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Mexican Radio
About the Author: Pete Barnstrom is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker whose projects have played at theaters and film festivals all over the world. His latest feature film, "Satanic Hispanics," went into wide release in September 2023. He's shot documentaries in Greenland for the National Science Foundation, made movies with the Blair Witch guys (not that one), and seen one of his films screened at the Smithsonian.

The big man introduced himself as Herb Campuss. Then he added, “But that’s not the name I use on the air.”

“The air?”

He smiled. “I’m Wild Man Whittaker.”

He said it like Marteens was supposed to know the name, so when he got no reaction, he tried another.

“Moondoggie McGilicuddy?”

Marteens shook his head.

“Jumpin’ Jackie Joy, Your Boogie-Woogie Boy? You know, on the radio!”

Marteens pointed at the man’s wide window, frost on the outside. “I don’t think we get the Minnesota radio signals out in LA,” he said.

The man who was only sometimes Herb Campuss showed teeth more fit for TV than radio. “That’s where you’re wrong, baby,” he said, just like a Hollywood executive probably would have to Rock or Doris. “Southern California is one of my biggest markets. The kiddos go koo-koo for my late night platter parties.”

Marteens didn’t have anything to say to that. He wasn’t a kiddo.

He’d gotten the call, a resonant male voice, deep and warm like a wade though butterscotch sundae topping. It asked if he was the private investigator who spoke Spanish. It asked if he was available. It asked could he fly up to Minnesota for a day?

Marteens had never seen the Great Lakes. He agreed.

Nobody told him it was going to be freezing. Maybe he should’ve known, it being February, but it had been cool and sunny when he left Los Angeles. He decided a trip out to the shore was no longer on the agenda and told the cabbie to drive him to the address he’d been given.

Turned out the man’s office had a pretty good view of a lake. Marteens didn’t ask which one.

The man matched his voice. Quite tall, not quite as wide, hair swept back at a length that might’ve fit a kid twenty years younger, but he pulled it off. He ran an advertising agency, and a prosperous one by the look of things.

“If you don’t know those names, then you probably won’t know XLR.” Marteens agreed that he did not. “A radio station across the Texas border, over a hundred thousand watts.”

Marteens said that sounded like a lot of watts.

“About double what’s allowed stateside. Which means the audience is big down there. 75 share in the last quarter of fiscal ‘56, and we’re expecting it to go up as high as 90 this year.”

“That’s a lot of numbers too.”

“And with the range of that signal, we sell our clientele not to just Mexico, but the whole spread of the Southwest.” He grinned back in his office chair. “When the weather’s right, you can hear us all the way up in Canada.”

So it was money. Marteens had begun to wonder which way this was going to go, money or love. It was always one or the other.

“I have a partner there, more of an employee, really. Figurehead, so that the Mexican government won’t get exercised. Those people don’t want us gringos owning business in their country, you dig?”

Those people. Marteens allowed no expression onto his face. He’d been without a paying client for a month.

“I hardly ever even go down there, believe it or not.” He nodded at the door Marteens had come through, some room on the other side of it. “Got a recording studio just down the hall. State of the art, bubelah!”

Marteens said, “And?”

The big man looked at him. “And?”

“You didn’t fly me to the Great White North to sell me on your business prospectus.” Marteens lifted his chin. “So give me the And.”

“Ah,” Herb Campuss nodded. “Get down to the skinny, as the hepcats say.”

Marteens doubted anyone said that, but if it would make this man stop talking and start saying something, he would take it.

“You see,” the big man started, and then his eyes got soft and watery and damned if he wasn’t crying when he stammered out, “there’s this young lady …”

And so Marteens found himself driving Interstate 10 from LA to El Paso, then taking the furtive right turn across the Rio Grande. Top down on his almost-new 1955 Cadillac, empty road so arrow-straight that he could afford to look away from it and up at a sky with stars that were a frozen fireworks display.

This story appears in our FEB 2024 Issue
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