Casa de Seniorita Alonzo.
13 minutes later . . .
We met back at Seniorita Alonzo’s front porch as a curious looking tabby cat slinked by with a look of restrained urgency—that quick cat trot that you see three days before a tornado.
“Los gatos,” Juan says, “they know things we don’t. They have, ah . . . comóte dices . . . ” He’s searching for a word. “Sensitivities?” he tries.
Senses, I say. Yeah, they have very acute senses.
“Si, eso. Senses.”
I’ve got a soil sample in a small metal tube, which I’m hoping is composed of lead or some other dense material that insulates against radioactivity. If the suspect soil does turn out to be radiating it will probably leech into my body and twist my reproductive system into knots. I guess I’ll know for sure when my future kids are born with extra eyes and a set of flippers.
Juan and I make our way through the half grass, half reddish dirt yard and put the goggles back inside the Hummer. I stow the soil sample in a metal case that has all kinds of gauges on the side that make me that much more concerned.
As we turn around we notice several cats, just like that first one, all racing by like they have to get somewhere quickly. Like they’re late for an appointment.
Is that normal? I ask.
Juan looks up, his nearly black eyes studying that morning sky, “Es que . . . maybe there is a storm coming. Sensitivities.”
We head back through Seniorita Alonzo’s tired iron gate and across her small courtyard. And as I’m walking over some small round tiles, it hits me. I turn to Juan, lowering my voice, “Didn’t the woman say they were trying to get all of the chickens back in their cages?”
And I’m picturing the hen house we walked by on our way down the gentle slope that led to the back gate. The hen house is a low-roofed, long building that smells like the worst parts of a chicken times a million. The building itself was painted in a faded blue that looks to have been applied to the warped wooden planks some time in the early 50s.
I don’t know how the whole ‘chicken farming thing’ goes, but, from what I gather, it’s basically a whore house where the birds are urged to mate as quickly as possible, spitting out kids until they baby maker is worn out. Then they’re chopped up and used for pig food. I think that covers the broad strokes.
But the thing I don’t get is, how did the chickens get out in the first place?
“They don’t let chickens run around and get exercise, do they?” I ask as I notice some slithery little bugs wiggling around in the mucky water that’s left in the fountain.
He laughs, “No.”
And then we both look at each other, nodding. Somebody set the chickens loose to separate the children . . . so they could snatch one. We fast walked to the door of the house, and it’s kind of cracked open, just waving back and forth as the wind pushes through. I guess that’s their version of air conditioning.
I knock lightly and announce that we’re coming in. A few steps inside we see the others standing in the kitchen. There are small blue and white tiles across most of the floor. And the walls are an eggshell color, darker near the top corners by the ceiling. There are candles on almost every flat surface, along with several crucifixes and pictures of Jesus. I don’t know if the word sad is appropriate, but it’s the only thing that’s echoing through my mind.
Ms. Josephine and Ricky have conjured up some concoction in a large black pot. Ms. Josephine is holding a picture of the missing boy over the swirls of steam as they roll and bend their way up from the bubbling pot.
Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, and Seniorita Alonzo, they’re off to the side watching all of this.
And I know when to keep my trap shut and observe. Ms. Josephine, in her white dress, with her dark black skin and mesmerizing eyes, she seems larger than life. This all feels surreal. She’s more of a character than an actual person. She’s got her eyes closed, moving the photograph up and down slowly as she mumbles unintelligible stuff in French and Creole.
Ricky is at her side, like a doctor’s assistant, waiting to see if he gets to be the one to kill the chicken that is in a small metal cage on the floor. And I just know that this has to involve the chicken’s throat being slit at some point.
Juan doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by any of this. Mr. Green backs away from the group and approaches Juan, whispering something to him. Ms. Josephine is doing her voodoo thing as he comes around to my right side. We watch her touching the picture, beads of steam condensing into drops that make it look like the lost child is crying right in front of us.
The chicken is getting restless. It just has to know what’s coming.
I guess maybe that’s what the cats were all hauling ass for. Perhaps they have some special sense that lets them know when it’s not healthy to be anywhere near the practice of voodoo rituals. Especially if you’ve got warm blood that can be splashed around in a pot.
Mr. Green leans in and asks me if we found anything useful. I explain my theory about the chickens being deliberately set free to cause a distraction. He agrees. I tell him about the warm soil just past the gate, and how we got some cellular phone interference in this area.
They all think this is a chupacabra. A goat sucker.
“Maybe it is,” Mr. Green says under his breath as he turns back to the unsettling ceremony taking place.
We both look at Seniorita Alonzo. Her face is tanned deeply brown, with the kind of crows feet at the corners of her eyes a woman gets only after years of squinting under the harsh sun. Her face is wide and kind of flat, and she has this defeated look about her. It’s like her body realized a long time ago that life wasn’t going to be pleasant. She has thick forearms and muscular, thin fingers rough and leathery from working with her hands.
And so we just stand there watching until my phone starts to vibrate in my pocket. I quietly excuse myself outside into the courtyard near the starving fountain and answer. It’s Billtruck, and he’s talking excitedly.
“ . . . found another body!”
Wait . . . what? Where?
“Off the Pan-American Highway, the one that leads from the airport,” he says. “I’ll shoot you the exact coordinates. But you need to hurry if you want to get a clean look at the body.”
“The anonymous voice just got the same call I’m giving you. Only his came from the local Police.”
We’re on it! I say.