Life blood, p.18
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       Life Blood, p.18

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  Chapter Eighteen

  When I got back to the Camino Real, the time was early afternoon andthe bed was freshly made, with all signs and scents of my and Steve'storrid reunion long gone. I tried to push aside thoughts of how much Iwas already missing him and focus on what I was getting myself into. Imust admit I was having serious qualms about going up to the Peten, thepart of Guatemala where Sarah had been left for dead, with my brand-newtour director, the flaky Alan Dupre. I'd never been in a helicopterbefore, much less one flying over a stormy rain forest. On the otherhand, if that was where they'd taken Sarah, the sooner I got there, thebetter.

  Sitting there in the room, I found myself feeling right at home:Everything about it was so familiar to an expert on budget travel likeme. Off-brand carpet the color of decaying vegetation, the usual twodouble beds (one totally unused, except as a suitcase shelf), the TVsuspended over the dresser and bolted to the wall. Funny, but it wasthe first time I'd noticed half the things in the room.

  Okay, I told myself, the thing to do first is call St. Vincent's andcheck on Lou. Also, I wanted to tell him what was happening. I justhoped he wouldn't launch into a lecture about the recklessness of whatI was planning. I needed support, not male advice.

  I got the desk to give me the local AT&T contact number,

  then rang right through to St. Vincent's. The next thing I knew, theywere calling his room.

  "Hi. How's the patient?"

  "Morgan, what the hell are you up to? I've been trying to reach you. Ifinally called David and he said you'd left a message; something aboutCentral America. Why the hell--?"

  "I was trying to explain that to you Sunday night, but you were prettyfar gone."

  "Well, I ain't that far gone now, so I'm telling you to--"

  "By the way," I interrupted, hoping to change the subject, "how're youfeeling?"

  "I guess I'll live. They let me get up and go to the bathroom now.They're saying I can probably go home tomorrow."

  "That's encouraging." Thank God he was going to be okay.

  "I also had a talk with Gerry, downtown. He believes Sarah waskidnapped, even if New York's Finest don't, so that means the FBI hasjurisdiction. We're gonna get some action. They're trying to get aphoto of that colonel, so maybe I can ID the bastard. But theconsulate's giving us a lot of shit about it."

  "Well, I'm tracking something down here. Between the two of us, I thinkwe'll find her."

  "So, what the hell are you doing?"

  I told him about finding the name of a destination on Sarah's oldlanding card, and about meeting a guy who was going to take me there assoon as the weather cleared.

  "And you think she could be there now?" He didn't sound hopeful.

  "There're reasons to check it out." I didn't want to elaborate. "Maybewe'll get lucky."

  I was attempting to say as little as possible, fearing the phone wastapped. In that spirit, I decided to get off the line as quickly aspossible.

  "Lou, you get lots of rest, and I'll try and call you tomorrow."

  With a final warning to watch out for myself, he took down my hotelnumber and hung up. Truthfully, he was sounding pretty tired and weak,not nearly his old self.

  Well, he had a right to be. But at least there were no complications.

  My next call was going to be to David Roth, to check in on things atApplecore, but first I wanted to order up some_ huevos rancheros_, getsome breakfast protein. I was becoming energized by the prospect ofprogress, and being that way always makes me ravenous. It's probably aprimal female response that has a Latin name.

  I checked out the number for room service, and was literally reachingfor the black phone when it rang of its own accord. Startled I pickedup the receiver, wondering who had my number.

  "Hello." It was a man's voice that sounded vaguely familiar. "ThoughtI'd check in and see how things are going with your search."

  "Hi," I answered back after a pause, trying to place his intonation.

  "Oh, sorry. Barry Morton. Remember me? Fortress America. You came bythe office yesterday."

  "How . . . ?" Why was he calling me? "How did you get this--?"

  "You must have accidentally put the wrong hotel on your landing card asyour address in Guatemala City." He hesitated a second then said "But Ihad my secretary call around and . . . well, it happens all the time."

  "I see." It did have the ring of logic. And I had put down a differenthotel. A safety measure. "Do you always take this much . . . interestin your fellow citizens?"

  "Only when they come to see me personally." He chuckled. "So how's itgoing?"

  "Well, thanks for calling," I said. "Everything's moving along."

  "Good, good." There was another pause, then, "Incidentally, you havingany luck finding that Ninos del Mundo place you were looking for?"

  I hesitated, wondering why he would ask and also unsure what to say.

  "Not yet," I volunteered. My God, it finally dawned on me. The guy wastracking me. He wanted to know what I knew. "You come up with anythingat your end?"

