Ocosingo Hospital, Ocosingo, Mexico
Detective Lieutenant Alvarez Cruz parked his Bronco behind Dr. Eduardo Carlos’s hospital and retrieved the dismembered arm from the cargo compartment. The doctor, waiting for him at the rear entrance, took out his key chain and inserted his key into the door lock and twisted. The door didn’t budge.
“That’s odd,” the doctor murmured.
“The door. It won’t budge even after I have unlocked it.”
“Have the sister put the dead bolt on?”
“Could be, but it feels like something is leaning up against the door. Hold on. Let me call and find out what the problem is.”
The doctor removed his cell phone from his breast pocket and punched in the numbers. Alvarez heard the ringing. It kept on ringing – with an odd pitch to the ring, slightly off, a high pitch whine rather than an ordinary ring tone.
“Should we go around to the front, or is there another way to get inside from the back?” Alvarez asked.
The doctor pointed toward a casement window.
“It leads in the basement where my laboratory is. Push in the window and crawl through. It’s not locked. There’s a sink underneath the window. Be careful that you don’t turn on the faucet by mistake, Lieutenant.”
Alvarez gave the wrapped dismembered arm to the doctor. Kneeling on the packed dirt, he pushed the window inwards. Sticking his head and shoulders through the space, Alvarez lay flat with his stomach resting on the wooden frame sash. With his boots dug into the soil outside, he squirmed his head first through the window.
In the pitch blackness of the lab, his head struck a metal faucet. Lifting his head, Alverez wriggled forward until both arms cleared the bottom part of the window sash. He placed both hands on either side of the stainless steel sink and dragged the rest of his body through the window.
When the rest of his body slithered through, he threw his legs up above his head and walked forward ten feet on his hands. Behind him and still outside, Carlos clicked on a pencil flashlight and aimed its narrow beam ahead of Alvarez’s head.
The detective lieutenant’s eyes focused on the faint outline of an electrical switch on the opposite wall. He sprang to his feet and called out.
“Does this switch work?”
“It works,” Carlos said.
Alvarez stepped forward. His finger caught the switch and he flicked it on. The became bathed in blue light. Standing in the middle of the laboratory was Miriam Coleman dressed in her street clothes. In the far corner of the room, Alvarez saw a black winged shadow hovering in midair.
“What is it?” Carlos called out.
“You’ve got a visitor down here. There’s a trapped bat as well. I’m not really sure. It’s wings move fast, like a hummingbird that one sees feeding on nectar in the States.
“Is Miriam carrying a weapon?”
“Not that I can see. It as if she’s sleepwalking. I’ll go unbolt the door. You can take a look once you’re inside,” Alvarez said.
The detective lieutenant walked around Miriam. She hardly blinked. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the bat – or whatever it was – remained in the corner. Alvarez reached the door, and turned the key in the lock. The bolt shot back and the detective lieutenant wrenched the door opened.
The doctor entered the building and walked downstairs into his laboratory. His eyes scanned the room, making sure that all of his laboratory equipment was still there. Walking toward the exam table, he placed the arm on its surface, making sure that the tarp kept it covered. He then turned his attention toward the sleepwalker.
Walking up to Miriam, Dr. Carlos waved his hand in front of her eyes. She never blinked.
“What do you think?” Alvarez asked.
“Hypnotized,” the doctor grunted.
Alvarez scratched his chin and stared at Miriam.
“How can you tell?”
“No reaction from her at all. I bet she’s waiting for her next order. Want to try?”
Alvarez circled the still form of Miriam Coleman. She didn’t rotate with him. Nor did she retreat from him either no matter how close he stood to her – before . . . her . . . or on either side of her. She just stood at attention with her eyes staring at a distant point. Alvarez turned his head and leaned his ear close to her nose. He heard a faint whistling sound emanating from her nostrils. Other than that, she could’ve been a zombie.
“What should we do?”
"Do? I’ll take her back to bed and while you catch that bat. Is he still in the corner?”
“It’s either a ‘he’ or ‘she’. All vampires start out with an identity. They don’t lose their genre because they’re now immortal. The vampire brought that woman down here for a reason. I want to know why. I put the severed arm on the examination table for safekeeping. Let me close the window. This time I’ll lock it.”
