Immigration Officers and surrendered the evidence of her privileged life. Both men looked beyond him, to Poppy, while examining the photos and official stamps. With solemn authority, one of them announced that Poppy Duprey, being a Mexican citizen, should anticipate an indefinite delay in the return of her documents.
The shorter of the two, a mestizo, reeking of cologne, with a large, government emblem on his baseball hat, added with a hint of arrogance, “We will tell Señorita Duprey ourselves so there is no misunderstanding.”
Demetrio sensed their male curiosity about the tall, young woman; the kind of woman, men like these only dream about. They knew that she was the famous image of Night of the Iguana Tequila, a taste so exquisite and expensive that it would never touch their lips. They could make out the silhouette of the ‘Goddess of the Nectar’, the famous, long legs that appeared in glossy ads along with yachts and villas. Tonight, these uniforms were in the presence of the emerald green eyes, a few feet away on the slick tarmac. Rich, famous, and powerful men sipped Night of the Iguana Tequila and had their way with a woman like that, while these Latinos, standing in the wet wind, had to settle for being the minor authority dispatched to confiscate Señorita Duprey’s important papers. Men chosen to declare, in a menacing tone, that she was no longer on top of the world and the mistress of a billionaire gringo. Now, she was just a puta mestizo after all.
It had been cleared with a higher command that Señorita Duprey should not be exposed to any inconvenience, but Demetrio figured these guys could push their miniscule power beyond its limits. Hombres like these, with government insignias and automatic weapons, bathed in cheap cologne, accrued cantina collateral, free beer from their mano y mano amigos, in exchange for their bloated stories; testosterone-laced tales about how they forced the famous Tequila Goddess to suck their dicks on the tarmac because she showed them disrespect, and they had to show who was boss now, remind her that she was not in Paris or New York City, but back home in Mexico where bitches know their place. Yes, Demetrio knew their game and responded with a courteous smile, masking his disdain.
“I assure you, there will be no misunderstanding if you will allow me.” And then Demetrio added, “Señor Rodriquez is a respected friend. I would do nothing to embarrass him.” Rodriquez was their boss and the mention of his name was all it took.
The shorter of the two men shifted his weight one foot to the other while his compadre closed his eyes with the orgasmic pleasure of decision-making. Together they peered once more over Demetrio’s shoulder at the female. “No hay problema. Just so there is no misunderstanding.”
Demetrio thanked them, returned to the Hummer and buckled Poppy safely into the passenger’s seat. Driving away he checked the rear view mirror to see the men still watching. Except for the meditative slap of the windshield wipers, he allowed silence to cushion their ride. Unfortunately, the tragedy responsible for Poppy’s return was only a part of what was unfolding. Demetrio, with a heavy heart, glanced over at his passenger who barely resembled the young girl he remembered.
Loretta Duprey, tented in the sweet smoke of a cohiba cigar, waited for her daughter on the covered veranda of Hacienda Iguana. “Que hora es?”
The Mexican woman, sitting on the far end of the massive table, looked beyond the hurricane candles, through the doorway to the ancient clock. “Two thirty five,” came her answer in Spanish.
“I’ll have another.” Loretta slid the slender glass caballito,’ etched with the Night of the Iguana logo, to Angelina, her longtime friend and housekeeper, who lifted the exquisite bottle and poured for them both.
“You think Demetrio ran into trouble?” Loretta squinted into the black hole where rain fell. “My baby girl doesn’t need any more of that.” She knocked back the tequila and tucked a strand of waist long hair behind the silver iguanas dangling from her pierced ears. The women sat listening to the swollen river swirl toward the open sea while the flames flickered in the open fireplace and the silver lizards shimmied with Loretta’s impatience. “I sure as hell hope he didn’t run into trouble,” she repeated.
“Demetrio is friends with trouble,” Angelina said as she picked up her tequila with a well-worn hand. “He knows. Don’t worry.”
After all the years Loretta had lived in Mismaloya, Mexico she still marveled at the simple remedy Mexicans had for their problems. ‘He knows’ meant, ‘leave it to God.’ Until recently, Loretta hadn’t personally given God much thought, although now she realized what a brilliant antidote ‘He’ was for a hard, Mexican life.
Suddenly the familiar sound of the Hummer caught their attention as it pitched and rocked on a ribbon of mud through the sentinel of palm trees. Angelina stood and peered into the dark morning. “Alli, she comes!”
Loretta rose up, tequila in one hand and the thin cigar in the other. “If I cry kick me in the ass, Angelina.”
Angelina’s eyes glistened in tears. “This is a happy time. God’s will...”
“Oh, Christ Almighty!” Loretta interrupted. “Don’t give me any more of that. Just kick me in the ass.” With that she stepped down on bare feet, feeling the sting of rain and tears, and then the thought of him swept over her. John Madison, the man responsible for Poppy leaving, and now for her sudden return, was blown to smithereens. Without warning, a man like no other, had stepped across the threshold of her life changing everything. Now he was gone and the hour was late, maybe too late.
The Iguana Compound gates yawned wide to her daughter’s return, and for the first time in her unapologetic life Loretta stood on the precipice of raw fear.
John ‘Mad Man’ Madison
72 hours earlier Poppy had been sitting next to John Madison in Dubai. They were celebrating a crazy idea that had morphed into an extravagant sale. Insane ideas that made fortunes were John’s extraordinary gift.
A bottle of their Night of the Iguana, Añejo Tequila opened the Dubai Auction high, and from there the bidding rose to a feverish pitch until the gavel closed on the shocking bid of 280,000 Euro, from a Rio de Janeiro billionaire.
The first celebratory toast was to Loretta Duprey, Poppy’s mother, the hard driving jefa of the Iguana Distillery, without whom the most exquisite tequila in the world would have been just another of John’s high flying schemes. But, Loretta Duprey was as crazy as he was, with an insatiable appetite for the impossible; challenges that might, just might turn out lucky. Yes indeed, Loretta Duprey knew all the steps to that hat dance!
When Time Magazine chose John Madison as Man of the Year, and inquired how he had accomplished what the medical establishment deemed impossible, his answer was as organic as the heart pump he had invented. “To me,” he shrugged, “impossible is impossible.”
Before his meteoric rise, John had earned his nickname and reputation; Mad Man Madison. Disillusioned early on he had dropped out of John Hopkins after writing a dissertation slamming the medical community for its servitude to the insurance industry. He self-published his blistering opinions and badgered the media until his diatribes appeared above the fold in major newspapers. The public was awed by his ‘no guts, no glory’ charisma. On the cusp of his new found celebrity John stuffed a backpack with books and globe trotted for five years while the seedling of an organic, heart pump germinated in his fertile mind. He climbed in Peru, swam in Fiji, and studied the diet of the Jaguar People in the Amazon.
By the time John met Loretta Duprey in Mismaloya, Mexico he was a middle-aged billionaire: famous, estranged from his family; a son, a daughter, and a French wife, all living in Paris.
The serendipitous meeting of Loretta Duprey and John Madison had been powdered in magic fairy dust, the heavenly confetti that floats down upon the certifiably bold and crazy.
Where’s The Girl We Knew?
Poppy awakened under a mosquito net wondering how long she could lie motionless under the silent rotation of the ceiling fan until reality hunted her down. It felt like she was in a free fall waiting for the splat. She barely remembered arriving at the hacienda or her mother’s embrace and Angelina’s kiss in the warm rain. They had guided her, like a wounded patient, to this enormous bed where the scent of line-dried sheets separated her from herself until crowing roosters and the sound of the surging river, beckoned.
