Mi cuenta. My account. In progress for August. So far I only owe the boys 1600 pesos. Just the idea that a Mexican drug cartel would allow me so much credit and allow so much time for repayment surprises me.


I’m certain that there are innkeeper schools, hospitality universities, probably in Zurich  or Geneva. The best ones anyhow. Probably one in Milan. Probably famous in the hotel industry. Las Vegas has how many millions of hotel rooms but it’s all about the churn in Sin City. Nobody really gives a fuck if you need extra towels, even if you’re a whale, sleeping in a suite and leaving huge chunks of cash at the tables. Vegas is just a place where you go to torture your money. To show how little you really care about it. Fuck it. Or maybe it’s what you have to do after losing the rent money to convince yourself not to jump into traffic on the Boulevard. They seem to make it harder and harder to access the street as a pedestrian with every new casino project. I’ll tell you about Reno sometime.

I woke up at 6:30 as usual. My bladder wakes me up every six hours no matter what. I just turned 40. I’d thought this wouldn’t be an issue until I was in my 70s. How many times will I be getting up to piss by then, if I make it.

“Look at your diet,” Teresa scolded me. “Forty years old and you eat like a five -year-old child left home alone for the first time. Plus whatever drugs you’re taking. No wonder you keep getting sick. Gummi bears, donuts and crack smoke,” she said. ”

Heroin, I thought.Crack! Ha! Shows what you know. I’m not THAT pathetic. Speaking of.

A loud whistle came from the gate area. Adan. With my dope. I buzzed him in, only he wasn’t alone. An older man with a well-tanned pate and a bald man’s miniature ponytail followed Adan toward the main house. Adan was talking to him, apparently setting up a pot deal for later.

I left Adan in the bar area where Lalo was watching naked women’s wrestling. The Rio summer Olympics had just started but I was pretty sure naked wrestling wasn’t an official event. Maybe it was in demonstration mode this year?

“I saw the place online,” said the man, who introduced himself as Terry Pempal, and then unhitched his sandals from his feet and stepped gleefully onto the thick rug, squeezing his toes in and out like a cat. The rest of him was opossum. “I read good things in the guest comments. The pool is still clothing optional I trust?”

I checked the book. “I don’t think we got your reservation, Mr. Pempal. We actually were going to empty the place out and give it a rest this weekend,” I said.

“Gosh. I was hoping to stay here and watch my daughter perform.”

“She’s a maid here? Your daughter?”

“She’s a shooter. On the Olympic team. Not yours. Ours.”


“Belize,” he said. “My home is sitting off the coast of Huatulco this weekend. I rented it out to some boys who wanted to use it to help their mother move from one point in the coast to another.”

Likely story.

Terry Pempal handed over $2000 pesos in two crisp $1000 peso notes. Having a $1000 peso note in Oaxaca was exactly like having zero money. Unless you were buying something for $950 pesos, nobody had change for that kind of a transaction. Nor would they go out of their ways to make it. They’d tell you to go to a bank. I was just about top tell Terry the same when Soraya came in from the sun porch carrying an empty bottle of olive oil. She still wasn’t talking to me for something I had said about one of her farts the night before. I had rushed to the window and nearly passed out from the smell.

“Just wait until you get a whiff of afterbirth!” she had threatened.

Terry’s eyes locked on to Soraya’s tits and followed them until she disappeared into the bathroom and the water from the shower came on. You could gravity thunder and tumble it out from the rooftop cistern.

“Friendly,” said Terry. “Your esposa?”

“Not yet,” I said. “Novia.”


“I guess. Sure.”

I took Terry’s money and handed him a house key and one for the each gate on one of our new Hotel Mezcal key rings Soraya had printed. This time the address was left out. Thankfully. We went through about 20 keys a month. “It’s not the end of the world if you lose the keys,” I said. “But please, don’t attach anything to the keyring that says the address of this place. We’ve had to get the locks changed four times since we opened,” I said. “Security is very important here. If there’s a problem, your first call is not always to the police.”