Alvarez stood off to one side and glanced at the tarp-wrapped arm next to the microscope. Above him, a piercing whistle distracted him. The bat flew toward the examination table with talons extended. The detective lieutenant lurched forward and blocked the arm from abduction. The bat circled twice above Alvarez, and then flew back into the corner where it resumed hovering.
“Most strange,” Carlos said. “It would seem that the bat is most interested in that arm. Why don’t you hold it up and see whether our lady-friend wakes up?”
Alvarez straightened, holding the wrapped arm over his head. The bat sped forward, its talons extended. Its wings swooshed past him while its talons missed the arm. The arm jerked in Alvarez’s hands, but it remained wedged between them. Miriam’s eyes popped opened.
“Where the hell am I? Who the hell are you? And where is everyone?”
“Ah, she awakes on cue. Very interesting,” the doctor said. Turning to Miriam, he said, “This is Detective Lieutenant Alvarez Cruz. I am Dr. Eduardo Carlos, the head doctors at this hospital. And you are? . . . .”
“Miriam Coleman. I’m to be released this morning. Where am I?”
“You are in the basement laboratory of the hospital.”
“Do you remember coming down here?” Alverez asked. “Anything at all?”
The doctor approached with a kind smile on his face.
“Please, let me take your pulse,” he said, taking her wrist in his right and looked at his watch. Carlos noted that her pulse was normal. He saw no perspiration on her skin. She spoke in a normal tone, her words clipped and precise. No sign of confusion or fear. When Carlos snapped his fingers next to Miriam’s left ear, she jerked her head away.
“I’m not deaf. I was on my way to the ladies room and . . . “
Alvarez interrupted. “I bet the bat could tell you what you were doing.”
He pointed toward the corner where the bat hovered. Miriam squinted at the object and then sidled up to the doctor.
“What’s it doing inside?”
“I thought you could tell me. Call to it. I’m sure it will come.”
Miriam twisted her fingers together.
“Why should it?” She thought for a moment and said, “Let’s try the name of my stepdaughter’s Spanish teacher. Gabrielle Tairino, is that you?”
She held her breath as did Cruz and Carlos. Nothing happened. The bat continued hovering in the far corner.
“Wrong guess,” Carlos said. “Got another name?”
“No! I don’t have another name! It might be my stepdaughter’s, although Francesca knows that suicide isn’t an answer to her problems. Sorry, can’t help you. Now, if you’ll just point me in the right direction, I’ll go to the bathroom and then back to bed.”
“Not so fast.”
Dr. Carlos withdrew his cell phone from his shirt pocket and pressed three numbers. The phone rang four times before it was picked up. A nun’s brisk voice filtered through the connection.
“I’ve got a stray down here in the laboratory. Will you be so kind as to come down and escort her back to the patient’s ward?”
“I’ll be right there, Doctor.”
Miriam shifted her eyes from the doctor back toward the bat. But, although it still hovered in the corner, it had become invisible to her eyes. Cruz and Carlos, too, looked hard the corner but no longer saw what was there. Just then faint footsteps slapped against the stone steps.
“Footsteps,” Miriam said. “You hear them, too?”
“Kind of sudden, don’t you think?” Carlos asked. “The sister is at the other end of the patient’s ward. It takes five minutes to cross over and come downstairs. A friend, perhaps?”
“I know,” Alvarez Cruz said, his eyes fixed on Miriam’s drained face. “It’s the bat come to take you away!”
“Don’t be stupid,” she replied hotly. “Just because you found me wandering down here doesn’t mean I’m under a bat’s spell. What nonsense. What I want to know is why you two are down here?”
“It’s Dr. Carlos’s laboratory,” he replied. “Why shouldn’t he be down here? Look, Miriam, surely you remember how you got down here?”
“Haven’t you ever walked in your sleep?” Miriam asked.
“What’s that go to do with it?”
“She’s got you there, Alvarez. All right, Miriam. We’ll call it a truce for now. Ah, here comes our intruder.”
All three of them stared at Acan as he walked down the stairs. He jumped to the floor from the third step from the bottom and locked eyes with all of them.
“Has anyone seen Sen͂or Tairino?”
Cruz and Carlos exchanged glances, but Miriam scowled.
“What’s it to you?”
Acan turned toward her.
“His male students wanted me to find him. You know where he is?”