She gazed around the room to the towering, mahogany-framed windows, to the sunlight on the polished, terracotta floors, to the bold tapestries and art mounted on white adobe walls.
It was her first time to see all this. Ground had just been broken for the Iguana Hacienda when she left for New York a decade earlier. She and her mother were still living in the camper, with bottle cap curtains when Poppy went off to become the image of Night of the Iguana, the Goddess of the Nectar. The whole idea had made her laugh, as she was no Goddess, but a sixteen year old with long, skinny legs, and too much attitude for a mestizo girl. Had she known then the grand scale of what was to come, and of places like New York, Rome, and Monte Carlo, the cocky, immature tomboy would have scampered into the jungle to hide until opportunity left town.
Loretta had forged a life for herself and Poppy before John Madison placed destiny on their doorstep with a wild proposition to join him in creating tequila so expensive and exquisite that few could afford the pleasure of its company. Back then, Loretta, a gringa from Kentucky, was making backyard tequila, called raicilla. Nowhere close to what the tall and lanky Madison envisioned. Yet, his was the kind of impossible dare Loretta craved. Perhaps, Poppy thought, had the fine print of the Duprey future been clearly written, her mother would have passed on Señor Madison’s offer.
The longer Poppy lie there absorbing the personality of the bedroom; the vibrant colors and natural river rock, the Mayan art mixed with a rustic provincial weave in the wall hangings, she recognized her mother’s beauty and defiance in every inch. Her mother, a force of nature if ever there was one!
Loretta Duprey was the third of seven, skinny children, born to Kentucky moonshiner, Violet Duprey and a Pentecostal preaching, good for nothing, common law bastard, named Jimmy Perkins.
Loretta knew from the moment thoughts first whistled through her head that she had to get the hell out of the two-room cabin that leaned north on a dirt road where sickly chickens and sad eyed mutts foraged. A terrible, cosmic mistake had somehow wedged her into a pile of snotty nosed siblings for whom she had no allegiance.
Early on Violet noticed that Loretta had a sharp tongue and an eye for business. By the age of nine she was selling her mother’s cataract inducing liquor on their warped porch with a fly swatter and a pitcher of Kool-Aid her only ammo against the sweltering, summer heat. Come winter, business moved inside, along with a cardboard box of newborn chicks to protect from hungry raccoons and the brutal cold.
Business was brisk year round leaving little time for Violet to perform her meager maternal instincts. Loretta, with her siblings, survived on soda pop, canned Spam and soda crackers. She rarely attended school and never wore shoes or underpants. She was wild and free to do as she pleased. Unbridled behavior branded her life along with sass and a strut to navigate the briar patch she had been thrown into.
People, who didn’t have enough to think about, predicted that her snappy turtle mouth would get her into a mess of trouble. No one was spared Loretta’s rants against being squirted out into such a god-forsaken gravel pit as Mayville, Kentucky.
“I’m gonna be rich and famous,” she pledged to one and all.
People from places like Mayville didn’t know jack about how the world worked, but Loretta believed, with every bone in her body, that if she could just get to Hollywood the story of her putrid life would rewind and start over.
It took nine years of methodical skimming moonshine money for Loretta to reach her monetary goal for escape. On a nothing special Tuesday afternoon she walked out the
front door, climbed into Bobby Ray Kincaid’s pickup, and negotiated sexual favors if he’d drive her to Hollywood.
Rotten luck blew the transmission two-hand jobs into their trip, but a bull headed Loretta Duprey extracted her few worldly possessions and walked toward the sunset.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Osmond were to be Loretta’s first encounter with fate’s kind intervention. She overheard the couple, in the adjoining booth at Bob’s Big Boy, discussing the best way to get to Los Angeles, California, and then, lo and behold, Loretta recognized their Pentecostal blessing whispered over brownies and vanilla topping.
“How do you do?” The couple raised their prayer bent heads to see Loretta on bended knee peeking over the booth. “I couldn’t help but hear,” she continued shyly. “And, well I was kind of hoping I might join you in prayer.”
The wife let out a small sigh, as if she were watching a baby take its first step. “Well, of course, dear sister. Please, please come join us.” And so, Loretta did just that… all the way from Utah to the Santa Monica Pier.
Shortly after escaping the stifling confines of her life Loretta made the miraculous discovery that her passion was not for oodles of money, but for heart pounding adventure and unreliable men who play too close to the fire.
Kenny Lewis was a second string Hollywood player, unscrupulous, a prescription drug supplier to the studios. Schwab’s Drugstore was past its prime, as was Lana Turner, the only ‘discovery’ ever made on its worn-thin vinyl stools, but Kenny liked to spin through, pick up a copy of Variety, and check out the new pussy on his way back from MGM, where his cache of pharmaceuticals catered to the grueling demands of television.
The day Loretta and Kenny met at Schwab’s he had just come from dropping a delivery to the biggest bitch on the Metro lot. It was hot and his Mercedes air was busted, but when he saw the Hedy Lamar look alike sitting at the counter in black, toreador pants, Ken took a hard right.
“How’s it going?” He stuck a stick of Juicy Fruit gum into his mouth in a cocky way that told Loretta everything she wanted to believe.
“Fair.” She thought him as good-looking as they come. “Yourself?”
Kenny leaned his back against the counter and looked at her tits. Coy was entirely absent from this one, he thought. “Too damn hot if you ask me.” He couldn’t believe anyone in their right mind would be wearing angora this time of year. “Aren’t you sweltering in that outfit?”
“Air conditioning helps.” Loretta wrapped her red lips around the coke straw. Her ensemble was from Fredrick’s of Hollywood and had cost a fortune along with her red stilettos kicked off under the stool.
Kenny switched his cigarette from his right hand to his left. “Kenny Lewis.”
She power gripped his extended hand. “Loretta Duprey.”
He winced slightly, attracted to how this would translate to having sex. “Duprey, as in French?”
“As in Kentucky,” she answered.
Kenny smiled big. “I meant French settlers. You know, way back…like history.” Attitude and green eyes that smoked, it was getting better by the minute.
“If the French were stupid enough to plant their pole in Kentucky, then I guess I could be one of ‘em.” She replied.
The way she massacred the word, ‘them’, pronouncing it like ‘ovum’, made her scarlet lips pucker. Kenny mentally canceled the rest of his appointments. He bought her a grilled cheese with pickle chips, told her about the big musical in production at Metro, and about the television cowboy who was gay, before offering his professional assistance. That afternoon Loretta moved her meager belongings into Kenny’s North Hollywood bungalow.
Kenny knew people, who knew people, and proved it, making phone calls on Loretta’s behalf. She was bowled over by his generosity although it led nowhere except to copious sex. Unproductive weeks crawled by and it appeared as though their arrangement had become lopsided to his favor, and then Kenny L came through!
“I got you a gig, Babe. You ever been to May-hee-co?” Hopped up on self-importance, Kenny didn’t wait for her answer. “J.H. is doing a picture called, Night of the
Iguana with Ava Gardner and Richard Burton. I told his AD, a good friend of mine, but a complete a-s-s h-o-l-e, that you look just like Ava Gardner, only younger.
“I thought you said I look like Hedy Lamar. What’s it gonna be?”
Kenny strutted like a banty rooster. “Hedy, Ava, who gives a shit. Tomorrow I’ll take you to meet Ricky, AD a-s-s-f-a-c-e. Johnny, the director is legend, Babe. He’s a sucker for young beauties. It should be fun.” He inhaled what was left of his cigarette and blew a smoke ring as a grin parted his lips. “Liz, Richard, Ava, that’s like pulling the pin on a hand grenade to see how long it takes to explode. You’ll need bug spray and birth control. Don’t worry, I’ll get you both.”
