Picture it. Sicily. 1922. A beautiful young peasant girl heads off to market to buy a loaf of bread and some fish for dinner. The sun warms the cobble streets. The sounds and smells of the oceanside village dance down the narrow lane, filling an innocent heart with carefree dreams of romance and adventure. You there? Well that’s probably the nicest image you will have in your head for the rest of the story. Because nothing that happens next has anything to do with her. Or Sicily.
Now picture this: San Jose, Costa Rica, 1996. Two barely twenty-something, hard-drinking bumpkins arrive in the city, set to party in celebration of your author’s day of birth. The night will go down in personal history as miraculous. Miraculous that nobody died, got arrested (for too long), or woke up shanghaied and enslaved in a Colombian cocaine-factory.
Celebrations begin with as much alcohol as my dear, (now deceased) friend and myself can possibly guzzle down, in as little time as possible. Nothing new there. We hop from one establishment to another and somehow end up in the red-light district, two mostly-white guys, after midnight, in the shadiest part of town. Upon leaving one such watering-hole, I hit upon the brilliant idea that we should arm ourselves with large stones in case of attack. We locate satisfactory weapons and continue toward the next, yet undetermined, destination. En route, two local policia find something a little amiss about the two of us in the area they find us, very drunk, and lugging rocks down the lane. Off to the station.
At police headquarters, my good buddy, who speaks absolutely none of the local language, is escorted to a terrifyingly dirty third-world cell, while I sit in the front office, emphasizing, in very rudimentary Spanish, an imagined set of rights that I clearly don’t have. After a short time we're released, with now very light wallets and a thirst for more liquor and more trouble. To the next Tequila bar. Oh, don’t ask why. Oh don't ask why. We drink, and drink, and drink. And forget.
Next hazy memory: hotel gates opened by someone I must have known. Stumble to the room, which my dear friend has already passed through the door of, and then locked behind him. I knock, he doesn’t wake. I pound, he doesn’t wake. Forced entry by foot. He wakes. We have some laughs and drunken babble, and then…, is that somebody calling my name and rattling the gates? It is. Better go see what the fuck.
Apparently I had made a friend in our last round of travels. And apparently I had his crack-cocaine and his crack-pipe, and other paraphernalia in a bag somewhere. I agree to go locate it and meet with him at a location I can’t recall to this day.
Back out into the wild. Too young and too drunk to know I should be very afraid. Cuz I’m not. More afraid now, recounting the tale years later, than I ever was then
I had stashed the bag by an old concrete bridge over a muddy stream. On the other side of the sluggish brown water, an old prison. How fitting. Now a beautiful yellow building that looks like a Spanish castle and has become a museum for children.
I have no idea how I remembered where the bag was, as I don’t remember the person it belonged to or how it came to be in my possession. But remember it I did. Pick up bag and start heading to the rendezvous. Oh yeah, I had a real weapon with me this time out, and somewhat less conspicuous than a rock: an eight-inch hunting knife, hidden up the sleeve of my right arm.
Walking up the street now, the first promises of a new day beginning to overcome the night’s darkness. Still deep in the worst part of town, still very Canadian and still very wasted. Footsteps behind me. Look over the shoulder. Damn! Two cops. Now I'm scared. Why does it take this to make me realize I should have stayed at the hotel? Oh well, too late now. Must make a decision, and fast. I think they're walking faster now, so I do too. Duck into this street-side shop-stall, the only one without a gate in front of it. Thank Christ for this dank, dirty little cave! Placed here for me to execute a rescue from my own foolishness. Drop the bag of drugs and paraphernalia into a very conveniently located steel drum and nip right back out onto the sidewalk.
The empty shop is right at the top of the horizontal part of a “T” intersection, on the right. If I can hurry across before these cops get to me I'll run like hell as soon as I'm out of sight. Almost there when, “I can’t fucking believe this” two more cops come right around the building directly in front of me. Keep head down and carry on, knife ready.
They don’t clue in to how out of place I am until I am about ten feet past them. Then they turn and call to me. I don’t stop. Instant decision: knife work now, or run like hell? The thought isn’t even finished by the time I'm halfway down the block. I don’t know if they even tried to give chase, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I can run so fast even when I'm not scared that it makes my eyes water. And the sheer terror I felt in that instant was like nitrous to something already flying faster than the speed of a life wasted in prison. I drank in the sweet smell of freedom with every supersonic step, and it was delicious.
Run all the way back to the hotel, get inside and ignore my crack-buddy’s gate-rattling threats when he comes back for me because I never showed. The desk help eventually tells him to beat it.
Now I lay me down to sleep, and pray the devil doesn’t take me in my troubled dreams. Which are probably less disturbing than my conscious life. Happy Birthday Bud! It will be against all odds if you see another one.