Temple Ruins, Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico
Camazotz and Acan watched as Gabrielle Tairino stumbled out of the temple and staggered down the stairs.
“Is he really one of us?” Acan asked.
“As close as I could let him. My blood runs through him, but that’s all I can really do for now. He’s still in servitude to those invaders,” Camazotz spat out. “His mind belongs to them. His body belongs to me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It means that his loyalty belongs to those invaders. He’s mine in blood, but theirs in obedience.”
“A joining gone bad?”
“A joining gone bad. He left his followers behind.”
“They couldn’t go far. Not in the state they’re in. Still, he didn’t even try to rouse them.”
“No, there’s only one person Gabrielle is really interested in, and that’s himself, – and perhaps Francesca’s mother, Miriam.”
“What shall we do with them? Keep them and bleed them further or let them escape into the jungle.”
Camazotz stared back at the group of boys slumped on the ground, twitching and muttering in their drugged state.
“It would be wasteful to send them into the jungle. We’ll keep them in the temple milking them until they’re sucked dry. The ceynote is a good place to hide them. By the time Gabrielle misses them, the big fish with the ragged teeth will visit the ceynote. No one will know about them.”
“Except Gabrielle,” Acan added.
“Gabrielle will have his hands full with his two European masters and Francesca’s father. He won’t have time for explanations. I sent Chac to an old friend. He sent me this via a runner. Did you not see it?”
In Camaztoz outstretched hand lay a parrot’s feather. Acan squirmed.
“I can explain.”
His face froze when he saw Camazotz sudden grimace. With eyes diagonally crossed, his thick lips compressed, Acan waited for a verbal explosion from Camazotz. It never came. Camazotz lifted his arm and settled it across Acan’s shoulders.
“My friend sent me this feather – from a headdress – that his people hasn’t seen in over five hundred years. He writes that a metal-clad priest’s lady-who-serves found this on the floor of my friend’s hospital. She studied it under a thin piece of volcanic glass and arrived at a decision that warned my friend to send it back to me. Francesca Coleman is a desirable feed, but don’t let her distract you. She can get us both killed.”
“And, Elena, is she any different? She can get you killed.”
“Or the European friends of Roberto can do that as well – if we allow it. All I’m saying is be careful, Acan. Your life is just beginning. Mine is an eternity. Francesca and Elena, their lives are caught mid cycle. Only the winner takes all, Acan. I plan on winning!”
Francesca wished her father would hurry up so she could go back to the hotel. Shifting from one foot to the other, she watched as the nun sped down the corridor leading to another corridor. Her father turned toward the nun’s sudden disappearance, but his internal eyes in the back of his head, studied his daughter’s discomfiture, and wondered what thoughts passed through her mind at that second. He didn’t recognize the boy with her when he rounded the corner with the sister, but he suspected they had planned on a rendezvous at the hotel for later when he was in bed asleep.
“Francesca, who was the young man who visited you? He looked familiar. Anyone I or Miriam knows?”
Francesca shook her head automatically, not noting the stress in her father’s voice. She learned long ago never to say anything when confronted by a parent lest her voice give her away. Hesitant. . . shrill. . . over confident. . .hurried – all subliminal verbal voice clues sure to alert a wary parent. Since that time, Francesca used her head and gave nothing away. Her father studied her face, but Francesca looked straight ahead and held herself still until she felt her father’s eyes drop from their physical inspection and return to his brooding stare.
“All right, I won’t pry. Miriam’s staying in the hospital for one night. Why don’t you and I go back to the hotel? We can order dinner from room service. I’ve got several calls to make and you’ve got a report to write up for school. That was part of the agreement.”
“Sure, why not. I’m kind of tired anyway. It’s been one of those days. I didn’t expect it to be this hot and sticky. I could use a cold shower.”
Jackson smiled and held out his right hand to his daughter. Francesca grabbed it and wrapped her perspiring fingers around her father’s fingers. Together, they pushed opened the hospital’s glass door and strode out into the main boulevard.
Their shadows stretched ahead of them as the single street light lit up the darkened space behind them. Jackson removed his Stetson and fanned himself with it.
“You’re right on one thing. It sure is hotter than a timber blaze. Hope the rooms are air conditioned.”
“You’re kidding. Air conditioning down here? Where did you register? At the Hyatt? There’s sure no air conditioning in our room. Just fans. Large blades and they rock the night away while we slept. But cold air, haven’t felt anything since leaving Dallas. Or did they put you in the Presidential Suite?”
“I had them move your mom’s and your stuff to another room. The best of the lot. It has air conditioning so look forward to a cold shower, and an even colder room. We’ll use room service. I feel like a drink tonight. Want to try some sangria? That can’t hurt you.”
