A Prescription for Murder (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

A Prescription for Murder

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “A Prescription for Murder” click here


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.


Abbot John and the Electronic Fairy

Abbot John
Abbot John

Good Morning Everyone,

In an effort to partially apologize while at the same time thoroughly explain my tardiness in writing, let me try to make an incredibly long story short, although that is generally an impossibility for me. During our entire time here in the Blue Ridge Mountains we have experienced very bad internet connection problems that border on the old Chinese torture method of death by a thousand cuts. So much so that in the last two months we have had the cable techs out here twice a week (on average) with no solution. Every piece of equipment has been replaced at least twice. Finally, during my last fit of exasperation my Zen sang froid boiled over and the old me returned as a kind of fume – one that made its presence felt at the local broadband HQ.

Only fools battle with ghostly presences, and they weren’t fools.  I won and they agreed to send me their “man” – the one who generally sits behind the curtain and is forced from his office of obscurity only under the most dire circumstance. My rant convinced them that this was one of those direst of circumstances. His name was Josh.  Josh arrived at our front door in an “unmarked car.” There was no Cable truck, no magnetic sign on his car door, and his uniform was nothing but blue jeans and a nice golf shirt.  Without making eye contact with me the first words out of his mouth were, “I don’t usually do this.”

I thought, “Oh boy, an idiot savant, our last chance at reconnecting to the world rest on these shoulders.”

This, despite what you may think, was a very positive expression, not negative as it may appear in isolation. I figured that every rational, reasonable solution had already been tried by the caravan of techs that had already been to our abode, and our salvation may indeed rely on more magical processes, processes this man may know better than most.

Josh was a commanding presence as he walked to the study where the modem, router and ingress lines feeding the house were installed. Josh said he had looked over all the tech reports and it was very strange. Our entire neighborhood showed on average one (1) data drop (his words) per month for the entire year with one exception. We were, of course, the exception. Our “data drops” were happening at an average rate of 677 per month and so far this month we had reached 315. If the average drop outs had been 11 less (666) I would have known there was a diabolical reason for it.

After showing us the data Josh took out his little meter and small tool set and began fiddling with every little wire and nut he could find. After finding absolutely nothing he looked up and said, “Electricity is a weird fairy like thing.” I gasped at the profundity of the thought.  I was still panting in anticipation of something or other, but then he walked outside. Dumbstruck I looked at my wife and was relieved to find that she was just as dumbstruck as I (a long marriage usually fosters this Mutual dumbstruction response) and we both just started laughing as we resigned ourselves to the fact that since most of our happiest days were in the 20th century, it wouldn’t be so bad going back in time and living there. A half hour later, just as we were approaching the Disco era, in walks Josh with a small connector and a small piece of wire in his hand.

“I think I’ve found the fairy weirdness,” Josh said as he brought us the evidence.

He showed me the very thin wire and said it was contaminated by what he thought were paint or insect droppings. I could barely see the wire so I took his word there was something contaminating it. Whatever it was he seemed thrilled to have found it, and he brightened up considerably. He replaced this and that and I could swear I heard him whistling while he worked. The story is getting long like I feared so I’ll cut to the chase.

Just as we were beginning the Lambada, we were jolted back into life among the virtual and, accordingly, were deluged with emails that had accumulated during the 21st Century . Be careful what you wish for…

At least we have been spared the plague. My god, that’s the first I’ve heard of that but as I’ve said, my “connection” to the world has been sporadic at best. So the Bubonic Plague is alive and well in the American Southwest.  The CDC or somebody like it says it would make a lousy bioterrorism weapon since it is so easily treated with penicillin.  Flagstaff had it, and Yosemite National Park had to close down a section where the dead animals with guilty fleas were located.

I will limit my hiking to the Appalachian Trail.

Speaking of life in the woods, and the Wabi Sabi existence that appeals to you of late,  I have often felt that the main stumbling block that Buddhists have to overcome in this country (and others in the West) is that lack of community that can act as a foundation of sorts when the spirit juices aren’t flowing as freely as we would like them to. It’s hard for a  Zen Buddhist to walk down the streets of his city or town in the grip of doubt or despair and not find himself propitiously standing by the entrance of a cathedral. Christianity is laid on thick, while the Zen community is spread so thin that is almost a veneer. It is doubly hard for us Western Buddhists since most of us came to Zen with some kind of suspicion about the ways we had been taught and indoctrinated in our youth. There is an almost innate wariness about the symbols and structures of the past that we rejected or redefined. Groups or loose confederations of Zen hermits or any kind of retreat from society requires us to build anew.  The question is how do we build anew, I suppose. Trust is the biggest issue.

Yet there was a gnawing sense that there must have been some reason to erect a communal palace on the pillars of the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha. For a long time I believed two out of three ain’t bad. I could maintain some balance as long as I didn’t try to save the world.

In the end the only thing missing from our “usual” practice is the celebrations. And deep spiritual enlightenment is, if nothing else, highly celebratory. But celebration does imply celebrants doesn’t it? Yet even today, if we were to celebrate the Zen High Mass, I’d find it harder to imagine myself on the Lion’s throne than being the man in the corner smiling in a knowing sort of way (ha ha). In that sense I miss the Sangha and wish there was a way we could foster it. It is a laudable goal I agree.

The Sangha is where the stories are told, I suppose. Obviously the case with Buddha, inarguably the case with Jesus where Paul had the most successful blog of all time going on. I don’t know enough about Islam to say what happened with Mohammed and his boys but I rather suspect it to be the same.

I competed in a member tournament this weekend in which my partner and I won low net. During the two day event one of our competitors started talking about this Buddha guy (my reputation has a way of leaking out). One of our foursome was a retired army guy. He spoke up and said he put a statue of Buddha in his garden but his wife demanded that he get rid of it. I asked him why and he said because she told that the Buddha was this fat lazy guy who just rubbed his tummy and told everybody not to worry about anything. He asked me if that was true or not. I just laughed and said I suppose one could look at it that way but I thought it was a bit more nuanced.

I guess the moral of that story is…I wouldn’t even know where to start.

I don’t even know what a blog is for example.

Let me know what flesh is on the bones…

Abbot John


A Prescription for Murder (#6)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

A Prescription for Murder

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “A Prescription for Murder” click here


Part 10: Jungle retreat


Juan Ruiz-Montoya met with his attorney.  “You know, Juan, you should have acted years ago when you first discovered that she was cuckolding you.  Instead, you forgave her and didn’t even have the balls to make Marc pay.  Those chickens have come home to roost.  Maria knows that you have no case for divorce.  And I want to tell you something else that her attorney – she’s engaged Castellaño… which means that she intends to play rough – told me.  He made inquiries and learned that you’ve been with that doctor who was staying at The Beagle… the Arizona woman.”

“Who told him about Karen?”

“Juan… be reasonable… you went to Mexico City to have tests done on a prescription blank to prove the woman was innocent. Are you working for the defense now?  When you got the results, you got drunk and giddy and went to the airport to buy a round-trip ticket to Phoenix… where the American doctor lives.  You’ve been seen with her here, driving her home, escorting her through the hospital, drunk at the beach… yes… sitting on the sea steps at The Beagle.  You’ve been acting like her defense counsel from the beginning. Castellaño knows that you spent the weekend with her in Arizona…  at a Navajo Hotel and Casino. As soon as Maria learned of your flight, she called him and he contacted P.I.’s in Phoenix. You’re having an affair with this doctor.  And now you want a divorce.”

“I’m in love.  Karen has me going crazy thinking about her.  Before, it didn’t matter.  But now it’s different.  I need a divorce.  I want to marry her.  Do I still have grounds to divorce Maria?  I mean… with all that DNA evidence? And she’s started up again with Marc Celine. I know it.”

“Juan! You’re irrational!  Sure, she’s been visiting him in jail.  Everybody knows that.  But they aren’t conjugal visits; and visiting a prisoner is not grounds for divorce. But you have now given Maria grounds to divorce you for adultery, yet she doesn’t want to give you a divorce.  No, she’s going to fight for you.  In the course of keeping her marital vows she says that she is morally obliged to let people know what kind of woman Karen is.  Yes, she intends to ruin the doctor’s reputation back in Phoenix.  Castellaño has photos of you two on the dance floor, and proof that you cohabited as man and wife in the hotel.”

Juan groaned. “So I have no grounds?”

“None.” He feigned surprise. “Oh! Did I forget to mention that Castellaño says she knows that now that you have saved the career of the American woman, that woman is free to sue Don Marco and collect many millions in damages from him for creating that forged prescription.  She’ll get all his and Agnes’ property in settlement.  Maria thinks that $5 million U.S. dollars will soothe her feelings about giving you a divorce.”

“Five Million? That’s insane.  The government will seize his property.  Karen will get nothing.”

“I said as much to Castellaño and he says Karen will be able to raise many millions from her friends and family.  If she wants you that badly, she’ll find a way to raise the settlement.”

“Karen has her own financial problems supporting her mother and mother-in-law and God knows who else from her past that has their hand out.”

“If she thinks that highly of her family, it works to Maria’s advantage. She’ll want to avoid scandal.”  He paused and shook his head.  “And another thing, now that you’ve gone to the trouble to prove that the two kids are Marc’s, they might have a claim against his assets.  You have opened one can of worms after another.  Maybe they’ll resent you for sticking them in the little house on La Florida when they could have been masters of The Beagle hacienda.”

Juan sat in his attorney’s office and covered his face. “My life is over,” he said simply. “I can’t go to live in the U.S. with Karen and she can’t live here with me.  I know what Maria is capable of.  She’ll destroy Karen and me and the kids, too.  Believe me when I tell you that this is exactly what she will do.  That’s how evil that woman is.” He stood up and quietly walked out of the office.

He returned to his office at the police station.  The portraits were being brought in one by one and the entire staff was ogling them, trying to guess who the women were.  And then something happened that surprised everyone.  Juan stared uncomprehendingly as Maria’s portrait was unveiled and no one said a word.  Finally the Captain said, “Cover it and lock it in the evidence vault.”

Juan sighed.  “I knew that Marc had been her lover and even now she’s visiting him in jail.  She’s been crazy about him for years.”

“Your two youngest kids?” the Captain ventured to ask.

“They’re his. Years ago I got his DNA profile and ran his prints.  I saw no reason to take it out on the kids.”  He suddenly felt nauseous.  “I’m gonna get a little air.  This is a bit more than I can handle.”  Nobody said a word as he left.

Juan started to head for a cantina.  He wanted to get drunk; but he feared that if he were drunk he’d go home and fight with his wife. He was convinced that he hated her enough to kill her. He decided to stay cool and simply remove his remaining possessions from the house.

