That morning, third day in, his coterie toured a chassis assembly line for a hands-on session. At the factory, they were on to Cubby immediately; it was impossible to disguise forty hours worth of marathon imbibing; Cubby's exhalations alone could have powered the generator. But, all the contacts were solicitous to him, overbearing and ingratiating.. "...we happreciate jore help, Mr. Deeler, we hope chu like Mexico..." as he stumbled grandly over pallets, dropped handfuls of thrust bearings, gibbered Taco Bell Spanish, took occasional sips from the tequila fifth stashed inside his sports coat. At the midday break, they converged upon a famous beef restaurant in Cuatitlan, where Cubby tried to play host. The group allowed him and his gregarious stupor all the space he wanted, especially the Orientals in their fierce blue suits, who couldn't drink their way into anything resembling self-confidence or find much on the menu that didn't intimidate them. They all drank beer, wine, scotch, but Cubby was miles ahead, thirty feet over them. When lunch ended, one of the entourage, a Harvard-educated Mexican named Hervin Araiza, suggested that Cubby and he repair to the cantina to let the Japanese jitterbugs carry on at the plant. Araiza was a slender, boyish-looking man in his mid-thirties, an expert on tulip plunging joints, and Cubby joined him gladly, flattered, assuming that Araiza was impressed with him. In fact, Cubby Diller was the cut of American that Araiza most despised; despised with the sort of serene totality reserved for old-school Latinos and the mentally ill. Together, they fired up Cuban Cohibas and drank and drank and drank, neat shots of some oily, sweet liqueur made from mandarin oranges.

Araiza spoke in measured tones, and nothing he said made the slightest reference to driveshafts. It turned out that he was obsessed with politics, politics being the easiest and most profitable job in Mexico, and though he was ideologically vague, spouting the party-line of a leftist intellectual while dressing in the imported loafers and slick technofabrics of the Mexican bourgeois, his true agenda cropped between the second and third Mandarin; "Mexico's a myth; you've heard that said? But, it's a cohesive myth. That, combined with a crude sort of realism makes up the legendary dichotomy of the people. Determination and patience, those are our two greatest virtues; and you see, they are not necessarily contradictions..."

He sat facing Cubby, who had no idea what he was talking about. Araiza removed several five-by-seven photographs from his briefcase and laid them on the bar in a careful line, facedown, with only the Kodak logo showing. "How strong's your stomach, Mr. Diller?"

Araiza's sinister tone was lost on the goofy, shit-faced American, who grinned, as though his companion was performing a card trick. Araiza continued, calmly: "There's six gentlemen pictured here and one lady. Can you pick her out, without looking?"

Diller screwed up his face and pointed to the last shot. "Not bad," said Araiza, flipping over the photograph. "Most people would have pointed to the middle one."

The girl in the photo was about fifteen, wearing an expensive party dress. She'd been dead for at least six months; there was a bloodless bullet hole in her forehead, and her face was completely mummified, striated and black; her mouth was gaping open. Cubby stared down her surrealistic maw and counted her teeth. Araiza said, "They find these kinds of girls in the desert all the time; they're party dolls from the traficantes, they're used up and quickly discarded; we came upon this one when we were searching for a manufacturer's rep from a sintered metallics company out of New York. The rep was kidnapped on a business trip to Mexico. His name was Manfred Muller, he was from Syracuse. Here he is, number six..."

Cubby took the snapshot obediently, shocked into mechanics by the mummy girl and her beautiful white teeth. The second picture showed a hooded man holding a mini-Uzi equipped with a silencer; he was standing over the body of a fat, dead executive-type who was still wearing his peculiar blindfold, Rayban sunglasses painted with nail polish. Here, there was plenty of blood, and some plump blue sausages that were probably intestines. Araiza flipped the other photos one by one. Each showed a corpse, all well-dressed, some hog-tied, some dismembered. One hung from the window of a blue Mercedes 190 with a bullet-riddled face. "Rental car; 9 mm. damage is not something normally covered by Avis."

Cubby blinked rapidly. His head was spinning: despite the gory pictures, Araiza appeared to be making jokes. He gulped at his drink. Incongruously, Jethro Tull came up on the sound system, punctuating the tearful boleros. Araiza's voice remained steady, unruffled. He went on: "This is the handiwork work of the Union Patri—tico; a Tzeltale Indian group intending to be the first post-Communist ethic uprising of the twenty-first century. They're headquartered in Chiapas, but operate mostly here the D.F., where the hunting's better. You see, they abduct and execute foreign businessmen; Americans mainly, that's their 'thing', their 'statement'. These assassinations are not viewed as a long-term political strategy, but rather, redress for five hundred years of exploitation. Already this year? Sixteen. Six of the bodies were found by local army units. The rest are still out there somewhere, turning to leather in the desert. Being from Chiapas, originally, I am obviously in a position at least to know what's going on, though the guerillas tend to distrust anything having to do with civil society. Not that one can't understand their viewpoint, as I say; the President's credibility is not very high... most recently, in an attempt to pacify the rebels, the federals spent almost sixty million pesos building them basketball courts." Araiza shook his head, bemused. "Thousands of concrete basketball courts, all across the country, each with a ten- foot, regulation hoop. Only thing, Mexico's Indian population averages five-foot-three. They work fourteen hours a day, on hardly any food. And if that's not sadistic enough, the only sport the Indians understand is soccer! That's the only sport they want to play! They don't even know the rules of basketball; you should watch them try to play it sometimes! On their new, regulation-sized concrete courts! They all throw underhanded, like grandmothers!"

Now, clearly, slender Ariaza was trying to lighten things up. He mugged and demonstrated the peasants' grandmotherly free-throw, over and over again, until Cubby was poleaxed into the new mood and began to chortle, mimicking Araiza's motion, tossing an imaginary ball, upsetting the drinks and scattering the corpse photographs onto the cool Saltillo tiles. Araiza gathered them up quickly, patted them dry, and slipped them inside a soot-colored envelope. He passed the envelope to Cubby, murmuring gently, "I would like you to take these images back to your directives, please, Mr. Diller. They must understand that a world exists down here beside cheap labor and talking Chihuahuas."

Araiza promptly paid the check, and at the door, smiling, turned to Cubby and said, "You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking I should make a business, negotiating with these terrorists, these U.P. What's your opinion? Being from Chiapas, I grew up with some of them. I'm Harvard educated, and they respect that. They won't listen to reason, but like all men, they'll listen to money. Me, I'm a free-market crusader. Mexicans have a saying, Kindness is free, but it's not cheap. If companies will continue to send top executives to Mexico, they might someday need a mediator to save their lives. God forbid, VelCor might wind up as my first client! Here, I will give you a card to include with those terrible photographs, in case it should ever become necessary. Who knows?"

Araiza handed Cubby his plunging joints business card, but on the back, he had written a private number with the words: "100 k, US, per negotiation."