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

David Vann

I rowed back out to the boat in the hot sun, grabbed all the papers, including the boat’s documentation and my passport, then rowed back in and walked to his office.

I had to wait almost half an hour to be shown in, even though he didn’t have any other visitors.  It was just me waiting in the lobby while he sat alone in the next room at his desk doing nothing.  I could see him through the open door.

When I was let in, I walked straight to his desk and handed over the papers.  He waved his arm to show me a seat, then he picked slowly through the papers, glancing over all of them but of course not really needing to read them.

“Your papers,” he said.  “You may take them now.”

I got up and collected them, then sat back down.  My chair was about twenty feet from his desk, so most of the time I was far away.

“May I have your help in recovering my stolen engine?” I asked.

He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head.  Then he swiveled around so that I stared at his folded hands and the back of his head while he stared at the portrait of the President hung on the wall behind his desk.  This went on for maybe five minutes, which seemed unbearably long.

“May I have your help in recovering my stolen outboard engine?” I repeated.

He turned around slowly, brought his hands back to his desk and folded them carefully.

“Have you seen the weather report?” he asked.  “I can show you the weather report.”

“Okay,” I said.

He stood up and walked over to another desk with a printer and fax.  He motioned for me to come, and I walked across the room to join him.  He handed me the most recent text report, in Spanish, and I read it as best as I could.  “Olas are waves?” I asked.


I finished reading what I could.  “The weather looks okay,” I said.

 “Yes, the weather is okay,” he said.  “So thank you for coming in to my office.  I will see you again soon, my friend.”

“Will you help me find my engine?” I asked.

He was pissed off now.  No more smiling.  He sat down and I returned to my chair across the room.  His folded hands on the desk were chopping up and down, a slow hatchet, controlled.  “Let me tell you the two ways you can report a crime here in Mexico,” he said. 

“Great,” I said.

“The first way is to make an official report.  If you make an official report, you will need to make it in this office, and in the harbor office across the bay, and in Puerto Madero with the police and with the Navy, and with two more kinds of police in Tapachula, the police for this region and the federal police.  Then each kind of police will come to inspect you and your boat.  The navy, and my men, and every kind of police.  Then, after all of those reports are made, someone will make a recommendation about what can be done.  Maybe something, maybe nothing.  Depending.”

“Your English has really improved,” I said.  “What’s the other way to report a crime?”  I certainly didn’t want to be inspected by every police and military force.  I assumed he was exaggerating about all the offices; I imagined I could probably get away with just the Navy, the Capitan’s office, the port authority, and the local police, but that was still a lot of inspection.  I did believe they would come out to inspect.

“The other way is unofficial.  You can let me know, as you have done now, and if I find your engine, I will let you know.”

“That sounds good,” I said.  “Can I help you find it, by letting you know where it is?”

“No,” he said.  “You just leave it up to me.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I guess I have to go with that option.  If you find it, I’ll pay you $200 U.S.  That’s half of what the engine cost me.  I bought it used.”  This was a lie, of course.

“That is not necessary,” he said.  “We are a government office.  We are here to help.”

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