  "I've been busy, a string of meetings, but I still think you might wantto check out the phone book." It was the second time he'd made thesuggestion. He was practically ordering me to do it. Why? "You neverknow. I'm afraid that's about the best I can do."

  "Maybe I will," I said. "I've been a little busy too."

  The phone call was feeling stranger and stranger. He was sending me tosee something, probably in hopes it would make me go away. It wasactually more unnerving than if he'd done nothing at all.

  "Well, in any case, I hope you have a good visit," he declareddiplomatically. Another pause. "Planning to be here long?"

  "I'm not sure yet." Why did he want to know that?

  "I see. Whatever happens, I hope you find what you're looking for. Bestof luck."

  He hung up, leaving me with the feeling he already knew the answer toevery question he'd asked. The guys at the airport, and now theembassy--I was the best-known tourist in the country.

  Okay, maybe I should just play along and see what happens. In any case,I'd just lost my appetite for fried eggs with hot sauce, but I had adefinite interest in the phone book.

  And there they were. Ninos del Mundo. Complete with an address, way outthe Boulevar R. Aguilar Batres.

  Well, why not see where it leads you? Sarah's card said the place wasin the Peten, but who knows?

  I got up off the bed and went into the bathroom for a shampoo andshower. Despite the fact that Barry Morton wanted me to see this Ninosdel Mundo place, whatever it was, I didn't want to show up looking andsmelling like some bedraggled tourist. I'd wear my tailored blue suit,which, along with the dark blue heels, ought to make me look adequatelybusinesslike.

  The shower was wonderful, purging away the soot of the park, and I waswrapping my hair in a large beige towel when the phone jangled again. Itucked in the edge to secure it and walked over. Maybe it was Louringing back.

  No such luck. The caller was none other than my brand-new partner AlanDupre. I was not thrilled to hear his voice. Was he about to get coldfeet and back out?

  "Morgan, listen," he said, not wasting time on niceties, "there's beena small change of plans. I've--"

  "Alan, don't do this to me." You shit. "You agreed--"

  "No, why I'm calling is, we've got to go ahead and go up today, stormor no, God help us. You happy now?"

  What? After that neurotic song-and-dance he'd just given me in thepark? I should have been overjoyed, but something about the whole thingimmediately felt synthetic. I paused a long moment, trying to think thesituation through. What was going on?

  The answer to that was clear as day. I was being set up. Somebodywanted me out of town, and they'd just found a way.

  Or was I being paranoid again? Had the weather cleared? I reached overand pushed aside a curtain. Nope, it looked as threatening as ever.

  No question. This was definitely a setup.

  On the other hand why not use whoever had put him up to this? This toldme for sure I was
on the trail of Sarah, and the sooner I got going,the better. Aside from calling New York and then checking out the localNinos del Mundo that Barry Morton wanted me to see so badly, I had noother pressing plans. . . .

  "Alan, I thought you declared no 'effing' way were you going to gotoday," I said testing him. "Why the sudden revision in scheduling?"

  "Yeah, well, something heavy's come up for tomorrow. I'm afraid it'sgotta be now or forget it for at least a week."

  Unrefined bullshit. But somebody knew how badly I wanted to go.

  "Look, there's something I need to check out first. I just learnedabout a place here in town I want to at least see. It's also calledNinos del Mundo."

  "No shit." He paused. "Okay, we'll talk about it. Get the address andmaybe we can cruise by if there's time. Thing is, we don't have allthat much leeway here."

  "One last question." I thought I'd give him a final shot at the truth."Just tell me honestly why it has to be today. The real story."

  "Like I said everything's changed." He wasn't budging. "So if we'redoing this, I've got to pick you up now and get us on our merry way."

  He was too cheerful by half, which definitely told me he was lying.

  "All right, but I really need to make at least one phone call first." Iwanted Steve to know where I was. "And if I walk out of here with abag, I've got to let the desk know I'm not skipping on the bill."

  "Forget the phone call. No time. Do it after we get back. Just be outfront in exactly nineteen minutes. This is not a dry run. The train isleaving. I'm outta here now."

  There was a click and he was gone.

  I sat there a moment staring at the floor. What was I getting into?

  Well, there's one way to find out. Play their game and beat them.There's no better way to get inside what's going on.

  The first thing I did was call Steve's hotel in Belize City. Of coursehe wasn't there, but I left a long message to the effect that I wastaking a "sightseeing" trip up to the Peten with Alan Dupre todaybecause of unforeseen new circumstances. The reasons were complicated,but I'd watch out for myself and therefore he shouldn't worry.

