Will Death Reply?
My beloved volunteers me to play Russian roulette…
Emelisa was, as usual, stunning tonight.
Her black and curly shoulder length hair seemed in constant motion, high energy even though she sat still. Her black beauty mark rode just above and to the right side of her sensuous and full lips. I watched her, and she saw.
‘Yes, my love, I embellished my beauty mark so that you will not lose me in the dark, dance floor…’
‘I could never lose you, my dear.’
Tonight, her striking, sparkly black eyes, her rich eyelashes and striking eyebrows promised. Or was it they suggested a night to remember… She had a way of looking at me.
Her dark yet rich red dress offered generous glimpses of her back, of her flawless, beautiful cinnamon tone. The single piece night dress plunged invitingly between her breasts. Her legs were visible from mid-thigh down to her black, rather provocative high heels, straps climbing up and around her ankles.
A churrasco steak place we’re trying for the first time. We enjoy trying different places, sort of mixes things up, spices the moments; gives the night a feeling of surprise. In fact, El Toro will be our third stop of the still early evening. First ‘stop’ was in our hotels’ lounge for a beer. This was in the spirit of work.
Second stop was at a pleasantly busy, popular watering hole, El Dorado, up on the main boulevard, which encircles much of the city. The place was buzzing, and it was fun to sit amidst other people similarly planning the night’s activities.
San Pedro Sula offered many dance and drinking places. Only three, and maybe a fourth, qualified as ‘our’ places to spend the evening drinking beer and dancing up a thoroughly soaked sweat. There was Henrys, our hands-down favorite. At Henrys, we were ‘special’ customers, welcomed with some fanfare. ‘Our’ man, Arnoldo, greeted us enthusiastically at the entrance and feigned hurt insult when the security asked for my ID. He never failed to pull out a chair for Emelisa, immediately followed by the delivery of two, ice cold beers, my favorite Salvavidas, a dark, robust, Honduran brew. Emelisas’ favorite, a ‘blonde with class’, a clear beer, Imperial, brewed in the capital Tegucigalpa.
We knew that Arnoldo upon seeing us at the entry, had immediately placed our order in the busy kitchen for our delicious meat platter of butter-laced tenderloin medallions, Café de Paris. Sided with home- made fries. An extra plate holding freshly baked and still hot ‘French’ bread slices, again, slathered irresistibly with butter. Ketchup and Dijon mustard set on the table. Arnoldo always completed the food part of the service by placing two small glasses of water on the table.
There was the beer too.
The water with one’s food I came to understand is a Honduran custom. It would be a huge faux pas to serve food and not add a liquid. Usually a small glass of water.
We never could be certain, but it must have been Arnoldo who’d alerted Henry of our arrival. A Viet Nam veteran, Green Beret, who after three very active tours had seen too much.
We were top clients and Henry graciously reminded us of this by stopping by our small, cozy table. His greeting was such that by the time he left our table, everyone had taken notice. After all, we owned what was still one of the city’s top hotels. There were always customers that recognized us and we them. San Pedro Sula was a relatively small city, our small lagoon. Almost celebrity like in a laughable sort of way.
Please do not misunderstand this as being snooty, or full of ourselves, hardly. It’s just the way it was in the club’s late night San Pedro Sula in the early nineties.
Public recognition had its detriments. In a region where kidnapping, a budding industry, was on the rise, the last thing one wanted was recognition and or notoriety.
As an example of how effective our small ‘theater’ was: many months prior, I’d slipped on a step, coming down off the packed dance floor and landed on my rear end. Something flashed, and then another. The local paparazzi were on the prowl that night. Were it not for Henry talking to the two camera jockeys, my undecorated fall on the floorboards would’ve been in Saturdays’ newspaper social edition. ‘Our locally well-known hotel owner lands on his rear end after just a few beers. Might it be that our American hotel owner cannot handle more than just a few beers…? Perhaps the beautiful, young woman accompanying him that evening might teach him a thing or two about our powerful Honduran beers?’
