Or how Mia met The One in Mexico
Set in Tulum, Mexico – shadowy domain of the Tuluminati –this is the second part of the serialised story ‘Night Creatures’ by TV writer Matt Graham
The way she told me, Mia’s sitting in traffic in LA when she gets a text. She looks down at her phone: it’s from this guy she’s dating, Max, asking if she wants to get a drink that evening.
More Friction Fiction
Tuluminati is the second part of a serialised story by British TV writer Matt Graham. Read Part One: Night Creatures.
Max is a writer, has written for a couple shows, is pretty handsome; they have fun together, and in fact, Mia’s feeling like she Likes him – I mean, really Likes Him. So far so good, right?
They’ve had three intense weeks together already. They’ve got a connection. The light’s red up ahead at Santa Monica and La Brea, right where Donut Time used to be, now it’s Trejos, and she’s sitting there, the sky getting that Southern California deep crimson sunset red, smiling, thinking, with that warm feeling that comes over you when you know you’re getting real feelings for someone, know you’re losing control.
She looks down at the text and is about to respond – when she thinks about how much it’s going to hurt when this guy leaves her.
Because guys like Max, they’re a type: they make you fall in love with them, and then they break your heart and leave you when you’re most vulnerable. He’s going to break up with her eventually – guys like that, you just know there’s something inside them. How much extra pain it’s going to entail getting rejected by him when you knew it was coming and you didn’t get out of the way, how you just know a guy like that is always going to leave you in the end for someone else more exciting.
It’s just how guys like Max are, chasing adventure, chasing life, the same reasons you were attracted to them in the first place. Even though she’s happy at that moment, and she’s excited to see him again, all of that goes out the window in that moment, looking at the intersection over the top of the wheel, something profound kicking in deep down, some kind of dinosaur DNA defence mechanism.
She grabs the phone and hits BLOCK.
Like that – so fast and so easy, the way Mia’s thinking, save her the trouble of getting dumped by him and nine months of heartache and therapy in the future. Long term disaster planning. The light goes Green and she hits the gas, moving forward.
I don’t know about this Max guy, but I do know Mia, and there’s another way of looking at this whole thing: she’s a specialist in self sabotage.
After blocking Max, Mia left California and went Back East – and that’s where Andrew entered the picture; wealthy, white, Harvard Business School, family used to be slave traders probably back in The Day – all that stuff. The kind of guy the Mia I knew from San Francisco would never, ever touch. And about as different to Max as you can imagine. And as time went by, it got easier for Mia to forget about Max.
The way it happened, she’s at The Quiet Place out in New Hampshire and this guy asks for her a pencil or something; the next thing you know, they’re going for walks in the gardens, fall colours all around, golden and red leaves. They’ve having these long conversations and Mia’s enjoying his company, talking about life and existence and all of that stuff. His name’s Andrew. And then he’s out and she’s alone, but getting out in a few weeks herself.
Then they’re at one of the bars on Tompkins a few days later, near her place, telling her he can’t remember the last time he came across the water to Brooklyn. Andrew’s telling her: he’s some kind of investments guy in Manhattan; he had to go inside after a little breakdown – something about disappointing his big Wasp family, a three night binge, fleeing to a motel in New Jersey with a gun. They’re joking about both having breakdowns, what they both have in common.
He gets them too just like she does, he’s easy to talk to, sweet and down to Earth, not like most Wall Street guys, open about his vulnerabilities where Mia’s guarded, sitting up there at the bar, their reflections in the mirror behind the bottles. It’s winter outside, bright sun but freezing cold, and they’re laughing at the bar together mid=afternoon, telling jokes, the guy telling her a few days later in a phone message that he’s never connected with anyone like her.
“You get that a lot, I bet,” he says to her a few days later. He’s smiling when he says it: “I feel like I’m going to get my heart broken being with a girl like you.”
All she can think of is Max at the back of her mind when he says that, and she pushes it down deep, because it’s protecting herself from his memory that’s the reason she’s doing this.
