After an hour of resting in the bed at the clinic and struggling to communicate with the doctor, Chuck tried to indicate that he wanted to leave. He didn’t know the verbs for “go” or “leave”, but the doctor understood his hand motion that looked like two fingers walking.
After pulling the IV from Chuck’s wrist and taking his temperature, he pat him on the back and winked.
“Lo siento,” Chuck said. “Yo no dinero.”
The doctor waved his hand and muttered something in Spanish that Chuck couldn’t unravel. But he heard the name Mirabella and recognized it as the woman he had met in the small home, on the outskirts of the city.
“Mirabella?” he asked, searching his mind for the Spanish word meaning ‘where’. “Donde esta Mirabella?”
“Ella vive en las afueras de la ciudad, pero a menudo trabaja en el hotel.”
Chuck could only make out the word “hotel”.
“Hotel?” Chuck asked. “Donde esta el hotel? Casa del Sol?”
“Si, Casa del Sol,” the doctor replied. “Te haré un mapa.”
At that, the doctor sketched a series of intertwined roads and labeled each one on a sheet of printer paper. He drew a darker line showing Chuck the route and wrote at the bottom of the page; “15 Minutos”.
After repeating the word “gracias” about a dozen times, Chuck took leave of the doctor and ventured onto the dark streets of Reynosa on his own with little more than a hand-drawn map on a loose piece of printer paper and a bunch of street names scribbled in Spanish.
Stephanie checked on her oldest and youngest daughters. They had fallen asleep together in Britney’s bed. She hadn’t heard from Ashley, but could see from the “Find my Phone” app that they were at Ursula’s and not some college dorm or frat house. By 11:15pm, Ashley texted her mother with the request that she half-dreaded and fully expected.
“Can I stay over Ursula’s?”
“Parents home?” Stephanie texted back.
“Scott still there?”
There was a long pause before Ashley replied.
“He’s leaving soon.”
Stephanie shook her head and eyed the phone suspiciously.
“Have parents call me,” she texted
“Went to sleep,” Ashley replied.
“Then can’t stay over,”
“Might stay anyway,”
“Just got license. Hate to take keys away for month,” Stephanie pounded the virtual keyboard on her smartphone.
Ashley didn’t reply. Stephanie could see the three blinking dots next to Ashley’s name in the chat window that she had started and stopped several times in formulating a response before the window displayed her last text.
“Fine – home by 12”
The Casa del Sol hotel had a classic Mexican stucco façade complete with yellow chipped paint and red slate roof. It stretched for an entire city block and rose four stories high, one of the tallest buildings Chuck had seen along his fifteen-minute walk. The moon rose high in the sky and reflected off the darkened windows above the portico by the front doors.
Chuck staggered into the bright, warm lobby. A fire pit rumbled under a lanai at the far end of the room. Straight ahead, the reception desk looked like something out of the 70’s. A glass bin of match books sat next to an over-sized cash register. A slotted plastic fixture displayed long thin travel brochures. And the paneled back wall behind the wooden reception desk contained four rows of metal keys hanging on plain, rusty nails.
Chuck leaned against the time-worn, scuffed, scratched and chipped reception counter, holding himself upright, weary and hungry from his half-mile walk on an empty stomach and weak legs.
A gift shop, tucked around a corner between the reception desk and the hallway to the rooms offered snacks, souvenirs, articles of clothing and some interesting looking wood carvings. Chuck observed lions, bears, dolphins and an impressive eagle all in the window display above the big red “Cerrado” sign.
“Buenas noches, señor” said a young, slender adolescent boy that appeared behind the counter from a door behind the key wall.
“Buenas noches,” Chuck replied. “Hablo English?”
“No hablo Inglise,” he replied. “Lo siento. Mi padre habla Ingles.”
“Padre?” Chuck repeated.
The boy called “Papi” and a medium-height, balding, but rugged looking man with reading glasses pushed halfway down his nose emerged from behind the wall with the metal keys.
“Si, yes. Good evening Sir.”
“I believe the U.S. Embassy has reserved a room for me; Charles Domo?”
