“Bloody hell!” yelled Desmond, hopping out of the water on his left foot, instantly rasping his heel on a cluster of rock-encrusted, razor-sharp barnacles. Blood was welling up from the back of his right fourth toe, which had been pinched by a crab. Now he had injured his left foot as well trying to escape the crabs, of which there were hundreds — if not thousands — poised just below the waterline, their merciless claws open and at the ready for Desmond’s tender feet.
Desmond, cursing, collapsed on the nearest patch of rock-free sand, nursing both feet, his eyes blurred with tears of pain and outrage.
It was the first day of Desmond’s and Patrice’s month-long November vacation in Mexico. They had just left a foot of new snow behind them in Alaska the night before, and now, after 13 hours of flight, they were at the very rim of the warm, blue Pacific Ocean, 10,000 miles of salt water balm stretching to Asia, at their feet. They were about to indulge in of one of the main perquisites of their house, Casa Mariposa, on which they had lavished several hundreds of thousands of dollars just for moments like this.
Stepping into the Pacific Ocean on Day One of a Mexican Vacation was an inviolable and blissfulrite… No, not a mere rite, but a right, bought and paid for with the sweat of one’s brow! And now Desmond had been maimed by a crab, drawing blood!
Crabs are an irregular annual phenomenon at Paradise Point, rather like one of the Seven Plagues of Egypt, only this was the year 2011, in Mexico, and therefore completely un-Biblical. Biblical references aside, there was really a shitload of crabs out there, eagerto destroy the pleasure (and toes) of vacationing Gringos. The crabs were in their breeding cycle, so they were vicious and implacable, like a nest of pit vipers in heat.
Desmond was furious. “This means war!” he screamed, hobbling up the stairs from the beach as best he could, leaving a bloody heel-print on every other step, with drops of blood from his toe on the alternate steps.
It was four in the afternoon, the very hour that the housekeepers, gardeners and handymen were gathering for their rides back home to Otates, Ixtapa and Zacualpan. This was this unfortunate moment that Desmond, a Normally Staid and Respectable Owner, chose to lurch into view, like a red-eyed bull moose in rut, to demand a rake. Years ago, Desmond had gone crabbing for Dungeness crabs in Sitka, where an ordinary straight garden rake was the weapon of choice, as the crabs would glom on to it, and could be easily dumped into a bucket. So Desmond wanted a rake, right now!
Miguel Sanchez, the chief handyman at Paradise Point, quickly secured one, a diminutive, metal grass comb like a child’s toy beach rake, missing half its teeth. Holding it in front of himself as one holds a cross to ward off an approaching vampire, he gingerly placed it in Desmond’s outstretched, vibrating hand.
Desmond seized the rake then caromed off to Casa Mariposa to grab two orange five-gallon Home Depot buckets and a pair of heavy black rubber oyster-shucking gloves he had bought at Alaska Industrial Hardware a few years ago, which he had kept in abeyance for just such a Crab Opportunity as this.
Desmond had witnessed a minor Crab Bloom several years earlier, but without rake or heavy gloves, he had been powerless to act. Now, at the peak of a huge crab invasion, he was armed, thanks to Miguel Sanchez and Alaska Industrial Hardware, though he had no idea whether the rake would work, or if the oyster gloves would be better.
The rake proved worthless. The crabs skittered away from it, so Desmond tossed it aside. Now it was up to The Black Gloves.
Desmond and Patrice had invited The Russians from Anchorage to come down for the week: Dmitri, his wife Svetlana and their daughter Tatiana. Dmitri is actually a Finn, with a Russian last name, who grew up in Sweden during WWII and emigrated to Pennsylvania after the war. Svetlana and Tatiana are both engineers from Petrograd and work for a Really, Really Big Multinational Oil Company in Anchorage. It turned out that Tatiana, who is 25, had very sharp eyes, capable of near X-ray vision, and could detect crabs that had buried themselves in the sand, leaving just a faint crescent of a claw visible, which only Tatiana could see.
Tatiana had found a broken mop handle. She wielded it like a teacher’s pointer to show Dmitri precisely where the crabs were hiding. It was thena simple matter for Dmitri to scoop up the sand-bound crabs into the orange Home Depot bucket, and, within half an hour, the Desmond-Dmitri-Tatiana team had rung up no fewer than fifty crabs. Dmitri, however, suffered a scrape on the barnacled rocks, and was hemorrhaging from his arm.
It was at their very moment of triumph over the crabs, when Desmond and Dmitri, aided by Tatiana’s unerring X-ray vision, were glomming a crab every ten seconds, that Elizabeth Jane and Martin chose to venture down to the beach. Elizabeth Jane and Martin, stalwart Marin County ex-pats, lived next door to Desmond and Patrice, in the eponymous Casa Don Martín.
Elizabeth Jane and Martin were horrified! Crabicide in Full Swing at Paradise Point before their very eyes! Crabs — no matter they had invaded in plague proportions — were a Sacred Planetary Resource like snakes, caterpillars, bats, tree frogs, inch worms, moths of all species, iguanas (the list is quite long)… thoroughly unlike, say, dogs, cats or other common, useless, uninteresting critters.
Martin sidled over to glance down at the slaughter underway, a look of dour disapproval on his face, but said nothing: his expression said all. Elizabeth Jane, on the other hand, cheerily suggested that the einsatzgruppe might release all the females, which were laden with eggs. The exterminators neither looked up from their work nor acknowledged her suggestion, but assiduously kept at their task until the two buckets were filled, while Martin and Elizabeth Jane wandered off in disgust. The massacre ended with the setting of the sun, after which Tatiana could no longer spot additional victims for Desmond and Dmitri to seize. The buckets held a total of 254 crabs, mostly small ones, each not much larger than a drink coaster.
