A Prescription for Murder (#5)
To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
A Prescription for Murder
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
Part 9: The Trance of the Dance
When people are able to dance, that is, when they can sway together rhythmically with the music, feet and full-bodied, mutual foreplay is the inevitable result. The attraction between two people becomes overwhelming, and only the setting becomes an obstacle to their union.
Juan and Karen had gone to an Indian hotel-casino near Phoenix. In the lounge, Juan went to the leader of a group of musicians and gave him money, requesting that he play the songs from the film, Urban Cowboy. The leader nodded, took the money, and the next number played began a medley of the songs from the film. Juan knew all the words to the songs, some in their Spanish version. They danced. He occasionally softly sang in her ear. Always, he held her tightly and seemed to be dancing in a trance. After they finished one line dance, he said simply, “I never want to leave you again.”
Karen did not know what to say. “I’d like you to stay,” she whispered.
“Would you care to be Mrs. Ruiz for one night?” he asked without guile or seductive intonation.
“I’d love to – but you realize that I have to call home or they’ll send the police out looking for us.”
He handed her his phone. She refused it. “God, no! You don’t want them to have your number.”
She took her own phone out and called her mother who was sitting up waiting for her to return home. “I’ll be back when you see me,” Karen said. “Go to bed.”
Immediately her mother began a tirade about being out with Mexican gangsters. Juan reached over, took the phone and disconnected the call. Then he turned the phone off and called for the check.
They did not notice that a man in a nearby booth had been taking camera-phone photos of them.
Passionate love after a long period of being deprived of it, is much like food after a long period of starvation. We know that we should take it slowly, that the body and mind are not prepared to accept surfeit, but are rather inured to deficit. Giving a person who has been starving all the food he has dreamed about during those hungry days and nights, will kill him. Anorexics or persons who have been marooned or otherwise deprived of food are initially given beef broth, not sirloin steaks.
In passionate love, the dopamine and other intoxicating hormones in our bodies that have been suppressed by our lonely self-deceptions are suddenly allowed to rebound with violently wonderful irrationality. Exalted by the gods themselves, we are amazed that we have been able to survive for so long as only half an individual, that the beloved has so completed us that his or her needs are our needs, and insouciantly we can toss away rules that apply only to those who are living in a world that is far beneath ours. Such exultation nullifies old contracts and makes only our new contract relevant. We have found all that we had lacked, and we will jealously guard this treasured fulfillment in a world that consists of only two persons: lover and beloved. Outsiders who attempt to split our dynamic atom enter a very hazardous zone; but we, too, may become agents of our own self-destruction by reacting irrationally to what we perceive as the slightest threat of betrayal.
Gloriously in love, Karen and Juan kissed while they brushed their teeth; they showered together and giddily washed the sacred parts of their bodies. They ate together, picking food off each other’s plates, or playfully feeding each other tidbits. They danced and laughed at themselves in the mirror, and when they made love, they wrapped their arms and legs around each other as if they were striving to become one person and lapped at sacred fluids as if only by ingesting the contents of the other’s body, could they fully consummate their union. They could not pass each other without reaching out to touch the other part of the binary One to remind it how tightly its orbit must remain.
While they flew over the Grand Canyon they were not dwarfed by the enormity of what nature had done, but were oddly inspired. The cold Colorado River had come down from the Rockies as melted snow and had carved out its own path, and so would they. What were they prepared to do to stay together? Everything, or so they assured each other.
Sober estimations made it clear that for so long as Juan’s wife refused to release him, they were simply stymied. She would not allow them to be together. Geography, too, made their romance completely impractical. Juan feared that Karen would be influenced by Tony Celine who was single, handsome and entirely too attentive to Karen. Previously Juan had merely regarded Tony as a con man who probably was the brains behind a host of suspected frauds. Smart people had been taken in by him and, living so near to Karen in the Phoenix area, he’d have the opportunity as well as the means to dazzle her with the trappings of wealth. Juan purposely didn’t warn Karen of the suspicions of governmental agencies regarding Tony’s criminal activities since it would seem as though his concerns were self-serving, the deprecating comments of a jealous lover. Karen, too, decided not to tell Juan about the painting of his wife. Regardless of what Maria Ruiz was doing in the portrait, she was young and beautiful and the sight of her might either rekindle the passion Juan once felt for her or, on the other hand, might humiliate him to know that his wife was painted so intimately by another man. Karen was happier than she could ever remember being, and she did not intend to cause Juan embarrassment or to be the saboteur of her own happiness.
