Excerpt from Crocodile: Memoirs
From a Mexican Drug-Running Port

David Vann

Four men who were collecting Corona bottles on their tabletop were openly staring at me.  Not saying anything, just staring and staring, as if I might suddenly pupate or transform in some other abrupt and fascinating way.  Whenever it happened, they didn’t want to miss it.  I looked everywhere except at them, mostly at my hands on the table.

On the menu, when it finally arrived, I was not able to find any of the dishes you would expect at a Mexican restaurant in the U.S.  What they did have were breaded shrimp, which were expensive, the Pollo Diablo, which I wasn’t trying again, several items I couldn’t translate even remotely, and tortas, or sandwiches.  I decided a chicken sandwich couldn’t be that bad, and I ordered two, along with an orange soda.  Sin mayonesa on the sandwiches.  It took some back and forth with the waitress to hit on the Spanish word for mayonnaise, but we finally narrowed it down and she promised it wouldn’t be on my sandwiches. 

Three more guys came in and sat on the other side, near the plaza under construction, and they also seemed to come over just to stare at me.  They didn’t order beer, even, and the waitress ignored them.  So I stared out between these two groups of men to the work that was being done on the plaza.  The crew looked like it was going to work all night.  They had an enormous portable light set with a generator, and they had a jackhammer now for undoing their work.  Only hand tools, though, for putting down new construction.  The sound from all of it, the jackhammer and the twenty or so guys whacking the hell out of dirt, cement, and brick, was what you’d imagine, but it was no competition for the cantina music blaring out of every palapa, including the one I was in. 

The sandwiches finally arrived, wrapped in aluminum foil.  I had meant to eat in, but they had assumed I would want my food to go, which was fine with me.  I paid my buck fifty for two sandwiches and an orange soda, and I vamanosed.

On the beach, as I was launching my dinghy, I was hailed in a loud, drunken voice by a young guy who spoke passable English.

“I am Santiago,” he said.  “I can help you.  I help Mike and other guys on your boat.  I do many things for them.  Do you want to help you?”

I was curious.  I wanted to know what Mike and the others had done before they abandoned my boat here with a destroyed engine.  And a translator wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.  On the other hand, he was drunk and full of exaggeration, his hand over his heart to show the depth of the help he was offering, etc., and his friends, all sloshing aimlessly through the shallow water with beers in their hands, were not inspiring great trust.  “Can we talk in the morning?” I asked.  “Can we meet at the plaza at 8 or 9?”

“I be there, my friend,” he said, and tapped me on the chest, lurched to the side then steadied himself.  “Santiago will take care of you, my friend.”

Not the most reassuring words, really, and the whole thing seemed like a scene from a bad movie, but if he showed up sober in the morning, maybe he could be helpful.  I rowed out to the boat, unwrapped my sandwiches, scraped off the mayonnaise, threw out the lettuce and tomato since they couldn’t be trusted, and after dinner was over, went to bed.

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