No. 3: Two Blows
Villa Lagartos – Santarém District, Portugal
39.2333° N, 8.6833° W
Few joys in life can surpass premium pufferfish fillets prepared by a certified and gifted chef. It’s the most umami of fish, with a pleasant gelatinous flesh that’s not at all fishy. I have yet to consume fugu testicles, though I hear they’re quite tasty when properly pickled to dilute their toxicity.
The word blowfish evokes memories of a rival vice, one as pleasurable in its own way, yet less inherently dangerous than imbibing a toxin 10,000 times deadlier than cyanide. I’m speaking of oral sex, of course, in particular the kind gratefully received at an altitude of 15,000 meters, while streaking through the sky at nine-tenths the speed of sound. Remarkably, I’ve experienced this delectable curiosity not once, but twice.
The first time occurred on a Gulfstream G650 in Belarusian airspace. I accompanied Texas congressman Louie Gohmert to the MILEX military exhibition in Minsk in 2011. A consummate warhawk conservative, he’d sported a raging boner for the Talisman air defense suite since he’d overheard Rosoboronexport’s deputy director general Viktor Komardin describe it at the 2009 IDEF arms show in Turkey. Louie was salivating to observe an early tech demo. The rear admiral with him hoped to learn more about the system’s suitability for near-shore naval rotary-wing operations. It was endearing to see them holding hands, and judging by their moans, there was more going on beneath that grey wool blanket than met the eye.
As for me, I just wanted to see some shit blow up at the hands of German Leopard 2 tanks, French Mirage 2000 fighter jets, American Hellfire missile-equipped drones, and Russian KA-52 combat helicopters. Fortunately, arms dealers never disappoint in that department, nor did the blonde Foreign Service translator who demonstrated her advanced linguistics training high over the Nemen River valley.
The second time, the celebrated German rock band Scheißewurst invited me to return with them from a gig in the United Arab Emirates on a Bombardier BD-700 Global Express XRS. We were tripping on Psilocybe mushrooms with Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge, who’d we picked up in Vilnius, Lithuania after the Finnish summer rock festival season ended. However, Tommy spent most of the journey cowering under a seat, rocking back and forth in a fetal ball, lamenting that all the purple centipedes in his pockets had vacated without his permission and taken up residence in his corpus callosum. He explained that their little feet tickled and that he wasn’t angry with them, just hurt that they’d not asked first.
For my part, I was simply irked that Master Yoda had stolen my pretzels and given them to a very stoned and naked Gandhi, who doled them out to the Teutonic musicians in exchange for handjobs. Later, after he’d lowered his guard, I used a jedi mindfuck technique to coax the muppet into the restroom under the pretext of teaching Luke how to properly floss.
Of course, neither of these characters was ever actually aboard, so the identity of the second “mile-high” blower remains to this day shrouded in a psychedelic, fungal fog. It’s well known that the Scheißewurst rockers don’t require any particular “force” to get them to go down on other men, aloft or not. This fact notwithstanding, it is more likely that “Yoda” was the airplane’s 4-foot, 9-inch-tall first officer Oksana Svetlana Renata-Roksana, who suffers from congenitlal hypopituitary dwarfism and, coincidentally, invariably wears green panties and bra on eastern European flights, due to some ridiculous superstition ingrained in her by her Romany maternal grandmother.
In any case, as enjoyable as that was, it happened over two years ago, and was decidedly a second-rate experience to this evening’s blowfish dinner at the Kobayashi Sushi House. After a characteristically phenomenal meal, Javier dropped me off at the Mulkvist Grand Hotel a few blocks away. I was asleep in my usual room within ten minutes and did not awaken until morning.
I arose at 8am. It didn’t take me long to shit, shower and shave, then hit the continental breakfast. Afterward, Javier fetched me in his gaudy yellow Citroën C4 Cactus, and we headed out of the city via the six-lane Vasco da Gama Bridge.
Once on the eastern bank of the Tagus, we turned north into the Santarém district and followed the remarkably straight N118 along the estuarial nature reserve. Eventually we turned off the main road into a labyrinth of hidden, overgrown paths barely wide enough to accommodate the 1.8-meter-wide car.
After what felt like hours of driving in circles through the bush in the vicinity of the Rio Sorraia, a tributary of the Tagus River, we pulled up to a modern, white building, characterized by an elegant central structure like the trunk of an immense tree, from which sprung rooms and wings in an asymmetrical, almost organic fashion. The amazing building, so familiar to me, rose tall out of the swamp like a majestic willow. Under its canopy, some two dozen parked cars filled the narrow driveway and spilled out onto the front lawn.
Javier shut off the engine and turned to me. We’d not said a word during the entire trip. He forced a smile.
“Here we are,” he said. “The incomparable Villa Lagartos.”
“Yes,” I whispered, and sighed. I felt like a weary sailor seeing home shores after many years at sea, my heart laden with sadness and regret. I released my seatbelt and it slithered off my shoulder. Then, to my surprise, a tear splashed onto my cheek. As I wiped it away, Javier placed a warm hand on my shoulder.
“It’s been a long time, Stumpy. Are you going to be all right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I just need a minute. Goddammit, of all places, why do we have to do this here?”
“This is where it all started,” he answered matter-of-factly. “For continuity, for credibility, you have to reconvene here. Villa Lagartos is a powerful symbol, one whose significance won’t be lost on the Council.”
“I can’t do this. Take me back to the hotel.”
“I will do no such thing. Those people in there are looking to you for leadership. Here’s my advice: on the outside, project decisiveness and confidence, even if on the inside you you feel neither. In time, you will. Justify their trust in you, and they’ll follow you into Hell, if need be.”
He was right. I owed them at least that much. It would not be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. But, god, how was I going to pull this off?
“OK. I’ll channel Sir Winston-motherfucking-Churchill and his whore mother Jennie. Let’s do this thing.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said, extending his hand. “I believe in you.”
I reached out to grasp his hand, but he made no move to grasp mine. Instead, he held his closed hand out between us. Confused, I looked him in the eye, arching an eyebrow.
Grinning, he dropped two blue pills onto my palm, and winked.
“Klonopin, Stumpy. Even Churchill had his brandy.”