They sat in a booth in a Grand Canyon airport cafe and considered the future. “Less than a week ago,” Karen said, “I thought that everything I had worked for was lost. My life would never be the same. It would be one insult and injury after another. My reputation destroyed. I’d be penniless, rejected, exiled. And you believed in me and all that pain vanished. Now I am happier than I knew it was possible to be. Nobody is going to rob us of our place in the sun. I will be as indomitable as that river.”
To Juan, personal indomitability was no match for legal restraints. He did not know how to extricate himself from his domestic situation. “After I came home from Mexico City with the proof that the prescription was forged,” he said, “I was delirious. I couldn’t wait to tell you. I was so happy. Everyone noticed the change in me but I couldn’t just blurt out what I had learned for fear that Maria might hear about it. She’s so damned jealous of other women. She doesn’t want me, but she doesn’t want me to be associated romantically with any other woman because that would humiliate her publicly.
“I had talked to my lawyer years ago and asked about divorce. Remember, only our first two children are mine. The last two have brown eyes. Maria and I both have blue eyes. I suspected that I had been cuckolded during the time the second two were born. People hinted about my wife and her secret lover. I let them talk. Then I met a doctor in Cancun who told me that two blue-eyed people must produce blue-eyed children. He explained all that recessive gene stuff to me. The two little ones had brown eyes. So I knew. I didn’t need DNA tests but I got them anyway. It’s funny… I was a detective and I had no clue – not in the beginning, anyway – that she was even seeing someone else. So I had his DNA profile but no name attached to it.
“Maria had a book of French poetry someone had given her, a book she treated reverently. I lifted prints and ran them and found out it was Marc. He had discarded her after the kids were born and never gave her a cent to support them. She needed me, and for the sake of all the kids, I stayed. But when my two were old enough and went away to school, she turned forty and got nasty in the process. Disagreeable? Mean? Nothing I did pleased her. But I had no reason to leave. I liked the kids. They were smart and clean-living… really nice kids. To them I was their dad and I cared about them. She was as mean to them as she was to me. But then, about a year ago, she started up again with Marc. I guess that was the beginning of the end of the Clara era. I moved into the club and told her I wanted a divorce. She said, ‘No. Never.’ Marc was still married to Agnes. What would she have gained? Nothing. So she refused.
“I again asked my lawyer if the DNA results could be used to divorce my wife. He said that none of that counted since I had slept with my wife after I knew that she had been unfaithful. This constitutes forgiveness. I can’t hold her previous infidelity against her and I can’t prove her current involvement. With a straight face, she says she loves me all the more because I stood by her, that God intended us to be together especially since we were married in the church, and that she regularly went to confession and received absolution. Ergo, I had no legal reason to divorce her. I stayed on at the club, going home for occasions that had to do with the kids. My marital status was just academic. I didn’t have anyone else in my life.” His expression suddenly took on the look of defeat. “How could I know I’d find you?”
“What about a divorce in the Dominican Republic? The U.S. will recognize it.”
“First, it’s expensive and I’m not spending your money. Second it has to be either mutual or with cause. I lost my ‘right of cause’ and she will not consent. There’s no D.R. in my future.”
They sat and said nothing for a few minutes. Then he repeated, “If it is known that we are intimately involved, it will prejudice the case and get my wife up higher on her horse. Karen, we can’t underestimate her. She’s a selfish and vindictive woman.” He chuckled sardonically. “Her parents used to have money – it’s all gone now – and being fair-skinned and of Castilian descent, she considers herself a displaced aristocrat. Her parents spoiled her and filled her head with that superior nonsense.” He continued to grin. “I learned the hard way what a poor man gives up when he marries a rich woman. I also learned her family history.” He smirked as he announced, “Her grandfather was a butcher.”
The odd glee he expressed in telling the story disquieted Karen. “Ah, so that is what inspired your advice to Miguel.” Karen reconsidered her decision not to tell him about the obscene portrait, but then he began to laugh harder.
