5:02 pm . . .
We loaded the Hummers quickly and met our drivers. And in an instant we’re scooting down the Pan-American Highway.
Both of our drivers are suspicious looking latino men that Mr. Green introduced as Mr. Blue, or Mr. Black. And I’m not completely sure about this, but I think that their names might not be legitimate.
They both have that been through shrapnel look about them with hollow, almost vacant eyes. I gather from the hugs and slaps on the back that they share with Mr. Green that they’re Dispute Arbitrators, too.
I’m with Mr. Green and Mr. Black, in the first Hummer. Ricky and Ms. Josephine are with Mr. Blue. Mr. Black asked me to call him Juan, in his heavily accented English.
Isn’t that the Spanish version of John?
“Si,” Juan said. And then he glanced over at Mr. Green, who was fingering his way through a crumpled road map, “This is a very smart Canadian, Jeffe.”
I know from my Spanish Tele-novellas that Jeffe means boss. They don’t call him Mr. Green, or Andy . . . just Jeffe.
“Estais buscando los chicos que la montaña ha comisten?” Juan asks quietly.
“Si,” Mr. Green answers flatly, tracing some curving path with his free hand. Then he looks up, “Juan, dime . . . hay alguien buscando los chicos?”
I’m only picking up bits and pieces. Juan asked if we’re looking for the kids that the mountain ate. And Mr. Green said yes, then asked if anyone else was searching.
“Si,” Juan replied, “hay mucha gente buscando.”
Yes, there are many people looking.
“No, no,” Mr. Green clarifies, “Catolicos. Sacerdotes que no viven aqui. Catolicos nuevos?”
No, no. Catholics? Priests that don’t live here. Catholics.
And I’m wondering how heavy the Vatican is into all of this. We know that the anonymous voice is here, somewhere. He’s investigating in whatever manner they do.
“Unas,” Juan answers. “Si, hay caras nuevas aqui.”
Some. Yes, there are new faces here.
As we’re driving I start to see the early hints of light rising aqua blue on the horizon. We’re heading to a hotel where we will leave our gear, but we also have an appointment with one of the ‘aid’ workers at a local pharmacy. Supposedly, a local doctor who is well connected will point us in the right direction.
While we hustle down the curving road I take in the scenery. Quito is the capital of Ecuador. It is situated in the Pichincha province, on some of the lower slopes of the Pichincha Volcano, which erupted in 1666—a comforting number. The city is in a narrow, and quite claustrophobic, valley that sits at an elevation of around 9,352 feet. I’m sorry, I mean 2,850.6 meters.
The city is just south of the Equator. It is known as the oldest of all South American capitals, and has a well-preserved old town, where we’ll be staying during our visit. The city was the ancient seat of the kingdom of Quitu, the largest part of an Indian tribal confederation that left no recorded history.
Between the 10th century and 1487, when it was united with the Inca empire, it was ruled by the Shyris—sovereigns of the Cara Indians—who are said to have come, “ . . . by way of the sea.”
Sebastian de Belalcazar, a lieutenant of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, occupied the city on Dec. 6, 1534, and declared a municipal government. Quito remained the focal point of national affairs—social, political, and economic—until the early 20th century, when economic dominance shifted more to Guyaquil. A rivalry between the two cities still exists, with Quito remaining the nation’s political and cultural center.
The city, as we’re driving through it, has this colonial feel. There are towers from the many churches outlined against the circle of volcanoes that surround the Quito basin. There are elegant fountains, narrow streets with balconies from every house. Doorways with iron grills, and every now and then I catch the glimpse of small gardens behind bits of fence and wall.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still inner city slums, just with more romance to it.
We head to our Hotel Antonio—named after Antonio Jose de Sucre, the hero of independence. It’s located near the Church of San Agustin, on the Plaza Mayor, also referred to as the Plaza de la Independencia—Independence square. In 1809, at that very location, they signed Ecuador’s Act of Independence.
There’s a man there that will be assisting us. Although, to what extent or form his help will come, I don’t exactly know.
We skid to a stop as the sun is just starting to burn through the blue to create a kind of eerie purple. We all get out like we’re in a rush, bags in hands, strapped over our shoulders, and around our backs. In four laboring trips we have unloaded our clothing, and some of the bags into the hotel suites.
Another guy, a Mr. Red, he’s tasked with watching the gear at the suites, and keeping tabs on anyone who asks questions. I’m not sure if he’s working with Mr. Green, if he’s a local policia officer who’s moonlighting, or if he just has a funny last name. Again, he’s the kind of guy you’d least like to meet in a dark alley.
13 minutes later . . .
We’re making our way across the street to La Pharmacia Quito, where a man named Hector is supposed to be waiting for us. Mr. Green barked some rapid fire Spanish into his cell phone and said that we were still on schedule.
