Ciudad Real Ocosingo Hotel at Carretera Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico
“Where have you been?” Jackson Coleman demanded, standing in the middle of the hotel room rented by his wife and daughter.
Francesca stopped in her tracks, but Detective Lieutenant Alvarez Cruz, at her side kept walking confidently toward Francesca’s father, his hand outstretched.
“Nice to meet you Senor. The Senorita implied that her stepmother overslept and didn’t chaperone the class to the temple ruins today. It’s a shame she couldn’t make it. The temples are splendid this time of year.
Jackson Coleman glowered. He pulled at his Stetson until it settled lowered on his scalp and hid part of his thick, black eyebrows. His large calloused hands clenched and unclenched. Francesca wondered whom he wanted to strangle first: her, Miriam, or Alvarez Cruz, the Mexican police officer who spoke English a bit too well and seemed almost too self-assured. Coleman shoved his hands into his denim pockets and continued glaring. Behind him was an unmade bed, its sheets and blankets in violent disarray.
“Got a clue where Miriam is, Francesca or will you take a shot in the dark like you usually do?”
Francesca cleared her throat. Her hands fluttered around her face. Alvarez waited, too, as he flicked his eyes from father to daughter to the vacant bed.
“How the hell should I know? She didn’t finish breakfast this morning. Went back to bed instead. Something about needing her beauty sleep.”
“I’m sure Miriam would go with you had she had the chance.”
His eyes darted toward the bureau where Miriam’s personal belongings lay scattered on its top. Perfume bottles, hair spray, gold bracelets, hair bands, and other toiletry items lay forsaken on its top. Next to her dry toothbrush lay a bottle of sleeping pills. Coleman eyed the debris, and then stalked to the side of the bureau. Removing his right hand from his pants pocket, he lifted the bottle and shook it. A few pills rattled in answer.
Francesca shifted her feet. First, she stood on her left foot, and then shifted her weight to her right foot. Her hands clasped and twirled upward into an upside down cross. Alvarez watched both performances not sure which one would prove the better suspect.
“Well, tell me the truth! What happened to Miriam?”
"Well,” Francesca drawled, “It’s like this. She had a headache last night and wanted to get to sleep quickly. I asked her how many pills she wanted. She said enough to put her asleep. So, I gave her enough to put her asleep. She didn’t say how long she wanted to sleep. I sort of had to guess.”
She ended in a rush. Alvarez averted eye contact with Francesca and settled his glance at her father. Coleman’s face turned a mottled red. Francesca took two steps backward out into the hall and half faced the hallway she and the detective had just left.
Coleman growled a second time.
“You don’t expect me to believe that tall tale, do you? How many did you give her? Three? Four? Six? Ten? How many Francesca?”
“Enough to keep her asleep until I left with my Spanish class and Mr. Tairino to go to the Palenque ruins. Okay? You’re satisfied? Jeez, what did I do wrong? She had a headache. She wanted fast relief. I gave her what she asked for. If she didn’t want relief from the pain, she shouldn’t have asked for it, now, would she? Come on!”
Alvarez coughed behind his hand. Both pair of eyes swung in his direction.
“And who the hell are you?” Coleman asked.
“I’m Alvarez Cruz, the detective lieutenant whom your daughter Francesca visited to report a kidnapping and the disappearance of her Spanish class.”
Alvarez glanced toward Francesca with a tight lipped smile. Francesca grinned. Coleman looked from his daughter to the policeman. He snorted and set the bottle back on the bureau.
“And Miriam? Where is she?”
“Not here,” Francesca quipped.
Alvarez took out his cell phone and dialed a number. Coleman and his daughter watched as the detective’s nimble fingers raced across the numbers. They both heard the phone ring. A quick spat of Spanish followed between the detective and the answering party. Coleman waited as he watched his daughter walk over to the bureau and pick up the near empty bottle and fiddle with it.
Alvarez closed out the conversation. The cell phone went silent, and he turned toward Jackson Coleman.
“Your wife, Miriam Coleman, is at the local hospital for foreigners. Visiting hours are over, but I’ve arranged for you and your daughter to visit her tonight should you wish.”
“Hospital?” Coleman asked.
“She needed her stomach pumped,” Alvarez said.
Francesca put the pill bottle down and faced her father.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I just wanted to help her get to sleep.”
Alvarez shifted his weight and swung his eyes toward Francesca.
“It wasn’t the sleeping pills that got to her. Someone poured Blanche, an ancient Mayan alcoholic drink into her system. It doesn’t mix well with sleeping pills.”
Francesca fidgeted relieved at being absolved from responsibility for her stepmother’s hospitalization, but frightened by the news that Miriam was drugged. She flung up her hands in front of her face and spoke between the slits of her upraised fingers.
