Before reading this sequel, read Part I
Zihuatanejo. Right out of the movie. A beach, a boat. No redemption. A good place to hide or to live if it comes to that.
Things went south for Max Perkins after the election. Hell hath no fury like the money boys scorned. After Charlotte Marie became President, she wouldn’t meet with them. They blamed Max. He took his dough and split. These guys were dangerous.
A little cafe called La Gaviota sits at the south end of La Ropa Beach. That is Max’s hangout. They serve tiritas de pescado, little strips of marlin cured with lime and served with sliced red onions and spicy serrano peppers.
Out on the beach a red haired Latina girl is jumping the waves. She wears a yellow two-piece bathing suit. She laughs and screams as a big wave crashes into her.
He walks down the sandy slope from the cafe to the ocean and enters a few feet away from the girl. To the north he can see all the way to the other end of the beach where, because of the distance, everything appears in miniature. He dives under the water and swims a few feet out. The girl pays him no attention. She backs further out into the water. Soon they are near each other. She turns to him and their eyes meet.
He wants to speak to her but he is embarrassed by his poor Spanish. An encouraging smile emboldens him. He works out a few simple sentences in his head.
“El agua esta un poco fría.”
From the beach her companions look at the two of them, now close together. There are three boys and another girl. They have dark skin and brown hair. They point and laugh. The girl doesn’t see or doesn’t care.
“No tan frio.”
He struggles to understand. He thinks she says the water is not too cold. He goes with the first thing he remembers from Spanish class.
“¿Como se llama?”
“Malena, ¿y tú?”
They communicate awkwardly while the waves push against them. Malena and her friends are from Argentina. He compliments her on her hair. She tells him that redheads are considered bad luck in her country.
“Que tonto,” he says (How silly).
“Quizás para ti pero no para mí.”
He doesn’t understand the words but he gets the point. She is upset by the way she is treated because of her hair.
“Well, I think you are gorgeous and I know meeting you will be good luck for me.”
His Spanish is terrible but she understands. She thanks him. Her blue eyes sparkle in the sun. His Spanish is okay after all.
He relaxes. He submits to the push and pull of the waves. This friendly Argentine redhead takes his mind off the pending situation. He dives backwards into the waves, sinks below the surface, propels himself back to the top. That’s when he sees it just a few feet away, a sea snake swimming right at him.
He’s never seen one before. It’s little head is bent upward, the eyes looking around, not frantically but curiously, looking right at him, probably as stunned as he is. He quickly swims back toward the girl.
“Serpiente! Serpiente de mar,” he yells and points to the snake.
She sees it and swims quickly back to the shore. He follows. He has no idea if sea snakes are dangerous but the fear in her eyes is enough to convince him that discretion is the better part of valor in this case.
Malena looks back, smiles, waves and then runs off to join her friends.
Max walks back to the café and orders a beer. He moves his chair into the sun to dry off. He thinks of the sea snake. President Trump got some perverse thrill when he recited The Snake at his rallies. The crowd loved it. He misinterpreted the lyrics, used them to denigrate immigrants. Ironically Trump himself was the snake, the snake that bit the American people. But that’s not the whole story. We are all capable of biting someone, even ourselves. We each embody the best and the worst of human nature. It is a porous border that separates the two.
Max looks at Malena and her friends on the beach. They seem happy but racial homogeneity is no guarantor of peace, any more than racial heterogeneity is fated to fail. Something as innocuous as Malena’s red hair is enough to set her apart.
There is a prejudice dial. We turn it up. We turn it down. But, the very existence of the dial is an integral part of who we are. This, Max observes time and time again, even here in paradise.
He is proud of the role he played in getting Charlotte Marie elected President. He is in love with her and she knows it but she is the first female President and a symbol of generational change. There is no going back but there are obstacles at every turn.
Max leaves for his bungalow to check his emails. There is one email from Charlotte Marie.
