(Extract from the unpublished novel, JUNGLE AND PYRAMIDS)

Chapter Twenty Two and Last
The Money Wire

Possessing the secret to happiness and enjoying a personal knowledge of God, however, didn't put a nickel into Tim's pocket. He was broke. His hair was too long. His beard was too red. His jeans were ripped and faded. He carried around a backpack. He had no visa. And he smelled bad. All this was no way to be in Guatemala, especially in an election year. Tim was dimly aware that to a Central American security goon, he was a big red waving flag. Tim was a walking violation of human rights waiting to happen.

Like a cat burglar in paradise, he managed to stay in Tikal for an entire week. He met groups of mycologists, botanists, zoologists, bird-watchers, archaeologists and tourists, each of which regarded Tikal as a personal mecca, but for a different reason. While a group of mycologists scurried around looking down on the ground and exclaiming excitedly, a group of bird-watchers scurried around looking up at the sky and exclaiming excitedly. Mere fractions of Tikal were spectacular enough for these specialists.

As a generalist adventurer, Tim tried to appreciate the site in its totality. He saw cotingas, toucans, macaws, oropendolas, pygmy owls, hummingbirds and hawks. He saw Virginia deer, wild turkeys, cutamundi, spider monkeys, squirrels and wild pigs. He studied stelae, hieroglyphics, temples, chaac mols, pyramids and inscriptions. Tim did Tikal . . .

Later that night, Tim tried to consider how he would return to the United States. He lay in his hammock and studied his map, which was worn and split at the creases. Tim stared at the faint dashed lines marked, "Chicle worker paths" that ran north of Tikal up into Mexico. He imagined himself hiking alone on these paths, crossing through the wilderness into Mexico, coming across the first west-east road, and then hitch-hiking to Veracruz and around the Gulf to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. It would be epic.

He also imagined getting murdered by random chicle workers, a hundred miles from anyone who was fussy about the death screams of penniless long-hairs. He also imagined getting lost and falling and breaking his leg and starving to death alone in the wilderness.

It was a tempting prospect, but Tim remembered a promise made long ago to his mother, Marlene. He had to take care of himself. Tim made a mature, prudent judgment: not to hike alone through two hundred miles of wilderness. That left only one alternative. He would have to ask for help . . .

It was almost eleven o'clock before he began his search for the Telephone and Telegraph office. He found it on the outskirts of the small town. It was a small block building with a tall antenna in its weedy backyard. Tim noted with satisfaction that the glazed glass door spelled in gilt letters among its other services, "Giros telegraficos," which meant, "Money wires."

Tim entered and paid a deposit with his emergency fund of his last $20 traveler's check. The receptionist, a petite Guatemalan girl with heavy eyeliner, placed the call for him. He entered soundproof booth number four and picked up the receiver.

"Go ahead sir," the operator said in heavily accented English.

"Hello?"

"Tim," his sister, Linda, said. "Where the hell are you?"

"Get a pencil and paper. I'll tell you."

"Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Do you have a pencil -- "

"Hold on."

Long seconds passed, then his sister's voice returned.

"OK. I've got it. Where are you?"

"I'm in Lago de Flores, in the Department of El Peten, in northern Guatemala."

"Guatemala!"

"Yeah, Linda. Guatemala. The northern part. You got it?"

"How do you spell all that?"

Tim spelled out the place names. Linda read them back to him.

"What are you doing in Guatemala?"

"I went on a trip into the jungle. It was great. But I'm done now."

"When are you coming home?"

"I'm coming back to the States now. I'm not going back to Akron."

"Good. There's no problem, then?"

"Well, there's one little problem. I'm OK, but I don't have any money."

"How much money do you have?"

"I just told you, sis. I don't have any money."

"You're in Guatemala and you don't have any money."

"That's it exactly. You got it."

"How much money do you need?"

"I'll sell you my stereo system, sis. Five hundred bucks. That'll leave some cushion. I'd be back in Texas in a couple of weeks with two, three hundred dollars change."

"Are you sure five hundred dollars is enough?"

