By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004
On the morning of my third day in Montego Bay, I met a British ex-pat at the bar. He was unsuccessfully trying to get someone to bet him on an NBA game. Michael Jordan had returned to the Bulls after his retirement and his first home game was going to be aired that afternoon. He was looking for some action and no one at the beachside bar seemed interested.
“How about you mate? You like basketball?”
Beckett was a pale lanky fellow with very bad teeth. He had not shaved in weeks and he ran over to me when I nodded yes.
“Beckett Magruder,” as he extended his hand.
“McGrupp,” and I shook back.
“Ah, the American.”
“How did you know?”
“This is a small island and the resort is even smaller. I like the Bulls. Are you going to pick Indiana?”
“What’s the point spread?”
“You are not an amateur I see. Let’s say five points.”
“What’s the line in Vegas?”
“Ah, I've met a real gambler here.” He sipped his beer and ordered us another round. “Fifty American dollars, I’ll take the Bulls –4.”
We shook hands.
“When is the game on?”
“This afternoon. Meet me at the Pelican for an early supper. They’ll have the game on there. Satellite TV.”
“OK, where’s The Pelican?”
“Haven’t left the resort much have you? It’s on Gloucester Avenue across from Old Hospital Park.”
Beckett wandered off and I found Natasha lounging by the pool, thumbing through a new magazine. I told her about my encounter and she seemed less than enthusiastic to meet up with Beckett. She wanted to bask in her laziness and sloth. She saw no reason to leave the resort especially to watch a basketball game. I went by myself. I found Robert out front who had just dropped off two new guests.
“Mr. Tenzin, do you need any more smoke? How about Charlie?”
We shook hands and I told him I needed a ride to The Pelican. I sat in the front seat and he handed me another manila envelope.
“You like magic mushrooms Mr. Tenzin?”
“Why not?” as I popped a few and handed him a $20 bill.
The drive to The Pelican should have taken only fifteen minutes but there was a big accident and part of Gloucester Avenue was blocked by construction. I was a little late but when I arrived Beckett was sitting at the bar screaming at the television.
“God is back. How could you bet against God, mate?”
The God he was referring to was Michael Jordan.
“Even God gets a little rusty after a hiatus.”
Beckett ordered several rounds of beer and he insisted that he pay for them all. In between lulls in the game we chatted about each other’s lives. I didn’t really have too much to say especially after the mushrooms kicked in.
Beckett told me that his brother was a big time land developer and he owned the Mango Walk Villas near Paradise Pen. His brother was going to be partners with Jimmy Buffet when he opened up another chain of Margaritaville bars up the road from The Pelican.
“I know this guy who can sell me a farm for really cheap. It’s a papaya farm in Trelawny near the Martha Brae river. We should go out there tomorrow and take a look. The place is majestic. A place where you can see the mist hovering around you in the mornings. The mountains are all around and the land is fertile. All the fields are drip irrigated with adequate water from the river. All that is free too. The river runs through the largest part of the farm. There are diesel pumps and large storage tanks strategically placed throughout the property to ensure efficient irrigation at all times. The fields are planted in a staggered cycle to reach maturity and the reaping cycle in stages ensuring that production is consistently at 75% of capacity year round.”
“That sounded like a rehearsed sales pitch. How many other folks have you been trying to get to buy this place?”
“Just came into light in the last few days. I asked my brother but he’s all tied up with other investments. Besides he only likes to purchase waterfront properties. His company is buying up everything on the north coast.”
“I guess I can go check it out. But I’m not a farmer.”
“Neither am I. I really don’t enjoy papayas. But think about all the weed we could grow on the rest of the farm!”
He yelled at the screen after Michael Jordan missed a short jumper. The Bulls lost the game by six and I won $50. Beckett paid me off in Jamaican dollars and I was sure I got a less than fair exchange rate. I didn’t care too much since he had been buying me beers the entire game. I offered him some of the mushrooms. He popped two, chased them with his beer, and pounded his chest. I ate the rest and toasted to the Queen.
A couple of well dressed local women walked over to Beckett when the game ended. He took them to a table in the corner and we sat down for dinner. I figured out right away that those girls were underage hookers. They kept enticing me to spend a night with them. I decided to pass on the opportunity of contracting various mutations of syphilis.
"Once you have a Jamaican woman, you'll never dip your dick into an American girl ever again. Me? I've sworn off British women for life!" as he planted a big kiss on the lips of one of his companions.
“I’d like to. But I kinda have that girlfriend.” It was a great excuse and I avoided the disease infested prostitutes.
It was dark when we finally left The Pelican. Beckett drove me to my resort with the two hookers in the back of his jeep. I sat in the front seat while the mushrooms hit their peak. I was tripping hard and overwhelmed with one of those existentialist moments like, "How the fuck did I get here?"
He sped through more tourist traffic on Gloucester Avenue with a Pink Floyd tape blasting on his stereo and courageously avoided two accidents. In my gut I conceded that I might possibly die. But if I was going to meet my end, I'd rather die by the poor driving skills of a crazy drunk Limey with two teenaged hookers in the back seat than die a morbid prolonged death induced by nut cancer and lying in a sterilized hospital room with tubes and machines keeping me alive long enough to milk my insurance plans.
"Meet me at Royal Stocks tomorrow at noon and we’ll drive over to the farm."
"Oh and McGrupp. You got lucky today. God won't lose next time."
Beckett flipped me the middle finger and sped off with the hookers while I sang, "All in all, it's another brick in the wall."
Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City. Gumbo is his fifth novel.