Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Dear Flora

Dear Flora Pachado —

I don't know what this letter should say. I write this for two reasons:

First, circumstances wrenched us apart in mid-dialogue, leaving me a bit confused about where I stand with you (more on this below).

Second, I've had to post this letter to you on my weblog, because I forgot your home address and phone number. I had it written down on a slip of paper in my wallet, but the Master Trainer confiscated the paper from me, out of concern that I might be ambushed in transit, and Delgado's Holdouts would find it, read it, and take your family hostage. That's the point we're at right now with these people. I thank my lucky stars, though, that I had the foresight to install those Ethernet jacks in your father's den two weeks ago, when I was rewiring your house. I am therefore confident that I will be able to reach you through the Internet, but in a forum like this — which anyone and everyone can read — I am reluctant to reveal my innermost thoughts. My enemies read this blog for areas of weakness. People like Burping Squid are always trying to come up with some way to take a shot at me. I don't want to give too much away to these people —

maybe it's best to stick to the facts.

By the time you read this I will have been smuggled out of Peru, with my luggage, inside a discarded refrigerator that, as far as the rest of the world knows, my Master Trainer sold on eBay. The refrigerator will have been delivered by wagon cart to my Master's contact over the border in Bolivia. PePe will have accompanied me on this journey, in the garb of a Maytag repairman. The contact should have purchased airline tickets for the both of us, to take us back to the States.

I wish I could say definitively when I'll be back in Peru to finish your screened porch. But I just don't know. You're young and beautiful and brilliant and caring — the Most Beautiful Woman I[] Ever S[aw] in Peru — and it would be unfair of me to ask you to wait for me, when there are, I expect, many competent and reasonably-priced contractors in your area who could complete the job. Here in the States we have Angie's List, which serves as a kind of reference/information sharing center for people who need work on their houses. I don't know if Peru has the same kind of online consultative resource, but you might look into it.

I think that in my dealings with you, I might have learned Something Important about humility. It's sort of amorphous right now, a cloudy kind of Something I'm still trying to get my mind around, and I won't try to write it down here. It seemed like there was something going on with us, and we were on the verge of having a conversation of some significance. With all the blackouts and these Delgados chasing me around, that hash-out of the relationship obviously couldn't happen. I wish we had talked, just to clarify things. Shit. Maybe I'm saying too much.

Off I go, Flora. Write me (I mean, if you feel like it).



Your Devoted Handyman (and Friend?),


Monday, November 28, 2005

Well, That Sucks

So the Master Trainer finally dropped by to speak to me today — this after my third escape attempt from the infirmary. I'm not someone who just sits around and ignores the Elephant in the Room, so I asked him about the patch over his eye.

"This is what I came to talk to you about," he said. "It took me a while to track him down, but I found Ortega. We — er — negotiated."

Ortega! That dirty bastard! "It looks to me like he wasn't in a dealmaking mood," I said.

"Well, he's dead now," my Master said, with a shrug and a smirk. "So that's sort of a moot point now, isn't it?"

"But your eye —"

"A scratch on the cornea, and certainly not my first. He telegraphed his move for my eye — I dare say even you would have seen it coming, Student-of-Mine. The only contact he made, and he paid dearly for it. The upshot of it all, Phutatorius, is that we're going to have to smuggle you out of here."

"What? Where?"

"I offered a general amnesty to Ortega's gang. They would pledge not to do you harm, and I wouldn't shatter their ribcages, as I did their Master Trainer's."


"And about half of them accepted. The others scattered into the mountains. About a dozen or more Intermediate to Advanced Intermediate Fighters, most of them with Pipers. As long as they remain unaccounted-for, it's not safe for you here."

"Master, I — I don't understand. Why wouldn't they take the amnesty? Why are they so preoccupied with me?"

"It's not entirely about you. There are strong undercurrents here. Prejudices, old vendettas. A tangled, wicked web. Your crime, Phutatorius, is that you flushed out all the poison in these mountains. With your Internet posts, that Yanqui strut of yours. Fighting alone to your iPod, without a Piper. You're a lightning rod, a magnet for controversy. You've drawn all the disease here to the surface — for the best, I think. In the long run, it will help us clean house."

