Some weeks before I was carried off the Island feet first to the country club rehab in Newport, my friend Pepe Quero came to the U.S. to visit from Mexico. That month on the island was his only window on life in the states (although I confess that when I lived in Mexico Pepe and I had raised a certain kind of hell not unlike life on the island, so he was probably more at home there than he would have been in some suburb).
His trip started off normally enough. I picked him up at Logan, the handle fell off of his suitcase spilling his stuff just like in the movies, and we got a case of beer and headed for the waterfront in New Bedford where my boat was waiting to run us back to the island. We made it to the dock okay; unfortunately the case of beer did not. We were met there by pea soup fog which should have sent us to a motel for the night, but the effects of the beer clouded that judgment, so off we went and immediately became lost. For the next six hours we did the bump and grind around Buzzard’s Bay (even bumping into the Nashawena nun buoy once) and wound up right back where we started. The only thing going through Pepe’s head was, “Here I am finally in America and I’m going to die on my first day.” Oh ye of little faith.
We used to conduct these escapades in a different kind of fog. In Mexico Pepe’s family owned The Los Pinos, a bar famous for its homemade moonshine called amarga. It cost a peso a pop and was pure wood alcohol, a liquid long banned in this country for reasons that are very clear to me. As a young man I used to go to Comonfort, Mexico, every winter and get a teaching job in any school whose only teaching criterion was blue eyes. I would wander around and raise hell with Pepe and Hugo, the local vet. Pepe watched out for me; there were places he would not let me go due to violent cultural tendencies in certain areas. At the time I was the only gringo in town, which made me a curiosity and sometimes a target. But with Pepe’s help, in four years I never had a problem that I couldn’t talk myself out of. When spring came around I would head back to New England and fish for the summer then drive to Comonfort in the fall in my Landrover with a little money in my pocket.
Pepe visited the island in August in high tourist season and became a bit of a celebrity. Pepe liked the island immensely, but one thing constantly nagged at him: the white-tailed deer roaming around unmolested and unfazed, celebrities in their own right. This a foreign concept in Pepe’s Mexico, where the Toltec hunters culturally have changed little from the time of their ancestors. Deer are prey. The issue ate away at Pepe for weeks until he couldn’t take it any more. One night I went to bed, leaving Pepe up doing something with lead fishing sinkers. In those days I kept a shotgun around for occasional duck hunting. When I got up in the morning Pepe was gone and so was my shotgun, along with a bottle of scotch and the sinkers.
Copicut neck connects to the main part of the island by a narrow strip of beach, which in some years is stony and deserted, and in other years is sandy and crowded with August boat people and their dinghies. This year the beach was sandy. The neck has about a dozen houses and I was building a summer house for the Burtons who were not around. That’s where I found Pepe, passed out, holding the empty bottle of scotch, an eight-point buck strung up under the deck on the backside of the house on a steep bluff overlooking Buzzard’s Bay.
Thanks to Quetzalcoatl no one had seen him creep out to the neck with a shotgun at four in the morning. And no one had heard the shot from the single shell he had emptied of birdshot and filled with two chunks of sinker lead, making buckshot look like BB pellets. He dropped that buck right in the Reverend Porter’s front yard at about 4:15 a.m. When I found him it was 10 in the morning, 90 degrees out and the beach was packed. I dug a hole under the deck and lowered the deer into it where it sleeps to this day.
Next, I had to get Pepe across that beach. Should have been no big deal. Except that Pepe was still full of scotch and of adrenaline from the kill. While crossing the beach, he hung out of my truck window holding the spent shell to his nose, sniffing it in an exaggerated gesture while yelling: “La perfuma de Mexico.” His Spanish needed no translation. Only shock and disbelief saved us from any repercussions from that adventure.
My not-so-graceful exit took place a short time later, followed by a triumphant return 28 days later, 30 pounds heavier and a ton smarter.
As for Pepe, he would not leave without my gifting him that shotgun as a father gifts a daughter in marriage. They were in love. It was all right with me; the one time I had shot a duck I had wounded it and bandaged it up, filled with remorse. Pepe took every piece of that gun apart, dispersed it throughout his luggage and smuggled it back to Mexico by bus where they remain happily married to this very day amid many trophies.
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.