Chapter 29

This entry is part 30 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Twenty-Nine — Guatemala

The following morning we crossed the Guatemalan border. Frank’s knowledge of the Spanish language had made the entrance into the country simple and we were thankful we had him with us.

The rain had caused considerable damage to the roads, and the sky still looked dark and threatening. Many of the bridges had been washed away and we had to make long detours, some of them far back into the jungle.

We were now entering the land of the ox carts for which Guatemala is famous — huge two-wheel carts pulled by thick, sturdy oxen. We got stuck in the mud many times, and if it hadn’t been for the natives with their oxen and their big two-wheelers, we never would have gotten out. The natives seemed to enjoy rescuing us by means of their ancient mode of transportation. They wore big grins that seemed to say, “Look who’s pulling whom!”

After about three days of this our surroundings began to change. The country was not so flat, the hills around us were turning into mountains. The roads were getting much better, and the sun was shinning.

“Tonight we will be in Guatemala City,” said Chuck expectantly.

Frank shrugged. “I’ve never seen so damn much mud in all my life! Everything is covered with mud. My shoes are full of mud, the Palace looks like a big mud ball inside and out.”

I glanced down at the floorboard where there was at least two inches of the sticky stuff. “It will all wash off,” I said cheerfully. “It’s nothing a little soap and water won’t cure.” I gave them the once-over. Their filthy shirts and trousers, their dirty, bewhiskered faces made them look like bums. I began to laugh.

“You guys look like hell!” I chuckled.

“If I look any worse than you do, it’s because I’m bigger than you,” snorted Chuck.

“If only my mother could see me now,” sighed Frank.

We were a pretty dirty trio all right, but this didn’t dampen our high spirits as we approached Guatemala City. I had landed at the airport twice before, but I’d never had a chance to look the city over thoroughly. In fact, I hadn’t left the airport.

I remarked, “Fellows, this is a beautiful city — anyhow it looks beautiful from the air. I suggest we take the Palace to a garage or service station, have it oiled, greased and cleaned, then get rooms at the finest hotel in town and throw a party.”

I thought to myself. “Brother Bill is a grand guy for sure. He gets a hold of an old history book, reads it, then flies to Dallas, Texas. Then he convinces a couple of millionaires there is gold in Nicaragua. They fly down, have a swell time and decide it would be a good idea for me to go there and locate a fabulous gold mine! Just like that! Easy — nothing to it!”

Bill had gone on a reconnoitering trip for several weeks and the Texans probably had paid all the bills. Maybe Bill hadn’t put out more than his gasoline from Reno to Dallas and back. Some soft snap.

I hated to admit to myself that Bill was a great deal smarter than I. On arranging a deal perhaps he was. But as I thought about the incidents of the last few months, I couldn’t help but ask myself questions. “Who had done all the work? Who had found the gold?”

I felt of the scar on my chin. It hadn’t fully healed. There was a big scar on my belly where the knife of Pedro had almost cut me wide open. I thought of those millionaires from Texas — big shots wanting a gold mine in Nicaragua, so they could fly down every so often and play with the beautiful Señoritas. Money meant very little to those guys. “What’s a few thousand dollars to them?” I asked myself. If they do lose money, they can deduct their losses from their income tax, and in the end what can they lose? Very little.

So here I was, doing all the hard work. I had found the gold; and several times it had nearly been the end of me. How much had it cost those millionaire Texans? A measly few thousand dollars! I had spent very little of their money and I had a receipt for most of it. Yes, I was supposed to keep track of everything, but a written receipt is damned hard to get sometimes, especially if the gas station operator can’t read or write. I guess I was feeling resentful. Just then a road sign appeared, “GUATEMALA CITY, 20 KILOMETERS.”

I grinned at Chuck and Frank. “Fellows, tonight we celebrate. We’ll have a party at the expense of a couple of millionaires from Texas!”

“What do you mean by that?” Frank asked. There was a puzzled look on his face.

“It’s a long story,” I told him, “and don’t ask a bunch of foolish questions because I don’t feel like answering them.”

Chuck was grinning from ear to ear. “You’re the boss, Joe. Count me in.”