I tried to process all of those mixed and conflicting metaphors.

"In the meantime, we're going to have to get you out of Peru."


"Shortly after midnight, is the plan. I took the liberty of packing your black wheelie-bag for you. PePe has agreed to suspend his Piper training to help effect your escape. He will, of course, be traveling with you."

I — we — we never even got to first base, much less totally do it in her father's house.

"It's for your own safety, Phutatorius. You were lucky to survive that ambush. Any one of them could have landed a blow to your iPod. You would have been sin musica, and done for. Once we've exterminated —" my Master Trainer paused, thought hard about whether this was an appropriate word to use, then figured the hell with it and continued — "the Ortegans, I'll be in a position to consider bringing you back, to continue your training."

My Master Trainer stood up. I am certain that he had very little trouble reading the dissatisfaction on my face. "I will have further instructions for you shortly." And he walked out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Hardest Part

I believe it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, "The waitin' is the hardest part."

My Man from Mumbai couldn't have been more right. I'm anxious to get discharged from the infirmary, to get back into the swing of things. I've got trainings to attend, drills to run, the Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru to romance. But I'm stuck in this bed until I hear otherwise from the Master Trainer, and he's pretty much AWOL these days. I haven't seen him since he and PePe dumped me in this CraftMatic, and he doesn't respond to my emails.

Other students come and go with bumps and bruises, sprains and strains acquired in the ordinary course. Most of them stop by the bed to wish me well — now I know what it takes to overcome people's prejudices. On the other hand, they might still be giving me the cold shoulder, so the fact that I'm getting some respect 'round here must say something good (if only minimally good) about the Human Condition.

There's an orderly here who is obsessed with Yahtzee. The dice jangle in his pocket while he mops. Sometime last Wednesday I bottomed out morale-wise. A game or two sounded like fun, and I agreed to play him. Dispatched him pretty handily, too, winning fifteen of twenty (not that I'm keeping score). Now the guy's pestering me every minute for a rematch, says he won't empty my bedpan unless I give in. It's been five days. There's quite a heapin' helpin' of my leavings tucked away and fermenting under the bed right now — when you draw Phutatorius into a battle of wills, nobody wins. It's mutually assured destruction, Brother/Sister. Remember that.

Sooner or later the stink will reach the Master Trainer's office, and he'll have to come see me. That's my ace in the hole: YAHTZEE, mother f**ker.

UPDATE (11/22; 1:30 a.m.): several of my Brothers and Sisters write to inform me that Gandhi was not from Mumbai. I am, however, willing to rewrite history for alliterative purposes. Expect more of that when I'm administrating the world.

UPDATE (11/22; 10:30 a.m.): now people are telling me that it wasn't Mahatma Gandhi who said that bit about the waitin'. Let me ask you this, Brother/Sister — are you sure of that? Did you spend every minute of every day with Mahatma Gandhi? How can you profess to know, then — with certainty — what he didn't say? I rest my case.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ambuscado, Part 3

When I next awakened, my Master Trainer was prying open my left eyelid and shining a penlight into it. This I found to be rather annoying, and so I threw up all over him. He stepped away from me quickly, nimbly, receiving only a small fraction of the sputum I had served up for him. He is, after all, a Master-qualified Elite Incan Dance-Fighter.

Flora appeared at my side. "He's awake," she said, unnecessarily. She took hold of my right hand. I swallowed what was left in my mouth.

"Awake for the moment," my Master Trainer said. "We'll need to take full advantage of it." He produced a hand towel and wiped the lapels of his jacket. "Tell me what happened, Phutatorius. From the beginning."

I called for water. Flora moved to get it, but my Master preempted her and fetched it himself. I gulped it down and told him everything I could remember about the ambush.

"Can you tell me anything about their fighting style?"

"Well, I thought they would be better than they were."

"I need details, Phutatorius. This is important."

"There was a lot of marching and stomping. High steps. They would bring their knees to their chests, then kick out. They seemed stiff in the hips."

