Virgin of Quito, El Panecillo.
22 minutes later . . .
Were standing on top of the Little Loaf of Bread, looking down on over 2 million people. There are 16 children missing. We are about to speak with Seniorita Alonzo, and we’re going to have to take a much more delicate tact. She is single woman who runs a small chicken farm.
And she’s missing her 5-year old son, Carlos. He’s been missing just over two days, and our thinking is that if there is something the kidnappers left behind, maybe we can pick up on it.
Looking out across the city, it’s almost like looking at a post card. The red and soft browns of the bricks. The bits of white and grey. Spires and church towers rising above the houses and markets. The streets are crossing in clean, nearly perfectly straight lines. And even though I know that down on the street there is a great deal of poverty, from here it looks like any picturesque town in the world.
Could be Rome.
Might be Paris, France.
But, no. It’s none of those places. This town, if we’re not careful, could be the place they eventually talk about as the town where the Evils got their foothold on us. Where they first laid their roots.
They say the children are the future, that’s if they’re not eating each other. I’m having a hard time imagining a group of satan worshippers, or some other twisted cult, slowly sucking the blood of a bunch of young children. But to think that there may be children preying on other children . . . that fucking irks me.
And I’m not easily irked.
Walking across the dirt road that leads to her house I hear chickens squawking, making a real mess somewhere off in the distance. This woman, all I know about her is that she lost her son, and she’s willing to talk to us. Well, to the us that supposedly works for The World Peace Brigade.
To me it sounds ultra-cheesy, but Mr. Green assured me that it’s legit enough. In fact, he tells me, they’ve been using it for a cover for so many years, that it’s got a fairly decent reputation as far as humanitarian aid organizations go. Tell a lie long enough and people start to believe it.
Fantasy becomes fact eventually.
Ms. Josephine and Ricky are going to be asking most of the questions, with Mr. Green interpreting between them. I’m just going to have a look around the property with Juan—Mr. Black.
We walk down a small, grass covered path that looks like there may be stones underneath that used to form a walkway. The grass has taken hold and left just the echo of a path. As we approach her front porch, which is almost entirely orangish-red tiles, I see a fountain partially obscured by an black iron gate.
I kick at what I thought was a stick, and it turns out to be a lizard basking in the sun. He probably doesn’t have a worry in the world. At some point a bird, some enterprising cat, or a lawn mower will get him. He’ll go from enjoying the sun to being dead before he knows it.
Easy come, easy go.
When we start to peek through the gate we hear her calling, “Ola, Ola! Espera un momento. Hay voy, hay voy.”
When she approached she took a careful look at each of us before opening the gate. In her left hand was a small plastic cross that she looks to have been rubbing for about two days straight. Jesus won’t have any skin left if we don’t find her kid soon.
Mr. Green introduced us and she opened the gate allowing us to enter.
I’m going to spare you the hell I’m going through trying to translate and just tell you the nuts and bolts.
She and her two sons, Carlos and Julio, were getting the chickens all rounded up two nights ago. They were going muy loco and the family was having a difficult time. At one point, Julio had corralled 30 or 40 of the chickens and Carlos went to close a portion of the back fence where they had some donkeys grazing.
Seniorita Alonzo and Julio got all the chickens back in their cages, the whole ordeal taking around half an hour. And that was the last she saw of Carlos. She said how Julio, being the older brother, around 11, went searching for Carlos—who has the soul of Cortez and likes to wander around like a little explorer.
But when they couldn’t locate him in an hour she began to worry. She called her brother who works in the city to help her. He, knowing of the recent child disappearances, notified the local Policia, and two cars were sent to her house.
Four Policia officers searched in the immediate vicinity, and then several hunters were called on to help widen the search area. Still no Carlos. They officially listed him as missing yesterday morning.
Ms. Josephine asked if there were any strange noises in the past few weeks. Strangers? People that didn’t belong?
