Mike Agar has been writing lies and cracking jokes for decades, while disguised as an academic and a consultant. You can see the story on his Web site at ethknoworks.com. He thanks Java Joe's South for the writing space.
La Villa Irreal
By Mike Agar
The morning when it all started I practically had to swim out of bed. Sweat and sleep don’t mix. Sometimes it’s sweat from the guilt that blows like juniper pollen through this Catholic town. I mean, fair enough, it is noon, late even for an unemployed PI bloated by too many chorizo smoothies. But this time it’s just summer heat, that’s all. The house was built by a dyslexic contractor, so the windows take in maximum sun in August and keep it out when it sinks into the south in January.
It’s embarrassing to sweat when your name is Steak. Really, Steak is what it is. It’s all right, I’m used to the jokes. I’ve got an old 8 mm movie of my baptism. The priest is laughing so hard he drops me in the holy water. My dad told me they were really poor when I was born. My mother said “only hamburger from now on,” so he named me Steak to remind him of his loss. He complained because he salivated whenever he called me. Like that was my fault.
I brewed up an espresso in the Italian coffee pot I inherited from my mother. It had a skull engraved on the side. Her maiden name was Corleone. I went outside and found the newspaper under a napping rabbit. The banner headline said “Epidemic of Violence in La Feria Subdivision,” and the sub-head said “Entire North Side in Chaos.” I only skimmed the article, but I’m telling you, it was pretty Twilight Zone. The north side is the rich part of town. Well, there’s rich people everywhere. I even ran into one in an arroyo in the foothills, but it turned out he was just doing fieldwork for a continuing ed course in Medieval Homelessness at St. John’s College.
The newspaper article said that, out of nowhere, starting last night, calls flooded the 911 line from that usually tranquil part of town. Domestic violence—Mostly wives beating up husbands with imported kitchen utensils. Neighbors quarreling over a Pachelbel CD played at high volume, then throwing bottles of Mouton Rothschild at each other. An investment banker shot his Beemer right in the airbag when it wouldn’t start. One old guy assaulted a urinating Pekinese with his walker. It really did sound nuts. But you know, rich people, whatever.
Being a PI is tough, especially right now. I’d gotten to the point where I was sneaking into garages and checking for coins in washers and dryers. But I had a date that night and so I had to buy some mouthwash and condoms. Clerks really look at you funny when you ask for both at the same time. I’d just add more to the Visa bill. Thank God someone offered me two or three free cards every day in the mail. I fired up the old Tracer and tried to guess which part fell off by the sound it made when it hit the garage floor. The delivery truck was parked in front of Margie’s house with no one in it, right on schedule, so I took my time siphoning five gallons of gas. Then a quick run down Zia to my friendly neighborhood drugstore. Well, friendly, I don’t know about friendly. They still refuse to discount condoms on their savings club card.
I like to buy Supermagnum Mega-X Racehorse condoms with what they call speed bump rings. It’s true, they do hang a little loose when I put them on, but I’m telling you, they get some attention if I let one fall out of the wallet when I pay the bar tab.
So I’m standing there in the drugstore, waiting my turn. The pharmacist is on the phone, so pissed off he’s twisting a button off his lab coat. “I don’t care what they’re telling you,” he says “I’ve got customers screaming and throwing boxes at me from that new shipment of blood pressure monitors and threatening suicide. There’s been five wrecks in the parking lot and it’s barely past noon. Get that shipment to me and get it to me now.”
He slammed down the phone. “Fucking pharmaceutical companies, worse than crack dealers.”
“Can I be of any help?” My home-study PI course said offer help first and then talk daily rate later.
“Not unless you can find hundreds of missing boxes of anti-depressants.”
I stopped by police headquarters to talk with my old buddy the chief, Esteban Alvarez-Piñacolada. We’d met during a twelve-step program years ago. I was there because my wife left me and he was there because she’d moved in with him. As I walked in he was just ending a press conference about the north side. “Designer rage” the reporters called it.
The press conference didn’t last long. Esteban learned that if he announced at the beginning that he wouldn’t put out the buffet until the journalists finished with their questions, then they wouldn’t ask many. Most of them made just enough money to think of fast food as a big night out. One time, he told me, a new college graduate asked a follow-up question and the press corps rolled him into a throw rug and tossed him out the door.
Esteban was paid to think eight hours a day plus he got overtime, so he’d made the connection earlier in the morning. North side violence and delayed anti-depressant shipments. “Rich people are all on Prozac,” he said. “Shipments started vanishing a couple of days ago. Then outbreaks of anger, depression, nausea—one lady threw up and had a fist fight with her husband over the damage to the Navajo rug. Classic Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome.”