He went home, and while his wife taunted him, telling him how much it would cost him to make a fool of her, and for trying to throw her out into the gutter, and how she would let the world know about the American tramp, he turned to her and said, “Stop.  Enough. Marc Celine’s portrait of you playing with yourself is now at the police station.  It’s a great likeness.  Everybody says so.  So just be careful about what you say and do.  I can leave town willingly, but you may be run out as a hypocritical whore.”   She stared at him and said nothing as he gathered all his possessions and called his office to announce that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence.

He turned in his badge and official weapon, cellphone, uniforms, and his computer.  He trashed all his photographs, souvenirs, and awards. He gave all of his clothing except several pairs of Levis, underwear, shirts, a jacket, and shoes, to the church’s charity store. Among the items he kept were his personal Colt .45, several knives, and his binoculars.

When everything was packed into a cloth duffel bag, he walked down to the docks and sat for several hours waiting to take the ferry across to the peninsula town of Calentura.  A peddler sold post cards.  In tiny script, he wrote a brief note to Karen.  “Karina, Maria won’t give me a divorce and says she will destroy your reputation if I continue to ask for one – unless I give her a 5 million U.S. dollar settlement. She has photographs of you and me dancing and registered as husband and wife. I can’t get a job in the U.S., and I won’t live on your money.  I prefer to live alone and remember our time in Arizona. I love you and won’t spend a day of my life without saying your name in my prayers. I order you to forget me and pray that you will be as disobedient in this as you are in most things. All my love, Juan.”  He bought an envelope, addressed and stamped it, and gave it to the ticket master to mail.  The ferry bell sounded and he bought a ticket and went aboard.

When the ferry reached Calentura, it was evening and getting cold.  Juan began to walk aimlessly down a narrow trail that led into the interior.  Palmetto palm fronds slapped and scratched him, tough Caribbean agave leaves stabbed at his legs, and the sticky sap of insect eating pinguicula plants stuck to his levis.  It was pointless to try to cut his way through the primary jungle growth.  There was just too much of it. He knew that poisonous plants and venomous spiders and snakes were likely nearby and probably ready to attack; but he didn’t care. But his indifference about the hazards he encountered soon gave way to frustration.  The trail had to lead someplace, he reasoned. And then, just as the twilight was beginning to slip into darkness, he came to an old abandoned hut.  The door was ajar, stuck in mud. He pushed it open and was brought to tearful relief when he saw a hammock inside and tested it and found that it was still strong enough to support him. He did not bother to get up again to shut the door or check to see if there was anything dangerous inside the little dwelling.  He lay in the hammock and let his mind go blank.

There is a point in the attempt to solve a problem in which all reasonable approaches have been tried without success, and the mind is simply unable to think of another way to find the answer.

Rarely, the problem will take on a special challenge of its own and a person will pledge himself to continue, to become better prepared and so be able, at some future time, to solve it.  A “pons asinorum” of geometry decision is reached.  The person does not say the usual, “I cannot cross this bridge.”  He says, “I’ll review the lessons and try again.”  When the former decision is made, usually the entire subject – be it geometry, sailing, carpentry, or a social problem – results in a complete rejection of the subject. He surrenders to the problem and experiences the revulsion of defeat. He will feel disgust for geometry, sailing, carpentry, or the relationship. He turns away from the troublesome topic and moves on, doing what he can to erase all memory of the failure.

Juan’s problem with his wife was not one that could be solved by applying the correct formulas of legal redress, a solution that, in his opinion, two moral human beings would apply. But for years he had ceased to think of Maria as a human being but rather as a source of “present” irritation which he could counter with steely indifference.  As he diagnosed his marital problems, it was a rash that was only a rash and not the incipient stage of a fatal disease. He had taken a laissez faire attitude, not particularly caring what she did, and he assumed that because he didn’t care then he would never care. And he also thought that what she had done was so egregious that she had reached the limit of harmfulness.  He never imagined that his wife would make Karen suffer because he loved Karen.  She hated him so why would she care?  Through the night as he was awakened by the howler monkeys and the screeching creatures that cavorted on the thatched roof, he admonished himself aloud, “Did you think you were shadow-boxing?  That what you were fighting wasn’t real and couldn’t fight back?  Well,  you’ve been knocked on your ass. The game is over.  You lost.”

At dawn he continued walking down the trail which had curved in a subtle way, and he knew, as he listened to the surf, that the path he had initially taken formed a semi-circle path.  The sea between the peninsula and the mainland was before him. He combed the beach until he found the remains of a fishing pole and the dead body of a turtle that had gotten entangled in nylon fishing line.  A hook hung from the end of the line. He unwrapped the line, connected it to the pole, and set out to catch himself breakfast.  He had binoculars in his duffel bag.  He returned to the shack, removed the lens and started a fire.  Inside the shack, on the floor’s center, just as the inditas would have it, was a fire pit.  He’d use it once he got a fish to eat.  Surprisingly, using a worm as bait, he caught a small robalo or snook.  He gutted and scaled it at the beach; and using a jury rigged spit, he cooked it in his hut. “Beginner’s luck” was not a term that occurred to him.

Using the shack as a base, he began to explore the peninsula’s uninhabited shoreline.  He met a few indigenous people who sensed the misery behind his smile, and the hunger that had no appetite. They fed him beans and corn they had raised themselves.  He promised to return daily to buy produce from them.  He also could buy one chicken egg a day, they told him. He did this for several weeks. He didn’t try to fish again since he had preferred to eat the food the farmer and his wife sold; and, too, he knew that they had begun to count on receiving money from him. He also returned to the tienda at the embarcadero to eat; but he soon ran out of cash. He called his lawyer, asking if he could make a quick inquiry about the distribution of the funds the department still owed him.

“I can answer that right now,” his lawyer said.  “Maria’s lawyer petitioned and she was immediately granted half of your pension money in monthly allocations.  I know you were with the department for more than twenty years, but they’re using the twenty year retirement figure.  The rest is going into a credit union police account in your name.”

“I need some money. Not much.  Maybe 100 pesos a month.”

“Six U.S. Dollars?  Rather than go through the complications of getting access to your money, accept two hundred pesos as a gift from me.  I’ll give it to the ferry operator so that he has it with him tomorrow.  How’s that?”

“You’re a good friend.  I’ll make it up to you.”

“Stay out of trouble.   You’ve got time now to think.  So think.  Do you want me to send you a few books?  Paperback action stories…  Clancy?  Le Carre?  Ambler?

“Sure, any and all.”

He met the ferry the next day and got enough money to continue buying an egg, beans and corn.  The money wouldn’t last the month, but, he optimistically thought, the fish were always there.

In January, before he was completely out of funds and had not been able to repeat the initial success he had fishing, he decided to go farther inland to look for work at a mining operation he had heard about. He had thought he would never be sad to leave his insect infested shack, but he was sorry to leave it.  His shoes, he noted, had started to fall apart.  The stitching that held the sole to the vamp had rotted.  He soon preferred to walk barefoot.  His beard had grown in two months. “If they put one of those “se busca” notices out for me,” he said to his reflection in a shard of mirror he found, “no one will recognize me.”

As time passed, countable by sturdy days, Karen remained deliriously happy; but as time began to measure itself in weeks and these too passed with no word from Juan, her initial joy began to stretch itself so thin that there were moments it tore itself to shreds and could offer no resistance to dark thoughts of abandonment.  As she bought a frozen turkey dinner to eat on Thanksgiving Day, she considered that she had not heard from Juan for an entire month. He could have called from a pay phone or sent her a post card or at least asked Alex – he did have a legitimate reason to contact Alex – to deliver a simple message of “Hello.”

She had bought a furnished bungalow in a retirement community in Tucson and helped her two guests to move into it. The drive back and forth helped to keep her mind off Juan.  Yes, it was entirely possible that he had reconciled with his wife. She grew angry. Perhaps, she thought, he had been killed. She began to fret.  She could cope with any possibility if only she knew what it was.

Alex Devers finally called to inform her that the matter had been settled in her favor, that there would be no further interest from her insurers regarding Agnes Celine, and that he regretted any inconvenience the matter had caused her.  “As long as you’re being so nice,” she replied, “perhaps you would do me a favor.  Call Detective Inspector Juan Ruiz-Montalvo down in Chetumal and tell him the news.  Actually, what I want to know is whether or not he is still alive, but telling him the news will get that answer.”

“Sure,” Alex said.  “Be happy to.  I have his private line and I have his office.  I guess it would be best to call his office.”


“Give me a few minutes and I’ll get right back to you.”

Karen waited.  At least one awful possibility would be eliminated.  She chastised herself for spying on him.  But, she argued, what alternatives did she have?

Alex called with what he considered good news.  “Juan’s on indefinite leave.  He’s been gone a month or so and nobody knows when he’ll be back.  His captain said he went into the bush someplace.”

She thanked him, disconnected the call, put her head down on the desk and cried.  The next day she got a handful of quarters and went to the bus stop and called Tony at his bank office.  His secretary was cheerful.  “He’ll be in the office tomorrow, as a matter of fact.  I just heard from him.  He’s finally back from Mexico.  Who shall I say called?”

“Doctor Breiton.  I’m sitting here at the bus terminal waiting for someone to arrive and the bus is late so I thought I’d chat with Mr. Celine. My cell’s battery died.  If he’s not too busy, he can call me at home or at my office.”  As she walked away from the public phone she called herself an idiot.  “As long as I was going to give my name,” she muttered, “I might as well have stayed at my desk. What a stupid lie.”

Later that afternoon, he called her.  He seemed rested and calm.  “Howdy, Partner.  I’m glad to hear your voice.  There aren’t many people I can discuss the ‘Chetumal affaire’ with, but of all of them, you’re the best.  I was just going to call you when my secretary said you called.”

“Great minds think alike,” she said.

“In that case, we’re obviously thinking about a nice place to have dinner.  I’ve got absolutely nothing but decaying crap in my refrigerator.  When are you through work?”

“Today….” she checked her calender.  “I’ve got a 4 o’clock.  I can be ready by 6 p.m.”

“Your office or your house?”

“House.  How about if I make dinner.  You won’t have to dress.”

“Wonderful.  See you then.”

Excited by the possibilities, she went to the grocery store and bought a freshly roasted chicken, a jar of mole, sour cream, and a spanish onion – this completed the main course of Chicken Mole.  She also bought the ingredients for a Caesar’s salad, including a wedge of parmesan cheese and anchovies.  She went to the old French bakery Henri loved so much and bought a box of their most recently made eclairs and two baguettes and a small container of their special French butter.

