Issue 98, Winter 1985
Ten miles to the south, the road on which they drove turned inland, crossed the mountains on the spine of Baja, and ran for thirty miles within sight of the Sea of Cortez. At the final curve of its eastward loop, a dirt track led from the highway toward the shore, ending at a well-appointed fishing resort called Benson’s Marina. At Benson’s there was a large, comfortable ranchhouse in the Sonoran style, a few fast powerboats rigged for big game fishing and a small air strip. Benson ran a pair of light aircraft for long distance transportation and fish spotting.
In the early hours of the morning, their car turned into Benson’s and pulled up beside his dock. Walker had slept; a light cokey sleep, full of theatrical nightmares that had his sons in them.
The woman on the seat beside him was an actress named Lu Anne Bourgeois whom he had not seen for ten years. Nearly that long before, he had written a screenplay for her based on Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, It was being filmed now, near the hotel from which they had come. They were both long married to other, absent people.
That night, at the hotel, there had been a party at which bad things had been said and Walker had been knocked down. They had driven to Benson’s pursuing the illusion of escape.
Lu Anne walked straight to the lighted pier and stood next to the fuel pumps, looking out across the gulf. Walker climbed from the car and asked the driver to park it out of the way. In the shadow of the boat house, he had some more cocaine. The drug made him feel jittery and cold in the stiff ocean wind. Lu Anne had a bottle of scotch in her tote bag, so he had a drink from it.
After a few minutes, Benson’s son Enrique came out looking sleepy and suspicious. He was a Eurasian, the son of a Texas promoter who had realized his dreams and a Mexican-born Chinese woman. When he recognized Lu Anne he smiled.
“You two want to go to Cabo again?” he asked. At the beginning of shooting, Lu Anne’s husband had been with her and the two of them had flown to Cabo San Lucas. Benson had mistaken Walker for Lu Anne’s husband. As the two men shook hands. Walker watched him realize his mistake.
“No,” Lu Anne said. “We want to go to Villa Carmel.” He was looking down at the ground in embarrassment, an unworldly young man.
“I don’t know, ma’am. There’s a chubasco over the mountains. I have to get the weather.”
“Of course,” Lu Anne said. The youth stood with them for a minute or so and then went back inside the main house.
“We should go back,” Walker said. She shook her head.
“They can’t shoot without you,” Walker told her, taking another slug from the bottle. “You should be back at work tomorrow. And I should be gone.”
Lu Anne kept looking out to sea.
“I don’t think I want to go back to work tomorrow. And I don’t want you to go.”
“It’s senseless,” Walker said.
He looked anxiously into her eyes, seeing there what he had feared to see. She had married her psychiatrist in an absurd futile gesture of hope. She worked, although not often; she was a wife and a mother. Still mad, he thought. Otherwise she would not be there beside him.
“I don’t know why you want to go to Villa Carmel. What’s there?”
She smiled at him quickly, surprised him.
“Wait until you see.”
“Weren’t we near there once?” Walker asked. ”\bu were shooting somewhere in the Sierra. A long time ago.”
“We were miles away. We were shooting a Mexican setting of Death Harvest in Benjamin Constant.”
“Was it Benjamin Constant?” Walker asked. “Or was it Benjamin Hill?”
“It was way the other side of Monte Carmel. Villa Carmel is on this side. The Pacific side.”
“Why do you want to go there?”
“The reason . . .” she began and paused. “The reason is a pretty reason. You’ll have to trust me.” She took hold of his hand. “Do you?”
“Well,” Walker said, “we’re out here together in this storm of stuff. What have I got to lose?”
“We’ll see,” Lu Anne said.
Young Benson came back with his map case and climbed to the small room above the boathouse that was his operations shack. He was sporting the leather jacket and white silk scarf it pleased him to wear aloft. When he turned on the lights, an English language weather report crackled over the transmitter. Walker and Lu Anne on the pier below could not make it out.
She looked through her tote bag and came up with a white bank envelope filled with bills and handed it to Walker.
“To pay him.”
He started to protest. She turned away. “My party,” she said. Climbing the wooden stairs to Benson’s office, he put the envelope beside his wallet, still stuffed with his winnings from Santa Anita. Both of them had so much money, he thought.