Our nights out began around 6:30; sometimes later, never earlier.
The eatery we’d chosen to kick off this Friday evening’s adventures had a certain charm. A steak place, Churrascos El Toro. Outside, sitting on a courtyard encircled by a thick, tall hedge provided a sense of security and cover from the busy street on the other side of the hedge. Security was a wish and an illusion. The thin, middle-aged guard carried a machete. An ancient.38 revolver held in place by his belt provided little added confidence.
San Pedro Sula was hopelessly ensnared in the grip of an ever-growing crime wave. Most citizens carried pistols, as did I. A small Beretta,.25, stuffed into a tight-fitting ankle holster. Again, security? Just an illusion everyone convinced themselves of.
The rich aroma of broiling steaks of different cuts, smoke-filled kitchen billowing insistently and overflowing the tables located inside. Inside in the sense that the tables have a smoke painted thatched roof over them, but the dining space is open to the outside sitting area.
We arrive early evening, a pre-dance place to eat dinner and power up for the disco much later on. In fact, after the churrasco steaks, our Friday night-out routine takes us to no less than three, sometimes four other watering holes, before hitting Henrys Disco around ten PM.
We know the disco will be packed, but we have a table waiting for us.
El Toro Churrascos, we are early. It seems as we appear to be two of just several others sitting inside. Outside, where we sit under the increasingly darkening night sky, each round table has its own cozy thatched roof. A small light provides an intimate glow.
The busy traffic just on the other side of the ten-foot-tall hedge, traffic driving home after work. The house music is the current and popular, upbeat, love songs. To Emelisas’ amusement, I never correctly name the musical genre. I know, however, that it’s not ‘Rancheras’ or country. The music, from stop to stop leading to the disco, goes a long way to set the mood for the night of dancing.
Moments sensed as carefree, difficult to sit without moving along with the strong, Latin beat. Worth mentioning that if one doesn’t dance, ever, then you are in for a potentially miserable evening. So, you dance! You learn how to move around, a semblance of chaotic order. Watch how your date moves. Watch the mood of the group on the dance floor.
As though following your image in the mirror, you try to hit the beat as accurately as possible. It took me around six months of dancing to reach a point where I was implementing ‘my’ own moves.
When you reach that point of self-confidence in your dancing, you notice that instead of attracting fellow partyers’ attention because of how lousy you dance, you might spot another guy furtively trying one of your moves! A woman stealing a quick and a touch appreciative glance your way.
A secret smile from across…
The acid test for me was and perhaps remains to this day, on the rare occasion I may wonder out onto the floor, is the solo dance. This is getting out of your perfectly comfortable seat, moving out onto the floor. Your partner might recoup from having danced a half hour. The floor may be all yours, no one else out there, or it just may be packed, which, of course, makes it much easier.
The supreme confidence to step onto the floor, to dance alone, to move to your inner compass, as though dancing with a far more accomplished dance partner. When you can do this, dance all the way through the song, then dance for two or three more tunes before taking your seat. A victory without question. If you have developed several moves of your own, have the guts to put them on display. It may be something as goofy as mixing in the old Twist. If you do this, suddenly the dance floor is yours in a way difficult to describe.
We are in the middle of a bustling, tropical city, and yet the night concert of crickets and buzzing cicadas is not to be denied. They add to a sense of pleasure.
A rich and all-encompassing Honduran tropical humidity forms an irresistible cocoon of moisture, a comforting cloak. Two tables away sit another couple. The couple are sipping drinks, and pick at a bowl full of tajaditas, banana chips, usually still warm. The deep fried, salted plantain chips are the Honduran favorite bar snack for having with drinks.
As we sit, the man partly turns and nods greetings. His thick Pancho Villa mustache seems to the rise subtly in a smile. The man’s much younger date studies the bowl of plantains.