"Plenty. It'd be a godsend. Can you send it?"

"Yes, or course. How do I send it?"

"Send it to the Guatemalan National Telephone and Telegraph Company here in Lago de Flores, Peten, Guatemala. It's Tuesday today. If you send it tomorrow, I can probably pick it up Thursday, latest. I'll be on a bus Thursday or Friday."

"OK. I'll go to the bank and the Western Union right away. Are you sure you're OK?"

"Fine, Linda. Healthy as a horse. Been having the time of my life. I've met some great people, some great women."

"Guatemalan girls?"

"No, American. North American, anyway."

"You go to Guatemala to meet American girls? Why didn't you meet them up here?"

"I dunno, Linda, it's like they're in season down here. How's everybody?"

"They're fine. They'll be better once you're back. Listen, Tim, I'm going to send the money. I don't want your stereo. But I'll tell you what I do want."

"What?"

"My brother. Safe and sound, back home in America."

"You got it, sister. Done deal."

"You come home, hear?"

"I will. Thanks a million. I'll pay you back. You can't believe what a relief this is. Thanks a lot. I'll call you again when I get the money. Thanks. Love to Mom and Dad. Bye."

"Bye, Tim. Take care."

"And come home, I know. Bye, Linda."

"Bye, Tim."

The next day, Wednesday . . . he went back to the telephone office. He entered and asked the receptionist if they had received a "giro telegrafico" for him. The receptionist looked up, smiled and said, "No."

That afternoon, Tim ate out of the market. Standing among the vegetable and fruit stalls, he chatted with a couple of young men from London. It turned out that the Londoners were crack Monty Python fans. They also knew the Firesign Theater, the obscure cult American comedy group that produced radio plays and albums. Tim recited Firesign Theater routines with them . . .

The next day, Tim squared his shoulders and went about his important work. He walked to the Telegraph office and asked if they had received a money wire for him. The receptionist looked up, smiled and said, "We don't receive money wires here."

If she had reached inside her desk, produced a fifty-pound carp and slapped Tim aside the head with it, he couldn't have been more surprised.

"What?"

"This is an office for telephone calls and telegraph messages. But we don't send or receive money wires."

"What about that sign on the door that says, "'Money Wires?'"

"We used to send money wires. We don't anymore."

"Why don't you take down the sign then?"

The receptionist shrugged.

"Why . . . why every day this week, I come in here, and ask you if there's a money wire for me, and you say, 'No'?" Why didn't you tell me before?"

"You asked if there was a money wire, and there wasn't, and so I said, 'No.'"

Tim stared incredulously at the receptionist. He began to realize why parts of the Third World would have to study nights to catch up with the Second World. Those were the parts of the Third World least likely to study nights, too.

"OK," he said. "All right. I told my sister to send a money wire here. Where would it go if it didn't come here?"

"Guatemala City," the receptionist said.

"Guatemala City," Tim asked, dismayed. "There's no place closer?"

"No, Guatemala City is where the wires come and go."

"Where in Guatemala City?"

"The national office of the Guatemalan National Telephone and Telegraph Company. Here's the address."

"Thanks."

"For nothing."

Tim bit his tongue. He left the office. His scarred and travel-worn boots shuffled in the dirt. He felt as if the world had conspired against him, although, as he thought about it, he had to admit that his current pathetic predicament had been largely his own idea. Using the rear entrance, he returned to the posada and went up to his room.

After showering, Tim went to the market place. He moved among the stalls. He bought a sack of tomatoes and a ripe avocado. In the corner of the square stood a Guatemalan Army soldier, wearing a camouflage uniform and carrying a M-16 rifle. Tim tried to assume a Zen stillness. Consequently, the soldier eyed him. Tim moved on around the corner, practically bumping into the two young men from London.

"Hey I think we're all bozos on this bus!" the blonde Briton said, quoting from the Firesign Theater's magnum opus, "I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus."

"My mother was a sweet bozoette," Tim quoted, but mechanically.

"Hey, what's the matter, Porgy?" the blonde Briton said, quoting from the Firesign Theater's magnum opus, "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers."