"Ortega's people!" my Master hissed. "I knew it!" Ortega was the last juror to cave in my criminal case before the EIDF Council. He was also the most brutal of my interrogators in the hours preceding my trial. He had really seemed to have it in for me. "He's acting outside the Council's authority, and he'll answer for it. In the meantime, we'll need to move you back to the Redoubt, Phutatorius. We've imposed enough on Ms. Pachado."

Flora tightened her grip on my hand. "It's no imposition, Master Trainer. Wouldn't it be better not to move him?"

The Master turned impatient eyes on her. "He's fine to move. He's stabilized. But he needs real medical care. We have IV units, heart rate monitors up the mountain. And the Redoubt is fortified and secure. PePe!"

The door to Flora's room opened, and my devoted Piper appeared in its frame. "He's awake!" PePe said, unnecessarily.

"We're moving him. Get the stretcher."

Flora looked at me. There was nothing I could say.

"Will I see you again?" she asked me.

"I'll be back to finish the screened porch."

"That's something we'll have to discuss," my Master Trainer chipped in.

Five minutes later my Master Trainer and PePe were hiking me up the mountain.

"Keep your eyes open, PePe, and your pipes handy," my Master Trainer said.

Lying on the stretcher, I only thought of Flora. I had received a hundred or more vicious blows to my body overnight, but it was the soft imprint of her lips on my cheek — a stolen goodbye kiss — that stuck with me. All I wanted was to see her again. All I wanted was to know what she said to me, starting with "I —", before I passed out. I had a good idea what it was, but I needed to hear it.

It has been a week now since I saw her. I'm still stuck in this bed. PePe brought me his GameBoy, and I've entered a couple online poker tournaments. The days are interminable, and the nights! Don't even talk to me about the nights, Brother/Sister. I'm restless, I'm anxious, I'm irritable, and I'm getting pretty goddam tired of eating green Jell-O.

Enough is enough. I need to see Flora.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ambuscado, Part 2

Where ya been, Phutsie? You can't cut out in the middle of a story like that.

Cut me some friggin' slack, Brother/Sister. My health comes first. Would you trouble Hemingway for an ending if he were triply concussed? Would you be on Spielberg's case to wrap up a final edit while he was recovering from hernia surgery?

All right, then. Ambuscado, part 2 — delivered as quickly as I could get it down:

I woke up on my back. I was lying on a cot, naked, under a sheet and blanket. The room was small and its lighting was dim. There was someone standing over me, a face framed by black hair. Flora.

I reached up to my head. This was instinctive, because it was my head, and not any other part of my body, that was pulsing with an intense, blinding pain. I pressed my hand against my forehead and found it wrapped in gauze. The hand itself was bruised, knuckles bloodied.

"That bandage is not hand-made," Flora said, "but I hope you'll accept it."

I looked over at her, caught the tail end of a fleeting and delicate smile. It flashed across her face, lit up her green eyes, and was gone again as quickly as it came. That might have been the first time I saw her smile, and my knocked-silly eyes, lolling around in their sockets without discipline, nearly missed it.

Her face fell into its characteristic frown. "There were three of them fighting you."

I looked up at the ceiling. By this time my brain was starting to register sensation from my arms, legs, thorax, and abdomen. That sensation was a uniform, penetrating ache that I expected would, in short order, resolve into several dozen specific foci of pain, where my attackers had landed their blows and kicks.

Now I know, Brother/Sister, how these stories usually go. When the Picaro resumes consciousness, he says something like Where am I? What happened? This indicates to the reader that he has no memory of the events that immediately preceded his blackout — requiring his interlocutor (in this case, Flora) to tell him that he had been attacked by three Elite Incan Dance-Fighters and kicked repeatedly in the head. But standard Hollywood plot formulas notwithstanding, I happened to remember exactly what went down up the road — I in fact knew more about it than Flora. And so when she said, "There were three of them fighting you," I replied not with Three of who? or even Three of whom?

Instead I said, "Five. There were five, to begin with." I wanted Flora to know that I was not entirely brain-addled. And I also wanted credit for the two Dance-Fighters I had managed to dispatch.

"Whatever the number was — it wasn't a fair fight," Flora said. She was frowning again.

