A Prescription for Murder (#7)
To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
A Prescription for Murder
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
Part 11: Squaring the Circle
Juan routinely walked a mile down the beach to buy tortillas and hard boiled eggs from the Indian couple, but suddenly one morning he felt too sick to make the trip. His stomach had been bothering him for a few days and now he experienced a peculiar cough. “I’ve got a roundworm infection,” he told himself, and gathering his strength, he went to the ferry, used the last of his money to buy a ticket, and returned to Chetumal. The police doctor verified the diagnosis and, seeing his gaunt appearance, put him in the hospital for treatment. A stool sample revealed the specific kind of parasitic worm that had infected him. After two weeks of good food and aggressive treatment, Juan felt strong enough to be released from the hospital – with prescriptions and appointments for retesting. He decided that as long as he was in Chetumal, he would stop at police headquarters to talk with his captain.
“Isolation looks good on you,” his captain said. “Maybe we should put you on death row.”
“I’m taking four different kinds of medication for the parasites I picked up. Worms. I got worms. So I’m not so isolated as you think.”
“Where is a doctor when you need one?” the captain slyly asked.
“I only think about one and I hope she’s recovered from having spent a few harrowing days in our fair city.”
“The Ministerio Publico wanted to reach Karen to ask her a couple of questions. Her secretary told him that she had gone on a lecture tour accompanied by Tony Celine. She gave me the itinerary.”
“That FBI takes its time.”
The captain consulted his desk calendar. “They’re probably in San Francisco, even as we speak.”
Juan could not conceal an expression of pain. “I hope he shows her a good time.”
“When do you have to be retested?”
“In two weeks.”
“Stay in our guest house. You’re one of the few people I work with that my wife likes.”
“Nice of you, but I’ll go back to my hut.”
“The hell you will. You’ll go back to my little guest house. I’ll call ahead to get the mice and spiders evicted… and new sheets put on the bed.”
Karen and Tony spent eight days together registered in separate rooms. They tried to sample the “great outdoors” of the areas they were in, but they were never properly prepared. They froze in Fairbanks, experienced non-stop rain in Seattle, and endured even worse weather in San Francisco where the cold was amplified by drizzly rain. But hotel life was good. Tony was charming and witty and altogether pleasant. They slept, ate, danced, and talked endlessly about their lives. Women eyed Karen enviously. She feigned an appreciation of his sexual performance and he seemed not to notice the deception. Juan Ruiz was a little homunculus who lived in the back of her mind, a place where he never slept.
On the flight home to Phoenix, Tony picked up her hand and looked into her eyes. “You know how I feel about you. Do you think you’d consider marrying me?”
She stiffened in an intuitive response and lowered her gaze. She knew that his proposal was serious, but it was definitely not sincere. He would have used the same tone of voice if he had asked her to buy stock in some sure-fire investment opportunity. She looked up at him and saw the consummate salesman. She had seen that practiced expression of “I care about you. You can trust me” that he showed when he acted as a shill for Dan and Ramona’s coffee venture. She also recalled the “shindig” comment he had made about Agnes’s memorial service. For a moment she imagined that he feared being arrested and that he needed marital privilege to prevent her from testifying against him. Then, realizing that she had nothing to say about him at a trial, a second reason for the proposal occurred to her. The crimes committed in Chetumal might cause him to lose his bank position, and his connection to the scam might cause him to be fined or to make restitution. Maybe he was just like the men she met who were looking for a successful woman to keep them. She smiled said she’d have to think about it. “Marriage is such a big step,” she explained.
He drove her home from the airport. She did not invite him to come into the house. As she waved goodbye to him she felt relief and an odd sense of revulsion that seemed to say, “I just dodged a bullet… and why is that fool shooting at me.”
She brooded. Sometimes, she told herself, a person has to read the last pages of a book before it is closed and returned to the shelf. Someone can say, “Oh, it ends when he dies and she commits suicide.” While being told how the story ends may spoil the reading experience, it cannot eliminate the reader’s need to know to a certainty just what the conclusion was. Juan’s postcard told her that it was over, but she needed to know for herself. She decided that she would return to Chetumal to, as she put it, “put a period at the end instead of a question mark.” Several doctors on staff had agreed to cover her cases while she was on her lecture tour. The pay back would be that she’d cover for them over the long Martin Luther King holiday weekend. But after that, she told Marge, she’d make a quick trip to Chetumal to settle things properly. She obtained a round-trip ticket, leaving Phoenix on January 26th and returning February 1st. The time was propitious since Tony said he’d be in Washington, D.C. on business for those days.