"Listen, Mudhead, I've got problems."

"What? Don't you have the gooks surrounded?"

"Yeah there's gooks on all three sides of us!" the other Briton shouted.

"They've got women and dogs and chickens and everything, man --"

"Listen, El Dorado," the other interrupted. "Let's hear the story from the Porge himself."

"Well, it's like this . . . " Tim began, and then he quickly and quietly related his problems with visas, money and money wires.

The two young Britons seemed genuinely concerned for Tim's situation.

"Hey we're going to Guatemala City tomorrow," the blonde said. "We can pay your way until you can get your money wire."

As if the Briton had thrown a little chromium switch, Tim brightened.

"You're kidding? You'd do that for me?"

"Sure, Porgy. Why not? But tell me, what are you high on?"

"I'm high on the real thing," Tim said, grinning. "Powerful gasoline, a clean windshield and a shoe shine."

The Britons, Edward and Philip, bought Tim's bus fare to Guatemala City, they invited him to share their meals, they allowed him to crash on the floor of their hotel rooms. The Britons, who were only eighteen, were out for a proper holiday. They seemed to think that Tim was an interesting, colorful foreigner.

The bus trip to Guatemala took two days. They arrived on Sunday. Edward, Philip and Tim ate in a Chinese restaurant, Tim reveling in a cuisine, any cuisine, that was cooked.

In the morning, Tim hiked to the national office of the Guatemalan National Telephone and Telegraph Company. He waited in the "Giro Telegrafico" line for half of an hour. Finally it was his turn to speak to the teller behind the plate glass cubicle.

"Pardon me, ma'am," Tim said to the middle-aged light-skinned woman, "but have you received a money wire for me?"

"What is your name?"

"Tim McCullough."

The woman searched through a file of forms for money wires. After a thorough search, she looked up at Tim and said, "No."

"My sister sent the money wire from the United States last Tuesday. It should be here by now, shouldn't it?"

"It should, but it isn't here."

"I'll come back tomorrow."

Tim spent a pensive night with Philip and Edward. He ordered a minimal dinner. He already owed his benefactors over sixty dollars. After telling them that he hadn't received his money wire, Tim sensed that some of the bloom was coming off the rose of their friendship.

Early the next day, he walked to the Guatemala National Telephone and Telegraph Company. He waited in line for forty-five minutes. He asked the same middle-aged woman the same question.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but do you have a money wire for me?"

The woman searched again, then said, "No."

Tim was crestfallen. Desperately he racked his brain for something, anything that would improve his plight. Impatiently, the decent folk queued up behind the obviously destitute American long-hair shuffled their papers and their feet.

"I told my sister to send the money wire to the Flores, El Peten office of the National Telephone and Telegraph Company. They told me that the money wire would come here. Is that correct?"

"Not necessarily," the woman said in a sympathetic tone. Tim's obvious distress seemed to have touched her Christian nature. "If a money wire was incorrectly addressed like that, it could arrive at one of the big banks."

"Big banks."

"Yes. Why don't you go ask at the Guatemalan National Bank?"

"Where is that?"

"It is down the boulevard five blocks, on your right hand side."

"Thank you very much."

"For nothing."

Perplexed, Tim left the bank. He considered it strange that a money wire would arrive at a place to which it was not addressed. He thought it was a wild, outside chance, but he had no other ideas.

Boots, jeans, strange T-shirt, red beard, long hair and all, Tim hiked down the boulevard of downtown Guatemala City. He felt and looked out of the place in the city. The black glass of the bank facades confronted him with his own reflection, and in his own eyes, Tim looked like a penniless vagrant.

As least every block, Tim had to walk past security guards, policemen and soldiers, dressed in all manner of uniforms and armed with everything from .45 pistols to M-16 assault rifles. He tried to appear as innocent as possible.

At the National Bank of Guatemala, Tim waited in the giro telegrafico line for thirty minutes. In the center of the lobby was a mummy of a Quetzal bird, the endangered bird whose long iridescent tail feathers had been the most prized decorations in ancient Mesoamerica.