She splurged on wine: 2 bottles of Chateau Palmer 2006 at nearly $150 a bottle.  She suspected that she was compensating a sense of loss, but that no longer seemed to matter.

She served dinner in the kitchen nook rather than the dining room.  With the lights out and the candles lit and the fresh centerpiece of roses, the meal, served casually in a booth took on an intimacy it would not otherwise have had.  Except for the sliver of breast meat that Karen ate, Tony chatted and ate until there was nothing but bones left on the chicken’s serving dish.  The salad was gone, too.  “I was starving,” Tony explained. “For the past weeks I’ve been in culinary hell.”

“Give me the details…. all the gory ones, too.  Leave nothing out.  I’m dying for news.”

“Let’s see… you left right after Columbus Day.  The shit hit the fan just before that – but I don’t think you knew about it.  Marc and I were asked to go down to police headquarters and Marc said we’d first drop Dan and Ramona off at the airport.  They said, ‘Fine.’  We should have kept our mouths shut.  It gave them time to get a warrant to detain Dan and Ramona at the airport.  They were taken in for interrogation about their Nicaraguan coffee deal.  If it hadn’t been for Aggie’s death, they would have been long gone.  But they had to stay over another day for the memorial service and in that time, the Federal police investigated and found out it was a scam.

“They also kept Marc and me.  I was just ‘johnny on the spot’ – someone who was close to two felonies.  While we were in limbo, they received forensic proof that the prescription was a fake.  They held onto me because some strange young woman who uses colorful names had been picked up in Florida trying to sell an 8 million dollar estate that she didn’t happen to own.  She had implicated me in the sale when she was apprehended.  Sang like a canary.  Named people like a conspiracy theorist.  One by one the names were cleared and I can tell you they didn’t start with the alphabet.  I was among the last cleared.”  He paused to inform her, “This is fantastic bordeaux.  Fantastic.  I feel like a pirate swilling the stuff… but it is excellent.”

She brought him the second bottle to uncork. “I’m glad you like it.  What happened to Marc?”

“He’s in big trouble.  My kid brother invites trouble.  He gets mixed up with all the wrong people, people who like to huckster Ponzi schemes and land swindles.  You remember Robles?

Well, he and the few others who invested demanded their money back.  This time, Marco wasn’t going to get out of it so easily.  Robles had written his check for $250K to Dan in care of the Preciosa’s parent company… or so Robles attested.  The checks had been cashed locally by Marc who was the registered agent.  Cash had to be brought down from the Cancun branch to meet the ‘on-spot’ currency demand and Dan and Ramona took the Beaglette out for a sail that afternoon – the day of the memorial service – and handed the money to a confederate.  So there was no cash to be returned. Robles was hot from losing all that dough. He said some stupid things and public opinion ran against him which certainly didn’t help to cool him off just before the election.

“The phony prescription put Marc squarely under suspicion for Agnes’ murder.  University botanists advised the D.A. of Cerbera Odollam’s lethality and some physicians reported on the similarity of the toxin to – what is it that Agnes suffered from?”


“Yes, that’s it.  It mimics the symptoms.  Marc tried to mitigate his situation by signing over The Beagle to the University – which is what Agnes wanted, but I don’t think it did him any good.  Since the plants had to be maintained, the judge ordered the University people to take temporary possession of the place.”

Karen wondered about the paintings. “Marc was still in custody when I left.  Did he ever get home?”

“You’re interested in those paintings in the attic.  Confess.  Louisa told me she had taken you up there just before you left.”

“Yes, guilty.  What a collection!  Were they all accounted for?”

“I guess. Well, I don’t know.  I never took an inventory, you understand.  Marc remained in custody so he couldn’t have destroyed any of them. I saw them as they were brought into the police station.”

“Did you know any of the women? Karen asked.

“There was Clara – Louisa’s sister; Maria Ruiz, the cop’s wife; a dreadful portrait of Agnes when she was obese… some others I can’t remember.  Anyone in particular you interested in?”

“What about Estella Robles?”

“Good Lord!  He painted her?  I would definitely remember if her portrait had been included.  So, no, she wasn’t there.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Karen sighed. “The Robles family would not like the public to see that portrait.”

“Word has it that Estella cozied up to Miguel to get him to do some kind of favor for her.  Maybe destroying that portrait was the favor.  Ok, I’ll bite. How had he painted her?  My imagination is carrying me away.  Did you ever see such trash?  I was ashamed to see the name “Celine” on the lower right hand corner of the paintings.”  He began to laugh.  “What awful shit those paintings were.  And the funny thing is that he got the faces so right that even after years, you could still tell who the woman was.  I was more or less just being detained.  Marc was in a different part of the building.  When I heard the cops laughing, I asked what it was all about and I was escorted from the holding cell I was in to go have a look. He did have talent, but I don’t think I ever realized how sick he was.”

Karen wanted to change the subject. “Oh, by the way, my insurance company’s investigator called to inform me officially that there would be no malpractice charges brought against me.  He told me that I can now relax.”

“How am I going to match that for a Christmas present?”

Karen blushed.  “I wasn’t fishing for a present.”

“Just the same, you’re gonna get one.  Thinking about you and the narrow escape you had from my brother’s scheme is what kept me sane down there.  I was in the hoosegow for a few of weeks.” He paused before asking, “You got a screened-in veranda around here? I’d love to go out and smoke a real Havana cigar after that great meal.”

“Screened?  You’re not in Chetumal anymore.”

“Jesus. No mosquitos here!  My brain is still south of the border.”  He stood up and Karen led him onto the back patio.

“Stretch out on one of these deck chairs and if you want to go swimming bare-assed, I’ll leave the lights off.”

“You’re killing me!  A smoke and then a swim!  I love this place.  You’re gonna get an even nicer Christmas present.”  He lit his cigar and stretched out on a padded long chair.  “Heaven,” he sighed.

“Tell me what other news there is from Mexico?”

“Ignacio Robles lost the election by a slim margin.  He blamed negative publicity.  To paraphrase  his concession speech, he said, ‘Unscrupulous people have attacked my family, my daughter’s good character, my wife’s health, my finances, my relationship with people who were not what they had appeared to be – but these people – and I speak specifically about the persons who attended the seminar at The Beagle hacienda, had fooled everyone who knew them. Yet, I alone was blamed for the financial misfortunes that befell other victims.  It was as if I, myself, had not been a victim.'”

“What did Juan Ruiz do when he saw his wife’s portrait?”

“After that episode the night of the memorial, I thought he’d be bouncing off the walls.  But to his credit, he stayed cool.  No histrionics. The University handed the paintings immediately to the police – so the newspapers never got a look at them. The students kept them draped when they carried them into the station. God… what vile shit they were.”  He lapsed into silence and then began to snore lightly. Karen took the cigar from his hand and placed it in an ashtray.  Then she got a light blanket and covered him.

She quietly entered the kitchen, cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher, and went to bed.

In the morning, Tony Celine had vanished and were it not for the cigar in the ashtray, there would have been no evidence that he had ever been there.  The blanket she had put over him had been neatly folded at the foot of the long chair.

“All that,” she mumbled, “and I’ve learned nothing more about Juan except that he has seen the painting.  Maybe he thinks I saw it and he’s angry that I didn’t tell him about it… and warn him.”  She had Juan’s private number.  She wanted to call him and often took her iPhone out intending to call him, but she knew that he knew her number as well.  And she was no longer in any jeopardy.

She began to get her hair done regularly by the stylist who had done Anthony Celine’s wife. She learned that Marc had been incarcerated in Mexico and that all of his Arizona property had been seized by the U.S. government.  No one knew specifically why or for how long the property would be held; but it did not matter, apparently.  Between jail and the lawyers his life was over.  Marc also faced even more serious charges.   Besides the murder of his wife, he was being held for what was worse than murder, the illegal sale of national treasures, the Mayan Antiquities he had obtained in Mexico.

In December Tony called from Boston.  “I’m here visiting my late wife’s family.  We all miss her very much.  She died here in Boston, in the hospital where she was being treated.  Pancreatic cancer.  I’ll say no more about it. It’s not a pleasant subject.  But I wanted to hear your voice.  I left my car at the airport so on my way home tomorrow afternoon, I’d like to stop by for another visit.  And this time I promise I’ll do all my sleeping on the plane.”

“What time will you be getting in?”

“Why don’t we go out for dinner.  I’ll go right home and change clothes and pick you up at 6. How’s that?”

“Fine.  I’d like that.”

He had made reservations at his club.  After dinner, they could dance in any traditional ball room style they chose.

More than a month after he sent it, Karen finally received Juan’s postcard.  She could see the date but could not read the smudged postmark.  Knowing that he had taken an indefinite leave of absence, she surmised that he had gone to some isolated place.  He said goodbye.  Their love affair had ended.  No doubt he had gone into some remote jungle enclave, a place where he’d get malaria or one of those terrible tropical parasitic diseases. One moment she was angry with him in his orgy of self-pity and the next moment she worried about him and wanted to tell him that everything was going to work out for them.   All through the Christmas holidays she waited and hoped she’d get another letter or that he would call.  Nothing happened.

Tony, on the other hand, was sweet and attentive.  He gave her a gold bracelet for Christmas and made reservations for them to attend a formal New Year’s Evening party at his club.  She busied herself with finding just the right gown.  “It’s part professional and part personal,” she told herself.  A few of the people who had been questioned by the insurance investigator in mid-October would be there.  It would be nice to let them see her so carefree and, well… glamorous, for a change.

The agent for a speaking tour called and asked if she’d be willing to give a lecture in Fairbanks, followed by others in quick succession in Seattle and San Francisco.  A company had manufactured a new system of monitoring the performance of diseased or weakened hearts.  Karen had used the system provisionally and had found it useful, particularly among the elderly. She agreed to deliver talks on what she privately called, “infomercial medicine.”  She told Tony that she had agreed to the tour.  “I’ll leave on January 4th and be home on the 11th.”

“Do you want company?” he asked.  “I’m not being polite.  I’d really like to see the great Dr. Breiton in action.  It’s a comparison thing.  I really want to know if you’re as good as I was giving Agnes’ cinematic eulogy.”  With that the two began to laugh heartedly.

“If you’re willing to pay your own expenses, why not?”

“I’d be willing to pay yours,” he said.  She smiled and called her agent and told him to make reservations for two and to charge the second one to the credit card number Tony had given her.

The terms of her contract stipulated that she was not to share her room with anyone.  It did not stipulate that she couldn’t stay in someone else’s.


A Prescription for Murder (#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

A Prescription for Murder

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “A Prescription for Murder” click here


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.”