After Seniorita Alonzo and Mr. Green went back and forth he turned to us, “She says the animals started acting strange, and that several of her chickens, and a small goat were killed by something that drank their blood. They call it Chupacabra.”
“Si,” she said, nodding, “Chupacabra. Es chupacabra.”
Ricky asked, “Did she ever actually see anything, or anyone around the farm?”
Seniorita Alonzo looked down, her eyes focusing on the fountain’s stagnant water. “No. No vi nada.”
Mr. Green turns to us, but we already know. He then recommends that Juan and I take a look around. I take the hint and we head back out the gate and start our hike of the farm. Behind us Ms. Josephine is taking Seniorita Alonzo into her arms as the mother cries for a child that I imagine she’ll probably never see again. At least, not in color.
As we’re walking I grab my phone and call the office. Billtruck answers.
“Hey . . . ” I tell him, “we’re at the location of another of the kidnappings. What do you want me to do?”
“ . . . give me a minute . . . Hal to . . . on line . . . ”
“Billtruck,” I say, “you’re kind of breaking up.” I wait a few seconds and then the line gets clear and precise, again.
“Sorry about that. That’s an odd area your in. I’ll need to check it out on satellite as soon as I can. There’s some strange energy spikes in that area. Did you see a power plant nearby? Maybe a reactor of some kind?”
“Nothing, no. Just a bunch of old buildings and even older churches. Everybody’s poor and I’m sure you could disappear in a place like this in a flash.”
“Huh,” he says. “It looks like a postcard, from space.”
I laugh. “That’s what I thought, too.”
“Well, there’s something there, Jack. Maybe it’s a transformer?”
I look over at Juan, “Juan, sabes un, um, caja electrica? Power box, but like muy grande?”
He nods, “Oh, like a transformer.”
“Yeah, I say. Just like that. Is there anything like that around here?”
“I didn’t see nothing, Yack,” Juan says, still managing to switch the J in my name for a Y.
I look at my phone, as if Billtruck is inside it, “Did you hear him?”
“I heard. Well, it’s weird, whatever it is.” And then it’s silent for a moment.
“ . . . I’m here, I was just thinking about something I saw in a movie.”
Here we go.
“ . . . remember in Ghostbusters when they found ectoplasm? The residue from the ghosts. Especially the Slimer. They leave traces. Maybe these bastards leave trace evidence of some kind.”
“Billtruck, you’re a genius.”
3 minutes and 23 seconds later . . .
Juan and I are walking around looking at everything in shades of colors based on their temperatures. It’s early enough that most everything is still cool. Hopefully we might pick up something on the thermal imaging function that the policia missed.
We walk side by side, taking special care to investigate the area near the back gate—a two-beam wooden fence with posts every 10 or 12 feet. It’s more of a corral to keep larger animals from walking off.
But we find nothing. It’s all the same temperature. Matter of fact, the ground is warmer than the gate. Especially in one area a few feet outside the gate.
“Juan, what do you think would make the ground warmer there?”
“Maybe the animals, is where they sleep? Las vacas.”
“Si, the cows.”
“Ricky said that cows sleep standing up.”
He shrugged, “Ricky must knows about Canadian cows. Ecuadorian cows sleeps on the ground. A la tierra.”
I get on my phone again, “Billtruck, are you getting this?”
“Every bit. Let Hal and I play with it, and I’ll contact you in a few.”
“Jack . . . get me a sample of the soil.”
“Maybe that shit’s radioactive. What if they’re dumping something and all of this is a big cover-up for illegal waste storage. You know, an explanation somewhat grounded in reality.”
That’s the plot from the new Todd Steele adventure, Chemical Sundown.
“I know, I just read it. I didn’t see the ending coming.”
I’ll get the sample. Over and out.
We take the goggles off and Juan says to me, “Your friend has an imagination, no.”
What do you mean?
“Everybody knows this lady lost her kid to a chupacabra.” He shrugs like we’re all the stupid ones. “Todo mundo sabe esto.”
The whole world knows this.
And really, I’m not sure what world we’re in right now.