One week later Loretta was in a Mexican jungle as Ava Gardner’s stand-in, on John Huston’s motion picture, Night of the Iguana. Quickly she discovered that no one called this director, Johnny, and that the tedious business of movie making was not for Loretta Duprey. As for the raw aphrodisiac of Paradise, well, that was another story…one with her name written all over it!
Adios Norte America
Ending up in Mismaloya, Mexico with cockfights, mariachi music, and tequila shooters had been preordained. The small, seaside village had patiently awaited Loretta’s arrival, like a boa constrictor waits for its prey. She hung in there until the movie was a wrap, and then, on a humid, summer night, made the defining decision of her life.
She was alone and restless. The beach was deserted except for one fisherman throwing a net for bait where the Mismaloya River snakes from the jungle and kisses the sea. Loretta took a bite from a ripe mango letting the sweet juice wet her lips while a curtain of summer rain undulated on the horizon. Sweat trickled down the small of her back and the thick humidity smelled of burnt matches. All of a sudden the coconut palms began to shimmy with the coming storm while a flock of shrieking parakeet flapped homeward. Damn, she loved this place!
The movie was finished. John Huston and his entourage, including Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton had departed, leaving Puerto Vallarta in a state of recovery. At the last minute Loretta had pressed her return ticket into Huston’s hand. “I had a hell of a time, John.” She knew him well enough now to call him John. “I’m glad I did it, but you can have it. I’m staying here, at least for a while.”
Huston’s face crinkled into a portrait of mischief. “Well, darling girl, I wish you the best.” Then added with his unquestioned authority. “Stay out of harm’s way.”
Loretta returned his wicked, smile. “Harm’s way is my middle name?”
Mexico had presented the best time of her life. The splendor of Mismaloya, rough and beautiful, puffed up and unpredictable, endorsed a dangerous curiosity that a whole lot was going on somewhere out in the world.
Lord knows she didn’t have squat to go back to. After Mexico, Kenny and his postage stamp bungalow were out of the question. There were hundreds of girls, with more ambition, dancing on blistered feet, singing off key and tossing down diet pills. It was not the life she had imagined while sitting on the broken steps of her Kentucky existence.
Fame had not delivered the goods, but tedious hours on the Iguana set with men who climbed between her legs for puny promises. Hollywood hadn’t lived up to its reputation, and truth be known, she didn’t think making Night of the Iguana was that big a deal. Ava had been fun, and boy that gal could toss them back. Richard Burton was drunk most of the time, and John Huston, whom Loretta liked a lot, had the hooded eyelids and demeanor of a rattlesnake. Nevertheless, they were stars, while she was nobody, with a short attention span, a hot libido and blind courage.
Loretta’s could change direction faster than a dragonfly when it came to her carnal nature. Mexico hit all the right buttons; peacock colored paradise, toe wiggling, white sandy beaches and coconuts as big as baboon balls had her in a choke hold. Mexico was a big pitcher of Sangria and she was one thirsty Señorita! Loretta Duprey, from Nowhere, USA, was staying. Details, such as housing, employment, and not having two pesos to rub together, didn’t cross her mind. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning speared the sea, a celestial telegram to accompany her into Mismaloya without a whimper of a game plan.
The impending storm had emptied the street. She sat down on the short, cement wall beside the closed mercado and lit a cigarette. On the exhale she noticed a young, dark skinned man watching her from across the road. Even in the fading light she was struck by his chiseled cheekbones and the straight black hair that fell beyond bare shoulders. He leaned against a rail, wearing nothing but a dazzling smile and Levis, low. A scrawny dog rubbed up against his leg as the stranger slowly rolled a smoke and put it between his lips. In the dim light she held his gaze, knowing it was on her. A slow rain began to fall. He stood there, holding smoke in his lungs, and then exhaled, signaling something more before disappearing inside a hut. She sensed the game, put her hands behind her head, waited, and watched. It was then that the skies opened up in a torrential downpour, but she remained seated, enjoying the heat pirouetting in her groin. And, just as if she knew it would happen, the stranger reappeared, holding up two bottles of cerveza, shouting something that the hard driving water drowned out. She watched him lift one of the bottles to his mouth and swallow long and deep while the narrow road between them swept mud and water to the beach.
He took his time, letting the rain soak them. She felt a rush, a thrill, as he put the beer down, stepped into the rising water, and came to her. The stranger, with wet hair, smelled of marijuana, sweat, and alcohol, as he silently lifted her up into his arms. Without hesitation Loretta Duprey surrendered to the familiar catalyst of her life.
Latino Libido, Ole’
What a delightful discovery; Latino men relished sex as much as she did! The boys south of the border made love like they ate; never leaving anything on the plate.
In a matter of weeks Loretta transformed a rusted camper into her peculiar idea of a home with beer bottle tops strung together for curtains. The cramped quarters vibrated with loud music, alcohol, and bad behavior. Numerous men begged for her hand in marriage, some already betrothed, but she scoffed at their ridiculous proposals, pronouncing matrimony a loathsome arrangement.
In spite of her misbehavior the Mismaloya women liked Loretta. They remembered that the other movie gringos came and went while she chose to stay and learn their language. She championed the underdog among them, often an abused wife, ate menudo, and yes, occasionally screwed one of their overheated, besotted husbands, but mostly she was forgiven. Loretta was as wild as the surrounding jungle, but she was unafraid, hid nothing, and for that they trusted her.
It was no surprise to anyone when Loretta found out she was pregnant. As for whom the father might be, she neither knew nor cared. Traditional family values were nothing she had ever experienced. The Pentecostal hell fire of her childhood expressed all one needed to know about the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman; the man took his ninety percent, leaving ten percent for the other half. The same math held true in Mexico. Therefore one hundred percent freedom, zero compromise was her creed.
Poppy, named after the red, wild flower that flourished in the Kentucky hills, slid into the world weighing eight pounds, three ounces. The light-skinned mestizo baby staked her claim with flailing arms and legs, oozing tears from beneath heavy, black lashes.
When Poppy was old enough to wonder who her daddy was, Loretta told her truthfully, “Don’t know Poppina, but he sure made me the most beautiful girl ever born.”
There were lots of kids who didn’t know who their fathers were so it wasn’t a big deal to Poppy. Loretta kept them high, dry and in tortillas distilling raicilla, the local Mexican moonshine.
The day Demetrio Mendoza saved a newborn puppy from the unhinged jaws of a boa constrictor, Loretta decided here was a man she wanted in the foxhole of her life.
Demetrio Mendoza was as calm and dignified as Loretta was volatile and outspoken. He was a reader steeped in Mexican history, did not drink, abhorred cockfights, and thought the Spanish language was sufficient to express one’s self without the use of profanity. He had the bearing of a proud Spaniard, blended with a spirituality rooted in nature.
Demetrio was aware of a world unavailable to the naked eye, a sacred place reached through silence. Yet, he was a contradiction, a misread if someone were presumptuous enough to think they had him figured out. He was Loretta’s first encounter with unflinching integrity and the reason she allowed herself to love and respect him.
Loretta sought his council about a new game plan; her ‘secret recipe’ for raicilla.
“This is not Kentucky,” he cautioned. “A Gringa who makes raicilla is bad enough.” He shook his head. “I’m afraid Mexicans believe tequila is in their blood, and you are a Gringa, mi Amiga. To think that you can out run your competition could be misconstrued as disrespect.