Hagakure (#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya


Part 5: The Rising Sun Sets Upon The Samurai
by Ming Zhen Shakya


Tokugawa “Edo” Shogunate (1603 – 1868)


It has ever been the case that when men in power are given the support of religion, they will use that support but never credit it; and when men in power are not given the support of religion, they will hold the religion responsible for every mistake they make.

Ieyasu regretted that after having pledged to protect Hideyoshi’s son, he instead destroyed him; but he also believed that without the support of the Western Christian daimyos, Hideyoshi’s son would never have been a threat needful of destruction.

In 1600, a Dutch ship, piloted by an Englishman named William Adams, landed on a southern island. Immediately the Catholic missionaries demanded that Adams be executed for piracy. No one knew better than a samurai that “The enemy of my enemy is probably my friend,” and Ieyasu not only forbade anyone from harming Adams, but he further discomfited the Catholics by ordering Adams to be brought to his palace for a long and private audience. Adams, being an English Protestant, was familiar with Spain, Portugal, and Catholicism, and his adverse opinions of all three confirmed Ieyasu’s suspicions and validated the opinions expressed by the Buddhists. Adams gave further assurance that if a trade agreement could be reached between Japan and the Dutch and English, Japan would receive all of trade’s benefits and none of religion’s detriments.

Ieyasu expressed a desire to have his own large trading ships, and Adams, who had once apprenticed as a shipwright, agreed to do his best in supervising the building of several large ships. His best proved to be good indeed, for the ships he built sailed to Mexico and back quite safely. Adams was handsomely rewarded for his efforts as was the Dutch East India Trading Company. He was even permitted to carry the samurai’s “two swords.” The Portuguese and Spaniards were invited to leave.

Unfortunately, their farewell addresses lacked a certain “consolation of parting.” They were accomplished motivational speakers; and they were not motivated to leave but to strengthen Christian unity in defiance of civil order. Emotionally aroused, their converts did not respond well to Ieyasu’s order that all citizens convert to Buddhism and to be sincere in that conversion. Those who lacked the required verve were executed.

The samurai nobles constituted 10% of the population of Japan, a considerable leisure class for the common man to support. Ieyasu could count no less than 260 daimyos, 259 more than he would have preferred. Many of these lords had huge armies and many palaces. He therefore ordered that each daimyo have no more than one castle; and to prevent alliances that might prove inimical to his interests, he ordered that any marriage between nobles first be approved by him. And to prevent the daimyos from growing too rich from trading, he also imposed restrictions on the number of ships each could possess.

To enforce the concept of centralized government, he decreed that each daimyo must contribute men and material to the construction of a government complex of buildings and his private palace in the new bakufu capital in Edo – which was suddenly transformed into the metropolis later called Tokyo.

Aware that one man could think whatever he liked but that it took two men to conspire, he permitted the feudal lords to rule their fiefs as they saw fit; but what he strictly regulated was their interaction with each other.

Ieyasu recognized four classes of individuals: warriors, farmers, artisans, and tradesmen. It was not an Indian Caste System which permitted no movement between castes, but rather a means to establish conformity within the members of the group. Each class had to be instantly identifiable by uniform. Merchants had to appear in public wearing homespun cotton kimonos; a purpose they did not consider defeated by lining them with gorgeous silk brocades.

For the Samurai, ko-mon, those heraldic crests had to be displayed on garments. Fabrics, styles, and colors were allocated according to class and even the menu suffered its share of class distinction. Delicacies could be prepared by the common man but not consumed by him. On and on the regulations went.

Ieyasu understood the democratic principle: the power to tax is the power to destroy. When to tax too much and when to tax not enough was as large a problem to him as it is to any modern regime. When it came to political ambitions and the mother’s milk of all politics, i.e., money, he did not want to oppress, he merely wanted to depress. It was therefore necessary for him to require large tribute payments from his 260 daimyo taxpayers. They, in turn, passed the burden onto the common man.

In his early seventies, while hawking with his favorite birds, he grew ill. He died shortly after, leaving the Shogunate to his son. But after eight years of ruling Japan, his son retired, dropping the burden onto his own son, the formidable Iemitsu.

In 1623, as the Pilgrims suffered the labors of creating a new way of life, Iemitsu became Shogun and cruelly squeezed the life out of an old one. The Golden Age of Samurai nobility of body, soul, and mind was over.

Unlike his grandfather who, he claimed, visited him in visions, Iemitsu had never so much as witnessed a battle. He had, therefore, no inhibitions about warfare. He summoned each daimyo and ordered him to submit to his absolute authority or suffer complete family extermination.

He had inherited a nation at peace with the shogun’s coffers filled with daimyo tribute; yet he was brutal, tyrannical, and more than normally paranoid for a shogun. To eliminate any possible competition for his position, he ordered his younger brother to commit suicide. Any man at court who disagreed with him issued his own death warrant. But what would he do with all those unemployed nobles? How would he keep them from conspiring against him? How would he ensure that they always lacked the funds to mount a military campaign against him? Iemitsu devised an efficient scheme for achieving his goals. He initiated the “Alternate Attendance System.”

Every daimyo had to send a large contingent of samurai to Edo every year to spend several months in the capital. Samurai wives and children had to remain in Edo the entire year which meant that within a single generation there were samurai who did not know their own estates, who knew only Edo and the friends and, presumably, the enemies they met growing up in Edo. It would be as if each of the United States was governed by families who had lived every day of their formative years only in Washington, D.C. (One does not have to be a States’ Rights advocate to shudder at the thought.) If in their fiefs regional dialects were spoken, they did not know them… or the manners and customs of those who would have been their neighbors. When samurai boys became men and journeyed to their fief for the first time, they went as strangers.

And the cost to the daimyo to send a well-groomed army and countless support personnel on the long overland journey, to maintain them at Edo during the Attendance period, and to maintain the families of the Samurai at Edo all year round, was prohibitive. Three-fourths of a daimyo’s income could easily be spent each year on pointless expeditions to the capital. Manufacturers and merchants along the routes prospered.

During the Attendance Period at Edo, the samurai had to have something to do and money to spend doing it. But Iemitsu decreed that the samurai could not work beneath their station. With no way to earn money they had to content themselves with spending their stipends in the pastimes of idleness and boredom: gambling, effete musings, fashion, food, poetry, theater, gossip, and the ever-popular wine, women, and song were the pursuits of knightly valor.

Centuries before, the rise of the samurai began when idle, vain and utterly useless aristocrats fled the capital of Kyoto to find sanctuary and purpose in service to hinterland daimyos. And now the situation was completely reversed. Trained and spirited samurai came to the capital in Edo to live like idle, vain, and utterly useless aristocrats. The arts of war had been reduced to sport and grandstand chatter.

Farmers, in a feudal system, belong to the land – as countable and as fixed in place as trees. They received no permission to travel the five highways that led to Edo. Passports were issued and border guards carefully inspected them and the travelers who bore them.

The rules of etiquette applied. With nothing of importance to do, trivia became significant. The samurai could settle their disputes among themselves in strict ritualistic form; but if a samurai so much as suspected that a lower class man had insulted him, he could quite literally slice him in half without even offering an explanation much less a statement of regret.

It was mandatory that a wife wear a red headband when she brought her husband his meals as he worked from dawn to dusk in the fields.

If anyone even unknowingly broke one of Iemitsu’s myriad rules, he could be mercilessly flogged or even crucified. It was not a time to be careless.

Since warriors had no wars to fight, they were expected to become scholars, not to satisfy intellectual curiosity but rather to fill their vacant times with reading and writing. By way of “busywork” they wrote poetry; and because they had no money to pay for their enforced luxury, they would congregate in public places which the generous merchant class visited. So that there would be no infraction of the rules of class distinction, pen names were adopted.

As the years passed and burdens upon the poor to pay for all these excesses increased beyond the capacity to bear them, the system collapsed. Unable to pay samurai retainers, the daimyo released many of them from service and they became Ronin, unattached knights, or paladins.

Some ronin formed gangs, resorting to theft and extortion, activities which were once attributed to the despised merchant class. But this class had gotten very rich, and again, in a complete reversal of fortune, the merchants would pay daimyo to adopt them so that they could wear those coveted samurai heraldic crests upon their kimonos.

The strain of irrational cruelty that cursed the great Ieyasu’s line became evident again in the Fifth Tokugawa Shogun who happened to be born in the Year of the Dog. He decreed that no dog could be killed and that any stray animal must be housed and fed. Thousands of dogs were kenneled in Edo. People in the countryside starved, but the dogs were fed.

In the year 1637, in Shimabara, drought and famine had reduced the people to unbearable suffering. One farmer who was unable to pay his taxes had to watch his innocent daughter unmercifully flogged for his failure to pay. The farmers along with the “closeted” Christians rebelled and barricaded themselves in a castle. The shogun ordered the castle to be placed under siege until all who occupied it starved to death. And then it was decreed that foreign influence had created this rebellion. The Dutch were confined to a small island near the port of Nagasaki. Japanese who were abroad were prohibited from returning and no Japanese citizen could leave Japan.

Two years later a Portuguese ship sailed into Japanese waters. The Shogun ordered all personnel on board – which included royal ambassadors – to be executed except for a few men who, acting as messengers, were told to inform the King of Portugal that if his Majesty entered Japanese waters again, his head, too, would be removed. Japan had begun several centuries of total isolation.

And as if to codify samurai codes before they could all be forgotten, in the middle of the seventeenth century, Miyamoto Mushashi composed The Five Rings of samurai strategy .

And it is also in this time period, in 1659, that in Nabashima fief, a young Buddhist samurai named Tsunetomo was born into the Yamamoto family. He would be a Buddhist acolyte, a writer, a trained samurai warrior, a monk, and finally the author of the Hagakure.

A Father’s Birth (#6)

Master Yao Xin Shakya

A Father’s Birth


A series of articles on becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest memories, guts, and imagination


Click here to access all available issues of “A Father’s Birth”


Part 6: Confidence


It was our first night home.  I was exhausted to the point that unconsciousness would better describe my state.  Somewhere in my sensory fog a voice was calling, but I couldn’t be sure where it was coming from or if it even concerned me.  ‘Wake up! Please wake up!’ I recognized the distant voice as my wife’s voice.  I asked myself, What does she want? Doesn’t she know I’m sleeping?  I’m so tired. I want to go back to sleep.  But no.  Here comes the voice again.  “He just finished nursing. Could you please change his diaper?”  He? Nursing? You? Diaper?  All the words came together and I woke up fast.