After the buckets were taken back to Casa Mariposa, water was heated to boiling in a 14-quart soup pot. Using a pair of long tongs, the crabs were dropped into the pot in cohorts of ten, until they attained a rich, rusty red color, and then were removed to a suitable receptacle to make way for the next batch.
By now the evening’s dinner was well under way. Elizabeth Jane had undertaken to create another one of her astonishing gumbos, with chicken, rice, chunks of sierra mackerel (but no duck).
Desmond thought that Elizabeth Jane might be interested in adding a few juicy, fresh whole crabs to the medley to enrich the flavor, so he took a bowl of 30 or 40 processed, red, dead crabs over to Casa Don Martín and left it on the kitchen counter, as no one was present in the kitchen at that moment.
Dmitri and Desmond returned to Casa Martín a little while later to sniff out any response. Elizabeth Jane was stirring about in her kitchen, the bowl of crabs sitting forlornly on the counter in pointedly obvious ostracism.
Both men had been of the mistaken impression that Elizabeth Jane, being a nominally open-minded gourmet cook, would at least appreciate the gesture of the crabs, of course granting her the right to reject them for her gumbo. It was merely a gesture, after all, not a veiled command.
Elizabeth Jane, however, did not appear to appreciate the gesture, and proclaimed, “These crabs are dangerous!”
“Dangerous?” repeated Desmond, stupefied by the implication that his hard-won crabs could pose a hazard, particularly now that they could no longer pinch anyone’s toes.
“Yes! Dangerous!” repeated Elizabeth Jane.
Desmond, somewhat oiled after several rum-and-orange juices, immediately lost it. “Fuck this!” he muttered, quite loudly in fact, and stormed out of Casa Don Martín after snatching the bowl of crabs off the kitchen counter.
A new culinary war was on.
A glum, crabless gumbo dinner was held at Casa Mariposa in sepulchral silence, with little of the alcoholic jollity that normally accompanied the grand affairs which Desmond and Patrice, on account of their gigantic 90-inch diameter marble table, were fond of hosting. True to form, however, despite the chill in the air (though it was in fact 84° F), on his way out Martin handily pocketed all cigar butts longer than half an inch with accomplished legerdemain and ambled off to Casa Don Martín.
The following morning dawned bright, hot and pale blue, all vestiges of a rapid and unsubtlesunrise dissipating in less than ten minutes as the temperature soared to 90°. Desmond, a trifle under the weather on account of a slight indiscretion in the number and strength of the rum-and-orange-juice cocktails the night before, was tentatively navigating the jungle path to Casa Don Martín, a Bodum double-walled, insulated glass of coffee in hand, when he bumped into Elizabeth Jane, who, having already gotten up sufficient steam to allow forward progress, was advancing at one-quarter throttle in the opposite direction: she, too, had imbibed somewhat freely (of her own margaritas) and was yawing a bit off course at several points of the compass, here and there bouncing off the stout stalks of the banana trees.
The cobbled path, being too narrow for the one to pass the other, demanded An Encounter, rather like the Billy Goats Gruff and the Troll, or the meeting of Robin Hood and Little John on the log over the stream. It should be noted, however, that neither Desmond nor Elizabeth Jane was in possession of goat horns or oak staves, so there was little other than banana fronds to serve for tilting purposes. Besides, neither was in the mood for confrontation.
Articulate Speech, that which separates us from the apes (with whom we otherwise share 99.2% of our DNA), was unavoidable.
“Desmond, I owe you an apology,” began Elizabeth Jane, looking askance at an overladen banana tree, and sounding justa trifle contrite. “I was quite insensitive yesterday evening.”
“Insensitive?” Desmond responded. “You told me the crabs were dangerous. What did that mean?””
“Yes, I did use that word,” conceded Elizabeth Jane, shifting her glance to a subtle spray of lavender wild orchids, which Martin had illegally purchased from a professional orchid thief, “But what I actually meant was that the crabs would be dangerous to the flavor of the gumbo, not that they were lethal or anything.”
Desmond, an advanced amateur chef in his own right, had never heard the adjective “dangerous” applied to the flavoring of foodstuffs, so what Elizabeth Jane was telling him did not exactly compute in the Cosmology of Cuisine, nor, to use a more apt phrase, did it exactly cut the mustard. But a peace pipe of sorts had been offered, and Desmond, embarrassed by his rum-fueled outburst the evening before, decided to accept the offering. The two embraced awkwardly and hostilities were thereby called off.
I must apologize, Dear Reader, that the Great Crab War was settled so quickly without so much as a skirmish, that peace was negotiated beyond the ken of reliable witnesses, and for stringing you along in the hopes of reading about gruesome combat casualties, but such were the bare facts: far be it from me to make anything up! What you read here is the Truth, or may god (small “G”) have mercy on my soul if I am lying.
Nonetheless, we cannot end our story so abruptly: we must account for the ultimate fate of the 254 dead crabs, lest Desmond, Dmitri and Tatiana be hauled off to the Hague to stand trial for International Crimes against Crabs.
Were the crabs slaughtered in vain?
They were not. Desmond prepared an outlandish quantity of satiny-smooth crab bisque from the 254 crabs, which Elizabeth Jane profusely praised each of the six times it was subsequently served, after which there was still enough left over to provide the first course of a Thanksgiving dinner for twenty.