“He’s with my husband, Jackson Coleman, at the hotel. You can find him there.”
Alvarez recognized Acan as the young man who interrupted his search of the hotel room.
“You found the missing boys?” he asked.
“They are at the temple waiting for Sen͂or Tairino.
“They’ve been at the temple all night?” Alvarez asked too quickly.
“All night. They missed the . . . ah, it runs . . .”
Acan fumbled for the right words. Alvarez rubbed his hands.
“I told you we’d find them,” he said to no one in particular and in particular to Miriam Coleman, since her daughter, Francesca, had reported them missing last night.
“This is good news that they spent the night at the temple,” Carlos repeated. “You’ve solved half your mystery. Let’s hope the other half is just as easy. Damn! Where is that nurse? Should’ve been here by now. I’ll be right back. Come, Miriam. I’ll take you back upstairs. Alvarez, I’ll be back. Perhaps, our friend can tell us more. Yes?”
The doctor escorted Miriam up the stairs with his right arm resting lightly on her shoulders. Alvarez watched them mount the steps and then turned to face Acan.
“It’s kind of early to be visiting the hospital. Visiting hours aren’t till 10 a.m.”
Acan studied his boots as if he didn’t hear Alvarez. He walked around the room studying the various implements that Dr. Carlos used: an electronic microscope, three Petri dishes, a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, liquid soap, tissues, and paper towels. Lying by a package wrapped in a tarp, Acan found three reddish brown spots. Lowering his head, Acan sniffed. Fresh blood. His mouth watered. He struggled with his jaws and compressed his lips tightly together. The scent of fresh blood permeated his nostrils. Acan punched the examining table with both fists as he fell forward. His blood-shot eyes watered and crossed at a sharper angle. Alvarez jumped. His neck hairs rose from his flesh.
“Are you okay? You look – trapped!”
Coughing, Acan choked out a reply.
“The smell . . . of fresh blood. . . .overwhelms me.”
Acan couldn’t go on. The mere smell of the blood drove him wild. His body shuddered. He gulped in large doses of air. Stumbling from the table, he ran to the other side of the laboratory and collapsed on the bottom of the stairs, upchucking as he lay there. Alvarez ran to the sink and turned on the cold water faucet. Searching through the cabinets, he found a glass. He placed it under the running water and filled the cup half way. Turning off the faucet, Alvarez went to Acan and thrust the glass into his hands.
“Here, drink this in small sips. It helps.”
Acan drank the water. He forced the water down his throat and swallowed without spitting any of it back up. Alvarez watched him. He straddled two steps with his left foot and leaned forward.
“What are you on, son?”
Spluttering, Acan gulped the rest of the water down.
“I am not on anything, Sen͂or. I have not eaten much today. That may be the reason I feel off.”
Alvarez eyed him as if he didn’t quite believe this explanation, but took the glass from Acan and returned it to the sink.
“Tell me, why are you really here?”
“I told you, to find Sen͂or Gabrielle Tairino. Camazotz wants to talk with him about finding his boys sleeping in the temple. Did I come to the wrong place? I was told by Jesus Costilla that he would be here visiting Miriam Coleman.”
“Sen͂or Tairino was here earlier this morning, I’m told,” Alvarez said, “He left with
Sen͂or Coleman and they walked back to the hotel.”
“The same hotel where Francesca is staying?”
Alverez shot him a sideways look.
“You’re a classmate of Francesca’s, aren’t you?” he asked, already knowing what the answer would be.
“I told her that I would check to see how her mother was doing. She said her mother would like to meet me. So I came to meet her.”
“That’s it?” Alverez asked, entirely unconvinced.
Acan nodded his head.
“That is all, Sen͂or. I have done what Camazotz told me to do. I have done what Francesca told me to do. Before I go, what is that lying on the alter? I smelled its blood.”
Alvarez smiled slightly wondering why this young man would react so strongly to the smell of blood.
“Blood does that to some people – makes them faint of feel light headed. That’s why I asked if you were on some kind of drug. You reacted to it badly. It happens. My apologies.”
Acan mimicked Alvarez’s half smile.
“My people have used blood for cooking when no water was to be found. Our head men have used blood for tattooing our warriors. Warriors have used blood for tattooing our enemy’s faces when they lost at Pok-A-Tok. We look at blood as our drug of choice . . .”