She pretends to find his jokes funny, laughs and thinks of Max again, trying to forget he’s the reason behind all of this. He’s not a bad guy, either. In fact, he’s rich, handsome and smart, and has access to a Gulfstream which doesn’t hurt. And his place overlooks The Park. Well, almost.
Mia’s telling me all of this on the phone: she uses the phrase “The One” twice in a minute. I joke and call him “Mr Perfect” and it kind of sticks, even though I know Mia hates it. I ask Mia about Max, the guy she was dating back in LA and she just changes the subject right back to Mr Perfect, so I know there’s something about it that isn’t right. I mean, Mia’s evasive at the best of times anyway so it’s kind of what I expect, going back all the way to our days in SF together. We’re talking on the phone, like it’s San Francisco all over again, and for a moment she’s the same Mia I remembered, lighting cigarettes in The Mission at midnight, laughing under Doc’s Clock at 3am.
Pretty soon after that she’s seeing the guy though nearly every night, moving into his place in Manhattan, going to work functions, Mia the SF dive-bar startup girl now mingling with the High Finance 1%. And then three months later, he’s having dinner with her and he pops the question.
She sees the ring come out over the table, and the whole time she’s watching it, not hearing his words, but just thinking: I knew Max would’ve hurt me, and I don’t want to get hurt again, I don’t want to get hurt again, I don’t want to get hurt again.
“What are you going to do?” I ask her on the phone, to the tune of: “You going to marry Mr Perfect just to avoid taking the risk with Max and getting hurt? And by the way, there’s no judgement because I understand exactly why you’d do that. I don’t get attached to guys, you’re the one that does. I’d marry Mr Perfect in a second, get access to that Private Jet, take off and leave this world of pain behind…”
None of this would make any kind of sense of course, if she didn’t still feel something for Max.
She’s thinking about it over the line and all I can hear is pounding reggaeton from the bar a few feet away from me, degrees: 40 and climbing where I’m speaking from in the mid-afternoon…
I’ll tell you about what happened next with her and Max, but first, you need to know about me, because my 24-hour attempt to council her on her love life took place on… kind of a stressful day.
The day Mia called me was one of the most difficult in a while. That was the thing about Mia, while I love the girl, she never really understood anything was going on with anyone else.
I was hiding out in Tulum, Mexico, running a healing business that was really a money laundering front like everything else down there.
The day Mia chose to call me, I had to get twenty thousand dollars together in order to pay a bunch of scary people. Everyone, meaning all the wealthy white people who come to Tulum, talk about the “energy” they can feel here in our little jungle paradise, hanging out at Holistika, talking about doing Ayahuasca. But the “energy” they say they can feel is actually pure unvarnished capitalism, and they’re too busy being distracted by their own White People Problems to notice the condo towers going up on all sides, the sounds of construction continuing day and night. If anywhere is the Wild West – it’s Tulum.
I knew enough about crypto to dabble in it, but I was running a healing business; in reality I was laundering money for Los Pelones – the bald ones – the drug cartel in the jungle outside town. And I was trying my hand at Real Estate, so you might say I was involved in all three. I’m an Entrepreneur.
I had relinquished control of my bank account, had a guy redesign my business website so it could look to the tax man like Euro millionaires came to see me on their G5s; for this I took a bi-monthly payment of ten grand – and due to my lifestyle, which involved a lot of drugs and clothes and miscellaneous spending, I always needed it sooner than it actually came.
That day, I got a call saying that the money was waiting for me at one of the new hotels they built on the beach in the Zona Hotelera; the hotels where it can be a thousand a night, all drug money behind them. Most of Tulum is that way actually, the drug business is the blood pumping through its black heart. Capitalism, like I said, supply and demand. And the people I owed weren’t going to wait much longer.
