Life blood, p.16
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       Life Blood, p.16

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  Chapter Sixteen

  "Come here," he said.

  Whoosh. There he was. He strode through the door, tan safari shirt,smelling like a man who'd just driven hundreds of miles through CentralAmerica in an open Jeep. I wanted to undress him with my teeth and lickoff the sweat. Brown eyes, skin tan as leather, he threw his armsaround me and I felt the weight of the world slip away. He was here. Iwas wearing a robe, fresh from the tub, but it was gone in a second.Steve, I gotta say, knew a thing or two about the bedroom.

  As we wound ourselves together for the next two hours, I had arefresher course in how much Id missed him, soul and body. His taste,his skin, his touch. Finally, we were both so exhausted we just laythere bathed in sweat, spooned together on the sagging bed. I hadn'tfelt so good in years. It was like another world.

  "God I've missed you," I said again, holding him closer. Theair-conditioning was beginning to lose ground against the late sun, butI didn't care. After my solo nightmare of the last two days, I wasremembering what it was like to be a couple again.

  The Camino Real, by the way, turned out to be an American-stylehideaway with budget shag carpeting and flaking blue walls. In a way,though, the downtrodden decor actually made it more romantic, like we'dsneaked off to a garish hot-sheet motel for a twilight rendezvous.

  I finally dragged myself up and got us a bottle of water. Then, leaningagainst the rickety headboard, I recounted an abbreviated version ofwhat had happened yesterday after we'd first talked--the theft of myfilm, and then Lou being assaulted and Sarah taken, apparentlywillingly, to be brought (I strongly suspected) back here. What I heldout on were the details about a certain Colonel Jose Alvino Ramos, mybelief that he was behind the crimes and in league with Alex Goddardand stalking me. I was afraid our room was bugged.

  "Morgy, we'll get through this," he said, reaching over to stroke myhair. "If somebody brought her back down here, we'll find her. And Iapologize for being such a shit on the phone, about the baby. I'd justhad a local lab lose three rolls of high-speed Kodachrome and I wasseriously frosted at the world. We can keep trying if you want to."

  "Just hold me." I put down my glass and I reached around and ran myfinger across his chest. It was so lovely to be this close to somebodyyou wanted so much. I loved his earnest brown eyes and his soft skin. Iloved him. Just having him with me made such a difference.

  The unexpected part was, I'd asked him to come and help me, but nowthat he was here, I was starting to feel uneasy about luring him intomy personal nightmare. Was that really fair?

  Also, I was getting hints he had problems of his own. The photo book, Igathered, was not coming together the way he'd hoped. He'd mumbledsomething about finding himself torn between a heartstrings essay aboutthe children (his specialty; you've probably seen his work, whether youknow it or not), a devastating portrayal of the latest crop of sleazypoliticos, or a nature valentine to the vanishing rain forest. Butwhenever he agonized about his work, I knew enough to keep my mouthshut and just listen. He didn't want bright ideas; he just wanted me toclam up and be there for him.

  Anyway, I knew he'd think his way through the problem. He had adeceptive air of vulnerability that always disappeared in a crunch. Hewas the master of ad hoc solutions. . . .

  At that moment, he reached for his watch, studied it, and abruptlybolted straight up. "Hey, I almost forgot my surprise. I hope you'restill up for it. Did you know this is our anniversary? It was on thisvery day I first watched you dive into that grungy swimming pool at theOloffson in Port-au-Prince."

  "My God you're right. I'm humiliated." I hugged him contritely, feelinglike a self-centered twit. I guess I was too focused on Sarah. (I screwup a lot on birthdays too, always with an excuse.) "I don't even have apresent for you. I've been so--"

  "That's okay." He grinned then stood up and headed for the shower. "Notthe first time. But I've got one for both of us. We'll make it a giftto each other. It'll help start you thinking like a _guatemalteco_insider."

  "What? You sneak. What did you get?"

  "A trip back into the void of prehistoric time," he yelled over hisshoulder. "I am the possessor of a little-known secret about this town.I called from Belize City this morning and made dinner reservations forus downtown. You'll see."

  God I loved this man. But the last thing on my mind at that moment wasfood.

  "Honey, I don't know if I'm really--"

  "Hey, don't wimp out on me. If we're going to do this place, at leastwe can do it in style. Besides, you can't live on smog alone. You gottaeat."