Loretta waved away his objection. “Blood doesn’t have anything to do with it. I already make a pretty good living.” She thought about what she had just said. “Well, maybe good living is pushing it, but here’s the deal. My ‘new secret recipe’ raicilla will deliver more kick for their peso.”
Demetrio smiled, “That’s a big promise, but a promise without a plan is worthless.”
She was not fond of Demetrio when he played devil’s advocate; actually it made her blood boil. She looked at him squarely. “I’m going to trap the mescaline in the first thirty percent, extract that, and bump up the rest of the batch with dried mescaline buttons.” Loretta lit another Mexican cigarette with the short butt she was finishing and leaned into her pitch. “Where’s the mescaline concentrate in the Agave Lechuguilla coming out of Tuito?”
Demetrio knew the town of Tuito had the best raicilla in Jalesco, Mexico, but Loretta wasn’t looking for his answer. She was on a roll.
“It’s in the first thirty percent,” she answered. “But, I developed a process that bumps the mescaline buttons into seventy percent. What do you think?” She leaned back in her plastic chair, spreading her arms like wings.
Demetrio ran his hand threw his black hair. “That would be Demonic del Diablo, no question.” He rubbed his chin. “Pero, how do you capture the mescaline? Not so easy as the worm in the bottle trick.”
Loretta brought her arms down and gripped both knees. She was the only person Demetrio knew who engaged her entire body into conversation. “Barrels, no metal drums like Tuito, the fermentation has to be watched real close, turn the barrels, not leave it to have a mind of its own, you know what I mean” Loretta disappeared into the camper and returned with two shots of the new stuff. “Here,” she handed Demetrio a slender shooter called a little horse. “It’s a rough cut but tell me what you think.”
“You know I don’t drink,” he said.
She looked at him with total disbelief. “This isn’t about drinking, Demetrio.” She tapped his glass with hers. “There in lies my business plan and I need to know what you think.”
It felt like he had swallowed a ball of fire. On regaining equilibrium and the ability to speak, Demetrio suggested that with some minor adjustments Loretta’s ‘secret recipe’ was powerful stuff.
Within the year they had isolated the complexities of mashing the cactus root, a distant cousin of peyote, with mescaline buttons. They called it Demonic del Diablo, and soon the whole state of Jalisco knew of Duprey’s ‘Demon Devil.’
“Distilling good liquor is a family talent,” she told her Mexican clientele. “Kind a like the Rockefellers and investment banking.” They nodded agreement, having no clue as to what a Rockefeller was, but for sure the Norte Americana’s raicilla was some good shit.
Thanks to Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton, the sexually charged movie set had been front-page news around the world, lifting Puerto Vallarta and Mismaloya from obscurity.
With her entrepreneurial spirit on fire, Loretta came up with the idea of the ‘Night of the Iguana Tequila Tour’. Buses loaded with tourists made the trip out to Mismaloya to see where “Night of the Iguana” had been filmed, and to meet Ava Gardner’s movie stand-in. Bare shouldered and bare footed, Loretta posed for pictures while herding the starry-eyed ‘wallets’ to the Tequila Station to get swacked on Duprey Demonic del Diablo, served by severely, underage bartenders; Poppy and Antonio DelToro.
Ava’s lipstick smudged cigarette butts were treated as museum artifacts. Elizabeth Taylor’s lone footprint, enshrined in dried mud, pulled in 100 pesos, while seeing the hammock , where an inebriated Richard Burton had recited Hamlet, was double that.
The Iguana tour was a winner from day one and soon the whole village worked their moneyed captives, peddling everything from fish tacos to bottle openers carved from seashells. Life was muy buena; Loretta and Demonic del Diablo were Mismaloya heroes.
Long before the tours began the jungle had repossessed much of the film set. Exquisite hibiscus and bougainvillea now hung like colorful Christmas ornaments on the stone steps where movie legends once posed, now home to skittering crabs and Iguanas.
Time sweetened Loretta’s memory of her cinematic adventure. When Poppy was a little girl they could be found languishing together on the crumbling steps with Loretta acting out scenes for her avid, little fan.
“Okay Child,” Loretta struck her Ava pose on the very top of the stone staircase. “What comes next?”
Waves crashed on the jagged rocks, where Poppy, wet with spray, squinted into the bright sunlight. “I can’t see you, Mamacita.” She shouted out in Spanish.
“No es importante. Speak English. Just do your part as the famous director. Come on now. We’ve done it a hundred times.”
Poppy screwed up her face trying to squeeze out the memory. “Don’t member.”
Loretta did a little impatient jig. “It’s hot as hell up here, and I can’t come down till you say your part as the director. Here’s a hint. If people are making noise what do you have to tell them to do?”
“You tell them to shut up,” Poppy blurted out.
“Well, you’re on the right track. Mr. Huston always had someone else shout …Quiet on...”
Suddenly Poppy’s memory kicked in. “Quiet on the set,” she boomed.
“Well, Holy Jesus!” Loretta shouted exasperated. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
“I member now what to do,” Poppy cupped her hands to her mouth. “Action!”
Loretta lit a cigarette Ava-style, and placed it between her perfect, white teeth. This always sent Poppy clapping like a performing seal, as her mother descended, one barefoot in front of the other, toward the imaginary camera.
“Well you old son of a….” Loretta tilted her dimpled chin, imitating Ava when she had delivered the line to Burton. “Don’t make me take another step!” Poppy let loose with her two-finger whistle while Loretta took a bow and a long puff on her cigarette, bringing the curtain down.
“I want to be just like you,” Poppy gushed as her mother placed a crown of palm fronds on each of their heads.
Loretta took off in a dead run. “Last one home has to go get cigarettes and beer.”
By the time she was nine years old Poppy was as tall and thin as bamboo. She moved faster, swam further, and climbed higher than anyone, boy or girl, in Mismaloya or nearby Boca Tomatlan. There was a clear advantage to Poppy’s athletic prowess. She had legs, long ones, along with volcanic energy that erupted from every cell in her body. From dawn until pitch dark she was busy doing whatever kids do. It looked as if she would be as beautiful and self-assured as her Caucasian mother was.
Antonio DelToro knew that Poppy was the most beautiful girl in the universe. He was six months older than she was, and a boy, which should have made him the boss, but Poppy’s will swept over him like a rogue wave, so Antonio settled for loving her, a secret he kept to himself.
The two of them spent every waking hour together and when that wasn’t enough they slept outside the Duprey camper, under the canopy of stars. Antonio worshiped his best friend, but wished she wasn’t so bossy. When he stayed over Poppy couldn’t just go to sleep like normal people, but had to challenge his star-naming acumen.
“What’s that one?” Poppy stabbed at the bowl of planetary lights overhead. They were lying side by side on a bare mattress she had dragged from inside.
“The big…uh, something.” Antonio’s unenthusiastic response was more than Poppy could bear. She rolled to her knees and pinned him with one of her exasperated looks.
“I don’t know why I let you be my friend.” She blurted out in English. “You don’t even try.”
“Si, I do,” he defended.
“There is nothing up there that’s called the big something.” She collapsed onto the mattress with a scissor kick. “I’m wasting time teaching you the Universe. It goes in one of those big ears and right out the hole in your head just like English.”
“I don’t have big ears.”
“Mierda, holy shit!” She sprang to her feet with mounting frustration. “Just forget it. Let’s smoke a cigarette.” She stomped into the camper leaving a trail of expletives. Moments later she was back with one of Loretta’s hand rolled smokes lit up, handing it off to Antonio, they settled into passing the cigarette back and forth with the sound of spitting tobacco their sole means of communication. “Sorry,” he heard her apologize. “Your ears aren’t that big.”