You’ve got the night by the pelotas. Life can’t get any richer, spicier. I take in Emelisa and I wonder, ‘where does life go from here?’
We order our small steaks and rice and beans.
The beer is cold and feels good going down. Emelisa and I absorb the tropical paradise. The cicadas’ buzz has a strange vibrational tone in my inner ear.
I light up a Cohiba. They say this used to be Fidel’s favorite Cuban cigar. My cigar is a Perla, four inches long, or was, I’d smoked the cigar down past half its four inches. I’d wrapped it in a foil to smoke it later, or now, sitting here outside under the thatch and stars.
Five minutes passed.
The flavor did not let me down. Emelisa scrunched up her nose and said, only half kidding. ‘My God, that always smells awful.’ She chuckled.
Reminding me yet again that the smoker experiences the pleasurable side of cigar smoking and those unlucky ones nearby nearly gag from the stench and outright assault to one’s smell sense.
Another pull and the essence of the rich Cohiba found its way home on my palate, the many elements unmasking themselves for me. It had taken me almost half of a year to finally ‘get it’, the flavor, what cigar smoking was really all about! Just a couple more pulls, no inhaling, and I’d be done with the cigar.
Emelisas eyes suddenly looked past me, her eyes opening wider, I turned to see.
The man from two tables down approached our table.
‘Buenas noches.’ He said, a gentle, yet deep, voice. He cleared his throat. In Spanish he said: ’allow me to introduce myself Señor y Señora. My name is Manuel Del Rio and I and my lovely wife are from Puerto Lempira near the Caratasca Lagoon on the Caribbean coast.’
The man shifted in his alligator skin boots as though choosing his next words.
‘You see, the cigar smoke causes my Señora deep up set, Señor. If it would not be too much to ask, might you consider extinguishing your cigar so that my Señora can be at peace?’ He shifted again and quickly hunched his shoulders as though gesturing, asking for forgiveness for his brusque intrusion.
His dinner jacket, a source of new discomfort for a man from the rough Caratasca region of eastern Honduras, drew open. An invisible hand had pulled aside the jacket as though opening a curtain.
Situated snugly, two semi-automatic pistols, nine millimeters, set at the ready, both hands dropped to his sides, as an attempt to display harmlessness. That his origins were from the Caratasca region of Honduras said all that needed to be said.
In the mini second that the man’s jacket was opening to reveal his pistols Emelisa, being the strong-minded Honduran woman that she is, immediately countered: ‘My husband does not take orders from strangers Señor, much less does he yield to foolish threats. Please be advised, Señor, that this can only end poorly for you, Señor.’
In high school I was the captain of my football team and the sport taught me among many other things how to think on my feet and make decisions instantly.
All in a breath, I took in the fact that I’d smoked my pricey Cohiba almost down to the nub. No loss there. I determined as well that I’d just as soon continue living this ridiculously happy life, yes, with my beautiful Emelisa. I went into action.
One swift move with my right hand sent the Cohiba stub flying over the tall hedge to a hopefully empty sidewalk, street side.
My brilliant, and life-saving sense of humor came alive by saying: ‘What cigar, Señor?’ As I offered both empty hands palm up.
No more cigar!
No more troubles potential or otherwise!
The region mentioned in my story, Caratasca, along the shores of the Caribbean, is perhaps Honduras’s’ most dangerous and violent areas. Known as a corridor for drug planes flying from Colombia, crashed small planes are frequently found buried in swamp areas, vines and shrubbery. Today it continues earning its often-deadly reputation.
The man looked down at me, paused and said: ‘Thankyou Señor, muy fino, buenas noches Señora y Señor, blessings.’ He turned and walked back to his table.
Every word of this story is true. All I can wonder, even after all these years, is how close I’d come, thanks to my beloved Emelisa. By the way, my beloved Latina, Emelisa, was negatively flabbergasted. She said she couldn’t understand why I hadn’t stood my ground…