Balancing on the 17th floor gull-shit-speckled ledge of the exclusive Kingfish Hotel and Condominiums, Sam Bennett perched precariously as he rose slowly to full height, breathing as deeply as he could until he steadied his wobbly legs. Raising his arms from his sides, past bony narrow sloped shoulders and above his head, he lowered them at the same steady pace, fluttering up and down in a smooth motion that fanned a lazy rhythm.
Flapping Sam Bennett finally stood unflappable on the ledge high above the beach, knowing one misstep would send him crashing to the ground and kill him – unless, of course, he lifted off and flew into the setting sun.
An orange and pink glow slipped into the horizon, another lovely touch to end the day. People stood on balconies holding full wine and champagne glasses to toast happiness and prosperity, gifting themselves with the hopeful promise of tomorrow and another glorious day in paradise.
“Put your hands where we can see them,” said the SWAT team member using the bullhorn.
Ex-cop Marty Durkin looked at the officer like the police sergeant had watched too many law and order dramas on TV. Ruby, the server from RayRay’s Elbow Room, pulled up on her bicycle.
“I saw Sam on the TV news,” she said.
RayRay arrived within seconds.
“Jesus,” RayRay said.
“We know him, officer,” Kim said to the sergeant.
A captain pushed forward.
“Can you get him down?”
Wearing an N95 mask made it impossible for Ruby to put on her magic smile. So she let her emerald green eyes display her aura and the quiet tranquility she possessed.
“I can try,” she said.
Stepping off the vintage Western Flyer American bike and putting down the kickstand, Ruby stepped to the center of the sidewalk. Kicking off her lime green flip flops she extended her bronzed arms palms up, felt the power of strong earth through her toes, closed her eyes and took in the cool air, feeling centered the way her Mexican mother taught her when she was young.
Bewitching tattoos in shimmering shades of crimson, purple, green and blue covered both of Ruby’s light brown arms from shoulder to wrist. Soft cuts into Ruby’s skin left an inky tale of indelible art that drew from her Aztec past and the cosmic eternal life promised by ancient Sinaloan and Michoacán sages who shaped Anáhuac, the “land surrounded by water” as well as the universe in the native Mayan language Nahuatl.
A grim black and purple image of a crowned and hooded Santa Muerte, Our Lady of the Holy Death, ran from the top of Ruby’s left shoulder to her elbow. Skeletal mystery glared from the unholy savior’s empty eye sockets. A gaping mouth exposed corn-kernel-sized teeth. On Ruby’s right arm a swirling collage of spellbinding figures glowed, sparkling in sweat and the golden sunset light – lustrous blue stars, a red rose with rich, thick petals and tiny birds flying over a sandy graveyard covered in crosses dripping blood red tears.
Conjuring the magnificent energy of peace, Ruby extended juju juice skyward, directing waves of ataraxia drifting toward Sam’s core. Only Santa Muerte, the unholy embodiment of death linked to healing and protection could bolster Sam in his mission. Unlike urban heroin and cocaine dealers, vicious gangbangers, sexist rappers, cold-blooded cholo gunmen and other vampiric adherents, Ruby called on her ancestral ghostly goddess for strength, perseverance and courage.
Ruby’s mother once told her, “When the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe needs help she prays to Santa Muerte.”
Reborn with fresh stability in his legs, Sam stood erect, looking down as overweight and lazy spectators filled the street and the beach below, hooting and laughing at the human spectacle that added an extra measure of entertainment to their gluttonous vacations.
Only Ruby heard the whispered order.
“Jump,” said Kim under her breath.
A flock of excited gulls circled Sam’s head.
“Jump,” Kim said again.
Although shocked by Kim’s crazy statement, Ruby acted like she heard nothing.
Aware of Santa Muerte’s presence, Ruby besought her to help.
In return Ruby offered only love. Nobody promised love to Santa Muerte. The greedy begged for luxury pickup trucks, flashy diamond jewelry, yachts, estates by the sea, gross carnality and sweet revenge on bosses, spouses and politicians. Societal swines demanded executions, destruction, more money and more power. Ruby proffered love.
Santa Muerte responded in kind. The only time she snatched away the good life and sumptuous bounty she provided occurred when a disciple reneged on a solemn promise required in exchange for Santa Muerte’s blessing. If you vowed to give up eating cow tongue, you better never again eat cow tongue. If you swore off alcohol, you better never taste another Pacífico beer.
Default on your vow and lose everything, maybe even your life.
Ruby stood fast for love.
In turn, Santa Muerte reserved sanctuary in her bleeding yet stone heart for this young witch who could work miracles the world so desperately needed. Together Ruby and Santa Muerte would enter into a pact, growing more powerful than ever in their mission to save humanity from itself.
Just don’t get in their way.
Sam needed that asylum – not an asylum but an oasis from which to nurture his own love of Mother Nature, Santa Muerte’s godmother and pure friend of the earth. Sam needed a soulful retreat.
“Please, Santa Muerte, provide shelter for Sam Bennett,” Ruby said.
Standing hidden in the shadows of a queen palm tree, Ruby saw la Madrina flick a red serpent’s tongue from her mouth that twisted into a bony smile. A garland of phlox violet and teal orchids sat on her skull atop her lanky skeleton hidden from view by a deep purple hood sightseers might mistake for a poolside robe purchased in a boutique shop.
Kim spoke again.
“Jump,” she said, this time with an Irish accent.
Ruby knew Santa Muerte saw and heard Kim. Ignoring her to deal with later, Santa Muerte now faced Ruby and listened as the young devotee recited words of safeguard her mother taught her when she was an inquisitive and gifted child.
“Dear Death of my heart, don’t forsake Sam from your protection. Oh Most Holy Death, I invoke you so through your image you may free Sam from all danger and from curses so through this sacred plea you may purify his body from all disgrace and malediction and that in turn love and abundance may come. So be it.”
Ruby watched Santa Muerte nod.
So be it.
As adroit as a limber teenager, Sam stepped off the ledge, adjusted his gull mask and faced the police who gathered behind him and now pulled him by the arms, cuffing him roughly behind his back. Dozens of onlookers cheered and mocked Sam as burly tactical armed law enforcement officers, better equipped for a terrorist attack than a fantasy flyer, walked him through the crowd and pushed him into the back seat of a squad car.
Released on nominal bail to good citizen RayRay’s custody, Sam thanked his friend and made a heartfelt promise.
“One day, RayRay,” Sam said. “I will fly.”
When they got back to the Elbow Room RayRay went behind the bar and started mixing a pitcher of margaritas. Looking at Sam he sighed and asked the bar’s now notorious enigma the question that never needed to be asked.
“You want a martini, buddy?”
“Always,” Sam said.
“On the house.” RayRay said. “But only if you tell me why.”
“Why I stood on the ledge or why one day I will fly?”
“For practice,” Sam said. “And to be free.”