At Chetumal’s International Airport she rented a car, checked into a motel, and drove to The Beagle. The gates that had said “Cabeza de Vaca” had been altered to say, “Botany Preserve” which was now under the control of the University. She did not recognize the gate keeper and she did not have official permission to enter the estate. She asked for José or Louisa and was told that none of the previous staff was presently employed there.
She went to Clara’s house and found the door open. The old woman squinted, looking up at the dark figure in the doorway.
In halting Spanish, Karen asked, “Do you remember me? I’m Doctor Breiton.”
“Come in. Come in. And I remember. You are the doctor who tried so hard to save my son and you were interested in the painting Don Marco did of Clara. You sent food for the baby. I know that Don Antonio delivered it, but it was because of you. So yes, I remember you. Sit down and tell me how I can help you.”
“I’m looking for anyone who used to live in The Beagle hacienda. I’m also looking for Detective Inspector Juan Ruiz-Montoya. Do you know where I can find any of these people?”
“Why is it important for you to soil yourself with those people?”
“It’s the detective… Juan Ruiz… I have a special regard for him.”
“You are in love with him?” She suddenly spoke English.
“Well… yes.” Karen answered. “Clara and Louisa spoke perfect English. I didn’t realize you also knew English so well.”
“I used to work for Doña Agnes’ father. He was a selfish man. He knew words in many languages, but he liked to speak to the British down in Belize – it was British Honduras then – and the Americans and Australians who sailed into Belizean waters. Besides… his father hired a tutor from London. I also learned from him.”
“Why was he selfish?”
“He wanted young Agnes to stay with him. He had paludismo. She had only a little more to go – maybe six months – to finish college, but he didn’t care. He made her come down here to take care of him. She didn’t want to come, so he wouldn’t pay her tuition. She had only a student visa so she had to come back. There was nothing much here then. It was a small town… more Indian and Black than Mexican. She was tall and skinny and not much to look at. He had bought a special machine that made ice cream. He always kept a few cows and a bull in one end of the garden. He liked to have cream in his coffee and real butter and cheese. Nobody else had dairy food like that. So he had native women grind cocoa beans that he flavored with sugar and vanilla from Papantla and even fresh fruit. It was the best ice cream you ever tasted.”
“Maybe the paludismo influenced him. She told me she was the only child in the family.”
“She had spent years in school up there. He suddenly didn’t get lonely. He had his mother here. It was something else he had in mind. He was getting a little odd… Alzheimer’s.”
Karen knew that she was expected to ask what that “something else” was. “What was that?”
“The old man – he was Don Jaime Rodrigues, the famous explorer – and his mother had gained weight eating that ice cream morning, noon, and night. They had ice cream with their morning coffee. They had ice cream with their afternoon tea. And they even had brandy that they drank that they put ice cream in. And when Doña Agnes came down, she started to eat that ice cream, too. He even bought two more cows. I remember how they were. I worked there but we weren’t allowed to drink the milk. Just the butter. We could have some butter with our cornbread.” She sighed and searched her mind for details. “They got a machine that they could play movie tapes on. At night they’d sit in the drawing room with their feet on footstools and eat ice cream. The three of them blew up like balloons in a year’s time. It was too much on their hearts. The doctor warned Rodrigues that he had to lose weight since his heart wasn’t strong enough to push blood through all that fat.”
“But what does that have to do with his being selfish?”
“Don Antonio got the old man to invest a lot of money in a fake land scheme. Don Jaime had him arrested. Antonio was in jail. Don Marco came down to help him. Anthony was married. Marco was not. So they made a deal. Marco would marry Agnes and give the old man an heir and Don Jaime would withdraw the charges against Antonio. Instead of a trial there would be a wedding. By this time she was fat and you could tell Marc was sickened by the sight of her. She was crazy abut him. He was very very handsome. They got married and then he insisted that she finish college, and she went back to Texas to finish her last year. While Agnes was away, Marc cheated on her with all kinds of women. He painted her grandmother. The picture is right in the front of the house. When you enter, you can see it.”
