For All Nails #104A: Martha Stewart Living

By Johnny Pez

Ciudad Camacho, Kingdom of New Granada
12 July 1974

There was a bar in Ciudad Camacho that used to be called El Presidente, back when Ciudad Camacho itself was called Ciudad Hermión. Local legend had it that the owner, Eugene Tiberi, had changed the bar's name to El Coronel before the gunfire had died down in the governor's palace on El Día de la Patría. The day of the coronation had dawned with the signboard above the door magically changed again to read El Rey Fernando.

Tiberi had done well by the change in administration, though. The sudden influx of workers and soldiers to the newly expanded FANG base meant more business for all the local entertainment establishments, and especially Tiberi's place, which had always been popular with the troops. Lately the soldiers had been accompanied by newly-arrived engineers and technicians who always had plenty of money and whose Spanish had an unmistakable Mexican flavor.

Joan Kahn found El Rey Fernando to be typical of the breed -- dimly lit, noisy and smoky. The local band was playing Mexican diablo music (because some things transcend politics) with the sound, as the popular saying had it, turned up to 13. The music drowned out the sound from the vita above the bar, which, appropriately enough, was showing King Fernando being interviewed by Walt MacAnuff, with Spanish subtitles running along the bottom of the screen.

Kahn herself was dressed as a Mexican tourist, with her blonde hair dyed black and her spectacles replaced by blue-tinted contact lenses. She wore a colorful spaghetti-strap sundress that failed by several inches to reach her knees, along with a pair of equally colorful shoes with four-inch soles. She had spent enough time in Mexico that she didn't feel particularly self-conscious baring so much skin, though she knew most North American women would have been trying to use their handbags to discreetly cover certain vital areas.

The crowd was a mix of local residents, bar girls, and men from the base, with some scattered transients thrown in: tourists like her, and a few less-identifiable sorts. Kahn caught sight of one of the latter, a sort-of-Mexican arms dealer named Larry Gordon that she'd run into the night before. Although he was almost aggressively nondescript, he had stuck in her memory. There was something not quite right about him.

She found herself staring at Larry, trying to figure out what bothered her about him, when he turned around and caught her watching. Smiling, he left his place at the bar and threaded his way through the crowd to her table.

"Martha!" he called to her over the throbbing music. Martha Stewart was the name she was going under -- a nicely inconspicuous Jeffersonian name, you could find at least a dozen in the Henrytown telephone directory.

"Can't get enough of the place, eh?" Larry continued jovially. "Wicked pisser band, eh?"

Kahn was of two minds about Larry, literally. She herself was faintly repelled by his shady stories of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Martha, on the other hand, was shallow and spoiled enough to find him intriguing. Kahn didn't like sharing her mind with Martha, but if she wanted to avoid being recognized as herself, she had to let Martha do the talking for her.

"Muy caliente," Kahn -- or rather, Martha -- answered, with the distinctive Jeffersonian drawl that turned the phrase into "moo-ee cally-entee".

"What are you drinking?" Larry asked.

"A Blue Turtle."

Corralling a waitress, Larry ordered another Blue Turtle for her and an Old Nevada beer FN1 for himself, then joined her at the table.

"Been down from El Norte long?" he inquired.

"About a week," Martha admitted. "I did two days in Bogotá y another two in Carácas before I came here." Actually, Kahn had spent the last two months moving back and forth between Mexico del Norte and Ciudad Camacho, collecting various documents and mailing them back to her publisher in New York. "So what are you doing in Ciudad Camacho?" Martha asked (with a prod from Kahn). "Doesn't everyone here already have a gun?"

Larry winked at her. "Supply y demand, mi bonita. 'Macho is for supply, not demand."

Martha was fascinated, and even Kahn was interested. "You're not getting weapons from the base, are you?"

Larry tapped his nose in the universal "nuff said" gesture. "Not the sort of thing you want to talk about in a room full of soldiers."

If Larry Gordon had access to the top-secret if-I-told-you-I'd-have-to-kill-you FANG base, then Kahn wanted him more than Martha did. "I know a nice quiet spot by the river," she suggested.

"Super," Larry said with a grin. Finishing his beer, he stood and offered her his arm.

Most likely, Kahn told herself, he was just feeding her a line of rubbish in hopes of getting into her panties. On the other hand, Larry Gordon wasn't just your typical norteño naco. She didn't know what it was, but there was something about him . . .

Forward to FAN #104B (12 July 1974): There's Something About Larry.

Return to For All Nails.