Mo Yung was trouble. Oh I know…trouble seems to follow us wherever we go. But Mo was a different kind of trouble than haunted houses, genie frog spells, and witchy curses. Mo was Real World trouble. Unfortunately, D.J. and I had lived for so long in that eerie storybook town, that we had forgotten all about the dangers of the real world.
It started so innocently. Well, innocent for Palmas Muertas, anyway. D.J. met Mo one night while out at the casinos. The two hit it off right away. D.J. was thirsty – thirsty for girls, riches, and adventure. Mo had all of that. All it took was a few smooth words and a couple of drinks, and soon, D.J. was following Mo Yung like a rock band groupie.
While I was standing in the dry desert heat, trying to squeeze a small commission out of junky old cars, D.J. was eating out of Mo’s hand. Mo said “Jump.” D.J. jumped. Mo said “Bet on black.” D.J. bet on black. Mo raised the stakes, and D.J. jumped in.
“I don’t know,” I told D.J. when yet another morning, he’d come staggering home, reeking of beer, eyes ringed with purple shadows. “Something doesn’t seem right about this guy.”
“He’s cool, man,” said D.J., scowling. “We’re just out having fun, all right?”
He invited me to join them a few times after that. And I have to admit – Mo Yung really did know how to have fun. He seemed to have access to everything a guy could dream of. With a snap of his fingers, he got D.J. and me into the hottest parties in the city. He connected us with tons of beautiful women.
One day, he even fixed us up with a pair of beauties – two sleek, shiny race cars. “Go on – take them out for a spin,” Mo told D.J. and me, tossing us each a racing uniform. “Just don’t get them scratched up.”
Vroom! I couldn’t believe it! Next thing you know, D.J. and I were racing each down empty stretches of highway, zooming through the desert at speeds I’d never imagined. It was such an incredible experience, that I almost become a Mo groupie, too.
Because deep down, a nagging part of me kept thinking, there must be a catch. Mo Yung seemed too good to be true. A desert mirage, shimmering like a lake for the thirsty wanderer.
Then Mo introduced us to his cousin, Yolanda.
“Cousin?” I asked, eyebrows raised. Yolanda didn’t look even a little like Mo.
Mo laughed. “Did I say cousin? I meant, my stepsister.”
Something seemed off, but D.J. didn’t appear to mind. He kept staring at Yolanda like she was a work of art hanging in a gallery. She caught on, and flashed him a smile that may as well have been a fisherman’s hook. D.J. was caught.
For the next several weeks, D.J. was more or less Yolanda’s slave. Yolanda called, he went. Her power over him was even stronger than Mo’s.
For a minute, I thought maybe D.J. had found that special someone and had fallen in love. Maybe he and Yolanda would end up together, get married, start a family one day. But that minute was brief.
One night, while D.J. was snoozing in her hotel room, Yolanda sneaked across the room and stole all the cash from D.J.’s wallet. He had just won big at the casinos that night, so he had a wad of a few thousand dollars. Yolanda took it all. And his credit cards. And the fancy Rolex watch Mo had given to him as a gift.
Then she disappeared.
Mo disappeared, too. The police could find no record of anyone named Mo Yung in the city of Palmas Muertas.
Just like that, D.J. was penniless. And since he no longer had money or connections, he found himself pretty much friendless, too. Well, except for me. He’d always have me, money or no money.