“Yes, I’ve seen it… a very fat old lady.”
“Greedy people are evil people. Don Jaime, Antonio, and Marco were all greedy… evil, too. Marco was the worst. But I always thought that Antonio was the boss. They used the hacienda for making deals with people, crooked deals. Don Marco is in jail. People say that he’s beginning to cooperate with the U.S. police to save his own skin. They’re gonna catch his brother, too. Don Marco poisoned his wife and when he tried to escape at Christmas time, he shot a policeman.”
Karen sat on a bench near the old lady. “The policeman… was it Juan?” she asked anxiously.
“No… A new one… no experience with evil. He didn’t know the difference between a criminal and a devil. He is still in the hospital.”
“Yes,” Karen agreed. “There is a big difference between a criminal and a devil.”
“So you are in love with Juan? It’s the same with his wife. Everybody is talking about her. She was a bad woman… a cheat. Now she won’t give him a divorce. He went away to live in the jungle. He has a desire to die. This world is not for him any more. He already got sick and had to come home to be put in the hospital. Nobody’s seen him lately. I guess he went back to the jungle.”
“Which jungle did he go to? There are so many.”
“To the peninsula. He took the ferry across from Chetumal to Calentura. There’s nothing but death awaiting him there.”
“Calentura,” Karen repeated. “And Louisa and Clara?”
“They’re living in town. They work. Clara once had big ideas about marrying Don Marco, but he had no use for her or the baby. All he owns is in the hands of the authorities. He signed over The Beagle to the school. The garden and the house are now government property. I hope he rots in hell. He caused my son’s death.”
“I remember the night Paolo died. I was so sorry I couldn’t help him sooner.”
“You didn’t kill him. Don Marco sent Paolo down to Uaxactun to get some ‘camahuil,’ antiquities… ancient jade jewelry… from one of his workers. There were no antiquities. The man had already sold them for fifty thousand euros. He waited for Paolo with a machete.”
“Why did Marc want Paolo to die?”
“Because Paolo wanted Don Marco to support his baby… the little boy he had with Clara. Paolo had paludismo from working in the cane fields. He was weak. That’s why he got involved with Don Marco’s dirty antiquities’ business in the first place. He loved Clara and tried to take care of her. He was never a strong boy and then always the attacks… the shaking. My poor boy. He couldn’t do regular work any more. So he agreed to go to Uaxactun for Marc. God gave him the luck to kill that assassino and come home to me and Clara.”
“Why didn’t she stay with you that last night?”
“She was afraid that Don Marco would do some kind of trick that would keep Paolo from getting the medicine he needed. He wanted Paolo to die. She went with him to protect the medicine.”
“She must have loved Paolo very much.”
The old woman scoffed. “No! She didn’t want him to die because that man he killed in the Peten had all that money on him and Paolo took it and hid it. Clara wanted him to show her where it was. And then God took Paolo. And then the police took Don Marco. I have the baby. He’s in the hammock.”
Karen got up and looked at the peaceful baby. She took two hundred dollars from her purse and gave it to the woman. “I’ll try to send you more if you can tell me a good way to get the money to you.”
“There is no good way. They will steal it at the post office. But this is enough to keep him healthy for a long time. You’re a good woman. Don’t tell anybody you gave me this money.”
“What about the detective? Juan Ruiz-Montoya?”
“Ah, him. I told you. As long as his wife is alive, he is like one of those walking dead men from Haiti. His wife was always a bad person. Evil. Maria Ruiz belongs in hell with Marc Celine.”
“Marc painted a portrait of her… one that was as bad as that ‘breast milk’ portrait he did of Clara. Wasn’t Maria scandalized when people saw it? The police have both paintings.”
“You have to know the difference between right and wrong before you can be ashamed for doing wrong. She still loves Marc and so does Clara. The love they feel for that devil erases the difference between right and wrong. I think they are proud that he painted them, no matter what they’re doing in the painting.”
Karen returned to her motel room and from the phone book got Maria Ruiz’s address. She decided to drive past it.
The house faced west and its cream-colored stucco walls seemed to have had metallic flakes in the paint. The setting sun illuminated its walls with a kind of golden El Dorado fantasy. This, she thought, was the effect Tenochtitlan had on the Conquistadores. She could not imagine Juan living in such a pretentious house. She parked near the corner of a side street where she could get a full view of the house and perhaps get a look at Maria Ruiz.
