From the print edition
On a flight to San José, good buddy and world traveler Don Pulley was seated by a twisted-up little American who called himself Marcus.
Over a couple of beers, Pulley asked about Marcus’ travel plan. “Oh I live in San José,” said the man. “I’m quite well known there actually. They call me the King.”
He didn’t look like a king. He looked like an accident victim you might find on the side of the road in Winnemucca, Nevada. His neck seemed to be missing and his oversized head sat lopsided on uneven shoulders. He had a humpback, and when he excused himself to the bathroom it appeared that one leg was shorter than the other. His teeth were bad, but for a solid gold one, and he had a lazy eye.
But the two men took to each other, and when the flight landed late in San José, Marcus insisted Pulley be his guest that night.
With an open mind, and Quasimodo by his side, Pulley exited the airport into the crush of excited taxi drivers. When the crowd saw little Marcus, it hushed and parted like the Red Sea to reveal a shiny, black, block-long limousine. A spotless chauffeur held up a gold sign that simply said, “MARCUS. The King.”
The little man hobbled to the rear door and waved Pulley into the immense car as the driver fussed about “The King” as if he were just that. As the limo pulled slowly into traffic Marcus popped the cork on a chilled bottle of Dom Pérignon, pouring Pulley a silver flute full.
“This is MY town!” toasted the twisted little king.
They arrived downtown, pulling up to a steel and glass high-rise. The doorman sprinted towards the limo door, opened it with a flourish, bowed low and gushed:
“YOUR HIGHNESS! Welcome back!”
Marcus exited the cab, slipping the doorman $50, and the driver $50, and the front desk, and the elevator guy. It had cost Marcus $200 just to cross the room. The elevator man welcomed his highness and pushed the top button: “Penthouse.”
The door opened on a golden room, the floors in white gold flecked marble, the walls in gold leaf held an assortment of erotic paintings. One entire wall was a mural of Venus on the half shell, but on closer inspection it was not Venus at all emerging from the clam, but a naked Marcus, sporting little more than a well-positioned fig leaf and a long golden staff in his hand. On both sides of the naked king, two blonde, topless mermaids bowed their heads in reverence to his holiness.
Seated about the room, champagne glasses in hand, were seven of the most stunning Latin women Pulley had ever seen. In a combined squeal, they leaped up and rushed to greet Marcus, showering him with kisses, pinches and licks like the sugar daddy of them all had arrived.
Pulley was stunned but happy that he had taken this odd little fellow up on his offer. The girls hardly threw him a glance, so enthralled with the King they were.
“And Now My Little Pets!” yelled Marcus, “Let’s show our new friend San José! Everybody get dressed!”
Again the girls squealed with delight and headed to the bedrooms, but not before Pulley noticed that on each of their lower backs was a large, Old English-lettered tattoo of the same thing: “Marcus.”
This was getting a little strange, thought Pulley. However, being a curious man he promised himself to see the evening out. He settled in, showered, and returned to the living room to find the girls in long black gowns and spangled miniskirts. Made up like only Latinas be, they carried it off.
Suddenly the double doors to Marcus’ bedroom flew open and there stood the King, except this time he was dressed the part. Long flowing red cape, fringed in white fur, open to reveal skin hugging white tights. A jewel-encrusted gold crown on his lopsided head, and an impressive golden staff gripped in a white-gloved hand.
Who was this strange little troll?
Marcus led the way across the elegant lobby, passing out bills like business cards.
Oh great, it suddenly dawned on Pulley. What if the guys a counterfeiter, passing out bogus bills all over San José? Pulley was starting to wonder what a Costa Rican prison looked like from the inside.
He wondered if he would become a conspirator on his very first night in Costa Rica.
Pulley, the seven gorgeous women and Marcus filed into the limo and off they sped into the night. “Now, if you need anything, wherever we go tonight, just tell them you’re with the King!” Smiled Marcus “You don’t pay when you’re with me.”
The limo pulled in front of one of San José’ huge discos. A line of eager customers stretched around the block. Again the doormen sprinted to the limo, again Marcus emerged to, “Welcome your Highness.”
The crowd parted in awe as Marcus the King, with a girl on each arm, and Pulley and the five other women filed past. The place was huge. A disco ball the size of a Volkswagon hung from the ceiling. Two or three balconies laden with partying people looked down on a crowded dance floor. A head-throbbing beat bounced the crowd, which Pulley estimated to be around 600 people. Maybe more.
Marcus led the way, gimping to the bar, the crowd again parting in his regal presence. The bartenders all ran to help him, leaning in close to hear over the pounding salsa.
“DRINKS ON ME,” yelled the King. “FOR EVERYONE!” A great cheer went up from the bar, as Marcus and his entourage were led upstairs to a glass box overlooking the scene.
The DJ stopped the music with a deafening scratch and announced that Marcus the King was in the house, drinks on him.
A huge roar went up; 700 voices screamed in unison, “MARCUS, MARCUS, MARCUS! THE KING! EL REY!”
Pulley was speechless. Who was this guy? Who would drop somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 on a round of drinks to a bunch of strangers? Well, then again, not really strangers thought, Pulley. They all seemed to know Marcus.
And so it went, from bar to bar that night, Pulley followed in awe as Marcus, the King, made his rounds. In each establishment a huge roar of adoration went up from the crowd, to each bartender a pile of bills was passed, and drinks flowed freely with Marcus in the house. Pulley estimated that Marcus had covered over $35,000 or more in bar tabs before they finally called it quits at 4 a.m. and returned to the palatial penthouse.
Pulley arose early the next day to a still slumbering apartment. He wrote a thank you, left it on the table and tiptoed out.
On the bus to Jacó Beach he mulled over the night’s events. Out of respect, Pulley had never asked Marcus what his story was. He had assumed the little man would offer it up if he was of the mind to do so, but Marcus had chosen to be a king cloaked in royal secrets.
Pulley could only speculate and his mind ran the gamut. Drug kingpin? Nah. Human trafficker, or on the lam from the IRS? Impossible. Marcus was hiding from no one. At last Pulley was left to his own imagination.
Marcus had been maimed in an accident, possibly an on the job accident, or a victim of a car crash. He had been paid an ungodly settlement and told he had a year to live. With no immediate family and a short time left, Marcus had decided to live out a fantasy. He would reinvent himself, in a third-world city where respect, loyalty and even his subjects themselves could be bought for a price. And so where other men might just dream, where others could only conjure fantasies, Marcus had become the King of San José.