Monday, January 21, 2019

High On Mexican Lucky by Mark Mellon




High on Mexican Lucky


San Antonio's urban sprawl spread out before them as the hotel elevator ascended the glass shaft, a night time panorama dominated by the Tower of the America's gleaming, spotlit needle. The river was a serpentine curve below, sidewalks empty at this early hour.
The doors slid open. The penthouse suite was filled with police and an ambulance team in blue scrubs. Sgt. Vasco led Pargrew to the master bedroom. CSI techs did their jobs, faces grim, serious. Two men in plainclothes stood next to the circular bed. A large, florid blond man in a fancy cowboy shirt openly wept by them.

A young man lay naked, face blue, body twisted. Even with contorted features masked by bloodstreams from his nose, mouth, and ears, he was still handsome and unmistakable, the musical idol of millions, Wes Bastrop, flat on his back and deader than hell. A small mirror lay on the bed by Bastrop's corpse, smeared with bright orange powder. The big man pointed at the mirror.
"That's what killed poor Wes. Whoever makes this should burn in hell."
He reached down to snatch the mirror off the bed, only to be restrained by the detectives.
"Hold on, Big Boy. I know you're grieving, but that's still no reason to tear up the crime scene."
"Mr. Parker," Vasco said. "This is the man you wanted to see. Alec Pargrew, the private investigator."
Parker focused on Pargrew, pale blue eyes startling in his lobster red face. "Big Boy" was embroidered in curlicue red letters on his shirt.
"Sure enough if that ain't the hombre I need."
He stomped over in black cherry, gator belly Lucchese boots and wrung Pargrew's hand.
"You're just the bad motor scooter to get to the bottom of this. Let's go where we can talk private like."
"Sure, Mr. Parker."
"Call me Big Boy, hoss. Everybody does."
They went to a side bedroom. Sobs were audible from the next room, low, pitiful moans like those from a small animal caught in a trap.
"That's Ellie, Wes's sweetie. She's as bad shook up as me."
Parker tapped on the wall with two massive knuckles. "Bear up there, Ellie. I'm grieving just as hard as you, honey, but I need to talk business. Once I'm done, I'll come console you, hear? So hush now, darling, OK?"
Ellie wailed acknowledgement. The noise ceased.
"Guess I can hear myself think now. Looky here, hoss. I want you to track down whoever makes this damn Mexican Lucky and then skin him alive. Money ain't no objection. Just get her done."
"I don't murder or torture folks, Big Boy. Now if you want me to find someone, that's another thing, but I honestly have to say, I've never heard of Mexican Lucky. What is it?"
"It's that orange crap that killed Wes."
"You said that before, Big Boy, but what's it do besides kill folks?"
"It does different, weird stuff."
Parker gasped for air. He mopped sweat from his forehead with a large red kerchief.
"There's fifty thousand if you just agree to try. One hundred more when you bring the bastard in, dead or alive."
"Big Boy, that's generous, but you're most likely wasting your money. For all we know, it's made by some syndicate in Mexico or maybe even Columbia. There's no way I could ever get close to people like that. This really sounds like something you ought to leave to the police."
Parker waved a meaty arm in angry dismissal. "Those bumbledicks couldn't find their own asses in broad daylight with help from the National Guard. I want somebody who can get things done. That means you, Pargrew. Now I won't take no for an answer."
"OK,  Big Boy. I'll see what I can do."
Parker smacked his meaty palms together. "The money will be in your bank account come morning. Go talk to that Vasco fellow. He'll help you. I got the Governor himself to back me, so don't think he won't."
"That'd explain why he's been so friendly."
"Oh, the hell with him and his damn feelings. Just get her done like I said before, hoss."
Big Boy went to see Ellie. Pargrew and Vasco went into the hall to talk.
"Sgt., I understand how you might resent me getting stuck into this investigation, but I really don't want to get in your way. If you could give me any information you have, I'd appreciate it. Big Boy has a way of getting what he wants."
Vasco smiled, an open, wide one. "You noticed? I appreciate you being cooperative, Pargrew. I've had instructions to help you any way I can."
"Thanks. First, what's this Mexican Lucky? I couldn't get a straight answer from Big Boy."
"It popped up in the last six months, primarily in Austin, but then it spread to San Antonio and just about every other college town in the state. Two weeks ago NOLA police  reported arresting a dealer in Jackson Square for possession with intent to distribute."
"What's it do to folks?"
Vasco made a wry face. "It depends. From interviews with users, it can either leave you peaceful and laughing like you're stoned or wired and angry like meth. Some of them called it the best trip of their lives; others said it was like molly. And then there are ones we find dead  like Wes."
"So it's playing roulette with your own dern hide? If that isn't a fool risk to take."
Vasco nodded. "Of course. It's a stupid, dangerous thing to do. That's why so many kids want the stuff. It's got a lot of cachet now. They'll pay a hundred dollars or more for a hit. Go on any local campus and you'll find some idiot wearing a black t-shirt that reads 'Mexican Lucky.'"