The house was larger than she had expected and there was something vaguely familiar about it. Two columns flanked either side of the entryway and the facade came to a decorative point high above the curved front door. Then it’s familiarity became clear. “Jesus!” she exclaimed, “it’s like a little model of the Alamo.” But then, the Alamo was itself a representative of a certain Spanish style. There were many buildings that used the same basic style. The windows, however, were different. They had shutters which would protect the glass from wind tossed debris during the storms that struck the coast. She could see that the hedges and lawn were trimmed and that the flower beds were colorful. Except for the pointed facade and curved door, the house reminded her of the retirement home she bought her mother and mother-in-law in Tucson. It, too, was painted a cream color and had shutters which, unlike the ones she now saw, were purely decorative. Sundown faded into twilight and the El Dorado effect vanished. In the hour and a half she stayed parked there, no one had entered or left the building. She was tired and hungry. The golden arches of a McDonald’s were nearby.
Lying on her bed, she considered all she had learned that day. There was much to process. The house, for example… it probably was out of Juan’s price range. Maybe it was a gift from Maria’s parents… a wedding present, perhaps. She recalled his speech to Miguel. Maybe Juan was the husband that the spoiled wife had grown tired of. They hadn’t destroyed him. Anyone could see that he had a deep and complicated hatred for Maria and that people… everyone she had seen him with – at least when he was sober – seemed to like him. And why not? He was likable. Perhaps he had that “survivor’s grit,” that Nietzschean “What does not kill me makes me stronger” attitude that made him see his own character as being stronger than Miguel’s. She thought about the speech Faulkner gave when he received the Nobel Prize. Yes, Juan had survived but he had not prevailed. Why the hell not? Ah, it was all too much to figure out. He got sick in the jungle. He went to a hospital and then returned to the jungle. Stupid. His wife had defeated him. Evil had triumphed over good. But he was honorable in defeat. It was a crazy, stupid surrender. Too many questions nagged at her. She took a strong sleeping pill. There was no use in pretending that fatigue could overcome such unrelenting anxiety.
The next day she took the ferry to Calentura. She came prepared to search. The owner of the tienda located at the ferry’s landing said that he hadn’t seen Juan in weeks. He directed her to the Indian couple from whom Juan bought food; and they directed her to his hut; but when she found it, passers-by had picked it clean, and all that she saw was an apparently abandoned hut with a tattered hammock inside it. She followed lead after lead, always to a dead end, but at each stop she left some money and a stamped envelope with her address written on it and a paper inside that said, “Juan esta aqui_-________.” She asked anyone who was likely to have seen him to write the specific name of the place since the postmark would probably be one of the few towns on the coast. Her hope was that as soon as anyone saw Juan, the letter would be mentioned. He’d call her or else the person would just mail the letter.
Her search time had expired. She had to go back to Phoenix.
At home, there were no messages from Tony waiting for her, and she did not attempt to contact him; but she did wonder why he was now suddenly silent. She made an appointment with Raoul, the omniscient hair stylist, and learned that Tony’s bank accounts and property in the United States had been seized by the SEC or the FBI. He was gone and there were government stickers plastered on his front door. People who had tried to reach him at the bank were curtly informed that he was no longer associated with them. “Nobody know whether he’s in custody someplace or out on bail,” Raoul whispered. “Keep your doors locked or you might come home to find him sitting in your living room.”
“Tell me, did his wife know what he was up to?” she innocently asked.
Raoul laughed. “Girl,” he said, using a scissors as an exclamation point, “you are one naive soul! Don’t get me wrong. She had great hair! But she glommed onto those stolen millions like a thousand dollar whore gloms onto diamonds.”
There was no point in asking about Agnes. Agnes did not go to beauty parlors.
In February, a young cardiologist joined her as an associate. He was competent, single and polite. She cleaned out a room in her suite and he supervised the installation of a phone and computer system he used. Although it was known that she lived in a house with five bedrooms and walk-in closets that were large enough to count as five more – two of them even had windows – she did not invite her new associate to live, even temporarily, in her house.