At the time I was in one of the bars on 7th in La Velleta, Calle Siete, the neighbourhood of bars and boutiques all run by Argentines, burned out of the jungle in the last few years. I was technically going out with Mario, an Argentine beach club owner, but some Dutch guy who said he ran a hedge fun back in Rotterdam was buying me drinks and trying to fuck me. I was high on coke, drunk on Mezcal and I’d smoked a bunch of weed, so I hit the bathrooms to slam some Adderall so I could focus on getting the cash. I took my scooter and got out of there, riding down Kukulkan through the jungle toward the Zona. Kukulkan is like a country road, jungle on both sides, isolated, and you have to focus when you drive it. This was difficult because I’d also had three beers, two cocktails, some coke, and a lungful of what I think was actually Crystal Meth, as well as about ten cigarettes and a joint. And the Adderall I mentioned. But that was supposed to help.
At some point, I got the sensation of movement behind me, then there was a bag over my head, someone dragging me off my scooter, and I remember nothing else.
Mia and I knew each other from back in The World: San Francisco. The Bay Area, home of all the crypto psychos and start up zombies, most of whom seemed to have now relocated to Tulum – or LA if they were more successful or had more parental money to fall back on. We didn’t know each other well, or for very long, we briefly worked together at one of those doomed startups, and we were both from different backgrounds – she was from old money (but she never talked about where exactly), me from Minsk, but we connected, you might say, because we both were a little on the wild side. And in San Francisco, that’s saying a lot. Crazy nights in The Mission were our thing, and back when The Mission was cool, just before San Francisco bottomed out with Google and Facebook and all the others, turning it into a Disneyfied techno tomb where you could bring a Louis bag to Dolores Park, where you need a million dollar downpayment on a studio in Daly City and you have to fight off the homeless hordes with pepper spray – kind of like The Walking Dead. Where you have to be careful driving down Market Street in your new Beamer in case you hit one and he puts a dent in your ride.
Minsk? Yeah. I came to the US after a J1 visa scam that went wrong – I was human trafficked; specifically twenty guys in Cincinasty bringing in girls from Minsk and Kiev every year to work as sex slaves – well I was one of them. I had to escape from a house in Colombus, Ohio in the middle of the night by climbing through the bathroom window and running to the interstate in ten below. Luckily someone picked me up. Sometimes late at night, I think about the other girls I left behind at that house.
There are Eastern Europeans out here in Mexico too, all on the make; Russian oligarchs fleeing Europe, buying up the big million dollar villas outside the city, a gang of Romanians working the ATM machines to rob the tourists, feeding from the big money investment that floods the Mayan Riviera every year with no sign of stopping.
Mia had started calling me every now and then down here in Tulum, where I came after a rather unfortunate sequence of events that happened nine months ago up in the States – what I call The Situation. Mia went to LA after she left The Bay Area, and a few months ago, she started talking to me about this guy she’d started dating, Max, some screenwriter. Honestly, if the crypto zombies went for Tulum, the writer zombies went for LA.
So all this stuff was going on, while she was telling me about Max. And Mia’s a trip; I mean, I would have freaked out going out with her. And I almost practically did, kind of. Go out with her, I mean. Outside the Uptown Bar in The Mission she tried to kiss me once. But it was late and we were both on coke, and it was raining.
The way I see it, if there’s anything guaranteed to unwind your fragile sanity, it’s probably writing. Money laundering’s way less stressful, take it from me and you have to work with fewer assholes besides.
What happened to Mia in LA kind of proves that. What I heard, Mia became a FOX fellowship writer, whatever that is, started putting down some real roots. I thought she might even stick. I mean the one thing about Mia; the girl’s smart. She’s intelligent. Got an Agent, got mentioned in Deadline, like getting mentioned in Dispatches if you’re in the Army, did all of those things. Living the late twenties dream of having enough money for coke, clothes and a sweet crash pad in Los Feliz, writing, going up for shows, everyone telling her things were working out which probably went to her head. She’d always talked about writing as what she wanted to do, anyhow, even back in SF. She wrote a TV pilot called NIGHT CREATURES that she sold to Hulu. I read an early draft. It was pretty good I think, I don’t know how to judge these things, but it was cool. I know she spent most of the money on restaurants, alcohol, boots, hats and drugs.