“You’re letting me have wine?”
Francesca kept her voice pitched even. No sense in taking chances with her father. She wanted to see Acan tonight, and though she loved her father in her own way, she liked Acan more. He tried to understand her, something her father and stepmom failed at all the time.
“It’s time that you taste it. It’s sweet, but nothing like rum and Coke. I know you can handle it.”
The word “handle” it swirled inside her mind. Rum and Coke she drank at the many cheerleading parties she’d attended during the past year, but sangria was off limits along with scotch, whiskey, and vodka.
The walk back to the hotel didn’t take long as the street lights lit up as they walked underneath their metal shawls. Around and behind them, Francesca heard nothing, except the whining of mosquitoes and other winged creatures. When they reached the hotel, a boy stood by the door with a huge sombrero. He scuttled in front of them and pushed the door opened for them. Jackson and Francesca entered the hotel.
Jackson turned and dropped five pesos – not quite a dollar, but still a generous sum – in the boy’s hand.
The door whooshed close, and the boy stood watching them as they walked up to the front desk. By craning his neck, he saw the clerk behind the counter give the man two keys. The boy reached into his pants pocket and took out a small camera. Aiming the lens toward the retreating Jackson and Francesca, he snapped two pictures and hurried away. In the shadows watching, Acan detached himself from the side of the building and stepped up toward the boy.
“Did you see them?”
“Yes, Sen͂or. I took their images as well. Here’s the camera. It’s digital.”
“Show me how it works,” Acan said.
The boy hid a smile.
“Follow me. The computer is in the back.”
Upstairs in the hotel, Jackson led the way to the Presidential Suite. Inserting the key into the lock, he pushed opened the door. The first thing Francesca saw was a whirling spa in the middle of the room.
“How cool is that?”
“Pretty cool. Why don’t you shuck off your clothes and climb in? I’ll go order a round of drinks for us. You can sip yours in the spa. I’ll go into the adjoining room and settle in. My bags are in there. You can dry yourself off and get your bags later. Miriam will room with me. This room is yours, Francesca. Have a great night. Call room service for dinner. Night. And remember, sweetie: I love you.”
He gave her a quick kiss and walked to the end of the room. There he inserted the second key into a lock that Francesca just now noticed was a door. The door opened outward. Jackson walked through and closed it behind him. She heard him turn the key in the lock.
“Took you long enough.”
Francesca swung around and stared into the eyes of her Spanish teacher, Sen͂or Gabrielle Tairino.
“Wh-What are you doing here? I thought you were dead.”
“No, just fainted. Too hot to play. I got the rest of the class settled in another hotel. Where’s your mom?”
“She . . . she got a case of food poisoning. She’s in the local hospital down the street. You can’t miss it. It’s on the side of the road, being a friend to man.”
“Hold up. I just can’t barge into a hospital demanding to see your mom. What happened this morning?”
“I, um, don’t know. She wouldn’t wake up.”
“It happens sometime. Maybe, she was sick before you left for the temple ruins, and decided to lay low until she felt better. Is that it?”
“She had a headache and took some aspirin for it.”
By now Francesca was feeling a bit panicky. She had invented so many stories about what happened to her stepmother that she was having trouble remembering which she told to whom. But she did not want to tell any more than necessary to Sen͂or Gabrielle Tairino than she had to her father or, for that matter to Sen͂ora de Gonzales, again wherever she was.
“That’s too bad. I really wanted to see her.”
“I told you she’s at the hospital. She’s in the main ward. You can’t miss it. Just tell them you’re my Spanish teacher and wanted to know how she’s doing. That’s all. It’s not like she’s under lock and key, you know.” Francesca babbled on.
Her Spanish teacher looked at her. Francesca fidgeted, her fingers intertwining and spinning.
“Am I making you nervous, Francesca?”
“No,” her voice piped shrilly like a flautist blowing a high note.
“No.” she repeated, her voice dropping down to normal range, her eyes roaming the walls, up at the ceiling, dropping to the bed, studying the closet door, and settling on looking down at her impatient fingers.
“You took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to see you back here. I thought you were still at the temple ruins with the rest of the class.”
“Just the boys, Francesca. The girls and you were long gone. Where are the girls?”
“With some tourist women, I think. They left before I could join them.”
“Well, that’s nice for you that you got back here without further ado. Meet anyone else on your travels?”
Francesca heaved a sigh. Her teacher was on a fishing expedition. She knew or thought she knew where this conversation was leading to. Her father must’ve contacted him to find out the truth about Acan. Stilling a shudder, Francesca stopped fiddling with her fingers, and stared back at her teacher.
