in Old School

Trouble Is My Business

trouble is my business

El Cangrejo – I was breaking in a new liver with old man Abuelo when Okke’s message arrived.

It was a hot, wet, Panama day, and you couldn’t keep your forehead dry with a sea sponge.

“Let’s get together and talk. 3pm, the Del Prado.” the message read.

Cryptic bastard. So you’ve come up for air. Back in the day, Okke Ornstein was the shit-throwing journalist over at Noriegaville News. His dyspeptic daily sent me good traffic. But then something happened and he dropped out of sight.

I looked at the clock. Almost 3pm. The cubes made a satisfying sound as I emptied my glass. At the gate I ran through my mental check list: money? -check. passport? -check. notebook? -check. stun gun? – check.

The Del Prado is on a busy corner off via Argentina. A quick scan of the patio reveals a couple of off duty hookers, holiday shoppers grabbing a late lunch, several translucent gringos, but no Okke. I go inside and take a seat at the counter.

I gaze out the dirty bay window. Part of me feels like a wife waiting for her felon husband to appear on the other side of the glass. Christ, I hope Okke isn’t expecting this to get all conjugal.

A fat native in a grease-stained guayabera and turned-up sombrero feeds sandwiches into a grill. He looks like he’d lost one too many fights. His front teeth are missing and one eye seems to be drifting off to the left.

Must be part Mexican. I watch his hairy bronze hands cut sandwiches. It’s hot work. Melted cheese oozes onto his fingers. I hear him grunt. He catches me looking, and smiles like we’re old friends.

“Que tu quieres,” he asks.

I almost order the cubano. But sweat’s dripping from his brow onto the bread below. I decide its safer to drink my lunch.

“Una fria senor,” I say.

The beer comes in a frosted glass, which is unusual for Panama. The day’s still hot, so I order another. Then my second beer quickly turns into four. Two dark-skinned girls eye me from across the room. I’m damn near irresistible when I’m drinking. But I begin to worry I may be drinking too much. Last thing I need now is to lose control.

I suddenly feel paranoid. I can almost smell the danger. Or maybe it’s the cook. Reflexively, I check my holster, making sure my laser sighted taser is powered up. Fuck it, I’m not taking any chances with this bastard. I move the dial from “stun,” to “journalist.”

They say a stun gun’s not the weapon for hard-boiled writers, that stun guns are for the weak, and only battered women, and old men are unashamed to carry them. No doubt that’s true. I should probably just do like the locals and carry a machete.

I take note of the bulla in the Del Prado. Is this a diversion? It’s almost Christmas, Saturday, and loud. I can smell burnt toast, beer, and stripper perfume. Perfect cover for the sound of electricity discharging, and the smell of Okke’s burning flesh.

But where is he? Does he know I’m on to him? After all, this is not the first time someone’s stalked him with a taser. And it probably won’t be the last.

Or has the Guardia finally hauled him off to La Joya where he belongs. I order another beverage to celebrate the thought. And then it hits me. This could be a clever ruse to draw me out. For all I know it is Okke who has suckered me. He could be outside watching, waiting to catch me pant-less in some alley with my favorite donkey.

Ambush journalism, that’s how Okke Ornstein likes to roll. And he doesn’t care how many innocent donkeys get hurt in the process. I check the watch of the man across the counter: 4:05. I take another cold hit off my Panamanian lager. All I get is the bitter feeling that Okke’s stood me up.

I don’t know if I should feel anger or relief. How’s he going to explain this? Probably some lame story about forgetting and not having Internet access. I empty the green bottle into my glass. foam drizzles down the frosted sides.

“Otra cerveza mi amigo,” I drawl to the Mexican boxer.

My head’s reeling. And it’s getting so I can’t tell friend from foe. Time to go. I ask “manos de derretido” for the check. He chops a sandwich into quarters, buries it in fries, and signals the cashier with an impressive flourish.

Outside the street’s full of holiday shoppers. I can hear Christmas music from over on Via Espania. Okke could be hiding anywhere, or be anyone. Suddenly, I feel naked, helpless, and alone. What am I doing here? I’m so exposed. How did I let myself get lured out into the open like this? Rule #1 for Panama writers: stay the fuck underground.

I imagine this is just how Don Winner felt outside Okke’s house that fateful day. Afraid, confused, impotent. But I can’t blame Don for being a pussy. Any more than I blame Okke for standing me up. After today I can see the truth of it. They’re both trouble.

And trouble is my business.

-Cojito @ Panama After Dark.

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14 Comments

  1. Good fiction for a change, cojito. just enough fact thrown in to make one forget it's fiction.

    nice, but, if you're feeling left out of the english-speaking-journalists-in-Panama-Society, aka 'someone blew so much smoke up my ass it went to my head and now my eyes burn from the smell of my own ass', well please allow me to beg you for the sake of the isthmus' otherwise barren word in english, go back to the gutter from whence you came. amuse and refuse the pull of the almighty dollar and remain true to your cult. without you, panama is limited to watching eric get tugged out of shape everytime wanker jerks off in public. which begs the question – if he's a pussy, isn't it time for an apodo besides wanker?