“Last spring, I helped two Mormon missionaries out of a jam… some thugs were getting rough with them. I got a little cut, nothing much, but they wanted to repay me. I told them that I was just doing my job. I didn’t want anything. But then I remembered reading about their genealogy data banks. I gave them all the names I could think of that were in my wife’s family. A month later I received this elaborate genealogy chart. My name and all four kids were on it and her cousins… it was a fantastic document. It couldn’t go back very far because her ancestors were peasants who moved around a bit. Maybe they were traveling musicians or actors. But her illustrious great-grandfather was a butcher who worked for a company that sold the meat of the bull that’s killed in the Corrida. After the bull is killed, the meat is sold. Not too long ago the horse meat, too.”
“Did you tell her about it?” Karen feared that he’d relate the great victory over his wife, a sure sign that he was still emotionally tied to the woman.
“No. What was the point? It would only hurt the kids to see us fight over something that no longer mattered. When we first got married and her parents treated me like a peasant who had delusions of grandeur. I’d have loved to throw the document in their faces then. But not now. So, my lady, we are not going to have an easy time of things. The one hope I had was gone when I had forensics prove that the prescription was fraudulent. With Agnes dead, Marc was single again. Maria might agree to a divorce if only to be available to marry him. But the phonyprescription leads to the conclusion that Marc poisoned her. He won’t be marrying anybody. Still, we must be careful not to foul things up. She may give me new grounds to divorce her, grounds I won’t invalidate by living under the same room with her. If you don’t hear from me, don’t worry. As soon as things calm down, I’ll see an attorney about getting a divorce – that is if you’re going to agree to marry me. If you don’t want to, I’ll stay married. So? Will you?”
“No ring? No ‘down-on-one knee’?”
Juan pulled her towards a souvenir section of the check-out counter and insisted that they pick out duplicate silver and turquoise rings. A crowd began to form around them as he knelt on one knee and asked her to marry him. She laughed and said, “Yes.”
The crowd applauded. Then he put the other ring in her hand and asked her to do the same. The crowd yelled, “One knee!”
Karen quickly curtsied and placed the ring on his finger. “That’s all you get,” she told the crowd.
Everyone laughed as they returned to the booth. The shadows that had just crossed their sunny path had gone away. They were completely in love as they boarded the bus that took them back to the hotel.
When the weekend ended and Karen drove him to Phoenix and walked through the terminal with him, he suddenly became serious. “Don’t discuss our relationship with Alex or anyone else. Wait for me. I love you.” He walked through the TSA screening section, looked back and waved, and entered the jetway of his flight to Mexico.
Karen drove home, looking at her ring and considering it proof of the state of grace she had just entered. Despite the little chinks in their love’s armor, they had a kind of sacred existence, an impervious and blessed state that no mortal would ever be permitted to assail.
She parked and entered her house. Immediately she was confronted with her mother and former mother-in-law. “Please, God!” her mother begged, “don’t let her tell me she was shacking up with that filthy Mexican.” Karen stared at her quizzically. Madame Breiton did not address divine authority. “If zat man comes to zis house again, I call ze gendarmes.”
“Zis is my house,” Karen said, mocking her. “The two of you are guests and I am now asking you to leave. I’ll give you one week to find another place.” She took out her phone and called her lawyer at his home. “What are the rules about getting rid of unwanted guests?” she asked.
As he talked to her she went back into the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator. “No,” she whispered, “no money or food. They’ve been here less than a week. Yes, I didn’t invite them but I did agree to let them come.” She briefly described the situation. “They’ve been here before. They go through my mail, use my charge account to purchase luxury items, and most of all, they disapprove of my fiancé because he is Mexican. They harass me about him and are rude to him. I want them gone.”
The attorney agreed to dispatch a thirty-day eviction notice immediately and said that he’d have a certified messenger deliver the notices to each of them. “Accept no money from them or any goods or services. Do not remain friendly towards them. Don’t discuss the matter at all with them but refer them to me. Cancel the credit card you allowed them to use. Tomorrow morning, first thing, go to the post office and ask them to hold all the mail addressed to your house and go pick it up yourself. You can also call the Sheriff’s Department and give them notice that you intend to evict unwanted house guests who have been there only a few days. Do not change any locks. By getting the notice immediately, the women won’t have a chance to go to the post office and declare your address as theirs. The eviction notice will simplify things. It’s a tough way to proceed, but trust me, it’s the best way.”
