Boyd Lawson looks into his soul from within the soot stained walls of Mexico City's Black Palace prison. He seeks answers through dialogue with his cellmate, an illusion that lives in the shadows of their concrete cell.
The black rose signifies the death of old habits and the old order. Its velvet petals evoke love and sensuality, while the lance of its thorns warn of sacrifice and pain. Within the depths of desperation and pain a new era of hope and joy is born.
Boyd Lawson sat on the edge of the cold steel bunk. A steady draft of frigid air was passing through the barred window high above on the far wall. Temperatures dipped into the forties as the moon rose behind a grey fog of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, dried sewage, smoke and dust. The cold penetrated the marrow of his aching bones.
His cellmate stood silent in the dark corner to one side of the window. No blankets or necessities had been provided by the prison. A living film of grey mold, soot and urine proliferated on the walls and floor of their concrete cell.
Boyd’s eyes followed the hand-scrawled lines penetrating the scarred concrete surfaces. The etchings formed crude symbols of madness: skulls, daggers, eyes shedding tears of blood.
He thought of rising to scratch his initials on the wall, but dry heaves begged him to return to a fetal position. He tried to take command of his thoughts, searching his mind for images of life beyond the walls. His focus was impaled by hallucination.
Most people, he thought, would drown in the loneliness and fear that consumed prisoners within the stone walls of the Black Palace. It was a fortress of torture. Loneliness crept into one’s soul and multiplied within muscle and flesh like a microbial army of parasites working feverishly to smother hope. For Boyd, loneliness was the price he paid for living life beyond the boundaries of social principles. As for fearing death, why fear the inevitable?
He had concerns. Concerns about his deteriorating health, about his inability to connect with the outside world, about the ease with which he’d been manipulated and deceived.
He struggled to maintain will. The will to accept his condition. Imprisonment had been a reflection of his own character failings, the cost of negligence. He’d thrown his bones and cast his spell. He could beat himself up over it or push forward, nourished by visions of redemption. He chose the latter.
When he’d entered the prison, weeks before falling ill, locked behind the steel door of his cell, memories painted his imagination with a palette of vivid colors, allowing his mind and body to soar freely beyond the prison walls. Weakened by dysentery and days of dehydration, his imagination was becoming a pool of black ink.
He gazed through the shadows of nightfall, a three-quarter moon casting a filtered shaft of yellowish green light upon the floor. His cellmate remained silent in the corner.
“¿Frío, no?” Boyd asked his faceless companion. “Perdóname, que estoy muy enfermo.”
The man stepped slowly to the edge of the light entering from the window. He looked as if he’d been plucked from the backstreets of Mexico City: soiled jeans and counterfeit Adidas T-shirt, running shoes tied with string, skin darkened from exposure to the elements. He maintained a look of consternation iced by the hardships of life in a third world.
As inmates without privilege, they’d witnessed daily beatings by brick-wielding prison guards. Prisoners were knocked unconscious for the slightest infraction. The guard’s only diversion was vengeance. To avoid the brutality, a prisoner’s fear must be tempered with strength, evident without physical provocation or reaction.
Boyd knew he should feel fear pulsing through his veins. But it wasn’t fear that he felt—it was a pervasive numbness.
“We got a problem here, compadre,” he called out, weakened by the churning in his intestines. He knew the Mexican would ignore him. He was speaking to the walls.
“If we are ever able to get out of here, what’s waiting for us?”
His cellmate offered no response.
“Maybe palms whispering songs to blue skies and golden sands?” he asked. “Our lives have changed forever, there’s no turning back. We’re forced to wipe the blood and urine from the stone corridors of our new home. We’re hunted on the streets from where we came. I’m in my thirties and I don’t know what it feels like to love a woman."
As a student meandering his way through high school, Boyd had become infatuated with members of the Knights, an unauthorized gang parading around campus as a youth club. Outlaws from social order known for acts of random mayhem, the dregs of its membership were lost souls, exchanging stolen cash and auto parts for alcohol and drugs. Most were simply outcasts tired of middle-class boredom and hypocrisy.
The tightly knit gang was prohibited from flying their colors on school property. Off campus, they wore their jackets with pride and intimidation. Their acceptance of Boyd as a non-facto member fueled blood cells numbed by a life of unwilling conformance.
Boyd’s family and cast of conservative friends saw him as a university candidate with a future in engineering. He made no effort to disillusion them. He kept his relationships with the unsavory to himself. He also kept a jar of pomade, a lead wrist pin, steel-toed boots and a change of clothes in his locker. A wannabe bad boy, looking for a way to break out of middle class vanity.
“Be careful what you say and who you speak with, gringo.”