"Excuse me, sir, but do you have a money wire for me?"

The clerk searched a trough filled with money wires. All for other people.

"No."

"Where else could a money wire arrive?"

"Why don't you try the National Bank of Commerce?"

Tim hiked ten blocks to the National Bank of Commerce. He waited in line. When it came his turn, he folded his hands in a supplicant manner and asked, "Excuse me, ma'am, but do you have a money wire for me?"

The clerk searched.

"No."

"Where else could a money wire arrive?"

"Why don't you try the Bank of America?"

"All right."

Tim hiked eight blocks to the Bank of America. He had given up any real hope. It was ridiculous. Money wires didn't arrive at banks at random, not even in Central America. It was desperate and pathetic to go from bank to bank, but Tim knew that he was desperate and pathetic.

At the head of the queue of the Giro Telegrafico line of the Bank of America, Tim folded his hands and asked in his most prayerful manner, "Excuse me, sir, but do you have a money wire for me? Tim McCullough?"

The clerk searched through his file of money wires.

"Yes," he said.

Tim felt around his head the blossoming of an aura of joy.

"You do?"

"For Tim McCullough from Linda McCullough, yes?"

"Yes. I'm Tim. Linda is my sister."

"It is for five hundred American dollars. Passport, please."

Tim's grin slowly dissolved. "I don't have a passport."

"Visa, then, please."

Tim's voice dropped to a confidential whisper so low that the clerk almost couldn't hear. "I have no visa."

The clerk looked up with a sharp expression. "No visa? How is it that you are in our country?"

"I entered in the wilderness, the jungle, in a boat up the Rio Usamacinta and the Rio Pasion. We tried to get visas, but there were no immigration officers, only soldiers in a fort."

"Why haven't you gotten a visa here in Guatemala?" the clerk asked, calling the capital city familiarly by its first name.

"I've been afraid to ask for one until I got my money wire," Tim confessed. "I need the money to prove that I'm not a vagrant."

"One moment, please."

The clerk left his station. Tim sensed the hostility of the dozen people queued behind him. Decent, bathed, short-haired, working folk, whose papers were in order and who didn't hold up queues. Tim sensed the interest of the bank guards. He worried that the clerk might inform them of Tim's illegal status. The clerk returned with a large, beefy white man dressed in an elegant, somber, light-weight suit.

"Tim McCullough?" the beefy man asked, speaking English in a mid-American accent.

"Yes," Tim said hopefully, now that he was dealing with a compatriot.

"What's your story, young man?"

"I've been traveling in Mexico and Guatemala . . . " Tim honestly told his story.

"What sort of ID do you have?"

"I've got my Mexican visa. It's still valid. I've got an Ohio driver's license. Picture ID. See?"

"That's all? No credit cards? No other picture ID?"

"No."

"Well, I believe you're Tim McCullough," the beefy man said, suddenly beaming. "Anybody who'd try to impersonate you would do a more thorough job. And since I'm the bank manager, mine is the only opinion that counts." He turned to the clerk and said in Spanish, "Cash this man's check."

"Yes, sir. Your signature, please."

The bank manager signed the back of Tim's money wire. In a fit of enthusiasm, Tim reached over the glass partition and offered his hand.

"Thanks a lot, sir. I am Tim McCullough. And you've saved my life. Thanks a lot. I really mean it."

"OK, young man, OK. Take it easy. You cash your check, get some quetzales, go right to the immigration office and get your visa. Any problems there, have them call me. Name's Murdock."

"Yes, sir. Thanks."

"Don't thank me. Become a life-long customer of the Bank of America," the manager said, smiling and winking, as he turned to go.

"You got it, sir."

When he had the four hundred dollars American and one hundred dollars worth of Guatemalan quetzales, all in mint-new bills, Tim felt rich. He left the bank with the buoyant, snappy stride of the man who is not afraid to talk with any policeman, security guard or soldier, regardless of armament. He had money. He had civil rights. When he had his Guatemalan visa in his hands, he smiled beatifically. He was legal.


Copyrights 1990 by Tom Cool

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