I think the whole TV Writer of It All stuff was actually what started to unwind her in the first place. There’s something about writing that encourages even the most normal person to start to lose it, so if you have an underlying madness, it’s hardly surprising that you might lose your grip. She got close to being on a show, didn’t make it at the last minute, and that disappointment that you learn to live with, well it had an effect on her.
I was talking to her about her crisis earlier in the day, standing outside the bar on the sidewalk and smoking a cigarette. Cars going by, people shouting, yelling, people go crazy down here. One of the four police forces you see on the streets of Tulum passing by in a pickup, dressed in black, looking like they drove in from the set of Sicario, their cuernos on display to scare the tourists.
I woke up in the back of a car somewhere out in the jungle. It was night. There were two guys standing beside the car. I couldn’t see much about them, except that they both had shaven heads, marking them as probable lower echelon Pelones, but they were laughing and talking. I couldn’t see anything about them. I also couldn’t move. There was cord tied around my arms and legs. I still had my shoes on, which I was glad about – they were Louboutins. You always get worried about losing a shoe – at least I do.
One of the men came back to the car and I tried to pretend I was still out. He opened the back door and pulled me outside onto the ground. There was a fire somewhere nearby too, I smelt it. It was going to be difficult to remain convincing that I was still out cold.
All I could think of was: you’re from the school of Human Trafficking, this is nothing you can’t handle. But what I was also thinking, was that there were bodies found in the forest out here all the time. They just never made the papers.
Then there was the sound of an engine through the trees. The lights of a car were approaching.
For a long time, I’d heard no news from Mia. She was off doing this and that, I had my own problems after all, like with the Pelones, so I didn’t really think about it. I’m trying to run a business here, after all.
Then I get this tale out of nowhere about Max and Mr Perfect and Mr Perfect proposing to her. Mia’s telling me, she doesn’t know what to about it, I’m telling her, “didn’t you call him Mr Perfect for a reason?” “No, you called him Mr Perfect, Dasha,” she’s telling me. “He’s the ticket we’re all looking for right, Mr Gulfstream, but you don’t seem that excited about it. I mean you’ll never need to date guys like Max again, isn’t that enough of an incentive for you? What are you going to tell him?”
There were three of them, all standing and talking to me in the lights of a Ram. My unconscious act had been busted and I was wide awake, squinting in the headlights.
“This is because I’m with Mario? You guys have a beef with him – he hasn’t made his payments, and you’re fucking with me to scare him. Did I get this right?”
“Mario’s a puto and we’ll deal with him later. No. This isn’t about him.”
I couldn’t see the guy’s face because of the glare. But he lit up a cigarette, and I got a glimpse of it for a second. His head wasn’t shaved, but the top guys, they don’t have to follow the rules. He had an American accent – he’d probably been educated there.
“What do you know about Crypto, chica?”
“Enough to know I don’t want to be involved with it.”
“There was a big crypto guy came into town last month. Had a conference. Made a speech about how Crypto was the future, all of that stuff.”
“I didn’t go.”
“That’s ok. But you know about him.”
“You know he left town having cleaned everybody out?”
“Everyone who invested with him – they lost everything. He took it all. He didn’t know about the future, he was just a conman, a Chanta as the Argentines say, pure and simple. He left town. With a lot of money. You know anything about any of this?”
“I heard about it. People got wiped out.”
I knew about it all right. This crypto guy had robbed everybody. Don’t ask me how he did it, but he cleaned everyone out, all of the Tuluminati. All of these guys I knew had been swanning around the 1k a night hotels like they owned the place, now they were all now destitute, begging money for airfares home. Trouble was, while the Crypto Zombies don’t count, one of the people got robbed was a Somebody.