“Who would want to hurt Miriam like that?”
Coleman faced his daughter.
“Coming from you, I guess you’re sincere. I’ll echo Francesca’s questions. Who would want to hurt Miriam? No one knows her down here, except for Francesca and her friends in the Spanish class.”
“Right now, I don’t know,” Cruz replied. “I will investigate this, of course. Do you have any known enemies?”
This time Coleman laughed. Francesca twiddled her fingers together and looked down at the faded carpet covering the wooden floor boards.
“Miriam doesn’t have any enemies. Just her stepdaughter. So, nothing to worry about that here. What else could’ve happened is what I really want to know. We’ll take you up on the offer to go to the hospital, Senior Cruz and visit my wife. Please make sure that my wife’s and Francesca’s things are moved to another room,” he said with the off-handed confidence of one whose instructions are always followed. “I feel uneasy about this room. I’ll be staying overnight until things get straightened out. Where’s the hospital?”
“Down the street, just a block away.” Alvarez said. “Turn right when you leave the hotel. You can’t miss it. A large cross is at the entrance.”
“Good! Should you need me or Francesca, you’ll know where to find us.”
Alvarez Cruz watched as Francesca and her father left the room and headed up the hallway toward the central stairwell. Waiting until he was alone, Alvarez closed the door, and walked into the middle of the room. He turned slowly, scanning the entire room. He saw that one of the windows facing the main boulevard was half open. He stepped to the window and inspected the sill. Fresh scuffed marks on the sill told him something, perhaps a large bird, had entered the room.
“How did you get out?” he asked aloud.
Nothing answered him. He peered up along the wall and squinted. In the half light from the ceiling light, he saw it. A bit of fur stuck to the upper part of the window frame and wooden sill. Reaching up, he caught the bit of fluff between his thumb and forefinger and gently lowered his hand. Stashing his other hand into his left pants pocket, Alvarez withdrew a folded Kleenex. Taking the white tissue he cupped it around the fur piece and folded the tissue over and around it. He stowed it in his shirt pocket and continued examining the room for more clues.
He squatted down and searched the carpet for blood specks, human tissue, fingernail clippings or whatever might not belong there. Soon he found something that puzzled him -- tiny purple-black poppy seeds. Following the poppy seed trail, he came upon a square silver box lying upright close to the bed. Whoever had used the old-fashioned cigarette lighter had used it as a last ditch effort.
Careful not to disturb the trail of seeds, Alvarez reached down to pick up the lighter. Instantly, he dropped it, his fingers scorched by burning heat. The lighter bounced off the bed and rested on the floor. Alvarez ran to the bathroom, stuck his hand under the faucet, and turned on the cold water. As the cold water soothed his burns, a sudden knock on the door startled him.
“Who is it?”
“She’s not here?”
Acan stood in the doorway into the room that Francesca once shared with her stepmother. Alvarez barreled out of the bathroom, his left hand dripping water.
“Who are you?”
“A school friend. She told me to meet her here.”
Alvarez stared at the young man. He couldn’t place him at all. Even with his long black hair, jade earrings, and black shirt and pants, the young man didn’t look like any of the teens who hung around the village.
“Francesca is at the hospital. Her mother is ill.” Almost immediately Alvarez regretted his disclosure, although he couldn’t say why. Acan stared at the detective lieutenant momentarily, and then turned to leave.
“Thanks. I will go see if she needs a ride home.”
Alvarez watched as the young man disappeared from sight. Shaking his head, uncertain of why he was anxious, Alvarez headed back to the bathroom and soaked his hand a second time. This time, he wrapped his handkerchief around his hand, turned off the faucet and left the bathroom. Closing the outer door behind him, he took out a felt-tip pen and wrote on the whitewashed door. “KEEP OUT POLICE ORDERS!”
At the hospital, Jackson Coleman and his daughter Francesca strode up to the main desk. Behind it, a nun lifted her eyes and glanced at Francesca and then at Coleman.
" Te puedo ayudar?” (May I help you?)
Jackson answered without his usual Texas drawl.
" Estoy aquí para ver a mi esposa. ¿Qué es ella en?” (I’m here to see my wife.
What room is she in?)
The nun dropped her eyes and riffled through her paperwork. Francesca leaned against the desk and glanced around. The place didn’t look like a hospital but was instead a large room filled with beds and white-sheeted screens. The nun lifted her head.
" Ella es cuatro camas hacia abajo y a la derecha.” (She’s four beds down and on
“Gracias Hermana,” Coleman said. “Come on Francesca, let’s go see how Miriam’s doing.”