As the weeks passed and there was no word from Juan, she began to withdraw into herself. In her mind she was in a “circling the wagons” defensive state. Juan had never spent the night there in the guest room next to her bedroom. There was an adjoining door between the two rooms that she had always left open; but suddenly she closed and locked it. She decided that she would not search for a man who did not want to be found. “I’m not going to look for love in all the wrong places,” she told herself, imitating the song. “In fact,” she averred, “I’m not going to look for it at all!” She would be content to live alone in a house that was haunted by indifferent ghosts.
Her sister Grace begged her to let her move into her house, telling her the same lies she had told her often in the past. “Call Mom,” Karen said, “she may have drugs and money you can steal. I don’t want any of you here. If you come onto my property I’ll have you arrested for trespassing. Do we understand each other?” She blocked further calls from her sister’s number.
Her mother and Madame Breiton began to fight every day. Karen had given them Five thousand dollars so that they could settle in and buy groceries until their pension checks could be forwarded to their new address. After two months they decided that they could not live on their pensions and would sell the house and split the money. They sold it for a profit. One of them flew to Paris and the other to New Jersey to be with her “good” daughter Grace, whose problems were now temporarily solved.
Tony called occasionally; he admitted that he was out on bail, but he insisted that the trouble would soon pass and he wouldn’t forget that he was still waiting for an answer to his proposal. He reiterated his proposal, said that he loved her, and begged her not to be taken in by anything she was told about him. She promised that she’d always keep an open mind… and heart. When it came to Tony Celine, whatever he was, she told herself, he was medicine to her when she needed it.
In March one of the envelopes she had left in Chetumal was delivered to her house. A visiting Englishman had written the letter at the request of the owner of the little tienda with whom she had left an envelope. “I was merely passing through when the owner of this little store asked me to write a few words to you. He says that the man you were seeking, a man named Ruiz, recently came by. He gave Ruiz your envelope and Ruiz read “Juan esta aqui” and said that you lacked accent marks over the a and the i. Then he gave the letter back to the tienda owner who says that the man is a beach bum with a beard and dirty clothes and keeps to himself. He mostly lives in a shack not too far inland from this store, which is on the beach about two miles north of the ferry. That’s all I know. Good luck in your quest.
Tim Darlington, London.”
Her hands trembled. She re-read the letter. She went to her jewelry box and removed the silver and turquoise ring. She tried it on. She remembered the weekend they spent together… dancing… making love… flying over the Grand Canyon…. him calling himself her ‘boy toy’ when the old ladies had dared to question his presence in her house.
And it had come down to this. Missing accent marks. “God damn you!” she hissed. “God damn you!” She crumpled the letter and threw it in the waste basket in her bedroom.
That night she could not sleep, thinking about it. Juan had held the letter when he read it. Why should that matter? Of course, she answered herself, it establishes a physical connection… like some DNA of his that he left on it. She wished, for a moment, that she had not washed her hands after she first read the letter; but she had read the letter earlier in the day and had already washed her hands a half dozen times since then. This seemed to defeat her, to add to her humiliation. “After all this time… and that’s what he says?” she whispered, angry and hurt. She got up and removed the letter from the trash basket. She smoothed it out, particularly along its edges. She began to cry and stuffed the letter beneath her pillow.
It was a cut that festered. Or, she thought, it was like one of those brown recluse spider bites that caused all the tissue around it to become painfully necrotic. The hole was getting bigger and bigger, the wound more painful. “All that time and all the bastard had to say was that I forgot accent marks.” She suddenly felt the urge to kill him… to pound him into a pulp with a rock. She thought about her thoughts. “I really am turning neurotic.” She went to the bathroom and took 10 mg. of Valium. Still she could not sleep. At 2 a.m. she took a 10 mg. oxycodone pill. She stumbled back into bed.
At 10 a.m. Marge called. The patients were there waiting. Where was she?
Karen got up and turned on the cold shower and staggered around the shower compartment until she was fully awake. She drank coffee, dressed, and went to her office.
The new doctor had doubled up the appointments and was seeing several of her patients by the time she arrived.
For the rest of the day she managed to function well although she became increasingly furious whenever she thought about Juan. “I ought to kill that son of a bitch,” she muttered several times.
Maybe, she thought, the next time he stopped at the tienda he would be told that the Englishman had written to her and told her what he had said about the accent marks. Maybe he had other copies of the envelope and its contents. Maybe this time, he’d be shamed into calling her.