The words, dampened by the thick cell walls, startled Boyd. He turned to his cellmate, who withdrew into shadow. He felt a wave of dry heaves beginning their satanic dance.
“You speak good English, my friend. Estados Unidos?
“Listen to me, white boy. We are not alone. Someone is always watching over us; everything that happens to us is for a reason. Dios es el alma del universo, el latido del corazon humano, la sangre del demoño.”
“God is the soul of the universe, the heartbeat of mankind, the blood of the Devil.”
“You understand. Then listen, before you grow weaker from the poison swimming in your gut. Everything is connected, everything is one.”
The figure moved slightly to allow the pale moonlight to light his face. Boyd studied the furrowed skin and cautious eyes. A scar trailed from one ear to the corner of his mouth. He was staring at a soul many years older than his biological age, assuming the cellmate existed at all.
“You’re right. We are all one, but it’s the guards that are watching over us and that steel door and stone walls that bind us.”
Boyd’s thoughts skipped like a pebble cast over the waters of his past. The stolen car. The missing cash. The beating by the two men at the border. Adriana’s abduction and mysterious role in his fate.
CHAPTER 4 Excerpt
Returning again to Southern California, Boyd rented a small apartment and learned that Cooper was looking for him.
As he made his way down the winding, dusty dirt road, swerving to avoid sunbathing tarantulas, rattlers and rogue scrub oak branches, he caught a glimpse of a clearing in the dry brush at the bottom of the hill. He laughed at the desolation in which Cooper had burrowed himself and wondered if he’d gone mad.
Boyd brought his Ford sedan to a stop in front of the first house. A cloud of dust rose from beneath his floorboard and greeted him as he climbed out. The only sounds emanating from the ranch were the cries of hawks and the rustling of lizards in the brush. The sun baked the loose rock and cracked clay beneath his feet. The air smelled of sage.
Cooper was standing on the weathered wooden porch with his arms crossed. He was draped in a Captain America cape, his eyes concealed behind a pair of welder’s goggles. His cracked lips parted, revealing a sly smile.
“It’s about time you showed up! You’ve been gone three fucking months. Where’s your turban, and where’s my five grand?”
“What the hell are you doing out here? It must be a hundred and ten degrees.”
“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you. We need to get to work.”
“Is this how you greet an old friend? The heat’s gone to your head, Coop.”
“They’re sniffing starting fluid. The grass they’re smoking is made from dried sumac leaves. The Indians call it kinnickinnick or something like that.”
“Back up a minute. And take those goggles off.” Boyd walked up the steps to greet his friend. Cooper stepped forward with outstretched arms. The two men embraced and laughed.
“Who’s sniffing starting fluid?” Boyd asked.
“Your buddies up there in Canada.” Cooper was beaming with pride at his irreverent knowledge of the Canadian condition. He removed the welding glasses.
“We’ve got a chance to make history,” he continued.
“Coop, I’m not looking to make history. You’re standing here in a cape, surrounded by snakes and lizards. The last person I saw was ten miles down the road. What the hell is this all about?”
“Exactly. Anyone wandering this far back in the hills is either lost or out of their mind.”
Boyd extracted $5,000 dollars from his pocket and slapped it in his friend’s palm.
“Sorry it took so long …”
“Your trip to Kyrgyzstan, or wherever the hell it was, everything went okay?”
“I’m standing in front of you. What’s the lowdown on this place?”
“Beautiful, ain’t it? What we got here is more pot than I know what to do with, and a whole country to the north of us dying to get their hands on it.”
“You’re out here all by yourself?”
“I’ve got a couple shotguns.”
Boyd allowed his gaze to drift to the hillside beyond the house, looking briefly for any sign of approaching vehicles.
“You get many visitors?” He was being diligent. If Cooper was stashing away a quantity of pot, the only escape would be up the face of the mountain. Boyd dusted himself off.
“Don’t go paranoid on me,” Cooper warned. “Nobody visits this place except Scooter and his brother, and they only stay long enough to help me unload the trucks. Let’s take a walk.”
Cooper let the cape drop to the floorboards. Boyd followed him to the second house. He stopped dead in his tracks at the open door. The sun-bleached two-bedroom house was filled, floor to ceiling, with double-wrapped cellophane kilos of fresh pot. Living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, hallway, bathroom.
“What the hell are you going to do with all this?”
Cooper laughed. “You idiot. What are you going to do with all this? Why do you think I’ve been hunting you down?”
“I don’t get it … I can’t move this much weed.”
“You lived in Canada for a couple years. You unloaded your hash with no problem.”
“Listen, I lived in the Canadian bush with a swamp rat from Tennessee. I sold the hash to a guy that gave me a ride on the ferry form Vancouver Island and put me up for a couple nights. Don’t give me more credit than I deserve. I’m not in any position to set up something this big.”