“Let’s see,” the man said, moving his glasses up his nose and flipping through a stack of index cards. “Domo, with a ‘D’? sir?”
“Yes,” Chuck replied, as his stomach sank that the embassy may have neglected to reserve the room for him. “D-O-M-O.”
“Ah,” he said after a short period of thumbing through the cards. “They had you down as ‘Nomo’. I assume that is a mistake. Here is your key, sir.”
“Could I bother you for some food?” Chuck asked. “I haven’t eaten in three days.”
“We have only the bread from today,” he said. “I could give you some bread with salsa and some fruit.”
“Gracias, señor,” Chuck thanked both the man and his son in Spanish, resolving to practice his language skills as much as possible.
Chuck deposited a splotch of salsa on the bread and gnawed aggressively at his first meal in days as he headed toward the elevator bank. He planned to take a long steamy shower and soak all his clothes in hot soapy water before hanging them to dry for the night.
He hoped the phone in his room would afford him another opportunity to contact Stephanie, but was not surprised when he was barred from making the international call from his room phone. He resolved to ask the manager at the front desk - even beg him if necessary - to use the office phone.
Despite having eaten only two pieces of bread with salsa, his tightened stomach hurt and he doubled over in the room. He could barely stand in the shower and felt like he might vomit. Holding himself upright by the bar that suspended the shower curtain, he could feel the digestive process start to generate the required acids to break down and metabolize the food.
By the time he finished his shower and filled the bathtub with water, soap and clothing, he felt stronger and better and his appetite started to increase.
He wrapped his waist in a towel. He would have to sleep in the nude for the night as his clothes dried on the balcony railing. In the morning, he would have to formulate his Reynosa survival plan. Finding a way to feed himself would be his first challenge.
In arching his pants over the railing, the few pesos he had stolen fell to the cement floor and Chuck scooped them up.
In the closet, a white terry cloth bathrobe hung above a pair of thin slippers. Chuck decided to return to the lobby and ask if he could pay for some additional morsels of food. Maybe they could open the gift shop for him. Clad in the bathrobe and slippers, he exited the room and took the elevator four stories to the ground floor.
The manager gave him two apples, a box of crackers and a chocolate bar and held his hand up when offered the meager handful of Mexican currency.
“That’s all we got back here,” he said. “Lo siento. Sorry, Sir.”
“Can I make a call?” Chuck asked.
“In the room, you have the telefono,” the manager replied.
“But, can I call the United States?”
“No, sorry Sir,” the manager said. “Our telephones in the rooms only call in Mexico. You can’t call America from here.”
“So, I could call Cancun, like a thousand miles away, but not Texas,”
“I am sorry, Sir,” the manager said. “The room has wifi. Maybe you could send an e-mail?”
As the elevator going up started to close on Chuck, he chomped on his apple and looked mindlessly into the lobby. Next to his elevator car on the right, the second car on the left, coming down from an upper floor, opened. He heard the ding of the bell and the rumble of the doors as they slid open. He observed a slim, striking woman in a red dress walking down the hallway away from the elevator bank. While he couldn’t be sure with the doors closing and the elevator starting its painfully slow climb to the top floor - he thought he recognized the legs, the figure and the hair from behind.
“Mirabella?” he asked himself unsuccessfully clicking the button to command back to the first floor.
At about 11:30pm, Stephanie decided to go to her room and watch late night television until her daughter came home safely. She changed into her black silk pajamas and climbed into the bed she had shared with Chuck. She propped her and Chuck’s pillows behind her back and clicked the remote to browse the channels.
Rupert’s text dinged at 11:42pm and several separate chat strings appeared.
“Sorry I ran so late tonight.”
“Probably asleep by now.”
“Chat in morning.”
Stephanie considered responding, but she thought, at nearly midnight, it would be an imposition on her attorney and his family. As she moved to plug in the phone to the charger cord next to her bed, the device dinged again with Rupert’s avatar filling the screen.
“Does Chuck have a relative, maybe a cousin or uncle,” Rupert texted. “Someone named Chico?”