Nobody frustrated Poppy Duprey more than Antonio DelToro. How someone she never wanted to see again would be the only person she deeply missed an hour later was a total mystery. He wouldn’t learn English, couldn’t tell the Big Dipper from the little one, or dive off of El Tigre. Yet, she couldn’t imagine life without him. She had friends galore; birthday parties, soccer games, event to captain, but somehow Antonio was her favorite.
Although bossiness obscured her true feelings for him, Poppy felt both love and sadness for the boy with eyes so black that his pupils were hidden, just like his feelings. Antonio was alone in the world except for Maria Luis, the crazy sewer. Both had lost their families. Maria Luis’s six children and husband had capsized in their fishing panga and drowned. Antonio, an only child, was eight years old when his mother died of a mysterious lump in her belly.
Maria Luis had taken Antonio into her house along with the stray cats she collected, giving him love, at least as much as she was capable of in a world she no longer cared to live in.
The loss of her entire family had robbed Maria of sanity without touching her genius with thread and needle, for no one created a garment stitch for stitch like Maria Luis.
Antonio came to spend little time at Maria’s and merged into the Duprey household, where his diet changed from Maria’s cat food and Popsicles to Loretta’s pork rind and Cokes. Weeks elapsed without his return to Maria Luis’s dirt floor, cat motel, but when he was there he missed Poppy greatly, as if she had disappeared to one of her stupid stars.
Lomas de Mismaloya cinched their futures together, or so they thought. They discovered the breathtaking hideaway one day, on a steep climb up the Sierra Madres. All of a sudden there it was; a clearing beyond the waterfall, above a canopy of trees blossomed in orchids, where the mountain crested, and the ocean met the sky. It became their secret place, where over time they built a primitive palapa and christened it Montana de Mismaloya, the Mountain of Mismaloya.
They agreed never to allow another soul into their secret retreat, believing it would tarnish the magic. With fervent imaginations they built a beautiful, make-believe villa on their haloed ground and pledged allegiance to each other forever.
“Look how high we are!” Poppy exclaimed breathless from the steep climb. “This is where my bedroom will be, Antonio. I can see all the way to end of the ocean.” She skipped to a spot close by. “And this,” she announced, “is where you sleep so we can hear each other tell stories.”
Antonio scowled disagreement. Far below the fishing boats bobbed like toys in the blue lagoon. “I don’t want a bedroom. I like to sleep outside.”
“Nope.” Poppy shook her head. “You must have a room just to sleep. Mama says that rich people all have their own bedrooms.”
Antonio let the bedroom thing go for now, but felt the need to assert his wishes. “I want a horse, a white one, to ride up and down so we don’t have to walk.”
“Sure. You can have a horse,” she agreed generously. “Pedro’s got a new, baby one, but we need someone to make us a road for our red car, with a radio so we can listen to music, but not that ranchero stuff they play at the cock fights.”
Antonio looked indignant. “I don’t listen to no cock fight music.”
Poppy changed the subject. “All the people we know will want to visit us so they can see how rich people live.” Her eyes suddenly blazed with a new idea. “We can charge them to see all the rooms, 5 pesos for each room, and 50 pesos to swim in our swimming pool.”
“A swimming pool?” Antonio’s look of surprise was caste in suspicion. Poppy was always changing things. “When did we get a swimming pool?”
She kicked one of her long legs into the air. “I told you!”
“Uh-uh, we decided on a waterfall,” he countered, “like the one in the jungle with a rock slide.”
Poppy thought about it, and agreed that a waterfall and rock slide was more fun. She came over and threw her slim arms around his neck. “Look out there, Antonio. That’s our ocean and this is our mountain where we will live forever, listening to music and telling stories until we’re old grownups.”
Antonio followed her gaze and saw, as she did, their future playing on the screen of a child’s uncomplicated imagination. He was careful not to move a muscle or say a word; afraid she’d release him from her embrace. He loved her arms, damp from the climb, her breath caressing his ear. Antonio DelToro’s heart belonged to Poppy Duprey, as he felt the pulse of pure happiness.
There were times when Antonio’s remarks made Poppy sad; like when he said, right out of the blue, that people were good at being born and dying, but the part in the middle was hard. When he said that, Poppy looked at him as if he were an old man. Kids didn’t say such things. She figured Antonio was influenced by crazy Maria Luis, and if he came to live with her and her mother he’d snap out of it.
Antonio took up residence in their cramped quarters, hung his mother’s prayer beads on a nail, and lit a candle, acknowledging her dying wish for him to be a good Catholic.
Before succumbing to illness, Mrs. DelToro took her son and Poppy on the bus to the Cathedral in Puerto Vallarta. The ornate building and melodious summons of the bell was the cornerstone of the city and it dazzled Poppy who thought being Catholic was tough, especially on people like Señora DelToro who was beginning to get real sick.
When Mrs. DelToro got down on her knees to crawl the length of a city block to put 4 pesos in the Jesus Basket Poppy kicked Antonio in the shin for an explanation. “Why doesn’t she just walk up to the front and put money in the Jesus Basket?” Her loud inquiry echoed.
Antonio waved his hand for her to keep her voice down. “Jesus wants people to crawl,” he whispered.
Poppy scrunched up her face. “Who says?”
“The old priests who live here. Jesus tells them what people should do.”
Poppy looked puzzled at the vast rotunda bathed in eighteen-carat gold sparkle and flickering candlelight. “What old priests? She said in a loud whisper. “I don’t see no old men.”
Antonio took a deep breath, making a mental note to leave her home the next time. “They’re not here right now cause they spend a lot of time talking to Jesus and his mamacita, and then they come here and put on dresses and little hats to get money from people to hear the rules.”
Poppy looked dumfounded. “Rules…” She exclaimed totally perplexed. “For what?”
“I never heard of Jesus rules.”
Antonio looked worn thin, “Well, you better learn some.”
He sighed, faced with total meltdown. “Poppy, you ask too many questions!”
Señora DelToro concluded her pilgrimage none too soon, as her son fled onto the crowded plaza.
During the long ride back to Mismaloya the two children sat engrossed in the city life passing by. Poppy’s heart felt sad for the Mexican women begging with babies in their laps. She could not imagine sitting all day long on hot cement, selling Chiclets. How much gum did it take, she wondered, to buy leche and tortillas for a mama with two babies? She noticed many of the tourists didn’t even see the women sitting on the sidewalk, their open palms outstretched to the visitors snapping pictures and licking ice cream. How wonderful, she thought, it would be to buy ice cream for all the unhappy mamas and to watch as their mouths suddenly turn up into smiles like those of the gringos.
Finally their bus reached the edge of the city, leaving noise and congestion behind. Across the aisle Senora DelToro had fallen asleep on her son’s shoulder. Poppy leaned out the window to let the wind blow her long braids straight out like dog ears. She loved her life. She had the best, most beautiful mother, and there wasn’t any place better than Mismaloya. She felt relieved that her mother didn’t know anything about this Jesus stuff although she used his name a lot. Poppy smiled to herself and closed her eyes to the heady scent of tuberose as the bus lurched beneath the green canopy.
Jackals at the Iguana Gate
The morning following Poppy’s exile back to Mexico Loretta struggled out of bed. The sleepless hours had been weighted with pain and new worries. She and insomnia were tied at the hip. Demetrio had insisted that they go to Guadalajara to find out what was wrong; inoperable, pancreatic cancer was the diagnosis, months to live was the estimate.