I sat up and looked around.  The room hadn’t changed except for one thing… there weren’t two of us anymore.  There were three.  And Zen priest or not, I was suddenly scared out of my wits.  ‘Take him,’ my wife said. ‘His diaper needs changing.’  She held him up and I knew that I had to take him from her, so I did and was shocked to find him so light… weightless.  All this commotion for weeks and days, and here was this little creature that was the cause of it all.  I held my arms out and held him in my hands; and suddenly I felt like a bear holding a squirrel.

My wife and I had made a deal.  She would feed him and I would clean up the results of that feeding, i.e., change his diaper.  I took him into the bathroom and put him on the changing table.  I unsnapped his pajama bottom and pulled them off.  So far, so good.  I found the diaper’s adhesive tabs and pulled them, and then like a bizarre flower the diaper opened up and the poop I expected to find wasn’t there.  Instead my little son had filled his diaper with something that looked like crude oil or greenish tar.  It was dark, thick, sticky stuff.  I took a baby-wipe and tried to clean it off.  I was fully awake now, and being so, I began to remember what the nurse at the Birthing House had said.  Then it had seemed just a casual comment; but now it made important sense. Meconium.  ‘For the first few days, the infant will excrete all the contents of his intestines… everything that had been ingested while he was in the uterus.’  She said that it wouldn’t smell funny at all; and in fact, it didn’t.  She had said that it would be different from normal poop, and it was.  So I had learned Lesson #1.   And my son had passed the first test.  If he had excreted this meconium while he was still in my wife’s uterus, he might have ingested it; and that would have made him a candidate for some very serious problems. The nurse had told us that people used to think that this meconium was sterile; but, in fact, it isn’t.  Researchers in Spain tested many samples and found that half of them contained E. coli. Uh, oh.  I used a second wipe on his behind… and then a third.  I wanted to be sure I got it all off.

Where, I wondered, did people get the idea that changing a diaper was just a simple thing?  Changing a tire is less hazardous… and less complicated!  When I was certain I had gotten his bottom clean, he peed in a pretty golden arc.  I stood there speechless and watched him.  He gurgled or giggled.  I couldn’t be sure, but it certainly seemed that he was laughing happily as if he were really having fun.  I knew only that this whole messy experience was absolutely beautiful.  Now I was giggling, too.  And I got wipe #4 and did my duty.

Naturally, I thought about Zen Masters who take their turn with the “Shitstick.”  There was a time that monasteries would be built in rural areas and, since monks are human beings, they went to the toilet regularly.  Disposing of this waste was usually accomplished by diverting a small stream into a sluice that depended on gravity to get it down to wherever the waste would finally be deposited.  Often clumps of waste would get stuck in the sluice, and the monks had these paddles that they used to push the waste down so that it didn’t form a blockage that would dam-up the flow.  It wasn’t a pleasant job; but the Masters would demonstrate that they were no better than the lowest monk when it came to these human necessities.  There is no place for an ego in the act of eliminating waste.  The Shitstick united the master with the novice. Titles cannot separate us from our common humanity. And I learned something else, too.  I was due to officiate at an Ordination ceremony. This would be an even more awesome experience since now I was aware of the hazards and complications none of us ever imagines will occur, but they do. Human beings make mistakes and they also are simply ignorant of things that they will later need to know.  It is scary to take on such responsibility; but if, like those masters who took their turn in using the Shitstick, we remember our common humanity and keep our ego out of the process, we can prevail and share a happy experience instead of showing disgust at actions that we decide are beneath us.

Da Shi Yao Xin conducts an ordination service in Belgium and speaks about the priestly mandate to remember our common humanity.

 So there I was… a dad… like a doctor or a plumber or a grocer…  putting a clean diaper on my boy.  His bright eyes looked at me.  I don’t know what he saw, but I saw an adorable face that radiated a kind of confidence in me and an approval of what I had done.  I had begun the task, shocked to see what looked like lava that had erupted from his behind.  And then with just a little knowledge and, I suppose, a lot of instinct, I had wiped away the tar and the urine and in this act, I had joined the rest of the world’s dads.

My transition to fatherhood had begun.


  Da Shi Yao Xin and Baby Eliott

A Prescription for Murder (#4)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

A Prescription for Murder

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all available chapters of “A Prescription for Murder” click here


Part 7:  The Obscene Gallery


On Tuesday morning Karen learned that though she was not yet officially permitted to leave, she was not likely to be charged with any crime.  Agnes’s death had been ruled accidental, with a parenthesis that said “medical misadventure.”  The unofficial complaint was gross negligence in treating her friend and patient Agnes Celine, which constituted a civil action that, Marc lamented, several lawyers had advised him to take.

Marc and Tony were working in the downstairs office when Juan called Karen to ask about the paintings. “Any luck?”

“We can’t go up to the attic while Marc and Tony are in the house.”

“Leave it to me,” he answered. “Call me when they leave.”

Five minutes later Juan’s superior called Marc and asked if he and Tony would drive into the city to clear up some last minute details.  Everything had happened so quickly and he needed a few more papers to be signed.  Marc and Tony assured the captain that they’d be there as soon as they dropped Ramona and Dan Duran off at the Airport.

From her bedroom window Karen watched the two men drive off in the Buick. She called Juan.  “They’re on their way.  I’ll go up to the attic with Louisa.  I’ll let you know what I see. I’ll take notes just for you.”

Louisa held up an old ring of keys. “I got them from José,” she explained. She went to a far door in the attic and began to try them in the lock.  Finally one fit and the lock opened. She turned the door knob, pushed the door, and looked inside.  “Here they are!” she exclaimed.

The paintings were all on individual easels and each had a large drop cloth covering it.  She removed the first.  It was a horrendous painting of fat Agnes. She was naked and completely filled the large overstuffed chair she sat in.  Rolls of belly fat like unbaked baguettes lay one atop the other from her chin down to her ankles. She was fatter than she appeared in her graduation pictures. Marc had depicted her in the act of eating obscenely designed pastries.  A penis eclair, anatomically correct, even to the scrotum that she retained in her hand, was in her mouth and her slitted eyes gleamed with pleasure as the custard filling ran down the many folds of her neck.

Shocked, Karen asked, “Did Agnes ever see this?”

“Yes, or so I was informed.  José told the chef and the chef told Clara. Look at the window in the background.  It’s Marco’s office window. You can see The Beagle’s gardens.  You’ll see the same background in most of them.”

“And she didn’t try to destroy it?” Karen recovered the portrait.

“I heard that she had already destroyed hundreds of his child pornography photographs and made a deal with him that if he’d stop engaging in such pornographic stuff, she’d pose for him. So she posed.  He lied. She later found kiddy porn in his desk. Since he broke their agreement she insisted that he destroy the painting.  He made a quick copy which he burned in front of her out in the courtyard.  This is the original.  He hid it here in the attic.  They moved to Arizona and then he and Tony started doing those investment seminars. Marc thought he had the only key.  But José used to put some of her grandfather’s stuff up there and he had a key, too.  She never knew that he kept her portrait.”

“When was this?”

“Maybe twenty years ago… when she lost the baby. And if you want to know how I know all this it’s because their previous chambermaid – she lives in Columbia now – did a lot of gossiping after Marc fired her.  She wouldn’t play his games, if you get my drift. I asked José and he said it was true but that I shouldn’t talk about it.”

“I understand. Didn’t Agnes ever come up here?”

“No.  I’ve never known her to come up.  There were rats up here and then a colony of bats.  She was scared to death of this attic.”

They moved to another easel.  Louisa pulled off the covering.  “This is the painting you were asking about.  It was the last painting he did. Look in the background.”

Marc had painted a cradle with an infant’s arms and hands sticking up from the cradle’s side as if they were trying to grasp something. It struck Karen as the typical gesture an infant makes when it is hungry.  Milk dripped from her nipples.  Her hands were clasped behind her neck.  Whether they were tied there, Karen could not tell. “This is outrageous.”  She recovered the portrait.

They looked at several others.  The portraits were all obscene or weirdly sadistic.  “Here’s one of your policeman’s wife,” Louisa said, walking to the corner of the room.  Karen’s eyes widened.

Louisa removed the cloth covering to reveal Maria Ruiz in the act of masturbating with an instrument of some kind. She was a beautiful blonde, but her lascivious expression was startling. “This is Maria Ruiz?” Karen gasped.  The blue-eyed woman was about twenty-five years old.  “Marc’s eyes are brown, aren’t they?”

“Oh, yes… he’s the ‘missing link.'”  She laughed.  “But I don’t think Ruiz knows who her lover was.  He was in la-la land, I guess.  He treated the kids like his own.  They no more looked like him than if they were Martians. Stupid.  You saw him the way he talked to Miguel.  He’s got a mental problem.”  She made circles around her ear with her index finger, indicating “crazy.”  Then she recovered the portrait.

Karen could barely process the information.  “You think you know someone…”  She meant Marc, but Louisa incorrectly assumed she meant Juan.

“Yeah, you’d think a cop would be smarter… you know… be more aware of what’s going on with his own wife.”

“So Maria is still seeing Marc?” Karen tried to make the question seem casual.

“Far as I know. They started up again just before last Christmas. And they’re still at it. Marc was down here a month ago and she was with him the entire time. He didn’t re-paint her, though.    Clara had believed him when he told her that if he were ever free, he make her mistress of The Beagle.” She laughed.  “Sure.” She pursed her lips and made a sucking noise.  “Paolo stepped up.  He always had a thing for her.  Shame he died.” She walked to another easel. “Let’s see if you recognize this one.”

Karen watched her teasingly remove the cover, doing a little dance as she revealed more and more of the painting.  Slowly Estella Robles emerged from behind the covering.  She was younger and slimmer than the woman Karen had met at the seminar and memorial service and had none of her good taste. In the painting she wore lipstick and eye makeup that had to have been Marc’s exaggerations. Her arms were splayed over the back of the wicker chair as were her legs over the chair arms.  An animal, like a long-snouted raccoon, was between her legs, attempting to put its nose in her vagina.  Notably, the portrait showed a long abdominal scar on her right side with the old fashioned staples running its length like railroad tracks.

“I don’t know why she has such a scar,” Louisa said.

“It look’s like the work of an old-time surgeon… a gall bladder procedure possibly. What is that animal?” Karen asked.

“A quash.  That’s what the Belizeans call a coatimundi.  Marc couldn’t paint fur.  It made him so mad.”

“When did he paint her?”

“About ten years ago. She only wears one-piece bathing suits.”

There looked at a few other obscene portraits and, judging from their hairstyles, Karen assumed that they were before Louisa’s time.  Louisa didn’t know their names.  She finally indicated that they didn’t have time to look at any more.

