Bill was not at all sympathetic about my tapeworm. He was too busy bitching about how prostitution was the only way to make money in Costa Rica. Seeing as how he was 500 years old with bad eyes and gout (whatever that is), I had to tell him straight out that I doubted he could get much for his body, especially since there were so many pretty whores in Quepos for him to compete with. Most of them were hanging out right there at his open-air nightclub bar.
He rolled his big, bad eyes and wondered again how I could be my mother's daughter. As her best friend, he'd accepted the yoke of parental badgering from her at her passing. He even tells people he's my stepfather, though I'm pretty sure that's a lie. "You kids are like little liposuction tubes, you just suck. You suck everything out of everything. Suck, suck, suck. If your mother saw you now, she'd die all over again."
At the time, I was sucking on my second margarita. We drink a lot when we're around Bill, my sister and I, and to be around him these days we usually have to go through some South American jungle. Cheryl is his favorite, and she would be my favorite, too, if I were Bill. He likes people who don't hide their flaws, people who couldn't even if they wanted to. Cheryl is a chain-smoking cocktail waitress living in Las Vegas, and I remember when she heard the news that her new uniform would include fishnets and a G-string.
"I'm gonna stuff my big, beautiful, size-12 ass in that G-string, whaddaya think about that?" she laughed. I've tried to visit her at work to see her in uniform, but that hotel is so huge I'd have better odds at running into old college chums at the airport. Plus, I heard the MGM has since included a cute peplum skirt as an option in the uniform, and the G-string is no longer mandatory.
So it was Cheryl who insisted I go see Bill, because "he's about ready to die, I swear, Holly. He probably has less than a year to live. He's got that gout, and it's really acting up."
"What the hell is gout?"
"I don't know," she said, exasperated, "he just has it."
So I went to Costa Rica to see him, which was a huge gesture on my part because I hate that place. While there, I've been bitten by a dog, cut by rusty things, hit by a car. I was just walking along the side of the road and a car pulled up and the next thing I knew I was rolling around on its hood, which is really embarrassing. This was in San Jose, on my way to Quepos, and I should have just gone home, but instead I took a plane to the beach to see Bill and sleep in his garage, which, until the week before, had been flooded. It cost $10 a night for a nice room in Quepos, but Bill had dried out his garage for me, and who can argue with hospitality like that?
"I think I breathed in a bunch of tapeworm eggs while I slept last night," I said. The mold smell in Bill's garage was so thick I'm probably still, to this day, growing mushrooms in my lungs.
"Suck, suck, suck," said Bill as he poured me another shot. He didn't look near dead to me. His eyes might have been big and bad, but they were the clearest blue eyes you ever saw, and he still smoked like a living chimney without coughing up organs or anything. I, on the other hand, was stiff and sore and wrapped in dirty Band-Aids like a decrepit mummy. God! I wailed inwardly, hanging my head. Why am I here?
I was there because Bill had proven to be a good friend to my mother, and, therefore, he was family to me. When she got sick he held her hand, fetched her prescriptions and bitched about how the medical industry conspired to keep the cure to cancer under wraps so doctors could make more money. He was living in his car when they met, by that time having made and lost four fortunes. Damn if he didn't up and make another one after my mother died. Then he opened that bar in Costa Rica, and with tourism practically at a halt, this bar was now quickly sucking every cent out of his life.
I half thought I could talk him into coming home with me, because I didn't want Bill to die in the jungle. But having been there and having seen him, I know he will not die for awhile. "Stop complaining, you codger," I cough. "You're gonna outlive me, especially now that I have this tapeworm."
Bill beamed like a proud parent and then embraced me warmly. "A tapeworm," he sighed, "so you've finally found something that loves you for what's inside."
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