Frank shook his head. “You guys go ahead and have your party. My expense account is very moderate and I can’t afford…”

I cut him off. “We’re throwing a party tonight, and you are in on it. Forget about the expense. It won’t cost you a cent. We are going to throw a first-class party, Texas style. Just pretend you’re a big shot from Texas and own a flock of producing oil wells. The sky will be the limit.”

“I always wondered what it would be like to be a big oil man.” Frank laughed. “So if you insist…”

We came to another signboard, reading, “GUATEMALA CITY, 10 KILOMETERS.” We were almost there. Suddenly Chuck blurted out, “What the hell is that ahead of us?”

I looked down the road. Indeed it was a startling sight. The highway ran between hundreds of acres where there stood all sorts of statues.

“A marble orchard!” Chuck exclaimed. “Must be a cemetery. I’ve seen a lot of ’em in my day, but never anything like this.”

“What a sight!” said Frank. “Look at the size of those monuments — the colors. I wonder where they found so many different colored rocks.”

“They sure must think a lot of the dead.” I remarked. “Flowers — fresh ones on each grave. Every day must be Decoration Day around here.”

It was a remarkable sight. The smallest markers were at least three feet high and many of them eight or ten feet. They were beautifully carved and sunshine on the rainbow hued stones made them look like precious works of art. This burial ground must have been use for hundreds of years.

As we approached the city we began to pass gasoline stations that reminded me of home — Standard Oil, Texaco and others. We stopped at one and filled up a thirsty Palace, and it could drink plenty. There were nice, clean rest rooms behind all the stations; one for men, and one for women.

Chuck remarked, “the last time I remember seeing a rest room in a service station was back in Arizona.”

The attendant checked our water and oil, and even washed the windshield! I paid him with a U. S. Bill. He gave me back change in quetzals — Guatemalan money. Here the quetzal was worth the same as a United States dollar.

The station attendant could speak some English. I asked him which was the best hotel in the city. He directed me to the Hotel Internacional.

As we entered the city’s main street, I found it reminded me of Managua, Later I discovered that it was much larger with a population of about three hundred and seventy-five thousand. Here, most of the ox carts seemed to have somehow managed to escape the reckless automobile drivers. We drove down Market Street. This too was much the same as Managua. Nearly anything is offered for sale here, and natives seemed to prefer to carry everything on top of their heads.

The whole downtown district was very modern, with many beautiful buildings and several swanky hotels. All I had heard about the beauty of this city seemed to be true, and I decided that any kind of good time could be had here.

We left the Palace in the Hotel Internacional’s parking lot and went in. The desk clerk could speak English. I told him we would like three of the finest rooms available. Also I told him that our camper was in the parking lot and we would like it cleaned inside and out. He assured me everything would be taken care of.

We went from the lobby to the Palace to get some things. I suggested to Frank and Chuck. “We’re going on a first-class party tonight, so let’s dress in our best.” Our clothes were a mess. My best suit looked like it had been slept in for a week. Chuck’s and Frank’s were in the same sorry condition.

“This damp, humid climate sure raises hell with clothing,” said Frank. “Just look at this!” He held up his best suit. It resembled my own. I glanced at my wristwatch.

“It’s only six in the evening, fellows. We’ve plenty of time. We’ll take our suits over to the hotel and send them out to be pressed. Meanwhile we can shave and take baths.”

We gathered up our clothing, walked back to the hotel and over to the elevator. A bellhop was waiting. He took us up to the second floor, opened the door to a room and we stepped inside. “These are the best rooms in the hotel,” he said in excellent English. “The two others adjoin this one.”

They were well-appointed rooms with deep carpeting on the floor. The beds were enormous with box springs and thick mattresses. A handmade bedspread covered the blankets. The walnut furniture, complete with bureaus, dressers and comfortable lounge chairs and sofas, was as fine as any I’d ever seen in the States.

“Mighty nifty,” I told him. Already, I was beginning to feel like a tycoon from Texas!

“We plan to paint the town red tonight,” I went on.

“Our suits are in terrible shape, and look like they just came out of a rag bag. How long will it take to have them pressed? “Not cleaned, just pressed.”

“Only a short while,” said the bellhop. “I’ll send them out immediately.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Jesús,” he replied.

“All right, Jesús, get going.”

He started for the door with the suits over his arm. “Wait a minute!” I turned to Frank. “What do you like to drink? I know Chuck here drinks any old thing.”