She waited until the end of March. No word came. Nightly she required opiates to get to sleep. “Either I go down there or I turn into a junkie… a neurotic weird junkie… one of those doctors who turns into an addict for some stupid reason… some personal problem he couldn’t solve. To hell with it.” She dreaded the thought of endless futility. On television she watched an old movie about two young men, Brian and Sam, who hated each other. Brian made up lies about Sam which forced him to leave town. He goes far away, filled with hate and the determination to become very successful… so that he can one day return home richer and more powerful than Brian and take some kind of revenge on him. Thirty years pass and he starts to return home. He’s now very rich. He’s sitting comfortably in first class when he begins to chat with someone from his home town who tells him that Brian has been dead for thirty years. “Yes,” Brian died in a car crash just a few weeks after you left. “I’ve spent a lifetime hating a dead man,” Sam replied.
Karen turned off the Tv and scoffed. “You spent a lifetime hating a liar!”
In the morning she picked up a phone and called the police department of the City of Chetumal. She identified herself and asked if anyone knew where she could reach Juan Ruiz-Montoya. Her call was transferred to his superior.
“We’ve not heard from him,” his captain said. “We sent word to him in Calentura that his wife had died… that was three weeks ago… heart attack apparently… and we asked that he contact us. He got the message, but he still hasn’t called back. If you should talk to him, please tell him to call us.”
Karen did not know what the news meant. So he knew that he was finally free, but still he had not called her. “What a faithless liar you are, Juan Ruiz,” she hissed. Yet, the information that his wife had died of a heart attack intrigued her. It was just so convenient… too convenient. The Suicide Tree. She would never mention the tree. No doubt Maria was buried. Maybe he had not called for fear that he’d cast suspicion on her and him. Maybe he was waiting for the news to cool down to the point of insignificance.
She called Marge and the new doctor into her office. “I need to get away for a week on an emergency. Marge, can you come to my house every day and take care of my cats?” Marge nodded affirmatively. “Can you both handle things around here without me?” They assured her they could.
She made reservations for a flight to Chetumal.
Somehow everything looked different to her as she landed and went to the car rental office. It didn’t look better or worse… just different. She drove to Clara’s house to see the old woman.
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
“Of course, I do. Sit down. What can I do for you?”
“Have you heard anything about Juan Ruiz?”
“No. He’s still over there living like a beach bum. People say he got crazy in his head. He won’t talk to anyone. He wants to be left alone. Did you hear that his wife died?”
“Yes, I did. The police captain said she had a heart attack. She must have missed Juan.”
“She liked to take walks in the park every evening. She’d always stop at an ice cream store and buy one of those fancy sugar cones… on top of the ice cream they put chocolate sauce and then they sprinkle chopped nuts onto the chocolate. Clara got a job in the ice cream store. It’s hard work, scooping ice cream.”
“Did Clara wait on her in the store?”
“Yes. The last ice-cream cone she bought, Clara sold her. People said that it was nice that Maria ate something that she truly enjoyed as her ‘last supper.’ They do that for men in prison when they’re going to die… give them a last meal of something they like. She went so peacefully… the angels just carried her away.”
“Yes, some heart attacks come while the person is sleeping. It is a peaceful way to die. It happens.”
“You’re a doctor. You should know. Those paintings made life hard for both women.”
“I didn’t think the police could keep them away from public scrutiny.”
“Photos were taken. Now everybody knows what he painted. Clara tried to live down the scandal. She tried working in town just to be near the jail Marc was in. He told her to stop trying to see him. Last week she had had enough. She left town. People had spit on her for posing like that.”
“And the other women?”
“Right away, the Mayor ordered Doña Agnes’ picture to be destroyed. ‘She’s dead,’ he said, ‘it’s no longer evidence.’ He said it was ‘artistic license’ of the worst kind. He always admired Agnes. Marc added that dirty stuff.”
“What about the other women?”
“Most of them were painted too long ago to be absolutely identified. He didn’t write the names on them, so people had different guesses.”
“And Miguel? He worked at The Beagle. I don’t know if you knew him.”
“Yes. I’ve known his family all my life. He is planning to marry Constanza Robles and he demanded a big dowry from Ignacio. We were all surprised to learn that Robles paid it.”
“Such trouble! Well, do you know when the ferry leaves for Calentura today?”
“If you hurry, you’ll make it.”