  He had a point. Starving myself wasn't going to help find Sarah anysooner. And there were details I wanted to tell him that I didn't wantto broadcast in the room. What if Colonel Ramos had long ears to matchhis long arm?

  "Come on," he pressed. "Just put on the slinkiest thing

  you've got and get ready to go native. It'll help you put this part ofthe world into perspective."

  Alas, I had nothing particularly "slinky," though fortunately I'dpacked a silk blouse I could loosen and tie with a scarf around thewaist. Don't laugh, it worked. I even brushed on some serious eyeshadow, which normally I don't bother with much.

  I tried not to let him know how concerned I was as we walked down thedriveway of the hotel and hailed a cab, while I furtively searched theshadows. Seeing the streets after dark made me sad all over again forSarah. I still wanted to see and feel Guatemala the way she had, butwhen I got close to the realities of the place, it made me uneasy.

  It turned out the marvel he'd discovered was called Siriaco's, awonderful old place with a patio and garden in back--both roofed byglittering tropical stars--which were down a stone pathway from themain dining room and bar. It appeared to be where a lot of VIPs, theruling oligarchy, dined. It was romantic and perfect.

  When we arrived, his special anniversary surprise was already beinglaid out on a low stone table, attended by Mayan women all intraditional dress: the colorful _huipil _blouses of their villages, redand blue skirts, immense jade earrings.

  "They've reconstructed a kingly feast from old documents," heexplained, beaming at my amazement. "Cuisine of the ancient rainforest. We're going to have a banquet of authentic _guatemalteco_ chowfrom eons ago."

  And the meal was definitely fit for royalty. Soon we were working ourway through a long-forgotten medley of piquant flavors that sweptthrough my senses as though I were in another world. There waspit-roasted deer, steamed fish, baked wild turkey. One calabash bowlset forth coriander-flavored kidney beans; another had half a dozenvarieties of green legumes all in a rich turtle broth; a third offeredvanilla-seasoned sweet potatoes; others had various forest tuberssteamed with chiles. We even had a delicious honey wine, like heavenlynectar, served in red clay bowls, that made me want to have sex righton the table. There with Steve, the unexpected juxtaposition of spicesand flavors made every bite, every aroma, a new sensual experience.(Let me say right here he's a cooking fanatic, whereas I've been knownto burn water. I think it's the new division of labor in post-feministAmerica.) Finally the Mayan waitresses brought out cups of a chocolatedessert drink from ancient times, cocoa beans roasted, ground, andboiled with sugarcane. The whole event was pure heaven.

  Except for the occasional unwanted intrusions. Various dark-eyedlow-cut Ladino divorcees, about half a dozen in all, hanging out at thebar with heavy perfume and too much jewelry, kept coming overpurportedly to marvel over our private feast (or was it Steve's bigbrown eyes). He returned their attentions with his polite and perfectSpanish, but I despised them. In any case, they were shameless. Notremembering quite enough Espanol, however, the best I could do was justto put my hand on his and give them the evil eye. It seemed to work,though what I really wanted to do was hold up a cross the way you do toward off vampires. . . .

  "Hey, check out Orion," he said finally leaning back, an easy,delicious finger aimed at that sprawling constellation. I looked up atthe canopy of stars, and sure enough, the hunter and his sworddominated the starry sky above like a stalwart centurion, gu
arding us."I always know I'm in the tropics when it's right overhead."

  "Honey, this has been wonderful," I declared. "Thank you so much." Imoved around and kissed him. "It's exactly the attitude adjustment Ineeded."

  "Well"--he smiled back--"now I guess we've got some

  organizing to do. So tell me everything you left out back there at thehotel. I know you were holding off."

  I was feeling increasingly hyper, probably from the high-octanechocolate, but I proceeded to recount all my findings about AlexGoddard and Quetzal Manor. Then I moved on to Colonel Ramos and howhe'd threatened Carly and me about my film. Finally, I told him my deepbelief that Colonel Ramos and a couple of his goons were obviously theones who'd roughed up Lou and taken Sarah.

  "Bad scene," he said when I finally paused for breath. He was toyingwith his cup and running his fingers through his sandy hair, in that"deep thought" mode of his. "Way I see it, this just sounds like aclassic case of selling kids. To me, that's right up there with murderand grand larceny."