"Does it come from Mexico?"
"We don't think so. There haven't been any arrests or finds of the drug on the border. That leads us to think it's made in the US, probably here in Texas."
"That makes sense. Do you know where Wes got the stuff?"
"We don't believe it was in San Antonio. Big Boy says he didn't leave the suite once they arrived this morning. Ellie Simpkins, his girlfriend, thinks Wes bought it last night from someone while he was hitting the bars on Sixth St. in Austin after he finished playing at Maggie Mae's."
"Did she say what this dealer looked like?"
Vasco shook his head. "She's not really in any state to say much. That's about all we got out of her."
Pargrew tipped back his cowboy hat and sighed. "Guess that's what I'll have to run with then."

***
Sixth St. at one-thirty was still crowded. Live music blared into the street from open doors to attract passersby inside. Bars were jammed with college students hell bent on getting dead drunk before last call, the sidewalks packed with longhaired heads; obnoxious, sodden frat boys; gawking foreign tourists; and heavily coiffed punks.  A lone stoner drifted with a loose limbed, rolling strut. Right arm covered in tattoos, he wore a backwards ball cap topped by mirrored sunglasses. Slack jawed, he amiably gazed at the passing scene.
"Hey, bro, how you doing? You look like a head."
Young and rail thin, with a wispy goatee and mustache, his black t-shirt read "Mexican Lucky" in shaky, irregular letters.
"Shoot. You want to get a buzz, old Scott Walker's ready, willing, and able. What kind of high we talking about now?"
"Keep it on the down low, OK? You want some soda? Maybe chiva?"
"How about that there?" 
He pointed to the kid's shirt.  The kid looked away, suddenly nervous.
"Well, see, I don't have a steady supply, but-"
"Another wannabe. Money talks, bullshit walks, son. See ya."
"Wait."  
"What now, bro?"
"I can get some, but you have to buy me a hit too. A hundred fifty apiece. Uncut Mexican Lucky, straight from the manufacturer."
"The real thing? What everybody's talking about?"
"Yeah, Mexican Lucky. There's nothing like it."
"Can't that stuff kill you?"
The kid smirked. "It almost never happens. You're not a pussy, Scott?"
"Hell, no. Get things rolling."
The kid took out his phone. He turned away for a brief, mumbled conversation.
"We're good. Let's get an Uber."
A Pakistani in a blue Volvo picked them up for the short drive from downtown Austin to the UT campus area.
"I'm Mitch."
"Howdy, Mitch."
The Uber stopped on a street filled with student apartments and condos, curbs packed with tightly parked cars. Mitch stuck Walker with the tab.
"This better be for real," he said. 
Mitch rang the doorbell. "No worries, bro. Everything's cool."
The door opened and they entered. The living room was dimly lit by black lights. A large young man in a Dallas Cowboys jersey and white shorts glared at them. 
"You didn't say anybody else was coming, Mitch."
"Hey, Dolph, this guy's OK-"
"I done warned you."
Dolph smacked Mitch open handed, full across the face. He reeled from the blow. Dolph loomed over Walker, chest heaving, teeth bared in a full monkey threat face.
"Now why don't you just get the fuck out of here."
"Aren't you the excitable one."
His right hand snaked under his shirt. He whipped out a Colt .45 and smacked Dolph's head, a light, clinical tap that still left the hulking jock on his knees and reeling.
"Dolph, pick yourself up and sit on that couch."
Dolph glared at Walker, but nonetheless obeyed.
"Mitch, I told you, don't bring anyone. And you bring some bastard to jack me. I swear I'll kill you-"
"Dolph. I don't want your stash. Calm down, hear?"
The stoner's tone was low and even, but the dead serious look in his eyes brooked no denial. His manner was different, intent and serious, posture now ramrod straight. Dolph quailed.
"Mitch, I guess I'm done with you. Get out of here."
Mitch slammed the door behind him. 
"I'm Alec Pargrew, a licensed private investigator. I need to know your connection."
Hunched over, hands to his aching head, Dolph still mustered a sneer.
"That means you ain't the law and I don't have to tell you shit. You broke and entered my home and then you done assaulted me. My daddy's rich. Bet he'll like suing you."
Pargrew laughed. "Your daddy's money won't mean much, Dolph, once folks find out you sold Mexican Lucky to Wes Bastrop."
Dolph's eyes went wide.  
"That's bullshit. I never met that shitkicker in my life."
"Maybe so, but you sell Mexican Lucky. That should put you in Huntsville with a ticket for a hot shot here in Texas. Folks are worked up about old Wes dying. You look like about as good a fellow to blame as anyone else."
Dolph hung his head in defeat.
"OK. I don't know who he is."
"Huh? What are you saying, Dolph? Do I need to whomp you again?"
Dolph cringed. "No. I'm telling the truth. There's this ghost town, Sarry Gulch, about three hundred miles from here. I go there and drop the money off by the gas station, pick up the stuff, and get. I ain't never seen the fellow that sells it. We do it all by text."
"Have you got a car, Dolph?"
"No, a Ram 4X4."