“Father’s in the next room if you want to report in to him. I’m sure he’ll want to hear every word you’ve got to say. Shall I call him?”
This time, Tairino tried keeping his body from trembling. Now wasn’t the time to explain to Jackson Coleman about what really happened at the temple ruins. He really couldn’t explain it to himself logically. Thinking of his two new masters, Ambros and Erros, was a nightmare in which he still tried to wake up. Now, caught between Camaztoz and the two European counts, Tairino had his hands full. He must get to Miriam and warn her. The two counts waited for him to hear what he found at the temple. What could he tell them? And Camazotz? Tairino really didn’t expect him to understand that his blood didn’t – couldn’t – cancel out the European vampire blood from his system. It just didn’t work that way.
While he hesitated, Francesca walked over to the connecting door between her room and her father’s. She knocked.
“Yes, is something the matter?” her father called through the connecting door. She knocked again, harder.
“Okay, Okay. I’m coming.”
The door opened. Her father stood there with a bath towel stretched tightly around his torso. Shower water clung to his body and face.
“What’s up? I thought you were going into the spa.”
“I’ve got company,” Francesca said.
She whirled around spreading out her arms as if she was a circus ringmaster.
Jackson strode into her room and stopped. Standing in front of the mirror, Gabrielle Tiarino stood mumbling to himself, his hands bouncing against his thighs.
“Good evening, Gabrielle. This is nice surprise. Passing through?”
Tairino looked up and glared at Francesca’s father.
“I thought she was kidding me. Apparently not. I came to see Miriam and make sure she was okay. Francesca told me this morning that she didn’t feel well. We’ve been gone the entire day, and I wanted to make sure she didn’t need anything.”
“That’s darn nice of you, Gabrielle,” Jackson growled. “I appreciate that you wanted to make sure Miriam was okay. She’s not. And, you know why?”
Francesca clapped her hands over her ears knowing how much further her father’s voice would raise to its final crescendo.
“She was drugged. Someone gave her an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. Anyone you know?”
“I’m shocked,” Tairino said. “I knew nothing about this. Francesca never said . . . his voice trailed off.”
Jackson glanced at his daughter. Francesca removed her hands and locked eyes with him.
“I’m sure she didn’t know as it happened sometime this afternoon, I believe. Can you tell me where the rest of your Spanish class is? Do you know where the rest of the class is?”
“Of course I know where the class is. This place didn’t have enough air conditioners to go around, so I put them up in another place where there was air. It’s so hot here you can’t move without sticking to something. You realize, Jackson, that I’m not answerable just to you but to their parents as well. I sent them along with some tourists we met at the temple ruins because the humidity was too high for some of the girls to handle.”
Her father glared at Francesca.
“Is this true?”
“Humph, you could’ve said something before. Never mind. In some respects, you’re just like your mother!”
“She’s your mother. No one else wanted the job.”
“Room Service!” a voice called out.
Jackson looked at his daughter.
“Did you order something?”
“Yes, I did. Haven’t eaten all day. I wanted a cold soup, oyster crackers, and a glass of sangria. You said I could have some.”
“So, I did. Enter!” he called out. “The coast is clear.”
Acan pushed a metal dolly into the room. Underneath three white napkins, both Jackson and Gabrielle could see lumps underneath them. Francesca clapped her hands.
“Oh goody. Father, why don’t you invite Sen͂or Tairino into your room while I eat my food? That way you two can catch up. Perhaps, you can even take him to see that Miriam is okay. He’s worried about her.”
Francesca smiled. Her lips widened exposing the roots of her too white teeth. Jackson Coleman turned his back and walked back through the connecting door to his room.
“You might as well come with me, Tairino. Like Miriam, she’s a slow eater, and she’ll probably go in for a dip in the spa before turning in. I will check up on you later, Francesca. Don’t think that I won’t. And when you see your boyfriend, tell him I want to talk to him.”
Open-mouthed, Francesca gulped.
“Boy . . . friend,” she managed to squeak out. “I don’t have a boy-friend.”
“You’re hanging around with someone not of the same sex that much I do know. When he shows up, send him into my room. I want to lay down a few ground rules if you don’t mind. Good night. Come along Tairino. I bet I can get you in to see Miriam if only for a few minutes. I called Dr. Carlos, and get his permission.”
Her Spanish teacher walked past her. He mouthed a silent thank you to Francesca with his lips. The waiter kept his head bowed and played dead. The connecting door finally closed behind her Spanish teacher’s back. Francesca waited until she heard the click of the key turn in the lock. Once it did, she stepped away from the door, and walked toward the waiter.
Holding her forefinger to her lips, she pushed the cart away from Acan. Taking his hand, she led him into the bathroom and closed the door.
“Now, we can talk.”