Damn guy was always showing off. I played the “I know better than you” game right back. “It’s not just Prozac. There are dozens of antidepressants now.”
Esteban responded with his usual trump card. “Here’s fifty cents. Go call somebody who cares.”
But then he aimed me towards some income, like I knew he would. “The La Feria community association is offering a few grand for anyone who solves this mess. Actually, they don’t care who did it. They just want their pills.”
Embarrassing how easy it was to find them. It had to be trucks from Albuquerque. They had to have driven up I-25, in that empty space between Albuquerque and Santa Fe somewhere among the mesas and casinos and gas stations. They had to be hiding the hijacked trucks somewhere between there and here.
I figured out how I could search for them on a budget. Esteban called the university hospital in Albuquerque and told them he needed a medivac helicopter. He called them collect.
He said he had a victim who couldn’t go to the local Catholic hospital because he was Jewish and they didn’t have kosher breakfast burritos.
I had to fake a spinal cord injury. We didn’t think that one through very well, because the medics strapped me to a board, but I got them to prop it up against the hull and turn me now and then so I could look out.
Once you’re high in New Mexico you can see everything. It wasn’t hard to spot them, a bunch of delivery truck shapes under tarps off to the east, towards the old turquoise mine, next to a ranch house on a dirt road a few miles south of the bajada.
Right when we landed on the hospital roof I had to start shrieking about Jesus and a miracle cure, which was a little awkward since we’d told them I was Jewish. But they were good sports about it, even sent down to the chapel to get me a complimentary bottle of altar wine to celebrate the conversion. The priest laughed when he handed the bottle to me and said “No more Manischewitz for you.”
I hot-wired a BMW SUV in the physicians’ parking lot and headed north. By the time I turned into the dirt road a half-hour later, the party was already over. Cops everywhere. Several mid-sized trucks were parked in the yard around the old adobe house. The delivery drivers were still inside. The hijackers gave each one his own Xbox and a cooler full of beer and none of them had shown the slightest interest in leaving. A hostage negotiator was inside right when I arrived, trying to talk them into letting themselves go.
The hijackers were cuffed, sitting on the ground in front of the house. They had T-shirts on that said “The Rio Rancho Five.” There were eight of them. One had on an Obama gimme cap, so I talked to him.
“What’s your name, bud?”
“I‘m not your bud. I’m a revolutionary. Joe Ortiz, same name as the mountains there.” He gestured with his head and shoulder towards the scrub covered slope in front of him.
“How long you been dealin’ pills?”
“We’re not dealers.”
Joe asked to have his cuffs taken off. His cousin, one of the state troopers standing guard with a twelve gauge, walked over and unlocked them. Joe went into the house and came back out with a flip chart and different colored pens. He set it up and explained the history of the Rio Rancho Five. Most of us took notes.
The way I summarized it later, in my talk to the La Feria Croquet Association when they gave me the check, it went like this. Joe and the rest of them grew up in Santa Fe but they couldn’t afford to buy a house, so they moved to Rio Rancho near Albuquerque. A lot more house for a lot less money is the way he put it. They called their neighborhood “Little Santa Fe.”
The more they talked about it, the more pissed off they got. Joe’s wife had catered some food to north side parties and she knew from snooping in the bathrooms that their two main drugs were anti-depressants and Viagra. His daughter was a pharmacy student at the university. She told him that if he could cut off the supplies of anti-depressants, they’d all go nuts one way or another in a couple of days. Joe figured at least the Rio Rancho Five would get even a little. Maybe they could even block shipments for a couple of weeks and make life miserable and they’d all leave and housing prices would crash and Little Santa Fe could move back home.
It was easy to find the trucks and hijack them and hide them here on this old piece of property owned by his uncle, the father of the state cop who was Joe’s cousin. “Pretty lame, our revolution, no?” Joe smiled. “Bueno, it sure felt good while we were doin’ it.”
Well, I know this won’t sound right, but we all applauded. I’d noticed a case of scotch in the back of the doctor’s SUV so I went and got it. They took the cuffs off the Rio Rancho guys and we toasted La Villa Irreal de Santa Fe and went home for the night.
None of the truck drivers wanted to press charges, as long as they could take the Xbox home. The DA just gave the hijackers community service. Me, I got my three thousand dollars and Esteban spent a couple of days on the front page and the City Council, for the first time in history, agreed on something and increased his budget. So it all ended up pretty good.
I’d had to cancel my date but when she read the paper the next morning she called me. She just moved here a couple of months ago from Chicago and she wanted to know what Santa Fe was really like. No problem, I just made something up. And that night I didn’t sweat alone.