Karen called her credit card company. She cancelled the existing card and requested a new one. She would have to wait until morning before calling the Sheriff’s Department and going to the post office. She felt, as she had predicted, indomitable. She took a bath.
Later, as she combed her hair, the doorbell rang. Her mother and mother-in-law answered the door and signed the certified notices.
Karen smiled to herself. She was the Keeper of The Flame, and she had just trounced two blasphemers.
Her two cats were scratching at the kitchen door. She let them in and opened two small cans of cat food.
“What is the meaning of this?” her mother demanded, holding the Intent to Evict notice in her hand.
Karen ignored the question. “Autumn nights are cold in the desert and often cats that are left outside are attacked and eaten by coyotes or else they try to keep warm by sleeping in the engine compartments of cars. Then, when the owner starts the engine, the cat may be killed by the fan belt or fan. Therefore, you will not assume control of the doorways to my home. If you mistreat my animals in any way, I’ll report you to the proper authorities. Also, do not answer my land line or use it to make any calls. I keep it for the convenience of my patients who like to use the old number when they have a problem to discuss. I have an answering machine that picks up the messages. Again, do not touch my phone. Do I make myself clear?” she asked. “You have overstayed your welcome. Get out as quickly as you can or else, I assure you, I’ll have the police remove you bodily.”
“Karen,” her mother said piteously, “you know we have no place to go. We just got here, for heaven’s sake.”
“I’ll give your situation some thought,” Karen replied stiffly. “Unlike the two of you, I am not a selfish bigot.”
On Tuesday afternoon, she kept an appointment with her hairdresser Raoul. When he asked how her trip to the Caribbean Coast had gone, she said it had gone well and then began a discussion about getting rid of unwanted guests… especially when one of the guests was her own mother. She gave him a brief history of her marital experience.
“Girl,” Raoul advised, gesturing with a blow dryer, “parenthood is no different from any other contract. When you’re young, they take care of you. When you grow up, you take care of them. But if you weren’t a lousy kid, one who cost them their pensions and peace of mind, you don’t have to keep them in luxury. You’ve given your mother plenty. As far as your mother-in-law is concerned, didn’t you go back and forth to Paris to see your own kid because that’s what she and your husband finagled you into doing? You owe that bitch nothing. And if your mother wants to sleep with the enemy, let her. I’d give them notice. Tell them that if they’re not out in two weeks, you’ll start very embarrassing eviction proceedings.”
A client in the next booth called out, “Buy them a small place in Sun City. Don’t get them a car.”
“Amen!” anotherveavesdropper called. “Wash them out of your hair… but nicely!”
She returned to her office and called a real estate agent to get some idea of the cost. She wished that she would hear from Juan before she made any large financial decisions; but she had to act.
That night she showed them a few pictures on the computer that the agent had sent. “I can arrange to buy you two a bungalow in Tucson. This weekend, God willing, we can drive down and look at some of the houses.”
Ignacio Robles made a few phone calls and summoned his daughter. “Sit down and have some tea with me. My stomach’s upset from all this excitement. I had the kitchen send up a pot of herbal tea.” Two apparently empty tea cups sat on the tray. He separated them, and then poured tea into one and handed it to Constanza. He filled the other cup and sighed. “All that work and money I’m spending trying to get elected. Maybe I’m better off without it. I can spend more time with you and your mother.”
Constanza asked, “How is Mama taking the strain of the election campaign?”
“She’s suddenly feeling better,” Robles said. “I didn’t realize that I had been putting her through so much.”
After drinking the tea, Constanza slumped in the chair, unconscious. Robles called a stout bald man who entered the room, carrying a medical bag. He gave Constanza an injection and Robles carried Constanza down to the garage. They drove to the marina where his cabin cruiser would take them down to Honduras. Another man boarded the ship and immediately sat at the controls.