She poured herself a cup of strong coffee and licked a paper for another smoke; the marijuana had a medicinal effect of dulling the pain so she could think. Demetrio suggested that a diet of coffee and tobacco wasn’t exactly the elixir for her condition, but Loretta’s eating habits had always been abominable. She figured it was a little late in the game to initiate new habits. Inhaling deeply, her thoughts drifted to how stunned she had been to see Poppy, changed from a spirited girl to the thin woman who stepped out of the Hummer.
Soon, the human jackals would gather to tear apart the spoils of the deceased. Loretta surmised that Genevieve, John’s wife, would be the first to start the feeding frenzy. His failure as a family man was a catastrophic blight on an otherwise dazzling track record, and surely he would pay for that. Neither he nor Genevieve was a good parent or partner, but dissolving the marriage would have been impossibly complicated.
The sun had just crested the Sierra Madre to the east heralding another day in Paradise. Nowadays, Loretta took time to watch sunrises and sunsets, adding their numbers to the precious time she had left. The sun tented gold across the Iguana compound. Yesterday’s storm had moved on. The tropics were like that.
She wondered about John, his body parts strewn across some goat-infested Arab desert. His vast financial holdings were complex to say the least, and that included Night of the Iguana. She had planned to tell him about her own bad luck when he returned to the U.S. from Dubai, but the son of a bitch had upstaged her on this one.
A handful of painkillers and the marijuana were doing the job, restraining pain so she could assess the situation as it pertained to Poppy. If they thought, whomever the hell they were, that she was going down without a fight, they had another think coming.
Admittedly, John was the owner of the most coveted tequila empire in the world, but he was dead. She, Loretta Duprey, was still the physical force that made Night of the Iguana, and for the moment, she was very much alive. By God! She would put the dogs in the yard, as her mother use to say, to bite the ass of those who thought they could trespass on what she had built.
Unfortunately, she and John had never discussed what would happen to Iguana if either of them died. It was not in Loretta’s DNA to seriously think about the future; legal ramifications were for a more convenient day, another time down the road. John had Joel Weintraub, his Beverly Hills, hotshot attorney, to carry out the tedious business of covering his ‘ass-ettes’, that’s how John had referred to his wealth. Foolishly, she had always assumed things would remain status quo because they trusted each other. But it wasn’t about trust or friendship after all. Like musical chairs, the music had suddenly stopped, and both of them were left standing.
The possibility of her daughter suffering because of Loretta’s negligence stabbed deeper than the spreading cancer. The ultimate truth was in her face; she had not covered her bets, done the prudent thing, and cared for her own. Now, oh yes now she understood the shattering velocity of change. Who could have imagined John ‘Mad Man’ Madison being vulnerable to death? As for herself, how dare her body shut down, a trusted friend turned mortal enemy. After all they had been through together. Well, to hell with it, she thought, there wasn’t time for this maudlin crap. She must do everything in her power to fight for her daughter’s sake. Without legal protection, which there was none, the pack of two- legged jackals would soon be gathered at the Night of the Iguana Gates, her gates.
Destiny Lands in the Sand
One afternoon when Loretta and Poppy still lived in the camper down on the river bank, two strangers showed up on their doorstep, escorted by none other than Poppy, Antonio and a parade of nosy bodies.
Loretta recognized one of the strangers. A month earlier he had gotten off one of the tour buses and introduced himself. He had looked out of place with the shirtless ‘wallets’ as he gingerly descended from the air-conditioned bus, a white handkerchief held to his nostrils. The midday sun had turned his pasty complexion the color of a red snapper. Loretta stood by, in her Ava Gardner-off-the-shoulder-blouse, while he extracted a business card from his suit jacket. She had not seen a man in a suit since Kenny.
“My name is Joel Weintraub. I represent an individual who is interested in a business venture with you”
Loretta’s ears perked up. “What kind of adventure?”
“Venture,” he corrected, and then went on to explain that he was not at liberty to ‘talk in depth’ about the venture; he was there only to explore the possibility of his client having that discussion face to face.
Loretta squinted suspiciously at both the uppity embossed print on the card and the pudgy, red snapper face. “Lawyer, huh?” She held out a complementary sample of Demonic del Diablo.
“Yes, si.” He declined the drink as his complexion turned a dangerous purple.
“Better take a load off before you have a stroke.” She led him to the shade, removed his jacket and loosened his tie. As the bus prepared to leave, she reluctantly agreed to meet with his mysterious client, never giving it another thought. People like Joel what’s-his-name didn’t have a venture or adventure that interested her in the least.
Before the parade to her doorstep that afternoon John Madison had swooped down out of the sky like an apparition, startling Poppy and Antonio from their lovemaking. They sprang to their feet awed by the
red flying machine that made a low pass overhead, and then watched as the Sikorsky S-92 banked out over the water and slid sideways onto the swirling sand.
“Holy shit! What’s that,” Antonio’s expression straddled fear and awe.
“Let’s go see.” Sixteen-year-old Poppy bolted in a dead run down the beach to see two men crouch beneath the giant blade.
“Hola. Se habla English or Español? I speak both. Are you lost?” Poppy fired away breathlessly. “Is this an emergency landing? We have a telephone at mi casa.
Years later John Madison confessed that when he first laid eyes on her that moment, the words shooting like arrows, her body pulsing with excitement and wonder, it felt like an electric jolt. Her vibrant youth took his breath away, a feat he thought no longer possible, as he was used to the crème de la crème females of the world; royalty, movie stars, and models. But this whirlwind was like nothing he had ever seen, a two-legged gazelle, charging down the beach, emerald green eyes ablaze, her tawny skin glowing from heat and excitement.
He smiled and held out his hand. “I’m John. This is Joel.”
Poppy pumped their hands vigorously. “Mucho Gusto.” I’m Poppy Duprey. She sent a piercing two-finger whistle to Antonio. “No es peligroso,” she shouted. “I told him you’re not dangerous.”
“You speak English and Spanish?” John asked.
“My mother is from Norte America, but I don’t know who my father is.”
John and Joel cracked a smile. “Well, sometimes that can be an asset,” John replied.
She shrugged her shoulders. “We don’t know.”
Joel Weintraub recognized Poppy from his first visit. Loretta had introduced them. “I think we’re here to see your mother, Loretta Duprey?”
Life was full of wonderment! Poppy thought. She turned to Antonio who came forward with trepidation. “They’re here to see Madre. Can you fucking believe it?”
A crowd had gathered. John was captivated. He had flown over from the San Pancho Polo grounds, an enclave of rich internationals, who played one of the few competitive sports that held his attention. Earlier that morning he had ridden his thoroughbred, a Brazilian beauty, and now was looking at another spirited thoroughbred that had the markings of a winner. John loved winners.
“Young lady,” he gestured to Poppy, “lead the way.”
Loretta was stacking Demonic del Diablo in a shed when she heard her daughter’s voice.
“Guess what?” Poppy shouted. “These guys are here to see you. What do you think of that?”
Loretta leaned against the frail support of her tarp-covered yard giving John the distinct feeling of being unimpressed. She definitely struck him as someone who wrote her own rules. He made note of the unconventional dress; khaki pants and man’s shirt knotted at her waist. A kerchief, tied gypsy-style, framed high cheekbones and green eyes, identical to her daughter.
“Well,” she began without moving, “except for the Iguana Tours we don’t get many visitors.” She held out a hand to John. “Loretta Duprey. I see you’ve already had the honor of meeting my daughter.”
John was experiencing a familiar excitement that proceeded a fresh idea. So far this was more than he had expected; the village surrounded by dense jungle, a tropical lagoon, bougainvillea, and orchids growing wild. He had researched the woman from Kentucky, whose potent tequila swamped the competition. He knew she had arrived in Mexico with the Night of the Iguana movie bunch. He had reviewed the whole back-story, and was now beginning his analysis.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” John turned to Joel. “You’ve already met my lawyer, Joel Weintraub.”