“Same with me,” said Frank.

“All right, Jesús, bring up a case of cold beer,” I ordered, “also a bottle of good scotch, a bottle of your best rum, some Coke, and plenty of ice.”

I tossed him a dollar and he was gone.

We shaved, showered and put on clean skivvies. Soon Jesús soon came back pushing in a four-wheeled cart loaded down with the refreshments.

Then the party began.

“I am here to serve you,” said Jesús. “I will be the bartender.”

“Good! Give me a scotch over the rocks — make it a double shot. How about you guys? The same?”

They nodded.

“Have one yourself, Jesús,” I suggested.

He smiled and poured himself a big slug.

“Here’s to Texas!” I held up my glass. Chuck and Frank grinned. “Yes, here’s to Texas” they echoed.

After we had drunk to Texas three or four times, I asked Jesús, “Where are all the beautiful Señoritas? You must find each of us a beautiful Señorita.”

“That will be no problem,” he said. “Down the street and only a few blocks away there are many beautiful Señoritas. When your clothes return I will take you there.”

“Is it a whorehouse?” I asked.

“No, it is a very nice night club. There are many beautiful girls that work there. They wait tables, also they sing and dance. When you see one you like, smile at her and she will go with you.”

“Is it all right to bring them up here?” asked Frank.

“Sure,” said Jesús. “There will be an extra charge, but if you don’t mind paying the bill, it will be all right.”

“Bring on the girls!” yelled Chuck.

“Bring on my pants!” yelled Frank. “What are we waiting for?”

“They will not be ready now,” said Jesús. “It will be a little while yet.”

The bottle of scotch was empty. “How about a rum and coke, fellows?” I asked.

“I’ll have a cold beer,” said Chuck.

“Me too,” came from Frank.

Jesús opened a beer for himself too. I took a rum and coke.

Chuck took a drink from his glass. “This sure tastes weak after drinking all that scotch,” he remarked. “It sure needs something done to it.”

He picked up the bottle of rum and poured about half the contents into the three partially empty beer glasses. “Here,” he grinned. “That should sweeten it up a bit!” He paused for a moment then, “here’s to Texas! Drink ‘er down!”

I shuddered as the glasses were drained. I looked at my watch, it was almost nine o’clock! I looked at Jesús. He must be getting pretty drunk, and there seemed to be two of him. “No more drinks for you,” I yelled at him. “Get down that elevator and find our clothes!”

He seemed to be wobbling as he went out the door. I felt a bit woozy myself, so I flopped across the bed. A few minutes of napping would do me good, I decided.

Sometime later I was awakened by great puffing sounds followed by a series of grunts. I sat up and looked around. Chuck and Frank were on their hands and knees bent over a small end table. They were “turning arms,” each twisting with all his might, trying to turn the other’s arm down. It was quite a game.

“Have our clothes come yet?” I asked.

They didn’t seem to hear me. I slipped on the pair of trousers I had worn when I landed in this place.

They were too dirty, so I took them off and threw them in a corner. There was a mighty wrath burning inside me. I didn’t bother to put on shirt or shoes. I had only one thing in mind and that was to get my hands on that Jesús.

Clad in nothing but my skivvies, I stepped into the hallway and glanced toward the elevator, decided it would be too slow. I went down the stairway six steps at a jump. The lobby clerk had a startled look on his face as I came down the home stretch. I must have been quite a sight.

I ran up to him and shook my fist under his nose. “Where the hell are our clothes?” I bellowed.

He looked scared.

“Where the hell is Jesús?” I roared at him.

The guy was shaking all over.

“Jesús has gone home.” he wailed. “He was very drunk and passed out on the floor. We sent him home in a taxi.”

I grabbed the clerk by his shirt. “I want my clothes. Jesús took our clothes! Now what th’ hell did he do with ’em?”

“Please, mister,” said the clerk, “don’t blame me. He took them out somewhere to get them pressed and I do not know where. He will be here in the morning and I am sure he will get them for you.”

I could see I was getting nowhere with this guy. I would have to settle with Jesús in the morning. I released him and started slowly back up the stairway. “Party . . . party? Where was our party?”

When I got back to our suite I sure was disgusted. There on the floor lay Chuck and Frank. They had passed out cold.

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