"They didn't want a fair fight. They wanted to kill me," I said. "And I shouldn't be here. Your brothers and sisters — the children — I'm endangering all of you. They could come back —"

I sat up, brought my feet to the floor. The room whirled violently around me, I lurched left, then right on the cot, but I endeavored to stand, anyway, taking care to drape the bedsheet over my waist. I was wobbly on my feet, dizzy and a bit disoriented, but my legs supported my weight. That would be enough to get me out of the Pachado house before the assassins killed her family.

"The doors are barricaded," Flora assured me. She pulled a shotgun from a dark corner. I had not seen it before. "We're as safe as we can be. I sent for your Master Trainer. He should be here within the hour."

"You could all be killed in that amount of time." I inched across the room toward the door. "Where are my clothes?"

"I hid them."

"You what?"

"Because I knew you would do this. I knew you would try to leave." Flora approached me and took hold of my arm. She led me, flinching, stutter-stepping, back toward the cot. "I've watched you over the past three days. You're not the yanqui culo I thought you were. You work hard. You have a good heart. You're respectful." Tears welled up in her eyes.

"I just want you to be safe —"

"I know this," she said, pushing me gently down on the bed. "And you've done so much for my family these three days. You've almost finished the screened porch. Let me take care of you now."

What limited energy I had on awakening I had exhausted on my round trip across Flora's bedroom. My head came to rest on the pillow, and the pain up and down my body receded, signing to me that I would be losing consciousness again momentarily. My eyelids came down. With superhuman effort I lifted them. Flora was in the room, with me. The Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru. Why would I allow some fascist autonomic nerve override to close my eyes? She was speaking to me —

"Phutatorius —"

I centered my eyes on hers. I was determined not to black out. With the entire force of my will I clung to consciousness — just to keep looking at her, just to keep listening to her — but I had no hope. Darkness converged on me, my vision blurred, until all I could see were the two green lights of her eyes, filling with tears, reflecting light at me. And these, too, were dimming —

"Phutatorius, — I —"

Spit it out, woman. I could go any second now.

"I —"

Blackness. Silence. Shit.

Part 3 when I'm feeling up to it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just a Quick Note

Boy — time flies when you're multiply concussed! I was down for about fourteen hours and just woke up now to check email and read the news.

Many thanks to Burping Squid for the Get Well e-Card. I didn't know you were still out there. I can't say for sure that you didn't mean it ironically, but I'll take the best wishes at face value.

As for the rest of you, in lieu of flowers, please donate money to UNICEF.

Oof. Here comes the nurse with my supper. I see soft foods in my future, for the next three days at least — looks like green Jell-O, oatmeal, and pumpkin pie on the tray-table. Gotta go — I'll finish my story tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ambuscado: Part 1

It's Friday morning, Phutatorius. Shouldn't you be down the mountain at the Pachados' house?

Well, if you'd give me a minute, Brother/Sister, I would explain. I was ambushed on Wednesday night.

I had finished a long eleven-hour day of home improvement efforts, under Flora's close and (dare I say it?) approving supervision, and I was about ten minutes into my running climb back to the Secret Mountain Redoubt for the night. The sun had set behind the mountains in the west, and the light was dimming. I had the Beatles on my iPod and was gearing up to tackle the steep six-mile incline.

Suddenly, from nowhere, three men were on top of me, blocking my path up the hill. I spun around, and there were two more of them, behind me. I snapped off my headphones, and I heard the haunting sounds of pipes, played from a rocky promontory, ten or fifteen feet above me. The three men in front of me ran at me — they were Elite Incan Dance-Fighters, that was obvious. More pipes tuned in from other points overhead. In an instant I had sized up the situation and concluded that I was looking at a five-on-one gang fight, and my opponents looked to be at least Intermediate-Level EIDF.

This much I knew because of the multiple Pipers, each of whom was piping sound independently of the others. The five (presumably five, as the Pipers weren't visible to count) different strains, taken together, were nothing but noise. The resulting cacophony was not danceable, but the men surrounding me were moving with a kind of rhythmic menace I had not seen, except in my Master Trainer's demonstrations. Each of these men was dancing to the music of his own Piper, showing a sound-filtration skill that can only result from extensive Intermediate-Level training in the Ancient and Very, Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting. The Master Trainer does not even attempt to teach multiple-Piper dance-fighting techniques until the second year.