"That figures. Dealers always blow money on stuff like that. Get dressed. You and me are going places."
Dolph seethed on the couch. "So you just bust into my home and kidnap me in my own truck? You sure got some crust on you."
"Just do like I said, Dolph. Get dressed. Hope you're not shy because I'll be watching. Give me your phone too. We'll keep this private."
The huge truck was parked in an underground garage.
"You got a full tank?"
"No."
"We can gas up later."
They left the garage and entered the street. 
"And just where are we supposed to go? Someplace you can murder me?" 
Pargrew pulled off the fake sleeve tattoo. He put his ball cap on straight and put the sunglasses in his shirt pocket.
"Sarry Gulch."
"It's six hours. What do you think you'll find? I told you, it's a ghost town. There ain't nobody there."
"Maybe you just made the place up. Get to driving. Hear me, Dolph?"
Dolph grunted. He drove to an entrance to I-35 south.
"This is going to be a hell of a long ride for nothing."
"Drive, Dolph."
They traveled to Route 1604 outside San Antonio and transferred to I-10 west, past seemingly endless brilliantly lit malls, roadside restaurants with enormous, flashing signs, car dealerships, motels, and condos. Exurban San Antonio slowly petered out. The low, scrub covered hills that flanked the interstate were shrouded in darkness.
"You know, I haven't slept in about twenty-four hours. If I pass out and we crash, you got yourself to blame."
"Don't worry, Dolph. You get drowsy, I'll just hit you again. Let's talk. That should help you stay alert. Tell me about Mexican Lucky. What's it do exactly?"
Dolph sighed. "There's six stages like chambers in a revolver. You take a spin and take your chances. Stage one is stoned, the best reefer high that lasts for ten, twelve hours with a nice, long nap at the end. Stage two, buzzing on molly. You love the whole world and everything around you for a whole day with no bring down. Stage three, the cleanest, sweetest coke high, a buzz that makes you hump all night. Four is speed, better than ice. Five is a straight up trip like acid or mescaline." 
"And six kills you."
"Not always. One guy I know had a bad reaction once, but he puked so he came out OK."
"You fellows don't have a lick of sense."
"You don't think I use it, do you?"
"No, you just sell it. You're a real piece of work, know that, Dolph?"
After over a hundred miles on I-10, Dolph turned south onto a farm road. Dawn slowly stole over the vast Texas landscape. The sun's first, red rays lit up the worn, low brown mountains on the horizon. Endless vistas of chaparral slowly took on color and shape. Ranches, occasional hilltop retirement homes, and small towns flashed past. At Comanche Springs, they got gas and breakfast tacos from a Carl's Jr. drive-through.  Pargrew made Dolph pay.
Near the Mexican border, Dolph left the farm road for a dirt track. Despite the early hour, the heat was already intense. The air conditioner strained to cool the cab. Dust clouds flew up behind the truck.  There was nothing to see but cactus, mesquite, and dagger plants. The truck hit occasional paved stretches, long neglected asphalt that crumbled under the tires. They passed a derelict motel, the concrete pool cracked and bone dry. Here and there, wood farm houses fell apart, tin roofs scavenged, deserted by their families long ago. 
A faded wooden billboard loomed over the road. A buxom, female cartoon figure in an Italian peasant costume with a beaming tomato for a head waved hello. Sarry Gulch Straight Ahead, Roma Tomato Capital Of The World! Food. Gas. Beer.
"Stop here."
Dolph parked on the shoulder.
"We'll walk."
"And sneak up Comanche style? I'm telling you, there ain't nobody there."
"Just get, Dolph."
They went down the crumbling road. Pargrew's boot heels slipped on the loose stones. A javelina scurried across the road. A jet black, great-tailed grackle musically cooed from a dead tree's branch. They came to a two story, red brick school, windows long shattered, doors askew. 
"The drag's up here."
Beyond the school, a dozen or so buildings lined a short road.  Roofed and mostly intact, the wood and stucco walls were sere and faded, yards overgrown with weeds and honeysuckle. A white '69 Barracuda lay on rusted rims by a gas station. 
"Like I said, empty. I put the money by that old car, come back a half hour later and get the Mexican Lucky. Bet you ten thousand dollars whoever makes it ain't nowhere near."
"Look at that Quonset hut, Dolph."
At the street's end, a large Quonset hut's scalloped surface was corroded bloody orange by decades' passage.
"What about it?"
"See those new ventilation turbines spinning on top. Isn't this supposed to be a ghost town? Let's take a closer look."
The hut's doors were secured with a chain and padlock. 
"Get back."
Pargrew took his .45 out and carefully drew a bead on the padlock.
"Uhhh-"
A red tipped dart jutted from Dolph's left pectoral. His face went pale, his eyes slack, and he slumped to the ground. 
Pargrew looked up, .45 at the ready. A momentary glimpse of a man with a rifle in the church steeple. He raised his pistol. A dart slammed into his chest with unerring accuracy. He fell unconscious.