“A pound, a half ton, what’s the difference? You think bigger and get smarter. Use your head, Boyd; when has anyone ever offered us an opportunity like this?”
Boyd entered the living room and took a seat on a short stack of kilos.
“Why not use your local contacts? All I want is enough cash to travel to South America.”
“How much pot do you think you could move?” Cooper motioned to the overstocked room and shot his friend a look of loathing. “Never mind wintering in South America, I’m offering you the chance to make enough to retire. You can hike from one end of the planet to the other when we’re done. Hell, maybe I’ll go with you.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I’ve already saturated the local market. The people I know here all go crazy when they get a few grand in their pockets.”
“You remember hitting me in the face with a ring the size of a doorknob?” Cooper asked.
“What’s that got to do with anything? I hit you because you refused to leave your square.”
“It was foursquare, Boyd. We were twelve years old.”
“You were out.”
“You’re the only friend I know that doesn’t need someone looking over his shoulder. I respected you for standing up for yourself. I was out.”
“I should punch you in the face again, maybe you’ll come to your senses. Have you thought about moving this much pot over a couple thousand miles of highway and across an international border?”
“You ever look in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental? It’s like a damn warehouse. Buy two or three of them. Use fucking trains. I’ve got a friend with a private plane if you need it…the shit is coming out of my ears. It’s starting to freak me out. I made a commitment.”
“When did you become so interested in money?”
“Don’t go stupid on me. It’s not the money. It’s my fucking honor. I said I’d do this, and I’m going to do it. When can you start? I’ll give you kilos at one hundred and twenty bucks each. Move them at any price you want. Pay me when you get back.”
“God damn it, you’re serious, aren’t you?” Boyd started thinking about the risks. “How often would we do this?”
“Head up north. Make the arrangements. Sell the pot, get back with the cash, take a day to rest, then turn around and do the same fucking thing all over again. We got a house to empty and more is on the way.”
“I told you, I don’t know anyone that could handle bulk.”
“You’ll find somebody. I know you.”
“And then what? Carry trunks filled with cash back into the U.S.?”
“I didn’t just start thinking about this yesterday. All we gotta do is fill in the blanks.”
The two of them headed back and took a seat on the porch of the main house.
“You see anybody lately?” Boyd asked.
“Everybody we know that I can trust has been working for me. I see them for a few minutes. Most of them don’t know anything about this place.”
“How about Nate?”
“I’ve seen him. You remember his mom, right?”
“I remember his dad. He worked at Chino prison. He used to chase Nate around the house with a machete. Wait, Nate’s working for you?”
“Hell, no. Listen to me. His mom went to some psychic, the same one that works for the stars. She told her she’d meet this guy, go out on a boat and drown at sea.”
“And, she’s dead. And it wasn’t from a machete. She died in the Pacific off Catalina Island. She fell off a boat owned by some insurance broker. The police said it was accidental. Get this—the psychic also said that Nate would die in a motorcycle accident. He’s scared shitless to ride his Triumph.”
“What about Hagel?”
“He got out of Special Forces and did time in Argentina as a sniper. He’s back now, living out of his car. He snapped. He shot a hobo off a train. Spends his time writing notes and sticking them on people’s windows.”
Boyd mused over the brittleness of life, the layer of veneer that separates sanity from insanity.
“When we dropped acid,” Cooper remarked, “we thought we’d discovered the meaning of life. Whether it was a crock of shit or not, there was no turning back. Did you ever consider that we’d been dealt a royal flush? Compare our lives to Nate’s or Hagel’s. We won the karma-lotto, Boyd. Two guys, crazy as a couple of coons, with nothing but opportunity on our plates. Why? Who the hell knows what any of it means, but it’s happening for a reason.”
“Even if I said yes, the guy I know in Vancouver couldn’t manage anything this big.”
“But he might know someone that can.”
“I’ll start with fifty kilos and stash them in Washington until I can put something together.”
“Two hundred,” Cooper countered.
“Fuck it, two hundred. I’ll need cash for motels and vehicles and buying off drivers and whatever other shit comes along. Give me back the five G.”
Cooper smiled, led Boyd out to an abandoned car at the side of the house, reached under the front seat and removed a crinkled paper sack packed with bundles of large bills, which he tossed into Boyd’s arms.
“What are you waiting for?”
“I just got here.”
“I got another truck to pick up from Armando. I don’t have time to fart around.”
“This Armando … what do you know about him? Do you talk?”
“I like him. He trusts me. I’ll take you to his car dealership in L.A. sometime. Don’t ask any more questions.”