Loretta shook her head at the suit and tie. “This gentleman seems bent on having a heat stroke.”
John smiled. “Joel prefers the comforts of his Beverly Hills office, but I like to have him along on international discussions.”
“International, huh?” Loretta lifted an eyebrow. “Sounds pretty big for Mismaloya’s britches.”
John grinned. “I think it’s going to be a perfect fit.”
“Well then, let’s put your hand to the fire. Come inside where we have some privacy.” She shooed away the gathering. Antonio waited in vain to be invited.
Loretta parted the bottle cap curtain to the cramped quarters. “Not fancy, but the price was right.” Loretta pointed to four aluminum, beach chairs. “Take a load off. Poppy, what can we offer our guests?”
“Tequila, rum, cerveza, and … “
“How about a coke?” John chimed in.
Loretta motioned for them to sit. “Poppy, run over to Enrique’s and get us four Coke-a-colas, cold ones.”
“Well, shit.” Poppy’s shoulders collapsed with disappointment. “Don’t say anything till I get back.” The bottle caps danced as she blew out the door.
Loretta rolled a cigarette. “Either of you smoke?”
“You mean cigarettes?” John asked.
Joel coughed, taking in a lung full of her strong tobacco.
“Whatever you want me to mean. Mi casa es su casa. I’m partial to Cuban myself, but if doobie is your calling I got some Boca Gold that’ll make you feel unconditional love.”
Joel’s eyes began to water from the afternoon heat and tobacco. He didn’t understand half the things the woman said.
“The cold drink will be just fine.” He decided to get right to it. To an outsider, John Madison, going into the tequila business was an insane idea. White guys didn’t know agave from turpentine, but John’s track record, turning concept into cash, was indisputable. He had the knack for catching lightening in the bottle so why not tequila?
“Miss Duprey,” he began.
“Loretta,” she corrected.
John started over. “Loretta, I want to distill the best, and most expensive, Añejo Tequila in the world, here in Mismaloya. We’ll age it in imported, oak barrels for 5 years, bottle in Baccarat Crystal. It will be the capstone of tequilas called Night of the Iguana, after the movie. Consumer price tag…” Here he paused for effect, “25,000 U.S. a bottle, except, it’s not a bottle, but signed art by Mexico’s living legend, Miguel Rojos. We’ve secured the rights from the Tennessee Williams Estate, and we want you to handle the distillery. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Loretta slowly removed her scarf, and shook her long hair loose. “Pretty ambitious,” she responded, as much to say that she was in the presence of madness. “But, I’m not your ticket.”
Just then Poppy appeared, and saw that the proceedings had begun without her. “Well…thank…you.” Her voice crackled with sarcasm.
“You didn’t miss much, Poppina. These gentlemen are loco.”
Poppy rolled her eyes and collapsed into a chair. “We know a lot of them.”
John jumped in. “I’m asking your mother to manage my new high-end distillery here in Mismaloya.”
“High-end my ass!” Loretta snorted, knocking back a swig of coke. “He wants to sell it for 25,000 a bottle and that ain’t pesos, Precious, but U.S. of A. currency. Who in the hell is gonna bang on my door with that kinda dinero in their jeans? I don’t care how long it sits in a barrel or if Jesus Christ signs the damn thing!”
Poppy let out one of her whistles. “That’s a lot of money! Señor Juan, no disrespect, but you landed on the wrong beach. Even the rich gringos on the tour buses don’t carry that much. To tell you the truth, even when we get em all fucked up on raicilla…”
“Poppy,” Loretta interrupted, “don’t use fuck around people we don’t know.”
John sat back amused by these exotic creatures, immersed in their small village mentality, oblivious to the opportunity he was waving. This was not going to be easy, but he was beginning to see mother, and maybe daughter, as integral parts of his vision. Poppy was only now entering into the equation as his vision started to grow legs. He saw an exotic and sultry innocence, the transition from girl to woman, the dazzling display of perfection when a butterfly first spreads her wings. He saw what he wanted.
As for Loretta, John recognized his own rebellion, knowing that it was anchored in the bedrock of perseverance. Not many people followed their basic instincts. He knew the guts it took to veer off life’s main highway and leave the pack. Yeah, he thought, this was going to be fun.
Joel remained in the background while John talked, but his attention too kept landing on Poppy. He had known John since they were kids in Queens, sensed when his idiosyncrasies and kinetic energy shifted the game plan. After years of being his best friend and lawyer, Joel could tell things about the man before he himself was aware. Sitting in this claustrophobic shit hole, Joel could see that John wasn’t about to leave this nubile nugget on the table.
John was talking. “I’ve already imported seasoned cognac barrels from France. My Premium Blue Agave is limited yield, slow growth. Ten years. It’s ready, but there’s more coming. We can move it into the barrels in 3 weeks.” His staccato delivery suddenly went silent, allowing the information to sink in. And then, “What do you think?”
Loretta lit a fresh smoke.” Nobody holds agave that long.”
“What’s the point?”
“Because I can afford to, and nobody else can. The Baccarat Crystal prototype is being etched now by Rojos. I’ve procured a place for us in the Baccarat Musee, on Place des Etatsnis in Paris; the prestigious museum owned by the Grouped du Louvre. We’ll distill Night of the Iguana here in rare Napoleon cognac casks. That’s where you come in Loretta.” The camper seemed to vibrate with his enthusiasm.
Finally Loretta spoke. “What makes you so sure you can pull off this robbery?”
John laughed. “I’ve been robbing the rich for a long time.” The fine lines around his hazel eyes appeared along with a conspirator’s smile. “I have the secret combination to their vault.”
“It is?” Loretta inquired.
“Why make me an accessory to your crime?”
“Marketing, it’s all about the story. You being Ava Gardner’s stand-in, the movie, Night of the Iguana, loving Mexico so much you gave up everything…”
Loretta stopped him right there. “Let’s be clear, Mr. Madison. I didn’t give up anything because I didn’t have squat. The stuff I percolate out back isn’t anywhere close to what you’re dreaming. Five years in fancy pants barrels is way beyond my patience.”
John was intrigued by the woman’s stubborn reluctance. Big opportunity made most people salivate, but he liked that she didn’t jump in. It would take someone tough and dedicated to put the pedal to the metal.
It was time to bring in the big carrot. John motioned to Joel, who extracted the architectural plans for Hacienda Iguana from his brief. “We’re going to build a hacienda.” John motioned for everyone to lean in. “Along with an old world distillery right on the Mismaloya River.” He unfurled the drawings. “Wide veranda, adobe structure, wood plank floors, stone and bamboo, all natural products.” He pointed at the elaborate drawings. “That’s where you’ll live and work. Pictures of you and your daughter will be in international magazines and…”
“What’s Poppy got to do with it?” Loretta ‘s question was laced with suspicion.
“She’s our ‘Goddess of the Nectar’,” John proclaimed, as if it was the most natural progression and they had been privy to his thoughts. “Poppy is the face that will launch our ‘Night of the Iguana Campaign.”
Joel nearly fell backwards in his chair. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Poppy! Holy Jesus, he thought. John often created his deals on the spot. Joel had seen it a hundred times. A stroke here, a circle there and he had the whole picture framed and hung, but here he was talking about making this kid a goddess! Holy Christ!
“A hacienda?” Poppy was looking at the drawing as if in a dream, having missed the whole goddess thing. “Would it have an inside toilet?”