***
Pargrew regained consciousness, groggy from the sedative and with an aching head. Bound by duct tape to an  office chair, his head was trapped between a massive vise's jaws. A chemical smell tore at his nostrils, more caustic than pure chlorine. A longhaired, wild eyed young man in a dirty white lab coat smiled at him from another chair. He adjusted crooked glasses.
"Howdy. I'm Orrin Dupuy. And you're Alec Pargrew, a genuine private detective."
The Quonset hut was filled with quietly purring machinery, efficiently cooled by CAC. Orange powder streamed down a stainless steel chute with a clear cover into a black plastic, 55 gallon drum.
"Why don't you turn me loose? The police are already coming."
Dupuy laughed. "Sure they are. I hacked your phone before I went through your wallet. I may be crazy, Alec, but I'm sure no fool."
"Where's Dolph?"
"Oh, he's tied up himself."
He pointed his phone at a flatscreen TV. The screen showed Dolph naked on his back in the street, cruelly bound by rawhide strips. Head tomato red, swollen to twice its normal size, his face was too gorged with blood for him to even cry out.
"He looks like Signorina Roma Tomato's kid brother now. That's what they did in the good old days when they caught somebody rustling stock. Wrap him in a fresh skinned hide and let it shrink. I soaked that rawhide good and tied him tight and now that hot Texas sun does the rest. Good enough for a snitch, I figure."
"I made Dolph take me here. He had no choice. You've got no cause to torture a man to death."
Dupuy laughed, high pitched hiccups, big teeth bared.
"The man who invented Mexican Lucky does what he pleases, son. I cooked this all up, from the equipment to the name to throw folks off the trail. Anybody who interferes gets his just punishment. And now that comes to you. Somebody's paying you to get me. Ain't that so?"
"I have a client, but that's all I can say."
"Well, now you'll get your reward for butting into my affairs. But you get a fighting chance. I gather from those boots and that Colt .45, you're a rooten-tooten, pistol shooting cowboy."
"Dupuy, you're crazier than a rat trapped in a coffee can. Cut me loose and I'll show you what I can do, you miserable, torturing son of a bitch."
"I will. You and me are going to have an old fashioned shootout, the two of us throwing down on each other at high noon. First though, you'll get a taste of the stuff you're so curious about."
Dupuy went to the chute. He lifted a hatch and spooned powder into a Pyrex beaker. Dupuy added orange juice and stirred it thoroughly. He walked over to Pargrew, grin even wider than before, and pinched Pargrew's nose shut with his free hand. Pargrew automatically opened his mouth to breath. Dupuy poured it down his throat. 
"That's it. Take your medicine, son. Make Daddy proud."
Pargrew gritted his teeth and tried to turn away. Liquid splashed everywhere, but still got down his throat. He choked and coughed as it seeped into his stomach. 
Dupuy set Pargrew's .45 on a table. He put a Bowie knife in Pargrew's lap.
"After you cut yourself free, the Lucky should kick in. If you're lucky, ha ha, get it, lucky, maybe it'll be speed and you'll get the drop on me. Users' reactions depend on their mitochondrial DNA haplogroup."
"What if it just kills me?"
"That'd be your tough shit like Wes Bastrop."
Dupuy donned a high crowned, beige Stetson with an enormous brim and picked up a nickel plated '73 Peacemaker. He put the pistol to one ear and twirled the cylinder.