They left the room, Louisa locked the door, and then they went downstairs to the second floor bedrooms.  Karen went into her bedroom as Louisa hurried to the kitchen to return José’s keys to him.

The sight of the portraits could not easily be forgotten.  They were there, indelibly so, in Karen’s mind.  She did not know what to tell Juan. She did not know why Juan had asked her to inquire about Clara’s portrait. Why had he not mentioned Marc and Maria’s relationship?   Did he not know about it?  It was all so confusing.  She thought again about the rule she had broken about seeing a patient socially.  “Lord,” she whispered, “let this nightmare end.”

On Tuesday evening, the captain of police called The Beagle. He spoke to José and asked him to deliver a message: Karen Breiton was officially permitted to leave Mexico.  She immediately wrote a thank-you note to Marc and in careful non-committal terms, expressed her condolences.

It was too late to enter Belizean customs. She couldn’t leave before dawn.


Part 8:  Salvation


Early on Wednesday, José saw Karen put the note on the table in the foyer as she prepared to leave the house.  She held the strap of her little carry-on bag on her shoulder as she hurried on, intending to hitch a ride to a Belize entry point.

José  picked up her note and put it in his shirt pocket.  As she walked toward the gate, he appeared, driving a motorcycle.  He tied her carry-on bag to a shelf welded above the rear fender, and had her get on the seat behind him.  Without saying a word, he drove immediately to the Belize crossing.  She paid him $50 for his trouble, waved ‘goodbye’ and entered Belizean Customs.  Once through, she accepted a ride down to Belize City.

Karen sat in her hotel room and looked at the sea and wondered whether she could practice medicine there in Belize if her license were revoked in Arizona.  Surely, if she lost the case or if, as Marc probably hoped, the insurance company would make a quick settlement, she would become uninsurable which was tantamount to being unlicensed.  And what, she wondered, would happen if Marc supplied a believable motive… say, a love triangle, and insinuated that Karen had deliberately written the lethal prescription. Tony had taken photographs of  her in a bathing suit.  With no effort Marc could convert the photo into a salacious portrait. “My God! My God!” she whispered, “What have I gotten into.”  The settlement would be much larger and maybe… oh, she would have to consult an attorney to ask… she might be charged with murder or manslaughter.   Law and Order shows began to agitate her imagination and she honestly believed that if she didn’t unburden herself to someone, she would burst or melt down or something!  She needed to call a friend, but Karen had no friend with whom she could share such a problem.  The fear of being professionally ruined became so great that she decided that she had to talk to someone. She called her mother and in a torrent of tears she sobbed out her story.

Her mother listened carefully and advised her to pray since she could use a little help from God at the moment. “I’m going to pray like crazy the moment we’re finished talking,” her mother said, “and I think you should, too. I’ll come out to help you, my dear girl.  Can you give me your credit card information so that I can charge the ticket?”

For the first time in her adult life Karen got down on her knees at her bedside and prayed for strength to get through her ordeal.  Her mother did not pray.  Instead she called Adele Breiton, and the two women, coming immediately from two different parts of the world, began their decent upon the house in Arizona, determined to supply Karen with all the backbone she could possibly need.

Karen had booked several connecting flights on Thursday, the 16th, and arrived in Arizona late Thursday evening.  On the flight from Mexico City, she received a call from her mother asking her to pick up Adele at the Phoenix airport.  Adele?  “Why is Adele coming?” Karen asked.

“Because you need all the help you can get.” Her mother was already at home in Karen’s house.  “Adele,” she insisted, “will bring that saber-like brain of hers. We’ll fight them together!”

Karen groaned and did a quick time calculation.  She’d have to wait in the international section of the airport another hour for Adele to arrive from Paris.  “In that case,” she said, “you can take my car – you have a set of keys – and drive down to pick us up.”  The wait was one thing, the cab fare home in such a financially stressed time, was quite another.

The three of them arrived in the airport within an hour of each other. The two grandmothers gabbed and cooed over photographs until, as they approached Karen’s car in the parking lot, Adele turned to Karen and asked, “And how was your holiday, dear?”

“Fine,” Karen said. She had not thought her spirits could sag any lower, but Adele’s blissful unawareness was unbearable.  She fought back tears as she thought that surely those closest to her would at least make a show of caring.

Her mother got behind the wheel. “Nearly a week at the beach and you have no sun tan?”

“Maybe she makes her fun time in ze doors,” Madame Breiton leaned forward to put her face between the two women in the front seats and winked.

“Gambling? Or something worse?” her mother wondered, turning to return the wink.

“Ah, we are sure it is not a man who occupies her,” Madame Breiton offered.

“She looks dyspeptic,” her mother said.  She turned to Karen, “Are you dyspeptic?”

“Yes,” Karen said, “which is why as soon as we get home I’m going to bed.”

“I’m sure we’ll all sleep fine in our house,” Adele said definitively.

When they arrived at her house, Karen slowly climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Although the house had barely changed since both grandmothers had occupied it on their previous visit, with each step she heard Adele’s indignant criticism of the wretched taste in furniture and wall coloring and artwork.  “Oh, how could this have happened? She used to have nice taste… well, acceptable at least. Quel aurait pu si mal?” Karen entered her bedroom, shut and locked the door, stripped off her clothing, got into bed, and cried half the night.

Rarely does the giver of a gift emotionally relinquish control of it.  In his mind it is still his property and the recipient has merely been allowed to use it.  The giver watches to see how closely the recipient follows the intended use of the gift.  The receiver may never do anything with the gift that the giver would not have done himself.  Adele Breiton’s scheme of buying the house in her son’s and daughter-in-law’s names, as Joint Tenants, had backfired.  She had thought she’d give them the house as a gift and then she’d move in to be with her son and granddaughter and they’d be too grateful ever to ask her to leave or, being owners, would hardly move away themselves.  She would be mistress of the house, not de jure, but surely de facto.  As she looked around the house, she still regarded it as her property.  Didn’t she pay for it, herself?  Of course, it was part of the Breiton estate. And she was the family’s dowager.

It was a large house, and Karen had never understood that Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” applied also to houses.  Her sister Grace, knowing about the big house Karen lived in alone, had once materialized with two delinquent teenagers in tow, filling three of the five bedrooms.  Fortunately, New Jersey had a warrant out for her sister’s arrest, and when she was tracked down to the house in Scottsdale, Karen received the marshals as though they were gods.

Next came her mother, Elizabeth Presley, who, to Karen’s surprise, had quickly spent the large sum of money her husband had left her on trips to Paris and on a lady’s wardrobe. When she finally ran out of money, she moved into Karen’s house “to keep her company.” Though she had never complained about the appearance or the demeanor of Grace, her other daughter, there was absolutely nothing that Karen did that met with her approval.  When Grace went to prison, her mother was “importuned” by the court into becoming a guardian of her two grandchildren and had to return to New Jersey and live on welfare checks from the state. But after Grace was released two years later, Momma had saved up enough money from the support checks to purchase a ticket to Paris, and the two grandmothers were reunited. But then, as soon as the teenagers reached majority, they experienced their own legal difficulties, and Grace needed Momma again, and Karen had to buy her a ticket home to Jersey.  And finally, when Amalie gave birth to a colicky son and Adele begged for help, Karen happily gave her mother the money to return to France. Adele, too, had experienced financial loss, and so, after a year of baby-tending, the two impoverished grandmothers had come to Karen’s house for a short visit that culminated with their expensive trip to New York, and she had to ask them to leave.  And  now, thanks to the incident in Chetumal, the three women were living under one roof again.

On Friday morning Karen went to her office and was not surprised to learn through her secretary Marge that the hospital grapevine sizzled like a lit fuse with the news that Marc Celine apparently had begun to institute a malpractice suit against her.  Although Marc was still in Mexico, a local attorney’s investigator had already questioned several members of the hospital staff.

She took Agnes Celine’s medical file from the cabinet and was not surprised to find an order for the medication written in the patient record. She had not made the entry, yet there it was. September 30th. Flecainide. Her hands trembled as she read the file.  She called Marge into her office.  “Bring your appointment book and tell me what do you make of this?” she asked.

Marge looked.  “The last entry?”

“Yes.  I didn’t make it.  I’m trying to discover how it got there.”

“I don’t record prescriptions unless you tell me to.”

“Marge, that doesn’t answer my question.  Do you know anything about this entry?”

Marge checked the dates.  “I don’t remember her being in the office that day. My call-log shows that she called around noon that day, but no where do I show that she came in. Maybe when I went to lunch, Agnes came into the office and you didn’t make a note of it in the appointment book.”

The remark angered Karen. “What do I care about your lunch?” she snapped. “You may have been gone, but I was here.  I did talk to Agnes on the phone, but she did not come in to see me.  We spoke only on the phone.  So don’t start any idiotic rumors about maybe she came while you were out to lunch.  I’ve got enough lies to worry about without you adding home-grown rumors.”

“I’m sorry,” Marge winced. “If it helps, I didn’t tell anybody that business about maybe she came in while I was out.”  She seemed to be contrite.  “Look, since I canceled all your appointments when you called and told me to, there’s nobody coming in.  If there’s nothing else, I was hoping to run some errands today.”

“Yes, go! And please don’t discuss this matter with anyone… anyone.  By the way, what reason did you give the patients for my canceling their appointments?”

“I said that you were in Mexico and had taken ill.  Everyone assumed you had some kind of Montezuma’s Revenge.”

“In a way, I think I’m feeling the revenge. Call before you come in on Monday to make sure I’m still alive.”

Marge Mahoney agreed to call, got her purse, and was out the door, leaving Karen to sit at her desk and stare at the file.

At 11 a.m. the investigator from her malpractice insurance company called.  He wanted to go over “the potentials” of the case with her.  “How about if I come right over?” he asked.

“Fine.  I’ll be here.”  So, officially there was “a case.”  She covered her face with her hands and pressed her forehead against her desk.  In her mind she could clearly witness Marge testifying that when she suggested that Agnes had come in during her lunch break and that Karen could have seen her then, Karen made such a fuss!  She forbade Marge from repeating that possibility… to anyone.  “It just gets worse,” Karen whispered.

The office door had opened and Juan Ruiz Montoya stood in the outer office doorway.  “Anybody here?” he shouted.

She recognized his voice.  “Come straight back.”

“And I didn’t expect to find you all alone.” He was casually dressed in blue jeans and a Tee shirt and cowboy boots.  He slung on his shoulder an airline carry-on bag.

“I’m at the end of my rope waiting for my malpractice insurance investigator to arrive.”  She smoothed her hair.  “Tell me all the news. Can I get you anything?  Coffee, tea, beer?”