  That out of the way, I looked around the room. It was a disaster, but Iquickly began cramming things into the small folding backpack I alwaystook on trips. Then I rang the kitchen and told them to make up aquadruple egg sandwich (_quatro huevos, por favor_) to go, along with alarge bottle of distilled water.

  By the time I got to the reception desk and explained I wasn't actuallychecking out for good, Alan Dupre was already waiting outside in hisbattered green Jeep, cleaning his scratchy shades and leaning on thehorn.

  Let him wait. I wrote out a long note to Steve, on the chance he mightcome looking for me. Then with deliberate slowness, I wandered out towhere Alan's Jeep was parked and tossed my backpack behind the seat.

  "First things first." I climbed in and handed him the address of Ninosdel Mundo I'd copied onto some hotel stationery. "This is where we'vegot to go."

  He stared at it a moment, puzzling, and then seemed to figure out whereit was.

  "Upscale part of this beautiful oasis." He shifted into gear. "But it'smore or less on the way." He glanced up nervously at the sky. "We justdon't have all day."

  Off we headed toward the suburbs, through a ganglia of downtown streetslaced with pizza joints and frying-meat vendors, till we eventuallyended up on a tree-lined avenue that looked as genteel as Oyster Bay.When we got to the address, I told him to park across the way, and justsat a moment staring.

  The building itself was a windowless compound surrounded by trees and ahigh wall of white stucco, with a guardhouse and wide iron gate (notunusual for Guatemala) protecting a long walkway. The whole thinglooked like a fortress, except the view through the gate was a pastoralvista of neat flower beds and a pristine lawn. The guardhouse itselfhad a dozing teenager, undoubtedly with an Uzi resting across his lap.

  "Okay, Alan," I said "time to get with the program. How's your Spanish?"

  "Depends on who I'm trying to BS." He shrugged and began cleaning hissunglasses again.

  "Well, why don't you see if you can talk us past that guard."

  He stared at the entrance a moment. "Be a waste of our precious time.Tell you right now, kids like that only answer to one boss, the _jefe_,the big guy, whoever he is. That's how they retain their employment. Ajoint locked down this tight don't give Sunday tours."

  "Well, I think he's asleep. So I'm going to be creative and see ifthere's a back entrance of some kind. Maybe a service area that'll giveme some idea of what's going on here."

  "Do what you want, but make it fast," he said, leaning back in theseat. "And try not to get shot."

  I carefully got out and walked down the empty street a way, thenfollowed the stucco wall/fence--the building covered an entire cityblock--until I came across an alley entrance, with another large irongate, padlocked shut.

  I peered up the driveway, shrouded in overhanging trees, but there wasnothing in the parking lot except a couple of Army Jeeps. And a blackLand Rover.

  Well, Barry Morton really wanted me to see this. But why? Is there aconnection to the place in the Peten? And what are the Army vehiclesall about?

  I sighed and made my way back to the street. When I reached the Jeep,Alan was gone, but then I realized he was over talking to the youngguard, offering him a cigarette. A few moments later he waved good-byeand casually ambled back.

  "Okay." He settled in and hit the ignition. "Here's the official deal.This place is some kind of hospice for unwed mothers. They also take inorphans, or so he thinks. According to him, no American women have everhad anything to do with the place, which is probably why I'd neverheard of it." He glanced at me as we sped off. "You happy now?Debriefing young Army dudes is a specialty of mine, so I think that'sprobably the straight scoop."

  "Did you ask if it's connected with something in the Peten?" I wasstill hoping. In any case, whatever it was, I was collecting morepieces of the puzzle.

  "Hey, give me a break." He shifted up, gaining speed. "I know when topush, and this wasn't the precise moment. The kid was itchy enough asit was. Like, who the fuck are you, gringo, and what are you doinghere? I got all I could get without a cold _cerveza_." He glanced over."You ask me, a little gratitude wouldn't be entirely out of place."

  "Okay. _Muchas gracias, amigo_. Happy now?"


  The Jeep was open and I checked out the sky, which was growing darkerand more threatening by the minute. The promised foul weather stillseemed to be just that, promised but it was definitely on the way. AlanDupre must really be scared. Finally I leaned back in the torn plasticseat and closed my eyes.

  Was this Ninos del Mundo the Latin branch of Children of Light? Theplace where Alex Goddard's babies came from? Considering the interestColonel Ramos had in my movie, the Army Jeeps could be a tip-off. Also,there seemed to be an even chance that Barry Morton was involvedsomehow. But it was all still guesswork. And anyway, this wasn't theplace Sarah had put on her landing card. _That _Ninos del Mundo wassomewhere up north, hidden in the rain forest.

  Ready or not, Sar, hang on.

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