Orville stayed overnight in San Ignacio at this small inn just off the town square as the shock and sadness of Francisco’s disappearance still clung to him like a bad dream. He could make no logical sense of it at all, though writing it off to the reality of La Mala Hora did not sit well with him either. With no sense of resolution or closure from El Zapote, Orville packed up and headed to Mexico. He knew it would take time and distance to put this all fully behind him. And his promise to himself to return to Mexico awaited. Orville adhered to his plans and toured through Chiapas and Oaxaca seeing a lot of the interior of Mexico that he had not had time to dawdle over previously. It was a stark contrast to the jungles and beaches of Quintana Roo and the Yucatan but reminded him of a wilder and more expansive version of the mountains he had grown to love back in the States.
But as Orville wrapped up his latest trek across Mexico in Guadalajara after a memorable few days in the historic, colonial enclave of San Luis Potosi, he realized he was missing his little bungalow in Laconia as well as his small but close-knit circle of friends. It had been, he mused, the perfect break from his old life that he had needed as he began this new chapter in his life but he was ready to go home and see what that might be. He was still mourning the loss of Francisco De León but having been through this type of thing before Orville knew that in time things would get better on that front as well.
And as he snoozed on and off on his flight back to Memphis, Orville was suddenly hit with the idea of adding a companion to his life in retirement. When he had been a kid, he had been unable to have any kind of real pet due to some severe allergies that his mother had, and ever since the idea of one had bounced around in his brain. However, once he had gotten immersed in his career at RMD, his hours were so irregular and long that he did not feel it would be fair to a cat or dog to be on their own for his long absences away from home. But now, he thought, maybe it was time. His time was all his own now and the concept of having a pet to spend time with now was very appealing.
A dog…thought Orville. Not that he had anything against cats per se, but with the reputation that cats had for independence and being a bit aloof in general, it seemed a dog might be a better option for him. He was after all looking for an interactive companion not just putting himself in the role of staff for a feline overlord. The more he considered this idea the more he liked it and he made a mental note to talk to Kathryn when he got back to see what his best options might be in Laconia for adoptions. Orville nodded off as the plane soared over Texas as he pictured himself and his new best friend walking the trails of the woods near his cottage and just having a smiling face greet him each day.
He woke suddenly as the jet’s wheels touched down at the Memphis airport and Orville exhaled deeply as he looked with anticipation toward what lay ahead for him. He sat patiently while the other passengers popped up quickly grabbing at and pulling down bags and packages. Orville smiled to himself. This was the beauty of retirement he thought: there was no rush for anything anymore. Though truth be told, though, Orville had never understood this mad panic to jump up and go running off a plane one it came to a stop. It never ceased to amaze him to watch the people around him stand around in the aisles of planes waiting and waiting until they were allowed to deplane. As the plane thinned out, Orville got up slowly and snagged his one carryon bag and walked slowly along the now empty aisle thanking the crew as he went as he made his way to customs and luggage pickup.
The length of time he had been out of the country drew some initial inquiries from the TSA staff upon his clearing customs, but they soon found their normal paranoia and staged drama could be saved for the next poor soul they needed to pester. Orville just let them do their thing knowing he was in no rush to get anywhere. After claiming his luggage, Orville strode out to the sidewalk to meet Kathryn who had generously agreed to pick him up upon his return so he could avoid a huge bill for parking his car at the airport. He looked up and down the entrance road until he saw Kathryn waving at him just a few cars away to the left. Orville indicated he had spotted her and wheeled his stuff her way.
“Kathryn! Boy is it great to see you! Thanks so much for doing this!”
“My pleasure, Orville. Good trip?”
“Unbelievable. I can bore everyone with the details later.”
He piled his things into her trunk and got in the passenger seat as she checked for traffic and then pulled away from the curb as they headed for the exit and the interstate east to Laconia. Orville did not say anything right away, but despite her being glad to see him he sensed something off in Kathryn’s normal bubbly personality as they drove. Even her normal loquacious character was seemingly subdued. Her eyes looked sad and it was like there was something picking at her inside that was making her a bit more stoic than Orville was used to. But perhaps, it was just some personal thing that was none of his business. He assumed she would tell him if she wanted to and they drove on in relative silence for a few moments.
Finally Kathryn spoke up.
“Oh…did you see your friend down in Guatemala? Francisco, right?”
Orville sighed heavily.
“Um…no, Kathryn. He, uh…it’s a long story I am afraid. But no…I could not find him this time.”
She picked up the reticence in his tone and did not pursue it. But later even the prolonged silence was too much for Orville, who by his own admission was no chatterbox. He thought maybe he could break whatever wall she had put up on the drive by inquiring about a good place to adopt a dog and his plans to pursue this. But she did not reply to his inquiry.
“Kathryn?” Orville said again, louder.
“Oh...I’m sorry. What was that? You saw a dog?”
“No, Kathryn…I said I am thinking of adopting one. Never mind for now. Why don’t you tell me what is going on with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, Kathryn…we have known each other long enough for me to know when there is something on your mind. If it is none of my business then just say so. But it seems like you are a million miles away right now.”
She nodded and looked over at him.
“You in a big rush to get back home?”
“Could we stop at the next exit, grab a cup of coffee and let me fill you in?”
She glanced up and saw an exit coming up with a placard showing a Starbucks about a quarter mile off the exit and took it.
“I know your opinion of Starbucks, Orville, but…”
“It’s OK, Kathryn…I’m sure I can stomach one visit to the evil caffeine empire.”
She laughed with him as they turned left at the bottom of the ramp. But as they went along the 2-lane secondary road Orville spotted a small café just on the right, “The Coffee Convent” and pointed it out.
“How about here, Kathryn. I can avoid enduring patronizing the scourge from Seattle and how can you pass up on a place with that name?”
She snickered and pulled into the small parking lot. They went inside and Orville ordered their drinks while Kathryn took a quick detour to the bathroom. Orville was waiting for her at a table by a window when she returned.
“Thanks for the coffee.”
“You drove an hour out of your way to Memphis for me, Kathryn. I figure this makes us even?”
She laughed as Orville smiled broadly. When she stopped they sipped and Orville set his cup down and leaned forward looking her in the eyes firmly.
“OK, Kathryn…no more jokes. Spill it. What’s bugging you?”
She sighed and sat back and rubbed her face with her palms.
“It’s not me, Orville. It’s Joe Garrity.”
“Oh? He and Sarah finally tie the knot while I was gone?”
“No, Orville,” she replied as her face clouded. Joe is dead. He was murdered yesterday.”
“He what? Sorry, Kathryn, but it sounded like you just said Joe Garrity was murdered. I guess my ears are still plugged from the flight.”
But she did not reply. She just looked him in the eyes before tears began to spill from her eyes and down her face.