It was so convenient.
“How’s the weather?” he asked young Benson when he was in the office.
“Garay!”young Benson said, looking wide eyed at him. “what a shiner you got!”
Walker put a hand to his swollen face.
Walker put a hand to his swollen face. “Is it real?” the young pilot asked. Walker looked at him in blank uncomprehension.
“I thought it might not be real,” the youth explained. “I thought maybe it was fake.”
“Ah,” Walker said. “It’s real. An accident. A misstep.”
“Yeah,” Benson said, “well let’s see. Reckon I can get you all over there. We might have a problem coming back. When you need to be back?”
“I don’t know. Can you wait for us?”
“That’s expensive,” the young man said uncertainly. “If the chubasco settles in we might get stuck.”
“When can we leave?”
“When it’s light,” Benson said.
Walker took five hundred-dollar bills out of the envelope.
“Take us over for the day. If we’re not back by sunset tomorrow we’ll throw in a few hundred more.”
“Three hundred for the day, if I wait. Five hundred if I have to wait overnight.”
“Good,” Walker said. He gave the youth five hundred. “Hold it on deposit.”
She was waiting for him at the foot of the steps.
“Will he take us?”
“He’ll take us at first light. He says the weather might keep us over there. Is there a hotel in Villa Carmel?”
She did not answer him. He looked at the sky; it was clear and lightening faintly. The moon was down. The autumn constellations showed Venus was in Taurus, the morning star.
He asked her if she knew what it meant because it was the sort of thing she knew. Again she failed to answer him.
After a while she pointed to their driver, who was asleep behind the wheel of his parked limousine.
“Pay him,” she said. “Pay him and send him back.”
“Gordon, I’m going to Monte Carmel. Do you want to be with me or not?”
He went over and woke up the driver and paid him and watched the car’s tail lights bounce over the road between Benson’s and the highway.
“Why there?” he asked her.
He thought, to his annoyance, that she would ignore his question again.
“Because there’s a shrine there,” she said. “And I require its blessedness.”
“That’ll be lost on me,” Walker said. She looked at him with a knowing, kindly condescension.
There was light above the Gulf of California, Gray white at first, then turning to crimson. It spread with all the breathtaking alacrity of tropical mornings. Walker found its freshening power wearisome. He was a little afraid of it.
Morn be sudden, he thought. Eve be soon.
Benson came out of his office and clattered down the steps to the dock, sweeping his scarf dashingly behind him in the wind.
“Let’s go, folks.”
“Is it a Christian shrine?” Walker asked. “I mean,” he suggested, “they don’t sacrifice virgins there?”
“Never virgins,” Lu Anne said. “They sacrifice cocks men there. And ritual whores.”
“If you could give me a hand with the aircraft, mister,” young Benson said over his shoulder as they fell in behind him, “I would appreciate it a whole lot.”
Benson hauled open the hangar’s sliding door and moved the wheel blocks aside. Then he and Walker guided the aircraft out of the hangar and into position. By the time they were ready to board the morning was in full possession. The disc of the sun was still below the Gulf but the morning kites were up against layers of blue and the lizard cries of unseen desert birds sounded in the brush until the engine’s roar shut them out of hearing.
“She’s a real sparkler,” Benson said when they were airborne. Walter, who had been sniffing cocaine from his hand, looked at the youth blankly again. Was he referring to Lu Anne, buckled into the seat behind him?
Benson never took his eyes from the cockpit windshield.
“I mean the day is,” he explained. “I mean you wouldn’t know there was bad weather so close.”
“Yes,” Walker said. “I mean no. I mean we’ll never get enough of it.”
A few minutes out, they could see the peaks of the coast on the eastern shore of the Gulf and the sun rising over them. The whole sea spread out beneath them, glowing in its red rock confines, a desert ocean, a sea for signs and miracles.
He turned to look at Lu Anne and saw her crying happily. The sight encouraged him to a referential joke.
“Was there ever misery loftier than ours?” he shouted over the engine.
She shook her head, denying it.
“Everybody O.K.?” Benson asked.
“Everybody will have to do,” Walker told him.