Hotel Antonio, Quito.
11:11 am . . .
We’re sitting at the hotel bar, waiting for several orders of pulpo—octopus. Mr. Green promises that, with the garlic butter they provide, you can’t tell where heaven stops and the pulpo starts. I don’t know about that, but I’m so hungry that I could eat part of the oak table at this point.
We came back, called Billtruck, and traded our theories for an hour. Now we’re waiting for some of Ricky’s machines to process the samples he took from Juan-Carlos Jimenez before the Vatican took over.
And it’s puzzling to me that the church would have that much power here, but Mr. Green explained it, “The church, especially the catholic church, are the highest power in the land. They judge the judges, and influence politics, and tell the people how to live their lives. And the people, believe me, they listen.”
He stirred a glass full of iced tea as he shook his head, “You see, these people live every breath of their life with unflinching faith. You don’t find many atheists down here. So, the Vatican is the closest thing to God they will ever see. A catholic priest, might as well be a senator or a congressman. He can do just about anything he pleases.”
Untouchable? I ask.
“Well, from a legal standpoint.” And then Mr. Green gets this sinister, closed-lipped grin. “But, you know . . . we do things extra-official around here.”
Well, all I know is, that guy didn’t look like any priest I’ve ever seen.
Ms. Josephine narrows her eyes as she takes a sip of her soda. “Dat man ain’t no preist. ’e’s a bad man. ’e’s da kind of man who will kiss your child as ’e baptizes ’im, and den check ‘is pockets for loose change. Dat kind of man doesn’t care nothin’ about faith. ’e’s got an agenda.”
“Well,” Ricky says as he chews through some dry crackers, “we need to keep space between us and them. Those guys might cause us problems later.”
“I’m going to take a look at their church office tonight,” Mr. Green said quietly, and almost like it was planned, Father Pete makes way into the bar with several large, un-priestly looking men on his heels.
I’m sure somebody called him about us. This whole place is wired by these guys. Everybody’s just waiting to make a call, tell them what the Canadians are up to.
He makes his way to our table, looking much taller and intimidating than he did earlier. He asks, “May I speak with you for a moment,” but not really asking. He sits and folds his hands in front of him, as his men spread out.
Mr. Blue, Juan, and Mr. Green, I can’t see, but I’d bet everything I own that they all have their hands on various triggers right about now. And I’d go double or nothing that if it came to something serious, they would have no problem turning this place into a shooting gallery.
“It’s a free country,” Ricky says. “Isn’t it?”
Father Pete laughs one of those fake, party laughs where he’s really calling you an asshole without saying it. “I was wondering what the nature of your investigation was. Perhaps I can be of some assistance in your search?”
Ricky takes a sip of his drink, picks up a cocktail napkin and dabs the corners of his mouth, silently calling Father Pete a prick in his own way. “Father . . . ”
“Peter Scarcelli, of the Jesuit church La Compañía.”
“Well, padre,” Ricky explained, “we’re researching a potential infectious pathogen. Something has been killing children—”
“We don’t know that the children are deceased,” Father Pete interrupts.
“Of course,” Ricky half apologized. “How insensitive of me. What I meant to insinuate is that we worry that perhaps these children are just the beginning of an outbreak that may not be containable if it gets past the index cases and area of incidence. Due to several free trade agreements, the Canadian government is doing everything it can to support our research effort.”
Ricky shrugs, “We’re just trying to save the children. That’s all.”
“You don’t know this place,” Father Pete says coldly. “It can be dangerous. Especially for Canadians who don’t know their way around. I’m sure we can figure out what is taking these children and deal with it accordingly. But then, who am I to get in the way of your cooperation? If you need anything, please do not hesitate to call upon me.”
Father Pete hands Ricky a card with a number scribbled on it. Then he stands, again looking at each and every one of us. He’s doing the whole intimidation thing.
“Stay in Quito,” Father Pete offers. Like he’s just one heck of a guy, giving us some friendly advice. “I’m sure there is plenty to research here . . . where it is safe. You know how sensitive people can be when children are disappearing. Strangers might be looked upon with suspect eyes.”
He looks at me, I guess trying to figure out where I fit in. And it seems like he’s about to tell me something, but all he gives us is, “Good day.”
And then the smug son of a bitch turns on his heel, marches back through his men, and they slowly filter out of the bar.
I hear the audible clicks of several guns’ hammers touching metal.
Well, I say. At least he was pleasant when he threatened us.