  "Well, I also firmly believe it's all tied in with Alex Goddard'sclinic here, or whatever it is. The place Sarah called Ninos del Mundoon her landing card. I'll bet you anything that's where Ramos has takenher."

  "You know," he said, his brow a perfect furrow, eyes narrowed, "aboutthe babies you saw, there've been press stories over the last few yearsabout Americans being attacked in Guatemala on suspicion of trying tokidnap Maya children out in the villages, to put up for adoption. ButI've never seen any proof of it. I've always thought it just might havebeen dumb gringos who don't know the culture. They go poking around outin the countryside and stupidly say the wrong thing. Maybe usingschoolbook Spanish nobody out there really understands. But now thismakes me wonder if--"

  "Love, those babies I saw up at Quetzal Manor are not kidnapped Indianchildren, trust me. They're Caucasian as vanilla snow cones. Try again."

  "I get your point," he said quickly. "But let me relate the facts oflife down here. When you've got some Guatemalan colonel behindsomething, you'd better think twice about how many rocks you turn over."

  "Funny, but that's exactly what some guy at the embassy named BarryMorton said to me."

  "And you'd better listen. This is the country that turned the word'disappear' into a new kind of verb. People get 'disappeared.' Iactually knew some of them, back in the late eighties. One dark nightan Army truck rolls into a village, and when the torture and . . .other things are over with, a few Maya are never heard from again." Helooked at me. "You saw my pictures of that village in the HuehuetenangoDepartment, Tzalala, where the Army mutilated and murdered half the--"

  "I know all about that." It was chilling to recall his gruesome photos."But I'm going to track down Alex Goddard's clinic, no matter what.That's where they've taken Sarah, I'm sure of it. I just may need somehelp finding it."

  He grimaced. "Damn, I've got to head back to Belize by noon tomorrow."Then his look brightened. "But, hey, I finish my shoot Wednesday, so Ican drive back here on Thursday. Then on Friday maybe we could--"

  "Come on, love, I can't just sit around till the end of the week. Whatam I going to do till then?" The very thought made me itchy. "I need tofind out if Ninos del Mundo, the place Sarah put on her originallanding card is for real. Her card said it's somewhere in the Peten,the rain forest. If I could find somebody who--"

  "Okay, look." He was thinking aloud. "How about this? There's a guyhere in town who owes me a favor. A big one. He screwed me out oftwenty grand in the U.S. We were going to start a travel magazine--Ithink I told you about that--but then he took my money and split thecountry. He ended up down here and went to work for the CIA--till theysacked him. After that he leased a helicopter and started some kind ofbullshit tourist hustle. He sure as hell knows what's going on. Name'sAlan Dupre. The prick. Maybe I could give him a call and we could gettogether for a late drink. He's got an easy number these days: 4-MAYAN."

  "How's he going to help?"

  "Trust me. He's our guy."

  I leaned back and closed my eyes, my imagination drifting. In thatbrief moment, my mind floated back to yesterday afternoon at Lou'sloft, and Sarah. Her hallucinations still haunted me. What had happenedto her in the rain forest? And why would she say she wanted to go back?

  Then I snapped back. "All right. Try and ring him if you think he canhelp. Right now I need all I can get."

  He got up and worked his way to the phone, past the crowded bar, whileI tried to contemplate the night sky. I looked up again, hoping to seeOrion, but now a dark cloud had moved in, leaving nothing but deepeningblackness. He'd said there was a storm brewing, part of anout-of-season hurricane developing in the Caribbean, so I guessed thiswas the first harbinger.

  "Tonight's out, but tomorrow's okay." He was striding back. "Crack ofdawn. Which for him is roughly about noon. We'll have a quickget-together and then I've got to run. Really. But if this guy doesn'tknow what's going on down here, nobody does. He's probably laid halfthose hot tomatillos there at the bar. The man has his sources, if youget my meaning."

  "Then let's go back to the glorious Camino Real." I took his hand."We'll split the check. At the moment, even that seems romantic."

  "I'm still thinking about--"

  "Don't. Don't think." I touched his lips, soft and moist, then kissedhim. An impulsive but deeply felt act. "We've all had enough thinkingfor one day."

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