“You betcha.” John said.
“We’d be the only ones in Mismaloya with inside toilets!”
It went back and forth for a while, but Loretta was hooked, and she too didn’t catch the real impact of Poppy being gold nectar or whatever. Opportunity was knocking on her bottle caps, and she’d be a fool to turn it down. She doubted if the thing would be as big a deal as this guy thought, but maybe she and Poppy could get an indoor toilet out of it.
Loretta sent Poppy back to Enrique’s mercado for more sodas and a bag of pork rinds. By sunset the deal was cinched. On the walk back to their helicopter Loretta pointed out the Iguana movie set.
“That’s what put me here in the first place,” she said looking straight into John’s eyes. “Do you believe lightning strikes the same spot twice?”
He looked out at the fiery orange sunset that lit up the stone facade. “Twice? No.” He shook his head. “For people like us, Loretta twice is only the beginning.”
They shook hands, and he said that he was leaving that night for New York. Joel would see to getting things in gear. The helicopter lifted off and swerved out over the placid water. Loretta and Poppy stood transfixed by the day’s events, unaware that their lives were forever changed.
All afternoon Antonio, morose at being neglected, crouched down below the camper window, straining to understand, but his English was not so good. Exactly what did the big shot gringos want? Antonio had many questions. He felt ignored, disrespected, and that inflamed his jealous adolescence.
He watched them leave and went inside to piece together what was happening. The cigarette butts, empty coke cans, and half empty bag of pork rinds only inflamed his anger. He couldn’t ask Poppy, not after she showed off and made him look bad, running down the beach to the helicopter, whistling for him to follow, as if he was a coward or un perro estúpido!
He had intercepted her coming out of the mercado with the cokes, and demanded to know what was going on, but she had said she was too busy right then. He secretly counted the cokes, four. His stomach went sour. Twice, she went for cokes, but the second time too, not one for him. The more he thought, Antonio’s anger climbed to blind rage until he found himself ripping down Loretta’s dumb bottle caps that flew all over the floor. Quickly he threw together his few belongings, meager proof he existed in the world, and ran away because this wasn’t a fucking place he wanted to be anymore.
Antonio ended up in Boca, working on outboard motors in Ruben Navarro’s boat repair. He slept on a cot outback, and avoided Poppy’s effort to see him and reconcile. Time passed, and gradually loneliness marbled the gristle of his anger. He bought a delicate silver bracelet from his friend who sold jewelry on the tourista beaches. He composed a song about love and forgiveness. With an apology poised on his lips, Antonio returned to Mismaloya but it was too late. Poppy was gone.
The Bell Tolls
The morning was turning hot as Loretta walked down the Hacienda’s stone steps, past the courtyard fountain to the compound gates and Tequila Road. Whatever was going to happen would take place soon most likely, but for now she was still the Jefa, and today a delivery of French barrels were expected. Life goes on, she thought, and as trite as it sounded, that was pretty big to a dying person.
“Hey little amigo,” she whispered to a small Iguana clinging to the high compound wall. The prolific lizard population was welcome, giving the brand authenticity.
The local fishermen were the first early risers. Each morning she came to watch them put their small pangas in the water, and start their outboards. It was this ritual of life, her life, which offered comfort now. Today, Chato, the best angler of them all, waved as he positioned his scarred panga, ‘Tiburon’ into the turquoise water. With the grace of a dancer he leaped aboard as the battered hull bucked into the first wave escorted by flying free loaders.
Suddenly the new church bell rang the first of many tolls for the day. Thanks to a generous donation from Loretta, Ophelia Ortiz had been reinstated as the official bell ringer. Ophelia’s Latin logic told her that incessant bell ringing meant job security and the grandmother of fourteen had bone bending biceps to prove it.
In the last ten years Mismaloya had benefited greatly from the international acclaim of Night of the Iguana. There were more classrooms, plus a health clinic. The citizenry appreciated everything Señora Duprey did, with the exception of the free vasectomy clinic, a dismal failure even with free cerveza. Some things in Mexico would never change, the birthrate being one.
Nevertheless, the barefooted wildcat, who once made Mexican moonshine behind her camper, was now the respected boss of the importante tequila distillery and beautiful Hacienda de Iguana.
“Buenos días, Señora.”
Loretta turned to see Sergio walking toward the beach with his spear gun.
“Where the hell are you going?” She said in Spanish.
“To a party,” Sergio grinned, “You want to party?”
“I don’t dance with octopus.”
“I heard Poppina is back.” Sergio stopped in the road where two mutts circled a bitch in heat. “I was sorry to hear about her amigo. He was blown to shit, huh?”
“What are you a newspaper reporter?” Loretta clapped her hands and pointed at the dogs. “Sergio, scare those fleabags off of her.”
“Just asking,” he swung his spear gun at the mangy mutts.
“How about you bring me back a small tuna?” Loretta inquired.
Sergio’s eyes spelled surprise. “Si, no problema. You cooking? It takes a guy blown to shit for Señora Loretta to fire up the grill.” Everyone knew that Loretta Duprey was a sorry cook and that Angelina was in charge of all the distillery’s culinary duties. Sergio stepped up his pace, knowing the boss’s loco temper. The dogs sat down to lick their balls as the tired bitch trotted off.
A sudden and searing pain shot through Loretta’s pelvis causing her to double over and hobble back inside the gate. Gasping for air, she reached in her pocket for pills that were missing. She must remember to keep the damn medications with her at all times. The convulsions were more intense and frequent. She staggered onto the veranda, praying that Poppy would not suddenly appear to discover her secret.
Genevieve Madison got the news about her husband’s death while lying between SFERRA Millisimo sheets with her lover, Nicole, who slept purring like a kitten after sex.
For a fleeting moment, Genevieve thought perhaps she felt something on hearing of John’s demise, but if in fact an emotion had surfaced, it was gone, as was John. Au Revoir.
Everything was hers now. Tous. She pondered the sound, the incredible meaning, rolling it over her tongue like an irresistible bite from a decadent éclair.
It was a gray, Paris morning. She leaned over and tenderly nibbled Nicole’s ear causing her to moan in deep sleep. How quickly things transpire, Genevieve reflected as she slipped quietly to the starkly elegant master bath.
Moments like this, standing on the precipice of both tragedy and opportunity, she felt most alive. Oui, it was almost a sexual current. Genevieve mentally inventoried her possessions, tallied her assets and found she was abundantly grateful. Her children were safe and healthy, as was she. It was poor John whose life had ended. There wasn’t even a body to ship for a final farewell. But there was a will, a fantastique going away gift. She could only imagine how grand the contents, the infinite opportunity, the ski chalet in Austria, the private island in Indonesia. Ah, how she loved the masseuse there, whose magic fingers released tension in hidden places. And then, of course there was the Dakota in Manhattan, dignified and aloof; the Grande Dame appealed to Genevieve’s French sensibility.
But the prize she most coveted, the one she desired more than any other, was John’s tequila distillery in Mexico. Possessing the best of anything in the world made her heart race. It was an addiction of which she was most proud. She had married John in order to leave the ordinaire for the exceptionelle, and certainly to his credit, he had not disappointed.
On hearing of his untimely death, a plan to merge her perfumes with John’s liquid gold raced through her imagination straight to her portfolio. The world loved celebrite and legende. The right pieces for a marketing extravaganza were in place thanks to her exceptional, but alas, departed husband. She envisioned Night of the Iguana Legends; products that would include her perfumes.
She dressed hurriedly, retouched her full lips in red and applied her most expensive perfume, Eternite, to pulse points, which now throbbed with excitement.
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