Karen gave her some money and drove to the dock. The ferry to the peninsula would be leaving in another half hour.
On deck, she changed her shoes. Stockings in tennis shoes. It looked funny. She didn’t care.
The ferry made her nauseous. She threw up the food she had eaten on the plane. She bought a bottle of water and brushed her teeth. The ferry landed and she carried her own rolling suitcase down the hard sand of the beach, leaving rills in the sand beside her footprints.
At the tienda she got directions to Juan’s shack, the one she had visited before. She followed the path back and pushed the door open. Juan was sleeping in the hammock. She shouted, “Wake up, you son of a bitch!”
He opened his eyes and blinked a few times and then gave a Stanley greeting Livingstone response. “Doctor Breiton, I presume.” Awkwardly, he got out of the hammock. “Tea?” he asked.
“Aren’t you the witty guy! And all you can say to me is that I didn’t put some accent marks in my letter! I went all around this bloody shoreline looking for you! For weeks you’ve known that Maria’s dead. You’ve known that you’re a free man, but you said nothing! You miserable liar! What is going on in that empty brain of yours?”
“My brain is not empty. It is full of you so don’t give me any shit. I’ve had all I can take from other people. I have nothing to give you and I won’t live on your money. So what do you want from me that you can’t get from your travel companion Tony Celine?”
“Just how did your wife die? You never mentioned that she had a heart condition.”
“I didn’t get any details… just the message that she died from a heart attack. Clara probably poisoned her but it was ruled a natural death.”
“Last time I was here I saw your house.” She looked around the flimsy shack. “Hurricane season will be starting soon. You can return to the safety of the Alamo.”
Juan grinned and shook his head. “The Alamo? I never put it together. It does look like the Alamo. Touchy subject in Mexico. But the house isn’t mine and never was. Maria’s parents gave it to her exclusively. The four kids own it now. I signed a paper relinquishing any claim to it. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“I’m sure you are,” she said sarcastically. “So you finally saw Maria’s portrait. What did you think of it?”
“I can’t say that I was aroused by seeing a beautiful woman play with herself, but other than that it was ok. When did you see it?”
“When I saw Clara’s portrait.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I thought you’d be embarrassed by it.”
“Hell, no. If it wasn’t for the kids, I’d have them hang it in the club. Why are you so angry?”
“Terrific. That’s just terrific. Your wife is no longer a problem and all the bullshit you fed me in Arizona is flushed down the tubes. And you ask why I’m angry? I ought to put a bullet through your miserable head. Missing accent marks? Why bother to tell me you’re free? Your interest in me was good for your career. The ‘document forensics’ detective. Now that it’s over, you correct my grammar and say, ‘Adios.’ You miserable liar!”
Juan scratched his head and rubbed his chin. “What can I tell you? I cough. I have dysentery frequently. But I am definitely worm-free. I take medicines every day to stay that way. I don’t eat well – only stuff that can’t harbor worms… bananas… coconuts… papaya… But not as much as I need of anything. I’m always tired. Some days I don’t even get out of my hammock.” He staggered as he slipped his feet into sandals. “Is all this ranting the reason you’ve come down here?”
“Tell me to leave and I will leave.”
“I would cut out my tongue before I let it tell you to leave. What do you want of me?”
“An explanation! I’m entitled to know why you broke your promises.”
“I told you why! I’m sick and I’m disgusted with people… with life! What would you like to do with me? Take me home to Momma? She didn’t approve of me when I was healthy. Do you think I’d fit in with your friends? Play golf with Tony Celine?” He took a deep breath. “Love? ‘Love, look what you’ve done to me.’ Do I still look like a younger version of the Dos Equis man?”
“You look like his unembalmed grandfather. Do you have bugs? I brought Kwell with me in case you have scabies. What about lice?”
“Every night you are all I think about… what you would do… what you would say if we ever saw each other again. But somehow I never imagined you would ask me if I had lice.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. Or didn’t I pose it with the proper accent marks? You faithless lying bastard!”
“I don’t have lice!” He staggered again and grabbed the hammock’s post for support. “Come over here! I can hardly stand on my own. I want to hold you – but first put both your hands up so that I can see you’re not carrying a weapon.”
Karen let her shoulder bag slide down to the floor as she began to laugh and took the few steps it required to reach him.