“I’ve been living here off and on for 20 years,” he said. “I know the drill. I’m not the type to lose keys anyhow. I pride myself on that kind of thing. I’m always thinking about things like that,” he said.

I smiled and wrote down his name in the register. “That’s Pempal?” I said.

“What?” he said. “I don’t understand. No entiendo.”

“Your last name? Pembal?”

“Oh,” he said. “Right. Like penpal but with an m.”

I was tempted to ask for his ID. I would’ve bet this guy didn’t even have a valid passport let alone a daughter on the Olympic team of Belize. Something about this place attracted fugitives here. Not sure what it was. We were getting a reputation in the online comments from former guests. We were “very chill” and “relaxed” which was fine, but we were also “not likley to ask for any form of identification” followed by a winky emoticon. Well, we were an illegal hotel that was registered as a private zoo for tax purposes, thanks to Lalo’s uncle, who was himself an untrained tax attorney. Taxes seemed to be a rather voluntary payment. My friend Tony owned a tattoo studio in Centro and he laughed and threw away tax notices into the garbage when he received them. The only tax you had to pay was  protection money.

I showed Terry Pembal to his room and he changed his clothes and sat down at the bar, watching women’s wrestling with Adan and Lalo. Adan came back and dropped off my dope for the day then added the total to my running account for the month. He left but said he’d be back soon, which meant Mr. Pembal had purchased some weed.

Out of curiosity and a pathetic sense of duty, I went online and decided to check the FBIs ten most wanted fugitives to see if any of them were balding 60-year-olds with small ponytails. Possibly named anything but “Terry Pempal.” How did he come up with that name and then stick with it? I wondered. I couldn’t find him on any of the ten most wanted lists. But it turns out the FBI actually has a longer list. They go all the way to 100, but the 100 aren’t technically ranked. I saw the smiling sunburned face of a man that looked very much like Terry Pembal. His name was Terry Bempal. Clever. Still, he was loose and the entire southern district of the FBI couldn’t locate him. From Huntsville, Alabama. Wanted for operating a huge multi-state methamphetamine manufacturing and sales and distribution network. He was allegedly the mastermind. They had caught up with his wife, who was in federal custody. I read the dossier. He supplied a well-known biker gang with more than half of their nationwide meth supply. In personal characteristics, it noted that Terry had once been an Eagle Scout. You were supposed to be alert for anybody resembling him who had knowledge of tying esoteric knots.

So now we could add “harboring fugitives” to our list of offenses. Every day we sank deeper and deeper and there was now no possible way of getting out of any of this without igniting some kind of international incident. Or worse, some kind of local one. The Mexican military put me most at ease. But the smaller localized police forces were as corrupt as I was, to be honest. So far, their fees had been reasonable. But if they got a whiff of how much business we were actually doing, they’d be all over us for double.

I tore off a piece of foil from the roll in the kitchen drawer and took my drugs to the bathroom and opened the ventilation window. I turned the shower on just to disguise the noise from the lighter. Soraya had excellent hearing. Soraya. Too late. I had turned on the shower meaning I had turned off her hot water while she was taking hers.

I expected to hear her screaming obscenities. None came. I could tell the water was still on in her bathroom. So she wasn’t actually in there taking a shower. What was she doing? What was she hiding? Was she smoking dope, too? Not like her. I wondered.

There was a knock on the bathroom door. It was Terry. “Do you know that there’s a bowl of insects on your dining room table? They look like dragon flies with the wings pulled off.”

“Those are chapulines,” I said. “They’re a local staple food. They go well with mezcal.”

I took a long from the foil and inhaled through the top of a plastic soda bottle.

“Chapulines?” he said. “They look like grasshoppers,” he said. Then he said, “I can smell somebody smoking black tar heroin. Do you smell that?”

Welcome to the Hotel Mezcal.