Trotting to keep up, Francesca stayed at her father’s side as he strode across the room. Beds and screens flew by. In ten seconds flat, they reached Miriam’s bed. It was empty. Jackson threw his Stetson to the floor and stamped his boots on the floor.
“Where the hell is she?” he demanded.
A white-robe sister, with her belted cross swinging from the knotted rope she wore around her habit, flew down the corridor and hurried toward Jackson and Francesca.
“¿Cuál es el problema?” (What is the problem?)
“Me dijeron que mi esposa sería en la cama cuarta. ¿Dónde está ella?” (I was told my wife would be in this bed. Where is she?)
“Ella está hacia abajo en el laboratorio. La veremos en cinco minutos.” (She is down at the lab. She’ll be back in five minutes.)
The nun disappeared. Francesca sat on the edge of the bed and waited. Her father circled the main room three times before they both caught sight of Miriam being pushed in a wheelchair toward them. Francesca saw that her stepmom looked pale and drawn, as if she hadn’t seen the sun in a week. When the wheelchair reached the fourth bed, the nun waved Francesca off the bed. The nun pushed the wheelchair close to the bed. Her father rushed over and supported his wife with a tight one arm embrace around her waist. Miriam smiled back up at him. Francesca noticed black rings under her eyes and wondered if they were caused by the sleeping pills she gave Miriam or resulted from the Blanche that someone else gave her. Francesca didn’t ask, but waited with her arms crossed tightly against her chest. Her stepmom smiled at her.
“Next time,” she rasped, “go easy on the number of tablets you give me. I don’t need more than three at any one time.”
Jackson glared at his daughter.
“There won’t be a next time, he said. “I’m taking you and Francesca home tomorrow or as soon as the doctor here releases you.”
“You can’t mean that. I’m down here with my class. We still have lots to see. You won’t embarrass me in front of the class, will you? Miriam, make him let me stay. Please?”
Miriam pressed her lips together to hide a grin.
“I’ll see what I can do. Now, go sit in the waiting room while I speak to your father. There’s nothing here that you can do except get in the way. Go!”
Miriam waved Francesca away from her side. Francesca plodded back down the hallway and entered the center foyer a second time. Along one side of the room, chairs lined the wall. In one of the chairs sat Acan.
“You found me. Awesome. What are you doing here?”
“Came to check up on you.”
“How did you get here?”
Acan studied the girl and decided not to tell her the truth. She wouldn’t understand.
“I got a ride. No one disturbed me.”
“You hitchhiked? The bandits didn’t attack? Tell me, how did you do that? Bet Elena would want to know as well when she gets home – if she gets home.”
“When? If? Why those words?”
“She was kidnapped from the bus.”
Camazotz’s voice entered Acan’s mind. ”All has been taken care of. She is home sweet home or will be. Francesca doesn’t know. No sense in explaining it either. Let it rest and take in the beauty of your lady. Something is up, not planned for.”
Camazotz’s voice faded from Acan’s mind. He looked at Francesca. She sat still with her fingers laced together. Footsteps in the hallway alerted Acan to someone’s presence. Looking up, he saw walking toward them a tall, well-built black-haired man with a Stetson cowboy hat on his head and a white-robed sister who struggled to keep pace. Acan stood up.
“Time for me to go.”
“You just got here,” Francesca said.
“I do not do well with the likes of them.”
“Know what you mean. I don’t do well with him, either.”
“My father and stepmom. We don’t always see eye-to-eye. Must be the age differential. What do you think?”
Acan stared at the rapidly approaching Texan and Christian nun.
“I will see you back at the hotel – tonight – when your father and stepmother are asleep.”
“How will you find me?”
“I have my ways.”
With those words ringing in Francesca’s ears, Acan vanished. She couldn’t explain how he disappeared. One moment he stood by her chair and the next moment he was gone. But his exit was just in time as the nun and her father approached her. Her father shook his head.
“Wasn’t there a guy standing there a minute ago with you?”
“There’s no one here except me, myself, and I.”
The sister gritted her teeth and smiled in a lopsided manner.
“I thought I saw . . .”
She paused as if she didn’t quite believe what she saw. Taking a deep breath, the sister exhaled slowly. She stared at Francesca and then turned about and stalked off.
Taken aback, Jackson Coleman called after her in the local dialect.
“Hermana, no hemos terminado de hablar. Cuando mi esposa se estrenará” (Sister, we haven’t finished speaking. When will my wife be released?)
“El Senor, discutiremos esto más tarde. Hay algo el laboratorio debe analizar. I’ll llamar al hotel para dejar un mensaje para usted. Buenas noches!” (Señor, we will discuss this later. There is something in the lab I must discuss with Dr. Eduardo Carlos. I’ll call the hotel and give you the results as soon as I can. Good night!)