A worker untied the lines. Robles called, “We’ll be back in a day and a half… maybe two days.”
They departed for the long trip to the famed Mosquito Coast where they would be met by a friend who would take Constanza and Robles to a private clinic in San Pedro Sula.
Constanza was still asleep when the abortion was completed. Robles waited several hours to be sure that there were no medical complications and then, after Constanza was once again sedated, he carried her to his boat and returned to Chetumal.
Worried that he had not seen or spoken to Constanza for several days, Miguel Nuñez knocked at the front door of the hacienda. The major domo let him into the foyer. He sat stiffly in the manner of a poor Chinese man who displays all his fingers on his knees to show that none has had to be removed. He had sat there two hours without moving by the time Robles returned.
“What do you want?” Robles asked him.
“I’m worried about Constanza. I’ve tried to reach her,” he said plaintively.
“So you are worried. Do you worry about the enemies you made me when you argued with that cop Ruiz about becoming my son-in-law? You may have cost me the election.”
“But I defended you!” Miguel insisted.
Robles scoffed and looked incredulously heavenward. “And you think I need you to defend me? My boy… this is no time to insult me. You are a savage with a haircut. Never try to talk to my daughter again. Do you understand? You’ve done enough damage to my family. Maybe you need to be castrated like Abelard. What will it take to get rid of scum like you?”
Miguel did not answer. His mouth went dry and he stiffened in fear. He started to say something but it came out as a stammering, “But..bu.. bu.. the ba… ba?”
“Baby? Is that what you’re saying? Baby? What baby? Are you accusing my daughter of having a baby?” He grew angry. “If you repeat that lie anyplace, I’ll have your tongue cut out! Now, I don’t know where you got these crazy ideas in your head, but maybe you need medical treatment. My daughter is not pregnant and never has been. If you try to contact her or come onto my property again, I’ll have you shot as a trespasser. There is no place for you in this house. Maybe I’ll talk to the Dean of your medical school and tell him what a sick fellow you are. I advise you to leave before you really get me angry. And never come back here or try to talk to my daughter… and that goes for the rear gates, too.”
Miguel slowly turned around and left the house. Surely, he thought, Constanza would contact him. By the time he reached the road, tears were streaming down his face and he was sobbing like a whipped child.
Ignacio Robles summoned his campaign bodyguards. “Did you see that fellow who was just here? He’s not right in his head and is telling slanderous stories. He thinks my daughter is going to marry him. True, we had joked about it before. But he took it seriously. He’s insane. If he sets foot on my property again, shoot him.” He ordered guards to be placed in and around Constanza’s room. Miguel was not to have any contact whatsoever with his daughter. Any servant who tried to act as a go-between and deliver a message would be summarily fired.
It was done. There would be no more social-climbing indito gigolos in his world.
Miguel suffered in confusion for a few days and then, when asked how his love life was progressing, he lied. “My beautiful Constanza had a serious nervous condition and between her father’s election campaign and planning a wedding – well, it has been too much for her. The doctors ordered complete seclusion for her. I may not see her for another few days!”
He tried to pay attention to his classwork, but he could not maintain his concentration. His initial impulse had been to throttle Juan Ruiz, to kill him with his bare hands. Now he knew that Ruiz was precisely correct. Ruiz was warning him. Yes, he supposed that he had always wondered how the two families would fit together. “Scum” Robles had called him. “A savage with a haircut.” He asked himself, “What was I thinking? Nothing can overcome such hatred.” He laughed bitterly trying to visualize the Robles family eating beans and corn with his family.
So there would be no wedding. And Robles had made it clear that there no longer was a baby. Constanza would go to church. He’d wait until Sunday Mass. Surely the Robles family would attend church if only to show the voters that they were good Catholics.
Miguel Nuñez went to the beach and stared into the water. He recalled everything that Ruiz had said. “Maybe,” he said aloud, “I have been spared a life of anguish. Only God can help me now.”
He went to church and prayed intensely for several hours, crying intermittently. A priest watched him from behind a pillar in the transept. He said a prayer that God would watch over Miguel, and then he went to dinner. He returned later and saw that Miguel was still kneeling at the altar. He silently approached Miguel and placed his hand on his shoulder, startling him. “My son,” he said, “bear your sorrow now and know that it will pass. In our life on earth, sorrow is as temporary as joy.”