The five men closed in around me. There was a possible lane of escape to my left, but it would have brought me onto the backside of the Pachado property. I didn't want these men turning their hostile attentions to my adopted family. I decided to stand and fight. I pulled the headphones back on, cranked up the volume on my iPod, to drown out the enemy Pipers as best I could. John, Paul, George, and Ringo started right up with "Birthday," and I came out fighting.

The next thirty-five minutes, forty-two minutes were a blur. I can say with confidence that I handily dispatched two of my attackers during this time, knocking them unconscious during "Helter Skelter." But the other three were relentless. They just kept coming and coming. The four of us were a flurry of arms and legs, of kick-steps and do-si-dos. I pulled out every stop, drew on everything I had ever known about dancing. At one point I ran entirely out of ideas and resorted to the Mashed Potato. They clearly had never seen that posture before, and I managed to biff one of them hard under the chin, before I shifted gears into the more defense-oriented Twist. Although I made no headway against these last three, I kept up the fight all the way through the first eleven tracks of the White Album, Disc Two.

And then, in its turn, right after "Cry Baby Cry" wound out, came "Revolution 9." At this point, I about shat myself.

Now I know that there's a pretty sharp divide among Beatles fans on the question of "Revolution 9." I recognize that this is a sensitive wedge issue, one that has been known to cause the breakup of marriages, business partnerships, and small nation-states. As someone who regards himself as diplomatic (often to a fault), I've therefore made it a point in my life not to take a position either way on "Revolution 9," and I think that philosophy has inured to my benefit over these thirty-two years. Therefore, let not the following suggest that I am either for or against "Revolution 9,"

but I about shat myself when it came on my iPod, as the three remaining Intermediate-Level Elite Incan Dance Fighters bore down on me, bloodied and angry, in menacing shuffle steps.

I about shat myself because — think what you want about "Revolution 9" — you can't dance to it. And where I had thought I would be able to gut out this dance-fight up to the limits of my iPod's battery life, I was facing a premature ending here. That is, if the three advancing men were able to get hold of me before I could dig out my iPod and queue up some honest-to-eephus danceable music to play through my headphones, I would be entirely at their mercy. They would be free to tear me limb from limb while I struggled, against all hope, to dance-fight to one of the impossibly tangled strands of music emanating from the Pipers above me.

I reached in my pocket and pulled out my iPod. I slipped it free of its case, pressed the "Menu" button, whirled the wheel back to the beginning of the double-album. But before I could press "Play," the nearest of the three attackers kicked the iPod free of my hand.

Then I was on the ground, and the three men were brutally kicking me, each to a different beat. I tried parsing out the music of the Pipers on the cliffside above me, but it was all hopelessly swirled together, and the each successive blow to my head made it harder to concentrate. At some point, I blacked out. The last notion to pass through my mind, before it closed up shop, was that this predicament — this scenario wherein I am knocked to the ground and kicked, relentlessly, by several other men — rather neatly reprised the Wedding-Party Incident at the end of September. That beating started me on my Quest for world domination, and I wondered if that Quest would come to a close, prematurely, poetically, with just another bookend eating.

I think I should stop here. I don't need to tell you, Brother/Sister, that during this ordeal I suffered multiple concussions. The nature of my injuries requires that I only sit up for a short time. When I grow tired, or agitated (and right now I think it's fair to say I'm both), the room begins to turn, a repressive ache descends on my head, and I succumb to the most violent and dehydrating sort of nausea. The Master Trainer has been kind enough to run an Ethernet line from his office down to the Redoubt Infirmary, where I am resting now. He said I could avail myself of Internet access, but not at the expense of my convalescence.

I hope you will excuse me, Brother/Sister for putting aside the keyboard so that I can throw up, have a glass of water, and take a nap. More shortly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Workin' for the MBGIESP

Well, I'm back in the Redoubt for the night, after my second day of indenture to the Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru. Not much to report here, except that I'm about a sore as I might be after a full day of workouts with the Master Trainer.

Ah, Phutatorius! So you managed to *****lly ** ** **** **** ****'s daughter!