“Dos Equis?”

“No. Heineken.”

“I’m kidding.  No drinking.  Although I may look like a vaquero, I’m working on a case.  Good news.”

“If you’ve got any good news, for God’s sake tell me now.”

“Has Marc filed suit?” Juan asked.

“It’s in the preliminary stage.  His lawyer’s investigator is asking questions around the hospital.  They’re probably still figuring how many millions to ask for.  And all those expenses going back and forth to Quintana Roo.  Maybe they’ll drag it out to the spring when the weather’s better.  They’re going to create a huge expense account.”

“I’m not dressed to take you anyplace fancy, but after we meet with the insurance guy, let’s get some lunch.”

“Where are you staying?”

“No place, yet.  I wanted to find out if you were available and if you weren’t I’d go up to Vegas.”

“That’s great… just great.  Things aren’t bad enough and I’m competing against Las Vegas.”

“Ok. Let me ask a few questions.” Juan sat opposite her desk in one of the chairs patients normally sat in. He casually asked, “I want you to think back for weeks or months. Did you ever have a woman… a probably pretty young woman… come to you for some ailment for which you wrote her some simple prescription and then she never came back?”

“I see a lot of patients here,” Karen said.


“I’ll get the appointment book.  It’s on my secretary’s desk.”  As she stood up, the office door opened and Alex Devers, the malpractice insurance detective entered. “Go on back to my office,” Karen said.  “I’ve got interesting company…  a detective from Mexico.” She indicated that he should follow her back.

“I thought you were cautioned about discussing this case with anyone,” Devers said brusquely, obviously meaning Juan.

“And I think that without Detective Montoya’s help I’d probably be facing a murder charge along with malpractice.”

Juan stood up, scratched his head, and winced.  “The name is Ruiz.  We affix our mother’s maiden name. It’s probably a hold over from the plague days.”

Alex Devers, splendid in a mostly linen business suit, looked disdainfully at Ruiz and sat down.

Karen, offended by his rudeness, raised her eyebrows.  “You mean like posting the banns?”

“Yes, probably,” Juan said with feigned interest.  “If anyone here has just cause why these two should not be joined together…”

Karen, both groggy from lack of sleep and giddy at seeing Juan so unexpectedly, played along and laughed.  “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

“The plagued killed so many people,” Juan turned to Alex, deliberately trying to provoke him, “that surviving children often were separated and didn’t know that they were brother and sister.  So, when the notices of the impending marriage were posted, some three weeks were given for people who might have known the families to come forward and reveal the sad possibility of incest.”

Devers put his briefcase on the floor beside the second chair in Karen’s office. “Interesting.”  He looked at his watch.  “The case?”

“Detective Inspector Ruiz has just asked me if I’ve had any unusual walk-in patients.  I just got my appointment book.  Make yourselves comfortable.” She opened the book at January 2, 2014.  “Anything specific I should look for in the name?”

Ruiz rubbed his chin.  “It might have a connection to a color.”

Alex Devers blurted out, “Uh, oh!”  He apologized and said, “Please… go on.”

She studied page after page.  The two men said nothing.  Finally she reached June.  “Here’s one. Odd name.  Marielle Indigonne.  I recall asking her about the origin of her name and she said it was Irish. I knew the name Inigo Jones, so it didn’t seem all that out of line.”

“Do you have her file?” Devers asked.

“Of course.”  Karen went to the records’ cabinet and got the file for Marielle Indigonne.  She read aloud some of the data. “Twenty-eight years old.  She came in for an acid reflux problem – technically gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – which she thought meant that she was having a heart problem.  She had heard my name in the beauty parlor. She specifically didn’t want an OTC – that’s over-the-counter – medication since she said she had tried them all. I wanted to have tests run first, but as I recall she said she was going to a wedding and wanted something in case she got heartburn during the festivities. She didn’t smoke or drink coffee. I examined her. Her vitals were fine. She said she hadn’t lost or gained weight. A hundred twenty pounds. She only occasionally got the symptoms but that when she did, they were distressing.  I gave her a hand-out for dietary advice… the usual recommendations. So I wrote her a limited supply of an Histamine-2 (H2) blocker.  She agreed to have tests run when she got back.  But she never returned.” She looked up.  “That’s it.”

“What happens when you leave your office?” Ruiz asked. “On an emergency or for something personal.  Is the office closed?”

“No. My secretary Marge comes in every day.  Same time.  Same station.”

“Does she lock up when she goes to lunch?” Ruiz asked.

“Certainly.  The office door… but not all the filing cabinets.”

“Well, that is one way that the prescription entry could have been made in Agnes’ records,” Ruiz noted. “While Marge went to lunch, Marielle or whatever her name is, used a simple lock pick – I checked your door lock when I came in – and then she entered the office and made the entry in the record. Actually, in this case, it would have been last Friday while you were still airborne. According to a friend of mine at Interpol, if the patient files had been locked, she could have opened them, too.”

“Let’s call the number she gave,” Karen said, picking up her office land-line phone. A recording advised her to check the number and dial again.

“The address she gave,” Alex Devers noted, “is probably phony, too.”

“Let’s get up to date with where I am in the investigation,” Ruiz said. “By the way, call me Juan.”

“Ditto, Alex,” Devers said.

“I’ve figured out a few things…. mainly with the help of Clara’s sister, Louisa.  What does the Bible say?  ‘Cast thy bread upon the water…’   Well helping Paolo came back to you tenfold.  I now know what killed Agnes.”

“Let’s have it!” Alex said, snapping open his briefcase.

Juan placed a photocopy of the original prescription on Karen’s desk. “First, notice anything wrong with it?”

“No.  It looks like my writing.  But I assure you–”

“Copying your signature is a simple matter.  Look at yours.  K scribble scribble B scribble scribble.  Turn it upside down and any half-blind person could copy it onto one of your prescription blanks.”

“Oh, no.  I keep my prescription pads locked in my desk drawer.  It’s a special lock.  Nobody gets into this drawer, and I have both keys.”

“Ok… ‘smart-ass’…  isn’t that what you called me?   Write me a prescription for a chile dog.  Go ahead.  Humor me.”

Karen opened her desk drawer and placed her prescription pad on her desk.  She wrote Juan Ruiz Montoya. “Date of birth?” she asked.

Juan grinned. “Diez de Marzo, Mil novecientos sesenta y cuatro.”

“A good year for smart-asses.” She wrote 3/10/64. “Address?”

“None yet in Phoenix, Arizona.”

“I’ve got five bedrooms in my house. One is reserved for asses that are particularly clever.” She then completed the order for one chile dog ‘stat’ and signed the prescription.

Juan Ruiz went to her photocopier and printed a copy of the prescription.  He then produced a bottle of white-out, a fine point black ink pen, and a small plastic ruler.  As Alex watched, he carefully obliterated everything from the original that she had written. Where a black line had been touched by the white-out, he carefully restored it. Then he photocopied the new version.  As long as I am this close to the original, I could always check Karen’s files to determine which printing company she used and which paper stock the company used.  If I had time, I’d duplicate the stock. “But for now,” he said, writing with a blue ink ball-point pen, “I’ll just imitate Karina’s writing as best I can.  I have a nice new blank prescription.  I’ll write it for Juan Ruiz Montoya, today, born 03/10/1910,  and my address is… Dante’s 8th Circle….and the medicine I need is… let’s see… a Viagra chile perro stat. Ok?”

“You’re asking me?” She laughed.

Alex tried to appear to be serious.  “And isn’t the 8th Circle reserved for seducers and forgers.  Which one do you plan to be?  I mean… for a guy who needs Viagra…”

Juan laughed.  “I’m taking your Fifth Amendment.”  Then he turned the new prescription upside down and copied her signature.  “But instead of seducer, you can try ‘forger.’ Did you or did you not just write me for a Viagra chile perro today?”

“You are a fool,”  Karen said as he handed her the prescription. And then her eyes grew wide.  “My God,” she said.  “This absolutely looks authentic.  All the same ink.  Original ink. Date, Rx, Signature.  I wouldn’t have ever believed it.”

She handed it to Alex who verified that it did indeed look like an authentic prescription. “If you cut this to size with a paper-cutter, it would be perfect.”

“Do you remember the note Louisa found in Agnes’s bed?”

“Yes, she had started to write Cerba or Cerbe and didn’t finish the word.  I gave it to you.”

“And I’ve got a copy of it right here!” Juan explained to the insurance detective, “We thought it might have been ‘Cerberus’ the dog or even ‘Cerbatana’ – a blowgun.  But I found out what it was. Cerbera Odollam.” He carefully spelled out the name.  “Look it up,” he said.

Karen googled the name and was speechless.  “I don’t believe it.  It’s one of the most poisonous things on the planet.  ‘The Suicide Tree.’  And its effects do mimic bradycardia.  The heart slows down until the victim dies four to six hours later.  Does The Beagle have one of these trees in the garden?”

“Yes, it does.”

As she read, she commented, “We have a very poisonous relative of this tree… oleander.  You’ll find it everywhere in the southwest.  My God.  A few years ago a man trimmed his oleander bushes and thought he’d burn a pile of the cuttings.   He had two pedigree dobermans that ran through the smoke and died.  This stuff is wicked.  How did you figure this out?”

“I figured out the fake prescription without anyone’s help. I should mention that anyone with a good computer can generate a prescription blank – he could photograph the blank and reproduce it, or try to generate his own prescription, but to have fonts that precisely matches Karen’s may be a problem. Usually a professional printer has distinctive fonts.  The same is true with the paper.  You’d need to have the identical paper. Also, forensics could determine how the ink got onto the paper.  So, unless the fonts, ink, and paper were absolutely identical, the prescription would be declared a fake.  A crook might as well take the easiest low-tech way and do what I just did.

“But the means of death?  The whole town was buzzing with the story.  Agnes died on Saturday, October 10th.  She was cremated on Monday, October 12th.  This seemed suspiciously quick. I talked to people Louisa had talked to about the Cerbe note.  José told me that Louisa thought the word could possibly stand for Cerbera Odollam. He took me out into the garden and showed me the tree.  I did a little research and I’m convinced that this is what happened.  Marc… or somebody, let’s say, poisoned her with the toxic seeds of the tree. The jalapeña bread was actually served as small rolls that had a few nuts mixed in. He made sure she got the right one. But he needed a cover since everyone would say that they ate the same food.  He certainly didn’t want her stomach contents tested for poison, so he used a fake prescription to account for her symptoms.