Miguel went home and to avoid his family, he went to bed. But he could not sleep. What had gone wrong? Estella Robles had given him hope that she could persuade her husband to accept Miguel’s marriage to Constanza. He now knew that Robles’ murderous act was not the kind of contempt that yielded to persuasion.
But what of Constanza’s love? Surely it was not the fickle thing that Ruiz had described. Was obedience to her father stronger than her professed love for him? He would see how she responded when he saw her at church. If she were cold to him, he’d know that he had no hope. “I won’t be one of these love-sick idiots who continue to have hope,” he whispered to himself. He had seen too many patients who refused conventional treatment, preferring to hope and pray for divine intervention. Hope, he knew, would destroy him. It would keep renewing the anguish; it would motivate him to seek her out, to stalk her like a hunter just to get the opportunity to beg for another chance. He would then have no more cause to hope than his lost baby. He needed to be absolutely sure that Constanza did not grieve as he was grieving.
If she did grieve, that would make a difference. But if not? Suddenly, he felt a chill. She might already have begun the emotional dissolution, the indifference that flows when passion ebbs. Why wouldn’t, she be like other women who cease to care and feel nothing but annoyance at such demonstrations of hope?
On Sunday morning he hid behind the sego palms that lined the church entrance walk and waited for the black limousine to arrive. The chauffeur parked and immediately opened the door for Don Ignacio to get out. He, in turn, assisted his wife, who wore a stunning new hat and floral dress. Then Robles held his hand out and Constanza took it. She stepped out of the limousine in high heeled shoes. She was wearing a tight navy blue dress and matching hat. Miguel stepped out from behind the palms. Constanza saw him but made no gesture of recognition. She took her father’s right arm, her mother took his left, and the three of them walked into the church in a stately, regal manner.
That night after working at The Beagle he drove his motorcycle to the rear of her house. He walked to the gate. A man stood guard inside the gates. “Keep movin’, kid!” the guard snapped. He looked up at Constanza’s bedroom window. The light was on.
He returned to his cycle and drove to The Beagle. Automatically he followed a plan that he had not articulated even to himself. He asked Louisa to get the attic keys from José.
He unstapled the life-sized portrait of Estella Robles from its frame and rolled it up. Then, seeing an architect’s blue print tube propped up against the wall, he put it carefully into the tube. He drove to his medical school locker room, secured the tube in his locker, and returned to work his shift at The Beagle hacienda.
In Chetumal, after the election, newspaper pundits gave their opinions that Robles’ loss was due to the suspicion that he was merely pretending to be a man of the people. An unnamed law enforcement officer was cited as having “called his bluff” at a luxurious soiree Robles had attended and that the marriage between his daughter Constanza and a member of a class Robles considered “inferior” was never intended to occur.
Miguel took camera photos of the portrait. Then he called Estella Robles on her house phone. A servant answered and inquired and returned to tell him that Madame was unavailable. This angered him. “Tell her it’s about a portrait.”
She came to the phone. “What do you want? Weren’t you told not to contact this house?”
He spoke softly to her. “Check your cellphone. I’m sending you a photo of your portrait with the quash.”
She checked and gasped. “You said you destroyed it.”
“Meet me now at the motel out on River Road. Bring money… a few hundred dollars American.”
“It’s late. I was just going to bed.”
“Your husband is not awake waiting for you. He carries that much money as pocket change. You’ll likely find it on his bureau. I will register as Señor Marco.” He disconnected the call.
He left the door unlocked and lay on the motel bed waiting with only a sheet covering his body. Estella pushed the door open and nervously turned to close and lock it. It excited him to have her look at him submissively. He put his hand out and she filled it with a stack of American bills. “Where is the painting?” she asked.
“Señora,” he said sweetly, “it is in a secure place. This money is just to pay my expenses for another week. You, above all, must know how quickly plans change. My employment at the hacienda is coming to an end.”
“I’ll buy the painting from you. How much do you want for it?”
“Right now, it’s not for sale. But we can discuss it here, same time, next week. Come here to the bed, Señora. You’ll find it comfortable, I’m sure.”