No no no, Brother/Sister — that's not why I'm sore. The real story is, the MBGIESP has been working me like a dog. I've done more grouting, spackling, scouring, painting, edging, finishing, sanding, grinding, waxing, roasting, toasting, sifting, mixing, nailing, wrenching, stripping, coating, melting, welding, searing, shoring, boring, blending, wiring, sculpting, firing, scraping, peeling, shaving, sawing, summerizing, winterizing, vulcanizing —

this woman is a bit of a taskmaster.

But that's fine. I can hack it. After my meeting with the Master Trainer Sunday night, I spent some time in bed ruminating on the question. I concluded that maybe I really am a yanqui culo, and that maybe I'd be better served humbly subjecting myself to a few day's hard labor than I would plotting and machinating about how to wangle an amorous episode with the MBGIESP out behind her papa's tool shed.

It's about growing as a person, Brother/Sister. If you're on the prowl for ripped bodices and throbbing thrusts of manhood, look elsewhere.

My congress with the MBGIESP has been, to this point, brief and unexceptional. She gives me instructions, and I follow them. Sometimes she serves up unwarranted, unsolicited value observations, such as "We live simply here, but well." I don't respond to these, because I know they're traps. She'll find a way to slot my answers into her preexisting notions about my character. I simply nod/grunt/shrug and get on with my work. If anything will change her mind about me, it will be my humility, my diligence, the pride and care I take in my work for her.

I've made limited observations. I've learned that her name is Flora, and that she is the eldest of Señor Pachado's five or six children — the others move quickly and chaotically enough around the neighborhood that I can't keep track of them, much less suggest an accurate count. I've seen no sign of a mother these two days, and I gather that she passed away recently, and Flora has stepped into the role of mother figure and homemaker — possibly at the expense of her own dreams and aspirations in life (which might explain a certain resentfulness in the tone she takes toward me).

But I'm speculating here. For the most part I'm keeping my head down and my mouth shut. I might laugh and joke a little with the kids: raw eggs — the missile of choice in the Pachado family — have a tendency to heave themselves at me from nearby shrubberies.

¿Que pasa? I'll turn and say out loud, in mock-confusion.

¡Yanqui culo! the shrubberies shout back.

And I get back to my pruning, staking, stumping, loading, shifting, tucking — whatever — but with a smile on my face. Whether or not I totally get to **** *** ********* *** ** Flora, it's been a good week to this point. The fact that people are now throwing eggs at me and missing is, I think, a sign that I'm doing something right.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Busted is right, Brother/Sister. I was summoned to the Master Trainer's office today, after the morning's mambo primer. When I arrived, I found him seated at his desk, with his head propped up on his elbow. A pose clearly intended to convey exasperation, with his balding crown cupped in his palm.

"Sit down, Phutatorius," he said, without raising his head to look at me.

I did.

"We've had a complaint from one of the villagers."

I put on my best innocent face.

"It seems a blanket merchant's table was damaged. Do you have something to tell me?"

"Me?" I said. "I don't know what you're talking —"

"It was an American."

"It could have been any —"

"I read your last post on the Internet."

Shit. I hung my head. "Yeah, it was me."

The Master Trainer sat up straight, took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled. "It's important, Phutatorius, that we do our best to remain on good terms with the locals."

I looked at him.

"They are naturally suspicious of us. We are trained — or in your case, training — killers, and we have lived undetected in their midst for more than five hundred years. Now, suddenly, we step out of the shadows. The people don't know who we are or what we're about. It is right and just for them to be afraid of us."

"Master, the guy ripped me off —"

"NO!" My Master flew suddenly into a temper, and he slammed his fist on his desk. "WHEN YOU GO OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY, YOU REPRESENT ME, AND YOU REPRESENT THIS INSTITUTION. The villagers can cheat you. They can rob you of all your money and your clothes, then tar and feather you. AND YOU WILL NOT REACT. Unless you are IN FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE, YOU WILL NOT REACT. Do you understand me?"

"But Master, all I did was punch a table —" like you did just now, I managed to refrain from adding.