Everyone safely inside the Hummers, Mr. Green and I hop out and step down to the cracked and beaten sidewalk, heading for the pristinely clean glass doors of the pharmacy. As soon as we walk in, a short man with a ring of black hair on an otherwise bald head walks forward from behind a counter. This is the kind of place where you can probably buy hair cream, steroids, or designer stem cells if you know what to ask for.
The man extends his furry hand, “I’m Hector, thank you for coming.” He looks around nervously. “The men from the church came by last night to interrogate me.”
You mean to ask you questions?
“No,” he corrected, “it was an interrogation about the body of Maria Eduardo-Mendez Gonzalez.”
Mr. Green, understanding that these people live in an environment that can become hysterical and conspiratorial in an instant, he just puts a calming hand on Hector’s shoulder. “What can you tell us, my friend? We’re here to help your people.”
He looks at me, “You know, the childrens that have gone missing . . . well, I was one of the first doctors to examine the first body. The little girl, Maria . . . ” he crosses himself, touching a small cross that’s hanging just below the top button of his white shirt. “ . . . I saw her body, you know. I made the precipitin tests to determine if we were dealing with an animal attack. I did the autopsy notes. Took the pictures.”
All the sudden he turns and motions for us to follow him into the back of the pharmacy. We both follow, but I notice that Mr. Green has moved his tan jacket to the side in case he has to reach for his pistol. This guy is always on.
Hector takes us to a small office with a white desk that has several folders. He thumbs through them, reading off the names. “These are the pictures of the child’s body. There are also some lab results.” He then hands the folder to me, “Abre lo . . . open it, please.”
I open the folder to reveal several black-n-white photographs of a dead girl who couldn’t be older than about five or six years. She has long black hair, very thin features, and looks to have been almost completely drained of blood.
What in the Hell did this? I ask, handing the photos to Mr. Green.
I’m sure that Ricky will have his own theories, but right now we don’t want to spook anyone with too many foreigners asking questions.
This man Hector really looks worried. His breathing is tense, and forced. He swallows a lot. His eyes dart back and forth, and he’s constantly pacing side to side. “I am doctor, you know, for over fourteen years. I have seen every type of animal attack that you can think of. I’ve treated attacks by snakes, and spiders, and lizards, and bats. I work with animals, you know?”
Hector glances around, as if we should realize we’re in a veterinary clinic. “People and animals,” he shrugs. “We don’t have many doctors here, so we all kind of do whatever comes up.”
“We know your record, Doctor,” Mr. Green says. “You come very highly recommended among the people I’ve spoken with.”
Hector nods, “The girl was vaciado de sangre, ah, you know, drained of her blood. The bite marks, no matter what they tell you, they are not from an animal. Those are human dientes. Teeth from a person.”
Can you match the marks with any potential suspects?
He shakes his head, lowering his voice, “The teeth marks, they’re from several different human sets of teeth.”
Lots of teeth bit this girl?
“Over and over. They drained her blood over a period of days. From inside the legs, and from inside the arms. And the monsters that did this repeated it over several days.”
“Jesus Christ,” Mr. Green said as he looked at a close-up shot of the bite marks on the inner arms. “What’s your gut instinct, Doctor . . . su primera impression?”
“This is some kind of ritual, I would say, but . . . ”
Hector’s eyes seem to blank out, as he considers something.
But what, Doctor?
He snaps back, “In the wound there were anticoagulants. You know, so that the wound doesn’t clot. This keeps the blood flowing so that they can continue drinking. The bats from the higher elevations use the same chemical in their saliva to attack the cows and los borregos—the sheep.”
“Can you purchase these kinds of things?” Mr. Green asked. “Anticoagulants? Who sells that?”
He shook his head, again keeping his voice down as if we’re being listened to, “Perhaps you could purchase something like this from some bio-chemical firm in the United States, or Europe. But, really, it would be unreasonably expensive. And you would only have small amounts for using in experiments.”
What about . . . would you be able to collect it from the bats? I ask.
“It would be impossible. To collect sufficient amounts to do this to a human, you would need to synthesize it.”
So, we’re looking at a cult, who have anticoagulants in large, impossible amounts, that are kidnapping children to suck their blood. Have I covered all of the bases?
Hector nods. “And there is one more thing you need to know.”
Mr. Green and I, we’re all ears.
“ . . . the bit marks, they’re from different sized mouths, with different levels of development in the teeth.”
You lost me. They’re what?
“This cult, whoever they are doing this, they’re not just adults. There are children feeding, too.”
We spent the next ten minutes looking at the pictures as he explained the different nuances in them. Telling us what we were looking at, and how he determined the different dental sets. He estimates that there are three or four distinct sets of teeth that were feeding off of this child’s body.
I can’t think of a more horrible and terrifying way to die, than to be repeatedly drained of blood until my body finally gives up the fight.
He sends us off with a copy of the file, all the pictures, and an address where we can find a woman named Seniorita Esmeralda Gomez Alonzo. She was the last parent to have a child taken near the mountains, so we might find something at her place.