A few times during your life, you may have run up against situations that tell you what kind of person you really are, what your response to disaster might be, what your mettle is. Some people have these experiences and it breaks them. For others, it’s just an anecdote.
Greg and I had just gotten back from Isla Mujeres, off the Yucatan coast near Cancun. The sun was going down, and we were well lit up. We’d been on the island all afternoon, fixing up the light and sound systems, and as per the usual arrangement when we moonlighted, we’d been paid in food and booze. Given the quantity of beer we generally drank just to maintain our equilibrium and air of pleasant mañanaland befuddlement, it might have been cheaper for them to pay us cash, but this way it was off the books, and everyone was happy. We were looking forward to an evening at Dady Rock, on the strip, where we were customarily given open bar courtesy in return for helping out with sound mix and lighting there as well.
Greg and his Mexican girlfriend Bianca had a tumultuous relationship, to say the least. She was the very embodiment of the cliche of the fiery latina, and living with them as I did, I caught her wrath almost as often as Greg. She could be terrifying, and almost totally irrational when she lost her temper.
Bianca met us at the dock, and we wandered over to the main road into the Old City, intending, I think, to go find Greg’s dealer. I wandered over into the bushes to have a pee while Greg and Bianca waited at the roadside to flag down a taxi. Life was astonishingly good at that moment – drunk, living in Paradise, I rolled my head back as I peed to look up at the wisps of clouds that were painted a rich red by the sunset, and breathed deeply of the clean ocean air to clear my head.
Then I heard the yelling.
“Ah, sh-t,” thought I to myself, “they’re at it again.” I immediatedly started reworking my plans for the evening to be a solo flight. But as I wandered over (slowly, unkeen to put myself between the two combatants – I’d learned how ill-advised this could be before), I saw Greg on his back in some low bushes, and Bianca astride him, pummelling him, or at least attempting to. I stopped on the sidewalk about 10 metres up from them, and waited. No way I was getting involved once she started getting violent. I’d taken a heavy silver belt-buckle in the head last time I’d tried that.
A few seconds later, a police car pulled up, and the policia switched on their rollers. The cops got out, pulled Bianca off of Greg, and cuffed her. This wasn’t good. As I walked up to the police car, they were putting the screeching and struggling Bianca in the back seat cage, and Greg was telling them in Spanish that he was her husband and he needed to come along. He looked at me as he got in to the backseat and shrugged. In Spanish, I asked the shotgun cop where they were taking my friends, and their answer was incomprehensible. I asked if I could come with them, as I had very little money on me and no idea where they were going.
This was my first mistake.
They took us to the police station on the main street of Old Cancun. Bianca was beside herself, still cuffed, doing everything but foaming at the mouth. Greg had entered into negotiations for the requisite bribes, trying to negotiate his way down. Everything seemed under control, so I asked what seemed to be the guy in charge, behind the desk, if I could go and get a pack of cigarettes. He replied in the positive, and I wandered off, confident that all was well. I bought a pack of Montana lights, and a can of Dos Equis, and wandered back to the cop shop, getting impatient to get back to the Strip. This was my second mistake.
As I walked in the door, it became clear that something significant had happened. Two cops were restraining Greg, three restraining Bianca, who if anything had cranked it up a notch into complete non compos mentis wildness, and one cop was sitting on the bench, looking green.
“What the f–k?” I asked Greg.
“She kicked one of the cops in the nuts!” said he.
I offered some of the cops cigarettes, which they took. Then, after a couple minutes, the boss said something to the others, and they took the whole pack. And my wallet and passport, and my belt, and they led me back to a holding area. I was now, somehow, one of the detainees. f–k.
Bianca was still screaming, kicking, trying to bite anyone who came within range. Cuffed as she was, it took what appeared to be a great effort on the part of the two cops still restraining her to keep her in place. Greg had been put back in the holding area with me, and was now pleading for our release for any price, rather than just trying to negotiate the bribe down.
I was starting to sober up. And the cops had taken my smokes.
Some time later, Bianca was brought back from wherever she had been taken, and she looked bad. Blank eyes, slack mouth, bleach-blond mane hanging in front of her face. I don’t know what they had done to her, but Greg bristled, and I started to get a little scared. I’d heard stories about the cops here, and how they dealt with gringos who weren’t tourists. Greg had a temper of his own, and two black belts, and I could see things getting out of control very quickly.
The cops led us out to a patrol car, with a bigger, sturdier cage in the back, and refused to answer our questions about where we were being taken. The three of us were pushed roughly into the backseat, Bianca in the middle, and the doors slammed.
It was dark by now, but it was clear that we were being taken west, out of the city. In the couple of years I’d lived in Mexico, I had heard enough first-hand stories to know that it wasn’t just in the movies that the cops in Mexico take people out into the back of beyond and beat them, or worse. And Bianca having kicked one of the senior cops square in the nuts did not bode well for our future. I started to get really scared, and when Bianca came out of her fugue state and started screaming curses and kicking at the cage between us and the two cops in the front seat, I started to, well, dissociate. Greg kept asking them in Spanish where they were taking us, forcing a calm tone on top of the growing panic in his voice.
No answer from the front seat, and we were leaving the last of the lights of Old Cancun behind. Greg murmured to me “When they open the doors, you go left, I’ll go right. Run.”
I didn’t acknowledge what he’d said. Bianca did, and fell silent. The sheer terror and helplessness washed over me, and I was frozen. I wasn’t sure that if the cops did stop and open the doors in the middle of nowhere, that I’d be able to move, let alone run. Like I said, sheer terror.
A few minutes later, there were lights beside the highway again, and we pulled into the parking lot of the federal prison. It looked like we weren’t going to be dealt with extra-judicially after all. The overwhelming joy and relief I felt at the realization that I was going to be put in jail is a very vivid memory.
That happiness dissipated rather quickly. Mexican jails aren’t very pleasant. But I wasn’t there long, and that’s a tale for another day, perhaps.