"I'll be waiting. Come out when you get loose. If you got the sand."
Dupuy quietly shut the door behind him. Pargrew tipped his thighs so the Bowie's handle tilted into his left hand. He could just reach the duct tape that bound his right hand with the knife's tip. Awkwardly, slowly, he scratched until the duct tape split and parted. Right hand free, Pargrew quickly removed the remaining tape, grabbed the vise handle, and loosened it. He stood up, stretched, and rubbed his aching, red ears.
Pargrew grabbed the .45. He ejected the magazine and checked to see if the pistol was in working order. Pargrew reloaded the .45 and chambered a round. His teeth tingled, oddly, unpleasantly. Beneath him, brown and khaki streaks in the linoleum crawled toward the tiles' edges. The fluorescent light hit his eyes wrong, oddly diffracted. Even breathing seemed new and strange. Pargrew forced himself to walk to the door, open it, and step outside. He took the Bowie along.
Strong sunlight hit him like a two by four between his eyes. Dolph lay in the dirt. Ordinary and orthogonal before, the derelict buildings were now tilted and strange, as if built by alien beings using an unknown geometry. Trees and shrubs sinuously undulated in the still air. He saw blood course through the veins of his translucent arms. The .45 was immensely heavy. It took all his strength just to stand. He headed toward Dolph to cut him free.
"Whoo, look at you."
Dupuy stood a short distance away.
"You didn't even notice me. I had you dead to rights, Pargrew. You must be in stage two or five. Either way, you can't put up much fight. Let me see if I can't liven you up some. Dance, sumbitch."
He fired the pistol. The bullet hit the ground near Pargrew's feet. Stone chips hit his boot tops.
"You go to hell, Dupuy." Words came out slow and twisted, as if from someone else's mouth.
"So you won't dance, huh? Well, what good are you?"
Legs spread wide to brace himself, Dupuy aimed at Pargrew. 
In the innermost corner of his mind, Pargrew's rational core asserted itself. Trained reflexes took over. 
Dupuy fired, but Pargrew had already hit the ground, .45 in a two handed grip. 
Hammer cocked, he snapped off two rounds into the target's center of mass, right in Dupuy's chest. White lab coat blotched scarlet, Dupuy keeled over. He clutched his hands to his chest in a hopeless effort to stanch the massive hemorrhage, but quickly bled out and died.
Pargrew got to his feet. He staggered over to Dolph and cut him loose with the Bowie, but the dealer was long dead, his face a deep, mottled purple. Another wave of disruptive disorientation swept over Pargrew, even stronger than before. He had just enough strength left to reach a shady spot. He collapsed, legs sprawled before him, propped up on his left hand. With a corpse on either side, Pargrew sweated while he endured an endless psychedelic purgatory until the drug wore off. Like the dying cowboy in the song, he lay in the street, high on Mexican Lucky. 
 


-End-

Bio Mark Artanis is a novelist who supports his family working as an attorney. His short fiction has appeared in Deadman's Tome, Mythaxis, and Trigger Warnings. His four novels and fifty short stories have been published in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Denmark. A novella, Escape From Byzantium, won the 2010 Independent Publisher Silver Medal for F/SF. His writing can be found at  www.mellonwritesagain.com 
 

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