"You have talent, Phutatorius. You hear music deep in your soul, and you respond to it in really, er — creative and interesting ways. You have the ability to break entirely new ground in the field of dance-fighting. But you lack discipline and self-control. It is my burden and my role, as your Master Trainer, to teach you these things. And after six weeks of trying, I have to admit I've made very little progress. You have an incurable —" he paused, as though he were searching for the right word, "American-ness in you. An independent streak. I've seen nothing like it. It is perhaps your greatest asset. It is the source of your ambition, your creativity, your determination — but it is also the root cause of these Incidents of yours —"

"Master Trainer, respectfully, I stopped short of an Incid —"

"You need to learn humility, and you need to learn that your actions have consequences. Accordingly, you are suspended from classes for a week."

"But Master, I'll fall so far behind in my studies! It was just a dent in a table —"

"You'll spend the week in the blanket merchant's hut. You'll be helping him and his family. For starters, you can repair the table-dent. Once you've finished that, your marching orders will come from his daughter."

"This seems unnecessarily draconian, Master Trainer. A week's slave labor? Respectfully, sir, I think I'd be better served doing the usual thousand or more push-ups, or KP. Scouring pots and pans would at least work my upper body — wait. Wait a minute. His daughter?"

My Master Trainer smiled at me. "She was the one who came to complain. And according to her accounting, you did more than a few sols worth of damage to her father's marketing table. She says you broke one of her chicken's eggs."

"I sure did. With the back of my head."

"Be that as it may," my Master said, wryly, "my decision is final. Starting tomorrow, you will spend six days working for Señor Pachado. You will leave the Redoubt at sunrise and report back before dusk."

"But Master," I said. "That's ninety minutes' walk there and back every day. Wouldn't it be easier if I just overnighted there?"

My Master raised his eyebrow. "The Pachado home is cramped enough as it is. I don't suppose it would improve our standing in the community if it appeared I was requiring this family to quarter my soldiers."

"No — no, Master. You mistake me," I said, hastily. "I had thought I might be able to put up at the home of PePe's aunt."

"You'll be coming back here, Phutatorius. And I'll be watching for you. As for the length of your commute, you might consider running both ways, so that you don't forfeit your conditioning during your suspension."

I believe I grunted, at this point.

"The Ancient and Very Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting is no joke, Phutatorius. Those who learn this tradition must commit themselves to living serious lives. If you prove somehow — less than worthy of the Art, I will have to answer to the Council for choosing you for my student. You have a penchant for impetuousness that I find both admirable and, well, at times disturbing. You should know that other revered practitioners of the Art are less kindly-disposed toward you, and I cannot be forever bailing you out of one fracas after another. You need to right the ship — or at least appear to right it. So off you go."

"Master — the daughter: she called me a yanqui culo. Do you think I'm really —"

"You are dismissed, Phutatorius."

Did I detect the slightest of winks from my Master Trainer, as I rose from my chair? The most fleeting and evanescent twitch of his left eyelid?

More tomorrow, Brother/Sister — but right now I'm thinking I totally worked The System here. I just fell ass-backward into a week's vacation from training, and I'll be spending it with my fiery-eyed MBGIESP!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Near-Incident in the Village

"Hand-made," the guy told me. That was his promise, so I bought the friggin' blanket. He pockets my money, and I walk away, admiring my purchase — one of those bright, multi-colored woolen blankets they (supposedly) hand-make up here in the Andes. And then I see the tag:


Son of a BITCH!

— but I should start at the beginning. The Master Trainer gave us yesterday afternoon off. Pipers and Fighters both let out early. Most everyone hit the rack for a power-nap before supper — this week's sessions have been excruciating — but PePe has some family in the nearby village, and he proposed that we go down there. He'd show me some of the local culture, and we'd have a home-cooked meal at his aunt's house. We're all getting kind of tired of the food at the Redoubt Cafeteria.

Sounded good to me, so we hiked a good 90 minutes down from the Secret Mountain Redoubt into town. It was Market Day, and merchants from this village and others nearby had assembled on the main street, set up counters, were peddling their wares. One of the guys was selling those brightly-colored alpaca wool blankets.

It occurred to me that I might buy one of these and mail it to President Arroyo. I should pause for a moment and say, up front, that I'm not normally one to kiss and tell — that's not who I am — but in this case, it's important to the story, so I'll make an exception. As you know, Gloria flew me out to her presidential palace last year for a night of unfettered passion. What you don't know is we did it all over her house.