To: Max Perkins
Re: Where Are You
Where are you Max? You have done a good job of hiding. I would expect no less. We need to talk. There are some things that must be done. We both have enemies but I can protect you. Come back. CM
The email is in code. CM is telling him she is ready to start the process. It isn’t easy to change a country, especially a country in crisis. But, as one predecessor said: “Don’t waste a crisis.” Charlotte Marie was not about to screw up this one chance.
A boy rides by on a bicycle outside the bungalow. Music blares from a boom box attached to the handle bars. The same boy rides by several times a day.
Her handlers are monitoring the emails. Max knows that. The road ahead is going to be rocky. The Presidency is a great disappointment. Obama found that out. He liked to quote from King: “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” What if it doesn’t, thinks Max? What if there is no arc, just life unfolding as it does? Only a fool would base his hopes on human nature let alone some preordained plan.
Charlotte Marie is no fool but she is no coward either. She will do what she must do. Many people, Americans included, don’t care about morality. They care about themselves. The job of a leader is to get them to think differently. She won over the hearts of the voters. Now she has to win over their minds and convince them to make changes. She is a doer. She will get things done. Max will never doubt that.
The snake is there everywhere he looks. It waits in the wings behind the stage. Sometimes it’s front and center. Like Medusa, the monstrosity is not singular, it’s plural. And, it’s very, very dangerous.
Max sweats in the sticky heat. It seems as if his mind is about to explode. He must be calm. He must be patient.
Another thing Obama said: No nation is perfect, but one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.
Max wonders if that’s true. If there is any hope for America, we must believe it. Max knows one thing. He knows people. America wouldn’t run on its own for a minute. It needs leaders and myths and aspirations. Does it need Max Perkins? Or, can Max Perkins turn on, tune in and drop out?
CM’s email is blinking. Max deletes it and turns off the computer.
A month later Max sits at a table at La Perla restaurant eating chilaquiles. There are two other Americans at the restaurant. When they leave, he sees a newspaper still on the table. He avoids the news these days but he takes the newspaper back to his bungalow anyway.
He sits in a chair on the deck. He falls asleep. He dreams.
Charlotte Marie, the first female President, elected as a virtual unknown, has gone missing. The Vice President has assumed the duties of the office. He assures the American people that all is well and that they can expect the country to carry on with no significant changes. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the Senate Majority Leader have all confirmed that the Vice President is now in control and the American people can expect the government to function smoothly ahead. The location and condition of Charlotte Marie remains a mystery. All agencies of the United States Intelligence community are fully engaged in a search for answers to this bizarre situation.
Max yells into the bungalow:
“You made the news, honey.”
Charlotte Marie rolls over and smiles when Max walks into the bedroom. It’s done. They’re alone together at last.
Max awakes from his dream. He doesn’t look at the newspaper. He throws it into the garbage and walks down to La Gaviota and sits at his usual table.
It’s been a month since he’s seen Malena and her friends on the beach. Some fishermen sit at tables set up on the sand outside the cafe and shuck the oysters they have picked from the rocks on the ocean floor. Others are filleting fish.
It’s going to be a beautiful day. The sun is rising over the ocean. Little boats float on the water out in Zihuatanejo bay. On the horizon Max sees larger ships heading north and south carrying this and that.
An older American couple walks into the cafe. They choose a table far away from Max. He thinks he’s dodged a bullet until the lady walks toward him with the look of shock in her eyes.
“Have you heard?”
“Heard what?” he answers in a tone that indicates he wishes to be left alone.
“About the President,” says the lady. “President Charlotte Marie. She was assassinated at a rally last night. I just saw it in this morning’s paper.”
Max turns away from the lady and stares at the ocean. “No,” he says. “I didn’t hear.”
The lady stands by him for a few minutes waiting for him to speak but he doesn’t turn around or say anything. Not one word.
He stares at the ocean looking for the snake, but even if it was there, it would be too small to see.