“My nephew. Everyone copies the gringos to get rich – except when he did it, he ended up losing everything. Now he’s complaining the guy took his money, won’t shut up about it. I need to get his money back.”
“You need everyone’s money back or just your nephew’s?”
“My nephew’s. When we find the puto, we’ll take the rest for the Pelones.”
“He’s probably out of the country by now.”
“Well we have means. You know the jueros in this place. You’re juera. We want you to find him for us.”
“There’s a difference to me, chica? To me you’re a juera. If you find him for us, or tell us where he went so we can find him, we’ll double the monthly stipend to 20K.”
He swatted at a mosquito.
“My scooter’s back at the hotel. Someone will have stolen it by now.”
“Buy another one. What do you say to the proposition?”
“Make it 30 from now on.”
What was I going to do? Of course I said yes. All the drama had been to scare me of course. They drove me all the way back to town, dropped me out front of my place, like nothing had happened. On the bed, was a bag containing the twenty thou they owed me.
The money was for the deposit on the lot – jungle real estate – I was buying out on the Coba road. I said they were scary people; they were Mayans selling off their own protected reserve land to the highest bidder. They were getting into the real estate game as well. Scary guys, like I said. Rumour had it they’d dismembered a Mexico City realtor who they’d crossed down here. With machetes. When some guys came down to look for him, they dismembered them too, tossed the remains in the jungle out near Cenote Escondido.
I’ve just got back inside my place when I hear my phone ringing, and guess who it is, telling me what went down? I’ve barely got time to light up a cigarette before she starts talking.
I mean I’m telling you all of this to make the point that this was what I had going on while I was trying to counsel Mia on her love life. I love Mia, but she’s a little self-involved, you know?
So the way Mia told me, she stalls Mr Perfect, tells him she needs time. They’re in LA a few weeks later, they pull up at the London Hotel around 3am – and there’s someone waiting out front. She’s looking at him, not able to believe it, Mr Perfect standing behind her.
Mia told me later: “Imagine, I cut him off, blocked him, everything and the guy still turns up; he must really like me, Dasha.”
“Probably as much as you clearly still like him.”
“Men don’t affect you emotionally do they?”
“Not true. I dream about killing President Lukashenko every day. You know what you have to do, Mia. I don’t know why you’re asking me,” I say, flicking cigarette ash into the overflowing Chichen Itza ashtray the previous tenant had left here.
And me? What happened to me? Did I find the crypto conman for the Pelones? This isn’t my story – this is Mia’s. I’ll let someone else take over now, because the part of her story I was involved with is done, and I’m still down here in sweltering Deepest South Mexico. I’ll be ok. I’m a survivor.
I go sit on my balcony, overlooking the pool that no one gets into, smoking a joint by myself as the big tropical sun goes down, still stuck here in Purgatory. My phone starts buzzing inside but I just ignore it.
What’s so good about this?
The role of fiction, since the dawn of history, has always been to help prepare one’s mind for the human experience. It’s been statistically proven that people who read or watch little or no fiction, are less able to cope with the complex emotional situations thrown up by life. Aristotle demonstrated how what he called Catharsis – a projection of one’s imagination with characters and invented dramas – helps one experience a sense of profound inner peace. This is all another way of staying, good stories make the world a better place. A World of Good would be pretty uninteresting without them.
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Meet the writer
Matt Graham is a TV writer, originally from London, now based in Los Angeles. He’s the writer of the hit series Oliver Stone’s: The Untold History of the United States, a great many TV scripts for Hollywood, short fiction and a novel, The Night Driver. He’s the survivor of a plane crash in Panama and a roadside mock execution in Nigeria, and has worked as a crime reporter in South America, as well as a ranch manager in Colorado. He’s lived all over the world, and his great unifying passion in life is the search for the sleaziest bars imaginable. Sometimes he wakes up wondering whether or not it’s all just been a strange dream – the kind that jolts you from REM at 3am and leaves you staring at the ceiling. Follow @muzurphulus.