At one point we wound up on the couch in her study. She had a nice imported alpaca blanket from Peru in there, kind of thrown over the back of it. The colors were a great match on the ultrasuede. In the heat of the moment, it didn't occur to either of us to put that blanket away, and it somehow got caught under us. By the time we came up for air, that blanket was shredded. I mean, it was messed up. Gloria later mailed it to me as a souvenir.

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to send her a replacement blanket, just to let her know that I still think of her now and then. I had a good one picked out. To my eye it looked like a good match for her couch. I haggled a bit with the merchant, just to let him know that even though I'm American, I can still drive a hard bargain.

"Hand-made," he kept saying, over and over. Yes, yes. Hand-made. We settled on a price and closed the deal.

Then I saw that tag: MADE IN THE PHILIPPINES, and I went storming back to the counter to demand a refund.

"You said these were hand-made," I complained.

"Yes, yes. Hand-made in the Philippines."

"Yes, well, here's the thing — I plan to send this blanket to the Philippines. It's sort of silly, isn't it, for me to buy a Peruvian blanket that was made in the Philippines and then send it back to the Philippines?"

The merchant nodded at me, understanding. He reached out and took the blanket from under my arm. Good, I thought. He's going to be reasonable. He dug around in his pockets for what I thought was my money. Instead, he pulled out a pair of folding scissors. With these he cut the tag off the blanket, which he then handed right back to me.

"Hand-made in Peru," he said, triumphantly.

"No —" I shook my head. "No. That's not going to work."

"Well, no refunds. Sorry."

At this point I felt the blood rush to my head. The world seemed to move in slow motion, and voices from nowhere began to shout provocative words at me. In short, I began to experience all the familiar signs that I was going to have an Incident. I slammed a fist down on the merchant's counter, splintering the wood.

"PEPE!" I shouted.

My Piper appeared beside me. He had been charming some of the local milkmaids with an improvisation of "Guantanamera." "What is it?" he asked.

"Pipe me some fightin' music, PePe. This gentleman here is asking for an ass-kicking."

PePe brought his hand to my shoulder. "I don't think that's a good idea, Phutatorius."

"WHAT?" I cried, taking another angry hack at the charlatan blanket-merchant's wooden table. This one left a deep dent. "Have you forgot your blood-oath already?"

PePe stiffened. "We are not in danger, Phutatorius. The blood-oath does not trigger under these conditions. Stop for a moment and think. This is an unwise course of action."

The concentration of blood flushed out of my head, swirling away the angry voices with it. The world resumed turning at its normal rate. I took a deep breath. "PePe, you're right. There are other people here. Good people I might offend, if I give this snake-oil salesman the drubbing he deserves. It's not worth it."

I looked up at the astonished merchant, who began stammering. "You're — you're one of the Elite Incan D-dance-Fighters we've been he-hearing about?"

I nodded.

He reached into his pocket. "Here. Take your money. T-t-t-take it. Take all of it!"

"No," I said, backtracking. "I'm fine. I was upset. I let my emotions get the better of me, and I apologize. A deal is a deal. I'll keep the blanket."

The merchant accepted my extended hand, and we shook on it. Then I took my leave of him, with PePe beside me. We weren't thirty yards clear of the market when something cracked the back of my head, just on the occipital bone. I reached a hand back, instinctively, to the point of impact. Something gooey. I looked at my fingers. Yolk — and small bits of shell.

I turned around to see who threw the egg. And there she was: the Most Beautiful Girl I'd Ever Seen in Peru ("MBGIESP"). She had long, thick black hair, almond-shaped eyes of the deepest, penetrating green. She had on a woolen poncho and a long, woven skirt, and she was holding the pose on her follow-through and cursing me out:


I froze in my tracks. Wait — wait a minute, I wanted to plead my case. There wasn't even an Incident. PePe stopped me, and I did the right thing. I'M NOT A YANQUI CULO. I'm a good person. But no words came out. And the MBGIESP continued to glare at me.

"Come on," PePe said, taking my arm, turning me back round. "My aunt has dinner ready."