  2. thanks. you make some good points. but it's hard to stay in the gutter and ignore the call of the dollar. and most of my 300+ readers aren't inclined to leave a tip to support my deviant lifestyle.

    kinda what i was saying about okke before. you can't do what he does and expect to profit in panama. that's partly why i've been thinking of making some changes, and branching out. i'd love to keep doing what i'm doing, but i can't. i need to make a few more bucks.

    i was going to call this "dinner with okke." then Okke never showed up, and i got crazy with the noir. fiction. yes. most of my writing has an element of fiction.

    but this really happened. i swear. except the part about me carrying a stun gun. everyone knows i have two colombian body guards around me at all times.

    are you sure you can't you wank a pussy?

  3. Dang Cojito you definitely got me back, good stuff. I have been following Okke for a good 4 years. This Don guy is trouble, maybe I can pull some strings, lol. anyway hope Okke is fine and would love to read his trouble again. take care and again good writing

  4. Well cojito, I just ran into your website/blog yesterday while randomly surfing the web and I gotta tell you that it is damn funny. I'm originally from Panama but have been living in the U.S. for about 18 years. It's funny to read an outsider's view of my "patria" as you go through your everyday life. Believe me, when I go to Panama I feel like a freaking turist myself, since I don't get to go back as often as I should and find that this website/blog gives me a connection to Panama in a very weird way. What I've realized lately (and this has been reinforced by blogs like this) is that I can't wait to finally stop working here in the land of the endless rat race and go back to Panama and just kick back. I'm in my early 30's and hopefully will be able to do this by the time i'm in my mid-40's, instead of staying here, working until I'm 65 and try to live off from the money in my 401k and investments (because we all know that social security will be as good as a piece of sh*t on a stick to most of the people in my generation…thanks baby boomers!!) Well enough rambling on my part. Keep up the good work and the funny entries, maybe I'll do a similar blog when I finally get down there…watch out man! I'm coming to steal your idea…hahaha!!! Be good and much luck down in paradise!

  5. rrroyo – thanks. where have you been my friend? hell, where have i been? if you've got the juice, please, pull some strings lol. the man's trouble.

    if okke ever shows up for lunch, and survives my stun gun attack, i'll post a report.

    Bubba gump – you know i always worry that i might offend Panamanians with my writing. of course, that doesn't stop me from writing it anyway.

    often, to make things funny i wildly exaggerate events. i love your patria, especially the people i meet. and i'm glad you get the joke.

    sounds like a good plan. work hard when you're young, and then return home to panama, kick back, and live in style. you won't need a very big social security check to live down here.

  6. Goddammit!!!!!!!

    Here I thought I'd actually read some **content** on this site a la an interview with a real journalist who actually got off his ass and did some reporting. Alas, who the hell was I kidding. Shit. If Okke's reporting is to be vindicated, the shit should hit the fan round about June in Panama in AD 2008..if we make it that long in one piece!!

    Mr Wonderful

  7. that was the plan mr wonderful. stun him into submission, and then pepper him with incisive questions. but the bitch never showed.

    and i'm not a real journalist. i don't even pretend to be one online.

  8. Good story.

    Best line: "must be part Mexican."

    What did you resolve, regarding the visa situation? Are you leaving every 30 days?

  9. nah. at first i was staying for 30 days and then renewing for 60 more. but i visited immigration this week, and after an hour in line, they told me the law's changed again.

    i never saw anything about it on the news. but i've been out of the country for awhile, so i may have missed it. now i guess tourists can stay for the 3 months before they need to renew a tourist visa. then they can apply for another 2 months.

    almost like it was before. maybe all that whining got their attention.

  10. I didn't show. Unforgivable. It had something to do with a big crocodile eating birds in the Chagres river, but nevertheless. It was a truly fucked-up day. I also missed an excursion on a new cruising yacht in the morning in the Caribbean.

    Where do you guys buy these stun guns anyway, and do they have like really big ones? I want to mount it on my old Jeep, the WPV (Wanker Pursuit Vehicle).

  11. okke – i may need to get my taser charged, and hire more colombians. don writes that he wants to "buy me a beer."

    you don't think he'll slip me roofies and date rape me do you?

    Paddywagon – i dunno man. i've got my girl friend's family staying over. so i'm usually too pissed to leave the house. plus i'm saving myself for carnival. that's when the serious alcoholics come out to play.

    all the casinos and bigger hotels usually have cool stuff going on. or dip into the clubs down on calle uruguay

    damejudith – cheers. and thanks for the card.

  12. Cojito,

    You silly dilentante. Anyone who needs to pack a stun gun is a flat-out pussy. Especially when dealing with a meek and anti-violent bastard like Okkie. Ornstein can be devious, but he certainly isn't dangerous.

    Jesus, man, where are your cajones? Next you'll be telling us about your pepper spray canister and ear-piercing panic alarm….

    Get off your ass and invest in a real firearm to keep the savages at bay. This may require a license and some paperwork, but hey, there are plenty of ways to grease the rails.

    I recommend a stainless steel 38 Smith + Wesson revolver (hammerless model). Forget about automatics because they're much too complicated for clowns like you. Especially when you've had a few beverages.

    Patriccio