“But he intends to kill three birds with one stone. He’s screwing around with some woman or other.  He can’t possibly be aroused sexually by dreary Agnes. So he gets rid of her. That was one bird. Agnes was rich. She was trying to find ways to distribute her assets – the university people wanted the botanical garden collection and Agnes wanted to give them the entire property, which is why she went to the attorney that morning; but, unfortunately, she got sick before they could make all the little decisions that go along with such an endowment.  So now Marc gets everything.  That’s the second bird he killed. But property is fixed.  He needs the liquid stuff… money. Marc has a serious gambling problem and he once was, and maybe still is, a heroin user. He needs money and a quick settlement will do.  So the third bird is a quick settlement from your malpractice insurance.

“Anyway, I had taken the prescription that was still in evidence to the capital to have a friend of mine in document forensics look at it.  There was no doubt that the white-out system I just demonstrated was used.  You never wrote that prescription. They can also see that the ink on the signature flowed backwards – as the pen pushes against the paper, it breaks the fibers in the paper in the direction the pen is moving.  We write from left to right; the forger wrote from right to left – which made the fibers in the paper break in the wrong direction.”

“Can I add something about the color aspect of that woman’s name?” Alex asked and proceeded to relate a strange series of malpractice cases that had been paid out.  “The Indigonne woman was not just a fluke.  We had a case that we paid out to a patient’s family in Des Moines.  There was something funny about the case… you know how you get a gut feeling that something’s wrong. We couldn’t prove a damned thing.  But I called a friend of mine at the FBI.  There apparently is a woman who is part of a little clutch of con-men.  Did you ever see the movie, Reservoir Dogs?  The characters take the names of colors.  My guy tells me that she goes through the spectrum.  She’s suspected of posing as Denise Redman, let’s say ‘Jane’ Oranne, then Mary Yellin, then let’s say Judy Green, and Barbara Bluestone – I forget the first names she used, but you get the picture.  The Blue name was this past spring so the next has to be – if we stick to Roy G. Biv as the mnemonic for the rainbow spectrum – Indigo and last in the sequence will be Violet.  This is absolutely fantastic!  I gotta call my guy tonight and make his day.”

“Does this mean I’m off the hook for malpractice?” Karen asked.

Alex shook his head.  “Not yet. We have a lot of evidence to nail down.  However, barring the unforeseen, that’s exactly what it means.  But we’ve got to catch these people.  I need that forensic evidence.”

Juan demurred.  “I just can’t hand you evidence.  You need a law enforcement agency to request it.”

“No problem.  I can made do with copies of your forensic document examiner’s report. And sure, if you want things official, I can get the FBI involved.  They’re already be involved with some of the other scams the “spectrum” gang has pulled.  I just made that name up, you understand.  I don’t know what they call themselves.”

“It works for me,” Juan said.  “What the hell can her story be? Going through the spectrum?  Weird.”

“Could you guys take me out to a steakhouse to eat,” Karen pleaded.  “I need a juicy filet mignon.  Infra Red. I haven’t been able to eat properly in days.”

Alex suggested that they let him take them to the company’s golf club for lunch.  “You have no idea how much I’m going to enjoy a steak that saved my company millions.”

After lunch Karen and Juan went to her home while Alex returned to his office to initiate a list of inquiries.

Karen had told Juan that she lived alone in a large house.  He was therefore surprised when he saw that the privacy he craved was not to be his – at least as a guest in her home.

She prepared him for the encounter with her mother and her former mother-in-law.  “I have a sitting room – a screened veranda – that can be accessed by French doors in the bedrooms.  I have a refrigerator in my bedroom.  There’s cold Dos Equis in it.  Just get through two old ladies and their questions, and then head upstairs. My bedroom and the adjoining guest room are in the front of the house.”

Madame Breiton and Karen’s mother looked at Juan as though he were a huge roach. They took several steps back and in unison said, “Who is this person?”

“Mamá,” Juan said, unsure of which of them to embrace, “At last we meet!”  He tried to hug them both.  “Karina has told me so much about you.  I know we’re going to be one happy family.  And you will love my dear mother.  She’s so anxious to meet you.”  He had begun to inch towards the staircase.

“Your name?” Madame Breiton demanded to know. “And what is it zat you’re doing here?”

“Technically, I’m what they call, ‘A boy toy.’  An older model, of course.”  He climbed the stairs two at a time.

“I’m very tired, Mother,” Karen said.  “Save up your questions… write them down… and we’ll go over them later.”

They met on the upstairs veranda.  Karen had gotten two beers from the small refrigerator.  “Unfortunately, we must drink from the bottle,” she said.  “I forgot to bring glasses up.”

Juan settled into a long chair.  “It’s not just jet lag.  I was running around Mexico like crazy. It’s not only murder and malpractice we’re dealing with.  I don’t trust many people, so I had to do a lot of traveling and waiting to get to talk to the people I trust.

“One of my buddies explained some U.S. law to me.  He said that if you sign a contract in say, Montana, you have to sue in Montana.  So the swindlers would set up a little corporate office in, say, Las Vegas…  and then they’d advertise the deal in, say, Atlanta, and they’d get the person to look at an investment opportunity and if he seemed to be on the hook, they’d give him a free trip to Vegas.  They could also show him some land development opportunity there or let him see the video production of a foreign offering.  And if he signed the contract in Las Vegas, then, when he didn’t get what he bargained for, he’d have to go to Nevada to sue.  That means retaining Nevada lawyers and having to travel to Nevada to be present for hearings and pre-trial stuff… whatever is involved in the law suit.

“Most people can’t afford to do that… so they add up the costs and decide to do nothing.  Marc Celine apparently got away with that for years. He’d create a kind of British atmosphere there at The Beagle and people felt at home.  He is one slick guy. My friend told me that Marc had a phony Sioux chief take the marks on a tour of a part of the Yellowstone Park lands that he sold them for a fortune. The contracts were executed on actual Sioux Reservation Land.  The marks’ lawyers told them by the time all the government agencies buried them under paperwork, they’d need Dracula’s help to breathe. The contract was signed on Indian land and the corporation was based in Bogotá. The scam made millions. Mostly they ran Ponzi schemes.”

“What happened to all that money?”

“They don’t net as much as you’d think. Suppose you were among the first persons to invest in a Ponzi scheme.  You put 100K in and were guaranteed an eighteen or twenty percent return.  Depending on how the interest was paid to you, you’d get a regular statement showing how much your principal had earned.  If you cashed in your stock after you had made $20,000 that means they had to give you back your initial 100K plus 20K of someone else’s money.   Many people would elect to live on the interest of their investment and these folks usually got back what they put in.  Some, made out even better. It was the last guys in line or the people who allowed their accounts to roll over and never took a nickel out who really got slammed.

“And then crooks who work in a group have many mouths to feed.  That fake Sioux chief had to be paid; and no doubt he had a retinue that had to be paid. A chief doesn’t show up alone.  Documents had to be forged; maybe fake Park Rangers had to be outfitted and paid; and aside from the operation’s cost, the crook’s own family would demand a luxurious lifestyle. Junior had to have a Corvette.  The missus and the mistress have to shop on Rodeo Drive. Private school tuition. Lawyers and more lawyers. Maintaining their own “successful” front required an office and lots of honest people to pay… that goes for a home, cars, boats, planes, memberships in clubs, and so on.  Swindlers are big employers.”

Karen was incredulous.  “Tell me… was Agnes involved in any of this?”

“Good question!  Not that anyone ever knew about or had reason to suspect.  For that, I guess we can be grateful.”

“I can’t dismiss from my mind her initial phone call.  Sure, she could have been duped into making it.  They had my prescription paper so they really didn’t need me.  On the other hand,  I could have disrupted the whole scheme by some chance. But I was her physician of record and I was essentially present at her death. Tony must have been in on the scheme, too, unless it was just a coincidence that he got me out on the boat all day.  And what about Ramona and Dan?  Are they part of it?”

“Having you present in Chetumal gave credence to the prescription.  Mexican pharmacists are not stupid people.  When they see a strange drug ordered for someone, they check on the reliability of the physician. And that’s exactly what they did.  You were in town, and Agnes spoke well of you.  Marc probably said that you were unreachable – scuba diving in the barrier reef.  So they filled it. But, as you say, it could have worked well without you… except getting into your files.  It helped that it was daylight and the con-woman could get into your office on that crucial Friday and make the notation in the patient’s record that you prescribed the drug.  Think about the time frame.  The moment you were suspected of writing the lethal drug, you would have had someone check Agnes’s file.  Not before.  But after. And that means that they had to time it perfectly.

“How the others figured into this, is not my department.  Actually, now that you are cleared of the prescription forgery, I’m involved only with Agnes’s murder.  The financial crimes are someone else’s headache.”

“Was there any backlash about your fatherly advice to Miguel?”

Chihuahua! You would have to bring that up.  I was celebrating the discovery of the forgery.  I went off the drunken end.  But what I said that night was true.  He’ll be destroyed.  The question is when.”

“You know, when you asked me to look at Marc’s portrait of Clara, Louisa showed me other ladies who inspired him.  I saw Estella Robles there.”

“Yes… she was part of his harem, too.  That was about five or so years ago.  She’s the one who’s trying to get Miguel into the family.  She thinks he’ll destroy the portrait for her.”

“Does her husband know about it?”

“I don’t think so.  My guess is that Marc holds it over her head when he needs her to get her husband’s influence when he got himself in a jam…  an assault charge… a D.U.I. charge… that sort of thing.”

“What about their latest coffee scheme?”

“I know only about the coffee investment in Nicaragua.   Our financial-fraud agents will approach with caution.  It’s touchy because Robles is running for office and it would be unfair to implicate the victim and risk influencing the vote.  In another few weeks the election will be over. Your SEC and our counterpart will handle that end.  But there is something more going on there… I don’t know what it is…  The Beagle is like a doomed ship.  In today’s crime-world, it could be anything.”

After they finished their beer, Juan stood up and pulled Karen to her feet.  “You left for Belize Wednesday morning. Today is Friday, October 17th.   I have to be back in my office on Monday, the 20th.  So I don’t have much time.”

“My head is swimming.  I don’t think I can process all this.  Marc and Agnes were so friendly to me for years.  It is so hard to believe that someone you know and trust could do something like this.”

“It is because they are trusted that they can do it.  Tomorrow will you take me to the Grand Canyon and tomorrow night I want to go to one of those cowboy bars and do some line-dancing… like Urban Cowboy, my favorite flick.”

“It’s a date.  But how about if we fly over the Grand Canyon.  If you don’t have much time, you won’t feel like line-dancing after walking around the Canyon.”

“I’m game for anything you say,” Juan mussed her hair. “Is it too late to go out tonight and dance?”

“I’ll change my clothes.”